Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Bingo: The Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson is the story of a girl used to being on the road with her dad. Hayley has to learn to adjust to life in a normal high school when her dad moves them back to the hometown she barely remembers. But it's not as easy as it sounds. As Hayley struggles with calculus and "zombie" teenagers, her father is struggling with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) from his time in the military, and her best friend is struggling with a broken family. As a tentative relationship begins to form between Hayley and the school newspaper editor, Finn, she must accept her past in order to face her future.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
cover design by Teresa Evangelista;
cover photo © Martin Stranka)

First Impression: I read a couple of other books by Laurie Halse Anderson when I was in high school: Speak and Catalyst. Anderson seems to have a gift for telling stories that everyone else forgets about. She places her characters in realistic, difficult situations and works through them in ways that could actually happen. Things don't fall into place as easily as they might in most YA novels, and I think that reflects the quality of her work. So far, The Impossible Knife of Memory has not disappointed me. PTSD is not a topic typically addressed in books for young adults, and by writing about it, Anderson is bringing a very relevant problem to light. Even though I am nothing like Hayley, I find myself feeling very attached to her, just by reading about what she deals with on a daily basis. Anderson's writing is at once beautiful and poignant, and I can't wait to see what happens.

Conclusion: The Impossible Knife of Memory was fantastic! The characters were very complex. I felt as though I could know Hayley, Finn, and Capt. Kincain (Andy) personally. It's so fascinating to read about Hayley's life and how she deals with school, her relationship with Finn, and her father's daily struggles. This book is not an easy one to absorb, but Anderson isn't known for tackling the easy topics. I read some reviews about this book on Goodreads while I was in the middle of it, and one of them in particular said they didn't like Anderson's portrayal of PTSD. (For those of you who don't know, the letters stand for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is self-explanatory. PTSD shows up in many different types of situations, but in this book, Hayley's dad suffers because of bad memories and inability to adapt after his multiple military deployments to Iraq, which is pretty common.) Honestly, the review made me laugh, because it said that PTSD doesn't manifest itself in the ways she describes. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects everyone differently, and I thought Anderson reflected Andy's pain in a very effective way. Also, there's a twist at the end of the book! I saw it coming but didn't know how it would resolve itself, and my admiration for the author continued to grow through the end of the book. The Impossible Knife of Memory is powerful, and it really touched me. I hope it means something special to the rest of you who take the time to read it.

This book is one of my "New Release" choices for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. Are any of you doing this challenge, too? Don't forget to subscribe for blog updates, and leave a comment to let me know what you thought of this book and what you're reading right now!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Club / Book Bingo: Only Time Will Tell

Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer is the first in a series called The Clifton Chronicles. When I first started it, I thought it was a stand-alone novel, and one of the girls in my book group picked it out. She promised "it wouldn't be boring," and she "really liked Jeffrey Archer." She was right. The story focuses on Harry Clifton, a poor boy from Bristol with a widowed mother and some mystery as to how exactly his father died. It begins with a segment about Maisie, his mother, and how she came to be married and pregnant, and moves on from there to the family's struggles to send Harry to a good school and a promising future.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
jacket design by David Baldeosingh Rotstein)

First Impression: I did not think I would like this at all. I figured it would jump in with some action and some mystery (it's described to bookstores as a "fiction thriller," which is hard to define), but it didn't. The first few chapters have already brought me close to the lives of the characters. Archer's writing style feels as though the narrator is speaking specifically to me and telling me interesting stories about his or her life. The narrator switches between characters every once in a while, and the author really makes it work for the book. I don't want to know just about one character; I want to know the whole story. I am a little confused about the time-period of the narration, however. Each narrator seems to tell his or her story, but I can't tell if they're talking to the narrator during the events of the book or later in their lives. This will probably be resolved as I read more. I'm certainly not dreading reading it for my book group anymore! 

Conclusion: One of my favorite things is when an author really focuses on the characters--character development, I mean--more than anything else, and Archer does that. The novel is split-up into sections by point-of-view, which changes several times. The author also tells the story of the same time period from these various points-of-view. I found it really interesting to see the same events through a completely different set of eyes each time. I also really liked the main character and the majority of the side characters, which helped me to get into the book initially. When Archer switched to my least favorite character, I was curious to see if he was as hard-hearted and cruel as he appeared to be, so that kept me intrigued as well. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I probably won't continue the series like I thought I would initially. The story of Harry, his mother, and his friends was very interesting to me, but there's a twist at the end. It seems like the second book might be more about action and intrigue than the interconnected lives of a very diverse group of people, and I tend to prefer the latter.

Only Time Will Tell is one of my "Series" choices for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Bingo: An Abundance of Katherines

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green is about Colin Singleton, a child prodigy who has just been dumped by another Katherine. THE Katherine, in fact--she is both the first and the nineteenth Katherine that he has dated. Colin's best friend, Hassan, immediately sees the need for a road trip, so the two of them jump in Colin's car and take off. During the trip, Colin creates a formula that explains how (and sometimes why) he was dumped by each Katherine he ever dated. But math alone will not save or explain Colin's past and future, and he and Hassan have a lot more to learn before they can move forward in life.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

 Conclusion: I went back-and-forth a lot between liking and disliking the characters in this book. They each had their own little quirks that made them unique but, at times, frustrating. I kept going to the friend who loaned me the book saying, "Why did he do this? Why doesn't she act this way?" She just smiled at me every time and told me to keep reading. I will also say that the math Colin uses is very confusing. I got to a point where I would look over the equations without bothering to understand them. The reader doesn't need to understand Colin's equations to see what he's trying to convey, though. The most important focus is on relationships. Not just Colin's romantic relationships, but also his friendships, Hassan's friendships, Lindsey's bonds with her mother and the elderly people in Hotshot, etc. This story will not teach you anything new. Most of Colin's evolution in the story is in areas that are already obvious to us. For instance: Just because you are smart, it doesn't mean you will win at everything. You already knew that, right? However, it's a quick, interesting read from a perspective I have never had before. Plus there's a little humor mixed in. Overall, I liked it!

This book is my "Contemporary" choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. Still plugging away at the board! Don't forget to subscribe and check back for more new and interesting finds!