Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Books I've Read But Haven't Reviewed

Lately I've been reading a lot more books. Now that I've graduated and my boyfriend is back in school full time after a seven year hiatus, I've got a lot of time to read when he is cursing his way through homework. Living three blocks from a library certainly helps my book flow remain continuous. But even though I've read a bunch of books, a few of them haven't given me enough to say for them to deserve an entire post. Or they are books where reviewing them would just be redundant. 

So here are a few books I've read lately that I don't want to/couldn't/shouldn't write a review on: 

Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Speak
Publication Date: March 3, 2005
Source/Format: Library book!
Page Count: 215.
My Rating: 3 / 5.
I, like everyone, loved Speak by Halse Anderson. It's profound, dark, and a gripping read. From the front cover and synopsis of Prom, I certainly wasn't expecting the same reading experience, but I was also surprised that this is the same author that gave us Speak. Ashley Hannigan is just a 'normal' girl trying to finish up high school at her Philadelphia high school, and she's more focused on moving in with her dropout boyfriend after graduation than she is on prom like everyone else. Her best friend, Natalia, however, is the head of the prom committee and sucks Ash into the whirlwind of prom planning after the faculty advisor is caught stealing prom funds. I finished reading this in less than 24 hours, and spent a lot of time laughing at the zippy dialogue and sarcastic narration from Ash. I was left disappointed and confused by lack of character description and sense of place. Ashley describes herself as a 'normal' kid in a 'normal high school,' yet her situation was anything but what I personally consider to be normal.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Publisher: Speak
Publication Date: 1967
Source / Format: Owned.
Page Count: 180.
My Rating: 4 / 5
This is a book I didn't want to review because what can I say that hasn't already been said? This book has been around for ages, and was one of the first books to really set the bar for Young Adult fiction. In Ponyboy's world, there are the greasers--that's him, his brothers, and the solid crew of misfits they run with, and the socs, the upper class, wealthy, feelingless group that they are always up against. Ponyboy and crew are always down for a good rumble, but in a fight that leaves Ponyboy and his buddy Jesse two-against-many, something goes horribly wrong, and it's enough to shatter the lines that divide these two groups who have been at odds forever. What I really enjoyed in this novel was character relationships. I had a very clear sense of where the loyalties of each character were, whether they were a greaser, or the enemy. Ponyboy rolls with the greasers, but Hinton didn't box him into the stereotype and allowed him to move fluidly through the groups. I can see why this is a book that has stood the test of time.

Wide Awake by David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 12, 2006
Source/Format: Library book!
Page Count: 221.
My Rating: 4 / 5
In the future, an awesome thing is happening: a gay, Jewish man has just been elected president. This is great news for Duncan, who has spent the past few months volunteering tirelessly on the campaign with his boyfriend Jimmy to ensure this win for the first Jewish and/or gay president even though he can't vote yet. But then a not so good thing happens: votes for one of the leading states are being challenged, and the new president's position has yet to be locked in officially, and Duncan and Jimmy's relationship is starting to quiver under the shock of this event. That doesn't stop them from traveling in a bus full of other hopefuls to the rally where supporters, and the opposition, are fighting for what they believe in. This was my first experience reading a David Levithan book that he wrote without a co-author and I ADORED it. Sent me back to the days when I canvassed on the Obama campaign when I couldn't vote yet, and how I was so hooked on the news and whether or not he would win. Levithan also set up the future United States in a way that didn't make me feel like I was slogging through years of history. I didn't feel confused about how the world worked in the future, and was actually pretty excited for it!

Have you read any of these books? I have a few full reviews in the works!

Have a great Tuesday, everyone!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Waiting On: We Are Water by Wally Lamb

We Are Water by Wally Lamb.
Publication Date: October 22, 2013

From Goodreads: 
In middle age, Annie Oh—wife, mother, and outsider artist—has shaken her family to its core. After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, Annie has fallen in love with Viveca, the wealthy, cultured, confident Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success.

Annie and Viveca plan to wed in the Oh family's hometown of Three Rivers, Connecticut, where gay marriage has recently been legalized. But the impending wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora's box of toxic secrets—dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs' lives.

We Are Water is an intricate and layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection, told in the alternating voices of the Ohs—nonconformist Annie; her ex-husband, Orion, a psychologist; Ariane, the do-gooder daughter, and her twin, Andrew, the rebellious only son; and free-spirited Marissa, the youngest Oh. Set in New England and New York during the first years of the Obama presidency, it is also a portrait of modern America, exploring issues of class, changing social mores, the legacy of racial violence, and the nature of creativity and art.

With humor and breathtaking compassion, Wally Lamb brilliantly captures the essence of human experience in vivid and unforgettable characters struggling to find hope and redemption in the aftermath of trauma and loss. We Are Water is vintage Wally Lamb—a compulsively readable, generous, and uplifting masterpiece that digs deep into the complexities of the human heart to explore the ways in which we search for love and meaning in our lives.

Over the years, Wally Lamb has solidified his spot in my heart as one of my favorite authors. He is an expert at creating lengthy, beautiful family histories (please, please read I Know This Much is True for a perfect display of his talents at long and engaging prose) so I am excited to see how he will tackle the family dynamic in this novel. After loving so many of his books, I have goosebumps of anticipation to read this one. Cannot wait!

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine that highlights upcoming releases that we are stoked about!

Review: The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando

The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando
Publisher: MTV Books
Publication Date: March 7, 2006
Source/Format: Owned paperback.
Page Count: 277.
Goodreads & Amazon

To put it simply, Betsy Ross Odell (yes, that's her actual name) is not having what she could call a good summer. Her mother has lost her battle with breast cancer, her father won't stop serving her and her little brother fast food, and her boyfriend of six months just broke up with her and everyone but her knew about it. The good news about all of this bad news is that suddenly her summer job at a colonial village, which she was convinced would be social suicide, is suddenly looking better. The village introduces her to James, the cute surfer and wood shop apprentice who is the only one in her life who knows anything about losing a parent, and Betsy strikes up an interesting relationship with Liza, the biggest 'freak' at school. Most importantly, Betsy is coming closer to the one thing her mother stressed importance on: her passion.

The casket gets lowered. The crowd disperses. Then it's back to the house where there are lasagnas and baked hams to be pushed around on the plate; the salad dressing's oily, a cancer poisoning everything around it. When I'm finally able to escape the concerned looks of relatives and neighbors and retreat to my room, I lie down on my bed and see my work clothes--my brown burlap skirt, white cotton shift, and brown striped top--hanging on the back of the door. To my complete astonishment, I can't wait to go back to Morrisville, to put on layer upon layer of farm-girl gear. 

I read this book once before in high school, but for some reason it was calling to me again from my book shelf. I'm still not sure why I was inspired to pick it up, but I am glad I did. One of my favorite things about The Pursuit of Happiness was the characters! I loved Betsy and she goes through a full transformation in this novel. She starts as a cynical teenage girl desperate for popularity and of course grieving over the death of her mother. She is witty and sometimes has little to no filter, even going so far as to laugh at her friend when she discovers her cat has died. By the end of the novel, she is on a hopeful road to her newfound passion in silhouette art and acceptance of her mother's death. 

And suddenly I'm so sick and tired of everyone wanting me to be something I'm not. My father wishes I were some brainy history buff. My mother wanted me to be passionate. Mary wants me to never change. Brandon wanted me to be somehow simpler. And now James wants me to stay a good two-shoes because that's all he thinks I am. With all these new feelings swirling inside me I feel like this new, indefinable person, like my spirit is somehow rising up in rebellion, starting a civil war of the heart. 

As for secondary characters, James is one of those YA boys that reminds you how dreamy and complicated YA boys can be. He's cute, sensitive, and of course loaded with frustrating baggage that makes you want to shake him and come to his senses, but then you'd feel guilty because his baggage is a result of that damned sensitivity. I also really loved Liza. She also really grows in this novel, and we learn a lot about her. She could stand as a symbol for not judging a book by it's cover. She's snarky and edgy and full of surprises that let you into the real Liza that is past all of the tattoos, piercings, and wild hair. 

Do you realize, the singer sings, that you have the most beautiful face... I remind myself not to take this too literally. James doesn't necessarily think of the song because it's my face that's the most beautiful. While reminding myself of this, I miss some lyrics so try to concentrate again. Do you realize that happiness makes you cry... which would be a corny line if the song weren't so goddamn beautiful, if I weren't with James in a car flying down a dark highway on a balmy summer night, feeling more alive that I've ever felt. And then the song says something about how we're all going to die someday and I feel strong, powerful, like I've glimpsed something sacred in life that most people have to wait longer to see., like maybe I'll be better for it, stronger, for having lost so much so young.

This book really brought all of the feels. There was a lot of drama without it feeling unrealistic or over the top, and it was a great look into teenaged relationships with their friends, family, and loved ones. I did think that sometimes Betsy's narration got away from her a little bit. At times it was like a little record skip when she said something that seemed out of character. I couldn't tell if that was Altebrando sticking her hand into the piece, or if it was a product of Betsy's being surrounded by colonial mannerisms at her summer job. Which, speaking of her summer job, I LOVED. I'm a bit of a history nerd at heart, so I loved seeing the colonial village, but also how a place so unique turns into Betsy's main source of escapism. 

The Pursuit of Happiness is full of emotion and heart and brought me close to tears several times. I enjoyed following Betsy through her steps of grief, and self-realization as she falls into new relationships and finds new passion in life. 

Rating: 4 / 5

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: Doormat by Kelly McWilliams

Doormat by Kelly McWilliams
Publisher: Laurel Leaf
Publication Date: May 9, 2006
Source / Format:  Library book!
Page Count: 131.
Goodreads & Amazon

Jaime has resigned herself to forever playing the role of a doormat. It's a good position to be in. She doesn't feel the need to wear her emotions on her sleeve like her high school classmates, and she's always there for her friends when they need her. Besides, she can't outshine her best friend Melissa, who is always in the center of attention and beautiful and striving to be a model. But when Melissa confides to Jaime that she's pregnant, and utters four words that won't get out of Jaime's head, "Can you help me?" Jaime has to figure out how to help her best friend with this, and also step out of her friend's spotlight and shine on her own.

I don't remember my best friend ever being a wimp. Coward. Sucker. But apparently she is, because not only did she fail to find a way to get the pregnancy test, she sent me to do it for her. Remember what I said about cows falling from the sky before I went to Walgreens for Melissa? Yeah, well, what can I say? The Weather Channel just got a lot more interesting. 

Remember that post I made about being in a review slump? That bled into being a reading slump. Over the past week, I've started and stopped reading two or three different books. I'd just pick them up, read four pages, decide I wasn't "into it" and then move onto the next one that couldn't quite grab my attention. Luckily, and this is something I failed to mention in my moving post, I now live three blocks away from my neighborhood's library (!!!) so I was able to trot over there for a new load of books to indulge in. Doormat by Kelly McWilliams seemed short, sweet, and just the perfect thing to get me into reading. Not only did I like the cover design--it obviously looks like a doormat, but when I read the back cover I discovered that the author was only fifteen when she wrote this novella so then I HAD to read it, because of course this could have gone really good, or not so great at all.

It took me all of English (which is disguised as a forty-minute period but really lasts until sometime around November), but I basically concluded that Melissa and I are friends because we've always been friends. Ever since I can remember, she's been that little bit of drama in my plain oatmeal life, someone who shines and really stands out to the world. People notice her, all the time, for he looks, for her attitude, for her general superstar glow. People overlook me, and I don't mind, really, but when I'm with her, it's like I absorb some of that glow right into my skin, and people notice me, too. 

I was so pleasantly surprised by this book, and I think that anyone who loved Are You There God? It's Me Margaret will find themselves loving this book, too. There were multiple times where I found myself thinking of how purely authentic fourteen-year-old Jaime's voice was, and then reminded myself that the author was an actual teen at the time. It had me thinking that maybe more teens should write more YA. Doormat wasn't just good for being written by a fifteen year old, it was a great read in general. Jaime is a hilariously blunt narrator, and perhaps her quippy perceptions of others stems from her doormat-ish nature of existing but not really being. Though she is faced with the mature task of helping her friend come to grips with and make decisions for the course of her pregnancy, she is funny and still has part of that teenaged brand of apathy. She is also able to weave in secondary story lines in a way that didn't make them seem like they were coming from left field. 

I've always been the type of person who worries excessively. I worry about important things, of course, but I also worry about the little things that most people never waste a moment's thought on. Sometimes I agonize over what it means to be alive, what it's all leading up to. Sometimes I agonize over my future, or what I'll be like in my old age, and sometimes I agonize over sunscreen SPFs. But I've almost (almost, mind you) stopped agonizing all together. 

Jaime is a character that High School Me could really relate to. She is caught in the limbo of her doormat persona--always being there for people, existing without people knowing she really exists, and letting those around her shine more than herself--and taking the reins of her young life to discover what her dreams are and how to shine without the afterglow of her friends. Jaime, not wanting to put her problems and aspirations in front of anyone else's, even lets Melissa start to edge in on the boy she confesses liking, which is something that happened one too many times to me in high school. We are not just lead to read about Melissa's impending new arrival, Jaime also lets us into her home life to meet her savior Aunt Sheila, her equally doormat-ish mother, and her unamused iguana Jake. 

Doormat is a fun and quick read laced with real teen issues and a harshly authentic voice. Unfortunately it doesn't seem like Kelly McWilliam's has written any other novels thus far, because after this novella, I would have loved to read more and see where her writing has taken her. 

Rating: 4 / 5

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

New City Lit Review: The Shining Girls

You've seen me mention it several times, but now you can finally read my review of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Please give it a read and let me know of any other thriller/serial killerish novels that you love! I'm interested in delving more into this genre!

Moving With Books.

Well, we did it. We are all moved in! Sunday was perhaps one of the longest and most exhausting days of my whole life. Our old apartment was on the second floor of our building, so we spent a good five hours going up and down and up and down. My legs are still feeling the burn from all of that crazy activity. I surprised even myself by helping to carry the couch, our dresser, desks, etc.

Of course, one of the things I was most worried about with moving was the insane amount of books I have. I can barely carry a tote of ten books from the library without my arm wanting to fall off, let alone whole boxes full. A few friends recommended using tote bags or suitcases to move my books, but I don't have nearly enough bags to carry the insane amount of books I have.  So we did boxes...which took up a lot of room because of the way you can only stack one layer of books to prevent box breaking! After a lot of muscle work, we got them all moved.

So starts bookshelf organizing! Pictured above is only one of two shelves I have. I've decided to go alphabetical for now. That bottom shelf is only to the S's! My next shelf will be for borrowed/library books, the rest of my fiction/non-fiction, and then our slew of text and art books. I love finally seeing my bookshelves back up and looking full. They're so pretty they almost make me forget about all of the pain they put my poor little arms through.

Have you had to move with books before? Isn't it the worst?