Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Review: Joyland by Stephen King

Joyland by Stephen King
Publisher: Hard Case Crime
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Page Count: 283
Key Words: carnival, murder mystery, 1970s
Goodreads & Amazon

Devin Jones has a couple of expectations when he takes a job at Joyland in the summer of 1973. He expects to wear the infamous 'fur' on hot summer days, he expects to learn how to run a couple of the rides, and he expects to make some extra cash. He does not expect to encounter a sick, young boy in a wheelchair and his mother. He also does not expect to learn of a grisly, unsolved murder that took place right in the spook house on the perimeter of Joyland property. In between bouts of sporting the fur and stressing over manning the ferris wheel, Devin becomes obsessed with cracking the case of this unsolved murder. All he has to go on are a couple of obscure photographs of the victim with her 'date,' the little boy in the wheelchair who has a touch of 'the sight,' and motivation to set her spirit free.
When you're twenty-one, life is a roadmap. It's only when you get to be twenty-five or so that you begin to suspect you've been looking at the map upside down, and not until you're forty are you entirely sure. By the time you're sixty, take it from me, you're fucking lost. 
Due to the fact that Stephen King is a freaking literary powerhouse, I don't think it's fully productive for me to write a big ol' review of Joyland. I do, however, want to talk about this book with you guys. So this one is going to be structured just a tad differently! This structure will probably also happen again when I am talking about books that are classics or written by authors who are as ginormous as someone like Stephen King. 

What to love...: 

  • As with The Shining, which I read during Chicago's famed polar vortex, Joyland really builds a place up to the point where it becomes it's own character. The reader really gets sucked into Joyland. We become familiar with the different rides, down to the quirks that each ride has and how to operate them. We also get to experience Joyland as a visitor, we feel the joy that the kids feel in the nursery, and we feel the thrill of being at the very tippy top of the ferris wheel. By the end of reading Joyland, I felt like I had visited it with my family for the first time, and also like I had been working there for years. 
  • Even bigger than the place of Joyland, the characters were fabulous. Devin Jones is your average 21 year old kid. Disillusioned and a little directionless. He's also battling a fierce heartbreak after his first love ditches him. Despite him being a boy who sometimes just likes to read Tolkien in his room and listen to his The Doors records, he's extremely compassionate and has a solid heart. Then there's all of the carnies that man the booths at Joyland. The charming Lane Hardy. The accent-flipping psychic whose legitimacy can't be confirmed or denied. The cussing and rough around the edges Eddie Parks. The Willy Wonka-esque owner of Joyland. And, of course, the cut-to-the chase boy in a wheelchair, Michael, and his standoffish mother Annie. Each character was rich and had purpose to the story. We even learn how to coax the costume ladies and who is the best Scrabble player. 
  • The conclusion was very much a surprise, which is obviously important in a murder mystery! Dozens of different little seeds are planted throughout the novel that builds to the ultimate ending, but also leaves you suspecting a bunch of different outcomes. 
We could see other fires--great leaping bonfires as well as cooking fires--all the way down the beach to the twinkling metropolis of Joyland. They made a lovely chain of burning jewelry. Such fires are probably illegal in the twenty-first century; the powers that be have a way of outlawing many beautiful things made by ordinary people. I don't know why that should be, I only know it is. 
What's not as cool...
  • When I read The Shining, I was riveted. I was also too terrified to crawl out of bed and go to the bathroom. It was scary, and I know Stephen King as the master of horror. This is not exactly a horror novel, and it wasn't very scary to me either. It's definitely a bit thrilling and suspenseful, however it was a very slow build. We learn of the unsolved murder about twenty pages in, and then it takes a while for them to really go back to it again.
  • Michael, the young boy in a wheelchair, has a bit of 'the sight.' Naturally I compare this to Danny's 'shining' in The Shining. In Joyland, the 'sight' is a little less detailed and was a little disappointing to me. His abilities are only touched upon once or twice in a very vague manner. I would've liked for it to be included more, and maybe even more detailed like Danny's, or not at all. 
Even though this novel was a slow mover, and the psychic abilities of one of the characters wasn't as advanced or valuable as other King characters, I really loved reading about the carnies that made up Joyland, all of its intricacies, and was truly surprised by the ending. 

Have you read Joyland? Any other Stephen King novels? 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

E-Book Haul

So the other day I made my Birth Month Book Haul, but I was too tired at the time to include all of the galleys & Daily Deal's that I've picked up recently. I'm still thoroughly addicted to snagging galleys on Netgalley, and scooping up Daily Deals on Amazon. I tend to collect more e-books than real books these days...and that's dangerous.

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt: Two sisters have always been a perfect pair, relying on each other for their whole lives and looking up to one another. But when one of them gets involved with a teacher, the other is left wanting to support her happiness, but also knows something is very wrong. Scored this dramatic sounding read from Netgalley and I am super excited.

You're Not Much Use to Anyone by David Shapiro: Another Netgalley score about a young man who graduates from NYU early and has no idea what he wants to do with his life. This sounds right up my alley since I am still struggling with what I want to do and I've been graduated for almost a year.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera: Miss Prim leaves her life behind to work as a librarian in a small French village. Her boss is a mysterious, but of course handsome, man and her ideas of life and love are challenged. I believe this is a steamy one ;)
Born of Illusion by Terri Brown: Fun Fact: I used to be really obsessed with Harry Houdini when I was little. So when I read about this book, I needed it. Anna is the illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini, or so her mother says. Her mother is a medium, whose powers are a sham, but Anna's insights and mind reading powers a real. She must also keep them a secret from her mother. This takes place in 1920s and includes some of my favorite elements, so I am hoping to read this very soon.

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch: I don't know too much about this one, but it has been on my TBR for a long time. It's a historical thriller, and I don't get to read too many of those. 

Throwaway Girl by Kristine Scarrow: Andy has lived in foster care since she was nine years old and has battled hunger, homelessness, and abuse. When she turns eighteen, it is time for her to leave the group home for girls that has been the only type of family she's had since childhood and make her own life. 

Whenever I do these ebook hauls, I want to curse myself for scooping up SOOO MANY. How will I ever get to all of these?! The struggles of a book buying addict... 

Find any great e-books lately? 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Top Ten Characters Who Would Totally Be My BFF

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where we share our top ten bookish things!
This Weeks Topic: Top Ten Characters Who...

I know I'm not alone when I say that there have been many times when I'm reading a book and totally wish that a character could jump off of the page and into my life and be my best friend. Some people get bookish boyfriends, but I get bookish best friends more than anything else. Sometimes these characters are ones that I want to be there for and support, others are ones that I want to be there for me. And some I just want to gossip with until the sun comes up. Here are the top ten characters that I wish were my best friend: 

1) Blair Waldorf from the Gossip Girl series: Okay, so I would only want to be best friends with her if some crazy Serena drama DIDN'T happen between us. Blair is fiercely loyal to those to stand by her side, and if I had enemies I'm fairly certain she could bring them down with one evil glare. Plus, I just really want to go to one of her pajama parties. 
2) Bliss Cavendar from Whip It: Bliss and I have so many things in common it's almost scary. Her mother pushes her to be a pageant queen. My mother had dreams of me being a figure skater. She likes indie rock, I like indie rock. We've both had eyes for a musician. Both misfits. I just want to be in her circle and cheer her on at her bouts. And maybe join her team. 
3) Cath from Fangirl: I'm always complaining that having friends when you're a grownup is too difficult because everyone always wants to do something. No one is content with chilling at home and watching a movie or something anymore. Cath is someone I could totally just chill with. We would be introverts together, and be writing partners, and gush about our fandoms and it would be AWESOME. I would also take Rainbow Rowell as a best friend, just saying. 
4) Hazel Grace from The Fault in Our Stars: I'm a thyroid cancer survivor, so I know a bit of what she's going through. I would want to be there for her, especially because I know how cancer makes friends magically disappear. I wouldn't treat her like she has the plague, obvi. And she likes America's Next Top Model and I'm totally down with watching hours of Tyra Banks getting crazier and crazier. 
5) Charlie, Sam, and Patrick from The Perks of Being a Wallflower: I want to be a part of their merry band of misfits! I want to make sure that Charlie is doing okay, I want girl talk with Sam, and I want to make sure that Patrick gets the love that he deserves. I want to hang out the back of a speeding truck, and sing and dance to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Basically, I want to be in a group of friends where everyone just gets each other. 

source: Badly Drawn Human
6) Esther from The Fallback Plan: I read this book a month before I graduated and felt this all too hard. While some of my friends are thriving and finding careers, I'm stuck in limbo with an art school degree, and sometimes it's hard to stay positive about it. I think Esther and I would be the friends that motivate each other one day to finally put our degrees to use, and the next day we would be saying 'fuck it' to everything while lounging around together and contemplating our lives. 
7) Patti Smith from Just Kids: Okay, so Patti Smith is not a character in Just Kids, Patti Smith is Patti Smith. But for the sake of this list, I'm going to say she's a character in a way just so I can include her. Her above mentioned memoir changed my life and inspired me so much creatively. She's achieved so much in her life and is legendary. I saw her in concert last spring and felt possessed by her energy. If we were best friends, I could count on a good kick in the ass from her to get myself in gear. I would also just want some of her magic to rub off on me during our frequent chats over coffee. 
Source: tobiasherondale

8) Lola from Lola and the Boy Next Door: Lola walks to the beat of her own drum, and is constantly dreaming up and creating new outfits. I admired her individuality and her desire to be her own person. I think I could learn a lot from her in regards to my own self-confidence and creativity. Plus, she is surrounded by pie and that's never a bad thing. 
9) Alex and Becca from The F- It List: These girls have the most fun sounding friendship that I've read in a long time and I want to be a part of it! From the hyper-sexual Becca and her unending jokes, even in duress, to the the slightly cynical yet dedicated Alex, they are a match made in heaven. I think I could always count on them to make me laugh and pick me up, and be dedicated friends! 
10) Anne from Valley of the Dolls: Homegirl needs a best friend, especially being stabbed in the back by two of the people who mattered most to her. I have no interest in being super-famous or stealing her husband, so I can just be there for her. Maybe babysit when she needs it, and talk her down from being so thirsty all the time for men who aren't right for her ;) 

Who is on your list of character BFF's? 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Lit Girl is on Facebook!

Huzzah! The Lit Girl is on Facebook! I decided to create a page for several reasons: 
  • De-clutter my own page! I was scanning through my page the other day and noticed that just about everything I post is links to my blog posts or other bookish things. 
  • Interact more with all of you! I know that everyone who reads my blog is a lover of books, so when I post bookish things to my personal page, it doesn't inspire a huge discussion. I would love for all of you who read this blog to come to my Facebook page and talk more about my posts, or other things that I find and post about :) Essentially: I want to build a bigger community around my blog! 
  • Bigger motivation to update more frequently! I'm slowly crawling out of my winter hole & feeling more productive. But seeing all of my readers on Facebook and interacting with everyone more will give me a bigger push to create more content on a more regular basis :) 
You can find The Lit Girl page by simply searching 'The Lit Girl' on Facebook, or by clicking this link HERE! 

Thank you, everyone! Hope to see you over on my Facebook page :) 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Stacking the Shelves: Birth Month Book Haul!

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews where we share all of the books we've acquired this week. I don't do this so frequently, so this is more of a last couple of weeks ;) 

Who doesn't love their birth month?! My birthday, April 15th, has always been sacred to me in a way. I always treat it like I treat the first day of school: make it the best ever, and it'll start the next year off on the right foot. On my first days of the semester, I woke up early, ate a good breakfast, made myself look pretty, and made sure I was as organized as possible. On my birthday, I like to pamper myself, treat myself right, and try to start enforcing some positive habits that I can carry onto the new year. This birthday was especially awesome because the lunar eclipse fell on my birthday! The older I get, the more I appreciate April as my birth month, and the more apt I am to treat myself in the weeks leading up to my birthday. And what better way to treat myself than with books?! Without further ado, here are the books I've bought myself or acquired through publishers/authors in recent weeks:

The Imperfections of James & Kate by Christopher Gutierrez & Keltie Colleen: I've been following Chris' blog for a crazy amount of time, and always appreciate his philosophy on life. I've read a couple of his collections, and love each one. So when I saw that he wrote a book that is "as close to 'based on a true story' that you can get," with Keltie Colleen, I wanted it. As luck would have it, he reached out to me to give this a read. I'm really looking forward to see how Chris infused himself into this fictional story of a troubled young man and a slightly more hopeful dancer from New York.

1800 Miles to Nowhere by Brian Keith Diaz: Because Chris is great, he also brought me this book, too, so I could get a taste for other works that are printed through his independent publishing company, DeadxStop Publishing. Brian Keith Diaz has been touring for nearly twenty years, and writes about his experiences on the road with well-known musicians (such as Fall Out Boy), giving his readers a backstage pass to the underbelly of different music tours.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth: In my Divergent movie review, I mentioned how the movie made me excited about the series again. When I finished reading Divergent, I didn't feel that pull to go and buy the second book in the series. But a couple of days after watching the movie, I ran my ass to Barnes & Noble and picked up a copy. My movie-buzz has worn off just a little bit, but I am excited to see where this story goes...when I get to it.

Misery by Stephen King: I used to make a lot of fun of Stephen King for seemingly laying books like eggs. But after reading The Shining during the Polar Vortex thing in January, and my current reading experience of his Joyland, I'm starting to see that he is pretty wonderful at building characters and places. Also, I have seen the film adaptation of this book countless times. Kathy Bates gives me the creeps EVERY time, and I'll just say two words: ankle...hammer. Gah! Can't wait to read where one of her most evil characters was born from.

Dolores by Jacqueline Susann: I've written before about my love of Jacqueline Susann and the drama that lives in the pages of her books. I've had three of them for a while now, and I've decided I want the full Susann collection. I snagged this on Amazon for like, less than a dollar, and it's in great condition! Dolores is the story of a young widow after the death of her husband...who was the President of the United States of America. I've heard this is inspired by Jackie O. This is also the last book Jacqueline Susann wrote before she died. Now I just have two books to add to my collection & I am good to go!

This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl: This is a collection of stories, journal entries, letters, and drawings by Esther Earl, a Nerdfighter who inspired John Greens The Fault in Our Stars, and ultimately lost her battle with thyroid cancer. I think I've also mentioned before on this blog that I am a thyroid cancer survivor, which deepened my love for TFiOS, and I'm sure Esther's story will make me cry as much as Hazel's did. I will need to spend some time mentally preparing me for this one, I'm sure.

Popular by Maya Van Wagenen: I saw the author for this book on the Today show the other morning and this sung to my vintage loving heart. Maya found a guidebook from the 1950's on how to be popular. Inspired by this vintage wisdom, she embarked on a social experiment that lead her to follow this vintage guidebook in modern times. This book is full of stories and reactions from her experiment, and I can't wait to read it!

The more books I acquire, the more I wonder how on Earth I am going to read all of them in this lifetime. I suppose this means I should probably get back to reading!

Have you read any of these? Which ones should be on my Priority List?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: October 1, 2010
Page Count: 239
Key Words: post-apocalyptic, zombies, horror, romance
Goodreads & Amazon

R is not like other zombies, at least not the other zombies that he knows of. He still has full thoughts, desires, and dreams, and he articulates them with slow, stuttering language. Just because he seems to be the most well-thought zombie in his hive doesn't mean that he doesn't have the same basic needs as all other zombies: BRAINS! So when he and his hive break into a pack of humans to feast on their brains, he wasn't expecting to eat the brain of a thoughtful teenaged boy, and he definitely wasn't expecting to create a bond with the teenaged boy's girlfriend Julie. It becomes his new mission to protect her from his fellow zombies, and during his time with her he starts to see that this permanent death sentence he thought he had might not be so permanent after all.
I am dead, but it's not so bad. I've learned to live with it. I'm sorry I can't properly introduce myself, but I don't have a name anymore. Hardly any of us do. We lose them like car keys, forget them like anniversaries. Mine might have started with an "R," but that's all I have now. It's funny because back when I was alive, I was always forgetting other people's names. My friend "M" says the irony of being a zombie is that everything is funny, but you can't smile, because your lips have rotted off. 
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion was my first experience reading a zombie novel. I've seen plenty of zombie movies, but when it came to the books, I didn't think that there would be any sort of interesting narrative when it came to being in the head of a zombie instead of being in the head of someone pursued by zombies. I've read lots of positive reviews of this, though, and a lot of people touted it as being a twist on the usual zombie character. So when I saw this in the library, I had to pick it up and give it a try. I also heard this was slightly more light-hearted than my last read, Love Letters to the Dead and I definitely needed a change of pace to snap me out of my funk.
I let out a gentle groan and inch toward the girl, trying to force kindness into my dull expression. I am not no one. I am a nine-year-old boy, I am a fifteen-year-old boy, I am--
She throws a knife at my head.
The blade sticks straight into the center of my forehead and quivers there. But it has penetrated less than an inch, only grazing my frontal lobe. I pull it out and drop it. I hold out my hands, making soft noises through my lips, but I'm helpless. How do I appear unthreatening when her lover's blood is running down my chin? 
This is definitely a change of pace from the zombie stories we are typically used to hearing. R and the rest of the zombies in America have fallen victims to a plague of some sort, turning them into the Living Dead, and in order to keep themselves alive, they must eat the brains of the Living. The zombies I'm used to seeing are a slow, staggering bunch that can only groan, "brrraiinnsss!" and are relentless with their attacks. Some of R's comrades are this type of groaning, staggering zombies, but R, and his friend M, are able to speak to each other and think real thoughts about things other than brains. I liked R's character. He was thoughtful, and even when he knew that he needed the brains of others to survive, he didn't like having to take someone else's life. He also does something unheard of for zombies to do: he resists his hunger to save and protect Julie, who is very much alive. I was surprised to read how insightful R was, and actually really liked him as a character, which is sometimes hard to do when your narrator is going straight to the throat of a terrified victim.
It frustrates me and fascinates me that we'll never know for sure, that despite the best efforts of historians and scientists and poets, there are some things we'll just never know. What the first song sounded like. How it felt to see the first photograph. Who kissed the first kiss, and if it was any good.
As much as I liked R and the difference of him and zombies that we have come to know, this book ended for me with a lot of unanswered questions. There were also a couple of flaws when it came to world-building and re-creating what people think of when they think of zombies. Things mentioned past this point could be spoilerish! When R meets Julie, he starts to change in a way that all of the zombies and Living could have never imagined. He feels feelings for something that used to be his life source. This change, as charming as it is, has little to no explanation. At first I thought it could be because he ate the brain of Julie's boyfriend, Perry, and when he eats the brain he is able to see Perry's memories, most of which focus around Julie and his adoration of her. Perry's thoughts also creep into R's mind at random times, and R becomes a sort of vessel for Perry's memories and thoughts. Not only was this confusing for R's first-person narrative, but it didn't answer the questions: why Julie? Why Perry? Considering R has been a zombie for a little while, it can be assumed that he has eaten a husband or wife before, but this did not make him fall in love with the other spouse. I didn't know what made Perry and Julie THE ONES that are able to spur this whole change of the way human's view the plague that created the Living Dead. I just wished there was some sort of explanation, or hint of an explanation, that would help us understand why things are suddenly changing after what seems like over a decade of struggle to come up with a solution to beat the plague.
I want to do something impossible. Something astounding and unheard of. I want to scrub the moss off the space shuttle and fly Julie to the moon and colonize it, or float a capsized cruise ship to some distant island where no one will protest us, or just harness the magic that brings me into the brains of the Living and use it to bring Julie into mine, because it's warm in here, it's quiet and lovely, and in here we aren't an absurd juxtaposition, we are perfect.
There is also the potential for a lot of great conflicts and obstacles in Warm Bodies, but unfortunately, our characters are extremely forgiving. More Spoilery Things follow! At the start of R's beautiful relationship with Julie, he is worried about what will happen when and if she finds out that he is the one who killed her boyfriend Perry. He thinks about it here and there throughout the book, and the release for that tension came too late in the novel. I was also expecting this to create a fissure in the perfect harmony of their Zombie-Human relationship, at least a fight of some kind. But when the truth comes to light, it is quite literally shrugged off, which FRUSTRATED ME SO MUCH. I wanted a juicy fight! I wanted her trust in R to be shaken! But no dice. There are also several other moments that could've been heightened dramatically, but instead were also shrugged off, eliminating any conflict from R's immediate life. Instead, a lot of the conflict centered around the rest of the zombies and the Living.
I would like to end it here. How nice if I could edit my own life. If I could halt in the middle of a sentence and put it all to rest in a drawer somewhere, consummate my amnesia and forget all the things that have happened, are happening, and are about to happen. Shut my eyes and go to sleep happy.
But no, "R." No sleep of the innocent. Not for you. Did you forget? You have blood on your hands. On your lips. On your teeth. Smile for the cameras. 
Warm Bodies was definitely a twist on the zombie stories that we all know and have heard of. Our main character R has real thoughts, and is someone we can feel for. He is also a big protector of a Living girl, which is something that is never heard of in other zombie stories. However, I think the author protected our narrator from conflict a little too much, which made some major events in the book seem like no big deal. I also felt left in the dark about the changes that were coming on in this world, and was left wanting more of an explanation for the changes that the zombies were going through.
Have you guys read this one? Seen the movie? Even though the book wasn't my favorite, I would probably watch it if I saw it on TV and see how and if things play out differently!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Top Seven Most Unique Books I've Ever Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish where we share our top ten bookish related things!

I love this week's topic because sometimes a book can really be a big breath of fresh air. A lot of the times, especially when reading within the same genre, you can come across books that remind you directly of another book, or they follow the same sort of story arc, or the characters fit into the same stereotypes. Here are some of the most unique books I can remember reading in terms of storytelling devices, characterization, or world building. I couldn't come up with ten that I could remember, so here are my top seven

1) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess : This is one of my favorite books of all time. Burgess created a whole glossary of slang for his main character, Alex, and his droogs to use, and it is all over his narration. I enjoyed reading about the wild youth, and means the government goes through to reform them into upstanding citizens. Violent and hilarious. Please don't let the tricky language get to you, this book is worth the work. 

2) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak : It's not often that you read a book told from the perspective of Death, who is a real personified character. It's also not often that you feel empathy and understanding towards Death. Not only did we feel for his character, but we understand his ways, and he tells the story of Liesel so beautifully. 

3) Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo : Another one of my most favorite books ever, and Dalton Trumbo was also kind of a badass. This book is told by Joe, a soldier who has served in the first World War and wakes up in a hospital bed. It takes some time, but he starts to realize the full extent of the damage that has been done to his body. There's stream of conscious, there's flashbacks and dreams to his old life with his family and girlfriend. It's heartbreaking and triumphant and amazing. 

4) Body by Harry Crews : This story of a bodybuilder and her hillbilly family coming to watch her compete in a competition is over-the-top, rambunctious, hilarious, and just generally crazy. I love the absurdity in Crews' stories, and this was my first experience with him, and it was definitely memorable. 

5) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby : The story behind just the writing of this book is fascinating. Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine. He then suffered a stroke and slipped into a coma. When he woke up, he discovered that he now suffered from 'locked-in' syndrome. His thoughts were intact, but he was physically paralyze with the exception of limited movement in his head and face. He wrote this book over the course of ten-months, by blinking his left eye and having an assistant transcribe his words. A beautiful account of what it's like to suffer from being locked into your own body and the will to survive. 

6) Geek Love by Katherine Dunn : Another favorite of mine! Olympia is born into a family of sideshow freaks. When her mother was pregnant with her and her siblings, she experimented with different drugs to create shocking physical defects in her children. This is the story of the beginning of her family, and their traveling show. There's sibling rivalry, cults, and freak shows. What's not to love? Also, can we talk for a second about how EXCITING it is that next season of American Horror Story is circus themed? 

7) As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner : This book was a struggle for me to get through, but it proved to be worth it in the end. When Addie Bundren passes away, her husband and children make a difficult journey to carry her body and coffin to her desired resting place. Told in alternating points of view from her children, husband, and those involved, we get a huge perspective on this journey. Thinking about the final line still gives me chills. 

All of these are well worth the read! Some are challenging to read, and some of them are challenging to deal with, but each one is super unique in their storytelling methods. 

What books are on your list? 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Page Count: 323
Genre: Day-Ruining Contemporary YA
Goodreads & Amazon

It starts with a letter to Kurt Cobain. Laurel is assigned to write a letter to a dead person in her first day of english class, in a high school where no one knows her sister May or the tragic way that she died. Kurt Cobain was May's favorite. Instead of turning the letter in, Laurel keeps writing to other celebrities who died too young and tragically, much like her sister--River Phoenix, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Janis Joplin, Judy Garland, etc. Each letter cracks Laurel open wider and wider. She writes about her new friends, her broken family, and her magical sister May and the night that took her away.
**I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher in exchange for review. This in no way swayed or influenced my opinion on the book. Promise! Quotes in this post may also be reflected differently in the final copy of the book**

Dear Kurt Cobain,
Mrs. Buster gave us our first assignment in English class today, to write a letter to a dead person. As if the letter could reach you in heaven, or at the post office for ghosts. She probably meant for us to write to someone like a former president or something, but I need someone to talk to. I couldn't talk to a president. I can talk to you.
I wish you could tell me where you are now and why you left. You were my sister May's favorite musician. Since she's been gone, it's hard to be myself, because I don't know exactly who I am. But now that I've started high school, I need to figure it out really fast. Because I can tell that otherwise, I could drown here.
 There are certain movies I love that I recommend to people with a warning, "I love this movie, but watch out: it's a night ruiner!" That's usually what I say when I recommend Requiem for a Dream or Kids or American Beauty. It doesn't happen that often for me with books, though. But when I got an email from Goodreads containing a letter from Stephen Chbosky praising this book...I had an idea of what I was in for. After all, Stephen Chbosky wrote one of my most favorite books ever, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, and that book can really turn a person inside of themselves. Love Letters to the Dead is Ava Dellaira's debut novel and I can definitely see why Chbosky is blurbed and singing his praises: there are definitely similarities! This book is told completely in epistolary form, with our main character Laurel writing to celebrities who have died too young, and often too tragically. Each letter usually starts with a fact about the celebrity and pieces of their lives before they died. This seemed a little redundant since she is telling these dead celebrities pieces about their lives they would've already known, but it helped bring them to life. The factoids or anecdotes she shares with the celebrities made them characters, too, and each story ties them back to Laurel's own life and her sister May. This was also helpful for the lesser known poets and writers that she writes to.
Dear Amelia Earhart,
I remember when I first learned about you in social studies in middle school, I was almost jealous. I know that's the wrong way to feel about someone who died tragically, but it wasn't so much the dying I was jealous of. It was the flying, and the disappearing. The way you saw the earth from the air. You weren't scared of getting lost. You just took off. 
Oh, Laurel. I don't think a character has affected me so much since I read Charlie's story in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. With it being her first year of high school, she is trying to find her place in the big ocean of it all, and fitting her way in with a new group of friends. I actually had a hard time believing that she was in ninth grade, though, since she was so perceptive and full of beautiful observations. At one point, she refers to her boyfriend as being full of moths, and she's the light that they're pressing to be towards. She writes with a lot of poetry in her words, enough that made me jealous of my own journal entries, but I just didn't know if a 14 year old would be able to make those kinds of beautiful observations. Either way, there was so much beauty that she brought into her world and letters. And even though she sounds older when she writes, a lot of her reactions were very age appropriate. I really felt for her. She painfully describes how life is now without her sister, and she writes with a delicate naiveté about fitting in with her new, older friends. And she slowly, slowly reveals new details about what happened on the night that May dies.
"Okay," he said, and then he paused. "I'm proud of you, Laurel. It's not easy, what you've been through, and you're out there living your life." He sounded like he meant it, and it was more than he'd said about anything in a long time. My stomach sank with guilt. I wondered what he would think if he knew what we were really doing.
With epistolary fiction, it can sometimes be hard to break away from the writer of the letters/diary, and get into the lives of the people they surround themselves with. This was not the case. I fell in love with everyone in Laurel's life, and she gave each of her friends huge breaths of life. She made us fall in love with May. She was the magical big sister. She was beautiful, and looked great in her clothes, and helped Laurel believed that they were fairies. Her room is full of heart-shaped sunglasses and geodes and Nirvana posters. By Laurel showing us what she missed about her sister, and bringing those moments to the page, we missed May, too. And as Laurel grows through her letters, she starts to see little cracks that she may not have noticed or recognized before.
Then I just go around and around. And I still don't know how to make sense of the world. But maybe it's okay that it's bigger than what we can hold on to. Because I think that by beauty, you don't just mean something that's pretty. You mean something that makes us human.
There is also Laurel's friends that we come to fall in love with, too. Each one is such a character, and surprisingly none of them tends to fall off the page. In books I've read before, a group of friends suddenly becomes diminished and we only hear from certain people once ever 50 pages. Not the case here, either. Each friend checks in every other page, adding and enriching to Laurel's life and recovery. There is romance within her group of friends, adding to her conflicting emotions of healing from the loss of her sister, and trying to hold onto secrets and seeing her friends in pain. I LOVED THEM SO MUCH. Laurel's family was also brought to life, from her mother who ran away to deal with her emotions in California, her silently grieving father, and her Jesus-freak aunt. Each person has their own demons, and Laurel brings them to us. You know, to kill our emotions even further.
Tristan looked at me, and he said something I'll always remember. "Let me tell you something, Buttercup," he said. "There are two most important things in the world--being in danger, and being saved."
Sigh, the more time I spend thinking about Love Letters to the Dead, the more I love it. It hit me square in the feels, and there were several times that I was wiping away tears. I think I might have also had the most contemplative shower of my life on the day that I was about to finish Laurel's story. I cried and cried and cried. There was so much beauty and pain and tragedy. So much teen angst, and it's been awhile since I read a really good book full of traditional teen angst. This is now a book that I will give a night-ruining warning, but will still recommend it whole-heartedly. I'm also excited to see what else Dellaira has up her sleeve. Hopefully she doesn't disappear from the novel-writing scene like Chbosky did...

 BIG thank you to the publisher for letting me experience this book early! 

Have you read this one yet? Are you interested? Who is a dead person you would write a letter to?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Top Ten Books, Series, and Authors That Started It All

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted at the Broke and the Bookish where we share our top ten bookish related things!

Sometimes I fall off of doing this meme because I have a hard time coming up with ten different books/authors/things for each topic. But when I woke up this morning and saw that today's topic was dedicated to the top ten books/authors/series that got us into reading or sparked our interest in our current favorite genres, I knew that I had to do it! I've been a lifelong reader, and I can still remember a lot of the books that really got my little mind turning in elementary school. Without further ado, here are the top ten books, authors, & series that were the foundation on which I built my love of reading! 

1. Ramona Quimby series!  I LOVED all of the books in the Ramona Quimby series, with Ramona the Pest specifically being my favorite. She is mischievous, and sassy, and I will never forget her pulling on poor Suzy's curls over and over and over again. Beverly Cleary also had some real gems like the Ralph S. Mouse series (it was a mouse on a motorcycle, what's not to love?), and the Henry Huggins series, but Ramona was my favorite. 

2. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. Honestly, I grew out of picture books very quickly (book snob alert!) but if someone was to ask me what my favorite one was, it would DEFINITELY be Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. The town of Chewandswallow (haha!) gets their food from the sky three times a day. Juice pours like rain, meatballs drop down like hail. AKA: It's a dream world. But then, the food gets bigger, and CRAY CRAY. !!!!! I forgot how awesome this book was. Like magical realism for babies.

3. Roald Dahl. This man freaked me out and had me excited at the same time. I think I was in 4th or 5th grade when I started reading his mildly twisted books. I don't even know if I can pick favorites! I know I loved Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches, James and the Giant Peach, and The Twits. All so beautiful and magical and crazy. He also has some interestingly titled adult books (Switch Bitch?!) but I have not forayed into them because I want to keep my childhood in tact. 

4. Goosebumps by R.L. Stein. I ate these up like candy on Halloween night. I can't even tell you how many Goosebumps books I've read, and I don't remember being all that scared by them...but maybe I was a little bit. I just know that I adored them and read tons and tons of them. I also was obsessed with the videos (yes, I have Goosebumps 'episodes' on VHS!) 

5. Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I actually just read an article not long ago about how this book/series is one of the most racist children's book of all time (I think due to it's depictions of Native American's?), but that can't stop my little elementary school heart from loving the trials and tribulations of life on the prairie. Little known fact: I actually LOVE history, specifically American, so I think this series sparked my love in that, too. This book took me places, and I even tried making molasses candy in the snow (gag). I also remember feeling very cozy when I read these books, and my family went camping a lot and I'd bring one of these along so I think that added to the nature side of these books. 

6. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Obviously I loved this book enough to get Harriet tattooed on my arm (above!). This book also sparked my interest in writing. Harriet is never found without her black and white composition notebook, where she scribbles observations and sometimes mean-spirited comments about her classmates (basically my high school diary). She also runs around her New York City neighborhood and observes her neighbors, too, and when her diary gets found, all of her thoughts are out in the world and she has to make it better. I love this story, and Harriet, even though she was a little bit sassy. 

7. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I feel like this series is a given for just about every book blogger out there. I started reading Harry Potter when I was ten (fitting, no?) and NEVER WENT BACK. Holy crap, I LOVED (and still do) HARRY POTTER! /end nerd moment. Seriously, I flew through these books, and waiting for the next one was always torturous. My fifth grade teacher even got into the Harry Potter spirit. She read the first book out loud to us, and in a lesson on how to use a phone book, there were special Harry Potter references, people, and places to look up IN THE PHONE BOOK OF MY TOWN. I still don't even know how that sorcery happened, but it blew my mind. Harry Potter really showed me how far books can take you, and how much it can enrich your mind and fill you with magic. Sigh. I need to reread all of these ASAP. I also need to have a baby so I can make them love Harry Potter ASAP, too (april fools!). 

8. Dear America series. As mentioned above, I'm a little bit of a history nerd, the sinking of the Titanic being one of my (weirdly) favorite historical events. When I found out the Titanic sank on my birthday (April 15th!), I became obsessed with finding out everything I could about the ship, it's short voyage, and it's sinking. I even somehow managed to watch the movie when I was seven and embarrassingly asked my 2nd grade teacher some vocabulary from the movie that I was unfamiliar with ('one-legged prostitute' being one of them). This one about the Titanic was, of course, my favorite. But there are also some really amazing ones about other important parts of American history, all told from the perspective of a young girl. 

9. The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I actually don't remember much about this series, other than it was about four orphaned children and their adventures living together. I just remember that I read quite a few books in this series and really enjoyed it as a child. I found a Boxcar book at a thrift store not long ago and naturally had to have it. I don't know if I'll collect them all again, but ya never know, considering my book buying habits.

10. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Another dark, twisted set of books that I was obsessed with. My neighbor worked at the bookstore in the mall of my hometown, and one day I was delivering the Neighborhood Newspaper that I made up for the six houses on my street and she told me she had a book for me to read. It was the first book in this series, and I quickly fell in love with these three orphans and their evil uncle. This is another series I would love to revisit, because I remember it being super creepy and engaging. 

Aww, now I'm feeling all nostalgic over Baby Me and how much of a little book nerd I used to be even then. I felt physically excited writing about some of these books, and a lot of memories attached to my reading of them started bubbling to the surface. I feel like I need to go read ALL OF THESE RIGHT NOW!! 

This was so fun. What were some of your favorite childhood books? Which ones would you like to revisit?