Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind is set in post-war Barcelona. The story begins with young Daniel being taken  by his father to the cemetary of forgotten books, where he is allowed to select one book to keep but must promise that he will take care of it for the rest of his life. After falling in love with the book, Daniel decides to find others books written by the same author. He soon finds that no books exist, as they have all been destroyed by a mysterious figure that collects the books and burns them. Intrigued by this, Daniel sets out to discover the story of the mysterious author and just what may have happened to him.   The Shadow of the Wind is actually two stories in one. As Daniel learns more about the author, Julian Corax, he finds himself unraveling secrets that have been buried for thirty years.  A long, winding novel, The Shadow of the Wind is beautifully written and spellbinding. The translation from Spanish is superbly done. This book is written as a novel should be. It is an epic story told with words that will paint pictures in the reader's mind When you are ready to really dig deep into a story pick up this book, but read it slowly and carefully and savor it.  This book was clearly written to be read by those that have a true love of books.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

As The Book Thief begins, readers are introduced to a young girl name Liesel Meminger.  She is traveling on a train in Germany with her mother and brother.  Her mother can no longer care for Liesel and her younger brother, so she is taking them to a foster home.  The only problem is the book's narrator enters into their train car and takes Liesel's brother before they make it.  Who is this narrator, you may ask?  The narrator is Death. 

Liesel steals her first book, The Grave Digger's Handbook, at her brother's funeral. When she is deposited at her new home, she hides the book beneath her mattress for safe keeping as she is unsure what it is about. It takes a while for Liesel to warm up to Papa and Mama (her foster parents), but she  grows to love them. She especially loves Papa, who comforts her after nightmares each night and teaches her to read.  Liesel eventually mentions The Grave Digger's Handbook to Papa and they begin reading it together.  After she has conquered this book, she becomes thirsty for more and steals (or rescues) her second book from a Nazi book burning.  And this is only the beginning of her thievery...

Our narrator is very different from what you might think. In The Book Thief, he is not portrayed as the one who kills the body and steals the soul away.  He is merely the one who collects souls after they have departed from the body.  Death is not the cause of the horrors that come about in this novel, he is just the byproduct of evil caused by humans. He actually becomes a very likeable character and provides an interesting perspective for readers.  

My Thoughts:  
I have been wanting to read this book for quite some time.  One of the ladies from my book club picked it for us to read this past month, so I was excited to have a reason to put it at the top of my "To Read" pile.  I was not disappointed.  

While it does take some time getting use to having Death as a narrator, I realized that doing this was brilliant on the author's part.  While Death is not omniscient, he does travel quite a bit, and offers many different perspectives.  He helps the story to be understood within the context of Nazi Germany and allows readers to get a closer look at the lives of many different characters. 

I have really become a fan of historical fiction over the past few years and I have to say this is one of the best historical fiction novels I have read.  It is definitely worth your time.  

Other Book Suggestions: 
Night by Elie Wiesel
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (I highly recommend this one)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

"The fault dear Brutus, is not in our Stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." - Julius Caesar

Hazel Grace was diagnosed with stage four thyroid cancer at the age of thirteen.  At the age of fourteen a medical miracle in the form of a drug trial prolonged her life by shrinking tumors found in her lungs.  Now sixteen, Hazel has been removed from school and is tethered to an oxygen tank. While she is alive and could live on in her current state indefinitely, life is by no means easy.  

Then Hazel meets Augustus Waters at her cancer support group.  He is handsome, a cancer survivor, and he likes Hazel. Being with Augustus changes everything for Hazel and she begins to see the world in a different light. 

Erienne's Review:

Sarah and I recently went to the National Book festival in D.C. and were able to hear John Green speak and then wait in a line of over 1,800 people to get his autograph (thankfully we were not at the end). Waiting in line, it was obvious that John's books have really made a difference in the young adult world.  Teenagers were actually rereading his books as they were waiting in line. One girl in front of us even commented that she had read his book, Looking for Alaska 13 times.  It is good to know that there is an author out there who writes books that teens want to read.  

While The Fault in Our Stars is technically a young adult book, it is definitely a book for adults as well. I have passed this book along to many of my adult friends who have in turn passed it along to someone else.  While reading this book I found myself laughing and crying at the same time. Hazel and Augustus have a beautiful relationship full of struggles, love, and laughter.  I wouldn't miss this one if I were you.  

Sarah's Review: 
This book is quirky, original, beautiful, sad, endearing, soulful, honest, the list could go on and on. I actually thought I would dislike this book since I imagined I already knew how it would end. After-all, how else could a book about a stage four cancer patient end? But I was pleasantly surprised by the interesting twists in the story. The dialogue was witty, in ways it reminded me of Juno, and the characters were real and well-written. The Fault in Our Stars reminds us what it means to truly love someone and begs us to embrace that love no matter how painful it may be. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of John Green's books after seeing such an overwhelming turnout of his fans at the National Book Festival.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Where Things Come Back is a story told from multiple points of view.  The main story line follows seventeen year old Cullen as he and his family deal with the disappearance of his younger brother, Gabriel.  While the search is ongoing for his brother, Cullen's hometown of Lily, Arkansas seems to be more concerned with the possibility of finding a woodpecker that was thought to be extinct.  Concurrently, Whaley begins the story of a young teenage missionary to Africa.  Benton Sage spends less time as a missionary than planned and returns home to find that he is no longer sure what he believes.  Throughout the novel the stories seem disconnected, but Whaley brilliantly ties them together in a way that will definitely take you by surprise. 

My Thoughts:
Where Things Come Back is a novel that confused me in the beginning.  I could not figure out why Whaley was telling two stories that seemed to have nothing to do with one another.  The beauty of this book is how he ties everything together in the end and it all begins to make sense.  This was truly a fabulous novel and one I highly recommend. 

Image from http://www.johncoreywhaley.com/.

Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides

Middlesex is the story of Calliope Stephanides, and the three generations of Stephanides before her.  The book follows the family from generation to generation from a tiny village in Greece to Detroit, Michigan. While searching for answers as to why she is different from other girls, Calliope uncovers a dark family secret and a genetic condition that has been hidden for many years.  Understanding that secret is what finally allows Callie to become Cal and to finally feel whole. 
Middlesex is an epic tale of a family's immigration to the United States and what it means to become an American. It is an interesting look at how the history of our family can shape us into what we will become. Calliope's story is at times heartbreaking, but written so truthfully it is beautiful.  This book is a little bit of a heavy read, and not for everyone due to some sensitive sexual material, but it is so beautifully written it's hard to put down.  Jeffrey Eugenides is a master of words.

The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond Atkins

The Front Porch Prophet is the story of A.J. Longstreet. Raised by his father and grandmother, A.J. is an honorable man and a loving father and husband. When A.J. is reunited with his old friend Eugene and learns that his friend is dying of cancer, he is forced to make an unthinkable decision. Eugene would like for A.J. to put him out of his misery when the time comes. The rekindled friendship stirs up many memories for the duo- both good and bad. This book is a collection of those memories and of the new ones they make together before Eugene's untimely demise.

Raymond Atkins somehow manages to turn a sad situation into one of the most hilarious books I have ever read. I actually laughed out loud at several points in this book. Set in rural Georgia, the characters are unforgettable and the situations that A.J. finds himself in are unbelievable. The book reads like a couple of old men sitting around a campfire rehashing the adventures of a lifetime.  I absolutely love good southern literature. Raymond Atkins captures the spirit of the south and the humor of its people flawlessly. What I loved most about this book was that while it was very entertaining to read, at its heart it is a story of forgiveness and true friendship. I can not recommend this book enough. I would be willing to place it on my top five all time favorites list. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Saving Max by Antoinette van Heugten

High-powered attorney Danielle Parkman's son, Max, is autistic, smart, and increasingly aggressive. When his behavior becomes dangerous to both him and her she has him admitted to a top-notch psychiatric facility. She soon finds Max unconscious and covered in blood beside a patient that has been brutally murdered. When all signs point to Max, Danielle is determined to fight for her son even if she isn't entirely sure of his innocence.

Once Saving Max picked up a little steam the story got very interesting. It moves quickly and I honestly couldn't decide if I believed Max was innocent or guilty until the end of the book. It's an interesting look at just how far a mother is willing to go for her son.  This book is action packed and even a little disturbing. I wish I could have liked the main characters a little more, perhaps that's why I didn't really find myself rooting for anyone in the book, but the storyline kept my curiosity peaked enough to have me racing to the end. I'm actually surprised by how many bad reviews this book received, I found it to be a quick, exciting read.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

"The circus arrives without warning.  No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers.  It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen.  No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world."

These opening lines in Erin Morgenstern's fabulous novel just begin to describe the beauty of Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams).  Her descriptions of the night circus make you wish that it was a real circus of which you could attend.  I do not believe I have read a book so good in quite some time.  

While I highly recommend this book, I will say that I have struggled with how to give a brief summary of it.  It is not written in chronological order, but each chapter has a date and time stamp.  While this is a little confusing in the beginning, it adds quite a bit of suspense and excitement as the story progresses. That being said, I have decided to tell you just a little about a few of the characters and then you can read the book to find out the rest!

Celia Bowen has been left by her mother to live with her father, Hector Bowen (also known as Prospero).  Hector is a magician who is training Celia to follow in his footsteps.  Hector and his former teacher, Alexander, have different ideas about how magic should be taught and used.  This difference of opinion leads to challenges where both Hector and Alexander choose a student to teach using their methods and then have them dual in an agreed upon venue. For this particular challenge, Hector chooses his daughter and Alexander chooses a boy from an orphanage who comes to be known as Marco. 

Bailey, a young boy living on his family's farm, is a lover of Le Cirque des Reves.  When the circus comes to his town of Concord, Massachusetts he spends as many nights as he possibly can exploring the many tents within the circus boundaries. While knowing that the circus is off limits during the day, Bailey responds to a dare from his sister to sneak into its gates before nightfall. While there, he meets a beautiful red haired girl known as Poppet who will help him make one of the most important decisions of his life.  

Erin Morgenstern intricately weaves the lives of these (along with many more) characters together and the result is a book that is sure to be talked about for years to come. 

Note:  If you like audiobooks, I highly recommend listening to The Night Circus.  The narrator is fabulous.

Image from http://erinmorgenstern.com/the-night-circus/.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue, eccentric child of a psychic, has no psychic ability of her own.  She lives not only with her mother, but with her cousin Orla and her mother's two best friends who are also gifted with psychic abilities.  Over and over Blue has been told by these women that if she kisses her true love, he will die.  Unsure of how this would actually happen, Blue does not give it too much consideration until her Aunt Neeve comes into town and foretells that this will be the year Blue will fall in love. 

With money, friends, and a car, Gansey appears to have it all.  But, what he is really interested in is tales of sleeping kings, specifically one that he thinks is located in Henrietta, Virginia.  Being a student at Aglionby Academy provides him the perfect opportunity to explore the ley line where he thinks the sleeping king, Owen Glendower, is located.  Legend tells that the first to wake him will be granted a favor. 

One of the things I like most about this book is how Maggie begins by developing the characters individually and then has them cross paths.  Each of the characters is unique in their own way, but they all fit together so well.  Another thing I have really enjoyed about Maggie's books (I just read The Scorpio Races before this book), is that she comes up with great story lines based on some sort of mythology.  I had never heard anything about sleeping kings until I read this book and was very interested to find out more about the legend.  From what I have read, Maggie does a fantastic job of incorporating elements from the legend into the novel (but, I would expect nothing less!!).  This is just the beginning of The Raven Boys (this refers to the boys that go to Aglionby Academy) four book series and I can't wait to find out what happens next.  

**This is a review of an ARC that I received at a conference.  This book is scheduled to come out September 18, 2012.  You can pre-order a copy here.   

Image from http://maggiestiefvater.com/the-raven-boys/the-raven-boys/.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stefivater

In this award winning novel, Maggie Stiefvater takes readers to the fictional island of Thisby where flesh eating water horses, better known as capaill uisce, inhabit the surrounding waters.  Thisby is home of the annual Scorpio Races where islanders attempt to train and race the capaill uisce and tourists travel from all around to see the race.  

Kate "Puck" Connolly lives with her two brothers, Gabe and Finn.  Their parents were killed by a capaill uisce and they were left to take care of one another.  Gabe, Puck's older brother, decides that he can no longer stand to live on the island of Thisby, and makes plans to move to the mainland.  In an attempt to stop him Puck decides that she will race in the Scorpio Races, but cannot bear to ride one of the capaill uisce that killed her parents.  She instead decides to ride her land mare, Dove.  

Sean Kendrick, four time winner of the Scorpio Races, longs to be free of his current employer and owner of most of the island, Benjamin Malvern.  Malvern refuses to sell Sean the capaill uisce, Corr, that once belonged to his father.  But this year, Malvern has agreed to sell Corr to him if he wins the race.  

Who will win the Scorpio Races?  A large cash prize awaits whomever crosses the finish line first.  Both Puck and Sean need the money, but someone will come back empty handed.  

The first books I read by Maggie Steifvater were The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy.   I really enjoyed them and even had the opportunity to meet Maggie at a conference I went to in 2011.  At this conference she was handing out (and signing) free copies of The Scorpio Races.  I have been meaning to pick it up and read it for some time now, but just haven't had the chance.  I was further motivated to read it when Maggie won a 2011 Printz Honor Award for the book.  It definitely deserved the award.  I love how she develops her characters and how she creates the setting of the island of Thisby.  As I was reading, I kept thinking that I would really like to visit Thisby only to have to remind myself that it does not exist.  While I definitely love Sean and Puck, I think that Puck's younger brother Finn is my favorite character.  He is quite humorous and I love his interactions with the other characters in the novel.   Lastly, I will say that Maggie's prose in this novel are just beautiful.  I loved The Scorpio Races so much that my next read is her new book that I received an advance copy of: The Raven Boys.  It is part of a four book series and is due to come out in September 2012.  

Image from http://maggiestiefvater.com/the-scorpio-races/

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

In this first installment of the Grisha Trilogy, Leigh Bardugo introduces readers to a fantasy world based on Russian folklore and culture. The land of Ravka has been at war for many years and is divided by the Shadow Fold, an area of complete darkness and flesh-eating volcra.  With enemies at all sides, the King of Ravka trusts the fate of his land to the Darkling and his Grisha (those with unique magical abilities).  At a very young age, children in the land of Ravka, are tested for Grisha abilities.  Alina and Mal, orphans brought to live at the home of a Duke, are tested but, Alina hides her abilities so that she will not be separated from Mal.  Years later, Alina and Mal are in the army; Alina is a mapmaker and Mal a tracker.  While traveling through the Shadow Fold, a place where the Darkling has no power, a volcra attacks Mal, and Alina protects him by shielding him with light.  Once out of the fold the Darkling whisks Alina away and announces that a long awaited "Sun Summoner," who will help destroy the Shadow Fold, has been discovered.  As Alina trains to become a Grisha at the Little Palace, she longs to see Mal again, but is also drawn to the Darkling.  The more time Alina spends learning to be a Grisha, she struggles to know what to believe and whom she can trust.

I had just started to hear about Shadow and Bone when I went to the ALA (American Library Association) conference in California.  Leigh Bardugo was there signing books and giving away maps of Ravka and very cool grey nail polish.  It was great meeting her and hearing a little more about the book, but I still really didn't know exactly what I was getting into.  It took me less that two days to read the book and I am thinking that it will be very hard for me to wait for the next book in the trilogy, Siege and Storm, to come out in 2013.  Bardugo does a fabulous job of creating the world of Ravka, with its subtle but intriguing magic.  There is suspense throughout most of the book and just when you think you've got the plot figured out, you discover that things may not be as you suspected.  All of you Harry Potter fans and lovers of fantasy, Shadow and Bone is a must read!

Image from http://www.leighbardugo.com/books/. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James

Anastasia Steele is an ordinary girl that catches the eye of an extraordinary man.  Christian Grey always gets what he wants, and he wants her. Despite an unusual arrangement the two find they are pulled to one another. Their story is full of love, anguish, stubbornness, intrigue, and (shall I say it?) erotica.  Fifty Shades of Grey has gripped the imagination and fired up the libidos of millions of readers world-wide. 

One thing you show know about this book is that it is a trilogy, but different in that it is basically one long story divided into three books. The first and second book literally leave you hanging and the next book picks up immediately with no back story. In order to get the whole story, you must be willing read all three books. You also can not pick up in the middle of the series and expect to understand what is happening.

The other thing you should know about this book is that it is extremely explicit. I lovingly refer to it as my favorite "smut book".  While the storyline is fairly interesting, the author makes no attempt at hiding the fact that she is writing a sex book. In contrast to most books, the action of the story is sprinkled between the numerous sex scenes. A tact that I found highly entertaining and just a little bit embarrassing in the beginning, but as the story moved on I found myself skimming through those parts.  By the third book I was glad when the author left the characters at the bedroom door having had my fill of the Red Room. Fifty Shades of Grey is worth reading. Although predictable, it moves quickly and leaves you feeling.....umm fulfilled. It's become common ground for women that have nothing else in common. Everyone loves a little Christian Grey. It's sure to be fueling fires and sparking love lives for quite some time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Lena Holoway, seventeen, always looked forward to her eighteenth birthday when she would receive the cure.  Before scientists found the cure, people thought that love was a good thing, but now they know better.  Falling in love, or catching the deliria, is a disease and once it has taken hold there is no escaping its grasp.  Lena believed that being cured would allow her to be safe and without pain.  The only problem is that with only months left until her appointment to be cured, Lena Holoway falls in love. 

Lauren Oliver's Delirium is the first book in yet another dystopian trilogy.  From the beginning, Oliver has reader's sitting on the edge of their seats trying to figure out just what Lena's society is all about as they attempt to eradicate love, pain, and feelings in general.  At the age of eighteen, an appointment is made for each member of the society to receive their cure.  While the exact steps for the procedure are not outlined in the book, it is suggested that the part of the patient's brain that controls feelings is removed.  In the novel, Lena transitions from a girl who completely trusts in her government and their way of operating to a girl who questions their ideas and recognizes that love is necessary for living a life that is full and complete.  

Oliver leaves readers hanging at the end of the novel, but thankfully book two in the trilogy, Pandemonium, is already out. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

  --> Disclaimer:  Since I initially posted this review, I have had a few people tell me that they started the series and were a little disappointed. While this series is dystopian (like The Hunger Games), it is different.  The main character is a boy and it is quite a bit more gruesome.  Romantic elements are also not as prevalent as some other dystopians that are currently on the market.  That being said, I think this is a very good series, but it may be more appealing to the male gender! :) 

James Dashner's The Maze Runner is the first in his post-apocalyptic trilogy. The main character, Thomas, wakes at the beginning of the novel to find that he has been transported to a world created by a group of scientists.  Those transported (all boys and one girl) have had their memories wiped and their only goals are to survive and escape. Within this world there are two main areas, the glade and the maze.  The glade is where they eat, sleep, and work and is protected by walls that close each night.  The maze is the test they have been given by the scientists and each day runners go out into the maze to try and figure out a way to escape. They regularly encounter Greivers, creatures that are a "horrific mix of animal and machine" and have instrument tipped appendages including saw blades, shears, and rods. As they attempt to survive and find a means of escape, Thomas and his friends contemplate possible reasons for why they have been sent to the glade in the first place. 

Since I read Suzanne Collin's, The Hunger Games, I have become a huge fan of dystopian literature. I am not sure what it is about these types of books that intrigue me so much, but I will say that I love how the authors attempt to paint a picture of what life could be like in the future.  The Maze Runner trilogy is a great dystopian series that attempts to show what life might be like post-apocalypse.   This first installment is basically a huge science experiment conducted using adolescents.  The reasons for this experiment are not fully explained in the first novel, but are expounded upon in the two additional books within the trilogy: The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure.   After reading The Maze Runner, it is almost impossible to not pick up the other two.  So, if you loved The Hunger Games trilogy and are looking for more good books to read, check out The Maze Runner trilogy. 

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

The story begins with sixteen-year-old Jacob enduring a terrible family tragedy. The tragedy then leads him to an island off the coast of Wales where he begins to explore Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. He quickly finds out there is more than meets the eye in the old crumbling house. He enters a world of magic and discovers a family legacy that his grandfather had been trying to prepare him for all his life. 

How do you summarize this book without giving it all away?  That's a tricky thing to do since it seems as though even the author had trouble with not giving it all away too soon. The book begins interestingly enough, but tends to become a little childish by the end. The word "silly" kept coming to mind while I was reading. There were just a few too many magical elements all jumbled together and not enough actual storyline to keep my attention. Then the story peaked about three quarters of the way through and I was ready to be done with it.

With that said, there were a few things that make this book worth taking a look at.  The concept of the book itself was enough to sell me on it.  Incorporating the creepy vintage photographs into the book was a really novel idea. If I'm not mistaken, I believe the photographs were gathered first and then the story was written around them. Sadly, the story doesn't do them justice.  Overall, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children felt like a good idea that just sort of fizzled out.

The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

Logan Thighbolt was not a big believer in luck, until a photograph seemed to bring him all the luck in the world. While serving in Iraq Logan finds a photo of a beautiful woman. He then narrowly survives various close encounters with death. Convinced that the photo is the reason why, his friend encourages him to find the woman in the picture when he returns home.  When he finds her he realizes she may be more than just a lucky charm, she may be his chance at a new life.

I have to admit that I am not a Nicholas Sparks fan. I find all his books to be predictable and his characters often seem to be the same people with different names. However, sometimes that is exactly the type of book that you need. I recently had a baby and found that life with a newborn is unpredictable enough. I needed something in the form of mind candy, something I could put in my head and suck on without really having to sink my teeth into it. The Lucky One seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.  I enjoyed that the book was written from several different characters' perspectives.  The setting was one of my favorites. I am a sucker for anything that takes place during summer in the south.  While the plot was somewhat predictable I did find myself wondering a bit about how it would turn out, and I actually found the ending to be very satisfying.  If you're going to read Nicholas Sparks, or you're just looking for a light summer read, I would suggest The Lucky One. It doesn't hurt that they made it into a movie and Zac Efron plays Logan Thighbolt. Mind candy plus eye candy, if there was a wink button I would use it.