Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Afterworlds

I would like to acknowledge how insane I was for waiting so long to read this book.  I was among the first people on the request list, but I ended up sending it back and re-adding my name to the list because I was in the middle of another book and didn’t think I would have time to read it then.  Well… Even though this book was rather large (599 pages), I ended up reading it in ONE WEEK!  Considering that I didn’t have any days off from work and/or caring for my kids, that’s crazy!  But, this book is crazy good, so I went to extremes to stay up late reading. I’m talking, get up and walk around when I feel my eyelids start to droop or purposely play Candy Crush before sitting down to read because I know the glow from electronics makes it harder for me to fall asleep.  Yeah.  I’m dedicated like that!  😉

You may be asking, “But, what is so awesome about this book?”  For starters, it’s not just one book.  I can’t even begin to explain how awesome it was that Scott Westerfeld wrote two books in one and it totally worked.  (The two stories are told in alternating chapters.)  Why are there two books in one?  Because one of the books is about a girl named Darcy Patel, who gets her first book published just after high school, and the other book IS Darcy’s book.  It was so cool to read all about Darcy’s struggles with getting the book and characters right and then to read the book itself . (John Green should totally take notes, because it still slays me that I can’t read An Imperial Affliction!)  This book is both contemporary realistic and paranormal fantasy, since it has one book of each.  The only “problem” with this book, in my opinion, is that it left me with a bunch of questions.  Like, will there be a sequel?  And were the YA authors in Darcy’s world based on real authors that Scott Westerfeld knows?  I’m hoping the answers to both are yes — and that I will, someday, find out whether my guesses about those YA authors were correct.

Elemental by Antony John

Elemental

If you’re a sucker for dystopias, like me, you’re definitely going to want to check out this trilogy — especially since the third book just came out and you won’t get stuck waiting for more books to be published!  In this world, most people are born with the power of an Element — earth, water, wind, or fire.  They can both sense and control their Element.  Someone who was a wind elemental, for example, could sense exactly how quickly a storm was blowing in and/or use the wind to fight off an enemy.  This book reminded me of Avatar the Last Airbender, which means I’ll need to pass it along to my son when he gets just a little bit older!

Thomas was born without an Element, so he never quite felt as if he belonged or had anything to offer his community.  But, when an unexpected storm threatened their island, the Guardians sent Thomas (and some other young people) off to the mainland to find shelter.  While they were there, Thomas found so much more than shelter… With so much action, adventure, and mystery, this book is sure to hook even reluctant readers.

Confessions of a Scary Mommy by Jill Smokler

Confessions of a Scary Mommy

It is a well-known fact that I prefer to read YA and would probably be just fine if I never got to read another “grown up” book again.  When I do read “grown up” books, they tend to be of the self-help variety, more often than not about parenting.  Despite my fiction preferences, I have a couple of kids I need to raise and would like to do it well!  While I will occasionally read serious parenting books — like Beyond the Sling and Cinderella Ate My Daughter — I prefer to read parenting books that serve up parenting advice and epiphanies with a side of snark — like Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures and If You Give a Mom a Martini.  This book, if you couldn’t tell by the title, belongs to the latter group!

One of my favorite things about this book was how easily I could fit it into my busy life.  At bedtime, while I wait for my kids to put on PJs and brush their teeth, I usually try to sneak in a few minutes of reading on my own.  I sometimes read magazines because a lot of books are so involved that they’re not conducive to short bursts of reading.  Fortunately, this book made it easy to squeeze in a short chapter, or at least the “Mommy Confessions” that come before the chapter (collected from the Scary Mommy website — http://www.scarymommy.com/confessions), whenever I had a little time to spare.  I have to admit that more than a few of the confessions had me laughing out loud, though some of them were just sad.  Overall, I think the book does a great job of helping moms see that they are not alone in the struggles they face or the self-doubt that plagues them.  From pregnancy and childbirth to sibling rivalry and anxiety, this book covers a large portion of what moms handle and worry about on a daily basis.  Now that I’ve finished this book, I’m looking forward to exploring more of the Scary Mommy website and reading another of Jill Smokler’s books, Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies)!

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Walk Two Moons

I first thought about reading this book when I helped a student request it for her summer reading assignment about ten and a half years ago.  Since there was a wait list of students who needed it for their assignment, I decided not to add a hold for myself.  (I thought it would be unfair to the kids who really needed it.)  Every summer I thought to myself, “I need to remember to read that when summer is over.”  And, every year, I’ve had such a long “to be read” pile when summer reading ended that this book was added to my “I’ll read this book someday” list.  At the end of the summer this year, though, the planets finally aligned.  I only had one week left before I was on vacation with my family, so I wanted an audiobook short enough that I could finish it before the week was up.  Even though it was still summer reading season, this audiobook was available on OverDrive, and I went for it!

While taking a long road trip with her grandparents, Salamanca Tree Hiddle (aka Sal), tells them all about her friend Phoebe Winterbottom.  Via Sal’s storytelling, we learn about how difficult it was for Phoebe when her mom suddenly took off.  Though the circumstances were not the same as when Sal’s own mother left her, it was clear that talking about Phoebe’s situation helped Sal to process her own feelings.  Mary Stuart Masterson’s narration was fantastic, and the adventure and humor in the story helped to keep this book light when it could so easily have been a depressing read.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante

I don’t typically like books that aren’t plot-driven.  Most of the time, I find that books without a plot just drag along.  I can’t truly say this book “doesn’t have a plot”… I mean, it has a sequence of events and the characters do things over a period of time.  But there’s not a big build up to a climax followed by a tidy resolution. (Which I tend to prefer.)   Rather than some huge event that the book centers around, it’s just a description of what happens to these two characters over a length of time.  A snapshot of their lives, if you will.   An absolutely beautiful snapshot!

With all the recent talk about the lack of diversity in publishing, I was reminded that I have yet to review this amazing book, which features two main characters of Latino heritage.  I thought this book was an especially refreshing read because the main characters were both (1) distinctly different from one another and (2) realistic without becoming cliched stereotypes.  Although Aristotle (aka Ari) had an older brother who was in prison, he was not the typical thug/gangsta type we often see depicted in books and on TV.  He was conflicted and angry, to be sure, but he didn’t embrace his anger so much as recognize it and hope to find a way to get past it.  It was clear that Ari was so uncomfortable expressing emotion because his parents hadn’t modeled effective communication, but that seemed to be much more an explanation than an excuse.  Dante, on the other hand, was very close to his parents and had a very open relationship with both his mother and father.  Because of his friendly demeanor, positive outlook, and ability to express his emotions, Dante was quite possibly the best person with whom Ari could have become friends.  And, though this book was an excellent read for many reasons, I was most impressed by the exploration of the fine line between the love of friends and romantic love.  If you’re looking for a book to restore your faith in humanity, this would be a good place to start.

Destiny of the Republic : A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

Destiny of the Republic

This was a book recommended to me by my brother.  I should talk to him more often about what he’s reading!  This book is so well written.  It is about James Garfield, our 20th President, and you’ll feel as if you are right in the middle of this fascinating, and ultimately sad, story.  It will also make you ask the question — what would our nation have become with Garfield at the helm?  I can honestly say I didn’t really know much about him other than the fact that he had been assassinated.  This book is chock full of information about this extremely smart, talented, accomplished Civil War hero.  The description of how he suffered at the hands of his physicians is truly criminal — if only they had been aware that using sterile technique along with simple hand washing could have helped him live! He didn’t have to die.  A book absolutely worth reading!

UnDivided by Neal Shusterman

UnDivided

I no longer review all of the subsequent books in trilogies and series that I read because it’s often hard to summarize without spoiling the earlier books in the trilogy/series for people who haven’t read them yet.   But, I just can’t let this book go without comment!  Neal Shusterman has completely BLOWN.  MY.  MIND!  If his story is not enough, in and of itself, to show you the insane path that humanity is blazing into the future, the included hyperlinks for stories which make the case for a future in which “unwinding” actually happens will scare the hell out of you.  The thing I am most grateful about with UnDivided, nonetheless, is that the story is actually done.  I have spent far too long wondering what happened to Connor, Risa, Lev, and the rest of the gang, so THANK YOU Neal for finally giving me closure!

Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

Dear Daughter

If you enjoyed Gone Girl, this would probably appeal to you.  It tells the story of a young LA socialite, Jane Jenkins, whose life is filled with wealth, fashion and beauty, and who at the age of 17 is convicted of her mother’s murder.  Jane is a clever, sarcastic, witty young woman who is not sure if she’s guilty or not, and ends up spending ten years in prison but is released on a technicality.  Having to dodge the press, she disguises her appearance and heads to the mid-West to find out the truth about her mother’s murder based on a overhead conversation shortly before her mother’s death.  Here she learns more about her mother and discovers family secrets she never knew.  Jane’s narration of the book is filled with her sarcastic nature, which adds that element of a “mean girl,” but it is told in a way that I ended up rooting for her success.

Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth

Four

I find it kinda funny that I was “so” sure I would love the Divergent series that I waited for the third book to be released and then read the books back-to-back-to-back. And after that, I “had” to read this collection of short stories as soon as it came out… Yet I still haven’t seen the Divergent movie, and I even forgot about actually posting a review for this book for three months!  I guess life just gets away from me sometimes.

This book reminds me of when I got really excited, back in the day, when Stephanie Meyer announced she was going to write a Twilight companion novel from Edward’s perspective.  I thought it would have been awesome to find out was really going through his mind as opposed to what Bella had assumed he was thinking.  Unfortunately, some idiots on the Internet leaked a supposed manuscript and Meyer got so upset that she decided not to go forward with the project after all.  Though the Divergent series is extremely different from Twilight, this book of short stories appears to have finally satiated my lingering need to see a YA book re-imagined from another character’s perspective.  In these stories, we not only get more background information about Four’s “previous life” as Tobias Eaton and his initiation into Dauntless, but we also get to relive some of the more memorable scenes from Tris’s initiation through Four.  I fear it may be too much to hope for any further re-tellings from this franchise, but a girl can dream, right?!?

Panic by Lauren Oliver

Panic

YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten list was announced, and I CANNOT believe Panic wasn’t on it!  I mean, I had a heck of a time even getting my hands on this one because it seems like everyone else who loved Delirium and Before I Fall managed to get on the list before me.  I sometimes take the full four weeks to read my library books because I have so much else going on — like reading to my kids at night.  I mean, I know it’s important.  But that’s time I could totally use to read my “own” books! 😉  At the end of the day, I often only read to myself for about 15 minutes before I pass out.  It’s so common for me to fall asleep reading, in fact, that my husband has learned to check his side of the bed for my book or Kindle before simply lying down.  (He clunked his head quite a few times before he learned that lesson!)  This book, though, was so intense that it had me reading long past my standard bedtime.  So long, in fact, that my husband found me still awake and reading when he came to bed for something like four nights in a row!

Some people have compared Panic to The Hunger Games, but I don’t really see it.  I guess the whole competition between teenagers thing is what they’re stuck on, but it’s not some futuristic dystopia where the government forces teens to fight to the death.  It’s a bunch of graduating high school seniors in a modern day, depressed town [Carp] who voluntarily take part in a crazy competition to try and win a huge sum of money.  Though people have definitely gotten hurt, the goal of Panic is not to hurt other people; it’s simply to do whatever it takes to win.  Every year, there are new [anonymous] judges and new challenges presented — sometimes based on the fears of the people playing — but it always starts with a jump off a cliff and ends with a car “joust,” i.e. game of chicken.  Some people likely play because there’s nothing more interesting going on in their small town, but others play for a chance to be rich, and some have secrets that drive them to play.  It’s surprising that anyone in Carp feels confident in their friendships because friends turn on each other all the time… let alone when $67,000 is on the line.

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

Strings Attached

After listening to What I Saw and How I Lied, I was excited to check out Blundell’s second book.  So many books were piled up on my “to be read” list, though, that this book got bumped… and then I forgot about it.  (Ack!)  Sometimes, thankfully, fate will intervene and remind me about a book I’ve forgotten to read.  In this case, my audiobook ended while I was out and about.  Since I didn’t have another CD audiobook on standby, I browsed the OverDrive app on my phone to see if any of my “wish list” downloadable audiobooks were checked in.  Boy, am I glad this one showed up!

I’ve always been intrigued by mob stories, and my husband and I have spent countless hours watching (and re-watching) movies and TV shows like The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas, Reservoir Dogs, and The Sopranos.  I have to admit, though, that it’s sometimes a bit too much for me.  Every time I hear “Stuck in the Middle With You,” for instance, I have flashbacks to a particularly traumatizing scene in Reservoir Dogs.  I much prefer stories like Son of the Mob and Strings Attached because mob action takes more of a back seat to another storyline and is mostly insinuated or very briefly visited.

In this story, it’s quite clear that Kit Corrigan is mixed up with someone who, at the very least, has ties to the Mob.  Yes, Nate says that he wants to help her because she’s his son Billy’s girl… but it’s very obvious that there are always “strings attached” to his favors.  Though she enjoys her job as a dancer at an exclusive night club and appreciates the apartment in which he’s letting her stay, Kit is disappointed that she is not making it on her own as she originally planned when she left Providence and set out for NYC.  And while she despises Nate’s assumption that she should be available and willing to run errands any time he calls, she has no idea how to extricate herself from the situation.