Saturday, December 7, 2013

November Reads

I have a co-worker who loves young adult fiction. And while I feel that I read a lot, a wide and current knowledge of teen lit isn't one of my fortes.  Apparently the in-betweeners (not quite kids, not quite grown-ups)  aren't that hip to the tales from Sweet Valley High anymore. So a couple week ago I asked said co-worker, what was it about young adult lit that made her love it so much. She said that YA breaks her heart faster than any adult book ever has, and when she reads she wants to feel. 

I totally get that.  

I want books and music and art and the night sky to make me feel all the feels. In my very demanding nature, I want to be more than just entertained. I want words to move and change me. Half way through the conversation I decided that my reading theme for November was definitely going to be YA and asked for some suggestions, a few realistic titles and a few fantasy/sci-fi titles. My coworker was all too happy to give me list. At the conclusion of November's readings I realized just how behind the times I really am; most of the books that I read are in current production to be made into movies. So along with some good books, let me give you a sneak peek into that what will be hitting movie theaters next year:

If I Stay by Gayle Forman.
One of the quotes on the book jacket describes this book as "heartachingly beautiful," and that is no joke or understatement. Within the first 15 pages Mia, our narrator, and her family have been in a horrible car accident. The rest of the pages are filled with Mia continuing the story as not quite a spirit, not quite a subconscious, as her body lays in a comma in the hospital. She sees family and friends visiting her and reflects on the meaning of relationships and family and love and decides if she wants to stay (alive) or just let go. The book is beautifully written and made me think and feel and stayed with me after I closed the book. Don't read this book in public if you don't like crying in public. It's sad, at times on the verge of an ugly cry sad, but also probably one of the best realistic teen fictions that I have read in quite awhile.  I also loved that music is weaved into the story. Mia is a talented classical cellist, her parents are aging punk rockers and her boyfriend is in a band. So there is a lot of music talk going on, but not just a sprinkling in of band names and music references here and there, but also discussion on the connections that people can make through and because of music. 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
I really, really wanted to like this book. I heard a lot of good things about it, and I know several people who have read it, but I just thought it was OK, not bad by any means, but not life changing either. There are many things that I did like about it. The story revolves around Hazel and Gus who meet in a cancer patient support group and their evolving relationship . So while death is a shadow throughout the whole story, life and what we do with the days we are given is the real moral to the story. Everyone wants know that their mattered, everyone wants a legacy to leave behind so they won't be forgotten by their loved ones and the ages. I also loved how our two heroes went on a trip to bug the author of Hazel's favorite book about the unfulfilling ending to his book. I would totally do that too.  Again, I really wanted to like this book, the writing is witty, the characters are interesting and engaging, but I just couldn't connect to the book, I guess it just didn't break me heart enough. I mentioned to my coworker and she told me not to give up on John Green and that I should read Looking for Alaska by him. 

Divergent by Veronica Roth
I am very late to the Divergent bandwagon.  Usually all the press surrounding this book begins with, "If you like the Hunger Games . . . " There are several similarities between the Hunger Games and Divergent. Both are trilogies, both take place in a dystopian society (I am such a sucker for a good tale of dystopia) where the population has been divided into distinct  factions (in Divergent's case it is 5 groups, based roughly on personality type), both have a strong, bold, young female lead that quite unexpectedly sparks a revolution that might just bring down the social structure, and both have a lot of teenagers training and fighting.  But forget all the similarities. Divergent is a very strong, well written book that deserves any press on it's own merit. When I started to read this book, I told myself that I would just read a couple of chapters and then go to bed. And I did that. I read a couple of chapters, put the book down, turned out the light and went to bed. A couple minutes later I got out of bed, turned on the light and picked up the book again, I just had to keep going, I just had to know what happens. It just pulls you in that much. I loved the message of the book; that we can choose our own path in life, even if that path is different from the path of our families, and different than what is expected of us. That doesn't mean that the right path is easy, said path can beat you down quite easily and regularly, but sometimes that is only when we can start seeing our own potential. Divergent is the first of a trilogy, I am on the library wait list for the second (Insurgent) and third (Allegiant) and even though seemingly everyone has issues with how the story is finally resolved, I look forward to many more late reading nights. 

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Set in a fantasy land that has a feel of Old Russia, Shadow and Bone is the story of a Alina, an orphan that discovers that she has strong magical powers, and those powers not only change her life but they have the potential to change everything. Will she use her powers for good or evil?  It's a classic plot, that veers on being quite predictable at times, but this book has a lot of merit. Oh, and there are flying monsters and a tall dark handsome one called The Darkling, who I am sure will have great abs in the movie version.   I loved the exploration, although very light, of Slavic mythologies, the Greek and Norse usually hog the spotlight, so big Eastern European high five to the author. This is the first book in a series, always a series. . . sigh, so I hope that in the continuing books there is a fleshing out of the different people and cultures in the story, back stories of the main characters and  more world building. I thought it was a good stand alone book, but at the same time I wanted more, which I guess is the goal of the first book in any series.  I have to mention that I felt the same way about Harry Potter, another orphan with magical powers, I didn't get into the books until about the 3rd one. Shadow and Bone has a lot of potential and I am on board with seeing how the story all plays out.  

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
I loved this book. I read it cover to cover in one day during my Thanksgiving holiday. It was definitely, a --don't you dare bother me, I am reading- day, and it was glorious. I couldn't put the book down. Set in the fantastical land of Lumatere, a relativity peaceful, happy kingdom, but then the royal family is murdered and the land is put under a curse. The curse traps some of the population, but others are scattered and exiled. Finnikin, the son of the King's Guards and one of the exiled, and his guardian Topher roam the neighboring lands, searching for other exiles in attempts to reclaim their land and lives. Enter Evanjalin, a young, arrogant, stubborn, mysterious girl who challenges Finnikin and his whole expedition.  Beneath all the fantasy is a firm foundation of truth. It's about community. We all need somewhere to belong to feel safe and whole. We need other people, we a need a greater good outside ourselves, we need things to bring us together and keep us together. And you guessed it, Finnikin of the Rock is the first in a series. 

This is Melina Marchetta's first fantasy book and the first book of hers that I have read. Her writing is fluid and at times stunning. I am amazed at her talent to write from the point of view of a young man (Finnikin) and have it come off as believable and endearing. That is not an easy thing to do. I do have to point out, that although it is labeled as a young adult book, it is definitely is an older teen through adult book, the world portrayed can be pretty dark at times.

Melina Marachetta has publicly said that she has no plans on allowing Finnikin of the Rock, or the other books in the series to be made into a movie. Sometimes it is more than OK for books to just stay as books. 

For December's readings, I decided to be a grown-up again, my theme is biographies and memoirs. Many of the ones I wanted to read, probably aren't going to come in time, so I'm now taking recommendations. 


  1. I think you might actually be totally fine with how Allegiant ends. I wasn't happy about it, but I think you might appreciate it.

    1. I will hold you to that. I have heard that the author stays true to the story and the characters with the ending, and I get that. I would rather have a sad ending, if that is how the story should naturally end, than have a happy ending, just to have a happy ending.

  2. When you mentioned movies I automatically thought of The Book Thief. You've read that one, right? And if you want to feel (awful, hollowed out, scraped clean and refilled again) you have to read Jellicoe Road. It's brutal. And for a lovely fantasy you should try Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I'm also not a huge fan of John Green. I just can't climb aboard that train, but Stars is my favorite of his.

    1. Amy I read The Book Thief when it first came out; at the time I was working for a library in the Collection Development Dept, so I got all the new books. I loved it when I read and I still love it too much to see the movie. I just want story to remain in the book form in my mind. Someone just recommended Daughter of Smoke and Bone to me today, so now with 2 witnesses, it is on the list, and because I do like to feel scraped clean, I'll put Jellicoe Road on the list too. I will never, ever finish my book list.

  3. Hi, I just discovered your blog via my friend Amy's blog. I appreciate the thorough book reviews here. I'm a fan of YA lit but have been inconsistent in what I read in that genre. These are all going on my list.

    For your December reads, I recommend "The Woman Who Fell From the Sky" by Jennifer Steil. She's a journalist from NYC who goes to Yemen to help a friend improve the writing of a group of Yemeni journalists. She ends up staying there for a year or more as editor of an English-language newspaper. The writing is a little rambling at times (ironic for a journalist, eh?) but it's a fascinating glimpse at an often-closed culture from a Westerner who managed to integrate herself into the local population to a good degree.

    I also LOVED "Reading Lolita in Tehran"--a must-read memoir for anyone who loves literature. You may have read it already. The book is about a group of college students in Iran, all women, who come together for an English-language book club in the run-up to the 1979 revolution. They discuss how the themes of the books their reading are reflected in their own lives during a volatile time in a country not known for women's rights.

    Happy reading!

    1. Thanks for recommendations! I have read Reading Lolita in Tehran and LOVED it too! So inspiring on so many levels. I'll have to put The Woman Who Fell From the Sky on my list, is sounds super interesting.

      And Amy's blog is greeeat. I often stalk it for good reads too!