Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Just Read!

Not Exactly a Love Story
By Audrey Couloumbis

4/5 coffee beans

Flashback to young love with this entertaining and fast read. See the full review, here

My top 10 YA reads for your holiday reader

There are so many good YA books out there that I’ve read (and PLENTY that I haven’t), it’s hard to pick just ten. But I’m going to try. Here’s a list of my top ten YA books (in no particular order) and why I liked them so much. They’ll look great wrapped and under the tree for the book lover(s) in your life (or yourself!)

  1.     .    Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein A historical fiction piece about the bonds of love and friendship set during World War II, this book reaches down deep to wrench out your heart. The writing is superb and the voice is sharp and fresh. An all around good book. Rating: PG-13 for scenes of mild torture. Find my review, here.
  2. 2.       The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa Dystopia, kick ass girls, great writing, and vampires. PERFECT COMBO. I’m a fan of Julie Kagawa and this is the book that got me membership. Vampires rule the cities and keep humans like cattle. Everyone is registered or you don’t eat. Which is why Allison is on the verge of death, refuses to do so and ends up becoming what she hates the most. The writing is sharp, engaging, witty, and captivating. If you’re a fan of dystopians and vampires, go there. Rating: PG for some awesome violence. Find my review, here.
  3. 3.       Wanderlove by Kristen Hubbard This book made me want to sell everything I own, leave everything behind and have adventures while traveling the world (if I were 18, that is). Almost poetic in the way she writes, Kristen paints pictures and creates such an enticing experience for the reader. Rating: PG. Read the full review, here.
  4. 4.       The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson Do you all REALLY need me telling you AGAIN how much I loved this book? It really is a coming of age story about a girl who finds out who she really is and what she wants to become after her sister dies. It’s about love, and death, and living. And the writing is absolutely beautiful. Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality. See the review, here.
  5. 5.       Divergent (and the sequel, Insurgent) by Veronica Roth Another Dystopian, the author creates a completely creative and unique world where everyone lives in factions according to the values they want to live by (information, selflessness, bravery, truth, etc). But when Tris Prior picks a faction other than the one she’s lived in her entire life, her whole world is turned upside down. This book really does have it all, action, risk, love, humor. Rating: PG See the entire review, here.
  6. 6.       Vixen by Jillian Larkin (Book 1 in the Flapper Series) The whole series is good, but this one was the first and best, in my opinion. Set in 1920’s Chicago, the book follows Gloria as she struggles with falling in love with a black piano player from the local speakeasy while she’s engaged to another man. The book is told from three different, but connected, points of view; filled with love, jealousy, secrets, and revenge. I really loved this book. Rating: PG-13 some strong sexuality. Read my review, here.
  7. 7.       Sam Cruz’s Infallible Guide to GettingGirls by Tallulah Darling This book is more on the risqué side because it deals with sex. Lots of sex - but in a surprisingly non-vulgar way. Which might be hard to believe.  Sam and Ally are best friends. Sam’s a player and Ally’s been dumped. She has her best friend teach her how to get in and get out without being committed. But everything backfires for everybody. This book is hilariously funny, but definitely for mature audiences and the older YA reader.  Rating: R for strong language, drinking, euphemisms, and lots of “bow chicka wow wow”. See the full review, here.
  8. 8.       Blood Red Road by Moira Young This was the first dystopian book that I read. It was hard to get into at first, but after I got used to the voice, I ended up loving this book. Full of action, drama, cage fighting, love, and reluctant rescuing, Saba’s journey is addicting. The second book in the series, Rebel Heart, is available in stores and online. Rating: PG for some violence
  9. 9.       Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers Contemporary fiction written by an English author about a young man, Karl, and his older mentor (unnamed) who tries to help him win his girlfriend over. It’s not outstandingly prolific, but the changes that happen in the lives of Karl and the narrator are moving. A good, deeper read. Rating: PG
  10. 10.   The Book of Blood & Shadows by Robin Wasserman Oh, wow. This book has it all: mystery, suspense, a little bit of love, betrayal, revenge, conspiracies, mysterious religious organizations, codes, clues, travel, EVERYTHING! It’s long (450 pages) but it goes by so quickly. Especially with a storyteller like Wasserman. Rating: For some mild violence


Monday, December 17, 2012

Damaged characters and their wonderful romance

Eleanor & Park
By: Rainbow Roswell
Genre: YA Contemproary
Content Rating: PG-13 for some language and some sexuality (warning: best first kiss scene in a YA EVER!)
Rating: 5/5
Cover: Love how it captures everything in the book
Instalove Factor: Nope, they worked hard for their love
Favorite Line: “Park turned toward the Plexiglas window and waited for a world of suck to hit the fan.” (pg 16, ebook)
Disclaimer I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.
Publisher’s Summary
"Bono met his wife in high school," Park says.
"So did Jerry Lee Lewis," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be," she says, "we’re sixteen."
"What about Romeo and Juliet?"
"Shallow, confused, then dead."
''I love you," Park says.
"Wherefore art thou," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be."

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

My Take I get so wrapped up in reading genre fiction in YA (paranormal, fantasy, dystopian, etc) that I forget how much I love contemporary YA fiction. It has a way of touching you as a reader and making you experience things in a realistic and emotional way that genre fiction could never do. While at times it can be a bit sad or depressing, it’s also refreshing and beautiful.

I just finished reading Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and this book is one of those refreshingly beautiful contemporary romances. Set in 1986, the book is told from alternating points of view written in the 3rd person, between (you guessed it) Eleanor and Park.

It opens with Eleanor starting a new school and walking on to the bus for the first time and seeing Park then flips to Park’s first impression of Eleanor. Let’s just say it’s anything but love at first sight. Life for Eleanor is hard. We aren’t given many details about her past, but we do know that she was kicked out by her stepdad for a year and is just now coming back home. She has four siblings and all of them share the same room. Her stepdad is an abusive drunk (although Rowell never goes into details about specific events) and she’s being bullied at school. But she is strong and tries to ignore everything.

Park is from a pretty functional family, although his dad wishes he were more….well, just more. Park is ridden hard by his tae-kwon-do teaching father and compared to his younger brother too much. He has friends at school, but he’s pretty quiet. And then he falls in love with the wrong girl.

This seemed like a long book when in reality it really wasn’t. I think that illusion was created by the fact that so much happens on every page; no space is wasted in telling the story and developing the characters.

I loved the snarky comments that constantly came from Eleanor and the fact that she was afraid to let Park get so close, constantly second-guessing that he could actually love her. Park had the patience of a saint in dealing with her insecurities, but he was also human, getting frustrated and making mistakes. They both do, and I think that’s one of the aspects that makes this book so real.

My Recommendation Definitely worth the read. Loved this book so much.


The Christmas ereader battle: Nook vs. Kindle

It took me a LONG time before I finally caved and bought myself an ereader. I was being stubborn and indignant about technology’s progress when it came to books. By golly, I would hold a physical book in my hand and read it or not read it at all!

That was silly.

When Pam was deciding whether to get a Nook or a Kindle, I helped do the research. That’s when I realized they weren’t so bad after all. And they aren’t, they’re really quite remarkable with everything that’s been pumped into them. From HD streaming movies, to full color games, internet, social media, email, and of course, books.

So, with Christmas coming around, and Santa’s list beckoning to you from your purse or wallet, an ereader just may be on your mind. The next question is, which one should you get? Especially with the introduction of the HD models and all the tablets available, which one is truly best?

I’m going to try and help you with that. Please know, I’m not a tech-savvy guru by any means, nor do I know everything there is to know, but I have done a bit of research and have personal experience with my Nook, so that is what I’m going to enlighten you with.

I’m going to focus my info on the two main ereaders on the market: Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Kindle’s Fire. I’m not going to touch the tablets or the mini tablets because they’re tablets that can be used as ereaders. Their first function isn’t reading. Plus, that would be way too much for me to tackle. So, here we go. There’s a lot of information.
  Nook Family 

Back when I purchased my ereader, I chose Nook for a couple of reasons: 

 1)      The Silk browser on Kindle really wasn’t any faster than the Nook’s browser 
 2)      I could side-load apps and the Nook had external storage 
 3)      There was a brick and mortar store I could walk into and get help with my Nook and 
 4)      My Nook could accept almost any format of ebook imaginable, whereas Kindle can only do only a couple 

Looking at the new ereaders available now, and going off of what I’ve been using my Nook Tablet for (which they don’t offer anymore. I think the closest thing would be the HD+), and what I wish I could do with it, I would be tempted by the Kindle. 

I feel dirty saying that. 

Here’s why I’d be tempted: 

1)      The selection of books and music and movies via Amazon is, undoubtedly far superior to that of B&N. There are millions of self-published authors you have access to 
2)       The pricing tends to be more competitive, especially if it is a self-published author 
3)      The 4G capability, a true tablet-esque feature 
4)      The app store has FAR MORE choices and there are more free apps here than with B&N (not that I really use that many apps on my reader) 
5)      I like the classic look of the Kindle over the new Nook HD 

But in the end, I’d still go with my Nook. I haven’t had any real problems with my Nook that going into the store didn’t fix. And the extended warranty I purchased was painless when I had to implement it the day my Nook decided to go for a swim in a mug-full of coffee at the bottom of my purse. 

So why buy the Nook over the $600 Kindle when it seems there are so many more reasons to pump out a hefty price? If you’re going to spend that much money on something that’s “close to” a tablet, throw in a couple hundred more dollars and buy an actual tablet. That way, you can do everything under the sun on it, and not pay a tablet price for a fancy ereader. 

There you have it. A bit of info and my two cents to help you make your decision. Whichever way you go, though, they’re all pretty comparable and you’re going to get a good product with great customer service. If you know someone with either reader (or any ereader, Kindle and Nook aren't your only options), ask to play with it a bit and get a feel for it. See which setup you prefer and why. Then, make your purchase and help make a very merry Christmas.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Tis the Season...

This was my favorite of the pics
...To be having babies.

I’m not even kidding, it seems like EVERYONE is pregnant in my neck of the woods. I have a friend due in December, a friend due in January, three friends due in June, and I’m due in July.

You heard that right. Hubby and I are having a baby.

And we couldn't be more excited.

When I found out I was pregnant, I kept it a secret from Hubby for a few days (three hardest days of my life) because I wanted to tell him in a special way. Here’s the story.

I have this teddy bear. It’s a raggedy old thing that I’ve had for about 23 years named Bear Bear. So, I went to the store, bought a cute new little bear and had a photographer take some pics at the same park Hubby and I had our engagement photos taken at. On the photo I had her write, “A new Bear Bear for a new Bennett”. I printed the picture and put it in an envelope, paired it with the new teddy bear, and gave it to Hubby.

I hid in the kitchen while he opened it and crept back out when he started reading out loud. “An new Bear Bear for a new Bennett. What….what?” I just stood there and stared at him, willing him to understand. Then he looked at me and said, “We’re having a baby?”

And it was all over. I bawled. I blame it on the hormones.

We kept it a secret from family for another couple of weeks. We were all going to be together on Thanksgiving so that’s when we were going to announce it. And in a special way, too. Hubby and I had some announcement pictures taken and it went like this:

My mom had just moved into a new house and she was hosting Thanksgiving dinner. We went over early to help cook, so, we took the picture, put it in a frame, and called it a housewarming gift. Then it went down a little something like this (it's kinda long, so you can skip the end after she screams :) ):

Then, when we were all sitting down at the table, getting ready to eat, Hubby pulls out the other wrapped and framed photo and hands it to his mom. I wish I would've gotten their reaction on video, too, but I forgot. It was just a precious, though.

She opened it and her eyes teared up as she asked, “Are you serious?” To which I started tearing up. She hadn't shown anyone else the photo yet, so everyone was getting concerned and wondering what was going on. When she flipped the photo around, there were excited shrieks (most of Hubby’s family is made up of girls--three sisters) and tears and hugs and LOTS of excitement.

Monday was reserved for telling co-workers, and while I expected the most crap to be given by Hubby’s office, I was slightly disappointed. I called an impromptu meeting at my office in the big bosses office (everyone looked a little concerned as to why I wanted to talk to all of them). As soon as the door shut, I threw my hands in the air and yelled, “I’M HAVING A BABY!” They all started screaming and yelling and it sounded like we were in the end zone of a BSU Bronco game.
My blue hair kind of shows up. Sweet
So, lots of changes in store for Hubby and I. We’re still in a state of disbelief, especially since I’m not far enough along to show, but my fatigue and nausea are enough proof for me that I’m growing another little baby inside me.

Happy Thursday, everyone!


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The choice is yours, what do you believe?

Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
Genre: YA-ish (old man telling of his adventure at 16 years old)
Coffee Beans: 4/5
Content Rating: PG-13 (there's some extreme, graphic violence)
Favorite Line: "The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart." (pg 71, printed copy)
Cover Love: Simplisticly awesome
Instalove Factor: None present.
Personal Recommendation: Read it, but it's an investment of time and brain cells. But worth it.

Life of Pi is a very unique book written in so many layers about religion, survival, right and wrong and at a very collegiate level. The writing is fantastic (almost hypnotic at times), the details both captivating and repulsive, and the overall story so imaginative, I can't help but wonder, What was the point?

Let me explain.

The book is a lot like the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks, but on a boat instead of an island and with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker  instead of a volleyball named Wilson.

But there wasn't any real storyline or significant plot in the traditional sense. This boy is lost out at sea for 227 days before he's found (and you know he survives because this book is an interview, you find that out in the beginning). The first quarter of the book is about his childhood growing up, how he got his nickname Pi, his schooling, and what it was like to grow up living in a zoo (his father was the head man at the Pondicherry Zoo in India). While it was fascinating to learn the ins and outs of zoos and the different animals, the narrative was almost written like a nonfiction, collegiate fashion that somewhat bored me and I ended up skimming a little.

He also goes into theology. Pi, as a young boy (he's sixteen through most of this), constantly says that he just wants to love God. As a result, he starts to follow not one religion, but three. Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Needless to say, this was a bit of an ordeal for his agnostic parents and the religious leaders of the different houses of worship he was attending when they all found out, but you couldn't help but want to encourage young Pi in his journey of seeking God. After all, he just wanted to love God, so why did he have to pick only one religion to do so. While that vein of his life story was interesting, going into the dry, theological details of each religion was not, so I skimmed some of this, at times, as well.

The next section was the majority of the book, and consisted of his story being stuck out at sea. This was the most interesting part of the book, obviously. And while it didn't have any on the edge of your seat action/peril/look out! moments, it was still very interesting. Martel has a subtle way of telling the details of a story that seep into every pore of your body. As Pi was baking from the sun and his skin getting tortured by the salt spray, I could have sworn my skin tightened with dehydration. I really could taste his victory of food and fresh water when he found it, and was scared for him being exposed in the wild Pacific ocean. This, to me, was the best part of the book, but I couldn't help but wish for more of a story arc.

The last section of the book (about twenty pages or so) takes place when his ordeal ends. Even though this was the smallest section, I almost liked this the most. I got more personality from Pi, and this was where the most thought provoking element of the book comes from. You are presented with a question, and given the background of the book, and everything we learn about Pi, it's not the question I thought it was going to be when I started reading the book. As a reader, you are given two very plausible outcomes or paths to choose that come from the question. It's almost heart wrenching, the different possibilities. One is so real, and so tragic, that you don't want to pick that answer, you're more willing to pick the more fantastical option, however absurd it may be.

But in the end, the answer I chose to believe, I hope that is the truth. Because it is a sad and beautiful possibility.

I would love to get a discussion group together to talk about this book to see what everyone's thoughts were, how they reacted to the storyline, which answer they believe to be correct and why, and just to hear their overall impressions. I also am planning on going to see the movie. I heard it was fantastic and very beautifully filmed and followed the book masterfully.

In the end, I would recommend this book. It's not an easy read, nor is it a light read. And you may end up like me at the end, wondering what the whole point was, while still understanding what the whole point was. But all-in-all, it was worth my time.

Happy reading, my friends!