Book Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Book: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Published September 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire|324 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

I really loved the magic, traditions and culture in Labyrinth Lost.  When I first heard about it, I knew I wanted to rea it, because it seemed really different.

Los Lagos was a really vivid setting- it had this Wonderland feel to it, and I think, if it were to be adapted into a movie or t.v. show, that Los Lagos would be really pretty to look at.  I thought things were pretty interesting leading up to Los Lagos, and as pretty and vivid at it seems, it was also the point where I started to lose a little bit of interest.

I think it’s mostly because the stakes never felt really high.  I know Alex is trying to get her family back, but there was never the sense of urgency that she would never get them back if she didn’t comply with the Devourer’s wishes.  It was pretty predictable that she’d be reunited with them, and I kind of felt like the book never really made me feel like it was a distinct possibility.

There were also a lot of the tropes you’d see in a book like this.  The girl who’s the most powerful in a while, but doesn’t want it and would do anything to get rid of it.  There’s the best friend who has no idea her best friend is a bruja but goes after her anyway, and the bad boy with a troubled past who, in the end, does the right thing by trying to help our heroine.  It wasn’t annoying enough to make me dislike it, but just annoying enough for me to bring it up. So keep that in min if you’re thinking about reading it.

The magic and folklore were really different, and I liked the idea of a Deathday celebration.  There was something very old and traditional about the magic, like it was passed down from generation to generation.  I also really liked the contrast between Brooklyn and Los Lagos and Brooklyn and the magic we see in the book.

I did think Alex was a little bit on the bratty side- her family really cared about her, as did a lot of other people, and it seemed like she threw it right in their faces at her Deathday celebration.  I am curious about why her mom didn’t really put her through their magical training a little more.  I wonder if maybe that’s part of Alex’s problem.  Maybe not, but I do wonder if it would have made a difference.

And the cover!  It’s really unique and I’d definitely pick it up based off of the cover alone.

4 stars.  I can’t wait to read the next book, because I am curious to see where things go.  Especially with how the book ended.  It is really unique, and worth checking out!

Book Review: City Of Saints And Thieves by Natalie Anderson

Book: City Of Saints & Thieves by Natalie Anderson

Published January 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books For Young Readers|401 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

The more you see, the less you know.

In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who does not exist.

Tina and her mother first arrived in Kenya as refugees from Congo desperately searching for a better life. Trading the peril of their besieged village for the busy metropolis of Sangui, they can barely believe their luck when Tina’s mother finds work as a maid for the Greyhills, one of the city’s most illustrious families. But there’s a dark secret lurking behind the family’s immense fortune, and when Tina discovers her mother shot dead in Mr. Greyhill’s private study, she knows he pulled the trigger.

With revenge on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving the streets on her own, working as a master thief with the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job with the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving a long-awaited chance for vengeance. But once Tina returns to the lavish home, she’s overcome by memories of her painful past, and the girl who does not exist is caught red-handed, setting into motion a breathless and dangerous cascade of events that will expose not only the truth behind who killed Tina’s mother, but even more harrowing secrets from Tina’s past that will change everything.

I thought City Of Saints & Thieves was a great book!  This is most definitely a book about getting revenge on the person who killed Tina’s mother, and I thought it went in a really interesting direction.

At first, Tina very much wants revenge on the man she believes killed her mother.  When she returns to the place where her mother died, a series of events leads her to realize that she didn’t know for sure what happened the night her mother died.  What really happened that night ends up being far different than what Tina thought happened, and she uncovers a lot of family history.  Everything from who her father is to why they left Congo.

What happened isn’t the whole story, and I liked how we uncovered what really happened that night.  I think it would be interesting to go back and re-read City Of Saints & Thieves knowing what I know now.

I liked the rules of being a thief that we see at the beginning of some of the chapters.  It added something special to the book, and I think it gives a peek into Tina’s life as part of the Goondas.

It did take a little while to get into the book, and I thought the pacing was a little uneven.  It was fast-paced, and then really slow.  I still wanted to know what happened next, but I felt like I had to wade through some parts of the book.

I also loved the setting!  I’ve read a few books set in Africa, but I don’t think I’ve read any set in Congo or Kenya before.  There is a sense of danger, and I felt like you really understand why Tina and her mother left Congo for Kenya.  You see the danger they’re in, and why people might seek a better life somewhere else.  You also see why people stay, even when it might be easier for them to leave.

It turns out the author has worked with refugees in Africa, and that really comes through.  It felt very well researched and I felt like there was a lot of attention to detail.

4 stars.  It was a little slow at times and it was hard to get into at first, but overall, I really liked it.

What I’ve Been Reading: Part One!

I’m back…sort of!  I know it’s been a while since I’ve done a blog post, and I’m trying to get back into reviewing and blogging again.  I’ve been reading, but not up to reviewing.  But I still wanted to talk about the books I’ve been reading, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about the books I haven’t talked about yet.  I’m a bit fuzzy on some of them, since it’s been a while…but that’s not going to stop me from talking about them!

Book #1: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

Here’s what I thought:

  • It’s a middle grade contemporary about a kid who runs track, which I thought was cool.  I feel like track doesn’t come up a lot, as far as sports novels go.  Cross country, yes.  Track, not so much.
  • I don’t know that I remember enough to say anything else, but I remember thinking it was okay.  Then again, All-American Boys was such a great book that I had really high expectations.
  • I did like the parallels between running and what was going on in his life.  Especially with how running turned out to be a really good thing for him.
  • I don’t know that I’d read the rest of the books in the series- it looks like this is the first one of…I’m not sure how many.
  • It’s definitely a must read if you like stories about sports.  And also how to move on and deal with your past.
  • I think my rating would be 2 stars.  It’s okay, and not a lot stuck with me.

Book #2: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

My thoughts:

  • I really liked this book!  It’s a YA contemporary about Amanda, who transferred schools.  I felt for Amanda, who tried so hard to fit in, and who had to deal with a lot- bullying and transphobia are the first things that come to mind.
  • I really like that it’s not a coming out story- both are important, but I really liked seeing Amanda move to a new town and transition to a new phase in her life.
  • I liked the friendships she had too- people can be horrible, but I’m glad Amanda found some amazing people.
  • I can’t remember anything about the romance, other than I liked it…but that’s about it!
  • I loved the author’s note at the end of the book.  Don’t skip over it, because it really does add to an already awesome book.
  • I feel like I’m not doing this book any justice.  At all.  Mostly because it’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I remember next to nothing.  But it’s such a great book and really important and I doubt I’d do it much justice regardless.  But waiting months to do some sort of half-hearted attempt isn’t helping.
  • Part of why it’s important is because of what the book is about, but it is worth mentioning that the author is also trans.
  • And I’m not sure if it’s true, but the cover model is trans as well.  For some reason, that feels really important as well.
  • I know I got really emotional and starting crying at one point.
  • My Rating: 4 stars.  Had I reviewed it right after finishing it, my rating probably would have been 5 stars.
    • But I may re-read it at some point so I can properly talk about it.
    • I still really liked it though.

Book #3: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This is another hardcover from the library.

What I Thought:

  • I liked seeing how much Strayed changed during the hike.
  • She did seem ill-prepared for the hike, and I can see why some reviewers think she’s whiny and self-absorbed
    • and also why some people thought she made poor life decisions
    • There’s no judgement from me, though, because she did have a lot of things she had to work through, especially with the death of her mother
  • Hiking- especially since she was by herself for most of the hike- seemed to help her
    • there was a lot of opportunity for her to reflect on her life
    • she did randomly meet up with other people along the way, though
  • I think my favorite part was seeing her not give up, even when it would have been easy for her to do so
  • I can’t imagine doing such a big hike, especially with no hiking/backpacking experience whatsoever
  • It really felt like I was hiking with her, and it never felt boring or repetitive
    • I can’t imagine being alone with my thoughts for that long, but props to her for sticking with it
  • It’s a memoir of her experience hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, so if you’re looking for more information or history about the trail itself, this is not the book for you
  • I’ve heard of it before- because it was adapted into a movie, but I mostly picked it up because it was mentioned in one of the Gilmore Girls revival episodes
    • I’m glad I picked it up, though, because I really liked it
  • I think my rating would be 4 stars.  I didn’t love it, but it was an easy read, and there is something about the way she writes

Book #4: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is a hardcover from the library.

And now, my thoughts:

  • This book deserves a lot more attention.  I feel like it didn’t get a lot of attention, despite the fact that it was an Oprah book club pick.  The publication date also got moved up because of it.  And I know it was recommended by Obama, so I had really high expectations.
    • It lived up to all of the hype…at least the hype that I heard.
    • It’s totally worth reading
  • I admit that I didn’t like it at first, and it took me a while to get into it.
    • I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because I really liked it
  • It is a hard read, because you see what it might have been like for slaves on the Underground Railroad
    • I’m not sure what to call them, but there are ads and wanted posters for runaway slaves, which really added to the journey Cora takes
  • The Underground Railroad is quite literal in this book but it was terrifying to see what it was like during that time period
    • so many people risked everything to be a part of it- whether they were a stop along the way, or the one trying to escape slavery
    • I know I said it already, but it really highlighted what it might have been like
  • It really is mind-blowing that people were willing to take a chance to have freedom than spend one more second as a slave
  • My rating: 4 stars.  It was hard to get into at first, but worth reading.

Book Review: A World Without You by Beth Revis

a-world-without-you-coverBook: A World Without You by Beth Revis

Published July 2016 by Razorbill|372 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

What would you do to bring back someone you love? After the unexpected loss of his girlfriend, a boy suffering from delusions believes he can travel through time to save her in this gripping new novel from New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis.

Seventeen-year-old Bo has always had delusions that he can travel through time. When he was ten, Bo claimed to have witnessed the Titanic hit an iceberg, and at fifteen, he found himself on a Civil War battlefield, horrified by the bodies surrounding him. So when his concerned parents send him to a school for troubled youth, Bo assumes he knows the truth: that he’s actually attending Berkshire Academy, a school for kids who, like Bo, have “superpowers.”

At Berkshire, Bo falls in love with Sofia, a quiet girl with a tragic past and the superpower of invisibility. Sofia helps Bo open up in a way he never has before. In turn, Bo provides comfort to Sofia, who lost her mother and two sisters at a very young age. 

But even the strength of their love isn’t enough to help Sofia escape her deep depression. After she commits suicide, Bo is convinced that she’s not actually dead. He believes that she’s stuck somewhere in time — that he somehow left her in the past, and now it’s his job to save her. 

In her first contemporary novel, Beth Revis guides readers through the mind of a young man struggling to process his grief as he fights his way through his delusions. As Bo becomes more and more determined to save Sofia, he has to decide whether to face his demons head-on, or succumb to a psychosis that will let him be with the girl he loves.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I have so many thoughts about A World Without You!

So, I have to admit that I knew I wanted to read this book, but that I didn’t know what it was about going in. At first, I didn’t realize it was a contemporary, because of the whole school-for-kids-with-special-powers aspect.  As the book went on, I realized that, in fact, the book was not sci-fi or paranormal or fantasy- basically, whatever genre you classify kids-with-special powers as.  That was when I realized the book was more contemporary than anything else.

I was a little disappointed that it was a contemporary novel, because I think it had a lot of promise if it had stuck to the idea that Sofia was trapped in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, and not the aftermath of her suicide. I do think the books works better if you don’t know that going in, because the paralyzing fear that something is wrong is much more palpable.  I kind of liked that I didn’t realize something was wrong at first, because everything seemed so normal.  But it was frustrating at the same time, because it became a story I wasn’t as interested in.

I think, had I known going in that Bo had severe mental illness, I would have spent the book frustrated knowing what was going on, and waiting for him to catch up and figure everything out.  There is an undercurrent of fear and confusion and you really see Bo lose all sense of time and reality.  It’s also the most severe case I’ve seen in any YA book that deals with mental illness- I think Identical by Ellen Hopkins is the only other one I can think of that comes remotely close, and it’s pretty similar in that you don’t realize what’s going on until the end of the novel.

I did really want the story where Bo has to go back in time to save Sofia- partly because that part of the novel really interested me, but I’m also curious about how Revis would tell that story.

I feel like the blurb gave away way too much.  I know I mentioned that this a book that may be better if you don’t know what’s going on, and you’re figuring things out right alongside Bo.  But I still think it works better if you know nothing.

We also get a few chapters narrated by Phoebe, who is Bo’s sister.  I feel like her chapters were meant to show how different they are, and how everything that is going on with Bo affects her.  Her chapters were boring and flat, and I feel like all she did was complain about how no one paid attention to her because she’s the good student who’s going off to college.  It’s clear that her parents seem to be focused on Bo- which is understandable- but I do understand that her parents probably don’t give her a lot of attention because she’s the one they DON’T have to worry about. And given everything going on with Bo, she probably feels like she has to do well.

It is hard to say for sure, though, since most of the book focused on Bo, and we only get a few chapters focusing on Phoebe.

The last chapter- an epilogue- was really weird for me.  It did leave you wondering if maybe Bo did have some sort of power or ability but no one realized it because it presented as something else.  It’s ambiguous enough that you’re not sure, but…I am not a fan of the epilogue.  I know it’s trying to wrap up with what happened the previous chapter, and that if the book had ended with that chapter…it would have been a hell of a cliffhanger.  But I felt like the epilogue took away a lot of the fear and confusion that we saw in the chapter before it, and it really lost the darkness and edge that it would have had otherwise.

The moment between Bo and Phoebe was weird- if Bo does have a mental illness, then was it just a coincidence? It did feel off, like maybe he did have some sort of supernatural ability, but no one believed him.  I wonder if maybe he did, but it wasn’t said outright, because it would have contradicted everything in the book?  Maybe I’m wrong, but I felt like you could see it that way.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  I do think it works better if you don’t read the blurb, but it’s also a really good look at mental illness.  It’s just not for me.

Book Review: The Flame Never Dies And Behold The Dreamers

the-flame-never-dies-coverBook #1: The Flame Never Dies By Rachel Vincent

Published August 2016 by Random House Children’s Books|241 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: Well Of Souls #2

Genre: YA Dystopia/Paranormal/Post-Apocalyptic

What It’s About: For fans of Cassandra Clare and Richelle Mead comes the unputdownable sequel to The Stars Never Rise, a book Rachel Caine, author of the bestselling Morganville Vampires series, called “haunting, unsettling, and eerily beautiful.”

ONE SPARK WILL RISE. Nina Kane was born to be an exorcist. And since uncovering the horrifying truth—that the war against demons is far from over—seventeen-year-old Nina and her pregnant younger sister, Mellie, have been on the run, incinerating the remains of the demon horde as they go.

In the badlands, Nina, Mellie, and Finn, the fugitive and rogue exorcist who saved her life, find allies in a group of freedom fighters. They also face a new threat: Pandemonia, a city full of demons. But this fresh new hell is the least of Nina’s worries. The well of souls ran dry more than a century ago, drained by the demons secretly living among humans, and without a donor soul, Mellie’s child will die within hours of its birth.

Nina isn’t about to let that happen . . . even if it means she has to make the ultimate sacrifice.

What I Thought: I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would.  I think a lot of it is that things were resolved pretty well in the first book, and it did work well as a stand-alone.  I don’t regret reading it, because The Flame Never Dies answers some questions and resolves some loose threads that came up in The Stars Never Rise.  But at the same time, it worked so well as a stand-alone that while I liked it, I’m also sort of meh about it.  What I think surprised me with this book is that, like the first book, things are resolved, with some loose threads and unanswered questions. From what I can tell, there will be only two books, so at least the overall story is resolved.  But things are open enough that there really could be another book in the series to answer those questions.

I was kept on the edge of my seat, though, and there were several times where you’re reading it, knowing that something is about to happen, and you’re just waiting for it to actually happen.  There weren’t a lot of surprises, but there were a few, and she does have a way of making you WANT to keep going.  There is part of me that wants more, but at the same time, I feel like, with this series, Vincent knew her stopping point and where things were headed.  It is nice knowing that the idea won’t get old because it’s being spread out over all of these books, and it easily could have gone that way.  But it didn’t, and I really appreciate that.

My Rating: 3 stars.  It’s enjoyable and fun, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first book.

behold-the-dreamer-coverBook #2: Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Published August 2016 by Random House|380 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction/Adult Literary Fiction

What It’s About: Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

What I Thought: I ended up really liking it! Behold The Dreamers was a really good look at what it’s like to be in immigrant in the U.S. Things like the Great Recession and the collapse of Lehman Brothers really does have an effect on EVERYONE, and that was something I never thought about before. They came here for a better life, and they ended up not being able to stay, for a lot of different reasons- the biggest reason being their lawyer. Their lawyer didn’t seem all that great, or interested in truly helping them. I can easily picture families or people like the Jongas hiring a lawyer who seems more interested in the money they’re getting than actually helping their clients.

I felt for them, and how hard they both worked to have a better life for them and their children, only to have it change so much. They do end up going back to Cameroon, and it seems like they’re set financially over there, but they tried so hard to stay here. I felt like Behold The Dreamers showcased how desperate people are to come here and stay here, and how they will do anything to have a life here.

I definitely thought Jende and Neni were a lot more sympathetic than Jende’s employers.  I get they were affected by it to, but it was hard to sympathize with a family who seemed to be more interested in maintaining their lifestyle than actually trying to work on themselves.  They do seem to have their issues, but they were far more unlikable. The Edwards family were much meant to contrast the Jonga family, and you see how different things are for the privileged and those who come here, hopeful and wanting a better life.  Perhaps that is what Mbue was going for, and I did feel for all of the characters, even when it was hard to care about them and like them.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I really liked seeing Jende and Neni come to the U.S., full of hope and optimism, only to have their dreams dashed.  It’s such a great read, and I really recommend it!

Book Review: Shiny Broken Pieces And The Boy Most Likely To

shiny-broken-pieces-coverBook #1: Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

Published July 2016 by HarperTeen|384 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: Tiny Pretty Things #2

Genre: YA Contemporary/Mystery

What It’s About: June, Bette, and Gigi have given their all to dance at Manhattan’s most elite ballet school. Now they are competing one final time for a spot at the prestigious American Ballet Company. With the stakes higher than ever, these girls have everything to lose…and no one is playing nice.

June is starting to finally see herself as a prima ballerina. However, getting what she wants might cost her everything—including the only boy she’s ever loved. Legacy dancer Bette is determined to clear her name after she was suspended and accused of hurting her rival, Gigi. Even if she returns, though, will she ever regain the spotlight she craves? And Gigi is not going to let Bette—or the other dancers who bullied her—go unpunished. But as revenge consumes her, Gigi may be the one who pays the price.

After years of grueling auditions, torn ribbons, and broken hearts, it all comes down to this last dance. Who will make the cut? And who will lose her dream forever?

What I Thought: After reading Tiny Pretty Things, and after hearing there was a sequel, I knew I had to read Shiny Broken Pieces. It picks up where Tiny Pretty Things left off, and you learn what happened the night Gigi was injured. It’s been a while since I’ve read TPT, but I remembered enough to get me through SBP, and it really is Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars. Only this time, there is a new mean girl, and I was really sad to see the change that Gigi made. At least she recognized it wasn’t who she wanted to be, and the events from months earlier really changed her- and not for the better. I get things really changed her, but she became the person that hurt her. I was a little surprised by Cassie, and I didn’t realize how much things changed her until the end of the book. I don’t really remember her from TPT, though, so that might be why I was surprised.

There is a lot of mystery and back-stabbing, and that kept me going, even though I found I didn’t care for Bette’s story or June’s story all that much. June, I think, has the most to decide, and it seems like her future is up in the air. It’s very open-ended, and even though she’s set to go to college, there is also the possibility of going to Salt Lake City and dancing in their ballet company, but you don’t get a decision either way. It does seem like she was leaning towards ballet, but at the same time, it seems like maybe she’s done ballet too? I am curious about Gigi and Bette, and where things ended with them.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I did really like it, and I did like seeing the fallout of Gigi’s injury. I also really liked seeing them go for their dreams, which they all worked really hard for. But it didn’t have the same appeal as the first book, and some of the mystery didn’t hold quite as well this time around. It did hold my attention, though, and I did want to see what was really going on.

My Rating: 4 stars. I really liked it, and I liked the mystery and seeing the fall-out from the previous book.

the-boy-most-likely-to-coverBook #2: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Published August 2015 by Dial Books|428 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: My Life Next Door #2

Genre: YA Contemporary

What It’s About: Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To find the liquor cabinet blindfolded, need a liver transplant, and drive his car into a house

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To . . . well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters.

For Tim, it wouldn’t be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the “smart” choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard.

Told in Tim’s and Alice’s distinctive, disarming, entirely compelling voices, this novel is for readers of The Spectacular Now, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and Paper Towns.

What I Thought: I read My Life Next Door a few years ago and absolutely loved it, so when I found out there was going to be a book about Tim and Alice, I knew I had to read it. It took me a while to actually read it, but while I liked it, I didn’t like it as much as I loved My Life Next Door. I loved reading about Tim and Alice, and I loved seeing them fall for each other. I felt for Tim, who worked so hard to overcome his addictions, and trying to be responsible for Calvin and doing the right thing for him, even when it turned Calvin wasn’t his. I really related to Alice, who took on a lot of responsibility after her dad’s accident, and how much she has to deal with.

I did like seeing what things were really like for the Garrett’s, and how horrible Samantha’s mom really was. It seemed like she tried to do the right thing, at least for a while, but it didn’t seem to take long for her to try to get out of it, once she realized how much it was going to cost her. As much as I liked Tim and Alice, their story didn’t have the same hold that Jace and Samantha’s did. We barely saw them- which I get, considering we already got their story. But considering Jace is Alice’s brother, and both Jace and Samantha are best friends with Tim, you’d think they’d pop up more than they actually did. It just didn’t have the same magic that My Life Next Door did. I think part of it is that the book randomly switches between Tim and Alice’s narration- you’ll get both of them narrating in the same chapter, and it didn’t work that well for me. It seemed too random and sudden, and it took me out of the story a little.

My Rating: 4 stars. I really liked The Boy Most Likely To, but it didn’t have the same appeal that My Life Next Door did.

Audio Book Review: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahira

the-namesake-coverBook: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahira, narrated by Sarita Choudhury

Published August 2006 by Random House Audio|10 hours, 5 minutes

Where I Got It: I borrowed the audio book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies established this young writer as one the most brilliant of her generation. In The Namesake, Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations.

The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged marriage, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name.

Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along a first-generation path strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I liked The Namesake more than I thought I would!  It really made me think about immigrants, and the power of names and being a first-generation American.

It’s been quite a while since I finished this book, so it’s definitely not fresh in my mind.  But there are a few things that stood out, particularly with pet names and good names.  It’s sad that the staff at Gogol’s school didn’t understand the concept of the name, and Gogol seemed particularly confused by it as well.  I really liked that you saw how different things were for Gogol and his parents, and I felt like I was experiencing things alongside Gogol and his parents.  He didn’t choose his name, and you see that he has a really complicated relationship with it.

One scene that bothered me was when Gogol was at a dinner party, and one of the guests assumed that he didn’t need immunizations when he traveled to India with his parents because, and I’m paraphrasing, he’s from India. It was either his girlfriend or his girlfriend’s mother who said he was from the U.S. but even she didn’t seem sure. They were together for ages, and they were all living in the same house, and yet she had no idea where he was born.  Yes, he is Bengali-American, but they didn’t seem to grasp the concept that he still needed immunizations to travel to India because he has never lived there.  I felt angry on his behalf that people lacked understanding.  It was probably just an innocent question for them, and they likely didn’t think anything about it, but it still really upset me because it seemed so insensitive.

Since I went for the audio book, I’ll talk about the narration!  I honestly don’t remember much about the narrator, but I do remember she did a great job with the narration.  I felt like she was Gogol, and she really brought him to life. I don’t think I’ll necessarily seek out any books narrated by her, but if I were listening to a book narrated by her, I wouldn’t mind.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

4 stars.  I really liked it, and I think, now more than ever, it’s important to read books like The Namesake.  I feel like I learned so much just from reading it.  What it’s like to be a child of immigrants is something I’ve never thought about- and never had to- but that’s why I’m glad I read it.

Book Review: The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

the-sun-is-also-a-star-coverBook: The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Published November 2016 by Delacorte Press|384 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

After reading Everything, Everything, I knew I couldn’t wait for Nicola Yoon’s next book. Unfortunately, this book was not for me. I wanted to love it but I couldn’t.

I did like that chapters alternated between Daniel and Natasha, and we see how both of their stories unfold. We also get chapters narrated by the people around Natasha and Daniel, and we see the history and stories of people on the periphery of their lives. I don’t know how I feel about those chapters. They made me feel even more removed from what was going on, and we see how the choices others made led to this moment in their lives.

If you don’t like insta-love, this is not the book for you. Even worse, this book tries to SCIENTIFICALLY EXPLAIN insta-love. My reaction to this: no. Please, no. Do not try to scientifically explain insta-love. That is the last thing I want to read. I thought they had no chemistry and it was creepy how obsessed Daniel was with Natasha, and how much he believed that they were meant to be together. You only caught a glimpse of her, and you decided that she was The One? Thanks, but no thanks.

I felt so bad for Natasha, who had to go back to a country that didn’t feel like home to her. I get why they had to go back, and the thing with the lawyer? She went to him for help, and he couldn’t even do that because he was too focused on his paralegal. I liked that she had hope, yet didn’t want to say something until she knew for sure what was going to happen. I did feel for Daniel, and the pressure his parents (especially his father) put on him. Something about Daniel’s family in particular seemed very stereotypical to me but at the same time, that was much more interesting to me than the romance between Natasha and Daniel. I really wish the story was more about them and their families then their romance.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

2 stars. I liked it a lot less than Everything, Everything, and the romance (and scientific explanation of it) were not for me. I did like the family dynamics and the thing both Natasha and Daniel were facing.

Book Review Round-Up: When Reason Breaks, Compulsion and Split Second

Book Review Round-Up is when I talk about several books in one post.  Today’s books are When Reason Breaks By Cindy Rodriguez, Compulsion by Martina Boone and Split Second by Kasie West.

when-reason-breaks-coverBook #1: When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez, narrated by Cassandra Morris

Published February 2015 by Audible for Bloomsbury|Length: 7 hours, 16 minutes

Where I Got It: I own the audio book

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

What It’s About: 13 Reasons Why meets the poetry of Emily Dickinson in this gripping debut novel perfect for fans of Sara Zarr or Jennifer Brown.

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control.

What I Thought: I’ve wanted to read When Reason Breaks ever since I heard about it. I thought the dual narration worked really well, even in the audio book. It was hard at first, telling the two girls apart, but as the book went on, it got easier because Elizabeth and Emily are very different girls. I’m also glad that Elizabeth went by Elizabeth, because two Emily’s in the audio book would have been a little bit hard to keep up with. Especially with the connection to Emily Dickinson we see throughout the book.

Emily and Elizabeth are very different girls, but both of them are struggling with depression. With Emily and Elizabeth, we see very different portrayals of it, and I liked seeing how two very different people deal with depression in very different ways. They very much represent different manifestations of depression- outwardly for Elizabeth, and inward for Emily.

I will say that I was frustrated with how Mrs. Diaz dealt with the anonymous letters she got from one of her students. I get why she would assume the letters were from Elizabeth- Elizabeth is not only Goth, but has a lot of other issues that she’s dealing with at home. I’m not at all saying that if you’re Goth, you’re depressed and suicidal, and this book clearly shows that you can be depressed and suicidal and still appear like everything is fine, even if it’s not. But it frustrated me, because she’s focusing all of her attention on the student she thinks needs helps- it’s like she doesn’t consider that it could be someone else, and that was frustrating to listen to, because depression isn’t always obvious. At least she realizes that a student needs help, and that she was able to save the student in time. We don’t really see any attempts at recovery, but this book isn’t about that. It’s about the struggle of dealing with something and not knowing what to do or how to handle it.

Cassandra Morris was an excellent narrator, and even though I’m actively seeking out other books she’s narrated, if I saw she narrated a book that I was considering listening to, I’d definitely consider it as an audio book. I do wish she had done something slightly different for the two girls, but overall, she did a pretty good job. I could have sworn I’ve listened to a book by her, because she sounded really familiar, but I haven’t. Maybe she sounds similar to another narrator Ive listened to.

My Rating: 4 stars. Mostly because the assumptions that Mrs. Diaz made in regard to who was sending her letters was really frustrating (as understandable as it was), and it was a little hard to get over. It is a very good look at depression and the different forms it can take.

compulsion-coverBook #2: Compulsion by Martina Boone

Published August 2015 by SimonPulse|433 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: The Heirs Of Watson Island #1

Genre: YA Paranormal/Mystery/Gothic

What It’s About: Beautiful Creatures meets The Raven Boys in Compulsion, the first novel in a spellbinding new trilogy.

All her life, Barrie Watson has been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lived with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt’s South Carolina plantation instead—a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.

Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family’s twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn’t what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead.

What I Thought: I don’t remember how I came across this book, but it seemed intriguing enough, especially since it’s described as Beautiful Creatures meets The Raven Boys. I know I read The Raven Boys (and I know a lot of people love that series) but I don’t remember much about it, other than they’re trying to find…something. I do love Beautiful Creatures, and I was hoping that I would like this book as much as that series.

As much as I wanted to like it, I ended up not liking it that much. As much as I like the premise, it fell short for me. I can see the comparisons to Beautiful Creatures, and there is this southern Gothic feel to the book, but it didn’t work as well as I thought it would. I did listen to Beautiful Creatures on audio, while I read Compulsion, and I wonder if that would have made a difference. I have the feeling it wouldn’t. I really wish we had more information about the curse that affected all three families and why it bound them to the island. I feel like we got something, but it’s honestly not something I can remember. There are gifts and curses and there is not enough detail for me. All of the world-building was there (and to be honest, it felt a little forced), but never really explained. I wish it were, because those details could have been interesting.

My Rating: 2 stars. Even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book, I have a hard time giving it one star, and I’m not sure why.

split-second-coverBook #3: Split Second by Kasie West

Published February 2014 by HarperTeen|360 Pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Pivot Point #2

Genre: YA Paranormal

What It’s About: Life can change in a split second.

Addie hardly recognizes her life since her parents divorced. Her boyfriend used her. Her best friend betrayed her. She can’t believe this is the future she chose. On top of that, her ability is acting up. She’s always been able to Search the future when presented with a choice. Now she can manipulate and slow down time, too . . . but not without a price.

When Addie’s dad invites her to spend her winter break with him, she jumps at the chance to escape into the Norm world of Dallas, Texas. There she meets the handsome and achingly familiar Trevor. He’s a virtual stranger to her, so why does her heart do a funny flip every time she sees him? But after witnessing secrets that were supposed to stay hidden, Trevor quickly seems more suspicious of Addie than interested in her. And she has an inexplicable desire to change that.

Meanwhile, her best friend, Laila, has a secret of her own: she can restore Addie’s memories . . . once she learns how. But there are powerful people who don’t want to see this happen. Desperate, Laila tries to manipulate Connor, a brooding bad boy from school—but he seems to be the only boy in the Compound immune to her charms. And the only one who can help her.

As Addie and Laila frantically attempt to retrieve the lost memories, Addie must piece together a world she thought she knew before she loses the love she nearly forgot . . . and a future that could change everything.

What I Thought: I didn’t like Split Second as much as I thought I would. I liked the first one, but I thought Split Second was really confusing. It was narrated by Addie and Laila, and even though there were major differences in their chapters, in terms of how their stories unfolded, it was hard to tell them apart. Just when I got used to one of them, the chapter was over, and I was thrown into someone else’s story.

I did have trouble focusing on the book, so maybe my massive confusion was partly because I wasn’t paying as much attention as I could have. I do remember having this problem with Pivot Point, and being confused by the two different time lines, but I don’t remember having this much trouble keeping up with what was going on. It’s also been a while since I’ve read Pivot Point, so part of might be because I remember nothing. I have really liked the contemporary books I’ve read by West, so maybe her more paranormal stuff isn’t my thing.

My Rating: 2 stars. I found that I was really confused, and unable to keep up. It’s an interesting idea, but not my cup of tea.

Book Review Round-Up: Always Running, The Vegetarian, and Sister Of My Heart

I’ve read quite a few books recently, and thought I’d do some shorter reviews on a few of them!

always-running-coverBook #1: Always Running by Luis J. Rodriguez

Published October 2005 (originally published 1993) by Touchstone|288 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction, Memoir

What It’s About: The award-winning and bestselling classic memoir about a young Chicano gang member surviving the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles, now featuring a new introduction by the author.

Winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, hailed as a New York Times notable book, and read by hundreds of thousands, Always Running is the searing true story of one man’s life in a Chicano gang—and his heroic struggle to free himself from its grip.

By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East Los Angeles gang warfare. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed countless shootings, beatings, and arrests and then watched with increasing fear as gang life claimed friends and family members. Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation.

Achieving success as an award-winning poet, he was sure the streets would haunt him no more—until his young son joined a gang. Rodriguez fought for his child by telling his own story in Always Running, a vivid memoir that explores the motivations of gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that inevitably claim its participants.

At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-earned lesson for the next generation.

What I Thought: I really liked Always Running!  It’s very honest, and I’m actually really glad I read it.  It’s a very raw account of his life in east L.A. and his life on the streets, and how he broke free from that life.

It was hard to read, and I was especially saddened by how people were placed in certain classes based on their race, and yet, it wasn’t that surprising, especially given the time.  It’s as much his life story as it is the history of the factors that led to the rise in gangs.  His parents came to the U.S. from Mexico in search of a better life, and it seems like they tried to give him (and his siblings) a good life.

I liked the snapshots we got of his life, but at the same time, it was a little hard to follow because as far as timeline went, he did jump around a little bit.  I also had a bit of a hard time keeping track of who was who, but overall, it’s still worth reading.  You do a clear picture of why he joined a club- for protection, because it was the only way to stay safe.

My Rating: 4 stars.  It’s very vivid, and it’s still very relevant to current events.

the-vegetarian-coverBook #2: The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Translated by Deborah Smith

Published February 2016 (originally published 2007) by Hogarth|192 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

What It’s About: Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

What I Thought: I’m not sure what to think about The Vegetarian.  It’s a very weird book, but in a good way.  It is interesting that she gave up meat because of a dream, and that dreams played a big role in becoming more plant-like. In a way, it seemed like becoming vegetarian was Yeong-hye’s way of gaining some sort of control over her life.  It also goes in a direction that I did not see coming, and it’s interesting that you see it through the eyes of her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister.  Part of me wishes that we saw Yeong-hye narrate even a small portion of the book, but at the same time, I liked seeing her through the eyes of the people around her.

One thing I wondered was how people in South Korea view vegetarians, and if it’s something that’s very specific to her family.  I honestly assumed her family would be okay with it, and I’m not sure where that assumption came from. But something about how they reacted rang true.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I did like the first two parts, which focused on her marriage and being a muse for her brother-in-law, but I wasn’t as interested in the last part, which focused on her sister.  It’s still worth reading.

sister-of-my-heart-coverBook #3: Sister Of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Published January 1999 by Doubleday|336 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Anju & Sudha #1

Genre: Adult Fiction

Where I Got It: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni made an indelible impression on the literary world with her first novel, The Mistress of Spices, a magical tale of love and herbs. Sister of My Heart is less reliant on enchantment but no less enchanting as it tells the tale of two cousins born on the same day, their premature births brought on by a mysterious occurrence that claims the lives of both their fathers. Sudha is beautiful, Anju is not; yet the girls love each other as sisters, the bond between them so strong it seems nothing can break it. When both are pushed into arranged marriages, however, each discovers a devastating secret that changes their relationship forever.

Sister of My Heart spans many years and zigzags between India and America as the cousins first grow apart and then eventually reunite. Divakaruni invests this domestic drama with poetry as she traces her heroines’ lives from infancy to motherhood, but it is Sudha and Anju who give the story its backbone. Anju might speak for both when she says, “In spite of all my insecurities, in spite of the oceans that’ll be between us soon and the men that are between us already, I can never stop loving Sudha. It’s my habit, and it’s my fate.” Book lovers may well discover that reading Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is habit-forming as well. –Margaret Prior

What I Thought: I liked Sister Of My Heart.  I really liked the bond that Sudha and Anju had, and that they are more sisters than cousins.  There were times where their bond was so strong I honestly forgot they were cousins, and not sisters.

They definitely learned things that will completely change their relationship, and it’s hard to tell which secret will change their relationship more.  I have the feeling that both secrets will come out at some point.  I didn’t realize that this was the first book in a series, and at the end of the book, I was slightly disappointed that there was not more resolution.  Once I realized that it was part of a series, the ending made more sense.  It makes me wonder what will happen next for Sudha and Anju.

I will say that I found the arranged marriages to be interesting, but also hard to imagine.  Even though it’s something I know exists, it’s hard to wrap my head around it, and this book was a really good glimpse into what is one of many reasons why there are arranged marriages.  It’s also a really good look at families and the family dynamic in a different part of the world, and how different things are for people in other parts of the world.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I liked it, and I may continue the series, but not anytime soon.  I did love the relationship between Sudha and Anju and how much it changed.