Monday, August 3, 2015

It's almost Bout of Books time!!

Bout of Books
Get ready for Bout of Books 14!!  This is my 7th Bout of Books and I cannot wait.  It is a full week of reading as much as you can with a bunch of people around the interwebs.  There are Challenges to do, Twitter chats to join, and lots and lots of reading to enjoy.

This time around, the Bout lasts from Monday August 17 until Sunday August 23.  I'm still figuring out what kind of goal I'd like to set for myself and how I'd like to track my reading...  I'll settle that by the time I get my Master Post ready.

Here is the official blurb about this event with links for more information:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23rd in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 14 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team
If this sounds like fun to you - please consider joining!

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Graphic Novel Review: "Thor: The Goddess of Thunder" by Jason Aaron

In a new Thor story (which has blown by son's mind, by the way - in a good way), we find that the Thor that we have always known and loved is no longer worthy of the hammer.  With Malekith and the Frost Giants working under an alliance to attack Midgard (Earth), the future looks bleak.  However, there must always be a Thor, and we see a hand reach down and lift Mjolnir.  The hand belongs to a woman, whose identity remains secret (although becomes apparent that she knows Thor).  Can she wield the hammer?  Yes.  Yes she can.

I love that this story has turned the Thor story line on its head.  Odin, Freyja, even the common enemies just don't know what to do about this Goddess of Thunder.  The only one who seems to accept this new reality is Thor himself, who goes so far as to give her his name - calling himself Odinson now.  Others seem to come around - but it looks like there will be trouble in the future from Asgardia.

But who is she?  Who is Thor, Goddess of Thunder?  Odinson creates a list of possibilities - with some thought provoking possibilities.  Even though he accepts that she wields the hammer, he still wants to know who she is.  And really, we all do.

*****
Thor: The Goddess of Thunder
by Jason Aaron
Marvel, 2015
136 pages
Collects #1-5
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Review: "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda" by Becky Albertalli

Simon Spier has not come out about being gay, except to Blue.  He has no idea who Blue really is (and Blue doesn't know who Simon is either), just that they go to the same school.  They met online via an anonymous post to a Tumblr where one talked about being gay.  They exchanged secret email addresses....   and told each other everything.  As their relationship just begins to escalate, a classmate finds one of Simon's emails and confronts him about his sexual orientation, the fact it is a secret.... and that he'd be more than happy to keep his secret if Simon could hook him up with his friend Abby.  Straight-up blackmail.  It's not good...  Simon wants to protect Blue, protect his secret (until he's good and ready to tell it himself), and not set up his friend with a guy she's not interested in.  Its an impossible situation...

I loved loved loved this book!!  I love Simon, I love Blue, I love all of Simon's real friends, and I love his family.  I love the humor, the cuteness, the overall tone...  I just absolutely adored this book. I was reading this book on an airplane, and I was so engrossed that I didn't even realize that the plane had landed.

Seriously.

This is an amazing love story where two people get to know each other in an incredibly intimate way without knowing the other's name, looks, friends, etc- but still watching one try to figure out who the other's identity.  I absolutely loved it.  Did I say that already?  I don't care - I'll say it again - I LOVED this book!!

*****
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
by Becky Albertalli
Balzer + Bray, 2015
303 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz

Oh, Oscar.  Everything just always seemed out of your grasp, didn't it?  And you tried to just roll with it...  but how do you go against the fuku curse that has followed your family for generations?

Oscar was that gentle overweight nerd we all knew in high school.  All he ever wanted to feel was love reciprocated (because he certainly fell in love countless times)...  but falling for the wrong person is a habit in his family, and the consequences are just horrific.  This tale doesn't start and end with Oscar, it also includes his sister Lola, his mother and his grandmother...  in ways you'll never be able to forget.  This is a brutal history, with funny and passionate characters, and lets not forget the nation of the Dominican Republic.  The way the country itself reaches in and takes hold.

I had purchased this book years ago, and I'm so glad I finally read it.  I really didn't know what to expect...  I didn't know much other that it won the Pulitzer Prize a few years ago.  But this really is something else.  The language flows in such an exciting and in your face kind of way - and it is completely within context.  There is one narrator, whom isn't identified right away, who tells this family's story within a historical context.  Each chapter centers on one character, and their contribution to how Oscar came to be Oscar.  Each chapter carries its own tone and vocabulary in a sense, and it all comes together in the end like the pieces of a puzzle.  It is just brilliant.

I want to say something about the brutality exhibited in some scenes and the dry humor in others...  but I don't really know how to do it elegantly, so I'll just leave it at that.  This is just such a big story - much bigger than I imagined it would be - and I just loved it.

*****
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Diaz
Riverhead Books, 2007
335 pages
Source:  Purchased Used
*****

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Review: "Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee

Twenty-six year old Jean Louise "Scout" Finch has come home to Maycomb, Alabama for her two week summer vacation.  She currently lives in New York City, so returning to her rural Southern town usually feels welcoming and relaxing.  But this time, it isn't long before she realizes that some things have changed... the recent Supreme Court ruling(s) ensuring civil rights to black people have raised racial tensions in her quiet little town.  Scout considers herself "color-blind" in that to her, people are people and is horrified to learn that some people she loves dearly do not feel the same way.

I think everyone is well aware of all the controversies surrounding this novel.  To make it clear, and especially after reading this - no, I do not think this was ever meant to be published, nor should it have been.  But its out there now, and whats done is done in this case.  To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my all time favorite novels ever, and this is not a sequel.  I urge you not to think of it in that way.  This is essentially the first draft of what became TKAM, and it was, in fact, rejected by publishers.  So, keeping that in mind...

These are not the characters you think you know.  They also evolved as TKAM was written.  So you have to read what is written here, and not what you wanted/expected or with any nostalgic feelings.  Knowing that this eventually became TKAM, you can see exactly the kind of story Harper Lee wanted to tell.  She clearly wanted to write about and make her point regarding the race issue that was overtaking the South.  While many scenes in this book are disjointed, and have strange flashbacks to Scout's past...  she makes her overarching point in a very loud and in-your-face way (that is not exactly keeping with the tone of the rest of the book).  However, the moments in which Scout discovers that her father is actually fallible and human was very interesting and relatable to me.
I think part of the most intriguing things about reading this book is that you can pretty much see where TKAM came from.  I can picture the original publishing houses saying "No, this isn't what we're looking for exactly - but what if you took these couple of pages and turned that into something?"

So, do I recommend reading this?  I think it is worth it, as long as you can keep it separate in your mind from TKAM and everything in that masterpiece of a novel.  This doesn't compare to that greatness, but it is interesting in the context of literary history or timelines and that sort of thing.  Had this never been published, I would not have missed it...  but its here and so I had to read it.  It scared me though - I couldn't just jump into it....  but I'm glad I'm through it and can donate my copy to the library.  I won't need it again.

*****
Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee
Harper, 2015
278 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Review: "My Life Next Door" by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Samantha Reed has always been fascinated by the Garrett family next door.  They are the exact opposite of her family.  Where she has only her mother and older sister; they have a mom, dad and eight children.  Where her mom wants everything neat and tidy (even going so far as to vacuum a clean room every day), the Garretts are messy and leave the children's toys out in their own backyard.  Samantha's mother has a trust fund and works as an elected official, where the Garretts have their own hardware store but maybe not quite enough money to go around all the time.  Samantha loves to watch the Garretts from her secret perch on her roof outside her bedroom window.  It is her private escape until one night, Jase Garrett climbs the trellis and enters her life.  She keeps him secret, knowing that her mother would disapprove, and all goes well until an accident changes everything.

This story is not without its flaws, I mean, how did Samantha and Jase live next door to each other for ten years and not once say hi?  But whatever, that's kind of the least of it.  I liked Jase's family and they way they talked with one another.  That translated well to how Jase and Samantha communicate as their relationship progresses.  I thought this book handled a young couple's first sexual experience really really well.  I don't know how true to life it is (certainly wasn't like that for me), but it is an ideal that I would hope teens would look up to and maybe try to emulate.  Possible wishful thinking on my part, but hey.  Tim is an interesting character and I am really looking forward to the companion book that features him as the main character!  It's called The Boy Most Likely To and is due in August.  But I'm mostly sad about how things were left regarding Samantha and her best friend (Tim's twin) Nan.  It doesn't seem right the way that went down.  Anyway, this is a good love story, but has more to do with trying to do the right thing no matter what it may cost you or the ones you love.

*****
My Life Next Door
by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Dial, 2012
394 pages
Series:  My Life Next Door #1
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review: "The Summer of Chasing Mermaids" by Sarah Ockler

Eighteen year old Elyse had everything she wanted right in front of her.  She and her twin sister were on the verge of singing professionally on her native Tobago when a freak accident left her unable to speak or sing.  Needing to get away from the looks of pity and the reminders of what she lost, Elyse travels to the coast of Oregon to stay with a distant aunt/family friend.  Here she starts to grieve for her lost life by enjoying this simple seaside town, its rich mermaid folklore, and Christian - the handsome boy next door, who has the summer playboy reputation down pat, is also the first person to not treat her with pity.  Even so, Elyse may be too broken to be saved from the sea... who seems to still call her name.

It has been a little while since I've read Sarah Ockler (I missed the last book or two) but I've always loved her edge to a story. The books that I have read (Twenty Boy Summer and Fixing Delilah) seem to have an underlying theme of empowerment.  In this book, empowerment is all over the place!  This is all about finding your voice - even if you cannot speak - and using it so that people listen.  Elyse is surrounded by people who in one way or another, have lost their voice or are being told that what they are saying is wrong without allowing for an argument.

Christian has a younger brother who is obsessed with the mermaid folklore, is constantly searching for mermaids, and wants nothing more than to dress as a mermaid in the town's annual Mermaid Celebration.  However, people keep telling him that he can't or shouldn't want these things because he is a boy.  I kind of loved how this was included as a subplot, even if it made me angry and frustrated.
There is a lot going on here, and I loved it all.  Perfect for older teens who are looking for their voice and figuring out what they want to do in life.... with a nice side of romance as well.

*****
The Summer of Chasing Mermaids
by Sarah Ockler
Simon Pulse, 2015
399 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Book Review: "I Am Princess X" by Cherie Priest

When in the fifth grade, May and her best friend Libby created Princess X, their own comic book hero.  The princess wore a poofy sleeved pink dress, red chucks and wielded a katana sword.  May and Libby created books and books of her adventures up until Libby was killed in a car accident with her mother 3 years ago.  May thought the princess had died with her.  Now, this summer, she has returned to Seattle to visit her father and unexpectedly finds a sticker bearing the princess's image.  Who else could possibly know about Princess X?  What exactly is going on here?

I was first intrigued by the format of this book as it intertwines text narration with the illustrated web comic.  I kind of loved it, especially as the text portion doesn't slow down the quick pace usually found in a comic.  Everything moves fast in this story, and it is quite a mystery/adventure.  May meets a friend along the way, Trick, and he helps her with the cyber-sleuthing.  The best part is?  We stick to the adventure at hand, and no romance is forced in.  This is a story about one kick ass girl trying to find the truth.  She can actually spend a lot of time with a guy and NOT be distracted by romantic thoughts or innuendo!   I KNOW!

This is great for most readers, especially reluctant readers, as it is a fast-paced mystery/adventure.  It is also a great friendship story - because who wouldn't do whatever they needed to help their best friend?

(I just saw a publisher's blurb that said this was for fans of Cory Doctorow and Sarah Dessen.  I am totally on board with the Cory reference, but not as convinced of the Dessen - unless they are just trying to say female?  Hope not....  just my two cents.)

*****
I Am Princess X
by Cherie Priest
Arthur A. Levine, 2015
229 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Book Review: "The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things" by Ann Aguirre

Its the start of junior year, and Sage Czinski is doing everything she can to be perfect.  There are things in her past that no one can know about, and being perfect will help keep those incidents a secret.  Shane Cavendish is new to the small school, and he's just trying to lay low and stay out of trouble.  He's had trouble in his past too - things he'd also like to keep secret.  Sage and Shane have an instant connection, which seems too good to be true - until their pasts come back to haunt them.

This is the thing, if you can make it past the giant pile of cheese that is Sage at the beginning of the book, you'll probably do okay.  It gets better (or you become immune to the cheese - I'm not 100% sure).  Also, her big dark past is pretty big and very dark, but the foreshadowing teases are a little overdone.   Shane's past is pretty dark too.

Honestly, with the title being what it is, I was expecting something a little more light and fluffy and the meat of this story just isn't.  I liked being surprised by that.  I also liked that Sage is a vegetarian.  I'm not sure I am totally on board for her reason for it, but I get it and it just isn't something you see often in YA books.

Bottom line is that I found this book to be a little better than average, though I did have some issues.  I think that 15-17 year old teens will probably like this more than I did, as they may be a little more forgiving of the over-dramatized bits that annoyed me.

*****
The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things
by Ann Aguirre
Feiwel and Friends, 2015
328 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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