January Reads

Apparently, I’ve read quite a lot this month!  Want to know my secret?  It’s audio books.  I’ve listened to four audio books this month and read 6 books in print.  I’ve gotten into a habit of listening to audio books when I’m doing laundry, cooking, or even when I’m working in the teacher workroom while volunteering at Grace’s school.  I like to fill the quiet spaces with something to occupy my mind.  It makes unpleasant chores so much more tolerable and it is a great way to check off the boxes on my to-read list.

This is just a brief rundown of the books I’ve read this month.

Books in print

In the Woods by Tana French

Technically, I started this book in December, but I finished it a few days into January, so I’m counting it!  This is the first in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series.  The story follows detective Rob Ryan as he investigates the murder of a child in his hometown.  This investigation hits a little too close to home for Rob, who, as a child, was abducted along with his two best friends.  Rob was the only one to return alive.  The mystery surrounding his friends’ disappearance remains unsolved and Rob struggles to reconcile his past experience with new information he’s learned during this investigation.  This was a great mystery, though not an easy one to digest due to the subject matter.  I have the second book in this series on my bookcase, just waiting for me to reach out and grab it.  4 Stars.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Eighteen year old Madeline struggles to remember the last time she left her house.  A deadly immune deficiency keeps her locked inside her home.  It is her own personal, hyper-sanitized bubble.  She lives with her mother and is homeschooled. She has a nurse who visits her daily, but most other guests are off limits.  Madeline seems happy and well-adjusted despite her unusual living conditions.  That is, until Olly moves in next door.  When natural human curiosity takes over, Madeline becomes filled with typical teenage angst that threatens everything about her perfectly protected life.  This YA read may lack a little substance, but the twist at the end might just surprise you.  3 Stars.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove is a grumpy old man.  He is hard-headed and stuck in his ways.  Ove has big plans for himself, but when his neighbors begin meddling in his day to day life, he find that his plans are thwarted over and over again.  I don’t want to say too much about this book, because I would hate to give anything away.  You should know that it is a heart-wrenching read.  Your heart will break for Ove time and again.  But this is also a beautiful love story that proves that it is never too late to love or live.  5 amazing stars.  This is the best book I’ve read in quite some time.

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

This was the latest book that I’ve reviewed.  You can read all about it here.  This was a fun read and well deserving of 4 stars.

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

Nicole is a girl growing up in a boy’s body.  She shares all of the same features as her identical twin Jonas, yet she is transgendered.   This is the story of her family’s struggles and triumphs over prejudices living in small town, Maine.  For me, this was an interesting and informative read.  It was also inspirational to see her family overcome their own fears to become Nicole’s greatest supporters.  4 stars.

Audio Books

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens

With their dad away working on the oil fields, the Campbell sisters are forced to take care of themselves.  On the rare occasion when their dad does make it home, he is usually drunk and violent.  After a night of violence, the girls flee their home, knowing they will never return.  While trying to escape their past, the girls run into trouble that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.  I didn’t love this book.  The narrator of an audiobook can really be a deciding factor in how much I enjoy the book.  I didn’t care for the narrator, but aside from that, I just think the story lacked substance.  The character development just wasn’t there.  The sisters survived terrible situations, but I just didn’t feel a real connection to them.  I gave this one 2 stars.

Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kalig

This was fun and quick to listen to, although it did garner me a few questionable looks from my husband who could overhear it while I was making supper one evening.  Mindy Kalig is honest and funny.  She’s someone you can picture as a friend.  Like many  other celebrity memoirs, this was a collection of quirky stories in Mindy’s characteristically dry humor.  She makes a great narrator, so this is a good one to listen to on audio.  I gave it 3 stars.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

In a fit of desperation, I downloaded The Book Whisperer while volunteering in the library at Grace’s school.  I had packets to compile and staple for the entire school, so I knew I had a few hours worth of work ahead of me.  I was working in the teacher resource room, so I knew I wouldn’t be offending anyone by having the book played aloud.  This is a book that all elementary teachers should read.  In fact, there is merit in it for middle and high school teachers, as well.  Donalyn Miller shares her secrets on how she successfully encourages a love of reading in her sixth graders.  Her methods are fairly simple and would be easy to implement in almost every type of classroom.  I was in awe of her knack for recommendations and her classroom library that contained thousands of children’s books.  This was a fantastic professional development book.  It gave it 5 stars.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

A group of well to do strangers are gathered in the home of a South American Vice President to celebrate the birthday of a Japanese businessman.  The entertainment for the evening is a beautiful opera singer who mesmerizes the guests with her enchanting performance.  As the evening comes to a close, the home is stormed by hostage takers in what would become a months’ long stand-off.  Patchett delves into the lives of both the hostages and captors, who eventually become like comrades during their time together.  I think this was my first Ann Patchett book, with State of Wonder patiently waiting for me to pull it off my bookshelf.  It was a wonderful piece of fiction, loosely based on actual historical events.  Patchett has a gift for story telling and I look forward to reading more of her books and stories.  I gave this one 4 stars.

What I’m Reading Now

 Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

I put this book on hold months and months ago through the library.  In fact, when it finally became available, I almost didn’t download it.  I read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl over the summer and let’s just say that I was no fangirl where this book was concerned.  The writing was amateurish and I feel that the author was attempting to ride the coattails of Harry Potter fandom.  But back to Eleanor and Park.  I decided to give it shot because it is so hugely popular in the YA world and promises to be Rowell’s best work.  I’m about halfway through it right now and I’m happy to say that it is better than I expected.  The writing is much stronger and it has a main character that you want to cheer for.

What I’m Reading Next

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

At Grace’s urging, I’m reading Hollow City next.  She had been interested in reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for awhile before she finally got around to reading it on my Kindle.  Hollow City is the second book in this series and it goes without saying that she is hooked!  I’ve got the third book on hold for her at the library and I suspect we will be making a trip to the bookstore this weekend so that she can buy the graphic novel.  I thought Miss Peregrine’s was just okay, but I’m happy to give this one a go at Grace’s instance.

What did you read in January?  What are you reading now?  What are you reading next?  Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.

A run-down of what I’m reading

So, life happens and I’ve had a full plate lately.  I’m up to my eyeballs in after school enrichment registrations and helping out with other things at Grace’s school.  I’ve had lots of family time over the last few weeks, which I’ve treasured.  But between keeping my house clean, my people fed, and stressing out about things that are currently beyond my control, my blogging has suffered as has my sleep.  I’ve managed to squeeze in reading, but that is about all the extracurricular activity that I’ve had time for.  Though I may be tired, I’m grateful for this busy season in my life.  It means that I am surrounded by people and activities that I love!

With that, I am going to do something a little different today to catch up.  I am going to do a quick rundown of the last few books I’ve read.

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider has been sitting at the top of my review list for the longest, so I will start with it first.  I downloaded this one from the library.  I LOVE being able to download books from the library directly to my Kindle.  If I come across a few that are available now while I’m browsing, I usually download them instantly.

Extraordinary Means is a YA novel about two teenagers who fall for each other under strange circumstances.  Lane and Sadie are sent away to a sanatorium for students with tuberculosis.  Latham House is a former boarding school, turned hospital that acts as a means to quarantine young TB patients during an epidemic outbreak.  Comparisons of Extraordinary Means to The Fault in Our Stars aren’t without merit, but to me it fell a little short of TFIOS greatness.  I gave this one 3/5 stars on Goodreads, but would probably make it 3.5 if I could.  It is an interesting story, with some predictable circumstances, but worthy of a good discussion.

Up next on my Kindle was Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertallianother great library download!  Being that it was only recently released last spring, I really didn’t know what to expect from this book.  At first, I didn’t love the tone of this book.  It was brooding and kind of angry.  I’m not sure if it was the book that changed or if it was me.  As I continued reading, it grew on me and I ended up really loving this book for its boldness.  Simon is a gay high school student, forced out of the closet against his will.  And though his dignity has been stripped away, Simon manages to carry on with grace.  This is a sweet teenage love story that gives me hope for our younger generations and it is very worthy of 4/5 stars.

I pulled Donna Tartt’s A Secret History off my bookshelf next.  I have a stack of used books that I purchased over the summer that I’ve barely delved into.  Must stop reading Kindle books!  But in all seriousness, I picked A Secret History as my next read because there was so much buzz about it on my Instagram feed.  People were raving about it and calling it a favorite!

This book was hefty, weighing in at 628 pages.  Having devoured The Goldfinch earlier in the summer, I was sure I was in for a treat with A Secret History.  Boy, was I wrong.  Set in the late 80’s at a small private college that strives to be Ivy League, A Secret History is about a group of pretentious students who study Greek and only Greek.  They are an elite group of six who happen to have the rare and unusual privilege of being educated privately by an eccentric old professor.  When the group stumbles into some trouble and one of the odd men out threatens to reveal their transgressions, the rest take measures into their own hands.  For me, where this book differed from The Goldfinch was in its characters’ likability.   I’ve said it before, I just can’t enjoy a book with unlikable characters and this book was rife with them.  This book has all the feels of a classic, but I’m not sure it will ever live up to that distinction.  I give this one 2/5 stars, leaning towards a 2.5.

 

And just this morning, I finished up Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, another highly anticipated YA library download that I had on hold.  It was hugely disappointing to me and what’s more is I have all the other Rainbow Rowell books on hold at the library, as well!  I’m still holding out hope for Eleanor & Parkbut may have to abandon the others.

Fangirl is the story of Cath, a socially awkward freshman fumbling through her first year of college, while also dealing with some fairly serious family issues.  Cath writes young adult fan fiction, based on the fictitious Simon Snow series, to a huge internet following.  Simon Snow is a play on the Harry Potter series, but a poor imitation at best.  Excerpts from Simon Snow and Cath’s fan fiction are sprinkled throughout the pages of Fangirl.  I found myself skipping over these sections entirely because they were so poorly written.  I wanted to cheer for Cath, but again, I didn’t find her to be all that likable of a character.  She doesn’t make it easy to like her, even the other characters in the book have a difficult time befriending her.  My overall feeling of this book was one of disappointment.  It was just not a compelling read, nor was it very well written.  I give this book a solid 2/5 stars, with better expectations for Eleanor & Park.  

So, what have you been reading lately?  Anything good?  Because it sure looks like I could use some decent recommendations!  I think I’m going to have to pull something highly anticipated off my bookshelf to make up for these last two snoozers.

Code Name Verity: Book Review

There are times when you go through all the feels with a book.  You may start out confused.  The confusion may go away, but you still are not enjoying yourself at all.  You really want to stop reading, but those 4+ star reviews keep cheering you on.  Then you begin to understand.  You see the book for its true nature.  And then it’s over and you feel like you’ve read something that is both too beautiful and profound to put into words.  But because it’s kinda my job here on this page, I’m going to give it a try with  Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Code Name Verity

This is the story of a friendship developed over the course of WWII in Nazi-occupied France.  A plane, piloted by Maddie, makes an emergency crash landing in a vacant field.  But not before her passenger and best friend Julie ejects herself from the plane.  Julie finds herself captured by Nazi interrogators.  Accused of being a spy, her captors torture her into giving a written account  of her life as a military field translator.

The entire first half of the book is pieced together from Julie’s transcripts that she wrote for her captors while under duress.  We get snippets of Maddie as a pilot–her training and a few of the adventures she had.  Of course, much of the story revolves around the two young women’s lives as members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

Reading Julie’s rambling transcripts was maddening to me.  Upon reaching the second half of the book, I was delighted to read Maddie’s side of the story.  Yet, I couldn’t understand how both pieces of this story would fit together to form such a highly rated young adult novel.  Yes, you read that correctly.  This is a young adult novel.  It’s one that I could see as assigned reading in a high school history class.  It’s also one that I probably would not have forced myself to finish in high school.  As an adult, however, I’m so glad I chose to finish it.

Code Name Verity is a piece of historical fiction that emphasizes the often untold role that women played in WWII.  It is a complex novel that The New York Times declared, “A fiendishly plotted mind game of a novel, the kind you have to read twice.”  I would agree with this description.  It is a complex plot, especially given that it is geared toward the YA crowd.  Yet, teens and adults alike will treasure the friendship between Julie and Maddie.  It is a tale of spies, mystery, and suspense.  However, it’s overall greater theme is of friendship and the often heartbreaking choices that these women are forced to make to protect each other.  It’s a story of love and vindication.   It’s a triumph of humanity amidst great tragedy.  It’s a beautiful and profound story of two friends unlike any that I have ever read.

More historical fiction for young adults

   

All the Bright Places review

It was difficult for me to choose which book to review for my very first blog post because I have read so many great books lately!  However, All the Bright Places stood out to me as the first one I should share because the setting is Indiana, which is where I happen to live.   Indiana may not strike you as all that interesting of a place to live.  I’m sure that I’ve had that same thought myself a time or two.   But author Jennifer Niven manages to creates intrigue in the obscure as she highlights some of the Hoosier state’s strange and little known attractions in this young adult novel.

all the bright places cover

Violet Markey and Theodore Finch meet one morning on the ledge of their high school clock tower.  Both of them sullen and depressed, it is unclear who saves whom that morning.  When they are are given a research project designed to inspire pride in their state, Theodore chooses Violet to be his partner.  Together, they set off to “Wander Indiana,” determined to find the most unusual and obscure attractions the state has to offer.  I’ll admit that this was the most interesting part of the novel for me.  I am old enough to remember the Indiana tourism commercials from the 1980’s that encouraged viewers to “Wander Indiana.” And that catchy jingle has not stopped running through my head since reading this book.  During my time with All the Bright Places, I found myself putting down my Kindle so that I could Google each of the attractions that Violet and Theodore visited.   I had never heard of, let alone visited, most of them.  The World’s Largest Ball of Paint, DIY backyard rollercoasters, houses shaped like birds’ nests, and the state’s highest elevation (spoiler alert here:  it’s just a hill) and several more are highlighted in this book.

Though all of these adventures may seem exciting, both Violet and Theodore are struggling.  In each other, they find strength and develop a strong and unlikely friendship.  All the Bright Places explores mental illness, a topic all too often shrouded in shame and secrecy.  However, I’m not sure this particular book does anything to dispel the myths of mental illness, nor does it encourage one to seek help for it.  And given the target audience, I feel the author may have really missed an opportunity here.  As a young adult, the author herself had an experience that seems parallel to Violet’s.  Perhaps, for her, this book was more of a catharsis, rather than an opportunity to educate.

I wanted to love this book.  I expected to love this book.  While it was a good read, I found myself more drawn into their adventures than to the characters themselves.  So much so, that I was inspired to “Wander Indiana” myself recently.  You can read about it here.  If you’ve read All the Bright Places, be sure to leave a comment below letting me know what you thought!  No spoilers for those who’ve yet to read it.

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