Book Review – SOLD by Patricia McCormick – a TGNA Post

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It’s Things I’ve Read Thursday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing SOLD by Patricia McCormick.

Here’s a preview:

SoldMy daughter started reading this to me on a road trip. She was so excited about this book that she had to share many of the passages. That kind of enthusiasm for a story is contagious. When I got around to reading it from start to finish myself, I felt the same way. The layout of the book and the style of writing read more like free verse poetry to me – put me in the mind of an Ellen Hopkins novel set in Nepal. The short chapters paint such vivid imagery of the day-to-day life of the young girls, both the innocent and horrifying, that you felt you were living in the story. I felt for these girls, for the main character Lakshmi, especially. I wanted to her escape and feared that she never would.

To read the full post, click here.

TweetI’ve taken a brief hiatus from AM #wordsprints this week for spring break. I’ll return bright and early next week, if you care to get your early writing work out started with some company. I host AM #wordsprints on Twitter @Novel_Adventure from 6-8am CST.

2015 TBR Challenge – THE FUTURE OF US Review

The Future of Us

2015tbrbuttonMy second review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THE FUTURE OF US by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler.

The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ll be reading this year.)

I picked this book up at an SCBWI LA conference a few years ago after I sat in on a breakout session with both authors. They spoke about the process of writing with a co-author and it was really great. I later got this book signed by both of them – they were so nice.

On with the review!

The Future of UsTHE FUTURE OF US written by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler

Published by: Razorbill -An imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Release Date: November 21, 2011

Genres: Young Adult Contemporary, Romance, Science Fiction

Plot Summary:

It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long—up until last November when everything changed. Things have been awkward ever since, but when Josh’s family gets an America Online CD-ROM in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they’re automatically logged onto Facebook…

But Facebook hasn’t been invented yet.

Josh and Emma are looking at their profiles fifteen years in the future. Their spouses, careers, homes, and status updates—it’s all there. But it’s not what they expected. And every time they refresh their pages, their futures change. As they grapple with the ups and downs of what their lives hold, they’re forced to confront what they’re doing right—and wrong—in the present. (Plot summary from author website.)

The voice was seamless. I couldn’t tell where one author began and another one ended. The authors talked about how they made that one of their goals when working together – they both wanted to be able to write from each character’s voice, even though Jay mostly wrote the male character chapters and Carolyn wrote most of the female character chapters. Sometimes they would switch when a scene fell into the strength area of the other writer. Such a fantastic idea and a wonderful way to collaborate.

The pacing and tension were great – I couldn’t stop reading it. I actually finished this book in just over a day. I will say the futuristic concept fell a little flat near the end as the authors seemed to just abandon it, which left me feeling somewhat disappointed. Overall, the emotional part of the story was very interesting and kept me reading. I’d love to read another collaboration between these two that dealt with a straight-forward story – no gimmicks, please. I must admit, it was fun to read about that era not-so-long ago when the internet was brand new and didn’t consume our lives. And dial up modems? Ugh! Weren’t those awful? Just thinking about that sound makes me cringe. How fast things have changed!

 

Learn more about Jay Asher here.

Learn more about Carolyn Mackler here.

Follow Jay on Twitter here.

Follow Carolyn on Twitter here.

 

I’ve already completed my TBR Challenge book for March, so stayed tuned to read all about it!

How are you doing with your reading challenges this year?

Book Review – THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste

The Jumbies

A dear writer friend of mine, Gwendolyn Hooks, asked if I would like to read this ARC as her own work load had recently increased dramatically. I would do just about anything for Gwen, so I didn’t even hesitate to say ‘yes’. Gwen’s a well published children’s author in her own right with over 20 children’s books under her belt. (If you count the ones I can’t tell you about, yet. And oh, I wish I could! She’s got some fantastic projects coming out soon.) Meanwhile, you can find her on her website above and she also contributes over at The Brown Bookshelf.

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Photo credit: Latifah Abdur

I was delighted to receive this first book from Tracey Baptiste, THE JUMBIES. After reading about Tracey’s background, it was easy to see how much Grimm’s fairy tales influenced her life and why as a writer she wanted to see fairy tales that reflected her own background. She grew up in Trinidad and had always heard fantastic tales about creatures called soucouyants (soo-coo-YAHs) that could shed their skin at night, and the douens (dwens) with their backwards feet that lured children away into the forest. And of course, the jumbies (JUM-bees) the name for every bad-thinking, sneaky, trick-loving creature that came out at night to cause trouble. I fell in love with Tracey’s story. Her take on a classic Haitian folktale called “The Magic Orange Tree” is beautifully written. Her fantastic cast of characters and lush, vibrant setting make you feel immersed in her Caribbean island. Be forewarned! This tale isn’t some cozy, tropical vacation and it’s not for the weak at heart, oh, no! If you like spooky tales, this is the book for you.   The JumbiesTHE JUMBIES written by Tracey Baptiste Published by: Algonquin Young Readers Release Date: April 28, 2015 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy Plot Summary:

A spine-tingling tale rooted in Caribbean folklore that will have readers holding their breath as they fly through its pages.

Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they?

When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, cooking dinner for Corinne’s father, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and save her island home.

With its able and gutsy heroine, lyrical narration, and inventive twist on the classic Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree,” The Jumbies will be a favorite of fans of Breadcrumbs, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. (Plot summary from publisher website.)

Corinne is a beautifully written, strong female character and I loved her story from beginning to end. As someone who grew up with a single dad, I could completely relate Corinne’s special bond with her father and understand how she’d do anything to try to save him. As Corinne struggles to save him and eventually finds her inner strength, it is a beautiful thing to behold. The secondary characters were just as wonderful and complex. The two orphan boys, Bouki and Malik, who cause Corrine such grief in the beginning, become her fiercest allies. Having lived on their own for so long, they understand how the world works and how to fight for a friend. And Dru, the smallest and youngest of seven children, befriends Corinne in the marketplace where she sells her oranges. Once Corinne is in trouble, Dru leaves the safety of her mother to do something big to help save her friend. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the story:

“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said in her calmest voice. She eased closer. “I just need that thing on your leg. You’ll be able to run much faster without it, and I won’t be chasing you…so…” She moved with care toward the ‘gouti and gently untied the silk cord. The animal’s coarse fur shivered and its pulse beat as fast as her own. Corinne closed her fist firmly around the stone pendant and crawled back out of the bush.

She rubbed the stone with her thumb. Over years of constant handling, she had worn a smooth groove that fit her finger perfectly. The pendant had been her mama’s, and when she put her thumb into the little hollow, she imagined her mama’s hand around her own. Corinne breathed a sigh of relief now that it was back in her possession, but her relief did not last long.

She didn’t know this part of the forest. And it was darker here. The branches of the mahogany trees were so thick that barely any light came through. It even smelled different, of wood and wet earth, while Corinne was used to the smell of the sea. She had no idea which way was out.

Somewhere between the leaves, Corinne thought she saw a pair of lights shining. They were close together, like eyes. Her skin prickled, but then the lights disappeared and Corinne tried to shake off her fear. The little bit of light must have been reflecting on something. Don’t be silly, she scolded herself. “I’m going to kill those boys,” she muttered into the heavy air.

A pair of yellow-bellied birds alighted on a branch overhead, and called out, kis-ka-dee kis-ka-dee! Something small scratched through the undergrowth. A cold lump formed in Corrine’s stomach and began to spread. She and heard grown-ups tell stories about terrible things that lived in hidden pockets of the island, like this forest filled with ancient mahogany trees. They talked about creatures with backward feet, and women who could shed their skin, and women with hooves for feet. Even though her papa told her these stories were not true, there must have been a reason no one ever came this far into the forest.

This is just the beginning of the goosebumps. Tracey’s rich storytelling kept me completely engrossed (and may have encouraged me to sleep with the light on a few times after some late-night reading sessions). Corinne’s story is truly a welcome and refreshing edition to the world of fairytales. I highly recommend this book. You won’t be able to put it down once you start.

Learn more about Tracey Baptiste here.

Follow Tracey on Facebook here.

Follow Tracey on Twitter here.

You can preorder a copy of this wonderful book for yourself here:

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2015 TBR Challenge – THE DARK BETWEEN Review

2015tbrbuttonMy first review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THE DARK BETWEEN by Sonia Gensler.

The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ll be reading this year.)

This one was written by a dear writer friend from my home state, and I’ve been dying to read it. That’s probably why I moved it to the top of my TBR Challenge stack. I’m so glad I did.

On with the review!

Dark BetweenTHE DARK BETWEEN written by Sonia Gensler

Published by: Knopf

Release Date: August, 2013

Genres: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal

Plot Summary:

At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.

Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

 

I became totally immersed in Sonia’s fictionalized Cambridge and her world of the paranormal. I adored her trio of main characters – Kate Poole the street-wise orphan surviving by her wits and not much else, Asher Beale the pragmatic American who crossed an ocean to escape his father’s influence, and Elsie Atherton, the cloistered invalid with the mysterious secret – all so well-rounded and distinct. The chemistry (and friction) between them was wonderful. I loved them!

What I loved just as much was the mystery part of the story. I am a sucker for a great whodunit and this one kept me on my toes, trying to figure out who or what was causing the brutal deaths. No spoilers, here. You’ll have to read the book to find out, but here’s a little taste.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Mr. Beale, isn’t it? Jones tells me you’ve come from America. Would you set your bag down and stand by the door, please? And you, Miss Poole – you must stand next to him.”

Kate’s face broke into a wide grin, and Asher felt his own mouth curving in response to her obvious delight. He doubted she’d ever had her photograph taken before. His heart softened toward her…just a bit.

Miss Atherton proceeded to open her portable camera and pull it wider, elongating it like a bellows and snapping it into place. She then held the camera at her waist, pointing the lens at them.

“Hold still,” she said, her chin down as she looked through a square hole at the top of the camera. “Look straight ahead. And do try to smile. I can’t abide a photograph full of grim faces.”

Despite Miss Atherton’s suggestion, Kate stood rigid next to him, nerves turning her smile to a grimace. Asher faced the camera, trying to smile more casually, but before he’d arranged his features the shutter clicked. With a sigh of satisfaction, Miss Atherton folded the lens back into the box once more.

“Now let’s take a peek inside the building.” She rattled the doorknob for a moment before turning away with a pout. “It’s locked. I wonder what they keep in there – all the treasures of the college?”

“Probably just a storage shed,” Asher said. “Maybe they’ve locked the tools away lest the young ladies stumble upon them and hurt themselves.”

Kate glared. “You must think young ladies have mashed peas for brains.”

He opened his mouth, but a cutting retort would not come. The girl wouldn’t have acknowledged it anyway, for she had shifted her gaze and was staring intently at Miss Atherton.

Asher turned to find the young lady in distress, her eyes closing tightly as she leaned against the door to steady herself. The camera tumbled from her hand and landed in the grass.

“No,” Miss Atherton moaned. “Not now, not now!”

 

Isn’t that great?

This small scene shows so much of their differing characters (and hints at other-wordly stuff to come).Trust me, this is just the warm-up. It’s such a fantastically spooky book. And a magnificent read. I guarantee it will not disappoint!

 

Learn more about Sonia Gensler here.

Follow Sonia on Twitter here.

Follow Sonia on Facebook here.

Follow Sonia on Tumblr here.

Jazz Age January Returns – Review of Cocaine Blues

jazz-age-january-smallThe new year brings a slew of reading challenges. I know, I know, do I really need to participate in another reading challenge? Well I’ve got to stay on track with my reading goal somehow, and this one only requires a one-book commitment. That is so doable. So, why not?

And I had such a fun time participating in last year’s Jazz Age January, hosted by the lovely Leah over at Books Speaks Volumes, that I didn’t even hesitate to jump into the fray again. (You can read all about this year’s challenge here and join in yourself any time during the month.)

Once again, this challenge was perfectly timed. I’Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 12.03.36 PMd just started binge-watching season two of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix, and I was totally in a rebellious 1920’s flapper kind of mood. After a few episodes, I really had to fight off the impulse to bob my hair. (I’m still growing it out after the last time I whacked it all off.)

I was also suddenly in the mood to try out the books the series is based on – a much less risky diversion – so, my first selection for this year’s Jazz Age January Challenge is…

 

Cocaine BluesCOCAINE BLUES written by Kerry Greenwood.

Published by Allen & Unwin

Release Date: 1989

Genres: Crime, Mystery

Plot Summary:

The first of Phryne’s (pronounced fry-nee) adventures from Australia’s most elegant and irrepressible sleuth.

The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honourable Phryne Fisher – she of the green-grey eyes, diamant garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions – is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia.

Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism – not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse – until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

I’ve always loved the roaring twenties. If I’d lived then, I hope I would’ve been an independent, adventurous type like Phryne. This was an effortless read. The voice was so similar to the show, I was just delighted with it. It was also really fun to read how all the main characters end up working together in this first mystery.

It is different from the TV series – still all of the great character traits really come through. Dot, Phryne’s new maid, who takes everything Phryne throws at her in stride, is just as lovable as ever. Bert and Cec, the hired muscle, are still such colorful mongrels. The swoon-worthy Detective Inspector Jack Robinson makes his debut as well. Somehow Phryne can’t seem to keep out of his way or out of solving his investigation. So much underlying sexual tension there! And Dr. Mac – one of my favorite minor characters – it was nice to see her so prominently displayed in this story.

The mystery was intriguing, with just the right amount of those Jazz Age details that I love. I did have it all fairly figured out before the big reveal – the whodunit, if not all gory the details. It was a great romp of a read that I whole-heartedly recommend to all. (Full-disclosure, there is a rather racy sex scene, which fit right along with the storyline and shouldn’t shock most readers.)  There are fifteen more books in the series to read that I fully intend to enjoy.

Learn more about Kerry Greenwood here.

Follow Kerry on Facebook here.

I plan on reading at least one more book for this challenge, so stay tuned!

Update as of February 7th: I struggled through the second book I chose to read, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, so long that by the time I finished it, January was over. To read my thoughts on it, visit my page all about reading here

How about you? Have you read any books from this era lately?

Book Review – BEWARE THE WILD by Natalie C. Parker – a TGNA post

 

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It’s Things I’ve Read Thursday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m sharing my thoughts on my very first read of the year, BEWARE THE WILD by Natalie C. Parker.

Here’s a preview:

Beware the WildI met Natalie while attending her Critique Camp a few years ago. She really helped me learn how to dig deeper with my critiquing skills. I am now able to be more specific with my suggestions and tie them in to direct examples from the manuscript instead of making vague statements like, “the pacing is too slow” or “I can’t identify with this character”.  I got so much out of that camp and I am a much better critiquer. At least, that’s what my critique partners say.

Natalie’s suggestions for my own manuscript pages were insightful and direct. She really knows her stuff. She was such a delight to work with. So when her debut novel came out this year, I was more than happy to support her. Besides, I was pretty sure it was going to be fantastic.

To read the full post, click here.

My Top Ten Reads of the Year

I set quite a lofty reading goal for myself this year over at Goodreads with 70 books. And by the skin of my teeth…I still didn’t reach it.

Almost, though. Almost good.

In the end, I read 67 books. They were quite diverse in genre and category. We’re talking adults books from contemporary writers like Chuck Palahniuk and Kazuo Ishiguro to Jazz Age classics by writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway  – then there was some poetry thrown in for good measure.  In the YA category, I enjoyed reading some fantastic series – the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, His Fair Assasin Trilogy by Robin LaFevers, along with a few books that marked the conclusions to other series. There was realistic fiction by Laurie Halse Anderson, science fiction by Amy Plum, and good old fantasy by Maggie Stiefvater. Middle grade made the cut with the fabulous Varian Johnson, R.J. Palacio, and Holly Goldberg Sloan. Not to mention glorious picture books and graphic novels, oh my!

How to narrow down all of these fantastic books to ten favorites?

Impossible!

But…I did my best.

These are the stories that stuck with me long after I closed the cover on the final page. In no particular order. I do whole-heartedly recommend you embrace them all.

NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me GoI heard Kazuo Ishiguro give an interview on NPR and the more he talked about his writing and his life, the more fascinating he seemed. I thought that if his writing was anything like he was, I had to read one of his books.

This book is so beautiful. The storytelling is so effortless, I just loved it. Even though the characters and their situation were sad and tragic, I was just so in awe of the whole thing. I don’t know if it was because I was viewing it as a writer or not. One thing I do know is that I could not put this book down.

As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance – and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Follow Kazuo on Facebook.

 

WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson

bc-wintergirls

I love Laurie Halse Anderson. She is a fearless author who writes emotion so beautifully. I first read her novel SPEAK years ago and I still can’t get that book out of my head. I heard Anderson speak for the first time last summer in LA and got to tell her how awesome she was in person.

She signed this copy of WINTERGIRLS to me simply “Be Brave”.  And yet, isn’t that one of the hardest things to be? Her keynote speech was one of the best of the conference and I was so inspired by her, I can’t even tell you. On top of that, she writes this story like she herself suffered through anorexia and had the words of a poet to make the reader know exactly what it feels like to be at war with your own body and to not be able to see yourself as you truly are. She has woven eating disorder pathology and effortless character voice masterfully into a story you just can’t put down.

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.

“Tell us your secrets,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.

I am that girl.

I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.

I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way – thin, thinner, thinnest – maybe she’ll disappear altogether.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl’s chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

Follow Laurie on Twitter here.

Follow Laurie on Facebook here.

 

THE LUNAR CHRONICLES (Books 1-3) by Marissa Meyer

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Scarlet 2CressFirst off, can I just say, big props to whoever designed those covers? Stunning, just too damn stunning for words, really.

This was a fun and smart re-invisioning of the story of Cinderella. I loved the changes Meyer made to the original, especially giving Cinder a close connection within her adoptive family. The bond she shares with her youngest step-sister is tender and painful, especially when that relationship is tested and threatened.

Meyer is so creative in how she weaves the classic aspects into this new, futuristic world. The characters are well worth rooting for, especially the kick-ass female lead. I really enjoyed the entire series and I read through it all too quickly. I can hardly wait for the fourth book, WINTER, which doesn’t come out until November of 2015. That gives you plenty of time to read the first three books.

(Since this is a top ten list, I’m only giving details on book one. Trust me. you won’t be able to stop once you start. Carve out a weekend.)

Plot Summary for CINDER:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless Lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

 Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Marissa Meyer here.

Follow Marissa on Twitter here.

Follow Marissa on Facebook here.

 

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz

aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-9781442408937If my blog post reviewing this book didn’t convince you of my true love and devotion to this book, and that you should run out and grab copy RIGHT NOW! I’m afraid nothing will.

From the very first page, I stopped to reread passages that took my breath away, that made me want to hug this book to me and never let it go.

Here’s the first passage that stopped me in my tracks:

 

As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was.

Seriously?

And that was just the writer getting warmed up and talking about the weather. He gets deep and breaks your heart with his words. And you want to thank him for it. This is a book I will read over and over until its pages fall out.

I read this book at the recommendation of a dear writer friend of mine. (Thank you Sharon!) And now I’m recommending it to you. To everyone who loves great story and words and beautiful characters. You will take this story into your heart and it will never leave you.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Benjamin Alire Saenz here and here.

Follow Benjamin on Twitter here.

 

WONDER by R.J. Palacio

wonder 2This story resonated a little too close to home at times. Tears were shed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The chapters that hit me the hardest were, oddly enough, those told from the  sister’s point of view. I think it was imagining my daughter having similar thoughts and how much she could relate to this experience because of her own brother.

There were just as many moments of laughter as tears and the overall emotion was of hope. I loved that most of all. This book is so worth sharing with everyone who needs to experience some empathy for anyone who’s different – and not just on the outside.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about R.J. Palacio here.

Follow R.J. on Twitter here.

Follow R.J. on Tumblr here.

 

REALITY BOY by A.S. King

askbooks_33_967541914This book is one of my greatest treasures – and not just because it is inscribed to me by the phenomenal A.S. King herself. (Okay, that doesn’t hurt – *hugs book tighter*.) I just love her writing so much. It’s honest and raw. I want to call this one ‘The Anger Book’ because it lets you really get down and dirty with feeling all kinds of angry. And understanding where your anger really comes from – that lack of caring, the seeing-but-not-seeing adults who let things happen, the neglect, the injustices that were done when you were too young to be in control of your destiny.

The main character, Gerald, taps right into it all and lets us live vicariously through him as he slowly starts to find his voice and make demands for a new life. Enpowerment on the page. Dig it.

Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

 

THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson

greatgreenheist-home

Author Kate Messner recommended this book to everyone on the planet during the awesome #weneeddiversebooks campaign. She wanted us to all put up (and not even shut up) and help make this book a bestseller, not just because it was written by a minority author, but because it was brilliant.

She was not lying.

After beginning page one on a road trip and finishing it before I reached my destination, I can attest to the fantasticness of Johnson’s storytelling. Man! I so wish I could’ve gone to school with a kid like Jackson Greene. If I were a kid right now reading this book, I would get into all kinds of mischief plotting my own Jackson-like schemes. I loved, loved, loved this character. I so hope Johnson gets to write more Greene adventures. I will read every one of them.

Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz…. But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.

Then Keith Sinclair — loser of the Blitz — announces he’s running for school president, against Jackson’s former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn’t talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won’t welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has “connections” to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn’t the only thing he wants to win. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn mores about Varian Johnson here.

Follow Varian on Twitter here.

Follow Varian on Facebook here.

 

LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley

LWTO-200x300I was gripped by the story from the first pages. I could feel the tension of of those black students going through their first day of integration so intently, I don’t think my own muscles unclenched until the characters in the book were safely home. How any of them made it through an entire week, let alone an entire school year, living with constant fear and torturous conditions, is beyond me.

I’ve read a lot about the Civil Rights Movement and I thought I knew about the story of integration, but I’d never really thought about the story from the kids’ perspective. They really held the battle on their shoulders. And Talley weaves such a wonderfully nuanced tale that connects today’s struggle for equality with that of the past, making it just as relevant and just as terrifying. Sarah and Linda’s relationship grows so naturally and painfully that I couldn’t stop reading it. Really an excellent book.

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

 Learn more about Robin Talley here.

Follow Robin on Twitter here.

Follow Robin on Facebook here.

Follow Robin on Tumblr here.

 

ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein

RoseUnderFire_PBK_CVRThis is the companion novel to CODE NAME VERITY, which I read last year and loved so, so much. Some of the main characters from Verity make guest appearances in this book and I found myself wanting to spend more time with them and I was always sad when they left the stage, as it were. I think that says more about how powerful the first book was than anything else. Once I got into the thick of Rose’s story, I was completely overtaken. And there was a great deal to love about it. This book is chock full of strong female characters facing dire situations during war time and surviving on their own wits, just like its predecessor.

Told in a similar diary style as Verity, this book injects the reader straight into the heart of the main character’s deepest thoughts and fears, and takes the reader through the horrific aftermath of surviving the unsurvivable and how one adjusts back to real life. How you begin to live again after leaving so many others behind. Rose recants her tale in a Paris hotel where she’s afraid of even the maid’s light intrusions. She spends days writing down her nightmarish experiences so she won’t forget and so she can get through it. In doing so, she take us through the worst months of her life where in a place devoid of hope and life, she found both, and friendship as well. Just like its companion book, this is such a well-written story that it will leave you thinking about its characters long after you have put it down. It is well worth the read.

Rose Justice is a young pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War. On her way back from a semi-secret flight in the waning days of the war, Rose is captured by the Germans and ends up in Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp. There, she meets an unforgettable group of women, including a once glamorous and celebrated French detective novelist whose Jewish husband and three young sons have been killed; a resilient young girl who was a human guinea pig for Nazi doctors trying to learn how to treat German war wounds; and a Nachthexen, or Night Witch, a female fighter pilot and military ace for the Soviet air force. These damaged women must bond together to help each other survive. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Elizabeth Wein here.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter here.

Follow Elizabeth on Facebook here.

 

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

FANGIRL_CoverDec2012-300x444I’ve waited over a year to read this book! (I loaned my copy to a friend soon after receiving it for my birthday last year and then she moved and it was buried in a box for ages.) All in all, it was well worth the wait. Rowell’s characters are so well-written and so dynamic that they could’ve been people I went to college with. And talk about nostalgia! I was flashing back in my cramped dorm room, reliving those early days with my first roommate within a few chapters. The struggles of becoming an adult and feeling like you have no idea what you are doing, except that you’re pretty sure you’re making a royal mess of everything you touch. The allure of withdrawing into a fantasy world (escaping into a world of stories) is strangely familiar and one I’m sure many soon-to-be college freshman will soon be grappling with themselves.

Loved this book ALMOST as much as Eleanor & Park. It was really close. Rowell has such a unique style with her writing, she pulls you in as effortlessly as breathing. Before you know it, you just accept her reality as your own.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Rainbow Rowell here.

Follow Rainbow on Twitter here.

Follow Rainbow on Facebook here.

Follow Rowell’s Tumblr here.

 

So there you have it!

My favorite reads of the past year.

And here is a peek at my TBR pile. All the BooksThe poor neglected books I didn’t get to in 2014 that are waiting patiently for me to read in the new year. I may be crazy, but I think I’ll set my reading goal for next year even higher. Why not? I’m feeling optimistic.

What were your favorite books from 2014? What books are you looking forward to in 2015?