Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Question of the Week: Dystopian Books

With reading trends on the loose, the dystopian genre finds the front and center of the race. Here at The Readable Kingdom we've all read our fair share of dystopian novels and would like to give you our top five dystopian books.

But before we get to the goods, we'd like to make sure our readers are on the same page with what a dystopian book is. So, what classifies a dystopian novel? Well, dystopian novels are set in a post-apocalyptic, futuristic world. The government within that world is usually corrupted and controlling. For example, in Matched by Ally Condie, the Society controls everything--ranging from what day they will die to what meal they will be eating on a certain day. Not every dystopian novel has a government as harsh as the Society in Matched, but it varies and is always a different form of controlling their citizens in order to give the illusion of a perfect society, although it is clearly anything but that.

The idea of not conforming and becoming an independent person is most likely what makes these books as appealing as they are. Nothing is more enjoyable than reading about a strong main character that stands up for what they believe in the face of great power. Before dystopian, vampires were the major trend in Young Adult Literature. While they are still very prominent, vampires have been overshadowed by dystopian books. This is most likely because people were yearning for characters who do something that matters, instead of simply battling some fictional characters that will never exist. These characters go through some extremely difficult challenges, and being set in possible shocking future that could be closer than we can imagine, this makes us think about where the world could ultimately be heading.

Now, on to our top five dystopian books.

5. Delirium by Lauren Oliver

In a world where love is a disease, Lena Haloway has to discover herself and whether she will conform or break out of their fenced town. Everyone has always relied on the treatment when they turn eighteen that will cure them from the disease. But will Lena? Delirium was written beautifully and has a cool new twist on your average dystopian book.

4. Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Amy, a seventeen-year-old girl decides to board the spaceship Godspeed with both her parents which are on their way to a planet similar to Earth. Both Amy and her parents are then cryogenically frozen aboard the spaceship. Their expected arrival is 300 years away. The only problem: Amy is awakened 50 years early. Across the Universe has plenty of mysteries and sci-fi aspects. The mystery was what was really intriguing. Godspeed is a spaceship full of secrets and Amy is determined to figure them out.

3. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner is slowly finding its way to the best of the best dystopian books, and there's a reason for it! Thomas wakes up in a lift with absolutely no memory. He doesn't know anything about his past or present life, the only thing he remembers is his name. When he opens the lift he finds lots of other kids in a place they call the Glade. What is most interesting about The Maze Runner is definitely the plot. It draws you in from the very first chapter with Thomas's own confusion and you'll be aching for the sequel The Scorch Trials immediately after you turn the last page.

2. Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent ranks number two in our top five dystopian books! In this dystopian world, people are separated into factions. So, what are factions exactly? There are five of them: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). When you turn 16, you attend a choosing ceremony--which is just as it sounds, you have to choose which faction to belong in. The problem Beatrice faces is what faction she should be in-- the one her family is in, or the one that truly suits her. Once she makes this decision, her life completely changes.

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This really is the epitome of dystopian books. If you haven't even heard about this marvelous series, then it's safe to say you've been living under a rock! The Hunger Games is about a girl named Katniss who volunteers to take her younger sister, Prim's place in an event called The Hunger Games in which adolescents battle it out in an arena until there's only one person standing. This does mean death and The Hunger Games are also recorded and watched by the rest of society. Definitely by far our favorite dystopian book!

Fairest of All by Serena Valentino

Fairest of All by Serena Valentino
256 pages, Disney Press

"For anyone who's seen Walt Disney's Snow White, you'll know that the Wicked Queen is one evil woman! After all, it's not everyone who wants to cut out their teenage step-daughter's heart and have it delivered back in a locked keepsake box. (And even if this sort of thing is a common urge, we don't know many people who have acted upon it.) Now, for the first time, we'll examine the life of the Wicked Queen and find out just what it is that makes her so nasty. Here's a hint: the creepy-looking man in the magic mirror is not just some random spooky visage - and he just might have something to do with the Queen's wicked ways!"

This book was a complete impulse buy while wandering in the aisles of Barnes and Noble. Unsurprisingly, this happens almost every time I walk into this bookstore. I was instantly hooked by the cover of this book. It is the exact picture of the evil queen from Disney's Snow White movie! And, being a complete Disney freak, I simply had to buy the book. What is even more cool is that when you take off the cover jacket, underneath is a picture of the hag that the queen turns into. Clearly I had a complete and utter cover crush that led me to buy this book.

The story within the awesome cover was a very satisfying read. If you have seen Disney's Snow White, this book will be infinitely more enjoyable as this book blends seamlessly with the movie. It was a trip down memory lane from when I was little and I would watch Disney princess movies on replay.

The setting is your classic fairy tale setting, complete with a princess, queen, king, castle, creepy forest, and castle festivities. Anyone who is a fan of medieval settings such as this will enjoy this book very much, even if they aren't that interested in the story of Snow White or the Evil Queen.

I absolutely loved hearing about the story of the Evil Queen. Needless to say, she was not evil her entire life. For the first part of the book, she was a very likable character. Her backstory is infinitely more fascinating as she doesn't come from royalty. I loved hearing about her life as she grew up. It just made her character so much more realistic as you can really see where her evilness came from.

The story behind the man in the mirror absolutely blew me away. It TOTALLY made sense! I couldn't believe that I never even gave any thought as to who the man behind the mirror actually was. The backstory that Valentino provided fit perfectly into the story of Snow White and is the puzzle piece that makes the tale of Snow White cohesive and understandable. It really explains almost everything.

While I really liked this story, it is not absolutely amazing. I would definitely recommend a person to read it, but it isn't something that will blow you away. Fairest of All is a very fun and quick read that is great to read on a rainy day to transport you to a magical land.

Rating: 4 stars - I really liked it. Worth buying.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
260 pages, Knopf

"'I’ve left some clues for you. If you want them, turn the page. If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.' So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?"

I've been reading all over the internet that Dash and Lily's Book of Dares is that perfect winter read leading up to the holidays. Though I did not read this book before Christmas, I made sure to read it while there was an abundance of snow on the ground. The only book I've read by David Levithan was another collaboration novel, Will Grayson, Will Grayson and I absolutely loved that, so I figured I would read Dash and Lily's Book of Dares.

The story begins with Dash's perspective written by David Levithan. Dash has divorced parents, a hatred for Christmas, and a love for books. He's quite cynical. He often visits a book store called The Strand, which is in NYC and has 18 miles of books (Why haven't I been there before?!?) and while visiting The Strand he finds a red moleskin notebook containing dares. And this is the part where Lily comes in. Lily is quite the opposite of Dash. She's an innocent goodie two shoes to say the least and she absolutely cherishes the holidays. But this specific Christmas doesn't go as she planned because her parents took a trip to Fiji and she's stuck with her lazy brother and his boyfriend. I really loved both Dash and Lily. I could see a little bit of myself in each of them. Like Dash, I have a dedication for books and like Lily, I'm cheery and a bit innocent. Their back and forth dares and messages to each other through the red moleskin notebook was incredibly adorable! I couldn't help but smile.

The plot is really the part that interested me, Levithan and Cohn did a terrific job! I felt as if there was a sufficient amount of dares and teasers up until the climax. What a climax that was, too. The ending was hilarious and I couldn't help laughing.

Which brings me to the writing. Both Levithan and Cohn are amazing writers. They had me laughing out loud and getting emotionally attached to the book. They didn't focus too much on descriptions or feelings or anything, there was an equal amount of all those things to make for an easy, light read.

The only drawbacks that I did find was that near the end of the book, Dash seemed a little too persnickety. He seemed to be correcting everything Lily said, yet he loved her, so I was a bit confused I guess you could say. Also, everything falls together perfectly. Call me a realist, but I did want something that wouldn't make everything flawlessly amazing in the end. Don't get me wrong, I adore happy, cliched endings, but this one sort of bugged me.

Other than those two attributes, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, and while I highly recommend it during the winter or holiday season, you can read it anytime and still love it as much as I did. Dash and Lily's Book of Dares is definitely for fans of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and any lover of contemporary fiction.

Rating: 4 stars - I really liked it. Worth buying.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges
400 pages, Delacorte Books for Young Readers
ARC courtesy of Random Buzzers

"St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue. An evil presence is growing within Europe's royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina's strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar's standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina's help to safeguard Russia, even if he's repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn. The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?"

When this book was first chosen as an Advance Reader's Copy on the wonderfully spectacular site, Random Buzzers, I read the chapter sampler and immediately fell in love!! Now, I know that you probably think that that is an over dramatic statement, but I literally flew to the question post page and hoped that author Robin Bridges would like my question. And when I opened my email the following week to find a confirmation email that I had received the book, I was ecstatic. So, I picked the book up and was reading when teachers were talking in class (I think that reading a great historical fiction book is more important that listening to your Personal Finance and AP English teachers, don't you?!)

Today, I started reading the last section of the book in my Personal Finance class and didn't put it down during my AP English class because it was at such an amazing climax! Finally, I went to theater practice and finished the last four pages. When I closed the paperback cover and put down my bookmark, I was so elated! This book is fantastic!

The historical research that went behind creating this book must have been very precise because the architectural detail of the Russian palaces, the clothing for the time period, and the very complicated Russian noble and royal titles are enough to show how brilliant Robin Bridges must be. She explains as a forward at the beginning of the book how Russian last names and titles are formed. Secondly, the slight glimmers of romance between the lead heroine, Katerina, and both the crown prince Danilo and Grand Duke George Alexandrovich, is just steamy enough that it kept me wanting to read more about their relationships.

The historical information is also masterly crafted and documented in this book. I found the many branches of Russian Royalty and their royal counterparts from other countries to be confusing at times, but eventually the same characters show up enough in the story line that I was able to differentiate them after a while. I was happy to be able to read a historical fiction/fantasy book that was not centralized in England or America. The Russian history and traditions were a breath of fresh air.

I adore this book and I can't wait to see how Katerina progresses in the next two books in the Katerina Trilogy.

Rating: 4 stars - I really liked it. Worth buying.

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
216 pages, Dell

"Slaughterhouse-Five is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know."

I've made it a priority in 2012 to read more classics and last year during banned-book week, I noticed Slaughterhouse Five made the list. I honestly had no idea what it was about, just that Kurt Vonnegut was the author, and his name sounded a bit familiar. It's about time I read this great novel, and I was both torn and entertained.

Strangely, the narrator is Kurt Vonnegut himself. The plot centers around a man named Billy Pilgrim and his experience being a prisoner of war. Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time and has allowed himself to travel back to the days when he was a prisoner of war, seeing as how Billy Pilgrim is in his forties as the story begins.

Vonnegut did a spectacular job writing this novel. Published in 1969, he managed to mix humor with a very serious and sad subject. I found the characters equally enjoyable. Of course, we have Billy Pilgrim who has been in a plane crash and was the only one to survive it, with brain damage. Because of the brain damage from the plane crash, Billy isn't exactly doing so great. He seems to have a bit of dementia which has caused him to see a sci-fi planet called Tralfamadore. This sci-fi aspect intrigued me. On the planet of Tralfamadore, whenever the Tralfamadorians witness or refer to death, they say, "So it goes." Vonnegut uses this sentence quite often, seeing as how many people die. Roland Weary and Paul Lazzaro are just a couple of the side characters--both being prisoners of war with Billy. It's not to say I absolutely loved them, because sometimes they weren't the nicest of guys, but I definitely enjoyed reading more about them and their relations with Billy. Valencia is Billy's wife, and a safe one at that. Their relationship was odd. Valencia is obese and Billy feels a bit sorry for her. The romance between them wasn't there whatsoever and I found it kind of sad to be honest. But Billy was definitely my favorite character. He was funny and truthful about all of his experiences he endured.

The plot was what I also found to be interesting, mainly because of all the history in it. I didn't have much background on the bombing in Dresden beforehand, but Billy Pilgrim filled me in with all the harsh details. The historical aspects were what I liked learning more about and Vonnegut did a terrific job with both informing and entertaining me.

The writing was truly superb. Written in this casual, funny diction, Vonnegut captured both himself and Billy Pilgrim in this novel. Because the topic is especially touchy--being all about anti-war and people dying quite frequently--one may imagine how difficult it would be to make a novel humorous in the process. I found all of Vonnegut's character's thoughts to be fun to read about and I wanted to get to know more about Billy's life and how he came to be.

In short, Slaughterhouse Five was definitely worth my time and I recommend it to everyone. The sci-fi aspects, humor, and simply the way it was written is a reason anyone should pick up this book!

Rating: 4 stars - I really liked it. Worth buying.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fallen In Love by Lauren Kate

Fallen In Love by Lauren Kate
201 pages, Random House
ARC courtesy of Random Buzzers

"What makes your heart race a little faster? Just in time for Valentine's Day, it's Fallen In Love, four wholly original new stories collected in a new novel set in the Middle Ages by Lauren Kate. Fallen In Love gives fans the much-talked about but never-revealed stories of Fallen characters as they intertwine with the epic love story of Luce and Daniel. The stories include: Love Where You Least Expect It: The Valentine of Shelby and Miles, Love Lessons: The Valentine of Roland; Burning Love: The Valentine of Arriane; and Endless Love: The Valentine of Daniel and Lucinda."

Having read the first three books in the series, I had to read Fallen In Love. I am definitely one of those people who has to finish a series once they start it, regardless of how much they like it. I have to say this first before you read my review - I did not like Fallen, Torment was okay, and I liked Passion alright. I am not thrilled with this series, but Fallen In Love is definitely a gem, and I have high hopes for the last book Rapture.

There were two great things about this book. One, it was set in the Middle Ages, which is completely awesome. Two, you only have to listen to Luce whine for under fifty pages, even a little less than that because Daniel finally starts paying attention to her. I swear, it's like a flip is switched in her. Geesh. I guess I like the valentine of Luce and Daniel, but it didn't really reveal anything new about their characters, just kind of the same old same old.

So, if Luce and Daniel are the main characters for only fifty pages or so, that thankfully means that we get to center around some of the minor characters that I think truly make the books the success that they are. (As you can tell, I am not a Luce and Daniel fan. Sure, sure, I am all for their love and stuff, but I just don't find them as very relatable characters.)

The valentine of Shelby and Miles was sweet - a little corny, but cute nonetheless. I like the two as characters, and although they aren't my favorite, I still believe they are very important to the story as they add a bit of normalcy to all the immortal characters and such.

The valentine of Roland was very well done. I loved being able to see more into his character, and understand how he came to be the character he is. I felt like we never got a true taste of Roland in the previous Fallen books, and now I wish that we did! Cam also pops up in his story, and his background was very fascinating to read as well.

The valentine of Arrianne is tied as my favorite with Roland's. It was incredibly tragic and heartbreaking, but I loved it nonetheless. Again, it was very fascinating to see how much of a complicated character Arriane really is, and she may very well be my favorite character in the entire series.

Regardless of the short length of the book, I feel that Fallen In Love is a very important addition to the Fallen series as it gives us backgrounds and insights to other characters other than Luce and Daniel. I feel that when I come around to reading Rapture, I will enjoy it much more than I would have if I didn't read this book. So, thank you Lauren Kate for finally fleshing out some of your minor characters and giving them the attention they deserve! Bravo!

Rating: 4 stars - I really liked it. Worth buying.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Giveaway! Blood Sun by David Gilman

All of us at The Readable Kingdom are excited to present to you our third book giveaway! We are giving away Blood Sun by David Gilman! Here is a synopsis:

"Deep in the London underground, a train shudders across an unseen body. Days later, on the bleakness of Dartmoor, Max Gordon learns of a fellow student's death in the capital. Danny Maguire was carrying an envelope with Max's name on it—containing the secret of Max's mother's death. The clues take Max into the endangered rainforest of Central America where, hunted down by a ruthless killer, he must also escape the jaws of deadly crocodiles and flesh-eating piranhas. The truth Max is desperately trying to uncover lies deep within the dangerous forest's heart . . .  if only he can stay alive to reach it."

Entering to win is easy! All you need to do is comment on this post and become a follower of our blog (NOT by e-mail! You need to become an actual follower where you will show up on the right side of the page. If you don't do that, we can't tell if you actually are a follower, and it is how we will contact you if you win. By all means though, also follow us by e-mail if you so desire!)

This contest will end on Thursday, February 16, 2012. The winner be announced the following day, and their book will shipped out within the week. Good luck! Note: Winner must live in the U.S. or Canada.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Vixen by Jillian Larkin

Vixen by Jillian Larkin
432 pages, Random House

"Jazz... Booze... Boys... It's a dangerious combination. Every girl wants what she can't have. Seventeen-year-old Gloria Carmody wants the flapper lifestyle - and the bobbed hair, cigarettes, and music-filled nights that go with it. Now that she's engaged to Sebastian Grey, scion of one of Chicago's most powerful families, Gloria's party days are over before they've even begun... or are they? Clara Knowles, Gloria's goody-two-shoes cousin, has arrived to make sure the high-society wedding comes off without a hitch-- but Clara isn't as lily-white as she appears. Seems she has some dirty little secrets of her own that she'll do anything to keep hidden... Lorraine Dyer, Gloria's social-climbing best friend, is tired of living in Gloria's shadow. When Lorraine's envy spills over into desperate spite, no one is safe. And someones going to be very sorry... From debut author Jillian Larkin, Vixen is the first novel in a sexy, dangerous, and ridiculously romantic new series set in the Roaring Twenties... when anything goes. Follow the very dimensional characters through the riveting pages of this story, feel with them their struggles, and their elation."

Oh my gosh!!!!! It has been such a long time since I have picked up a historical fiction book that I couldn't even bare to put down!!! This is it!!! True story, I was sitting at my kitchen counter and I had the book sitting next to my AP English homework that I knew I had to do. But the reading worm got the better of me and I couldn't help but open the book and just read a chapter (that's what I told myself anyway). The next thing I knew, it was about an hour and a half later, and I was squirming in my chair, saying to my sister, "Do you ever have it when you want to read faster than you can so that you can find out what happens in a book?" She said to me, "Yeah. You just need to take the time and finish it." I finally finished (near tears at some of the parts) and closed the beautiful taupe cover with a feeling of supreme fulfillment!! Does that kind of give away how I felt about this book?

I loved Vixen beyond what I can honestly describe. Its amazing when you come across a book that you simply can't put down or that you are reading in class when you are supposed to be listening to your teacher. I loved the fashionistas that Jillian Larkin creates within her characters. My fellow blogger, Hannah, and I are always taking about how we love the clothing from the flapper age and the 1920's. The sequins and ferocious colors were so revolutionary, and if you look at fashion today, a lot of the same clothing that Larkin puts her characters in is very similar to what Hollywood celebrities are wearing today.

Secondly, the way that the author writes her intimate love scenes is pure perfection. Believe me, I have read my fair share of romance novels and historical fiction where the romance is supposed to be vibrant, but it ends up falling flat (authors who write for young adults have an especially difficult job of not being to risque but still delivering the romance). Her coordination with the musical aspects of the Jazz Age and the love between the characters is simply breathtaking.

Finally, this book left me on the edge of my seat (or sofa) quite frequently. Action mixed with romance mixed with fashion is a great combination in creating a fast-paced world of a flapper. I can't wait to read the sequel to this series, Ingenue. This book is for anyone who loves a great historical romance book. There is action, love, and amazingly descriptive men that will make the reader swoon just as the girls in the book do.

Rating: 5 stars - Loved it! Buy a copy!

Destined by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Destined by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
336 pages, St. Martin's Griffin

"Zoey is finally home where she belongs, safe with her Guardian Warrior, Stark, by her side, and preparing to face off against Neferet – which would be a whole lot easier if the High Counsel saw the ex-High Priestess for what she really is. Kalona has released his hold on Rephaim, and, through Nyx's gift of a human form, Rephaim and Stevie Rae are finally able to be together – if he can truly walk the path of the Goddess and stay free of his father's shadow… But there are new forces at work at the House of Night. An influx of humans, including Lenobia’s handsome horse whisperer, threatens their precarious stability. And then there’s the mysterious Aurox, a jaw-droppingly gorgeous teen boy who is actually more – or possibly less – than human. Only Neferet knows he was created to be her greatest weapon. But Zoey can sense the part of his soul that remains human, the compassion that wars with his Dark calling. And there’s something strangely familiar about him… Will Neferet’s true nature be revealed before she succeeds in silencing them all? And will Zoey be able to touch Aurox’s humanity in time to protect him – and everyone – from his own fate? Find out what’s destined in the next thrilling chapter of the House of Night series."

For any of you who have read the extremely fascinating (and sometimes painfully repetitive) House of Night series, you will understand it when I say that this series has gone on for so long! It gets tedious reading these books because they tend to recap for half of the book and then they open up on some new story line that is very similar to the one that just concluded!!! It's so frustrating! But, lo and behold, these great authors bring out a book that actually progresses and brings new relationships to the series!

Destined was a very pleasant surprise. The romance is at an all time high and includes new relationships, including the wise horse trainer Lenobia and a new steamy character. Stevie Rae and Rephaim finally get to dive into a somewhat normal relationship while Zoey and Stark open up the book with a deliciously intimate scene!! I love it when these characters finally move on past a problem that has been going on for, like, three of the books.

At some points when reading this series, I just wanted to throw the books against the wall (even though I never did) because they can be really repetitive and that is one of my major pet peeves. But all in all, P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast are very talented authors that I think get lost sometimes in the multiple story lines that are occurring. Now, I think that they are beginning to find the path that will lead to the end of the series. I am curious to read the next book in the series, which is called Hidden, and a second novella to the series, Lenobia's Vow, will be released in the U.S. on January 31st. Keep going if you are a reader of the series and to those of you who are not, I truly do think that these books are unique and they also have wonderful humor that makes you laugh out loud and relationships that anyone can relate to.

Rating: 4 stars - I really liked it. Worth buying.

Check out an exclusive clip from the Destined audiobook below!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder
360 pages, Razorbill

"Dry, sarcastic, sixteen-year-old Cam Cooper has spent the last seven years in and out hospitals. The last thing she wants to do in the short life she has left is move 1,500 miles away to Promise, Maine - a place known for the miraculous events that occur there. But it's undeniable that strange things happen in Promise: everlasting sunsets; purple dandelions; flamingoes in the frigid Atlantic; an elusive boy named Asher; and finally, a mysterious envelope containing a list of things for Cam to do before she dies. As Cam checks each item off the list, she finally learns to believe - in love, in herself, and even in miracles."

I heard about this book as one of those terrific debut novels and the synopsis had me intrigued so I just had to get it. I do have a confession though. Before reading The Probability of Miracles, I had just read The Fault in Our Stars. And as you know, both are books about main characters with cancer and as much as I wanted to ignore the comparisons in my head, I couldn't help it, which probably took away from me enjoying The Probability of Miracles, Seeing as how I much preferred The Fault in Our Stars.

The book takes off with a background of Cam's life. Her father has died, her sister Perry is someone that she's envious of, her mother works at Disney World, and she has cancer. Cam has more or less accepted the fact that she's dying and the reader can see this in her pessimistic nature. Her mother, Alicia, is always trying outlandish things to cure Cam because she believes in miracles. So when they learn of a place, otherwise known as Promise, they venture on a road trip to Maine in the hopes of an actual miracle. I really liked the idea of the plot. A small town hidden by the brush of trees filled with wonder and hope.

I think where Wendy Wunder really lost me was her characters. I am very big on characters, and for some reason, I just could not make that connection with Cam. Sure, I loved that she was sarcastic and bitter, but after a while it started to annoy me a little. Also, when we are introduced to Asher, Cam's love interest, I was not that into him. Cam and Asher's love for each other did not feel as deep and strong as it supposedly was. I felt as if they didn't even talk to each other enough to be "in love". The only aspect I really did like about their love interest was that Asher liked Cam before knowing she was ill. He liked her for her and treated her like an actual person, not a sickly dying one.

The writing was a love hate relationship. Wunder's writing is in third person, but at times I had to go back and re-read a line because it seemed like it was in first person. I don't know if anyone else faced this same problem, but I just found it a little strange. On a better note, I liked a lot of Wunder's descriptions and I could really picture everything clearly in my head.

Again, I will talk about my emotional connection with this book that for some reason wasn't there. When I read The Fault in Our Stars, I cried, even sobbed uncontrollably. But with The Probability of Miracles I wasn't in tears. I currently have a grandma who is struggling with breast cancer and I just cannot fathom why this book did not make me cry. So many people talked about how amazing and sad it was; maybe there is something wrong with me for not loving this book.

The one part I truly loved was the ending and how everything unfolded. It didn't move me quite to tears, but it did have me smiling and if anything, read it for the ending.

Although I did not love this book, I did enjoy it, just not as much as so many others did. I specifically recommend reading it if you have not read The Fault in Our Stars yet. And if you plan on reading that (which in that case, add it to your to be read list IMMEDIATELY. I LOVED that book!!), make sure to read The Probability of Miracles first.

Rating: 3 stars - I liked it. Worth borrowing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Shine by Lauren Myracle
Amulet Books, 376 pages

"When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice. Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author."

When I first saw the cover for Shine, I was instantly drawn to the book. The cover is both gorgeous and haunting at the same time. The last flower on a tree that looks like it can be both blooming and dying at the same time is such a stunning look. This achingly beautiful cover definitely rings true with the achingly beautiful story it enfolds.

Lauren Myracle did a simply marvelous job of making a small southern town and its people seem real. If you thought you grew up in a small town with people breathing down your back, wait until you read this book. Your perspective will change, just like mine.

Shine primarily centers around a young girl named Cat. She had something done to her when she was younger that left her scarred and lonely, especially when growing up with an absent mother and a lazy father that lives outside the house in his own little camper. This leaves Cat with her older brother Christian and her Aunt Tildy, both of whom she has a profound realization about at the end of the story.

Almost all of Shine is about Cat discovering herself and finding the courage to stand up for what is right, even when it is incredibly dangerous to do so. Cat's best guy friend Patrick had a vicious hate crime done to him, simply because he was gay, that left him in a coma in the hospital. And with the town being so small, the offender clearly is someone in town, and Cat looks for him while no one else wants to "stir up trouble simply for a gay kid." This person knows that Cat is looking for them, and they clearly don't want to be found if the threats Cat receives are any indication.

Cat is a very flawed character, and we see this side of her throughout the story as Myracle is not afraid to show it. In fact, it is by overcoming her flaws that Cat becomes a stronger person who learns how to stand up for herself and what is right. She really is quite an inspirational character.

Shine clearly shows how brutal the loss innocence can be. Once it's gone, it's gone for good. All that a person can do is hold their head high and hold on to what they believe in, no matter how much their world has been shaken. Shine also shows that you don't always know a person -- people CAN change, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. Shine shows how important it is to not push away your true friends and family, people who actually care for you, simply because you have been hurt. It is these people who help you get through these things and are there for you whenever you need them to be.

Loss, guilt, tragedy, and courage are all concepts that Lauren Myracle tackles in Shine, and she does so profoundly, all the while presenting an amazing coming-of-age story that is difficult to forget.

Rating: 4 stars - I really liked it. Worth buying.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Dutton Juvenile, 313 pages

"Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love."

My obsession with John Green is a little out of control, but I'm a Nerdfighter, and only other Nerdfighters will understand that. I pre-ordered this book a long time ago, and when it finally arrived in the mail yesterday, I couldn't put it down. I fell absolutely in love with, yet, another John Green novel.

We're introduced to Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old who has Thyroid cancer. Pulled out of school after getting her GED, she attends a community college. Her friends are absent. Her oxygen tank travels everywhere she goes. And her life isn't anywhere near normal. Her mother insists that she goes to a support group because support groups help you talk to other people going through the same thing and all that stuff. Hazel reluctantly goes, even though she's always quiet and depressed. But then one day, there is a new guy, a guy whose name is Augustus Waters, suffering from Osteosarcoma with an amputated leg. Everything changes when she meets Augustus. Everything.

When Hazel meets Augustus, he is refreshing and jaunty and, nonetheless, hot. I absolutely loved Augustus because suddenly Hazel has something to look forward to, someone that makes her feel better. Though Augustus is also dealing with his own health dilemmas, he doesn't dread on them the way Hazel does. He makes snarky, funny comments, and he doesn't live as if he's stuck behind his cancer. Both Hazel and Augustus and also Issac, Augustus's soon to be blind friend, are all so raw and real. Augustus and Hazel's relationship grows throughout the book, and it reminds me why I enjoy novels where the two characters don't fall in love within the first ten pages. Their relationship had so many flaws that I absolutely loved because they had fights and didn't agree on everything, and it just seemed like the type of relationship many will relate to. At one point or another, you'll get attached to the characters and their heart-wrenching story, which broke me down emotionally.

This brings me to John Green's writing. This book is probably one of his best written novels yet. I love how he can mix intellectual ideas with humor. I found myself laughing out loud (like normal with his books) and I found myself thinking. The deeper messages John Green addresses truly had me thinking about my own life and why I think and believe in the things I do. His characters are usually very intelligent and I love that he portrays his characters in this light, unlike many Young Adult authors. I was also amazed by how well John Green took on the role of girl teenager's voice. Written in first person, he surprisingly did so effortlessly. It was believable and relatable.

John Green's plots are beautifully simple. This is really the only way to put it. The story line draws you in even though we all know what Hazel's fate will be. She is dying. And when there's no cure, it's only the inevitable.

I was completely sold with The Fault in Our Stars, and it was so stunning and tragic and beautiful. If you haven't read any John Green books, I highly suggest this one!! :)


P.S.- Brace yourself for the emotions this book will give you. It's overwhelming, but nonetheless amazing.

Rating: 5 stars - I loved it! Buy a copy!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Releases!

In case anyone has been in the dark about these two new releases that are near and dear to my heart, both The Fault In Our Stars by John Green and A Million Suns by Beth Revis (sequel to Across the Universe) are being released today! So, I have both of these on pre-order and should be expecting them anytime now. I'll be dying from the anticipation until then.

Do we have any Nerdfighters out there??



Saturday, January 7, 2012

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Knopf, 326 pages

"Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to? Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising."

I've been seeing this book all over the place. The only thing I knew was that it was contemporary fiction, and I've been on this contemporary fiction kick lately so I thought, hey, might as well read it. And this is another book I probably won't forget. The characters were so developed and Vera's voice was loud and clear.

Vera's best friend Charlie has died and she's not just upset that he died, she actually kind of hates him, but loves him at the same time. She's mad at a dead person, and while it seems cruel, Vera's forgiving qualities made me enjoy hearing more of what she had to say. The more I thought about the book, the more I realized how much drama is actually going on. So, Vera's mother is absent after taking off to Vegas with a man that's not Vera's father. And Vera's father, he used to be an alcoholic. Charlie's father is abusive and Vera knows, but her father says to ignore it. He is always telling her to ignore it, and this is what Vera doesn't understand.

This book, I felt, is mainly about closure. It is about coming to terms with life and being able to move on and feel okay about it. Vera is struggling over Charlie's death. Mainly because of up until he died, he treated Vera like crap. And the other part is something Vera knows but keeps quiet about. In school, Vera is trying her best to stay invisible. She has a love for vocabulary and is a very smart girl. She isn't very popular, but she doesn't care about that sort of thing anyway. I absolutely loved Vera because of her voice in the book. She's very spunky and interesting to read about.

Written in four different perspectives, I felt as if I really got to understand the story. Vera, Vera's father, Charlie (the dead kid), and the Pagoda (a building near Vera's house) all have their own part. I loved getting to hear their own specific point of view. It really unravels the story quite simply.

The writing in this book was terrific. A.S. King truly captures the situation Vera is in and her personality shines throughout.

The plot had me hooked. We don't know how Charlie died, but we do know it has something to do with Jenny (a person Vera despised). I just had to keep on reading to find out how it ended and I was amazed. King is a very smart writer and I want to read more novels by her.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz has flawed, realistic characters and I was surprised by how much I loved this book. Contemporary fiction is becoming a favorite of mine and the story King is able to tell and how she tells it, was a wonderful experience. I recommend this book to anyone interested in contemporary fiction, or anyone in general! It was an awesome read!!

Rating: 5 stars - I loved it! Buy a copy!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
HarperTeen, 419 pages

"Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn't a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all. In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future."

Admittedly, I heard about Melina Marchetta from a social networking site known as Tumblr. There was a quote from one of her other books, Saving Francesca, it said:

"I miss the Stella girls telling me what I am. That I’m sweet and placid and accommodating and loyal and nonthreatening and good to have around. And Mia. I want her to say, 'Frankie, you’re silly, you’re lazy, you’re talented, you’re passionate, you’re restrained, you’re blossoming, you’re contrary.' I want to be an adjective again. But I’m a noun. A nothing. A nobody. A no one."

This quote made me want to read one of Marchetta's books, and I had heard wonders about Jellicoe Road. I honestly hadn't a clue what it was about, just that it was amazing. And boy, were all those people so right. This is one of my new favorite books. The emotions it gave me were seriously intense.

The characters in this novel were truly the heart of it all. Taylor Markham is lost and upset and just wants to be loved. She wants to feel deserving and comforted by someone who cares for her the way she cares for others. Through all her flaws, she made me sympathetic for her. Taylor was such an incredibly developed character I couldn't help but love her. And Jonah Griggs. Man, oh man. He was one of my favorites too. His tragic past starts when he kills his own father. You'd think a person couldn't like a character that kills his own father, but I also grew sympathetic for him. I wanted the best for all these characters and I felt like I knew them or something. All the side characters had cool quirks or stories or something that made them all interesting in their own way. I love it when the characters aren't lacking in depth. When the author can create flawed, yet likeable characters, I instantly enjoy the story. And these characters develop throughout the book. They aren't the same at the end of the book compared to the beginning. Development is a make or break it deal with characters and Marchetta did so in the best way possible.

The writing is what blew me away. Marchetta's writing is so beautiful and stunning and poetic and it effortlessly carries the plot. Her descriptions of the Prayer Tree and the poppies and everything, I could picture the setting in my mind. Her writing struck me so hard that right after I finished, I already wanted to go back and re-read my favorite lines. It made me emotional, even. I just couldn't get over how beautiful it was.

When it came to the plot, again, Marchetta leaves me breathless. She seemingly intertwines different conflicts and weaves them together and it all makes so much sense that I almost don't even know what to make of it. The story had me crying like a baby and laughing too. I'm just at a loss for words for this book. I feel like I haven't read a book like this in a long time. Where it has me getting so emotional and attached to the characters. I ached for them every step of the way.

I will confess that when I started reading Jellicoe Road the plot sort of confused me with the Townies and Cadets and the snippets of Hannah's manuscript, but after I took everything in, probably about 100 pages, I was sold. If you love reading as much as I do, read this book now!! Seriously, this book is beautiful and poignant. A book I will re-read in the future. A book I will probably never forget.

Rating: 5 stars - I loved it! Buy a copy!

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
288 pages, HarperCollins Publishers

"Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational — as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic."

I heard about The Bell Jar because I've read some of Sylvia Plath's poetry. Her poetry surely isn't the happiest thing to read, and neither is The Bell Jar. Before I read the book, I was aware that in 1963, the same year that the book was published, Sylvia Plath committed suicide. This novel is practically a distorted autobiography of Plath's life. Even so, when she first published the book she used Victoria Lucas as a pen name. The Bell Jar was a stunning novel, the only novel Plath ever wrote in her career as a writer.

As the story begins we are swung into Esther Greenwood's everyday life. She works for a magazine and is very talented and smart. She has friends and a man who she is trying to decide whether to be with, and Esther seems to have her life together. This changes quite dramatically later in the book.

The characters in the book were very real. They had flaws and feelings and are something any reader can relate to. But as the plot continues, we witness Esther slowly going a bit mad. I would not recommend this novel to anyone who dislikes depressing or dark books. Especially, not to anyone younger. Buddy Willard is a man Esther both loves and can't stand at the same time. I didn't particularly like Buddy Willard, just because of the fact that he always expected Esther to come running back to him in open arms, but he wasn't terrible. My favorite character out of the book was, of course, Esther. Her emotions were so raw and bare, I couldn't help but ache for her. How a person on the outside has it all, but on the inside is slowly deteriorating into nothing at all. At times I was struck with wonder by Esther's thoughts, because a lot of them made sense. Watching Esther lose her sanity was hard at times. As a reader, we are given the front row seat into Esther's most intimate, neurotic thoughts. Something that can be both scary and wonderful.

The writing in The Bell Jar is what truly makes this book beautiful. Plath has a way with words that kept me reading. If it wasn't the storyline or the characters, the writing took me away. Some of the lines were so simple and poetic, I just wanted to savor every little bit. Up until the last page, her writing did not waver and her style remained strong.

That being said, The Bell Jar is a beautiful novel depicting Sylvia's own downfall. It is awfully depressing and dark and I wouldn't say it made me feel like I was on top of the world or anything. But I did realize this before reading the book, and though the end of The Bell Jar embarks a hope for Esther, we all know what Sylvia's fate was and can only imagine what Esther's was as well. Even though this wasn't the happiest novel, it was definitely worth reading, especially if you're a fan of Sylvia Plath or poetry.

3 stars - I liked it. Worth borrowing.