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A Reader of Fictions: January 2012

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Breathe - Angels & Airwaves

Halflings, Book 1

Author: Heather Burch
Pages: 288
ARC Acquired from: Zondervan via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
For some reason, the forces of good and evil seem to be very interested in Nikki. On the plus side, this means that she has three very hot guys (Mace, Raven and Vine) following her around protecting her, halflings (half-angels). Of course, she's also being followed by hellhounds and other nefarious/disgusting creatures. Why is she so important?

For the most part, I try to be a fairly open-minded reader of fictions. While I obviously prefer certain genres to others, I do read most of them occasionally. The main exception to that is christian fiction. I just can't deal with most of it, although I have tried.

Believe it or not, I actually have a minor in theology, so it's not that I'm not willing to consider other belief systems or that I'm categorically opposed to the possibility of god. I'm an agnostic, so, basically, who the heck knows.

Anyway, all that lead in was just to explain that, despite my fairly open mind, constant biblical references and the sugar-sweetness that I've found in the Christian books I've tried up to this point have turned my stomach. Thankfully, Halflings did not fit that mold. I honestly never thought that I would be requesting anything from Zondervan. Even less did I expect that I might enjoy said title. The reason I requested Halflings, even though I feared that I would hate it, is that the author, Heather Burch, is part of the Apocalypsies, a group of really awesome debuting authors who have yet to disappoint me.

The religious stuff is definitely in Halflings no doubt, but Burch doesn't beat you over the head with it too much, thank goodness. The story opens with a bible quote, but she did not feel it necessary to open every chapter that way, as so many do. Nikki begins reading the Bible and is converted from her faith in science to faith in a higher power. And, of course, the major players are the forces of heaven and of hell. All of this is done in a light enough way, though, that believer and non-believer can enjoy the tale.

Just because it's Christian does not mean their cannot be some serious love triangle up in here. Of course, Mace is the obvious favorite from the beginning. Personally, I think he's kind of blah. So far, I just don't see too much interesting in him. Raven is the quintessential bad boy with the possibility for more, which I generally do not much care for, but he's just so much more interesting than Mace. Plus, Raven totally encourages Nikki's strength (she's a black belt in karate) and wants to help her protect herself. He's a feminist, woo!

I love when trying a book I wouldn't usually give a chance pays off! I definitely plan to read the next book in the series.

Rating: 3/5

"A blue-black shade of love.
Sent from above.
My hands are tied, two worlds alone,
And this I know.
Your breath's like wine,
And just like clouds, my skin crawls.
It's so divine, the sky it glows with fields of light."

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To Die For - Hans Zimmer


Author: William Shakespeare
Performers: Oregon Shakespeare Festival Cast
Duration: 2 hrs, 51 mins
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Everyone knows Hamlet. Okay, maybe not everyone, but most people do. Now, if you were to ask me if I liked Hamlet, my short answer would probably be 'no.' Really, though, it's not fair for me to encapsulate my feelings on Hamlet into such a simple answer. If Hamlet and I were in a relationship on facebook (assuming he it could ever decide whether to be in one...punned!), it would most definitely be complicated.

Here's the thing: Hamlet is a great play. There's no denying it. When I think about the play objectively, there's a lot of amazing stuff in there. Shakespeare's wit is fantastic; gotta love all of those dirty jokes he makes in here. And, of course, the language is completely gorgeous.

The characters I have never been particularly tied to, which is one reason Hamlet does not rank among my favorite plays; the tragedies often lack the sassy heroines you can find in the comedies. Hamlet's indecisiveness frustrates me endlessly. Whine, whine, whine, think about doing something, wimp out, wine more. Cry moar, anon. Yoda judges you. Hamlet's uncle father and his aunt mother are not especially likable, even if you don't think they're guilty of what Hamlet's ghosty father accused them of (namely, turning him into a ghost). Ophelia isn't the brightest; plus, her end does not for admiration make. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are probably my favorites, and that's only because of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard.

Truly though, the reason that I don't really like Hamlet is how prevalent it is. I just get so tired of always hearing this same play over and over. I mean, who didn't have to read this in high school, and again in college?

This audiobook is the recording of a stage version of the play, performed by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival cast. They do a good job, and I imagine it was quite a fun performance that they did. It sounds like they did some interesting things with the characters, such as changing gender in some cases and some modernizing (thus the leather jacket Hamlet's wearing).

Unfortunately, listening to a play and watching it just aren't the same. Had I not already been very familiar with Hamlet, I have little doubt that I would at time have been confused by some of the quick scene changes or by which voice belonged to which character. Some of the actors did have rather similar sounding voices.

Between scenes, there is creepy dramatic music, which definitely set a mood, but I don't think I liked. Nor did I care for the fact that the players rapped everything. That was kind of weird. At least Ophelia didn't rap her crazyface songs. Speaking of Ophelia, she was my favorite part of the performance. Her voice and manner definitely reminded me of River Tam (Summer Glau's character in Firefly, who has a couple of screws loose). What an awesome way to portray Ophelia. Now I kind of want to try to write some fan fiction with the characters from Firefly performing Hamlet. Maybe not.

Rating: 2.5/5

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Baby, Baby - Amy Grant

Compulsively Mr. Darcy

Author: Nina Benneton
Pages: 351
ARC Acquired from: Sourcebooks Landmark via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
In this modern, rather loose retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet is a doctor specializing in infectious diseases, working in Vietnam. Her sister Jane is also there, working in an orphanage. The Hursts bring along Charles and Caroline Bingley, and Mr. Darcy on their trip to Vietnam to adopt a child. In this way, they are all thrown together.

As is perhaps unsurprising, I find Jane Austen inspired fiction to be largely disappointing. I mean, what could ever hope to compare to her original work? Still, I do not give up hope and continue to add every single book written about her characters or her to my reading list.

Compulsively Mr. Darcy is, overall, pretty fun and takes a fairly unique view of the characters and the plot. The opening scenes really captivated me, although, I must admit, that that had more to do with the setting (Da Nang in Vietnam) than anything else. I went to Vietnam during college, so I've actually been to Da Nang. I recognize the descriptions of the traffic, the spiny fruit Bingley eats in the first chapter, and some of the social rules herein described. That part was awesome.

I also thought it was pretty cool how Darcy's perfection was reenvisioned as a sever compulsive disorder. That fits so well with our overly diagnosed and medicated modern lifestyle. Charles Bingley, too, suffers from a modern problem: ADHD.

While I was initially impressed by Elizabeth's career as a doctor, I quickly became disheartened. Despite the author's constant assertions that Elizabeth is highly intelligent and respected in her field, it's hard to see her as anything but a ditz. She is such a bonehead, both in her assumptions about people and situations, and in her way of speaking. What doctor would forget to wear a condom before being tested (and what OCD person for that matter)?

All of the characters of the novel are here, in one form or another, but they are all quite different, and there are some new folks as well. I would argue that Darcy is perhaps the least changed. The Jane of this book is much more Lizzy than Lizzy, which was actually kind of interesting to see. Wickham is here, but he doesn't get to be the big bad of the story, a change I found to be rather refreshing, especially since Lydia got to be slightly different for once. Oh, and, for some strange reason, there's a crossover, because a couple of characters from Sense and Sensibility make cameo appearances.

What I liked least was all the romance novel type sex going on. Normally, this wouldn't bother me. I mean, who doesn't want to live vicariously through fictional characters? However, these scenes were not doing it for me at all. I also didn't especially like that Elizabeth was a virgin at 28, while Darcy got to be a crazy party animal in the past. What the heck, double standard?!?! The one cool thing about their relationship was that Benneton (I'm guessing this is a pen name) completely changed up the timeline. However, their romance is definitely as cheesily romantic as this song.

One more awkward thing about this novel was that it did that confusing thing where it couldn't decide whether to retell a story or just happen to have characters of the same names as those in a book do the same things. That wasn't clear. In the book, there are numerous references to the BBC productions of P&P. This is highly odd, as it seems to imply that these people just happen to have the same names as the characters but not to have noticed. This is a bad thing to do in fiction; I would also like the writers for the recent Get Smart movie to make note of this.

So yeah, if you're a romance fan, you'll probably like this, and as Austen-inspired books go, it's not too bad. There are some clever, amusing things here and it is a quick read.

Rating: 2.5/5

"And ever since the day you put my heart in motion
Baby I realize that
There's just no getting over you
Over you

Baby, baby
Always and forever
Baby. I'm so glad
Here for you baby
So glad you're mine
Baby I'm so glad
When I think about you it makes me smile"

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She Hates Me - Puddle of Mudd

Boys Over Flowers

Author: Yoko Kamio
Volumes: 37
Publisher: VIZ Media

Brief Summary:
Tsukushi Makino wants nothing more than to get through high school without attracting the notice of the impossibly wealthy, snobby and self-absorbed people with whom she attends Eitoku Academy. The only reason she's there is that her parents think her marrying rich is the only way they'll ever escape poverty. Eitoku is essentially run by a group of four incredibly wealthy and handsome boys. If they don't like a student, they put a red card in that kid's locker and torture that individual until they drop out. One day, Tsukushi challenges the leader of the F4, Tsukasa, and rather than going down and dropping out, she fights back.

Warning: this review may contain spoilers.

For a lot of people when they think of manga, they'll probably think either of a battle manga, like Naruto, or an over-the-top melodramatic romance series, of which Boys Over Flowers is a perfect example. It is in every way absurd and improbable. There is nothing of the real world about it. Every page oozes with romantic drama, love triangles and betrayal, not to mention amnesia (oh wait, I just did).

However, I did read the whole thing (twice...because I wanted to review it and my memory was fuzzy), although I have no plans to read it ever again. At the outset, I actually rather liked the story, even though I find a school so in the thrall of its students preposterous. I mean, at one point, Tsukushi is tied up and dragged behind a moving vehicle in front of the school. In what universe would a teacher or administrator not put a stop to this, if only for liability's sake? (I told you it was over-the-top.) Plus, why would these guys allow people to call them the Flower 4? Yes, that's what the F stands for. SUPER LAME!

What I liked though was Tsukushi's spirit. She's not particularly attractive, she's poor and she's not even brilliant. Still, she refuses to let others make her feel like she's worthless. If only to spite others, she finds resources within herself to face the challenges and pain life gives to her. That trait I found to be rather admirable.

Another thing I appreciated at the beginning was that this is not another story where the girl pines away for the guy she's been obsessed with, waiting for him to want her. Instead, Tsukasa is desperately in obsession with her, but unable to make her his. This brings me to one of the many in this story that I just cannot get over or accept. His frustrated longing for her makes him do something stupid, namely to attempt rape in the school. He doesn't actually do it, but he does force kisses and rip open her shirt. As much as the story takes the reader in hand, I find it impossible to ever forgive such behavior.

This may be why, even though after that incident Yoko Kamio tries really hard to show the reader Tsukasa's true feelings for Tsukushi, I just don't buy it completely. Even now, after reading all 36 volumes and Jewelry Box, and additional volume she added to close some plot lines, I still ship Tsukushi more with Rui Hanazawa. His character grew into such a great person and it's really a shame.

A lot of what happens here is just awful. Still, there's a reason it's so incredibly popular. It's addictive, much like Gossip Girl and Twilight. The lives and loves it depicts are in now way something to emulate; they're a car crash and you just want to watch, even though you hate yourself for it.

P.S. Yoko Kamio's actually the author of one of my favorite manga's Cat Street, which is not yet licensed in the U.S. It's so much better than this one, her most famous work.

Rating: 2.5/5

"Met a girl, thought she was grand
Fell in love, found out first hand
Went well for a week or two
Then it all came unglued

In a trap, trip I can't grip
Never thought I'd be the one who'd slip
Then I started to realize
I was living one big lie

She fucking hates me
She fucking hates me
La la la love
I tried too hard
And she tore my feelings like I had none
And ripped them away"

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Red Right Ankle - The Decemberists

The Tea Rose
The Tea Rose, Book 1

Jennifer Donnelly
Pages: 557
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Yet again, I'm not even going to try to summarize this book. Trying to do so would diminish its scope, as the story spans years and talking specifically to the plot would risk spoilers, which I am exceedingly loath to do, because no one should have this spoiled.

The Tea Rose spans a decade and two continents. It is first and foremost a love story, but don't let that fool you. As they say, "the course of true love never did run smooth." Joe and Fiona have been best friends all their lives, having grown up on the same street. They've been in love from the time they had such thoughts, and they both have huge ambitions to run a shop and have all the money they could ever need.

This is a story of poverty, of unions, of economics, of business. Fiona's family with three strong men to earn money in their various jobs can barely get by. They aren't able to save any money. Fiona works too, but women make a pittance compared to men, even though they spend just as much time at work. The employers refuse to pay more than a few pennies to their workers. Everyone has an air of desperation about them, except for the few folks who have all the money because they've squeezed the poor folks dry.

This is a horror story. In case East London doesn't sound terrifying enough, you will not be disappointed. Jack the Ripper's there too. And the cops can't find anything to figure out who he is or how to stop him. At least, he's only killing prostitutes, but who knows when that will change. Besides, how comforting is that when everyone you know is just a missed day of work or two away from that level of desperation?

This is a story of tragedy. Donnelly will get you excited and hopeful, and then stomp on your heart, light it on fire and then drown it. Even in the depths of despair when it seems the characters (and thus you, bound up in their fate) will never make it, she manages to kindle inspiration and hope. Completely beautiful.

The spark that makes all the parts of this novel come together lies in the characters, particularly Fiona. These are people who will stop at nothing to get what they want. Nothing can prevent Fiona from becoming a success; she will overcome any hardship thrown at her. She is undoubtedly one of the strongest heroines in literature. I may not always agree with her choices, as she is much more forgiving than I could ever be, but I always admire her spunk and intelligence and drive.

Donnelly made me cry. She made me angry, frustrated, terrified. She made me smile and left me feeling somewhat hopeful. You have to love a book that can run you through the gamut of human of emotions. This book is amazingly well-written and complex. This is historical fiction at its finest.

Rating: 5/5

"This is the story of the boys who loved you
Who love you now and loved you then
And some were sweet, some were cold and snuffed you
And some just laid around in bed.

Some had crumbled you straight to your knees
Did it cruel, did it tenderly
Some had crawled their way into your heart
To rend your ventricles apart
This is the story of the boys who loved you"

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In My Mailbox (2)

This week, as every week should, brought more delightful books. Obviously, this hasn't been as prolific a week for books as some, but I guess I shan't complain, since I did get some cool stuff and I have plenty to read as it is. Plus, I really appreciate the humorous coincidence that brought me The Kama Sutra and The Origins of Sex in the same week; clearly, I'm in for some scintillating reading.

Print Copy from the Publisher:
Blue Monday - Nicci French / The Kama Sutra - Vatsyayana; translated by A.N.D. Haksar

From NetGalley:

This Is Not a Test - Courtney Summers / The Origins of Sex - Faramerz Dabhoiwala


Sunday, January 29, 2012

My Immortal - Evanescence

Drowning Instinct

Ilsa J. Bick
Pages: 352
ARC Acquired from: Carolrhoda Lab via NetGalley
Brief Summary:

Jenna Lord has just awakened in the hospital, having nearly died for a third time. Her life has been an incredibly difficult one, with an overbearing father, a drunken mother, the only person she's really close to, her brother, in Iraq, and herself recovering (?) from psychological issues. The detective investigating her case gives her a digital recorder and asks her to explain how she got to this hospital. The story is her transcription.

Whoa. What an incredibly dark and well-done novel. I have absolutely no doubt that Ilsa J. Bick will come to be recognized alongside authors like Laurie Halse Anderson. She clearly has no problem plumbing the darkest and most terrifying of human emotions. Like Anderson, she also focuses on teens, on the bad stuff - not the shiny vampires and the sweet first loves.

Reading this book...it's going to hurt. Jenna is incredibly messed up. You learn this up front. She's spent a year in an institution, put there after it was discovered that she'd been cutting. So yeah, going into it you know her family's a mess and that she is too, but you don't know the full extent of it. The awfulness just keeps on rolling; I only wish that there were not people out there who have likely actually lived lives like Jenna's.

The main plot is about Jenna's relationship with an older man, her science teacher Mr. Anderson. Obviously, this too is a completely dark and forbidden thing. At the outset, you don't know what's going on exactly, but you definitely have your suspicions and you're pretty sure it's bad. Bick does an amazing job of highlighting the difficulties of understanding such a case.

Nothing in this book is black and white. For one thing, Jenna is not an especially reliable narrator. It's hard to know how much of what she believes to be true is actually true. Such realizations can be just as mind-blowing as reading through the book itself is. I got completely sucked into her story and to seeing from her point of view. Then, when I would step back and think about it, I had to face the fact that things may not be what they seem at all.

Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson or Patricia McCormick will love undoubtedly love this book. Do not read it without due preparation: i.e. tissues and/or something super sappy and happy to help you recover afterwards.

Rating: 5/5

"These wounds won't seem to heal
This pain is just too real
There's just too much that time cannot erase"

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ghost - Howie Day

New Girl

Paige Harbison
ARC Acquired from: HarlequinTEEN via NetGalley

Brief Summary:

She didn't want to be the New Girl during her senior year of high school, but she could not turn her parents down. In middle school, when she was going through her Harry Potter phase, she begged to go to a boarding school, and picked out and applied to Manderley Academy in New Hampshire. Her devastation knew no bounds when she didn't get in, but she quickly got over it, made friends and came to love her public school in St. Augustine, Florida. Much to her surprise, her parents reveal that they have been secretly applying for her ever since and she has now gotten in. She hopes to make the best of it, but soon discovers that she is the replacement for a missing student, Becca, and that no one wants the New Girl, because they were all fascinated by Becca.

So freaking cool! And not just because it was set in New Hampshire...because it's cold there. Punned! Anyway, with this book, I pronounce myself a Paige Harbison fan. Last year, I read her debut Here Lies Bridget and I liked it, but it wasn't too much out of the ordinary. This one, though, just blew me away.

Why? Well, I've always had a weakness for books based on other books. New Girl is based on Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca, which I have not yet read. Unfortunately, I had to look up a summary on Wikipedia, because I did not want to miss any references. Hopefully, I will forget about some of the plot twists before I try to read the book.

Anywho, based on my extensive knowledge of Rebecca (aka Wikipedia article), Harbison did a really amazing job modernizing this. The transitions she made in some of the characters, like turning Mrs. Danvers into Dana, Becca's roommate who refuses to let her go, is quite clever, as is the changing of the scene with the dress.

The story is told alternatingly between the New Girl's perspective in first person and Becca's perspective in third person. You might think that sounds clunky, but it really wasn't. This makes the fact that you never learn the New Girl's actual name but are so familiar with Becca's completely natural; I didn't even notice until partway through. Of course, I wanted to punch Becca in the face the whole time, but I really liked New Girl.

For those who like clever teen lit, you'll probably quite enjoy this. It's full of drama and told in an interesting way. I also suspect that people who love Rebecca and don't ordinarily read teen lit will, at the very least, get a kick out of New Girl.

Rating: 4/5

"Lately I've been thinking,
Lately I've been dreaming with you
I'm so resistant to this type of thinking
Oh but now its shining through.
I was alone for the last time
Before my night's vacation with you
Alive from the first
Now I'm denied by the ghost of you"

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Put Us Back Together - Headlights

Fullmetal Alchemist

Author: Hiromu Arakawa
Volumes: 27
Publisher: Viz Media

For this particular review, I'm going to forgo the summary portion, because I'm pretty sure it wouldn't make much sense. If you want to read one before reading my review, then go to Goodreads.

Fullmetal Alchemist starts off pretty lighthearted and comedic, giving the reader time to familiarize themselves with the characters and the world it's set in before breaking out the serious drama. Part of what makes this series so completely marvelous and one of the best mangas ever is that vein of humor running through even the darkest parts.

Of course, comedy alone does not make a good story. The darkness too makes the tale compelling. Aspects of this story, especially one in particular which comes not too far into the story, will undoubtedly haunt me forever. Actually, this same instance continues to haunt Ed and Alphonse all the way through their lives, as well. When you read it, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Add to the above a completely amazing cast of characters. Seriously. Ed and Alphonse's love and care of one another are completely charming. Their grandmother is hilarious with her tiny little pointy bun. Winry, the stubborn female automail mechanic, will always be my favorite. Then again, I also adore Colonel Mustang with his odd combination of jadedness and hope, and Lieutenant Hawkeye, who is seriously badass but also surprisingly sweet underneath. All of the human characters are just so vibrant and human, complete with foibles and hangups. I love it.

Plus the alchemy in a freaking amazing steampunk setting! Who doesn't like steampunk? Okay, lots of people probably, but they are lame and don't count (just kidding...mostly). Honestly, though, the alchemy in here is astounding. No wonder so many people spent their lives trying to figure out its secrets. I would too if I thought I could have powers like the Alric brothers.

If you have any interest at all in manga, Fullmetal Alchemist is a good one. Although aimed at a male audience, it has universal appeal. Unlike some shounen manga, you will not have lots of baloon boobs thrust at you for fan service, likely because the series was written by a woman. This manga has one of the best stories out there and I just cannot recommend it highly enough.

Note: I have not yet watched the anime version, either one. I do know, though, that you should not just the manga off of the original anime series. After the first few episodes they seriously part ways (or so I've heard), because the anime was made before the series had been completed. A couple years before. What a bad plan.

Rating: 4.5/5

"Take us apart and put us back together right,
So we can leave on our feet in the night."

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Highway to Hell - Glee

Tantalize, Book 4

Cynthia Leitich Smith
Pages: 349
ARC Acquired from: Candlewick via NetGalley
Brief Summary:
Everything's pretty calm at Sanguini's, but that doesn't mean the gang doesn't have a mission. Miranda, watching from above, sends a message to Zachary (via Joshua) that her friend Lucy is in trouble, having signed up for a demonic school in an effort to figure out what the hell happened to Miranda. Of course, Zachary can't go without Quince, which means Kieren's going to. Can they rescue Lucy and emerge with their souls (and lives) intact?

Installment four in Cynthia Leitich Smith's gothic series returns the reader to the format of book two, which, for those who haven't read it, means that the story is told from multiple points of view. For the first time, Kieren gets to 'speak,' along with Miranda, Zachary and Quincie. Yes, that's right. Miranda, my superfav (hint: this is sarcasm) is back.

The story is just as readable and fantastical as the previous ones. If you enjoyed them, I imagine you'll like this one too, especially since you'll actually get a happy ending. Unfortunately, the story is marred by numerous plot holes. Honestly, I think this would have been better had she ixnayed the happy ending.

So much of what happened here is not believable within the context of her own universe. For example, why is Miranda in heaven? This of course, I knew before, and was not entirely cool with, but mostly accepted. Now, though, she's sitting in the Penultimate, a sort of purgatory for Heaven which I'll talk about more later, surrounded by all of these people she killed. What really made me question Smith's decision here was not so much the evidence that Quincie was a completely freaking awful person/eternal, but the fact that not one of her victims is really mad at her. In every case, she saved them from a terrible fate one way or another. Bull.

Along a similar vein, how does Harrison end up in Heaven? This seems like the equivalent of the belief that, no matter what you've done previously, if you're killed after confessing your sins, you get heaven. Umm, why? The one plus of more Harrison in the book was finding out that he is super gay, which was kind of amusing.

The frame story, where they're going into the school to save Lucy, also continually seemed fabricated. Lucy's a plot point and that's all there is to it. The parts that really didn't make sense were at the end, which means I can't be especially specific. I just want to state for the record that what happened to Kieren and Zachary at the end was completely absurd. Especially Zachary. In what way does that make sense? Argh!

Okay, I want to end my review with something more positive, so I'll go back to the beginning of the book again. As I've already mentioned, Miranda's chilling in the Penultimate, where she can watch over whoever she wants to via a device called the monitor-com until she's ready to pass on to Heaven. (For those who are interested, this is very similar to a vision of the afterlife I wrote about in a short story. Funny that.) The setup is pretty cool, and I do love theories of life after death.

Rating: 1.5/5

"I'm on the highway to hell"

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

All These Things That I've Done - The Killers

The Baker's Daughter

Sarah McCoy
Pages: 279
ARC Acquired from: Crown Publishing Group via NetGalley
Brief Summary:
Reba, a reporter for Sun City in El Paso, moved there from her home in Virginia, trying to get away from the memories that haunt her, memories of her father's behavior, who returned from the Vietnam War a broken man. She planned for El Paso to be merely a blip on her radar, before she continued west for a job with a better paper. She now feels stuck, though, engaged to Riki, a Border Patrol agent. Although she cares for him, she fears showing him her real self and wonders if their love is enough. For an article on Christmas customs in different cultures, she goes to the German bakery to interview Elsie Schmidt, who grew up in Germany during the Nazi years. Through her relationship with Elsie and Jane, Elsie's daughter, Reba learns about strength and facing tough memories.

The Baker's Daughter was not what I expected it to be, not really at all. For one thing, I thought the story would focus on Elsie, which, if you consider the main character the person who most of the pages are focused on, she would be. Really, though, the tale seems to be more about Elsie's affect on others, as viewed through the lens of Reba.

This device works incredibly powerfully. Elsie had a great impact on many lives, but, by using Reba as the frame story, McCoy is able to bring in additional themes and commentaries in a natural manner. The story could have been told from the perspective of Tobias just as easily, but I think something would ultimately have been lost. By incorporating Reba into the tale, McCoy is able to draw connections between Nazi Germany, the Vietnam War and the border wars between the U.S. and Mexico.

McCoy tells the story primarily using an omniscient narrator, who follows along with the perspective of one character at a time, but there are also epistolary sections. With this combination of formats, the reader follows along with a handful of characters. What makes this so impressive is that every character was likable, though flawed--especially Reba. They all had unique voices and interesting tales to tell.

The Baker's Daughter left me feeling full of hope and inspiration. McCoy's is a message of hope and the triumph of the human spirit over tragedy, so long as you face up to your fears. I suggest reading prepared; if you don't have any fresh bread or cake from a bakery, you are going to be super hungry!

Rating: 4.5/5

"Another head aches, another heart breaks
I am so much older than I can take
And my affection, well it comes and goes
I need direction to perfection"

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Weak and Powerless - A Perfect Circle

Tantalize, Books 3

Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Pages: 454
Publisher: Candlewick

Brief Summary:
In Blessed, the storylines of Tantalize and Eternal meet up. At the end of Eternal, Zachary was assigned as the GA (guardian angel) of Quincie. With Brad apparently gone, Quincie is hurriedly hiring replacement staff, who will also be familiar to those who read the prior books, and seriously missing her best friend Kieren. Especially since his parents are now her legal guardians, meaning she has to stay at their house and hide her condition. Other than that, she just has to figure out what to do about all of the people who ate Brad's baby squirrel dessert and will be turning into vampires themselves any day now.

The storylines coming together is pretty cool. I actually had no idea that these book were a series when I read the first two a couple years ago, or, I knew they were supposed to be and was very confused to find they weren't particularly. The world that Smith created still strikes me as an interesting one, although I still wish her characters could be a little more interesting.

Quincie bothered me the slightest bit less, but mostly only because I was prepared for her annoying-ness. Her new obnoxious trait is complaining about the words people use, but not being smart enough to come up with a replacement of her own. Oy. Anyway, Kieren I still like, as much as one can, considering that he doesn't get much screen time or depth in his personality. Zachary is a bit less cool in this one, since he's trying to be good again. Miranda's gone and I didn't miss her, but I sure could have done without the constant missing of her.

I want to talk a little bit about the restaurant that Quincie owns. Sanguini's: A Very Rare Restaurant has a vampire theme. This makes for some humorous jokes and doesn't seem like something to be taken seriously. However, the restaurant does really well. What I want to know is why? The menus are completely nauseating. Note the baby squirrel dessert from the menu above. Another food featured is crickets. Why?!?

Smith decided to end this volume with a slightly happier note. This actually struck me as a bit forced; the ending seemed to wrap up to nicely, and not entirely realistically. Of course, maybe Smith is saving the real emotion punch for the end of Diabolical.

Rating: 3/5

"Desperate and Ravenous
I'm so weak and powerless over you"

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The Perseus Chronicles, Chapter 6

In Which Our Valiant Hero Takes a Lil' Nappy Nap

Yet again, I come back from a long absence in the supplying of adorable and/or hilarious cat photos and vow to do better in the future, somewhat suspecting that that may not be the case. When it comes down to finishing a book and writing a review or writing another installment in the life of a valiant warrior cat named Percy, I usually choose the book. He knows this is true, too, but is so sweet as to love me anyway, and to often accompany my reading with purring.

Anyway, you're all here for the pics, so I'll get on that.

"Nappy nap? Not me. No way. You crazy, mom."

"See how wide open my eyes are. I'm not tired at all.
Perseuses...Persei...whatever it is, we don't need sleep."

If you think the secret to making kitties sleepy is cheesy flash photography, you would be wrong.
The secret is being really boring.

Look how cute he is when he sleeps. Now I can finally stop watching The Cat from Outer Space.

"Hey, I was watching that."


Monday, January 23, 2012

Giveaway: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Thanks to the lovely folks at Penguin, I am able to offer a paperback copy of A Discovery of Witches to one lucky reader. I really enjoyed this one, and, long as it was, did not want it to end. The cover is gorgeous, as you can see, as is the book's spine, which you can't (it shows more of the city scene at the bottom of the front cover).

The giveaway rules are simple. Leave a blog post comment saying what witchy power you most wish you had. Also, make sure you leave your email, which you may want to put in this format to prevent spam: yourname(at)email(dot)com. The winner will be notified by email. Should that person not respond within 24 hours, the next person will be selected.

The giveaway closes on January 31st at noon and is open to readers in the United States.


Storybook Love - Willy DeVille

A Discovery of Witches
All Souls Trilogy, Book 1

Author: Deborah Harkness
Pages: 579
Review Copy Acquired from: Penguin

Brief Summary:
Ever since the murder of her parents when she was 7, Diana Bishop has turned her back on her magical heritage, refusing to admit that she is anything but human. Well, except in emergencies, like when the washer starts to overflow. Mostly, though, Diana pretends normality, throwing herself into her scholarship (she is a respected historian of alchemy) and exercise, which she needs because she has always suffered from an excess of adrenaline. One day, while researching at the Bodleian library, she finds that one of the alchemy books she requested is magical. Freaked out by her accidental proximity to magic, she flips through it quickly and returns, not realizing that her find has set in motion something huge. To protect herself and her love, Matthew Clairmont, a vampire, Diana will have to come to terms with her witchy self.

First things first: before I get into the serious reviewing, I want to state for the record how much I enjoyed reading this. Thanks so much to Penguin for sending me a copy! Although vampires, witches, etcetera have been done to death (or undeath) in recent years, I still adore a well-done story on any of the aforementioned topics.

Harkness' world is an interesting one, benefiting largely from her love of history and wine. In fact, Harkness works as a professor of history, not as a romance novel author, so it would be a mistake to dismiss her work as merely paranormal romance. What drew me into the story initially, which had a somewhat slow windup so far as action is concerned, was the beautiful writing and the view into academic life. I'm a big nerd, so getting a window into Oxford and the Bodleian was such a treat.

Now, about the romance. I'm sorry if you think I spoiled something by revealing that Diana's going to get with Matthew, but, honestly, what reader didn't see that coming? Their love story I still have a love/hate relationship with.

At first, Matthew and Diana did not get along all that well, but quickly they begin to feel a very strong attraction to one another. This I liked, because they did not fall in love at first sight exactly, despite some claims otherwise later on. They had to develop a rapport and it took some time, although not much. Still, the crazy speed of their love for one another does not bother me, because in times of extreme emotion and danger, people (or creatures) are apt to move along at such things at a greater rate. They are very soon able to see the best and worst in one another's characters, and to accept it.

What did irk me about them was that Diana, an incredibly strong woman, both magically, mentally, and physically (thanks to all of that exercise, although she still is not going to beat a vampire) seems to follow Matthew obediently a bit more than I am quite comfortable with. She has no issue with him watching her sleep or with his obsessive need to protect her at all times. And, for a large portion of the book, everyone around her is so worried about her that she never gets to go anywhere by herself. It seems odd to me that the Diana of the beginning of the book would put up with that. However, Diana does maintain her willful streak, occasionally putting her foot down, Matthew's opinions be damned, which made me able to accept some of those other aspects.

Earlier, I mentioned creatures. This is the other part of Harkness' worldbuilding that you should know beforehand, because it's pretty cool. In this alternative history (same historical events and characters but with paranormals added), there are four different races: humans, witches, vampires and daemons. Most of those are pretty self-explanatory, but daemons are essentially hyper-creative, and supernatural in some way I do not quite understand yet. Undoubtedly the reader will learn more about this (and the mysterious facts of the other races) later in the trilogy, since that is kind of the reason everyone wants to get their hands on the magical alchemy book (Ashmole 782) Diana has been the only one to locate for hundreds of years.

Go get yourself a case of delicious wine, pop the cork on a bottle, and get reading! The paperback version is available now with the completely gorgeous cover you see pictured above. Book two Shadow of Night will be published some time this summer. Can't wait!

Rating: 4/5

"Come my love I'll tell you a tale
Of a boy and girl and their love story
And how he loved her oh so much
And all the charms she did possess"

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In My Mailbox (1)

Okay, I decided it was time to join up with In My Mailbox hosted by The Story Siren.

So here's what I've received in the last week, broken down by where it came from.

Directly from the publisher:
Drifting House - Krys Lee / The Darlings - Cristina Alger

Via NetGalley:
Who Is Jake Ellis?, Volume 1 - Tonci Zonjic / Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor - Rosina Harrison / Erebos - Ursula Poznanski
The Singles - Meredith Goldstein / Baby's in Black - Arne Bellstorf / A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar - Suzanne Joinson
Bloody Chester - JT Petty / Ghostbusters, Volume 1 - Tristan Jones / Star Trek, Volume 1 / Mike Johnson
The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker


Friday, January 20, 2012

Soul Back - Butterfly Boucher

Tantalize, Book 2

Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Pages: 307
Publisher: Candlewick

Brief Summary:
Zachary is a guardian angel and his job is to look after Miranda, subtly guiding her to a good path until her life runs its course. Unfortunately, once she grew up, he kind of fell in love with her too. So when he sees the shadow that means imminent death around her, he is freaked. And when he sees her about to die, without thinking, he makes himself visible to her and saves her life. For a little while anyway. Instead of her death by natural causes, his action results in her being turned into a vampire and his being kicked out of heaven. Now he has one chance to get his wings back: kill Dracula (the current one, not the Stoker one...it's a title) and get what remains of her soul back on track.

My first time through Eternal I was really disappointed, since I'd really enjoyed Tantalize. Now, though, coming in with somewhat lowered expectations I was, largely, pleasantly surprised. This is not to say that I now think this is the best book ever, but I did think it was an interesting read.

Actually, there definitely was quite a lot frustrating about this book and pretty much all of it can be summed up in one word: Miranda. I hate just about everything about her. After she's turned into a vampire princess against her will, she just rolls with it. She happily eats people and calls the creepy, power-mad vampire who turned her Father, because that helps him fulfill his delusion. Miranda is entirely vapid, conceited and selfish.

Smith tries to set her up as an object of pity by showing her friend Lucy's devotion to her, by showing Zachary's love for her, and by suggesting she had a rough home life. The only one of these that's working for me is Lucy. Miranda's fate doesn't sadden me, but her best friend's does, desperately hoping that her friend has not died because of her desire to flirt. Zachary I actually find to be a somewhat interesting character, but his love for her is both creepy (what with the whole guardian angel, watching her grow from a child to a teen, watching her sleep thing) and ridiculous (she sucks [punned!], so why love her?). And, as for her rough home life, her parents got a divorce. Not to say that that is not painful, but her mother still loves her, and her dad, though distant, buys her awesome presents (now who's selfish? haha).

If you like Maggie Stiefvater's books, you may want to give Cynthia Leitich Smith a try. They have a lot of commonalities, I feel. Both have really clever ideas for paranormal YA romances and both write incredibly obnoxious female main characters. With both books I've read so far, I feel like the stories would have been so much more interesting had they focused on the male characters more.

Rating: 2/5

"I think I'd like my soul back

And only now I find I lost it
At all
Some how
You think you're fine
Until you land
On stones
And then you try to think what pushed you
I'll confess
I'm a mess inside
All my fun fell out.
...I think I'd like my soul back."

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Within You, Without You - The Beatles

A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Time Quintet, Book 3

Author: Madeleine L'Engle
Pages: 278
Publisher: Dell

This series seriously just gets stranger and stranger. In the third book in the series, L'Engle abandons her more scientific approach and goes instead for outright religious references and time travel, but not in a scientific way.

Let me go back. In between A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet, many years have passed. Meg and Calvin have married; Calvin is eminent in his studies, and Meg, having abandoned her excellent mathematical intelligence is pregnant with her first child.

The crisis of the book is brought forward at the opening when Mr. Murry receives a call from the President, asking for his help because a dictator, Mad Dog Branzillo, is threatening nuclear war. Mom O'Keefe, who came for Thanksgiving dinner, remembers a rune (essentially a prayer or phrase imbued with magic powers), which saves them from nasty weather (an over the top metaphor for impending doom). She gives this rune to Charles Wallace, and tells him he needs to stop Mad Dog.

He goes out to the star-watching rock to think about this, kything with Meg the whole time. There he meets a unicorn, whose mission it is to travel with him through time, which unicorns born from eggs can do by the way. They hop around randomly in time, and, at almost every time, Charles Wallace has to go 'within' a person there, which means that he can see things through there eyes and have a small impact on what they're doing. Basically, he just says the rune in all of the important places, so that he can make everything happy again.

Way to make a unicorn lame, Madeleine L'Engle. Also, what is with this rune business? Deus ex rune. Ugh. It is evident that L'Engle believes not in Christianity precisely, or, at least, not in Christianity as it is commonly worshiped. However, it is all bound up in her writing. This whole book is built around a family, who through generations have been reliving Cain and Abel. Lovely, I know.

Actually, that's not quite right. More like, two families who kept doing this, and the end result of their line was this Mad Dog Branzillo character. Of course, maybe that's because these two families kept intermarrying. I think the message I was supposed to get from this book was something about peace and goodness, but all I really got was that incest makes for badness, which I already fully believed.

When I was younger, I remember having loved the first book. I thought Meg and Calvin had this completely epic romance. They were one of the best couples in fiction, I think I thought at one point. Now, I have no idea why. There was only the slightest hint of romance in the first books. Then in book three they're married and pregnant. What the heck is that? Why would you skip the best freaking parts, L'Engle? And why can't Meg use her smarts that you spent the first two books proving she had?

Suffice it to say that I will not be reading Many Waters. It's been kind of fun revisiting these, but they're definitely not what I thought they were, which is another kind of entertaining. So sad when books are not nearly so good when read through the eyes of an adult. I really need to do a top ten list for that. :-P

Rating: 1.5/5

"We were talking
About the love that's gone so cold
And the people who gain the world
And lose their soul
They don't know, they can't see
Are you one of them?

When you've seen beyond yourself
Then you may find
Peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come
When you see we're all one
And life flows on within you and without you"

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A Case of You - Tori Amos

Tantalize, Book 1

Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Pages: 336
Publisher: Candlewick

Brief Summary:
Quincie's parents died and left her the family restaurant Fat Alberto's. The restaurant did okay for a while, but when a rival Italian place opened up nearby and they started losing all their customers but the regulars, her uncle, who's managing the place until she's 21, decides they need a gimmick to get people in. He chooses vampires, even though there hasn't been a definite vampire sighting in years. They're real but still more of a joke than anything else. While the preparations for reopening are still being completed, the chef is murdered. The suspect is her best friend, Kieren, who happens to be a werewolf (well, half of one anyway). The new chef is a bit weird and she only has a brief time to make him look like a proper vampire.

To get ready for Diabolical, I'm going through this series again. Actually, I've only read the first two. When I read Tantalize several years ago, I thought it was completely hilarious. I enjoyed all of the puns and silly things, like the various kinds of weres (were-armadillo, ha!). At that time, I did think the ending was pretty lame and awful.

Ironically, I'm now kind of going the other way. Whereas before I noticed the silly, light humor, the puns and such things, I now focus on the darkness and violence that I guess didn't bother me before. From my research this is the beginning of Cynthia Leitich Smith's gothic series, and I suppose I can see why. There are monsters lurking under the skin of just about everyone. Of course, the bit of humor on the top does help.

Quincie, aka Quince, does not make a great main character. She's kind of a dope and she does not trust her best friend nearly enough. She is easily swayed by arguments and does not think to do any research on her own. Also, I could definitely have done with a few less mentions of her beige thong; I get it already. On a side note, if my parents named me Quincie, I would be so pissed. Pretty much the only thing consistent from my first read is that I still think Kieren's the best character.

Ultimately, I was a little less into the book on this read-through, but I am still curious to find out what will happen in the later volumes. Although not perfect, Cynthia Leitich Smith does seem to be setting up an interesting world here.

Rating: 2.5/5

"In my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Well, I could drink a case of you, darling"

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What Sarah Said - Death Cab for Cutie

The Way We Fall
Fallen World Trilogy, Book 1

Author: Megan Crewe
Pages: 309
ARC Acquired from:

Brief Summary:
After a couple of years in Toronto, Kaelyn's family is moving back to the island where she grew up. The Kaelyn who's returning is different though. Shortly after leaving, she and her best friend, Leo, had a huge fight. They don't talk and now he's gone, studying in New York City. In Toronto, she was too intimidated to make friends; instead she threw herself into her wildlife studies. Now, back around people she knew, she's making an effort, but every day is a struggle. Or so she thought. Then people started dying of some awful disease and she realized that there are worse things than not having a social life.

In a lot of ways this book reminded me of Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, which I hated. Thankfully, I did not hate this one. The similarities are in the narrator and the scope of the story. Kaelyn and Miranda, at least at the outset are pretty similar characters, although Miranda is much more social. Both are whiny and a bit selfish at the beginning though.

Both stories are also written in a diary format, although Miranda writes hers to herself and Kaelyn writes to her friend Leo, in preparation for making up with him when he comes home or, once things start going to hell, for him to find once she's dead. Their tales focus on the way their lives are affected and have no real view to the world at large.

However, the big difference here is that The Way We Fall is, in my opinion, much better written, although employing a similar simple style. Kaelyn is not an outstanding girl; she's not extraordinarily smart or beautiful, and she's socially awkward. At the beginning, I found Kaelyn pretty annoying, although I did think it was really cool that Kaelyn wants to study animals. She was awesome in her passion, if nothing else. As the book went along, though, she really develops into a much stronger character.

So far as the reader knows, this disease outbreak is primarily limited to the island, meaning that the scale is much reduced from that of most dystopias. However, not too far into the outbreak, the government stops helping like they should be. Left to their own devices, people seem to do one of three things: try to save everyone, hide from everyone and everything, or descend into anarchy and violence. Mankind is, as is often the case in dystopian literature, as, or perhaps more, terrifying than the disease.

The Way We Fall also had a couple of awesome quotes, which I would like to include, although the reader should keep in mind that they could have been changed before publication (although I hope not).
  • In reference to the disease which is starting to become a problem: "It's like we're trying to fill up every second of silence with meaningless talk so we don't have to say anything real or scary."
  • This is why I come to like Kaelyn: "If I need to be saved, I'll do it myself. I think I can handle that."
Crewe should also be given credit for resisting the urge to make the disease turn people into zombies, which has already been done quite a bit. I think what she did is so much cooler.

Rating: 3.5/5

"'Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone will lift their heads
But I'm thinking of what Sarah said that "Love is watching someone die""

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I'm Sticking with You - The Decemberists

Leviathan, Book 3

Author: Scott Westerfeld
Illustrator: Keith Thompson
Pages: 537
Publisher: Simon Pulse

Despite having been somewhat disappointed with the Uglies series, mostly because I didn't care for the characters much, I have pretty much adored this series. In fact, I like them so much I've gotten both of my parents reading these books after me. Haha. Their complaint is that they get really tired of Westerfeld's invented slang, like 'bum-rag' and 'barking spiders,' the latter of which seems to particularly irritate. Personally, I find these things more amusing than annoying, but to each her own.

Anyway, Goliath is a good conclusion to the series, although the ending is a bit abrupt. Of course, to make the alternate version align with what happened in real life, he was somewhat constrained in what the ending of the tale could be. Westerfeld chooses to end, and I really don't see this as a spoiler, with the entry of the US into the conflict. Even though that is not, as I hope everyone well knows, the end of the war, but it works because it puts a nice cap to the tale of our heroes.

Reasons to love The Leviathan Trilogy:
  • Steampunkery!
  • Fabricated creatures and crazy metal contraptions...they may not always make sense, but they're just so cool.
  • Awesome art work, if you read the print version.
  • Prefer audiobooks? That's almost better, because those are narrated by the incomparable Alan Cumming.
  • You can learn a new vocabulary of swear words.
  • The lorises, which are just the most awesome little creatures.
  • A kickass female heroine, who's much stronger than the boy she loves.
  • Crossdressing!
  • A prince in disguise!
  • Nikola Tesla as a mad scientist, in fact the villain (of sorts) for book three.
Are these books perfect? No. However, they are still incredibly awesome and full of nerdy, action-adventure fun. Basically, if you ever got a kick out of history or fantasy, you should do yourself a favor and read these, starting with Leviathan.

Rating: 4/5

"We could go into the stratosphere
Soldiers fighting in the Cong
But with you by my side I can do anything
When we swing we hang past right and wrong

I'll do anything for you
Anything you want me to
I'll do anything for you
Oh, I'm sticking with you"

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Overture/Going Through the Motions from Once More, with Feeling

Fracture, Book 1

Author: Megan Miranda
Pages: 264
ARC Acquired from: Bloomsbury Children's Books via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Delaney Maxwell died for eleven minutes. She fell under the ice on a lake everyone thought was frozen over enough to be safe. Well, it wasn't. And she got stuck, and she had died by the time her best friend Decker managed to get her out again. By a miracle, though, he succeeded in bringing her back using CPR, breaking several ribs in the process. According to her brain scans, she should be in a permanent vegetative state or at least have substantial memory loss, but she doesn't. Despite all the abnormal spots in her brain, she's fine, except that she now seems to be able to sense death.

I completely loved this. Just loved it. The main reason is Delaney. She may not be an example of perfection or anything; she's not incredibly brave or beautiful, or imbued with some power that I desperately wish I could have. No, what I love about Delaney is how real she is.

Unlike most heroines, in YA or romance novels or mysteries or pretty much anything, Delaney is awesomely real. She mentions at one point that she has been putting on a bit of weight recently, after a sudden stop to her growth spurts (I can so identify with that; I shot up and then stopped.). Some people think she's gotten fat and some think she looks hot. Since she lacks athleticism and has no interest in working out, she watches what she eats, which she defines as eating what she wants and feeling guilty about it later. Amen, sister.

Delaney is also incredibly smart. That girl freaking loves homework. While she's in the hospital recovering, she is freaking out as much about her GPA and how she might lose the valedictorian spot as she is about her health. Another awesome thing about Delaney is that she loves libraries, like any good nerd does.

There's also something familiar in her relationships with people. The awkwardness of real connections is definitely there. Watching Decker and Delaney is imminently frustrating, but who hasn't been there or watched people not quite manage to admit to their feelings? The way that they get jealous and push one another away, avoiding the awkward dtr (defining the relationship) talk, is so true.

Even the way Delaney is swayed by guys she who express interest in her strikes me as authentic. Sure, it's not exactly role model behavior to make out with a guy you don't have any romantic feelings for just because he's looking at you a certain way does not mean it's not something a girl will do. All of those emotions are confusing and so life comes out complicated.

On top of all of that, there's also the whole vaguely paranormal plot line about death and life. Delaney's new power could be classed as paranormal, but I prefer to not class the book as fantasy and to think of it instead as her using a part of her brain humans usually do not have the capacity to.

If you love If I Stay by Gayle Foreman, you will likely adore this as well. The only thing I didn't like about this book: there's no sequel.

Rating: 4.5/5

"I don't want to be...
Going through the motions,
Losing all my drive
I can't even see, if this is really me
And i just want to be....

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