The Hidden Memory of Objects

30653927First Lines: My brother, Tyler, died three times: first in an abandoned building in Washington, D.C.; then in the back hall of a funeral home in McLean, Virginia; and finally on the stage of Ford’s Theatre, just a few feet from where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  I couldn’t blame myself for the first two, but the third one?  That was entirely my fault.

I’ve been really behind on my books from Edelweiss lately, and this was one of them.  I was interested in the premise but it wasn’t one that had been on my to-read list for ages or anything.  I’d just read the synopsis and thought it looked good.

Megan’s brother is dead.  Cops are saying that Tyler died of a drug overdose–possibly suicide–but Megan can’t believe it.  Determined to find the truth, Megan begins going through the things Tyler left behind, searching for answers.  As an artist, Megan knows the power of objects and the meanings they can hold.  But more than being an artist, Megan has developed the ability to see memories attached to the things her brother treasured…and they show a brother she never knew.  With the help of an artifact detective who shares her ability, Megan finds herself drawn into a world of personal and national traumatic memories.  And with a little help from a classmate and her brother’s friend, Megan finds the brother she lost…but is he the brother she recognizes?

This was…interesting. It took me a while to get into this book because I’ve been reading a lot of dark books lately (and that gets to me), so I had to distance myself a bit before I could actually enjoy it.

But enjoy it I did. This was a surprising read on a couple of levels.

I knew this was supposed to be a mystery, since Megan doesn’t really know what happened to her brother and why he died. But the mystery is actually good. There are unexpected twists. And it’s not always the focus of the story, so you don’t get burnt out on it before the end.

The whole supernatural Megan-can-see-an-object’s-history thing was a bit weird and I’m not sure it got explained well enough for me, but I bought into it. It became a fixture in this story and I really wanted to see how it would play out, even though it sometimes came across a bit cliche or just bizarre.

The characters are a huge selling point for this book. This is a family going through turmoil, with their 18 year old son dead and more questions than answers. That’s devastating, and the characters all react in different ways to their grief, just like real people. But more than that, even though there are so many people grieving, they have interesting motivations when it comes to living their lives. Megan has something to get out of bed for in the morning while you can see another character feeling like they don’t have that. The characters were flawed, but they were real.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this story was its fixation on Abraham Lincoln. Since this story is set in D.C. and Megan’s mom works at Ford’s Theatre, most of the characters have more than a passing interest in the past president. It’s kind of weird how obsessive it sometimes gets, but for the most part, it was really cool. As a history buff, I approve. (And there are so many facts in this that most people don’t know about the people surrounding the president!)

This was surprising. And it was those surprises that kept me coming back.

Throwback Thursday: Anna and the French Kiss

Hey guys!  It’s SUMMER and so while I’m reading so many new books, I sometimes interrupt all those new books to reread something off of my bookshelves.  After reading a few really dark, emotional stories about death, I needed a fun break.  And what should have caught my eye but Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.  So I thought I’d do a throwback review!

annaukI originally read this in February of 2011 during my freshman year of college and I hadn’t reread it since.  I’m really excited to compare my original review with my thoughts now!  (The original review will be in italics, but if you would like to read the actual review, you can find it here.  This was one of my first reviews, so don’t judge it too harshly.)

As strange as it sounds, I am very hesitant to give it as high a rating as I will.  It’s not because it’s bad (because it’s far from that), but because it has mirrored my first year in college with alarming accuracy.  And it’s forced me to see things I was much happier not facing.  

Even six years later, I still stand by this.  I spent my entire freshman year thinking I was in love with my best friend, just like Anna.  And we had one misunderstanding after another, just like Anna.  This book actually helped me say something to him about it.  (It kind of blew up in my face, but I don’t blame the book.)  Still, it was super eerie.

That’s probably part of the reason this book gets such good ratings.  Girls can always recall that one guy that they fell in love with even though they knew they shouldn’t.

Stephanie Perkins, in my opinion, has written the quintessential unrequited love story.  Never have I read another story that hits so close to reality when it comes to that mix of bliss and masochism that is unrequited love.  The characters are beautifully written and I love each and every one of them.

The pain Anna feels is raw (and mixed with my own, it’s a lethal combination).

I may have been a bit melodramatic, but Perkins has always excelled at writing emotions with such skill that it feels personal.  Sure, it didn’t hit me as hard this time as it did six years ago (I’m in a happy relationship at the moment, so no more unrequited love, thank God), but the emotions are still there.  I remember those feelings, as I’m sure nearly all of you do as well.  The feelings of betrayal, happiness, loneliness, lost-ness (I may be making up a new word there, but I’m an English teacher, so I can), and rightness when you’re with the right person.  And Perkins perfectly encapsulates them in Anna’s experiences.

What’s really awesome is that this summer, I’ve started teaching myself French and I can understand more of the French that pops up in this story now, and I get the French culture a little better.  The setting of this is probably why I picked this book in the first place out of the hundred others in my possession.  C’est trés belle en France oui?  Bien sûr!  (My French is still really basic, but I’m learning.)

Anyway, the setting of this book is gorgeous.  Not only is it in Paris, but Anna ends up visiting some of the beautiful landmarks in the city.  The Panthéon, Notre-Dame, many cafes around the city.  I just love how much culture is in this book.

Even after all these years, I still find that this book speaks on a level that is just so different from many of its contemporaries in the YA contemporary romance category.  It’s just different.  The characters are different and the situation is different.  This book totally deserves every rose I give it.

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)

81xxsrsppulFirst Lines: The scythe arrived late on a cold November afternoon.  Citra was at the dining room table, slaving over a particularly difficult algebra problem, shuffling variables, unable to solve for X or Y, when this new and far more pernicious variable entered her life’s equation.

Ok, let’s all agree that Neal Shusterman is an amazing author who is delightfully messed up.  (I mean this as a compliment.)  I’ve read a few of his previous books (Unwind, for example) and they are way creepy.  I love stories about grim reapers, so I desperately wanted to read this.  I just hoped it wasn’t going to give me nightmares.

Citra lives in a perfect world.  There is no such thing as poverty, no such thing as hunger, no such thing as depression or war.  Humanity has even conquered death.  In order to keep the population under control, the only ones who can end lives are scythes, who must follow specific guidelines about how they do it.  Citra and another boy, Rowan, are chosen to be apprentices to a scythe–a job neither of them wants.  They must master taking lives, or they could lose their own.  Who will become a scythe and who will die?

I initially liked the premise that this was about basically grim reapers, only they’re alive and revered like holy men or celebrities (it’s a fine line for some people).  I’ve read a lot of reaper stories, but most of them have to do with ghosts or people thinking they’re crazy.  Which is fine; I really enjoy those.  I probably should stop calling these “reapers” though because they aren’t actually what we think of as reapers.  They’re more like glorified murderers, but someone has to keep the population in line.

This is more of a dystopian/futuristic story, and that lost me a little bit, but I came around to it. I’m not really into sci-fi unless I know I’m getting into it ahead of time.  This was a surprise, though I can’t really say what I thought it would be.  But I eventually settled into the story and liked it.  It was really interesting.

The characters are really what drive the story. Citra and Rowan are clever, flawed, brutal, and compassionate. It’s a really intriguing mix of characteristics for our leads. But even more than that, we have compelling villains that don’t see themselves as villains, heroes who make mistakes, and people who are corruptible but are good at heart. I mean, these characters make mistakes and it feels real.  Just like people, you find yourself making excuses for a character because you know their actions don’t reflect who they are at heart.  That’s some good writing there.

This story tends to explore a lot of deep questions about life, death, and everything in between. It does slow down the action a bit, but it really helps set up the conflicts. And trust me, there’s plenty of action in this story. It’s just a bit more strategic about it.

There’s a lot of commentary here about our society and how our society could change with all these advancements in technology. It’s interesting, but from time to time I did skim over things. I tried not to, but I think it happened more often than I remember. But it was an accident! I’d only realize it later.

Really, this was just fun to read. There was a lot of action and interest, a lot of depth, and great characters. I’m really interested to see where this series goes.  I know it doesn’t exactly sound like it, but I had a hard time putting this down.  There are some really excellent twists in this story, and of course, excellent writing.  I can’t commend that enough.

My Ideal Reading Nook

Hey guys!  So last week I was asked by Arhaus to post about what I thought my ideal reading nook would look like.  And I thought it was an interesting post idea.  They asked me to find pictures of inspiration and that was just terribly difficult to look through all those beautiful libraries, but I think I rose to the challenge.

So let’s start!

The Bookshelves

Let’s be real.  Any avid reader knows that you need way more shelving than you currently have books because eventually you’re going to fill those shelves.  And built-in bookshelves are definitely my favorites.

home-library-design-reading-nook-with-bookcase-and-ladderI really like this one.  These shelves are built into the walls and follow even over the door frame.  I like the way that seems to fill up an entire wall and gives me three other walls to work with.  But that’s a ton of book space and even if I don’t have enough books to fill it right away, I certainly have photos and knick-knacks that I can use to fill in that empty space until I do.  Also, DO YOU SEE THE LADDER THAT LOOKS LIKE IT CAME OUT OF BEAUTY AND THE BEAST?!

The Window Seat

I admit, I don’t often use window seats to read.  I probably do more in the winter when I’m always cold, but I’m very pale and I burn easily whenever I’m in the sun.  But I do like having it as an option.  The views, the fresh air, it’s all gorgeous.

 

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This was my favorite of the ones I saw.  I need a wide window seat because I am a fidgeter.  When I read, I am always changing positions.  I sit cross-legged, I lean against a backrest, I lay down.  I’m all over the place, so I need a window seat that’s going to allow me to do that.  This one looks wide enough for me to manage whatever position I want to read in.  And I think it’s really awesome to have even more book shelving underneath the seat.  That’s a great way to get even more books in there.

Lighting

Obviously, reading at night means you have to have lighting.  You don’t want it to be too bright, but it can’t be too dark either.

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This looks so magical.  I know it’s for a kid’s room, but can this be for those young at heart too?  Something like this would be great if I was reading off of my Kindle, which is already back lit, but maybe not the greatest for an actual book.

track-lighting-adds-beauty-to-the-cozy-window-seat

This is probably the lighting that would work best for books or Kindles, at least for me.  I love the S-shaped light fixtures with the lamps you can turn in whichever direction you want.  I like that I have that option.  But I also really like that lamp to the side as well.  That looks really cool.

Furniture

So, some days the window seat just isn’t going to do it for you.  Or you have the monthly book club meeting at your place or just a couple of guests who want to read with you.  So you need other furniture as well.  And if I’m going to be reading for an hour or two at a time, I need something that will be comfortable.

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I like this for a few reasons.  I like how wide the arms of this chair are because it allows for mobility as I’m sitting on it, if I want to lean one way or another.  And I hate feeling like my elbows are pinned to my side by the arms of chairs.  I also like the ottoman that comes with this because it gives space to spread out and it just looks classy.

cozy-reading-nook-chairs-73-with-cozy-reading-nook-chairs

This is another one I like for the same reasons.  Stylish, comfy, and wide arms that allow for movement.

Decorations

To make things feel homey, I’m one of them who is guilty of using tons and tons of knick-knacks and figurines to fill space.

stenciled-rug

I really like this rug and this table.  The table is cute and solid, and it would easily match some of the other furniture and shelves I’ve picked.  (Though I am a bit nervous about all that white.  I like colors.)  But the rug is adorable.  I love the Moroccan pattern and I have a blanket of the same pattern.  They might go well together.

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I LOVE these book ends from Etsy.  That’s just awesome and so perfect for a reading nook.

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I’m a fan of multiple pictures that you put together, like these, and I think they would look beautiful along a long wall.  Put a little space between them and you’ve got yourself some gorgeous artwork.

Hopefully this has helped inspire your own reading nook (it has for mine!).  Is there anything I missed?  Leave your thoughts below!

Someone Else’s Life

10413869First Lines: Sunlight dances over the little girl’s dark curls as she toddles clumsily through the dry grass.  Her rosy cheeks dimple as she grins, her green eyes sparkling as she lunges sticky fingers toward the camera.  Suddenly she trips.

Alright, so this isn’t a current book.  It came out in 2012 and it’s been on my bookshelf for probably 3 years.  I bought it at a Half-Price Books sale the summer after I finished college and it’s been sitting around ever since.  Well, after reading a few weirder books, I wanted something a little more grounded in reality.

When Rosie’s mother, Trudie, dies of Huntington’s Disease, Rosie knows that life will  forever be changed.  Not only is Rosie now alone in the world, she also has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease that killed her mother.  But when Rosie tells her mother’s best friend, Sarah, that she’s going to get tested to see if she has the disease, Sarah tells her Trudie wasn’t her biological mother after all.  Devastated, Rosie sets out to find her real mother, even joining up with her ex-boyfriend for his gap year trip to Los Angeles.  But things don’t go according to plan, and Rosie will discover secrets, lies, and decisions that can change more lives than her own.

First of all, let’s just say that this book is British in origin (published by Simon & Schuster UK), which means the punctuation and some spelling choices are different than in America. This never hindered my understanding, but it threw me for a loop a few times when I’d see “kerb” instead of “curb” or “hoody” instead of “hoodie”.

Ok, so basically this book is a complete and total soap opera. So many twists and turns, so many secrets, so many loves-gone-wrong. I mean, it’s totally and completely melodramatic. But it was entertaining as all get-out. I mean, I was still reading after midnight because they teased a new twist and I had to know what was going on now.

This book has a plethora of characters, but only a few were done really well. And that was basically ok because there was so much going on in the plot. Rosie, obviously, was fleshed-out and real. You could understand why she makes the choices she does, even though there are tons of consequences. And there’s another character, Holly, who stood out to me a lot too. (Gee, I wonder why?  Could it be her name?) Same thing goes for her as for Rosie. You get her.

The narration was done a little differently than I’m used to, but it worked really well. For the first quarter or so of the book, Rosie is the only narrator, for chapters at a time. But after that, it begins to switch between Rosie and another character. Sometimes the chapters would be 8-10 pages in that point of view, sometimes it was 1-3. I’m usually not a fan of that, but it actually worked really well. It felt like that soap opera I mentioned, where the camera (or the narration) keeps flipping between the two stars. It was pretty seamless, I have to say.  It kept the action fast-paced.

I also really liked that this chose to focus so much of the story on Huntington’s Disease. I’d never heard of it before, but I was interested. I mean, we have books on cancer and depression and other mental illnesses. Why not have one about a genetic disease that affects over 30,000 people in the US each year and is just as devastating as those aforementioned illnesses? It was really interesting to read about the disease and how it impacts those around it, the ones who have to care for people with it.

Really, a great drama. Just expect lots of angst.

Library Love: A Shout-Out to Libraries Out There

Hey guys!  So recently I’ve been feeling a lot of love for my local library system and I thought I’d do a general shout-out to all the libraries out there because libraries are awesome and they deserve it.

So…hooray libraries!

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I just want to give you an example of some of the cool things libraries (mostly mine) do.

  1. Ebooks – any time I want, I can find ebooks on their website.  It’s a super sweet deal because I can get library books that I want without getting out of my pj’s.
  2. Music downloads – we have a program that allows library users to download up to 5 songs for free a week.  I’ve been told before this isn’t “cool” anymore, but I love it.
  3. Foreign Language programs – I’ve spent a few years now wanting to learn French because my ancestry is part French and after a few failed attempts with YouTube videos, I found this online program my library subscribes to called Mango.  It’s amazing and I’m finally starting to get the hang of French!  (Definitely not fluent after 3 weeks, but I’m managing.)
  4. Genealogy – my library system has an extensive genealogy collection from all over the country, not just my county or state.  It’s impressive.  I spend hours and hours there figuring out my family history and just learning.  (My latest find was a collection of yearbooks from all our local high schools dating back over 50 years.  I struck gold with family pictures!  And by “gold”, I mean “blackmail.”)
  5. Special Programs – like many libraries, my library does a summer reading program to encourage kids (and adults) to keep reading even though school’s out.  I did it every year as a kid.  But on top of that, they have these other programs they throw in to get people interested in the library.  They do concerts, tours of the archives, kids and teens projects, movie nights, author meet and greets, etc.  The list goes on.  It’s a great way to get to know a lot of new people and learn more about your community.  I recently took that archives tour and saw so much cool stuff there, including cuneiform from 1000-2000 BC.  History nerd alert.
  6. Book Sales – my library discovered in the last couple of years that people were willing to pay for the library’s rejected books, the ones that they bought too many copies of or were out of date, etc.  So they sell them for a quarter each.  And each summer, they hold something like a garage sale where you can go and browse thousands of books they’re selling.  It’s a great way for me to pick up a number of books for my classroom in good condition for super cheap.

I know every library is different.  Every library system is different.  I’m lucky enough to live in a place where my entire county is in the same library system and therefore shares everything (CDs, movies, books) between like a dozen different libraries.  Not everyone has that.  But libraries appreciate your patronage and that truly does help them get more books and more funding.  So please, show your libraries a little love this summer and go visit them.  Go to a program they put on.  Meet some new people.  It’ll be fun!

Dark Breaks the Dawn

29283751First Lines: The jeweled forest blurred into a tapestry of color as Evelayn sprinted away from the castle.  She whipped past the trees and bushes as though she was made from the wind that pushed at her back.

I received this as an ARC a few weeks back, but I failed at reading it before it came out.  C’est la vie.  I tried.  Anyway, I tried to read it close to its release date at the very least.  (It came out May 30th).  I loved Sara B. Larson’s prior fantasy series, so I had to give this a try.

It’s Princess Evelayn’s 18th birthday, and she can finally access the magic that runs through her kingdom and through her blood.  Everything is brighter and sharper and just more.  But what Evelayn wants more than anything is to spend her birthday with her mother, the Queen, who is fighting against King Bain of Dorjhalon on the war front.  King Bain, though, is plotting.  He wants control of both kingdoms and will do whatever he needs to to get it.  When his focus shifts to Evelayn, she’ll have to overcome her fears and her youth to fight against this corrupt king, relying on her advisers and the handsome Lord Tanvir for help.  But finding balance between the kingdoms comes with a steep price…is Evelayn still willing?

I felt like it took a really long time for this book to get on its feet. The action starts up pretty quickly, but that didn’t mean I understood what was happening. We’re in a fantasy world; we need some time to figure out what’s happening. It doesn’t just happen in a chapter, and that made some of the emotional parts in the beginning feel weird to me. I wasn’t invested in the story or the characters yet.  I kept putting it down to do something–anything–else.

I did like the characters. Evelayn is a worthy queen and her friends Tanvir and Ceren are great counterparts to her. Even the enemies were well-written. My only issue with the characters was that the story spent so long telling us that we couldn’t trust anyone that I eventually didn’t trust any of them. So when I found out who we could trust and who we couldn’t, it didn’t pack much of a punch because there was so much distance I’d created between us. It was like the story was trying to tell me not to get too attached from the beginning.  So I didn’t.

I felt like a lot of the action was also a bit slow or anticlimactic. Something tense would happen, but then it was quickly resolved. Which is fine a couple of times, but it meant that I didn’t feel a whole lot of reason to keep reading the book.  There wasn’t much suspense.  The action did pick up in like, the final chapter with some really awesome twists that made me want to pull out my popcorn and settle in. But, like I said, that was the last chapter or so. Not the whole book.

I don’t think Larson is a bad writer. I think she’s actually pretty good at crafting a good story. I just wasn’t particularly sold on this one. I’m not sure if it helped or hurt that I don’t know the story of Swan Lake, which this is based on.