Normal is the Watchword

NITW_Cover_finalpurple6-210x300First Lines: Normal.  That’s what every teenager both craves to be and also hates to be.  It’s nice to feel normal when you are surrounded by strangers and dying to fit in.

I was given a copy of this by the author to read and review.

Alright.  So I was approached about this in the hay-day of my Supernatural obsession this summer.  (Not that I’m not still obsessed with the show, but it has cooled now that I’ve seen 8 seasons.)  Anyway, this book clearly had a supernatural edge to it, and I wanted to see what would happen.

For most of her life, Juniper has lived on the fringe of social circles.  While she wants to be normal, she is more observant than her classmates, and that makes fitting in difficult sometimes. Armed with her camera, Juni sees the world differently than others.  Her favorite subjects are Carrie, her best friend, and Darius, the mystery soccer player who is too charming for his own good.  But when Juni witnesses something that wasn’t meant to be photographed, normal life is no longer an option for her.  Now, every moment is about real survival, not social survival.  Then Carrie goes missing.  Suddenly alone, Juni turns to Darius for help.  Mysteries start unfolding and it seems there may be a war of supernatural origins about to start…

This was a pretty exciting read.  I mean, I constantly struggled to find a place to stop.  Even when I had to do normal things like, you know, eating, I struggled to turn off my Kindle and walk away.  The mystery (or mysteries, since there is definitely more than one) kept the story interesting and entertaining.  I kept reading in huge chunks because, really, isn’t that the only way to read a book?

I will say that the beginning a bit slow.  The first quarter or so of the book is a bit of a drag as everything gets set up.  It seemed like it too forever to get to the action.  I won’t say that I was bored with the story, but I was definitely anxious to get to the conflict.  And here I go, inserting my teacher words into my reviews.  Oy vey.

There was actually a very cute and sweet romance in the story as well.  Juni is a strong heroine who isn’t looking for a guy to make her whole.  (Just saying, I loved that.  Girls need more role models like this.)  Darius is sensitive and caring while carrying his own strength.  They work well together, and I liked seeing them struggle to find out what exactly their relationship was.  I think too many stories just jump right into the relationship and don’t do justice to the awkwardness of new relationships.  This had awkward moments that were still sweet.

Again, there are a few little issues here as well.  First of all, there were a lot of moments in the romance where I went, “Um, this happens in Twilight too.”  It just made some of the sweeter scenes feel a bit cliche.  So while I still liked them, they just didn’t feel as original.  Also, Juni is a bit cerebral when it comes to Darius.  She tends to think about him and then question what she’s thinking about and then think about it some more.  That was a little annoying, but she eased up on it later in the story.

So…yeah.  I think I’ve covered most everything.  This was really exciting and gripping once I got into the story.  The characters are lovely and I really look forward to what comes next.

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Chasers of the Light

imagesSo this is a little different from books I normally read.  As you probably noticed, I don’t have a first line for this…because it’s a book of poems.  I was approached by the publisher to read and review an ARC of this book by Tyler Knott Gregson and I quickly accepted, having seen a number of his poems surface on Pinterest.  And I was interested to see what was inside this little book.  (Sorry the cover picture is small and blurry.  If I find a better one, I’ll change it out.)

I really can’t do much of a summary here either.  These are poems that Gregson, a poet and photographer, wrote on his typewriter.  These poems are shown in their original glory in this book, on the receipts and book pages they were originally typed on.  It’s kind of an interesting concept.

I thought these poems were fantastic.  I kept finding it impossible to put them down.  Some of the poems are simple, five line deals that convey a single thought.  Some are longer and discuss an event or feeling at length.  But they were all interesting.  And not only were they a joy to read, they were fun to look at too.  Pictures of mountains, lakes, old receipts that you can sort of make out what they say…  They were an element of fun added to the poems.

All of the poems were quite good.  Gregson has a way of looking at the world that connects two usually unrelated items.  He twists things so the poems don’t always go the way the reader thinks they will.  For example, one of the poems talks about a man having blisters on his feet from dancing…with a ghost, a memory.  Which is a really cool statement and one that very clearly paints a picture.  It’s a lovely and startling twist.

Everything he wrote about just seemed to click into place in an unexpected pattern.  I can’t help repeating myself on this.  There really was something special about these poems.  I wrote down about five of them in my quote book because they were just that good.

And so many of them are terribly romantic.  Sure, others were about loss or the hope for a new love, but the romantic ones were my favorite.  They were tender and sweet and so many other things I can’t put into words.  Forget having a guy quote me Shakespeare or Neruda, find me a guy who can quote Gregson.  He’d have me hook, line, and sinker.

 

Boys Like You

First Lines: My gram told me once when I was eleven that I could do anything.  She’d been very matter of fact as she poured us each an iced tea on a steamy afternoon.

I had this sitting on the shelf from the library forever.  I mean, I wanted to read it, but I thought it was going to be dark and depressing for me.  And after watching If I Stay, who really needs another reason to run back to the tissue box?  But I read it anyway just to see if it was any good.

One mistake can change everything.  For Monroe, that one mistake tore her family apart.  There’s a hole in her heart that nothing and no one can fill.  A summer in Louisiana with her grandmother is not going to change that.  How can it?  Then Nathan comes along.  Nathan, a boy who is suffering from his own tragic mistake, can’t seem to get on with his life.  He knows it should be him in that hospital bed, not his best friend.  Nathan was driving, after all.  He doesn’t deserve forgiveness, and some girl from New York isn’t going to convince him otherwise.  …Or could they both be wrong?

Right off the bat, after I started reading, I noticed this reminded me of Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles.  Troubled teenagers, somewhat crude language, and very real issues being dealt with.  I mean, these issues (in both stories) are just brutal on the characters.  And I actually ended up really liking that about these books.

Back on track.  I was thrilled that this book wasn’t so much about the dark moments the characters experienced so much as it was about growth, hope, and forgiveness.  These characters aren’t anywhere near the same people at the end of the story as they were at the beginning.  I really love character development like this, so I may have had a nerd moment or two with this.

I really liked the characters of Nathan and Monroe.  They were different while still being interesting.  Monroe, a New Yorker in Louisiana for the summer, is completely withdrawn after her tragic mistake.  She doesn’t say flirty things or beat around the bush when she’s talking to people.  She’s blunt and calls it like she sees it.  It felt honest.  And Nathan, a musician struggling with his own demons, is rough around the edges while still being a good guy.

I do want to emphasize that the book is kind of crude at times.  Probably not suitable for younger YA audiences.  It’s racy.  And I mean, it’s in other YA books.  It’s not like this is the first book to announce that teenagers think about sex.  But it surprised me that the topic kept coming up in more detail than YA usually does.  It wasn’t romance-novel level, but you get the idea.

This was a really cute read once I got into it.  The characters were great, the themes fantastic, and the plot interesting.  I read most of it in one sitting.

The Wicked Within (Gods & Monsters, #3)

First Lines: The crunch of our shoes on asphalt, leaves, and debris was loud in the quiet of Coliseum Street.

When I wasn’t watching movies this weekend or getting caught up on my grading, I was binge-reading.  Apparently, this is going to be a thing from now on, since my reading time is limited during the school year. I physically could not get enough of words.  All day yesterday, I was consuming any books I could get my hands on.  This was the first one I finished.

*Potential Series Spoilers*

After having temporarily beating Athena, Ari is desperate to break the curse on her family.  Her only lead is the Hands of Zeus, an ancient relic that the ruling class of New 2 keeps in their possession.  But if there’s one thing Athena wants, it’s the Hands of Zeus. And what Athena wants, Athena gets…and woe be to those who cross her.  But before either of them gets the relic, it goes missing.  Leads are slim to none.  Ari’s life, as well as the lives of her friends, rest on her finding the relic first.  Can she save those she cares about?

Alright.  So it’s been a while since I’ve read the previous books.  I’ll fess up to it.  But slowly, I fell back into the story.

There were a lot of twists and turns that made the whole thing really enjoyable.  I liked that there was always something going on, as well as the few perspective switches from Ari to Sebastian.  That extra perspective added so much to the story in such a short amount of time.

I really liked the characters in the story too.  I remembered Ari and Sebastian, at least, but I kind of forgot the others.  It was nice to re-meet them.  But the best thing was that the characters were always changing and surprising me.  Even the villains weren’t always what they seemed.

While there was a lot of action in the story, I did think the ending was a bit tamer than I thought it would be.  There’s all this excitement and it just builds and crescendos…and then just kinda leveled off.  I mean, it was still super exciting, but I kept waiting for a twist that never came.

And I know I’ve said in the past that I actually enjoyed the cursing in this story, that I thought it added a level of authenticity and honesty.  Well, now I’m changing my tune.  It was kind of a turn-off.  I mean, I get it.  There’s really terribly things happening and in the heat of the moment, a few bad words fly out.  But this was excessive.  And unnecessary.  Do we really need it all?

A really interesting tale.  I loved that it tackled the tale of Medusa and wove it into a completely new story.  I just happened to lose a few threads of the story over time.

If I Stay (The Movie)

Hi, lovelies!  I am SO EXCITED to share with you what I thought of If I Stay!  I went with a couple of my best friends and let’s just say it was something none of us will forget for a while.

(Do I really need to do a blurb for what this is about?  Ok, I’ll make this quick.  Girl & her family are in a car crash, girl needs to decide if she wants to stay or if she wants to move on to the next world with her family.  DONE.)

Right.  So as you may recall, I reread this book a few weeks ago to prep for this.  If you’re looking for a 100% faithful adaptation, this isn’t quite it.  It does stay very faithful to the story, absolutely, but it does take some liberties.  And in a way, I almost think I liked this more than the book.  (*Gasp!*)  Let me explain.

First of all, as if we didn’t already know this, Chloe Grace Moretz is a genius and she plays Mia in a way that is honest and heartfelt.  You know what Mia’s feeling because you can see it on her face.  Her Mia is shy and self-conscious and still free-spirited when she wants to be.  

And Jamie Blackley (Adam)…he was a joy to watch and not just because he’s good looking, though that certainly didn’t hurt anything.  This Adam was full of raw emotions that he usually unleashed through his music, but he was also somewhat aloof.  And he’s such a charmer, almost always saying the perfect thing at the right time.

Right.  So casting was great, not just for these two.  The movie stays true to the book in that it flips between the present and the past.  As my friend put it, “It feels you up with joy [the past] and then it rips your heart out [the present] and then it does it again.”  It’s so true.  Whenever you start feeling emotional, it jumps to something a little happier.  For the first half of the movie, that keeps you away from the tissues.  After that, though…

One thing this movie does is it elaborates on the other perspectives in the story.  We learn more about Mia’s parents.  We learn more about Adam’s history (which may be in Where She Went and I just don’t remember it).  These things are small, but they add so much heart to the story.

I have to say it.  There’s one thing this movie does way better than the book, simply because of its medium: the music.  It’s one thing to read about Adam and Mia playing their respective instruments.  It’s entirely another to be blown away by Mia’s playing or Adam’s vocals.  As someone who has never been musically gifted beyond singing, it’s so cool to see and hear musicians at their best.

A requirement of this movie is that you must have tissues.  It hits everyone in the theatre.  Throughout the movie, there were sniffles coming from all directions.  And it seemed to hit people at different times too.  I know what affected me deeply wasn’t the same as what affected my friends.  For nearly the entire second half of the movie, you will be crying with brief reprieves along the way.  My friends and I left the movie feeling emotionally drained, but in a good way.  It’s a touching movie with so many tender moments that just rip your heart out.

I highly recommend this movie.  Just know that you’re gonna be a hot mess by the time you leave the theatre.

Spotlight Friday (116)

Well hello again, lovelies!  Long time, no see, yeah?  It’s been only about a week since I last posted, but it feels like it’s been forever!  I miss you guys.  But even though my weeks are now filled with grammar and preteens, my weekends are still all about reading and spreading book news with you!  Here are three new books coming out soon!

Winterspell by Claire Legrand

Release Date: September 30, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads):

The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince . . . but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums.

New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor’s ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother’s murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.

Her home is destroyed, her father abducted–by beings distinctly not human. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they’re to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets–and a need she can’t define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won’t leave Cane unscathed–if she leaves at all.

Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.

What’s To Like: So I’ll freely admit that I’ve never been a fan of The Nutcracker ballet, but I think this looks totally boss.  I love that it’s a dark twist on an old classic Christmas story.  While I likely won’t read this until November or December, I am very much looking forward to this.  I want to see how dangerous Anise (the sugarplum fairy?) is.  Kind of a complete role reversal, if I remember correctly.

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

Release Date: September 9, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads):

On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road.

Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect? Amy Zhang’s haunting and universal story will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and Jay Asher.

What’s To Like: This is one of the few novels where I actually say I’m interested in the form and structure of it almost as much as I am of the story itself.  It interests me in that it says it’s nonlinear and told from an unexpected narrator (not that I’m expecting a specific one at this point, but it could be like, Death or something a la The Book Thief).  Considering I like all three of the authors listed at the end of the summary, I think I’m going to like this.

My review of Falling Into Place

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Release Date: September 9, 2014

Summary (from Goodreads):

Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets Finn, a gorgeous, enigmatic young lord who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility, a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t—power, money, status…and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, dangerous secrets that the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits and her determination, can stop him.

Kiersten White captured readers’ hearts with her New York Times bestselling Paranormalcy trilogy and its effortless mix of magic and real-world teenage humor. She returns to that winning combination of wit, charm, and enchantment in Illusions of Fate, a sparkling and romantic new novel perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare, The Madman’s Daughter, and Libba Bray.

What’s To Like: Kiersten White is my hero and I just know this is going to be awesome.  I love her characters and she always does a good job with her novels.  I love the humor and, though this is the first book of hers to go historical, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be epic.  I am very much looking forward to meeting Finn and seeing what’s so special about him.

My review of Illusions of Fate

If I Stay (If I Stay, #1)

First Lines: Everyone thinks it was because of the snow.  And in a way, I suppose that’s true.

I was simply astounded when I realized I didn’t have a review up for this book.  Then, when I looked back at my Goodreads records, I noticed it was because I first read this book back in 2008 and again in 2010, which was still a year before I created my blog.  So, in honor of the movie coming out Friday, I had to post a review about this after I reread it.

Mia never expected to be faced with the choices she’s currently facing.  Does she pick music, her first and truest love, or Adam, her boyfriend and the one who makes her the happiest she’s ever been?  But one February morning, everything changes.  Now, her old hard decisions don’t matter.  The only one that does is this: Will Mia stay or will she go?

This is one of those books I knew changed my life the moment I read it.  Even though it’s been six years, I still remember reading this the first time.  I cried hard.  Now, when I just reread it yesterday, I didn’t cry.  But I think that’s because I know the story and I knew how it was going to end.  However, I know the movie’s going to tear me to pieces.  The trailers make me cry, you guys.

I don’t envy Mia her situation in the slightest, but I admire her courage.  This is truly the hardest decision anyone could ever have to make (or at least the hardest decision I can ever fathom anyone could have to make).  Mia is a strong character, even though she doesn’t think she is.  She’s a quiet cello player who would prefer to blend in with the wallpaper than stand out in a crowd.  And I can relate to that.  I respect her for that.

The story flips back and forth between the present and the past, as Mia struggles to come to terms with what happened and what it means for her now.  So many things stir up old memories and she relives them as she goes along.  While it’s sometimes frustrating because it’s constantly bouncing between the two, it really does help us understand Mia better.  I don’t think the story could work any other way.

This story is just so full of wisdom and heart.  I love it so much.  I even have a poster that I’ve put up in my classroom for this book.  I’m definitely seeing this movie as soon as I possibly can.