The Giver (The Giver, #1)

Image result for the giverFirst Lines: It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.  No.  Wrong word, Jonas thought.  Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen.

This book has caught my attention since it was on the Great American Reads list last summer and did so well.  And then this month, this was an option for my students to read in a book project, so I decided I needed to read it.

In the community, everything is planned to perfection.  Your job, your spouse, your kids.  Everything big has been decided for you and no one minds because it creates stability.  There’s no unemployment, no divorce, no fighting…and no choice.  Everyone is the same, except for Jonas.  At twelve, it is time for Jonas to begin his training for his future career.  But while everyone else is getting normal jobs, Jonas is chosen for something really special.  He begins his work with a mysterious man known only as The Giver and discovers that power lies in feelings.  And when someone he loves is threatened, Jonas has to decide how far he’s willing to go to break society’s rules.

Ok, I know that some of what I say is going to be controversial here, since it’s such a beloved book. But I had a hard time getting into the story.

First of all, I thought everything started off so slow. I know it’s world building (and there were definitely interesting parts to that), but I didn’t really get into the story right away. I couldn’t connect. I didn’t start connecting until we finally got to the Ceremony of Twelve.

I liked the scenes involving The Giver and Jonas. Those were an interesting commentary on our world and theirs. And I liked seeing the way Jonas suddenly saw his world after. That was all really interesting.

But I felt like the plot wasn’t full enough. Everything, to me, felt rushed. I didn’t feel like we saw enough with the Giver, that we saw why their world was the way it was. And that ending? Totally abrupt. I didn’t care for that, even though I think it’s supposed to be that way for a reason.

Maybe I’m just outside the demographic. Maybe because I didn’t have an attachment to it as a child, it doesn’t appeal to me as much. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t my book.

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Ashes in the Snow (2018 movie)

Image result for ashes in the snowThis is the movie adaptation of Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray novel.  I saw the trailer for this a few months ago and completely freaked out.  This is one of those books I reread every couple of years and I love it so much.  So to have a movie on it?  I’m in.  But it didn’t have a wide release and I found it on accident on a streaming service my library has.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Lina is a young girl growing up in Lithuanian in 1941, just as Stalin is invading most of Eastern Europe.  Her family is taken by the NKVD and sent to various work camps in the heart of the Soviet Union.  With her father separated from them, Lina tries to hold on to hope that she’ll see him again while struggling to survive.  It’s a journey spanning years, but if Lina’s going to survive, she’s going to need all the help–and hope–she can get.

I want to say that before I watched this, I saw a review that warned me die-hard fans were going to be disappointed because the movie changed things.  That was my attitude going into watching this.

I don’t want to say that I was disappointed, though.  Obviously, I knew events would have to be changed for the movie.  Time constrictions being what they are, obviously things are cut.

But the movie was…kind of weird.

First of all, and I’m not entirely sure why this unsettled me so much, there’s no voice-over narrator.  As events happen, there’s no narrator explaining what’s going on or what Lina’s feeling.  And I get that these events are chaotic and that needs to be shown, but I was wigged out about the lack of narrator.  I think it’s because there were long stretches of unexpected silence, and that doesn’t happen very often in movies.

And the plot was actually really true to the book, with the exception of leaving things out.  For the most part, I was able to mentally check off what was going to happen next and I knew where we were in the book.  I thought some parts were going to be different to avoid showing some of the brutality (the movie’s rated PG-13), but actually, it was more brutal and disturbing than I thought it would be.  It does not shy away from some of the realities of their situation.

What was a little different were the roles of Lina’s mother Elena and Nikolai Kretzsky.  In the book, Lina is our only narrator.  In the movie, we see events where something happens to Elena or where Kretzsky is with the other commanders and Lina is nowhere in sight.  In a way, I liked that.  I liked seeing some of the events that the book only alludes to because Lina isn’t there to see it happen.  But some of Kretzsky’s scenes are the most disturbing of the entire movie.

The one thing I was disappointed with was how small of a role Andrius had.  I know he’s not the most prominent person in the book, but he’s a vital character.  And here…he’s not.  That would be one thing I would change.

It wasn’t the most faithful or the best adaptation of a book that I’ve seen.  But it wasn’t bad.  Events that readers adore and/or remember are there.  The pocket watch.  Ona.  Drawing the Commander.  The grueling train ride.  It was nice to see a lot of these moments brought to life, but I kind of think maybe I’ve read this book too many times to be enamored with the movie.  I have solidified my own mental pictures of scenes.

The Perfect Date

Image result for the perfect date(A Netflix Original movie)

I’m not going to lie–I totally found this by accident.  My Netflix popped this up as that first trailer you can watch after you log in and I thought it looked interesting.  So I wanted to try it.  Imagine my lack of surprise when I realized it was based on a YA book.  (Let’s be real, YA is where it’s at.)

So.  Brooks Rattigan is a high school senior desperate to get into Yale.  However, money is incredibly tight, so when he overhears a classmate complaining about taking his cousin Celia to homecoming and being paid to chaperone her, Brooks offers to take his place.  It’s a quick way to make money, right?  And Brooks quickly realizes there’s a market for his services as a Stand-In date.  With the help of his friend Murph, they make an app that lets girls customize their date with him.  But, as Brooks soon finds out, being a Stand-In means losing a part of yourself.

I thought this was really cute.  (And CLEAN!  Well, like almost entirely.  Like 2 curse words, but for a Netflix YA movie?  CLEAN!)  I make a big deal out of that because I like to be able to point my students/friends’ older kids toward great YA movies and I can’t with a lot of them.  So this is huge.

Right.  So I thought it was really cute.  Brooks (played by Noah Centineo) is charming and funny.  He’s driven and intelligent, meaning he knows how to get the job done and will go to any length to do it.  It was funny watching him get into some truly bizarre situations.  But he could also completely turn it off and be genuine and sincere, which was delightful.

But I was especially taken by Celia.  Her take-no-prisoners attitude was such a fun foil to Brooks.  Celia knew who she was and what she wanted–whether that means wearing Doc Martens to homecoming or telling someone exactly what she thought of them.  She is confident but insecure.  And that was a fun dichotomy.  (Oh my God, where is this SAT vocabulary coming from today??)

The plot, while fairly predictable, was still fun.  I knew what I was going to get going into this, so it didn’t bother me.  And, this being more true for the last half hour or so of the movie, it tries to overhaul some of the tropes you’re expecting.  While it doesn’t completely do away with them, it does kind of flip them on their head.  There were a few changes that I really liked.

The acting in this was pretty good, barring the intentionally cheesy moments.  Honestly, Centineo was pretty amazing and I’m not agog over him.  His ability to play so many different personalities in this was so fun to watch and I was quickly impressed by that.

So grab the popcorn or chocolate covered pretzels and settle in with a friend to watch this.  It’s a lot of fun.

The Wood

Image result for the wood chelsea bobulskiFirst Lines: Dad tells me the wood is not a place to play.  It is a place for business, and it is more powerful than I could ever imagine.  He tells me I cannot forget the rules of the wood.  There are three.  Do not travel from the paths.  Do not linger after dark.  Do not ignore the calling.

I found this at the library and I picked it up because it looked creepy.  I like creepy.  And it looked sufficiently different to be interesting.

Winter never wanted to be a guardian of the wood, but when her father vanishes one morning, it falls to Winter to make sure any accidental travelers who come through the portals make their way back home.  But the wood is poisoned and is turning into something far more sinister.  Leaves ooze a black ink.  Shadows linger.  Winter, with the help of Henry who comes from the 18th century England and knows more than he should about the wood, needs to put the wood in order and figure out what’s actually going on before people die.

What I liked about this was the mix of genres. It is a bit like a fantasy, with strict rules for protocol or you could die. It’s tinged with paranormal as Old Ones (fae) are in charge of the Wood. And it’s also mixed with some historical fiction as Henry comes from the past and has to acclimate to the present. I liked that these genres blended together so seamlessly.

And I liked the relationship between Winter and her mother. With the disappearance of Winter’s father, things are tense between her and her mother. It was well-done because it felt real–the distance, the lost feeling, the fear that something could happen to Winter, but with the underlying love of family. That was easily the best relationship in the whole book and it’s not often I say that.

The romance and the plot were decent. I mean, they didn’t bowl me over. The plot’s a bit predictable and it feels rushed at times, though I still enjoyed seeing certain parts of it unfold. The romance, if I may call it that, was a little bit clunky, though it had moments of surprising realness.

And this book really wasn’t creepy at all.  All that hype for something that was cool in a dark way but definitely not scary in the least.  That was disappointing.

Since this is a standalone and not a series (a rarity in fantasy, it seems), it was kind of weird the way it ended. Everything felt hurried because it was all wrapped up in a single book. I understand that it needed to be that way; I’m just apparently not used to it. And it’s not the book’s fault.

There wasn’t anything I openly disliked about the book. The bare bones of it are actually pretty good and execution wasn’t bad either. It was just that certain tidbits felt off-kilter to me.

Courting Darkness (Courting Darkness Duology, #1)

Image result for courting darknessFirst Lines: As I stand on the battlements of the besieged city, looking out at the disarray before me, it is clear the god of Death has taken to the field.  While this could be said of any battle–death and war are old friends, after all–today He rides a black horse, a pale-haired rider hunkered down in front of him.

It’s been a few months ago now, but when I found out that this book was coming out, I pretty much lost any composure I had at the time.  His Fair Assassin series is one of my favorites (I reread it constantly) and this being a continuation on that series, you’re darn tootin’ I was going to read this.  (I’m not entirely sure where I just pulled “darn tootin'” from…my apologies.)

Sybella, a daughter of Death, has worked hard to serve Him as his hand of justice.  In accompanying the duchess of Brittany to France, they’re always surrounded by enemies–something Sybella is more than used to.  But Sybella has a new mission: protect her younger sisters from having the same abusive childhood she had.  With this taking up so much of her time and energy, Sybella needs help to protect the duchess.  Her only hope is two novitiates that have been buried deep in the French court for the last five years–if she can figure out who they are.  Genevieve has been at court for so long that she barely remembers who or what she’s supposed to be fighting for.  Her only friend of late is the prisoner that everyone else has forgotten about.  When tragedy strikes Genevieve’s world, her only recourse is to take her fate into her own hands, even if it means ignoring the convent that raised her.  As Sybella and Genevieve’s lives move ever closer, everything they hold dear could be lost if their timing is even just a little bit off.

This was pretty much what I had hoped it would be. Most of our favorite characters are back (with Sybella and Beast being the two we see the most of), but we also get to meet Genevieve, a novitiate who has been biding her time in the French court for the moment her first assignment would reach her. And in the meantime, she finds a man close to death in a dungeon…because that’s what these daughters of Mortain do more often than not.

For as much as I do genuinely like Sybella and Beast, I was more desperate for Gen’s story once we got started. I liked the novelty, the newness of it all. I liked seeing her background and how that made her who she is. That’s what I loved so much about the other books–we saw their distinct personalities and how their lives had shaped them into what they were. We already knew who Sybella was, so that wasn’t as much fun initially. Though I will admit her story got a whole lot more interesting after about the halfway point.

It took a little while for me to really get into this story, and not for lack of interest. It was just that, between two narrators (Gen and Sybella), it took a long time to get both of their stories rolling. It’s the nature of the beast. Two narrators means two stories in one.

In all, though, this contained everything I love about this world/series.  It plays on the idea of gender roles, since we have female assassins who are more than capable of taking care of themselves in a fight and don’t appreciate anyone telling them what to do.  But we also have lead men who respect this–in fact, most of the time they even encourage this independence.  It’s the minor characters (both male and female) who try to make our assassins fit the typical mold.

If you enjoy drama, court intrigue, suspense, and a little bit of romance, this is the book and series for you.

I absolutely adored this. This story was awesome and I’m really excited to see what the next book brings. I have high hopes for it.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Things That Make Me Pick Up a Book

Hey everyone!  So even though I’m just getting settled into my new house, I’m still on Spring Break and I literally want to do nothing but talk about books.  It’s ridiculous.  So I’m going to embrace my obsession for the time being.

So today’s Top Ten theme is things that make me pick up a book.  And seeing as I just got 5 new books from the library today when I wanted to pick up like none (I know, silly me), I think I’m well versed on this.

Top Ten Things That Make Me Pick Up a Book

1. The Title

Bar none, this will get my attention first.  The title tells you so much about the book.  A book called The Art of Falling is going to have a very different feel to it than a book called A Curse So Dark and Lonely.  I tend to stay away from the very long, silly titles like The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.  Especially right now, I am totally digging fantasy novels and suspense, so I know those titles aren’t going to bring it.

2. The Author

I have a really good memory for authors I’ve read before, so that’s something that definitely plays into my picks.  If I liked something else that author wrote, why not pick up their next book?  That’s especially true of contemporary romance writers, like Kasie West and Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson–I loved many of their other books and I will probably pick up their new ones without reading the blurb.

3. The Cover Art

Let’s not lie–everyone judges books by their covers.  That’s kind of the point.  And cover art is fabulous.  There are some amazing, fascinating covers out there and I do love looking at them before I’ve read a book and trying to figure out what it means.  The harder it is for me to figure it out, the more interested I am in reading it.

4. The Genre

I absolutely choose books based on their genres.  It’s not something I’m doing necessarily to rule books out without giving them a chance, but I know what I like.  I know that, like right now, I’m in the mood for fantasy.  This’ll last probably 2-3 more months and then I’ll be on a different kick.  And because my genre love changes, I do try to expose myself to as much in that genre as possible while I’m on that kick because I know I’ll find some things there I wouldn’t have normally picked up.

5. My Mood

My mood plays a huge role in what I pick up.  Like if I’m in a relationship, I’m going to avoid books like How We Broke Up or if I’m tired of seeing pictures of couples on Facebook, I’ll avoid romances for a while.  If I’m feeling ansty and angry, I go for books that have a lot of action in them–I want to root for someone like Tris Prior or Katniss who can kick butt when maybe my life isn’t letting me do that at the time.  So I try to take stock of my mood before I start a new book.

6. The Length of the Book

I have a wooden plaque in my library that reads “I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie” and it’s true.  I know a lot of people–my students especially–like super short books.  But I’ve learned that longer books have what I crave most: character development, slow burning plots/romances, and a fleshed-out plot with probably multiple subplots to keep my attention.  I’m not saying I never read shorter books, but I’ve just learned what I like.

7. If It’s Faced Out

This goes back to the cover art one, but I like to see books.  I like to see what it looks like as I walk up to a shelf.  My eyes naturally go there because the cover is easier to read than one that is only spine-exposed.  It doesn’t determine for sure whether I take it or not, but it does help.

8. Displays

I love themed displays.  When my library does a themed display (Rainbow Covers!  Winter!  Summer Romance!), I always have to take a look, even if that’s not what I’m in the mood for.  I just have to know what someone else has chosen as a recommendation, even if it was only because the cover was purple or something.  They still chose it.

9. C O L O R S

Speaking of colors, I love eye-catching, colorful covers.  A ton of books right now are black or dark, and that definitely adds to the suspense and mystery they create, but there’s something to be said about a cover that just makes you happy by looking at it.

10. The Blurb

Let’s not forget that, most importantly, the blurb is going to be the deciding factor here.  No matter how much I love the cover, the author, the title, and all the rest, if the blurb doesn’t do it for me, I’m not picking it up.  Why bother with it if it’s crap that’s been nicely decorated?  It’s not worth it.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely, #1)

Image result for a curse so dark and lonelyFirst Lines: There is blood under my fingernails.  I wonder how many of my people I’ve killed this time.

I’m pretty sure even a casual visitor of my blog here can figure out in about .4 seconds that Beauty and the Beast is probably my favorite story.  And you would be absolutely correct.  So when I heard about another retelling of it, well, sign me up.

Prince Rhen used to have all of Emberfall in the palm of his hand.  But after making a horrible mistake, a powerful enchantress curses him to repeat the autumn of his 18th year over and over again.  To break the curse, he just needs a girl to fall in love with him.  Should be easy…until he learns that he turns into a vicious beast at the end of every autumn.  As the beast, he’s destroyed his castle, his family, and any hope he ever had of breaking the curse.  Harper’s life has been anything but charmed.  Her father skipped out on them, her mother is dying of cancer, and Harper’s brother constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy.  Harper has learned to survive in any way she can.  So when she tries to save someone on the streets of Washington, D.C. and gets sucked into Rhen’s world, Harper knows survival is all she can do–and then get back home.  She doesn’t understand this new world she’s thrown into, but the more she gets to know Rhen, the more she sees what’s at stake.  And when Rhen sees Harper isn’t like the other girls, he begins to hope again.  But with powerful forces still working against Rhen, it’s going to take more than breaking the curse to save Emberfall.

Phew.  That was long.  On to the review!

This was just amazing. From start to finish, this book had my attention. I’m a teacher and I was literally counting down the class periods until I was alone and could pull this book out of my bag to read even a few more chapters. It was so engrossing.

The plot was really interesting.  It doesn’t play out how most Beauty and the Beast retellings do, which was fine because I can appreciate an author putting their own spin on things.  It was more like the fairy tale gave it the bare bones and Kemmerer put her own flair on it from there.  I’m totally good with that.  It made the story unpredictable and charming.  It was funny, action-packed, and suspenseful.  And the romance?  A tingly slow burn.  That was fun.

The characters were very unexpected. They start off in a way where you think you have them pegged (Rhen is arrogant, Harper is pushy, etc.), but they don’t stay that way. As they learn about each other, we very gradually see them not quite fitting the molds we thought they would. It was so subtle that I almost didn’t even notice it, and I loved that.

I was also drawn to this book because I was interested in seeing how Harper’s cerebral palsy played out, as that was an angle I hadn’t really seen before in one of these stories. (As was Rhen not always being the monster, but that’s a different point.) This was really the only part I was divided about. On one hand, I guess I’m more acclimated to cerebral palsy being more extreme than Harper’s was. Hers really only affected her leg. On the other hand, it never really defined Harper–she knew what her limitations were, but she wasn’t going to let anyone else limit her. And that was a really cool attitude to see.

The story was gorgeous and I loved it. I read this as a library book, but I know that someday soon I’ll be adding it to my personal library.  WHICH IS NOW AN ACTUAL ROOM IN MY HOUSE.  (I never get tired of saying that.)