Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Last night I climbed into bed early, excited to finish The First Fifteen lives of Harry August by Claire North.  It is rare that I can pick a favorite book and it is difficult for me to compare books but I must say that this is the best book I've read this year.  And that is saying something because The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow was truly stellar.  The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, as you may guess, follows the life of Harry August.  He is born in 1919 in England, he lives an unremarkable life and he dies in his eighties.  The surprise comes when he is reborn in 1919 in the very same situation he experienced previously.  This is, of course, confusing for the young Harry as he remembers everything from his previous life.  Once he has his bearings and begins to understand, Harry spends much of his time exploring what his existence, his life means for him.  The world may continue on its natural course, but Harry, and others like him once he discovers them, may live each life as they choose.

This book is wonderful.  It is flawless.  I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed reading Harry's story.  The concept is brilliant and the writing is just excellent.  Each of the characters, even those not central to the main plot, are skillfully constructed.  Who hasn't thought about how they would live their life differently "if they knew then what they know now"?  All the choices we make from day to day, Harry has the opportunity to go back and make different ones.  That marriage didn't work out like you had hoped?  Go back and marry someone else or no one at all.  That career choice left you dissatisfied with your work life?  Go back and do something else.  Imagine being a six-year-old with the wisdom of someone hundreds of years older.  And the memory- life can be very comfortable when you know far in advance the right investments to make, the right wagers to place.  For me, the appeal would be having the opportunity to learn everything there is to learn.  How many languages can one master if one has the chance to live each life in a different part of the world?  Be a doctor in one life, a lawyer in another, a scientist and a humanitarian.  There is no or, there is only and.

My only disappointment came when I got to the end.  The ending was perfect, but I wanted to read so much more.  I really did love this book.  I know it will be on my "to re-read" list because I sped through it so quickly.  I'd like to go back and take my time through it.  I hope you'll read it.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

Friday, July 11, 2014

People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann

I was introduced to Jen Mann and her blog People I Want to Punch in the Throat a year or so ago when I came across this post somewhere on the internets.  I can't remember how I found it, but I loved it!  I was thrilled when I was given the opportunity to read her newest book People I Want to Punch in the Throat.  It isn't due to be released until September 9th, but you really should go ahead and preorder this book.  If you have followed her blog at all, you know it will be a good one.

This book reads like a collection of blog posts, each chapter could stand alone.  I was surprised at how quickly I was able to read this it; I just couldn't seem to put it down.  I laughed so hard in some places that I know I looked ridiculous to the people around me.  Jen Mann addresses many of the things that drive us all crazy about the people around us, but her main focus here is all the crazies she meets in association with being a wife and mother.  The overprotective preschool mom who won't get to know Jen or her daughter because she doesn't know them?  Covered.  The micromanaging room moms who decide the class Halloween party needs to be sugar-free?  In there.  The hyper-competitive, passive-aggressive moms?  Oh, yeah, they are totally in the book.  I really like this woman.  We share so many of the same opinions- she hates the dance mom on TLC that is mean to everyone, she thinks cheerleading is dumb because it's just girls cheering for boys playing sports, and she loves her minivan, even if it's not the cool car to drive.  

Fair warning: this book is not light on the profanity.  The f-word plays a big part in Mann's vocabulary so if that is something that bothers you, beware.  On the other hand, I know that will just make some of you like her more.  A little like Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, this was a fun peek into someone else's life that also serves to help me realize I'm not the only one.  Read her book and then follow her blog.  Everyone needs a little more laughter and sarcasm in their life. Right?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

A common complaint made by people who don't like Young Adult fiction is that they find it inappropriate for young adults.  They feel that in some books teenagers are depicted in situations that are too mature or that are not realistic.  The other side of that argument, of course, is that teenagers are having these experiences and that reading about them will help them understand it better.  Honestly, I've read books that I felt handled these situations well and others that seemed to only be grasping for sensationalism.  Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel is one of those books that I felt handled it well.  I would love to say more here, but I would hate to spoil it for you.

Inspired by Peter Pan, Second Star follows Wendy Darling as she faces high school graduation and the final summer before college in the wake of her twin brothers' presumed death.  John and Michael were surfers who ran away from home to chase waves, but after months of not knowing what has happened to them, it is believed they died in the waves.  Wendy refuses to believe they are really gone and decides to search for them on her own.  While doing her best to track them down, she meets Pete, Belle and Jas (Hook), other surfers who may have known her brothers.

This is one of those books that leaves the ending open to the reader to decide the outcome.  I prefer more defined endings, particularly the happily ever after kind, but that is because I'm a sap and I'm okay with that.  Second Star leaves so much up to the reader so I suppose the way each reader interprets it will affect how she feels about it.  One thing I wasn't especially crazy about was that this book seemed to contain a lot of what I consider flaws in YA fiction.  Do we really need another love triangle or another story where the main character falls in love almost immediately?

There really are a lot of bad decisions made in this book, but for the most part I enjoyed it.  Some of it annoyed me, some of it confused me, but still I liked it.  I expected light reading and that was what I got.  The fact that I'm not sure how much I liked it is a positive, at least in this case.  I enjoy being able to continue thinking about the storyline after I've put the book away.  If this sounds like something you might like, give it a read and we'll discuss.  I'd love to talk this out with someone.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson is the tale of a young girl, Piper, who lives alone in a shanty town outside the Meteor Fields.  She works as a scrapper, collecting the junk that comes crashing to the ground along with the poisonous dust each meteor storm brings.  She is talented with machines and can repair any small device to sell at market.  Her father left to go work in the dangerous factories in the Dragonfly Territories, but he was killed before he could return for her.

Piper is surprised one day when she finds another young girl, Anna, among the wreckage of a caravan caught in a storm.  Anna is unconscious, but Piper brings her home to try to help her.  When Anna wakes, she can't remember who she is, but the two girls discover a dragonfly tattoo on Anna's arm that indicates she is protected by the king of the Dragonfly Territories.  Piper hopes that getting Anna home will result in a reward large enough for Piper to leave the Meteor Fields and become a proper machinist in a better place.  As they make their way, they must contend with a persistent wolf, a group of slavers and a very suspicious train operator.

The journey Piper and Anna make is treacherous and filled with excitement, but one thing I love about the book is that it is never implied that they aren't equal to the task because of their gender.  They also make and admit their mistakes along the way.  I really enjoyed this book.  I think it would be a wonderful introduction to fantasy lit for younger and middle grade readers.  I hope you'll read it.