Wednesday, September 24, 2014

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

I am not one of those people who LOVES YA fiction.  I like some of it, but often I find it a little too underwritten for my taste.  I would use the word shallow, but that word give the impression that I don't like it because it is all about how someone looks or who is her boyfriend this week and that's really not what I mean.  What I typically don't like is that the writing often doesn't delve deep enough into the plot and the characters don't feel real.  Typically.  Occasionally, I will read something that I really enjoy.  Not everything has to be great literature, but I like it to have a little tooth to it.

Today I finished We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt and I really enjoyed it.  Layla and Nell are sisters just seventeen months apart in age.  The book opens with Nell's first day as a freshman at the high school where her older sister is already a star.  They are very close and there is none of the catty, jealous younger sister mess that you might expect.  Layla is happy to have Nell around her.  It seems like the perfect relationship until things start to change.  Layla is skipping school and getting Nell to lie for her and it is all about a new person in her life.  Nell struggles to know what to do.

I really liked that this book was written in second person, not something that we often find.  It was written from Nell's perspective to her sister Layla.  This was a very quick read and it was difficult to put down.  Last night I had to force myself to turn out the light so I wouldn't be exhausted today.  I could have finished it, but I wanted to really enjoy the ending.  The writing was adorable with many phrase turns that made me laugh.  There are even a few sections where Nell and her best friend Felix speak in pseudo-Shakespearean.  It's quite funny.  I loved the interaction between those two.  I was disappointed to realize that it barely passes the Bechdel Test.  Nell and Layla talk briefly about soccer, school and their parents, but most of their interactions are about members of the opposite sex.  This wasn't exactly a great work of fiction, but it was fun to read while also addressing an important issue.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

So, a while back I reviewed Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins.  I just finished Isla and the Happily Ever After, her latest release.  This is not exactly a series, but the characters from the previous books do make cameo appearances and it is fun to remember them. In Isla, we are back at the same French school where Anna and St. Claire met.  Isla is the daughter of wealthy parents, one American and one French, who live in New York.  She is a senior and has had a crush on Josh for three years.  The book opens on Isla sitting in a cafe in New York during summer break.  It is midnight and she is a little high on painkillers having just had her wisdom teeth removed.  She is startled to see Josh sitting in this same cafe just a few tables away.  Because she is a little loopy, she is much less shy with him than usual and actually has a conversation.  It might have been a good night if the medications hadn't caused her to fall asleep at their table.  She is, of course, mortified, but it is a really funny start to a sweet book.

Once Isla returns to school, she and Josh are finally able to get to know one another and it is sweet and cute and funny and all the things a reader wants from a YA romance.  I loved these characters as well as Isla's best friend Kurt.  He has high functioning autism and I love their friendship.  Kurt suffers from the distinction of being named after Kurt Cobain.  He doesn't just have Cobain's first name; his full name is Kurt Donald Cobain Bacon.  I think it's awesome, but Kurt doesn't and that makes it even funnier.  

Is this a deep, enlightening reading?  No, but it was fun and after reading The Handmaid's Tale I felt a little light, fun reading was well deserved.  And it is the kind of book sure to put a spark to one's wanderlust.  I was more than a little envious of Isla's four years of school there.  What an amazing experience!  I'm all ready now to order Rosetta Stone in French and plan a good long trip to Paris.  Who's with me?!   

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Book three for the new book club is The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I've heard the name of this book so many times, but I didn't really know anything about it.  Think dystopian novels are new and only for the YA genre?  Definitely not.  This book is about a woman who has been forced into a position as a handmaid whose purpose it is to provide a fertile womb for a childless husband and wife.  Civilization as we know it has fallen and been replaced by a militant theocracy where women are no longer allowed to work, hold property or even read and write.

This book was both horrifying and also really good.  I still can't fully decide how I feel about it.  When I reached page one-hundred I was tempted to put it away and not finish, but once I reached about the half-way point I really needed to know what would happen.  I am so glad I finished it.  This is a book that would be wonderful for discussion and I would recommend it to anyone who isn't too faint of heart.  A woman I met said she read it in high school and I know for me that would have been far to young.  Have you read this one?  What did you think?  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Free for All: Odd balls, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert

What do you want to be when you grow up?  I have asked myself that for far too many years.  Shouldn't I have an answer by now?  Well, I kind of do.  My dream is to be a librarian.  I know that for some people their great dream is to sing on Broadway or discover the cure to cancer or win the lottery (okay, I would totally take any one of those, too), but for me it would be to be paid to go to the library.  And I'm not naive- I know librarians don't sit at the desk and read all the new books before anyone else gets to check them out.  That is beyond even my dreams.  Well, unless I won the lottery because that is totally what I would do if I did.  The point is I love the library and I'd love to work there.

This book, Free for All:  Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert is a collection of anecdotes collected from his years working in a public library in California.  Some of these anecdotes were heartwarming, some were sad and others just plain freaked me out.  People are weird.  We all know that and a public library is like any other public place that sometimes attracts the weirdos.  Borchert's storytelling style is blunt, a little sarcastic and peppered with the occasional F-bomb.  He pulls no punches and no one is safe.  I feel like I must share some of my favorite bits with you:

[Librarians] love seeing new patrons.  Why?  Because there is a belief that once you begin to open books, you will become a better person.  It is a Pandora's box, but in a good way.

I don't understand people who will pay $10 to sit in a movie theater for two hours but hesitate to pay a 25-cent fine for a book that is overdue one day....I think a free library is an outrageous perk.  I think being able to take out fifty books at a time is an astounding luxury, especially if you've priced hardbound books anytime since the Clinton administration.  Go into a public library, fill out the application, and here you go, we'll loan you $1000 worth of free materials.  Collateral?  Nah- just take them.  You're good for it.

Speaking of one of his colleagues, he says:  The reason she went into the profession in the first place was books.  She still remembers the effect a certain book can have on people at the right time in their lives.  A book, at its most mundane, can be a loaded gun.  At its most powerful, it can split the trunk of a tree, mend a broken heart, heal the sick, and topple a corrupt government.

There were so many good parts of this book.  If you love libraries, even if you just visit them occasionally (and I really hope you do), I think you would enjoy this peek behind the curtain.  Best of all, there is no shh-ing.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I have been wanting to read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes for a very long time.  I was thrilled when it was the monthly pick for a new online book club I have joined.  It features Louisa (Lou) Clark, a young woman living in a small suburb of London who has just lost her job.  She makes her way to the local employment office and the options are not great.  She does a short stint in the poultry factory but finds she doesn't have the stomach for it.  After turning down several other suggestions, she finally agrees to interview for a caregiver position.  The job requirements are rather simple- she is meant as a companion for a man who is a quadriplegic.  This man, Will, was previously a highly successful businessman who enjoyed travel and living his life exactly as he chose until an accident left him totally dependent on the people around him and without the desire to go on living.  Lou's job and then her purpose is to help him find a reason.

I really loved this book.  I loved the way Lou's character developed and I loved watching the way she and Will interacted.  I learned a lot about how it must feel to be a person of limited ability, especially while in public.  Of course, I have it labeled as a Tear Jerker for a reason, but you really shouldn't let that dissuade you if those aren't your kind of books.  This was a super fast read, though I really wouldn't recommend it as a vacation or beach read unless you don't mind blubbering in front of strangers.  I really hope you will give this one a try.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I've had The Maze Runner by James Dashner on my bookshelf for a few months and so with the upcoming movie release, I thought I should finally get to it.  I had heard so many good things about this book and the few previews of the movie I have seen make it look so good, but sadly I was disappointed.  I just didn't like it.  The characters weren't very compelling to me, the situation annoyed me and I just kept waiting for it to get better.  Maybe it is because the story reminded me so much of Lord of the Flies and I really didn't like that book either.

Thomas wakes to find himself in a large elevator-like metal box.  He can remember his name and basic things like how to talk and function, but he can't remember anything specific about himself or the world.  When the box finally opens, he is in a large compound surrounded by other teenage boys.  No one knows how they got there or why, but there is a maze just outside the walls and they are determined to solve it and find a way out.

The first half of the book seemed to drag and I didn't care for the writing.  Honestly, I only kept reading to get through it.  It is the first in a four book series, one of which is a prequel, but I won't be reading any further.  I did look on Wikipedia to read the synopses of the remaining books and from what I saw, I'm not sad to move on to something else.  I've already had one person tell me I was absolutely wrong about these books, but it just wasn't for me.  Maybe you'll like it better.

And now on to something else...