Today's Grateful List/26 March 2015

  • Spring Break!
  • Lazy day
  • Time to do as I please
  • Books!
  • Essential oils

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tether picks up where Tandem left off--Sasha is back on Earth, having left Aurora and her love, Thomas, behind. She is trying to fit back in but it's almost hopeless--nothing is working out and her mind is preoccupied with what is going on on the other world. Brought to a man who knows something about both her deceased parents and alternate worlds through the clue of a folded paper, Sasha learns she can go back to Aurora, and she does. Once there, however, things become way more complicated; a third analog, Selene, has shown up, and she needs both Sasha and Julianna to accompany her back to her own universe in order to save it. The problem is, Julianna's disappeared again, and Thomas seems to be acting oddly at times, and everything seems to be much more dangerous than it was the last time Sasha was on Aurora. Making it all even more complicated is the "tether"--the invisible link between analogs that ties Sasha, Selene, and Julianna together, even allowing them to communicate through thought. Sasha is desperate to break the tether, but Selene needs it intact to save her world.

This second installment of the Many-Worlds series is another page-turner, with one event after another delaying finding Julianna and many heavy decisions being made. As a bridge novel, it held my interest well and moved the plot along, though I was a bit disappointed to see that we were in for another round of "Where's Waldo" with Julianna. Selene comes off stiff and wooden in contrast to the emotional Sasha, but that's likely done to show the difference in the two identical analogs. The developments are definitely way more complicated than they were in Tandem, and the risks are greater in lots of ways. Sasha is going to have make up her mind about a lot of things, and this novel sets everything up well for a big finish.

One minor issue I have is the continued use of "in Aurora". I know it's nit picky, but if it's an entire world, shouldn't it be "on Aurora" rather than in? Every time I read that phrase, I imagined the characters literally inside the planet. Maybe I've misinterpreted it, but it pulled me out of the story every single time. But beyond that very minor annoyance, I felt that the plot, if fairly predictable, was well-executed and kept me entertained throughout. I'm excited to see where we end up and can easily recommend this novel as a good middle installment in the series.


Excellent Debut YA

The night Laia's family is killed and her brother is taken by the government enforcers is one that plunges her into despair and makes her determined to rescue the one relative she has left. She approaches the Resistence, an underground organization that is working for the Scholars, the lowest strata in society, hoping to bring change. Laia, desperate to get her brother Darin out of prison, agrees to pose as a slave in order to spy on a fearsome woman called the Commandant, who rules the Blackcliff Academy with an iron fist and an unforgiving demeanor. Lana is supposed to find out what she can to report back to the Resistence, but she undergoes merciless torture at the Commandant's hands and realizes she's in way over her head, despite the concern of Resistence worker, Keenan. Meanwhile...

There's Elias, son of the Commandant and recent graduate of the program at the Blackcliff Academy. He's now a full-fledged Mask, a member of the enforcement group that is known to be ruthless killers. But Elias is different; he only wants to escape, and he's even made plans to do so, until he finds he's been chosen to compete in Trials to determine who will become the next Emperor. His fate seemingly out of his hands, Elias must make decisions that will hopefully lead him away from his life as a killer, but all of this serves to bring him in touch with the slave girl, Laia.

We follow the stories of both Elias and Laia in alternating chapters, both told in first person. Laia starts off as immature, driven only by her need not to lose her final family member. She's willing to do whatever it takes to rescue Darin, not having any clue what that might include. Over the course of the novel, it's almost possible to physically see Laia maturing and to feel her emotions widen as she faces betrayal, friendship, and determination; it's one of my favorite things about this novel. True growth is really rare in a protagonist, but Laia achieves it in spades, learning how to keep not only herself safe, but to have others' backs as well.

Elias, hated by his mother but the hope of his House, is obviously different than his peers at Blackcliff, most likely because he was not initially brought up by his mother. Elias dislikes killing and he hates all the games that must be played; basically he's very confused about his future and unsure of how he can change anything. Surrounded by a lot of evil, including two of the other Aspirants in the Trials to be Emperor, Elias has always turned to his best friend, Helene, the only female at the Academy. But now even that's in jeopardy, as he must examine his own feelings for this girl. Elias wants to keep everyone safe and wants his freedom in equal measures, and he's conflicted about it all.

I loved this book! I read it on the recommendation of a friend who said she couldn't put it down, and she was absolutely correct. I would become equally caught up in both stories, holding my breath for Laia when she faced the Commandant and my heart torn when Elias tried to decide what would be the best course. There's some magic involved, and a group of guiding "counselors" called Augurs who seem to be trying to guide the entire Emperor selection process. Mostly, however, there are real characters who react in unexpected ways and feel emotions that cut to the bone. Violent at times, this book is definitely riveting, and I'm eagerly awaiting the second installment because I HAVE to know what's going to happen next. A wonderful debut YA novel!


Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Coldest Girl in ColdTown opens with a murder--several of them, in fact. Tana awakens after a party to find everyone else dead of an obvious vampire attack. Why she was spared, she has no idea, but when she discovers her ex-boyfriend Aidan alive, but tied to a bed and infected by a vampire bite, and an actual vampire chained in the same room, she knows she has to help all of them escape. This leads to a road trip toward a ColdTown, areas set aside specifically for vampires and those who worship or want to become them. Gavriel, the vampire, is being sought because he's escaped his prison of torture; Aidan is turning into a vampire himself; Tana fears she's infected and must wait out the time in order to stay human. None of them truly knows what awaits them inside ColdTown, but all suspect it's not going to be pretty. That's an understatement.

Tana's not the most sympathetic character; she's abrupt and scarred, having lived through her mother's descent into vampirism at a young age. Still, she is willing to help Aidan and Gavriel, both of whom need her desperately. In fact, Tana has to fight her own attraction to Gavriel; he's a vampire, for heaven's sake, the thing she is most scared of and what has robbed her of so much in her life. Others she meets along the way run the gamut from helpful to devious to downright dangerous; some put her life in danger and some go beyond the bounds of friendship to help out a girl who has literally nothing left in the world she finds herself inside. Particularly endearing is Valentina, the sweet cashier who not only dresses Tana, but helps her discover what is going on in the huge mansion belonging to the vampire Lucien.

There's so much going on, it's easy to get lost in the action, from Tana and her terror at the thought of turning into a vampire, to her younger sister, Pearl, who loves watching the live feeds of what goes on inside ColdTown. Despite this, I found myself at times contemplating putting the book aside; I found some stretches long (like when the group arrives at ColdTown and takes what seems forever to actually get inside) but those episodes would be followed up by page-turning action that would keep me up past my bedtime. I admit I totally disliked both Midnight and Winter and could have lived without their storyline. I did, however, love the Gavriel/Lucien/Tana parts; the emotional (or unemotional) conflicts were both well written and unexpected. If the story had been pared back to Tana without throwing into too many extraneous characters, this novel would have been a definite five stars. Still, it was interesting and I will look for the sequel because I'm firmly on Tana's side in this bloody story.


Thursday, March 05, 2015

Vanishing Girls

Nick and Dara have always been extremely close sisters. Born just eleven months apart, they've shared everything, including the pain of their parents' divorce. But during Nick's senior year, things change when Dara becomes involved with Nick's best friend, Parker. Suddenly Nick finds herself on the outside and she doesn't like what she sees. Dara's always been a loose cannon, and Nick's always had her back, but the relationship between Dara and Parker threatens them in ways Nick never thought possible. Things come to a head at a party, and Nick and Dara leave together. They never make it home, and Dara's physically and emotionally damaged in ways Nick cannot reach nor heal.

I love the way this novel unfolded, including the parallel story of the missing nine year old girl, Madeline. Told mostly from Nick's point of view, we feel her pain at the loss of her sister's love and friendship and her inability to fix their relationship. Meanwhile, Dara stays hidden, only sharing her viewpoint sporadically as she tries to cope with all the losses in her life. She blames Nick for her painful recovery and her breakup with Parker. It's a sad, twisted existence, and both girls suffer.

There's a lot of detail in this novel, and a lot of emotion packed into its pages. There's also a lot of drinking and references to drug use, but they play their own role in the story. My heart broke, and broke again, for Nick as she tries at first to avoid her sister and then to come to terms about the accident, and my heart broke for Dara, the wilder younger sister who lost so much. Events are revealed slowly, with Madeline's disappearance woven neatly throughout. I finished the book feeling as though I'd been pulled through a wringer emotionally, wanting to reread it again to see what all I'd missed along the way that would shed light on the relationship between the sisters.

Lauren Oliver has become a favorite author of mine, and with Vanishing Girls she has cemented her place on my Must Buy list. There's so much more to be said for and about this novel, but without being able to do so without giving spoilers, I will just say that you will be swept up into the lives of two damaged girls who need to find a way to make themselves whole again. Read it now. You won't regret it.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Between Shades of Gray

I grew up with a father who fought in World War II. I always knew he didn't think much of Josef Stalin, but beyond the bit I learned in school I really didn't know why. This book by Ruta Sepetys, helped illuminate for me what went on "behind the scenes", so to speak, in Stalin's Soviet Union. To say I was profoundly moved and appalled is an understatement.

Fifteen year old Lina and her family are taken from their Lithuanian home one night in 1941, placed on a cattle train, and sent far away to remote Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina does not understand why they are forced to leave, and fear of the unknown is crippling. Along with her mother and younger brother, the taken people are forced to live in a shack and work for the NKVD (the Soviet military in charge). Lina, a gifted artist, is forced to dig in dirt, pick beets, and carry heavy bags of grain, all for a small bread ration each day. Her mother, Elena, is relentlessly upbeat about the possibility of being let go and reuniting with the father, and Jonas, Lina's younger brother, works hard but falls ill to scurvy. There is a young man, Andrius,with whom Lina begins to form a relationship, and a soldier named Kretzky whom Lina particularly despises. The others in the camp, including the bald man and the grouchy woman, bring the story to life as Lina struggles to maintain a sense of hope while just trying to survive.

At first glance, this story seems to be another Holocaust story, but the truth is, it has nothing to do with the Holocaust at all. These Lithuanians were all Christians who were sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor for their "crimes" against the Soviet Union. This included the children of those accused, and there was little to no hope of escape. The conditions these people were forced to endure do indeed echo the Holocaust, but are perhaps even worse as their story remains mostly untold.

It was easy to become engrossed in this story, as Lina's voice is clear and her words pull you inside the horrible, unthinkable actions of man against mankind. Her art helps her to survive, allowing her to express herself in limited ways and giving the reader a sense of the human who would not be defeated. This is not an easy book to read because of its subject matter, but it is an important one. With its strong content and horrible situations, it is probably better for slightly older children, but its message is definitely one people of all ages could embrace.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Girl on the Train

Hmmmm...what to say about Paula Hawkins's The Girl on the Train that hasn't been said yet? Well, I'm not much of a mystery reader usually, but the buzz about this one was interesting enough to make me think maybe I'd like it. So I picked it up on a whim and what do you know? It's that good and generally lives up to the hype. Win!

The basic storyline is this: Rachel, a miserable alcoholic, continues to take the daily train into London even after losing her job because she doesn't want her roommate to find out how and why she's unemployed. You don't find this out right away; the author has a delicious way of revealing details that click another piece of the plot into place a bit at a time. Anyway, the train takes Rachel past the stop where her ex-husband and his new wife and daughter live--coincidentally in the same home Rachel shared with her ex, Tom. Rachel becomes fixated on a couple a few houses down from where she lived, even giving them names and inventing an entire, perfect life for them. But then the perfect wife, Megan, goes missing and Rachel, either desperate or drunk or a combination of the two, becomes overly involved. A drunken night she does not remember places her at the scene during the time Megan disappeared and an acrimonious relationship with Tom's new wife fuel Rachel's imagination and lead her to interacting with Megan's husband, Scott. But nothing is the way it seems and everyone has something to hide.

If I'm being nitpicky, the biggest problem with The Girl on the Train is that there is literally no one likable in the entire book. Not Rachel, who is a drunk and sorta pathetic all around; not Scott, who is the focus of his wife's disappearance; not Tom, who cheated on Rachel and then married Anna; not Anna, who is self-righteous in her marriage; not even Megan, whose infrequent point-of-view chapters reveal that she has her own problems. I would have liked for at least one person I could whole-heartedly cheer for, but there is no one who is not flawed to the point of being contentious. Still, that does not in any way take away from the mystery and its ultimate resolution. I was turning pages long after my bedtime in order to sort it all out.

I suppose there may be more complex mysteries out there, but this one, even with its unlikable characters, is so well plotted and fueled that I was totally caught up. It's one I have no problem recommending to most everyone, including those who don't normally read mysteries *raises hand*. A very solid 4.75 that I will round to a 5 because I think it's that much of a page turner. Read it for yourself and find out what the buzz is about.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Third Twin...A YA Thriller!

The Third Twin is a well-written thriller that kept me guessing right up through the end, and that doesn't happen all that often in adult fiction, let alone in YA. So pull up a seat and crack open the story that has twins second guessing each other amid a chaotic environment full of secrets.

So what's The Third Twin about? Here's the basics: Identical twins Ava and Lexi were adopted as infants by a man and his wife, but the wife left the family early on. As small children, the girls invented a third twin, Alicia, who took the blame for mishaps, etc.--pretty basic stuff that was fairly innocent. Fast forward to senior year of high school, and we find the girls resurrecting Alicia in a much less pleasant way: They take turns playing her when they want to date boys they normally wouldn't (for lots of reasons), even maintaining social media pages for her and coming up with a list of rules they must follow when they embody her. The problems really begin when Lexi goes out (as Alicia) with Casey, who attempts to rape her in his car. Lexi escapes, and wants to put Alicia away for good, but Ava still sees the third twin as useful. When Casey is found murdered, the girls' lives slowly begin to unwind as Ava refuses to let Alicia go and Lexi is forced to continue the story they've created. Drop in some eerie coincidences, a new guy Lexi is attracted to, an absent father, and mysterious clues that seem to implicate involvement in the murder, and you've got The Third Twin.

Told from Lexi's point of view, we get a skewed vision of the events surrounding the creation of Alicia and the downward-spiraling of what should be charmed lives. There's a side story of Lexi wanting to attend Stanford which sort of fuels things later on but it's really the weirdness of both girls pretending to be a third person that drives the entire plot. There were times when I was frustrated with both girls and even found them unlikeable, but just enough is revealed at a time that I was hooked into trying to guess what was really going on. Without much adult involvement in their lives, the twins think they can handle themselves but it doesn't take long for them to get in over their heads. I thoroughly enjoyed The Third Twin, and even if I feel that a few parts were unrealistic, I definitely can recommend this thriller.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Read The Martian. Do It Now. I Mean It.

Imagine being one of the first astronauts to step foot on Mars. It's a cold, barren planet, but that's all fine since you and your crewmates will only be staying for about thirty days to conduct experiments. Except that there's a sudden storm and you all have to evacuate in a hurry, and during the frenzy of leaving, it looks like you've been fatally lost, so your crew leaves. Trouble is, you're still alive, you're all alone, and you have no way to communicate any of this. This is astronaut Mark Watney, and he's in deep trouble.

The Martian is gripping and intelligent from the first words (of which truer ones have rarely been written). I was impressed from the earliest pages by the ingenuity and resourcefulness Mark has; he not only figures out how to grow potatoes in order to prolong his food supply, he makes his way to an abandoned probe named Pathfinder in order to find a way to communicate with Earth. Once his predicament is known, NASA spends countless time and energy in developing a plan to rescue him. If it seems as though this would make for fairly boring reading, it doesn't. I was on the edge of my seat with each attempt, each failure, each idea, each page. If it's all very technical (impressive in and of itself), it all makes sense and just plain works. It's all believable.

The best part of The Martian, however, isn't the day-to-day survival story, or the spirit of cooperation inspired back on Earth, but the people themselves. Mark is absolutely one of my favorite characters ever, with his wit and wry comments that make you laugh out loud or plunge you into terror. He's the one you cheer for every second and feel for when there are setbacks. But he's not alone in being compelling by any means. The NASA people, including Venkat Kapoor, Mitch, Teddy, Annie...they are real and engaging and cheer worthy as well. The crew of the Hermes (the ones who accidentally left Mark behind) are funny and smart and determined; I seriously think none of them could have been written any better.

The Martian is one of those books I'm going to be cheerleading for for a very long time to come; it's definitely a cut above most of the reading I've done in the past year or so. If you think it's only for science fiction fans, think again; I absolutely challenge you to not become engrossed within the first fifty pages. Pick up and give it a're going to love it.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Red Queen (With an awesome cover!)

What a great premise Red Queen has! And even more importantly, what a very good execution for the story. Sometimes great premises get lost but Red Queen delivers. Almost entirely, with only a few minor bumps.

The story: Set in a world where people are divided and called by two different kinds of blood, Mare sees her life going nowhere. Mare's blood is Red, so she's assigned a life of servitude (if she's lucky enough to get a job) or enforced conscription into the nation's war (as her three older brothers have found themselves). The "other half" is made up of Silver blood, giving them not only nobility and/or preferred jobs, but a super power as well. Mare knows her time is up and she's months away from being sent as a soldier since she doesn't have a skill that will earn her a job, which is bad enough; then her friend, Kilorn, loses his job and is just days away from being sent to fight. Desperate, Mare goes to an undercover operative named Farley for help; one thing leads to another but life becomes even worse. When an encounter with a wealthy stranger leads to a job within the Palace, Mare hopes her fortunes are changing...until a fall that should kill her leads to her display of astonishing electrical power. Caught as a Red with a power, the royal family moves quickly to cover it up by giving Mare a new identity as a royal, turning her life upside down and inside out. But underneath it all, she's still Red...and determined to help her fellow Reds. No matter what the cost.

There's so much more going on, including an *almost* love quadrangle between Mare, Kilorn, and the two royal princes. Mare has to both deny everything she's ever known or ever been, and embrace her new life as a member of the Silvers in such a way as to cast no doubt that she belongs among them. There's a secret organization that is working to bring down the Silvers who have basically held the Reds as slaves forever, and Mare makes many, many mistakes along the way. There's a theme that gets repeated throughout: Anyone can betray anyone, and it's true with deadly consequences.

Problems? A few, but not overwhelming. Mare is headstrong yet in over her head; she's an outcast and a leader who is learning to cope with a power that is not only unknown among the Reds but possibly even among the Silvers. I did get annoyed because it's fairly easy to figure out what's going to happen but Mare can't, or won't, see it. There is also more than a few coincidences, something that bugs me in any novel. I did think the parts where Mare is learning how to be Silver dragged at times, but most of the slow parts are setting up bigger action later on. And one more thing...possible spoiler so stop reading character seriously reminded me of King Joffrey of Game of Thrones fame by the time the book was done. In fact, that's the only person I could picture as the last major action took place. Kinda over the top.

Red Queen is really good, with a likable main character and an excellent plot that is revealed to be multi-layered. Of course it ends on a cliffhanger, and it's a big one. I'm eager to find out where we're going and how the evil villains will be brought down. This book kept me so entertained that I stayed up much later than I should have a few nights just to see what happened next. It's really a solid 4.75 on the Amazon rating scale.

On a side note...I adore the cover! Whoever created it deserves major props. Very intriguing and just the right amount of gory beauty.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Read Between the Lines (AND READ THIS BOOK)

I'm struggling a bit in writing this review. I want it to be glowing, because this book is amazing, but I want it to be realistic because it's not an easy read in any form. I want to reassure those who think an entire book cannot revolve around one rude gesture; not only does it, this book fleshes out what that gesture means and how its intent may vary. I also want to caution those who think this is just a light-hearted look at The Finger because the issues go so, so much deeper than that. But mostly I want to say...this book is brilliant. You need to read it.

The idea of Read Between the Lines is that we're all subject to the one finger salute, but for different reasons and with varying reactions. But Knowles has taken the gesture and woven an entire world around it, highlighting the lives of several high school students, none of whom are defined by giving or getting the finger. In fact, the gesture itself becomes almost an after-thought as we become immersed into the lives and facades of Nathan, Lacy, Dylan, Jack, Grace, Stephen, and Claire (to name a few but not all). What happens inside the head of the kid who gets bullied by everyone, including his father? What does it take to become popular? When do you stop living a lie and come out? How long can you go along with your friends even when you know it's wrong?

Over the course of a couple of days, we see what these high school students go through at the hands of those who supposedly love them and those who even sometimes hate them. Each chapter is from a different point of view, yet they all overlap in at least one way, and it's often unexpected. I got fully engrossed in every story and found myself changing opinions about characters as I saw events through different eyes. I loved them all and I hated a few. The best were the honest ones; some make huge changes and some barely register a blip, but all are affected by life, by people, by events, by a finger.

I just cannot say enough good things about this book. It's original even if the stories themselves may not be. It's just the way it all works together that is utterly riveting and brilliant. I'm also incredibly jealous that I didn't write it! If you read one book this spring, make it Read Between the Lines. If you don't take my recommendation, I just may have to flip you off myself. Read it!