Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Where She Went

I'm one of the lucky ones because I was able to pick up Where She Went almost immediately upon finishing If I Stay. I was so emotionally invested in If I Stay, I think I would've gone into a deep, dark depression if I'd had to wait as long as many did to get some resolution to this story. And it is with a happy heart that I can report that this sequel definitely worked the same magic as the first book. I was hooked from the first page.

Where She Went is told from Adam's point of view, and we've fast forwarded three years past Mia's devastating accident. Adam's now a bona fide rock star but he's miserable because only months after Mia left for Juilliard, she inexplicably stopped responding to his emails and texts. It was obvious that she no longer wanted to be with him, and he began a spiral down into depression that only the music kickstarted him out of. But things still aren't good for Adam; he can't get past Mia just dropping him, even though he's been with other girls and even has a serious live-in. Then he finds himself in NYC and he passes a poster for Mia's cello concert, and thinks...he has to go. Even if he doesn't talk to her, he has to go. And of course they meet up and explanations are attempted. Throughout the story, we move back and forth through the three years, seeing what Adam's been through. It's riveting to follow his traumatized losses and his disappointment as we begin to find out Where She Went.

This sequel definitely lives up to the storyline of If I Stay, even if I had a hard time with how Mia finally came to give her reasons. It's so well written, so emotional, that I literally inhaled the book in a day. Forman makes the story make sense and she gives the characters so much life that it's easy to find yourself lost in the telling. Sometimes sequels let a reader down, but this one takes us on an unexpected ride that fulfills its promises. Loved it.


If You Haven't Read This Book Yet...

...then you need to pick up The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry! It's definitely a book for book lovers. I know that I absolutely delighted in the mentions of other books throughout, and the idea that relationships can be built around and by a love of reading is truly uplifting and unifying. If the novel itself is a bit light on plot--and the reader can tell what's going to happen in advance--it's more than made up in the engaging writing and the depth of feeling that flies through the pages.

The story is pretty basic: A.J. Fikry owns the only bookstore on the fictional Alice Island off the East Coast, and he is miserable after the death of his wife. That all changes with the appearance of a toddler left in the shop one night, and before he knows it, A.J.'s opened his heart in more ways than one. Also intertwined with the central story is Ismay, A.J.'s former sister-in-law, herself a victim of a loveless marriage, and Chief Lambiase, the lonely policeman who somehow begins his own book club. There's a mystery, too: A.J. was once in possession of a first edition copy of Edgar Allen Poe's first novel, Tamerlane, but the book goes missing early on. Will it ever be found? As the story progresses, I found myself less interested in the missing book as the lives and personalities of the characters take center stage...and then, bam! the book's back in the spotlight and I was as excited about it as I was in the beginning.

So what makes the story so special? Well, there are some lines that are just gems, such as "We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works." Little lines that just sneak up and then hit you full force with their honesty are peppered throughout. But mostly it's the characters, who are flawed, real, charming, and human. It could be anyone's life; it could be my life. And if it was my life, I'd say it was a good one indeed. Just read it. You'll be glad you did.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Sit Back and Listen.

Friday, July 18, 2014

If I Stay

If I Stay is a rather short book, less than 200 pages, but it's packed full of emotion so deep and events so blinding, it doesn't need any more. Having inhaled this story, I can say that I'm an emotional wreck blown away by the impact of the words. I'm going to be thinking about this one for a long, long time.

Not giving anything away, this is the story of Mia, whose nice, ordinary family is torn apart by a horrific car wreck one very normal day. Mia tells the story as she "exists" outside her body from the moment she wakes from the wreck; she watches what happens in the hospital and comes to realize it's going to be up to her whether or not she stays in this world or goes on. She's there when her family visits, when her best friend arrives, and when her boyfriend breaks the rules in order to see her in the ICU. She has to accept the unacceptable and decide if it's all worth it. Intermingled in the tale of what's happening to Mia now are flashback stories showing her relationship with Adam, her dedication to her cello, and times she had with her parents and younger brother. Heart-wrenching stories, stories that show that sometimes what seems most normal is actually incredibly special and not to be taken for granted.

I absolutely loved this book. I loved Mia's voice, and most of all, I loved the people she loved. My heart broke so many times, but in so many wonderful ways. Many readers (myself included to some degree) will feel most strongly about younger brother Teddy, but I truly was most moved by Gramps. When he speaks quietly to Mia, I could feel every word. This book is a beautiful, horrible, astounding monument to the ordinary lives of people and what it means to be truly alive. Highly recommended.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Burn: The Final Pure Book

Burn finishes up the Pure trilogy, and like the other two, this one is well written and a page turner. This time we've got Pressia and her friends returning in the "borrowed" airship, only to find that their home is now burning and everything is coming to a head within the Dome, but they now have a possibility of bringing it all down. Partridge has returned to the Dome and is now in charge upon the death of his father, but he's confused and finding out that change isn't quite as easy as he'd thought it would be. Lyda's in the Dome as well, but there are still people in suspension, and Partridge discovers his father's left messages for him even after death. And there's so much more--El Capitan must deal with his feelings for Pressia, as must Bradwell, and people within the Dome aren't sure they even want to change. It's a page turning plot that made me realize how much I love these characters, flaws and all.

Biggest issue with Burn? The hanging plot threads that are never resolved. There are a lot of them, in fact. Not wanting to get spoilery, but a few plot points would be all right, but the amount of items left without resolution is pretty huge. I was surprised that we didn't get to see some big payoffs we'd been anticipating, and even more surprised when I got to the end and realized how many pages were actually spent on things that, in the end, didn't really matter all that much. As an aside, if there was ever a more irritating character than Iralene, I've yet to meet her.

Still, Burn is beautifully written and vivid. I totally love this awkward, warped, confused world and I would love for Ms. Baggott to consider more books in this setting. It's not a pretty book, but none of the three are. What it lacks in physical beauty, however, it more than makes up for in characterizations. When even a small black box can elicit emotional pangs from the reader, you know it's a special series.



The third book in Marissa Meyer's series which began with Cinder, Cress retells the story of Rapunzel as set in the dystopian world of the future. Cress has been kept on board a satellite of Earth by the Lunar Queen's thaumaturge, Mistress Sybil. Her ability to hack into computers has proven her to be a valuable asset, but it's a lonely existence, broken only by the occasional visits of Sybil over seven long years. Until Cress makes contact with the spaceship Rampion, where Cinder, Scarlett, Wolf, and Captain Thorne are hiding until they can work out how to return to Earth and defeat Lunar Queen Levana. At this point for Cress, it's all or nothing, so she works out an escape plan that somehow becomes a survival journey for she and Thorne. Meanwhile, Cinder tries to figure out how to get to Emperor Kai before he can marry Levana, and somewhere along the line, Scarlett is abducted by Sybil's forces.

You'd think there's a lot of action going on, and there least after the halfway mark. Until that point, there's a good deal of planning, stalling, and events not working out that had me thinking I needed to fast forward. While I was still engaged, I just needed the story lines to converge and get to a point. However, once I read on past the halfway mark, the plot takes a definite upswing and Cinder and Company are in almost constant peril. It was after that point that I truly became vested in the story and had to keep reading to know what would happen next.

The characters are well done, and Thorne is an absolute delight with his cunning and arrogance. I really liked Cress; she's got brains and a human side that is very endearing. I did grow a bit weary of all the glamouring going on but since that's part of the Lunar world, it's understandable. Meyer takes the essence of the fairy tale and while keeping it generally recognizable, entwines it into her universe in such a way that you forget it's actually a fairy tale. I'm eager to see where we're headed next.


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

We Were Liars

We Were Liars focuses on the wealthy Sinclair family, owners of the Beechwood Island off Martha's Vineyard, where each of the three daughters have their own houses, along with their parents. The main character is fifteen year old Cadence, whose friendship with her cousins Johnny and Mirren and family friend Gat forms the basis of the Liars.The family has always spent the summers on the island and it is during this fifteenth summer that Cadence discovers she is in love with Gat, but it's also during this summer (the first after her grandmother Tipper has died) that the daughters begin bickering with their father over inheritances and favoritism. Cadence's father has moved out, her aunts are having relationship problems, and the "littles" (the younger Sinclairs) are almost a non-issue. Then tragedy strikes: Cadence suffers a traumatic head injury and develops severe migraines, disrupting her sixteenth summer plans and keeping her away from the other Liars. But there's more to it than that...or is there?

This book is a mystery, a coming of age story, and a soap opera wrapped up in relatively spare storytelling. Cadence is an unreliable narrator, but it's obvious that there are much larger issues going on than wealthy family troubles. If no one seems sympathetic, they are still absolutely compelling. I kept turning the pages because I had to know what happened; I felt fairly certain I had figured out what was going on and yet there was a driving need to know precisely why and how it happened. It's not a particularly pretty story, or even a story that's beautifully written. What it is is a story that leads you down a path you know is destructive and yet you keep going. I'm going to be thinking about this one for a very long time to come.


Where Things Come Back

I picked up Where Things Come Back by John Corley Whaley because it is my daughter's favorite book of all time, and she's been urging me to read it for a while now. And while I may not have loved it as much as she does, I was suitably impressed with the unique story that merges several story lines very well. I'll explain my biggest issue in a bit.

Basically, Where Things Come Back focuses on a summer in Lily, Arkansas, when Cullen Witter's younger brother Gabriel goes missing at the same time as the town goes a little crazy over the sighting of a woodpecker long thought extinct. Cullen's a pretty typical seventeen year old, obsessed with Ada Taylor and absolutely crushed when Gabriel disappears without a trace. As his family is blind sided, the town comes under the spell of a man claiming to have seen the woodpecker, thus causing almost everyone to be on the lookout for the elusive bird. Cullen is lucky to have a friend who is extremely supportive but he's at a loss. The fact that his cousin has just overdosed and his love life is complicated by a girl he's slept with and a girl he wants just muddies the situation. The essential question is how do you go on when nothing is the same?

Meanwhile, intwined through Cullen's story is first the story of Benton Sage, a young man who is a missionary trying to live up to his family's expectations. When he goes off to college, he becomes obsessed with a missing book of the Bible, and it's this obsession that transfers this story line to Cabot Searcy, Benton's roommate. Cabot is determined to discover the meaning behind the missing book. Somehow, these very diverse story lines work to fuel the disappearance of Gabriel and Cullen's summer of discovery.

The language in the book is rich and riveting, and Cullen is a genuine story teller, often able to look beyond himself to describe the action as he feels others see it. I found myself caught up in the big mystery of Gabriel but less so in the secondary stories of Benton and Cabot. Possible spoilers.....

While I thought the way the stories diverged was quite inventive, I am not a fan of how many threads were left dangling at the conclusion. I've discussed the ending with my daughter, who found it hopeful and beautiful, but I like more definitive information in a mystery as big as this one. I have used my imagination to fill in the blanks, and I suppose that is how the author intended for us to read it. Still, it's a sore spot for this reader.

Overall, however, this book is definitely well written and very good; I race through it and feel as though I need to read it again to catch all the subtle nuances. I can see why it's my daughter's favorite, and with my own minor issues, it's definitely one of the best reads I've had all summer.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Dust Lands: Raging Star

While I totally loved the first Dust Lands book, and the second was very good, Raging Star started off very slowly for me. I know it's been a while since I read the second book, and maybe I did need a couple of chapters to get back into the unique writing style. Problem with that theory is that the slowness lasted for at least the first third of the book, and I almost started to skim ahead to see how the series ended. I'm glad I didn't, however, because the ending definitely made up for the initial problems.

Raging Star brings Saba and her band to the ultimate showdown against the founder of New Eden, De Malo and the Tonton. But the book opens with the group bringing down a critical bridge and Saba's unease only intensifies when things happen that cause her to wonder if they are fighting the best way possible. There is also something underhanded happening within the group as Nero is feared killed at one point. Saba is forced to the edge of sanity and physicality by her decisions in how to defeat the New Eden people, and the lies she's felt compelled to tell wear her down further. I wanted her to get herself together and I wanted to shake her; the author did an excellent job of showing how Saba was pushed to the wall and still maintained her position as a leader fighting injustice. Once the plot started coming together, the pace picked up nicely and the ultimate showdown is well worth the wait.

There's a lot of tragedy in Raging Star: a lot of heartbreak, a lot of holding on because there's nothing else left to do. But there's also a lot of people stepping up in unexpected ways and a lot of finding inner strength when you believe there's none left. Saba is a wonderful character, truly alive and flawed, and she's surrounded by characters who love her or at least respect her enough to listen to her ideas. If the first part is slow, the wade through is well worth it as the final third is a wild ride that won't let you go until the end. I'm sorry to see this trilogy end, but I do think the author achieved an almost perfect conclusion.


Tuesday, July 01, 2014

For Downton Abbey Fans

Servants' Hall is a collection of stories that follows the life of the author in her years of domestic service in post WWI England. Margaret starts life as a kitchen maid and ends her tenure as Cook, having worked at several different homes in the years of her service. Along the way, she encounters several odd, lively personalities and has a few adventures with both guests and employers. Of particular interest in Margaret's friend Rose, who marries the son of the household in which she serves, setting her on a path she has no idea how to maintain. Margaret and her friend Mary attempt to stay in touch with the hapless Rose after her marriage and the results clearly show the problems in marrying "out of your station" during those days.

Margaret writes in a clear, engaging style that brings the reader into a world gone by and sheds light on how life was lived below stairs. Having not read her previous book, I was enthralled with how things were and impressed by the command of the language someone "in service" had when writing. I definitely want to pick up anything else the author may have written; she definitely had a way with words and her stories, while possibly embellished, were filled with the human-ness of the life of a servant. Relatively short, this book is a great read and fans of the time period will love seeing how the real folks lived.