I’ve been a little busy…

baby cheap announcementTurns out feeling sick for weeks and weeks and weeks can really get in the way of reading, but hopefully I can pick up a good book or two soon enough.

Until then…. 🙂

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The Beginning of Everything… (does not necessarily happen at the beginning)

oscar wilde

“Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them, […] That everyone’s life, no matter how unremarkable, has a moment when it will become extraordinary — a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen.”

Thus begins, Ezra’s tale about the tragedies in everyone’s life, and how that can really throw your previously predictable life for a curve. His best friend’s (Toby’s) tragedy was catching a severed head on a Disneyland ride at the tender age of 12 — he was forevermore an outcast. Ezra’s tragedy was catching his girlfriend in a compromising position with another guy, which sent him rushing to his car, and soon after a horrible car accident. Before the accident, Ezra was the most popular guy at his school, played tennis, and pretty much had everything handed to him on a silver platter. But after the accident, his fake friends continue to be self-absorbed, he no longer saw himself as the cool tennis-player (is there such a thing, anyway?!), and joined the nerdy table with Toby. This is a lot to take on during one’s senior year of High School.

However, the silver lining (at least until the “tragic” part) is that Ezra meets this new girl who transfers to school — a pretty little red-head who is completely different than anyone he’s ever met. Suddenly he’s okay with being distanced from his former life… because his new life with real friends, and the debate team, and being able to use big words and speak his mind, is so much better than the superficial world he used to live in.

Still, I had issues with this new girl, Cassidy, all along — sure, she was smart, and sassy, and fun, and unpredictable. “As always, she left me wanting more, and dreaming of what it would be like if I ever got it.” … but it was also pretty obvious she had issues and that things were not going to end well for Ezra and her! She was full of half-truths or simply didn’t want to say anything about herself — I didn’t feel that made her mysterious, it made her kind of irritating! But Ezra clings to her and her tragedy for dear life — he not only wants to make amends, he wants to fix her… and he can’t… and for a long while, this troubles him greatly.

“It was as thought I’d gone off on epic adventures, chased down fireworks and buried treasure, dance to music that only I could hear, and had returned to find that nothing had changed except for me.” He seems sad about this revelation… but it seems to me to be a good thing at this point in his life. He’s simply growing up — unfortunately, no one else is. And even though he seemed to think Cassidy was the reason for his sudden maturity and self-realization, she was’t. “She lent a spark, perhaps, or tendered the flame, but the arson was mine. Oscar Wilde once said that to live is the rarest thing in the world, because most people just exist, and that’s all. I don’t know if he’s right, but I do know that I spent a long time existing, and now, I intend to live.”

In the end, this is not your typical YA love story… it’s not even a tragic love story, as we might first assume from Ezra’s introduction. It’s really about how his life took a turn, and so he changed. It might have been painful, it might have been difficult, and at certain points, it might even have been heartbreaking… but it simply allowed him to grow up and start to live.

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Middle Grade Summer Reads

IMG_20150716_230935

Two more wonderful books to add the this summer’s read:

Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan by Sheila Agnew:

Evie Brooks has just lost her mom. With no father to account for, she must choose between living with her uncle Scott, in New York, or staying with her godmother Janet, in Dublin. “That’s kind of the whole point of having a godparent; that’s the person who brings you up, you know, if something happens and your parents are not on the scene.” As much as Evie would prefer to have things not change, her mother’s dying wish was for Scott to become Evie’s guardian, and “a guardian is basically the chief godparent,” – so she must at least give that a try.

Thus, Evie’s journey half way around the world begins. She has a lot to learn when she gets to New York—like how to help Scott in his veterinary office and how to tell the difference between heading Uptown or Downtown. She also learns that she’s not too smooth when talking to older boys, and that Scott’s girlfriend, Leela, is pure unadulterated evil.

Sheila Agnew’s Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan provides a humorous outsider’s perspective about life in New York, filled with touching moments about loss, family, and true friendship; but not without adventure and mischief in the Big Apple.

A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder:

Luna and Willow are sisters who live in a small village by a toxic swamp, which once used to be a beautiful, life-giving, free-flowing, river. Because of the dangers of the swamp, the wicked creature that lives deep within it, and the incurable wasting illness that succumbs to those who drink from the water, Mama has three never-to-be-broken rules:

“Don’t go past the bend in the river.

Don’t go below the dam.

Steer away from the slick.”

Luna’s rational nature and thirst for adventure prevent her from believing too deeply in these silly tales about such nonsense as “sprite magic.” But when Willow accidentally drinks from the black swamp water, Luna must break every single one of Mama’s rules to save her baby sister… or to at least be able to say, “I did everything I could.”

Through alternating perspectives between Luna and the water sprite, Perdita, Melanie Crowder weaves a magical story about sisterly love and devotion. A Nearer Moon is a mesmerizing fairytale told in poetic prose and rhythmic descriptions that transport the reader to a magical place with playful sprites, supernatural powers, and evil curses. It is a captivating tale of self-sacrifice, perseverance, and the true meaning of love.

Both reviews will be on the San Francisco Book Review… so much to read, so little time!

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Filed under Book Review, fantasy, Middle Grade Fiction, San Francisco Book Review, Summer Reads

Other Beach and Poolside Reads…because it’s summer!

Mindy & Lemoncello

As soon as summer vacation rolls around, my reading list drastically increases — and it’s awesome! One of my favorite pastimes involves reading by any body of water… basically, if my toes are in the sand, there’s sure to be a book in my hand. (Did I mean to rhyme? Maybe… maybe not… but it’s true!)

And so that brings me to my beach and poolside reads while vacationing with family and friends on a lovely cruise to Bermuda:

* Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling. Let me start by saying that Mindy is hilarious! She is a funny, accomplished woman who is also quite different from the typical Hollywood gal — and I love that she embraces it and celebrates it and that she felt her musings and struggles and selfies were the makings of a book… because I found it all very entertaining! There are funny anecdotes (and pictures) of her childhood, explanations of her struggles to make it into the comedy industry, and a whole lot about how much she loves her friends. I giggled, laughed, and connected with many ways. It’s a great summer read. (I am looking forward to her upcoming book this fall!)

* Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. Now, I’ve been seeing this title on the New York Times best seller list for a while, and so I figure, let’s see what all the fuss is about… but I didn’t actually know what the book was about. (I like to just pick up a book and start reading). So, I thought this was a book about some crazed Mr. Lemoncello who trapped children in his evil library and they had to escape to save their lives! … That is NOT what this book about. It is actually about an eccentric billionaire game-maker, Mr. Lemoncello (who just so happens to be very “Willy Wonka-like”). He is from a small (and imaginary… it’s not a real place, kids!) town in Ohio, called Alexandriaville. When Mr. Lemoncello was young, he found the town’s library to be a safe haven for his thoughts and learning. Thus, when the library was closed down, the decided to rebuild it in style! This takes a very long time — and so the children of the town (12 year-olds, to be exact) have never known a library. For a grand opening, Mr. Lemoncello chooses 12 twelve year-olds to partake in a sleepover game at the new and improved library. It’s full of puzzles, riddles, and games! It’s a whole lot of fun… for those who are really into working with others and enjoying the discovery of knowledge… for those who a selfish, egotistical jerks, not so much! The objective: be the first to escape from the library… without using the entrance through which you came in. It’s a really fun read!

And now… off to find some new books! (Unfortunately, I don’t think many more will be read with my toes in the sand). Thus, I will also be looking for some great spots to do my reading. Stay tuned!

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Filed under Book Review, Memoir, Middle Grade Fiction, New York Times Best Seller, Summer Reads

The Dark Side of Life / The Bright Side of Death

it's what you leave

“’Ladies and gentlemen,’ I shout, ‘I would like to welcome you to my death!’ You might expect me to say ‘life,’ having just woken up and all, but it’s only when I’m awake that I think about dying.”

Theodore Finch – horribly nicknamed ‘Theodore Freak’ by his awful classmates – is actually a pretty awesome guy. He’s charming, spontaneous, kind, and clearly bipolar. He begins his narrative by discussing being “asleep” – his time of depression, which seems to have passed… for now. He is now Awake, and keeps track of these days, as he is aware of how fleeting they can be… he is fighting his hardest not to be overtaken by the “Asleep” again.

As Finch contemplates what jumping off the school’s tower might feel and look like, he notices Violet Markey at a ledge as well – she’s popular, pretty, and scared at this great height. Violet lost her older sister Eleanor in a car accident almost a year ago. She feels overtaken by the “extenuating circumstances” of her life these days… nothing feels normal… nothing is normal… and now she’s shivering on a ledge six flights above the ground. Fortunately, Finch is there to talk her down and save her from herself. But who’d believe Theodore Freak talked the beautiful Violet Markey out of killing herself, and not the other way around? Yet, Finch is the kind of person who allows that kind of gossipy misconception to spread, so as to protect Violet’s reputation and her own feelings… after all, “This is my secret – that any moment I might fly away.” … and then nothing will matter anyway.

But so long as Finch is awake, and Violet needs someone to keep an eye on her, he is determined to stay awake, to put off death another day. “Is today a good day to die?” … Not if he can help it, and we sure do hope he can.

After many attempts to get her attention once again, and finally forcing Violet to be his partner for a Geography project via public peer pressure/mild humiliation, Finch determines to show Violet the great state of Indiana and all the quirky places they can discover and experience together. It is this journey that brings them closer together, gets her to ride in a car again, and allows them to discover all that life has to offer. It is enough to make Violet appreciate her life—her words, which were once gone, have come back in a new way, and she begins to write once more. Though still fraught with survivor’s guilt, she can see just what a wonderfully captivating guy Finch truly is… no matter what others at school might say about him. She falls for him, and looks forward to their wonderings, making sure to always leave something behind, for posterity’s sake.

They explore the highest point in Indiana, Hoosier Hill—1,257 feet above sea level— a field of retired bookmobiles, the Purina Tower, homemade roller coasters, and Indiana’s very own blue hole in a lake. Visiting these places with Finch gives Violet a reason to rediscover how amazing life can be again – but with darkness descending upon Finch, is it enough to keep him from trying not to die?

He says, “It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting.” He may be the mildly neglected broken boy from a broken home, but on the outside, he is just Finch – likely to have a violent fit, throw desks at school, go wondering for days, and sweep a girl off her feet – but there is nothing visibly wrong with him… then again, who’s really looking? It becomes painfully obvious that he is fighting a losing a battle, one he cannot possibly overcome on his own… but Finch is not one to be labeled, medicated, or made to feel any less than who he is. He does not want help. He cannot be helped.

“Cesare Pavese, believer in the Great Manifesto, wrote, ’We do not remember days, we remember moments.” Finch and Violet share many days… many firsts… many wonders. They have their moments…

Heartbreaking at it all is, Jennifer Niven reminds us in All The Bright Places that in the end, “The thing I realize is that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”

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The One Thing That Matters

circumstances reveal

“I’m not a fan of the bouquet. I have nothing against flowers specifically, but once they’ve been plucked from the ground and clumped together in a grouping, I find them unnerving. Maybe even a smidge creepy. Nothing says Please admire my beauty while I die a long, slow death like the floral arrangement. Looking back, I realize it was probably some sort of omen that Benjamin Milton was standing beside a bouquet when I first met him.”

Maggie Sanders has it all: wonderful parents, a beautiful home, great friends, a promising professional career in soccer, and a bright future ahead. Her booming confidence even leads her rebellious streak towards an epic high school prank— an illegal prank, which leads her directly to a parole officer. And so Maggie’s perfect life begins its decent into darkness, as a bought of bacterial meningitis proceeds to take her sight, her friends, and her bright future along with it.

“Right now my life was so broken, so mangled. I needed to glue something back together before my shaking frame fractured into a million different pieces.”

However, as circumstances would have it, it is after meeting with her parole officer— and falling not “with the dignity and grace of a self-respecting blind girl,” but instead, with a four-letter word and loud crash onto the floor— that Maggie meets Ben. Benjamin Milton is a ten-year-old boy who just happens to think, “That was the most majestic fall I’ve ever seen.” He also happens to have Spina bifida – and excellent taste in hats. Yet, Ben’s most notable quality is that Maggie can actually see him… in bright and vivid color!

Being the only person Maggie has seen in six months, and because of his bubbly, energetic, and refreshingly upbeat personality, she and Ben become fast friends. She meets his mom, and to her surprise, his older brother: Mason, lead singer of the Loose Cannons, and boy of her dreams… also the boy who thinks she’s just a fan girl faking her blindness to take advantage of his naïve little brother. Mason, therefore, exudes all kinds of loathing whenever she’s around. How can she explain she really is blind… around every other human being but Ben? Is Maggie delusional? Concussed? Hallucinating? Or is this a miraculous road to recovery?

In The One Thing, Marci Lyn Curtis creates a world we are hesitant to imagine – after all, we are (most of us) naturally inclined to want to visualize Maggie’s world… yet that is exactly what she needs us to understand: there is nothing to see. Not until Ben comes into Maggie’s world, and she doesn’t need to worry about bumping into flowers, slipping on the floor, or not knowing what she is eating… not when Ben is around. Whereas, without him Maggie’s world is empty – there is no laughter, no color, no passion for random things like Doritos, or hats with funny sayings. There is just a sense of loss for what used to be… and a lack of interest in what still could be.

While Maggie hides behind her witty answers and sarcastic remarks, it is through her relationship with Ben that she realizes just how selfish she has been. In preventing anyone from throwing her a pity-party, she has actually alienated her family and friends, ignoring their needs and their losses. Ben teaches her that although there may be loss – and he knows all about that – everyone of us can still have “a thing” that drives us forward and gives us a reason to get up every morning. These things may change: circumstances arise, and sometimes loss is inevitable.

Nonetheless, the lesson is clear:

“Circumstances don’t change us, they reveal us.”

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Reading Wonderful YA Fiction!

YA Fiction

To kick off my summer, I am focusing on what I love to read best: Young Adult Fiction!

Thus, I have had the pleasure of reading:

* Gabby Duran and the Unsittables by Elise Allen… ok, so this is actually middle grade fiction. But it is indeed awesome! Gabby Duran is just such an entertaining character, and once the story line pulls you in, you simply need to sit and read all the way through! Who doesn’t enjoy a good story about the best alien babysitter in the galaxy?

* Alice in Wonderland High by Rachel Shane is a great reimagining of Alice as a teenager joining a group of eco-vigilantes in an effort to teach her town how to be friendlier towards the environment. But does such a noble cause really excuse their extreme and rather illegal means?

* Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider, which was so amazing, it needed its own entry!

These book reviews should be appearing sometime soon in the San Francisco Book Review.

Happy summer reading!

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Extraordinary Means: On Self-Discovery and Second Chances

extraordinary means quote

“The life you plan isn’t the life that happens to you.”

Lane knows all about planning: he is the ultimate overachiever – his schedule is jam-packed with AP classes, study sessions to increase his SAT scores by just a few more points, and anything else that might boost his college résumé so he can impress the admissions board at Stanford. Meanwhile, Sadie is his polar opposite: she’s a fun, live-in-the-moment kind of girl, who spends her free time taking artistic photographs in the woods, and doesn’t quite set her sights on a future that may not even happen.

Yet as different as they are, Sadie and Lane do share something in common: a deadly and drug-resistant Tuberculosis strain, which is how they both end up at Latham House – a kind of boarding school for those so close to dying young, hoping to find a cure away from their friends and family who they wouldn’t want to infect. But instead of the dreary and morose atmosphere that might accompany a building full of the terminally ill, Sadie and her friends bring Lane into their roguish group, to wander the woods, smuggle contraband into their dorms, and find ways to undermine the constrictive rules of Latham: they choose to live, while they still can.

In Extraordinary Means, Robyn Schneider explores the idea of living life to the fullest, when we may not really have the time to lead a full-length life – the idea of getting a second chance to live life on your terms, for as long as you possibly can. This is what Lane discovers while being with Sadie, Nick, Charlie, and Marina – despite being terminally ill, they do not spend (all of) their time dwelling on what they no longer have, but instead on celebrating what they can still accomplish… even it’s as simple as stealing Internet access from the librarian!

“I realized then that I hadn’t had a life, I’d just had a life plan. […] I didn’t want to spend the next six years falling asleep at my desk with headphones on to block out the noise of everyone else having fun. I didn’t want to rush through all the moments that I wouldn’t know I wanted until they were gone.” Once he manages to slow down – and not necessarily by choice, but doctor’s orders – Lane discovers what he’s been missing: fun! He learns that breaking rules is enjoyable, having real friends to talk to and joke with feels great, and that connecting with others who share the same disease that could kill you, isn’t so bad. Turns out taking a step back from burning the stick at both ends, is even good for Lane’s overall health.

Unfortunately for Sadie, her experience isn’t quite the same. “I was living with TB, which is better than dying from it, but month after month, my X-rays and blood tests came back the same. And I didn’t know which change would be more terrifying, the death sentence I’d been dreading since sophomore year, or the ticket home to a life I’d missed far too much of to ever fully recover, and a world that would always treat me as an outsider if they knew.” While for Lane, Latham is a temporary escape, for Sadie, this is really where she feels most like herself, knowing that not only would the outside world keep her at arm’s length because of her illness, but also that she couldn’t be the confident, rule-breaker she is at Latham anywhere else.

Nonetheless, throughout the various interactions between this band of happy-go-lucky cool kids of Latham – both the mischievous and the heart breaking – Robyn Schneider highlights an important message: “Being temporary doesn’t make something matter any less, because the point isn’t for how long, the point is that it happened.”

Extraordinary Means is a beautifully told coming-of-age love story, which tugs at your heartstrings, while deepening your appreciation for those who matter right now.

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The Good Girl…. so many reactions!

i've been following her

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica is a thrilling mystery about a Mia, a young woman abducted by a man, Collin Thatcher, that she meets at a bar one night after getting stood up for the millionth time by her lame on-and-off boyfriend.

I read the entire book in one day — it was impossible to put down!

It is told through the different perspectives of Eve (her mother), Gary (the detective), and Collin (the abductor)… there’s also the epilogue narrated by Mia (it left me speechless). They vary in timing: some are from the “Before”-point of view, others the “After”… and the ever-so-important Christmas Eve.

Collin’s point of view grabbed me the most–

He starts off with:

“I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.”

That idea just sends chills down my spine. Yet, there is so much more to Collin than meets the eye. As we read more about him, as the kidnapping goes on for far too long, we inevitably get to know him (as does Mia).

He says, “I know the feel of dismissive eyes, eyes that look without really seeing a thing. I know the sound of contempt in a voice. I know how betrayal and disillusionment feel, when someone who could give you the world refuses even a tiny piece of it.”

He is broken… and there are good reasons for it. But does that excuse his life of crime? Does that make him a victim of circumstance? Or can we still hate him for being a kidnapper… despite the good intentions?

He continues, “I turn and look at her. I say nothing. Neither of us is sure if it’s a question or not. What I know is that I feel something change inside me every time she looks at me. Her eyes no longer look through me. Now, when she talks, she looks at me. The anger and hate are gone.”

Stockholm syndrome, anyone? I’m not sure… there are just so many layers to these characters.

As they plan their get-away, he engraves a message on the table, “We Were Here, I think, but it’s someone else who leaves.”

For a long time, I couldn’t decide who was the most hateable character: Collin (for the obvious reasons) or Mia’s father, Judge James Dennett — who is (from the second he is introduced) a complete and self-absorbed jerk! He won’t even report Mia as missing because he’s sure she’s just having great time somewhere, being irresponsible, and hoping to cause a scene. He is demeaning and controlling with his wife. He is condescending to Detective Hoffman. He has absolutely no redeeming qualities.

It’s interesting to see just how much Mia and Collin have in common… what they can discover about each after being stuck in the same small log cabin in the isolated and increasingly freezing woods for weeks.

This is such a thoughtfully woven mystery — the alternating points of the view, the shift in time, the present-tense narrative… it’s all purposeful and helps drive the story forward until the climactic end.

It’s the kind of story you just don’t put down.

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I’m in the Nerdy Book Club!!

read anywayIt’s very exciting for me to have my literary musings in the Nerdy Book Club! If you’re feeling in the mood, do check it out: Make a Little Time to Read.

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