Book Review: This Shattered World

this shattered worldThis Shattered World
by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Published by: Disney Hyperion
Form: Purchased Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Space, Rebellion, Violence, Freedom, Love, Irish culture

This book is a sequel/companion book to These Broken Stars.  While it is not necessary to read the books in order because the books follow different characters, it is recommended.

Summary:
This book takes place on a planet on the verge of war. Soldiers are trying to keep the peace, but a mysterious mental illness is causing the soldiers to go crazy with violence. History between the soldiers and citizens/natives is tense to say the least, and tension is rising. Jubilee Chase is one of the soldiers. Flynn Cormac is one of the native rebels. But in this story reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, Jubilee and Flynn see something in each other beyond their side in this war.

What I Loved:

Initially, I really enjoyed figuring out all the ties to Romeo and Juliet. I enjoyed trying to figure out character equivalents and where the story was going.

I also really liked the bits of Irish culture embedded in a setting that was otherworldly. This element grounded the story as well as gave the reader something to grasp in a setting that was unfamiliar.

I liked the idea of Jubilee Chase, being a hardened soldier after a tragic childhood.

I liked the Shakespearean place names: Avon, Verona, etc.

I liked the home of the rebels and how they managed to stay hidden. The swampy setting was very original and fresh.

The ending helped pull the book together.

Criticism:

This book was much slower for me than These Broken Stars. I really struggled to finish it. Jubilee and Flynn did not come to life for me like Tarver and Lilac.  I think part of the problem for me was buying into their skills and talents as characters. I would have bought into Jubilee being a tough as nails if we had actually gotten to see her in battle. I would have bought into Flynn being a rebel leader more if we had actually seen him navigating his people through a challenge. In the previous book, Tarver and Lilac underwent so much when they crash landed that we saw their character through the hardships they went through.  I didn’t feel like this book had the same level of conflict and challenge. Instead, it felt a lot more like Jubilee and Flynn were observing and hiding and talking for most of the book.

I also didn’t really like the direction the book took being so similar to the previous one. I get that it was the author’s attempt to tie the books together, but it didn’t feel fresh to me. It felt forced. I would have preferred that the authors use this new planet setting to create a new conflict.

I also felt like the whole first half of the book was a tad confusing. I didn’t understand what was meant by the soldier’s going insane (I think we needed to witness that firsthand earlier in the book). I didn’t understand all the dreams at the start of each chapter. Looking back, I still don’t like how many dreams there were, and even now knowing what their purpose was, I don’t want to go back and reread them.

And… SPOILER.  SPOILER.  Don’t read below…

ThisShatteredWorld2

SPOILER:
I didn’t like that Jubilee and Flynn both didn’t die. I felt like it was a bit of a cop out. I was expecting it with the parallel Romeo and Juliet storyline.  I’d prepared myself for it.  And then it didn’t happen.  And I totally felt like the authors wimped out. Wanted their characters to have a happy ending. And so they didn’t kill them. And I think it might have been a better story if they’d died.

Overall:
Three stars. Not as good as These Broken Stars. Slow, didn’t like the characters as much, and weaker in plot. But still creative sci-fi and I enjoyed the ties to Romeo and Juliet.

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Book Review: Sculptor

sculptorSculptor
by Scott McCloud

Published by: First Second
Form: Purchased Hardback
Genre: Graphic Novel
Big Themes
: Art, Life, Death, Love, Depression, Individuality, Legacy, Time

Summary:
A young artist makes a bargain with Death: unlimited artistic ability but in exchange, David Smith will only have 200 days left to live. With his new ability to sculpt anything his mind can imagine, David struggles to create a legacy to his name.  He wants his work to be seen and remembered, but the clock is ticking.

“The best graphic novel I’ve read in years. It’s about art and love and why we keep on trying. It will break your heart.” -Neil Gaiman

Review:

Scott McCloudIf you are a fan of graphic novels, Scott McCloud should be a familiar name.  His books Making Comics and Understanding Comics are must-haves and will change how you read and appreciate graphic novels. I bought these books for my brother about ten years ago after being incredibly impressed by them myself. We would both call ourselves Scott McCloud fans. However, while McCloud has written how-to manuals about comics, he had yet to embark on creating a novel-length piece of graphic fiction.  Sculptor is his first.

I had the opportunity to meet and hear Scott McCloud speak at Politics and Prose in DC back in February. He had a great computer presentation that allowed him to show us his creative process and the work that went into Sculptor. The book is a 488 pages and took McCloud five years to craft. This event moved Sculptor to the top of my to-read pile despite how enormous my to-read list is lately.

What I Loved:
The art was gorgeous.  You can tell this book was an act of love. Every panel shows thoughtfulness. The novel is set in New York City, and some of the panels made me ache to jump on the train for a visit.

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The message about life was another element I loved. I’d like to discuss this book in a book group, but here is what I took away from the book (without giving any spoilers). After reading, I felt like McCloud wanted his readers, particularly young people who are driven to make a name for themselves, to realize that life is more than making your mark. Especially when it comes to creativity, life fuels your work, your craft. Experiences and relationships and everyday life are just as important as any goals or aspirations you may have. And to live in a manic, focused, obsessive state where your entire focus is centered on your own aspirations is wasting the one life you have to live.

This resonated with me because creative types, introverted writers especially, can live in the worlds they create. They can obsess over the right word or phrasing. They can worry if anyone will ever want to read their work. And writing is often such a solitary act that shutting out the real world becomes too easy. So for me, this book was about finding balance. A reminder that life outside of art and ambition is equally important.

Also, the concepts of some of the sculptures that David creates were really, really awesome. I’d imagine that would be difficult to come up with as a writer–ideas for art that corresponds with infinite ability. That was a fun, almost superhero element.  Super Sculptor–can mold anything with his bare hands. McCloud made that power seem cool and desirable.

Criticism:
I’d love to have a discussion about Meg. McCloud admits that she fits the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but he said the following:

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an archetype that shows up in romance almost exclusively, and our reaction is to mark it for death. We shouldn’t kill what we don’t understand. There’s a reason why this character shows up again and again. I don’t know how well a job I’ve done of investigating those reasons, but I hope there’s something in The Sculptor that makes Meg worthwhile.

Quote from Vulture.com

There are so many things to be discussed about Meg–from her first appearance as an angel, to their talk about her being an object, to her final representation in sculpture form. Am I okay with how McCloud portrayed the only leading female character? My initial answer is no. But I’d love to talk about it.

Overall:
Four stars. Overall, I really enjoyed this. Would highly recommend to all creative types or ambitious types. Recommended for adults due to sex and mature topics.

Top Ten Books on My To-Read List (Winter 2015)

5b4a8-toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.

This Week’s Topic:
Top Ten Books on My To-Read List (Winter 2015)

I fell short of my reading goals for 2014, so I have a lot of catching up to do!  These are the books at the top of my list.  All book titles link to Goodreads.

Winter1

  1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart- I read The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks this summer and loved it.  A hardback of We Were Liars is on my bookshelf, calling my name.
  2. The Unwind series by Neal Schusterman- My mom and brother are urging me to finish this series.  They LOVE it.  I really enjoyed the first book, but it’s been well over 5 years since I’ve read it.  I’ll need to do a re-read before tackling Unwholly, UnSouled, and Undivided.
  3. The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier- I discovered this book at a new local indie bookstore called Greenrow Books.  If you’re in Maryland, you should totally check them out!  I’ll be teaching Poe soon, and this Victorian ghost story boasted a Poe-type vibe.winter4
  4. Maggie Stiefvater- There was a point where I had read everything Maggie had published.  I’ve since fallen way behind, despite my desire to devour everything she writes.  I’ve started Scorpio Races three times but have never finished.  SinnerDream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue are all on my to-read list as well.winter2
  5. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen- This book has tons of buzz, and my mom read it already and passed it on to me after she really enjoyed it.
  6. Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins- Sometimes I need humor in my life, and I can trust Rachel Hawkins to make me laugh!  I loved her Hex Hall series, and I want to check out her latest novel, too!
  7. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas- I have heard nothing but wonderful things about this series, and I feel so late to the party!  Really, really want to read this one! winter3
  8. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate- I am normally so much better about reading the Newbery winners.  This one keeps escaping me, and I really must make time to read it.  I need to read more middle grade this year because I’m running out of books to recommend to my students!
  9. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo- Another series that I keep hearing wonderful things about!  I bought this ages ago and really must finally pick it up!
  10. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers- This series intimidates me because the books are sooooo long.  But it’s another series that people rave about, and I shouldn’t let the book’s weight deter me any longer!

What books are on your to-read list this winter?  Please share!

Book Review: Sea of Tranquility

sea of tranquilitySea of Tranquility
by Katja Millay
Published by: Atria Books
Form: Purchased Paperback
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Big Themes
: Trajedy, Death, Falling in Love, Second Chances, Woodworking, Baking, Ice Cream

Summary:
After a life-changing, horrible, near-death experience, a girl named Nastya stops speaking and moves in with her aunt so she can get a fresh start at a new school.  She meets a boy named Josh, whose life is also unbearably tragic, and the two find comfort in each other’s broken, outcast status.  But can love bloom between two people who have not allowed their scars to heal?

Review in a Nutshell:

This book originally went on my to-read list after I read Aylee’s review over at Recovering Potter Addict.  (Great blog and I highly recommend clicking the link and checking her out.)  Aylee prefers speculative fiction, much like myself.  But this contemporary read had her gushing and handing out five stars, so I put it on my list… Back in Winter 2014…  A year ago…

Fast forward to now.  My mom had been recommending this book to me, saying I would love it.  And I finally picked it up to give it a go over my winter break.  My mom wanted me to read it not just because she enjoyed it, but also because the male lead is a carpenter/woodworker–just like my awesome boyfriend!!!  Ahhh!  Yay!!!  So I definitely liked the male lead in this book.  😉

This was Millay’s first novel and an impressive debut.  Both Nastya and Josh narrate the story, which is something I enjoy when there is a budding romance.  I like getting both perspectives and seeing the characters through each other’s lenses.  I also thought Millay did a good job of slowly revealing bits of information about Nastya’s past.  The pacing and timing of the clues is well done.  I never felt like I was being denied information as the reader.

The only reason I did not give this five stars is because I didn’t cry.  And I kind of felt like I should have cried, based on the story’s content.  So I don’t think I connected with the characters as powerfully as I have in other books (like TFIOS for example).

Overall:
Four stars.  Really enjoyed it, never bored.  Excellent debut and I highly recommend.  For ages 14 and up due to language, violence, alcohol, drugs, and sex.

Book Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After

IslaIsla and the Happily Ever After
by Stephanie Perkins
Published by: Dutton
Form: Purchased Hardback
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Big Themes
: Falling in Love, Boarding School, Finding Yourself, Art, Paris, NYC, Barcelona

Other Books in the Series:
Anna and the French Kiss
Lola and the Boy Next Door
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This series is more like companion books than sequels.

Summary:
Isla, class valedictorian, has had a crush on Joshua Wasserstein, bad boy artist, since her freshman year.  One night in New York while they are both home for the summer fills Isla with hope that perhaps something might happen this year when they return to school in Paris.

Review in a Nutshell:

I. Love. Stephanie.  Perkins.

Stephanie Perkins captures young love at its finest in each of her books.  She captures those moments of awkwardness.  Those moments of hope.  Those moments of infatuation.  Those moments of wonder. I rarely read contemporary romance because they don’t have enough action for me.  But Stephanie Perkins crafts characters that feel real and her stories are authentic to teen experiences.  I love her work.

Lola and the Boy Next Door will remain my favorite in this series because I adored the quirky characters Lola and Cricket.  But Isla has it’s own charm that shouldn’t be missed.  If you like the quiet, nerdy girl falls for misunderstood, bad boy, then this is your book.  If you think that sounds too predictable, there are plenty of surprises that made the story fresh.

Isla really captured what I think is a real teen persona: the super successful academic who has no idea what they want to do in their life after high school.  I think there are a lot of teens who push and push themselves to achieve in high school and get into competitive colleges but are lost when it comes to a passion and career they want to pursue.  I really liked that Perkins explored this person in Isla.

Josh, the romantic lead, is Isla’s opposite.  He has always known what his passion is and what he wants to do with his life.  They compliment each other, and yet conflict is present as well.  I loved the descriptions of Josh’s artwork throughout the novel.  I’d imagine that would be hard to capture as an author, but I thought Perkins did a wonderful job.

The story is well crafted.  You are invested in Isla and Josh as a couple, and then the conflict is heart-wrenching.  I sort of wanted to know what Isla’s passion and purpose was going to be, but I think it is better that we don’t get a resolution there because, just like a real teenager, she needs time to explore and develop.  I also wanted some resolution with Josh’s hand pains.  I want to know that he’ll be okay!

And if you’ve ever wanted to travel to Barcelona, this book will make you want to go even more!

Overall:
Four and a half stars.  Really, really enjoyed it, but it won’t beat Lola and the Boy Next Door in my heart.  Highly recommend!  For ages 14 and up due to language and sex.

Book Review: Afterworlds

afterworldsAfterworlds
by Scott Westerfeld
Published by: Simon Pulse
Form: Purchased Hardback (autographed)
Big Themes: Writing, Afterlife, Death, Ghosts, Revenge, New York City, Growing Up, LGBT, Ramen

Summary:
This book tells two stories: Darcy Patel, the teen who lands a book deal and moves to NYC to pursue a career in writing–and–the other story being the book Darcy wrote: the story of Lizzie, the victim of a terrorist attack who can see ghosts and travel the afterlife following her close encounter with death.

Review in a Nutshell:

Really fantastic concept.  Loved reading the story of an author side by side with the book the author is working on.  The writer in me especially loved that.  And Westerfeld totally pulled it off.  I had no difficulty keeping the two stories straight.

I was far more interested in Darcy’s story than Lizzie’s story.  I really enjoyed getting a little glimpse at the writing life, especially the romantic idea of living in New York City after a huge signing contract and being able to take a stab at writing full time.  That’s my dream life.  Not to mention living in a refurbished dance studio with huge windows?  Sigh.  I want that life.

I was less enchanted with the romantic subplots of both stories.  Lizzie/Yama or Darcy/Imogen did not feel authentic or swoony to me at all.  I think this was due to a lack of tension or build-up in either romantic plot.  Both relationships fell together rather easily.

Overall:
I’m a huge fan of Scott Westerfeld, but this won’t beat the Leviathan series for me.  I liked the glimpse of the writing life.  And I liked the whole concept of reading a writer’s life side-by-side with their novel.  Three stars.

Book Review: Every Day

Every DayEvery Day
by David Levithan
Published by: Ember
Form: Purchased Paperback
Big Themes: Humanity, Trust, Love, Reincarnation

Summary:
Every day, A wakes up in a new body.  He has no choice as to what body he wakes up in.  A’s life has no consistency.  Each day is new faces.  A new situation.  Until A falls in love, and struggles to cling to the possibility that this body-hopping life may have a purpose.

Review in a Nutshell:

A totally unique concept.  This book really makes you think about what it means to be human and the idea of a human soul.  What makes us who we are?  I loved the idea of a person being recognizable no matter what body they are in.  The idea that a soul can transcend your physical body.

You really feel for the character A and all that he/she has to go through on a daily basis.  You yearned for A to have some stability and normalcy.  With each day being an entirely different situation, I definitely found this book to be a page-turner and quick read.

The book is guilty of using some stereotypes in terms of the characters that A body-hops into.  That didn’t bother me as I was reading, but I read it in some reviews afterwards.  I thought the author did an excellent job of exploring many different personas, and frequently created sympathy for those personas through A’s voice and observations.

Overall:
Four shining stars.  This book was a fascinating look at humanity and what it means to be human.  Unique and worth reading. Recommended for ages 14 and up for mild drug/sex references.