Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska

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Book blurb as seen on Goodreads:

Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter’s whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the “Great Perhaps” (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

This is kind of like what I said when I critiqued Gone Girl: I’m a little late to the party. But nonetheless, I’ll have a go at it.

John Green creates characters who are not very realistic, but they are believable, and I suppose that’s all that matters. You’d have to search pretty hard in middle America to find teens who can quote obscure literature, but they’re out there. Most boys don’t have the ability to internally evaluate why their girlfriends are raging bitches and yet continue to see them, but Green’s character does. And you buy it. And that self-destructive teen you knew growing up probably doesn’t remind you that much of Alaska, but that’s because most of us never got to know them. I bet if I went back in time I could find some Alaskas walking the halls of my high school, and I might even like them, if I gave them a chance.

I think that’s what I love the most about Green’s books. The characters. People I may never meet in real life, but they seem as real to me as the neighbors down the street. I can see what they look like, feel how they feel and understand their motivations. Even when they do things that are stupid, Green makes it make sense. At least in the context of the character.

A fellow AWer recently called John Green’s books “pity porn”. I got a chuckle out of that. Because they kind of are. It doesn’t change that I absolutely adore the two I’ve read, but it does put it in perspective. There’s a reason I’ve only read two, and spread them out over a number of years. There’s only so much sadness I can take in one novel.

These stories are moving and profound, and they have the ability to put us into the lives of people we might never have really understood. TFIOS helps us to see people with terminal illness as people, not just a sad story. Looking for Alaska gave us a glimpse into the life of a troubled teen with questionable moral values, but we still felt sad at her tragedy. I think these novels give us another way to look at the world and life and people in it, without our context. Or maybe it’s in our context. Too often these people on the peripherals of our lives can be marginalized and compartmentalized so that they are no longer human beings. Green forces us to see them as human, giving us the context to care for them not as pity cases, or incidents to shake our heads in disapproval, but to mourn their loss and cry over their bad decisions.

I have felt changed after both of the John Green novels I have read. We talk about needing diversity in books, and I think Green is being diverse. Maybe not in the color of skin or religion or the things we usually think of as diversity, but we live in a world where diversity is rampant; in our personalities, our dreams, our experience. Every time I read a novel that opens me up to the experience of another person, I feel enriched. Which is what I feel diversity, in all its forms, can do for us.

My Review: 4 stars

Book Review: Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Orson Scott Card (but really my rant against homophobics, bigots and racists)

Writing F SF

So, I received an email from Writer’s Digest (one of about 15 I receive in a day) advertising a guide to writing Science Fiction & Fantasy. Normally, I briefly scan these ads, then delete, but this time I actually opened the email. As I’m writing a Science Fiction novel right now, I thought I might take a look. When I saw that it was written by actual, successful Science Fiction & Fantasy authors, I decided to give it a try. I mean, it couldn’t hurt, and it might just give me some ideas I hadn’t thought to address in my novel.

So here’s my quick assessment. Yes, this novel knows its stuff. The authors are successful, and had some helpful and informative things to say about how to make your novels (really any novel) better. Of course, you’re going to have to wade through a hell of a lot of talk, talk, talk, about whatever they feel like saying (kind of like my blog posts!) but you will get nuggets of information.

But then I posted on AW that I was reading said book, and the response was not what I expected. It was all about the main author, Orson Scott Card. I knew he had written Ender’s Game, among many other successful novels, but I didn’t know anything else about him. “He sickens me as a human being,” was the nicest thing said. “Grade-A douchebag,” was probably my favorite. So, of course, I asked, “What’s the deal?” and they told me, via a few internet articles on the guy.

10 Homophobic Quotes by Orson Scott Card, Author of “Ender’s Game” on
Orson Scott Card’s long history of homophobia on

Okay, so whether you were already aware of OSC’s feelings on the subject, or whether you read the articles I supplied, let’s move on. What does this mean for you (or me) as the consumer of his art? And I call it art, because, let’s face it, no matter how much I might abhor his beliefs, he is an award winning, best selling, prolific author. It’s not like any of us can sit here and say he’s not good at what he does.

Admittedly, I haven’t read any of his works of fiction. I only just recently heard about the Ender’s Game series, and only because the movie was coming out. I thought the movie looked intriguing, and the books were described as some of the best YA books ever written. They were now on my radar, but I wasn’t rushing to consume the media. Eventually, I did see Ender’s Game, the movie. I think it was on HBO, and I did enjoy it. Good story with an interesting concept, if a little see-thru in how it would end. But I wasn’t so enthralled that I ran right out to read the books. Still in the mental TBR pile, I figured I would get to them in due time.

But now, I have no desire to read the books. And I’m only 21% into Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction and I’m pretty much bored with it too. Reading something that is created by a human who has such awful thoughts and views is abhorrent to me. I would no sooner have read Gone With the Wind or A Tale of Two Cities or The Fault in Our Stars had they been written by Hitler. (Yes, Hitler is the God-awful measuring stick we use for all cretins in society!) Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista, have written books I will never read. Bill O’Reilly writes books all the time, but I won’t buy them. (Okay, that one time for my dad.) And it’s not that Bill, Newt, or Callista are awful human beings (they may be, I don’t know) it’s that my political beliefs are so strongly different than theirs, that I don’t want to contribute to them financially by buying said books, or in a confidence factor that tells them their beliefs are upheld by those who read what they have written. Even if their books have no political motivation, I just don’t want to contribute to them in anyway. And to be clear, if someone purchased one of these books for me or my children I wouldn’t throw it at the giver and scream I won’t read it. Depending on the book, I might read it, but I wouldn’t seek them out of my own accord.

And what would I do if I found out Susanne Collins was racist? Would I still go see Mockingjay Part II? I’ve invested years into my HG love, so it would take something pretty horrific to stop me from seeing the culmination. But I don’t know. The enjoyment of anything created by someone who would believe racist thoughts would be seriously compromised, and I wouldn’t want to support them in any way. Or what if John Green was revealed to hate Muslims? I’ve only read two of his books, and loved them! Would I deny myself the pleasure of reading others? On this one, probably yeah. Even though it would hurt, but it would never hurt as much as that trust that is broken. The one where you think someone you admire is a good person and they prove you wrong.

DISCLAIMER: Neither John Green nor Susanne Collins is a racist, bigot or prejudice in any way. At least that I know of. Just using them as an example!

So where does that leave me? I may peck away at Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’ve already paid for it, and I may learn something, but I won’t be reading any of OSC’s other books. And I unsubscribed from Writer’s Digest emails. Mostly because if they associate with someone who has such strong beliefs contrary to what I believe, then I don’t want to give them my patronage, but also because those many, many emails are simply annoying.

I guess this makes me a semi-hypocrite. Will I turn my back on every creator of anything that doesn’t agree with my beliefs? No. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and I have plenty of conservative Republican friends and family. In fact, sometimes I feel very alone in my liberalism, but they all have value. And so do their beliefs and opinions. But if I can consciously use my dollars and time to counteract poisonous beliefs, then I will. Which is why you will never see me in a Chik-fil-a. (Yet I still can’t resist Hobby Lobby.) Though I won’t go on a witch hunt to expose the beliefs of the people behind every book I read, movie I watch, food I eat, etc., if I have an opportunity to make my sentiments known, I will.

So what do you think? Does knowing an author has beliefs that are strongly against your own cause you to not read their work? How far away from your own beliefs does a person have to be to elicit this response? Or should we keep our opinions about a person’s moral values separate from our opinions about their art?

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone girl
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Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
ISBN-13: 9780553418361
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 8/26/2014
Pages: 432

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

Critiquing this book is kind of like showing up to Times Square on New Years Day as the street cleaners are sweeping up the confetti and yelling, “Let’s start the party!!!” Most of you have probably already read this novel, and certainly don’t need me to advise you on whether you should read it or not. There’s been enough hype from the book and the movie that it doesn’t need my help, but I’ll add my own two cents anyway.

Thrillers and crime novels are far, far from the types of books I usually read, so as a genre, I wasn’t very excited. And truth be told, this didn’t encourage me to pick up any others. I still don’t like thrillers or crime novels. But Flynn did do something that pulled me in. Her ability to develop a character study of even the minor characters in just a few sentences was amazing. I not only understood and sympathized with the characters, everyone of them, I recognized myself, or people I knew, in them. It was uncanny how she could peel apart the layers of a person and expose them to the world for all to see.

And her ability to write characters wasn’t her only strong point. In fact, she had no weak points. Plot, suspense, characters, were all above reproach, as was the writing. Never once did I think, “That could have been better.” I love it when a novel keeps me fully invested and I don’t get distracted by poor writing.

The only negative I have to say, besides the fact that I don’t generally like books like this, is I kind of predicted the main plot twist just from reading the blurb. Which was no big deal, because it didn’t ruin the story or anything and I didn’t know for sure what the rest of the story would bring. Basically, no suspense ruined.

And the ending was satisfying, if totally messed up. Actually, this whole book was messed up. It went from character studies of normal people to some pretty crazy stuff, which kept it interesting. I didn’t really like either of the main characters. Heck, I don’t think I liked any of the characters, but I still wanted to know how it ended. Flynn didn’t disappoint. There is no real happy ending for anyone, just an ending. I don’t know if she plans a sequel (which would be even more messed up) but maybe it would offer a more conclusive ending. At any rate, I’ll imagine my own resolution, which may be what Flynn intended. Not that I didn’t like the ending. It was . . . appropriate. Kind of like life. The end of one story is the beginning of another.

My Review: 3.5 stars (I took off a bit because I didn’t like the genre. If I had, it would have been a 5.)

Book Review: The Young Elites by Marie Lu

The Young elites
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Title: The Young Elites
Author: Marie Lu
Series: A Young Elites Novel Series , #1
ISBN-13: 9780399167836
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/7/2014
Pages: 368
Age range: 12 – 17 Years

I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I cracked open this novel. I enjoyed Marie Lu’s Legend Series, so I assumed I would also like this, but it is Fantasy, and I don’t read a lot of Fantasy. It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting in the main character of Adelina Amouteru. Besides the fact I couldn’t pronounce her last name, she was dark. Very dark, and Marie calls this the villain’s story at the back of the book. While I didn’t necessarily see her as the villain, she was an intense character with a lot of baggage. You see her make choices that you know will lead to her downfall (kind of like Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith) but you still want her to win or that her choice won’t lead to the eventualities you’re expecting.

And don’t expect a rosy happy ending. Having read Marie Lu’s work before, I wasn’t expecting sunshine and rainbows, but I also wasn’t prepared for what actually happens. As usual, Lu is great at endings, even if they don’t leave you warm and snuggly afterwards.

So basically I loved this book, if I haven’t said that already. It was superbly written, which I needed after some sub-par YA’s I’ve read recently. The characters were intensely deep and I loved the stories of Adelina’s youth, and her reactions to what happened. They seem sinister and potentially evil, but I could see myself in her interactions with her little sister. Sisterhood is a rare bond bordered on both sides by hate and love. I can’t wait to read more of this series, though I’m sure it will be heart rending from start to finish. I expect “good” to prevail in the end, but I actually like when characters don’t walk away from stories like this with their happily-ever-after. HEA’s are unrealistic after people suffer so much. I prefer as-happy-as-you-can-be endings.

My Review: 4 stars

Book Review: Entangled by Amy Rose Capetta

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Title: Entangled
Series: Entangled Series , #1
Author: Amy Rose Capetta
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 11/4/2014
Pages: 336
Age range: 14 years
ISBN-13: 9780544336247

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

Alone was the note Cade knew best. It was the root of all her chords.

Seventeen-year-old Cade is a fierce survivor, solo in the universe with her cherry-red guitar. Or so she thought. Her world shakes apart when a hologram named Mr. Niven tells her she was created in a lab in the year 3112, then entangled at a subatomic level with a boy named Xan.
Cade’s quest to locate Xan joins her with an array of outlaws—her first friends—on a galaxy-spanning adventure. And once Cade discovers the wild joy of real connection, there’s no turning back.

I purchased this book for my Kindle on Amazon.

This one will be short. I don’t have a lot to say about Entangled. It was a good, entertaining read that was pretty quick and had me moderately invested the whole time. I enjoyed the author’s use of musical terms to help explain how Cade was thinking and feeling, and even though she was one of those hard luck cases that hates you first before you can hate her, I actually kind of enjoyed it. It wasn’t over done and seemed realistic based on her background. The theme of the story, connecting to other people, became a gradual idea and you saw Cade grow through all of it. She needed her connection to Xan, but she wanted her connection to other people she had gotten to know.

And the writing kept me in the story most of the time. I never stopped and thought, “Oh, she should have shown there, instead of told,” or “The dialogue is clunky.” Everything flowed together nicely. There were a couple of times her prose style made me do a double read so I could figure out what she was talking about, but other than that I enjoyed it.

This book would be an entertaining read for fans of Science Fiction with it’s interesting take on the universe. The villains were properly scary and the big reveal wasn’t something I saw coming. The ending was interesting and a little heartbreaking, though I knew there had to be something that would keep her from a happily-ever-after. It just didn’t feel like a HEA book. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel.

My Review: 3/5 stars

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And on a side note, I’m looking for recent YA Science Fiction novels to read. I want to get a good handle on the genre before I start writing. Any suggestions?

Book Review: Burn Baby, Burn Baby by Kevin Craig

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Title: Burn Baby, Burn Baby
Author: Kevin Craig
Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press (December 11, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1620076519
ISBN-13: 978-1620076514

I purchased this book on Amazon for my Kindle

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago. Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley-the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby. The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars. If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions. Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted. Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.

So I finished reading this book last weekend, but I’ve been putting off writing a review, because for the first time ever, there is a realistic possibility the author will read the review. That’s a lot of pressure. Sure, if I wanted to gush about the parts I love, and I will, that would be easy. But as my readers know, I almost never just say “good” things. Because I believe in an honest and comprehensive approach. Especially if I think my review could help a writer improve. Even if it isn’t the author of the book I’m reviewing. After all, I’ve learned so much about what not to do and what I can do better by reading the good and the bad from published authors. They are my school, my teachers, my mentors (even if they don’t know I exist!)

There’s a part of me that says I should give up writing book reviews. As I get closer to being a published author myself (no, there’s no news, just blatant optimism that someday . . .) I feel maybe writing reviews of authors I may someday meet, or work with, or even compete against, isn’t a good idea. Still, I value honesty, as long as it’s done in an appropriate manner, so for now I shall continue.

As to why Mr. Craig may actually read my review, I sort of know him. Well, as much as you can know someone you occasionally chat with on Absolute Write and passively follow his blog. He knows I’m reading it, though who I am may not register on his radar. Like I said, very minor acquaintance. I could probably never say anything and he’d never know, but that’s not me. I’ll write my review, be honest, and still tell him I wrote it. And on with the book review . . .

I’ll start with a few things I believe Craig could have improved on, but I’m going to qualify it first. I’ve read other books from a deep teen POV, as this is, and I find I don’t particularly like the writing style. I think Monument 14 by Emmy Labourne was one I’ve commented on before. While I think it is excellent to really get into the voice of a teen, especially when writing 1st person (and trust me, this had plenty of voice) I also like when authors “upgrade” how teens really speak and feel. Not so they don’t sound like teens or you lose the voice, but maybe not repeat certain words too much (unless it’s a distinct character trait.) For example, multiple teens use the word “pariah” in this book on multiple occasions. As a word, it’s fine, but repeated so many times seemed a bit redundant. I like a little more polish to my teen voices, while still retaining the flavor.

Another issue I had, and something I am guilty of myself, is telling and not showing. I’m specifically referring to how the characters feel and what they were thinking. There were longish bits of dialogue that spelled out a characters thoughts or feelings that seemed a bit excessive to me. I’d rather be shown by body language and a few well-chosen words than long descriptions that kind of repeat themselves. Even though this is how I communicate on a daily basis, and especially on this blog! Sorry guys for all the lengthy posts!

So what did I like? Well, a lot actually. I’m sure many of you have heard of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and though I know when you hear those words, you immediately think of minorities in race, sexual orientation and maybe disabilities, but not everyone would consider a burn victim disabled. Personally, I think this book fits the bill perfectly. The WNDB campaign, in my opinion, is about showing readers another side of life they may not experience everyday, and being Francis Fripp is something very few people can really understand. Francis was badly burned by parental abuse as a child, but his emotional scars run much deeper than the physical.

This book explores the adverse affects of physical, mental and emotional abuse inflicted by a parent and their long reaching, long standing hold on the victim. It also shows the truly terrifying life of being the victim of vicious bullying. But it also lets the reader into the world of a kid who sees himself as the victim and plays that role, to the exclusion of allowing others to befriend him. He is so certain that he is unworthy of love, friendship and really anything good in life, that he hides behind his burned facade and protects himself from further hurt. Really what he has done, is allowed others to see him as a “social pariah” as he puts it in the book. It’s easy to question by the end of the book if he is really an outcast, or if his self-esteem and defense mechanisms have prevented anyone else from forming attachments to him.

I loved how Kevin developed the bully from someone who tormented Francis at school, in a sort of typical high school fashion, to someone truly evil. It was a great transformation from this kid we can all see as at least one person we know, into a monster that probably grows up and abuses his kids. And we can see how the whole “stand up for yourself” mantra, doesn’t always pan out. And neither does the “tell and adult”. I’m not saying that victims of bullies shouldn’t stand up for themselves or tell adults, they should, but the reality is much darker and more complex than that. Craig gets it, and shows in his novel how the world of high school bullying is not cut and dry, or as simple as some adults like to make it out to be.

And can we get to the climax?! Holy crap! I read most of this book with interest and a genuine appreciation for the story and the storytelling, but it wasn’t until the climax chapters that I was riveted to my Kindle screen. It was brutal, suspenseful and there was no clear way this was going to end. The fear was real, mine and Francis’! Craig pulls you in, making the scene as tangible as if you are experiencing it yourself.

I think the real gem of this story, though, is the humanity it brings to the pages. It’s easy to see people with severe deformities as their deformities. Even good people who would never bully or hurt others, look away, or look too long, or just don’t see the people in front of them as people with thoughts, feelings, dreams and emotions. They are a victim, or a burn or a lost limb. Someone to be pitied. But reading novels like this makes characters who are different than what we are, more real to us than the people we see in life who deal with the same issues we read about. Hopefully, taking a step inside Francis’ head, or the head of other people who are different, whether that be race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, handicap or medical issues, can help us readers see them as just people. Maybe through imaginary characters, their real-life counterparts can become real to us as well.

There’s a lot more I could talk about with this, but it’s getting long as it is. The last chapter was beautiful and gratifying. The villan was terrifying in a way only a real evil person can be. Francis was both moving, sympathetic and maddeningly dense, but I love MC’s who are far from perfect and help to create some of their own problems. The “message” (though it doens’t feel like a message book) is deep, moving and important for all teens to hear. I’d even say it is one of the books I really wish teens would read, much like Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary issue-based YA novels. Heck, I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes YA. If you want to work on your WNDB challenge, you can add this one to your list. It is thought provoking, emotional and substantial.

My Review: 3.5/5 stars

Check out some of Kevin’s other books:

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Buy Summer on Fire on
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Book Review: In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis

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Title: In a Handful of Dust
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Series: Not a Drop to Drink
ISBN-13: 9780062198532
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
Publication date: 9/23/2014
Pages: 384
Age range: 14 – 18 Years

Book blurb as seen on Goodreads:

The only thing bigger than the world is fear.

Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full. She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn, who has made sure that Lucy’s childhood was very different from her own. Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already—a house, a man, children, and a water source—and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.

When disease burns through their community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now. Rumors of desalinization plants in California have lingered in Lynn’s mind, and the prospect of a “normal” life for Lucy sets the two of them on an epic journey west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy fears she could be lost forever, only to disappear in a handful of dust.

In this companion to Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis thrillingly combines the heart-swelling hope of a journey, the challenges of establishing your own place in the world, and the gripping physical danger of nature in a futuristic frontier

I received this book as a gift (but I know Hubby bought it on Amazon!)

So what can I say about this book? *sigh* I had high hopes that were not met. The first book in this series, Not a Drop to Drink, was amazing. or at least I adored it when I first read it. Sometimes I’m so into a story I don’t notice whether it’s really a fantastic book or not, and maybe that was the case, but regardless, the second one didn’t give me that breathless rush of finding out what happens next.

As far as the writing goes, I might have overestimated McGinnis’ abilities when I read Not a Drop to Drink. Maybe my own estimation of writing has changed due to my continued experience in writing as well as reading critically. Or maybe her first book really was that good. I’d have to read again to find out, but that’ll have to wait a bit. I will say that McGinnis’ stark, gritty writing inspired me to be more clean and sparse with my own revisions on I Have No Name, and I was complimented on the writing for that by several agents. In a Handful of Dust felt a little trivial in the first few chapters. I wasn’t sure whether to think the writing was sub-par, or just that I needed to become attached before I could flow into the prose. Luckily, after just a few chapters, I did become one with the story, though it never grabbed me as fully as NADTD.

As to the story and the characters, 10 years has passed since NADTD and Lynn is a woman while Lucy is a teen. Lucy is falling in love with the neighbor boy, Carter, just as a polio epidemic breaks out. Lucy and Lynn are forced to leave their pond and the community they have come to accept, because they may be carriers of the disease. Carter also is forced to leave for the same reason, but they don’t travel together because Lynn doesn’t want Lucy catching it from Carter.

I’m afraid I didn’t connect with Lucy as much as Lynn, though that may be because after reading Lynn’s story, I wasn’t ready to jump ten years into Lucy’s. She was a side character to me, one I wasn’t invested in nearly as much as Lynn. I wanted more, and I wanted Lynn to find happiness. She did, in the form of raising Lucy, but I just wanted more and I didn’t get it.

And then there was Lucy’s all consuming desire to find out if Carter would always carry the disease, or if there was a cure and if they could be together again. You know, the one she pretty much forgot half-way through the book. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. She didn’t completely forget, and she did have a lot to deal with, but there was a point where she pretty much left him to his own devices and didn’t seem to think on him much more. I thought that could have been followed through a little better.

And the introduction of Fletcher seemed pointless, other than to give them a companion and help them through their journey. But it left too many unanswered questions. How did he and his wife get separated? If he was so in love with her, why was he making eyes at Lynn the whole time? Is it even realistic that she might still be out there and is it realistic that he should still be looking for her? None of this was ever answered. I don’t mind not knowing what happens in the future after a book ends so I can make up my own continuing story, but there were too many questions within this story left unanswered.

Like when they crossed the Mississippi and the Missouri and other creeks and rivers, but they saw very few people. If these were viable sources of water, why weren’t there scores of people living everywhere along the banks. Lucy and Lynn even question this, and they drink from the water which is safe, but the question is never answered. If the water shortage was so dire that the government collapsed and people took to shooting each other over a pond, why weren’t they lined up along major waterways trying to survive. It would make sense. I guess it’s hard for me to imagine a world where there isn’t enough water when I live on Lake Huron. Even if we had major shortages, if we had these huge bodies of water I can’t see it becoming what McGinnis’ imagined.

There were a whole lot of things that happened in Las Vegas that just didn’t work for me either. Like the explanation as to why there were no guns in an entire city. Yeah, I wasn’t buying that. And it almost felt like the big reveal of horror going on was just for shock value. Lucy should have figured out what she wanted for her life without a nasty, jolting realization of evil. But I guess.

Lastly, I’ll say that the big reveal on what happens to Carter, was . . . anticlimactic. I don’t want to ruin anything, but it just fell a little flat to me. Not what happened, because I feel like it was an appropriate part of the story, but rather how it was delivered and resolved. There needed to be more clues and lead up and Lucy thinking about Carter more. McGinnis didn’t attach me to Carter enough, so I didn’t care all that much what happened to him.

Okay, so I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book, but the truth is, I did. I love McGinnis’ stark writing style, though I think she executed it better in NADTD. She could work on her dialogue, because some if it didn’t flow well to me, and the first few chapters had some info dumping that was awkward, but those are difficult things to get around. Every author faces the problem of trying to work in important details the reader needs with out sounding like you’re reading off a textbook. I preferred Lynn as the MC to Lucy, but both stories were still very interesting and I was anxious to find out what happened next. I almost thought McGinnis was going to leave us hanging after Las Vegas and save California for another book, but she gave us a decent, bittersweet ending. It was far more gratifying than the ending of NADTD, though it didn’t have the poignancy of that novel. Lynn having to shoot Eli was a heartbreaking event I am still shattered from. IAHOD was satisfying, though not perfect, and I love my endings not-perfect!

Overall, this was an entertaining read with some action, some deep thoughtful parts and with gritty realism and a stark look at a world devoid of ample water. I enjoyed it, though it wasn’t soul-rending like the first one. Maybe my expectations were too high, but it was a good book to read.

My review: 3.5/5 stars

Book Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

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Title: Afterworlds
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Hardcover: 608 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse (September 23, 2014)
Language: English
Age range: 14 – 17 Years
ISBN-10: 1481422340
ISBN-13: 978-1481422345

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

Darcy Patel has put college on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. With a contract in hand, she arrives in New York City with no apartment, no friends, and all the wrong clothes. But lucky for Darcy, she’s taken under the wings of other seasoned and fledgling writers who help her navigate the city and the world of writing and publishing. Over the course of a year, Darcy finishes her book, faces critique, and falls in love.

Woven into Darcy’s personal story is her novel, Afterworlds, a suspenseful thriller about a teen who slips into the “Afterworld” to survive a terrorist attack. The Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead, and where many unsolved—and terrifying—stories need to be reconciled. Like Darcy, Lizzie too falls in love…until a new threat resurfaces, and her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she cares about most.

I’ve done a lot of agent research over the past few months. Actually, I’ve been doing it far longer than that, but I’ve been pretty intense and in-depth of late. Agency websites have been perused page-by-page, names Googled, Twitter and Facebook scoured, blog posts and interviews read (and sometimes even the comments!) Suffice it to say, if a YA agent has said they want to see it in a novel, I’ve heard about it at this point. (Isn’t it interesting that it’s totally acceptable for authors to take on the role of a cyber-stalker while querying agents?)

So when I started reading Afterworlds, I immediately had this mental image of Westerfeld’s agent Jill Grinberg upon hearing about his latest novel: “Oh my God, Westerfeld, I f@#%ing love you!” Actually, I have no idea if Ms. Grinberg is the swearing type. To be honest, I’m not either, but if you’ve done the research I have and you’ve read this book, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

1) Agents everywhere are asking for diversity, diversity, diversity! Westerfeld’s MC, Darcy, is Indian-American (think India, not Native). Her whole family is (of course) and one of her friends and also the LI in the Paranormal portions of the story. Though Westerfeld doesn’t inundate the reader with countless Indian references, he slips them in as they would be in Darcy’s life: just natural. A big deal isn’t made out of the inclusion of holidays or cultural references. They are part of Darcy’s life and therefore they are a part of the book. I loved how he did that.

2) And then there’s more diversity: Agents (and readers) have been asking for more LGBTQ+ characters where their sexual orientation is not the issue of the story. Westerfeld delivers. No one is upset that Darcy starts dating a girl, and Darcy doesn’t have a huge deal telling people. There is a minor inclusion of telling her parents which is a slight hitch, but they are loving and accepting and it is not the core of the story. Westerfeld treated Darcy discovering she is attracted to Imogen as just natural and real. Once again, loved that!

3) Agents and readers alike have been requesting Paranormals and Mythologies that use non-Western history or mythology. The Afterworlds portion of . . . um, Afterworlds, is based on the Hindu religion. So yeah, check another one off the list Westerfeld.

4) I’ve seen countless agents list Paranormals as an absolute no, and even if they did say they’d consider, they were adamant about no vampires, werewolves, selkies, mermaids, witches, wizards, etc. So basically anything that’s been done before. Since I don’t know a single book written about psychopomps (not saying they don’t exist, just haven’t seen any) I think Westerfeld was safe in the Paranormal category. Especially since he alternated each Paranormal chapter with a Contemporary (a genre that is getting a lot of requests these days.) One chapter about Darcy, the writer, new to the world of publishing and her trials and tribulations. Then one chapter about Lizzie, our psychopomp exploring the world of the dead. Then back to Darcy and so on. That’s two checks on this one. Contemporary and original Paranormal. Is this guy even human?

So there you have it: the reasons any agent would have taken on this book, even if Westerfeld wasn’t a huge name in YA to begin with. But what did I think of it?

Well, pretty much I feel if you are attempting to break into the publishing industry, you should read this book. Especially if you write YA. Not only does it give you a glimpse into the world of an agented author who has a book deal, but it is also a well-written YA that you can learn a lot from. It also explores the touchy ground of using an existing religion or mythos for the purpose of a YA novel. Darcy struggles with concerns that she is pilfering her religion “for the purpose of YA hotness.” Thought the issue is never resolved, it is something all authors have to consider when writing about a culture, religion, race, sex, or sexual orientation. What doesn’t seem offensive to one person can be to another and we have a responsibility to consider that. By no means should we avoid controversy and exploring all aspects of life, but we should at least consider all the options and potential opinions.

Usually, I expound on an author’s writing abilities, but I feel that is unnecessary in this case. Westerfeld is irreproachable for his writing skills. And moving on . . .

Both stories were intriguing, though I was drawn to Lizzie and her lord of death more than Darcy’s angst over first love, revising a book, living alone in New York for the first time in her life. That’s just personal choice. I don’t read a lot of Contemporaries, but having said that, I was fully invested in Darcy and Imogen and the rest of the cast very quickly. As far as Contemporaries go, I really liked it.

As for Lizzie and Yamaraj’s story, I was so completely absorbed. The story was new and fresh, not something I had read before, and there was a definite creepy factor I wasn’t expecting. Reading late one night I promised myself to the end of the chapter. I had to go to bed. After all, I have children, and they don’t care how late I stayed up reading. Anyway, the chapter ended with “something” scratching the floor beneath Lizzie’s bed and calling, “Come down and play!” I was so freaked out, and I don’t usually get scared by stuff in books. Of course, I don’t usually read scary books, but hey, this was creepy!

And no, I didn’t read another chapter. I really had to go to bed. But you can bet the next day when I had a free minute I was pulling that book out to find out what happened.

Pretty much I loved this book. I borrowed it from my library, so it may have to be a future purchase. But I didn’t love everything. As a mom, I wasn’t thrilled about the references to underage drinking. No, I’m not some silly prude that thinks teens don’t drink. And I know my nineteen-year-old daughter drinks with her friends. And when I was nineteen, I drank too, but not much. It annoyed me that Darcy drank almost everywhere she went. It’s much harder in Michigan to get a drink as a minor, but maybe New York is different. When Darcy thought about how bad she needed a beer, I was just put-off. I’m not totally upset about it, because I realize it is part of life and Westerfeld didn’t really glorify it, but I wasn’t thrilled about it either.

The other thing I was ambivalent about was the romance between Darcy and Imogen. Actually, not even the romance, but the lead up to it. The scene where they express their feelings for the first time and kiss was beautiful and I adored it, but there wasn’t enough of a lead up for me. One minute she isn’t thinking about Imogen in that way and the next they’re kissing. I guess I just need the feelings to be established a little more. It made it difficult to connect with their love story through out the book. Personal preference, but I like a slow burn that gets me caught up in wanting these two characters together, not a suddenly together and let’s skip all that foundation stuff. It was just too quick for me. On one hand, the story wasn’t about the romance, and that’s okay, but I still needed more.

I’d love to know from some of my LGBTQ+ blogging buddies if they have read the book and how they felt about Darcy and Imogen’s romance. I was worried that I wasn’t connecting because the characters are lesbians, and well, I am not. But I honestly don’t think that’s it, because like I said, I loved that first love scene and I was rooting for their relationship after that, but it kind of snuck up on me. I thought maybe it was going to happen, but questioned whether I was reading too much into the text.

Other than those two minor things, I adored this book. Every minute kept me captivated and I’m interested to know if Westerfeld is going to write a sequel. Though I have read his Uglies series, I haven’t read the rest of his books. He has just entered the ranks of one of my favorite authors, so I guess I’m going to be searching out the remaining books I haven’t devoured yet.

My Review: 4.5 stars

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Hardcover: 560 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; First edition (March 14, 2006)
Language: English
Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
ISBN-10: 0375831002
ISBN-13: 978-0375831003
Amazon Review: 4.6 stars

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that is now a major motion picture, Markus Zusak’s unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul.

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

There are very few books in this world that I consider a must-read for all people. Taste, reading abilities, time, all factor in to make some books just not suitable for some readers, while others will offer them what they are looking for. But The Book Thief is one such book. I am so in awe of the story, and how Zusak tells it, that I’m not even sure I should be reviewing. And my thoughts are so scattered and raw that I’m not even sure what I’m going to say.

Everyone knows stories of Nazi Germany, of concentration camps and swastikas, of death and denial. It’s not a subject I care to read, to be honest. Not because I want to deny it or bury my head in the sand, but more because I know and understand what happened during WWII and I don’t choose to revel in its misery. But Zusak draws a picture I have never really seen before, and now that I see it, I can’t look away from its beauty and its horror.

I’ve been meaning to read The Book Thief since I heard the movie was coming out. Sad that I wasn’t aware of such a literary gem until they wanted to make a motion picture of it, but there it is. Though a book snob myself, I’ve decided not to look down on people who rush to read a book before the movie comes out, when many “literary types” read that book “ages ago”. I frequent the library and am active online in many reading and writing circles, and still I hadn’t heard of it. Even still, I didn’t rush to read it because there were so many other things to read and get done. It wasn’t until I read agent after agent suggesting The Book Thief as a must-read for any writer who wanted to improve their craft that I decided it must be done.

For the record, I think The Book Thief is a must-read for anyone who lives and breathes in this world, not just writers. Learning from Zusak’s skill is just a secondary motivation, though it was at first my only motivation. I quickly saw what those agents were talking about, but was so lost in the gritty, glorious beauty of the words, that all the rest was unimportant. Where I usually devour a book to reach the story’s conclusion like a ravenous animal that hasn’t been fed, this truly was a book to be savored. Some passages I read more than once, not only to try to understand (because there were a few I just didn’t get) but also to enjoy them again and again. Some words string a bead necklace, but Zusak’s made pearls.

As usual I forgot to write down particular sentences that sang to me, and it would be impossible to find them now with out re-reading the whole thing. There were so many jewels of thought and lovely imagery that every sentence, every paragraph, felt like brush strokes against a canvas, creating what can not often be done with mere words alone. These dry brittle things we plop on paper and spill from our lips. How is it they are art from some and stones of ignorance from others?

There was one passage that was so evocative, so beautiful but so heart rending, that I had to read it aloud. My husband and my teen son listened willingly, and as the words poured forth from my lips, they seemed feeble in the light of day. Not the words, but my power to convey their depth. I felt inadequate to the task of sharing what was so moving to me with my husband and son. But Zusak transcends my abilities, and they were moved nonetheless. In case you’re wondering, Death’s Diary: The Parisians are the two pages I read aloud. There were many others as profound, but somehow those were the best for me. And here they are:

Summer came.
For the book thief, everything was going nicely.
For me, the sky was the color of Jews.

When their bodies had finished scouring for gaps in the door, their souls rose up. When their fingernails had scratched at the wood and in some cases were nailed into it by the sheer force of desperation, their spirits came toward me, into my arms, and we climbed out of those shower facilities, onto the roof and up, into eternity’s certain breadth.

I’ll never forget the first day in Auschwitz, the first time in Mauthausen. At the second place, as time wore on, I also picked them up from the bottom of the great cliff, when their escapes fell awfully awry. There were broken bodies and dead, sweet hearts. Still, it was better than the gas. Some of them I caught when they were only halfway down. Saved you, I’d think, holding their souls in midair as the rest of their being—their physical shells—plummeted to the earth. All of them were light, like the case of empty walnuts. Smoky sky in those places. The smell like a stove, but cold.

I shiver when I remember—as I try to de-realize it.
I blow warm into my hands, to heat them up.
But it’s hard to keep them warm when the souls still shiver.
I always say that name when I think of it.
Twice, I speak it.

I say his name in a futile attempt to understand. “But it’s not your job to understand.” That’s me who answers. God never says anything. You think you’re the only one he never answers? “Your job is to . . .” And I stop listening to me, because to put it bluntly, I tire me. When I start thinking like that, I become so exhausted, and I don’t have the luxury of indulging fatigue. I’m compelled to continue on, because although it’s not true for every person on earth, it’s true for the vast majority—that death waits for no man—and if he does, he doesn’t usually wait very long.

On June 23, 1942, there was a group of French Jews in a German prison on Polish soil. The first person I took was close to the door, his mind racing, then reduced to pacing, then slowing down, slowing down . . .

Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last, gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and freed them from their fear.

I took them all away, and if ever there was a time I needed distraction, this was it. In complete desolation, I looked at the world above. I watched the sky as it turned from silver to gray to the color of rain. Even the clouds were trying to get away.

Sometimes I imagined how everything looked above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye.

They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.

5 stars

Book Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

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Title: Under the Never Sky
Author: Veronica Rossi
Series: Under the Never Sky Trilogy (Book 1)
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (January 3, 2012)
Language: English
Age Range; 14-17 years
ISBN-10: 006207203X
ISBN-13: 978-0062072030
Amazon Review: 4.4 stars

Book blurb as seen on Amazon:

Fighting to survive in a ravaged world, a Dweller and a Savage form an unlikely alliance in New York Times bestselling author Veronica Rossi’s “unforgettable dystopian masterpiece” (

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive. A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption.

It took awhile to draw me into this book. To start with, Rossi begins with 7 named characters within the first couple of pages. I wasn’t sure who I should care about. And since it is Science Fiction, there’s world building too, so all-in-all, I was slightly overwhelmed. Which is to say I was underwhelmed. I like to be drawn into a character’s life with subtlety and hints, and to be emotionally invested in whether this person lives or dies or get’s what they want. I just didn’t feel that with Aria right away.

And then there was the fact that we were plopped right into the sort-of action from the start. Which normally isn’t a bad thing, and in fact is becoming more and more common in YA novels, because let’s face, who wants to read 3 chapters about a person going through their day-to-day life so we can get to know them? So what am I asking for here? Well, a balance I guess. I need to be invested in a character before I care about them and I need to be cognizant of their world before I can move through it. That’s hard to do in Science Fiction, and Fantasy too. So yes, a balance, which Rossi did okay, but it could have been a little better.

So move forward in the book, and eventually I did care what happened to Aria. Perry I was connected to very quickly, but that may have been because he was more real and his life situations were more immediate than Aria’s. It’s easier to connect with the emotional and physical struggle of someone who has to fight for his life everyday, than some spoiled kid who lives in a virtual reality world. It’s not until Aria is thrust into the “real world” that I began to connect with her more.

The premise was fairly interesting, though I wanted to know more about the Aether and what happened to the world to make it that way, but I’m guessing that will come in the later books. I thought the world building was well done and the developing relationship between Aria and Perry played out nicely. At first, you never thought there was any way these two people could form a bond, but Rossi did a great job of connecting the dots, humanizing both characters and drawing them closer. There was enough sexual tension to push the story forward and written in an appropriate manner for the target audience. The action was non-stop and they were rarely out of danger, which keeps you turning pages to find out what happens next.

The ending was reasonably satisfying, while still setting up for the sequel with unanswered questions and plot to develop. So basically a good read. It won’t change the world or anything, but it was enjoyable entertainment. I’m kind of running out of things to say, because though I enjoyed this book and I’ll read the sequels, it was just for fun, I guess. I don’t remembered being awed by the writing, but I wasn’t annoyed by it either, so that’s good. The story didn’t inspire me or anything, but it was entertaining. I guess basically, if the premise sounds interesting, you won’t be disappointed. But if not, well, you’re not missing anything.

My Review: 3.5/5 stars

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