May 27, 2013

Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door

By: Stephanie Perkins
Published: September 2011 by Dutton
Format: Hardback, 338 pages
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“I know you aren't perfect. But it's a person's imperfections that make them perfect for someone else.”

When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

Rating: 3.5/5

I cannot believe I've had this book since its release and I'm just now getting around to reading it. Having loved Anna and the French Kiss for so many reasons, I think I was just worried this wouldn't live up to the brilliance that was Anna's story. Sadly, it didn't for me.

Don't get me wrong. I very much enjoyed this. It's one I would reread and recommend to others. But it was just cute. It didn't have enough substance for me. It had tons of elements, the characters had tons of quirks and problems, the plot was realistic and held enough drama, but nothing really grabbed me and held me down and said READ ME AND FEEL ALL THE FEELS. (Oh the irony of me using caps when one of the annoyances I had in this was with the caps.)

I didn't much like Lola, for example. It's understandable that people make mistakes and don't always make the right decision, or make the right decision in a quick time frame, and realistic that she would get torn between two boys, but sometimes I just wanted to go, "Girl, come on. You have to realize how many people you're involving and hurting now." Though I felt for her sometimes, but not enough. I felt much more for those around her, and I found myself torn between liking and disliking some characters. Cricket, for me, was very lovable. I wasn't sure how I'd like him at first, but I ended up caring about him and cheering for him, and I probably felt the most for him than any other character. Though Perkins did do a great job developing her characters. I just think what lacked was the emotional tie to them like I had in Anna. But I did absolutely love seeing Anna and Etienne in this. Loved it. They weren't just walk-over cameos either; they were involved. It was probably my favorite part of this.

The story itself was cute. It was just cute. And I think what set Anna apart from just another cute story was that it held a lot of emotion and really deep meaning, while Lola had meaning, but I didn't feel that meaning deep within myself. Though the plot was well done and paced well. I never wanted to stop reading, and I read through it in one setting. What I loved most was that Perkins involved more than just the main characters and a friend or two. Lola's parents were involved and not just some random people we see or hear of every now and again, Cricket's sister was a realistic protective sister, and I really liked the addition of Aleck because it added another level to Cricket's family dynamics.

Overall, I think I'm comparing it too much to Anna, though it's kind of hard not to when it's one of your favorites. But Lola is a good read within itself. It's adorable and fun and while some bits can be SLIGHTLY IRRITATING, I think it's well worth the read.

May 26, 2013

Review: Just One Day

By: Gayle Forman
Published: January 2013 by Dutton
Format: Hardback, 368 pages
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C'est courageux d'aller dans l'inconnu.

When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

Rating: 4.5/5

It's no secret I'm a huge fan of Gayle Forman. If I Stay was good, Where She Went had me bawling my eyes out until they were raw. This book, though, I think might be my favorite. I didn't bawl, but the emotion I felt was Real and hit home like mad.


I. Am. Allyson.

Like, what? Okay, maybe I didn't have one spontaneous day in Paris with a person who would change my life, but how Allyson is as a person, how she wants to be, the confusion she has over who she is and who she wants to be and every feeling in between. How she is so "reliably her" to her friends and family, but longs to break free and live. Oh, how I long to live and break free of my own shell. Oh, how I want to spontaneously up and leave for Europe and travel around without a destination goal. Of course Allyson went with a goal, but once she began to find herself, find the strength within her, she opened herself up to spontaneity and to life.

This book was not about romance like I expected. It was about growth and change and the effect one person can have on you. At a couple points, I wondered about the realism (with Allyson deciding to go to Paris alone with a stranger, for example), but the further I got into the book, the more I understood what Forman was trying to do. What she succeeded at doing. And that's showing how much one person and one day can change who you are. Scratch that, how much one person and one day can make you find something inside you that you never knew was there or that you never knew how to find or release.

In all honesty, this book was just beautiful. The beginning was such an adventure. While Allyson became Lulu, I got to watch her find the meaning of life. She began to trust that she could open herself up and release the knots tying her to the ground and to rules and routine and normal. And then at the midway point, when she lost both Allyson and Lulu and the trust she formed with life, Forman created such a realistic depression. It wasn't a so "woe is me," "oh, I hate life," etc., etc. It was so perfect that I can understand how some may find this section boring or Allyson unlikeable, but if you've ever been in her shoes, you'll understand how very real it is. And it wasn't just "because of some boy."

I'm not entirely sure what else to say, as I'm still emotional over this. The ending left my chest heavy and I'm craving the companion, Just One Year, so very much. To find out what happened to Willem in that one year, to find out what's going to happen in this one day. I can't even begin to explain my eagerness. But I can explain this: Gayle Forman is God. I realized this at the RT Convention, but I'm realizing it even more now. The way she writes, the way she plots, the way she creates these realistic characters and these situations that whisk you away, is just simply breathtaking. In October, I'm traveling to England and France (Paris, to be exact) with my friend, and this book has not only inspired me to take risks and live while I'm over there, but to embrace and accept the accidents.

May 19, 2013

Review: Rose Under Fire

By: Elizabeth Wein
Published: September 10th 2013 by Disney-Hyperion [June 2013 for UK]
Format: Hardback, 368 pages
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I will tell the world.

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

Rating: 5/5

Thank you, Netgalley! Thank you, thank you, thank you. You're the best ever (after Elizabeth Wein, of course).

If you haven't already read my review of Code Name Verity, here's how big of a fan I am: After getting two brand new books yesterday, four tote bags worth of ARCs and other great YA books at the RT Book Convention on the 5th of May, and after lining up at least five OH MY GOD, I NEED TO READ THIS NOW books, I shoved them all aside to inhale Wein's new book. Ignoring the fact that I already have this pre-ordered.

Yep, you could say Wein is one of my all-time favorites and I could not wait to dive into this.

Like with Verity, I'm still sitting here a couple hours after reading the afterword with chunks of I don't know what these feelings are scattered all over my body, a huge one in my chest and an even bigger one in my stomach. Not every holocaust book leaves me feeling this way. Of course I'll feel with any holocaust book because of the history (I tear up just thinking about it), but these feelings run so much deeper, as though I just read a memoir instead of a fictional story. With some other books, I can read it, finish, and then I'll weep about the fact that it happened to someone, somewhere. More than one. Thousands. But with this book, these characters felt so real, so incredibly real, that I'm still trying to convince myself that they're not. That's how much research went into this. That's how incredible Wein is at creating characters. Creating people.

In the beginning, it took just a bit to get into and I wasn't entirely sure how much I liked Rose. I liked her, but I found myself comparing her narrative writing a bit too much to Verity's, but after I stopped doing that, I found the beauty in hers as well. I loved her poet dreams and her realistic, ignorant American mind (though sometimes I think Wein slipped in some British phrasing/words that I don't think an American would have said, but that's beside the point). She was a simple young woman, who longed for what most young women wanted, who wanted to look nice for her boyfriend, who enjoyed eating Hershey's chocolate bars, who just so happened to be a ATA pilot. It was a shock to see the shift in her, when her writing abruptly ends once she's in France and begins again with an entirely knew person writing. New, but still Rose. Still the same handwriting.

Beware, for some of you this might be a very long read. It is, really, but for me I was so engrossed in Rose's story, so numb even, that I couldn't put it down. I had to keep reading. I had to find out what happened to her, what happened to the others she left behind, what was happening to her then, what was going to happen. While sometimes I forgot Rose was actually writing in her notebook about her experiences (not a huge deal to me, but it may be for some), I still felt her pain, her fear, her weakness through the pages.

Her experiences at the camp was just...I don't know how to explain my thoughts here. I've read many of holocaust books and few have given me this type of feeling or insight to what it was really like. A different part of the camps, with the Rabbits. The ones who were experimented on, with muscle and bone taken right out of their legs. Wein tells us in the afterword about how Rose wouldn't have seen the kitchens, or inside the gas chambers, or the men's section, or so, so much of the camps, that nobody would have, and I appreciated the fact that she didn't try to show us everything. She left it realistic, to what one person in a camp for six months would have seen. I think that made her relationships with her fellow prisoners--her new family--more intimate. Not to mention, she made their communication realistic as well, with all their different languages. Polish and Russian and French and German and English and Czech.

There's so much about this book I could gush about, but not much without telling too much of the story. I will say, during Part 2 (the camp), I was numb. I didn't cry, I didn't have to put the book down. I. Was. Numb. Then Part 3 rolled around, with the trials and seeing these characters so different and shock. Broken and lost, still terrified and controlled. And I just started bawling. I bawled for at least 30-40 pages. For a moment, it felt like all that had happened to Rose and the Rabbits happened to me. It's silly to think for a second that I could ever feel what someone who survived the holocaust felt, but something hit me hard. I felt like Wein really, really threw me into Rose's head, almost as though I were writing it myself, and there are very few books to make me feel like that.

I don't know what else to say other than this isn't your average holocaust book. For those of you who are thinking this is just another holocaust book, I suggest you reconsider picking this up. I guarantee you'll find a lot more in it than just "a holocaust book." You'll learn and you'll feel, you'll cry and you'll cheer, you'll love and you'll hate, even at the same time for the same person. This is a story I'll be sharing with my friends and my family and other readers, and the truth behind the fictional story too. I'll help tell the world. Will you?

May 16, 2013

Review: Summer Sisters

By: Judy Blume
Published: May 1999 by Dell
Format: Paperback, 399 pages
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They're still Vixen and Cassandra, summer sisters forever. The rest is a mistake, a joke.

In the summer of 1977, Victoria Leonard's world changed forever—when Caitlin Somers chose her as a friend. Dazzling, reckless Caitlin welcomed Vix into the heart of her sprawling, eccentric family, opening doors to a world of unimaginable privilege, sweeping her away to vacations on Martha's Vineyard, a magical, wind-blown island where two friends became summer sisters. . . .

Now, years later, Vix is working in New York City. Caitlin is getting married on the Vineyard. And the early magic of their long, complicated friendship has faded. But Caitlin has begged Vix to come to her wedding, to be her maid of honor. And Vix knows that she will go—for the friend whose casual betrayals she remembers all too well. Because Vix wants to understand what happened during that last shattering summer. And, after all these years, she needs to know why her best friend—her summer sister—still has the power to break her heart....

Rating: 3/5

I have a disclaimer. I read this is a hurry. My friend let me borrow her copy and I needed to finish it before I went to visit her, so most of this was read on a plane. I'm pretty sure I would have different feelings if I was just sitting in my favorite reading spot, reading this slowly and digesting it all, but I think reading this on a plane and in a rush the couple days before I left made me not enjoy it as much as I would have. So, just keep that in mind.

In case anyone's wondering, I've never been a huge Judy Blume fan. Not because I didn't like her books, but because I didn't read many of them growing up. Though the ones I did read, I loved. So I didn't go into this with much expectation from Blume, only from my friend who listed this as her favorite book ever. Thinking back, I just can't tell if I liked this or disliked it. In some ways, I liked it, but in others I was extremely bored or annoyed or confused.

My main issue lied with the characters. There were far too many for me. I think it would have been all right if the characters had distinct personalities, but they didn't. Blume alternated points of view, which I found to be incredibly pointless. I got frustrated with the short shifts and it took me out of Vix's head as soon as I'd begin to get into it. So I never felt for any of them, not really. Vix sometimes, and those sometimes would be the points in the story that made me like the book. But if you asked me the names of all the major and supporting characters, I probably couldn't even list all of them. And this could be due to my airplane focus, but so many times I felt like a random character popped up and I couldn't remember where they came in at or who they even were. Just thinking about the characters gets me upset because I feel like if this had stayed in Vix's point of view or maybe hers and one of character, I would have connected on a much deeper level with this.

As for the plot, overall I liked it. There were some things I didn't find too believable, but then again, I didn't grow up in this time and my childhood/teenage years were incredibly different, so I just found it hard to connect to some of the things. I did very much enjoy the relationship between Caitlin and Vix. It was complex and interesting, and though I wanted to "feel" their relationship more at times, I liked following them from their preteen years to adulthood, seeing where life took them and how their relationship really didn't evolve. While I have few friends who I've had a long time, the ones I do, it seems like the relationship doesn't change, even when I don't talk to them after months or even years.

What I didn't like about the plot was that it felt jumpy and sporadic at times. Blume brushed over parts I would have actually liked to read in depth about instead of having it be a line. The narration bothered me quite a bit. I didn't care of its choppiness. It took me out of the story and kept me from connecting with it completely.

It seems like I didn't care for much about this book at all, but it did keep me reading on an airplane, which rarely happens and the times I did connect with it, I found myself enjoying it. There were some disturbing parts, but they were balanced with emotional and fun scenes pretty well, and the thing I liked most was how Blume portrayed Caitlin and Vix's relationship, which was the most important part to me. I recommend giving this a try. It'd be a good summer read, methinks.

May 8, 2013

Review: Perfect Escape

By: Jennifer Brown
Published: July 2012 by Little, Brown
Format: Paperback, 246 pages
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He didn't know it yet, but we were running away.

Kendra has always felt overshadowed by her older brother, Grayson, whose OCD forces him to live a life of carefully coordinated routines. The only way Kendra can stand out next to Grayson is to be perfect, and she has perfection down to an art -- until a cheating scandal threatens her flawless reputation. Behind the wheel of her car, with Grayson asleep beside her, Kendra decides to drive away from it all -- with enough distance, maybe she'll be able to figure everything out. But eventually, Kendra must stop running and come to terms with herself, her brother, and her past. With undeniable grace and humor, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown explores OCD, the pressure for perfection, and the emotional highs and lows of a complex sibling relationship.

Rating: 4.3/5

I love Jennifer Brown. Her first book, Hate List, blew me away so much, I was feeling and crying for days afterwords. Even now, I'm like, "Man, that book," whenever I think about it. With Bitter End, I enjoyed it, but not as much as Hate List, and I'm afraid that's the same for this one as well. I enjoyed it. I very, very much enjoyed this book, so don't think I didn't for one second just because it didn't live up to Hate List. Jennifer Brown set such an incredibly high bar for herself (and for others, really) that it's going to be hard for me to feel the same way about another one of her books. But I still loved this, and I love Jennifer Brown.

What kept me from giving this a five rating was that I never truly bought the believability for this road trip. Reflecting back, I understand that it could definitely happen and Brown did great with Grayson's reaction to it. My problem lied with Kendra. I very much loved her character and I related to her well, but I don't think we got enough of the feeling in the beginning of who she was to her parents and to the others around her. We're told she had to be Miss Perfect, but I never really saw that before they were on the road. I think if we would have gotten that feel and saw more of her treatment and what was expected of her beforehand, that would have solved my problem.

Speaking of the road trip, I loved it. It wasn't a typical, let's go here, let's do that. Kendra had a plan to reach her best friend in California, who she hadn't seen in years, or even heard from in nearly a year, Zoe. It's a secret she keeps from her brother, who used to be in love with Zoe (and Zoe with him) before Zoe's family ripped her away from Grayson and their family, because of his mental illness. It was a nasty tear and ripped at my gut because it felt genuinely real, this feud between their families, who used to be best friends since before the kids were born. And I loved even more how Brown handled the outcome of the road trip, once they arrived in California. It wasn't what you hoped, only sort of what you expected (or not, depending), and it stirred a lot of feelings.

On the road, we meet a young woman in her late teens who's married to a 50-something-year-old man with a baby. As soon as we met her, I hoped she wouldn't become one we knew for one chapter and then she was gone. And luckily Brown didn't do that. She joins the duo, on a journey for her own escape, searching for her own "there." I really enjoyed her character. She was broken and a teenager at heart, but a soul who had lived through much hardship. Her baby drove me a bit nuts, though. Seriously, I heard it crying in my sleep, which, I technically a good thing, but another reason I'll never have children.

As for the main storyline, Kendra's escape from her scandal while she tries to cure her brother of OCD, for herself really. Not for him. It's different. Slightly unbelievable for me, like I said, but overall very, very engaging. Their relationship was done perfectly. There were some moments, like toward the end, where I felt Kendra shifted a bit too quickly from love to hate, which I get it, that happens, but the lovely moment was just cut a bit short for me, and after what happened, I would have loved to have seen a bit of a shift in how they talked to each other before the big blow up.

Now, I have OCD. It's not to this extreme, but I do have it and it is incredibly hard to deal with, especially if you have family and friends who are impacted by it. Brown dealt with that so well. I connected to Grayson and loved how realistic Brown made it feel. I felt his frustration and pain without being in his head. It was Kendra, however, that I can't decide if I liked or loved. Because at some moments, I loved her. I connected with her and felt for her, but other times she felt as though she were contradicting herself vs. just changing her mind, so I never truly knew her motive behind bringing Grayson along. For him or for her or for what. I mean, I know *why* she did it, but the narration just had me wondering a lot if that was the truth. Maybe that was the point, though, and I missed it. I'm not sure.

Overall, though, I thought this was fantastic. I read it in one setting. The "one more page" read. I finally got to meet Brown at the RT Convention in Kansas City this past weekend, where I got this book. She was fantastic and so sweet and since she's a local author, I'll be heading to her release party for A Thousand Words, which sounds fantastic too.

As this story went on, I found myself caring less about its believability and caring more about the characters on the page and what would come of them. I like that we didn't get an outcome. It leaves it to the mind, which, really, is such a perfect escape.