Book Review: Saint Anything

You can’t read YA and not have read at least one of Sarah Dessen’s twelves (TWELVE!) novels. Her latest, Saint Anything, came out just a few weeks ago and rocketed to the top of the New York Times list, and it’s clear why. This was a different direction for Dessen, a bit of a turn from her usually fluffy romantic writing and a chance for her to grapple with some darker edges of growing up.

Sydney has always lived in the shadow of her big brother Peyton, the charming young man who couldn’t see his way out of trouble when he needed to. This eventually lands him in prison for drunk driving and injuring a 15-year old boy, paralyzing him. Still, even with Peyton out of the house, Sydney feels invisible. Her Mom is hyper-focused on making sure Peyton is taken care of (even though you know, he’s being punished), and her Dad has no backbone when it comes to her Mom so he instead just goes on lots of work trips.

Due to the infamy that comes with being associated with a drunk driver, Sydney decided to switch out of her private school and into the local public where she can feel even more invisible and carry her guilt without the added benefit of everyone knowing why she feels that way. However, the world has other plans for Sydney when she becomes friends with Mac and Layla Chatham and ends up becoming a part of their little universe, willing or not.

What I loved about this novel, is that the romantic relationship between Mac and Sydney was not the main event. Rather the main event was Sydney. Just Sydney. Sydney and Layla’s blossoming friendship and how that affected her friends from Perkin’s Day, Sydney and her relationship with her mother who’s intense need to protect and cater to Peyton has left her daughter in the background. Sydney and her journey in learning to speak up to those around her and say what she’s really feeling. For much of the book, I was fighting against Sydney, wanting her to yell at her mom, to yell at Ames (her brother’s creepy friend from rehab who won’t leave even though Peyton has), to FIGHT for something. However, I realized that this was not Sydney’s nature – Sydney’s strength was in her quietness, in her ability to understand that it’s not about her as frustrating as that might be.

If you follow Dessen on twitter (and you should), you will know that her journey to Sydney’s story was a rather long one. She abandoned a novel before writing Saint Anything, and found herself in an unfamiliar place where she didn’t have a story in mind. After taking a much needed break and some soul-searching she found her way to Sydney and the story she needed to tell – and I’m so glad she did.

Gooodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Average Goodreads Riting: 4.08 Stars
Number of 1-star Reviews: 201

My Review on Bookdigits

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Book Review: Eight Hundred Grapes.

I enjoyed this novel more than I expected. I found myself a passenger on quite the emotional roller coaster with a main character who can’t seem to decide what she wants – ever.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, I mean that in a way that we can all relate to.  Do we do what we feel we must do, or do we do what is the biggest risk?  Do we make waves or do we coast?

Much of the fancier wine talk went over my bottom-shelf purchasing head, but the bigger picture of the family dynamics and Georgia’s roller coaster journey to figuring out what she wants was something I could definitely relate to.  I found myself taking those plunges with her – with Ben, without Ben, the subtle flirtations with Jacob, and the anger she feels towards her mother and Michelle and even her father.  Simultaneously, Dave’s writing was able to give me incredible insight to the other sides of these emotional hardships, which lead to a much fuller understanding of the novel and the entire cast of characters.  Many times a novel that bounces around in time or point of view can fall short of giving you a rich and full story – but Dave was able to seamlessly weave all of these aspects together in order to give the reader a satisfying conclusion.

I found the novel to be about so much more than just Georgia – it is about the sacrifices we make for the ones we love, and the sacrifices they have (perhaps without us knowing) made for us and how to make those sacrifices count for our own journey to peace and happiness.  As Georgia’s father so aptly puts it “No one else has a clue what you’re doing, but at the end of the day, you get where you want to go.”

I received this novel free of charge from Simon & Schuster.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Book Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home

tellthewolves

In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don’t know you’ve lost someone until you’ve found them.

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life – someone who will help her to heal and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again. (Goodreads)

I’m just going to say it – this is a sad book. Not because of some TFIOS-like dramatic romance, but because none of the characters have enough sense to actually tell the truth about anything. Ever.

June, or Junie as she is called affectionately by her family has long been in love with (or at least with the idea of) her uncle Finn who is an artist living in New York. To her, he is the one person who gets her, who doesn’t chide her for her interest in falconry, or affection for medieval fashion. The thing is, Finn is sick and the illness (AIDS) and the time in which the book takes place (1980’s) means that there is a certain stigma attached to Finn, and each member of his family deals with that a little bit differently.

It wouldn’t be a spoiler for me to tell you that Finn dies. In his wake he leaves a beautiful portrait of June and her older sister Greta, and his secret (to June at least) lover – Toby. At first, June is angry with Toby for trying to build a relationship with her because she believes what her family tells her about Toby essentially killing Finn by giving him AIDS and being an all-around bad dude.  But, June being the independent thinker that she is, decides to find out for herself and is surprised with Toby turns out to be not at all like she anticipated.

The most important aspect of this book, I think, is what isn’t said. Each member of this grieving family has their own secret. June and her relationship to Toby after Finn’s death, Greta and her closeted alcoholism, their mother Danni hides the fact that at one time she and Finn shared the same love of art. What drives me absolutely fucking nuts is that if these people would just stop living in their own little bubbles of sadness and grief and actually TALK to each other – things might be so different. And of course, if I could go back to the late 80’s and take some of the ridiculous stigma away from the AIDS epidemic, I would love to.

Even though it’s a very sad book – it really is lovely. The writing is not overbearing or heavy – and careful.  I don’t think that it is really considered YA because it reads a lot more like a contemporary adult novel, though as far as the main character’s age and story it is firmly a YA novel (which I suppose begs the question, why can’t things that are written in a more contemporary, sophisticated form be considered YA?).

4/5 Stars

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Some Books that Were Kind of Okay

I’ve been quiet on the blog lately – I guess because I haven’t read anything that really excited me.  Just a few books that were okay…I have harder time writing review for these kinds of books because I just don’t have a whole to say about them, and I’d rather not bore you.

Anyway…

First up is The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau.

testing

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one and the same?

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust. (Goodreads)

I can’t say this is a book I would have normally chosen for myself. I received it as part of the reddit book exchange with two others – Sweetly by Jackson Pearce and Marked by P.C Cast & Kristen Cast. I can tell you exactly why I wouldn’t haven chosen it – the cover. The cover tells me that this book is not going to be very original and probably borrows heavily from other young adult post-apocalyptic books. It’s a mix of Divergent, the Hunger Games and the Maze Runner, just looking at it.

I was right of course. I expected that I would find myself bored and uninterested, however, even though I did find many similarities to other novels and the plot did borrow quite heavily from others – I did become invested in the story. Sure, there were things that annoyed me. I found many of the characters names to be eye-rollingly terrible – at least our main character Cia (short for Malencia) made it out with a not so terrible name. Many of them just sound like futuristic names that are trying a little to hard, or are just purposely misspelled common names.

Anyway – Cia Vale is from the Five Lakes community of the United Commonwealth, which would be what is considered the Great Lakes area in the current US. This made me happy because I am originally from that area – hailing from Detroit, Michigan. I can still tell you all 5 of the Great Lakes. Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior (They spells HOMES – if you were wondering how they grilled it into our brains in elementary school). So she is from this small community which is not unlike Katniss’ district 12 in that it is tiny and poor and generally dismissed by the rest of the population. At her graduation from school, Cia finds out that she has been chosen for the testing along with 3 of her classmates and they are off to the capital city to take a test and hopefully attend the university. Only – of course – the test is not like the test we take to get into college. It a battle for your life (in case you didn’t see where this was going).

So like Katniss – Cia is taken to the capitol city. Like Tris she faces a series of challenges in order to be accepted into the University. Like Thomas she must battle her way through a maze to get to the other side. Like all of three of them – she makes it to the end of the novel and on to the next challenge because of course this is a trilogy. We’ll see what the future holds for Cia in book two – Independent Study (which has to be one of the most boring title’s for a book, ever).

3/5 Stars


Secondly was Sweetly by Jackson Piercesweetly

The forest invites you in . . . but will never let you go.
As a child, Gretchen’s twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch’s forest threatening to make them disappear too.
Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They’re invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.
Life seems idyllic, and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past — until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn’t gone — it’s lurking in the forest, preying on girls after Live Oak’s infamous chocolate festival each year, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet, the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is.
Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry.(Goodreads)

I love a good fairy tale retelling – my reviews of the Lunar Chronicles will tell you that much but Sweetly by Jackson Pearce leaves much to be desired.

The characters are not compelling or likeable. They are trying to hard. Gretchen and her multi-colored hair are a poor attempt at some sort of emo/edgy persona that she doesn’t actually possess. Her brother Ansel is completely boring. Sophia is not convincing in her role as the uber-charming but secretive sweetshop owner.

Everything happens very predictably. I guessed the end by the time I finished the first few chapters and I wasn’t really connected to the story at all.

2/5 Stars


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Book Review: Fairest

fairest

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series. (Goodreads)

This review may contain some slight spoilers for Cinder, Scarlet and Cress if you have not read any of the other Lunar Chronicles books.

This book is actually a prequel to what begins to go down in Cinder.  It follows Queen Levana, though at the start, she is only a princess and her sister, Channery has just become Queen after the murder of their parents.  Turns out, most of Levana’s family is pretty awful.  Her parents were the ones that started the biological testing on soldiers, came up with the idea for the disease that they would send to Earth to gain power, and originally had the idea to keep the cure hidden until a convenient time.  Channery is just a bitch, honestly.  She cares nothing about taking care of her kingdom, but rather bedding as many men as she can in the shortest period of time, while subjecting her baby sister to all kinds of insane manipulation and torture.

The unfortunate thing is after getting Levana’s back story – I still have no sympathy for her.  It was clear from the outset that even thought she did have her personal tragedies, she never intended to grow or mature from them – only to use them as the fuel for her revenge and manipulations.  She plays some seriously sick games in order to get what she wants from people, instead of just being herself.

It’s a short novel – but we are able to get even more of the Lunar Chronicles universe, and to gain another character’s point of view.  We also get our first glimpse of Princess Winter, and if you should feel sad for anyone – it’s her.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this little prequel. Marissa Meyer has succeeded in spinning a careful web that weaves together many fairytales and her own sci-fi fantasy into a truly stunning piece of work.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.09 Stars
Number of 1-star Reviews: 103

My Rating on Bookdigits

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Check out my other Lunar Chronicles Posts:
Book Review for Cinder
Book Review for Scarlet
Book Review for Cress
Fan Art Friday

Today in “Oh No You Didn’t”…

This Time article about all the things that are wrong with Harry Potter. Try not to cry as you read this because it is infuriating and full of spelling errors.

Shall we go one by one? Okay.

1. The amount of time they spent in the forrest in book seven.

Firstly, why are we spelling forest with two r’s? Secondly, I think them spending quite a bit of time in the Forest of Dean (I mean seriously for someone grew up with the books, you could at least know the name of it…) is important because it really shows how little Harry knew.  I mean, we as a reader know that Dumbledore has told Harry next to nothing about what he is supposed to do, but Ron and Hermione don’t know that.  And all that time spent in the forest really develops their relationships – think of how much that did for Ron for him to realize that Harry knew so little and to be so frustrated and to end up leaving and coming back.  That was a lot of emotional development for the trio and not at all boring or useless to me.

2. Ginny

Here are some other words to describe Ginny: Loyal, fierce, shy, intelligent, quick thinking, stubborn. Done.

3. Killing off Hedwig

Okay, I could maybe give you this one – but Hedwig is an owl okay. It’s not like she killed of Ron or Hermione or Mrs. Weasley.  How much would Hedwig have added to the plot of book 7 if she had lived? Probably just a lot of her being annoyed because she couldn’t do anything because she was so easy to pin as Harry’s owl and that’s why they knew who he was anyway and that is how she died. Jesus.

4. Fred and George not noticing Peter Pettigrew sleeping in Ron’s bed every night on the Marauder’s map.

Maybe they did notice Peter Petttigrew on the map but that name would have meant nothing to them. They did not know who the Marauder’s were.  They didn’t know that Peter Pettigrew was thought dead and murdered by Sirius and they didn’t know that he was the one who actually betrayed Harry’s parents.  So them seeing Peter Pettigrew on the map would have been totally useless because they had no freaking clue who he was.

*Also, how is this article on Time.com and has so many spelling errors?

5. Harry not being able to see the Thestrals.

1. Harry does not see the Thestrals at first because even though he witnessed his mother’s death, it’s not something that he actually has a clear memory of, so it hasn’t resonated with him in that emotional way.

2. Immediately after Cedric’s (OH MY GOD THE SPELLING ERRORS)  death, Harry is in shock and J.K. Rowling herself said that he needed to recognize and accept that death in order to see them.

I’ll admit, this one is a bit shaky – but I’m willing to suspend belief here for Rowling because Thestrals are wicked cool.

6. Being too subtle about Dumbledore’s sexuality.

J.K. Rowling was under no obligation to tell us Dumbledore’s sexuality. I’m sure there are other LGBTQ characters in the HP universe that she hasn’t told us about.  The point is that it didn’t matter that he was gay. Dumbledore’s gayness had no effect on the plot of the book and she clearly did not it to overshadow the greater purpose of the book which was Harry’s journey.  Not Dumbledore’s journey.  It’s not Dumbledore and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore and the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore and the Prisoner of Azkaban – he his not the central character therefore it was not necessary for us to have that information.

7. Voldemort’s Triwizard Tournament evil plot.

First of all, Harry is not dumb – he is just instinctual.  He trusted fake Moody because so many already trusted him.  If Dumbledore says you’re cool, you’re cool.  Sure there may have been easier ways to lure Harry and he probably would have fallen for it but: 1. That would have made for a hella short ass book, yo.  And 2. There are a lot more people (and smarter, more experienced people) to fool than just Harry, like Crouch Sr., Dumbledore, Ludo Bagman, Percy Weasley, etc.

8. Wizarding school sucks

Um… no. You’re just wrong. I mean first of all there were other classes besides the ones that we had the most access to like Alchemy, Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, Muggle Studies, etc. Practical skills are probably quite different in the magical world because they have MAGIC. They get magical jobs in the magical world and use magic to solve their (magical) problems. Duh.

9. The time turner problem

*Facepalm* SOO MUCH DUMB. First of all, that’s not what time turners are for. By changing one small thing, you may change many big things. Remember that Dumbledore did try to save Tom Riddle by taking him from the Orphanage, trying to treat him kindly and showing him that revenge and hatred was not the way – but it didn’t work.  So what was he to do?  Go back in time and kill him?  That could offset a whole lot of things like Snape never becoming a Death Eater and Lily never ending their friendship, thereby never falling for James and never having Harry and then we have no books at all, and that is a tragedy I could not deal with.

Secondly, the time turners are closely guarded and monitored by the Department of Mysteries and I’m sure their not just going to hand them out so that you can go back in time to fix some mistakes and change wizarding and human history, okay?

And thirdly, the entire collection of Time Turners was destroyed in book 5 so this whole conversation is kind of moot.

As for the point of Hermione being too young to have a time turner to attend classes – it wasn’t like they just handed it to her.  She had to meet with her professors and they had to pull quite a few strings for her to gain that responsibility. Hermione is a stickler for rules (for the most part), so it doesn’t seem unusual to me that she would be granted that responsibility. And she was third year, you fool.

*deep breath* I think that about covers it, don’t you?

Book Review: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

forgiveleonard

From the first page of this novel, Leonard Peacock makes it clear that he is going to kill himself.  That is his mission.  We are with him for his journey of what he plans to be the last day of his life, which also happens to be his eighteenth birthday.  While this is definitely not a happy book (quite the opposite, really), Matthew Quick gives a voice to Leonard that is authentically teenager – sarcastic, pessimistic, and at times even funny. Honest.  I can clearly picture Leonard, I see a bit of my high school self in him and I can think of more than a few kids I knew growing up that were very much like Leonard – which is kind of the whole point really.  Leonard feels like he is alone in the world, he feels like nobody gets it and he’s so different than the rest of his peers and really, he’s not.  We’ve all been there in some capacity and we’ll probably be there again.

I feel like I’m broken—like I don’t fit together anymore. Like there’s no more room for me in the world or something. Like I’ve overstayed my welcome here on Earth, and everyone’s trying to give me hints about that constantly. Like I should just check out.

Even though Leonard keeps telling the reader of his plan to kill himself, you spend the whole book hoping he won’t do it or that someone in his life – his old widower neighbor, his checked-out fashion designer mother, one of his teachers – will grab the poor dear and hug him, tell him they love him and it’s okay to feel like he does and that his life is valid. However, they keep not doing it.  All he wants is for one person to acknowledge that it is his birthday (I know those feels, Leonard), but it seems that his teachers and few friends don’t know it’s his birthday, and his mom is too busy pretending that she doesn’t have a child to remember what day it is (God, that is infuriating). “Happy Birthday, Leonard” are his magic words.  Those are the words that would save him and no one seems to be able to say them.

I really enjoyed the way that Quick used the Holocaust as a corollary to Leonard’s narrative.  I think it sends out an important message on the way we view “bad” people.  Leonard’s teacher, Herr Silverman, encourages his students to think about the humanity of the time period rather than the tragedy.  We are so quick to dehumanize others for what they have done that we do not take the time to examine what the parameters of their choice were.  The truth of the matter is that more than one of those Nazi guards or soldiers were just doing what they had to do to protect their life and their families lives.  There are many layers to the awful things that happened during that time, and I don’t think many people made it out of that time guilt free. At the end of the day, I think most people just hoped to make it out alive. That’s not to say there is any excuse for what happened, but if you think about it, it’s easy to understand how the population is at the mercy of those in charge and if those in charge are morally ambiguous, evil, or corrupt – well… you see what happens.

Leonard and I have a lot in common I think.  I spent a lot of my time in school feeling very much like him, like I was too different, too weird, too misunderstood and that those around me were so… flat.  I know it’s the thing that people always say and that teenagers hate to hear – but it does get better.  Maybe not immediately, and maybe not forever, but there are moments and stretches of time where you think that it’s not all bad.  I’m certainly not on a roller-coaster that only goes up (to quote the late Augustus Waters), but it’s not a bad ride.

My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.91 Stars
Number of 1 Star Reviews: 312

My Review on Bookdigits