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Book Review: Speak

Title: Speak

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Publication Date: 10 Anv. Edition March 19, 2009

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: Penguin

Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary (from Barnes & Noble): “Speak up for yourself – we want to know what you have to say.”

From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows that this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her.

As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her.

Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In this powerful novel, an utterly believeable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

 My Review: This was an incredible emotional roller coaster of a read and I had tears in my eyes at many points in the book. It’s quite possibly the most powerful book I have read in a long time.

However, it’s so hard to do this book justice in a review without revealing too much of the plot. And it’s incredibly important that each reader experience the emotions that the revelations in the plot bring to life as they happen. Suffice it to say that this book broke my heart repeatedly for Melinda as her story unfolded across the pages.

While Melinda’s inner strength is what ultimately gets her through this dark period in her life she also puts a lot of herself into her art class. It is through her art that she begins to allow herself to experience and show the emotions she’s been fighting so hard to keep away. Her immersion into her art and the safety and freedom that she finds that are what help her to find her voice again

Anderson has written an incredibly thoughtful story that displays a great deal of emotion and pulls the reader directly into it. Plagued by anxiety, depression, and fear throughout the book Melinda still demonstrates a quiet perseverance as she goes about her daily life. As Melinda rarely speaks we depend on the inner monologue Anderson has developed for her that is both insightful and entertaining. Melinda has a quick wit and sarcastic humor and her inner thoughts are, at times, just the break we need from the heavier issues she’s facing.

I wish I could place this book into the hands of every incoming freshman girl and boy in High School to let them know that they too have the courage to speak out. That they possess the ability to help those around them by simply listening to their stories spoken and unspoken and by acknowledging their pain. A lesson that I think every teenager needs to have learned before they leave high school.

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Book Review: Graceling


Title:
 Graceling

Author: Kristin Cashore

Publication Date:  October 1, 2008

Genre: Young Adult/ Fantasy

Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books

Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary (from Barnes & Noble): Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

My Review: Graceling is Kristin Cashore’s début novel and with it she certainly makes her presence known in the world of YA lit and fantasy. Her fantasy world is a place of corrupt kings and lords, special gifts, political intrigue, danger and love. All of these elements are expertly woven together to create a compelling story, realistic characters and setting to vivid you can practically feel the mountains. The novel’s pace is pitch-perfect, moving slowly when the situations call for it and speeding up when the elements of danger arise.

While this book has many traditional fantasy elements incorporated into it Cashore has managed to make the novel feel free and entirely new. She leaves her own stamp on this genre and it is not once that will easily be forgotten. Her writing style allows her to use each detail she drops to create the overall picture that allows readers to develop a greater understanding of the overall story.

I’m partial to novels (especially YA novels) that feature a strong female character and Katsa is one of the best I have seen, powerful, fantastic and well-rounded. Watching her evolve from King Randa’s “thug” and “personal killer” who tortures and kills on his command into a person of her own who stands and fights for what she believes in gives the readers an incredible journey to follow. From the moment she bursts on to the page she is breathtaking, daring and independent and as the story evolves so does she, exposing her vulnerability, heart and courage.

This book is an absolutely must read and I’m now finding myself anxiously awaiting the release of Bitterblue, the third installment in this “trilogy”.

 

 

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Book Review: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party

Title: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party

Author: M. T. Anderson

Publication Date:  September 12, 2006

Genre: Young Adult/ HIstorical Fiction

Publisher: Candlewick

Rating: 0/5 stars

Summary (from Barnes & Noble): Young Octavian is being raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers — but it is only after he opens a forbidden door that learns the hideous nature of their experiments, and his own chilling role them. Set in Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson’s mesmerizing novel takes place at a time when Patriots battled to win liberty while African slaves were entreated to risk their lives for a freedom they would never claim. The first of two parts, this deeply provocative novel reimagines past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.

My Review: I was rather excited to read this book as I’m rather partial to Historical Fiction (as I’m sure you’ve noticed by now) and it had received so many excellent reviews. Then I picked it up and started reading. This book was quite possibly the least exciting book I’ve read in a very long time. There was nothing of merit that drew me in, there were no characters that I became emotionally invested in and there was no story line that grabbed me or compelled me to turn page after page as quick as I could.

To be perfectly honest I find the book slow-going and at times rather dreadful and slightly confusing. The change of text type, format of the book and narrative quality seemed unnecessary and too forced. I didn’t feel that the book flowed naturally and the jumpy feel to it made it difficult for me to absorb the information.

It actually got so bad that I put the book down about 2/3s of the way through and haven’t picked up it since, and I don’t really intend to. I’d been intending on picking of “Feed” by M. T. Anderson soon however,  my experience with this book now has me hesitating. Any thoughts?

 

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Book Review: Lock and Key

Title: Lock and Key

Author: Sarah Dessen

Publication Date:  May 14, 2009

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: Speak

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Summary (from Barnes & Noble): Ruby is used to taking care of herself. But now she’s living in a fancy new house with her sister Cora—a sister she hasn’t seen in ten years—and her husband Jamie—creator of one of the most popular online networking sites. She’s attending private school, wearing new clothes, and for the first time, feels the promise of a future that include college and her family. So why is she so wary? And what is Nate— the adorable and good-hearted boy next door— hiding behind his genial nature? As Ruby starts to see, there’s a big difference between being given help, and being able to accept it. And sometimes, in order to save yourself, you’ve got to reach out to someone else.

My Review: This book is classic Sarah Dessen. You’ve got the headstrong girl with a fatal flaw (in this case it’s that she can’t trust anyone), you’ve got the handsome boy (in this case one with a secret) and a love story that happens despite all the odds. I’m definitely not saying I don’t enjoy Sarah Dessen’s novels it’s just that I do seem to know exactly where they will end before they do. However, while I do know how and where the book will end most of the fun in reading a Dessen novel is discovering how the characters will get there.

This book did not disappoint with the drama and insecurities that a teenage girl at a new school and in a new life faces. It was interesting to watch Ruby go form being so independent and barely making it by to actually putting herself into her schoolwork and her job. It was a nice feeling to watch her slowly make friends and begin to feel comfortable in this life where she wasn’t faced with constant hardship.

While I know the focus of the book was on Nate and Ruby’s relationship I was far more drawn into the relationship between Ruby and her older sister Cora. The idea that their mother purposefully keep them separated was heartbreaking and cruel, yet at the same time made me understand her mother’s character far more than I would have otherwise. Honestly, I think I would’ve preferred this book without the romance and the intrigue had it just focused solely on the sisters relationship and how they slowly built it back up and began to consider each other family again. I think that book would’ve had a much stronger storyline and would created a much stronger emotional reaction from me.

 

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Book Review: Just Listen

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Title: Just Listen

Author: Sarah Dessen

Publication Date: April 6, 2006

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: Viking Juvenile

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Summary (from Barnes & Noble): When Annabel, the youngest of three beautiful sisters, has a bitter falling out with her best friend—the popular and exciting Sophie—she suddenly finds herself isolated and friendless. but then she meets owen—a loner, passionate about music and his weekly radio show, and always determined to tell the truth. And when they develop a friendship, Annabel is not only introduced to new music but is encouraged to listen to her own inner voice. with owen’s help, can Annabel find the courage to speak out about what exactly happened the night her friendship with Sophie came to a screeching halt?

Review (caution, spoilers ho!): I picked up the book from a used book store mostly because I’d been hearing about how amazing of a YA author Sarah Dessen was and how true to life her characters were. Well, after skipping over her books at both Borders sales and random jaunts through Barnes and Noble I decided it was finally time to see for myself if she lived up to the hype. Dessen definitely breathes live into the characters, teenagers and adults alike, causing the reader to become invested in both their well-being and their lives.

Annabel comes across the pages as a real teenage girl (side modeling career aside) and it’s easy to understand why she ignored things the way that she did. Most 16-year-old girls don’t have the maturity or wish to confront something as life changing and traumatic as she did, hell most grown women would have issues confronting it! Dessen does a wonderful job slowly developing the friendship and more that arises between Owen and Annabel, at no point does it feel forced on contrived.

One thing I felt Dessen did extremely well was in nailing the mean girl mentality with the character of Sophie, it’s not over the top or overdone it’s almost pitch perfect. Her ultimate fall from grace at the end of the novel felt realistic and occurred without any of the over the top dramatics that so often go with these occurrences in YA novels. You almost feel bad for her, but secretly you know that’s exactly what you wanted to happen.

I think this book was definitely worth the read and it made me curious to read other Sarah Dessen books. After all with summer around the corner I need to invest in some quality poolside reading material!

 
 

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Book Review: The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Publication Date: September 11, 2007

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Alfred A. Knop

*Purchased the book at a used bookstore*

Rating: 4/5 stars

I should probably state right off the bat that I am a history minor who concentrated on the Holocaust. As such I read so many books on the topic, both fiction and non-fiction, to gain a better understanding of that atrocities that occurred in Europe at that time. So right from the start I was pulled into to this book, curious to see how the events would play out from this unique point of view.

The use of Death as the omniscient narrator was one that was easily adapted to and it gave the book a unique feel that I don’t believe Zusak would have been able carry out any other way.  However, at times his commentary seemed to jar me out of the story and realize that I was not actually a part of what was going on.

From the beginning of the book I found myself interested in Liesel’s role as the book thief, as she stole her first book very early on. The books that she read and stole helped to build her relationships with those around her, relationships that may not have been as deep without the back drop of the stolen books. From her foster-father who uses The Gravediggers Handbook to lull her to sleep when she’s roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death, Max the hidden Jew who writes her a book of her very own and the mayor’s wife who has an entire library of books she allows her to steal.

This book will both bring you joy and break your heart, but it’s a journey that is worth the pan.

 

 

 

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Book Challenges!

In a way to jumpstart my reading for 2011 (as if I need more ways to do that), I’ve decided to signup for a few Book Challenges. These will perhaps push me to read outside of my normal realm of books and hopefully introduce me to a few new authors along the way!

I’m signing up for four challenges for this year. I think that’s good enough to get me going with reading and reviewing!


YA Historical Fiction Challenge (signup page)

Hosts : YA Bliss
Starts: 1st January 2011
Ends: 31st December 2011
Eligible Books: Young Adult or Middle Grade historical fiction.
Levels: Three; I’ve signed up for the third level which requires me to read 15 books
Prizes? Yes!

 

I love historical fiction, so this one should be a breeze! Here are some of the books I am considering, I’ll add more as I find them:

The Healer’s Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller
Wildwing by Emily Whitman
Nine Days a Queen: The Short Life and Reign of Lady Jane Grey by Ann Rinaldi


Most Awaited YA Releases (signup page)

Starts: 1st January 2011
Ends: 31st December 2011
Eligible Books: Any book released in 2011.
Levels: One: 12 books (review one per month)
Prizes? Yes! Each month one participant will win a book released in 2011.

Here are some of the books I am considering:

Across the Universe by Beth Revis
The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney
Entwined by Heather Dixon
Where She Went by Gayle Forman


Into The Old World Reading Challenge (sign up page)

Starts: 1st January 2011
Ends: 31st December 2011
Eligible Books: Any books published BEFORE 2009 . All Genres included

Here are some of the books I am considering:

The Wild Irish: A Novel of Elizabeth I and the Pirate O’Malley by Robin Maxwell
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke
Nine Days a Queen: The Short Life and Reign of Lady Jane Grey by Ann Rinaldi


Off the Shelf (signup page)

Starts: January 1, 2011
Ends: December 31, 2011
Eligible Books: Books that you own but have not read. Must own the books prior to 2011.
Levels: Seven; I will be trying for Level 2:  15 books
I’ll have to scan the shelf and separate out the books I haven’t read yet! There are quite a few though, that’s for sure.
 
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Posted by on 31 December, 2010 in Challenges

 

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