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Throwback Thursday May 31st: Troubling a Star by Madeline L’Engle

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books! It’s the nature of book blogging to focus mainly on new releases, but there are thousands of great books out there that haven’t seen the “New Releases” shelf in years. Through Throwback Thursdays THCW and NTFB hope to be able to bring attention to some older titles that may not be at the top of the current bestseller list, but still deserve a spot in your To-Be-Read pile.

This week’s Throwback Thursday book is Troubling A Star by Madeline L’Engle.

Summary from AmazonThe Austins have settled back into their beloved home in the country after more than a year away. Though they had all missed the predictability and security of life in Thornhill, Vicky Austin is discovering that slipping back into her old life isn’t easy. She’s been changed by life in New York City and her travels around the country while her old friends seem to have stayed the same. So Vicky finds herself spending time with a new friend, Serena Eddington—the great-aunt of a boy Vicky met over the summer.
     Aunt Serena gives Vicky an incredible birthday gift—a month-long trip to Antarctica. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. But Vicky is nervous. She’s never been away from her family before. Once she sets off though, she finds that’s the least of her worries. She receives threatening letters. She’s surrounded by suspicious characters. Vicky no longer knows who to trust. And she may not make it home alive.

Why You Should Read This Book: I read this book for the first time in fifth grade and I’ve read it yearly since then. As a child I was enthralled by the mystery and intrigue that surrounded Vicky’s trip to Antartica. It held my attention and never lost it’s appeal or the delicious tension upon numerous re-reads. Although as I’ve gotten older there are some plot points I find a bit unrealistic (like parents allowing a 16 year old to go off on a month long trip with a older male chaperone), but that doesn’t affect me enough to challenge my love for the book.

As I got a bit older I became profoundly jealous of Vicky for both Adam and her fantastic trip to the Antarctic. I’ve always dreamed of traveling and it would be an incredible experience to get to take trip to visit Antarctica and see the penguins and seals! The cast of characters that surrounds Vicky are charming and engaging enough that you remember them and connect with them almost as well as you do the main characters.

if you enjoy Madeline L’Engle’s writing or if you are a fan of mystery and intrigue this book is worth taking a look at!

 

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Book Review: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Published: May 1, 2012 by Dial

How I got it: Pre-ordered on Amazon

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Plot: Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle–disguised and alone–to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Review:  Oh, Bitterblue. I’ve been waiting for this book for over a year now and I was so excited when it finally got a release date. I adore both Fire and Graceling with the passion of a million suns (okay, so that miiight be a bit of a stretch but it’s a lot, okay?), and I just knew I would feel the same about Bitterblue. However, I started to worry a teensy bit when I saw lots of other bloggers reporting that the book left them feeling disappointed, but I tried to ignore that and formulate my opinion.

Well, it ended up being the same for me, I had such a build up to this book and I felt so deflated when I reached the last chapter. I mean, I still LIKE the book, I just don’t LOVE it. And y’all, i wanted to love it so much that it hurts that I didn’t.

The Good 🙂
 I loved Bitterblue when I first met her in Graceling and it was fantastic to se her growing into her own as Queen of Monsea. She was curious, brave, cautious, caring and intelligent and everything you’d expect of an 18 year old Queen. It was fantastic watching her learn more about her country, about her father’s past and most importablty about herself and what she was capable of.

When old friends appeared on the pages it made me giddy with happiness. Giddon, Katsa, Raffin, Bann, Helda and especially Po were all integral to Bitterblue’s story and I loved watching how protective and supportive they were of her. I’d almsot forgotten how much I adored Po in Graceling, but I was reminded of it almost immediately when he first appeared on the pages of Bitterblue.

Emotions and character development. I love how Cashore is able to write strong female characters who know it’s okay to break down and cry occasionally, it feels far more realistic than this stoic character who never cries or a character who cries at the drop of a hat. She’s also able to bring that same emotion to her male characters, allowing them to cry and feel emotions that you don’t usually see from the men in YA novels. It doesn’t feel contrived or forced, it just feels natural to see them express their emotions. Cashore’s characters feel human and I think that’s why I connect to them so much.

Saf. I loved Saf even when he was being snarky, antagonistic and just a complete pain in the ass. He was fun to read even if I got frustrated with almost every other interaction he had with Bitterblue. I’d have liked to see more of him, but it would’ve been impossible with all the plot twists and turns.

The Bad 😦
The love story. It disappointed me and let me down. I felt that there was all this buildup and then it just didn’t go the way I was expecting it to go. It seemed to me that Bitterblue had much more chemistry with an entirely different character and I was rooting for them instead. I get the idea that Cashore was doing a love triangle without really doing a love triangle, but it didn’t work for me at all.

Twisty, turny plot. Oh my goodness, I usually adore complicated plots that fake you out and take you in circles. But this one at times felt too forced to me and I felt like it could’ve come to a resolution far sooner than it did. It seemed that it was complicated just for the sake of complication and not for story telling. I still liked what happened, but we could’ve reached the conclusion in a different fashion and I’d have been a bit more pleased.

Bitterblue’s advisors: Roon, Darby, Runnemond and Thiel. They were necessary to the story and played an important role as Bitterblue’s advisors, but man they just grated on my every nerve. They were overused in my opinion and I didn’t even like them to begin with!

 

The Conclusion!
If you enjoyed Fire and Graceling you will absolutely want to read Bitterblue, as it’s certainly a good continuation in the lives of our characters. And while I didn’t LOVE this book, I liked it enough and enjoyed returning to Cashore’s writing and her seven kingdoms.

 

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A look at “Instalove” in YA books.

I’ll admit it, I’m not the best at keeping up with other blogs. BUT! I am trying to get better about seeing what other book bloggers have to say about blogging and books in general. So I often spend my lunch break clicking links (occasionally falling down rabbit holes) and generally discovering awesome content by others in our community.

With that said, I came across a fantastic post from Stephanie over at the Cuddlebuggery Book Blog. The post was “Shit I’m Sick of Reading Part 2” and in it Stephanie discusses her hate of “Instalove” in YA books. I’ve been formulating a post on this same topic for a while now and it was great to see another blogger discussing her thoughts on this plot device (and do it so magnificently).

I do tend to find the idea of “Instalove” in the YA genre (and other genres for that matter) rather grating and at times obnoxious. This usually happens when the main character meets an incredibly attractive guy (with his hair flopping over his forehead just so) in the book, they share a cute moment and are then instantly FOREVER IN LOVE with each other.

In a lot of those cases I find myself mentally quoting that line from between Keanu Rivers and Sandra Bullock in speed Speed. You know, the one where Jack says to Annie, “I have to warn you, I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work”. And I want to yell this exact phrase at these characters and maybe suggest they base it on sex instead (I’m totally kidding on that), except the characters can’t hear me and the authors probably don’t want to listen.

As an adult in my extremely late 20s (I refuse to think of myself as anywhere close to thirty) I find myself eye-rolling when i see “instalove” occurring in a novel I’m reading. As adults we know this is not how good, solid relationships form. We know that while you’d like to close the book and think they lived happily ever after, the truth is they probably left for college, someone did something stupid and broke the others heart. This was then closely followed by a bitter breakup ( I’m not projecting here, I swear).

However much the idea of “instalove” annoys adult-me, I’ve got to admit that I do see where it comes from and why the authors use this plot device in YA novel after YA novel.

It’s because it actually happens.

I know, you’re snorting in disbelief now (I would be too, honestly), but hear me out. I’ve spent the past few years working with teenagers and they are quite possibly the most dramatic and exhausting group of people on the planet (not that I’m telling you anything you didn’t already know). These kids really do the “instalove” thing and to them they don’t realize how crazy or unrealistic it actually is. They met a guy, go on a date (or make out at a party or a football game) and the next day they are telling me how much they love him and how perfect they are together. I even saw one of these girls planning her future WEDDING to a boy she just met a MONTH ago. Forget Prom, she was going all out and shooting for the stars there.

I sat there and watched this play out, trying desperately not to laugh or launch into the lecture about love and maturity that was already writing itself in my head. Instead I smiled and nodded at pictures of dresses

So, while I am still in total agreement with Stephanie that the entire idea of “instalove” makes me feel a little like tossing the book down in frustration, it really is rooted in the behaviors of the teenagers in our society. And that thought terrifies me a bit.

I’ll leave you with this super awesome gif Stephanie included in her original post (and that I’ve seen reblogged countless times on Tumblr) just cause it’s funny and relevant:

 
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Posted by on 27 April, 2012 in Ranty Blogger

 

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Book Review: Thumped by Megan McCafferty

Title: Thumped (sequel to Bumped)

Author: Megan McCafferty

Publication Date: April 24, 2012

Genre: Dystopian YA

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

How I got it: Pre-ordered and downloaded on my iPad

Summary (from Amazon): It’s been thirty-five weeks since twin sisters Harmony and Melody went their separate ways. Since then, their story has become irresistible to legions of girls: twins separated at birth and living different lives, each due to deliver sets of twins . . . on the same day! In a future where only teens can “bump,” or give birth, babies mean money, status, and freedom.

Married to Ram and living in religious Goodside, Harmony spends her time trying to fit back into the community she once loved and believed in. But she can’t seem to forget about Jondoe, the guy she fell in love with under the strangest of circumstances.

To her adoring fans, Melody has achieved everything she always wanted: a big, fat contract and a coupling with Jondoe, the hottest bump prospect around. But this image is costing her the one guy she really wants.

Cursed by their own popularity, the girls are obsessively tracked by their millions of fans, who have been eagerly counting down the days to their “Double Double Due Date.” Without a doubt, they are two of the most powerful teen girls on the planet, and there’s only one thing they could do that would make them more famous than they already are:

Tell the truth.

Review: I read Bumped a few months back when I found that it was available as a 99 cent download from Amazon (I love those sales!). I knew nothing about the book going into it except that it was vaguely dystopian and that it focused on teen pregnancy. Plus I figured it was worth a read at only 99 cents and if I hated it then I wasn’t out the price of a brand new hardback.

It took me a while to get into Bumped, I read the first chapter and then let a few weeks go by before picking it up and actually finishing the entire book. However, once I got into the story I wanted to see how things played out for Harmony and Melody and once the story ended I knew I’d absolutely have to read the sequel. I pre=ordered in on my iPad and waited patiently for it to release.

Thumped picks up 37 weeks after the end of Bumped and we see that Harmony and Melody are planning on delivering sets of twins on the same day. They are the hottest thing in teen pregnancy, only problem is that Harmony has gone back to her home in Goodside with her Husband Ram and

I loved how Megan McCafferty took the horrors and very real problem of teenage pregnancy and completely turned it on its head and gave us a world where teen pregnancy is expected, glamorized and promoted everywhere. This is one dystopian book where I had very little difficulty imagining that this was a very real possibility for our future. Watching teen girls get so pumped up and excited over being selected to “bump” with a hot RePro star was a little surreal and I felt a twinge of heartbreak thinking that in that world at my current age I’d be unable to bear my own children.

In fact, one of the few things that bugged me while reading both Bumped and Thumped was the overuse of the, oftentimes, ridiculous slang words. I found myself reading words like “Fertilicious” and “Neggy” and wondering how in the world she came up with these terms. And would anyone seriously use them. Then I stop for a moment and think of the overuse of “internet speak” and phrases like “Totes,” “cray-cray,” and “amazeballs” (not gonna lie, I kinda love that word) and you realize we’re kinda already there. It’s totes crazy, y’all.

Despite being shelved and classified as “dystopian fiction for young adults” McCafferty’s world is peppy and upbeat, filled with entertaining and occasionally outlandish characters. Twins Harmony and Melody play two halves of the same whole who believe in very different things, but at the core of it are more similar than they realize. The supporting cast of characters include Melody’s best guy friend Zen, her publicist Lib, Johnoe the famously hot RePo and Harmony’s husband Ram. While some are a bit over the top or over zealous in their ideals all the characters work well in this crazy world McCafferty has created. A few of the more minor characters are a little one-dimensional and seem to try to hard to have more depth they serve their purpose in the overall storyline and are easily glossed over if they bother you too much.
If you’re in the mood for a light-hearted read that doesn’t take itself too seriously then you should absolutely take a look at both Bumped and Thumped. However, if you’re feeling rather cynical or coming down a Hunger Games-esque high you may want to wait a bit before you pick this up.

Also, for an interesting read check out this post on Megan McCafferty’s blog about how this world is closer than we think!

 
 

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Book Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Title: Insurgent

Author: Veronica Roth

Publication Date: May 1, 2012

Genre: Dystopian YA

Publisher: HarperCollins

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

How I got it: Pre-Ordered from Amazon

Summary (from Barnes and Noble): One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

(Caution: There may be spoilers below. I’ll do my best to keep it as spoiler-free as possible, but you have been sufficiently warned. Proceed at your own risk.)

Review: Oh my, this book. THIS BOOK. Seriously, I’m not sure I’ve had time to really form any coherent thoughts about it, but I wanted to go ahead and review while it was still fresh in my mind. So I apologize for any dis-jointed ramblings.

I loved Tris in the first book even when she was being selfish and cold and frustrating. But that is nothing compared to how I felt about her here. We learn so much more about what makes Tris, Tris and it’s fascinating to see it all come together into this strong and able female character. The more I learned about her thoughts and her background the clearer it became to see how she tested for Dauntless, Erudite and Abnegation in her aptitude test.

It was also fascinating to get a better look at some of the other characters from Divergent, getting to learn more about Four/Tobias, Caleb, Uriah, Lynn, Peter, Marcus and Christina helped me feel more connected to the story. However, it also makes you feel ALL THE EMOTIONS for these characters, so be warned.

While I still kinda feel that there was a healthy dose of “instalove” between Tris and Four (Tobias), I didn’t care one bit. Maybe it’s because I felt that their Divergence made them a better match and that for once they finally had someone who understands them? Who knows, but I’m okay with it for whatever it is. I love the two of them together and it breaks my heart to see tension occurring between them. At times I wanted to stand there and smash their heads together until they saw past their own stubborn viewpoints and were able to understand the other better. BUT that tension made for better chemistry and better scenes between the two, so I’ll take it for what it gave me 🙂

This book hit the ground running (almost literally) as it continues directly from the end of Divergent (no time skipping happening here folks) and leaves you with very little time to catch your breath as it takes you on a ride. There was so much action happening and even in the slower bits the intrigue and the secrets keep you turning page after page that I could barely manage to set the book down long enough to do my real job. (that pesky job keeps getting in the way of my reading).

As a second book in a trilogy it doesn’t disappoint and it hits all the high notes you’d expect. There was enough resolution to keep you satisfied, but the cliff-hanger at the end is right up there with the one at the end of Catching Fire. Is the last book out yet? Do we really have to wait a year?

Seriously, go read this. ASAP.

 
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Posted by on 25 April, 2012 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent

Author: Veronica Roth

Publication Date: May 3, 2011

Genre: Dystopian YA

Publisher: HarperCollins

Rating: 4/5 stars

How I got it: Purchased from Amazon at the insistence of a friend

Summary (from Barnes and Noble): In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Review: I’ve been hearing about Divergent pretty much on-stop for the past year as it seems to be on every “Books you MUST read if you like The Hunger Games” and “Best Dystopian Books for Young Adults” list that’s out there.  I’ve been meaning to read it, but something else always finds its way onto my shelf first. Damn, did I not know what I was missing. From the very first page I was drawn into Beatrice’s world and was intrigued by her choices and rhe effect they had on her life and those around her. Veronica Roth’s writing is fast-paced and full of suspense which resulted in me frantically flipping pages as fast as I could to learn more of her story.

From the beginning I adored Tris/Beatrice even when I found myself disagreeing with her or her reactions. I identified with her out of place feeling and the struggle to fit into the mold she was expected to fill. And I was immensely proud when I watched her make the difficult choice to switch factions and become a different part of herself. Even though at times Tris was harsh and unrelenting, I loved that Roth let herself create a heroine that at times could be downright unlikeable and yet you were still drawn to her and her struggle. I can’t wait to see how Tris develops through the rest of the trilogy.

As I read through the book, with it’s fast paced action I was amazed and impressed by how all the characters were neither hero nor villain but rather simply human (flaws and all). In YA lit you get a lot of black and white characters (with the hero/heroine being the most flawed or gray character) and so it was refreshing to see a book filled with these true to life representations.

If you haven’t read Divergent, then I’d suggest you get yourself to your nearest library, bookstore or online bookseller and get a copy now. As for me I am not so patiently waiting for May 1st and the release of Insurgent!

 
 

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Book Review: The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal

Title: The False Princess

Author: Eilis O’Neal

Publication Date: January 25, 2011

Genre: YA Fantasy

Publisher: EgmontUSA

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Summary (from Amazon): Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia’s led a privileged life at court.  But everything changes when it’s revealed, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection.  Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city of Vivaskari, her best friend, Keirnan, and the only life she’s ever known.

Sinda is sent to live with her only surviving relative, an aunt who is a dyer in a distant village. She is a cold, scornful woman with little patience for her newfound niece, and Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks.  But when Sinda discovers that magic runs through her veins – long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she must learn to control – she realizes that she can never learn to be a simple village girl.

Returning to Vivaskari for answers, Sinda finds her purpose as a wizard scribe, rediscovers the boy who saw her all along, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor’s history, forever.

Review (caution, very limited spoilers): I was drawn to this book from the first time I read the description while standing in the aisle of my loca Barnes and Noble. The story of deception, of a girl who has believed she’s the princess only to learn all at once that it was a lie and she has to leave the only life she’s ever known drew me in and practically begged me to give it a chance.

This book had such a promising plot line, but the narrative style fell short. Sinda often disappears into her head for long rambling thoughts that close you off from the character’s and the world around her and don’t allow you to fully engage with her world. We’re left with mere glimpses and one sided development of other the other characters in the story which leaves you feeling that the story was not fully fleshed out. When you are introduced to the character of Mika, a girl who captures and engages the reader in a way that is far more satisfying than Sinda has ever managed, you find yourself a bit angry at the author for not giving this fascinating character more page time.

From the beginning I had sympathy for Sinda, but she frustrated me all the same. I could never understand how she simply allowed herself to be cast out, without protest, of the only home she ever knew, away from the parents she had loved since infancy and the one person she called friend. I wanted to see her fight and rage and call them on the absolute unfairness of it all (after all, she had every right to her anger), but she simply went meekly to the carriage and let them take her away. At that point it was as if she simply shut down and accepted that this was how it was.

While she came a bit more into herself once discovering magic she still felt far too hesitant to be the heroine that carried the story. Honestly, had Sinda not discovered the magic within her I think she would have simply melted sadly away into the pastoral life she lived with her Aunt and it felt like her magic was simply a way for the author to avoid that fate rather than a true gift given to her character.

If you’re looking for a book to satisfy you after you’ve read the likes of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling or Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy this wouldn’t be the next step. But if you’re looking for a fun and simple fantasy book to take you away for an afternoon this is worth checking out.

Have any of you read The False Princess? I’m curious to read your thoughts on the story!

 
 

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