Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Mobile Bookstore

The Bookshop on the Corner 
By: Jenny Colgan
Genre: Adult Fiction 

"Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion...and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more. 

"Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. 

"From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there's plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that's beginning to feel like home...a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending." 

I love books about books (though I don't read them very often), and Nina is my kind of girl. She's brave-but in a self-conscious, normal way, not like a superhero-she knows so much about books, and she loves nature. I enjoyed watching her step out of the pages of her shyness into a bigger, more exciting world while still doing what she loves. I wish I could go around selling books out of a van!

If this novel did not take place in Scotland, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it as much as I did. The way the author, Jenny, writes about Scotland is truly majestic: rolling hills, delicious homemade food (don't read it if you're already hungry!), and don't forget those lovely lochs! Sometimes it seemed too perfect. As a world traveler, I know that every place has both its sunshine and shadows, and Jenny focused a lot on the sunshine (not to mention the novel almost entirely took place in the never-ending sunny summer months). But it was still fun to read the Scottish accents and watch the Scots farm and celebrate their holidays. 

Toward the end of the book, the story became less about books and more about men. The romance was a bit too cliche and forced for my taste. Sigh. I guess books must have romance these days to make money. What are your thoughts? Mostly for the above reason, I give this book a lower score of 3 out of 5. Also due to the romance and some spicy language, I suggest the novel for 18 year olds and up.  

What I learned: There is a book out there for everyone. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Miracles, Magic, and Owls

All the Crooked Saints 
By: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: YA Magical Realism

"Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.
They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect."

I haven't read many books in the magical realism genre, and the ones I have were just pain weird. Thankfully, All the Crooked Saints wasn't like that. It was weird in ways that make sense, if that makes any sense ;). I loved the symbolism spread throughout the novel, and how she creates Bicho Raro as a character in itself. When authors do this, it just adds so much more reality and depth to their characters and, in turn, their novel, for no one is anyone without the location or several locations where they grew up.

I didn't fall in love with any one specific character; Maggie drops you into everyone's tale so that you root for every character. For this tale isn't about a specific character, it's the community coming together to fight their darkness. That's unusual in novels, but it's more like real life.

The only thing that irked me about this book was the facts she throws in. Most of them I found fascinating, but toward the end of the novel, I was questioning why she had placed some of the facts in the story, as they didn't seem to add much to the plot and seemed almost to the point of showing off.

But overall, it's a great, magical tale of miracles, darkness, and owls. I give it a 4 out of 5 and recommend it for youth ages 15 and up.

What I learned: Everyone has darkness in themselves. And sometimes just seeing and realizing that truth is when the miracle unfolds.
If this novel sounds interesting, or even if it doesn't, you might also like: The Scorpio Races by Stiefvater.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Best of 2017

Below are the best books, in several different categories, of the 29 books (it doesn't look like much when I type it out!) I read this last year. I hope some of them spark your interest or bring back fond memories of your own. 

Best Classical Novel
The award goes to... Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by the creative Robert Louis Stevenson. He can definitely write more morally complex material than children's poetry and Treasure Island. Suspenseful and as deep-as-a-well, this novel is perfect for reading beside a fire on a blustery autumn night!  

Best Adult Fiction
Out of the handful of the adult fiction books I read, Timeline by Michael Crichton would have to be my favorite. I haven't gotten around to reading many of his books, but this one hooked me so that I have quite a few now on my never-ending too-read list. This book had just enough science without being too dense and plenty of fascinating medieval history without being too historical. I mean, who wouldn't want to know what it would be like to be stuck in the middle ages with only a very short time frame to return to the current age? 

Best Young Adult Fiction
The Young Elites series by Marie Lu blew me away. They were different than anything else I've read in this genre (which has been a mountain's worth, if you've taken a look at my book reviews over the last few years). The series deals with a main character who becomes a villain. It becomes darker as the series progresses, treating on the darkness that lies inside of every person. The ending was hopeful, which is one reason why I like the series so much, besides the fact that it has basically super heroes in it! This is a young adult series that is real and honest about humanity. 

Best Non-Fiction 
One-Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp wins this award. I had heard a lot about this book but thought the hype was overdone. It turns out, in this case, that it wasn't. I finally picked it up, and the book's practical message about giving thanks on a daily basis sunk deep into my heart during a time of heavy sadness. It's not magical, of course; giving thanks is work, but I enjoyed the lessons Voskamp shared from her own life and the reminder that giving thanks does bring joy in the end. She also writes the book in lovely poetic language. 

Best Biography 
I only read two. Whoops. But out of those two (Bonhoeffer's biography and Surprised by Oxford), my favorite was Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. I was surprised by this book, as I didn't know it existed until my mom basically threw it at me a few weeks before Christmas. So it almost didn't get on my list. I loved this book because it takes place at Oxford, quotes poetry, and mentions tea every few pages. But more than that, it's about a girl who wrestles with some deep questions during her graduate program that most humans at least slap at during their lives. It's a beautiful testimony to God's greatness and persistence. 

Best Re-Read 
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Nothing more needs to be said about this.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Lost in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 
By: Lewis Carroll 
Genre: Children's Fantasy 

Since this popular novel about a girl falling through a rabbit hole is a classic and I'm an English major, I thought it was high time for me to venture into Wonderland and see what all the fuss is about myself. 

And it's about bizarre. There's no other good word for this book. I expected it to be weird, due to my faint memories of the movie, and it didn't disappoint. Alice encounters creatures of all kinds, from an unhelpful blue caterpillar, to a fish footman, to a mock turtle (still figuring out what that is).

I can handle odd creatures; I love me some sci-fi and fantasy. What bothered me most in this book was Alice herself. Yes, she's seeing some very odd things, but she does not deal with them at all well. She always wants to be right, and seemed quite prideful, even though she kept talking about being polite. If she truly wanted to be polite, she could have refrained from speaking at all. The illustrations also didn't help, often portraying her as an angry little girl (at least in my version of the book). They were good for a laugh, though.  

I also didn't much like that there's no plot in the story besides encountering odd things. The ending felt superficial, but I won't ruin it if you've never seen the movie or read the book. 

Thankfully it was a short read and entertaining with all of the bizarre creatures. However, I probably won't peruse it again. Due to all of the above reasons, I give Alice's lovely (or not so lovely) adventures a 2 out of 5. This book could be read by 12 year olds and up. 

What I learned: It's not always prudent to be right or logical (at least out loud). Sometimes the most polite thing one can do is to not talk at all. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Lost Princesses

I’ve been living for the last two years in Papua New Guinea, working for Wycliffe Bible Translators (if you want more information on that organization, you can click on their link above). In PNG the internet is expensive and sketchy, so this blog has pretty much died. But since I’m about to return to the land of internet, I’m attempting to resurrect it. Hence the book review below. 

A Little Princess 
By Frances Hodgson Burnett
Genre: YA/Children’s Fiction

“Sarah Crewe seemed to have everything, including a rich father who was willing to spend a lot of money on his little daughter. The story tells how she copes when disaster strikes while she’s living as a ‘little princess’ at a girl’s boarding school in 19th century England.”

I loved this movie as a child: the exotic stories the girl told herself and her companions at her school, the unfair difficulties her life later revolves around, the thought of every girl being a princess, and the magical-like happy ending.

Since I loved the movie, I realized I should probably read the book. I finally did, and it did not disappoint! In fact, I like the book better. It is more realistic, and the relationships are fuller and deeper. I do miss the dramatic, India-based stories in the movie and scenes from that magical land, but the book makes up for it by exploring another family not in the movie and being able to see more of Sarah’s antics.

The ending of the book differs from the movie’s, but it is more believable (especially to an adult), and still ends almost magically for the main character.
Although the theme of being a princess is touched upon in the movie, it is more explored in the book, as Sarah tries to act like a princess even when others treat her horribly. She is a heroine with flaws who knows about them, but tries to shake them off and emulate kindness and goodness even to those who treat her inhumanly. We can all learn something from this ‘little princess’.

I give this book a 5 out of 5 (yes, it was that good!), and recommend it for ten year olds and up.

What I learned: How important and possible it is to act like a princess even when one doesn't feel like it. Also, the importance and magic of imagination. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Light and Love

This Raging Light
By Estelle Laure
Genre: Realistic YA

"Her dad went crazy. Her mom left town. She has bills to pay and a little sister to look after. Now is not the time for level-headed seventeen-year-old Lucille to fall in love. But love-messy, inconvenient love-is what she's about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend's brother."

I don't usually read realistic novels (YA or adult), especially ones that revolved around love, because that kind of story doesn't usually appeal to me. But, I saw this book in the break-room at the library and started reading it. The situation and Lucille hooked me almost right at the start.

Lucille is an intense girl who's practical but also passionate. I didn't necessarily love her as a character, but I did feel for her and was definitely rooting for her to succeed. And although this book does have romantic love, it's not all about the boy. It's more about the love Lucille has for her cute, funny sister, Wren, the love for her messed-up and missing parents, and the love of two best friends.

This novel was heartbreaking and hard, but beautiful. It is very poetic, and the poetic-ness of her writing took me a while to get used to, but once I did, I could hardly put the book down. The subject and characters in this novel are raw and real, just like life, and will remain with long after the last sentence.

I give this novel a 3 out of 5 and recommend it for 16 year olds and up.

What I learned: If Lucille could face everything she did in this novel, I have no reason to complain about the small bumps of difficulties in my life.

Those who enjoyed this book might enjoy the poem by Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Let me hear you ROAR!

The Roar
By Emma Clayton
Genre: YA Dystopian
#1 in the Roar Series

"Mika lives in future London, behind the Wall, safe from the Animal Plague beyond. Or so he's been told. But ever since Ellie vanished a all year ago, he's suspected his world may be built on secrets-and lies. When a mysterious organization starts recruiting mutant kids to compete in violent virtual reality games, Mika takes the chance to search for his twin sister-and the truth." 

I want you to be aware, before you read this book, or think about reading this book, that it's part of a series. I did not know that when I was reading it, so, when I got to the ending, I was very confused, agitated, and frustrated that the author left so many unanswered questions. This was an easy mistake to make, because there was nothing on the book to indicate that it was part of a series. I hate when publishers do this!

So, all the above has a huge impact on how I viewed and will review this novel. 

If I would have known there was a sequel, the abrupt ending probably wouldn't have bothered me. However, one aspect of it would have bothered me regardless. One of the main characters disappeared at the end of the book, like the author forgot about her. One minute she was there, the next, she was gone and not mentioned again. At the end of novel, even one in a series, everyone should be accounted for, whether they're in prison, dead, missing, etc. This was not the case here. 

I did enjoy parts of this novel, though. The suspense of knowing 'the secret' (even though I had a good guess) kept me turning the pages throughout the book to see what would happen next. Also, it had some pretty unique ideas, like the animal plague, and what the mutants could do (I won't give it away). I loved the latter. I also enjoyed how the author kept the parents in the novel. They're not usually in YA fantasy/dystopian novels much (for obvious reasons) but they kept cropping up here, and it was good to see their love and relationship fluctuate like any normal teenager's. 

Ellie was my favorite character by far; I loved her spunk and spark. I was disappointed the reader didn't get inside her head more, especially since she was the first person we meet. 

Due to all these factors, I give The Roar a 2.75 out of 5 and recommend it for 12 year olds and up. I'm still debating whether or not to read the sequel or not. 

What I learned: Everything the government tells you is a lie! (Ha. ha. Joking...mostly.)

*Readers who enjoyed The Hunger Games, Ender's Game, or the Uglies, Pretties, Specials series might like this novel. 

**What about you? What do you think about reading a book, and then finding out it's a series? Do you think they should be clearly marked? Have you read The Roar? Think you might or might not now? Let me know!