Tuesday, December 10, 2013

See You at Harry's--Jo Knowles

Title: See You at Harry's
Author: Jo Knowles
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2012.
Pages: 224 p.
Source: Library Ebook
Compensation: None

After reading Lessons From a Dead Girl and Jumping Off Swings, I was fairly confident what to expect from Jo Knowles' latest offering See You at Harry's--good writing, good characters, good story. Now, I did get a bit weepy at the end of Jumping off Swings, so I should have been prepared better. But I wasn't and foolishly read See You at Harry's in the car on my ride back from Thanksgiving. Where I had to STOP reading because I did not want to have to explain to my husband or 3/4 children (I don't think the 16 month old would have cared) why I was sobbing like a baby which was about to happen if I had continued reading. I had to wait until we were home and everyone was safe in bed and I was safely squirreled away where I would not have to answer any awkward questions. So, my advice is to A) don't read this in a car with your children and B) have a box of tissues handy.

The story opens with 8 year old Fern home sick from school because she had let Random Smith, a boy who was dirty and hungry and sick all the time, have a sip of her milk. Even though she is so sick she loves being at home with just her mom and not her older siblings. She loves her mom's undivided attention. She soon discovers that this will be the last time her mom's attention is ever whole again when her parents announce they are having a new baby. Fast forward four years later and Fern is best friends with Random Smith, entering middle school, and dealing with her 3 year old brother Charlie. Charlie is dirty and gross--a typical 3 year old boy--and Fern has very little patience for him even though he totally idolizes her. Fern's older sister Sara is having a gap year because she couldn't get into a good college, but she's being forced to work at her parents' restaurant so she's not much help with Charlie. Fern's older brother Holden is in his first year of high school, a difficult place to be when you are just coming out of the closet. Fern's Dad is always working late hatching some scheme to get more customers to the restaurant (Harry's) and her mom spends more and more time meditating in her office. So watching Charlie falls to Fern more and more often.

I was expecting the big drama to be about Holden. I thought that the irritating bullying on the bus would escalate to something bigger. Instead, Knowles completely blindsided me. Completely. I was not expecting it at all. I don't want to spoil anyone, because I want you all to go out and read this now, so just trust me when I say that actual sobbing was involved. Not weepy "oh that's too bad" but this is a book tears, but actual can't breathe or see the words anymore sobbing. This review is actually a bit difficult to write, as evidenced by how many times I have used the word actual in this paragraph.

Knowles writing is beautiful and so painfully realistic. Fern is the perfect mixed up kid. Loyal and kindhearted and protective of her older brother, but completely impatient and unforgiving of her younger brother. Fern's mom is hard on her for not being nicer to Charlie, but on more than one occasion Fern is the one who has had to rescue Charlie from whatever mess he has gotten into because her mom wasn't paying attention. No one is truly at fault or completely blameless for what happens.

I've enjoyed all of Knowles' books and look forward to her next novel. But this time I'll be prepared with a box of tissues. Just in case.

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Monday, December 09, 2013

Jumping Off Swings--Jo Knowles

Title: Jumping Off Swings
Author: Jo Knowles
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2009.
Pages: 176 p.
Source: Library ebook
Compensation: None

I read this book in one sitting--literally, I was in the car on the way to Thanksgiving. It's a super quick read that's perfect for those moments when you want to read something and just not stop.

Ellie is a vulnerable, naive girl who thinks that if a boy desires her he loves her and all she has to do is let him touch her to get that love. She is desperate for human touch and contact. Her mom is perfect on the outside, but cold and distant. Ellie tries to find love anywhere she can get it, but unfortunately for her, she and the boys she is with have two different meanings for the word "love."

The story opens with a quick encounter between Ellie and Josh. It's told from four different points of view: Ellie, Josh, Caleb, and Corinne. Caleb is Josh's best friend who has had a crush on Ellie since they were kids and Corinne is Ellie's best friend who has always supported her even when classmates call her a slut. Ellie and Josh's one time "thing" leads to a serious situation when she discovers she's late. The story follows the four different reactions to Ellie's pregnancy and how it impacts all their lives.

Although this is a quick read, because we have all four perspectives, we clearly see Ellie's motivation, we see why Josh is so screwed up and willing to have sex with a random girl just to lose his virginity, we see how loyal and supportive Caleb is, and how Corinne goes from being the sidekick to falling for Caleb. Knowles does a good job of showing all the options Ellie has without explicitly saying what those options are. Caleb lives with his Mom because his Mom decided she wanted to have a baby and asked her friend to be the father, thinking that he would stick around even if he didn't really love her but he left to start his own family; Josh's parents got married young when they discovered they were pregnant with Josh, and even though they are still married they barely see or talk each other; Corinne's older sister had an abortion and is still in a loving relationship with her boyfriend. The plot moves quickly, the characters are three-dimensional, and the writing is well done.

I was impressed with Jo Knowles' first YA book, Lessons From a Dead Girl, and enjoyed this one just as much.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links and buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Friday, December 06, 2013

We Were Liars--E. Lockhart

Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2014
Pages: 240 p.
Source: Author
Compensation: None

When E. Lockhart's publicist sends you an email asking if you want her next book--due out in May 2014--you say yes. Regardless of sick kids and holiday stress and basketball games and backed up laundry. You say yes.

I am so glad I did.

We Were Liars is unlike anything I have ever read by Lockhart. Now, I think there's one or two of her books I haven't read yet, so maybe this is exactly like those books. But it is unlike the books I have read.

The Sinclairs are a perfect extended family who spend their summers on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. They are rich and good looking and have no problems. Except that they have lots of problems. The three sisters aren't quite as rich as their Dad and have started bickering over estates and inheritances. The grandchildren, one of whom is our main character Cady, do their best to stay out of the bickering and try to spend their summers having fun with each other. The oldest cousins are Cady and Mirren and Johnny, all born within months of each other. Johnny brings his mom's boyfriend's nephew Gat (got that?) one summer and they all become inseparable. The four liars. The spend each summer having fun and complaining about their parents and grandparents. At least that's the way it was before Cady's accident. Since Cady's accident things have been different, strained, but she's not quite sure why because she can't remember anything. She gets horrible debilitating headaches and is heavily medicated because of them. She spends her latest summer on the island trying to remember what happened before her accident and immediately after it.

I can't tell you much more without lying. I don't want to give anything away.

We Were Liars is beautifully written. It is suspenseful and heartbreaking. It is not a fun book like the Ruby Oliver books. It is deep and meaningful and will stay with you for a long time. Grab this one up when it's released in May and hold on to it tightly. You'll want to read it again. Trust me.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links and buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

United We Spy--Ally Carter

Title: United We Spy
Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Disney Hyperion Books, 2013
Pages: 293 p
Source: Library
Compensation: None

What started as a fun fluffy series about girls in spy school and boy troubles has morphed into a serious suspenseful survival story. It's still fun because Ally Carter knows how to write fun characters and make us love them, but the "fluff" is gone. I have to wonder if it was ever there to begin with or if Carter was just lulling us (and Cammie) into a false sense of security.

Previous reviews (some more complete than others):

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You
Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy
Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover
Only the Good Spy Young
Out of Sight, Out of Time

In this conclusion to the Gallagher Girls series, Cammie has to hunt down the leaders of the Circle of Cavan before they can carry out their most dangerous plot ever. She's aided by her spy boyfriend Zach and her trusty companions Bex, Liz and Macey. Questions are answered and mysteries put to rest in this final satisfying installment. Carter ends the series perfectly. This is a must read for anyone who has read the previous books. It's a great series to give to readers who like reading about strong girls. The box set (I don't know if there is a box set yet, but there should be) would be a perfect holiday gift.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links and buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Ender's Game--Orson Scott Card

Title: Ender's Game
Author: Orson Scott Card
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 1994. (First Edition 1985)
Pages: 324 p.
Source: Library
Compensation: None

I, like most of the people who have just read this for the first time, did so in anticipation of the movie. I thought it would be fun to read it with my 9 year old son and then we could both go see the movie. Unfortunately he didn't have the book finished by the time we saw the movie (and then he punked out and decided he didn't need to finish.)

Ender is a third child born in a time when the population is strictly controlled. Most families only have two children, but Ender's family is allowed a third so they can try one more time to have a child qualify for Battle School. Ender's older brother Peter had shown promise but was too violent, while his sister Valentine was equally smart but too compassionate. The government hoped Ender would be a mix of his siblings and succeed where they did not. As it often does, the future of humanity rests on children but in Ender's world it's a bit more literal. Children are being raised as military geniuses because they have the quick reflexes and skill to fight the alien invaders. 6 year old Ender passes his final test and enters Battle School determined to help stop the Bugger (alien) invasion.

Ender and his classmates are "children" in age only. They are military men and women at an age when most kids are still picking their noses and forgetting to flush the toilet. They are violent and mean, and loving and kind. The book does a good job of showing the complete control the government has over them and how every single thing the commanders do to Ender is calculated and planned. Ender's school leader feels bad when he isolates Ender and steals his childhood, but never once thinks it shouldn't be done. The ends justify the means in all cases. This attitude trickles down--Ender feels bad when he hurts the kids who bully him but he often thinks he has no choice.

I enjoyed Ender's Game as both a science fiction story and a deeper commentary on war and the decisions we make when we are threatened. I've read the negative criticisms of the book and I think that most people have a hard time separating it from Card's political views. I don't think that this book is propaganda or a love letter to the military. Card does not depict the military advisors as being infallible. Overall, I enjoyed it. And yes, the book was a thousand times better than the movie.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Splendor--Elana K. Arnold

Title: Splendor
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Publisher: Random House Children's Books, 2013.
Pages: 352 p.
Source: VOYA
Compensation: None

Scarlett Wenderoth has had enough of heartache after barely surviving a bout with depression and anorexia trying to cope with the sudden death of her older brother following a brain aneurysm. Unfortunately, life has other plans for Scarlett. Her mother has finally recovered from her grief but has left her father and moved off their tiny island, her best friend Lily has decided to be even wilder and crazier than she can handle, and her boyfriend Will has left Catalina Island to attend Yale on the opposite side of the country. Scarlett's senior year of high school is not starting out well. Scarlett tries to focus on her pregnant horse and her new study of Kabbalah, but life has one more heartbreak in store for her.

As in Elana K. Arnold's earlier Sacred, teens will gravitate toward Scarlett and her problems. Arnold has painted a very realistic picture of teenage girls and their conflicting emotions. Scarlett is able to empathize with Lily's mom and see how she deserves more patience and respect from Lily, but she is unable to see this with her own mother. Fans of the first novel will appreciate continuing Scarlett's story and finding some closure with this sequel. Readers unfamiliar with Sacred will still be able to enjoy Splendor, but not quite as much. 

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