November 14

Book Review: The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg

November 14, 2015

From Goodreads:
The author of OPENLY STRAIGHT returns with an epic road trip involving family history, gay history, the girlfriend our hero can’t have, the grandfather he never knew, and the Porcupine of Truth.

Carson Smith is resigned to spending his summer in Billings, Montana, helping his mom take care of his father, a dying alcoholic he doesn’t really know. Then he meets Aisha Stinson, a beautiful girl who has run away from her difficult family, and Pastor John Logan, who’s long held a secret regarding Carson’s grandfather, who disappeared without warning or explanation thirty years before. Together, Carson and Aisha embark on an epic road trip to find the answers that might save Carson’s dad, restore his fragmented family, and discover the “Porcupine of Truth” in all of their lives.

This was another book that I read in preparation for the Anderson’s YA Lit Conference. I was in the middle of it when I had the opportunity to meet author Bill Konigsberg, who was a delight to meet. He mentioned that this was his favorite book of his so far, and now that I’ve finished, I can see why. Here are my thoughts:

On the Plus Side:

  • Huge thumbs up for all of the diversity that Konigsberg includes – homosexuality, people of color, a variety of religions, and more. I love the snapshots of life from different perspectives.
  • Konigsberg includes a wide variety of settings – some familiar, some not so much, some rural, some urban –  that keeps things interesting.
  • You will grow to love or love-to-hate the characters in the novel. Konigsberg makes the characters come alive on the pages, complete with their own mistakes, desires, strengths, weaknesses, growing, and changing throughout. Even the smaller characters have well-developed personalities that you won’t forget.
  • Life is not sugar coated or happily ever after. Konigsberg puts lots of common and not-so-common family issues at the forefront, and we can see how different people/families learn to cope and survive despite the difficulties they encounter.
  • I loved the dynamic between Carson and Aisha. They develop an awesome, fast friendship, but they encounter trials and difficulties like many friendships do. I love how they push each other to grow and to face issues head on.
  • Although this is not a mystery, there is an element of trying to figure out what happened to Carson’s grandfather back in the day. You may guess the result before the end (I did), but it does not take away from your enjoyment of the ultimate unfolding.

On the Minus Side:

  • I really don’t have any negatives to report on this one – I LOVED it. This is one of my very few 5 star reads of all time!

Have you read The Porcupine of Truth or anything else by Konigsberg? What did you think?

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July 6

Book Review – Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

July 6, 2015

From Goodreads:
Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

This is another book that was getting lots of chatter in the blogging world, and I wanted to check it out. I listened to this one on audio. The narrator was decent, but not exceptional. If you are looking for a good YA audio book, this is not a bad choice.

Pros:

  • Dessen does an excellent job of tackling tough issues and their impact on individuals as well as families. I think she has a realistic approach in her writing, both in her descriptions of the impact of tragedies as well as the way different people cope with those tragedies.
  • Most of the main characters are very well-developed, and you have a good sense of who each one is and how each one will handle different situations.
  • I love the various relationships depicted among the characters – how some relationships grow, some become more distant, while some wax and wane. Overall, the variety of relationships is such a good snapshot of how they play out throughout one’s life.
  • Dessen also portrays a variety of different lifestyles, and demonstrates how you can never predict how people will react to certain situations based on where they live or how much money they make.

Cons:

  • I understand that Sydney’s mom was also coping with some big issues, but I really struggled with the way she treated her daughter through most of the book. She was so distant, yet so dictatorial at times – the relationship just never felt quite right to me.

I did enjoy this read. I’ve heard it is not the best of Dessen’s work so I am planning at some point to check out something else she has written.

Have you read anything by Sarah Dessen? Which of her books would you recommend?

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June 3

Book Review – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

June 3, 2015

From Goodreads:
A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.

This book has been on the bestseller list for weeks, and I’ve heard so many rave reviews. It also has been compared to Gone Girl numerous times (a book that I highly enjoyed). I was excited when my book club selected for May. Here are my thoughts after finishing and discussing at book club:

On the Plus Side:

  • This book keeps you guessing until close to the end (I did manage to figure it out before it was revealed, but I still found it suspenseful).
  • I enjoyed the book shifting between 3 female POV’s. Each woman had a very different personality and perspective, and it made for interesting contrasts throughout the novel.
  • From what I have heard, the novel does a good job of portraying alcoholism. I even learned more about the phenomenon of blackouts. The alcoholism also provides a unique spin on your average thriller.
  • I think the female characters are very well developed, but I felt that the male characters could have been developed a tad more. I do think I had a fairly good understanding of the men overall, but they weren’t quite as vivid to me as the women.
  • I loved London as a setting for the novel. I sooooooooo can’t wait to visit there some day (Holly…..I hope you’re still there when I make it :) ). I was able to hear Hawkins speak on a panel and her accent is delightful to listen to!
  • I love that people and relationships are not portrayed in an idealistic fashion. We all have issues, and we all struggle with some aspect of life at some point, and I like that this novel reflects that uncertainty about life.

On the Minus Side:

  • If you enjoy lots of love and romance, then you will probably be disappointed with this selection. Although you have moments where you may swoon, overall it leaves you feeling disappointed with love and long term relationships.

Overall, this is an entertaining read. It may not be as good as Gone Girl (in my humble opinion), but you will still enjoy it!

What did you think of The Girl on the Train? 

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March 26

Book Review – I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

March 26, 2015

From Goodreads.com:
If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

This book has been getting RAVE reviews all over the book blogging world. I knew I had to check it out, because I had yet to read a bad review on it. Here are my thoughts in a nutshell:

THE PROS:

  • First of all, check out that cover. I love that it is unique and unlike any other book cover I’ve seen!
  • I love the setting of Creek View, a small town in California with a high rate of poverty. This isn’t a typical setting for a popular YA novel, but I love how Demetrios features a different way of life than many of us have been exposed to.
  • I love the characters of both Skylar and Josh. Their lives have not been easy, but throughout the novel you see them come to accept their own individual challenges, and even more importantly, grow in their ability to cope and move forward in their respective lives despite those challenges.
  • The relationship between Skylar and Josh is so heart-warming. I love how you see the friendship develop first, and how their feelings build slowly over time as they get to know one another. I also love that the relationship helps each one of them grow as an individual.
  • Demetrios tackles many prevalent issues throughout the novel, including military service and the care of injured veterans when they return, poverty, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, and so much more. The amazing thing is that she tackles all of these issues without judgement and without standing on a soapbox to do so.

THE CONS:

  • I felt like the secondary characters could have been a little more well developed, particularly the characters of Dylan and Chris (Skylar’s close friends) as well as Blake (Josh’s brother). By the end of the novel, I still didn’t feel as if I knew them quite as well as I should.
  • Although I love how Demetrios tackles so many issues without judgement, I also felt that on some level she minimized the seriousness of some of the issues she addressed.

Overall, this is a great read that I recommend. If you are like me, you will be wanting to hear that Demetrios has a sequel planned so that you learn what happens to everyone you meet in this novel!

What did you think of I’ll Meet You There? 

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January 8

Book Review – Coeur d’Alene Waters by Ned Hayes

January 8, 2015

From Goodreads.com:
COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO, is where people go to hide. Neo-Nazis. Corrupt politicians. Mining men with buried secrets.

In 1972, ninety-one men were killed in a mining “accident” sparked by a fire lit nearly a mile underground: the mystery was never solved. After the rest escaped, only three miners survived underground.

More than twenty years later, Matt Worthson is a sheriff’s lieutenant and the disgraced son of mining hero and Sunshine Mine survivor Stanley Worthson. Matt expects to finish out his years on the force in quiet ignominy. But when the gruesomely dismembered body of a police chaplain is found at the swanky Coeur d’Alene Resort, Matt is tapped to find the murderer.

As Matt investigates the murder of his friend, he finds himself digging deep into the labyrinth of lies that seeps beneath the Coeur d’Alene region, including the Sunshine Mine disaster.

Matt now has a chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him, and the darker truths in his father’s past. A neo-Nazi kid holds the only key. If Matt can find a way through the kid’s bravado, he might just uncover the truth behind his own broken family. 

I’m sure you’re wondering how I came across this book :) . I started this book when I was going to write a review to win a Kindle Voyage (you find lots of giveaways on Twitter, and who doesn’t want to try and win a Voyage!). It was due sometime during mid-December, and with the holidays, I just didn’t get it read in time. I was then sidetracked by other books, and I didn’t pick this back up until right before the new year. However, I think this break in the reading helped me enormously with this particular book (and I don’t think that would be the case with most books).

When I initially began to read this book, I had a hard time keeping track of the characters and the time frame. In hindsight, it seems silly to me that was so difficult, but at the time it indeed was. Upon beginning again, those issues fell immediately into place for me. Maybe the holiday season fried my brain more than I realized :) ?

I have actually had the pleasure of traveling to Coeur d’Alene once (it is a quick trip from Spokane, which I now visit somewhat regularly). Coeur d’Alene is a beautiful city that I would love to visit again, and I was excited when this was one of the books as an option for the Voyage giveaway. I loved being able to visit it again in my reading journeys.

Here are the things you will love about this novel:

THE SETTING

Like I said, Coeur d’Alene is a beautiful town that you would love to visit for a long weekend. For those of you from Northern Illinois/Southern Wisconsin, it is similar in many regards to Lake Geneva (cute small shops, lots of lake sports, lots of people during the on season). However, it has a little more beautiful scenery to make it just a little more special. If you haven’t yet been there, you want to schedule yourself a weekend away this summer!

THE CHARACTERS

Hayes does such a great job of creating a wide range of characters, and conveying their personal strengths and weaknesses through his storytelling. He recognizes that all people are human and make mistakes, and his characters clearly have faults that they need to deal with. These faults impact how they handle their lives, their relationships, and their jobs. You root for them to rely on their strengths and for them to be the best they can be.

THE PLOT

Hayes keeps you guessing as to how the mystery is going to resolve itself. You know that a murder has occurred, but he throws other crimes in, and in combination with the flaws of the main characters, you really have no idea how this book will end. He develops a strong plot that makes sense, and an ending that is realistic within the context of the rest of the novel.

THE HISTORY

I had never heard of the Sunshine Mine Accident, and I knew very little about mining in general. Hayes seamlessly interweaves a great deal of history regarding the Idaho mining communities throughout the novel. I love when you learn historical tidbits while reading a fiction novel!

As for the things that might make you crazy: I mentioned previously that initially I had a hard time getting into the novel because I was confused all of the characters as well as the time frame. I think this was just my state of mind at the time, but I had to put the book aside for awhile before I was truly able to appreciate it. In addition, if you are looking for a pick-me-up story, this may not be the book for you. Hayes dives into character flaws and the darker side of humanity. There are definitely some heartwarming aspects to the novel that I loved, but you have to wade through some depravity first. Overall, I recommend this book if you like a solid mystery with well-developed characters in a unique setting.

Have any of you read Coeur d’Alene Waters? What books have you read that take place in a unique setting that you would recommend?

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