Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our StarsRelationships in high school can be complicated – they can be especially complicated when you meet your boyfriend at your cancer support group. To make her mom happy, Hazel attends the weekly support group, watching people come and go, and sometimes permanently go. She keeps herself closed off, making snarky comments if she contributes at all, until the day Augustus arrives to support his friend. Of course Augustus isn’t there just to support a friend, he had cancer too, that robbed him of his leg. This is the world that John Green brings us in to in The Fault in Our Stars.

Hazel still tries to protect herself when she first meets Augustus. She is quite debilitated from her cancer – her lungs can’t keep up with her, and she needs to be on oxygen. She also lives very aware of her disease, and the fragility of life. But teenagers being teenagers, even those wise beyond their years thanks to living under the shadow of disease, love finds a way.

This is such a beautiful book about the importance of love and living life to the fullest. I really loved it – but just a word of warning – have the tissues handy.

— OK so the past two reviews have been books that are also about to be movies starring Shailene Woodley. Seriously, I can’t wait to see both. In the meantime, check out the movie previews for Divergent (opening March 21) and The Fault in Our Stars (opening in June).

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Review: Divergent & Insurgent by Veronica Roth

DivergentA dystopian trilogy with a strong female lead character who makes sacrifices for the sake of her family – no I am not late to The Hunger Games party, this is also a look at the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. I read the first book Divergent back last year and see a review for the book is missing from my site (missing as in, I never wrote one — it must have been while I was taking my unannounced hiatus). I came to the series when a few friends posted about it on my Facebook call for a good summer read. And the book did fit the bill, I quickly feel into like with the heroine Beatrice, aka Tris. She’s cool, but uncertain and so she plays up being dark and sullen. If there were Emo in this undated future of the fallen apart Chicago society, she would totally be it.

I liked the concept that the book explored, a society that is divided by the type of personalty set that you are – if your main focus is book smarts and knowledge you are Erudite, selfless you are Abnegation, put truth above everything you are Candor, strive to keep the peace you are Amity and if you’re bold to the point of reckless you are Dauntless. Tris was raised in an Abnegation household, but at the time of choosing she chose to move to Dauntless. And in this society, you do sort of get to choose – you take an aptitude test (it’s the future so it’s a brain simulation and all very Matrix-like) and are told what you are meant for. Of course there is one other group that no one speaks of, they exist in old-wives tales – the Divergent, those who could fit into multiple groups, they really can’t be categorized.

I doubt I am really spoiling anything here (and if I am don’t read on …) but Tris is really Divergent. To avoid being found out as Divergent she chooses to advance her Dauntless tendencies, turning her back on her parents and brother.

OK, so that’s the set-up for Divergent. A showdown happens that brings us to the second in the series Insurgent, which picks up where Divergent ends. I have to be honest, I waited a few months in between and I already have a bad memory when it comes to many books. So, I was a little lost in the beginning because it didn’t have a great recap and at times I found myself being pretty far into the book before a little light bulb went off on some of the plot points. But that aside, I enjoyed this book and watching Tris develop and start to realize who she is as a person and not specifically a “type.” That doesn’t mean I always liked or agreed with who she was becoming – as a dystopian teen she has an overinflated sense of obligation over things.

I haven’t yet read the third and final book, Allegiant, but I have it and will get to it in the not too distant future. So while it’s not fair to judge the whole series yet, I’m going to say that it’s not as good as The Hunger Games — in the writing, flow, story, etc. — but it’s still an enjoyable YA series that explores important topics of personalty and control.

You might have heard the rumblings, or even seen a preview that Divergent will be a movie coming out this spring. I’m looking forward to seeing that. As I was reading it I could see that the story would translate well on the big screen, and I think this movie might be one of the few where I enjoy the movie better then the book, but all in all I am not disappointed in the time I am spending reading this series.

Review: The Lowland by Jhumpta Lahiri

The LowlandTwo brothers, raised almost like twins. They share everything except a sense of adventure (or at least a fear of danger). Subhash, the older brother, is mature, level headed, while Udayan is the risk taker – and there are many risks to take in India in the 60s and 70s, as political upheaval overtakes Calcutta, taking Udayan with it. Udayan stays and builds a life in India becoming more involved with politics, while Subhash leaves India to pursue a PhD in Rhode Island. This is the world that Jhumpta Lahiri builds in her latest novel The Lowland.

I came into this book not knowing any real background or information on the political groups portrayed in The Lowland, so I found it very interesting. Much of my knowledge of this time period is on U.S. focuses such as Vietnam. But what I did have a lot of knowledge of were the places in Rhode Island that Subhash explores as he builds a life for himself outside the watchful eye of his parents, or anyone really. Reading about Port Judith, Block Island and others RI shore areas brought me back to my own childhood summers.

But this book is not about relaxing, or reflective moments along the shore. It explores complex relationships, as Lahiri’s books and stories often do, and also personal responsibility. I found the relationships in this book very interesting (I won’t go into them here for fear of some spoilers in case you go into this book totally blind). There were plenty of characters that I didn’t like, if I knew them personally I would probably say something directly to them about their behavior and actions. But Lahiri makes me care, makes me invested in what they are doing – whether I like them or not. And if you have never read anything by Lahiri before then you are in for such a treat with her writing, it is lovely and page turning. Not in a gripping, fast-paced sort of way, but in a slow moving, slow building storytelling sort of way.

Review: The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu

The People of ForeverThree girls, Yael, Avishag and Lea, who grow up together in the same village may have very different home lives and experiences but one experience they all have to share is required service in the Israeli army. In Shani Boianjiu’s debut novel The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, different chapters focus on a different girl, sometimes their lives in the village, in their time of serving and post service, are combined. At other times, we find each girl as she is on her own, trying to make her way through her service – sometimes through sex, sometimes American TV shows, sometimes destructive behavior. They each come out the other end not only a different woman, but truly altered.

I found Boianjiu’s writing raw and gripping. While reading on life experiences that were so foreign from my own I wasn’t always sure of what to make of what I was reading. Sometimes the story was so far-fetched and over the top I was a little put off, but I think that I was probably supposed to be. Boianjiu’s voice was beyond a voice I knew, but that’s the point of reading right, to go someplace different, and not always comfortable.

** I received this book for review from the publisher **

Expanding Reading Horizons

A personal goal of mine for my 2014 reading is to expand my reading horizons. To that end I had thought about possibly even creating/hosting a challenge to read books with origins of a country aside from the United States. As I was thinking about this I saw an article on MediaBistro’s GalleyCat about journalist Ann Morgan who decided to read a book from every country. Here is Morgan’s blog about the challenge she set for herself. Since I am setting this challenge more for myself, I am not sure where my reading will take me, but I will certainly be turning to Morgan’s list for some guidance. As you know about me, I am not a speed reader, and with thesis work, work and running training, I won’t hit all the countries Morgan did this year (this will certainly be a challenge of mine for many years to come). But I will once a month do a post of what my book will be, and its country of origin – and at the end of the month I will do a review. If you want to join me, let me know and I will happily put something a little more formal together. Or if you just have some recommendations, please send them my way!

Another article onĀ GalleyCat directed me to a reading challenge hosted by the blog Somerset Books “The 50 States Reading Challenge.” Another opportunity to challenge myself, and maybe find some new writers, styles and voices – I’m in! I’m setting a goal for myself of “Frequent Flier” (16-20 states visited), which will be around 2 books per month (giving me some wiggle room, too). I’ll be sure to post on what I will be reading and doing a review for those books as well.

It’s already the 12th, I’m a little behind (good thing I gave myself that wiggle room), but I am not one to worry about starting all resolutions immediately on Jan 1st. So I am now ready, let the challenges begin!

Who’s with me?

Review: The Book Thief

The Book ThiefI have started to write my opening sentence many times, but I keep deleting it. I am having a hard time distilling down a young adult novel about the holocaust, a young girl and her compulsion for words (once she finally learned them) and a rather unconventional narrator — and that’s what we have with Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.

Liesel is a young German girl who lives a life of loss. She has no father, her brother dies on the train as her mother is taking both children to a foster family, and once she arrives at her new home, she never hears from her mother again. She has very little with her, and not much to connect her to her lost family, except a book she has taken from her brother’s grave site. Her first stolen book. But she slowly beings to make a family life for herself (as dysfunctional as it is with a loud and outwardly rude foster mother, and a foster father who while soothing her nightmares stays up reading with her all night). She also slowly builds a small “stolen” library.

Many people are part of building Liesel into who she is, she makes an impression on so many people that they all rally to protect her and educate her. Maybe none more so than Max, a German Jewish man who comes to hide in her foster family’s basement. It is through him that we see the story of the Jewish experience in Germany during Hilter’s reign, and of the holocaust.

There are so many stories and paths that interconnect back to Liesel in this book, so I will refrain from saying too much. Although one problem that I found with the book was a narrator who said too much before we come to that action in the story. We are told how to expect things to go before they get there – and we know some of who death will take before he takes them. I spend a lot of time when I’m reading trying to think ahead to how things will play out, this book sort of took some of that away from me (other times I found myself expecting things to happen at a certain point, and they didn’t). But overall I thought it was a good story, and I really enjoyed seeing Max’s work and drawings in the book. It certainly is much more than a young adult novel, it’s a story that can touch many various readers’ hearts.

Reading Resolutions 2014

I am a resolution girl – I love setting goals for the new year, and at the end of the year seeing where I am. I don’t get overly upset if I haven’t met all of them, I celebrate what I have accomplished and re-evaluate for the next year. So now’s the time to make those 2014 resolutions.

1) Read 50 Books: Every year I aspire to read 50 books. I have never hit that number – what with school, work, my magazine obsession which takes away from book reading time. Another year to try and hit that goal again.

2) Blog More: Since coming back to the blog, I know my posts have been a little spotty and I haven’t been great about posting reviews. In 2014 I will review all the books I read for the blog, and post at least once a week.

3) “Books Around the World”: I’m a traveler – I love to travel the world, so in 2014 my bookshelf will too. Within my 50 books, and posting reviews for all the books I read for the blog I want to expand my international reading. So once a month I will read a book written from a writer in another country that has been translated into English. It will be a new regular feature to the blog, so if you would like to join along let me know. And let me know any personal favorites you have in this category.

That’s it. I want to be realistic, and I feel really good about these resolutions. I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store. Thank you for being with my on my reading journey in 2013, and I look forward to sharing 2014 with you all.

Wishing you a very happy, healthy new year!

Happy Reading! xoxo