A Love/Hate Relationship

Feb 28, 2013

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Release Date: November 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 340 pages
Series: Shatter Me #1
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
I have a curse.
I have a gift.

I'm a monster. 
I'm more than human.

My touch is lethal.
My touch is power.

I am their weapon.
I will fight back.

No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal, but The Reestablishment has plans for her. Plans to use her as a weapon. But Juliette has plans of her own. After a lifetime without freedom, she's finally discovering a strength to fight back for the very first time—and to find a future with the one boy she thought she'd lost forever.

Thoughts on Shatter Me
I've probably left this information in a million comments, so I apologize if you know this already. But here goes: when Shatter Me was first released, I was intrigued. The concept sounded interesting, and I kept seeing so many great reviews. However, I was completely turned off by the cover. It just wasn't doing anything for me. I decided to give it a chance, and grabbed it off the shelf at the bookstore to read a few pages. A few strikethroughs later, and I put the book right back where I got it. I just couldn't do it. I didn't like it.

Months went by, and then I started seeing the AMAZING cover redesign for these books. I found them so eye-catching (haha!) - and then they were even prettier in person. So, when I noticed Shatter Me at the library one day, I figured it couldn't hurt to give it one more chance.

For the first few chapters, I was iffy. I liked where Mafi was going with the story, but I just couldn't get past the strikethroughs. I found them almost distracting - they interrupted my normal reading flow and were slowing me down. It was like my eyes wanted to skip over them, but they were actually important and revealing so I was having to force myself to slow down and see past the strikethrough to the words underneath.

And then.

Suddenly, I wasn't struggling anymore. I was falling in love, racing through the pages, unable to keep myself from devouring the story inside.

Mafi's writing is striking and unique and unsettling. It's off-balance and so is Juliette. The descriptions and language are a little over-the-top, but it's fitting. I never felt like it was forced or trying too hard - I just felt like I was seeing inside the mind of a girl who was so many things: broken, confused, lost, scared, angry, hopeful. Most of all, unbalanced. Juliette doesn't have stability in her life, and that's really obvious throughout the book in the way she chooses to express herself.

I know I've barely said anything about the story, but I feel like there are a million reviews that have already covered all of that stuff. I'm just here to say that I was skeptical, and I came into this book with an attitude. I was predisposed to dislike this book, yet I gave it a chance. And I'm so glad I did! This is one of my favorite recent reads because it's just so memorable. I can't think of anything I've read quite like this or written this way, and I love Mafi for taking such a risk. Despite my best efforts, I was completely won over by her words.

I didn't tell you anything about pacing, setting, plot or characters. I know. What a bad review, huh? Here's what I am telling you: I found the strikethroughs off-putting until I didn't. When I started to understand Juliette, they made sense to me. They are as though-out and as important to the book as the plot itself. In this simple way, you learn so much about Juliette and her state of mind. So, if you've been wary of the differentness of this book, I encourage you to give it a chance. You might be surprised if you do!

This beauty of a book is just as amazing inside as it is on the outside. Mafi is a masterful storyteller - placing threads here and there that don't make sense until you take a step back and see the masterpiece as a whole. She has woven together a book with an exciting plot and compelling characters, and I'm so glad I didn't miss it. I feel sad just thinking about the fact that I almost did!

(PS - Team Adam. And yes, I've also read Unravel Me. Stay tuned for that review!)

So Quotable
"I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction."

Hey Girl, I'll Buy Your Books

Feb 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/Top Ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists!

I actually struggled a little bit with this list! I thought it'd be really easy for me to come up with ten authors, but I realized as I made it that I don't have as many authors who are legitimately auto-buys for me as I originally thought. I've been disappointed by auto-buys in the past, so I tend to be a little more cautious now (even if it's from a favorite author). So, here are ten authors that are most likely to be an auto-buy for me!

Top Ten Auto-Buy Authors

1.  Melina Marchetta - This is one of the authors that is newest to me on my list, but it's the very first name that came to mind. I've read Marchetta's contemporary (all books except Looking for Alibrandi - I'm saving it for the right moment) and fantasy (only Finnikin of the Rock, but currently reading the whole series). Y'all, these are two very different genres. And somehow, she's managed to be incredible at both. She's the one of the only authors on my list who has written books in more than one genre, which is why I feel comfortable saying she's absolutely an auto-buy for me.

2. Tahereh Mafi - I took me forever to read Shatter Me because I was convinced I was going to hate it. Every time I read the first few pages in the bookstore, I was put off by the strikethroughs. Then, I found it at the library and gave it a chance. Holy cow! Why didn't anyone tell me sooner? I've since read Destroy Me and Unravel Me, and I cannot wait to see what Mafi writes next. I will absolutely be purchasing whatever she publishes because I have a feeling she's only going to grow as a writer. And I already love her!

3. Jennifer Donnelly - Donnelly writes historical fiction, which is probably my favorite genre to read. My favorite thing about her is that she has successfully written both young adult and adult books, and I've loved them all. I have a feeling she'll likely continue to write historical fiction in the future, and she's got one guaranteed reader right here. I don't care what's she writing about - I want to read it!

4. Denise Hildreth Jones - Jones writes Christian fiction with a helping of Southern charm thrown in, and I've been a fan of her books since I was in high school. You may remember that one of my top ten favorite bookish memories involved her Savannah series. She's probably one of the least-known authors on my list, but I had to include her because I want to read anything this woman writes. I love that you can really see her heart in her books, and I love the Southern sass in many of her characters. It's actually an exciting week for me because she just released two new books - one fiction and one non-fiction. Now, I've got some reading to go do!

5. Emily Giffin - Giffin has built an empire based on writing about successful, driven women making difficult choices. I don't always like or agree with her characters, but I'm always drawn in to her stories. There are similar themes and characters in all of her novels, but I love that I kind of know what to expect when I read one of her books. I'm always excited when there's a new one I can take to the pool with me! They are perfect reads for days when you just want to sit back, relax and enjoy.

6. Stephanie Perkins - I was a little iffy on including Perkins because her next book, after Isla and the Happily Ever After, is going to be a horror/teen slasher novel. Honestly, that is so not my kind of book. However, I realized she deserved to be on the list because I loved her first two books so much that I'm legitimately really curious about the new one. If anything is going to get me to read something outside my comfort zone, it'll be because someone like Stephanie Perkins has written it.

7. Julie Buxbaum - Buxbaum has written two books, and it's been four years since the last one. I figured she had to make the list based solely on the amount of times I look her up in Goodreads to see if maybe, maybe, this time there is news of a third book. Alas, I don't see one on the horizon, but I'm going to keep hoping! I just love something about the way she writes, and I know I'll be auto-buying whatever she comes out with next. (Seriously, Julie. Please write something new! Until then, I'll just keep rereading...)

8. J.K. Rowling - It wasn't that long ago that I fell in love with the Harry Potter books, but that didn't stop me from buying The Casual Vacancy on the very day it was released. Despite having gotten 100 pages into the book, I still haven't finished. I hate that I'm not clicking with this one! However, I'm keeping Rowling as an auto-buy author because I'll still get her next book in the hopes that I'm able to connect with it more.

9. Kathryn Stockett - I'm going out on a limb with this one, seeing as how she's only written one book, but I'm sticking by this decision because that one book was SO good! As I've already mentioned, I love historical fiction. I'd obviously be excited if Stockett writes another historical fiction book, but really I just want her to write another book. I don't care what genre - I just want more from her.

10. Veronica Rossi - Rossi was my wild card on the list! I considered multiple authors for my final spot in the top ten, but I ultimately settled on Rossi for a few reasons. I loved that she has written these believable boy characters with such a strong, admirable friendship. I really enjoy the world she's created and the way she develops relationships. Finally, after hearing her talk about her book at a signing, I was just so impressed. I have a feeling great things are coming from this author (and that's saying a lot because I already think her first two books are awesome).

A State of Yearning

Feb 25, 2013

The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta

Release Date: March 2010
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 328 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle ebook & audiobook
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Award-winning author Melina Marchetta reopens the story of the group of friends from her acclaimed novel Saving Francesca - but five years have passed, and not it's Thomas Mackee who needs saving. After his favorite uncle was blown to bits on his way to work in a foreign city, Tom watched his family implode. He quit school and turned his back on his music and everyone that mattered, including the girl he can't forget. Shooting for oblivion, he's hit rock bottom forced to live with his single, pregnant aunt, work at the Union pub with his former friend, and reckon with his grieving, alcoholic father. Tom's in no shape to mend what's broken. But what if no one else can either? An unflinching look at family, forgiveness, and the fierce inner workings of love and friendship, The Piper's Son redefines what it means to go home again.

Thoughts on The Piper's Son
The Piper's Son is a companion novel to Saving Francesca, a book that I absolutely adored. My favorite thing about companion novels is that, unlike with most series, you're able to spend more time with characters you've loved while reading from the perspective of a different character. The Piper's Son absolutely represents the very best kind of companion novel. 

Set five years after Saving Francesca, the book has a third-person narrative that alternates between two points of view. The first is Tom Mackee, the main character and one of Francesca's friends from St. Sebastian's. The second point-of-view is his aunt Georgie, a new character that you don't meet in Saving Francesca. Tom is the primary focus of the book, but the chapters from Georgie's perspective make the book even more layered and complex.

Both Georgie and Tom, really the entire Mackee family, have experienced some devastating losses. Grief, brutally raw and honest, is all over every word in this book. Saving Francesca is a book where depression is central to the story, but this book packs even more of an emotional punch. And yet, it still manages to be hopeful. This is just one more reason Melina Marchetta has become one of my few auto-buy authors.

I don't read many books from a male perspective, but I hate if an author writes from the point-of-view of the opposite gender and it rings false. You know what I mean? Like when a woman writes about a teen boy and you're thinking, "I can't imagine that very many, if any, teen boys really think that way." Well, I'm happy to say that this thought never once crossed my mind while reading The Piper's Son. I don't know what it's like inside a boy's mind, but Tom seemed completely believable and authentic.

When we first meet him, Tom is difficult, frustrating and not very likeable. His grief has made him bitter, retreat into himself and push everyone away. It was painful to read about him, but you also just can't stop. Even when you don't like him, you're still rooting for him to find his way in the world. Melina Marchetta sure knows how to write some heartbreaking scenes and characters. The entire Mackee family is fractured in the wake of the tragedy they've endured, and you can feel the familial tension almost leaping off the page. I absolutely love how important family is in Marchetta's books!

The only downside to Tom's rather large family, and its complex history, is that I was confused about who certain people were at times. I think listening to this as an audio probably contributed a little bit to that confusion as well. After adoring Saving Francesca as an audiobook, I knew that I wanted to try The Piper's Son in audio, too. Read by Michael Finney, I thought the audio was a wonderful way to experience this book. Listening to it really helped me connect with Tom and his perspective. However, I did reference my ebook a few times for more clarification on a few details or characters that I felt like I'd missed while listening.

For future readers, I'd probably recommend starting with the book and then rereading with the audio or doing the audio and book simultaneously, unless you're an experienced audiobook listener. The reason for that is the fact that there are multiple story lines going on in this book: Tom and his family in the wake of the loss of one of their family members, Tom's attempts to reconnect with his St. Sebastian's friends, his relationship with a certain someone, and Georgie's pregnancy and relationship with the baby's father, her ex-boyfriend. Marchetta is a masterful storyteller, and she weaves the different plots together into a unified and cohesive novel that I loved. However, it was definitely a lot to keep track of while listening!

I recently watched an interview with Marchetta on YouTube and she talked about how community and identity are the two themes that she thinks are at the heart of every story she writes. She also discussed how each book she's written has allowed her to write the subsequent book - how she may never have been able to write each particular story if she hadn't written the one before it. I absolutely loved hearing that because you can absolutely see community and identity throughout this book. It ties everything to together, and it's what makes you fall in love with these characters and this story. You can see how The Piper's Son has built on what she's written in her previous books, and I really love that about her as an author.

The Piper's Son felt more adult than anything I've read by Marchetta before, and it's also a very heavy read. There are moments of laughter and levity, but it's definitely a book that makes you feel a little raw inside. All that to say, I loved it! This is everything you could want and more in a companion novel. It stands on its own two feet, but it also just enhances and enriches the world and characters Marchetta has already created if you start by reading Saving Francesca. Meet Francesca, give your heart a rest, and then come meet Tom. He is someone you won't soon forget!

So Quotable
"Maybe she'd always been there. Maybe strangers enter your heart first and then you spent the rest of your life searching for them."

"I’m scared I’m going to spend the rest of my life in a state of yearning, regardless of where I am."

Finnikin of the Rock: Week Three

Feb 23, 2013

Welcome to week three of the Lumatere Chronicles Read-Along! First, I apologize for my delay in posting the Friday discussion post... especially since it's obviously Saturday. Oh well, life just got in the way.

BUT that just gave you more time to get excited about all the thing we have to talk about this week. Because was this a week of revelations or what?!

As always, discussion starts after the jump so we don't spoil things for anyone not participating.

(You Drive Me) Crazy

Feb 21, 2013

This is both a confession, a discussion and a serious cry for help. I had a conversation with Asheley recently about my blog reading habits, and that made me want to just have a big chat on here about following blogs, leaving comments and getting comments in return.

So, let's start with following blogs. Is there a normal number of blogs to follow? Because I think I've far surpassed that number. I find new blogs in a variety of ways. Whether it's a conversation that starts on Twitter or a comment left here that leads me somewhere new, I'm constantly adding blogs to my reader. And on one hand, I love it. There are new voices, fresh perspectives and exciting people to talk books with in all corners of the Internet. I think it's amazing!

But, on the other hand, that means I open my reader after two days and then this...

I'm legitimately horrified by the number of unread posts. Where did they all come from and how the heck does everyone have so much to say?! Listen, I'm not complaining. But I feel like I need some help.

How do you choose what blogs to follow, and how do you make reading their posts and commenting a manageable process? I need help figuring out how to get it all done. Instead of offering tips, I want your advice. Desperately!
If someone often comments (thoughtfully) on your blog, do you always go check out their blog and leave comments in return? 
If you find a new blog to love and comment often, but never see a comment on your own blog in return, does that diminish your enjoyment of the blog you found? 
Do you constantly add new blogs to your reader or do you have a pretty select number of blogs that you follow? 
Do you regularly or rarely "clean out" your reader and unfollow blogs? 
Do you comment on most blogs that you follow? Or only certain ones? 
Do you comment on most posts or only a handful? 
How do you go through your reader: do you read everything? only things that immediately appeal to you? automatically mark certain things as read? 
Do you sort blogs in any way or are they all just grouped together in your reader?
For example, I know that I can be a post hoarder. For blogs that really love and typically comment on almost all posts, I will save up those posts in my reader. I may actually go check out the blog, but if I don't have time to leave the kind of comment I want to, I'll mark the post as unread in my reader. It's kind of a terrible way to read blogs because the next thing I know a some of my favorite blogs will have 35 unread posts just hanging out. Oops!

And I'm also curious about your commenting habits. We all know what it's like to get a comment that's basically just promoting a blog...

And what's it's like to get a thoughtful comment that actually creates a dialogue...

But do you go back and check to see if the blogger responds? I almost always do, but I'm wondering if that's just me or if it's typical of most blog readers. I don't comment on everything I read - I try to only comment if I have something of value to add. Not that I don't think people appreciate all comments, I just don't want to spend a ton of time leaving meaningless ones. That also means I like to go back and see if there's a reply. And this is where I'm curious.

Do you check back for replies? I actually try to reply to every single comment I get on my blog, even the ones that don't always say a whole lot, because at the end of the time I appreciate someone taking the time to read my blog. However, that sometimes means that it takes a week or so before I've replied to everyone. And then I wonder, do people often check for replies or am I one of the few? And is there a time frame within which it's just pointless to reply because you won't be checking back anyway?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want to know if it's worth my time to reply to all the comments I get here. Should I stick to just replying to the ones that are more meaningful? Do you even care about seeing a reply?

I know that I do! In fact, I'm WAY less likely to comment on a blog if I notice that I've never gotten a reply to a comment I've left. It just find it discouraging and frustrating. Like if I take the time to write a three paragraph comment with a question or a specific response to something someone said, dadgum it I want to feel like it's a conversation that goes both ways! I hate that feeling where I go back to check and.... nothing. 

I don't always expect replies. Gosh, I know there are a million things to do and it's hard to make time for everything. You're reading books, writing posts, reading blogs, leaving comments AND replying to comments you've received! Not to mention the million other life things that happen. I get that. But I do like to see a reply now and then because it makes me feel like it was worth it to leave the comment in the first.

So, this post is a plea for you to help me find a good balance in my blogging life. I hate that certain things can start to feel like a task - comment on these posts, reply to these comments, visit these three new blogs - so I want to know how you prioritize and what matters most to you!

I Want To Be An Adjective Again

Feb 20, 2013

Saving Francesa by Melina Marchetta

Release Date: March 2003

Publisher: Random House | Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 243 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle ebook & audiobook
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Francesca is stuck at St. Sebastian's, a boys' school that pretends it's coed by giving the girls their own bathroom. Her only female companions are an ultra-feminist, a rumored slut, and an impossibly dorky accordion player. The boys are no better, from THomas, who specializes in musical burping, to Will, the perpetually frowning, smug moron that Francesca can't stop thinking about.

Then there's Francesca's mother, who always thinks she knows what's best for Francesca - until she is suddenly stricken with acute depression, leaving Francesca lost, alone, and without an inkling of who she really is. Simultaneously humorous, poignant, and impossible to put down, this is the story of a girl who must summon the strength to save her family, her social life, and - hardest of all - herself.

Thoughts on Saving Francesca 
My very first Melina Marchetta was Jellicoe Road, which I adored with all my heart (once I got past my initial confusion). But after I finished, I felt a little despondent. What was I thinking reading most people's favorite Marchetta first? Was I doomed to compare everything I read after to the standard of Jellicoe Road? Well, yes and no.

I certainly started Saving Francesca with some expectations, hopes and fears. I expected it to be good - after all, it had excellent ratings on Goodreads from some of my friends. I hoped it would earn a place in my heart. And I feared it would never reach the bar that had been set so high by my first Marchetta. Y'all, I should never have feared. It was beyond my expectations and fulfilled my every hope. Not only did I love Saving Francesca, but it touched me in a way I never expected. It also solidified my love for Melina Marchetta - that woman can write one hell of a book!

Francesca is one of 30 girls at St. Sebastian's and is surrounded by 750 guys. More than anything, she misses her old school - St. Stella's. "At Stella's, you turned up to school, knew exactly what your group's role and profile was, and the day was a blend of all you found comfortable. My mother calls that complacency but whatever it's called, I miss it like hell" (2-3).

Add to that the recent disturbing turn of events in her family life - her mother refusing to get out of bed. Francesca expects it to be a minor thing, a blip on the radar, but then it's not. Her mother, Mia, is suffering from severe depression. Mia's depression touches everything in the book. It causes tension, confusion, frustration and anxiety. And yet, the book still feels incredibly hopeful in the end.

In the midst of all that, it's really a book about Francesca finding herself. That may sound very ordinary, and I suppose on the surface it's "just" a coming-of-age tale. But Marchetta's writing and characters elevate this to so much more. These are characters you want to know in real life. Ones that you can't believe don't exist off the page.

Francesca struggles with common things - her mother's expectations for her, finding friends, fitting in, discovering who she is - but this book absolutely got to me. I loved the puzzle of Jellicoe Road and cheered for the swoon. But Saving Francesca got into my heart and made it ache in all the right ways.

I love to read, but I don't typically experience what my friend Asheley calls bookish stress. Sure, I may occasionally experience a bout of it, but it's generally pretty mild. Well, let me just say that this book gave me bookish stress in heaps and doses. Not because it's a stressful read. Oh no. But because I was so invested in these characters, in their moments of doubt and discovery, that I felt emotional the entire time I was reading. In a recent post, Asheley wrote, "You guys, I FEEL the books I read, down to the core of my very being. It's bookish stress!" And I'll just raise a hand and say, "Yes ma'am."

I think a huge part of why I was so invested in this book, besides the incredible writing talents of Melina Marchetta obviously, is that I chose to listen to the audiobook. As a newbie to the audiobook world, I typically select audios for rereads. I'm still getting familiar with the art of focusing while listening to an audio and tend to get stressed about missing details. Well, I am so glad I broke my own rule for this book because this audio was fantastic.

I cannot say enough great things about reader Rebecca Macauley. I liked her voice in the sample, but I wasn't one hundred percent sure I was going to love it. Thankfully, I trusted my instincts and went for it. Something about her delivery was so perfect - she captures the tone of Melina's words so wonderfully. She became Francesca for me, and there were a few times where I was so struck by her delivery of certain lines or passages that I just wanted to rewind (is that even the proper term now?) and listen over again. Added bonus is the lovely accent, of course.

Still need convincing? Four reasons to move Saving Francesca from your TBR to your nightstand:

1. Friendships
2. Family
3. Falling in Love
4. Finding Your Voice

Seriously, what's a girl got to do to get you to read this book? I loved it, gave it five stars on Goodreads without a moment's hesitation, and know you will fall in love with Francesca, too.

So Quotable
"'I was born seventeen years ago,' I tell him. 'Do you think people have noticed that I'm around?'
'I notice when you're not. Does that count?'"

"I need voices of reason and of hysteria and of empathy. I need to have an Alanis moment. I need advice from Elizabeth Bennett. I need Tim Tams and comfort food. I need to find the girls."

"I want to be an adjective again. But I'm a noun. A nothing. A nobody. A no one."

Never Run Out of Places to Go

Feb 18, 2013

The Tin Horse by Janice Steinberg

Release Date: January 2013
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 352 pages
Source & Format: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
After years of resistance to the idea, feisty octogenarian Elaine Greestein finally decides to move from the home in which she raised her family to a retirement community. While she's packing her possessions, she finds a clue to the whereabouts of her twin sister, who disappeared from the little-known Jewish mecca of Boyle Heights on the eve of WWII when the girls were eighteen. Plunging back into memories of her childhood and the momentous historical facts that impacted her family, Elaine recalls her family's stories - those from the Old Country, and tales of immigration travails, and the heartache of being the "smart" one of the twins instead of the "popular" one.

In an utterly unforgettable, salty voice, Elaine revives the memories of growing up with her twin sister Barbara, her parents, her Zayde, her aunts and her younger sisters as the Greensteins bear the disappointments, heartbreaks, and fallout from the immigrant baggage that they have been unable to shed despite settling in Southern California - the land of sunshine and opportunity, fig trees and equality.

Thoughts on The Tin Horse
In her eighties, Elaine Greenstein is finally in the process of moving into a retirement home. Opening in the present day, readers first meet Elaine as she's packing up and organizing the many things she's collected over her life. Because she is a well-known attorney, her alma mater has sent an archivist, Josh, to help her go through her papers and decide what will be donated to the university.

It's during this process that Elaine and Josh stumble upon the business card of a private detective. And that's when we learn that many years earlier Elaine's twin sister, Barbara, ran away and was never heard from again. This moment unleashes a flood of memories and is the catalyst for Elaine's tale.

While Elaine narrates the whole book, the story frequently jumps between past and present. She tells stories from her childhood growing up in Boyle Heights, a Jewish community in Los Angeles. Most of her stories occur in the 1920s and 1930s, and these sections are particularly fascinating. I loved reading about this community of immigrants and her life there! Elaine focuses her stories on the events leading up to Barbara running away, but there is little information about the aftermath. You don't get a full picture of how her sister's disappearance has affected her and her family's lives, and I actually would have liked to learn a little bit more about that time in her story.

I can't think of another book that I've read that focuses on a Jewish community of immigrants in the United States, particularly during this time period. From the anti-Semitic attitudes of the people around them to the questions of how to assimilate into a new culture without losing the things that make you unique, this was a really thought-provoking read.

Much of the novel has the feel of a mystery - present-day Elaine is trying to piece together clues and find her sister. And the pieces of the past are like a puzzle. Elaine is telling her family history, and it becomes a way to lay the groundwork for revealing what it was that prompted her sister to run away in the first place.

I think this may be the first time I've said this about a book, but what I liked about The Tin Horse was also what I disliked about it at times. Here's what I mean by that: I really enjoyed but was also occasionally annoyed that it was narrated by Elaine in her eighties. While reading, it gave me this feeling like I was sitting down with a grandparent and hearing stories that make the past come alive. That was the part I liked.

But, in the same way, it also felt like sitting down with a grandparent and not always being entirely sure where a story is going and sometimes wishing they would get to the point. It's a story that relies more on exposition than on dialogue or action. While it makes they story very personal, it can also seem a bit tedious and slow. It also made the ending, which takes place in the present, feel a bit rushed. There is a lot of lead up for what actually happens.

I say all of this not to discourage anyone from reading it, but merely to identify the aspect of the book (pacing) that left me more with the "I liked it" feeling rather than the "I loved it" feeling. It's compared to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in a blurb, but I don't think that the comparison quite fits. It's somewhat similar in themes, but very different in the details and execution. The Tin Horse is, for me at least, a story unlike any other I've ever read. What I truly enjoyed about this book was being able to read about a time in U.S. history from a Jewish perspective, and I think it will certainly open your eyes to a potentially unfamiliar part of this country's history.

So Quotable
"I came to see my mother's luck that day as emblematic of her immigration to America. In the small details, she would succeed. It was the big things that would break her heart."

*I received a copy of this book from Random House in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

Finnikin of the Rock: Week Two

Feb 15, 2013

It's week two of the Lumatere Chronicles Read-Along! We're making progress, meeting new characters and taking back the kingdom. Huzzah!

Sooo... anyway, if you're a little behind, it's not too late to catch up. Go visit the week one post, and be sure to join in on the awesome discussion in the comments. Just to repeat: answering the questions is optional. We really just want to discuss our thoughts, theories and feelings on what happened in that week's reading.

As with last week, discussion starts after the jump so we don't spoil things for anyone not participating.

Desperately Seeking Someone

Feb 14, 2013

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche

Release Date: December 20, 2011
Publisher: Random House | Ballantine
Pages: 349 pages
Source & Format: Library; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Amazon)
When Rachel Bertsche first moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally share a zip code, let alone an apartment, with her boyfriend. But shortly after getting married, Bertsche realizes that her new life is missing one thing: friends. Sure, she has plenty of BFFs—in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Washington, D.C. Still, in her adopted hometown, there’s no one to call at the last minute for girl talk over brunch or a reality-TV marathon over a bottle of wine. Taking matters into her own hands, Bertsche develops a plan: She’ll go on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting her new Best Friend Forever.

Thoughts on MWF Seeking BFF
I first spotted this book on the stands at Target, and I was intrigued by the concept. While I'm not quite a "newlywed" anymore, I really identified with the description on the back. There is this weird thing that I'm convinced happens to a lot of people after they graduate from college and start a job - it's like they are a little bit adrift in the world friend-wise. No matter how many friends they made in college, chances are high that they didn't all get jobs in the same city as you.

In high school, you're surrounded by people your age and have a pool of people to choose from when making friends. The same thing goes for college - and you often have a larger selection and can make friends that will become even closer to you in that time. And then graduation. You toss the cap, turn the tassel, and show up for your first day of work. Maybe you're one of the few that ends up surrounded by people you are in exactly the same life stage as you. But most likely not. There might be one or two, but there will also be people all over the spectrum. And you don't go to work to make friends (although it's nice if you have friends at work). I give you all this background information to tell you that I was predisposed to like MWF Seeking BFF because it's the stage of life I'm in right now.

And so, I hate to say that I was really disappointed by this book. I was expecting to read about Rachel's journey and feel like I could relate. Instead, I just felt incredibly put off by her. Here's the thing, even at before her 52 friend-date journey, Rachel had an active social life. She was in a book club, still talked to her best friend's from home, and ate lunch every day with the friends she made at work. It wasn't like she didn't have any friends - she just didn't have the specific kind of friend she wanted.

Her attitude and description of the type of friend she did want just made me feel like she didn't appreciate the people in her life that she already had. I understand that maybe she hadn't met her best friend yet, but she certainly wasn't alone in the city. So, while some of her stories were funny, I was mostly frustrated by how many people she had right in front of her that she just dismissed as not being it.

The whole thing seemed like it was more about the "concept" she wanted to write a book around rather than genuinely trying to meet new people. I don't want to say that she wasn't legitimately doing her best to make friends - it's just that everything seemed a little gimmicky.

There were also a lot of research sections - like discussing studies that showed friendships's effect on your lifespan or things of that nature. And honestly, I mostly skipped that stuff. For a book that originally seemed like a memoir, the more analytical and overly detailed information about her research just didn't fit with the tone of the rest of the book. It felt so out of place and wasn't really woven into the book in a way that made sense. There'd be like pages of personal stories and then BAM! pages of studies and statistics.

The thing I can say I liked about the book was that it really challenged me to think of new things I could do or places I could go to meet new people. If you do the same things every single day, you aren't going to get different results (aka meet new people). So I did like that it helped me realize that you actually have to be willing to put yourself out there (and possible get rejected) if you want to form lasting friendships.

The best way I can think to describe my feelings on this book: like I showed up for a date with someone I met online and it turned out that their profile picture was from ten years ago... They may still be attractive now, but I'm still a little letdown that what I got wasn't what I'd been shown.

So Quotable
"Popular culture has made it okay to yell 'I want a man!' from the rooftops, so why are we still embarrassed to say, 'I want a best friend'?"

"The unfortunate truth is that we live in a society that's not only suspicious of people who declare they're looking for friends, but thinks friendliness in general must be qualified. We're worried that an  overt show of camaraderie will be taken the wrong way."

We Belong Together

Feb 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/Top Ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists!

Top Ten Favorite Romances

"I have loved none but you."
Persuasion, Jane Austen

"They belonged to each other; and, no matter what life
 might hold for them, it could never alter that."
Anne's House of Dreams, L.M. Montgomery

“She wanted to say 'I love you like a thunderstorm, 
like a lion, like a helpless rage'...” 

“Her heart did whisper that he had done it for her.”
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen 

“Because being part of him isn't just anything. It's kind of everything.” 
Jellicoe Road, Melina Marchetta

"Really, Scarlett, I can't go all my life, waiting to catch you between husbands."
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

"You are the one I cherish.”
A Time to Cherish, Robin Jones Gunn

"I say, 'I will not be your weakness, Sean Kendrick.'
Now he looks at me. He says, very softly, 'It's late for that, Puck.'” 
The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater

"She was everything he wanted from his life, the very measure of his dreams.” 
The Tea Rose, Jennifer Donnelly

My love isn’t a weapon. It’s a lifeline. 
Reach out and take hold, and don’t let go.
Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers

Tell Me Something Good

Feb 11, 2013

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Release Date: December 2012
Publisher: Penguin | Viking
Pages: 384 pages
Source: NetGalley; e-ARC
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from NetGalley)
Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

Thoughts on Me Before You
Me Before You caught my eye after Rachel from Hello, Chelly chose it as her blogger recommendation for Rather Be Reading's January The Big Kids' Table post. I commented on the post that I was interested in reading it but wanted more opinions before I took the plunge. Then, as luck would have it, I spotted it on NetGalley.

I started reading it almost immediately after I got the exciting email that I'd been approved and didn't look up from the book until I was done. Yes, I read the whole thing in one sitting. And then I ordered a hard copy of the book for my shelves.

Louisa (Lou) Clark loses the job she's had for years as a waitress at The Buttered Bun tea shop. Worse than losing her job is how much her family needs her income. She's in her twenties and still living at home with her parents, an ailing grandfather, her sister and her nephew. And they all need her to get back to work immediately.

In desperation, she accepts a temporary position as a caretaker to a quadriplegic, Will Traynor. Will already has a nurse to care for his medical and physical needs - Lou has been hired to keep him company. Her sole purpose is to spend all day every day trying to make sure he's doing okay emotionally. As she comes to find out, that's a huge job to take on.

Will hasn't always been confined to a wheelchair. As a prosperous businessman, he was the one in charge. No matter what he did - from a business deal to extreme sports - Will was always in control. And now he doesn't know how to deal with being confined to a wheelchair and unable to do anything for himself after a devastating accident.

His frustration and feeling of helplessness have made him bossy, moody and incredibly rude. Until Lou, no one has dared to challenge him or demand to be treated better. In being real with him, Lou is able to earn his trust and become his friend. Everything is fine until she overhears a secret about Will's plans for his future, which sets a plan in motion to show Will all the joy that can be found in life, despite his limitations.

One of my favorite things about this book was how well the story flowed, as you can probably tell from the fact that I read it in one sitting. Will and Lou's friendship, conversations and adventures are compulsively readable. I eagerly wanted to find out more, see more and read more. I would have thoroughly enjoyed the book even if that was all it was about - the relationship between this man and woman who change each other for the better. They have a camaraderie that just leaps off the page and makes you care about them as if they were real.

I adored the banter between Will and Lou. I loved seeing Will come to life through conversations with Lou, and it was wonderful to see how Lou's horizons were expanded because of meeting him. The tone of their conversations and the wittiness throughout really sold me on the book because it felt authentic and believable. Me Before You was funny, thought-provoking and sad. I thought it was very well-written, and it managed to be heartbreaking without being trite.

But there's another huge component to this novel, and it's one that sparks both moral and ethical debates. You may already know from intuition or other reviews, but I won't spell it out here. I will say that regardless of which side you fall on in the debate, this is a book that makes you think. It makes you question. It's controversial without feeling political or heavy-handed. What would I do if...

Another thing I loved was that it opened my eyes more to the life of someone in a wheelchair. Reading about the challenges in Will's day-to-day life, and then the added challenge of actually trying to leave the house, made me so much more aware of something I hadn't necessarily thought about before. Even more heartbreaking was reading about he is treated by others. It's definitely a thought-provoking book on many levels.

No matter what you think about the controversial topic addressed in Me Before You, I am convinced you'll find the book engrossing and memorable! There's just so much to love about it. We're barely in to 2013, and yet I feel confident in saying that this is absolutely a book that will top the list of favorite reads at the end of the year.

So Quotable
"You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible."

*I received a copy of this book from Penguin Group Viking in exchange for an honest review. I was not compensated in any way for my review.

Finnikin of the Rock: Week One

Feb 8, 2013

It's finally here - the Lumatere Chronicles Read-Along! I don't think I even have the words to convey how I excited I am about reading these books AND getting to do it with such awesome people. Every comment on the sign-up post just made me more and more excited about getting started! And if you didn't comment but want to join in, we'd obviously still love to have you.

I'm still working on exactly how I want to structure these Friday posts, but I think I have a plan. I've asked some questions and included my own responses to help direct the conversation, but you certainly don't have to answer the questions. They're just to help get your the discussion going!

Discussion starts after the jump so we don't spoil things for anyone not participating.

Pitch Dark: Dark Days Tour

Feb 7, 2013

A few weeks ago, I learned that the Pitch Dark: Dark Days Tour would be making a stop in a city near me. Each leg of the tour has a different set of authors, and I was pumped that I'd read and loved books from all four of the authors visiting Georgia! The fabulous ladies who stopped in at the Little Shop of Stories were: Brodi Ashton (Everneath / Everbound), Cynthia Hand (Unearthly / Hallowed / Boundless), Tahereh Mafi (Shatter Me / Unravel Me) and Veronica Rossi (Under the Never Sky / Through the Ever Night). Y'all, is this not an incredible line-up of authors?!

I'd actually never been to Little Shop of Stories before, but I loved the unique setting. It's an independent bookstore dedicated mostly the children's books. While they've cultivated a selection of adult books, the focus is definitely on little minds and their imaginations. I really enjoyed getting to explore the store for a while before the event began!

The event started with each author giving an elevator pitch for their series, and then came the meat of the signing. Prompted by the moderator, the authors answered questions about why they decided to write in the Young Adult genre, how they started writing, the role of love triangles in their novels, the writing and editing process and more.

Photo from @PitchDarkDays - and that's me (my hand) as I talk Team Tucker!
My favorite thing from Brodi Ashton was her answer to why she wrote for young adults. She noted that "there is no time in your life where you feel things so completely" and how she wanted to be able to write for that kind of emotional response.

I loved hearing about how Cynthia Hand originally started writing literary fiction but changed direction after falling in love with young adult books. She also talked about the way she begins with an idea of the vision in each book, but they often change and take a different shape than she expected as she goes along. 

Interestingly, she mentioned that she didn't think of her book as having a love triangle because she always knew how things would shake out. At one point she said that she "always knew where Clara's heart belonged." I haven't finished Boundless yet, but that totally sounds like Team Tucker for the win. Want another shocker? She planned to kill off one of the two guys in Hallowed! It was the reaction from her editorial team that finally made her reconsider that decision.

Both Brodi and Cynthia were so lovely and signed bookmarks for me. I read Everneath, Unearthly, Hallowed and (am reading) Boundless on my Kindle so I didn't have a books with me to sign. I also forgot to get pictures with them because I spent too long talking about Team Tucker with Cynthia (and got a high five from Brodi for my team choice). They were delightful, and it was so amazing to meet them both!

Tahereh Mafi may have been my favorite author on the panel for to the discussion portion of the evening. She had such fascinating answers and was totally hilarious! She spoke about being a lifelong reader but never imagining that she could write a book.

I really identified with her when she talked about rediscovering the world of fiction after college. She mentioned feeling like she needed to be academic and lost the joy of reading for fun. She said that she forgot what it was like to read a book just to enjoy it and talk about it with her friends. I know exactly what she means - college can really dampen your love for reading!

When asked why she wanted to write for YA, she mentioned that "readers of young adult are open to so many more possibilities." I loved the way she expressed herself in that moment, and I knew exactly what she meant about how there's more to explore in young adult fiction.

The audience couldn't stop laughing when she mentioned that she gets a little concerned when people say they love Warner after only reading the first book. She mentioned that she knows there are more layers to Warner but doesn't think they are obvious after Shatter Me so she worries about people who are attracted to him based on that book alone. I completely agree with Tahereh!

Interestingly, she was the first one to mention that she doesn't see her book as a love triangle (later echoed by Cynthia Hand). She said that she knows exactly who Juliette ends up with it and thinks it's pretty obvious. Hmm...

When I got to Tahereh in line, I talked her ear off about my fear of turning Team Warner in book two. She told me that I needed to get back to her after reading Destroy Me and Unravel Me and let her know where I stood. And then I babbled some more about loving her book and being turned off by the strikethroughs at first and then totally loving them. I'm sure I said more but I can't even remember what because I was just too excited!

I brought Shatter Me with me from home and waited for the signing to buy Unravel Me. It was so fun to be able to meet Tahereh on her book's birthday - what an exciting day for her! I haven't had a chance to read Unravel Me yet, but I can't wait to dive in! (And how awesome is Tahereh's handwriting?!)

Finally, the gorgeous Veronica Rossi! Seriously, y'all, she's even prettier in person than on the back of the book. And so nice, too! I read both Under the Never Sky and Through the Ever Night on my Kindle, so I ended up just taking the first book to the signing. Oh the angst of trying to decide what to do for a signing if you read the book on your Kindle!

Veronica actually wanted to write for young adult because she wanted to tell a coming-of-age story. Well, that was her mature answer. She then added that it's also because she is "perpetually between 13 and 17 mentally" and has that maturity level. I loved that answer! Too funny!

I loved when she talked about how the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid inspired her with the idea of a stable love triangle - Roar, Perry and Aria. Roar and Perry are good friends, as are Roar and Aria. And then, obviously, Perry and Aria have the love part of that little triangle. 

She mentioned that Roar and Perry's friendship was one of her favorite parts of her book, and I completely agree. I loved hearing about how she developed their voices and tried to make them authentic male perspectives. It was so sweet hearing her talk about how her two sons made her want to write great male characters. She mentioned that she had her husband read Perry's portions so he could help her work through his perspective, as well as being in a critique group with five guys. She then made a joke about how she was only allowed to have Perry tear up once a book!

It was so wonderful being able to talk with her about my secret wish for book three. There is one character who we barely get to meet in Through the Ever Night before he/she is killed, and I told her that I'm secretly hoping it's like, "Surprise! There wasn't actually confirmation he/she died in Through the Ever Night!" She laughed and said I'd have to wait and see... I swear there was a twinkle in her eye that said maybe my wishes will come true.

I adored this signing, and I'm so glad I decided to go! It was so fun to be surrounded by people who had all read and loved the same books, not to mention the joy of meeting some of my new favorite authors. Be sure to check the tour dates - and GO if they're coming to a city near you!
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