The Sun Is Also A Star

The Sun Is Also A Star

Cover image of The Sun Is Also A Star
Cover image of The Sun Is Also A Star

Nicola Yoon has become one of those authors whose work I will automatically read whenever she releases a new title. Once again, I was completely swept away by her beautiful writing and her delightful characters.

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store–for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?” —Indiebound.org

Natasha and Daniel are two wonderful kids facing pressures that no one should have to face, much less people so young. Daniel contends daily with a hateful brother and the weight of all his parents’ expectations and regrets. Natasha goes head-to-head with the US government in an attempt to save her family from deportation. One fateful day brings them together, and oh, what a day it is. She’s brilliant, logical, and fierce, while he is romantic, thoughtful, and passionate. It’s difficult not to get sucked into their love story and hope that they find a way to be together.

Though it’s a work of fiction, and authors can do whatever they want with fiction, it’s hard for the reader to not be sucked in and believe in the concept of fate bringing lovers together. In this novel, one almost believes that destiny and true love are real. Time and again, Natasha and Daniel seem thrown together by forces larger than themselves, even when it seems other, darker forces are trying to keep them apart. Yoon’s ability to reawaken the child-like, starry-eyed belief in true love is uncanny. I’m a grown woman with a lot of experience and heartbreak under my belt, and Yoon makes me feel like anything is possible.

However, in the words of Shakespeare, the course of true love never did run smooth, and in addition to reducing me to a squealing, romantic teenager again, Yoon’s writing also held me in the grip of suspense as I wondered what would happen to Daniel and Natasha. After all, their love was up against a lot of really tough stuff. This novel simultaneously filled me with hope and dread. I wanted to reach the end, and yet I was terrified to reach the end.

Another thing that adds depth to the novel is when the author takes a step back from the main characters of the novel and provides short snippets of insight into minor supporting characters: the backgrounds of Natasha and Daniel’s parents, the secret desires of her immigration lawyer and his secretary, the reason Daniel’s brother is the way he is, etc. I loved these glimpses into the lives of some of the people that make up the kaleidoscope of New York City. I know they are fictional, but it gets the reader thinking about the people around them–those humans who are minor characters in your story, but are the main characters in their own.

I highly recommend this novel by an author who understands exactly how to yank at her readers’ heartstrings. Character, setting, and plot come together to ensure an unforgettable reading experience. You should also read Everything, Everything because that, too, is amazing!

Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything

Cover image for Everything, Everything
Cover image for Everything, Everything

With all the buzz surrounding this book, I expected a good novel, but just how good was entirely out of the realm of expectation.

“My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.
But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black–black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.
Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.” —Indiebound.org

First of all, I love Madeline. She is an incredible protagonist. She’s a positive and vibrant kid, despite all the adversity that she’s faced, and she makes a little joy go a long way. So when the pretty teenager next door moves in, this reader, at least, had a lot of feelings. Excitement, because yay, maybe she’ll finally have a little extra dash of joy in her life. And apprehension, because knowing how sick she is, and knowing how difficult love is and how difficult it is to be a teenager, it’s hard not to be pessimistic about the whole thing.

Olly is a wonderful character, too. Both of these kids have their share of heavy burdens that seem too difficult for kids to bear. Unfortunately, sick and abused kids are all too common in our messed up world. It’s no wonder that they are drawn to, love, and support each other. I thought, perhaps, that I could predict exactly where this love story was going, but I was wrong.

Perhaps that’s what I loved most about it. It seems as if it’s going to go in one direction, but despite Madeline being trapped in her own house for literally her whole life, this novel still manages to be full of adventure, suspense, and excitement. I would argue that there is a villain, and that villain is found in the most unexpected place.

The relationships between characters are perhaps the most moving part of the novel. Obviously, the reader is simply smitten with Olly and Madeline, but the relationship between Madeline and her mother, or Madeline and her nurse are equally, if not more, moving than Madeline’s romance with the boy next door. I found myself really wanting to play Phonetik Scrabble because it sounds like a lot more fun than regular Scrabble.

This has to be one of the best YA books I’ve read in a really long time. It’s full of heart, full of adventure, lots of soaring highs and devastating lows. There’s probably more emotion packed into these 300 pages than many entire series have in them. I highly recommend it, for those few people who haven’t read it yet!

Two Very Different Books (Because This Is a Book Blog and I Need to Catch Up)

Two Very Different Books (Because This Is a Book Blog and I Need to Catch Up)

Last year was not my best book for reading (that would be the year I read 112 books), but I did still reach my reading goal of 100 books. Unfortunately, all that time reading means I didn’t do a lot of writing. Thus, my attempts to play catch-up (all while reading more and digging myself into a deeper hole; isn’t that fun?).

The Selection cover
The Selection cover

The first book in this post is The Selection by Kiera Cass. Any fan of YA fiction has likely read this book. While I did think it was more shallow than my usual YA fare, I was on vacation in Cusco at the time and found myself enjoying it as a light vacation read.

“For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.” —Indiebound

I know, I know. This book is literally about a bunch of girls competing to marry a prince. It seems like it sets feminism back a century. Maybe I should feel ashamed for liking it. But like it I did, and I want to read the rest of them. America is a great character. Hers is an enjoyable voice. She recognizes how atrocious the Selection is, and only applies for it because of pressure from her family. She is a talented singer and a smart kid and uppity to boot. I liked her. The only thing I think I don’t like about this book is the tired love triangle. While I do love a good romance, I hate it when a novel centers around a girl’s pursuit of a boy (or possibly two). There could have been more to this plot, but I still enjoyed it and I will likely check the rest of the series out from the library if I need something quick and easy to give my brain a rest from books like this next one:

The Historian cover
The Historian cover

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This book is a doozy! It took me weeks to read it, and the only books that ever usually take me weeks are penned by George R. R. Martin. This isn’t because I wasn’t reading it constantly. I couldn’t put it down. It’s just very long, with small print, and a really dense, twisted plot. At times, this book tells a story within a story within a story (and possibly one more “within a story”). I honestly can’t remember how many layers of people telling stories there were at each point in the book.

“‘To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history….’ Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor,’ and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of–a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known, and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself–to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed, and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign, and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages. Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad’s ancient powers, one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions, a relentless tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present, with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful–and utterly unforgettable.” —Indiebound

A few things:

1). ;uerhgf;dkjfhg;onifh;boe9ruyth;wit’wmeisubhnpw;oritjhgslorgjks;hdgslfh[gwneoirvgj’spoj THIS BOOK WAS EPIC AND AMAZING

2) This is a debut?! And the woman has a second novel out (The Swan Thieves, which I have also read and enjoyed). I can’t imagine writing a novel like this and having time left in my life to compose a second one equal to the first in both quality of research and quality of writing.

3) This novel scared the daylights out of me.

A disclaimer about that last one: I am very easily frightened. I don’t read horror, I don’t watch horror, and I can’t even really watch trailers for horror movies or TV shows. Many of you probably have much more backbone than I do and this novel will not scare you as it did me. But Kostova has done absolutely brilliant work in depicting an evil so insidious and knowledgeable as to seem inescapable. The danger and suspense felt by readers while engaged in the novel are so potent and powerful that they seep off the page and seems to lurk in the shadows of reality.

I’m not sure that any characters could get more 3D than Kostova’s. Every little quirk and detail about each of her main characters are there in the text, lovingly included so the reader can know intimately her protagonists. The detail in this novel is exquisite. The nature of the light while a character reads or as the girl and her father arrive in a new locale. The sounds and smells of the presence of evil and the acrid tang of the human body’s reaction to such a presence. The way different fabrics fold and crinkle with wear and use, or the sound of ancient pages being turned. All of these and more make this a novel that engages all the reader’s senses.

The prose and the amount of research I imagine Kostova needed to do to complete this work are both admirable qualities that only add to the sheer wonder of the book. I have to wrap this up because this post is getting too long, but I hope my readers understand exactly how incredible this book is. For quality and for entertainment, this book is 100% a 5/5 stars.

Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland Series

Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland Series

I am reading like a maniac, trying to get through as many of my books as possible before I have to leave them all at my mother’s house while I traipse off to Peru for a while. I can’t take them with me, so I’m spending time with them, much as I’m spending time with my dog and my friends. All things I’m having to say goodbye to for a few months or years.

My most recent project is getting through all four of Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland books that are out. I don’t know if there will be more. I have not reached the end of the fourth book.

I raved about the first book, once upon a time. You can read about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making here. It still holds up as one of my favorite books for middle-grade readers. It is a lovely work with so much spunk–a modern fairy tale founded in classic folklore. In this post, I am talking up books 2-4.

Fell_Beneath

Book 2: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. Am I the only one who loves these excessively long titles? I love it when I recommend these books to people and they always get a bit of a shock at how long the titles are. That’s sort of how these books are from start to finish. The plot of this novel arises from something that happens in the first book. It is a somewhat small event, one that ultimately gets lost among all the adventures September has throughout Circumnavigated. Upon her return to Fairyland in the second book, however, she realizes that what she thought was nothing is actually a very big something.

The characters in this one are a little different from those in the first. September once again meets Saturday and A-through-L, but there’s something different about them…There is also a whole new set of adventures and cast of characters that September meets. Her foe, Halloween the Hollow Queen, leads the shadows of Fairyland-Below. From the sound of it, she is actually a good queen, and her subjects love her very much, but she is causing trouble for Fairyland-Above, and September simply can’t let that happen. September herself is thirteen years old in this book, with a brand new heart that has her feeling all sorts of complicated things she doesn’t understand. It makes for a very confusing adventure for September, but it is one which I’m sure readers will enjoy as much as the first. She handles the transition into the teen years with grace and courage.

Soared_Above

Book 3: The Girl Who Soared Above Fairyland and Cut the Moon In Two takes place entirely on the Moon! It is not the Moon we know, however. It is made of pearl and is home to all sorts of fabulous and diverse sea life. A yeti has the residents of the Moon living in fear, and September must do her best to stop his nefarious plot. On top of the yeti problem, September discovers that A-through-L has a bit of a curse on him, and must find away to save him before he disappears. There is also a beautiful little element of romance in this novel, between now 14-year-old September and one of her Fairyland cohorts. In this book more than any of the others, I think, Valente plays with the concepts of space, distance, and time, and with the way we perceive them. Several characters appear to September and her questing party from various other points in their timeline. It is mind-bending and fun.

Boy_Who_Lost

Book 4: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland. I haven’t finished this one yet, so I can’t tell you a lot about it. I can say that it follows a different character than the previous three (though I believe September will appear eventually)–Hawthorn, a young troll who is swept out of Fairyland and into Chicago as a Changeling by the Red Wind. Once there, settled with a nice, Normal family, he does not remember why he feels so different. And different he is. At six he can write beautiful calligraphy, and knows words quite beyond the vocabulary of a normal six-year-old. He destroys his toys because he feels that they should talk to them, and they do not. He also believes that he is actually a wombat and a warrior. Those of us familiar with folklore know that the lives of Changelings are often unpleasant, and this one seems to continue that theory, though in a much less cruel and miserable way.  Poor Hawthorn is just very confused, and he must learn how to become a Normal human, when in truth he is anything but. From page one the novel displays heart and a robust love of humor, lore, and story. Valente’s characterization is once more picture perfect. I really just love this author. I love that she’s doing something a little different with novel 4, and that she is completely, unabashedly true to her style and her world.

I highly recommend this whole series for readers of all ages. Fans of Lewis Carroll and Lemony Snicket, I think, will enjoy these sometimes-dark and always-whimsical novels.

 

12.37–Ask the Passengers

12.37–Ask the Passengers

The benefit of working in a bookstore is that there are books lying around (duh). Everywhere.  Not just the ones on the shelves available for purchase. Oh no.  There are also the innumerable ARCs stacked everywhere.  One could drown in them.  Though the novel I write about today was actually released in October, I read an old, battered copy of the uncorrected proof that I found lying around in the kid’s section of the store.

Ask the Passengers is stunning.  I read it cover to cover Thursday night, completely determined to finish it that night. It’s not that it’s the most suspenseful book I’ve ever read.  It isn’t really suspenseful at all.  It tells the story of Astrid–a seventeen year old girl in a small, conservative town who is coming to an understanding with herself about her sexuality.  Though she is attracted to and then later in love with a girl, she is not certain that she is gay for a good long while. Or, rather, she is not willing to admit to herself and to others that she is gay.

Lest my readers think that this is “yet another preachy book about the plight of gays in America,” (sadly, there are people who are tired of this issue) and indeed the world–it is not.  Yes, this is a major part of the plot. But Astrid, like every kid searching for his or her identity, faces multiple crises.  She must deal with her mother’s lack of love and her father’s apathy.  She faces the lies of her best friend. She gets busted for underage drinking.  On top of this, she is “outed” before she is ready to admit her sexuality to herself, much less to others.  The rumors, snark, and ill-will that follow in the wake of a certain incident are heartbreaking to read–doubly so because there are people who endure that and worse in real life.

Astrid is a fantastic character.  She is witty and fun, but her sadness tints everything she does.  She is creative, and very smart.  She names Socrates “Frank” because she doesn’t like him having only one name, and he becomes her conscience as she navigates the choppy waters of her personal and family life.  What is best, though, is her ability to overcome.  She is a person who literally sends love to everyone, even when they are upsetting her. Or she sends it to strangers. The quirk of the book–because there has to be one–is that she reclines on the picnic table in her backyard and sends love to passengers in passing airplanes.  What is interesting is that the author includes one- or two-page blurbs written from random passengers’ points-of-view.  Many times they can feel the love that Astrid sends and it influences a great change in their life. Very, very cool.

It is a beautiful book about a teenager who isn’t afraid to see herself as a person and stand up for her right to be so.  She overcomes the judgement and ridicule of others. Though it doesn’t go away–just like in reality–she manages to live her life in a proud and dignified way, unbowed by the cruelty of others.  I really think A. S. King did a fantastic job with this one.