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Thursday, June 26, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Release Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Age Group: Young Adult
Format: E-book
Source: Publisher
Pages: 225
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

I have an unofficial word count for my reviews here, and I get the feeling this one will be decidedly shorter than usual.  This is not because I do not have anything to say about the gorgeous We Were Liars; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.  I have tons I’d like to say.  I’d like to have an all-night gabfest about all the things I think about this story and all the things I haven’t thought of yet.  I read the last words of the novel 8 hours ago, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

However, at a recent event, E. Lockhart began to tell the people in the audience about this book, and after she talked for a while, she pointed out that she had told us all who the characters are but nothing about what they do, by request of her publisher.  This “please no spoilers” mandate interested me for a lot of reasons, mostly because that is kind of rare.  What’s even rarer is that I hadn’t heard one peep about what the big twist was, except that it existed.  I was able to dive into Cadence’s story completely unspoiled, and I am all the better for it.

So, I would like for anyone reading this review who hasn’t yet experienced We Were Liars to remain unspoiled as well.  You’ll be all the better for it too!

But now, what can I say without giving everything away?

Thankfully, I can talk about E. Lockhart’s writing and style for hours and hours without giving away one piece of the plot.  Dearie me.  I do not like to mark up my books at all, but at page 16, I was tempted to highlight and underline a sentence that was so beautiful it practically knocked me out.  I do not want to repeat it here (as River Song would say, Spoilers!) but I thought it was nearly perfect in its content and tone.  Throughout the novel, the writing style continued to blow me away, which I fully expected but somehow didn’t expect it to this extent.  This is my first E. Lockhart, but it very certainly will not be my last.

The stylistic writing works to enhance the plot as well.  At times, I felt that certain elements of the story were pretty far-fetched and over-reaching.  However, when it reads like this, I can easily accept anything and move on quickly.   I’ll suspend my disbelief for art, thank you very much.

I don’t think I can really say much more, so I’ll just say that this is a one-of-a-kind read that I would highly recommend.  Come for the plot twist, stay for the delectable words.  No lie, We Were Liars is something special.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Audiobook Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Release Date: Jan. 10, 2012
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Age Group: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
Length: 7 hrs, 14 mins
Buy: Amazon /
Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
A beautifully heartbreaking story of living in spite of the sometimes ugly truths of life, The Fault in Our Stars is an emotional reminder that pain and pleasure often walk hand in hand, but that doesn't make living any less worthwhile.

This novel strikes countless chords that will resonate deeply with a wide range of people. It runs the gamut of emotion, veering so hard at times that you will have barely stopped laughing when you find yourself deteriorating into a sobbing heap of a person.

For the record, I should say I am not a crier. An author friend once called me a "soulless harpy" due to my stoicism. But congratulations John Green! You reduced me to a tearful mess while driving the New Jersey Turnpike.
(PSA: The Fault in Our Stars audiobook is a potential hazard
to motorists everywhere. Please use caution when listening.)
As Hazel notes about her favorite novel, "it's not a cancer book because cancer books suck." Not to be obvious, that's also true about The Fault in Our Stars. Illness is a factor, but it's not the focus of Hazel and Gus's story. Their's is a tale of savoring time, moment by moment, because right now may be all anyone has.

Delivery absolutely made this book for me. The insightful intellectual banter and wit along with the

Both Hazel and Gus are realists when it comes to living with cancer, but they cope with their realities by refusing to give cancer a starring role in their lives. For Hazel, it's a darker side of self or a an evolutionary process gone awry, treated without blame. Gus handles it with an almost self-deprecating humor. Isaac is unabashedly direct and darkly comical about his condition.

It's rare that I feel a single narrator does multiple characters justice, but Kate Rudd does an outstanding job. She has a subtle way of lending personality to each character. Thanks to her masterful interpretation of this cast, I will forever hear the words of The Fault in Our Stars in her voice.

Telling you, dear readers, to immediately go devour this moving novel would be unnecessary since I know so many of you have already read it. Though I will urge those who haven't and those of you itching for a reread to plug into the audiobook. Without a doubt, it's one of my favorite listens of all time.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Penguin Press
Age Group: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Pages: 477
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
Thomas Pynchon brings us to New York in the early days of the internet

It is 2001 in New York City, in the lull between the collapse of the dot-com boom and the terrible events of September 11th. Silicon Alley is a ghost town, Web 1.0 is having adolescent angst, Google has yet to IPO, Microsoft is still considered the Evil Empire. There may not be quite as much money around as there was at the height of the tech bubble, but there’s no shortage of swindlers looking to grab a piece of what’s left.

Maxine Tarnow is running a nice little fraud investigation business on the Upper West Side, chasing down different kinds of small-scale con artists. She used to be legally certified but her license got pulled a while back, which has actually turned out to be a blessing because now she can follow her own code of ethics—carry a Beretta, do business with sleazebags, hack into people’s bank accounts—without having too much guilt about any of it. Otherwise, just your average working mom—two boys in elementary school, an off-and-on situation with her sort of semi-ex-husband Horst, life as normal as it ever gets in the neighborhood—till Maxine starts looking into the finances of a computer-security firm and its billionaire geek CEO, whereupon things begin rapidly to jam onto the subway and head downtown. She soon finds herself mixed up with a drug runner in an art deco motorboat, a professional nose obsessed with Hitler’s aftershave, a neoliberal enforcer with footwear issues, plus elements of the Russian mob and various bloggers, hackers, code monkeys, and entrepreneurs, some of whom begin to show up mysteriously dead. Foul play, of course.

With occasional excursions into the DeepWeb and out to Long Island, Thomas Pynchon, channeling his inner Jewish mother, brings us a historical romance of New York in the early days of the internet, not that distant in calendar time but galactically remote from where we’ve journeyed to since.

Will perpetrators be revealed, forget about brought to justice? Will Maxine have to take the handgun out of her purse? Will she and Horst get back together? Will Jerry Seinfeld make an unscheduled guest appearance? Will accounts secular and karmic be brought into balance?

Hey. Who wants to know?

Bleeding Edge has been stuck in my head for almost six months. I devoured it upon its release, breezing through it over a weekend in two marathon sessions. Ever since, I’ve been trying to figure out what I could possibly write in a review of it. Bleeding Edge is one of the best, most enjoyable books that I’ve ever read and I have no idea how to explain why.

After about 700 pages, it’s difficult to even tell you what the plot is about. It’s sort of about America before and after 9/11. It’s sort of about a possible-rogue (or worse, not) government contractor and its mysterious owner. It sort of about a piece of software, reminiscent of Snow Crash’s Metaverse, that’s poised to revolutionize digital interaction. It’s kind of a murder mystery which hinges on the unique ability of a man with a superhuman sense of smell. All of these disparate threads (and more!) may or may not be part of a government conspiracy that may or may not exist. At its heart, Bleeding Edge is about a private detective named Maxine and her attempt to navigate all of the above and keep her family alive and together.

All of the disparate plot threads do a wonderful job of evoking the sense of confusion that overwhelms Maxine. The novel seems to be more interested in invoking an impression of confusion and the post-9/11 paranoia than it is with relating a concrete plot. In that way, it’s pretty similar to Pynchon’s other books, but none of those has clicked with me in the way that Bleeding Edge did.

Bleeding Edge, again like Pynchon’s other books, is packed with pop-culture references, these from the ‘90s and early ‘00s. Unlike his other books, which made references to Malta’s political situation in the 1950s or specific World War II trivia and evoked little reaction in me, I understand Pynchon’s references to Metal Gear Solid as knowing winks and hints that the plot is overly convoluted on purpose. I understand the language Pynchon’s using in this book because it’s the language of my childhood and teenage years. Another example, possibly my favorite from the book, uses IKEA as a metaphor for the conspiracy-that-might be: “An entire section of the store was dedicated to replacing wrong or missing parts and fasteners, since with IKEA this is not so exotic an issue. Inside the store proper, you walk forever from one bourgeois context, or ‘room of the house,’ to another, along a fractal path that does its best to fill up the floor space available. Exits are clearly marked, but impossible to get to.”

The previous paragraph underscores what makes the book great: it’s simply a blast to read. While the novel does touch on truly heavy and tragic topics with the proper respect, it’s also willing to have its fair share of fun. Pynchon constantly inserts jokes or short (and sometimes very long) asides that are frequently gut-busting. He also has a way of immediately shifting from straight-forward to off-kilter to keep the reader on guard, like in the following: “Due to some likely 007-related mental block about packing it, she has tried to avoid the Walther PPK with the laser in the grip, depending instead on her secondary, the Beretta, which, if handguns had conscious careers, it might consider a promotion.”

It may be difficult to point to a particularly badass plot point or a classic new character, but that’s not to say that the only thing going for the book is its writing style. While the plot arcs and threads don’t necessarily seem to complete, the treatment of the novel’s themes is. It’s been six months and I’m still pondering the novel and realizing new connections. Bleeding Edge is one of the few books that I see myself revisiting every few years.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday (56)

Conversion by Katherine Howe

Release Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Author Website: http://katherinehowe.com/
Pre-order: Amazon / IndieBound / Barnes & Noble

It’s senior year at St. Joan’s Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian, deciphering boys’ texts: Through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they can’t.

First it’s the school’s queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joan’s buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.

Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen—who’s been reading The Crucible for extra credit—comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago . . .
Inspired by true events—from seventeenth-century colonial life to the halls of a modern-day high school—Conversion casts a spell. With her signature wit and passion, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe delivers an exciting and suspenseful novel, a chilling mystery that raises the question, what’s really happening to the girls at St. Joan’s?

Why can't I wait? 
I heard the epidemic in this novel bore similarities to what happened in Salem, and I was sold. I certainly hope it's as gripping as I think it will be. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

YA Contempapalooza Summer 2014

Ahh, what a glorious time it is for lovers of contemporary YA (like this girl right here)!  I don’t like to play favorites or anything, but I think I’ve made it pretty dang clear over the course of my reviews that these kind of books are my kind of books.  I’ve read three dazzling examples of YA contemp over the past few weeks, and so if you find yourself craving a story about conflict and romance and finding one’s self, then pull up a chair and read on.

Open Road Summer 
by Emery Lord

Release Date: April 15, 2014
Publisher: Walker

Oh, good Lord (haha, puns!), this book is fantastic.  I mean, I was expecting to like it, since I’d heard from people I trust that it was a Jessica sort of book, but I couldn’t put it down.  Literally.  I devoured this in one afternoon, essentially one sitting.  It’s like reading a book about Fake Taylor Swift’s best friend who falls for with a Fake Jonas Brother while he’s pretending to be FTS’s boyfriend during her sad and somewhat scandalous break-up.  Reagan’s voice is snark-tacular and real, and she is quite the loyal bestie.  Plus, Matt Finch is the type of guy you hope all your own teen heartthrobs are actually like in real life.  There are so many great lines in this book, but one in particular about living life in the moment really hit me where it counts.  I’m all about this and Emery Lord forever.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before 
by Jenny Han

Release Date: April 15, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR

Maybe it’s because we’re from the same hometown (rva girls forever!), but Jenny Han knows how to craft a story that pulls me in from the title and keeps me in until the last page.  Like Lara Jean, I too used to write unsent notes to my crushes, and I would die a million mortifying deaths if they were ever sent (note to self: BURN ALL OLD LETTERS next time you’re at your parents’ house).  What I also adore about this delightfully written book is that, despite the title, the romance isn’t the central portion of the plot.  It’s less about the discovery of love and more about Lara Jean’s discovery of her own identity outside of Middle Song Sister.  I could read about the Song Sisters forever, especially because Jenny’s words, you guys? They are sah good.

What I Thought Was True 
by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Release Date: April 15, 2013
Publisher: Dial BFYR

I’ve been looking forward to Huntley’s next novel since the moment I finished My Life Next Door, and oh, Huntley doesn’t disappoint.  Another complicated girl, another almost-too-perfect-to-be-real boy—and that’s where the similarities cease.  Gwen is constantly battling between building enormous walls around herself and wearing her heart on her sleeve, and she spends the entire book fighting between which one to do for which person.  Also, I don’t know exactly how to say this unawkwardly, but Huntley Fitzpatrick is kind of the queen of discussing and handling teen sex in a realistic manner.  Seriously. There are twists and turns here that I thought I saw coming, but it kept turning when I expected twisting.  My only complaint is that now I have to wait for whatever Huntley writes next.

So, what are you reading this summer?  Are you gobbling up contemps like Cadbury Mini-Eggs like I am?