Monday, March 31, 2014

Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart

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Publication date: 2012 (UK, release in US 1 Apr. 2014)
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 323
My rating: 4 stars
Ages: 18+

From British comedian, sitcom writer, and actress, Miranda Hart, comes her first book, Is It Just Me? Part memoir, part manual (or, "miran-ual"), Hart writes on 18 different subjects from relationships to Christmas, sharing her own hilarious stories and some inspiring insights with the hope that it isn't just her. Speaking both to "my dear reader chum" (or, MDRC--which I started to say in my head as "ma-drick"--something I like to think Hart would appreciate) and her 18-year-old self, Hart gallops through the pages of her book with humor and wisdom.

There are several things I really enjoyed about this book. First, it's written exactly how Hart speaks. I became a fan of Hart first from PBS's "Call the Midwife," then from her sitcom "Miranda" and have watched several interviews. Having the book written as if she really is talking to me, as her MDRC, makes it so much more approachable. Second, I'll tell you now, it's not just Hart. It's me, too! There were so many times in her book when she was regaling the reader and "Little Miranda" with some awkward story and I thought "That's totally something I would do." There were even a few times I wondered if she had been spying on my life, it was so accurate. Third, there was so much to laugh about, even apart from her stories. Hart makes up words, or combines words in funny ways. She points out her puns, or if she rhymed.

I did read the British published version of her book. Because of the absolute British-ness of it, it may be hard for the average American to understand some of the references or language. I'm not sure what the American published version will do about that, but that's the only reason I gave it a four. I'm an anglophile, but there were some nuances that I still didn't understand.

*I do not receive any compensation from Amazon.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

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Publication date: 2012
Publisher: Hyperion
Pages: 332
My rating: 5 stars
Ages: 16+
Awards: Printz

When a British wireless operator must parachute into France in 1943, she has only her wits to keep her out of the hands of the Gestapo. Unfortunately, one small mistake lands her in prison, where she is interrogated severely until she agrees to give them everything she knows. This book is that written record.

Code Name Verity was such an engaging, moving, and interesting story that nothing could knock me out of the narrative. I didn't notice any inaccuracies, or editing errors; I never felt that I was asked to suspend my disbelief--though I hadn't known before hand that women were spies and pilots during World War II. The narrator has such a distinctive voice that I instantly liked her spunk, her bravery, her charm, her wisdom, and her heartbreak.

The narrative is interesting, written as a set of "entries" meant to be given to the SS officer in charge at the end of everyday. It's a bit of a thrill ride, as the reader is pulled along through tales of the past and the horrors of the present. The narrative does take a bit of getting used to, but within just a few pages, it--and it's teller--are endeared to you by the very things that make both of them different from other novels you have read. Verity is also so different from the usual WWII novels. This is a more "behind the scenes" look at the war as well as a glance of the grayness of war, enemies, friendship, loyalty, fears, dreams, and family. I shed a tear or two near the end.

I think that anyone with some interest in history (WWII in particular), strong female characters, and spy novels will find this book engaging. I especially think that those that liked The Book Thief by Marcus Zusack will find this a compelling read.

*I do not receive any compensation from Amazon.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Evertrue by Brodi Ashton

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Publication date: 2014
Publisher: Balzer+Bray
Pages: 355
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 14+

In the last book of the Everneath trilogy, Nikki and Jack need to try to find a way to keep Nikki from becoming an Everliving after Cole tricked her from feeding off him in the Everneath. Cole has Nikki's heart, which means he has control over her. With a Bounty Hunter after them, and only a few days before Nikki dies or returns to the Everneath, Nikki and Jack will have to trust Cole to help them.

A lot of what I liked about the first two books are still there, mostly the things that make this different from most paranormal novels. This includes that the love interest is the "nice, normal boy" instead of the 100-year-old immortal with an obsession. One other thing that makes it different is that there is no clear cut "villian"--it's more gray than black and white, which makes every character more believable and the story more interesting to read.

I like Ashton's style and her story telling abilities. That being said, I personally liked the first book much better than any of the rest of the trilogy. It took me some time to feel interested in Evertrue, though I did become more interested in Nikki and Jack's plight as the story went on. Mostly, though, I felt that their story was stretched to the limit by being turned into the trilogy. Though the ending of Everneath was bittersweet, I felt that it was good enough to stand on its own. The entire trilogy is worth reading if you are willing to make the commitment, but otherwise, skip the last two books and read the first one as a stand alone.

*I do not receive any compensation from Amazon.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Vow by Jessica Martinez

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Publication date: 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 424
My rating: 4 stars
Ages: 16+

Mo and Annie are best friends; actually, they are more than that, but they don't know how to explain to everyone else that they aren't interested in each other romantically other than to just keep denying it. So when they get married to keep Mo from being deported, it doesn't take too much to convince everyone that they've really been in love the whole. But it turns out to be more complicated than just going to the courthouse, and both of them start to wonder is giving everything up was really such a good idea.

The Vow is told from both Mo and Annie's point of view, with alternating chapters. Usually I don't like this--I forget whose chapter it is and get confused about what is going on--but I really liked the way that Martinez worked with it. The chapter transitions are great and I found myself looking forward to the last line/first line connection. Each chapter moved the story along chronologically, instead of staying the in the same time for both characters, which made the book move along at a good pace.

I really like Mo and Annie's friendship. A lot of friendships in novels are based almost solely on the length of time they have been friends, but Mo and Annie's friendship started with Annie saving Mo (and, in a way, with Mo saving Annie), so it was based on something so much more than just being in the same grade. There is a complexity, a deepness, to their friendship which makes the motivations of their marriage much more believable. Something else that adds to the motivation believability is the character's backgrounds. I felt that there were very few flat characters, and Mo and Annie are almost 4D in their history. This has influenced nearly everything they've done, and influences their decisions going into their marriage. Martinez has created characters that have lives just like the rest of us, and that makes us want everything to work out in the end.

My only criticism is the ending. It seemed to happen rather quickly . . . not that it was rushed, but I was in the last ten or so pages and wondering how everything could possibly wrap up in that amount of time. It did, and it was a fine ending, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting, and I wanted Mo and Annie to have a happier ending. I wanted them to be able to make things work out better than they did. In a way it was fitting because it ending with a "new beginning," but I was a little unsatisfied that a book I enjoyed so much ended in a way that I didn't like. I almost felt as if the book suddenly changed into a different book than I had believed through the rest of it.

I gave this a 16+ grouping, but I think that older middle school kids could like it and identify with the characters. There is the inclusion of a college student who offers advice to Mo and Annie which I thought a good inclusion as their parents aren't willing to help. I think it's important for teens to realize that there are other people that can and will help them if they don't have anyone else.

*I receive no compensation from Amazon.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Roses by G. R. Mannering

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Publication date: 2013
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Pages: 310
My rating: 2 stars (what does this mean? Look at my FAQs page!)
Ages: 14+

Beauty is despised and feared for her silver skin and violet eyes. When the Magic Cleansing happens in Pervorocco's capital city of Sago, she flees with her only friend, Owaine, to the Hillands, where she helps to train horses. When Owaine returns to their cottage sick and scared after coming across an enchanted castle in the woods and cursed for stealing a red rose, Beauty takes his place. Is the horrific Beast her captive, or her friend? And what is Beauty's destiny?

When I picked up this book to read, I was really excited about having another Beauty and the Beast retelling to read. Unfortunately, it wasn't at all what I was expected, but I soldiered on.

Mannering's prose is well written and cohesive, and I applaud her for trying to create a new version of such a well loved story. If Roses had been written (and publicized) as it's own story, not as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I may have been more accepting of it. As it was, I had a hard time connecting to the world Mannering created and  her characters.

It takes the book nearly 200 pages before getting to the story that I was expecting from the beginning. Those first two hundred pages seemed mostly to be setting the scene and introducing characters and the intricacies of the world. Pervorocco and its surroundings was so different from any world that I am familiar with that I found it difficult to connect to it: from the money ("sticks") to the passage of time ("seasons") to the people within it ("magic beings" and "magic bloods"), the first 100 pages left me trying to sort out what it all meant so much that I wasn't immersing myself in the story, and even then I wasn't sure. The 100 pages that focus on the fairytale we know seems routine and predictable. In fact, much of the details reminded me of Robin McKinley's versions of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty and Rose Daughter.

The story is actually two different stories, and the combination of the two (what I'll call the "social unrest" and the "fairytale") seemed forced, especially in the end. By the time I got to the last ten pages I wondered how everything was going to be resolved, only to have one of Beauty's storyline resolved, with the other left completely open for another book (or two). As it was, I was left unsatisfied when I closed the book.

The writing is good, and plot and world deeply developed. The characters could be a bit more rounded out--I didn't feel a connection to any of them, not even Beauty. I think this novel would be good for those who enjoy more "epic fantasy" stories, not just fairytale re-imaginings.

*I do not receive any sort of compensation from Amazon, this link is for your convenience only.

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Hello, fellow bibliophiles! Welcome to Whitney's Nook, where I get to take my favorite pastime (reading) and write about it! I've set up this blog to try my hand at book reviewing and to share what I'm reading with other people. For more information, look under the "About" and "FAQs" tabs up at the top.