Review: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

I would like to take a minute and say that I know I’m a terrible blogger. I don’t even really have an excuse this time, which makes this entire situation much more horrible. Aaaand just like that I’m over it. The only reason I’m giving myself a bit of a reprieve here is because I did actually adhere to my objective of reading books from my own summer reading list. Alas, I did not exactly get through every book, but I did read more than half of them. Soooo since I spent much of my free time doing my homework, I think it’s okay that I took some time (or all the time) off from chronicling the books I’ve read.

Anyway. I’m here to write about Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis.

Not a Drop to Drink (Not a Drop to Drink, #1)

Mini Summary

Set in a future, post-apocalyptic America, clean water is sought after and very difficult to find. In fat, it is killed for. Lynn and her mother, Lauren live in Lauren’s childhood home, which luckily happens to be right next to a freshwater pond. Lynn and her mother spend their days purifying the water and defending their home. They aren’t living as much as they are surviving.

First Impressions

Another post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel…. really? Ugh. Must I read another one of these? It better not be a series.

About 20 pages in…

Ssshhhh, Amy shut up this is ah-mazing.

What I Liked

1. The writing. Plot-wise, this was very slow, but Mindy McGinnis’ writing was so raw yet vivid that I would look up from my book and suddenly realize that 20 or 30 pages had flown by. The setting in Not a Drop to Drink is rural Ohio and even though I feel like this has been done before, the writing was so descriptive that I could easily picture the dried-up and almost-lifeless landscape.

2. The characters. As I’ve stated several times (A.K.A. pretty much in every post), for me, a book is amazing if the characters draw me in and make me fall in love with them. And by this, I really mean that I have to love the characters so much that I believe they are real people (Which is not at all totes cray).

  • Lynn, though stuck in her ways and annoyingly closed off to the world, is a great character. Despite the aforementioned traits I understand why she is that way. Even she acknowledged her lack of life experience and worked to adapt to her new family.
  • Stebbs. The injured neighbor was- at first- just a name that Lynn and her mother tossed around when they discussed the few people near them. When Stebbs finally got page time I grew to love him as much as Lynn did; he might even be my favorite character in this book.
  • Eli, Lucy and even Lucy’s grandmother Vera were all great supporting characters! Given Lynn’s personality and situation, their characters were about as fleshed out and involved in the plot as she would allow.

What I Didn’t Like

The ending. It’s not like it bothered me that much, but it seemed a bit rushed. The rest of the book was rather slow up until the last 50ish pages when everything kind of exploded… and then it was over. It obviously didn’t ruin the rest of the book for me, but I would have liked an epilogue. Hopefully I’ll see something like that in the companion novel.

Overall, this book fulfilled my need for badass characters living in a post-apocalyptic world. I really enjoyed the change in pace from other dystopian novels in that McGinnis didn’t feel the need to have an action-filled plot, but focused on the characters and how they worked together to survive. After reading this, I feel totally ready for an apocalypse.

Seriously.

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Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The Sky is Everywhere

 

I’d like to officially go on the record and say that although I have yet to keep my promise and post/review things regularly (but seriously, at this point, did anyone really believe that I would be proactive about this?), I have, in fact, been reading many books from my summer reading list. GET AT ME.

 

Moving on. I did finally pick up my copy of The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, sooooooo here are my thoughts.

 

Mini Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker was sucker punched by the unforeseen death of her older sister, Bailey. As she muddles through her fried, she inconveniently finds herself involved with two very different boys. One distracts her from the sadness while the other comfortingly keeps Bailey’s memory alive. All the while, Lennie struggles to figure out who she is without using her sister as a lifeline.

First Impressions:

Based on other reviewers, I was fully prepared to ugly-cry throughout most of this book. This was not he case. The grief and humor balanced each other out quite nicely, much like Toby and Joe did for Lennie.

What I Didn’t Like:

1. The whole relationship with Toby. Let me clarify: the “romance” felt forced to me- and maybe that was Nelson’s intention, but it was verrrrry uncomfortable (which was also probably part of Nelson’s plan). Because of Toby’s close relationship with Bailey’s family, I can understand why he’d be feeling displaced and desperate to connect with anything/anyone to do with Bailey. Once it was clear that Toby and Lennie couldn’t keep their hands off of one another, I got super duper creeped out. Honestly, this was really the only element that bothered me, but since it was such a huge part of the plot, it kept me from truly loving the book.

What I liked:

1. Joe (for the most part). He provided me, as the reader, with a sense of relief. He was a distraction form the sadness for me as much as he was for Lennie. It wasn’t even so much the cute romance between him and Lennie that added to the story; he was a breath of fresh air for Lennie, Gram and Uncle Big because they were all trying to keep from drowning in Bailey’s ghost. My one issue with Joe was that he was a bit too stubborn and unforgiving for a while there. Although shouldn’t that make him more well-rounded of a character? Probs.

2. Lennie’s house. It sounds weird to like a physical object rater than a character or plot-line, but Lennie’s house gave me a better understanding of the family and the life they live- which seemed to be a very bohemian-y/care-free/in love with nature lifestyle. I got the sense that Gram tried to bring as much of the “outside” into the house.

3. “Road Reading.” The definition of which is: reading while walking (awesome). It’s an activity that Lennie and Bailey were famous for, as the neighbors knew to be on the look-out for the Walker sisters. Such a small and simple detail, yet a perfect way to define the closeness of the sisters. Plus, books, guys. BOOKS.

And finally…

4. Lennie’s memories. What made this book so poignant were the memories and snippets of conversations between she and Bailey, that Lennie recalls throughout the book. However, it’s the way in which she records said memories; notes are hastily scribbled on whatever scrap paper she can find and then leaves them behind. It’s as if she’s slowly releasing her grief through these memories, and once they’re written down and out in the world, she can pluck them from the sky and remember.

 

Overall, I enjoyed The Sky Is Everywhere. It took me waaaay too long to finish it, which probably kept me from totally loving it, but I would still recommend this book.

Review: SPLINTERED by A.G. Howard

This book. I just don’t know. Let me preface this post by stating that I have been in the most horrible book slump in the history of the entire world and I have been searching and searching for a book that would pull me out of it. Having said that, this review will most likely be incoherent ramblings as I struggle to sort out what I did and did not like about this book. Here we go. Are we ready? (no?) (oh well)

Splintered by A.G. Howard

Splintered (Splintered, #1)

 

A super quick summery:

Alyssa Gardner is a descendent of Alice Liddell (THE Alice of Alice in Wonderland), and THAT fact has ruined her entire life because, apparently everyone teases her about it. And there’s the little problem of all the women in her family have a tendency to be a bit mad. So Alyssa has it a bit tough, I guess. She’s kinda a social misfit. She’s super into skateboarding and is hopelessly in love with her BFF, Jeb (Jebediah. AWESOME NAME), and her mom is living in an asylum. After a series of incidents, Alyssa figures out that the stories of Alice are, in fact, true, and in order to save her mother, she must venture down into the rabbit hole and break a curse.

 

Thoughts.

At first I was totally sucked in. This whole book was like a creepy, gothic, twisted re-telling of a beloved story. Here’s what I liked:

1. The gothic, creepy mood. If Tim Burton decided to write a contemporary, twisted version of Alice in Wonderland, this would be it.

2. The fact this re-telling could only be characterized as a very, very, very distant relative of the original story. As I was never a biiiig fan of Alice to begin with, it was kind of nice to read a story that really only used the skeletal structure of the original story and then took off from there.

 

Honestly that was it. Why I’m so confused about this book is that I was still (for the most part) interested in where the story was headed. I guess I’ll start rattling off a list of things that bothered me. Although I’ll bet everyone an exorbitant amount of money that I’ll end up contradicting myself and subsequently talk myself into liking this book. ANYWAY, here we go:

1. Alice. She was annoying and didn’t seem to have a clue about anything. She was just a bit too whiny for my taste. Having said this, she did have some strong points…. I’m having trouble coming up with them at this point in time BUT I’m sure they exist. Probably.

2. The rest of the characters. There wasn’t one character that I became attached to at all. This is a problem because I’ve discovered that, for me, plot is becoming less and less important in the books I read, and I’m waaaaay more interested in the characters and their arcs throughout the course of the book or series. So it’s unfortunate if I don’t connect with any of the characters, which was the case in Splintered.

3. Alice’s artwork. She makes art out of dead bugs. SHE MAKES ART OUT DEAD BUGS. I don’t think I need to explain this reason.

 

Overall this book puzzled me. I was totally into it for the first half or so, and then I became bored with the storyline and characters. I know this is the first in a series, but I really don’t care enough to continue.

 

 

 

Review: Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt

It appears as though I am on a contemporary YA kick these days, which is funny (probably/definitely only to me though) because I’ve been reading all the fantasy/sci-fi/historical YA fiction I can get my hands on. I’ll credit my new favorite author, Melina Marchetta, for helping my rediscover my love for contemporary fiction. Thinking back, ever since my heart and soul were destroyed by Jellicoe Road I’ve read a string of similar books. Well, let’s be clear, nothing it similar to Jellicoe Road because that is is a league all its own. Actually, in my mind, it’s in league with the likes of everything by Elizabeth Wein and Ruta Sepetys.

………

I don’t know when this post became this neurotic librarian’s tribute (again) to Melina Marchetta and Jellicoe Road. I need to stop now because people need to know what I think about Bright Before Sunrise. This is assuming that anyone at all reads my somewhat infrequent ramblings that masquerade as legitimate blog posts. Whatevs.

Back to the point.

Bright Before Sunrise

Mini Summary

It’s been five years since a heart attack took Brighton Waterford’s father from her, and Brighton has spent that time being the perfect daughter and student. She is involved in every activity possible because she needs to please everyone and has the worst time trying to say “no,” therefore she is liked by everyone. Except, not really. New student, Jonah Prentiss has recently moved to the unofficially gated community of Cross Pointe with his mother, stepfather and new baby sister. Jonah does not find himself drawn to Brighton like everybody else on the planet, and actually finds her to be annoying. By chance, these two people are thrown together one evening and find themselves unable to get rid of one another, so they are forced (but how “forced” are they really?) to spend the rest of the night getting to know each other. Maybe, just maybe, Brighton and Jonah can let their guards down long enough to discover that they like and need each other more than they know.

My Thoughts

Honestly, I didn’t think I would enjoy this book as much as I did. However, it was so fantastic that I ended up starting and finishing this book over the course of one day/night. Seems fitting considering Brighton and Jonah’s story unfolds in the same length of time. So basically I was living their story. Kinda. I really enjoyed that this was almost a “boy from the wrong side of the tracks meets girl from right side and they fall in love against everyone else’s wishes” story. I say almost, because yes, Jonah was originally from a rougher town than Brighton, but they didn’t fall in love right away. And no one was against their “friendship” anyway. As I stated in my fabulous summary above, these two didn’t even really like each other at the start of the night. Neither one had a clear idea of the life lead by the other, and it was through learning about how the other lives that they finally began to understand, then like, then fall for each other.

Although I did not read the book, I have seen the movie version of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and based on that experience, I can tell you that this book has a similar feel to it. Side note: I did not actually enjoy Nick and Norahfor whatever reason. Schmidt does an excellent job keeping the book at a good pace, never keeping these two in one place for an extended period of time because they would have taken away from the physical journey of getting to know each other as well as the emotional one. I particularly enjoyed the potion of the night spent at a gross house party, because it was fantastic to see A) Brighton being more than capable of taking care of herself, and B) Brighton being a character who genuinely had no interest in drinking because everyone else was. <—— This was (is) my entire life, and it was nice to see a contemporary YA novel that did not write it in as part of the “good girl’s character.” I mean, yeah, Brighton was a typical “good girl,” but she admitted that, despite drinking with her close friends, drunken house parties just weren’t her thing. Sometimes, people, that is just the truth.

Other elements I enjoyed:

  • The minor characters. This was really Brighton and Jonah’s story, but Schmidt created other minor characters that helps us gain a better understanding of both Brighton and Jonah. Evy and Amelia- Brighton’s sister and best friend- were two of my favorite minor characters because they could easily have existed as merely a way to highlight Brighton’s quiet and serious disposition by being loud, outgoing and flirtatious. Instead, they acted as pillars for Brighton to lean on, and I found myself wishing they were real people.
  • The scene in the baseball park. Adorable. It totally made Jonah’s story and his athletic background come full circle. Plus, now I want to go play catch at like 2 am. (Jonah has to be there).
  • The love story. I was totally skeptical of the whole “two people falling in love by the end of the night” thing, but, Tiffany Schmidt, you and your beautiful writing and characters won me over. I was afraid that it was going to be some cutesy story where two characters meet and then go on a series of cute adventures throughout the night as they fall more in love. Thank GAWD that was not the case. I probably would have vomited. Instead, these two develop feelings over the course of the night and end up acknowledging them by the end. Adorable.

In conclusion, everyone should read this book. There is obviously a lot more to the Jonah and Brighton than I’ve discussed, but I don’t want to spoil everything. If you want a book that you can devour in one night and feel like you were right there with the characters, then definitely check out Bright Before Sunrise.

Review: Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

Faking Normal

Mini Summary

Faking Normal, written by the lovely Courtney C. Stevens, tells the story of two broken teenagers and how they tentatively begin to heal after being thrown together. Alexi Littrell harbors a secret that claws at her from the inside out, causing her to retreat to her closet where she no longer has to fake being normal. A family tragedy sends kool-aid kid, Bodie Miller into the Littrell household for an indefinite stay. Together these two forge an unlikely friendship and slowly help each other to “channel their brave.”

My Thoughts

It was this book’s total honesty that kept me turning page after page. I was privileged enough to see/meet Courtney C. Stevens and hear her speak at two different author events. Each time she emphasized how this story was one that she needed to tell, and it was clear to me (and everyone in the audience) that every word she wrote was deliberate and packed with raw emotion and honesty.

Alexi was fantastic as the book’s main character. She is not forthcoming with her secret right away, but from the beginning, you get a very strong idea of what happened to her over the summer. Everything about her is tense. Stevens’ writing made me feel like I was seeing the world through Alexi’s eyes and feeling everything she was at the same time. This makes for a very intense reading experience, because Alexi is so tortured by her assault back in July, and so every time her thoughts take a darker turn, I also felt as desperate and helpless as she did.

Bodie Miller was just as heart-breaking a character. The book begins with his mother’s funeral (she was murdered by his abusive father- which Bodie witnessed) and Bodie leaving the church as he was unable to speak about her. He is grappling with the fact that he is basically an orphan, while coming to terms with witnessing his father murder his mom and being unable to stop him. While you never get inside Bodie’s head the way you do Alexi’s, Stevens still made me feel like I knew who Bodie was, and Alexi’s relationship with him is definitely what makes that possible. Because we are constantly aware of Alexi’s thoughts and emotions- and at such a gritty level- we get to know Bodie through Alexi.

In spite of the trauma these two have endured, the relationship they form is one of the most beautiful and real bonds I’ve ever read about. Each becomes a confidant to the other, and even without speaking their secrets out loud, there is a true sense of understanding between them, and Bodie always knows when Alexi needs his support, and vice versa. Their eventual love story totally makes sense within the context of the larger narrative.

There is much more going on in this book; more characters, subplots, secrets, etc., but in order to avoid re-typing the entire novel, I’ll let you read it on your own. Though Stevens takes on tough subjects, Faking Normal leaves you with a sense of relief and hope, and what more could you ask for?

Happy Reading!

In Which I Review DOROTHY MUST DIE

So. I have been waiting and waiting and waiting to get my hands on this book for MONTHS. Ever since I downloaded and read the prequel No Place Like Oz, I’ve been impatiently refreshing the Dorothy Must Die Amazon page and hoping the release date has changed. Unfortunately, it remains the same. HOWEVER, since I was lucky enough to attend the ALA Midwinter Conference this past January, I managed to snag an ARC of this beauty. I’m proud to say this is the first book I asked for when I walked into the exhibition hall. I basically pushed and shoved my way to the HarperTeen section and immediately asked if they still had copies. And then promptly skipped away whilst clutching my gorgeous ARC to my chest. This is all leading up to me saying that I’ve finally had the chance to read the one book I’ve had my eye on for months. It. Was. Fantastic.

Dorothy Must Die (Dorothy Must Die, #1)

Mini Summery

Years after Dorothy defeats the Wicked Witch of the West, she returns to Oz. However, a small taste of magic and power leads to her desire for more and more until she rules Oz as its dictator. Enter Amy Gumm, a girl from a Kansas trailer park who has basically raised herself and her alcoholic mother. Cue the tornado that literally carries Amy and her trailer off to Oz. Now, with training from the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked (seriously though, how awesome is THAT?), Amy is faced with the task of taking Dorothy down.

My Thoughts

YES.

If I could end my review with that one word, I would, but I should probably expand on it just a bit. Danielle Paige has created a new world within an extremely well known and beloved world that has already been successfully built. I had no trouble at all picturing Oz’s new, grim and desolate landscape. Those descriptions, coupled with the violence action- into which she immediately jumps- almost made me forget that this used to be the Oz created by L. Frank Baum.

The main character, Amy, might be one my of favorite new protagonists that I’ve come across in 2014. Let’s discuss why:

1. Her name. I’m a tad bit biased, but whatevs. This is my review and I’ll say what I want.

2. The pink hair. SO badass- no glossy, luscious locks going on here. It’s a small detail, but it totally distinguishes her from Oz’s precious visitor (ahem, Dorothy). One of my favorite lines in the book is actually said during a discussion about who Amy is.

“‘When I first saw you, Amy Gumm, your hair was the thing that gave me hope for you. For all of us'”

(one more)

“‘But you, you didn’t have an ounce of sweetness and that hair was just the exclamation point.'”

Perfection. If you don’t love Amy already, I don’t even know what to say.

3. Star, her pet rat. Dorothy arrived with Toto, and Amy stepped out of her trailer with a pet rat. Again, just helps everyone get an idea who the type of heroine Amy will be.

4. Her total honesty about her feelings towards everything. She may or may not have feelings for one of her trainers, Nox, but she doesn’t hide the fact that- despite acknowledging his hotness- she really doesn’t know how she feels.

“Hell, I couldn’t even figure myself out. Did I want to kiss him or punch him in the face?” <—– I love that we know everything going on in Amy’s head. But Amy also doesn’t know what her feelings are for The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. She knows she can’t trust anyone, but she also desperately wants someone to rely on. I think it’s great that Paige didn’t have Amy simply join up with the Order and agree to amp up her badassness just because they are the first group of people (witches? warlocks?) to pay attention to her.

I think what I loved most about this is that Danielle Paige took beloved characters that we’ve all known to be- and never questioned to be any else but- good, and re-worked them to display them in a different light. In a “what might have been” light.

On that note, I’ll end this review by saying that I was constantly surprised by each new scene. Danielle Paige is not afraid make her characters dive head first into violent, dangerous and bone-chilling situations while keeping them and her readers guessing as to whether or not each one will make it out alive. All I know is that I’m desperate for this sequel and knowing that I have to wait a year to hear more about the pink-haired Amy Gumm and her pet rat is absolutely NOT okay. Guess I’ll just have to read this book again.

Happy Reading!

Amy

A Happy Book B-Day to Julie Murphy! Plus My SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY Review

My discussion of this book is based on my review of an ARC I received at the ALA Midwinter Conference.

In honor of this book’s birthday today, I’ve decided to actually organize the many thoughts I had on Side Effects May Vary and put them into a mini review.

Side Effects May Vary

A baby synopsis

At 16, Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, and the outlook is not good. After months of chemotherapy with no improvement, Alice decides to stop treatment and live out the rest of her time without the added stress, exhaustion and nausea brought on by the chemo. In a strange and miraculous turn of events, Alice receives news that she is now in remission. Because Alice spent the last year or so of her life preparing for death, she is now faced with the challenge of figuring out how to live again. This is where the real story picks up, and the rest of the book is told through the alternating POVs of Alice and Harvey, the boy who has been in love with her since childhood and the one Alice recruited to help her accomplish everything on her (somewhat of a) bucket list.

My Thoughts

SO. My review on Goodreads is essentially me trying to muddle through my initial thoughts on the book without really thinking any of them though. This is my attempt to rectify that and provide a tad bit more organization. I’ll start with the plot. I’d like to first thank Julie Murphy for writing a book about a cancer patient that is not The Fault in Our Stars. I should clarify that I have not, in fact, read John Green’s book, but I’ve heard enough praise from sobbing teenage girls (my sister included) and read enough reviews, that I feel like I have. I’m sure TFiOS is very good, but I just have never found myself in the right mood to read this predictable love story yet. ANYWAY, I think that Murphy’s take on the subject to be a breath of fresh air. She addresses the the sadness and heartbreak of Alice’s death sentence, and then spends the rest of the book exploring Alice’s feelings about figuring out how to rejoin the living after discovering she’s in remission.

While that storyline takes place in the book’s “present,” Murphy also writes about Alice in the past. In this potion of the story, Alice recruits her childhood friend, Harvey (who happens to be in love with her… we love Harvey) to help her get back at the people who have wronged her. I have a few thoughts on this. The two people she’s looking to “get” really are awful. One used to be a frenemy, but it turns out she’s actually a bitch for no reason, and the other is an ex-boyfriend who is the world’s biggest ass. Both needed to be put in their places (for lack of a better description), but Alice ends up looking like a heartless bitch in the process. Maybe Murphy wanted to show how Alice’s grim prognosis drained her of a conscience? Perhaps, this was Harvey’s true purpose- to act as Alice’s “good angel” in addition to being her love interest. Either way, I found myself feeling uneasy about this storyline while simultaneously loving the idea of Alice as an anti-hero.

Now for the characters. I constantly argue with myself over whether or not I’m a fan of Alice. At the moment, I’ve decided that maybe I’m not supposed to like Alice, but I kind of understand her… somewhat. We don’t really get an idea of what Alice was like pre-leukeamia. I mean that we don’t know how she felt about school/college, or who her true friends were (if she had any), what she did for fun (outside of ballet). We only see sick-Alice and remission-Alice, which is interesting, but both versions pretty much only showcase Alice’s cynicism and confusion about her life.

This brings me to Harvey. The one glimmer of softness in Alice’s hardened exterior is her feelings for Harvey. However, she is equally confused about Harvey as she is about figuring out her post-cancer life. I actually understand this, though. I mean I don’t like that she strings Harvey along, but I get why this happens. Harvey has been in love with Alice for as long as he can remember, and would pretty much do anything for her. What I like about Harvey is that his character is extremely realistic, in terms of portraying a boy in love with a girl, and catering to her every wish even though he knows that he’s being used. I specifically remember thinking that at least Harvey acknowledges the fact that Alice is using his feelings for her to her advantage. Harvey also acts as Alice’s moral compass and stops her from becoming a completely unforgivable bitch (kinda), which is a lovely component to their relationship. The fact that Alice listens to him, elevates her character a bit more for me.

Their relationship dynamic is actually what makes the book really work. I know this is going to sound grossly cheesy, but these characters sort of complete each other. After you’re done gagging on that sentence, think about it. Harvey is everything that is good, innocent, honorable, and unapologetically loves with his whole heart, while Alice is cynical, bold and protective of her feelings. In order for this story to be completely fleshed out, both of these characters needed page time, which might be why Murphy told the story in alternating perspectives. But not only is the story of the bucket list and Alice’s recovery thoroughly explored through the dual perspectives, their love story seems a bit more complete because we know the feelings of both Harvey and Alice and can understand their actions and reactions.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I’ll go with 4 out of 5 stars because I really was drawn into the book, no matter how confused I felt about it. The story jerks you around a bit, but I think that is done on purpose. Alice and Harvey have been jerked around by Alice’s leukemia diagnosis, and therefore their lives for the past year have taken detour from the usual high school-teen route. It makes sense that readers would be confused by how they feel about Alice, Harvey and their story because the characters themselves are struggling to navigate their way through this situation.

If you’re looking for a different take on cancer+high school+romance in YA lit, Side Effects May Vary should be at the top of your list! If it’s not, than you’re doing something wrong.

Happy Reading!

-Amy