Monday, December 30, 2013

Ten Miles Past Normal

Ten Miles Past Normal
Frances O'Roark Dowell
(Image from its goodreads page)

The summary is going to be from the Amazon page. Sorry, I just couldn't figure this one out.

Janie Gorman is smart and creative and a little bit funky…but what she really wants to be is normal. Because living on an isolated farm with her modern-hippy parents is decidedly not normal, no matter how delicious the goat cheese. High school gives Janie the chance to prove to her suburban peers that she’s just like them, but before long she realizes normal is completely overrated, and pretty dull.
If she’s going to learn how to live large (and forget the haters), Janie will have to give up the quest and make room in her life for things from the fringe—like jam band, righteous chocolate, small acts of great bravery, and a boy named Monster.
Woo hoo. Thank you, Amazon, for providing me a way to be lazy. And while we're here, a shout out to my computer, for reminding me that I have no excuse not to write a review. A thank you to you both.
Okay, onto the actual part.
I loved Janie's character and voice. She was a really easy to relate to (someone tell me why "relatable" isn't a word, it would make my job SO much easier), regardless of whether or not you live on a Mini-Farm. She has a tendency to rail about her past self (who was very young and enthusiastic) and parents, but not as much complaining as a reviewer in a bad mood. As we should respect reviewers in bad moods, the amount of venting was also worthy of respect. It was just at the point of "Oh, yeah, I totally understand, literary character who cannot hear me speaking". I'm making this sound odd, but I'm sure you'd like it, reader who cannot hear me speaking.

But, as always, I must point something out that only vaguely has to do with the book. While I don't blame the author, Janie's character is the kind of character I see all the time in YA books with female protagonists. Tom-boyish, sarcastic, brown hair.

Ignore that last part.

Or don't.

Either way, I'm getting kind of tired of the generic "Sassy and Independent Barbie! (Boyfriend Included!)". It's like the be a "good character", the MC has to be masculine or, at best, gender-neutral. Anything that could even be considered feminine (the color pink, dresses/skirts, purses, make-up) is automatically shunned, deemed something for "cake-faced idiots that only know how flirt". Seriously? Can you not? Somewhere out there, someone is agreeing with me. I'm sure.

Ah, a lovely tangent we had there. Okay. Let me continue.

The supporting/secondary characters were well-written, too. Ms. Dowell either did a lot of developing outside of the story for them (the book wasn't particularly long, so most characters only had a day in the limelight), or had a great method of covering up that fact that she has no idea about these people at all.

Sarah, out of all the non-main characters, was my favorite. She had a kind of popular-girl dynamic, but without the automatic hatred you are supposed to gain upon hearing her name. In fact, I didn't feel a grand hatred of her at all. She was 100% unloathable. A wreath of flowers and a maple doughnut bar to you, author lady.
The plot itself was hard to follow, assuming there was an actual A to B plot at all. For the most part, it was a bunch of events strung together to make a story. It's... I'm noticing that a lot now. I mean, Wintergirls, Out of the Easy... What does this mean? Why are there so many "snippets of life" stories? Do they deserve a name yet? 

We'll assume that it's on of those, which I shall now call a SOL book. In which a case, this was a very good one. It even tricked me into thinking there was a plot, the sneaky little thing. However, if there was some kind SOLless plot I'm missing, it didn't do too great.
The emotions, I am so very glad, were realistic. It was easy to get lost in the going-ons of Janie's life. 
Sadly, I must now pick out the one thing that irritated me.  If I didn't, this would be "senseless praise", not a review.

The plot points, while I loved (almost) all of them, didn't get much attention of their own. They only really got short moments in the sun, and were kind of episodic. Personally, I think that either they all should have had a little more time spent on them, or some of them should have been dropped. There were just way too many things going on for any individual part to really get interesting. 

And the main one I must prey on was the romance. Oh, don't you gasp, you saw it coming from a thousand miles away. 

While the Love Interest (Monster) was interesting as a character and friend, that's what he did best as. An interesting character and an awesome friend. The romantic aspect was just taking time away from the other parts.

Trust me, the "other parts" I keep referring to vaguely, are pretty cool. Civil rights, hootenannies (Oh, so hootenanny is a word, but relatable isn't. Come on.), a vendetta against chocolate, crime-fighting goats? Well, not the last part, but you get my point.

Overall, pretty good book, would recommend it, thank you and good night.


Thursday, December 26, 2013


A tad belated, but, eh. For the giving spirit and because giving money is easier than trying to find a present for people. - I mentioned this in a review (A Long Walk to Water). The website explains itself.  - Yay for reading! Also, this kind of tea donates a dollar to it when you buy it. So you can give the gift of tea, too.

Build Africa - No one cares that you hate school. It's still necessary.

Hurricane Haiyan - Not an actual charity, but it gives a list of reputable charities to pick from.

Red Cross - All around goodness.

Heifer International -  Because giving goats to people for their livelihood is a lot better that giving socks to people you don't like enough to actually find a good present for. - Okay, actually, we kinda care if you hate school. For reasons other than just because it's boring.

The Humane Society - Aminals! Animals! Whatever.

Ally Cat Allies - More cats? Less cats. No. Good cats.

Public Benefit - Another list of charities, this one for public benefit.

Book- Teen's Guide to Global Action - Not a charity, but...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
(Image from its goodreads page)
Cat Winters

It's 1918, and death hangs in the air. Influenza and war have ravaged not only Europe, but the hearts of the American people. When Mary Shelley Black finds out her first love, Stephen, has died, she's grief-stricken. But when his spirit returns to her, she's determined to learn more about what happened to him.

Okay, I'm not huge on historicals (you may notice that they're an endangered species here), and I rarely get through them. This is definitely one of the better ones.

It took a while to get into this book. Nothing particularly interesting happens for the first two, three chapters or so. So I was just kinda sitting there like, "It'll get better. It'll get better. Going sooooo sloooowwww, but it'll get- HURRY UP." I am an impatient person. This took me two check-out sessions from the library to get through it, just because the beginning didn't pass quick enough.

But it's like a slingshot. Cat Winters pulled it back ever so slowly, took target (your very being), and let go. Once Stephen died (it's not that big of a spoiler, get over it), it was off. And Mary Shelley the rock was speeding ahead at speeds I didn't think rocks could reach. And I enjoyed that.

The plot was faaaaabulous. It was well executed (trust me, there are so many bad ways to write a murder/ghost book) and once we reached that flying point, well timed. 

The style was awesome. You have no idea (or maybe you do- maybe you spy on nerds and are freakishly obsessed about what they read) how many ghost or otherwise paranormal books are purple. Like, 'Okay, I see we know how to use our descriptors here. But what are you talking about?' I am so glad this book defied my expectations.

The characters, however, I wasn't so fond of. Most of them were fairly two-dimensional. Their actions got predictable once you found out their main characteristic. And it's never good when characters have a main characteristic. People don't usually have one personality trait that defines their existence. And I can tell you those traits right now.

Mary- She's smart. Really smart. Super smart. She does smart things. Smartly. And she's brave. Like Harry Potter if he was a Ravenclaw. Because then he would be smart.

Aunt Eva- She's superstitious and protective. She's protective because she's superstitious. Or maybe not. We'll never know.

Julius- He's creepy and no one loves him.

Stephen- He's brave and hot. Oh, and smart. I guess.

Well, that's not the entire cast, but you know. Now, I didn't mind that Mary was smart and could, thank the gods of Asgard and Vaniheim, do stuff by herself. She didn't need Stephen to give her step-by-step instructions to get the job done. She is the girl, in concept, that I have been waiting for for SO LONG. But it the whole intelligence/bravery combo thing was kind of shoved in your face. And there didn't need to be (SPOILER SPOILER SKIP THE REST OF THE PARAGRAPH OR YOU SHALL DIE AT THE FIREY HANDS OF THE GODS) so much dying for her. The briefly-got-the-flu-and-survived thing was just a little much.

La, the emotions in this book. They were so deliciously well written. And there were a lot of them- you can't write about death and not have them. HAIL TO THE CAT OF WINTERS.

A good debut novel, I expect more from her soon. :D


Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water
(Image from The Beachwood Reporter)
Linda Sue Park
I'm having trouble trying to summarize the book, so here's the summary from Goodreads:

The New York Times bestseller A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the "lost boys" of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way.

Thank you, Goodreads, for solving almost all of my literary troubles. 

I just finished this book this morning, and since I have to compare all YA books with younger-age characters to Diamond Willow, I must say that this is a Diamond Willow. You do not have to be an eleven-year-old to enjoy this book. But you can be. Or maybe not. Who cares? Despite having two protagonists that are eleven for almost all of the book (SPOILER ALERT: Salva actually isn't eleven for all of it, though), it was pretty non-age specific.

The writing style wasn't my usual kind of read, but it still did it's (amazing) job of pulling me into the life of the characters.

The pacing was flawless, and so were the characters. I just wish that we would have heard a little bit more from Nya. I feel like the little snippets about her at the beginning of the chapter could have been just a little longer. 

Just saying, bring a box of tissues for reading. This book can and will make you cry. Sometimes, it's hard to realize that not everyone has running water and a computer to type reviews on while sipping tea. And the realization is hard. But knowing is better than any kind blissful ignorance. You can't try to help if you don't know.

And, ah, there were so many quotable lines in this book. In 112 pages, it had more memorable lines and moments than in most 400 page novels. Alas, I could not highlight anything because it's a library book. 

Okay, I'm sorry that this review was so freakishly short. I mean, five paragraphs of actual review. Very, very short paragraphs, too. Frankly, since this book is based on the childhood of someone (Salva Dut), I feel kind of odd reviewing it. Like, I'm reviewing parts of someone's life. And it was impossible to tell which parts were fact and which were fiction except for Nya's parts. Or even if Salva's narrative was fiction at all.

Interesting fact: This is why I didn't review The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango (my computer doesn't allow me-to my knowledge- to make the accent mark in Maria, so sorry for that). That was an awesome book, too. Why did I review this one, then? The world may never know.

Also, this is Dut's organization that builds wells in Sudan-

So you know. :3