Saturday, March 28, 2015

Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I've read most of Gayle Forman's books, so I was very excited to receive an advanced copy of I Was Here. I had heard some mixed things from other friends who had read it early, so I went into the reading with an interesting mix of eagerness and trepidation.

The tone of I Was Here is certainly a big departure from Forman's other books. It's not quite as beautifully poignant as If I Stay, and not quite as romantic as Just One Day. Not to say those things don't exist in this book, but the general feeling of the book is much darker (as it should be while dealing with such themes).

I'll be perfectly honest, I have mixed feelings about I Was Here. There were parts that made me feel deeply uncomfortable to read, but I also thought the book tied together really well and I liked the ending. I felt anxiety during my reading experience. There have been very few times when I wished I could reach into the pages of a book and protect the character--this was one of those times. Watching Meg delve deeper and deeper into things it was obvious would take her to a dark place was unnerving.

On a different note, I liked and appreciated the way depression was dealt with. The stigma of the disease was addressed without being added to, and at the same time the reality of what the disease can do to a person and a family was incredibly realistic. Depression isn't an easy topic to write about, and the fact that it was handled with care and respect was one of the highlights for me.

I mentioned the ending earlier, and I'll talk about it a little here. I think it was my favorite part of the book. It was bittersweet, with just the right amount of hope mixed in. After such heavy subject matter, it was good to have a hint at the light outside the tunnel. Plus, the ending makes me love the title of the book so much.

This isn't a cohesive review, but like I said--mixed feelings. I have a sense that this book's audience will be sharply divided. If you've read the book, tell me your feelings down in the comments!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Review: The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

A bold, genre-bending epic that chronicles madness, obsession, and creation, from the Paleolithic era through the Witch Hunts and into the space-bound future.

Four linked stories boldly chronicle madness, obsession, and creation through the ages. Beginning with the cave-drawings of a young girl on the brink of creating the earliest form of writing, Sedgwick traverses history, plunging into the seventeenth century witch hunts and a 1920s insane asylum where a mad poet's obsession with spirals seems to be about to unhinge the world of the doctor trying to save him. Sedgwick moves beyond the boundaries of historical fiction and into the future in the book's final section, set upon a spaceship voyaging to settle another world for the first time. Merging Sedgwick's gift for suspense with science- and historical-fiction, Ghosts of Heaven is a tale is worthy of intense obsession.

I love Marcus Sedgwick. He's not afraid to take risks, and even if they don't pan out, his writing is beautiful and intriguing, so you don't really care. This book in particular, was inspired by the Sedgwick's love and fascination with spirals.

One of the most interesting things about The Ghosts of Heaven is its format. The book is a set of four interconnected stories, which the author (in his note in the beginning of the book) says can be read in any order you choose. In fact, he encourages you to do so! This means there are 24 possible ways to read this book. Each will form its own unique narrative. I find this fascinating, because it's potential for readers to have wildly different experiences while reading.

Now, the question is, does this work? To a degree, yes. Reading through, I caught signs of how the stories could connect in different ways. I personally chose to read straight through, the way Sedgwick laid it out in the book. I can easily see how it might be more interesting mixed up or backwards though!

Each of the four stories is vastly different. A girl in a land before written language when magic was still strong. A seventeenth century town in the middle of a witch hunt. An insane asylum on Long Island in the 1920s. A man aboard a spaceship far in the future, saving humanity by flying into the unknown. However, each of the stories revolves around the notion of the spiral--a natural phenomenon that speaks to these characters across the ages.

All of the stories are heartbreaking in their own unique way, and they all drew me in. I'll be honest though, the application of the spiral theme seemed a bit forced to me. I would have been equally as happy had the theme of it been a little less heavy-handed, and the audience left to create the connections on their own. While reading, I couldn't help thinking of Sedgwick's book Midwinterblood, which won the Printz award in 2014 and was far more successful in it's time-hop story telling.

All in all, while The Ghosts of Heaven wasn't my favorite book, I did enjoy it. I think it's a solid read, and if you like things that break genre and traditional form, this book is definitely one you should check out! In the mean time, I hope Mr. Sedgwick continues to take risks, because I will happily keep reading his work.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

A princess must find her place in a reborn world.

She flees on her wedding day.

She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor's secret collection.

She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father.

She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.

The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can't abide. Like having to marry someone she's never met to secure a political alliance.

Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.

This book was on my to-be-read list, but I'll be honest, it wasn't very high. It was one of those books that probably would have lingered on my list, forever unread, if a publicist friend of mine hadn't shoved it into my hands and told me to read it immediately. Boy, am I glad I listened!

The main reason I love this book, is because I love books that surprise me. When you read as many books as I do, it gets pretty easy to predict the twists and turns in a novel. NOT THIS ONE. This book took everything that I thought I knew and dumped it on my head while I sat there wondering what had just happened. At that point I was already hooked, but that turned my like of the book straight to love. 

The Kiss of Deception is a rich fantasy set in a beautiful and richly drawn world. From unique wedding traditions, to huge ruins scattered across the landscape, the Kingdom of Morrighan is one I would like to spend a lot more time in, within the books and otherwise!

Now, this book features a sort of love triangle. If you're one of those people so sick of love triangles that you just rolled your eyes, don't just yet. The way this love triangle is written is more of a couple with a tangent. There's not a lot of angst in deciding between guys here, and I think that's the way that it should be, whatever side of that choice you may be on. 

Lastly, I love Lia. I think she's a fantastically strong woman who at the same time is allowed to express fear, vulnerability, and weakness. I love that we got to see all three dimensions of her personality. I'd say she's easily one of the most complete characters I've read in recent YA history. 

All of that being said, I absolutely cannot wait for book 2!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: Here by Richard McGuire

Here is Richard McGuire's unique graphic novel based on the legendary 1989 comic strip of the same name.

Richard McGuire's groundbreaking comic strip Here was published under Art Spiegelman's editorship at RAW in 1989.

Built in six pages of interlocking panels, dated by year, it collapsed time and space to tell the story of the corner of a room - and its inhabitants - between the years 500,957,406,073 BC and 2033 AD.

The strip remains one of the most influential and widely discussed contributions to the medium, and it has now been developed, expanded and reimagined by the artist into this full-length, full-colour graphic novel - a must for any fan of the genre.

This book is super cool. It has very few words, and probably won't take you more than an hour to flip thorough, but it'll turn your brain around. 

We're all aware that other things have happened in the place we're sitting or standing, we ourselves probably did them. But have you ever though about the history of everything that has happened in the spot where you're standing, all the way back to the beginning of time? I haven't, and that particular thought is pretty staggering and more than a little daunting. 

Here explores this concept with one corner of one room on the ground floor of a house. We see children playing, romance unfolding, fights, family reunions, the ancient past and the far future. One of the most impacting images in the book was a spliced together page of people all saying the same thing in the same place across all the periods of time. 

This book is sure to make you fully aware of just how huge humanity is. How many people have come before us, and how many people will come after us when we're forgotten. It's pretty deep for a graphic novel, and I really enjoyed it! Definitely pick it up if you have the chance.