Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Lost Summer by Kathryn Williams

From Goodreads:
For the past nine years, Helena Waite has been returning to summer camp at Southpoint. Every year the camp and its familiar routines, landmarks, and people have welcomed her back like a long-lost family member. But this year she is returning not as a camper, but as a counselor, while her best friend, Katie Bell remains behind. All too quickly, Helena discovers that the innocent world of campfires, singalongs, and field days have been pushed aside for late night pranks on the boys' camp, skinny dipping in the lake, and stolen kisses in the hayloft. As she struggles to define herself in this new world, Helena begins to lose sight of what made camp special and the friendships that have sustained her for so many years. And when Ransome, her longtime crush, becomes a romantic reality, life gets even more confusing.

I have no idea where this book came from. I mean, it came from the publisher, but I'm not sure if they just sent it to me out of the kindness of their hearts or if I requested it and don't remember or...who knows. All I know is: I love free books.

For a fairly fluffy book this one still had me chewing over it several hours later.

The story itself was fine, but it was the details. Kathryn Williams has been a teenager girl among other teenage girls. All the drama and insecurities's all here. And I can't decide whether I loved walking down memory lane or resented being forced to relive it. I loved the camp memories but squirmed my way through the girl drama. I closed the book thinking, "Wow, I experienced ALL of that crap" and judging from the comments on Goodreads, I'm not alone. Change a few of the details (ahem, hay loft) and I could have written this book about my summers at church girls' camps. Or, really, all my time in junior high and high school.

And I really loved the ending. That's always a good thing.

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

From Goodreads:
In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: for the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen, terrified but intrigued, is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.

I think Katy possibly has excellent taste in hopelessly charming novels. First with Sorcery & Cecilia and now with A Certain Slant of Light, which she has recommended several times on her book blog as one of her all time favorites. It's not one that I think I would have picked up otherwise, but the strength of her recommendation was enough and holy cow I loved every second of it.

I felt like the book had all the wonderful heartfelt adolescent first love stuff that Sarah Dessen does so well but with the added bonus of gorgeous writing, an interesting supernatural element, and a wonderful bit of redemption at the end that had me sobbing as quietly as possible on my side of the bed so as not to wake Aaron since I stayed up way past bed time to finish reading.

An easy addition to my list of favorites.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

From Goodreads:
In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

But, slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future - between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?
(I'm going to do a little spoiling here, so if you don't want to know, don't keep reading)

I was terrified to read this book.

Once upon a time I could handle scary stuff. I watched X-Files alone in the dark at night. I read some legitimately freaky ghost stories. I was my mom's scary movie watching partner. I reveled in scary stuff. Sure, sometimes I had to sleep with the closet light on, but mostly I could handle it.

Then came The Grudge. I don't know what it was about that movie but it. scared. me. Scared me silly. And then I didn't handle scary stuff very well anymore. It's like the part of my brain that compartmentalized the scary stuff so that I didn't see things in corners or have nightmares switched off. And suddenly being scared wasn't fun anymore.

So, ya, a zombie book where I knew most of the characters died? Scary.

And wasn't that bad. I mean, I wouldn't want to watch it in movie form (though, the picture of Mary on the cover looks a lot like Summer Glau to me and I'm pretty sure she'd do nicely in the role, especially since she has a history of zombie butt kicking) and ya, pretty much everyone dies, but I wasn't freaking out while reading it or anything. And it was beautifully written, as promised.

I had some issues with unanswered questions (mostly about the Sisterhood) but put it down feeling like I maybe enjoyed the book and I really liked the main character and the writing was lovely and hey...not so bad!

And then I had zombie nightmares all night. So...ya. Won't be reading this one again.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Messenger by Lois Lowry

From Goodreads:

For the past six years, Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man, known for his special sight. Village was a place that welcomed newcomers, but something sinister has seeped into Village and the people have voted to close it to outsiders. Matty has been invaluable as a messenger. Now he must make one last journey through the treacherous forest with his only weapon, a power he unexpectedly discovers within himself.

I was so excited to discover that The Giver had a companion book called Gathering Blue. Imagine my surprise when it turns out that it actually has TWO. And really, Gathering Blue was a companion book to The Giver since it didn't actually have much to do with Lois Lowry's original except a general sort of post-apocalyptic weird controlling village concept, but The Messenger is more like a sequel. To both. And I want to talk about how awesome that is but it is way more fun figuring it out for yourself.

While I loved the aspect that I referred to above but can't talk about without spoiling it, The Messenger had all these random elements of..magic? or something? that weren't such a big deal in the previous two books. Sure Jonas could do the memory passing thing and Kira has an almost supernatural ability at creating fiber art and those abilities were important to the stories, but they weren't so much the focus.

The Messenger goes a totally different way. Suddenly everything is magic..the forest has magic, people have special abilities, something supernaturally evil is going on. It doesn't talk about it in quite those terms, but it all felt out of place beside the other two books and I didn't care for that part.

If you loved The Giver then it's worth reading, but I didn't love it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson

The Goodreads description is a smidge lengthy, so I'll just link to it here in case you want a bit more of a synopsis, but the title is pretty descriptive. And you probably already kind of know how it ends. If not, I'm going to spoil it for you a bit here: Lincoln and Booth die (sorry).

Whilst wandering around the National Book Festival we walked by the Children/YA tent while James Swanson was talking about the 3 versions of this book. He wrote Manhunt for adults, then adapted the book into a YA and children's book form. Janssen and I kept looking at each other and saying, "We are totally going to read this book." Janssen actually just posted a review of the YA version on her blog. Swanson had us totally convinced. I don't even remember what he said, but he was really knowledgeable in an interesting and passionate way and as soon as I got home I put the book on hold at the library.

Between the book festival and getting home to put the book on hold though, my mom and I went to Ford's Theater and the Peterson house (the house across the street where Lincoln actually died) on our last day in DC. Having just been there and walked through the places and DC intersections mentioned in the book made it that much more interesting, but I also kind of wish I had read the book first because I think I would have appreciated the basement museum at Ford's theater a little more. I saw Booth's boot and compass and a bunch of stuff the book mentioned and sort of just wandered by without thinking too much about it. Except then I read the book and I was like, "I SAW THAT BOOT!!"

Trips to national landmarks aside, I would have loved this book without visiting DC. Nonfiction can be a tough genre to write interestingly and even tougher to plow through as a reader if it's not done well. But Manhunt is done exceptionally well. I do remember James Swanson saying that he didn't want to make Booth the hero in his books and I kind of thought, "well, duh." But having read the book I could see how it would be hard to make him not the hero. Booth was ridiculously good looking, charismatic, a southern gentleman hanging on to the dying Gone with the Wind ideals. Swanson does a good job of pointing out that he was also vain, not always particularly bright, and a racist on top of being a cold blooded killer. I didn't come away with any sympathy for John Wilkes Booth.

I did, however, totally fall in love with Lincoln. Swanson has said that he's the real hero and he does an excellent job of showing us why. I had to hold it together through the part when he finally died the morning after the shooting. It was pretty heart-rending.

I also want to mention that I had NO IDEA about what has gone on with Ford's Theater since the shooting. I just assumed while I was there that it was more or less the same place Lincoln got shot but it was gutted and used as a government office for a while until a floor collapsed and KILLED 20 PEOPLE. Then they restored it to look the way it did when Lincoln was shot and turned it into a museum. And I'm not really sure why the deaths of 20 people isn't mentioned while you're there because it seems like kind of a big deal to me. It's possible I just missed it though since Wes was ready for a nap at that point.

Also, the book leads us along to Booth getting shot on April 26th, which is my birthday. Which makes my birthday and the book that much cooler. Take THAT Booth.