Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Gone Series by Michael Grant

  Just like that, in the blink of an eye, everyone over the age of fifteen was gone. Teachers, parents, doctors, neighbors--all gone. Not one single adult left in Perdido Beach, California.
  No one knows where they've disappeared to. But if one thing's for sure, it's that things are going to get ugly in Perdido Beach. Very quickly.
  Children are starting to starve, tensions are getting high, young teens are becoming power hungry, and most of all, more and more kids are turning fifteen...and disappearing.
  What will become of the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone)? What will become of the children, young teens, and babies when they realize they are now cut off from the rest of the world? Only time will tell in the Gone series by Michael Grant.
  When I first read Gone, I didn't know what to think. I had read it for a book club discussion, and I had extreme mixed feelings.
  On one hand, the story was undeniably addicting. Why would every single adult in the FAYZ just disappear without a trace? Mid-driving, mid-cooking, mid-living their normal life just POOF. Vanished.
  I dove into it with an open mind, fully prepared to have my socks knocked off, but that wasn't what I got. I was slightly annoyed with all of the characters (and a bit confused with the story progression), but in the end, interested enough to purchase the rest of the series.
  After I read Gone, I rated it a three out of five stars. I liked it, but didn't love it.
  Fast-forward to about four (or so) years later. Yes, it took me that long to pick up the rest of the series. Life got chaotic, and so did my TBR list.
  In a spur of the moment, I decided to binge-read the rest of the series. I didn't feel the need to reread the first book, even though I had read it so long ago, because when I picked up Hunger (book two), Michael Grant surprisingly picked up where I left off. He reintroduced characters, went over what occurred in book one (which I was very grateful for), and somehow made it easier for me to dive back into the series after putting it down for so long.
  I don't know how my state of mind stands compared to how it was when I first picked up book one, but I LOVED Hunger. Book two hooked me so hard, I went back and changed my rating of Gone. Then when I read Lies (book three), I fell even more in love with the series.
  After that, I was sure that however I grew over the years, whether it be mentally, emotionally, or in maturity, it helped me appreciate this series for what it was. I fell in love with many characters, I couldn't stop reading, and I finally gave in to the fact that this series truly is genius.
  Now, this series isn't one of the best series I've ever read. There are many things that still irk me, and there are enough plot, moral, and character imperfections (in my opinion) for me to still groan "Meh" at points. I won't deny that. But there are not enough imperfections to outweigh the things that really drew my attention this time around.
  This series most-certainly will not appeal to everyone. I can name many things off the top of my head that will "turn off" many readers, but I can honestly say I gained a lot from finishing the series.
  In conclusion, you can't always base your opinion of an entire series on the first book. Or your mental and emotional state at the time. In my case, I think I was just too young to appreciate this story for what it was. It took time for me to mature enough to handle this series, and I'm glad it turned out that way. I wouldn't trade my experience of reading this series for anything in the world.
  So, if you're prepared, and you like your stories a little apocalyptic-ish, a little Stephen King-ish, and a little bit epic, pick up this series and let me know what you think.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bookish Meets Boy by Dianna Dann

  The plot of Bookish Meets Boy is in the title. Book-loving (and book-living) Sophie Childers has just had her heart broken by her dirtbag ex-boyfriend. And what will any bookworm do when they've had their heart broken? Drown their sorrows in fiction.
  Which isn't difficult for Sophie, because she works at Bookish, a small indie bookstore that is well loved in her hometown.
  Sophie has sworn off all men, until Reese Fuller makes an appearance in her own little personal romance novel. It's obvious that Reese is the most charismatic, charming, and beautiful man in Florida, but there's one problem that could possibly turn Sophie off forever. One GIANT, hairball problem.
  This was such an enjoyable little story. I have been a huge fan of Dianna Dann's work for a while, so of course I gladly accepted when I was approached to do this review. But Ms Dann did warn me that this genre was a change of pace for her, and me (as a reader).
  In the end, Ms Dann had nothing to fear, because I adored this book. Any bookworm will find themselves in Sophie, in both "bookish" nature, and character.
  The only problem I had, was that I wasn't "in love" with Reese. I fell in love with another character named Hugh, who is basically a male version of Sophie (but less goofy, and more calm). Reese being Reese aside, I loved his and Sophie's story, their back and forth, and, of course, their giant conflict.
  This was a very fun, light read. Bookish Meets Boy is guaranteed to make you smile, lighten your mood, and bring happiness into your heart.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Undivided by Stephanie Erickson

  Well, I knew this day would come, but I don't think I truly prepared myself for it. One of the series that has addicted me the most since becoming a book reviewer, the Unseen trilogy by Stephanie Erickson, is coming to a close.
  Mackenzie "Mack" Day has accepted the fate she was destined to fulfill, the terrorist group The Potestas have succeeded in constructing their ultimate plan of destruction and anguish, and the Unseen are coming to the climax of their story.
  This is Undivided.
  From the day I started Unseen (book one in the trilogy), and frantically messaged Ms Erickson to tell her how deeply hooked I was with her story, I knew I was in love. I have read many wonderful stories since the day I started blogging and writing reviews, but Stephanie Erickson's books are unlike any other. I had such an enormous book hangover from reading Unseen, I couldn't even concentrate on the book signing I was attending at the time. All that kept running through my head was, "But what is Mackenzie doing right now? Is Owen with her? Most of all, is (my favorite character) Mitchell okay??"
  Although Ms Erickson was thrilled to hear my feedback of one of her novels, she grew apprehensive about the next book that was soon to be released. Would I devour Unforgiven as much as I devoured Unseen? What if the next two books didn't hold the same magic as book one?
  I was nervous too. This has happened with me before. I'll fall in love with book one, but as the series goes on, I'll lose interest and chalk it up to the fact that the author should have kept the series as a novel. (Of course this is just my opinion, but I would bet money that every reader goes through something similar at least once in their life.)
  Stephanie and I were both worried when it came time for Unforgiven to be released.
  Little did we know that we had absolutely nothing to be worried about. Not a thing. Because Unforgiven was JUST as incredible as Unseen, if not better. I once heard an author say, "I want to hear that my fans favor my more recent books as opposed to my earlier novels. I want to know I am getting better."
  In this case, and although I love her earlier novels as much as her later ones, I think Ms Erickson is getting better.
  Fast forward to two weeks (or so) ago. Ms Erickson informed me that book three was in my inbox, and ready to be read and reviewed. Before I started it, we had a similar discussion to the one we had when book two came out.
  The entire trilogy's fate was resting in Undivided's hands. If this one flopped, would I look at the entire trilogy differently? Would I have to go to Goodreads and sorrowfully rate it a four or (inhales) a three? (Let's not even talk about the possibility of a two...I can't see rating ANY Erickson book a two.)
  I think it's safe to say that Stephanie and I both were incredibly nervous to hear my feedback this time.
  Without spoilers, and without ruining the ending, I am thrilled to say that Undivided was the most perfect ending for the Unseen trilogy. Nothing was rushed, and there were no miraculous, "Oh look, the heroine just annihilated every single one of the bad guys with one blast of her gun" scenes that wrapped up the story in one neat little package. There were twists that I didn't expect (and definitely didn't see coming), and most importantly, the final installment of the Unseen trilogy did not disappoint one bit.
  In fact, it may be my favorite of the series. Or, well, I don't know. Perhaps I'll have to reread them to form a more objective opinion...
  All in all, the trilogy lived up to my expectations. It's one of the best series I've read as a reviewer, and I stand by that statement wholeheartedly.
  I look forward to the many, many other books Ms Erickson has plans to write (especially her upcoming book, The Fate, and the final installments of her The Dead Room series), but I will be honest with you when I say that I will miss Mack with every fiber of my being.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

  I'm sure that by now, we've all heard the story of Go Set a Watchman.
  There was talk of a "sequel" to Harper Lee's beloved classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the word about town was that it was to be published (possibly) against Harper Lee's will. That her current caretaker was taking advantage of an older lady, and was causing her nothing but grief.
  Before the book was even published, there was an ongoing hum all across the literary world about this book, and the controversy it was destined to carry.
  Many of my friends told me they would not read it. No way, no how. They couldn't support a book that possibly could have been published under such questionable circumstances.
  Once the book started circulating around reviewers, readers became more turned off by talk of "Atticus Finch not being the man we all came to love." I won't specify exactly what the problem was, but fans were in an uproar about one of their favorite characters in literary history showing up in a different, and less lovable, light.
  Fast-forward a bit more to talk of Go Set a Watchman not being a sequel per se, but a rough copy and outline of what To Kill a Mockingbird was supposed to be. With the way it was skewered by its audience, if Go Set a Watchman was published back in the 1960s instead of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee would possibly not be the icon she is today. Actually, who knows. Perhaps everyone's expectations were too high when they heard that a "To Kill a Mockingbird sequel was coming out!" Perhaps fans of the original story judged the book before they even got their hands on it. Perhaps too many people across the world were the ones that turned this story into a flop, not the author herself.
  But I digress...
  I battled with it myself for a while. Do I want to read this book, and possibly sully my opinion of Scout, Atticus, and Harper Lee? Do I want to read it and see what happens, just out of curiosity? Do I want to pretend it doesn't exist and hug my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird close to my chest, shut my eyes, and pretend that the world is beautiful place where no bad sequels exist?
  In the end, I figured that it was important I read the book, and form an honest, unbiased opinion of my own. I wasn't going to allow word through the grapevine to hinder my opinion of a book most folks haven't even bothered to read.
  I was going in.
  Now let's go back, 30 years later from where we last visited Scout...
  And that's as far as I'm going, folks. If you're curious about what happens in Go Set a Watchman, I implore you to actually read it. Why?
  Because. I. Loved. It.
  I fell so hard for this book, it completely made me change the way I view To Kill a Mockingbird, FOR THE BETTER. I can't guarantee that every reader will have the same marvelous reading experience that I had, but you most certainly will not know unless you try.
  I prepared myself for awful writing, a weak plot line, and for my beloved characters to turn into hideous, child-feasting monsters, but that didn't happen.
  What did happen? Harper Lee's characters came to life.
  No longer was Atticus Finch a man from the 1930s who was too good to be true. He has now become human.
  No longer was Scout a wide-eyed little girl, just learning about the cruelties of the world. She has now become a woman, wise and powerful beyond her years, and won't stand for anything unsavory.
  No longer was Maycomb County the County you knew when you first picked up To Kill a Mockingbird. Maycomb County is now an entity you would see through the eyes of a grown up Scout.
  Go Set a Watchman made To Kill a Mockingbird real. Go Set a Watchman is the other half of the story I didn't know I needed in my life until now. It packs such a powerful punch, I felt breathless when I finished the last page. Then cue wracking sobs that coursed through my body for the next two hours.
  I don't know what the critics of this book found when they opened it up...I don't know what readers read that turned them off so, but I'm glad I didn't have that experience. I'm glad I was able to go into this book with an open heart, and an open mind, and take something beautiful and meaningful from it. (And in my opinion, some of the negatives that were taken from this book wouldn't have been negatives at all if the critics actually finished the book.)
  In my opinion, this book was cursed from the very beginning. It didn't have a chance.
  As I said, not everyone will have this experience. You may read this review, pick up the book, and curse me for misleading you. (There's honestly nothing I can do about that!) But this is what I took from Go Set a Watchman, and I regret nothing. Absolutely nothing.
  Go Set a Watchman was everything I could have wanted (and much, much more) in a "sequel," "rough draft," or whatever you want to call it. I am fully aware that I am currently, and possibly will forever be, in the small percentage of people who actually like or even love this book, and I've come to terms with it. It's not the first time one of my favorite books has been raked over the coals.
  This book left an impression on my soul, and I will hold it close to my heart wherever I go.

  So, readers, I implore you. Please read a book before you carve your opinion of it in stone. No good will ever come of that. If I had listened to all of the negative gossip and reviews of this book, I never would have had the extraordinary reading experience I just had. So please, think before you read.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  After a frantic realization that I have never actually written a review for Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the most important and iconic books in literary history, I decided that I needed to sit down and write a nicely thought out review. 
  But I had to do it right. I had to plan this out perfectly, just as I did with my Princess Bride read. (Side note: Don't forget to write about that as well.) 
  In the wake of the newly released Go Set a Watchman, I set up my reading plan and To Be Read list without hesitation. Step One: Reread To Kill a Mockingbird. Step Two: Read Go Set a Watchman, and form your own, unbiased opinion about the book. Step Three: Review both, separately, and express your opinion to the world (no matter what fallout you may receive).
  So, here I am. This is my completion of Step One, and part of Step Three. 
  To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of a young girl, Scout, as she grows up in the 1930s south with her brother, Jem, her father, Atticus, and their reclusive and mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley. But any Harper Lee fan will tell you that that summary is nothing. It's not even a chip off the tip of the iceberg. It's merely a glance into Scout's world, and it covers positively nothing about the story. If you haven't already, you're just going to have to pick up the book to fully appreciate what it entails. 
  When I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, I was in my mid (to late) teens. Some parts of the book were dry to me, but overall a powerful and important read. 
  Fast-forward to now, about five (or so) years later. 
  Rereading a book is like returning to your old hometown and revisiting long-lost friends. You've kept contact over the years, but there's something undeniable about actually returning home to a familiar place. You're aware of how things run, you know what's going to happen while you're "in town," and just being there comes as second nature, like breathing. 
  But there's a certain newly found appreciation that comes with revisiting a story like this. You begin to finally get things you missed the first time around. You understand more, especially since you've aged a good few years, and have grown more experienced since the last time you read it. The more time you spend with Scout, the more the aspects of To Kill a Mockingbird, such as innocence, bravery, family, and truth, become bold in the eyes of the reader. 
  Please excuse me if the following sentence oversteps the fine line between "book reviewer" and "hipster blogger."
  Anyone who has read and appreciated To Kill a Mockingbird must know that Harper Lee was a woman ahead of her time. I've heard that the book is many years ahead of its time, and while that is true, I believe that the focus should mainly be on the author herself. I believe that, if possible, she, as a person, would be even more appreciated if this book had come out in this day and age. (Of course To Kill a Mockingbird wouldn't nearly be as popular as it is if it hadn't come out when it did, but imagine the possibility of this book being released in the 2010s.) 
  I think what I'm trying to say is, that since this book was written and released so long ago, it's become overshadowed by the "classic" label, therefore rendering it boring and dry in the eyes of readers. (And only talked about recently because of the whole Go Set a Watchman debacle.) But again, any reader and lover of this story would know that this book is anything but. 
  To Kill a Mockingbird is an absolute masterpiece. Argue all you want, and I will respectfully disagree, but this book is popular for a reason. If extraterrestrials were to fly down to Earth and request a book that humans consider a guide to mankind, To Kill a Mockingbird is it. Why? Because not only does it prove that there are kind people in the world, it shows how awful and unfair we can be as well. This book is real. It's sweet, heartwarming, and it can make you all warm and fuzzy inside, but it doesn't sugar-coat life. To Kill a Mockingbird is well-loved, award-winning, and required reading for a reason. 
  It would be an understatement to say that this reread of mine only solidified that fact. I would say (more likely) that it brought it to life. 
  Another understatement would be to say that To Kill a Mockingbird is just a favorite book of mine. I love and care about many books. I love series I read when I was little, I love young adult books packed solid with romance and violence, and I love independently published books and classics alike. So, I don't think it would be fair to classify this exceptional story as "just a favorite of mine." 
  To Kill a Mockingbird is not just a paper and glue-bound book, it's a guide to life. 

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