Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Title: Reconstructing Amelia
Author: Kimberly McCreight
Year Published: 2013

Genre: Adult fiction (though great for YA)
Pages: 380
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (New York)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book): Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is shocked when her daughter's exclusive Brooklyn private school calls to tell her that Amelia--her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old--has been caught cheating. But when Kate arrives at Grace Hall, she's blindsided by far more devastating news: Amelia is dead. Despondent, she's jumped from the school's roof. At least that's what Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. It's what she believes, too, until she gets the anonymous text: Amelia didn't jump. Now, Kate is going to find the truth--no matter where it leads. Sifting through Amelia's emails, text messages, and Facebook posts, Kate reconstructs the pieces of her daughter's life and the people in it, uncovering why she was on Grace Hall's roof that day--and how she died.

Review: What a good book! It felt a bit like a typical YA book: teenage drama; high school life; lust; romance; school work; and family, but it also felt like a mystery with Kate trying to figure out what happened to Amelia.

The high school stuff was done well. I hated some of the students for what they did to Amelia over the few months of school that the book covers. They were cruel, uncaring, self-centered, and down right mean. They were so sure that they knew what they were doing (boy this is difficult to talk about without giving anything away) and that they were entitled to control other people's lives. I say I hated the kids, but I also think they were real. I could see that they had redeeming qualities, but the mob mentality and peer pressure just got ahold of them all as it all fell apart.

The adults were also at fault when it came to doing their job. Many of them made poor choices in order to save themselves and their reputations rather than doing what was best for the kids. There were some adults who tried to do the right thing, but the fear of litigation got in the way.

If I didn't like the people in this book why did I like it so much? I think the characters were done really well and I liked the story; I was pulled in from the start and wanted to know what happened to Amelia. It is so easy for people to get pulled into something they know they shouldn't do and when one is a teenager it seems even easier. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder

Title: Girl Runner
Author: Carrie Snyder
Year Published: 2015

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 267
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map): Canada

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the TLC Tours for a review

Summary (from the back of the book): As a young runner, Aganetha Smart defied everyone's expectations to win a gold medal for Canada in the 1928 Olympics. It was a revolutionary victory, because this was the first Games in which women could compete in track events--and they did so despite opposition. But now Aganetha is in a nursing home, and nobody realizes that the frail centenarian was once a bold pioneer.

When two young strangers appear, asking to interview Aganetha for their film about female athletes, she readily agrees. Despite her frailty, she yearns for adventure and escape. And though her achievement may have been forgotten by history, her memories of chasing gold in Amsterdam remain sharp. But that triumph is only one thread of the rich tapestry of her life. Her remarkable story is colored by tragedy as well as joy, and in Girl Runner Carrie Snyder pulls back the layers of time to reveal how Aganetha's amazing athleticism helped her escape from a family burdened by sadness and sorrow. However, as much as Aganetha tries, she cannot outrun the past or the social conventions of her time. As the pieces of her life take shape, it becomes clear that these film makers may not be who they seem....

Review: I am part of a TLC Tour for this book, so thank you TLC for including me! I love the idea of this book: a trailblazing athletic woman in the 1920s. Awesome! In some ways I wish I had read the author's note before reading the novel since Snyder explains the connection between the novel and history (women's distance running in the Olympics, the Canadian women's track team in 1928, etc). I did wonder throughout the book how close to the truth the storyline was and I didn't know until the end that though the characters aren't real (except one), the concepts are.

Aganetha is a complex character caught between her world at home with a strange family: lots of childhood deaths; a dad who is constantly tearing down bits of the house to build odd structures; a mom who helps the pregnant and birthing women; bitter fighting with siblings; and more. Escaping her small town and her family is what Aganetha really needs! I so badly wanted her to find love, a job, athletic success, and a way out of her small town.

My only issue with the book is that there was a lot of back of forth through time, from the modern-day filmmakers to Aganetha's childhood to her adulthood, sometimes I got a bit confused as to which time period we were in since it would change without warning.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Review: Blowback by Valerie Plame and Sarah Lovett

Title: Blowback
Author: Valerie Plame and Sarah Lovett
Year Published: 2013

Genre: Adult Mystery/Spy
Pages: 393
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map): UK, Vienna, Czech Republic, Turkey and USA

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift

Summary (from the back of the book): Covert CIA ops officer Vanessa Pierson is finally close to capturing Bhoot, the world's most dangerous international nuclear arms dealer. One of her assets delivers explosive intel: Bhoot will be visiting a secret underground weapons facility in Iran in just a few days. But just as Pierson is about to get the facility location, an ambush leaves her informant dead. Now Pierson has two targets: Bhoot and the asset's sniper.

When all the Agency's resources aren't enough to protect her assets from Bhoot's assassin, Peirson risks going rogue and jeopardizing a fellow ops officer who is also her secret lover. With each day, the pressure of the manhunt mounts, forcing Person to put her cover and career--and life--at risk. With rapid-cut shifts from European capitals to Washington to the Near East, and with insider details that only a former spy could provide, Blowback marks the explosive beginning to a thrilling new series.

Review: Yes, this is the Valerie Plame. You remember her, the CIA spy who was outed by the Bush administration. I asked for this book for Christmas thinking it was her memoir. Duh me. But my mistake means that I got introduced to a great new series!

I really enjoyed this book. The main character is interesting and not perfect; she makes mistakes, has lapses in judgement, and I liked that I was inside her head. The secondary characters are also well done, from the CIA and MI6 operatives to the assassin himself. I feel as if I know a bit about them and how they fit into the main character's life. I look forward to getting to know these characters better over the series of books.

The story line is interesting and I assume it feels good and real because Valerie Plame was a CIA agent so has experiences that she can draw on to make the plot flow well and feel as if the reader is really there.

So, if you are into spy novels and want to read one with a female lead, check this one out!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Title: Vanishing Girls
Author: Lauren Oliver
Year Published: 2015

Genre: Young Adult fiction
Pages: 357
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map): USA (Connecticut)

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review

Summary (from the back of the book): Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara's beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl has vanished, too--nine-year-old Elizabeth Snow--and as Nick pursues her sister, she becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances may be linked and that Nick has to find her, before it's too late.

Review: I am not accepting books for review from authors and publishers anymore, but when I got a request to review Lauren Oliver's new book I couldn't resist! I really enjoyed her books Before I Fall and Delirium. Vanishing Girls is a good read, but I am not over the moon about it.

As the story progresses we learn that Dara and Nick (Nicole) are sisters who are really close. I liked that there are flashbacks so that we see the "before," which is where we get the sister relationship. I think this could have been even stronger so that the reader truly understands how close these two are/were. I definitely liked the way details of the girls' car accident are revealed slowly and we don't really know what happened until the very end of the book. That made me want to keep reading!

There is a lot of teenage drinking in this book, both as a social experience and as a way to cope with teenage angst. As a high school teacher I know adolescents do this, but it still bums me out and makes me sad that kids take to alcohol to have fun and to avoid. This book does a good job of showing that without glorifying it.

There is a plot twist (isn't there always?!) and it's a good one! It totally took me by surprise and ensured that I stayed up late last night to finish the book. Fans of Lauren Oliver will definitely enjoy this book.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Title: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns)
Author: Mindy Kaling
Year Published: 2011

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 222
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (New York and Los Angeles)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from Amazon): Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck-impersonating off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence "Can I just say one thing about this then I swear I shut up about this."

Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you've come to the right book, mostly. Mindy takes readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls.

Review: I went to Powell's in Portland, Oregon this past weekend and this is one of the books I bought. To be honest, she intrigues me and I don't know why. And, it's a paperback so I new I could carry it home along with the other books I bought. Terrible reason to buy a book, I know. But, guess what? I really, really enjoyed this book and finished it in two days.

The book is a collection of individual chapters or essays, all of which are not connected. She talks about college, comedy, romance (or a lack thereof), eating, fashion, shopping, friends, jobs, and mistakes she's made. She doesn't make any excuses for herself, which is refreshing.

My favorite chapter/essay is the one on how to approach popularity in high school. She talks about how she hung out with a small group of girls and had a great time not being part of the popular crowd and how it hasn't hurt her in the long run (obviously). In general this book is a breath of fresh air because it is sarcastic, funny, and she isn't pumping herself up to be perfect and wonderful, just a real person. She seems like the kind of person I'd like to hang out with and have my daughter meet.