Guy In Real Life – Steve Brezenoff

Guy In Real LIfeTitle: Guy In Real Life
Author: Steve Brezenoff
Published: Balzer + Bray, May 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

From the acclaimed author of Brooklyn, Burning  comes Guy in Real Life, an achingly real and profoundly moving love story in the vein of Rainbow Rowell and John Green, about two Minnesota teens whose lives become intertwined through school, role-playing games, and a chance two-a.m. bike accident.

It is Labor Day weekend in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and boy and girl collide on a dark street at two thirty in the morning: Lesh, who wears black, listens to metal, and plays MMOs; Svetlana, who embroiders her skirts, listens to Björk and Berlioz, and dungeon masters her own RPG. They should pick themselves up, continue on their way, and never talk to each other again.

But they don’t.

This is a story of two people who do not belong in each other’s lives, who find each other at a time when they desperately need someone who doesn’t belong in their lives. A story of those moments when we act like people we aren’t in order to figure out who we are. A story of the roles we all play-at school, at home, with our friends, and without our friends-and the one person who might show us what lies underneath it all.

I am not a gamer.  I don’t play MMO.  I don’t do RPG.  I don’t listen to metal music.  I don’t sew.  But this book grabbed my attention.  Even when I had a gazillion things to do during the day, I managed to squeeze in a few minutes here and there, just to open the book and escape into the worlds of Lesh and Svetlana.  Their lives were very different from mine and yet I felt a deep connection with these characters.

It’s kind of hard to describe why I liked the story.  I guess part of it was because I didn’t exactly know where the story was taking me.  Two strangers collided.  Until the first day of school, they didn’t even know if they would ever meet again.  Lesh, a sixteen-year-old, was a sophomore.  He hadn’t tried many things in his life and was reluctant to be an obedient teen.  Svetlana, a senior, was a talented artist.  She knew what she didn’t want but felt somewhat trapped by the mundane transition to become a responsible adult.  They might seem to be from two different worlds but as the story progressed, I found that they weren’t that  different.  It was interesting to see their perspectives, their views towards their family members, their wants to be in their comfort zones, and their needs to get out of their disorderly ruts.

It might seem as though nothing much had happened in the story.  The ending didn’t offer a usual tone of finitude but as I closed the book and reflected on what I read, I actually liked the ending.  It gave off a nice contrast to all the elements that were given in the very beginning.  The characters had changed and I appreciated both the subtle and not-so-subtle thought-provoking moments.

What intrigued me the most was that I felt I had somehow changed just by reading the story.  I think Guy In Real Life  is a wonderful coming-of-age novel.  It’s not preachy.  The character dynamics are very well-developed, and I like that something unpredicted happened and ‘shocked me to my senses’.  I think I’ll remember this story for a very long time.

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A World Without Princes – Soman Chainani

A World Without PrincesTitle: A World Without Princes
Series: The School For Good And Evil, #2
Author: Soman Chainani
Published: HarperCollins, April 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

In the epic sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel, The School for Good and Evil, Sophie and Agatha are home, living out their Ever After. But life isn’t quite the fairy tale they expected.

When Agatha secretly wishes she’d chosen a different happy ending, she reopens the gates to the School for Good and Evil. But the world she and Sophie once knew has changed.

Witches and princesses, warlocks and princes are no longer enemies. New bonds are forming; old bonds are being shattered. But underneath this uneasy arrangement, a war is brewing and a dangerous enemy rises. As Agatha and Sophie battle to restore peace, an unexpected threat could destroy everything, and everyone, they love—and this time, it comes from within.

Soman Chainani has created a spectacular world that Newbery Medal-winning author Ann M. Martin calls, “a fairy tale like no other, complete with romance, magic, and humor that will keep you turning pages until the end.”

After the defeat of the School Master, Sophie and Agatha thought their lives would be back to normal. But everything changed when they each made a wish.  Could they still remain good friends and live their happily ever after?

I loved book one, The School for Good and Evil,  and so I was eager to find out what might be going on in this installment.  It was still a lot of fun reading about Sophie, Agatha and their friends but because things were grimmer in this book, I felt a bit uneasy as the girls struggled to stay true to their heartfelt desires.  The bond of friendship was not as strong as they once believed and it was sad but indisputably engrossing to see what the girls picked this time around to make up for the emptiness that they each felt after the victory they had in book one.

Both Sophie and Agatha learned a different side about themselves in this installment.  What I loved about this series was that the characters didn’t immediately become a better or worse version of themselves whenever they faced a new challenge.  They didn’t just overcome obstacles on the outside.  They had inner demons that they must fight and their characters gradually grew and changed through some quiet, self-reflective moments.  They might not learn from their mistakes right away but I guess this just made them more real and human to me.  And while the story structure was very similar to that of book one, I enjoyed the new spin on trial and adversity – there were quite a few tough moments and I liked that a new villain was introduced to make things even more complicated for the girls.

The story wasn’t purely plot-driven.  There were moments where human vices were mocked through humor and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the raw, witty sentiments expressed by the characters.  The ending felt a bit rushed and I was left frustrated as I still had a bunch of questions in my mind unanswered.  Bet I’ll just have to wait till the next installment comes out. *sigh*

Rating:

The Castle Behind Thorns – Merrie Haskell

The Castle Behind Thorns Title: The Castle Behind Thorns
Author: Merrie Haskell
Published: Katherine Tegen Books, May 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

A magical adventure set in an enchanted castle that is sure to appeal to fans of Gail Carson Levine, Karen Cushman, and Shannon Hale

When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside-from dishes to candles to apples-torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. Why wasn’t this in the stories?

To survive, Sand does what he knows best-he fires up the castle’s forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place?

Unexpectedly, Sand finds the lost heir, Perrotte, a girl who shares the castle’s astonishing secrets and dark history. Putting together the pieces-of stone and iron, and of a broken life-is harder than Sand ever imagined, but it’s the only way to gain their freedom, even with the help of the guardian saints.

With gorgeous language and breathtaking magic, Merrie Haskell’s The Castle Behind Thorns tells of the power of memory and story, forgiveness and strength, and the true gifts of craft and imagination.

This story began with a boy named Sand waking up inside an abandoned castle.  Without knowing how he got inside the castle, Sand attempted to leave but the thorns surrounding the castle attacked him, making him feel irritated, annoyed and desolated.  With all exits blocked by thorns, could Sand manage to survive long enough before someone came and rescued him?

I was so glad that this story wasn’t about Sand waiting for people to come and get him out of a bad place.  Sand was in distress but he didn’t dwell in his bad moods.  He worked out ways to get himself food and water and he used his skills as a blacksmith to fix things up so that he had tools to help him survive.  I liked that he didn’t mind getting sweaty and dirty to do some hard work.  When he saw broken items, he didn’t just discard them.  He used his imagination and then turned these seemingly useless items into something useful.  I also liked that he was sensible.  He had a quiet determination to make the best out of his situation.  Even when there wasn’t much for him to feel appreciative about, I liked that he focused on the good and not the bad.

Perrotte, the lost heir of the castle, was a different story.  She carried a lot of rage and all she could think of was to punish those who had wronged her.  But with Sand patiently helping her get through her pain and sorrow, she started seeing life a little differently.  I liked how the growth of thorns was tied to her (and Sand) in its intricate way and it’s wonderful to see how Perrotte made her choice in the end to make the thorns go away.

Delightfully imaginative and beautifully written, The Castle Behind Thorns  is a story that offers good, profound messages for both kids and adults.  I think this one will soon become a favorite among libraries, schools and book clubs.  Look out for this title when it’s released in May 2014 – highly recommended!

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House Of Ivy & Sorrow – Natalie Whipple

House of Ivy & Sorrow Title: House Of Ivy & Sorrow
Author: Natalie Whipple
Published: HarperTeen, April 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline. Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.

Witchcraft is dark stuff and Josephine Hemlock knows it’s up to her to control magic or be consumed by it. When strangers start showing up in her town, Jo senses dark forces and danger. Is her mother’s killer finally making the fatal move to end the Hemlock bloodline?

I started reading this late at night and before I knew it, it was 5 in the morning.  House Of Ivy & Sorrow  was amazingly entertaining!  Almost everything about this book made me giggle – small-town setting, neighborly characters, hair-pulling spells – the ingredients used in conjuring spells were not meant for the faint of heart and I nervously laughed and winced whenever the witches gave up their nails, flesh and teeth to activate spells.  No wonder old witches all looked ragged, toothless and rotten!

I really liked that there wasn’t any battle between white magic and black magic.   In this story, all magic was dark.  Depends on the level of intention and control, magic could be wielded, directed to make a situation better (if the intention was good) or worse (if the intention was foul).   If the witch lacked control, she could be consumed by the darkness of magic and ultimately be destroyed.  Because there was always a price to be paid to call upon magic, Jo learned at a very young age that unless the benefits truly outweighed the price, she should never tap into the darkness.  I liked the brief explanation of why certain ingredients were used in a spell.  The symbolic meaning of these ingredients helped me see why Jo and her Nana were powerful but friendly witches as opposed to those nasty ones who simply aimed at stealing and destroying lives.  It’s disgusting to learn about those who lived to destroy but without them, I guess I wouldn’t see how Jo put herself in action and used what she knew to fight, give and create.

Remarkably entertaining, House Of Ivy & Sorrow  is a bizarrely addictive story not to be dismissed in my opinion.  Don’t let the cackling of a witch stop you from picking this one up – I hope you’ll have fun reading it as much as I did!

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Fly Away – Kristin Hannah

Today, I’m going to share an audio sample of the book, Fly Away,  as well as a Q & A with author Kristin Hannah.

The paperback of  Fly Away  was just released on March 25, 2014.

fly-awayTitle: Fly Away
Series: Firefly Lane, #2
Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: St. Martin’s Press, April 2013
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Links: goodreads | amazon.com

Once, a long time ago, I walked down a night-darkened road called Firefly Lane, all alone, on the worst night of my life, and I found a kindred spirit. That was our beginning. More than thirty years ago. TullyandKate. You and me against the world. Best friends forever. But stories end, don’t they? You lose the people you love and you have to find a way to go on. . . .

Tully Hart has always been larger than life, a woman fueled by big dreams and driven by memories of a painful past. She thinks she can overcome anything until her best friend, Kate Ryan, dies. Tully tries to fulfill her deathbed promise to Kate–to be there for Kate’s children–but Tully knows nothing about family or motherhood or taking care of people.

Sixteen-year-old Marah Ryan is devastated by her mother’s death. Her father, Johnny, strives to hold the family together, but even with his best efforts, Marah becomes unreachable in her grief. Nothing and no one seems to matter to her . . . until she falls in love with a young man who makes her smile again and leads her into his dangerous, shadowy world.

Dorothy Hart–the woman who once called herself Cloud–is at the center of Tully’s tragic past. She repeatedly abandoned her daughter, Tully, as a child, but now she comes back, drawn to her daughter’s side at a time when Tully is most alone. At long last, Dorothy must face her darkest fear: Only by revealing the ugly secrets of her past can she hope to become the mother her daughter needs.

A single, tragic choice and a middle-of-the-night phone call will bring these women together and set them on a poignant, powerful journey of redemption. Each has lost her way, and they will need one another–and maybe a miracle–to transform their lives.

An emotionally complex, heart-wrenching novel about love, motherhood, loss, and new beginnings, Fly Away reminds us that where there is life, there is hope, and where there is love, there is forgiveness.

· · ·

Audio

Listen to Chapter One
from Kristin Hannah’s Fly Away audiobook,
read by Susan Ericksen.

You can also click here to listen to the audio sample.

· · ·

Q &A
with Kristin Hannah

When it was first published, you described Firefly Lane as the book that hit closest to home for you. What is it about the story of Kate and Tully that continues to be so meaningful to you?

Of all the books I’ve written, Firefly Lane has the most of me on every page. I grew up in the town where the novel is set; I lived in the house that was described. I was very much of that era. I went to the University of Washington, and got the same degree as Kate and Tully did. The world of Firefly Lane is very much my world. Also, I lost my own mom to breast cancer. That’s a very personal story that I wanted to tell. Writing Firefly Lane was my way of looking back on the loss of my mom and understand­ing it as a woman. Additionally, I wanted to give readers some information about what to look for with breast cancer that maybe they didn’t know. So the book has a really important and personal mes­sage for me, too.

You seem unafraid to make your characters suffer. Is that hard for you? Do you suffer along with them?

Actually, I love to put my characters in really difficult positions. In writing about women in the worst years in their lives, I allow my characters to really discover who they are at their core. I guess when it’s all said and done, I believe in the power of transformation. I believe that hard times both shape us and reveal us. It’s a stressful and dangerous world out there, and we women try to do so much. So much of fiction—and the nightly news—focuses on the negative situa­tions that exist around us. I guess it feels important to me to remind people that optimism matters and effort can be rewarded. We can survive really difficult times—and not just survive but ultimately triumph. My books tend to be about women coming into their own and triumphing and living their best lives.

Do you ever miss your characters after you’ve fin­ished writing about them?

It takes me between a year and two years to write a novel, with fourteen months being about average. Over the course of it, I do a lot of prep work—and a lot of drafts. So, by the time I get to the end of a novel, I really feel like I’ve created the best version of the story, and the best characters within that framework. Once I’ve done what I set out to do, I am ready to move on to something else. Firefly Lane is the one exception. That’s why it’s the only follow-up novel I’ve ever done. Because I did keep Tully and Cloud, in particular, in my head. And I really wanted to know what happened to them after the loss of Kate.

Is it hard for you when a character you’ve created dies?

It’s harder for me to write the emotional reaction scenes. In other words, it was harder to write about Kate’s death from Tully’s perspective or Marah’s than from Kate’s. Because, frankly, nobody ever accidental­ly dies in my books; I know from the beginning who’s going to live and who’s going to die. So I am guard­ing against that emotion. But I’m often surprised, after the book is done and I read it, that it can be really emotional for me—although it’s never the death than catches me off guard, it’s the little moments that get me. In Fly Away, it was Kate thinking about her sons—just sentences really, but they hit home.

Is there anything you’ve always wished a reader would ask you? What is that question—and how would you answer it?

Yes! I wish one reader one day would ask me to please write more slowly. Because what I get constantly is:” “Can’t you write any faster?”

Buy the book:
Amazon.com

About the Author

kristin-hannahFollow Kristin:
website | facebook | twitter | goodreads

KRISTIN HANNAH is the author of 20 novels, including Night Road, Firefly Lane, True Colors, Winter Garden, and the #1 New York Times bestseller Home Front.

Born in Southern California and raised in Western Washington, where most of her novels are set, Kristin now divides her time between Washington State and Hawaii, when not traveling with her husband.

 

Sweet Reckoning – Wendy Higgins

Sweet ReckoningTitle: Sweet Reckoning
Series: The Sweet Trilogy, #3
Author: Wendy Higgins
Published: HarperTeen, April 2014
Source: received a copy from publisher
Links: [goodreads][amazon.com][the book depository]

It’s time.

Evil is running rampant and sweet Anna Whitt is its target. Nobody knows when or how the Dukes will strike, but Anna and her Nephilim allies will do anything necessary to rid the earth of the demons and their oppressive ways.

The stakes are higher than ever, and Anna is determined that the love she feels will be her strength, not a liability. But trying to protect the ones she loves while running for her life and battling demonic forces proves to be perilous—especially as faces are changing and trust is fleeting. When the Duke of Lust sends Anna’s great love, Kaidan Rowe, to work against her, Anna must decide how much she’s prepared to risk.

In the most sensual and fast-paced installment yet, Sweet Reckoning brings all the beloved Neph together one last time to fight for their freedom.

Ever since Anna discovered the truth about who she is, she has been trying everything possible to stay alive. But can she trust her allies, outsmart the Duke of Lust and get rid of all demons on Earth?

I really enjoyed the character growth of Anna in this series.  Being brought up under the good influence of her adopted mother, Anna was sweet, kind and loving.  When she learned about the identity of her parents, she knew that she must learn to mask her goodness under the image of a party girl if she hoped to survive and protect her loved ones.  With demons constantly checking up on her, it wasn’t easy to live a life devoted to goodness but Anna still managed to honor love and do her best to fight the urge against addictive desires.   I really liked the few scenes about her struggling with addiction and dark desires in this installment – these scenes really brought out her helplessness and I cried when she could hardly hang onto her sobriety.

I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed the cast of characters in this series.  I wasn’t on Team Kaidan in book one but by the end of the series, I was totally his fan.  I bawled when I read the epilogue as I was so so SO HAPPY to see him embrace his vulnerability and learn to let go of his guilt.  It was fun to get to know Anna’s father – I didn’t expect to like him this much to be honest.  But what shocked me the most was the fate of Anna’s adopted mother – she was one of my favorites from the very beginning and I was nearly heartbroken towards the end to watch her endure the things she had to go through.

Although the battle between good and evil wasn’t as intense as I’d like it to be, I still enjoyed reading about the struggle of repentance, loss and conversion.  What I felt slightly uncertain of was the notion of staying pure in order to be worthy.  I understood from a religious perspective but I guessed what I preferred to believe was that worthiness was a birthright and not something to be weighed on a scale or to be judged by a certain form of standard – wouldn’t you agree?  Also, I wasn’t exactly sure if some of the deaths were necessary but overall, I liked the ending and I was glad I spent 10+ hours reading the series.

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