Friday, January 24, 2014

Review: Tamar by Mal Peet

Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal

Mal Peet
January 23, 2007
Publisher: Candlewick Press
432 pages
Reviewed: Harcover from library
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When her grandfather dies, Tamar inherits a box containing a series of clues and coded messages. Out of the past, another Tamar emerges, a man involved in the terrifying world of resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Holland half a century before. His story is one of passionate love, jealousy, and tragedy set against the daily fear and casual horror of the Second World War -- and unraveling it is about to transform Tamar’s life forever. 

From acclaimed British sensation Mal Peet comes a masterful story of adventure, love, secrets, and betrayal in time of war, both past and present.

My Review

Oh my goodness. The ending. I just read the ending and I can't not mention it. Don't you worry, I'm not about to spoil it for you before I even give you a reason to read this book at all, but the ending! Such a shocker. I never saw it coming, not in a million years!

Okay, so this is the book I've been reading with my dad since the beginning of the month. We have set a goal to read one book together every month, and this is the one we chose for January. It took us a while to decide on it, but I'm so so so glad we did. It did sound like just the kind of thing I would read with him, and it was every bit as good as I expected it to be. 

One thing I found a bit confusing at first was that there were two characters named Tamar: in 1945, there was a man who fought in the Dutch resistance, whose code name was Tamar, after the river. In 1995, there was his granddaughter, a teenaged girl, also named Tamar. While it was not too hard to keep track of as I was reading, I found that it made the book kind of difficult to talk about with my dad. He would say, "Oh my gosh, can you believe what Tamar did?" And I would say, "Wait...old Tamar or now Tamar?" We always had to make sure there was context around things we said, but that was okay.

This book was very intriguing. There are an uncountable number of books that take place during World War II, but I think this one brought something new to the game. First of all, you don't usually hear from a Dutch point of view. The main character tends to be either German or Jewish. So that was unique. One moment I found especially eye opening was when one member of the resistance kills an important Nazi officer, one of the Germans asks how many bullet holes were in the car. Someone goes out and counts, and they send out an order to kill exactly that number of the todeskandidaten. That is truly frightening. I find it truly frightening that living, breathing people could be exchanged for bullet holes.

Also, I found it very interesting how Tamar's grandfather sent her (and Yoyo) on this journey to the Tamar River after he'd died, and how he knew that she would go to the places and put the pieces together. It shows a strong family connection between two unlikely people. Yoyo was my favorite character, because he was really sweet and smart and gentlemanly in a boyish way and gahhh. I would love to go on a seemingly pointless road trip with him.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this book for those not faint of heart. If you have read a WWII book before, you'll probably be able to handle this. It's a great mystery with, again, a gaspy ending (make sure you are not eating or drinking during the last 20 pages). And, parents, it is definitely something you can read with your middle schoolers, if they are so inclined. 

4.5 stars

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: City of Ashes (Mortal Instruments #2) by Cassandra Clare

City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2)

City of Ashes
Cassandra Clare
March 25, 2008
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
453 pages
Reviewed: Gifted paperback (thanks Mom and Dad!)
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Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what's normal when you're a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who's becoming more than a friend. But the Shadowhunting world isn't ready to let her go — especially her handsome, infuriating, newfound brother, Jace. And Clary's only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil — and also her father.

To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering Downworlder children. Is Valentine behind the killings — and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor arrives to investigate and zooms right in on Jace. How can Clary stop Valentine if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?

In this breathtaking sequel to City of Bones, Cassandra Clare lures her readers back into the dark grip of New York City's Downworld, where love is never safe and power becomes the deadliest temptation.

My Review

I am going to come right out and say it: I enjoyed City of Ashes at least as much as I enjoyed City of Bones. I'm not sure if that's on par with the rest of the world or not, but I really felt like this sequel brought it to the table. Whatever "it" is. I finished it in record time - 453 pages in 4 about 113 pages a day? That's pretty darn fast for me. This long weekend has been good to me. I just did not want to put it down. It was so thrilling.

I'll admit it: I squealed. On multiple occasions.

I'm guessing the pattern of this series to be that in each book, Valentine attempts to take over the world using one of the Mortal Instruments and the Dream Team (i.e. Jace, Clary, Isabelle, Alec, and Magnus - and occasionally Simon) puts a stop to it. I'm crossing my fingers it won't be that predictable, but I'll just have to wait and see. 

This time, Valentine's weapon of choice is the Soul-Sword. It has the power to summon a demon army. As scary as that is already, the most terrifying monster of them all was Agramon, hands down. What Agramon does is, in a way, combines your greatest fear with your greatest desire. It morphs into that thing, or person, and basically scares you to death. Next to no one can defeat Agramon - unless they're truly fearless. I do not think I could conquer this beast. First of all, how would you know it was Agramon and not the actual person you are afraid of? Like, if I was afraid my boyfriend would dump me, and Agramon took the shape of my boyfriend, I couldn't just go up to my boyfriend and stab him! I care about him too much. Which is why I admire ____ all the more for doing pretty much that.

We also got to meet the faeries in this book. They are not the fairies you grew up hearing tales about. I guess that's the thing about these books: everyone has a dark side. Look once, the faeries are dancing in a circle to beautiful music. Look twice, and they have branches for arms and dead black eyes. Not really the way I like to picture faeries, to be frank. The Seelie Queen reminded me infinitely of Titania from A Midsummer Night's Dream, which I performed in about a year ago. More majestically cold than downright creepy. I liked seeing more of the other types of creatures in this book: faeries, werewolves, vampires, demons. The first book concentrated a lot more on learning about the Nephilim.

And, oh my goodness, the ships in this book. Simon and Clary, Clary and Jace, Alec and Magnus, Luke and Jocelyn, Simon and Maia. I can't handle the feeling of shipping someone with two people at once. (Oh...phrasing.) They were the major sources of my squeals and gasps. By the time I got to the epilogue, there was a continuous "Awww..." coming out of my mouth. I want more, and I want it now. Well, after I read the next couple books in my pile.

Read this series, guys. 1) Jace is hot. 2) Your emotions get all emotional. 3) Jace is hot.

4.5 stars

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Review: The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

The Book of Broken Hearts

The Book of Broken Hearts
Sarah Ockler
May 21, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
352 pages
Reviewed: Hardcover from library
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Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.

Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?

Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong?

Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking.

My Review

The Book of Broken Hearts is the second book I've read by Sarah Ockler, the first being Twenty Boy Summer. For me, Twenty Boy Summer set the bar pretty high. I loved that book, for one reason or another, so I expected more from this one than I got.

Don't get me wrong, this was not a bad book. But for a teen romance novel, I found the love story lacking. There wasn't much of a buildup between Jude and Emilio; they kind of just went from strangers to being in forbidden love, and that was that. I did like how he called her princesa, that was cute. I thought their relationship was nice enough, but it was nothing to squeal over. 

One thing this book did accomplish, however, was giving a new meaning to family. I don't have any siblings, but it was clear that Jude, Mari, Celi, and Lourdes were together through thick and thin. I tried to imagine either one of my parents developing Alzheimer's, and it made my heart ache. My great-aunt currently has dementia, and it's hard to even think about that. I hate goodbyes to begin with, and "the long goodbye" would tear me to pieces. I never really had a good sense of how serious it could get. That you could forget the name of your own daughter. Forget how to get home from work. Forget your favorite flavor of ice cream. But remember every little detail of a day thirty years ago. It left Jude constantly wondering who would be the next person to fade away. That really made me think. I loved how in the end, Jude had to stay faithful to her dad instead of doing the fun things in her life. That turned out to make the real difference.

Also, I just want to note how much this book made me crave empanadas. In all seriousness, they mention some kind of Latin food practically every other page. Medialunas, dulce de leache...I can't even handle it. 

Anyway, for some reason I felt like this book was a really really really light read. For a book about what it was about, I read it surprisingly quickly. A lot of the material seemed superficial, like a filler or something. Maybe it was just my lax schedule or something, but I think I generally would've liked more to pore over. Nothing really ever left me gasping, and I usually find the gasp points to be spots where I take a break, so I just kept reading, waiting for a gasp that didn't come. I was entertained, but I wasn't enthralled.

If I'd seen this book in a store, I probably would've bought it. The cover is adorable, but it made me think it was mostly about Emilio and Jude's loves story, when towards the end, I was rooting against Emilio. It's because of the day. I loved Papi. Now that I've read it, I'd say get it at the library first and see if you liked it well enough to buy it. Bittersweet is still going on my TBR list.

3.5 stars

PS. Props for the Millie reference. See if you can spot it :)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares
Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
October 26th, 2010
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
260 pages
Reviewed: Hardcover from library
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“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors ofNick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

My Review

I was in need of another winter book, and I saw this one on some list. First thought: this sounds like a little kids' book. I passed it by, but when it popped up again, I was curious. After reading the description, I put it down on my to-get-at-the-library list, and here I am now. (It's not a little kids' book, by the way. It's by David Levithan.)

Dash and Lily's story was told in such a cool way. Alternating between their two points of view, we got to see how both of them experienced the holidays. Lily loved to be surrounded by family, while Dash preferred to be alone. They both ended up being alone for Christmas, though, until they met through Lily's red Moleskine notebook. When Dash found it in his favorite bookstore, the dares began. I love the intrigue that writing to a complete stranger in a notebook would bring. I would totally do it. If you ever find a notebook on a bookstore shelf, it might just be from me...

The setting of this book was kind of cliche. I have nothing against New York, I just feel like there are a lot of books set there, is all. If I knew more about New York, maybe I would've been able to relate with it better. Picture things in my head. But I didn't really get that. It didn't take away from the story at all, but it didn't add much to it either. I could see this story being set somewhere more unique and hardly changing at all.

 I liked the message that was sent through that little red journal. To quote Mark Strand: "We are reading the story of our lives, as though we were in it, as though we had written it." That sums it up perfectly, I think. Dash and Lily were telling each other tales of their lives, and meanwhile, they were setting up their future. It also had a theme of trying to be yourself. When Lily first met Dash, she was...well, not in an ideal state. She was all embarrassed because she didn't want to meet him like that, but Dash didn't care. He knew he was going to like her anyway, and that was that.

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares was a cute love story. I would recommend it if you ever need a quick holiday read. I definitely enjoyed it, and Rachel & David's other co-written books are going on my TBR list for sure.

4 stars

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review: City of Bones (Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)

City of Bones
Cassandra Clare
March 27, 2007
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
485 pages
Reviewed: Paperback, gift
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When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder -- much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know... 

Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare's ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.

My Review

My best friend has been raving to me about this series for the longest time. I started to read this book once, but it was during one of my "ain't-nobody-got-time-for-anything" phases when, as you might guess, I did not have time to do anything remotely enjoyable. So here I was, in December, wondering what I should ask for for Christmas, and it dawned on me: The Mortal Instruments series! Thanks to my wonderful, amazing parents, I now own the first four books. 

It's taken me a little longer than usual to read this book, because at the same time I've been reading Tamar with my dad, and preparing for my school's production of Thoroughly Modern Millie (it was amazing!). I can usually handle multitasking, but this week it was just...gahh. Whenever I had the time and energy, though, you could find me with my nose in this book. 

I am thoroughly in love with Jace (and apparently every time I hear the word "thoroughly," music starts playing in my head. This is going to be a long week). Jace is my new book crush. I was constantly battling with myself in my head as to whether I shipped Clary with him or Simon, and honestly, I still can't decide. Jace is so beautiful and Simon is so adorable and I just can't. Overwhelming character love here. And that's before I even mention Alec and Isabelle. I just adore them all. Don't ask me to pick a favorite because I would give up the Mortal Cup before I could answer that :)

I was entertained for the entire book. There was not a moment when I found myself bored with the plot. There was tons of action, and a backstory I could actually keep up with. It wasn't one of those books with trivial battles and unnecessary violence; everything felt well thought out, and I could feel the characters' emotions behind their actions. If the story needed to pause for a moment and catch its breath, it did just that. The pacing was just 
how it needed to be for the situation.

Normally, I don't read these types of books. Vampires and werewolves and mythical creatures aren't usually my thing. But I liked the set up of this book, how magical beings could be right under our noses, and maybe even look just like us. It was set in present day New York, so there was still familiarity in the fantasy world. I find that a must in a fantasy book; there has to be at least some element of reality for me to hang onto. 

I think this book was perfectly balanced, and it always gave me something to look forward to when I crawled into bed (or when I went to Chinese class and had nothing else to be doing). I am so looking forward to reading the next one!

4.5 stars

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Review: This Isn't What It Looks Like (Secret Series #4) by Pseudonymous Bosch

This Isn't What It Looks Like (Secret, #4)   

This Isn't What It Looks Like
Pseudonymous Bosch
September 21, 2010
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
423 pages
Reviewed: Hardcover from library
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Cass may be in grave danger. She's eaten the dreaded Time Travel Chocolate--and you know what that means. I won't even begin to tell you what trouble this delicacy has caused in the past. If only Cass could leave the past behind! But it appears she is literally stuck in it. 

Meanwhile, Max-Ernest is worried for his best friend. Can our expert hypochondriac diagnose Cass's condition before it's too late? And will he have what it takes to save the survivalist? 

For Max-Ernest, it's a race against time; for Cass, a race through it. For the rest of you, well, it's a race to find out what happens next, of course. But proceed with caution, and be sure to read carefully because...this isn't what it looks like.

My Review

Ah, we're almost at the end of the Secret Series. Of course, I've already read the last book, so I suppose I could say I'm at the end. Except I'm not, because there's more story after this book, but this is the last one I hadn't read yet. For what I would consider to be a kids' book, re-reading this series has been surprisingly enjoyable. I would recommend it right off the bat for it's unique characters and quirky writing style.

For a book that's set in a place we are told to picture as our own neighborhood, there is still some kind of fantastical element to the setting. Cass's dream world, for example, is back in the renaissance period, so if you think you'd get bored of a modern day suburban area, you have that as a break. I tend to like it when books incorporate multiple time periods into the plot too.

I grew to love Cass, Max-Ernest, and Yo-Yoji throughout these books. Especially Cass. Cass is really cool. I loved her adventure into the past to find the Jester, the Secret, and really herself. It was brave of her, and Cass is usually brave, but this seemed pretty out there for her. It wasn't just action and survival this time; it was a lot of thinking too, which is more Max-Ernest's thing.

It was definitely a change to see our heroes separated during this book. I'm so used to Max-Ernest and Cass doing everything together, so I liked the way the author put them into a situation where they could no longer play off each other. It showed that Max-Ernest could indeed take some risks, and that Cass could slow down and use logic. Yo-Yoji wasn't actually there for that much of the book, though, which was a little disappointing, as he is my second favorite character (and he's Asian). I would've liked to see more of Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais in place of Lord Pharaoh, because I feel their purpose is to do his dirty work, and he should appear as seldom as possible.

I found This Isn't What It Looks Like to be as thrilling as the rest of the Secret Series. I never would've thought I could read 423 pages in one day. This wasn't necessarily my favorite storyline out of all the books, but it brought something new as always. I adore Pseudonymous Bosch's periodic breaks for comic relief, making it seem as if he himself were a character. That is definitely exclusive to this series. 

Overall, this book was fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to read it (after they read the first three, of course). Kids can love it, teens can love it, and adults can love it. Most of all, I can love it.

4.5 stars

Friday, January 3, 2014

Review: Just One Year (Just One Day #2) by Gayle Forman

Just One Year (Just One Day, #2)
Just One Year
Gayle Forman
October 10, 2013
Publisher: Dutton Children's
336 pages
Reviewed: Hardcover from library

When he opens his eyes, Willem doesn’t know where in the world he is—Prague or Dubrovnik or back in Amsterdam. All he knows is that he is once again alone, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. They shared one magical day in Paris, and something about that day—that girl—makes Willem wonder if they aren’t fated to be together. He travels all over the world, from Mexico to India, hoping to reconnect with her. But as months go by and Lulu remains elusive, Willem starts to question if the hand of fate is as strong as he’d thought. . . .

The romantic, emotional companion to Just One Day, this is a story of the choices we make and the accidents that happen—and the happiness we can find when the two intersect.

My Review

I have been waiting to read Just One Year for a long, long time. Or at least it felt like it. I read the prequel, Just One Day, last year while I was blogging, and it genuinely left me speechless. It was a can't-put-it-down, glued-to-my-nose, read-it-during-meals kind of book, which left me in tears only when I read the preview to the next book, i.e. the book I'm reviewing now.

Just One Year...where to begin? It filled me up with so much emotion. Melancholy, curiosity, loneliness, wanderlust, and courage are just a few. Together, they created the all-encompassing sense of love. It's not an easy task to fit all of that into three hundred pages. 

As much as I adored reading from Allyson's point of view in the first book, I'll admit I might have possibly enjoyed Willem's point of view even more. His family, his background, and his personality were just so riveting. He was a fully-fledged person, more realistic than real people, except not realistic at all in the sense that he was so one-in-a-million. (Which in my opinion is exactly what an author should aim for in a character). It was hard to really get to know the other characters, though, when there seemed to be an endless supply of them. I connected to Yael more than any of the others.

The story is crazy. Willem is such a travel-junkie that just when you think he's going to settle down, he up and leaves all over again. However, it never got too difficult to keep track. He would never spend more than a few chapters in one city, but I was only ever a few paces behind him. My only complaint was that it felt a little awkward sometimes. When it said six weeks had passed, I didn't sense it. The way it was written, it felt like I was really floating around at the mercy of the wind. I did like it that every place threw a different obstacle at him, and in the meantime, the reader got to absorb the whole world through his eyes. And it was all to find his Lulu.

The style of this book is like no other. It told a love story in a way that the love interest doesn't show up until the last couple pages of the book. Willem doesn't even know Allyson's name until the last couple pages of the book. In fact, it'd been such a while since I read Just One Day that I'd forgotten that was her name, and was able to think of her completely as Lulu. Willem thinks of love in such a different way than society does, and I was wrapped up in it. 

It felt like I read this book very fast, but in reality I was taking my sweet time. That's what this book is, a mess of graceful contradictions. I'm stained.

4 stars