Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Wonder of Wonder

August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to school- until now. He's about to start fifth grade at Beecher Prep, and it's hard enough being the new kid when you're ordinary- let alone when you have an extraordinary face. Can Auggie convince his classmates to get past his appearance and give him a chance?

I received a copy of this book from Random House a while ago, but not knowing anything about it, I put it on my shelf to read sometime, figuring that with all of the reading I had to do over the next several months, I'd get to it one of these days. Then, all of a sudden I started hearing things about this book. Two different colleagues/friends whose opinions I greatly respect told me that this was a book I had to read. Then I started hearing about it on Twitter, and I just couldn't resist any longer.

The book is so beautifully written, and there are moments of total heartbreak and absolute joy. You will not find another character like Auggie. He knows what he looks like, and he knows how people perceive him. In his short life, he's become a master at recognizing that flicker of shock that registers on a person's face when they first see him, and he knows when adults put on the "too shiny" smile that means they are trying to disguise what they are thinking. Imagine what it felt like as a teen when you had that huge red zit on your nose, and amplify that by 100. Then you might be able to comprehend how Auggie feels when people looks at him. As wise as he's been forced to become, Auggie is still a vulnerable little boy, and the way that people behave towards him reveals a lot about human nature both good and bad.

When his parents introduce the idea of school, Auggie is terrified. He knows that his appearance will make things difficult, and a big part of him wants to stay shielded from the world.  Kids can be extremely kind, and extremely cruel, and Auggie experiences both throughout the school year. Julian is one of the cruel, but as Auggie explains to his mother,  he only acts that way when adults aren't around.

Through the multiple voices in the novel, readers gain deeper insight into the person that everybody else sees.  Auggie's sister Via (short for Olivia) has always been his biggest champion, but now that she's in high school, she's carrying a lot of her own baggage, and just once wants the right to be selfish and think about herself first. Jack and Summer are the first kids to actually accept Auggie, but all friendships have their bumps in the road, and part of Auggie's growth is learning how to accept that people make mistakes, and find a way to get past it.

Every so often, a book comes along that is so unique and special that you just can't wait to share it with everybody you know. This is one of those gems, and I'll tell you right now- you will fall in love.  this is a one-of-a-kind book that you'll remember long after you've turned the last page, and want to start reading again immediately. A warning though:  don't read this without a box of Kleenex nearby. I got about halfway through before I started bawling (and on the subway no less) and I never quite recovered.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Way We Fall: A Chilling Speculative Read

When a deadly virus strikes sixteen-year-old Kaelyn's small island community, the government quarantines the island and posts military to make sure that nobody can get in or out. As the doctors race to find a cure, those who are left fight for dwindling supplies. Kaelyn clings to the belief that there is a way to save her friends and family, but how far will she go to save them, and what will she do if she can't?

This book completely creeped me out, but in a good way because it felt so real and so possible.. From SARS to H1N1, there have been no shortage of epidemic scares, but I think what particularly amplifies the terror of this one is that it takes place on an island.

Imagine living in a place where the only way you got supplies was by shipping them in from the mainland. Now imagine what happens when those supplies stop coming. When the people around you are sick and dying. When stores don't open, when schools are closed, and people point guns at you if you cough or sneeze in front of them. This is the world that Megan Crewe creates in the first book of her new series.

Written in letter/journal format, Kaelyn does her best to accurately record everything that happens so that Leo (the boy who was her best friend until their falling out a year ago) will know the truth in case nobody on the island makes it. As the disease claims more and more people, Kaelyn's fear is palpable. Her father, a scientist is working around the clock to try and figure out a way to treat the disease, but they are working against a clock that is rapidly running out. Kaelyn's entries also reveal the absolute terror of isolation as weather knocks out most of their communications systems, and completely cuts them off from the mainland.

Also chilling are the episodes of cruelty and anarchy that occur when the community is at its most vulnerable. Not only do some people start breaking into stores and stealing, but they also start burning homes and killing people who seem to be infected with the virus. It's horrible to imagine, but not unlikely that this would and could happen.

What I liked most about the book is how the author manages to make it an extremely human story. In the midst of everything that's happening, Kaelyn finds a friend in the girl who she thought was her rival and romance with a boy she thought was an enemy. When I read this on the jacket copy I rolled my eyes thinking it would be really corny, but it wasn't. I think circumstances have a way of drawing people together who in any other time might not have connected, and Kaelyn is totally aware of this. Would either of these relationships have happened if not for the virus? Probably not, but does it really matter? No.

My only criticism of the book is that it left me with some nagging questions. Who was patient zero? How did it get to the island, and how did it spread? Most likely it is airborn, but that's really just a guess. Hopefully they will be better answered in book 2.

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic and thrilling read, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is looking for something thrilling yet not dystopian or post-apocalyptic.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder: An Unexpected Treasure

When 16-year-old Amber sneaks out early on a rare spring-like morning, she's hoping to have one perfect day. One day where she can escape the pressures of family and friends. One day that's just for her before her world is turned upside down. When she meets Cade, they form an instant connection. Cade has also come to the beach also looking for an escape, but for a very different reason. Neither of them know what tomorrow will bring, but whatever happens, they are determined to make the most of every minute of the day before.

There is a bit of a story behind how I came to read this book. I was going through my Simon & Schuster catalogue choosing the YA novels I want to stock & promote this fall and the book caught my attention. After reading a few positive blog reviews about it, I decided that it looked like something I'd be interested in reading and I went rummaging through my books to find an ARC. I really wasn't planning on reading it that day. I'd already started reading something else, and had several more in the to-be-read stack behind me, but something compelled me to open it up. I did, and after just three pages I was hooked and decided I had to read it immediately.

Told in verse through Amber's eyes, readers gradually discover the reasons why both Amber and Cade have come to the beach. Tomorrow is a day that both are dreading, and that neither want to arrive. Tomorrow is a day full of unknowns. All they know is that tomorrow is when their lives will irrevocably change, and it scares the heck out of both of them.

As you have probably already figured out from the title of this post, I absolutely loved this book! It's such a compelling and beautiful story, and it ended up being completely different than what I was expecting. This is not a book about a great love story, or even a tragic one. It is about two people that find something unexpected in each other, and give each other the courage to face whatever happens tomorrow.

I loved Amber's character. Amber loves music and movies, and even loves to drum. Though her parents are divorced, she sees her father regularly, has a loving and supportive mother, and a good relationship with her younger sister. I love how they leave each other notes when there is something they just can't express by talking. Amber's world is about to change, and she's confused and scared. All she wants is some time to herself to block everything out, and that's what her day is all about.

When Amber meets Cade, they just seem to understand each other, and it's easy between them. No  obligation, no questions, no promises. Amber senses that Cade is hiding something, but she leaves it to him to reveal it in his own time and own way- if he wants to. The jacket copy implies that there is a darkness about him, but I didn't really see that. I don't think you could even call it brooding. His tomorrow is also something major, and he just wants this day to live it as fully as he can.

I love the impulsiveness of the day, and the magic that they find in simple things like throwing glitter into the air, flying a kite and flipping a coin. Days like that are so special and rare, and the author does a phenomenal job of drawing the reader so completely that while you're reading it everything else disappears.

The language is absolutely beautiful and there were so many passages that I wanted to highlight and quote, but there was one that particularly stood out for me (as it did for many others judging by the number of times it's referenced on Goodreads.)

when I read a book, 
I want to savor 
each word, 
each phrase, 
each page, 
loving the prose 
so much, 
I don't want it 
to end. 

Other times 
the story pulls me in, 
and I can hardly 
read fast enough, 
the details flying by, 
some of them lost 
because all that matters 
is making sure 
the character 
is all right 
when it's over.” 

This book was both of these things for me. It was a story that I could hardly read fast enough and yet I didn't want to finish it. I wanted to linger over it and save it, and savour it, and I didn't want it to end. It's a book that will stay with you once you've finished reading, and like the seashells in the sand, is an absolute treasure. 

Highly recommended for Grade 6 and up.