The Storyteller - Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is a master storyteller and she never shies away from the tough subjects.  The Storyteller is, in many ways, a very typical Picoult novel -- there's twists (some of which are predictable, especially if you've read lots of her books and know how she usually structures in her twists) and a great moral conundrum.  One of the things that I love best about Jodi Picoult is that she always manages to present a story where you really don't know whose side to take.  The Storyteller is no exception.

I enjoyed the book, as I have enjoyed nearly every other book she's written, but there wasn't anything about this book that made me jump out of my seat with excitement or anything that kept me reading long into the night.  It's a good story, told in multiple viewpoints, as she usually does.  It is a little slow at times, and I found some of it to be repetitive.  The main character, Sage, wasn't as likeable as some of her other protagonists, and I found her insecurity and anger at the world to be little unbelievable.  Sage is scarred from a car accident and is uncomfortable with having the world see her, but I thought that the voice of a scarred woman was done much better in Jennifer Weiner's latest novel, The Next Best Thing.

In the middle section of the book, Sage's grandmother, Minka, tells of her experiences during the Holocaust.  That section is especially difficult to read, but at the same time the pace of the book really picks up at that point and I read through it quite quickly.  The final section of the book slows down again a little, but it's short and at that point I just wanted to know how the story would resolve itself.

If you're a fan of Jodi Picoult, you'll likely enjoy this book as I did.  It's not her best work, but many of her latest books have been a bit disappointing for me anyways.  It definitely has some pretty horrific descriptions of events of the Holocaust, so if this time period makes you squeamish then you may want to pass on this one.  Or at least skip Part 2 of the book.  Personally, I enjoy WWII stories and recognize that, although this is a time period that we may wish to forget, it's definitely an important one in our history and the memory of those who were lost should not be forgotten.

Book #6 - done!

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Unravel Me - Tahereh Mafi

When I read Shatter Me last year, I was unexpectedly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  I'd heard so much bloggy love for Unravel Me that I was excited to dive into the sequel.  Plus, the new covers are so, so, SO gorgeous!

Thanks to the Recaptains AMAZING recap of Shatter Me (I have the worst recollection abilities and I very, very grateful for the wonderful-ness of this new site, I was able to jump straight into Unravel Me.  Tahereh Mafi's beautiful writing sucked me in right away and I read the whole thing in just a few days.  And it's double the size of the first book!

I recently posted about Through the Ever Night, and how the second book in a series rarely blows my mind the same way that the first book in a series does.  But now I've read TWO books that did just that.  Although Shatter Me was good, Unravel Me is just that much more amazing.  Seriously.  I don't know how Tahereh Mafi does it -- she tells such a good story, and she writes in such a way that I can't put the book down.  She really is like no other author that I've ever read.

If you haven't yet picked up this series, I highly recommend it.  Or, on second thought, perhaps wait until book three is out.  Once you get drawn into this world, it's definitely a series that would be amazing to read in its entirety.  If you've already read book one, then what are you waiting for?  Unravel Me is even BETTER and well worth a read!
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Marko Monday [5]

I'm a little late with today's post -- had a busy, busy weekend!  My mom took me to see Les Mis on Sunday, so Marko spent the day with his dad, walking around downtown.  My hubby had a blast hanging with his son for the day, and I loved, loved, LOVED the show.  It's the sixth time I've seen it (from the big production right down to a high school rendition), and it just gets better and better every time.

Today's picture book selection is Nancy Tillman's Wherever You Are - My Love Will Find You.  This is, without a doubt, one of the most beautifully written and illustrated books that Marko and I have read together thus far.  Each illustration features a child with a different wild animal, from bears to bunnies to peacocks.  The story itself is gorgeous and sounds like it's a mother speaking to her baby.  It starts with I wanted you more than you'll ever know, so I sent love to follow wherever you go.  The remainder of the story talks about how love will surround you wherever you go, whispering in the wind and reminding you that you are loved.  The text is lyrical and fluid and this read-a-loud has put Marko to sleep the last four consecutive nights.  I borrowed this one from the library, but have already ordered a copy for our library, since it definitely works as a bedtime story!

And here's a picture of my little man in his PJs!

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Slammed - Colleen Hoover

I read Colleen Hoover's Hopeless last month and LOVED IT.  Couldn't put it down and read the entire thing in only a couple of days.  Afterwards, I put Slammed on hold at the library, excited to dive into another of Colleen's novels.

I wasn't as impressed with this one as I was with Hopeless.  Don't get me wrong, Colleen can tell a story -- I gobbled this one up almost as quickly as I did with Hopeless.  It was just the subject material that rubbed me the wrong way.  As the wife of a high school English teacher, there's just something about teachers falling in love with students that bugs me.  The age difference isn't huge between Layker and Will, which made the story bearable, since I probably would have DNFed it if it was an older man falling for a teenage girl.  Especially when it's a teacher who's in a position of trust.  The love story in this book is believable though since, as I mentioned before, it's not a fifteen year age gap or anything like that.  Will and Layker do have a fair bit in common since there's only a few years' age difference between them.  I also really liked the slam poetry used in the book -- an art form that I've never seen used in a novel before, but very effectively used in this one.

With that being said, I will read the companion novel, Point of Retreat, because Colleen Hoover can tell a really good story.

Book #5 - done!

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Through the Ever Night - Veronica Rossi

You know how they always add new words to the dictionary, so words like the verb "to Google" become actual real words, rather than just slang?  Well, I think they should also add "second book syndrome" to the next revision of the dictionary. This would encompass all those books where the first book blew your mind, but then the second book just ... failed to live up the wonder that was the first book.

Through the Ever Night is NOT one of those books.  I have been disappointed by many a follow-up book, but Through the Ever Night was actually BETTER than the first book in the series, leaving me even MORE excited for Into the Still Blue.

If you read my review of Under the Never Sky, I had a hard time getting into the book.  So much that I had DNFed it, until some blogging friends convinced me to give it a second shot.  Once I was immersed in the world, I sped through the pages of both books with no problem.  The more that I read of Veronica Rossi's work, the more impressed I am that she can just throw the reader into this dystopian world with no explanation, and somehow it just WORKS.  Even though I still don't fully understand the Aether, I just trust that there's further explanation coming and I am fully content to just let the story unwind as it should.

I was watching Tea Time with Epic Reads a couple of weeks ago, and it sounds like Into the Still Blue is finished, which will hopefully mean there may be an ARC out there one of these days?  I, for one, cannot WAIT to see how the end of this trilogy unfolds.
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Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR

It's Tuesday and time for another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the wonderful people over at The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is the top ten books on my summer TBR list.  I missed the spring TBR posting, and I was sad since this is my favourite top ten Tuesday post of all.  I don't usually stick to the list that I set up for myself, but it is fun to try and plan my reading!  This summer is the Summer of Standalones, hosted by Books With Cass.  It'll be fun to take a break from series reading and read some fantastic standalones.  The ones that I plan to read are ...

1. Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
I heard rave reviews about this one from some of my favourite bloggers that read an advanced readers' copy.  So I preordered it, knowing that I'd probably love it too.  And THEN, I saw a post on Facebook on the release date and realized that the book TAKES PLACE IN VANCOUVER.  Where I LIVE.  How awesome is that?  So, obviously, I'm even MORE excited to read this one now.  HENCE THE CAPS.

2. Golden by Jessi Kirby
Another one that my favourite bloggers have been gushing over.  And it's so pretty, all golden on my bookshelf.  And the flowers on the pages?  So awesome!

3. Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols
I read Going Too Far earlier this year, and enjoyed it, but I've heard this one's even better!

4. The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna
I've heard unbelievably good things about this one, and it's been sitting on my bookshelf since Christmas!

5. Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara
Ditto for this one, although I did want to read this in the wintertime, since it seems fitting.

6. Velveteen by Daniel Marks
Composing this list has made me realize that I haven't read most of my Christmas presents -- yikes!

7. Slammed by Colleen Hoover
I flew through Hopeless, and I'd love to dive back into another of her books, especially if it's as un-put-down-able as Hopeless was.  And, even though this book has "companion novels," Cass told me that it'll still count ;)

8. Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Page Madonia
This one was recommended by Estelle @ Rather Be Reading, and I have yet to read a book recommended by her that I didn't enjoy!

9. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult can always be counted on for a stellar standalone.

10. Burning by Elana K. Arnold
This one's cheating a little, since I already read it.  But, hey, I always start a to-do list with "make list" so that I can cross something off as soon as I'm done.
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Marko Monday [4]

My local library has a display of books called "100 books to read before kindergarten" and I found Not a

Stick on this display.  I loved it so much and was thrilled to find Not a Box on the shelf during our last library trip.

It's hard to describe these books, since they're primarily pictures.  The text is a series of questions, such as "What are you doing with that stick?" or "Why are you standing on that box?" and the answer is always "It's not a stick" or "It's not a box."  The picture is of the little pig or the little rabbit, holding the stick or the box, but the illustrator has super-imposed a sketch of what the stick or box has become.  For example, the pig exclaims that this is not a stick, and then the stick becomes a sword and he's fighting off dragons.  It's hard to describe the illustrations, but they really are charming and imaginative.  And in our modern world where kids are entertained by television and computer and iPads, it's really refreshing to see imagination still playing a strong role.  I was the proud owner of a play house made of an old refrigerator box and it was the best play house of all time.  I only hope that Marko will grow up to be imaginative and to enjoy creating stories and games out of ordinary household items.

And speaking of Marko, here's a picture of how he wakes up in the morning.  We've been letting him sleep in our bed with us after his 5 a.m. feed -- and he always wakes up with a great big smile on his face.

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Love is a Mix Tape - Rob Sheffield

When Jaime @ The Perpetual Page-Turner posted about this book a while ago (it was one of her "Before I Blogged" reviews), it sounded like a total me book.  I'm totally from the generation that remembers the power of the mix tape, from recording favourite songs of the radio (which always turned into the most random mixes) to making mixes for friends of songs that just TOTALLY sum up our friendship.  I still have some mix tapes, even though I no longer own a tape deck, and was heartbroken when ICBC stole all my radio-made mix tapes after my car accident.  (In their defense, I did sign paperwork claiming that I had all my possessions back, but I didn't realize that the tapes weren't in the bag until my car had already been taken to the junk yard *sob*)  The memories summed up by a mix tape are simply indescribable.

So, with that being said, I was totally excited to dive into Rob Sheffield's memoir that tells the story of how he met and fell in love with his wife, who he later lost very suddenly.  Each chapter is a mix tape that plays a particular role in their story.

There's so much about this book that I loved, from the mix tapes themselves to the multitude of quotes in the book that just made me want to write them all down.  (Cassie @ Books With Cass did a great all-quotes post, so if you want to see some fantastic ones, just click on over to her review).  There's so much about the power of music to shape your mood, the way songs just evoke particular emotions and the way listening to certain songs can just transport you back to a time and place in an instant.  As a music buff myself, I found myself just shouting "yes!" to many of the points that Rob made throughout this book.  I'm totally the kind of person that makes mixes for people, just as I press books into people's hands, exclaiming "You are totally going to LOVE this!  Just TRUST me!"  I'll obsess over making a mix CD for friends, adding 100 songs to an iTunes playlist, then slowly whittling it down to those magical 15 tracks that just flow effortlessly and completely and utterly convey the theme that I was going for.

Yet at the same time, I found the constant name-dropping of bands and songs to be a little disconcerting.  The thing with music is that there's SO MUCH amazing music out there, that's it's virtually impossible to know all the bands and all the songs.  So there was a lot of times that I didn't understand the references Rob was making because I didn't know the song he was talking about.  Although I did enjoy the book, it was alienating at times to not fully understand all the song references.  I think my favourite chapter was towards the end when he was including songs from the mid-90s, which is totally my generation.  I missed out on a lot of 70s and 80s music, because my parents only played 50s and 60s music at home (their generation) and then I jumped straight into the current popular stuff of the mid-90s, once I started junior high.  I'm slowly discovering the generations of music that I missed out on through my husband, since he's eight years older than me, but there's definitely a gap in my music knowledge, primarily in the years in which this book takes place.

In hindsight, I think that I would have benefitted from reading this book more slowly, and perhaps listening to each referenced song as it is mentioned.  Oh the wonders of YouTube, that now allows us this magic!  I might just re-read this book one day and do just that -- I'm sure that I will love a lot of the bands and songs referenced if given the opportunity to discover them.

Book #4 - done!

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Eleanor + Park - Rainbow Rowell

I read (and loved) Attachments a couple of months ago, and have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Eleanor + Park at my library.  When it finally arrived, I squealed all over Twitter, and set aside my current read so that I could dive into this one.

I wanted to love this book so, so, so much.  Especially after hearing so much blog love.  But I didn't.  I liked it, and it definitely had its moments that touched me, but on the whole it fell a little flat.

I absolutely adore the cover.  In fact, it was the cover that first convinced me that I'd love this book -- a couple bonding over music?  Yes please!  I was imagining something along the lines of Sarah Dessen's Just Listen, but the music aspect wasn't as prevalent in the story as I'd expected.

Eleanor and Park are definitely unique characters and I really do have to applaud Rainbow Rowell's character development.  I honestly can't say that too much happened in this book (it's not an action driven plot), but the growth in characterization is definitely the driving force in the novel.  I didn't particularly care for Eleanor's character throughout most of this book.  She's been through a lot in her short life, so I can definitely understand why she's a little messed up, but I didn't feel as sympathetic for her as I probably could have.  Maybe it was just her abrasive personality?  I don't know.  But I really, really, really liked Park.  And his mom.  His mom was probably my favourite character.

I know that I've written about this before, but sometimes I feel like I have unreasonably high expectations of a book (I know that this happened with both Code Name Verity and The Madman's Daughter), so when I finally read the book, I'm expecting way too much.  Perhaps that's the case with Eleanor + Park -- I was just waiting to be blown away, to laugh, to cry, to want the book to never end -- and it just didn't happen.  It's still a good story, but just not ten thousand kinds of amazing like I had expected.

Book #3 - done!

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Burning - Elana K. Arnold

Reading this book was a bit like a roller coaster ride.  I had moments where I was loving every word, and moments where I had a really tough time pushing myself to finish the book.  Let me take you along the journey of the highs and lows...

The book tells the story of Ben and Lala in alternating narratives.  The chapters flip back and forth between Lala and Ben's points of view and each character has a distinctive voice.  I liked Ben's character -- he and his friends are very typically crass teenage boys, ribbing each other about sex and girls.  Then sometimes I'd wonder whether it was accurate to portray the boys in this manner, never really talking about anything from the heart.  The boys are going through the collapse of their town after the gypsum mine shut down, and each boy is moving onto a new life in another down.  Not the mention the fact that Ben's friend Pete went through the loss of his father.  It just seems like the boys are a little superficial in the way they interact with one another, especially when contrasted with the way that Ben THINKS.  He's quite profound, yet he doesn't always verbalize what's going on in his head.

Lala's voice annoyed me at times; she almost seems old-fashioned in the way she speaks (i.e. there's never a contraction in her section of the book -- I am feeling instead of I'm feeling -- and it seems odd in today's day and age to not use contractions).  But then sometimes I'd get caught up in the way that Lala sees the world (she seems very wise beyond her years) and then the way her sections are written would annoy me less.

Once I reached the acknowledgemets section at the end of the book, I was surprised to see that the author thanked a professor of anthropology, as well as people who provided her with information about gypsum mining and tarot reading, but there was nothing specifically mentioned about gypsies.  This left me wondering exactly where she found out the information that she included in the book about Lala's family.  My husband is half gypsy (although Eastern European gypsy) and his culture is NOTHING like the gypsies portrayed in this book.  Perhaps there are other cultures of gypsies that I don't know as much about, but the gypsy culture in this book just seemed ... off somehow.  I mean, Lala's family believes that a woman is considered unclean when she has her period and cannot be around the rest of the family.  Even their clothes from the lower halves of their bodies are washed separately from the rest of the laundry.  And yet Lala has a cell phone, and uses her phone to read books.  She's reading The Catcher in the Rye during the course of this book, and seems intrigued by gazh√≤ culture (I'm assuming this means "white" culture?).  Yet, even though she's so drawn to this other culture, and imagining things that are "forbidden" to her, she still clings to these traditional beliefs of her people.  And, without spoiling the ending, seems completely okay with her decisions at the end.  I don't know -- it's hard to explain, but this whole part of the book just seemed a little off to me.

Before I started writing this review, I had quick glance over some other reviews on Goodreads.  One of the concepts that came up quite a few times was the "insta-love" in this book.  Many readers felt that the love between Ben and Lala was completely unrealistic.  This is one area where I'd have to disagree, and I think that this was what finally convinced me that I was enjoying the book after all.  The love story was completely real to me, and felt like a teenage romance should be.  Although Ben and Lala's relationship progresses quickly (this may have been what rubbed some readers the wrong way), I felt that the quick explosion of feelings is what teenagers feel when they become infatuated with someone.  Those feelings sometimes burn out as quickly as they come on, but it's that intensity that makes teenage love so real.  The author did a beautiful job of conveying that aspect.

In conclusion, I liked this book, but I didn't love it as much as I had hoped I would.  It would have been easier for me to digest the story if it hadn't been for the bizarre gypsy traditions that didn't sit well with me; however, there were more things that I liked than things that bugged me.  It's a quick read, and one that would be great if you're participating in the Summer of Standalones!

Note: I received an e-galley of this book from Netgalley.  The fact that I received this book for review did not influence my review of this book in any way.

Book #2 - done!

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Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

I had such high hopes for Code Name Verity, after seeing this book listed on so many bloggers' End of Year surveys last year.  Perhaps it was my unrealistically high expectations, but I didn't love the book as much as I had hoped that I would.

I liked it, don't get me wrong.  Elizabeth Wein definitely knows her stuff when it comes to aviation and WWII history.  But perhaps it was the level of details throughout the book that distracted me from the actual story underneath.  I appreciated that Ms. Wein did a lot of research in order to ensure that every detail was presented as accurately as possible; however, I was more interested in the characters themselves.  It look a long time to get the story going and really get into Maddie and Julie's friendship, and that was where the book really shone.  If it wasn't for so many bloggers assurance that, despite it's slow beginning, it would be worth it in the end, I definitely would have DNF-ed it.  But, unlike The Madman's Daughter, where I felt disappointed that I'd wasted so much time on a book that really didn't wow me in the end, this one definitely did redeem itself by the end.  It was the earth-shaking, unbelievable twist that I was expecting (it WAS a great twist, that's for sure, but I think my twist expectations were just too high).

I wanted to like this book so much, since I have a fondness for WWII stories.  I think it was just my expectations that brought the book down a little for me ... sometimes it's better to NOT know anything about the book before I start reading it, eh?

Book #1 - done!

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Summer of Standalones

It's here!  The Summer of Standalones has arrived!  Cassie of Books with Cass started talking about this on Twitter a few months ago, and I was immediately on board.  Although I love a good series, sometimes I get series-ously (ha ha!) bored of them and love reading a good standalone.

This is a great challenge for me to participate in, since there's not too much required, other than just reading! If you'd like the join in the fun, pop over to the sign-up page.

I'm hoping to read 10 standalones this summer.  For my full summer TBR list, you'll have to wait a few weeks, since it's one of my upcoming Top Ten Tuesday posts ;-)  I've just purchased some great summer standalones, so I'm excited to actually READ some of the books that I've bought, rather than letting them collect dust on my shelves while I continue to read the books that I've borrowed from the library.

If you're looking for a great summery standalone, I'd highly HIGHLY recommend Morgan Matson's Second Chance Summer.  Although, if you plan to read this book out in public (i.e. on the beach or in the park), you'd better have some MASSIVE sunglasses and a big sunhat to hide your red eyes after all the messy crying you'll be doing.  It's a super emotional book that will leave you with a major book hangover ... but the best kind.
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Marko Monday [3]

I decided to start this feature a few weeks ago, as a means of sharing pictures of my baby boy, as well as the picture books that we've been reading together.  I took last week off, since it was a holiday Monday for my American friends, and many of you were enjoying the excitement of BEA and, therefore, probably not checking into blogs anyways.  I am SUPER excited to see everyone's book haul posts from BEA!

Always is a book that I read with Marko last week, and I absolutely loved it.  It's the story of a bond between a dog and a child, and the lengths that the dog will go to to protect the house and the family.  The illustrations are charming and the story is heart-warming and genuine.  If you grew up with a pet, or have a pet, this story will definitely speak to you.  I grew up with a cairn terrier (think Toto from the Wizard of Oz movie).  He was two when I was born and my parents tell stories of him valiantly guarding me in my cradle, day and night, to the point where he was so tired that he could barely stand up.  My parents had to shut him in the kitchen at night so that he'd actually sleep.

Romeo, our feline fur baby, seems to be more afraid of Marko than he is of the cat.  In fact, Romeo will really only tentatively sniff Marko's head when he's sleeping.  When he's awake, I think that Romeo's a little uncertain of his movements, and prefers to keep his distance.  It'll be interesting to see how they grow up together.

And here's a picture of my little man.  We went to Serbian days at our church this past weekend, and this was how I dressed him up in order to head out for the afternoon.

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