Category Archives: Realistic Fiction

Review: Mosquitoland

Book Overview:

Title: Mosquitoland

Author: David Arnold

Genre: Teen Contemporary Fiction

Publication Info: Viking Children’s, March 3, 2015

Synopsis: After her parents’ divorce, Mim is unhappily forced to move to Mississippi with her father and new stepmother. But when she hears distressing news about her mother, Mim takes off without a thought on a Greyhound bus and begins an unforgettable journey that will change everything.

Book Review:

Overall Rating: 4.5-5 (let’s be honest, it’s really a 5 for me)/5

Writing a review for this book is difficult. Ridiculously difficult, even. I’ve tried talking about it to friends, family, co-workers, and here’s what comes out: “Guys, this book is just… I mean, it’s so… just unique, and… yeah. You should read it.” I’m a hot mess because of this book, and this book is a hot mess. But a really touching, remarkable hot mess. So forgive me for remaining unable to sound professional and polished when discussing this one.

Plot:

This is easily one of the weirdest plots I’ve ever read. Granted, the premise–a hero’s quest to save a loved one that turns into self-discovery–is as old as story-telling. Mosquitoland really is a contemporary odyssey with a teenage heroine. But nothing that happens on this trip is normal, from a kung-fu fight on a gas station roof to a trip to the vet with a human patient (and that’s all I can say without spoiling anything). However, every abnormal, seemingly random event is woven together in a cohesive whole that feels too weird not to be true. Not once did I put the book down for its sheer ridiculousness; I shook my head and kept reading, realizing that life will throw everything crazy and unexpected towards us. Kudos, David Arnold. You’ve shown true plot prowess here.

Characters:

Like the plot, our main character, Mim, is as strange as they come: medicated for possible schizophrenia, blind in one eye, and instantly judgmental of others based on only their name. Not the typical heroine, right? Yet her idiosyncrasies and quirks make her very real (again, like the plot). Mim is a character anyone can relate to or adore–funny, witty, and blunt. Throughout her journey, she’s flawed and cynical, due to a harsh, discerning perspective of the world and a life’s worth of pain. And she’s so contradictory, acting fearless when she’s terrified of truly being crazy, brutally honest at times and fiercely secretive at others. Because of this, her point of view and her story was a puzzle and joy to read. Mim learns so much through her quest to find her mom, and as she grows, she gives the reader so many deep thoughts and moments of clarity. God, I really love this character.

This book also boasts a slew of unusual side characters, all with important roles in Mim’s story, but I can’t write about them without giving away significant things. (I really want to, but I just can’t. Don’t hate me. Read the book, and then we can talk.) Just know that I love and/or appreciate each’s role and individuality.

Writing Quality:

Finally, Arnold really outdoes himself as a writer. This book is so literary that it’s palpable. Mim’s journey contains allusions to Moby Dick, the Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland, and probably way more I didn’t catch. And the METAPHORS, guys. Mosquitoland is rife with ’em. (She’s freaking blind in one eye. Just saying.) But beyond providing a literary scavenger hunt that keeps nerds like me happy, Arnold, speaking through Mim (and other characters), gives us so much to think about, to the point that I’m still hashing and rehashing things days after closing the book. That, to me, is what makes this a winner.

(TLDR: While weird and unusual, Mosquitoland is a must read!) 

Who I recommend this to:

  • Honestly, I can’t fit this book into any one category. I suggest everyone should download a sample or flip through a few pages, and then if you’re intrigued, count that as a green light.
  • High school, college, and beyond (warning: language, sexual violence, mental illness, mentions of suicide)

 

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January Book Haul (aka My Bank Account Is in Pain)

February 5, 2015 92320 PM EST-1

Happy February! I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season and New Year!

Surprisingly, I had a relatively book-free Christmas gift exchange this year (maybe my family’s trying to tell me something…), but never fear. My book-buying habits took control in January, much to the chagrin of my bookshelf and wallet. But to be fair, I was on well-needed vacation and deserved to spoil myself. While visiting my best friend, I was taken to two different bookstores (she knows me and my tastes well), and I came home with this pile of beauties!

Seeing as I haven’t posted anything in a while (but do have multiple reviews planned), I wanted to share my purchases with you in the meantime.

IMG_20150205_2232561. Firefight (Reckoners Series #2) by Brandon Sanderson

I bought this book before anything else, AND on its official publication date, January 6. Why? Because the first book in this series, Steelheart, completely blew me away, and I couldn’t wait to have this beautiful story (with its awesome cover) in my hands. In Steelheart, a meteor crash gives superpowers to a select few humans, who in turn become supervillians and world dictators. David, a human orphaned by by one such dictator, teams up with a vigilante group called the Reckoners to take down the dictator. This second installment continues David’s story and promises just as much action and thrills at the first.

2015-02-05 21.00.592-3. The Darkest Minds and Never Fade (Darkest Minds #1 and 2) by Alexandra Bracken

I’ve heard nothing but good things about these books, and so I picked them up at the same time as Firefight. To be honest, I’m going into this series pretty blind: all I know is a virus takes out most of the world’s children, and the survivors are kept in secluded camps by the government. The premise sounds promising, and there’s no mention of romance in the book blurb (not that romance is bad, but I love a good action story). I’ll definitely review these books once I finish them, and I really look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.

2015-02-05 20.59.444. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

This book was published nearly five years ago, so I’m definitely behind the hype, but I’ve been meaning to pick this book up for forever. Like others by Lauren Oliver, the novel falls into the thriller/mystery genre, with a post-mortem protagonist investigating the events of her death. Again, I’m to this book also a bit blind, but I trust Oliver’s writing and can’t wait to start this.

 

 

 

2015-02-05 21.00.095. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I’m also very late in getting to this book, but after reading Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory and adoring it, I plan to read every book she’s written. From what I’ve heard, this book deals with deep issues and has sensitive content, but is a beautiful piece of realistic fiction.

Note: I only bought five teen books in January, which is uncharacteristic for me; the rest of my book haul will be adult and literary fiction. My feelings won’t be hurt if you stop reading here.

 

2015-02-05 21.03.136. City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

This book promises magic and mystery and mythological creatures and Prague–what’s not to love, right? No one I talk books with has read this book or even heard of it, but it just might be a hidden, unknown treasure. I have hope for this book.

 

 

 

 

2015-02-05 21.03.277. Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

I’d been eying this book for a while, and I found it for $1 at a half-price bookstore (happy dance time!). From the back blurb, I gather that the Hawaiian heroine contracts leprosy, and the story follows her experiences as a social outcast. I’m intrigued by this storyline and the setting, so hopefully this won’t disappoint.

 

 

 

 

2015-02-05 21.04.118. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Descriptions of this book are frustratingly vague, but I gather that the plot involves books, secrets, maybe a conspiracy or secret society? I’m not all too sure, but any story that involves books screams my name; plus, I also picked this up for $1, so I had no choice but to add it to my collection.

 

 

 

 

2015-02-05 21.04.569. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

I’ve been meaning to read this classic for forever, but have always been intimidated by its daunting page count. Granted, you can find a million editions of this book at any bookstore, but this particular one was too special for me to resist. Look at that cover! So cute with the illustrations and speech bubbles! I’d like to shake that cover designer’s hand. I’m not sure as to when I’ll get around to reading it, but it’s a lovely thing to look at on my bookshelf.

 

 

 

2015-02-05 21.03.5010. Arabian Nights by Anonymous

I’m such a sucker for mythology and cultural tales, as well as beautiful cover art, so like with Three Musketeers, I bought this without a second thought. Looking back, I did no research into this translation or checked into which tales are included, which may not have been wise. But again, a truly beautiful cover is all it takes.

 

 

 

 

2015-02-05 21.02.4511. Women Who Run With Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

My mythology-loving, feminist reader friends have been begging me to read this for a long time, so I was thrilled to find a hardcover copy for only $2. God bless half-price bookstores! This non-fiction work compiles examples of the independent or “wild” woman in world mythology and cultures. This book has made huge strides in feminist studies and should prove an interesting (and educational) read.

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Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

Book Overview:

Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre: Teen Fiction

Publication Info: Viking Juvenile, 2014

Synopsis: After years on the road with her veteran father, Hayley must adjust to a “normal” life with a permanent home and public schooling. Yet as she struggles to come to terms with her new life, she must also deal with the consequences of her father’s PTSD and worrying behavior.

Book Review:

Overall Rating: 4/5

This was my first novel by Anderson, and I was thoroughly impressed by her frank and beautiful way of telling such a genuine and heartbreaking story. There are so many layers to this book, from Hayley’s issues to her father’s issues to the walls they build around themselves because of these issues, and I loved how Anderson explored these layers and the complexity of the situations. I would not classify this as a happy, light, or fun summer read, but despite its sad content (and few flaws that bothered me), I think this is definitely well worth reading.

Plot:

Like with Fangirl, I often found myself wondering what the plot was building to, mainly because I’ve become accustomed to the clearly defined plotline of teen dystopian/adventure novels. It seemed that Anderson wanted to portray the reality of Hayley’s life, which was well-written and realistic, but I kept asking myself, “What’s the point? What are we heading towards?”

To me, the point of this novel is change. Like Fangirl, we see Hayley adjust and grow over time, and because of this, I would classify the story as one of growing up and finding one’s place. In the beginning, we meet a bitter and reserved protagonist who cannot stand the people around her and does not want her new life. As Hayley faces different challenges, from friendship to romance to the public school system, she begins to change in demeanor and approach, and at some points, I cheered for her — at other points, I wanted to physically shake and scream at her. And that’s how I knew that I was hooked, not only to this character, but also to her storyline. Although Anderson doesn’t give a clear-cut path towards the end of the book, it’s this connection that keeps you reading to the emotional and climactic ending.

And now, my one true quibble with this book —  not the ending, but the epilogue. I refuse to give any details, but I felt that the story would have been more fulfilling if Anderson hadn’t tacked on an epilogue. The resolution of the climactic ending, to me, gave me hope for Hayley and her future, and that was enough. Because I was already fulfilled (plot-wise), the epilogue felt forced and unnecessary, and after a story so real and genuine, telling what happened to everyone afterwards felt suspiciously like a “happily ever after.” But perhaps I’m too cynical, as some people may truly appreciate this epilogue. I leave that to you to decide.

Characters: 

As stated before, Hayley is incredibly bitter, reserved, saracastic, and stubborn to a fault — which means I absolutely loved and connected with this character! (Although what that says about me I’m not going to explore…) Because of all her faults, Hayley was incredibly real to me: I could see her, hear her, as I read, and that is not easy for a writer to accomplish. Well done, Anderson! Hayley’s characterization also shows moments of true depth and complexity as she veers between immature and mature, teenager and adult, around others, particularly her dad. Having to play the parent to one’s parent is not easy, and Anderson showed how damaging and difficult this was to Hayley, as it is to anyone who endures it.

Because of the emotional connection I felt towards Hayley, I was able to experience and understand her reactions to her father. His PTSD and substance abuse is downright scary at times, and when Hayley felt scared or angry, I felt the same. But despite all that, like Hayley I wanted him to succeed and be a father and see his own worth, and this deep connection I felt to the story and characters shows Anderson’s writing genius.

Finally, the romance between Hayley and Finn reminds me of the romance in Fangirl, because it, too, is genuine and authentic. These two fight and misunderstand and become awkward and ignore each other, but at the end of the day, are obviously good for each other. And the romance doesn’t overshadow any of the story, but rather enhances it, which I was so happy about.

Writing Quality:

Although I have yet to read any of Anderson’s other novels, if they are as wonderfully written as this, I have no choice but to read them all. Anderson does not tiptoe around the realities of life, both good and bad, and I really appreciated this straight-forward, truthful approach.

(Because I’m a hypercritical nut, I do have to point out that I caught a few blatant typos and grammatical errors that hopefully are fixed when this is published in paperback.)

Who I recommend this to:

  • Fans of John Green’s novels
  • Fans of Thirteen Reasons Why and the Anonymous novels (i.e. Go Ask Alice, Jay’s Journal)
  • Realistic fiction readers
  • High school, college, and beyond (warning: language, violence, mentions of suicide, sex, alcohol, and drugs)
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Review: Fangirl

Book Overview:

Title: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Genre: Teen Fiction

Publication Info: St. Martin’s Press, 2013

Synopsis: A devoted fangirl and fanfiction writer, Cath must come to terms with adulthood and independence, anxiety, and her evolving relationships with her twin sister, terrifying roommate, and classmates in her first year of college.

Book Review:

Overall Rating: 5/5

Let me say that I rarely consider a book to truly deserve such a high rating. I most often give this rating during the aftereffects of finishing a great book — the “book high,” if you will — or because I ignore or overlook the tiny flaws I noticed while reading. However, it has been quite a while since I finished this book (weeks, even, thanks to my proclivity to apathy and procrastination), yet I still feel that this book deserves a perfect rating. Why? Because Fangirl is the perfect blend of teen and adult content, wit and humor, sadness and emotion, and fantastic writing. I think everyone should give this book a try, or at least read the synopsis, because even if it is outside your interest type, it is a wonderful book.

Plot:

The storyline and plot development of this book is different from others in the teen category, in that most teen books set up a quest or goal for the main character(s) to achieve in the first few chapters, with side plots and events merely adding to the main plot. Fangirl, however, does not really follow this trend, as Rainbow Rowell chooses instead to follow Cath’s life and growth throughout her first year of college. Because the quest plot trend has become so ingrained in me from reading so many teen fantasy novels, I admit I was thrown off by this at the start. But looking back, I really appreciate Rowell’s choice in this, because it shows that the real goal is for Cath to grow and change and accept herself, rather than win a boyfriend or become popular. And this, to me, is what life and college are really like, so when you read this book, you are reading real life experiences.

Seriousness aside, the romance in this book is by far one of the most perfect and well-written relationships I’ve ever encountered. Here are the five reasons why: (1) awkwardness, (2) tension, (3) fighting/misunderstandings, (4) slow development, (5) actual chemistry. If you want to know what real romantic relationships are like, look no further than this book.

Finally, I tremendously appreciated the ending of this book. I won’t spoil anything, but Rowell doesn’t spell out everything in Cath’s future for the reader, which in this book did not seem necessary. Personally, it meant that it was enough that Cath had grown and changed, and while she still had things to learn and do, we are given confidence that she can handle them. This is genius to me.

Characters:

If it feels like I’m fangirling and raving over this book, you may want to skip over this portion, because I can do nothing but rave over the characters in this book.

Cath is such a relatable protagonist to me, as she struggles with shyness, anxiety, and the inability to connect with others — all things I have struggled with and continue to deal with on a daily basis. While some may not be able to relate to her position as a fanfiction writer and devoted fan of Simon Snow, her personality traits are enough to make her frustrating and realistic in the most endearing way possible. (So many times I wanted to shake Cath and yell at her, only to realize I did the same things in college.)

I’ve already ranted about the romance of the novel, but allow me to briefly say that Levi, Cath’s romantic interest, is so lovable and interesting and intriguing. Yet another point for Rowell.

Even the smaller characters of this book read like authentic, real people to me, such as Wren, Cath’s father, Reagan, Nick, etc. Every character reminds me of people I have met and known, which is a feat of great writing to me.

Writing Quality:

I have absolutely nothing negative to say about the writing or quality of this novel as a whole. Everything is well-developed, well-timed, and well-written.

 

Who I recommend this to:

  • Fans of John Green’s novels
  • Realistic fiction readers
  • Romance readers
  • Soon-to-be or current college students
  • High school, college, and beyond (warning: language, mentions of sex, drugs, alcohol)

 

 

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Review: Every Day

Book Overview

Title: Every Day

Author: David Levithan

Genre: Teen Fiction

Publication Info: Knopf Books, 2012

Synopsis: A wakes up as a different person every day, with only 24 hours to adjust to and learn each person’s appearance, family, and life before switching bodies the next morning. A is accustomed to this routine, this abnormal life of observing others and never interfering, but begins to question everything after meeting Rhiannon, putting A’s lifestyle and identity in danger.

Book Review:

Overall Rating: 4/5

When first encountering this book, I was intrigued by the idea of A’s life, jumping from body to body regardless of gender, race, culture, etc., and it was this original and creative idea that led me to actually buy the book. I am so glad that I did, because I was not disappointed. Every entry/chapter records a day in A’s life, and so as A experiences life from so many different perspectives, so do we. To me, Levithan handled this brilliantly, and this book is definitely an amazing read.

Plot:

Although some might complain that the beginning is slower compared to the rest of the book, the opening of this book shows clearly the reality of A’s life, which I think is crucial to understanding the whole book. Once A meets Rhiannon, the love interest, I had already begun to see things from A’s perspective, and I could understand A’s motives and feelings.And if you’re a romantic person, then this book is definitely for you! The romance between A and Rhiannon drives the plot and was so well-done that I could not put this book down; I read it in two days. That being said, while I was completely addicted and caught up in the plot, I could easily see the whole love-at-first-sight, instalove phenomenon happening from the very beginning. I’m not a fan of instalove and was bothered by it occasionally while reading. However, if nothing else, the romance here is realistic–to which I say a huge thank you to Levithan–and shows the struggles of relationships (both normal and completely abnormal, as in A’s case).

Other than the instalove, I can only criticize the ending, which I will not spoil for you. All I can say without giving away anything is that Levithan leaves a lot of questions unanswered, both plot-related and idea-related. Because of this, I couldn’t get the book off my mind for days afterward, which is a good thing. Overall, I would NOT stay away from this book just because of the ending. It is still worth your time.

Characters:

Some people are bothered by A’s personality, for a myriad of reasons, but I loved A. Although I constantly had to reconstruct my thoughts on character gender, telling myself that A is neither a girl nor a boy, the character was extremely relatable and likeable to me. And because of the non-gender characteristic and abnormal life, A saw the world in a way that was so fresh and different and wonderful to me.  I loved the narrative, I loved the perspective, and I loved reading from A’s point of view.

Similarly, I also felt that Rhiannon was a strong character, realistic and relatable, though she frustrated me on several occasions for her reactions to A’s changing identity and appearance. However, I think this was intentional, and if nothing else, meaningful, because most of us would react the same way if we had to rethink our whole worldview for the person we loved.

Writing quality:

As mentioned before, I loved A’s point of view and perspective, which forced me to rethink my ideas of gender and appearance. A (or Levithan, rather) had a very blunt and yet beautiful way of telling events and looking at things that I appreciated. As a result, he first person point-of-view actually enhanced this book, and the writing was a joy to read.

 

Who do I recommend this to?

  • Fans of John Green’s writing
  • Realistic fiction readers
  • Romance readers
  • High school, college, and beyond (warning: mentions of suicide, drug use, sex)

 

 

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