September 28, 2014

Review: The Vault of Dreamers

The cover and the summary pulled me into wanting to read this. I mean, who doesn’t want to read a book with a close-up of an eyeball for a cover?!

Title: ‘The Vault of Dreamers’
Author: Caragh M. O’Brien
Pages: 432
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Available: NOW at your local library or bookstore
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the author of the Birthmarked trilogy comes a fast-paced, psychologically thrilling novel about what happens when your dreams are not your own.

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What's worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.

My Thoughts:

The title of this novel ties back to the plot nicely. This is not always the case in many books I read, but I thought the author did a nice job with it. Especially with that cover.

The summary from Goodreads says this is a fast-paced novel, and I would disagree. For me, the pacing did not start to pick up until my Kindle said 56%. Up until I hit this part of the story, I would read a little here, a little there (over the course of four days). But when I hit that 56% mark, I took my Kindle to my hammock and stayed until the story’s end.

Now that I have that out of the way, let me say this about the plot: it was interesting. I found the concept of a reality TV show for high school students to be interesting, but what I did not by was the “secrets” the school was keeping. I mean, it is reality TV. Wasn’t any viewer suspicious that they only filmed students twelve hours a day? Didn’t any of the viewers secretly want to know what happened when the cameras were turned off? This is the part of the story I struggled through because it just felt wrong.

I get that there was a secret to protect, but there are cameras everywhere. Am I to believe as a reader that it took Rosie putting cameras up all over the school to film for herself for her to learn something was off? Not buying it. And I still don’t.

With that said, it was not the story but Rosie that kept me in this story. On Goodreads I rated this a 3.5 because I liked it, but I didn’t love it. If I had not enjoyed Rosie as a character so much, I would have rated this book a 2. That’s how much I really liked her.

I felt for her—she was in a bad situation. A girl coming from nothing all of a sudden having an opportunity of a life time, but with strings attached. Welcome to life darling, where all elements have “strings” attached to them. But Rosie was willing to jump through all the hoops if it meant a better future of opportunity for her. This is why I enjoyed her character—her commitment to her own future.

And that’s all I can really share without spoiling key elements—and there are quite a few. But you read it and tell me if you buy the “cameras are off twelve hours a day” element of the story.

Do I recommend this book?

For a specific reader. The book has an interesting concept of a story, but the length is too long for what is revealed. An avid reader will tear right through the page; a slow reader may walk away. But I think the story itself will appeal to a wide-range of readers, regardless of genre preference.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

September 22, 2014

Review: Being Audrey Hepburn

When I saw this cover, I was intrigued. I mean, who doesn’t love Audrey Hepburn?! Okay, some of you don’t, but I love a classic Hollywood actress.

I was curious to see how Kriegman was going to bring Audrey into modern times, and into YA. This book has an interesting “flavor” to it.

Title: ‘Being Audrey Hepburn’
Author: Mitchell Kriegman
Pages: 366
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
Available: NOW at your local library or bookstore
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Lisbeth comes from a broken home in the land of tube tops, heavy eyeliner, frosted lip-gloss, juiceheads, hoop earrings and “the shore.” She has a circle of friends who have dedicated their teenage lives to relieve the world of all its alcohol one drink at a time.

Obsessed with everything Audrey Hepburn, Lisbeth is transformed when she secretly tries on Audrey’s iconic Givenchy. She becomes who she wants to be by pretending to be somebody she’s not and living among the young and privileged Manhattan elite. Soon she’s faced with choices that she would never imagine making – between who she’s become and who she once was.

In the tradition of The Nanny Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada, this is a coming of age story that all begins with that little black dress…

My Thoughts:

First, let me say that the Goodreads description is interesting because this is not how I would describe this book, at all. That first paragraph especially just doesn’t seem to fit. This description would not sell me to want to read this book.
Do you know what would? Having the idea of a dress transforming the life of a girl. A girl who wants nothing out of life but to not end up like her mom. Or her sister. Or her brother. This is a girl who sees possibility in all things Audrey Hepburn.

This is also a girl with connections. Lisbeth’s best friend works at The Met, and she just happens to have access to a Givenchy dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys.’

This friend, Jess, allows Lisbeth to try on the dress. I mean, how can she not? Lisbeth is completely obsessed with all things Hepburn, and Jess is her best friend. But when Jess is in danger of being discovered by her boss, she shoos Lisbeth into a party being held at the museum, and this thrusts Lisbeth into a life she could only have dreamed.

And while I could argue it is the dress that changes her life, it really isn’t. It is a chance encounter in a bathroom with a pop star who has had too much to drink and is sick in the bathroom. Lisbeth shows her kindness, and this pop star is what thrusts Lisbeth into the “high life.” The little black dress just allowed Lisbeth to “look” the part.

But there are family secrets being kept, and Lisbeth cannot sustain her lifestyle much longer. She is neglecting family, friends, and her own life to live it up with a crowd not meant to have her.

The question is: will her secret be found out?

What drives this book is not the story itself but Lisbeth. She is what kept me reading, even in parts where I was disconnecting. This is a girl who is searching for her own independence, but she is struggling because her mom wants one life for her and she wants a different one—not sure what life she wants yet, but that’s normal. Lisbeth seeks solace in her closet, and this is where her love for Audrey Hepburn is truly revealed. She relishes her closet time, with her laptop and her Hepburn film collection.

Lisbeth shines the most as a character when she is with her own kind. I did not buy her time with the socialites; it made her seem fake and uncaring. But when she is on the page with her best friend Jess, even with her family, she is more relatable and feels more real.

As for the plot, I found it an interesting idea. There were a couple of plot twists that I thought were interesting, and I really enjoyed the idea of a little black dress transforming someone’s life, but maybe in a different way.

I found the pacing of the novel to be a bit slow, and then it would pick up, and then slow down again. The final pay off was worth hanging in there.

Do I recommend this book?
I do, but with reservation to those who are looking for a book to hook them. This is not that novel. This novel is more geared towards established readers. I don’t see traditional non-readers staying hooked in the plot, but they may connect with Lisbeth as a character.
What’s the best realistic fiction novel you’ve read lately?

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator


September 19, 2014

Review: Of Monsters and Madness

A gothic, Poe tale with a creeptastic cover? I am on board.

Title: ‘Of Monsters and Madness’
Author: Jessica Verday
Pages: 288
Publisher: Egmont
Available: NOW at your local library or bookstore
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.

Summoned to her father's home in 1820's Philadelphia, a girl finds herself in the midst of a rash of gruesome murders in which he might be implicated. She is torn romantically between her father's assistants-one kind and proper, one mysterious and brooding-who share a dark secret and may have more to do with the violent events than they're letting on.

My Thoughts:

I am struggling a little with this book because I have mixed feelings. I liked a lot about it, and I disliked a little about it, but sometimes that little dislike is enough to ruin the whole experience of the novel.

First, let me deal with the plot. This I enjoyed, for the most part. I enjoyed being a part of gothic Philly—the sites, the sounds, the murders. We meet Annabel Lee just as she is about to meet her father for the first time, and it is a precarious time in Philadelphia because of mysterious deaths. Murders. And Annabel Lee’s household seems to be in the middle of it all—but the question revolves around how the puzzle pieces fit together. Some of that will be answered by novel’s end.

While I have read other reviews that said they did not find this novel to have a gothic feel, I have to politely disagree. Gothic lit deals more with setting than with the plot, and with that the author does deliver.

Actually, the author delivers a lot with this novel, until the ending. This is where Verday lost me as a reader, but I plan to read the next installment just to see where she takes her plot. If I am not satisfied with the next step, then I will not return as a reader.

That’s about all I can say without revealing important plot points—and trust me, they would ruin the overall storytelling for you.

Now I want to deal with the characters of the novel, namely the novel’s main character, Annabel Lee herself. Man, I loved her character. I enjoyed experiencing her building relationship with her grandfather (making me miss my own) and her friendship with her maid. She is what made me keep wanting to turn the page. She immersed me into the world, experiencing it with her as events unfolded. Her confusion and curiosity were my confusion and curiosity. For me, this is where the story thrived. It was Annabel Lee and her relationships with the other characters that kept me coming back to the novel.

One character I could have done without? Edgar Allen Poe. I am sorry to say it, but for me, he just added nothing to the story. He felt more of a burden on the page than anything else. Every time I saw him coming, I shuddered. And not in the way the author was intending. His original introduction into the story worked, but as a whole, this story belonged to Annabel Lee—and his character seemed to not be having it.

I am a fan of Poe’s work. I find him a fascinating man with many layers to his life as well as his work. I enjoy reading “imagined” fictional tales of many American writers; but this one did not work for me in the way I was hoping.

Maybe I missed something vital—maybe I am not being fair to Mr. Poe’s character. And as I stated above, I plan to read the next installment to see where the story goes next. But if he is on the page in the same way, I will not be a returning reader.

Now, I don’t want that to discourage you from making your own decision. I still think the novel is worth reading, I really do. But what the author was trying to accomplish with his character did not work for me—but that does not mean it won’t work for you.

Do I recommend this book?

With reservation—yes. If you are a Poe fanatic and devour all books Poe, then definitely add this one to your list. If you enjoy reading “fictional” author imaginings, then add this to your list. But if you are looking for a scare to pump your heart and keep the lights on at night, this might not be for you. It is not that type of book. It is just an interesting look into Poe (who is really in the book very little), but most especially an interesting take on Annabel Lee.

Let’s talk about books—what’s your favorite Poe tale?

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator


September 1, 2014

Review: Nest

I love using Netgalley. Sometimes I find little treasures to read that I might not otherwise know is there.

Today’s review is an example of one of these treasures…I cannot express my love for this book enough. And don't be fooled by that cover. You will need tissues as you get deeper into the story, especially when that title finally ties in to the plot. You have been warned.

Title: ‘Nest’
Author: Esther Ehrlich
Pages: 336
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Available: September 9
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

For fans of Jennifer Holm (Penny from Heaven, Turtle in Paradise), a heartfelt and unforgettable middle-grade novel about an irresistible girl and her family, tragic change, and the healing power of love and friendship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But then Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, and everything changes.

Chirp finds comfort in watching her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mysterious boy who lives across the street. Together they create their own private world and come up with the perfect plan: Escape. Adventure. Discovery.

Nest is Esther Ehrlich’s stunning debut novel. Her lyrical writing is honest, humorous, and deeply affecting. Chirp and Joey will steal your heart. Long after you finish Nest, the spirit of Chirp and her loving family will stay with you.

My Thoughts:

The summary says that this book will stay with you, and I can confirm that this is true with me.

The story is simple enough—and yet there is nothing simple about Chirp. She is a complex character; one who looks forward to sharing her love of dance with her mom and who loves learning about birds. But Chirp’s life takes a detour when her mother becomes sick, and readers take the journey with Chirp as she tries to cope with growing up, and her mother’s illness.

Ehrlich delivers a heart-wrenching story that had me turning the page. I read this book in two sittings in one day. I wanted to see where she was going to take me—where she was going to take Chirp and her family. I was not disappointed.

The writing in this novel is complex yet approachable for readers of many levels. While the audience is a middle reader, I feel that advanced younger readers will devour the words off the page.

The pacing of this novel makes it a page-turner. Readers live in Chirp’s world through Chirp’s point-of-view. I think this is what makes the novel an even stronger read. It allows our hearts to ache with her; our giggles to escape as she makes silly comments; our hearts thump as she describes leaping through the air. This does not have the “feel” of a novel but of a personal diary, and for me that helps sale this story.

But this story does not belong to Chirp alone. There is her father, her mother, her sister, her friend, her teacher, and her principal. These characters help round out the cast of the storytelling.

·         Chirp’s father is a psychiatrist, and at times I found him comical because I could see the influence of the time in the way he approached his parenting.

·         Chirp has learned to love dance through her mother, and while she watches her mother struggle with illness, Chirp never gives up on her or her recovery. It is heart-warming to see a child root so deeply for a parent.

·         Rachel, Chirp’s sister, is a typical teen of the time. She is trying to find her own independence while picking up slack at home.

·         Joey, at first I didn’t know what to think of him, but by novel’s end, I wanted to grab him and give him the biggest hug ever. This kid needs an adult in his corner.

·         The teacher and the principal, nice contrasts of one another—they provide the school environment that Chirp experiences. And while Chirp is trying to be the right student and make the right calls, with things falling apart at home, she really just needs an adult at the school on her team.

I love the characters, I love the plot, I love this book.

I feel like I can’t write much more than that without spoiling a few key elements to the story. I will say that you need this book in your life.

Do I recommend this book?

Enthusiastically! I think all readers of realistic fiction will enjoy this novel. I will not be surprised to see this on summer reading lists for the 2015/2016 school year.

Let’s talk about books—what’s your favorite middle grade realistic fiction novel? Share below so I can build my TBR pile even higher.
Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator