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review 2017-05-25 03:29
Review: Burned (Burned #1) by Ellen Hopkins
Burned - Ellen Hopkins

Quick review for a quick read that I picked up from my library's audio collection. Powerful and really wonderful character exploration, which is typical of Ellen Hopkins's books. Pattyn is a young woman living in a tightly knit religious community and abusive household. She strongly laments her inability to grow as a young woman - in relationships, in asserting herself among other things - as well as watching her mother being subjected to her father's fists. After a series of incidents in which she acts out, she's sent to live with her aunt and begins to know what it means to have a better life for herself, including being valued in a romantic relationship with her S.O. (Ethan). In the end, she's not prepared to return to the household that cast her out, yet she never really wanted to leave completely behind, and things only turn for the worst after that point. I'll admit it hit me like a punch to a gut and I couldn't shake the emotional upheaval it left within me long after turning the final page.

"Burned", like the other books of Hopkins I've read, went down so smoothly and quick for the overarching read - I really enjoyed the audio narration of the novel as well as the poetic form she uses to tell Pattyn's story. She captures Pattyn's thoughts, questions, fears, uncertainty, and emotion to the teeth, and I liked being able to follow her throughout. I thought her fears and concerns were front and center, making me feel her struggle, but I think there were opportunities of depth and debate (particularly around the religious community concerns, since Pattyn lives in a Mormon household) that were missed. I definitely look forward to reading the next novel in this series, though the cliffhanger ending makes me all the more anxious to get to it as soon as possible.

Overall score: 4/5 stars.

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review 2017-05-04 01:31
Review: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
Lock and Key - Sarah Dessen

Initial reaction: I really enjoyed this story by Sarah Dessen (and ended up buying it on a spontaneous trip to Barnes and Noble). The key metaphor throughout the book really resonated with me and I enjoyed reading the narrative through Ruby's voice. Though I'd probably give this book 3.5 stars overall because there were certain emotional moments that I think would've hit home more if they'd been given more room to be showcased.

Full review:

Sarah Dessen does such a great job getting into the lives of her characters, it's hard not to be drawn into their experiences regardless of the myriad of circumstances they might find themselves within. "Lock and Key" proves no exception to that, though I'll admit I kept feeling even as I finished the novel that I wanted to sink my teeth into the conflict and lives of the characters just a little bit more. But only a little, because it still held my attention and interest through the entire story.

Ruby is a young woman who's been on the run with her mother for a significant part of her life. There used to be a time when Ruby shared a close bond with her sister Cora despite her mother's flights of fancy and abrasiveness. When Cora moves off to college, Ruby thinks the bond is broken as she's forgotten them entirely. Ruby doesn't see this as a problem, she's used to taking care of herself and having to do things for herself and her mother, yet it takes the intervention of a landlord and some dire circumstances (including a stretch in which Ruby's mother doesn't return to their fractured home) to necessitate Ruby being taken into custody and sent away to live with Cora, long thought lost. Ruby isn't exactly welcoming to the change. She's close to being 18, ready to run away at a moment's notice. But she realizes that the environment around her might be the key to her opening up and finding roots in her life after all.

I really enjoyed reading from Ruby's perspective. She can be funny and spontaneous, but I think seeing her character grow throughout the novel brought the most rewarding experience for me throughout this work. She really makes you feel for her situation and I understood why she acted the way she did in the beginnings of the book. I also liked the fact that she came to see on her own terms why her own actions and missteps were wrong, not just from her interactions with the other characters in the book, but from observing the lives of the other characters situations (i.e. Nate's, whose circumstances hit home with me as well) and how they mirrored to her own. The other characters were great to watch unfold in the overarching story as well. I definitely liked the relationship between Ruby and Cora (heck, I would've loved more of those moments), and Nate and Ruby's relationship had some great moments as well. Dessen tackled a lot of difficult issues in this book, yet there were some moments that felt summarized and lacked as much emotional connectivity as some of her other books (i.e. "Dreamland" and "The Truth About Forever") that I was hoping for. I felt like I couldn't really sink my teeth into the experience despite the coming to terms for the characters. The key metaphor carried throughout the book was a good one, and I liked how it came full circle in the end.

It's a book of Dessen's I enjoyed - probably not my favorite in her bibliography, but still a memorable one and well worth reading.

Overall rating: 3.5/5 stars.

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review 2017-04-29 17:52
Review: "Olive Juice" by TJ Klune
Olive Juice - T.J. Klune

"One thing that they don't tell you is that fires can't burn bright forever."

 

 

All the reviews for this book are like "OMG, I'm a blubbering mess." and "OMG, don't read any spoilers.".

 

So yeah, you REALLY shouldn't read any spoilers and just go along for the ride.

 

But there are two things that I just want to point out anyway:

 

1. TJ Klune has always been a great writer, but he outdid himself with this one. The writing quality is excellent, and given the heaviness of the story, it was beautiful, tasteful and one of the best-written books I've ever read.

 

2. Since everyone is recommending to avoid spoilers at any costs and go in blindly, I still feel like this book could have used a trigger warning, given the main target of M/M readers:

 

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

 

Trigger warning: abduction of a family member, with no final conclusion or explanation to the disappearance or the whereabouts

(spoiler show)

 

So while a romance this is NOT, the writing and the revelation of bits of information a little at a time totally worked for me. This has been one of the darkest and most depressing books I've ever read. But I'm glad that I did, because not everything in life is just rainbows, kittens and sunshine.

 

Oh, and just to be clear: there's a tentative HFN, so this can still be considered as a romance. Though just barely.

 

Thanks to Elsbeth and Cinna MMon for the BR.

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review 2017-04-13 10:28
Grief, survivor’s guilt, identity and family relations in a beautifully written book set in Guatemala.
Petals - Laurisa White Reyes

I’m writing this review as part of a blog tour for this novel that I voluntarily agreed to participate in.

From the author’s note, it is clear that this book is a labour of love that has been many years in the coming. This is the first novel by Larisa White Reyes I had read and it is unlikely to be the last one.

The story is told in the first person by Carly Perez, a young girl (almost eighteen) who lost her mother last Christmas Even in a car accident. She was also in the car when it happened and it has taken her a long time to recover, both physically and mentally. We soon realise how precarious this recovery is. Her father, who is originally from Guatemala, insists on going there to visit his family for Christmas and Carly is less than happy. She doesn’t know them, as her father hasn’t visited in the last twenty years, she hardly speaks any Spanish, and a year after her mother’s death, the last thing she wants is to spend time in an unfamiliar (and to her mind backwards and wild) place with a bunch of strangers. Her preconceived ideas of the country and her family will be put to the test and her precarious mental equilibrium will be stretched to the very limit.

Carly is a typical adolescent in some ways, but also an extremely sensitive soul. She is moody because she has to go to Guatemala, instead of staying in California, she argues with her father, she disobeys his rules and gives him the silent treatment at times. She can be grumpy and quick to judge, both the country and her relatives, and she does not know what to think about Miguel, her step-cousin, the only one close to her age and experiences but also reluctant to engage and talk about his problems. Carly is an artist, although she’s had difficulty painting since her mother’s death, and she keeps being tormented by strange dreams, and by the recurrent appearance of a weird man, wrinkled and scarred, who keeps nagging at her subconscious. She is terrified of him but can’t recall where she saw him before. She’s convinced he has come to confront her with something, but she does not know why or what. The combination of her disturbing experiences and the new environment manages to make her remember something that had been hiding inside of her mind, masked by the grief and the medication.

The author excels at showing Carly’s point of view, and how her opinion evolves from indifference and disdain towards her relatives and the country to curiosity and eventually affection and love. One of the reasons why I decided to read the book was because I was intrigued about how a girl brought up in California would adjust to a new family and a completely different environment. The description of Guatemala, the city of Reu, the Mayan temples, Xela … paint a vivid picture of the country, its traditions (including those related to Christmas, religious and otherwise), its food and its people. We get to meet the more traditional older generation (her grandfather, caring and congenial, and her grandmother, always cooking and comforting), her aunt Dora, who also left the country and lived in New York for many years, and Miguel, the youngest one, who was born in the USA and who, although initially reluctant, ends up becoming the closest to her. They share not only age but also similar identity problems, and he’s dark and handsome too, so it’s not surprising that things develop to Carly’s surprise.

There is clean romance, there are some interesting discussions about identity, family, and what makes us who we are (and how difficult it might be to fit in when perhaps you don’t belong anywhere), and also about life, death, guilt and forgiveness. There are very emotional moments, fun and magical ones, and sad ones. Although the discovery Carly makes towards the end wasn’t a big surprise for me, the beauty is in the detail, the visual symbols (the snow, the petals of the title, the man …), the way all the pieces come together, and the final message is one of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation.

In summary, this is an excellent YA book, well written, with beautiful description of places, people and emotions, exploring issues of identity, survivor’s guilt, grief and death, mixed marriages and families, the role of tradition and culture, with an engaging and sympathetic main character and a good cast of secondary ones. This is a clean book with some Christian religious content and questions although that is not the emphasis of the book. It will appeal not only to readers of YA books but to anybody who enjoys well-written first-person narratives, exploring mixed family relationships, identity and grief, set in a wonderful location.

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text 2017-04-07 23:00
Tim Pigott-Smith
Travels With My Aunt - Graham Greene

I just learned of the passing of Tim Pigott-Smith. :(

 

He was a fine actor and I always looked out for audiobooks he narrated as he had a great way with voices.

 

The first audiobook I had of his was Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt and it is only a fitting tribute that I should repeat that listening experience this weekend.

 

The re-read, or re-listen, is on!

 

(Oh, and Lillelara may have helped with the re-read decision, too ;) )

 

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