Jennifer Pickrell

YA Writer


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July 2016 SummySeries Reading Wrap-up

The formatting is screwy in this post, but ah well…

Read on!

SUNRISE OVER FALLUJAH by Walter Dean Myers

From Goodreads: A powerful…novel about the heroics and horror of war…Operation Iraqi Freedom, that’s the code name. But the young men and women in the military’s Civil Affairs Battalion have a simpler name for it: WAR.

This is a sort-of sequel to FALLEN ANGELS, which took place during the Vietnam War and was from the perspective of Richie. In SUNRISE, Richie’s nephew, Robin aka Birdy, has joined the military.

There were a few editing issues (example: Birdy references Jonsey on one page and then a few pages later, they are introducing themselves, as if for the first time), but nothing so large as to overshadow the story.

Myers did a tremendous job with the ambiguity of the situation – Birdy’s confusion over what the “right” thing is, plus the frustration and fear over constantly changing rules of engagement.

He also showed, as Birdy wrote in a letter to his uncle: “that the guys who fought in Nam wouldn’t even recognize today’s army.” (pg 1)

Key word back then being GUYS.

I didn’t connect as much as I did to FALLEN ANGELS, probably because my dad was in Vietnam so it felt more personal, but it definitely made me think.

20160705_213735

GHOST BOY by Martin Pistorius

From Goodreads: In January 1988 Martin Pistorius, aged twelve, fell inexplicably sick…within eighteen months he was mute and wheelchair-bound. Martin’s parents were told an unknown degenerative disease left him with the mind of a baby and less than two years to live.

This is a memoir, about how Pistorius regained awareness and found his voice through the use of speech devices. It’s part hopeful and part horrifying and was an interesting and insightful read.

My one complaint, as with the above book, is the editing. It felt a bit uneven without any real references to time and some of the sections near the end were a bit rambling and written like it was an entirely different book.

Still, it’s worth the read, but be prepared for tough subject matter.

20160713_100941SUMMER SISTERS by Judy Blume

“Adult” Judy Blume book that follows friends Vix and Caitlin from their first summer together on Martha’s Vineyard in 1977 through their adulthoods and separate paths.

This was a very “beachy” read for me although, sadly, I did not read it while on a beach. It dealt with some serious issues, but always from a distance, as if I was a neighbor, peeking in on the dysfunctional household next door. I liked the format a lot, focusing mostly on Vix, but gaining insight into other characters’ mindsets, and it was cool to grow up with the girls and see how they turned out, but I really disliked Caitlin. I’m not sure if I was supposed to like her or not, though.

All in all, a bittersweet read that successfully captured the aches and pains of being young, but made me extremely glad to be a grown up without someone like Caitlin in my life.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE BANYAN by Vaddey Ratner

Adult fiction, based on the author’s own childhood experiences in the 1970s when the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia.

I’m only halfway through this book because real-life has slowed my reading time, but so far it’s heartbreaking and beautifully written. OMG, the writing, seriously, it’s gorgeous. There are times I feel swept away by the mythical legends the main character’s father tells and then I’m yanked back to the horrible reality of the atrocities that are happening.

Side note: Growing up, my older brother was one of those kids that read history books for fun. I’d leaf through them sometimes and I still remember an  image detailing the number of deaths Pol Pot (Khmer Rouge leader) was responsible for: 1.5 million. As a child, I couldn’t comprehend this number. As an adult, I still can’t.

Books like this are so, so important. We shouldn’t ever forget and we should learn from history. Just forty years ago, a megalomaniac and the group that blindly followed him attempted to “take back” their country, separating people by their religious and ethnic backgrounds, forbidding minorities to speak their own languages, and trying to make everyone the same.

One and a half million people died.

That’s terrifying. 

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June 2016 SummySeries Reading Wrap-up

Covers from Goodreads, click on the titles for more info.

SUMMER OF LOST AND FOUND by Rebecca Behrens

MG novel that follows protagonist, Nell, as she searches for clues about the lost colony of Roanoke.

Summer Lost and FoundI loved all the details, both about the past and the present. It seriously felt like I was exploring North Carolina with Nell because Rebecca created such a vivid picture of the small community. And the descriptions of the humidity? SPOT ON. I’m in Virginia, I know that soupy misery.

When a book makes history fun, that’s a big thumbs up.

 

JUST LISTEN by Sarah Dessen

YA contemporary about a girl dealing with family drama and being dropped by her best friend.

This one is up there with THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER for me. Annabel was relatable and her family life was realistic. Is there anyone who writes about sisterly bonds better than Sarah Dessen??? Plus Owen. Infuriating music snob, Owen. Somehow I liked him anyway, so kudos to the author.

THE LAST STAR by Rick Yancey

The final book in the YA sci-fi 5TH WAVE trilogy.

I hate to ever say this, but: I didn’t like this book

There were multiple POVs, mostly in first person, and the similarity of voices made the whole story confusing and disjointed. Plus the purple prose, especially during a couple of cringe-worthy Cassie passages.

And I know this is a plot driven book, but the characters just kinda fell flat. Even the ending felt anti-climactic and it shouldn’t have because this is, in theory, an exciting book.

Great potential, but it just didn’t deliver for me.

THE RAVEN KING by Maggie Stiefvater

The fourth and final book in the RAVEN CYCLE. Fantasy? Paranormal? I have no idea how to classify this unique series.

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – I love being immersed in the world of these books. The magic, the nature…the Ronan.

Ronan, ferocious and loyal and fragile. (p. 263)

YES.

But, really, I adored all the main characters, even Adam, who had to grow on me.

This book was a satisfying conclusion to a magical series.

I’ll never look at trees the same way again.

Under a Painted Sky coverUNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee

YA historical fiction, set in 1849, about a Chinese girl and a runaway slave who disguise themselves as boys to escape pursuing lawmen.

This book pulled me in completely. I picked it up one evening, thinking I’d read a few chapters before bed, and before I knew it, I was halfway through and had to make myself put it down so I could sleep.

Then I read it during breakfast the next morning and finished it at lunch because I HAD to know how Sammy and Andy’s journey turned out.

Now I’m sad because the book has ended, but I’ll try to console myself with Lee’s next book, OUTRUN THE MOON, which I need to read ASAP. And she has another book coming out in December!

*fangirls*

LOVE STORY by Jennifer Echols

Girl writes about dream guy for her college creative writing assignment, he joins the class, writes his own steamy stories about her.

I thought this would be a sexy, swoony read, but 95% of the book was misunderstandings that could have been solved by simple conversations and I didn’t get my swoon 😦

Out of Darkness coverOUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez

From Goodreads, which sums it up beautifully: Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

This book…

How do I even put my thoughts into words? Beautifully written, painful, real.

Naomi and her twin brother and sister. Their relationship was love. I wanted to put them, and Wash and his family, into a protective bubble and keep them safe forever.

Other characters (no names, as to not spoil anything) made me want to vomit, to scrub my skin off.

The cover is perfection.

The story is haunting.

It’s important.

Read this book.


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YA Buccaneers Reading Challenge Wrap Up

Another summer down! And please don’t tell me it’s still technically summer until the 23rd of September because I am ready for falling leaves and sweater days and all the other lovely things of autumn. In my mind, summer ends in August.

Anyway, I read a ton this summer for the YAB Reading Challenge and here’s more about that:

YAB Reading Challenge 2015

BANNED BOOK: n/a

Dust of Eden coverBOOK WITH DIVERSE MAIN CHARACTER:

DUST OF EDEN by Mariko Nagai. Add this to the list* of beautiful books in verse I’ve read featuring diverse main characters. There were some truly heartbreaking passages in this book, about the Japanese-American internments camps during WWII, and about war, in general.

This is hell, Mina, where men die as soon

as they are freed. This is hell when men do

this to each other.

BOOK BY YOUR FAVE AUTHOR:

I have a lot of “favorite” authors, so this was a tough category. I picked up LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell and it was just as delightful as her other books.

ROAD TRIP BOOK:

I just started REUNITED by Hilary Weisman Graham (hence the half a line above) and it promises to be sweet and funny and exactly the kind of book I need after reading some seriously heavy ones.

BOOK YOU OWN BUT HAVEN’T READ:

THE CEMENT GARDEN by Ian McEwan – disturbing, unsettling, the kind of book you want to un-read. It was adapted into a movie and many of the reviewers were people who wanted to un-see it.

SET DURING THE SUMMER:

THAT SUMMER by Sarah Dessen – breezy read, loved the sisterly bond.

ADAPTED INTO A MOVIE:

SOMEONE LIKE YOU by Sarah Dessen – one of the best YA female friendships I’ve ever read. And I loved the growth of the main character.

Bone Gap coverBOOK OF YOUR CHOICE:

BONE GAP by Laura Ruby – it kinda lost me at the end, but the build-up was slow-burning beautiful. The cover is a perfect fit for the story. 

TRANSLATED FROM ANOTHER LANGUAGE:

LIZARD by Banana Yoshimoto

The is the second book I’ve read by the author and I felt a bit ho-hum about the first, although I couldn’t put my finger on the reason why. I thought maybe something had been lost in translation, but I think it had more to do with the writing style (very little dialog, a lot of inner musings). It worked a lot better for me in this book because it was short stories instead of one long story full of seemingly disjointed scenes.

SET ON A DIFFERENT CONTINENT:

FALLEN ANGELS by Walter Dean Myers. A tough read because of the subject matter (young men in Vietnam), but so, so good. I like Myers’ to-the-point writing style. I’ve only read one other book by him (MONSTER), which I also enjoyed so I think I might have to binge-read more of his books next summer.

HISTORICAL NOVEL:

THE YONAHLOSSEE RIDING CAMP FOR GIRLS by Anton DiSclafani – I loved the concept, but never really connected with the story/characters.

PUBLISHED YOUR GRAD YEAR: n/a

GRAPHIC NOVEL: n/a

RORY GILMORE BOOK: n/a

NON-FICTION:

LOVE IS A MIX TAPE by Rob Sheffield. This book brought up a lot of feelings since I was also young and in love in the 1990s. Even though there were sections that seemed rambling and unrelated to the story, it all somehow still worked.

*in case you’re interested:

BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai (here is a blog review I did a few years ago)

ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson


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YA Book Club – Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Book Club ButtonRed Queen cover

(cover and description from Goodreads)

The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

NOTE

When I add an asterisk next to something, it means scroll to the end of post for additional, somewhat-spoilery comments.

COVER

It sums up the story perfectly with the colors and starkness.

STORY

The concept isn’t new – rich/powerful (Silvers) vs the working class (Reds) – but the book has an interesting spin on things by giving the Silvers “abilities.” And what fascinating (and deadly) abilities they were, although I didn’t entirely understand how the blood divide began. There wasn’t really a place where all that could be explained, but I’m hoping the next book dives more into the history of things*.

CHARACTERS

The main character (Mare) is likeable most of the time – loved her close-knit relationship with her family (esp her dad and sister) and the fact she had bite to her personality (at least initially). But I did question how quick she was to trust people – she grew up under the boot of the Silvers and stole to help keep her family afloat, so it seems like she should be naturally suspicious of EVERYONE, no matter what.

As for other people, I was strangely pulled toward Evangeline and The Panther and I hope they pop up again**.

PLOT

I made predictions over what would happen (who to trust/who would live***) and I was right, but there were enough twists and turns that I doubted myself a few times. And I didn’t predict the actual fallout**** which was cruelly clever.

The ending set up the next book and I’m looking forward to reading about the search, but I’m wary about a potential love triangle/square between Mare, Kilorn and whoever else. Kilorn, in general, felt sorta forced***** into the story and I wish he’d been written as Mare’s brother instead because there’s too much else going on without shoving a rich man/poor man storyline into things.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Other than the Kilorn bits, the only real issue I had was all the sneering/smirking/muttering/murmuring. Those words were used so much it was actually a little distracting.

I wasn’t blown away by the book, but I liked it and I’ll probably pick up the next one in the hope it gets more into backstory and that there’s plenty of action/fight scenes because those were my favorite parts. 

Scroll down for spoilers…

WARNING

There be spoilers below!

SPOILERS!!!

!!!

*I want Julian to explain all this because he (and Sara) better still be alive!

**Yes, I know, Evangeline was borderline psycho, but I’m hoping she eventually becomes an ally, because she’s the kind of fierce crazy you’d want on your side. The same with The Panther – there’s definitely more than meets the eye with her.

***Shade. I knew it!

****King/sword

*****I wasn’t entirely sold on any of the “love” stuff – it all felt a bit forced and Mare came across as wishy-washy. More than a few times I wanted to yell at her, “Come on girl, you don’t have time for this BS, get back to The Scarlet Guard business!”


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Book Reviews: Audrey, Alice and Katherine(s)

(images and descriptions from Goodreads)

Audrey Alice coverWHEN AUDREY MET ALICE by Rebecca Behrens

First daughter Audrey Rhodes can’t wait for the party she has planned for Friday night. The decorations are all set and the pizza is on its way. But the Secret Service must be out to ruin her life, because they cancel at the last minute-citing security breach and squashing Audrey’s chances for making any new friends. What good is being “safe and secure” if you can’t have any fun?

Audrey is ready to give up and become a White House hermit, until she discovers Alice Roosevelt’s hidden diary. The former first daughter gives Audrey a ton of ideas for having fun…and more problems than she can handle.

From the opening scene of the failed pizza party, I could tell this was going to be a fun MG book. But it’s so much more than that. While only a handful of people know what’s it’s like to be a “First Kid,” most of us can relate to the pains of being in eighth grade. Audrey is trying to fit in at school, crushing on a boy and wishing her parents (and all the other adults in her life) would realize she isn’t a little kid anymore. And most of us probably did over-the-top things to prove we were oh-so-grown-up. Luckily, our tween/teen antics weren’t reported by the media for the whole world to discuss.

Then there’s Alice who lived a lifetime before Audrey but who’d been in the same position. Her diary entries are great, so full of personality. After I finished reading, I did some research into Alice and was happy to learn Emily Spinach was real. If you want to know who that is, you gotta read the book!

WAMA is an interesting mix of the past/present, told in a way that’s funny, sweet, smart, and sometimes painful – there’s a scene that involves a librarian reading to kids and I wanted to hug Audrey afterward. Definitely check it out!

Abundance of Kats coverAN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by John Green

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. He’s also a washed-up child prodigy with ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a passion for anagrams, and an overweight, Judge Judy-obsessed best friend. Colin’s on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which will predict the future of all relationships, transform him from a fading prodigy into a true genius, and finally win him the girl.

First off, for all of you out there like me who can’t wrap their brain around the virtual improbability of someone dating 19 people, all with the same name, I will give you this: Colin considers pretty much ALL interactions with a Katherine as a relationship, even if it’s like five seconds of hand-holding.

Moving past that, how great is this opening line?

The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.

The final line is also fantastic, but I’m not going to give it away.

John Green is really good at writing male protags who are intelligent (yet clueless), somewhat socially awkward and definitely self-absorbed. Chapter 13 is pretty much Hassan telling Colin all the things I wanted to tell him.

Speaking of Hassan, Green also excels at writing mouthy (in the best possible way) BFFs.

There were a few things that bugged me about this book, most notably the “…” parts of some convos because I’m not good at filling in blanks, but overall I loved the small-town setting, the friendships, and that feeling, so perfectly captured, of the terror and excitement of being eighteen and having the whole world stretched out in front of you.

If anyone is interested in Colin’s theorem, I found this site that lets you plug in your own data:

http://www.palegreenthings.net/index.html

I tried it with three of my teen relationships and it was right each time. Creepy!


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YA Book Club – Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Book Club ButtonAllegiant cover(cover from Goodreads)

It’s hard to review without giving anything away, but I’ll try. My page numbers are based on the e-book.

I found the beginning fairly interesting, with everyone discovering the “new place.” (Geez, how vague am I being right now?). There were some beautiful, understated lines about how scary it was to leave:

The train hisses over the rails, a tear drops down Tris’s cheek, and the city disappears into the darkness. (62)

And this line which turned out to be pretty important to the story overall:

Take a person’s memories, and you change who they are. (70)

The middle dragged a bit for me. I understood why it was necessary to show the disparity between the GP and GD, but after awhile it felt like I was being hit over the head with it. And, yeah, I admit, I was confused over all the serum talk.

However, I did like the family aspects – Tris learning more about her mom and the interactions between Tris and Caleb. There was so much there for bro/sis to work through.

MINOR SPOILER with this quote:

A few of them [knuckles] are split from punching Caleb, and dotted with faint bruises. It seems fitting that the blow would leave a mark on both of us. That’s how the world works. (176)

Then there was the end. Firstly, let me say about Peter: wow, didn’t see that coming.

But I did see the other thing coming, even though I didn’t want to believe it would actually happen.

I made a note at Chapter 41 that said “THIS.”

From there on, I couldn’t stop reading.

I noted “THIS” again for Chapter 47. Tris + Caleb = me getting teary. And it wasn’t that I disliked Tris before, I just found her sorta irritating and self-righteous at times. This chapter made me look at her in a whole new light.

I’m in the camp of liking the ending, although I know a lot of people didn’t.

What did you think? Come join the YA Book Club discussion here!


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YA Book Club: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

Book Club Buttonsecond chance summer cover(description from Goodreads)(join the book discussion on Tracey’s blog)

Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.

Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.

As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.

I’ve read books before where characters are grieving a lost loved one or where they are dealing with a devastating illness themselves, but I can’t think of many that explore the pain of watching someone you love – your big, strong father, no less – dying and knowing there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

In all the medical dramas I’d ever seen, there was always some solution, some last-minute, miraculously undiscovered remedy. Nobody ever just gave up on a patient. But it seemed like in real life, they did. (24)

This could have been a complete downer of a book, but the characters were so well rounded that I was just as caught up in what was going on with Taylor’s brother and sister as I was with her. I felt like I knew them, with all their little quirks and irritating habits. I wanted them to have one last, perfect summer.

I smiled at that, and we sat there as it got darker and darker outside, me and my father, listening to the music he’d loved when he was my age. I knew that soon, the moment would be over – my mother and Warren and Gelsey would return home, bringing with them noise and news and bustle. But for now, there was my father and me, and a moment that I didn’t try to preserve, but just let happen, as I sat next to him, listening to the song, as the record spun and the music played on. (375)

Oh, and the way Taylor and Lucy separated their Skittles by color when they were younger? My childhood BFF and I used to do that, too.

This book wasn’t just about dying and grief and second chances, it was also a girl discovering that her parents are just people, as vulnerable and fallible as everyone else.

This, frankly, was a lot more frightening than the yelling. Seeing my mother sad, vulnerable, scared – it was too much for me…(381)

That realization is something that I, even in my 30s, have a hard time accepting. I want to believe that my mom and dad are indestructible superheroes who will live to be a million years old (and please don’t ever tell me otherwise).

Even days later, I still have a hollow spot in my chest from this book because this family was so…I don’t want to say “ordinary,” but they were like people we all know, making bad puns, dancing around with sparklers in the yard, and walking the dog. Their realness made the story all the more impactful.