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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Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley

Pretty Girl-13 (from Goodreads)

Angie Chapman was thirteen years old when she ventured into the woods alone on a Girl Scouts camping trip. Now she’s returned home…only to find that it’s three years later and she’s sixteen-or at least that’s what everyone tells her.

What happened to the past three years of her life?

Angie doesn’t know.

But there are people who do — people who could tell Angie every detail of her forgotten time, if only they weren’t locked inside her mind. With a tremendous amount of courage, Angie embarks on a journey to discover the fragments of her personality, otherwise known as her “alters.” As she unearths more and more about her past, she discovers a terrifying secret and must decide: When you remember things you wish you could forget, do you destroy the parts of yourself that are responsible?

No doubt this book will stay with me for a long time – it was simultaneously gripping, disturbing, and fascinating. And even though I figured out most of what had happened to Angie way before she did, I still wanted to keep reading. I had to *know*, as much as she did.

I liked how it was split into parts and the eventual switch from third to first person – I was actually so absorbed, I didn’t notice the change for about 10 pages.

This is a book I’d recommend because of the uniqueness of the subject matter, but I did have some issues:

The author’s note at the end admits that this sort of therapy would normally take years, not just months, and I understood the need to speed it up for the sake of moving the story forward, but I wish there was more focus on how disruptive the alters actually were – in some places they came across as merely a nuisance and not as the completely disruptive forces they were.

If I were losing hours at a time of my life, I would be freaked the eff out (as would my parents); I’d probably need to be institutionalized for fear I’d harm myself or others. I doubt I could go to school and carry on “normally,” because my behavior would be so erratic. Which Angie’s presumably was, yet her neighbors let her regularly watch their baby? Hell no, I would not let her babysit my kid when she’d just returned after three years and was so freaking traumatized, she’d blocked out all her memories of what had happened. Parts of that subplot felt too forced and convenient.

I also wanted more emotionally in regards to a few other things that happened – I don’t want to spoil anything, but Angie has this major memory that has to do with her family, and it felt like it was brushed under the rug after the big reveal.

Second to lastly, I had my doubts that her sudden reappearance, after three years missing and presumed dead, could ever be kept under wraps for months. Not in this day and age, with social media. It just takes one person to post about it on Facebook or Twitter and it’s a domino effect after that.

Finally, there were a few little things that felt extraneous, like the s/l with Abraim and her mom’s “condition.” And the whole Livvie/Greg pointlessness.

The concept of this story is so fascinating, but I wish it had been more…

I’m not even sure of the word I’m looking for, but as odd as it sounds, considering all the memories that came out, this could have been a darker and more psychological book. As it was written, it felt like it barely scratched the surface into Angie’s mind.


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#MiddleGradeMay: The Familiars by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson

mmg-may-reading-challenge(Pic and blurb source. How adorable is that cover?)The Familiars cover

Is the kingdom’s fate in the hands of an orphan cat?

Running fast to save his life, Aldwyn ducks into an unusual pet store. Moments later Jack, a young wizard in training, comes in to choose a magical animal to be his familiar. Aldwyn’s always been clever. But magical? Jack thinks so and Aldwyn is happy to play along.

He just has to convince the other familiars the know-it-all blue jay Skylar and the friendly tree frog Gilbert that he’s the powerful cat he claims to be.

Then the unthinkable happens. Jack and two other young wizards are captured by the evil queen of Vastia.

On a thrilling quest to save their loyals, the familiars face dangerous foes, unearth a shocking centuries-old secret, and discover a destiny that will change Vastia forever. Their magical adventure an irresistible blend of real heart, edge-of-your-seat action, and laugh-out-loud humor is an unforgettable celebration of fantasy and friendship.

There’s a blurb on the back where another author praises, “…combines the magic of Harry Potter and the adventure of Warriors…”

That pretty much sums it up, maybe too much. There were a few things that felt a little too “familiar,” like the three friends – a green-eyed orphan boy, a goofy boy sidekick with a big family, and a know-it-all girl who is always lecturing.

And while I can understand comparing it to the Warriors’ series because of the animal element, they don’t seem to have too much else in common.

That said, I did enjoy the book. Aldwyn was clever, Gilbert provided comic relief, and Skylar was able to recite knowledge/history about things. I especially liked the seven dragons’ story.

It was great to watch their friendship grow as they worked together to overcome obstacles. The map of Vastia helped to chart the heroes progress and even after the journey wrapped up, there was still mystery left for the next books in the series – what happened to Aldwyn’s parents and where did Skylar’s anklet come from?

There is a death, but it’s only minimally described, as is the violence, so this would be a fun book to read out loud with kids, especially the parts with Gilbert. I’m not sure it would entirely hold the interest of older kids, unless they were animal lovers.