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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid: A Read & Review Club Review

Introducing the CHB Read & Review Club! The Read & Review Club is for high school and middle school students who enjoy reading and would like to share the joy of reading with others through reviewing and recommending books. As a bookshop, we often receive special review copies of books in advance of their release dates so that we can review them. However, since we can only read so many books and we value the thoughts and opinions of other readers, CHB is recruiting high school and middle school students to read and review advance reader copies (or arcs) of middle grade and young adult books that we receive, and we'll be posting their reviews here!

Alexis B.'s review of Let's Get Lost is the first Read & Review Club member review we're posting! Check out what she has to say about the book:

"Let's Get Lost is not just a book about love, friends, and adventures; it goes much deeper than that.  Let's Get Lost gives us a greater understanding of our need to find ourselves.

A mechanic/med school student, a runaway, a senior going to prom, and a girl learning how to love have only one thing in common: Leila.  Leila is traveling across the country meeting people that will forever affect her life.

Alsaid has written a very unique book. Many people compare his novel to John Green's novels, but each individual book tells an individual story.  If we compare these novels, we are saying they are cookie-cutter, and while Let's Get Lost may have the same effect on people as John Green's novels, it is a very unique novel. This novel is not necessarily a page-turner but in the best way. Let's Get Lost is the kind of book you want to take in slowly so you don't miss even a minor detail.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Alsaid's new book and highly suggest it to anyone who wants to see their life in a different perspective because Let's Get Lost applies to everyone's hidden feelings."

Thanks to Alexis B. for her review!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Victoria Reviews: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

As soon as I heard that Afterworlds existed, I needed it. A book about a teenage debut young adult author trying to make it in the publishing world of NYC, coupled with the entirety of the novel she’s writing about a girl who can visit the ghostly Afterworld? And it’s by the brilliant Scott Westerfeld? YES PLEASE! I was hooked before I even cracked the spine. But crack the spine I did, and let me tell you, the book was even better than I imagined.

Darcy Patel is 18 years old, she’s just graduated from high school, and she has a book deal. She spent her last November of high school typing 1667 or more words a day for thirty days straight and, through the amazing process of NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month for those who don’t know), emerged with a completed (though unedited) novel. Determined to make it both as an author and as an adult, Darcy delays college and heads to New York to become one with the publishing scene and revise her novel. Through new friendships, books tours, YA author meet-ups, revisions, plotting, book research, and even an unexpected romance, Darcy must not only meet the deadline for revising her novel (a difficult job in itself) but also navigate her new life and take up the responsibilities of an adulthood that she’s not entirely sure she’s ready for yet.

I loved Darcy. She feels so real, and I wish I could befriend her and join her on all her crazy author/writing adventures (including driving a car around NYC with a friend locked in the trunk…anything for research!). Anyone who has ever written fiction at all will relate to Darcy’s struggles and insecurities as she revises her book and as she struggles to become and see herself as a professional author, despite her constant impostor syndrome. She’s funny, witty, and apprehensive, and I found myself really wanting her to succeed. By the end of the book, I cared about Darcy’s happiness and success, especially since the life she makes for herself as an author is one that I supremely envy.

Speaking of authors, this book is full of them. Anyone familiar with YA and YA authors will recognize hints of some of their favorite authors in Westerfeld’s characters. Though they are all completely fictional, the references to the world of young adult fiction and its writers are real and wonderful. On the one hand, it gives the reader the opportunity to see inside and experience that world for themselves through Darcy’s eyes. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that this book contains a great deal of inside jokes and references exclusive to YA authors who have actually been through these experiences. This doesn’t take away from the novel at all; contrariwise, it adds another dimension of realism. It allows the reader to glimpse not only Westerfeld’s fictional YA world but also hints of the world of young adult literature as it actually exists. Darcy’s story also (for me, anyway) reignited my excitement and passion for writing. This book, more than just about anything else I’ve read or seen, made me want to be an author.

Darcy’s book is just as intriguing as Darcy’s own story. Afterworlds, the inner novel for which the book is named, follows Darcy’s character Lizzie after she survives a terrorist attack in an airport. To escape certain death, Lizzie inadvertently slips into the “afterworld,” the strange world that exists between life and death. After this first encounter, Lizzie is able to move between reality and the afterworld with ease, and she starts seeing and encountering ghosts, even in her own home. Helped along by the scared ghost of a little girl and a kind and protective psychopomp who never ages, Lizzie must learn how to use and embrace her newfound powers for good, even when a darker invitation comes knocking.

I couldn’t put this book down. It was really phenomenal. The two stories alternate, with Darcy’s story one chapter and Lizzie’s the next. I was worried that this method would make the stories feel interrupted and that they wouldn’t flow together well, but all my worry was for naught! Both stories fit together flawlessly. It was fun to pick out the bits in Darcy’s life that appear in her novel and observe how the two stories affect each other. I even found myself wishing I could read the other (fictional) YA novels mentioned and quoted in the book, because all of them sound that intriguing!

Afterworlds has earned itself a firm place on my favorite’s shelf (next to everything else Scott Westerfeld has written, of course). Westerfeld shines in this two-in-one-book; it’s well-written, compelling, and it features amazing characters that you can’t help relating to. This book is a must-read for Scott Westerfeld fans, and I’d also recommend this book to anyone who loves YA (of any kind), especially those interested in writing. I think Nerdfighters in particular will also get quite a kick out of this book, though in the interest of not spoiling things, I won’t say why!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Victoria Reviews: Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

When I first picked up this book and started to read, I did not expect to find myself sucked into the story just as fully as Nolan, one of the book’s main characters, gets sucked into the world of Amara, the other main character, when he closes his eyes. The book was fascinating and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

Otherbound follows Nolan who inhabits another world every single time he closes his eyes (even if he blinks). Each time he closes his eyes, he is suddenly in the mind and body of Amara, a servant in a different world. Amara protects a cursed and exiled princess in the Dunelands as a healing mage, and Nolan can only observe her life without every interfering. Nolan has been diagnosed with epilepsy in his own world, since the best explanation for what happens when he gets sucked into Amara's world is a seizure. But what happens when he starts learning how to take over and control Amara? 

Both Amara and Nolan are wonderful characters. Despite much of their shared experiences, they are two very separate people, and their individuality is a large part of what helps drive the story. There’s never any point where it’s unclear whether it’s Amara or Nolan is thinking or feeling something, even if they are both experiencing the same things. Amara is a servant whose tongue has been cut out – all servants have their tongues removed – and she bears the mark of a servant on the back of her neck in the form of a tattoo. She uses sign language to communicate, another mark of a servant in the Dunelands, and her job is to help protect the princess Cilla at all costs. Cilla has been cursed, and shedding even the smallest drop of her blood will activate the curse, leading to her almost immediate death. Amara is servile in all ways. The duties and expectations of a servant are constantly in the back of her mind, and she almost always does her best to observe them. Even in situations where she could (or needs to) take power, Amara is uncomfortable. Being an abused and watchful servant is all she knows of life, and she isn’t quite sure what to do in situations where she needs to take charge. She doesn’t know how to treat Cilla, who is both her better and possibly a friend. Her uncertainty along with her hatred of feeling this way pervades the book. Though Amara may dream of freedom, she is aware that she might not be able to accept it comfortably.

Nolan has been seeing Amara’s world through Amara’s eyes since he was a child. He’s been in several comas, and he lost his foot in an accident once when sucked unexpectedly into Amara’s painful world. His parents, teachers, and doctors all keep a careful watch on him, often to Nolan’s frustration. He puts up a front to them all, giving out “teacher-smiles” and constant refrains of “I’m okay” to everyone expressing concern. Nolan knows that he doesn’t have epilepsy, and he knows the medications don’t work; however, he can’t tell anyone about Amara’s world, because he knows they wouldn’t believe him. So he simply lives with the pain of existing between two worlds: with his eyes closed he enters Amara’s world only to observe and feel her pain, and with eyes open he must attempt to live out some semblance of a normal life with people who can’t possibly understand him.

There’s a lot of depth to these characters. Even as the book progresses and the characters develop, they still stay themselves – the unity that Duyvis maintains in characterization is quite impressive. Amara acts only in ways that it is believable for Amara to act based on who she is, and the same goes for Nolan. Even by the end of the book, they are still not entirely okay, all of their problems and flaws not magically solved along with the conflict. This makes the book that much more real and convincing – you can almost believe that the Dunelands do in fact exist, if only you could forge your own mind link to see it.

The story itself was fascinating, and the plot twists were completely unexpected. Instead of just pulling twists out of nothing, however, Duyvis manages to make them flow naturally from the story. Once the twist happens, suddenly everything else you know about the story shifts, and you see how that made perfect sense; you can’t believe you didn’t figure it out yourself.

Duyvis’ worldbuilding was excellent; the Dunelands were detailed yet understandable. The details of this world came naturally throughout the story. I never once felt like something had happened or someone had spoken simply so the reader could learn information. One thing I found very interesting was the concept of language and communication in the Dunelands. Different races or nationalities speak different languages, and the mute servants use sign language to communicate, often having to spell out unfamiliar words. Though all languages used in the book are written out in English (even the sign language), it was interesting to see the character stumble a bit in trying to translate certain words, especially English words.

Overall, this book was excellent. It was a fantasy story taken to the next level by its combination with our world. Though it’s a standalone novel, I’d gladly read a sequel or anything else taking place in Amara’s world, if Duyvis ever chose to write such a thing. I loved the characters, and I’m sad to let them go. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes YA fantasy (especially fans of Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron series or Half Bad by Sally Green) or anyone who is simply interested in a compelling story.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Reading Group Selections - September 2014

The best books for reading groups are the ones that foster discussions - whether your book club members are boisterous or more subdued, talking about books is what those meetings are all about! Picking just the right book is always a thrill; love it or hate it - book club books are the ones that stand out. 
Here are a few recent releases that would lead to great discussions in any book club:

Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen

In Verona, a city ravaged by plague and political rivalries, a mother mourning the death of her day-old infant enters the household of the powerful Cappelletti family to become the wet-nurse to their newborn baby. As she serves her beloved Juliet over the next fourteen years, the nurse learns the Cappellettis' darkest secrets. Those secrets--and the nurse's deep personal grief--erupt across five momentous days of love and loss that destroy a daughter, and a family. 

A heartfelt, and riveting biography of the short life of a talented young African-American man who escapes the slums of Newark for Yale University only to succumb to the dangers of the streets--and of one's own nature--when he returns home. When author Jeff Hobbs arrived at Yale University, he became fast friends with the man who would be his college roommate for four years, Robert Peace. Robert's life was rough from the beginning in the crime-ridden streets of Newark in the 1980s, with his father in jail and his mother earning less than $15,000 a year. But Robert was a brilliant student, and it was supposed to get easier when he was accepted to Yale, where he studied molecular biochemistry and biophysics. But it didn't get easier. Robert carried with him the difficult dual nature of his existence, "fronting" in Yale, and at home. 
Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre

A heart-stopping debut novel about war and its aftermath by an Iraq War veteran--and an essential examination of the United States' role in the world.
The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman

Set against the rich backdrop of World War II Italy, Garden of Letters captures the hope, suspense, and romance of an uncertain era, in an epic intertwining story of first love, great tragedy, and spectacular bravery.
Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

"Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one...." 
The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny. 
But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very "souls," were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean's depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness. 
This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.
The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer

When the greatest female mathematician in history passes away, her son, Alexander “Sasha” Karnokovitch, just wants to mourn his mother in peace. But rumor has it the notoriously eccentric Polish √©migr√© has solved one of the most difficult problems in all of mathematics, and has spitefully taken the solution to her grave. As a ragtag group of mathematicians from around the world descends upon Rachela’s shiva, determined to find the proof or solve it for themselves—even if it means prying up the floorboards for notes or desperately scrutinizing the mutterings of her African Grey parrot—Sasha must come to terms with his mother’s outsized influence on his life.
Spanning decades and continents, from a crowded living room in Madison, Wisconsin, to the windswept beach on the Barents Sea where a young Rachela had her first mathematical breakthrough, The Mathematician’s Shiva is an unexpectedly moving and uproariously funny novel that captures humanity’s drive not just to survive, but to achieve the impossible.
This is How I'd Love You by Hazel Woods

As the Great War rages, an independent young woman struggles to sustain love—and life—through the power of words.
It’s 1917 and America is on the brink of World War I. After Hensley Dench’s father is forced to resign from the New York Times for his anti-war writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she thought she would have. Instead, Hensley is transplanted to New Mexico, where her father has taken a job overseeing a gold mine. Driven by loneliness, Hensley hijacks her father’s correspondence with Charles Reid, a young American medic with whom her father plays chess via post. Hensley secretly begins her own exchange with Charles, but looming tragedy threatens them both, and—when everything turns against them—will their words be enough to beat the odds?

When Reverend Thomas Johnson receives an anonymous phone call, he learns his Dylanesque rock star father is acting deranged on stage, where he's being worshipped by a cult of young people who slash their faces during performances. In his declining years, Israel Jones has begun to incite his fans to violence. They no longer want to watch the show--they want to be the show.
Eager to escape troubles with his congregation as well as gain an apology from his dad for abandoning his family, Reverend Johnson leaves town and joins Israel Jones's Eternal Tour. This decision propels him to the center of a rock and roll hell, giving him one last chance to reconnect with his father, wife, congregation--and maybe even God.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Michelle Reviews: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Much like Roxane Gay, I too am a Bad Feminist. I alternate between simpering and cowering away from the supposedly militant term to donning my angry feminist coat and seeking to squash the patriarchy. (This coat is merely metaphorical, though sometimes I wish it were real. A Power Coat. Maybe it would be made of puppies a la Cruella DeVille. Here’s a question; was Cruella a feminist? Did she Lean In? Have we been misreading 101 Dalmatians this whole time?!) I’m a Bad Feminist, but I think you can enjoy this collection regardless of how you self-categorize.

The first line that really struck me in this book was in the very first essay: “The notion that I should be fine with the status quo even if I am not wholly affected by the status quo is repulsive.” That is the summation of my indignation with society, with our culture at large, despite my overwhelming privilege. From there I knew I could follow Gay throughout her collection (to be fair I kinda knew this already because I have been following her online for quite some time); we are simpatico.

So here’s the thing…this collection of essays will not always make you comfortable. In plain fact some of these essays will make you uncomfortable. And that is just beautiful. Gay’s interests here span the dissection of race, gender, culture, and competitive Scrabble. She writes about her love of The Hunger Games and Law and Order: SVU alongside stories of rape, oppression, and the damage done by our modern fairy tales. Gay balances her frustration and anger with moments levity and pure openness. At times she seems fearlessly honest. You will probably agree with her, fervently. You will probably disagree with her, fervently. She leaves plenty of room for both. Gay states her opinions, she owns them, grounds them in fact and rationality, but she also admits to being human, being messy and making mistakes. There is a grace to that that few other cultural critics ever achieve.

If being a Bad Feminist means acknowledging the ways in which I am flawed, the ways in which feminism is flawed and yet still recognizing both the importance of the ideology and my own autonomy then I am quite frankly proud to be a Bad Feminist. I urge my fellow Bad Feminists as well as Good Feminists, Misogynists, Misandrists, and just regular folk to read this collection. Engage with it, challenge it, let it challenge you. I assure you, you will learn something. Roxane Gay is someone who is thinking critically about our world and it is a better place for it. She admits that she doesn't always get things right, that she lets herself down - that's the glory in being a Bad Feminist, you don't have to be perfect which is lucky because no one is.


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