Book Review: JUST A DROP OF WATER

I only recently got the change to read JUST A DROP OF WATER by Kerry O’Malley Cerra and let me tell you–I’d been missing out!

Here’s the blurb:

JustADropOfWaterEver since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart–and outrun–the rival cross country team, the Palmetto Bugs. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.

According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. But the final blow comes when his grandpa’s real past is revealed to Jake. Suddenly, everything he ever knew to be true feels like one big lie. In the end, he must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

A gripping and intensely touching debut middle grade novel by Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Just a Drop of Water brings the events of September 11, which shook the world, into the lens of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand the ramifications of this life-altering event. 

This novel is a Florida Book Award winner, winner of the Crystal Kite Award, and named to VOYAs Top Shelf Fiction for Middle Readers’ 2014 list.

I read JUST A DROP OF WATER in one day because I could not put it down. The chapter headings count down to that fateful September 11, 2001, which really increases the tension. It’s a day I remember vividly, and it’s tackled in just the right way for the target audience who did not live through it. There were so many poignant lines in it. One of my favorites is this: “Anger can lead us to a place of hatred and intolerance. And if we get to that point, then everything that really matters is already lost.” Anger–and what to do with that anger–is a constant theme in this novel, and it’s handled beautifully without being preachy. This is one of those stories I will read again and again.

JUST A DROP OF WATER is powerful and timely and it should be on all middle school lists. Jake and Sam are two best friends whose lives and friendship are turned upside down as a direct result of the horrific events of 9/11. It’s the story about friendship, doing what’s right, and not giving in to anger and fear. The storyline is gripping, the characters heartfelt and flawed, the voice on point, and the writing beautiful.

At our latest SCBWI Florida conference this past January, Kerry accepted the Crystal Kite Award with a touching and moving speech–there was not a dry eye in the house! It’s a testament to the heart that she brings to everything she does, including her novels.

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Book Review: OLIVIA TWISTED

If you like retellings, Vivi Barnes‘ OLIVIA TWISTED is for you! It’s Oliver Twist with computer hackers. With alternating points of view, and tackling themes of abandonment, abuse, and hope–and of love and loss–Vivi delivers a novel that is emotionally true.

Here’s the blurb:OliviaTwisted

Olivia

He tilts my chin up so my eyes meet his, his thumb brushing lightly across my lips. I close my eyes. I know Z is trouble. I know that being with him is going to get me into trouble. I don’t care.

At least at this moment, I don’t care.

Tossed from foster home to foster home, Olivia’s seen a lot in her sixteen years. She’s hardened, sure, though mostly just wants to fly under the radar until graduation. But her natural ability with computers catches the eye of Z, a mysterious guy at her new school. Soon, Z has brought Liv into his team of hacker elite—break into a few bank accounts, and voila, he drives a motorcycle. Follow his lead, and Olivia might even be able to escape from her oppressive foster parents. As Olivia and Z grow closer, though, so does the watchful eye of Bill Sykes, Z’s boss. And he’s got bigger plans for Liv…

Z

I can picture Liv’s face: wide-eyed, trusting. Her smooth lips that taste like strawberry Fanta.

It was just a kiss. That’s all. She’s just like any other girl.

Except that she’s not.

Thanks to Z, Olivia’s about to get twisted.

What I loved about OLIVIA TWISTED most were the characters. The novel is told in alternating POVs from Olivia and Z’s perspective. When done well, I really enjoy dual POVs because they add depth to a work. Vivi did it well! The chapters headings contain the characters’ names, so we know immediately whose POV we’re in, but honestly, I didn’t need them. Olivia and Z’s voices were distinct enough that I just knew. This is so hard to pull off (I know–I’ve tried! lol) and Vivi did a fabulous job with channeling both characters. I loved Olivia. She was strong and stubborn and a quick-thinker–and the computer hacking part was so cool! I admit I know zilch about it, but the way Vivi works it into the plot, through the characters, was seamless. Z was mysterious and though he had this bad-boy exterior, his complexity was awesome. Sam was so much fun, too! I loved her.

There was a twist, which I sort of saw coming, but I wasn’t 100% correct. The pacing was perfect–I read this in practically one sitting, and Vivi had the perfect combination of tension and romance and action that kept me entertained, emotionally engaged, and reading because I NEEDED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. I was hooked.

Vivi Barnes is one cool kid. She’s hilarious and sweet and so much fun to be around–just ask anyone who knows her or who’s met her at an SCBWI Florida Conference. (Every year, I look forward to seeing what elaborate costume she comes up with for the next conference ball!) You can follow her on Twitter or check out her website for updates. Her new book, PAPER OR PLASTIC, comes out winter 2015 from Entangled Teen! I can’t wait to read it!

I may have been late to OLIVIA TWISTED (it debuted Nov 5, 2013 and I didn’t get to read it until May 2014), but I’m so happy I finally did!

Book Review: GILDED

GildedOne of the best things about summer vacation is that I get to read to my heart’s content. Stay up late? No problem. I can sleep in or nap the next day. All semester long, I accumulated this fabulous TBR pile that, because of work and revisions, I couldn’t get to, but oh how I wanted to.

I broke my reading fast with GILDED by Christina Farley. I met Christina at the 2013 SCBWI Florida Mid-Year Workshops. Actually, it was during the Elixir Mixer, where my friend Larissa introduced us. We got to talking about multicultural books and myths and the richness of other cultures when she told me about her debut novel, GILDED, a YA contemporary fantasy which features Korean mythology. She gave me her card, and I immediately started following her on Twitter. When her book released on March 1, I cursed I couldn’t read it immediately. When I finally did in early May, though, I was not disappointed!

Here’s the blurb:

Sixteen-year-old JaeHwa Lee is a Korean-American girl with a black belt, a deadly proclivity with steel-tipped arrows, and a chip on her shoulder the size of Korea itself. When her widowed dad uproots her to Seoul from her home in L.A., Jae thinks her biggest challenges will be fitting into a new school and dealing with her dismissive Korean grandfather. Then she discovers that a Koreandemi-god,Haemosu, has been stealing the soul of the oldest daughter of each generation in her family for centuries. And she’s next. But that’s not Jae’s only problem.There’s also Marc. Irresistible and charming, Marc threatens to break the barriers around Jae’s heart. As the two grow closer, Jae must decide if she can trust him. But Marc has a secret of his own—one that could help Jae overturn the curse on her family for good. It turns out that Jae’s been wrong about a lot of things: her grandfather is her greatest ally, even the tough girl can fall in love, and Korea might just be the home she’s always been looking for.
***
What I liked best of this novel is how Christina seamlessly weaves South Korean mythology with a fast-paced plot filled with tons of action. I couldn’t stop turning the pages and read the book in practically one sitting. We get some wonderful city views of South Korea and feel the energy of the setting. Just as impressive is the world of the demi-gods. As far as characters, Jae Hwa Lee is a strong, likable protagonist who finds herself face-to-face with the things legends are made of–and she kicks demi-god booty in the process.I can’t wait for SILVERN, the sequel to GILDED, which will pick up where GILDED left off in a brand new adventure. It’s set to release September 23, 2014!

Happy Book Birthday to Laura M. Kolar!

Last summer, I had an amazing opportunity to take an online course in LitReactor with literary agent Mandy Hubbard. It was inspiring and informational with awesome critiques. But the best part was getting to meet some fabulous writing friends. In fact, many of us have remained friends and have become critique partners.

One such friend is Laura M. Kolar, who today celebrates the release of her debut novel, CANVAS BOUND (Book 1 in the Captive Art Series).

CanvasBound

About the book from Amazon:

“Sixteen-year-old Libby Tanner’s art comes to life. Her painted skies turn from day to night, leaves rustle on trees, and sometimes, a mystery boy appears. While attending England’s Aldridge Art Academy, Libby meets charming Brent Henderson, a performing arts student who showers her with attention. But his rival, gorgeous Dean James, is the one who occupies her mind, even though he’s very much attached to his current girlfriend. Libby soon learns there’s more to both Brent and Dean than she ever imagined. In order to save her future and the boy who’s captured her heart, she must unlock the secrets behind her art by entering the most dangerous place of all… the world within her paintings. But once she steps into the canvas, she risks being trapped forever.”
I had the privilege of reading CANVAS BOUND early on and I’m dying to read the final product. Laura’s book was the first I beta-read, and the first I saw to fruition, which makes me double–no, triple!–excited. But the thing is, it’s a wonderful read. There’s romance. And magic. And mystery. And romance (wait, I already said that!) When I read it, I couldn’t put it down because I HAD to know what happened. I loved Libby and Dean and Brent and the whole cast of characters. And I loved the magic because seriously, how cool is it to have paintings that come to life!
So if you like YA fiction with a touch of magic, go buy it! And then go follow her on Twitter!

SKYLARK by Meagan Spooner

Late last week, I downloaded Meagan Spooner’s debut SKYLARK into my iPad’s Kindle. I was eager to start reading, though I was in the midst of grading (grades are due by tomorrow morning—eek!) and my own MS revisions. So I started slowly. One chapter at a time, squeezed in between all else.

But it wasn’t enough.

The problem with me (is it really a problem? I beg to differ) is that once I’m hooked, I can’t stop. It was torture reading just one chapter at a time, and finally, I couldn’t do it anymore. I told my husband, as he went to sleep last night, “I’m just going to finish this chapter and then go to sleep.” Because I was exhausted. But I didn’t. I kept reading, enthralled in this magical, dangerous world, each chapter ending in such a way that I had to read just one more chapter. And so it went until I finished it a little past 1 AM, when my iPad’s battery had only 4% juice left and my eyes were blearing from exhaustion.

Here’s the book description from Amazon:

“Vis in magia, in vita vi. In magic there is power, and in power, life.

For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley waited for the day when her Resource would be harvested and she would finally be an adult. After the harvest she expected a small role in the regular, orderly operation of the City within the Wall. She expected to do her part to maintain the refuge for the last survivors of the Wars. She expected to be a tiny cog in the larger clockwork of the city.

Lark did not expect to become the City’s power supply.

For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley believed in a lie. Now she must escape the only world she’s ever known…or face a fate more unimaginable than death.

In Meagan Spooner’s compelling debut, magic, technology, and human frailty collide in a brilliant new world.”

Oh my. To say that I love it seems inadequate! I LOVED it! And here’s why:

For one, I’m a sucker for gorgeous language and descriptions. Her prose is lyrical and beautiful and takes me right there. I could picture the scenery, the buildings, the forest, the characters. It was such rich and vivid imagery.

The world is unlike any other and yet it was familiar. I understood it and feared it. From the city in which Lark lives, cut off from the rest of the world, to the vast unknown world Lark encounters on her journey, Meagan Spooner delivers. She brings to life the beautiful and dangerous, the friendly and lethal. And the magic. Wow.

I love Lark. She’s strong and fights for what (and whom) she loves, even if it means taking the hard way out or sacrificing herself. And Oren. ❤  🙂 And Tansy and Nix (awww love Nix!). Even Kris. These characters have heart and soul and that makes me love them and root for them. I’m so anxious to see what happens to them in the next book! I’m invested in the characters, even the bad guys.

I also really liked the pace, which quickened and slowed in natural progression, as well as the sense of discovery that accompanies Lark’s entrance into an unfamiliar landscape.

Definitely recommend this book!

Veronica Rossi’s UNDER THE NEVER SKY

At the SCBWI FL Mid-year conference, I learned about Veronica Rossi’s debut novel, UNDER THE NEVER SKY. I watched the book trailer, and knew immediately I needed to get this book. Like, now. So I did what any other impatient reader would do: I bought the Kindle edition and, as soon as I could (this past Monday), I started reading it.

It did NOT disappoint! I fell in love with the characters–Aria and Perry are my new fave couple!– the world, and the story. It’s captivating, from start to end, and I couldn’t put it down. The only reason I stopped reading at 2 AM Tuesday morning was because my phone (w/Kindle) only had 2% battery left! I woke up at 7:30 the next morning and kept reading until I was done. It was that good.

This is the book description from Amazon:

“Since she’d been on the outside, she’d survived an Aether storm, she’d had a knife held to her throat, and she’d seen men murdered. This was worse.

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. If the cannibals don’t get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She’s been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive.

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.

In her enthralling debut, Veronica Rossi sends readers on an unforgettable adventure set in a world brimming with harshness and beauty.”

Okay, so here’s what I loved.

The characters: They were real. I loved the dual POV as it allowed me to get into both Aria and Perry’s heads. And the love story…swoon!!! The entire time I kept rooting for them, and I still am! But it’s not just Aria and Perry. It’s the entire cast of characters.

The world: what an intriguing world it is, and I love that she gives us just what we need to know and doesn’t bog us down with explanations that slow the story down. There’s no need for it (and I’m taking notes for my own story!) She creates a futuristic/post-apocalyptic world that is not, in some ways, too unlike our current one.  And she describes it vividly.

The story: I care about a good story, with a plot and characters that pull me in and don’t let go of me until the end, and even then, I can’t stop thinking about them. So much so that I have to pick up the book and start reading it, again. THIS is what UNDER THE NEVER SKY does. It’s the story of two unlikely pairs who are thrust upon each other, much to their dismay. It’s the story of fighting to survive. It’s the story of love conquering obstacles. There’s action and suspense and love and betrayal and sacrifice. There are surprise twists that leave you gasping, wondering, how can that be? It’s fast-paced, but it slows down at just the right moments.

One of my favorite lines: “She absorbed the terror and beauty of him and his world. Of every moment over the past days. All of it, filling her up likes the first breath she’d ever taken. And never had she loved life more.”

So now I wait and twiddle my thumbs and peek at any updates about the next book, THROUGH THE EVER NIGHT. My 2013 reading list is growing!

My newest obsession: The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices

Surgery and recovery were really good for one thing: reading. I started with Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy and then, feeling the need for another world and story, I turned to Cassandra Clare’s books in The Mortal Instruments  (TMI) and Infernal Devices (ID) series.

Ohhhemmmgeeee…. I have found a new obsession! I fell in love with her language, her descriptions of New York and Victorian England (TMI and ID respectively), her characters, and the world of the Shadowhunters. It is magical and hauntingly beautiful.

I started with CITY OF BONES, the first in TMI. I read it in a day. Granted, I was recovering, mostly in bed without having (or being able) to do much else, and I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning because I just could not put it down. As soon as I finished, I downloaded the next book, CITY OF ASHES, immediately, and started reading it the next day. So began my obsession. I finished the next three books (CITY OF GLASS, CITY OF FALLEN ANGELS, and CITY OF LOST SOULS) in the week that followed, skimping on sleep because I just had to find out what happened. When I finished the last book, I was temporarily distraught because the sixth and final book, CITY OF HEAVENLY FIRE, is not set to be released until March 2014. That is so long from now.

So I went online and devoured website after website, looking for extras and more information about Cassandra Clare’s world. I was pleasantly surprised that her website included a section with wonderful extras, and I hungrily read these.

It was there I started reading about the Infernal Devices trilogy, which is a prequel to TMI, and which remains in the Shadowhunter world, only in Victorian England. I bought the first book, CLOCKWORK ANGEL, and just like that, I was again pulled into this amazing world, and hooked. I just finished reading the second book, CLOCKWORK PRINCE, and have found that I am, again, despairing because the final book, CLOCKWORK PRINCESS, will not be available until March of next year.

I haven’t been so fully immersed into a world since J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the books I’ve read. Some of them are okay (Trylle trilogy) while others are very good (The Hunger Games, Divergent series), but none has completely enthralled me like HP and now TMI and ID.

Why do I love her books so much? I think it starts with the writing. It is really good. Yes, there are a couple typos I caught in theKindle versions. I didn’t catch these in the printed book of CLOCKWORK ANGEL, so I don’t know if that is a print vs eBook problem. But those typos were minor. Cassandra Clare has a gift of description. She brings the setting and the characters to life. New York City and Victorian England are as much a character as Clary, Jace, Tessa, Will, Jem, et al. My world dissolved and I was an invisible bystander as the action unfolded. She really shows us her world. The dialogue is, also, realistic and believable and in tune with the characters. Her characters are three-dimensional; there’s no ambiguity to them. There is some angst (and sometimes I did get a tad annoyed with some of the characters), but those moments were few in the scheme of things. And they’re teenagers. I’ve read my journals from my teenage years–I annoy myself!

Then there’s the world she’s created. Like Rowling’s HP world, TMI and ID world is complex and full of mythology. I think Clare does an amazing job in drawing us into the world of the Shadowhunters, Nephilim (products of man and angel) who are sworn to protect the world from demons, and Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, faeries, warlocks, and shape-changers), magical creatures who are part-human, part-something else. There’s a hierarchy and discrimination, much like our “real” world. The question of what makes us “human.”

Then there’s the mythology at the base of this world. Old world mythology which is especially explored in TMI. It’s fascinating. though perhaps I’m more enthralled with it because my current project involves a certain mythology as well. After I finished TMI,

in the brief reprise between TMI and ID, I looked up some of these myths, of Lilith and such. Fascinating, I tell you. Like memory begets memory, this series has brought about some exploration into religious myths and the current battle between Catholic and Christian faiths.

And of course, there’s the romance. I’m a sucker for romance, and Clare does a good job in writing the relationships with the characters, pulling us into them and making us feel what they’re feeling.

Each of the series has its strengths. Between the two, I think I like ID better, perhaps only because of the lure of Victorian England and because two of its characters love literature and books and the series is replete with literary references of the era. I was reminded of other literature of the era and of my British lit courses I took as a grad and of the romanticism associated with the era.

Both of these series deserve 5 stars. I (im)patiently await the final books in both, and a new series Cassandra Clare has in the works, also of the same world.

The Twilight Saga

I reluctantly embarked in reading the whole series: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. I don’t know why I was reluctant. Something about now being thirty and reading a young adult series discouraged me somehow. It wasn’t meant to be proper literature, and after spending a decade studying “real” literature, I felt disconnected. Of course, this attitude was rather hypocritical on my part seeing as to how I’m an avid Harry Potter fan and that way back when I used to devour the Ann Rice Vampire Chronicle books. But that was eons ago, a different time and a different world for me. I think another reason I evaded Twilight, though, was the response my (female) students had to the books and, particularly, to the movies. So much was the teenage frenzy that, quite frankly, I didn’t know if I could relate.

Well, I was sucked into this Twilight universe so quickly I didn’t have a chance to resist! I read the first book, Twilight, in a few days. I read the second, New Moon, in two days (but really, about 6 hours, 3 each day); I read the third, Eclipse, in about 6 hours of one day. I became a Twifan, or whatever it is they’re calling Twilight fans these days. Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final book in the saga, I read in a day. I became obsessed, donning a have-to-find-out-what-happens attitude that I think mimics the frenzy with which addicts take to their drugs. It was wonderful and disconcerting, all in one, and it resurfaced bits of me that had been long dormant, that I had pushed away in order to tend to reality.
It’s not hard to get sucked in, though, if you remember anything about being 17 and in love. The intensity of first love, the power of finding out what these emotions do to you mentally and physically, is so vividly described in these books that I literally felt like I was 17 again, all giddy and giggly. I loved it! They’re not perfect, but I loved them nonetheless.
So here’s my take *warning: may contain spoilers*:
Twilight
I loved the characters from the beginning. There’s a lot of criticism about the character Bella Swan, the damsel in distress who always needs to be protected by either Edward or Jacob. She’s a hazard to herself because she’s clumsy and a magnet for danger and trouble, but the connection between her and Edward is wonderful and Stephanie Meyer did a great job in writing and building the romantic tension between the two. Jacob doesn’t have much a role in this first book. He’s still a kid who has a crush on Bella. The main story here is Bella and Edward falling in love and figuring out that while they’re so different (um, yea, one’s human, the other’s a vampire!), they still realize how much they love and need each other. It’s a selfless, innocent love.

New Moon
I started New Moon eagerly, wanting to know what happened to the Edward and Bella, knowing that somewhere I was going to understand the whole Team Edward and Team Jacob thing. And sure enough, when Edward leaves and Bella is plunged into the rawness of a broken heart, here came Jacob. I was a little annoyed at times in this book because the relationship between Bella/Jacob very much paralleled that of Bella/Edward in the first book. The same song and dance was going on. He (now turning into a werewolf) claims he’s no good for her while she neglects reason and safety just to feel loved. The dialogue gave me some deja vu. Still, it was endearing seeing their relationship grow from friendship to something more, even if Bella wasn’t admitting it. I do think if she’d never jumped off a cliff, and if Edward hadn’t thought she was dead, and if he hadn’t gone to the Volturi and she to go save him, Bella would’ve ended up with Jacob. As a human, Jacob was for her. But the events happened the way they did and, of course, there has to be some action other than just the romantic triangle. I was sad for Jacob in the end.

Eclipse
Of course, once I started with the series, I want – no, I need – to finish all books involved. In between getting the books, I read anything online I could get my hands on. I read the summaries, I read Stephanie Meyer’s website. I wanted more. I needed to know more about the characters. It was fun. 😉
So Eclipse I anticipated much more than the other two. The first, well, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The second, I saw the movie first, so I had more of an idea of what was happening (more on the whole movie/book thing later). But when I started Eclipse, I had only an idea of what was going on because of the movie trailers (the film had come out recently, on June 30) and Stephanie Meyer’s website. So I took to it like air for my lungs and I read. This was my favorite of the saga. The raw emotions in this book were fabulous. The romantic triangle came around full force as Bella realized her true feelings for Jacob and, even though that didn’t change how she felt about Edward, it brought vulnerability to her character. The despair she feels when she has to tell Jacob good-bye is real and fresh. I was sorely disappointed that Kristen Stewart couldn’t give that same emotion in the movie and that those pivotal scenes were left out of the movie. Of course, the whole vampire + werewolf coalition was great and the fight scene was pretty well done. But my favorite parts of this book had to do with the way the characters really came to life while making sense of their feelings.

Breaking Dawn
Ah. Breaking Dawn. I read it because, in my mind, I had to. I could not start the series and not finish it. I liked it, sure. It gave me closure. I didn’t hate it the way some of the critics raged about it. I didn’t mind that they didn’t fight in the end; in fact, I agree that the symbolism behind the cover (the queen in a chess game) and the idea of mind over brawn was pivotal for this book. But I was disappointed. I wanted more. The romantic tension between Edward and Bella was so strong in all three previous novels that I was expecting more in this final installment where they actually get married, go on their honeymoon and *gasp* have sex. While I didn’t want to read porn, I did expect a little more build-up to the “sex-scenes” – if they can even be called that. I wanted more romance.
The birthing scene was a little too graphic, but it didn’t bother me as much. It’s hard not to have a graphic birthing scene with the type of pregnancy/birth that this was: a half-vampire, half-human that developed and grew at an alarmingly accelerated pace. I mean, she was ravenous the day after their first time together! Her pregnancy lasted a couple months, and it broke her, literally. I do like that this was how she became a vampire, though, because it was an act of love in a way.
I have mixed feelings about the whole shift in point-of-view in the second section. I like it because I love hearing inside all character heads. I read the part of Midnight Sun that Meyer has on her website, which is Twilight told from Edward’s perspective, and I loved reading The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner for precisely the same reason: I want to know more about all the characters. I have so much invested in this story, in these characters, that I want to know more about them. However, I don’t think that the voices are distinct enough. While reading Jacob, I still thought at times I was reading Bella. Still, it was nice getting that other perspective.
The third part of the book is probably my favorite for Breaking Dawn. I loved seeing Bella transform from clumsy human to agile vampire, and I loved that she was able to skip through the whole “newborn” phase. She had control; whether it was her own will or whether that was part of her natural power can be contested, but it was great. I loved the introduction of all the other vampire covens and seeing Bella become the savior for her family. She was no longer the damsel in distress but the knight, ready to defend her family and thinking logically for the best move. I am undecided yet about how I feel about the whole Jacob imprinting on Renesmee, though. I thought that was an awkward resolution to the Edward/Bella/Jacob triangle. I guess the magic of imprinting erases all past strings, and I know that’s what was being alluded, but still… I don’t know. It didn’t work great for me.
But I did get closure, sort of. I want to know what else happens to the new, happy family throughout eternity. 😉
Thinking ahead, I see so much possibility for using these books in my classes. It makes me giddy all over again! From making connections to the “classics” Meyer references in all four books, to philosophical questions about whether we really have free will to choose between right and wrong (or between what we’re born into/with and what we want to be), to the history of all the vampire characters and important historical moments they cover. It’s a goldmine!

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This is going to be on the short side, and while I should be going straight to sleep, I have to make this transition from end of book to the mundane (have I mentioned I like that word?).

I just finished The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and I had to take a deep breath. This was a toughie for me. I spent the good first half of the memoir shaking my head and wondering whether I really wanted to keep reading through this dysfunctional family. I kept wanting the Department of Children and Families to go in and swoop the four kids away from those reckless parents. But then again, it wouldn’t have left as much of an imprint, I think. By the end of the memoir, I want to know what happens and I’m rooting for Jeannette and her siblings to get out of that oppressive hole.

The Glass Castle is certainly a memoir about acceptance. Where Eat, Pray, Love contained a self-conscious, woe-is-me tone, Walls writes without blame. She is matter-of-fact, here is what happened, and she doesn’t succumb to lamenting her childhood. It proves how strong she really is.
It’s also a memoir about love, in a dysfunctional, different kind of way. It astounds me that two brilliant people like her parents could be so irresponsible. I have an almost-three-year-old son and I could never imagine doing the things Walls’s mom did. I shook my head many times during this past week, while I read her memoir. I shook my head in incredulity.
I brought out my imaginary pom-poms, though, when she finally had enough and told her mom and dad off, and when she and her sisters and brother broke free. The parents became the children and the children the parents. Sometimes it’s more obvious than others, and in The Glass Castle it certainly was obvious.
But the end. Oh the end. The part when her dad asks to speak to her and, in the same call, asks for a bottle of Vodka – that part reminded me of my dad. Not because of the alcohol, because my dad didn’t drink, but because my dad’s addiction to smoking was just as bad as her dad’s with alcohol. In the end, I gave up fighting his smoking habits and indulged him. It killed him indirectly, in the end, but I still indulged him.
So I definitely recommend this memoir, but it’s not for the faint of mind. Those with children, beware, because it has you clutching on to your own kids more dearly. I’m still amazed that after going through such a childhood, Jeannette Walls came out brilliant and overcame the set backs in which she was born.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and, in simplest terms, I loved it – but it’s complicated love. I bought the book right before my Disney cruise, hoping to spend time rekindling my romance with the written word. I haven’t read much lately that didn’t have to do with essays, stories, poems, and even a graphic memoir – all for school. For work. Pleasure reading has been nonexistent. I think the last reading I did just because was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and even that book I will be using in my classes. I started reading Isabel Allende’s The Sum of my Days, in Spanish, but that is sitting now in my bookshelf, the Tinkerbell bookmark sitting about one-third of the way, collecting dust. It’s not happening.

So I decided to indoctrinate myself into my summer “vacation” with a memoir (my genre of choice) that could balance between chick-lit and seriousness, romance and truth, dreams and reality, humor and spirituality. I think I’ve hit the mark with Eat, Pray, Love.

I had received numerous, mixed reviews from friends who’ve read it (and a somewhat Sparks Notes report from a student) and I was intrigued. But I hadn’t really read what it was about. Not really. I envisioned a plot similar to that of Under the Tuscan Sun, only transcending three countries.

My reading journey began a few days before we left for Cape Canaveral; I just couldn’t wait to start reading. And I was disappointed – at first. I started reading, expecting a literary fluency akin to Madeleine Blais’s Uphill Walkers, and I was disappointed. The language was okay. The writing was at times clichéd. At one point I felt I was reading my students’ papers. It was a disaster.

But so was Gilbert’s life at that point. I think there was a correlation. During the time she spent in Italy, in pursuit of culinary pleasures, the writing was superficial and basic. But there was humor, and her story surrounded me, transported me, and soon I was forgetting about whether the metaphor was silly or whether her description was basic, and I was immersed in her experience. When I finished the first third of the book, aboard the Disney Wonder in the Bahamas, I was sad to say good-bye to Italy. I love Italy, and my desire to learn Italian intensified.

And then Gilbert took me to an ashram in India, a place I have never thought of visiting – ever. I actually have very limited knowledge of Eastern meditation and religions. And when I say very limited, I literally mean very, very limited. I know of Hinduism and Buddhism, but that’s it and on the surface level. Gilbert’s account in this ashram in a remote village of India, and her explanations of spirituality, captivated me more than the pleasure of eating pasta in the many historic Italian cities and towns. It left me yearning and wanting that spiritual peace. And her way of making sense of the diversity of religion and how it’s all the same – and how in that ashram, people of all religions were there in order to get closer to their Gods (Christian, Jewish, Muslim – it didn’t matter) – it made sense to me. Actually, a lot of what she said during her spiritual journey made sense to me. Not all, but a good amount. We’re all in this search for divinity, for spiritual and religious belonging, whether we want to admit it or not. We need something, and what we call that something varies. We are so focused on our location in the map of society that we become lodged on this canvas, without realizing that it’s not flat, but round, ever existing, ever changing, ever merging into itself. We have the freedom to move – yet we don’t. It’s an interesting concept. This section also made me think of the juxtaposition of those two terms we sometimes use interchangeably: religion and spirituality. They’re not interchangeable. They’re different. One can be uber religious and not find spiritual peace. Crazy concept, I know, but think about it. We all know someone who prays every day, attends religious services all the time, and proclaims to be “holier than thou” but at closer inspection, the spiritual storm that exists in this person’s heart is tumultuous and it’s seen in actions, in words, in subtle hints that alert us to the true spiritual nature of this person. He is not at peace with himself, his life. She is not at one with her creator, whoever that creator is for her. Different words for the same thing – this is what I took from Gilbert’s experience in the Ashram in India. Let go and let God is what I learned at an Emmaus retreat. Let go and let God, in different words, is what Gilbert learned in the second section of the book.

And her writing was changing skins, just as she was changing, rising through meditation from her worldly suffering to the divine.

The concept of “same-same,” as her Balinese Medicine Man, Ketut, says it, is brought to the center in the third and final section of Eat, Pray, Love. In Indonesia, Gilbert attempts to find balance in her life. After four months in Italy searching for pleasure (non-carnal pleasure as she’s on self-imposed celibacy), and after four months in India searching for spirituality, she arrives in Bali equipped with some newfound confidence and ease of being with and by herself. She sets off at figuring out how to combine pleasure and spirituality, and in doing so, stumbles on love.

Her writing style towards the end is different, or maybe I was so engrossed with the story that I forgave. Maybe there was a purpose – write for the masses with humor, especially for women who are hurting – and the style is overlooked. In reading reviews, I saw some call her writing a form of whining, and at times, I agreed. But I think it was needed. When we’re so neck-deep in our own pit of sorrow, it’s hard not to whine. In the beginning of her book, Gilbert was in that place. The wallowing, self-pity, snot-inducing place. By the end of the book, she wasn’t, and her ascension to that place of contentment becomes evident in her writing. It was well done, I think.

In another post, when I have some more quiet time, I’ll point out a few passages I absolutely loved – especially one in which Richard from Texas explains his theory about soul mates to Gilbert. It’s definitely one of those things that make you pause and ponder.

So now I want to read Committed which, lucky for me, was recently published. It starts where Eat, Pray, Love left off, and I can’t wait. I’m also looking forward to the movie, starring Julia Roberts, that’s due out this summer.