Die Once More

Caution! If you haven’t read every story in Amy Plum’s Revenants series–Die for Me, Until I Die, Die for Her (an ebook novella), and If I Should Dieturn back now! I’d hate to ruin this magnificent series for you…but I will.

If you’re still with me, I assume you’re caught up on all things Revenant. Today, I’ll be taking a quick look at the second novella in this series, Die Once More. This story, like Die For Her, is told from Jules’ perspective. It takes place just after the events of If I Should Die, which essentially wrapped up what was happening with the Revenants in Paris.

*For those of you who failed to heed my warning above and are still reading this, Revenants are less creepy versions of zombies. Good Revenants, or bardia, originally died saving another’s life and are reborn to continue that cycle for eternity. Bad Revenants, or numa, gain power through killing others or convincing others to kill themselves. There’s a bit more to it than this simplistic explanation, but this will have to do for now.*

Jules Marchenoir has left everything he loves behind. His country. His best friend, Vincent. And Kate, new Champion of the bardia, his best friend’s girlfriend…and the girl who stole Jules’ heart. It’s just too painful to be in the same city as Kate and Vincent, so Jules crosses the Atlantic and joins up with the Revenants in New York.

Almost immediately, Jules is struck by how the bardia of New York compare to those in Paris. Thought there are many more Revenants here than there were in France, things seem to be very efficient here. That’s thanks largely to Ava Whitefoot, a striking woman who seems to loathe Jules on sight.

Jules knows he’s never met Ava in his many years as a bardia, so he doesn’t understand why she dislikes him so much. Soon, however, both people will have to put any animosity aside as they work to take down the building numa threat in New York. The numa in France may have been defeated, but those in New York are gaining strength every day.

In a story that takes us from the streets of Brooklyn to the boulevards of Paris, Jules and Ava will learn much about what makes each other tick, and they’ll discover that first impressions may just be deceiving.

Will Ava be able to look past Jules’ womanizing reputation and see the man he is trying to become? Will Jules be able to support Ava when she needs it the most? Can these two bardia find a way to become friends–or more–with the numa threat and a new challenge facing them? Read Die Once More to find out!

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I know Die Once More is focused on Jules and his developing relationship with Ava, but I must admit that I would have liked to see a little more action at the end. We’re told that there’s this big battle with the numa, but we don’t see the actual battle. That was kind of disappointing.

Other than that one complaint, I did enjoy this quick read. I liked Jules immensely in the previous stories, so (SPOILERS!) I enjoyed seeing him begin to get over Kate, reunite with his brethren, and find a partner of his own. I also appreciated seeing familiar, loved characters from the original trilogy and how they were faring post-battle. Hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of the bardia (in either Paris or New York).

If you’d like to learn a bit more about this series as a whole, I encourage you to check out my reviews linked above. You may also want to visit Amy Plum’s website.

Au revoir!

My Best Everything

Today, thanks to NetGalley and the Great Southern Ice Event of 2015 (hopefully, the only ice event of the year), I bring you yet another post on a recent read. That book is My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp and is due to be released on March 3rd.

I finished reading My Best Everything at about 10:30 this morning, and I’ve been thinking about it since then. After a few hours, I’m still not sure how I feel about this book. It’s certainly an interesting read, but parts of it really bugged me. The entire scheme cooked up by the main characters seems thoroughly implausible to me, and the ending, while somewhat satisfying, was kind of anti-climactic. I expected a bigger fallout, especially considering exactly what our protagonists were involved in.

On a positive note, though, My Best Everything wasn’t at all the love story I was anticipating. It went much deeper than that. This book–which needs a better title, by the way–gave me a story that did touch on first loves, but it also delved into things like self-control, looking to the future, escaping one’s past, and making hard–and sometimes dangerous–choices to achieve one’s goals.

All Lulu can think about is getting out of her small town. She doesn’t want to be one of those girls who stays in Dale, Virginia, and never leaves. Lulu’s plans to go to college in San Diego, however, have just hit a major snag. Her father, a traveling businessman, has just lost all of Lulu’s college money. It looks like Lulu may have to stay in Dale after all.

Or will she? When a moonshine still is sent to the junkyard where Lulu works, Lulu and her friends cook up an insane–and totally illegal–money-making scheme. What if they make and sell moonshine this summer? How hard could it be?

Well, as it turns out, there’s more to making moonshine than Lulu, Roni, and Bucky thought, so they turn to Mason, a troubled young man whose family has a long history as shiners in Dale. Lulu is intrigued by Mason, his past, and his vast knowledge of moonshine, but she’s also drawn to the man he’s trying so desperately to become.

Even as she and her friends are getting more caught up in making moonshine, Lulu worries that her great plan could ultimately be Mason’s downfall. Can he, with all of his personal demons, handle what they’re doing? Can Lulu? And can their fledgling relationship survive all of the pressures to come? Lulu is still focused on leaving Dale forever, but what will that mean for Mason? Is she ready to say good-bye to this young man who has quickly become so important to her?

This summer, changes are on the way for Lulu, Mason, and their friends. Nothing will end up quite like they expect, and their moonshining venture will impact everything they thought about themselves and their plans for the future.

Will Lulu make it to San Diego? Will she stay with Mason? What will become of their business as moonshiners? Can a small group of kids really make something like this work? Or will all of their efforts blow up in their faces? Read My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp to find out.

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Maybe I’m alone in my sheltered little world, but I find the very thought of successful teenage moonshiners to be something of a stretch. In this book, though, the characters not only became moonshiners, but they also became pretty good at it. Yes, sometimes things didn’t go according to plan, and things didn’t quite end up like they’d hoped, but they really made a go of it. It was impressive…and disturbing.

Also, aside from the impact on the characters’ personal lives and relationships with others, there weren’t really any consequences for their highly illegal activities. I think that’s what bothered me the most about this book. The authorities weren’t even a real presence in the book, and some of the characters didn’t acknowledge being found out as a legitimate threat. I guess the rule-follower in me expected some sort of punishment for their actions, and, even though I would have likely rooted for the characters to escape the long arm of the law, I did want that arm to be present. Quite the conundrum.

I did like the way My Best Everything was written. Almost from the beginning, we know that the book is essentially a letter to Mason. But what kind of letter? Is Lulu telling him goodbye? Is she writing him a love letter? Is she simply trying to explain why things happened as they did? The reader never really knows, and that’s part of what I enjoyed about this book. Lulu lets us know that things didn’t happen the way she wanted them to, and, even at the end, we still don’t know what the future ultimately holds for her and Mason. It’s up to the reader to fill in those blanks.

For those who are considering purchasing this book for their libraries, I would urge some caution. My Best Everything is not a book I’d recommend to middle grade readers. In fact, I doubt I’d give this book to anyone under age sixteen. There are some complicated, adult situations–and loads of illegal activities–so this is definitely a book for older, more mature teen readers. Do with that what you will.

If you’re interested in learning more about My Best Everything and author Sarah Tomp, check out the author’s website, Twitter, and Goodreads. Enjoy!

Illusions of Fate

Last night, I finished reading yet another excellent story by Kiersten White. After reading her other works (the Paranormalcy trilogy, The Chaos of Stars, Mind Games, Perfect Lies, and In the Shadows), I was expecting a great book, and I’m thrilled to say that I got one in Illusions of Fate. The wonderful Ms. White did not disappoint.

In her latest novel, Kiersten White weaves an intricate tale of magic, suspicion, and intrigue. Illusions of Fate is something of an historical fantasy and reminds me a bit of Cassie Clare’s Infernal Devices trilogy (a mark in the book’s favor). In this stand-alone novel, however, the world seems to be entirely fictional. It bears some resemblance to Victorian England, but White’s nation of Albion has it’s own societal constructs, political maneuvering, and disregard–and even rebellion against–the status quo. That’s where our main character, Jessamin, comes in…

Jessamin is perfectly aware that she doesn’t fit in with the majority of people in drab, colorless Albion. In fact, she wouldn’t even be there if not for persuading her father to see to her education. And if Jessamin were still on her island home of Melei, she probably wouldn’t find herself in the midst of a power struggle like none she ever realized could exist. Then again, fate may have had plans for Jessamin all along…

Jessamin couldn’t know that her life is going to change forever when she decides to walk through an unfamiliar alley. That decision leads her to a young man named Finn, a noble with strange abilities who can’t seem to help his fascination with Jessamin. Both parties do their best to ignore the other, but fate, circumstances–and observant foes–continue to throw the two together. Soon enough, it becomes clear that Finn’s enthrallment with and connection to Jessamin have made her a target of perhaps the most dangerous man in all of Albion.

The nefarious Lord Downpike, also Albion’s Minister of Defense, wants something from Finn, and he sees Jessamin as his way to get what he wants. And what is it that Downpike desires? Control of all magical lines and limitless power. Only Finn stands in his way. Or so he thinks.

It seems that Jessamin isn’t as easily swayed as most of the young women of Lord Downpike’s acquaintance. She doesn’t take being tortured or threatened lightly, and she is determined to stand up to the evil bearing down on those she cares for. She won’t run away and hide as Finn suggests. She won’t allow Finn–a young man who is coming to mean more to her than anyone else–to fight this battle alone. No, she doesn’t have the magical abilities of Finn or Lord Downpike, but she does have her wits…and a smart woman can certainly be the downfall of an overconfident man. But how?

What will Jessamin have to do to outwit the evil Lord Downpike? What sacrifices will she have to make to prevent this vile man from taking away everything she loves? What secrets will Jessamin uncover along the way?

Will fate decide the path of Jessamin’s life, or will she be the mistress of her own destiny? Answer these questions and many more when you read Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White.

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I hope I’ve hit the highlights of this wonderful book, but I’m sure I’ve left out quite a bit. (Actually, as I’m typing this, I realize that I didn’t even mention the birds and what they meant to the plot. Kind of a big deal. Oh well.) There’s a lot going on in this book, so I can’t possibly address all of it in a single blog post. I wouldn’t want to anyway. That would ruin things, wouldn’t it? Suffice it to say, Illusions of Fate is a magical story that kept me enraptured from the very beginning, and I hope you will feel the same.

If you’re looking for one more book featuring a kick-butt female character, I urge you to add Illusions of Fate to your list. Jessamin experienced some true horrors at the hands of a powerful man, but she didn’t cower like some shrinking violet…even though that would have been infinitely easier. No, she stood up for herself and those she loved. She used her brain to outsmart those who would oppress, torture, or kill her. She remained true to herself, even when it meant defying those who sought to protect her. Did it all work out in the end? Well, I won’t tell you that, but I will say that Jessamin is a character to be admired, and I hope many teen (and adult) readers follow her example of doing what she must to halt the spread of evil.

For those who want to learn more about Illusions of Fate and other books by the fabulous Kiersten White, I encourage you to visit the author’s website and Twitter feed. As for me, I’ll just sit here and eagerly await Kiersten White’s next book.*

*Not really. I’ve got loads more books to read in the meantime, but I guarantee I’ll be on the lookout for the next great book from this outstanding YA author.*

Published in: on February 16, 2015 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

My school’s faculty book club decided to read the works of Kate DiCamillo this month. Even though I’d already read Flora & Ulysses, I wanted to read a few more of DiCamillo’s books for our meeting (which is tomorrow afternoon). Well, I only got around to reading one more, but it’s one that had been near the top of my to-read list for a while. That book is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. My third grade students have been reading this book in class for the past couple of years, so I figured it was a good pick–both for my book club and to discuss with my students.

Edward Tulane, a china rabbit with a posh life and a rather inflated view of himself, loves no one. He is adored, and that is enough for him. Edward, though, is about to take a somewhat unexpected adventure that will change everything. While traveling at sea with his owner, a sweet girl named Abilene, Edward is tossed overboard, and his real journey begins…

This once-pristine rabbit travels from the bottom of the ocean to a stinky garbage heap. From the backpack of a hobo to serving as a scarecrow in a field. From the loving arms of a sick little girl to dancing on the streets for pocket change. Through all of these circumstances–some good, some bad–Edward finally begins to understand what it truly means to love.

When Edward opens his heart to the joy, hope, and even pain of loving others, he may one day, miraculously find his way home.

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When I first began reading this book, I didn’t expect a tale about a narcissistic toy rabbit to make me cry. How wrong I was. By the book’s conclusion, I was both mourning all of Edward’s losses and wishing for him to find a loving home. The ending of this unexpectedly emotional story had me at once jumping for joy and reaching for the tissues. I love it when that happens.

I can totally see why The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is such a hit with my students. I just wish I’d read it sooner. I look forward to discussing this beautiful story with my book club tomorrow!

Published in: on February 11, 2015 at 3:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Queen

Note: If you plan to read The Queen, a Selection novella by Kiera Cass, you really must read the books and novellas that preceded it…even though The Queen really serves as a prequel to all of them. Check out my posts on The Selection, The Elite, and The One if you’re curious about this series. You also may want to read The Prince and The Guard, two more novellas that I didn’t get around to posting on (probably because I’m lazy). All of this reading will help to put The Queen and its main characters in context.

Before she was the Queen and mother to Prince Maxon, she was just a girl named Amberly…

When Amberly was chosen to take part in the Selection, she somehow knew destiny was at work. She’d been in love with Prince Clarkson for most of her life, and now she would have the chance–however slim–to become his wife. But could he look past her work-roughened hands, her near-constant headaches, and her caste? Could a prince possibly care about someone like her?

Somehow, Amberly manages to catch Clarkson’s eye, and she’s sure that he is at least beginning to return her feelings. She makes it clear that the Prince is the absolute center of her world, but is that enough to make her a future Queen?

Forces are working to keep Clarkson and Amberly apart–Clarkson’s mother, the increasing threat of rebellion in Illéa, and a crisis that will jeopardize all of Amberly’s plans for her future–but these two young people are nothing if not determined.

Clarkson will be the future King of Illéa, and he wants Amberly by his side. How will everything unfold? Read The Queen to find out!

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So…if you haven’t read The Selection series (and the obviousness of the novella’s title escapes you), I’ve just spoiled this story for you. Yes, Amberly does become the Queen of Illéa, but it is interesting to read just how that happened.

This story also goes a long way in explaining why Amberly stayed with Clarkson when he was being such a butt-faced jerk in The Selection. When I read The Selection trilogy, I admit that I judged Amberly for sticking by Clarkson when he was acting like an asshole. (Sorry for the cursing, but that word is the most accurate one I could think of.) While I still judge her a bit for appearing to be a doormat, I at least understand her reasoning a little better. I don’t approve, but I do understand.

To those who have read the entire Selection series, I think you’ll be interested in how Amberly handled her place in the Selection versus how America dealt with things. Each girl had her own way of doing things, and each one faced their own set of unique circumstances, but there were some parallels in their backgrounds and in the way they interacted with their princes. Which girl had the better approach? I can’t really say, so I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

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If you still haven’t gotten enough of The Selection, have no fear! Kiera Cass is gracing us with more from this captivating world. The Favorite, another novella, will be released on March 3rd (my birthday!), and this one gives readers a glimpse at Marlee and her life with Carter.

Also–*insert fangirl squeal here*–The Heir, a whole new Selection novel, will be out on May 5th! Let’s take a look at the absolutely gorgeous cover, shall we?

Pretty, pretty, pretty. Apparently, this book revolves around Princess Eadlyn, the daughter of America and Maxon, and her own Selection for a prince. If The Selection was The Bachelor on steroids, I guess now we’re giving The Bachelorette her turn. I can hardly wait!

For more information on The Selection saga and author Kiera Cass, check out her website, Twitter, and the Selection Facebook page.

 

Published in: on December 11, 2014 at 3:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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My True Love Gave to Me

When I heard the author lineup for My True Love Gave to Me, an anthology of YA holiday stories, I immediately knew that I would have to read what I was sure would be an outstanding collection. With favorite authors like Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, David Levithan, Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, and Kiersten White–among others–contributing short stories, I was hooked before I even started reading. And when I didn’t think anything was ever going to get me in the holiday spirit this year (Humbug!), this book managed to fill me with a bit of cheer.

My True Love Gave to Me is a collection of twelve holiday stories that kind of touch on everything: New Year’s, winter solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, and even Krampuslauf (something I’d never heard of before). There’s really something for everyone (except Festivus for the rest of us), and I think this would be a perfect gift for any teen reader…or adult reader who loves YA lit.

Now, I’m not going to go through each and every story here. That would take forever, and, honestly, it would probably spoil a couple of the stories for you. Instead, I’ll briefly highlight a few of my favorite stories from this collection.

My favorite story in the collection comes from the book’s editor herself, Stephanie Perkins. Her story is titled “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown.” This short story, like Perkins’ longer works, introduces readers to a true gem of a guy. North Drummond, like Étienne St. Clair, Cricket Bell, and Josh Wasserstein, is almost too good to be true, but that just makes me–and Marigold, his “love interest”–adore him more. He seems to really “get” Marigold, even though her life is less than traditional. He works to make her world a better one after knowing her only a short while. Every girl should be so lucky. (I’m militantly single, and even I felt my cold heart melting for North.) If you enjoyed Stephanie Perkins’ enchanting novels, you’ll likely feel the same way about this lovely story.

One of my other top picks from this collection was “Midnights” by Rainbow Rowell. (If you follow this blog at all, this should come as no surprise.) This story involves two best friends who seem to just miss being together at midnight each New Year’s Eve. This year, though, things might just be a little different. (Since this is essentially a YA holiday romance anthology, you can probably guess what will happen. Even so, the story is heart-warming and brings on the feels.)

Finally, I have to talk a bit about “Star of Bethlehem” by Ally Carter. This was the only story in the book that actually made me cry. The basic premise is this: Mysterious girl exchanges plane tickets with someone else, pretends to be someone she’s not (in order to hide from her own life), gets found out, and ultimately finds something she never knew she needed. Such a moving story that I had to grab a couple of tissues. There was a romantic element to this one, but, at least for me, this particular story was about the love that can be found with friends, family (not always blood relatives), and people who deeply care about what’s really best for those they love.

Those were just three of the stories that really spoke to me. Truthfully, there’s not a stinker in the bunch, and every story resonated with me in some way.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Krampuslauf, or no holiday at all, this collection is an outstanding, moving, entertaining read for anyone who believes in the power of love…in all of its many forms.

Published in: on November 17, 2014 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Isla and the Happily Ever After

For the past couple of years, I’ve been impatiently waiting to read Stephanie Perkins’ latest, Isla and the Happily Ever After. Finally–FINALLY–I got my chance this week. My signed copy of the book (along with some lovely swag) arrived last weekend, and I read it during my limited spare time this week. (School resumed for teachers in my district this week, so “limited” is the perfect way to describe my time of late.)

Just like Perkins’ previous books, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, Isla and the Happily Ever After was outstanding. I loved the characters, how they interacted with each other, how they grew throughout the story, and how they connected with characters in the preceding books. I cannot say enough good things about this book. It was so worth the wait, and part of me wants to find Stephanie Perkins and give her a hug for creating such memorable and lovable characters. (A bigger part of me, though, shies away from human contact, so Ms. Perkins has no worries about random embraces from strangers. At least none from me.)

Isla Martin has been in love with Josh Wasserstein since the start of their freshman year at the School of America in Paris. Fast forward to senior year, and it seems that Isla may finally have a chance at being with the guy who’s always seemed out of her reach.

After a rather odd encounter in Manhattan over the summer, the two finally reunite at school, but Isla can’t get over her nervousness around Josh, and it looks like Josh is trying to keep his distance. Trying…but not succeeding. Isla and Josh are growing closer, and when Isla clears up a misunderstanding that was keeping Josh away, they’re finally able to start the relationship that both of them so desperately want.

Isla and Josh become nearly inseparable, and they want to spend every spare minute together. Sometimes it’s as simple as being in the same room–Josh sketching or working on his graphic novel, Isla studying or reading–but being together is what’s important. They explore their favorite spots in Paris. They learn all the important little things about each other. And during one memorable, romantic weekend, Isla and Josh break all the rules and journey to Barcelona to take in a few sites. It’s this weekend, though, that ultimately tests how strong their love really is.

When Isla and Josh return to Paris, they realize that their impulsive actions have devastating consequences. Josh is taken away from school and Isla, and this heart-breaking separation takes its toll on the couple’s burgeoning relationship.

The more time they spend apart, the more Isla begins to doubt if Josh’s feelings for her are real. She knows she loves him, but what does he really see in her? Why would he want to be with someone who doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life? Is she just a placeholder for his ex-girlfriend and all of his friends that have moved on? Isla just doesn’t know, and her doubts soon lead to an epic confrontation that may destroy any hope of a future with Josh.

Can Isla wade through her doubts and finally learn to trust in Josh’s love? Does Josh even want to be with her after everything they’ve been through and said to each other? Is there any hope of a happily ever after for Isla and Josh? Only one way to find out…

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I love this book so hard. I have zero complaints, and people who know me realize how rare that is. I think every girl (or guy) who reads this will absolutely fall in love with Josh. Many readers will likely identify with Isla and her deep-seated–and often unfounded–insecurities. Everyone will root for Isla and Josh to make it. Adult readers will probably want to go back and relive their teen years in the hopes of finding–or reliving–a love like the one we see between Isla and Josh.

After reading Anna, Lola, and Isla, I have to say that I will read anything that Stephanie Perkins cares to write. (I already follow her blog and Twitter, so I think I’m good to go there.) This lady is a master of YA romance, and I recommend her to every teen and adult reader who likes a good love story. I am eagerly anticipating her next book, and I can’t wait to see what she contributes to the upcoming anthology, My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories.

If you’d like to learn more about the fabulous Stephanie Perkins and her equally fabulous books, check out her website, Twitter, or Tumblr.

*Note: As much as I adore Isla and the Happily Ever After, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a small warning to librarians, teachers, and parents. This is a book for teen and adult readers. Isla and Josh are characters in a serious relationship, and their relationship follows a fairly natural progression. There are a couple of sexual situations, but they are not terribly gratuitous. Even so, I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending this book to middle grade readers.*

Published in: on August 15, 2014 at 2:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just One Year

A word to the wise: Read Gayle Forman’s Just One Day before continuing with Just One Year. In my opinion, you MUST know what leads up to Willem’s story prior to opening this companion novel/sequel!

So, I finally finished reading Just One Year late last night. I would have finished it sooner, but I was away at a conference. (To those who think a school librarian’s work ends at the start of summer, I say only “I wish!”) I got back yesterday afternoon and proceeded to devour the rest of this book. I absolutely adored the first book, told from the perspective of Allyson/Lulu, so I really wanted to see what became of Willem after their one day in Paris.

When Willem wakes up, he’s not sure where he is. All he really knows is pain and the need to find something he’s lost. When he finally recovers enough to think, he remembers the girl, Lulu, who’s waiting for him. They shared a magical day in Paris, a day that seemed to change both of them. Willem tries to get back to her, but it’s too late. She’s gone, and she probably thinks he left and didn’t give her another thought. And he can’t exactly do anything about that. He doesn’t even know her real name…and she doesn’t know very much about him either. As much as they discovered about each other during their day together, they don’t know how to reach each other again.

Willem tries to find Lulu in Paris, but he’s floundering. He retraces their steps through the city, but that leads nowhere quickly, so Willem decides to return home to take care of the business he’s been avoiding for so long–settling his father’s estate.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Amsterdam, Willem feels the need to escape. The memories are too much, and Willem is feeling the itch to travel…and continue his search for Lulu. When his travels are delayed, he takes solace in his friends and in the arms of a former flame. She’s not Lulu, but she keeps him from feeling so lonely all the time. Eventually, though, Willem simply can’t fake his feelings anymore, and he must move on.

Willem’s journey takes him all through Holland, Mexico, India, and then back to Holland. Through it all, he thinks of Lulu, their one day together, and how that day changed him. He’s feeling restless, but his nomadic existence doesn’t feel like enough anymore.  He wants a sense of family, he wants real, lasting connections with people, and he wants purpose. Even if he never finds his Lulu, she’s at least given him that. She opened his eyes to the world around him and his place in it. (He doesn’t know it, but he did the same for her.)

While Willem is on his journey of self-discovery, he never truly abandons his search for Lulu. He explores every connection he can think of, but she seems to constantly be just out of reach. He finds himself wondering if he should leave Lulu and their day in Paris in the past and move on.

But Willem has no way of knowing that fate has different plans. Lulu–or Allyson–has been doing some searching of her own, and she and Willem are about to come face to face once again. Will their connection be as strong now that a year has passed and so much has changed? There’s only one way to find out…

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Now that I’ve read Just One Day and Just One Year, I find myself reflecting on my own reactions to each story. While I sympathized with Allyson, I was a little more judgmental of Willem. I know this says more about my own ideas and responses to emotional upheaval than anything, but I think that’s true of any book. We bring our own experiences to the stories we read, and we view the characters through those lenses. What I found really interesting, though, was how my views of Willem’s actions changed the more I read this book. Yes, he dealt with things a bit differently than Allyson did, but he had valid, and highly personal, reasons for doing so. And I think that’s the mark of a really great book. It makes you examine your own ideas through the experiences of another.

After finishing Just One Year last night, I immediately downloaded and read Just One Night, the last chapter of this love story. (Best $0.99 I’ve spent in a while.)

This ebook novella gives readers a look at what happened when Willem and Allyson/Lulu were finally reunited and had the opportunity to share their new selves and how they found their way back to each other. There’s also a fair amount of kissing (and other displays of affection), a bit of Shakespeare (like the preceding novels), and talk of the future. Will Willem and Allyson have a happy ending to their story? I’ll leave that for you do discover!

I failed to mention this in my Just One Day post, but I do believe that this series is suited to young adult (and adult) audiences. There are some mature themes, and I just don’t think most middle grade readers have the maturity or life experience to understand some of the content. As always, though, use your best judgment when recommending any book to young readers.

If you’re in or around South Carolina in November and want to learn more about Gayle Forman and her fantastic books, I urge you to attend YALLFest, a two-day celebration of young adult literature in Charleston. Gayle is scheduled to attend, and I know she’ll have lots of interesting things to say! (I had the privilege of hearing her speak last year, and I loved hearing her talk about her craft.)

For those that can’t attend YALLFest but still want more information about this series and others by Gayle Forman, check out her website at http://www.gayleforman.com/. Happy reading!

Published in: on June 20, 2014 at 5:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just One Day

Last night, when I should have been packing for a conference, I was instead devouring Just One Day by the fabulous Gayle Forman. This book had been on my to-read list for quite a while, but I didn’t make time for it until this weekend. Oh, how I wish I had read it sooner!

Like If I Stay and Where She Went, Just One Day shows that Gayle Forman is a master at writing love stories that pack an emotional punch. Even more important, in my opinion, she’s excellent at giving readers examples of young women who, while navigating the perilous waters of relationships, also work to discover their own inner strength.

Allyson is nearing the end of a whirlwind tour of Europe, and, to be honest, the trip has been something of a disappointment. Yes, she’s oohed and aahed at all the appropriate moments, she’s seen some impressive sights with her best friend Melanie, and she’s even gotten a haircut to mark what should have been the start of the greatest vacation ever. But Allyson feels like she’s just going through the motions. She should be excited about this extravagant graduation gift, but something just doesn’t feel quite right.

Everything changes, though, when Allyson and Melanie deviate from their rigid plans and are persuaded to take in a performance of Twelfth Night in a Stratford-upon-Avon park. It is here that Allyson’s life changes forever. She meets Willem, a Dutch actor in the play, and she’s immediately drawn to him. There’s something about him that makes Allyson want to break free of limits and responsibilities. Maybe it’s because Willem doesn’t really know her. He doesn’t even know her name. He calls her Lulu because she reminds him of Louise Brooks, the silent film star. Maybe it’s that little bit of anonymity that gives Allyson the freedom to do something that’s so out of character. The freedom to eschew her plans to spend just one day with Willem in Paris.

One day in Paris. One day to see the sights and experience all that the City of Light has to offer. One day to fall in love with Willem, a young man who is so different from the Allyson she’s always been. Here she’s Lulu, a girl who takes things in stride, who has the attention of someone who could be–and probably has been–with dozens of other girls. It’s not easy to leave her good girl image behind, but Allyson wants to be someone different with Willem, and she’s coming to think she can be different when she returns to her real life.

All of that changes, though, when Allyson’s one day in Paris comes to a shattering end. After waking to find Willem gone, Allyson’s entire world seems to explode, and she doesn’t really know how to put the pieces back together. Nothing seems to fit anymore, and Allyson is struggling. It’s hard to admit that one day, one boy could have such a huge impact on her life, but Allyson will have to face what happened and the still unanswered questions if she has any hope of moving on with her life.

In the year after her day in Paris, Allyson must come to grips with how all of this has changed her. She has to deal with going back to being the “good girl” everyone expects and all of the pressure that entails. She faces the undeniable truth that she’s not the person she once was, and she’s no longer content living out someone else’s dreams. She must do what feels right to her…even if that means standing up to her parents, becoming more independent…and returning to the “scene of the crime” and discovering just what happened to make Willem walk away from her.

As Allyson attempts to make sense of everything that has happened in the past year, she’ll also discover that she’s stronger and more capable than she thought. Even if she never discovers why Willem left her, her quest for answers may just leave her with the peace and determination to become exactly who she was meant to be.

_______________

I think you can safely assume that I adored this book. If I weren’t so held back by my own fears–much like the Allyson we see early in this book–I would take off right now on a Parisian vacation, hoping to find my own sense of peace. Unfortunately, I am a big chicken, and that just won’t happen. (Not to mention the matter of not having the money and having to attend a conference for most of this week.)

I’d love to have a journey of self-discovery like Allyson experienced. I imagine that many readers will feel a similar longing. Even with the lows that Allyson dealt with after her day in Paris, she learned so much about herself. She learned that she had to let go of some things, even friendships, her parents’ expectations, and her own need to please those around her. I’m thirty-five years old, and I wish I could do that. Maybe one day.

While I’m envious of Allyson breaking free of her own boundaries, I’m also insanely jealous of her travels through Europe. The only time I’ve been out of the U.S. was when I went on a cruise to the Bahamas. I’ve wanted to travel to Europe, particularly Great Britain, for as long as I can remember, but finances, health issues, and a hefty dose of fear have always held me back. Allyson has inspired me, though. I’m somehow finding a renewed determination to make my dreams a reality. I’ve now got the beginnings of a plan in my head–a plan to save some money, lose some weight, and finally turn my desire for travel into a reality. How long with it take to put this plan into motion? I have no clue, but at least I’m getting started. Thank you for that, Allyson and Gayle Forman!

So, I finished Just One Day late last night, and I fully intend to start reading Just One Year, the companion novel from Willem’s perspective, within the next hour or so. (I have a two-hour ride to Atlanta ahead of me, so I should be able to make quite a dent in the book.) After that, I will read Just One Night, an ebook novella and the final chapter in the captivating story of Allyson and Willem. I can hardly wait to get started!

If you’d like more information on Just One Day or the other amazing books by the brilliant Gayle Forman, check out her website (which has quite a bit of info on the upcoming movie adaptation of If I Stay), Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. You may also want to take a quick look at the Just One Day book trailer below. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have!

Published in: on June 16, 2014 at 10:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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City of Heavenly Fire

If you’ve come here looking for spoilers, you have definitely come to the wrong place. As a matter of fact, I’m not going to tell you much of anything about City of Heavenly Fire, the long-awaited conclusion to Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. Do yourself a favor and read it. And the rest of the series. And the prequel trilogy. And anything else that Cassie Clare writes. Even if it’s her grocery list. I’m pretty sure even that would be epic.

For those not caught up with all things Shadowhunter, you absolutely MUST read the first five books of the Mortal Instruments saga before picking up City of Heavenly Fire. Those books are City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels, and City of Lost Souls. (And no, seeing the movie adaptation of City of Bones is not a substitute for reading the book. In my opinion, the movie was absolute crap and didn’t begin to do the book justice.) I’d also highly recommend reading the prequel series, The Infernal Devices (Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess). There’s a fair amount of crossover, and you may not get the importance of certain things if you don’t have the background provided in the prequels. (Hint: Brother Zachariah for the win!)

I honestly don’t know what I can say about City of Heavenly Fire without giving too much away. From the very first page, I was enthralled, and I’m still processing a lot of what happened. Throughout this 725-page tome, I laughed, I cried, and I got angry. It was an emotional journey, and one that I won’t soon forget…especially since I was extremely worried about my favorite character for much of the latter part of the book. (If you’ve read my other posts on these books, you likely know who I’m talking about.)

Those of you who’ve read the series thus far will get everything you’ve come to expect in a Mortal Instruments book. Snarkiness, sadness, redemption, action, emotional upheaval, intense battles, loss, fear, laughter, and love overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. The characters we met in the first book–Clary, Jace, Simon, Alec, Isabelle, and Magnus–have grown so much, endured so much, to get where they are, and this final war with Sebastian, Clary’s own brother, is their greatest battle yet. They are being tempered in a great fire, and, if they emerge, they will be stronger than ever.

I will say that the ending, while heart-breaking at times, was rather satisfying, and didn’t leave me with–you know–the urge to throw the book across the room or egg the author’s house. (I cannot say the same for my feelings when I finished reading Allegiant.) I felt it was a very fitting end to a beloved series, and it served well as a new beginning for many of the characters who’ve come to mean so much to me.

The official City of Heavenly Fire book trailer was released a few weeks before the book, and it captures the basic mood of the book. (I will admit I’m not crazy about the trailer. Something about it felt a bit off. The same is definitely NOT true of the book!) Check it about below, compare it to the book, and judge for yourself.

I first met these characters six years ago, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of the time we’ve spent together. Luckily, I don’t really have to say goodbye. I’m fairly certain I’ll see them again in Cassie Clare’s next Shadowhunter series, The Dark Artifices. We definitely get glimpses of what we’ll encounter in the new series, starting with Lady Midnight in 2015. Our newest adventure will center around Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs in the Los Angeles Institute, and, if what I saw in City of Heavenly Fire is accurate, we can expect another thrill ride from these young Shadowhunters!

***************

I know this post didn’t give you a ton of information about City of Heavenly Fire, and I do apologize for that. It’s just that this series means a great deal to me, and I find it rather difficult to put my thoughts on it into words. Those I’ve used here don’t feel adequate in any way. If you take anything away from this, though, I hope it’s this: Read anything you can find by Cassandra Clare. She will wrap you up in an intense story, give you characters you grow to love, and teach you a little something about caring for your fellow man (or vampire, werewolf, warlock, whatever) along the way. Her books–this one and any others–are not to be missed.

The series is complete...for now.

The series is complete…for now.

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