Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

     Annabel Greene is the girl who has everything. At least, that's what she portrays in her modeling shoots. But Annabel's life is far from perfect. Her friendship with Sophie ended bitterly, and her older sister's eating disorder is weighing down the entire family. Isolated and ostracized at school and at home, Annabel retreats into silent acceptance. Then she meets Owen - intense, music-obsessed, and determined to always tell the truth. And with his guidance, Annabel learns to just listen to herself and gains the courage to speak honestly. But will she be able to tell everyone what really happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends?
--Taken from the back cover

     Annabel's story of learning to be honest with herself is one that I think many people, teenagers and adults alike, would enjoy and relate to. Dessen's writing, as always, pulls the reader in and is as emotionally packed as real life.
     I can't help but love Annabel. She is not bold, but no overly shy either. She isn't cruel, or touchy. Annabel is the middle between her two very different sisters. She strives to keep the peace, even if that means fibbing about how her day went to her mom. I understand where she is coming from on so many points, and I love how strong she is.
     When Annabel and Owen meet, the book takes a new turn. Together, they learn from one another. Owen is more than what people see and what people say about him. He is sweet and unnervingly insightful.
     The friendship that blooms between the two is great to see, especially as Annabel slowly reveals all that has happened in the past year. Music is the original link that bonds them. As the book progresses though, and they learn about each other, they find they have more to discuss than just music.
     Sarah Dessen expertly weaves her story of truth, finding yourself, and learning what matters with beautiful words. One of my favorite passages comes from Annabel, who, despite the model stereotype, is very down to earth. I now leave you with these lovely words from Dessen's Annabel:
     "The past did affect the present and the future, in the ways you could see and a million ones you couldn't. Time wasn't a thing you could divide easily; there was no defined middle or beginning or end. I could pretend to leave the past behind, but it would not leave me."

Rating: 10

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Magic and the Healing by Nick O'Donohoe

     BJ Vaughan is in her last year of vet school - and in the first year of mourning her mother's suicide. Her grades have slipped, and she wonders if she can keep it together. She isn't even sure if she is really capable of working with animals after all. Then her mentor, Dr. Sugar Dobbs, asks if she will join a few other select students on a very unusual large animal rotation.
     Their rotation is in Crossroads, a world where the creatures of imagination live and breathe - and hurt. And where BJ, tending to centaurs and griffins and magical cats, will discover the joy of healing, and the wonder of magic.
--Taken from the back cover

     The Magic and the Healing was a pleasure to read. Though it took a few chapters to understand exactly what was going on and who the many characters were, once the team entered Crossroads it was hard for me to put the book down.
     In BJ the author constructs a very complex and lovable character. She is unsure of many things in her life as she attempts to finish vet school and come to terms with the loss of her mother. Crossroads really is just that for BJ, a point in her life where she has some serious questions to ask herself and decisions to make. The magical world gives her a chance to see her potential.
     The three other vet students that Dr. Dobbs chooses to accompany BJ and him on cases are as wildly different from one another as can be. Lee Anne lives beneath her country-girl stereotype, while Annie is very religious. Neither let these facts get in the way of what needs to be done in order to save their patients. Rather, they make these vet students all the more worthy of helping the animals in Crossroads. Dave, the last student, is known for his cockiness. Nothing can stop him from making a good joke. The time they spend together inevitably brings them closer, forming bonds between them, and creating a family they can depend on.
     Crossroads has the potential to rival Narnia. It is the kind of place that changes people, albeit discreetly. The vet students, and the people they encounter along the way, are immensely affected by Crossroads. BJ, Annie, Dave, and Lee Anne all learn a lot about themselves, as well as what it takes to save lives throughout their time in the world.
     O'Donohoe created a beautiful, fun story. The characters he wrote about were very real and interesting, as was the plot line. The way he was able to construct such a fantastic world full of imaginary creatures and parallel it to our own world was astounding. I can only hope that I'll be able to find the next installment soon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

College Girl by Patricia Weitz

     Natalie Bloom is a shy young woman in her junior year as a transfer student to the University of Connecticut. On the academic side of things, Natalie has everything in order. However, her shy nature gets in the way of her social life.
     When she meets the seemingly perfect Patrick, Natalie is shocked that someone with his status would see anything in a boring Russian history major such as herself. The downward spiral that ensues is only stopped when Natalie learns to accept her past as well as who she has become.

     With college quickly approaching in the fall, I had high hopes for College Girl giving me a good picture of life beyond the four walls of my high school. If college is anything like what Natalie experienced, I can honestly say I'd rather just sign up for another decade or two of high school. Weitz's book is just, well, depressing.
     Natalie has her insecurities, which I am more than willing to understand, as everyone has them. The thing that makes the book so depressing though is the extent to which she takes these insecurities. They blind her in a way that makes the reader cringe! Instead of seeing others for what they really are, be it friend or foe, Natalie lets her own issues color her view of everything. She doesn't see herself as worthy, in the classroom or outside, which saddens me because she is.
     The other characters in the novel seem to have their lives in order, according to Natalie. Faith, the roommate she keeps at a distance, might not know what she wants, but certainly knows what she doesn't. Gwen, the popular girl on her floor, seems to have it all. What Natalie fails to realize is that each of these people are dealing with their own hardships too.
     As a reader, I wanted to see more strength in our main character. I wanted her to pull herself together, put herself out there, and be who she wanted to be instead of waiting for some magical moment or person to change her life.
     I think Weitz's writing was great in how she brought the story to the page, even if I wasn't so fond of the story itself. The biggest thing lacking, in my opinion, was the dialogue. It was too strained and even numbing at times. Regardless, the author's style is certainly accessible. I was able to get to know Natalie for who she was, though she couldn't see it herself.

Rating: 4

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark by Marianne Curley

     After waiting years to find The Dark, having read and adored the first book, I was more than eager to dive in to the wonderful world Marianne Curley creates. From the first page to the last, I was enthralled by every word.

     As the Order of Chaos increases its hold on the mortal world, Ethan, Isabel, Arkarian and the other members of the Guard find themselves fighting harder than ever to maintain history. When Arkarian finds himself in grave danger, Isabel convinces Ethan to help her save him, despite being forbidden to do so. Nothing will stop her, not the potential consequences nor the horrors they will surely face.
     The ability given to the Guard is one that many might die for... and indeed many do. However, "with great power comes great responsibility." The Guard has the amazing ability to travel through time, but they are also the ones in charge of making sure history goes according to plan. Such a task wouldn't be so difficult if it weren't for the Order: those bent on shaping history to fit their own purpose of creating chaos.
     As the war between the two groups escalates, the Guard is put into a precarious position. They must decide between saving Arkarian at the risk of those that go after him and losing Arkarian to the detriment of the Guard. Isabel is determined that she will save him, without help. Her stubborn nature shows through in this novel even more than it did in the previous installment. She doesn't care that she is forbidden to go after Arkarian. She doesn't care that she is risking everything to rescue him.
     Ethan, too, shows his bravery and selflessness. Arkarian has been his friend and mentor since he was a child. Now that he has the chance to help, how can he let Isabel go alone? Together with a stowaway, Isabel and Ethan go in search of Arkarian.
     Curley continues to astound me with her superb characters and flawless writing. From Matt, with his self-doubt, to Rochelle, struggling to fit in, the author creates characters that in turn pull at your heartstrings and then liven the mood. They are utterly relate-able and lovable.
     Her tale of danger and an ancient war will certainly become a classic. It gives meaning to the importance of history and divulges a truth that often escapes us: everything is intertwined. History affects the future as much as the present does.

Rating: 10

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dael and the Painted People by Allan Richard Shickman

     Dael and Sparrow leave the Ba-Coro tribe in search of something they can't really identify: maybe love, in Sparrow's case, or peace of mind for Dael. What they find is a new home to call their own.The quest for this restoration isn't easy or quickly achieved.
     When Dael encounters an enemy among the painted people, the life he has made for himself among the tribe is threatened.

     As I have been with the last two installments of this series, I was enthralled by Dael and the Painted People. The writing, the characters, and the entire story line drew me in. In fact, I finished the book in one day because I had to know what happened next.
     Shickman's writing continues to amaze me. His uncanny ability to put the reader into the story and the characters he creates make this novel superb, to say the least.
     I can honestly admit that I never liked Dael in the previous books. I cared for his well-being because of how Zan-Gah remembered him, but I couldn't bring myself to actually care for him as a human being. He was cruel and heartless. As I read this book, however, I learned to like him. He really changed through his journey with Sparrow and the new tribe they found. Instead of being extremely violent and hateful, he becomes a caring, generous person.
     Sparrow changes in her own right as well. She becomes this vibrant, out-going, and incredibly patient woman by the end of the book. It is almost hard to believe that she is the same shy girl that left the Ba-Coro in the beginning.
     Sparrow, along with their new friend Koli, became my favorite characters in this novel. Koli was hilarious. I loved him for breathing a bit of life back into Dael and for being so kind. He was really an all around great character.
    Though I complained about the ending to the last book, I can't do the same for this one. It was exactly what I needed as a reader to tie up loose ends and feel like the story was complete. Shickman obviously knows how to bring a story to life, but he also knows how to end it.
    Rating: 8

*The fact that I received this book from the author did not influence my opinion of it in any way. This was my honest review.