Friday, July 30, 2010

Review by Alex- Sorta Like a Rock Star

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick

Amber Appleton lives in a bus. Ever since her mom’s boyfriend kicked them out, Amber, her mom, and her totally loyal dog, Bobby Big Boy (aka Thrice B) have been camped out in the back of Hello Yellow (the school bus her mom drives). But Amber, the self-proclaimed princess of hope and girl of unyielding optimism, refuses to sweat the bad stuff. Instead, she focuses on bettering the lives of her alcoholic mother and her quirky circle of friends: a glass-ceiling-breaking single mother raising a son diagnosed with autism; Father Chee and The Korean Divas for Christ (soul-singing ESL students); a nihilist octogenarian; a video-game-playing gang of outcasts; and a haiku-writing war vet. But then a fatal tragedy threatens Amber’s optimism—and her way of life. Can Amber continue to be the princess of hope?

With his zany cast of characters and a heartwarming, inspiring story, debut YA author Matthew Quick builds a beautifully beaten-up world of laughs, loyalty, and hard-earned hope. This world is Amber’s stage, and Amber is, well…she’s sorta like a rock star.

First Impressions: Bought on a whim when I went to Chapters one day. I went in not knowing anything about it besides the description and that there were blurbs by some great authors praising Sorta Like a Rock Star.

And I have to say, Sorta Like a Rock Star is such a hidden gem. True. As Amber would say. Amber,the narrator, has an honest and powerful voice. Though at first it's extremely annoying with the "trues" as I've showcased a few sentences back, after a while, you get used to it and the unique voice only adds to the novel.

Amber is one helluva heroine. She's got more problems than the average girl, but she's able to bear it well and still remain seemingly eternally optimistic. She goes through ups and downs and changes throughout the novel- but she still retains that beautiful Amber-ness. I'm not doing a very good job of describing Amber, because she's just one of those undescribably good characters.

Supporting Amber is a crazy and motley cast. Amber seems to be able to make friends with anyone and everyone if she wants to. She smiles and says hello to scary homeless people as she bikes by. She has four male best friends who all aren't, well, average. She's a befriender and an action-taker. This review focuses on Amber because the novel is about Amber. The rest of the characters are well-done and fun, but Amber is without a doubt the showstopper.

Final Impressions: This book made me laugh. It made me cry. End of story. So really, go pick up this book now. It's heartfelt and sweet, and almost perfect in a fragile sort of way.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A musing on the (un)diversity of tastes

Tastes. Genres. Favourites.

For some reason, my tastes in movies and tv, and even music, are quite eclectic, but for books, I'm almost always reading teen. (Or I would have said that a month ago at least.) I've watched movies from Funny People, to 27 Dresses, to Star Trek, and liked all of them. I've followed tv series like Glee, Lost, Modern Family, 24. Music, while mostly alt and indie, can be diverse.
But... books? Almost strictly teen. And when I realized that- I started to try to branch out. (Hellooo classics and adult.) I didn't like the idea of being so one-streamed, especially with books, which are hands down my favourite out of books, movies, tv, and music. That said, of course I still love teen. And the teen genre really is diverse.

However, my point of this post is to ruminate on why. My taste in everything else is varied. But I've been reading teen and pretty much only teen for... more than five years now.

I think - though this is only for me personally - the main reason is time. A movie is done by 2 hours, though lately many pass that in length. But in give or take a couple hours, a movie is over. A tv series has weekly installements, an hour a week max. is nothing. Music is just minutes. There is time to not be picky. Because it's so little time. What's an hour or two of your life? A horrible movie would be something you just laugh at for watching and then forget about. You can waste an hour watching a show and then just not watch it anymore.

But a book takes time to read, plus energy on your part to actually read it. Some books - example: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers - may go as fast as 2 hours but most don't. Most surpass that time it takes to watch a movie. Novels can be 300 pages to much, much more. Even the best thick reads - HP much? - that go quickly take time. There's no going around that. (Well, speed-reading and skipping parts, but that's never been my way.) And so instead of branching out and trying something new, it's a lot easier to just stick with what you're used to reading, because you pretty much know you'll like it and it won't be a waste of time.

On top of time, there's also that reading is done alone. You can watch a movie or show with friends, and laugh and talk about it at the same time. Have you tried reading with someone else before? I have. It's annoying and strange, especially if the other person isn't at the same reading speed as you. Reading is inheritantly individualistic. And so your own tastes are really the only ones that matter. A friend can coerce you to watch a movie with them; a friend lending you a book and telling you to read it is a lot different than you actually picking up that book and reading it.

Add the fact that you have to concentrate to read - a tv isn't doing the work for you - and you have another reason. Teen is usually easier to read than adult. Not always, but that's what I've found from what I've read of adult and certainly of the classics. Teen novels have a way of writing that's aimed for teens. Many teens are reluctant readers- they're not going to want to wade through complex sentences and imagery and whatnot.

All this to conclude that while all forms have advantages and disadvantages, that really shouldn't stop me, and those of you, from limiting myself to one genre in whatever form. Just because I've always read teen doesn't mean I should constantly only read teen. Diversity is my new goal.

And so I've challenged myself to actually read some of the classics. I'm about a 1/4 of the way through Wuthering Heights now. I'm off to discover why everyone is obsessed with this Heathcliff.

So what do you all think? Diversify? And what books would you recommend that aren't teen?

- Alex

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review by Lauren - The Secret Daughter

The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

On the eve of the monsoons, in a remote Indian village, Kavita gives birth to a baby girl. But in a culture that favors sons, the only way for Kavita to save her newborn daughter's life is to give her away. It is a decision that will haunt her and her husband for the rest of their lives, even after the arrival of their cherished son.

Halfway around the globe, Somer, an American doctor, decides to adopt a child after making the wrenching discovery that she will never have one of her own. When she and her husband, Krishnan, see a photo of the baby with the gold-flecked eyes from a Mumbai orphanage, they are overwhelmed with emotion. Somer knows life will change with the adoption but is convinced that the love they already feel will overcome all obstacles.

Interweaving the stories of Kavita, Somer, and the child that binds both of their destinies, Secret Daughter poignantly explores the emotional terrain of motherhood, loss, identity, and love, as witnessed through the lives of two families—one Indian, one American—and the child that indelibly connects them.

First Impressions: I picked The Secret Daughter up on a recommendation by another staff member who had just started it, but had been really enjoying it.

Asha is adopted at the age of one after her family could not afford to keep a daughter in their household. She is raised by two american doctors, her father Indian and her mother Caucasian. The Secret Daughter takes place both in India and America, with a variety of different perspectives throughout the story.

I read The Secret Daughter very quickly. It's not a perticularly small book, but I was interested in the story for the most part. The beginning and middle were great, but I found that the second half of it started to slow down a bit and I kept waiting for something monumental to happen. Other than that, I definitely enjoyed the characters, the plot, and also the indian culture shown in the novel.

Final Impressions: A great, interesting story highlighting the values we place on family and identity.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review by Lauren - The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

From Dagger Award–winning and internationally bestselling author Alan Bradley comes this utterly beguiling mystery starring one of fiction’s most remarkable sleuths: Flavia de Luce, a dangerously brilliant eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders. This time, Flavia finds herself untangling two deaths—separated by time but linked by the unlikeliest of threads.

Flavia thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacy are over—and then Rupert Porson has an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. The beloved puppeteer has had his own strings sizzled, but who’d do such a thing and why? For Flavia, the questions are intriguing enough to make her put aside her chemistry experiments and schemes of vengeance against her insufferable big sisters. Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets.

Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations to the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Brontë sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt, and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is Porson’s assistant, the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head?

First Impressions: Alright so The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, or The Weed for short, is the second book in the Flavia de Luce series, the first being The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. (My review for that one can be found here.) I really enjoyed the first one, so I was very excited to start!

The Weed takes up not too long after the end of Sweetness, although it is not necessary to read the books in order. Flavia is back as her usual, hilarious self, once again tormenting her older sisters and snooping into things way out of her league. The novel is just as fast-paced and entertaining as the last with a couple laugh-out-loud moments, but I just didn't quite enjoy it as much as the first. I think it's probably just the sequel factor, because I can't quite pinpoint what it was.

Final Impressions: Just as fun, quirky, and entertaining as the first novel, and I cannot wait until the next one comes out!

Memorable Quotes:

- "While you've been gadding about the countryside, we've held a meeting, and we've all of us decided that you must go.'
In short, we've voted you out of the family,' Daffy said. 'It was unanimous."

- "If you remember nothing else, remember this: Inspiration from outside one's self is like the heat in an oven. It makes passable Bath buns. But inspiration from within is like a volcano: It changes the face of the world."

- "You are unreliable, Flavia," he said. "Utterly unreliable."
Of course I was! It was one of the things I loved most about myself.
Eleven-year-olds are supposed to be unreliable."

Review by Alex- Perchance to Dream

Perchance to Dream by Lisa Mantchev
The stuff that dreams are made on.

Act Two, Scene One

Growing up in the enchanted Thèâtre Illuminata, Beatrice Shakespeare Smith learned everything about every play ever written. She knew the Players and their parts, but she didn’t know that she, too, had magic. Now, she is the Mistress of Revels, the Teller of Tales, and determined to follow her stars. She is ready for the outside world.


But the outside world soon proves more topsy-turvy than any stage production. Bertie can make things happen by writing them, but outside the protective walls of the Thèâtre, nothing goes as planned. And her magic cannot help her make a decision between—

Nate: Her suave and swashbuckling pirate, now in mortal peril.
Ariel: A brooding, yet seductive, air spirit whose true motives remain unclear.
When Nate is kidnapped and taken prisoner by the Sea Goddess, only Bertie can free him. She and her fairy sidekicks embark on a journey aboard the Thèâtre’s caravan, using Bertie’s word magic to guide them. Along the way, they collect a sneak-thief, who has in his possession something most valuable, and meet The Mysterious Stranger, Bertie’s father—and the creator of the scrimshaw medallion. Bertie’s dreams are haunted by Nate, whose love for Bertie is keeping him alive, but in the daytime, it’s Ariel who is tantalizingly close, and the one she is falling for. Who does Bertie love the most? And will her magic be powerful enough to save her once she enters the Sea Goddess’s lair?

First Impressions: Having just reread Eyes Like Stars before delving into Perchance to Dream, I thought I was prepped for Bertie's world. A world full of magic and love and craziness.

Unfortunately... maybe I wasn't. I still did really like Perchance to Dream. It has all of Eyes Like Stars' imagination and creativity and full-on fun. This time, the story takes place not inside the theater, but outside as Bertie tries to get Nate back from Sedna and meets a whole new cast of characters. Each character brings something new.

The whole plot is wild and strange- in a good way. But it was nonetheless a way that I couldn't fully understand. It breaks my heart to say it- but maybe I just wasn't imaginative enough to read Perchance to Dream. I was constantly wondering how in the world all of this was happening until I just had to shut my brain off and stop my wondering. (Which is really, really hard.) However, after doing so, Perchance to Dream became a lot more enjoyable. Yeah, it's crazy, but it's a type of crazy one falls in love with, as many bloggers and readers can attest.

I do love the magical elements of the story. That Bertie is the Mistress of Revels and has the power over words is amazing. The idea that one can have power over words is doubly so.

And then of course we have our love triangle. To be honest, for the most part, Bertie's lack of doing anything to decide between her two men for the better part of the novel annoyed me. But then... I'm firmly on Ariel's side and really don't see why there should be a love triangle.

Final Impressions: I wish Perchance to Dream would have been something I could be fully wrapped into, but it took a while for me to realize that unless I stopped thinking of the whats, hows, and whys of the novel, I'd never get anywhere. But I'm sure others will easily devour Perchance to Dream with all of its beauty and wonder.

4.5 shelves.

Oh, and want another point of view? Lauren's review.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Blog News/Update

Hey everyone! So, in case you hadn't noticed, the blog's been having a bit of a mid-life crisis this past week. Lots of different colours, backgrounds, text - basically a lot of changes.

The first reason behind all this, as Alex mentioned in our last layout post, is to celebrate summer, aka our return to blogging. This past year was tough for our little blog, and we apologize a million times to you guys who have stuck by us through our months without posts!

The second reason is that we're changing our content slightly, mostly due to myself. I've realised recently that my desire to read YA has greatly diminished, and the number of regular fiction books I've enjoyed recently has risen greatly.

This fact had originally brought me to the conclusion that I was no longer going to be able to blog regularily, but of course Alex would have none of that. So A Flight of Minds will now include regular fiction reviews, written mostly by me (and possibly Alex on the rare occasion). A teen's view on the genre :)

So basically, we're expanding :) For the better :)

Review by Lauren - The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

First Impressions: I was very excited to read The Graveyard Book, mostly because of the high praise it has received. I didn't really have any idea what the book was going to be about, but I went in with high expectations.

Bod (short for Nobody) has spent almost his entire life in a graveyard, raised by ghosts instead of parents, and given all the same priviledges as the dead around him. He is kept hidden from the outside world to protect him from the people who want to hurt him, and spends his time learning to use his ghostly powers.

Because I read The Graveyard Book with such high expectations, it took me a while before I began to really enjoy it. You have to keep in mind that it is a children's book, with mature themes, but the story is still meant for younger children.

In the end, I did enjoy the book. It was endearing and imaginative, and I loved the illustrations that were included in every chapter such as the one off to the left. Every character was special, each ghost unique and entertaining. I loved how Neil Gaiman included each ghost's epitaph after their introduction, and how almost every chapter seemed to be a little story of its own.

Final Impressions: A great (mature) children's book about the joys of truling living. Oh, and can you see the face on the cover? :p Took me a couple days to figure that one out...

Memorable Quotes:

- "Name the different kinds of people,’ said Miss Lupescu. ‘Now.’

Bod thought for a moment. ‘The living,’ he said. ‘Er. The dead.’ He stopped. Then, ‘...Cats?’ he offered, uncertainly."

-"Bod quite liked crows. He thought they were funny and he liked the way they helped to keep the graveyard tidy."

- "Suppose we pick a name for him, eh?"
Caius Pompeius stepped over and eyed the child. "He looks a little like my proconsul, Marcus. We could call him Marcus."
Josiah Worthington said, "He looks more like my head gardener, Stebbins. Not that I'm suggesting Stebbins as a name. The man drank like a fish."
"He looks like my nephew Harry," said Mother Slaughter...
"He looks like nobody but himself," said Mrs.Owens, firmly. "He looks like nobody."
"Then Nobody it is," said Silas. "Nobody Owens."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Review by Alex- Prophecy of the Sisters

Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink
Sixteen-year-old Lia Milthorpe and her twin sister Alice have just become orphans, and, as Lia discovers, they have also become enemies. The twins are part of an ancient prophecy that has turned generations of sisters against each other. To escape from a dark fate and to remain in the arms of her beloved boyfriend James, Lia must end the prophecy before her sister does. Only then will she understand the mysterious circumstances of her parents' deaths, the true meaning of the strange mark branded on her wrist, and the lengths to which her sister will go to defeat her.

Debut novelist Michelle Zink takes readers on an unforgettable journey where one sister's fateful decision could have an impact of Biblical proportions. Prophecy of the Sisters is the first of three books.

First Impressions: I bought Prophecy of the Sisters ages ago, with high hopes and expectations after reading many praising reviews for it. And then... it just sat on my shelf for ages. (Actually, I lent it to Lauren, who read it and returned it. Then it sat on my shelf.) So when summer came, I finally pulled it back out.

Honestly not too sure why I left it unread for so long, but perhaps it's a good thing I did. Because there is nothing better than reading Prophecy of the Sisters while lying on a hammock in the shade, next to the beach. Prophecy of the Sisters has this dark atmosphere and is the perfect book to read all on your own, without distractions, in my opinion. Its writing is a little denser than other YA novels' writing, but much richer and poetic. Really beautiful, in other words. The fact that it's so different sets it apart from contemporary novels, or novels with settings in our time. Instead, the writing brings us to the past.

And what a past it is. Reminding me of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy (which is high praise- I adore that series, as Lauren and my youtube video should attest) Prophecy of the Sisters has girls with mysterious special powers, a strong and compelling plot, secrets that are to be uncovered, and friendships and love. What's not to find interesting in the novel?

That said, some of it is a little confusing, and a lot of it did seem like set-up. But this is the first novel in a trilogy, so that's to be unexpected and not much can be done about it.

Final Impressions: Prophecy of the Sisters is a great start that has a beautifully haunting atmosphere and tone and well done characters and relationships. Though I'm itching for more romance! All I can say, is I'm glad that I waited so long to read Prophecy of the Sisters so I don't have to wait long for Guardian of the Gates, book 2, coming out August 1, this year.

Lauren reviewed this one a while back, like when it actually came out, here, if you all want a second opinion, which of course, you do, right?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Layout change!

If anyone was up from 11 pm - 1 am today, you may have noticed some strange changes going around our blog. Meaning the layout may have been really bad while you were looking. I was attempting to change up the layout. A revamp, if you will.

Why? Well, Lauren and I decided (a while ago actually) that the blog needed a makeover. We were on a hiatus for most of the past school year, and now that summer has come, we thought a new layout was due. Summer = free time = time to read and review. Hopefully.

Well I've rambled enough I guess. What do you think of the layout? The pink colour too much? It'll probably be going through some more changes for the next little while, so I'll thank you in advance for putting up with it!

As usual, comments and construction critism are welcome. How does the background fit on all of your screens? I have a really wide screen, so what I see tends to be a lot different from most.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Review by Alex- Rules of Attraction

Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles
Carlos Fuentes doesn't want any part of the life his older brother, Alex, has laid out for him in Boulder, Colorado. He wants to keep living on the edge, and carve his own path—just like Alex did. Unfortunately, his ties to a Mexican gang aren't easy to break, and he soon finds himself being set up by a drug lord.

When Alex arranges for Carlos to live with his former professor and his family to keep him from being sent to jail, Carlos feels completely out of place. He's even more thrown by his strong feelings for the professor's daughter, Kiara, who is nothing like the girls he's usually drawn to. But Carlos and Kiara soon discover that in matters of the heart, the rules of attraction overpower the social differences that conspire to keep them apart.

As the danger grows for Carlos, he's shocked to discover that it's this seemingly All-American family who can save him. But is he willing to endanger their safety for a chance at the kind of life he's never even dreamed possible?

First Impressions: Having read Perfect Chemistry (actually, it was one of the first books I bought because of a blog’s review and I gave it as a present to Lauren) I knew what to expect from Rules of Attraction. It seemed like perfect car trip material, which is where I read a good portion of it.

While Rules of Attraction is pure cheesiness, it’s a cheese that’s done extremely well. It’s addicting and absorbing. A guilty read that’s utterly fantastic for what it is.

Kiera and Carlos’ relationship is interesting to see unfold and, while it’s ending is certainly not unexpected, it retains that perfect quality throughout. It’s never dull. It’s rocky at best at first, and goes through its ups and downs, at one point sweet, another hot, another in confusion. Their relationship is the base of the novel and makes Rules of Attraction what it is.

Kiera and Carlos tell the story in alternating perspectives, as like Perfect Chemistry. This lets us have two perspectives, which I love, and to get to know both personalities really well. Carlos is similar enough to Alex that readers get what they expected from the sequel to Perfect Chemistry, and Kiera is strong enough and well rounded to make an interesting female character.

Final Impressions: Much like Perfect Chemistry, Rules of Attraction is a quick read that feels a little guilty, but extremely pleasurable. Time well spent.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review by Lauren - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at he Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison.

It is the summer of 1950—and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw.

“I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

First Impressions: Initially, I had absolutely no desire whatsoever to read Sweetness, but after reading a little bit more about it, and hearing some great reviews from a couple people, my opinion completely changed.

Sweetness is the story of 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, a quirky girl who loves chemistry - and most of all poison. She is constantly tormented by her two older sisters - but with good reason. Incredibly witty and comical, Flavia is a wonderful storyteller, and creates a very entertaining narration for the story.

The book is a mystery, but it wasn't overdone. Sweetness was a light, fun read that made me smile, and that I was able to read fairly quickly. It was like a breath of fresh air, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. All the characters had funny little quirks, and each one comical in their own way.

Final Impression: A fun, entertaining read that will put a smile on your face!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Review by Lauren - Linger

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being.

For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past...and figuring out a way to survive into the future.

Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack. And Isabel, who already lost her brother to the wolves...and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.

At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love--the light and the dark, the warm and the cold--in a way you will never forget

First Impressions: I was beyond excited. I love Maggie Stiefvater's novels, and have been waiting for Linger since Shiver first came out.

In Linger, Grace and Sam's roles seem to switch places. Grace grows continuously sicker as Sam tries to find her a cure while at the same time trying to take care of the new wolves that phase back into humans as the weather grows warmer. Two new perspectives are added to the mix; Isabel, who plays a bigger role in Linger than in Shiver, and Cole, one of the new wolves with a troubled past he's trying to escape in his wolf form.

As much as I enjoyed Linger, it doesn't quite have the same effect on me as Shiver did. I read some things about people getting confused over the added narratives by Isabel and Cole, but I actually really enjoyed their perspectives, especially Cole's. It helped me understand them a lot better as characters in a way that wouldn't have been possible had they only been seen through Grace and Sam's perspectives. Cole was probably my favorite in this story, and I loved his inner dilemna and personality.

One thing I really missed in Linger - and it is kindof embarrassing and I hate to admit it - were all the... uh... intimate moments between Sam and Grace. There were, of course, plenty of adorable moments between the two of them, but I still was looking for a bit more. There was intensity, but a slight lack in passion... Grace and Sam's relationship was still great in this book, and I still love how cute they are together, but I wanted a little bit of heat :p

Final Impressions: Linger was adorable, but it felt more like a filler novel to me with quite a few unresolved issues at the end of it. It wasn't too much of a disappointment for me though, seeing as it is a trilogy (right?) and the second book usually has that kind of format to it. Great writing once again by Maggie, who remains probably my favorite author at the moment, and I cannot wait for the final book!

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