Mockingbird

Finished Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes that is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white—the world is full of colors—messy and beautiful.Kathryn Erskine has written a must-read gem, one of the most moving novels of the year.

I’ve heard so many great things about this book, but for some reason, I’d never picked it up.  This is a common thread in my life, one I’m trying to fix.  (I know that nobody gets to read everything but I still try.)

Anyway, Caitlin is the kind of character that sticks with you.  She’s got Asperger’s syndrome, so she takes everything very literally.  When her older brother Devon (who is basically the world’s best brother) is killed in a school shooting, she doesn’t really understand.  I mean, she gets that he’s dead and that she won’t see him again.  But she doesn’t really understand the depth of her feelings or how to make herself feel better.  (And then she learns about the idea of closure and decides that that’s what she needs…except how do you GET closure?)

I very much enjoyed seeing Caitlin grow as a person.  She starts the novel barely able to relate to other people, but by the end, she’s made some friends and has managed to figure out how to make herself and other people feel better.  She’s the kind of person I won’t soon forget.

This is a sweet, charming, heartbreaking, excellent middlegrade novel.  I’m glad that I finally took the time to read it, but I wish I had done it much earlier.

Recommended.

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

Finished My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Friedman.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.

There are a lot of comparisons to Judy Blume’s classic Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.  While this book isn’t quite up to that standard, it’s very sweet and fun.

I love Tara and her desire to be true to both sides of her heritage, even when it seems like they’re at odds.  She isn’t necessarily sold on the idea of having a bat mitzvah, but it gets even worse when it seems like it’ll be a big step away from her Indian heritage.

I know a bit about Judaism and very little about Indian culture or its faiths (typically Islam or Hindu, depending).  Probably my favorite part about reading this was learning more about both.  (My second favorite part was everything else.)

And, of course, there are also friend and boy issues.

This book is absolutely delightful.  I wish I had read it much earlier than I did.  (I had hoped my major delay would have meant that the author had written more books, but apparently not.)

Recommended.

Broken Promise

Finished Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the New York Times bestselling author of No Safe House comes an explosive novel about the disturbing secrets of a quiet small town.… 

After his wife’s death and the collapse of his newspaper, David Harwood has no choice but to uproot his nine-year-old son and move back into his childhood home in Promise Falls, New York. David believes his life is in free fall, and he can’t find a way to stop his descent.

Then he comes across a family secret of epic proportions. A year after a devastating miscarriage, David’s cousin Marla has continued to struggle. But when David’s mother asks him to check on her, he’s horrified to discover that she’s been secretly raising a child who is not her own—a baby she claims was a gift from an “angel” left on her porch.

When the baby’s real mother is found murdered, David can’t help wanting to piece together what happened—even if it means proving his own cousin’s guilt. But as he uncovers each piece of evidence, David realizes that Marla’s mysterious child is just the tip of the iceberg.

Other strange things are happening. Animals are found ritually slaughtered. An ominous abandoned Ferris wheel seems to stand as a warning that something dark has infected Promise Falls. And someone has decided that the entire town must pay for the sins of its past…in blood.”

I absolutely loved this novel.  It’s an incredibly smart thriller, and I immediately cared about the characters.  While not everything is wrapped up, I’m pretty sure that means that there is a sequel coming.  I hope so; I want to know what will happen to everyone.

While there is a lot going on, obviously my focus was on Marla and her “present,” the baby left on her step by what she insists was an angel.  But there were no subplots that dragged for me; there was nothing that I wished had been left out.

I have read one other Linwood Barclay novel and I definitely want to check out his entire backlist.

Highly recommended.

Jessica Darling’s It List #3

Finished Jessica Darling’s It List #3 by Megan McCafferty.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Book 3 in New York Times bestseller Megan McCafferty’s realistic middle grade series, perfect for fans of Dear Dumb Diary, The Popularity Papers, and Wendy Mass’s Willow Falls.

Crazy teachers; best friends turning pretty overnight; “The Unbreakable Laws of Cafeteria Line Cutting”…. Junior high is rough, and Jessica Darling needs help! Enter older sister Bethany and her “It List,” meant to help Jessica uphold “The Darling Domination of Popularity.”

In Jessica Darling’s It List 3, Jessica faces the potentially mortifying outcome of the Top Secret Pineville Junior High Crushability Test. Plus, she’s kind of stuck in the middle, as smarties and skaters unite to collect signatures on a petition to bring back the school’s annual dance. Will the dramarama of seventh grade be Jessica’s downfall? Not if she can help it.”

It’s not a secret that I absolutely love Jessica Darling.  This is my favorite of the middlegrade prequels to her YA/adult series.

If, like me, you are a huge fan of Jess and Marcus Flutie, this is going to be your favorite, too. :)  The two of them are circling around each other for most of this novel, too, but there is a pretty fun development toward the end.  (Still no kissing, but still.)

I also love the fact that we see Hope and Jess really starting to click as friends, and I love seeing that.  (We also get to know Hope’s brother Heath; that’s less fun because, as we learn in Sloppy Firsts, he dies of a drug overdose.)

I love Jessica Darling and I just want more of her life.  (Can we get sequels, maybe? I want to know her as an adult, too!)

This ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I hope that there’s at least one more of Bethany’s lists floating around somewhere.

Recommended.

The Good Girls

Finished The Good Girls by Sara Shepard. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From Sara Shepard, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Pretty Little Liars series, comes the shocking sequel to The Perfectionists—with an ending you’ll have to read to believe!

Mackenzie, Ava, Caitlin, Julie, and Parker have done some not-so-perfect things. Even though they all talked about killing rich bully Nolan Hotchkiss, they didn’t actually go through with it. It’s just a coincidence that Nolan died in exactly the way they planned . . . right? Except Nolan wasn’t the only one they fantasized about killing. When someone else they named dies, the girls wonder if they’re being framed. Or are they about to become the killer’s next targets?”

This is the sequel to The Perfectionists and is the last book in the duology.

The interesting thing about this book is that it moves past The Perfectionists and other people the girls disliked start dying or having accidents.  This obviously makes them look like even bigger suspects.

This book and series was incredibly fun and definitely vacation-worthy, but not really a must-read.  It’s a little forgettable.  And the reveal has definitely been done before.  (Although I would argue that the ending was still pretty chilling, at least for me…and, of course, it leaves things open for another book.  I hope Sara Shepard doesn’t do one.)

The Perfectionists

Finished The Perfectionists by Sara Shepard.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling series Pretty Little Liars comes a thrilling new novel about five perfect girls who are framed for a murder they didn’t commit.

In Beacon Heights, Washington, five girls—Ava, Caitlin, Mackenzie, Julie, and Parker—know that you don’t have to be good to be perfect. At first the girls think they have nothing in common, until they realize that they all hate Nolan Hotchkiss, who’s done terrible things to each of them. They come up with the perfect way to kill him—a hypothetical murder, of course. It’s just a joke…until Nolan turns up dead, in exactly the way they planned. Only, they didn’t do it. And unless they find the real killer, their perfect lives will come crashing down around them.

From Sara Shepard, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Pretty Little Liars series, comes another story of dark secrets, shocking twists, and what happens when five beautiful girls will do anything to hide the ugly truth.”

This is an incredibly fun novel, one that is very similar to her Pretty Little Liars and Lying Game series.  (Unlike those two, this is only a duology—a wise choice, considering that both of those seemingly dragged on forever.)

I like the concept behind this.  Who hasn’t thought about getting back at the people who are mean to you, and who hasn’t jokingly wished someone dead?  Obviously, most people never mean those thoughts…except in this case, someone clearly did.

Things are also creepy, as we have no idea exactly who the killer is, and if it’s one of the girls or if it’s some random person.  As in her other series, everybody’s a suspect.

I enjoyed this book and was very excited that I could read the second one immediately.

365 Days of Wonder

Finished 365 Days of Wonder by RJ Palacio.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In the #1 New York Times bestselling novel Wonder, readers were introduced to memorable English teacher Mr. Browne and his love of precepts. Simply put, precepts are principles to live by, and Mr. Browne has compiled 365 of them—one for each day of the year—drawn from popular songs to children’s books to inscriptions on Egyptian tombstones to fortune cookies. His selections celebrate kindness, hopefulness, the goodness of human beings, the strength of people’s hearts, and the power of people’s wills. Interspersed with the precepts are letters and emails from characters who appeared in Wonder. Readers hear from Summer, Jack, Charlotte, Julian, and Amos.

There’s something for everyone here, with words of wisdom from such noteworthy people as Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., Confucius, Goethe, Sappho—and over 100 readers of Wonder who sent R. J. Palacio their own precepts.”

I love this book and it appealed to me for the same reasons that Postsecret does: these sentences and thoughts all affect me.  Some are applicable to my life now and some aren’t but they’re all worth thinking about.

For people who aren’t sure this is something they’d enjoy, each month is also bookended by thoughts from Mr. Browne (the teacher from Wonder who solicited these precepts).  There are also notes from students in those chapters (including Auggie, the hero from Wonder).

This book is a fun stocking stuffer, especially if you pair it with Wonder.  I read that when it first came out and this makes me really want to re-read it.

Because You’ll Never Meet Me

Finished Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In a stunning literary debut, two boys on opposite ends of the world begin an unlikely friendship that will change their lives forever.

Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie is allergic to electricity. Contact with it causes debilitating seizures. Moritz’s weak heart is kept pumping by an electronic pacemaker. If they ever did meet, Ollie would seize. But Moritz would die without his pacemaker. Both hermits from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times—as Ollie loses his only friend, Liz, to the normalcy of high school and Moritz deals with a bully set on destroying him.

A story of impossible friendship and hope under strange circumstances, this debut is powerful, dark and humorous in equal measure. These extraordinary voices bring readers into the hearts and minds of two special boys who, like many teens, are just waiting for their moment to shine.”

I very much enjoyed this novel.  It’s about these two boys who, for different reasons, are outcasts.  And they have different ways of dealing with their isolation.  Moritz has become dark and cynical; Ollie clings to hope and is almost annoyingly cheerful.  (Okay, if we’re being honest, a little more than “almost.”)

As the two become closer, they turn into best friends.  Watching that happen was incredibly sweet.  Until, of course, the novel takes a dark turn.

This book isn’t for everyone.  It’s sad, but there’s also a great deal of hope (mostly, but not entirely, on Ollie’s side).  I enjoyed it, though, and am excited to see what Leah Thomas does next.  I hope for a sequel.

Armada

Finished Armada by Ernest Cline.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.”

I was a huge fan of Ready Player One and so this was one of my must-reads for the year.

While I definitely preferred Ready Player One, fans of that will find so much to love here, too.  (They are very similar in terms of tone and all the pop culture references.  There’s a lot more about video games here, but that didn’t affect my fondness for Armada.)

At any rate, this is such an interesting premise and I love the characters we meet as Zack and a few other gamers prepare to help save the world.  It would be easy for a story like this to become a caricature, but it’s obvious that Ernest Cline loves the tropes so much that this is a love letter and not a mockery.  (I would really enjoy seeing what he does with horror movies…)

Recommended.