Thursday, July 02, 2015

Mini Reviews: Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle and My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

From Back Cover: Seventeen-year-old Elena is vanishing. Every day means renewed determination, so every day means fewer calories. This is the story of a girl whose armor against anxiety becomes artillery against herself as she battles on both sides of a lose-lose war in a struggle with anorexia. Told entirely from Elena's perspective over a five-year period and co-written with her mother, award-winning author Clare B. Dunkle, Elena's memoir is a fascinating and intimate look at a deadly disease, and a must read for anyone who knows someone suffering from an eating disorder.

My Review: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I normally don’t read memoirs – actually, this is the first memoir I’ve ever read – but since I’m fascinated with the subject of mental health, I couldn’t resist an inside look into the mind of someone with anorexia. For some reason though, I wasn’t completely captivated by Elena Dunkle’s Elena Vanishing. I think this was probably because I’m not used to reading memoirs, where there are jumps in time between chapters and people that are briefly mentioned who don’t reappear again until much later, by which time I’ve already forgotten who they are and their importance. I still thought this novel was interesting; and liked that Elena’s memoir shows how hard it is to treat anorexia and that this disorder isn’t just about extreme dieting. 

Some interesting facts about anorexia are:
  • There are two types of anorexia: 1) the restricting type and 2) the binge-eating/purging type.
    • The binge-eating/purging type is more common.
  • It has a high mortality rate (about 10%).
    • Many anorexics often die due to heart failure.
  • Medical consequences of anorexia include amenorrhea, osteoporosis, sensitivity or intolerance to the cold, cardiovascular problems, heart failure, electrolyte imbalance (if there’s a lot of bingeing and purging), edema, constipation, abdominal pain, hair loss, and brittle hair and nails.
  • One factor that may increase the risk of developing anorexia is having premorbid personality characteristics such as perfectionism or OCD tendencies.
  • Another factor that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder is feeling a lack of control in other areas of your life. So, food becomes the one thing a person with an eating disorder feels that they can control.
Elena Vanishing was released by Chronicle Books in May 2015. 
 
In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free.
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From Goodreads: Jill Taylor was a 37-year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist when a blood vessel exploded in her brain. Through the eyes of a curious scientist, she watched her mind deteriorate whereby she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. Because of her understanding of the brain, her respect for the cells in her body, and an amazing mother, Jill completely recovered. In My Stroke of Insight, she shares her recommendations for recovery and the insight she gained into the unique functions of the two halves of her brain. When she lost the skills of her left brain, her consciousness shifted away from normal reality where she felt "at one with the universe." Taylor helps others not only rebuild their brains from trauma, but helps those of us with normal brains better understand how we can consciously influence the neural circuitry underlying what we think, how we feel and how we react to life's circumstances.  

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor was a book that I had in my TBR pile for years, ever since I heard about it in one of my undergraduate neuroscience courses. The premise just sounded so cool: a neuroscientist has a stroke and is able to recover and talk about her experience from a neuroscience background. Unfortunately, My Stroke of Insight wasn’t exactly what I expected, Although I liked the first few chapters where Bolte Taylor described what she experienced on the morning of the stroke, how her deterioration related to different brain structures and functions, and strategies that aided in her recovery, the latter section of the memoir focused too much on how she now feels more at one with the universe. The tone during this portion of My Stroke of Insight was just too sappy for me, and I struggled trying to finish the book.

My Stroke of Insight was released in May 2008 by Viking Adult.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

From Goodreads: Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Uprooted by Naomi Novik was a book that appeared on my radar as a read recommended for those who liked Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses (which I had put on my wishlist, but have yet to still read). I wasn’t sure what to expect from Uprooted when I began it; but after reading it, here are five reasons why I think you should definitely read it too: 
  1. The protagonist: Agnieszka is a heroine that’s easy to root for. She’s average looking, loves the outdoors, is clumsy, and can never stay tidy. Even when Agnieszka finds out that she has magic and is a pretty powerful witch, she doesn’t develop an ego. Case in point: while the other wizards have fancy nicknames, she chooses to be Agnieszka of Dvernik.  
  2. The secondary characters: I loved how well-rounded all the secondary characters in the story were. The villain, for example, still managed to earn some sympathy from me, despite having done such terrible things.  
  3. The setting: I don’t want to spoil anything so all I’m going to say about the Wood is that it’s seriously creepy! 
  4. The portrayal of friendship: I really liked how realistic the relationship between Kasia and Agnieszka was. Not only was their friendship layered, but it developed over the course of the novel as well. 
  5. The romance: Initially, the Dragon and Agnieszka have a rather unequal relationship because he’s a lot older than her and much more knowledgeable about magic. Then, there’s the fact that Agnieszka has grown up resenting him because she knows that he’s going to take Kasia when they turn seventeen. However, Agnieszka and the Dragon’s relationship becomes more equal as she learns about her own magic and spends more time with him. I loved seeing the two of them slowly start to open up to each other! 
A must-read for those who enjoy fantasy, Uprooted was released in May 2015 by Del Ray. 

Comments About the Cover: I guess because the central picture is of a girl with a rose, the cover reminds me of Beauty and the Beast. The story though isn’t a retelling of the fairy tale, in spite of some similar elements.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout

From Goodreads: Grace Wilde is running - from the multi-million dollar mansion her record producer father bought, the famous older brother who’s topped the country music charts five years in a row, and the mother who blames her for her brother’s breakdown. Grace escapes to the farthest place from home she can think of, a boarding school in Korea, hoping for a fresh start. She wants nothing to do with music, but when her roommate Sophie’s twin brother Jason turns out to be the newest Korean pop music superstar, Grace is thrust back into the world of fame. She can't stand Jason, whose celebrity status is only outmatched by his oversized ego, but they form a tenuous alliance for the sake of her friendship with Sophie. As the months go by and Grace adjusts to her new life in Korea, even she can't deny the sparks flying between her and the KPOP idol. Soon, Grace realizes that her feelings for Jason threaten her promise to herself that she'll leave behind the music industry that destroyed her family. But can Grace ignore her attraction to Jason and her undeniable pull of the music she was born to write? 

My Rating: 1.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: One of the reasons I requested Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout was because I know very little about Korea or K-pop. I was therefore hoping that this book would help me learn a bit more about both subjects. Sadly, if you’re looking for a book about a teen that embraces a move to a foreign country, Hello, I Love You isn’t it.  

A huge reason why I failed to connect with Hello, I Love You was because of its main character, Grace, who is majorly judgmental of everything Korean. In an effort to run away from her problems, Grace decides to Google foreign boarding schools. Since the first one on her search list happens to be in Korea – really? – she decides that’s where she’ll go. Oh, to be rich! Once in Korea, Grace makes little effort to learn more about the place she has moved to; instead, she's very condescending, and comes off as an extremely spoiled American. 

The secondary characters also failed to really show off Korean culture. Jason, the romantic interest who just so happens to be a K-pop star, for instance, hates the music that he writes (and of course, Grace is all too happy to help him write “better” music). Interestingly, after reading Hello, I Love You, I still have no clue about what Jason’s band’s music sounded like or what K-pop bands Stout would recommend as all the bands that Grace and Jason loved were either UK or American ones. 

The romance between Grace and Jason was no better. Grace’s initial attraction to Jason was because he was hot. Then, once they started hanging out, she became very jealous of other girls that Jason had to spend time with – even though she wasn’t his girlfriend! – and repeatedly questioned why he wasn’t introducing her to other people in the industry and whether he was embarrassed by her. Eventually, Grace comes to a very hasty realization that she doesn’t just have a crush on Jason, but is in love with him. *rolls eyes* 

A book that I’d recommend skipping, Hello, I Love You was released on June 9, 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s a cute cover, but the male model isn’t dressed at all like Jason.  

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) for free via NetGalley.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mini Reviews: Out of Control by Sarah Alderson and The Fill-in Boyfriend by Kasie West

From Goodreads: When seventeen-year-old Liva came to New York City, all she wanted was to escape the painful memories of her past and finally find a fresh start. Her hopes for a new future were dashed the moment she became the sole witness to a brutal murder. When she's taken into police custody - supposedly for her own protection - she realizes something isn't right, but it's too late. Soon, bullets start flying, and Liva realizes that she is not just a witness, but the target - and she needs to escape before it's too late. With the help of a sexy car thief that she met at the station, Liva manages to get away from the massacre unharmed, but now the two of them are alone in New York, trying to outrun and outwit the two killers who will stop at nothing to find them. Liva and Jay are living on the edge, but when you're on the edge, there's a long way to fall. 

My Rating: 2 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Although I enjoyed Sarah Alderson’s Lila series, I haven’t read any of her books since. So, I had some high expectations for her newest novel, Out of Control. Unfortunately, Out of Control turned out to be a rather disappointing read for a few reasons. Firstly, its fast pacing made it hard to learn much about the characters or care about them. Secondly, I found myself getting annoyed by Liva because of her priorities, – I wouldn’t be focused on a guy if there were people trying to kidnap me, – and complaints about her looks (but really, she’s pretty). Lastly, it drove me crazy that the Hispanic characters in Out of Control were portrayed so stereotypically. 

Out of Control was released in May 2015 by Simon Pulse. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from Xpresso Book Tours.
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From Goodreads: When Gia Montgomery's boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she'd been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend - two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley. The problem is that days after prom, it's not the real Bradley she's thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn't even know. But tracking him down doesn't mean they're done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend's graduation party - three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship. 

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: While I loved Kasie West’s Pivot Point series, I haven’t found her contemporary novels quite as appealing. Sadly, The Fill-in Boyfriend was no exception. I had a tough time connecting with Gia because I found her to be very shallow. As well, the way the romance started off wasn’t very convincing, and it then veered into drama territory. I think in the future, I’ll just have to pass on any Kasie West contemporaries. 

The Fill-in Boyfriend was released by HarperTeen in May 2015.    

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Review: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

From Goodreads: If you could read my mind, you wouldn't be smiling. Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can't turn off. Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn't help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she'd be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam's weekly visits to her psychiatrist. Caroline introduces Sam to Poet's Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more "normal" than she ever has as part of the popular crowd ... until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear. 

My Rating: 3.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Recently, there seems to be an increasing number of YA books dealing with mental health – a trend that I’m not only enjoying, but one that I think is very important. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone can be added to this list.

Knowing someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and having researched the topic for a few undergraduate psychology courses, I was curious to see how Sam’s disorder would be portrayed. From reading Every Last Word, it’s clear that Stone did her research. For example, I really liked that she demonstrated the importance of both medication and therapy in the treatment of OCD.

I also liked Every Last Word in terms of its characters and plot. I found it very easy to empathize with Sam, and enjoyed seeing her slowly stand up for herself and surround herself with people that she could open up to. There’s a cute romance and a very unexpected plot twist as well. 

Every Last Word will be released on June 16, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s simple, and relates nicely to the contents of the book. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Disney Book Group) for free via NetGalley. 

Monday, June 08, 2015

Author Interview: Sarah Alderson (and Giveaway)

When seventeen-year-old Liva came to New York City, all she wanted was to escape the painful memories of her past and finally find a fresh start. Her hopes for a new future were dashed the moment she became the sole witness to a brutal murder. When she’s taken into police custody - supposedly for her own protection - she realizes something isn’t right, but it’s too late. Soon, bullets start flying, and Liva realizes that she is not just a witness, but the target - and she needs to escape before it’s too late. With the help of a sexy car thief that she met at the station, Liva manages to get away from the massacre unharmed, but now the two of them are alone in New York, trying to outrun and outwit the two killers who will stop at nothing to find them. Liva and Jay are living on the edge, but when you’re on the edge, there’s a long way to fall.

As part of the blog tour for Out of Control, I'd like to welcome author Sarah Alderson to my blog. 

A bit about Sarah (as found on Goodreads): Having spent most of her life in London, Sarah quit her job in the non profit sector in 2009 and took off on a round the world trip with her husband and princess-obsessed daughter on a mission to find a new place to call home. After several months in India, Singapore, Australia and the US, they settled in Bali where Sarah now spends her days writing by the pool and trying to machete open coconuts without severing a limb. 

How did you come up with the idea for Out of Control? 
Someone I knew came up to me at a party and told me she had an idea for a book, which is usually my cue to find the bathroom. I listened while she told me that I should write a book about Human Trafficking and smiled politely and told her that I didn’t really have the qualifications. But then I started thinking about how important the issue was and wondered if I should. I spoke to my agent who advised against it (it’s a fairly heavy topic after all) but then I figured out that I could find a way to write about the issue without making it a heavy, issue-based novel. The story was very much inspired though by my time in New York. I went there to research and also researched online. The organisation that Liva’s dad works for is a real organisation. I also did a lot of research into private security companies and human trafficking rings. 

In Out of Control, Liva has to go on the run with Jay. If you had to go on the run with one fictional character, who would it be and why? 
Buffy. She was such an inspiration to me as a teenager. I love Joss Whedon who wrote the Buffy TV shows. She’s so kickass you’d definitely survive on the run whether you were fleeing vampires, zombies or plain old hit men. 

Having grown up under men who are ex-military, Lila knows how to shoot and defend herself. How would you do if there were some killers after you (i.e. do you have any secret survival skills)? 
I would be totally hopeless. I always thought I’d be like Buffy, able to fight like a pro while throwing out brilliant quips, but the reality is that I freeze and panic when faced with danger. I know this because not so long ago there was a snake in my bedroom and I totally freaked out and became paralysed. I couldn’t even scream. Also, recently I was staying in a house by myself and at 4am I heard footsteps walking around and rather than staying in my LOCKED bedroom and calling the police, I got up and walked around the house, in a T-shirt and underwear, not even taking a baseball bat for protection. I was that girl from a horror film who you scream at for being stupid as the serial killer walks behind her. That was me (hangs head in shame). It turned out that it wasn’t a burglar it was actually a ghost (NO JOKE). 

Another one of Liva’s talents is that she’s a good dancer. What are some of your talents (besides writing, of course)?
Oh goodness, that’s hilarious. I don’t have any talent other than an ability to type really fast - like 80 or 90 words a minute. Yep, that’s about it. I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t cook, I can’t play any sport very well. I’m pretty useless at most things in fact. I’m pretty talented at eating chocolate. Does that count? 

I actually interviewed you way back when Hunting Lila came out. Since then, you’ve written some more books. How has your writing changed and/or stayed the same during these past few years? 
I have written about ten books since then, maybe more, and I would say that with each book you do get better. Your writing becomes more fluent and you become much better at editing as you go. I have been writing screenplays for the last six months and that’s been a different experience altogether. With books every word is your own, with screenplays your words are owned by other people. You can’t afford to be precious at all. Not if you want the script to get made into a movie. So you’re constantly having to craft and redraft and then redraft some more taking on board notes from producers and directors and actors. It’s endless and you have to learn to let go. I think writing screenplays has really helped with my novels because I’ve worked with some amazing directors - Oscar and Bafta winners and it’s allowed me to see stories in a much more visual way. I can’t wait to feed what I’ve learned back into my books. 

A big thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!

Sarah can be found on: [her website] [her blog] [Twitter] [Facebook] [Goodreads]
Out of Control can be bought from: [Amazon] [Barnes and Noble] [The Book Depository]

Monday, June 01, 2015

Mini Reviews: Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat and Dead to Me by Mary McCoy

From Goodreads: When Ivy Emerson’s family loses their house - complete with her beloved piano - the fear of what’s to come seizes her like a bad case of stage fright. Only this isn’t one of her single, terrifying performances. It’s her life. And it isn’t pretty. Ivy is forced to move with her family out of their affluent neighborhood to Lakeside, also known as “the wrong side of the tracks.” Hiding the truth from her friends - and the cute new guy in school, who may have secrets of his own - seems like a good idea at first. But when a bad boy next door threatens to ruin everything, Ivy’s carefully crafted lies begin to unravel ... and there is no way to stop them. As things get to the breaking point, Ivy turns to her music, some unlikely new friends, and the trusting heart of her disabled little brother. She may be surprised that not everyone is who she thought they were ... including herself.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: I’m not sure what I was expecting from Sharon Huss Roat’s Between the Notes, but it wasn’t what I got - a story where a formerly rich girl spends the majority of the book pretending to still be rich and looking down at her new neighbours. As a result, I had a tough time connecting with Ivy.

Another aspect of Between the Notes that I struggled with was the unnecessary love triangle. It was clear from the beginning of the novel who Ivy would actually end up with; so, I didn’t see why Roat chose to have Ivy be conflicted over two boys, neither of who were really fleshed out. It also made Ivy’s change of heart at the end with regards to her love life not very believable.  

Between the Notes will be released on June 16, 2015 by HarperTeen.  

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (HarperCollins) for free via Edelweiss. 
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From Goodreads: "Don't believe anything they say." Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace. Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her - and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away. When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her. But Alice isn't a kid anymore, and this time she won't let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly. The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets - and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime. What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie's attacker behind bars - if Alice can find her first. And she isn't the only one looking. 

My Rating: 2.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Although it had murder, mystery, and blackmail; Dead to Me by Mary McCoy was a book that never felt suspenseful enough to me for several reasons. Firstly, I failed to connect with Alice and didn’t really care much about her sister, Annie. Secondly, I felt the plot was very sequential, and knew things were going to work out for Alice and Annie. Seriously, when was the last time you read a book where the protagonist died or was seriously injured? Finally, the bad guys were revealed much earlier than I anticipated, and so I was simply waiting to see whether the bad guys would be caught in the latter portion of the book. 

Dead to Me was released by Disney-Hyperion in March 2015.  

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Disney Book Group) for free via NetGalley.