Review: Heaven is Paved with Oreos by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

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Heaven is Paved with Oreos by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Published September 2013 by HMH Books for Young Readers
208 Pages (Hardcover)

If the ridiculous (and creative!) title doesn’t catch your eye as you’re perusing the new arrivals section at the library, than I don’t know what does. It’s certainly what I noticed first, then the spotted suitcase on the cover and then its author. I grabbed it up, remembering how much I loved Gilbert-Murdock’s Dairy Queen trilogy when I was in high school and, lo and behold, this book is a companion to it. You can read this book without first reading that trilogy, but it does take place after it and thus spoils a few things. It was  a quick read for me, and I quite enjoyed it, though I struggled with Sarah’s voice a bit and didn’t think it packed as much emotional punch as it could have. 3.5/5 stars

Summary

Heaven is Paved with Oreos takes place in the summer after the end of Front and Center and follows Sarah Zorn, (That’s DJ’s little brother Curtis’s “girlfriend”/science fair partner if you remember from The Off Season). Sarah and Curtis have been fake dating to stave off the teasing that comes along with being boy/girl just-friends, but things are starting to get complicated. Sarah’s just trying to figure out her life as she gets ready to go to high school in the fall when her youthful, free-spirited grandmother invites her on a week-long trip to Rome to finish the seven church pilgrimage she started, but didn’t finish with friends years before. It’s a major learning and growing experience for Sarah as she experiences the foreign country and copes with some startling secrets about her family history.

Review

This was sweet and cute. I was predisposed to like this, after loving the Schwenk family all throughout the Dairy Queen series, especially the side-plot nerd love between Curtis and Sarah. This book explores that of course, but it’s a romance in the middle grade sense, focusing more on the nervousness around the start of a relationship than anything truly physical.

I would be remiss if I made this sound like just a romance, however. At it’s heart, this book is all about Sarah’s journey of self discovery as she experiences a foreign country, gains some self sufficiency and independence, and reckons with the secrets within her family. I enjoyed reading the trip more than I thought I would, it’s clear CGM did her research, and Sarah’s journey was, overall, pretty compelling.

The book is written as though we’re reading Sarah’s journal, which is mostly effective, as it gives an easy way to portray Sarah’s thoughts and feelings, though I did find her to be a bit juvenile sounding for her age (she’s 14 and she won’t even say “Oh my God” instead of “Oh my gosh” and the “boy-liker” thing sounded dumb to me as well). It was pretty believable, especially since it allowed the book to be longer and more descriptive at its exciting points (the trip) and skip days between notable events back home. There was even a little bit of a tense mystery for a few pages as Sarah is interrupted in her writing by a traumatic event and then only hints at it for a little while before it gets explained. It gave a unique, present-tense twist to a largely past-tense format and I enjoyed it a lot.

For me, this was a fun, one-evening read. It wasn’t ground-breaking and it had a few flaws, but I thoroughly enjoyed spending more time in Red Bend and beyond with Gilbert-Murdoch and her characters. In the week or so since I finished this, I’ve found that the characters have stuck around in my head, making me hope she’s planning a sequel to this one; though I have no clue if she is or not, but I keep imagining more romance and a return trip! Definitely check it out if you liked the whole Dairy Queen series. I would also recommend it to a younger reader (or any middle grade fan!) looking for some strong-girl travel adventure/feel-good family drama.

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The TFIOS Trailer is Here!

It’s crazy-hyped and has been talked about to death, but The Fault in Our Stars truly is one of my favorite books. The movie adaptation is coming out on June 6th, and, other than buying the box of tissues I’ll need to take to the theater, I’m so ready to see it.

The first full-length trailer released this morning and it looks pretty amazing to me. The scenes and the dialogue looks like it was pulled straight from the book and the casting looks great as well. The moment when Augustus tells Hazel he loves her is a favorite quote of mine from the book and, though it looks like the setting is different, I also love it in the trailer. His face is so sweet when he says it, and the line seems sincere, not nearly as corny as it could be (and kind of is, if we’re being honest here).

The Fault in Our Stars is a book that shook me to my core, and it’s one I revisit whenever I feel the need to be reminded about what is important about existence and emotion. It made me cry, it made you cry, yes, but what I love most about it is the way it makes you feel a whole range of emotion, good and bad. The movie looks to me like it follows the book so well it will do the same: be funny and youthful and sweet and sad and frightening all at once, just like life.

So point is, I have high expectations for this movie, but this trailer has only reinforced my overwhelming confidence that the movie will be just as wonderful as I hope. Definitely looking forward to experiencing the story again in a whole new way this summer.

So I Finished Percy Jackson…

I Eat My Words

So it turns out I have to put my foot in my mouth here…

If any of you reading this read my review of The Titan’s Curse, you’ll know I closed by saying that I was a little off-put by the fact that I wasn’t addicted to the series. I was ok with this because it meant I got to savor it a bit longer and now, only a week later, I’ve devoured the last two books.

Somehow addiction  sneaked up on me. I don’t know exactly what triggered it. Maybe it’s because I love the complexity and seriousness of Percy’s story as he ages. It’s developed in the same way the Harry Potter story developed: keeping its whimsy and humor while continuing to up the stakes for the characters. Plus I had jumped on the Percy/Annabeth ship by the end of Titan’s curse and waiting for them to freaking get over themselves and just be together already was a driving factor as well.

Babbling On On Goodreads

I originally planned to post reviews here, but I find it difficult to keep reviewing books in this series without constantly repeating myself. I did post a few short ramblings about my thoughts immediately after finishing each book, which are up on Goodreads, so I’ll just link those here, if you’re interested in reading more, and I’m sure you’ll be seeing a review of The Lost Hero from me soon enough. I already have that one and the next two books in the companion series in my possession. Thank you, library!

The Battle of The Labyrinth Goodreads Review

The Last Olympian Goodreads Review

Bookish (and Not So Bookish) Thoughts

Bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts is hosted by Bookishly Boisterous. I haven’t done one of these before, but it’s perfect for my mood today. I want to write, but I’m not done with any new books to review and I’m too scatterbrained to start on another, even more thoughtful post that I have in mind.

1. Not that reviews aren’t thoughtful, I’ve just gotten so formulaic about them. Might be time to shake things up a bit with my next one.

2. Technically, I’m currently reading two books: And The Mountains Echoed by Kahled Hosseini and Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes, though I actually haven’t picked up Falling Kingdoms  in almost a week. Almost done with ATME though, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I got my copy from my mom, who loves Hosseini’s other two books, but couldn’t finish this one, so I was skeptical. It’s good though. It almost reads like a book of short stories, but all the stories are interconnected, as they relate back to one family, specifically one pair of separated siblings.

3. Not that I’ve abandoned Falling Kingdoms entirely, I just got really into the Percy Jackson and The Olympians series and dropped everything to finish it last week. Falling Kingdoms seems really cool so far (I’m like 50 pages in). It’s like a YA Song of Ice and Fire. Multiple perspectives from both sides of a war, the suggestion of incest, the well thought out politics, the small moments inciting big changes. I look forward to getting back to it.

4. After those two are read, I plan on rereading Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series through book 2.5, in anticipation of the third and final book coming out in just about two weeks. I read the first two books about a year ago, and I read them so quickly, I’ve basically forgotten everything but the major premise. Still excited for the last book though, I know I’ll be crazy waiting for it if I reread too soon. Trying to time it so that I get it read before it comes out, but not too soon, is kind of irrationally stressing me out.

5. I also picked up the second book in The Wheel of Time series at the library a couple weeks back, but I’ll probably wind up renewing that and reading it later in February. I like that series, but I’ll probably read some of this other stuff first. Soon, though. I never wrote a review of The Eye of the World; it just seemed silly to review a book that’s been out longer than I’ve been alive, but I do want to write about it. I’m thinking a post about the epic fantasy hero’s journey trope. Not that I’m a qualified literary expert, but it might be fun to try.

6. It’s almost the end of January and I still don’t have a freaking job in my degree field. So, so frustrating. I didn’t major in one of those notoriously hard-to-get-jobs in fields either. I’m an engineer. I have another interview mid-February and some other things on the line, if I can get a phone call returned for once.

7. Bitterness over, promise. What else is new? I’m planning a road trip with some friends in March. We’re a bunch of geeks over the Vampire Diaries and are planning a trip to Georgia for the set tour. I’m excited. The first day will be boring (through Kansas to St. Louis) but then I get to visit the South, where I’ve never really been (minus a brief trip to Houston, which is different, I’m sure).

8. So my part time job, while I look for a full-time engineering one, is at a jewelry counter at a department store. Valentine’s Day is coming up, so I’ve got a few more serious shoppers than wishful browsers coming by these days and I am so amazed at how quickly most men seem to pick things out. Really. I walk up, expecting to explain the product, offer an opinion and they’re just like: Are these real diamonds? How much? Ok cool. Let’s get it. And they’re out of there in like less than five minutes.

9.  Justin Beiber got arrested yesterday. Just letting you know, I don’t think anyone’s been talking about it much, so you might not have heard already.

10. Is there a number requirement/maximum to this? I don’t think so, but ten is always a good number. Also, I’m not editing this, so I hope all that made sense.

Books I Recommend, IRL

In every review I write, I tell you if I recommend the book or not. Usually, if I liked it, rated it four or more stars, I recommend it, but a better test is to see if I actually recommend it to my real-life friends and family. So here’s a list of books that pass that test, sorted by person, that I either have told a friend or two about, or plan to, next time they ask me: “what should I read now?”

Click the titles for reviews I’ve posted, if they’re available.

To Multiple People

These are the books I have given to at least two people and said: “you have to read this.” True recommendations for all sorts of people from books that are just that good, interesting, or that I somehow feel are necessary reading for human existence, because I love them that much.

  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Across the Universe by Beth Revis
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

To Savanna

Savanna’s a good friend of mine, and she reads nearly as much as I do. She’ll pretty much read anything, but she’s like me and sticks mostly to YA dystopian or fantasy adventure/romance.

To Kayla

Kayla’s a slower reader and she’s not as into it as people like Savanna and I are. She does enjoy it though, and when I recommend books to her, I like to make sure they relate somehow to her personality and interests (animals, rock music, and cute boys). She hasn’t read any of these yet (most of what she’s read before is on the “multiple people” list, since I always start people off on the best) but they’re next on my list to get into her hands.

  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
  • Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

To Brittney

Brittney is pretty new to reading for fun. After Savanna and I dragged her to the bookstore one night (a story I chronicled in my Eleanor and Park Review), she started off with Eleanor and Park, then read The Fault in Our Stars, and is currently finishing up The Hunger Games series. So after making her cry for a solid month, I think it’s time to give her something a little happier before diving into another tear-jerker. She seems to like YA contemporary the best, so I’ve been sticking to that:

  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
  • Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  • Every Day by David Levithan
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

To My Mom

My mom reads slowly, but consistently. She’s a pretty picky reader, liking character driven, adult, often historical fiction pretty much exclusively. No thrillers for her, but it does have to hold her interest:

  • The Kite Runner by Kahled Hosseini
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Kahled Hosseini
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok

To My Brother

Andy and I have been swapping book recommendations for years and years. Less so now that we’re both grown up and don’t live in the same state, but I still like to see what he’s been reading. He likes epic fantasy, but he also reads a lot of very thought provoking, dense philosophical or historical works. Those I don’t really know enough to recommend, but I thought up a couple things he might like, if I get stuck trying to find him a birthday present in a few months:

  • The Eye of The World by Robert Jordan
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson

From Others

Finally, here’s a few good books that have been recommended to me by the people listed above. Gives you some idea of what they like, and it’s even more books for you to check out, if you haven’t already.

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett (from Mom)
  • Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (from Mom)
  • Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (from Savanna)
  • The Farm by Emily McKay (from Savanna)
  • A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (from Andy)

As always, leave your recommendations for me in the comments, or you can leave some recommendations for my friends for me to pass along. (I especially need some good contemporaries to tell Brittney about! That genre is not my forte.)

Review: Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King Published October 2011 by Little, Brown 279 Pages (Hardcover)
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
Published October 2011 by Little, Brown
279 Pages (Hardcover)

This is a very quiet, understated ode to solitude and pain. Beautiful in the complexity it expresses quite simply. I have a personal soft spot for magical realism and this executes it very well, making for a wholly unique and compelling story. 4.5/5 stars

Summary

There’s not too much good about Lucky Linderman’s life. He’s bullied relentlessly and yet his school counselor focuses on other things. His parents don’t know how to handle it either, both escaping into their own pursuits. But Lucky has dreams that are more than dreams. Dreams where he is brave and strong, where he fights every night to save his grandfather, who never returned home from Vietnam.

Review

I still can’t get over how slow and quiet this book was. It’s not action-packed or romance-loaded tangle of crazy emotion. Instead, it’s exactly the opposite, a patient unraveling of common human feeling through characters who are perfectly imperfect. Lucky has been failed by his parents, yet (even) when told from his perspective, it’s almost impossible to hate them. Each character is struggling with his or her own loneliness, pain, or insecurity and each has a redeeming quality as well. With, perhaps, the exception of Nader, Lucky’s bully, but we are limited to Lucky’s perspective. Lucky is the center of his story, and his journey is compelling, but every other character woven in has their own story, one that reflects and expands on the theme that fear and pain are a prison cell, one that can sometimes be broken.

I, weirdly, don’t have a lot of experience reading magical realism, considering what I have read I’ve adored. Garcia-Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is probably my second favorite book that I’ve had to read for school (after To Kill a Mockingbird, which is probably my favorite book, period.)  Sarah Addison Allen can be placed in the genre as well, and between the two books of hers I’ve read and Solitude, this is my fourth foray into magical realism. And I’m still loving it. Everybody Sees the Ants is particularly successful at using its magical elements to add layers that otherwise would not exist to a story. Along with being a necessary and welcome bit of comic relief, the ants are a glimpse into Lucky’s deepest consciousness, a different perspective than even the thoughts we get directly from him.  His dreams weave in his insecurities, the things that immediately worry him, and, of course, are the major component relating Lucky’s life to his grandfather’s. This magical element weaves two otherwise largely disparate stories into one, making both much more relate-able and real. It’s excellently executed and the writing and flashback/flashforward style serve to make the story extraordinary as well.

Wrap-Up

Definitely recommended, for pretty much everyone. It is relatively uneventful, if, like me, you are used to massive battles and epic romances and invading aliens and other assorted insane happenings. It is a quite short book, though, and the beautiful writing, style, and message make it easily readable. I’m so glad I found this, and I’ll definitely be seeking out more from Ms. King.

Review: The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan

The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan Published May 2007 by Puffin Books 304 Pages (Paperback)
The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan
Published May 2007 by Puffin Books
304 Pages (Paperback)

At A Glance

The Titan’s Curse is the third book in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series about modern pre-teen demigod Percy and his many adventures. The review will spoil the first two books, though no major spoilers for this book appear in the review.

I have really been enjoying the series so far, and this book was no exception. Riordan continues to do an amazing amount within each book. The characters are vibrant and the world is constructed well and fun to live in. New conflicts and plot lines emerge with each installment, changing as much as Percy does as he grows older and more experienced. I do think it’s brilliant, but I do feel a little disappointed that I’m not as rabidly addicted to this the way many people seem to be. I don’t know that I can explain why. I like it, I’m just not crazy excited about it. I still highly recommend it though, no matter what age you are. 4/5 Stars

Summary

When demigods Percy, Annabeth, and Thalia go to assist their satyr friend Grover on mission to locate and rescue two newly discovered demigods, nothing (as usual) goes according to plan. Annabeth is captured by a monster and the goddess Artemis is soon captured as well. Percy, Grover, Thalia and the maiden members of Artemis’s Hunt return to Camp Half-Blood where the Oracle predicts the terms of Artemis’s rescue:  Five will go and two will not return.

Review

I loved the new characters. Each one emerges so vibrantly, it’s hard to believe that they haven’t been around the whole time. Zoe has such strong convictions and her stubbornness, combined with her distrust of men, make for some fun semi-antagonistic moments with Percy. It’s hard to believe that Thalia is a newcomer as well. Her struggle to find the right action is poignant, in part because it has been (and still is) Percy’s struggle as well. I enjoyed reading her, and I liked where her story went.

It’s extremely fun to watch the old characters grow up from learning how to handle demigod powers and sticking close to camp to moving out in the world and forging identities rooted in who their parents are yet finding independence enough to make their own decisions about where they will stand and who they will stand with. It’s a subtle, but really cool thing about the series. I can’t wait to see what new directions Percy and the rest of the old gang will go in the remaining books.

I really don’t have anything bad to add about this. I had issues with the pacing of The Lightning Thief  being too lightning-quick, but that’s either gotten better or I’ve gotten used to it. I did kind of expect to be more addicted to the series by now, after hearing and seeing so many people fall head over heels for it, and I kind of find the fact that I’m not irrationally disappointing. I’m content to just keep reading one or two a month, and that’s ok. Why not draw out the fun?

Review: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

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City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch)
Published November 2012 by Penguin
448 Pages (Paperback)

At A Glance

I had so many mixed feelings about this. And not even just mixed up about the book, but about each individual point. I liked the characters. I didn’t like the characters. It was quirky and fun but too weird at the same time. If you like history based thrillers and don’t mind a little weirdness, it might be for you. I had some fun, but I’m not over the moon. 3/5 Stars.

Summary

This book follows Bostonian and musicology grad student Sarah to Prague where, upon the sudden and tragic death of her mentor, she is hired to work in a castle cataloging a Beethoven-loaded music collection for a new private museum. The job is a dream come true, but Sarah uncovers a series of secrets about everything from Beethoven’s later years to her mentor’s supposed suicide to the strange behavior of the collection’s owner to a CIA agent with a sketchy past and even more sinister agenda, that draw her deeper and deeper into the strange magic and turbulent history of the city.

Let’s Get Down to Business…

So this sounded really interesting. It was, mostly, but it was different from what I expected. I probably made it sound a lot different from what it is in my description as well. It’s hard to describe. One kind of weird thing about it, though, is there really is never any real “magic”. Anything beyond the realm of our experience is explained, often always painfully and erroneously, by some scientific concept. Don’t title your book after magic, if there’s no magic, and definitely don’t skim an article in Scientific American and think you can explain some crazy shit away with science. Personal pet peeve of mine.

Sarah as a character was one of the things I both liked and didn’t, in equal measure. On the one hand she’s smart, determined, and realistically self-confident for her age and position. On the other hand she’s conveniently and overly perfect. She’s smart AND every man wants to sleep with her AND she perfectly fires a gun on some half-remembered advice AND exhibits remarkable focus when tripping on toenails (Literally. This is what I mean when I say it was too weird for me). I suppose my problem is less with the fact that she is good at so many things and more that she is good at new things too quickly. The girl never makes a mistake or is uncertain when she learns something new or faces some impossibly weird situation. I had similar but opposite problems with the villain. She’s nominally a human being, yet she’s so diabolical, it’s hard to see her as anything but a selfish, destructive robot. (I’m describing a Dalek here, aren’t I? Whovians, am I right? It’s been like 4 years since I watched any episodes of that show.)

It’s so easy to go on complaining, but I really did have an overall positive experience with this book. The saving grace was the unique setting and situation. I read so much YA, where every character is within a year of 16, that it was fun to read about someone my own age. The history was varied and interesting, following one Czech family’s relics through the centuries, including the turbulent times of the 20th century. I thought Max’s plight, as an American newcomer suddenly in charge of the scattered remnants of this history was compelling. It felt very unique to me, and that helped it overcome some of the clumsier elements for me making it fun in spite of itself.

Wrap Up

I enjoyed this, but it’s not a book I’ll be recommending to my friends. I think there are better modern fantasy thrillers out there. I know this is a series as well, but I’m not sure if I want to read on. Have any of you picked up book 2? Is it any better?

Bout of Books Wrap-Up

This was my first time ever participating in this read-a-thon, and I had so much fun interacting with everyone and participating in the challenges. Definitely looking forward to Bout of Books 10 in May! Here’s my final update.

Day 7 Update and Wrap-Up

On day 7, as I predicted, between the AFC divisional playoff game and the Golden Globes I watched like 8 hours of TV and only read 58 pages of The Eye of the World. My big goal for last week was to finish that book, which I still have not done didn’t finish until Wednesday morning, but I did start and finish The Titan’s Curse and City of Dark Magic. All told for the read-a-thon I read 1,152 pages. Probably not much more, if any, than I would do on a normal week, but not bad either.

What major successes did come out of the event was all on this blog. Everyone was surprisingly active, reading each others updates, leaving comments, things like that. I wasn’t all that proactive in seeking out new bloggers, but a lot of bloggers came to visit me here, which was so much fun. I had more comments and views this week than ever before, so thanks for that, Bout of Books bloggers! It was nice to meet you all.

I am so behind on posting reviews, so be on the lookout for them all this weekend and next week. (Assuming my current Starbucks camp-out is productive! I’ve got like four to do and I haven’t been on Tumblr yet today.)

Bout of Books Day 6 Update

I can’t believe the week is almost over already! It went super fast. I don’t know if the read-a-thon is actually helping me read much more than I usually do, but it definitely has been fun to document. There’s just one day left, but all of tomorrow afternoon shall be dedicated to watching playoff football (Go Broncos!) so we shall see how much I can get done before the clock runs out on the read-a-thon!

Today went well, though. Yesterday I had just started and was dubious about Magnus Flyte’s City of Dark Magicbut I enjoyed it much more today. It still won’t be making a favorites list of mine or anything, but it was fun and different enough to enjoy, even if some of the scenes were confusing or eye-roll inducing. I took a reading break in the evening after finishing that book, to do some cleaning and organizing (I rarely ever feel like doing so, so I take advantage when the urge appears once every blue moon.) and then read just a chapter of The Eye of the World to get back into that story after a few days (and two books!) away from it. Good, productive day, both in reading and in other things!

Page Count

Read 275 pages of (and finished!) City of Dark Magic

Read 10 pages of The Eye of the World

Total Day 6: 285 pages

     Total Pages Read: 1094

     Books Completed: 2