Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Featuring Travel

This is a meme hosted every Tuesday by the Broke and the Bookish. Check out their answer here

So to be honest I haven't read many books that exclusively feature travel. I don't tend to gravitate towards books that involve road trips or backpacking through various countries.  So I was very liberal in my interpretation of travel. I was actually surprised that I was able to find 10 books for this list! Here are my top 10 picks for books featuring travel in some way: 

1. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson - A recent read for me and definitely a new favourite, this is the classic road trip we all wish we could take at some point in our lives. I loved following Amy and Roger on their trip across the United States and reading about all the awesome places they visit.

2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - I loved this book as a child mainly because I was so transfixed with Middle Earth and all the places our Fellowship get to travel to. Frodo's quest takes him from the Shire all the way to Mordor, and he does most of it on foot. Pretty impressive. 

3. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami - Another book that involves a lot of walking which is why I've included it. This book about a Japanese university student in the 1960's probably doesn't seem like a travel book to most people but I was struck by how much walking and wandering Toru does.  Plus at one point he does take a train into the Japanese countryside, so there's that. 

4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman - This features a road trip across the United States but it's much more unconventional in that it takes place in the middle of winter (not the best time to be travelling) and there are gods. Also the methods of travelling at times are questionable. 

5. Going Bovine by Libba Bray - Another unconventional road trip across the United States as our main character is plagued by mad cow disease and his travel companions are a dwarf and a yard gnome.  

6. Paper Towns by John Green - The final road trip book on this list, we follow Quentin as he chases his childhood friend Margo across several states.  Not my favourite John Green book but I was surprised at the creepiness of several of Quentin's destinations.  

7. The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey - Speaking of creepy, this is the second book in a phenomenal young adult horror series. The reader is reunited with Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop as they go on the hunt for the supposedly non-existent Wendigo in the northern Canadian wilderness. 

8. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith - While not the most realistic love story, it's still a cute story that follows the lives of two teenagers over the course of 24 hours after they meet at an airport and take a red eye flight together from the U.S. to London. 

9. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum - Travelling by means of a tornado is not an ideal form of transportation for anyone, but Dorothy makes the best of it when she finds herself uprooted from her farm home in Kansas to the magical and strange land of Oz.  

10. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Anne Brashares - This was one of my favourite books as a teenager and a perfect summer read. It follows four best friends who find themselves separated for the summer for the first time. The girls and their questionably magical pants take us from the United States to Mexico and Greece.    

Monday, 3 June 2013

Review: American Gods

Title: American Gods 
Author: Neil Gaiman 
Publisher: Harper Perennial 
Published: 2003 (first published June 2001)
Format and Number of Pages: Paperback, 592 

(This summary was taken from the summary provided by Goodreads)
Days before his release from prison, Shadow's wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm or preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break. Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, American Gods takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You'll be surprised by what and who it finds there...

I enjoyed reading American Gods though I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it.  It's a strange book and at times it was confusing and disorienting but it was interesting as well.  I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading but I'm glad I went into it with no expectations about what I would be reading.  That's why I've only included the brief Goodreads synopsis rather than providing my own.

The majority of the book follows Shadow's life after he is released from prison.  I didn't like Shadow, but I didn't dislike him either.  I think my main issue was that I never felt like I knew Shadow and I had trouble understanding him and his reactions to the events that occur around him. Granted, that was probably the point. I mean his name is Shadow. I still liked to read about him mainly because a lot of strange things happen to him and I wanted to see where the story would take him. There are also a lot of side characters that Shadow encounters and I liked reading about them because they have their own strange personalities and clearly have their own interesting back stories.  It was also a lot of fun trying to figure out their real identities.

It took me a long time to read this book.  It's almost 600 pages long and it's densely packed; there's a lot going on and a lot to take in so it took a while to finish.  I was never bored with this book but at times, especially in the beginning, I was quite confused with what was going on. Once I stopped trying to figure out what was going on and trying to make sense of things, and just sat back and let the story unfold for itself, then I started to enjoy it more. The writing is fantastic and I really liked the narrative and the various ways it is used to tell the story and how it isn't limited to only Shadow's perspective. American Gods is also filled with plot twists and surprises, none of which I expected so for me they added to the overall reading experience.  

American Gods takes place in many different locations throughout the United States and offers a darker and more fantastical side to many familiar cities and landmarks. In a sense it is a road trip story as Shadow travels around the U.S. but it is a very different sort of road trip.  Much of the story takes place in the winter and this offers a darker, colder depiction of the U.S. which was really interesting to read about. The depiction of the United States is fantastical and surreal but the book still calls upon the reader to question what exactly is America and what it means to be American.

Overall I had a lot of fun reading American Gods and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves adult fantasy or who has read and enjoyed other works by Neil Gaiman. This story  is dark and deals with a lot of adult themes and at times can be violent and sexually graphic so if you don't like those elements in a story then this book may not be for you.  Also if you haven't read anything by Neil Gaiman before or primarily read young adult I would suggest you read some of his other works; such as The Graveyard Book, Coraline or Stardust before attempting American Gods

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Review: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour

Title: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour
Author: Morgan Matson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
First Published: May 2010
Format and Number of Pages: Paperback, 368

Amy's life has been in total upheaval since her father's death several months ago.  Her brother is in rehab and her mother has moved to Connecticut where she expects Amy to join her even though it's Amy's senior year of high school.  Amy's mom needs her to drive the family car from their home in California to Connecticut but Amy doesn't drive. That's where Roger comes in, the son of a family friend but a total stranger to Amy.  Amy's mom carefully plans the trip, limiting their adventures to boring towns, state highways and chain hotels.  So Amy and Roger decide to make their own route to Connecticut, taking one epic detour.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Amy and Roger are awesome characters and I loved reading about what sounds like one of the funnest road trips ever.  Amy tells the story and I really liked her narration.  She's been through a lot in a very short amount of time and it shows in a realistic way.  She's pessimistic, distant and hesitant to leave her room, much less go on a road trip with a stranger.  But I related to her and it's clear from early on that this Amy is just a shadow of her old self.  Which is why it was a lot of fun to read about her adventure and see how she changes throughout the trip.  Amy's a great character and I wanted everything to work out for her.  Roger is also a really likable character.  He's sweet and fun but he's also very perceptive and accommodating towards Amy.  But Roger also has his problems and I liked watching him come to terms with things throughout the book as well.  I liked watching their relationship develop as they got to know each other and grew to trust and rely upon each other.  There were lots of side characters as well and even if we only saw them for a chapter or two they were well developed characters with their own back story which really added to the overall narrative.

Besides Amy and Roger, the setting was my favourite part of the book.  After reading this I feel like my understanding and appreciation for the United States has grown quite a lot.  When I think of the States I tend to focus on the big cities and so I don't know much about a lot of the places mentioned in this book.  It showed another part of the U.S. I never really considered and it made me want to visit a lot of these places myself.  Each destination that Amy and Roger visit felt unique and awesome in it's own way which added to the whole adventure aspect of the road trip.

This is a fast moving book.  It takes place over the span of a few days and many different locations.  I was always curious to see where Amy and Roger would end up next.  Morgan Matson added pictures, receipts and drawings to the book which really add to the overall story telling.  It makes reading this book a real experience and I felt like I was going along with them.  It adds another dimension to the story and lets the reader get a better understanding of Amy and Roger's relationship outside a traditional narrative.  It definitely made reading this book a lot of fun.

Overall I really liked this book.  Amy and Roger were likable characters and I loved watching their relationship develop.  This book is fast paced and a lot of fun and highlights a part of the United States I know very little about.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a fun, light read.  Definitely perfect for the upcoming summer!

Rating: 4/5

Review: Lock and Key by Sara Dessen

Lock and Key
Author: Sara Dessen
Publisher: Speak
First Published: April 2008
Format and Number of Pages: Paperback, 422

Ruby has lived most of her life depending only on herself.  Her mother has struggled for years with addiction and keeping a steady job, relying heavily on Ruby for help, until she suddenly disappears.  Ruby is fine with living on her own but her situation is discovered and she is forced to live with her older sister Cora who she hasn't seen in years.  Ruby is given the chance to start her life over in a new neighbourhood, attending a new school with a new friend in the adorable boy-next-door Nate.  She has the chance for a real future - but she won't be able to do it on her own.  But Ruby has only been able to trust and depend on herself for so long...can she really rely on the help of others? 

I was surprised at how many serious topics this book covered.  I picked this book up last summer thinking it would be a light romance.  I was surprised to find that this definitely wasn't the case.  The story is told by Ruby and she is a flawed character with a lot of difficult problems.  She's pessimistic and thinks everyone has an ulterior motive, a perspective I had a hard time sympathising with or liking.  But I understand why Ruby thinks and acts the way she does, she's been through a lot and I really wanted to see her overcome what she's been through and have a happy ending.  I enjoyed reading about Ruby because she grows a lot over the course of the book in a realistic way.  She stumbles quite a bit but it was interesting to watch her change and come to terms with what has happened.  

I enjoyed reading about most of the side characters as well.  Everyone has their own distinct personalities, back stories and problems.  There were a lot of little side stories that added to the larger story and made Ruby's world feel more complete.  I liked how Ruby interacted with the other characters and how she reacted to their problems and used her experiences with them to better understand herself.  I also loved reading about Ruby's relationship with her sister Cora.  I had expected the main focus to be on Ruby's relationship with Nate so I was pleasantly surprised when the sisters' relationship became a main focus.  

This book took me a long time to get through.  I found that the pace was very slow throughout most of the book.  While reading I was interested in what would happen to Ruby but I never felt much of a drive to pick it back up and keep reading.  I also felt that towards the end of the book Nate's story became more of a focus but I wasn't that interested in him or his story.  Though after finishing the book I was happy I had read it and was content with how things ended.

Overall I enjoyed this book.  Ruby's story had a lot more to it than I initially expected and I really enjoyed reading about her family.  I found the book to be slow paced but it was an interesting read.  I would recommend this book for fans of YA contemporary fiction or fans of Sara Dessen.  I think I'll pick up another book by her in the future! 

Rating: 3.5/5

What's your favourite Sara Dessen book?  Let me know in the comments!

Tag: 20th Century Books

This tag was started by Leslie at WordsofaReader.  You can check out her original video here.  The idea is that you pick a book that you have read that was written in (or takes place in) each decade of the 1900's.  I had a lot of fun doing this tag, it was quite challenging for me to find a book that was published in each decade.  So here are my picks! 

1900's: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum barely made the cut for the first decade of the 1900's as it was first published in 1900.  I read this book last year and thoroughly enjoyed following Dorthy on her adventures in Oz. 

1910's: For this I chose another childhood classic, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published in 1911.  This was one of my favourite books as a child and made me want a secret garden of my own!

1920's: Probably the easiest pick on this list; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, first published in 1925, is considered by many to be the embodiment of the 1920's. 

1930's: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was first published in 1938 and it's one of my all time favourite books.  I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Gothic literature. 

1940's: Another book targeted towards younger readers; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, first published in 1943, is a fantastic coming of age story about a young girl in early 1900's Brooklyn. 

1950's: Another easy pick, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, first published in 1954 is another childhood favourite.

1960's: My favourite book that I was forced to read in high school; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, first published in 1960, is one of those quintessential American classics everyone should read at some point.

1970's: I was told once that I hadn't read "proper" vampire fiction until I had read The Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice, first published in 1976. 

1980's: This was the hardest decade for me to find a book for.  I ended up picking Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murikami, first published in 1987.

1990's: There were several childhood favourites I could have gone with for this decade but I ended up picking The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, first published in 1995.

 What books would you pick for each decade?  Do the tag yourself or leave your answers in the comments below! 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Title: Name of the Star (First in Shades of London Trilogy)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (Imprint of Penguin)
First Published: September 2011
Format and Number of Pages: Hardcover, 372

On the day that Rory Deveaux moves from her small Louisiana town to London a person is murdered in the exact same fashion as Jack the Ripper's first victim all the way back in 1888.  Rory's new boarding school happens to be at the centre of Jack's old hunting grounds and Rory finds herself caught up in the Rippermania that quickly takes over the entire country. All Rory wants is to fit in at her new school in a new country but this seems to become impossible when she becomes the only witness to the possible Ripper copy-cat.  No one else has seen him, not even her roommate who was right next to Rory when she did.

Maureen Johnson's writing is awesome. Rory is the main character and narrator of the story and she is absolutely perfect.  She is funny and witty in an easy, conversational way.  Her narration allows the reader to understand her and to get a good sense of her character without it seeming forced.  Rory's comments and little stories had me laughing out loud at times.  Her struggles with fitting in at a new school and culture made her easy to relate to as well.  I also loved Rory's roommate Jazza and their relationship.  Jazza is a well developed character with her own background and problems that we get a sense of throughout the book.  It was great to watch Rory and Jazza together and to see them grow closer as the story progressed.  I liked Boo as well, she offered a nice contrast to Jazza's character and it was interesting to see Rory's relationship with her and how her opinion of Boo changed throughout the book.  There were numerous side characters I liked as well and I hope to see more of them in the next book.

There is a romance that develops but it never felt like the main part of the story.  It could have been taken out of the story all together and I don't think I would have missed it much.  The romance wasn't too developed and it never seemed to be that serious.  Though I got the sense that Rory didn't take the relationship that seriously either as it was never her first priority for very long.  I found it refreshing to see a romance in a young adult book that was just a fun, light relationship rather than something ultra-romantic and melodramatic that seems to be more commonplace.

Maureen Johnson did an excellent job in describing London and Rory's boarding school.  I was able to get a really good sense of what the city is like and how London's old history and Rippermania effected the nature and atmosphere of the city.  I have a very strong urge to visit London now thanks to this book.  I think a lot of my enjoyment while reading this book came from the setting of London as Johnson described it.

The book was fairly fast paced and there was a nice balance between Rory trying to cope with her new life and the Rippermania aspect.  The mystery of who the Ripper was and why they were committing these murders kept me intrigued and I read through the book pretty quickly because I wanted to know what was going on.  I was never really surprised by any of the twists that happen in the book, so it was a bit predictable for me.  Overall I highly enjoyed this book.  The ending left me wanting to pick up the next book ASAP and I can't wait to finish the series.  I would highly recommend this for anyone who loves mysteries, urban fantasy or paranormal or anyone who just loves to read about London and Jack the Ripper.

Rating: 4/5

If you've read The Name of the Star and loved it, the second book in the Shades of London Trilogy, The Madness Underneath, is already available.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Title: Paranormalcy (first book in Paranormalcy Trilogy)
Author: Kiersten White
Publisher: Harper Collins 
First Published: August 2010
Format and Number of Pages: ebook (Kobo), 242

Plot Summary: 
Evie considers herself to be a typical teen girl; she loves shopping, cute boys and watching TV dramas. All Evie wants to do is lead a normal teenage life.   But she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency (IPCA) as a sort of special agent who hunts down and captures paranormal creatures.  Her best friend is a mermaid.  IPCA's Center is also her home and her life before IPCA is a collection of jumbled childhood memories.  Life gets even weirder for Evie (if that's possible) when a mysterious, young shape shifter breaks into the Center and paranormals start dying at alarming rates.  To make it worse, Evie's creepy faerie ex-boyfriend refuses to leave her alone and she may have something to do with an ancient faerie prophecy.  Evie's life is far from normal. 

Evie as the main character and narrator was a lot of fun.  She has a bright, funny and quirky way of speaking that had me laughing at times.  Her actions were also quite funny and random which made her narrative interesting.  She is someone a lot of people will easily relate to.  She wants to be, and describes herself as a normal teenager and despite her circumstances she really is an average teenager.  Everything from her obsession with the show "Easton Heights" to her struggles with fitting in and loneliness to her relationships made her seem like an ordinary teenage girl.  I found it easy to like her and I wanted to see how she would deal with the problems she faced.  At times she frustrated me but I always understood her.

The side characters were also fairly well developed.  I liked Evey's relationship with Raquel and found their dynamic of boss-employee and adopted mother-daughter very interesting.  I also loved Reth.  White did a great job in showing both his allure and creepiness in his dealings with Evie.  I also liked Lend and his interactions with Evie felt very natural.  I did feel that some other characters, especially Lish and the main antagonist were a bit underdeveloped and I would have liked to see more of them and more interactions between them and Evie.  

The story primarily takes place at the Center and while it sounded interesting - especially as a home for a teenager - I felt it could have been developed a bit more.  I would have liked to see more of the Center and what Evie's life was like there and how she interacted with the people/creatures who worked there.  

The plot is fairly steady throughout and from the beginning there is quite a bit of action.  I did find the ending was a bit rushed.  After the amount of buildup that occurred prior to the ending, I was a bit surprised by how fast it was all over.  It felt a bit anti-climatic and I would have liked to have seen more from the ending. 

Overall it was an entertaining read and I would like to eventually check out the other books in the trilogy.  Evie was funny and I enjoyed a lot of the relationships she made with other side characters.  I would recommend Paranormalcy for readers who enjoy paranormal or urban fantasy.

 Rating: 3/5