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Aug 21 2014

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick

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6763730Novel: Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick | Goodreads
Release Date: May 1, 2010
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Amber Appleton lives in a bus. Ever since her mom’s boyfriend kicked them out, Amber, her mom, and her totally loyal dog, Bobby Big Boy (aka Thrice B) have been camped out in the back of Hello Yellow (the school bus her mom drives). Still, Amber, the self-proclaimed princess of hope and girl of unyielding optimism, refuses to sweat the bad stuff. But when a fatal tragedy threatens Amber’s optimism—and her way of life, can Amber continue to be the rock star of hope? With an oddball cast of characters, and a heartwarming, inspiring story, this novel unveils a beautifully beaten-up world of laughs, loyalty, and hard-earned hope.

Every once in a while, I come across a book beating with so much vibrancy and vitality that every chapter leaves me feeling invigorated. The conflicts are real and engaging, and the characters are complex enough to thrive in the real world. Rare and powerful, novels like this seem tantalizingly tangible. Sorta Like a Rock Star is one of these stories, and its cast of misfits bring it to life, making history in my mind as some of the best and most lifelike characters of all time.

Amber Appleton leads this story with witty narration and superhuman strength. Despite dealing with issues I could never understand, she does not whine about living in a bus or having a mother who would rather burn her paycheck at a bar than buy food. Instead, she comments on her situation with her smart and endearing voice, ending some statements with an unironic “word” or an amusing “True? True.” She uses believable solutions, like eating and showering at a close friend’s house, to mitigate her problems, and she plans for a career as a lawyer. Best of all, she thinks of other people’s happiness before her own, which made me respect her more than any fictional person I have encountered in a while. Amber’s character does waver after the tragedy mentioned in the synopsis, but in an emotional way rather than an annoying one. By the time the huge blow hits her, I had grown to love her so much that I empathized with her rather than chastised her for succumbing to her misery. I knew her wallowing would not last forever, so her temporary depression only gave me another reason to cheer for her. 

Amber is not the only rock star in this book; the secondary characters are equally amazing. All of the protagonist’s friends and role models have effortless quirks that the author handles with grace. I loved how Quick bestowed members of the supporting cast with disabilities and other issues—one of Amber’s friends has autism, another is wheelchair-bound, and another is a Vietnam War veteran who barely interacts with people other than Amber—without letting these characteristics define them. More importantly, they all offer Amber impressive amounts of support. Amber’s life may seem rough, but she is indescribably lucky to have these caring people for friends.

With issues that leave readers hoping for a happy conclusion and characters who strive to achieve just that, Sorta Like a Rock Star is a gem of a novel that will put a smile on readers’ faces and remind them that they can get past setbacks. I would not want to be any of the characters in this book, but I would love to be more like all of them. After reading their story, I feel inspired to accomplish that goal.

Emily
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Aug 19 2014

#TeenBookBloggers {9}: Mary of Books in Her Head

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teenbloggers

#TeenBookBloggers is something the Lit Up Review team started in the summer of 2013, and we’ve brought it back to life! This summer on Tuesdays we’ll be having an interview from different teen (under 18) bloggers from around the world. At the end of the summer, we’ll host a huge twitter chat, so stay tuned for that, as well as the installments throughout the summer!

today’s blogger is mary of books in her head (but you may know her as remy blu!).

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1. How has your reading style changed since you started blogging?
Blogging has made me a more analytical reader, but in a positive way.  Sometimes people complain about not being able to enjoy books anymore because they are always analyzing them.  For me it’s the opposite.  I love analyzing books, peeling away the layers (having a Shrek moment, haha) and really taking apart books.  It’s also helped my critical eye and I am better at getting the gist of a book quickly, so I have less DNFs.
Genre wise, I’m honestly more open now then I was.  Before I started blogging, I’d say that I read almost exclusively historical fiction, but now I’ll read whatever I can get my hands on! :)  (Although it’s hard to find good YA historical fiction, and it’s such a broad genre!  Come on authors)!
2. How do you balance life and blogging?
Well, blogging is a big part of my life, so it kind of works itself out.  I recently moved and haven’t made many friends in my new town so my social awkwardness certainly leaves more time for blogging! Haha
In all honesty, blogging is something that I sacrifice for.  Mostly sleep (especially in the school year), but it’s always a priority in my life.  Sometimes school or family gets in the way and I don’t post when I want to, and that’s ok.  I’m a very moody reader, and when I’m not in the mood for any book, the blog lacks reviews.  Usually I can get out of these slumps pretty quickly, but life does leave an impact on my blogging sometimes.
3. How did you first start blogging?
I don’t know how I “first” started blogging.  Well–my family has always been supportive of my reading.  Books as presents and library runs are frequently in my life.  But no one in my family likes to read quite as much as I do (my brother prefers sports and my parents prefer the news!) so I was craving a creative outlet for my bookish ramblings.  I don’t know what exactly brought my to the blogesphere, but it probably had something to do with a blogger named Nicole who ran the blog “WORD for Teens” (which sadly came to an end a while back).  I loved Nicole’s blog and was very sad to see it go.  My blog was a first just me randomly mentioning books that I’d read recently and working in poetry and pictures of my pets.  As I explored more book blogs I read more and more reviews and eventually my blog gradually switched over to that sort of format.
4. Has your blog influenced your future career plans in any way?
Blogging has helped me get an outlook on the publishing industry that I never had before.  I went from wanting to be the ambassador to Switzerland (yeah, I’m that kid) to wanting to be a Creative Writing Professor and an author.  Blogging really solidified my love for literature and the book community as a whole, which indirectly led to my future career goals.  I think blogging and book reviewing also has helped me become a better writer, because I know what good writing looks like, since I read it!
5. What are some things you don’t like about blogging?
I don’t like blogger competition.  I’m not a competitive person, (I actually hate competition), but I sometimes feel pressure from the blogging community.  Of course I’m sometimes annoyed that blogs have been around less than I have but have 100s more followers than I do, but I scold myself for that.  I truly love supporting all sorts of book blogs, no matter the following.
I have a fear of requesting ARCs from publishers, because I feel like they won’t even consider me because I don’t have dozens of followers.  I’m not exactly jealous of blogs that get ARCs because I know that they’ve earned it, I just wish that I could be taken just as seriously.
I don’t want to go out and say that I hate that everyone is friends, because no, it’s great that bloggers are friends with each other.  My shyness just prevents me from making as many blogging friends as I hope to have.  I wish more people reached out to me.
6. If you had to recommend an author to a non-reader, who would you recommend?
I’d recommend Gayle Forman.  I kind of surprised myself with this answer, because I honestly was sort of blindsided by this question.  I didn’t want to say something like John Green or J.K. Rowling, because I know that everyone loves them, but they aren’t always good recommendations for nonreaders.  I think that Gayle’s book are heartfelt and purely written; they would appeal to nonreaders because of their nature; readability and relatability .
7. Speed round:
  • Tumblr or  Twitter–Tumblr is just, I don’t even know.  I feel so educated from it, and pretty pictures, and the things I laugh at.  Sorry Tumblr just scrambles my thoughts.   I’m sort of biased because Twitter scares me.  I have a Twitter, but have no idea how to really use it (I know the actual basics, but I’ve never gotten really into it).  If someone has Twitter advice let me know!
  • Netflix or  Hulu–I don’t have a Hulu account, but I like that I can try out shows for free (Anyone else watched Delerium?).  But I don’t watch that much T.V. (mostly Dr. Who and House) but sometimes movies.
  • Ice cream  or cupcakes–Salted carmel or mint chip (and not the dyed stuff, I’m talking Ben and Jerry’s quality).  Cupcakes are just- not my thing.
  • Bookmarks    or random objects on your bedside table– I have bookmarks, I just can’t keep track of them.  Usually I use a stick note, pen, or sometimes my phone.  I’ve even gone as far as used another book as a bookmark.  Yes, I’ve reached that level of desperateness.
  • PC or Mac– I’ve used both PC’s and Mac’s, but I currently own a Mac.  I think that Macs are more streamlined and user friendly, but that’s just my opinion.
  • East or West coast (USA)– I haven’t spent that much time on the East coast, (only Florida and New York), so maybe I’m biased.  But the West Coast, man.  Seattle and Portland are my cities, I love the culture there.  Coffee, computers, art, and books!
Thanks for stopping by, Mary!

Are you interested in being a part of the #TeenBookBloggers series? Go here to apply and we’ll email you if you’re accepted, along with your interview questions!

Aug 17 2014

The Weekly Blaze {50}: August 11-17

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weeklyblaze

We have some exciting news to share today! Next week, our team will be growing. No, we didn’t find new writers, but we are welcoming back two writers who had to take breaks. Grace, who was concussed and banned from too much screen time, should be cleared this week, and Meredith, who was in Finland, has returned to the states. We hope you are as excited to have them back as we are. Now, on to our recap of this week.

Monday, August 11: Willa’s Review of The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith: “I always hold out hope on Jennifer E. Smith. I do. I really try to like her books. But, every time I just can’t.”

Tuesday, August 12: Our Next #TeenBookBloggers Interview: We chatted with Annie from The Runaway Reader.

Wednesday, August 13: Emily’s Waiting on Wednesday Selection of The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond: “I’m fascinated with the idea of alternate settings, the what ifs of history, and the dramatic differences this world could display had one tiny thing gone differently.”

Thursday, August 14: Ten Illuminations on Books Set Outside of the United States: Books are a brilliant outlet for our wanderlust.

Friday, August 15: Jessica’s Review of Sekret by Lindsay Smith: “Sekret is suspenseful and definitely filled with secrets.”

Emily
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Aug 15 2014

Sekret by Lindsay Smith

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SekretNovel: Sekret by Lindsay Smith | Goodreads
Release Date: April 1st, 2014
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan)
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

Yulia’s father always taught her that an empty mind is a safe mind. She has to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive in Communist Russia, especially because she seems to be able to read the minds of the people she touches. When she’s captured by the KGB and forced to work as a psychic spy with a mission to undermine the U.S. space program, she’s thrust into a world of suspicion, deceit, and horrifying power where she can trust no one.

She certainly can’t trust Rostov, the cruel KGB operative running the psychic program. Or handsome Sergei who encourages her to cooperate with the KGB. Or brooding Valentin who tells her to rebel against them. And not the CIA, who have a psychic so powerful he can erase a person’s mind with his own thoughts. Yulia quickly learns she must rely on her own wits and power to survive in this world where no SEKRET can stay hidden for long.

At first, I was only mildly interested in this book, especially since I only know a little bit about Communist Russia (aka what my World History teacher taught). But my gosh, I’m so glad I chose to read this book!

Sekret is suspenseful and definitely filled with secrets. If you’re a fan of spy novels or spy anythings, you’d probably enjoy this book. You’d probably also enjoy it if you like a bit of a mystery and suspense. The book has just the right amount of all of this without it being overwhelming. It’s a fun but sometimes tough(er) read, especially since it does deal with some important parts of history. If you are a history buff, or perhaps rather a historical fiction buff (or both), you would definitely be able to get a lot out of this. It’s definitely made me a little more interested in Communist Russia. Learning a little bit more about the KGB was also awesome, especially as a fan of some spy shows/movies.

This is pretty fast read, at least it was for me. It’s intriguing, and you’ll want to keep reading and turning every page until you get to the end. The plot moves along fairly well, and the plot twists just killed me! I could kind of see one of them before it hit, but there were a bunch of really big ones that I did not predict. They hit me like BAM!, and I’m sure at least one of them will do that to you too. And that ending?! I need Book #2 now!

Moving on to the characters, I really enjoyed the variety of characters there were. In some ways, they were similar, but in so many other ways, they were each unique. I had a love-hate relationship with some of them, especially Masha and Sergei. Masha, Misha, and Larissa’s boyfriend are a little less important, though Masha could be argued for. She’s outspoken and very much against Yulia, but she is instrumental in a couple of scenes, and it’s fun/interesting to see her interaction with Yulia and the other children. Sergei was an interesting character to say the least, and I was confused about my feelings about him until the middle-end. Something the reader learns about Sergei really helped me to figure out whether or not I did like Sergei (verdict is: yes, I do). Valentin was another character I was really conflicted about at first. He seemed so innocent and kind, but then as I learned more about him, I grew more and more uncertain about whether or not he really was that kind and truthful. I was wary of his actions for the majority of the book, but I know that’s the point–so I believe Smith did this very well. I do think that he was often just a plot device at times, but for the most part, there was something I liked about Valentin.

I also LOVED Larissa. There’s a lot of question as to why she was so willing to help Yulia, but I think that it’s pretty clear from her ideas and personality. Larissa is probably one of my favorite characters, if not my favorite, in this book. She’s kind but can be tough. Her power is amazing, but she also knows the burden of it, and she makes sure nobody else thinks its purely just a gift to have the power she does. She really helps Yulia throughout the story, even at the end. She has flaws, but that makes her so real. She is genuinely someone I would love to have as a friend and is incredibly well-written.

Zhenya, Yulia’s brother was also a really excellent addition on Smith’s part. I liked having a character that is mentally ill. This isn’t because mental illness is a good thing but because I think it highlights a few things about how we, in reality, take care of the mentally ill, even today. I do think of Zhenya as a bit of a plot device, but at the very least, it was a well done one.

Lastly, of course, is Yulia. I felt like I understood her struggles and confusion so much. She was conflicted but determined. She had such a strong mindset, and she wasn’t a push over. She was interesting and complex. Her personal history was beyond interesting, and it was so cool to see where Smith decided to go with that.

However, there were some aspects that made the book slightly less enjoyable for me. Firstly, the beginning was something that I had to push through (primarily Chapter One, but still). Another aspect was that I was confused very often. First, there was the issue with names and nicknames; I feel like the use of nicknames/actual names should be consistent. Mixing them up makes it so much more confusing when someone uses the other. Also, the powers that went with the characters were hard to understand and not fully explained, as far as I recall, adding to the confusion. Plus, I could never remember what anyone’s power was for the first half of the book. I had to keep going back to the first page where they were “listed” out for us. It wasn’t incorporated or explained enough for some characters, so I had no way to remember it. It really cut up my reading, and it wasn’t enjoyable. It was an added hassle. So yes, having a large cast of characters is a positive aspect of the book, but it can also be a negative aspect because it can leave you, the reader, very confused. The last major issue I had with the book was the semi-love-triangle-that’s-not-really-a-triangle. It was so strange to see Yulia suddenly change between people, and it didn’t always feel natural to me, especially more on one of the sides (I think you’d agree with me if you read it). It felt forced, and it felt like yet another plot device. I was waiting for something to occur between Yulia and one of the characters, but this whole triangle-ish thing seemed to be the partial focus of the book, but I actually think it was too focused. It just felt awkward and mostly unnecessary.

All in all, this is a fantastic read, and it’s definitely recommended! I can’t wait for Skandal!

jessica
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Aug 14 2014

Ten Illuminations {9}: Books Set Outside of the United States

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illuminations-banner-outside-us

“Ten Illuminations” is a bi-weekly feature hosted by Lit Up Review where we recommend our ten favorite books that fit under one topic. Inspired by The Broke and The Bookish’s “Top Ten Tuesday,” “Ten Illuminations” gives you five people’s recommendations in one! Note: for the duration of the summer, “Ten Illuminations” will only include eight illuminations because Meredith is studying abroad and unable to contribute.

Since all of us Lit Up Review girls are United States residents with a bit of wanderlust, we are featuring books that take place outside of our country.

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18263530A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

If I can get even one person to read this novel, my work here is done. It is a quiet story, but a beautiful one, and a large part of that beauty comes from its gorgeous backdrop. It takes place in India, a setting that Venkatraman brings to life with her vibrant verse writing. After reading this book, I longed to travel to the country, but the author’s descriptions almost made me feel like I already had.

The Look by Sophia Bennett14830774

It is one of my greatest unattainable wishes to be British, to speak with their tall vowels and sophisticated slang, to enjoy the frequent rain showers associated with London. Unfortunately, in the words of Peter Van Houten, I am incurably American, so the best I can do is read books set in the UK and hope to travel there someday. The Look is one of my favorite British novels. Aside from its UK setting (which, let’s be honest, is the major selling point), it tells a fantastic story about cancer, fashion, and one girl’s struggle to balance her sick sister with her new-found modeling career.

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8433500Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta | Goodreads

Oh look, I found a way to stick my favorite book in here! How clever. Jellicoe Road is set in Australia, as Melina Marchetta is Australian. (Actually, all her realistic fiction is set in Australia, if I’m being exact.) I really want to go to Australia one day, purely because I want to see if it’s anything like it is in Marchetta books. Also, I love traveling and Australia is on my extensive list of places to go! Jellicoe Road tells the story of Taylor Markham and her search for her mother, her past, and her future.

11869272Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo | Goodreads

This one isn’t a young adult book, but it’s one of my favorite non-fiction books, and it’s also a great book to see into another culture. Katherine Boo is an incredible writer, and in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, she writes the stories of several people from the slums of Mumbai and their lives over a period of time. It’s a beautiful look into a culture I knew so little about, and through this book I was able to become more aware of the world around me.

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The Walled City

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin | Goodreads

This book isn’t even out yet, but I’m telling you now, pre-order it or at least put it on your TBR list right now. The Walled City is inspired by the real Kowloon Walled City, which is scary, full of crime, and thankfully non-existent anymore. I highly recommend this book. It has a lot of Asian culture, though the setting is so different from anything I’ve ever read before. The story is intriguing and fast-paced, keeping you at the edge of your seat as you’re reading. As an Asian American, it made me so happy to see some Chinese characters (well, almost all the characters are Chinese, but anyway). Sure, it’s not perfect, but this is one you don’t want to miss.

The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson | Goodreads

So for this second pick, I was going back and forth between Anna and the French Kiss, First World Problems, and The Name of the Star. The first two are contemporary YA that I do highly recommend, but I had to go with this one. It’s a mystery/thriller/paranormal/etc book as well, and it’s set in London. It’s been a while since I’ve read this series, but I love this take on the Jack the Ripper story. The setting only adds to the mystery. I found the characters to be extremely well-written, supporting the crazy plot well. It’s really interesting too because the main character, Rory is an American going to school in London. As someone who’s obsessed with plenty of British “things,” I loved seeing how Rory was handling the transition and difference in culture. I am still eagerly awaiting the third book to the series, but if you haven’t started it yet, I highly recommend doing so.

Emily
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