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Apr 19 2014

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

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Novel: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider | Goodreads
Release Date: August 27th, 2013
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Format: Hardback
Source: Library

Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

I had been meaning to read The Beginning of Everything ever since reading Jen’s review, and it took me this long to get to it. But oh boy was it worth it. I love books like this one – tragic, lyrical, with a bit of hilarity, and a fantastic plot twist thrown in. And, as Jen says in her review, it’s one of those books where after finishing it you sit back in your bed and stare at your ceiling in awe, trying to process what the heck you just read.

I think what makes it one of those books is that its beauty and significance creeps up on you. It starts off as a book about a teenage guy who’s trying to navigate a new world that he has never experienced, but then it becomes a book about love, loss, learning how to find yourself and how to help other people. It focuses on how little event shape the bigger picture. Ezra, our main character, ends up growing from a bit of a self-centered popular kid to an outcast with a group of friends who like him for him, and a better handle on life. He grows to understand the true meaning of friendship, and sees the suffering of love.

Schneider’s writing style reminds me a bit of John Green’s in the sense that it’s so profound, but many times you don’t realize it, and the humor is subtle. The plot is so unique, and just like in a John Green book you’re so caught up in the world that you don’t – you can’t – think about anything else. I love when I find that in a book, and I think it’s getting rarer and rarer in YA. The ending of The Beginning of Everything also reminds me of a John Green book in the sense that it’s quite open-ended. As the reader you can decide what Ezra ends up doing, and how he approaches the immediate future.

I absolutely adored The Beginning of Everything. It’s funny, profound, enjoyable, and a treasure of YA literature. I can’t wait to see what Robyn Schneider does next!

Willa
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Apr 17 2014

Nil by Lynne Matson

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NilNovel: Nil by Lynne Matson | Goodreads
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
Publisher: Henry Holt
Format: ARC
Source: Borrowed from another blogger

On the mysterious island of Nil, the rules are set. You have one year. Exactly 365 days–to escape, or you die.

Seventeen-year-old Charley doesn’t know the rules. She doesn’t even know where she is. The last thing she remembers is blacking out, and when she wakes up, she’s lying naked in an empty rock field.

Lost and alone, Charley finds no sign of other people until she meets Thad, the gorgeous leader of a clan of teenage refugees. Soon Charley learns that leaving the island is harder than she thought . . . and so is falling in love. With Thad’s time running out, Charley realizes that to save their future, Charley must first save him. And on an island rife with dangers, their greatest threat is time.

I’m not going to lie. I had high expectations for this book, but if anything, I guess I should finally learn to not carry such high expectations. It wasn’t a bad book, per say, but a lot of it just didn’t work for me and for various reasons.

Firstly, I have to talk about the romance. I understand that time is short and precious, but I was never convinced of their supposed love. There were so many times where I felt like Thad didn’t truly respect and understand the fact that yes, of course Charley needs some help, but she’s also a big girl that can figure out how to survive on her own. Their dependency on one another just rattled me in so many ways because I understand their desperation and their need to hold on to one another, but it just felt like there was no connection between them other than that they’re both attractive and sort of get to know one another. And no, knowing about one another’s previous relationships doesn’t count as knowing a lot about them. The thing is, I never saw how their lives outside of Nil came into play (for the most part). None of their past struggles, other than Thad’s problems with his dad (which were barely mentioned) and Charley’s problems with her ex/the kids at school. I just think that there should be more to them as characters than is portrayed. Yes, maybe it’s not as important, but to form the type of relationship and dependency they had, yeah, I needed more.

And not feeling the romance messed up many other portions of the book for me. The pacing was very inconsistent. While I understand the need to have more of the beginning explained so that the reader, and Charley, could be acquainted with the island, it felt as if the beginning and middle dragged on while the end went by extremely quickly. Additionally, while there certainly were other themes and plots, I felt as if everything was just so centered around the relationship between Thad and Charley that it overshadowed everything else, including the need to survive.

Going on from there, I felt as if some of it was too easy. Yeah, I get that it’s hard for them to get by, but I didn’t see much of that. They always seemed to have some type of food and drink, whether they complained about it or not. I mean, come on, there has to be some point where you run out of food or go hungry, right? Then, there’s the fact that for the most part, save for the major deaths later on, it wasn’t completely hard to survive. They had knives from past islanders (but how does one make a metal knife on an island), they all miraculously had impressive skills that would help them survive (sorry but they’re teenagers; most of them should probably be more pre-occupied with school than learning some of those skills, but maybe that’s just me). They could go surfing, play volleyball, run, etc. It just…didn’t sit right with me oftentimes.

Speaking of major deaths, I sometimes felt as if the deaths were just plot devices. Yes, the deaths had an impact, but on such an island, shouldn’t more people have died of other things–perhaps sanitary issues or maybe someone gets sick or maybe even someone has a heat stroke (not necessarily death-inducing).

Lastly, the ending was just so…aggravating to me, and for so many reasons. I don’t want to include spoilers, so I can’t really go into detail over it, but part of the end felt like a cop-out, and the other part just felt…weird. Unrealistic.

But there were aspects that made the book bearable and kept me from completely hating it. Firstly, there’s a diverse cast of characters. Yes, I would have liked to see how differing cultures and life experiences shaped each and changed the way they interacted with one another, but it’s a start. Additionally, I felt like despite the diversity, the ones that were in the main focus weren’t as diverse. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I would have liked to see some more. Additionally, okay, I guess this isn’t a positive, but I would have liked to see people with disabilities or illnesses or other things. I would have liked to see what life was like for someone who isn’t in shape. I wanted to see what life was like for someone that had asthma or allergies to something on the island. We get the sense that Nil doesn’t discriminate, and yes, we have a large, diverse cast in terms of race, but what about other forms of diversity. And I know there’s only so much an author can include without overwhelming the reader, but even one character would have been nice to see. But overall, I liked that there was racial diversity in the novel, and it was all the better for having a diverse cast.

Moving on, I also liked the “mystery” surrounding Charley’s finding out about the Man/Woman in the Maze. That mystery was honestly what ultimately kept me reading towards the end. Charley would figure out a piece of the puzzle, only to find that they were missing something else. I certainly could have never figured out the truth/map, and I believe that this plot arc was extremely well written and integrated. It kept the story interesting when it was starting to get dull.

Overall, I know it makes it sound as if this book was so far from being enjoyable, but there was still an element that I liked about it. I think the premise remains an excellent one, and I’m actually really content with not completely knowing how Nil. I don’t think it needs to be explained. Nil is about more than the island itself, and I think that in the end, Lynne Matson portrayed that well, even if not in a way I would have preferred it. Matson’s dedication to creating a diverse cast was done as best as she could without having been overwhelming. Certain mysteries were integrated at just the right time to create just the right amount of suspense and tension. Though the pacing, romance, focus, and some of the plot and character arcs bothered me, overall, it wasn’t a terrible read.

jessica
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Apr 16 2014

Waiting on Wednesday {35}

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Waiting On Wednesday is originally hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, but we just love this meme so much we had to tag along! Each Wednesday, one of the Lit Up Review writers will post a book she is looking forward to, along with the summary and cover. You can find all of these posts by clicking on the category button and selecting “Waiting on Wednesday,” and fill up your Goodreads shelves with great books to get excited about!

9943276Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin, #3) by Robin LaFevers | Goodreads
Release Date: November 4th, 2014
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own.

She has spent her whole life training to be an assassin. Just because the convent has changed its mind doesn’t mean she has.

This series is one of my absolute favorites ever and Annith has always been a character whose story has both fascinated and eluded me. You never get to know that much about her after you leave the convent in Grave Mercy, and so I’m very excited to read about Annith’s story. I grabbed a copy at TT4L last week and CAN’T WAIT to read this book.

Willa
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Apr 14 2014

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg

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Novel: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg | Goodreads
Release Date:
March 1, 2013 
Publisher:
Scholastic
Format:
 Paperback
Source: 
Bought

A hilarious new novel from Elizabeth Eulberg about taking the wall out of the wallflower so she can bloom.

Don’t mess with a girl with a great personality!

Everybody loves Lexi. She’s popular, smart, funny…but she’s never been one of those girls, the pretty ones who get all the attention from guys. And on top of that, her seven-year-old sister, Mackenzie, is a terror in a tiara, and part of a pageant scene where she gets praised for her beauty (with the help of fake hair and tons of makeup).

Lexi’s sick of it. She’s sick of being the girl who hears about kisses instead of getting them. She’s sick of being ignored by her longtime crush, Logan. She’s sick of being taken for granted by her pageant-obsessed mom. And she’s sick of having all her family’s money wasted on a phony pursuit of perfection.

The time has come for Lexi to step out from the sidelines. Girls without great personalities aren’t going to know what hit them. Because Lexi’s going to play the beauty game – and she’s in it to win it.

A smart read with plenty of heart, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality was a quick read that I really enjoyed. There’s both an undeniable wit saturating every page as well as a more profound discussion about ideals of beauty, family relationships, and more. It was solid, thoughtful, and pretty funny. (It also has my favorite title ever.)

Lexi was a nice protag. Lexi was the one driving her little sister to pageant dance lessons, helping her do her makeup at 5 A.M., and making the money so that her mom can continue to feed her gluttonous pageant obsession. She was used to being overshadowed and took it with an resigned acceptance, but when her friends Benny and Cam really tried to get her fired up about herself, it led to an entirely new balance. When Lexi started to care about her own appearance, it led to some new attention. Between dating a new boy and challenging her mom about the unfairness of the pageants and how draining it was on both girls, Lexi really struggled to pick up the pieces of her life throughout the book.

Lexi saw how her mom went in a downward spiral about materialistic standards of beauty and Lexi tried so hard to be the exact opposite. Her mom made me so angry. Part of me loves it when an author makes me feel so strongly about one character, and her mom was on an entirely different plane. Lexi was so self-sufficient because of her mother’s indifference and selfishness, leaving me with a mixture of pity and anger towards her.

The relationships and supporting characters were built so cleanly that they contributed so much. Cam and Benny were wonderful, with their own issues but having a healthy, complex friendship with Lexi that was absolutely beautiful. Her boy problem, Taylor and Logan, were so nice to read about because they felt realistic. There was a balance between the absorbing romance I love to read about and the realism of the relationships at the root.

The only hesitation I have with this book is that there aren’t many subplots or threads so it comes off very simply. It’s a quick read, so it might err on the side of boring for some people. It’s a great read to “cleanse your palate” in between similar reads. Well-written and understated, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality is a nice book with a few lovely characters.

grace
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Apr 13 2014

The Weekly Blaze {33}: April 7-13

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This week was a bit slower, but we finished off well! Sorry about missing a Ten Illuminations… We’re all been crazy busy. And please stick with us through the end of the school year – it’s going to be insane!

Monday, April 7th: Jessica’s Review of The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski“This thought-provoking novel blew me away, and I was in the middle before I knew I had begun.”

Friday, April 11th: Emily’s Review of Tease by Amanda Maciel: “Its effortless morals will spark discussion and compel readers to consider their actions toward their peers, making Tease a powerful story no matter how individual readers look at it.”

Saturday, April 12th: Willa’s Reviews of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken: “Go out and get these – but get both because this a back to back read situation – and cry a lot. There’s some emotional moments.”

Have a great week, and don’t forget to read this month’s Spotlight Book Club Book, A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sarah Biggs Waller!

Willa
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