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Nov 26 2014

Waiting on Wednesday {52}

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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!

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All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven | Goodreads
Release Date: January 6, 2015
Publisher: Knopf

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

This book takes place in Indiana. I live in Indianapolis. Therefore I will read it just to find out more about the “natural wonders” of the state and feel in-the-know when the characters hopefully visit places I have been. Of course, the story also sounds gorgeously emotional and empathetic, which I will pretend is my main motivation for picking it up. All things considered, I can already tell that All the Bright Places has the makings of a new favorite.

What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Nov 25 2014

Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

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Rites of PassageNovel: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley | Goodreads
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Publisher:
 Harper Teen
Format: Hardcover
Source: Bought

Sam McKenna’s never turned down a dare. And she’s not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.

So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud-crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She’s even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won’t risk her future, or the dare, on something so petty…no matter how much she wants him.

As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they will stop at nothing to drive her out. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active… and determined to force her out.
At any cost.

Now time’s running short. Sam must decide who she can trust…and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.

Rites of Passage was a hard book to read, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It was mentally exhausting to read – both because of the intense mental anguish Sam was exposed to on a daily basis and her grueling physical challenges.

The blurb covers it well, but the book boils down to this: despite growing up in a military family, nobody expected Sam McKenna to do the impossible, and be one of the first girls at the prestigious all-boys military academy that her brothers both attended. After her older brother Amos killed himself, she took his final dare and enrolled. While her family hesitatingly supported her – give or take a brother – she not only took on the strenuous challenge of military school but the jeering, danger, and hazing that came with being the only girl. Aside from her butch classmates, alumni and many of the public weren’t thrilled about her endeavor into the DMA – Denmark Military Academy. She’s pushed to the limit, then pushed further. But when an old society gets involved, her world gets a whole lot more dangerous.

Sam was a strong character, and not only because of her situation; it wasn’t because she was a military brat, or she could do hundreds of push-ups, but because she still showed some vulnerability. I’ve written previously about how, in YA, we tend to immediately regard the traditionally, physically-strong dystopian heroines as superior to the emotional contemporary girls, but I never felt a gap between them with Sam. She embodied both aspects beautifully, in a remarkably human way.

I think that without that sensitivity, without the glimmer of superficiality and presence, she could have easily been degraded to just another strong-female-character without any substance. She still got nervous when she saw a boy she liked and she still dealt with the day-to-day issues of any teen protagonist. I liked Sam; I immediately gravitated towards her and she carried the story well. Even the way she reacted to the ways her comrades treated her – the awful bullying, the torment – was strong and admirable. I could never have done a fraction of the things that she did, and she is truly a book character whom readers can idolize.

Supporting characters did a great job of keeping the plot focused, but with enough leeway to always feel fresh. The other girls enrolled in the DMA for the first time ranged – from the sniveling girl who stayed tucked away in the infirmary to the track star that Sam begrudgingly befriended, there was a balance between sticking together through the tough times and not being able to trust anybody. That same balance extended to her other encounters, from boys to drill sergeants to priests. Through it all, she was a leader, a quality apparent even in Sam’s weakest moments.

Being plunged into the military-school aspect of Rites of Passage, it’s an entirely different world. It has its own lingo, traditions, challenges. Joy N. Hensley – a military-school graduate herself – knew the ins-and-outs of the system but, more valuably, was able to convey that vernacular in a way that made sense to the reader. She effortlessly wove vocabulary and ideals into a story that made them feel natural while still maintaining the fear of the landscape that Sam navigated. As someone who experienced military school herself, she was able to imbue the details with a familiarity that made it much easier to connect.

What makes it undeniably successful is primarily that Hensley doesn’t simplify it or water it down. Sam’s a character that’s been exposed to the military lifestyle for her entire life, and she knows the ropes while still enduring the horror herself as a newbie. But there are other aspects to the plot that are equally engrossing and create a full-fledged experience of a book. It doesn’t narrow the focus, but still feels clean.

I’ll be honest – I was not expecting the breadth and depth of the plot that Rites of Passage provided. This is a book that I pulled out on the metro, at the dinner table, whenever I could steal a second away because it was absorbing. It was vibrant, in an extremely specific way that appealed to me. I wasn’t expecting the secret society or the way the romance pulled me in. Quite frankly, I was expecting a novel that focused purely on the shock of landing in a military school.

Considering that, I wasn’t expecting the romance to be as fantastic as it was! Wow, Joy N. Hensley, wow. Her breathless description of Sam’s love interest – Stamm, loving the rhyme – and development of their relationship through the ups and downs deserves a round of applause. I am in awe. Joy N. Hensley did a great job with family as well, navigating the complexity of the dynamic as well as unique challenges that come with having active members of the military. There was a tenderness there, some fear, heightened emotions that were gripping.

The pacing was positively brilliant. There was never a moment that sagged – even an act as simple as visiting a comrade in the infirmary was charged with clarity and anxiety. Throughout the high-stakes, tense environment, there was still a solid feel to it that made it enjoyable. It wasn’t a book that stressed me out – no matter how emotionally involved I got in Sam’s dilemmas. There was always something going on, mimicking the military school environment well because they never got a break. Even then, the tension built to a stunning climax. Several reviewers have pointed out that the ending was rather abrupt but I liked it, and thought the plot threads tied up rather well.

I love love loved Rites of Passage. It was fierce, satisfying, and emotionally exhausting. It left me wondering about strength, and rooting for Sam. From the warm depictions of her family, the well-developed relationships, and the magnificent pacing, I really enjoyed all the various aspects of the book. I’m definitely going to keep my eye on Joy N. Hensley!

grace
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Nov 23 2014

The Weekly Blaze {64}: November 17-23

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Hi lovely Litlets! I hope all of you had a great week and I hope all of our U.S. readers are looking forward to a fantastic Thanksgiving full of family and food. While you’re waiting, you can catch up on all of this week’s posts.

Monday, November 17: Willa’s review of Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins: “Go find yourself a copy of this book. It’s absolutely amazing.”

Thursday, November 20: Ten Illuminations on books about siblings: Head over to this post for some strong sibling relationships.

Friday, November 21: Emily’s review of Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross: “Belle Epoque is a stunning novel, with or without the help of a beauty foil.”

Emily
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Nov 21 2014

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

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Novel: Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross | Goodreads
Release Date: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Originally  Posted At: Forever Literary

When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.

Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.

But Isabelle has no idea her new “friend” is the hired help, and Maude’s very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

In 1902, Edith Wharton published these insightful words, and in 2013, Elizabeth Ross presented them as a preface to her debut novel. As I peeled back the first few pages of Belle Epoque and encountered this quote, I stopped for a moment to think, its truth and connection to my own life ringing in my ears. When it comes to literature, I never create light, never write brilliant books with eloquent speech and inventive plots. However, when I encounter someone who does, I do my best to reflect his or her glow. This is the case with Belle Epoque—it is a beautiful novel, and while I may not have been the candle who created it, I hope to spread its light to other readers.

This novel’s most obvious source of beauty is its rich historical setting, drenched in details of Parisian culture. Just like the protagonist, who flees from Brittany to the capital of her country, I fell into the rush of the city’s art scene and the glamour of the aristocrats’ balls. Ross brought her backdrop to life with meticulous research and imagery, decorating it with the smallest facts about 1800s Paris.

However, the most beautiful aspect of Belle Epoque is its themes of perceived beauty that still resonate today. The agency is almost allegorical, a symbol for our own society. Not only does it push the traditionally ugly down, ridiculing them in front of clients, but it tells the naturally beautiful that even they are not good enough, that they need the company’s services to outshine their friends. While today’s world may not feature beauty foil agencies, it overflows with similar means of engulfing girls in a sense of inadequacy. Almost every reader will relate to Maude’s struggle to feel attractive and see snippets of herself in the wealthy women who will do anything to appear prettier. Even those who do not will be left with plenty to think about, as Belle Epoque poses a plethora of questions: “What does it mean to be pretty?” “Why do we place so much emphasis on beauty?” “How can we overcome society’s obsession with looks?”

The cherry in top of this shining story is its relevant subplots that accentuate its messages about beauty. Ross set her novel against the building of the Eiffel Tower, a calculated choice that gave her the opportunity to show how standards of beauty change with time. While we now view the statue as an icon, a gorgeous symbol of Paris, those who lived during its building considered it a hideous mark on their skyline. Each time a character complains about the structure, readers are reminded how transient beauty ideals can be. Ross also incorporates a budding passion for photography into Maude’s character, allowing the protagonist to discover a love of capturing other people’s attributes. This subplot proves the opening quote true; emphasizing the beauty of others—both physical and otherwise—is as valuable as creating it. Accents like these always indicate that the author and editor put in a little extra effort beyond what was required, and Belle Epoque makes marvelous use of them.

With its absorbing setting and themes that transcend time, Ross’s debut makes my list of favorite historical tales. Belle Epoque is a stunning novel, with or without the help of a beauty foil.

Emily
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Nov 20 2014

Ten Illuminations {16}: Books About Siblings

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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!

Going with a family theme in celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States, we are recommending books that deal with sibling relationships.

Emily-sig

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The Space Between Us by Jessica Martinez | Goodreads

In this book, Martinez captures a lifelike dynamic between two teenage sisters in all its messy truth. There are secrets and fights, but there is also love and support, and the story ultimately left me wishing that I too had a sister close to my age.

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Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt | Goodreads

One of my favorite things about this book about is the relationship between the protagonist, Mallory, and her sister, Ginnie. When Mallory swears off technology, Ginnie helps her resist the temptation to jump online, and their meaningful interactions help the author show how important fact-to-face communication in a world of Tweets and texts.

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The Walled CityThe Walled City by Ryan Graudin | Goodreads

I can’t even tell you how sad it made me to realize how few books I’ve read focus on sibling relationships and how even fewer have it as a main part of the story; thus, my two picks are ones in which sibling relationships are important but not necessarily the most important or most focused on in the story. But anyway, in this book, there’s a large focus on Jin trying to find her sister, Mei Yee, and almost all of her actions are either directly or inadvertently related to finding and saving her sister. We don’t see much of their interactions itself, but as an older sister, I completely understood where Jin was coming from. I think the book really shows the lengths siblings will go to for one another, especially older siblings for their younger siblings.

Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley | Goodreads

This one’s even more of a reach, and there’s SO much more that goes on in the story, but the sibling relationship is also important in the book. First there’s Sam’s relationship with Amos, her deceased brother, who’s dare is a large part of what leads her to Denmark Military Academy, and we learn of how close they were. It’s really an important relationship in the novel. In addition, there’s Sam’s relationship with her other brother Jonathan. It’s more than rough for most of the book, and there are times you’ll probably wonder how in the world he could possibly do whatever to her (it’s hard to specify without spoiling). But at the end, it becomes much more apparent; readers can start to understand his side, and the exploration of their relationship is really well done. (And there are other sibling relationships, though less focused on; as is the case in many military families, siblings influence one another within and outside the military and a military career.) Also the book itself is just so fabulous that you should read it regardless.

20820994I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson | Goodreads

I’m in love with this book. It’s the story of Jude and Noah, twins who over the years have drifted apart. This book is about their life, their memories, and why they aren’t as close, and in Jandy Nelson fashion, it’s beautiful. I would read this book over and over again, simply because it’s that incredible. Go read this book. Now. You can see my review here.

17987215The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe | Goodreads

Kehoe is one of my favorite writers because she writes in verse, and this book is my favorite of the two she has published. The Sound of Letting Go is about Daisy and her complicated relationship with her brother, who is autistic. Throughout the book she battles between her reputation and the way in which Daisy wants to act. It’s a beautiful story of siblings, love, and growing up. My review here.

Emily
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