Book Reviews

The House at the End of Hope Street: A Review

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I love books that have a little bit of that magical flair. More than a little bit and I feel as if I’ve hit the reading jack pot. The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag is full of magic, from a house that seems to pop up just as you need it, ghosts and portraits that give, sometimes unwanted, advice, and a 99 day chance for a young woman to get her life back on track, this novel keeps the reader enchanted. 

When Alba, an extraordinary genius with unbelievable sight, experiences the worst event of her life (she’s not exaggerating either), she wanders the streets with no idea what should happen next. That’s when the house pops up out of nowhere, big and Victorian with vines of wisteria and the smells of calm hovering in the air, and reaches to her like a mother reaches for a hurting child. As you read on, you learn that the house has been rescuing women, especially soon to be famous women like Agatha Christie and Virginia Woolf, for 200 years. 

Alba’s story quickly becomes entwined with the three other women in the house, one hiding from her past, one scared of her future, and the wonderful woman, Peggy, who keeps the house and helps the young women who cross the threshold. One of my favorite parts of this book was the way that the characters stories became so connected. Originally, I was concerned that this was going to be a story of stories, instead of a fluid whole, but Van Praag didn’t disappoint. 

Even though the pages are full of heartbreaking life events, you learn, along with the women experiencing them, that one “must be allowed to feel her grief, must dive headlong into despair, before she can emerge again, her spirit richer and deeper than before” (46). While trying to find herself in all of the madness of her life, Alba is also on the search, rather reluctantly sometimes, for her father, who makes the story even more rich. 

Although I loved the book, the characters, the story, the mysteries that unravel one tiny strand at a time, I didn’t love the number of perspectives that the story was told from. Almost every character gets his or her say, which made me feel like my favorites didn’t get enough time with the spotlight. I also had a hard time, whether because of the different circumstances or perspective, relating with Greer, one of the women living in the house. 

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I think it was exactly the book that I needed to read! Follow the link and get your own copy! You won’t be disappointed. 

 

 

Will Grayson, Will Grayson- John Green and David Levithan

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I’m staring hard at my copy of Will Grayson, Will Grayson waiting on some from of genius to strike. Every once in a while you’ll read a book and it will be exactly what your heart and soul needed. It will speak to a part of yourself that you have bottled up, a part that you force into silence. Not every book can have this effect on you; if it did you would be the tattered remains of yourself instad of the whole that you are. Every once in a while there will be a book that will ever so gently force you into seeing the world a little bit differently. Will Grayson, Will Grayson was that book for me.

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This book is the story of two teenage boys, both named Will Grayson, and how they cross paths one cold night in Chicago. The two Will Grayson’s lives are then linked, as they end up sharing in the story of one very large, very gay teenager named Tiny Cooper. This book, this story of lives and how they become intertwined, is the story of what it means to grow up. It is the story of loving yourself and loving others, for exactly who they are.

My book club of three read Will Grayson, Will Grayson kind of on a whim, and it is now in my top three books that we have read. I just messaged my friends in book club and asked them to share one truth that they learned from Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and this is our list:

1. “When things break, it’s not the actual breaking that prevents them from getting back together again. It’s because a little piece gets lost- the two remaining ends couldn’t fit together even if they wanted to. The whole shape has changed.”
2. Sometimes, the only way to heal is to accept how you’re feeling, and accept that it’s okay. You can’t wish away your problems.
3. Your best friend may be completely opposite of you.
4. Being open-minded is important, otherwise you might miss the opportunity of a great friendship.
5. Sometimes, you have to work hard to get what you want, but you should NEVER change who you are to get it.

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I could keep going. I could flip through the pages of Will Grayson, Will Grayson and find nuggets of truth hidden between lines of perfectly wrought teen angst. Instead, I’m going to talk to you about characters. They were so real. When I finished the book, I hugged it to my chest because there was this feeling, like a “the show must go on” feeling that told me those characters and their lives would continue, even though I closed the book.

Will Grayson 1: “Caring doesn’t sometimes lead to misery. It always does.”

Will Grayson 2: “i am constantly torn between killing myself and killing everyone around me.”

Jane: “Some people have lives; some people have music.”

Tiny Cooper: “Nothing’s wrong. Every thing’s right. Things couldn’t be righter. Things could be less tired. They could be less busy. They could be less caffeinated. But they couldn’t be righter.”

I’m sitting here, still staring at my copy of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, still trying to do this book justice, and I just don’t know if it is possible. Here is what I can say about Will Grayson (one and two), about Tiny Cooper and Jane and Gideon, about loving yourself and not being afraid to love others:

This book is one of those books that I would call life-changing. It’s the type of book that causes you to see the world a little bit differently. It’s the kind of book you walk away from changed. Now, go buy it from your local bookstore, or a Barnes and Noble, or even on amazon. Just go buy it.

A New Take on Fairy Tales: A Review of The Land of Stories Series

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For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with fairy tales. My mom tells me stories of how I would watch my favorite Disney movies, all of which are based in different fairy tale roots over, and over, and over again. I never tired of The Jungle Book where I would dance with Baloo and fret with Bagheera. I would be afraid of the ever evil Shere Khan and despise the python in his service. Growing up, Jasmine was my favorite princess. She was a fighter, feisty and committed to making her own way.

Every time that I get a chance to revisit my favorite fairy tales, I jump on the chance. I recently took a gamble on a new series by Chris Colfer. If you are asking yourself why that name seems so familiar, it is because he played Kurt Hummel in Glee, and let’s be honest, he was everyone’s favorite character.

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Luckily, his creativity isn’t just on screen IN the last year, he has published three books, two of which are part of a series for middle grade readers.

The first thing that drew my attention to the new fantasy stories that Colfer had concocted was the cover. They are seriously beautiful displays of artistry. Even though they are geared to a younger audience, I had a blast reading both of them.

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The first book in the series is The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. This novel begins with the recently fatherless set of twins, Conner and Alex Bailey. Through an odd series of events, a loving but mysterious grandmother, and a book full of magical stories, the twins end up in a magical kingdom where the stories that they grew up hearing about not only existed, but were still being lived out.

The first book is all about getting back home to their mother, who must be worried sick about them. On the way, they meet and are helped by an unlikely cast of characters, like Goldilocks (who is seriously awesome, if not a lot angsty), Jack (of the beanstalk variety), a giant frog with a big secret, a fairy godmother, several princesses, and an interesting journal that leads them on a search for some of the most magical elements in the land.

So, for this first book, I was inclined to finish because o the characters and the original take on the old fairy tales. Considering this is a time when fairy tales are all the rage, it was nice to get such an enticingly new look on an old tale. Sometimes, I had a hard time getting into that middle grader mindset. I felt like some of the resolutions were forced, or almost too easy. Every chapter followed a fairly strict structure and I found it frustrating when someone came in to rescue the twins. The writing was a little clunky at times, but the pros in character development and originality far outweighed the cons.

I loved the characters. My eleven year old self would have really related to Alex, but my grown-up self loved Conner. He was a little rough around the edges, but his heart was always in the right spot. There are these moments of pure “AWWWWW!!” when the rule following Alex does something out of character to help her brother. The relationship between these two twins was amazing.

One of my favorite parts involved Conner telling off an entire fairy council saying something along the lines of “Listen, Orange” to one of the high fairies. Seriously, I can’t say enough how much I loved these two characters.

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Now, I don’t want to ruin anything for you , but book two, The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns was SO much better. I could really tell that Colfer’s writing had improved greatly, his story structure was much more daring, and the characters only became more lovable. Within the first four chapters, I could already tell a huge difference.

And the ending, OH THE ENDING! As soon as I was done, I was frustrated because the third book, The Land of Stories: A Grimm Warning, wasn’t out yet. Unfortunately, all we know at this point is it will be released in 2014. I need it now! Chris, if you are reading this, I would love a pre-release copy!

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So, my recommendation: If you love fairy tales, young, strong characters, visible growth for the writer, and a just plain feel good wonderful tale of good over evil, pick them up!

This Is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World

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I’m walking around Barnes and Noble, tall pumpkin spice soy latte in hand, the weight of the journal in my purse weighing down my arm. You see, I’m actually at that point in my writing career where I feel like a real writer. I’m not published and I don’t have an agent, but I get up everyday with writing on my mind. I go to bed every night with thoughts of my work in progress in the forefront of my mind. Every night I go to sleep hoping that I will dream something that will work for this character or a plot twist that will liven up my scenes. Writing is really on my mind all the time.

So, back to the story. I’m wandering around Barnes and Noble, trying to decide what I want to purchase with my book allowance that week. I’ve been struggling with some parts of writing, so I go to the writing section. I sit my bag down, grab several books on writing off the shelf, and sit in the middle of the aisle to flip through the pages of books with titles that promise to help me sell my novel.

But that’s not what I’m looking for. Do I want to eventually sell my novel? Duh. Don’t ask me stupid questions like that. Of course I want to sell my novel, but it’s so much more than that. I want to be a writer. I want to eat, sleep, and breath writing and the writing life. When I saw This Is Not a Writing Manual by Kerri Majors, I’m not going to lie, the first thing that attracted me was the cover. It’s kind of creepy, but I love it. The second thing was the title. Finally, something that just wrote about writing, not how to get published or how to sell. I wanted -needed- a book to tell me that all writers go through the same struggles. This book is exactly what I needed.

In the introduction, Majors states that the book “is not a manual, textbook, guidebook, or handbook…” Good, because I definitely wasn’t looking for any of those things. She goes on to say that she likes to think of the book as “therapy for writers.” Yes. I had found exactly what I was looking for.

The book is broken into three parts: The Writing Process, The Writing Life, and Looking Ahead: Supporting Yourself, Getting Published, and Not Getting Published. Awesome, I thought. Those are all important topics to me. Throughout the book, she outlines things that worked for her and things that didn’t work for her. The prose is conversational. I felt like the entire time I was reading, I was listening to Majors talk to me about the craft and life of a writer. I felt like she and I could be sitting in my favorite coffee shop sharing stories and me, being the obvious fan girl that I am, taking in all of her advice like it was a life saving medicine.

Here is a list of quality pieces of advice that I got from this wonderful, amazing, enlightening novel:

1. Protect your writing time (10)

2. Read, and don’t feel guilty about it (15)

3. It’s totally legit to eavesdrop (16)

4. Be brave, and leave the ego elsewhere (54)

5. Writing is difficult, and it should be (98)

6. And the last tidbit I’m sharing here (I’m not telling you all the good stuff, you really have to read it all!) is this: “If you’re writing just to get published, you won’t be writing for ver long, and you almost certainly won’t get published. You have to write for pleasure.” (145).

Now, I must tell you, this isn’t a comprehensive list. I enjoyed reading this novel so much that at the end of each chapter I found myself writing my own thoughts about what she had said and how it had affected me.

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So, needless to say, I really loved this book. I loved it so much that I’m trying to miraculously find enough money to purchase a copy for all of my learners who participate in Writer’s Block Writing Club. I want them to read this at the age that I wish I could have read it. I loved it so much I went to the author’s website and left her a comment!

So, if you are writerly, go buy this book! You won’t regret it!

The Witch of Little Italy

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“Regular people have such a hard time listening to the low hum of instinct.”

The Witch of Little Italy

Well, Suzanne, here’s what my instinct says: I don’t care what I have to do, where I have to go, or what kind of crazy schemes or fraternity style hazing I have to go through. I want to be a Lost Witch, too.

There, I’ve said it. I loved this book so much I wanted to be a character in it.

I feel like I’m one of those lucky people because I get to be friends with some of the most inspiring people in my world. Now, I’m not friends with Suzanne Palmieri, yet, but I am friends with one of my very favorite creative writing professors from college, and any book that she recommends quickly makes it to the top of my “To Read” pile.

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This book did not disappoint! There are so many things that I loved: the characters, the setting, the ending, the relationships, the mystery, the love, the MAGIC! See, I told you, so many things…

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So, a quick synopsis that doesn’t even begin to cover the true essence of the story is that it is about a girl who finds herself. But it is so much more.

When Eleanor Amore finds herself young, pregnant, and alone, she sneaks out to the Bronx where her grandmother and two great aunts live, along with some other individuals that they have adopted. But there is a part of her past that she can’t remember, a part that involves her family. When she was younger she stayed with them, but she can’t remember anything before the day that she left them that summer when she was ten years old.

Called to her family by “The Sight,” something that all the Amore women have and something that grows stronger in Eleanor everyday, she goes and lives with them. Facing a pregnancy and a history that she can’t remember, Eleanor becomes Elli, putting down roots in an unlikely place that she comes to call home.

In my adult life, I have spent a lot of time reading YA and middle grade literature because I have a longing for magic. I need it. Sometimes the reality of the world feels crushing and overwhelming and I need that spark of fantasy to keep me going. The Witch of Little Italy has that magical spark in an adult book. Are there dragons? No, but there are people who are often the worst kind of dragons. Is there magic? Yes, but not the kind that requires a wand. And most importantly, there is love. Family love, new child love, garden love, the love of something new and the love of re-finding something lost.

I know, I know. I sound so sappy! I just can’t help it. This book started a book-lution for me! I had no idea that there were adult books that had that spark of magic that I was looking for. Suzanne Palmieri captures a lot of human emotion and seamlessly interweaves the magical with reality.

So, visit her newly redesigned website: www.suzannepalmieri.com. When you’re done, go to Barnes and Noble or your favorite local bookstore and buy The Witch of Little Italy. I can’t imagine a world where you would be disappointed.

Other Books by Suzanne Palmieri:

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I’ve read this one, too. I’m kind of an author fanatic, so I obsessively read everything by that author when I find words that I love and can’t get out of my head. This novel is historical fiction, so a different genre all together. Either way, I felt the same connection to the characters and loved the entire story.

Coming Soon by Suzanne Palmieri:
The Witch of Belladonna Bay and I’m really looking forward to this one!