The Elite and The One, by Kiera Cass

eliteThe Selection’s The Elite and The One
by Kiera Cass
Pub Date April 23, 2013 & May 6, 2014

In my first post, I wrote about The Selection by Kiera Cass. In my crazy desire to read all sorts of princess stories, I couldn’t forget the next two books in The Selection series. I also had to write about them together since I read the two books in two days- I literally went back to the library on my day off just to get The One after I finished The Elite in one night. I couldn’t put it down until I knew what happened between America Singer and Prince Maxon.

 

The oneFor those of you who haven’t read the series, The Selection is based in a future America where our current government has collapsed and is now a monarchy that separates the population into eight castes, each with a different type of job and social standing, from the top number one being royalty and the bottom eight being peasants. When the prince is of marrying age, a competition is held where 35 girls from different castes and areas of the country are sent to compete for the prince’s hand in marriage. America Singer, a number five caste member, is chosen to compete in the selection for Prince Maxon’s hand in marriage.

Reading these books, I found myself incredibly grateful that dating is not like this in reality, similar to the reality tv show The Bachelor where one guy (or girl depending on the season) goes on dates with multiple people and it is expected that he will kiss, if not all of the candidates, most of them. What a weird dating ritual: hanging out all day long with girls who are competing with you for one guy and all the power and wealth he will share with you. America has to figure out if she truly loves Maxon and if she can be a proper princess before loses Maxon forever.

Honestly, America Singer drove me crazy, which is one of the reasons I truly loved this series. In the tv series The Bachelor, no one really questions whether or not being chosen is a good thing. Yet, America questions it all the time. She is a realistic girl with confidence issues who often compares herself to others. She is confused about what she wants and what she can handle. Throughout the series, you can see her confidence grow, although she is constantly making her relationship with Maxon more complicated. Dangerous revolutions, political intrigue, and secret associations are a constant part of this budding romance, and I could not drag myself away from these books. I am so excited for the 5th book in this series to come out this May.

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The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

boundlessBoundless
by Kenneth Oppel
Pub. Date: April 22, 2014

For a good time adventure without kissy romance scenes or descriptive violence, this is the book for you. It has everything from Sasquatch to circus performers to scam artists. With the story of the transcontinental railroad as a backdrop, Oppel has created a tale of mystery, suspense, and fun with some historical facts mixed with tall tales that become reality. It is quite a page turner that several of my teens in the book club described as “unable to put down,” and one teen I have never seen read a book was excited to tell me about what he was reading.

Will wants adventure. He has grown up hearing about all the adventures his father experienced while building the Canadian transcontinental railroad, and now he wants to experience his own adventures. Yet, his father has different plans for him that includes a position in the family business. Will has this one train trip on the Boundless left before he is expected to begin schooling in business. What could go wrong in a few days?

At their first stop, Will witnesses a murder. As he goes from train car to train car trying to avoid the men trying to kill him as the only witness to their crime, Will meets up with the circus performers travelling on the train and that’s when the fun begins.

Personally, I loved this story. I can recommend it to people who want a clean book with a lot of adventure and memorable, inspiring characters. I also appreciated that several of the characters are not perfect, but have difficult moral questions that they have to work out. Also, I love the circus characters.

So, if you want a fun, historical story without too much romance or violence (and a clown, strongman, and elephants) you now have what you are looking for: Boundless.

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy, by Karen Abbott

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy Karen AbbottLiar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
by Karen Abbott
Pub Date: September 2, 2014

If you know me past a few superficial conversations, you learn pretty quickly that I’m a Civil War buff. I lived in Georgia at the end of high school and for college, but it wasn’t until I left the South for a few years that I developed a thirst for learning about the Civil War (I think this was how my homesickness manifested itself. I truly love it down here). In particular, I have an affinity for anything involving the women of the time period. So when this book came along, it was on my radar with a quickness.

The author Karen Abbott has made a name for herself writing popular history books on interesting women (previously she wrote about Gypsy Rose Lee and the infamous Everleigh Sisters – not to everyone’s taste, but well-written titles regardless), and continues the trend with this hefty but engaging history of the Civil War through the lives and adventures of four women, two Confederate and two Federal: Belle Boyd, Emma Edmonds, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, and Elizabeth Van Lew. You might have heard of at least one of these women in passing in a high school history class or college course, but getting them grouped together like this really gets you curious for all the other women’s stories that don’t get the same clout or attention as so many male personalities of the time.

The stories of these four women are told over the course of the conflict, and Abbott seems to have a lot of fun with the narrative, leaving you on a cliffhanger with one story and picking up with another, and before you know it you’re engrossed in the book and not realizing how long you’ve been reading. It’s like an adventure story where the four main characters don’t actually interact but have parallel story lines.

All of these women had at least some small brush with espionage, so if you’re into spy stories mixed with American history, this is one to try out. Emma Edmonds dressed as a man to fight in the war, and was one of at least 200 documented cases at the time of women doing so. (Honestly, the stories of Civil War era women impersonating men for a variety of reasons will never cease to amaze and impress me.) Rose Greenhow spent time in prison for her exploits, along with her young daughter, and still managed to get information out of the Yankees and to the Rebels. While one might be hesitant to herald these women as role models necessarily, there’s no denying they all showed a great deal of courage and can be admired for their stealth, wit, fierceness of beliefs, and mettle. Plus, as a woman, I like reading about other women. Women are pretty amazing.

There are a certain number of books on the Civil War that I think are necessary to read if you get into the subject, and this one was definitely added to that list. No dry history tome here – this fast-paced collection of stories will keep you invested until the end.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, by Chris Taylor

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe Chris TaylorHow Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise
by Chris Taylor
Pub Date: September 30, 2014

Back in 1997, I won my school spelling bee and moved up to the next level. I lost on the word “potentate” (you never forget the word you lost in a spelling bee). Leaving the D.C. hotel where that round of the spelling bee was held, my mom told me and my two younger siblings that as a treat for me winning the school spelling bee, we were all going to see Star Wars that weekend. I remember being intrigued, but at that young age I wasn’t terribly fond of science fiction, so my reaction was a little underwhelmed. Whoo boy. Little did I know that I was about to watch a movie that would come to define a part of my life.

Star Wars is one of those things. It is so enveloped in our cultural makeup it’s practically inescapable. Even if you haven’t seen the movies (and I still know a few who haven’t!), you know references. You know the characters. You know the Empire Strikes Back plot twist. You cringe at the mention of Jar-Jar Binks. Star Wars is as American as apple pie (meaning it may have become famous in the US, but it came from other places and is enjoyed in other places). This book is written by one of those die-hard fans, and tells the story of exactly what the title is: how it conquered the universe.

We start by learning the early life of “the Creator” George Lucas, and the cultural influences that he enjoyed as a kid that were added to the melting pot of his imagination that developed Star Wars. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, The Princess of Mars, drag racing… it’s amazing all the little pieces that sparked something that ended up in Star Wars. In between chapters on how Lucas wrote the story and how each of the episodes came into being, and how the movie studio didn’t support it and then did, and quite a bit of behind-the-scenes drama with actors and special effects people, you get chapters on what the fans have done with the franchise. There’s a chapter on a guy who teaches lightsaber lessons. There’s a chapter on the 501st Legion (all those stormtroopers you see at various events). There’s a chapter on the line warriors who waited outside a movie theater for weeks to watch Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (yeah, I’m one of those people who can’t help but say the full name). There’s a chapter that starts the book on when the first film was dubbed into the Navajo language of Diné, because that’s how awesome the movies are.

I was not born when the original trilogy was released, so for me it was SO MUCH FUN to read about those early reactions to it, and then how it faded a little into the background after Return of the Jedi, and then came back with a vengeance with the prequel trilogy. Chris Taylor is an engaging writer, and met and interviewed plenty of people directly involved with the franchise, or eccentric enough of a fan to be enjoyable to read about. This was an absolutely delightful book to read, and split up into plenty of chapters that make it easy to pick up and put down if you’re a busy person with not a lot of downtime to read.

The paperback edition is revised and updated with more information about The Force Awakens, opening this week. Reading about the hype around the new Disney-helmed movie got me pretty pumped to see it. Even though that portion of the book will be mostly outdated in just a few days (and maybe we’ll get another update later on?), it’s still a wonderful read for anyone with some interest in Star Wars. (I choked up just *reading* about the part in the trailer when you see Han Solo say, “Chewie, we’re home.”) I HIGHLY recommend this as a Christmas gift for any Star Wars fan on your list.

Landline, by Rainbow Rowell

Landline Rainbow RowellLandline
by Rainbow Rowell
Pub Date: July 8, 2014

I adore Rainbow Rowell. Every single one of her books, both adult and YA, have hit it out of the park for me. I find her writing intelligent, witty, able to make me laugh and cry from one sentence to the next, and her characters are people I understand and know. The thing about Rainbow Rowell novels is I get TOTALLY sucked in. I start reading, and immediately identify with her characters. I immediately know them. And then I read seemingly insignificant details Rowell throws in for color, and I really can’t put the book down. People were freaking out about how great Eleanor & Park was, but it wasn’t until Fangirl came out that I decided to give her a try, and now I’ve read all of her books (aside from her new one Carry On, a Harry Potter-esque spinoff from Fangirl. It’ll happen, but I want it to be the proper time.)

This is her second and latest adult title, about Georgie McCool, a TV writer in California on the verge of great fame. She and her writing partner Seth, who have been collaborating since college, have a chance to pitch the TV show they’ve been talking about for years to a major studio figure. The meeting is set in a few days, they just need to write up four episodes to present. Except the meeting is just after Christmas. And Georgie and her family had planned on going to her husband Neal’s mother’s house in Omaha. When Georgie tells Neal she needs to stay to work on what could be the biggest break of her career, Neal is upset, and goes to his mother’s house with their two little girls without her. Georgie spends the next few days fretting about her relationship with her husband. When she stays in her old room at her mother’s house, she discovers that her old phone can call Neal in the past – 22 year old Neal, the Neal she knew in college. Will talking to the Neal of the past help her figure out the Neal she knows now?

What I *really* love about this book is the story of Georgie and Neal’s imperfect marriage. Neither are blatantly sabotaging the marriage, but it’s the little things that start to add up. Georgie recalls how she met Neal, and what her best friend Seth thought about him (not good). She recalls how he made her feel. They seem mismatched, and Georgie’s more than aware of that, but somehow these two mismatched and imperfect people found love and comfort with each other. The trick is working at the relationship to keeping that up, a lesson we could all use a reminder on. This book recounts how magical courtship can be, and how not perfect marriage can be as well. You can be in a happy marriage and still have problems, and I think that’s one of the beautiful messages of the book. Life is a fine balancing act. And you can see all the adorableness of these two people as Georgie remembers all the little things that made her fall in love with her husband.

There’s some blue language in the book (but honestly it’s nothing more than what I encounter on a daily basis – don’t know what that says about me), and references to the LGBTQ community, but nothing I found totally offensive. With the bulk of the story focused on Georgie and Neal, it’s a great book to read and reflect on your own relationships with your family and significant others. It’s just a sweet book.

I really can’t pick one book of Rowell’s to start with – each one is fabulous – but since this one takes place around Christmas it’s a little more timely. It’s like one of the vignettes from Love Actually got expanded into a book. Christmas is a magical time for romantics!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

UnbrokenUnbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive
by Laura Hillenbrand
Pub Date: November 11, 2014

Due to the popularity of Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand created a young adult version of this popular biography adapted for the big screen. I am glad she did. I have not read the original biography since I am not fond of biographies, but I found myself reading late into the night for “just one more chapter” as I read the young adult version of this book. This is one of the best biographies I have ever read, and is an inspiring story of achievement, resilience and forgiveness.

Growing up, Louis Zamperini was considered a trouble maker and a pest. Still, his older brother could see Louis’ potential and convinced the high school principal to put Louis on the track team. From there, Louis discovered a talent and determination to succeed that affected the rest of his life. This skill took Louis to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, but WWII interrupted his running career and directed him to the US Army Air Corp where he became a bombardier. After a plane crash, Louis survived being stranded on a life raft for over a month and then becoming a prisoner of war with the Japanese, who were known for their brutality to POWs during WWII. Reading his story, I couldn’t believe all that Louis was able to survive, and survived with dignity and honor.

For me though, what amazed me the most was how Louis was able to overcome his fear and hatred for his Japanese captors enough to forgive them– to visit POW camps where he was held, see his guards, and tell them he forgave them. After the atrocities committed against him in the POW camp, it takes a great amount of inner strength, confidence, and compassion to be able to forgive those who hurt you and brought you to the brink of death. Louis Zamperini is a great example to me of true empathy and forgiveness.

I highly recommend this book to those who want to read this amazing story with more pictures and less of the emotionally difficult passages contained in the original biography. The guys in my teen book club were especially excited about this book, but the girls also found this an amazing story worth reading—even those who don’t read anything but fiction as a rule. This book does discuss smoking, drinking, and violence, but not in graphic detail or in a positive light. I am definitely recommending this to teens and their families as an example of overcoming the odds, forgiveness, and compassion.

Horrorstör, by Grady Hendrix

Horrorstor Grady HendrixHorrorstör
by Grady Hendrix
Pub Date: September 23, 2014

The first think I heard about this book was that it was formatted to look like an IKEA catalog. And it was about an IKEA-like store, called Orsk, that is. I’ve worked retail, though not at IKEA or any furniture store, and this sounded so ridiculous and weird I knew I would get a kick out of it.

Orsk, a popular low-price faux-European furniture superstore, has been experiencing some unnerving activity. Every morning the staff arrives to find merchandise broken or damaged, and the security cameras aren’t catching anything. The store manager is at his wits end, and “volun-tells” some of his employees that they will work the store overnight to figure out who or what is in the store and put a stop to it before any of the corporate higher-ups find out. So already this is a relateable story for anyone who’s worked retail and had to deal with a lot of things that should be above their pay grade.

So the Orsk employees embark on what they hope is a mostly quiet evening where they nab a shoplifter and can consider the case closed. Two of them intend to film a segment for a ghost hunters show. And naturally everyone is over their heads as other residents of the store make their presence known.

While this is definitely a ghost story, there’s enough humor in it you won’t feel like you can’t read this late at night (at least, that’s how I felt about it). You might end on a cliffhanger, but then there’s another catalog spread for Orsk – but they do get increasingly dark as you progress through the story. It’s gimmicky for sure, but that’s what makes this book fun. It pokes fun at familiar horror film tropes, and you do walk the line of “is it humor or is it horror?” the whole way through. Mostly you read this book for the experience of it, and not for a real scare. It moves at a fast clip with short chapters, so it would make a good read while you wait for the trick-or-treaters.

(The author’s next book is My Best Friend’s Exorcism out in May and will be formatted to look like a high school yearbook. That should be fun!)