Breakaway

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Warning: Minor Spoilers

Okay, so maybe some of my post have contained spoilers, but I  sometimes feel like it’s hard to review a book without mentioning a few important plot points. With that explanation done, I shall begin my review of Breakaway, a novel by American author Kat Spears.

Jason “Jaz” Marshall is a high school senior who has just lost his younger sister, Sylvia. While the two of them had different dads, Jason considered her to be one of the few people who understood him wholly. His unstable young mother only adds to the inner turmoil he feels as he tries to adjust to life without his sister. It doesn’t get any better when his three best friends, affluent Jordie, bad boy Mario and timid Chick, his usual source of support, begin to go in different directions. JAs time passes, Jason finds himself drawn to Raine Blair, a wealthy yet complex girl whose life he finds interesting. He also continues to play on his school soccer team, an effective outlet that gives him something to focus on.

Spears wasn’t afraid to portray situations that happen in real life. Losing a loved one, facing an unstable home life and friends growing apart are issues that real people face. Spears did a good job of weaving them together into a readable story.

I also like the fact that this takes place just outside of D.C. There are several scenes where the characters travel to certain places in the city, which made imagining the story much easier.

With that being said, I do feel like there were some loose ends that Spears could have provided more insight into. But I guess there’s only so much you can tell to a reader before they have to figure it out for themselves.

One more note, I did think of the Kelly Clarkson song “Breakaway,” when I first saw the title. However, the lyrics would actually fit this novel pretty well…

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The Art of Lainey

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Warning: Spoilers 

Continuing with my streak of borrowing e-books from the D.C. library system, The Art of Lainey is yet another novel I stumbled upon. I hadn’t heard of the author Paula Stokes before, but I figured it would be something to check out.

Lainey Mitchell is content  with the plan for the summer before her senior year of high school, working at her parent’s coffee shop, keeping fit with her best friend Bianca, and her relationship with her boyfriend Jason Chase. One day at the beginning of the summer, he abruptly breaks up with her in public and offers no explanation. Devastated, Lainey devises a plan to win him back by using tactics from an ancient Chinese war manual called The Art of War.

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The plan involves making Jason jealous by pretending to date her coworker named Micah. But soon Lainey finds her fake relationship with Micah seeming more and more real and that her relationship with Jason was really not what it seemed.

Lainey is a likable character. The breakup forces her to think about what her and Jason’s relationship was really about. She also discovers what it means to have real friendships.

I did find the story mildly predictable. I knew who Lainey was going to end up with from almost the beginning. Nevertheless, the story has a good message about forging real relationships with people and knowing who your true friends are.

If you’re looking for a fluff novel sprinkled with some cliches, this might be something to check out.

 

Zen in the Art of Writing

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This book suggestion actually came from an author herself. Maya Van Wagenen, whose book Popular I previously reviewed, answered the letter I had sent her earlier in the year. Responding to my question on writing tips, she recommended this book to me.

Prior to reading this book, I was slightly familiar with Ray Bradbury, having read several short stories of his for my high school English class. His novel Fahrenheit 451 is also a popular choice for high school curriculum. I knew his common themes were dystopia and technology. But I wasn’t aware that he had written a book about writing.

This book is split into sections, consisting of a series of essays written over a period of several years. The topics include some of his memories, and a lot of narratives about how he got ideas for his stories. I’ve always been interested in how some authors get the concept for a book in their head.

Although some of the essays were written some years ago, a lot of his perspectives are still relevant to today.

One of the points he talks about is how one should not write just for profit, but because they want to and for their pleasure. It makes me think of how a lot of actresses, singers and other celebrities have books, although most of the time I feel like they were just in it for the money. I admit, I have read some of these books, to see how they compare to people who made their name as writers.

The oldness of the book is reflected in some of his tips. Throughout the chapters, he continually refers to someone writing on their typewriter. Since this book was released in the 1980s, it makes sense that people would still have typewriters before computers exploded in popularity. Laptops didn’t even really become popular until the 1990s, and it only became normal to own one in the last ten years or so.

I myself am writing this review on a new Dell laptop I just got about a week ago, the first completely brand new laptop I have ever owned and that I bought with my own money. But as he says, it’s necessary to have the right tools to be a writer, and having a laptop or some sort of writing device is good to have.

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Stay

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This is a book that I first heard about a few years ago, but only got the chance to read a few months ago.

Written by American author Allie Larkin, Stay, as the title and cover would imply, is about a girl who buys a dog. But there is more to it than that. Savannah “Van” Leone, is a single women in her early twenties. She serves as the maid of honor for her best friend Janie, who is getting married to Peter Clarke, the guy Van has loved since college. Van, who lives alone, works from home, is an only child and whose mom is deceased, decides to buy a puppy to have as a companion. However, she gets more than she bargained for when the “puppy” turns out to be a very big German Shepherd.stay

Things change for the better, though, when she takes Joe (the dog) to a vet named Alex Brandt.  A series of funny events play out that involve Van and Alex growing closer, Van becoming accustomed to being a dog owner and finding closure with Peter and Janie.

Being a dog lover and owner, I found Van’s dog predicaments very relatable and realistic. I was four years old when my parents brought home our first puppy, an eight-week old Black Lab and German Shepherd mix named Licorice. He proceeded to rip up the edge of a rug, tear up my mom’s handmade pillows and get in the garbage to eat dirty Kleenexes (Yuck), Nevertheless, we still loved him. Eighteen years later, Licorice has since passed away, but my parents still have a Border Collie and Cocker Spaniel that keep them busy.

I also like how this story took place in the Rochester, New York area, where I’m from originally. Larkin mentions a lot of familiar places, such as Wegmans and the University of Rochester. I now live in D.C., but I could better imagine the story, knowing the area it took place in.

The only part of this story that I found a little unrealistic is how fast everything happened. The wedding at the beginning is around Thanksgiving, and the story ends around New Year’s. That means that in a span of about six weeks, Van bought a dog, dealt with Peter and Janie, found a new love interest and found a place to live. I just couldn’t imagine all of this happening in such a short period of time.

This is a book worth reading. It makes me miss the dogs, but there’s only six weeks till Christmas…

Dark Places

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The title of this novel just gives you the chills.

This is Gillian Flynn’s second published novel, published after Sharp Objects and before Gone Girl, though it’s the last one I read. Knowing how psychologically disturbing Sharp Objects was, I decided to read Dark Places, wanting to challenge myself with an intense novel.

The protagonist, Libby Day, was the sole survivor of a massacre in which her mother and two older sisters were violently killed in their farmhouse in 1985, when Libby was seven. She testified that her older brother Ben was the one who committed the murders, and he was convicted and sent to jail.

Nearly twenty-five years later, Libby finds herself in need of money, having lived off of donations from the public for most of her life. She gets involved with a team of amateur investigators who are convinced that Ben is innocent. Although Libby is skeptical at first, she becomes determined to find out the truth by tracking down a number of people of interest, including Ben’s former girlfriend, old best friend and her own estranged father. dark-places-cover-w352

The format of the book alternatives between present day and flashbacks to the day of the murders. Libby narrates the present in the first person, while the events of that day in 1985 are told through third person accounts of Libby’s mom and Ben. I like that Flynn chose to use different narrative techniques, because it shows the difference between what Libby only knows, as opposed to what is really happening in the lives of other people. it adds great perspective to the story.

I found this book also psychologically disturbing, but in a different way. In Sharp Objects, the protagonist struggles more with her inner demons. In this novel. Flynn explores the difficult of family dynamics, poverty and satanic worships, issues that were present in the 80s. This novel is a mystery, unraveling what really happened that day and keeping you guessing as to who did what.

If you’re in for a hard core mystery with some Stephen King-like gore and violence, this is a book to read.

Close to Famous

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Once in awhile, I’ll read a novel aimed for a younger audience. As an aspiring author, I like to keep up to see what kinds of stories are out there for preteens. Joan Bauer’s Close to Famous is one of them. close-to-famous_joan-bauer

Foster McFee is a twelve-year-old who loves cooking. One night during the summer, her mother and her flee from their home in Nashville to escape her mother’s abusive boyfriend Hank. They end up in the small town of Culpepper, West Virginia. Although initially planning to only stay for a short time, they eventually end up meeting the townsfolk and settling in. Foster in particular makes an impression on the local scene with her cooking skills. She also meets a former Hollywood actress who gives her a glimpse as to what it was like to be famous once.

The character of Foster is very relatable. She has a passion she uses as a way to get through to people. But what I found more interesting is the fact that Foster cannot read or write, using her memory to remember how to bake her recipes. Foster is embarrassed about her flaw, and tries to hide it from her friends, something everybody has done at some point.

I’ve read a few of Joan Bauer’s books before, Peeled and Hope was Here. Her simple yet informative writing style has interested me in the past, and I like how it was translated into a book for a younger audience. The simple plot, interesting characters and useful lessons make this a good read for preteens.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

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Written by American author Jenny Han, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is about Lara Jean Song, an Asian-American high schooler. The middle child of three girls, she is close with her older sister Margot and has helped to take care of their younger sister Kitty since their mother passed away. Their father is devoted to his family and works hard as a doctor to provide for his three daughters.

The title refers to letters that Lara Jean has written to five different boys that she’s loved over the years, and keeps in a special hatbox in her bedroom. One day, though, she finds that her letters have been sent  and now has to deal with the consequences. This becomes especially difficult since the guys include Margot’s former boyfriend Josh and popular classmate Peter. With Margot away at college in Scotland, Lara Jean must deal with the situation while assuming a new leadership role in her family.

There are several elements I like about this story. The single parent element is present in a lot of novels, but I like Han’s depiction of Lara Jean suddenly realizing she has to take on more responsibility after Margot leaves.  I found I could relate to this, having lived like an only child for a long time after my brother left for college when I was 15.

I also liked the use of regular mail as a plot device. In the digital age, most of the novels I’ve read have included an email, picture, or some form of electronic entity as the catalyst. It was nice to have plain old letters serve as the catalyst for a change. 15749186

Upon hearing of the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You, I will definitely be checking it out. The only hitch is having to wait until the e-book is available to borrow on my Kindle. Ironic, considering the books are about written letters.

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