Gone

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This is actually a book I first read years ago as a high schooler, but realized I had never done a review on.

Gone, the first book in a series by Michael Grant, tells a story of power and authority with supernatural elements. One day in the town of Perdido Beach, California, everybody age 15 and over suddenly disappears into thin air. At the same time, a dome-shaped barrier forms over the town, preventing anyone from leaving and jamming all communication sources. Sam Temple and his friends Quinn and Edilio, along with Sam’s love interest Astrid, try to discover the meaning behind the sudden occurrence. Meanwhile, life in the town is thrown into chaos as children attempt to function without adults. Sam is seen as a leader but is at odds with Caine, the rival leader of the students from the elite Coates Academy. Elsewhere, a mysterious creature known as “The Darkness” threatens to wreak havoc on the already chaotic town.

One element I liked about this novel was Grant’s use of setting. He provides a map of Perdido Beach at the front of the book, which gives the reader an idea of the area and how it affects the characters in unexpected ways. For example, the desert, usually seen as a somewhat desolate place, is used in a story of survival for supporting character Lana. A power plant, commonly associated with feelings of danger and elusiveness, becomes a major plot point in the supernatural element of the story.

Another defining element of the novel is seeing how people’s personalities and skills help them survive and function in a society devoid of adults. Lana’s headstrong nature formerly got her into trouble, but now helps her outwit the danger she experiences and help Sam and his group with their journey. Another supporting character, Albert, uses his family-taught cooking skills to take over a local restaurant. Futhermore, some of the children develop supernatural powers which provide both positive and negative ways.

At over 500 pages, this is a long book to read, but I definitely recommend it due to its strong character development and successful mix of genres.

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Wonder

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Welcome back to my blog! Today I decided to review something a little different, Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

August “Auggie” Pullman is a 10-year-old boy who lives in New York City with his mother, father, older sister, and dog Daisy. He is intelligent and a fan of Star Wars. He also has a medical condition that has cause After being homeschooled his entire life, Auggie is enrolled at Beecher Prep School by his parents. He’s nervous to start fifth grade at a real school, but begins to make friends with others and realizes that he is truly a “wonder.”

The story is told from several different points of view, which was a great way of showing how each person has a different way of viewing Auggie’s situation. Auggie himself is used to people’s reactions when they first see him, although it still does bother him a little bit. Auggie’s sister Via, who is used to Auggie getting his parent’s attention and isn’t afraid of standing up for him. There’s Summer, the girl who decides to sit with Auggie at lunch the first day and becomes his first friend. Julian is the bully, who constantly teases Auggie and tries to turn others against him. I could relate to the characters because it reminded me of people I knew during my grade school years.

I was interested to find out that this was RJ Palacio’s debut novel, considering how well it was written. According to her official website, she got the idea for the novel after an experience she had with her young sons who got upset after seeing a child with a facial deformity. I always like it when authors use real-life experiences in their fiction because its makes the story and characters more relatable.

Although this is a novel marketed toward grade schoolers, I recommend Wonder because it can teach both children and adults important lessons on acceptance and the uniqueness of others.

Always the Bridesmaid

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This past weekend I got to be a bridesmaid in a college friend’s wedding up near my hometown. It was a wonderful weekend, filled with reunions with old friends and the making of new ones. Being in the wedding mood, I found Always the Bridesmaid by Lindsey Kelk in the ebook selection of D.C.’s online library.

As an event planner assistant, Madeline “Maddie” Fraser has spent the past ten years organizing dozens of weddings, birthday parties and a host of other events. Now, at 31, Maddie is starting to feel restless in both her professional and personal life. She is craving more responsibility at work and hopes to be promoted to an event manager, even if it means continuing to suffer under her strict boss Shona. In her personal life, she is serving as a bridesmaid for her engaged best friend Lauren, which is contrasted by the divorce of their mutual friend Sarah. Soon, her personal life comes crashing into her professional life when Lauren insists that Maddie plan Lauren’s wedding in three short months. Maddie’s life is further made difficult by her successful family’s disapproval of her lifestyle, although she finds relief with her involvement with handsome and charming lawyer Will.

This novel actually takes place in the United Kingdom, which I discovered after reading the first chapter. I spent some time in the UK during college, so I understood most of the vocabulary. For the words I didn’t know, Kindle’s built-in dictionary helped, as did good old-fashioned context clues.

Kelk did a great job of incorporating modern day and relatable issues. One of the biggest ones was the expectations that Maddie’s family had toward her that she should be “settled down” by age 31. This reflects the pressure that most females are supposed to be married and have kids by a certain age. I couldn’t relate to this more, with a Facebook feed full of weddings and kid announcements (although neither are in my near future.) The juxtaposition of Lauren’s engagement and Sarah’s divorce provided an interesting perspective of the opposite ends of a relationship, and added development to Maddie’s character as she struggled with having to comfort Sarah and be excited for Lauren at the same time. The stress affects all of them at several times throughout the story, an accurate portrayal of juggling work and personal life.

The plot also explores the idea of a toxic work environment. Maddie has been in the same job position for over a decade, and has to decide whether it’s worth remaining in it or moving on. Kelk sends the important message of how an unfulfilling job can affect one’s well being.

I definitely recommend this novel because of its accurate depictions of everyday struggles.

Hello, Sunshine

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Social media has become pretty much synonymous with the way we live our lives. Every day, people paint a picture of their lives through posts, words, drawings, photos and other media. People can use social media to make a living through paid advertising, partnerships and other joint ventures. However, it’s interesting to see what their real background and lives are like behind the camera. Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave uses this as its main plot point.

Sunshine Stephens has built an empire as cooking personality Sunshine Mackenzie, with a television show, cookbooks and millions of social media followers. Navigating her career with her husband Danny in New York City, life is good. But on the morning of her 35th birthday, she wakes up to a hacker revealing personal information to the world, including the fact she has a ghostwriter for some of her cookbooks and had a one-night stand with one of her coworkers. The hack soon destroys her career and she loses her publishing and television contracts, husband and Tribeca apartment. With nowhere else to go, she’s forced to return to her hometown of Montauk, New York and confront her past, including her estranged sister.

The plot might sound like a cliche, but it’s not exactly that. The author even humorously acknowledges the cliche in Chapter 20, with Sunshine stating,

“In case you’re worried that this was going to turn into a story about what woman realizing her childhood home was where she always belonged, please keep in mind that I hated being back in Montauk.”

The book explores the theme of how people can use social media and fame to create an entire persona. It’s slowly revealed that Sunshine’s life is not what the public knew it as. She previously said she was from the South and grew up on farm. But we later learn she was born and raised on Long Island, a story that her manager figured wouldn’t appeal to the general public. There are important points about honesty, what people choose to share to the public and the importance of privacy.

Other than those themes, though, I found the rest of the story a bit boring. Other than Sunshine’s cute niece Sammy, there wasn’t a lot of character development. Also, I found Sunshine’s husband immediately leaving her without any talk to be a bit unrealistic. It could be that I’m not the right demographic for the novel- being in my mid-20s reading a story about people in their mid-to-late 30s. But I would says this book is more worth getting from the local library than purchasing.

Uncommon Type: Some Stories

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Tom Hanks has been one of my favorite actors since I was young. Toy Story and Forrest Gump were both staple movies of my childhood, and I was mystified that the person who played character with the Southern drawl was the same person who voiced the animated character of Woody. So when I found out Tom Hanks was coming to the Warner Theatre in  D.C. to promote his new book, Uncommon Type: Some Stories, I decided to go check it out.

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He and well-known author Ann Patchett talked for more than an hour about a wide variety of topics, including his experiences in the film industry, and how the literary world interweaves with the movie world. He answered several questions from the audience about how acting has affected his life, his family and his overall psyche. He didn’t hesitate to throw in a couple of curse words while he spoke, which I found realistic and relatable.

Tom Hanks

While many celebrities usually debut in the writing world with memoirs, Hanks chose to write fiction for his first full-length book. Uncommon Type is an anthology that contains seventeen short stories. What links them all together is that each story contains a typewriter in some way, whether it be a brief mention or a main part of the story’s plot. The plots themselves differ widely and are set in several different decades, although there are some overlapping characters.

Tom Hanks book

I could see several of Hanks’ own personal experiences within the stories. One is about an actor trying to make it in the New York City, which is where Hanks first moved after graduating from college. Another one is about a Greek immigrant who has just arrived in America, which echoes the story Hanks told about how his father-in-law got to the United States. The writing style changes throughout the stories; some are written in first person and some in third person. The narrator or protagonist of the story also changes the tone. For example, one story that focuses on a 10-year-old boy describes details from a child’s perspective. The theme of typewriters comes from Hanks’ own hobby of collecting typewriters, highlighted in this segment from CBS This Morning. 

I mostly enjoyed the stories, but I felt like a lot of them lacked substance. Those ones had characters and settings, but not a clear plot line. It was almost as if some were bits and pieces of longer stories instead of their own, and others felt incomplete. Hanks does have some writing experience; he wrote the screenplay for 1996’s That Thing You Do! and some pieces for the New York Times and Vanity Fair. 

The typewriter aspect was the best part of the book. Its presence in all of the stories showed it was an object used by everyone, no matter their background or life circumstances; a common link. He pays tribute to the machines by including a picture of one before each story. It makes the book worth checking out.

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