Sunday, February 14, 2016

Authors I Would Read Anything By

We all have them, those authors that have entertained us or touched us so deeply that we will literally read anything that they put out, no matter how weird it is. I'm not saying that everyone writes a weird book on occasion, but if they did, it wouldn't matter to us. Because we're those die hard fans.

I have several favorite authors who didn't make it on the list. That's not to say that they aren't brilliant. They just typically have one or two books that I'm fond of, whereas all of the authors listed below, have me hooked on their impeccable style.

I would read anything by:

Kathryn Stockett- She has only written one book titled, "The Help". Her book was adapted into a movie, and let me just say, it's the best thing ever! I wish she would get on the ball and write something else because she's very talented.

Kieran Scott- She's kind of one of those no-name authors that hardly anyone has ever heard of. I happened to stumble across her book "Geek Magnet" by accident, but she should really get more lime light. She does comedy and romance very well. And as a bonus, the books I've read of hers are pretty clean.

Tahereh Mafi- This woman...why has she only written three books?!? Because three novels and a couple of novellas are just not satisfying enough for me. Her writing style is very poetic, and she handles character driven plots beautifully. If she sounds interesting to you, then check out her "Shatter Me" trilogy, you won't be disappointed...unless you detest love triangles.

Francine Rivers- I've read nearly all of her books. Without a doubt one of my favorite authors, she is probably the most well known Christian author around. Everyone typically reads "Redeeming Love" first, but my personal suggestion would be "The Mark of the Lion" trilogy. Especially if you are into stories centering around war and the aftermath of it.

Gretchen McNeil- Another author who doesn't have a large fan base. I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie's works, and when I discovered that this author wrote a book based on "And then there were none", I was sold. What's even better is that I had no clue that she would appeal to me so much. I ended up buying a few more of her books, hence why she's on the list.

Louis Sachar- Um..."Holes" anyone? I've only seen the movie (and so did everyone else who watched Disney channel in the early 2000s), but besides that book, he also wrote the wonderfully whimsical "Wayside School" trilogy! You guys, this trilogy is just top notch creatively. I truly don't think you can get anymore fun than this.

I will probably make more lists like this in the future, considering that there are so many hidden gems out there that I've yet to find! What are some of your authors that you would read anything by? Happy Reading!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Double Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Author: Mark Twain
Publication Date: 1876 and 1884
Pages: 225 and 327
Genre: Classic
My Rating: 4 Starfish and 3 Starfish

*A non-spoiler review, but I do talk about a few well-known scenes from the book.

I thought about just reviewing "Tom Sawyer", but since these two characters are intertwined, I thought it best to review both books.

While the plots are well paced, and a lot of interesting events take place, I think that the focus should be on the characters, because quite frankly, they make the stories what they are.

Tom Sawyer is a regular, country boy, in the 19th century. He disobeys his aunt, he lies, and he doesn’t take anything seriously. When he lies and gets himself into trouble, he takes advantage of any opportunities he sees to get him out of whatever he got into. But it sometimes isn’t the best way to solve his problems. A perfect example of this is (in my humble opinion, the best part of the book) when he had to whitewash the fence. Tom isn’t one of the brightest characters in the book. But, if there’s something he wants or something he needs to get out of, he’ll think ahead and, most likely, take the easy way out.

Becky Thatcher was a great choice of love interest for Tom. She was high maintenance, and quite the spoiled brat, but because of her personality, Tom really shined. I thought that his love for her and the way he cared for her was adorable, and it added another layer of depth onto an already beautifully done character.

Children and adults can relate to this book, because it brings back past and present memories of their childhood and some of the ornery things they did to get what they wanted. Tom Sawyer is not the type of person that wants all the time. He is actually very down to earth even though, at times, he doesn’t want to show it. This is a similarity that Tom and Huck share.

"Huckleberry Finn" is the story of a young hoodlum, who is very misunderstood. He was beat by his drunken father, looked down on by the town’s folk, and forced to survive in the best ways he knew how.

Jim was a slave, and also Huck’s best friend. At a point in the story, Jim ran away and asked Huck to help him get up north to become a free man. Of course Huck agreed to help him, but then, he started wondering if helping Jim was the right thing to do. Huck is a truthful and reliable person and he really tried to do what he thought was best, although sometimes the moral dilemmas he got into forced him to do things he was uncomfortable doing.

One of the main traits that people reading these books will find, is Huck’s unusual intelligence. I say it is unusual because he had never been to school and had never learned to read or write. There are good examples of his intelligence throughout the book. (One chapter that I found appealing was where Huck had killed a wild boar and dragged its body on the ground to make it look like he was murdered.) This is another rare similarity between Tom and Huck. They both got themselves into situations that they had to get out of, even if it meant doing the wrong thing. However, their reasons for this were totally different. Tom would go to every extent to make a situation exciting and adventurous, no matter how serious it was. And usually he got himself into tight spots for the fun of it. But Huck tried hard not to wind up in any serious situation, because he hated lying and cheating people. Unfortunately, with his dad looking for him and the entire state of Missouri looking for Jim, it was almost impossible not to get into a mess somewhere. Thinking about all the pressure that Huck probably had sitting on his shoulders makes people, who read these stories, feel compassion and respect for him.

I can't explain why I love Tom so much more than Huck, but I would guess it probably has to do with the fact that he's a mischevious, little twerp. His adventures were supremely entertaining, and surprisingly, the story of his boyhood was very lighthearted because of that quality. I would still recommend "Tom Sawyer" over "Huckleberry Finn" simply because I feel like that story would be more enjoyable for a young person to read (and let's face it, we need more young people to get into the classics so that they can live on for generations to come). But both books are worth reading for anyone who loves a good, classic adventure.   

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Belated Book Haul!

I've been on a book buying ban since early last year. But when Christmas rolled around, I decided to treat myself to a few goodies. So here's my belated Christmas book haul!

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

This book is about a cynical young man, who recounts the events of a few difficult days in his life. I'm a huge fan of stories featuring unreliable narrators. I am BEYOND excited to read this one!

I Kill The Mockingbird by Paul Acampora

This book is about three kids, who learn that their class isn't crazy about the idea of reading a classic, so they devise a plan to get the whole town talking about "To Kill A Mockingbird". It's "Middle Grade" centered around a classic novel. Definitely sounds like an interesting read!  

Ten Good And Bad Things About My Life So Far by Ann M. Martin

This is about a girl, who has a lot of good (and bad!) things going on in her life right now, like the fact that her and her male BFF are trying to figure out if they really can be "just friends". I was attracted to this book because reviews said it contains little to know romance, and I really wanted something different from what I've been reading lately.
Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

A "Middle Grade" fantasy novel about a skeleton and a young girl, who band together to retrieve a magic Sceptre and stop evil forces from taking over the world. This sounds like a super fun book! I have heard nothing but good things about the title character.  

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

An ad seeking gifted young children for a series of tests, eventually selects four kids to be sent out on a secret mission. This book has certainly attracted a lot of attention! I'm looking forward to reading a book with such positive reviews backing it up!

As you can see, there's a "Middle Grade" theme happening! I thought I might detour from the YA route for a little while, and hopefully these books will be just what I need!

Happy Reading Everyone!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Review: A Walk To Remember

Title: A Walk To Remember
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Publisher: Warner Books
Publication Date: October 1st 1999
Pages: 240
Genre: Romance
My Rating: 3 Starfish

Every April, when the wind blows from the sea and mingles with the scent of lilacs, Landon Carter remembers his last year at Beaufort High. It was 1958, and Landon had already dated a girl or two. He even swore that he had once been in love. Certainly the last person in town he thought he'd fall for was Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of the town's Baptist minister. A quiet girl who always carried a Bible with her schoolbooks, Jamie seemed content living in a world apart from the other teens. She took care of her widowed father, rescued hurt animals, and helped out at the local orphanage. No boy had ever asked her out. Landon would never have dreamed of it. Then a twist of fate made Jamie his partner for the homecoming dance, and Landon Carter's life would never be the same. Being with Jamie would show him the depths of the human heart and lead him to a decision so stunning it would send him irrevocably on the road to manhood... -Summary and cover image from Goodreads

*This isn't a spoiler-laden review, but I do talk a little bit about the relationship between the two main characters*

So, am I correct in assuming that every 90's child on the planet has seen the movie? I remember the first time I saw it when it came out in the early 2000s, and to this day it's one of my favorite movies (and one of the best love stories I've ever come across). The only difference between me and everyone else I knew at the time, was that I had never bothered to pick up the book. It's funny how so many girls rushed to the stores after seeing the movie to buy a copy of the book and re-live that beautiful love story. I'm not sure why I was the oddball that didn't. In fact, I never read anything by Nicholas Sparks. That is, until this past winter.

I finally borrowed the book from my sister. I was ready to see if the book lived up to the movie's impression on me, and to finally see what all the fuss was about with Nicholas Sparks. While I'm happy that I read it, I was pretty disappointed with it. It's not that my expectations were too high, but I was expecting for it to match the movie fairly well, which it didn't. I was worried at first that my knowledge of the movie would interfere with my enjoyment of the book, but as I read, the story sort of became a separate thing from what I've known it to be. I was able to get through it for that reason.

It wasn't like it was supremely awful or anything like that. It was just kind of dull and lifeless. Not much really happened. It seemed like the book was mainly comprised of scenes describing the setting or scenes with Jamie and Landon making awkward conversation. Well, awkward isn't exactly the word, but it definitely wasn't romantic in any way. I expected to at least feel the chemistry between the two of them. But I got none of that. Instead, it felt like the characters just didn't go together. By the end, I should have been rooting for them, but I couldn't even believe that they were truly in love. Their relationship wasn't cold, just lacking (I understand that he wasn't a fan of her at first, but even when he realized that he was in love with her, he just kind of said, "Oh yeah, I don't know how it happened, but I fell in love with this girl", and I thought it was odd how that was done).

Being set in the 50's was difficult to get into as well. I would picture a modern high school, and then all of sudden, he would talk about Elvis or something and I would be momentarily thrown off while my brain registered that the book was set basically 65 years ago. 

Not every scene was completely unspectacular. There were a few funny ones, (like when he thought that the other boy was going to beat him to Jamie's house). I was laughing so hard when that part came up!

The thing is, even if I had read the book before ever seeing a trace of the movie, I still wouldn't understand why people thought Nicholas Sparks was a great author. Maybe some of his other stuff is good, and maybe there might be one that I would like better. But I honestly won't pick up anymore of his books. Sorry to those of you who love him. I'm happy for you that you found an author you can admire. He's just not for me.

I wouldn't recommend this book. (I will go to my grave praising the movie, though!) But I still give it 3 stars because it wasn't awful and it did keep me interested enough to read it all the way through.   

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Beach Junkie's Guide To Breaking Stigma

Hello there everyone!

So, you may have noticed that I wasn't posting anything for a while. 2015 was basically one long hiatus. I was in the process of moving into a different house, and along with that, I have been struggling with my ever-present mental illnesses. I'm back now, and am prepared to post as much as it takes to make up for a lost year!  

If you can tell from the title of this post, there is a stigma surrounding mental illness. In case you don't know what stigma means (I didn't prior to being diagnosed), it means that a characteristic of an individual may develop a socially negative attitude towards the individual. Now, I'm sure that in some areas mental illness is more widely accepted by the general population. However, that is not the case where I live. Seriously, you can't begin to imagine the kind of responses I get from people in my local area. (I intend to make more posts in the future talking about my personal illnesses).

I, like most people suffering from this, remained mostly quiet about it. I had a psychologist, whom at one point, encouraged me to share my story with others. She said that a lot of people are afraid to speak up, and talking about what I go through might help others feel less alone in the world. Well, I understand the feeling of alone pretty well. But I refused her advice to talk about it. It wasn't until just last fall that I changed my mind. A person confided in me that they suspected they had a mental illness. I listened to their reasons why, and I agreed that it did sound like something was up. So I said that they needed to see a doctor to get officially diagnosed, and then go from there in the recovery and coping process. They said that they weren't going to go to a doctor or seek help because they didn't want to be judged and picked on by other people. All I could do was stand there and shake my head. Yes, the stigma is strong.

I know that I'm not going to magically break the stigma all by myself just because I've decided to start talking. Unfortunately, as long as there are people in this world, there will always be someone who looks down on those with mental illness. My intention and my hope is that one person suffering, or one person who knows someone who is suffering, will be encouraged, and will seek out the help they need to start recovering and living a meaningful life.

Now, before we're finished here today, I want to recommend a book to you (I am a book blogger after all!) that isn't necessarily a book about mental illness, but it definitely could fit into that category. It's one that I enjoyed very much. I was laughing so hard at one point, I got those annoying little stitches in my side! So if you're curious to know more about these illnesses, and if you like hilarious protagonists, here's my recommendation:

   According to her guidance counselor, fifteen-year-old Payton Gritas needs a focus object-an item to concentrate her emotions on. It's supposed to be something inanimate, but Payton decides to use the thing she stares at during class: Sean Griswold's head. They've been linked since third grade (Griswold-Gritas-it's an alphabetical order thing), but she's never really known him.

The focus object is intended to help Payton deal with her father's newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis. And it's working. With the help of her boy-crazy best friend Jac, Payton starts stalking-er, focusing on-Sean Griswold . . . all of him! He's cute, he shares her Seinfeld obsession (nobody else gets it!) and he may have a secret or two of his own.

In this sweet story of first love, Lindsey Leavitt seamlessly balances heartfelt family moments, spot-on sarcastic humor, and a budding young romance. -
Summary and cover image from Goodreads

Friday, January 29, 2016

Recommending: Classics! A List Of The Best (And The Worst!)

Since I posted a review of "Treasure Island" yesterday, I thought it might be fun to give you a list of recommendations featuring my favorite classics ranked from "This book. I like it. Another!" to "aljsakdkjffjfjsjfhjaskal". And since I will be telling you about the ones I love, I also want to tell you which ones, in my opinion, are not worth the effort. So without further ado, here are some great classics that I highly recommend!

10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. While this book may be at the bottom of my list, it is still a good read for fans of historical fiction. I remember reading this and thinking the whole time, "Dang, this Huck Finn kid is intelligent!" He got himself into a lot of scrapes, but a lot of times managed to get out of them by using his brains rather than relying on sheer luck. He was practical and yet creative in these situations. I really liked his independence, and I loved his childlike narrative. I thought it was interesting how he didn't really understand some of the issues going on around him, but we the readers understood full well what was happening. But really though, the main reason why this book made it on the list is because the kid is crazy smart. You're just not expecting that when you open the book. I would recommend reading "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" before picking up this one, because the two of them have a unique friendship that plays an important part in both books.  

9. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. If you're a fan of the Disney movie, then you will no doubt love this! Other than the fact that it's packed with adventure and has talking animals, I think that it's a refreshing and original story that anyone of any age could enjoy. And also, Sher-Kahn is a fantastic villain, and a scene stealer.

8. A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. I love it when poems rhyme. I can't stand the ones that don't. Even though this poem has some spots like that, I think that the writing is brilliant. The story is your typical she likes him, he likes her trope, and it all blows up into a chaotic frenzy by the end. But the character of Robin (Puck) Goodfellow instantly captured my heart from his very first speech. He is without a doubt one of the most fascinating and beloved characters in all of literature (he's even made appearances in a few popular Young Adult novels). You will grow to love him, I'm sure of it. 

7. The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe. I bought a nice bind up of all his writings from Barnes and Noble, so I don't know if his stories are sold separately or not (they probably are). I would suggest starting with any of these: "The Raven", "The Tell-Tale Heart", "The cask of Amontillado", "Annabel Lee", "The Pit and The Pendulum", "The Fall of The House of Usher", and my personal favorite "The Masque of Red Death". Definitely give this book a try if you're attracted to sad, dark things :)

6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. *sigh* Gilbert Blythe. Oh how my heart beats for you! Okay, so this is definitely a chick lit. But this book really can do no wrong. The writing, the setting, the romance, the humor, the heartbreak, the characters that make a home in your heart, and the tears of happiness shed by a perfect ending all make this piece of classic literature one that will endure for many decades to come.

5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Yes, it is very similar to "Anne of Green Gables", but something about this one really stands out in my mind. The story of the March Family is one that you can invest into and revisit anytime you want. It's a great story about love and the bond between sisters. The character of Jo March has lived on in the minds of readers as being one of the best complex characters to date. And Laurie isn't a bad reason to read this either ;)

4. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. If you read my review, you'll know that I love this book because it's chocked full of adventure! I felt like I was a character in the story, and let me tell ya, any book that can make you feel like that deserves a shot.

3. Beowulf by Anonymous. First off, nobody knows who the author is or exactly when it was written (they're guessing somewhere around 1000 A.D). Secondly, it's actually a poem (though it doesn't feel that way). I was forced to read this in school, and I groaned and carried on about doing it. But I'm so glad I sucked it up and did because this deserves way more credit than what it gets. Yes, the movie was weird, and the show isn't great, but don't let that influence your judgement of this book! I won't say much else because I do plan to review this one in the future.  

2. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Oh. My. Gosh. Words cannot BEGIN to describe my feels. Tom Sawyer is a sneaky, manipulative, lazy, no good, lying, trouble-making little snot, but somehow you wind up loving him. I was rooting for him ever since the whitewashed fence scene. Whether he was on the run from Injun Joe, or trying to get Becky Thatcher to notice him, I was hoping my little guy would get a happy ending. Review to come.

1. Hamlet by William Shakespeare. It's my favorite for a reason. If you think I won't write a ten page review of it, then you've got another thing coming.

Now, it's time to mention the absolute worst! Don't read them. Please don't.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck. I was forced to read it in school. But in my defense, all the classes hated it. I remember it being slow. And I remember the main characters becoming obsessed with the pearl to the point of acting like savages. Yeah, it just wasn't good.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. UGH. Hate. Hate. Hate. I even tried to watch the movie...still hate it. I guess it's too much on the morbid side for me. Not that it was gory or anything, just too realistically dark. (As opposed to Poe's fantasy-dark)

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. This one actually made me sad. I adore the story of "Peter Pan" and I wanted so badly to love the book, but it fell flat for me. Peter's and Wendy's relationship was nothing like I've always seen it be. I didn't even feel a connection between the two of them. In other words, dull and no chemistry.  

There you have it! So sorry it's on the long side! I tried shortening it. Guess I just have a lot to say :) Happy reading, everyone!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Classic Review: Treasure Island!

Title: Treasure Island
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Publication Date: 1883
Pages: 311
Genre: Classic
My Rating: 4 Starfish!

The most popular pirate story ever written in English, featuring one of literature’s most beloved “bad guys,” Treasure Island has been happily devoured by several generations of boys—and girls—and grownups. Its unforgettable characters include: young Jim Hawkins, who finds himself owner of a map to Treasure Island, where the fabled pirate booty is buried; honest Captain Smollett, heroic Dr. Livesey, and the good-hearted but obtuse Squire Trelawney, who help Jim on his quest for the treasure; the frightening Blind Pew, double-dealing Israel Hands, and seemingly mad Ben Gunn, buccaneers of varying shades of menace; and, of course, garrulous, affable, ambiguous Long John Silver, who is one moment a friendly, laughing, one-legged sea-cook . . .and the next a dangerous pirate leader! The unexpected and complex relationship that develops between Silver and Jim helps transform what seems at first to be a simple, rip-roaring adventure story into a deeply moving study of a boy’s growth into manhood, as he learns hard lessons about friendship, loyalty, courage and honor—and the uncertain meaning of good and evil. - Summary and cover image from Goodreads 

Wow. Just wow. This book blew me away! First off, I have to give a shout out to my 8th grade science teacher. He made the class read "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", and I have been in love with the classics ever since. So even though I know you're not reading this, thank you, Mr. Reagan :)

Now onto the review!

I have a deep affection for friendships. The bond that forms between Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins is so odd, but it works so well. I will say that I was expecting their relationship to be something akin to Disney's "Treasure Planet" (yes, I know. But seriously, who doesn't love that movie?) however, I feel like the movie version had them both being a lot more touchy-feely with each other. So if you're expecting the book to be similar to that movie, I'll tell you right now that it's not. But that doesn't mean that their relationship wasn't any less strong and complex. I think that if you're going to give this book a go, you should go into it with all other revisions tossed to the back of you're mind. That way, you can really get wrapped up in the story and look at it as it's own thing (if that makes sense).

I understand that this story is most well known for the Hawkins-Silver storyline, which is fantastic, mind you. But I believe, that at the heart of this story, it is first and foremost an adventure. You can tell right away beginning in chapter one what the genre is. Action-packed doesn't even begin to describe it! I was immediately drawn into the story. By part two, I was all in. And by the time I reached the halfway point, I was completely immersed.

There are two unfortunate things about  most adventure novels that I've come across. First, there is so much action, and so little dialogue, that you never really delve into a character's psych like you should be able to do. Instead, you may find yourself rooting for the heroes (or even the bad guys), but you never get too attached to them. Second thing is that an adventure novel can have thrilling action sequences, but then a scene of dialogue comes along and it slows down and dulls what was, moments ago, a fast-paced novel. I am so very pleased to tell you that this book has found a way to beautifully balance between the action and the dialogue. Every scene smoothly transitioned into the next without breaking pace, and even the conversations between characters were just as exciting as the scenes of swashbuckling piracy goodness!

Jim Hawkins is a great lead character and the best choice of narrative for the story. I loved his innocence and the way that he described what was going on around him. He was a big reason why the story really came to life for me! Since we're on the subject, I loved the author's decision to include a few short chapters from another character's perspective. By doing this, it allowed the reader to see what had been going on while Jim was off doing his own thing. Once those chapters got you up to speed, it switched right back to Jim's narrative. I didn't get lost or confused at any point during this.  Great choice, Mr. Stevenson!

The characters were all great, my favorite being the doctor. I was surprised that he grew on me so quickly! But with his brave (and somewhat attitude-y) personality, you just can't help but like him. Each main character held there own, and I don't think that the story would have been near as good if any one of them had been left out of it.

Most people get turned off by the classics due to the words used and the old-fashioned style of writing. I think that this style actually helps to make the stories become more alive in the mind. But if the writing is something that concerns you, then I should mention that this particular classic is a lot easier to understand than most that I've read. I'm not entirely sure why. It could be the country that author resided in at the time, or it could be that the times were changing and books started changing with it. I mean, I really don't know. But if you're not a fan of classics for that reason, or if you've never read a classic before and are looking to start your first one, then I would suggest "Treasure Island" be the one you sit down with at the end of the day.

If it isn't obvious, I'm trying really hard to convince you to read this book! Because this book deserves to be loved! It has captured my young heart and brought the carefree kid out of me, and it has done so for many other people besides myself. To say that I love this book would be an understatement. I couldn't recommend it strongly enough.