Book Review: Amandine by Adele Griffin (4/5)

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Ordinary, overweight and lonely Delia meets Amandine on the last day of her first week at her new high school. Amandine is an artist, actress and ballerina — She’s exciting, extraordinary and bold. She’s nothing like anyone in their small town. But this innocent-seeming girl is also dark, controlling and dangerous. And she tells lies. Terrified of loneliness, 14-year-old Delia clings to Amandine. Before she knows it, Amandine has sucked her into a toxic friendship. 

Adele Griffin is most definitely a great storyteller. She’s captured the inner workings of the adolescent mind, as well as the ineffectual communication between Delia and her parents. I sympathized with Delia from the start. There’s many layers to her insecurities, her character and her good heart.

More than anything, I understand her loneliness. Better a less-than-friendly friend than no friends. I was like Delia, terrified of loneliness. And unfortunately, toxic friendships are very common among adolescent girls. In middle school, I myself might have befriended an Amandine or two of my own — though not quite this extreme. 

Amandine was a nice read. The ending is a bit rushed — I feel like there could have been more exploration of Delia’s inner demons. Nonetheless, the novel ends on a positive note (though it’s too much “telling” rather than “showing” for my tastes) and I feel sure that Delia will be just fine. She will grow into her own person. She’ll brave the wobbly years of adolescence… After all, fourteen doesn’t last forever. 

***ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Read more of my book reviews here on my blog: https://rememberingwonderland.wordpress.com

 

 

Book Review: The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood (4/5)

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The Wicked Girls is the story of two 11-year-old English girls who made a mistake one summer day. Annabel Oldacre and Jade Walker met that one day and killed a four-year-old girl. For the next 25 years, they lose contact and face the consequences of that mistake.

This thriller builds on a very gripping premise — it’s bold, fresh and shattering. Rehabilitated, hated and tortured, Annabel and Jade grow up into different lives. One becomes Amber, a cleaning manager who is something of a pushover with her employees and her boyfriend, Vic. The other becomes Kristy, a successful journalist with a caring husband and two kids. When Kristy the journalist comes to Amber’s town to investigate a string of murders, the two women’s lives collide.

And they know then how fragile these new identities they’ve created are. How the media could shatter and break everything they’ve tried to rebuild. How they can never run from their past.

To say the least, The Wicked Girls is gripping and emotional. Readers feel a great deal of sympathy for these two women. At the same time, I wish there had been more exploration of their emotions — it would have made the book even more deeper and heart-wrenching. I feel like a couple serious issues may have slipped away in the pacing of the thriller/mystery. The mystery, for me, was not really a mystery. I guessed/hunched right away at the twist.

This novel is something new and ventures thoughts onto a road not taken… It raises questions about children who commit crimes. Obviously Amber and Kristy are searching for redemption; in the end, I think they receive it, albeit in a different and bittersweet form. Life is never as sweet as fairy tales.

***ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for my review

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Book Review: The People in the Trees: A Novel by Hanya Yanagihara (4.5/5)

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I’ve also been putting off this review for a while….

The People in the Trees is an anthropological thriller infused with adventure, discovery, science, the ethics of science and — most of all — deeply stirring moral questions. In 1950, anthropologist Paul Tallent calls for a young doctor to accompany him on his expedition to the isolated island Ivu’ivu. The med school sends the student at the bottom of the class, Norton Perina — brilliant, lazy, ambitious and arrogant. Little do they know, this expedition will change Perina’s life and touch the world.

While on the expedition, Tallent, Perina and Esme — the assistant Perina detests — discover immortal life amongst the island people. Perina selfishly smuggles back a turtle he suspects of containing the ingredients for immortality and soon wins the Nobel Prize for discovering Selene Syndrome.

But immortality is not all it seems… And it is as quickly lost as it’s found. The concept of immortality is very interesting. And it’s been talked of a lot in recent years; it’s builds on the theory of telomeres being the key to cancer and aging. In the meantime, Perina’s personal life collides with his professional identity. Is a great man still a great man even if he is not good?

The People in the Trees is absolutely shattering. It twists your emotions, plays on your sympathy for the main character, Perina. In the end, I just think Perina was such a broken person — with possibly sociopathic tendencies. It’s really a sad story for all involved, especially the children Perina adopted.

The message I’m taking from the book is: life is not just about the material things. Life is not about who lives the longest. Life is not always about what’s on the surface. There’s things underneath, there’s deep things. Life is about emotional fulfillment, growing into your potential. Perina was very wrong about so many things…but one thing I’ve got to point out (without ruining the story) is how he provided for his children. Sure, he rescued them from a third world society. Sure, he fed and clothed and paid for their college educations. But that’s not enough to raise a child. Perina never thought about his children’s emotional wellbeing and fulfillment. He placed things quite low on Maslow’s hierarchy. Mostly, he didn’t think about what he could do for his children. He only thought about what they could do for him. What emotional hole they could fill in his empty and unfulfilled life.

As an added bonus, Yanagihara’s writing style flows beautifully. No other author could have described the landscapes of Ivu’Ivu quite as well. Yanagihara is a master of the writing style. Every word, every phrase, every sentence…just feels so beautiful, so delicate.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Visit my blog for more reviews of up and coming books: https://rememberingwonderland.wordpress.com

Book Review: Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga by Teddy Steinkellner (3.5/5)

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I have been putting off reviewing this book for two months now…for no particular reason. It’s time I post this review!

Trash Can Days features a multiple-first-person-POV writing style. The entries include diary excerpts, online chats and emails. I imagine they may have different fonts in the actual novel that will illustrate this scattered storytelling style quite well!

There are four main characters in Trash Can Days: eighth grader Hannah, her seventh grader brother Jake, their friend Danny and seventh grader Dorothy Wu. Each of them struggle with unique problems — thus, the beauty of the multiple POV’s. You can only understand these problems if you see them from each middle schooler’s eyes. Popular Hannah struggles with friendships and boyfriends. Jake finds Danny drifting apart from him. Danny feels torn between his Mexican identity and being Jake’s friend.

And then there’s Dorothy Wu. Oh, Dorothy. If there’s one character in every book that you must love, it’s Dorothy. She’s weird, lonely, brilliant and admirable. She’s not afraid to be herself. And that’s something you can’t say about every 12-year-old Asian-American girl, pressured by society, parents and peers. I greatly admire Teddy Steinkellner’s ability to infuse such personality into the character of Dorothy. In fact, I think the reason I enjoyed the book was for Dorothy’s moments!

That being said, Trash Can Days was not phenomenal. It has moments of emotion and catharsis for each of the four main characters, but the story feels disjointed at times and the ending doesn’t seem quite as fulfilling as one might expect. There’s also violence and language in this book. It wouldn’t be suitable for elementary school children. But the social situations, peer pressure, bullying and social outcasting (of Dorothy Wu) is, sadly, a somewhat realistic portrayal of what my middle school was like.

Trash Can Days’ target audience is a bit vague. It’s definitely not YA…Yes, it’s still middle grade. Personally, I will probably not be re-reading Trash Can Days, though I did screenshot some of Dorothy Wu’s funniest words. (I’m reading this on Kindle on my phone.) And I wouldn’t recommend this to the children in my life (who are all elementary-school-aged). In conclusion, I think middle schoolers and high schoolers would find Trash Can Days enjoyable.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Read more of my book reviews here on my blog: Remembering Wonderland! 

Book Review: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron (4/5)

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Set in Victorian times, The Dark Unwinding opens with a gothic atmosphere. Our main character, Katherine Tulman, is a penniless orphan who must obey the commands of her tyrannous Aunt Alice. So when Aunt Alice sends her to the countryside to proclaim her uncle mentally insane, Katherine resigns herself to do so.

Little does she know, she falls in love with the world her uncle lives in. Her uncle is (I think) a savant. He’s marvelously talented at numbers and inventions, yet mentally a child. At his estate, a whole community of people flourishes – can Katherine really destroy everything they have? Can she commit her childlike uncle to an asylum?

I really liked the gothic, almost steampunk-like feel of the setting and atmosphere. The characters all have very distinct personalities and voices – Davy, the mute little boy with the hare, is particularly lovable. And then, the classic love interest, Lane, is stereotypically tall, moody, dark and annoying (to me).

For some reason, I think I liked the ideas more than the actual book. There is definitely skill, novelty and risk-taking in Sharon Cameron’s writing and plot…but I can’t help but feel like The Dark Unwinding could have been something deeper, something more emotionally entangling.

***book provided by Creative Kids Magazine for review

Read more of my book reviews here on my blog: Remembering Wonderland!

Book Review: The Books of Elsewhere #1: The Shadows by Jacqueline West (4.5/5)

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The Books of Elsewhere is absolutely amazing. I’m afraid I have to compare it to Harry Potter. It’s just as brilliant as Harry Potter, only with more of an appeal towards the middle grade audience. Jacqueline West has infused her words with wry humor, chock-full-of-personality characters (especially the talking cats), a suspenseful plot, imagination and strong underlying messages.

Here’s the premise: 11-year-old Olive is the only child of two mathematicians. Thing is, she’s not good at math at all! Instead, she has something of a wild imagination. When her family moves into an abandoned house on Linden street, she’s the only one who senses something strange and spooky. The paintings, the cats, the rumors. But Olive only finds out how strange and spooky when she discovers the secret – the paintings are portals to a place called Elsewhere. And someone in the house wants to get rid of her family….

From the first line of The Books of Elsewhere, I knew I’d love this book. West has a very original writing style that’s both down-to-earth and amusing. But that’s not all – there’s a wonderful plot and very real characters. I imagine elementary school kids, middle school kids and anyone older will greatly enjoy The Books of Elsewhere. Speaking of which, my nine-year-old brother just ran off with my copy of the book…

***copy provided by Creative Kids Magazine

Read more of my reviews here on my blog: https://rememberingwonderland.wordpress.com

Rating System

I use a 5-pt scale, with .5′s. The minimum a book can get is a 1 and the max is a 5. All the books on my Favorites page are 5′s.

1 — Terrible. Or just not the book for me. I’m thinking “well, this is annoying” the whole time I’m reading it

1.5 — I obviously did not like it.

2 — It might have had a couple of redeeming features.

2.5 — It had potential, but just did not meet expectations.

3 — All right, but I won’t read it again.

3.5 — Some parts may have been good, but it wasn’t as good as it could have been.

4 — Pretty good.

4.5 — Almost perfect.

5 — This is a book that absolutely became a part of my soul and I will add it to my favorite’s shelf