Author Archive for Kara Horgan

25
Nov
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 53: My True Love Gave to Me by Every YA Author in the World

UnknownUsually, I review my 52 books and then take a break for the rest of the year. And after this review, I plan to do so. But since this is a holiday-themed book, I figured I would write something up.

My True Love Gave to Me is a book of short stories, all Christmas themed. The stories are written by an all-star team of YA champions: Holly Black, Ally Carter, Matt de la Pena, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor, and Kiersten White. Yes, that’s right. Cannonball favorites Laini Taylor, Holly Black, and Rainbow Rowell ALL IN ONE COLLECTION.

I was all set for this to pretty much be the best book ever. A new holiday classic.

And I guess that was my mistake. The book is fine. Some of the stories are actually pretty good. But.

I think writing a short story is a very specific talent. And a bit of a lost art. Especially for authors who specialize in trilogies that never seem to end. Stephen King is really good at it, but Stephen King works very hard at it. He constantly works on short stories to keep himself in fighting form. I’m not so sure that David Levithan is following quite the same writing regimen.

I’ll cut the book some slack. None of the stories are outright terrible.

My least favorites were  Jenny Han’s “Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me” (about a human girl raised as an elf at the North Pole), and Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” (a gay, jewish kid dresses up as Santa for his boyfriend’s little sister?).

In the next group, stories that I thought were fine, were Link’s “The Lady and the Fox” (Link is really just too weird for me, but she is great at managing the short story format), “What Have You Done, Sophie Roth?” by Gayle Forman, “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” by Myra McEntire, and “Star of Bethlehem” by Ally Carter. They were all just fine. Lonely girl meets magical spirit in the woods every Christmas. Jewish girl and black boy at really WASP-y college bond over Christmas. The town Christmas pageant is saved by the least likely suspect. Hannah Montana escapes the horrible celebrity life and finds Christmas happiness in Oklahoma.

The last bunch were pretty darn good, actually.

I hadn’t heard of Matt de la Pena before, but his story “Angels in the Snow” was quite lovely.

My favorite in the book was Stephanie Perkins’ “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown.” A simple story about picking out a Christmas tree that made me care and want to know more about the characters. I hoped they would end up happy.

Holly Black’s “Krampuslauf” was weird and fun, and I liked most of it. I preferred the parts of the story that were about normal events, not the supernatural.

“Welcome to Christmas, CA,” by Kiersten White was everything a holiday story should be. Christmas miracles, love, family togetherness, communities coming together. Very nice.

Laini Taylor’s “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” was very Laini Taylor-y. Like an old-fashioned fairy tale that doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. It was dark, yet romantic. I’m not sure I liked the story, but I loved the writing.

Lastly, we have Rainbow Rowell’s “Midnights”. I liked the story of these two friends and how their relationship progresses over the years, checking in on them on New Year’s Eve every year. I wanted to read more about them. My issue with it was that as a short story, it felt incomplete. It seemed more like a chapter out of an unfinished book to me. I would definitely read that book, if Rowell wanted to write it. It just didn’t really work as a 20 page story.

I love the idea behind this book, I just wish I had enjoyed it a little bit more.

18
Nov
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 52: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

UnknownYou guys, this wasn’t the way that I intended to finish the Cannonball. I had it all planned out — I was going to review the shockingly less-than-amazing “My True Love Gave To Me,” a book of short stories all about Christmas by some beloved authors: Holly Black, Stephanie Perkins, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Gayle Forman, and Rainbow Fricking Rowell, among others. But other than the Perkins story, I really, really didn’t have much to say about it. It was decidedly and disappointingly “meh.”

And then I remembered that I have book club on Wednesday night and that I had yet to read this month’s book. And so, I sat down this morning with a cup of coffee. And I read the entire thing.

It. Was. Amazing.

First of all, can we talk about the cover of this book? My little jpeg doesn’t really do it justice. The aqua and copper and intricate details are simply lovely.

And then we have the story. This is the story of a girl named Ava Lavender. Born (along with her fraternal twin, Henry) in Seattle in 1944, Ava caused a bit of a sensation when she arrived. She was born with a full set of wings. Doctors could find no medical reason for the wings, and also could find no safe way to remove them without endangering Ava’s life.

This is also the story of Ava’s mother, Viviane. A girl so in love with her high school sweetheart, that his kisses leave a mark on her skin forever. When Jack moves on and marries someone else, Viviane raises her twins on her own, in their old, odd Seattle mansion.

And this is also the story of Emilienne, Viviane’s mother. She came with her family from France after World War I, and one by one, lost her parents and siblings to horrible deaths.

This is a story about magic, but not really. Emilienne “gets a feeling” and can sometimes say what’s about to happen, but she can’t really tell the future. Viviane has an exceptionally  strong sense of smell, which sometimes helps her to tell what’s about to happen, but she can’t really tell the future, either. And Ava, the girl with wings? Well, other than those wings, she’s just a normal girl. It’s not as if she can fly. Or can she?

This is also a story about love, and how hard it can be to give sometimes. Emilienne and Viviane had their hearts broken, and thought they had nothing left to give. And it isn’t until a terrible storm comes one night that they realize that their giving their love is easy.

My book club did give us a “trigger warning” about this book, and I feel that I should mention it here. There is a fairly violent and sexual scene toward the end of the story that is the turning point for many of the characters. It was clear that the story was building up to this horrific moment, but that didn’t make it any less shocking. Especially for a book that is supposedly geared for ages 12+. There is literally no way in hell I would let my daughter read this until she was at least 16 years old. Other than the fact that Ava was a teenager, I didn’t think this book was “YA” in the least.

This was a beautiful story, one that I’m glad I was forced to read. I never would have had it on my radar otherwise.

By the way, if anyone out there has read this, please let me know what your thoughts are on the ending. I guess it is somewhat controversial, and that readers are pretty split on what actually happened. Kind of a “glass half empty/half full” thing, I guess.

17
Nov
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 51: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

UnknownI didn’t have much hope for this one. I mean, the big tagline on the cover is that it is written by the author of “The Jane Austen Book Club,” which of course I read, and I really despised. But the title kept drawing me back. And then the stellar reviews from my trusted Cannonballers. And the nomination for the Booker prize. I couldn’t say no to this one.

This wonderful story is a tale about siblings and family. About science and psychology. About nature and nurture. And about language and communication.

At the start (really, the middle, as Rosemary tells it) Rosemary Cooke is a lonely young woman in the 1990s, studying at UCAL Davis. She has few (if any) friends, and rarely speaks unless she has to. She never does anything of interest, really. Until one day, she sees a girl in the cafeteria loudly and dramatically breaking up with her boyfriend. Chairs are thrown, tables are overturned, glasses are smashed, and Rosemary — really, an innocent bystander — can’t help herself. She smashes a glass, too, and is dragged down to the police station with Harlow, the dramatic girlfriend. The two start an unlikely friendship. Loud, bossy, domineering Harlow, and quiet, reserved Rosemary.

But Rosemary wasn’t always so quiet and reserved and alone. It used to be that she would never stop talking. She was a very physical girl, always climbing and jumping on furniture, always touching other people. Rosemary hasn’t seen her brother in over 10 years, and hasn’t seen her twin sister since she was 5. Her family doesn’t talk about the past and Rosemary’s conflicting memories aren’t helping her come to terms with the changes in her life.

Rosemary’s brother, Lowell, is on the fun from the FBI. He is a wanted domestic terrorist, a member of the Animal Liberation Front. He goes around the country and tries to free animals being used for science experiments. He destroys labs and causes chaos. His actions might also be affecting his sanity. But he’s still a cool, suave guy, and when he appears, using a pseudonym, Harlow falls for him in a big way. I kind of loved this little bit that tells you everything you need to know about stupid Harlow and wry Rosemary:

“Here’s the thing. He’s a wanted man. Like picture-in-the-post-office wanted.Wanted by the FBI as a domestic terrorist for the Animal Liberation Front. You can’t even tell anyone he was here or I’ll be arrested. Again. For real.
“Before this weekend, I hadn’t seen him in ten years. I don’t have the first fucking clue what his favorite band is. Travers isn’t even his name. You really, really, really need to forget about him.”
There I go again, not keeping my mouth shut.
Because what could be more Casablanca? Suddenly Harlow saw that what she’d always wanted was a man of principle. A man of action. A domestic terrorist.
Every girl’s dream, if she can’t have a vampire.

And what of Rosemary’s sister, Fern? Removed forcibly from the family at age 5, Fern’s absence is the root of many of the Cooke family’s issues. Rosemary’s mother decides to give her daughter her journals from the twins’ childhood, to see if it helps Rosemary to uncover her past. But Rosemary isn’t sure she can ever read those journals, as the pain just might run too deep.

The buzz about this book talks about the major plot twist that comes out of nowhere. Going in, I knew what the twist was, but it didn’t spoil the story for me at all. I enjoyed following Rosemary and Fern’s story, and jumping from the middle to the beginning, and back to the middle, and finally to the end. The characters were vibrant and entertaining, and it was a hell of a lot better than The Jane Austen Book Club.

14
Nov
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 50: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

UnknownLast year, my book club read The Diviners by Libba Bray. I really enjoyed the fun, 1920’s vibe and the contrasting darkness of the horror in the story. I made a mental note to look for other books by Bray, and finally got around to picking one up.

And Beauty Queens couldn’t be more different from The Diviners if it tried. This book made me laugh. A lot.

Beauty Queens is the satiric story of a plane filled with teen beauty pageant contestants that crashes on a weird deserted (or is it?) island. Sort of a Lord of the Flies meets Lost meets The Bachelorette. It is a completely ridiculous story filled with absolutely outlandish plots. And underneath all of the silly bits with pirates and sequins and batons, its a story about strong girls bucking society’s tropes. Girls who were once seen as only being valued for being pretty suddenly find that they are completely self sufficient and stronger than anyone ever imagined.

Survivors include a wanna-be journalist (only taking part in the pageant in order to uncover its truths), a former juvenile delinquent who happens to be gay, a deaf dancer who may or may not be bisexual, a former boy-band heartthrob undergoing gender reassignment, a black girl who dreams of being a doctor someday, a Valley Girl who’s parents immigrated from India for a better life, a southern girl who’s always been told that she’s so pretty that its OK for her to be dumb, a girl from New Mexico who spends the entire book with a tray table embedded in her forehead, and Miss Texas.

Miss Texas is the one who wants them to keep up with their pageant activities. Don’t bother building shelter and finding clean water — let’s work on our evening gown routines and the big dance number. But Miss Texas also has a few secrets. She’s the daughter of a general, and knows more about survival than even she realizes.

Of course there’s some other weird stuff going on around the island. A covert group has a secret base where they are plotting to sell arms to the USA’s number one enemy. Soldiers in black are running around, a very Sarah Palin-y politician seems to be in charge of the entire operation, giant snakes are eating people whole, and a ship filled with hot pirates from TV’s number one reality show crashes onto the beach. (Side note: the name Sinjin St. Sinjin made me laugh every single time I saw it.)

I really enjoyed that Bray wrote a totally ridiculous story that made me think about some really serious topics. I think this one will go into the pile of books that I’m saving for my 10 year old daughter to read in a few years, letting her know that it doesn’t matter what society expects a young girl to be. She can be whoever and whatever she wants.

 

 

 

12
Nov
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 49: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Stephanie_Perkins_-_Anna_and_the_French_KissI really, really wanted to finish up my 52 book reviews before Thanksgiving this year, so that I wouldn’t have my writing hanging over my head while trying to plan meals and presents and wrapping and cards. So I decided to pick a few easy-ish books for my last few entries this year. Hopefully, they’ll all turn out to be as fun as this one.

Anna is a high school senior from Atlanta who suddenly finds herself at an American boarding school in Paris to finish her last year. Her dad is a best-selling author (I’m thinking he’s a Nicholas Sparks type), divorced from her mom, who decides to use his new-found wealth to better his daughter. Anna isn’t too excited about this development. She doesn’t want to leave her little brother or her best friend, and she really, really doesn’t want to leave the cute guy that she works with at the movie theater.

Oh, and she doesn’t speak french.

But she’s forced into it by her parents and finds herself alone, half-way across the world. Everyone else at the school has known each other for years — she’s the sole new student in the very small senior class. But luckily, she’s quickly taken under the wing of Meredith, her dorm neighbor. Mer introduces her to the rest of her gang: Rashmi, Josh, and St. Clair.

And even though Anna is interested in the cute boy at home, and St. Clair has a long-time girlfriend in Paris, sparks fly. The two become best friends. And Anna spends much of the book trying to figure out exactly how they feel about each other. Anna is especially mindful of the fact that Meredith has been in love with St. Clair forever. And friends wouldn’t ruin a friendship over a guy, right?

Well.

I think pretty much anybody who has ever read a book in their lives would be able to tell you how this book ends up. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable. Yes, the plot was completely, 100% predictable. But I really enjoyed reading about Paris, and the descriptions of the shops and food and sites. I also enjoyed reading about all of the classic films that Anna (future film critic extraordinaire!) blogged about. There are two more books by Perkins that are loosely related to this one, and I’ll definitely be looking for them at the library. This was a fun, quick little read.

22
Oct
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Reviews 42-48: The Brothers Sinister series by Courtney Milan

When school started in September, I told myself that now that I had a little bit of free time, I was going to catch up on two things that the Cannonball community had recommended:

1. Watching the Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube.
2. Reading a few books by Courtney Milan. There were simply too many 5-star reviews for me to ignore. This was a bandwagon that I needed to get on!
3. Attempt to read at least one of the Outlander books.

Well, the kids have been in school for 7 weeks now, and I’ve completed action-items 1 (LOVED) and 2 (we’ll see if I can squeeze item 3 in before the madness of the holidays!).

Really, I’m not too sure I need to get into plot details here, as I feel like I’m one of the last humans to have read these books. And because I pretty much read them non-stop from beginning to end, its a bit difficult for me to break down my thoughts by book. So I figured I would try and just provide a giant overview of the series as a whole.

For the few who may be unaware, these books take place over a 50 year time period in Victorian England, starting in 1835 with The Governess Affair, and ending in 1882 with Talk Sweetly To Me.

Honestly, these books are about so much, that it’s nearly impossible to do them justice here. It is quite clear that Milan is a proper historian. Her descriptions of societal class and the era in general were fascinating. Plot lines include everything from interracial marriage, rape, sexual preference, abortion, education, and a woman’s right to vote. But mostly, these books are about the role of women in society during this time period in England, and how some women fought hard to change how their gender was perceived. None of our heroines simply sit home and sew samplers for their living rooms. These are women of action. They are scientists and mathematicians, suffragettes and scholars. They are sisters, daughters, nieces, and wives who would do anything for their families. They are brave and strong, and totally worth reading about.

There were so many little details I loved in these books. Robert, the Duke of Clermont, sitting on the floor and making toast. The Mrs. Larriger adventure series. Puppy cannons. The romance between Emily Fairfield and Anjan Bhattacharya (sigh. why couldn’t these two get their own novella?).

And the larger issues were great, too. What is a woman’s place in society? How is she expected to act and who is she expected to be? What is she allowed to talk about and with whom? Where can she be seen and what is she supposed to wear? How can she possibly know what’s best for herself? She needs a man to make her decisions for her, right?

And there were a few things I didn’t quite love. Like many others, Oliver Marshall wasn’t my favorite. I was constantly annoyed by his pronouncements — to her face! — that while he might love Jane, she was totally unsuitable because of his political aspirations. Blah. And honestly, I really wasn’t crazy about the term “Brothers Sinister,” as these men were so very far from being sinister. I had to laugh when Edward Clark made fun of the little band of brothers for having such a ridiculous name.

My favorite of the books was the sweet novella, A Kiss for Midwinter. I’m a sucker for any story about Christmas. I loved the fact that Jonas knew all of Lydia’s secrets, and that her strength made him love her even more. I loved the honest relationship she had with her father, and the way he doted on her. I loved Jonas’ awkward sense of humor, even though Lydia didn’t seem to. I loved that this was only a short novella, but that Milan provided us with fully-formed characters and a beautiful story.

My least favorite? Probably The Heiress Effect. As previously noted, Oliver wasn’t my cup of tea. And Jane’s outlandish fashions quickly tired me out. I just never bought into their love affair. It never seemed likely to me. It certainly wasn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t as great as the rest of the series.

While I”m not quite ready to dive head-first into the romance genre, I’m glad to have read these books and will likely read more by Courtney Milan.

17
Oct
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 41: The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

UnknownThis one is a bit tough to review. I really liked it, but I didn’t really enjoy it. I’ve had nothing like the events in the story happen to me, and yet, I felt that the plot hit close to home. Does that make any sense?

Lorelei Bird is a free spirit, to say the least. She and her husband live in a beautiful cottage somewhere in the Cotswolds with their two daughters and twin boys. Every minute of life in Lorelei’s world is to be savored — you might never see a rainbow that beautiful or eat a leg of lamb so delicious again!

But Lorelei has a problem. She’s so afraid of forgetting all of these “special” moments that she never, ever throws anything away. And over the years, she becomes the greatest hoarder in the entire UK.

But the story isn’t really about hoarding. It’s about how one moment can change everything for a family, and set the paths that each individual will take for their entire lives. Tragedy strikes the family, and each person deals with it in their own way, ultimately driving the family apart for many years.

The dysfunction of this family wasn’t something that I could really relate to (thankfully! some of the plot developments are CRAZY!). But the hoarding…well. My father was never the most organized guy in town, but when my mother died, he started to hold on to things that didn’t make any sense to the rest of us. He was unwilling to throw away news clippings or clothing that was outdated, or really ANYTHING. He was trying to preserve her memory in time, and I get that, but it made things really hard for those of us who were trying to help him. He never got to the point of being a hoarder, but this book had me thinking back on that time, and gave me a bit more empathy for Lorelei than I may otherwise have had.

Lorelei was an interesting character. Some of her decisions and actions really infuriated me. But she had her moments, when her shining personality and sunny disposition won me over. The story of the Bird family was tough, with a lot of ugly occurrences and plot lines. But the story was beautifully told and described. Yes, Lorelei’s house was filled with junk and papers, but every once in a while, she’d notice something special poking out of the mess — a drawing of a Dalek that one of the boys made when he was four was one thing that stuck out in my mind, as I have a five year old (named Lorelei, no less) that draws LOTS of Daleks. And that was the simple beauty of this story…it found a way to notice the loveliness of everyday life, even when it was surrounded by a huge mess.

I hadn’t heard of Lisa Jewell before this, but I’ll make a note to be on the lookout for some of her earlier work.

 

 




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