The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie is the third installment in the Ashbury series by Jaclyn Moriarty although the books are just loosely connected and they can be read out of order. I’ve read and liked the first two Ashbury books – Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments. I decided to pick this one up since it’s available in Fully Booked for P420.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Bindy Mackenzie believes herself to be the smartest, kindest girl at Ashbury High. Unfortunately, she is alone in that belief.

To prove her likeability, Bindy decides to document her life in transcripts, essays, and e-mails. What this reveals is a girl who’s funny, passionate, hilariously self-righteous… and in danger.

Someone wants to kill Bindy Mackenzie. The clues are in the documents. The detectives are the very students who hate her most. And time is running out.

This one is different from the other two because it doesn’t concentrate on the “Joy of the Envelope” letter exchange program between the two schools, Ashbury and Brookefield. Instead, the story is told from Bindy’s point of view through her diary entries, reports about her Friendship and Development (FAD) sessions and her random musings. Bindy is the type of character that you’d either really love or really hate. At the start of the book, she’s pretty easy to dislike because she’s so full of herself. However, I found her funny because she’s such a character! If you don’t take her seriously, I think you’ll see that she’s hilarious. She’s puzzled most of the time because she doesn’t understand other people. She lacks social skills so she doesn’t have friends and she’s totally focused on school work. The first part was pretty slow for me but things started to pick up in the second half of the book and by the time I reached the last few chapters, I knew I had to stick with it until the end – meaning I had to stay up until past 1am even though I wake up at 5am for work.

As with the other two Jaclyn Moriartys that I’ve read, this one is about friendship. I like how the three books deal with different kinds of friendship. In Feeling Sorry for Celia, it was all about best friends. In The Year of Secret Assignments, it was about the loyalty of a small group of three friends. In this one, it’s about forming friendships with a whole group. Like I said, Bindy doesn’t really have any friends and she thinks the FAD sessions are a waste of valuable time because she’d rather study. This book is all about Bindy and how she learns more about herself by reaching out to her fellow classmates. Another humorous installment in Jaclyn Moriarty’s Ashbury series. What’s good about this one is that it gives glimpses of the main characters in the first two books – Elizabeth from Feeling Sorry for Celia and Emily from The Year of Secret Assignments.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
The Book Smugglers
Attack of the Book
Vulpes Libris
Becky’s Book Reviews
Young Adult Book Reviews

The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White

I’ve been looking forward to getting this book ever since I featured it in my Want Books meme. Oh gosh, was it only just last month that I posted about these books? It feels longer! I was so excited to get this one by special order from Fully Booked for P460. It’s not that cheap, I know. But not bad for a trade paperback of a book that isn’t locally available. Both Michelle and Angie have been recommending these books for the longest time and I’m glad I finally got copies.

Here’s the summary from Ellen Emerson White’s website:

Sixteen-year-old Meghan Powers likes her life just the way it is. She likes living in Massachusetts. She likes her school. And she has plenty of friends. But all that is about to change, because Meg’s mother, one of the most prestigious senators in the country, is running for President. And she’s going to win. Now Meg and her whole family have moved to Washington, D.C. to live in their new house – the White House. Meg and her brother are being escorted to school by Secret Service agents, and reporters won’t leave them alone. Meg’s tired of being in the national spotlight. But how can she tell her mother she hates being the President’s daughter?

I know the premise isn’t that new – there have been several stories about daughters of US presidents before, although probably more in movies than in novels. This one is different because the presidential parent is a woman. I found Meg very believable as a character. She’s smart, snarky, has a great sense of humor and tries to act like her mom running for president is no biggie. As if things aren’t hard enough for her, she looks exactly like her mom. Although it’s obvious based on the title that her mom will win the position, the first half of the book deals with the campaign trail and how a well-respected senator fought to become the first female president of the United States. I admit that a lot of the political talk went way over my head. You all know that I live in the Philippines and we have a different political system from the US. Even though the political events and processes were explained in detail, I was still a bit lost. Also, we’ve had two women presidents over here so it’s that not big of a deal compared to the US.

The book focuses on Meg and her family and how they adjust their lives according to her mother’s profession. I liked Meg’s family – her mom, dad and her brothers Steven and Neal. It’s understandable that the dynamics of the family changes according to Mrs. Powers’ political career. I found the characters endearing, each of them vulnerable in their own way. Since I’m a fan of humor, I kept noticing how it’s natural for the entire family (except for Neal because he’s only six) to constantly joke around. Even though I liked the characters, I had a pretty lukewarm reaction to the book as a whole. Aside from having problems understanding the US political situation being depicted, I also kept waiting for something big to happen and nothing turned up. I don’t know why but I was expecting a climactic event. I’m still planning to read the other books in the series because I already have them. I have a feeling that they’ll be more exciting than this one based on the book summaries.

Shout out to Michelle and Angie, I feel bad that I didn’t fall in love with this one because I know how much you both love the series. 😦

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Book Harbinger
See Michelle Read
A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy
Bookshelves of Doom

Retro Friday: Howl’s Moving Castle

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I haven’t done a Retro Friday post in a while because I’ve been busy putting up We Love YA features every Friday. I don’t have a feature ready for today so I decided to write a review from one of my favoritesHowl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I know I’ve mentioned this book several times here on the blog but I realized that I don’t have a review of it up. I’ve successfully recommended this book to several friends and they’ve all enjoyed reading it.

Here’s the summary from Diana Wynne Jones’ website:

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl — and herself — than first meets the eye.

I don’t know why but I’ve always had a soft spot for books with magic in it. So when I saw the premise of this one, I knew I had to give it a try and I’m so glad I did. I loved reading about Sophie and how she slowly came to her own. At first, you’d think that Sophie is a quiet type of girl, destined to a life of boredom making hats. Without meaning to, she sets in motion events that are full of humor and enchantment. Throw in an eccentric fire demon and a self-absorbed, flamboyant wizard and you’re in for a good time. Howl is such a character! You can’t help but like him even though it seems like all he thinks about is how he looks and how famous he is. Here’s a passage that I really liked, Calcifer is Howl’s resident fire demon:

“Go to bed, you fool,” Calcifer said sleepily. “You’re drunk.”
“Who, me?” said Howl. “I assure you, my friends, I am cone sold sober.” He got up and stalked upstairs, feeling for the wall as if he thought it might escape him unless he kept in touch with it. His bedroom door did escape him. “What a lie that was!” Howl remarked as he walked into the wall. “My shining dishonesty will be the salvation of me.” He walked into the wall several times more, in several different places, before he discovered his bedroom door and crashed his way through it. Sophie could hear him falling about, saying that his bed was dodging.

This was the first ever DWJ book that I ever read. Later on, I learned that it was DWJ who gave MWT (Megan Whalen Turner) a leg up in the publishing world so we have her to thank for the wonderful Queen’s Thief series. Maybe that’s why both Howl and Gen are so awesome? As proven by the fact that they were the last two standing in the recently concluded YA Fantasy Showdown. I already have several other DWJ books in my TBR and I know I’ll enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed Howl’s story. I’ve seen the Hayao Miyazaki film version and although it’s very different from the book, I also liked it.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Tempting Persephone
Squeaky Books
Mother Daughter Book Club
Random Musings of a Bibliphile

Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Feeling Sorry for Celia is the first installment in Jaclyn Moriarty’s Ashbury books but the series can be read out of order. I read and liked The Year of Secret Assignments a couple of days ago. This one is also available in Fully Booked for P539.

Here’s the summary from Jaclyn Moriarty’s website:

Life is pretty complicated for Elizabeth Clarry. Her best friend Celia keeps disappearing, her absent father suddenly reappears, and her communication with her mother consists entirely of wacky notes left on the fridge. On top of everything else, because her English teacher wants to rekindle the “Joy of the Envelope,” a Complete and Utter Stranger knows more about Elizabeth than anyone else.

But Elizabeth is on the verge of some major changes. She may lose her best friend, find a wonderful new friend, kiss the sexiest guy alive, and run in a marathon. So much can happen in the time it takes to write a letter…

After reading The Year of Secret Assignments, I knew that all of Jaclyn Moriarty’s other novels would be just as funny and I wasn’t disappointed with Feeling Sorry for Celia. This book is written entirely through letters. Epistolary novels are such fun! More so if the characters lead such unusual lives. Actually, both Elizabeth and Christina are trying to live normal lives as Aussie teenagers. Their best friends, Celia and Maddie, are the outrageously wild ones. Both of them keep running away from home without leaving word of where they’ll go. Also, Elizabeth’s parents are pretty zany too. Her mother talks to her mostly in notes left on the fridge. Her dad, who left them when she was a baby, suddenly appears and wants to make it up to her by taking her out to dinner in fancy restaurants and making her smell and drink wine (which she doesn’t like).

I was happy for both Elizabeth and Christina when they were assigned to exchange letters because they understand each other so well. Like The Year of Secret Assignments, this book focuses on friendship and the romance aspect of the novel takes a backseat. The book deals with Elizabeth and Christina’s teenage trials and tribulations and how they can both relate to each other even though they only communicate through letters. It was amazing to watch a friendship bloom based on letter-writing because in this day and age, it isn’t that common anymore. And to think that they were only writing letters because it’s a requirement for English class.

I wish I had a high school teacher who wanted to resurrect the “Joy of the Envelope” because I think I would’ve loved to have a pen friend. Although when I was in high school, email was still a pretty new thing so people still wrote a lot of letters. Recommended for fans of epistolary novels and anyone up for a funny YA contemporary read. It’s no surprise that several book bloggers have been talking about Jaclyn Moriarty lately.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
See Michelle Read
Steph Su Reads
The Book Smugglers
Cherry Banana Split

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about John Green so I decided to read one of his books. I decided to start with An Abundance of Katherines because I like the premise and I’ve heard that it’s pretty funny. This book is available in Fully Booked for P360.

Here’s the summary from John Green’s website:

When it comes to relationships, everyone has a type. Colin Singleton’s type is girls named Katherine. He has dated – and been dumped by – 19 Katherines. In the wake of The K-19 Debacle, Colin – an anagram-obsessed washed-up child prodigy – heads out on a road trip with his overweight, Judge Judy-loving friend Hassan. With 10,000 dollars in his pocket and a feral hog on his trail, Colin is on a mission to prove a mathematical theorem he hopes will predict the future of any relationship (and conceivably win the girl).

Colin is obsessed with becoming a genius and doing something remarkable that will make him matter in the world. When the latest Katherine dumps him, his best (and only) friend, Hassan, decides that they should go on a road trip. They end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, where they meet an eclectic bunch of secondary characters. Once they’ve decided to settle there for a while, Colin starts to work on a formula that will predict every relationship based on the patterns of Dumpees (the ones being dumped) and Dumpers (the ones doing the dumping).

Colin is a total geek. So the novel is filled with a lot of graphs which try to prove his theorem:

Also some equations:

I wasn’t able to take a picture but there are also a lot of footnotes about random facts that Colin finds interesting. I know it isn’t obvious based on my blog but I love math and science. Seriously, I do. It’s just that they don’t love me back. If they did, I wouldn’t have such a hard time understanding them. The nerd in me thoroughly enjoyed reading about Colin and his thought processes. I think this is a perfect book to give to geeky friends who are trying to interpret the intricacies of love in math form. Can you imagine the hilarity involved in this kind of endeavor? So it’s no surprise that I laughed several times while reading this book. As if Colin isn’t eccentric enough, his best friend Hassan is also quirky in a different way. Seriously, the dialogue between those two? Fugging humor personified (if you’ve read the book, you’ll get the reference).

This is totally random but I really liked this line:

“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.”

What’s good about this book is that you don’t have to be a nerd to enjoy it. You can ignore Colin and his calculations because I’m not even sure if they make mathematical sense. Aside from getting over being dumped, Colin also comes to terms with his Katherine fixation and his need to become remarkable. If there was such a thing as guy lit (the guy version of chick lit) then I think this book would fall under that classification. If John Green is this witty in all of his other novels, then I look forward to reading all of them.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Book Harbinger
The Book Smugglers
Bookshelves of Doom
Things Mean a Lot
Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Forget You by Jennifer Echols

Going Too Far is one of my favorite reads of this year so I’ve been eagerly anticipating Jennifer Echols’ next romantic drama, Forget You. I even read Jennifer Echols romantic comedies – Endless Summer, The Ex Games, Major Crush – just so I have something to tide me over while waiting.

Here’s the summary from Jennifer Echols’ website:

There’s a lot Zoey would like to forget. Like how her father has knocked up his twenty-four-year old girlfriend. Like Zoey’s fear that the whole town will find out about her mom’s nervous breakdown. Like darkly handsome bad boy Doug taunting her at school. With her life about to become a complete mess, Zoey fights back the only way she knows how, using her famous attention to detail to make sure she’s the perfect daughter, the perfect student, and the perfect girlfriend to ultra-popular football player Brandon.

But then Zoey is in a car crash, and the next day there’s one thing she can’t remember at all — the entire night before. Did she go parking with Brandon, like she planned? And if so, why does it seem like Brandon is avoiding her? And why is Doug — of all people — suddenly acting as if something significant happened between the two of them? Zoey dimly remembers Doug pulling her from the wreck, but he keeps referring to what happened that night as if it was more, and it terrifies Zoey to admit how much is a blank to her. Controlled, meticulous Zoey is quickly losing her grip on the all-important details of her life — a life that seems strangely empty of Brandon, and strangely full of Doug.

I was all set to fall in love with this one but it didn’t happen. I think the premise is intriguing and I would’ve liked the story a lot of if I didn’t get annoyed with Zoey and how she kept insisting that Brandon is her boyfriend when he’s obviously not. I mean there was Doug, the “beautiful, snarky, way-too-perceptive boy” (to borrow her words) who’s always there for her. Doug kept taking care of Zoey after the accident when Brandon was nowhere to be seen. I really felt sorry for Doug, he seems like such a great guy even if he has a bad boy reputation. I wanted to talk to Zoey just so I could tell her, “If you don’t want him, can I have him?” I understand that Zoey has a lot of problems and that she’s pretty confused about her life but trying to believe that she has a relationship with Brandon was just too much. It’s not like Brandon’s much of a catch anyway – yes, he’s hot but that’s all that he has going for him.

Still, I recommend this to anyone who’s curious about Jennifer Echols’ books or anyone who wants a light, romantic read. I know that other people may end up liking this book even if it didn’t work out for me. I did like the tension between Zoey and Doug even if she kept on telling herself that she doesn’t have feelings for him. Also, even though they both have different lifestyles – Zoey’s family is rich while Doug has to work hard in his dad’s business – they still have things in common like how awful their fathers are and how they’re both part of the varsity swim team. Before the car wreck, their interactions mostly involved arguments, which I think showed that they were trying to mask their attraction by fighting. Hello love-hate relationship!

I believe Jennifer Echols is writing another romantic drama due out next year and I’m still planning to read that one. If you’re looking for a more satisfying YA romance, I recommend Going Too Far or Perfect Chemistry.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
See Michelle Read
Lurv a la Mode
The Book Smugglers
The Story Siren

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Jaclyn Moriarty lately. I think I first heard about her when Michelle of See Michelle Read reviewed The Ghosts of Ashbury High. Ever since then, Michelle has been trying to convince me to read at least one of Jaclyn Moriarty’s books. Also, I saw that Ana of The Book Smugglers raved about all of Jaclyn Moriarty’s books in this post. The last time Ana did this was when she found out about MWT’s Queen’s Thief series and you all know how much I love that series. I wanted to read The Ghosts of Ashbury High but it’s not available here. Thankfully, The Year of Secret Assignments (published as Finding Cassie Crazy in Australia) is available in Fully Booked for P378. Yay for awesome local bookstores!

Here’s the summary from Jaclyn Moriarty’s website:

When Lydia, Emily, and Cassie are assigned pen pals among the thugs at Brookfield High, they respond in characteristic style:

Cassie: “I always think it’s funny when a teacher tries to be cool. I want to sit them down and say ‘It’s okay, you’re a grown-up, you’re allowed to be a nerd,’ and they will look up at me confused but also relieved and teary-eyed.”

Lydia: “I am a fish. You wouldn’t think so to look at me, what with my uniform and the hair on top of my head and all that. But it’s true. I am a fish.”

Emily: “Don’t get me started about chocolate! My nickname might be ‘Em,’ but sometimes it’s also Toblerone! I think this is an angiogram of Thompson, which is my last name.”

And their pen-pals? Sebastian is an artist, a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, and a major hottie. Charlie is utterly gullible, a car expert/occasional thief, and a really sweet guy. But Matthew is… well, he’s either a psychopath or a figment of Cassie’s imagination, neither of which is a good sign. And what starts out as a simple letter exchange leads to secret assignments, false alarms, lock picking, legal drama, mistaken identities, Dates with Girls, and all-out war between the schools… the biggest challenge Lydia, Cass, and Emily’s friendship has ever faced.

I think this is the second book in Jaclyn Moriarty’s series and I was worried that I’ll be lost because I haven’t read the first one but it seems like they’re all just loosely connected and you can start with any of her books. The Year of Secret Assignments is written in a variety of formats, it’s like a scrapbook of sorts. The story unfolds through notebook and diary entries and the exchanged letters of three Ashbury students and three Brookefield students. At first, it was a bit confusing because you have to deal with so many points of view but I didn’t mind because there were a lot of hilarious moments even early on. Plus, I love writing and receiving letters. When we were in high school, my friends and I exchanged letters all the time. I don’t even know why we did that because we could have just talked in person. I still have most of those letters in shoe boxes stored in one of my cabinets.

This book was a lot of fun to read! The characters were so quirky, each crazy in his or her own way and I loved them. In Mr. Botherit’s intention to resurrect “The Joy of the Envelope,” these characters’ personalities shine forth through their letters. I must say that Cassie is my favorite character in this one because although she’s not as exuberant as Emily or Lydia, her personality is just as distinct. She’s funny in her own subtle way. There’s a bit of romance it this book but overall, I think it’s refreshing to read a YA book that’s more about friendship than anything else – the kind of friendship that starts in primary school and would probably last for a lifetime and those unexpected ones that bloom through letter-writing, secret assignments, tutorials about how to date girls and whatnot. Cass, Em and Lyd are so very different from each other but they are steadfast and loyal when it comes to helping out one another.

If you’re interested in something light and funny with a dash of insanity thrown in for good measure, then I recommend this book. I was laughing out loud in several sections of this book and I can’t wait to read Jaclyn Moriarty’s other books. I’m especially curious about Bindy because of her incredible typing skills. She has only one scene in the book but I think that’s one of my favorites.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
See Michelle Read
The Book Smugglers
Where the Moon Shines
Not Enough Bookshelves
In Which a Girl Reads

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

I have a confession to make. I’m afraid of ghosts and spooky stories in general. I don’t like hearing horror stories or watching scary films. So when I first saw Angie’s Retro Friday review of A Certain Slant of Light, I didn’t want to read it. I mean, would you look at that cover? It’s enough to make the scaredy-cat in me afraid. It wasn’t until Holly assured me that this wasn’t a scary book did I decide to give it a try. Good thing it’s available in Fully Booked for P378. For some reason, I thought it’ll be harder to find a copy of it.

Here’s the summary from Laura Whitcomb’s website:

In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: For the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen – terrified, but intrigued – is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.

Helen is a being of Light. Yes, that means that she’s a ghost and for several decades, she has existed in this world by cleaving to different hosts. She stays near her hosts because otherwise, she’ll be pulled back to the depths of what she believes is her personal hell. No one sees her or hears her and she’s gotten used to that fact. Until a boy in her host’s class looks at her directly. Turns out James is also of Light and he’s started occupying a high school boy’s body when the boy’s spirit vacated it. Naturally, both Helen and James are curious about each other because they’ve never met anyone else like them. Thus begins an unusual romance.

This is a beautiful, beautiful book. A couple of chapters in and I knew I was going to love the writing. Here’s a sample of one of Helen and James’ early conversations. They’re in the library, discussing Billy’s homework which James needs to revise. Billy is the high school boy who James has possessed.

He wrote and whispered the words aloud as he did. “I am in the library. It smells like old stuff.”

“It smells familiar,” I suggested. “It smells like words.” Because his left side was to me, I couldn’t easily take his hand to write.

“Books are boring,” James said as he wrote.

“They line the walls like a thousand leather doorways to be opened into worlds unknown,” I offered.

He thought about this and then wrote with a smile, “I hate books.”

“A sea of dreams trapped in a span of pressed pages,” I said.

Lovely, isn’t it? You can see Helen’s love for the written word reflected with those few lines. It is because of this love that she has cleaved to literary minded hosts. The story is narrated from Helen’s point of view and because she comes from a different time, her words lend a certain old world feel to the entire book. It’s always a pleasure to read a book with a main character who loves to read. Similar to how James found Billy, Helen discovers Jenny, a teenage girl empty of spirit. As Helen and James get to know each other better, Helen struggles to live Jenny’s life and comes to understand what has caused Jenny’s spirit to fly away. It was amusing to watch both Helen and James cope with modern life – the slang used by teenagers, food that they never got to taste when they were alive like pizza and root beer, the posture and gestures common to present day situations. Aside from that, they also try to understand why they’ve been unable to move on from this world and why .

I wonder why this book isn’t more well-known? It is a delightful book with a unique premise and relatable characters. I haven’t read anything like it. I’m also continually amazed at how YA novels touch on serious topics such as loneliness and redemption without the heavy feeling that usually comes with reading things like these. In spite of the unusual aspects of the book like having a ghost as its main character, A Certain Slant of Light is a love story at its core. I hope more people get to read this one. Has anyone read Laura Whitcomb’s other book – Fetch? I’m curious of that book is just as good as this one.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Book Harbinger
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes
Tempting Persephone
Bookshelves of Doom

The Hunger Games Trilogy

One of my most anticipated 2010 titles was released last week. Mockingjay, the final installment in The Hunger Games trilogy became available here in the Philippines last August 25. Thanks again to Jason of Taking a Break for my copy. After I got my copy, I went right down to business and read straight through the whole day with occasional breaks when I needed to come up for air. I finished reading in the wee hours of the morning and I had to take some time to absorb everything.

Yesterday, I attended the Philippine Mockingjay Launch, where I met up with folks from both Flips Flipping Pages and Filipinos Goodreads. More on that in a later post. Anyway, since I don’t have reviews of both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire because I read them before I started the blog, I thought I’d review the series as a whole instead of just Mockingjay. So don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this post.

I’m sure most people are familiar with the premise of the first book but in case you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, here’s a summary of The Hunger Games from Suzanne Collins’ website:

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games.” The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When her sister is chosen by lottery, Katniss steps up to go in her place.

That’s where it all starts, people. The books are set in a post-apocalyptic version of the United States. Each of the twelve districts are required to send two tributes to The Hunger Games, where all of them fight to the death until one victor remains. Sounds brutal? Why yes, it is but not extremely violent or gory. I assure you, my friends, I have a weak stomach when it comes to these things so the fact that I loved reading this series means that it doesn’t rate high on the gruesome scale. Although it is emotionally draining at times. After all, how can any heroine emerge triumphant if she doesn’t encounter difficulties? Katniss is a strong, warrior-type female protagonist and this is one of the reasons why I liked the series so much.

I first found out about The Hunger Games when it was published back in 2008. I didn’t want to read it at first because I’m not a huge fan of dystopian books but since it came highly recommended, I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. It’s an amazing book and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes to read, regardless of genre preferences. The Hunger Games has crossover appeal for a variety of reasons and it’s the kind of book that most people will enjoy. I know those who haven’t read the books don’t get the hype. I tell them that this series deserves the attention that it’s getting because it’s well-written, unlike other series out there which are popular for reasons still unknown to me.

Both Catching Fire and Mockingjay have the same characteristics that made the first book popular – creative worldbuilding, action-packed plot, believable characters and unpredictable events. Overall, a solid series that I highly recommend. To those who haven’t read these books, I envy you guys because you don’t have to wait for the sequels to come out like the rest of us did.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

I’ve had my copy of The Sky is Everywhere since March because a good friend gave it as a gift for my birthday. I’ve heard good things about it but I haven’t had a chance to read it until last week. This was chosen as the monthly read for August in one of my Goodreads’ groups so I had to bump it up my TBR.

Here’s the summary from Jandy Nelson’s website:

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery sister Bailey. But when Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life — and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

When Lennie goes back to school after her sister Bailey passed away, she knows that nothing will ever be the same and she feels like no one understands what she’s going through except for Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby. She’s bowled over when she meets the new student at band practice, Joe Fontaine of the incredible eyelashes and grin the size of continental United States. She doesn’t understand why she’s so affected by this stranger and why he occupies her thoughts when she should be thinking about Bailey.

It was easy for me to empathize with Lennie, having experienced the loss of a loved one a couple of years ago. I love how this book tackles grief and how Lennie handles hers in ways that even she doesn’t understand. The Sky is Everywhere is so much more than a story with a love triangle as the summary implies. Even if the story occurs after Bailey passed away, you still feel like you get to know Bailey through Lennie’s memories of her. I like how the book deals with loss, but balanced with that unhappiness is the sense of wonder and giddiness that comes with falling in love. Lennie struggles to cope with her sorrow and learns to accept that life goes on even without her sister.

There are a lot of quotable lines from this book but here’s one that I especially liked:

My sister will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn’t go away; it becomes a part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving Bailey because I will never stop loving her. That’s just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don’t get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy.

I highly recommend this book because I have a feeling a lot of people will be able to relate with Lennie and everything she’s going through. I enjoyed reading about the quirky secondary characters – it seemed like every character in this book has a very original personality. I also liked the poems scattered all throughout the book, poems about Bailey that Lennie writes in every surface that she can find. In the UK paperback edition, I’ve seen that the text is blue and it looks like handwriting in a journal and that the poems come in colored pictures that make the whole thing look like a scrapbook. I have the US hardcover edition, where everything’s in black ink. All in all, a very strong debut for Jandy Nelson and I will watch out for any other book that she writes.