Saturday, March 29, 2014

Side Effects May Vary

Book 15 of my 2014 Reading Challenge.

I received this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway and would like to thank them for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book. 

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Summary (via the book jacket)

What if you'd been living your whole life as if you were dying - only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?
When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim.  To maximize the time she does have, she spend her final months right wrongs - however she sees fit.  She convinces her friend Harvey, who she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that's as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories).  But just when Alice's scores are settled, she goes into remission.
Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she's said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey.  But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

My Opinion

This book was original and took me on an emotional ride.  I liked it but recognize the style isn't for everyone.  
Like Gilmore Girls or The West Wing, this book is heavy on dialogue and inner feelings and light on locations and action.  
If you need your main character to be likable, this isn't the book for you.  Doesn't the author know teen characters with a terminal illness are supposed to be chaste and angelic with hearts of gold?  Alice is selfish and manipulative and a straight up bitch at times.  She was authentic in that skin crawly oh-my-god-i'm-so-glad-to-be-out-of-high-school-and-away-from-teen-girls sort of way.  
I identified with these characters and the angst and melodrama of teen emotions.  I've been Alice in relationships before, hurling words I didn't mean in a desperate attempt to push someone away before I got hurt.  I've been Harvey in relationships before, wishing for the self-respect to walk away from someone that didn't protect my heart the way I deserved but not able to do so in case this time was the time they will open up to me.  Both are unhealthy, flawed, and heartbreaking to watch.  
It may not be the most realistic book but I'm willing to suspend reality for a good story. The medical aspects, including Alice's spontaneous remission, were only superficially explained and Harvey was very eloquent for a teenage boy but his phrasing was so beautiful that I didn't care...I loved him. 
Overall, I loved her writing style and would definitely read more of her books.

Quote from the Book

**Note: I read an uncorrected proof of this book and the following quote may have been altered in the final copy.

"Our lips touched.  It wasn't our first kiss, but in that moment, I knew the meaning of it all.  I knew every word in the dictionary, every color in the rainbow.  For a moment, cancer was cured and the world had halted to a stop in an eerie state of perfection."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dallas 1963

Book 14 of my 2014 Reading Challenge.

Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis

Summary (via Goodreads)

In the months and weeks before the fateful November 22nd, 1963, Dallas was brewing with political passions, a city crammed with larger-than-life characters dead-set against the Kennedy presidency. These included rabid warriors like defrocked military general Edwin A. Walker; the world's richest oil baron, H. L. Hunt; the leader of the largest Baptist congregation in the world, W.A. Criswell; and the media mogul Ted Dealey, who raucously confronted JFK and whose family name adorns the plaza where the president was murdered. On the same stage was a compelling cast of marauding gangsters, swashbuckling politicos, unsung civil rights heroes, and a stylish millionaire anxious to save his doomed city.
Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis ingeniously explore the swirling forces that led many people to warn President Kennedy to avoid Dallas on his fateful trip to Texas. Breathtakingly paced, Dallas 1963 presents a clear, cinematic, and revelatory look at the shocking tragedy that transformed America. Countless authors have attempted to explain the assassination, but no one has ever bothered to explain Dallas-until now.
With spellbinding storytelling, Minutaglio and Davis lead us through intimate glimpses of the Kennedy family and the machinations of the Kennedy White House, to the obsessed men in Dallas who concocted the climate of hatred that led many to blame the city for the president's death. Here at long last is an accurate understanding of what happened in the weeks and months leading to John F. Kennedy's assassination. Dallas 1963 is not only a fresh look at a momentous national tragedy but a sobering reminder of how radical, polarizing ideologies can poison a city-and a nation.

My Opinion

Fascinating.  By focusing on the dynamics of Dallas and including so much backstory (a more accurate title would be "Dallas 1960-1963"), it took an unexpectedly different approach to the events leading to the assassination of President Kennedy.  

It was full of detail but not overpowering and I learned a lot of new things, including:  
 - Lee Harvey Oswald attempted to kill General Walker (he shot through a window and grazed him because the bullet hit a windowpane first) a few months before killing JFK; his wife knew but didn't turn him in.
 - So many people warned the president against visiting Dallas because of the unrest, LBJ had planned the following joke during a speech in Austin, the town they planned to visit after Dallas (but didn't reach, obviously) - "And thank God, Mr. President, that you came out of Dallas alive".
 - Dallas police prepared for the visit by "testing all radios and walkie-talkies, making sure to install fresh batteries in each unit".  This was a sign of the times that made me chuckle.

While comparing the unrest in our country then and now, I realize no one decade holds the monopoly on divisiveness, craziness, or hypocrites (General Walker's private relationships with men occurred as he publicly railed against homosexuality).  I have my theories but drawing more specific parallels is a conversation best had in person.  

This book will only appeal to a certain audience but I highly recommend it if you're in that audience. 

Quote from the Book

"A few weeks earlier, [Kennedy} met in the White House with Jim Bishop, the author of The Day Lincoln Was Shot.  Kennedy said his feelings about assassination were similar to Lincoln's: 'Any man willing to exchange his life for mine can do so'."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Number the Stars

Book 13 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

Book 1 of our Newbery Challenge.  My 10 year old daughter Alison and I have set a hefty goal - to read every Newbery Medal winning book together.  At this time there are 92 winners spanning from 1922 - 2013.  

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
1990 Newbery Medal Winner

Summary (via the book jacket)

It is 1943, and for Annemarie Johansen, life in Copenhagen is a complicated mix of ordinary home and school time, food shortages, and the constant presence of Nazi soldiers.  Bravery seems a vague virtue - one possessed by dragon-slaying knights in the bedtime stories she tells her younger sister, Kristi [sic - she is referred to as Kirsti throughout the book but Kristi on the book jacket].
As the German troops begin their campaign to "relocate" all the Jews in Denmark, the Johansens take in Annemarie's best friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is part of the family.  The girls live like sisters, until it becomes clear something more needs to be done to save Ellen, her family, and the Jews of Denmark.
In this tale of an entire nation's heroism, the story of the Danish Resistance and their plan to smuggle the entire Jewish population of Denmark - nearly seven thousand people - across the sea to Sweden is told with pride and hope through one young girl's eyes.

My Opinion

Reading a WWII book that didn't take place in Germany or the United States gave us something new to talk about.  The afterword by the author where she explained her research was especially fascinating.
Something new I learned:  almost all the Jews in Denmark were able to be smuggled by boat to Sweden.  To fool the German dogs sniffing the boats for stowaways, scientists developed a combination of rabbit's blood and cocaine and each boat captain carried a handkerchief doused in it.  The dogs would be attracted by the blood and smell the handkerchief, the cocaine would temporarily numb their sense of smell, and the Jews would remain undetected.  

Alison's Opinion

I really liked it and it reminded me of another book I read called Yellow Star.  My favorite character in the book was Annemarie and how she came to be brave and courageous.  I agree with Mom about the handkerchief - it was pretty cool.  My favorite part was when the mom was all sarcastic with the soldier about the coffin and Great Aunt Berte and then they had the soldiers fooled and then they left and the coffin was opened and what was really in it was warm clothes for them to wear.  And I liked how her research in the end talked about a real person in the Resistance.  

Quote from the Book

"That's all that brave means - not thinking about the dangers.  Just thinking about what you must do."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Why We Broke Up

Book 12 of my 2014 Reading Challenge.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Summary (via the book jacket)

This is the box, Ed.

Inside is everything.

Two bottle caps,
a movie ticket from Greta in the Wild,
a note from you,
a box of matches,
a protractor,
Joan's book,
the stolen sugar,
a toy truck,
those ugly earrings,
a comb from the motel,
and the rest of it.

This is it, Ed.

The whole story of why we broke up.

My Opinion

Fun fact about Daniel Handler: he also writes under the name Lemony Snicket.  I didn't know that until reading the author blurb and found it interesting.  This is the first book I've read of his under either name.

This book snuck up on me.  I picked it up on a whim and planned to read a chapter before bed; instead I was sucked in and 200 pages had passed before I knew it.
Min is the kind of character I find compelling in a story but would be exhausted by in real life; she looks for deep meaning in everything.  I admired her bravery as she laid out all her thoughts but cringed at the same time as I saw what was happening just a few moments before she did.  
This may not be a life-changing book but its readability makes it perfect if you want to lose yourself or focus on a life that's not your own for a bit.  I was disappointed with the ending though - it felt a little flat and cliched. 
If possible, I would read the actual book.  The illustrations are lovely and the book has some heft that adds to the experience of having an entire relationship in your hands.  I'm not sure how that would translate on an e-reader.

Quote from the Book

"Take [the bottle caps] back, Ed.  Here they are.  Take back the smile and the night, take it all back.  I wish I could."