Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan – Review

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Title: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Author: Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

Published: May 23, 2006

Genre: YA Contemporary

Pages: 183 pages

Acquired: From my shelves – originally a thrift store find

Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Book Depository

SUMMARY (from Goodreads)

It all starts when Nick asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes. He only needs five minutes to avoid his ex-girlfriend, who’s just walked in to his band’s show. With a new guy. And then, with one kiss, Nick and Norah are off on an adventure set against the backdrop of New York City–and smack in the middle of all the joy, anxiety, confusion, and excitement of a first date.
This he said/she said romance told by YA stars Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is a sexy, funny roller coaster of a story about one date over one very long night, with two teenagers, both recovering from broken hearts, who are just trying to figure out who they want to be–and where the next great band is playing.
Told in alternating chapters, teeming with music references, humor, angst, and endearing side characters, this is a love story you’ll wish were your very own. Working together for the first time, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have combined forces to create a book that is sure to grab readers of all ages and never let them go.

REVIEW

Nick and Norah’s unconventional introduction to each other should be an indicator of ridiculousness to come. Told over the span of just one crazy night, Nick and Norah set out on journey to figure out who they are (both separate, and together) as the playlist of their lives is on in the background.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is typical and atypical at the same time. It deals with very typical contemporary themes – exes, jealousy, angst, uncertainty about the future – but not as the main theme. The theme of this book is about music.

I’ve been a music-lover my entire life. I started playing instruments in 4th grade, learning several throughout my teenage years. Marching band was a huge part of my high school years. When I quit playing, I kept listening. Going to shows during college, singing in the car, you name it!

So while I read this book, I understood when Norah heard a song and it brought her back to a certain memory. I got it when Nick felt like part of a community as he played. I related when they went to extreme lengths to see their favorite band.

The characters are very realistic and likable. They’re raw and complex, conflicted and vulnerable, hormonal and passionate. They swear (a lot). They are the types of characters that I would want as my friends.

You know when you watch the movie before the book and you can’t help but picture the movie when you get around to reading the book? And how it usually ruins the book for you because you’ve already got these ideas about how things should look in your head? I’m happy to say that’s not the case with Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. If anything, it just added to the experience. Everything that I was picturing from the movie made me enjoy the book even more. When the book and movie didn’t line up exactly, I found myself picturing “movie Nick & Norah” in the different situations. Whether that is a compliment to the movie makers or the authors, I’m not sure.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is probably one of my favorite contemporaries I’ve ever read. I’ve been thinking about it since I finished it and will probably continue to do so throughout the year. If this is how things are going to go, 2016 is going to be a great reading year!

five-stars-rating

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY (2)

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What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund – Review

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Title: What We See When We Read

Author: Peter Mendelsund

Publisher: Vintage

Published: August 5, 2014

Genre: Non-Fiction, Books about Books, Art, Psychology

Pages: 425

Acquired: Borrowed from the library

Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Book Depository

SUMMARY (from Goodreads)

A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading-how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader. A VINTAGE ORIGINAL.

What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like?

The collection of fragmented images on a page – a graceful ear there, a stray curl, a hat positioned just so – and other clues and signifiers helps us to create an image of a character. But in fact our sense that we know a character intimately has little to do with our ability to concretely picture our beloved – or reviled – literary figures.

In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Knopf’s Associate Art Director Peter Mendelsund combines his profession, as an award-winning designer; his first career, as a classically trained pianist; and his first love, literature – he thinks of himself first, and foremost, as a reader – into what is sure to be one of the most provocative and unusual investigations into how we understand the act of reading.

REVIEW

This book is either

a) incredibly profound and I just didn’t get it

OR

b) not really saying much and borderline worthless.

The author goes through a very long-winded study of how we visualize what we read. Does it depend on our past experiences? Does it depend on how the author builds descriptions? Does it depend on our mental abilities? Spoiler, the answer is yes. Of course it’s yes! How do we visualize a compound pulley if we’ve never seen one? Well, we use our past knowledge of other types of pulleys to fudge the image. Does a detailed description from the author change what we see? Yes, of course. The answers are such common sense that I’m almost baffled that he could draw them out into 425 pages.

I struggled with many aspects of this book, from the petty to the substantial. The book about 1/3 to 1/2 text and the remainder is graphics. Sometimes the graphics relate to what is being said, sometimes they don’t. The font is at least 14 point, which I find really difficult to read for extended periods of time. (I’m a habitual font-size-reducer on my Kindle.) The author references classical works that I’ve never read, so some of what he was saying went over my head. Even if I had read the works that he references, I fear I would come to the same conclusion — he really doesn’t say much.

There are certainly quotable moments —

Are characters complete as soon as they are introduced? Perhaps they are complete, but just out of order; the way a puzzle might be. (p. 49)

And —

Words are effective not because of what they carry in them, but for their latent potential to unlock accumulated experience of the reader. Words “contain” meanings, but, more important, words potentiate meaning… (p. 302)

But these couldn’t make up for my feelings of being underwhelmed and so over it.

It’s like I was at a party, talking to an interesting bunch of strangers about a fascinating topic, when all of a sudden Peter Mendelsund butts in to give his 2 cents and just when I feel that he’s about to get off his soapbox, he just keeps talking.

At the end of the day, I don’t think the question of “what we see when we read” is all that important to me. I don’t care how the images come into my mind (through past experiences or character descriptions) or whether they’re full/accurate or a vague aura. The way that I’ve been reading for my entire life seems to be working pretty well… no need to overthink it.

2

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Asylum – Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals by Christopher Payne – Review

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DETAILS

Title: Asylum – Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

Author: Christopher Payne (with an essay by Oliver Sacks)

Publisher: MIT Press

Published: September 4, 2009

Genre: Non-Fiction, Art, Photography, Mental Health

Pages: 209

Acquired: Borrowed from the library

Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Book Depository

SUMMARY (from Goodreads)

For more than half the nation’s history, vast mental hospitals were a prominent feature of the American landscape. From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth, over 250 institutions for the insane were built throughout the United States; by 1948, they housed more than a half million patients.

The blueprint for these hospitals was set by Pennsylvania hospital superintendent Thomas Story Kirkbride: a central administration building flanked symmetrically by pavilions and surrounded by lavish grounds with pastoral vistas.

Kirkbride and others believed that well-designed buildings and grounds, a peaceful environment, a regimen of fresh air, and places for work, exercise, and cultural activities would heal mental illness. But in the second half of the twentieth century, after the introduction of psychotropic drugs and policy shifts toward community-based care, patient populations declined dramatically, leaving many of these beautiful, massive buildings–and the patients who lived in them–neglected and abandoned.

Architect and photographer Christopher Payne spent six years documenting the decay of state mental hospitals like these, visiting seventy institutions in thirty states. Through his lens we see splendid, palatial exteriors (some designed by such prominent architects as H. H. Richardson and Samuel Sloan) and crumbling interiors–chairs stacked against walls with peeling paint in a grand hallway; brightly colored toothbrushes still hanging on a rack; stacks of suitcases, never packed for the trip home.

Accompanying Payne’s striking and powerful photographs is an essay by Oliver Sacks (who described his own experience working at a state mental hospital in his book Awakenings). Sacks pays tribute to Payne’s photographs and to the lives once lived in these places, “where one could be both mad and safe.”

REVIEW

When adding this to my to-read on Goodreads, I didn’t realize that it is essentially a coffee table book. When I picked it up from the library, I was surprised by its size and heft. But I shrugged and brought it home, interested to see what was inside.

The book begins with an essay by Oliver Sacks, a former employee of 25 years at a state mental hospital in the Bronx. He gives an brief history of state hospitals (formerly called asylums, lunatic asylums, insane asylums, etc.) and some background on how they were designed. In my opinion, the essay wasn’t organized very well and could have flowed a bit better. Ignoring this tiny flaw, it kind of blew my mind!

I had these pre-conceived notions that all people in asylums were there by force of their families or the courts and spent their time sitting miserably in a padded room. This could not be further from the truth! Asylums were very much their namesake – an asylum from the “real” world; a “secure retreat” (Oxford Pocket). Many people experienced pleasant and fulfilling lives in the institutions. In the early 1900s, patients made asylums self-sustaining. Farming crops and raising livestock, maintaining the property, and laundering the clothing and bedding are just a few of the occupations that patients took ownership in. It was good for their minds and provided for the asylums. When they weren’t working, they were enjoying a shave at the barber, knocking down pins at the bowling alley, walking the gardens, etc. Unfortunately, these types of asylums are a thing of the past. Now called state hospitals, patients are not allowed to work, are not afforded the luxuries common so long ago, and are often subjects of neglect or abuse. The essay really shed light on our fall from grace, so to speak.

The rest of the book is a beautiful collection of photos taken by Christopher Payne, a photographer that traveled to and documented some 100 asylums. The photos are stunning. The first few showcase display architecture and attention to detail that can no longer be found in public institutions (and certainly not those for people with mental illness). The next section shows the guts of buildings — crumbling wards, peeling paint, broken windows. I found that the most intriguing photos are those that showed the ghosts of patients past — abandoned suitcases, a mini box of Fruit Loops in a basement bakery, a pile of sneakers outside the gymnasium. According to the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words. This book contains over 100 photos that speak volumes about the rich history of these asylums.

I highly recommend this book to most anyone – art/photography lovers, people interested in mental health, those that like to look to the past to shape the future. If I had a coffee table to speak of, this book would be on it.

41/2

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Three Reviews in Haiku – Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel, Vicious by V.E. Schwab

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Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Relatively quick

Fairly entertaining plot

Somewhat suspenseful

___

Unanswered questions

Confusing, not strategic

Insta-love to boot

___

Metaphors galore

Excess exaggerations 

Prose was not for me

2


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The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel

Ample world-building

But without info-dumping

Authentic concepts

___

Realistic love

With sinister intentions

Left me wanting more

___

Only one complaint

The ending needed more punch

Called it on page 3

4


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Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Bad-ass characters

But still feel realistic

And vulnerable

___

Enough back-story

An interesting premise

Plenty of intrigue

___

Such flawless writing

So ready for the sequel

V.E. Schwab is queen

41/2


Inspired by the #bookbloggerchat that happened on Twitter recently, I decided to do something a little different with these reviews. What do you think? Did you get any sense of the books from these teeny snippets? Let me know!

Also, have you read any of these books? What did you think?

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY (2)

Review – Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

51vpagSvAYL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Illuminae 

Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Published: October 20, 2015

Pages: 608

Genre: YA, Science Fiction, Adventure

Acquired: ARC

Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Book Depository


Summary (from Goodreads): 
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she
swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Review:

When I heard that Amie Kaufman (co-author of the Starbound series) had a new book, I knew I had to get it ASAP. I ended up trading another blogger on Twitter for the ARC and , am I happy that I got to read it!

The presentation of Illuminae is so original. One page is the schematic of the ship, the next is an IM conversation between two characters, the next is an interview of a completely different character, and so on. It will have you turning your book this way and that to devour every little morsel of information. I honestly didn’t even know how to read some of the pages at first! But despite the collection of such different formats, the pieces never feel disjointed or confusing. It is just a seamless, flowing, cohesive story.

The story itself is just as unique as the presentation. It is action and intrigue from page one. You’re really thrown into the story without much introduction to the world or characters, so the first few pages you’re thinking “what the is going on?” but it soon starts to come together. You start to get to know the characters through their actions and dialogue. You get to know the world through the situations presented. I don’t want to write too much about the story because I think going in blind is probably the best way to experience it, but it will keep you turning the pages and ignoring your responsibilities.

There are loads of things that I love about Illuminae, but I’ll name just two of my favorites.

First, the romance. It’s such an understated, slow burning romance. It is quite the opposite of insta-love and very realistic. I find this very hard to find in most YA these days and find it so refreshing.

The second thing that I love is the cussing. I ing love it. Here’s why – teenagers swear! *gasp* A lot. Probably more than I do. It makes the dialogue that much more real and raw. It is appropriate for the situations and tensions in the book. And while there is technically no actual swearing in the book (all swears are censored with █ type), if you have any sort of cussing-vocabulary, you read the blanks effortlessly. It adds to the story and frankly, had it been missing or been replaced with watered down psuedo-swears, I would have noticed and it wouldn’t have felt nearly as authentic. I don’t know for a fact if this choice received any push-back from anyone working on the book, but because swearing is somewhat taboo in the YA community, I have to assume it was at least a little bit. I applaud Amie and Jay for choosing to present the story in the most genuine way even if it doesn’t conform to industry standards.

I ing love this  book. Illuminae isn’t just a book. It’s an experience. It played like a movie in my head more than any other book I’ve read before. It had me on the edge of my seat. It left me wanting more and dreading the wait until the second book comes out. I highly recommend this to anyone that likes science fiction, adventure, romance – basically anyone that can read. 5 █ing stars!

five-stars-rating

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY (2)

Review – Every Last Breath by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Contains Spoilers)

***CAUTION – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS***


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Title: Every Last Breath (The Dark Elements #3)
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Genre: Young Adult – Paranormal Romance
Page Count: 400
My Rating: 1.5
Acquired: Library – Overdrive eBook

SUMMARY 

From Goodreads:

Every choice has consequences—but seventeen-year-old Layla faces tougher choices than most. Light or darkness. Wickedly sexy demon prince Roth, or Zayne, the gorgeous, protective Warden she never thought could be hers. Hardest of all, Layla has to decide which side of herself to trust.

Layla has a new problem, too. A Lilin—the deadliest of demons—has been unleashed, wreaking havoc on those around her…including her best friend. To keep Sam from a fate much, much worse than death, Layla must strike a deal with the enemy while saving her city—and her race—from destruction.

Torn between two worlds and two different boys, Layla has no certainties, least of all survival, especially when an old bargain comes back to haunt them all. But sometimes, when secrets are everywhere and the truth seems unknowable, you have to listen to your heart, pick a side—and then fight like hell…

REVIEW

As you know, this is the third book in Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Dark Elements series. I didn’t really LOVE the first two books in this series, but I found them semi-interesting so I finished them and gave them both 3 stars. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about this last book. The only reason that I continued with this series is because of nerdy, lovable Sam. I had to find out what happened to his soul. Now I wish I hadn’t cared.

The struggle to get through this book was real. The sheer dizziness from excessive eye-rolling was nearly unbearable.

Here are just some of the elements of this book that either did not work for me, drove me effing crazy, or made me want to vomit:

  • The beyond-over-the-top love triangle. It became the sole focus of this story despite the fact that there were much more important things going on.
  • Zayne and Roth treating Layla as property to be claimed.
  • Layla’s descriptions of the guys’ perfectly chiseled bodies.
  • The fact that Roth’s eyes are described as amber colored 14 times throughout the book. I got it after the first 3-ish times, thanks.
  • The majestic loss of Layla’s virginity.
  • Layla’s inability to take a compliment and accept that she is extraordinary. “I’m not beautiful. These feathered wings are hideous. Just because I’m basically an original angel that has fallen from heaven doesn’t mean that I’m special.”
  • The cliche “only she can save the world” trope.
  • The fact that the cliche “only she can save the world” trope ends with the even more cliche “martyr” trope.
  • Bad math. She says, “…half demon, half Warden, half something else entirely…” – wait what? Where did you go to school? Oh wait, you stopped going to school. Nevermind.
  • Pop culture references that will date this book quickly.
  • Those IDIOTIC phrases that no one says… ever. There were WAY too many to list, but here are just a few…

Crap on a cracker

Holy canola oil in my face

Sweet Moses in molasses

Yeppers peppers

Side note: I was just reading information on Goodreads about this book and found out that the readers chose who Layla ended up with. Are you kidding? You’re really going to let your readers decide what happens to your characters? I don’t agree with this idea at all.

This book was not for me. I feel annoyed and stressed out and in need of a stiff drink. I don’t know if I would recommend this to anyone. I doubt I’ll pick up anything else by Jennifer L. Armentrout. I’m just glad there aren’t any more books in this series.

Review – Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

DETAILS
Title: Why We Broke Up
Author: Daniel Handler (art by Maira Kalman)
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Young Adult – Contemporary
Page Count: 354
My Rating: 2 stars
Acquired: 2nd and Charles, $6.00 store credit
Status: Unhauled

SUMMARY

From Goodreads:
I’m telling you why we broke up, Ed. I’m writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened.

Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.

REVIEW
Story:
We’ve all been there right? Brokenhearted, sick of seeing little things that remind us of him/her, desperately seeking closure. In that sense, the story was very believable. I thought the delivery of the story as a letter to Ed was a cute idea as well. There were a few pieces of the story that had me shaking my head and how idiotic they were, but for the most part I enjoyed it.

Characters:
I got a decent sense of who everyone was. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the characters except Al. He seemed like the only normal, genuine person. Min seemed childish and Ed was a major d-bag.

Final Thoughts:
My biggest problem with this book is the way Daniel Handler writes. I think it might just be his style and I might not be a fan. The way that he structures sentences is incredibly difficult to read, requiring me to repeatedly read the same sentence after muttering a frustrated, “wait, what?” He’s also a huge fan of run-on sentences, though marathon-sentences may be a more accurate phrase. There was one instance of a half-page long sentence inside a 3-page-long paragraph. It was exhausting. Daniel Handler also used references to old movies as a means to describe certain situations or feelings. Not only did I find this pretentious, but I also found it hard to believe that the average YA reader would get any of the references. Why use such obscure and dated references? It added nothing to the story for me and I found myself glossing over them. Overall, Mr. Handler’s writing style killed this book for me. I will not be picking up another of his works.

Feel free to check out my succinct Goodreads review for a bonus spoilery rant.

Review – Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

DETAILS
Title: Keeping the Moon
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Speak
Genre: Young Adult – Contemporary
Page Count: 228
My Rating: 2 stars
Acquired: Goodwill – $0.50
Status: Unhauled, 2nd and Charles, $1.00

SUMMARY

From Goodreads:
Colie expects the worst when she’s sent to spend the summer with her eccentric aunt Mira while her mother, queen of the television infomercial, tours Europe. Always an outcast — first for being fat and then for being “easy” — Colie has no friends at home and doesn’t expect to find any in Colby, North Carolina. But then she lands a job at the Last Chance Cafe and meets fellow waitresses Morgan and Isabel, best friends with a loving yet volatile relationship. Wacky yet wise, Morgan and Isabel help Colie see herself in a new way and realize the potential that has been there all along.

REVIEW
Story:
Although a bit unoriginal, I did enjoy the story. The vast majority of the events that occurred during the book could very well happen to the average teenager on summer break – going away, a job, new friends, etc. The girl friendships that developed throughout the story were a positive portrayal of how friendships should be – happy and messy and so important. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book.

Characters:
I enjoyed the characters and their development throughout the book. I do think that they all went through a significant amount of growth and self discovery which really added to the story. My favorite characters were Mira and Norman. It is obvious that they know who they are and could care less about what anyone thinks about them. Colie should take a page from their books (pun intended)!

Final Thoughts:
Overall, it was a quick, easy read. However, I did have some problems with the way that Sarah Dessen addressed some of Colie’s insecurities, which was a major deal breaker for me. (See my Goodreads review for details – contains spoilers!) It was my first of Sarah Dessen’s works that I’ve picked up. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll pick up another.

Update 8/30/2015: I picked up another Sarah Dessen book (That Summer) about a month ago and it will be my last.