Review: Althea and Oliver

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Title: Althea and Oliver

Author: Cristina Moracho

Publisher: October 9, 2014

Publication Date: Viking Juvenile

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I found this at my school library while I was taking one of my classes there for independent reading on Wednesday. I had no idea it was so recent but when I found out that it was supposed to be published just this month, I knew I had to review it.

A brief summary from the author’s website:

What if you live for the moment when life goes off the rails—and then one day there’s no one left to help you get it back on track?

Althea Carter and Oliver McKinley have been best friends since they were six; she’s the fist-fighting instigator to his peacemaker, the artist whose vision balances his scientific bent. Now, as their junior year of high school comes to a close, Althea has begun to want something more than just best-friendship. Oliver, for his part, simply wants life to go back to normal, but when he wakes up one morning with no memory of the past three weeks, he can’t deny any longer that something is seriously wrong with him. And then Althea makes the worst bad decision ever, and her relationship with Oliver is shattered. He leaves town for a clinical study in New York, resolving to repair whatever is broken in his brain, while she gets into her battered Camry and drives up the coast after him, determined to make up for what she’s done.

Their journey will take them from the rooftops, keg parties, and all-ages shows of their North Carolina hometown to the pool halls, punk houses, and hospitals of New York City before they once more stand together and face their chances. Set in the DIY, mix tape, and zine culture of the mid-1990s, Cristina Moracho’s whip-smart debut is an achingly real story about identity, illness, and love—and why bad decisions sometimes feel so good.

Oliver begins to suffer from Kline-Levin Syndrome, a real sleep disorder that disrupts his life, his family, and his relationship with his best friend Althea. I don’t want to give too much away, but essentially the heart of the book is how the characters deal with this situation and how they change in the process.

This book is gutsy. It’s raw, it’s painful, and it’s hard to read at times because it’s so real. It’s about friendship and lust and love and everything in between. Moral lines are blurred, decisions seem out of individual control, and the book never goes in the direction you think it will. All of the characters are messy and flawed but I rooted for them throughout the novel anyway.

I don’t have much more to say. Althea and Oliver completely blew me away. The content, the style, the whole reading experience – I recommend this YA book to anyone who wants to dive headfirst into an intense study of life and love.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

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I was nominated for the Liebster Award!

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Thanks so much to Sabina from Library of Cats for nominating me for this award!

The Liebster Award is targeted towards bloggers with less than 200 followers, in order for us to learn about each other and our wonderful community. I think this is a great idea and a wonderful opportunity to interact with the fabulous bookworms in the blogosphere!

Part of being nominated means answering the 11 questions posed by the nominator – so here are my answers!

What or who inspires you to create? My answer depends on what I’m creating. When it comes to writing, generally it’s an idea I’ve had for a long time and a need to put words together on the page. When it comes to painting, my inspiration comes from the nature of colors and the songs they sing. When it comes to book-binding, I’m inspired by my professor from university who taught our book-binding class. And when it comes to writing music, it’s usually boredom.

How do you handle a creative block? I read, listen to music, or find art in the world. If I’m trying to create something of my own and it’s not working, I dive right into others’ creations for a while, and usually that helps me get my spark back.

Do you have a favorite writer or artist? For writing – oh, that’s hard. Either Carlos Ruiz Zafon, J.D. Salinger, T.S. Eliot, or Ernest Hemingway. I’m going to have to say, for art, it’s Julianne Swartz.

If you had a childhood pet, what was the first one? I did! We had a Yorkshire Terrier named Reggie (which was short for “The Reginald’s Crowning Touch” – we didn’t name him). He was the sweetest, though not the brightest bulb in the box.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, what kind of stuffing do you prefer? I don’t really like my food to touch or mix? Which is weird, I know. So I don’t like stuffing.

Do you have a favorite charity and why? I’m going to have to say Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control, because they’re great and they do a lot for the animal community around here.

If you went on a year-long trip around the world and could only bring one luxury item, what would it be and why? It would definitely be my laptop – my thinking is that I wouldn’t have my phone, because my plan would be too expensive, so that way I could upload all of my photos and also blog about the journey.

Are you a collector? If yes, what? If no, why not? I collect books, postcards from places I’ve been and from places my friends have been, and rubber ducks. Also, I collect flowers made out of things that aren’t flowers (feathers, metal, wood, chocolate, etc).

Which season: Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter? The weather in autumn is sublime.

Name one person no longer living you wish you could have spent time with. I’m going to go ahead and say… my first instinct is to say Shakespeare, but I know our meeting wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Gertrude Stein. I would have wanted to spend some time with Gertrude Stein.

Cat or Dog? I want to adopt a cat so terribly.

 

Now that I’ve answered my questions, it’s time to get to the nominating!

Here are the rules!

  • Link & thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Answer the 11 questions your nominator gives you.
  • Tag 11 other bloggers who have 200 or less followers.
  • Ask the 11 bloggers you nominated 11 questions and let them know you nominated them!

 

Here are my 11 nominees: 

1. Tessa from Tessellated Tales

2. Chelsea from Chels & a Book

3. Holly from Bookaholic Confessions

4. Charmaine from Storybook Town

5 & 6. Both Ashley and Veronica from City Girl Scapes

7 & 8. Both Ashley and Katie from After the Last Page

9. Shannon from For the Love of Words

10. Ramblings of an Elfpire

11. Confessions of a Bookaholic

All of these individuals have fabulous blogs and you should definitely check them out.

 

And finally, here are the questions for my nominees to answer:

1. What is the one book that every human should read before they die?

2. If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would you pick and why?

3. What’s the one thing that will automatically turn you off from a book?

4. Who is your fictional doppleganger (what fictional character would be you if you were from a book)?

5. Where is your favorite place to read and why?

6. If you were to write a memoir about some aspect of your life, what would you call it?

Now for the non-book questions!

7. What flavor of ice cream would you be, and why?

8. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

9. What’s your Patronus memory (the happiest memory you can think of)?

10. If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?

11. What superpower would you want to have and why?

 

Thanks again to Sabina for the nomination! And to all of my fellow bloggers – let’s keep bloggin’ away.

Tara

Review: Wildlife

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Title: Wildlife

Author: Fiona Wood

Publisher: Poppy

Publication Date: September 16, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I picked this one up at the library last week. After a closer look, I was disappointed to find out that Wildlife seemed to be the second in a series – but no! It’s actually a companion book, which I generally still like to read in order of publication, but I decided to give this one a try anyway. It can definitely be read as a stand-alone, so don’t let that deter you.

Before I really talk about the book, here’s a quick summary from the author’s website:

In the holidays before the dreaded term at Crowthorne Grammar’s outdoor education camp two things out of the ordinary happened. A picture of me was plastered all over a twenty-metre billboard. And I kissed Ben Capaldi.

Boarding for a term in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sibylla expects the gruesome outdoor education program – but friendship complications, and love that goes wrong? They’re extra-curricula.

Enter Lou from Six Impossible Things – the reluctant new girl for this term in the great outdoors. Fragile behind an implacable mask, she is grieving a death that occurred almost a year ago. Despite herself, Lou becomes intrigued by the unfolding drama between her housemates Sibylla and Holly, and has to decide whether to end her self-imposed detachment and join the fray.

And as Sibylla confronts a tangle of betrayal, she needs to renegotiate everything she thought she knew about surviving in the wild.

A story about first love, friendship and NOT fitting in.

I genuinely enjoyed reading Wildlife. The perspective shifts each chapter from Sibylla – who is stuck in the middle of romance-drama with her sort-of boyfriend and friend-drama with her supposed best friend Holly – to Lou, who I definitely preferred as a character. Lou is a new girl at school whose grief over a recently lost loved one bleeds through the pages. She’s got her own flaws, of course, but I found her distinctly more likable than Sibylla. Her diary-like poetic style of narration was also more interesting than Sibylla’s storytelling techniques.

The character growth and development throughout this book, on the part of each of the characters in turn, is what kept me flipping the pages. There are no static characters – each molds and shifts and chooses new paths, which really reflects life, in a way. The summer-camp-esque setting also brings good-natured fun into the mix and really lightened some of the darker tones the book has at times.

The one thing that I didn’t like was that Sib was so oblivious to Holly’s machinations. Holly is obviously, obviously a scheming manipulator and not a good friend in the slightest, and for Sib to blindly follow her and continue being “besties” through most of the book is pathetic to read about. That element of the story was unrealistic and annoying, especially because Sib seems like an otherwise intellectually capable individual.

Lou’s half of the book was stunning, and Sib’s was okay but slightly annoying. If you want something with emotional impact but also plenty of standard teen fluff, read this. Like I said before, I did genuinely enjoy it. And since Lou is apparently from the companion novel, I’m also going to give that a read – I think it’ll be worth it.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Zac and Mia

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Title: Zac and Mia

Author: A.J. Betts

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: September 2, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I found this one at Barnes and Noble last week. It’s a new release in the US, although it’s been out in Australia since 2013. I started reading it while sipping on my mocha frappuccino at the B&N Starbucks and ended up having to buy the book since I’d made it through all but the last 20 pages before I had to leave. Reading Zac and Mia was an emotionally turbulent experience and I already recommended it to at least four of my students.

A brief summary from the publisher’s website:

Seventeen-year-old Zac Meier is enduring a long, grueling leukemia treatment in Perth, Australia. A loud blast of Lady Gaga alerts him to the presence of Mia, the angry, not-at-all-stoic cancer patient in the room next door.

Once released, the two near-strangers can’t forget each other, even as they desperately try to resume normal lives. The story of their mysterious connection drives this unflinchingly tough, tender novel told in two voices.

The most obvious comparison is to say, “Well, it’s like The Fault in Our Stars! It’s not about cancer, but about two kids with cancer! Who fall in love!” Yeah, it’s a bit different than TFIOS. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that book, but to compare Zac and Mia to it is like comparing Ronald Weasley to Holden Caulfield just because they both have siblings.

I think what Zac and Mia does, really, is take two characters and show how their lives cross, and how that crossing affects both of them in the long run. The book’s structure is fabulously intricate. The first section, “Zac,” is told mostly through Zac’s point of view. The end, “Mia,” is mostly Mia’s. And the middle, “and,” switches between both perspectives and is what really brings the book to life.

There were some aspects of Zac that I loved and parts of his personality that drove me crazy. I immediately disliked Mia but grew to empathize with her once we got some of her perspective. These characters that A.J. Betts creates are comprehensive and 100% believable, which brings a sense of reality to their situation in the book.

What I absolutely adored was that there was no forced romance. You get hints of it throughout, of course, so if you’re someone who only reads romance, you still won’t be disappointed. But the book was mostly about friendship, and support, and how to help someone else when you can hardly help yourself. I was captivated by Mia and Zac’s story, and I’m sure that most readers will feel the same.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara