Saturday, November 22, 2014

Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand

  • Release Date: November 16th, 2010
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Pages: 473
  • Publisher: Random House

Recently at work, I had to work on a project that involved repetitive data entry. There were times where that, mixed with the usual quiet of Friday was killing me and I needed something to listen to. I went into my library's Overdrive and downloaded the first nonfiction audiobook under most popular. The book was  Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand, which tells the story of Louis Zamperini. I'd heard the name Louis Zamperini mentioned on a podcast I like, so I figured it must be good. What I thought would be just something to listen to for a couple hours turned into one of those audiobooks I cleaned my apartment just to finish.

This book chronicles is the life of Louis Zamperini, a celebrated  Olympic athlete, who was drafted into the US Air Force as a bomber during World War II. During a routine flight to Australia,  he plane crashes and he and two of his crewmates are stranded  in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a 7 foot raft for 47 days, only to become POWs in a camp with some of Japan's most notorious war criminals.

No event in the 20th century has inspired American culture and media more than World War II. It’s a
constant source for stories of survival, brotherhood and victory. It’s remembered as time when America threw its weight into a war and won. WWII narratives have spawned novels, memoirs plays, movies, video games and not one but two HBO miniseries. None have ever peaked my interest as much as the story behind Unbroken.

Zamperini ran for USC in the 1930's

One of the interesting experiences I had with this book is that even though I knew Zamperini was still alive when this book came out, I was so nervous he wasn't going to make it through all of the trials. I found myself looking up dates so I would know when he would get out of certain situations. It also doesn't help that there isn't a lot about his crewmates, so I had to go Googling for their fates before I could finish reading.

Needless to say this has to be one of the most brutal reads I've ever read. And it's not all from horrible treatment of the Americans at the POW camps and descriptions of their days lost at sea. When Louis is stationed in Hawaii he witnesses a lot of his fellow Airmen go out on missions and just never come back. The Air Force was making these planes so fast and really had no idea what they were doing and they would crash all the time. And this is the Pacific Ocean, so there are a lot of sharks.

I learned a lot about World War II from Unbroken. I feel like in school we learn a lot about the European side of the war and less about what was going on in the Pacific. I would be interested in reading more. (I started Hiroshima by John Hersey) This is an American  book so it may have its own biases. Hillenbrand not only tells Zamperini's story, but gives the entire context of the war so you begin to understand things like why exactly they dropped the atomic bomb.

 Zamperini and Jolie who is directing the film version
The narrator, Edward Herrmann was great, he kind of sounded like someone on the History Channel which worked for this book. Also, in the POW camp there are prisoners from different countries and he does the accents really well. I think Unbroken works especially well on audio because then you can hear all the Japanese pronunciations.

This book really had everything; reality,  inspiration, romance and even humor which I always appreciate. Some of the shenanigans and pranks Zamperini and his crew members get into when they are stationed in Hawaii are hilarious. Hillenbrand weaves everything to create a fully formed and honest narrative, I can see why this book has  been a New York Times Bestseller for four years !

I think this book might get a little more of a media boost with Angelina Jolie directing the film which is set  coming out this holiday season. I feel like this movie is going to be so good (Oscar ??), so I'm totally going to see it in theaters.  I feel weird saying this about a true story, but this trailer gave me the feels. Watch it !

I see there is a YA version of this book...I'm curious how this differs from the original.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Attending VCU Cabell First Novelist Award Night

While I was on my cruise this summer, I saw quite a few people stretched out on the deck reading The Golem and The Jinni. And All I could think was "oh, pretty cover." So, on in the airport I grabbed The Golem and The Jinni from the Overdrive and was blown away within the first twenty pages. It's the story of the year in the life of two immigrant to America at the turn of the century, one is an ancient Jinni and the other is a woman made of clay abandoned after her creation.

So, when Shannon from River City Reading left a comment telling me Helene Wecker is the 13th winner of the VCU Cabell First Novel Award, I had to attend. It was a packed house with students, professors, residents and even a book club.  The award is presented in  conjunction with The VCU English Department, James Branch Cabell Associates Board and The College of Humanities and Sciences (Alum shout out !)

Wecker was a down to earth and wonderful speaker. She started workshopping The Golem and The Jinni while she was in Columbia's MFA program, so it seemed more than fitting that she was being presented with an award that is chosen in part by MFA students

I'll admit I don't delve into the writing or academic side of writing and publishing very often, but hearing Wecker talk  about the process and craft of writing was a great listen.

If you haven't checked out this debut novel it is a must. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kat Joins #24in48 Readathon

I've been in a general reading/reviewing/blogging lull and a readathon is just what I needed. For the 24in48 readathon all you have to do is read for 24 hours in a 48 hour period. This readathon is being organized by Rachel Manwill a blogger and contributor to one of my favorite bookish websites, Book Riot.

There are still a few hours to sign up here.

I've decided I'm going to read all the books I've started by haven't finished. Here's my stack, now off to buy some snacks....

Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey (on page 57)
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Deseen  (on page 127)
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (on page 112)
Reality Boy by A.S. King (on page 140)
How To Tell Toledo From The Night Sky by Lydia Netzer
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

On Kindle:
Earls Just Want To Have Fun by Shana Galen

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Book Review : Oryx and Crake

  • Release Date: March 30, 2004
  • Pages: 400
  • Genre: Dystopian
  • Publisher: Random House

I generally get most of my Adult literary fiction recommendations from podcasts and one I've heard a lot about is Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. I picked this up at my Indie book store (shout out to Fountain Bookstore) after the bookseller told me how much she loved  Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale which I have but haven't read yet.

Snowman is one of the last survivors of the human race.  He lives on the outskirts of a primitive group of people known as Crakers. But who are these Crakers ? What happened to the world ? Could it all have been avoided ?

Snowman (Formerly know as just Jimmy) grew up during the golden age of science, where those who work for big pharmaceutical and science corporations are an upper class and grow up in sterilized suburban modules.

There they create animals like Pigoons that can grow replacement livers or headless masses of chicken like creatures  ChickenNoobies that become the next big food craze.  In this new age of science and technology Jimmy gets a first hand view of how the end of the world comes about.

For me this book had some uncomfortable moments, there is a focus on child abuse and human trafficking that is told (from the characters POV) in an incompassionate way. The science and structure of the society is was what really kept me reading. I had to know how the world went from high science to squalor.

I plan to continue the series, something about the  world is fascinating and from what I understand the other novels focus on different characters in the same situation, so it would be cool to see how characters in less privileged situations are effected. I also really like the names in this book, the names for the bio/pharmaceutical  companies (HappaCuppa), the animals created (Pigoons, ChickenNoobies) and even the misnomers (titular Oryx and Crake)  in the novel just have a great sound to them.

Like with most of my reads, this is going to be adapted into a series over at HBO. I'm curious to see how they will adapt this and if it will include all three books in the series at once or if each book will be its own season.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Book Review: Everyday by David Levithan

I can view everyone as pieces of a whole, and focus on the whole, not the pieces. I have learned to observe, far better than most people observe. I am not blinded by the past or motivated by the future. I focus on the present because that is where I am destined to live.” 

― David Levithan, Every Day

  • Release Date: August 28th 2012
  • Pages: 233
  • Genre: Paranormal Romance ?
  • Publisher: Knopf (Random House)

This novel is fairly different from  the previous Levithan novels I've read so far. It's very high concept and cerebral. The story follows A, a who wakes up every day in someone else's body. A lives their life for one day before falling asleep and waking up in a new body the next day.  A is essentially a soul without a body, A has sentient thoughts and memories, but  A has no gender or form. Which makes writing this review kind of hard because I can't use pronouns.

When I first heard about this book, I thought it would essentially read like a series of short stories, but there is a continuing plot. When A meets a girl named Rhiannon while in the body of her boyfriend, Justin A falls in love with her. Now, A is will do anything to get back to her and find a way for them to be together

This novel is mesmerizing, I can't imagine the amount of thinking that has to  go into a novel like this. The novel takes place over several weeks, and Levithan crafts new lives for A everyday. And while most of these lives are pretty standard there are a few moments when A is inside of a depressed or drug addicted person and has to deal with that.

While a lot of YA novels tends to focus on how it's okay to be different, this novel examines more of how we are all the alike.  A changes gender, race, ethnicity, income status and religions and finds such universality in all.

The world building in this novel has to be my favorite part. A has a lot of rules about messing with people's lives. To keep track of all of A's lives, A keeps an e-mail account where A writes about what the day was like. A

Now, I was a little bit confounded by the mainplot of this novel because it relies on instalove  A falls in love with  Rhiannon after only spending a few hours with her. On the other hand, instalove is the only way to make A fall in love with her, since chances are he won't see her again.

A's existence is also conviently set up to where A  stays within a 200 mile radius of wherever the last body he was in was. This book takes place in Maryland, which makes it pretty convenient for A to be able to get back to Rhiannon frequently. 

Even with these issues, this was the perfect novel for me because it has elements of magic realism. The combination of a contemporary stories with slices fantasy elements makes the world feel more alive and vibrant.

I know it was announced Levithan is writing another book in this world, Rhinannon, so I'm hoping this is kind of a sequel and not like the novel from her POV because there is such a cliffhanger, I can't even. I just wanted to spend so much time in this world and I can't wait to go back.

References / Connections

  • At one point Rhiannon says nothing bad ever happens in a Starbucks, which sounds like something Naomi from Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List  might say.

  • Second book with character named after a song, the first being Toney in Boy Meets Boy

  • References a lot of YA books; Feed, The Book Thief, Destroy All Cars and First Day on Earth, the latter which are Scholastic Books

Want more ?Check out Kat's other David Levithan reviews

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Subscribe! : Bookish Subscriptions We Love

I'll admit sometimes I find it hard to stay plugged in the blogging/reading world. Everyday I rely on some awesome subscriptions to keep me informed and adding to my TBR Pile !


This was one of the first sites I subscribed to when I started blogging. Bookperk e-mails a list of daily book deals. Some are e-books and others are print book bundles. I grabbed a great deal on a set featuring The Cupcake Diaries by Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne and How To Eat A Cupcake by Meg Donohue. It is a promotional service for HarperCollins so the selection  is skewed.

Oyster Books

Oyster Books is the "Netflix for Books." 9.99$ a month gets you access to thousands of e-books. You can browse, read a little or read a lot with no restrictions. Recently, more publishers have jumped on and Oyster has gained an amazing catalog. They have popular YA titles like Cassandra Clare's Shadowhunter series,  The Unwind series by Neal Shusterman and Kiera Cass' The Selection

Book Riot Podcast
I talked about this in my Podcast post, but Book Riot is my weekly connection of all the bookish things I may have missed that week. I learn about so many non-YA titles. Jeff and Rebecca are such fun host  and are inclusive of all genres and POVs. The fact that they too enjoy Dan Brown (D-Brizzle) is a plus.

DBSA Podcast
(Dear Bitches, Smart Authors)
Books and Sensibility is  learning more and diving into the romance genre. There is no better way to jump in than to listen to the interviews and chats with romance power bloggers, Jane Litte and Sara Wendell. A non-structured anything goes podcast with a lot of suggestions, squeeing and romance reading advice.

Media Bistro is an all inclusive umbrella website for media professionals. One of their sites is GalleyCat which focuses on the publishing industry. I signed up for their e-mail subscription and every other day take a look at what is going on in the industry.

Okay, here is one I haven't tried, but love the idea of. Uppercase Box. For 29$ you'll receive a mystery YA novel with some fun accessories. You'll also be given access to a space to discuss the book online. The service is run by book blogger Lisa at Read Breathe Relax

What are your favorite subscriptions ? Leave them in the comments below ! I've been looking for a YA podcast so let me know !

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Romance Review: Something About You by Julie James

  • Release Date: March  2, 2010
  • Length: 10 hours and 3 Minutes
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Publisher: Berkley Sensation

For the past few weeks I have listened to an embarrassingly large amount of the Dear Bitches Smart Authors podcast hosted by Sarah Wendell of the romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Jane Litte from Dear, Author. At first it was just something bookish to have on in the background, but soon I became fascinated by the expansive and complex world of romance novels, including what's almost a sisterhood between readers and writers across generations.

I decided to dig into my library's romance audiobook selection for something to listen to while I was pulling up weeds. There weren't many options that were first in a series, but I eventually settled on Something About You by Julie James. I didn't know anything about it, but I thought the cover looked fun and figured  FBI Agent / US Attorney would be a fun subgenre.

When Chicago prosecutor Cameron Lynde is the only witness to a fleeing murderer, she is put under police surveillance until the killer is caught. To make matters worse the lead detective on the case is Jack Pallas, infamous for telling the local media she had "her head up her ass" for not prosecuting his undercover bust 3 years ago. Feelings flare as they try and catch the killer--assuming they don't kill each other first.

I've started and put down a lot romance novels, but I really enjoyed this one. It actually made me laugh and it's always fun when a book does that. I felt like Cameron and Jack had great chemistry and there were a lot of fun supporting characters. I'm learning that the uber-Alpha male protector is a popular romance trope and it always feels a little weird to me.  However, James added a vulnerability to Jack Pallas that made him feel more real. He was often out of his element or uncomfortable and Cameron was there for him as much as he was there to protect her.

Although I didn't understand why the entire murder plot was revealed in a relatively early chapter in the killer's POV.  It  kind of took away the tension because the reader knows who the killer is and why they did it while the protagonists are trying to figure it out.

The audiobook narration by Karen White was good, but not a favorite. I liked her inflections and the way she did banter but her voices weren't working for me. Her voice kind of sounded like an old fashioned actress with a mild transatlantic accent and it made the characters sound old.

I enjoyed this book and I've recently heard good things about the newest book, so I can't wait to get to to it. I've already started book 2,  A Lot Like Love. It features a different male FBI agent from the Chicago field office.


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