Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wide Awake and Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Between 2013-2014 I attempt to read a large selection of David Levithan novels. See the full list here

I'm reviewing these books together because they are both pretty short and deal with the theme of young people who become part of something bigger than themselves.

Wide Awake by David Levithan (2006)

"The question became: What are you willing to do for something you believe in ?"
- David Levithan, Wide Awake

Up to this point in my Days of David Levithan  reading, I have found Wide Awake to be Levithan's most "high concept" novel. He imagines a near future where America has just elected Abraham Stein; the first gay Jewish president.

When the news  is announced 16-year-old Duncan is beaming, because even though he couldn't vote he and his friends worked 2 years for this moment. Everything begins to unravel when a governor in Kansas challenges the electoral vote. Now Duncan along with millions of Stein's supporters journey to Kansas and take a stand for what they believe in.

If you thought the dreamy world of Boy Meets Boy was improbable, this one is even more so. In this novel,  Levithan has gone as far as to fabricate an entire alternate history. This turned into a lot of  info dump at the beginning which was a little overwhelming and I had to read multiple times to understand completely.

With any Levithan novel,  there is going to be a romantic plot and Wide Awake has them in various forms. You have our protagonist, Duncan, who feels like he is drifting from his boyfriend Jimmy who doesn't think Duncan is committed enough to the cause.  There is also a substantial subplot with a lesbian couple on the campaign, which I thought was interesting because that is the kind of thing you rarely see in YA literature.

The odd thing is this book reads eerily reads like the 2008 election of Barack Obama as the first Black president. Even though this book was published two years before the election Levithan seems to have predicted the kinds of feeling and emotions of having a minority in the White House.  In the book Duncan muses that:

"Once you knew there were enough people out there to vote for a Jew for president, you couldn't help  but feel like anything was possible."

This line reminded me about how people talked about the feeling of being on the precipice of change when Obama was elected. Not to mention how like the characters in this book, during the Obama campaign droves of  young people came out in support.

This novel isn't perfect; Duncan felt like a blank slate as a protagonist, there  is a fair share of strawmen  for the opposing side and all of the infodumping took me out the story. Still, Wide Awake is a dynamic novel that has a lot of interesting ideas. It teaches an important and powerful lesson about learning to fight what you believe in. - ★ + .5

Love is The Higher Law by David Levithan (2009)

"....As U2 tears through the anthems--there's something in that word, anthem--we rise up to meet the music. We're not just a crowd. We're not just a gathering. We're a congregation."
- David Levithan, Love is The Higher Love

This novel follows three young adults living New York City on September 11, 2001 and how the tragedy touched and intermingled their lives. I'm not sure if there are many YA books out there about 9/11, but this one was a first for me.

Claire is a high school student and probably has the most common experience. She is in school when the teachers start to get nervous and announce to the class a twin tower has fallen. College sophomore Jasper sleeps through it in his parent's Park Slope house and then there is Peter, who watches the tower fall while standing outside of Tower Records.

The stories told in this one are more so wandering than any of Levithan's other novels,  there is no finite plot or motivation. But I think this style works really well in this story. You could  read just one person's story if you wanted to. What really stuck with me were the moments they experienced that I think only people who were living in New York City at the time can witness to.

There is a scene where lazy college student Jasper goes outside in Brooklyn and sees office paperwork that blew from the World Trade Center and says how seeing pieces of paper brought "a naked clarity" to him. Clare also has a really great scene where she walks by a memorial in Union Square Park and helps a woman relight all the candles that have blown out because of rain and she says:

"...even though the light we make doesn't change what's happened. We are making our own temporary constellation, and it doesn't spell a single thing."

Peter relates a lot of the world through music and uses that as a way for him to heal and not feel powerless. At one point,  he and Clare go to a U2 concert, and U2's song "One" also features the lyric that the book title is from.

What this book explores really well is how people coped with an event they could not make sense of. What I find interesting is how the characters don't directly know anyone in the buildings or anyone who died, but they are still feeling it and trying to figure out how grieve in their own way. I think he got that feeling of that day and the proceeding days down perfectly. - 


- Both novels prominently feature characters of color, Jimmy and Keisha in Wide Awake are mixed race and black, respectively.  Jasper  in Love is the Higher Law is Korean. 

- I found the character of Duncan in Wide Awake to be a lot like Nick in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, both seem to be blank slates. 

- Gus in Wide Awake is a little bit like Tiny Cooper in Will Grayson, Will Grayson in that they are both flamboyant serial daters who get new boyfriends every few pages.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hostage Three by Nick Lake

  • U.S Release Date: November 12, 2013
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Pages: 384
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury
At Book Expo America last summer,  Hostage Three was all the buzz at the Bloomsbury booth, so when I saw it on NetGalley I decided to give it a try. 

 I had a feeling I was in for something unique and compelling since  author, Nick Lake, received the Printz Award just last year for his novel about the earthquake in Haiti, In Darkness.

American teenager Amy Fields has been rebelliously living in London with her extremely wealthy but workaholic father and new stepmother. When Amy pushes things too much her Dad decides the only way to get the family back on track is to hire a crew and take a three month vacation on board a private yacht. Amy spends the first weeks decidedly ignoring them until the trip take a turn. Amy, her family and the crew are held hostage by Somali pirates.She is stripped of her name and called Hostage Three.

The pirate element of this novel was the biggest draw for me. When it comes to bowlderization, pirates have probably gotten some of  the worse treatment. Lake does a great job presenting his Somali pirates as people who are fully formed and complex. Yes, they are criminals who hold Americans hostage for millions of dollars, but they are also from a war torn, violent and  impoverished country where they don't see another way to make money. It would be easy to villanize them, but Lake doesn't. The pirates and hostages spend much of their time together, and we see that the pirates are very organized and almost professional in what they do. In fact, the pirates don't even use the term pirates, they call themselves the Coast Guard.

It is revealed in the first few pages of the book that while being held hostage Amy starts to get feelings for the Farouz, the young Somali pirate who is also an English translator. It is through Farouz that Amy learns about the nature of piracy and about the struggles and culture Somalian people. 

One of the things I started to ask myself was why exactly Amy was the main character to begin with. I think the story would have been much more interesting if it had been from Farouz' point of view. He's a Somolian teenager who thinks he's only chance at getting something better in the world it to be a pirate. He is in many of the scenes Amy is in and has is own backstory, so there could have been enough for the whole book. It just  felt like the typical privileged-rebelling-against-her-father-American- teenage-girl-who-hates-her-new-young-stepmother-and-falls-in-love-with-the-wrong-boy POV felt like something I've read before. Not that Amy doesn't have any depth, but I think this could have been a great chance to have a more diverse POV.

Speaking of POV, I really liked Lake's use of a first person POV where the narrator seems to have some knowledge of the reader and that they are telling a story from the past. Like, Amy will refer to a "you" to try something or make a reference to how things are now. This structure also lends to some narrative tricks later on in the story, that really came out of nowhere for me.

The most jarring aspect of this novel has to be the format. There are no quotation marks and speech is just offset by a dashed line. Lake does this in his first novel, so I guess this is part of his style. Reading this on a Kindle made it really hard to follow some of the conversations, but once you get into it you stop noticing.

While he does seem to fly under the mainstream YA radar, I think Nick Lake is bringing more unique and challenging stories to the YA genre. Hostage Three dives into a dangerous world bringing in good and bad surprises at every corner to keep the reader guessing.

The Tom Hanks' film Captain Phillips also deals with Somali pirates taking a ship hostage  . It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. I'm curious to  see this film and read the memoir it is based on to see how Lake's version compares. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

14 Things You'll See On Books and Sensibility in 2014

It's 2014 and to ring in the new year, we've been counting by 14's ! Join us as we remember last year, and get ready for 2014.

1. Monthly Vlogs / Booktube
We experimented with vlogs before, but never with any consistency. This year we will try doing at least one or two a month. Maybe a stacking the shelves, book review or tag.

2. 25 Under 25 Part 3 ...maybe ?
For the past two years we've done a feature where we list 25 Authors Published Under 25  and hopefully this happens again. We've already started a list and hopefully we can find enough for part 3 !

3. Kat Reads Manga (and Graphic Novels)
This was one of the first features we had on the blog, but fizzled out after only two posts. I'd like to start working on reading and reviewing more manga and graphic novels.

4. Infographics
While it was frustrating at times, I liked creating an infographic of our 2013 year in review. I want to do more of these as I am reading through out the year.

5. Days of David Levithan
I started this project last summer and I plan to continue  into into 2014 as I try and read all of Levithan's novels.

6. More Thematic Reviews
This year, we grouped a few reviews together because the books had similar themes. I'd like to do more of this, maybe comparing an adult and YA book with similar themes.

7. A Bookshelf Tour
Jess and I live in the same apartment and six months ago we re-did our bookshelves.This year we are going to work on getting  a post together to show off how we store our books.

8.  Diverse Reading
This is my big project for 2014. I want to read at least 50% of YA and fiction written by or primarily about POC. There have been  a lot of articles in 2013 about low stats for novels by or featuring  POC. This is something I want to explore this year. - Jess

9. More Adult fiction
While we primarily read YA, this year you'll see a mix of romance, urban fantasy and literary fiction. It may not all have YA crossover but it is my way of changing up my reading experience. - Jess

10. TOR Reading Month
So in connection to the above resolution I'll be working on a full month were I will be reading and reviewing only TOR novels.

11. More collected works reading
Between 2012's Summer of Sarah Desen and 2013's Days of David Levithan I think there is something  great about reading an entire author's works. Elizabeth Scott, Scott Westerfield or Matt De La Pena are in the running for 2014.

12. Movie Adaptation Reviews
I'm always a little late to the game when it comes to adaptations but with Divergent, TFIOS and Vampire Academy all coming out in 2014 I hope to write reviews on how the film was adapted.

13. The Sense List Monthly ?
The Sense List started out as a weekly list of YA News but I found the monthly installments to be more popular. So this year I'm going to try and produce 12 Sense List. - Jess

14. Printz Charming
I've been pretty interested in the work that goes into the Printz Award, one of the few literary awards for YA. This year, I'd like for us to read and review the 2013 shortlist and winner to see what we can discover.

Friday, January 10, 2014

14 Books We Can't Wait To Read in 2014

1. The Young Elites by Marie Lu

One series that never disappointed  was Marie Lu's Legend.  It was such a well written story, even my older brother read and enjoyed it. I can not wait to see what Lu has in store with her new series The Young Elites. - Jess

2. Panic by Lauren Oliver (March 2014)

The Delirium series has some of the best YA dystopian writing I've ever read, so I can't wait to read more from Lauren. The concept for this  novel revolves around a game called Panic and it feels so mysterious ! - Kat

3. Landline by Rainbow Rowell (July 2014)

The buzz and success of Rowell's YA novels Eleanor and Park  and Fangirl were hard to ignore. I loved what she did with Eleanor and Park, so I'm all sorts of ready for her new adult novel. - Kat

4. The Winner's Curse (March 2014)

The book blogger hype for this book has been crazy since BEA. I can't wait to read and review this one ! - Jess

5. Dear, Killer by Katherine Ewell (April 2014)

This book about a teenage girl who is also a serial killer looks completely unique and a spin on the serial killer novels out there. Plus, this book is one from our 2013 25 Under 25 - Kat

6. The Raven Boys #3 by Maggie Steifvater

It doesn't even have a title, but as long as we get more Ronan, Blue, Adam and Gasnsey, I can't wait for it  - Jess!

7. Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson (May 2014)

This book speaks to the contemporary fan in me ! I loved Amy and Roger and I still need to read Second Chance Summer, but I'm still excited for Matson's third book. - Kat

8. To All The Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han (April 2014)

                         The beginning of the prologue was recently posted  on Tumblr and I'm already intrigued - Kat!

9. Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern (June 2014)

This book tells the relationship between a boy with OCD and a girl with cerebral palsy. It seems to be emulating some of the relationship tropes of John Green and Rainbow Rowell, but I'm interested to see if it can stand on its own. - Kat

10. Dreams of Gods and Monsters (April 2014)

How will it end !? - Jess

11. The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (April 2014)

 I heard about this book on the Bookrageous Podcast. It's an adult novel about a near future where the printed word is nearly extinct and everyone uses intuitive handheld devices called Memes to function   - Kat

12. Noggin by John Corey Whaley (April 2014)

I've said it in my Waiting on Wednesday and I'll say it again, I like the idea of this high concept novel where a boy wakes up with his head on somone else's body. It reminds me of Unwind by Nearl Shusterman.

13. The Art of Secrets by James Klise (April 2014)
Coming from  the new Algonquin For Young Reader imprint, this YA sounds like The Goldfinch meets The Night Film meets YA lit ! - Kat

14. Cress by Marissa Meyer (February 2014)

I can't believe we're at book three already. I will be buying this on audio the day it comes out - Jess

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

14 Books and Sensibility Bookish Resolutions

It's 2014 and to ring in the new year we'll be counting by 14's ! Join us as we set some goals, get some perspective and prepare for book blogging  in 2014. Here are our 14 Bookish Resolutions for 2014 !

1. Go Indie once a month
Once a month I'd like to take the time to visit an independent bookstore and discover new books via booksellers.  I want to see what booksellers are buzzing about and maybe discover some new authors.

2. Read small
I started a Goodreads Shelf for books under 300 pages and I'd like to put this list to use and read at least one (or two) of these books a month.

3. Attend an author event for an author I know nothing about
This one is pretty self explanatory, I'll be checking Southern Book Blogger's daily !

4. Read an Autobiography
I'm always surprised to see what celebrity or pop culture icon has written a book about their life. I certainly want to add one or two to my TBR pile. Suggestions ?

5. Start another blog
So, not really a bookish resolution, but I've tried and failed at making different lifestyle/food/local blogs and this year I want to get back in the game using skills I've picked up from book blogging.

6. Clean the shelves
I need to donate, sell and/or giveaway all the books hidden in dark corners and ottomans in my apartment. Look for giveaways !

7. Have fun with blogging
I know this may seem cliche and something people say a lot, but this year I want to make blogging more about having fun, not about getting arcs or meeting stats.

8. Read A Book in One Sitting
I  find myself reading books across weeks if not months, and I feel like I always lose something when I do this. I'd like to take a short book and over a Sunday afternoon just read the entire thing from start to finish.

9. Read A Big Book
This year I'd like to dive into a really hefty book that is 700 pages or longer. I'm looking at you Goldfinch !

10. More Re-Reading
Since I started blogging, I've only managed to re-read one book a year. I want to go back and re-read some of my favorites, re-read a book in a series before the next one comes out or re-read a book I gave a lower rating.

11. Try Out a Translation
Last year I started an Italian book and found it fascinating, but never finished it. I'd like to get more into translations this year to learn about other cultures without having that lens of being written by someone outside of the culture.

12. Comment More 
Ever since we said goodbye to Google Reader I haven't been reading or commenting on many blogs. I'd like to do better at keeping up with my favorite blog/bloggers this year.

13. Join a Read-Along/ Book Club
I usually like to read at my own pace, but this year I'm going to make some attempts at more social reading. I think I will start with the Tumblr Reblog book club or a read-a-long.

14. Read Short Stories
While this may not end up on the blog, I'd like to read more short stories whether they are YA or Literary.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Books and Sensibility 2013 By The Numbers

Last year, I started keeping an Excel spreadsheet of our reviews after seeing a post about it from Lauren at Lose Time Reading during Bloggiesta .  At the end of 2013, I pulled some of our stats and put them into an infographic to see how we've been reading and what trends we may have fallen into.

I  found a few of these stats surprising. Of the big six (er five ?) publishers I thought  we read a lot of  was Hachette/Little Brown, but apparently we leaned more towards Simon and Schuster. Our diversity numbers were  higher than I would have predicted, but I'd like to work on bringing them up even more. 

Did you keep any 2013 stats ? What were yours like ? I'm so curious about these things !

Here are some helpful links for keeping your own reading stats:

Jess Joins Bout of Books 9

Bout of Books
 The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 6th and runs through Sunday, January 12th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 9.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

Like Kat, I'm joining to kick off my 2014 reading and for some future features on the blog. I'll be doing a mix of YA and Adult fiction !

Time Devoted to Reading

I will be reading as much as possible at least one hour a day. 

My Goals

  • Read, meet some new bloggers and participate in challenges.

Books to Read

  • Boy21 by Matthew Quick (YA)
  • Commencement by J Courtney Sullivan (Adult)
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Adult, E-book) - I want to read atleast 30%)
  • Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard (YA, E-book)


Number of books I've read today: 1
Total number of pages I've read: 70

Boy21 By Matthew Quick

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Kat's Bout of Books 9.0 Goals

I'm so excited to start 2014 off with a Bout of Books Read-A-Thon. My selections this time around were based on some blog features we plan to do in the future and books I've had sitting around forever.


I will reading at the very least 30 minutes a day. I want to do 100 pages or more each day.

My Goals

Finish at least two of these books

Books to Read


Number of books I've read today:
Total number of books I've read:

Best of luck to everyone doing Bout of Books, I'll be following the hashtag on Twitter and cheering everyone on.


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