Quite Possibly My Favorite Book of the Year

martianThis may come as a surprise after the way I raved about the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness, but I think I just read my favorite book of the year. There are still four months left, of course, and I’ve read some really great books this year (like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell), but this latest book is easily the best adult book I’ve read. So what book is it? It’s a New York Times bestseller that actually lived up to its hype: The Martian by Andy Weir.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Here’s what I loved about it:

1. It’s sci-fi, but believable.

There weren’t any aliens, or a time-space continuum, a meteor on an Earth-destroying path, or epic space battles. This was just a straight up mission to Mars where the astronauts were all scheduled to do some experiments, collect rock and soil samples, and return home. Easy-peasy. Or at least, that was the plan…

2. The main character had a great sense of humor.

Mark Watney could have crumbled under the despair of being abandoned on Mars. But he doesn’t. He’s calm and clever and keeps it light. Most people wouldn’t be able to do this, but he’s an astronaut. They train for the unexpected, plus they’re just cooler than the average human, right?

An example of his humor: when Mark tries using a laptop outside of his main hub, the extreme cold of Mars causes the laptop to instantly die. He teases, “Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”‘

3. The suspense kept me racing to find out what would happen next.

This may be sci-fi, but it’s really a survival story. We’ve all heard about the robots and missions where one miscalculation has led to million dollar failures. With one problem after another, will Mark survive on Mars? Will he ever make it back to Earth? How could one astronaut survive the odds?

4. The math and science-heavy parts were oddly satisfying.

I am terrible at math. My brain just doesn’t do well with numbers and complex problem solving. But I admire Watney’s ability to do those things. Math and science really do save his life. His MacGyvering skills would be useless (and a bit unbelievable) if he didn’t have the calculations to back up his plans. Also, I can appreciate the work the author put in to achieve the book’s thoroughness. The author really knew his stuff.

5. The story of how this book became a bestseller is a writer’s dream.

In the back of the e-book version of The Martian, there is a short essay by the author explaining how a nerdy idea became a bestselling novel. Just for fun, the author decided to plan out a manned mission to Mars, complete with software to calculate the crew’s trip. From there, he started thinking about all the things that could go wrong. So he wrote The Martian and posted chapters on his website. His readers asked him to make the book available on Amazon, so he formatted it into an e-book, and set the price at the lowest available: 99 cents. Lo and behold, it became an Amazon bestseller. Publishers wanted the book and so did movie studios. The book was republished and became a New York Times bestseller. In October, the movie version starring Matt Damon will hit theaters. Not too bad for a self-proclaimed nerd, eh?!

Have you read this book? What did you think? Will you see the movie?

Below is the trailer for the film. Caution: if you plan on reading the novel, I would steer clear of the trailer. It reveals a lot of the book’s content.

John Green? No thanks.

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— Warning: may contain teeny, tiny book spoilers about Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines
     It’s official. I am not a John Green fan.
     If you didn’t gasp or let out a disgruntled hmmpf, then you probably aren’t familiar with Green. John Green is a Young Adult author who has legions of adoring fans. His novels include Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines, Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Levithan), and a little novel-turned-movie you might have heard of called The Fault in our Stars. Green is kind of nerdy and adorkable. He video blogs along with his brother Hank and has inspired a community of followers who call themselves Nerdfighters. He has won myriad awards for writing about teenagers in (supposedly) realistic settings. His books have sold millions of copies and two have become movies (Paper Towns is scheduled to premiere this summer). He was also included in Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in the World. In all, he’s an author getting a lot of buzz.
     So how could I, a lover of Young Adult literature, not be a fan of John Green?
I know, I was surprised too! I really wanted to like his books, and gave them an enthusiastic shot, but after reading four of his novels, I can’t quite figure out what the big deal is. I read The Fault in our Stars and thought I liked Green’s work. You can read my comments about the novel here. I wasn’t a crazy, adoring fan who was ready to get the word “okay” tattooed on my body or anything, but I liked the book well enough.
     But then I read three of his other books: Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson. While reading all three books, I was faced with the decision of whether to keep reading or to abandon the novel. I kept reading mainly because everyone else seemed to love his books so much. At first I thought I didn’t like the books because the plots were so similar (road trip, anyone?!), but that wasn’t really it. I mean, I was a huge fan of Nancy Drew books, and they all followed the same, predictable plot formula. Instead, what really caused me to dislike Green’s novels are his characters. They are unlikeable. I wouldn’t be friends with them in real life. I don’t get a literary crush on any of the characters. They are whiny, philosophical, annoying, and sometimes boring.
     In Paper Towns, Quentin, Q, gets obsessed with the disappearance of his neighbor and long-time crush, Margo Roth Spiegelman. Q has these deep thoughts about people and whether we can truly know someone based on what they choose to show us about themselves, and it gets so repetitive and dull that I sometimes found myself skimming through paragraphs of text until I got back to the action. His love interest, Margo, is so completely unlikeable that it’s a disappointment when she returns to the story. She’s just plain selfish. Why this book is becoming a movie is beyond me.
     An Abundance of Katherines follows the story of friends Colin and Hassan as they take a road trip to get over Colin’s latest break up. I found it hard to believe that a socially-awkward boy who spends all his time reading and learning languages would have had nineteen girlfriends. He’s obsessive and self-centered, and I can’t see what all of these girls would have been drawn to. Again, the novel’s burgeoning love interest isn’t all that great either. She is a girl who admittedly changes herself so that she is liked by whatever type of person she is around. She does this to the point where she doesn’t even know who she truly is anymore. She was dating her boyfriend mostly to get back at him; she didn’t even really like him. Despite this, we as readers are supposed to like her. On top of the characters, the novel included sections of math formulas that I skimmed over, as well as footnotes that I just found annoying. In all, I think I really could have stopped reading this book and I don’t think I would have felt bad about it.
     So there you have it. An unpopular opinion for sure, but it just goes to show you that we all have different tastes in novels and authors. I will be removing Looking for Alaska from my Goodreads To-Read shelf and I will not be reading Green’s future novels.
How about you? Are you a Green fan? Tell me why or why not in the comments.

Straight to Video: Not a Surprise

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     I recently* happened upon an article on Vulture.com titled, “Why Did This Movie Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper Go Straight to VOD?” I knew which movie the author was referring to right away, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear of its fate! While the author of the article mentions several reasons why the movie is a flop, he seems to be missing one important reason: the book the movie was based on wasn’t very good to begin with! 
     Let’s venture back in time a bit. Over a year ago, I posted about my reading wish list and how I was attempting to read books from BuzzFeed’s 14 Books to Read Before They Become Movies list. 
  • Gone Girl. Check.
  • If I Stay. Check.
  • The Maze Runner. Check.
  • Divergent. Check.
     You get the idea. A list of hot books that everyone seemed to be reading. So when I saw Serena, a movie that would be starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, I assumed I was in for another good read. I requested the book digitally through my library’s access to Overdrive. When it arrived, I started reading Ron Rash’s PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction-winning book and was…bored. Let me give you a summary of the novel: George and Serena Pemberton are ruthless timber barons. It’s constantly dark and dreary in the Carolina woodlands. A bunch of guys work really hard logging timber. There’s a terrible accident and someone dies. Serena Pemberton is intimidating. There’s more logging, another terrible accident, and someone dies. Serena is more intimidating and a little crazy. There’s some more logging, a terrible accident, and someone dies. Serena is upset and sends her lackey to kill someone, because obviously, there haven’t been enough deaths yet.
     When the book’s loan was up, I hadn’t finished the book- strange for me at the time. I contemplated just forgetting about the book, but again, I thought of the future movie. Jennifer Lawrence. Bradley Cooper. Beautiful period costumes set in the late 1920s. A fierce female character. Danger and intrigue in a logging company. Murder. Maybe I didn’t give the book a fair chance, I thought. Maybe I hadn’t gotten to the good part yet. Maybe if I just kept reading…so, I did. I requested the book again and read the rest of the novel. Sadly, it was still boring. The story continued with a lot of misery and destruction. There was no redeeming quality about the characters or the plot. I would not recommend this book to anyone I know. The author of the movie review had similar ideas about the film, stating, “Serena is not an interesting or particularly enjoyable movie, and I cannot in good conscience recommend that you watch it. But it is a useful object lesson in moviemaking in the 21st century — and an improbable tale of how something can go terribly wrong even when everything seems to be going wonderfully right.” That being said, read or watch Serena at your own risk!
           *The article is dated March 11, 2015. I wrote this blog post a long time ago…

A Wrap-Up of Recent Reads #3

thegood

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon:

I picked up this book at my grandma’s house and was instantly hooked. The main character is a fifteen-year-old boy named Christopher. Although not specifically stated, Christopher seems to be somewhere on the autism scale. He knows all the countries of the world and their capitals, the chapters are labeled by prime numbers, and he has no understanding of human emotions. If he sees five red cars in a row on his way to school, it’s going to be a Super Good Day, but if he sees a bunch of yellow cars—watch out—it’s going to be a bad day. At the beginning of the novel, Christopher finds his neighbor’s dog has been killed. Christopher puts his detective skills to the test and attempts to solve the mystery.

The book is a fast read, and I finished it in just two days. Christopher’s voice really comes through the novel and I found him very relatable. He reminded me of students I had worked with in the past. The book was unlike anything else I had read and I would highly recommend this novel.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson:

When I saw that Laurie Halse Anderson had a new book out, I was interested—but not interested enough to pay for it! So when I saw it on the New Releases shelf at the library, I snatched it up. Laurie Halse Anderson has been a leader in YA fiction with her novels Speak, Twisted, and Wintergirls, so I knew I was in for a good read. What I wasn’t expecting was how fast I was drawn into the novel and how fast I finished it. I had to know what would happen to the narrator and her father. This would be a great novel to use in a high school English class—it’s relevant and would spark some good discussions.

Senior Hayley Kincain is back at a public school after traveling the road with her dad and his semi for the past five years. They were constantly on the move as her father struggled with the memories and nightmares of his time serving in Iraq. Her dad wants to give her a normal life and decides they’ll move back to his hometown, but their life is anything but normal. He can’t hold a job, abuses alcohol and drugs, has a violent temper at times, and refuses to get help for his PTSD. In the meantime, Hayley struggles with memories of her own. She finds out that while her life isn’t perfect, neither is the life of many of her classmates and friends.

thehmm

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore:

This book was popping up on summer reading lists, so when I found out that the price had been reduced on Amazon, I quickly bought it for my kindle. While I wanted to like the novel, it was unsettling and I don’t know how I really feel about it! I feel pretty confident that I wouldn’t recommend it to any of my friends though. One problem I had with the novel was the setting: when does the story take place? Judging from the character’s names (Mabel and Genevra), the fact that they attend a posh, East Coast school, and go to an event where a Degas painting is gifted to the school (and they have dresses made for it), I thought the book was taking place during the 1950s or ‘60s—like Mona Lisa Smile era—but then one of the girls mentions her cell phone and the fact that they won’t have cell or internet service up at their summer cabin. Wait, what?! Cell phone! That totally threw me for a loop. You’ll have to take your chances with this novel.

Mabel Dagmar, a scholarship student at an East Coast college, finally befriends her wealthy roommate Genevra (Ev) Winslow. Mabel is thrilled to be invited to Ev’s summer cottage in Vermont, but she soon finds that this charmed life isn’t quite what she had pictured. There seem to be a lot of secrets surrounding the Winslow family. Why are there heavy locks on the doors? How did the Winslow’s come into so much money during the Great Depressions? Why does Ev’s aunt want Mabel to look into the “blood money” and expose the truth? Are any of the Winslow’s trustworthy? Mabel must choose whether to expose the family or keep their secrets and become one of the Winslow’s.

What books have you read lately?

A Wrap-Up of Recent Reads #2

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thegood

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card:

This sci-fi classic has been on my TBR pile for a long time. I knew that many people were required to read Ender’s Game in school, but I apparently didn’t end up in that class! When the movie version came out in November of 2013, I decided I wanted to read the book before I saw the film. I finally got around to borrowing the book from my local library this summer and was pleasantly surprised by it.

In case you weren’t required to read this book in school either, Ender’s Game is a science fiction novel that follows the life of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin. Ender is an exceptionally smart and articulate six-year-old. He is recruited by the International Fleet (IF), an organization that protects Earth from their enemy: the buggers. Many, many years ago, the buggers (giant insect-like creatures) attacked Earth. Humanity was saved due to the quick thinking of a commander. The IF is now looking for a commander who can save the Earth from a future attack by the buggers. They recruit, train, and test young children in a battle school in the attempts of locating a great commander. Ender Wiggin is their last hope. Ender’s cunning and quick problem solving abilities set him apart from the other students and he quickly rises through the ranks.

This was the first book I ever selected from the science fiction section of the library, and I was skeptical about it at first. I thought the book was going to be slow moving and too “spacey” for my tastes. However, I enjoyed the novel and am eager to read the next book in Ender’s story: Speaker for the Dead. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available the last time I was at my library, but I’ll work on tracking down a copy! Ender’s character was dynamic and unusual. He was a child, but was wise beyond his years. The novel also had other characters who were interesting and diverse. The diversity surprised me, considering the novel was published in 1985 (although, some people may see this diversity as mere stereotypes). I can see why English teachers might want to use this novel in their classrooms. There’s a lot of action, suspense, and plot twists. It’s a book I think boys would actually enjoy because it’s not sappy or romantic. Overall, Ender’s Game was worth the wait for me.

Have you read Ender’s Game? What did you think of it? Should I bother with the film version?

andthecute

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins:

Last year, I listened to an audio book by Stephanie Perkins called Lola and the Boy Next Door. When I first started listening to the book, I thought, “Goodness, this is cheesy!” But as I continued listening to the story, I began to enjoy it more and more. When I saw bloggers praising another book by Stephanie Perkins called Anna and the French Kiss, I decided to check this Young Adult novel out. While this book also had a cheese-factor to it, I have to admit that I really enjoyed it!

The book’s main character is a high school senior named Anna. Anna’s father has decided to send her off to a boarding school in Paris to impress his friends. At first, Anna is not happy about this decision. Luckily, shortly after settling into her new room, Anna makes friends with the girl across the hall. Anna now has friends to eat with and sit with in class, but she doesn’t make an effort to explore the city of Paris. Her friends take it upon themselves to introduce her to the city—especially a super-cute boy with a British accent named Etienne St. Clair. Anna quickly finds herself drawn to St. Clair, but she puts up a wall since he has a girlfriend. Anna and St. Clair’s friendship hovers and sometimes tips over the line into something more, but St. Clair always returns to his girlfriend. Anna learns a lot about friendship and being true to herself.

For me, the cheese-factor was the premise of an American girl being sent to this idealistic boarding school in Paris where she falls in love with a cute boy with an accent. I mean, that’s like every girl’s fantasy, isn’t it?! The book was pretty much a romantic-comedy movie. However, despite the cheesy premise….I loved it! It was just so darn cute. I got sucked into the book and Anna and St. Clair’s evolving relationship. If you’re looking for a cutesy, girly, easy read, this is the book for you!

What books have you read lately?

A Wrap-up of Recent Reads

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thegood

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:

I put a hold on this book on Overdrive way back in August, and I finally got the e-mail saying it was available this week! Needless to say, I downloaded the book right away and started reading it. I’d heard such great things about this book, and I was hoping it was as good as all the hype.

In case you haven’t read the book yet, it stars Hazel Grace, a teenager living with terminal cancer. Hazel is intelligent and witty. She attends community college since she completed her GED already, but she also likes to binge watch America’s Next Top Model. But besides support group and attending her classes, Hazel leads a sheltered life. Her parents are her best friends. One day at support group, she meets a boy named Augustus Waters and everything changes. Augustus had a leg removed to get rid of the cancer in his body. Augustus is full of life and immediately takes to Hazel. Hazel doesn’t want Augustus to become too attached to her because she doesn’t want to hurt him when she passes away. She calls herself a grenade since she is living on borrowed time. Augustus cares for Hazel so much that he uses his Wish (a cancer perk) to take her to Amsterdam to meet an author she idolizes. I don’t want to give away any more of the story than that. What you need to know, however, is that you will both laugh and cry while reading this book.

So did the book live up to its hype? Sort of! I enjoyed the book and gave it a 4/5 on Goodreads, but it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read. I’m not oohing and ahhing over it. I preferred Eleanor & Park and plenty of other books over this one. But does it take on an interesting and complex topic and spin it in a new way? Yes. It was a smart, well-written book with plenty of vocab words I was glad my Kindle Fire could help me out with! Hazel was a well-developed character and I feel like we had some things in common—like watching ANTM marathons and wanting to visit your favorite authors to demand answers from them! Will I go see the movie, coming out this June, starring Shailene Woodley? Perhaps! Not sure if I could manage to drag my husband to this one—I might have to catch it on video instead. Are you a Fault in Our Stars lover? What drew you to the book?

andthebad

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel:

This was another book I had been waiting for on Overdrive. You may remember seeing trailers for the film version which was in theaters this past February. The film, starring the impressive cast of George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, and Hugh Bonneville, had me intrigued because WWII is such a fascinating time period. I decided to skip seeing the movie until I had read the book, but perhaps I didn’t make the right decision there…

The book explains how Adolf Hitler began hoarding Europe’s art treasures. He catalogued the art pieces he wanted—intending to create a new cultural center—as well as the art work he wanted destroyed. A special force of American and British museum directors, curators, and art historians was formed to prevent the further destruction of art pieces, and to search for and reclaim the missing art work. These Monuments Men were not properly equipped, dealt with time-wasting bureaucracy, and sometimes weren’t even armed, yet they passionately strove to preserve thousands of years of culture.

The book, written by Robert M. Edsel, was more historically based than any novel I had ever read. WWII was always one of my favorite units in school and I’ve read several books that take place during the time period, but I had never heard of the Monuments Men. I was interested to find out more about these men and the work they did. Edsel included massive amounts of footnotes, actual photographs, and copies of war-time documents. But one thing the book was sorely missing? Dialogue! I’m assuming the film’s screenwriter took a lot of creative liberties when turning the book into a script. There was no dialogue in the book, and the characters all had their own chapters—rarely were they seen in the same place at the same time. The Monuments Men were really working on their own, mainly relying on the locals to get work done. Without dialogue, the book was dull and slow moving. Here’s my take on what the book sounded like:

George was a tidy man who somehow managed to keep clean, even while living through a war. He looked around at the village in front of him, ripped apart by bullets and looting. He gazed up at the old church. Bullet holes were scattered throughout the pale stone. The wooden front door was miraculously intact, but a large hole exposed the building’s interior. George put up a sign in front of the building to make sure people knew to keep out of the ruins.

Sad to say, the book’s seven day loan expired well before I had completed reading the book. I have no intentions of checking the book out again to finish it, and I’m not so sure I want to see the film anymore either. Has anyone watched the film? What did you think of it?