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Review: Hold Still by Nina LaCour

in a sentence or so: Caitlin's best friend Ingrid dies by suicide, and leaves her journal hidden underneath Caitlin's bed. this is a story of Caitlin's journey through grief, acceptance, hope, and pain.

"hold still" opens with Caitlin's breakdown. the very first thing we read is how she hears about and copes (or lack thereof) with the immediate aftermath of the suicide. Ingrid's death is right before the end of their sophomore year in high school, and so Caitlin has the whole summer to succumb to grief and hurt. as the fall rolls back around, Caitlin has to go back to school knowing she will face it alone. her only hope for solace and some sense of normalcy, her photography teacher, ignores Caitlin and gives her the cold shoulder. it's not until the new girl Dylan shows up that Caitlin has any hope in her heavy and devastating world without her best friend.

to say this book is beautiful and lyrical is an understatement. i cannot believe how well written and what rich and vivid emotions pour through the pages.  Caitlin is slowly stumbling forward after Ingrid's death, but the intermittent reading of Ingrid's journal pages put her life on pause and crush her little seedling of a spirit. Caitlin knew, but didn't really know, what sort of pain and sadness Ingrid was in...and reading about it after her suicide is excruciating. the journal is a glimpse of what was, the uncertainty of Ingrid, the guilt for Caitlin.

the elements of this book are revealed with perfect timing - both with what happened with Ingrid and what is currently happening with Caitlin.  we meet the supporting cast in Caitlin's life one at a time, with due introductions, and with purpose.  there is time spent on dwelling, and moving. time spent on what was, and what is to come.  there is a really delicate balance to maintain, and "hold still" does keep us on the tight rope.

reading this was beautiful, thoughtful, moving, and just plain painful.  there's how her parents are trying to help her cope, how her friend Taylor develops into an unforeseen yet just-what-the-doctor-ordered romance, the new friend, and unraveling Ingrid's secrets.  the book is so focused on relationships with others, but ultimately we are partnered with Caitlin and how she wants and needs to relate to others, grieving for Ingrid, and finding herself on the other side of the chasm.  i want to keep a part of this book with me always, like Caitlin did with Ingrid's journal. it is absolutely no surprise to me that this book was a morris award honor winner.

fave quote: "All through my chest and my stomach is this regret over what I'm doing with Dylan, in my hands and feet is this electricity at the thought of Taylor leaning close to me, and all over my whole body, way, deep inside it, is this hurting over Ingrid.  I could scream at the top of my lungs and the sound I would make wouldn't be half as loud as I'd need it to be." (106)

fix er up: some of the elements felt a bit trite - like what a perfect guy Taylor was, how Dylan just happened to stroll her moody-yet-perfect-friend-self into Caitlin's life right as Ingrid left...but even with those elements, there was so much hurt and pain and raw anger that you just WANTED those things for Caitlin.

title: hold still
author: Nina LaCour
genre: Friendship, Suicide, Lisa's Faves

Review: Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, #1) by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

in a sentence or so: Ethan has been having some pretty freaky death-related dreams. like when he wakes up there are physical remnants of his dreams, kind of dreams. so imagine his surprise when the girl he's trying to save in those dreams moves into his impossibly small town, bringing with her just as much mystery as he's expected...

Ethan Wate belongs. in Gatlin, everybody is somehow connected to the "war of northern aggression", either by direct descendant or at least living in the south long enough to refer to the Civil War as "the war between the states".  Ethan is also set apart. his parents were both writer/historians, which resulted in a little more open mindedness about life than the people of Gatlin were comfortable with. i use the past tense, because Ethan's mom, Lila, died a year ago.  his dad shut himself up in the study and hardly emerges but for a bowl of shredded wheat.  thankfully, Ethan has Amma. a highly spiritual (spirit being the key word) and loving caretaker.  let's just say that it's not an ordinary day unless Ethan finds a little doll stuffed in his dresser drawer or some salt around a windowsill with Amma around.

Ethan has edged out a pretty normal existence in Gatlin. he knows that in a mere two years when he graduates from high school, he will be out of Gatlin for good. he dreams of where he will go based on all the books he reads and keeps them tracked on a map in his room. all he has to do is wait for two years and he's ready to start his life.  until Lena. Lena, the new girl (which is pretty amazing in itself, since there hasn't been a new student in Gatlin since Ethan was in 2nd grade or something), is the one that's haunted Ethan's dreams. she's different, really different. as blonde as the Gatlin girls are, she has raven-dark hair. as prim as the Gatlin girls are, Lena wears all black and a clunky necklace full of junk hanging around her neck. and for some unknown reason, Ethan is absolutely drawn to her.

Lena is not only outwardly and socially different. she's REALLY different. when she's frustrated, windows explode. or it starts to rain. or hurricane wind gusts come out of nowhere.  and despite all that - despite the fact that she's not one of "us", Ethan can't stay away. reluctantly, Lena and Ethan form a unique relationship and she slowly opens herself up to him. not surprisingly, she admits to Ethan that she's a Caster (which, for our purposes, is kind of like a witch or supernatural spell caster).  not only is she causing a stir in Gatlin, Lena has some life changing events looming on the horizon. the kind of events that will not only impact her, but could possibly end the relationship between Ethan and Lena for good.

i'm trying really hard not to be spoilery, so please forgive the vague plot descriptions.  while the plot was pretty established about 100 to 200 pages in, there were bursts of action or furthering of plot development in the last 350 pages or so that could be spoilers if i dwell on them. what i can say is, this book felt a bit sluggish. now don't get me wrong - i adored the characters. i thought that Ethan and Lena were unique and had such individual and easy to relate to voices, but also that the huge supporting cast were fleshed out and developed. i also appreciated the dark-supernatural-fantasy elements that permeated the pages.  however, i also thought that a good 1/4 of the book could have been cut out due to repeating itself.  we read that Gatlin is a small town with strong Confederate ties about 30 times. and everyone, down to the history teacher and english teacher, are fleshed out for the reader.  each chapter progressed the plot a teensy tiny amount, but it certainly felt long to me.

overall, i thought the story was creative with the impending doom factor, some conspiracy theory factors, and general small-town crazy factor bundled with the dark-fantasy factors. the love story between Ethan and Lena was pretty sweet most of the time, and learning about all of the different characters in the story was fun too.  Ethan's voice was funny, insightful, and just plain awesome.  i'm assuming that a sequel is in the future, since there are a LOT of loose ends. like, not just cliffhangers, but blatantly unanswered questions.  ultimately, if this were about 200 pages shorter, i would be a huuuuuuge fan. as it is, i thought it was an okay read.

fave quote: "So that was my secret. All there was to tell.  I was sixteen years old, I was falling in love with a girl who didn't exist, and I was slowly losing my mind." (7)

fix er up: i appreciated the fleshing out of secondary characters, but i felt like that added with the plot repetition and slow reveal was just too much and weighed down the book.

title: Beautiful Creatures
authors: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
genre: Fantasy, Edgy

Review: Wicked Lovely (Wicked Lovely Series, #1) by Melissa Marr

in a sentence or so: Ash can see faeries. which happens to be quite uncomfortable and frightening, but she's  dealing with it. that is until she is singled out, against her will, to become the eternal queen of one of the faerie courts.

Ash, short for Aislinn, has the gift of Sight - which means she can peep all the faeries that live in our world as invisible entities who screw with humans. and these faeries do some downright cruel and creepy stuff.  needless to say, she's not exactly excited about this "gift". but her Grams has it, her mom had it, and now she has it.  she's managed to carve out a semi-normal existence and when she's not attending the local catholic high school, she's spending time with her crush-worthy friend Seth, who happens to live in a renovated train-car which is made of iron and is therefore totally faerie proof. or so she thinks anyway.

a pair of fey begin to follow Ash, and eventually speak to her and let her in on the news that she has been chosen to become the next Summer Queen. there are two faerie courts who are locked in a type of cold war, and Ash could be the one to change it all.  ya know, if she just gives up her mortality and becomes a faerie that she's watched mistreat humans her entire life.

i had heard quite a bit about this book and had pretty high expectations.  overall, i was not disappointed.  particularly, i really liked Ash's character and her female counterpart of the Winter Girl Donia.  Ash was strong, determined, but was also realistically scared, thoughtful, and rational. Ash was rooted and inspiring enough to feel real without being hokey and holier than thou. the author struck a perfect balance in her character.  Donia compliments the shout-out to female empowerment, albeit in a different manner.

the vivid descriptions (choking on icicles, for instance) and the creativity in the fey descriptions and mythology created a world i was genuinely interested in, and i'm not that into the whole faerie scene.  also, the alternating narrators - without being directly stated - flowed and added depth to the story. and the plot was pretty twisty and turny too.

overall, this was definitely a solid stand alone read, although i'm interested to explore other characters and plots of the world Marr has created.

fave quote: "'Right, sounds like an easy job. Wake the earth, rule the unruly, repair the broken stuff, and party.'" (Ash 294)

fix er up: things were wrapped up in such a neat little bow that, while i am curious to the rest of the series, i'm not pounding down the door to get Ink Exchange. i would have liked a bit more ambiguity to entice me further.

title: Wicked Lovely
author: Melissa Marr
genre: Fantasy

Review: Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix

in a sentence or so: living life in the shadows, fearful of a a secret that could ruin the family.  in a world where the government says families can only have two children, Luke is a third child.

living on a farm surrounded by woods has granted Luke more freedom than he would have had elsewhere. as long as he's careful, very careful, he is allowed to be outside on the farm.  the world doesn't know he exists, but at least at home his mom, dad, and brothers Matthew and Mark know who he is. Luke knows he puts a strain on his family. being diligent about keeping him out of site from the neighbors and never letting anything slip is a heavy burden. the burden becomes almost unbearable when the government begins to tear down the woods to put in a new subdivision and Luke must be kept indoors and out of sight at all times.

Luke is desperate for freedom. or even just something to do. while his family is at school or work, he is at home locked up in his attic bedroom. his stir-crazy is reaching desperate levels when one day, as he's peering through the air vent in the attic at the new subdivision for the wealthiest of the wealthy, he sees another face pass by a window of a house where two parents and two kids have already left for the day. he's not alone in being a secret third child.

Luke braves the world outside, putting his own life and that of his family at risk, to try and meet this mystery child. the other hidden child.  whatever Luke may have expected, it certainly wasn't Jen. spunky, snarky, know-it-all, spoiled Jen. she's set on organizing an uprising of the hidden children, and in between telling Luke what's what in the world, she's trying to convince him to join her in her march on the president's lawn.

this is either an alternate reality or a peek into the future of the world we live in.  the government has set a limit on two kiddos due to a food shortage that may or may not be the result of the totalitarian ruler merely exercising control over his people.  since this is the first in a series, there was a lot of background on the government restrictions. let's just say, there are a LOT of things that the government says 'no' to.

this read like a short story for me. the short little chapters kept propelling me along to find out more. we get a good insight into Luke's mind (it's written in third person, but objective and limited so we are very familiar with how Luke sees and feels the world around him and not much else) and how he comprehends, problem solves, and learns. things got real, however, with a dramatic twist and dystopian realism near the end.  the ending was a bit of a cliffhanger, but not enough to have me rushing to get the next in the series asap.

fave quote: "Just my luck, Luke thought. I finally meet another third child, and she's absolutely crazy." (83)

fix er up: Luke was pretty bland. i mean, he was a secret child/momma's boy for his entire life...but i kept wanting more depth or development.  perhaps that comes along later in the series.

title: Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1)
author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
genre: dystopian

harry potter series highlights

before i say anything about anything related to the harry potter series, there will be spoilers. a lot of them. this is essentially a list of my favorite parts of the books, why the series rocks my world, and a chance to ponder some of the finer points of the story of the Boy who Lived. i am taking absolutely no care to prevent vital information from leaking out...so if you haven't read the series yet, do not read on - you have important work to do by going and purchasing and reading the series asap.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (book 1)
things i loved:
- the writing is so clearly and unabashedly for children.
- the humor in descriptions (calling Dudley a pig in a wig made me laugh out loud for too long...)
- the Mirror of Erised. so clever and a great insight into the heart of our characters. and foreshadowing, naturally.
- Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. okay, so we don't know his full name at this juncture, but i do love him so. his introduction to the series, and to our hearts, of picking your favorite tune to sing the Hogwarts School Song or otherwise being silly, yet firm, struck me immediately as someone i would grow to adore.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (book 2)
things i loved:
- the sorrow and challenges at Privet Drive continue. i really appreciate that despite finding a place where he belongs and having friends and people who care about him, Harry still has the nasty family to go home to. it kept him rooted and prevented his head from getting too big as well as providing him with how NOT to act and how to appreciate others who love him even more. plus, it gives more opportunities to visualize Dudley Dursley as a pig-in-a-wig.
- Dobby. oh Dobby. speaking of those who love Harry Potter...mostly i love this as a intro into the world of the house elves in the wizarding world. i must admit, i am still challenged by the idea of the house elves liking being slaves and genuinely not wanting freedom.
- the burrow. FINALLY Harry can live in what a home is supposed to be and feel like. also, theWeasley's are so dang awesome. and the de-gnomeing scene is another laugh out loud moment for me.
- the ridiculous that is Gilderoy Lockhart. oh that pompous ass of a man. how i love him and his over the top Witch Weekly award winning smile.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (book 3)
things i loved:
- Fred and George Weasley. this is not unique to book three, but when they razz Percy for formally greeting Harry and about his whole stint as being Head Boy (or humongous bighead), more laughs ensued.
- Remus Lupin. his clear love for students and treating them more like peers, but not in an inappropriate way or too friendly.
- Sirius Black and Harry having another loving adult in his life. FINALLY. we all knew that Harry couldn't be doomed to have nasty living family members forever, right? seriously, finding out that Sirius was his godfather (and a good guy) was like the most heartwarming moment of the series up to this point.
- Dumbledore. yep, again. he gently guides while encouraging. and he's omnipresent, which is so cool.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (book 4, and my FAVE of the series)
things i loved:
- the opening chapter sets the tone perfectly. the transition from children series to young adult literature is clear, but the story and the characters and the writing stay true.
- Viktor Krum. from Ron's man-crush to his clear dislike for the spotlight (a la Harry), i just liked this heavy browed, crooked nose fella.
- the many layers of plot. this was the first time i felt like Rowling put in TONS of red herrings. seriously, the bad guy could have been just about anyone with the way she wrote it, but it still made sense that it was Barty Crouch Jr. clever. and the backdrop of the tournament was fun to read too.
- the tone is significantly darker. i like that.
- the emotional toll. you're so deeply invested by this point in the series that the writing and characters feel deeper and richer than before.
- how the Diggory's react to the death of Cedric with Harry. they show such maturity and understanding with him and genuinely do not blame him for what happened to their son...they also are one of the few who believe Harry immediately.
- Priori Incantatem. such a cool idea.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (book 5, and my least fave)
things i loved:
- how Dumbledore's relationship with Harry is finally expressed by the man himself. next to discovering Sirius is Harry's godfather, this is the most heartwarming part of the series for me. Dumbledore wholeheartedly cares for Harry and has made some mistakes due to his love. precious really.
- Grimmauld Place number 12. what a creepy, spooky, dark, and awesome to read about place. from the troll leg umbrella stand to the shrieking portrait of Mrs. Black...it was all sorts of dark awesome.
- St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. so THAT's where wizards go when they get hurt. we see Gilderoy Lockhart still alive and kickin, which is pretty funny. and i also love that when trying to figure out ways to put Arthur Weasley back together that an intern tries the muggle remedy of stitches...much to Molly Weasley's horror.
- Neville's backstory. So we all knew that this kid must be important somehow, and we learn more. from discovering his parents alive in St. Mungo's, to his keeping the little gum wrappers from his mom (tear), and learning that the prophecy could have JUST as easily been about him is both clever writing and emotionally taxing.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (book 6)
things i loved:
-Horcruxes. okay, this is one awesomely creepy and scary piece of magic and wizarding lore brought into the story. it just is.
- Harry and Ginny. this felt a little forced to me, considering he never gave her a second glance up until now really...but cute none the less.
- Lavender Brown and Ron Ron. YES. Ron Weasley is probably my 2nd favorite character of the entire series (next to Severus Snape) and his snog-fest with Lavender is hilarious and marks a serious turning point in their maturity and growth.
- the House of Gaunt. the story finally starts to come together through their journey's in the pensieve (which, by the way, is another rockin magical object). we learn about Tom Riddle and his transformation to Voldemort emotionally, his back story, his family history, etc. it was what i had no idea i had been waiting for until we started getting tastes with the first memory...then i just couldn't get enough.
- this quote: "It's going to be all right sir," Harry said over and over again, more worried by Dumbledore's silence than he had been by his weakened voice. "I am not worried, Harry," said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water. "I am with you". (578)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (book 7)
things i loved:
- Dumbledore and Harry at Kings Cross. how beautiful, poignant, thoughtful, and insightful. one of the most creative and memorable scenes of the series.
- Harry, Ron, and Hermione's (as well as many other wizard's) life is chiefly outside of Hogwarts, but it comes back to it in the end.
- Snape's backstory. oh my drama - so many tears with this. while Dumbledore wore his endearing characteristics on the outside and kept his darker characteristics on the inside, Snape was the opposite. when we learn that he and James Potter really didn't look too drastically different in appearance, other than James clearly being adored and cared for as a child, my heart broke. his undying love for Lily Evans and playing the hardest role of all.
- Harry using the resurrection stone on his way to face Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest. so many tears! and this related quote: "'You'll stay with me?' 'Until the very end' said James." (pg. 700)
- in the end, Harry only destroyed one of the seven Horcruxes. turns out, you do need others to help you with the big things in life. even if you don't intend it that way.

i am more than interested to hear your thoughts on the HP series. please share!