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Review: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

in a sentence or so: Tessa has a list of things she wants to do while she's alive. things like drugs, sex,
breaking the law, becoming famous, seeing her parents get back together and falling in love. the problem is, she's dying. fast.

Tessa is a fifteen year old who was diagnosed with leukemia when she was eleven. all of the treatments and blood transfusions have stopped working, and Tessa has accepted the inevitable. she's going to die. probably within the year. her dad is devoted to her and is doing his part to make her happy and as healthy as possible. her younger brother Cal (who is quite a magician) chats casually with her about her death and illness as if it were the weather.  Tessa's mom floats in and out of all of their lives, the free spirit that she is.

after a night out with her best friend Zoey, Tessa throws one of many to come tantrums and decides to destroy all of her things. lucky for her, neighbor boy Adam is burning a pile of leaves. her destruction of personal possessions opens the door to the new, even if doomed, relationship with (literally) the boy next door.

at first, i was hesitant to enjoy this read. Tessa was really difficult to like. she was bratty, bitchy, petty, unkind, and frustrating. yes - i know she has leukemia and is dying and so her difficult voice was intentionally intense, but still. it was hard for me. and the supporting characters felt flimsy for a good chunk of the read. but somewhere before the middle, the plot found it's rhythm.

Tessa's progression through her 'before i die' list was more of a backdrop than a driving literary device.  we slowly learn more about Tessa and her friends/fam/new romance in a very patient fashion.  bits and pieces, never a whole slice.  and i liked that.

the writing was tender, emotive, and vivid. Tessas internal reflections were insightful without being overly dramatic.  while i never grew to love her voice, i did grow to love Tessa's story. this book poses some big questions, big ideas, and big thoughts on life, death, love, friendship, family, and what it means to be fully present in the moment.

fave quote: "I bury these things in my heart - the fel of him under my fingers, the taste of him on my mouth.  I'll need them, like talismans, to survive an impossible journey." (347 | 442 Nook version)

fix er up: difficult to get in to, but like i mentioned above, the book really hits it's stride about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way in. it's worth the wait.

title: Before I Die
author: Jenny Downham
genre: Death, Family, Realistic

Review: This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

in a sentence or so: Remy has strict rules when it comes to relationships. her trusty timeline tells her when
to speed up, when to slow down, and when to call it off. and then comes along gangly, loose-ends Dexter who threatens to unravel her break-up scientific equation.

Remy is used to being the adult in her household. her mother, who is currently working on marriage number five, has the artist free-spirit as a romance novelist.  and i don't mean marriage number five in a slutty way, but as in the first four didn't work out so she moved on kind of way.

Remy is also the moderator for her 3 best friends. without her to run interference and keep emotions and intentions in check, they would pretty much dissolve into non-stop arguments.

so while Remy is waiting to chat with husband #5, Don, about the wedding plans the summer before she leaves for college across the country, along comes Dexter. not Remy's type at all - he's a musician, he's gangly, and a bit awkward.  but, as time would show, totally funny and a constant optimist.  seemingly unable to avoid Dexter (who does come on a bit strong, but not creepy strong - more persistent strong), Remy gives in and starts up her tried and true relationship timeline. just as you might expect, the timeline isn't quite fitting with Dexter. or maybe Dexter isn't quite fitting the strict timeline that has kept Remy's life in balance...which is really crappy timing, considering she is leaving for Stanford in a matter of weeks.

This Lullaby reads like a collection of musings on relationships and love.  all of the characters have different points of view, and we get to have a peek at them through their conversations and the turn of events in the plot.  the read felt very romantic comedy in that way - in that Remy and Dexter were supported by a broad (yet developed) cast of friends and family who were always willing to share their insights into love.

i can understand why there are some Sarah Dessen hard core fans out there.  the lady knows how to weave words in a powerful and poetic way.  i also enjoyed Remy's evolution from snooty superiority complex to a confused-yet-determined character.  there were certainly some 'gasp' moments, some you knew were coming, yet the struggle of Remy to figure out if her views on love were right, wrong, totally misguided, or otherwise was what propelled this story forward.

fave quote: "'But they did end, all of them.' I said. 'They failed.' 'Maybe some people would say so.' She folded her hands in her lap and thought for a second. 'But I think, personally, that it would be worse to have been alone all that time. Sure, maybe I would have protected my heart from some things, but would that have been better? To hold myself apart because I was too scared that something might not be forever?'" (Remy and her mom - 265)

fix er up: this was longer than i would think necessary, and felt a little lost in the middle of the plot.  it comes back around and closes up nicely though. not too quaint, but nice.

title: This Lullaby
author: Sarah Dessen
genre: Romance, Chick Lit, Friendship

Review: The Society of S by Susan Hubbard

in a sentence or so: Ariella is living a life most unusual - she is home schooled, motherless, and has a drop-
dead gorgeous father who may or may not be a vampire.

Ari (short for Ariella) is chronicling her childhood through this book. but yet this isn't quite a journal, but is more-so a faithful narrative to her growing up and exploring the mysteries in her life.  mysteries such as, where is her mother? why is she home schooled? these questions become all the more pressing when Ari starts to become friends with her housekeeper's daughter, Kathleen.  after Ari visits Kathleen and her brothers and sisters, she discovers what the rest of the world is like. that not everyone is well read in Poe, Hawthorne, and classic literature and woefully ignorant on how to ride a bike, shop for yourself, and have a teenage conversation.

Ari's friendship with Kathleen helps to bring her into her own socially, physically, and emotionally.  through their relationship, Ari is able to hone in on some of the more pressing issues of her life and start to take charge of her queries - no longer taking her father's reluctance to answer as a valid response.  through several heartbreaking circumstances, Ari decides that she is off to find her mother - ready or not.

Ari heads out on a journey of discovery. discovery of where her mother is, discovery of who she really is, and discovery of what the world is like beyond her sheltered existence.  Ari is clearly not normal, but how abnormal she is, and those she cares about are, change her life.

i felt like this started off strong with the mystery of Ari's mother, the mystery of her dad maybe/maybe not being a vampire, and the whole 'coming into the world' part of the book. after Ari hits the road to find her mom, that's where things dropped off for me.  the answers to the questions didn't feel all that insightful or meaningful in the grand plot development, which seemed at odds with the repeated philosophical waxing and poetry quotes from Ari.

i did like the occasional interaction with the reader, but even that felt a bit jarring at times. like we needed to be reminded that this was Ari's writing and personal chronicling of events.  there is a bit of wiggle room in the ending and there is a sequel to Ari's tale. to be honest, i don't think i'm that interested. i liked her story enough to read it through, but the lack of explanation (and depth) for the reasoning behind decisions left me in the middle of the road.

fave quote: "She looked at me for a second and said, 'Oh, never mind. I guess it's true what Mom said? That you've lead a sheltered life?' I said I thought the description fairly apt'". (25 | 237 Nook Version)

fix er up:  i appreciated the mystery, but wasn't impressed with depth or reasoning behind the answers to the mystery as the novel went on.

title: The Society of S
author: Susan Hubbard
genre: Vampire, Coming of Age