Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review: THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by Leila Sales

This Song Will Save Your LifeThis Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a slow hook for me, but once I was on the hook, I couldn't stop reading all the way to the end. It's like that dance club where the first song you here isn't your jam, and you waffle over sticking around to see if it gets any better, or cut your losses and bounce to the next venue. At the beginning, Elise is struggling to accept who she is, since who she is doesn't line up with the "in" or "cool" crowd at school. For me, this was right on the edge of whiny, which is another way of describing every teen girl who goes to high school ever.

I considered putting down the book and DNFing it. I'm glad I didn't. I mean, I'm glad I read more, because I was hooked by what comes next (things get real, very quickly) and I would have missed out on an amazing story, a journey Elise takes to find her true self and to realize that she's okay, even if she's not popular, that there's more to life than social status. So, I'm telling you, KEEP READING. It's worth it. Trust me. There were so many moments of clarity Elise has that are nearly poetry in musical form. You don't want to miss this. KEEP READING.

I also love the way she found herself, through the vehicle of music. Music can be incredibly therapeutic (my day job is therapy for kids), and for Elise, it proves to be her lifeblood. With her music, she finds a niche for herself from a completely unexpected place: the DJ booth at an underground dance club called Start.

She also finds the beginnings of love in Char, the boy who teaches her to DJ, and the fine art of kissing. Even more, she finds friends in unexpected places, like Mel, the club bouncer, and in Vicky and Pippa, who accept Elise from the start and become true friends.

Elise keeps this part of herself a secret for much of the book, until, of course, she can't, and has to face the fall out of it all. She's also plagued by a "Super Secret Diary" blog made by someone who thinks they've got her pegged, but is a cruel form of bullying. In the social status world of high school, this carries a heavy weight and causes a lot of grief for Elise, whose own friends think she's the one who writes the posts as a desperate cry for attention.

This book isn't about the pettiness of social status pecking order. It's not about what others think of you. It's not about the way people pigeonhole your identity after the first five seconds of meeting you, or worse, from a comment someone makes about you ("Lesbo," for example).

This book is about more. It's about finding and discovering who you really are, and embracing that you, without fear, without looking back, and without caring what others think of you. When Elise is able to do this for herself, she's got all the reason to live true to herself every day of her life, and she finds the surprising truth that she's more than socially popular, she's got the thing everyone scrabbling for status doesn't even know they need or want: she has true IDENTITY. She's found herself, and she's desirable for that simple fact of knowing who she really is.

With that knowledge, Elise can rise above the public judgment she's endured the whole horrible school year, and shrugs off her status persona, replacing it with her secret, underground DJ identity.

Of course, when her parents realize she's been lying to them, keeping secrets, and putting herself in dangerous situations, she's grounded, and not even welcome in her mother's and stepdad's house after something happens that hurts her younger sister, who's alarmingly similar to Elise in so many ways.

This book had surprising turns throughout, and an ending that was both magical and fulfilling and powerful, like the lyrics to your favorite song blasting out of the speakers.

Well worth the read, and highly recommended. This book will make you want to dance.

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Book Review: Darla's Story (Ashfall #0.5) by Mike Mullin

Darla's Story (Ashfall, #0.5)
Also see my review of ASHFALL, ASHEN WINTER, and SUNRISE

Darla's Story by Mike Mullin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While shorter than I wished it would have been, this novella from Darla's perspective provided amazing insight into what happened to Darla and her mother Gloria when the Yellowstone Super volcano erupted, during the timeline of ASHFALL, just prior to Alex trekking across country on his skis and stumbling into Darla's barn before passing out from blood loss.

I had hoped it would continue, providing me Darla's POV of Alex when they first met and got to know each other. And, given the contents of the story, it was interesting to see what had caused Darla to be standoffish toward Alex in the first place. Ruth's story makes that abundantly clear.

Now all I have left is SUNRISE to read of this fantastic ASHFALL series. While I'm afraid of the imminent death and destruction, twists and turns that Mike is famous for, and enjoys far to much for his own good, delighting in the torture of his readers, I am a glutton for his kind of punishment. Thanks a lot, Mike.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Book Review: ASHEN WINTER (ASHFALL #2) by Mike Mullin

Ashen Winter (Ashfall, #2)
Also see my review of ASHFALL, Darla's Story, and SUNRISE

Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a rare and wonderful find. I thoroughly enjoyed ASHFALL, and had very high expectations for ASHEN WINTER, which Mike Mullin delivered as easily as Alex traded away his kale seed packets and fiercely loved Darla to the very last page. At nearly 600 pages, this book would appear to be a slow read, with burdened pacing and a snail's pace plot. However, this book turned out to be a breathtaking, fast-paced, agonizing read where every page met with plot twists, cliff hangers, and seriously triggered my asthma more than a few times. I chided Mike Mullins to add a trigger warning for asthmatics, to which he admitted his own struggle.

I have not found a book or series with such well-developed characters, both main and minor, such gripping storytelling, and a second book of a trilogy that delivers everything it promises to and more. I am stunned by the depth of Alex's task, something that would appear at first to be simple to complete, but through the course of the pages, turns into an epic quest that kept me turning pages all the way to the end.

Having read two books with many of these beloved characters, they are now cemented in my mind and very much alive to me as a reader. I loved the strength of both Alex and Darla, and the way Mike Mullin used their story to present what an apocalyptic disaster would do to two young people with the will to survive, seeking to find a durable future together.

With such seemingly effortless detail, Mike uses his exhaustive knowledge and obviously well-researched insights to bring to life how every gun, vehicle, seed, medicine, food, and tool might play into the survival of those trying to find a way to live when the world is covered in ash and snow, ice and devastation. These details paint a vivid backdrop to the otherwise bleak surroundings Alex and Darla trudge through on their journey.

Now I am eager to dive into SUNRISE, the final book of the trilogy, and have determined to add Mike Mullin to my "auto read" shortlist of authors.

Thank you, Tanglewood Press, for finding not just a diamond in Mike Mullin, but a veritable goldmine in this articulate author, who would make Smaug himself take another look in his direction.

What an amazing story of survival, overcoming, and love. Mike, you gutted me near the end, which I won't spoil here, but you did so in a way I had to choke back my tears, and accept the hard truth, and the world left behind in its wake. Your title speaks admirably well to that fact, an ASHEN WINTER both sobering and as gripping as if we were being flensed by your words.

Powerful, powerful read.

I will be ruminating on this one for a long while. Thankfully, I have Darla's Story and SUNRISE to satiate my craving for more. 5/5 stars is a mere nod to this book. 100 stars would be closer. Highly recommended.

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