March 28, 2013

The Longer, the Better: On My Love of Lengthy Novels

Have you ever been quite happily reading away at a book only to find that the ending has come far too soon? I know that happens to me. All the time. Far from complaining that a book is too long, I'm much more likely to turn over the final page with a wistful longing for more.

I've been feeling a little restless about my reading choices of late. I realize that I've been reading mostly shorter books recently (almost all under 350 pages), and I think they're contributing to my restlessness. I like becoming completely immersed in a novel, and it's much more difficult to become so in a novel that you can read in a few hours, a few sittings. Every once in a while, I need something that'll keep me present in its fictional world and caring about its fictional characters for a longer amount of time than a few sittings. A book that'll really allow me to understand the intricacies of the world and its characters. Ideally a book that's over 500 pages.

I suppose I should clarify here that my thoughts are directly related to speculative fiction novels, primarily fantasy. I do not expect general fiction novels to be lengthy, and I don't necessarily believe that they should be. Authors have more time for character development in lengthier books, of course, but for general fiction novels they do not need to worry about introducing their readers to as many new, created concepts and worlds.

I am also aware that many speculative fiction authors do write series, but that's not quite what I mean here. Series do not always necessitate longer individual books, and many are still in the process of being written. I want to start a book knowing that I can be immersed with characters in their fantastical worlds for a longer span of time, that there is a longer and more intricate story arc.

Here are a few lengthier speculative fiction books (and series) that I've enjoyed reading:
 photo bitterblue_zps6b32bb46.jpg  photo coldmagic_zps29586b87.jpg  photo eon_zpsc1fff681.jpg  photo gravemercy_zpsa4f05e83.jpg  photo agameofthrones_zps8528563e.jpg
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore Cold Magic by Kate Elliot Eon by Alison Goodman Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

While I am not intending to criticize short works at all, I do think that shorter books (around 350 pages or less) are definitely the norm. This makes sense for authors who need to make a living off of the sale of their books, thus their desire to move on to writing another book. It also makes sense that not all readers want to get fully immersed in super lengthy novels. As a book blogger, I can understand the appeal of being able to get through quite a few shorter novels in the time it would take to complete a longer novel. And of course length does not necessarily determine the level of intricacy and overall success of the novel. None of these reasons lessen the appeal of lengthy novels for me, however.

I hope to fix my restless feelings by reading a few meatier books in the upcoming months.

And here are a few lengthier speculative fiction books (and series) that I intend to start reading in the near future:

 photo thediviners_zpsb09d6afb.jpg  photo jonathanstrangeampmrnorrell_zpsb5eecec6.jpg  photo froioftheexiles_zpsb57134f9.jpg  photo daysofbloodandstarlight_zps5dff678b.jpg  photo thenameofthewind_zps218f8c81.jpg
The Diviners by Libba Bray Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Have you read any of these? Do you have additional suggestions for lengthier books I should read (I mean over 500 pages at least)?

And please let me know if I'm not the only one out there who gets excited at the prospect of reading a lengthier book and being able to devote more time and thought on it.

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March 26, 2013

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by the bloggers of The Broke and the Bookish. This week we are listing the top ten books that each of us tends to recommend the most.

Graceling by Kristen Cashore — Katsa is one of my favorite fantasy protagonists EVER. All of Cashore's characters are the epitome of the strong female through their actions and their beliefs, although Katsa's story will always be the one that I recommend the most.
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins — I was so far removed from the YA book world when I was in college that I didn't even learn about The Hunger Games until right before Mockingjay was released. I made up for that quickly enough by getting a boxed set of all three and proceeding to share with family and friends. 
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman  Seraphina is a fairly recent love of mine, but of all the books I read last year it's definitely my favorite. I've already recommended it to friends and my boyfriend (he'll be reading it soon I hope). It's a perfect book for those who don't believe that fantasy can be relevant or address "real world" issues within a fantasy world context.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine — As I've no doubt already mentioned many times on the blog, Ella Enchanted is by far my favorite "Cinderella" retelling and fairy-tale retelling of all time. I was introduced to it as a preteen and I still periodically go back to reread my favorite parts. It's just that good and I want the whole world to know that!
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling  I seriously have no idea what my childhood would have been like if I hadn't grown up with Harry Potter. I'm sure most people within my generation totally understand what I mean. Not everyone may be able to have that experience, but that still doesn't mean I won't try to get them to have their own life-changing experiences with this series.
Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith — I recommend this series more for younger YA readers, although I still fondly remember and reread certain scenes now, over ten years after being introduced to Smith's wonderful duology. This book made the rounds with my friends and there's just something so satisfying in reading about Mel's struggles and misadventures to do what she believes is right.
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner The Thief and I also have a very long history. I'd just as easily recommend sequels The Queen of Attolia or The King of Attolia, but there's something magical about being introduced to Eugenides in this first book and having NO IDEA what sort of journey you're in for with him as your guide.

So...not quite ten. But that's okay. I'm picky with what I recommend to other people, at least those books that I recommend in person. One thing I noticed when making this list is how many of these books I've been familiar with for many years now. I prefer to sit back and really let books resonate within me before I consider them favorites or worthy of recommendation.

Anyway, please let me know if any of these books makes your list and be sure to tell me what books you tend to recommend the most!
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March 24, 2013

Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Published: 2012, Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Adult Fiction
Source: Borrowed from a friend
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I can pinpoint that as the single happiest moment of my life, because I realized then that Mom would always have my back. It made me feel giant. I raced back down the concrete ramp, faster than I ever had before, so fast I should have fallen, but I didn't fall, because Mom was in the world. 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is most definitely a book that I would not have independently sought out. Not because it's adult fiction, but because of the subject matter. It's about an eccentric housewife who seems to get caught in a downward spiral, and her relationships with her family and others. As it turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, this was not the right book for me. But I am glad that I had the opportunity to read something so outside my range of familiarity, and for the chance to have an awesome discussion with my coworkers about the book.

Although Bernadette Fox has lived in Seattle for over a decade with her husband Elgie and daughter Balakrisha (Bee), she's never been able to fully adjust to their life in the suburbs. She was once a young female architect with many accolades already to her name, but she hasn't really constructed anything new since her family's move to Seattle, nor has she made any efforts to become involved in the work and school lives of her husband and daughter. Over the years, Bernadette has become more and more reclusive. When Bee's first term grades merit her any reward she wants, she asks that her family spends their Christmas vacation on a cruise to Antarctica. Her parents agree -- anything for their beloved only child -- but Bernadette has had social and psychological problems for years, and they only seem to be getting worse as the family prepares for the trip. And then, right before embarking on the trip, Bernadette simply disappears.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a difficult book to define. For the first three-quarters of the book, Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a dark and witty satire of "normal" life and a woman who just doesn't seem to fit in with everyone else. Bernadette is almost a parody of a character, and her main antagonists from Bee's school certainly seem to be complete parodies. By the last section of the book, however, the story becomes much more serious in nature, focusing on family and Bee's personal growth. As I explained above, the two parts of the story certainly connect, but they are not as seamlessly connected as they could have been. 

The most unique aspect of Where'd You Go, Bernadette is definitely Semple's use of narrative structure. At its surface, the story is told through two distinct time periods. The first part, which covers roughly three-quarters of the book, is a series of emails, essays, faxes, reports, and other types of communication. These different forms of communication combine to tell the story of Bernadette's agreement to her family's trip and then eventual disappearance, with older reports and other documents to help explain the person that Bernadette once was, in comparison to the person she's since become. This part actually contains a frame narrative of Bee, while at school, compiling together all these documents to try to make sense of what happened to her mother. The last quarter of the book takes place from Bee's perspective in present day, as she and her father actively search for Bernadette. Semple clearly plays around with lots of narrative techniques in this novel, although I found some to be more successful than others, as I found some of the characters more dimensional and engaging than others.

With such a large cast of characters taking turns as narrators through the various narrative forms throughout the novel, at times it is difficult for readers to tell what is most important in this book. Indeed, in retrospect not all of the narrators seemed necessary to convey this story. But everything ultimately comes back to Bee and her relationship with Bernadette. Bee is the only child of Bernadette and Elgie, who have begun to grow apart since they lived in Los Angeles, where he was a hotshot computer programmer and she was an architect with so much promise. The majority of Bernadette and Elgie's interactions are due to Bee. She may not be enough to make their marriage as it once was, but Bee knows that she's her mother's sole supporter in the world. Although Bernadette has some issues, she's Bee's closest friend, and Bee is hers. Through Bee and Bernadette, readers are privy to an unconventional yet heartwarming story of a mother and daughter's relationship.

Perhaps the biggest flaw with Where'd You Go, Bernadette is that so many aspects tie up so neatly. There are odds and ends that aren't quite resolved, of course, but the main storyline ties up perhaps a little too neatly. But then again, the satire that is so prevalent for the majority of the book is not due to Bee; it's from the letters and notes that Bee compiles. Even in her narration from the first three-quarters of the novel, Bee's parts are always more serious, more heartfelt. Once Bee has put together all the information she needs to go and find her mother, the additional narrators are no longer necessary. The story becomes what it always was under the surface: about a young girl in search of her mother. Still, it is definitely an abrupt and off-putting transition.

The setting itself plays a huge role in the story, which is refreshing to see, especially in a story that takes place in modern times. Bernadette's sink into depression seems to be easily linked to her and Elgie's move from Los Angeles to Seattle, a city with more rain than sun. Antarctica is no longer quite an unexplored frontier, but it's unconventional and distant enough that it seems to be exactly the setting that Bee, Bernadette, and Elgie need to fix their lives and their relationship as a family. 

The novel struggles with transitions, as well as some character development. Some of the messages it conveys suffer from being incredibly overt, while others are almost entirely inferred. Still, Where'd You Go, Bernadette proved to be a fast and entertaining story, one that I do not regret reading.
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March 23, 2013

Review: Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty

Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
Published: 2003, Three Rivers Press
Series: Jessica Darling, #2
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Sloppy Firsts (my review)
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We are perfect in our imperfection.

Within two books, the Jessica Darling series has shown me just how relaxing and comforting it can be to read contemporary fiction about the everyday trials and tribulations of modern-day life. While it'll never be my favorite genre, I want to find more books like this to have a place in my heart.

Senior year contains two main preoccupations for Jessica Darling: getting into Columbia and losing her virginity. Over the summer while Jessica participates in SPECIAL (a program for gifted rising high school seniors), her creative writing professor puts the idea of attending Columbia University in her head. And then while attending a SPECIAL poetry reading in New York City, Jessica meets her old crush Paul Parlipiano, who is currently attending Columbia. Columbia doesn't match her top four colleges list, but Jessica finds herself no longer caring about that list, nor her parents' fears of her attending any college within a major city. Rivaling her obsession with attending Columbia is Jessica's new found obsession with her own sexual inexperience. For the majority of her senior year, Jessica's willing to let most other fall to the wayside as she fixates on those two things. Except, of course, her friendship with Hope and what continues to be going on between Marcus Flutie and her. 

For most people, senior year of high school is an odd one. It's a bit like the calm before the storm, with everyone constantly aware of big changes on the horizon, from graduation to leaving home to attend college to eventual adulthood. As Jessica quite accurately points out, for people like Manda, Sara, and Scotty, high school represents their golden years. Never again will they be as young, as popular, as important. But for people like Jessica, Hope, and maybe even Bridget and Marcus, college offers a chance to do something better and important with their lives. I was of the latter mentality myself, and it definitely helped me sympathize with many of the choices Jessica makes. She doesn't like doing this? Fine, she won't do it anymore. Jessica's liberation from things she doesn't like is exhilarating, but at times rather flippant. Readers and Jessica herself understand that Jessica no longer wants to do things simply because they're expected of her, but that then leads to the question: what does she want to do simply for her own sake? Much of Second Helpings is devoted to the search for that answer. 

I really enjoyed seeing Jessica's Pineville relationships become much further defined. For a large percentage of Sloppy Firsts, Jessica is in such a disconsolate state that she cannot really work on developing her relationships with those still left around her. Although Hope remains a vital part of Jessica's life, in Second Helpings we as readers witness Jessica gaining a little more confidence and self-assurance, and coming to the realization that perhaps there can be other people who can relate to her outside of Hope. Bridget, Pepe, and Marcus are not quite the support network that Jessica would have ever imagined, but all prove themselves to be loyal and worthy of mutual respect and friendship.

And, for the first time, Jessica's relationship with Hope is no longer portrayed as completely one-sided. It made sense in Sloppy Firsts, where Jessica's major story arc was coming to terms to life in Pineville without her best friend, for Hope to have no role outside of the recipient of Jessica's letters. But in Second Helpings Jessica is starting to come to terms with what she wants and needs in her own life, and readers are satisfyingly shown slight ways in which Hope supports Jessica. 

Any review of Second Helpings would be remiss without mentioning a certain Marcus Flutie and his evolving relationship with Jessica. I was not quite sure what to think about him or the friendship he formed with Jessica over the course of Sloppy Firsts. Although through Jessica readers are told that Marcus is working to become reformed, it was difficult for me to see (especially when, at the end of Sloppy Firsts, he reveals that he had initially struck up a friendship in order to try to sleep with her). After months spent distancing herself from him, both Jessica and the readers are able to better see Marcus' transformation. And by the end of the novel I found myself very much of the opinion that Marcus and Jessica just seem right for each other. Their temperaments, experiences, and needs balance one another quite well.

This would not be another Jessica Darling book without some traditional Jessica Darling-style humor and a slew of poor decisions, most of which are centered around the two obsessions mentioned above. Up through at least half the book (or even more), Jessica allows her perceptions of others and their thoughts to strongly affect her thoughts on where to attend college and when/how/where/with whom to have sex. It is difficult to remain frustrated at Jessica for too long, however, especially when considering that she is at that vulnerable teenage age where others' thoughts and opinions really do seem to matter. For all of her intelligence and sense of bravado, Jessica continues to be very much aware of and affected by what other expect of her. Still, her story arc is satisfying as she does begin to exhibit more confidence and her sense of self grows a bit stronger over the course of the novel.  

While reading Second Helpings I found myself alternately amused, exasperated, contemplative, and just appreciative of Jessica's struggles and how difficult senior year of high school really can be. Some of the things Jessica chooses to fixate on may be petty, but McCafferty ultimately paints a refreshing portrait of modern life.  From Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, it's become pretty clear that Jessica Darling has quite outgrown Pineville, New Jersey and its inhabitants. She needs bigger challenges and a bigger purpose with her life. I'm eager to see how she reacts to college life in Charmed Thirds, which I plan on picking up soon.
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March 21, 2013

Review & Giveaway: Fraction of Stone by Kelley Lynn

Fraction of Stone blog tour is hosted by Xpresso Book Tours
See the full schedule here

Fraction of Stone by Kelley Lynn
Published: March 21, 2013, Sapphire Star Publishing
Series: Fraction, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: eArc for blog tour
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It seemed like such a simple answer. The world is dying. He could save it. The heroes in all the stories he'd ever heard always saved the world. Always. Why should this be any different? Because in the stories the heroes saved a world worth saving. 


There is only one among the Tarmack nation with the ability to wield magic, eighteen-year-old Rydan Gale. He lives like a prince, cherished for his talent to bend the fabric of the universe to his will. In the war against the Liasam, he is their ultimate weapon.

The Liasam have a source of magic as well, but Akara’s mastery of her power is rudimentary at best. With a brilliant display of fire-rain Rydan’s side wins the war, giving the Tarmack sole control over dwindling resources due to the natural disasters ripping apart the earth.

When Akara is sentenced to death, Rydan questions the motive, and discovers the leaders of the newly unified nation fear magic above all else. With  war a memory, his skills no longer needed, Rydan suspects he is next. Throwing away every comfort, he pulls Akara from the flames of her execution and their lives as fugitives begin.

Both have a tattoo on the back of their neck, the mark of an extinguished tribe. They discover the natural disasters plaguing the world are due to the tribe’s demise and only Rydan and Akara can save the crumbling world.

But the greatest obstacle for saving mankind isn’t the bizarre creatures and determined men hunting them.

It’s that Akara doesn’t believe the world is worth saving.


What makes Fraction of Stone such a fascinating book is Lynn's narrative decision to choose two completely different characters as narrators, effectively pitting them and their beliefs against one another. As the synopsis reveals, Akara, one of the protagonists, can be viewed as an anti-hero. She has suffered in so many ways throughout her life and simply wishes for respite through death, fully aware that her refusal to save herself and aid Rydan most likely means the end of the world itself. Rydan, the other narrator, is much more of a traditional hero who champions his beliefs that the world needs saving and is willing to shoulder the responsibility that comes with being one of the last people left who has magic. The dynamic between Akara and Rydan is wrought with tension and ultimately the best part of this novel.

Although ambitious in her attempts to create a story with two very different protagonists, I found myself having varied opinions of execution of Lynn's characters. First of all, Akara's character is wonderfully constructed. All of her life she's been lead to believe that she's too stupid to control her magic, and that her magic is a curse. Aside from one or two failed attempts to train her when she was a child, no one has since treated her as anything other than a dangerous and deadly weapon, only to be used as a last resort in the war against Tarmack. When readers first meet Akara, she is so physically and mentally exhausted that she cannot even recall her own name. Akara's journey throughout the book is a painful one, as even the wildly optimistic and happy-go-lucky Rydan begins to realize just how damaged Akara really is by the years of neglect and abuse in the hands of the Liasam nation. Her gradual development towards an acceptance of self and better understanding of others is painfully slow at times, but that makes it all the more realistic. While I am not saying I like my characters to be damaged necessarily, I think Akara's damages are well drawn out and really do emphasize the great questions at stake: How do we determine whether others are worth saving? When should we be selfish about our own needs, and when should we care about the needs of others?

Against Akara I'm afraid that our other narrator, Rydan, is not nearly as impressive. The intricacies that make up Akara's character fall flat against Rydan, as does his sense of voice. Respected for his magic and the role only he can play in Tarmack's war against Liasam, Rydan has led a life of privilege. That's fine and understandable, but it certainly made him a rather bland character. After saving Akara from eminent death, Rydan does begin to question his life and the future plans that Tarmack has for him, now that the war is over. His characterization and development throughout the novel felt very formulaic to me, however. Ultimately I just wasn't quite convinced of the authenticity of his character.

I really liked how Lynn focuses on climate change, an issue that's in the forefront of our modern, present-day minds, and made it relevant in the world of Casden. The war between Liasam and Tarmack is primarily due to a struggle for diminishing resources in a world that is literally crumbling around everyone. Over the course of Rydan and Akara's journey, readers are shown a world ruled by the chaos of nature, where one moment the sky will be clear, and the next a massive tornado or hurricane will appear. The novel's explanation for the increase in mass destruction? The elimination of the Namaqua people, the people who once possessed magic. For in Casden, magic is what knits the very fibers of the world together. Akara and Rydan (well, more Rydan) realize that as the last two possessors of magic, they are the only people who can prevent the self-destruction of the world and must travel across the land to bring together the broken pieces of the magic-possessing Gia Stone. 

In some instances Fraction of Stone does read like a debut. The dialogue itself is very stilted and forced. Much of it is used for unnecessary explanations, instead of simply allowing the readers to infer bigger concepts and meanings. Even in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world, I could not buy that the characters would really talk the way that they do. A good portion of the plot also relies heavily on coincidental meetings, especially with the "determined men hunting them." I could not quite buy all those chance meetings, nor did I truly understand why Tarmack was so dead-set on Akara's execution. I understand that through the death of one sacrifice Tarmack would try to peacefully acquire Liasam. But since there are only two magic-bearers left in the world, wouldn't it make more sense to allow Akara to live? This issue is raised in the book, although I wish it had been give a little more precedence.

Despite a few misgivings I had with Fraction of Stone, I did enjoy the fresh perspective that Lynn offers on sacrifice, personhood, and identity. Akara's characterization was a delight to read, even if Rydan's was not as much, and I ultimately found myself very curious to see how (and if) the two of them would be able to save a world that wants to deny and eradicate their existence. I felt like the ending, while a bit open, could have still effectively concludes Rydan and Akara's story arcs, so I am interested to see where Lynn takes their story next.

As part of the blog tour, you can enter for a chance to win one of five ebook copies of Fraction of Stone.
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Kelley's Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter
During Kelley Lynn’s last year at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, while pursuing her degree in Chemical Engineering, the voices in her head got the best of her. Surprisingly, they didn’t want to talk about process flow diagrams and heat capacity. They preferred the fantastical. So instead of turning to her Thermodynamics book, Kelley brought up a blank page on her computer screen and wrote. 

Come graduation, not only did Kelley have a diploma and, thankfully, a wonderful job, but she had a new obsession as well. Amidst the order and exactness that came with the nine to five, Kelley found a way to create; to determine the rules of a world and take her characters to the limits of what was possible. Perhaps she has a slight control complex. 

The first in the series, Fraction of Stone, was born on an airplane and took ten days to write. It probes the question, should the world be saved if there’s no one in it worth saving? 

When briefly managing to quiet the voices, Kelley participates in softball, soccer and volleyball. (You probably don’t want her on your volleyball team. Unless you want to laugh.) She lives with her sister and her dog who can attest to the chair that has Kelley’s butt print permanently pressed into it. Depending on the weekend, you might be able to hear Kelley sing for an area classic rock band. 

Kelley Lynn is a member of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book as part of a blog tour hosted by Xpresso Blog Tours but that in no way influenced by review. The quote is from an advanced copy of the novel and is subject to change in the finished copy.

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March 20, 2013

Waiting on Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights any upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.
 Publication date: June 4, 2013

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can't outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling's game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her--or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm. (Goodreads)

I loved last year's Shadow and Bone. I loved the pseudo-Russian influence (because, you know, it was never claiming to be the real Russia or anything...). I loved Alina. And Alina and Mal. And Alina's Sun Summoning abilities. And the Darkling! And I can't wait to find out what happens next. 

What are you waiting on?
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March 17, 2013

Review: Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
Published: 2012, Delacorte Press
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Library book
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"See, wanderlust is like itchy feet," Starling explains. "It’s when you can’t settle down. But Wanderlove is much deeper than’s a compulsion. It’s the difference between lust and love."

I'll be the first to admit that my  preferences for YA contemporaries are rather unconventional. I dislike both the overly humorous ones and the issue-driven stories, but of course I have exceptions to those rules. In general, however, I tend to pass by contemporary books so that I can read something a little more different from life as I know it. But I do tend to listen to others' reviews, and I am so glad that I allowed myself to experience Bria's journey in Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard.

Like most recent high school graduates in the summer before college, Bria Sandoval isn't quite sure what she wants out of her life. She and her artist boyfriend Toby had planned on going to the Californian art school SCAA together in the fall. But that was before he revealed that he was instead going to attend college in Chicago, before he dumped her. In the wake of her harsh new reality, Bria has allowed the opportunity to study at SCAA pass her by, and may even have ruined her chances of attending local state school, so when she finds a pamphlet asking "Are You a Global Vagabond," courtesy of the Global Vagabonds organization, Bria realizes what she really needs is to escape her California town for the summer with her two best friends. 

Even after both her friends back out of the trip, Bria needs to leave her town and rediscover herself. Alone but determined to take this one trip for herself, Bria travels to Guatemala. She isn't in Guatemala for long, however, before she realizes that a trip with middle-aged tourists isn't quite what she had in mind when asked to be a global vagabond. After meeting half-siblings Starling and Rowan at a backpacker hostel, Bria realizes that simply being in Guatemala is not enough; by abandoning her tour group and traveling as a true backpacker, Bria can finally embrace the unexpected.

Besides the knowledge that basically every review that I've read of this book is overwhelmingly positive, what really drew me to this book was that Bria's trip takes place in Central America. I've mentioned it before and I'll mention it again: any book with a focus on Hispanic culture or countries is going to pique my interest. One of the locations that Bria's group travels to on La Ruta Maya is Copán, Mayan ruins found in Honduras. Although Bria herself never makes it to Copán, having traveled to Honduras myself and studied Hispanic and Latin American culture gave me the initial push I needed to become invested in this story.

Bria is such an easy protagonist to relate to. To some degree, the vast majority of people experience existential crises and uncertainty in the time period between high school and college. Going to college is a big deal. It can be exciting, of course, but it's also the place where you start to figure out what you want to spend the rest of your life doing. Bria is one of those fortunate enough to have found her passion early in life, but, through a series of circumstances mostly related to her relationship with Toby, Bria loses focus of her artist dreams. She allows an incredibly prestigious scholarship to slip through her fingers and cannot find the desire to draw any more. Although she prefers to be in control of her life and choices, Bria is cognizant enough to realize that a break from her expected, traditional life is the main thing that can help her find her sense of purpose once more. Over the course of Wanderlove, Bria may undergo a fairly typical transformation from an uncertain, lost teen to one who feels more empowered and more certain of herself (rather than reliant on the thoughts of others), but that does not make the end result any less satisfying.

I loved all the information that Hubbard provides about backpacking culture and life. It's so far removed from the my life that I found it fascinating to learn that people could live in such a rustic way. Between Rowan's and Starling's characterizations, among others, readers are privy to some different reasons for and viewpoints of those who choose such a lifestyle. It's not an easy one, but, through Bria's experiences with Rowan and Starling, readers can begin to appreciate the benefits and rewards of such a life.

Overall I thought the slow-burn romance between Bria and Rowan is well done. Hubbard carefully avoids the well-trodden and cliche path of her protagonist using a boy as the means to freedom and self-discovery. There are a few subtle hints of romance early on, but the vast majority of the novel really is about Bria coming to terms with her past and figuring out how to love herself and her dreams once again. Rowan is there for after Bria figures herself out, but not before then.         

In addition to the overarching storyline, the little touches really helped bring Wanderlove to life. Bria's notebook entries: learning how Bria experiences life through her thoughts versus her writing versus what she tells others is interesting. And of course I have to mention Bria's sketches (I read that the author actually made those drawings herself!). I loved Bria's whimsical drawing style. All these elements definitely worked to draw me in to the many aspects involved in Bria's road to self-discovery.

I'd like to say that Bria's journey has awakened in me a desire to travel, explore the world and find myself. But it hasn't, not really. Not at this point in my life. I will keep her story in mind, however, if in my life things ever do spiral out of control. Wanderlove is a heartwarming story about a teen's journey, both physical and emotional, to find herself and regain a sense of purpose in her life.
Even if you have no desire to travel, are uninterested in art, or do not think this is the type of book you'd enjoy, I encourage you to give this book a shot anyway. See if you can read it without feeling a sense of wonder and contentment about the world around you.
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