BOOK REVIEW: 13 Little Blue Envelopes – by Maureen Johnson

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Title: 13 Little Blue Envelopes
(Little Blue Envelopes #1)
Author: Maureen Johnson

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: August 23rd 2005
Publisher: HarperTeen
Finished reading: December 1st 2016
Pages: 322
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“Sometimes, life leaves you without directions, without guideposts or signs. When this happens, you just have to pick a direction and run like hell.”

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I decided to switch genres a bit and pick up a contemporary romance read. I know these kind of stories normally are not really my thing, but I remember I enjoyed Maureen Johnson‘s short Christmas story in Let It Snow and The Name Of The Star last year and the travel theme sounded great. I have to admit I had my doubts about 13 Little Blue Envelopes, but I can see why contemporary romance fans would love this book. As I already feared, this book fell a little flat for me. Sure, the travel bits are quite interesting and it is without doubt a cute and easy-to-read story, but the whole plot just isn’t believable. I mean, why did her parents let Ginny travel to Europe like that in the first place? The things happening to the main character are not exactly credible either. I’ve had my share of travel experience myself and random things can happen during a trip, but 13 Little Blue Envelopes for me crossed the line. If you are looking for a sappy, fast-paced, easy and entertaining contemporary romance read, this is without doubt a good choice. It’s probably also a perfect summer/beach read if you can forget about the credibility details. That said, I’m not sure I’m going to read the sequel myself.

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After her eccentric aunt died half across the world, Ginny receives a package that will change her life. Inside she finds thirteen little blue envelopes with messages and instructions her aunt wrote before she passed away. In the first one, Ginny finds $1,000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket to London. It also said she shouldn’t open the other ones until she completed each task, and that she couldn’t have contact with the people back home. Clearly her aunt wants to show Ginny the Europe as she knew it, and Ginny is about to do a whole lot of things she never dreamed to be doing that summer…

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I know, I know, I should have known 13 Little Blue Envelopes wouldn’t be for me. I thought the whole road trip/travel theme would distract from the cheesy romance, but in the end it was the low credibility of the plot that sort of ruined the story for me. Sure, a lot of random things can happen when you travel without a fixed destination, but this story just didn’t convince me. If you are looking for a quick and easy contemporary read and don’t mind the little details, this might still be a good choice though.

BOOK REVIEW: Looking For Alaska – by John Green

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Title: Looking For Alaska
Author: John Green
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: 2005
Finished reading: August 21th 2014
Pages: 262
Rating 3

“It’s not life or death, the labyrinth. Suffering. Doing wrong and having wrong things happen to you. That’s the problem. Bolivar was talking about the pain, not about the living or dying. How do you get out of the labyrinth of suffering?”

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I can’t exactly put my finger on the why, but this book just wasn’t for me. Maybe it was the wrong time to be reading Looking For Alaska, maybe it’s just that I don’t find the whole boardingschool theme attractive in general. Whatever it was, I just couldn’t warm up to this book. Sure, the story is interesting enough. The fact that John Green divided the book in two parts (before and after) makes you want to continue reading to find out what mayor event causes the division. But somehow the main characters felt a bit cliche, and I suffered of the raised-eyebrow-syndrom during various parts of the book. Miles being the typical outsider trying to fit in and hanging out with the wrong crowd; Alaska being beautiful AND smart… (Supposedly because she reads a lot and is a feminist, can it get more cliche than that?) That just didn’t do it for me. Sure, the main event was definitely shocking and I have to admit I didn’t see it coming. There were some interesting philosophical quotes included in the books as well… But I unfortunately cannot give Looking For Alaska more than the three stars I ended up giving. Don’t give up on reading this book though; if you liked other books by John Green before, you might enjoy this one as well!

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The life of Miles Halter changes drastically when he decides to attend the  Culver Creek Boarding School. Miles has been a social outcast at his old school, with the strange habit of remembering the last words of famous death persons. But things change when he arrives at Culver Creek and has to share his room with Chip, or the ‘Colonel’. Now being called ‘Pudge’, the Colonel quickly introduces him to Alaska and Takumi… Pudge realizes these three are exactly the troublemaking people his parents warned him about, but he continues hanging out with them anyway… Starting to smoke and drink under their bad influence. Pudge is fascinated by Alaska, a girl both beautiful and intelligent (sigh). She has a boyfriend though, and arranges a date for Pudge instead. Together they go through the highs and lows of puberty and school… All things go well and they are planning one of the biggest pranks ever seen at Culver Creek; a plan Alaska has created. But one night when the Colonel, Pudge and Alaska are drinking, things go horribly wrong when Alaska gets a phonecall… A call that ends up changing the life of everybody.

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I won’t discuss what happens next so I won’t ruin the surprise for those who haven’t read Looking For Alaska yet… But what I can say is that the second part is the most interesting one. If you like contemporary YA and romance, you will probably love this book. People seem to either hate or love Looking For Alaska, so don’t leave this one unread just because my review… Like I said before, this book just wasn’t for me!

BOOK REVIEW: The Glass Castle – by Jeannette Walls

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Title: The Glass Castle
Author: Jeannette Walls
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Contemporary
First published: 2005
Finished reading: July 14th 2014
Pages: 352
Rating 4,5

“But the positive thoughts would give away to negative thoughts, and the negative thoughts seemed to swoop into her mind the way a big flock of black crows takes over the landscape, sitting thick in the trees and on the fence rails and lawns, staring at you in ominous silence.”

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I have been blessed with a lot of great reads lately, and The Glass Castle is one of them. I’m normally a bit hesitant when it comes to reading memoirs, mostly because it makes reading somewhat too personal and most memoirs are actually quite depressing. But I’m glad I picked up The Glass Castle anyway, because it was simply amazing. The life of Jeannette Walls and her brother and sisters is not an easy one to tell, and I admire her courage in deciding to tell her story. When you are reading The Glass Castle, you feel she isn’t holding back and shows us the moments of her life exactly as she experienced it. Sure, the story is depressing at some points, but it is also intriguing, moving and overall impressive. She tells us casually about some of the great difficulties she went through when she was growing up, and that actually makes you wonder how it REALLY would have been like growing up in a similar situation. A definite must read for non fiction lovers!

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Jeannette Walls didn’t have what you call a normal childhood. Rex and Rose Mary Walls are not the typical parents and have different ideals than most people. During the first few years of Jeannette’s life they moved around continiously, living like nomads and enjoying the wilderness. They slept at places along the road and lived in small desert towns for small periods. When problems arose or things got out of hand, they would simple skedaddle, as Rex Walls used to say, and move on to the next destination. Rex was a brilliant and imaginative man with one big problem: alcohol. When sober, he was able to conquer the world and his four children admired him. Rex was their teacher and was able to teach them great life lessons, although the alcoholism left its negative mark on some of those lessons. Their mother Rose Mary was a free spirit who loved to paint and write, and didn’t believe in the practical things and necessities of life. That quality both learned her children to appreciate the beauties of life and condemned them to a difficult childhood…

When things got out of hand, they end up moving to the hometown of Rex Walls. After living with his parents for a while, they buy their own house. Although it is practically falling apart, Rex and Rose Mary don’t mind and do not bother to make many improvements. Rex is more interested in getting his next drink, and Rose Mary is still lost in her own world and her paintings… Jeannette and her brother and sisters are practically left to take care of themselves, and even then their parents are working against them. Soon the children are dreaming of leaving home and finding a better place to live… Because they realize the glass castle their father Rex promised them to build will never become a reality. The kids dream of New York, the city of many possibilities, and work hard to make that dream happen.

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Even though her childhood was a difficult one full of challenges, Jeannette Walls still describes her parents with a lot of affection. It shows that a family can be hold together for a long time with unconditional love, and that other mayor flaws are not as important as that same love. The story shows that both Jeannette and her brother and sisters try to help their parents improve their life, both when they are still children and when they are all grown up. Rex and Rose Mary have their own ideas of how quality of life is judged, and never want to alter the way they live. They don’t care about the material things in life, and are happy with the way things are, even if that means living on the street… A strong message in this material world where we cannot imagine living without phone, internet and computer, let alone running water and electricity. Like I said before: a definite must read!

BOOK REVIEW: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – by Jonathan Safran Foer

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Title: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
First published: April 4th 2005
Finished reading: June 16th 2014
Pages: 326

Rating 4

“I felt, that night, on that stage, under that skull, incredibly close to everything in the universe, but also extremely alone. I wondered, for the first time in my life, if life was worth all the work it took to live. What exactly made it worth it? What’s so horrible about being dead forever, and not feeling anything, and not even dreaming? What’s so great about feeling and dreaming?”

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Various people have recommended Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close to me over the past few months, and I’m glad I finally decided to give it a go. Some may not appreciate the way Jonathan Safran Foer told this story of a young boy and a grandfather both trying to coope with a traumatic event and a terrible loss. But for me the way we see the world through the eyes of the curious boy slash inventor slash detective is endearing. And although you might think it’s hard to feel symphathy for the ‘speechless’ grandfather, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. A great read and definitely recommended if you don’t mind entering the mind of a confused but brilliant and curious kid. I’ll be reading more from Jonathan Safran Foer in the future for sure!

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I’ll make the summary short since it’s hard to explain the book without revealing too much… The main character Oskar is a young boy trying to grow up, confused about a lot of things in life and wanting to understand everything. He asks a million questions per day and is always inventing things in his mind just to try and make the world a better place. But one day his world collapses as his father dies during the 9/11 attack… Oskar seems unable to coope with his feelings, or what he calls heavy boots, and both his mother and grandmother fail in consoling him the way he needs. One day his eyes fix on a blue vase and when he breaks by accident, he discovers an envelope with Black written on it by his father. Inside he finds a key, but no clue as to what it opens. Oskar decides to go on a quest to find out more about the key, planning to visit every single person with the last name Black in NYC. He doesn’t want to accept his father is really gone, and thinks the person that knows more about the key might give him a better explanation of what really happened to his dad…

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is also about man called Thomas Schnell, who we follow in Dresden and later in New York. A man who had lost the ones he loved during the bombings in Dresden in 1945, and from then on was afraid to love or be loved. And he became a man who was slowly losing his speech. Soon Thomas can only communicate with others through his written words, and fills books and books with words and feelings used in daily life. He is the man that would be the grandfather of Oskar, but also the man that would disappear before Oskar’s father would be born… And the man that has YES and NO tatooed on his left and right hand, even though life itself isn’t that simple.

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is not the typical book, but it is without doubt worth reading. I myself loved the prose Safran Foer used to describe both Oskar and his grandfather, and Oskar’s search for more information about his father is endearing. Interesting read!

BOOK REVIEW: A Feast For Crows – by George R.R. Martin

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Title: A Feast For Crows
(A Song Of Ice And Fire Series #4)
Author: George R.R. Martin
Genre: Fantasy, Epic
First published: October 17th 2005
Finished reading: April 12th 2014
Pages: 978
Rating 2,5

“A man does not need to be a wizard to know truth from falsehood, not if he has eyes. You need only learn to read a face. Look at the eyes. The mouth. The muscles here, at the corners of the jaw, and here, where the neck joins the shoulders.” He touched her lightly with two fingers. “Some liars blink. Some stare. Some look away. Some lick their lips. Many coer their mouths just before they tell a lie, as if to hide their deceit. Other signs may be more subtle, but they are always there. A false smile and a true one may look alike, but they are as different as dusk from dawn.”

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Here I am staring at the last page of this fourth book in the A Song Of Ice And Fire series. Before I started reading, I had promised myself this would be the last one of the series, since I find them increasingly less interesting and confusing, partly because of the amount of characters George R.R. Martin introduces in the series. The fact that he cut the story in half made me wonder if I should read the fifth book after all. In a A Feast For Crows, Martin only tells the story from the point of view of a select group of characters, leaving out important names as Tyrion, Jon Snow, Daenerys and Stannis. The only way to know the whole story is read the fifth one too, unless I want to wait for the tv series reach this part of the story… For now, I would say no to book number five, but I’m sure somewhere in the future my curiosity will win. Until then, I will content myself watching the fourth season of the tv series.

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It is hard to summarize a book with so many different storylines, but in short you can conclude the war between the multiple kings is taking its toll. Many people died or are dying, including some of our main characters. The threat of the Others and Daenerys and her dragons are being pushed to the background. Instead, we follow mainly the women of Westeros: Queen Cersei, the princess of Dorn, Sansa or Alyssa, Arya or Cat, Brienne… Book number four is mostly focused on the adventures and effects of the war on their lives. Parts of the story are missing, and others are touching the border of too much repetition. Seriously, how many times we have to read Brienne is looking for a highborn maid of three-and-ten, with a fair face and auburn hair?

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I feel I’m slowly distancing myself from this series. Although I now know this is only the first part of what he ment as one book, I’m not sure if I can bring it up to read the second half. I don’t mind the amount of pages, but I’m not up for another week and something of almost forced reading in order to finish it. For now, I won’t be touching another Martin, but who knows, maybe in a few months…

BOOK REVIEW: No Country For Old Men – by Cormac McCarthy

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Title: No Country For Old Men
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Genre: Thriller, Crime, Western
First published: July 19th 2005
Finished reading: April 1st 2014
Pages: 309
Rating 1,5

“You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday dont count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it’s made out of. Nothin else. You might think you could run away and change your name and I dont know what all. Start over. And then one mornin you wake up and look at the ceilin and guess who’s layin there?”

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I must be honest and say I wasn’t planning on finishing No Country For Old Men. I actually started reading this one a few months ago, but couldn’t grow into the book and left it. The lack of punctuation, Southern dialect and too many point of views without any explanation who the characters are… It all made me just want to bury the book under a pìle of dust to be never found again. But the fact they made a very succesful movie out of it and a lot of people seem to enjoy the story made me pick it up again. I would be lying if I said I liked it, but I admit the story became a little better later on. Although now finished it, I would never touch this one again.

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The three main characters of this book are Llewelyn Moss, Anton Chigurh and Ed Tom Bell. In the beginning we don’t know who the story is really about, and it’s quite confusing. Would it be Llewelyn Moss, who found a bunch of dead Mexicans in the desert with a briefcase full of cash with them? Or is it Anton Chigurh, who is trying to get the cash back at all costs, revealing himself as a coldblooded serial killer? But no, it is Ed Tom Bell, the sheriff, who we follow in the end. Being a war veteran, he has some issues of his own, but he seems to know what he is doing. There are a lot of deaths showing up in his jurisdiction though lately, and he is trying to find out who is guilty. Both Bell and Chigurh are trying to find Moss, and Moss has even more people hunting him…The money he found was drugs-related and those people aren’t the ones you want to play with. Moss isn’t able to hide forever, but Chigurh seems a mastermind in disappearing. Will Bell ever find him?

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I guess I only finished No Country For Old Men because I literally forced myself to read it until the end. I didn’t enjoy it, and the language he used annoyed me right until the very end. It might be that he impersonated the Southern dialect perfectly, but even as a philologist I just couldn’t enjoy the story. The lack of punctuation and spelling just got on my nerves. Part of the problem was that I felt almost confused about what the story really was about and even who was talking at certain points. So all in all I would only recommend this one to my potential enemies.

BOOK REVIEW: The Book Thief – by Markus Zusak

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Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA, WWII
First published: 2005
Finished reading: January 23rd 2014
Pages: 552

Rating 3

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”

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I remember reading this book already a few years ago and absolutely loving it. And when I saw the trailer of the movie version, I couldn’t remember the exact details of the book, so I decided to re-read. I’m not sure exactly why, but to be honest I wasn’t as convinced as the first time I read it… True, this book is original. You won’t see any similiar writing styles every day. Still, in a way it annoyed me. Seeing the world through the eyes of Death is interesting, but I felt it sometimes interrupted the story and gave away spoilers. Also, the use of German words with direct translations didn’t seem to add a different level to the story. It just slowed down the reading pace. And lastly, was it really necessary to use that many swear words? After one too many Saukerl and Saumensch I would almost forget the real names of the characters.

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Narrated by Death, this book tells the story of a young German girl Liesel and other inhabitants of the Himmel Street, Molching. It is set in 1939-1943, right in the middle of the Second World War, and through the eyes of the characters we can see the influence of and the horrors induced by The Fuhrer. Liesel is an orphan and lives with her foster parents Hans and Rosa. Everything goes normal until they decide to hide a Jew: Max. In Nazi Germany, that’s about the most dangerous thing you can do. The German girl loves books, and already during the beginning of the book becomes a book thief. Throughout the story she steals a couple more, with the help of her friend Rudy. The life in Nazi Molching becomes darker, and various characters die or are set to war. Liesel keeps reading and it is the books that save her life in the end… While others are not so lucky.

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I have to admit the story itself is interesting and makes up for most of the annoyances mentioned before. It makes for a nice read if you are interested in the Second World War or enjoy reading experimental books like this one.