Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Title: Pushing the Limits
Author: Katie McGarry
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 392
Rating: 5/5 Stars

Read for August Secret Reader

Welp. I devoured that one.

Can I have more, please?

Pushing the Limits is not my typical read - no supernatural, no fantasy or scifi, no mystery or action - but that didn't stop me from eagerly turning pages until the very end. Katie McGarry didn't reinvent the wheel in terms of setting or plot, but her characters, Echo and Noah in particular, wouldn't let me go.

The plot of Pushing the Limits follows tragic good-girl-with-a-mysterious-past Echo and tragic bad-boy-with-a-violent-past Noah as they're forced together by their mutual guidance counselor and find love and healing across social lines. While the details of Echo's memory loss and scars, as well as what happened to Noah's parents intrigued me, the parts I enjoyed the most were the sessions with Mrs. Collins, the guidance counselor, and the one-on-one time Noah and Echo shared.

I always appreciate authors who write characters - especially teenagers - that are real. McGarry's teenagers drink, smoke, do drugs, have sex, but all in the way that teens do. Echo isn't suddenly a bad girl because she gets drunk at a party and Noah isn't irredeemable because he smokes weed.

I give McGarry kudos for writing a bad boy that actually deserved his reputation. Noah's not a saint. While he might have been on the fast track to All-American Golden Boy status, his parent's death changed everything. He does become (justifiably) violent, he does have a temper, he does sleep with any girl he happens to be interested in, he does smoke weed, he does have tattoos, he swears a lot and he's got very little interest in school and preparing for a future that he doesn't think that he'll have.

As he and Echo get to know each other, he's not perfect and doesn't say the right thing all of the time, but he listens to her in a way that her friends and hideous wannabe boyfriend won't. McGarry doesn't have Noah change for his good-girl, but rather return to the person he used to be.

As a former member of the popular in-crowd, Echo is essentially crippled by her new outsider status - not to mention the scars on her arms that she can't remember getting. I had a much harder time relating to Echo than Noah, but I am not as petrified of authority as she is. The opening chapter, where Echo, her father and her step-mother are in a group therapy session with Mrs. Collins made me cringe. I couldn't understand how Echo could let her father dictate her life like he did. Then I saw how the same things happened with her friends, her ex-boyfriend Luke, basically everyone she encountered, and I realized that what Echo really needed was a backbone.

Noah helps her find it - or rather, he helps her find the girl that she used to be as well.

Romance novels always claim to feature two people who need each other for whatever reason, but Pushing the Limits really delivers. Noah's I-don't-give-a-fuck attitude clashes with Echo's need to please and as they spend more time together, they balance each other out and it's wonderful to read.

The end doesn't tie everything up in a nice, neat bow, with all wrongs being righted and all amends being made. Echo gets the answers she's been searching for about the night she got her scars, but her reunion with her mother is far from satisfying. I personally thought she was far too forgiving with her father and step-mother, but I have a cold, dead heart. ;P Noah doesn't achieve his exact goal, but he manages to find a solution that's far more realistic for his situation. Despite that vague summary, I was completely satisfied with the way things were wrapped up.

If I were to have any criticisms it would be that some of the dialogue felt wrong - more than once I had a "teenagers don't talk like that" reaction. Some of the characters were so extreme - Grace, Echo's father - in their refusal to accept or listen to Echo that I almost had to put the book down. Both of these "complaints" are minor, however, and I am anxious to read more of McGarry's writing. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Title: Under the Dome
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Pages: 1074
Rating 4/5 Stars

Excellent.  Ready for the series now.

Stephen King never disappoints me. Whenever I see that he's put out a new book, I immediately put it on my TBR list - where it usually sits for a really, really long time before I get around to reading it. No matter how long that takes, however, I always enjoy.

What gets me every time with King is his world building and his use of language. He's just a master. For days after I finished Under the Dome I found myself wishing that I could return to Chester's Mill and find out more about the people living there. As much as I looked forward to finding out what caused the dome and how those trapped would get out of it, I just wanted the story to keep going. While I find something to enjoy in every book that I read, it's not often that the characters and setting of a book stay with me and leave me really yearning for more. It's a true bittersweet joy when that happens.

The plot of Under the Dome is pretty straightforward - a mysterious, clear dome suddenly appears over the town of Chester's Mill, trapping most of the town's population inside. Nothing and no one is able to so much as scratch the surface of it and therein lies the story. What happens when a small town is literally cut off from the outside world?

In a word? Chaos.

Under the Dome has many 'main' characters, many heroes and villains, but Dale "Barbie" Barbara would be who I consider the main protagonist. Right from the first page, King infuses the novel with a sense of impending doom and suspense, not just for the citizens of Chester's Mill, but for Barbie in particular. As someone new to town, he's considered an outsider by all and as a result, subject to the whims of an increasingly panicked populace. Through Barbie's eyes we meet the residents of Chester's Mill, gradually getting into their heads and perspectives as the ominous forces working within and without the dome converge.

Under the Dome is a story that could only work within a small town, where everyone knows everyone and secrets are just barely concealed. King uses his environment to superb ends as the population splits into opposing factions and everyone seems to be operating under their own agenda. Even those who don't want to take sides inevitably end up on one. Some of the best and most infuriating elements of this book came from King's exploration of how small down dynamics unfold.

As much as I'd love to recap the entire plot and characters, I could never do it justice. Suffice it to say that Under the Dome has all of King's traditional storytelling elements - a grand, sweeping plot, supernatural/otherworldly influences, complex, real characters that are both good and bad (although some are pretty damn bad), suspense, horror, a little's all there. His attention to detail is superb, his prose vivid and his dialogue engaging.

I just really loved this book, okay? You should read it.

I read a little about some controversy surrounding the end of the book - basically just that there was some and having finished it, I'm really not sure why. I thought it was a satisfying ending, although I'll admit a part of me felt that he could have continued the action. There's a huge event in the last two hundred pages or so that brings the problems of the Dome rushing to a head and I wouldn't have minded a slower descent into utter chaos.

Of course, if you want a slower version of what happens to Chester's Mill under the dome, check out the tv series because imo, it's equally awesome.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer Giveaway Hop!

Welcome to my Summer Giveaway Hop of 2013. Hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer & BookHounds, this one is simple - just fill out the form below for you chance to win the book of your choice (up to $20) from the Book Depository

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to check out the other blogs that are participating for more chances to win!

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