Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Under the Never Sky
Veronica Rossi
2012, 376 pgs
Library

Book Summary from Goodreads

WORLDS KEPT THEM APART.

DESTINY BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER.

Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she’s never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim.

Then Aria meets an outsider named Perry. He’s searching for someone too. He’s also wild – a savage – but might be her best hope at staying alive.

If they can survive, they are each other’s best hope for finding answers.

My Summary

Under the dome of Reverie, most of life experiences take place in the Relms – a virtual reality.  They live under the dome because of the Aether – which is never explained.  Aria’s mother is a scientist, living in a different Dome then Aria.  After a week of no communication with her mother, Aria does something that results in her being dropped into the outer wasteland where she believes she will die due to the Aether – again very minimal explanation.

In the Outer wasteland people live in tribes.  Some of them also have super senses – hearing (Aud), sight (Seer), or smell (Scire).  They allude that these heightened senses are from  selective breeding before the Aethers and that the Aethers accelerated the anomalies, but it’s never fully explained either.

When Aria is dropped in the outer wasteland she meets Perry.  They dislike each other on site, Aria because Perry is a “savage” and Perry because Aria is a “dweller”, but need each other to get what they both want.  Aria wants to get back into the Dome and Perry wants to get his nephew, who was kidnapped out.

I was really frustrated by this book the first third or so because so much of the world building was really vague.  What is the Aether, what caused the Aether, what exactly does the Aether do….  So much is unexplained that I found annoying. 

But there are so many elements of the book I enjoyed.  I liked Aria and Perry.  Aria handles her change in circumstances with an appropriate level of fear, but she has the courage to forge on.  Perry is tough, protective of those around him, but has a level of sensitivity that I appreciated.  I liked that Perry and Aria’s relationship wasn’t YA instalove.  Even once they got over their mutual dislike they didn’t immediate jump into togetherness – the relationship grew.

I also really liked the element of some of the Outsiders having enhanced senses – I just wish it had been more fully explained. 

Overall when I finished this book my frustration with the lack of explanation was my main focus.  It’s been about 3 weeks now since I finished it and I’m appreciating it more in hindsight – thinking about the parts of the story I do know and how much I liked Aria and Perry.  I will definitely continue reading this series.

7 out of 10 stars

Other Reviews

All the Books I Can Read

The Broke and The Bookish

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You Against Me by Jenny Downham

You Against Me
Jenny Downham
2010, 413 pgs
Library

Book Summary from Goodreads

If someone hurts your sister and you’re any kind of man, you seek revenge, right? If your brother’s been accused of a terrible crime and you’re the main witness, then you banish all doubt and defend him. Isn’t that what families do? When Mikey’s sister claims a boy assaulted her at a party, his world of work and girls begins to fall apart. When Ellie’s brother is charged with the crime, but says he didn’t do it, her world of revision, exams and fitting in at a new school begins to unravel. When Mikey and Ellie meet, two worlds collide. Brave and unflinching, this is a novel of extraordinary skillfulness and almost unbearable tension. It’s a book about loyalty and the choices that come with it. But above all it’s a book about love – for one’s family and for another

My Summary

I read this a couple weeks ago and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it.

The story is told a few chapters at a time from Mikey’s perspective and then from Ellie’s.  I spent the first couple perspective changes trying to keep an open mind and not choose sides and realized that was never going to work.  I just wasn’t going to be able to commit to the book unless I committed to thinking Tom was innocent or guilty.

So I picked a side and was able to get into the book and it wasn’t too long after choosing that the author started to give clues that I picked the right one.

I like books with flawed main characters – they are more relate-able.  Both Mikey and Ellie are flawed, but everything they do that’s wrong is an effort to try to defend family. 

Mikey feels like he failed to protect his sister so decides on revenge instead and that’s how he meets Ellie.  They connect somewhat quickly even with all the baggage between them and their relationship was believable.

The things I didn’t like about this book (in list form):

Karyn – Mikey’s sister and Tom’s accuser is barely in the book and that felt wrong.  And her switch from depressed to recovered felt WAY too quick.

Ellie’s father is a total caricature.  Totally one dimensional.

Now that I think about it – there weren’t any secondary characters that I liked.  Ellie’s mom improved a little at the end, but for the most part everyone really bugged me.

Spoilerish (highlight to read) – I’m not going to say which, but at the end of the book, either Mikey or Ellie has to stop protecting the lying sibling.  And if I were in that position I don’t think I could do it.  Ever

7 out of 10

The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O’Neal

The Garden of Happy Endings 
Barbara O’Neal
2012, 416 pgs                         
Purchased                               

Book Summary from Goodreads

After tragedy shatters her small community in Seattle, the Reverend Elsa Montgomery has a crisis of faith. Returning to her hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, she seeks work in a local soup kitchen. Preparing nourishing meals for folks in need, she keeps her hands busy while her heart searches for understanding.
 
Meanwhile, her sister, Tamsin, as pretty and colorful as Elsa is unadorned and steadfast, finds her perfect life shattered when she learns that her financier husband is a criminal. Enduring shock and humiliation as her beautiful house and possessions are seized, the woman who had everything now has nothing but the clothes on her back.
 
But when the going gets tough, the tough get growing. A community garden in the poorest, roughest part of town becomes a lifeline. Creating a place of hope and sustenance opens Elsa and Tamsin to the renewing power of rich earth, sunshine, and the warm cleansing rain of tears. While Elsa finds her heart blooming in the care of a rugged landscaper, Tamsin discovers the joy of losing herself in the act of giving—and both women discover that with time and care, happy endings flourish.

My Summary

All of the things that usually make me love Barbara O’Neal books were present in this one too: a strong, self aware, female protagonist, loyal canine companions, comfort food and an appreciation for everyday, outdoor exercise like hiking and gardening.

I think one of my favorite things about Elsa (and all of O’Neal’s protagonists) is that she owns her own sexuality.  She’s not promiscuous; she just doesn’t judge herself over sex or second guess her decisions. It wasn’t until reading this book that I realized how much I appreciated this characteristic.  It’s refreshing because male characters don’t do that.

Anyway the overall crux of this book is Elsa’s crisis of faith – it’s the third time she’s had one.  The first two times she recovered her faith and moved forward.  This time it’s really left her shaken and since she’s a Reverend it interferes with her life.

The struggle with faith hit home for me.  I think every member of my immediate family has struggled to varying degrees over the last decade.  Almost every question she’s had I recognized.  Elsa grew up Catholic, but wanted to be a priest.  As that option was not available to her (her first crisis), she changed denominations and became a Reverend.  I’m not Catholic – one step removed – but I could recognize several the things she missed about Catholism.  She missed the ritual; it’s peaceful and balancing.

The other characters are diverse and interesting.  I liked Tamsin (Elsa’s sister) quite a bit at the beginning and felt really bad for her situation well into the book, but she did something that kinda ticked me off towards the end.  Elsa kind of has two romantic interests; a former fiancé who is now a close friend and confidant and a new man who has entered her life recently.  Seeing the contrast between these two relationships is enlightening (there are a few flashbacks though her life a critical junctures).  But the romantic aspect of the book takes a backseat to self discovery and stewardship.  

8 out of 10 stars

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg

The Catastrophic History of You and Me         
Jess Rothenberg
2012, 400 pgs                         
Library                                    

Book Summary from Goodreads

Dying of a broken heart is just the beginning…. Welcome to forever.

BRIE’S LIFE ENDS AT SIXTEEN: Her boyfriend tells her he doesn’t love her, and the news breaks her heart—literally.

But now that she’s D&G (dead and gone), Brie is about to discover that love is way more complicated than she ever imagined. Back in Half Moon Bay, her family has begun to unravel. Her best friend has been keeping a secret about Jacob, the boy she loved and lost—and the truth behind his shattering betrayal. And then there’s Patrick, Brie’s mysterious new guide and resident Lost Soul . . . who just might hold the key to her forever after.

With Patrick’s help, Brie will have to pass through the five stages of grief before she’s ready to move on. But how do you begin again, when your heart is still in pieces?

My Summary

Emotionally, Brie was a totally believable teenager.  Everything is life or death – I think that’s what drew me to this premise so much – obviously having your first love break up with you is not fatal, but everything feels so much worse as a teenager. 

“Love is no game. People cut their ears off over this stuff. People jump off the Eiffel Tower and sell all their possessions and move to Alaska to live with the grizzly bears, and then they get eaten and nobody hears them when they scream for help. That’s right. Falling in love is pretty much the same thing as being eaten alive by a grizzly bear.”

I loved how much Brie worried/cared about her younger brother.  They had the exact same age difference as I do with my brother so I could identify.  The scenes where Brie got to get a little payback were funny and I know that I would have enjoyed that opportunity (especially in high school).

Patrick (her guide) is the right mix of mystery and supportive.  He’s almost a combined good boy and bad boy all rolled into one.   Brie also had some cute one-liners (usually when talking to Patrick)

“There’s no such thing as too much Disney.”

 “News flash, Bozo. Don’t ever tell a girl to relax. It only makes us madder.”

I can’t really put my finger on what was missing in this one for me, but I just thought it was cute.  I read it in two sittings (started at 9:00 PM read for 2 hours, slept, and then picked it up again) so I really wanted to know what happen.  And it did manage to surprise me – one of the twists I did see coming, but the other caught me off guard, but I thought it was cool.

Basically a cute novel that felt like it didn’t quite live up to the potential of it’s premise. 

7 out of 10 stars

“Looking for Alaska” and “Paper Towns” by John Green

Paper Towns                           Looking for Alaska
John Green                             John Green
2008, 305 pgs                         2006, 221 pgs
Library                                   Purchase Kindle

“Looking for Alaska” Book Summary from Goodreads

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another. A stunning debut, it marks John Green’s arrival as an important new voice in contemporary fiction

“Paper Towns” Book Summary from Goodreads

When Margo Roth Spiegelman beckons Quentin Jacobsen in the middle of the night – dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge – he follows her. Margo’s always planned extravagantly, and, until now, she’s always planned solo. After a lifetime of loving Margo from afar, things are finally looking up for Q . . . until day breaks and she has vanished. Always an enigma, Margo has now become a mystery. But there are clues. And they’re for Q. Printz Medalist John Green returns with the trademark brilliant wit and heart-stopping emotional honesty that have inspired a new generation of readers.

My Summary

Parallels abound in these two books.  I wish I had read them at least a few months apart – I still would have noticed but I don’t think it would have been quite as distracting.  I read “Looking forAlaska” a few weeks ago on a Saturday and really enjoyed it. I read “Paper Towns” a few days later and it felt like I was reading the same characters.  Miles=Quentin, Alaska=Margo,  Colonel=Ben, etc. 

I also wish I had written my review for “Looking for Alaska” before reading “Paper Towns” because now it’s impossible to separate them in my mind.  So here are just a few bullet points of what I liked

  • John Green’s characters have dimension – hobbies that are interesting and not typical, real conversations, and annoying habits. 
    • Miles in “Looking for Alaska” memorized famous people’s last words.
    • Alaska/Margo/Colonel planned elaborate pranks that required planning and were really funny.
  • Both books made me laugh out loud.  I want to put quotes in here, but I don’t want to ruin the reading experience for anyone else.
  • The boys (not the main character) fixation with Prom in “Paper Towns”.  It was funny to think guys really cared.
  • “Paper Towns” made me think about how much of what I see in other people is just a reflection of myself.  “Looking for Alaska” make me think about life/death – which seems cliché to write that in print, but didn’t feel that way to read it
  • The chants/cheers the Colonel led at the Basketball games in “Looking for Alaska”.  AWESOME!
  • Both books have moments that point out where girls are being objectified. 

So how to rate these books?  I think I would have given “Looking forAlaska” a 7 or 8 on Saturday.  But I think if I had read “Paper Towns” first I’d have given it an 8 or 9, but since I read it second and it was SO similar to “Looking for Alaska” my enjoyment was probably closer to a 6-7. 

First of these two that you read – 8.5 out of 10 stars
Second that you read               – 7 out of 10 stars

More Like Her by Liza Palmer

More Like Her
Liza Palmer
2012, 309 pgs
Purchased

Book Summary from Goodreads

What really goes on behind those perfect white picket fences?

InFrances’s mind, beautiful, successful, ecstatically married Emma Dunham is the height of female perfection.Frances, recently dumped with spectacular drama by her boyfriend, aspires to be just like Emma. So do her close friends and fellow teachers, Lisa and Jill. But Lisa’s too career-focused to find time for a family. And Jill’s recent unexpected pregnancy could have devastating consequences for her less-than-perfect marriage.

Yet sometimes the golden dream you fervently wish for turns out to be not at all what it seems–like Emma’s enviable suburban postcard life, which is about to be brutally cut short by a perfect husband turned killer. And in the shocking aftermath, three devastated friends are going to have to come to terms with their own secrets . . . and somehow learn to move forward after their dream is exposed as a lie.

My Summary

This book was a disappointment for me.  I’m going to start with the couple things I did like – the male romantic lead was Sam, and he was adorable, great Southern manners, tall, and just a great guy.  There were also a few great insights about how Frannie always assumes that how a relationship heads is a guys choice.  When Lisa tells Frannie “You choose where this goes” – I really liked that quote.

I don’t like the term “chick-lit” for quite a few reason, but the biggest one is that it’s used to describe to broad a range of books.  Here are some fairly prolific “chick-lit” authors (all of whom I like/love) and where they fall on the scale from super light reading to fairly heavy, tears will be involved, but will still end happy (I think there are three general criteria for something being labeled as chick lit –female author/protagonist, some romance, and a happy ending).

Very Light and Enjoyable
           Sophia Kinsella
           Meg Cabot

I love both of these authors, but these books rarely cause me to stop and think.  They are just fun, usually quick reads with likeable characters.

Still light, but with some insight and more depth
            Liza Palmer (current review)
            Lauren Weisenberger

Enjoyable, but with heavier themes, characters have more depth
            Claire Lazebnik
            Barbara O’Neal

So Palmer’s novels usually fit into the middle for me.  This book felt like she was trying to move into the more serious category, but didn’t make it.

The prologue starts with a 911 call (I’m not going to say what it was about) so you start chapter one knowing something bad is coming.  Then in the first chapter you’re introduce to the main character Frannie.  The book is written in first person and all the main characters, except Frannie, have four letter, very common first names – Jill, Lisa, and Emma.  I was at least 40 pages into the book before I was able to truly distinguish which character was which when they entered a scene. 

About the time I was actually starting to get into the book and enjoy it, the event that caused the 911 call happens, and it was just WAY too heavy for the tone of the book.  It was jarring and abrupt and since the rest of the book was Frannie dealing with the fallout from that event I never really got back into it.

Next, while I loved Lisa’s advice to Frannie, I felt like Frannie incorporated it into her life/actions too quickly.  When your natural reaction to a situation has been to do things a certain way for a decade, one piece of advice doesn’t change that in a week.

5 out of 10 stars

Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Everneath
Brodi Ashton
2012, 370 pgs
Library

Book Summary from Goodreads

Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath, where immortals Feed on the emotions of despairing humans. Now she’s returned- to her old life, her family, her friends- before being banished back to the underworld… this time forever.

She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can’t find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these months reconnecting with her boyfriend, Jack, the one person she loves more than anything. But there’s a problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who first enticed her to the Everneath, has followed Nikki to the mortal world. And he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her back- this time as his queen.

As Nikki’s time grows short and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she’s forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole’s…

My Summary

The book starts with Nikki already in the Everneath and as the story goes on there are flashbacks that unravel how Nikki ended up there.  I was immediately immersed in this story wanted to know how and why, and felt like I didn’t come up for air until I was done reading.

I like both Nikki’s – the typical teenage girl who loves her boyfriend, but never feels completely secure (even though he’s awesome) and the one who returns from the Everneath and wants to do as much as she can in six months to make amends to those who her absence has hurt.  Yes, the requisite teen angst exists, but without any accompanying whining.

Ah the boyfriend, Jack.  That perfect teen boyfriend who is equally friend.   You find out fairly early that Nikki voluntarily went to the Underworld with Cole because of something to do with Jack.  And the writer perfectly balances understanding why Nikki didn’t trust him, I don’t think the reader ever thinks it was anything other than a misunderstanding.  Jack is supportive, forgiving, and heroic.

The last main character is Cole the “bad boy” who took Nikki to the Everneath and fed on her for thousands of years (while only 6 months passed in her normal life).  I didn’t hate Cole and I’m extremely interested to get more of his story in the sequels because he’s very mysterious at this point.  He does seem to care for Nikki just not in a way that’s healthy.

The truly amazing thing about this book is that the love triangle didn’t bother me at all. I’m so sick of them in general that some good books lose stars just for having one.  I think it’s because this book is a retelling of Hades and Persephone / Orpheus and Eurydice – the triangle is so ancient that it had to be there.  Plus, it doesn’t really feel like a true triangle, Nikki feels physically drawn to Cole because she was literally attached to him for a thousand years – emotionally she wants Jack.

Overall excellent book – I was highly anticipating this one and it didn’t disappoint!

8 out of 10 stars