Book Tour: Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Thursday, September 18, 2014

As you are all aware, i swim for oceans always has been and always will be a young adult book blog. However, I was recently approached by Paper Lantern Lit to share veteran YA author, Lauren Oliver's, new adult novel, Rooms. I'm all about expanding my reading horizons, and I've been a fan of Ms. Oliver's work for some time, so it wasn't a stretch for me to read this one. And, my friends, if you read all genres, you certainly won't be disappointed! 


Buy Rooms. Find Rooms on Goodreads. Follow Lauren on Twitter. Visit Lauren's Website

Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.

But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.

The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.
The beauty of Ms. Oliver's novels is that she has an intricate ability to weave together the living and the dead into a mesmerizing tale that transcends your average ghost story. In a typical ghost story, we have the worlds of the living and the dead painted very clearly in black and white. Rooms, however, presents readers with a unique sort of story that intertwines the two into a bleak, twisted and alluring palette of grey areas. Not necessarily the fastest-paced, it's a bit of a slow-burning book that worms its way into your soul, slowly building tension and suspense along the way.

In terms of characterization, Rooms soars. Caroline is drowning her sorrows in copious amounts of alcohol and Minna does the same, filling the void with a temporary relief. Trenton is probably the largest of the characters with a multitude of layers slowly unfurling as the story progresses. He can see beyond the living, too, which makes him perhaps the most interesting, as well as the most broken. Through him, we see this richly bleak world come alive, spiral out of control and slowly but surely be forced into the light.

It must be said that even with our ghosts, Alice and Sandra, we're not reading your typical horror-filled ghost story. Rather, it's largely atmospheric and introspective, analyzing the depth of human emotions and that void that one feels when they are trapped in a place from which they can't find their way out. In this way, Rooms steps out of the familiar young adult feel that Ms. Oliver's novels have always had. By delving deeper into the backstories of each of our characters and how their lives intersect, the novel plays out beautifully, if a bit tediously.

In the end though, I can truly appreciate Ms. Oliver's take on adult fiction, and I have to say that it was extremely well done. Evocative and powerful, this 11-part story houses many rooms and many different and imaginative bits that all come together for a powerful end. While not wrapped up as neatly as some might hope, I appreciate the somewhat open end, and I look forward to her next take on adult fiction. I give it a very strong 4 out of 5, and I highly recommend it to fans of Ms. Oliver's, as well as those who enjoy adult mysteries and ghost stories

The Good Sister by Jamie Kain Review

Monday, September 15, 2014

Title: The Good Sister
Author: Jamie Kain (Twitter)
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: October 7, 2014
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher

The Kinsey sisters live in an unconventional world. Their parents are former flower-children who still don’t believe in rules. Their small, Northern California town is filled with free spirits and damaged souls seeking refuge from the real world. Without the anchor of authority, the three girls are adrift and have only each other to rely on.

Rachel is wild. Asha is lost. Sarah, the good sister, is the glue that holds them together. But the forces of a mysterious fate have taken Sarah’s life in a sudden and puzzling accident, sending her already fractured family into a tailspin of grief and confusion. Asha has questions. Rachel has secrets. And Sarah, waking up in the afterlife, must piece together how she got there.
What I love about a good contemporary novel is that it can often transcend the genre and really speak to fans of all genres. It's a tricky feat balancing those abilities and still managing to present a cohesive storyline though, so I'm always a bit wary when a novel surfaces and suggests that it might do just that. The Good Sister by Jamie Kain is a novel that took me by surprise in a few ways - not the least of which is the fact that it looked like an adult novel to me before I read the premise. I was also surprised to see a novel written in the vein of Jodi Picoult for the younger lot. Offering readers a true taste of contemporary - full of life, love, drama and family - it's the type of book that will linger with you.

Multiple points of view are often quite tricky for me, in large part because they offer a bunch of little tastes but never seem to fulfill me entirely. The Good Sister ups the ante, giving us three distinct points of view - one for each of the sisters. Naturally, I was concerned that this would make the story less cohesive and more jumbled. I was surprised, however, to find that it actually knit the seams of the story together very nicely, giving us a glimpse into the minds of Rachel, Asha and Sarah. We seem to work through the story in a less-than-chronological order at times, and we're able to see their cohesive family unit splinter and fragment apart, all the while understanding the ties that bind and those that separate them in the end. It's powerful, emotional and tragic in the most beautiful of ways. 

I think what kept me riveted throughout the novel though was just how dysfunctional the family was. At times, I wanted to shake their mother out of her flower-child demeanor to see just how broken her living daughters were. I wanted their absent father to understand how his cold veneer hardened their broken hearts and helped shatter their family unit. The Good Sister made me uncomfortable…plain and simple. It's like watching a train wreck before your eyes and feeling like you're simply a casual bystander. The reason it managed to captivate me though is the fact that these three girls - all so vastly different - longed for one thing. They wanted peace, and that peace is hard to come by.

There is a mystery element to The Good Sister that's sort of over-arching throughout the plot, and it's woven nicely through the drama and through each sister's perspective. I worried it might distract me, but it actually served to enhance the story in the end and, despite the fact that these Rachel and Asha broke my heart with their broken selves, I was invested from start to finish. The only flaw to the story that I found is that, while it has a conclusive ending, I think it could have been enhanced upon, and I still wanted more. In the end though, I give it a definitive 4 out of 5, and I highly recommend it to all fans of YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

Learning Not to Drown by Anna Shinoda Review

Friday, September 12, 2014

Title: Learning Not to Drown
Author: Anna Shinoda (Twitter)
Publisher: Atheneum BYR
Publish Date: April 1, 2014
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher

Family secrets cut to the bone in this mesmerizing debut novel about a teen whose drug-addicted brother is the prodigal son one time too many. There is a pecking order to every family. Seventeen-year old Clare is the overprotected baby; Peter is the typical, rebellious middle child; and Luke is the oldest, the can’t-do-wrong favorite. To their mother, they are a normal, happy family.

To Clare, they are a family on the verge of disaster. Clare: the ambitious striver; Peter: the angry ticking time bomb; and Luke: a drug-addicted convicted felon who has been in and out of jail for as long as Clare can remember—and who has always been bailed out by their parents.

Clare loves Luke, but life as his sister hasn’t been easy. And when he comes home (again), she wants to believe this time will be different (again). Yet when the truths behind his arrests begin to surface, everything Clare knows is shaken to its core. And then Luke is arrested. Again. Except this time is different, because Clare’s mom does the unthinkable on Luke’s behalf, and Clare has to decide whether turning her back on family is a selfish act…or the only way to keep from drowning along with them.
I'm amazed that this one flew so under the radar for so long for me because pretty much all readers of my blog can attest to the fact that I love gritty contemporary fiction. And, Learning Not to Drown, is pretty much that in a nutshell. Raw, evocative, emotional and real, it's the type of novel that sears deep into your soul, imprinting itself there long after you've finished it. By no means an easy read, it's the type of book that will cut you to the bone, but if you let it, it will also allow you to heal in ways you never thought possible. Anna Shinoda has created a nearly mesmerizing tale of family, friendships and navigating the harsh realities of life with this one - and it's amazing.

Learning Not to Drown got off to a bit of a rocky start for me. In books like these, it's often easy to find that one character you can empathize with, while everyone else seems to fall by the wayside, and this was no exception. I really struggled with Clare's parents at first. There was such a tenuous, frazzled reality to their existence, and it frustrated me to see that they weren't being what I believe the ideal parents to be - especially with all they were going through. As the book progressed though, we began to peel back those layers and understand why they were the way they were, and it made it easier to stomach their behavior - if not altogether accept it.

One thing that really stood out for me about Learning Not to Drown though was Skeleton. Throughout the novel, we're fully comprehending the fact that there are many, many skeletons in the Tovin's closets, but there is a near-visceral representation of these skeletons in Skeleton. It brings these shadows to light, and the beauty in the character of Skeleton is that he is so very, very real. Every aspect of his being is tangible - even if he is an intangible entity - and it serves to heighten the understanding and empathy that readers will have for Clare and her circumstance. And, for all intents and purposes, Clare is every bit the heroine. She, like Skeleton, goes through an immense journey from the shadows to the light, and it's a powerful one that you'll be pleasantly surprised reading.

Learning Not to Drown shifts back and forth between the past and present tense, which is a device that doesn't usually work for me. I find it to create a bit of a haphazard maze in most cases, and that frustrates me. In this case though, Ms. Shinoda carefully sets the stage through each flashback, offering us greater insight into how and why Clare and her family got to the place they are in today. It never felt jumpy or offbeat, instead offering us a glimmer of greater understand - however painful that might have been.

Overall, I can't believe I held off reading this one for so long. It's exactly the type of contemporary novel that I like to read because it truly investigates the depth of the human condition, familial relationships and survival. And, what's more, I don't think it's the type of book that is solely for one age group. It will work for the younger lot, but adults will also get a greater appreciation and understanding from the multitude of layers that Ms. Shinoda has created. I give it a 5 out of 5, and I highly recommend it to all fans of contemporary fiction - both YA and adult.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

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