They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Information

Goodreads: They Both Die at the End
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

One day shortly after midnight, Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio receive the call: today is the day they die.  With fewer than 24 hours to make life meaningful, they find themselves drawn together by the Last Friend app.  Hopefully, they can find peace and create a little adventure before it is too late.

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Review

“I’ve spent years living safely to secure a longer life, and look where that’s gotten me. I’m at the finish line but I never ran the race.”

Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End is a poignant look at what it means to die–and what it means to live.  In an alternate world, Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio both receive a call from Death-Cast notifying them that they will die that day.  Mateo, who has always been a little afraid to let go or even to leave his room, hopes to make his last day count by doing all the things he never dared.  Rufus finds himself unexpectedly separated from the friends he loves, and hopes he will not have to die alone.  They connect through the Last Friend app and, together, make special moments, but also find that death allows them to face the world, and themselves, with unexpected honesty.

This book is, of course, special because it makes readers ask themselves big questions: what makes a life worth living, what kind of legacy can we expect to leave behind, and why we often leave so many important things undone and unsaid.  It makes readers ask themselves what they would choose to do if they knew their last day on Earth.  Visiting friends, connecting with family, trying to repair relationships, and travelling come to mind.  But They Both Die at the End suggests that the little moments also matter–riding a bike, sharing a laugh, performing mundane chores with friends.

But the book does not rely simply on its ideas to impress readers.  It also features compelling and sympathetic characters.  Mateo and Rufus feel like very real teenagers, not an adult’s conception of what teenagers are like or should be like.  Even the dialogue feels authentic, not like the awkward slang authors sometimes write while trying to pretend they know how teens talk.

They Both at the End will likely leave readers emotional train wrecks.  It is a heartbreaking story because, after all, the title tells us they both die at the end.  But it is a story that  is worth the pain.

4 stars

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Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre

honor among thieves

Information

Goodreads: Honor Among Thieves
Series: The Honors #1
Source: Library
Published: February 13, 2018

Official Summary

Petty criminal Zara Cole has a painful past that’s made her stronger than most, which is why she chose life in New Detroit instead of moving with her family to Mars. In her eyes, living inside a dome isn’t much better than a prison cell.

Still, when Zara commits a crime that has her running scared, jail might be exactly where she’s headed. Instead Zara is recruited into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan—a race of sentient alien ships—to explore the outer reaches of the universe as their passengers.

Zara seizes the chance to flee Earth’s dangers, but when she meets Nadim, the alien ship she’s assigned, Zara starts to feel at home for the first time. But nothing could have prepared her for the dark, ominous truths that lurk behind the alluring glitter of starlight.

Review

If I had read this book a little sooner, it would have been book #8 on my list of the best books I’ve read in 2018 so far. I talk a lot about how I don’t really like space books–but since I enjoyed the Illumniae series and Honor Among Thieves maybe I do really like space books. This novel avoids the claustrophobic setting of just a single spaceship, as it starts on Earth and then moves towards into the space scenes, but it also has a lot of other great things going for it: strong characters, a bit of a mystery, and a unique relationship between the protagonist and her alien ship.

Zara is a character who could have been hit-or-miss for me. She has an issue with authority and tends to make snarky comments that could have just come across as annoying or try-hard, but the authors actually sold me on her tough attitude and hard exterior. Possibly this is because she quickly develops a close relationship with her Leviathon ship and her new crewmate, so readers can see she does have a gritty past and the toughness to go with it, but she’s also not heartless.

The alien-ship/human relationship is one of the more unique aspects of the book. I’m not 100% sure how I would classify it (But maybe that’s the point? There’s something new between humans and aliens that just isn’t in the human experience?). I’ve seen other reader’s call it “friendship,” which definitely fits, but it also seems pretty visceral and physical in ways I don’t think most friendships are.

The plot is also interesting, spanning from Zara’s time on Earth to her Honors training (this is really short, honestly, and seems not really like training–just a week to figure out how to live in space?) to her stint on the year-long “Tour.” The great mystery is what “the Journey” is. Some Honors are asked to go on the Journey after the tour.  Some are not.  The people who do are never heard from again.  The people who return to Earth imply it’s horrible.  I spent a lot of the book pondering what the Journey might be.

However, I took off one star because I was really hoping that the answer to the mystery of what the Journey is would be really creative–and it is not.  It is more or less what I predicted it would be if it were not creative (if that makes any sense).   This is really the great disappointment of the novel for me, though I am still really excited about getting my hands on the sequel when it comes out.

4 stars Briana

An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis

Information

Goodreads: An Experiment in Criticism
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1961

Summary

C. S. Lewis proposes that we can define books as good or bad based on how they are read.  To do this, he differentiates between the “literary” and the “unliterary,” or readers who enter fully into the work without preconceptions and readers who do not.

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Review

C. S. Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism challenges readers to be better.  His argument posits that “it might be plausible to define a good book as a book which is read in one way, and a bad book as a book which is read in another.”  To do this, he defines the “few” and the “many” or the “unliterary” and the “literary.”  Presumably readers want Lewis to count them among the “literary!”

Lewis’s thesis rests on the argument that what both groups mean by “liking” a book or “liking” to read is very different.  The unliterary do not reread books and “turn to [reading] as a last resort.”  The literary, however, reread “great” books multiple times, experience books as life-changing, and are so caught up in their reading that they both spend time reflecting on their favorite passages and talking about books to others.  So far, so good.  Many readers would probably see themselves among the “few.”

As Lewis’s argument goes on, however, it becomes more challenging.  The unliterary, he maintains, “use” books instead of receiving them.  The book is a jumping off point for their own ideas and fantasies.  They do not receive the ideas of the author by entering the book without preconceptions.  For this reason, Lewis believes that the unliterary prefer fast-paced narratives and even poor prose–the prose cannot get in the way of the use they wish to make of the book.  Erotica may come to mind here as a type of book people use, as Lewis agrees, but he is far more concerned with the pleasure the literary receive from “success “stories, whether that means they imagine themselves in a romance being wooed by a gentleman caller, or in a rags-to-riches tale achieving wealth and fame.  Reading should not, Lewis suggests be about one’s self but should take one out of one’s self.

Lewis’s ultimate argument goes far beyond questioning the intellect of readers; it suggests that reading is a moral act, as well.  The literary can enjoy, with the unliterary, “vicarious enjoyment of imagined happiness,” but that is not the only way they read.  He imagines reading as a process “described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self.”  What a wake-up call!  Though many see reading as for entertainment or enjoyment, Lewis’s stance reminds readers that the way they use free time has stakes.  They could waste their time, but they also might be missing an opportunity to better themselves, or even actively harming themselves.

Lewis’s book, fittingly, requires readers to approach it just as he argues–without preconceptions.  A defensive approach in which a reader prepares to justify their reading habits means that they will likely misread his argument and miss an opportunity to engage self-reflectively with his ideas.  But Lewis, as always, strives to be personable as well as concise and clear, making the book feel like a chat with a friend.  An Experiment in Criticism is a worthwhile read for any reader.

4 stars

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Trans. by Richard Howard

The Great American Read is an eight-part television series celebrating and discussing America’s top 100 novels as chosen by a survey of approximately 7,200 people.  Americans can vote on their favorite book once a day until the winner is revealed on October 23.  Here at Pages Unbound, we’ll be joining the fun by reading, reviewing, and discussing some of the nominees!

Information

Goodreads: The Little Prince
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1943

Summary

A pilot crashes in the Sahara Desert, where he meets a prince from another planet.  On that planet, the little prince tends a vain rose, who eventually reveals to him the most important things in life.

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Review

“Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”

I had never read The Little Prince before, mainly because I was under the vague impression that it was a really weird and probably boring book about a pilot and a planet, or something.  I really had no idea and I had no interest.  However, now that I have read it, I that realize I was missing out on something rarely beautiful.

The Little Prince is a charming tale about the important things in life–but not in an insufferable or stuffy kind of way.  Rather, it is like a fairy tale, stripping away non-essentials to get at what really matters: love, kindness, friendship, selflessness.  It is a book born of war.  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his peers, perhaps, saw firsthand just how little and silly certain pre-war obsessions meant.  The king who rules over nothing, the businessman who counts what he does not own, and the vain man whose thrill in admiration the little prince cannot understand, all speak to the emptiness of power and prestige.  They do not make these men happy.  But the tender devotion of a little prince to a flower?  Ah, that means everything.

And Saint-Exupéry is masterful in leading his reader to this recognition.  He challenges them to return to a childlike state where wonder is everywhere and anything is possible.  Children, he reminds us, do not worry about silly things like numbers.  They think in essentials.  They can see the elephant inside the boa.  Step by step he leads readers from a desire to see the elephant, too, through the poignant tale of the prince’s care, and finally to a startling realization: the existence of a flower is essential.  A lonely planet can make them weep.

It is not difficult to see why The Little Prince remains beloved worldwide.  The story speaks straight to the heart.  Like the pilot, readers will feel that the little prince is a friend, and that his happiness is intertwined with theirs.

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About the Author

Born in Lyons in 1900, Antoine Saint-Exupéry trained to become a pilot in the military and subsequently worked various jobs, such as delivering airmail.  During WWII, he flew to New York to ask the U.S. to intervene in the conflict, then returned to fly reconnaissance missions for France.  He never returned from his last mission in 1944.

Source

  • Saint-Exupéry, Antoine. The Little Prince. Trans. by Richard Howard, Harcourt, 2000.

Previous posts on the Great American Read

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5 stars

If You Like Jo March, Then Read…

Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa may Alcott

Once upon at time, Louisa May Alcott wrote thrillers much like her heroine Jo March.  This collection includes four such stories: “Pauline’s Passion and Punishment,” “The Mysterious Key,” “The Abbot’s Ghost,” and “Behind a Mask.”

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Faith Sunderly knows that her family is clouded by scandal. Why else would they remove to the remote island of Vane?  However, Faith cannot believe that her father’s important scientific discoveries are all frauds, as the newspapers allege.  Driven by her interest in natural science, as well as her conflicted feelings about Darwin’s newest theories, Faith will try to discover the truth behind her father’s work–and mysterious death.  But Faith lives in a man’s world and not everyone appreciates her scientific bent.

The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace

Lovelace’s semi-autobiographical series features the adventures of Betsy Ray, who grows from a girl who loves to tell stories to a flirtatious teen and, finally, a married woman.  Betsy aspires to become a writer.

The Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery

When the Cuthberts ask to adopt an orphan boy to help on the farm, they hardly expect eleven-year-old Anne Shirley to arrive instead.  Dreamy and vivacious, Anne soon captures the hearts of the Cuthberts and all of Avonlea.  The series follows her from a young girl to a woman married with children.  It also features her adventures in publishing her writing.

The Emily of New Moon trilogy by L. M. Montgomery

Perhaps Montgomery’s most autobiographical series, the Emily of New Moon trilogy follows Emily Starr, who dreams of becoming a writer.  As she grows, she first faces the challenge of writing against her guardians’ wishes.  And later she must decide if she is willing to sacrifice romance for her career.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin

Rebecca Randall arrives to live with her aunts Miranda and Jane in Riverboro, expecting that they will “be the making of her.” Someone, after all, needs to gain an education so that her mother can lift the mortgage from their farm and raise the six other children.  As she struggles to get along with her strict aunt, Rebecca finds herself enjoying school and dreaming of a career as a writer.

Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey

Suitors and Sabotage

Information

Goodreads: Suitors and Sabotage
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: April 17, 2018

Official Summary

Shy aspiring artist Imogene Chively has just had a successful Season in London, complete with a suitor of her father’s approval. Imogene is ambivalent about the young gentleman until he comes to visit her at the Chively estate with his younger brother in tow. When her interest is piqued, however, it is for the wrong brother.

Charming Ben Steeple has a secret: despite being an architectural apprentice, he has no drawing aptitude. When Imogene offers to teach him, Ben is soon smitten by the young lady he considers his brother’s intended.

But hiding their true feelings becomes the least of their problems when, after a series of “accidents,” it becomes apparent that someone means Ben harm. And as their affection for each other grows—despite their efforts to remain just friends—so does the danger. . .

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Review

Minor spoiler warning. I’m not revealing anything that’s not pretty obvious, but if you like to read books completely blind, you should probably avoid this review.

I enjoyed Cindy Anstey’s first two novels, Love, Lies and Spies and Duels and Deception as light romantic reads, so I was excited to pick up her third Regency-inspired novel (and requested my library purchase it just so I could read it!). Unfortunately, I think Suitors and Sabotage is significantly Anstey’s weakest work, despite the implication that it would be both a mystery and a romance; my primary emotion while reading it was boredom.

I haven’t checked if Suitors and Sabotage actually is longer than Anstey’s other novels, but it certainly feels like it. The plot is centered around the pending engagement of Imogene Chively and Ernest Steeple. The problem: When Ernest comes to visit Miss Chively and her family to cement the relationship before the proposal, he brings his charming younger brother Ben, who starts to steal some hearts. The second problem: Someone seems to have it out for Ben by playing dangerous pranks.

This sounds as if it should be interesting, but it’s not. There are also allusions to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which should make the book deep, but it doesn’t. I just felt awkward through most of the book, feeling really bad for Ernest as everyone fell in love with his brother, which made it difficult for me to find the book romantic. Additionally, Imogene and Ben spend the whole book trying to not be attracted to each other, because Ernest is supposed to be wooing Imogene, so there’s not a lot of room for romance.

The mystery part of the novel also falls short and simply doesn’t play as large a role as one might expect.

Finally, the characterization is lackluster. Imogene, Ben, Ernest, and Imogene’s friend Emily are well-developed, but the side characters seem like tropes, cardboard cutouts filling a role. I wasn’t even sure Imogene’s older brother and his friend Jake were going to have actual dialogue for a large portion of the book, or if they were just going to be incurable pranksters flitting about in the background. (And, honestly, I did not buy that these people were nineteen! The younger protagonists were more mature!)

Suitors and Sabotage just didn’t work for me. I like Anstey’s other books, so I’ll keep an open mind about future novels, but I can’t recommend this one.

2 star review Briana

Annie’s Life in Lists by Kristin Mahoney

annie's life in lists

Information

Goodreads: Annie’s Life in Lists
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: May 29, 2018

Official Summary

If you love kids like:
1. Anatastia Krupnik
2. Ramona Quimby
3. The Penderwicks

then you will love Annie! For Annie, lists are how she keeps her whole life in order. And there is a lot to keep track of!

Annie’s a shy fifth grader with an incredible memory and a love of making lists. It helps her keep track of things when they can seem a little out of control, like her family, her friends, and her life in a new place.

Annie has:
1. An incredible memory (really, it’s almost photographic) that can get her in trouble
2. A desire to overcome her shyness
3. A brother who is mad at her because he thinks she is the reason they had to move to Clover Gap, population 8,432.
4. A best friend who she is (almost) certain will always be her best friend.
5. New classmates, some of whom are nicer than others.
6. A rocky start finding her place in her new home.

Annie’s Life in Lists introduces a sweet new voice that finds that even amid the chaos of everyday life, it’s important to put things in order.

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Review

Six Things I Liked about Annie’s Life in Lists

  1. The entire book is in lists; they’re aren’t just lists interspersed.
  2. There’s a wide variety of characters, and Annie has a friend group instead of one best friend.
  3. Annie’s new town has a Clover Festival, and people are really into it.
  4. Annie’s father likes Harry Potter.
  5. There are some simple illustrations scattered throughout.
  6. The book is fun and a feel-good read.

Three Things I Like about Annie

  1. She tries to do the right thing.
  2. She has flaws.
  3. She notes that even though she has a good memory, she’s not a crime solving genius like Cam Jansen.

One Surprising Aspect of the Book

  1. Annie’s older brother Ted is pretty good at making up band names.  The band names are better than those in The Beauty That Remains, which was an entire book about bands.

Two Things I Didn’t Like about the book

    1. The plot idea of a girl moving from the big city to a small town and having to adjust and make friends is not a new one.
    2. The format differentiates the book, but, as much as I enjoyed reading it, I know this is a book I’m not going to even remember that I read in a couple years.

4 stars Briana