Monday, December 30, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013

It’s that time of year again—when I try to decide which books I liked best this year. I’ve divided my list into YA and non-YA lists, and I didn’t make any distinction between books that came out this year and books that were published in previous years that I read this year. The lists aren’t really in any particular order, though I did try to put the books I loved the absolute most towards the top. So here we go:

Top 10 YAs of 2013
-Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
-Dark Triumph, by Robin LaFevers
-Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater
-Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson
-Green Heart, by Alice Hoffman
-This Is Not a Test, by Courtney Summers
-Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
-Sabriel, by Garth Nix
-The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black
-The Taming of Tights, by Louise Rennison

Top 5 Non-YAs of 2013
-The Chocolate Kiss, by Laura Florand
-The Chocolate Touch, by Laura Florand
-Unsticky, by Sarra Manning
-Mercy Thompson series, by Patricia Briggs
-Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase

What books were your favorites this year?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary E. Pearson. The Goodreads summary:
Who is Jenna Fox? Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name. She has just awoken from a coma, they tell her, and she is still recovering from a terrible accident in which she was involved a year ago. But what happened before that? Jenna doesn't remember her life. Or does she? And are the memories really hers?

This fascinating novel represents a stunning new direction for acclaimed author Mary Pearson. Set in a near future America, it takes readers on an unforgettable journey through questions of bio-medical ethics and the nature of humanity. Mary Pearson's vividly drawn characters and masterful writing soar to a new level of sophistication.
This book was pretty much nothing like I expected. In a good way. I was expecting this to be an action-y dystopian where after Jenna discovers the truth about her accident, she teams up with some friends, takes on the establishment, and ends up saving the world. I don’t know why I was expecting that, but I was. Seriously, through the entire book I kept waiting for the story to take that turn, and it never did.

Instead, what I ended up getting was a much more reflective book. Not reflective in a slow way, because Jenna keeps discovering new secrets right and left and that keeps the story going at a pretty fast clip. But reflective in that it’s a book that brings up issues that make you think. Like about what it means to be a human and what determines identity and worth. It also makes you think about medical advances and if it’s possible to go too far to save someone. And those are just the bigger questions—there are so many smaller ones it brings up as well.

So the majority of the book is Jenna trying to figure out her own answers to those questions. And trying to navigate the new relationship dynamics in her life—with her parents, with her grandmother, and with her newfound friends. I was really impressed with the way the author explored Jenna’s complicated relationship with her family. It was deftly done, and her family was really well-layered. Especially her parents. It would have been so easy to portray them as the bad guys, but instead Mary Pearson shows you not only their mistakes and struggles, but their intense, unwavering love for Jenna as well.

Overall, the book was really well done. It’s not big on action and adventure—in fact, like 90 percent of the book takes place at Jenna’s house. But despite that, it’s not a slow or boring book at all. There’s too much going on psychologically for that. So if you want a book that will give you things to mull over even after you’ve finished reading it, give this one a try.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black. The Goodreads summary:
Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.
I wouldn’t classify myself as a vampire fan in general. Obviously, there are some exceptions (“Sunshine” and the Vampire Academy/Bloodlines series being the ones that most immediately spring to mind), but usually, when I find out a book’s about vampires, that’s something that tends to make me more skeptical of it rather than excited for it. But you see, this vampire book’s by Holly Black. I mean, come on. Holly Black. Plus, it had one of my favorite titles of the year going for it. So moral of the story, I decided to read it. And I loved it.

It’s just . . . edgy and dark and a little gory and basically everything I wanted a YA vampire book to be. It starts out with Tana waking up at a party where essentially everyone but her has been murdered, if that gives you any idea of the kind of book we’re dealing with. And Tana is not a bright and happy character, even before everything goes wrong, and as the book progresses she only gets tougher and more and more bad-A. She’s a character whose almost impenetrable emotional armor could easily rub me the wrong way, but for some reason, it never did. I liked her even when she was doing things that had me practically shrieking, “Don’t do it, Tana!” I think it’s because even when she was doing things that were basically suicidal, she was doing them with a purpose and with her eyes open and not because she’s na├»ve or dumb.

Also, Gavriel. Well, all the vampires really, but mostly Gavriel. I mostly just kind of really love him. He’s so much of a mystery at first, which is probably what sucked me in, and on top of that he’s dark and dangerous and there’s no mistaking him for a pseudo-bad boy with a heart of gold. His heart is dark and his badness goes perilously close to the bone. But it doesn’t go quite all the way there, which is what makes him so fascinating to me—those moments when you see that his morals may be horribly twisted, but they still, just barely, remain morals.

The only thing that didn’t work as well for me was that there was no clear plot direction. Tana is taking things one day—one hour, really—at a time and doesn’t have any particular goals. She’s just trying to stay alive. And so the reader has to take things step by step along with her, not having any clues about what is going to ultimately happen. And for me, without a definite direction, the story felt a little, well, directionless at times.

Overall, an engrossing read. This isn’t a light-hearted book by any means, but if you’re in the mood for something a little darker, I totally recommend it.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, December 2, 2013

Review: The Burning Sky

The Burning Sky, by Sherry Thomas. The Goodreads summary:
Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he's also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to avenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.
So . . . this book. There were a lot of really awesome things about it that I enjoyed a lot. Buuuuut, I don’t know, overall it fell a little flat for me.

First, the awesome things. I enjoyed the two-worlds thing it had going on. One world is full on fantasy, with magicians and dragons and magic books, and the other is Victorian England, with Eton and cricket and tea, and the characters travel back and forth between the two. I tended to enjoy the parts that took place in the “real” world more, maybe because I liked how sneaky and clandestine Titus’s and Iolanthe’s magic felt in that context. But the “magic” world with its political scheming had its draw too, and I especially liked the parts where the two worlds overlapped.

Another awesome thing was that Iolanthe is disguised as a boy for most of the book. I don’t know why, but I’m a total sucker for this type of storyline. And Iolanthe pulls of being a boy with a confidence and panache that I adored. To be honest, I kind of liked Iolanthe better as Fairfax the boy than I liked her as herself, maybe because I felt as Fairfax she had more personality.

I also liked the endnotes that popped up throughout the book. There’s another thing that gets me every time—footnotes in fiction. I appreciated the background and context they gave the story and that they prevented long explanations from slowing down the story itself.

But here’s where the book didn’t work for me. None of the characters stood out to me. With the exception as Iolanthe playing Fairfax, they all felt a bit on the blah side. There didn’t seem to be any real depth or personality to even Titus and Iolanthe, and so I had a hard time truly caring about them.

Similarly, I didn’t buy Titus and Iolanthe’s romance. As friends they have great chemistry—they can banter with the best of them. But I didn’t buy their romantic relationship. It always seemed to crop up at random moments, and I didn’t feel like there was a steady build of romantic chemistry or tension.

Overall, the book was pretty great in some areas and a little lacking in others. Looking back, I think my biggest problem with the book as a whole was that it felt choppy and episodic rather than seamless (though that may be partly due to the fact that I didn’t have much free time and had to read this book in small snatches over the course of two weeks). But I in general I did have a good time.

Rating: 3.5 / 5
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