Monday, December 31, 2012

Review: The President’s Daughter

The President’s Daughter (The President’s Daughter #1), by Ellen Emerson White. The GoodReads summary:
Sixteen-year-old Meghan Powers likes her life just the way it is. She likes living in Massachusetts. She likes her school. And she has plenty of friends. But all that is about to change. Because Meg’s mother, one of the most prestigious senators in the country, is running for President. And she’s going to win.
The thing that I simultaneously loved and hated most about this book was that it was an updated version of a book originally written in 1984. So basically I think the author went through and tried to make it sound like it was taking place in 2008 rather than the ‘80s. And usually it was fine—I could tell what had been updated, but it wasn’t too glaringly obvious. But every once in a while, some parts just screamed 1980s. Like one part was describing one of Meg’s outfit, and seriously, no teenager in 2008 would be caught dead in a pleated wool skirt, white oxford shirt, knee socks, and Top Siders unless it was a school uniform.

This book sounded like '80s teen fiction as well. Even before I realized it was an updated copy of a much older book, I kept thinking, “Hmmm . . . this book sounds like it should be from the '80s.” It’s just got that Judy Bloom feel, you know? Like you can tell it’s written by an adult for teens, rather than it just being a story about a teen. It vaguely feels like you’re being talked down to. Does that make sense?

Anyway, despite my criticisms above, I did end up liking the story. It doesn’t have much in the way of plot, honestly. It’s more just the story of how Meg reacts to her mother’s candidacy for president. It’s a fairly quiet book, and there’s no big drama or anything. Which may sound like a negative, but it worked for me in this book. It was really interesting actually, all the political stuff and how it affects Meg and her family.

Meg herself is hilarious. She’s a bit surly and sarcastic and can have an attitude, but I liked her a lot. I think she deals with all the crazy stuff going on around her fairly maturely and with a sense of humor. She’s just sneakily funny, you know? Like, I would forget how funny Meg could be until she made some dry, sarcastic comment that had me grinning.

Overall, definitely a book of the '80s, despite the attempt to update it. But still, I enjoyed it. I hear that the next books in the series get more dramatic than this one, so I’ll probably read them at some point. I just think they’ll be library books rather than ones that I rush out to buy.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Friday, December 28, 2012

Books for 2013

With the end of the year coming up quick, I’ve been thinking a bit about which books I want to read most in 2013. I’ve divided my list into books that will be published in 2013 and books that are already out that I just haven’t gotten to yet. Here they are:

Most-Anticipated Books Released in 2013
-Falling for You, by Lisa Schroeder
-Dark Triumph, by Robin LaFevers
-Perfect Scoundrels, by Ally Carter
-Catherine, by April Linder
-The Sum of All Kisses, by Julia Quinn
-The Sea of Tranquility, by Katja Millay

Books I Want to Finally Get Around To
-The Golden Lily, by Richelle Mead
-Flame of Sevenwaters, by Juliet Marillier
-This Is Not a Test, by Courtney Summers
-Such a Rush, by Jennifer Echols
-The Evolution of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin
-Days of Blood and Starlight, Laini Taylor
-The Duchess War, by Courtney Milan
-The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey
-Love and Other Perishable Items, by Laura Buzo
-My Life Next Door, by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Which books are you looking forward to in 2013?

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Favorite Christmas Books

You guys, my life has been busy, to say the least, this past little while, so I’ve had pretty much no time to read. Seriously. It’s taken me a week to get 20 pages into the book I’m reading now, which I’m slightly bitter about since I really want to read it.

So in the absence of any book reviews to share with you, I decided to post about my favorite Christmas books. It sounded easy when I thought of it, but then I realized I could only come up with three books about Christmas. Which can’t be right. Out of all the books I’ve read in my life, there are only three about Christmas that I like? No way. I think my memory is just really bad. But while I rack my brain for other holiday books, I’ll share with you the three that I do remember.

-The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman, by Louise Plummer. A quick, fluffy YA holiday romance about a girl whose older brother brings home a hottie of a friend for Christmas. Romantic ice skating and hot chocolate drinking ensue, as does an apology ice cave. (Read my review here)

-Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Told from alternating viewpoints, a boy finds a notebook that sets him and a girl off on adventures across New York City at Christmas. This book involves bookstores and quotable quotes, so it’s hard to go wrong. (Read my review here)

-A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. A Christmas classic, obviously, about a man who gets the chance to change his life for the better. Heartwarming and surprisingly hilarious.

Come on, guys, help me out. What are some other Christmas/holiday/winter-themed books that you like?

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Favorite Books of 2012

'Tis the season when I start thinking back about the books that I fell in love with this year. Some years it’s hard for me to choose, but this year it was actually relatively easy. I didn’t distinguish between books I read in 2012 and books that were published in 2012—they’re all just lumped in there together. But anyway, drumroll please…

Favorite of the Year
-A Little Wanting Song, by Cath Crowley (2005)
-Graffiti Moon, by Cath Crowley (2010)

Favorite Contemporary
-Easy, by Tammara Webber (2012)
-The Day Before, by Lisa Schroeder (2011)

Favorite Fantasy
-Froi of the Exiles, by Melina Marchetta (2011)
-For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund (2012)

Favorite Historical
-A Company of Swans, by Eva Ibbotson (1985)
-Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers (2012)

Favorite Author I Discovered
-Eva Ibottson
-Courtney Milan

Favorite Start of a Series
-Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater (2012)
-Cinder, by Melissa Meyer (2012)

Favorite End of a Series
-Quintana of Charyn, by Melina Marchetta  (2012)
-Black Heart, by Holly Black (2012)

Most-Unexpected Favorite
-Blood Red Road, by Moira Young (2011)
-Virtuosity, by Jessica Martinez (2011)

Funniest Favorite
-Withering Tights, by Louise Rennison (2011)

Favorite That Made Me Cry the Most
-My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, by Annabel Pitcher (2011)

Which books did you like most in 2012?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Favorites: Edna St. Vincent Millay

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not-necessarily-YA books I love.

Which book?
Edna St. Vincent Millay: Selected Poems


When did I first read it?
Two years ago.

Why did I first read it?
Growing up, we had a poetry anthology that I loved called “A Child’s Anthology of Poetry.” It had Millay’s short poem “First Fig” in it, and even when I was fairly young, that poem drew me with its devil-may-care attitude. So when I saw a Millay anthology on sale at the bookstore, I picked it up.

What did I think about it then?
As is the case with me and most poetry anthologies of a single poet’s work, Millay’s poetry was a bit hit or miss for me. But those poems that I liked—which was a fair number of them—I adored. She writes quite a bit about all the different ways love is lost, and those are the poems of hers that tended to click most with me. Her poems about nature and what not . . . not so much. But I just loved how spot on she is about so many emotions and how well she conveys a variety of tones, from regretful to reflective to defiant and beyond.

What do I think about it now?
I pick up my Millay anthology fairly frequently to reread a poem or two that have been on my mind. Does that happen to anyone else?—getting poetry stuck in your head? “First Fig,” the poem that initially got me started on Millay, gets in my head fairly often, as does one of her unnamed poems (a sonnet, I think?) from her collection, “The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems.” I’ll copy them here so you can get a taste of what Millay’s poems are like:

First Fig
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.
And her untitled one:
I, being born a woman and distressed
By all the needs and notions of my kind,
Am urged by your propinquity to find
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
To bear your body's weight upon my breast:
So subtly is the fume of life designed,
To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind,
And leave me once again undone, possessed.
Think not for this, however, the poor treason
Of my stout blood against my staggering brain,
I shall remember you with love, or season
My scorn wtih pity,—let me make it plain:
I find this frenzy insufficient reason
For conversation when we meet again.
Have you read anything by Millay? What did you think?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Light Confessional: Historical Romances & Courtney Milan

You guys, sometimes I just enjoy a good historical romance. (And admittedly I occasionally enjoy the totally worthless and trashy ones too). Historical romances are like junk food for the brain to me: not something I eat too often but just what I need sometimes.

Not that long ago, the marvelous Angie of Angieville introduced me to Courtney Milan’s historical romances via the novella “The Governess Affair.” And after I devoured that little gem, I went to the library and picked up a few of the other Milan books they had, which turned out to be the first two books in the Turner Brothers series. I proceeded to wolf those down as well. So here I am on the other side of a three-book/novella Courtney Milan stint, and these are my general thoughts:

I love that she surprises me. There seems to always be a point in her books where I’ve been enjoying the story so far, but then something a little (or a lot) cliché happens and I start to think, maybe this book won’t be that good after all. But Milan always manages to resolve the cliché situation in a brilliantly not-so-cliché way. Which I thoroughly appreciate. And that bit of doubt that gets proven wrong always seems to make me love the story all the more.

I also love that her characters are emotionally honest. When they realize they care about each other, they consistently show it through their actions, and they don't act or speak in ways that contradict that. Similarly, I like that her characters are respectful to each other even before they necessarily like each other. Not that they don’t argue and make each other mad, but there’s a core of respect, especially on the part of the men, that I really, really like. And speaking of the men, I adore ’em. The women are strong (and hallelujah for that), but it’s the fact that the men don’t seem to be surprised by it that wins me over every time. And not only are they not surprised, they also support the heroines and let them know it’s okay to become even stronger. I love that the men are secure enough in themselves that the strength of the heroines doesn’t cause them to resort to pettiness and pride (that happens all the time in historicals and it makes me grrr).

So yep, new Courtney Milan fan over here. I’m excited to eventually get to her other books and see if what I liked about the three stories I’ve read so far continues to hold true. I certainly hope so.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Favorites: Paranormalcy

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not-necessarily-YA books I love.

Which book?
Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White

YA paranormal

Summary? (from GoodReads)
Evie's always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she's falling for a shape-shifter, and she's the only person who can see through paranormals' glamours.

But Evie's about to realize that she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.

When did I first read it?
2010, I believe.

Why did I first read it?
I don’t specifically remember, but probably because everyone was blogging about how much they loved it.

What did I think about it then?
You can read my original review here, but basically I loved Evie. I loved how hilarious she was and how down-to-earth. I really liked that she didn’t run off and do stupid stuff all the time like girls in YA paranormals tend to do. I also adored Lend. He wasn’t all dark and brooding—he was just so nice.

What do I think about it now?
YA paranormal is not my favorite genre. As a result, when I first read Paranormalcy, I went into it with really, really low expectations. So I was beyond happy that the book was actually a lot of fun. It became my favorite YA paranormal, and it still remains my favorite. I didn’t like the sequel, Supernaturally, as much so I haven’t picked up the third one (Endlessly) yet. But I fully intend to sometime. I feel like I owe it to Evie to finish her story since she was the one to show me I could enjoy the occasional YA paranormal.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: The Story of Us

The Story of Us, by Deb Caletti. The GoodReads summary:
Cricket’s on a self-imposed break from her longtime boyfriend—but she’s picked a bad week to sort out her love life. For one thing, her mother’s romance is taking center stage: After jilting two previous fiancés, her mom is finally marrying Dan Jax, whom Cricket loves. But as wedding attendees arrive for a week of festivities at a guesthouse whose hippie owners have a sweet, sexy son—Ash—complications arise:

Cricket’s future stepsisters make it clear they’re not happy about the marriage. An old friend decides this is the week to declare his love for Cricket. Grandpa chooses to reveal a big secret at a family gathering. Dan’s ex-wife shows up. And even the dogs—Cricket’s old, ill Jupiter and Dan’s young, lively Cruiser—seem to be declaring war.

While Cricket fears that Dan is in danger of becoming ditched husband-to-be number three, she’s also alarmed by her own desires. Because even though her boyfriend looms large in her mind, Ash is right in front of her....
Deb Caletti. I don’t know how she does it, but it’s like she can read my mind. I swear, she knows exactly how I feel, and then takes all those jumbled, mixed-up emotions, sorts them out, and turns them into something insightful and beautiful. And that’s what I always come away with from Caletti’s books—insight. Insight into my own life and into life in general. Her books are wonderful that way.

I actually didn’t know the plot of The Story of Us before I started reading it. I’m at that point where I pick up Caletti’s books without needing to know what they’re about. And she came through this time too. I think The Story of Us is her best book so far. It has this perfect blend of humor and serious issues, love and conflict, permanence and change. It’s just an all-around solid book.

And you know what surprised me about this book? That it wasn’t a swoony falling-in-love story but I liked it even more because of it. Romance is pretty much a requirement in a book if I’m going to like it, and there is romance in this story—it’s just not that butterflies-in-the-stomach, first love kind of romance. After all, Cricket and Janssen have been together for years, and Janssen isn’t even in the book except for one page at the end. It’s a deeper and more subtle romance as Cricket tries to sort out what she wants out of their relationship and out of the future. And can I just say, JANSSEN. That boy. He doesn’t even have to be in the story for more than the one page he is for it to be obvious that he’s everything that’s kind and good. Seriously, I’ll take him if Cricket doesn’t. And that hottie Ash isn’t too shabby either.

And I loved Cricket’s family. They’re funny and quirky without taking it too far and becoming caricatures. They feel real, and as I read along I felt more and more like I was part of their family—that I really knew them. How does that even happen? Talented authors, that’s how, I guess.

Overall, a solid contemporary YA. It’s a little on the slower and more reflective side, but I never felt like the story dragged at all. If you’ve read any of Caletti’s books before, you won’t be disappointed, and if you haven’t read them, I think this is a good place to start.

Rating: 4 / 5

Other Deb Caletti books I've reviewed:
-The Secret Life of Prince Charming
-Honey, Baby, Sweetheart

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow

The Book of Blood and Shadow, by Robin Wasserman. The GoodReads summary:
When the night began, Nora had two best friends and a boyfriend she adored. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands. Chris was dead. Adriane couldn’t speak. And Max, Nora’s sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.

Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora’s determined to follow the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. But Chris’s murder is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.
Take “The Da Vinci Code” and replace the art with a mysterious book and the 40-year-olds with 17-year-olds and you essentially have “The Book of Blood and Shadow,” secret religious societies and all. Not that that’s at all a bad thing. I liked “The Da Vinci Code” and I liked this book well enough too. There’s something to be said for books that take you traipsing across foreign countries while the characters search for clues to solve a centuries-old mystery in between dodging the secret societies out to stop them. These kinds of books are engrossing and exciting and informative all at the same time.

And all those adjectives describe “The Book of Blood and Shadow” too. I thought it did a good job at setting up both the mystery and the history, and I loved that a big chunk of the story takes place in Prague. I also liked that the book managed to surprise me towards the end with which characters were involved in the conspiracy and how. I mean, there were definitely some people I could tell from the beginning weren’t who they said they were, but others—and one in particular—caught me off guard.

And yet . . . there were times when the book stretched my willing suspension of disbelief a little too far. I found myself thinking, “There’s no way someone could be that naïve/ oblivious/ lucky/ skilled/ etc.” too often to really get sucked into the book. There were just a few too many things I found implausible even within the realm of the story, and they distracted me.

Overall, though, if you’re in the mood for an adventure/mystery, this isn’t a bad place to start.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Favorites: Dealing with Dragons

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not-necessarily-YA books I love.

Which book?
Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia Wrede

Middle-grade (maybe?) fantasy.

Summary? (from GoodReads)
Take one bored princess. Make her the seventh daughter in a very proper royal family. Have her run away.

Add one powerful, fascinating, dangerous dragon.

Princess Cimorene has never met anyone (or anything) like the dragon Kazul. But then, she's never met a witch, a jinn, a death-dealing talking bird, or a stone prince either.

Princess Cimorene ran away to find some excitement.

She's found plenty.

When did I first read it?
Elementary school sometime.

Why did I first read it?
My older sister read the last book in this series (Talking to Dragons) out loud to my younger siblings and me. I loved that story and thought it was hilarious, so I decided to read the whole series from the beginning.

What did I think about it then?
I was happy to discover that I liked Dealing with Dragons even more than I did Talking to Dragons. Cimorene is just so stinkin’ awesome. I loved how she took matters into her own hands and didn’t need saving by any prince. She’s very much her own person, and I just wanted to BE Cimorene. Plus, the whole being a dragon’s princess totally appealed to me, as did the adventures, magic, and throwing soapy water at wizards.

What do I think about it now?
I love this whole series. Dealing with Dragons is my favorite of them, but all the books are so well done. And funny. I don’t think I’ve accurately conveyed how clever and amusing these books are. I thought they were funny when I was in elementary school, and I still think they’re hilarious now, which says something about their quality, I think.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: Black Heart

Black Heart (Curse Workers #3), by Holly Black. The GoodRead’s summary:
Cassel Sharpe has the most deadly ability of all. With one touch, he can transform any object - including a person - into something else entirely. And that makes him a wanted man. The Feds are willing to forgive all his past crimes if he'll only leave his con artist family behind and go straight. But why does going straight feel so crooked?

For one thing, it means being on the opposite side of the law from Lila, the girl he loves. She's the daughter of a mob boss and getting ready to join the family business herself. Though Cassel is pretty sure she can never love him back, he can't stop obsessing over her. Which would be bad enough, even if her father wasn't keeping Cassel's mother prisoner in a posh apartment and threatening not to let her leave until she returns the priceless diamond she scammed off him years ago. Too bad she can't remember where she put it.

The Feds say they need Cassel to get rid of a powerful man who is spinning dangerously out of control. But if they want Cassel to use his unique talent to hurt people, what separates the good guys from the bad ones? Or is everyone just out to con him?

Time is running out, and all Cassel's magic and cleverness might not be enough to save him. With no easy answers and no one he can trust, love might be the most dangerous gamble of all.
I’m not really sure why I enjoy this series as much as I do. It’s not my usual type of thing. But nevertheless, enjoy it I do, and this third book is no exception. But, as is often the case for me, when I try to write a review for the later books in a series, I feel like I’m just repeating what I already said in my reviews for the previous books. But here I go anyway.

I think one of the things I appreciate most about this series is how consistently good it is—there was no second-book lull, and this third one was just as strong as the first. Cassel is an entirely likeable main character, and he’s interesting enough to carry the series. What also keeps this series intriguing to me is the whole curse-workers society and the noir/dark fantasy feel the books have going on. I just love the atmosphere the books create. I also love the well-rounded out cast of family, mobsters, feds, and friends and think that they’re all pretty well written.

As for things specific to this third book, I liked that we got to see a slightly different side of Barron—especially towards the end—than we saw in the last two books. Although, I did feel like some of Daneca’s and Sam’s actions in this book weren’t really consistent with what I’d expect based on the other two books. And finally, I’ll mention Lila—that girl fascinates me. Although she’s in this book a fair amount, I wish she would’ve been in more, just because I think she steals every scene she’s in. So honestly, as much as I like Cassel, I really wish we could’ve gotten to see inside Lila’s head way more often.

Overall, a good ending to a good series (this is the last book, yeah? I thought this was a trilogy, but the ending—while giving closure—does leave some wiggle room for more books…).

Rating: 4 / 5

Other books in the series:
White Cat
Red Glove

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mini-Review: Miracle

Mini-reviews are where I write about books that I want to mention but am too lazy or too busy to write a full-length review for. I say what I thought about the book in 5 sentences then share a quote I liked from the book.

Miracle, by Elizabeth Scott. The GoodReads summary:
Megan is a miracle. At least, that’s what everyone says. Having survived a plane crash that killed everyone else on board, Megan knows she should be grateful just to be alive. But the truth is, she doesn’t feel like a miracle. In fact, she doesn’t feel anything at all. Then memories from the crash start coming back.

Scared and alone, Megan doesn’t know whom to turn to. Her entire community seems unable—or maybe unwilling—to see her as anything but Miracle Megan. Everyone except for Joe, the beautiful boy next door with a tragic past and secrets of his own. All Megan wants is for her life to get back to normal, but the harder she tries to live up to everyone’s expectations, the worse she feels. And this time, she may be falling too fast to be saved....
The mini-review:
This was my first Elizabeth Scott book, and I can tell that I need to get crackin’ on reading her other books, because I like her writing and story-telling style. But . . . this particular book didn’t quite click for me—and honestly, I’m willing to admit that’s because I wasn’t in the mood for an emotionally trying book. You see, Megan is the sole survivor of a plane crash, and she is completely (and understandably) messed up by it mentally and emotionally. And since the book’s in first person, it got harder and harder for me to deal with her skewed and traumatized viewpoint—I just wanted to tell her to go get professional help already. So while this particular book wasn’t for me, I will admit it was well done, so I think I need to see if this author has written any . . . fluffier . . . books.

Rating: 3 / 5

The quote, pg. 31:
That’s when I knew things weren’t ever going to get back to normal. My parents hugged me plenty, but they’d always given parent hugs, those squeezes that make you feel safe but also judge a little, a reminder that you’re still loved but the fact you forgot to take out the trash has been noticed.

Now they hugged me like I was made of glass. Not like I might break, but like I was something priceless. They didn’t hug me like they used to and that’s when I knew I wasn’t Meggie anymore. I wasn’t even Megan.

I was Miracle.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Books: The Thanksgiving Edition

I posted this last Thanksgiving, I know--but it still applies. I'll always be grateful for these books.

I'm thankful for books. Really. Seriously. Truly. Without books, I wouldn't be even remotely the same person. I wouldn't be me. I mean, the first thing out of my mouth when people ask me to tell something about myself is "I love to read." My love of books defines me--maybe a little too much at times, and other areas of my life have probably suffered because of it. But nevertheless, reading is an integral part of who I am, and I am infinitely grateful for the books I've read.

Thanksgiving has got me thinking about which books have influenced me the most--which books have really and truly shaped who I am. So here's the list, roughly in chronological order:

-“The Ordinary Princess,” by M.M. Kay: This was my first favorite book, and I read it until the cover fell off. Then I read it some more.

-“Talking to Dragons,” by Patricia C. Wrede: My older sister first read this to me, and then as I got older, I read the rest of the series myself. Although it’s neither the first nor the best of the series, “Talking to Dragons” won me over to the fantasy genre.

-“The Little House on the Prairie” series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder: My friend and I read these books at the same time in 5th grade. It was my first experience reading books and discussing them with someone else, and I haven’t been able to stop talking about books since.

-“Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott: This book was my favorite book throughout middle and high school. It was the first “classic” I ever read, and it showed me that genre didn’t have to be scary and unapproachable. 

-“Beauty,” by Robin McKinley: My older sister gave me this book as a birthday present and launched me solidly into the world of Robin McKinley. I don’t think there’s any other author that speaks to me quite as well as McKinley.

-“The Princess Diaries,” by Meg Cabot: This is the book that started my love for YA fiction. Before, the only YA books I knew about where of the "Sweet Valley High" variety--not that I didn’t love those, but “The Princess Diaries” showed me there were books out there about teenagers I could relate to.

-“Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte: “Jane Eyre” . . . how can I possibly explain my love for this book? Jane--reserved, practical, and plain, yet immovable in her desire to do what’s right--was one of the first characters I could both relate to and admire at the same time.

-“All the Pretty Horses,” by Cormac McCarthy: This book was my first introduction to unconventional writing styles. I barely remember the story line, but it taught me how to read books that step outside the box.

-“The Poisonwood Bible,” by Barbara Kingsolver: This one taught me that women can write as well as men do--and in this case, can do it better.

-“The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway: My first Hemingway. That’s all I need to say, really. The man practically ruined me for all other writing styles.

-“To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee: I didn’t read this book until college, but it immediately became one of my all-time favorites. The narrative voice is just so incredible, the story so wonderful, and the characters so lovable--who could ever forget the Finches? 

-“The Book of Bright Ideas,” by Sandra Kring: With a single sentence, this novel completely changed how I deal with people: “Don’t judge people for what they’re doing until you know why they’re doing it.”

What books are you thankful for?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, by Annabel Pitcher. The GoodReads summary:
Ten-year-old Jamie hasn't cried since it happened. He knows he should have--Jasmine cried, Mum cried, Dad still cries. Roger didn't, but then he is just a cat and didn't know Rose that well, really.

Everyone kept saying it would get better with time, but that's just one of those lies that grown-ups tell in awkward situations. Five years on, it's worse than ever: Dad drinks, Mum's gone and Jamie's left with questions that he must answer for himself.

This is his story, an unflinchingly real yet heart-warming account of a young boy's struggle to make sense of the loss that tore his family apart.
I almost didn’t write a review for this book, because it’s so dang touching and near-perfect that I’m not sure I can adequately convey all the reasons it’s so wonderful. But I’m going to try.

This book is heartbreaking, quite frankly—I cried through the last three chapters, which is not something I do often. Jamie’s life is devastatingly hard and more than any 10 year old should have to deal with—after one of his sisters died, his parents never recovered, and with their ensuing divorce, his mom abandons Jamie and his sister and leaves them with their increasingly alcoholic and prejudiced father. And on top of that, Jamie gets bullied at school. But Jamie, that wonderful kid, perseveres. Sometimes he gets scared, and he doesn’t always make the brave choice, but he keeps on going and never loses his optimistic outlook.

Jas, Jamie’s 15-year-old sister, deserves a medal or something for being the best big sister ever. In some ways she has it harder than Jamie—she’s older, so she understands better than he does the implications of what’s going on in their family. But despite her pink hair, dark eyeliner, and black clothes, she’s unfailingly thoughtful and kind to Jamie. It would be so easy for her to shut him out and focus only on herself and her own problems, but she doesn’t—she not only takes care of Jamie’s basic needs, like keeping him fed, but she also goes to his soccer games and spends time with him. She’s amazing.

And just as wonderful as Jas is Sunya, Jamie’s new friend. Here’s another girl who’s so incredibly strong. She’s the only Muslim at a small Christian school, and she gets bullied relentlessly, but that doesn’t keep her from being herself. She’s resilient and irrepressible, and she reaches out to Jamie and through her friendship helps him find those qualities within himself. Like Jamie says, “Sunya is strong and Sunya is Girl M and Sunya is sunshine and smiles and sparkle.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Overall, this book will break your heart but offer you enough hope to make it all worth it. I recommend it for sure.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review: Love Story

Love Story, by Jennifer Echols. The GoodReads summary:
For Erin Blackwell, majoring in creative writing at the New York City college of her dreams is more than a chance to fulfill her ambitions--it's her ticket away from the tragic memories that shadow her family's racehorse farm in Kentucky. But when she refuses to major in business and take over the farm herself someday, her grandmother gives Erin's college tuition and promised inheritance to their maddeningly handsome stable boy, Hunter Allen. Now Erin has to win an internship and work late nights at a coffee shop to make her own dreams a reality. She should despise Hunter . . . so why does he sneak into her thoughts as the hero of her latest writing assignment?

Then, on the day she's sharing that assignment with her class, Hunter walks in. He's joining her class. And after he reads about himself in her story, her private fantasies about him must be painfully clear. She only hopes to persuade him not to reveal her secret to everyone else. But Hunter devises his own creative revenge, writing sexy stories that drive the whole class wild with curiosity and fill Erin's heart with longing. Now she's not just imagining what might have been. She's writing a whole new ending for her romance with Hunter . . . except this story could come true.
Just based on the summary, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into with this book. Drama, drama, drama. And, well, as much as is kinda pains me to admit it . . . I totally loved it. This book was just so ridiculous, I couldn’t help adoring it. There’s a fine line between melodramatic books that have me rolling my eyes too often and getting frustrated too much, and melodramatic books that have me rolling my eyes and getting frustrated just the right amount. And this book fell into the latter category for me. It probably hit the same spot for me that Hallmark and Lifetime original movies do—that spot that needs some totally pointless and overwrought romance once in a while.

I just loved every minute of Erin and Hunter’s tumultuous relationship. All the fighting and jealousy and lies, when it’s totally obvious they both love each other but are too prideful to admit it—it’s not the kind of thing that usually works for me in books, but for some reason it worked for me in this one. Maybe I was just in the right mood. Or maybe Jennifer Echols is a more talented author than I give her credit for.

Anyway, I’m going to wrap up this review now, since I’m feeling a bit silly about how much I enjoyed this book, considering it wasn’t exactly super high quality or anything. I think I’d recommend it if you’re in the mood for a guilty pleasure that doesn’t need to live up to high expectations. But I’ll just admit, in closing, that I’ll be stockpiling the rest of Jennifer Echols’s books for the next time I’m in the mood for this kind of story—which is probably more often than I’m willing to admit.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, November 12, 2012

Review: Insurgent

Insurgent (Divergent #2), by Veronica Roth. The GoodReads summary:
One choice can transform you--or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves--and herself--while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable--and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.
This book . . . I enjoyed it, and I thought it was a pretty solid second book; it drew me in, had me in suspense, and left me wondering what was going to happen next. And yet . . . I just didn’t like it as much as I did “Divergent.” Although, honestly I’m not sure I even like “Divergent” as much as I think I do. When I read that book, it was very much a case of reading it at exactly the right time, and if I had read it any other day, I’m not sure I would’ve loved it as much as I did. So I think “Insurgent” was a bit unfairly doomed before I even started it. But it’s not like I disliked it—not at all. Like I said, it was a pretty solid book. I just didn’t feel that level of investment that I had for whatever reason with “Divergent.”

Also, I thought “Insurgent” was a fair bit darker and more depressing than “Divergent.” Tris is pretty screwed up from what happened at the end of the first book—and rightly so—but she doesn’t ever seem to make much headway in terms of emotional healing. I mean, I appreciated that Veronica Roth doesn’t try to gloss over Tris’s post-traumatic stress, but at the same time, I thought it started to weigh down the book a little too much after a while. And in addition to that, a lot of people die in this book. I know that was realistic since their society is in the middle of a violent coup and all, but appreciating the realism didn’t stop me from thinking that the abundance of deaths was totally depressing.

And this book had a sad lack of Four. I love that boy.

Overall, a solid—but darker—second book. It’s probably a much better book than I made it sound in this review, but I just couldn’t love it as much as I did “Divergent.”

Rating: 3 / 5

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Favorites: Much Ado About Nothing

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not-necessarily-YA books I love.

Which book?
Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare


Summary? (from GoodReads)
"Much Ado About Nothing" is the story of Leonato, an Italian nobleman, his daughter, Hero, and his niece, Beatrice. Following a war Leonato welcomes into his house Don Pedro, his good friend; fellow soldiers of Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick; as well as Don Pedro's illegitimate brother, Don John. Quickly amorous relations develop between Claudio and Hero and later between Benedick and Beatrice. As wedding plans are being made for Claudio and Hero, Don John tricks Claudio into believing that Hero has been unfaithful. The wedding bliss is briefly interrupted until the truth is finally discovered and the play ends in a joyful double wedding.

When did I first read it?
High school.

Why did I first read it?
Honestly, the only reason I first read it is because I loved the movie with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson so much.

What did I think about it then?
I was not (and still am not) a big fan of Shakespeare, but my adoration for the movie opened the door to my adoration for the play. It was just so funny and witty, and I liked being able to catch all the little things that were in the play that weren’t in the movie. I hated Claudio, of course—he’s so annoying—but I loved Beatrice and Benedict from the beginning, so they overpowered my distaste for Claudio.

What do I think about it now?
I love to pick up this play and reread my favorite bits. Those bits all involve Beatrice and Benedict, of course. Those two remain one of my favorite couples of all time. And despite their banter and poking fun at each other, they have some really romantic moments together, which gives their relationship a nice balance, I think.

Have you read this play? What did you think?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Review: How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr. The GoodReads summary:
Jill MacSweeney just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends—everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she’s somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.

Mandy Kalinowski understands what it’s like to grow up unwanted—to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?

As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy—or as difficult—as it seems.
For the first three-fourths of this book, I wasn’t sure if I was going to end up liking it. Mainly because for the first part Mandy annoyed me, and then, when I was finally warming up to her, Jill started driving me crazy. But I came around to them both, eventually.

Mandy, I had a hard time with because at first she comes off as so shallow and naïve. I reacted to her a bit like Jill does as first, thinking she’s dumb and probably trying to scam Jill’s mother. But I really came to like Mandy, actually. Like Jill finally admits, “That Mandy. She might not be the smartest person to ever walk the earth, but she has a kind of power about her you have to admire.” And I really did come to admire her—she has a hidden strength I wasn’t expecting.

And speaking of Jill, I had the opposite reaction to her as I did to Mandy. At first, I liked her fine. But Jill’s cynicism and inability to just suck it up and be nice to those around her started grating on my nerves. At least Jill realizes she has that problem, though. But even more than her attitude, I hated how Jill falls for Ravi while she’s still with Dylan. She doesn’t even feel bad about it. And Dylan’s such a good guy—I wanted to smack Jill every time she flirted with Ravi. I just don’t understand why she didn’t break up with Dylan when she knew she had feelings for Ravi. Ug. Anyway, despite that, after Jill loses the attitude towards the end of the book, I started liking her again.

Anyway, my like/dislike of Mandy and Jill aside, I thought this book did a pretty good job at exploring how all the different parties involved in an open adoption would feel—from the doubts, to the uncertainty, to the excitement. It’s a tough situation, and I’m glad this book didn’t try to gloss over the problems and make everything easy. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by the ending and how it all works out. The solution was different than I had anticipated, but I ended up thinking it was pretty perfect.

Overall, despite it taking me a lot of time to warm up to the characters, I think it’s a worthwhile book. While I’m not always the biggest Sara Zarr fan, I always admire her willingness to tackle issues that don’t get brought up very often in YA fiction. And really, I think this is the Sara Zarr book I like best so far.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, November 5, 2012

Flashback Review: Deerskin

Flashback reviews are where I review an older book that I’ve reread recently.

Deerskin, by Robin McKinley. The GoodReads summary:
As Princess Lissar reaches womanhood, it is clear to all the kingdom that in her breathtaking beauty she is the mirror image of her mother, the queen. But this seeming blessing forces her to flee for safety from her father's wrath. With her loyal dog Ash at her side, Lissar unlocks a door to a world of magic, where she finds the key to her survival - and an adventure beyond her wildest dreams...
Sometimes I’m just in a Robin McKinley mood, and nothing else will satisfy me. After rereading “Beauty” and “Rose Daughter,” I found I needed a little more Robin McKinley on top of that, so I reread “Deerskin.” “Deerskin” isn’t a book I’m often in the mood for. It’s not that is isn’t wonderful and beautiful and outstanding—because it is—it’s just that this book is such an emotional commitment. It takes a lot out of me to read about the terrible things Lissar goes through at the beginning of the book. And let me warn you, they are unspeakable—rape, incest, abuse . . . not things I can read about lightly. But I felt “Deerskin” calling me, and so I settled down, braced myself for the beginning, and dived in.

The brutality of what happens to Lissar always dominates my memory of the beginning of this book, but every time I reread it, I’m reminded that that’s not all the beginning is. The beginning is also Lissar making her first tentative steps to becoming her own person after a lifetime of being ignored, and learning how to interact with others after being secluded for so long. It’s also when she gets Ash, her dog and best friend. Although, “best friend” is perhaps too light a term for their relationship. Lissar and Ash are everything to each other, and even if you’re not a dog person, I guarantee you’ll become one for the duration of this book. Ash is just that amazing.

This isn’t a fast-paced book at all. It’s entirely about Lissar’s healing process and her very private, very personal journey back from the evil that was done to her. But it’s so freaking well done. McKinley writes about it in a way that gets you so invested and makes you feel so protective of Lissar. And I think her portrayal of Lissar’s road toward healing feels really believable—it’s slow and painful, with sometimes more steps backward than forward, but Lissar survives, and more than survives, she grows stronger. It’s amazing to see.

And of course, I have to make a quick mention of Ossin. Ossin is outstanding. He’s not your typical love interest—he’s not handsome and is overweight and spends more time with his dogs than fulfilling his princely duties. But, oh, Ossin. He’s patient and kind and understanding and gives Lissar the time and space she so desperately needs. I love Ossin for how good he is to Lissar.

While I love, love, love this book, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it if you haven’t read anything else by Robin McKinley yet. In other words, read it, just don’t make it your first Robin McKinley book. Because it’s by far her most emotionally intense, and it deals with the hardest issues, so I think it may give you a slightly inaccurate perception of what McKinley’s books are like in general. But seriously, you won’t regret getting around to “Deerskin” sometime.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Flashback Review: Beauty & Rose Daughter

Flashback reviews are where I review an older book that I've reread recently.

"Beauty" and "Rose Daughter," by Robin McKinley.


The other day I was in one of those reading moods where only a well-beloved reread would hit the spot. So I curled up with Robin McKinley’s “Rose Daughter,” since it had been a while since I last read it. And when I finished it, I immediately felt this need to read “Beauty” by the same author as well. So I did. If you haven’t read these two books (shame on you), they’re both retellings of Beauty and the Beast. You may think it’s impossible for an author to write two separate books based on the same fairytale and pull it off, but Robin McKinley not only does it, she does it perfectly.

I don’t think I’ve ever read “Beauty” and “Rose Daughter” back to back before, so when I did it this time, I compared them a little more than I usually do. Of course they both have the same basic storyline: a merchant family, with a father and three daughters, falls on hard times and moves to the countryside. As they finally sort out their new life, the father gets called back to the city, but when he returns he gets lost in a snowstorm and stumbles on the Beast’s enchanted castle. The father takes a rose, which infuriates the Beast, and the Beast demands that the father send his daughter Beauty as recompense. Beauty agrees to go and, well, I bet you can guess what happens after that (hint—it ends with a happily ever after).

The thing is, for both being based on the same fairytale, the two books are completely different. The two Beauties, while at their core are both honorable, brave, and kind, are different in execution. The Beauty in “Beauty” is a plain, anti-social, horse-loving scholar, while the Beauty in “Rose Daughter” is a beautiful peacemaker who loves to garden. The two Beasts are different too, with the Beast in “Beauty” being a bit more communicative and present, while the Beast in “Rose Daughter” is more elusive and solitary but no less intriguing and, well, swoonworthy.

But beyond the characters, the details of the two stories are wildly different. “Beauty” is a simpler, more straightforward story, while “Rose Daughter” is longer and much more complex. While “Beauty” focuses on Beauty’s developing relationship with the Beast, “Rose Daughter” is centered slightly less on that than on Beauty’s determination to save the Beast’s dying roses and bring life back to the castle. I could go on and on about how else the two stories are different, but I won’t—I’ll leave that discovery to you.

Both these books are completely wonderful, and I really can’t say that I prefer one over the other. Each one is lovely in its own way, and neither fades in comparison to the other. I recommend both of them, along with everything else ever written by Robin McKinley.

Rating: Both 5/5, obviously

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. The GoodReads summary:
Oct. 11th, 1943--A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?
After taking a full 24 hours to try to figure out what I thought about this book. I’m still a little undecided. But I think, since the time has come for me to commit to an opinion, that it was a book that I really admired but didn’t really love. Because while there were some things the book did absolutely brilliantly, I never really felt that level of investment that I need to indisputably adore a book.

The book takes place in World War II England and France. Now, I’m a bit of a history nerd, especially when it comes to military history, but even I thought there was a bit too much of a history/aviation lesson at the beginning. I mean, it was interesting, and I learned some things, but it held back the story from really taking off, and as a result I didn’t get totally into the book until about halfway through.

I also never felt a particularly deep connection with either Maddie or Julie. I mean, they’re both really talented and brave, but Maddie came off as a little bland while Julie I never felt like I really got to know. I did like Queenie though, which was weird (you’ll understand why it’s weird that I liked Queenie but not Julie if you’ve read the book). I just thought Queenie, as described by Julie, was so glamorous and awesome, while Julie and Maddie didn’t seem to have that same spark.

And now for what the book did bloody brilliantly! The book was SO good at messing with my head. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, it would turn out I really didn’t. Events weren’t what I thought and neither were the characters. It’s like the first half of the book had me believing one thing, and then the second half completely turned that on its head. I’m trying not to go into spoiler territory here, but it’s really hard, since a lot of the specific things I thought the book did well are kinda impossible to describe without spoilers. But seriously, I can’t remember the last time that I read a book that threw me for a loop as often as this one did. And then, when I did find out what was going on for real, it was fun to think back and find all the hints that the author left that I didn’t pick up on the first time around.

Overall, I’d recommend this book if either you like history, or if you want a book that’ll play some mind games on you. If you do decide to read it, it might take you a while to get into the book, but persevere! I think it’ll end up being worth it.

Rating: 4 / 5 (probably it’s more of a 3.5 for me, but the spoilery surprises I can’t talk about were so awesome they bumped the rating up a bit)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Favorites: The Scorpio Races

On Fridays I post a little shout out to one of my favorite books and explain why I love it so much. It gives me the chance to fangirl over books I never reviewed on this blog and lets me post about some not-necessarily-YA books I love.

Which book?
The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

YA fantasy

Summary? (from GoodReads)
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition--the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

When did I first read it?
Almost exactly a year ago.

Why did I first read it?
The buzz. Some bloggers I trust loved it, so that was all I needed.

What did I think about it then?
You can read my original review here, but basically I fell head over heels for this book. I’m a sucker for horse books anyway, but Kate and Sean are fantastic protagonists and the language is beautiful to boot.

What do I think about it now?
Though I’ve read some really good books this last year, “The Scorpio Races” is hands down my favorite of those. It’s indisputably earned a place toward the top of my favorite-books list. It’s just . . . so good. And beautiful. A little slower and more reflective than most YAs, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Maggie Stiefvater nails the narrative style in this one. And Sean . . . I think he’s number 2 on my list of swooniest YA boys. I'll be rereading this book in November for sure.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: Quintana of Charyn

Quintana of Charyn (Lumatere Chronicles #3), by Melina Marchetta. The GoodReads summary:
Separated from the girl he loves and has sworn to protect, Froi must travel through Charyn to search for Quintana, the mother of Charyn's unborn king, and protect her against those who will do anything to gain power. But what happens when loyalty to family and country conflict? When the forces marshalled in Charyn's war gather and threaten to involve the whole of the land, including Lumatere, only Froi can set things right, with the help of those he loves.
I’m just warning you now that maybe I’m not the best person to write an unbiased review of the book, due to the deep and abiding adoration I have for the Lumatere Chronicles. After all, I ordered this book from Australia all because I couldn’t handle knowing that the book was out over there but wouldn’t be out in the U.S. until next March. I just love, love, love everything about this series (and considering how few series I’m willing to admit to even liking, that’s saying something).

“Quintana of Charyn” is the final book in the trilogy, which simultaneously made me beyond excited to read it and a little sad that it was going to be the end. This one was slightly different from “Finnikin of the Rock” and “Froi of the Exiles” in that it doesn’t introduce new characters—it is a continuation of the story started in “Froi of the Exiles.” And, man, was I so glad to be back with those characters: Froi, Quintana, Lucian, Phaedra, Lirah, Gargarin, Arjuro . . . the whole crew was back and as wonderful as ever. Melina Marchetta has this amazing talent for writing characters that are far from perfect but still so strong and goodhearted, and my admiration for each one grew as every scene revealed a little more about their character and motivation.

Froi and Quintana are separated for most of the book, but that didn’t diminish their strange chemistry at all. Their love for each other was practically palpable, and besides, although Froi and Quintana were together very little, Lucian and Phaedra did get a few scenes together. And let me tell you, I adore Lucian and Phaedra. Theirs is a rocky romance if ever there was one, and I spent so much time in this book and the last holding my breath that they would be able to sort their problems out once and for all.

You also get to know Quintana better in this book than the last. I had a growing admiration for her in “Froi,” but she’s been through unspeakable things and is so messed up by them that it’s hard to feel like you know her. But in this book, you get some more insight into her character and see her come into her own, and even though I’d probably be scared of her in real life, I came to admire her a lot.

I only had one niggling complaint about the book, and it’s that you don’t get to know more about Celie and Banyon’s story, as introduced in Marchetta’s short story “Ferragost.” I was just really hoping their story would get a little more closure. But I can see why it wasn’t included in the book—since it was the subject of a short story and not actually part of the books, it would’ve felt out of place to readers who had been reading the series but hadn’t read the short story. Still, it would’ve made me happy to know what ultimately happens between them.

Overall, this was pretty much everything I could want for the ending of this series. If you haven’t started the Lumatere Chronicles—um . . . get cracking. After all, they’re by Melina Marchetta, and it’s impossible to go wrong with anything she’s written.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

The Lumatere Chronicles:
Finnikin of the Rock
Froi of the Exiles
Quintana of Charyn

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer E. Smith. The GoodReads summary:
Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan's life. Having missed her flight, she's stuck at JFK airport and late to her father's second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley's never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport's cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he's British, and he's sitting in her row.

A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?
My first though upon finishing this book was, “Awww . . . that was adorable!” And it totally was. It was a really cute story. But it also had way more depth than I was expecting. For some reason, I was expecting the entire story to revolve around Hadley and Oliver at the airport, but it turns out that’s only the first half of the book. The second half is more focused on Hadley’s rocky relationship with her dad and her trying to sort out her issues with him. I don’t know what it would be like to have a parent remarry, but Hadley’s reaction to it seemed pretty understandable. She’s equal parts angry at him and missing him, and her emotions felt totally believable.

Hadley, herself, I wouldn’t necessarily be BFFs with in real life—she’s a little too impulsive and unfiltered for my taste. But I still enjoyed reading her story and getting to know her. Oliver is cute, but did anyone else think he was a little too cagey?—or is it just me? It seemed like he always gave Hadley joking or evasive answers to all her questions about his life, so by the end of the book, I don’t think she actually knew anything concrete about him.

Overall, this was a super cute book, but it wasn’t so fluffy that it lacked substance. It struck a nice balance between the romance and the family issues. I’m definitely looking forward to this author’s next book, which sadly doesn't come out until spring of next year.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater. The GoodReads summary:
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
I’ll admit I entered into this book with some trepidation. While I loved “The Scorpio Races,” I wasn’t that into “Shiver,” and since I heard this book was nothing like “The Scorpio Races,” I wasn’t sure what to expect and if I’d like it. And it’s true—this book isn’t at all similar to “The Scorpio Races”; I don’t know if anything can be. But nevertheless, I’m happy to report that this book was entirely wonderful.

This book took me by surprise actually. While it’s true I didn’t know what to expect, I did worry that it would end up being a paranormal romance, which, while that’s a perfectly fine genre, it’s not a genre I tend to like. But happily for me, that wasn’t this book. I mean, it has fantastical, magical elements to it for sure, but it’s the psychics and ley lines and wishes granted kind of paranormal and not the vampires, werewolves and faeries kind. And there really isn’t much romance either. Usually, I like a bit of romance in my books, but I was totally fine without much of it here, because the friendships in this book are so central that I think a strong romance would have ruined it.

While Gansey and Blue are the main characters (and what brilliant main characters they are), the secondary characters are so vivid and necessary to the story that I don’t know if they can really be called “secondary.” I love it when an author manages to bring all her characters to life and get me equally invested in all of them no matter how much page time they get. And oh man, I love me those Raven Boys: Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah. I don’t even think I could pick a favorite one, because each has his own strengths and weaknesses, and I like them all for completely different reasons.

But I think one of the things that I admire most about this book is that it’s a good first book for a series. This series is going to be four books long, so pacing across the books is going to be important. I feel like often in series, the first book either contains too much of the story, preventing the subsequent books from being as good, or the first book contains too little of the story, making it a bit boring. But “The Raven Boys” strikes a really good balance between the two extremes, and despite my general disdain for series, I’m actually really excited to see where this one goes.

Overall, a great book with all the things I need to enjoy a book: likeable characters, talented writing, and a unique premise. I think I’m in danger of becoming a serious Maggie Stiefvater fan.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. The GoodReads summary:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per¬formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
I’d heard so many good things about this book, that I was a little disappointed when I didn’t love it as much as everyone else seems to. And I’m pretty sure I know why it fell a little flat for me—I never really connected to any of the characters. The book is written in a kind of dreamy, removed style that, while beautiful, kept me from feeling like I ever really knew what the characters were thinking and feeling. It was more like watching a movie than reading a book—I could observed the characters’ actions, but I had to take their word about their motivations because I never got to see inside their heads.

But despite my inability to fully connect with the book, there were couple things that the book did indisputably well. One was the circus itself. The author creates a breathtaking, magical (and I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense) atmosphere at the Night Circus, with its black-and-white color scheme and tents filled with the amazing and unbelievable. I felt like I was really there, because I could practically smell, taste, and see everything the author described. It was all quite spectacular, really.

I also thought the book was brilliant in terms of incorporating two seemingly unconnected stories, spaced years apart, into a cohesive whole. When Bailey’s story first enters the book, it seemed jarring after having spent so much time with Celia and Marco, and I wasn’t sure why it was included. But as Bailey’s story began to slowly intertwine with the main story, I got more and more excited to see how it would all come together. And let me tell ya, when the two stories finally caught up to each other at the very end—it was perfect, and it increased the tension before the story’s climax in a truly wonderful way.

Overall, it was a perfectly good book, I just never felt that connection that I need to really love a story.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Friday, October 12, 2012

In which I meet Maggie Stiefvater

Earlier this week, Maggie Stiefvater came to my local bookstore to do a signing! I was all excited to go, because I love, love, LOVE “The Scorpio Races,” and at the time of the signing, I was a significant chunk of the way through “The Raven Boys” and totally into it. I hadn’t been to very many book signings before (I’ve only been to two others: one was completely by chance and the other was one that my sister wanted to go to), and for all intents and purposes, THIS was the first book signing that I actually planned on and looked forward to attending.

When I got to the bookstore, I was happy to see a couple awesome people I knew already there. I also got to put faces to names of some local book bloggers and meet a few completely random people, as well. I realized, at the bookstore, that while I had just brought my copy of “The Raven Boys” for Maggie Stiefvater to sign, everyone else had brought their entire collection of her books. I was like, “Well, duh.” I don’t know why I didn’t bring more of her books to be signed.

I know I haven’t been to many book signings, but this one felt particularly entertaining. I don’t know what I was expecting Maggie Stiefvater to be like in real life, but she was hilarious. It was like a one-woman show. Seriously. She told some anecdotes, complete with acting, that had everyone laughing. I was not expecting her to be so animated, but I loved it!

When it was finally my turn to get my book signed, I wasn’t as awkward as I normally am, thankfully. At least, I don’t think I was awkward, but maybe I’m not the best judge. Anyway, it was totally painless, and Maggie was so nice, and I walked away with her signature in my book, which was what I came for anyway.

Have you ever been to a book signing or met an author? What did you think?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars

For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund. The GoodReads summary:
It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth--an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret--one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.
First of all, I love this cover. Second of all, I love the title. I’ve thought it was gorgeous since I first heard of it, but now that I’ve read the book and know how perfect the title is . . . I’m pretty sure it’s one of my favorite titles of all time now.

I knew this book was based on Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” going into it, and I deliberately made sure I read “Persuasion” first so I could have a better appreciation for this book as an adaptation. And let me tell you, it was a fantastic adaptation. I’m not really sure what genre it falls into—kinda vaguely steampunk with elements of post-apocalyptic, maybe? If you’ve read “Dearly, Departed,” “For Darkness Shows the Stars” is the same kind of genre as that. Basically, they’re living in the future, but due to the human race almost getting wiped out, society has regressed to something similar to the 1800s. Only they still have some futuristic technologies. Hmmm . . . this description is even confusing me, so I’ll move on.

Like I said, I thought this book was a brilliant adaptation of “Persuasion.” You don’t need to be familiar with Jane Austen’s book to like this story, but if you have read it or seen the movies, it makes it easier to appreciate all the ways that Peterfreund takes the basic story of “Persuasion” and makes it her own. In fact, I don’t think there was any part of the adaptation that I didn’t like. I wish I could go on and on about each modification Peterfreund made to the story and how genius they all were, but then this review would go on for way to long. So just trust me that it’s all perfect.

Elliot (because in “Persuasion” her name is Anne Elliot. Get it?) I liked even better than Austen’s original character. Elliot has all of Anne’s sense of duty and loyalty and selflessness, but she also has a hidden rebellious streak and more of a backbone, which I really liked about her. I also liked that Elliot and Kai (the Captain Wentworth equivalent) talk to each other a little more than in the original. That was one thing that I disliked a bit in “Persuasion”—they never really had any conversations. I also really liked that Elliot’s older sister Tatiana (Elizabeth’s equivalent) is given a bigger role and more personality—she’s still shallow and selfish, but Tatiana’s not as clueless and bland as Elizabeth is.

Overall, in case you couldn’t tell. I loved this adaptation. And it can stand on its own too. I know I’ve been going on and on about how this book compares to “Persuasion,” but it’s a wonderful story in its own right. I would’ve liked it even if I didn’t know the storyline of “Persuasion.”

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: Persuasion

Persuasion, by Jane Austen. The GoodReads summary:
Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen's most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne's family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?
Yes, it’s true! I finally read “Persuasion.” As you may recall, I love the story and have watched the movies, but I’d never actually gotten around to reading the book. But no longer! I’ve cleared that hurdle and can hold my head high from here on out in conversations about this book.

But what did I think of it? Errr . . . I discovered it was really hard to read this book and not compare it to the movies. But I made a sincere effort to take this book on its own merits and not let my previous opinions influence me. So here are my main thoughts:

1. Jane Austen is going to kill me with her writing style. In all fairness, it’s not Jane Austen herself, it’s the time period. Really, compared to other authors I’ve read from that period, Austen’s breeze. But I kept wanting to yell at her to quit wasting time making witty observations on human character and tell the story already! And yes, I do realize that making witty observations on human character is what Austen’s known for, but I stopped caring about 5 pages in. I just wanted her to focus on the plot already.

2. Anne is a very . . . mellow . . . main character. I was expecting that going in, but I didn’t realize just how unexciting she is. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I like Anne, I really do. I like that she’s thoughtful and kind and patient and selfless. But sometimes I wanted to grab her by her collar and tell her to stand up for herself. I appreciate her quiet strength, but I wanted her to show some not-so-quiet strength too.

3. Wentworth and Anne don’t have nearly enough conversations. I realize that the foundation of their relationship was built before this book began, but come on! They have, like, three conversations the entire book. It’s not like I think this makes their love superficial, but for my own gratification I just wanted them to TALK to each other instead of stare longingly. I also wanted them to go make out in the shrubberies, but I knew enough not to expect that to happen.

4. The last 20 pages make this book. As I neared the end, I was starting to doubt my love for “Persuasion” all these years. I was starting to think I should’ve actually read the book before declaring my undying love. But then I got to the last 20 pages, thank goodness. They saved the book for me. Partly because of Wentworth’s letter (uh, duh, it’s only the most romantic letter of all time), and partly because that’s when you get to find out what’s been going on in Wentworth’s head all this time. He’s been a mystery to the reader as well as to Anne up to that point, and frankly I was starting to doubt that he was worth Anne’s misery. But then it’s all explained, and I felt perfectly justified in allowing Wentworth back into my good graces.

So overall, while I didn't fall completely in love with this book like I wanted to, I ended up being happy enough with it in the end. I still think the story line of the book is the most romantic thing ever—it’s just the execution that I struggled with. And I’m okay with that.

Rating: 3.5 / 5 (Am I allowed to give a rating to a classic? Or is that some kind of sacrilege?)
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