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 na├»ve. 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
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