Sunday, December 30, 2012

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (Inkworld, #1)

"Fear tastes quite different when you're not just reading about it, Meggie, and playing hero wasn't half as much fun as I'd expected.

After absolutely falling in love with the movie adaptation of this novel (and having it practically memorized), I figured it was about time to read this book. I was absolutely certain I would fall in love with it immediately, and that's probably why it took me so long to finally put it off of my "to be read" shelf and finally read it. I even made sure I had all three books in the trilogy before starting the first, because I was certain I would enjoy the first so much that I wouldn't have much patience for tracking down the sequels.

I wasn't wrong.

When Meggie spots a stranger outside her window in the middle of the night, her first instinct is to run to her father for security, but she soon finds herself realizing that he's keeping something from her. When the stranger warns of a man named Capricorn and they rush to the south of Italy to take refuge with her aunt, Meggie soon realizes that the world is a much more dangerous place than she could have ever imagined. And the secrets her father has kept from her have the power to change her world forever.

It's not long before she learns what he's been keeping from her. It seems that Mo, Meggie's father, has a special gift--the unique power to draw items and even characters from the pages of a book simply by reading aloud. However, he cannot control this gift. He cannot choose who or what comes or even goes. This makes his power dangerous, far more dangerous than it's worth, and that is the reason Meggie's father never read to her. It was far too risky.

Despite this, Mo has been hunted by Capricorn and Basta, two of the thugs he drew out of a book called Inkheart when Meggie was a child along with a third character named Dustfinger. Mo has also tried to evade Dustfinger, but with much less luck and it is he whom Meggie sees standing outside her window when the book begins. Now Capricorn is closer than ever before and he'll stop at nothing to capture Mo and get his hands on the the last copy of Inkheart, which Mo has, until now, kept safely hidden.

This book was absolutely wonderful. I cannot get over how much I deeply enjoyed it. Throughout its pages, books are celebrated and the three main characters (Meggie, Mo, and Meggie's Aunt Elinor) have a deep love for them that I can entirely identify with. Each chapter even begins with a quote from a book that fits what occurs in the chapter (and ended up causing me to add quite a few books to my "to be read" list).

The storytelling and the plot are extremely well-written and the book itself is rich with fantasy and beauty. Experiencing Mo's gift, Dustfinger's despair, and Capricorn's evil alongside the characters was captivating and the vivid way in which Cornelia Funke describes her characters and their emotions can't help but draw you in.

I would highly suggest this to anyone, young or old. It's a fantastic story . . . one that should be read widely and often. I can already tell that this series could easily be one of the gateway sort for those who aren't really fans of reading just yet. Much like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, this one will draw you in and show the reader exactly why reading is so absolutely imperative--that stories have a power all their own.

Rating: ~ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ~

[Click here to see my review of book 2: Inkspell and book 3: Inkdeath]

"Is there anything in the world better than words on the page? Magic signs, the voices of the dead, building blocks to make wonderful worlds better than this one, comforters, companions in loneliness. Keepers of secrets, speakers of truth . . . all those glorious words."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce (Fairytale Retellings, #2)

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide
She turned forward and sped up, faster than the others, driven by the yellow eyes that overpowered the sharp aches in her chest, her legs begging for rest. There was light ahead, shapes that weren't trees. THeir house, their house was close- the candy trail had worked. She couldn't feel her feet anymore, her lungs were bursting, eyes watering, cheeks scratched, but there was the house. 
They burst from the woods onto their cool lawn. Get inside, get inside. Ansel flung the back door open and they stumbled in, slamming the door shut. Their father and mother ran down the stairs, saw their children sweaty and panting and quivering, and asked in panicky, perfect unison:
"Where's your sister?"

[Click here to see my review of book 1: Sisters Red]

The sequel to Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Sweetly is the story of Gretchen and Ansel, a brother and sister duo who leave their home in Washington to find a new one where they no longer live under the shadow of the sister they lost, Gretchen's twin. Still feeling the ache of her disappearance and the deaths of their parents, they are driven out by their surviving stepmother and drive straight to North Carolina. Gretchen hopes to escape the fear of vanishing the way her sister did by going to live on the beach, far way from the trees and forests that have surrounded her since she was a child, a constant reminder of what she lost and how she lost her to the witch in the woods.

Before they can make it to the beach, though, their car breaks down and they are forced to seek help in the small town of Live Oak. They take refuge in the home of Sofia Kelly, a chocolatier living just outside town. The two and Sofia hit it off immediately, but most people in Live Oak hate Sofia just as much as they hate strangers, if not more. Most are either convinced she's an angel or a devil in disguise. Immediately, Gretchen and Ansel stand beside Sofia's claim of innocence in the part of the girls who have gone missing from the town, both knowing first-hand what it's like to be blamed for the disappearance of another.

But when Gretchen meets Samuel, she begins to question Sofia's side of the story, as well as the secrets that seem to surround her. As she learns more about the town's past and the witch who took her sister, Gretchen learns that the witch is back . . . and this time, it's after her.

I didn't think it was possible for Pearce to make a book that was just as good as the first in the Fairytale Retellings series, but she has definitely managed to pull that off without a hitch. Sweetly is filled with just as many memorable characters and strong bonds as the first book and a plot that keeps you guessing until the end. As I've mentioned before, I am a major sucker for loyalty and relationships where every person would be willing to lay down their life for the next at a moment's notice and this book had both of those; not to mention, incredible fight scenes. All that, and the more intense scenes still had me biting my nails and actually yelling during one particularly frightening bit. (I may or may not have woken my brother with that yell.)

This series is looking like it will turn out to be an all-time favorite of mine and I can't wait to see where it goes next, as well as where it will culminate in the end. It's going to be an epic collection and you absolutely won't want to miss it. I suggest you get started reading it right away. In the meantime, I'll be scouring the internet for book three.

[Click here to see my review of book 3: Fathomless]

Rating: ~★★★★★~

"Poor Sophia," Ansel says, shaking his head. I can hear it in his voice- he wants to save Sophia. That's how Ansel works. Someone is in pain, and he wants to save her- he ran back into the woods after our sister, he became my rock. He didn't give up on our father, even when Dad became someone Ansel barely knew- it wasn't long after Mom's death that he started drinking, and once he remarried it got worse. He couldn't escape the guilt- over my sister, over my mother . . . Guilt ate him through the mouth of a bottle.

Monday, October 22, 2012

As You Wish by Jackson Pearce

All I've learned in Shakespeare class is: Sometimes you fall in love with the wrong person just so you can find the right person. A more useful lesson would've been: Sometimes the right person doesn't love you back. Or sometimes the right person is gay. Or sometimes you just aren't the right person.
Thanks for nothing, Shakespeare.

After falling in love with Jackson Pearce's sophomore novel, Sisters Red, she became one of those authors whose section in the library I check nearly every time I visit. Thus I found her debut novel a few weeks ago and immediately checked it out. I just now managed to get around to reading it, but I am immensely glad I did. I read it all on one sitting that lasted about five or six hours. My day off couldn't have been better spent.

Viola Cohen's whole world felt like it had been ripped apart when her best friend and boyfriend, Lawrence, admitted to her that he was gay. Months later, they're still best friends, but Viola feels invisible and alone, as if a part of her has been broken.

Her greatest desire is to feel like she's a part of something again, the way she felt when she was with Lawrence. She doesn't want to feel invisible anymore. She wants to love someone and know that they love her too. It's the strength of this inner wish that summons the jinn.

When the jinn appears, he informs her that she has been granted three wishes. He expects it to be a routine venture to the world of humans, but Viola isn't like any of the other masters he's come in contact with up to this point. She speaks to him like a person, not just a wish-granter, and she evokes something in him that he's never experienced before--a longing for the friendship both she and Lawrence extend to him and, even more consuming, a longing for her. These are unprecedented and entirely unusual for a jinn. They aren't meant to get attached. They're meant to grant their wishes and go, but Jinn's not so sure he wants to go home anymore.

Viola gets three wishes. Three wishes and Jinn will be gone from her life forever. She won't remember him and he'll go back to his world, Caliban, until he is summoned by another human with a wish. It's not until after she has made her first wish that they begin to realize that they're feelings toward each other are more than anything they could have expected. Will Jinn help heal the brokenness in Viola's heart, only to have it broken once more and break his own heart in the process?

Once again, Jackson Pearce has created a fantastic story based on a classic fairytale. Technically, it isn't a part of her series of fairytale adaptations, but I still think it fits in that category regardless. I don't think I've ever read an adaptation of any stories involving genies before. In fact, it took me a few pages to get the image of the Aladdin genie voiced by Robin Williams out of my head. But it wasn't that difficult. After all, Jinn is a whole other species of genie than the crazy blue one I'm thinking of.

I particularly liked her description of Jinn's home world of Caliban, where the jinn have been banished. It's a beautiful place filled with beautiful people, but because of its lack of flaws is subpar in a way that makes complete sense, yet is kind of mind-blowing. It's our flaws and differences that make the human race so different and, eventually, so appealing to Jinn.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Pearce's other book was the creation of characters that were believable, well-rounded, and that carried strong emotional bonds for each other. Though these relationships were inherently quite different than the ones portrayed in Sisters Red, they still bore that essential loyalty to the people that were most important in the main characters' lives. Each cared deeply for the others and wanted most of all for the ones they loved to be truly happy. They wanted them to be happy being themselves, not trying to be copies of anyone else or copying what others were doing. Being happy with oneself and being happy with that was a major theme throughout the book that I deeply appreciated.

Jackson Pearce is clearly a fabulous storyteller. I cannot wait to read more of her work and it certainly won't be long before I'm scrambling for the next of her books I can get my hands on.

Rating: ★★★★☆

I'm . . . jealous.
Wait. No. I can't be jealous. My fingers tense and I can feel my pulse throbbing under my skin. My heart pounds in my chest and my mind races. The image of Viola and Aaron collides with the realization that I'm jealous. Jealousy is a mortal emotion. One that means I have something to lose--something that, if gone, will tear away a part of me. Jealousy is not for my kind. And yet there it is: I'm jealous.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce (Fairytale Retellings, #1)

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide
The wolf opened his wide, long jaws, rows of teeth and bloodstained tongue stretching for her. A thought locked itself in Scarlett's mind, and she repeated it over and over until it became a chant, a prayer: I am the only one left to fight, so now I must kill you.

I picked up Sisters Red after hearing a pretty great review of it on another book reviewing blog. I bought it a few weeks ago and just now got around to reading it. My reaction? I love almost everything about this book.

You'll often hear avid readers getting "book hangovers," meaning basically that after they've finished the book, they have trouble starting a new one or thinking about anything besides the book they have just finished because they're still in that world. As many good books as I read, I don't usually experience that as much anymore. I still often find my mind going back to a good story or book that I really enjoyed, but I don't often have trouble breaking away from thinking only about a particular story for a day or two after I've finished it. But I definitely experienced that with Sisters Red. Long after I'd finished it, I was still poring over the tale and everything that had happened within it.

Sisters Red is the shared story of Rosie and Scarlett March. When they were children a werewolf (or Fenris, as they're called by those who are familiar with them) attacked them, killing the grandmother who raised them as well as taking Scarlett's eye and leaving scars all over her body. To save herself and her sister, Scarlett killed the beast; and ever since, she has had an all-consuming passion to hunt Fenris so that no one else has to suffer the way she and her sister have.

When a good friend of the sisters and an excellent woodsman and Fenris hunter, Silas, returns from a long family visit in California, things start changing. Not only does Rosie suddenly find herself drawn to the woodsman, she also begins to guiltily dream of a life where she isn't constantly fighting Fenris. But, more immediately, something is changing about the Fenris. They're getting bolder and more numerous, drifting into territory they had long abandoned. As more and more lives come in contact with the murderous creatures, the three are going to have to come up with a plan to take them on and fast. Otherwise, they could lose a lot more than they already have.

A modern and incredibly well-done spin on the old Red Riding Hood tale, Sisters Red was a compelling read from the very start. Not once did I lose interest or feel the tale was moving either too slow or too fast. Pearce did a fantastic job at pacing her story just right, as well as creating characters that the reader can identify and empathize with.

In particular, the relationships Pearce portrays really struck a cord with me. The loyalty between Rosie, Scarlett, and Silas was beautiful and the fierce love that each portrayed for the others was absolutely stunning. Their love for each other was probably the thing I loved most about this book. No matter how much fighting there was or how high the tension got, you never once doubted that each would do anything to protect the others and I cannot say enough how beautiful that is to me.

I would definitely suggest this to everyone, particularly lovers of fairy tales. It was an all-around wonderful book and I will definitely be snatching up the next Jackson Pearce novel I see. I'm thinking her Hansel and Gretel retelling looks like just the right book to be the next addition to my bookshelf.

Rating: ~★★★★★~

[Click here for my review of book 2: Sweetly and book 3: Fathomless]

The plan forms in my mind slowly, more like a tide coming in than a wave crashing over me. I am confident, I am capable, and I will not wait to be rescued by a woodsman or a hunter. I will escape.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter, #3)

"Molly, how many times do I have to tell you? They didn't report it in the press because Fudge wanted it kept quiet, but Fudge went out to Azkaban the night Black escaped. The guards told Fudge that Black's been talking in his sleep for a while now. Always the same words: 'He's at Hogwarts . . . he's at Hogwarts.' Black is deranged, Molly, and he wants Harry dead."

[Click here to see my review of book 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and book 2: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets]

Now in his third year at Hogwarts, we rejoin Harry in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in the midst of his summer vacation. He is still living with the Dursleys and very unhappy about it when his Aunt Marge goes too far in insulting Harry's deceased father and ends up being blown up like a balloon from the force of Harry's anger.

Panicking over his accidental used of magic outside of school (which is strictly prohibited), he runs out of the house and soon catches a fleeting glimpse of a large, black dog just before leaving for the Leaky Cauldron.

As the school year begins, Harry continues to catch fleeting glimpses of what he soon finds out may be a Grimm, a death omen. Nearly every time he has seen this apparition, he seems to have a near death experience. And now his Divination teacher is even predicting his death.

To make matters worse, Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban. Black was placed in the high-security wizard prison twelve years ago for the murder of thirteen Muggles and one wizard not long after the defeat of Voldemort. The clues all point to his return to Hogwarts where he intends to finish the job he started so many years ago: He's coming to kill Harry Potter.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my second favorite book in the entire series, topped only by Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixJ.K. Rowling never falters in her masterful storytelling. Her magic with words is equal in strength to the magic in the story, it draws you in from the first page to the last.

Walking along with Harry as he discovers more about his parents and more about himself is always a treat and this book is so riveting that you simply have to find out what happens next. Rowling brings back the characters you've already fallen in love with, only to make you love them even more and introduce even more wonderful people you won't soon forget.

This book was absolutely wonderful and I so enjoyed rereading it. I suggest it to anyone who wants a magical story, great characters, and a journey that will last with you long after you've finished the series itself.

Rating: ★★★★★

[Click here to see my reviews of book 4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, book 5:Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, book 6: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and book 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.]

"You say you remember him at Hogwarts, Rosmerta," murmured Professor McGonagall. "Do you remember who his best friend was?"
"Naturally," said Madam Rosmerta, with a small laugh. "Never saw one without the other, did you? The number of times I had them in here--ooh, they used to make me laugh. Quite the double act, Sirius Black and James Potter!"

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson (Little Blue Envelope, #2)

I think something is art when it is created with intention -- serious intention. Even crazy intention. And I think something is beautiful if it reveals something about what it means to be alive.

When Maureen Johnson wrote 13 Little Blue Envelopes, this book's predecessor, she hadn't intended to make a sequel. It was going to stand alone the way it was. But the outcry of the fans and Johonson's own creative imagination birthed something else: The Last Little Blue Envelope, its sequel.

The Last Little Blue Envelope starts off at the beginning of Ginny's winter break. She's busy worrying about her future, missing Keith, and reminiscing about her summer when she gets an email from a man named Oliver, who has managed to fine the last letter and all its contents.

Ginny soon finds herself back in Europe and things are as crazy as ever. The last letter has a new mission and another surprise at its end. As she seeks closure for herself in this last adventure, she finds herself battling heartbreak, discovering new loves, and generally dealing outside of her comfort zone. It's going to take a great deal of work to keep her from losing her head this time around. She'll have to work even harder if she wants to keep her heart too.

The conclusion to Ginny's tale was everything I had hoped it would be. I liked the first book, but without the sequel it lacked luster and, most especially, closure. The sequel was a great call for Johnson, because it tied up all the loose ends and everything fell neatly into place the way it should by the time it wrapped up. The first just can't quite stand on its own. The addition of a sequel made it a thousand times better.

Once again Johnson's witty humor emerges from the story with each page turned. She's quite a quirky person and has definitely found her voice when it comes to writing. She does a wonderful job at it. It is her, through and through. I couldn't get enough of this story or Johson's cleverness at molding the written word to be exactly what she demands of it.

I would definitely suggest this to anyone who has read the first and simply needs that closure. Even if you weren't sure how you felt about the first book, this one wraps it all up in a neat little package and commands that you enjoy it. So go ahead, go pick it up.


"People always say they can't do things, that they're impossible. They just haven't been creative enough. This pool is a triumph of imagination. That's how you win at life, Gin. You have to imagine your way through. Never say something can't be done. There's always a solution, even if it's weird."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter, #2)

"It's our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

[Click here to see my review of book 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone]

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
 is the story of Harry's second year at Hogwarts: School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. After spending a terrible summer with the Dursley's, Harry is just about to return to school when a strange creature that calls himself Dobby shows up in his bedroom. Dobby warns Harry that terrible things are going to happen at school this year and he mustn't be there, because it would put his life in grave danger.

Harry, however, refuses to stay with his horrible family and dismisses Dobby's warning as a cruel joke played by someone who doesn't want him back. But things start going wrong from day one: Ron and Harry can't get onto the platform for the Hogwarts Express and have to find other means of getting to school. That's merely the beginning of it.

Then Harry starts hearing voices that no one else can and something starts attacking the Muggle-born students. No one is safe. A rumor about the Chamber of Secrets and Slytherin's heir passes through the student body quickly as fire. Can Harry find out who the Heir of Slytherin is and stop the monster that's attacking the students in the process? Can he protect his friends and convince people that he is not the heir?

Rowling draws us into the sequel to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with the same eagerness and excitement that made the first book so wonderful. Once again, she manages to knock us off our feet with her masterful storytelling and her way of keeping us hooked from beginning to end.

Not only does she write wonderful characters that you get to grow with and learn to understand as if they were close friends, but the story itself is filled with twists and turns that one wouldn't have expected, yet would never question. When an author can have you coming back to the story time and time again, wanting to delve into it just once more, that's what makes a truly good book. And that's what J.K. Rowling has in this series of books. You'll always come back wanting more.

Rating: ★★★★☆

[Click here to see my reviews of book 3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, book 4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, book 5: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, book 6: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and book 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.]

The ink shone brightly on the paper for a second and then, as though it was being sucked into the page, vanished. Excited, Harry loaded up his quill a second time and wrote, "My name is Harry Potter." 
The words shone momentarily on the page and they, too sank without a trace. Then, at last, something happened.
Oozing back out of the page, in his very own ink, came words that Harry had never written.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter, #1)

"Harry--you're a great wizard, you know."
"I'm not as good as you," said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him. 
"Me!" said Hermione. "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things--friendship and bravery and--oh Harry--be careful!"

This is the second time I've read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (the third, if you count listening to the audiobook) and it is no less a magical ride now than before. It is the perfect introduction to an amazing series and some wildly wonderful characters.

Harry Potter is living with his awful relatives, the Dursleys, who mistreat and dislike the boy, when he discovers an amazing truth. He is a wizard, as were his parents before him. Suddenly, his life takes a turn for the better. He is sent to a school for wizards called Hogwarts and, for the first time, manages to find a place where he feels loved and can make friends that are loyal and kind.

Everything is going well, better than he could have imagined, when he and his friends discover a three-headed dog on the third floor, apparently guarding something of great value. At first, they're merely interested, until they find that one of the teachers is trying to steal it. If he manages to do so, it could mean the end of the security the wizarding world has only just gotten used to. It could mean the return of a threat that was thought to have ended eleven years ago, the night Harry's parents were murdered and he received the scar on his forehead that resembled lightning. Nothing is quite as it seems and there are many dangers awaiting Harry and his friends during his first year at Hogwarts. Will they be able to make it through the year's dangers and excitements and still manage to pass their exams? It will take all of their cleverness and all of their loyalty if they even want a chance at succeeding.

It's no secret that I am a major fan of J.K. Rowling's work and it was a sheer pleasure to be able to immerse myself in it again. After LeakyCon, I wanted to reread the books and I'm very excited about continuing on. Even in her first book, Rowling shows a profound ability to draw the reader in and present them with both a believable and simply magical tale that captures their hearts.

Definitely a must-read, this series is very likely one of the greatest fantasy series of our time, on par with the works of Lewis and Tolkien. Whether you're nine or ninety-nine, you'd better go pick this book up right away.

Rating: ★★★★☆

"After all, to the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. You know, the Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all--the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them."

Friday, August 17, 2012

LeakyCon Lit 2012

Maureen Johnson, Lev Grossman, Stephanie Perkins, Robin
Wasserman, Megan Whalen Turner, and John Green
discussing Boy Books & Girl Books and whether there is
 a legitimate distinction.

This past week I had the privilege of being able to attend LeakyCon, a Harry Potter convention that was held in Chicago, Illinois, this year. The convention was fantastic and gave my brother and I the opportunity to meet plenty of others for whom the Harry Potter series has been a treasure and somewhat of an obsession.

One part of the convention that I was very excited about was LeakyCon Lit. LeakyCon Lit is a particular set of panels and events that only those with Rockstar or Lit passes can attend. Headed up by Maureen Johnson, LeakyCon Lit gave those who signed up for it the opportunity to sit in on panels between a select number of Young Adult authors who were scheduled to appear, as well as receive the chance to talk with them or go to signings.

These panels proved to be both informative and highly entertaining. The authors assembled were an eclectic and intelligent bunch that, for the most part, know each other well and deeply enjoy discussing the finer points of books and their own work in the literary field.

Because I enjoyed this particular part of the convention, I thought I would give y'all a little rundown of the panels and what I learned from them. So here we go:

Come to this Panel if You Think You Hate Romance
I don't happen to be a hater of romance, but I thought this would be an interesting panel to attend and it was. The panel was made up of Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor, Daniel Ehrenhaft, and Margaret Stohl.  We learned that most romances that people hate are the campy ones with overused phrases and gag-worthy dialogue. When a romance is fresh and new, there is something that draws you to it. Everyone enjoys a good love story, it just has to be done right.

Notable quotes from this panel: 
"Romantic love is the closest thing to magic that we have in real life." -Stephanie Perkins
"Literature is escape, but it's also emotional truth." -Daniel Ehrenhaft

Bad Books and Why We Love Them
In this panel, we discussed what makes a book bad and whether or not we really have the authority to label a book "bad" or not. John Green, Holly Black, Margaret Stohl, Robin Wasserman, Megan Whalen Turner, and Maureen Johnson went back and forth on the difference between books with bad writing, books with bad morals, and books that were so off-the-wall terrible that they turned around and became favorites because of how hilarious it made them.
One very interesting point that was brought up was the fact that we should do our best not to be sticklers about what others are reading because they're doing just that: reading. We should be doing our best to encourage that, even if we aren't very fond of their book choices. Instead of bashing the ones they're already into, we can suggest our own favorites and let them make the choices from there. We don't want to discourage others from reading, and chances are they'll find the really good books on their own if you let them wade around in the water a bit.

Boy Books and Girl Books
This panel may have been the most interesting I attended all week. Hearing from Megan Whalen Turner, Robin Wasserman, Stephanie Perkins, Lev Grossman, John Green, and Maureen Johnson on whether or not there really is much of a distinction between girl books and boys books was simply intriguing.
John Green & Maureen Johnson at a signing. He looked up
just as I took the picture. He wasn't actually glaring at me.
Haha. :P
As an aspiring YA author, I was fascinated and horrified to learn more about the sexism involved in the  book industry: both buying and selling. For years we have been operating under a system where "boy books" are normal books and "girl books" are chick lit. Why is that? What really separates the two? Why are girls encouraged to read whatever we can get our hands on, while boys are told that only these books over here are acceptable?
It isn't fair. Not to authors, not to boys, not to girls. This stigmatizing of certain literature causes boys to think there's something wrong with them if they want to branch out from "boy books" and causes female authors to be set aside in favor of male authors because it's unthinkable that a woman could write something that would interest a man.
Stephanie Perkins referred to an incident when she worked at a bookstore in which a father actually put Harry Potter back on the shelf though his son wanted to read after she casually mentioned that J.K. Rowling was a woman. He actually said "She?" and placed it back on the shelf as if it were suddenly detestable because of the gender of its author.

Notable quotes from this panel:
"I'm not kidding. I would've punched you and then I would've called you a liar, and I would've set fire to your house." -Maureen Johnson [describing her reaction if someone would have told her that she would be writing "girl books" when she was in high school]

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Every Single Harry Potter Novel
This panel was open to everyone, not just those attending LeakyCon Lit. John Granger, known for his in-depth analysis of the Harry Potter book series gave a series of lectures on Christian symbolism, postmodern morality, ring composition, and many other literary devices implemented in J.K. Rowling's books. I only attended one, but it was simply mind-blowing.
Honestly, I walked out of the room both dying to write and never wanting to pick up a pen again, because how could I even come close to the masterful work Rowling did in her series?
Theres no way I can rehash what I learned in only an hour of his class, but I can suggest getting any of his books. If those lectures are any indication, the man is brilliant and should certainly be heard by as wide of an audience as can comprehend what he has to say.
I will definitely be keeping an eye out for his books and now have even greater respect for one of my favorite authors, J.K. Rowling, for her masterful work.

I Was a Teenage Writer
Maureen Johnson is always telling those who want to be authors that one of the key factors is to "learn to let yourself suck". By that, she means that no one is great from the beginning and sometimes you have to put out a lot of bad writing in order to improve enough to make something great. In this panel, John Green, Margaret Stohl, Holly Black, and Kate Schafer Testerman supported her statement by producing some work they created in their teenage years. The result was hilarious. Needless to say, many were comforted by the end of the meeting. They saw how far these authors had come in only a decade or so and knew that if they worked at it, they would likely be able to do the same.

Ask Me Anything: Book Editors
My brother and I chose to attend this panel last minute, but it was definitely worth it. In fact, the panel convinced him to consider becoming a book agent because of how excellent the job sounded and how much the agents present were passionate about what they did.
Rebecca Sherman, Jennifer Laughran, Kate Schafer Testerman, and Daniel Ehrenhaft answered questions that ranged from "What does your job entail?" to "Should I follow book trends and try to produce something along those lines?" Hint (on the second question): a book is generally bought three or four years in advance of it being put on the shelf, so unless you can predict the future, you won't have much luck trying to ride on the coattails of current trends.

My LeakyCon swag. It includes 3 new books I can't wait to
read: Hacking Harvard by Robin Wasserman; Geektastic by
Holly Black and Cecil Castelliucci; and Wizards, Wardrobes
and Wookies
 by Connie Neal.
Overall, it was a fantastic experience and I'm so glad I got to be a part of it. I look forward to attending more book events in the future and learning even more about the books and craft I adore so much.

I would go again in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson (Scarlett, #1)

"Never assume," Mrs. Amberson said. "This city is unique. Every place you go -- everything you do -- you never know who's watching. There's always an opportunity, if you know how to spot it."

After having read the sequel to this book, Scarlett Fever, last month in an ignorant misstep, I was eager to read this book and catch up on exactly what I had missed. Keeping the fact that I knew almost everything about what was going to happen in this storyline (there is a very good reason authors generally point out that sequels are to be read after the original), I still managed to enjoy it immensely. Yes, it took out a lot of the surprises that were meant for the reader, so that was a bummer. Still, the plot was well-written and engaging regardless.

Suite Scarlett is told from the third-person perspective of Scarlett Martin, a fifteen year-old girl who lives in a family-run hotel in New York City. It sounds glamorous, but Scarlett's life has been far from easy. After her little sister was diagnosed with leukemia four years ago, any money the hotel made was funneled into hospital bills. Though Marlene is now in remission, the hotel has been grasping at straws to keep itself going. The Martin family is now the only staff they have and even that may not be enough to keep the business from drowning.

Then enters Mrs. Amberson. An eccentric woman whose roots are in theatre and who is looking for her next big endeavor takes up residence in the room Scarlett has been charged with caring for. Mrs. Amberson offers to make the girl her assistant and Scarlett accepts. She needs the money and, after all, doubts that the woman would take no for an answer.

On top of all this, Scarlett's older brother and closest sibling, Spencer, is desperate to find some way to further his acting career. His parents have given him an ultimatum in which he must find an acting gig by a certain date or go to the culinary school that he has been given a scholarship to attend. When he lands a part in a garage production Hamlet, he and Scarlett have to lie to his parents in order to keep chasing his dream. This adds a whole new level of complexity to Scarlett's problems. Let's not even mention Spencer's cast mate, the Southern boy who has her head spinning from the moment she lays eyes on him.

All in all, Johnson has crafted yet another well-constructed, witty story about dealing with all the curve balls live loves to throw at a person. I love the way she writes her characters and fell even more in love with the Martin family upon seeing where the story began and how they came to reach the point they were at in Scarlett Fever. I think this is a great series and can't wait to see more of it.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Actors had other people living inside of them . . . lots of other doubts that the woman would take no for an answer.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)

"He was in there two hours," said Calcifer, "putting spells on his face. Vain fool!"
"There you are, then," said Michael. "The day Howl forgets to do that will be the day I believe he's really in love, and not before."

After reading The Space Between Trees, I immediately went online and bought it on Amazon. And here again I've stumbled upon a book that I absolutely must purchase as soon as I get a bit of money.

I didn't exactly stumble upon Howl's Moving Castle. In fact, I happen to be quite fond of the movie adaptation. When I found that it was based off a book, I knew I had to read it. Once again, I am profoundly glad I did. It is nearly an entirely different story and I loved every second of the journey.

Howl's Moving Castle is the story of a girl named Sophie. As the eldest of three, she is doomed to an entirely uneventful and unsuccessful life. She resigns herself to this fate, even as her younger sisters go out to seek their fortunes. However, fate doesn't seem to agree with her on how her life is supposed to turn out.

When the hat shop she runs with her stepmother is visited by the Witch of the Waste, Sophie is put under a curse that turns her into an old woman. Unsure of what to do and unable to tell anyone of the curse, Sophie decides to leave the home she has always known in order to find her destiny and hopefully an end to the curse.

When she seeks lodging in a moving castle belonging to Wizard Howl, she expects to be turned out almost immediately. However, she makes friends with its occupants: a fire demon named Calcifer, Howl's fifteen year-old apprentice (Michael), and the dreaded wizard himself. Howl is nothing like she had been told. Still, the vain wizard manages to trample on every last one of Sophie's nerves.

That's not the only trouble, though. The Witch of the Waste is hot on their tail, eager to get Howl in her clutches, and she'll stop at nothing to succeed in her aims. On top of that, Sophie needs to find a way to break her own spell. Calcifer promises to break it if she can break the contract between he and Howl, but to do that, Sophie is going to have to find out the terms on her own.

Howl's Moving Castle is a fantastical adventure through a land filled with wonder. I enjoyed every moment of the journey and couldn't wait to see where it would take me next. I would advise it for readers of all ages. It's a compelling read and lovely story.

Rating: ~★★★★★~

[Click here to see my review of book 2: Castle in the Air and book 2: House of Many Ways]

It seems as if those of high ability cannot resist some extra, dangerous stroke of cleverness, which results in a fatal flaw and begins a slow decline to evil.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Space Between the Trees by Katie Williams

I shake my head and as as I do, a tear shakes off my cheek, and I realize that I've been crying, but I don't know when it started . It's not the kind of crying that you force up and out of your throat but the kind of crying where the tears slip out your eyes and down your cheeks, dissolving into one another at your chin in a stealthy escape.

I picked up this book at the library because the binding looked nice, but the cover blew me away. A book with a cover (seen on the right) as cool as this one deserves to be read, in my opinion. Once again, my tendency to judge a book by its cover led me to a pretty great book. The Space Between Trees is definitely in my top ten favorite books, if not my top five. 

In The Space Between Trees, Katie Williams tells the story of Evie, a teenage girl with a tendency to improve the truth and straight out lie without thinking of the consequences. After the death of a girl Evie knew as a child, this bad habit is exactly what leads her on a collision course with the girl's father and her best friend, Hadley. 

Somehow, despite Evie's initial lie, she and Hadley become friends. This is a first for Evie, who has always something of a loner. But this new friendship launches the two girls into searching for the person who murdered Hadley's best friend, Zabet. Things quickly grow out of hand and Evie has to figure out where to draw the line in being a loyal friend and putting herself and others in more danger than she could have anticipated.

Altogether, I found this to be a wonderful book. Filled to the brim with intriguing descriptions that really pull the reader in, the detail is drool-worthy. I found myself poring over paragraphs, trying to analyze exactly how Williams was able to describe things in just enough detail to keep you interested without becoming overwhelming. There are plenty of life lessons to be learned within the pages of The Space Between the Trees, as well as a good amount of symbolism and an ending you couldn't have anticipated.

This was a lovely book that I look forward to rereading in the near future. There are few books that I finish and want to immediately read again, but this was definitely one of those. Everything about it was well-done. I ended up purchasing this book because I enjoyed it so much. 

I suggest picking up The Space Between Trees at your nearest convenience.

Rating: ~★★★★★~

And so there it is, the answer. It doesn't feel like how I thought it would at all. I don't feel the urge to gasp or say aha! I am not wiser or safer. The world is not set to rights. It is a small, sad, messy world, and I am a small, sad, messy girl.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson (Scarlett, #2)

"Sometimes we all get a little broken." 

I just read a sequel . . . a sequel to a book I've never read.

This was entirely an accident. I had no idea that this book was a sequel. There was nothing on the cover indicating it and nothing in the story that made me think I had missed out on an entirely different storyline. I wouldn't have even found out when I did if I wasn't the type that likes to read the "About the Author" section, no matter how much I already know about said author, and saw that there was another book called Suite Scarlett.

This distresses me in ways you cannot imagine. I do not like reading books out of order. I suppose I'll just have to get over it and read the first book when I get the chance. I was wondering how Scarlett landed  such an interesting job.

Now, to the book review itself!

Scarlett Fever is the story of a fifteen year-old girl whose family runs a run-down hotel in New York City. She works as a personal assistant to her brother's agent. He is an up and coming actor who soon lands a role that has him labeled as "New York's Most Hated" and dodging flying doughnut missiles from angry fans. Scarlett's little sister is up to something questionable and her older sister seems to be drifting further and further away from them.

To add to the drama, Scarlett's boss, being an acting agent, has a new actress she wants to sign. This actress has a younger brother who is more than prepared to drive Scarlett up a wall with his obnoxious behavior and rude manners.

It seems that Scarlett is the only one who has it together, but things are slowly deteriorating and it's going to take quite a bit of work (and a particularly hazardous dance move) to keep this family from sinking under the pressure.

Despite the fact that I just read a sequel first, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Johnson's writing and storytelling is even more compelling than 13 Little Blue Envelopes and I would definitely peg this book as the better of the two.

Johnson's descriptions and wordplay are superb in the telling of Scarlett's story. I couldn't help but admire certain turns of phrase that simply worked. Descriptions like, "The formaldehyde was overwhelming. It smelled like a sterilized headache." I could almost smell my ninth grade Biology class all over again. There are more little gold bits like this sprinkled throughout the text that I wholeheartedly encourage you to keep an eye out for. They were a special delight to me in the reading of this story.

The only criticism I have is the abrupt ending. It worked well enough, but caught me off-guard and left certain bits unresolved. Of course, now that I'm aware that Scarlett Fever is a part of a series, it makes much more sense now.

All in all, it's a good novel and worth taking the time to read.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

[I finally read the prequel: Suite Scarlett. Click here to see my review.]

The feeling of loss was so profound that for a moment, she couldn't breathe. Something wonderful had happened here -- something confusing, but wonderful -- and now it was gone, and it would never come back.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (Little Blue Envelope, #1)

"I liked you because you were mad. And you're pretty. And pretty sane for a mad person."

Maureen Johnson was another author I decided to check out because of John Green. (The other was Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French Kiss.) Funnily enough, it isn't the first book I've picked up by her, but it is the first I've finished. That's not to say that she isn't a great author, but the other book, The Name of the Star, was a little too spooky for my taste. I will probably get around to finishing it eventually for the sake of having a review of it up here.

Anyway, because of John Green's recommendation and because she will be at LeakyCon this year, I wanted to give another of her books a go and I'm incredibly glad I did.

13 Little Blue Envelopes is about a girl named Ginny. After her beloved aunt dies, Ginny gets a package from her deceased aunt containing thirteen letters with directions to complete the task on one before proceeding to the next. These directions spur Ginny into the adventure of a lifetime. Her travels take her all over Europe, introduce her to some wonderfully crazy characters, and teach her to experience life to it's fullest.

This book was quite good. The plot had me hooked from the start and nothing about this story is predictable. This fact in and of itself has you feeling like all of this is really happening, like you're really on this adventure with Ginny. It's a wonderful testament to her writing ability and how relatable she makes her characters. It was definitely one worth reading.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

[Click here to see my review of the sequel: The Last Little Blue Envelope]

Sometimes, Gin, life leaves you without directions, without guideposts or signs. When this happens, you just have to pick a direction and run like hell.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Remember what Professeur Cole said when he was talking about the lack of translated novels in America? She said it's important to expose ourselves to other cultures, other situations.

What can I say? I adored this book!

I was first introduced to this title when I was still living in Paris. I heard about it via John Green (one half of the Vlogbrothers and the author of The Fault in Our Stars). He talked about it being very well-written and incredibly witty, so I decided it was necessary that I read it.

Yet every time I spotted it on the bookshelf, I couldn't bring myself to buy it. I just couldn't get past the cheesy title and the almost-as-cheesy cover. Yes, I know I shouldn't judge books by their covers, but I can't help it! It just looked so overwhelmingly girly and stereotypical and even the summary made me think that I had the entire story already figured out. So when I made it back to Texas, I decided I'd just get it from the library so I wouldn't have to spend money on it.

Let me tell you, when I finally cracked this book open, I tore through it. No seriously. I started reading it yesterday around nine and finished it at approximately noon today. Yeah, it was that good!

Anna and the French Kiss is about a girl who gets flung into Paris by her well-meaning, but very-much-a-tool father who thinks it will be good for her to go to a boarding school where she will become cultured and sophisticated. She enrolls in the American school there (a school my own dad considered putting my brother and I in while we were both in high school) and quickly joins a small group of friends that includes the most handsome, charming British-American boy she has ever set eyes upon.

But there's more to all of this than meets the eye. The moment she meet St. Clair, she knows he's off-limits. He's been dating Ellie, who graduated last year and now seems to be too good to associate with anyone in their circle of friends besides her significant other. As the school year continues, Anna starts having mixed feelings for St. Clair. Not only is he swiftly becoming her best friend, coming to her defense on all occasions and helping her adapt to the French culture around her, but the undercurrent of mutual attraction between them is steadily on the rise.

As they say: What's a girl to do?

I was honestly surprised with how much I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was all-around wonderful and every bit as clever and witty as John Green said it would be. Stephanie Perkins captures the "City of Love" quite well. (Though I'll admit that there ought to be a tad more of the strangers that accost you on the street and rude people if she wanted to make it entirely realistic.) I loved every second of the book and it made me miss Paris even more.

Anna and the French Kiss was an incredibly lovely book despite it's cringe-worthy title. I encourage anyone who wants a good read to snatch it up immediately. I'll be buying myself a copy of this book as soon as possible so I can have it on my bookshelves. It shall be money well-spent.

And when I go back to Paris this Christmas to see my family, I will most definitely find Point Zero (which I didn't know about until I opened this book) and make a wish.

Rating: ★★★★★

"You say that I'm afraid of being alone, and it's true. I am. And I'm not proud of it. But you need to take a good look at yourself, Anna, because I am not the only one in this room who suffers this problem."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

"Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool."

If you pay even the slightest attention to the media, you very likely are aware that the movie adaptation of The Hobbit will be in theaters this December. Because of that, I decided it was about time I stuck my nose into a J.R.R. Tolkien book and, let me tell you, I'm quite happy I did.

Going into this, I had rather expected Mr. Tolkien's writing to be a bit, well, stuffy. This was generally because I had heard that his writing was hard to get into and was all too descriptive to follow well. Perhaps they were speaking of a different book, because this certainly was not the case when it came to The Hobbit.

An adventure tale for the ages, this book was incredibly well-written and I was invested in the story from the outset. Being a big fan of C.S. Lewis, a personal friend of Tolkien, I was still surprised to see the similarities in their narratives. They have a similar writing style that really draws you in -- as if you're sitting by the fire listening to that wise old uncle of yours tell you a grand adventure you only dare to believe because he is the one telling you of it.

The Hobbit is the story of Bilbo Baggins, a comfortable little hobbit with more adventure in his blood than most other hobbits. Even still, it takes a good deal of convincing and coercion before Mr. Baggins finds himself on a quest for treasure, the "burglar" in a company of thirteen dwarves. He was specially chosen for the mission by Gandalf the Grey. At first, neither he nor his companions can understand why Gandalf thought he was worth bringing along, but there is more to Bilbo than meets the eye and, soon enough, he may become their only hope of accomplishing their task at all.

Overall, The Hobbit was a fantastic book. I enjoyed every moment of the journey, both "there and back again" and it has made me even more excited for the movie's release. I would definitely suggest this lovely story to anyone who enjoys Tolkien's other works or enjoys any books with a bit of magic threaded through the pages.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tattoo by Dale Rio & Eva Bianchini

The urge to assert oneself goes hand in hand with a desire to challenge social norms and values, and to advocate different ways of experiencing feeling, and displaying one's body.

I picked up Tattoo from one of my library shelves because I'm a huge fan of tattooing. Art has always been fascinating to me and I have wanted a tattoo since I was a kid.  The idea of expressing oneself through permanent body art has a distinct appeal to me.

Tattoo is a collaboration by Dale Rio and Eva Bianchini about, you guessed it, tattoos. It is essentially a history of the art form, revealing the origins of the tattoo and what it meant to each culture it came in contact with.

The book goes on to explain and give examples of each of the most popular tattoo styles (such as blackwork and new school tattooing), how it's done, and finishes off with some helpful reminders for those considering getting a tattoo.

All in all, it was a light and easy read filled with pictures of some pretty fantastic tattoo work. I would definitely suggest this to anyone who is intending to acquire a tattoo, or to anyone who is simply curious about the art and how it originated and became to successful industry it is today.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

It is significant to note that most early examples of tattooing are on women, which shows a distinct mind-shift through history, as until recently tattooing had become associated with men. In short, tattooing may once have been the sole preserve of females. The women of today who are being tattooed with as much confidence as men are simply reclaiming their heritage.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories

Here's the answer: learning to fit in, learning to get along, ignoring it, and being the better person don't work.
Asking victims to save themselves doesn't work. People need to intervene.

Funny story: Somehow I managed to buy the unedited proof of this book. I don't know how I, or the salesperson, didn't notice the big red square on the side that said "Unedited Proof: Not for Sale." It wasn't until I was partway through the book that I noticed it. I'm not sure how different it was from the one that ended up getting printed, but I only found one typo. That was the only "problem" I saw with the book in its entirety.

Back to the book review: In case you couldn't tell by the title, Dear Bully is an anthology of experiences. It's a collection of the stories of 70 authors who were, in some shape or form, bullied. The purpose is to bring awareness to the situation that is still perpetuated in the lives of many teenagers and children. The purpose is to reveal just how dangerous, and damaging, bullying can be.

This book really touched me. Seeing the perspective of the kids who dealt with such incredible amounts of torment on a daily basis was eye-opening.

Speaking as a girl who was at the bottom of the food chain in school for a few years, I know what it's like first-hand to be rejected. I know what it's like to have someone's words or actions impact you for years after the initial event. I was never downright bullied, but I got pretty close. At the same time, I treated a few others badly. I didn't bully, but I sure didn't treat them the way they ought to have been treated. I may never know what impact I had on their lives.

The point of this book was to talk about bullying from the perspective of those who were bullied, those who were too scared to speak up, those who did speak up and changed someone's life. People don't realize the impact of the things they do. People don't realize that one word, one rejection, can change someone's life.

I adored this book. Every story was heartfelt. Every experience brought new light to what bullying is and how we can stop it. It's definitely a recommended read for all ages. Parents should be reading this so they can teach their children to be better. Teachers should read it so they can keep an eye out for this sort of behavior. Teenagers should read this so they can discover how the way they're treating that other person is affecting them; and so those who are bullied can discover how to fight back.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Schools, parents, and educational endeavors  should encourage people not just to empathize but to discover and celebrate the weirdness in others and in ourselves. We need not just to think but to live outside the box. Weirdness is good. It keeps things interesting.