Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best of 2014: Young Adult Fiction

This year I read thirty-three books that fall into this category.

They are:

My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins
Vivian Versus America (Vivian Apple, #2) by Katie Coyle
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss, #3) by Stephanie Perkins
Hex Hall (Hex Hall, #1) by Rachel Hawkins
Let it Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green, & Lauren Myracle
Winterspell by Claire Legrand
The Summer I Became A Nerd by Leah Rae Miller
Tsarina by J. Nell Patrick (Jackson Pearce)
The Hate List by Jennifer Brown
I'm the King of the Castle by Susan Hill
Unbreakable (The Legion, #1) by Kami Garcia
Love in the Time of Global Warming (Love in the Time of Global Warming, #1) by Francesca Lia Block
Winger (Winger, #1) by Andrew Smith
Enchanter Heir (The Heir Chronicles, #4) by Cinda Williams Chima
Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff
The Falconer by Elizabeth May
Where She Went (If I Stay, #2) by Gayle Forman
The Madness Underneath (Shades of London, #2) by Maureen Johnson
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill
Beautiful Darkness (Beautiful Creatures, #2) by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Marcel and the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) by Libba Bray
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill
Falling Hard (Roller Girls, #1) by Megan Sparks
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, #1) by Ransom Riggs

First place goes to . . . 

Nina LaCour has stunned me with every one of her books, but this is by far the best she's done yet. Everything Leads to You is filled to the brim with romance, beautiful writing, and a story that will make you want to come back again and again. It was everything I hoped it would be and more.







Second place goes to . . .


After falling in love with the first book in this series, I was worried that the second and final book wouldn't live up to my high expectations. I was so wrong that it's laughable. Everything about the ending to Vivian's story is so much better than I could have hoped for and I cannot wait to read even more from this awesome author.
Side note: Both books are out in the UK at the moment, but the first book is going to be released for the US on January 6, 2015 under the title "Vivian Apple at the End of the World." You need this book, random reader. You need it. So please go preorder it immediately.


And third place goes to . . .

This is a must-read for pretty much every nerd that is out there. Rainbow Rowell goes above and beyond in this lovely work about Cath, a nerdy fan fiction writer who has just gone off to college. I adored every part of this book. And Rainbow Rowell has recently announced that her next book is going to be about the very characters Cath writes about in the book, which might just be the coolest thing I've seen an author do in a very long time.





Honorable mentions . . .

Monday, December 29, 2014

Best of 2014: Middle Grade (Kid Lit)

This year, I read twelve books that generally fall in the category of Middle Grade (which I also refer to as Kid Lit, but is usually geared for 9-13 year olds). The age distinction between this and YA tends to be a little vague.

These are the ones I read this year:

Gustav Gloom and the Four Terrors (Gustav Gloom, #3) by Adam Troy-Castro
The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5) by Rick Riordan
Out of the Woods by Lyn Gardner
Charmed Life (Chrestomanci, #1) by Diana Wynne Jones
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
City of Orphans by Avi
The Lives of Christopher Chant (Chrestomanci, #2) by Diana Wynne Jones
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
The Lost Hero (Heroes of Olympus, #1) by Rick Riordan
The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus, #2) by Rick Riordan
The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus, #3) by Rick Riordan

And the winner is . . .

I have adored every book I've read by Rick Riordan, but I think this is his best I've read yet. It had me glued to the pages from beginning to end and begging for more after where he left us.








Honorable mentions:


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Best of 2014: Manga / Graphic Novels

Yesterday I told my top picks for books I've read in 2014 that fall into the categories of Non-Fiction, Adult Fiction, and Rereads. Today, I'll be covering the Manga / Graphic Novels I read.

They are:

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Weibe & Roc Upchurch
Are You Alice? by Ai Ninomiya & Ikumi Katagiri
Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues by Geoff Johns & Francis Manapull
The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks
Spera, Volume 1 by Josh Tierney
Fruits Basket, Volumes 1-9 by Natsuki Takaya
Princessless, Volumes 1&2 by Jeremy Whitley
Red Sonja by Gail Simone & Walter Geovanni
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, & Cassandra Jean
Black Canary/Zatanna: Bloodspell by Paul Dini & John Quinones
Hell Yeah, Volume 1: Last Day on Earths by Joe Keatinge & Andre Szymanowicz
Gunslinger Girl, Omnibus 1 by Yu Aida
Saga, Volumes 1-3 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond by Adam Beechen & Adam Archer
Shutter, Volume 1: Wanderlost by Joe Keatinge & Leila del Duca
Who is AC? by Hope Larson
Joker: Death of the Family by Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, etc.
Teen Titans: It's Our Right to Fight by Scott Lobdell, Brett Booth, & Norm Rapmund

And the winner is . . .


If you haven't already read this awesome graphic novel about these four badass, mythical women, you have missed one of the best releases of 2014. This graphic novel has been flying off shelves since its debut and for very good reason. Every page of this story was filled with great art, big laughs, plenty of sex, and a lot of cursing. What more could you want?







Honorable mentions . . .

Christmas Book Haul!

We finally opened presents this morning, which means I finally have a Christmas book haul to show y'all! I got some really good ones this year. They all came straight from my wish list, but I asked for them a while back, so I had totally forgotten which ones I was getting, which made it a nice surprise.

Here's a list of what I got:

Volumes 35-37 of Batman (The New 52!). It's the Endgame Arc. I'm not caught up on Batman at the moment, mostly because my ability to keep up with comics is severely hindered by my inconsistent paychecks, so I've been sticking to the graphic novels. Still, if the covers are any indication, I will be enjoying these immensely.

Flytrap by Frances Hardinge. This one was a bit of a mistake. It looks good, but turns out to be the sequel to a book I haven't read. I asked for both in the same request and I guess my parents didn't see the note that it was the second book. They realized the error, though, and are sending the first one to my apartment, which is super sweet of them.

The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell. I heard about this book on the same YouTube video where I heard of the Frances Hardinge books. (British YA Classics with Livs.) It sounds amazing and I am very eager to tear into it.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. I've recently read The Feminine Mystique and am therefore eager to read another of the most prominent texts in feminism. And that cover is gorgeous.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman. When is Neil Gaiman not a good idea? And it's a signed copy that was on sale as a Black Friday deal. I've heard great things about this book and I'm sure it'll be totally up to the hype.

What Christmas books did you get? Any special favorites? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Best of 2014: Non-Fiction, Adult Fiction, & Rereads

My original plan for the end of the year was to post a Christmas book haul here and then have that jumpstart my end of the year categories, where I would post my favorites of what I read this year in different genres. However, my Christmas has been delayed and we are celebrating it tomorrow instead of two days ago. So I'm going to start my "Best of 2014" series now and just interrupt it with a book haul when I have opened presents. 

For each category I will give a list of the books I read which fall into that category, then follow it with my top picks from within. (The ones which I have reviewed on this blog will also have links to those reviews.) There will likely be a top pick and one or two honorable mentions. For today, we have three categories that were small enough the be put together. The others will be done as one category per blog post.

Non-Fiction: 

This year, I read eight books that fall within the Non-Fiction Category.
They were:

Bossypants by Tina Fey
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
He's a Stud, She's a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know by Jessica Valenti
The Crimes of Jack the Ripper by Paul Roland
Weird Things People Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell
More Weird Things People Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

And the winner is . . .
Betty Friedan's famous examination of the nameless problem plaguing American women in the fifties and today is every bit as amazing as I had heard. It blew my mind and is as entirely relevant to today's culture as it was when it was written.








Honorable mentions:


Adult Fiction:
I read eight books in the Adult Fiction category.
They were:

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Misery by Stephen King
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

And the winner is . . . 
  This book by Kazuo Ishiguro was every bit as exceptional and interesting as I had heard it would be. I was captivated from beginning to end by Kathy's tale of her growing up at Hailsham. It really is a stunning read and one that leaves you reeling long after you've put it down.









Honorary mentions: 



Rereads:
I reread eleven books this year.
They were:

Speechless by Hannah Harrington
Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara
Crusade in Jeans by Thea Beckman
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (2x)
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins


And the winner is . . .
 This book about a 21st century Dutch boy falling into the Children's Crusade is a story I wish every person would read. I still cannot believe it is the only one of this author's books that has been published in English. Every part of this story is captivating and wonderful.








Honorable mentions: 




Coming tomorrow: Manga/ Graphic Novels!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Reads

Pulled this off my Instagram. Feel welcome to follow me
there to see tons of book and cat pictures. :P
I'm going to my parents' house for Christmas in a few days and therefore have set aside the books I'm going to read over the six days I'll be there. I figured I would go ahead and share them here in the order that I intend to read them.

My True Love Gave to Me Edited by Stephanie Perkins
~This compilation of stories by twelve different prominent Young Adult authors just came out about a month ago and I have been dying to read it. I'm not much of a Christmas-y person. I don't like Christmas music and am partial to only a few Christmas movies, but I like Christmas stories and this should be good. And I would be remiss to ignore pointing out how stunning this version of it is. It's the UK cover and I am in love with it. It's definitely one of the most gorgeous books I own. (Rivaled only by my Drop Cap version of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone & Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

~I've been wanting to do another reread of the Harry Potter series for a few months now. What better time to kick that off than Christmas, the most nostalgic of holidays (in my humble opinion)? So I'm packing up the first two adventures that introduced us to the Wizarding World and diving back in to a story that is "always there to welcome you home".

Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones
~This is the third book in the Chrestomanci series by the incredibly talented author of Howl's Moving Castle. I've been meaning to get to this book for a while. It's filled with magic and stories that really wrap you up and pull you in, so I cannot wait to get lost in it. Again, this is another stunning UK cover (their covers beat ours almost every time). All of my Diana Wynne Jones books are in this cover and they look amazing on the shelf.

Those are the books I'm taking this year, though there is always the distinct chance I'll be throwing in a graphic novel or two for the plane ride. I tend to pack even more, but I'm trying to cut back. Plus, I asked for quite a few books for Christmas, so I'm sure I'll have plenty more to choose from after we open presents.

Do you have any Christmas reads you're planning this year? If so, leave a comment here to let me know what you're reading!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

What an amazing read! 
Like most people, I had heard about The Feminine Mystique for ages before I got around to reading it, but I finally sat down with it over the course of Thanksgiving break and it simply blew me away. Anna Quindlen kind of hits the nail on the head in the introduction when she talks about having gone into it expecting to look at it like history, then realizing how much really does still apply to today. That definitely happened to me. 
Reading it was like seeing a mirror of so many women in my life (myself included at times) and having that sudden clarity like, "Holy shit, THAT'S why!" As women, we've come a long way since Betty Friedan wrote the book, but we still have a long way to go. 
My copy is now covered with sticky tabs that mark different spots that I found particularly interesting or of particular importance. There is so much that, as women, we ignore or take for granted because that's the way it's always been, but Friedan really goes the extra mile to re-analyze a lot of preconceived notions that no one seemed to question before.
Obviously there are a few things scattered throughout that I disagree with. This book was written in the fifties, so society has learned a great deal since then (ie. Her discussion of homosexuality is particularly cringe-inducing, because it was understood as an aberration or illness at the time). 
This is a must-read, especially for women. If you're even vaguely interested in Women's Studies, this books is for you. It will really make you think. It has changed the lives of millions of women and continues to do so today. After reading it, I can absolutely see why. 
Definitely check this book out ASAP!

Rating: ★★★★★

Friday, October 31, 2014

October #SpookyReads

     This year, I decided that I would try to get myself in the mood for Halloween by only reading "spooky" books during the month of October. I figured I would read some Halloween-themed reads by searching out the ones on my shelves (or in the library) that had ghosts, murderers, vampires, or witches and go from there. I tried to go for the creepy stuff. Some of the time I succeeded and some of the time I didn't.
     Anyway, I figured I would compile a list here of the books I read this month. Maybe you'll even want to pick one up to read tonight, now that Halloween is upon us. I tweeted about them all month using the hashtag #SpookyReads, but twitter only gives you so much space to give reviews and I miss doing this, so here we are.

#SpookyReads 1: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
     Beautiful Creatures was actually a reread for me and kind of what inspired me to do #SpookyReads. I read it for Halloween two (maybe three?) years ago and it had been so long that I knew I couldn't read the sequels without first reading this one. Plus, I had seen the movie adaptation since then and I knew it had strayed pretty far from the book, so I wanted to get my facts straight before continuing.
     A story about Casters (as in spell casters), true love, beating the odds, southern prejudices, superstitions, and Dark vs. Light; Beautiful Creatures was just as good the second time around. I love the story and I devoured it again, even knowing where it was going. It's a thick book, but definitely worth taking your time to read.


#SpookyReads 2: Misery by Stephen King
     Misery happens to be my very first Stephen King book. I've heard about the man and his proficiency with the horror genre since I was a kid, but wasn't allowed to read him while growing up. To be fair, I was a pretty big scaredy cat as a child, so I don't blame my parents. The downside of an overactive imagination happens to be panicking at even the slightest suggestion of danger.
     I have to say, I quite liked my first run-in with Mr. King. Misery was even better than I expected, drawing the reader in from the very get-go and holding you in suspense from beginning to end. The antagonist is terrifying enough to have given me a nightmare or two and one particularly scary scene may or may not have made me yell "No!" while reading it in a crowded airport.
     I can definitely see why Stephen King has the great writing reputation he has carried for years now and I am definitely looking forward to reading more of his work in the future.

#SpookyReads 3: Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
     Next up is Beautiful Darkness, the second book in the Caster Chronicles. This one was a bit more angsty than the first and for pretty good reason (though to tell you why would be a major spoiler, so I'll keep my lips sealed). For this reason, it was a tad harder to read than the first. Still, the adventure and the characters manage to draw you in, even through the sadness, and I definitely found myself dying to read what would happen next. This sequel keeps all the sarcasm and charm of the first book while layering it with the aftermath of everything that went down between Lena, Ethan, and their families in the last book.




#SpookyReads 4: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
     This was my least favorite "spooky read." Before that  causes you to mark it off your reading list or skip the rest of this review, though, I should clarify that I am not a fan of vampire books. Vampires have always grossed me out and I don't see the appeal at all. I can do gore, but the ingesting of any human blood or flesh makes me queasy at the first glimpse of the idea, so I tend to stay away from this kind of book.
     That being said, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was pretty good for my one and only vampire read. I've never read a vampire book or sat through a vampire movie (besides the second-to-last Twilight movie at LeakyCon 2012, which was heavily commentated by Maureen Johnson and other various funny ladies). I always enjoy Holly Black's writing. I love that she doesn't shy away from the gritty stuff and I love that she manages to create a world in this book that romanticizes vampires while not realizing the true horror of it. And I love that she uses it to explore the human condition in a world that is both fascinated and terrified by these monsters.
     If I had to read a vampire book, I'm glad it was this one. Holly Black's world building is thoroughly believable and can pull in even the most hesitant of readers.

#SpookyReads 5: Jack the Ripper: The Whitechapel Murders Re-Examined by Paul Roland
     For my final spooky read, I decided to mix it up by throwing some non-fiction into the mix. So I chose this book about Jack the Ripper that has been sitting on my shelf for a while now. I bought it not long after I read Maureen Johnson's The Name of the Star, which had some Jack the Ripper themes and made me want to find out more about the real history of the notorious murders.
     This book wasn't an amazing overview, but it did it's job in making me familiar with the murders and common theories surrounding the myth of the Ripper. I liked that it had photos and sketches I could refer to in seeing the suspects and certain aspects of the murder, but I couldn't help being a bit disappointed by the end of it. The author has a hard time helping the reader keep the names straight, and I found the lack of a bibliography at the end particularly irritating. How am I supposed to take this man's word if he can't tell me his sources? This book got three stars from me for that. It did it's job in giving me the gist of the matter, but I certainly don't feel as informed as I had hoped to be by the end of the book.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I'm Back!

Bring on the blame. I know I suck for disappearing on y'all.

     I'm back, guys! I have returned to this lovely blog, where I once posted reviews of nearly every book I read. And one day I just dropped it. No explanation, no nothing. I know I suck, guys. But I'm not here to offer excuses or any of that shit. I honestly don't remember why I stopped, though it seemed it was around the time I moved to Seattle, so I'm guessing it just kind of fell by the wayside. I missed doing this, though. I missed writing reviews of the lovely books I came across. I missed bringing attention to the authors that truly deserve it. And though I did give Booktube a shot, I realized that I'm much better at writing my thoughts than I am at trying to look presentable in front of a camera. (Though you can see the few video reviews I did at the bottom of this post. I will embed them for your viewing pleasure . . . or displeasure.) 

     Anyway, I'm back now and ready to write some reviews. The first set of mini-reviews will be out tomorrow (I read only Halloween-themed books in October and tweeted about it under the hashtag #SpookyReads). I don't know if I'll set up a schedule for reviews or just post them as I write them or what, but I look forward to being back and weighing in on my passion (books) at every opportunity.

     Just wanted to write a short post to prepare y'all. Hopefully you'll be seeing a lot more of me on this blog soon! 

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson (Shades of London, #2)

"You are not weird in the head," he said, more firmly. "You went through something horrible, and you survived, and you've done amazingly well. You're strong. Stop making jokes about it. There is nothing wrong with you." 
I wasn't expecting this little outburst, or the anger that edged his voice.
"Sorry," I said. 
"Don't be sorry. Just don't do it. It's important. Because of what we do, it's important to always remember that there is nothing wrong with you."

[Click here to read my review of book 1: The Name of the Star]

After reading the first book in this series and falling in love with it's creepy and intriguing storyline, I was excited to see what book 2 had in store. Still, I waited (It's fairly rare that I read an entire series in one go. I usually read other books in between those books in the series.) and only got around to reading it a few days ago.

After the conclusion of the Ripper case, Rory is removed from Wexford by her parents and is staying in Bristol with them while she recovers. Her body is nearly healed, but she's a mess otherwise. Her teachers have been sending her work that she ignores and her therapist keeps prodding at things Rory would rather she left alone. She's separated from her friends, the only people who understand her ability to see ghosts and can possibly help her deal with her newfound "ability".

Then Rory's therapist suddenly suggests she goes back to Wexford and Rory jumps at the chance. However, things just aren't the same. She doesn't quite know how to deal with what's happened to her and she's sick of lying to everyone but Callum, Stephen, and Boo. She's fairly certain she's going to fail her classes, yet can't seem to bring herself to catch up where she left off after the attack. As if that weren't enough to keep her occupied, murders with seemingly ghostly origins start popping up and Rory can't help wondering if something that happened the night the Ripper attacked her has something to do with it.

Rory is a very relatable character with a sense of humor that endears you to her almost immediately. Even after all the chaos of the first book and the considerable amount of trauma she's been through, that doesn't change. Maureen Johnson has created in her one of those characters that makes every situation that much more interesting and I really love that about her.

As for the story itself, I've heard a few complaints that it suffers from that second-book-slump, but I'm not so sure I agree. Admittedly, there isn't as much mystery, but there is just as much plot as the first installment in the series. Johnson is clearly using this book as a launchpad for the major excitement in the next book, but this one still has its fair share of nail biting, cheering, and crying.

I think the next book is going to be absolutely stunning and I can't wait to see where Maureen takes the story from here. If the first two books are any indication, the next one will be a knockout.

Rating: ★★★★★

We were sitting right on top of the graveyard of the world's most infamous mental institution, which is arguably many hundreds of times worse than being on top of the old haunted burial grounds that things are always being built on in America. Loads of mad ghosts . . . who might be disturbed by, say, a major explosion that might have, quite possibly, opened up some kind of crack that they could pass through? And they might, for instance, kill people with hammers . . .
Now I had a reason to call Stephen.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Pastor McKee, do you think we really have a ghost up there in the sanctuary? I mean, does the church even believe in ghosts? Because – if there is a ghost – maybe it's related to this drowning?”
It sounded so ridiculous when she said it out loud.
Tell me, lassie, have you paerchance heard any local tales o' sea folk?” he said out of the blue.
Uh . . .” Hester wondered where he was going with this.
I've haerd tell they live en the deepes' par' of our own bay.”
Why do you ask?”
He shrugged and shifted his feet, preparing to sit in the chair again. She held his arm while he lowered himself into it. “Jus' tha' tales o' ghosts and tales o' sea folk paersist in the world. Even an educated paerson mus' wonder ef thar's a reason for et.”

“Monstrous Beauty” is another book I came across on the shelves of my local Half Price Bookstore. I hadn't ever heard of it or the author before, but the cover was stunning and the summary on the back sounded just dark and interesting enough to catch my attention. If I remember correctly, this wasn't long after I had read “Fathomless”, so I'll admit I was probably on a bit of a dark mermaid story binge at the time, though I obviously didn't read it until much later.

Hester Goodwin has pledged herself never to fall in love or marry. Most especially, she will never have children. Hester has made this decision because of her family history. After all, if all the women in the last one hundred fifty years of your family history had died within a week of giving birth to their first child, you would be concerned too. Though she definitely has feelings for her best friend, Peter, she suppresses them and pulls away. She can't fall in love. She can't be talked out of it. She doesn't want to die.

Then Hester meets Ezra, a strange and intoxicating man whom she only ever sees on the beach, and suddenly all of her resolve seems to dissipate. He claims he can help her, that her troubles sound more like a curse than a genetic fault and perhaps the two of them can solve it together.

As she begins to look into her family's past, Hester begins to uncover the pieces of a tragedy that took place long ago and may be the cause of her curse, as well as the rumored hauntings that have taken place in the church and its graveyard, where she used to play as a girl. It's up to her to uncover a terrible truth and set to rights that which was tampered with long ago, that is, if the forces that be will let her do it.

The further I sank into this book, the more surprised I was that I hadn't heard of it before. A beautifully written tale that can be dark, tragic, thrilling, and hopeful all in one excellent novel? I was smitten from the start.

I cannot get over how good this book managed to be and I will definitely be singing its praises for months. The reader is caught up along with the protagonist in the mystery that surrounds her and the terrifying adventures she must face in order to get to the bottom of things. Hester is fierce and resourceful and an all-around believable character that I enjoyed getting to know within the pages.

If you're looking for a good, dark fantasy preferably containing mermaids and other supposed myths, this is the book you need on your shelf. I suggest finding it as soon as you can manage.

Rating: ~★★★★★~

She struggled and writhed as the thing switched positions, easily hooking an arm around her neck and swimming her down – headfirst, faceup, deeper and deeper – in a death-spiral version of a lifeguard rescue. It was a distinctly humanlike arm that held her, and Hester clutched it with both ahnds, afraid of the speed, and afraid it would strangle her. The rhythmic thumping and pumping beneath her was the unmistakable action of a powerful tail, propelling them to the depths of the bay. Hester kept her eyes closed, but she knew without seeing the creature: it was a mermaid.
They were real.
McKee was right; E.A. Doyle was right.

And Hester was about to be killed.

Friday, March 21, 2014

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Piper and Edmond and Isaac and I used to watch this lunatic fringe milling around every day around sunset and then Edmond and I would slip away up to the tiny bedroom at the top of the house or the big storage closet under the eaves or the lambing barn or one of about a thousand places we'd found where we could try and try and try to get enough of each other but it was like some witch's curse where the more we tried to stop being hungry the more starving we got.
It was the first time in as long as I could remember that hunger wasn't a punishment or a crime or a weapon or a mode of self-destruction.
It was simply a way of being in love.

I picked up “How I Live Now” while I was Christmas shopping late last year. It's a pretty well known fact that I can't leave a bookstore without at least one book for myself, so I already knew shopping books for Christmas presents was going to end up with me buying some for myself. Thankfully, I was in charge of stocking stuffers this year, so I could get away with convincing myself I needed it.

I spotted this lovely volume in the Young Adult section at my local (at the time) Half Price Bookstore. I'd been trying to find this novel for a while anyway, but had only ever managed to locate movie cover copies, so you can imagine how I snatched this one up.

In “How I Live Now” we meet Daisy, a fifteen year-old who has been sent to live in England with her cousins after her father marries a particularly foul stepmother. Though she has never met her cousins until now, she immediately fall in step with them and all their endearing oddities.

When her Aunt Penn goes of to give a talk on the impending war many believe England and much of the world are about to face, the children can't help but view it as a blessing. The five of them now have the huge house to do with as they will. Even when war does break out, it certainly doesn't seem real. And with Daisy falling madly in love with Edmond, well, how can she be expected to think of anything else? That is, until the military shows up at their doorstep and Daisy is separated from nearly everyone she has grown to love.

Edmond and Daisy promised each other they would find the other. Now it's up to Daisy to make sure she and her youngest cousin, Piper, make it back to their home before they become casualties of a war they never imagined could touch them.

Forbidden love, World War III, and coming of age all in one story? You can count me in.

Written from the perspective of Daisy as she tells the story long after it has happened, I fell in love with “How I Live Now” almost immediately. The writing style, which is almost like reading the protagonist's journal, fits the material like a glove. There are no word for word quotes, only Daisy's record of what she remembers them saying and, for some reason, that works phenomenally.

This book is about war and survival, falling in love and the breaking of hearts. It captures the helplessness a young person would feel in the midst of a battle they don't know how to fight or win, and it captures the triumph of good and heartlessness of evil one must come face to face with in those circumstances.

I fell in love with Daisy and the way she tells her story. I'm sure you will too.

Rating: ★★★★★

There never were seven more silent human beings in the back of a truck, we were too stunned even to cry or speak. When we reached Reston Bridge our driver, who I knew was a close friend of the Major's, got out of the truck and stood there for a minute trying to get up the courage to go inside and tell Mrs. M what happened, but first he turned to us and said in a voice that sounded broken and full of rage, In case anyone needed reminding This is a War.

And the way he said those words made me feel like I was falling.

Monday, March 17, 2014

More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell (Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, #2)

Customer: Do you believe in past lives?
Bookseller: Erm, well, I …
Customer: I do. I absolutely do. I feel very at one with everything. I'm pretty sure this is my seventh time on earth.
Bookseller: I see.
Customer (looking pleased with herself): And I'm almost certain that in a past life I was Sherlock Holmes.
Bookseller: … You know, Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character.
Customer (outraged): … Are you trying to tell me that I don't exist?
Bookseller: …

I heard about this book from Leena Norms, who is the sole contributor of the Youtube channel, Just Kiss My Frog. She mentioned both this book and its predecessor, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, in one of her videos and I was immediately interested. If you've worked in retail for any amount of time, you learn that there is no end to the stupid questions and ridiculous things people say in whatever store in which you work. So anyone who compiled a list of them was bound to come by a great deal of golden material, and if it has to do with bookshops then that's another level on which I'm interested.

I spread the reading of this one out a couple of weeks, reading a page or two every few days, giggling, and setting it down again. I loved it. This books is a goldmine of hilarious comments and questions that will keep you dying to read more. If you're looking for a few more laughs in your life, I absolutely suggest it!

(I've also been told that the second book isn't quite as good as the first, which only gives me hope. I loved this one, so I cannot wait to get my hands on the first.)

Rating: ★★★★★

Child: Mummy, who was Hitler?
Mother: Hitler?
Child: Yeah. Who was he?
Mother: Erm, he was a very bad man from a long time ago.
Child: Oh. How bad?
Mother: He was like … he was like Voldemort.
Child: Oh! That's really, really bad.
Mother: Yes.
Child: (Pause) So did Harry Potter kill Hitler, too?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Winger by Andrew Smith

Then I saw Casey puffing his chest out, walk straight up to Joey and push him hard, knocking Joey back. And Casey said, “You think you're funny with your song, queer?”
I threw my backpack down and ran as fast as I could.
I knew Joey would fight. He wasn't afraid of anyone. You had to be like that to be a fly half, and I'm sure that Joey had been hit square against his unpadded body at least a thousand times more than Casey ever had. But I wasn't going to let him get gang-jumped by those assholes.
So I ran faster than I did in practice. I had to. And just as Joey was making a fist, Nick was circling behind him, and Casey was in the process of throwing the first punch, I launched myself, head up and shoulder down, right into Casey's knees and wrapped my arms around his legs, driving him, crashing, to the ground.


I love a good fight scene.

Seriously. If a book or movie has a good fight scene in it, I'm much more likely to enjoy it than if it doesn't. Some people like romance, some people like mermaids, some people like pirates. I like violence.* I'm not sure what that says about me (other than the fact that I like to write fight scenes too), but it's true.

It's no wonder, then, that I picked up Winger. I mean, the kid on the cover looks like he's been in some kind of fight and I wanted to know why. After reading the summary (and seeing that there were illustrations scattered throughout – I'm a sucker for art), I had to have this book. I bought it and added it to the hoard of unread books stacked around my room until I finally got around to it a few days ago.

Ryan Dean West, or Winger (as his rugby teammates call him), is a loser. At least, that's what he calls himself almost constantly. He's a fourteen year-old in his junior year, making him the baby of the class, and is in love with his best friend, Anna, though he doesn't have the guts to tell her. Adding to his loser status is the fact that last year he got caught having stolen a teacher's phone, which he only took to call Anna on her birthday, and has now been to Opportunity Hall – the crappy dorms where all the delinquents are sent to live in his boarding school, Pine Mountain.

Ryan Dean is certain this is his death sentence, especially when he realizes he's rooming with the biggest asshole of them all (not counting the football team, whom everyone hates most of all). When Annie tells him he'll have to toughen up, he knows she's right, but even Ryan Dean has no idea what this year has in store for him and it's going to take more than a little toughness if he's going to make it through to senior year.

With its witty sense of humor and realistic portrait of teenage confusion, heartbreak, and cruelty; Winger was a joy to read, even if it did break my heart more than once. I love Ryan Dean as a flawed protagonist who made more than his share of mistakes, but did them with a good heart so that you couldn't help cheering him along.

Intelligently written, laugh-out-loud funny, and heartbreakingly honest, this is one I'd suggest to most teenage boys and girls – especially those that need reminding that just because you make a lot of mistakes and bad choices doesn't mean you're a bad person. We're all just finding our way along as best we can and sometimes the only thing we can do is try.

Rating: ★★★★★

*Not senseless violence. I do have specific standards with what's involved. I just like a good fight, that's all. Particularly when the hero is the winner. But then, what else do you expect from someone who has been in love with DC Comics since the nineties?

And that's probably about the time that Joey seriously considered throwing the old man out too. If it wasn't precisely at that moment, I'm sure he felt like it when Ned started screaming insanely in wild terror.

You know, there's something especially frightening when you're stuck in the darkest depths of hell, in the middle of a raging torrent of mud, and the insane old lost guy in the front seat starts screaming like he's going to die. I mean, I figured Ned had probably stared Death in the face more than a few times in just the past four of five hours, let alone since the discovery of fire, so when you hear a guy who you know has gone through as much shit as Ned has – in a lifetime that was undoubtedly measured by geological periods as opposed to calendars – screaming like that, well . . . you just know you're going to die too.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor was right: She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.

Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park was a Christmas present. It wasn't a surprise one, but a book I'd heard about from various different sources and wanted to add to my collection. Still, it's been sitting idly on my shelf since.

I only cracked it open yesterday morning because I heard the news that Faith Erin Hicks (who has written and/or drawn a number of graphic novels I'm in love with) was teaming up with Rainbow Rowell for a graphic novel in the near future. I was thrilled and decided I ought to celebrate the occasion by cracking open this lovely novel.

Oh. My. God.
I fell in love.

There are a thousand and one things I'd love to say about this novel and yet it all seems to come out in a high pitched squeal, because I cannot get over how much I fell in love with it. I mean, I devoured this book. I could hardly function for wanting to read it.

Eleanor has bright red hair and dark brown eyes. She comes from a broken home with a mother who has long ago forgotten how to care for her daughter, a stepdad who makes Eleanor want to run and hide, and siblings who have learned that to be silent is to be safe. She's uncomfortable, she's fat, she's weird . . . and Park can't take his eyes off of her.

Park is half Asian, half American. His mother is a beautician and his father a veteran who will never be pleased with the son who is too effeminate and too different. His brother is exactly the macho child his father always wanted and he looks American. Not to mention, he's getting bigger than his older brother every day. He's a comic book and music junkie who'd rather fade into the background than draw attention to himself. He's uncomfortable, he's weak, he's weird . . . and Eleanor can't breath when he's not around.

A love story that wraps you up, breaks your heart, and makes you believe in love that conquers all, Eleanor & Park was an absolute treat. It's one that has immediately installed itself as one of my all-time favorite books and I can tell I'll be revisiting its pages many, many times in the years to come.

Rating: ~★★★★★~

"I don't think I even breathe when we're not together," she whispered. "Which means, when I see you on Monday morning, it's been like sixty hours since I've taken a breath. That's probably why I'm so crabby, and why I snap at you. All I do when we're apart is think about you, and all I do when we're together is panic. Because every second feels so important. And because I'm so out of  control, I can't help myself. I'm not even mine anymore, I'm yours, and what if you decide that you don't want me? How could you want me like I want you?"
He was quiet. He wanted everything she'd just said to be the last thing he heard. He wanted to fall asleep with I want you in his ears.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2013 Reading Wrap-Up

At the end of 2013, I ended up falling behind on reviews due to my brief hiatus when my family came home for Christmas and the general business of the holiday season. So I decided to give a brief review of the last four books that I read at the end of the year and didn't get to review.

The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, #4)

"Tell me, Percy. I have no wish to argue with you. But do you support the gods because they are good, or because they are your family?"
 Riordan doesn't disappoint in the fourth addition to an already wonderful series. Percy, Annabeth, and Grover face graver dangers with higher consequences than ever before. Once again, Riordan manages to capture all of the excitement, terror, and adventure that the reader can imagine in this thrilling installment to the series.
I cannot get over how much I love the character growth throughout this series. I really enjoy getting to watch our three heroes grow and mature even as the world becomes more dangerous around them. I cannot wait to read the final book in the series and find out just how everything goes down.

Rating: ★★★★☆


Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke


My mother had once said to me, "We make our best friends in the dark times because we always remember how they helped us out of the darkness." 
After reading the Inkworld Trilogy (which I absolutely fell in love with), I am hard pressed not to pick up a Cornelia Funke book if I pass it in a shop.
Ghost Knight has only heightened my love for her work. A children's novel about a boy who must battle an ancient curse in order to save himself and everyone he loves, it was an absolutely delightful and chilling read. Accompanied by illustrations that heighten the sense of creeping danger and valiant bravery, I could not be more entranced by this gripping volume.

Rating: ★★★★★


Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

It's pretty well established that girls want to be considered hot. I mean, when you're brought up to think that your hotness quotient is pretty much your entire worth, that shit becomes pretty damn important.
If you've been looking for a text that will cover all the basics of what being a feminist means, look no further. Jessica Valenti covers it all in this fabulous book that explains what feminism stands for and why you're almost definitely a feminist too.
I dove into this and barely surfaced for air. It was packed so full of gems that just thinking about this book makes me want to go back and reread it now. Give it a shot. You won't regret it.

Rating: ★★★★★


Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy

Even if you are a woman who achieves the ultimate and becomes like a man, you will always be like a woman. And as long as womanhood is thought of as something to escape from, something less than manhood, you will be thought less of, too.
This was one of those books that I just picked off the shelf at Barnes & Noble because it looked interesting, then found myself thirty minutes later, well into it and dying to read more. Ariel Levy has a distinct voice that rings with truth in an ages where women are trying to find equality and especially sexual freedom, yet aren't really sure what that look like.
Levy warns against the dangers of buying into what our culture calls "sexy" and letting a new era of objectification wash in where we thought we were ushering in our own freedom. This is definitely a must read for women everywhere.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Friday, January 10, 2014

Top 13 Books of 2013

Best Books in "YA Fiction"

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
A contemporary stand-alone about a girl battling her eating disorder, among other inner demons, Wintergirls is the only non-fantasy novel in my top YA books read last year. Not only is it a stunning portrait of what it's like as a teen to have one's mind warped by an eating disorder, but Laurie Halse Anderson manages to draw you in and remind the reader that even in the darkest of hours, there is still hope if you're willing to let someone help.

This beautiful conclusion to the Inworld series was unforgettable. The world Cornelia Funke creates in this jaw-dropping trilogy will stick with the reader long after they've finished, begging you to give it another go almost as soon as they've turned the final page. 

Originally intended to be the final book in a trilogy that has since morphed into a full-blown series, I loved everything about Dragon Heir. The action was intense, the story heart-pumping, and the magic kept me desperately eager to learn more. The characters are still close to my heart and I cannot wait to read the next book in order to find out just what happens to them next.

This was the book that came entirely out of left field and still managed to steal the spotlight. I had never heard of this novel before picking it up, but I fell in love with it soon after. I can definitely say I'm deeply interested in learning more about Norse Mythology after reading this gem and I can't help hoping that the author will announce a sequel in the near future.

I'm usually not a big fan of ghost stories, but how could I resist one written by the enigmatic Maureen Johnson? Turns out, I couldn't. This fabulous start to a trilogy that is still in the works was so much more than anything I had hoped for. Deeply creepy and packed with excitement, this was a novel I'm very happy to have fallen in love with.

The final book in a series I had hoped would go on for much longer, Cold Spell was everything I had hoped for in a conclusion to a lovely book series that included retellings of Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel, The Little Mermaid, and (in this novel) The Snow Queen. I absolutely adored it and couldn't be happier with how well it was executed.

Classics

One of those books that everyone except myself seemed to have read in high school, I was excited to dive into this novel and was not disappointed by the results. An antiwar novel written unlike anything else I've ever read, I was impressed by every chapter I was offered within its binding. I see why this is a classic and I hope it remains in the hearts and minds of many generations after my own.

Non-Fiction

Full-Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti
As someone who very strongly identifies myself as a feminist, I was more than a little eager to read this one and was not at all disappointed. It's one of those books that really helps the reader uncover what feminism means and gives a nice overview to everything that falls within that realm. This is a great start for men and women who want to learn a bit more about feminism and this was the book I gave more than any other as a gift this Christmas.

Fantasy

A story that many of us know like the back of our hands after the movie adaptation, The Princess Bride  is a breathtakingly well-written work of art that I still cannot get over. I absolutely fell in love with this book and everything about it, from the narrator to nearly each and every character that is presented within its pages.

I have been in love with the film adaptations of these books since the first time I sat down to watch one. I have no idea what took me so long to read them, but I'm thrilled that I got around to reading the first of the trilogy. All of the characters I fell in love with in the movies are back and I can journey along with them far better here in the books than I can by watching the film. I cannot wait to read its sequels.

Children's Fiction

I knew, as soon as I'd seen the cover, that I would adore this book. I wasn't wrong. Patrick Ness tells the story of a boy whose greatest fear is losing his mother with such poignancy that I could hardly stand it. Not only are the words enticing and the story compelling, but the artwork that colors in the pages is so deeply stunning that I still go back just to stare at it. If there's a children's book you need to read this year: this is it.

The Gustav Gloom series is exactly what I hoped it would be: fun, creepy, and dark. It's not too scary for older children, but it's just creepy enough to keep the reader eager to learn more, all while giving them that deep sense of going on the same adventure that the characters are on. I adored everything about this first book in the series and continue to love it as I read on.

Though both books he released last year were stunning, this one has a special place in my heart for being exciting, brilliant, adventurous, and funny all at once. I immediately bought a copy for my nieces and nephew and have not ceased to hear its praises sung from every reader who has come across it. 


So there we go: my top 13 picks for last year. Did you read any of these books last year? Are you planning on adding any of them to your reading list for 2014? I sure hope you do.

Monday, January 6, 2014

2013 in Review

One of my Christmas presents from a very dear friend.
I know it's been nearly a month since I last posted a review, but I decided to take a break from working on Novel Attraction so that I could be present with my family while they were home for the holidays. Now January is in full swing and I'm ready to start up working here again. The first few posts of the year will include my 13 favorite books from 2013, my TBR list for 2014, as well as a wrap-up of mini-reviews of books I read in December and never got around to posting full reviews for.

Last year, I read 64 books. My goal was 100, but with a full-time job and a lot of other obstacles life managed to throw in my path, I feel like I did pretty well. This year, my goal remains the same. Only, there will be one difference: this year, I'll be counting graphic novels as well.

Don't ask me why I haven't counted graphic novels before now. I didn't really get into them until the year before last and I didn't even really consider it until recently. It should be interesting to see how that boosts my count. Maybe if I had managed to count them last year, I would have reached that fabled hundred. We'll see, I suppose.

The next year has a lot in store for me and I'm looking some major changes in the face as I peer forward, but I cannot wait to see what will happen. However, my love for books will never change and I'll be reading away no matter what I'm doing and where I'm writing to you from. Here's to a new year and many new books to dive into!

"Wherever I am, if I've got a good book with me, I have a place I can go and be happy." -J.K. Rowling