February Wrap-Up

Hey all!  I am starting a new thing here on the blog: the monthly wrap-up!  I will probably mess with the formatting a bit as I figure out the way that works best for me, but here we go!  The format for this first one was totally inspired by the awesome Rachel over at Tiger Lily Rachel (though hers, as usual, looks way prettier) – you should definitely check her February wrap-up out as well!

Overall Stats

This month overall was really strong, reading-wise.  I was able to complete 19 books, bringing my total up to 50 books for the year.  This is insane to me; the highest reading year I have EVER had before now was 132 books (still strong), but I am on pace to pretty much crush that.

My 19 books included two novellas and two graphic novels, and all together included a grand total of 6,041 pages.  Insane!  As usual, my most-read genre was YA (9/19 books), but actually some of my very favorite reads this month were adult novels.  If you want to see everything I read, and read at least a short review, you can check out my Read This Month shelf on Goodreads by clicking here.  I tend to leave this up for “last month” for at least a week or so.

Five-Star Reads

This month, I actually had three five-star reads (and a crap-ton of four star reads).  My five-star reads were:

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Spinning Heart   vicious   never sky

I actually think that order is even the order I would internally rank those 5-star reads.  I actually gave Under the Never Sky four stars at first, until about a week later when I STILL hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it.  It was one of my favorite YA dystopians in awhile, and that is saying something.  Don’t know what took me so long, but I’m glad to be on-board that train now!

February Book Reviews, Features and Favorite Posts

I was able to write four book reviews this month (and honestly, I thought it was more!).  I will definitely focus on increasing this number for next month.  If you are interested in checking those out, here they are again!

A Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (5/5 stars)
The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson (3/5 stars)
Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott (4/5 stars)
Unwind by Neil Shusterman (4/5 stars)

That last review was done as a part of Epic Recs, which is a really fun feature where book bloggers pair off together and make book recommendations to each other.  I had SO much fun doing it, and I highly suggest you check out that post to learn more!

I also participated in the Book Blogger LoveAThon this month and had the opportunity to meet so many more bloggers and add a TON of great blogs to my reading lists. I really need to update my blog roll and that is definitely on my to-do list.  To see what the LoveAThon was all about you can check out my LoveAThon 2014 category here! If you’ve never participated before, I HIGHLY recommend it next time it comes around! It was hands down the most fun I’ve had blogging!

My personal favorite post was actually made on January 30, but with the Academy Awards coming up, I want to give it a little more love and that was the Bookish Academy Awards tag that I filched from BookTube.  I had SO much fun putting this post together!  Check it out here!

I had SUCH a fun month blogging and reading.  I can’t wait to see what March brings!!

Top Ten Tuesday (4): Books That Will Make You Swoon

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week we are discussing our Top Ten Books That Will Make You Swoon.

I have to admit that I am not always a swoony kind of girl. I tend to be more matter-of-fact and don’t lean toward romantic readings most of the time.  But I’ve come up with five novels that are so swoony, I think they should each count twice.  🙂  

Five Romantic Books to Make You Swoon

1.       Crown of Embers by Rae Carson.  

I will admit to not being the hugest fan of the first book in this series (good, but not great), but man did Carson grab me with this second book.  I freaking love the love interest in this book.  I went to a reading of hers where she said that in order to get the tone of this series right she basically watched a ton of Spanish telenovelas while she was writing and it shows. And, hey, check it out – Hector and me are totally personal friends.  Be jealous.

Crown of Embers   Hector

2.      Kushiel’s Dart (and really the whole trilogy) by Jacqueline Carey.

These are definitely NOT YA books, please be aware, and the romance and physicality in these books can be gritty and tough to read.  But man oh man, the main relationship in this novel is just perfection.

Kushiel 

3.      Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series as well, but to me there was something so redemptive about the love story in this installment.

Dark Triumph 

4.      Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier.  

One of my absolute favorite books hands-down and with a pitch perfect slow-burn romance.  The end… oh the end… just absolutely wonderful.

 Daughter of the Forest

5.      Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman.

This historical fiction is set in the thirteenth century and tells the story of the marriage between Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, and Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John.  It is absolutely gorgeous, and one of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read.  And the best part is that the relationship is real, so we get to at least hope it was as good as Penman writes it.  If you’ve never read anything by Sharon Kay Penman and you enjoy historical fiction AT ALL you must give Penman a try.

Here Be Dragons

 

 

Book Tag – Bookish Academy Awards

So I don’t know about you guys, but I not only read a lot of book blogs, I watch A LOT of BookTube.  For the uninitiated, BookTube is basically the amazing little corner of YouTube where book people reside. Although probably the most subscribed channels are YA centric, there are BookTubers out there for you no matter what kind of reading you like to do — classics, adult books, mysteries, whatever! I love watching book reviews almost as much as I love reading them, to be honest.  And one really cool thing that BookTube has that we bloggers haven’t really gotten into as much are Tag Videos.  Basically, a tag video is when one person comes up with a bunch of bookish questions, answers them, and then tags a few people to also answer them.  All of a sudden, all of the people you are subscribed to are answering questions about books, and not just reviewing specific books, which I actually think gives you a really cool insight into their likes/dislikes generally and provides a new way to talk about books – which is what we are all here to do, right?!

Recently I was watching Regan on Peruse Project and she did a really awesome tag called Bookish Academy Awards.  The tag was originally created by Kayla at BOOKadooodles and I just freaking loved it.  After watching Epic Reads do the *Book Shimmy* awards and getting super excited for the actual Oscars coming up in March, I personally couldn’t wait to weigh in on this tag.

All of my winners come from the 135 books I read in 2013; not necessarily books published in 2013.  You can see all the eligible nominees on my Goodreads page here.  Hope you all enjoy!

Welcome to the 2013 Bookish Academy Awards!

1.     BEST ACTOR / BEST MALE PROTAGONIST 

theif

 Hands down, my favorite male protagonist that I discovered in 2013 was Gen from The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. Originally published in 2005, this series follows Gen, who has a reputation for being able to steal anything.  Until, of course, he gets caught. He is released from prison in order to retrieve something for the King and what follows is a really fun adventure tale that keeps the reader guessing. Gen is hilarious, clever, devoted, and oh-so-fun to read.

2.     BEST ACTRESS/ BEST FEMALE PROTAGONIST

 easy

Ok, you guys.  This one was almost impossible. I met so many amazing females this year through my reading.  Some very, VERY close contenders included Alanna from the Song of the Lioness quartet,  Cinder from the Lunar Chronicles quartet, Eleanor from Eleanor & Park, Mary Russell from the wonderful Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series… the list seriously goes on and on. But my heart has to rule and this one goes to the wonderful (and overlooked in the blogosphere, I think) Josie Moraine from Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys.  Josie was one of my favorite female characters in a really long time.  She is the 17-year-old daughter of a prostitute who was raised and lives in a brothel in New Orleans in the 1950s.  She was so intelligent and independent, but also stuck in this terrible situation. I think Sepetys did a really amazing job with her character’s voice – she seemed absolutely real to me and stuck with me long after I finished reading.

3.     BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY/ BEST PLOT TWIST

 locke

Oh how I adore The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  This was a re-read for me this year, but that didn’t lessen the fun of trying to figure out what was going to come next. This book is described by the blurb as “part Robin Hood/part Ocean’s Eleven,” and in many ways that is a great intro into what the book is about. But it misses the heart of the novel, which is falling in love with the hilarious, kind-hearted, brilliant Gentlemen Bastards.  How the heist will come out is a twist in and of itself, but all kinds of things about this book kept me guessing until the very last page. Don’t read it if you don’t like cursing, but otherwise, run to your local bookstore and check it out ASAP!

4.     BEST COSTUME DESIGN / BEST BOOK COVER

emperor

 The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson.  I feel like this one speaks for itself.  DAT COVER!!  I love how perfectly it fits the story as well.  You miiiight be seeing this one pop up again in a future category, so for now I’ll leave it at that.

 5.     BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS AND ACTOR / BEST MALE AND FEMALE SIDEKICK

 seige

 Ok, I’m making this one a bit more of an ensemble award. I really love all of the side characters (basically, read as, anyone other than Alina) in Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo, which is the second book in the Grisha Trilogy.  Never has a fandom been so torn on the appropriate love interest for a main character, seriously.  Between the Darkling, Mal, and oh-my-goodness Sturmhond, this book is chock full of really fun-to-read guys. I call them all side characters because no one male character is really at the center of the story.  And as for females, I really adored Tolya, who was a kick-butt female and a really strong point of the novel for me.

6. BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY / MOST UNIQUE PLOT/WORLD 

fairyland

 This one absolutely has to go to the gorgeously realized Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente.  I actually read all three of the books that are currently out in this series this year, and all three just build upon each other so well.  Fairyland is a modern-day Wonderland and I want to go there immediately.  Not to make too many comparisons to Alice in Wonderland, but reading these novels is truly like falling down the rabbit hole.  I start and I read and I am completely lost to the real world and so thoroughly enmeshed in Fairyland for the entire time that I am reading the book – it is really unlike anything else I have ever read.

6. BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY / BEST BOOK-TO-MOVIE ADAPTATION 

 night circus

Ok, this is where I admit that apparently I did not read a single book in 2013 that has been turned into a movie that I have seen.  Whoops!  And I don’t really keep track well enough of movies that I watch to recall whether there was a movie I saw this year that has also been a book that I read at any other point in my life. So, barring that, I will share the book that I would most LIKE to see a book-to-movie adaptation of, and that is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I think this book was so visual in the telling that it would be amazing to see it come to life on the big screen. I think it’s also possible that the few things that annoyed me about the book (insta-love and slightly draggy) could be cleaned up by a screenplay, so win-win!

7. BEST ANIMATED FEATURE / BOOK THAT WOULD WORK WELL IN ANIMATED FORMAT

fairyland

I’m trying not to repeat books to often here, but Best Animated Feature really has to go to the Fairyland novels again.  I almost can’t even imagine an effective live action adaptation of these novels. It is such a fantastically drawn, beautiful world that would be the most amazing animated feature.

9. BEST DIRECTOR / AUTHOR YOU DISCOVERED FOR THE FIRST TIME

jellicoe

2013 was an amazing reading year for me and for discovering new to me authors.  Some very close runners up included A.S. King, Merrie Haskell, Laini Taylor and Rainbow Rowell.  But the award really has to go to the incomparable Melina Marchetta, author of one of my absolute favorite novels of 2013, On the Jellicoe Road.  Marchetta’s writing is just utterly perfect to me.  I have since read a few of her other novels and writings and every time I have been legitimately sad that I will never again be able to read those books for the first time.  Jellicoe Road absolutely wrecked me.  It was lyrical and absolutely pitch-perfect when it came to writing teens in the process of learning who they really are.  Highly recommended.

10. BEST VISUAL EFFECTS / BEST ACTION IN A BOOK

steelheart

 Perhaps because this book was so superhero-ish in tone, I can totally imagine Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson as a movie with some amazing action scenes.  There were a few really big, memorable action scenes in this book and they were all written really well.  I felt like I could completely picture what was going on and how it all fit together.  Adding a superhero element to any novel is going to immediately make it seem more epic, but this book particularly made it feel like the reader was right there in the middle of it all.  The grand final battle was so visually written and just perfection.

11. BEST MUSICAL SCORE / BEST MUSIC IN A MOVIE-TO-BOOK ADAPTATION

fire and thorns

 Again, this is going to be a bit different because I haven’t actually seen any movies of books I read in 2013.  However, Epic Reads posted a really amazing playlist curated by Rae Carson meant to go with her novel, The Girl of Fire and Thorns.  It’s available on Spotify, and I listen to it all the freaking time.  SO GOOD!

12. BEST SHORT FILM / BEST NOVELLA

emperor

 This will surprise exactly NO ONE who has listened to me talk at all about novellas or books or Brandon Sanderson anytime in the last year or so, but my absolute favorite novella of last year (and possibly all time?) has to be The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson.  And this actually won the Hugo Award for Best Novella last year, so it’s not just me saying this, people!  Sanderson tackles in under 200 pages what makes a person himself. And he managed to throw in a really awesome, well-conceived magic system, and a novella that seemed sweeping despite almost entirely taking place inside of one room.  If you like any Sanderson at all, and especially if you’ve never given his novels a chance, try this one.  It’s less than 200 pages, you can read it in a night.  DO IT!!

13. BEST PICTURE / BEST STANDALONE

 e&p

Ok, this one was also really difficult.  If I wasn’t trying not to repeat too much, it’s possible this one would have gone to On the Jellicoe Road. But man, oh man, did I also really love Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  Eleanor and Park were both amazing, painful, wonderful characters to read. Their fledgling love story was so natural and perfectly written.  I got so invested that I was completely tempted to peak at the end, which I NEVER do. This novel was in turns beautiful and painful; jubilant and heartbreaking.  It is definitely one of my top reads of 2013.

14. BEST DOCUMENTARY / BEST HISTORICAL FICTION OR NON-FICTION

bodies      lionheart

 I have avoided ties anywhere else, but in this category it couldn’t be avoided.  I just really don’t have the opportunity on this blog to gush about my second true love – great historical fiction – that often.  And last year I read two really wonderful pieces of historical fiction that I definitely recommend you check out. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel is actually the second book in a series following Thomas Cromwell.  Both this book and its predecessor, Wolf Hall, won the Man Booker Prize.  I personally loved the second installment slightly more than the first.  Mantel showcases the softer side of Cromwell in a way that is so well-researched but still highly readable. You really get lost in the time period and are right on the edge of your seat the whole time, despite obviously knowing what ends up happening to Anne Boleyn at the end.

My other favorite historical fiction this year was Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman. This one follows Richard on his Third Crusade. Like all of Penman’s works, they are just gorgeously written and perfectly researched.  If you’re new to her writings, I would actually start with The Sunne in Splendour, but you really can’t go wrong with her work.

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And that’s a wrap!  I hope you enjoyed this and maybe I will keep my eye out for some other fun tags to bring to the world of book blogging.  If you’d like to do this yourself, I’d love to read it – please link it below and I’ll come check out your winners!

 

 

Book Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Print

Book Summary

From GoodreadsFirst, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire – and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

Review: 4 out of 5 Stars

This book was a perfect example of needing to read something at the right time. I have tried reading it 3 or 4 times previously and the soporific effects reached near Austen-like levels for me. But I picked it back up on a whim a few nights ago and could not put it down!

In this novel, supernatural creatures (most notably werewolves and vampires) exist openly in society and are, more or less, accepted. Alexia is a preternatural, which here means she has no soul and her mere touch can bring the supernatural creatures back to a mortal state as long as she remains in contact with them. Her love interest, Lord Maccon, is a werewolf and head of a supernatural police force charged with policing its own kind. He is the Alpha male of his pack (oh, and Scottish…) and he and sharp-tongued Alexia match tempers as often as affections. Oh and also steampunk.

The two get caught up in a mystery relating to disappearing vampires and werewolves.  Maccon is the head detective for the supernatural set and Alexia keeps showing up where people are disappearing.  The two obviously have some history, but at first their interactions are more on the hate side of the love-hate scale.  As the book progresses, the love story heats up.  It was very rewarding and oh-so-Victorian, though worth at least a PG-13 rating.  I particularly like that it seems that there will be no love triangles or will-they/won’t-they drawn out over the entire series.  I am a fan of commitment, and also I think it is more true to the time period in which the book is set.

I loved the alternate history in the novel and thought it added not only to the story itself, but to the telling of the story. You can tell that the author took care with her setting, and not only with the plot and characters.  Alexia’s narrations and Victorian sensibilities were often hilarious. I grew a bit tired of the repeated reference to her looks and love of food, but generally thought she was a great character.  I also loved the characters around her – her flamboyant vampire friend Lord Adelkama, her prudish best friend, and Maccon’s second-in-command were all well-drawn and fun to read about.  It has been awhile since I wanted to jump into a book and befriend everyone in it, but this was definitely one of those books.

The mystery part was also great. I could see a few of the twists and turns coming, but not all. There was plenty left to surprise me at the end.

Bottom Line

Overall, this was a very fun and unique read.  The steampunk Victorian setting was so well written, and Alexia and Maccon are a super fun love interest. I can’t wait to read more of these adventures.

 

Top Ten Tuesday (3): Authors Who Deserve More Recognition

toptentuesday2

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week we are discussing our Top Ten Authors Who Deserve More Recognition.

I honestly feel so out of the loop on which authors are getting recognition these days and which aren’t. For some, I feel like I am way behind the curve (I’m looking at you Tahereh Mafi!) but for others I feel like I may be only slightly ahead.  But since this book blog – and I think Broke and the Bookish as well – leans toward having an audience who is more YA-focused, I’m going to recommend some of my favorite adult book authors in case you haven’t had a chance to veer into that section of the bookstore as often as you might like. 

That being said, along the theme of under-appreciated YA authors, if you haven’t read anything by Merrie Haskell, you really should.

If You Love These YA Books, Then Try…

1.       If you love The Name of the Star, then try Alan Bradley!

 Fans of Maureen Johnson’s Name of the Star series might also like the British flavor of Alan Bradley’s murder mystery novels.  Alan Bradley has written a number of mysteries, but the series I like best is his Flavia de Luce series, which starts with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  The series is set in England in the 1950’s and its heroine, Flavia, is an 11-year-old amateur chemist and detective.  She’s basically Sherlock Holmes crossed with Harriet the Spy and I adore her.  With its 11-year-old protagonist, I’m not exactly sure why this series isn’t marketed as YA, to be honest with you.  Fans of Johnson will enjoy Flavia’s spunk and her hysterical relationship with her two sisters, and mystery fans will enjoy the excellently written who-done-it that will keep you guessing until the final page.

 sweetness 

2.      If you love Vampire Academy, then try Patricia Briggs!

Fans of the gritty Vampire Academy series might want to give some adult urban fantasy a try.  Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series is a good starting place, because unlike some other adult urban fantasy out there, there is not a great deal of language or physicality in the novels.  Much like Rose Hathaway, Mercy is a strong female character who feels completely self-sufficient and does not like relying on anyone to help her out.  She is fiercely loyal to her friends and is really a kick-butt protagonist.  There’s also a great slow-burn romance in this series as well that can’t be missed!  And from a fantasy perspective, this series truly has it all, from vampires to fae to werewolves to demons to, well – you name it, it’s probably in there somewhere.

 moon called

3.      If you love Grave Mercy, then try Guy Gavriel Kay!

Fans of Grave Mercy might enjoy the historical fantasy novels written by Guy Gavriel Kay.  Kay’s novels are set in various historical periods – medieval Spain, Constantinople, the Tang Dynasty – and are just epically gorgeous.  These novels are sweeping, with characters that will stay with you forever.  They are delicious to read and you want to just linger in the words on the page.  But they are also dark – you will find assassins, and plots, and betrayals, and intrigue in almost all of his books.  His book The Lions of al Rassan is perhaps the only book I’ve ever finished and then re-opened and started reading again just because I wasn’t ready to let go of the world and those words and those characters.  He explores brotherly love and true love and, yes, magic.  I recommend starting with Lions or A Song for Arbonne.

 lions

4.      If you love Little Women, then try Geraldine Brooks!

Geraldine Brooks is the Pulitzer Prize award-winning author of March, a novel that tells the story of Little Women from the perspective of the father, who is largely absent from that novel.  As you may recall, Mr. March was off serving as a chaplain in the Civil War.  This book is at once a great piece of historical fiction (Brooks referenced the various journals of Louisa May Alcott’s own father to help draw her character in this novel) and a beautiful revisiting of characters we all know and love.  I also love her novel Year of Wonders, which follows the life of a woman living during the plague outbreak in England.

 march

5.      If you love Code Name Verity, then try Irene Nemirovsky!

Irene Nemirovsky is best known for her beautiful, haunting novel Suite Française.  This novel follows the story of a number of families in Paris in 1940 on the eve of Nazi occupation.  The stories themselves are beautiful, but the book itself has a story worthy of its own novel.  Nemirovsky was a well-known author in Europe in the 1940s when she started work on this novel.  But she was also a Jew and in 1942, she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died.  This novel was not discovered for over sixty years, when it was found and translated.  It paints a horrifying picture of what life must truly have been like from someone we know witnessed the worst of it.  Fair warning – the novel is comprised of two parts of what was meant to be a five-part novel.  While it certainly stands on its own, you will feel a profound sadness, both for not knowing what happens in the characters’ lives, as well as for knowing what happened in Nemirovsky’s.  

If You Love These Television Shows, Then Try…

6.       If you love Sherlock, then try Laurie R. King!

Whether you love the BBC series or the original books (or both!) you might just love Laurie R. King’s take on Sherlock, which starts with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.  King’s series begins in the post-Watson, post-Doyle Sherlock years, admitting that those stories were written but starting with the presumption that they were somewhat exaggerated so that Doyle could obtain a greater readership.  You meet all of your old favorite Sherlock characters, with the excellent addition of Sherlock’s new sidekick and eventual partner, the American, Jewish female Mary Russell.  Where Watson was Sherlock’s sidekick, Mary is truly his equal and watching them verbally spar is a great joy to behold. 

 beekeeper

7.       If you love The Tudors, then try Sharon Kay Penman!

Fans of the historical fiction genre can’t help but love Sharon Kay Penman.  Her books are everything historical fiction should be – well researched, well written, and most of all absolutely compelling.  Her main characters are great and she realizes that the true story of what happened is often more compelling than any fiction.  While of course she does add characters and move timelines around where necessary to make the novel flow, she has excellent historical notes following all of her novels, making clear what’s fiction and what isn’t.  These novels really make history come alive and are so well written you might even forget you’re learning something as you go.  Her first novel, The Sunne in Splendour, is a standalone so that might be a good place to start, but I also really love her Here Be Dragons trilogy.  As an added bonus her blog, which I follow on Goodreads, offers a number of really timely and interesting tidbits about British history and its intersection with today’s world (for example, one recent post discusses the implications of Will & Kate’s child’s gender).

sunne

What Authors am I Missing?

I know, I could only come up with 7 to recommend this time around – BUT I also recommend the books and shows on the first half of the sentences up there, so really you got 15 killer recommendations from me this week (counting Haskell, of course!).  But who don’t I know about yet that I should really be reading?  Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

Weekend Discussion Topic: Series vs. Standalones

Weekend Discussion Topic? C’mon, Emily, that is not even an alliteration of any kind.  What kind of a book blogger are you? If anyone has a better idea of what to call this potential feature, please oh please let me know. The gist is that I plan to write slightly more lengthy posts that will go up on Fridays so that we can have a few days in the comments to consider/discuss/etc.

Today’s topic is the ongoing debate between series and standalones. If you read anything in the fantasy and/or YA genre lately, you can’t help but notice that virtually everything is a series. You innocently pick up a book that looks good and either realize, “Oh crap, this is the third in a series and I have NO idea what is going on,” OR “Oh, I really loved those characters, holy crap what kind of a cliffhanger was THAT and WHAT there are 10 more books to go?!” Both have happened to me.  But then again, sometimes when I am reading a standalone novel and it comes to an end, I am seriously disappointed.  I want two (or more) additional books with these characters!  I want to see more!  I need to return to this world!  Obviously I can’t have it both ways, and I’m not truly sure which I prefer.  I’m going to try to focus on the pro’s of both, but am happy to hear your pros OR cons in the comments.

Standalones

What’s so great about a standalone novel?

  • Story comes to a neat conclusion – usually no cliffhangers.  Sometimes you just want to read a book.  You want to pick up a book, read 300 pages or so, close that book and feel a sense of finality.  You want to feel like you accomplished something.  A standalone novel lets you do this – you read, you close the book, story over.  And there’s something really great about that.
  •  Tighter plotline.This is a major generalization, and I’m sure I’ll be pounded in the comments, but I often find that a standalone novel has a tighter plotline because the author doesn’t have the luxury of 3 more books to tie up all of the loose ends.  This is particularly true in the YA world, wherein books generally are shorter.
  • Focus on characters.  Again, a generalization, but the common thread in standalone novels that I love is that they each have one or two characters that I fell in love with and have stuck with me.  Not that series can’t do that, but something about the standalone novel, in my mind, lends itself to truly strong characters.  Maybe because the author knows that everything has to be wrapped up in just those 300 pages or so?

Favorite Standalone Novels

Some of my favorite novels are standalones!  Here are the first five that came to mind, but I’d love to hear about yours!

1.  Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys.  I talked about this one in my June Rewind post, so feel free to check that one out.  But what I love about this novel is the strong character development, particularly in the main character, Josie.  She was one of my top characters of the year so far.  Despite only spending the one novel with her, I feel like I can conjure up an image of her easily and I still find myself thinking about this book every so often.  This is Top 10 of the Year for me so far.

outoftheeasy

2.  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Or really any novel by John Green – just insert your favorite here (and I know you have a favorite…).  While I’m a fan of all of Green’s works, this one is certainly top of the list for me.  The plot was not overly complex, there were not too many loose ends to tie up, and while there were certain things about the plot that kept me wondering, at bottom this book was just a story about two kids facing a tough time.  I wanted to go on that journey with them, and I was devastated when this book ended.  But the ending, in my mind, was perfect, and this is one that I thought was a perfect standalone.

fault in our stars

3.  The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman.  This is one of my absolute favorite examples of historical fiction.  Penman generally writes series – in fact, possibly every other book by her is part of a series or at least tied together in some way.  And don’t get me wrong, I really love her series.  But this book was just such a perfect example of a great historical fiction.  First, it’s well researched.  While I can certainly enjoy a less researched historical fiction, in order for me to truly love it, I have to feel like the author did her homework and that this COULD have been the way it happened.  Second, it is so freaking well written, don’t get me started.  By the end of this book, you love characters that you have seriously hated all of your life.  How does she do it?  I have no idea, but man I was so along for the ride.  If Out of the Easy or The Book Thief or Octavian Nothing have you wanting to check out a more hefty example of historical fiction, start here.  You will not be disappointed.

sunne

4.  The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay.  This one walks the line between historical fiction and fantasy.  It’s an epic story of war and friendship and strong women and bromance and duty and everything.  Seriously, think of a theme, it’s probably in here.  But it’s done well and beautifully.  Kay’s writing is always gorgeous, but to me this one is his top.  Oh and it’s also kind of set in medieval Spain.  This is possibly the only book I’ve ever finished, sat with it closed on my lap for 10 minutes considering the ending, and then re-opened it to begin again.  I just couldn’t help myself.  If you prefer things a little less war and a little more musical, you might also check out A Song for Arbonne.

lions of al rassan

5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  I have to give a shout out to the inspiration for my blog title, of course. This one is a completely underrated classic.  I don’t think I know anyone who has read this one and not loved it.  It’s a coming-of-age about a young girl growing up in Brooklyn at the turn of the century in the United States.  And that’s kind of it, but it’s gorgeously done and brilliantly written.  Our protagonist, Francie, is a smart girl who loves to read and is always trying to find the beauty in her sometimes ugly set of circumstances.  I think you could read this a hundred times in life and take something different from it each time.  I implore you to pick it up if you haven’t read this one before.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

tree grows in brooklyn

And of course there are so many more (I really meant to talk about Eleanor and Park), both well-known and underrated.  What are your favorite standalones?  Do you seek them out?  What do you love about the standalone novel?

What’s so great about a series?

  • A well-developed world.  To me, this is one of the biggest pro’s for a series.  I love a book with a great setting, and series novels generally have enough time and ink space available to truly develop a setting.  Whereas the bread and butter of a standalone novel might be the character development, to me, the top thing a series can achieve is to draw me a new world that I can get lost in for awhile.
  • Lots of time with characters we love.  I love that feeling of closing a book and knowing that if I want more of the characters I was just reading about, I can go and reserve the next book in the series and jump right back in with them.  For this reason, I tend to prefer series about the same characters, rather than series with parallel story lines or new characters in the same world.  Part of the greatness of a series is being able to keep traveling along with characters I already know and love.
  • Opportunity for a shared experience.  For some reason, I find that series novels tend to bring people together moreso than many standalones.  Of course, there are authors that can achieve that sense of togetherness with a truly popular book, but the series experience gives you more time to read it and recommend it and still be living in the world of that book when your friend gets around to reading it as well.  If you think about it, fandoms tend to crop up around series more than standalones – Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, etc.  For me, this is part of the fun.

Favorite Series

I have been spending a lot of time in series this year.  These are some of my more recent favorites – how about you?

1.  The Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs.  I also talked about this one in my June Rewind post.  This series follows Mercy Thompson, a VW-mechanic/walker who dates a werewolf and is friends with fae and vampires and ghosts and just about anything preternatural you can imagine.  Even with so many different things going on Briggs has found a formula that really works.  There is a main conflict in each book that, for the most part, wraps up nicely, while the underlying story focusing on friendships and relationships and so forth carries on throughout the books.  I have been devouring these and just finished the fourth book in the series.  None have been given less than four stars and they are great, quick reads.  The first in the series is Moon Called, and I highly recommend checking it out.

mooncalled

2.  The Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor.  This is a supernatural YA about angels and demons, but also about love and betrayal, and forgiveness and the grey areas between right and wrong.  It’s absolutely gorgeously written and the world building is top rate.  I don’t know if I would say these books standalone – each left me salivating for the next in the series in order to know what happens to our two main characters, Karou and Akiva.  (This would be a perfect time for that “NOW KISS!” graphic out there on the interwebs…)  Taylor avoided the sophomore slump and the second book in the series is just as good as the first, moving the story along without feeling like filler until the end.  This is a perfect time to pick it up, because the third one is due to come out in early 2014, which gives you plenty of time to make your way through the first two (they are not short).  The first is Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

smoke and bone

3.  The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss.  This series.  I can’t.  Seriously, in my opinion, the best fantasy series in recent memory.  When the second book came out, I re-read the first and fell in love all over again.  Now, yes, we are still waiting for the final book, but please read this.  Please.  You will not be disappointed.  This does all the great things that a standalone can do with character development and applies it to a beautifully drawn world.  You know that our main character must somehow be a bad guy, but you don’t care because you love him so much.   The fantasy part is wizards, but not your Harry Potter type (though the first book does primarily take place in a boarding school).  It’s just excellent and well worth the investment.  Start with The Name of the Wind.

name of the wind

4. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken.  Ok, it’s brave of me to put on this list a series for which only the first book has been released, but I just can’t help myself.  This was just wonderful.  This one is dystopian/fantasy YA wherein the children of the world are dying off in large numbers.  Those that survive turn out to have various powers and the government collects them and puts them in what are basically concentration-type camps.  A few escape and this is their story.  It’s X-Men meets Hunger Games meets I don’t even know.  It was amazing.  Top 10 of the Year for sure and I cannot for the life of me figure out why more people aren’t talking about it.  Ruby is a kick-butt heroine, the relationships are well-developed and understandable.  There is a romance, but it’s a slow burn and it makes sense in the context of the story.  Bracken writes so well and everything about this book is beautiful and heart-wrenching.  Read The Darkest Minds and suffer along with me waiting for the next ones to come out.

darkest minds

5.  The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb.  This was a really tough fifth slot.  I even wrote a blurb about Heist Society, which I also love, before changing my mind.  And there are so many other great series I want to talk about here, but I have to stop somewhere.  This series is like the ultimate definition of a series book.  You read three, think you’re done, and then realize there are three more books in the same world with lots of the same characters.  So you mourn them, move on, and then find out there are three more books you missed along the way!  And now even more!  If you love this world, which I think you will, you have tons of books to choose from and there is something for everyone.  The series at first seems like it’s pretty stereotypical fantasy – outcast orphan who can talk to animals is given the opportunity to become more.  But … I don’t know.  I can hardly even put my finger on why this was so good, but I think partially it’s because I loved the main character so much.  And partially it’s because Hobb is not afraid to make tough decisions in her writing.  And partially just because this is one of those series I keep coming back to – it’s become familiar and well-loved, and that’s just the way I like it.  I recommend starting with The Assassin’s Apprentice.

assassins apprentice

 

June Rewind

What I Read In June

It is really hard to believe that the year is already half over!  I went into this post feeling like June was a slow reading month for me, but as I looked everything over, it turns out I read 15 books!  So I guess it wasn’t such a slow month after all.  Not only was it a full month of reading, I read some truly great books this month – top 10 of the year quality.

With so many books read, I don’t want this book to get insanely long, so I will post covers and brief reviews of my top 5 of the month, though if you’re interested to hear about the rest, do check out my Goodreads – I normally post a few sentences at least about whatever I read there.

I’m totally open to feedback as I get a good format going, so let me know if you have any suggestions!  Also, please let me know if there are any of the books that you would like a full review for.  Hope you all had a great reading June!

Top 5 Books of the Month!

1.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: 5 out of 5 stars

penumbra

Thinking about it, I already want to re-read this book.  It just pushed every single one of my buttons.  Mystery, book lovers, font nerdiness, secret societies, and bookstores with mysterious secret sections for the truly devoted.  Come ON!  In some ways this book is an examination of the ongoing debate between technology and physical books and how, if at all, they work together.  In others it’s a book about friendship, in others it’s a book about books.  I loved it, I want to live in this world and be friends with everyone and yes.  Read it.  Highly recommended.

2.  Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys: 5 out of 5 stars.

outoftheeasy

First of all, that cover!  Yes please!  So perfect and beautiful.  I read this pretty swiftly on the heels of finally picking up Between Shades of Gray by the same author.  While I did like Between Shades of Gray, there were things about it that caused me not to love it quite as much as I know so many others (another story for another post).  All that to say, I did not have high, amazing expectations for this book. I knew it would be beautifully written, since it came from Sepetys, but had no idea how much I would absolutely adore it.  I loved the lead character SO MUCH – one of my favorites in a long time.  This was a perfect example of historical fiction YA – I felt like I was in 1950’s New Orleans the whole time I was reading the novel.  I didn’t want to put it down, and I stayed up FAR too late to read this one.  Highly recommended.

3. Justice Hall by Laurie R. King: 5 out of 5 stars

justicehall

This is actually the sixth book in a series, so I won’t say very much about the plot.  But the series overall is amazing.  It’s Sherlock Holmes post-Watson, with an American, female partner who is in every way his equal.  They are excellent and if you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommend the series (first book is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice).  These mysteries are perfect for those mystery lovers out there who want to read books that are head scratchers without an overmuch amount of gore or anxiety-provoking fear.  Although I love all of them so far, this book was my absolute favorite, playing on themes of family duty, friendship, and love, along with the mystery itself (which took all the appropriate twists and turns of a Holmes mystery).  Excellent and highly recommended.

4. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins: 4 out of 5 stars

hexhall

I really did not expect to love this one as much as I did.  Based on the cover image and title, I thought it might lean toward the juvenile or predictable supernatural-YA side.  But I ended up really loving it and requesting the sequel from the library almost as soon as I closed the book.  The main character is a witch who has been misusing her powers and is sentenced to Hex Hall, basically a truancy boarding school for bad supernatural characers.  You have witches, werewolves, shapeshifters, fae, and even a token vampire in this one.  It definitely got dark in parts – what do you expect when facing down a demon and a coven of dark witches – but the humor and intelligence in the writing made it really flow.  It in many ways was a great examination of high school itself, with some crazy magic thrown in for good measure.  It did a great job of raising enough big-picture questions to make me want to read the second book while not making this one seem like it couldn’t stand on its own.  A really great read.

5. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs: 4 out of 5 stars

mooncalled

Shout out to Bunbury in the Stacks on this one, which I found by trolling her 2013-favorites shelf on Goodreads.  This is an older series, with this first book in the series being originally published in 2006, and I am so glad I have so many of these in the series waiting for me!  This series is kind of urban fantasy (if you can call Montana “urban”), and the main character, Mercy, is a walker, which is a magical being who can shift into a coyote at will.  She’s also a mechanic, though that’s not quite as interesting – hah. This book is an interesting take on the preternatural types of books in that vampires, werewolves, and the fae all live in this world along side us boring humans. As you might imagine, they don’t always get along very well, though Mercy seems to have friends of all stripes.  Mercy is an awesome main character, but not so amazing that it’s completely unbelievable. I’m kind of sad that a love triangle seems to be forming, but I will for sure be following this series going forward.  Side note: I cannot get behind that cover and am super-glad I read this one on my e-reader.

What About You?

What did you read and love in June?  Anything you think might make your end of year top 10 list?