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!

 

 

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#CatchUpClub Cinder/Scarlet WrapUp

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Catch Up Club is hosted by Dianne at Oops! I Read A Book Again, Katie at Bibliotekit, Yasmine at Yasmine’s Public Library, Jessica at Lovin Los Libros, and myself.

We discovered that we all felt like we had missed out on some of the key YA reads of the last few years, and decided to recitfy that!  For the last two weeks we’ve all been catching up on the excellent Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, choosing to read either Cinder or Scarlet.

The winner of the giveaway was Natalie at Books, Etc.  Go check her out!

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So What Did People Think?

Since I was the Book Pusher for this one, I was really excited to see if my fellow book club members would enjoy this one.  And overall, it looks like they really did!  Most people seem to have decided to read Cinder and it was a ton of fun following the #CatchUpClub hashtag throughout the two weeks to see what people thought of the books.  As I said in my Book Pusher Post, one thing I love about this novel is the relationship that develops between Kai and Cinder.  I just thought it was very sweet, and the obstacles to their relationship made a lot of sense.  Nothing magically came together for them — there is no fairy godmother to be seen.

One of my favorite points from Dianne’s review (go read it HERE) was that Cinder was a great heroine BECAUSE she had to be her own hero.  She was put in a set of really untenable circumstances, and while she certainly had allies, she had to be her own protagonist.  There was no magic fix, no bibbity bobbity boo.  There’s something really great about a strong female heroine who doesn’t wait for the prince in shining armor to come save her and sweep her off her feet.  This counts double for this kind of heroine in a fairy tale retelling!

I also completely agree with Yasmine (read her review HERE) that the worldbuilding in this series is amazing.  It’s an Asian/Western cross, which feels familiar and yet totally out there.  I thought placing the familiar story in this crazy world absolutely worked, and helped the underlying story we’ve all heard a thousand times feel fresh.

Jessica also loved the worldbuilding (read her review HERE), but both she and Yasmine totally disagree with me on the Kai/Cinder relationship, feeling like its development is not at all believable, for various reasons.  I really enjoyed reading this part of their reviews because our reading experiences were so different.  Yasmine felt that Kai didn’t seem totally into it when we read from his point of view and you know, now that she points that out I can totally see it.  Kai’s POVs were more about worldbuilding and conflict – he is the Prince after all – whereas Cinder spent more time worried about the him.  I hadn’t seen it that way before and thought that was a really interesting point.  Jessica also felt like there wasn’t enough THERE to convince her of their romance.

Lisa from Lisa Likes Books also joined us in reading Cinder and reviewing it on her blog (read her review HERE).  She points out just how invested we really got into these characters and YES!  Although I agree with Yasmine’s point in her review that sometimes things got a bit obvious (was anyone really shocked by the twist??), I also agree with Lisa that this book just left me on the edge of my seat!  I really wanted everything to work out!  The novel did break my usual cardinal rule of not ending things on a cliffhanger, though.  I realized there were about 20 pages left and no way it was all going to wrap up and I just wanted to scream!  Luckily, Scarlet was already out and I was able to move on to that one!

Katie used the Catch Up Club as an excuse to also finally pick up Scarlet (read her review HERE).  She points out that the great world-building continues and extends in Scarlet, which I totally agreed with.   Just like the first novel in this series, the action in Scarlet starts early and doesn’t let up until the last page.  Katie and I also agree that the Scarlet chapters seemed more gripping.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Cinder’s character, but by the time she showed up in the novel I was so invested in the Scarlet half that it was sometimes jarring to jump back and forth. I’m actually really wondering how Meyer is going to pull it off in the next two books in the series wherein she intends to introduce even MORE fairy-tale inspired characters I’m sure I’ll fall in love with.  I’ve seen some great early comments come out on the next book, Cress, so I’m sure she can pull it off, but I’m definitely curious!

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I hope you all enjoyed reading along and participating in this little online book club.  We were really excited to see some of you join us!  Come on back in a week or so, we’re all going to start reading The Grisha series by Leah Bardugo!  I just got Siege and Storm from the library and cannot WAIT!

Book Review: Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

The Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

Handbook

 

Book Summary

From GoodreadsTilda has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess’s responsibilities.

When a greedy cousin steals Tilda’s lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.

Merrie Haskell, author of The Princess Curse, presents a magical tale of transformation, danger, and duty, starring a remarkable princess as stubborn as she is brave.

 

Review: 4 out of 5 Stars

I recently finished Handbook for Dragon Slayers and couldn’t wait to review it, mostly because I just KNOW there are some of you out there who still have not read any Merrie Haskell and that truly pains me.  I sincerely credit her novel The Princess Curse with kicking off the most marvelous reading spree I’ve had in a very long time.  I read that novel and suddenly could not get enough of fairy tale retellings or female heroines or feel-good reads.  In fact, I am hard pressed to think of a book I had read before hers that was even a middle grade book, and since then I have been much more willing to browse that section of my library.  So when I heard Haskell had a second novel coming out I knew I would have to get my hands on it.  And while Handbook for Dragon Slayers probably won’t end up on my Best of 2013 List, it reinforced everything I loved about Haskell’s novels and firmly placed her on my Must Read list.  So in this review I plan to highlight what I thought was great about Handbook for Dragon Slayers, but also explore what I think is so great about Haskell more generally as well.

  • Strong Female Heroines:  Haskell writes some of the best middle grade heroines I have ever read.  Her characters are complex and full; they aren’t ever mere damsels in distress.  They are intelligent, and strong, and they overcome obstacles with aplomb.  This is not to say, of course, that they are flawless.  For example, in Handbook for Dragon Slayers, the main character is a princess named Tilda, who was born with a clubfoot.  This has always made her feel like an outsider, and the novel explores really well the various ways she has shut herself off from most of the world in order to protect herself from feeling too much.  Since the novel is written from her standpoint, you believe along with her that everyone is afraid of her and that certain characters are out to get her, and so as Tilda grows and learns to give people a second chance, so does the reader.  It’s so cleverly written that I was even surprised when some of the reactions I had expected — because Tilda had told me to expect them — never came.  The secondary female character, Judith, also displays a strong loyalty and love for her friends and family.  Plus Judith is a really kick-butt dragon hunter.  And no spoilers but there is an excellent twist at the end that allows this theme of female strength to really shine. 

 

  • Healthy Female Friendships: Nothing annoys me more than the trend in literature to constantly pit women against each other.  It is truly rare to see novels that explore the beautiful strength to be found in female friendships.  In both of her novels Haskell has spotlighted a female friendship without jealousy or competition.  Although Judith and Tilda have moments of discord, they are able to come back together and be truly stronger than when they started, usually through communication and apologies rather than some intermediary or some magical solution.  They are able to both be friends with a boy whom they obviously both like being around without much strife.  I loved that this example of friendship is being modeled, particularly in Middle Grade literature when the healthy female friendship can start to go the way of the dodo. 

 

  • Intelligent Mingling of Recognizable Fairy Tale Themes:  My one complaint about some fairy tale retellings is that they are so true-to-tale that there is no surprise or character development.  The princess is the princess, the prince is the prince, and we all know it will turn out well in the end.  What Haskell does so beautifully in both of her books is draw from multiple fairy tales and pull various elements together to make a really interesting mingling of familiar story lines packaged together in a new and completely fresh feeling and unpredictable way.  In Handbook for Dragon Slayers, we see elements of Bluebeard, the Swan Maiden, the Wild Hunt, and some great dragon lore.  I love that she does this, especially when taking into account younger readers.  I now have a really easy answer for a young reader who loves this book and asks me what to read next.  I think it also helps her stories feel familiar, like you’ve known them all of your life, without going down the path of the expected outcome.

 

  • Unexpected Main Characters: In both of her novels, Haskell writes from what in many other stories would be a secondary character’s perspective.  Because Tilda has a clubfoot, she is not physically able to be a dragon slayer.  In fact, there are many instances where her friends are shown literally carrying her because her strength has given out (more plus points for Judith).  And so Tilda becomes the scribe, which allows her to be the partner in crime to her friends, and to be a main player in the action without actually being the one doing the dragon hunting.  I love that Haskell chooses to highlight these “secondary” characters and I think in the end it makes for more interesting reading.

 

  • The Un-Lesson: One almost necessary part of a great Middle Grade read, for me, is the un-lesson, or the lesson that doesn’t feel like a lesson.  As we watch Tilda grow and develop, we see her learning to distinguish between what she thinks is important and what is truly important.  Learning this difference and the related difference between what we want in life and what we actually need is such an important part of growing up, and I love that Haskell chose to explore it in this novel.  But at no times did it feel like a morality play or like the lesson was being shoved down our throats.  It was just an important, understandable part of Tilda’s development, but I think we all walked away feeling like we learned something.

 

These are just a few of my favorite parts about Haskell’s novels.  I think that in Handbook for Dragon Slayers there were a few small issues that kept it from being a five-star read for me.  There was one particular shift in tone that didn’t all the way work for me in the middle of the book.  I wanted a bit more by way of depth — there were certain story lines or plot points that seemed to come out of nowhere and then everything tied itself up very neatly and very quickly at the end.  Some of this can just be chalked up to the age the book is directed at – these things stand out more to someone in their early 30s than someone in their tweens, but I still think it could have been developed differently.  That said, it did not diminish my overall enjoyment of the novel and I definitely highly recommend it. 

Bottom Line

Handbook for Dragon Slayers is a great, fast read that explores deep themes of friendship, loyalty, responsibility, self-esteem and growth, all neatly hidden away in a novel with a beautifully developed world and endearing characters that you want to befriend.  While there are some small issues, if you’ve read and liked middle grade novels before, I do not think it is anything that will keep you from enjoying this novel.  Perhaps even more importantly, though, Merrie Haskell has convinced me that middle grade novels are truly not just for kids.  Although I was an established reader of YA, it was Haskell who brought me into the middle grade world.  She writes intelligently and with such heart, you cannot help but fall in love with her characters.  And while there are elements of her novels that boys will also love, these books are such a good introduction to fantasy for young girls and, I feel, provide great examples in her heroines and her female characters generally.  Haskell is accomplishing so many important, necessary things with her writing and still managing to weave beautiful stories that stay with you long after you close the book.  I, for one, am excited to see what she comes up with next.

Book Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

darkest minds

Book Summary

From Goodreads: When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.

Review: 5 out of 5 Stars

I know it has been awhile since this book came out, and yet it keeps languishing the TBR shelf of so many of my friends on Goodreads, or worse, some people seem not even to have heard of it!  No more.  This shall not stand.  This book is absolutely making my top reads of 2013 list.  I love it with my whole heart and I really think you should read it.  Here’s why.

In The Darkest Minds, a disease has swept through the nation, killing off a large percentage of children around the age of ten.  Those who survive the disease are changed – imbued with various powers.  Some children can control anything electronic, or perform telekinesis, and so on.  Some children, like Ruby, have powers that can control other peoples’ minds in various ways.  The development of these powers causes fear in the nation and throughout the government, so the children are forced to go away to rehabilitation camps run by the government.  These are basically slave labor camps, and the children are terribly mistreated.  Ruby gets by for a time by pretending to have some of the more harmless powers.  But she is eventually discovered and forced to escape.

It’s once she escapes that the fun really begins.  She meets up with a group of other teen escapees and they all head for the East River, a place they’ve heard is basically a haven for kids like them.  The four teens – Ruby, Chubs, Liam, and Zu – get more than they bargained for, both along the way and once they arrive, and eventually Ruby is forced to make an incredibly tough decision that left me reeling.

The best part of this book for me was Ruby.  The way that Bracken slowly unravels her story and her past, and shows what a struggle it is for her to be able to trust anyone and why is really beautifully rendered.  Her actions make sense within the context of the story, even if I did want to yell at her a few times for not trusting her friends.  She is a troubled young girl, which makes sense given everything she has been through, and yet still manages to find her own inner strength and draw on it. 

One great part of the novel for me was her relationship with Liam.  Ruby has so many walls up, it takes a long time for her to be able to trust anyone at all – including herself.  Liam is a major force in helping her break those walls down and find that strength.  Their romance was a slow-burn romance, developed over time and miles, built upon trust.  Perhaps sixteen seems early for this type of relationship, but given everything they’d been through together it still made sense to me.  He is not perfect by any means, but his decisions also made sense to me in the context of the world. 

The novel is also funny, with Chubs serving as some comic relief, but also in some ways as the heart of the novel.  You can’t NOT root for Chubs.  I mean, come on, his dialogue was hilarious:

“Uh, no thanks. I read Lord of the Flies. I know how this works-everyone starts dancing around the fire and painting their faces and worshipping a decapitated pig head and then someone gets hit by a boulder and plummets to their death-and, surprise, it’s the fat kid in glasses.”

But also, he just had heart.  He was tough to get close to, but once you got into his heart, that boy was not letting you go.  Everyone deserves a Chubs in their life, and the development of the novel was as much tied to his arc in the story as anything else.

There were some parts of the world-building that were tough to swallow, like why parents who had already seen most of the nation’s children die would let their kids go off to rehabilitation camps.  But is that any more unbelievable than any other dystopian YA where the parents let their kids do crazy, dangerous things because the government tells them to?  That is what dystopians are all about!  Some parents were scared and some thought it really was about rehabilitation. And some knew their kids would be taken and hid their abilities.  Those parents made sense to me.  And while I didn’t like the decisions that the other parents made, it didn’t take me outside of the story – it was just something I had to swallow about the way the world had developed, just like any other dystopian novel.  There were also a lot of popular culture references for kids that had supposedly exited the world right around 10-years-old, but overall this also didn’t bother me that much.

I will warn you right now — the end of this novel kicked me right in the gut.  It has been over five months since I read this one, and I still sometimes get emotional thinking about it.  I will be one of the first ones in line to pick up the sequel when it comes out in October.  My fingers are crossed that Bracken doesn’t veer too far from what made this one work, and that is beautiful writing, a fast-paced plot, and characters that lodge themselves in your heart and won’t let go.

Bottom Line

As you can tell, I truly loved this novel.  While I definitely closed this book wanting to know more about what happens in the world that Bracken built, to me the real story in this book was not about psychic powers or government failures or fear mongering.  It was about friendship, pure and simple.  It was about what you will do for your friends when literally everything is on the line.  It was about learning to open your heart and trust and to allow your friends to make you into a better version of yourself.  And about how far you will go to protect them.  I cannot recommend this novel highly enough.

 

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

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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?

Book Review: The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce

The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce

WeightofSouls

Book Summary

From Goodreads: Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them – letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn’t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her.

She spends her life trying to avoid ghosts, make it through school where she’s bullied by popular Justin and his cronies, keep her one remaining friend, and persuade her father that this is real and that she’s not going crazy.

But then Justin is murdered and everything gets a whole lot worse. Justin doesn’t know who killed him, so there’s no obvious person for Taylor to go after. The clues she has lead her to the V Club, a vicious secret society at her school where no one is allowed to leave… and where Justin was dared to do the stunt which led to his death.

Can she find out who was responsible for his murder before the Darkness comes for her? Can she put aside her hatred for her former bully to truly help him? And what happens if she starts to fall for him?

Review: 4 Stars

*I received this eARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The expected publication date is August 6, 2013.*

First of all, can we PLEASE discuss this cover. The cover artist, Steve Wood, did an absolutely amazing job. Even before I read the book I loved it, but having read the book now I think it fits even more perfectly. I am going to have to track down a physical copy of this book once it comes out just to enjoy it in its full glory.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s discuss the book itself. I thought it was a great read. The main character, Taylor, has a family curse that causes her to be able to see ghosts. Not only can she see ghosts, but if a ghost touches her who was killed in an unresolved way, then the ghost passes along a Dark Mark. Taylor has to find the murderer and pass the Mark along within approximately three weeks, then the Darkness will come for her instead. The unraveling of how her family got the curse in the first place is a fun part of the story, so I won’t spoil it here, but it originates in ancient Egypt and involves Anubis. If that doesn’t interest you, I really don’t know what more I can say.

As you can imagine, the curse makes it difficult for Taylor to have any true friends and high school is basically the worst. She is ignored by most, but mercilessly bullied by one group of students, led by a boy named Justin. She also has a bad relationship with her father, who does not believe that Taylor actually sees ghosts and is desperately trying to determine a cure for her hallucinations. Justin eventually dies and touches Taylor, passing on his Mark and linking the two of them together in a hunt for his killers.

Overall, I thought this book was very strong. The interaction between Taylor and the ghosts was interesting and believable and there was a great amount of backstory provided while still setting up additional conflict for what I assume is going to be the first story in a series. The picture of high school was all too realistic and the students were well drawn. The eventual relationship makes sense and is a slow burn, rather than a magical insta-love type of thing, which I always appreciate. I liked Taylor, understood her internal conflict and motivations, and am excited to read more of her story.

There were a few weak spots to me. The first was the character of Taylor’s dad. I understand being confused about the curse as an outsider, but since Taylor’s mom also suffered from the same curse, his reaction made him very unlikeable. I didn’t understand her desire to have any kind of relationship with him, to be honest. I also didn’t really understand Justin’s popularity or control over the main group of teenagers. And the name of “the V Club” made me think it was going to be about virginity… Just me? But those issues aside, I think this is a strong new series that I will for sure be following.

Bottom Line

This novel is a strong first entry in a series that shows a lot of promise. Taylor is an interesting protagonist and her development arc in this story is both believeable and entertaining. While there is some romance, it does not overtake the story and actually seems realistic in the context of the novel. There are undertones of greater themes at work – concepts of justice, true love, friendship and death. All of this and it’s funny and self-aware to boot – even referencing the quote that has to be on everyone’s mind when reading a modern ghost story. It stands alone well enough while leaving enough background conflict for those who choose to follow the series. It’s a great new entry into YA supernatural urban fantasy and one that I will certainly be following.

Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson, illus. Ben McSweeney

rithmatist

Book Summary

From Goodreads: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings — merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson brings his unique brand of epic storytelling to the teen audience with an engrossing tale of danger and suspense—the first of a series. With his trademark skills in world-building, Sanderson has created a magic system that is so inventive and detailed that that readers who appreciate games of strategy and tactics just may want to bring Rithmatics to life in our world.

Review: 3.5 Stars

Sanderson is quickly becoming one of those authors that I absolutely must read, no matter what. The Mistborn series is one of my absolute favorites, and both The Way of Kings and Warbreaker were right up there as well. All that said, I thought this novel suffered a bit from “dumb it down into YA” syndrome. The characters were predictable and somewhat, if you’ll excuse the pun, two-dimensional. The relationship between the two main characters was more twelve-year-old than sixteen-year-old. And while the world of the school seemed very well-developed, the overall universe was barely explored. But for a map inside the cover of the book, I don’t think I even would have understood the concept. Aditionally, there was a lot of talk about a place barely explored in this novel, and while that does leave a great deal of interest for a sequel, I was left feeling a bit let down that I didn’t get a better picture of the larger forces at work here. We caught glimpses of that complexity, but were not really let in on the whole story here.

However, as usual Sanderson’s strengths lie in his magic system creation and he did not fail us on that one. This magic is like nothing I’ve seen before. The Rithmatists battle using chalk drawings on the ground, using combinations of circles, lines, waves, and little creatures (“Chalklings”). Each chapter began with an illustration and description of a different Rithmatic schema. Since the entire magic system was based on drawings, the illustrations of the novel become an intrical part of the story, and I found myself flipping around in the book to see the various moves being discussed in the book. Because of that, this might be a great entry into reading longer novels for the young teen boys in your life who are into graphic novels.

Bottom Line

While the plot and characters had so much potential, when it came right down to it I didn’t feel like Sanderson’s first entry into YA was as excellent as his other novels. On the plus side, Sanderson’s magic system was, as usual, completely novel and well-developed. The story kept me engaged throughout and had a few interesting twists and turns that I didn’t quite see coming. On the negative side, the main characters had promise, but fell a bit flat. The world of the school was well-developed, but the overall universe left me scratching my head a bit. And overall, it seemed to follow the well-worn path of many YA novels before it of “gifted children at magical boarding school encounter supernatural foe and win against all odds.” I will continue on with this series in the hopes that Sanderson finds his stride and a more unique voice within the YA world, but I am hoping for much more in the next installment.