Friday, December 9, 2011

Between Shades of Gray

From Goodreads:
Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously - and at great risk - documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

This book is beautiful and sad. I've always loved Holocaust/War books - not for their subject matter obviously, but because there are so many stories of people rising above their circumstances with bravery and hope. Reading books like this remind me that I have absolutely nothing to complain about. If Lina managed to stay positive, then I have no reason to ever be pessimistic. I loved Lina. Such courage and beauty. Ruta Sepetys does a beautiful job of describing her and really, all her writing was beautiful. It was the light moments interspersed throughout the book that made me especially love this novel. One moment towards the end involving a Dickens book made me bawl and laugh at the same time. I was really moved by this story and these characters. While this book's characters are fictional, the story is based on true stories of families that were deported from Baltic countries at the beginning of World War II. It's a little-known chapter of history, and while it's ugly, I feel like I'm a better person for knowing what these people went through. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and help them all, take some fruits and vegetables to the kids who were dying of malnutrition. It just breaks my heart to read about them and makes me so grateful for the plenty that my family enjoys. This is a powerful book, right up there with Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place and I plan to buy it so I can lend it out to everyone I know.


From Goodreads:
Dragons exist. They’re ferocious. And they’re smart: Before they were killed off by slayer-knights, they rendered a select group of eggs dormant, so their offspring would survive. Only a handful of people know about this, let alone believe it – these “Slayers” are descended from the original knights, and are now a diverse group of teens that includes Tori, a smart but spoiled senator’s daughter who didn’t sign up to save the world.

The dragon eggs have fallen into the wrong hands. The Slayers must work together to stop the eggs from hatching. They will fight; they will fall in love. But will they survive?

This book is written under a pseudonym by a best-selling author of YA teen fiction *cough*Janette Rallison*cough* because it's out of her usual genre. Said author is not really trying to keep her identity secret, so I don't feel too bad about outing her - she's mostly going along with her publisher's thoughts that this book might reach a larger audience under a pseudonym.

My thoughts? It's Janette Rallison! It's dragons! How could it be bad? It's not and I loved it. It's a little bit X-Men meet Percy Jackson and yes, some plot elements do feel a little over-used and cliche (and predictable), but it doesn't seem to matter much because the writing is so great. Janette Rallison is still funny, the YA romance is still sweet and entertaining, the characters' powers are cool, and the dragons are terrifying. I loved all the dragon mythology. The first and last chapters are sooo good and I can't wait to read the sequel.

This book actually shows some surprising depth too. We delve into the psyche of a traitor. There are several surprisingly complex and compelling characters, to tell the truth. I won't say any more because I don't want to give anything away, but I really enjoyed this and will probably buy it. Never mind that the cover looks like it has some weird dragon-ish looking rocket ship (it's supposed to be a dragon egg).

Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List

From Goodreads:
Sixteen year-old Jessica dreams of Hollywood fame, and when Jordan moves into her small town, she dreams of him too. He’s a movie star’s son, and hey, he’s gorgeous to boot. Jordan has always wanted to get out from the shadow cast by his superstar father, but now that he and his mother have moved so far away from LA, how can he get his divorced parents back together? Jessica convinces Jordan the way to get his father to come for a long visit is to be a part of the school play. And if she’s “discovered” in the process, all the better. Things go wrong when she lets Jordan’s secret identity slip, and grow even more disastrous when the principal tries to change West Side Story into a gangfree, violence-free, politically correct production. 

Ok. I must have the mentality of a high school student; I absolutely loved this book. But then, it's Janette Rallison! Her writing style just clicks for me. I read this as part of my quest to read all of her books, and I think I really need to just buy them all because they make me happy. The magic is not lost after Fame, Glory, etc... 

This book made me laugh out loud multiple times. It is light and maybe a little immature and just a bit fluffy and cliche, but I can't help it; I love it. Janette Rallison has a knack for hilarious and embarrassing situations and the first chapter in this book is so funny. But of course, the end of the book is even more so. I love drama and plays and musicals (and am a fan of West Side Story). I've been backstage and behind the scenes plenty of times and Janette Rallison has really captured (and amplified) some of the funny things that happen in a play. Ok - it was worse than that. West Side Story was completely butchered in this book and I was rolling on the floor. I got lots of weird looks from my kids, which is always a sure sign that I've found a winner. This book made my week. Love, love, love. 


From Goodreads:
In the Enclave, your scars set you apart, and the newly born will change the future.

Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone and her mother faithfully deliver their quota of three infants e

very month. But when Gaia's mother is brutally taken away by the very people she serves, Gaia must question whether the Enclave deserves such loyalty. A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.

It's been a while since I've read a dystopian! For a while there, that's all I read and then I think I got burnt out (I think it was because of the very disappointing Enclave). So I decided to stick to the dystopian series I'd already read, but this one kept popping up and looked so interesting that I finally caved. I'm glad I did.

Birthmarked is fascinating. It is emotional and does what a good dystopian should, stir up the reader's sense of justice. It's infuriating and disturbing to see people living in such an unjust society. This story is doubly compelling because it deals with the most defenseless people imaginable: newborn babies. I thought all the midwifery in this book was extra interesting too. This book has good pacing, a gripping plot, fantastic characters, a nice bit of romance, beautiful writing, and a terrible ending. :D Just saying... I'm hoping to get the sequel soon from the library because I'm dying for a bit of resolution. Not that second books in trilogies are known for their resolution. But I am hoping it will resolve some of the burning questions I have because of that terrible cliffhanger. I recommend Birthmarked! Definitely not a disappointment.


Blurb from goodreads:

Brandon Sanderson, fantasy's newest master tale spinner, author of the acclaimed debut Elantris, dares to turn a genre on its head by asking a simple question: What if the hero of prophecy fails? What kind of world results when the Dark Lord is in charge? The answer will be found in the Mistborn Trilogy, a saga of surprises and magical martial-arts action that begins in Mistborn.

For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the "Sliver of Infinity," reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler's most hellish prison. Kelsier "snapped" and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.
Kelsier recruited the underworld's elite, the smartest and most trustworthy allomancers, each of whom shares one of his many powers, and all of whom relish a high-stakes challenge. Only then does he reveal his ultimate dream, not just the greatest heist in history, but the downfall of the divine despot.
But even with the best criminal crew ever assembled, Kel's plan looks more like the ultimate long shot, until luck brings a ragged girl named Vin into his life. Like him, she's a half-Skaa orphan, but she's lived a much harsher life. Vin has learned to expect betrayal from everyone she meets, and gotten it. She will have to learn to trust, if Kel is to help her master powers of which she never dreamed.

Sorry. Long blurb.

First off, Mistborn was not what I was expecting. Granted, I didn't even read a blurb before requesting it from the library. All I knew was that I kept seeing it everywhere on people's lists of favorite Fantasy books. Well, this is not your typical fantasy. I don't know why I was expecting elves and dwarves or something like that, but Mistborn is completely original. Brandon Sanderson creates quite the clever mythology here and imagines up a fully-rounded world that is easy to get immersed in. And so you know, I recently took a grammar class and my professor told me it's ok to end a sentence with a preposition, so that last sentence is perfectly fine. ANYWAY, nerdy aside over, let's get back to the book.

Misborn was a fascinating read. It feels more like an Ocean's 11ish heist novel than what anyone would call a fantasy. I loved it, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel with high expectations. The characters were well-described and felt like real people. I especially liked Vin. The plot was intricate and there was some very interesting foreshadowing. I liked the depth of Brandon Sanderson's world and can't wait to get back into it with The Well of Ascension.

The Dressmaker

Blurb from the book cover:
Ellen Gowan is the only surviving child of a scholarly village minister and a charming girl disowned by her family when she married for love. Growing up in rural Norfolk, Ellen’s childhood was poor but blessed with affection. Resilience, spirit, and one great talent will carry her far from such humble beginnings. In time, she will become the witty, celebrated, and very beautiful Madame Ellen, dressmaker to the nobility of England, the Great Six Hundred.

Yet Ellen has secrets. At fifteen she falls for Raoul de Valentin, the dangerous descendant of French aristocrats. Raoul marries Ellen for her brilliance as a designer but abandons his wife when she becomes pregnant. Determined that she and her daughter will survive, Ellen begins her long climb to success. Toiling first in a clothing sweat shop, she later opens her own salon in fashionable Berkeley Square though she tells the world – and her daughter - she’s a widow. One single dress, a ballgown created for the enigmatic Countess of Hawksmoor, the leader of London society, transforms Ellen’s fortunes, and as the years pass, business thrives. But then Raoul de Valentin returns and threatens to destroy all that Ellen has achieved.

In The Dressmaker, the romance of Jane Austen, the social commentary of Charles Dickens and the very contemporary voice of Posie Graeme-Evans combine to plunge the reader deep into the opulent, sinister world of teeming Victorian England. And if the beautiful Madame Ellen is not quite what she seems, the strength of her will sees her through to the truth, and love, at last.

A friend of mine lent this book to me and I really enjoyed it. I don't always think to request Historical Fiction from the library, but I should more often, especially because I love Victorian England. The trick is finding a story that has a clean romance, and fortunately, The Dressmaker delivers on that account. I thought Ellen was a fantastically strong heroine and the plot managed to avoid feeling too soap-opera-esque. My only complaint is something I can't mention because it would be spoiler-y. I just have this one romance pet peeve... anyway... Overall, The Dressmaker is a satisfying historical fiction romance.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I just finished Crossed earlier today (I know - shocker, right? me actually blogging about a book the same day I finish it?) and I loved it. I won't give you any blurbs because I don't want to spoil Matched for you if you haven't read it yet. But if you haven't, I recommend that you do. This is a fascinating series in a very compelling world.

Crossed is one of the better sequels I've read in a long time. I liked it better than I liked Matched, actually. Cassia is out in her world, she's seeing the truth and she's no longer sheltered and deluded by her "perfect" Society. Like Matched, Crossed doesn't have the break-neck pace that so many apocalyptic/dystopians have these days and it's much better for it. The characters definitely benefit from the story being more psychological because we really get to know them and what's important to them and why. We uncover their personalities and back stories in layers and the whole thing is so engrossing. Not that there isn't any action - the story definitely moves along and its setting is absolutely haunting and gorgeous at the same time. Ally Condie bases The Carving on her native Southern Utah - a fact that only makes me love this book even more.

Ally Condie is also awesome because of the way she uses art and poetry in her writing. She incorporates real poems, as well as poems written by the characters and the effect is beautiful.

I really enjoyed this book and have put this series on my to-buy list. I was going to wait until more came out to make sure they were worth owning and now I'm certain. Can't wait for book three.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Images from Laini Taylor's website

I've been meaning to read a book by Laini Taylor for a long time. I've been reading her blog for ages and have always enjoyed her clever and poetic way with words. I've known for ages that I should read something by her, but never got around to it. I'm glad this was my first introduction to her reading - this book is truly beautiful!

The word "poetic" just doesn't cut it. Laini's writing is so gorgeous, I felt myself slowing my reading pace wayyyy down so I could savor little things - descriptions, settings, clever turns of phrase. It was some of the best writing I've read all year.

The characters are all so vividly colorful. I could easily visualize everyone and everything in this world. There was a nice balance, too, of cleverness, humor, mystery, suspense, romance, and above all, fantasy.

This book is pitched as a modern, paranormal romance, which is, in general, a kitschy genre these days. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is so much more than that. At first I thought it was going to follow typical YA paranormal rules and be boring, but after just a few pages, everything changed. Holy plot. Every chapter dragged me in further and I was so immersed in this story. There were some HUGE shocking revelations and plot twists, along with some very cleverly played subtle tips and hints from the writer. I would call this foreshadowing at its finest, and I would certainly call Laini Taylor a masterful writer.

To sum up, Daughter of Smoke and Bone has nothing less than the best plot I have read all year. I really loved its dark, fantasy feel, which I know may not be for everyone - but I believe that the writing is so good and the plot is so good that anyone would enjoy this.


I've been enjoying Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy (not quite as much as his Uglies series, though) and the final book, Goliath here, just came out. I really enjoyed it and thought it was a nice, fitting ending. (Much better than Dashner's The Death Cure *see below.) Not every plot line was tied in a nice, neat little bow, but there was lots of resolution and some very nice romantic elements. This entire series is well worth a read. I enjoyed my first introduction to steampunk and I think Scott Westerfeld is a fantastic writer. Great book!

The Son of Neptune

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I have been sooooo excited to read this. And, as always, Rick Riordan delivers.

This is my favorite of his books yet.

Welcome back Percy! It was so nice to read from Percy's perspective again, and his adventure is incredible. The new characters are some of my favorite yet. Hazel has one of the most compelling back-stories I've ever encountered, and Frank has the coolest powers of any demi-god we've ever met in Rick Riordan's world. I loved reading about the roman camp. I loved everything about this book.

Book three will be called The Mark of Athena and I can't wait. Oh Annabeth. Oh Son of Neptune. Why did you have to end??????

Thanks Rick Riordan for giving me something to look forward to!

The Death Cure

No blurb on this one, since it's the final book in the Maze Runner trilogy and I don't want to give anything away. But I do have lots to say anyway.

What rubbish.

Such a complete and utter disappointment!!!

I really liked The Maze Runner, thought it extremely clever and thought the series had such potential. I had a harder time with The Scorch Trials (it was much more violent and depressing), but I figured it would all be worth it if The Death Cure rocked.

It didn't.

It told me that the time for lies would be over, but it lied about that too. Thomas was a major disappointment in this book. Instead of being brave and accepting the truth (being vague here because I am trying to avoid spoilers), he wimps out. He has truth in his grasp and he avoids it. He doesn't want to know, so we never get to know. It felt like a major cop-out on James Dashner's part. If there was a rich, complex, subtle answer to all his tricky plot elements, why couldn't he have given it to his readers? Makes me feel like he didn't have an answer. Anyway, I haven't been this mad at a series' ending since The Series of Unfortunate Events, which warned me over and over again that I wouldn't like the ending. I had no warning that The Death Cure would be so unsatisfying.

AND, it felt like the entire book was driven by action, which was non-stop and at breathtaking speeds. Where was the plot? Where were the characters? I was SOOOO angry that a major character had almost no part in this book. Can't say anymore. On the verge of spilling it all out because I'm mad. :D

Anybody else read this book? I'd dearly love to vent.


Another book for my 30 grown-up books goal. It's been on my list forever, but I never could quite get myself to read a book about economics. No matter how cool the cover or how many of my friends gave it awesome reviews. And so I was walking around the library the other day and caught it staring at me, so I finally picked it up and checked it out. Took it home and put it my library book pile. Where it sat for two more weeks.

But when I finally read it, I found it interesting, and much more readable than I was expecting. I found the writers to be kindred spirits, curious and fascinated by the world - and with the tools to interpret data which led them to some very interesting (and sometimes controversial) answers about questions that I found relevant.

I liked it. I liked its tone, its quirkiness, and it's desire to find truth, even if that truth isn't politically correct. I'd recommend it. Anyone read the sequel?

Ranger's Apprentice: Book 8 - The Kings of Clonmel

Another installment in the Ranger's Apprentice series. I must say, it's taken me a while to get to it. I really lost steam on these becaues book 7 takes place between books 4 and 5. Doing that really made the series lose momentum. I've had this book from the library for ages and I finally just decided to get it over with and read it. Book seven was just a little disappointing for me, but I'm happy to say that book eight makes up for that. It was fun and action-packed. There were some very exciting revelations made about the past of a certain major character *cough*Halt*cough* - and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I'm always so frustrated with this series, though, because some of the books go together and I never manage to get the right ones from the library at the right time. Book eight leaves you on a cliffhanger for book nine, which - naturally - I didn't manage to get from the library as well. So, once again I have to wait. Frustrating. :D But I can still vouch for this series. It's tremendously entertaining.

The Tea Rose

Goodreads blurb:
The Tea Rose is a towering old-fashioned story, imbued with a modern sensibility that is fresh, compelling, and perfectly pitched for these times. This sweeping epic follows young Fiona Finnegan's climb from the teeming streets of East London. Her dreams of leaving her home behind are shattered when her father, a dockworker and union organizer, is killed in an accident. Crushing poverty, the loss of her lifelong love, and the destruction of her family quickly follow. When Fiona discovers that her fathers death was no accident, but a murder engineered by a ruthless tea baron bent on destroying the union, she flees to New York to save her own life. There, the ghosts of her past propel her to the very top of the city's tea trade. A decade later, armed with tremendous wealth, she returns to London to reclaim her lost love and exact a breathtaking revenge.

I've been interested in reading a book by Jennifer Donnelly for a while, because I keep reading great reviews of her novels. I love a good epic historical fiction and this is a time period (and place) I'm fascinated by. I actually own another Jennifer Donnelly novel (Revolution), which I bought at a Borders going-out-of-business sale, but it ended up in my Christmas pile. I'm not feeling very patient right now, I decided to keep myself happy by checking this out from the library.

I think that, overall, I came away satisfied with this book. Barely. I'll talk about the negative first. Hello MELODRAMA! Good grief, but this novel was soap opera-y. All sorts of ups and downs and people sleeping around and people dying, but then coming back from the dead. Amnesia, changes of fortune, manipulative girls getting pregnant to trap boys into marriage...

Getting the picture?

It was just a bit much for me. And the romance-y bits were far too *ahem* detailed.

This is an adult book. I'm hoping that Revolution, being YA, will be less specific.

And it really was a shame because the things I was most looking forward to, the setting and the history, were so well done. The writing was beautiful and the characters fascinatingly complex. There was also quite a bit of mystery, with characters trying to solve the identity of Jack the Ripper, who is - in a word - terrifying. I stayed up too late several nights in a row, knowing I wouldn't be able to sleep until I figured out just a little bit more of the puzzle.

So, to sum up here, The Tea Rose is a beautiful book with lots of interesting elements, but it is rather on the melodramatic side with plenty of adult-level romance. Not quite my thing, but not the worst book I've ever read.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet

~~complete bliss *sigh* utter contentment~~

That would be my inner word nerd talking. Go ahead, word nerd. Don't be shy. Say hello.


Looks like my inner word nerd has had her say. But if you listen closely, you just might hear purring.

This book made me happy. Hap - hap - happy. I loved everything about it. It is so entertaining and so funny and so ridiculously clever. I wish I could have given it 6 stars on goodreads. It is just my kind of book. But then, I'm obsessed with words. You almost need to read this book with a dictionary and a thesaurus handy. I learned probably 20 new words in the first 2 pages. 

I was thoroughly entertained by both the plot and characters. The whole book is told in letters, which just adds to the hilarity, especially as more and more letters became illegal in Nollop. I've never given any thought to what I would do if I couldn't use a letter of the alphabet. Honestly, Mark Dunn is a genius. It must have taken him forever to write this and get it perfect. As more letters disappeared, grammar became atrocious, new words had to be invented (the new days of the week cracked me up), more random synonyms had to be used, and I just can't tell you anymore without spoiling things. Be prepared, though, to read sections aloud to whoever might be close by as you're reading. And as more letters get dropped off, you almost have to read certain sections aloud to understand them (phonetic spellings abound - particularly in the last fifth or so of the book).

Just know this: if you love words, witty characters, a powerful message against totalitarianism and censure (with plenty of humor to soften the blow), and a delightfully surprising ending, you must read Ella Minnow Pea.

I almost couldn't take it back to the library.

And it's now in the top five of my Christmas book list.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship Of Her Own Making

Summary from goodreads:
Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.  With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. 

I wanted to be swept away by the magic and the whimsy of this novel but I had a hard time getting into it. I started it before my vacation. Gave up and read something else. And then I tried to read it after my vacation. I gave up and read something else. And then I got even farther into the book (about 80 pages) and gave up again. I came back to it and the rest managed to fly by, but it was hard to become comfortable with this writing style for me.

I think you can already tell how the book is going to go, just by reading the title. Every sentence is wordy and complex. All the descriptions are way over the top. It feels very Alice in Wonderland-ish, but it's just so very long.... For me, it was just too much, but I've read tons of reviews that absolutely rave about this book.

And I can see why, because holy cow was the plot good. 

It was a brilliant weaving of events, places, objects, characters. It felt Newbery-ish in that way and I've been hearing buzz that it's high in contention for the Newbery. I'd be surprised, though - Newbery hasn't picked many fantasy books recently. 

Anyway, by the end I was completely in love with the characters and even a little misty-eyed at one point. The villain is a fantastic, complex creation. And September is very likable. Nay, lovable. And my favorite character was half dragon (ok, technically half Wyvern) and half library. What's not to love? This book came really close, but I just don't feel like I can give it a completely glowing review because the language and story-telling style were hard for me to get into.

P.S. And I have to mention that part of the reason I picked this up in the first place is because September is from Omaha! Since I lived there for three years I thought it was fun to have it mentioned so often, even if the Green Wind never mentioned Omaha without insulting it. :D

The Medusa Plot


Thirteen-year-old Dan Cahill and his older sister, Amy, thought they belonged to the world's most powerful family. They thought the hunt for 39 Clues leading to the source of that power was over. They even thought they'd won. But Amy and Dan were wrong.

One by one, distress calls start coming in from around the globe. Cahills are being kidnapped by a shadowy group known only as the Vespers. Now Amy and Dan have only days to fulfill a bizarre ransom request or their captured friends will start dying. Amy and Dan don't know what the Vespers want or how to stop them. Only one thing is clear. The Vespers are playing to win, and if they get their hands on the Clues . . . the world will be their next hostage.

Such an amazing book. There's a reason that this is the only book (aside from Ella Minnow Pea) that I've given five stars to from my most recent batch of books. It's brilliant and intense. I love these characters, but then, I got to know them so well in the 39 Clues series. Amy and Dan are older too, and as they are aging they're changing and maturing, making this book even more enjoyable for adult readers like me. This is the first book in the Cahills vs. Vespers series and I can't wait to read the rest. Oh, and a lot of it takes place in Florence and Rome. Visiting places I've been. Definitely helped me love this installment even more. But then, this series always has been awesome for its travel and adventure. I highly recommend it and only wish I was completely rolling in money so I could buy every single book. There are way too many!

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew

Goodreads says:
This fascinating, lively guide clarifies the sometimes bizarre maze of rules, regulations, and customs that governed everyday life in Victorian England. Author Daniel Pool provides countless intriguing details (did you know that the "plums" in Christmas plum pudding were actually raisins?) on the Church of England, sex, Parliament, dinner parties, country house visiting, and a host of other aspects of nineneenth-century English life - both "upstairs" and "downstairs."

An illuminating glossary gives at a glance the meaning and significance of terms ranging from "ague" to "wainscoting," the specifics of the currency system, and a lively host of other details and curiosities of the day.

I bought this to read on my cruise, but ending up not getting to it. I picked it up after we got home and ended up reading it compulsively. I bought it, so could have put it aside for my other, more urgent, library books, but I couldn't stop reading it, even when I got to the glossary (which is the last third or so of the book). I loved this!!! But then, I love Victorian literature. I learned a ton of new facts and have probably been annoying my husband by spouting off a new one every time one pops into my head. This book is neither dry nor boring. It has lots of short, interesting chapters and covers a huge range of subjects. It's a great companion to all the Victorian books on my shelf. My favorite part about this book is the fact that Daniel Pool uses lots of examples from literature in this book. He's constantly referencing the works of Austen (who is technically pre-Victorian), Dickens, Hardy, Eliot, Thackeray, Trollope, Bronte, etc... to illustrate points and facts. I found this fascinating and am so glad I own it. It's a new favorite reference work and I've put it in a very accessible spot on my bookshelves.

The Eyre Affair

Goodreads summary:
Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality, (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë's novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

This was the only book I ended up reading on my cruise - and most of it I read on the airplane home from NY. It's not that I didn't have time to read, but every time I tried I ended up falling asleep. Blame it on being medicated for seasickness.

I enjoyed this. Such a clever premise and so fun for book/literature lovers. I can't say that I'd want to live in Jasper Fforde's world, but it would be fun if more people were obsessed with literature. It felt a bit slow, though, which might just be my perception because it took me a whole week of reading a page here and there to finish it. It seemed like it took forever for Jane to get stolen from the novel - the thing I was expecting because it's right there in the summary. But, I thought this novel was very funny at times and ridiculously clever on occasion. There was a lot of language, though. Just putting that warning out there for those of you who may be sensitive to that (lots of "F" words). There are six novels in the Thursday series so far, and I have the second one on hold at the library now. I'm in no rush to buy it, which shows that I liked this book, but I'm not desperate to continue the series quickly. Plus, the first one wraps the plot up very neat and tidy-like. It was a fun read and I definitely recommend it to fans of classic literature. Especially fans of Jane Eyre.


Goodreads summary:
One hour to rewrite the past . . .
For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn’t there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents’ death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She’s tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.

So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson’s willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.

Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he’s around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?

Full of atmosphere, mystery, and romance, Hourglass merges the very best of the paranormal and science-fiction genres in a seductive, remarkable young adult debut.

I planned on avoiding this one; I really did. I read a lot of reviews talking about paranormal romance and cheesy love triangles, but I gave in. I blame it on the time travel plot.

Which is hands down the best part of this book.

Oooh I so loved the time travel and the plot. It was a great convoluted mess that made perfect sense in the end. Myra McEntire's plot was intense and mysterious and fascinating - a completely new twist on time travel that I've never read before. Her language and descriptions were also beautifully done. And I loved Emerson as a main character. Strong and intelligent and brave.

But... (you knew that "but" was coming, didn't you?) it's true: the romance is annoying and the love triangle is unnecessary. I liked the second boy better than the main boy too, which was enough to make things really irritating. The romance is too sudden, too "electrical" (gag me), too predictable. But I have to give credit to Myra McEntire's overall plot, because while I thought the romance happened way to fast, she eventually shows that there was actually a reason for it. A reason that made perfect sense. A reason that made me think, "Ok... that was kind of brilliant." Which was how I felt about the book as a whole because as things went on they got better and better and by the time I closed the book I thought, "Ok... that was really brilliant."

I enjoyed this book, but I know a lot of people didn't (and won't). Hopefully I've given you enough information on it so you'll know whether or not it's a book that you will like. :D

Prom and Prejudice

Goodreads summary:
After winter break, the girls at the very prestigious Longbourn Academy become obsessed with the prom. Lizzie Bennet, who attends Longbourn on a scholarship, isn’t interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be — especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London.

Lizzie is happy about her friend’s burgeoning romance but less than impressed by Charles’s friend, Will Darcy, who’s snobby and pretentious. Darcy doesn’t seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it’s because her family doesn’t have money. Clearly, Will Darcy is a pompous jerk — so why does Lizzie find herself drawn to him anyway?

Will Lizzie’s pride and Will’s prejudice keep them apart? Or are they a prom couple in the making? Whatever the result, Elizabeth Eulberg, author of The Lonely Hearts Club, has concocted a very funny, completely stylish delight for any season — prom or otherwise.

Sounds a little cheesy but kind of fun, right? I kept seeing this title on YA book blogs, and I am such a P&P fan that I was worried this book would ruin the story, but curious at the same time just to see how it turned out.

There were lots of things that I liked and one major thing that I didn't.

First off, it was a cleverly realized setting. The major plot points from Pride and Prejudice and major characters transferred over to contemporary times surprisingly well. I particularly loved that Elizabeth was a professional concert pianist in the making. Music plays a big part in the plot and some of my favorite piano pieces (hello Rachmaninoff - love everything by him) were mentioned in detail. So, my inner music nerd was very happy about that. And it was just fun reading this, anticipating my favorite moments from the original and seeing them reinterpreted.

But my big problem (and the thing that kept me from really loving this) was the dialogue.

Elizabeth Eulberg attempted the impossible. She tried to take Austen's witty and clever dialogue and turn it into something modern. She failed miserably, and mostly because she tried to take exact sentences from the original and rework them by changing just a word here or there. She kept the sentence structure and a lot of the original wording, but would throw in random things like "cellphone" "jerk" "BFF" or "email". It was a colossal flop, in my opinion. The end result was waaayyyyy overly formal sounding. Not in the least bit natural or casual. Ugh. It was so hard to read the dialogue that it really ruined the book for me. I wish that Elizabeth Eulberg had just done her own interpretation of the dialogue, instead of trying to keep it so close to the original.

And the other issue I just can't get over is that an inconsequential thing like prom is never going to create the same compelling emotions as marriage and true love.

So, fun - but nowhere close.

The Lost Hero

I don't think I need to do any more gushing about Rick Riordan on this blog. But in case you've never heard me rave about his books before....


I love them. Every single one. The Lost Hero is the first book in Riordan's "Heroes of Olympus" series - the series that comes after the Percy Jackson books. I reread it because Son of Neptune, its sequel, was just released yesterday and I'm dying to get it in my hands (except we're a bit poor to be buying books at the moment so I'm going to have to wait). I love these books - the adventure, the magic, the mythology, the humor, the bits of romance, the plots... everything about Rick Riordan's writing is fantastic. There's something for anyone to enjoy out of these books.

And I'm so excited because he just announced that after Heroes of Olympus and his Egyptian series, he'll be publishing a series based on Norse mythology!!

So, if you haven't read this book, pick it up. But read the Percy Jackson series first (which you won't regret). But don't watch the movie. And be glad that you won't have to wait long to read the sequel to The Lost Hero, especially because of its last sentence. I have never read a last sentence that made me more desperate to read a sequel than the last sentence in The Lost Hero.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Girl Who Chased the Moon

Emily Benedict has come to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother’s life. But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew, she realizes that mysteries aren’t solved in Mullaby, they’re a way of life: Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor, Julia Winterson, bakes hope in the form of cakes, not only wishing to satisfy the town’s sweet tooth but also dreaming of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever. Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily’s backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.
Delightful! And delicious. :D This is a perfect light, for-fun read. What really took me by surprise in this book is the brushes of magic. I was expecting it to be all contemporary and to find logical explanations for everything. Instead, Sarah Addison Allen left me just a bit enchanted, wishing something magical would happen in my life.

This book follows the stories of two women (with intertwined lives). I liked that it combined a teenager's story of finding answers about her mother's past and an adult woman's story of reconciling her past with her hope for the future. So in a way, it's both an adult and a YA book. I liked all the characters really, and though this feels like a fluff read, some of them are going through very real and serious problems. In some of the flashbacks we have to face depression, cutting, suicide, and teen pregnancy. Instead of turning this book into a downer, though, these elements help ground a story that would otherwise be a bit too fanciful and sickly-sweet. Sometimes I felt like the plot got a bit soap-opera-y, but then I decided that with a book like this, the trick is to not overthink it and just enjoy the ride.

Which I did. And now I want to make a cake. Mmmmm.... I promise this book will make you crave cake.

Faith Rewarded

President Monson recounts his feelings, experiences, conversations, and meetings, presenting his journal entries that highlight Germany and its people in entries dating from July 12, 1968, to August 27, 1995. President Monson describes everything from early obstacles that were overcome through faith to blessings such as the dedication of the Freiberg Temple in East Germany in June 1985.
I absolutely loved this! I read it because I've been planning to read President Monson's biography, but when I mentioned my plan to Jon (my husband) he insisted that I read this first. This book is a short collection (a scant 175 pages that fly by) of President Monson's journal entries from the period of time he spent overseeing the church in communistic East Germany. And the stories are incredible.

President Monson promises the saints that if they are faithful, eventually they will be able to receive all the blessings other members of the church enjoy. He makes so many promises that all seem impossible, but they are all fulfilled because of the people's faith. It was so uplifting to read this book.

East Germany was not a nice place to be a member. Sometimes they had to hold church meetings in cars to avoid listening devices. Church materials had to be smuggled in, and no one could leave the country to attend the temple. Sometimes people were allowed out, but often their families were held hostage as an incentive to make people return. So horrible. My favorite story, though, is when President Monson memorizes an entire handbook because he can't bring a physical copy past checkpoint Charlie - a story with a surprise ending that proves, in my opinion, that God has a sense of humor.

I loved watching the progression of miracles in this book. First a patriarch, then a branch here, a stake there. And miraculously, a temple is allowed to be built behind the Iron Curtain (and though there were only 3,700 members of the church, 90,000 people in East Germany went to the open house - some saying that they did it because it was a privilege to stand in line because they wanted to, not because they had to). And finally, the wall comes crumbling down. Another thing I loved is that several people are followed throughout the entire time period and we get to see young kids (who've been promised the impossible) grow up and become the first missionaries to leave Germany, the first people to get married in the Frieberg temple. I felt like I really got to know the saints there and came to love them and love their determination and faith. These are people very close to my husband's heart because these are areas where he served his mission.

Anyway, this is a motivating and inspirational collection of journal entries that I found incredibly moving. I'd recommend this to anyone who needs an uplift (and a reminder that life's really not so bad - especially here in America where we are blessed with a multitude of freedoms).

Incidentally, it was fun to read Dieter F. Uchtdorf's name mentioned in passing a couple times. Wonder if President Monson had any idea that someday he's be the prophet and Elder Uchtdorf would be one of his counselors?

Garlic and Sapphires

Goodreads summary: 
Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the world, a charge she took very seriously, taking on the guise of a series of eccentric personalities. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl reveals the comic absurdity, artifice, and excellence to be found in the sumptuously appointed stages of the epicurean world and gives us, along with some of her favorite recipes and reviews, her remarkable reflections on how one's outer appearance can influence one's inner character, expectations, and appetites, not to mention the quality of service one receives.
Such an interesting and entertaining read! Proof that sometimes truth is stranger (and funnier) than fiction. I don't read many memoirs, but when a friend recommended this to me and I read summaries and rave reviews I knew I'd have to check it out. Oh the disguises! There were a couple that made me laugh so hard! But it's not just the light bits of this book that made me love it, it's the deeper level that made me think about how individuals are treated based on their appearance - how I treat people based on how they look. That, and how changing our appearance can make us feel like a different person. There's some fascinating psychology explored in this book.

And the food. Yeah. This book made me hungry, and fortunately it also provides some amazing recipes. Ruth's descriptions of food are incredible and even convinced me that if I were sitting right there with her trying things like sushi and many other assorted (and sometimes bizarre-sounding) delicacies, I would find them delicious too.

Ranger's Apprentice (book 7)

Ok. Maybe you can have too much of a good thing. First of all, this book is a bit weird, because it goes back in time and fills in the major gap in time between books 4 and 5. So, those of you interested in reading this series, I will recommend you read book 7 before reading 5 and 6. It fixed an important continuity gap. That said, I feel like the more interesting and compelling parts of the story lie in the first six books of this series and that John Flanagan was capitalizing on his success by publishing this. Reading it reminded me of a deleted scene in a movie. Ok. Interesting. Fills some holes. But feels like it was cut for a reason. It's unnecessary. I'd consider this a 'bonus feature' because it's not anywhere near as good as the rest of this series, even though it is kind of fun at times. Oh - and the romantic in me seriously protested because just when we finally got somewhere with Will and his romantic interest at the end of book six, I had to go back to a time when it was all uncertain and messed up again. Lame.

So, to sum up - this was a disappointing book for this series. I'm hoping that books 8, 9, and 10 can make up for that.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Killer Angels

From the back cover:
In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation's history, two armies fought for two dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life.

Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Shattered futures, forgotten innocence, and crippled beauty were also the casualties of war.

The Killer Angels is unique, sweeping, unforgettable--a dramatic re-creation of the battleground for America's destiny.
Wow. You know, I'm not much for war, but this was a brilliant book. I thought it would be boring; instead, it was the most engrossing thing I've read all year. Jon's been telling me to read it for ages - I should have listened to him a long time ago!

I hate war and I find the civil war so frustrating. Why? Why did so many people have to die? Why was the south so stubborn - claiming that their cause was so noble? They said it was their rights they were fighting for, but in hindsight, it was obviously just one right that caused the war: the right to own slaves. I don't consider myself an extreme feminist, but sometimes when I look at wars like this I think, honestly... put men in charge of the world and how do they solve their differences? swords, guns, cannons, and mass slaughter... someone doesn't agree with you? the solution is to go on a killing rampage until the only people left standing are the ones on your side.

Rant over.

Anyway, this book helped me understand not only the Battle of Gettysburg (which I now consider myself an expert on - the important generals, the landscape, the turning points, the big battles and charges - I know them all) but the entire war. I was there. Michael Shaara's writing is so present, so alive and descriptive that I understand the emotions, the politics, the sights and sounds and smells, and most importantly, the people. And the writing is clever, witty, and funny at times. Some of the conversations the men have are riotously funny. And some of the events brought me to tears. I was completely caught up in the drama of this important battle. I feel like I have a better understanding of why the war happened and the mentalities behind both sides. And I'll concede that it's not totally fair to generalize that it only happened because the people in charge were men. :D

This is a compelling novel. I especially loved the very personal stories of men from both sides. There were many who fought against each other who were friends or even brothers before the war. The civil war is a complex and tragic thing and I feel like studying it has been a fascinating study in human nature. One thing's for sure; this book is anything BUT boring.

And to top it all off, after reading it, I watched Gettysburg with Jon, the movie based on this book. It's incredible. The emotions from the book are all captured on film, which was done entirely on location with authentic re-enactment groups from all over the country as the hundreds of extras. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend it. And the music is incredible!!!

One other civil war related thing I watched after reading this book was an episode of American Experience (Jon's favorite tv show - shows what a cool history nerd I married :D) about General Robert E. Lee (which you can watch online here). Proof that General Lee maybe wasn't the perfectly pious grandfatherly figure he's portrayed as in the book. The Killer Angels, however well researched, is still a work of historical fiction after all. The facts and events are all correct, and many letters and journals were used to find specific dialogue, but most of the character's personalities were fictionalized.

So, I've been long-winded on this subject, haven't I? To sum up, this is a compelling book which helped me understand Gettysburg, the Civil War, and human nature better. I believe it fully deserved the Nobel Prize it won. If you haven't read it, put it on your to-read list.

The Time Machine

From goodreads: The story that launched Wells's successful career-the classic tale of the Time Traveler and the extraordinary world he discovers in the far distant future. A haunting portrayal of Darwin's evolutionary theory carried to a terrible conclusion.

I read the original dystopian (1984), so I figured I ought to read the original time travel novel. The Time Machine is just plain weird. I'm glad I read it, though. There's something historical and fascinating about this. If H.G. Wells hadn't wrote this novel would sci-fi be the same today? He was arguably the first person to take our current society and try to project it into the future. This was published shortly after Darwin's The Origin of Species became so popular in Europe, so evolution was definitely a big influence on the plot of The Time Machine. Wells' future society shows humankind evolving into two very distinct different species in the future. Naturally, our main character, The Time Traveler, spends most of the novel trying to escape from the more vicious and cannibalistic of the two. Anyway, very interesting and worth a short read. It doesn't take long to get through this.

Heist Society

Goodreads summary:
When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the Louvre…to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria…to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own—scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving “the life” for a normal life proves harder than she’d expected.

Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring Kat back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has a good reason: a powerful mobster has been robbed of his priceless art collection and wants to retrieve it. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat's father isn't just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.

For Kat, there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it's a spectacularly impossible job? She's got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family's history--and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way.

I've been wanting to read an Ally Carter novel for a while. She's written lots of teenage spy/thief books and I love that kind of thing. The Oceans movies are some of my favorites, and my husband and I quote them all the time. Anyway, I love a good heist. I just didn't think this was a great one.

Any good heist is going to be very complicated, and the trick in a heist book/movie is to portray that without being so confusing that readers/viewers feel like they have no clue what just happened. Heist Society is a little too confusing and overall just doesn't quite cut it. Oh it's close. I enjoyed many parts of this book, but overall I left feeling dissatisfied. Since I finished the book, I haven't thought of it once (until writing this review). It's unforgettable. It lacks the "WOW!" factor that it needs. 

Despite that, this is a really fun, clean teen read and I still plan on checking out more of Ally Carter's works. 


Goodreads summary (which doesn't give much of the first book away, so I'll go ahead and post it):

 Evie finally has the normal life she’s always longed for. But she’s shocked to discover that being ordinary can be . . . kind of boring. Just when Evie starts to long for her days at the International Paranormal Containment Agency, she’s given a chance to work for them again. Desperate for a break from all the normalcy, she agrees. 

But as one disastrous mission leads to another, Evie starts to wonder if she made the right choice. And when Evie’s faerie ex-boyfriend Reth appears with devastating revelations about her past, she discovers that there’s a battle brewing between the faerie courts that could throw the whole supernatural world into chaos. The prize in question? Evie herself.

So much for normal. 

I enjoyed the first book in this series, but I think that by the time I'd finished this sequel most of the charm had worn off. Do you have any friends that are overly hyper and funny? In the right mood, they are hilarious, but prolonged exposure leads to irritation or worse. That's how I feel about Evie. Sometimes she makes me laugh out loud, but other times I'm so sick of her. She whines about things over and over and she thinks about clothes and shoes entirely too much for my taste.

If you can get past that, the plot is really very interesting. There were some shocking revelations that I've been waiting to find out. Lots of complicated layers. I think Kiersten White did a great job on the plot. It's not her fault that Evie gets on my nerves. It's just a personality clash. :D

Ranger's Apprentice (book 6)

I won't provide a summary since this is a sequel, so I won't say much either. Just enough to let you know that this series improves with each book. It is so entertaining and original! Plus, as an added bonus for romantics like me, this sixth book has a pinch (a nice hefty pinch) of romance. Very fun and I can't wait to read the final three books in the series!


Goodreads summary:  

In Deuce’s world, people earn the right to a name only if they survive their first fifteen years. By that point, each unnamed ‘brat’ has trained into one of three groups–Breeders, Builders, or Hunters, identifiable by the number of scars they bear on their arms. Deuce has wanted to be a Huntress for as long as she can remember.

As a Huntress, her purpose is clear—to brave the dangerous tunnels outside the enclave and bring back meat to feed the group while evading ferocious monsters known as Freaks. She’s worked toward this goal her whole life, and nothing’s going to stop her, not even a beautiful, brooding Hunter named Fade. When the mysterious boy becomes her partner, Deuce’s troubles are just beginning.

Down below, deviation from the rules is punished swiftly and harshly, and Fade doesn’t like following orders. At first she thinks he’s crazy, but as death stalks their sanctuary, and it becomes clear the elders don’t always know best, Deuce wonders if Fade might be telling the truth. Her partner confuses her; she’s never known a boy like him before, as prone to touching her gently as using his knives with feral grace.

As Deuce’s perception shifts, so does the balance in the constant battle for survival. The mindless Freaks, once considered a threat only due to their sheer numbers, show signs of cunning and strategy… but the elders refuse to heed any warnings. Despite imminent disaster, the enclave puts their faith in strictures and sacrifice instead. No matter how she tries, Deuce cannot stem the dark tide that carries her far from the only world she’s ever known.

Phew! Long summary! Sorry; I just take what goodreads has to offer and post it here. I know a lot of book bloggers who write their own summaries, but I just don't like doing it. I've tried and I just end up writing geeky-sounding cliched phrases. Anyway.

I think I am officially burnt out on the dystopians. I'm ready for a break. I might have liked this book more before I read all the other ones out there, but this one just feels like a plot repeat. Or some sort of weird cross-breeding of all the different dystopian/apocalyptic plots about there. And speaking of plot, this one had some major logic holes. Half the time I wasn't sure why characters were doing what they were doing, because I definitely was not following.

Also, I don't like violence and gore and this book is just plain gory. There are too many "freaks" (is this the most creative name she could come up with for the weird, mutant-like zombie creatures in this book?) and too much of the book is spent fighting them. I'm not into zombies. 

BUT... Deuce was a very powerful female character. I liked her and thought she was courageous (and not just in the face of danger, but because she protected her friends even when she knew it would be her ruin). The other characters were interesting and many had fascinating depth, especially Fade. There wasn't much romance, which I actually think was a good thing for this book. There was so much else going on there really wasn't time to go into that without sacrificing the plot. But maybe that would have been a good thing because I thought the plot was rather lackluster. What the plot lacked, though, the setting certainly made up for. It was so detailed and well-described. Despite being tired of the genre, I was still fascinated by the idea that our current world could turn into the world in Enclave. I could see the echoes of our modern society and that made the book feel more authentic. The world is so fleshed out and creepy. What imagination from Ann Aguirre!

So there are a lot of pros and cons in this book. I certainly didn't hate it, but I just feel a little burnt out with dystopians. Maybe by the time the sequel to this comes out I'll feel ready to give this world another go.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

30 "grown-up" books before 30

Over on my other blog I made my list of 30 goals to achieve before I turn 30 in a year and one of those goals was to read 30 books that aren't children's or YA fiction. It's so easy for me to get stuck in a reading rut, so I want to make sure I'm branching out and reading books that aren't in my usual genres. I've been working on a list, but it's still a work in progress. My biggest problem? Too many books to read. But, for now, I'm just going to get this list up here:

1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (I've read this one recently, but Masterpiece Theater is doing a new version of it next year and I want to have it fresh in my mind. Gillian Anderson as Lady Havisham - creepy good, no?)
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (I'm allowed to revisit my favorite ever, right?)
3. To the Rescue by Heidi S. Swinton (President Monson's biography)
4. Seven Miracles that Saved America by Chris and Ted Stewart
5.I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
6.Watership Down by Richard Adams
7.The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
8. Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis's retelling of the Cupid/Psyche myth)
9.Woe Is I by Patricia O'Conner (a grammar book I've been meaning to read for some time)
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee(another revisit of an old favorite)
11. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
12. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
13. Camilla by Fanny Burney
14. Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley (the ill-famed sequel to Gone With the Wind - I told myself I wasn't going to read it but I don't think I can stay away. It's supposed to be terrible, but I need closure!)
15. The Power of Myth (another book by Joseph Campbell - I loved The Hero With a Thousand Faces so much I really want to try this one out)
16. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool
17. Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross
18. Mansfield Park (my least favorite Austen, so I think I need to give it another shot)
19. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
20. John Adams (Jon's favorite book by David McCullough - I should have read it ages ago, but it's so fat and intimidating... I think it's time)
21. Faust (Goethe's classic - I bought an English translation at a booksale a while ago and have been meaning to read it ever since)
22. Dracula by Bram Stoker (while I'm thinking of gothic literature from the romantic period I figured I'd throw this one in. I loved Frankenstein, so maybe this will be good too.)
23. Parenting With Love and Logic by Cline and Fay (I'm not much for self-help, but everyone keeps praising this one to the skies, so I think I'll give it a shot)
24. The Iliad by Homer (Never read it! I've read the Odyssey multiple times so I don't know why I keep avoiding this one)
25. And Then There Were None (my favorite Agatha Christie)
26. The Time Machine (I read the original Dystopian - 1984 - so I think I need to read this original time travel novel by H.G. Wells)
27. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (also been on my to-read list for a while)
28. These Is My Words by Nancy Turner
29. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
30. Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

Fashion in the time of Austen by Sarah-Jane Downing
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (another Dickens novel - his unfinished one - which will be portrayed in next year's masterpiece season)
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (an Austen contemporary)
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradybury
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Psychology of the Unconscious by Carl Jung
Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston (book the movie 127 hours is based on)
Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt by Richard H. Wilkinson
The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
#1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Ok. I'm stopping. This is just me brainstorming, but I already have too many! Which is why you might think I'm crazy for what I'm about to do...

Suggestions please?

Is there a book (not children's or YA) that you've read that you loved? Something not in my usual genre? Like a classic, a book club book, a non-fiction book, or a cookbook even. I'm looking for all sorts.

Also, while I'm asking for book recommendations, I need some recommendations for vacation books. I want to bring a few books on my cruise with me, but I haven't decided what yet. Something light and fun. Ideas?

The Undaunted

When it comes to creating spellbinding historical fiction, nobody does it quite like Gerald N. Lund. In The Undaunted, he transports readers first to the coal mines of Yorkshire, then across the ocean and the plains to the territory of Utah, where, even in 1879, there is pioneering to be done. A little- known and perhaps even less- appreciated chapter in the Church's history comes to life in this gripping story of a stalwart group of Saints called to create a settlement to serve as a buffer between the established communities of Utah and the lawless frontier of the Four Corners area. Their challenge will be enormous— but the biggest part of it just may be getting there in the first place. Skillfully interweaving historical figures and events with fictional characters, Gerald Lund takes us through the Hole in the Rock and over miles of uncharted country that even today is impassable without all- terrain vehicles. His account of the adventure, romance, and sacrifices of these undaunted pioneers will resonate with readers who love a good story as well as those who want to better understand the incomparable legacy and unconquerable faith of those valiant Saints.

I haven't read a Gerald Lund book in such a long time and I really enjoyed coming back to this genre. The Undaunted is a fantastic read. Gerald Lund is so good at making me feel like I was right there along with the pioneers experiencing history. I think this is an overlooked story that most people have never payed much attention to, but it is certainly well-worth knowing. My favorite part of this book was all the footnotes at the end of each chapter, showing actual journal entries and other documents that lent an even stronger air of authenticity and history to this book. This really happened and I feel like I was able to develop faith, right along with those pioneers. I've always loved southern Utah; the country is gorgeous and almost alien at times. I can hardly believe that these faithful saints were able to make a wagon trail across it.

The fictional story was great and along with the story of those hole-in-the-rock pioneers, we get a tale about coal mining in England, immigration to Utah, the colonization of different areas of Utah, and even some of the tensions between pioneers and Native Americans. It was all completely engrossing and fascinating. One of my favorite scenes was when a few characters climb Angel's Landing in Zion's National Park (before it was Zion's National Park). That is a terrifying hike, but an exhilarating one and reading this brought back memories from when I did it a few years ago. Anyway, there's a lot going for this read. I'm so glad I read it and I think soon I'm going to have to revisit the whole Work and the Glory series.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ruby Red

Sixteen-year-old Gwen lives with her extended - and rather eccentric - family in an exclusive London neighborhood. In spite of her ancestors' peculiar history, she's had a relatively normal life so far. The time-traveling gene that runs like a secret thread through the female half of the family is supposed to have skipped over Gwen, so she hasn't been introduced to "the mysteries," and can spend her time hanging out with her best friend, Lesley, watching movies and talking about boys. It comes as an unwelcome surprise then when she starts taking sudden, uncontrolled leaps into the past.

She's totally unprepared for time travel, not to mention all that comes with it: fancy clothes, archaic manners, a mysterious secret society, and Gideon, her time-traveling counterpart. He's obnoxious, a know-it-all, and possibly the best-looking guy she's seen in any century...

This is the time travel book I have been looking for. It has everything I love in a time travel plot, lots of crazy time mix-ups, people seeing themselves in unexpected years and places, and a timeline that is decidedly NON-linear. All that, plus this has all the charm of a contemporary teen story and is incredibly funny. I laughed out loud multiple times. It all takes place in London and the setting is wonderfully described (especially during London's different time periods). The story is deliciously detailed and has a fabulous air of mystery to it. The characters are awesome, especially Gwen. The biggest problem is that this book feels like 1/3 of a story (makes sense seeing that there will be two other books in the series). Sapphire Blue comes out early next year and I can't wait. This isn't one of those series where each book stands alone. This is a series where I read it feeling like, "Wait, there aren't very many pages left and I still haven't figured out this, this, and this... not to mention THIS!!!" Aahh!! I wish the whole story was all in one book.

This series was originally published in German and as I read it I felt like the cadence and rhythm of the words reminded me of a Cornelia Funke novel (Inkheart trilogy). I figured that was because they were all translated from German, but turns out this novel was translated by the exact same person who translated Cornelia Funke's novels. Makes sense!

Anyway, I loved this. It's exactly my kind of book.

(This is the point where I sigh and complain about how long my to-buy list is getting...)


Beatrice "Tris" Prior has reached the fateful age of sixteen, the stage at which teenagers in Veronica Roth's dystopian Chicago must select which of five factions to join for life. Each faction represents a virtue: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite. To the surprise of herself and her selfless Abnegation family, she chooses Dauntless, the path of courage. Her choice exposes her to the demanding, violent initiation rites of this group, but it also threatens to expose a personal secret that could place her in mortal danger. Veronica Roth's young adult Divergent trilogy launches with a captivating adventure about love and loyalty playing out under most extreme circumstances.


Oh I so loved this. I have really been enjoying all the great Dystopian reads out there and this is one of the best I've read. If you haven't heard of it yet, go check out some of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. See a pattern? Yeah, they're all as exuberant as mine!

This is a great book with a fantastic plot. Just when I was starting to think Dystopian books were feeling cookie-cutter and unoriginal, Veronica Roth came along and blew me away. I don't know what it is about this genre that's so appealing to me. There's a lot of politics and intense emotions. I loved reading about Tris and her family. Tris was such an amazing heroine. That's one of my favorite things about these novels - strong female heroines who can prove to the world that one girl can make a difference. This is exactly the kind of book I think teen girls and YA girls (and grown-up girls like me) should be reading. It's empowering.

I can't say enough about the writing. It's tight and there are no leaky plot holes. The word choice is perfect. Just the right words to say just the right thing. Incredibly well-written action sequences and descriptions. And the characters! Wow, so well-drawn and real. So believable. There's just the right touch of romance in this story too. Sweet and beautiful but without overshadowing the overall story. Another thing about this is that I completely believed how our current world could lead to Tris's world - from the technologies to the government to the people... everything. Anyway, I thought this book was brilliant and I definitely recommend it to fans of The Hunger Games. It's already on my to-buy list. I can always tell when I should just buy a book because I'm reluctant to take it back to the library. I've already reopened this book several times just to reread my favorite parts. I know it's one that I'll want to revisit again and again and I can't wait for the sequel (Insurgent) which comes out early next year.