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.

Series Wrap-Ups

These books are both the final books in their respective series and since I don't feel like I have that much to say about them (I've been lukewarm on both series from the beginning) I figured I could lump them together for you here without getting into too much trouble. :D And since these are sequels I'm not going to provide official summaries because I don't want to give away any spoilers.

That said, my thoughts on The Forgotten Locket can be summed up in a few words: boring, overly-complicated, insipid (which means bland or without flavor). This was my favorite book in the series though, so you can tell from that how much I really didn't like the first two (The Hourglass Door and The Golden Spiral). This one finally dives into the time travel aspect of the plot, but it does so without helping readers along or explaining the complicated premise of Lisa Mangum's time travel theory. Since I'm not a huge fan and have only read the previous books once I felt completely lost at times. I felt like all the complications and time twists were a bit pointless and I could spot several MASSIVE GAPING logic holes in the plot. That, and I've never really loved the romance between Abby and Dante. Blame that on the fact that my past makes it unlikely that I will ever be swayed by a smooth-talking Italian. I disliked that some of the characters I actually liked (Abby's family and friends from the "real" world) were not in this book at all. Anyway, I felt like Lisa Mangum was trying to be overly epic and grandiose and "save the world!" but it come off too heavy-handed for me. A little comic relief would have helped, but there was none. I don't recommend this series. With all the great YA lit in the world, there's no need for you to waste your time on this series.

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater is a significantly better book, just based on the quality of the writing and the plot. Despite that, I've never been overly fond of this series. It is about werewolves, so I'll just get that out of the way right off the bat. It's probably the last werewolf/vampire book I'll read (unless something new comes out with majorly positive reviews) because I'm way sick of them. I'm just... ready for something new. This book wasn't unpleasant to read, however. Maggie Stiefvater has a beautiful way with words and poetry and song lyrics have always played a bit part in her plots. I like that. Another pro for this book is that all the overly-mushy teenage obsessive teen love stuff is all out of this series' system. Grace and Sam have settled into something very real feeling and much more palatable to read. I liked the way it ended (which I won't go into details on). I'm glad I finished this one up, but I can't say that it's on my to-buy list.

Ranger's Apprentice (books 4 &5)

I've so been enjoying this series! I can't wait to share them with my kids (especially my boys). Ben especially liked the cover for The Battle for Skandia because he loves vikings (a product of his love for How to Train Your Dragon). :D My problem with these books is that I can never get them from the library fast enough and I always seem to end up stranded on a cliffhanger. I'm eagerly awaiting book six which I plan to pick up tomorrow from the library.

John Flanagan writes fantasy with so much originality and detail that it's incredibly easy to read and enjoy. His plots are interesting and engrossing and his characters keep developing as they age. I feel like now, five books into the series, I'm old friends with Will and Horace and Halt and Evanlyn and Alyss and co. I can't wait to finish up the next five books in this series and I highly recommend them to everyone.

Girl With a Pearl Earring

Summary: The unknown subject of a Vermeer masterpiece is the basis for this remarkably evocative novel. The illiterate young Griet, held captive by the strict social order of 17th-century Delft, becomes a maid in the household of Johannes Vermeer to help support her family. She knows her role well: tend the laundry, keep up with the housework, and make sure Vermeer's six children stay out of the way. Griet even thinks she can handle Vermeer's shrewd mother-in-law, his bitter, neglected wife, and the family's jealous servant. But what no one suspects is that Griet's quiet manner, uncanny perception, and fascination with her master's paintings will draw her inexorably into the painter's private world. And as Griet witnesses the creative process of a great master, her long-suppressed passion becomes the catalyst for a scandal that irrevocably changes her life.

I found Girl With a Pearl Earring to be an interesting and simply beautiful kind of book. I liked Griet's voice and felt like I got to know her well, but I can't help but wishing the book could have gone differently. It's just too bad that someone with so much obvious artistic talent always had to be the observer and not the creator. Other than that, I liked the dynamics between characters and learning more about Griet's family and the family that she served. It was interesting to see a painting translated into an entire novel - it's such a unique idea! I wonder if it's been done with any other paintings. Have you heard of any?