Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Under the Never Sky

From the book cover:

Since she'd been on the outside, she'd survived an Aether storm, she'd had a knife held to her throat, and she'd seen men murdered. This was worse.

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland - known as The Death Shop - are slim. If the cannibals don't get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She's been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He's wild - a savage - and her only hope of staying alive.

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile - everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria's help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.

You know I have a weakness for these dystopian post-apocalyptic books. It always fascinates me to see the way these different authors project our world into the future. Under the Never Sky does it better than so many of the others out there. It felt realistic and I could easily see how our current world could turn into this. In general, Veronica Rossi did an amazing job building her world. She didn't slog things down with long descriptive passages (in fact, she left quite a few of my questions unanswered), but she let me discover the world gradually until it felt very real and I could see it all.

Not only does she have a cool name, but Aria is a great main character. She doesn't remain static, but changes and matures. She begins naive and a little annoying, but gradually becomes a fighter and a survivor. The story is told both from her point of view and from Perry's point of view, which really worked and I liked seeing things from both of their perspectives. 

Another plus for this book is that while it has a wonderful romance, the plot is more of an adventure story. The focus isn't on some lust-filled, fast-moving, doomed love story. No, in fact, the love is very real. Perry and Aria really are from different worlds and at first they hardly even see each other as human. They are brought together by need, and trust and friendship build slowly throughout the novel. So, instead of being overwhelmed by the love story, the intricate plot is perfectly enhanced by slowly-revealed real love.

This book isn't groundbreaking or original for this genre. There are lots of things here I've seen before, but I gave it five stars on goodreads because it does those things better than so many other books in this genre. Plus, I can't deny that I zipped right through it and enjoyed every moment.

Read-alikes: Blood Red Road, Matched/Crossed 


From the book jacket:
Wilde Island is in an uproar after the recent death of its king. The uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans is fraying, and a bloodthirsty witch hunter with a hidden agenda whips villages into frenzies with wild accusations. Tess, a blacksmith’s daughter from a tiny hamlet near the mysterious Dragonswood, finds herself caught in the crosshairs of fate when she is accused of witchery and has to flee for her life along with her two best friends.

Not even Tess’s power to see the future can help the girls as they set off on their desperate journey, but she keeps having visions of a man wielding a sword. And when she finally meets him, Tess has no idea how to handle the magnetic attraction she feels for him, or the elusive call she hears from the heart of the Dragonswood.

In this epic romance, an ancient prophecy comes true in a way neither dragon, fairy, nor human would have predicted.

Hello beautiful stand-alone fantasy novel. Are you as sick of trilogies as I am? It was so nice for a change to read a book and have that be the whole story, knowing that I won't be waiting years for closure. What a fascinating concept! There are witch-hunting elements, medieval England elements, and lots of great fantasy elements: dragons, fairies, and magic. And none of these are done in a tired-out, we've-heard-it-all-before way.

Granted, there are a couple things that were a little too predictable, but overall, this felt refreshing. And engrossing. I loved Tess. YA lit these days is highly populated with strong female characters, ones who stand up and fight back when the world is crushing them down. I wish some of these books had been out when I was in high school. I think this novel is great and when I finished reading it felt ready to take on the world. Beautiful setting, fantastic characters, overall a sure winner. And the cover is eye-catching, no? 

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

From the book jacket:
Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

It's taken me a couple of days to figure out how I feel about this book. It is fantastic fantasy, but I didn't love, love it like I wanted to. The story was completely engrossing. The mythology was a strange mix of Catholicism and, I don't know, maybe what you'd find in a Kristen Cashore novel (Graceling or Fire). The religion isn't overwhelming or preachy, though. It's just the source of magic. I loved Elisa's character. She is so strong and real. She has weaknesses and like any real person, she makes mistakes sometimes. She works through them and pushes past them. She's bold and confident and courageous. A fabulous heroine. 

I gave this 4 stars on goodreads, but I wish I could have given it 4 and a half. The reason that this isn't a 5 star book for me is because of one plot element I struggled with. Elisa begins the book being very obese. It's not the obesity that bothered me (heaven knows it's not like I'm in great shape), it's the fact that Elisa wasn't considered beautiful or worthwhile by men until she loses weight later in the book. Elisa's personality is always vibrant and powerful, but it's not until she's skinny that any of the boys look at her. This bothered me. That, and sometimes at the beginning of the book the descriptions of her gorging herself grossed me out a bit.

Despite that, I definitely recommend this book. You will be completely swept up by the plot and mythology. The story is both empowering and heartbreaking. There are unforgettable characters. This is one of the best fantasy books I've read in a long time.

Sweet Venom

From the book jacket:
Grace just moved to San Francisco and is excited to start over at a new school. The change is full of fresh possibilities, but it’s also a tiny bit scary. It gets scarier when a minotaur walks in the door. And even more shocking when a girl who looks just like her shows up to fight the monster.

Gretchen is tired of monsters pulling her out into the wee hours, especially on a school night, but what can she do? Sending the minotaur back to his bleak home is just another notch on her combat belt. She never expected to run into this girl who could be her double, though.

Greer has her life pretty well put together, thank you very much. But that all tilts sideways when two girls who look eerily like her appear on her doorstep and claim they're triplets, supernatural descendants of some hideous creature from Greek myth, destined to spend their lives hunting monsters.

These three teenage descendants of Medusa, the once-beautiful gorgon maligned by myth, must reunite and embrace their fates in this unique paranormal world where monsters lurk in plain sight.

Ok. I really loved this. But then, I'm a sucker for greek mythology based books (as long as they're done well of course). This was great. It was enough familiar mythology so I wasn't lost trying to figure out what was going on, but it was also original enough to feel completely fresh and exciting. Modern-day descendants of Medusa and her sisters? So cool. I loved the way the three sisters came together and the way Tera Lynn Childs was able to weave their plots together. There's a hint of romance in here for a couple of the girls and I thought it was just right for teenage readers. No head over heels infatuation or undying eternal love. Just a little teenage romance. Very fun. Most of all, though, this book has a cool plot that kept me asking questions and surprised me with the answers. Lots of fun action. My only complaint is that the book ended, just as it was starting to get really good. Can't wait to continue this series!

Madensky Square

Susanna Weber is renowned for producing the most elegant, exquisite couture in Vienna. As all of fashionable society passes through her fitting room, Susanna touches numerous lives as matchmaker, comforter, confidante...and passionate lover.

From the improverished yet proud Countess von Metz, to Nini the volatile Hungarian anarchist; from Sigismund Kraszinsky, the young musical prodigy, to Susanna's hidden lover himself, Eva Ibbotson conjures up a perfect miniature of a vanished society. But while the world hurtles towards war, the secrets and sorrows which lie behind Susanna's bewitching charm emerge as she and her friends live out the last, glittering days of Imperial Vienna in the idyllic surroundings of Madensky Square.

There have been a lot of Eva Ibbotson books that I've really liked. I hadn't even heard of this one until Shannon Hale mentioned it and recommended it on her blog (a fact that I now find surprising). I really disliked this book. It's not that I didn't enjoy the writing style. The setting, which is always the highlight of an Eva Ibbotson book, was fabulous. I loved reading about Vienna and the way the people mention famous composers like they are close neighbors and friends.

No, the real problem I had with this book was subject material. Susanna is a mistress and her best friend is also a mistress. This fact is woven so tightly through the plot that there's no escaping it and it just drove me crazy and got under my skin. The men! How unfaithful and cowardly! None of them ever tell their wives and their wives never find out. And Susanna and her friend feel so lucky and privileged to be objects of pleasure without having the responsibilities of being wives and mothers. Oh it just bothered me. I felt over and over that Eva Ibbotson was making a statement that women only have worth if they are sleeping with someone. 

If only the other plotlines had been enough to distract me from the things that bothered me, but they weren't. Everything else felt canned and uninteresting. Eva Ibbotson does a lot of repeating of elements in her books. At first it didn't bother me, but now that I've read 5 or 6 of her books it's really starting to bug me that she can't come up with some new material. This will be my last book by her for a while.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Liesl and Po

Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.

That same night, an alchemist's apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.

Will's mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous and magnificent novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places.

Magic. Pure magic. And it can all be attributed to Lauren Oliver's gorgeous writing. The plot seems like it ought to be fairy tale cliche by reading the blurb (girl locked up in the attic by her evil stepmother?) but it's so not. The story is beautiful and reminded me of The Tale of Despereaux. Characters and events and objects and storylines interweave and mesh. I read this nice and slowly and just savored it. I haven't loved loved a book like this in a while. Oh the writing. It makes me depressed actually because I know I don't write like Lauren Oliver. She made me pause at times and just shiver. And occasionally laugh. And once even tear up just a bit.

This book is incredibly sad and poignant at times. It's about coping with loss and grief. But it's also about joy and love and happiness. It's a book I know I will want to share with my kids. And the illustrations! Such beauty. This is a great book and it doesn't surprise me that it's on lists of possible Newbery books or 2011 (which should be announced very soon!).

One minor beef that I want to mention is that Po, the ghost, is described as being a boy-or-girl-but-most-likely-boy. Po is always referred to as "it" and the reason for this gender neutrality is because after death, a person's soul meshes and blends with the universe and things like gender are vague and unnecessary. The same goes for Po's pet Bundle (cat-or-dog-but-most-likely-dog). This irked me just a bit because it seemed to be implying that gender doesn't matter and that after we die it ceases to exist and that theory does not work with my religious beliefs. I call this a minor beef because, surprisisingly enough, the issue is actually resolved at the end in a way that I won't share (trying to be spoiler free here). Anyway, it's just a teeny thing that shouldn't keep anyone from reading this beautiful book.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950—and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

To Flavia the investigation is the stuff of science: full of possibilities, contradictions, and connections. Soon her father, a man raising his three daughters alone, is seized, accused of murder. And in a police cell, during a violent thunderstorm, Colonel de Luce tells his daughter an astounding story—of a schoolboy friendship turned ugly, of a priceless object that vanished in a bizarre and brazen act of thievery, of a Latin teacher who flung himself to his death from the school’s tower thirty years before. Now Flavia is armed with more than enough knowledge to tie two distant deaths together, to examine new suspects, and begin a search that will lead her all the way to the King of England himself. Of this much the girl is sure: her father is innocent of murder—but protecting her and her sisters from something even worse….

An enthralling mystery, a piercing depiction of class and society, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a masterfully told tale of deceptions—and a rich literary delight.

Oh dear. This is one of the most delightful things I have ever encountered. Flavia de Luce, at age 11 is now officially my favorite literary detective ever. She is completely hilarious, in a slightly unhinged mad scientist kind of way. This book is witty and smart. The plot is fantastic and even though I predicted who the murderer would be about half way through I loved the whole ride. I blame my early prediction on the Agatha Christie obsession I had in my teen years; I'm now a bit of a mystery expert. The murderer is always someone you know, is always connected in some unexpected way to one of the main characters, is never the first person you suspect, and I could go on but it's unfair to Flavia de Luce for me to turn this book review into a treatise on how to spot the murderer in a mystery novel.

There are just too many good things to say about this. I love Flavia's character and how it balances the wisdom of an adult with childish sibling feuds. She's completely brilliant about some things and wholly naive on others. It's a great juxtaposition. Loved all the bits about chemistry, the history (author Alan Bradley is basing all the novels in his Flavia series on a bygone part of life in England - in this one: stamps), and Flavia's hilarious inner monologue. I laughed out loud quite a few times. There's really nothing not to love here. Recommended without hesitation.


Benson Fisher thought that a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life.

He was wrong.

Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive.

Where breaking the rules equals death.

But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape—his only real hope for survival—may be impossible.

Ok, so partly I read this because the main character's name is Benson and my son is named Benson and that fact just made me happy because it's not that common of a name. :D

Anyway, I really wish that I had read this book before The Maze Runner. They are so similar that this book feels after-the-fact, even though I think that I liked this book better than The Maze Runner. The Maze Runner has all that weird made-up swearing and I never loved the character development. Yeah, plus I hated the sequels. Ok. My hate is mostly for the third book. Both of these series are, I still think, perfect for middle school, high school-age reluctant boy readers. They are gripping.

Anyway, Variant is very well-written and I thought the plot was nicely paced. I liked seeing how things unfolded. It's very tense and suspenseful, and WOW. Let me say that again. WOW. Was there ever a big surprise in there. Such a big twist that I so was not expecting. I think Robinson Wells has a fabulously creative brain and I'll be looking forward to reading the sequel.


From Goodreads:
Before Briony's stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family's hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it's become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment.

Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He's as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she's extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn't know

Chime is gorgeous and haunting. It is very dark. Much more of a Grimm fairy tale than a Disney fairy tale. But I've always loved witch stories. This one has some serious depth to it and is extremely engrossing. Everything is very vividly and realistically described. I didn't have any trouble suspending disbelief, even for the magic.

I had a little trouble at first with the writing voice. It is very first-person, stream-of-consciousness. We read what Briony is thinking as she's thinking it, and, like any real person, her thoughts are often disjointed. She jumps around, she has random memories, she thinks completely unrelated things. Also, the language in this book is very artsy. Franny Billingsley uses some very bizarre metaphors and her descriptions are a little wacky. But, once I got used to it and dove in a bit more, it sucked me in. I loved the weirdness and the little bit of creepiness.

One of the reasons this book is so dark is that Briony suffers from a lot of guilt and depression. But it's not that she's feeling sorry for herself. There are some very real things that she has done wrong. Or so she thinks. Also, Briony has suffered from some heavy emotional and verbal abuse, and once a message has been ingrained in a person's brain like that, it can be very hard to silence those inner voice. Oooh, this book is so psychological. Since we get the story through the filter of her brain, the answers and the whole picture aren't immediately noticeable. There are some surprises and I loved the journey we go through with her to unravel the tangled mess in her soul.

And speaking of journey, my favorite part of this book is the absolutely beautiful love story. I'm talking real love, based on months of friendship, laughter, and mutual support. I get so sick of the insta-lust in so many YA books these days.

Anyway, I don't think this is a book I can recommend without reservation, because it is very dark and Briony's brain is a bit of a depressing place to live in, but I just know that I loved this. Kudos to Franny Billingsley and I'll be looking for more from her.

The Scorpio Races

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

I've been trying to write one-sentence reviews of the books I read on goodreads, and to illustrate how I felt about this book, this was my one sentence: "Even the man-eating horses weren't able to make this book more exciting."

I was both unsurprised and disappointed to find that I disliked this book. I've read really positive and really negative reviews. One book reviewer I really like recommended this book if the reader liked The Blue Sword and Fire (by Kristen Cashore) - both books I love. So, even though I wanted to be done with Maggie Stiefvater after Forever, I decided to pick this up.

It dragged and dragged and I found myself skipping forward, scanning pages for more interesting bits (something I never do). You would think, wouldn't you? That if there are brutal, flesh-eating horses on nearly every page that there would be some action? Something exciting going on? Nope.

And the thing that I just couldn't figure out (and maybe I missed it because I skipped that part) was why on earth anyone would choose to ride these horses in a race every year, especially because people died constantly. Why??? What was the point? It wasn't like in the Hunger Games where if you're going to be subjected to brutal violence at least it was because you had no choice. The only thing I could figure is that the people in Maggie Stiefvater's world lusted for violence.

And the romance took up such a very small amount of page time (I know because once I got sick of the plot that's what I started scanning pages for). Overall, this book was frustrating and I could barely finish it.  The only reason I still have this two stars on goodreads instead of one is because Maggie Stiefvater has a gorgeous, poetic way with words. I paused several times to reread her descriptions. The setting really came alive and I could imagine and feel exactly what her world looked like, smelled like, tasted like, sounded like. Maybe she'll release another book and I'll try again someday, but I won't be in any hurry.

Epic Fail

It's a bit fluffy, but I really enjoyed this. I thought the story was sweet and a nice translation of Pride and Prejudice to a high school setting. Much better that Prom and Prejudice, in my opinion. Everything just felt so much more logical and real. This book may be based on a book written in Regency Era Englad, but the teenagers in this book actually acted like teenagers. I'm finding that what I like in a retelling of a classic story is a fresh take. Not every plot line has to be followed with rigid perfection. Not every character has to be included. So, Epic Fail doesn't feel like bad fan fiction, it feels like an original modern story with echoes in a long-time favorite. I liked it. A quick, fun read.

The Lucky One

From Goodreads:
When U.S. Marine Logan Thibault finds a photograph of a smiling young woman half-buried in the dirt during his third tour of duty in Iraq, his first instinct is to toss it aside. Instead, he brings it back to the base for someone to claim, but when no one does, he finds himself always carrying the photo in his pocket. Soon Thibault experiences a sudden streak of luck—winning poker games and even surviving deadly combat that kills two of his closest buddies. Only his best friend, Victor, seems to have an explanation for his good fortune: the photograph—his lucky charm.
Back home in Colorado, Thibault can’t seem to get the photo—and the woman in it—out of his mind. Believing that she somehow holds the key to his destiny, he sets out on a journey across the country to find her, never expecting the strong but vulnerable woman he encounters in Hampton, North Carolina—Elizabeth, a divorced mother with a young son—to be the girl he’s been waiting his whole life to meet. Caught off guard by the attraction he feels, Thibault keeps the story of the photo, and his luck, a secret. As he and Elizabeth embark upon a passionate and all-consuming love affair, the secret he is keeping will soon threaten to tear them apart—destroying not only their love, but also their lives.
Filled with tender romance and terrific suspense, The Lucky One is Nicholas Sparks at his best—an unforgettable story about the surprising paths our lives often take and the power of fate to guide us to true and everlasting love.

This is me, trying to read more books for grown-up people. :D Which just proved to me that I like romance for young adults much better. I read The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks a few years ago and it made me cry like a baby. Don't remember much more about it than that, though. I never saw the movie. While looking at things on IMDB the other day, I ran across a trailer for the movie based on The Lucky One and thought it looked interesting. Typical me, what did I do? Get the book from the library.

And without the sweetness that was present in The Notebook, The Lucky One really fell flat for me. Flat all around. The characters had no dimension and seemed to be stock characters from every bad romance novel ever written. Logan, the strong silent type - what's his face (can't even remember his name now) the ex-husbad, complete sleazebag - Elizabeth, the lonely girl - grandma, the comic relief (she really wasn't that funny either)... etc...

There was almost no conflict driving the plot. It was so dull. I kept asking myself, "where is this going and why?" because I had no hints from the book. I felt irritated when I suppose I should have been feeling emotionally touched. It wasn't working for me. Part of me wonders if it's because this is a romance book written by a man. I'm not anti-men, heaven forbid, but I don't think that men's brains work quite the same way as women's brains. I just didn't get the feeling that Nicholas Sparks knows what woman want to know about in a love story. It's not just about getting physically involved as soon as possible. Women want to feel loved and cared about. They want friendship. And those are the things we want to read about. At least, those are the things I want to read about.

I haven't read any other Nicholas Sparks (besides The Notebook) so I can't say if this is typical of his writing, but I can promise you that I won't be wasting any more time reading his books.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Best Of 2011

Hey everyone! Well, the 2011 reading year is over and it's time to discuss. I managed to read 130 books in 2011, which is probably a little ridiculous and just a bit much, but it was sure fun. :D My little problem is that I loved so many of them I'm having a hard time picking favorites. Thanks to goodreads and book blogs and getting recommendations from so many sources I trust I've read very few books I didn't like. So, to simplify, I think we'll divide into categories. (Click on the picture and it will take you to my review)
Best Children's books read in 2011:

Both Calpurnia Tate and Moon over Manifest are truly delightful pieces of historical fiction.

The Ordinary Princess is a fabulous bite of a story with a strong heroine I dare you not to adore.

Rick Riordan. Need I elaborate more?

For a book experience like you've never had before, you must try Hugo Cabret.

(by which I mean the whole Ranger's Apprentice series)

Best YA books read in 2011:

Janette Rallison is my favorite discovery from 2011. In fact, I've loved all her books so far. I recommend them all! So funny and clever and creative.

Both Crown and Court Duel are very good reads.

There's no point denying it; it looks cheesy. But I fell for this book and I fell for it hard. It's entertaining and sweet and the characters stick with you. The sequel Lola and the Boy Next Door is also BRILLIANT. Actually, I'm sitting here looking for it and apparently I never blogged about it! How is that possible? I loved that book!

I still think about this book sometimes and I read it months ago. What a story, what a setting. I love a little sci-fi and even if you're not a sci-fi fan I dare you not to get sucked into this.

Probably the dystopian fiction I liked best this year. I found it beautifully written, completely engrossing, and even just a pinch better than The Hunger Games. Shocking, right? If you haven't read it yet, you don't know what you're missing.

Another brilliant dystopian to keep you up late at night, frantically turning pages:

A little greek mythology, a little romance, this is another one not to be missed.

This story blew me away, plus the writing is gorgeous. Lush and poetic.

This book could almost qualify as poetry the writing is so beautiful.

Have you read anything by Lauren Oliver yet? Prepare your heart. I usually get emotionally involved in books, but Lauren Oliver takes it to a whole new level.

Some very pleasant time travelling going on here... loved it!

Meet my new favorite book:

After reading a few less than satisfying dystopians, this is the one that made me believe again.

Emotional and historical. Highly recommended.

A new story about a little-known part of WWII that will leave you a better person. So worth a read.

Enough YA? I think we can guess what my favorite genre is... :D

Best Adult Fiction/Nonfiction books read in 2011:

Common sense! Written with humor and makes so much sense.

Epic fiction. An amazing book.

Lesser known, but supremely enjoyable. Be prepared for the unfinished ending (my version just STOPS). Best way to get your closure is by watching the fabulous movie. :D

Can't believe it's taken me this long in my life to read Gone With the Wind. One of the best novels. Ever.

Learned a ton from this genius book about the heroic journey. Chock full of great mythology.

It's been a while since I read a work of LDS fiction, and this one is fat, but it was so uplifting.

This book made me laugh so hard. Brilliant.

Informative, concise, funny. And appeals to my inner nerd.

Learned a ton about the civil war from this book. I found it enriching and fast-paced. Much better than I had imagined a war book would be. All the key players and characters really come to life in this classic book.

Absolute, ruddy genius. And perfect for any of you book/word/letter lovers.

I think I'd better stop! I'll have my new reading goal up and a list of books I'm most looking forward to reading in 2012 up very soon. I intend to read less and write more in 2012, so I'll be trying to cut down my reading. But not by much. :D Happy reading in 2012 everyone!

I Capture the Castle

From the book cover:
I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"— and the heart of the reader— in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.

Here's another book that I have been meaning to read for ages. I knew I would love it. I did. It's absolutely beautiful and funny and romantic. I found in Cassandra a kindred spirit, a new favorite heroine, like Anne of Green Gables and Elizabeth Bennett. Cassandra has such an entertaining and honest view of the world. I could have read her voice for much longer than the book lasted. And what a story! Such characters! Loved her writer father - loved Stephen (I'm definitely rooting for the underdog on this one), loved them all. I was so shocked by a twist at the end that I feel a little silly for not seeing it coming, but nevertheless I'm really savoring the feeling of getting a surprise in a book I was enjoying reading so much.

Another thing that I really like about this is that Cassandra is seventeen and I won't tell you how it ends, but it ends exactly how I think a seventeen year-old's love story should end. Did you find forever, true love at seventeen? It drives me crazy when I read YA books and they immediately fall in eternal love. Teenagers are supposed to make mistakes, supposed to fall in love a few times. Anyway, I hope I haven't spoiled anything. I just really liked how real this book felt, which is amazing considering how romantic the setting is. I wish I could have grown up in a castle. Despite their poverty, Cassandra still managed to maintain a romantic view of her setting too. Ah I could go on and on about this book, I can tell. Just read it. Love it. It's awesome.

Anyone know anything about the movie? I just realized there was one and am uber-disappointed to discover that it's rated R (for one scene when Cassandra's artsy model step-mother is spotted outside 'communing with nature'). Now what was the point of ruining the movie and making it so people like me who don't watch R movies can't watch a movie based on a favorite book? A clean, delightful, YA book that really should have absolutely no inappropriate content in it? So frustrating.


Prized is the sequel to Birthmarked (which I recently read) and I was glad to continue the story. This is the benefit of waiting until sequels are out to read first books - no long draw-out suspense on cliffhangers. And thankfully, Prized ends in a much more settled place than Birthmarked. Once again, this series explores some serious questions about life and death and truth and lies. One of Gaia's major motivations is still to protect mothers and babies and she continues her work as a midwife, which I find so fascinating. And I really shouldn't say a single other thing about the plot, but I'll leave you with this: Prized is even better than Birthmarked. It is one of the absolute best dystopians out there and I heartily recommend it.


From the book cover:
BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.

Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present.

Jennifer Donnelly, author of the award-winning novel A Northern Light, artfully weaves two girls’ stories into one unforgettable account of life, loss, and enduring love. Revolution spans centuries and vividly depicts the eternal struggles of the human heart.

I've had my eye on this book for a while. I had it recommended to me by a friend and when I spotted it at a Border's going out of business sale for dirt cheap I snapped it up. I almost took it on my cruise, but ended up putting it in my to-get-for-Christmas pile. Which is why it's taken me so long to read. :D

I thought it was brilliant. I read The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly (which I thought was a little too soap-opera-y but with a fabulous setting) and liked this much better. The history and the little bit of time travel are so well-done and on top of that, there's music history! I'm not an expert on classical guitar but I enjoyed learning about it. I was so into all the discussions on classical music and music theory (there's a whole conversation about tritones!) and how it influences modern music. The main composer in the book is one Amade Malherbeau, and though he is a fictional character I learned a lot from Jennifer Donnelly's portrayal of a french composer in the 18th century. I also learned a great deal about the French Revolution along with that I was led to ponder some of the heavy moral questions that go along with that particular time period.

And all this learning that I did came in the vehicle of a highly entertaining and fast-paced story with a touch of romance. Andi's character spoke to me, and though she's not the pleasantest mind to spend time in (she suffers from depression and suicidal tendencies at times in the book) I can empathize with her and I loved the fact that music was what helped her heal and what sustained her while she was suffering. There's a lot about music therapy in this book, which was a profession I very nearly pursued. I fully intended to become a music therapist for about four years. Anyway, I really enjoyed this book and I am so glad I bought it.

Ranger's Apprentice - Last two books!

I've finally finished them! It's been quite the journey, and though at times I'll admit that I was compelled to read the books just to finish and didn't always love, love, love every book, this is a top-notch series that should be in any home library - especially if kids live in your home. I can't wait to read them to my kids and I'm sure my boys especially will love them. These are funny and clever and though not always completely original, there's something there... These books are so detailed and adventurous that you get sucked in. And there's something fun about being 10 books into a series and knowing the characters so well. You're in on all their inside jokes. You know how certain characters will react in certain situations. It's all good fun and a couple books have the smallest touch of romance, which, you know, I always love. The last book in particular I thought was well done. It seemed the perfect mix of everything I love in this series and was the ending I wanted.

The Well of Ascension

No summary, since this is a sequel, but let me just say that Brandon Sanderson continued to amaze and surprise me with his inventive mythology. I was totally engrossed in this, even though it was it was very long. It is rather epic and not a book to be read in a day. It takes some digesting. I'm looking forward to finishing off the series with Hero of Ages.