Wednesday, November 7, 2018

When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen

Summary from Goodreads:
It’s 1871 and Emmeline Carter is poised to take Chicago’s high society by storm. Between her father’s sudden rise to wealth, and her recent engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor, Emmeline has it all. But she can’t stop thinking about the life she left behind, including her childhood sweetheart, Anders Magnuson. Fiona Byrne, Emmeline’s childhood best friend, is delighted by her friend’s sudden rise to prominence, especially since it means Fiona is free to pursue Anders herself. But when Emmeline risks everything for one final fling with Anders, Fiona feels completely betrayed.

As the summer turns to fall, the city is at a tipping point: friendships are tested, hearts are broken, and the tiniest spark might set everything ablaze. Sweeping, soapy, and romantic, this is a story about an epic love triangle—one that will literally set the city ablaze, and change the lives of three childhood friends forever.
I believe I first read The Luxe by this author in 2007, 11 years ago! That was around the time YA books were starting to become the amazing genre that they are now. It was the first time I had read a soap opera –esque historical fiction novel, and I was hooked. I knew, even at the time, that it was not great literature, but it was fun and dramatic and what I wanted at the time.
I didn’t love the Luxe series, but I enjoyed them. Sometimes I want a predictable, dramatic romance. And I always knew what to expect. I never read the other series by this author, but this book jumped to my attention because it’s about Chicago and the Great Chicago Fire. There’s tons of historical fiction and current fiction, set in NY, but no so much in Chicago. And this is a period of history I’ve always been fascinated by.
I went into this thinking it would probably be another dramatic historical romance set in a place I’m super interested in. I was partially right. I did love the background and the setting of this novel. I loved all the Chicago streets and neighborhoods mentioned. Everything else though just felt so blasĂ©. I’ve read this story a million times. I’ve read this love triangle a million times. And I guess, I’ve come to expect more in YA now. Like, if you’re doing a story that’s been done before (many times), change something up a bit, at least a little.
The characters were all so two-dimensional. Privileged Emmeline never learns from her mistakes. I almost liked her. I thought for sure she would have learned a lesson about wealth and privilege following the aftermath of the fire, but no….She just seems to always amount more wealth, attention, and love no matter what terrible things she does. Fiona felt too good. She put up with way too much, and her reactions felt almost fake to me. No one is that good. Anders was boring. He literally had no personality, besides that he was good at boxing. I didn’t love how he could easily go from one girl to another, either. I don’t even remember the name of the fiancĂ©, who was also terrible.
Maybe I’m getting more accustomed to diverse YA, but so much of these characters problems seemed like first world problems. I never truly felt bad for any of them…And Godbersen does excel at the whole “upstairs/downstairs” writing thing. She does write the points of view of the servants and compares them to the wealthy. But, the servants at times seemed almost worse. They were petty and scheming more than the wealthy were. I never liked any of them either.
All in all, this was not the book for me. I’m a character reader, who desperately wanted to like any of the characters but failed to do so. The plot has been done before and there was nothing new added to it this go-around. The location, the time period, and the fire made this readable enough for me to finish. But, if there’s more to come in the series, I do not plan on reading more. I give this one a 4/10.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

Summary from Goodreads:
In this highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Felicity Montague must use all her womanly wits and wiles to achieve her dreams of becoming a doctor—even if she has to scheme her way across Europe to do it. A must-have for fans of Mackenzi Lee’s extraordinary and Stonewall Honor-winning novel.

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to like this one. At first, I was incredibly excited for its release because I absolutely adored The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. And I was glad to hear that Felicity would get her own story. But, then I read some not-so-great reviews for its pacing and lack of romance. I tend to love a good romance and a fast-paced story, so I became a bit hesitant.
I also learned that I didn’t love Felicity as much I as thought I would. In the first book, she was the logical, intelligent voice of reason. In this book, she’s judgmental, critical, and kind of off-putting. That being said, those kinds of characters tend to seriously intrigue me, and often end up my favorite if not the most memorable. So, I kept going.
I also loved getting to see my favorite characters from the book before. They brought in an appropriate amount of love, humor, and charm. And as soon as Monty and Percy are out of the plot, there was a noticeable drop in the charm and I couldn’t help but want to like Felicity more than I did. It was almost unfair to compare her to her charismatic brother. But, I couldn’t help but do this once Monty came and went.
However, I soon came to love Felicity. I love that she wasn’t ignorant of her flaws. She learns to see how judgmental and off-putting she is. And she works to fix this. I also love how deeply she loves medicine. I had major respect for how hard she worked to get what she wanted. And I definitely loved that she respected this characteristic in others also. I loved that this book sort of became a friendship story. I loved watching Felicity make amends with an old friend. I loved the mystery, the science, and the adventure to the plot. I found the writing and the pacing to actually work fine.  I read the second half of the book in close to one sitting. It was hard for me to put down.
Though, there was one thing that bothered me. The first book was historical fiction. And then 75% of this book was also historical fiction…. However; then, the author throws sea monsters into the story…sea dragons with magical, healing scales….Um? I love historical fantasy stories. I do. But, this just felt so strange to me. Like if this was meant to be fantasy, couldn’t it have been alluded to in book 1? I kept being pulled out of the story and going, “Are there really sea dragons? And could she be referring to a real animal with a fantastical name?” It was confusing and unprecedented in a frustrating way. Then, I was questioning everything that transpired in book 1 and thinking, “What else was fantasy?” and I guess it altered my perception of everything in negative fashion.
I’m glad I read this book despite my earlier trepidation. I fell in love with the story. I really came to love Felicity (almost as much as Monty). I loved seeing old characters come back. I also enjoyed meeting the new characters. There was a definite feminist vibe to it all. Honestly, I’d rate this book much higher, if not for the weird genre shift 75% through…it was just so off-putting. There couldn’t be something else related to medicine, drugs, and pirates that wasn’t so fantastical? I give this an 8/10.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Someday by David Levithan

Summary from Goodreads:
Every day a new body. Every day a new life. Every day a new choice.

For as long as A can remember, life has meant waking up in a different person's body every day, forced to live as that person until the day ended. A always thought there wasn't anyone else who had a life like this.

But A was wrong. There are others.

A has already been wrestling with powerful feelings of love and loneliness. Now comes an understanding of the extremes that love and loneliness can lead to—and what it's like to discover that you are not alone in the world.

In Someday, David Levithan takes readers further into the lives of A, Rhiannon, Nathan, and the person they may think they know as Reverend Poole, exploring more deeply the questions at the core of Every Day and Another Day: What is a soul? And what makes us human?
This is another book that I read at just the right moment. I don’t know why I go into Levithan’s books with such trepidation. Maybe I’m afraid that his next one cannot possibly as good as his previous one. And I kind of liked the tragic ending to Every Day. I had so many questions left unanswered, but I was also kind of afraid how Levithan would answer the questions in this last installment. Maybe some things need to be open and unclear.
I’m not going to lie; this past week has been hard for me. It’s been a week of hatred and tragedy. Between explosives being sent to Democrat leaders, a racist man shooting black people in the south, and then a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, I’ve been feeling really depressed, and honestly frightened. I almost read a fantasy book I’d been anticipating this week, but for some reason, this book called to me instead. And I’m so, so glad it did.
I needed the character, A, this week. I needed to read about someone so genuinely kind and loving. I needed to read about the equality march the characters attended in this novel. I needed to read about how A felt so powerful and at peace around everyone at the equality march. I needed to read about A telling X (another bodiless soul) what was morally acceptable. I needed to feel what A felt looking at art in an art museum and connecting the most to the abstract.  I needed A’s goodness. I needed a book that could be one giant hug of acceptance for all people, no matter their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or beliefs. Thank you for this book, David Levithan. It came at just the right moment for me.
I didn’t love this book immediately like I have with books by this author in the past. I kept asking myself the question: does this book need to exist? Is it helping the story or is it just irrelevant thoughts on a remarkable concept that was already done? At first, it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. And I was confused about all the chapters in the points of view of other souls like A. Why was this important? Did A really need to reunite with Rhiannon? And why was I going into the point of view of such an awful soul (X)?
To be clear, I never felt like I was not going to finish the book. It just didn’t feel as strong or as incredible as the other books in the series until the half way mark. When some questions were finally answered, and one character was being targeted and bullied to get the attention of A, I could not put this book down. I had to know what X wanted. I had to know so many things.
Also, I loved Rhiannon in this book. That girl has come such a long way since book 1. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not just Rhiannon and the world learning from the goodness of A, but A and the world are learning a thing or two from Rhiannon.  There’s a certain passage I read from her over and over, and I wasn’t expecting the wisest words to come from her, but they do. “…The whole point of love isn’t to have fun times without any hard times, to have someone who is fine with who you are and doesn’t challenge you to be even better than that. The whole point of love isn’t to be the other’s person’s solution or answer or cure. The whole point of love is to help them find what they need, in any way you can…(382)”
I loved these words. I loved her relationship with A in this novel. I loved some of the last pages of this book so much, I clutched the novel to my chest in a tight hug. The other points of view that I found interesting (but maybe not so relevant) became relevant at the end. And I loved them so much. I loved what A came to learn from everything. And I loved what Rhiannon came to love from everything too. At it’s core, Every Day was a love story. Another Day was a coming of age story. And Someday is a story of acceptance. I have loved each book differently. The concept behind it all is so utterly unique and eye-opening. And each story has been able to capture something a little different for me. I give this a 10/10. I highly recommend these books to everyone. They are such teachers of empathy and love.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Summary from Goodreads:
When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen's house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm--and what's worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing.

Mysteriously, Ivy's drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks--and hopes--that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings?
Sometimes it feels like I read the perfect book for the perfect moment. This happened to me twice this week. I have a very large pile of books on my nightstand right now (at least 10 library books because all of the books I’ve been waiting for all came out around the same time). Most of them are YA, yet for some reason this middle grade book spoke to me. And it’s a book about a family surviving the aftermath of a terrible tornado. And weirdly, there have been 2 tornadoes where I live this week, a place that has rarely if ever seen tornadoes before.
And also this week, I talked with a family at my library who told me they were currently staying with family on Cape Cod because they had to evacuate their home in Florida (due to the last hurricane). And I guess weather and survival have just weirdly been on my mind more than normal. And after reading this book, my heart breaks even further for the family I spoke to, who don’t have the privilege of thinking about surviving bad weather when they come across a particularly good middle grade novel. They probably think about it every day.
And I guess, long story short: this book makes me so grateful for what I do have. I guess I’ve thought about the short term affects something like this could have, but I never thought long term and I guess this opened my eyes a little bit. I can see this opening the eyes for a lot of young people who, like me, have not had to think about this before. It also opened my eyes to kindness because the community is so good and caring in this novel. And sometimes I really need to be reminded of how good people can be too.
I also loved the art elements to this story. I love the references to poetry. I love the story of friendship and how it’s not always easy to speak your truths to your friends. My heart ached for Ivy after she opened up to how she felt to her crush. So much happens to Ivy in such a short period of time, and I love that she grows and learns from all of it. I also like that she read like a real 12-year old. She ran away from conflict when a normal 12-year old would. She responded to family mistakes and misunderstandings how a real 12-year old would too. She just felt so unbelievably authentic.
All in all, I ended up enjoying this one a lot more than I thought I would. It came highly recommended by a fellow Youth Services Librarian. I’m not sure I would have loved it as much if I read it a few weeks earlier. It was really the right book at the right moment for me. I give it a 9/10.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

Summary from Goodreads:
Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old.

She believed she knew every horror and was beyond surprise.

She was wrong.

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the Muse of Nightmares, has not yet discovered what she's capable of.

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel's near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this astonishing and heart-stopping sequel to the New York Times bestseller, Strange the Dreamer.
I am a big fan of this author. I love her writing style. I love her characters. And I super love her insane imagination. Laini Taylor is another person I imagine to be incredibly interesting. How does one come up with this stuff? How? Her world building is so impressive, I sometimes have dreams that take place in her fictional worlds.
That being said, this is probably my least favorite book by her so far. I still enjoyed it and it and rated it high because let’s face it, Laini Taylor not at her best, still knocks almost all other YA fantasy writers out of the hemisphere. Her character development and imagination were still epic. I also super appreciated getting a series to conclude in 2 volumes instead of 3.
So what’s my deal? Well, it was way to easy to put down. And it was way too long. I usually don’t mind long books, but this one just felt too much. So much is drawn out and takes place around this one pivotal moment, but it takes half the book to get there. In other words, half of the book (the first half) felt way too drawn out and over-explained. I definitely enjoyed the second half of the book better.
However, when I finally go to the good stuff in the second half, everything almost happened too fast. It felt like a year to get to this one big moment, earlier. And then an enormous amount of action transpires throughout the rest at rapid speed.  The pacing was off.
It took me two weeks to read this monster! Normally, I DNF books that take that long. I kept going because I wanted answers. And I knew this was the conclusion and that I’d get some. Thankfully, I got all the answers by the end, and it was worth the long read. Let me re-phrase my earlier statement: It took me 2 weeks to get through the first half of the book, and one sitting to read the rest. I also grew to hate certain points of view (like the human friend/old enemies of Lazlo –I ended up mostly skimming those chapters.
Taylor does masterfully connect all the dots at the end. Literally all of the dots that I didn’t even knew could be connected were all explained out in a good way. And I found myself going, “Ohhhhh!” I loved the rescue missions. I loved the arguments. I loved the bickering. I loved the romance. I loved the interwoven stories and histories of this crazy, crazy world. I just wish the editor would have cut out maybe a quarter of the beginning…All in all, I still rate this high and give it an 8/10.

Monday, October 22, 2018

A Good Week in Books (193)

I had a light book week. I celebrated a birthday. I had some major, annual programs at work. And I discovered the tv show Superstore. So…I didn’t read a lot. I finished one book (in 2 weeks!). I purchased 2 books (1 for a signing at work and 1 because I wanted it). Hopefully, I’ll get more accomplished in the upcoming weeks. I need to because I have a million library books out right now.
The new books:

What if it’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel (signed)
How was your week in books?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate KiCamillo

Summary from Goodreads:
From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are — and deciding who you want to be.

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.
Reading a book by Kate DiCamillo is like returning to childhood for a few hours. She writes children with such finesse and ease. Her characters think like children. And I know all children in books should think like children. But, usually they don’t. Usually, that pesky thing called adulthood ruins the juvenile lenses at least a little bit. How does this author continue to write the child’s perspective without any adulthood fog smearing it all up?
Also, I love Louisiana Elefante. I loved her in Raymie Nightingale, and I love her even more now. I think part of the appeal of this book for me, at least initially, was the idea of learning what was really true for Louisiana. Her character had so many amazing stories and spoke them so genuinely. And as a reader, I had to know if she believed in her stories or if she was intentionally making them up. I had to know. There I was letting my foggy adulthood fog up my childish lenses. I should have known that Louisiana believed everything she said.
I liked learning Louisiana’s story as she learned it. Learning her history as she read a letter to herself made everything feel so much more authentic. That letter also brought on the waterworks. I knew what was coming from it before Louisiana did, and again, my older person wisdom kicked in…allowing me to fully grasp what this author excels in –writing from the perspective of a child. Seriously, no one does this better.
I loved the new characters. There was a mixed bag of good people and not-so-good people. I loved what the good people say to help Louisiana find her way. I love that she found friends amidst her sadness. The neighborhood of the motel felt almost like a character also. The setting was so spot-on that it truly felt like I was hanging out in Georgia for a while.
I love how much Louisiana grows up. So much happens to her in a short period of time, yet she is so hopeful, so forgiving, and so endearing. She never loses her magical charisma, not ever. My favorite passage is this, “And so it came to pass that I found myself sitting at the end of a long driveway in front of a pink house that smelled like cake, thinking about forgiveness and who I wanted to be in this world” (200).
I both loved and hated how everything wraps up so perfectly. It was the only not-so believable element of the story for me. On the other hand, it gives the book a sort of fairytale feel. And I want everyone to have a happy ending so badly, particularly Louisiana. I give this a 9/10.