Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Summary from Goodreads:
It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.
Wow, this book shocked me in its greatness. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel because I’ve not always been a huge fan of this author’s over-the-top/flowery writing style. Thank goodness, the writing style of this was so much simpler and more direct than in the other books. This read like the actual words/feelings of a teen and not someone trying to be one.
This book took me back to high school. I saw myself in Shirin in a way I’m not used to reading in YA any more. And I’m so different from her. But, as a teen, I feel like I was just as angry as her, and equally good at keeping people away. High school was where my eyes were opened to a lot of injustices. I moved to a city from the suburbs and I had a lot to learn. I was also just shy of Shirin’s age when 9/11 happened (my first week of high school). It was a little nostalgic for me.
This book was also painful. So much of the hatred and prejudice she endured would have broken me. It would have torn me to pieces. I was expecting a lot of it. But, still, not all of it. And I guess this speaks to the fact that I’m still more privileged than I know or care to think about. Some of my closest friends in high school (at that same time period) were Muslim and they taught me a lot of things, but I know there’s still so much I’ll never know. The moment in this book that really had my jaw dropping was when Shirin was cornered in an office by the basketball coach. I literally put the book down in terror. I was terrified for her. The idea that an adult male, a leader at the school, someone the whole town respected, would talk to any student the way he did to her, had my blood boiling.
In the moments when Shirin really backed up a peg and questioned her choices and bravery, I was the most livid and angry. I wanted to go beat up that guy that her brother and dance team went after. I wanted to file a lawsuit against the basketball coach and school. I wanted to get the girl who took the photograph expelled. But, this is when Shirin worked hard to learn that not everyone is awful and that keeping the world at bay prevents the good people from getting in. This is an important lesson.  But, I also wanted more consequences for the bad behaviors of others. Why was the coach, the school, the bullies never held accountable? They all just got away with it. And this made me so angry. Though, I guess that’s believable?
I loved the romance. I loved that Ocean had a lot of learning to do too. Shirin had to learn to let people in, and Ocean had to learn that the world was not as great as he thought it was. His eyes were opened to a lot of the bad, as hers were opened to a lot of the good. I shipped them. I honestly did. I also liked that the romance brought a comfortable fun element to the story, so it wasn’t all about prejudice. I love how universal first love can be. And Mafi is so good at writing this.
I think one of the reasons this book was so readable was because of lot of the worst actions/racist moments happened in the past or was summed up in a neat package, making it a little less harsh. It was still there. And I guess in any other circumstance this telling (instead of showing) might have bothered me. But here, it made the book easier to get through. I read it in under a day.
All in all, this book wowed me. It packed an impactful punch. It opened my eyes a little bit more and had me thinking a lot about my high school days. I loved Shirin and watching her come out of her shell. I loved her family and I loved Ocean too. This was a timely, powerful story. And I hope a lot of people read this. I give it a 10/10.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Summary from Goodreads:
Spensa's world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what's left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa's dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with that of her father's—a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa the daughter of a coward, her chances of attending Flight School slim to none.

No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, yet fate works in mysterious ways. Flight school might be a long shot, but she is determined to fly. And an accidental discovery in a long-forgotten cavern might just provide her with a way to claim the stars.
I love this author. I love his YA, I love his kids books, and I love his adult books. No one, and I mean no one, can do world-building like this. I’ve never read his sci-fi before. This might actually be his first sci-fi novel…I’m not certain. I knew though that if this book read anything like his fantasy, that it was going to be filled with amazing settings, characters, and adventures. And I was right. Sanderson’s epic world-building skills is not just limited to his fantasy; it expands universes in this book and it was insane.
There was a definite Star Wars vibe to this book. The storyline with Spensa’s father’s “mistake,” the enemies fighting in space ships, the underground world, and the whole epic tale vibe just screamed that this was a story Lucas would kill to get his hands on. But, it was also more than that. The story also kind of felt like classic fantasy. It had a pinch of Tolkien, and a cup of Tamora Pierce in it. It was reminiscent of some of the best.
It was also, clearly its own unique story. I loved Spensa. She was so strong, confident, and assertive I couldn’t help but love her. I loved her passion and determination. She kind of reminded me of Meg, from A Wrinkle in Time. But, I also loved how much she was capable of learning. Her confidence takes a few nose dives (ignore the pun) and she’s willing to admit she was wrong about things and has things to learn. I loved how she changes and grows through the story. It was a great coming of age story.
I also adored the side characters. Everyone from her crew, to her teacher, to her grandmother were just amazing. I maybe have even begun shipping her with someone she may or may not ever end up with.  I loved the back-stories she learned about her people and about what makes someone a coward.  There’s this great quote, I marked down and read over and over: “It has always seemed to me that a coward is a person who cares more about what people say than about what is right. Bravery isn't about what people call you, Spensa. It's about who you know yourself to be.”
This book was filled with battles, something I don’t normally enjoy, but in this case I really did. I guess it helps if the battles are all in space, with excellent communication going on between team-mates over the air waves. I also liked the whole mystery of it all. Like, what was really going on here with the Krell? What were the cadets not being told? What really went down with Spensa’s dad?  Those questions kept me hooked. And so did the fast-paced story.
All in all, this was a great book. I highly recommend to readers who love world-building and action. I give it a 10/10.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Summary from Goodreads:
A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she's left behind. And an ending you won't be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn't had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she's been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie's entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister's killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie's journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it's too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.
This is actually my first Courtney Summers book. I have one or two of her books on my shelf, but I could never quite get to them. I guess this is because the author is known for writing intense YA, and I’m not always in the right mindset for that. That being said, there was something so compelling to me about this story, and I was craving a good thriller/suspense story.
I wasn’t expecting to be so fully engrossed in this. I’m not a podcast listener. I was thinking I’d probably be more invested in Sadie’s point of view than I was in the reporter’s. I was wrong. I was so gripped by the podcast. I almost was sad to get back to the point of view of Sadie. I think maybe because the podcast was a lot more innocent. There was just so much West McCray (podcast host) did not know, or was only beginning to unravel. Whereas Sadie’s chapters were all dark, intense, and full of all the things she could never un-know.
I like that juxtaposition of the two stories that were essentially telling the same thing. Sadie’s story was just focused on what she knew –her awful story and experiences. And I guess West’s story was about how sadly universal Sadie’s story could be. I feel like the book came out at the right time.  There’s so much going on right now in the time of #Metoo about the believability and power of women.
I also tend to be a sucker for a good revenge story. Sadie’s story was definitely that. She wanted revenge on her abuser and justice for what happened to her sister. There were definite Kill Bill/ Tarantino vibes going on here, but it also was a lot more than that. It was about a girl knowing and accepting the awful ways the world worked for her. It was about a girl who desperately needed to be heard and helped. But more than that, it was the story of a girl taking her power back the only way she had available to her.
This wasn’t an easy book to read. The abuse, rape, pedophilia, and murder made the story interesting, but also made it very dark and exceptionally sad. I cried at moments, reading this, and not even at the obvious times. I cried at the calm moments, when it all sank in for me. And at other times, my heart was pounding and I was biting my nails in horror of what might happen. This was a hard book to put down. I just had to know how it would all resolve.
I liked that Sadie did meet some good people along the way. Not everyone is terrible. And I like that some of the story did get resolution. There were some consequences for terrible acts that transpired. I was undecided on how much I liked the very end. At first I was mad that it cut off where it did. I wanted more. But, the more I think about it, and the more I look back on everything this story represents, the more I think it was exactly right. I can see this book bringing forth very important conversations. I can see people hating the ending or loving it. But all in all, I think this book is unbelievable in all that it accomplishes and I hope more people read it. I hope that things can change and more girls like Sadie can be heard. I give it a 10/10.

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Good Week in Books (196)

Happy New Year!
I’ve had a slow start to reading this year, but I know it will all pick up soon. It always does. I ended the year with an unbelievably good YA thriller. I’ve read one amazing sci-fi novel and one amazing contemporary too. I’m kind of 3 for 3 here, already. And I I’m almost sad that I read these books after my Best Books of 2018 list…but oh well.
I bought a few books this month. Two (my favorite two of 2018) I was planning on re-reading before the sequels came out. That did not happen….I might still re-read them any way so my mind is ready for their respective book twos. But, I also might just dig into the new ones instead.
The new books:

Truly Devious
by Maureen Johnson
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
The Wicked King by Holly Black
How has your week/ new year stared off with books?

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Best Books of 2018

What a crazy, amazing book year it has been. A lot of great YA books came out this past year. I’m going to recap my year for a little bit. For the first time in 4 years, I set my reading goal on Goodreads to 100 books, and I’m already one past my goal! I read a lot this year (101 books and still going strong). I took a mini vacation from blogging last Spring, and then came back with some mini reviews. I became a little less stressed about my blogging/reviewing schedule and because of this I actually read more books…imagine that. I am also up to my 1209th blog post! I have written over 1200 blog posts. That is insane.
I also just got engaged this past week! I’ve been dating Nick for 4 years, and it kind of already feels like we are married because we have been living together for the past year and a half, in a house filled to the brim with books. We are both librarians. My stocking this year was filled with Harry Potter sweets, and I honestly cannot believe how happy this makes me. In general, I’m just extraordinarily happy at the end of 2018. And I hope everyone reading this is happy too!
On to the books!
My rules for this list are how they have always been:
1) Each book listed has come out this past year.
2) Each book is YA or Middle Grade
3) I have read the book in 2018
I am going to start at the top with number 1, and make my way down to my number 10 book of the year. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! May 2019 bring just as many, if not more wonderful books into the world.

1) Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson (Rating: 10/10)

This book is weirdly one of the few books I did not review (while on my blog vacation). But, it stuck with me. It was such a good mystery. It was a kind of homage to Agatha Christie and the older mystery writers. I knew right away that Nick would enjoy it and pushed the book on him. And not only did he also read it and love it, but he has since read it 3 times! He’s read it more than me, and I have a feeling we will have a race to finish book 2 when it comes out soon.  This book has everything: amazing characters, super interesting setting, intriguing murder mystery, a school of brilliant thinkers, a little romance, and plenty of suspense. The over-arcing mystery of it has me jumping in anticipation of the next one. This book is way under-hyped.

2) The Cruel Prince by Holly Black  (Review / Rating: 9/10)

This book was so good! As I said in my review, “It was dark, twisty, violent, and surprising. I loved the characters (most of them any way). And I loved the messed up world this all takes place in. I cannot wait to see what happens next.” This was a book for the fantasy fans who love world-building. The world was epic, and so so very dark.

3) Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Review / Rating: 10/10)

This book deserves all the attention and hype it has received. And honestly, my top 3 books of 2018 were a bit of a toss-up. I loved all 3 equally. As I said in my review, “I can feel the books that inspired this masterpiece. I felt elements of Potter, some essence of Throne of Glass, and bits and pieces of The Hunger Games. Though, it was 100% it's own story. A story that kept me up late at night. It was super hard to put down. It's filled with plenty of twists and turns. And some of them I did not see coming!” And also, “Also, the book just feels so important. So relevant to today. I know the whole “we need diverse books” thing has been going on for a while. But, I didn’t know how badly I needed such a diverse fantasy novel until this. Seriously, there are no other fantasy books like this. And now that I’ve had a taste, I want more! Diversity should be in more than just contemporary stories. And this book proves it over and over in how amazing it is.”

4) Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (Rating: 10/10)

This is another one missing a review! Just know that it was amazing. What a crazy, amazing year it’s been for YA fantasy books! This book felt very much like the old-school Tamora Pierce books. Though, I guess it helps that it’s a prequel series to her old school series: The Immortals. I had no idea how much I needed to re-visit Tortall, until this came out. It was a mixture of magic learning, power plays, feminism, politics, love, and world-building. I love getting to see behind-the-scenes reasons for why characters are the way they are, and this book is all about that. This is a great one for classic fantasy fans, fans of the author, and fans of exceptionally written YA books.

5) Pride by Ibi Zoboi (Review / Rating: 10/10)

As I said in my review, “I loved the fresh, modern perspective on love, class, and gentrification. This wasn’t just a fluffy romance retelling. This was also an honest, snarky, commentary on society and all of its latest changes. I felt like that makes this book stand out in a truly authentic Austen style. I loved Zuri almost as immediately as I loved Elizabeth Bennet. They are both girls that could so easily have been held back by what society expects of them, but instead flourish intelligently, poetically, and artfully.”  I read a lot of Austen/Pride and Prejudice retellings, and they all focus on the romance. It was nice having one that also focused on society and snark. The diverse cast and modern urban setting helped too. The poetry was beautiful. And of course I liked the romance too.

6) Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine (Review / Rating: 10/10)

In my mini review for this, I said, “In trying to explain it to friends, I called it the love child of Illuminae, Mistborn, and the tv show, Firefly. I can’t wait for more folks to read it.” This is some amazing sci-fi, a genre I’ve only recently really grown to appreciate. I remember thinking I’d never really read anything like this book before, and what better compliment is there? Talking about it now, makes me want to re-read it. Maybe I will before its sequel comes out.

7) The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (Rating: 10/10)

No review again. Yikes. I need to get better at not going MIA from blogging. However, I did say this on Goodreads: “I adored this book! It’s a fairytale, mixed with cross dressing, mixed with Project Runway. The art and the dresses are just beautiful. The concept behind it all: also beautiful. More please!”  The book deals with some serious topics, but handles it all in a light, fun-hearted way. I’m pretty sure this was a one-sitting read. The art was just beautiful.

8) Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne (Review / Rating: 9/10)

As mentioned in my review, “All in all, this was a lot of fun. You don’t need to have read Jane Eyre to enjoy this one, though I do think you’d love it so much more if you have read the original. It was kind of a lighter, sci-fi version of the classic. It has a super fast pace. The world in space was pretty amazing. The characters were familiar. And there were some added bonuses to the story that I felt improved things overall.” Somehow this author managed to make Jane Eyre is space work. 2018 was also apparently a good year for retellings.

9) Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegmund-Broka (Review / Rating: 10/10)

This is one of the best, underrated books of the year. It’s YA contemporary at its finest. I believe I compared this to Stephanie Perkins, Jenny Han, and Becky Albertalli in my review. It’s fluffy, romantic, and full of amazing theater drama. I loved all the theater and literature references. I also loved having such a confidant, flirty main character. I feel like YA is filled with a lot of introverted Bella Swan types, but it’s nice to get a Carrie (from Sex and the City) type character front and center too. And I loved the friendship turned romance in this too. I could see this turning into a charming Netflix movie. Aka; I’m crossing my fingers that this gets picked up.

10) Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (Review / Rating: 10/10)

I loved this book. I think a lot of people gave up on it because of its slow pacing. But, the writing, the world-building, and the self discovery in this unique fantasy were just all so incredible to me. Most YA books involve a little growing up and or coming of age. This one takes that trope and re-creates it. The friendship, the side quests, and the surprise of the main character’s past for me were all just so interesting. I love stories where women dress as men to get by in a patriarchal society, and this story takes that to a whole new level. This was a beautiful book.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Upside Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

Summary from Goodreads:
From New York Times bestselling authors Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins comes the hilarious and heartfelt story of a group of magical misfits.

Nory Horace is nine years old. She's resourceful, she's brave, she likes peanut butter cookies. Also, she's able to transform into many different animals. Unfortunately, Nory's shape-shifting talent is a bit wonky. And when she flunks out of her own father's magic academy, Nory's forced to enter public school, where she meets a group of kids whose magic is, well, different.

This new, offbeat series from hit authors Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins chronicles the misadventures of Nory and her oddball friends, who prove that upside-down magic definitely beats right side up.
I picked this book up at a book swap of sorts on a vacation I took to upstate New York with my friends from library school. Though, I’m not going to lie; a big appeal for me was the main character’s name: Nory. It’s spelled wrong, but still. It’s not every day that I read from the point of view of another Nory.
This book was cute. It’s definitely a middle grade book that I know I would have loved a lot more if I were a kid. I can see a lot of kids loving this book. The writing style was not my favorite. It felt a little too easy, like maybe the authors were trying too hard to sound young.  I liked Nory a lot, and it was easy to relate to her. I think every kid at some point wishes they were normal.
On the other hand, I was also a little annoyed with her because she had such power and magic, and I was mad jealous. Instead of focusing on not being normal, she should have been focusing on how awesome she was. I like that her new school and teacher were helping her come to terms with her awesomeness. But, I still kept wanting to shake some sense into her. I was also not a huge fan of her friend, Elliot. He put way too much faith and attention in the wrong people. And he should have forgiven Nory way sooner.
I loved Nory’s aunt and her love of pizza. I loved the magic system to this world. And I loved getting to know all the characters in Nory’s new classroom.
I wanted more story though. I kept waiting for something bigger to happen. And while the almost-catastrophe at the end of the story was a pretty big deal, I wanted something more. The whole book kind of felt like the opening to a bigger book that I didn’t get yet. Not a lot happened in it, besides some bullying and some learning to love yourself moments. I’m not sure I’ll continue with the series. I know I’d have read them all as a kid. I give this a 7/10.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

Summary from Goodreads:
Dark secrets and forbidden love threaten the very survival of the Shadowhunters in Cassandra Clare’s Queen of Air and Darkness, the final novel in the #1 New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling The Dark Artifices trilogy.

What if damnation is the price of true love?

Innocent blood has been spilled on the steps of the Council Hall, the sacred stronghold of the Shadowhunters. In the wake of the tragic death of Livia Blackthorn, the Clave teeters on the brink of civil war. One fragment of the Blackthorn family flees to Los Angeles, seeking to discover the source of the blight that is destroying the race of warlocks.

Meanwhile, Julian and Emma take desperate measures to put their forbidden love aside and undertake a perilous mission to Faerie to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead. What they find in the Courts is a secret that may tear the Shadow World asunder and open a dark path into a future they could never have imagined. Caught in a race against time, Emma and Julian must save the world of Shadowhunters before the deadly power of the parabatai curse destroys them and everyone they love.
I am a huge Cassandra Clare fan. I have read every one of her books. They are my catnip. Seriously, amazing characters + magical world setting + all the supernatural creatures my heart can come up with + super dramatic teen romance + crazy addictive, high action suspense, and well you get YA at it’s best. And I have to say that I do think her writing has come a long way since City of Bones (her first book). That all being said, this was not my favorite book by her.
It took me longer to read this book than any other book she has written –almost 2 weeks! It is another giant, reaching almost 900 pages. Maybe that mixed with my busy holiday time schedule, mixed with the epic sadness of the beginning of this book, all added to my lengthy reading time. Yet, I was counting down the days for this book. I was anticipating this one more than any other book this year. I didn’t pre-order it because I knew it would come out while I was away in Chicago. I bought this monster on vacation the day it came out and carried it on a plane…this book is massive and takes up a lot of carry on space the otherwise would have been filled with Garret’s popcorn.
Do not read the rest of my review if you don’t want minor spoilers!!
Reading the beginning of the book was like being punched to the heart, repeatedly…on slow motion. An important character died at the end of the last book, and this wasn’t just a well-loved character, this was a well-loved child character. And you go into these books, with the YA/Supernatural (tv show)/Buffy-type mindset of never really knowing if the character is truly dead forever, kind of hoping they aren’t. And then it’s like Sirius Black all over again when you realize your dreams aren’t coming true.
And of course Clare excels at writing characters, so it’s not a gloss-over kind of death. But, instead it’s the realistic, long lasting, slow motion repeated punch to your heart experienced in the eyes of all the other loved characters kind of death.
Then there were some classic, eye-roll inducing, overdone YA tropes I don’t like mucking up an otherwise awesome addition to the story. The whole spell Julian took to remove his love was just plain stupid and I can’t believe Magnus did that. All the elements of Fairy have been done before, and I was hoping for something new there. And the first half of the book just felt so repetitive. Repetitive grief, repetitive guilt, repetitive forbidden love….And I guess I needed more action, suspense, and humor.
Thankfully, those things finally came in the second half. But, I seriously think a whole chunk of the first half could have been removed and this would have solved a lot of my problems. The action, suspense, and humor also came with dystopia alternate worlds, revenge stories, children playing with necromancy, insane spells, added trips to the shadow market, rescuing Clary and Jace, a civil war, prison uprisings, political corruption, and more. Finally, it got to the point where I couldn’t put this book down. It just took a lot of grief-ridden, overly repetitive nonsense to get there.
Also, a lot of questions were answered in this installment. I finally understood some things about parabatai that I didn’t before.  There were tons of references to past series, past characters, past hardships. And I liked how things ended and connected. Stuff is definitely not over with Ty and Kit. I feel like I know where her next series will go (already), and I’m glad to maybe step away from Julian and Emma and Clary and Jace. Though, I had fun for their stories here. I like that Clare has gotten a lot more diverse with her characters. There’s plenty of LGBT representation. It’s the first time I’ve read about a transgender character in a YA fantasy. It’s also the first time I’ve read about a relationship between two men and one woman…And the romance throughout it all is sizzling.
It’s also the closest Clare has gotten to an allegory of current political situations. So much of the evil cohort could be connected to current day bigots in the Trump administration. I’m shocked that no one has commented on this yet. And I also hope that people can be as promising as shadowhunters/downworlders in the face of adversity and change.  Or maybe more promising would be nice too.
I loved the ending. I’m not quite sure why the book is named for a character that didn’t seem all too important…I kept waiting for her story to take more of a center stage, but weirdly she was the least developed character in there. I liked getting the bonus Clary story at the end. And I loved how stuff resolved with Julian and Emma. I’m glad Emma didn’t make the giant mistake I really though that she would. All in all, I give this one an 8/10. It would have been a 10/10 if the repetition and bad tropes to the storyline weren’t there.