Thursday, February 23, 2017

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo and read by Jenna Lamia

Summary (from Goodreads):
Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie's picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.
This book was rather remarkable. Seriously, I don’t know how Kate DiCamillo does it. Her writing is gold. Her ability to get into the mindset of a young girl is just insane. There’s things she just knows. And there’s this overall sense of naïveté in the main character, Raymie. Like, how could winning a beauty pageant bring home a cheating father? Yet, at the same time, she’s so wise. She knows what to say at nurses at the hospital to get the appropriate reaction.
This book was powerful stuff. It dealt with some seriously dark concepts: cheating husbands, no-good fathers, death, the meaning of life, sorrow, grief, and pain. But, like how Raymie has this coating of naiveté, the story has this overlay of optimism, baton twirling, cat rescuing, and tuna feasting. This is the making of one extraordinary middle grade book.
And no one, absolutely no one can write a middle grade character like DiCamillo. Raymie was me as a kid –afraid to walk on the wrong colored tiles in fear of bad luck. She hears important words and statements and repeats them, and tries to suck them up like a sponge, but isn’t quite at the understanding level to do so. She helps her elderly neighbor by clipping her toenails. She believes in ghosts and sees the magic in a container of candy corn. Yet, when her more realist friend, Beverly, says things like there are no such things as ghosts or extremely friendly animal shelters, Raymie understands that she’s probably wrong.
Opposite the realist, is the dramatic Louisiana, whose first words in the book revolve around betraying someone named Archie. Later you learn that Archie is a cat. But still, this girl is a dramatic ray of sunshine. And the three girls together just make weird, believable kind of balance.
This is not a plot-driven story. It’s 100% for the character lovers. It’s a character driven story, filled with dark humor, sadness, and love. This previous year just killed it with the middle grade books. And if I had read this one a little earlier, it would have been another middle grade to add to my Best of 2016 books. I give it a 10/10. I highly recommend it to people who like friendship stories and character-driven stories.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday (223)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that allows bloggers to share which books we are most anticipating.
This week I am waiting on The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman (10/19/2017):
Description on Goodreads:
Philip Pullman returns to the world of His Dark Materials with this magnificent new novel, set ten years before Northern Lights and featuring his much-loved character, Lyra Belacqua.
Why I’m Waiting:
I would not be the reader, writer, or blogger I am today if not for Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I even dressed as the book The Amber Spyglass one year for Halloween. I could not contain my excitement when more information was released on his new books in the series last week. I’m both excited beyond what a normal person can feel excited for, and a little hesitant. I loved the sad ending of the The Amber Spyglass. It’s hard to picture anything after that ending. I know The Book of Dust will be more of a prequel, but Pullman has said that he will continue to write after the events of The Amber Spyglass.  And The Book of Dust is only book 1! There will be two more! Ahhh.
What are you waiting on this week?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Valiant by Lesley Livingston

Summary (from Goodreads):
Lost to history, the story of the female gladiator has never been told. Until now.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king and the younger sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha. When Fallon was just a child, Sorcha was killed while defending their home from the armies of Julius Caesar.

On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister's footsteps and earn her place in her father's war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured by ruthless brigands who sell her to an elite training school for female gladiators owned by none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon s family might be her only hope of survival.
Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, deadly fights in and out of the arena, and perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier and her sworn enemy.

A richly imagined fantasy for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Cinda Williams Chima, "The Valiant" recounts Fallon s gripping journey from fierce Celtic princess to legendary gladiator and darling of the Roman empire."
I loved this. The world needs more books where girls can kick this much butt. I wasn’t expecting to get quite as sucked into this as I did. I’m not usually the biggest historical fiction fan. But, I could not put this story down.
The setting and the background were just phenomenal. I loved getting such insight into ancient Rome. I wasn’t expecting so much of the book to be Fallon’s journey to Rome, but it was. And I found that journey just as interesting and riveting as her time spent training with the toughest girls around.  The author could have easily done a lot of info dumping, but she didn’t. And I appreciated being able to see the gladiator tournaments in my own mind’s eye.
I’ve never read a YA book to take place in this time period. I loved the idea of a female gladiator. And I loved learning that they weren’t entirely fictional –the author mentions a recent discovery about real life female gladiators. This made the story for me seem so much more possible. I could see women training to do what these characters did. I can see slaves being bought for this. I can see so much of this culture and this time period. And Livingston did a nice job writing all this.
I particularly loved the training part of the book. I loved witnessing the friendships formed, the fights fought, and rivalries grown. I also loved getting to meat Cleopatra. I loved the Roman names (I recognized a lot from my Rick Riordan reading). I loved the pacing of the book. Things happen quickly. And there’s just enough time left for secret romance and the random sneaking out for a party.
The romance wasn’t my favorite. I just never felt like Fallon and Cai had much of a chance to fall so hard for each other yet. I mean they had one kiss and Cai was willing to risk everything for her…I do like that Fallon is not willing to give up any of her life style for any man (first love, second love, or other). Maybe Cai’s character will be developed more later.
Also, the only other thing I have to say is that the book was very predictable. There were two major plot twists that I called early on. The first one didn’t bother me too much because the author timed it and clearly planned it very well. The second one kind of irritated me. But, we’ll see where it goes. All in all, the setting was awesome, the characters and friendships were great, and the plot was fast paced though predictable. I give it a 9/10.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Good Week in Books (154)

I had a nice book week. I finished reading an ARC and an audio book. I received two new ARCs for review (Thank you, Penguin Random House!) And I received 4 new finished books for review (Thank you, Macmillan!)
The pretties:
The One Memory of Flora Banks
by Emily Barr
Words in Deep Blue
by Cath Crowley
After the Woods by Kim Savage
The Last Place on Earth by Carol Snow
Time Museum by Matthew Loux
Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage
How was your week in books?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Summary from Goodreads:
In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls (“If you’re meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you’ve already set the bar too high”), and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper (“My bungee cords now earn points!”).

Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can.
So, this is not a YA book. Not even close. But like, YA, Gilmore Girls has played such an important role in my escapism as a teen and then an adult.
Gilmore Girls helps me get through the good and the bad. It's one of the few shows out there that I never seem to get enough of. I've re-watched every episode at least once every year since it's been on. I own every episode on DVD. The best gift I could have ever hoped for was A Year in the Life. It was like someone asked me what I wanted most in regards to entertainment, and they listened. I never thought I'd get even more of a gift than that. This book was that gift. I have so much love for this actress. It turns out she's a lot like the character she plays: hilarious, witty, intelligent, feminist, and amazing. I wish I knew her in real life, but this makes me feel just a little bit closer.

My wonderful boyfriend, who is now on season 4 of the show with me, gave me this book for Christmas. But, I “patiently” waited until my library could get a hold of the audio book because Graham reads it herself. I highly recommend listening to this one if you can. Though, she does refer to a lot of photographs in the book, and it was nice to have that hard copy/Christmas present as well.
I liked that I started this book, loving this actress. And I finished this book, loving her even more. I learned so much about her. I had no idea she ever lived in Chicago (my home town), and worked in one my all time favorite breakfast places: Anne Sather, selling cinnamon rolls. And in the book world, she works closely with a fave YA author of mine: Jennifer E. Smith.
I connected with her stories about curly hair, not knowing fashion yet loving Project Runway, and her passion for all the cast of Gilmore Girls. Listening to her talk about the show and then about A Year in the Life, was jus perfect. I didn’t want to get out of my car. I could have listened to her talk about it for five more discs.
If you are a Gilmore fan, you must read this. It made me smile. It made me tear up. And most of all, it just gave a tiny bit more closure. So much love. I give this a 10/10.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday (222)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that allows bloggers to share which books we are most anticipating.
This week I am waiting on Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey (4/11/2017):

Description on Goodreads:
Miss Lydia Whitfield, heiress to the family fortune, has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father's choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Mr. Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.

Until Lydia—and Robert along with her—is kidnapped. Someone is after her fortune and won't hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert's help, Lydia strives to keep her family's good name intact and expose whoever is behind the devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she truly wants…
Why I’m Waiting:
This sounds like a lot of fun! It kind of sounds like the plot of an old Meg Cabot YA historical romance, and yes please! Also, I really enjoyed the author’s fist book, Love, Lies, and Spies. If this one is anything like that one, I know it will be super entertaining, full of good romance, and plenty of mystery.
What are you waiting on this week?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Summary from Goodreads:
Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule--but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her--even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.
I have to admit I read this one after I learned it won the Newbery. I wanted to see what book beat Wolf Hollow, one of my favorite books of the year (which did get the Newbery Honor). I went into thinking there was no way this middle grade fairy tale could compare with some of the other amazing middle grade books I had read this past year. I was mistaken. The book was wonderful.
Above all else, there’s the beautiful writing. The book was lyrical at times. From the wise witch to the swamp monster, quoting poetry, the words in here were all thought out and well put. This is an author that values language and the beauty of it.
This book didn’t win me over right away either. To be honest, for a middle grade book, it’s strange that most of the plot was focused on the wise, grandmother witch, and not the child. I kept waiting for it to be more about the girl. And then when it was, I wanted to go back to the witch’s story. The story went back and forth between the witch and her odd family (the enmagicked girl, the poetic swamp monster, and a mini dragon that thinks he’s living among giants because he can’t admit he’s miniature) and the town that kept giving up babies.
The town believed they had to give up the youngest baby each year because a witch demanded it to keep peace. Xan thinks the town is insane and that she’s rescuing the children from some weird deadly sacrifice in the woods in each year. Finally, all the characters learn what’s really happening after much death, fighting, adventures, magic, journeys, and sorrow. And it all starts to unravel the day Luna is left in the woods, and Xan picks her up.
I love the fairy tale nature of it all. It sounds like a dark fairy tale written hundreds of years ago. It’s hard to fathom someone making this all up now. I loved the dragon and the swamp monster. The characters, even the evil ones, were fabulous. The world was believable and sad. I never imagined what trouble a toddler with magic could cause. Good thing, Hogwarts letters didn’t arrive until kids were 11.
I loved the focus on family. Family doesn’t have to be blood. And there was so much love in Xan and Luna’s family. I couldn’t believe how much Xan was giving up for Luna willingly. There were so many times I wanted Luna to know things. But, it all came together at the right moment, and I’m glad it did.
I can see why this won the Newbery. Truly, it’s a beautiful book. I’m glad it will get more attention now. I recommend it highly to fantasy and fairytale fans. I give it a 10/10.