Thursday, December 28, 2017

Best Books of 2017

What an amazing year this has been for YA books. I know I probably say something like this each year, but this was a tough year limiting my favorite books to 10. There were so many great books this year. So many brave, political, diverse, and thought-provoking books too. Let’s keep this up, YA book world. 

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 2017

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 2018 bring just as many, if not more wonderful books into the world.

1) In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (Review / Rating: 10/10)
This book seriously does not have enough love. It didn’t make it to the Goodreads awards or the Book Shimmy Awards. And not enough people seem to know about it. I’ve already re-read it since my first reading. I loved it. It had the best ship in it, ever. It’s fantasy at its best, with killer characters, loads of sarcasm and wit, a bisexual main character, feminist elves, and lots of magic and mayhem. Seriously, if you read my blog and trust my judgment at all, please read this.

2) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Review / Rating: 10/10)
This was probably the most political and thought provoking read I’ve had in years. And it’s certainly up there as being one of my all time favorite YA books. I have a crazy itch to re-read it now as I’m talking about it. I couldn’t put this story down. It’s important, timely, and honest. And it’s also just a super addicting story.

3) Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (Review / Rating: 10/10)
I’m taking this from my review: I love that this book focused so highly on friendship. It didn’t matter what social circle, racial group, or religion these girls belonged to. They all could relate to what Viv was angry about. All girls can relate. And watching all these different girls from various backgrounds come together, stand together, was such a powerful thing. And it was probably the strongest message from this book overall: the power of girls working together is mind blowing and fierce.

We’re finally at a point in time where YA literature is reflecting the current political atmosphere. People want to read books where the little guy wins, where women can start a revolution and succeed, and where small successes can mean the world. Sure, we will always need distraction and YA generates some of my all time favorite distraction. But, lately, I’ve been feeling this mass need of something else: hope. Hope for a future with less sexism, racism, and hatred. This book is powerful, and I think all girls (and guys too) should read it.

4) Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (Review / Rating: 10/10)

This was another beautiful story written by the wonderful Lauren Wolk, one of my new favorite middle grade writers. She’s up there for me with Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate. She just has a way with words. Her books are unique and beautiful. I want to re-read this one too! I guess you know a book is good, when I want to go back to it so quickly. This is a book for people who love good writing, and love a good mystery. It’s also good for the historical fiction fans and those who love a good ocean setting.

5) The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (Review / Rating: 10/10)
It’s weird that I have not just one, but two historical fiction books on this list! I’m not generally a huge fan of historical fiction, but wow, was this a good one. It was loaded with great characters, plenty of wit and snark, lots of adventures, and an amazing European backdrop. I also had the pleasure of meeting the author in Boston this past year, and she seems like such a cool person. The sequel is one of my most highly anticipated books of 2018.

6) The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo (Review / Rating: 10/10)
This was another beautifully written book. It’s also a book of several stories (redone fairy tales), and it was a pleasant surprise for me to fall so in love with each dark retelling. It may seem like a weird book to read around the holidays, but it’s actually perfect for that –not to mention the retelling of the nutcracker story. I’ve given this book as a gift to someone already. It’s also filled with beautiful correlating illustrations. It’s just a pure, magical book to read and look at.

7) Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (Review / Rating: 10/10)
Ahhh. I missed John Green. His books always give me the feels, and this one didn’t disappoint. I loved his depiction of mental illness. I loved his characters and I loved the super strange mystery in the backdrop of it all. I devoured this book, and I know I will have to read it again soon.  And here’s a lovely quote from it: “You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why” (285).

8) Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray (Review / Rating: 10/10)
You didn’t think I’d pass up on mentioning my favorite author during a year she came out with a book, did you? She’s the best. Again, here’s a book with phenomenal writing. Her writing is probably the best of any of the books on this list. When I described it to someone at work, I explained it as a mixture of X-Men, Downton Abbey, NYC flappers, murder mysteries, ghost stories, and Harlem poetry. Weird list there, I know. But it seriously is all these things and more…And it’s written like a piece of classic literature. And to top it all off, there was a major plot twist to end all plot twists. I’m still in shock, and dying for the next book.

9) Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare (Review / Rating: 10/10)
I’ve been a big fan of this author since I was an actual young adult. And the thing about Clare is that her writing improves with each new book she writes. I will never tire of the world of the shadowhunters. And these new books and characters are just spectacular. As I mentioned in my review, “All in all, I was impressed with this volume. I loved the politics. I loved the character growth. I loved re-visiting old friends. I loved getting to know new friends. The action, especially at the end, was beyond crazy. There’s also this depth to the characters and sadness to them that wasn’t there with the generation before them. These main characters are already survivors of so much war and loss. And knowing more is coming for them, is just so intense and hard to read, but also addicting.”

10) Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills (Review / Rating :10/10)
As I said on Goodreads recently, “Emma Mills is Magic. Like if Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins had a YA love child, it would be her. My heart melts just remembering what I put down." I loved this book. This book is YA contemporary at its finest. There’s just something about it that un-put-down-able. This is another author that gets nowhere near enough praise. I hope more people give her books a go. They are all good.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday (249)

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 Spill Zone 2:The Broken Vow by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland (7/10/18):

Description on Goodreads:
All hell breaks loose in the second volume of New York Times–bestselling author Scott Westerfeld's visionary graphic novel duology.

Three years ago an event destroyed the small city of Poughkeepsie, forever changing reality within its borders. Strange manifestations and lethal dangers now await anyone who enters the Spill Zone. Addison got close enough to the Spill Zone to touch it, literally. She survived the encounter, but came back changed.

It turns out she's not alone. North Korea has its own Spill Zone, and a young man named Don Jae is the only one who made it out alive. Alive, but changed. Now Addison, Don Jae, and, curiously, a rag doll named Vespertine, share an unholy bond and uncanny powers.

From Scott Westerfeld, the inspired imagination behind the New York Times bestsellers Uglies and Leviathan, comes The Broken Vow, the second volume of our highly anticipated new graphic novel series.
Why I’m Waiting:
I recently finished the first book in the series, and it was awesome! It was one spooky, fun, suspenseful graphic novel. And I cannot wait to see where things go in book 2. I have so many unanswered questions. I need to know things!
What are you waiting on this week?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Love Bomb by Jenny McLachlan

Summary from Goodreads:
Betty Plum has never been in love. She's never even kissed a boy. But when Toby starts school it's like Betty has been hit with a thousand of Cupid's arrows. A bomb has exploded—a love bomb.

More than ever Betty wishes her mom didn't die when Betty was a baby. She really needs her mom here to ask her advice. And just when she misses her most, that's when she finds hidden letters for just these moments. Letters about what your first kiss should feel like and what real love truly is. Although her mom isn't really there, Betty feels closer to her more than ever.

Jenny McLachlan's follow-up to Flirty Dancing will have you in both fits of laughter and tears.
Okay, so I’ve become a little obsessed with this series. After finishing the first book, I knew I’d get to the next one rather quickly. I have all three that are out so far. One more comes out in April (I just checked). I only read one book between the first in the series and this one (the second). And I might jump into book 3 later tonight…
There’s nothing totally unique about these books. Like the first one, this follows a familiar YA storyline. But, it happens to be one of my favorite storylines –realizing you’re in love with your best friend. I also love that Betty’s first love/crush is someone else and I found everything with boy number 1 (Toby) to be totally believable. He was pretty much a jerk and it took Betty a while to see it
I also absolutely adored the letters from her mother. Her mother died of cancer when she was really little, but she left behind letters for Betty’s father to give her on each of her birthdays. And well, she has her 15th birthday in this book with the special present of her last letter. Her last letter though, did tell her about a few more secret letters to look for…I loved how Betty took these letters to heart and used them as guidance for her romantic life. I got a little teary eyed at some of these letters. It felt a bit like the book/movie: P.S. I Love You.
So mix in a little bit of sappiness and wisdom from some great mom letters with new and first love, and some friendship bickering, oh and a dad who starts dating someone seriously for the first time (since his wife died), and you get this book. Like I said before, nothing about this is totally unique. It has the feel of a rom com. But, that’s what I was expecting and wanting after book 1. I loved getting this character’s perspective. And I think I might have enjoyed it a tiny bit more that the first book. I give it a 9/10. Bring on book 3.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Good Week in Books (176) The Christmas Edition

Merry Christmas, everyone!
It’s my first time really celebrating the holiday for real. I’m Jewish and I did go to Chicago to celebrate Chanukah with my family. But, we came back a few days ago, in time to celebrate Christmas at home (my boyfriend and I). And since I’m living with my Christian boyfriend (neither of us are religious really), we have a tree, stockings, and all of it this year. And I have to say the more holidays, the better. More family time, more dessert, more gifts, and of course more books.  I feel incredibly lucky this year to have so much holiday time.
I haven’t done one of these posts in a couple weeks because I knew I’d be getting some books over the holidays, and I was right. I got two signed books from the boyfriend! I bought two books for myself. And I got a Gilmore Girls cookbook from my mom! I’ve also been on a reading frenzy and have read a lot of books (I read a lot when traveling).
The books:

Norse Mythology
by Neil Gaiman (signed!!!!!!)
The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman (also signed!!! Good job, boyfriend)
P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
Always and Forever by Jenny Han
Eat Like a Gilmore: The Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of Gilmore Girls by Krsiti Carlson
I also received yummy goodies, earrings, a scarf, and some checks from family. And Nick got an air fryer. We also still have one more Christmas party to attend later today. All in all, I really have so much to be thankful for. And I sincerely hope if you’re reading this, that you have a lot to be thankful for too. Happy holidays! And happy reading!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvillano

Summary from Goodreads:

Nobody's ever really explained the Spill. Was it an angelic visitation? A nanotech accident? A porthole opening from another world? Whatever it was, no one's allowed in the Spill Zone these days except government scientists and hazmat teams. But a few intrepid explorers know how to sneak through the patrols and steer clear of the dangers inside the Zone. Addison Merrick is one such explorer, dedicated to finding out what happened that night, and to unraveling the events that took her parents and left her little sister mute and disconnected from the world.
This was a fun surprise! Also, it’s the perfect gift book for fans of Stranger Things. It has a serious Stranger Things vibe. There’s this kind of sci-fi/other world type element to it all.  It’s dark, suspenseful, mysterious, and fun. I loved the main character. She’s a bit like Katniss in the fact that she’s doing everything to protect her little sister.
I also love that the story doesn’t only center on the main character. There are scenes with the clueless police department. Also, there are scenes with another character from Korea (home of another “spill”). And there are scenes with the little sister and her super creepy, talking doll that gets “re-charged” on trips to the spill zone with big sister.
And the spill zone is beyond creepy. There are floating dead people (very zombie-like) with the possible ability to speak. There are frozen tornados and vicious monsters that look like they are part wolf/part jellyfish.  There are giant rats and frozen swing sets. And the main character makes enough money to support herself and her little sister by taking photos of it all and sending the pictures to wealthy collectors. Their parents were trapped in the middle of the spill zone when all the weirdness began.
And you’d think that the creepiest parts for me would be the terrifying hybrid animals or creepy floating dead people. But nope, the creepiest parts are the scenes with the little sister and her doll. So creepy!
There’s so much I still need to know after finishing the book. This book felt like a major setup for the rest of the series. Not enough happened in it for me. I kept waiting for some bigger surprise or action that never really came. That being said, I know a lot will go down I the next book with the character from Korea. Still, though, I wanted a little more in this first installment.
The art and the world it takes place in is beyond cool though. And it mostly made up for my lack of answers. Mostly. I also loved the characters. I can’t wait to see where all this is going. I give it an 8/10.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Flirty Dancing by Jenny McLachlan

Summary From Goodreads:
Bea Hogg is shy but fiery inside. When national dance competition Starwars comes to her school looking for talent, she wants to sign up. It's just a shame her best friend agreed to enter with school super-cow Pearl Harris. Bea will fight back! But when school hottie, Ollie Matthews, who also happens to be Pearl’s boyfriend, decides to enter the competition with Bea, she will have more than a fight on her hands.

This warm, nuanced, hilarious story about friendship, fortitude . . . and dancing is impossible not to fall in love with. Jenny’s voice is fresh and convincing, and she handles both darker and lighter elements of the story with equal panache.
This is another book that’s been on my radar for quite some time. I love dancing. And I love British books. And I saw some review a while back that compared this to one of my all time favorite authors: Louise Rennison. I decided this was going to be my travel back home book from Chicago. I read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on my way in. I read Fahrenheit 451 there. And I read this on my plan ride back to Boston.  It was too short though! I finished it with a whole other hour to spare on the plane –where I was jealously watching my boyfriend still reading his book.
Any way, I read it super fast because it’s short, but also because it’s fabulous. I knew I’d love it. It did remind me quite a bit of the Georgia Nicholson books, which, coming from me, is a major compliment. The little sister in this book had to be inspired from the little sister in the other series. She just had to. There can’t be two little sisters out there (fictional or not) that are this strange. No giant fat cat in this one though. I miss Angus.
This was a sweet romcom of a book. But, it also dealt with some serious bullying. There’s a lot out there now about bullying and about mean girls, but never have I felt the mean girl bullying to ring more true that I did in this book. It’s not just about mean girls, it’s about the girls who see the bullying and don’t do anything. It’s about how little kid friendships don’t last forever. It’s about realizing who your real friends are. This book just got so many things right. Things about bus rides, school lunches, crap friends, and loneliness.
I loved the grandma character. I loved the dance coaches. I loved the boy. I was so happy to find a boy who also hated the word “retard” as much I do. I loved him for not liking bullies. I loved his relationship with Bea. I loved the sense of humor to everything. And I super loved watching Bea come to her own and stand up to her bully. I can’t wait to get started on book 2, which I learned is about another character I loved from this book. All in all, I give book 1 an 8/10.

Friday, December 22, 2017

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

Summary from Goodreads:
What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them… all at once?

Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.
So, I know I’m super late in reading this, but wow, I loved it. I’m glad I’m reading it late because all the other books in the series are out. And I already ordered them on Amazon…I’m expecting that package tomorrow! It will be such a treat to come home to new books after working the Saturday before Christmas. It will get me through the day.
I’m also getting to the book now because I’ve changed up my reading routine significantly. I’m requesting less books for review. I’m reading less books for review. I’ve pretty much given up on eBooks entirely. And I’m just reading what I want to read, when I want to read them, and it seems so simple, but it’s everything. I have so many books on my TBR shelves that I’ve been holding out on for too long. This was one of those books. And I’m in such a better mood about everything.
I also just finished my reading goal of the year! Woohoo. I’ve read 90 books. Funny, how many more books a girl reads when there is less pressure to read them. I have a feeling I’ll surpass my goal by at least a few books… Any way, I’ve heard so many good things  about this book and I knew it would be a great plane read to take home with me to Chicago. I was right. I read more than half of it on the plane. (It’s only a 2 ½ hour ride). And I think I finished it that first night home.
It’s fluffy and fun. Reading it was like eating a giant bag of popcorn. I couldn’t stop even when I knew I should probably go to sleep. I can’t wait to see what happens in the rest of the series. I’m pretty sure though that I would not have been able to read this book as an actual young adult. As a teen, this would have been my worst nightmare: having all my crushes find out what I thought about them. And I tended to stay away from books and movies that involved topics this mortifying.
That being said, it was pure joy to read this now as an adult –knowing how silly and fleeting those crushes were. Also, this happening to Lara Jean made her come out of her shell so much faster than I ever did. I liked that she became braver because of these letters. And I guess in hindsight, it would have been nice to have something pushing me to be braver as a teen also.
What I loved more than anything though, was the family story here. I loved the relationship between the sisters. They were close, but they were also believable. They fought over stupid things (like getting a dog). They had the power to both make everything 100% right for each other and also to 100% upset everything. I love that things actually resolve with Lara Jean’s older sister, Margot. I kept picking up on a lot of problems and I’m glad a lot of that was handled when she returned for the holidays.
I loved the romance of it all. I loved seeing how guys responded to the letters. I feel a little disappointed that one was returned to sender because I wish I could see how all of them reacted.
Some of the book was very familiar. The whole “fake relationship” thing has been done before. Many times. Throughout so many teen movies and books. Yet, I was still pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I knew going in that Lara Jean would end up liking Peter by the end because that’s how it always works. I just wasn’t expecting to like Peter so much by the end too. I really did.
All in all, this was a super cute YA contemporary. I’m so glad I finally read it, and I cannot wait to get started on book 2. I give this one a 9/10.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Summary from Goodreads:
A contemporary novel about a girl whose high school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream leads her to new friends—and maybe even new love.

The day of the last party of the summer, Claudia overhears a conversation she wasn't supposed to. Now on the wrong side of one of the meanest girls in school, Claudia doesn't know what to expect when the two are paired up to write a paper—let alone when they're both forced to try out for the school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

But mandatory participation has its upsides—namely, an unexpected friendship, a boy band obsession, and a guy with the best dimpled smile Claudia's ever seen. As Claudia's world starts to expand, she finds that maybe there are some things worth sticking her neck out for.
As I recently said on Goodreads, Emma Mills Is magic. Like if Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins had a YA love child, it would be her. My heart melts just remembering what I put down. I loved this book.
The funny thing is it always takes me a little while to sink into these books. But once, I sink, I can’t manage to ever really escape out of them. I was on the first few chapters for a few days. But, today, on my day off, I just sat and read practically the whole thing –chores be damned. I could not put this book down.
The characters and the dialog just feel so real. They are all flawed in realistic and believable ways. I know and love someone who reminds me so much of Iris. And I saw myself so much in Claudia. To this day, I’m always underselling myself. Because of a few bad experiences, it’s always been super hard for me to believe that I deserve all the good things that I have. I understand not wanting to try something new because a part of you feels like you’re not worth it and it will eventually end because you’re not worth it.
There’s a lot of times in YA books where I get super annoyed with the angsty feelings of the main character. And I can see other readers maybe feeling this way here, but I don’t. I feel like I am Claudia in so many ways –in less brave ways. I wish I had an Iris to point me in the right direction when I was younger.
I also love Claudia’s family and small group of friends. I love that they all play an online game together. I love the sibling relationships. It’s weird saying this, but it’s always so refreshing to see nice, healthy families in YA books. Surprise surprise, a girl can have a lot to figure out and grow up about, while having a nice family supporting her.
I was also an English major. Aka: I love all things Shakespeare. So, having A Midsummer’s Night Dream in the background was pretty amazing. I especially loved how Claudia was able to break down the language for her fellow teens to understand. She ended up becoming a Shakespeare coach, and I loved it. I loved her interpretations of the play. And I loved the juxtoposition of the play with all the drama/romances of reality. That in itself is a lot like A Midsummer’s Night Dream, which had a play within the play –all to do with love, in various forms.
On top of that, one of my favorite tropes is the one where hatred (or a strong dislike) ends in love, or in this case, strong friendship. Iris and Claudia had such a great friendship that started in hate. They were kind of forced together in an assignment, which led to the play, which led to them becoming friends. I loved that Claudia introduced her online game to Iris. And Iris introduced her boy band obsession to Claudia. And neither girl judged the other too strongly for their respective obsessions.
What Mills probably excels at, above all else is her dialog. The snarky commentary and sass to her characters never came off as too much or too cheesy (as tends to happen a lot in YA). It came off as just right. And no two characters sounded the same. Iris’s sassiness was not the same as Claudia’s or Zoe’s. And Gideon is so charismatic and interesting, but not too much that he’s unbelievable. I guess what I’m getting at is that everything felt authentic. And I genuinely felt like I knew these characters like people.
All in all, I loved this. I read most of it in a few hours. I loved the play inside the story. I loved the characters. I loved the romances. I loved the banter and dialog. I loved the family relationships. And basically Emma Mills has proved herself to be a force in the YA contemporary world. I give this a 10/10.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday (248)

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: Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty (7/3/18):

Description on Goodreads:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Robert Beatty comes a spooky, thrilling new series set in the magical world of Serafina.

Move without a sound. Steal without a trace. 

Willa, a young nightspirit of the Great Smoky Mountains, is her clan's best thief. She creeps into the homes of day-folk in the cover of darkness and takes what they won't miss. It's dangerous work-the day-folk kill whatever they do not understand. But when Willa's curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in a day-folk man's home, everything she thought she knew about her people-and their greatest enemy-is forever changed.
Why I’m Waiting:
I loved the Serafina books. Seriously, the magical darkness, the setting, the characters, and the history of it all was just wonderful. I loved the sense of family in it too. This sounds like another great book with an interesting family too. I can’t wait to read what this author writes next. And it all takes place in the same world! I cannot wait to read this one.

What are you waiting on this week?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan and read by Michael Crouch

Summary from Goodreads:
Magnus Chase, a once-homeless teen, is a resident of the Hotel Valhalla and one of Odin's chosen warriors. As the son of Frey, the god of summer, fertility, and health, Magnus isn't naturally inclined to fighting. But he has strong and steadfast friends, including Hearthstone the elf, Blitzen the dwarf, and Samirah the Valkyrie, and together they have achieved brave deeds, such as defeating Fenris Wolf and battling giants for Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. Now Magnus and his crew must sail to the farthest borders of Jotunheim and Niflheim in pursuit of Asgard's greatest threat. Will they succeed in their perilous journey, or is Ragnarok lurking on the horizon?
I always think I’ve had enough of this author, but something pulls me back in with each book he writes. I have nothing against Riordan. In fact, I have nothing but respect for the worlds he’s created and the kids he’s inspired to read. He is very formulaic and I always think for some reason that there is no way for his formula to possibly appeal to me again, but it does.  And honestly, this is one of my favorite books he’s written so far.
I love Norse mythology. I had zero to no knowledge of it ahead of reading these books and I love that these books have introduced me to some stories I didn’t know. I love the Norse Gods and how different, yet similar they are to the Greek and Roman ones of Riordan’s other books. But more than the Gods, I love the other characters and creatures. I love the elves and dwarves, and even the giants.
I’m not going to lie; the major reason I loved this book so much was my ship sailed! I was shipping two characters that I really thought were not going to end up together. I shipped them because I sensed this spark between them from the beginning. I loved that they made each other better people –more understanding and kinder. And I totally would have understood if Riordan kept this as a friendship that worked in this way, but I was secretly hoping he’d take it further. And he did! I shipped them as much, if not more than Percy and Annabeth, and like I never shipped any of the characters in his last series (where everyone paired off).
There was this kiss that happened. I literally had to pause the disc (by this point I brought them all into my house from my car because I couldn’t stop listening). All I did for five minutes was squee like a fangirl and hug a pillow to my chest in unexpected happiness.
Romance aside, the story was epic. I loved the whole arc about the mead and needing to best Loki in a match of words. Some of Magnus’ speech almost read like an homage to Harry Potter for me. The whole thing about love and friendship being what makes him better than Loki, was just so classic JK Rowling that I had nostalgia tears in my eyes, in a good way.
I love Magnus. I love that he knows he’s not a warrior and I love having the main character not be a warrior. I love that he genuinely admires and respects his crew. He wants to know all of them, and through this book, he really gets to know them. I loved the continued back-stories for old friends. And I super loved getting more story for other characters too. There was another moment (in Norway) that had me thinking of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I know that Riordan reads a lot of great books.
Some of the ending battle scenes with the undead and the cold literally had me pacing while listening. The suspense and action, as always, was spot-on. I love the mythology. I loved the characters. I incredibly adored the romance. All in all, this was possibly my favorite Riordan book to date (formula and all). I give it a 10/10

Monday, December 11, 2017

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Summary from Goodreads:
Three friends, two love stories, one convention: this fun, feminist love letter to geek culture is all about fandom, friendship, and finding the courage to be yourself.

Charlie likes to stand out. She’s a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When internet-famous cool-girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favorite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde, chosen by readers like you for Macmillan's young adult imprint Swoon Reads, is an empowering novel for anyone who has ever felt that fandom is family.
I knew I was going to love this one. This book represents so much of what we are lacking in YA. It’s diverse. It tackles mental health. It covers fandoms in a way I’ve hoped and dreamed of in YA for some time. And it all takes place at a convention. Needless to say, the book would have to be all sorts of terrible if I didn’t like it. Thank goodness, I ate it up.
Reading it felt like attending my first con all over again –except maybe better. My first con was New York Comic Con –when I was in college and only just discovering fandoms and even what my fandoms were. Mine, was believe it or not, possibly more dramatic than the one in this book. It involved some serious ins and outs with my then boyfriend. And like Taylor, I’m not usually someone who loves giant crowds of people. It also involved me seriously taking a look at my life and what I wanted out of it, and realizing who my true friends were. So, I totally and 100% get how lives can change at these cons.
Also take note, when I went to Comic Con in New York, we bought tickets the day of…I’m pretty sure today you have to take a fan test to even qualify to get tickets –which are not sold at the door. And when I went, I had no idea what I was getting into and what I’d discover. It led to me going to other cons like Boston Anime Con and Leaky Con (my real fandom) and later ALA, Boston Comic Con, Walker Stalker Con, and BEA. And while there’s a lot of things I remember with a sour taste in my mouth from that weekend at my first con, I probably would never have had the courage to go into the big crowds I belonged to later, if I had never experienced it to begin with.
Needless to say, Taylor was like my spirit animal. And Jamie is like the dream guy all geeky girls dream about. But, weirdly, my favorite moments of the book were the ones that centered on Charlie. I became obsessed. I loved her character. I loved her star quality and her shine. And I super fell for her love story. Reading about her felt like guilty pleasure reading about the love life of Taylor Swift. It felt like celebrity gossip.
So, this book seriously had a lot going for it. It took place at a con and described the con in such a true to life way. The love stories were awesome. Sometimes it read like gossip magazines, in a good way. It was diverse and full of growing up moments. The one thing that did nag it me a little, throughout, was some of the cheesiness. Sometimes the snarky dialog came off as cheesy and not funny and sarcastic (like I think the author intended). There’s a lot of clichés in the conversations between Taylor and Jamie and not enough substance. And a lot of her Taylor’s online postings were super cheesy too. I wanted more substance there also. Though, I guess, she did always sound like a teen.
All in all though, this was amazing. I loved the concept. I super related to everything. And I could not put it down. I give it a 9/10.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Knife's Edge by Hope Larson and art by Rebecca Mock

Summary from Goodreads:
At the end of Compass South, twins Cleo and Alex were been reunited with their father, Mr. Dodge, on the ship Anita after a battle with the pirate Worley. Now, Cleo explains to Dodge and Alex that the pocket knife and pocket watch they have are keys to a treasure. So begins Knife's Edge, the second installment in Hope Larson's Four Points series—another high-speed story of treasure, family, and of course adventure on the high seas.
So, I read this book even faster than I read the first one. Thank goodness, I had both books and didn’t have to wait for the sequel to come out because that would have been a hard wait. I read this in one sitting. I liked it even more than I liked book 1.
For starters, this read a bit more like a family book than the first one did. The first one had a separated family. This one starts with the family back together again. And I loved this! I missed the other set of twins, though, I have to admit, things weren’t quite as confusing without them. I wasn’t as confused by which twin I was reading, as I was before. Granted, they were together a lot.
I also like that there are no evil captains or kidnappers –for the most part the twins are on a ship with a good captain. They are reunited with another long lost family member. And basically, this book is more about finding the treasure than it is about surviving all the predators out there. There still are predators: bad pirates are still on their trail and there are sharks too, but it never feels quite as bleak as the first book did.

What is different is how the characters handle and address Cleopatra. She is known to be a girl now. And she has to manage a family that’s not used to her being so wild and free. She has to fight for the right to be taught to use a sword. It’s interesting to watch her and her twin bicker about protection and what not. She rightly knows she can protect herself. He wasn’t with her on her past adventures and it’s fun watching them re-acquaint themselves with their newer versions. I also like that they forgive another character that was unkind to them in the first book, and he becomes one of their family/crew pretty quickly.

I like that this one deals with native peoples and storytelling. I loved watching the artist handle the storytelling –she made the stories float above the characters. Visually, this was pretty awesome. I also enjoyed getting the evil pirate’s story. His background was so interesting. All the gaps were filled in about the twins’ background also. There was still lots of sword fighting, sailing, pirates, battles, and treasure. The adventures were just as fun, if not more so.
All in all, this was a great sequel. It reads super fast. I loved the added family dynamics. I love the emphasis on stories and forgiveness. I loved learning about the twins’ history. The artwork was beautiful. I loved this. I give it a 9/10.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday (247)

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: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli (4/24/18):

Description on Goodreads:
Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.
Why I’m Waiting:
I only just discovered Becky Albertalli this year. And I’ve already re-read one of her books –with plans to re-read the other. I’ve also given her books as presents to people and I’m eagerly anticipating the movie that’s coming next year/secretly hoping the movie does it justice. I was both shocked and unbelievably excited to learn that Simon was getting a sequel. It’s not often that greatness can be followed with more greatness. I remember really liking Leah, and I’m glad she gets a more flushed out story. I can’t wait to re-visit other characters too. Basically, I just can’t wait.
What are you waiting on this week?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Compass South by Hope Larson and art by Rebecca Mock

Summary from Goodreads:
It’s 1860 in New York City. When 12-year-old twins Alexander and Cleopatra’s father disappears, they join the Black Hook Gang and are caught by the police pulling off a heist. They agree to reveal the identity of the gang in exchange for tickets to New Orleans. But once there, Alex is shanghaied to work on a ship that is heading for San Francisco via Cape Horn. Cleo stows away on a steamer to New Granada where she hopes to catch a train to San Francisco to find her brother. Neither Alexander nor Cleo realizes the real danger they are in — they are being followed by pirates who think they hold the key to treasure. How they outwit the pirates and find each other makes for a fast-paced, breathtaking adventure.
This is just what I needed; something light, fast-paced, and full of adventure. I’ve really gotten into graphic novels again this year. With books like this one, it’s easy to see why. The genre just keep expanding and pushing limits. And the artwork just keeps getting better.
The story kind of reads like a classic almost Charles Dickens orphan tale. There are twins with MIA parents. All they have of their parents are two items: a knife and a compass. A gang takes them in. They quickly betray the gang to save each other. Then they embark on an adventure to end all adventures. They want to get to San Francisco because of an ad in the paper from a father trying to find his twin red-headed sons. Cleopatra of course chops off her hair to disguise as a son and they want to go after the reward. The twins end up separated on two different ships, with pirates following them because apparently the compass and knife hold the key to a buried treasure. There’s sword fighting, pirates, secret codes, friendships, sailing, narrow escapes, kidnapping, and so much more.
It was hard to put the book down and I read it really fast. There was this old school vibe to the whole thing –like there were pieces of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. There were no fantastical elements, but it read a bit like a fantasy novel –with all the elements of a grand quest and all the high stakes sword fights one could possibly want.
The art was masterful. The illustrations really carried the plot along. I loved getting to see the sea, the ships, and the adventure through the artwork. Sometimes it was hard telling the two twins apart. I know this was intentional. But, really, it pulled me out of the story sometimes because I had to figure out who I was following.
There were some major gaps to the story about the twins’ background and how they get to be carrying the knife and compass. I had so many questions still at the end. Though, I know there’s a book 2. And by the time this posts, I’ll be long done with it, so hopefully those gaps get filled. All in all, this was a fun, easy to read distraction of a book. I’m definitely looking forward to reading book 2. This gets an 8/10.  

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Summary from Goodreads:
Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid's voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy's bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.
I’m not generally a big fan of stories or novellas that take place between novels –set in the same world as an author’s bigger series. Needless to say, I had not read any of these stories before. I’m so glad I got to read them for the first time in this format because the format is beautiful. The illustrations in here are just gorgeous. They are the stuff of dreams that any author would hope for.
And I know these are big words, but I have to say them; this is my favorite book by Leigh Bardugo. This book was pure fun to read. Sometimes books of short stories are too easy to put down –because of the large breaks between stories. This book was not like that. I just quickly devoured one story and then another. They were that good. I also just want to take a moment right now to relish the fact that we have a book of fantasy short stories, period. This is such a rare treat.
Also a treat, the worlds Bardugo weaves together with her dark, magical words. She excels at accomplishing the dark fairytale feel. Reading them felt like reading Brother’s Grimm fairy tales. Yet, they also felt uniquely special. They all tended to have endings different from what I was accustomed to. They also all tended to favor a strong female protagonist or antagonist. They were also all tales based off of, or with elements of ones I know.
I loved the first tale: “Ayama and the Thorn Wood.” It was a story filled with stories, and I always tend to favor those. I loved how it opened up everything and worked as the perfect first story. I also love how some of Bardugo’s stories appear to be about one thing, and then end up being something else entirely. I love the twist Bardugo gave to the Little Red Riding Hood story. I was pleasantly shocked and in awe of how that one resolved. And I think my favorite story of all was “The Soldier Prince.” It’s not often one gets to read retellings of the Nutcracker. What a dark, twisty version of that story it was too. I kept thinking, how did she come up with this, while reading it.
I also have major appreciation of the last story, “When Water Sang Fire.”  I fell hopelessly and helplessly in love with the mermaids. I loved the elements of friendship. It made me think of the musical, Wicked, on many levels, even though it was such a little mermaid origin story. This was a story I guessed correctly on the outcome for. Normally, this would bother me because I was so surprised throughout. But, I kind of liked knowing this one; it helped me get through some of the tough stuff that happened at the end of it.
All of the tales are dark, twisty, and fun. I love the sense of feminism present throughout it all. I love the sense of magic and how things are rarely what they seem. I fell head over heals for the words. The writing is beautiful. The illustrations fit everything perfectly. I couldn’t wait to see how the illustrations changed throughout each story. It was quite impressive. All in all, Bardugo created an excellent book of redone fairytales. You don’t need to be familiar with her other work to appreciate it. You just need to love dark fairy tales. I give it a 10/10.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The book of Dust by Philip Pullman

Summary from Goodreads:
Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them, a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua . . .
I feel like I have been waiting 15 years for this book. I kind of have been. I first read The Golden Compass for a high school book club, when I believe I was 16. I fell so in love with the book that I made my dad drive me to Barnes and Noble, find the next two in the series, and then purchase them all for me before I was even half way through it. I knew it would be a long-time favorite. And I was right. Since, I have re-read the series several times. I’ve listened to the audio books. I even dressed as The Amber Spyglass one year for Halloween. I had two other friends dressed as the rest of the series.
I get asked the question “What should I read next, after loving Harry Potter?” The Golden Compass is almost always my number one go-to for this question. That being said, I was a little skeptical going into this book. I don’t always respond well to authors revisiting series that have for a long time been completed. It’s hit or miss. But out of all my years of book geekdom, for all the times I was asked if there could be one book/one series that an author returned to, I always, always said I wished it was this one. I always wanted more. I wanted more hope for Will and Lyra. I wanted more answers about dust. I wanted more answers about the worlds and the universe. And finally, at some point last year, I learned that Pullman was returning to Lyra’s Oxford.
This book takes place when Lyra is a baby. It’s the story of how she came to be at Jordan College. And while it’s not the extended, happier ending I’ve been dreaming about since I was 16, it’s at least something. And I know there will be two more books. And I know Pullman is eventually going to get past the ending of The Amber Spyglass.
Keeping this all in mind, I knew this wasn’t going to be the book I was hoping for. I wasn’t hoping to see Lyra as a baby. Was anyone? But I read it, knowing the book I want will eventually happen. I wish I could say this book makes the wait better or easier. I was slightly disappointed.
It still felt the same. The world, the concept, the plot, and all of it read like it was part of the original series. And for that, I’m eternally grateful. It smelled and tasted like canon. That being said, it was extraordinarily slow. The first half of the book was about setting everything up in the second half of the book. It was about crazy, terrible things the Magisterium was requesting of children. It was about spying. It was about the every day of an extraordinary world (before everything is touched by adventure).
It’s also a lot darker than the previous series. There’s characters with mental illness. There’s sex and rape. There’s kidnapping and natural disasters. It’s the grittier side of Oxford, the side Lyra never had to see.
All of this darker, grittier stuff is certainly interesting. It was also kind of exciting to see the younger versions of characters I’ve known for 15 years. Lord Asriel, Mrs. Coulter, and the Gyptians all brought a smile to my face. I kept waiting for another character who might turn up, and that was fun. I also thought the second half of the book was un-put-downable. Once Malcom and Alice were on the boat, it was one non-stop magical, suspenseful adventure.
The first half did drag. I almost put the book down and stopped reading several times. It was only my knowledge of a better second half (from reading reviews) that kept me dedicated. And I’m glad I stayed with it. I really am. It did feel like it took Pullman a little time to get used to this world again. Like the dragged-on details of the town were him getting re-acquainted with it all too.
All in all, I enjoyed this. It’s not the book I’ve been dreaming of –hopefully that will come soon. It had a very slow first half. And the second half picked up drastically. The world was darker, grittier, and more developed than ever before. The new characters were good. I grew to love them by the end. And best of all, it felt like the other books. I got to return to a world I never thought I’d have this chance to return to. I give it an 8/10.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday (246)

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: Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare (12/4/18):

Description on 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.
Why I’m Waiting:
I love these books. I’m dying to know what happens next. These characters feel like old friends to me. And my heart just broke a little learning that this book was the last one in this series. The cover is gorgeous. The romance is sure to be sizzling. And I can’t wait to see how things resolve for Julian and Emma.
What are you waiting on this week?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Spinning by Tillie Walden

Summary from Goodreads:
Poignant and captivating, Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden's powerful graphic memoir, Spinning, captures what it's like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden's life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point?The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she'd outgrown her passion--and she finally needed to find her own voice.
This wasn’t what I was expecting. I’m not sure exactly what I thought I was getting into. I guess I thought it would be a sarcastic take on synchronized ice-skating, and one girl’s story surviving the craziness. This was definitely one girl’s story surviving the craziness. There just wasn’t any sarcasm or much humor at all. And it was a lot darker and complex than I thought it would be.
This book tackles a lot of tough stuff. There’s the main character working her little butt off every day for her sport. There’s bullying. There’s car accidents. There’s abandonment. There’s coming out of the closet to non-supportive family. There’s heart-break.  And there’s even sexual assault. And while I appreciate a good graphic novel that tackles the tough stuff (frankly, there’s not enough of them), I’m not sure this one really tackled the topics that well.
About 95% of the bullying that takes place is mentioned but not shown. At one point, Tillie does mention one thing that happened to her girlfriend, but even then it was very abrupt. The coming out part was minimal. So, was the heartbreak. The assault scene was actually drawn out a bit more. It was tough to read. But, also the way it was illustrated and mentioned was kind of powerful. It was handled in a unique way I haven’t seen before. And I remember thinking, I wish the author did this with other big moments too. I needed to see this for this bullying and other things to feel more real.
What takes up most of the book’s story and illustrations are the skating practices, tests, and moments with other skaters. It still moved along quickly. And it was interesting learning and seeing this much detail about the skating world. But weirdly, I felt like the book was supposed to be something else. It was supposed to be about growing up and figuring out what works and doesn’t work for you. I just wish more time was spent on visualizing that, and less on fancy footwork and early morning wakeups.
Also, I don’ think this was supposed to be the takeaway here, but I totally took away the fact that Tillie’s parents were pretty much scum. She was the only one without either parent at any of the practices, shows, and important competitions. Where were they? When they were shown, it was to complain about money or to not be supportive of their daughter coming out. For the most part, it felt like Tillie was abandoned by them completely. The poor girl couldn’t speak up about any of the bad stuff that happened to her. And I didn’t really blame her. There was no support for her. At all.
All in all, this was a unique book with excellent art. I wish some of the major things that happened to Tillie (things that defined her and helped her to eventually make her final decision about skating) were actually fleshed out and shown in more detail. I didn’t need so much detail about the actual skating. And I’d like to slap some sense into her parents. I give this one a 7/10.