Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black



Summary from Goodreads:
Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold onto. Jude learned this lesson when she released her control over the wicked king, Cardan, in exchange for immeasurable power.

Now as the exiled mortal Queen of Faerie, Jude is powerless and left reeling from Cardan’s betrayal. She bides her time determined to reclaim everything he took from her. Opportunity arrives in the form of her deceptive twin sister, Taryn, whose mortal life is in peril.

Jude must risk venturing back into the treacherous Faerie Court, and confront her lingering feelings for Cardan, if she wishes to save her sister. But Elfhame is not as she left it. War is brewing. As Jude slips deep within enemy lines she becomes ensnared in the conflict’s bloody politics.

And, when a dormant yet powerful curse is unleashed, panic spreads throughout the land, forcing her to choose between her ambition and her humanity…

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Holly Black, comes the highly anticipated and jaw-dropping finale to The Folk of the Air trilogy.
Review:
As I mentioned on Goodreads, this is the kind of book and the kind of series I already want to reread all over again. I wish I owned this one, instead of getting it from library. I might have to go buy it. Holly Black is a master. I literally spent my first half of my day off in bed, reading this in one sitting. I didn’t even get up for bathroom or snack breaks!
I was nervous I’d have trouble remembering the previous book, but as soon as I started the first page, I got sucked right back into the story. I just love Jude so much. I love how flawed she is. She is so stubborn, but so strong. I love that she just has to know about things back at the court and because of this she gets roped into a fight she doesn’t expect to win. I love that she knows what her flaws are, but it doesn’t stop her.
There was so much I was hoping for in this installment. My inner optimist wanted all the love to happen, but was terrified there was no way all the love I wanted possibly could. And as the ending was getting closer and closer, and it seemed that I was guessing the darkest of all endings was drawing nearer, I almost put the book down, dreading what was to come. But, I’m glad I kept going in one full swoop. Holly Black is just a master at what she does. She gets the darkness, but also the magic and the romance of fairytales in a way no other author does. She makes me both terrified and also entranced and in need of going to this dark, terrible place as much Jude needs to.
I also have come to love Jude’s unique, and growing family of misfits. I love her sister in the mortal world (and her girlfriend). I love her little brother (and heir). I love her twin even though she’s betrayed her in book’s past. I love her spy friends. And I love the weird fairy creatures she befriends and brings to her cause with her strange sense of strength and justice. Jude is just a force. Watching her become the character she finishes the book as, is just a treat. And like I said, I kind of want to go back to the beginning and start afresh. That’s how much I got into this. Oh, and Cardan! He’s grown so much too! It was nice to see some of his character growth as well.
This book is loaded with plot twists, surprise magical moments, romance, family drama, battles, political war, and random moments of humor. I literally was gasping in shock one moment, sobbing tears the next, biting my nails a few second later, and leaping with joy a few seconds after that. You feel all the feels in this one. I loved the end. It felt like a great, dark fairytale ending. These books would make amazing movies. Just saying. I can’t wait to see what Holly Black does next. I give this a 10/10.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo



Summary from Goodreads:
10 00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene, and she's just performed her hit song "Heartbeat" in Hong Kong to thousands of adoring fans. She's about to debut on The Tonight Show in America, hopefully a breakout performance for her career. But right now? She's in her fancy hotel, trying to fall asleep but dying for a hamburger.

11 00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. On his way out of the hotel, he runs into a girl wearing slippers, a girl who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger. She looks kind of familiar. She's very cute. He's maybe curious.

12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.
Review:
This was not my favorite book. There were things in it that really spoke to me. I love YA books that take place in other countries, particulatly ones I’ve never been to –like China. I love that it was described as a Roman Holiday type story. I love travel romances. Something has just always called to me about them.
I also loved the idea of reading a book from the perspective of a K-pop star! I don’t know a ton about K-pop. But, I’d love to learn more. I took a Korean class in high school, and I’ve always been a little fascinated by the culture. So, I was excited to learn more. I was a little sad that Lucky was pretending to be normal the whole time, and I didn’t really get to see her as herself. I wanted to see her be the K-pop version of her true self. And I didn’t really get to see that until the end. So, it wasn’t the learning expereience I was hoping it would be.
Still, that doesn’t make or break a book for me. And it looked like the book had enough other cuteness going for it. Oh, and the food! I love how much Lucky loves food! I was starving reading this. I want dumplings and noodles so bad, even writing this review! And maybe a hamburger, too.
I guess my real problem stems from the fact that Lucky was drugged up for her big romantic day. And because she was on sleeping pills and anxiety meds (that should have put her to sleep), she wasn’t in the right frame of mind. And this made me hate Jack. Jack mistook her for being drunk…But still, it just felt like he was taking advantage of her. And I never shipped them. Their whole romantic night in the city was just spoiled by this icky feeling of him taking advantage her in this state…and is this the best message for a YA novel? That girls should be falling in love and making huge life–changing decisions while on drugs that are meant to put you to sleep?
And Jack is also working for Tabloids, which is also supposed to bother me. That didn’t really bother me though like the whole Lucky not being in the right frame of mind for the whole night, thing did…And if you’re going to mention anxiety medication, can you then explain why she is on the medicine? It’s never brought up. Her anxiety is brushed aside. Her eating disorder is brushed aside. Her mistreatment by her managers is pushed aside. And then Jack thinking she was drunk is also pushed aside. Nothing is taken seriously enough in my opinion. I would have rated this book so much higher if she was in a more stable state of mind for her romantic night. And if things were taken more seriously. All in all though, I give it a 4/10.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Toll by Neal Shusterman



Summary from Goodreads:
It’s been three years since Rowan and Citra disappeared; since Scythe Goddard came into power; since the Thunderhead closed itself off to everyone but Grayson Tolliver.

In this pulse-pounding conclusion to Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy, constitutions are tested and old friends are brought back from the dead.
Review:
I wrote on Goodreads that I haven’t been this invested in a dystopian story in years. This book is insane. The twists, turns, darkness, and world building are unbelievable. It’s one of the best final books of a series I’ve read in a very long time. To say that Neal Shusterman blew me away again would be an understatement.
Shusterman has this uncanny ability to write both deeply thought-provoking narratives, and not so far-fetched dystopias rooted in current dark political climates. Unwind came from the Woman’s’ Rights movement. This series comes from several things: mass climate change, overpopulation, AI, and government corruption. And wow, can Shusterman connect the dots of a futuristic society to today. There are moments when the evil dictator character is so clearly a shadow version of Trump. But, I don’t even think its’ the tongue and cheek satire a lot of people will read that as. I feel like it’s the author saying: power is power. And anyone with absolute power is corrupt. And isn’t that the theme of almost all dystopias, even the classics like 1984?
There are elements here that remind me of the classics. There are hints of Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Animal Farm. But, also, I saw little inspirational tidbits from The Hunger Games, The Giver, and The Handmaid’s Tale. This author did his research. He respects the dystopias of the past, but also makes a story completely his own. And the book becomes very sci-fi at the end. I will not go into detail about why because I would seriously spoil things if I did. And somehow, remarkably, so much is left out of all descriptions/blurbs/summaries I’ve come across online. And trust me, it’s better to go into this blindly.
Just know that the book is loaded with religious extremism, violence, mass murder, mass prejudice, dangerous law changes in regards to the changes in leadership, insane plot twists, conspiracy theories, computer hacking, underwater scavenging, scythes from around the world, grief, sadness, perseverance, rebellion, and hope. It was hard to put this book down. I had to know what the Thunderhead was planning. I had to know when the characters would all meet up and how. I had to know what on the earth the conspiracies were! And I absolutely had to know what on earth happened to Rown and Citra, really (which I must warn you, does not get addressed for a very long time!).
There were a few moments where things might have seemed a little too convenient for me at the end. And if I thought about things too closely, there might have been a loophole or two, but I honestly don’t care. I was so engrossed in the story, in the world, in the characters, and the outcome. This is the kind of book that first brought me into the YA universe. And it is the kind I crave and hope for all the time. I highly recommend this series. I give it a 10/10.

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Good Week in Books (211)



Anyone else feel like they blinked and it’s suddenly the middle of December? This year has been a whirlwind for me.  Everything seems to go by so fast. I haven’t been blogging or reading as much as normal. But, I have gotten a handle on my health issues and I do know a big reason for my less than average reading tendencies has been an increase in severe migraines. I finally seem to be on the right meds/diet for it though (knock on wood) and am kind of getting back into the swing of things. Hopefully, I’ll be back to a more normal reading schedule for 2020.
I read a few books in the past couple of weeks. I had a lovely Thanksgiving with my mom coming to me! I bought a couple of books on Black Friday. And I received one new book for review. So many good books seem to have just come out too! I can’t wait to read them all.
The new books:

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater
Starsight by Brandon Sanderson (signed!)
Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh



Summary from Goodreads:
In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans provides her a refuge after she's forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent along with six other girls, Celine quickly becomes enamored with the vibrant city from the music to the food to the soirées and—especially—to the danger. She soon becomes embroiled in the city's glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group's leader, the enigmatic Sébastien Saint Germain. When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the lair of La Cour des Lions, Celine battles her attraction to him and suspicions about Sébastien's guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.

When more bodies are discovered, each crime more gruesome than the last, Celine and New Orleans become gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose—one Celine is sure has set her in his sights . . . and who may even be the young man who has stolen her heart. As the murders continue to go unsolved, Celine takes matters into her own hands and soon uncovers something even more shocking: an age-old feud from the darkest creatures of the underworld reveals a truth about Celine she always suspected simmered just beneath the surface.

At once a sultry romance and a thrilling murder mystery, master storyteller Renée Ahdieh embarks on her most potent fantasy series yet: The Beautiful.
Review:
So, there were things I loved in this book and things I hated. And I guess I’ll sort out all my feelings by the end of this review because I’m feeling a little mixed up right now.
I’ll start with the good. I loved the setting. If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you know it would be the perfect backdrop for a YA paranormal romance, or a teen show on the CW. There’s just something supernaturally off-putting to the city. It’s the perfect place to go on a ghost-tour. I totally went on a ghost-tour there and had a ball. It was also the perfect place to go on a mini vacation with a group of girlfriends (art, drinks, ghosts, oh my!) And, Ahdieh really got that about this city. She wrote about the alleyways and the churches and the grittiness of it all, but also got into the indulgent spectacle of it too, with eh fancy hotels and masquerades. She really did a great job writing New Orleans.
I also loved the time period. I remember learning about girls who traveled across the ocean to do what Celine did. Ahdieh did her research. The convent, the jobs, the matchmaking, and all of that really added to the story for me. And it’s been a while since I’ve read a good historical fiction novel. I also love that Celine has this strong background in fashion. So, there’s a lot about dresses, costumes, and needlework. I wasn’t expecting any Project Runway with my vampire story, and it was an added bonus for me.
I loved the friendship story in here too! It wasn’t all about the love story all the time! Yes, major points for making other things important too.
I hated the lack of originality in regards to the vampires. I know everyone makes fun of how the vampires sparkle in Twilight, but at least that author came up with that on her own. Ahdieh seems to have taken a lot from Twilight (not the sparkle). The whole thing with the certain vampires with special abilities really was setting off Cullen alarm bells in my head. Also, the setup with the wolves, really? I would liked this book so much more, and maybe given 1-2 stars higher a rating if the author did not setup a “love triangle” at the end with a potential werewolf character. I put love triangle in quotes because like in Twilight, it’s clear who the main character is “meant” to be with.
I hated the repetition. We get it. Sebastien is like the devil. And a phantom. That metaphor got so tiring. Unless he actually goes by the name Devil, I really don’t want to hear it any more. Also, for a book that doesn’t show who the vampires for at least half of it, referring to a certain character as the devil and his friends as dark creatures….kind of gives it all away. Either let us know they are all dark creatures earlier on, or don’t.
I also hated the romance. It was instant. And besides the fact that both characters are extraordinarily beautiful, brave, and strong, I don’t really feel like they ever have enough time together to get so fully in love. I wanted to ship them more, believe in them more. Stuff happened at the end, and I just had no emotion at all about it.
All in all, I loved the concept of this back. I love vampire stories. I adored the New Orleans setting. I liked the friendship story and the bits about historical fashion. I wish this author strayed a little further from Twilight than she did. She is so great and original. Why did she have to throw the werewolf storyline thing in? Why? I would have given this a higher rating if not for that. I also wasn’t buying the romance so much. It needed more development. I guess I have kind of mixed feelings still. I give this one a 6/10.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Charlotte Bronte before Jane Eyre by Glynnis Fawkes



Summary from Goodreads:
Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!--I have as much soul as you,--and full as much heart!

Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre is a beloved classic, celebrated today by readers of all ages and revered as a masterwork of literary prowess. But what of the famous writer herself?

Originally published under the pseudonym of Currer Bell, Jane Eyre was born out of a magnificent, vivid imagination, a deep cultivation of skill, and immense personal hardship and tragedy. Charlotte, like her sisters Emily and Anne, was passionate about her work. She sought to cast an empathetic lens on characters often ignored by popular literature of the time, questioning societal assumptions with a sharp intellect and changing forever the landscape of western literature.

With an introduction by Alison Bechdel, Charlotte Brontë before Jane Eyre presents a stunning examination of a woman who battled against the odds to make her voice heard.
Review:
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one as much as I did. I’m not a huge nonfiction reader, but I ate this one up. It helps that it was super short, and the artwork was gorgeous. But, also, I have to own up to really loving the story of Jane Eyre. So, that definitely plays a role in my overall enjoyment and high rating of this book.
I didn’t know a lot about Charlotte Bronte going into this book either. I knew a little more about her sisters than I did about her. So, I was pleasantly surprised to learn so much about her. I did not know about the stories she came up with her brother or her involvement in writing with her sisters. I learned about how she really set the path for her family. And I had no idea how much hardship she overcame in regards to death and loss.
I also had no idea how closely linked her story and the character of Jane’s were. I knew there must be some similarities, but I didn’t know the extent of them. And I guess, this made me love and appreciate Jane Eyre even more. And I’m itching to go back to the classic for a re-read. I’m actually thinking about setting a reading challenge for next year (2020) to go back and re-read a whole bunch more classics. I’ve been missing them, as English Majors probably all tend to do.
I found Charlotte’s story inspirational and powerful. She had such tenacity and strength in a time when it would have been so easy to give up. I can’t imagine not having Jane Eyre, so I’m so glad she never gave up. I was impressed with her story. And I was impressed with the simple artwork (which almost allowed for the spotlight to remain on the story more than the pictures). The simplicity really paired well with what was happening. I recommend this book to all the Jane Eyre fans out there. I’m not sure readers who have not read the classic, would really appreciate this book. It’s definitely aimed for those who have already it. I give it an 8/10.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker



Summary from Goodreads:
A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers' bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.
Review:
This book was adorable. Mix together the sweet manga-ish cover with a summary of witchcraft, bookstores, and childhood crushes returning, and well this book and I just had to meet. Little did I know it was also full of awesome LGBT rep, fantastic family drama, ghosts, Miyazaki-level cute forest spirits, and fantastic artwork.
I loved it. I pretty much read this in one sitting. It’s probably my favorite graphic novel of the year, and I feel like I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels lately. There’s some definite flashbacks in it to Sabrina and Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver series, but in a good way, and with it’s own modern, magical twist.
The world created here is just so fun. The ghosts, the magic, the books, the forest, the creatures, the characters that know about it all, all just make for one remarkable setting that I’d love to read more about. Normally, I feel like setting is lacking in graphic novels because there just isn’t the same amount of time/space to cover it, but here it really felt developed and interesting. I felt like I was there, watching it all happen.
I also loved the characters. I would watch them in a tv show in a span of multiple seasons, and can easily see this becoming a series. I hope Xu and Walker do more together. I’m definitely going to keep my eyes open for more. I give this one a 9/10.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell



Summary from Goodreads:
The story is supposed to be over.

Simon Snow did everything he was supposed to do. He beat the villain. He won the war. He even fell in love. Now comes the good part, right? Now comes the happily ever after…

So why can’t Simon Snow get off the couch?

What he needs, according to his best friend, is a change of scenery. He just needs to see himself in a new light…

That’s how Simon and Penny and Baz end up in a vintage convertible, tearing across the American West.

They find trouble, of course. (Dragons, vampires, skunk-headed things with shotguns.) And they get lost. They get so lost, they start to wonder whether they ever knew where they were headed in the first place…

With Wayward Son, Rainbow Rowell has written a book for everyone who ever wondered what happened to the Chosen One after he saved the day. And a book for everyone who was ever more curious about the second kiss than the first. It’s another helping of sour cherry scones with an absolutely decadent amount of butter.

Come on, Simon Snow. Your hero’s journey might be over – but your life has just begun.
Review:
Rainbow Rowell, I love you. Seriously. Carry On and Wayward Son are so brilliant. Just the concept for these stories are amazing. Then add in fantastic characters, slow burning romance, magic, and battles, and well, what else can you possibly want in a book?
As I mentioned on Goodreads: This was fun. It’s kinda what I wanted Cursed Child to be like. I wanted the story directly after stuff finished with the trio. This book was directly after the end of the last Simon Snow story. And it’s a road trip across America! And it’s more Simon and Baz! And it’s magic ren fairs! And rescue missions in Las Vegas. And vampire cults. Weirdly, it didn’t grab me immediately, but it eventually made up for that. I cannot wait for more.
This book had a slow beginning. I kept putting it down. To be fair, Simon is depressed in the beginning. He has no magic. He has wings and a tail. And he never leaves the couch. He’s also kind of messing things up with Baz, and I could not tolerate that happening.
But, then it picks up when they travel to America. They go from Chicago to California via convertible (or at least mostly by convertible…eventually they have to switch vehicles). There’s new magical creatures, vampire cults that are experimenting with magic, kidnappings, gunfights, epic adventures and battles, and so much rebelliousness, it’s just un-put-down-able. They magic money, and bottomless gas tanks, and disappearing wings. And they make friends with a new character, who is a Normal. He kind of reminded me of Jacob Kowalski from Fantastic Beasts mixed with James Dean….Weird combo, I know.
I liked the point of view shifts because it allowed for amazing character development, what Rowell excels at. And I didn’t love the new character at first, but of course I grew to love him. I’m excited to see where he goes in book 3. I’m not going to lie; the reason I most loved this book was the romance between Simon and Baz. I wish there was more. I wish they were less afraid to be in love with each other. But, I loved their moments in the back of the truck, at the beach, and surviving terrible things together. I need more.
It was also cool to learn more about vampires in this world. Baz, and everyone else didn’t know much, so it was nice to get more of a feel for how they work. Also, it totally explains how shady Las Vegas can seem! All in all, I ended up loving this. It kept me happy during a week of immobile ankle pain and crazy migraines. It’s just what I needed. And I’m so excited to learn that there will be another one too. I give this a 9/10.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Bees by Lauline Paull


The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut.

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden...

Laline Paull's chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, The Bees is the story of a heroine who changes her destiny and her world.
Review:

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting to like this one. I read it because it’s going to be my library’s One Book, One Town choice for January 2020. I’m in the process of booking bee programs in January, and I figured I should read the book that’s inspiring all of these programs. I wasn’t expecting to love it because I have never really enjoyed a book written in the perspective of animals. This includes Animal Farm, Watership Down, the Erin Hunter books, the Redwall books, etc. I just struggle to get into them.
This book was no struggle at all. I got sucked into this incredibly unique story. And now I want to research bees and see how much of this is based on truth. It really did have the feel of The Handmaid’s Tale. There’s a definite dystopia vibe going on, and maybe that’s why I got so into the story.
The hive is a giant cult of queen worshipping bees, stuck in their castes and unable to ask questions or think for themselves. Flora is of course unique. But as the story goes on, you realize she isn’t as unique as you think. Others think differently too. The politics, the hierarchy, the worship, and the infrastructure of the hive was just unbelievably interesting. I could not get enough of this world.
The characters were great too. I like that certain bees weren’t just mentioned once for the sake of a plot-line. They come back again and again, making the story flow. I think mostly what appealed to me in this book though was that I never had any idea for what was going to happen. I’ve never read anything like this book before. So, I couldn’t really foresee where things were going. I loved this. I loved being surprised, again and again.
All in all, I can’t say too much without giving serious things away. But, I loved this. I read it quickly and I would love to see what this author comes up with next. I give it a 9/10.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Book of Dust, Volume 2: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman



Summary from Goodreads:
It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is seven years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford's Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .

The second volume of Sir Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed.

Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.

Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost - a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust.
Review:
It’s kind of hard for me to wrap my brain around this book. It was both amazing and slightly disappointing at the same time. After finishing it, I was unable to open another book for about a week. I had a serious book hangover from this one. And it took me a little bit of time to really determine why that was.
For starters, I have to say that I am a HUGE fan of His Dark Materials. I was obsessed with that series and have re-read those books many times. And while the ending of The Amber Spyglass was devastating, it felt so final to me. Having this chance to revisit Lyra was both so exciting and also terrifying. So many authors are going to back to past stories lately, and I feel like these new stories are either amazing or terrible. I really needed this book to not be terrible. I enjoyed the first Book of Dust, but it was a prequel. No one really dreams of prequels coming out. We dream of sequels. This was the book I had dreamed about for 16 years.
I got sucked in immediately. Reading about Lyra and Pan again was like connecting with an old friend. I got sucked into the mysteries of the roses and the feud between Lyra and Pan. I soaked up this magical version of Oxford. And I got lost in the politics of the Magisterium and the schools.
But, this was also kind of hard to read. Lyra and Pan were separated for most of the book. And they hated each other…and that didn’t make a ton of sense to me. They were fighting over philosophy and books. And Pan was upset that Lyra seemed to have lost her imagination. Lyra did seem rather melancholy for the whole story. What happened at the end of The Amber Spyglass greatly affected her. And I guess, knowing what I already knew about dust and daemons, it felt like Lyra was so divided and mad at herself more than anything.
This isn’t the youthful, dramatic, storyteller of the previous books. This is a smarter, wiser, more realistic Lyra that knows that sad things happen, and getting answers takes a lot of hard work. She’s a scholar and still knows how to pull out the charm when necessary (like when a friend is upset or when she needs help). But, she doesn’t use this charm at the drop of a hat any more.
And then there’s Malcom, a character I loved in the first Book of Dust, but now, not as much. There’s a definite love story in the works between him and Lyra, and I just hate it. He changed her diapers as a baby, and later taught her as a teacher. It just feels icky to me –nothing like what she had with Will. And I kept hoping for some outcome where she could reunite with Will. It is fantasy after all. Anything can be possible. But, we don’t get to see him at all in this book. Maybe in the next one?
I also don’t like that there’s this horrific scene near the end where Lyra is attacked by soldiers on a train. I just don’t feel like it was necessary for the story. It felt out of place and again like the love story with Malcom, just wrong. It took me out of the story in a bad way, and almost prevented me from finishing this. I know bad things happen and she’s not a child any more, but this still felt out of place. If it’s not needed for the story to continue, why is it in there?
I did love the writing. The writing is the same as it always was: descriptive and addicting. The world was fascinating. We get to travel east in this one (though I kept hoping for a trip north to a certain bear). There’s so many more levels of history and mythology and science, it was hard to put this book down (most of the time). I loved getting to know Lyra as an adult. I just didn’t love the love story. And I didn’t like that one scene at the end. And I still have so many questions. There was a definite cliffhanger. I need more. I cannot wait for book 3! I give this one an 8/10.

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Good Week in Books (210)



I’ve had another great book week. I’ve finished 3 books since my last post. And I have received a lot of books for review (Thank you Macmillan and Hachette). I’ve also rescued a few books from the discard pile at work. I will read them and give them a good home.
So much happens so quickly. Since my last post, I’ve attended Leaky Con (in Boston), which was awesome –says the girl sitting at home in the afternoon in her Harry Potter pajamas. I’ve also sprained my ankle (for the 6th time!). I had a birthday (I’m now 33 years young). I met my good friend’s new baby. I’ve gone wine tasting. I’ve celebrated and I’ve spent many a hour cursing my stupid ankle. Thank goodness soar ankles don’t distract me from reading.
The new books:
 
City of Beasts
by Corrie Wang
The Last True Poets of the Sea
by Julia Drake
Deadly Little Scandals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
And I Darken by Kiersten White
Bright We Burn by Kiersten White
Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner
The Trials of Apollo Book 4: The Tyrant’s Tomb by Rick Riordan
Loki: Where Mischief Lies by Mackenzi Lee
Light at the Bottom of the world by London Shah
Conceal, Don’t Feel by Jen Caonita
10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston
Houdini the Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi
Charlotte Bronte before Jane Eyre by Glynnis Fawkes
This is all without me buying a single book at Leaky Con! I did come home with a few t-shirts, some artwork, and a tote bag though…

Monday, October 14, 2019

Now Entering Addamsville by Francesca Zappia



Summary from Goodreads:
Zora Novak has been framed.

When someone burns down the home of the school janitor and he dies in the blaze, everyone in Addamsville, Indiana, points a finger at Zora. Never mind that Zora has been on the straight and narrow since her father was thrown in jail. With everyone looking for evidence against her, her only choice is to uncover the identity of the real killer. There’s one big problem—Zora has no leads. No one does. Addamsville has a history of tragedy, and thirty years ago a similar string of fires left several townspeople dead. The arsonist was never caught.

Now, Zora must team up with her cousin Artemis—an annoying self-proclaimed Addamsville historian—to clear her name. But with a popular ghost-hunting television show riling up the townspeople, almost no support from her family and friends, and rumors spinning out of control, things aren’t looking good. Zora will have to read between the lines of Addamsville’s ghost stories before she becomes one herself.
Review:
I loved Eliza and her Monsters. I also love supernatural stories. Hearing that Zappia was coming out with a book for fans of Buffy and Stranger Things was pretty much the best news ever. Sadly, I found it a little disappointing. Maybe my expectations were too high. Also, it was definitely not like Buffy or Stranger Things. It was a lot like the show Supernatural (which I love), and it super reminded me of the comedic episodes with the fake ghost hunters who were filming a ghost show. Except in this book, there was no humor.
It was hard to shelve this book on Goodreads because I wanted to put it with paranormal romance books, but there is no romance. It’s paranormal for sure. And the main character did refer to herself once as asexual, so there’s that. And that’s awesome. There’s not a lot of asexual main characters in YA. And she’s also missing two fingers from something that went down with a fire. So, she’s totally badass.  It didn’t necessarily need romance to be good. But, weirdly, I really felt it missing here. I needed something to juxtapose the darkness. If it wasn’t going to be romance, then it needed to be humor. And there was no humor either….
It was a unique ghost story. Zora could see ghosts, but not hear them. No one else could see them. And her cousin could sense them. I did love their growing friendship. I found myself looking forward to all the scenes with them together. There’s a ton of mystery surrounding her missing mother. I found her dad’s side story fascinating. He went to jail for conning everyone in town. In response, the whole town hates Zora and it’s really hard for her to show that she’s being framed for things when no one likes her.
Her family was interesting. The town was interesting. And the ghost story was unique. What was lacking was weirdly character development. I never felt truly invested in any of the characters. I kept mixing up the side characters. And Zora was just so moody/hard to like for most of the story. I did want her to succeed and clear her name. She just kept annoying me. Also, the pacing was off. It was way too slow/repetitive for a supernatural story. Many pages of nothing happening had me putting the book down a lot. I almost didn’t finish it. But, I did want to see how things would resolve.
I still have a lot of questions, particularly about Zora’s family, so I’m thinking there will be a second book? It hasn’t been announced yet, but there’s just so much left unanswered. All in all I give this one a 7/10.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Wildcard by Marie Lu



Summary from Goodreads:
Emika Chen barely made it out of the Warcross Championships alive. Now that she knows the truth behind Hideo's new NeuroLink algorithm, she can no longer trust the one person she's always looked up to, who she once thought was on her side.

Determined to put a stop to Hideo's grim plans, Emika and the Phoenix Riders band together, only to find a new threat lurking on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Someone's put a bounty on Emika's head, and her sole chance for survival lies with Zero and the Blackcoats, his ruthless crew. But Emika soon learns that Zero isn't all that he seems--and his protection comes at a price.

Caught in a web of betrayal, with the future of free will at risk, just how far will Emika go to take down the man she loves?
Review:
I did not like this one as much as book 1. I’m still glad I went to get a copy of the book super quickly, so I could get some answers. I just didn’t find myself as hooked. I read half of it in Paris, and instead of reading the rest on my plane ride home, I watched movies…I finished it once I was back home though.
The world was just as cool. And I still loved Emika. There were just a few things that did not add up for me. For starters, Emika’s team loved her so much, even though she did not do much for them. They risked so much in this book, and I never fully understood their motivations. Some of them, maybe. But all of them? A lot of their involvement felt forced and not right.
I also feel like Lu wrote herself into a corner with some things/people. The identity of Zero was a cool plot twist, but…the explanation felt forced. Like the whole kidnapping/experiment thing has been done before (ie: Maximum Ride, Dark Angel, X-Men, Darkest Minds, etc.), and I wanted more. I wanted a different story.
BIG SPOILER SENTENCE COMING/ STOP READING THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS FOR BOOK 2. The whole computer/AI consciousness thing seemed like a major cop out. Like if you’re going to bring this character into the mix, involve him; don’t just introduce him to take him out again. It’s like how else could the author explain his being there?
And then there’s Hideo. I still loved him despite his crazy scheme. And so does Emika. On the other hand, he was willing to let people kill themselves so he could find his brother…He was weirdly willing to let a lot of people die, for his plan to work. Is that just forgiven? I’m not sure he had enough consequences for his actions or that he deserved the ending he got.
I still loved the suspense. I loved the game. I loved the world. I loved how plausible the world was. I even think the part about brining it back seemed believable. I guess it was really just the explanations for characters and their behaviors that bothered me. They weren’t thought out as much as the whole world was or the suspense was. The character development was lacking, but everything else still excelled. I give it a 7/10.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Hello Girls by Brittany Cavallaro and Emily Henry



Summary from Goodreads:
Best friends are forged by fire. For Winona Olsen and Lucille Pryce, that fire happened the night they met outside the police station—both deciding whether to turn their families in.

Winona has been starving for life in the seemingly perfect home that she shares with her seemingly perfect father, celebrity weatherman Stormy Olsen. No one knows that he locks the pantry door to control her eating and leaves bruises where no one can see them.

Lucille has been suffocating beneath the needs of her mother and her drug-dealing brother, wondering if there’s more out there for her than disappearing waitress tips and generations of barely getting by.

One harrowing night, Winona and Lucille realize they can’t wait until graduation to start their new lives. They need out. Now. All they need is three grand, fast. And really, a stolen convertible to take them from Michigan to Las Vegas can’t hurt.
Review:
I went into this one a little blindly. I didn’t really know what it was about. I just know that I love Brittany Cavallaro, and it sounded like something I’d enjoy/be able to fit into a carry-on to Paris. I was right on both accounts. ARCs are good travel books (light and paperback-y), and it was the kind of story I love.
At its core, it’s a friendship story. It’s about two girls who have struggled to excel in a world that appears to want to have nothing to do with them. With each other to hold on to, they become stronger, fiercer, braver, and better. They learn that they deserve happiness. They deserve love. They deserve not to be abused or taken advantage of. And watching them come to all these conclusions was just powerful.
It took me a little longer than expected to really get into the story. I had trouble relating to the characters at first. One girl was trapped by an abusive father and another was walked all over by her brother and mother. It was hard for me to love them. But, every scene with the two of them together, won me over. They really brought out the best of each other. And that on it’s own was powerful.
Then you add in: bar fights, con schemes, gambling, stolen convertibles, faked kidnappings, drug deals, disappointing dreams, and first love and well, you get this crazy, addicting, and suspenseful story. There’s a definite Bonnie and Clyde/Thelma and Louise vibe here. And as the story was progressing, I was dreading the ending. I know those stories don’t always end well. And a part of me knew there couldn’t not be any consequences for stealing the car, or conning people, or running away.
There were some scary consequences. And despite being afraid of the end, the whole last quarter of the book rushed by. So much goes down, that it’s impossible to put the book down. And I was scared for the girls during two different moments there. Thankfully, I did end up loving the end. It was both sad and happy. It was believable, but also good. I remember taking a deep relieved sigh at the end.
I ended up loving the characters. I loved the friendship story. I loved how empowering this was. I also loved the suspense and plot. If you have trouble getting into it, don’t give up. Try at least a quarter of the book before making up your mind. I give it an 9/10.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Warcross by Marie Lu



Summary from Goodreads:
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.
Review:
I wrote this on Goodreads: I loved this! I really didn’t think I would because it sounded so much like Ready Player One, which I didn’t like. But it was so much better than that. It was The Hunger Games mixed with The Uglies by Westerfeld, mixed with quidditch and wow what a mix! This was the book I read outside at a café in Paris. And I’m so glad this was that book. I was hooked.
I’ve probably owned the paperback since it came out, and just never made my way to it. Again, I honestly think my dislike of Reader Player One was keeping me away. I’m glad I finally came to my senses. I read it almost in one sitting. I finished it late that night after going out for a nice dinner. I really enjoyed Legend by this author, and I knew she could write action/suspense so I never gave up on reading this entirely, and thank goodness.
I love the idea of a female bounty hunter. All the scenes with Emika chasing someone down were crazy. I was hooked. I also loved the world-building.  Lu’s technological version of Japan was just beyond cool. I can still visualize it. And I can totally see this future happening. It’s crazy that this high-tech world doesn’t seem too far off from where we are. But, I think that’s part of the appeal for me. It’s not too out there.
I found the game interesting too, and the whole cult following of it felt very real. I kept thinking back to this one day over the summer when Nick and I went bowling with his brother and nephew. And I remember thinking his 13-year old nephew was so glued to his phone, and no one seemed to think this was bad or inappropriate -just a kid today doing what all kids today do. But, I eventually brought it up jokingly, and learned it wasn’t his normal. That day was special. He was watching a Fortnite tournament. He’s not always that glued to his phone. I later of course looked the tournament up online and discovered how big it was. Oh, and that a teenager won it (winning 3 million dollars).
I hate when people tell me they don’t like YA because it seems so crazy that a young person could accomplish all they do. And well, they do. A 16-year old won an online game this summer and it was huge. Any way, Fortnite is not so far off from Warcross. And that’s one of the reasons it was so good; it was believable.
I found the romance fun too. I saw some it coming from a mile away…but that’s okay. I did not see everything in the plot from a mile away. There were a few HUGE shocks for me. And I loved that too. The ending was also an enormous cliffhanger! I walked back to Shakespeare and company a third time, to search for Wildcard because I needed to know some things right away. Thank goodness, they had it!
I loved this book. It was hard to put down. The world building was crazy good. The plot was high action and suspenseful. The setting was awesome. The game was addicting. It’s a futuristic book that doesn’t feel too far away from where we are now. I loved the main character; having a female bounty hunter/hacker is just the best. I give this one a 10/10.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh



Summary from Goodreads:
Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sarah Mlynowski, this heartfelt and humorous contemporary take on Sense and Sensibility follows two sisters—complete opposites—who discover the secrets they’ve been keeping make them more alike than they’d realized.

For two sisters as different as Plum and Ginny, getting on each other’s nerves is par for the course. But when the family’s finances hit a snag, sending chaos through the house in a way only characters from a Jane Austen novel could understand, the two drift apart like they never have before. Plum, a self-described social outcast, strikes up a secret friendship with the class jock, while Ginny’s usual high-strung nature escalates to pure hysterics.

But this has always been the sisters’ dynamic. So why does everything feel different this year? Maybe because Ginny is going to leave for college soon. Maybe because Plum finally has something that she doesn’t have to share with her self-involved older sister. Or maybe because the girls are forced to examine who they really are instead of who their late father said they were. And who each girl discovers—beneath the years of missing their dad—could either bring them closer together…or drive them further apart.
Review:
As I said on Goodreads: It took me a minute to get into the writing style here. At first, it read like the author was trying too hard to sound smart...and it came off as pretentious....but then, magic happened. It was Anne of Green Gables and Little Women And Sense and Sensibility, all rolled into one. The writing style, like the main character, came off in a certain unlikeable way...but then you get to know Plum, and you not only love her, you see yourself in her.
And the story of friendship, of sisters, of first love, and all the things in between were just so real. I ended up hugging this book when I was done with it. It’s loaded with literary references. It reminded me of the book, I Capture the Castle. It’s perfect for a lazy fall afternoon. I highly recommend to book lovers.
I can definitely see a lot of people not finishing this book. It’s hard to like in the beginning. But, I’m so extremely happy I kept going. I just had a feeling that I’d end up liking it, and I was right. I loved the love story. It was so awkward, sweet, and real. It reminded me of my first relationship, and again, there’s me seeing myself in Plum. I loved the family story too.
There’s a definite element of the past in the language of the novel. It feels like a story that could have taken places decades ago, but I guess overall, that’s a good thing. It feels timeless. As does, Sense and Sensibility. I recommend this one to book lovers, to those who loved Jane Austen, and Lucy Maud Montgomery, and to those who have re-read Louisa May Alcott. This is a book for you. I give it an 8/10.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews



Summary from Goodreads:
Ryan Andrews's This Was Our Pact is an astonishing, magical-realist adventure story for middle-grade readers.

It's the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they'll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars, but could that actually be true? This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and to ensure success in their mission, they've made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.

The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn't long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben and (much to Ben's disappointment) Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn't seem to fit in.

Together, Nathaniel and Ben will travel farther than anyone has ever gone, down a winding road full of magic, wonder, and unexpected friendship*.

*And a talking bear.
Review:
As I brought up on Goodreads: This story was so strange...but there’s also this classic quality to it, like there’s a Huckleberry Finn feel -2 boys following a river, going on an adventure. It’s also weirdly innocent and made me think of the movie, Ponyo. Above all else, the art is magnificent. Like I’d frame some of the pictures and hang them in my bedroom, beautiful. I’m giving it 4/5 stars because it was just stunning and the art really told the story. The plot started contemporary, and switched to fantasy at one point and that really took me out of the story, but then I guess I accepted it, because it was just so pretty.
I definitely liked the art more than the plot here. However, like with all good graphic novels, the art says it all. The art really made the story what it was. I’m not sure I took away what the author wanted me to. There were some fuzzy/confusing moments for me. I never really loved the main character. He starts off as a bit of a jerk. And he totally didn’t deserve his friend that stuck with him for the whole thing. But, I guess he won me over a little bit by the end.
I’m also not sure why there was a talking bear...The rest of the story was rather realistic (if a bit of a stretch that boys would bike that far from home and not be in any trouble with family). I’m not sure the bear really added anything special. He always took me out of the story because he was such a huge contrast from everything else for me.
I like the overall message of friendship, and what makes a true friend. I also just can’t stop staring at the cover. It’s beautiful. All in all, I loved the art. I wish the bear wasn’t in it. And some parts of the plot were a little confusing. I still rate it highly because I do keep thinking about it, and I do keep looking at it. I give it an 8/10.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks



Summary from Goodreads:
Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends.

Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.

But this Halloween is different—Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.

Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if—instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut—they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .

What if their last shift was an adventure?
Review:
As I mentioned on Goodreads: This was pretty much as adorable as I thought it would be. Everything Rowell writes is gold to me. Combine her amazing character development and dialogue with the fantastic art of Faith Erin Hicks, and you have my favorite graphic novel of the year. It’s fluffy, cute, romantic, and full of all things Fall (my favorite season). I loved the characters. And I loved the setting. I read this in one sitting, while drinking pumpkin coffee -and I highly recommend reading it this way. More books like this please!
I remember going into this, hoping it would be good. And I don’t know why at this point I ever have any doubts about anything Rainbow Rowell is involved with. Seriously, this was the cutesy fall pick-me-up I needed to read the week before my wedding. It was sweet and romantic. And it’s not Nick’s normal cuppa tea, but I kept singing its praises so much, he now wants to read it too.
I enjoyed it so much, I’m contemplating taking it outside right now (on a sunny 72 degrees Fall day) and reading it all over again. I remember thinking, in the beginning, I hope this is one of those stories that does this….And then it did! I can’t say what it is without spoiling it, but just know it’s awesome. I give it a 10/10.

Monday, October 7, 2019

A Good Week in Books (209)



I’m back! I got married in the beginning of September! And then Nick and I took our honeymoon in Paris. I’m finally getting back on to a normal routine. That being said, I’ve still been doing a lot of reading. I looked forward to nothing more than sitting outside at a café in Paris with a good book, and I got to do that!  I’ve read 7 books since my last post…so I have a lot of blogging to catch up on.
I also bought an obnoxious amount of books from my favorite bookstore in the world, which happens to be in Paris: Shakespeare and Company. I’m still not sure how I fit them all into my suitcase….I also got a couple of pre-orders in. My mom got me a book to go with one of her wedding gifts. She bought me a painting from her trip to Israel and the book tells the story of the artist (whose story was actually told in the movie, Schindler’s List). And I received one for review from Swoon Reads.
I’ve had an unbelievable month. I married my best friend. We almost got married during a hurricane…but the weather cleared up and the sun even came out! Paris was just a dream. I also had to say goodbye to my 15-year old car this month. I’m now a proud Subaru owner of a car I’ve named McGonagall. My old car was my dad’s so I had a weird attachment to it, but it was time.
Any way, I think I’ll have to share a few special pictures at the bottom of the post.
The new books:

The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume II
by Philip Pullman (already started it…)
Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell
Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales: Pages and Co 2 by Anna James (signed!)
Tilly and the Book Wanderers: Pages and Co 1 by Anna James
All the Invisible Things by Orlagh Collins
Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson
American Royals by Katharine McGee
The Quiet at the End of the World by Lauren James
The Land of Roar by Jenny Mclachlan
Mind Games by Shana Silver
Dear God, Have you ever gone hungry? By Joseph Bau
My Wedding!

Paris!

Here’s hoping that October is just as amazing as September.