Friday, May 30, 2014

Comic Fridays: Pretty Deadly, Volume 1

From Goodreads:
Kelly Sue DeConnick (Avengers Assemble, Captain Marvel) and Emma Rios (Dr. Strange, Osborn) present the collected opening arc of their surprise-hit series that marries the magical realism of Sandman with the western brutality of Preacher. 
Death's daughter rides the wind on a horse made of smoke and her face bears the skull marks of her father. Her origin story is a tale of retribution as beautifully lush as it is unflinchingly savage.
A fantasy Western telling the story of Death's daughter and of a little girl named Sissy who is destined to face Death and take his powers for her own.  Along the way we have Big Alice, who is hunting Ginny, Death's daughter; a "coward" named Johnny Coyote who is accompanied by a talking raven; Old Fox, who is Sissy's guardian, and, of course, Death himself.  The story is narrated by a butterfly and a rabbit skeleton, so we're in the realm of the fantastic from the opening panels.

I'll start with what I loved: the artwork.  Stunning images and the color is perfect.  I'll definitely be looking to see the artists' other work (Emma Rios and Jordie Bellaire).  I think the artwork is what made this story work for me.  I have major issues with the writing and characters, but I have no regrets about the time I spent with the volume because the artwork was just that fantastic. I love the setting of the American West and the way the magical realism fits in with that world.    

Despite the gorgeous artwork and the promise of a unique and original setting, the characters and plot really just fell flat for me.  The majority of the characters served no purpose in the overall plot.  The mythos of the story is inconsistent and there were gaping plot holes and entire portions that could have been removed with absolutely no effect on the story.  We're not given explanations or insight into most characters' motivations or reason for existing.  Even the bunny/butterfly narration felt weird and unnecessary.  At the end of the story, I'd be hard pressed to give a reason for reading it, or even a concrete plot summary.

Again, I'm torn between loving this for the artwork alone and being confused and disappointed by the story.  I would recommend looking through it for the enjoyment of the illustrations, but not with high hopes for a cohesive and understandable story line.  I'll look for other works by the illustrators, but I'll most likely skip reading the next issues of this series.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Am Not a Booknerd

There are a million articles floating around right now that tell you ten ways to know if you're a bookworm or captioned "You might be a book nerd if..."  Today I am here to confess that, despite all appearances to the contrary, the internet has informed me that I am most definitely NOT a bookworm.

Here's a culling of book nerd fails in my life (will link to the lists I pulled from at the bottom).

You know you're a book nerd if...
1) The thought of ripping apart a book for a craft project horrifies you.
Um, if you've ever been to my house, you know that I tear books to pieces in the name of arts and crafts on the reg.  Pretty much every room in my house has some form of book decor in it.  I don't think books are sacred artifacts.  I'm not going to destroy a Gutenberg Bible or anything, but a MMP from the Dollar Tree or an outdated law book from the recycle bin?  Even a classic novel that's been loved to death and is no longer good for reading?  Fodder for my craft obsession.
2) You've been caught sniffing books in the back aisle of a used bookstore.
I don't really care about how books smell, as long as they don't smell like cigarettes or cat pee or something.  I like the used book store smell fine, but I don't really want a candle that smells like it and I don't go out of my way to smell books.
3) Even though you're grown, the words "school book fair" excites you to this day.
Never been to a school book fair.
4) You hate going to movies based on books, because they never live up to the movies in your head.
Books and movies are two separate things in my mind.  I don't care if a movie is different from a book or takes plenty of liberties.  They're two totally different things and they can't be judged on the same scale.  Apples and oranges.
5) You look at garage sales and thrift stores as a way to rescue books, not just buy them.
See my thoughts on crafting with books.  Garage sales and thrift stores are a GREAT way to get cheap books, but the books don't need me to rescue them because they are, as I said, not sacred, irreplaceable artifacts.  Old math textbooks and accounting manuals can be recycled and the world will not stop turning.
10) You've added GPS tags to your bookplates so you know where your loaned books are at all times.
I keep books I've read for the sole purpose of loaning them out.  A large part of my joy in owning a large collection of books is in handing them out to friends at appropriate moments.  When I loan a book, I don't think about whether or not it'll be returned, what condition it'll be in, or how long that friend will keep it.  If I never get it back, that's cool too.  Once again, NOT SACRED.  It's a thing and things can be replaced. 
11) A book has made you cry hysterically in public.
I have a heart of stone when it comes to books.  Here are a few books that didn't even bring a tear to my eye: The Fault in Our Stars, The Book Thief, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas...I could go on for quite a while with this.
12) You have tons of book boyfriends.
I don't really get crushes on book characters.  Maybe that's related to not crying a lot?  I do get emotionally involved in books, I just know they're not real, so the whole having a crush thing doesn't usually happen.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: Lie Still by Julia Heaberlin

From Goodreads:
When Emily Page and her husband move from Manhattan to the wealthy enclave of Clairmont, Texas, she hopes she can finally escape her haunted past—and outrun the nameless stalker who has been taunting her for years. Pregnant with her first child, Emily just wants to start over. But as she is drawn into a nest of secretive Texas women—and into the unnerving company of their queen, Caroline Warwick—Emily finds that acceptance is a very dangerous game.

It isn’t long before Caroline mysteriously disappears and Emily is facing a rash of anonymous threats. Are they linked to the missing Caroline? Or to Emily’s terrifying encounter in college, years earlier? As the dark truth about Caroline emerges, Emily realizes that some secrets are impossible to hide—and that whoever came for Caroline is now coming for her.
Before I actually review this book (which I loved), I have to point out the elephant in the room: could this cover be trying any harder to look like Gone Girl?

Black cover, blowing blonde hair, crazy similar red sans serif typeface, even the blurbs look similar.  I get it.  And honestly, I probably would have passed this one right on by if it HADN'T looked so much like Gone Girl.  Content-wise, I'd never compare the two, but it worked out well for them in my case, since I picked it up in a random library browse-by of new books.

 In terms of literary merit, we're not looking at a Gone Girl.  I was actually pleased to see that despite the cover similarities, the publisher avoided making those comparisons in their jacket copy.  It's a thriller, but the similarities end there.

For one thing, we have largely likable protagonists.  I really enjoyed the experience of rooting for Emily and her husband and coming to appreciate some of the initially less-likable characters.  We've also got villains we can love to hate, who are deliciously creepy, and who pose a genuine, immediate threat to our protagonists - all things that I look for in thrillers.

My only complaint is that the ending was a bit rushed and wrapped up quite neatly.  I wasn't "thrilled" with the outcome, but I was somewhat surprised by it, which is always a plus in a thriller.  This is certainly genre fiction, but it was genre fiction that delivered exactly what I'm looking for in a thriller.

Entertainment Value
As above, when I'm reading a thriller, I'm looking for suspense - in particular, I'm looking for an immediate threat faced by the protagonist and a villain who creeps me out.  I want to be on the edge of my seat wondering what will happen next, and I particularly enjoy not really knowing who the real villain is.  This book delivers on all of those fronts.  I loved the "mean girls grown up" aspect of the book as well.  It kept me guessing and had me worried about the characters and anxiously turning pages.

I recommend it for those who love thrillers and domestic suspense.  I thoroughly enjoyed my read of it and I think it's a great choice for fans of the genre.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review: Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell

From Goodreads:
'There are no strangers in Rothesay, Michael. Everyone knows who you are and always will. It's a blessing but it's also a curse.' 
Eleven-year-old Michael Murray is the best at two things: keepy-uppies and keeping secrets. His family think he's too young to hear grown-up stuff, but he listens at doors; it's the only way to find out anything. And Michael's heard a secret, one that might explain the bruises on his mother's face. 
When the whispers at home and on the street become too loud to ignore, Michael begins to wonder if there is an even bigger secret he doesn't know about. Scared of what might happen if anyone finds out, and desperate for life to return to normal, Michael sets out to piece together the truth. 
But he also has to prepare for the upcoming talent show, keep an eye out for Dirty Alice, his arch-nemesis from down the street, and avoid eating Granny's watery stew. Closed Doors is the startling new novel from the acclaimed author of The Death of Bees. It is a vivid evocation of the fears and freedoms of childhood in the 1980s and a powerful tale of love, the loss of innocence and the importance of family in difficult times.
At about this same time last year, I was reading and falling in love with Lisa O'Donnell's The Death of Bees (click here to see my review).  Once again, I was impressed by the quality of writing in her latest work, Closed Doors.  There are a lot of similarities between the two titles, such as having a child narrator, the loss of childhood innocence as a result of dark and difficult times, and of course, the overall "coming of age" theme.

I fell head over heels for Michael, our eleven year old narrator.  He is the perfect picture of the first beginnings of puberty.  He is simultaneously intrigued with and revolted by issues of sexuality, particularly women.  He wants to be a man and be a part of the adult conversations that he listens in on, but he also isn't ready to handle their depth.

In some ways, although Michael is much older, I was reminded of Emma Donaghue's Room, just because of the way that O'Donnell so perfectly captures the age of her narrator.  It was done flawlessly, which I think is a true accomplishment for any author trying to write from a child's point of view.

Entertainment Value
As with the writing, I was impressed.  I was captivated by the story, but also by the characters.  There's something of a mystery running through the plot line, but I think the story is really about the characters and the ways they grow and change.  I loved seeing that pretty much every character in the book was dynamic and as they deal with some very trying times, they all grow.  It kept my up super late to finish, and there's really no better praise than that.

I highly recommend giving this author a try.  She's officially on my watch list - whatever she publishes in the future, I'll pick up.  I'd recommend this one to people who read and enjoyed The Death of Bees, as well as to those who enjoy child narrators done well, coming of age stories, loss of innocence stories, or books that straddle the line between women's lit and literary fiction.  I think this definitely has a cross-gender appeal, as well as a wide age-range.  Readers of more serious YA would also enjoy this one.

Thank you to TLC for letting me participate in the tour!

Click here for a full list of other blogs participating and links to their reviews.
Click here to see the author's website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Comic Fridays: Batman:The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

I've been really enjoying comics and graphic novels lately, but for some reason I always seem to push them to the bottom of my list when I'm reading on a deadline (which is always).  To combat that, I've decided that Fridays can be my guilt free comics/ graphic novel reading time.  This nice thing is that they're usually fairly quick reads and since I'm off on Fridays all summer I've got enough time right now to read at least one every Friday and report back here.

From Goodreads:
Crime runs rampant in the streets, and the man who was Batman is still tortured by the memories of his parents' murders. As civil society crumbles around him, Bruce Wayne's long-suppressed vigilante side finally breaks free of its self-imposed shackles. 

The Dark Knight returns in a blaze of fury, taking on a whole new generation of criminals and matching their level of violence. He is soon joined by this generation's Robin — a girl named Carrie Kelley, who proves to be just as invaluable as her predecessors.

But can Batman and Robin deal with the threat posed by their deadliest enemies, after years of incarceration have made them into perfect psychopaths? And more important, can anyone survive the coming fallout of an undeclared war between the superpowers - or a clash of what were once the world's greatest superheroes? 
I loved the idea of taking on the story of an aging Batman.  We typically see him at his prime in his late 20's, but this version finds him significantly older.  It also finds him still obsessed with/ tormented by the death of his parents and his need to enact the justice that he was robbed of.

I really appreciated and enjoyed seeing what his dark moods and single-mindedness look like for a man in middle age.  I think it was a brilliant way to showcase what a lifetime of being Batman might mean for a person's psyche.  And I especially enjoyed seeing how it played out in his relationship with a new Robin - including making incredibly dangerous choices that put her life in jeopardy because of his own damaged perspective.

I also liked seeing how the other characters in the Batman universe had aged (The Joker, Two-Face, and Cat Woman all make appearances, as well as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred).  I can't stress enough how brilliantly I think Miller plays out what they would look like if we saw them 25 years in the future.  The character development is phenomenal.

I also have absolutely no complaints in terms of the artwork.  It's beautifully done and a treat to look at.  I'm so pleased that I was able to find a copy at the used book store, because it's one I plan to keep on my shelf and go back to again in the future - although I may have to do so with a magnifying glass.  My one complaint is that, in paperback format, the pictures are itty-bitty, which made it hard for me to see all of the details at times.

If you're a fan of the Batman universe, I feel like this is an absolute must-read.  It's also going on my list of must-read graphic novels - in addition to being a great super-hero story, it's also an amazing example of detailed characterization in graphic format.  Love, love, love.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book Review: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

From Goodreads:
Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother's pushiness and her father's lack of interest tell her they're the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn't know the passengers inside, but they're the only people who won't judge her when she asks them her most personal questions--like what it means that she's falling in love with a girl.

As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can't share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don't even know she's there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers' lives--and her own--for the better.
There's no denying that A.S. King is a talented author.  I'd definitely include this title on a list of YA books with a literary bent.  It's much more character-driven than plot-driven, focusing on Astrid's attempts to figure out who she is and how to stand up for herself and her decisions.  I really appreciated how fully fleshed out the characters were and the way that we see some of them grow and change, while others remain stuck in their same patterns.  I also enjoyed the more fantastical elements of the story, particularly the portions where we see what is happening to the characters in airplanes passing overhead.

Entertainment Value
This is where things got a little bit more dicey for me.  I just didn't fall in love with Astrid or really any other character in the story.  They're all kind of horrible.  And while we do see growth, mainly from Astrid, I don't think she's really accepted her right to be her own person by the end of the book.

I was particularly annoyed by her love interest, who is constantly pressuring her to do more physically than she wants to do.  And while Astrid does learn to stand up to her, she remains a love interest for the entire book - despite forcing herself on Astrid.  If she were a male character, there's no way the reader would be "allowed" to root for her and Astrid.  So why is it different with her being a girl?

I liked the book and it sparked a great discussion amongst my FYA Book Club friends.  We had a great time talking about it and I think I came away with a greater appreciation for it, but it still isn't a favorite.  I applaud King's writing, but the plot just didn't grab me and the romance felt really coercive to me.  I recommend it for fans of contemporary YA, those with an interest in LGBTQ themes, and "issue" books.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower

From Goodreads:
Wendy Lower's stunning account of the role of German women on the World War II Nazi eastern front powerfully revises history, proving that we have ignored the reality of women's participation in the Holocaust, including as brutal killers. The long-held picture of German women holding down the home front during the war, as loyal wives and cheerleaders for the F├╝hrer, pales in comparison to Lower's incisive case for the massive complicity, and worse, of the 500,000 young German women she places, for the first time, directly in the killing fields of the expanding Reich...

Hitler's Furies will challenge our deepest beliefs: genocide is women's business too, and the evidence can be hidden for seventy years.
First of all, Lower does an amazing job of researching and providing citations and appropriate direction for further research.  She has done an extensive amount of research on the subject of German teachers, nurses, secretaries, and wives of officers during World War II and her research shows.  I appreciated the quite lengthy notes regarding research that are included at the end of the book.

The book was nominated for a National Book Award, and I think the honor of the nomination is certainly appropriate.  The book is engaging and understandable, but also contains well-documented research and analysis.  Readers should note that the book provides case studies of thirteen women specifically rather than documentation on a larger scale.  Some reviewers have found this problematic, but I wasn't bothered by the focus on particular accounts and didn't find it to hurt the author's premise, which is that women who were not Nazi officials or prison guards - women who were average citizens - also committed atrocities during World War II.

Entertainment Value
As difficult as it is to say a book about Nazism is "entertaining", this one is certainly easy to read and accessible to most readers who have an interest in the subject.  I do wish that the book could have been longer and contained more information.  I understand that the brevity is intended to make the book more appealing to a wide audience, but I thought 188 pages of actual text was quite short (there are approximately 100 additional pages of research citations and notes).

In her closing remarks the author brings up the way that history, the media, and popular culture depicts the women who participated in the genocide of Nazi German as sexual deviants.  Rather than portraying them as the common Volk of German swept up in the anti-semitism and violence of their nation, they are overwhelmingly portrayed as vampish Jezebels, often with twisted, vaguely erotic motivations.  I would have been fascinated to see that examined in more detail, rather than as a passing remark in the epilogue and at only 188 pages, I think the book could have certainly have encompassed more detailed information without becoming over-long.

The author does a fine job of bringing these thirteen case studies to light and introducing readers to a new way of seeing women who participated in genocidal atrocities committed by the Nazi party outside of the concentration camps.  Her research is well-done and documented in a way that is easy for the reader to follow.  I wish she had spent more time really delving into analysis of the behavior, rather than just providing a bare bones narrative of what these thirteen women did.  Read with caution, knowing that this book contains descriptions of the Holocaust and atrocities committed during the Nazi regime.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Favorite Literary Friends

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the end of Friends, which is, basically, the only sitcom I've ever really fallen in love with.  In college my best friend/suite-mate/eventual roommate Bethany had the entire series and we watched it endlessly.  I'm usually not a fan of sitcoms at all, but Friends is different.  Since I'm feeling nostalgic about the fact that it's been TEN WHOLE YEARS since it ended, I decided to post about my favorite friendships in literature.

Scout, Jem, and Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird
Runner-up: Scout, Jem, and Dill, especially the movie version of Dill.

Jess and Leslie in Bridge to Terabithia

Anne Shirley and Diana Barry in Anne of Green Gables

The real-life friendship between Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy, portrayed in both Truth and Beauty and Autobiography of a Face

Johnny Wheelwright and Owen Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany

Gene and Phinny in A Separate Peace

Idgie and Ruth in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

All of the mothers in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Karou and Zuzanna in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series

Beth and Jennifer in Attachments

Who are your favorite literary friends?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: History Decoded: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time by Brad Meltzer

From Goodreads:
It's an irresistible combination: Brad Meltzer, a born storyteller, counting down the world's most intriguing unsolved mysteries.  Adapted from Decoded, Meltzer's hit show on the History Network, History Decoded explores fascinating, unexplained questions. Is Fort Knox empty? Why was Hitler so intent on capturing the Roman "Spear of Destiny"? What's the government hiding in Area 51? Where did the Confederacy's $19 million in gold and silver go at the end of the Civil War? And did Lee Harvey Oswald really act alone? 
Meltzer sifts through the evidence; weighs competing theories; separates what we know to be true with what's still - and perhaps forever - unproved or unprovable; and in the end, decodes the mystery, arriving at the most likely solution. Along the way we meet Freemasons, Rosicrucians, Nazi propagandists, and the real DB Cooper.
This is definitely history lite.  It's easy to read and understand and goes by quickly.  There's no necessary background knowledge or deeper analysis required on the part of the reader.  It's not poorly written, but it's not something I'd consider academic by any means.  I thought it was readily apparent that the book was written with a "co-author"/ghost writer and that the Meltzer name was attached for the sake of drawing in show viewers.  Nothing great to report in terms of writing quality.  I was also disappointed that the author included no source material, references, or citations.

Entertainment Value
Despite having some issues with the writing and the lack of source material/citations, I did enjoy my read of the book.  I felt like it gave me a good overview of some of the most popular conspiracies and I definitely learned some things about history along the way.  I liked the pull out envelopes that were filled with documents relating to the conspiracy - maps, letters, that kind of thing.

I think it's a good book to read if you're looking for some historical entertainment.  It would also be a great way to introduce middle grade readers or young adult readers to historical non-fiction as a genre.  But I wouldn't rely on it for any academic purposes and I think of it more as a pleasure read than an educational read.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Haul (17)

It's been a while since I posted any hauls - although don't let that fool you into thinking I haven't been book shopping.  This is from my most recent trip to the used book store.  As always, I'll point out that I almost never spend real money on books - I get everything through trade at our local used book store.  I've left the price tags on these so you can get an idea of how awesome McKays is as far as pricing is concerned:

Here Comes the Bride: Women, Weddings, and the Marriage Mystique (I'm fascinated by weddings and the wedding industry, so this was a must-own)
This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women (had this one on my wish list for quite a while)

Kills Yourself to Life: 85% of a True Story (Klosterman's recounting of a cross-country road trip to tour spots where famous rock stars died)
Fargo Rock City (also by Klosterman - this one about his childhood)

A Prayer for Owen Meany (ok, so yes, I already own this, but I have a MMP that's marked up with various notes - this one is nice and crisp and in perfect condition and trade sized)
The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things
Bait and Switch (Ehrenreich is a favorite of mine, so this was an automatic buy)

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Funny in Farsi (I've read it and loved it)

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (another that's been on my wish list forever - it's about a prisoner in a concentration camp who was asked for forgiveness by a Nazi officer and refused to answer.  This collects essays from religious and moral authorities on their interpretation of the event)
IV by Chuck Klosterman (essay collection)

I've also won a few/received a few for review over the past two months or so

The Noble Hustle by Colson Whitehead (won from BookRiot)
Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly Whittemore (won from Read it Forward)

Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched (unsolicited finished copy)
The Lobster Kings (unsolicited finished copy)

Don't Try to Find Me (TLC tour)
The Book of You (also TLC tour - currently reading it and loving it)

Noggin by John Corey Whaley (this one's an audiobook that Luke and I plan to listen to on a road trip later this month - received from the publisher for review)

Anything new on your shelves lately?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

From Goodreads:
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.
I think it's best if I say up front that my main critique of the book could be spoilerish.  While I don't plan on actually spoiling any plot points, I feel like if I make my main argument against the book, I'll be adding to the very thing that annoyed me.  So, be warned, my last paragraph is going to be about what annoyed me most and it could be considered spoilerish, even though I won't discuss plot points.

Beautifully done for the most part.  It's a very short book, but it packs a major punch.  I liked the narrator's voice so much - I thought she was unique and multi-faceted.  She was both sympathetic and less than likable in parts, which really adds depth.  We get to know the cousins - and Gat, one aunt's boyfriend's nephew - best of all the characters.  Beyond these main four, we don't see much dimension in the other characters, which takes away somewhat from the overall quality of the writing.  The book is super short, so I felt like maybe with some more time and detail they could have been better fleshed out.

Entertainment Value
As with the writing, I'm torn on this one.  I devoured the book, but at 127 ebook pages that wasn't a difficult task.  I was enthralled with the characters and the story itself, but when it was over I wasn't left with any larger meaning.  It didn't speak to me beyond being a good story with lots of twists and turns.  In that way, it was somewhat generic.  But I don't want to downplay my enjoyment of the book either - I read it quickly and was intensely involved while I was reading it.  It just didn't speak to me on the level I was expecting - I didn't find it any more thought-provoking or memorable than any run of the mill thriller, although the writing was certainly better than many.

If you haven't read it yet, now is the time to look away (although I'm not including any plot spoilers, be aware that what I say could influence your reading experience):

If you've read any reviews or descriptions of the book (and I had), you know that the whole hook of this book is that the ending is a SUPER BIG SHOCKER.  The galley itself comes with a request on the first page that you not share plot details so as not to ruin the surprise.  Don't worry I'm not going to say what the surprise is, although it is indeed shocking.  What bothered me is that the very fact that I was anticipating a MAJOR SHOCK meant that I was not in the least bit shocked.  I spent the entire book trying to guess what the secret major twist would be, and because I knew it was coming, I guessed it about halfway through the book.  Maybe if I hadn't seen it coming, I would have been more impacted by the end.  It just kind of took away my joy and delight in discovering the twist.

This is a beautiful story of family, extreme privilege, selfishness and greed, and first love.  I think it's going to appeal to readers of contemporary YA, particularly those who have enjoyed more intense or dramatic titles along the lines of Ellen Hopkins' novels in verse or Megan Abbott's Dare Me.  It's also going to appeal to those looking for a surprise ending (the category I fell into), although, as I mentioned above, that's a double-edged sword.

Thank you to NetGalley for making a copy available for me to review!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: The Book of You by Claire Kendal

From Goodreads:
His name is Rafe, and he is everywhere Clarissa turns. At the university where she works. Her favorite sewing shop. The train station. Outside her apartment. Hi messages choke her voice mail; his gifts litter her mailbox. Since that one regrettable night, his obsession with her has grown, becoming more terrifying with each passing day. And as Rafe has made clear, he will never let her go.

Clarissa’s only escape from this harrowing nightmare is inside a courtroom—where she is a juror on a trial involving a victim whose experiences eerily parallel her own. There she finds some peace and even makes new friends, including an attractive widower named Robert, whose caring attentions make her feel desired and safe. But as a disturbingly violent crime unfolds in the courtroom, Clarissa realizes that to survive she must expose Rafe herself. Conceiving a plan, she begins collecting the evidence of Rafe’s madness to use against him—a record of terror that will force her to relive every excruciating moment she desperately wants to forget. Proof that will reveal the twisted, macabre fairy tale that Rafe has spun around them . . . with an ending more horrifying than her darkest fears.
I was honestly pretty impressed with the writing quality in this one, particularly given that it's a debut.  Kendal does a great job of creating characters who are both likable and believably flawed, as well as a villain who is absolutely loathsome - a must in a good thriller.  My one complaint is that we are told the story in alternating viewpoints: from Clarissa's first person point of view in her journal and from a third person perspective, focusing on Clarissa.  I really enjoyed the journal entries, but felt disconnected and thrown off during the third person portions.

Entertainment Value
I couldn't put it down.  It was deliciously creepy and I loved the suspense.  I cared about the characters and was really into the story line.  There were moments where I wondered if some things could have come out to cut the length down, but overall I really enjoyed the reading experience.

I recommend it for fans of domestic suspense/psychological thrillers.  It's intensely creepy without being graphically violent, although there are some very short instances of violence, including sexual assault, so it comes with a potential trigger warning.  If you're interested, click here to see the book trailer.

Thank you to TLC for letting me participate in the tour!  Click here to see the rest of the tour stops.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series by Laini Taylor

I've given this review a lot of thought because I have two major reactions: the first is to squee and scream and jump up and down and rave about how much I love this series.  Basically, to fangirl out.  The second is to be calm and collected and give some concrete reasons for why I think the series deserves to be considered Literature with a capital L.  Because that requires spoilers, I'm going to begin with the squeeing.  Then I'll draw a line.  Beneath the line there WILL BE SERIES SPOILERS.

Let the fangirling commence:
Holy moly, ya'll.  I cannot even with the love for this series.  I read the first book when the series first came out and decided to wait on reading the rest until it was finished.  I liked the first book, but the second book truly hooked me.  I spent several mornings laying on the back porch mainlining the second and third books (despite the wrist cramps that came with the door-stop size).  And it was worth every minute.

The settings are beautiful and picture perfect.  We go from Prague to Marrakesh to a world completely of Taylor's own making and every setting is more beautiful than the last.  In terms of characters, she has written an amazingly complex cast, all of whom have developed back stories and personalities that you either love or love to hate.  The depiction of friendship between our main character Karou and her best friend Zuzana rival (and in my opinion even surpass) the romance that is also quite nice in and of itself.

To sum it all up: amazing world building, fully developed characters, and an extraordinarily unique plot.

___________________SPOILERS BELOW THIS LINE___________________

 Seriously, you've been warned...
I mean it...
Specific instances of truly amazing writing
I'm pulling from my ongoing text message conversation with my bookish bestie Jennie (We Still Read), but with less squealing and more explaining of how Taylor does an amazing job with this series.  I like bullet points because that feels less book reportish, so here we go:

  • Taylor is not afraid to kill off her characters.  Or have unspeakably terrible things happen to them.  I like my fantasy with a healthy dose of dark and that's not something that I have found a lot of in YA fantasy.  So I was thrilled to see that Taylor really went there with her characters (RIP Hazael).  And I was particularly pleased to see that Thiago's attempted rape of Karou didn't end with Akiva or Ziri showing up to save the day: Karou saves herself.  The assault itself also plays a large role in the development of Karou's character and in the way she interacts with Ziri for the rest of the series - it isn't just there to up the stakes for Karou or to add a hero scene for a romantic interest.
  • Similarly, Taylor can write some twisted villains.  Again, I want some darkness in my fantasy, so I need a villain who can be truly blood-curdling.  Between Thiago and Jael, Taylor has this base covered.  They are deliciously evil and ruthless.  And bonus points for including multiple dimensions to the villains.  For example, Thiago is a necessary character.  Despite his ruthlessness and his thirst for blood, the chimaera would have been destroyed without him.  We loathe him, but like Karou we see that he is necessary for the chimaera to have any hope of survival.
  • Zuzana and Karou.  I could spent hours raving over their friendship.  Three entire books with multiple story arcs and not a single one involving Karou and Zuzana fighting.  Turns out, teen girls can have complex frienships that don't involve cattiness or back-stabbing.  Who knew?
  • There are so many plot threads, but none of them are lost or damaged by the complexity.  It seems like Taylor has considered every aspect of the situations she puts her characters in as well.  For example, she brings up the socio-political implications of having the angels reveal their presence in Rome and the "demons" reveal themselves in a Muslim country.  Brilliant!  And just like the plot threads, Taylor is able to create many characters with unique personalities who change and grow throughout the series without losing any cohesion.
  • And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite scene in the series, which takes place at the end of the third book.  I cried my eyeballs out when Karou comes to the islands to meet Akiva and is met by all of the women who have been a part of her journey.  The time she spends with them preparing for her special night with Akiva touched me so much more than the romance itself (although let's not deny that that part is good too).  I loved how the orphaned Karou is surrounded by mothers and sisters from all parts of her life and couldn't get over how well constructed those last few pages were.  
So there you have it - all of my raves, squees, and calm, measured opinions about one of the best YA series I've read.  What did you think?  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Book Review: This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

From Goodreads:
Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. Rosie's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It's a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.
Every few months I go through a graphic novel phase, and I'm in the midst of one right now.  I just love the medium so much.  I've decided that instead of bingeing on them, my new plan will be comics/graphic novel Fridays.  I've got so many I want to read and my library has an amazing collection, so why not devote one day a week to reading in graphic format?

This one is an amazing coming of age story about two young girls on the verge of becoming teenagers, who are noticing boys for the first time.  Rose develops her first crush on an older boy and the two spend lots of time watching the older teens and trying to understand their more complicated lives.  In the midst of trying to figure out the mysteries of teenage life, Rose is also dealing with the increasing tension between her parents.

Even though I didn't experience many of the things Rose experiences (the summers at a lake house, the tension between parents), I could identify with her in so many ways.  The authors do an amazing job of recreating that time when you're still too young to really get teen life and sex and understanding your parents as people, but old enough to want to know those things.

I fell in love with Rose and Windy and their sibling-like relationship.  I loved how they fought and made up and fought again, but their friendship remained unchanged.  I have some memories of similar childhood friends and fights.  It's just a beautiful coming of age story.  The illustrations are also gorgeous and do a great job of reflecting both the innocence and experimentation in things relating to adulthood that Rose experiences.

I highly recommend giving this one a try.  I think it makes for a good introduction to graphic novels for those who may not be interested in fantasy, science fiction, or super heroes.  It's poignant and meaningful, but has a lightheartedness about it as well.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Book Review: Little-One Yard Wonders

My little brother introduced me to this series when he bought me a copy of the first book as a Christmas gift.  I fell in love and have kept my eye on the author, so I was thrilled to see this pop up on NetGalley for review.  I won't be doing my typical writing/entertainment value review, since this is actually a crafting/sewing book.  My very favorite sewing projects have all been things that I've made for babies.  It's just such a blessing to me to give something that I spent time making.

This addition to the series was ideal for me, and is one that I'll definitely be picking up to own.  It has easy to follow instructions for making children's clothing, toys, stuffed animals, accessories (diaper bags and changing pads), and even shoes.  The book also comes with ready to use patterns for all of the projects that require them.  And, with each pattern using a yard or less of fabric, it's a great way to make use of remainders (which I'm addicted to buying).

It's a great book for beginners and for those more experienced, since it contains a variety of skill levels, from basic hemming and seaming to more complicated tailoring, although none of the projects are too advanced.  If you've got little ones to sew for, or if you're looking for something to try out in terms of making your own shower gifts, this is a great place to start.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Friday, May 2, 2014

What I Read in April

April was a good month in the our household.  The weather here has been amazing, perfect for outside reading.  Apparently allergies have been bad for many folks, but as I don't suffer from them I've been able to hang out to my heart's content.  Here are a few of my highlights:

Sweetest Chief, helping me read in bed at night.

Not only did I finish the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, but I also got a tweet from Laini Taylor!  Look for my review next week, by the way .

World Book Night!  I gave out Where'd You Go Bernadette in my work library and around the downtown Chattanooga area.  I had a great response and only one person thought I was proselytizing.  
It was also Luke's and my sixth anniversary.  We're planning an upcoming getaway for just the two of us, but on the date itself we had a nice dinner out and walked around to the spot where Luke proposed.

The best?  Luke got me this swing as an anniversary gift!  It's super comfy, has an umbrella to keep me shaded, and even folds out into a bed.  Basically, it's where I'll be living from now until it gets cold again.  This weekend I'm going to buy some outdoor rope lights to put across the top and citronella candles so I can read into the night if I want.

Where you'll find me for the next five or six months.

And, of course, the books:

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences by Kitty Burns Florey

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Design Your Life by Ellen Lupton

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Blankets by Craig Thompson

Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

High Crime Area by Joyce Carol Oates

Books read in April: 13
Pages read in April: 4396
Money saved this year by using the library, buying used, and reading from my shelves: $625.90 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

My Favorite Mean Girls of Literature

Reader Friends, it has been ten whole years since Mean Girls came out.  Hard to believe, especially since I still own a pair of jeans that look remarkably similar to those Lindsey Lohan has on in the movie poster.  Should I be concerned?  Regardless, it's one of my favorite movies AND one of my favorite things to read about.  In honor of it's anniversary, I've put together a list of my favorite books about the mean girls we love to hate.

The YA

Mean Girls of historical fiction.

Mean Girl gets a second chance.

Mean Girls rule the school.

Mean Girls hiding hearts of gold.

Dare Me and The Fever by Megan Abbott
Mean Girls take it to the gritty extreme.

The Adult Fiction

Just one Mean little Girl.

Mean Girls all grown up.

Mean Girls of short stories.

The ultimate Mean Girl.

And a few non-fiction for good measure

Mean Girls do college.

Mean Girls of history.

And, of course, the book that inspired it all

Mean Girls get their start.

Who would you add?