Last summer my life as a reader changed when I discovered Jojo Moyes. Until then it was virtually unheard of for me to read books in a single sitting or stay up later than normal to squeeze in just one more chapter. It was even rare for me to read an author's entire backlist - unless it was someone I truly adore, I would have my favorite series or standalones and not worry about the rest. Then Jojo came along and I found myself staying up later, reading longer, and tracking down old titles. At this point it's a given that she'll be a 5-star read and she hasn't let me down yet (not that I expect her to).
Liza McCullen lives with her 11-year-old daughter in the tiny seaside town of Silver Bay. She makes a living giving whale and dolphin tours and doesn't envy the larger (and louder) tourist destinations in the area. Her aunt is something of a local celebrity, 50 years previously Kathleen caught the largest shark on record and the fame helped keep their small hotel and whale museum afloat. Unfortunately, while the residents of Silver Bay might like the peace and quiet, it's the other islands that are bringing in money.
Mike Dormer is a corporate hot shot, having worked his way up the ladder and has his eye on becoming partner. He's engaged to the boss's daughter, has a swanky flat in London, and is granted the kind of peace that only comes from never having to worry about money. His latest project nearly tanks until he volunteers to find a new location for a resort. His research takes him to Australia, more specifically, Silver Bay. The bay would be perfect for a water park, a spa, a hotel. The longer he stays in the town, however, the more he comes to see just what Silver Bay really means to its residents and when he gets the chance to see whales up close his once-firm resolve begins to falter.
Let's get this out in the open: I love Jojo. Absolutely love her. That said, Silver Bay wasn't my favorite and for a good part of the beginning, I actually had a hard time getting into the story. I became overwhelmed with the technical terms the whalers were using and Mike's trysts with the secretary didn't impress me. I have complete faith in Jojo, so I stuck with it and am so glad I did! Once Mike flew to Silver Bay I was hooked.
As with Jojo's other novels, Silver Bay features a wide cast of characters and they're all given screen-time, so to speak. I'm a HUGE fan of multiple narratives, so you know this was totally okay by me! Not only was it a treat to get inside the heads of some of the secondary characters, but it was also a great insight into Liza's past. Only Hannah (Liza's daughter) and Kathleen know the true story of what really occurred that made Liza flee London, but the other characters know something happened. Why was she so cold? Why did she close off her feelings? What on earth was she so afraid of? The other whalers speculate and over time the details are told. I won't give any spoilers, but I'll just say I think all of Jojo's books should come with a box of tissues. I have yet to make it through one dry-eyed!
There were twists I didn't see coming and some I could have done without, but overall, this is Jojo Moyes and she's phenomenal. If you're brand new to her, 1) you should seriously fix that! and 2) Silver Bay shouldn't be the book you go with for an introduction. If you're a long-time fan, however, by all means pick this up! Any Jojo is a great Jojo and Silver Bay is no exception. I laughed, I cried, I was thoroughly captivated.(less)
I Am Pilgrim is a sweeping 700-page behemoth of a novel that spans multiple decades and continents and I cou...morethis review will go live on the blog05/27
I Am Pilgrim is a sweeping 700-page behemoth of a novel that spans multiple decades and continents and I could have easily read another 700 pages. I'm typically hesitant to give in to hype, I've been burned in the past, but with this novel, the hype is not only deserved, but actually doesn't do the book justice. I Am Pilgrim is greater than the hype. It's the kind of book that rocked me to my core and left me breathless. It took me over a month to finally come up with a review but even after a month's thought, nothing I say will be good enough. This book is that good.
I'm purposefully leaving the summary vague; uncovering the details is half the fun! What initially starts out as a routine - albeit rather gruesome - murder investigation in a seedy New York hotel quickly spirals into a whirlwind race across Europe and the Middle East to stop a crazed zealot from raining destruction down on America. Throw in some ultra-secret government divisions, biological warfare, and a main character with severe mommy issues, and you've got the backbone of I Am Pilgrim.
It's never fully revealed just who our main character is. He was adopted as a child and later on recruited for an agency where he was given a new name and a new past. With each case he took on a new identity. He's a ghost, living on the fringes of society, never getting close to anyone. After he left the agency, he wrote a book detailing various crimes and unique methods of killing. He becomes involved in the murder investigation after it becomes clear the killer used his book as a blueprint, a checklist of what not to do and how to get away with it. From there I Am Pilgrim takes on a life of its own and I happily buckled in for the ride.
This is a novel where there's So. Much. to say but saying it will give away the book's secrets and I refused to ruin it for anyone! I Am Pilgrim is definitely not for the queasy and makes that clear with the opening scene. Thankfully I'm the kind of person who can't resist watching horror unfold and was thoroughly ensnared in this book's web. I'm convinced Hayes is something of a genius - the way he introduced multiple stories that, on first look, appeared completely unrelated only to have everything come together at the end had me in awe. It takes a special kind of author to turn a book of this length into a frenzied page-turner, and Hayes is clearly a master of his craft.
I Am Pilgrim kept me up late, got me up early, and had me sneaking in some reading time whenever I could throughout the day. When I wasn't reading this book I was thinking about it and counting down the minutes until I was able to get back to it. I realize this review is little more than me rephrasing "I LOVE THIS BOOK" over and over again, but when it comes down to it, that's all I can say (without spoiling anything, of course). I Am Pilgrim is a highly ambition novel that fully lives up to those ambitions and I'm counting on it becoming a huge hit this summer. It appears this is going to be a series, and if that's truly the case, I desperately need the next!(less)
The House at the End of Hope Street is that rare kind of story that initially comes across as wholly unassuming and it isn't until you look up and see it's going on 3am that you realize this book has completely enchanted you. There are few books I'll read in a single sitting and even fewer that I'll sacrifice sleep for, but with this book I happily ignored the rapidly-approaching dawn. For 280 gorgeous pages I lived and breathed this story. When I finally finished I wanted to hold the book close, somehow make it a part of me. I seriously considered starting over again, turning back to the very first page - and I have never reread a book immediately after finishing.
At 19, Alba Ashby is well on her way to a bright future. She was Cambridge University's youngest student (15) and is now the youngest PhD student. Her world collapses in an Unspeakable Moment - throughout the novel the truth is hinted at, though never fully detailed until later on - and she sees herself with no option but to leave school. Not wanting to return to a home where her siblings hate her (Lord Ashby's children prefer the latest and greatest, not understanding their youngest sister's passion for books and history) and finds herself at the door of 11 Hope Street.
As if she fully expected to see Alba on her doorstep, an older woman introduces herself as Peggy and invites the girl in. She invites Alba to stay in the house for ninety-nine days while she gets her life back on track. Once inside, Alba notices the photographs lining the walls. Hundreds on photos of famous women, all of whom had taken up residence in the house at one point or another. Beatrix Potter, Florence Nightingale, and Sylvia Plath had found the house in their time of need and now it's their turn to offer advice to Alba - literally. The house on Hope Street isn't an ordinary home, it's a living, breathing place ready to provide inspiration and assistance to any woman who finds herself at the door.
The characters in The House at the End of Hope Street are just as magical as the house itself. Along with Peggy and Alba, there are two other women who have taken up residence in the house. Greer, a starlet pushing forty, recently discovered her fiance entertaining a woman young enough to be her daughter and Carmen, a beautiful Portuguese woman who fell in love with a musician and is now holding onto a dark secret. The story's narrative alternates between these four women and nothing - nothing - makes me happier than some multiple narratives! There's Stella, a ghost only Alba can see, who has filled the role of friend and confidant that was missing from Alba's life. There's also Mog, a cat who has been in the house for decades - and let's not forget the photographs! The entire time I was reading this book I kept imagining Harry Potter-esque photos. The women in the frames are fully capable of interaction and, whether Alba wants it or not, are quick to offer advice. At the very end of the book there are a few pages devoted to these women which give mini-bios. There are suffragists (Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurst), writers (Daphne du Maurier, George Eliot), actresses (Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh), scientists (Caroline Herschel, Mary Somerville) and so many, many other remarkable women and let it be noted that my interest is definitely piqued. Don't be at all surprised if future reviews include a biography or two!
The House at the End of Hope Street is a book I could keep talking about for AGES. For such a tiny novel, there's so much to be said about this story! It's also one of those books I loved so much that I fear anything I say could never do it justice. There are novels that I enjoy enough to declare a top pick for the year. This one, however, has gone above and beyond. It's achieved that special status: a favorite not just for the year, but overall. Some books I like enough to reread - at some point. This time I know I'll be revisiting these characters.
Whether you're a Young Adult reader who's looking to dip your feet into the Adult genre or a reader who's looking to get lost in a beautiful world, I cannot recommend this book enough. It had everything I didn't know I had been looking for and Menna van Praag is an author I'll now be keeping my eye on.(less)
Close your eyes. Picturesque. Charming. Quaint. What do you see? Offbeat. Unconventional. Quirky. This is exa...morethis review will go live on the blog7/11
Close your eyes. Picturesque. Charming. Quaint. What do you see? Offbeat. Unconventional. Quirky. This is exactly what you're getting from The Awakening of Miss Prim. There's something decidedly old-fashioned about this story - and that's certainly high praise! One part The Village (bear with me here), one part The Sound of Music, this novel was just plain good and this is a review that scares me. Despite sitting on my thoughts, I'm still unable to come up with the right words to say (apart, of course from I LOVE IT).
Prudencia Prim has more degrees to her name than I have fingers on my hand. With a blatant disregard for a firm "graduates and postgraduates need not apply" and ignoring the "preferably without work experience," Miss Prim marched up the hydrangea-lined path to inquire about a posting for a librarian position. The Man in the Wingchair (a man never named throughout the duration of the novel) decides to hire her on and Miss Prim quickly comes to realize San Ireneo is a town unlike any other.
The tiny village was founded as a refuge of sorts for those seeking to get away from the intensity of city life. In San Ireneo, values are sacred, gardens are perfectly tended, any goods are produced locally, education is prized (the Man in the Wingchair's nieces and nephews - all under the age of 11 - are able to recite ancient Greek and Latin works and hold their own in philosophical debates). What makes this town different is that the school teacher? The bookseller? None of these positions are filled by professionals. Shops open simply because the town lacks a particular ware. Miss Prim comes to learn this way of thinking came largely out of the want for the town's children to have an unbiased education, they learn the basics from the school teacher, but the bulk of their education is learned at various homes, largely the Main in the Wingchair's private library (which Miss Prim has recently taken to organizing).
The Awakening of Miss Prim is such a delightfully sleepy tale, exactly the kind of story I adore. There wasn't much in the way of action; instead, there's a wealth of character development and depth. A variety of topics are explored - religion, philosophy, there's even a debate on the merits of Mr. Darcy. While I'm relatively unfamiliar with the main bulk of 18th-Century British Literature (sorry, Janites!), The Awakening of Miss Prim felt right at home with those works. The Man in the Wingchair is a gentleman in every aspect of the word, San Ireneo itself had an old, primitive feel, the characters are all exceedingly formal. I loved every minute.
In addition to the story, the storytelling was beautiful too. Entire passages gave me pause and there were pages I read and reread because the language was so breathtaking. What boggles my mind is not only that this is a debut, but it's also a translation. That a translation could be this gorgeous is nothing short of amazing! It pains me to say that I feel The Awakening of Miss Prim will go unnoticed by the majority, but those of you who actively seek out under-the-radar novels will find a true gem. Fiercely character-driven, intensely thought-provoking, and with an ending that left me wanting more (I need to know!!), The Awakening of Miss Prim is a fantastic debut that I eagarly look forward to revisiting again. If you like your characters prim and proper (Prudencia Prim is a most apt name) with more than a hint of quirk, do yourself a favor and read this book.(less)
Whenever Jojo Moyes releases a new novel I know I'm in for a good time. The moment I have it in my hands I beg...morethis review will go live on the blog7/1
Whenever Jojo Moyes releases a new novel I know I'm in for a good time. The moment I have it in my hands I begin planning my day around it (I do not appreciate being interrupted while reading her books!) and set aside huge blocks of time in which to dive deep into Jojo's worlds. Since reading the incredible The Girl You Left Behind last year, I have since gone on to work my way through her backlist (something I rarely do). One Plus One is my fourth Jojo to date (The Last Letter from Your Lover and Silver Bay were both devoured earlier this year) and, while I've adored them all, Jojo's growth and ever-sharpening skills as a writer are evident with each novel.
Because my first two forays into Jojo's works were dual-era novels, I had mistakenly assumed this was her shtick. Silver Bay taught me that wasn't the case and One Plus One follows in its footsteps while still employing the multiple narratives that I love so much. Jess doesn't have much. She lives in a government-provided home, works as a house cleaner for wealthy vacationers, and struggles to make ends meet. Her husband took off two years ago and left Jess to support their daughter and his son on her own. Nicky, a smart-but-brooding teenager, is relentlessly bullied by the neighboring kids. Tanzie is an odd little girl, but phenomenal at math.
One phone call changes their world. When Tanzie is granted a hefty scholarship to an elite private school, Jess is left to find a way to come up with the rest of the cash - and fast. Word of a Mathematics Olympics has the family - and their gigantic dog - piling into a less-than-reliable car and on their way to Scotland.
When Ed was in college, the world was in his palms. He partnered with a buddy and together they created a booming software business, leaving both of them very well-off. Unfortunately, Ed ended up in a rather compromising position with an old college friend and now phrases like 'insider trading,' 'litigation fees,' and - the worst - 'jail time' have become a part of his life. In an attempt to lay low for a bit, Ed heads down the coast to stay in his beachfront home. When he first meets the cleaner he doesn't give her the time of day. The second time he meets her (and her kids and dog broken down on the side of the road) he decides to do something right for once: Ed offers to drive them to Scotland.
To say One Plus One is a road trip novel would be selling it short. Yes, technically, it is, but it's about so much more. These are flawed, broken characters who, over the course of the book, discover what it's like to love and be loved in return. My emotions ran the gamut: I laughed, I cried, I fretted over several choices made but stood in their corner through it all. While reading I lived and breathed these characters and now that it's over, I'm left feeling like I'm six years old again and my best friend has just moved away. I cannot praise Jojo's skill highly enough. She took a relatively ordinary story - single mom trying to support her kids - and turned it into something extraordinary.
One of my favorite things about any Jojo novel is the sheer amount of character growth. She has a no-holds-barred kind of attitude when it comes to her stories and seriously puts her characters through the wringer. Nicky, a Goth boy who likes eyeliner and prefers online friends, became so much more than a moody teenager. Ed, at first an extremely unlikable, egotistical man, did a complete 180° and turned out to be a fantastic - and fascinating - character.
I feel this review is more of me spouting my love for Jojo than anything and, as with each of her books, I'm struggling to find just the right words to say. One Plus One is story that made my heart swell and break - usually within the same chapter! For me, it's a perfect summertime read, though in a different way than your average beach read. The characters come alive and their circumstances - trying to keep up with bills, going from paycheck to paycheck - hit home for many. While most beach reads are about escape, One Plus One takes hold of your hand and shows you there are others out there just like you. And who doesn't love a smelly, drooling dog?
One Plus One is a phenomenal novel and firmly secures Jojo's rank as one of my favorite authors. Are you a long-time fan? Read this. Are you still new to her work and feel a bit overwhelmed by all the love she's received? Read this. Are you looking for a damn fine story? Read this.(less)
And if you feel that your decision was the right one, know this at least: that somewhere in this world is a man who loves you, who understands how precious and clever and kind you are. A man who has always loved you and, to his detriment, suspects he always will.
I am not a sappy girl. I don't get mushy or go all starry-eyed over forbidden romance. That said, I truly believe Jojo Moyes is on a one-woman mission to utterly destroy me. The Last Letter from Your Love ripped out my heart and stomped all over it...and I loved every second.
Much like The Girl You Left Behind, The Last Letter from Your Lover follows two stories over two different eras. In the 1960s, Jennifer Stirling had it all: a fabulously wealthy husband, a beautiful house, all the finest dresses, and her parties were renowned. A devastating car accident left her with memory loss and as she slowly pieces her life back together, she uncovers letters. Passionate letters from a man who certainly is not her husband. Times were different then - a woman was expected to maintain the house and children while the husband worked and divorce could ruin her reputation. Despite this, Jenny wants, needs to find this man she loved so fiercely.
In 2003 Ellie Haworth isn't where she envisioned herself to be at 32: a year into an affair with a man who has no interest in permanently leaving his wife and trapped in a newspaper office constantly searching for the next big story. With the building undergoing massive renovations, Ellie's tasked with searching through the archives and writing a feature on life in a previous era. While going through decades-old files, Ellie discovers letters - not just any letters, but love letters. The more she reads the more she becomes attached to these two strangers and their forbidden romance that so clearly mirrors her own. She decides then and there to track down these two people and see what came of their romance: did the woman accept his offer and leave her husband? Did she decide it was a mistake and has spent the past forty years trying to put it behind her?
With two Moyes novels now under my belt, I feel confident in saying she's a favorite author. Even before this book, when I had only read The Girl You Left Behind, I knew there was something special about her and I was left wanting more. Moyes has a way of making me completely incoherent and I absolutely love that her books have such an effect on me.
I will say though, that as much as I love her novels, Jojo Moyes has a slightly jarring way of switching eras. The novel opens in 1960 and although there were a few small skips to 1964, the story followed Jenny and Anthony for so long that I began wondering if perhaps I read the summary wrong and 2003 had been left out completely. It wasn't until page 231 that the second story line appeared and by then I was so invested in the previous story that I struggled a bit to get into it. Roughly 150 pages were left to not only wrap up the first story, but also introduce and complete the second, and I felt Ellie's story suffered because of this. My other minor (minor! This is Jojo we're talking about and she can do no wrong in my eyes!) issue is with the letters. While Anthony's words were breathtakingly beautiful and heartfelt, they are read and reread so many times by so many different characters that it felt like overkill - especially since each instance features the letter in its entirety.
With only two small distractions, I'd say The Last Letter from Your Lover is about as close to a perfect novel as you can get. My heart ached for Anthony and Jennifer and I fell in love with their story. In hindsight, several plot twists are obvious, but while I was reading I was shocked and surprised - definitely the sign of a great writer! Also, Moyes threw in a Doctor Who reference and that alone is enough to warrant five stars! I loved this book and I adore Moyes: do yourself a favor and read The Last Letter from Your Lover. It's sweet and sad and beautiful and heartbreaking.(less)
In a sentence:All the Light We Cannot See is a haunting, lyrical novel that broke my heart a hundred times over - and I would gladly allow it another...moreIn a sentence:All the Light We Cannot See is a haunting, lyrical novel that broke my heart a hundred times over - and I would gladly allow it another hundred shots.
Calling it now: All the Light We Cannot See is going to be the book to read this summer and it will definitely appear on numerous Best Of lists at the end of the year. I knew going into it that it wouldn't be a happy-go-lucky tale (wartime fiction rarely is), but I hadn't expected to be so thoroughly enchanted by the characters Doerr created.
In Germany, orphans Werner and his sister Jutta are living in a house with several other children and a sweet caretaker, Frau Elena. Though Elena originally came from France, these days she takes care with her words, no longer singing the lullabies from her youth and hiding what remains of her accent the best she can. While Werner was always a bright child full of wonder and questions, it's during this time that he discovers a penchant for repairing radios. Word of his skills quickly spread and soon he's recruited for a military academy where his brain will be put to good use.
When she was six Marie-Laure lost her eyesight. Since then, her ever-patient Papa has been building a miniature of their town, helping her memorize the streets and intersections. Soon Marie is able to get about, knowing just how many steps she needs to take to get to where she's going. When rumors begin circulating about the threat of war, Papa thinks nothing of it. His job at the museum will keep them safe. As the months wear on, however, it's clear those rumors have become fact. The two head to Saint-Malo, Papa carrying a special package and Marie-Laure with her favorite book, and seek refuge at Uncle Etienne's house.
You know those novels that are so beautiful and have such an effect on you that nothing you say could ever do it justice? All the Light We Cannot See is one of those books. I cheered when Marie realized she knew her way around town. I panicked when two boys in the orphanage joined the Hitler Youth. I teared up countless times. This novel elicited such a range of emotion and I truly loved every minute.
It's not just the main characters I came to care for. Frederick, a boy at the military academy, had such a fascination with birds. He could hear a bird and know exactly what kind it was. Frederick was just about the closest thing you could get to a wholly good person during the war and I still can't give too much thought to his story without becoming misty-eyed. While Etienne becomes far more prominent in the latter half of the book, his past was something I couldn't forget. Etienne's brother, Marie-Laure's grandfather, fought in the First World War and never came home. Since then, Etienne has refused to leave the house, bunkering down in his bedroom, sometimes not even leaving his bed. He has an array of radios and when they were younger, he and his brother would broadcast science programs for children. It's one of these broadcasts that Werner hears all the way in Germany.
While its 500+ pages might seem daunting and intimidating, this book is actually a quick read. The chapters are ridiculously short, the majority clocking in at under three pages. Some chapters aren't more than a few paragraphs. In an interview he did with Powells, Doerr explains his reasoning:
My prose can be dense. I love to pile on detail. I love to describe. I'm much more reluctant to give the reader entrance into a character's feeling than describe what's around him or her and have the reader intuit the internal life of a character. I know that's demanding, so this was a gesture of friendliness, maybe. It's like I'm saying to the reader, "I know this is going to be more lyrical than maybe 70 percent of American readers want to see, but here's a bunch of white space for you to recover from that lyricism."
I, for one, would gladly read another 500 pages of his lyricism.
I'm not entirely sure why I was under the impression that this would be a love story (perhaps cliches and tropes have become so ingrained in my mind that I automatically think every story will be romance - this one's all on you, YA), but Marie and Werner don't meet until the very end. And even then it's for such a short time. All the Light We Cannot See didn't need romance to keep it afloat.
There's also a side plot involving a legendary jewel that's said to come with a curse. The gemstone had been in the museum, but when the pieces were moved to the countryside, the stone went with it. Three replicas were made, and the four men who are transporting the stone have no idea whether they have the real one or an imitation. Daniel LeBlanc, Marie's Papa, is one of those men. There was a fairy tale-like quality to this story that I think blended beautifully with the horrors of war.
I could honestly go on and on about this gorgeous book. All the Light We Cannot See is not just a book that needs to be read, but one that needs to be bought - and after finishing I immediately ordered a copy of my own. I'm not familiar with any of Doerr's other works - I hadn't even heard of him until this book - but if they're anything like this book, I need to get my hands on them, stat.(less)
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry is a love letter. A love letter...morethis review will go live on the blog4/1
There ain't nobody in the world like book people.
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry is a love letter. A love letter to booksellers. A love letter to bookstores. A love letter to readers. As a bookseller I was looking forward to this one (and was even more excited that the plot dealt with Edgar Allan Poe). As a reader, however, I fell in love with this world Zevin created and with the characters she crafted. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this book became wildly popular and can easily see it becoming a book club favorite.
A.J. Fikry is a crotchety middle-aged man and owner of the sole bookstore on Alice Island. Prior to his wife's death, the pair ran the store together, but these days it's just him and a part-time student. The night his copy of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane is stolen, A.J.'s world changes forever. In a mad dash to the police station, he doesn't lock the bookstore's door, and when he returns he discovers a baby and a note.
Caring for the child - Maya - leaves a permanent mark on A.J. His rough edges are softening, he's no longer the tired and curt man he once was. As word gets out, many of Alice's residents make it a point to frequent the bookstore to check on Maya and offer advice. Over time these visits become more and more regular and soon bookclubs take shape. Island Bookstore might not be able to compete with giant chain stores, but there's a fierce love that resides in its walls.
While the events seem like something straight out of a movie - rare book is stolen, a baby turns up in its place - Zevin writes in a way that makes the story wholly believable. I had no trouble picturing A.J.'s sister-in-law Ismay (suffering miscarriage after miscarriage with a husband who has multiple affairs), Amelia (a sales rep who was initially given the cold shoulder, but breaks her way through A.J.'s shell), Lambiase (the sweet police chief who takes a shine to Maya and starts the police department book club, Chief's Choice), or any of the other wonderful characters in this book. They were all terribly flawed, but had reasons for their actions, and I couldn't get enough.
When I first began reading I wasn't entirely sure I was going to enjoy this book. It felt far too different from the book I had imagined, but I pressed on and soon it became apparent my worries were silly. While this wasn't the story I had thought it was going to be, it turned out to be even better. I loved watching Maya grow and the short story recommendations A.J. gives to her throughout the novel made my heart sing. Roald Dahl, Aimee Bender, Raymond Carver, there are stories I'm familiar with as well as stories that are new to me - and I look forward to checking them out! There are just as many references to bestselling authors like James Patterson and David Foster Wallace as there are indie writers.
The more I read the more I found myself falling in love. I'm not sure whether it was the bookseller in me or the reader, but my heartstrings were certainly tugged. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry isn't an easy novel for me to review and I know far more readers will be able to explain their thoughts better than I am. Like I said earlier, this book is a love letter and I took every word to heart. There are moments that made me laugh out loud, scenes made me teary-eyed, and I rejoiced in A.J.'s rants. Booksellers will love this one. Readers will love this one.(less)
A few months ago I discussed imprints and I mentioned one of my go-to imprints (according to my ratings) is Viking. Steal the North is one of Viking's latest releases and, once again, proves just how well that imprint knows me.
Steal the North is not a happy story by any means. Instead it's a story of a family brought together by lies and tragedy and shows how they cope with the past and, ultimately, struggle to move on. Sixteen-year-old Emmy thought her only family was her mother. Her world shatters when she finds out that, not only is her father alive and well, but she also has an aunt and uncle living in Washington. Even more shocking is when Emmy's mother tells her she'll be spending the summer with her new-found family. Kate was just barely out of her teens when she became pregnant. Having been raised in a fundamentalist church, Kate's pregnancy cast her out of the only thing she knew. Her father disowned her, the church disowned her, the boy she planned on marrying took off. In order to support herself and Emmy, Kate did unspeakable things and, when she couldn't take it anymore, left Washington for California in order to start a new life. It's been sixteen years since she last spoke to her sister and now her family needs her help.
When Kate left, Bethany lost a huge part of herself. Her older sister was her rock and the year she was able to spend with Emmy was the happiest she'd ever been. Since she was a child Bethany's dream was to have children of her own, but she's suffered miscarriage after miscarriage and realizes she has one more chance. While Matt can't convince her to see a doctor, Bethany has started looking into alternative medicine - herbs, plants, but not to the extent that her fellow worshipers would become suspicious. The new pastor has agreed to do a healing and Bethany's niece is needed for a vital role. Next door to the Millers lives a Native American family. Life on the reservation might provide them with family, but the trailer court holds far more stability and a life away from gangs and poverty. Theresa supports her kids as best as she can and her younger brother Reuben helps out whenever she needs him. The summer Emmy spends in Washington brings together two wildly different families and she discovers what it truly means to be home.
Steal the North is beautiful. It's heartbreaking. It's emotional, raw, real. The story is set in the late '90s and, in the easiest way to get to my heart, features numerous points of view. I don't want to say Emmy is the standout character, though the story is very much about her. Bethany, Reuben, and Kate are every bit as important to the story and each chapter shows a side to the story that wasn't there before. Bethany, with her homemade dresses and long hair. Kate's bitterness and regret. Reuben's desire to hold onto his Colville traditions. I was pleasantly surprised that even minor characters were given a chapter or two: Jamie, Emmy's father, isn't quite the deadbeat he's originally made out to be. Spencer, Kate's boyfriend, loves her and Emmy more than anything and is determined to become a family. Every single character, big or small, was beautifully written and felt like people I could easily pass on the street or stand behind in line at the grocery store.
Be warned, though: this isn't a lazy day read. It's not a novel to be devoured in an afternoon. I spent well over a week with this book and I feel that truly helped me get a real feel for the place and the characters that I would have missed had I raced through it. I also feel that my slow reading pace subconsciously mirrored the slow story-telling - and I don't mean that in a bad way! Steal the North was not a novel that dragged its feet or one that bored me. Instead, it was a story that simply wasn't ready to give up its secrets; instead I had to earn them and when I finally discovered the truth it hit me hard. My heart broke a hundred times over for these characters and while my life isn't anything like theirs, by the end of the book I wanted to reach out to my family. That is the sign of good story-telling, ladies and gentlemen.
My only - only! - complaint about the novel has nothing to do with the story itself, but with the cover. Personally I find the cover stunning, but what you can't see on the screen is that, because of the camera angle, there's a clear view down the model's dress. It would have been so easy to fix: a different angle, different lighting, a different dress.
It floors me that Steal the North is Bergstrom's first novel. With a debut like this there's no telling what the future holds - but I look forward to it! Steal the North was filled to the brim with emotion: heavy subjects like loss and race were handled with grace and the love coursing through these pages hit home. This is definitely a novel I'll be talking about for a long, long time and certainly one I'll be recommending to friends, family, and customers. Pick up a copy of this novel - trust me.(less)
Jaycee's life was idyllic. She had a best friend, a boy who liked her, and a nice house in a quiet town. After what is...moreLink goes live on the blog9/17.
Jaycee's life was idyllic. She had a best friend, a boy who liked her, and a nice house in a quiet town. After what is declared a gang-related murder shakes things up, suddenly life isn't so perfect. Jaycee's best friend becomes more and more distant, hanging out with the wrong crowd and piercing nearly every inch of her body. As the two grow further apart, the texts become less frequent. Until the night of Rachel's death. The night where Jaycee chose to spend her time with Skyler instead of answering her phone.
Rachel's death turns the town upside down. Suddenly Rachel's Mexican heritage comes into play - despite the fact that Rachel spent her entire life with these people. Soon the mothers at church are whispering about Rachel and drugs and gangs and Jaycee doesn't know what to believe. She does know one thing though - she and Rachel broke into an old house and Rachel saw something. Something that changed her forever and Jaycee is determined to find out just what went on that night and who is really responsible for her best friend's death.
Okay, calling it right now: Dead Girls Don't Lie is one of my TOP READS OF 2013. It's that good, y'all. It had a distinct Pretty Little Liars vibe that I ADORED and a blindingly fast pace that kept me turning the page.
In order to solve the mystery behind Rachel's death, Jaycee first needs to come to terms with it. Naturally she's hesitant to visit Rachel's mother - especially as part of the clean-up crew the church organized (the drive-by left the porch and Rachel's bedroom in ruin). She's also unsure whether or not she should tell her secret: the night they were in the old house, Rachel left with blood on her hands.
When a video from Rachel gets sent to her phone, Jaycee decides something needs to be done. Under Rachel's instructions she teams up with Eduardo, much to the dismay of Skyler. With Eduardo - and occasionally Skyler - Jaycee pieces together the events leading up to Rachel's death and what she uncovers is shocking.
Dead Girls Don't Lie is one of those books I loved so much I can't fully put into words. Plot twists I genuinely didn't see coming and a constant parental presence were added bonuses to an already fantastic story. If you like smart - and delightfully creepy - mysteries, do yourself a favor and check out Dead Girls Don't Lie.(less)
BEWARE: this review amounts to little more than an incoherent, rambly love letter.
You know that one review that you sit on until you come up with the right words to say, only to wind up writing - and rewriting - the entire thing? That's how I was with My Basmati Bat Mitzvah. This is the novel I want to hand to Middle Grade/Young Adult naysayers who claim kids' books can't be thought-provoking and powerful. Even now I want to scrap this review and simply have a giant 72-pt blinking font that just reads "GO BUY THIS NOW."
Tara Feinstein is just like every other 12-year-old: she loves having Movie Nights with her best friend Ben-o (who just might like-like her), she has to deal with all the hurt and jealousy that comes with her other best friend Rebecca becoming friendly with Tara's sworn enemy, and the best thing about the new school year is getting to be in robotics class.
Unlike the majority of the kids in Tara's class however, Tara comes from a multi-cultural home. While both her parents are Jewish, her mother practiced Hinduism before converting. Apart from Tara's aunt and cousin, the rest of her mother's side of the family still lives in India. Even though she attends Hebrew School, Tara strongly identifies with her Indian side and a classmate's nasty comments raise some doubts about whether or not she wants to go through with her Bat Mitzvah. Will she have to abandon her Indian heritage in order to truly be Jewish?
When I first started reading this book I sat down on my couch and didn't move until I had finished. My Basmati Bat Mitzvah is such an incredibly lovely book that had it all: diverse characters (!!!), humor, a beautiful message. Tara came across as a real person, someone I could pass on the street. Her jealousy over playing third wheel to her bestie's new friend, panic over accidentally ruining a precious heirloom, all the confusion that comes with her best boy friend kinda-sorta-maybe wanting to be a boyfriend. It was all beautifully done. Tara had such wonderful character development throughout the novel - and she wasn't the only one! Other characters had an amazing amount of depth, particularly Mean Girl Sheila. & get this: not only were Tara's parents ever-present, but her grandmother, aunt, and even her friends' parents played key roles!
Perhaps what really won me over was that I could relate to Tara. I come from a Jewish-Catholic family and while I was raised Catholic, my family still observes certain Jewish traditions and holidays. I understood Tara's conflicting emotions. If she had her Bat Mitzvah, would she have to forget all about her beloved grandparents, her Nana and Nanaji? Would she be unable to enjoy her favorite Bollywood movies? Tara's personal journey to discovering herself was beautiful and I was cheering her on every step of the way. And if I didn't already love her to pieces, the fact that she wanted to wear a sari and serve traditional Indian food at her Bat Mitzvah totally would have won me over.
As an added bonus, at the very end of the book there's a multi-page glossary that covers a variety of Yiddish/Hebrew/Punjabi terms and of course I thought that was awesome! Seriously, I could prattle on about My Basmati Bat Mitzvah for days. It was a delightful, beautiful story about a girl discovering who she is and I loved it. I strongly recommend buying a copy!(less)
They come out of the sky and take you. Everyone knows that.
Six years ago, life in Riley's town changed. Without warning, the angels appeared and began taking people. That first year was the worst; no one knew what had happened or what was going on. Where did these people go? They weren't dead, they simply vanished after being taken into the sky. The second year, however, the town was ready. They knew what to expect, yet there was no way to stop it.
With each Taking, more and more friends and family vanished and the town viewed it as their own awful curse. It wasn't until Pastor Warren's arrival that things began to change. With his sermons and flashy way of preaching, he was able to convince the townsfolk that, no this wasn't a curse, this was a blessing. The Taking is actually the Glory and is something to be worshiped and desired. Soon the entire town - whether voluntary or involuntary - are under his spell and go along with his word.
One of the few members of the town not to accept the pastor's message is Riley Carver. Sixteen and a bit of an outsider, she'd all but shut down after losing her best friend in the previous year's Taking. When one of the angels shows up outside her bedroom window, she's ready to take action and in the process, shoots it. Unfortunately for Riley, the angel is no longer an angel. He's a boy, naked and confused and thinks he's still in the 1950s.
We all know to beware the hype machine, right? I know I've certainly given in multiple times, only to realize I actually HATE the book. Guys, Outcast is worth it. It deserves all the hype and then some! I'm typically not a big fan of paranormal, but this one was fantastic. Ms. Kress took these angels, turned them around, and made it believable. I know it's a little hard to picture a novel about angels stealing people as believable, but the novel does it in such a way that the paranormal elements aren't overdone and that is what makes it so great.
What really made the novel for me, though, were the characters. They were beautifully fleshed out and spot-on. Riley is still hurting over the loss of Chris and she battles with her newfound emotions for Gabe. Her internal struggle was incredible and made her shine as a character. Gabe had been one of those creatures until Riley shot him. Now he's a super hot Greaser who believes he's still in his present - 1956. Gabe was great and their friendship was wonderful. He's a total playboy, but doesn't hide his intentions. His sheer terror of the Internet was beyond adorable. Lacy, a stereotypical cheerleader; Father Peter, Hartwich's largely ignored Catholic priest; Pastor Warren, the slimy and oh-so-charming man who hovers during his weekly Commune. Each character was remarkably well-done.
An added bonus was the inclusion of Riley's parents. Both are featured heavily in the novel and even call Riley out on letting a boy come before schoolwork. Way to go, Mr. & Mrs. Carver!
The novel's only downfall was the ending. Well, endings. Plural. The first was absolutely heartbreaking and I kept hoping it wasn't going to happen. Sadly, it did, and I was left in pieces. That wasn't the end, however. There was still another chapter and another ending. It would have been more of an emotional impact if there had only been the first ending, but even with the second, I still had that punched-in-the-gut feeling.
An original plot, beautifully crafted characters, and emotions galore made Outcast a quick favorite. It's short and can easily be read during a bright and sunny weekend and I know it's one I'll be revisiting again soon.(less)
Mere words cannot defeat a true hero. Unless they happen to be the words to some sort of Instant Death spell. Magic is scary.
Last year, The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom took the Middle Grade world by storm (read my 5-star review here!). The sequel, The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle was one of my most highly-anticipated 2013 releases and - spoiler! - Christopher Healy didn't let me down!
With one adventure under their belt, the four Princes Charming - Liam, Gustav, Duncan, and Frederic - are back home and starting to feel a little restless. Prince Liam is dreading his upcoming wedding day; despite being all muscle, Gustav is once again the runt of his family; Frederic is suspicious of his wife's friendship with Liam; Duncan is happy as can be and it's driving the dwarves insane.
After Liam is kidnapped (by none other than his fiancee!), a messenger is sent to round up the remaining princes: it's time for the League of Princes to join forces once more. This time they're aided by Ella and Lila, Liam's younger sister. Unfortunately, their rescue attempt doesn't quite go according to plan and suddenly they've got an even bigger mission: retrieve an ancient heirloom that gives its wielder immense power. While the sword once belonged to Liam's family, the pre-teen Bandit King Deeb Rauber now has it and he's not giving it up that easily.
"I admire your ability to insult your friends while you defend them. It's a rare talent."
Unlike other sequels, going into this one I had no worries whatsoever. I couldn't wait to jump back into this world and Storming the Castle is everything a sequel should be! All of my favorite characters are back, as well as a few new ones, and the humor is seriously top-notch. This is the perfect book to read aloud to a classroom - especially with the AMAZING ILLUSTRATIONS!
Although this is a truly funny book, it does have a more serious side. Liam's going through a pretty huge identity crisis after discovering a secret. He doesn't feel as though he's a real hero and that he's been living a lie. I loved reading his worries and fears - though there were moments when I wanted to shake him silly.
"Who brings a giant on a stealth mission?"
For a league of Princes, it's the ladies that steal this show. Ella, Lila, and Briar Rose are fantastic. Ella and Lila are totally kickass and Briar Rose is the embodiment of a spoiled brat. I also loved seeing more of the bounty hunter, Ruffian the Blue (or Mr. the Blue, as Snow White calls him). Seeing Papa Scoots Jr. and Mr. Troll once more made my heart happy. ♥
Okay, confession time: I hate writing reviews for books I love. It's SO. HARD. trying to convey my feelings (all the feelings) in any sort of coherent manner. The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle is every bit as fantastic as the first book - if not better! It boasts a pretty decent page count - just shy of 500 pages! - but reading was a breeze. Whether you're just starting the series or are eager to revisit this world, definitely check this one out. I see HUGE things happening in the third - including new romances??? - and I can't wait!(less)
Spirit takes over where Spark left off and this time, it's the tatted & pierced bad boy Hunter Garrity who's the focus. The Merrick boys aren't quite sure where they stand with Hunter: is a friendship forming or is he just using them for information? And, to be honest, Hunter isn't quite so sure of himself either.
Life isn't fun and games for Hunter. His dad's death caused the already tense relationship he had with his mother to become even more sensitive. She spends her days crying and Hunter can't stand it. Moving in with his grandparents only made matters worse - he can't do anything right in the eyes of his grandfather. Things come to a head one night and Hunter is thrown out. The most painful part is that his mother stood there watching and allowed it to happen.
Now homeless, Hunter sleeps in his car and spends the last of his money on sandwiches for his dog. When he's turned down for a job at the local Home Depot, he's desperate and considers swiping some $20s he saw in the register. It's only when Michael Merrick shows up and offers him some work for the afternoon that Hunter regains his cool. Barely. After Michael all but forces Hunter's story out, he not only provides Hunter with a way to make some money, but also a place to stay. Unfortunately, the other Merrick boys aren't as hospitable.
"You know I've got three younger brothers, right?" Hunter frowned. "What?" "It means I've got a pretty finely tuned bullshit detector."
It's no secret that I love this series. And by love, I mean flaily arms, keysmashes, and more exclamation points than Wordpress can handle. Elemental is such a great series and the boys are fantastic. I shared this story in my review of the first book, Storm, but I hadn't even planned on reading this series. Yes, people were going crazy over it, but I've given in to hype in the past only to be horribly letdown. That, and I wasn't a huge fan of the cover (since then, the first cover & the ones that followed have grown on me ♥). We had a copy in at work and I decided to see what was so great about it. Imagine my surprise when I not only enjoyed it, but fell head-over-heels in love with it!
Here we are on book three. This time around it's Hunter who's the star instead of a Merrick boy. While the previous two books were very action-packed, this one is far more character driven. Don't get me wrong: there's definitely some action (of multiple varieties~), but Spirit is about Hunter and how he comes to terms with himself, his family, and life in general.
Just as in the other books, the other characters still play fairly large roles. The Merrick clan is back and Michael's Mama Bear mode is in full-force. (Side note, Michael's getting his own book and I. Can't. Wait. He's hands-down my favorite Merrick and I'm super excited for a full-length story!!) Also, as in the other books, new characters are introduced and I have to admit this group wasn't my favorite. Silver is SERIOUS BUSINESS and trigger-happy. Kate had her moments and the way her story concluded left me shocked. Gutsy move, Ms. Kemmerer. A lesser author would have hesitated.
The next book in the series is Nick's and Spirit ended with enough going on that I hope we jump back into the action. Naturally I'll be all over it once it's out and I'm pretty pumped. These books go fast - we're three books in and only SIX WEEKS have passed since the start of the first book. I've lost count the number of people I've forced to read this series recc'd these books to. They're that good.
If you haven't yet seen the light read the first two novels, now's the perfect time. They're a little on the longer side, but are SO quick and easy that you can get through a book in one sitting. Also, there's a readalong going on now, so there you go!(less)
I keep reading your looping, cursive script, until the words are indelible inside me: "I never knew real happiness until you."
In 370 pages Jojo Moyes managed to elicit every possible emotion from me: I laughed and smiled at the character's moments of happiness, I wept right along with them, I raged at the brutality of others, and lost all hope during certain scenes. The Girl You Left Behind consumed me and brought these characters to life. While the characters are fiction, the events were all too real and the trial was something I could easily picture hearing about in the news today.
Split between war-torn France during World War I and modern-day London, The Girl You Left Behind tells the tale of a painting and the lives of the people inadvertently connected to it and, ultimately, to each other. Sophie Lefevre and her sister operate a hotel/restaurant/bar in their town, though supplies - and money - are dwindling. Through the bleakness Sophie tries to remain positive: rather than counting the days since she last saw her husband, she thinks of each passing day as bringing her one day closer to their reunion. One day the war will be over and her beloved Edouard will return to her. Until that wonderful day, she'll continue carrying on and taking care of business.
The day the Germans occupied the town changed Sophie's life forever. Everyone had something taken from them - blankets, dishes, food - and Sophie's family was no exception. In their case, the soldiers and the Kommandant, set up house in the hotel and give Sophie orders to cook for them. Food will be provided and each night Sophie and her sister will prepare a delicious feast. As though the looks from the townsfolk weren't horrible enough, the Kommandant's deepening interest in Sophie (and the portrait of her Edouard painted) tests her strengths and shows how far she's willing to go to see her husband again.
Nearly a century later, Liv is living in London and trying to get past the sudden death of her husband. The house he built now feels far too big and rather than bring her comfort, it does nothing more than remind Liv that David is no longer with her. The only peace she feels comes from the painting he bought her on their Honeymoon. Since David's death, the painting has been Liv's constant companion, but now a lawfirm aimed at returning stolen objects in war to their rightful owners/family sets its sights on Liv's painting and she won't give it up without a fight.
Nobody fights you like your own sister; nobody else knows the most vulnerable parts of you and will aim for them without mercy.
The Girl You Left Behind was my first Moyes novel and...wow. Just WOW. Going into it I expected a light-hearted chick-lit read and was immediately floored by the weight of the story. The despair and pain of this small French village comes through crystal clear and their few joyful moments (such as the night they got to eat meat for the first time in months) was both beautiful and heartbreaking. I knew their joy wouldn't last. Sure enough, the Kommandant came to town and things went from bad to worse.
Having finished the book, I'm hesitant to pass judgment on the Kommandant. There's no denying he was a terrible, horrible man who did absolutely wretched things. But by the end I saw him in a new light. Perhaps he wasn't the soulless man I first thought he was. Things were awful for Sophie and she is a far stronger woman than I could ever hope to be. She was judged for things she had no control over and ultimately sent to a camp. All the while she still remained true to herself and firmly believed in the good of mankind.
While I preferred Sophie's story, Liv's story was equally compelling. She was widowed at 32 and creditors are all but breaking down the door. She's struggling to make ends meet and one day she's told she has to give her painting to some family in France who claims it was stolen 100 years earlier. It's hard not to feel for her, especially after she finds out that the one man she allowed herself to get close to is the opposing side's lawyer.
And you know what? I secretly like the idea that you could have a painting so powerful it could shake up a whole marriage.
As the story progresses, Liv begins to research the painting and piece together details of Sophie's life. She finds herself caring deeply for this woman, not just as a painting, but as a person. A real person. Both the painting and Sophie remain Liv's rock as the trial goes to court and winds up gaining national - and international - attention. Suddenly reporters are calling at all hours and she can't walk down the street without being called names - or worse.
I don't feel it's spoiling anything by saying there's a happy ending and I knew it was coming. That said, my expectations were surpassed. The way Moyes handled the ending surprised me - in a good way! The novel's only issue (and it's seriously minor) was that initially the dual narrative was a little confusing. At first there are dates/locations provided, but after those first few chapters it simply switches back and forth occasionally and that quick change was jarring. However, I quickly made sense of things and lost myself in the story once more.
As I said in the beginning, The Girl You Left Behind was my first Moyes novel. I'm weeping that I hadn't picked up one of her books before now and many, many hugs for the publicist to introduce me to this wonderful book. This is one I'll be recommending to everyone I know and I urge all of you to buy it!(less)
this review will go live 01/28. for this review and more, head over to the blog
"Are you aware that when people dump their problems on you, you don't a
...morethis review will go live 01/28. for this review and more, head over to the blog
"Are you aware that when people dump their problems on you, you don't actually have to solve them by yourself?"
Elemental is a series I read on a whim - I hadn't been interested in it at all, but saw a copy of Storm at work and wanted to see what all the fuss was about - and it turned out to be one of the best reading decisions I've ever made. Isn't it funny how things like that work out? A series I had originally ignored wound up becoming one of my all-time favorites. Brigid Kemmerer is a master at what she does: the action and quick pace make these books one-sitting reads despite their length. Not to mention there are five - now SIX (seven??) - boys to go all swoony over! Since seeing the error of my ways I have gone to recommend these books to multiple friends, coworkers, and customers and I've heard nothing but good things in return!
(view spoiler)[While Secret is very much Nick's story, Quinn is also featured heavily. I have to admit I've never been a big fan of Quinn's character, but getting her full story completely changed my tune. An absolutely terrible home life (abusive, alcoholic mother and a junkie brother) has left her a damaged shell of a girl. She runs to any boy who gives her the time of day - only to be expected to give in return. Quinn accepts this as normal, that this is how her life is and what love is. Nick was the first boy to care about her and when she discovers he's gay, she can't handle it. Of course the one good thing she has is all a lie. She clings to their pretend relationship (to keep his secret from his brothers, Nick asked Quinn to keep up appearances), blindly believing Nick's kisses mean something they don't.
Everything changes when Tyler enters the picture. Suddenly there's a boy who allows her to crash in his apartment and doesn't expect anything in return. Not even when she all but throws herself at him. This is an entirely new concept for Quinn and she has no idea how to react. Tyler seems to genuinely care about her. He listens to her worries and fears. He eats Mexican food with her on the roof. The only problem? He's the Merricks' sworn enemy.
Throughout Secret Nick battles with himself. He wants to finally come out to his brothers, but he's terrified. This isn't a sitcom - everything isn't sunshine and roses. Nick's fear and confusion seems 100% real and I would love to see more of this in YA. Nick's leading a double life: he's hiding his evenings and outings with Adam while continuing to put on a show with Quinn for the rest of the world. Nick and Gabriel have a reputation for being playboys - Nick can't possibly admit he likes guys. He also can't hold onto this secret any longer. It's tearing him up inside that he's hiding such a huge part of himself from his brothers (especially his twin) and he becomes slightly paranoid. Suddenly everything they say can be mistaken - do they know? I mean, of course they know, right? Hunter is currently rooming with Nick; will he be disgusted at the thought of his roommate being into guys? How much longer until Michael finally has had enough and kicks him out of the house? My heart broke multiple times for Nick and my love for this family grew ten times over.
Although there is plenty of action in Secret, it's far more character-driven. Secret is all about coming to terms - not only with who you are, but also your past, present, and future. Your lot in life doesn't have to define you. Sometimes the only way to live in the present is to move on from the past - Tyler in particular gets a heavy dose of this. These characters have been through a lot, but they've managed to pull through only to discover their battle isn't over just yet. Now Quinn knows about Elementals and has witnessed firsthand what these boys (and Becca) are capable of.
Since day one Michael Merrick has been my favorite. The next book is his story and while I'm ridiculously excited, the fifth book is also the last and I'm nowhere near ready to say goodbye. Things are falling into place and a war is on the horizon. Nick's relationship with Gabriel has certainly been tested and is still on the mend. How will Quinn's new knowledge come into play? There's SO MUCH that's at stake and so many things that are about to happen. If you still haven't read these books, don't be like me. Don't ignore this series. Do yourself a favor and head to your library. Head to your bookstore and buy the whole set. There's truly something in this series for everyone: romance, action, paranormal elements, and - my favorite - a massive amount of character depth. Brigid Kemmerer seriously does a number on these boys (and girls!) and they definitely aren't the same characters they were in the first book.
I honestly cannot recommend these books enough. I love them. I absolutely love them and I'm going to be so sad when the series ends this summer. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three girls and is, by order of birth, doomed to be a failure. Lettie, the middle girl, is breathtakingly beautiful while Martha, the youngest, is certain to find fortune and a happy life. The girls' father runs a successful hat shop and upon his death, their stepmother takes over and begins making arrangements for the girls to take up apprenticeships. Sophie will stay at home and inherit the hat shop one day, while Lettie will train under a highly skilled witch and Martha will learn all there is about cakes and pastries.
At first, Sophie was comfortable. As the months go by however, she feels a longing to do more and be more than a hatter apprentice in drab grey dresses. Unfortunately for Sophie, she crosses paths with the evil Witch of the Waste and soon discovers she has been aged 70+ years. She's now a 90-year old woman, cursed to be old - for she can't tell anyone about the spell - until the day someone comes along to release her.
Because her stepmother obviously would be a bit shocked to discover an old woman in her shop, Sophie makes the decision to leave. She leaves Market Chipping, the town she has known her entire life, and heads off in search of her own fortune. All the while the large, floating castle - home to the evil Wizard Howl - looms overhead.
"That's magic I admire, using something that exists anyway and turning it round into a curse."
It's when Sophie enters the moving castle that things really get going. She meets Michael, Howl's young apprentice, and Calcifer, a fire demon trapped in the fireplace. She quickly strikes a bargain with Calcifer: if she lifts his curse, he'll find a way to change her back. All the while Howl is nowhere to be seen.
When he finally does appear, Sophie is more than surprised. Instead of the fearsome wizard who steals girls and eats their hearts, there stands before her a young man not much older than she is (was?). Over time they become something of a very dysfunctional family: Sophie cleans the castle and cooks the food, Howl and Michael supply spells and potions for the surrounding towns and villages, and Calcifer...well. He's Calcifer.
Unbeknownst to Sophie, Howl is also cursed. The Witch of the Waste has been hunting him down and now she's finally found him.
Howl's Moving Castle is short, y'all. We're taking barely over 200 pages here (my copy is 212). Going into this book I knew about Sophie and Howl, but everything else was completely new to me and not at all what I had expected!
These are the kind of books I love. That lazy Sunday feel is super strong in this book and I love it. Apart from the big battle at the end, not a whole lot happens and I know that's where the book can lose some people. Luckily for me, I'm all about easygoing stories and gobbled this one up.
Over the course of her travels, Sophie meets an enchanted scarecrow, a teacher who might not be all she says she is, and discovers a strange new world: Wales. I was right there with Sophie, taking in every night sight, sound, and emotion.
The ending wrapped up a little too well, but I can easily look past that. It's no wonder Howl's Moving Castle is so beloved and I know it'll be a book I'll revisit time and time again.(less)
I'm not a particularly fast reader. I tend to average around a book a week, although if I'm really enjoying a book I can finish it in a few days.
This book? I read it in one sitting. Reading an entire book in a matter of hours is virtually unheard of for me, guys. The last time I read a book straight through was for a book tour and even then it was a struggle (and resulted in a LOT of skimming). Not so with Spark. I hung on to every word and loved every minute.
Spark picks up where Storm left off, only this time around, Becca & Chris are pretty much out of the picture. Especially Becca. (Confession: I totally didn't mind.) Instead, this book is Gabriel's story and his feeling of guilt over Nick's injuries.
While reading it became apparent to me that this is not a series where the reader can jump in at any book. Spark assumes you have already read Storm and therefore Know What's Up. Even when Gabriel is telling Layne about his fire ability it's all done off-screen. So a brief recap of the story for newbies to this series: in this world there are Elementals, people who can control certain elements. The Merrick brothers (Michael, Gabriel, Nick, and Chris) are able to control earth, fire, air, and water respectively. There are rare individuals who are able to control all of them and Becca (Storm's main character & now Chris's girlfriend) as well as Hunter (Storm's other love interest) are such individuals. A war has been raging for years with the Elementals, resulting in multiple deaths, including the Merrick brothers' parents and Hunter's father and uncle.
Even though I tore through Spark, it had the feel of a side story. In the very beginning the group meets up with Becca's father - a Guide - and they hatch out a plan to lie low for a while. After this scene, the plan is rarely brought up and the whole point of Storm isn't addressed again. Naturally this was a bit of an annoyance, but I was enjoying the book so much I let it slide.
Spark introduces a new character and right off the bat I really liked her. Layne is a super-smart girl who dresses pretty drab and keeps to herself. I was hoping this wasn't going to turn into a makeover story and I was very pleased that it wasn't (although there was a makeover scene featured..) The chemistry between Layne and Gabriel was fantastic and I adore everything about them. They're both hiding secrets and are longing for someone to simply be there. :) They were great and I'm hoping to see more of them in the next book.
The party scene felt a little too repetitive for my tastes (the same thing happened in Storm, right down to the assault) and I easily figured out who was the real culprit of the string of arson the minute the character showed up. Despite these issues, I lovedSpark! Much like I mentioned in my review of Storm, the chapters are extremely short and the pace doesn't let up for a second. Part of the reason I read the book in one go was because I couldn't find a good stopping point!
I'm so glad I put my initial reservations aside and started this series. If you haven't read these books yet, I urge you to do so. You will not be disappointed!
They had triumphed over death this night. Sylvie wondered when death would seek his revenge.
Unbeknownst to Sylvie, death already has sought his revenge - had already claimed his prize long before she was born and long after her children have gone. On a cold, snowy February night in 1910, Sylvie gave birth to a baby girl. The snow had closed the roads and the midwife couldn't reach Fox Corner in time so Sylvie had to make do with the help of the 14-year old maid. The baby had been strangled by her umbilical cord, swiftly ending a life that had barely begun.
On a cold, snowy February night in 1910, Sylvie gave birth to a baby girl. The snow had closed the roads and the midwife couldn't reach Fox Corner in time so Sylvie had to make do with the help of the 14-year old maid. This time, however, the baby lived. The doctor was able to reach the house and Ursula Todd made her way into the world.
Growing up, Ursula knew she was different. She'd occasionally get glimpses of memories or feelings of dread, sparks of recognition that would leave her confused and cautious. Over time, she accepted these moments and it was through the help of Dr. Kellet that Ursula learned her déjà vu might be something more.
Throughout her lives Ursula saw multiple wars, married, remained single, took on various lovers, became a mother, died childless, drowned at the beach when she was 4, joined a team of ARP wardens during the Blitz when she was 30, became friends with Eva Braun and hatched a plan to become close to Hitler.
On a cold, snow February night in 1910, a baby girl was born.
It's time, she thought. A clock struck somewhere in sympathy. She thought of Teddy and Miss Woolf, of Roland and little Angela, of Nancy and Sylvie. She thought of Dr. Kellet and Pindar. Become such as you are, having learned what that is. She knew what that was now. She was Ursula Beresford Todd and she was a witness.
Life After Life is like a onion with its numerous layers, many of which aren't clear until halfway (or more) through the novel. Prior to this book, I had never read Kate Atkinson but had always heard wonderful things. As soon as I heard about this book, I was intrigued: going around again and again through a life? Who hasn't wished to revisit a past experience, thought 'if only I would have...' Ursula's lives aren't always picture-perfect and more than once I felt a sense of dread when her path crossed with a man who - in one life - became her abusive husband or one of her brother's friends who brought shame upon the family after Ursula wound up pregnant at 16. Although she was unsure as to why, Ursula's instincts kicked in and she altered the course of her (current) life.
The majority of Life After Life deals with both World Wars: Ursula was born just before the first and did her part, along with the rest of England, during the second. While I've read many books set during these wars, Ms. Atkinson's writing really hit home for me. Not once did she gloss over the gruesome and horrifying details. As an Air Raid Warden, Ursula had to enforce the Blackout and after bombings, she would go through the rubble in an attempt to uncover survivors.
War isn't pretty and Ms. Atkinson captured it perfectly. Soldiers weren't the only ones to see death and Ursula saw her fair share: burns, blood, scattered limbs, and bodies blown in half were, sadly, her norm.
Teddy had faith in poetry. As if merely quoting from Shakespeare would mollify a situation.
Life After Life isn't completely bleak. Ursula grew up in an extremely loving family and I came to care for her siblings just as much as I cared for Ursula. Her older sister Pamela was a joy - funny and no-nonsense. While he wasn't the youngest, Teddy always remained the baby of the family, always the favorite. Ursula's Aunt Izzie was wonderful; she was undeniably selfish and crass with extremely loose morals: she was rarely without a lover (usually a man in a position of power - especially during Blitz) and had quite the affinity for wine.
One day, of course, all this would be consigned to that same history, even the mountains - sand, after all, was the future of rocks. Most people muddled through events and only in retrospect realized their significance. The Führer was different, he was consciously making history for the future. Only a true narcissist could do that. And Speer was designing buildings for Berlin so that they would look good when they were in ruins a thousand years from now, his gift to the Führer.
Life After Life is not a lazy Sunday read. Though there are many witty and humorous scenes, this is not a fluffy, easy-going novel. After closing the book, I sat still, very much overwhelmed, and let the full weight of the story wash over me. As I watched each layer slowly unfold I was hit by the realization of just how deep this novel reached. Every little detail has a purpose, every single decision was made for a reason and carried a particular consequence.
Life After Life is a novel that will stick with me long after I've moved on to other books and I wouldn't be surprised if it winds up on multiple bestsellers lists. If you're looking for a lighthearted, quick read, head elsewhere. However, if you're interested in a book that will enchant and ensnare you - and, ultimately, make you think - look no further.(less)
With that, The Runaway King jumps right back into where The False Prince left off. Jaron is crowned king of Carthya and just a few weeks later the funeral for his family is held. However, even though it's a somber affair, Jaron can't let his guard down. War is looming between his country and the neighboring Avenia and the arrival of the Avenian King Vargan leaves Jaron cautious and alert.
An assassination attempt sets the wheels in motion: the regents believe Jaron is too young and reckless to fulfill his duties and begin discussing appointing a steward to take the throne until Jaron comes of age. Naturally the regents want the power for themselves and Jaron isn't foolish. In order to stop the vote to remove him from the throne, Jaron must track down the pirates and face their king Devlin - the pirate who tried to murder him four years ago. In order to do so, Jaron once again adopts the name Sage and leaves the comfort of his castle for the harsh forests of Avenia and Tarblade Bay.
As much as it pains me to admit it, The Runaway King is a prime example of Second Book Syndrome. I gushed over The False Prince and wrote what amounted to a love letter for a review. I couldn't believe my luck when Scholastic sent me an ARC for the follow up and couldn't wait to dive right in. Unfortunately, while it was a decent book on its own, The Runaway King is no match for its predecessor.
Hurt - that was the effect I seemed to have on those closest to me. Maybe what I'd done over the past several days had been necessary for Carthya, but there was always a price for my actions. This time, it had cost me the dearest friendship I had.
Jaron (you beautiful, lovely boy) returns, but it feels as though he's a completely different person. Whereas he was rude and obnoxious and snarky in The False Prince (WITH REASON!), I just didn't get that in The Runaway King. Yes, he was rude and obnoxious, but this time he was mean for the sake of being mean and more often than not, his actions were towards characters who didn't deserve it. A father figure is introduced and how does Jaron repay him? By robbing him blind and leading a band of thieves to his manor. Poor Imogen was dismissed from the castle without so much as a goodbye or an answer to her myriad questions.
I couldn't believe that Jaron could change so much in the three weeks between the first book and this one. Jaron was right: hurt was the effect he had on people. I know I certainly was upset he was no longer the clever, witty boy I had grown to love.
The Runaway King introduces new characters and I met them with mixed feelings. Fink hovered on the brink of intolerable the entire time. Other readers see him as a precious little boy, but I wasn't having it. The pirates were enjoyable, but they were nowhere near the murdering, pillaging band of nightmares they were set up to be. Their king, Devlin, was the closest to what their reputation claims, but the ending was so ridiculous I couldn't handle it.
Amarinda plays a larger role in this novel, but I'm still feeling indifferent toward her and the sort-of-but-not-really love triangle needs to go. Jaron and Imogen have finally confessed their feelings for one another (♥ and made me all kinds of happy), but they know it can never work out between them. Jaron is already set to wed Amarinda and Imogen is little more than a servant girl.
Don't get me wrong: The Runaway King isn't a bad book. This is more a case of me setting my expectations so high and being letdown. Fans of The False Prince will be sure to read this one, but don't go into The Runaway King expecting another mind-blowingly wonderful novel. Despite my disappointment, I am without a doubt pumped for the third and I'm hoping the conclusion will be amazing.(less)
On a seemingly ordinary day, a Hello Kitty lunchbox is washed ashore on Ruth's small island in Canada. Inside she discovers old letters and a diary written in Japanese along with a few other mismatched items. At the prompting of her husband Oliver, Ruth begins to translate the diary and soon both husband and wife find themselves deeply invested in the life of a sixteen-year old suicidal Japanese girl.
Nao used to have a good life. Her father was a hotshot programmer and provided a wonderful childhood for Nao in Sunnyvale, California. Unfortunately, when the dot-com bubble burst, Haruki Yasutani was let go and the family moved back to Japan. Because she had been so young when the family took off for America, Nao never fully considered herself Japanese and to say her classmates treated her horribly would be putting it lightly. It started out small: pinches and hurled insults. Things quickly escalated and Nao found herself dealing not only with her fellow students, but also with her teacher. Even when they pretended she wasn't there they were still cruel, going so far as to stage a funeral for her. One particularly heartless attack led to Nao nearly being raped. With each attack videos were posted online and Nao's parents had no idea just how harsh the bullying became.
I don't mind thinking of the world without me because I'm unexceptional, but I hate the idea of the world without old Jiko. She's totally unique and special, like the last Galapagos tortoise or some other ancient animal hobbling around on the scorched earth, who is the only one left of its kind.
She decides her best course of action would be to commit suicide (and get it right, unlike her father's multiple failed attempts), but before she does, she wants to share her great-grandmother's story. Now old Jiko spends her days living the life of any other 104-year old: she's a nun and maintains her temple. However, before she took her vows, she was a novelist, an anarchist, an independent New Woman. She outlived her children and her son's death hit her especially hard. Haruki Yasutani #1 (Nao's father had been named after him and dubbed #2) was a brilliant student studying philosophy and reading French literature while the second World War played out around him. He was eventually drafted and quickly learned he would be a Sky Soldier - a kamikaze pilot with a guarantee to never return home alive. Despite his certain death, Haruki continued with his studies and, as Ruth and Oliver learned through his letters, he remained a gentle, peaceful man to the very end.
"I got confused," she said. "In my mind, she's still sixteen. She'll always be sixteen." Oliver sat down on the edge of the mattress and put his hand on her forehead. "The eternal now," he said. "She wanted to catch it, remember? To pin it down. That was the point." "Of writing?" "Of suicide." "I've always thought of writing as the opposite of suicide," she said. "That writing was about immortality. Defeating death, or at least forestalling it."
As Ruth and Oliver learn more and more about Nao, they begin to care deeply for her and her well-being. They anguish with each new bullying attack, become angry with her parents' blindness. Through it all, the question remains: how did that Hello Kitty lunchbox reach their shore? Oliver's theory is that it's the first in a wave of debris from the 2011 tsunami that is heading toward Canada. In the end, they never find an answer, and I like that. Normally I prefer concrete answers - no open endings for me. But A Tale for the Time Being and Nao's story can only have an open ending. What eventually became of Nao? Did she go through with her plans to commit suicide? Is she still alive? What about her father? It works and I can't imagine any other way for the story to be told (although I'm sure Oliver would kindly remind me of Schrödinger's cat and that, in fact, there are numerous other outcomes).
Print is predictable and impersonal, conveying information in a mechanical transaction with the reader's eye. Handwriting, by contrast, resists the eye, reveals its meaning slowly, and is as intimate as skin.
I usually finish a book in a day or two. With A Tale for the Time Being I wanted to keep reading, but I also wanted to spend as much time with these characters as possible. I learned so much from old Jiko, I wanted to hug Nao and take her away from the awful children in her school, I wanted to sit down and have a conversation with Haruki Yasutani #1. When I finished the book, I held it close as though by doing so I could hold on to the story inside.
Normally with dual-narratives I tend to favor one narrator over the other. That definitely was not the case with A Tale for the Time Being. I yearned for Nao's chapters just as much as I craved Ruth's and devoured every single one. Just like Ruth and Oliver, I soon found myself emotionally invested in Nao's life and - again, like Ruth and Oliver - can't picture her as anything other than a sixteen-year old girl.
Just a few chapters into the novel I started singing its praises and didn't let up for a moment - especially now that I've finished. A Tale for the Time Being is a book I've already forced upon others and will continue to do so for many, many years to come. Ruth Ozeki created a tale that's absolutely gorgeous, both inside and out (I will never get enough of that cover! Breathtakingly beautiful and velvety soft) and I feel honored to have read it. With one single story, Ms. Ozeki has earned a coveted spot on my extremely tiny Auto-Buy Authors list and rightfully so. A Tale for the Time Being is so much better than I'm able to express and I know it'll stay with me long after I move on to other books.(less)
Curiosity might have killed the cat, but little girls usually fared much better.
The Secret Keeper is one of those wonderful - and rare - books that latches on tight and stays with you long after you've turned the last page. I'm a relative newbie to Kate Morton; I've only read one other book (The Forgotten Garden) and I've been aching to read more ever since.
Despite its length - nearly 500 pages - The Secret Keeper is a fairly fast-paced novel. Told with dual-narratives (which seems to be a thing with Morton), the book travels through time (2011 and WWII-era England) as a daughter tries to uncover a mystery that has haunted her for fifty years and a mother makes peace with her actions as a young woman.
Fifty years ago, Laurel told a distant patch of stars, my mother killed a man. She called it self-defense, but I saw it. She raised the knife and brought it down and the man fell backwards onto the ground where the grass was worn and the violets were flowering. She knew him, she was frightened, and I've no idea why.
Within the opening chapters a man is murdered and young Laurel - sixteen at the time - witnessed the entire episode. On the day of her brother's 2nd birthday Laurel hid in her treehouse and watched her mother stab a man, ultimately killing him.
Fifty years later, Laurel is a world-renowned actress and, along with her sisters and brother, has returned to Greenacres for her mother's ninetieth birthday. Dorothy's healthy is rapidly declining and Laurel is eager to finally find out who the man was and what he could have possibly done to make her mother react in such a violent manner.
It was strange indeed, to find herself within this place of childhood memories and see her grown-up wrinkled face staring back at her. Like Alice falling through the rabbit hole; or else falling through it again, fifty years on, only to find herself the only thing changed.
Again, The Secret Keeper is told through a dual-narrative (though, technically, I suppose it's more of a dual-era). If you're not a fan of more than one POV, Kate Morton will definitely change your perspective. She's absolutely brilliant when it comes to dual-narratives and executes this technique flawlessly. The only complaint is that, just when you're this close to uncovering a clue, the chapter ends and suddenly you find yourself back in 1940s.
Normally I'm all about spoilers in my reviews. I'm someone who loves spoilers and they naturally come out in my discussions of books. However, The Secret Keeper's final chapters were so shocking and unexpected that I'm determined not to ruin it for anyone. Everything falls so smoothly into place - it all makes sense why Dorothy was the way she was as a child and why the change was so drastic as an adult and her reasoning for killing a man is understandable.
Laurel found him on the Internet, though. Opposite problem there - one couldn't disentangle oneself from that net for all the love and money in England. Henry Jenkins was one of millions of ghosts who lived inside it, milling wraithlike until the right combination of letters was entered and they were briefly resurrected.
Writing multiple POVs isn't Kate Morton's only area of expertise. Countless sentences were so beautifully written I got chills reading them. Whether it was a sentence about trying to track down an author online or a chapter about air raids, Ms. Morton's writing never lets up. I felt myself sitting beside Laurel in her treehouse, I felt the fear coursing through the veins of everyone running for the safety of fallout shelters. Morton's writing will never cease to amaze me.
One of the things I have come to know most surely in my work is that the belief system acquired in childhood is never fully escaped; it may submerge itself for a while, but it always returns in times of need to lay claim to the soul it shaped.
After having read two Kate Morton books now, I'm confident enough to say she's among my favorite writers. Not to toot my own horn, but I'm someone who can recognize a plot twist coming from a mile away. That said, The Secret Keeper's reveal came out of nowhere and it hit me like a truck. I was not expecting it in the slightest, yet it worked. Lesser authors would have failed, but it was an entirely believable situation in Morton's hands.
If you haven't read Kate Morton before, I highly recommend doing so and The Secret Keeper is a wonderful starting point.(less)
Goodreads' Awards broke me. I have NO discipline whatsoever when it comes to the library - I can usually tel...morethis review will go live on the blog11/25
Goodreads' Awards broke me. I have NO discipline whatsoever when it comes to the library - I can usually tell ahead of time what my reading schedule looks like for the week and what reviews need to be written, so I tend to know what wiggle room I have for library books. More often than not, I grab ALL THE BOOKS and wind up taking the majority back unread because I borrowed too many. When the voting was open, I basically used to nominees as my own personal recommendations: there were so many wonderful books I had missed out on this year! I immediately requested a handful from my library and The House Girl was at the top of my stack.
Have you ever come across a book that felt as though the author wrote it with you in mind? That this book was written for you? The House Girl was that book for me. It featured so many of my favorite things in novels: dual narratives, different eras, ART!
Alternating between the present day (2004) and the 1850s, The House Girl tells the tale of Josephine Bell, a slave whose artwork had been credited to her mistress, Lu Anne Bell. Lina Sparrow is a young lawyer hoping to work her way up through the ranks. Long hours and a good track record have won her the approval of her boss, but she's looking for that one case that'll make her career. That case comes in the form of a lawsuits seeking reparations for descendants of slaves. Lina's tasked with finding the 'perfect plaintiff,' one person who will able to represent the millions.
As she's working the case, her research brings her to Josephine's story and she soon finds herself immersed in this young woman's life - and the night she made the decision to run.
I absolutely loved The House Girl. While reading I couldn't help but compare it to two other books I equally adored: The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (while the stories were different, both books dealt with dual narratives/timelines and art) and The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro (for the art obvs). Both books rank among my favorites - The Art Forger was one of my top reads of 2012! - and have been recommended multiple times over. I can easily see The House Girl following suit. Already I've told numerous people about it and can't wait for more people to read this wonderful book.
While I am a huge fan of dual narratives, I tend to prefer one storyline over the other and that holds true with The House Girl. I was so caught up in Josephine's story that I found myself quickly reading Lina's chapters in order to get back to the 1800s. That's not to say Lina was any less interesting! I enjoyed her story, but I never found myself as invested in her relationship with her father/dealing with her mother's absence as I was in Josephine's life. My favorite parts of Lina's chapters were the scenes that dealt with the case - and therefore, Josephine.
The insight into Josephine's world: her ache for freedom, the whippings that were just another part of life, the realization that her son was alive, were heartbreaking and I couldn't tear myself away. The House Girl is a dangerous book in that I could only read it at home when I was able to devote large blocks of time to reading. This definitely is not the type of novel that can be read in small doses, a chapter here and there. The moment I finished one chapter I needed to keep reading.
The ending played out different than I had hoped - particularly Lina's story - but it didn't detract from the rest of the novel. Don't be surprised if The House Girl makes an appearance on my Top Reads of 2013 list!(less)
You don't go through things with people and not love them more for it. It's like those guys in the army who fight in muddy trenches and drag each other out of harm's way and are blood brothers for life because of it all. Only in our case, my mom and I faced eviction notices and power shutoffs together.
Guys, I wasn't at all prepared for The Waiting Sky. I went into it expecting a super fun book about storm chasers with maybe a little issue-story in the background. Instead, The Waiting Sky was like a punch in the gut, an unapologetic view of the self-destruction of an alcoholic and her teenage daughter left to hold it all together.
Let it be known that I am not a fan of issue novels or books dealing with heavy topics (this is most likely the reason why I tend to shy away from contemporaries). However, I ADORED this book and completely devoured it in no time.
I can click my heels together all I want, but there's just no place to go.
Jane lives in Missouri in a tiny apartment with her alcoholic mother. Despite only being in high school, Jane's role is reversed as she is the one who has to step up and get a job in order to scrape enough money together each month to pay to rent and other bills. Unfortunately, her mother has a way of finding Jane's money stash and it's not uncommon for her to come home from school and discover the power or water has been shut off.
SO many times throughout The Waiting Sky I wanted to reach through the pages and comfort Jane. Ever since her older brother left she's only had her mother and that makes it even harder for her to attempt to get her mother the help she needs. Jane gives in and believes every single lie and half-hearted promise from her mother and it broke my heart.
Cat shook her head slowly, her shock beginning to fade. "No, she's not fine. This is not fine. It's not okay. You-you almost killed us. Because you were drunk. You picked us up and you drove the car drunk."
The final straw - at least as far as Jane's best friend Cat is concerned, happens when all three get into a car accident. All because Jane's mother was driving drunk. After that Cat, perfect, rich Cat, writes a checklist of things Jane needs to accomplish in order for the pair to remain friends.
Not long after, Jane finds herself in a van alongside her brother and his group of storm chasers as they drive throughout the midwest tracking tornadoes. As emotionally invested in Jane's home life as I was, I loved this part of the story just as much, if not more.
Jane's brother Ethan is a part of Torbros - Tornado Brothers, a chaser group founded by, wait for it, two brothers. I loved every last member of Torbros and my only complaint is that I didn't get enough. I wanted to get to know them more (especially adorable, nerdy Mason!). While I don't believe The Waiting Sky is the first in a series, I certainly wouldn't mind reading more about these characters. Each one was wonderfully fleshed out and they had their own personalities and traits - not at all like the cardboard cutouts that litter the majority of YA today.
Also tracking the storms are the Twister Blisters, a rival team and one that has been picked up by a television channel. Their whole entourage - complete with camera crew and shiny, black Escalades - travel from town to town, a constant reminder to Torbros of what they could be one day.
Sometimes I think it's easier for me to see things, period, if I have the camera in my hand. It's borderline magical to me, the way a camera can take something that's ugly - a pile of bills on the counter, say - and just by adjusting the tilt, the zoom, turn it into something beautiful.
After a tornado touches down in a town (and a member of Torbros receives some really awful PR) both groups find themselves working together in order to provide aid and a helping hand. Jane finds herself getting closer and closer to the Twister Blisters' young intern, Max. Their relationship was a bit rushed, but I didn't mind it, and it never became overwhelming. Not once did I feel the romance took centerstage while Jane's relationship with her mother and brother was tossed in a corner.
The ending was also a little rushed and everything was wrapped up a bit too nicely, but ultimately I really, really enjoyed The Waiting Sky. (less)
Sometimes I need a push to read a book. Whether it's because I've had an iffy experience with the author/similar novels in the past or I simply have too much on my plate already, there have been numerous books widely loved that I just haven't managed to get to yet. Shadow and Bone is one of those novels. For over a year I've been hearing absolutely GLOWING reviews and the current buzz over the third (and final?! I HOPE NOT!) installment coming in the spring has brought this series to my attention once again.
Earlier in December, I posted about Epic Recs, a book club of sorts founded by Judith and Amber. What makes this book club different is that you have a partner and you recommend books to each other. You can read more about it in my post - including what book I recommended to Lillian! As for Lillian, she wasted no time in recommending Shadow and Bone and I immediately grabbed a copy from my library. Russia (or, in this case, Russia-inspired), high fantasy, mythology - these are things that IMMEDIATELY appeal to me. I dove right in and, much to my delight, was not disappointed one bit!
Shadow and Bone tells the story of Alina and Mal, two orphans who were taken in by a Duke and raised together. When they were children they were visited by Grisha, people who possess magical abilities. Every child in Ravka undergoes testing to determine Grisha talents, but neither Alina nor Mal presented abilities and that was it. Ten years later, however, things have changed. Mal is a tracker in the First Army and Alina is a passable mapmaker. On an expedition to the Shadow Fold, a darkness home to creatures seemingly plucked from nightmares, Alina risks her life to save Mal's and soon the entire kingdom hails the coming of their Sun Summoner.
Suddenly Alina is thrown into the world of the Grisha, a world with magic, fine clothes, and people so utterly breathtaking they can't possibly be real (and I won't say anything further on that!). As a Sun Summoner Alina ranks among the most powerful Grisha - comparable to the Darkling, a man who has taken quite an interest in this once-ordinary girl.
Alina's put to the test - physically, mentally, and emotionally. She's desperate for a friendly face, she misses the bond she shared with Mal, and struggles to perform her magic. The pressure of being Ravka's savior weighs heavy on her shoulders and the complete lack of word from Mal cuts deep. Could this pale, scrawny, lonely orphan really be the answer to Ravka's prayers? Could Alina truly be the person to banish the Fold?
Just like with The Raven Boys, I dreaded the thought of writing a review for Shadow and Bone. I loved this book, absolutely ADORED it, and nothing I could possibly type could ever do it justice. Leigh Bardugo thoroughly won me over, not just with the Russian-esque setting, but with her gorgeous writing, fantastic characters, and beautiful story. I was completely enchanted and had to make the hard decision of reading the entire book in one go (I definitely didn't want to stop!) or take my time to live and breathe this world. Ultimately the latter choice won - though it was certainly a hard decision to make! - and I spent four glorious days immersed in the world of Grisha.
It's extremely rare for me to jump right into the next book in a series, but my library currently has a copy of Siege and Storm and, well, I've never been very good at controlling temptation..(less)
You know how there are certain authors who are practically deified their fans worship them so much? I'm not one to give in to hype - I've definitely been let down in the past. That said, guys. I wish someone would have given me a thorough shaking and forced Libba Bray upon me earlier. The Diviners was my first introduction to Ms. Bray and I can assure you it will not be the last.
Naughty John has come home. And he has work to do.
With an eerie childhood-lullaby-gone-wrong, John Hobbes announces his presence. It has been over fifty years since he was last among the living and he's ready to make up for lost time.
Meanwhile, in a tiny Ohio town, Evie O'Neill is eager to sprout wings and fly away. Her thoroughly modern ways are too much for the town and after a parlor trick exposes secrets, Evie finds herself on a train bound for New York to live with her uncle. Not that she minds of course. New York is far more her scene. She has big dreams and she certainly won't reach them back home in Zenith.
However, life isn't all fun and games for Evie and her friends. A string of gruesome murders happens and Evie's uncle finds himself in the midst of it all.
It's no secret I'm a HUGE fan of the 20s. The blog's name, after all, pays tribute to Gatsby! The Diviners sounded absolutely fantastic and it exceeded all expectations. The writing is flawless, the imagery and slang make you feel like you're actually there, and the horrors can feel all too real in the middle of the night.
"If you feel strongly about it-" "I do." "Then you may do what scholars do when they feel passionately about a subject." "What's that?" "You may visit the library," Will said.
There were a lot of characters in this book. Normally this leads to cardboard cutout, stock personalities. I'm overjoyed to say that is not the case with this book. Each character is beautifully fleshed out, from Evie and her Uncle Will all the way down to the minor characters who only show up for a few chapters. I really have to hand it to Ms. Bray: she knows what she's doing.
I was incredibly impressed with the explanation for how a dead man was able to return to life and continue his mission. A lesser author would have fallen flat on that one, but Libba Bray had an entirely believable story.
All the little shout-outs to things happening in the world at that time were great. The Fox sisters, the sudden popularity of Ouija boards, the Scopes Trial. Small things like that not only made me smile, but also showed Ms. Bray really did her research.
"Prohibition? I drink to its health whenever I can!"
The only thing about this book that bothered me was just how much Evie liked to drink. At times it seemed she was bordering on addiction. She accepts bribes of alcohol, and multiple times she goes on about how desperate she is for a drink. By the end of the story it seemed that this slowed a bit, but for that first half it felt as though all Evie thought about was gin.
I'm still a bit unsure of my feelings for Jericho's secret. The story behind it was fantastic, but I sort of feel as though the book strayed into steampunk territory. That said, he's still a wonderful character and I was left speechless at the end of the book.
Clocking in at nearly 600 pages, The Diviners is a lengthy book for any genre, let alone Young Adult, but I was captivated the entire time. I actually felt I read it a little too fast! This book could have been a few hundred more pages and I would have gladly gobbled it up.
If you still haven't yet read The Diviners, I urge you to do so. I absolutely loved this book and that cliffhanger of an ending will make the wait for the second book absolute torture.(less)
Prince Charming has no idea how to use a sword; Prince Charming has no patience for dwarfs; Prince Charming has an irrational hatred of capes.
Every once in a while you'll come across a book so magical, so wonderful that you think about it long after you've reached the end. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is that book. Part of me wants to end the review here and now and force all of you to go out and buy a copy. It was that good.
The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom tells the real story of the Princes Charming - yes, the Prince Charming we all know and love wasn't one guy. In fact, it turns out there were four. And their names definitely weren't Charming. Nope. Frederic, Duncan, Liam, and Gustav saved the day and got the girl only to have their identities forgotten.
Cinderella's Charming, Prince Frederic, isn't your typical hero. He would much rather have a nice picnic or look at art than face down hoards of monsters (it would ruin his clothes!). Prince Liam plays the hero to a fault. Unfortunately, his kingdom only praises him because his parents arranged a marriage with Sleeping Beauty and her kingdom is beyond rich. Snow White grew a little tired of Prince Duncan's...quirks. Any animal he sees he decides to name (dwarfs included - Flik, Frak, and Frank - and dubbed his horse Papa Scoots) and is convinced he has magical powers. Lastly, Prince Gustav. He set out to rescue Rapunzel from her tower only to meet a particularly nasty witch and his sixteen older brothers have yet to let him live it down.
"Oh, give me a break," Liam yelled, and stomped his foot in anger. "Why is there a dragon here? Nobody mentioned a dragon!"
When word gets out that the kingdoms' bards have been kidnapped, the princes decide that now is their chance to prove they really are heroes (and, you know, the bards will be so overjoyed they'll write new songs that make the princes look MUCH better). If only it were that simple. Along the way they have to face goblins, trolls, the Bandit King (who is actually only 10, so oh so very terrible), a very well-spoken giant, and even a dragon.
I could seriously go on and on about this book. At 430+ pages, it's definitely a meaty book - especially for MG! - but it could have been 1,000 pages and I would have loved every second. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom had absolutely everything I wanted in a book - including pictures and a map! Christopher Healy is now on my autobuy list. Do yourself a favor and pick this book up. You'll be happy you did.(less)
Guys. GUYS. This book. I initially planned on writing an open love letter to it in celebration of Valentines Day, but I couldn't get my thoughts together in any coherent manner and, quite frankly, I still have my doubts now.
Everyone has heard of The False Prince by now, the book that took the MG/YA world by storm last year. AND FOR GOOD REASON! I tend to shy away from hype; in the past I've caved in and read books that were hailed as the Second Coming only to be horribly and utterly let down (Divergent, I'm looking at you, dear). So, naturally, when so many bloggers started gushing over The False Prince, I took note and backed away.
A few weeks ago I received an ARC of The Runaway King, the second book in the trilogy, and decided to put all reservations aside and finally (FINALLY!) read everyone's favorite book of 2012.
I wish someone would have forced this book upon me sooner.
Conner said he would let the devils have his soul if it meant succeeding with his plan. I had the feeling that when he did, the souls of all the rest of us would go to the devils too.
Sage is a sharp-witted, thieving 14-year old orphan. Life doesn't get much worse for children of his status, but he makes the best of it. One day a nobleman by the name of Conner arrives at the orphanage and pays a generous - overly generous as far as he's concerned - sum for Sage and soon the boy finds himself in the back of a wagon along with three other boys his age.
Conner is secretive and strict with his rules, but eventually he announces his plans to the boys: The royal family has been murdered, but for now, word hasn't gotten out. Certain members of the court are very eager to take the throne for themselves, including Conner. The boys will have two weeks to go from orphan to gentleman and the boy he chooses will be presented to the court as Prince Jaron, long thought to have been slain by a band of pirates. The other boys... Well, they're orphans with no family or friends to miss them and Conner wouldn't want to risk the secret slipping.
The boys are taken to Conner's manor and for the first time have a real bed with nice thick blankets, warm clothes, and a hot meal. Not to mention a bath. Sage's first wasn't deemed sufficient and his servant had to scrub him down a second time. Ha! Over the next few weeks the boys will be taught manners - including how not to hold a spoon like a shovel, swordsmanship, horseback riding skills, and reading. They'll also be constantly drilled on the court and key members.
Over time, strengths and weaknesses appear in each boy and the desire - and need - to win takes precedence over all.
"You have a clever tongue and an arrogant tilt to your head. I'm surprised Mrs. Tutbeldy hasn't beaten it out of you." "You mustn't blame her. She beat me the best she could."
Let's pause for a moment and discuss Sage. I. Loved. Him. Not only was he the best character I've read all year, but he's hands-down one of the best-written characters I've ever read (and I certainly don't hand out praise like that lightly!). For once there's a character who is as far away from cardboard cut-out as you can get! He's so lovable and funny and arrogant and stubborn and scared and worried. He has his flaws and he knows it.
As sad as it is, it's become apparent to me that not a lot of YA authors these days care about character growth. Instead they rely on stock personalities and assign traits: there's a Mean Girl, the Boy Who Has Always Been The Best Friend But Secretly Wants More, the Hot Mysterious New Boy. That's not the case with The False Prince. Sure you've got your good guys and villains, but they have reasons for being who they are.
He whispered something under his breath. I'm sure some sort of curse aimed at me. That wasn't a problem. The devils were used to receiving curses with my name on them.
There were numerous plot twists sprinkled throughout this novel, some I had anticipated and some I didn't see coming at all. The False Prince surprised me and enchanted me and the only reason I didn't finish this book in a sitting was because I wanted to spend as much time with it as I could. Also, it's only because I'm a kindhearted, sweet girl that I dragged myself to the library and begrudgingly handed it back when it was due. Since working in a used bookstore where I get an INCREDIBLE discount I haven't been going to bookstores like B&N to shell out $35 for a new hardback when I could be patient and get one for a few dollars. But with The False Prince I'm more than willing.
This is a novel I want to read again and again and save for my future children to love.
In short, Ms. Nielsen, I apologize for being as stubborn as Sage and refusing to read this book until nearly a year later. I loved everything about it and have forced it upon countless people already.(less)
To say Rainbow Rowell is something of a rock star in the literary world would be putting it lightly. Her work has expl...moreLink goes live on the blog9/26!
To say Rainbow Rowell is something of a rock star in the literary world would be putting it lightly. Her work has exploded and I can't recall any new releases in the past few years that have received as much excitement as Rainbow's. Just watching all the buzz is intense and being a part of it is nothing short of magical.
It's a little embarrassing it's taken me two years to (finally!) read her debut, Attachments. I remember when it came out and I waited and waited for it to come in to my bookstore. Sadly it only came in once (ONCE, PEOPLE!) and was immediately snatched by someone who wasn't me. A few weeks ago I decided enough was enough and tracked down a copy at my library.
Attachments takes place in 1999, that frantic year of the Y2K scare when everyone was terrified that computers would have a huge meltdown come 2000 (sidenote: a classmate of mine + his friend cut off power at his house just as the ball was dropping and completely freaked out his parents and family. To this day I still giggle like crazy and wish I had thought of that). Beth and Jennifer work for the local newspaper and are close friends. Lincoln is still living at home with his mother - much to the dismay of his older sister - and works a nightshift doing e-mail security. Office e-mail had only recently been implemented and the word filter isn't foolproof; it's Lincoln's job to double-check any flagged e-mails.
With Beth and Jennifer's e-mails chock full of filter word goodness, Lincoln has a lot of reading material. Initially it was all business, but overtime he develops a fondness for the pair and feels a close connection to them despite never actually having seen either woman. The more he reads the more he realizes he's in love with Beth Fremont. The only problem? He has no idea how to tell her in a way that doesn't make him sound like a massive creep.
A little-known fact about me: I love office settings. LOVE them. If a book takes place in an office there's a good chance I either have already read it or have my eye on it. Douglas Coupland's JPod was my introduction to this awesome niche and I keep returning to this genre anytime I need a feel-good read. I knew from the start I'd be all over Attachments and it didn't let me down!
Told mostly through e-mails, Attachments lays claim to being the only epistolary novel I've read that I've enjoyed. There's simply something about the format that doesn't work for me, though I love it in theory. Here, however, it was fun and engaging. Rainbow's talent shines in her characterization. Even though I only came to know Beth and Jennifer through their e-mails, I felt as though I really knew them. There was never a moment where I felt a disconnect or that they were nothing more than stock personalities. Even the minor characters were all beautifully unique. Rainbow knows what she's doing and she does it well.
The only time my enjoyment faltered was a brief scene where Lincoln's ex-girlfriend came back to town. The two began dating in high school and went to college together. Unfortunately, while there, Lincoln caught her with another man and has been haunted by that moment ever since. Her sudden arrival struck me as unnecessary and confusing, though it was quickly over and done with by the next chapter.
Attachments is the kind of novel I could gush over for hours. Apart from being an epistolary novel I liked, it was also one of the only books to actually keep me awake. It's been far too long since I've ignored sleep for a novel, but I can proudly say Attachments was worth it. It made me heart swell, it made my heart break, and it made me think back - fondly! - on the end of the 90s. Do yourself a favor and read this one.(less)