Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mini-Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ruin and Rising (The Grisha #3)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: June 17, 2014
Rating: ★★★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction – and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

I don't know how to review this book. I can't stop thinking about it. Ruin and Rising left me wordless and reeling. Here's what happens when you read this book: Your heart pumps faster. Your body stills. Your throat clenches up. You gasp and cover your mouth at some parts. You cry and try not to screw up your face at others. You laugh one minute and you're somber again the next.

This book – this series, really – is a rollercoaster that I want to ride again and again until I can understand exactly how Leigh Bardugo put it together. She is uncannily good at teasing out every single emotion you could ever imagine, spinning a web of subtleties and gray areas until you're not sure what to think. You love a character something fierce and you question them with the turn of a page. You want to mourn and you want to sigh in relief and you secretly maybe want to find fan fiction that brings all of your favorite characters back to life. (Moi? Why, I would never.)

Everyone becomes a more intense version of themselves: the Darkling becomes ever more tragic. Mal becomes… truer, somehow. Steadier and more sure-footed. Alina becomes fiercer, stronger – and not just more powerful, but more demanding of what she wants and, maybe more importantly, what she needs. Nikolai manages to take "charming" to the next level – but also he becomes tangible in a way that he hasn't been before. He becomes human. He becomes real. And that's not even the whole squad. So many stories. So many motivations. So many histories that are hinted at, but that we'll never fully know (until Leigh Bardugo writes the epilogue to the epilogue, obviously).

I've been replaying words and events from this book in my mind for days and days. And days. (Really, it's been weeks if we're being technical.) I keep repeating things like "I CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT THIS BOOK" and "WHY LEIGH BARDUGO WHY" and I'm probably driving her crazy with my every-other-day tweets about how I'm still crying over these frickin' books. Can't stop, won't stop. Couldn't stop if I tried.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

Title: This Raging Light
Author: Estelle Laure
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group
Publication date: December 22, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Can the best thing happen at the worst time?

Her dad went crazy. Her mom left town. She has bills to pay and a little sister to look after. Now is not the time for level-headed seventeen-year-old Lucille to fall in love. But love – messy, inconvenient love – is what she's about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend's brother. With blazing longing that builds to a fever pitch, Estelle Laure's soulful debut will keep readers hooked and hoping until the very last page.

Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for sending me this electronic copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

How do you talk about a book that strikes you like lightning? It takes away all of your words and you're just left with marks across your skin. But they stay there on you, and maybe eventually you stop noticing them – maybe they become par for the course – but still you know that something about you has changed forever.

That's what this book felt like to me. A story filled with heart and attitude and sass. One minute, the writing is wild and heavy enough to smother you – the next, we're slinging yo mama jokes and mooning over gangly boys with sharp green eyes.

This Raging Light is a story that reminds us that the secrets we carry are sometimes better off shared; that relationships are only as broken as you allow them to be; that we are far less alone than we think, and stronger than we give ourselves credit for. It's about learning to let go, to trust. It's realizing that family comes in all shapes and sizes, and it's not limited to whose blood runs through your veins. It's about people who are flawed, who are doing the best they can, and sometimes they mess up and they hurt you without even trying – but it's about understanding that life is messy and thrilling and always filled with hope, or at least the vaguely bright possibility of tomorrow.

Oh, this book is not perfect by any means. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered (what about Lucille's mom!) and could stand to be fifty pages longer (tell me more about Eden!, tell me more about Fred's!). But I loved this book in a way I haven't loved a book in a long, long time, and I will sing praises of it – and Estelle Laure – to anyone who asks (and also to anyone who doesn't). I will show them all my underlined passages on every other page. I will tell them about this girl, Lucille, and her crazybrains voice and how she is realer than most people are, and how her sister Wren is what all adults should aspire to be, and I will even point to Digby as a shining – or at least semi-luminous – beacon of boyhood.

I will shout from the rooftops:

"This is what all books should be!"

"I can't believe this is a debut novel!"

"What hope do the rest of us have!"

This is a story I want to read again and again. Loud and quiet, intricate and simple, big enough to swallow you whole.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall

Title: Sugar
Author: Deirdre Riordan Hall
Publisher: Skyscape
Publication date: June 1, 2015
Rating: ★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Sugar Legowski-Gracia wasn’t always fat, but fat is what she is now at age seventeen. Not as fat as her mama, who is so big she hasn’t gotten out of bed in months. Not as heavy as her brother, Skunk, who has more meanness in him than fat, which is saying something. But she’s large enough to be the object of ridicule wherever she is: at the grocery store, walking down the street, at school. Sugar’s life is dictated by taking care of Mama in their run-down home – cooking, shopping, and, well, eating. A lot of eating, which Sugar hates as much as she loves.

When Sugar meets Even (not Evan – his nearly illiterate father misspelled his name on the birth certificate), she has the new experience of someone seeing her and not her body. As their unlikely friendship builds, Sugar allows herself to think about the future for the first time, a future not weighed down by her body or her mother.

Soon Sugar will have to decide whether to become the girl that Even helps her see within herself or to sink into the darkness of the skin-deep role her family and her life have created for her.

Many thanks to Skyscape for sending me this electronic copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

This is the first time in a long time I've actively disliked a book. Like, gave it a 1-star review and added it to my BAD BOOKS shelf on Goodreads. Let me just cut to the chase: Sugar was not a good read.

The story drags because it's just the same events on repeat: Sugar hangs out with her new friend Even. Even validates her self-worth. Sugar goes home where she is emotionally and physically abused by her mother and brother. Sugar binges on junk food to dull the pain. Then it starts all over again. When major events do finally happen, they seem to come out of nowhere because there's no build-up. It's very perplexing.

Sugar's narration is so self-loathing that it becomes almost unbearable. We are constantly reminded of all the times Sugar has been bullied, all the ways she hates herself. After a while, it gets redundant and makes the story feel stagnant. Yes, it's important to establish that this is what her life is like, but I don't want to sit there and recap all the bad days she's had. I want to know what she's going to do about it. And we never really get to a point where she is self-empowered because she's too busy hating her life and her body. I didn't like Sugar's personality and after a while I just couldn't sympathize with her.

Insta-love doesn't bother me the way it might for others, but here the insta-love between Even and Sugar is cringeworthy. Even is full of lines that are supposed to make you swoon but end up sounding cheesy because, well, it's insta-love. Their relationship feels forced. And problematic. Isn't it weird that Sugar only starts taking care of herself once she meets Even? Why is her self-love conditional upon his interest? (Why does she only start to love her body once she starts to slim down? Why can't she develop a sense of body positivity in spite of how she looks?)

And don't get me started on the other characters. So many one-dimensional characters who are nothing more than plot devices. Abusive alcoholic father who is supposed to make Even look like the underdog? Check. (By the way, how has an illiterate person managed to afford the mortgage on coastal New England property for so long?) Allie, who has no personality and serves as the obligatory mean girl? Check. Jesús the janitor, who has apparently known Sugar all her life, who shows up in the last twenty pages of the book and reveals a plot twist? Check. Fat Henry, who explains away key plot points in clunky monologues? Check and check.

You guys. I don't even know. I was so taken by the description of this book – I thought it was going to be profound. And meaningful. And empowering. This book came nowhere close to that. I believe it's an author's job to earn their readers' mental and emotional investment, whether it's through strong writing or strong characterization or a strong story, but I found the storyline to be senseless and the writing stilted at best. I seem to be in the minority here, but for me, Sugar fell short.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mini-Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: June 4, 2013
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her – or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Hi. It's me again, here to continue talking about my newly realized obsession with the Grishaverse.

Siege and Storm is the perfect sequel in Leigh Bardugo's Grisha series.

(I could end this review right there.)

Really though, this is what I think all sequels should be. Some characters' stories end; new character arcs begin. There's a mix of sadness in letting go of characters we've admired and respected, but there's also a joy in saying hello to new faces and personalities.

Relationships are less cut and dry. People are less cut and dry. The heroes turn out to be less noble than we once thought, and the villains are laid bare – certainly still dark and evil, but now even more intricate and baffling and somewhat enigmatic, and you can't help but commiserate with them in spite of their horrifying deeds.

This book is better than the first. It's more complex, it's a deeper dive, it's stark and it's gripping and it's suspenseful and lively and heartrending (did you see what I did there?) and no one – not even you, lovely reader – will get out unscathed. Read Shadow and Bone, and then read Siege and Storm, and make sure you have Ruin and Rising on hand while you're at it – otherwise you'll make yourself sick with anticipation if it's not within reach by the time you turn the last page.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: June 5, 2012
Rating: ★★★½

Summary (via Goodreads):

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life – a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha… and the secrets of her heart.

After ten thousand Tumblr picture sets and countless playlists made in honor of Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy, I finally bit the bullet and committed myself to yet another YA fantasy series.

Unpopular opinion time: I didn't love this book. It's my fault, really. Actually, no. I take that back. It's Leigh Bardugo's fault for making me fall so in love with the villain of the story that the real love interest never had a fighting chance. Sorry I'm not sorry.

That being said, the story itself was beyond clever. I secretly pride myself on being able to spot plot twists and unoriginal storylines from a mile away, but Leigh Bardugo was always two steps ahead of me, and it's refreshing when a YA fantasy novel like this doesn't fall neatly into the same hackneyed structure that so many others do.

I do think the pacing in Shadow and Bone was a little bit off. Parts of the story dragged on, while others needed to be drawn out more than they were. I wish there had been a more measured buildup between Alina and the Darkling, and even between Alina and her best friend Mal. Each of these relationships had twists and turns that didn't feel as organic as I would have liked.

Things with the Darkling moved so quickly – he was with Alina, protecting her, spending time with her, and then he was gone for weeks at a time, and then he was back for a second, and then gone again. I would have liked to see their dynamic explored more gradually. The Darkling may be the most complex character in the book, and yet, so much of what we learn about him is discovered secondhand only – through other people's conversations with Alina, rather than through his own actions and words. It was hard for me to reconcile my first impression of him with the information I found out later.

There's one page in the book that caught me by surprise and made me want to sit and read it again and again and try to figure out these characters and who they really are and what they're thinking. I haven't quite gotten it yet, but I do love the concept – of our own memories and desires coloring our perception of people and making us look back and wonder if anything was real at all:

I remembered his perfect face in the lamplight, his stunned expression, his rumpled hair. … I could still feel his warm breath on my neck, hear his whisper in my ear. The problem with wanting is that it makes us weak.

I'm not sure why these few sentences hit me so hard, when there are so many other moments that are written even more beautifully: Alina's description of the Darkling's soul. Mal's certainty of Alina. Mal's impassioned speeches (he's talkative, that one). I guess it just reminds me of unfinished business, of what if?, of this weird need I've always had to strip people down to their core and see them for who they are. I can't help but hope that there is some degree of realness behind a person's facade.

My sole consolation is that Leigh Bardugo says in her acknowledgments: "I blame Gamynne Guillote for fostering my megalomania and encouraging my love of villains." Which just means that she loves this villain as much as I do. So I can only hope that the next two books in the series are more satisfying in regards to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication date: May 19, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. 

I'm so glad I bought into the hype. In Uprooted, Naomi Novik creates characters who are compelling on their own but become even more fascinating when they start to bump up against each other.

From the start, we learn that the narrator, Agnieszka, is a hot mess. I mean this in the most loving way possible. She's not a secret beauty. She's not graceful. She's not particularly brilliant. She can't walk down the street without ripping or getting mud on her dress. She is utterly imperfect and she knows it, and what's even better is that she's comfortable in her skin.

For the majority of her life, Agnieszka has lived in the shadow of her best and dearest friend Kasia. Because of it, there's a complexity to how she looks at and relates to Kasia – and amazingly that's something we get to unpack in one of the most powerful moments in the book, when both girls' most hidden thoughts are revealed to each other in the midst of a maelstrom of magic. It really makes you think about relationships – how they're not easy, how there are insecurities and jealousies, how different people experience the world in such different ways but can still always come back together. It's moments like these that make Agnieszka and Kasia's friendship such a force to behold.

And it's not just their friendship that is extraordinary. I spent a lot of time with Uprooted on my subway commute to work, and reading about Agnieszka and the Dragon was a constant exercise in reigning in the compulsion to shriek. The Dragon is a perfect example of someone who stays true to his character but evolves with Agnieszka's influence. He's a grouchy, cranky old man – that's just who he is. But as he comes to know and understand Agnieszka, he becomes a softer version of himself. A couple years ago, an engineer friend told me something I haven't been able to forget: "Hard, brittle objects shatter. Malleable ones bend gracefully." I feel like that describes the Dragon (and his dynamic with Agenieszka) well. At first glance, they are opposites – he believes in order and method; she is a free-spirited wild child – but you come to see that they complement each other in the best way possible, her softness balancing out his hard edges. They each bend a little bit, and they both become better versions of themselves because of it.

Each of the characters in Uprooted have their own lives and their own compelling character arcs. They're not just a means to an end – they have their motivations and their histories and their flaws and their own redeeming qualities. It's that richness in characters that makes Uprooted resonate so deeply with me. And that's without even touching on the plot, the stark setting, the sinister trees, graphic battle scenes, or the terrifying deaths that feel almost psychopathic. This book is Creeptown, USA, and it's deliciously eerie.

I can't believe I'm saying it but I kind of wish this book was part of a series. I know. I know. As if there aren't enough series in the world of YA. As if I don't have a laundry list of books that I still have yet to read. But I loved these characters so much and I feel like they have more stories that are just waiting to be unraveled. I couldn't put it down and I want to read it again and soak in all the little moments that really do feel like magic.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Title: P.S. I Still Love You
Author: Jenny Han
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: May 26, 2015
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.

When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All the Boys I've Loved Before, we see first love through the eyes of the unforgettable Lara Jean. Love is never easy, but maybe that’s part of what makes it so amazing.

Interestingly, what made me love the first book in this duology by Jenny Han made me dislike the second, and what made me dislike the first book made me love the second too.

The dynamic between Peter and Lara Jean was what made the first book so great. They were unexpected. They were in completely different social groups. They didn't make sense together… until they did. And then they made all the sense in the world, and they represented possibility and breaking the status quo, being something other than what is expected. All you wanted was to see Lara Jean and Peter being silly together, and Peter treating Kitty like she was his own sister, and Peter acting like his smarmy self but regarding Lara Jean's Korean culture with so much respect.

And there was definitely still some of that charm in P.S. I Still Love You – like Kitty with her blunt observations:

"It looks like sex to me, but I'm the only one here besides you who's never had sex, so what do I know? Sorry, I read your diary."

And Lara Jean with her social awkwardness (doesn't this sound like a scene straight out of The Mindy Project? Like, "Ugh, Danny, why are you such a slow reader?" Anyone?):

"It's torturous standing there in front of him, waiting – for what, I don't know. More humiliation? I should probably just go. He's such a slow reader."

But the more I learned about Peter, the more easily I fell out of love with him, and I was frustrated with Lara Jean for not feeling the same way. He had moments where he would just sparkle, where he would say exactly the right thing, and you could tell it was for real and not just some line he was feeding her, and I could understand Lara Jean not wanting to let him go, but… I just… ugh. It didn't feel like enough to me. He acted in ways that canceled out what made him so great.

I need to do a whole separate post on this. I have a lot of feelings about Peter, and they are not good feelings.

Moving right along…

As he was meant to do, John Ambrose McClaren captured my heart with his gentlemanliness. It was unexpected and a tiny bit scary, too, to realize that falling in love is just a game of chance. It reminds me of something I learned in a human development class I took in college – there are currently 7+ billion people on this world, and literally millions of those people could be your potential [soul]mate, but if you don't encounter them, then it doesn't matter. And it comes down to timing, and circumstance, and even if you do find them, and even if you manage to fall in love with them, you still have to make an effort to make it work.

I wasn't expecting such a blunt, realistic view of the world from this book, especially since the first book felt so much younger and more innocent to me. It didn't feel out of place, necessarily – rather, I think it showed Lara Jean growing up, confronting the hurtful moments in her life and trying to make sense of them:

"Things feel like they'll be forever, but they aren't. Love can go away, or people can, without even meaning to. Nothing is guaranteed."

P.S. I Still Love You was a little darker, not quite as dreamy or rosy as To All the Boys I Loved Before – and I really liked that about it. But I didn't love Peter, and it was a huge letdown, and I guess that's a big part of why I couldn't love this book.

On a lighter note, did anyone else notice that Lara Jean made Taylor Swift's chai sugar cookies with [cinnamon] eggnog frosting? (And since I'm on the subject, did anyone else feel like P.S. I Still Love You was basically "That's the Way I Loved You" in book form? Please discuss.)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review: Fragile Bones by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

Title: Fragile Bones
Author: Lorna Schultz Nicholson
Publisher: Clockwise Press
Publication date: March 15, 2015
Rating: ★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Meet Harrison and Anna.

One is a fifteen-year-old boy with an uncanny ability to recite every bone in the skeletal system whenever he gets anxious – and that happens a lot. The meaning of "appropriate behavior" mystifies him: he doesn’t understand most people and they certainly don’t understand him.

The other is a graduating senior with the world at her feet. Joining the Best Buddies club at her school and pairing up with a boy with high-functioning autism is the perfect addition to her med school applications. Plus, the president of the club is a rather attractive, if mysterious, added attraction.

Told in the alternating voices of Harrison and Anna, Fragile Bones is the story of two teens whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

Many thanks to Clockwise Press for sending me this electronic copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I've been sitting here for a while now, just staring blankly at my computer screen. I'll start typing words and then DELETE DELETE DELETE. And then I'll stare some more and try to start again. I'm just not sure how to approach this book.

Fragile Bones, by Lorna Schultz Nicholson, is the first in a conceptual series of books that revolve around the Best Buddies program, which exists to provide opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disorders and to help them foster relationships. This book follows the journey of Harrison, who has high-functioning autism, and Anna, a high school student and overachiever whose goal in life is to get into med school (I guess?).

Fragile Bones was confusing. It was confusing because, as a character, Harrison was so captivating while everyone else in the story was just… not.

Whether the story was being told from his own perspective or from Anna's, I had such a clear picture in my mind of who Harrison was. It's clear that the author did her research on how a high-functioning autistic person might interact with the world. His speech patterns, his coping mechanisms, his behaviors – and how all of these things are construed to other people – felt very well-written.

Although it happened at a slow pace, you could see Harrison adjusting to new experiences and developing the ability to relate to other people. His growth was incremental, for sure, but it felt realistic, and I was glad (and relieved) that Schultz Nicholson didn't press the "easy" button and turn Anna into a magical cure-all for Harrison. She created a realistic representation of what it's like to interact with someone like Harrison, and she showed us a picture of what it's like to be on the other side of autism, managing all of these thought processes and coping mechanisms and rituals.

I loved Harrison's voice, which is why I was so disappointed that Anna's did not seem to be written at the same standard. She felt like a Mary Sue – empty, a shell of a person, with no real interests or flaws or meaningful struggles. I loved how aware, respectful, and patient she was with Harrison, but it just seemed like there was nothing else to her. And I felt the same way about all of the others characters in the book: Harrison's brother Joel, Harrison's parents, Anna's mother. Even Justin, the leader of the Best Buddies program, was completely flat on the page, despite his rocky family history and pseudo-mysterious background. They all just felt like one-dimensional people with canned dialogue and shallow character and plot development.

Still… although Fragile Bones may have had its share of weaknesses, I do think these kinds of books are really important in the world of YA fiction. They help us develop empathy for people who are unlike us, and if we're lucky, they teach us something important about these otherwise typically underrepresented groups.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Hyped Books I've Never Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

There are SO MANY hyped-up books I've never read because I'm generally just slow on the uptake when it comes to new releases. BUT! Ever since I started blogging, I've become so much more aware of what's going on in the publishing industry (and also what books are actually getting all the hype – I swear, I live in a bubble). These are my picks for hyped-up books that I've never read. I managed to narrow it down to just ten, but trust me, there's more where that came from.

Tell me if there's anything on this list that I should definitely read! Tell me if anything on this list did not deserve the hype! Tell me I'm not alone in never having read these books!

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
All I know about this book is that it's apparently really good but no one wants to talk about it because I think the first rule of We Were Liars is that you do not talk about We Were Liars.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I know this is a sad book about the Holocaust. Sometimes it's hard to convince yourself to read a book about the Holocaust because you pretty much know you're going to be crying about it for the next three weeks.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
I'm cheating here because I actually just started reading this! My problem – not with this book, but with series in general – is that there are a friggin' gazillion of them out there, and probably 98% of them are high fantasy novels with the same basic structure or formula: ordinary girl with low socioeconomic status discovers her power/strength/skill and saves the day; usually there is a love triangle and lots of battle scenes and death and plot twists and hidden motivations – I'm already invested in a couple of series, so I just find it difficult to commit to more because then I start getting the plot lines and characters mixed up, especially when the authors haven't finished writing all the books yet and I have to go for months between books.

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkowski
Should I read this? See above commentary on Shadow and Bone.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I loathed Eleanor and Park, so I just haven't been able to bring myself to read another Rainbow Rowell book. Sorry I'm not sorry.

Legend by Marie Lu
Should I read this? I always get Marie Lu confused with Marie Rutkowski. Between all of their books, there are just SO MANY TITLES TO REMEMBER.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth
I'm never going to read the rest of the Divergent series! Seriously. It's just never going to happen.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
I don't even know what this book is about. All I know is that I follow Margaret Stohl on Twitter because I just want to be in with the cool authors crowd.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
I will probably never read this series because of all the terrible things I've heard about Cassandra Clare plagiarizing and being a bully to her readers and all that. But I'm including this because I just wanted to tell everyone that I did read the Draco Trilogy back in the early 2000s. So. Do I win?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I'm just not going to read this because now all I can think of when I see the words "Gone Girl" is Ben Affleck.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Note to Self (from Gayle Forman)

Today's words of wisdom come from Gayle Forman via the Time after Time panel at the 2014 Teen Author Carnival:

What starts a novel is when a character comes alive, becomes real – they are within you but they still surprise you. When you don't have to craft them. They start to come alive on their own.

P.S. I have a draft in my email of bits and bobs that I jotted down from the TAC panel way back in May of 2014. It's mish-mash and may not mean much to anyone else, but I'll still try and post them in the next few weeks in case anyone is interested or happens to be searching for some writing advice. There are some gems in there.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mini-Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication date: April 1, 2014
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a book for people who love books. It's a whimsical and charming story, filled with insights into literature that remind us why books matter. The chapters are broken up with book blurbs written by bookseller A.J. Fikry. They feature his opinions on books and short stories and serve as letters to the people he comes to love best.

“Remember, Maya: the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life.”

There's a sing-song quality in Gabrielle Zevin's writing that makes you feel like you're watching a Wes Anderson film. It's candid but theatrical somehow.

This is the type of book you read while sipping on a cup of tea, or while you're eating that turkey sandwich you made for lunch. It's the type of book you may enjoy best surrounded in normalcy, because it is a book of ordinary lives made extraordinary by the people in it. The connections between neighbors, the slow change in our perception of people, the slow change in ourselves – all of these things come alive in this book.

Written in third person perspective, we get a glimpse into many characters' lives. However, because of this "otherly" view, there is always a distance between us and this cast of characters. It's a gap that becomes difficult to bridge, which is why I'm giving this four stars.

The words you can't find, you borrow.
We read to know we're not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.
My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart.
We are not quite novels.
The analogy he is looking for is almost there.
We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that.
In the end, we are collected works.