Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009: Year In Reviews

I thought I'd post a little bit about my year of reviewing.  It's been a great year, especially because of all the new bloggers I've come to know!  Here are some of my reading and reviewing stats:

Books read by month:

January: 16 books
February: 19 books
March: 12 books
April: 15 books
May: 11 books
June: 11 books (+2 unfinished/skimmed books)
July: 9 books
August: 10 books
September: 11 books
October: 26 (by far my most books read month - thank you read-a-thon!)
November: 18 (+2 unfinished/skimmed books)
December: 19 (most of them not reviewed yet) (+2 unfinished/skimmed books)

With a grand total of 177 books read and 6 unfinished/skimmed!  I definitely think that is the most I've ever read in one year.

I tried to choose favorite books read this year, but had such a hard time, that I thought I'd just list all my five star reviewed books (that I read for the first time this year):

Dewey by Vicki Myron
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Holes by Louis Sachar
With Courage and Cloth by Ann Bausam
The Mother in Me by Katherine Lynard Soper
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong
The Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
Airman by Eoin Colfer
The Princess and the Bear by Mette Ivie Harrison
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Thornspell by Helen Lowe

Front and Center by Katherine Gilbert Murdock
The Help by Katherine Stockett
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Dreamdark: Silksinger by Laini Taylor
Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
The Miles Between by Mary Pearson
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Which turned out to be a LOT more than I thought!  I wish I could name all the bloggers who have made this year so great, but that would take too long, so I'll just say THANK YOU to you all!

Here's wishing you a very Happy New Year, filled with all the reading you can handle!

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Book Review: 39 Clues: The Black Circle by Patrick Carman

39 Clues: The Black Circlefinds Amy and Dan seeking clues in Russia.  They manage to team up with some unlikely allies for a time, but when they find themselves in the heart of dangerous territory, they get help from a most unexpected source.

The 39 Clues Book 5: The Black Circle

Things I Liked:
The story still has lots of action and adventure, with plenty of twists and turns throughout to keep you guessing.  It will definitely have the kids entertained and engrossed.  I like that we keep getting further information about the lives of other characters in the game.

Things I Didn't Like:
I think I'm getting tired of the series. Each books seems like the same thing every time, with slightly different plot points and a new clue.While I will probably continue to read the series, I think I won't post a review for each one individually, since the plots are so similar and my reactions about the same.

Read the first four books in the 39 Clues series first
It is a bit like the Percy Jackson series, but for younger readers

s-factor: none

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: none

Overall rating: ***

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage

Monday, December 28, 2009

Playing Catch Up

It's been several weeks since I posted about my library books and other books that I acquired. I'm still going fairly slowly with library books, since the last few months I was feeling overwhelmed by all those due dates.  But, I still got a few and I am pretty excited about them:

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Then I got (for review):
The Dark Divine by Bree Despain (how ironic I posted about wanting this book and then it finally came)
The Real Real by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana

I won Shadowland by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han from The Book Studio
Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck from my book club swap
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl just kind of appeared in my mailbox - (I think it might be from the blogger swap, but I'm not sure - thank you very much to my secret santa if it was from you!  They definitely read this post about my book wants!)

For Christmas:
Skybreaker by Eoin Colfer
Princess and the Bear by Mette Ivie Harrison
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

And all this means - I am still trying to catch up on my reading.  Hope you are all enjoying your holidays!

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Oh Christmas Books, Oh Christmas Books!

I only read two Christmas books this year, and I am sorry to say, I did not really enjoy either of them.  I am doing a little combined review post for both of them.

Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright
The short tale of a woman so caught up in her quest to write the perfect story and become the best journalist, that she almost misses the delights of giving when she meets a family with a very unique Christmas tradition.

Christmas Jars

I know lots of people loved this book, but I found it a little bit too cheesy for me.  I honestly groaned a few times at the most predictable and corny parts.  The idea behind Christmas jars and giving was really lovely, but I simply found all the writing and story around it to be too much for me.

Secrets of a Christmas Box by Steven Horby (review copy provided by publisher)
When Larry, a snowman ornament, wakes up on the Christmas tree and can't find his brother, he sets off with his friends on a dangerous mission to find him.  But, they may uncover a dreadful secret that changes all their lives.

Secrets of a Christmas Box

I really struggled to even finish this one.  The writing was very trite, with over-simplified wording and extremely aggravating punctuation (the ellipses really got to me).  The story might make a cute little read-aloud to very young children, but I didn't really enjoy any of it.

What are some of your favorite Christmas books?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Review: The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents) by Gina Misiroglu

*Review copy provided by publicist*
The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents) is a fun reference book filled with answers to hundreds of questions that kids like to ask.  From sections on outer space to the workings of the human body, this book has compiled short, concise answers for those parents who may not always know every answer.

The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents) (The Handy Answer Book Series)

Things I Liked:
I enjoyed reading all the answers to these questions - many of which I never would have known the answers to.  The book covers lots of topics, especially those that kids tend to be most curious about.  The answers are written in a way that most kids will be able to understand, at least in part.  It also covers questions that might be both for younger children and for older ones.  It is a very well researched and thorough reference for parents.

Things I Didn't Like:
I definitely think the book is more for parents, especially when it gets to the last section, Daily Life, which has a lot of moral and theoretical questions that a parent may want to decide how and what they want to teach their children.

I haven't really read anything like it!

s-factor: none

mrg-factor: X
it does include questions about where babies come from, though the answers are very well-suited for most children :)

v-factor: none

Overall rating: ****

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book Review: Once A Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

*e-copy of the ARC provided through NetGalley*
Once a Witch is what Tamsin has never felt.  Growing up in a family of talented witches, she has been notably without Talent.  But, when a mysterious and handsome man comes in asking for her sister, Tamsin takes a chance at impressing him and finds herself and all her family caught up in an age-old family battle.

Once a Witch
Things I Liked:
I loved the quirky characters; they definitely seemed like not your average people. Tamsin's family was so much fun, especially the crazy aunts and uncles. I also got sucked into the witch family history and lore - I like the ideas of Talents and Domani. I loved (for the most part) the writing and descriptions:
"She smells like the tinctures and poultices she's forever making, a mix of something sharp and sweet, like the first breath of spring. Tonight she's dressed all in white, diamond clips skewering the silvery bundle of hair piled atop her head. But despite the obvious effort, I can't help but notice that her skin has the yellowing sheen of old satin and her eyes seem to have sunk deeper into the hollows of her face." p 40 (page # from the e-copy of the ARC)
Things I Didn't Like:
I was a little surprised at the smoking and drinking throughout. I'm not usually that annoyed by that stuff, but for some reason Tamsin's smoking issue bugged me. It seemed like the author put it in to maybe try to make Tamsin seem like a real teen? Also the descriptions of the "big climactic scene" were really hard for me to visualize - I kept wishing I could see what was happening, but it was a little too vague.

I hate to relate all things "magic" to Harry Potter, but it was a bit like that

s-factor: !@

mrg-factor: X
mostly jokes and innuendo

v-factor: ->
a little bit of fighting, some stuff that might be scary

Overall rating: ***

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Locals

I know I signed up for a few challenges already, but when Suey from It's All About Books started the Support Your Local Author challenge, I just couldn't resist (click here for others' local author reviews).  I love my local authors, so I'm all about supporting them.  Here's a list of authors I hope to read at least one book from for this challenge:

Arizona authors:

Lisa McMann (The Unwanteds) (my review)
Aprilynne Pike (Spells)
Janette Rallison (aka C.J. Hill) (Slayers) (my review)
                                              (My Double Life)
                                              (My Unfair Godmother)

Utah authors:

Ally Condie (Matched) (my review)
                   (Crossed) (my review)
James Dashner (The Scorch Trials) (my review)
                       (The Death Cure)
Bree Despain (The Dark Divine) (my review)
                     (The Lost Saint) (my review)
Ann Dee Ellis (Everything is Fine.) (my review)
                     (This is What I Did:) (my review)
Jessica Day George (Princess of Glass) (my review)
                               (Tuesdays at the Castle)
Shannon Hale (Calamity Jack) (my review)
                      (Midnight in Austenland)
Mette Ivie Harrison (Princess and the Snowbird) (my review)
                              (Tris and Izzie) (my review)
Matthew J. Kirby (The Clockwork Three) (my review)
                            (Icefall) (my review)
Brandon Mull (Keys to the Demon Prison) (my review)
                      (A World Without Heroes) (my review)
Brandon Sanderson (Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia) (my review)
Emily Wing Smith (The Way He Lived) (my review)
Carol Lynch Williams (Glimpse) (my review)
                                  (Miles from Ordinary)
Sara Zarr (Once Was Lost) (my review)
                (How to Save a Life)

Super excited about this challenge!

On a totally unrelated note, anybody else struggle to write non-cheesy book summaries?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage

Friday, December 18, 2009

Book Review: Dreamdark: Silksinger by Laini Taylor

Dreamdark: Silksingeris the story of three faeries.  Whisper, a Silksinger faerie is the last of her clan and must make her way to the Nazneen without money or help in order to restore the ancient being she protects.  Hirik is also traveling in disguise to Nazneen, hoping to restore the honor of his fallen clan.  And Magpie is on a quest to find all the Djinn in order to protect the faeries from destruction.  All three of their paths cross and they must combine efforts to fight off an unknown enemy before it is too late.

Things I Liked:
I absolutely love this series.  Taylor has a beautiful way of writing and weaves a gorgeous story in an amazingly detailed fantasy world.  I become so immersed in the details and atmosphere of her stories that I start expecting to see faeries like Magpie and Whisper around every corner.  Her story also packs suspense, action, deep feeling, and plenty of laughs.  Perfect for those seeking a faerie world that is every bit as real as our own, complete with slang and faerie phrases.  The writing comes to life:
"The word alive slipped out like a chime, bright to the ears as sunlit copper to the eyes, and carrying all the magic of the glyph for life with it. Slomby went still as the sound wreathed around him. His lipless mouth dropped open and the shine in his red eyes seemed to brighten as life thrummed through him. All along the row of cells, prisoners stirred in the shadows. Dull eyes blinked and brightened, and sad, caged creatures crept slowly forward to peer out at the lass who had unleashed that sound, beautiful as a bell, and somehow pierced their long misery." p285
Things I Didn't Like:
Honestly, I can't think of a thing I didn't like, except the thought of having to wait so long for another Dreamdark book!

Definitely read the first book in the series Dreamdark: Blackbringer
The writing reminded me of Shannon Hale's stuff (The Goose Girl or Book of a Thousand Days) and Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

s-factor: none

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->
some fighting

Overall rating: *****

What is one of your "books that you can't find a thing you didn't like about it"?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book Review: Legacy by Cayla Kluver

*review copy provided by publicist*

Legacytells the story of Alera, crown princess of Hytanica. Alera, having reached the all-important age of seventeen, must now choose a husband - one who would make a good king. When her father the King all but forces her to choose Steldor, a handsome but terribly arrogant man, Alera balks. But, after a mysterious boy from Cokyri arrives, Alera finds herself strangely attracted to him, adding to her reluctance to marry Steldor. Will she be able to make the right choice for herself or her kingdom?

Things I Liked:
It is really amazing that Kluver, who is only sixteen, was able to produce such a complex book. The setting was detailed and interesting. The characters are fairly real and the story itself is intriguing. I also found the illustrations at the beginnings of each chapter added to the medieval feel of the book.

Things I Didn't Like:
The writing felt a little forced. Kluver is obviously very smart with a huge vocabulary, but it felt like she was trying too hard. Perhaps this is true of many books written today that try to sound authentically old, but it almost seemed pretentious. It was also very long and lots of parts could have been edited out that might have made the story seem tighter. She uses descriptions a little too often, such as in the following passage:
"I stepped through to amble along the garden's paths, letting my mind become still amid the beautiful foliage: the elm, oak, chestnut, and mulberry trees that offered cooling shade; the pear, lime, and orange trees that supplied us with unusual fruit; the abundant lilies, violets, tulips, and roses that plied the air with fragrance; and the herbs that provided seasoning for cooking and for treatment of injuries and illnesses."p 103
It has a little too much description and really doesn't add anything to the story. Kluver shows a lot of potential and I look forward to reading more by her.

Crown and Court Duet by Sherwood Smith

s-factor: !
perhaps a very few

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->
minor fighting

Overall rating: ***

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book Review: The Stolen One by Suzanne Carlisle Crowley

The Stolen Oneis the story of Katherine Bab, who never knew her real parents. When the only mother she's ever known dies suddenly, Kat feels drawn to London. Taking her beautiful deaf sister along, they eventually make their way to the presence of the queen. Kat is drawn toward Queen Elizabeth and begins to wonder if she might be secretly be her daughter. Will the truth draw her away from all she knew and loved before?

The Stolen One

Things I Liked:
I was very drawn into the mystery aspect of the story. I didn't want to stop reading, because I wanted to know what would happen next and who Kat's parents really were. The engrossing nature of the mystery and historical aspects of the story made up for what I didn't like.

Things I Didn't Like:
I wasn't impressed with the love story. I really didn't like Lord Ludmore or Nicholas, possibly because they seemed like flat and uninteresting characters. I guess the love aspect really took a back seat to the intrigue, mystery, and historical parts of the story.

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
Catherine, Called Birdyand The Midwife's Apprenticeby Karen Cushman

s-factor: !@

mrg-factor: X
mostly implied

v-factor: none

Overall rating: ****

Do you think historical fiction from the time of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I is kind of overdone in literature (and film)?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathanis an alternate history, steampunk story of World War I. Prince Aleksander is on the run from his so-called allies, when his parents are unexpectedly killed. Meanwhile, Deryn is joining the British Air Service, disguised as a boy, and ends up on the Leviathan, not your typical airship. When Alek's and Deryn's paths cross, they must learn to trust each other in order to survive.


Things I Liked:
What a fabulous story! This book is full of fun and fantastical creatures - the stuff that steampunk is made of - and wonderfully quirky characters. I became fascinated with the technology from the Austro-Hungarians and the creatures from the Britains. Deryn managed to be at once lovable and prickly, becoming one of my favorite heroines of all time. In addition, the book is filled with gorgeous and accurate (to the book's descriptions) illustrations that add so much to the text. Here are a few of my favorite humorous quotes:
"They endlessly competed to see who could spit farther, drink rum faster, or belch the loudest. It was bloody exhausting, being a boy." p 102-103
"Yes," Alek said. "A frostbitten bum would've been unfortunate." p 236
Things I Didn't Like:
I was only mildly annoyed the story didn't feel like it wrapped up much. Fortunately, this means sequels!

Reminded me very much of Airborn, Skybreaker, and Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
Also, Airman by Eoin Colfer

s-factor: !
a very few

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->
some mild fighting

Overall rating: *****

Got any favorite steampunk books?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Book Review: Evermore by Alyson Noel

Evermoreis the story of Ever - her family was killed in a car accident, leaving her behind alone. Ever since the accident, she has unusual abilities - seeing people's future, their thoughts, their aura. But, the abilities are a burden to her desire for a normal existence. She tries to block out all the noise with earphones and hooded sweatshirts. Until she meets Damen, who can silence others' thoughts with a touch of his hand. Not only that, but he is gorgeous, mysterious, and very interested in her.

Things I Liked:
I thought the book had some intriguing ideas with Ever's abilities and what Damen turns out to be (trying to avoid any spoilers). Noel has created a fairly interesting world, a good mix of fantasy and reality. I like the fantasy elements, and also Ever's sister.

Things I Didn't Like:
All that said, I really didn't like the book. I didn't like the romance, probably because I hated Damen. He was terribly confusing, rude, and annoying. I also found myself being a bit bored with the story - it wasn't very exciting and turned out rather predictable. I can see the appeal of the story, since it was very much another Twilight with a somewhat different take. When all the crazy stuff starting happening, I found this line described how I felt perfectly:
"Everything's so weird, so strange, and none of it makes any sense." p248
I probably won't be reading any of the sequels.

Absolutely, it joins the ranks of Twilight-alikes.
Reminded me as well of Need by Carrie Jones

s-factor: !@#$

mrg-factor: XX
a couple of parts, mainly innuendo

v-factor: ->
some blood and fighting

Overall rating: **

What is your favorite Twilight read-alike - or do you hate all things even remotely like Twilight?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage,
I will get a very small percentage
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