Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorite Reads of 2014

I'm ridiculously behind in reviewing (and general blogging), but I had to post my favorites from this year of reading.  It's been a great year for me, but not generally in the reading department (and definitely not in the blogging area).  I read 71 books this year, but I'll save all the fun stats for a later post (that's my incentive to do said post :).  I have to admit, when I looked over the list, I didn't really have a lot of books that jumped out at me as favorites.  Basically, this was relatively easy!  Here they are, categorized by genre:

YA Historical Fiction:

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Opened my eyes to how many stories and sorrows there are that I will never know about.  Cruelty of humankind will never cease to amaze me.  Also, resiliency!

YA Historical Fantasy:

Chime by Franny Billingsley (review to come)
Fascinating, strange, and beautifully written.  I was engrossed from the start.

YA Fantasy/Sci-fi:
Cress by Marissa Meyer
More, please, Ms. Meyer.  I love this series!

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White (review to come)
I really enjoyed the fantasy and the magic woven in this tale.

Atlantia by Ally Condie (review to come)
Different and unique and once more, beautifully written.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (review to come)
Intriguing and fascinating and if I had had a copy in hand, unputdownable (I listened to the audio).

Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (review to come)
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (review to come)
Let's just get me the last book in this series, already.  I'm always surprised by where these books end up!

MG Historical Fiction:

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Hello, novel in verse.  I love seeing unique historical periods through the eyes of a child.

MG Non-Fiction:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (review to come)
There's a reason this book is being raved about.  It is fantastic and I wish I could just read it over and over all day long.  Also written in verse!

MG Fantasy:

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy (review to come)
Many thanks, Mr. Healy, for the belly laughs.

Adult Fiction:

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (review to come)
Made me really think about where I've been and where I'm going in life.  Who do I want to become?

Adult Fantasy:

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (review to come)
Such a rich and detailed fantasy world Sanderson has created.  I'll take another helping, please!

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread!)
Never gets old.  Truly, the best fantasy for me.

Adult Non-Fiction:

Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand (review to come)
The book touched me in many ways, noting again the cruelty of mankind and the ability we have to rise above extremely horrific circumstances.  Truly inspiring!

What were your favorite reads this year?

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

One Librarian's Holiday Bookish Gift Guide

So I started this post earlier and had looked up a bunch of lovely items.  And then my post didn't get saved (BLAH!).  All this boils down to: short and sweet.  Here's last year's Holiday Gift Guide, I've included some of the same items, because they are still awesome.

A beautiful version of a childhood favorite. Bonus points for nostalgia-inducing choices! Like this gorgeous The Secret Garden illustrated by Inga Moore (see more of the lovely illustrations here)


Or The Annotated Charlotte's Web for a true E.B. White fan:

I'm partial to the globes, but you can't go wrong with dragons.  Right?

Bookish t-shirts:
I saw a teen wearing a shirt that said "Perfect men only exist in books."  I love it!  Plus, with t-shirts, you can either make it yourself with a favorite quote (it's super easy to iron on) or purchase one.  I like these ones:
from Zazzle.com
from OutofPrintClothing.com

Signed Books:
Lots of indie bookstores have stock on hand of books signed by the author.  Changing Hands, my local, has some. A few others you can peruse online Parnassus Books in Nashville or The Strand in NYC, and even Barnes and Noble. Or you can track down your own local indie bookstore and buy a signed edition in person.  Then you get the added bonus of personalized help!  Find your local independent book store.

Tote Bag:
Everyone wants to haul around their books in style.  I love the Anne of Green Gables tote from Litographs - it's got the full text of the book printed on it!  Also, the Little Women tote from Out of Print Clothing is just darn cute.
Book + Movie:
There are loads of options for this kind of gift and it satisfies movie-lovers as well.  You can try The Fault in Our Stars (movie and book) or Divergent (movie and book) for modern hits or go classic with Pride and Prejudice (there are several movies and book versions) or North and South (movie and book).  You can buy movie tickets for those still in the theater like The Hobbit or The Maze Runner.  Or if they prefer plays, you can buy tickets to a play the accompanying book, like Wicked, Les Miserables, or The Wizard of Oz.  There are lots of combinations to choose from and either way, I'm quite sure your bookish friend or family member will love it! 

What gifts are you dying to receive this year?

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

Book Review: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: November 2011
Pages: 860
Source: Purchased (and signed!)
For: Fun
Series: Inheritance, Book 4

Summary (from goodreads): *Spoilers are inevitable for the first three books*
Not so very long ago, Eragon — Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider — was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders.

Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still, the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chance.

The Rider and his dragon have come further than anyone dared to hope. But can they topple the evil king and restore justice to Alagaësia? And if so, at what cost?
Things I Liked:
You've got to give Paolini credit for coming up with a rich and detailed world and a problem that seemed unsolvable.  The bare bones of this story are really good, exciting and fast-paced.  The characters are interesting and flawed and at times simply annoying.  There is so much detail and so many different people and things to keep track of.  I was really happy there was a summary at the beginning to remind us what happened in the previous books (yeah, so I reread them right before I thought I was going to read this...and then more than a year passed before I finally got to it).  I'm pretty satisfied with how it ended as well, though there are some issues I had, of course.

Things I Didn't Like:
Ok, the main thing about these books that bothers me is their length and how they're packed with details that just need to be cut.  It's been said by many many people in much more convincing ways, but he could really have benefited from an editor chopping out much of the fluff.  Yes, there is a lot that he's created in his imagination.  I think it would have been better if he'd put some of those stories and details into some kind of appendices or additional book about the world if he really wanted people to know about it.  Those who are dying for more would have devoured it, but the books would have been tighter and flowed a lot faster.  Also, shorter.  Yeah, the ending left me unsatisfied in a few ways (hello, Aria) and the way the king was defeated (spoiler?  probably not) was a bit out of the blue, but still I could handle it.  And yes, he drew on a lot of source material and I don't really even have much of a problem with that, but it's just the ridiculous length and side stories and jumping from character to character and every single thing must be written out in detail.  Glad I read the end and glad that it's the end.

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien 
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

s-factor: !@ 
some here and there

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->->->->
Ok, it's a really long book about a really long war and there are a LOT of battles

Overall rating: story: ****, experience **

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: UnSouled by Neal Shusterman

UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: October 2013
Pages: 416
Source: e-book from Library
For: Fun
Series: Unwind, Book 3

Summary (from goodreads): *Spoilers are inevitable for the first two books*
Connor and Lev are on the run after the destruction of the Graveyard, the last safe haven for AWOL Unwinds. But for the first time, they're not just running away from something. This time, they're running toward answers, in the form of a woman Proactive Citizenry has tried to erase from history itself. If they can find her, and learn why the shadowy figures behind unwinding are so afraid of her, they may discover the key to bringing down unwinding forever.

Cam, the rewound boy, is plotting to take down the organization that created him. Because he knows that if he can bring Proactive Citizenry to its knees, it will show Risa how he truly feels about her. And without Risa, Cam is having trouble remembering what it feels like to be human.

With the Juvenile Authority and vindictive parts pirates hunting them, the paths of Connor, Lev, Cam, and Risa will converge explosively;and everyone will be changed.
Things I Liked:
This has signature Shusterman deep, thought-provoking moral dilemmas.  I love that he mixes in with his story (which at times, can seem incredulous), real clips from articles that make you realize just how realistic the story can be.  There are situations and difficulties that the characters face that seem impossible.  The kids are making impossible choices with really horrible situations that they experience.  I'm quite glad I read the short story Unstrung before this one, because I would have been rather confused if I hadn't.  There were a lot of details and some characters that I'd forgotten from the previous books (it's been a long time since I read them), but I didn't think I got too lost.  Compelling story and world-building.  I'm interested to see where the next book leads us.

Things I Didn't Like:
This book was quite difficult for me to read.  Even though I mentioned all the really thoughtful things, it suffered from lack of plot to me.  It seemed like they went nowhere, did nothing, and spent a lot of time worrying and wondering and trying to figure out what they should do.  I mean, this book is like 1000 pages long, so that is a lot of time to spend thinking on page.  It honestly felt like a filler book, which considering it's book 3 seemed rather unfortunate.  I'm still invested in the story, because I'd like to see how Shusterman can possibly end this series and not make the world just fall apart.  But, I didn't much care for this book. 

Start with Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Jenna Fox Chronicles by Mary Pearson

s-factor: !@
there are some

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->
glimpses here and there, but nothing too graphic

Overall rating: ***

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Review: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: February 2011
Pages: 272
Source: Review copy from Publisher
For: Review (and Newbery)

Summary from goodreads: 
No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.

But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. HÀ and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, HÀ discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.
Things I Liked:
What a wonderful story!  I loved seeing what it must have been like for a young girl growing up in Vietnam during the war.  I know next to nothing about the time period or the war or Vietnam, so this was a true eye opener for me.  It was so interesting to read about the hardships they endured pretty much everywhere they went, but so sad to see how they were received in America.  And I really liked that it was in verse.  I admit to not reading a lot of books in verse, but this was well written and the format only contributed to the story.  Obvious reasons that this was the National Book Award winner and a Newbery Honor book.

Things I Didn't Like:
Hm, not much.  I wish we could have had a few more details about what her family experienced in America, but it was told from her viewpoint and the limited detail was quite accurate.

Can't think of anything...

s-factor: none

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->
well, maybe not violence, but some bad stuff does happen to her

Overall rating: *****

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Review: War Brides by Helen Bryan

War Brides by Helen Bryan
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: 2007
Pages: 496
Source: Purchased e-book
For: Book Group

Summary from goodreads:
With war threatening to spread from Europe to England, the sleepy village of Crowmarsh Priors settles into a new sort of normal: Evacuees from London are billeted in local homes. Nightly air raids become grimly mundane. The tightening vice of rationing curtails every comfort. Men leave to fight and die. And five women forge an unlikely bond of friendship that will change their lives forever. 

Alice Osbourne, the stolid daughter of the late vicar, is reeling from the news that Richard Fairfax broke their engagement to marry Evangeline Fontaine, an American girl from the Deep South. Evangeline's arrival causes a stir in the village but not the chaos that would ensue if they knew her motives for being there. Scrappy Elsie Pigeon is among the poor of London who see the evacuations as a chance to escape a life of destitution. Another new arrival is Tanni Zayman, a young Jewish girl who fled the horrors of Europe and now waits with her newborn son, certain that the rest of her family is safe and bound to show up any day. And then there's Frances Falconleigh, a madcap, fearless debutante whose father is determined to keep her in the countryside and out of the papers. 

As the war and its relentless hardships intensify around them, the same struggles that threaten to rip apart their lives also bring the five closer together. They draw strength from one another to defeat formidable enemies: hunger, falling bombs, the looming threat of a Nazi invasion, and a traitor in their midst, and find remarkable strength within themselves to help their friends. Theirs is a war-forged loyalty that will outlast the fiercest battle and endure years and distance. When four of the women return to Crowmarsh Priors for a VE Day celebration fifty years later, television cameras focus on the heartwarming story of these old women as war brides of a bygone age, but miss the more newsworthy angle. The women's mission is not to commemorate or remember; they've returned to settle a score and avenge one of their own.
Things I Liked:
There really is no concise way to summarize the book.  I was really immersed in the historical story, the war story of all the very different women's lives.  I found the details and the interactions of each of the women fascinating.  I wanted to laugh and cry with them and all they struggled with.  During that portion of the book, I really enjoyed the story.  It was fantastic historical fiction and obviously well-researched and well-written.  I had some real issues with the end, though, that kind of tainted my enjoyment.

Things I Didn't Like:
As I mentioned, there were a number of things I didn't like.  First, the prologue was very confusing.  I found that starting in the "present day" (1995, I think) left me just not sure what or who or anything.  But most of what I didn't like was the ending.  The very last parts of the historical story were rushed and then abruptly cut off.  It seemed only half-finished, and obviously Bryan wanted to complete the story from the present looking back, but I think it could have been more gently done.  I was a bit angry that we didn't get more of Alice at that point, as things were going in an interesting direction (finally).  And at the end when they are having their reunion I was just plain appalled at what happened.  It seemed really out of character for some of them and completely out of the blue.  I can understand some of what they are feeling, but honestly, it did not seem to fit the rest of the story.  Despite my disappointments with the way things ended for the characters back in the 40s, the ending of the book really made me end up disliking the whole thing. 

Well, the historical part reminded me a bit of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

s-factor: !@

mrg-factor: XX
a bit too descriptive at times

v-factor: ->
some, since there was a war, but not too graphic

Overall rating: **

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review: Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi

Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: January 2014
Pages: 400
Source: e-book from Library
For: Fun!
Series: Under the Never Sky, Book 3

Summary from goodreads: *Spoilers are inevitable for the first two books*
The race to the Still Blue has reached a stalemate. Aria and Perry are determined to find this last safe haven from the Aether storms before Sable and Hess do—and they are just as determined to stay together.

Within the confines of a cave they're using as a makeshift refuge, they struggle to reconcile their people, Dwellers and Outsiders, who are united only in their hatred of their desperate situation. Meanwhile, time is running out to rescue Cinder, who was abducted by Hess and Sable for his unique abilities. Then Roar arrives in a grief-stricken fury, endangering all with his need for revenge.

Out of options, Perry and Aria assemble an unlikely team for an impossible rescue mission. Cinder isn't just the key to unlocking the Still Blue and their only hope for survival--he's also their friend. And in a dying world, the bonds between people are what matter most.
Things I Liked:
Exciting, fast-paced end of a good series.  I like this series a lot, especially because it doesn't seem to fall into the second and third book issues I don't enjoy.  I did think things got a little convenient in the end, and I wasn't happy with how things happened with Cinder, but overall, a good end to the series.  A fascinating world and pretty well fleshed out.  Loved the many different kinds of characters and how they all felt very individual.  Aria and Perry were a little too cheesy at times, but I guess they earned it.  But Roar is the one who fascinates me.

Things I Didn't Like:
It has its flaws, but I really just enjoyed the read.  The end, as I mentioned, sometimes was a bit too convenient, particularly in what happened with Perry, but still.

Still reminds me a tiny bit of Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Dust Lands series by Moira Young
s-factor: !@

mrg-factor: X
generally implied

v-factor: ->->->
quite a bit

Overall rating: ****

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: Dangerous by Shannon Hale

Dangerous by Shannon Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication date: March 2014
Pages: 416
Source: Purchased
For: Hale!

Summary from goodreads:
Maisie Danger Brown just wanted to get away from home for a bit, see something new. She never intended to fall in love. And she never imagined stumbling into a frightening plot that kills her friends and just might kill her, too. A plot that is already changing life on Earth as we know it. There's no going back. She is the only thing standing between danger and annihilation.
Things I Liked:
This was a departure from Shannon Hale's usual fare.  But I loved it.  I liked our main character Maisie and I watched what happened to her with great interest.  There were many surprises in store, only a few of which I actually guessed before hand.  I thought the story was pretty cool, even if it didn't seem terribly original.  I love superhero stories, so it was kind of destined to be enjoyed by me.  I really liked how not everything worked out to make Maisie happy ever after.  It felt more real.  Good story!

Things I Didn't Like:
I pretty much just liked it and didn't notice any flaws that may have been visible to others.

False Memory by Dan Krokos
I'm really drawing a blank, seems like there are a lot!

s-factor: !
I think there may have been one or two

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->->
there are some surprisingly violent scenes

Overall rating: ****

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