#FirstFifty Review: MISCHLING

PopSugar Reading Challenge CategoryA book published in 2016

Book Number #101 for 2016

WHAT I READ:

Mischling (Affinity Konar)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

Strong four stars out of five; I can’t say it better than the blurb advertised on Goodreads: “One of the most harrowing, powerful, and imaginative books of the year” (Anthony Doerr)

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

Wherein I summarize the first fifty pages… In this case, the first 45 pages, since there was a convenient chapter break there.

Stasha and Pearl, twelve-year-old twins, are crammed into a cattle car with their mother and grandfather. Though it is not made explicit, the reader understands that the family are Jewish prisoners being herded to a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Upon arrival, the mother notices guards taking a set of twins to a different location and, assuming that twins are treated as special in this place, begs the guard to take her girls, too. From there, the twins are separated from their mother and grandfather and introduced to the main setting for the book (or at least the first 2/3): the Zoo, run by the Angel of Death and potentially one of the most evil men I’ve ever learned about, Josef Mengele. They are abruptly introduced to the Zoo’s cruelty as the girl sharing the bed with them dies and her clothes are immediately stolen by the other girls in the barrack. We receive our introductions to several other important characters in the book (both good and bad) including Dr. Miri, Twins’ Father, and Nurse  Elma. The first fifty pages close with the twins being taken to the laboratory for their first examinations and experiments.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

Using gifs here (which is what I’m normally going to try to do, because everyone loves pictographs) felt a little insensitive given the subject matter. So, I shall leave it with a series of words: this book made me feel sad, thoughtful, depressed, hopeful, and proud.

People with better words than I have reviewed this on Goodreads. In short, this is another excellent literary addition to fictional depictions of life during the Holocaust, and I encourage you to read this if you want to expand your mind.

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Battle of the YAs

Buckle up, ladies and gents, because I finally lived up to my blog promise: I’ve gotten CUTTHROAT with a book! Going head-to-head in my YA collection this week is…

Girl Against the Universe, by Paula Strokes (Book Number: DNF) vs Sisters in Sanity, by Gayle Forman (Book Number #102 of 2016)

Let’s kick it off with the one that I ruthlessly dropped.

FIRST FIFTY: Girl Against the Universe

Maguire (yes, that’s her first name. RELAX, IT’S IRISH) considers herself *cursed.* In her defense, a lot of crappy things have happened when she’s been around, including her father, brother, and uncle dying in a car crash that she survived, and a roller coaster crashing when she was on it (?!?!?! UGH worst nightmare). So she’s decided to lean in to solitude and tries her damndest never to interact with other humans, lest her *curse* leaks onto them. Or something.

Her therapist, who apparently is a Next to Normal style rockstar and sounds like an all-around chill dude, encourages her to take baby steps so she can achieve her dream of visiting her family in Ireland and get on that damn plane without crashing it with her *curse.* So, she decides to join a sport at school and chooses tennis.

I kid you not, it seems like every other sentence from there was about tennis. And practicing tennis, and serves and backhands and whatever, and tennis clothes, and sometimes how a hunky guy she met at therapy who *just happens* to be a superstar 18-year old tennis player who lives in her town is also the manager of tennis at her school and, like, helps her with her serve and then they eat burritos with french fries in them. Or something. It was around then that I decided to drop this book because I frankly don’t care about tennis that much, unless Paul Bettany is playing. Also, I’m sure I can predict the ending of the book, so why don’t I do that right now: Maguire realizes her name is dumb and finally picks up a cute nickname; she probably gets mad at Hunk at some point, or her lets her down, but he redeems himself and they end up together; she wins the big tennis match; and she gets on the plane to Ireland and is cured.

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FIRST FIFTY: SISTERS IN SANITY

Ah, the one I, in retrospect, should have dropped. This was a shaky two-to-three star read, and at the end of it I gave it an unenthusiastic “eh.” There was just a lot I didn’t like and very little I did like. But you can read about that on my Goodreads – let’s summarize the #FirstFifty, shall we?

Brit is a *rEbEllIoUs* teenager (maybe? It seems to me, and to her, she’s considered rebellious because she dyes her hair and is in a band, and sometimes stays out late. Shrug, I guess). She and her dad set out on a road trip to the Grand Canyon, stop in Vegas for like two pages where he’s mostly just moody, and then GASP. Turns out he’s depositing her in a super-strict boarding school in Utah meant to turn rebellious teens on the straight path! (This is actually really effed up of her dad, in my opinion. Like, maybe tell your daughter instead of tricking her into going to the Grand Canyon?).

Turns out this boarding school is essentially a prison with less regulated guidelines, as the girls do really horrifying-sounding group therapy where they just insult each other, carry heavy ciderblocks around a yard for no reason, and aren’t even issued shoes until the staff is convinced they aren’t an escape risk. Brit is convinced everything is the worst until she meets three girls who become her (title of book alert) Sisters in Sanity.

 

So, folks, how did the Battle go? In this round, I have to say…. They are BOTH losers! (as I am, for spending some time on reading them, and then crafting this). Read a better YA book, why don’t ya?

For Gayle Forman goodness, may I suggest If I Stay/Where She Went, and Just One Day/Just One Year

For better YA treatise on mental health, may I suggest Some Kind of Happiness (duh)

The Next 100

Oh, HELLO. How nice to see you. You look great!

Keen observers of my life (my mom) will notice I went a giant two and a half years between posting. Let me take you back to 2013 – a time when Donald Trump was still just a reality TV star and sometimes-businessman, when Mad Men was still on the air, when the most culturally relevant thing about Hamilton was his reference in that Lazy Sunday viral video. That was also the last time lil’ ole Kristen posted on this blog. I had big dreams and stars in my eyes about documenting my explorations about Boston, my adopted hometown, but then Life Happened and I forgot.

Fast forward two and a half years – I have a different job (thank God), a new apartment (woohoo!), a gentleman caller, and – most importantly – JetBlue Mosaic status. That’s right, peons – allow me to board first and enjoy abundant overhead space!

Your queen also had a little bit of sadness in her heart, though. Even with all the wonderful things in my life, I felt like I needed a little something on the side to keep my brain moving, my wits sharp, and ensure I didn’t just redo the same routine day-by-day.

But how to scratch that creative itch? Despite my many, many attempts at Paint Bar, I must sadly admit I am not an artist. I can play the violin, but my work travel schedule makes it hard to commit to a group. The one thing I really do is read.

And so, the Cutthroat Reader is born (but it’s going to live under K10 Explores, because I’m far too lazy to create a new blog). I’m about to hit quite a lofty achievement – 100 books read in 2016! For #thenext100, I wanted to be more creative in how I pick, review, and recommend books. And so, a mingling of gimmicks. First, I’m going to pick books with more diversity – of subject, author, and location. I have a whole way of picking but I’ll tell you later, if I feel like it.

Secondly, I’m going to be CUTTHROAT. A book has a mere 50 pages to impress me (or 10% if it’s less than 300 pages). If I’m not into it, DONE. But I’ll still review it anyway, and probably (hopefully) be hilarious about it.

So, there you go. Read this or don’t, I don’t particularly care either way. But I shall read, and I shall write, and I shall find my side passion. Fin. 

Book Roundup: October

So, I kind of have a thing for books. If I could, I would read all day every day (and when I was unemployed, that’s pretty much what I did). My absolute favorite thing is getting book recommendations from other people – whether friends, bloggers, or even in the “Best Books of This Year” round-ups that newspapers publish annually. Because of that, I decided to do a monthly round-up feature of my books: what I read, why I read it, and what I thought. Enjoy!

Looking for full reviews? Leave me a comment or check out my GoodReads profile.

This was a slightly lighter month for me – I had a lot of life things going on (hey lookie at me, I have friends and a social life!), and I also did a lot of re-reading of favorite books in preparation for their sequels coming out (namely the Divergent series). Don’t hate.

For the TL;DR crowd…

If you liked If I Stay/Where She Went (WHY HAVEN’T YOU READ THEM THEY ARE WONDERFUL)… read Just One Day/Just One Year. Okay, if you like great books that are sad and happy and funny and romantic, read all four of those. I’ll wait.

If you like quirky, light, heartwarming books, read pretty much anything by Rainbow Rowell (this month I read her Fangirl and Attachments, both of which I adored)

If you haven’t already heard of Divergent… oh go on then and read it, everyone else is. If you have and you want a similar book… read The Darkest Minds + Never Fade 

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And here we go!

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WHAT I READ: Untold (Lynburn Legacy #2), by Sarah Rees Brennan (YA fantasy/paranormal)

WHY I READ IT: The next book in the Lynburn Legacy series! I read the first one this summer and immediately put the second on a to-read list.

WHAT I THOUGHT (in three lines or less): The things I love remain the same: Kami’s way of speaking (she’s just SO CLEVER), the relationships between the characters (obviously a YA is not a YA without some rooommaaance) and of course magic. I knocked off a star because the plot felt just a teeeensey bit thin (looking back on it, not that much actually happened), and try as she might, a magic fight between sorcerers cannot ever compare to JK Rowling’s scenes. Still highly recommended!

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WHAT I READThe Night Rainbow, by Claire King (contemporary adult fiction)

WHY I READ IT: If I remember correctly, one of my favorite authors Tweeted that she loved this book, and it was also included on a list of “best books narrated by children” or something of that nature.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Lovely little story about the relationships between people – people old and young, relationships fresh and stale – and the power of imagination. I found it a little slow at times and really not a lot happens, but the power of this book is in its narrator Pea (a 5 year old girl who speaks in quite adult and humorous ways) and the “slow burn” as you learn to know her better and learn her situation better.

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WHAT I READ: The Starboard Sea, by Amber Dermont (contemporary adult fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Whilst perusing at one of my favorite local bookstores, I noticed this was in the “highly recommended by staff” table and jotted down the title

WHAT I THOUGHT: I’m going to be real – this was a DNF, but only baaarely (I got hit with a sudden urge to read another book when I had about 50 pages left of this one and decided to ride it out).  Overall, a pretty sad book that explores teenage cruelty and the pains of growing up, and how that impacts people in different ways.  I would be interested in reading more things by this author, but maybe not reading this one again, although I did enjoy my time in it

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WHAT I (re)READ: Just One Day, by Gayle Forman (YA/NA [“New Adult,” that nebulous space between “young” and “adult”] Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: I originally read this gem in the spring as I’m a fan of the author (If I Stay and Where She Went – PLEASE read them, they are gorgeous). The companion novel, Just One Year, came out on October 10 and in the middle of a yoga class I decided I wanted nothing more than to reread this book (or I should say rereread it because I’ve read it several times already…)

WHAT I THOUGHT: I could tell I loved this book based on the act that I tore through it in about four hours and, when it ended of a cliffhanger and a promise that the story continues in another character’s POV in a yet-to-be-released book, I slammed in shut in anger… and then immediately reread it. Forman is just a magnificent author and capturer of the young adult experience. One reason I love this book is that it so neatly covered the different phases of young adulthood that I myself am going through or have gone through: self-discovery through travel, friendships, the transition from high school to college and beyond, and more. I wanted to BE Allyson, to be there with her, seeing her in her growth.

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WHAT I READFangirl, by Rainbow Rowell (NA Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: About fifteen million book bloggers recommended it.

WHAT I THOUGHT:  What a wonderful book that perfectly captured the awkward, sad, uncomfortable, wonderful parts of the freshmen year experience. I saw so much of Cath in myself and loved to see her growth throughout this book. The only thing I didn’t like is that everything wasn’t perfectly wrapped up with a bow at the end – I wanted more resolution, damnit! So 4.8 stars out of 5 for that. Still a quick, delightful read that made me love the characters.

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WHAT I READJust One Year, by Gayle Forman (NA Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Follow-up to Just One Day, of course!

WHAT I THOUGHT: For as much as I loved about this, I didn’t love it AS intensely as Just One Day. I think that’s partly because I naturally identify with female leads, especially when those female leads are on a journey of self-discovery through travel, friendship, and their own growing bravery.But it was also set simultaneously to Just One Day – so both start with Willem and Allyson meeting in Paris, and then JUST ONE DAY goes over Allyson’s events for the next year and JUST ONE YEAR goes over Willem’s events. It isn’t until the VERY LAST PAGE that they are together again and you really never see what happens to them as a couple – just to Willem as an individual. I selfishly wanted it to be more romantic and full of details about their relationship than it was, I guess. I still loved loved loved reading it and will continue to read both for years to come – I guess I will just have to create my own ideas for what happens to them next!

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WHAT I (re)READ: Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth (YA/NA Dystopian/Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Over a year and a half ago a friend of mine recommended this up-and-coming book series to me, and boy was I glad she did. It’s now become the Hot New Thing – the movie comes out in March and has heavy-hitter stars like Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet. As the third book came out in late October, I reread the first two in anticipation.

WHAT I THOUGHT: (briefly):  [First two books]  Just… incredible. The type of book where, after finishing it for the first time, I immediately turned back to the beginning to reread it. Veronica Roth  has done a fantastic job of building her world and adding so much depth and texture to the characters. It’s nearly impossible to tell who are the “good guys” and the “bad guys” because everyone has flaws – even (especially!) Tris, the main character. I feel that the world established by Roth is so scarily close to what our world could be that everything she writes resonates intensely.

[Third book] Well… hmm. Not sure what to think about this one. I love love loved the series as a whole, and this book did not disappointed in the wrap-up (although I know a lot of people VEHEMENTLY disagree). Maybe I’ve just read a LOT more YA dystopian novels by this point so it’s not so novel. It’s also because this book had a lot of ‘splaining to do about the world and everything like that, so there wasn’t a lot of action – mainly just exposition. Either way, I’m disappointed I didn’t cry, but I just wasn’t feeling it, ya know? It gets a solid 3.5 stars, but I’m knocking it up to 4 in appreciation of the series and my excitement for the movies.

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WHAT I READ: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (Adult contemporary fiction)

WHY I READ IT: After Fangirl she’s definitely becoming a favorite author – I have more on her books on hold at the library!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Rainbow Rowell is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors with this and FANGIRL. Just an all-around quirky, lighthearted, heartwarming book. It wasn’t anything necessarily mind-blowing or ground-breaking, but was oh-so-enjoyable to read. Must read more of her books

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WHAT I READ: Never Fade (Darkest Minds #2) by Alexandra Bracken (YA Dystopian/Sci Fi fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Follow-up to the wonderful, wonderful Darkest Minds

WHAT I THOUGHT: I REALLY liked The Darkest Minds, so I guess it was only inevitable that this would slip a tad. It suffered from middle-of-the-trilogy-itis: you don’t have the fun of exposing a new world like in Book One, but you also don’t have the dramatic, end-of-story showdown like in Book 3. So Never Fade felt a little draggy, a little too similar to the first book without adding new information, and there’s still SO much I want to know that wasn’t revealed. Still much better than a LOT of other YA out there, and I will absolutely read the third book.

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WHAT I READThe Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling) (Adult  mystery/thriller)

WHY I READ IT: Um hi, this was QUITE the buzz in the literary community. Secret book by JK Rowling?! I was on the wait list at the library for four months!

WHAT I THOUGHT: I’ve never been one who is all WHY IS SHE NOT WRITING HARRY POTTER I HATE HER SHE IS THE WORST UNLESS IT IS HARRY. I actually love Casual Vacancy. That being said, I enjoyed this book, but thought it was a little one-dimensional. My favorite mystery/detective books (Tana French) have a strong “A” story of the mystery, but a solid “B” story of the main character’s life/love/etc. This had a great “A”, but the “B” story, while present, seemed more like a “N” or “S” story. It was just so minimal, and for an author famous for her characterization I would have liked to see more. Still a fantastic read!

Aaand that’s it for this month! In retrospect, this was a month REALLY heavy on the YA. My b. Too many follow-up books came out! I have a HUGE pile of library books I had on hold that came in, so I’ll be trying to knock those out in November… in between my week-long international travel, that is! 🙂

Book Roundup: September

So, I kind of have a thing for books. If I could, I would read all day every day (and when I was unemployed, that’s pretty much what I did). My absolute favorite thing is getting book recommendations from other people – whether friends, bloggers, or even in the “Best Books of This Year” round-ups that newspapers publish annually. Because of that, I decided to do a monthly round-up feature of my books: what I read, why I read it, and what I thought. Enjoy!

(Note: I’ve changed the “What I Read” to a quick one-line [or sometimes two or three lines…] roundup, given the number of books I read! You can find full reviews at my GoodReads Profile.)

ROUNDUP OF THE ROUNDUP – for the TL;DR crowd:

If you liked Gone Girl… read The Dinner

For a good old-fashioned excellent adult Fiction novel… read Rules of Civility 

For a poetic, sad, heartwarming, beautiful novel… read Sea of Tranquility (tied for a September Favorite)

If you are looking for the next Hunger Games and want to be ahead of the masses (I promise, this is going to be the next huge franchise) and/or you love the Passage series by Justin Cronin (another awesome book) and/or you love dystopian literature and/or you think you won’t like sci fi books featuring aliens but you want to test yourself (I was in the same boat I promise!)… read The 5th Wave (tied for a September Favorite)

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And away we go with the books I read this month!

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WHAT I READEarthbound, by Aprilynne Pike (Young Adult Fiction – Fantasy/Sci Fi)

WHY I READ ITErrrm I can’t remember. I’m the worst.

WHAT I THOUGHT, IN ONE LINE: Confused about 73% of the time and mildly interested in the next book in the series, but not enough to count down the days.

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WHAT I READThe Dinner, by Herman Koch (Adult Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: I’ve been waiting to read this book for most of the year, so I’m fairly certain it was featured on a bunch of “Best of 2012” lists newspapers put out in December

WHAT I THOUGHT: Absolutely worth the hype: Koch layers in the information and plot throughout the course of one dinner in flashbacks, conversations, and present-day action, building a lot of tension and creating a fascinating and scary book (akin to Gone Girl).

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WHAT I READRules of Civility and Eve in Hollywood, by Amor Towles (Adult Fiction)

WHY I READ IT: I joined a book club and wanted to be able to discuss the selection, Eve in Hollywood, but since it was the followup to Rules of Civility

WHAT I THOUGHT (in three lines – I couldn’t resist!): ROC: It was just incredibly splendid and wonderfully written and many other flowery adjectives that made made me love New York, the 1930s, the way of speaking, the characters (even though you kind of hate them too). Towles’ writing is just simply so magnetic, this is my top choice if someone wants a recommendation. Five shining stars. EIH: Not quite as loved, but it was a novella of short stories which is never my preference.

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WHAT I READThe Sea of Tranquility, by Katja Milljay (Technically Young Adult Fiction, but very mature themes)

WHY I READ IT: Another top recommendation from a top book blogger (4.53 out of 5 rating on Goodreads out of 20,000 reviews, which is nothing to sniff at)

WHAT I THOUGHT This is a YA book, technically (presumably because the main characters are in high school), but this is so, so, so adult: the words, the turns of phrase, the themes. It’s dark and scary and depressing and romantic and funny, all at the same time. EDIT: Immediately on my “to buy” list and I loved it so much, I went back and read it again right after I finished. September Favorite! (Tied)

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WHAT I READThrones of Glass by Sarah Maas (Young Adult Fiction – Fantasy/Sci Fi)

WHY I READ ITGoodReads Recommends!

WHAT I THOUGHT:  I struggle with this one; on the one hand, I felt a little bored at times and not sure if I wanted to go on, but by the end I was mildly intrigued by what happens next. Solid 3 stars (I enjoyed reading it, probably wouldn’t read it again or buy it).

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WHAT I READ (almost): Clay by Melissa Harrison (Adult fiction)

WHY I READ ITA favorite author (Samantha Shannon, who wrote The Bone Season) tweeted that she loved it.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I internally fought over whether to include this or not because honestly – I didn’t finish it. It just didn’t grab me, and life’s too short to read bad books.

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WHAT I READBetween the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (YA Gothic fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Needed an easy palate cleanser after attempting Clay!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Given its Gothic horror genre, it was super creepy. One of the creepier books I have ever read, and quite gory as well (in a tasteful way, not in a classless way). I’m not sure if I will read the next book, but this did pique my interest to read more of this category.

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WHAT I READTell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt (Adult fiction)

WHY I READ IT: Atop many a “Best Books of 2012” list

WHAT I THOUGHT: It features themes and a setting that usually do not interest me (a 14 year old girl coping with the loss of her uncle from AIDS in the late 1980s), but the coming of age aspect was beautifully written in conjunction with the relationships she builds with others afterwards. I was particularly enamored with the description of the relationship between June and her sister and how sibling relationships can shift.

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WHAT I READThe 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey (YA dystopian Sci-Fi)

WHY I READ IT: One of the most buzzed-about YA books this year (the waiting list at the library took a couple of months)

WHAT I THOUGHT: Okay, so it is about a dystopian future in which aliens take over the world, which I get isn’t your thing – it’s not mine, either. But this book was SO SO SO SO GOOD. I was legitimately scared at times and wanted to put the book in the freezer but made myself get through because it was so interesting. This is absolutely going to become the next huge book series – jump on it now.

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WHAT I READBurial Rites, by Hannah Kent (Adult historical fiction)

WHY I READ ITBeen getting a lot of buzz, dontchaknow

WHAT I THOUGHT: A relatively slow book based largely on narrative and less on action, but still interesting to learn more about the last woman (and person) to be executed in Iceland. I appreciate that the author based so much of it on history and was very persistent in being as accurate as possible, and it definitely piqued my interest in the country. Solid three star-er: I didn’t mind reading it once but probably wouldn’t read it again.

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And that’s it for September, folks! It was quite a month, eh? I couldn’t be more thrilled for October – three books that I have been looking forward to reading (Never Fade, the second book in the Darkest Minds series; Just One Year, the companion novel to the wonderful Just One Day; and of course the last book in the Divergent series, Allegiant) ALL come out in October. WAHOO! I’m trying to finish Jane Austen’s Emma and then eagerly look forward to diving into these goodies. See you in a month!

Book Roundup: August

So, I kind of have a thing for books. If I could, I would read all day every day (and when I was unemployed, that’s pretty much what I did). My absolute favorite thing is getting book recommendations from other people – whether friends, bloggers, or even in the “Best Books of This Year” round-ups that newspapers publish annually. Because of that, I decided to do a monthly round-up feature of my books: what I read, why I read it, and what I thought. Enjoy!

Another month, friends! And what a month for books it was. As before, there were a couple of times I dashed through old favorites while I was waiting for a new book to come in to the library, so I shan’t review them here (although if you haven’t already read The Fault In Our Stars, what are you waiting for?). Away we go with new books for August! Sorr for the length. 

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WHAT I READ: The Gray Wolf Throne and The Crimson Crown, Seven Realms #3 and #4 (the last in the series), by Cinda Williams Chima

WHY I READ IT: I read the first book in this series following a recommendation from a friend and had to see what happens, OF COURSE. Quick background: the main characters are Raisa, the young newly-crowned Queen of the Fells (one of the Seven Realms), and Han, the gang-leader/streetlord ragger turned wizard/friend of Raisa/perhaps something more…

WHAT I THOUGHT: Real talk. I kinda forgot about what The Gray Wolf Throne was about. It suffers from the classic middle-of-the-series setbacks: it doesn’t have the excitement of setting up the story like a first book does, and it often lacks the crazy battles that will happen in the last book.  I do remember constantly thinking in TGWT, “MAN. Raisa is SO COOL.” That’s overall one of my favorite impressions of the series. I love, love, love fantasy books that feature a strong leading lady. But the Seven Realms novels are interesting because unlike a lot of other YA/fantasy novels with a strong female, Chima pairs it with a strong male leading role in Han. That’s where The Crimson Crown gets so interesting. Both characters are at the peak of their development and, towards the middle of the book, tragically separated with no seeming way out. Needless to say, it all ends spectacularly. I don’t think I will buy this series for myself, but I THOROUGHLY enjoyed reading it, and if it ever catches my eye in a used bookstore or is a Kindle Daily Deal, it’s added to my cart!

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WHAT I READ: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

WHY I READ IT: One of my favorite bloggers tweeted that she couldn’t put it down — good enough for me! I also recently read Jordan’s When She Woke and enjoyed it immensely.

WHAT I THOUGHT: It’s outside of my normal YA/fantasy selection – the things I do for you, readers! – but I still ripped through it in two days. Not because it was an easy read; it is an emotionally difficult book to get through, as it touches on so many sensitive and in recent memories topics: it’s set in rural Mississippi post-WWII. It opens with two of the main characters digging a grave for their father, and then exists mainly in a series of flashbacks. What I found most interesting was that you knew what would happen (the death of the father) but you didn’t know how you get there. I felt like the novel was a cliff: after a climb, you suddenly start plunging down. Let’s just say I sat down to read a few chapters over lunch and an hour later, finally closed the back cover.

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WHAT I READGrave Mercy by R.L.LaFevers

WHY I READ IT: Received 4.5 stars from one of my favorite book bloggers.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Uuugh you guys. Not a fan, unfortunately. I really wanted to like it since it got an “absolutely spectacular” from one who has not yet led me wrong, but I was just not into it. Interesting concept (historical fiction in 15th century France, young teenaged girl assassin), but it just did not grab me. I kept forgetting/not caring about the characters, which isn’t a good sign. And if a book is that boring, at least throw in more romance instead of approximately 5 pages of it in a 500 page book. Definitely skimmed the last 100 pages. The part I hated the most was that 90% of the dialogue would be “normal,” and then the author would be like, “OH YEAH this is historical fiction. I should probably throw in a ‘mayhap’ or something.” I laughed every time. Line that made me laugh the most? The VERY dramatic, “The desires of my convent have collided with the path of my heart.” UM OKAY. Next.

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WHAT I READThe Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams

WHY I READ IT: Received a great rec from my favorite book blogger

WHAT I THOUGHT: Solid 4 star-er (loved reading it, but I don’t want to immediately rush out and read the next one, especially since it is not available at the library). 80% of it was battle scenes, 17% sexual tension, 3% exposition. That meant I was 90% confused about what was going on and I kept forgetting who the characters were, but I still LOVED it. Kickass main character who is actually a 20-something woman, which was a nice change from what I normally read. Plus she cursed a lot.

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WHAT I READ: Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon.

WHY I READ IT: This is undoubtedly the “It” book of the season (come on, people. OBVIOUSLY). I’ve been waiting months for it to come out and actually bought it the day it came out, which is reserved for only the very special books. People had been calling Shannon “the new J.K. Rowling,” which is pretty heavy stuff if you ask me.

WHAT I THOUGHT: As far as I can tell, the only similarity between Shannon and Rowling is that they are both British novelist who write compelling stories. It’s impossible for me to categorize Bone Season. It’s kinda sci fi, kinda fantasy, kinda young adult, kinda adult, definitely scary, definitely mature. Knowing that it is the first of seven books, I expected it to have a bit of a slow buildup, which it did. Shannon did an excellent job of creating this incredible alternate-history London/Oxford and pulling me into the world. I did find all the vocab a bit challenging, but luckily there is a helpful glossary! I found it different from HP in that many of those books stand on their own – while they fit into the larger puzzle over the seven book series, each is a very independent novel. Bone Season needs companion books to continue the story and continue to pique my interest. But I am definitely excited for the next book. Less excited about the fact that the author a) LITERALLY just graduated university and b) it was Oxford. So there’s a way to feel terrible about your life.

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WHAT I READThe White Queen, by Philippa Gregory

WHY I READ IT: Honestly, because it’s been made into a TV show and I love me some historical fiction.

WHAT I THOUGHT: A solid “eh.” I was a good break from the heavy book I read before it (The Bone Season) – it’s basically a perfect summer beach read for nerds. With the main character of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of King Edward and one of the main figures of the War of the Roses in 15th century England, it was interesting enough. This was a period of time that I did not know too much about, so I appreciated learning more about it in a really simple and easy-to-read way. It just got a little stupid sometimes and, real talk, I skimmed the last 100 pages. I also laughed every time the author wrote that Elizabeth had an eerie premonition about the Tower and how much she hated it (Elizabeth was the mother of the famous “Princes in the Tower” whom Richard III supposedly imprisoned/killed in order to claim the thrown). Cheeze-its, amirite? But it did result in me looking up articles about the period and listening to the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast on Richard III so if the point of reading is education, then well played, Philippa. I probably won’t read the next one, even though I got it out of the library – time to move on to something a bit more erudite.

Annnnnd that’s it for August! To kick off September, I’m actually steering away a bit from my typical contemporary novels and diving back into the classics. What shall it be? (Or you  can follow me on GoodReads and know for sure. I am not that mysterious.)

Book Roundup: July

So, I kind of have a thing for books. If I could, I would read all day every day (and when I was unemployed, that’s pretty much what I did). My absolute favorite thing is getting book recommendations from other people – whether friends, bloggers, or even in the “Best Books of This Year” round-ups that newspapers publish annually. Because of that, I decided to do a monthly round-up feature of my books: what I read, why I read it, and what I thought. Enjoy!

July was actually a bit of a slow month for me bookwise – I was busy with two weddings, moving to a new city, and starting a new job! I also had a bit of a delay waiting to borrow my next anticipated book from a friend and during those 4-5 days skimmed through a few old favorites (namely The Time Traveller’s Wife). But I still clocked in three books:

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WHAT I READ: The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak

WHY I READ IT: This was actually a re-read of one of my absolutely favorite books. I originally read it based on the recommendations of one of my book gurus (I will blindly follow her advice) a few years ago. Recently I read how they are making it into a movie and I got curious about reading it again, as I couldn’t remember everything about it – I just distinctly remember reading the last bit while grabbing dinner alone in a restaurant and realizing I couldn’t wait to make it home to read the last chapter. Instead, I sat in a bus stop and sobbed openly on the street.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I honestly cannot, cannot express my love for this book enough. If you are looking for an amazing read of a book – something a bit more mature than most of the Young Adult I admit to reading, but not so pedantic as, say, Shakespeare – then please, please read this.

The large part of what makes is AMAZING are the words – the words! This is the book for people who love books, and for people who love words. The way that Zuzak describes things makes me fangirl for him. A small example – the eponymous main character, Liesel, is with her neighbors in a basement during a bombing. She is distracting herself by reading out loud and soon distracts the other worried families in the room. As Zusak paints:

She didn’t dare look up, but she could feel their frightened eyes hanging on to her as she hauled the words in and breathed them out. A voice played the notes inside. This, it said, is your accordion.

The sound of the turning page carved them in half.

Liesel read on.

I mean, the sound of the turning page carved them in half! I just love that image.

Simply put, this book is about words. The way words can be used by evil for evil purposes. The way words can be used to save. The way words may be all you have left. Consider the summary – a book narrated by Death, set in 1940s Germany – and you can assume it’s a tearjerker. But you should know that it is beautiful. My top recommendation, always.

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WHAT I READThe Demon King, by Cinda Williams Chima

WHY I READ IT: Funnily enough I had requested this from the library a few months ago but ended up not getting to it. When I moved to Boston, my temporary roomie was reading (and loving) the third book in the series and I decided to give it a go.

WHAT I THOUGHT: A strong four-star-er (aka, I enjoyed reading it and I’ll probably read it again). It’s YA fantasty, and a little bit more young than some other books I’ve read, but definitely worthwhile if only for the foundation of the series (I’m enjoying the later books much more). What I really enjoy about this is how the characters intertwine and the alternating POV chapters. I love knowing how all the characters connect, even though there is some mistaken identity and blindsightedness and it drives me CRAZY when two characters are so close but don’t run into each other (a la all of Game of Thrones and House Stark members).

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WHAT I READ: The Exiled Queen, by Cinda Williams Chima

WHY I READ IT: Second book in the Seven Realms series!

WHAT I THOUGHT: LOVE IT! Great next step from The Demon King (and a slightly less embarrassing title when people ask what you are reading!). If you’ve read The Kingkiller Chronicles, it’s kind of a baby version of that, particularly when the characters all go to kinda-magic school. But I love any book where teenagers are in a quasi-British institution learning magic and other fun things, so this was naturally a good book for me. Continued with TDK tradition of building on characters, maddeningly having them not realize who the others truly are, and causing me to shriek in frustration a lot. Always a good sign. Plus I had some serious debate with my friend who recommended it, and there’s nothing I love more than impromptu book club.

Did I convert anyone? What are YOU reading? Most importantly, any recommendations?!