White is for Witching

Hello again! I’m alive! I’m still reading! I haven’t totally fallen off the face of the earth!White is for Witching

Quick general update: Things have been fairly busy/stressful around here since school started. I’m in my junior year of high school now, and while many of my classes are interesting, I’ve gotten pretty caught up in managing the workload, along with still trying to do fun things outside of school (and I need to really start focusing on thinking about college because WOW THAT’S A THING). Unfortunately, the blog kind of fell by the wayside in the midst of all of that, but I’ve still been reading and trying to work on various posts. I’m hoping that now that I’ve gotten fully immersed in junior year and have a better feel for things that I can manage an at-least-semi-regular posting schedule, and I’m really going to try to get a better handle on everything that’s going on. And what better way to start that than with a brand new book review?

(Please note: Trigger warning for eating disorders.)

White is for Witching is the third novel by author Helen Oyeyemi (her most recent is Boy, Snow, Bird), and is the second of hers that I’ve read. The book revolves around one Miranda Silver, a girl living with her parents and twin brother in Dover, England, in the childhood home of her mother. Miranda’s life is inextricably intertwined with those of the Silver women who came before her–her mother, Lily, the grandmother she never knew, Jennifer, and her great-grandmother, Anna Silver. After Miranda’s mother dies, she begins hearing voices. She has an appetite for chalk and plastic. She can’t sleep, she can’t eat, not even the delicious concoctions her father cooks up for her. And after she leaves to attend university at Cambridge and returns with a friend, things only get eerier.

White is for Witching is without a doubt one of the most fascinating and original books I’ve ever read. It’s a maze–winding path after winding path of subplots and language and unreliable narrators. It’s incredibly hard to wrap your mind around, even after the pages are closed, and once you’re done it seems like the only thing to do is to pick it up and reread it to see if you understand it more the second time. It’s so hard to get a handle on, and yet still so amazing to read. It’s also the kind of book that makes me a little scared to tell anyone too much about it, for fear of ruining the mystery for them.

One of the things that makes White is for Witching so fascinating and absorbing is the narration. The story of Miranda and the people she knows is told from various points of view, allowing the reader to become intimately acquainted with Eliot (her brother), their family, a friend she meets at college, and more. The narration is constantly twisting and changing, making it sometimes hard to know who is saying what, and whether you can even believe what is being said. But despite this confusion, it makes the story more complete, adding hidden layers that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I loved that I got to know so many of the characters, in ways that added a whole new depth to the story overall.

Another thing that makes the book so captivating is how Oyeyemi uses the supernatural elements of her story to touch on things in the real world. She addresses xenophobia, describing the sometimes violent reactions to Kosovan refugees who fled to the UK during the Kosovar War, something still all-too-relevant today. The book also touches on racism and prejudice, and when Miranda’s friend Ore comes to visit her in Dover, these things become physically manifested within the family home. Oyeyemi addresses these subjects so capably and in one of the most interesting ways I’ve ever seen, not shying away from them at all, and it’s part of what makes me want to experience the book all over again. She mixes the supernatural terrors of her stories with the very real issues of our time, and the result is a fascinating use of language that I kind of (and very nerdily) want to analyze in my English class.

And then, there is the plot–the plot that made me feel like my head was spinning and so confused I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going on. The plot is the complete opposite of a straight line. It twists and curves and runs in circles. It follows Miranda’s story and the changes in her psyche, while also weaving in the stories of the other Silver women and how they all interact. It felt like Oyeyemi had thrown me into some whirling, twisted dream, where from page to page you can’t help but wonder what’s real and what’s not. What are the voices in Miranda’s head, the person who responds when she writes questions on a piece of paper? What truly inhabits the house in Dover? It’s all so incredibly tangled, but in a way that made the book only more absorbing and hard to put down.

White is for Witching is without a doubt one of the most captivating books I’ve read all year. It resembles a fairy tale, but not at all the ones that are found in Disney movies–it’s twisted and eerie and dark, and sometimes so disturbing I had to take a break from reading to absorb what had happened. Oyeyemi doesn’t shy away from the gruesome or the frightening. She infuses her story with the stuff of monsters and nightmares and things that go bump in the night, drawing the reader in with her prose and characters. It’s strange and peculiar, and, most definitely, not for children.

That’s all for today. Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it, and that you’re enjoying the last couple days of November!

–Nora

Bookish Quote of the Day: “Miranda Silver is in Dover, in the ground beneath her mother’s house.” —White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

P.S. White is for Witching leans more towards adult on the spectrum of book genres, and lately I’ve been exploring more adult books when I choose what to read. I’m definitely still very much in love with YA, but just a heads up that some upcoming reviews will feature books that are more likely to be found in the adult section of the library. But of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t be perfect for teens as well 🙂

The Wrath and the Dawn

Hi everyone! Recently I realized that there is one thing that I forgot about summer–how easy it can make it to read more of a book in one day than you usually would in a whole week. And, you know, do barely anything else.

See, I planned to do things when I was reading this book, I swear. Maybe bake a batch of cookies, go for a run, do some more of that summer homework that’s sitting on my desk. Nice, productive things! But then after breakfast I thought, “I’ll just read a little more of The Wrath and the Dawn, maybe a couple chapters. Then I’ll do stuff.” And. Well. Honestly, I’m a little surprised I stopped long enough to make lunch.

This book (written by the wonderful Renée Ahdieh) is absolutely amazing, not to mention one of the best books I’ve read all year. It’s addictive, it draws you in and it makes you exclaim aloud as you’re reading because it is that good. I was totally bowled over, in so many ways. But now I’m just getting ahead of myself.

The Wrath and the Dawn tells the story of Shahrzad al-Khayzuran, the newest bride of Khalid al-Rashid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan. A boy-king known across the kingdom as a murderous madman who takes a new bride every night only to have her hanged by a silk cord at dawn. But Shahrzad does not intend to meet that same fate–she intends to exact revenge on her new husband, in retribution for the loss of her best friend, Shiva. And she refuses to fail.

Shahrzad keeps herself alive night by night, enchanting the boy-king with tails of sailors and thieves and men with blue beards, not to mention her own razor-sharp wit. But as her time in the palace lengthens, Shahrzad becomes aware of two things: That the story of Khalid and his crimes is much more complicated than she ever imagined, and that she may or may not be falling in love with her captor. Which presents a serious problem.

One of the things I absolutely adored about The Wrath and the Dawn was Shahrzad herself. Shahrzad is the star of this book, running through almost every chapter with her fierce intelligence and determination not to lose the game she and Khalid are playing. She’s brave and daring, but still human and flawed, and always ready with some biting remark, whether it be for Khalid, the Captain of the Guard, or anyone else. (Seriously, I could not get enough of her wit.) I wish I had half the guts she does, but more than that, I wish the book had gone on for at least several more chapters just so I could read more about her. Shahrzad is amazing.

And oh, Khalid. Khalid is quite possibly the most cryptic, complicated character in the whole book, but he’s also one of my favorites. He’s cold, and often distant, constantly hiding his emotions behind a blank mask, and with a quick temper to boot. But I loved watching him grow closer to Shahrzad, as well as getting to learn more about him as the story went on. He’s tortured, and more than a little terrifying, but he’s also one of the things that makes this book so incredibly hard to put down.

But Shahrzad and Khalid are by no means the only characters I fell in love with while reading. I couldn’t get enough of those around them, especially Jalal and Despina (the Captain of the Guard and Shahrzad’s handmaiden). Jalal is playful and flirtatious (not to mention endlessly clever and cocky), but also caring and so, so much fun to read about. And Despina, I absolutely loved Despina. She may be Shahrzad’s handmaiden, but she’s also not inclined to put up with anything she doesn’t want to, and is most likely the only person in the history of Khorasan to refer to the queen as the “Brat Calipha.” Despina and Shahrzad have one of the best book friendships I have ever read about, and I could watch them banter and interact forever. My love for their friendship reaches astronomical levels.

While I adored the characters in this book, the plot also reeled me in and kept me there until the very last page, hence my almost forgetting to eat lunch. Shahrzad’s world is full of danger and suspicion, as well as the very real possibility that every dawn could bring her death. But it is also full of mystery, and I couldn’t wait to find out what was really going on. It’s suspenseful and secretive, and I was on the edge of my seat almost the whole time, dying to know what would happen next but also dreading the moment when it would be over.

But one of the things that most stands out for me regarding this book is the romance. I absolutely fell in love with the chemistry between Shahrzad and Khalid, and I shipped it so much by the end of the book that I’m pretty sure there was a tiny Nora in my head flailing because THIS SHIP. It’s dark and complicated and messy but I loved being able to watch these two characters falling in love, learning to respect each other and their ideas. They’re both such strong characters on their own, and seeing them together made my reader heart do a little tap dance of shippery. It’s one of the main reasons this book left me feeling like I had the biggest book hangover ever after I was done.

But I also loved reading about the world of the book, as well as the characters, from the palace of Khorasan to the streets of Shahrzad’s city. Ahdieh gives us a world that is rich and sumptuous, painting it with a wealth of beautiful details without ever dumping too much information at once. The descriptions are wonderful, from the clothes to the food, and I felt like I could really see the palace and the world around it. It makes me remember why I love fantasies, and I want to find a way to teleport to Khorasan as soon as possible, if only to see it in person.

The book also drew me in with the absolutely gorgeous writing. Ahdieh writes with such talent and wit that I wanted the pages to go on forever, if only so I could see more. She paints Shahrzad and Khalid’s world in a way that makes it so incredibly hard to put the book down, and the dialogue both made me laugh and catch my breath. The writing is awesome, and I can’t wait (cantwaitcantwaitcantwait) to see more of it.

When I say that I loved The Wrath and the Dawn, I mean I loved The Wrath and the Dawn. It’s dark and sumptuous and imaginative, and it’s one of those books that I wanted to go on forever because it was just so good. It utterly absorbed me, and it made me feel so much, from breaking my heart to wanting to jump around with excitement because this book guys, this book! From the plot to the characters to the writing itself, I fell completely in love with it, and I’m going to be counting down the days until I can get my hands on the sequel. It’s really, really good.

Hope you’re all enjoying your summers!

–Nora

Bookish Quote of the Day: “For nothing, not the sun, not the rain, not even the brightest star in the darkest sky, could compare to the wonder of you.” —The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

An Ember in the Ashes

Hi everyone! Summer is finally upon us, which means a number of things–no homework! More ice cream! Trying not to melt in the all-consuming inferno that is summer heat! And more time for reading/blogging! Which is good, because I have a lot of reviewing to catch up on. And number one is An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir.

The book centers on Laia and Elias, who at first glance couldn’t be more different. Laia is a Scholar living with her grandparents and older brother, somehow managing to survive day-to-day under the brutal rule of the Martial Empire. Elias is the most accomplished student of Blackcliff Academy, where the Empire’s most deadly soldiers are trained. But despite his high status, Elias wants nothing more than to just escape.

When Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, she serves as a spy for the Scholar Resistance, going undercover at Blackcliff in exchange for their help in freeing Darin. It is here that she and Elias meet for the first time. But there’s trouble brewing at Blackcliff, and both Laia and Elias are confronted with much more danger than either of them imagined. This is especially true once the Trials to choose a new Emperor begin.

An Ember in the Ashes is one of those books that left me feeling totally bowled over and like I need to lay down for a while and simply absorb everything about it. (Seriously. On the outside I’m calm, but on the inside there is FLAILING.) So, without further ado, I’m going to try to break down everything in some sort of logical fashion:

The World

An Ember in the Ashes is the first fantasy I’ve read in quite a while. But oh my god, what a fantasy.

The book is set in a fantasy world in which the Scholars have been conquered by the Martial Empire, led by Emperor Taius. The Scholars are brutally oppressed by the Empire, subjected to raids, murder, and slavery. It’s terrifying and violent, and Laia becomes part of fighting that when she agrees to help the Scholar Resistance. Of course, then she’s heading into the belly of the beast.

What struck me about the world of the book was how rich and detailed it was. I loved falling into it, learning more about the people’s lives and how everything worked. The Empire is perhaps the most brutal fantasy regime I’ve ever read about, but Tahir pulls it off in such a brilliant way, and I couldn’t help but be fascinated by Laia and Elias’s world. Everything is painted in such an interesting and detailed light that it just made it harder to put the book down. The courtyard of Blackcliff, the marketplace of Serra, the dunes that surround the school and the desert where the Tribes live. The magic and the setting are all so unique, not to mention non-Eurocentric, and it’s a place I can’t wait to read more about. I felt like these places were almost real, almost close enough to touch, and I loved it.

The Characters

>deep breath< Okay, I am calm, I am calm.

The setting of the book isn’t the only thing that is filled with talent and detail–the characters get a fair share of it themselves. Tahir’s characters are almost living and breathing–they range from the brutal to the cryptic to the oh-my-god-let-me-hug-you variety, but each of them is so well-drawn and unique.

I loved reading about both Laia and Elias. The book is narrated in their alternating POVs, so we get to hear from them both. Laia is so scared at the start of the story, and understandably so–she’s terrified of what she has to do, and she has no idea how she’s ever going to pull this whole spying thing off. But she grows so much throughout the book, and watching that was such a great experience. Elias is also a well-done character, and I really liked that I got to see what it’s like to be a part of Blackcliff through the eyes of someone who’s a part of it, despite how much he wishes he wasn’t. Both of their voices are original and well-written, and I can’t wait to see more of them.

The side characters are also some of the best parts of the book. The Commandant of Blackcliff Academy is terrible–and I mean terrible. She’s brutal and cruel, but also still a character with depth and a story. I was fascinated by Cook, one of the slaves Laia meets at the school, and I also liked Keenan, one of the members of the Resistance that Laia works with. (But don’t mention Mazen to me because I have FEELINGS about Mazen.) (Also Marcus. Never ever mention Marcus. I could stab Markus in the EYE.)

And oh, Helene. I could write for ages about Helene. I could write essays on Helene. Helene is quite possibly the most complex character in the whole book. Unlike Elias, she believes wholeheartedly in the Empire and what it teaches them, but there’s also so much more to her than meets the eye. She’s his best friend, and the only female soldier at the Academy, but she is also full of emotions and skill (I only wish I could wield a sword as capably as Helene). She’s a mix of light and dark and she gives me so many feelings and I need to read more.

The Plot

This plot. This plot blew my mind.

The thing about this book is that the stakes are higher than five Empire State Buildings stacked one on top of the other. Both Laia and Elias, as well as many of the other characters, are surrounded by danger–danger from the Martials, from their own friends, from other things that I don’t want to mention because SPOILERS. It is insane, and it makes it so hard to stop reading. The danger is one of the many things that made this book nearly impossible to put down.

But the mysteries were another thing I loved about the plot. This book is full of twists and turns, and there are secrets around every corner. I was dying to find out what everything meant, who Laia and Elias could trust, if they would ever actually kiss, if they would actually survive. I had to know what would happen next, and I could barely turn the pages fast enough. (There was also an angry yell at one point. I believe it was around page 389.)

I loved the action and the mystery, but I also loved the more subdued scenes and parts of the plot. The section where Laia attends the Scholar-held Moon Festival is definitely one of my favorites, and I loved the looks Tahir gives into the backstories of the characters and their relationships. She finds a wonderful balance between the dangerous, holy-crap-what-is-going-on scenes and the ones that occur in the spaces between those, where we get to see a little more of the characters, and hopefully catch our breath (right before getting it stolen again because THIS PLOT). I can’t remember ever being bored while reading this book. In short, the plot is A+++.

The Writing

(You might think that there is a limit to how many things I can love about this book, but you’d be wrong.)

Tahir’s writing is another one of the great things about An Ember in the Ashes. She writes about the characters and the amazing fantasy world they live in without ever just dumping info on the reader or making it feel stilted. While I did feel a little disoriented in the fantasy setting for the first couple chapters, the confusion was quickly cleared up and after that there was no turning back. She draws the reader in and keeps them turning the pages, and the alternating POVs worked very well (and only made me feel more invested). I adored the plot and characters, but the writing just makes the story even better.

In short, there is talent just radiating from the pages of this book. It’s one of those books that I finished in a fog one afternoon, when I couldn’t put it down and I had had had to keep going. And then afterward I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I needed the book to go on, because as badly as I wanted to know what happened next, I never wanted it to end. It’s the kind of book that you can fall into and stay there for hours. I absolutely loved Ember, and I want to shove it into the hands of pretty much everyone I meet. It’s that good. And if you want to learn more before taking the plunge into Laia and Elias’s world, there’s also this amazing website with a book trailer, character trailers, information about the world, and more.

Until next time, hope you’re all enjoying your summers! Eat some ice cream for me.

–Nora

P.S. An important note: This book does deal quite a lot with violence, and there is also a lot of mention of sexual assault and/or rape, as well as an actual instance of assault. This could be triggering.

P.P.S. Also, this book is downright GORGEOUS. The cover is all glow-y and there are two different maps on the endpapers and just look:

An Ember in the Ashes CollageHave a great day everybody!

Lies We Tell Ourselves

Hi everyone! Whoa it has been a while. Things got a little crazy at school once AP tests hit, but at long last they are over! I finished a book for the first time in ages and it was lovely. And speaking of books, I do have quite a bit of reviews to catch up on. So let’s get to it, shall we?

As you can probably see, the book of the day is Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. This book was so good it made my post about my favorite books of 2014, and with plenty of reason. It’s high time it had a review all of its own.

Sarah Dunbar and Linda Hairston have never met before, but that’s about to change. Sarah, a high school senior, is one of a group of African American students integrating Jefferson High School in 1959. Linda, a white senior also attending the school, is the daughter of one of Davisburg’s most prominent segregationists. For obvious reasons, the girls do not get along. But when they’re forced to work on a school project together, they find themselves developing feelings for the one person they never wanted to have feelings for.

One of the reasons I loved this book so much was that I didn’t want to put it down. Talley times the plot so well that there was always something that kept me turning the pages, wanting to know what happened next. I had to find out where the characters were heading, what would happen to Sarah and Linda and everyone else. And I still wanted to know what would happen, even after I read the last page and the covers were closed. I was still so invested in the characters and their lives.

The characters are another reason I enjoyed this book so much. Sarah and Linda are both very different, with very different backgrounds, but they’re also somewhat alike. Sarah is well behaved, the constant good girl, but she’s also tough and brave in a way that I loved. Linda is smart but totally misled by her father and the constant racism around her, her views warped by that ugly vortex. As the girls argue and battle, they both learn things from each other, in a way that feels very real and genuine. There’s so much more to each of them than meets the eye. Watching them grow closer and fall for each other was something I loved reading about, and part of me wants to go back and experience it all over again. The side characters are terrific as well, and Sarah’s friends Chuck and Ennis just make the story better, as does Sarah’s friend Judy.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is not a light book by any means, but it is also a great one. It encompasses many things–from racism to fear to accepting yourself–but Talley handles it all in a way that only makes it harder to put the book down. It’s the kind of book I finished and immediately wanted more of, and I can’t wait to read what Talley publishes next. Part of me is still hoping for a sequel. 🙂

Have a great week!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “We always had plenty to say, even if we were shouting it. Even when she was wrong, there was a certain pleasure in correcting her. In seeing the way her face creased when she tried to think of how to answer me.

Talking to her came naturally. Like breathing.” —Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Belzhar

Hi everyone! February is slowly but surely drawing to a close, and I am just waiting for it to be March. Or, more accurately, for it to be spring. Green leaves! Longer days! Sunshine! Warmth.

>ahem<

Anyway, as you can probably see, the book of the day is Belzhar, by Meg Wolitzer, which I have been looking forward to reading for quite some time (not least of all because of that cool cover).

Belzhar tells the story of Jam Gallahue, a girl who, for a while, had a pretty good life. She had friends, did fairly well in school, etc. But then her boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield, dies. And Jam falls apart.

At a loss as to what to do, Jam’s parents finally send her to the Wooden Barn, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teens. There, Jam is placed in a class called Special Topics in English, where she is one of only five students and they read only one writer for the whole semester. This semester, that writer is Sylvia Plath. As the students delve deeper into Plath’s writing, and begin keeping journals as part of the class, they’re transported to a world where each of them can regain what they have lost. They decide to call this world “Belzhar.” Only, what happens when the journals fill up?

There are so many good things about Belzhar. The characters were unique and compelling, and I especially loved the other kids in Jam’s class, like Marc and Casey. The plot was interesting, and the writing is great. I really liked how real Wolitzer made Jam’s feelings, from her love for Reeve to her grief after his death. This book gets intense, but Wolitzer manages that very well, and I was so invested in what was going on.

And then there was the plot twist.

Usually, I’m a pretty big fan of plot twists–I love when a book just completely blindsides you and smacks you with something you never saw coming, something that changes everything and makes the book even better. And while I was certainly blindsided by the plot twist in Belzhar, I was mostly left asking one question: “Why???”

I liked Belzhar so much up until that point, but after that one part, I just couldn’t like it in the same way, nor could I like Jam. The frustrating thing is that the plot twist felt so needless, and I couldn’t understand why it was there. It turned everything completely on its head, but the book was excellent without that. Jam’s struggles were immediately much less compelling, as was her character. I honestly thought I must have read something wrong, because it didn’t make any sense to me.

For a good part of the book, Belzhar is excellent. The characters are real, the plot is good, and I enjoyed the way Wolitzer wove Sylvia Plath’s writing into her characters’ lives. I feel like I can’t classify the book as either good or bad, because it’s almost like two separate stories in one–one of which I loved, one of which frustrated me to absolutely no end.

For now, though, rather than agonize over my severely mixed feelings, I think I’m going to get a cup of cocoa and mess around on the Internet. Because why not?

Stay warm everybody!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I was sent here because of a boy. His name was Reeve Maxfield, and I loved him and then he died, and almost a year passed and no one knew what to do with me.” –Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Love Stories: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hi everyone! So I am a bit of a hopeless romantic. I live for things like beautiful romantic gestures and cute couples and sweet love poetry. And since today is Valentine’s Day, it seems like as appropriate a time as any to post some of my favorite romances and love stories. So, let’s get to it, shall we?

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars is about many things, but it is primarily about the friendship and romance between Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster. I love Hazel and Augustus as individual characters, but I love them just as much as a couple. They’re both intelligent and flawed, and their relationship is full of nerdiness and banter and the kind of conversations that you just love to read about, about everything from An Imperial Affliction to scrambled eggs. They care deeply for each other, and I loved reading about the “third space” they entered when they talked on the phone, or how Hazel can hear his smile when he talks. They’re one of my favorite fictional couples ever. But please don’t even think of mentioning that last page because NO. >grabs tissues< (Review here.)

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

So to balance out the tears and heartache and asdfghjkl served up by TFiOS, I offer you Pride and Prejudice, which has to be one of the best love stories in literature. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are without a doubt one of my favorite pairings of all time. He’s prideful and awkward, she’s playful and reluctant to let go of first impressions. But they’re both so quickwitted and clever, and they complement each other in the best way possible. They argue and they engage in battles of wits and, despite their differences in society and class, there’s respect between them. I could listen to them banter for ages. And the walk they take in Chapter 58 made me want to bounce up and down with happiness.

3. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

This book fills me with so many feelings that I’m still not sure I can be coherent about it, despite finishing it months ago. Two Boys Kissing isn’t exactly a love story about one couple–it’s about multiple couples, or former couples, or people who are simply single. It’s about Tariq, and Harry, and Craig, and Cooper, and Avery, and a host of other characters. Some of them are in love, some of them are in like, some used to be in love but aren’t anymore. But each of the boys is completely his own, and they’re each written in a way that makes me want to read this book again and again. Also, the writing. I will never be able to stop gushing about this writing. David Levithan writes such beautiful sentences that I want to dive into this book and never come out. It’s so good. (Review here.)

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I didn’t read Anna and the French Kiss for the longest time, but I am so glad I picked it up. Despite the excitement of it all, Anna Oliphant is a little bit terrified to be going to boarding school in Paris. But then she starts to make friends, one of which happens to be Étienne St. Clair, a short history nerd with absolutely amazing hair. It’s so much fun to watch Anna and Étienne’s relationship develop over time, through misunderstandings and jokes and the best series of holiday emails I have ever read. I love so many things about this book and their relationship that it would take me forever to list them all. Anna! Movies! Cuteness! Paris! It’s such a wonderful read, not to mention the fact that Stephanie Perkins writes some of the best characters ever. I may need to write a full review because I have so many feelings about it. I wanted to live in Paris with Anna forever.

5. My True Love Gave to Me ed. Stephanie Perkins

I remember reading about this book ages ago and immediately freaking out because it sounds like what dreams are made of. A holiday story anthology? Edited by Stephanie Perkins? With an absolutely perfect illustrated cover? It sounded wonderful. It was wonderful. (I literally finished it this morning, so I’m a little late, but oh well.) There are stories from a host of talented authors–Holly Black, David Levithan, Kelly Link. While not all of the stories were my cup of tea, there were quite a few that I adored. Stephanie Perkins’s has all the cuteness and romance that she does so well, Matt de la Peña’s made me decide that he is definitely becoming one of my favorite authors, and Laini Taylor’s was so magical and fantastic I never wanted it to end. I could go on. Each of these stories is so unique and original, and I may very well reread it when the holidays roll around again. Besides, that cover!

6. Love poetry

As much as I enjoy love stories, I adore love poetry just as much, if not more. Poetry can capture emotions like that so well–heartache, happiness, longing. There are so many love poems that I reread again and again, but some of my favorites are “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns, “Zodiac” by Elizabeth Alexander, and “A Glimpse” by Walt Whitman. And many, many more, but by the time I was done writing about them it wouldn’t even be Valentine’s Day. (And I know Poetry Speaks Who I Am isn’t strictly love poetry, but it does have quite a few in it.)

Love stories are some of my favorite stories, and I’m not really sure why. Part of it might just be the magic of watching two people fall head over heels for each other, as they meet that one person and everything starts to click. It’s so much fun to read about characters who are wholeheartedly in love and want each other to be happy.

Loving is good. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The right person at the right time can open all the windows and unlock all the doors.” —Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

P.S. There are many more great quotes from Two Boys Kissing here.

I Was Here

Hi everybody! Good Lord, it is 2015. I still can’t get used to this.

As you can probably tell, the book of the day is I Was Here by Gayle Forman. I’m still very new to Gayle Forman, to be honest. I did read If I Stay, but that was aggeesss ago, and I can’t remember much about the experience (please please please don’t throw things at me). But I was excited to give I Was Here a try, especially after all the wonderful things I’ve heard about Forman’s work.

(Please note: Trigger warning for suicide.)

I Was Here is the story of Cody Reynolds, living in a small town in eastern Washington, population fifteen hundred and seventy-three. Cody graduated from high school the year before, and spends most of her time either at the library, at home with her mother, or cleaning her clients’ houses. But Cody’s small world is permanently changed when she receives an email from her best friend, Meg. That email is Meg’s suicide note.

In the wake of Meg’s death, Cody ends up going to the town where Meg attended college to collect her things before the term ends. Cody doesn’t want to be there any longer than she has to. She wants to grab what she needs, pack everything up, and get out of there. But she soon finds herself learning more about what Meg’s life in college had been, and meeting the people who were a part of it. This includes Ben McAllister, a “Tragic Guitar Hero” who broke Meg’s heart. And soon, having discovered an encrypted computer file that has something to do with Meg’s death, Cody is in deeper than she ever planned.

I tore through this book very, very quickly. It is definitely one of those books that can grab you and never let go, and thank god I didn’t have very much homework that weekend because that could have been a very painful experience. But while I did like many things about this book, my feelings are still rather mixed. There were things I loved, but there were also some things that I couldn’t help but be bothered by.

A lot of my mixed feelings centered on Cody herself. Possibly the number one thing that stands out in my mind about Cody is that she is very, very bitter. And I mean bitter. But of course, she really does have a lot to be bitter about–not only has she just lost her best friend, but she’s also not happy in the life she has. She’s stuck in the same town she’s lived in for years, her dreams seem to have gone up in smoke, and her best friend went away to a prestigious college with a full scholarship. Whilst Cody is cleaning houses for a living. So yes, she definitely has good reason to be bitter.

I think one of the things that bothered me about Cody, despite how much I felt for her, was that she had this incredibly prickly, hard exterior. And while that isn’t a bad thing, this exterior was so constantly there that it felt like for the longest time I didn’t get to see her real feelings. Several times she would be outright rude and mean to other characters, and while I knew that she had to be going through tremendous pain, the kind that is paralyzing to think about, at those moments I couldn’t help but feel a little angry (as horrible as it feels to type that). I understand that this is probably how she copes with grief, but that’s how I felt sometimes as I was reading. And while Cody does develop by the end of the book, she made several decisions towards the end that just left me confused and a little bit frustrated. (Particularly one involving an airport and the phrase “Have a good life.”)

While Cody’s character did bother me sometimes, I loved the side characters of I Was Here. Cody gets the chance to meet several of Meg’s housemates in Tacoma, and I really liked each of them. Richard (who Cody calls “Stoner Richard” in her head) is genuinely well-intentioned and likable despite the stoner aspects of his personality. And Alice. I really loved Alice, who is without a doubt the sweetest character in the whole book, but never to the point where it feels unrealistic or annoying. And while I did like Harry Kang, I’m also really disappointed that the one Asian character in the book (or at least, the only character that it is apparent is Asian) happened to be super smart and a computer whiz. It just strikes me as stereotypical, and Harry is never really developed enough to rise above that. Which is unfortunate, because he is a very cool guy who I wouldn’t have minded reading more about.

I also really liked the writing. It was so hard to put this book down, and it can capture you in a way that is very difficult to escape. There were a lot of little details and segments that I loved. The part where Cody tells Alice a bunch of stories about Meg and what she did was so much fun to read, and I loved reading about their history together. I loved that Cody could just walk into Meg’s house and feel like it was her own, and that she was practically part of the family. Forman really makes clear how close these two girls were, not to mention how much they loved each other.

This book also got considerably darker than I was expecting. Of course, I was expecting it to be heavy, having read the synopsis, but it delves more deeply into suicide and what thoughts can lead a person there in a way that isn’t completely apparent from the summary. This didn’t necessarily lessen my enjoyment while reading it, but I did feel that it was much darker than I thought it would be, and could possibly be triggering for people who have had similar thoughts.

All in all, I did really like I Was Here. I love it when you can just tear through a book and are totally sucked into the story and the characters, and that’s what this book did for me. So while I was bothered by several things about it, I may pick up some more of Forman’s books in the future. And I have to say, if she ever comes out with another book about Cody and Ben (and ALICE), I’ll pick that one up, too.

Hope you’re having a great weekend! It’s a three-day one, and that is useful, because the Midterms Season is upon us. Me writing this post is probably just another form of procrastination. Shhh.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I am tempted to inhale those sheets. If I do, maybe it will be enough to erase everything. But you can only hold your breath for so long. Eventually, I’ll have to exhale her, and then it’ll be like those mornings, when I wake up, forgetting before remembering.” —I Was Here by Gayle Forman

P.S. I also really like the UK cover for some reason. Not sure why, but I do.

P.P.S. And it’s almost Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday! See Selma if you can guys. Mom and Dad and I saw it a couple weeks ago, and, while brutal, it was also freaking amazing.

My Favorite Books of 2014

Well, it’s that time of year again (and has been for quite some time, but I’m late as always). Cookies have been baked, trees have been decorated, menorahs have been lit, and that means that the end of the year is nigh. However, as of right now it is still December 30th, 2014, and that means I still have time to post my favorite books of the year. And oh gosh, they were so good. So before I get distracted. . .

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl, with Lori and Wayne Earl

There are some books that I feel like everyone should read at some point, and This Star Won’t Go Out is one of them. Esther Grace Earl may be best known for helping to inspire John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but she was also a remarkable young lady all on her own. TSWGO is a collection of her artwork, diary entries, and writing, allowing the reader to get an up-close look at Esther and her life. Esther’s voice is so distinctive that I could still hear it in my head even when I wasn’t reading, and the amount of love she had for her family and friends is apparent throughout. TSWGO isn’t just about Esther the Harry Potter Fan, or Esther the Cancer Patient, or Esther the Catitude Member. It’s about Esther in all her entirety, and it’s without a doubt one of my favorite books of the year, and one of the ones I loved the most. (Review here.)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

If I were to compile a list of the books that blew my mind in 2014, We Were Liars would be at the top of it. It tells the story of Cadence, the oldest grandchild of the elegant and wealthy Sinclair family. Every summer the family gathers on Beechwood, their private island not too far from Martha’s Vineyard. But when an accident on Beechwood changes almost everything about Cady’s life, she’s left with no memory of what happened, and no one seems to want to enlighten her. Even the Liars, a group comprised of two of her cousins and their friend Gat, are being secretive. E. Lockhart paints the picture of her story in a way that’s hard to forget, slipping between prose, poetry, and clever retellings of fairy tales in a way I’ve never seen before. Even the writing itself is shocking, and as for what actually happened. . .well. You’ll have to find that out for yourself. (Review here.)

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

The fact that I immediately thought of rereading this as soon as I typed the title should give you an idea of how much I absolutely loved this book. It tells the story of a teenage girl living as part of Hitler’s inner circle in Munich in the 1930s, and how drastically her life changes in the time leading up to Hitler’s election as chancellor of Germany. Blankman’s plot and characters are incredibly well done, and she handles the heavy subject matter in a way that is both mind-blowing and so, so good to read. Definitely one of my favorite historical fictions ever, let alone from just this year. (Review here.)

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Set in 1959 Virginia, Lies We Tell Ourselves is about what happens when two very different girls (with two very different worldviews) are forced to interact. Sarah Dunbar is one of the African American students integrating all-white Jefferson High School, while Linda Hairston is the white daughter of the one of the town’s most vocal segregationists. When the girls have to work on a school project together, they find themselves each developing feelings for the other, in ways they never wanted to. Robin Talley writes her characters in a way that sucks the reader in, and I kept wanting to know what happened next, even after the pages were closed. Part of me sincerely hopes for a sequel, but in the meantime, definitely give Lies We Tell Ourselves a look. I’m looking forward to whatever Talley has coming out next.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

>mind blown all over again<

If Prisoner of Night and Fog was one of the best historical novels of the year, I’ll Give You the Sun is one of the best contemporaries. Jandy Nelson portrays the messy, complicated, art-infused relationship between twins Noah and Jude with considerable talent, hopping between two different time periods of their lives and pulling it off very well. The characters are one of the shining stars of the novel, and the writing is fantastic. I couldn’t put it down, and when I finally did, I kept reeling over how good it is. (Review here.)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

All the books listed before this have been fiction, but Brown Girl Dreaming (by the talented Jacqueline Woodson) is far from it. This is Woodson’s memoir in verse, taking the reader through her childhood, from Ohio to South Carolina to New York. She makes even the most everyday activities become lyrical and beautiful, and she touches on everything from her love of writing to the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers. Brown Girl Dreaming is the story of how Jackie Woodson became Jackie Woodson, yes, but it’s also a story with many important points to make, and a beautiful book of poetry to boot. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year, as well as a National Book Award winner! (Review here.)

Well, that’s about it (although I could very well think of more after I post this). I didn’t get as much reading done this year as I would have liked to, but 2014 brought some seriously amazing reads to the shelves, and introduced me to several authors I can’t wait to read more of. I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season so far, and an absolutely marvelous 2015. 🙂 Happy New Year!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” –Dr. Seuss

P.S. And thank you so much for visiting the blog this year. For liking, commenting, subscribing, putting up with my crazy rants and my lack of caps lock self-control. Thank you just for taking the time to read. It means a lot and I’m grateful for it all 🙂 Have a great holiday, and read some good books! (And eat candy!)

I’ll Give You the Sun

Hi everyone! Oh my god it’s November. Er. . .Happy late Halloween? As you can probably see, the book today is I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, which gave me many many feelings and was amazing and agh let’s just get to the review.

I’ll Give You the Sun focuses on twins Noah and Jude, who are so close they think of themselves as NoahandJude, in sync. They’re connected, cell for cell, even when Noah’s bullied by the “surftards” of their Northern California town and Jude’s hailed by them as a daredevil. At least, they were at thirteen. But as the years pass, everything begins to change, and at age sixteen, both the twins are deeply broken and split apart. And then Jude meets a crazy sculptor and his charming model and everything changes (again).

The narration of the story skips around, so while Noah narrates the earlier years, Jude tells the story of the later ones. I have a lot of feelings about this book, so I’m going to attempt to break it down into the various facets:

The Narration

Noah:

13-year-old Noah does not have it easy, which is evident from page one (seriously). He spends most of his time drawing, weaving the colors of what he sees into miraculous, genius pictures, and trying not to get killed by the “reigning neighborhood sociopaths,” Zephyr and Fry. Noah just wants to get into CSA, an art school where he’s certain he’ll find other revolutionaries like himself. And when a startling, fascinating new boy Brian moves in next door, Noah’s got even more to think about (and draw).

One of my favorite things about Noah, not to mention the book in general, is his voice. His voice is a work of art in and of itself. His narration is so visual, which is incredibly appropriate for his character, and the world through his eyes is stunning, full of color and magic. (Well, the nature world. Not the people world.) Plus, his artwork. It’s driving me insane that it doesn’t actually exist, because I want to see some of the things he came up with so very badly. I loved Noah almost immediately, and I almost wish I’d gotten more of his narration before the book ended.

Jude:

While I wasn’t as drawn to Jude’s narration as I was to Noah’s, it still sucked me in and kept me interested. Her voice is super well-written and unique, like Noah’s, and is intermixed with a number of odd superstitions, such as “If a boy gives a girl an orange, her love for him will multiply.” Her character is multi-layered, with numerous facets, from her love of surfing to her clashes with their mother over being that girl. Jude at 13 loves to court danger, but at 16, all she really wants to do is repair the relationships that have been damaged over the years.

The Plot

The thing about this book is that it encompasses a lot. The characters are all connected in ways I never would guessed, and there is so much going on. I just imagine all these plot elements hanging in the air, and Jandy Nelson connecting all of them with pieces of string. It kind of blows my mind to think about it, but she pulls it off beautifully. And the characters were all linked by this invisible web and things happened to them and oh my god FEELINGS.

The Characters

One thing that I find unique about I’ll Give You the Sun is how many of the characters are so very developed. Usually I’ve found that books have the main characters, and then there are the side characters, who, while awesome, aren’t as delved-into. The reader doesn’t get a good look at what goes on inside them. And while I definitely don’t mind that, I found that I’ll Give You the Sun kind of steps outside of that formula–we get to see more of the side characters than I think we’re used to seeing. They’re important in ways one wouldn’t initially expect them to be.

That being said, I loved the characters very much. Each is unique, and each harbors his or her own private grief, in a way that Jandy Nelson makes incredibly real. They’re all flawed, which just makes them even more human. Noah is without a doubt my favorite, but I still loved many of the others, like the sculptor Guillermo Garcia and his assistant/model, Oscar. Noah and Jude’s mother is really something–she bursts off the page like the artwork she loves so fiercely. I also really liked Brian. He and Noah make my little heart do a tap dance of happy.

The Art

Another thing about I’ll Give You the Sun is what a big part of the book art is. Noah and Jude’s mother is an art professor/author, and both of the twins are artistic in their own ways as well. I really enjoyed reading about the different pieces of art that factor into the characters’ lives, and was also very excited when I realized the Magritte Noah rambles about on page 86 is the Magritte responsible for “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” The bits and pieces about art are just another thing that makes the book unique, and you can visit the Gallery page of Jandy Nelson’s website to find more.

All in all, I’ll Give You the Sun is an amazing book. It sucks you in and makes you feel for the characters, and it’s the kind of book that makes you feel like simply describing it will never do it justice. So go read it. It’s pretty awesome.

Hope you’re having a wonderful start to November!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “When people fall in love, they burst into flames.” —I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

P.S. Also, that is an A++ title and cover.

P.P.S. “To the Beat of Our Noisy Hearts” by Matt Nathanson is totally Jude’s theme song.

Favorite Books of Summer

Hi everyone!

So, as Google so helpfully informed me, a couple days ago marked the first day of fall. Leaves are falling! I can wear sweaters! It’ll be Halloween soon! There’s also homework but never mind that.

Of course, while I’m happy to see the trees changing color, there is one thing I miss about summer (other than that whole no-homework thing): Free time to read. While I didn’t exactly get to everything on my summer reading list (HA like I ever thought I would), I did read some stuff that was truly awesome. So here, without further ado, are my favorite books that I read this summer:

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

And today on What Book Completely Broke Nora’s Brain, we have We Were Liars, the story of Cadence Sinclair Eastman and her rich, beautiful, brain-breaking family. Oh no, I didn’t need my heart E. Lockhart, just take it and STOMP ON IT THAT’S TOTALLY COOL. (Seriously though, this book is really freaking good–review here.)

2. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

I managed to snag an ARC of this at Book Expo America earlier this year, and it definitely met my expectations. It’s the story of two very, very different girls living in 1959 Virginia: Sarah Dunbar, one of several black students integrating all-white Jefferson High School, and Linda Hairston, the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal segregationists. Robin Talley makes this book so hard to put down, and the girls’ stories draw the reader in easily. I’m hoping to have a more detailed review up soon.

3. The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette by Carolyn Meyer

If you read my post about the books I wanted to read this summer, you might have noticed The Bad Queen left me slightly emotional. Carolyn Meyer writes incredibly good historical novels, largely focused on royalty, from the Tudors (if you want crazy) to Marie-Antoinette (if you want equally crazy). Each book brings the characters’ worlds to vivid life, and they’ve been some of my favorites for years. The Bad Queen is just as good as the ones I’ve read before, and I definitely recommend it.

Prisoner of Night and Fog4. Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Good lord, if you haven’t gotten this book already, what are you doing? Prisoner of Night and Fog was without a doubt one of the best books I read this summer, and one that still makes my head reel whenever I think about it. The book focuses on Gretchen Müller, the daughter of a Nazi martyr living in Munich in the early 1930s. Gretchen has found her place as part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle, and all she wants to do is go to medical school and get out from under the all-too-watchful eye of her older brother, Reinhard. But everything changes when she meets Daniel, a Jewish reporter who has new information regarding Gretchen’s father’s death. Blankman has woven a wonderful story of historical fiction, and I’m very much looking forward to whatever comes next.

5. The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

If you need something a little lighter after reading The Prisoner of Night and Fog, The Distance Between Us could very well be a perfect fit. It’s an awesome and smart contemporary romance featuring Caymen Meyers, who’s been taught that rich people are trouble pretty much all her life. And then Xander Spence walks into Caymen’s mother’s doll shop one day, and Caymen’s life all of a sudden gets much more exciting. The characters in this book are so well-written and hilarious, not to mention Caymen’s narration is FANTASTIC. Just keep in mind that your productivity will take a hit.

6. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

. . .and now we’re back to the regularly scheduled programming of Painful Books and All Their Virtues. It’s not hard to see why O Pioneers! is a classic–Willa Cather’s story of Alexandra Bergson and her life on the Nebraska prairie is excellent (really, really excellent). It made me want to see the prairie as it was back then, even though we all know I wouldn’t survive six months out there. I got drawn in by the characters and the setting, and while Alexandra’s journey isn’t always a happy one, it’s definitely one that’s enjoyable to read about (despite the VERY VERY painful parts). And yes, I do happen to have A Lost Lady sitting on my bedside table, thank you for asking.

7. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

I’d been meaning to read this for ages, so when it showed up on my school’s summer reading list I really had no excuse. And god, no wonder it won so many awards. Angela’s Ashes is definitely one of the best books I’ve ever read, let alone one of the best memoirs. Frank McCourt takes “the miserable Irish Catholic childhood,” and turns it into something that ranges from heartbreaking to eye-opening to downright hilarious. His voice makes it incredibly hard to put down, and I wanted to read more even after I had finished. I definitely plan on reading more of his work in the future.

8. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I finished I’ll Give You the Sun just a couple of weeks ago, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s the story of twins Noah and Jude, who used to know almost everything about each other, despite the huge differences between them. At 13, Noah spends a good part of his time in the forest near their house, drawing like a maniac and falling in love with the new boy next door. Meanwhile, Jude is a daredevil, surfing with the best of them and jumping off cliffs into the ocean below. But three years later, things have changed. The twins barely talk to each other, and a myriad of misunderstandings has wrecked their relationship in numerous ways. Jandy Nelson has created a complex, amazing novel, bursting with color and imagination. (Hopefully I’ll have a full review up soon.)

I very well may come up with more books as soon as I publish this post, but I think that’s plenty for now. Hope everyone has a good day, and happy fall!

Bookish Quote of the Day:

“My sorrow, when she’s here with me,

Thinks these dark days of autumn rain

As beautiful as days can be;

She loves the bare, the withered trees;

She walks the sodden pasture lane.”

My November Guest by Robert Frost

P.S. While looking for quotes about autumn, I found an awesome poem by Emily Dickinson, so I’m just gonna leave it here.

P.P.S. Oh, the wonders of YouTube: Epic Reads has posted a video entitled “Book Hangover.” If you’ve ever read a book that just completely wrecked you, you probably know what they’re talking about.