Brown Girl Dreaming (AKA a National Book Award Winner!)

Hi everyone!

So apparently, because I live in a cave and am not good at keeping up with current events, and also because I am just generally not a super up-to-date person, I missed all the stories about the National Book Awards. Namely, that JACQUELINE WOODSON WON.

Yes, good job me. >pats self on back<

Anyway, considering I’ve been planning on reviewing said award-winning book for ages, I figured now is as good a time as any. So let’s begin, shall we?

I’ve previously only read one book by Jacqueline Woodson, her excellent novel After Tupac and D Foster. However, Brown Girl Dreaming is something a little different–it’s an autobiography in verse, taking the reader through the author’s childhood.

The book takes in a lot of young Jacqueline’s life, from her birth in Columbus, Ohio, to her mother’s childhood home of Greenville, to New York City. Woodson encompasses her family’s history, her awareness of the Civil Rights Movement, her discovery of writing, and it all adds up to an intimate portrait of her childhood and what she thought and felt at the time.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the one covering the period of time when Woodson lived in Greenville, South Carolina, with her grandparents, mother, and sister and brother. This was one of the sections that I could most strongly see in my head, from the red dirt of her grandfather’s garden to the way her grandmother would do the girls’ hair on Saturday nights. I love it when an author paints a vivid picture of his or her story, and Woodson delivers in a way that is both entertaining and oh-so-fun to read. She depicts everything from her childhood activities to the civil rights protests taking place downtown, writing:

“Even my mother joins the fight.

When she thinks our grandmother

isn’t watching she sneaks out

to join the cousins downtown, but just as she’s stepping through the door,

her good dress and gloves on, my grandmother says,

Now don’t go getting arrested.

And Mama sounds like a little girl when she says,

I won’t.”

I love the way Jacqueline Woodson writes. I love her prose, but this book proves that she can write amazing poetry as well. Her words flow wonderfully, and she brings so much to life for the reader–the setting, her family, the everyday rituals that fill up our lives. She invites the reader in and makes seemingly mundane subjects bloom into lyrical images of her life, all pieced together in an endeavor to show how Jacqueline Woodson became Jacqueline Woodson. But she also touches on the bigger changes that were taking place in the U.S. as well, writing about Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panthers, and more. Brown Girl Dreaming isn’t just a wonderfully written look into the author’s childhood; it’s also an important look at the issues that were relevant then, many of which are still relevant today.

All in all, Brown Girl Dreaming is honestly a joy to read, and it deserves the National Book Award so very much. So I’m a little late with this, but: Congrats Jacqueline Woodson!!! The book deserves all of this and more. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year.

And now, because it is a Friday night and I am exhausted, I shall leave you to roam the Internet. And maybe eat a cupcake. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I believe in one day and someday and this perfect moment called Now.” –Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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.

Happy Esther Day!

Hi everybody! Happy Esther Day!

Esther Day Banner(I already said that in the title of the post, but I’m saying it again anyway. Also, I completely forgot I’d already scheduled a blog post to publish today, so that’s why there are two in one day. Oops.)

For those of you who don’t know, Esther Grace Earl was a Nerdfighter and a huge Harry Potter fan. She also became good friends with bestselling young adult author John Green, who dedicated his book The Fault in Our Stars to her. Esther greatly inspired the book, and while it is not her story, she is now a published author herself. She died of thyroid cancer on August 25, 2010, at the age of 16, but one of the many legacies she left behind is Esther Day.

Esther was a big fan of the Vlogbrothers, the YouTube duo of John Green and his brother, Hank. Before she died, John told Esther he and Hank wanted to celebrate her birthday (August 3rd) through Vlogbrothers videos as long as they were able. The videos on that day could be about whatever she wanted. Esther finally decided that she wanted those videos to celebrate love for family and friends–a Valentine’s Day for everything besides romantic love, when telling someone you love them might not be as easy.

So, in honor of Esther Day, here is a compilation of 7 books/series that feature strong love between family and friends, all of which were thoroughly enjoyable. 🙂

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

Well. I suppose this was kind of obvious.

This Star Won’t Go Out was published just last year, and consists of excerpts from Esther’s journals, stories, and artwork. It also includes essays from her family and friends, and throughout the book, the love between Esther and those surrounding her is strikingly evident. It’s a testament to the power of love and family and friendship, and I strongly, strongly recommend you read it. Esther’s voice is intelligent and kind and completely her own, and it’s not something you want to miss out on. (Review here.)

2. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Okay, so this one might be ever so slightly obvious as well. Love is without a doubt one of the biggest parts of Harry Potter’s story, from the night Voldemort gave him that scar to the end of it all. Over the years, readers get to watch as he forges bonds with his friends, his teachers, and so many other people in his life. I think the Golden Trio has one of the most enduring friendships in literature, to be honest, and it’s certainly fun to read about.

3. Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Betsy and Tacy met when Tacy’s family moved onto Hill Street, and they’ve been nearly inseparable ever since. The book follows the pair as they embark on childhood adventures, including climbing the big hill by their houses and enduring the first day of school. I really enjoyed reading this when I was little, and I think I may have attempted to make some Betsy-and-Tacy-inspired paper dolls at some point. . .maybe. Either way, it’s a great story about friendship for younger readers, and maybe some older ones, too.

4. The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

This series is so fun and addictive to read. Emma, Jess, Cassidy, and Megan are all very different, very unique girls. They would never all be in the same social circle at school. But then they all get roped into joining a mother-daughter book club, and stuff gets ever so slightly crazy. The girls’ friendship grows as the series moves forward, and I remember enjoying these so much when I first read them. A lot of the books focus on the girls’ bonds with each other and with their families, and they’re a definite recommendation. (Review here.)

5. The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley

This was one of my favorite book series when I was younger, and it still is. When Sabrina and Daphne Grimm’s parents are mysteriously kidnapped, they have to go live with their grandmother, a grandmother they had believed to be dead. And while they’re still reeling from this stunning change of circumstances, another bomb is dropped–they’re descended from the Brothers Grimm, whose fairytales are actually, um, true. They’re basically living in a town full of fairytale characters. A lot of the series focuses on the bond between the sisters as they deal with their new lives and attempt to find out what happened to their mother and father, leaning on each other and their new friends for support. There’s a lot of sisterly/familial love, and the series can really suck you in. And then there’s the witches. (Review here.)

6. The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

The two princesses of Bamarre couldn’t be more different–Princess Addie is shy and afraid, while her sister Meryl is brave and harbors dreams of being the country’s heroine. But when illness strikes Meryl and endangers her life, Addie’s the one who has to embark on a quest to try and save her sister, before it’s too late. The book revolves around Addie and Meryl’s love for each other, and Gail Carson Levine could very well be one of the best fantasy writers around. It’s original and well-written, and I definitely recommend it. (Review here.)

7. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity is about a lot of things, but I think the most integral part of the book is the friendship between two young girls helping in the WWII effort. One of them has been captured by Nazis in France, and the book is partially told through her confessions to them. She tells them of how she met her best friend, Maddie, working her way through the story of their friendship to explain how she ended up where she is. “It’s like falling in love, discovering your best friend,” the narrator writes. It’s probably one of the most striking stories of friendship I’ve read in a while.

When Valentine’s Day rolls around every year, a lot of people say “I love you” to their spouses, their fiances/fiancees, and their girlfriends or boyfriends. But sometimes (or a lot of the time), saying it to your friends, or your family, isn’t nearly as easy. I think it’s become something that just isn’t done a lot of the time, for fear of awkwardness, or just because something’s holding people back. Esther Day is meant to counteract that–to encourage people to say “I love you” to the people who matter in their lives. Esther Earl lived her life with a lot of love and caring for those close to her, and I think Esther Day is a very fitting way to celebrate her, not to mention love itself.

So, happy Esther day! Thanks so much for reading and supporting this blog, and I hope you all have a lovely Sunday. 🙂 Don’t forget to be awesome!

TSWGO BannerBookish Quote of the Day: “Saying you love someone is a good thing.” –Esther Earl

P.S. If you’re curious, both banners were made with the website Pic Monkey, which is a pretty cool tool for editing photos, making designs, etc. I don’t think I managed to get the exact shade of Esther Green, but oh well.

The Distance Between Us

Hello again! Today’s book is The Distance Between Us by Kasie West, which is an adorable and clever contemporary romance that I gobbled up in less than a day. With good reason.

At the center of this book’s story is Caymen Meyers, a seventeen-year-old fountain of sarcasm who spends most of her time either in school or helping out in her mother’s porcelain doll shop. Caymen can’t say doll-selling is a passion of hers, but when times are tough and she and her mother are behind on their bills, she’s trying to help out as much as she can.

Enter Xander Spence, who, as Caymen observes, is rich and reeks of it. Caymen’s believed practically all her life that the rich can’t be trusted, and she doesn’t see why Xander should be any different. But just when it looks like Caymen’s changing her mind, it turns out she has even more to deal with then she thought.

I love Caymen to pieces. When I say she’s a fountain of sarcasm, I mean it. Her first-person narration is so much fun to read, and her dry, hilarious sense of humor never gets old. But she’s also smart and kind and flawed, and all in all an awesome character to read about, as is Xander.

Xander and Caymen complement each other so well, bantering and poking fun at each other constantly. They’re adorable and perfect, and Xander’s also a great character all on his own. He’s funny, human, and yes, occasionally clueless, but always entertaining on the page. It was so enjoyable to watch as he and Caymen played off one another and found common ground, despite their very different situations. I cared so much that I physically/audibly reacted at several points while reading. These two got me in the feelings.

All of the characters are just as well-realized and wonderfully written. Caymen’s best friend Skye is delightful and sweet. Like Caymen, I was somewhat suspicious of Skye’s boyfriend Henry, but he grew on me as the book moved on. The characters are one place where this book really shines, just like that oh-so-bright-and-summery cover.

The plot and setting are both great, as well. I was completely taken into Caymen and Xander’s worlds of dolls and benefit parties, and the plot took me by surprise several times.

Overall, The Distance Between Us is a sweet and smart contemporary that was so, so much fun to read. I look forward to reading more of Kasie West’s books, but oh, do I fear for my productivity.

Hope you all are having a great day, and happy Sunday!

P.S. I do have one burning question: Did anyone else look at that cover and go “Where the heck is her other leg?” Or was that just me? IT LOOKS LIKE SHE HAS ONE LEG OKAY.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I know he’s asking for my name, but I don’t want to give it. The first thing I learned about the rich is that they find the common folk a distraction but would never, ever want anything real. And that’s fine with me. The rich are another species that I observe only from a safe distance. I don’t interact with them.” —The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

Prisoner of Night and Fog

Hi everyone! Hope your week is going well. As you can probably see, today’s book Prisoner of Night and Fogis Prisoner of Night and Fog, written by debut author Anne Blankman. (I’m actually reading something on my summer reading list, yay!) Oh, did this give me a lot of feelings. Let’s get started, shall we?

(I had to fill up three pages in a composition notebook in order to get my thoughts somewhat organized about this. Let’s just hope it turns out coherent.)

Prisoner of Night and Fog is set in Munich, Germany, in the early 1930s–a tumultuous time, to say the least. Our heroine, Gretchen Müller, is described on the book’s flap as a “Nazi darling,” and it’s a pretty accurate term. Gretchen is the daughter of Klaus Müller, a man who threw himself in the path of gunfire to save Adolf Hitler’s life, sacrificing his own in the process. Now, Gretchen is part of her “Uncle Dolf’s” inner circle, fondly referred to by him as “my sunshine.” Her life is by no means perfect or glamorous, but it’s survivable.

And then a Jewish reporter named Daniel shows up and swiftly turns everything upside down.

Daniel believes that Gretchen’s father’s death was by no means the heroic sacrifice everyone has been led to believe–instead, Daniel thinks Gretchen’s father was murdered. Of course, Gretchen doesn’t want to believe this, but it soon becomes clear that Daniel’s claims may hold more truth than they did at first glance.

As the two investigate Klaus’s death, Gretchen finds her views on National Socialism changing, and discovers that Adolf Hitler isn’t the kind, indulgent “uncle” he’s always seemed to be.

This book seriously sucks you in. I felt fully immersed in Gretchen’s world, to the point where to stop reading felt like lifting your head out a thick, book-induced fog. Anne Blankman brings 1930s Munich to vibrant life, from the beer halls to the money struggles to the different flags of political parties sprinkled throughout the city. I could really envision Gretchen’s world as I read, and the research done was evident.

And I didn’t want to stop reading. Not only was I immersed, but I was also really invested, and I had had HAD to know what happened next. Taking a break seemed almost out of the question. “Oh, I should probably eat. . .oh, I should probably get dressed. . .oh, I think there’s someone trying to break into the house. . .” >keeps reading<

(Okay, so I’m exaggerating a LITTLE.)

Anyway.

Another thing about this book is that holy crap the stakes are HIGH. The reader can feel how dangerous Gretchen’s situation really is, and I felt myself getting tense and anxious several times while reading. Because not only does she have Nazis and freaking HITLER to deal with, there’s also her brother, Reinhard.

Reinhard kind of blew my mind; he is completely unlike any character I’ve read about before. Gretchen is capital-T terrified of him, and with good reason (I felt terrified a good number of times, too). Every scene he was in, I was waiting for him to go off, like a bomb. He’s such an intense character, possibly even more so than Hitler.

Speaking of characters, I really liked both Gretchen and Daniel (stay together forever please and thank you). Gretchen is brave and clever, and the author definitely brings her inner and outer struggles to life. Daniel is passionate and intelligent, and I was very struck by how fierce he is. He wants to discover the truth, no matter what happens.

And then. . .Hitler. One of the many words I would use to describe Prisoner of Night and Fog is “gutsy,” not least of all because of the inclusion of Hitler as a prominent character. Gretchen’s Uncle Dolf gives us Hitler in many different forms–the indulgent father figure, the fierce, manipulative politician, the horribly, horribly evil man and all his different facets. Dear god, my skin is crawling just thinking about it. I can’t even imagine attempting to write a character like this, but Blankman pulls it off with substantial talent. Seriously.

As for the plot, it was very well done as well. While I didn’t feel like there was as big an element of mystery as the synopsis might lead you to believe, it didn’t really hinder my enjoyment of the book itself. I felt like the culprit was somewhat obvious, but I also felt like it had to be that person; that they were the only person who would make sense, plot-wise. Overall, the plot is very well-written and original, just like everything else about the book.

Prisoner of Night and Fog stays with you long after finishing. I didn’t feel like I could start another book after I finished it, because I was still so invested in the characters and their struggles. I HAD to know what comes next, and I feel like I should still be reading it. I really, really loved this book guys. The writing is excellent–Anne Blankman certainly knows how to turn a phrase–and the plot and characters are as well. I need the sequel, badly.

I think that’s about it for today. If you’re interested in reading another review of this book, Gillian over at Writer of Wrongs published one here, and you can see the book trailer below. Hope you have a great rest of the week!

P.S. The Powell’s website still doesn’t have an image for this book, so if you want to buy it you can do so here (or purchase it from your closest indie bookstore!). Image credit goes to the author’s website, which is here.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “A cry hurled itself from Gretchen’s throat before she could snatch it back. ‘Don’t hurt him!’

She froze. What had she done?” —Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

We Were Liars

Guys. Guys, it’s We Were Liars. I have been waiting for this book for months. MONTHS. AND NOW I HAS READ IT.

And, y’know, promptly had my brain broken.

I have a question: Why do all the good books hurt?

This book. This freaking book. I swear I’m going to try to be coherent about it, but I’m not making any promises.

We Were Liars is narrated by seventeen-year-old Cadence, the oldest grandchild in the rich Sinclair family, a group of square chins, stiff upper lips, and old-money Democrats. Where:

No one is a criminal.

No one is an addict.

No one is a failure.

Cadence spends her summers on Beechwood Island with her extended family. There, she and three other residents form the Liars, a group including Cadence, her cousins Johnny and Mirren, and Johnny’s best friend, Gat. “Most years on the island, we’ve been trouble.”

Their time at Beechwood is described as a “summer idyll,” a time of blueberry pie, swimming, and excursions to nearby Martha’s Vineyard. But something happened during the Liars’ fifteenth summer there. And Cadence can’t remember it.

When Cadence returns to the island when she is seventeen, things are very different. She has migraines that feel like a witch beating her head with an ivory goose. No one will talk to her about what happened. Her grandfather is losing his mind, and one of her beautiful aunts wanders the island at night. The other one cleans obsessively.

The Liars are still there, but they too are hiding things from her.

Like Colette at Refuting the Intolerably Stupid, I’m wary of telling you anything too in-depth about this book. Even the summary on the book itself is vague and secretive. Cadence’s world is one of murky waters, in a family that isn’t nearly as beautiful as it looks.

E. Lockhart has really delivered with this one. The characters are unique and well-written, and Cadence’s voice as a narrator is also very good. Believe me when I say this is unlike any other book I’ve read. Cadence seamlessly slips between prose and poetry, even slipping in short, clever variations on fairytales. I was curious as to how this would play out in the book when I first heard about it, but it really, really works. It’s all very telling and only immerses the reader more in the Sinclairs’ world.

Not to mention the prose. God, I don’t even know if that’s what I should call it. E. Lockhart writes unapologetically and originally, working in images in a way that I’ve never seen before. In a way, even the writing is shocking.

The plot. This is the part where I really feel like I can’t tell you much. There are some novels (like Code Name Verity) where the plot is so well thought-out and insane you’re left sitting there in your armchair/bed/TARDIS wondering what the heck you just read and how the author came up with it. That is what We Were Liars feels like. It’s a maze of questions and hidden answers, until you get to the end and think you may fall over. The plot is amazing. That’s all I’m going to tell you.

I still can’t deal with this book. It’s crazy and original and my god, does it get intense. I almost feel like I should warn you, because it gets serious. It gets insane. I was kind of a wreck when I was getting towards the end, and my parents can vouch for me. It’s the kind of book that can knock you over. I loved it.

Then again, I could be lying.

Bookish Quote of the Day:

“It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch. My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout.

Mummy snapped. She said to get hold of myself.

Be normal, now, she said. Right now, she said.

Because you are. Because you can be.” —We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

After Tupac and D Foster

This books, guys. Oh, this book. Emotions. Emotions.

Obviously, the title of said book is After Tupac and D Foster, written by the lovely Jacqueline Woodson. The book is narrated by a young girl living in Queens, right across the street from her best friend, Neeka. And one day, when she and Neeka are sitting on a stoop, D Foster turns the corner and enters their lives. And then, well. Nothing is the same.

The girls become close friends, sharing stories, experiences, and, of course, music. Specifically, the music of Tupac Shakur, a songwriter and rapper who seems to understand them. But D is a puzzle–she “roams,” as she likes to call it, walking the streets of New York City. “I saw all the trees and got off the bus and just starting roaming over this way,” she says when she first meets them.

Neeka and her friend don’t even know her real name.

As the story progresses, the girls grow. They turn into teenagers. They get into arguments, they laugh, they listen to Tupac. They worry together when Tupac is shot. And then he’s shot again–just a little while after D disappears, spirited away by a mother who’s ready to try again. And the first time our narrator talks to D in ages, it’s when D calls, saying, “Hey, girl. Our boy ain’t gonna make it.”

The characters in this book. God, I loved the characters. I just want to make everything better. I want to give Neeka’s brother Tash a guy he’ll love and who’ll love him back. I want to erase his jail time, because he shouldn’t have been imprisoned in the first place. I want to help Neeka to be the somebody she so badly wants to be. I want to protect Tash’s brothers–when he tells them never to end up where he is, it just hurts. Tash knows some people are going to judge them before they even open their mouths. And finally, I want to put the two halves of the nameless narrator together, for her to find herself in all those books she’s reading all the time.

And God, D. I want to hug D. I want to wrap up the life she should have had and put a bow on it and give it to her for her birthday. D is awesome, and she’s been through a lot. When she tells her friends about her mom wanting to try again, I felt a physical something in my gut. Jacqueline Woodson’s characters are so well-written and real, and I love them so much. They’re strong, and they’re human.

I also love THE WRITING. Trust me when I say that this author is a GREAT writer. Her prose flows and the voice of the narrator is so strong. I feel like I should post like five quotes or something, just to show you. So if there’s more than one quote at the end of this post, you’ll know why. The writing is freaking awesome.

Tupac and D Foster is definitely a book I recommend. It’s a fairly quick read, but it packs a lot of feeling and awesomeness into those 100 and something pages. It’s a truly great book, and I intend on checking out more of Jacqueline Woodson’s books soon.

Also, because it would be a sin to write a review of this book and not to link to some of Tupac’s music, here’s one of the two songs mentioned in the beginning of the book:

Have a wonderful Mother’s Day everybody!

Bookish Quotes of the Day:

“It’s like he sees stuff, you know? And he knows stuff. And he be thinking stuff that only somebody who knows that kinda living deep and true could know and think.”

“It’s because we black and we kids and he’s black and he’s just a kid–even though he’s twenty-three–and every single song he be singing is telling us a little bit more about what could happen to us and how the world don’t really care . . .”

“The summer before D Foster’s  real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn’t dead yet.”

P.S. The part with Tash and his brothers also made me think of this amazing poem by Javon Jones:

10 Books You Should Read

Hi everybody! So a little while ago John Green made a YouTube video in which he recommended 18 books he thought viewers probably hadn’t read. Carrie Hope Fletcher did a similar video on her YouTube channel, too, and it looked like fun, so. . .

(These aren’t necessarily books you probably haven’t read; they’re more books that I think are fun/awesome/really good that more people might want to read.)

1. The Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson

OK, yes, I realize that this is a series, not a single book. But these books, guys. GAH. I’ve talked about The Name of the Star before, but I just recently finished its sequel, The Madness Underneath, and MY FEELINGS. WHY. WHY WITH THAT ENDING. Just. . .just WHY. Anyways, these books are terrific, and ever so slightly addictive, so I highly suggest you read them. Then we can cry together. (It may not be a good idea to read them right before bed, though. At least with The Name of the Star.)

2. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

If this book looks familiar, it’s probably because I’ve reviewed it before. Climbing the Stairs tells the story of Vidya, a fifteen-year-old living in India during WWII. Vidya’s country is going through a period of upheaval–protests are taking place, and people are refusing to accept the racist attitudes of the British that are occupying their country. Vidya herself has her own worries. She wants to go to college, but there’s also the possibility that she will be married off before she gets the chance. And then something terrible happens, and her family has to go live in the traditional home of their relatives, where men and women are separated by a forbidden flight of stairs. Padma Venkatraman’s writing is insanely good, as are her characters and plot. Plus, her new book, A Time to Dance, was just recently released. EXCITEMENT.

3. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Oh, this book. Pranks. A boarding school. Basset hounds. Secret societies. It is SO GOOD.

Frankie Landau-Banks attends Alabaster Preparatory Academy, a boarding school in northern Massachusetts. Her freshman year wasn’t exactly illustrious, but this year is going to be different–especially when Frankie gets involved with the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, an all-male secret society to which she is not allowed to belong. But Frankie is smart (not to mention somewhat cunning), and then. . .stuff happens. It’s cleverly written and imaginative, and have I mentioned that I just CAN’T WAIT for E. Lockhart’s next book, We Were Liars? Yes, I know it comes out May 13th, but patience is NOT MY STRONG SUIT.

4. The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots by Carolyn Meyer

If I had to name my favorite writers of historical fiction, they would probably be Ann Rinaldi and Carolyn Meyer. Carolyn Meyer’s books are most likely what caused me to fall in love with reading about major figures of history, like Elizabeth I and Marie-Antoinette. Her books span years, taking the reader from her subjects’ childhoods to their adult years, encompassing betrayals, romances, and inheritances of various thrones. As you can probably tell, this one centers on Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Trust me when I say these books can suck you in. Meyer makes the characters come to life, and writes very, very well. I also love her quartet of books on various women of the Tudor family (starting with Patience, Princess Catherine), Loving Will Shakespeare (about Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway), and The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette. I admittedly didn’t really like Victoria Rebels all that much, but those previously mentioned I loved. (Review here.)

5. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

Well, yes, technically this is a series. But STILL. The first book is Dealing with Dragons (earlier review here), in which the reader is introduced to Princess Cimorene, who is pretty sick of this whole roytaly thing. She’s not allowed to fence, she’s not allowed to learn magic, and all in all she finds it extremely dull. So dull, in fact, that she runs away to live with a dragon. The adventures of Cimorene and those she meets continue throughout the series, involving slimy wizards, troublesome knights, and cherries jubilee. Patricia C. Wrede writes cleverly and imaginatively, and I especially love Cimorene’s attitude. These were some of my favorite fantasy books when I was younger, and I very well may reread them someday. I think they’d be enjoyable at any age. (I also really like the book Wrede wrote with Caroline Stevermer, Sorcery and Cecilia. It’s set in Regency England. And there’s magic.)

6. Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes

I’m also thinking about rereading this, seeing as I first read it so long ago, and really, really liked it. Tortilla Sun tells the story of Izzy, who is spending the summer with her grandma in New Mexico while her Mom is doing research in Costa Rica. As Izzy explores the village and makes new friends, she learns more about her culture and her family, also while trying to solve the mystery of her father’s old baseball that reads simply, “Because. . .magic.” Jennifer Cervantes’s writing is truly awesome, and at the time I wondered why more people didn’t know about it. I’ll probably be checking it out again soon. 🙂 (Review here.)

7. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Okay, so I have mentioned this book numerous times. But if you have any interest at all in reading about an eleven-year-old girl living on a somewhat lonely estate in 1950s England, who also has an acute interest in chemistry and gets involved in solving murders quite a bit, then this is probably for you. Flavia de Luce loves chemistry, particularly poisons, and in the sprawling estate of Buckshaw that she shares with the rest of her family, that’s probably what she likes to deal with best. And then a dead man turns up on the doorstep, and things get exciting. Flavia has a great voice, and the plot and the characters are just as awesome. Not to mention the covers, man. Plus, it’s a SERIES.

8. Monster by Walter Dean Myers

If you haven’t read Walter Dean Myers, YOU ARE MISSING OUT. This is the first book I read by him, and it definitely shows why he was the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2012-2013. Monster centers around Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in jail for murder. The story is told through Steve’s journal entries, a script he’s writing for a movie, and the occasional photo, taking the reader through his trial. It’s striking and intelligent and imaginative, and just GO READ IT. AND BE ENLIGHTENED. Carmen is pretty amazing as well.(Review here.)

9. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

So you might have thought the amount of gushing I can do over this book had hit its limit. But apparently, nope! NEVER. Because this is probably one of the best books I have ever read. Told through the lives of a number of gay boys, and narrated from the perspective of the gay generation that came before them, Two Boys Kissing is filled with wonderful use of language and intenseness and beauty and ugly and just freaking read it GOD.

10. March: Book One by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

I can’t believe I haven’t written a review of this yet, and I definitely need to get on that soon. March is a graphic novel about the civil rights movement, shown through the eyes of Congressman John Lewis, one of its foremost leaders. It takes the reader from his childhood to his older years, offering a remarkable and unique perspective on the movement and life during that time. Lewis is a great storyteller, and Nate Powell’s pictures add a whole new element to the book, which is probably one of the most striking ones I’ve ever read. It’s awesome and wonderful and you should READ IT. Now. And when does the next book come out?

So, there you have it. 10 books I think you should read. I suppose that’s it for today. And if you actually made it to the end of this gargantuan post, congratulations! It really just kept getting longer and longer. . .

Anyway, I hope you all have a lovely Friday! The weekend is almost here. Take heart.

Bookish Quotes of the Day: “There is no Frigate like a Book/To take us Lands away.” —There is no frigate like a book (1263) by Emily Dickinson

P.S. Also This Star Won’t Go Out. And absolutely any book by Gary D. Schmidt (because he’s amazing).

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life & Words of Esther Grace Earl

Hi, everyone! Remember when I wrote that post a couple weeks ago about This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl? Well, I got the book. I finished the book. And I swear I’m going to try to be somewhat intellectual and coherent about this, but. . .we’ll see, I guess?

The first thing I noticed about this book when I pulled it out of the packaging and flipped through it was the presentation. First of all, there’s that gorgeous cover, featuring Esther’s smiling face. 🙂 The pages are color-coded depending on their content–diary entries, essays, posts on Esther’s CaringBridge website, and more. And. . .I can’t even describe the awesomeness. See for yourself:

TSWGO Collage 1TSWGO Collage 2TSWGO Collage 6TSWGO Collage 7I took a lot of pictures. But there’s a lot of gorgeous there. Now, on to the deeper stuff. . .

The thing abut this book is that it’s kind of hard to describe. It’s so expansive and unique, from containing samples of Esther’s artwork to transcripts of her YouTube videos. It’s hard to give a description that could possibly encompass everything held within This Star Won’t Go Out‘s pages, from diary entries to essays to stories to blog posts. But, anyway. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Esther Grace Earl, born on August 3rd, 1994, was an extremely empathetic, loving, and creative person who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 12 years old. Many of you have probably already heard of Esther, who also became friends with John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars. Esther became Internet-famous when John featured her in a video on his and his brother Hank’s YouTube channel, but it has been said many times that John’s book isn’t her story. But This Star Won’t Go Out is.

The book follows the trail of Esther’s life, starting out with a look into her earlier years and then going deeper, starting in 2007. It evolves by showing various facets of her day-to-day life: Writing notes to family members, watching Doctor Who with her brother Graham, visiting the Jimmy Fund Clinic in Boston, and more.

When John Green said in this video about the book that Esther had a voice, he wasn’t kidding. I could still hear her distinctive tone in my head after closing the pages, playing in the background of my mind. Every one of her words is infused with her personality–whether she’s writing a diary entry about being upset, a Happy Mother’s Day note to her mom, or a funny page in a journal she shared with some of her friends that she met online.

Esther becomes so real in these pages. She is so alive through her writing and others’; she lives and breathes and loves in the words. As I kept reading, it became more and more impossible not to believe that she was at home, typing in an online chat or making a funny YouTube video.

Some of my favorite parts of the book were the parts concerning Esther and the group of friends she met on the Internet, collectively called Catitude. Keeping in touch through chats and Skype, they would stay up late into the night talking with each other, about all kinds of things. From the essays included in the book, and from Esther herself, it can be seen how strong Catitude’s friendships really are. I loved reading about these awesome people and how much they genuinely care for each other and love each other. It’s the kind of friendships that are truly valuable and real, and it’s so powerful and lovely to read about.

It feels like one of the absolutely best parts of the book–yes, one that made me cry–was the Make-a-Wish weekend. For her Wish from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Esther opted to have an IRL (in real life) weekend with her friends from Catitude and beyond, staying in a hotel in Boston. They played games, cuddled, had espresso, and hung out. (John Green joined them and made a video here.) Of the weekend, Catitude member Lindsay Ballantyne said, “Hours were spent cuddling, gorging ourselves on candy, and laughing at nonsense. Mostly cuddling. After all, that’s what the trip was for: spending time with people you love and finding little ways to show that you loved them.” (Page 262)

That love–that complete feeling of caring for those around you–just pours from the book. Especially from those parts of it.

When we review books, we often focus on the big, important stuff–plot, writing, clarity, whether it makes sense, etc. And those are all vitally important, majorly important. But (and I don’t even know if I’m saying this right) the book has to have a feeling, too. I think it has to have some sort of emotion to it, some sort of liveliness that can truly make it that thing we all want in life–a good book. When I reread the end of Eleanor & Park a couple nights ago, I could feel an ache in my stomach. When I think about SPOILER SPOILER in The Fault in Our Stars, I’m just like GAH. These books hit us and knock us over and make us feel, because they have feeling. But even that’s not exactly like This Star Won’t Go OutThis Star Won’t Go Out has a similar effect, but somehow it’s different–this book is about a girl named Esther Grace Earl, and, very much because of this, it’s also about love. It’s about loving someone completely and absolutely and unconditionally and that love is everywhere. It’s in the essays and the blog posts and the introductions and it pours out of the book and into the reader. It makes itself known. (As evidenced by the fact that I’m tearing up.)

Love is at the core of this book. That’s one of the biggest reasons that you should read it, because you shouldn’t miss out on that, and you shouldn’t miss out on Esther.

I know I’m not going to be able to get all that this book is down into a blog post, even a mammoth one. I can’t completely describe how I like Esther’s fiction, that her father’s comparison of her and John Green to a companion and the Doctor gave me so many feelings, that her family started a non-profit in her honor that’s really, really awesome. That’s why you have to read it for yourself. Suffice to say that it’s awesome, it’s wonderful, and, of course, it’s supermegafoxyawesomehot.

This is a book I can honestly say everyone should read. Esther Grace Earl should be heard, and other people deserve to hear her. I’m so glad that her family and friends put this together and shared her with the world. I’m really thankful for that.

And to Esther. Thank you for sharing the gift of yourself with the world. Thank you for changing it for the better, and for continuing to do so. Thank you for existing and being you. Nobody could ask for more.

Rest in Awesome, Esther Grace. I love you to infinity and beyond.

Some Quotes (because I can’t pick just one):

“I’m not sure if it was entirely sadness that caused the tears, but there was so much love. And that’s all that mattered. Despite the fear, despite the sadness, despite the pain, there was love. To me, that’s how Esther was. She was all things human: imperfect, flawed, scared. But to me, what makes her so remarkable is that she was also so, so full of love and so willing and eager to share it.

Catitude continues to be imperfect, flawed, and scared, but we have a lot more love in our midst thanks to Esther. And we love her so much for that. I love her so much for that. I miss you, E.” –Teryn Gray (Page 270)

“I was just thinking how I don’t know if I’ll live. I’m so scared. God means so much to me, but I wish He could heal me. Is that vain? selfish? stupid? That I want to be better is, I think, any sick child’s wish. You know how God especially loves children? I’m a child–right? Well, I just want him to lift me up and hug me, like in all those pictures of Jesus and the children . . . Is that too much to ask for? Maybe so, I don’t know.” –Esther, diary entry (Page 71)

“Sometimes I just sit and watch the chat and everyone is so funny and intelligent and caring for one another. It’s like this truest, purest, most wonderful form of love and friendship. I don’t know. It’s just the best. And Esther was part of that. She was that. The best.” –Alysia Kozbial (Page 203)

“So I keep going between wanting to use correct grammar, punctuation, capitalizing skills and overall good writing, and not worrying about it. See, that night there was a briiiiiilliant LOL VIDEO! I meant sentence. bah aha oh man #nerd” –Esther, Catitude Stalker Notebook (Page 217)

And finally, here is one of Esther’s YouTube videos, and a video of the Wizard Rock band Harry and the Potters performing their song The Weapon with the crowd at the TSWGO launch event:

This version is pretty awesome, too, and this is a great song written for Esther, also.

I hope you all have a great week, and stay safe!

Love you all,

Nora