Four Favorite Comfort Reads

Hi everyone! So, I think it’s almost universally acknowledged that Summer 2016 hasn’t been the best it could be. I’ve almost given up even looking at news that isn’t books- or Nationals-related, and I’m seriously considering living under a rock until at least the end of November. 2016 hasn’t been very kind to the world so far.

It’s time like these when I often just want something fun to read–still good, still incredibly well-written, but the kind of book I can just fall into and hopefully come out of feeling a little better. Books for when the real world just doesn’t seem so inviting (although they still pack quite the emotional punch). And so, without further ado, here are four of my favorite comfort reads, the ones I want to turn to again and again.

1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a book that I loved so much the first go-round that I had to resist the urge to just reread it right away as soon as I was done. Lara Jean’s world of love letters, romance, and cookie-baking drew me in right away, and watching her banter with her sort-of-boyfriend-sort-of-not Peter K only makes it more fun. It features sisterly love in a way that I couldn’t get enough of, and the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You, is just as good. It’s a wonderful read to just fall into and enjoy, especially when the front page of the New York Times seems like a bit too much. But be warned: There’s a strong chance it could inspire you to bake to excess, so handle with caution.

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

Many of the books (and shows, and movies) I most like to dive into when I need to take my mind off of things are mysteries. I love the challenge and plot-twists of figuring out who did what, especially when it draws me into a whole new world. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and its sequels have an added advantage in that they also feature Flavia de Luce, arguably my favorite protagonist of any mystery ever. She’s eleven, an extremely skilled chemist with a strong interest in poisons, and precocious as all get-out to boot. I absolutely adore her, and watching her track down the story behind the dead man she finds in the garden of her English estate completely captivated me. It’s a great series to just get swept up in, poisons, murders, and all.

3. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

However, as much as I love mysteries, there’s always going to be a special place in my heart reserved solely for fantasies (or just Tamora Pierce, to be honest). Many of my first favorite books were fantasies, and one of my first loves of that genre was  Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book in the Song of the Lioness series. Tamora Pierce spins magic and mayhem out of words, and while the books certainly have their fair share of loss and sadness, reading them, to me, always feels a little like coming home. It comes complete with plot twists and sword fights and romance, not to mention all the magic! (And the completely unabashed feminism, hallelujah.) I’m not sure that I could actually think of a fantasy I’d recommend more, although Ella Enchanted is certainly in the running. In any case, if I ever need to distract myself from the rest of the world for awhile, Alanna is one of the first things that pops into my head.

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

It took me ages to finally get around to reading Anna and the French Kiss, but I fell in love with it in a way that makes me want to return to it whenever I need to forget about stuff and just spend some quality time with a really good book. Anna’s story of transferring to a high school all the way across the Atlantic, becoming best friends with history-obsessed Étienne St. Clair, and trying to navigate the murky waters of friendship and love totally sucked me in, and then refused to let go. I fell in love with hilarious, film-loving Anna, and all of the other characters felt just as real and genuine. And the setting only makes diving into Anna’s world more fun–I could have happily read about her adventures in Paris for days.

I love books like these because they have the power to pull you into another world completely, spinning you away into these fun, exciting stories when the real world is just a bit too much. They are full of excellent plots, well-written characters, and magic both figurative and literal, and I loved falling into each and every one of them. The world kinda sucks sometimes, but at least there are books like these to help us along. Also chocolate 🙂

Hope you all have a great rest of the weekend, and take care!

–Nora

Quote of the Day: “Keep reading. It’s one of the most marvelous adventures that anyone can have.” –Lloyd Alexander

The Monsters of Templeton

Hello everyone! Hope you all are having wonderful summers, full of ice cream and beaches and movies (and hopefully not summer colds). And, of course, lots and lots of reading. Summer is awesome in large part because of all the time it frees up for new books, and one of the reads I’ve most enjoyed falling into this summer has been The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff.

The Monsters of Templeton transports the reader to a small town called–you guessed it–Templeton, New York, home to a baseball museum, a glimmering lake, and a monster that lurks beneath its waters. But Templeton is home to many other things, as well, including one Wilhelmina Sunshine Upton, a graduate student studying archaeology who returns to her childhood home in the middle of summer, unexpectedly and in disgrace. However, while there, Willie also begins to explore the history of the town, especially as it pertains to her own ancestors, going as far back as Templeton’s founder himself. And what she discovers are things wholly unexpected and very, very interesting.

One of the reasons I fell so completely in love with this book is the plot itself–Groff takes the reader along on Willie’s journey as she delves into her family tree, switching points of view from relative to relative to relative, while also including information on a number of Templeton’s other residents. She encompasses not only a breadth of information about Willie herself, but also Willie’s mother, her grandparents, her great-great-grandparents, etc., and all with considerable talent and balance. One could imagine the novel’s plot as consisting of innumerable little balls, but Groff juggles them so capably that it looks effortless, all with a healthy helping of mystery that makes it even harder to put the book down.

Groff also writes each character in a way that presents them to the reader as wholly human–full of flaws, but also completely engrossing and endlessly interesting. Willie herself is nowhere near perfect, having, like many of us, made a number of poor decisions in the past (and in the present). But she is also brilliant, and loves very fiercely, a fact that comes through in the book a number of times. I adored her best friend, Clarissa, and couldn’t get enough of reading about many of her ancestors. The characters, and the plot they are entangled in, make it very easy to fall into The Monsters of Templeton and never quite get out.

And, finally, the writing. While the characters are written very well, Groff’s writing itself is so engrossing, so lyrical and descriptive without ever being flowery, that it almost seems separate from the characters’ narration, more like it has a mind of its own. It is concise but also full, completely bringing the reader into Willie’s world, in a way that totally grabbed me. The writing, arguably, is the component of Monsters that most makes me want to read all of Groff’s other books, something I am very much looking forward too. It only makes the novel even more fun to lose yourself in.

The Monsters of Templeton is a book both addicting and incredibly interesting, and it left me wanting to know more even after I had closed the pages. The plot twists and turns like a sort of archaeological maze, and even though I was dying to know how it would end, I also found myself fervently wishing that it could have gone on longer. It’s a great book to dive into, and I’m so glad I picked it up. Definitely a recommended read 🙂

And now I am off to help myself to some butter pecan ice cream and some Steven Universe. Have a great week everybody!

–Nora

Quote of the Day: “Templeton was to me like a less-important limb, something inherently mine, something I took for granted. My own tiny, lovely village with great old mansions and a glorious lake, my own grand little hamlet where everyone knows your name, but with elaborate little frills that made it unlike anywhere else: the baseball museum, the Opera, the hospital that had vast arms extending into the rest of upstate, an odd mix of Podunk and cosmopolitan. I came back when I had to, to feel safe, to recharge; I just hadn’t had to in so long.” —The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

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!)

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.

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

To Be Read: Summer Edition

Hi everyone! It’s summer! A time for ice cream and beaches and getting sucked into books instead of doing your summer homework. And, despite the fact that it’s almost the end of July, this post is about what I want to read before school doors open once again (>muffled sobbing<). So, without further ado. . .

1. PrisPrisoner of Night and Fogoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

This book sounds unlike anything else I’ve read. It centers around Gretchen Müller, a seventeen-year-old living in pre-WWII Munich. Gretchen is a “Nazi darling,” as the book’s summary proclaims, but all her beliefs are challenged when she meets Daniel, a young Jewish reporter. After hearing great things about this and then spotting it at the library, I couldn’t resist. (Image credit goes to the author’s website, because the Powell’s Books website didn’t have any image for it, hmph.)

2. Revolution by Deborah Wiles

Guys! It’s the sequel! To Countdown! And it’s about Freedom Summer and it’s like if a scrapbook and a novel got together and had the best baby ever.

(Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)

3. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I’ve been meaning to read this ever since I saw the Wishbone episode about it, I kid you not. Now that someone’s been kind enough to lend it to me for the summer, I really have no excuse. I just hope Catherine Morland gets out alive.

 

4. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

This book got a rave review from the awesome book blog Writer of Wrongs, and it sounds great. Lara Jean has a box of love letters, one for every boy she’s had a crush on. Of course, those letters have never been sent. . .until they are. And as if that doesn’t sound interesting enough, I really love that cover for some reason. Prettttyyy.

5. Everything in the Percy Jackson universe, by Rick Riordan

Yep. EVERYTHING. I haven’t read any of the Percy Jackson books in forever, or anything after the first two books in the series that comes after that, The Heroes of Olympus. Now that Heroes of Olympus is ending this fall, I figure I better get a move on. Will I finish all of them before the summer is out? No way. Let’s just hope I don’t get sucked into the Rick Riordan Vortex, never to return.

6. The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce

Yet another series I haven’t read in forever. One of these days, I’m just going to dive back into Alanna’s world of sword-fights and magic and everything else. You know, if my heart hasn’t been ripped out by Rick Riordan first.

 

I’m sure I could think of more books to add to this list if I tried, but I think I’d better stop here, before it grows to the length of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I hope you all are having a wonderful weekend, and with that I shall bid you adieu!

P.S. Any special books on your summer reading list?

P.P.S. I just finished rereading the novel The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette, and as a result I am kind of a mess. It was like watching the “Doomsday” episode of Doctor Who all over again. HISTORY WHY YOU DO THIS TO ME.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “One benefit of summer was that each day we had more light to read by.” –Writer Jeannette Walls

 

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

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).

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy

Hi everyone! I have decided to stop being a lazy do-nothing for the day and post something. Yay for productivity!

The book of the day is Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy, written by Elizabeth Kiem. Teenage Marina, the main character, has it pretty good. Her mother is the famous and talented Svetlana Dukovskaya, the Bolshoi Ballet’s most prized dancer. Marina herself is a student at the Bolshoi. Her family’s life in Moscow is comfortable and secure. But let’s be honest here–it’s sure not going to be secure for long.

Marina’s mother is not only a very special dancer, she’s also very special in another way–she has visions of the past. And when one of those visions involves an awful government cover-up, well, things get kind of complicated. Especially when Marina’s mother shows she has no intentions of keeping quiet about it.

After Svetlana suddenly vanishes, Marina and her father find a way to escape to Brooklyn, New York. It’s safer, but it’s definitely not easy. As they both try to adjust to their new lives, while attempting to find a way of saving Svetlana, the two find themselves becoming more and more entangled in the shady business they just wanted to get away from. Preferably alive.

Some of the things I really liked about this book were the little touches. The music Marina listened to, the neighborhood she frequented in New York…those were the bits of the story I really, really enjoyed. Sometimes I cared more about those than the plot itself. The setting, the atmosphere–these special little bits really added something lovely to the story.

The plot was good, if a bit confusing at times, because I didn’t quite understand what Marina was talking about. The characters were well-written and unique, so that was an obvious plus.

The writing was really nice. Marina, who is narrating the story, has a good voice, and I especially like the way she describes things. When she is talking about her dance shoes, she describes them as feeling “hard like rock music, pliant like drum skin.”

But in hindsight, the book was definitely fast-paced. So fast-paced, really, that sometimes I just didn’t really care very much about what was going on. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, but I found that I wasn’t really very invested in what was happening. It was like whoosh, oh, that bit’s over now. Which is unfortunate, because I did like the book, and I did like the characters, and I feel that more could have been done with them, that more could have been added to the book overall. If the world Marina lived in had been expanded upon, I think I would have enjoyed reading about it to a greater extent. Or maybe that’s just me being greedy.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy it. The book was good. Not a huge page-turner, admittedly. But good!

Literary Quote of the Day: “I would like to appear at the party precisely as I see myself in the unlit theater of my windowpane. Silent, graceful, but ultimately not there.” –Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy, by Elizabeth Kiem

P.S. I don’t know if I really made this clear in the review itself, but this is definitely a young adult or teen read. There’s violence, serious stuff…just so you know. Everyone have a great weekend!