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.

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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.

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

Outrageous Women of the Renaissance

Okay, here’s a thought provoking question for you: What do you think when you think nonfiction books? Do you think dusty old tombs no one wants to read? Do you think textbooks, like in school? Or just, “Gosh, BORING.” I’ll admit it, I never used to read nonfiction books. But I’ve recently started reading some, and realized that they can be pretty good. I mostly like reading about people (particularly women) that lived years before us, such as Sir Walter Raleigh or Eleanor of Aquitane. So no wonder I like this book, Outrageous Women of the Renaissance, by Vicki León. It has stories of women from all around the world, living during the unique times of the Renaissance. Some are ladies of high standing, some are even thieves and pirates, and all of them are interesting. There’s Isabella from Spain, Moll Frith of the British Isles, Joan of Arc from France, and tons more. This book teaches people about history and the way things were back then as well as the ladies. It’s fun, and there are also Outrageous Women of Ancient Times and Outrageous Women of the Middle Ages, plus more. This is a book for all ages, showing that the really good stories aren’t always fantasy.

July 3, 2011: 5 posts left!

Madam C. J. Walker: Entrepreneur

Who was Madam C. J. Walker? Many of you have probably already heard something about her. She started her own line of hair products for women and was a busy millionaire by the end of her life! She also gave much to charity and opened a theater in Indiana. Are you curious yet? I was, when I was told I had to read a biography of an African American in February. So, I hightailed it over to the library to get this great book by A’Lelia Bundles, who also happens to be Madam C. J.’s actual great-great granddaughter (talk about coming from an inspiring background). This book outlines the life of one of the best women in history, from her days in the south as Sarah Breedlove to the days of her thriving business in Harlem. Well-written, interesting, and with plenty of good pictures, this book will not only educate, but entertain. You might think nonfiction is boring, and I might have too at one point, but if you just try it you’ll figure out that there are somethings that are just as interesting as books about magic and witches. So why don’t you go to the bookstore and give this a try?

P. S. And for the adultsOn Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

How can I even describe such an amazing book? I’m sure plenty of you have heard of this one: The real-life diary of a teenager called Anne Frank who hid for two years from the Nazis ages ago. Now if you like to read books that are sure to have happy endings, that’s fine, but THIS? This is not to be missed, sad or not. A more touching and thought-provoking book I’m not sure if I’ve read. Not only did the brave girl face the cruelty and torture of the Nazis, she also coped with inner, personal problems such as ones with family. Perhaps some young girls could even relate to some of these. Anne Frank’s story is, in my opinion, one of the most inspiring in literature. It’s one of the few books that brought me to tears, and I get the feeling it would do that to almost anyone. It makes someone realize so much about life and what people like Anne went through during the Holocaust. Anne boldly touched on some tentative topics, but some people may commend her for being so honest. I, for one, admire her. And you would, too, if you read this.

The Year of the Dog

Here is another book by the talented Grace Lin. Some of you may remember I’ve reviewed one of her books before. This book tells the story of Pacy/Grace Lin. (Sound familiar?) Partially fiction, partially not, The Year of the Dog chronicles the adventures of Pacy and her new best friend, Melody. It’s the Year of the Dog, and Pacy is supposed to find herself and discover her special talent. But she hasn’t been having much luck. Kids in the middle grades will like this kind of humorous, kind of touching, and overall great book. It even has little doodles! So why don’t you go check for it at your local library? And if you like it, take a look at the sequel, The Year of the Rat.