My Favorite Books of 2014

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

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

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

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

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

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

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

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

>mind blown all over again<

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

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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

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

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

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

I’ll Give You the Sun

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

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

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

The Narration

Noah:

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

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

Jude:

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

The Plot

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

The Characters

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

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

The Art

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

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

Hope you’re having a wonderful start to November!

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

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

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

Favorite Books of Summer

Hi everyone!

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

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

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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

2. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

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

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

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

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

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

5. The Distance Between Us by Kasie West

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

6. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

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

7. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

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

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

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

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

Bookish Quote of the Day:

“My sorrow, when she’s here with me,

Thinks these dark days of autumn rain

As beautiful as days can be;

She loves the bare, the withered trees;

She walks the sodden pasture lane.”

My November Guest by Robert Frost

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

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

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