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!)

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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.

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