Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday 11/29

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. Who doesn't love lists?

This week's topic is: Top Ten Books on my TBR list for winter (in no particular order).

1. Is Everyone Hanging out without me? by Mindy Kaling. She is HILARIOUS and I can't wait to read it!

2. Crossed by Ally Condie. I read Matched a while ago and am looking forward to this one!

3. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. I have been meaning to read this for ages and have no excuse for not having done so yet.

4. Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker. I picked it up from the library a while ago and never got around to it. Must read!

5. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. I've been wanting to read it for a long time and I should have it from the library soon.

6. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. I started it and need to finish it!

7. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I should just buy it, I think.

8. If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman. These look great!

9. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Seems epic!

10. How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr. Looks great and I won it in a contest! Win win.

Bonus: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver. That doesn't come out until March, but I cannot wait to read it! Jealous of everyone who already has!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: The Birth House

Author: Ami McKay
Publish date: 2007
Source: Library
"The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of the Rare family. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing and a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies. During the turbulent years of World War I, Dora becomes the midwife's apprentice. Together, they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives. 

When Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor, comes to Scots Bay with promises of fast, painless childbirth, some of the women begin to question Miss Babineau's methods - and after Miss Babineau's death, Dora is left to carry on alone. In the face of fierce opposition, she must summon all of her strength to protect the birthing traditions and wisdom that have been passed down to her. 

Filled with details that are as compelling as they are surprising-childbirth in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, the prescribing of vibratory treatments to cure hysteria and a mysterious elixir called Beaver Brew-The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to maintain control over their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine."

I saw The Birth House on a blogger's Top Ten Tuesday list of books bought based on the cover (I wish I could remember whose blog it was!). The cover intrigued me as well, so I borrowed the book from the library. It was an interesting piece of historical fiction that I neither loved nor hated. 

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, so I knew I would like that aspect of the book, and I also like learning about how medical practices have changed over time. Midwifery can be a fascinating topic, so it was fun to learn more about it. The author sprinkled in real historical events throughout the story also, so I found myself googling a bit as I was reading. Maybe it's the nerd in me, but I love learning about real events as I read.

The reason I didn't love this book was that the story itself was kind of boring. The author's connection with it is interesting: she moved into a new house and found out that it was used as a "birth house" many years before, which is what prompted her to write the story. That fact pulled me in, but the plot was just not that interesting. The story also seemed to abruptly end, after which the author wrote an epilogue of sorts, which was disappointing. Interesting information and premise, but unfortunately, just not a page turner.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Review: Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Author: Laini Taylor
Publish date: September 2011
Source: Library
"Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. 

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low. 

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war. 

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out. 

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?"

I had pretty high hopes for this book and I think most of them were met (still deciding since it was such a crazy book!). This story had a really interesting plot, although a bit confusing at times, and for the most part, I didn't want to put it down. It was different than anything I've ever read before (which I feel like I've been saying a lot lately!). 

I really liked the main character, Karou. I thought she was a strong and intelligent young woman, which I don't always think about the YA novels that I read. All of the characters and settings were really imaginative and fun; clearly Laini Taylor has an INSANE imagination. I can't imagine having the amount of creativity that she had to write this story and characters: angels, demons, chimaera, all sorts of crazy things.

The story was great and I liked it until the mini-novel within the novel happened. I found that part to be confusing and I couldn't wait until it was over so I could get back to Karou's story. That was the only hiccup of the story, in my opinion. Great characters, settings, and plot combined with beautiful writing gets me excited for book number two!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Washington, D.C.

Part of the reason I failed to update my blog for, oh, 10 days, was that I went to Washington, D.C., last Friday! We had conferences at school Friday morning, so my friend and I flew out that night and arrived at our other friend's apartment in D.C. around 9. We stayed until Tuesday morning (I had that day off work, so I only needed a sub for Monday) and had a GREAT time. I wish we could have stayed longer, although I'm sure my feet would have disagreed. 

Some things we looked at we were not able to take pictures of, like most of the documents and other fragile items. It was amazing to see the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and Thomas Jefferson's books, but sadly, no pictures. 
The original Supreme Court Chamber from 1810-1860.

Washington monument. My friend and I decided that it symbolizes "We're number one!"

World War II memorial. The war memorials were just heartbreaking.

The new MLK monument. Pretty neat. We looked at the Jefferson memorial from here, but decided not to walk to it.

The info center for the Smithsonians is a castle! We need more castles.

I think my three favorite places that we went to were the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Folger Shakespeare Library (couldn't take pictures most of the time). I love history and it was just incredible to me to see books and documents that were over 200 years old. I essentially spent my time nerding out and it was great. I can't wait to go back and visit more museums and historical places!

Friday, November 18, 2011

TGIF: Giving Thanks

TGIF is a weekly Friday feature over at GReads! This is my first one, so bear with me :)

Today's question:
Giving Thanks: Which books are you most thankful for receiving from other bloggers, friends, family members, or publishers?

I have so many books to be thankful for that were given as gifts, but the BIG one that sticks out in my mind is Harry Potter:
When I was in 6th or 7th grade, a friend gave me the first 3 books as a birthday/Christmas gift (they are 3 days apart) and I fell in love. One of the greatest gifts I have ever gotten. I've gotten many books over the years as gifts, but these really stand out (and, you know, turned into an obsession).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: Shatter Me

Author: Tahereh Mafi
Publish date: November 2011
Source: won in a contest
"The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. As long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don't fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color. 

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war-- and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what they need right now. 

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

I won this novel in a Facebook contest and read it over a few days while I was on vacation in Washington, D.C. (pictures to come soon!). I ended up liking Shatter Me a lot, even though it was difficult for me to get into at first.

One of the first things I noticed about Shatter Me was the distinct writing style. The story is told from Juliette's point of view and some of the writing was really distracting, but I eventually got used to it. Since the narrative is from her viewpoint, we got to read exactly what she was thinking: sometimes the words repeated and lines were even crossed out, which I have never seen in a book before. It took a bit to get used to, but I ended up thinking that the writing style added a lot to the story. It was interesting to see how the writing changed as Juliette's living situation changed as well.

Another aspect of Shatter Me that I liked was the characters. I thought Juliette was a well-developed character (although she said a few things that surprised me) and holy moley, do I love Adam. I'll just say that he's pretty awesome. The supporting characters were all great too: Warner, James, Kenji. They all influenced the story and weren't just there for kicks.

I believe that Shatter Me is supposed to be the first in a trilogy, but it can really stand on its own. I'm excited to see where the story is going, but I honestly would not have known it was part of a trilogy if I hadn't just checked Tahereh Mafi's website. It was an interesting, fast-paced, and edgy, if I may say that, dystopian (with a side of paranormal?) that I really enjoyed! 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Back to the Classics Challenge 2012

I'm excited to announce that I will be participating in my first challenge next year: Back to the Classics Challenge 2012 hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much! I used to read the classics and own many, but over the past few years, I have not read any. This challenge will be a great way to read a larger variety of books and maybe open myself up to some new genres. 

Here are the categories and my potential reads:

  • Any 19th Century Classic- Sense & Sensibility? Portrait of a Lady? Great Expectations?
  • Any 20th Century Classic- not sure yet
  • Reread a classic of your choice- Grapes of Wrath? To Kill a Mockingbird?
  • A Classic Play- Death of a Salesman? A Midsummer Night's Dream? Other Shakespeare?
  • Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction- not sure yet
  • Classic Romance- North and South?
  • Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your language- One Hundred Years of Solitude?  
  • Classic Award Winner- not sure yet 
  • Read a Classic set in a Country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime- not sure yet
I think it will be a lot of fun! Any suggestions? As you can see, I need some advice. I believe I own every Jane Austen novel, but have only read Pride & Prejudice, which is pathetic. 

Review: Before I Fall

Author: Lauren Oliver
Publish date: March 2010
Source: Purchased
"What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?
Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.
Instead, it turns out to be her last.
Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing."
I absolutely loved Lauren Oliver's second novel, Delirium, so I was curious about her first, Before I Fall. A few other bloggers highly recommended it, so I decided to buy it. Best decision ever.
This book is about way more than a girl reliving her last day alive seven more times and it is not simply a retelling of Groundhog Day. This book is about how every little action has a consequence and how everything you say affects someone, whether you think it will or not. I knew I would like the novel, because I like Lauren Oliver, but I wasn't expecting to be as blown away as I was. All of the detail and wonderful prose just added to the overall messages of the book.
Before I Fall is also honestly one of the most authentic portrayals of high school and teenage life that I have ever read. For a lot of people, high school sucks and this book absolutely shows that. Sam, the main character, is a member of a group of friends that are very popular in school, much like the main group in Mean Girls. As Sam relives her last day, she begins to notice how much her words and actions (and those of her friends) affect everyone else. The detail about high school life made me feel like I was back in school (although I do work in a school...) and some of the things that Sam and her friends did made me cringe because I know how true they are. 
Overall, this was an excellent book that I did not want to put down while reading. I'll definitely be recommending it to everyone I know because sometimes we all need a reminder about how much every little thing we do affects everyone else. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: Matched

Author: Ally Condie
Publish date: November 2010
Source: Purchased
"Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. 

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow."

This book has been on my radar for a while now, so I picked it up for cheap at a Borders close out sale and put it in my classroom library. One of my students borrowed it for a while and gave it back last week, so I grabbed it to read before anyone else could take it. Although I didn't love it as much as other dystopians like Delirium or Divergent, I did like it, and definitely want to read the sequel, Crossed, that came out today.

Cassia, the main character, was very likable and I enjoyed learning about the society of Matched from her point of view. From the beginning of the story, it was clear that she believed in society's rule and the concept of Matching. It was fun to learn more with her (since it was a first person narration) and that learn that maybe computerized sorting is the not the way you choose whom to spend the rest of your life with. 

Even though Matched's society was very rigid and computerized, it scarily does not seem that far off from the future. As we develop more technology, who knows what direction our world will head? Hopefully we will retain knowledge and enjoyment of the arts and not have just one hundred poems or songs. It was refreshing to see a book that celebrated poetry and other arts like Matched, since sometimes it seems that society, especially education, is going in the opposite direction. It was also fun to find out that Ms. Condie is a former English teacher. Her love of poetry shined in her novel.

I look forward to reading Crossed and finding out what happens next!

Top Ten Tuesday 11/1

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is:

Top ten books that I had VERY strong emotions about (cry, laugh, hurl across the room, etc)

1. Shine by Lauren Myracle: I just read this one and the the injustices in it made me FURIOUS. I know a writer is amazing when she makes me angry as I read because of her writing talent (and because I know these things happen in real life).

2. Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares: This one made me teary. If you read it, you know why.

3. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: This book FREAKED me out. I was afraid of every little noise while reading and couldn't turn off the lights.

4. Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma: Still trying to sort out my feelings about this one. It made me sad, but not teary. Not sure yet.

5. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson: I was amazed, shocked, saddened, etc, that people actually have these disorders. I mean, I knew about them, but this gave me a much deeper glimpse.

6. Atonement by Ian McEwan: I WTFed at the end and wanted to throw it against the wall.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: The ugly racism made me angry! 

8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: I basically WTFed at the whole book and was disappointed by the ending. I know a lot of people loved it, but I'm definitely not one of them.