Saturday, June 30, 2012

June in Review

As I say at the end of every month, I can't believe _______ is over! But really, June is over? Wow. I had a great, if very busy, month: School ended on the 9th, I moved, I went to Vegas for a week, and I'm still taking my first grad class. I'm looking forward to July slowing down and have more time for reading. I at least reviewed more books in June than May, but not as many as I'd like.

Books reviewed
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
Hourglass by Myra McEntire
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

My favorite book from June was Born Wicked. What was yours?

I also did a Top Ten Tuesday about my summer TBR list. From that list, I'm almost done with Graceling and have started listening to Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. Sadly, that's all from that list right now. 2/10 isn't terrible, right?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: Story of a Girl

Author: Sara Zarr
Publish date: 2007
Source: purchased ebook
"When she is caught in the backseat of a car with her older brother's best friend--Deanna Lambert's teenage life is changed forever. Struggling to overcome the lasting repercussions and the stifling role of "school slut," she longs to escape a life defined by her past. With subtle grace, complicated wisdom and striking emotion, Story of a Girl reminds us of our human capacity for resilience, epiphany and redemption." (Goodreads)

A while ago, I won a copy of How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, which was the first of her works that I read. I liked it a lot, especially the refreshingly different narrating voices, so when I saw that Story of a Girl was very cheap (maybe even free?) for the Kindle, I jumped at the chance to buy it. I read most of it on the plane returning from my vacation and liked and appreciated the quick read.

Deanna, the narrator of Story of a Girl, has one of the most realistic voices that I have read in contemporary YA. Deanna is a selfish girl who makes mistakes and wishes her life was different, but I appreciated that Sara Zarr chose to portray her this way. It was refreshing to read about a girl who didn't make the best choices and who didn't have the best home life. I felt bad for Deanna, yes, but at the same time knew that she was the one making crappy life choices sometimes.

This book is quite short, only 192 pages according to Goodreads, and it flew by on my Kindle. I like reading short books sometimes, but I feel like the ending came up way too abruptly and that everything was "resolved" too cleanly. Despite being short though, I did feel like Zarr included lots of details that made the story even more realistic, like things about Deanna's house or immediate family members. As I was reading, I found that I could think of people I knew that were similar to the characters from the book.

I'm not sure that I'd recommend this for everyone, but if you are looking for a quick contemporary read that's still pretty heavy hitting, give Story of a Girl a try!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: The Goose Girl

Author: Shannon Hale
Publish date: 2005
Source: purchased ebook
"She can whisper to horses and communicate with birds, but the crown princess Ani has a difficult time finding her place in the royal family and measuring up to her imperial mother. When she is shipped off to a neighboring kingdom as a bride, her scheming entourage mounts a bloody mutiny to replace her with a jealous lady-in-waiting, Selia, and to allow an inner circle of guards more power in the new land. Barely escaping with her life, Ani disguises herself as a goose girl and wanders on the royal estate. Does she have the pluck to reclaim her rightful place? Get ready for a fine adventure tale full of danger, suspense, surprising twists, and a satisfying conclusion. The engaging plot can certainly carry the tale, but Hale's likable, introspective heroine makes this also a book about courage and justice in the face of overwhelming odds. The richly rendered, medieval folkloric setting adds to the charm." (Goodreads)

The only previous Shannon Hale book that I'd read was Austenland, which I liked. The Goose Girl was 1.99 (I think) for the Kindle a while ago and at the urging of Christina at BookTasty, I bought it and read it while on vacation last week. It took me a little while to get into it but I ended up loving it! Shannon Hales wins again!

Like I said, I'd only read Hale's Austenland before and holy wow, are these books different, but awesome. The first thing I really noticed about The Goose Girl was the writing style. It is very fairy tale-esque and really set the scene for the story. It was simple, but not too simple, if that makes sense. I liked all the descriptions of the setting and felt like I was able to picture Ani's world.

I didn't know this particular fairy tale, but was able to become invested in it after a few chapters. I think it started slow for me because the first chapter takes place when Ani is a child. As soon as it jumped to the present time of the story, I was sucked in. I liked Ani as a character and was rooting for her the whole time. She was a strong girl and I felt so frustrated for her when things went wrong. When a book can make you feel as angry as the characters's good.

If you haven't read Shannon Hale, I would definitely recommend this (and Austenland!). I believe there are three other books in the Books of Bayern series, and I plan on reading them soon. Who knew I liked fairy tale retellings?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: Hourglass

Author: Myra McEntire
Publish date: 2011
Source: purchased ebook
"For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn't there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents' death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She's tried everything, but the visions keep coming back. So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson's willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.

Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he's around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?" (Goodreads)

I bought Hourglass for my Kindle when it was pretty cheap and read it while I was on vacation recently. By the way, it was my first vacation with the ereader and it was AWESOME. I brought 2 regular books plus my kindle and ended up reading 6 books total. So much easier than bringing 6 books with me! Anyway, I read Hourglass on my Kindle and despite having a shaky start, I enjoyed it.

After finishing Hourglass, I think I liked the actual plot the most. The idea of what/who Emerson can see, time travel, the Hourglass: all are cool and I felt pretty satisfied by the end in terms of wrapping up the plot points. I will admit, I was caught by surprise by the plot twist at the end (I love when that happens!). So all in all, pretty good plot and storyline.

But...but but but the romance. It was. So. Cheesy. I felt like it overtook the story for a while, which I am not a fan of. And how conveeeenient that Michael was assigned to Emerson and was only a little older than her! At least it wasn't really insta!love, which I appreciated. The relationship progressed fairly normally, but was cheesy at times, plus Emerson could be a little whiny. Also? She got away with A LOT for being in high school. Her brother was not very parenty.

Verdict: I liked it, but didn't love it. The plot was enough to keep me engrossed when the romance over-cheesed. Should I read Timepiece?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Born Wicked

Author: Jessica Spotswood
Publish date: February 2012
Source: Library
"Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship—or an early grave.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word... especially after she finds her mother’s diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood—not even from each other.
" (Goodreads)

I've wanted to read this book ever since I read the summary and saw that it was a cross of two of my favorite genres: fantasy and historical fiction. I waited and waited for the library to get it, since I am on a bit of a book buying ban and they finally did! Cue Kyle rejoicing because this book was AWESOME.

One of the things (of many) that I loved about Born Wicked was the writing style and the mood that it created. I really felt like I was transported back in time and could get lost in Cate's world. Jessica Spotswood did a great job with world building and I really enjoyed learning more about her alternate history. I also liked that there wasn't a TON of witchery in the book. I feel like there is much more witchery to come in the next book(s), which is exciting.

Annnnnd the romance. I loved it, even though there was a love triangle. Finn is my new book boyfriend/crush/whatever you want to call it. Fantastic character and I can't wait for more of him and everyone! I may or may not have reread certain passages ;)

This is definitely one of my favorite books from this year. It was exactly what I was looking for and I can't wait for the sequel! You need to read this one!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: Something Like Normal

Author: Trish Doller
Publish date: June 19, 2012
Source: Netgalley
"When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero." (Goodreads)

I don't often read books from Netgalley, but this one seemed too good to pass up. I quickly read it while on vacation this week and after finishing it, I found myself itching for another contemporary book. Only an excellent book will make me crave more of that same genre and Something Like Normal is no exception.

I really like that this story is told from a male character's POV. Travis is a funny and very REAL guy. He had his faults like we all do, which made him even better, and I was rooting for him the whole time. He deals with a lot after he gets back from Afghanistan and I think Trish Doller portrays that in a very realistic way. I liked that not everything was perfect when he came home.

I also love love LOVED the romance in this book. Harper is a fierce and independent girl whom I took an immediate liking to. I of course loved that there was no insta!love between the two, which makes the whole situation even more realistic. I've said before that in terms of YA, I am not a big contemp fan, but I really did love this one.

At a little over 200 pages, the length here is perfect and I will definitely be recommending this to my students come fall and will try to get a copy for my classroom library. My only wish is that there was a different cover--I think boys will like this one, but the cover will deter them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and was started by the lovely Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner. This week's topic is:

Top Ten books on my summer TBR list

1. Graceling by Kristin Cashore: I KNOW, I KNOW

2. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: Just read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and loved it, so more Kingsolver is needed soon.

3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan: I have the audio book from the library.

4. Beautiful Creatures by Margaret Stohl & Kami Garcia: How have I not read this?

5. Eve by Anna Carey: I met the hilarious Anna in Chicago; must read Eve now!

6. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare: I'd really like to start this series as I love the Infernal Devices!

7. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr: I love Melissa and have seen her multiple times at author events, so it's about time I read her books!

8. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss: The big question: print or audio?

9. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson: Audio, I think?

10. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: I have a copy of this from a conference, so I think I'll be reading it soon, yes?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

Author: Libba Bray
Publish date: 2003
Source: Library
"Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother's death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls' academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy." (Goodreads)

I've been meaning to read Libba Bray for a while now, and thought this might be a good starting point. I've always thought Beauty Queens and Going Bovine just looked kind of...odd. Should I read them? Anyway, I read A Great and Terrible Beauty and am still conflicted about my feelings.

The thing I liked the most: the setting. I wasn't crazy about the beginning in India, as it all felt rushed and confusing to me, but I loved Spence Academy and the boarding school setting. And finding out that part of the school was closed off due to a fire? Love it! Boarding schools in historical fiction are the best settings, am I right?

Setting aside, I did not like this book as much as I thought. I wasn't expecting it to take the direction it did with the fantasy elements and I also had a hard time connecting with the characters, the relationship between Gemma, Ann, Felicity, and Pippa included. I'm not sure if I'll continue the series. Thoughts?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Publish date: 2007
Source: Purchased
"Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural life—vowing that, for one year, they'd only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an enthralling narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat." (Goodreads)

I bought this book at a used bookstore, along with two of Kingsolver's other books, The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer. I bought them knowing I would read them someday, that proverbial time in the future when I would feel the need to read literature. I forgot about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle until my coworker started talking about it one day and I thought, I just planted a garden and am very interested in sustainable eating habits...time to check this one out. SO GLAD that I did!

The first thing I noticed is that Barbara Kingsolver is a funny lady. I was cracking up from the first chapter to the end and really enjoyed her quiet, intelligent sense of humor. The humor really helped remind me that she and her family are normal people with their quirks, not just a family lucky enough to be able to eat locally. I especially enjoyed her younger daughter Lily's remarks about that year.

I think that this book could be construed as "preachy" if read a certain way. I didn't read it that way and instead enjoyed it as an account of the family's year of eating locally. The family is able to do many things that I can't do, like raise animals or afford only organic food, but that didn't bother me. This book was just a testament to the fact that there are things I CAN do to help support the local economy and eat healthily. I also liked that there are recipes sprinkled throughout the book; I will definitely be trying them this summer, hopefully with food grown from my garden! Maybe someday you'll read a book about me trying to eat locally ;)

I would definitely recommend this if you are looking for an interesting account of food culture. I really liked it and will be keeping it close by this summer!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

May in Review

I can't believe May is over! I think the crazy busy months always fly by even though each day might seem to take forever. Any teacher will tell you that May is INSANE compared to the rest of the school year, but I am in shock that we only have one more week left (and Friday is a half day!). The blog pretty much came to a stand still for a while, but here's what did happen:

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Top Ten Tuesday
Book to Movie
Non-bookish Sites

I LOVED all the books I read in May. They were all so different that I can't compare them and pick a favorite. Loved my first experience with JD and MF, loved the follow up to Divergent, and loved historical fiction about an often unwritten time. I picked good books to read despite not reading many!

My June reading should be much, much higher than May. School is done this Friday and then I'll be going on vacation and plan to read a lot then. My summer will be devoted to reading everything I can, growing my organic garden (eating food that I've grown is SO cool), moving/getting settled, and prepping for another school year. Come on, summer, all I want to do is READ!