Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Rae Carson
423 pgs, 2011

Summary from Goodreads

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.
But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

My Thoughts
I don’t read much fantasy.  It’s just not my cup of tea and this one didn’t do much for me either (although did finish it).  There were elements of the story that I really enjoyed and found refreshing, but overall I just felt like something was missing.

Elisa is an unusual protagonist.  She’s not very confident.  She’s overweight.  She eats when she’s stressed or embarrassed.  But she was chosen to bear the Godstone, a responsibility she doesn’t want, but was given by God (essentially at her Christening –I can’t remember what it was called in the book).
I liked that the main character was so realistic – I can definitely relate to emotional eating, but it still fell back on some YA clich├ęs.  Main character is a girl who isn’t anything special, doesn’t feel attractive, but somehow still attracts men and is the leader who saves the day.  The men in the book are definitely a backstory with is nice, but none of them are particularly well fleshed out.  My favorite relationships in the book were those between Elisa and her attendants and between Elisa and her stepson. 
The writing was a notch above what I expect from YA and Carson did an excellent job of allowing the reading to see the foreign lands without making them feel like they are constantly reading description.

My Rating
Enjoyability (2.5 out of 5 stars)
Relationships (2.5 out of 5 stars)
Writing (4 out of 5 stars)

This book will stay with me for a year.  Max. I don’t think anything about it will compel me to reread.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

Falling Together
Marisa de los Santos
2011, 358 pgs

Summary from Amazon

It's been six years since Pen Calloway watched Cat and Will, her best friends from college, walk out of her life. Through the birth of her daughter, the death of her father, and the vicissitudes of single motherhood, she has never stopped missing them. When, after years of silence, Cat—the bewitching, charismatic center of their group—urgently requests that the three meet at their college reunion, Pen can't refuse. But instead of a happy reconciliation, what awaits is a collision of past and present that sends Pen and Will on a journey around the world, with Pen's five-year-old daughter and Cat's hostile husband in tow. And as Pen and Will struggle to uncover the truth about Cat, they find more than they bargained for: startling truths about who they were before and who they are now.

With her trademark wit, vivid prose, and gift for creating authentic, captivating characters, Marisa de los Santos returns with an emotionally resonant novel about our deepest human connections.

My Summary

Pen Calloway was blessed in college with the friendship of Cat and Will.  The three of them were inseparable (to the point of their peers thinking they were “together”).  When Cat got engaged post college she decided to cut communication with Pen and Will – they didn’t especially like her husband, Jason.  Pen and Will had a falling out shortly after that; they couldn’t get their rhythm right without Cat.

Fast forward six years, though the dead of her father, the birth of her daughter, and the struggles of single motherhood, Pen has never stopped missing Will and Cat.  Hoping against hope that one or both would make contact again.  Then it happens.  Cat sends an email saying she needs Pen and asking her to meet at their college reunion.   Will received the same message – his life has changed quite a bit over the past six years – so they both attend the reunion.  The reunion is a surprise and leads to a journey of discovery.

That’s the most I feel comfortable summarizing without giving away plot points.  I really enjoyed discovering new aspects of the friendship between Pen, Will and Cat.  Santos does a remarkable job slowly revealing the dynamics of the relationship between the three of them and how it adjusts when just two of them are in the picture. 

I LOVE the writing in Santo’s novels and Falling Together was no exception.  She finds the perfect balance of beautifully descriptive without crossing into excessively boring description. 

The trouble was that Tanya still hated Pen. She hid it, most of the time or rather camouflaged it as cold dislike or stony indifference or mocking disdain, but then, as sudden as a slap, it would hit Pen: a blazing, palpable, ever-fresh hatred that whipped around and raged inside Tanya’s eyes like twin electrical storms. (pg 40)

At five, Augusta was already losing her baby softness, was becoming pared down, almost sinewy, her back a delicate landscape of spine and shoulder blades that Pen could feel through her shirt. (pg 47)

Suddenly she became aware of Will across the table, perfectly unmoving, his silence hissing like a live wire, his hands flat on the table at either side of his plate, and hitting didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. (pg 117)

The forlorn note in her mother’s voice was like a fire blanket, putting out the anger that had begun to smolder inside Pen with one colossal whack. (pg 200)

I picked random pages and chose quotes I like from each.  I could have found 100. 

Another element of the novel that I love is that none of the character were one or two dimensional.  Even Cat’s husband Jason, who is frustrating 90% of the time.  He is given many facets and by the end I didn’t want to hang out with him, but he’s actually a good guy.

My Rating
Enjoyability (4 out of 5 stars)
Relationships (4 out of 5 stars)
Writing (5 out of 5 stars)

I don’t know that I will remember the details of the story in couple years, but I will remember that if I’m in the mood to reread something beautiful that Falling Together is a good choice.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Top 10 Most Frustrating Characters

This week’s Top 10 from The Broke and The Bookish is Top 10 Most Frustrating Characters EVER!

1.         Bella (Twilight) – Do I need to explain this one?
2.         Becky Bloomwood (Shopaholic Series) – Ugh QUIT SPENDING MONEY!!!
3.         Dolores Umbridge – Evil in a very frustrating way.
4.         Franklin (We Need to Talk About Kevin) – All kids require discipline and yours is NOT perfect.
5.         St. Clair (Anna and the French Kiss) – I don’t have a good reason for this.  He just got on my nerves.
6.         Harry Potter (Order of the Phoenix) – I love Harry, but whiney teenage Harry in book 5 drove me CRAZY.  I read it shortly after my brother went through that phase so I can tell you it was accurately portrayed.

I love these last four characters and I empathized with them, but they were definitely frustrating.
7.         Rickie (If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now) – Rickie vents her anger about everything in her life when dealing with her mother.  It’s not fair and frustrating to read.
8.         Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind) – Ashley is a tool and nowhere near interesting enough for you.  Seriously.
9.         Victoria Jones (The Language of Flowers)Victoria was a foster kid and has trust issues.  A lot of the problems she has as an adult would have been solved with just a little communication.  JUST TALK TO THE PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT YOU!
10.  Lisbeth Salander (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) – Again a little communication would go a long way.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Going too Far by Jennifer Echols

Going too Far
Jennifer Echols
245 pgs, 2009

Summary from Amazon

All Meg has ever wanted is to get away. Away from high school. Away from her backwater town. Away from her parents who seem determined to keep her imprisoned in their dead-end lives. But one crazy evening involving a dare and forbidden railroad tracks, she goes way too far...and almost doesn't make it back.

John made a choice to stay. To enforce the rules. To serve and protect. He has nothing but contempt for what he sees as childish rebellion, and he wants to teach Meg a lesson she won't soon forget. But Meg pushes him to the limit by questioning everything he learned at the police academy. And when he pushes back, demanding to know why she won't be tied down, they will drive each other to the edge -- and over....

My Thoughts

Going too Far has been on my Kindle FOR. EV. ER. (I’m hearing Squints from The Sandlot in my head right now).   Thank God for the 2013 TBR list challenge or might never have gotten around to it and I LOVED it.

It’s not a flawless book.  Occasionally a word choice would strike me as odd, like it almost worked but changed what the sentence meant in a way the author didn’t intend, but overall I just got swept up in this one and didn’t care.

Meg rebels against everything and everyone.  She doesn’t make plans - other than leaving town right after graduation, she even skipping the graduation parties and Meg LOVES a party. 

Echols throws you right into the middle of Meg’s most dangerous and stupid decision to date.  You don’t know why she’s being as destructive as she is and the answers to that unfold beautifully thoughout the novel.  But somehow right at the beginning I was cheering for Meg. 

Meg is forced to spend quite a bit of time with John as a result of her terrible decision.  John is an absolute rule follower and I loved him too.  He really wants to do what is right, but you can tell that he is just as damaged as Meg, but handles it differently.

I loved how the relationship between Meg and John evolved over the course of the book.  I thought the sexual tension between them was unreal.  But it’s definitely YA, nothing explicit. 

Now I just have to keep myself off Amazon so I don’t immediately order all of Echols books and make my TBR pile even worse.

My Rating

Enjoyability – 5 out of 5
Relationships – 4 out of 5
Writing – 3 out of 5

This book will stay with me until I reread so many times I can quote it verbatim. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Favorites – TV Shows

Fun new meme hosted by Epic (Chocolate) Fantasy.  It’s a chance to deviate from novel talk and discuss some other favorites. 

This week is favorite TV shows. 

Downton Abbey
Love, Love, Love Downton Abbey.  I love that one episode you’ll hate a certain character and the next you’ll love them and the behavior is still totally consistent with their character.  That’s real life.  I love the relationship between Matthew and Mary, how it evolved and where it is now.  The last few episodes have been a great example of how a married couple isn’t going to agree on everything and you can agree to disagree.  Love!  If you aren’t watching season 1 is on Netflix and seasons 1 and 2 are on Amazon Prime.

Putting Sherlock in NYC as a recovering heroin addict (that’s true to the books) and giving him a female sidekick in Joan Watson was the perfect refresher for me to enjoy the characters  again.

The West Wing
I’ve watched these to the point of memorization (I own all 7 seasons).  But now that they are on Netflix I’m watching again.  Seriously the dialogue in anything written by Aaron Sorkin is Art.  The delivery of this dialogue by every member of the cast is phenomenal.

I’m not even calling this a guilty pleasure.  Yes it’s on ABC family, but seriously so much fun.  Of the shows currently on TV this is the one I’m most likely to watch episodes more than once.  Amy Sherman-Paladrino is a genius.

The Closer
I didn’t watch this while it was airing on TNT, but it’s now available on Amazon Prime.  It took me about 2 days to get through season 1!

The Daily Show
I DVR this and watch it in the morning while getting ready for work.  What is better than starting the day laughing?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
1813,  281 pgs

My Summary

The Bennets have five daughters and no sons.  Since their home and property is entailed, the daughters only have small dowries and Mrs. Bennett is fixated on each of them marrying well.  The two eldest daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, are bright, intelligent women.  Jane is kinder and believes the best out of everyone and Elizabeth is very smart, but also willing to hold a grudge.  Their father seems to be a thoughtful man, but their mother is flighty, vain, and shallow and the three youngest sisters take after her. 

A rich bachelor (Bingsley) moves into the neighborhood, along with his sisters and a good friend (Mr. Darcy) and shows an interest in the eldest daughter Jane.  Mr. Bingsley is good looking and well mannered and rich so he’s well liked.   Everyone one is expecting him to propose to Jane.  Mr. Darcy on the other hand, is also rich and good looking, but not as affable and comes across as if he’s above everyone else making him unpopular.  Mr. Darcy has an affection for Elizabeth, but he believes her family beneath him and does not show the affection.  Mr. Bingsley’s entourage (sisters and Mr. Darcy) leave abruptly leaving Jane crushed and mystified.

The Bennets do their best to rally Jane’s spirits by suggesting she visit some friends (in the general area Mr. Bingsley moved too).  But he never visits and Jane is certain that he lost interest.

About the same time Elizabeth goes to stay with a recently married Charlotte (whose husband original proposed to Elizabeth and was refused).  This brings Mr. Darcy back into Elizabeth’s orbit.  A friend of Mr. Darcy’s unknowingly tells Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy convinced his friend Bingsley not to propose to Jane.  The next day Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, but manages to insult her family at the same time plus act like she should be beyond grateful he would deign to marry her.  She refuses, and essential bitches him out for his role in hurting her sister (and another side story that I’m not getting into).

Mr. Darcy writes Elizabeth a letter explaining his side (but not apologizing).  As much as she wants to discount everything he wrote a lot of it rings true and it begins to change her opinion of him.
My Thoughts

I enjoyed the overall story and the characters are excellent.  I definitely identified at times with both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.  I feel like the plot is timeless.  All the character flaws evident in Pride and Prejudice are around today, we just have different reasons for snobbery (no entails but we fawn over celebrity plenty).  Could anyone else totally see Mrs. Bennet as a “Toddler’s and Tiara’s” mom?  She’d have dragged Jane to them until Lydia got old enough.

I just don’t enjoy Jane Austen’s writing style and I want to.  I admire her and I think she does some interesting things, but I just find it a chore to wade through her books.  I’d rather find out a character’s attributes by reading about their actions rather than two straight paragraphs when the character is introduced telling me exactly what I’m going to think about them.  She uses pronouns really strangely for me – I would frequently have to reread passages to ascertain who the “they” was referring too.  Only to discover that “they” was a what and not a who.

“Mr. Collins repeated his apologies in the quitting room, and was assured with unwearying civility that they were perfectly needless.”

I’ll admit I caught the movie of Pride and Prejudice on TV right before I started the book and I think it helped me get past the mind-numbingly over descriptive parts because I knew something interesting was eventually coming.  

My Rating

Enjoyability (3 out of 5 stars)
Relationships (4 out of 5 stars)
Writing (2 out of 5 stars)

This story will stay with me in some form forever because it is constantly being updated and retold.  I don’t think I will specifically think of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy for much longer though.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Just Walk Away

I’m pretty sure I’ve OD’d on dystopia.  I was disappointed by the last two I read in 2012 – “What’s Left of Me” and “Defiance”.   And I gave up on “Crewel” and “Promised” after about 60 pages.  “Promised” was especially disappointing because it’s the final book of the “Birthmarked” Trilogy and I really enjoyed the first two.  I don’t even necessarily think there’s anything wrong with the book…I’m just Dystopia’d out.  I have “Though the Ever Night” waiting at the library right now and I’m wondering if I should release it and wait til I’m in the right mood because I was really looking forward to it and if I start now and don’t finish odds are I’ll never start again.

Books I DNF in the past six months.

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Promised by Caragh M. O’Brien

Crewel by Gennifer Albin

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

Glass Houses by Rachel Caine (This one was just BAD – I was tempted to finish because it’s short and would be fun to trash during review)

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophia Kinsella

So do I need to give any of these another shot?  Or can I just walk away?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez

Jessica Martinez
2011, 306 pgs

Summary from Amazon
Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love. And Jeremy is hands-down the wrong guy for her to fall for. He is infuriating, arrogant, and the only person who can stand in the way of Carmen getting the one thing she wants most: to win the prestigious Guarneri competition. Carmen's whole life is violin, and until she met Jeremy, her whole focus was winning. But what if Jeremy isn't just hot...what if Jeremy is better?

Carmen knows that kissing Jeremy can't end well, but she just can't stay away. Nobody else understands her--and riles her up--like he does. Still, she can't trust him with her biggest secret: She is so desperate to win she takes anti-anxiety drugs to perform, and what started as an easy fix has become a hungry addiction. Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of always doing what she’s told, doing what's expected.

Sometimes, being on top just means you have a long way to fall....

My Summary
Carmen’s whole life is the violin.  She loves music and the violin, but lately the pressure to perform has become too much.   She has followed the rules laid down by her momager, Diana, for her entire life.  Diana’s career as an opera singer was cut short by an unsuccessful/botched surgery on her vocal cords.  To deal with the pressure Carmen is prescribed anti-anxiety drugs (a move that is endorsed by her violin coach and mother).

As a result of some opposition research, aka stalking, Carmen ends up meeting Jeremy, her only real rival in the upcoming Guarneri competition.  She finds herself drawn to him even though she can never be confident in his motives.
That’s pretty much all the plot I feel comfortable revealing.

I found Virtuosity thoroughly enjoyable.  Exactly what I have been wishing for in reading material the last couple months, short and quick but not shallow.  There’s a sweet romance, believable conflict, and even a few bigger issues: fairness and integrity. 

I liked Carmen and Jeremy – even though it did feel a lot like insta-love.  Diana started out seeming only mildly stage momish, but got increasingly worse as the book progressed.  Most the other characters were fleeting, but I really enjoyed Carmen’s stepdad, Clark.  He was a calming influence who she could have used a lot more of.

My Rating
Enjoyability (5 out of 5 stars)
Relationships (4 out of 5 stars)
Writing (3 out of 5 stars)
This book will stay with me a few years until I tire of rereading it.   

Monday, January 7, 2013

Top Four Bookish Goals for 2013

This week’s Top 10 from The Broke and The Bookish is Top 10 Bookish Goals for 2013. 

I only have four, but they are pretty ambitious and if I accomplish them all I’ll be very happy.

  1.  Review every book I read – I didn’t get anywhere close to this last year.  I love to read and discuss books, but I frequently get writer’s block.
  2. Complete the 2013 Back to the Classics Challenge – This is to challenge myself a little.  Last year about 70% of the books I read were YA or light Women’s lit.
  3. Complete the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge – I need to whittle down my stack of purchased but unread books.  Plus save money.
  4. Read 52 books (that’s down from last year because I’m trying to focus on getting a better reading variety and completing reviews)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Gone Girl by Jillian Flynn

Gone Girl
Jillian Flynn
2012, 432 pgs
Borrowed from a Friend

Summary from Amazon

Marriage can be a real killer.
   One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.
   On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
   As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
   With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

My Summary
     On Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears.  The story is told in alternating chapters from Nick’s point of view in current time and Amy’s diary starting from when she met Nick.  The police assume foul play and Nick is the main suspect.  He doesn’t do himself any favors with his behavior after her disappearance or by lying to the police during the investigation.  But the Amy that emerges in her diary come off a touch off as well.  I was constantly questioning who to trust.  Neither Amy nor Nick is super like-able, but I found myself being drawn to both of them.  They have very distinct and memorable personalities.
    I don’t think I can say much more without giving away plot points.  This book is a total mindf*ck (sorry Elizabeth stole your word).  Every time I felt like I was starting to get a hold of where the story was going I’d get whomped with a twist that I did not see coming at ALL!   The ending of the story was not entirely satisfying it was perfectly appropriate for the story.

All the Books I Can Read
My Rating
Enjoyability (5 out of 5 stars)
Relationships (4 out of 5 stars)
Writing (4 out of 5 stars)
This book will stay with me for a long time.  I don’t know how rereadable it is….plot twists aren’t as fun the second time around.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Blogging Year 1 in Review

Total Books Read: 75
Fiction: 69
Non-Fiction: 6
Library Books:  24
Books On My TBR List: 3
Books in a Series:  28  (This depends on how broadly I define "series".  I went pretty broad and counted books like "Stolen Prey" by John Sandford.  The Prey series has all the same characters but the plots are pretty independent - more enjoyable if read in order but unnecessary).
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 55
Male/Female/Both Authors:
Kindle books: 29
Audio Books: 2
Books I owned or purchased: 20
Young Adult:  33
Mystery/Thriller/Horror: 7
Women's Lit:  29
Non-fiction: 6

Favorite Books of 2012:  "We Need to Talk about Kevin" by Lionel Shriver, "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green, and "Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell

Least Favorite Books of 2012:  "Outlander" by Diana Gaboldon and "Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons" by Lorna Landvik

My biggest take-away when looking at these stats is that Young Adult fiction was a huge percentage of my reading list and that I have a pretty heavy disparity between Male and Female Authors read.  In 2013 I'm going to set a lower reading total while shooting to review everything I read and getting a better mix of material.