Thursday, December 29, 2011

Favorite books of 2011

So I've spent the last week browsing my goodreads shelves trying to come up with my favorite books of 2011.  My top read is easy.  It has to be Froi of the Exiles by the incomparable Melina Marchetta.  It's one of my favorite books ever, not just of 2011.

From my review of Froi:

This book is beautiful and complicated. It's epic fantasy that's truly epic, not just the same-old-same-old elves versus humans versus dwarves versus mages versus fill-in-the-blank. You can't say "Charyn is evil and Lumatere is good" because that's way too simplistic. This book looks at the complicated relationships between two countries and the people who are sometimes unwittingly caught in the middle.

Read more here

The rest of the Top 10 list wasn't as easy.  I've read 116 books (thus far) in 2011.  Due to the goodreads and the blogging community I've read more EXCELLENT books that ever before.  These are my most loved books. They aren't the newest or the most literary, but my personal favorites that I discovered during 2011.

2.The Raging Quiet

This is a book that surprised me. The more I think about it the more it grows in my opinion.  I have my friends to thank for introducing me to this book and convincing me to read it.  If you haven't read it, trust me it's better than the cover would have ou believe.

See my review here

3. Graffiti Moon
Not technically released yet (in America) but I had an e-galley. This book is another wonderful story from Australia.  Some people may think of it Australia the land of kangaroos & koalas.  I think of it as the place all the best YA comes from.

See my review here

4. Daughter of Smoke and Bones

One of the few books that has garnered lots of well-deserved praise.  A different kind of paranormal that has a love story that doesn't bother me!

See my review here

5. Leviathan
This is a book that I love but never actually reviewed.  It's a steampunk story set in an alternative past.  You have a girl dressed up as a boy (yes please) in order to join the military, a dash of World War I history and an Austrian prince. Seriously it's like Westerfeld wrote this book with me in mind. So many of my favorite things!

6. Demonglass
The Hex Hall series remains one of my favorites.  Fun and snarky, just the type of book I want to spend more time with.  I never came up with a more coherent review of this book than "I WANT TO KISS ARCHER" (seriously that's what my goodreads review says) but that's only because I love it too much for words.

7. Feed
If you're looking for a zombie novel that's got some depth Feed is the book for you.  This one blew every other zombie book out of the water.  This is an intelligent zombie story that's not just all blood and gore, but part political thriller.

See my Review here

8. One Salt Sea
Rarely does a series keep getting better and better.  Most of the time they start strong, then as the author pushes out books in a hurry diminish in quality.  This series is the exception.  Every book gets better.

Here is a Breakdown of a Heroine that also serves as a series review.  If you aren't reading this series you're really missing out on some wonderful urban fantasy.

9.The True Meaning of Smekday

I surprised myself by putting this on the list.  And as I eliminated books I couldn't get rid of Smekday.  This audiobook of this is hilarious.  I never even reviewed this book on my blog.  But this is a fun adventurous story that everyone should read.

10. Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Sometimes I still wonder how this didn't win the Printz.  This is the type of book that could go so wrong but doesn't.  It's smarter than your average book.

See my review here

Most anticipated of 2012 (right now for me)
Spellbound by Rachel Hawkins, Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Timeless by Gail Carriger, Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire, Cinder (review here) by Marissa Meyer

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Born Wicked (review)

Born Wicked is a story of 3 sisters who are witches set in an alternative past where witches rose to power only to be overtaken and subsequently slaughtered or imprisoned by The Brotherhood, a religious group that is both anti-witch and anti-woman.

It's set in a fascinatingly rich alternative past where girls educations and dreams are squashed by strict behavior rules, mandatory Sunday School and having to choose a husband (or the Sisterhood) before their seventeenth birthday lest it be chosen for then.

Cate is the oldest of the three sisters, she's kept her wildchild self under control to keep a promise she made to dying mother to protect her younger sisters.  But with her seventeenth birthday looming she's not going to be able to protect them much longer.  We meet Cate when she's at the crux point of deciding her future.

My biggest problem with this book was the love triangle. Lately it's an issue I have trouble getting past.  It's becoming the go-to plot device of YA.  But at least in Born Wicked it serves a purpose.  She's not just flitting unnecessarily between two men. She's being forced to decide her future and has only six weeks to make her choice.  I'm willing to be more forgiving because that premise.

I think this book is still worth reading, despite the love triangle. (Me saying that is kinda a big deal)  Because at least if it's going to have some romance it does it well.  Some books don't understand first love.  This book gives us the butterflies, the way you're too aware of the details of your crush and the heart thumping. I've read some books where people kiss without any real chemistry. Born Wicked has plenty of chemistry.  It helps that I find one of the boys very swoon-worthy with his freckles, out of control hair, nose in the book and incompetent gardening skills.

This book has plenty of secrets to give it twists and turns and a prophecy to push to the plot forward.  I really think the love triangle is DONE by the end of book one which makes me say WOOHOO because I like the worldbuilding.  I'm a bit of a sucker for books about structured repressive societies and the women who overcome them.  This is a world where every knock on the door, every sideways glance, every time you speak out of turn is a potential danger.  As a reader that keeps my heart pounding and the page turning.

Even though I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book (oh Love Triangle why did you strike again?) I enjoyed Born Wicked, found it to be a fast read and very atmospheric.  In the end the setting, society and overall premise outweighed my concerns about the love triangle.  The ending leaves me excited and anticipating book 2 (which I intend to read).

Thanks to Mindy from Magical Urban Fantasy Reads for letting me participating in this ARC tour!

(This book led to a very interesting conversations about whether real love triangles exist over on goodreads.  It has nothing to do with the book but I found it interesting. Read it here)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!


(Of course it's form Harry Potter).

I hope your holiday is filled with lots of food, fun, family and plenty of reading times.  May there be lots of book-shaped packages under your tree (or maybe Santa will bring you an e-reader like I got last year).

Have a wonderful lovely Christmas (or whatever you celebrate).  I'm so glad that I've made so many book loving friends this past year! Love you all!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tinfoil Sky (review)

4/5 stars

Whenever I review a book with middle grade leanings I tend to find myself using the same words. "Sweet" and "cute" but neither of those describe Tinfoil Sky.  When I searched my mind the word that I came up with was heartfelt.  This book is full of feeling, genuine and messy yet realistic.
What does it feel like to be in the same place today as you were yesterday, as you will be tomorrow? Cecily liked change. Lots of it. Mel, on the other hand, did not.
In some ways this is a very sad story.  Mel and her mom Cecily leave in the middle of the night, running from Cecily's "creepy" boyfriend.  They return to Cecily's "home" a word that Mel's not really ever experienced.  The thought of a "home" conjures up happy imaginings-- white picket fences, gardens, homemade cookies and everything Mel's only experienced in storybooks.

But when they arrive, Gladys is not the grandma of her dreams.  She's bitter and distrusting, still damaged from Cecily's past betrayals.  She's not the picturesque grandma that you normally see, but something more realistic.  (Not saying that there aren't really wonderful grandmas, but it is rare to see a fictional grumpy grandma which also exist).  Mel quickly realizes home is not everything she expected.

The relationships between the main characters are complicated, landing in that weird place where love and pain meet. I like the fact that even though it's for a younger audience it doesn't simplify or dumb down the complex relationships.  Family is never simple and usually carries more baggage than a middle grade book cares to deal with.  But Tinfoil Sky is willing to explore a very broken family.

Tinfoil Sky is an MG book that tackles real world problems as seen through the eyes of a 12 year old.  It ventures into the subject of abuse, homelessness and eventually forgiveness without ever becoming hopeless or dark.  In the end Tinfoil Sky is a hopeful book without becoming unrealistic.

I want to compliment the cover art for this book.  It's bold, simple and corresponds to the story. Very eye catching!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Team Sophie (Tournament of Heroines)

So those who have followed the Tournament of Heroines over at the YA sisterhood know that my dear Luna Lovegood got beat out by Sophie Mercer from Hex Hall.

You might think that I'd throw my support between Katniss, an obvious favorite for obvious reasons.  But let me tell you a secret.  When I first got selected to be an advocate for the Tournament of Heroines, Sophie was the first name I looked for on the list. I totally skimmed past Luna (there was a Luce & I think that blurred in my mind).  Sophie was already taken but when I saw Luna Lovegood I was like "HECK YEAH" because that's something I could totally get behind.

Then when she got pitted against Sophie, one of my fave YA ladies, I didn't mind.  Because I believed in everything Luna Lovegood represented.  But here's the thing.  Sophie represents something similar.  Yes she's got pretty badass magical powers. But to me Sophie is more than just a powerful witch.  She's not the obvious sort of heroine--she's not a Katniss or a Katsa.

Sophie's actually just the witch version of a teenage delinquent, meaning she hasn't quite figured out how to control her powers and she's been sent away to the juvie version of Hogwarts.

When I think about what makes Sophie heroic, what actually sticks out to me the most is Sophie's friendship with her roomate Jenna.

Jenna is a pink-haired outcast who happens to be a vampire and also happens to be gay.  The other magical folk aren't too fond of vampires--they're considered "unfortunates" and unnatural.  Jenna's at Hex Hall as an experiment in accepting others.  Guess how well that's turning out?

Sophie does want all those things everyone wants in high school--popularity and a hot boyfriend.  And at first she's a little iffy of this Jenna character.  I mean, she's a VAMPIRE.  What if she tries to suck her blood or kills her?  Plus there are rumors about Jenna's last roomate who ended up dead.

But Sophie stands by her friend.  Even though she's committing social suicide, even though she might want to drink Sophie's blood.  That's the type of high school heroics I can also get behind!  Maybe Katniss can bring an opponent down with one shot and ignited a revolution (though let's be honest, she didn't really mean to).  But you know, that feels more fictionalizes and Sophie's heroics more realistic.

A vote for Sophie is a way of saying HECK YEAH to the Heroines who aren't the strongest or even the smartest, but the ones who make the right choices.  Being a heroine is about more than being tough and strong.  Being a heroine is about standing up against bullying and staying loyal to your friends.  That's why this #TeamLuna advocate is throwing her support behind #TeamSophie.  I want to broaden the definition of heroine, beyond the Katniss's to the heroics we can replicate in our everyday life.

Come Friday I hope you'll all join me in voting for Sophie Mercer!

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Fair Godmother (review)

3.5/5 stars

This book is just so cute. It reminds me of my purple sparkly Christmas tree (in a good way - I love my Christmas tree). It's TRYING to be lighthearted, silly and doesn't want you to take it seriously. If you're looking for something deep and brilliant maybe you didn't notice the pink haired fairy on the cover?

Lately I'm into fairytales. My current obsession with Once Upon A Time is probably the reason. But not all fairytales are made equally. Some have more serious undertones (Once Upon a Time & Cinder my most recent book review). This book is different-- silly like a late night slaphappy slumber party with my best friend. Sometimes that's just what I need.

That's not to say this book doesn't have any heart. The story of Savannah and Jane, two sisters who aren't speaking because plain-Jane did teen movie makeover magic (not the real kind of magic, just the kind that you've seen in practically every movie) and stole her sister's boyfriend. This book starts out a little teasingly, like it's going to follow Jane's story.  It makes her sympathetic and likable not just a man-stealing sister.  Then suddenly it pulls the switcheroo and starts following Savannah's point of view. Savannah starts out a little more unsympathetic than Jane.  Savannah's pretty, popular and a little ditzy. It's not that she's a "mean girl" but she's a pretty girl who takes being popular for granted.  But that doesn't make her stupid, or not a good person (she was very kind to Jane right up until she stole her boyfriend).  Maybe just a little lazy.
"Well, what kind of guys do you think half-wit girls get in life? Do you think intelligent guys want to hang out with stupid girls for very long? I would have thought you'd already learned that lesson with the whole Hunter and Jane thing.....(cont.) If you had admired any other qualities you would have developed them in yourself wouldn't you?" -Chrissy, the Fair Godmother
Then a "Fair" (Notice this is not a good or great) godmother gets involved. She's not very good at listening, impatient and due to her ineptitude Savannah's wishes always turn into disasters. For some reason she's stuck on the idea of sending Savannah back to the middle ages where she learns that fairytales are not everything they are cracked up to me.  There also might be a little lesson about trying to take shortcuts in life (hidden behind talking about the dangers of using magic to get what you want).
"Did you think wishes were like kittens, that all they were going to do was purr and cuddle with you?"
This book is a big silly and frothy, but with a dab of friendship and forgiveness thrown in.  If you're ever in a funk this is the perfect book to perk you up.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cinder (review) - Cyborg Cinderella!

4/5 stars

When I saw this book I was like "WHAT?!!?!" Then I was like "Cyborg Cinderella? HECK YEAH!"

This book was perfect for me. I love fairy tales, love re-tellings (hello Once Upon A Time, my new TV love), but I'm also a bit of a nerd. The idea of taking a classic magical fairytale and giving it a sci-fi twist probably makes more excited than I should admit. It's like taking all my favorite things and mushing them together.

I absolutely loved this book. A dystopian future seems to be the perfect setting for fairytale retellings. Cinder has it's dark moments, much like traditional fairy tales, without ever becoming dreary. Let's not forget that fairytales were originally much darker before Disney got ahold of them. Part of me wants to see more dystopian sci-fi fairytales, but then again I doubt most would work quite as well as this novel.

For me the book was a quick read, a book where I started reading and just couldn't stop. The concept was something I immediately loved. I found the character of Cinder believable, the motivations of her evil stepmother and sister believable.

Even once the romance with the prince started (seriously it's Cinderella that is not a spoiler. I know you've at least seen one of the many movies) it worked for me. It was more of a friendship with potential, which is where any relationship should start. His motivations were also believable. I have issues with "love at first sight" stories, and it's hard to retell a fairytale without somehow facing that monster. Cinder did it well, changing the story just enough for a more jaded reader like myself. Fairytales aren't normally believable, but I like retellings that are.

I'm a lover of good sarcasm. Both Cinder and the Prince have a tendency to snark. It makes them feel more realistic and relatable to me.
"I'm sure I'll feel much more grateful when I find a guy who thinks complex wiring in a girl is a turn-on." - Cinder

"Right," said Kai, "that'll be no problem in a city of two and a half million people. Let me go dig out my special Lunar detector, and I'll get right on that." - Prince Kai
I know there were some parts of this book that weren't perfect, parts that I may have rushed through and ignored because it didn't bother me. I was too engrossed to get bogged down by imperfections. I don't know if that makes me a flawed reviewer or a smart reader.

And maybe some people might think the twist at the end is a little predictable. I predicted it 11% into the ebook. But it felt more like foreshadowing. When the revelation came I was like "TOLD YOU SO!" and then I did a happy dance because apparently I'm a 5-year-old.

This is one of the most unique concepts that I've read in awhile. I love that this book has a sequel, because now that I've had a taste of sci-fi Cinderella I already want more.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Heroine Tourney BRIBES - Vote Luna

So if you're following the YAsisterhood's Tournament of Heroines much you will notice that authors are resorting to bribery to get their characters through the first round.

I cannot bribe you as they can. I can not offer you additional scenes (unless you want fanfiction, and I feel like those days are behind me. Not going to deny that I wrote fanfiction once upon a time & they still exist on the internet) or any super secret book related stuff. Because um...I didn't write the books and JK Rowling never seems to tweet. (Actually I think she tweeted one message on repeat for awhile).

But then I thought "What can I do?" and came up with 2 things I have going for me. I can knit fairly well (the scarves pictured above are actually very early knitting projects) and I have a case of Girl Scout cookies in my closet.

Here is my bribe
If Luna WINS against Sophie on Friday I will pick one RANDOM supporter (you need to comment on this blog) to make a Harry Potter item of their choice. It can be a scarf, hat or armwarmers. We can discuss pattern, house color and any other requests later.

AND for another random supporter I will send a box of slightly old Girl Scout cookies (from this past spring). My current selection includes Lemonades, Peanut butter patties (Tag-a-longs) and Carmel Delites (Somoas). I may even be able to scrounge up some Thin Mints.

To enter
1. Comment on this post
2. Tweet in support of Luna Lovegood #HeroineTourney
3. Vote for Luna in the Tournament (honor system obviously)
4. Have an address that I can mail to via my post office

Sunday, December 4, 2011


HEY peeps! This is posted over at YA sisterhood and you can vote on the match till midnight. PLEASE help Luna win this round!


About Luna Lovegood
We first meet Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix She's describe as "loony" and teased by her classmates. She's got wild blonde hair, a unique sense of style and trademark radish earrings. She's the oddball Ravenclaw who reads the Quibbler, believes in nargles and just doesn't seem to fit anywhere. (And this is a school of wizards, so to be the class freak is kind of a big deal).
She shrugged. "I think they think I'm a bit odd, you know. Some people call me 'Loony' Lovegood, actually."

Best Attributes
Luna is always ALWAYS Luna. She doesn't let anyone change her. Even though she's being teased she never wavers from being herself. Luna is aware that she's the outcast and there are heartbreaking mentions of how she wants friends, but she's not willing change herself to be accepted by other people.

What makes Luna a true heroine?
She's smart, loyal to her friends, loves her father, is unflinchingly honest, stands up for what's right, believes in herself, fights I even need to continue? She does it ALL. You're unlikely to find a heroine quite as well-rounded as Luna Lovegood. One of the things that impresses me most about Luna is that all the teasing doesn't seem to phase her. She shrugs it off with a smiles. To me that's amazing.
The key to Luna is that she has that unbelievably rare quality of actually not giving a damn what anyone else thinks of her. Now, if we as adults say honestly how many people we've known like that I think very many of us would say uh none! And Luna's like that. She doesn't actually care. She's so comfortable with being different. She's fearless.
-JK Rowling

What makes Luna better than Sophie?
I'm not going to say anything bad about Sophie. Luna wouldn't, and as her representative why should I? I think Luna and Sophie would get along, could be fictional BFFs and Luna wouldn't even care about Sophie' (if that's even the proper word). What makes Luna better is that she's more comfortable in her own skin than Sophie. Luna is fearless and that is so unbelievably rare even among heroines.

Also I want to say that Luna is the heroine that most teenagers NEED to read. She can give them courage to be themselves. Luna shows that it's okay to be different and eventually no matter how odd, you'll find friends who accept you as you are. That's what stands out about her above ALL the other heroines in the tournament. Luna says "you don't have to fit in," and in a world that seems increasingly plagued by bullying thats an important message. Luna is a message of hope.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I really wish I were more like Luna Lovegood. I also want to include this lovely quote about Luna Lovegood's bedroom. Shows how much she truly loves her friends.
"Luna had decorated her bedroom ceiling with five beautifully painted faces: Harry, Ron, Hermoine, Ginny, and Neville. They were not moving as the portraits at Hogwarts moved, but there was a certain magic about them all the same: Harry thought they breathed. What appeared to be fine golden chains wove around the pictures, linking them together, but after examining them for a minute or so, Harry realized that the chains were actually one word, repeated a thousand times in golden ink: friends...friends...friends."

Eli the Good (review)

Somewhere around 4 out of 5 stars (I'll explain)

I feel a little guilty for the way I treated this book. I've wanted to read it for ages. But I keep putting it off, all while hearing great things from people about it. Then I read it when I'm really in the mood to read something else, distracted and stressed from work. I'm sorry Eli the Good. I did not give you the attention you deserved. It took me about halfway through before I pushed through my distractions and really into the story. But I honestly don't think the book is to blame.

I've heard this called a YA book but I'm still not convinced. The main character is 10, more of a middle-grade age, and it's told from the all-seeing older self perspective. So even though most people call it YA I'm going to disagree. Call it middle grade, call it adult with a child protagonist, but I don't see how you can call it YA.

Ten-year-old Eli reminds me of my childhood (even though the book takes place about 10 years before I was born). He's an innocent but intelligent child, the type of boy who rides his bicycle everywhere and believes that trees have something to say. He's endearing. In many ways I feel like childhood me was a mix of Eli & his best friend Edie (a tomboy of a girl).
"Country people sure do have more stars than anybody else," she said. "We ain't got much but we got the stars."
The fact that the author is from Lily Kentucky (I drive past this community daily) only reinforced the resemblances to my childhood. I kept distracting myself by trying to figure out if this book took place in a real local town (ultimate conclusion: It takes many familiar elements of surrounding towns without specifically being London, Lily, Corbin or Barbourville).

Eli's the child of a Vietnam Vet struggling with memories from the war. The book follows the summer when his father starts losing himself in the memories of the war. It's heartbreaking how the Vietnam Vets weren't honored, appreciated or even taken care of. Sometimes this book feels like a cautionary tale for the current war we find ourselves in. Not about the outcome or politics, but about what might happen when veterans return.
"That's what it was like to be the child of a Vietnam vet, though: we're always caught between defending our fathers and not understanding them."
This is a sentimental book about a more innocent time when children rode bicycles, talked to trees and went swimming in creek. It's the type of book that should be read in the dog-days of summer somewhere with the scent of honeysuckle hanging in the air.

The book wasn't as Southern as I expected. My attempts to read with a Southern accent in my head just muddled things. Occasionally I feel like the adult voiceover interjects a little too much, but overall it works. It's a nice story, different from a lot of the other stories currently being told. The style is different and might take some mental adjustments. But I think it's worth reading.