Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten Book Covers of 2013

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I die for a good book cover.  

To me, when it comes to book covers, less is more. I think book covers often detract from the book itself, rather than adding to it, or adequately reflecting it.  
I've been known to throw book jackets away, preferring the simple hard back to the flashy outside. (I often have a similar feeling when it comes to people, but that's another discussion.)  Sometimes, though, book cover designers really knock it out of the park, and make me drool with their creativity, subtlety, and eye for the aesthetic.

Here are my favorite covers of books released in 2013.  Not my favorite books, just my favorite covers.  (Thanks to Jenny from Wonderous Reads for the post idea!)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Rating: 2.25 stars
Source: Local Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen."

ReviewI realize I am in the minority here, giving it only two stars. Maybe my expectations were too high. I certainly didn't expect this story. I just thought that a book called "The Scorpio Races" would actually feature The Scorpio Races before page 380 (out of 404). The build up was extremely lengthy, and the wrap up extremely brief. This book does the shifting perspective thing, where each chapter is from the point of view of a different character (sometimes switching multiple times within a single chapter). I tend to dislike that narrative device, personally, and this book was no exception. 

I really didn't care for Puck, though I loved her name. And, what the heck was the whole Gabe plot line?  Also, the word "scorpio" makes me think of scorpions, which made me think that this book took place somewhere in the desert, probably in the Middle East, or maybe Africa. So the whole Irish thing really threw me. Am I alone on this? Anyone? Anyone? 

Ahem. Looking back, I can appreciate the atmospheric prose describing the island and its salty residents, but the story itself took forever to get through. I think that had I been warned about the pace of this story I would have enjoyed it more. As it is, this book was like a cup of green tea, which isn't a bad thing, but is a little jarring when you're expecting an Arabian red bull.

Weekly Words: Haruki Murakami

Friday, December 27, 2013

Feature Friday: OED Birthday Word Generator

In case you need to kill a few minutes while digesting another round of Christmas leftovers, click here.

I got: "shopaholic."

I'm trying not to read too much into that.

What's yours?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book-to-Film: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The poster has been released:
I find it kind of funny that both of these actors (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort) have main roles in both this film and Divergent, the large difference being that they play siblings in one film and lovers in the other.  Must be confusing for them.  (Cue uncontrollable and probably inappropriate giggling.)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holly Jolly

To all who are celebrating, I wish you a happy, safe, and peaceful Christmas!
May your holiday be merry and bright.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Rating: 5 stars
Source: Local Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten."

ReviewI am in serious book love, people.  A friend of mine said that this is a book that you feel more than you read.  I think she nailed it on the head.  Hazel and Augustus are not your typical high school kids.  But their story about confronting life and death, hope and bitterness, empathy and apathy, all transcends their situation.  It was an absolute pleasure to read this character driven novel.

I think people are drawn to musings about death.  It is one of two events that occur universally to everyone, everywhere.  (The other event, of course, being birth.)  It is, therefore, natural that we as a people are fascinated by it, despite its morbidity.  How life and death affect us and those around us is the main focus of this novel.  It's a deep topic, and the book treats it as such.  But it is not preachy or manipulative or esoteric.  Instead, it shows what it feels like to confront your own mortality, and the mortality of those around you.  It makes you feel grief, fury, despair, hope, longing, tenderness, and love.  In short, it completely batters your heart.  But don't let that deter you from reading this book.  What are hearts for, after all, if not for feeling?

I disagreed with some of the philosophies the characters held, and recognized that the dialogue was probably too witty, but I was more than willing to forgive those faults for the sake of Hazel and Augustus' story.  It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me want to be better, kinder, and more thoughtful. It's smart, unapologetic, difficult, poignant, and yet somehow hilarious. It's one of those books that make you look at life a little differently.  I would give this book 6 stars, if I could.  I loved it.

Weekly Words: Dr. Seuss

Friday, December 20, 2013

Feature Friday: YA Article Bingo

YA books are pretty big these days, and as a result there are many articles written about YA books spattered across the internets.  I've read a fair amount of them, and while I like that books are a topic of conversation, many of these articles clearly have no idea what they're talking about.  One such article was recently published by Laura C. Mallonee entitled "Time for Teen Fantasy Heroines to Grow Up."  (I won't share the link because it's not really worth the read.  I'm sure you could find it via a quick Google search if you really wanted to.)  I am actually glad that this dumb article was written, though, because it prompted this response , complete with a YA Article Bingo board.  If you've ever read anything about YA, this will likely ring true to you.  I had a good chuckle.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cool Covers: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

In case I haven't adequately confessed it yet, I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan.  Big. Huge. Fan.  I frequently stock the fan sites, follow Pinterest boards dedicated to the Potter Universe, and will read anything J.K. Rowling writes on principle.  The news last week that the series was getting a makeover made me wonder what Potter artwork already existed.  Here are a bunch of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone covers from around the world.  I'm not sure any single image is perfect, but altogether it kind of works, no?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book-to-Film: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone has been on Hollywood's to-film list for a while, along with the rest of the YA cannon.  It looks like this one might actually happen, though.  Universal Pictures has the film rights to this story, and has recently found a director to helm the project.  From Collider:
Universal Pictures has chosen a director for the studio’s adaptation of the Laini Taylor YA fantasy novel Daughter of Smoke & Bone.  Heat Vision reports that commercials director Michael Gracey will take the helm of the project, which revolves around a 17-year-old art student whose father sends her all over the world collecting human teeth for a mysterious purpose.  The young woman soon realizes that she’s part of an ancient struggle between angels and demons, and finds herself in a love affair with a warrior angel.  Stuart Beattie (Collateral) initially penned the screenplay with subsequent rewrites by Taylor, and Joe Roth (Alice in WonderlandSnow White and the Huntsman) will produce.
Here’s the synopsis for Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone:
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 found the book to be totally bizarre, in all the best ways. I don't even know what genre it is. (action/adventure? paranormal? fantasy? romance?) I can appreciate the imagination and creativity behind this kind of story, but I found the romance to be a bit MUCH. There were many innovative things going on in the first half of the story, but the second half got completely bogged down with all the swooning going on. I fear that a film would amplify the angst, instead of enhancing the already well-imagined world that Karou and her conflict-filled comrades inhabit.  We'll have to see about this one.  (Note: I have not read, nor do I have any immediate plans to read book 2 or book 3 [to be released 4.8.14] of this trilogy, but I hear it gets better.  Not sure how much better, but maybe there's hope.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top Ten Most Anticipated Books of 2014

For birthdays and holiday seasons, I mostly just ask for books.  This year, though, there were a lot of books that I'm really looking forward to reading that aren't going to be released in time for Christmas.  How about a literary St. Patrick's Day gift, spouse?  Totally romantic, right??  Anyway, here are the top ten I'm most looking forward to this coming year...

Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi (Under the Never Sky Book 3)
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Their love and their leadership have been tested. Now it's time for Perry and Aria to unite the Dwellers and the Outsiders in one last desperate attempt to bring balance to their world.
The race to the Still Blue has reached a stalemate. Aria and Perry are determined to find this last safe-haven from the Aether storms before Sable and Hess do-and they are just as determined to stay together.
Meanwhile, time is running out to rescue Cinder, who was abducted by Hess and Sable for his unique abilities. And when Roar returns to camp, he is so furious with Perry that he won't even look at him, and Perry begins to feel like they have already lost.
Out of options, Perry and Aria assemble a team to mount an impossible rescue mission-because Cinder isn't just the key to unlocking the Still Blue and their only hope for survival, he's also their friend. And in a dying world, the bonds between people are what matter most.
In this final book in her stunning Under the Never Sky trilogy, Veronica Rossi raises the stakes to their absolute limit and brings her epic love story to an unforgettable close.

Cress by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles Book 3)
Release Date: February 4, 2014
Rapunzel’s tower is a satellite. She can’t let down her hair—or her guard. 
In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army. 
Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. 
When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.

Release Date: July 8, 2014
Growing up on Forge’s streets has taught Kyra how to stretch a coin. And when that’s not enough, her uncanny ability to scale walls and bypass guards helps her take what she needs. But when the leader of the Assassins Guild offers Kyra a lucrative job, she hesitates. She knows how to get by on her own, and she’s not sure she wants to play by his rules. But he’s persistent—and darkly attractive—and Kyra can’t quite resist his pull.
Tristam of Brancel is a young Palace knight on a mission. After his best friend is brutally murdered by Demon Riders, a clan of vicious warriors who ride bloodthirsty wildcats, Tristam vows to take them down. But as his investigation deepens, he finds his efforts thwarted by a talented thief, one who sneaks past Palace defenses with uncanny ease.
When a fateful raid throws Kyra and Tristam together, the two enemies realize that their best chance at survival—and vengeance—might be to join forces. And as their loyalties are tested to the breaking point, they learn a startling secret about Kyra’s past that threatens to reshape both their lives.
In her arresting debut novel, Livia Blackburne creates a captivating world where intrigue prowls around every corner—and danger is a way of life.

Release Date: June 3, 2014
The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.
(Cover not yet released.)  

Release Date: March 4, 2014

Maisie Danger Brown just wanted to get away from home for a bit, see something new. She never intended to fall in love. And she never imagined stumbling into a frightening plot that kills her friends and just might kill her, too. A plot that is already changing life on Earth as we know it. There's no going back. She is the only thing standing between danger and annihilation.
From NY Times bestselling author Shannon Hale comes a novel that asks, How far would you go to save the ones you love? And how far would you go to save everyone else?


Release Date: June 10th 2014 
An action-packed,  futuristic debut thriller set in a world where the murder rate is higher than the birthrate. For fans of Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, La Femme Nikita, and the movie Hanna.
Meadow Woodson, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been trained by her father to fight, to kill, and to survive in any situation, lives with her family on a houseboat in Florida. The state is controlled by The Murder Complex, an organization that tracks the population with precision.
The plot starts to thicken when Meadow meets Zephyr James, who is—although he doesn’t know it—one of the MC’s programmed assassins. Is their meeting a coincidence? Destiny? Or part of a terrifying strategy? And will Zephyr keep Meadow from discovering the haunting truth about her family?
Action-packed, blood-soaked, and chilling, this is a dark and compelling debut novel by Lindsay Cummings

Release Date: March 4th 2014 
Seventeen-year-old Kestrel is an aristocratic citizen of Valoria, a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers. Here, a girl like Kestrel has two choices: join the military or get married. Despite her skills in military strategy, Kestrel’s real passion is music. Which is why she feels compelled to buy Arin, a slave with a talent for singing, at auction. It’s not long before she finds herself falling in love with Arin, and he seems to feel the same for her. But Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for Arin is much higher than she ever could have imagined.
Set in a new world, The Winner’s Curse is a story of wicked rumors, dirty secrets, and games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.
Release Date: July 22, 2014
Delancy Sullivan has always known there’s more to reality than what people see. Every time someone makes a choice, a new, parallel world branches off from the existing one. Eating breakfast or skipping it, turning left instead of right, sneaking out instead of staying in bed ~ all of these choices create an alternate universe in which an echo self takes the road not travelled and makes the opposite decision. As a Walker, someone who can navigate between these worlds, Del’s job is to keep all of the dimensions in harmony.
Normally, Del can hear the dissonant frequency that each world emits as clear as a bell. But when a training session in an off-key world goes horribly wrong, she is forbidden from Walking by the Council. But Del’s not big on following the rules and she secretly starts to investigate these other worlds. Something strange is connecting them and it’s not just her random encounters with echo versions of the guy she likes, Simon Lane.
But Del’s decisions have unimaginable consequences and, as she begins to fall for the Echo Simons in each world, she draws closer to a truth that the Council of Walkers is trying to hide ~ a secret that threatens the fate of the entire multiverse.

Release Date: February 27, 2014

Natalya knows a secret.A magical Faberge egg glows within the walls of Russia's Winter Palace.It holds a power rooted in the land and stolen from the mystics.A power that promises a life of love for her and Alexei Romanov.Power, that, in the right hands, can save her way of life.
But it's not in the right hands.
An epic romance with glittering magical elements, TSARINA is swirling with beautiful prose, stark Russian contrasts, and lavish visuals perfect for fans of Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty. 

Untitled (Cormoran Strike #2) by Robert Galbraith (Pseudonym), J.K. Rowling
Release Date: August 1, 2014
A second thriller from the author of "complex and compelling" (Publishers Weekly) THE CUCKOO'S CALLING (Mulholland 04/2013).
UNTITLED ROBERT GALBRAITH NOVEL will feature Cormoran Strike, ex-soldier and protagonist from Galbraith's debut novel THE CUCKOO'S CALLING, in a new mystery set in the streets of London.
Cormoran Strike once again traverses the social strata of British society in search of answers in a case presented to his PI agency, setting in motion an dangerous and thrilling cat-and-mouse game reminiscent of the mystery genre's greatest, most influential writers.
(Cover not yet released.) 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Rating: 3.5 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life."

Review: On the cover of Seraphina there is a blurb by author Christopher Paolini praising this book.  It's not that unusual for a book to have a blurb of praise on its cover, but the fact that Christopher Paolini's name appeared right above the title, Seraphina, was perhaps not the smartest move on the cover designer's part.  You see, in Paolini's famous Inheritance series there is a dragon named Seraphina.  So when I saw Paolini's name here, my first thought, before ever opening the first page of this book, was: I bet Seraphina's a dragon.

I can't say too much about Seraphina's genetics without going all spoilery on you, but suffice it to say that my initial suspicion really took the punch out of a few early scenes.  Plus, I found Seraphina herself to be an incredibly frustrating character.  At one point, someone comes barging into Seraphina's room and assaults her.  What does Seraphina do in this situation?  Run?  Hide?  Call for help?  Defend herself?  Nope.  She apologizes.  For being assaulted.  That pretty much depicts Seraphina for the first half of the book.  Girl's got serious self esteem issues.  (Not to mention some other issues, such as her need to tend her mental garden filled with "grotesques" on a daily basis.)  But instead of hoping she would learn some confidence and self acceptance, I was primarily just annoyed with her.  Since the first couple hundred pages deal primarily with Seraphina's difficulty in coming to terms with herself, well, that was a long time to feel annoyed.  

The second half of the book really picks up.  There is a plot besides Seraphina lounging in self-pity, it turns out.  And once we dive into the plot, the book actually gets quite good.  I was still frequently frustrated with Seraphina.  She has a box of memories that could help uncover information to help solve her problems, but she ignores them for NO REASON WHATSOEVER.  (Can you tell that I was bugged?)  But my enjoyment of the plot and my questions about the auxiliary characters kept me going.  At its core, Seraphina is essentially a who-dun-it, with several characters as plausible bad guys.  I enjoyed the shroud of suspicion cast over the characters, and guessing at who was responsible for what events.  The final reveal was satisfying; not completely out of left field, but not obvious either.

This book is not perfect.  The first half of the book should be half as long as it is, but it's worth it to get to the second half.  I also was unaware that this book is the first in a series.  I had erroneously believed it to be a standalone.  I wish I had known that beforehand.  The idea of dragons that can fold themselves into human shape is a fantastic idea, but other than the extremely impressive ability to fold ones-giant-lizard-self into a human, the dragons didn't really do anything.  Also, besides the presence of dragons, this book doesn't have many other elements that one would associate with the fantasy genre.  It's more of a low fantasy book.  Not a bad thing, just FYI.  

Despite the elements that bugged, there were some things that I liked immensely.  The supporting cast was really fantastic.  The eccentric but lovable Orma, the inquisitive and sensitive Kiggs, the effervescent and jovial Glisselda, I could go on.  As much as I didn't care for Seraphina, I loved those around her.  The book addresses xenophobia head on, in all its ignorant glory.  There are some really wonderfully written action scenes.  The incorporation of religion was interesting and helped with the world building without being superfluous or distracting.  I loved reading about the different parts of town, the slums, the palace, and so on.  But my favorite parts were the side characters.

This book will probably be enjoyed by those who like fiction but aren't terribly interested in high fantasy, and to those who like reading about the medieval period.

Weekly Words: Annonymous

Found via Pinterest.  Original source is probably Belcastro Agency, as that is where the link leads, but I do not see it on their website, so I cannot confirm.  If you know this quote's original source, please share!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Feature Friday: Like, Try, Why Infographics

Happy Friday the 13th!  I feel like I should feature something Wiccan or something today.  How about book infographics instead?
Molly from Wrapped Up In Books has a series on her blog called Like, Try, Why, where she recommends books based on other books readers liked.

I always enjoy seeing what she recommends, and have enjoyed discovering new books that I hadn't heard of before.
She has lists based on fantasy, sci-fi, dystopia, paranormal, magic, real girls, fairy tales, history, and many others.
She is clearly very familiar with a wide range of YA books.  Her job as a librarian probably helps with that.
You may have seen some of her infographics before, as they are very well done and visually appealing, and often make the rounds on social media sites.

I learned about her from a guest post she did on Stacked.  (A site that probably deserves its own Feature Friday post.)  You can read the guest post here, if you're interested in readers advisory, librarianship, book lists, or are just looking for something insightful to read.

If you're stuck and don't know what book to read next, I'd recommend checking out her infographics for help!  They've certainly helped me before!