Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ten Books I Recently Added To My To-Be-Read List

I'm participating in today's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's prompt is:

Ten Books I Recently Added to my TBR List

I'm always adding books to by TBR list, and it makes me sad knowing I'll never get to them all.  But the great thing about this post is that you can help me decide which to read!!  Help me prioritize these books!

10. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Something about this book intrigues me, even though I know almost nothing about it.

9. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
I grew up watching the film, but have never read the book.  Better late than never!

8. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
This just looks cute.  I'll probably wait until my daughter is old enough and then read it together.  

7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I need to know what all the fuss is about.

6. Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
I will be reading this the moment it is released.  No battle.

5. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
I've been meaning to read more Moriarty ever since Big Little Lies.

Every once in a while I feel like a good biography. This could be right up my ally.

3. It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
I've heard such good things, but the way Mr. Vizzini died makes this book harder to read.

See the above comment about The Princess Bride.

1. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Ever since Bridget gushed about this series on my Series Series I've been wanting to read this!

What have you recently added to your list?  And which of these should I read first??  Are there any here that I should skip?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Weekly Words: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Friday, March 27, 2015

Feature Friday: Fake Self-Help Books in Real Bookstores

In case you could use a chuckle.

Jeff Wysaski, public prankster extraordinaire, is at it again with a new series of hilarious bookshop pranks... he has now planted self-help books with fake covers for unsuspecting shoppers to discover as they browse the aisles of an unnamed bookstore in West Hollywood.
The books are just fake covers placed on old used books, but it makes you wish he’d write a book just to see what he’d say about dealing with children who are centaurs.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen


Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
Rating: 3 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Many readers know the tale of Robin Hood, but they will be swept away by this new version full of action, secrets, and romance. 

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for."

Review: Scarlet is not my favorite book I've ever read.  There are several reasons for this.  A list of said reasons:

1. Scarlet's annoying insistence to speak with the worst possible grammar.  I understand that she is trying to pass as a commoner, but it was way too over the top and distracting.  It really bothered me throughout the entire novel.

2. There is a love triangle, which, for me, is bad.  But this one is exceptionally bad because it's between Robin Hood and Little John.  WHAT IN THE WORLD.  I will say no more on this issue, because it is way too conducive to eye rolling.

3. The only character I cared about was Much, and even that is probably only because he wasn't in love with Scarlet.  This book contains that strange trope where the Girl is constantly rude, rash, and insecure, and yet has basically every major male character falling over themselves in love with her for no apparent reason.  Cue more eye rolling.  

4. The "mystery" of Scarlet's true identity is so glaringly obvious, it bothered me that none of the other characters had figured it out.

So, basically, I did not care for any of the dialogue, main characters, or angst that this book offers.  That being said, I was surprised at how much I loved the action scenes and the villain.  Gaughen really does a great job at executing an action scene.  I felt each of my senses perk up as Scarlet and her band stormed the castle, or schemed a break out, or went pick pocketing.  I could feel the dust and see the jewels sparkle, and I could feel my adrenaline go up each time things inevitably went wrong.

I also thought that Gisbourne was a fantastic villain.  He was vicious and ruthless, but there was also an air of mystery about him that made me feel like he could be hiding behind any curtain, waiting to pounce.  That element of suspense and danger very much saved this story, for me.  

There were things that worked and things that didn't work for me in this story.  I'm unsure if I will be continuing this series or not.  Has anyone read Lady Thief?  Should I read it?  Is it any better than Scarlet?  

For me, there was too much eye rolling on my part to really love this story, despite some great action scenes and a deliciously malicious villain.  It's a shame, because I thought there was a lot of potential that went unfilled.  

Review in a GIF:
sad animated GIF

Bottom Line: Robin Hood fans might enjoy this retelling from Maid Marian's point of view, though be warned: there is much to frustrate you in this story.  Take heart in knowing that other reviewers found this book to be much more enjoyable than I did.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cover Reveal for Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman

The cover for Harper Lee's sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird has been released!  It definitely has the feel of her TKAM cover with the tree and the font, but the train is a new addition.

Are you going to read this?  I have this weird thing where I sometimes won't read sequels if I love the first book too much, for fear that it will somehow diminish the story as a whole.  Do you ever do that?  It's why I haven't read the sequels to Ender's Game and The Giver.  (And it's also why I tend to steer clear of fan fiction.)  Even though a large part of me thinks I'm crazy for even considering not reading Go Set a Watchman, I'm not sure if I'll read this or not.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a story that means the world to me, and I don't know if I can read about Scout and Jem in any other format.  We'll have to wait and see what the reviews say.  Meanwhile, please feel free to talk me in/out of reading this.  :)  And tell me what you think of that cover?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Top Ten Books From My Childhood That I Would Love To Revisit

I'm participating in today's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's prompt is:

Top Ten Books From My Childhood That I Would Love to Revisit

There are dozens and dozens of books that I want to (and plan on) revisiting, so, in order to tone it down to ten, I wrote this post thinking of the ten middle grade books that I would love to read again for the first time.  Ready?  Here's my list!

10. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Magic by Betty MacDonald
Before there was Harry Potter, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle made me believe in magic within my own world.

9. Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar
I was very much drawn to the more wacky and humorous stories as a kid.  Turns out that hasn't changed much.

This was the first time I had encountered a fairy tale as told from a different point of view.  And it was awesome.

7. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Oh, I loved this book so much.  I can't wait to read it to my kids one day.

6. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
As a child that was not at all drawn to cowboys or Indians, this book still managed to win me over.

5. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I was a huge Laura Ingalls Wilder fan as a girl.  Somehow it escaped my knowledge that Ms. Wilder was a real person until high school.  When I found out.... *fireworks in brain*

4. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Having many siblings myself, I loved stories about siblings watching out for each other.

3. Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
This book slays me.  So, so fantastically awesome.

2. The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
As the brunette sister surrounded by blonde beauties growing up, I found a lot to relate to in this story. 

1. Matilda by Roald Dahl
Oh, Matilda.  You will always be my favorite.

What's on your list?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Weekly Words: Annonymous

Friday, March 20, 2015

Feature Friday: Famous Writers' Report Cards

There is something awesome about knowing people like E.E. Cummings and Norman Mailer got some poor marks in school.  Here's a few report cards from Open Culture:

Norman Mailer:

E.E. Cummings:

Ernest Hemmingway:

Anne Sexton:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review: Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey


Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
Rating: 4 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good...and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt. 

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission...and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair...and beyond.  Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear. 

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel's Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new."

Review:  This fantasy novel was recommended by a friend, and I have to admit, when I said I'd read this book I had no idea how long it was. It falls in the vein of traditional fantasy, with long passages and wordy descriptions, and a lot of travelogues featuring unlikely companions.  Over 900 pages worth of it.  It's a long, long book, and it felt long.  But this book undoubtedly has its strengths as well: the worldbuilding and the intricate plotting were really well done, and the elements of mystery kept me going through the more wordy chapters.

In fact, for a book this long, I was amazed at how everything felt crucial to the plot.  It's one of those stories where there are blood feuds, ambitious schemers, and high stakes gamblers, all rolled together in a quest to come out on top.  There are a lot of different characters with a lot of different agendas, and Phedre has to juggle them all.  There are so many different things going on that I think there were at least four major villains in the story (plus your fair share of ambiguous characters) some working together and some not.  It was certainly an ambitious story, and I applaud the complexity.

It may have been too convoluted, though.  I struggled to remember the names of all the many characters, and how they related to everyone else in this story.  There is a cast list at the beginning of the book, but it wasn't detailed enough to help me piece tidbits together when I had trouble remembering everything.  On the one hand, I could understand why it wasn't detailed:  to give too much information would be to reveal some spoilers in the story.  But it was frustrating for me to have a character appear who I had met before but couldn't remember since 400 pages and 75 other characters had come through since our initial meeting.  This happened multiple times.  It was discouraging.

I have to be honest, I'd never read a courtesan-spy novel before.  I was a little nervous going in, since the whole pain-is-pleasure thing is not my jelly.  Happily, the courtesan scenes were not too graphic, nor were they very extended.  Much of those scenes were partially written, with a fade-to-black sentence cutting off the scene.  In fact, most of what we are shown are the moments when Phedre uses her cunning to glean information from her clients.  I still could have gone without most of those scenes, for my personal taste.

This book is a fantasy, but there are no creatures other than humans in the story.  No elves, dwarfs, orcs, or the like in this book.  Magic is limited to a small handful of characters who act as seers or fortune tellers, and one other mystical force that controls the water called the Master of the Straights.  In fact, there was so little magic that the Master of the Straights felt out of place.  I never could get behind that plot line.  But the seers were dope.  I loved the tidbits that they would offer, and loved seeing how their words and cautions were (mis)understood and (mis)applied.

I've mentioned that this book is long.  I appreciated and admired the giant scale of the novel, and since I enjoy political intrigue, I was interested in the story. It did feel too long, though.  I felt like there were whole (100+ page) sections that could have been entirely cut.  And I didn't like that it was told as if it had happened a long time ago for the protagonist, as I felt that took away from the tension and suspense in certain moments. However, I was impressed with the author's way of tying all the threads together in the end. I truly did not see how that could be accomplished, even with only fifty pages to go in the end, yet she impressively pulled it off. I'd recommend this to traditional fantasy lovers who prefer a lot of slow but satisfying political intrigue and spy stuff. I would not recommend this to anyone under 18, though, as some scenes were strong.

Review in a GIF:
reaction animated GIF

Bottom Line: This is a strong installment in the cannon, and adult fantasy lovers will likely enjoy much about this novel.  The political intrigue was particularly complex and enticing.  Some readers may be put off by some strong material, however.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book-to-Theme-Park: The Hunger Games

Alternate Post Title: When Lionsgate Became the Capitol

From Deadline:

"Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer told analysts this morning that he’s “actively looking at some development and thinking about prequel and sequel possibilities” for the Hunger Games franchise.

...Look for additional exhibitions — and possibly a theme park attraction. “We are in significant conversations with at least one theme park,” Feltheimer says."

I get that Lionsgate is in this primarily for the money, but turning an anti-war story into a theme park is way, way too problematic to even consider.  It bothers me that this is even a conversation.  I mean, what would those roller coasters even look like?  I was very happy with the Harry Potter theme park decision, but, according to me, it does not fit this story.  At all.  


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR List

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!  I'm participating in today's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's prompt is:

Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR List

10. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
I feel like I've been waiting for years to read this book.  In reality, it's only been one year.  BUT ONE YEAR IS STILL A REALLY LONG TIME.

9. The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski

8. Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
It's about time I finished this Mistborn series, though I know a couple of spoilers that make it hard for me to want to pick up this last book.

7. Defy by Sara B. Larson
Sounds like a captivating story, plus she's a local author!

6. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Ever since Big Little Lies I've been craving more Moriarty.

5. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
I believe this is a debut novel, and one I am particularly looking forward to reading.  I've heard from those lucky enough to get ARCs that this series is going to be huge.

4. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
I originally dismissed this book because that cover is horribly blah, but all the good reviews have me reconsidering.

3. 5 to 1 by Holly Bodger
I've never read anything by Ms. Bodger before, but that summary has me positively reeling to read this.

2. The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale
Bring it on, Ms. Hale.  Bring. It. On.

1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
I have been dying to read this book since the moment I heard about it.  May cannot get here soon enough.

What are you looking forward to reading this Spring?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Weekly Words: Oscar Wilde

Friday, March 13, 2015

Feature Friday: Sorting Random Celebrities into Hogwarts Houses

The whole article is pretty funny, but I've only included a portion of it, and its sorted celebrities, here.  (Also, will someone please tell me why almost all the comedians got put in Hufflepuff?)  Click on through for the full article.

From Entertainment Weekly:
"...it’s worth mentioning that only a small portion of the stars on this list would ever reach superstardom in the world of Harry Potter. Wizards are really into things like musicians and athletes and, weirdly enough, historians. Actors aren’t really a thing. Eschewing a Walk of Fame, wizard A-listers know they’ve made it when they’re featured on the back of a Chocolate Frog Card, likely because they either invented or killed something. And so, fame would elude most of this list, unless Meryl Streep has a secret background in slaying feral Hippogriffs (which is likely).Using the power of imagination and a deep well of fully formed opinions about celebrities I’ve never met, I have chosen to act on my prejudices and make the painful decisions you didn’t know you needed made for you. Thus, here is a list of 150 celebrities and their unequivocal, indisputable placement in Hogwarts houses."

Kris Jenner
Bert from Sesame Street
Charlie Sheen
Kristen Stewart
Alec Baldwin
Gaston from Beauty and the Beast
Matt Lauer
Victoria Beckham
Idina Menzel
Hulk Hogan
Betty White
Joe Jonas

Josh Hutcherson
Tom Hanks
Jimmy Fallon
Ernie from Sesame Street
Katy Perry
Mindy Kaling
Jack Black
Zooey Deschanel
Ty Burrell
Pocahontas (original)
Pocahontas (Disney)
Ben Affleck
Queen Latifah
Tyra Banks in Life Size
Bob Marley
Carrie Underwood

Robert Downey Jr.
Harriet the Spy
Oprah Winfrey
Taylor Swift
B.J. Novak
Jim Parsons
Tina Fey
Natalie Portman
Andy Serkis
Christoph Waltz
Bryan Cranston
Lisa Kudrow
Stephen Colbert
George Clooney
Angelina Jolie
Morgan Freeman
Peter Dinklage

Matt Damon
Jay Z
Julia Roberts
Elton John
Serena Williams
Meryl Streep
Samuel L. Jackson
Emma Stone
Tom Hiddleston
Celine Dion
Ian McKellen
Jennifer Lawrence
Jon Stewart
Sara Bareilles

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Review: Stray by Elissa Sussman


Stray (Four Sisters #1) by Elissa Sussman
Rating: 2.75 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "I am grateful for my father, who keeps me good and sweet. I am grateful for my mother, who keeps her own heart guarded and safe. I am grateful for my adviser, who keeps me protected. I am grateful for the Path, which keeps me pure. Ever after.

Princess Aislynn has long dreamed about attending her Introduction Ball, about dancing with the handsome suitors her adviser has chosen for her, about meeting her true love and starting her happily ever after.

When the night of the ball finally arrives and Nerine Academy is awash with roses and royalty, Aislynn wants nothing more than to dance the night away, dutifully following the Path that has been laid out for her. She does not intend to stray.

But try as she might, Aislynn has never quite managed to control the magic that burns within her-magic brought on by wicked, terrible desires that threaten the Path she has vowed to take.

After all, it is wrong to want what you do not need. Isn’t it?"

Review: It's not everyday you read a book from a fairy godmother's point of view.  Stray hooked me with its gorgeous cover and the promise of a glimpse into the inner workings of fairy godmothers, though when I actually opened the book, I was not very happy with what I got.

Reading the first half of Stray was like hitting my head against a wall.  The way the government in this story is set up is so obviously rife with flaws, I thought every single character should have seen the potential for corruption fifty miles away, and I couldn't believe no one had taken advantage of the imbalance of power before.  

The cherry on top was the patriarchy.  I get that this is Ms. Sussman's story, and if she wants to write a story set in a world heavily dominated by patriarchy, that is her prerogative.  Just like it's my prerogative to hate it.  Seriously, it drove me crazy.  

Then there's Aislynn.  Aislynn is so empty-headed and compliant for most of the novel, I couldn't find it in me to root for her.  At one point another character describes her as "brave and clever," and my immediate reaction was, "...her?"  She clearly has no control over her life, but what really irked me was that she didn't seem to have even the slightest desire to control her own life.  She's the picture of blandness, and I really couldn't find a single characteristic in her that was anywhere near "brave" or "clever."  It's not that she had an unlikable personality, it was more that she had no personality at all.

Also, there's not really much of a plot.  There are clearly shady things happening, but we don't know many of the reasons behind them, nor are we clued into the stakes at hand.  (Other than Aislynn's potential "redirection," which was a pretty weak threat - she might become a teacher instead of a fairy godmother... ooooohhh, I'm quaking with sarcastic fear.) 

So imagine my surprise when 50% through the novel, things started to change.  Aislynn started growing a (little bit) of a back bone, (finally!) started questioning the wisdom behind the decisions others were making, and made friends with a motely crew with an intriguing secret.  If anything, I kept reading because I wanted to follow the side characters' stories, though I was glad that Aislynn was apparently becoming her own person.  I also really liked how the tales of the four sisters was suggested to be tampered with, and I wanted to discover the truth behind their power.  Mostly, I was really happy with Aislynn's fairy godmother's rebellious streak.

Then, about 75% through the novel, things REALLY started to change.  Aislynn gets thrown into a completely different situation, suddenly grasps control of her power, and becomes this fierce and determined and decisive character.  Suddenly (and I mean, really suddenly) she is not only influential to the plot, but central to its outcome.  The last 25% of the novel was really wonderful to read, as most everything that bothered me before seemed to be changed.

BUT.  Wonderful though it was, it was also really jarring.  It didn't feel like the same book at all.  Aislynn, especially, felt like a completely different character, and it felt like too much growth too quickly to be plausible.  So, while I enjoyed reading the end of the novel, I was haunted by a feeling that I was reading a totally different book.

I feel like the first 75% of this novel should have been saved as a prequel novella, while the last 25% should have been the start of this series.  It would have been much less frustrating and confusing if it had been divided that way.  Though I enjoyed the last quarter of the novel quite a bit, it was too little, too late. 

Review in a GIF:
confused animated GIF

Bottom Line: Stray was a frustrating read most of the time, but it left me with a mostly positive vibe.  Fairy tale fans will probably find something to like in this story, though the overwhelming patriarchal vibe of the whole novel may be grating.