1.21.2015

Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Summary: Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today’s bestselling teen authors—John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle—the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.

Review: What to do here? Let's take this one at a time:

"The Jubilee Express" by Maureen Johnson - This one was cute. I really liked the thing about her parents' hardcore miniatures collection; it was a fun detail that definitely added to the cuteness factor. I liked the love story, although the more I read and older I get, the less patience I have with super-quick love stories like this one. Although that's the nature of story collections like these, so I guess it's my own fault.

"A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle" by John Green - I think John Green sometimes overrates the charm of clever teenagers, which is probably just proof that I'm not a clever teenager anymore. I also found this story a bit unbelievable, because too many things Happened, and it felt like they were just Happening for Making the Story Longer purposes.

"The Patron Saint of Pigs" by Lauren Myracle - Aaand this is where it all fell apart for me. Although there was some charm to it, I couldn't really take it seriously. This girl is SUPER self-absorbed, and nobody's ever told her that before? And then this one thing happens, and suddenly a switch is flipped and now she's not conceited any more? How convenient.
(As a side note: The only other thing I've read by Lauren Myracle is her story in Prom Nights From Hell, which already left a bad taste in my mouth bc it's not even an original story -- it's just a rehashed, prom-themed version of "The Monkey's Paw".) I did like the wrap-up scene at the end, with all the characters from the other stories, just for the sake of closure.

Overall, it was nice to read a Christmas book at Christmas time (because I wasn't really feeling Christmas time -- Christmas isn't ubiquitous here like it is in the US), but most of the good feelings I have for it are for sentiment's sake, not based on its own merits.

Goodreads Shelves: addictive, bechdel-test, fluffy, is-this-a-kissing-book

Rating

1.17.2015

Challenge Accepted! 2015 EBook Reading Challenge

Ok, one more reading challenge.


2015 EBook Reading Challenge
Hosted by Annette at Annette's Book Spot

Since I do most of my reading on my Nook these days, I've actually been looking for a challenge like this one (albeit not very hard). So when I noticed the other day that one of the blogs I follow had signed up for it, I decided to go for it. 

Level: Megabytes
Goal: 25 ebooks

1.15.2015

Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty

Summary: Sloppy Firsts: “My parents suck ass. Banning me from the phone and restricting my computer privileges are the most tyrannical parental gestures I can think of. Don’t they realize that Hope’s the only one who keeps me sane? . . . I don’t see how things could get any worse.”

When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated. A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone. How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad’s obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany’s lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

A fresh, funny, utterly compelling fiction debut by first-time novelist Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts is an insightful, true-to-life look at Jessica’s predicament as she embarks on another year of teenage torment--from the dark days of Hope’s departure through her months as a type-A personality turned insomniac to her completely mixed-up feelings about Marcus Flutie, the intelligent and mysterious “Dreg” who works his way into her heart. Like a John Hughes for the twenty-first century, Megan McCafferty taps into the inherent humor and drama of the teen experience. This poignant, hilarious novel is sure to appeal to readers who are still going through it, as well as those who are grateful that they don’t have to go back and grow up all over again.

Second Helpings: "Knowing that I've just done something that will take decades off my parents' lives with worry, you'll excuse me for not getting into the fa-la-la-la-la Yuletide spirit this year. . . . The only difference between Christmas 2001 and Christmas 2000 is that I don't have a visit from Hope to look forward to. And Bethany has already packed on some major fetal flab. Oh, and now Gladdie doesn't need to ask a bizillion questions about my boyfriend, because she's already gotten the dirt from you know who."

Jessica Darling is up in arms again in this much-anticipated, hilarious sequel to Sloppy Firsts. This time, the hyperobservant, angst-ridden teenager is going through the social and emotional ordeal of her senior year at Pineville High. Not only does the mysterious and oh-so-compelling Marcus Flutie continue to distract Jessica, but her best friend, Hope, still lives in another state, and she can't seem to escape the clutches of the Clueless Crew, her annoying so-called friends. To top it off, Jessica's parents won't get off her butt about choosing a college, and her sister Bethany's pregnancy is causing a big stir in the Darling household.

With keen intelligence, sardonic wit, and ingenious comedic timing, Megan McCafferty again re-creates the tumultuous world of today's fast-moving and sophisticated teens. Fans of Sloppy Firsts will be reunited with their favorite characters and also introduced to the fresh new faces that have entered Jess's life, including the hot creative writing teacher at her summer college prep program and her feisty, tell-it-like-it-is grandmother Gladdie. But most of all, readers will finally have the answers to all of their burgeoning questions, and then some: Will Jessica crack under the pressure of senioritis? Will her unresolved feelings for Marcus wreak havoc on her love life? Will Hope ever come back to Pineville? Fall in love with saucy, irreverent Jessica all over again in this wonderful sequel to a book that critics and readers alike hailed as the best high school novel in years.

Review: Ok. So I read these two books within a couple days of each other, and I'm worried that if I try to review them separately, they'll just blend together in my mind. So I'm just gonna do one review.

I've been hearing about the Jessica Darling books and Marcus Flutie for quite a while, thanks to the girls over at Forever Young Adult. And after reading the first two books in the series, I can certainly see why. Jessica is exactly the kind of girl they love over there. She's honest, smart, insecure, snarky, and not afraid of swearing or drinking. She's obsessed with a boy she can never have, and also with her best friend moving away.

So in that sense, these were good books. They're funny and honest and exciting. And I liked seeing Jessica learn to stand up for herself and create an identity for herself that went beyond missing her best friend or feeling like an outsider in her own family.

And I really REALLY liked that the first book was one calendar year. So many books are based on the school year, and reading a book that took place from January to December was SUPER refreshing.

Based on reviews I've read, the first two in the series are the best, so I don't have any plans to continue. But I don't regret the $1.99 I spent on Sloppy Firsts, or the couple days I spent reading these.

Goodreads Shelves: addictive, bechdel-test, fluffy, funny, is-this-a-kissing-book, nook-ya, snark-attack

Rating

1.13.2015

A Time to Love by Barbara Cameron

Summary: War correspondent Jennie King thinks she s just a temporary guest in her grandmother s Amish community while she recuperates from the devastating injuries sustained in a car bomb attack that changed her world. But when she meets Matthew Bontrager, the man she had a crush on as a teenager, she wonders if God has a new plan for her. Jennie has emotional and physical scars and though she feels she has come home to this man and this place, she's not sure she can bridge the difference between their worlds.

Review: Ok. So I've heard about this Amish Romance trend, and I was vaguely interested in giving it a try. And I had this book sitting around in my Nook. So I read it.

SUPER underwhelmed. Like, SO MANY THINGS about this book just don't make sense. I don't even know where to begin.

So you spent a summer or two here when you were a teenager, and that has prepared you to completely overhaul your life? And now you're gonna marry this guy you haven't seen in ten years and only met again a couple months ago? And you're some foreign war correspondent who's dedicated to helping people, but now you can somehow help children in war zones from this sleepy Amish town with no electricity?

I just... I can't even.

Like, this book had so few redeeming qualities that I can't even think of any now.

Maybe there are better books to read that fit in with this trend?

Goodreads Shelves: bechdel-test, fluffy, is-this-a-kissing-book, nook-book

Rating

1.04.2015

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Summary: After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you've never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you've never seen them under an investigation like this.

Review: So I was excited about this one, but also iffy. On the one hand, I'm a fan of the Harry Potter books, so I was expecting great things. But on the other hand, I've read some reviews that were pretty underwhelmed. So I went in with mixed expectations.

And I liked it! It wasn't as groundbreaking as the HP books, but it was a solid mystery novel. I liked Strike; he's smart and tough and also a little insecure, and he's a really good PI. I liked his relationship with Robin -- Robin was great. I'm such a fan of Robin. (Although I really REALLY don't want them to have a romantic relationship. Am I alone in this? I LIKE their dynamic too much to be interested in them doing something as boring as falling in love.)

Plot-wise, it was pretty good. I'm not usually very interested in guessing whodunit, because I tend to be wrong. (And because I don't like to guess, I don't get better at it. It's a vicious cycle.) But I felt like all the little details and clues got explained really well -- it was intricate enough to actually describe as intricate, which I liked a lot.

Goodreads Shelves: addictive, bechdel-test, is-or-would-be-a-good-movie, my-kind-of-woman

Rating

12.30.2014

2015 Challenges

Well friends, I had such a great time with the 2014 Outdo Yourself Challenge that I want to find a couple more to do this year!

Here are my challenges, along with my goals:


2015 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge


2015 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge
Hosted by Brianna at The Book Vixen

So last year I really REALLY outdid myself. My official 2013 count was 9, and it looks like my 2014 count is going to be at least 50. This challenge was exactly the kind of jumpstart I needed to get myself reading again. I don't know that I'm gonna try TOO hard to outdo my total again, because there are a lot of other things in my life that I need to focus on besides just reading, so I'm gonna stick with the lowest level right now.

Level: Getting My Heart Rate Up
Goal: 51-55 books


2015 Newbery Reading Challenge

Newbery Reading Challenge 2015
Hosted by Julie at Smiling Shelves

I feel like I've been doing a lot of cotton candy reading lately. This next year I want to try to read more books with substance, and one of the places I'm gonna start is with Newbery winners. Julie grades on a points system - 3 for Newbery Medal Winners, 2 for Newbery Honor Books, and 1 for Caldecott Medal Winners. I'm not shooting for quantity as much as substance, so again, I'm choosing the lowest level. For now.

Level: L'Engle
Goal: 15-29 points



The Eclectic Reader Challenge 2015
Hosted by Shellyrae at Book'd Out

I also want to diversify. I feel like I constantly read the same book over and over these days, so in the interest of not doing that... here I am. Shellyrae has picked out several genres, and I get to pick a book for each one.

Goal: 12 books, one in each category



I Love Library Books 2015
hosted by Gina at Book Dragon's Lair

So those of you who know me in real life (or pay very close attention, because I've mentioned it on the blog a couple times now) know that I recently moved to Bangladesh. Which, among other changes, kind of restricts my access to paper books. I have what I brought with me, and I know of a couple "libraries" (community shelves where people just leave what they want to share). So thank goodness for my Nook, and thank goodness for OverDrive! Luckily I still have a library card from the States, and I can use it to check out ebooks on my library's website. (Or else I'd have to plan on paying Barnes and Noble a fortune in Nook Books.) I've been here for a month, and I've already checked out four. So I'm really excited about Gina's challenge to read books from the library. Even though I already know I'm gonna use it plenty, I DO still have a ton of books on my Nook that I own and want to read, so like my other challenges, I'm gonna start small and reserve the right to go up a level (or two) later.

Level: Early Reader
Goal: 9 books


Wish me luck, guys! I'm really excited for 2015!

The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

Summary: HOW HAD MRS. OLINSKI CHOSEN her sixth-grade Academic Bowl team? She had a number of answers. But were any of them true? How had she really chosen Noah and Nadia and Ethan and Julian? And why did they make such a good team?

It was a surprise to a lot of people when Mrs. Olinski's team won the sixth-grade Academic Bowl contest at Epiphany Middle School. It was an even bigger surprise when they beat the seventh grade and the eighth grade, too. And when they went on to even greater victories, everyone began to ask: How did it happen?

It happened at least partly because Noah had been the best man (quite by accident) at the wedding of Ethan's grandmother and Nadia's grandfather. It happened because Nadia discovered that she could not let a lot of baby turtles die. It happened when Ethan could not let Julian face disaster alone. And it happened because Julian valued something important in himself and saw in the other three something he also valued.

Mrs. Olinski, returning to teaching after having been injured in an automobile accident, found that her Academic Bowl team became her answer to finding confidence and success. What she did not know, at least at first, was that her team knew more than she did the answer to why they had been chosen.

This is a tale about a team, a class, a school, a series of contests and, set in the midst of this, four jewel-like short stories -- one for each of the team members -- that ask questions and demonstrate surprising answers.

Review: So it's been years and years since the first time I read this one. I remember liking it a whole lot, and when I saw the NookBook on sale on Barnes and Noble, I jumped at the chance to get it.

I'm not sure it was as amazing as I remember it? Like, I like the premise, and it's well executed and stuff. But... I dunno. It felt a little simplified, maybe? Like it was written for children, perhaps? (Heeeeyy....)

It does have elements of which I'm a fan, though. Quiz-bowl teams, which brings back fond high school memories. A ragtag group of friends. And I liked the way they helped their teacher get her confidence back.

Goodreads Shelves: addictive, bechdel-test, i-own-it, is-or-would-be-a-good-movie, my-kind-of-woman, thought-provoking

Rating

12.14.2014

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

Summary: "Tessa Gray should be happy—aren't all brides happy? Yet as she prepares for her wedding, a net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute. A new demon appears, one linked by blood and secrecy to Mortmain, the man who plans to use his army of pitiless automatons, the Infernal Devices, to destroy the Shadowhunters. Mortmain needs only one last item to complete his plan. He needs Tessa. And Jem and Will, the boys who lay equal claim to Tessa's heart, will do anything to save her."

Review: Soooo... ok. Done with that, then.

So I actually read Clockwork Prince almost three years ago, which explains why I was so confused while reading Clockwork Princess. Apparently it didn't make TOO much of an impression, because I really don't remember it very well. Clare handled the exposition well, I thought; there was just enough that I still caught most of what was going on, but not so much that it would have been annoying if I'd read the first two books recently (which is something I also liked about the Mortal Instruments series, come to think of it).

I don't really know what to say about this one though. I think I'm kind of over the whole Shadowhunter thing. I mean, I wanted to finish the book, and it was enjoyable, but I didn't feel a whole lot of emotion while reading it. I was just finishing it for the sake of finishing it.

I wasn't very invested in the Jem/Will/Tessa love triangle. I think Jem had a lot more personality earlier in the series, maybe? (Like I said, it's been a while.) He was really vanilla in this book. And there was a lot more tell than show in his relationships with Will and Tessa; they all spent a lot more time talking about their relationships than actually having them.

Goodreads Shelves: addictive, bechdel-test, fluffy, funny, is-this-a-kissing-book, my-kind-of-woman, nook-ya

Rating

12.01.2014

Amazon Burning by Victoria Griffith

Summary: When 22-year-old aspiring journalist, Emma Cohen, is forced to flee the comforts of her NYU student life, she maneuvers an internship from her father at his newspaper in Rio de Janeiro. There, Emma is immediately swept into a major news story--and a life-threatening situation--when a famous jungle environmentalist, Milton Silva, is mysteriously murdered. Emma must now enter the Amazon rainforest with her father to investigate; both awed by the enormity and beauty of the Amazon, and appalled by its reckless destruction. Not only will Emma have to brave the primal world of the Amazon, she must fight to survive the kidnappers, villains, corrupt activists, and indigenous tribes that lay in wait along the ever-twisting trail of the murder case. Stretched to the brink, it s up to Emma, her father and the dreamy news photographer, Jimmy, to unravel the mystery and live to tell the tale. Amazon Burning by Victoria Griffith is a spectacular debut Young Adult novel. Griffith's powerful rendering of the Amazon rainforest forms the perfect, wildly exotic backdrop for this extraordinary tale of a young urban woman coming of age in the midst of intense conflict.

Review: Soooooo... yeah, not that impressed. I wasn't that interested in Emma as a character, although she does have qualities that are interesting. She's ambitious, she's curious about the world, and she's anxious to prove herself as a journalist. On the other hand, her obsession with Jimmy (and specifically, with hooking up with him) got pretty boring pretty fast. Griffith tries to give Jimmy some depth, what with his medical backstory, but really his sole purpose in this novel is to solve Emma's problems. Oh, and be eye candy, of course. (Not to mention that they fall In Love after what, a week or two?)

Speaking of Emma's problems, they all seem to be solved fairly easily. Despite the rich atmosphere of the setting, the stakes never feel terribly high. Even though the characters are constantly pointing out the horrible dangers the jungle poses, nothing TOO dangerous ever seems to happen. Even the climactic final act wasn't too stressful for me, because a convenient deus ex machina arrives to save the day.

I did like the setting, though. Despite the fact that she didn't do too much with the danger of the Amazon in terms of the story, Griffith clearly did a TON of research on the Amazon's flora, fauna, and peoples. The setting is definitely the book's strongest asset. In fact, the characters actually do face quite a bit of danger from the Amazon, but because the jungle itself always feels so ominous, the plot seems pretty tame in comparison to the scary possibilities.

One final thing: I try not to be too much of a pearl-clutcher; if there's content in a book that I don't like, I generally just ignore it. But frankly, I'm really sick of "New Adult" novels with college-age protagonists that are all about sex. As this genre becomes more prevalent, I hate seeing that strong sexual content seems to be a requirement. This book isn't an exception; although it isn't entirely about sex, but it has a few really graphic scenes, which cost my rating of it a full star.

One more final thing: I wrote all of the above several weeks ago, and today I got an email from the publisher about the copy of the book I read. According to the her, the ARC I read was edited for publication. The sexually explicit scenes are being tamed down and/or removed. To which I say, Good for you, Astor + Blue Editions. Good for you.

Goodreads Shelves: fluffy, is-this-a-kissing-book

Rating


I received a free ARC from the publisher, Astor + Blue Editions, in exchange for an honest review. Amazon Burning is available now.

11.30.2014

Guest Review: Death Sworn by Leah Cypess

This review is brought to you by my amazing sister, Kelli. You can find her on her blog and on Goodreads.

Summary: When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world.

Review: I desperately wanted to give this 5 stars because I loved the ending, but Ileni was seriously SO woe-is-me pity party for so much of the book that I just couldn't round my 4.5 stars up.  Having said that, her self-pity is pretty much the only thing that really annoyed me, and that was all internal.  To the outside, she presented a pretty kick-a$$ heroine who was haughty and powerful.  And I loved that despite her admittedly crappy position, in the final evaluation, she acted from a position of strength and reasoning rather than her feelings of betrayal, anger, and sorrow.

And I'll go ahead and admit up-front that for some reason I'm a sucker for stories with assassin main characters.  Books like Throne of Glass, Graceling, Poison Study, Grave Mercy are all 4- and 5-star books for me.  But the heroine isn't an assassin, and in fact is pretty disdainful of the assassins.  It's interesting because in reality, I think murder is horrible, too, so I can easily relate to her.  The author's timing is well-done as she introduces more facts and plot-points to develop Ileni's sympathy for their position.

This is clearly a first in a series, but I felt there was sufficient closure to not be considered a cliff-hanger.  There's more story to tell, but I look forward to reading it in another book rather than feeling like I was cheated out of the last half of the story.

The part of the book that made me want to stand up and cheer is actually on the last page or two and would be a huge spoiler, so all I can say is that I wanted to call all my friends and rave about this book and demand they go read it so I could talk about why without spoiling a huge plot point.  So go ahead and read it, then hit me up and see if you can guess what I loved.

Rating
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