Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I’m frugal with my five-star ratings, but any book that can make me cry deserves all the stars.

When I first read The Book Thief at sixteen, I didn’t see what the fuss was all about.  It was good, but not great.  I liked the writing, the story, and enjoyed the characters well enough, but it didn’t make an impression.

This time around, the book absolutely wrecked me.

I picked it up for one of my summer grad school classes and it was love from page one.  I opted for the audiobook and soaked in every minute of my daily commute.  Zusak’s writing is incredible.  The characters are well-formed, with realistic development and motivations. The book’s themes about the power of words and the inconsistency of humanity are so well-implemented, I can’t get them out of my head.  It’s taken me a month to sit and write out this review because there’s just so much to think about.

Reading The Book Thief as an adult was also a very personal experience.  I’ve recently experienced several deaths and this book helped me grieve.  I finished the same day I learned one of my favorite library patrons had died and the last fifteen minutes of the audiobook had me sobbing uncontrollably on my way home from work.  I was a total traffic hazard.  For someone who doesn’t cry often, this kind reaction is noteworthy.  I haven’t connected with a story on this a visceral level like this in a long time.

Overall, this is the kind of book that you can’t look away from.  It’s the kind of story that haunts you for years after reading and keeps bringing you back for more.  It’s the kind of story that worms its way into your being.  It sounds strange, but I feel a more complete person after reading this book.

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Poetry Talk: Twirling in Flames by Tinu Bello

A couple of months ago, my friend Tinu approached me about helping review and publicize her debut poetry collection.  I hadn’t heard from her since college and, while I was swamped with grad school work at the time, couldn’t say no.  What’s the point of having being involved in the online bookish community if you can’t use your platform to support the creative endeavors of your friends?

It’s been a long time coming, but a short break between grad school semesters has given me the chance to sit down with the collection and pull together some thoughts.  This is by no means a comprehensive review, but I hope you get a sense for what the poems are about.  I had so much fun digging into them.

I hope you enjoy my scattered thoughts!

You can buy your own copy of Twirling in Flames by Tinu Bello on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Be sure to add it to your reading list on Goodreads.

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Review: Monsters of Verity Duology by Victoria Schwab

Book Talk on Keep Your Feet

Format: eAudiobook from Overdrive / physical book

My Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars for both books


Over the past few months, I’ve read quite a bit of Schwab’s writing.  Recently, I finished her Shades of Magic series, which I adored.  Several of my friends on Goodreads were reading her YA Monsters of Verity duology, so I jumped on the bandwagon.  In this post, I discuss both books in a relatively spoiler-free fashion.

On the whole I was… underwhelmed by these books.  While there were aspects I really enjoyed, there was quite a bit that just didn’t capture my imagination.  I’m realizing more and more that dark dystopia might not be my thing.

A bit about the books: the series takes place in a dystopian America in which the states are split into territories named after virtues.  The main action takes place in the city of Verity, where monsters roam at night keeping everyone in terror.  Verity is a city split in two, held together by a tenuous agreement that is quickly fraying.  The north is lead by Callum Harker, who reigns through fear and uses the monsters to his advantage.  The south is held by Henry Flynn, an ex-surgeon who heads the military-like organization, FTF.

The series centers around Kate Harker and August Flynn, the children of these two leaders.  Kate is reckless, impulsive, and on a mission to prove her worth to her father.  August, quiet and sensitive, just wants to be human.  Pushed together by circumstances, they forge a deep friendship.

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Firebrand by Kristen Britain

30688516Firebrand by Kristen Britain

Format: Kindle ebook

My Rating: 3.75 / 5 stars

Amazon / Goodreads

My Summary: The sixth installment of Britain’s Green Rider series, the book takes place where the previous one left off.  After her journey through the mysterious Blackveil Forest and adventures in the future, Karigan has returned home to the castle.  While resuming her duties as a messenger to the king, she struggles to find peace and healing after her long journey.  Eager to establish a sense of normalcy, she is sent on a mission to establish allies among a mythical moose-people in the North, near the territory of the Second Empire, who is trying to overthrow the crown.  Meanwhile, the castle is attacked by an ice elemental, who kidnaps and impersonates King Zachary.  This sets off a sequence of events that puts the future of the kingdom in jeopardy.

Karigan, as a protagonist, wears on me at times–she’s a fantastic Green Rider, an honorary Weapon and sword master, the avatar of the death god, has a magical mirror eye, is blessed by the elven race, loved by the king… and on and on and on.  How special can one person be?!!!

My favorite thing about this book is that we got a large amount of Zachary’s point of view, which was a breath of fresh air.

I’ve been reading this series on and off for years.  Britain writes so slowly that, by the time another book comes out, I’ve forgotten everything that has happened.  Thankfully, she sprinkles reminders of past events and plot details into her narrative–which helped me get my bearings.  While this is helpful, it simultaneously comes across as sloppy.  Actually, most of the book feels sloppy and gratuitous… but in an endearing way.  Britain tries to write epic fantasy, but the result is more campy than anything.  The writing may not be great, but when I read Britain’s work, I’m wholly engrossed and having fun.  I spent six days on this 700 page long read and enjoyed every minute.

For more of my reading adventures, add me on Goodreads

Check out my regular reading update posts

What I’m Reading 8/21/17

When preparing this post, I realized that I had written way too much content.  Since I’ve begun writing reactions/reviews/summaries in a notebook immediately after finishing a book, I’ve noticed that my comments have gotten a longer.  So I decided to do some shifting around, giving some of the books where I had more thoughts posts of their own.

Here, you can find my thoughts about several of my recent reads.  Keep an eye out over the next week for others–I’ve got a writeup for a fantasy novel primed and ready to go and, as soon as I finish Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab, I’ll give the Monsters of Verity duology their own post.

Here’s what I’m discussing this week:

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Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

acowar_usI’ve been antsy with anticipation over this book for weeks and, oh my, what a payoff.  While A Court of Wings and Ruin (ACOWAR) wasn’t a perfect novel, it was a satisfying conclusion to a series that I have come to dearly, dearly love.


Title
: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

My Rating: 4 / 5 Stars

 

Summary: 

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

My Thoughts (Without Spoilers):

I took my time with the book, treating it like a delicate feast I didn’t want to end.  I read it slowly–carefully tasting each paragraph, savoring the pulse of the plot, not wanting it to end.  At night, the characters wove in and out of my dreams, calling me to keep reading.

For the most part, this was my state of being while reading this book:

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Without going into details, one of my favorite parts of the book was seeing more of Prythian and the people who live there.  We see several new courts and an array of wonderful new side characters.  There is an epic library, was a huge highlight.  I also loved that some of the more minor characters from the previous books take larger roles.

In the discussion ahead, I address some of my criticisms with the ACOWAR.  After I had written them out, I realized that it may sound like I didn’t like the book or am overly picky.  I’d like to note that you can be critical of a text and still love it to pieces.

SPOILERS AHEAD: Continue reading

Goodbye, 2015!

Another year has come and gone.

Looking back, 2015 was a year of waiting.  First, I was waiting to graduate.  Then, I was waiting for whatever came next. There were days when I would have given anything for time to move faster.  There were periods of loneliness and periods of frustration.

In other ways, though, it was a wonderful year.  I was able to spend nine months living at home, which, in a way, has been like a return to childhood.  I’ve loved spending time with my family.  I loved working at our strawberry patch and apple orchard.

I’ve learned a lot this year.  I finished my degree.  I spent my summer pulling weeds followed by a fall hauling around apples.  I experienced my first professional job.  I attended the Urbana missions conference.

I’m not sad to see 2015 go.  It’s been good, but better years lie ahead.

Check out some photo highlights from my year:

On the Shelf: Fantasy Trilogies Galore

I’ve been reading a lot lately, but have totally shirked my book reviews.  Oops.  The stresses of my new job have me spending evenings rolling around on the couch in a sweater and leggings, avoiding anything that requires thinking.

So, until I’m able to write any focused reviews, here’s a bit of what I’ve been digging into over the past few weeks!

His Fair Assassin trilogy by Robin LaFevers:

I’ve been seeing things about this trilogy for quite a while, but never engaged until now.  I downloaded an ebook version of the first novel, Grave Mercy, from my local library and was off to the races.  I completed the trilogy in five days and loved them so much I ran online to order physical copies.

These books aren’t the most well-written in the world, but they’re incredibly fresh and original.  The premise is a convent in medieval France where they are dedicated to serving Mortain, the patron saint of Death.  Novices are trained as assassins and sent into the world to do Death’s bidding.  Each book is very different in flavor, although all have their share of romance.  Grave Mercy is, in many ways, a political thriller.  Dark Triumph is very dark and personal.  Mortal Heart is a coming-of-age tale.

If you like historical fiction, fantasy, and romance, these books are a must-read.

The Symphony of Ages trilogy by Elizabeth Haydon

I read the first three books of this now-longer series in high school and have been hankering to revisit them ever since.  That being said, I picked up Rhapsody on a Friday and had all 2,000+ pages of the series read ten days later.  You’d think that a series this long would have dull points, but I couldn’t put these down.  (And this is my second time through!)  Haydon has created a story that suck you in and doesn’t let go until the ride is done.

The books tell the story of Rhapsody, a young singer who finds herself swept into an adventure across Time to learn of a prophecy that foretells her destiny to be a key force in destroying evil.  Through her journey, she encounters a vast array of characters that are diverse, complex, and wonderful.  Haydon’s universe is vast, with deeply structured, believable cultures and religions.  Her world-building is top-notch.  The scope of the story is epic, leading up to a satisfying, memorable conclusion.

If you’re a fantasy fan, add these to your list.

Right now, I’m also re-reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  I’m loving it even more this time around.  Maybe I’ll make a focused On the Shelf discussing it in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, when I finish that, I’m going to dig into Winter by Marissa Meyer.

Here’s to more books!  Keep an eye out for more On the Shelf posts in the coming weeks.

On the Shelf: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

A few weeks ago, I had scheduled a meet-up with a friend in a nearby town.  I left early to make time for shopping (because Target is a beautiful, beautiful place) only to receive a text pushing back our meeting time.  Of course, when I get stuck with half an hour of extra time is the ONE TIME I FORGET TO BRING A BOOK.

I remedied this by spending a long time shopping and picked up a book that’s been waiting patiently on my “To-Read” list for quite a while.  That, friends, is how I ended up with Mindy Kaling’s first memoir on my shelf.

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Summary from GoodreadsMindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?”   Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!  In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka.

My Thoughts:

This book has zero substance, but is absolutely delightful.  I found myself unable to put it down.  During the three days it took to finish, I felt like Mindy Kaling was my best friend.  Which is a bit odd because we have next to nothing in common and I’m not really a comedy fan.

I suppose I enjoyed this book for the same reasons people like magazines and celebrity gossip: It gives me insight into a world completely removed from everything I know.  I’m not obsessed with fashion trends and the Hollywood lifestyle, but reading this was just interesting!  My favorite part is that Kaling’s stories lack the glitz and glamor of tabloids.  They’re honest, imperfect tales of how to make a name for yourself in a highly competitive career.

Most of these chapters are stories and Kaling is good at telling them.   She talks about her childhood, her body image, her college life, early career, and her big break writing for The Office.  Some chapters are just lists, like “Types of Women in Romantic Comedies That Are Not Real”, “Non-Traumatic Things That Have Made Me Cry”, and “Revenge Fantasies While Jogging”.  There’s even a whole chapter of narcissistic photos from her phone, which made me laugh.

Kaling is relatable.  We’re completely different in background, trade, and personality, but I still felt connected.  She isn’t afraid to point out her flaws or make fun of herself.  I feel like most girls, including myself, struggle occasionally (sometimes more than that) with body image and reading Kaling’s tales of being an average-sized women in Hollywood were really encouraging.

She’s also got some great words on high school popularity:

“Teenage girls, please don’t worry about being super popular in high school, or being the best actress in high school, or the best athlete. Not only do people not care about any of that the second you graduate, but when you get older, if you reference your successes in high school too much, it actually makes you look kind of pitiful, like some babbling old Tennessee Williams character with nothing else going on in her current life. What I’ve noticed is that almost no one who was a big star in high school is also big star later in life. For us overlooked kids, it’s so wonderfully fair.”

What a wonderful pat-on-the-back for nerdy kids like me.

This is a fun read.  It doesn’t make you think very hard, but made me laugh and gave me a glimpse into a life very different than my own.

Check out my On the Shelf page for more reviews!

On the Shelf: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Apparently, I’m on a Brandon Sanderson streak.

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Summary from GoodreadsElantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.
Arelon’s new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping — based on their correspondence — to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.
But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.
A rare epic fantasy that doesn’t recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It’s also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.

My Thoughts:

This was a quick read.  I started on a Thursday and finished it by Sunday.  Most of what I had to say in my discussion of Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy rings true here.

Sanderson is massively talented when it comes to world building.  His characters tend to be politically minded and the atmosphere he creates is diverse and realistic.  I can tell that this is his first published work, though, because although the world is a good one, it could use more depth.  I got the sense that all the countries and cultures had differences, but I didn’t quite know what those were.  The biggest strength was the allure of the fallen city of Elantris and I enjoyed watching Raoden discover its secrets.

As far as pacing goes, this book could be a lot tighter.  At one point, the focus was on rebuilding society within Elantris.  At another, it was on overthrowing the king of Arelon.  A few chapters later, the massive problem were fighting off the invading religion.  Then, suddenly, the characters rebuilding Elantris were doing completely different things.  The focus kept changing, which I found distracting.  There were also pages upon pages where it felt like nothing was happening.

Although I liked the characters for the most part, they felt a bit too perfect.  I’ve noticed Sanderson favors political idealists who have an intrinsic ability to lead and lead well.  Raoden and Sarene were like this.  They were so good at politicing that they didn’t feel real.  They also lacked major flaws.  Raoden was more interesting, as an Elantarin, his body couldn’t heal, but couldn’t die.  Any scratches or injuries were permanent, leaving him in constant and growing pain.  Sarene, though, was really cool, but also boring.  She had all the makings of a “good” heroine–outspoken, strong, intelligent, good ad fencing, etc.  But she was too stereotypical and really had no weaknesses, unless you count being crap at painting and embroidery.  Her struggles mainly came in the form of loneliness–because being so strong and independent isolates you from others.  I felt bad for her because she had pinned all her romantic hopes on her marriage with Raoden only to have them shattered.  But, besides that, she was difficult to relate with.

Elantris was an enjoyable read, but I didn’t fall in love.

Check out my On the Shelf page for more reviews and stop by my post on Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy as well!