Saturday, 26 December 2015

Backlist Holiday Shopping

Recently, I've been forced to realize that I'm old. I mean, technically, I'm not. But as a blogger, this place has been up and running since 2008 and I've been here since 2009 - I'll have been posting for 7 years come February. And a lot of bloggers in the community these days have not been here that long and therefore may have missed some QUALITY older YA. As the holiday season winds down and we're all looking at gift cards and post-holiday sales, I thought I'd throw down some recs of pre-2012 releases. Links will go to my review if there is one, but otherwise, it'll go to Goodreads. (As a warning, I was 15-16 when most of these were written. They aren't particularly good and somethings I said are downright cringe worthy, but they get the job done.)

Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Jane by April Lindner
Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman
A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn
Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard

The Beautiful Between by Alyssa Sheinmel
Sea by Heidi Kling
Just One Wish by Janette Rallison
Other Words for Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal
Moonglass by Jessi Kirby
Purity by Jackson Pearce
The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder
Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Bass Ackwards and Belly Up by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain

Eva Ibbotson
The Musician's Daughter by Susane Dunlap
Anastasia's Secret by Susane Dunlap
The King's Rose by Alisa Libby
The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen
The Season by Sarah MacLean
The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry
Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl
The Pale Assassin by Patricia Elliott 
Vixen by Jillian Larkin

Fantasy and Paranormal
As You Wish by Jackson Pearce
Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston
Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble
The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers
Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus
Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel
Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready
Keturah and the Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller
The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal
Wake Unto Me by Lisa Cach
Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton
Between the Sea and Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore 
Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken
Aurelia by Anna Osterlund

The In-Between Books (For the books that don't quite fit in one of the above categories)
XVI by Julia Karr
Fateful by Claudia Gray
Darker Still by Leanna Renee Heiber 

"All the fluff please!" -  Enthusiasm, Prada & Prejudice, anything by Elizabeth Eulberg, Between the Sea and Sky, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark SideAll-American Girl, The Season

Also, apparently I did a (very short) series called Books Without Buzz in 2012, so pretty much every book in those posts was published...before-2012. Contemporary and Books That Are Pretty Popular

Since just going through a bunch of links can be daunting, if there's anything in particular that you're looking for, feel free to ask here or on twitter! Besides this list, I also have Goodreads shelves for 2010 and 2011 releases, plus, there's hundreds of reviews on this blog from 2012 or earlier! We can help get you started in the right direction if need be.


Monday, 21 December 2015

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood
by Ruth Ware

Summary: Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

In a dark, dark wood there was a dark, dark house

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s bachelorette party arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room…

Some things can’t stay secret for ever.
This book is not the kind of book I normally read, thriller/mystery isn't really my genre of choice unless it's got romance in it, but this book may have helped change that. I was craving something along the lines of Gone Girl -- something twisty and addictive and this book definitely delivered on both fronts.

I really loved it while I was reading and it's one of those ones that had me hooked from the start and was rattling around in my head for a good few days after I finished it. I'm in the midst of a major reading slump and it still managed to hold my attention and read it in one sitting.

I loved the characters. I loved that the female ones were written to be interesting instead of written to be liked. I loved that at the root of the story there were toxic friendships, and it showed really well how easy it is to get caught in them and not see them for what they are, how hard it is to get out of them, and how difficult it can be to shake the damage they can have on us even years later.

The plot was really predictable but no less enjoyable because of it. It was easy to guess what was going to happen long before it did--the red herrings, the twists, the back story--but it didn't make it any less addictive to read, I still couldn't stop turning the pages just to get to the specifics of how the things would go down and make sure my guesses were right.

My only issue with the book was that I kind of wish that events from Nora's past had either been more recent or took place over a longer period of time, because it was sometimes hard to empathise with her still being so hung up on this thing to the extent that she was (it's very difficult to explain the part that I mean without spoilers -- the Clare part made sense, it was the rest of it).

Anyway, to sum up: Like I said, I've not read much of the genre so I don't have much to measure it up against, or to pick up on genre cliches, but I really enjoyed it and it was an excellent read for a thriller newbie like me. I'd rate it 4 stars out of 5.


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

First and Then by Emma Mills

First and Then
by Emma Mills

Summary: Devon Tennyson wouldn't change a thing. She's happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon's cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn't want them first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.

Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.
This is one of those books that is really excellent while you're reading it, but then in hindsight you notice issues with it and your positive feelings start to dim a bit. At least, that's how it was for me. Still a good book, just not as amazing as I initially thought.

But honestly, isn't it that initial burst of feelings that matter more? The way I feel about a book in the days or weeks after reading it are normally the deciding factor of whether or not it's a Favourite Book or not, but just loving a book while reading it is great, even if the feelings don't linger.

Anyway, I just wanted to explain that because I am going to talk about the negative things but I want to be clear that the majority didn't bug me much while I was actually reading the story.

I really loved the characters in the book. They were flawed, and I like that. Devon could be infuriatingly judgey (like coining the term "prostitots" for the younger girls who dress a certain way)...but her attitude was proven to be wrong in a subtle way that I liked. Nowadays books that try to talk about certain issues (like sexism or slut shaming or feminism) can get a bit Tumblr Social Justice Warrior...which isn't inherently a bad thing, but the dialogue can seem forced when it's done in that style. It didn't really come across that way in this and it felt more realistic for it.

The romance was really cute, definitely gave me Pride & Prejudice feels with it being a sort of Elizabeth/Darcy retelling. And I loved Foster (her cousin), he was adorable and the relationships she and Ezra had with him were adorable -- that was definitely one of my favourite parts.

I was kind of indifferent to the football stuff. I'm very fussy with sports and I've never quite understood the American love for "football" -- but the fact that I didn't hate the football stuff given my general opinion of it is a good thing.

As for the negatives... This first one actually did bug me a bit while reading, but not too much:

The Jane Austen stuff. Now, I get that the character is an Austen fan and I get that this was a Pride and Prejudice retelling, sort of, but I didn't like the way she'd go off on tangents about Austen or her novels and then awkwardly try to tie it in to the plot. Partly because I'm still working my way through Austen's books and this book spoiled Sense and Sensibility for me (yes, I have actually managed to go all these years without that happening), it would've been more fun going into it not knowing what would happen. But yeah, even ignoring that, I just wasn't fond of that aspect of it, it felt very contrived.

Not a big fan of the way her relationship with her best friend was handled. The funny banter they had going on was cute, but it just never really clicked why they were friends or why she would feel the way she does.

I also wasn't a fan of some of the side characters. Well, not so much the characters themselves but more the way they were written (and this aspect didn't start to annoy me until after I was finished).

The book is pretty short, so you'd expect that if an author makes the point of introducing a character in a certain way that they are going to have some significance...but there's two characters in this who are introduced and at the end it's just a bit "WTF?" because their stories literally go nowhere and just seem out of place because nothing was done with them. One of them just doesn't seem to fit into the story at all (and yet he shows up in the middle of a significant scene and takes it off on a tangent that felt unnecessary) and the other felt like her story should've had more to do with the plot than it actually ended up having.

There's even this bit in the story where you think (at least, I thought) that that was going to be the point that tied into one of the characters stories but it wasn' was just this random thing that happened. It led to some cute Foster/Devon and Ezra/Devon moments but beyond that... and then the way it does end it up tying into the main plot of the story, again, felt quite forced.

...It's really hard to explain without spoilers, but that's the best I can do. Basically, I just didn't like the way those two characters were written, and in such a short book it felt like one or even both of them could've been removed from the story without it having any real impact on the book overall.

Anyway, when I first finished the book it was a 4.5 story, then after a few days my feelings had dimmed bringing it to a lets go somewhere in between and say I rate the book 4 stars out of 5. It was a really addictive story and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing whatever Emma Mills releases next.


Monday, 14 December 2015

Harry Potter Reread -- Audiobook & Illustrated Editions

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone
by J.K. Rowling

Summary: Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility.

All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley--a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry--and anyone who reads about him---will find unforgettable.
This isn't going to be a review of Harry Potter (plot, characters, etc.) because at this point, I think everyone and their mother knows what Harry Potter is about and most of you probably love it. It's one of those stories that so many of us grew up with. Instead, it's going to be a review of specific editions of the book -- the illustrated and the audio.

I haven't reread the first book since I was in my early teens, but I've wanted to reread the series for quite a while now (I've only ever reread book 3, 4, and 5)...but considering how big my TBR is, I couldn't justify rereading them. Instead, I decided to listen to the audiobook (the Stephen Fry narration) while I was ill because I was laying in bed and couldn't focus on reading a physical book anyway.

As far as audiobooks go, Harry Potter is definitely my favourite so far. The narration was wonderful and something about this story in particular really works as an audiobook -- perhaps it's because it's a childhood favourite, so there's something comforting about having it read to you as opposed to just reading it yourself.

Listening to it really captured the, well, magic of the story perfectly. I've always been worried that I wouldn't love it the same if I reread it now that I'm older, but I worried for nothing, I loved it just as much as I did when I was a kid. Perhaps even more because of nostalgia. Actually, no, not even nostalgia -- something about this book has that Coming Home sort of feeling that I can't quite put into words but it's the feeling I'd get around Christmas when I was little and my family was there and it was such a warm, safe, content sort of feeling.

Basically, I loved it. The story is still a favourite, but the audiobook gets 5 out of 5 stars too.

As for the illustrated book... Honestly, I don't think I'd buy it for someone who wasn't already a fan of the series. It's not the easiest copy to read because of the layout and size, but it is beautiful and it's a great addition to a Harry Potter fans library.

I didn't read this edition, instead I just flipped through it and looked at the illustrations while listening to the audiobook (awesome, would recommend). The illustrations were stunning -- seriously, I'd happily decorate by bedroom walls with that sort of beautiful. I particularly loved that the illustrations based on the book descriptions instead of just being based on the visuals created for the movies because it would've been so easy to be influenced by that.

To sum up: I had a lot of fun rereading this old favourite and would definitely recommend these editions. I'd recommend the audiobook to anyone, whether they've read the series or not and I'd recommend the illustrated version to fans of the series (if you're buying it for a child and intend to read it to/with them, it'd be nice to be able to show them the pictures though).


Sunday, 6 December 2015

Wrap Up (43)

So... It's been a really quiet month or so on the blog (which is why I haven't even bothered with the On The Blog part of the wrap up). I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately, probably because other stuff has been happening making it hard to focus, but I'm going to aim for getting more posts/reviews up in the next few weeks.

Anyway... I wanted to do a book haul, purely to give some attention to to the books I've gotten recently seeing as it might be a while before I get to reviewing them.

Keep in mind, this is about two and a half months worth of books  and my birthday was at the end of October it's a lot of books, but most of them were because I'd gotten gift cards (all pictures are from my instagram).

Books for review:

The Complete Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie - Already reviewed
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly - Loved it, reviewed it.
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit - It sounds great, it showed up wrapped up all lovely.
What We Left Behind by Robin Talley
Front Lines by Michael Grant

Other books:

Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre - I got both of these old Folio Society editions for only £2.75 (with free postage)
Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer - Because I had to?

Books I got while wandering the highlands:

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe - My best friend got me this for my birthday and it is beautiful (she gave me my present while we were away).
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell - We went into a book shop while we were in Fort William (after going to see the Harry Potter bridge) and I had my friends hunting all over the shop for this.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff  - Got this in Inverness when we went to Waterstones (they had a buy one, get one half price thing on so my best friend and I both got a book)
Scottish Myths and Legends - Annnd I got this one in Fort Augustus when we stopped to see Loch Ness.

Books I (mostly) got with birthday gift cards:

The Illustrated Harry Potter & the Philosophers Stone 
Unnaturally Green by Felicia Ricci
The Martian by Andy Weir
Night Owls by Jenn Bennett
In the Flesh by Sylvia Day
Twilight Graphic Novel Volume 2
A Thousand Nights by A K Johnston
First & Then by Emma Mills
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Emma by Jane Austen
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston
The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
The Night Before Christmas by Scarlett Bailey
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

And I think that's all... I'm not going to include e-books because the list is ridiculously long as it is.

What've you all been reading/been up to recently?


Friday, 4 December 2015

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

What We Left Behind
by Robin Talley

Summary: Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They've been together forever. They never fight. They're deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they're sure they'll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won't understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni's life. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?
This book was... Well. I don't know where to begin really. I enjoyed it, and I kind of loved it in a way. This review will probably be quite long, so I apologize in advance for my rambling.

I've been wanting to read more LGBTQ+ books this past year but the problem was, nearly all of the ones I could find either didn't appeal to me beyond that aspect of them...or they were focussed on the Coming Out part of the story. Coming out stories are so, so important, but it's equally important for there to be LGBTQ+ books that go beyond that. Books where that isn't the focus, books where the characters are past that point and are content with who they are -- books that can give teens in similar positions hope that things can and will be okay even if they're struggling right now.

This book was a mix of both. There were characters who were out and proud, characters who were out to some people in their lives but not everyone, and characters who were just figuring things out -- and they were scattered all over the LGBTQ+ spectrum. It really succeeded in showing how complex sexuality and gender identity can be, and that society has a weird tendency to simultaneously oversimplify it and overcomplicate it.

My favourite part of the book was that it makes you realise that it's okay to not have it all figured out. Whether that's relating to your own gender identity or your sexuality, or even just understanding those things in general and how they work for other people who are different to you. It's okay to have questions because that's how we learn and it's okay to be questioning things about yourself. It's okay for it to be a process and for your journey not to mirror how it is for other people. And I love how the book showed that.

I also appreciated the fact that it showed that the LGBTQ+ community isn't perfect and that just being a part of the community doesn't mean you're going to know everything and that you won't ever say the wrong thing or make ignorant or offensive comments about other groups that are different to you. I love that it acknowledged that, and the fact that everyone is different and has their own story -- there's multiple transgender characters in the story, for example, but the labels they use and the pronouns they're comfortable with aren't necessarily going to be the same and we shouldn't project our own comfort zone onto others.

As for just the story itself and the characters... I loved that Toni could be selfish and self-involved and infuriatingly judgemental and said problematic things (like implying girls can't be "girly" and feminist or that posting pictures of themselves in bikinis somehow negates their feminism). I loved that Gretchen was blind to the flaws of their relationship and that she made mistakes and was kind to a fault at times. I loved that they were flawed and their relationship was flawed. Half the time, I couldn't even figure out what Gretchen saw in Toni because it seemed like their relationship was kind of toxic for her, one that she'd lose herself in but not in a good way, and that it seemed to be a pattern for her that she had to get out of.

It probably seems weird for me to love those things that should be negative, but I loved it because it was realistic. My main issue was that I wish we'd gotten to see more of why they were together in the first place -- we get a few flashbacks, but even in those it's hard to see why Gretchen loved Toni so much. That made reading the book feel kind of like when your friend is dating someone who is no good for them and you're just waiting for them to figure that out.

I've seen some reviews criticise the way lines are blurred between transgender and being genderqueer, or how there's not enough clarity between the labels and their meanings, but I was okay with that because it didn't come across like the author was ignorant about them, it was more like she was intentionally writing a character who was trying to figure out which box they fit in to, a character who was still learning and was still ignorant about certain things too. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's just how it came across to me -- I guess we all interpret books in our own way.

And I think that's enough rambling for one review.*

To sum up: I really enjoyed reading the book. I'd rate the book 3.5 stars out of 5 (would have been 4 if I'd felt more invested in their relationship, because while it seemed to be intentionally written as flawed it also felt like we were still meant to be rooting for them in the end).


*This was written at about 5am while sleep deprived, with a headache and a sore throat so if it's an incoherent mess, I apologize. =P


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