Monthly Mini-Reviews – January

I am starting the new year with a new look to my mini-reviews (really just including the cover, but that’s a start!) and an effort to commit to five books per month – which I think is a very doable task. I exceeded five and managed to read two very different YA ARCs from Running Press Kids! So here’s what I read in January:

1. The Night Circus – Erin Morgensternnightcircus

512 pages / Anchor

Everyone had been talking about this book, so I decided to give Night Circus a try. Full of steampunk vibes and magic, it did not disappoint. Set The twins were the most interesting characters, although they were a side plot from the game. The romance between was a bit disjointed. I wanted more, but I loved this debut novel and I hope Erin Morgenstern writes more for me to read!

2. Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkinsannaandthefrenchkiss

372 pages / Speak

Continuing on in my effort to read more YA, I started with this delightful fluffy read by Stephanie Perkins. Anna and the French Kiss is pretty much your typical girl-goes-to-boarding-school-in-a-foreign-country romance, but the characters are likable, even loveable. Lola and the Boy Next Door is next!

3. The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone – Adele Griffinaddisonstone

256 pages / Soho Teen

Dead teenage artist Addison Stone is the star of this book, which is told in the form of a posthumous biography via interviews with the characters in Addison’s tumultuous life. Addison struggled with psychiatric problems before she left small-town New England life for the New York City art scene. The combination of creative genius at such a young age and love for the spotlight made her the perfect it-girl. However, caught up in a whirlwind of publicity and partying, she hit her high and then spiraled back into the manic, illusive nightmares of her own ghosts, and her death was clouded in mystery. This book has been getting a lot of hype, and I would definitely recommend it if you can handle the interview style of storytelling.

4. Spirit Junkie – Gabrielle Bernsteinspiritjunkie

288 pages / Harmony

In Gabrielle Bernstein’s self-help/memoir, the motivational speaker, meditation & yoga teacher, and vlogger describes her journey from PR party girl to blissed-out guru by using A Course in Miracles to find release from her old life. I really admire Gabby and hope to one day see her speak (at Wanderlust, perhaps).  I believe I purchased this book at just the right time in my life, since it has inspired me to take my own Course in Miracles.

5. When You Leave – Monica Ropalwhenyouleave

336 pages / Running Press Kids Advanced Copy, On Sale April 2015

Skater-girl Cass is trying to remain invisible at her new preppy, private school. She rushes out of class at the end of the day to meet up with her best friend Mattie and fellow skaters Gav and Franklin. But one day, she is rescued from detention by the kiss of elite prep Cooper – and as much as she struggles against her feelings, the two fall for each other, but keep their relationship under wraps. When Cooper is murdered, and Gav is arrested for the crime, Cass and her group navigate the prep scene to find the real killer and free their friend. I had a few problems with plot holes in the story (Mattie is mute due to cancer, but we never find out what the cancer was), but overall it was a fun read.

6. Seed –  Lisa Heathfieldseed

336 pages / Running Press Kids Advanced Copy, On Sale March 2015

Seed is another young adult novel I managed to devour in a day, about a girl named Pearl. Pearl is a member of a cult (she doesn’t know it, obviously) and lives in Seed. In Seed, everything is wonderful – everyone is happy and never goes hungry; they are guided and loved by nature; the men, women, and children all share the workload and make life better for those on the outside, sight unseen. Or so Pearl is led to believe. But when newcomers arrive, Pearl’s eyes are opened to skepticism and truth. She is drawn to Ellis, the teenage boy who arrived with his mother and little sister, and Ellis sees all that is wrong with Seed and their father, Papa S. The story opens with her getting her period and thinking she’s dying, which caused me to roll my eyes and wonder if I made a mistake in opening the book, but please don’t discredit it there. Seed was gripping.

7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaimanocean

181 pages / William Morrow Books

As with The Night Circus, I felt like I was missing out by not reading something of Gaiman’s – and I had acquired this book for free from a swap at Main Point Books, so it was a great place to start. I read it in a day also (or less than that, since it was the same day I read Seed – the flu is a great opportunity to read). I really, really enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It reminded me of a children’s horror story, and not just because the book is a reflection on the forty-year-old narrator’s childhood. It’s just so animated and vivid, and that’s what I loved. Anyway, our nameless narrator goes back to his childhood home after a funeral and visits the farm nearby his home. He remembers the terror of his childhood when a man killed himself using the narrator’s family’s stolen car, unleashing a string of events that lead the boy to the farm and a little girl named Lettie, whose family has generations of witches essentially. The evil comes out through our narrator and takes the form of his new nanny, who goes on to terrorize him until Lettie and her mom and grandma eventually save him from the various terrors that have been let out by this suicide. This might not be the world’s best description, but Gaiman’s writing kind of made me thing of Stephen King if he were writing in Dr. Seuss’s world. And it’s awesome.

Monthly Mini-Reviews: March

I am soo behind on blogging! I have a few posts in the works that will be up this month, but for now, I’ve got my March reads. Halfway through March, I had only read two books (and one was for class), but I plowed through five more and ended up with a total of 7, which leaves me a little behind, but still on my way to 100 for 2014! Here goes:

1. Fever 1793 – Laurie Halse Anderson

When the yellow fever hits Philadelphia, Mattie Cook’s life is derailed. At first, business at her family’s shop, Cook’s Coffeehouse, is booming because everywhere else has closed. But when her mother falls ill, Mattie and her grandfather depart for a family friend’s farm, leaving her mother with faithful friend and servant Polly. However, they never make it to the farm, and Mattie gets sick as well, but is able to recover in a hospital. She and her grandfather return to the coffeehouse, which is deserted -and there is no trace of her mother. By chance, Mattie reconnects with Polly and they rebuild the business at the coffeehouse, just in time for mother to return from the country, weak but alive. This piece of historical middle grade fiction was a short, enjoyable read. Laurie Halse Anderson gives insight to the worries, hardships, and joy of a fourteen-year-old girl at the time of the yellow fever.

2. The Liars’ Club – Mary Karr

The Liars’ Club is poet and professor Mary Karr’s first memoir – one of her unusual childhood growing up in Texas and Colorado with a dysfunctional family. I read this for my creative nonfiction class. The story is intriguing, and Karr’s poetic background lends itself to great descriptions in the book. The majority of the book takes place when Karr is between the ages of seven and nine years old, and follows her family through her grandmother’s death, her mother’s psychotic break, a spur-of-the-moment move to Colorado, tumultuous relationships, and much, much more. Before the age of nine, Karr had been through more than most people in their entire lives.

3. A Long Way from Verona – Jane Gardam

A Long Way from Verona was Main Point Book Club’s pick for March. It is the coming of age story of Jessica Vye, a young girl living in England in World War II. An author visits Jessica’s school and tells her she is meant to be a writer, which is her dream. The book follows Jessica and her friends’ adventures, including when she and Christian, an older boy whose family is friends with hers, venture to a nearby town, which gets bombed. Her and Christian’s subsequent reactions to the bombing are strikingly contrast, and the result of Jessica’s experience is a poem – one the reader never gets to see – that wins a poetry contest. To complement Jessica’s growth in the story, Gardam does this really cool thing where Jessica’s writing skills subtly develop and improve throughout the book.

4. Liv, Forever – Amy Talkington

I am trying to read more YA, and this book was right up my alley. Liv, Forever was an easy read, and a pretty good twist on a ghost story. Liv Bloom gets an art scholarship to elite prep school Wickham Hall, where she befriends loner Gabe and popular legacy student Malcolm. Wickham Hall is a school of secret societies and cover-ups, and Liv finds out what she’s gotten herself into – too late. When she is murdered and Gabe is her only connection left to life, the three team up to figure out what happened to Liv – and the other ghost girls that haunt Wickham Hall. One of the coolest things about the book is how Talkington weaves art into Liv’s every day descriptions of things – as an artist and art student, Liv makes comparisons to great painters and her imagery is awesome.

5. The Round House – Louise Erdrich

When thirteen-year-old Joe’s mother Geraldine is brutally attacked, he and his father, a judge on the North Dakota reservation, are determined to seek justice for her. Geraldine retreats into herself, so traumatized that she is unable to leave her room. As Joe and his friends start investigating for themselves, they are brought to the Round House, a sacred space of the Ojibwe tribe where the horrific crime was committed. The boys discover clues, and Joe’s memory of his mother that day – going to work to pick up a certain file – points in the direction of one suspect in particular. This novel does a great job of showing the love that binds a family together. It is also really interesting how Erdrich incorporates Native traditions and legends into this reality where characters see ghosts and also shows how government made jurisdiction and enforcing laws so difficult.

6. Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyemi

Helen Oyemi’s most recent novel is loosely-based on the fairytale of Snow White. Boy Novak escapes her abusive, rat catcher father and their life in New York in search of beauty and meets Arturo Whitman and his beautiful daughter Snow. When Boy gives birth to her daughter Bird, a startling family secret is uncovered. Bird is colored, and Arturo’s family has been passing as white for decades (the story takes place in the 1950s). Rather than send Bird away to live with her aunt Clara (who was sent away for the very same reason by Boy’s mother-in-law) to protect the secret, Boy sends Snow away instead – in essence, becoming the “evil stepmother.” Years later, Snow and Bird begin corresponding, and Snow comes home. Both girls have a special relationship with mirrors. Boy’s best friend, a writer, unvcovers another secret, leading to a twist at the end, which I will not divulge, but suffice to say that in this book, nothing is as it seems.

7. The Weight of Blood – Laura McHugh

This dual-narrative novel is told from the point of view of teenage girl Lucy Dane – who only has stories of her mother who disappeared when she was a baby – and also from the past point of view of Lila Dane and what leads up to her disappearance. When Lucy’s mentally challenged friend Cheri disappears, Lucy investigates and stumbles upon a decades-old family secret, that puts her in danger of people whom she trusted. Lila’s story supplements what Lucy is missing from her mother’s past – how she came to Henbane, Missouri and ended up with Carl Dane, the brother of her boss, Crete. I loved this book so much that I don’t want to give away too much of the elegantly crafted, Southern Gothic story, so I’ll just end it here and say this: If you love a well-written thriller with a strong heroine, READ IT.

Monthly Mini-Reviews: February

I know it’s already several days into March, but I spent the last day of February in North Carolina for the Florence Forth Race, and I’m just getting all settled back into the swing of things (and still quite sore haha). So here are the books I read in February:

1. Far from You – Tess Sharpe [Advanced Copy, Pub Date April 8, 2014]

I really enjoyed this one. Sophie Winters deals with an addiction to painkillers after a nearly-fatal car accident, and then loses her best friend Mina when a masked gunman shoots her when the two girls are in the woods. Everyone is led to believe that Sophie has relapsed and the murder was drug-related, and Sophie is forced into rehab. This young adult book is LGBT but the plot is not super-focused on this aspect; rather, the plot is driven by Sophie’s hunt for Mina’s killer. I wanted Sophie to solve the mystery so badly, and I was a ball of nervousness when she finally did.

2. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

This book was a requirement for my creative nonfiction class.  I was excited to read it, because I had always wanted to and was finally given the opportunity.  Capote definitely makes this the “nonfiction novel” – it is a compelling account of the 1959 Clutter family murder.

3. Night – Elie Wiesel

This was also a requirement for my CNF class.  I read Night in about 90 minutes – it was too good to put down. Wiesel makes the reader feel as if they are really there in the concentration camp with him. The story is not only historical; it tells of the love between a father and son, and certainly gave me a better idea of the Holocaust than I had ever imagined.

4. Seabiscuit – Laura Hillenbrand

This was the third book required for my CNF class. Again, it was a page-turner. I could not wait to get to the final race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit. For a nonfiction book, the characters were so developed that they seemed to come off the page for me. However, sometimes it felt like I should’ve been listening to sports broadcast, with all the race times and sports-commentator language used.

5. Princesses Behaving Badly – Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Princesses Behaving Badly gives short historical accounts of famous (or unheard of) princesses that led less-than-regal lives. The princesses are divided into seven categories – the Warriors, Usurpers, Schemers, Survivors, Partiers, Floozies, and Madwomen – and include Alfhild, a pirate; Lucrezia Borgia, a mafia princess; and Charlotte of Prussia, known as “the princess who threw a sex party.” These stories are witty and informative; I found this book very interesting and easy to read.

6. The Flamethrowers – Rachel Kushner

The Flamethrowers was Main Point Book Club’s February pick. It was also one of the 10 Best Books of the New York Times Book Review 2013.  The novel takes place in New York City and Italy in 1975 and follows Reno (nicknamed after her hometown) into a world of motorcycles, artists, and riots after she begins an affair with artist and motorcycle empire heir Sandro Valera. I initially had a hard time getting into the book, but once I did, it was gripping.

7. The Frangipani Hotel – Violet Kupersmith [Advanced Copy, Pub Date April 1, 2014]

The Frangipani Hotel is a collection of Vietnamese short ghost stories, expertly crafted by Kupersmith.  It takes the reader inside the hotel, on an American-Vietnamese little girl’s trip to visit her grandmother overseas, to the lives of twins who practically raise themselves in the wild, and into many other places where ghosts lie. I love ghost stories, and this was the perfect book to pick up and read a story from whenever the mood struck me.

8. The Best American Essays 2013 – Ed. Cheryl Strayed

The Best American Essays collections were recommended reading for my CNF class, and I wasn’t really sure how I would feel about this one, since I rarely read essays. However, they truly mean the best essays; to my delight, I found every one interesting and well-written. There were 26 essays by authors like Zadie Smith, Alice Munro, Brian Doyle, and Angela Morales. I read one a day for February.

9. Above – Isla Morley

 Above had me on the edge of my seat with the turn of each page. At 16, Blythe is abducted by a survivalist, Hobbs, who keeps her underground in a missile silo in Kansas for 17 years, never allowing her to see the light of day, and even impregnating her, forcing her to raise a child in this lonely captivity. Blythe constantly hopes that she will be found, but that day never arrives. Once Dobbs dies, Blythe reemerges into the world with her now-fifteen-year-old son, only to find it is nothing like before, just as Dobbs promised. I felt it was riveting and incredibly well-written, especially the parts that take place underground.  However, the end falls a little flat for me. Even so, I loved the book and gave it a 5 on GoodReads.