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Ramblings by Category

Ramblings by Year

All Fall Down [a mini book review of sorts]

All Fall Down
All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:

1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her — so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.

Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace — no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down. (goodreads.com)

I didn’t know about this new series from Ally Carter until I saw it mentioned on a friend’s blog. I was thrilled when I discovered my library actually had it in stock. I don’t think anything else Ally Carter will write will ever compare to the Gallagher Girls series in my mind, but it’s a fun mystery. What I missed in this story, that I loved in the GG series, was the depth of the side characters. I felt like all the “friends” that Grace had in All Fall Down were sort of flat, and bland. Perhaps they will be better fleshed out in the sequel. I’d like to know more about them.

I do like stories where you can’t trust anyone though, and this was certainly one of those! Even Grace isn’t the most reliable main character. 😉  Suppose I should keep an eye out for the second book to show up at my library.

 

fancy some fantasy? [an assortment of mini-(sort of)-book reviews]

Those of you who still happen to read my blog should recall that I have not been able to sit and read for over a year now. Reading is always my main form of escape and relaxation, so frustration levels have been high. Where I would once reach close to 150 books read a year, I was struggling to read a book a month for way too long. Nothing captured my attention very long. Everything seemed so… trivial, and unoriginal.

But recently I have been on a big reading kick. I devoured book after book as if I was just handed a bottle of water after having been lost in a desert for months. I have read 16 books since the end of February and 14 of those were Fantasy novels. Fourteen. In a row. The bulk of which were read from the end of April until just this past week. The two other books weren’t typical fantasy, but they were middle grade books with a magical element.

So here are some of the fantasy novels I really enjoyed over the last 3 months! (And it appears something broke in an update and now italics doesn’t work on my blog. I can’t recall how to fix this problem, so just trust me that I have properly italicized the book titles as I should until I can fix the broken thing.)

Shadow Study (Soulfinders, #1)
Maria V. Snyder

I had completely forgotten that Maria V. Snyder had begun a new series with the characters from the Study Series. I loved the original trilogy and was quite looking forward to revisiting my friends Yelena and Valek. I was a little wary of this new series however –  often the sequels or the revisits do not do the original story justice. I was thrilled when I fell comfortably back into the fictional world that Snyder created with Poison Study. What I loved most about this book (besides the characters) was the fact that I couldn’t trust anyone in this story. I can’t wait to read the next book. I love when books keep me guessing! (Adult / YA Fantasy.)

Home (Magic Thief, #4)
Sara Prineas

I fell fast in love with the Magic Thief series last summer. It was pretty awesome to discover a new series that already had three books out. Although it felt like forever before this fourth book published. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this installment when I began reading. I felt like it was going in a direction that was dull, and unoriginal. Thankfully it wasn’t too long before the story twisted in a direction I wasn’t quite expecting and I was in for a very enjoyable ride! You can’t help but love Conn and root for him every step of the way! (Middle Grade.)

The Crown of Embers (Fire & Thorns, #2)
The Bitter Kingdom (Fire & Thorns #3)
Rae Carson

I am sort of embarrassed as to how long it took me to get back to this series after I read the first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, in 2011. I started out waiting for the books to publish in soft cover so they’d match the advance copy format of the first, and then I seem to have forgotten about them. In my defence, when I did recall I should finish the series, I wasn’t in a book reading, or book buying, mood. Even now, I picked up these two books in soft cover with Christmas money, and then didn’t read them until April when I realized I wanted to read more fantasy stories. I remembered liking the first book a lot, but having some issues with the topic of body image in the story. Thankfully the body image stuff wasn’t as prominent in the second and third books, at least it didn’t stick out at me in any way. I’m trying to remember more about the story for this little blurb, but I have too many books on my brain. I do know that I read Crown of Embers in ONE day, which was a record for me lately. And I think the final book took me 2 days. It’s a great series, trust me! (Young Adult)

Jinx’s Fire (Jinx, #3)
Sage Blackwood

I read the first two books in this series (Jinx; Jinx’s Magic) right after we lost our own Jinx suddenly. It was a magical series I’d been eyeing for some time but never picked up. I suddenly needed to read the books last summer to help myself heal from the loss of Jinxy. Amazingly enough, Jinx has a (sort of) friend named Sophie in this series, and she’s got attitude. It was such a perfect fit for Jinx and our Sophie that I felt that these books were just what I needed when I needed them. Turns out they were also fantastically written novels full of magic and adventure. Jinx (in the story, not the dog) reminded me a lot of Conn from the Magic Thief series at times, which made for delightful reading. There is also a werewolf who considers himself an intellectual, and therefore does not lower himself to the eating of humans like his werewolf kin. But this also means he needs to leave conversations pretty suddenly, lest he accidentally eat you. Heh. Each book in this series has surprised me with its direction. They are pretty meaty books for middle grade fantasy and they are a perfect escape from dreary real life woes. (Middle Grade)

The Rain Wild Chronicles:
Dragon Haven (#2)
City of Dragons (#3)
Blood of Dragons (#4)
Robin Hobb

This is where things get crazy. While I was on this fantasy kick, I happened to notice that my library had The Rain Wild Chronicles on their shelves. Now, I read the first book Dragon Keeper a billion years ago (2011) and again, forgot about the series while I wait for the mass market versions to come out. I was pretty sure I had enjoyed that first book about dragons, and I knew I loved other books by Robin Hobb, so I took out the three remaining books and gave them a whirl. WELL. These books are not short, and yet I did nothing but read, read, read. At home, at work (on lunch!), on the bus (bus sickness be damned!). I read these books every chance I got. I was loving them completely. I finished the fourth and final book the first night I got to my parents’ place for a 2 week visit. This meant I NEEDED to get MORE books. Since reading this series made me realize that another Hobb series that I had avoided (thinking it was about something else) was just sitting out there waiting for me to read it! But before I get into that… if you love dragons, and you love questing and adventure, then I highly recommend this series. You get pretty attached to the characters (human, and dragon) and Robin Hobb builds an amazing world that you can’t get out of your head for weeks after you’re done reading. Which is why… (Adult)

Liveship Traders:
Ship of Magic (#1)
Mad Ship (#2)
Ship of Destiny (#3)
Robin Hobb

When this series came out, way back in 1998/1999, I had already read another trilogy by the same author (Farseer Trilogy). I knew I loved her writing, but I didn’t want to read a book about pirates. Little did I know that this wasn’t a series just about pirates. I didn’t know what a Liveship was until I read the Rain Wild series, and that’s when I knew that a) I needed to read this older series, and b) I had an excuse to NOT leave the world created by Hobb. I also realized that there were 4 separate series out there all set in the same world. I didn’t realize it at the time. Now, you can read these in order if you wanted to start at the beginning (Farseer) and work your way to the “end” (Rain Wilds), but I will tell you this: had I not read all four books of the Rain Wilds first, I probably would have tossed the first book of the Liveship series across the room because one of the main characters in this series is the most impossible, bratty, whiny, creature I have ever come across in a book. I hated her. Very strong feelings of hate. Only I knew that she changes because I met her later on in her life. But oh boy. I could have given up on an amazing series because of one snotty girl. The flip side was that the character of Brashen Tell in this book was rather swoon-worthy. I don’t normally have crushes on literary men, but Brashen won my heart. *swoon* (Adult)

An Ember in the Ashes (Ember in the Ashes, #1)
Sabaa Tahir

I know this is getting very long, but I needed to add this new release to my list because I was having the WORST time reading anything after ingesting nothing but 6 Robin Hobb books in a row. I couldn’t escape the city of Bingtown or the Rain Wilds as I had been living in them completely for weeks. I saw that my library had just received a copy of this new release that I had been hearing good things about, and since it was on the shelf, I picked it up! I was apprehensive at first because I find so much YA so similar these days. I think I may have burnt myself out with all the reviewing. So I started this book with a sort of sceptical attitude and I may have given some serious side-eye to the first few chapters. Then I realized I was pretty hooked on the story and that the characters weren’t as cookie-cutterish as I thought they would be. Yes all the young love, instant attraction was there, but it didn’t seem that ridiculous, and it didn’t make my teeth hurt from being over-sweet. In fact, I was loving the ruthlessness of the military school. The story went places I thought it wouldn’t go, and that both surprised, and delighted me. When I realized I was almost at the end of the book (and I knew to expect a cliffhanger, and it did go sort of the way I thought it would) I was sad. This book also took me a while to get out of my head. I still think about it today. I think this says a lot about a book that was able to a) distract me from Hobb’s fantasy world, and b) absorb me into its own fictional world. This book has some dystopian elements to the fantasy and I didn’t think it would work well for me, but it did. I am extremely eager for the next book. Sadly it doesn’t even have a title yet. The perils of reading a book so close to its release date! (Young Adult.)

Whew! This was a long post. I have a lot of time to make up for. And I’m on vacation this week, so hopefully there will be more where this came from! If you check out any of these titles because of my post, I’d love to know what you think of them! Also, I’m always game for more fun fantasy book suggestions, so comment away!

The Truth About Alice [a book review of sorts]

The Truth About Alice
by Jennifer Mathieu

Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party.

But did you know Alice was sexting Brandon when he crashed his car?

It’s true. Ask ANYBODY.

Rumor has it that Alice Franklin is a slut. It’s written all over the bathroom stall at Healy High for everyone to see. And after star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons dies in a car accident, the rumors start to spiral out of control. (goodreads.com)

Look at me! Two books read so far this year! And just yesterday, my Goodreads challenge widget was yelling at me; telling me I was already behind schedule to reach my goal of 50 books read for the year. That challenge widget is a bully. It needs to chill out a little. I mean, I get most of my reading done in the summer, so two weeks into the new year, it shouldn’t be all “WHY AREN’T YOU DOING ANYTHING BUT READING RIGHT NOW? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” Chill out, widget. Chill.

Ok, so I am going to admit that I thought this was a suicide book. You know, a book about suicide. Or depression and stuff. And since I have a (healthy) obsession with mental illness novels, I was very interested in reading it. I have been wanting to read The Truth About Alice for a while now, but since I wasn’t really buying books last year, I didn’t. My library did not have it in their system. But then I got gift cards for Christmas (yay!) and so the book buying, I had been avoiding for most of 2014, was happily reactivated in 2015. Woo!

Thing is, this book is NOT a suicide book. (Spoiler? I guess not. I mean, it’s not like I’m ruining any part of the plot. It’s not part of the plot at all.) It is a book about bullying though. And I also like to read about those stories, too.

I realize this makes me sound… crazy? Or something. But really, when I am in certain moods, I find books about these subjects slightly comforting. It’s like listening to sad songs when you’re, well, sad. You just wallow and let your emotions run rampant. It’s freeing. It might be a little Emo, but whatever. It’s better than holing up in a dark room and hiding from the world. I was in a sunny, living room, surrounded by my husband and fluffy dogs and reading. It was cathartic.

The other thing about this book is that it is told in multiple points of view. Not something I normally care for, but a) this caught me my surprise (because I don’t read reviews anymore, and just pick books up when I read a summary that clicks with me) and b) I realized very quickly that I liked the flow of the story from the points of view of the characters.

Four characters. None of them Alice herself.

The popular girl.

Alice’s best friend, and in the popular crowd.

The best friend of the popular boy who died.

The weird, genius kid that no one ever speaks to.

And they all talk about Alice. They tell you their versions of her story. And I can hear each individual so clearly through their chapters. I found them all believable. I could actually see this happening and how it happened, and why it happened.

Teenagers are shallow creatures. Social status is often way more important that long-lasting friendships. Meaningful relationships. Teenagers are cruel. Teen girls are mean. Teen boys can be hurtful.

Anyone can be a bully. Anyone can be a friend. Anyone can be an enemy – even if there’s no reason to be an enemy. Sometimes teen years are a constant battle between opposing forces that appear and disappear overnight. Jealousy, insecurity, pride, are all accelerants in the explosive fires of teenage drama. And sometimes there are innocent casualties.

So, yeah. I did think this was a book about suicide. Especially since the story is told by everyone except Alice. So I was expecting the worst and yet… the story has an ending I wasn’t thinking I was going to get. And it surprised me. And it made me sit back, close the book, and say out loud, “Huh.”

This was a quick read; it’s not a very long book, but it’s one I enjoyed. It makes me happy when I start the year with books that really click with me. Especially when I have been so meh about books lately. I have had such trouble with stories holding my attention. So these two books I have finished since January 1st? They make me happy.

Which is why I wanted to blog about them.

The end.

 

PS – I found it immensely weird to be reading a book about a town with my last name. Seriously. That is highly unusual.

Belzhar [a book review of sorts]

Belzhar
by Meg Wolitzer

I stopped blogging about books last year. I wasn’t reading many books as it was, and the thought of having to find time to write about what I just read (and edit the cover images the way I do) was way too overwhelming. I was broken for a while; I was healing for a while. I think I am still healing, and always will be. And although I am still not reading nearly as much as I used to, I have rediscovered the desire to blog about the occasional book I have read.

So, to start things off well for my OCD… I am going to tell you about the first book I read, and finished, in 2015. Belzhar is a young adult novel about a girl named Jam who experiences a bit of a breakdown and is sent away to a school in Vermont called The Wooden Barn. This school helps teens heal from their problems without medication and without having to go to a psychiatric hospital. It’s a sort of half-way house in a way.

I thought this book was going to be a lot more like a retelling of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar because that book is one of the topics in this story. I was surprised with the turn the story took and the way everything unfolded. It wasn’t what I thought the book was going to be and I liked that a lot.

Jam is selected for an “elite” Special Topics in English class. Elite in the way that only four or five students are selected in a semester. The class, taught by the older Mrs. Q, only learns one author for the semester. The semester that Jam enters, that author is Sylvia Plath. There are four other students in the class, two other girls, and two boys. Each student is given a red leather journal to write in. They are two write twice a week and turn in the journals at the end of the semester.

There was something about this book that resonated with me. I always have a special place in  my heart for books about teens with mental illness, and although this wasn’t exactly the kind of story I thought it would be, I was very engaged in the story. I might have thought Jam was a little over-the-top with her infatuation over her dead boyfriend (after knowing him only 41 days), but I got that she was trying to deal with the grief of losing him, so of course she would be dwelling on their time together. Jam was actually the character I found the least interesting of all 5 students in that class.

There are many mixed reviews out there about this book. I was reading some after I read the book myself and enjoyed it. I wanted to see what other people thought. I completely understand the problems some readers had with the story, and yet for some reason, I don’t have the same problems. I feel like I would have them normally because the points made are really very valid. There is little character development in the story, but that honestly didn’t bother me when I read it. I was fully enjoying what I was reading as it was presented, and I didn’t think much into what wasn’t there. I think there are many ways to tell a story about mental illness, and this was one that had a twist I wasn’t expecting. I don’t think this makes it less meaningful, or disrespectful of people with mental illness. I like to think of it as art. Not everyone will paint a flower or an apple the same way. There are different ways to visualize your interpretation of an object. Someone’s flower might look nothing like a flower, but to them, that’s how they want to show it to the world, or how they see it. There was nothing in this story that made me think that mental illness is a joke, or not a real thing. It was just a lighter version of a very heavy subject.

I am pleased with my first read of 2015, and I hope that my ability to read, and get lost in story, will come back to me this year. I have a bunch of “outside-of-my-comfort-zone” books on a list that looked interesting to me, and I hope to branch out in my reading this year. I will stop when I need to stop a book, I will read whatever interests me at the time. And perhaps, just perhaps, I’ll blog about the books I read. Obviously that’s all happening here on my personal blog, as I closed up shop on my book blog last year.

I’m trying to find the joy in my regularly enjoyed activities again. I feel like 1 3/4 years after my trauma, I should be able to find myself again. No pressure, but sometimes you have to manually put yourself back up on that horse and let muscle memory take over.

Have you read any great books about mental illness (not just YA)? I’d love to know about them. I have a nice collection of books about issues like this: depression, suicide, eating disorders. I know it sounds weird, but I find these sorts of books comforting. And helpful with my own healing process.

rambling reader: what i’ve been reading & how I’m learning to be kind to myself

I have been making good use of my town’s library since they have upped their game in English books. There are many frustrations when living in a mostly French province and you want to read – for “free” – in English. Most of the public libraries in this province don’t stock English books, and they don’t really budget for them either. I broke up with the library in this town years ago, but something inspired me to take a look at their website over the summer and I was delighted with what I found. So I spend hours (yes, hours) on their online catalogue each week looking up books and authors, going through their new acquisition pages, and saving books I want to read to my account’s wish list. When I was on vacation this summer, I was at the library every 3 days or so. Now I’m going about once a week. The good news is that I am reading again, even though it’s still slow going.

Read: Audrey, Wait!; The Lost Hero; The Son of Neptune

I have been working on being patient with myself when it comes to books. Since I am borrowing these from the library, and not buying them, I am letting my body (mind?) tell me when it wants to continue reading a book, or if it wants to put that book aside and try something else.  I have taken some books out of the library more than once because I just couldn’t read them the first time I tried. There’s no rule that says I have to read a book I’m not quite feeling, RIGHT AWAY. There is a rule, but it’s mostly one my little ODC voice tells me I have to do. Why do I feel guilty about stopping a book when I am just not enjoying it? Why do I feel guilty when I stop a book I know I’m going to enjoy, but I’m just not that into it at the moment? Why am I putting pressure on myself for something this simple? Just put the book down. Walk away. Try something else and just borrow that book again when you’re feeling it. It’s a weird sort of pressure to put on oneself.

Read: Heir of Fire; Burial Rites // Did Not Finish: Dreamwood

I am a huge Mood Reader, and the fun I’m having with the library is that I can take out all sorts of things at once and then try them out. I have been checking out more non-fiction but I don’t always get to it while I have the books out. Unless I know I’m really eager to read something I didn’t get to by then end of my time with the book, I haven’t been renewing anything. I just bring it back and I’ll take it out some other time. I did learn from the books above that one book just wasn’t for me. I was not connecting with the writing or characters, so I won’t try that again. But the other books? I’ll pick up another time. I just wasn’t in the right mood for those books this time around.

Currently reading!

I honestly thought that the Thanksgiving long weekend that just past would have seen me plow through these books above, but I’m still trying to make my way through the first book I picked up. My long weekend was oddly busy and my brain did not want to settle down and escape in a book. So I’m slowing making my way through this bunch of books. One is due back next Friday and I have another 2 weeks with the rest. I might actually renew some of these because I know I want to read them all RIGHT NOW. Only not right now because I can’t seem to focus.

Over the last year, for various reasons (one of which was the fact that I just wasn’t reading anything), I have been very good at not buying books.  There has always been this urgency for me to pick up new releases as soon as they come out, and I’m not sure why that was such an urgent thing since it’s not like the books would disappear a month later. I would stockpile books I HAD TO GET NOW! and then not read them for months. I put an end to that, why spend the money and take up space in the house and not read something right away. It was a difficult habit to break, but I did. I bought books only if I KNEW I would want to keep them. The past month and a half I have actually bought more books than I have in the last year. Books I have been looking forward to and know I’ll keep. However they are sitting on a shelf right now because I want to get through the library books as much as I can. I’m at this weird point where I just don’t know WHAT I want to read next because I want to read ALL OF THE BOOKS at once. Heh.

So I am learning to be kind to myself about reading, and patient. The only pressure on me about finishing a book is a made up pressure that my brain has created. I’m not in a race. I’m not on a deadline. I can be leisurely about my reading and I don’t have to finish something if I am not feeling it. My entire being is still recovering from that stupid trauma and I’m not back to my normal (haha) self yet. I still need time to heal my brain and learn to focus on things and not always feel so…skittish. And eventually I’ll be reading a ton of books again without even thinking about it. And I’ll enjoy reading for fun and pleasure and not because I have to read something for a review, or for anyone else.

And occasionally I will treat myself to book purchases that I am really looking forward to because, well…

They are just SO PRETTY! (Kate Forsyth is one of my all-time favourite authors and these are UK editions of her last few books that used to be only in Australia and UK. I had to get them, I have been lusting after her new releases for some time!) (And: Sale!)

Sometimes you just need a new book to help make things a little bit better.