Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

Five years ago, when they were thirteen, Brynn and Mia’s best friend was murdered. Everyone thinks they did it, obsessed over a fictional world called Lovelorn. The thing is, they didn’t. In this book, Mia and Brynn decide to “go back to Lovelorn”, face their past, and try to discover what really happened.

This isn’t the sort of book I normally read. I have a very vivid imagination which means that thrillers can easily get to be too much for me. However, this was done in such a way that I was able to handle it. Not only that, but I was hooked. It’s much more than a who dunnit; it’s a study of human nature, and an examination of the many different facets of a person that the world doesn’t see.

I loved the way reality and a made-up world collided in the book as Mia, Brynn, and a few other characters tried to figure out the mystery. I was on the edge of  my seat, wondering whether the author would actually choose to divulge the answer, or leave me forever wondering.

The writing was skillful, weaving a story that was more about the survivors and how their lives were affected than about the murder in and of itself. That being said, there were a few difficult parts that I had to rush through: mainly, brief mentions of self-harm in two separate places, and a vague allusion to harassment.

I liked that the main reason the girls were suspects (aside from being the best friends) was that the murder matched one that they had described in a fan fiction they’d written; a fan fiction that no one else had read. I also thought the final few sentences in the book were flat-out brilliant.

All in all, while this isn’t a book I’ll reread, I did find it engrossing. I suggest it, but with the caveat that it does deal with some sensitive material. If you enjoy psychological thrillers, this is right up your alley.

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Queen of Air and Darkness: a Rant

                            ****SPOILER ALERT! MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!****

Buckle up, I’m about to annoy a lot of die-hard fans: I thought this book was a disaster. I was so disappointed, because I’d been looking forward to reading this book for so long. My sweet husband gave it to me the day it released. I smiled, opened the book and was treated to 912 pages of blah.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. But the good was overshadowed by how bad the bad was. Let me start by saying that my lack of enjoyment in this book is at least partly my fault: I am one of the few people who don’t read these books for the romance, so the fact that this installment had so much of that in it didn’t interest me. That’s a point against me, not the writing.

I think the best way to express my thoughts on QoAaD would be to use pro and con bullet points. So, here goes:

*Pro: The family these books follow (the Blackthorns) have varied, unique personalities, all of which are interesting in their own way. Ty, in particular, is my favorite.

*Con: The cast of characters seemed almost too big for Cassandra Clare to write well, and they all began to blur into fuzzy pictures of their previous selves. It felt as though she’d lost confidence in her ability to write these characters well, instead choosing to shoehorn in characters from the Mortal Instruments.

*Pro: The demons in this book, as in all of them, are unlike any I’ve read elsewhere in description. Ms. Clare is also skilled at describing battle scenes that make them easy to picture in my mind.

*Con: There was much more time spent on who should be in love with who, instead of the battle scenes I enjoy. Also, certain constants from throughout the other books seemed to ebb and flow, an example of that being the naming of the seraph blades. Sometimes they were named, sometimes not.

*Pro: The Fae are done very well, borrowing from classic faery tropes, while having an original spin on them. The Unseelie vs. Seelie drama brewing had the potential to turn into something truly exciting.

*Con: Sebastian. Again???

Despite what I see as an excruciatingly bad book, I’m still planning to read Cassandra Clare’s next book. That’s the thing. A misstep doesn’t necessarily become a deal breaker for me, as far as reading more by a certain author. I’m just going to go into it with more caution, and less excitement.

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In the Shadows by Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo

I thought I knew what I was getting with this book. I was so very, very wrong; and it was perfect!

First mistake: This is a fun, lighthearted story. This book tends more toward horror than any other genre. The atmosphere is tense and creepy throughout the entire book, and the illustrations (more on those in a bit) only add to the mysterious goings-on.

Second mistake: The illustrations are just beautiful additions to the storyline. The illustrations- done in a graphic novel style- tell their own story. Basically, there are two separate stories being told, but they compliment each other and end up meeting up for the culmination of the book.

Third mistake: This book is intended for a young audience. While, reading-level wise, my ten year old could easily read this book in a week, the subject matter and the way it’s written would scare the snot out of him.

The characters were well-developed, the graphic story only served to add to the deliciously creepy vibe Kiersten White achieved, and the writing was incredibly detailed. I highly recommend this book for a spooky evening.

Coming Soon

I tend toward pessimism, so I always assume the new year will bring doom and gloom, with a side order of disaster. However, this next year is looking pretty darn good as far as new releases go. Here are a few (only a few) of the books that I can’t wait to get my hands on in 2019.

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer- available January 15th:

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart after her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf—the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an offer: for her to come and live with him for a year. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, Echo discovers centuries-old secrets, a magical library full of books-turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up—otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever. (taken from Goodreads)

This has a Beauty and the Beast feel to me, but only as a jumping off point. I hope it’s as mysterious and beautiful as it sounds.

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The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Choski- available January 15th.

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive. (taken from Goodreads).

There’s been a lot of buzz about this book, hopefully deserved. The description makes this book sound incredibly unique, and I don’t want to miss it.

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A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison- available Feb. 7th

Three sisters trapped by an ancient curse.

Three magical objects with the power to change their fate.

Will they be enough to break the curse?

Or will they lead the sisters even deeper into danger? … (taken from Goodreads)

This book just looks fun and lighthearted, just the sort of book to read in February (for some reason, February is always incredibly busy and I read less). It might be one that my ten-year-old would like too.

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The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare- available April 2nd

All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend. But as soon as the pair settles in Paris, an old friend arrives with news about a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand that is bent on causing chaos around the world. A cult that was apparently founded by Magnus himself. Years ago. As a joke.

Now Magnus and Alec must race across Europe to track down the Crimson Hand and its elusive new leader before the cult can cause any more damage. As if it wasn’t bad enough that their romantic getaway has been sidetracked, demons are now dogging their every step, and it is becoming harder to tell friend from foe. As their quest for answers becomes increasingly dire, Magnus and Alec will have to trust each other more than ever—even if it means revealing the secrets they’ve both been keeping. (taken from Goodreads)

To be honest, I thought Queen of Air and Darkness was a disaster. I’m not going to go into that here, but it was excruciating to read. However, I adore Magnus, and Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter universe is fun to explore. If Magnus and Alec are the main characters, I’d say this book has major potential.

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Oddmire # 1: Changling by William Ritter- available July 16th

Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the fateful night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted from his task. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart. Not knowing which to bring back, he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. Then when they are twelve years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave behind their sleepy town of Endsborough and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, crossing the perilous Oddmire swamp and journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and discover who they truly are. (taken from Goodreads) 

I read William Ritter’s Jackaby series this past year and loved it so much that it made my list of best books of the year. Add the fact that there are changelings involved (Changelings are great!), and I can’t wait to read this one! It’s also another one that my oldest might really enjoy.

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The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern- Available Nov. 5th

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a strange book hidden in the library stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues — a bee, a key, and a sword — that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to a subterranean library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians — it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose — in both the mysterious book and in his own life. (taken from Goodreads)

Back in 2011, I read a book called The Night Circus, written by a new author named Erin Morgenstern. I fell completely in love with it. It’s in my list of top five books that I’ve ever read and I’ve read it at least twice every year since then. So to find out that, eight years later, Morgenstern has a new book coming out, is beyond exciting to me. I can’t wait to delve back into the magic that is her writing! This is the book that I’m most exited to read in 2019 and I’ll make sure to get my copy the second it’s available.

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There you have it. While there are many other books that I’m excited for in 2019, I’ve decided to stop myself here before the glazed look in my readers’ eyes becomes a nodding off. What books are you excited to read in 2019? I’ve noticed there are no nonfiction in this list: what are some nonfiction books are being released that I need to keep an eye out for?

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Confession: I didn’t love the Grisha trilogy, written prior to Six of Crows. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t connect with me. So, I picked up Six of Crows in spite of, not because of, the original series.

I am so glad that I did! While Six of Crows does take place in the same world as the Grisha series, it’s also separate, and has a completely different feel. It’s dark and gritty, which I love.

Think Oceans 11 gone fantasy, and you’ve got the jumping off point for this book. Kaz “Dirtyhands” Brekker (one of the most interesting fantasy characters I’ve read in a long time) is a thief looking to get together a crew in order to pull off a heist that will net him a huge sum. He’s supposed to break into the Ice Court in order to recover a scientist who has managed to create a drug that will enhance the abilities of the Grisha (basically the magic-users in this world).

Kaz is joined by members of his crew, including a sniper, spy, and his own Grisha, as well as others. The heist itself, while great to read about, takes second place to the amazing character building that we are treated to in this book. Each member has his or her own demons to contend with, and trust has to be earned. There are double crosses, surprising backstories, complicated relationships, and action aplenty.

I strongly recommend picking this up, whether you read and enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s other books or not. It will suck you in and you’ll want to grab the next book in the series (The Crooked Kingdom) as soon as you finish it.

“No mourners. No funerals. ” – Six of Crows

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2018: A Retrospective

As the year draws to a close, I’m adding my list of the best books I’ve read this year to the many others I’ve read (which I blame for my ever-growing to be read list). Some of these weren’t released in 2018, but I read them this year, so I’m including them anyway. I’m a rebel like that. So, without further ado, my top five books of 2018:

5. The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell: I actually saw the movie first, then read the book, which is something I rarely do. Both are well done, but the book is absolutely fascinating.

4. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: Inspired by Russian fairy tales, this book is both magical and one of a kind. There’s a sequel, which I haven’t read yet. I’m so nervous that it won’t live up to the first, but the storytelling in The Bear and the Nightingale is so strong that I know I’m going to give it a go anyway. Here’s hoping!

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3. Jackaby by William Ritter: This rousing supernatural mystery/fantasy series is so much fun to read! Jackaby is a delightful mix of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, while also being his own character. The female characters in this book are smart, capable, and multi-faceted–some of the best female characters I’ve read in a long time. This is a series I’ll gladly read again soon.

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2. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: I absolutely loved this book and I’m so mad at myself for not having read it earlier! It’s smart, original, and fast-paced. I absolutely loved the premise and I’ve found a new author to binge read in V.E. Schwab.

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And… my absolute favorite book of 2018 is:

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. This book is amazing! I devoured it and I’m eagerly waiting for Stuart Turton’s next book. I love everything about his writing style, from his attention to detail, to the book’s final twist. READ THIS BOOK!

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*Honorable mention*
Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake: The only reason this isn’t tied for first place is that this is the third book in the series, and I read the other two last year. This book is so good that, as soon as I finished it, I ran into the room my husband was in and just screamed. He’s used to my weirdness, so instead of asking if I was mortally injured, he automatically assumed it was because the book was so good. This series is a lovely, dark fantasy and everyone and their brother needs to read it.

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Did you read any of these books this year? What did you think? What’s your favorite 2018 discovery?

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

If you’re a book lover (like, an over-the-top, page sniffer), then you’ll love the premise of this book. What if the Library of Alexandra never burned down? What if it became the equivalent of an overreaching government?

In this alternate universe, The Great Library controls knowledge. Owning paper copies of books is illegal, and the printing press doesn’t exist. The library uses alchemy to deliver “approved books” to tablets (for lack of a better description) and it knows who reads what.

Jess is a bookrunner, meaning he smuggles forbidden books. It’s the family business. His family does it for profit, but Jess loves books. He prefers books to his own personal safety. His father decides to use this to his advantage to send him to school at the Library. There, students learn to control their specific skills.

Jess meets a wide array of characters, My favorites are Khalila and Thomas. Khalila is ridiculously smart. She’s middle eastern (she wears a hijab!) and still written as a kind human being, something that is sadly lacking in fiction. Thomas is an oversized teddy bear, and the unintentional trouble starter.

Jess and Thomas become best friends, which leads to trouble when the Library discovers that Thomas invented something they don’t want to exist. After that, things get…intense.

Do I have issues with this book? Absolutely. There’s a distractingly, unnecessary love thing going on between Jess and an incredibly powerful girl named Morgan. He makes some really stupid decisions because of it. Also, the description of how the magic/pseudo-science works was a little vague. I would have liked some clarification on that.

That aside, this is a very ambitious book, and an enjoyable one.

Have you read it? What did you think?

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

I just finished The Library Book , a nonfiction book about the worst library fire in the history of the United States-and no one knows about it. Although it’s ostensibly about the fire and the possibility of arson, it’s really a love letter to books and libraries.

The Los Angeles Library caught fire in April of 1986, destroying hundreds of thousands of books. I’m not going to lie, that was hard to read. A lot of these books were irreplaceable, like an 1860 illustrated copy of Don Quixote. Hundreds of thousands more were badly damaged.

Despite sounding like this wouldn’t be interesting for longer than the length of an article, this book is fascinating. I was invested in it from beginning to end, thanks in large part to the author’s attention to detail.

I do sometimes wonder, with nonfiction: is everyone interviewed actually remembering things that clearly, or do authors add their own flavor to the book? Thoughts on that? I wonder simply because my own memory is so flawed that reading the incredibly descriptive writing was very impressive.

Either way, this is a book worth reading. I really enjoyed it and, as someone who doesn’t read a ton of nonfiction, it’s encouraged me to to look for more nonfiction gems.

Have you read it? What did you think?

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A Trip Down Memory Lane

This time of year, I tend to feel a little nostalgic. I think that’s true for most people. For me, my childhood memories are threaded through with books. I remember walking to the library with my mom and siblings, pulling a wagon to bring books home in. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.

A few picture books stand out to me as favorites then, some that I’ve managed to hold on to or replace, so that my kids can enjoy them too. Here are a few of my absolute favorite children’s books:

St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. How can any kid not love these illustrations? They’re absolutely gorgeous. Combine that with the superb writing, and you feel like you’re traveling with George of Merry England to save the day (although, I did always kind of root for the dragon).

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The Kitchen Knight, also by Margaret Hodges with pictures by Trina Schart Hyman. What can I say? My love of fairy tales and fantasy started young and I’ve never outgrown it. I’ve been trying to get my hands on this book for years, but I haven’t managed it yet. It’s my very own quest, just slightly less fraught with peril. Ha ha!

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Jimmy’s Boa Bounces Back by Trina Hakes Noble illustrated by Steven Kellog. This isn’t the first Jimmy’s Boa book (that one is The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash), but I absolutely loved this book. It’s hilarious, how ridiculously everything escalates. It’s fun for both children and their parents, which is important because I can guarantee your little one will ask to have this one read over and over.

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Alphabears by Kathleen Hague illustrated by Michael Hague. This book helped me learn my alphabet. The little blurbs next to each letter are so sweet, and the entire book feels like a hug. There’s really no other way to describe it. This book remains one of my favorites, because I’m weird and I love children’s books.

Alphabears: An ABC Book: Hague, Kathleen
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond. There are many “If you Give a…” books, but this is the only one I like. It’s so stinking cute! I have to admit that I relate to it more, now that I’m a permanently exhausted parent.

Pecos Bill, written and Illustrated by Steven Kellog. When I was young, I’d read this book while listening to Robin Williams read it on cassette. It’s not the same without hearing his silly antics bring an equally silly legend to life. I’ve looked for it on cd, but haven’t had any luck.

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Last, but certainly not least, is East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer. Another fairy tale, I know, I know, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this fantastic book. The story is magical and the illustrations are beautiful. I always laugh a little thinking about how gorgeous this book is, because Mercer Mayer is more well known for his cute Little Critter books (which I also recommend, of course).  The great thing about this book is, the hero is a heroine.

Anyway, these are some of the books that are on my mind as I think back on all the literary adventures I was able to enjoy as a kid. What are some of your childhood favorites?

Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy

SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ UNTIL YOU’VE FINISHED THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS (which is a great series)!

I love the Shadowhunter world. These books are the closest I get to a guilty pleasure. I’ll be the first to admit that, while the entertainment level for Cassandra Clare’s books is through the roof, they’re probably not going to go down in history as the modern classics.  But, so what? These books are fun!

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy is a collection of short stories centered around Simon. I adore Simon so I was tentatively excited. I say “tentatively” because I’m always a little nervous about short story collections, that the different writing styles will be jarring. This book was great, though.

In this book, Simon the Former Vampire decides to attend the newly reopened Shadowhunter Academy. It’s a fantastic setting and serves to develop Simon’s character, as well as adding more tantalizing tidbits to the history of the Shadowhunter World in general.

I really can’t pick a favorite short story because they were written so cohesively that they blend together as one perfect narrative. I did enjoy seeing Magnus and Alec, and learning about the origin of a certain adorable baby. There are no unimportant characters: even new additions get attention and development.

This is a strong addition to the Shadowhunter canon and worth reading. It’s meant to bridge the Mortal Instruments and the Dark Artifices, but if you’ve already finished Queen of Air and Darkness and are still wanting more of the Shadowhunter world, this is a good one.

If you’ve read this, what did you think? Who is your favorite character in Cassandra Clare’s world?

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