Monday, March 31, 2014

TTT: Gateway Books

Gateway Books In My Reading Journey

Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every week they have a different Top Ten list topic that a bunch of bloggers take and make their own list of those things.
This week the theme is all about books that changed your reading horizons or opened doors that you never thought would interest you, but did. I love this topic because it shows how much one book can change your whole reading taste. I know I have quite a few of those.

Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)1. Eragon -
My First High Fantasy Series 

This was one of my brother's favorite series when we were growing up, but I always said that it was a "boy book" and that I didn't want to read it (my code for these books are huge and scary). But eventually he convinced me to read it thus beginning my love of all things dragons, dwarves, and elves. This definitely was my gateway book into my favorite genre.
Books it inspired me to read (directly or indirectly): The Lumatere Chronicles, The Mistborn series, The Lord of the Rings, and so many others.
The Giver (The Giver #1)2. The Giver - My First Dystopian.
We had to read this in eighth grade English. Everyone was complaining about how weird it was and how boring, but I was so enthralled by it. The concept of creating a future world through fiction? That's still so cool to me. I was the student who went up to my teacher after class to ask for book recommendations like it.
Books it inspired me to read (directly or indirectly): The Hunger Games, Divergent, The House of the Scorpion, Unwind.
Fairest3. Fairest - The first book that made me cry
The ending of this book is so beautiful. And Aza is so much like me. I understood her struggles and insecurities more than I'd understood any characters' before her. I cried for her when everything was going wrong and I cried for her when everything went right. Her happy ending brought little fourth-grade me solace, and I still try to reread this book every year. It's just very important to me.
Books it inspired me to read (directly or indirectly): Alanna: The First Adventure, The Goose Girl, and Enna Burning.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)
4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone- My first Harry Potter book
This series started it all. I was handed my first Harry Potter book at the age of 7. It made me into a reader. It started my love affair with the whimsical and with the underdog story and with themes of heroism and love. I grew up with every one of these characters. Harry Potter was my childhood and I loved every page of it.
Books it inspired me to read: Every book I've read since this book. Every. Single. One.

Anna and the French Kiss (Anna and the French Kiss, #1) 

5. Anna and the French Kiss - my first YA contemporary
By the time I reached adolescence I was thoroughly in love with fantasy in every form. But I'd heard so many great things about this book. It sounded actually cute so I decided to give it a chance, even though it wasn't in my preferred genre. I am so glad that I did. I connected with this story in a way I didn't know I could connect with a contemporary.
Books it inspired me to read (directly or indirectly): Fangirl, The Fault in our Stars, Faking Normal.
Divergent (Divergent, #1)6. Divergent - Opened the Goodreads Gate
The book that made me get a goodreads account. I had browsed Goodreads before, but I made an account because I wanted to vote for Divergent in the Goodreads Awards because I loved it so much. That opened me up to the blogging world and SO many new book recommendations. I've branched out in ways I didn't think I could.
Books it inspired me to read (directly or indirectly): Basically every book I've found through Goodreads and other bloggers. So...every book I've read in the last two years.
Little Women
7. Little Women - My First Classic.
I adored this book when I was ten and listened to it 20 times in one summer. With how many times I've reread this book and how well I know these characters, I feel like I grew up with the March sisters. Their struggles have helped me in my struggles. Their growth has inspired my growth. Not many books have become as ingrained in me as this book.
Books it inspired me to read (directly or indirectly): Pride and Prejudice, The Help, Alice in Wonderland, and all the other classics I read in my childhood.
Pride and Prejudice8. Pride and Prejudice - My First Austen
What a wonderful time in a person's life, their first Austen novel. Thus far I've only read Emma and Pride and Prejudice, but these stories have deeply resonated with my perspective on people and on all kinds of relationships (familial, sibling, and romantic).
Books it inspired me to read (directly or indirectly): Jane Eyre and Emma.
9. Julius Caesar - My First Shakespeare.
Julius CaesarOddly enough, Romeo and Juliet wasn't my first Shakespeare (and neither was A Midsummer's Night Dream). Though those are the most common. But we read Julius Caesar in my sophomore English class. I really enjoyed it, but what made me love the play was when we saw it performed live. It opened my eyes to the true wit and emotion of Shakespeare's writing. Since then it's been a great love of mine.

Books it inspired me to read (directly or indirectly): Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Midsummer's Night Dream.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1)10. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief - My First of Riordan Book
First off, it was my first introduction to Percy and Annabeth. They've since become some of my very favorite characters and the world that Riordan has created has become one of my favorite worlds. The humor and adventure of these books make them so fun and so fantastic. Since reading this (little more than a year ago) I've read twelve books by Rick Riordan and I have adored every single one of them.
Books it inspired me to read (directly or indirectly): The Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, and The Rithmatist.

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre
By: Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre
Orphaned Jane Eyre grows up in the home of her heartless aunt, where she endures loneliness and cruelty, and at a charity school with a harsh regime. This troubled childhood strengthens Jane's natural independence and spirit—which proves necessary when she takes a position as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him and live with the consequences, or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving the man she loves?
I get it now, guys. I get it. Jane Eyre is a big deal of a book, there are so many cultural references to it, so much of literature is derived from it. It's one of the biggest books from the 1800s and one of the most well-known and beloved classic novels. It was a matter of time until I finally gathered the courage to read it. This book is almost unanimously loved by readers of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. That much hype can be intimidating, but this book, this book more than lived up to all of it. I totally understand why this novel has stood the test of time and why it's so beloved. I absolutely loved this book.

I love that this book is more a character study than anything. Jane is the perfect narrator to examine all the characters that she interacts from Mr. Rochester to St. John. It's an in-depth look at how superiority, subservience, will, temper, external circumstances, and convictions weigh in matters of love and marriage. That being said, Jane always, always, always felt more like a character than a caricature. Now I understand why Jane is such a beloved literary character. She's sympathetic, and she holds on to her agency throughout the story. She is wherever she is because she believes that it is best for her to be there. She considers others in her decision making process, but she doesn't cater to their every wish. She is firm in her values, unwavering in her loyalty, and never give up either for love or position. She demanded to be treated like a person, never revered as an angel or thrown out as a demon. She is the heroine to inspire all heroines. And yet, she never becomes too perfect. She never even ventures near 'Mary Sue' territory. She feels things deeply and wholly and utterly, but her emotions don't fully dictate her choices. Sometimes she has to talk sense into herself, but she always comes to her senses.

I love that Jane wasn't willing to take terms in her love life that she couldn't live with, even for those she loved most. This kept her relationships healthy. She is the heroine that young girls should be looking up to and aspiring to be like.

The writing is gorgeous as well as accessible. The characters are distinctive and well-drawn. The plot is slow, but large and wonderful. I adored every second of this book. It pulled me in from the beginning, something that doesn't always happen with classics. But I found the language to be very immersive. I know that this is a book that is going to stick with me forever.


"But I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness and what I believed in I wished I behold."

"Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel. They need exercise for the faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do...It is thoughtless to condemn them or laugh at them if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."

"And I could not unlove him now merely because I had found that he ceased to notice me because I might pass hours in his presence and he would never once turn his eyes in my direction because I saw all his attentions appropriated by a great lady."

"There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow creatures and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort."

"I had rather be a thing than an angel."

"I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God, sanctioned by man...Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation, they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor."

"No reflection was to be allowed now: not one glance was to be cast back; not even one forward. Not one thought was to be given either to the past or the future. The first was a page so heavenly sweet - so deadly sad - that to read one line of it would dissolve my courage and break down my energy. The last was an awful blank: something like the world when the deluge was gone by."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Faking Normal

Faking Normal
By: Courtney Stevens
Faking Normal
Alexi Littrell hasn't told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does. When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in "the Kool-Aid Kid," who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.
This is the kind of book that's important, but that I don't read often. Mostly because it's contemporary and I have a difficult time getting into that genre. I decided to read it because this IS a genre that I feel I ignore too often and I heard great reviews from people I trust. And I was not disappointed. This book completely brought me inside the story. I felt for the characters. I was invested in their stories.
These characters felt so genuine. They had motive and realistic emotion throughout the entire story. I felt for Alexi and Bodee and everything they went through. I loved all the little details of characterization as well as the broad-stroke aspects of character. These things made it feel that much more real to me. I feel like I know these characters, like they're friends. Besides relatability and heart, these characters are so important.
This is very much a slow plot, a character-driven plot. That works so well for this story. It's about Alexi dealing with things, letting people in, letting Bodee in. I was reluctant because I wasn't sure how a supposed romance could work well into a story like this and not be problematic. I was hoping it wouldn't be a he-loves-me-so-everything-is-fine type deal. But it didn't feel like that to me at all. They were friends, they were slowing letting each other in. They both had things that needed to be worked out in their life. It was a slow progression, it was careful and tentative and just what they each needed.
This book is important. It deals with the importance of never victim-blaming, of being there for people when and how they need you. It gives an important voice to people who have suffered abuse. And, while I haven't read many books in this subgenre to compare it to, I think this book offered a unique perspective. It focused on finding the right people, the people who won't take but give, to help you through your pain. The issues were handled with sensitivity and emotion in a really beautiful way.
"There are no words to the music, and that makes me sad. Every song deserves lyrics. Deserves a story to tell."
"...I love my family, but it seems that I'm always with people I don't know how to talk to when I feel the saddest."
"Right now we're both yard sales of emotions. A penny for pain. A dime for bitterness. A quarter for grief. A dollar for silence. It binds us together, but I don't want him to pay the price for the parts of me that are used and broken."
"This thing with Bodee is shaped with expectations, but they're easy. And right. Like when I hold one of my stone carvings or a piece of pottery in progress and can tell I'll like the artwork. Even when it's not quite complete. Friends."
"The choice is mine, I realize. I can be the bird clinging to a windowsill in Tennessee when all my friends are in Florida, or I can be the bird who flies away. I can be free.
"That is another idea ingrained in me...To understand that telling what has already happened is not retaliation. To see the difference between suffering the consequences and taking an eye for an eye."

Saturday, March 22, 2014


By: Catherynne M. Valente
Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

I'm not sure how to write this, but I'm going to try anyway. I really considered not writing a review at all for this book, but I think it'll be good to collect all my thoughts and try to come up with solid feelings about this book.
First off, it was very different than I was expecting. I was expecting a story more like Catherynne M. Valente's other books that I've read, just without the lightness of YA/Middle Grade. But from the first page I could tell this was different, darker. Not a bad thing at all, it was really intriguing in that way. I wanted to be pulled deeper into the ashy world of 19th Century Russia and its folklore. As much as the shades of the type of story changed, you can definitely tell that it's Valente writing it. Her gorgeous prose is just as gorgeous here, if colored with more despair and less whimsy.
That being said, I didn't connect with this story as much as I wanted to. I didn't feel the themes as deeply as I did in her other books. Which, is not the book's fault, but I want my reviews to reflect my honest experiences with the books I read. Some of the metaphors felt distant and the ending didn't hit me as hard as I think it was designed to. (Again, this is a personal problem rather than a quality problem.)

This mixed in with the fact that many of the scenes made me deeply uncomfortable and that I skipped over a few of the scenes that were...let's just say more adult. I DO NOT recommend this book to a younger audience.
It was the difference between appreciating what this book was trying to convey (which I did) and feeling what it was trying to convey (which, sadly, I did not). There were beautifully written passages, passages that did make a connection. But I felt locked out of just as many of them.
I guess my reading of this book was a lesson in the subjective nature of stories. We bring our personal experiences to everything that we read, and sometimes that means not hitting that magical connection that we've experienced with other books. That doesn't mean we quit stepping into different stories, if anything it should inspire us to take more risks.
I realize that this was less like a review of the book and more like a rambling about my experience with it. But honestly, this is what I have to say about this story. If the premise and synopsis interests you, definitely give it a go. Maybe you'll connect with the depths of this story where I couldn't.

"I savor bitterness - it is born of experience. It is the privilege of one who has truly lived. You, too, must learn to prefer it. After all, when all else is gone, you may still have bitterness in abundance."

"I suppose because it's boring to keep telling stories where people just get born and grow up and get married and die. So they add strange things in, to make it more interesting when a person is born, more satisfying when they get married, sadder when they die."

"Walk the same tale over and over, until you wear a groove in the world, until even if you vanished, the tale would keep turning, keep playing, like a phonograph, and you'd have to get up again, even with a bullet through your eye, to play your part and say your lines."

"Time is communal...the most purely communal of all commodities. It belongs to us all equally. So why hoard it?"

"They happen because Life consumes everything and Death never sleeps, and between them the world moves. Winter becomes spring. And every once in a while, they act out a strange, sad little pantomime, just to see if anyone has won yet. If the world still moves as it used to...Like a passion play. Like a sacrifice. It is certainly not my fault."

"Everywhere her vision doubled and trebled, and her head sagged with the weight of it. Everything kept occurring all at once, each thing on top of the last."

"She is so stubborn her heart has an argument with her head every time it wants to beat."

Friday, March 21, 2014

Divergent -- Movie Review

Divergent -- Movie Review
I have a lot of feelings about this movie. A LOT. It's a very different experience seeing a movie when you've read the book. And it's a very different seeing a movie when you've been following its development from day one when it was just the possibility of a movie. Then seeing all the castings, seeing the teaser stills and the variety of trailers. That's one of my favorite things about book-to-movie adaptations. I like to stay connected with the whole process of the thing.
I really enjoyed this movie. It stays true to the mood of the book, to the themes, to the plot points. Moreover, it is a really great movie even separate from the book.
This is going to be a mostly positive review because I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of this movie. But I want to get my critiques out of the way first, because great as it was, it was by no means perfect (I know, I know. We were spoiled with the brilliance that is the Catching Fire movie.)
Things I Disliked:
This is a bit of a gray-ish area of critique because I understand why they did it...mostly. Every action movie needs a villain, a villain that can become a motif for everything that the hero is facing. In a book you can simply say the name, explain why that person is a force to be cautious of, and then move on. But a movie is a story presented entirely visually, so it's necessary for the main antagonist to appear in scenes and make a visual and imposing image. I get that.
But I think they spilled Jeanine's secrets too early. The audience was never led into wondering about her plans. She straight up said them to Tris. For that reason I never felt as scared of her as I wanted to be, as scared of her as I was in the books. The ending was also a bit weird, although since it has no baring on the plot of the series, I'm fine with it. I just think it weakened the resolution of this movie.
-Fear Landscape Serum
This change was much subtler, but gave me more issues. Okay, hear me out. So, in the book the whole point of the fear landscape simulations is to get the initiates adjusted to fear, right? And the way out of each fear in the landscape is to act the opposite of how the fear is trying to get you to act (i.e. remain calm, say no, jump when you should be clinging to the edge). But in the movie they took on the idea that you have to escape the fear rather than overcome it in your simulation. You have to think your way out of it (i.e. fixing the walls of the enclosed box, getting off the ledge, hitting the birds with fire). This is a much more Erudite way of looking at these challenges. Dauntless is training these initiates to be soldiers, to take fear and work inside of it, to not let it control you. But in the movie simulations they are always getting themselves away from the particular fear rather than embracing and then toppling it.
-Awkward Romantic Tension
It wasn't that bad. It wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting from the trailer, it was just sort of there sometimes. But, I appreciated how the romance aspect wasn't this HUGE part of the plot of the movie just like it isn't a HUGE part of the plot of the book. It was definite periphery plot, for which I want to give them a giant pat on the back.
Aaaand, that's where my problems with the movie end. Great, right? This movie was made of about 90% pure awesome.
Things I Loved:
One of the most important things to me when a book is being adapted is that the characters retain their motive and their agency. This movie stayed so true to those things. Really that's all I ask of the movies character-wise and this movie delivered. Definitely delivered. A+ on delivery. Seriously. I felt these characters like I felt them in the book. They were familiar to me, just in a different medium.
Tris: I'm not going to lie, Shailene's Tris never became "My-Tris" while I was watching this movie, not in the way that Jennifer Lawrence became "My-Katniss". But I think she did a dang good job regardless. You could see the patented Tris-edge come out time and time again. I loved seeing her coming into her own in Dauntless  just like I did in the book. I love how they showcased how Tris subverted expectations with her cruelty despite being a stiff and a girl. That's a vital part of Tris in the first book, how cruel she can be, purposefully cruel. Cruel because she has to be, because it's the only way to keep herself alive. Movie-Tris moved through this story just like I wanted her to.
Four: Again, I'm not going to lie and say that Theo James became Four for me. But, he did a good job, too. He captured the rougher side of Four and he captured the military side. Both of which are huge aspects of the character.
Caleb: I really liked this portrayal of Caleb, more than I expected to. He's confused and scared, he sinks into cowardice so often. I think they showed the beginnings of that. I can't wait to see where he goes in the next two movies. I think Ansel Elgort will do a great job with this character.
Will: IT HURTS. I loved Will in the book, he was one of my favorite characters. And I think they did a fantastic job casting him. His dialogue was excellent. Erudite through and through. The shooting scene was just as soul crushing as it deserved to be, as it needed to be.
Christina: Wonderful casting is wonderful. Really, she did such a great job with Christina. Just the right amounts of sass and brashness. Seriously, I loved her in this movie.
Peter: Ohhh. Fantastic. Fantastic! I really loved this version of Peter. He made me feel his skeeviness perfectly. Rude and gross, Peter was absolutely correctly portrayed. I can't wait to see him play the more serious, openly cowardly version of Peter from the rest of the books.
Eric: I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this Eric, but he really impressed me. I felt what I felt whenever Eric talked in the book. I was disgusted and angry at him and I just really wanted to punch him in the face. Congrats! That means Eric was 100% perfectly characterized.
Al: Another character where they got the emotion just right. Al really portrayed the pitiful, scared, and ultimately self-destructive Al that we see in the book. It made me hurt for him and for Tris, just like I did when reading it.
-The Tone
Like I said with a lot of the characters, this movie evoked a lot of the same feelings that I had while reading this story. I got exhilarated and nervous and angry when I was supposed to. They used mood to push the plot along and it worked really well for the transitions.
-The Sets and Costumes
This was always important as the landscape and the faction clothing are so fundamental to the building of this world. And they did it SO well. I loved at the Choosing Ceremony when each faction was sitting together. They made sure that it looked unified, but not uniform. Even when the factions were mixing it felt like they were connected to each other.
Dauntless and Erudite and Abnegation headquarters were all so beautiful. The entire Dauntless compound was so great, from the pit to the cafeteria to the training center. It felt rugged and fierce just like Dauntless homes should.
-Cinematography and Music
A ton of the shots were absolutely gorgeous. I loved the wide shots of the city, it felt torn down but it still managed to be beautiful. I adored the zipline sequence, particularly when she went through the segment of that old building. It felt like you were on the zipline with her and it was just as exhilarating as the scene needed to be. I also really enjoyed the scenery during the Fear Landscape and the test.
The Ellie Goulding music. THE ELLIE GOULDING MUSIC. Perfect tone. Absolutely perfect. Purely perfect. Beautifully perfect. The music was never, for one second, force into a scene. It flowed through the movie (you guessed it) PERFECTLY.
-The Fight Scenes and Training Montages
Good fighting scenes were always going to be an imperative for this movie and they pulled them off big time. They were all freaking awesome and made you flinch and gasp in the best of ways. I mean, the knife through Jeanine's hand was freaking awesome. And the end fight scene was pretty spectacular overall.
-The Dauntless Feel
So raucous and exciting and grungy, just like Dauntless felt in the book. And I loved the teasing about factions and stiffs and candor. They captured the Dauntless edge perfectly, just like it was showcased in the first book. I loved all the group shots of the Dauntless, they looked perfectly self-assured and courageous. One of my favorite parts of the book was seeing Dauntless in all of its wild and uncovered glory and I think they did those parts of the book justice.
-They Quoted the Most Important Lines Directly
"Fear doesn't shut you down..."
"You chose us, now we get to choose you."
^^ Those are just a couple examples as there were definitely more occasions of this. I think they chose the best lines to put in. They managed to make them not sound awkward in the context of the scene and they never felt forced either. I get a really cool feeling whenever movies quote books directly, I can't help it. I love it.
-Tris' Culture Shock
A minor detail, but important to Tris' overall development as a character. I loved watching Tris adjust to life in Dauntless. It was great seeing all that changed between her by the end.
-The Clear Understanding of the Factions
"We train soldiers not rebels."
They showed through dialogue that the writers of the script took the time to ponder why each faction would act and speak a certain way. They gave the factions a spark of life. The themes of this book play heavily into the nature of humans and their virtues. Particularly individual and cultural virtues. So for the movie to be an open discussion on these things is spectacular.
-Capture the Freaking Flag
SO AWESOME. I loved the addition of the simulation-guns. It gave it a more urgent feel that the scene probably needed to make it work in a movie format. Plus the team camaraderie and the Ferris Wheel. Everything. I loved everything about this scene.
-Showing Subplots Realistically and Subtly
They didn't shout "this is important!" about every little thing. They trusted their audience rather than patronizing them, which makes for a really great movie. I love how they subtly worked in the friendship between the initiates and the unrest in the factions early on. They're even laying a bit of groundwork for Allegiant with Jeanine's repeated statements about human nature. This means that they're being consciously series-minded of which I approve.
Honestly, this movie was so great. I highly recommend you go see it (or read it, if you haven't).

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Final Empire

The Final Empire
By: Brandon Sanderson
The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)
A thousand years ago evil came to the land. A dark lord rules through the aristocratic families and ordinary folk labor as slaves in volcanic ash fields. A troublemaker arrives. A rumored revolt depends on an untrustworthy criminal and a young girl who must master Allomancy, metal magic.
It's all led us right here, hasn't it? I loved The Rithmatist and I loved Steelheart. But this book, this series, is what it was always leading up to.
How can someone even summarize this book. It's huge and awesome and inventive and fantastic. Thorough characters, detailed world-building, and an expansive plot make this book one of the best fantasy books I have ever read, indeed, one of the best any-kind-of books I have ever read.
I fell in love with these characters. Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Dockson, Breeze, Ham. All of them. One of the fantastic things about this book is that I had no problem connecting with them. I was invested from the prologue, I wanted to find out what would happen to them. I wanted to hear their story. That's one of the most important things a book can do, it has to make you want to hear what it has to say. It has to make you care. And I cared about this story from the very beginning.
Vin has easily found herself a place in my list of all-time favorite heroines. She's growing and changing, but she has heart and strength and courage. She does stupid things sometimes, but not for lack of conscience or intelligence. She makes mistakes because she's a sixteen year-old, because she was taught to look at the world with distrust, and because she isn't always told everything about the world she inhabits. I'm actually surprised by how well Brandon Sanderson made Vin sound like a realistic teenage girl. It wasn't ever forced or awkward. I could connect with her so easily, so fully.
Kelsier is such an interesting take on the typical hero, which I've decided Sanderson is quite great at accomplishing in his books. He's a revolutionary disguising himself as a thief. Your view of him is always involving throughout the story along with the other characters' views of him. I loved his and Vin's relationship. They understand each other, even when they don't (if that even makes sense).
Elend: Darling Elend. I wanted to trust him from the beginning. And I am so happy. So very happy with how he progressed as a character. Another area where Sanderson is breaking stereotypes. I cannot wait to see where Elend goes in this series, he's a personal favorite of mine.
I love how all of the characters are so distinctive. Their interactions are golden, everyone from the crew to Elend and everyone else. There was a perfect balance of humor and intensity. Banter and real emotions mixed just right is one of my favorite combinations. That's exactly what this book did.
The only way I can think to describe this plot is a slow burn. There was always something happening. I wouldn't describe a single chapter or even page as boring. That being said, the overarching plot took place over a year and 550 pages, so it all builds up to the stunning ending. The progression didn't ever stop, which kept you wanting to read just a bit more, then a bit more after that. In my opinion, this is what massive Epic Fantasy books should feel like. There should be a final, thrilling, grand destination, but the journey there shouldn't be boring either. This book excels at keeping itself interesting. Even now, 550 pages into this series, the reader doesn't know even remotely everything about the world. There are still secrets that you want revealed.
The world-building is...________ [Oops. It appears there isn't an adjective grand enough to describe the world-building in this series.] Seriously, the world of The Final Empire is giant and mysterious and wonderful and engaging and inventive and so many other things. It's unlike any other system of magic I have ever encountered. And the execution matches the concept, if not exceeds it. Brandon Sanderson doesn't waste the wonderful concept of metal-burning based powers. The powers are interwoven and understandable, and yet they still maintain their whimsy AND edginess even after the reader has encountered them countless times in the context of the story.
I cannot say enough great things. I am physically and mentally incapable of explaining how unbelievably wonderful this story is. I'm just going to leave it at this and hope it's enough to make you want to pick up the series:
If you have even the vaguest of interests in High Fantasy, I suggest you start here. Moreover, if you have even the vaguest of interests in moving stories told about humans that dissect hope and belief while also introducing you to characters you will love and root for: I suggest you start here.
"If men read these words, let them know that power is a heavy burden. Seek not to be bound by its chains."
"The answer should be obvious, I think. People are valuable, Mistress Vin, and so - therefore - are their beliefs."
" you stop loving someone just because they betray you? I don't think so. That's what makes the betrayal hurt so much-pain, frustration, anger...and I still loved her. I still do."
"Men rarely see their own actions as unjustified."
"Boring?" Elend asked. "Gentlemen, these ideas-these words- they're everything. These men knew that they'd be executed for their words. Can you not sense their passion?"
"Men are more intelligent that that, I think. Our belief is often strongest when it should be weakest. That is the nature of hope."
"I don't know," Vin said. "Once, maybe I would have thought you a fool, but...well, that's kind of what trust is, isn't it? A willful self-denial? You have to shut out that voice that whispers about betrayal, and just hope that your friends aren't going to hurt you."
"Belief isn't simply a thing for fair times and bright days, I think. What is belief - what is faith - if you don't continue in it after failure?...Anyone can believe is someone, or something, that always succeeds, Mistress. But failure...ah, now, that is hard to believe in, certainly and truly. Difficult enough to have value, I think."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls
By: Patrick Ness
A Monster Calls
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

This book is so much more beautiful than I was anticipating. The imagery, the symbolism, and the emotion floods from the pages. This book is all about how we handle grief, particularly about how children handle grief. And I'm sure everyone can relate to how Conor processed the things happening to him (if not always to the extent of what he goes through).

This is a book that creates a story so vivid and genuinely touching that you feel it in your bones. The artwork is gorgeous, the words are meaningful, and the story is important. A book relevant to everyone who has had to grapple with their own fears and heartbreaks.

The haunting beauty of this book will guarantee that you remember the story far, far, far into the future. This book has the overwhelming potential to change lives, to give readers a vehicle to understanding themselves better.

I can't say enough good things about this book. It's a masterpiece, sewn together with careful precision by everyone who worked on it, the writer and the artist. I adored every second I spent reading it.

A Monster Calls is a stunning work of fiction. Please consider reading it if you haven't yet.


"Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?"

"Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt."

"It is a true story, the monster said. Many things that are true feel like a cheat. Kingdoms get the princes they deserve, farmer's daughters die for no reason, and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You'd be surprised."

"Belief is half of all healing. Belief in the cure, belief in the future that awaits. And here was a man who lived on belief, but who sacrificed it at the first challenge, right when he needed it most. He believed selfishly and fearfully. And it took the lives of his daughters."

"You be as angry as you need to be," she said. "Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Not your grandma, not your dad, no one. And if you need to break things, then by God, you break the good and hard."

"The answer is that it does not matter what you think, the monster said, because your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day. You wanted her to go at the same time you were desperate for me to save her. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.

"You do not write your life with words, the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


By: Brandon Sanderson
Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)

There are no heroes. Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills. Nobody fights the Epics... nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them. And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience. He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.
Awesome. That's the very best word to describe this book. Superpowers, anti-heroes, and unexpected twists make certain that this is a book that'll keep your interest and stay with you after you finish reading. Once again, I'm so impressed with Brandon Sanderson. How he can go from a mystery alternate history book with a chalk-based magic system to a dark, post-apocalyptic anti-hero book is beyond me. But I'm decently convinced now that he can write anything he wants and it will end up being made of plain awesome.
I don't want to say too much about the characters. I think they'll be more fun to learn about through the book rather than through me, but I will say that David is a great protagonist. He's incredibly flawed, bent toward vengeance, but also really clever. I loved how he sounded realistically like an eighteen year old boy, granted an eighteen year old boy who lives in a post-apocalyptic future, but he still sounded like a teenager.
I'll also say that Cody is hilarious. He made me laugh nearly every time he showed up on the page, but he still had the occasional emotional depth to make that sort of humor feel characteristically genuine.
"Sparks," Cody said. "Remind me to never let you caress me, lad."
"I thought you told him to think of a beautiful woman," Tia said.
"Yeah," Cody replied. "And if that's how he treats one of them, I don't want to know what he'd do to an ugly Scotsman."
Megan, Prof, Tia, and Abraham you'll just have to figure out on your own as giving opinions currently would contain far too many spoilers.
Crazy, awesome, action-packed plot. I mean, what good is a Super-hero story without a plot like that? Not nearly as awesome, I'd suppose. There were so many plot twists and unexpected revelations. I thought it was incredible how you would feel sure about something, you would think, "Okay, even if I don't know what is going to happen with everything else, I know this much." That was always the part that got twisted onto its head.
This plot kept you engaged and on the edge-of-your-seat for all nearly 400 pages.
And the world-building was utterly fantastic. You could feel what life was like in a dark, steel cage basically. The mechanics of the world, even when they couldn't give reason to why things were like this, made sense in the mind of the reader. You knew enough about the world to make guesses for what you thought might happen. Mine were usually wrong, but it's that guessing process that can keep a book so engaging.
This book isn't just anti-hero, it's anti-rebellion and anti- every-superhero-stereotype. Really the idea of basically a rebel group adamantly rebelling against every rebellion stereotype is so intriguing, so insanely interesting. They know they aren't the heroes, they're the people killing Epics. That's it. That's all they are. So their motives as an organization shift from what you would expect them to do.
And the idea that, were humans to receive Super Human powers they would only do evil with them goes against every standard of the Superhero genre while remaining realistic in terms of plot and basic human nature.
"People rarely want to kill, David," Abraham said calmly. "It's not basic to the makeup of the healthy human mind. In most situations they will go to great lengths to avoid killing."
"It's good for you to think of this, son. Ponder. Worry. Stay up nights, frightened for the casualties of your ideology. It will do you some good to realize the price of fighting."
"You can't be so frightened of what might happened that you are unwilling to act."
"Sometimes doing things we used to do reminds us of who we used to be, and not always in good ways."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I Am Malala

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
By: Malala Yousafzai
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday. When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I don't know how to talk about this book, because to say I enjoyed it wouldn't quite be accurate. It's more like this book opened my eyes and made me see the world differently. This is nonfiction about a heroic girl who speaks up for education in her country. That's exactly how it reads. You experience what her life is like and you learn about Pakistan's history and political landscape.

This book reminds you not to take anything for granted. Not the twelve years of schooling that you are given for FREE in this country. Not the fact that you can realistically dream of a future in which you get a career in whatever field you choose, live on your own without a husband, and be treated with respect regardless of your gender.

Malala has been defending education and openly speaking out for it in a country very hostile toward the idea since she was eleven. She got death threats and STILL refused to back down.
Malala is a HERO. An inspiration. This is why we need education, to raise girls like Malala who will fight for their rights and for the rights of others. True education breeds compassion.

I'm particularly thankful for the unbiased look at America. We are not the innocent helpers we so often pretend to be. A lot of the time, we suck more than we help.

This book opens you up to the experiences of life around the world. A life that's both similar and yet so different. I love that I can sit in Midwest America and read a book that conveys life in the Middle East. Books are cool like that.


"But I think that if someone kills your brother, you shouldn't kill them or their brother, you should teach them instead."

"It does not matter what language you choose, the important thing is the words you use to express yourself."

"But I realized that even if you win three or four times, the next victory will not necessarily be yours without trying - and also that sometimes it's better to tell your own story."

"...And I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters. We were learning how to struggle. And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak."

"In Pakistan when women say they want independence, people think this means we don't want to obey our fathers, brothers, or husbands. But it does not mean that. It means we want to make decisions for ourselves."

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse
By: Marie Rutkoski
The Winner's Curse (Winner's Trilogy, #1)
Winning what you want may cost you everything you love. As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined

All the great things I heard about this book did not lead me astray. This book was so fantastic and unique. The writing is gorgeous and extremely immersive. I guess to summarize I would just say that the book is just as gorgeous as the cover would lead you to believe. (And with a cover like that, that means the world).

If I didn't connect to the characters as much as I wish I did, it wasn't for lack of understanding them. It wasn't for a lack of genuinely great characterization or for my feeling compassion for them. I can't say why I don't feel as though I connected with them. But I can say that these characters are well-written, unique, and I did feel for them and their situation.
I love the way that music was worked into their story. I love the struggle for and against power over one another. I think the relationships in this book were so strange and wonderful. The political landscape created the opportunity for a lot of aspects of their relationships to be fleshed out in a natural way, both between Kestrel and her father, between Kestrel and Arin, and between Kestrel and Ronan and Jess.
I am genuinely excited about where the book left the characters as I think this series will turn into something even more unique and interesting. The power now shifted and balanced on the characters differently than it was at the start of this book.

The plot progression of this book is so great. I particularly noticed that the timing is fantastic. You have enough to time to fully understand how the characters' lives feel with each shift in the plot. But at the same time you don't stay in one place so long that you get bored with the story.
Like I mentioned in the character section, the placement of power is one of the most interesting things in this book. It asks important questions about conscience and social position and choices while also presenting an engaging story for the reader to experience.

The language in this book is rich and evocative, as well as beautiful. So many times I went back to reread passages because they explained so well what the character was feeling without directly telling you what they were feeling. Marie Rutkoski knows how to mix exposition with dialogue beautifully, as well.

The cultures shown in this book are so interesting. The way they interact with each other even more so. I think this book gives you a good sense of the world you've been thrust into early on so that it can spend the rest of its time changing and rearranging the political landscape same world. Advantages were gained and lost on both sides, there were changes of heart, and loyalties testes against each other. Honestly there was so much going on in this world and the ending left it open for even further expansion.


"But in the eyes of Valorian society, music was a pleasure to be taken, not made, and it didn't occur to many that the making and the taking could be the same."

"It was bliss not to think, not to remember the cold orange grove, and what she had said and done and asked and wanted."

"She would have stopped him. She would have wished herself deaf, blind, made of unfeeling smoke. She would have stopped his words out of terror, longing. The way terror and longing had become indistinguishable."

"A rich emotion played across his features, offered itself, and asked to be called by its name. Hope."

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Rithmatist

The Rithmatist
By: Brandon Sanderson
The Rithmatist (Rithmatist, #1)

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings — merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles. As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice.
WHY. HOW. Dude, Brandon Sanderson can WRITE. This book was so weird and wonderful and interesting and engaging. Honestly this is one of the strangest and coolest books I have ever read. It had great characters, world-building, themes, mystery. I loved every single minute of it. And now all I want to do is jump into every single Brandon Sanderson fantasy series. I might do just that, too.
Joel: He's curious and clever and a bit of an outcast. He has a desire for knowledge that others often find weird or intrusive, but that's a big reason why I loved him. It's easy to identify with him because he feels like he's missed his chance to be special. But then he still works to make things happen for himself. He's persistent and determined. I thought he was a really good narrator, too. That feels like a weird thing to point out, but I mean that through him Brandon Sanderson was able to tell a really great story.
Melody: LOVE HER. I love how Brandon so accurately created a teenage girl. She's sort of crazy, and weird, and curious, and creative. But she was also sort of selfish and loud and she feels inadequate a lot of the time.
I've fallen in love with Joel and Melody's friendship, too. Their dynamic is so interesting because they squabble a lot and tease each other, but they grudgingly became friends until they were just good friends. It was so well-developed. At they end they made me so happy and emotional.
"You came out here to get humiliated, and you didn't even invite me along!"
She hesitated, then smiled. "Idiot," she said.
Fitch: It's impossible not to love him. A sweet, nervous, older professor who takes the two outcasts under his wings. He seems to have almost inexhaustible patience, a quality he most definitely needs in dealing with Melody and Joel.
Nalizar: So interesting. I'm excited to see what happens in the future books, although I won't go into why to avoid spoilers and such.
This book was so engaging. From the very first page I was caught up in the world, I wanted to know more about Rithmatics, about Joel, about everything. Then the mystery came up and I pulled in the rest of the way. I love how the mystery was handled in this book. There were so many twists and turns, little clues dropped for a bunch of different characters, and false leads. A few different times I got it into my head it was clear-cut, but most of the time I was wrong. I loved being wrong because it meant more intrigue and mystery in the future. I also loved how the book ended. The last scene was perfection and even made me tear up a bit.
FANTASTIC. There was never any info-dumping, but you slowly learned what the heck Rithmatics are and how they affect the world and politics. I always love alternate history worlds. They are so interesting and unique, so as you learn more about the history of this world it gets more and more awesome.
Brandon Sanderson's writing is so wonderful. It's clear and informative, but at the same time it pulls you in and gets you invested in the proceedings and the characters. It must take some magnificent talent to develop and then create this world in a way that's not confusing and without putting a wall around it, keeping the reader out. This book suffer from neither of those problems.
"The most dangerous kind of man is not the one who spent his youth shoving others around. That kind of man gets lazy, and is often too content with his life to be truly dangerous. The man who has spent his youth being shoved around, however...When that man gets a little power and authority, he often uses it to become a tyrant on par with the worst warlords in history."
"However, humans are more than their need to survive."
"Those who have intense hatred often are fascinated by the things they detest."
"Because man created it. He sectioned it off. There is nothing inherently important about a second or a minute. They're fictional divisions, enacted by mankind, fabricated...Yet in a human's hands, these things have life. Minutes, seconds, hours. The arbitrary becomes law."