Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorite Reads of 2013

It is December 31, the day in which I must separate the top 10 books I'm willing to call my absolute favorites from the rest. This is never an easy task. This year I far surpassed my reading goal, reading 194 new-to-me books. Choosing 10 books out of 194 is challenging yes, but I do find the more I read the pickier I get about what I really love. Except this year I found it impossible to choose 10. I narrowed it down to 11 and then found I could absolutely not cut it down any further. So…..







 



Links are to my reviews:

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand

Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson

Jinx by Sage Blackwood

Mirage by Jenn Reese

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein 

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow

Summerkin by Sarah Prineas

The Sunbird by Elizabeth Wein

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis

Monday, December 30, 2013

Jinx's Magic

Jinx (my thoughts) was one of my favorite reads of 2013. I fell in love with the characters and the world they inhabited. It is always a bit scary when you go back to characters and a world you love so much in a sequel. Exciting too though. And lovers of Jinx, Simon, and the Urwald have nothing to fear from Jinx's Magic. Sage Blackwood outdid herself in this one. 

If you haven't read Jinx yet, go and do that NOW. Then come back and read this.


Synopsis: 
Jinx knows he can do magic. But he doesn't know why he's being stalked by a werewolf with a notebook, why the trees are starting to take back the only safe paths through the Urwald, or why the elves think Jinx and the evil Bonemaster are somehow connected.
Jinx's perilous search for answers takes him to the desert land of Samara, where, according to the wizard Simon, he just might find the ancient magic he needs to defeat the Bonemaster and unite the Urwald. But Jinx finds himself in a centuries-old conspiracy that places the Urwald in even greater danger.


In book one Jinx went from being a child to an adolescent. His independent streak is growing, he rolls his eyes a lot at the adults in his life, and he is questioning many things. He is still a boy who is confused by many things in life and needs help. He wants to know the people who care for him are still around. He is exactly everything a thirteen year old boy should be. I enjoyed watching his character grow more and how he interacted with the people around him. The first part of the story involves Jinx getting Reven out of the Urwald as he promised he would. Reven continues to be conniving, manipulative, and obnoxious and I loved when Jinx finally had enough. Elfwyn plays a role in this story as well. I really enjoy what is happening with her character and am eager to see where it will lead. 

I continue to adore Simon oh so much, particularly in his relationship with Jinx. Jinx looks up to him so much, but is also annoyed with him. He wants Simon to allow him to do what he needs. Simon has other ideas about what is needed. The push and pull between these two is so utterly genuine that any one who has ever grown up and had to deal with the changing dynamic with their parents will get it completely. Simon is often telling Jinx in various ways to "drop his attitude". Jinx's attitude's not going anywhere. And every conversation between these two is funny and yet filled with emotion too. Sophie also returns in this book and is still lovely and wonderful. I hope we see even more of her in the next book.


Two new characters are introduced as well. Jinx meets both Wendell and Satya in Samara. They are his friends when he desperately needs them even though he doesn't completely trust Satya. Wendell is my favorite of the secondary character in the book now. I enjoyed his outlook on life, his loyalty, and his courage. 


The story continues from where the first book left off. The Bonemaster breaks free of his bonds, Reven and his "kingdom" are a threat to the Urwald, and the trees keep telling Jinx things he doesn't understand. Also some troublesome elves make a mysterious appearance that does not bode well for our hero. Half of the story takes place in the Urwald where Jinx is contending with the demands on the Listener, Simon, and the Bonemaster breaking through his wards. The other half takes place in Samara where Jinx is contending with learning as much as he can while also navigating the political intrigue and secretive workings of the Temple. The Urwald and Samara are very different and both are described so well. The imagery Blackwood uses and how well thought out the world-building is makes me feel like I'm actually there. I could not put the book down. Every page had some piece of information, some wonderful piece of dialogue, or some adventure to keep reading on until I was finished far too fast. It was one of those experiences where I turned the last page, sighed because there was no more to read, and then hugged the book. 


To say that I'm excited for the third book would be an understatement. Of immense proportions.

I read an ARC won in a giveaway from the author. I also received an e-galley from the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books, on Edelweiss. Jinx's Magic comes out on January 7.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Elizabeth Wein Special Ops


In case you haven't heard, this past week over at Chachic's Book Nook a special event has been going on. It is a lovely tribute to the magnificent Elizabeth Wein and her wonderful work. There are all sorts of different topics ranging from the much accoladed Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire to the less well known Lion Hunters Series. Reading these posts has been a highlight of my week. You should go check them all out.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Things I Can't Forget

This was my first experience with a Miranda Kenneally book and I have to say I'm very impressed. The books have been on my radar for a while now but it was one of those times where I wanted to give them a try instead of committing to buy. When my library purchased a copy of Things I Can't Forget, I couldn't wait to dive in.

Synopsis:
Kate has always been the good girl. Too good, according to some people at school—although they have no idea the guilty secret she carries. But this summer, everything is different…
This summer she’s a counselor at Cumberland Creek summer camp, and she wants to put the past behind her. This summer Matt is back as a counselor too. He’s the first guy she ever kissed, and he’s gone from a geeky songwriter who loved The Hardy Boys to a buff lifeguard who loves to flirt--with her.
Kate used to think the world was black and white, right and wrong. Turns out, life isn’t that easy…

Kate is a bit obnoxious. She is exceedingly flawed as a main character, but I liked it. She is judgmental, self-righteous, and incredibly narrow minded, as is any one who has lived a sheltered life and only heard one point of view through all of it. She has grown up in a loving home and going to church. As a people pleaser, she is determined to do what makes her parents happy, what her pastor says is right, and what she thinks will please God. This is why her character works for me. She isn't trying to be a holier-than-thou mean girl. She simply has never been forced to see past her own nose so much before. What I enjoyed, was how realistic a portrayal this is. As someone who grew up in a Christian home, is still a Christian, and raising my children with Christian teachings, I can tell you that I see this scenario played out so many times, particularly with girls who have parents (or attend churches) who are more concerned with outward appearances than inward realities. I really enjoyed Kate's journey through this book as she confronts her guilt, the reality of how awful and legalistic she can be toward others, and how she can reconcile her faith with the world around around her. I love how she chooses to stay the course of her faith on some things, but to relax her rigid stance on others. 

The plot of the book is all wrapped up in Kate's journey of discovery and romance with Matt. It is also about the relationship with her best friend and her relationship with God. I love Kenneally connected all of them so well and resolved all of them.

Basically I love how real this book is. I wish that there were more books out there like this that dealt with the struggles of Christian teens in such a real and honest way. Many of the kids who were Christian counselors at the camp are making up their own theology as they go, but that's a problem in the American evangelical church across the board. I think this book does an excellent job of reflecting the reality that is there. I want every teen I know to read this and find someone to discuss it with. I definitely want a copy to have around for Bit when she's old enough to confront some of these issues. 

I will definitely be reading all the other books Kenneally has written now. I'm very interested in Parker's story based on what I got of it from this one. I'm only sorry I waited so long. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

TTT: Books from Santa


This week's TTT topic: Books You Want From Santa (But in my case I AM SANTA and these are books coming out in the next week or so-or recently-that I ordered for myself and am eagerly awaiting.)





 Because I needed to order the new R.J. Anderson from the U.K., I went ahead and also ordered these fantastic new editions of some Diana Wynne Jones books too. Look at all the pretties coming my way.

Recent and almost releases arriving together.






Monday, December 23, 2013

Spirit Animals: Hunted

I have never read a multi-author series before and was wondering what it would be like so took the opportunity to request the second book in the Spirit Animals series, Hunted by Maggie Stiefvater, when it came up on NetGalley. I read Wild Born by Brandon Mull earlier this year (my thoughts). I feel like Hunted is a better book and enjoyed it more.

Synopsis:
In the world of Erdas, only a rare few are able to summon a spirit animal in the way Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan have. The bond they share with their animals is a partnership that allows them to access more-than-human abilities.
But what if there was another way to create a spirit animal--to force the bond, giving the human partner total control? And what if someone with selfish intensions was offered this gift . . . with a catch?The four young heroes have barely had time to come together as a team, and their own spirit animal bonds are still greatly untested. But now they face a brutal confrontation against an enemy who will break any rule to defeat them.

This is not a book you want to jump into without having read the first. The world building and characters are dependent on information given in Wild Born. This means the same reliance on cultural stereotypes that bothered me a bit in the first book remains, but the characters are developed a bit more in this volume. All four kids are trying to move as best they can into the roles they have been thrust into. They also need to learn to work together which constitutes the greater challenge. Abeke feels like the others don't trust her, and in many ways they don't, particularly Meilin. Rollan tries not to rely on anyone and therefore keeps everyone at a distance. Conor is besieged by doubts of his ability to what is asked of him and his worthiness for his role. Meilin is impatient and ready to move on, constantly worried about the danger her homeland is in. A new character is introduced named Finn, an older Greencoat who can not fight. He is their guide on the treacherous journey to gain another of the Great Beast's Talismans. I really enjoyed his addition to the story and hope we see more of him in the coming books.

Hunted has a different feel from Wild Born. The book concentrates more on Conor and his relationship with the people he has left behind. While it has a similar quest, to find a talisman, the quest goes and ends very differently. In this second installment more meat is put onto the bones of the basic story and the experience is richer as a result. I did find myself frustrated by the end. I feel like it invalidated all that led up to it, making none of it worth it. I think this is similar to how the characters will feel and watching them go forward and try to work together from this point will be interesting. I'm definitely read to read book three when it comes out in March. It will be called Blood Ties and is written by Garth Nix and Sean Williams.

I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Scholastic, via NetGalley. Hunted will be available January 7. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Best of 2013 Book Survey


This survey was created by Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner.

BEST IN BOOKS

1. Best Book You Read In 2013? (If you have to cheat — you can break it down by genre if you want or 2013 release vs. backlist)

MG Fantasy: Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson
YA Fantasy: Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow
YA Realistic: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein 
Adult Romance: The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

That would be Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. *ducks* I think I may have built it up in my head too much, but I found it to be pretty uneven. 

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013? 

Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding 

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

Jinx by Sage Blackwood

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

The Lion Hunters by Elizabeth Wein 

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?
Laura Florand I read all of her books and loved every single one. I even reread almost all of them too-and am planning on rereading the rest as soon as possible. 

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

Apparently I need to read out of my comfort zone more

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Everything by Laura Florand


10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?


11. Most memorable character in 2013? 

I can't choose just one so here's a whole post on this topic.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013? 

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein 

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read? 


15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

From Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson:
In every herd, many stampede, while only a few turn to face the lions. Cowards live for the sake of the living, but for heroes, life is a weapon, a thing to be spent, a gift to be given to the weak and the lost and the weary, even to the foolish and cowardly.

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

Shortest: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman 
Longest: Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Romantic: Elisa and Hector in The Bitter Kingdom
Friendship: Aluna and Hoku in Mirage
Sibling: Cyrus, Antigone, Daniel in Empire of Bones 

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

The Trouble with Flirting by Claire LaZebnik Thanks Christina!

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

MG Fantasy

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

Captain Thorne from Scarlet

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding and Jinx by Sage Blackwood 

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

The Lion Hunter Series by Elizabeth Wein 

LOOKING AHEAD

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2013 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2014?

Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan 

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2014 (non-debut)?

The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynn Jones

3. 2014 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Talker 25 by Joshua McCune

4. Series Ending You Are Most Anticipating in 2014?

Horizon by Jenn Reece (Above World Trilogy)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Books as Christmas Presents

Here are the books the children in my life are receiving for Christmas.

For LM, age 5:



For Bit (first two represent the entire series), age 9:


For My Adorable Niece, age 22 months:

What books are the little ones in your life getting this year?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sky Jumpers

Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman is a futuristic novel for MG readers with a different sort of twist. I found the world to be an interesting one and the story a perfect one to recommend to young readers.

Synopsis:
12-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. The bombs destroyed almost everything that came before, so the skill that matters most in White Rock—sometimes it feels like the only thing that matters—is the ability to invent so that the world can regain some of what it’s lost.
But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of air that covers the crater the town lives in—than fail at yet another invention.
When bandits discover that White Rock has invented priceless antibiotics, they invade. The town must choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from disease in the coming months or to die fighting the bandits now. Hope and her friends, Aaren and Brock, might be the only ones who can escape through the Bomb’s Breath and make the dangerous trek over the snow-covered mountain to get help.
For once, inventing isn’t the answer, but the daring and risk-taking that usually gets Hope into trouble might just save them all.


The world and concept of Sky Jumpers is one I found particularly interesting. It is post-apocolyptic but takes place in a community that is working hard to move forward with hope and rebuild what they can. This is not the typical outlook for these type of books and I appreciated that difference. The people of White Rock work communally and have competitions for inventions meant to inspire creativity and jump start their new civilization. There is still danger to be found in the way the bombs from World War III changed the atmosphere and in the bandits that roam around stealing whatever they can from the settlements that remain. The bandits in this book are dangerous, but quite possibly not dangerous enough to be realistic. For a MG book aimed at young readers this works though. The danger is real but not too horrific. 

I also enjoyed the characters Edleman created. Hope is dealing with insecurities because she doesn't feel she fits into the society that has been created. She can not invent things like the others in her community. But she is brave and she knows how to strategize and those are skills that are just as necessary. Her two best friends, Aaren and Brock, complement her and round out the team nicely. Brock is a bit more two dimensional than the other two but I'm sure that will change as the series progresses. 

The plot is a engaging and action filled. I was a little thrown at first by the passage of time and how the first part fast forwards days then weeks, but soon the book stuck to a more stable rhythm. This is one of those stories where the kids have to save the day when the adults can't and those are always fun. 

I will certainly be reading the next book in the series when it comes out and will recommend it to my students. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TTT: New to Me Authors of 2013


This week's TTT topic: New to Me Authors of 2013

Here are some of the authors I discovered this year whose work wowed me and made me want more.

 Sage Blackwood: Writes about magic in a fairy tale forest that includes amazing characters and adventures.

Laura Florand: The best adult contemporary romance author I've read. Ever.
 Claire LaZebnik: I can not resist Jane Austen retellings no matter how many times they let me down and leave me full of rage. LaZebnik is good at it though. So good.

Claire Legrand: Legrand is an excellent writer. She evokes so much emotion. I loved both of her MG novels I read this year and can not wait for her 2014 release, Winterspell, which is a retelling of The Nutcracker.


Marissa Meyer: I had this brilliant idea that I would wait until the entire Lunar Chronicles series was released before reading it. I caved. I'm hooked. I am desperately waiting for Cress.

Terry Pratchett: I know. This is just sad. What took me so long????


Rainbow Rowell: Everyone discovered her this year so I feel like such a sheep for this, but I like her books. Lots. 

Amy Spalding: She writes smart heroines and great family dynamics into her stories. She also knows her musical theater. Basically she's full of win. 

Sherry Thomas:  The Burning Sky was just so much FUN. I wish I had fun like that with every book. I'm really interested in reading her adult historical romances now.

Holly Webb: I needed to find a new author who would appeal to that younger end of the MG set and Webb is perfect for that. Her books also appeal to me even though I'm not in that set.

What about you? What authors have you discovered this year whom you love?