Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorite Books of 2014

December 31 and it is time to reveal my Favorite Books of the year. I'm doing it a little differently this year. I will list my Top 10 absolute favorites first, but below the cut I'm going to do a breakdown by age category listing the Top 10 in each.

Disclaimer: My favorites should in no way be used to discern which books are going to be shortlisted for the Cybils committee I'm on. For that you will just have to wait until tomorrow when they're announced on the site.

Top Ten Reads of the Year:

Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier 
Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson


The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge


A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
Greenglass House by Kate Milford


The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones
Nomad by R.J. Anderson


Private Politics by Emma Barry
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Monday, December 29, 2014

Quarterly Review and Round-Up

It is time for the Quarterly Review Round-Up where I talk about the best of the best, the one's I couldn't finish, and the adult novels I'm reading that I don't review here. Plus there's a GIVEAWAY.

The DNFs (links to my reasons why-if I shared them-on Goodreads):
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Adult Books (links to reviews on Goodreads):
Carolina Blues by Virginia Kantra
The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan
The Duchess War by Courtney Milan
The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan
Shadowed Heart by Laura Florand
Summer Chaparral by Genevieve Turner *This would totally be part of the Giveaway if it was available on Book Depository. READ IT, people who like romance.

The Best of the Best (where the Giveaway comes in):
 
Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols (review posting January 8)



Links to my reviews unless otherwise noted.

GIVEAWAY Rules

*Indicates later books in a trilogy or series. If you are wanting to begin with the first book and you win, I will allow you to choose that as your prize.

If you want to win one of the 4.5/5 star books I read this quarter, leave a comment below and tell me:
1) A favorite book of yours from the past few months.
2) Which of these books you are interested in if you win. (You can change your mind if you do.)
3) A way to reach you (email or Twitter handle) if you win. If you are using a Twitter handle, you may want to follow me in case I need to DM you.

Open to any reader who lives where Book Depository ships for free.

I will close this GIVEAWAY and choose a winner on Sunday, January 4 at 8:00 PM EST.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Favorite Books of Last Five Years

A couple weeks ago I was involved in a discussion on Goodreads about the current Best of Books lists that were beginning to appear and how underwhelmed we were by most of the books being included on these (particularly the YA). In the course of that discussion an idea about doing a Best of (or Favorites) of the last five years list. We tend to get so excited about the new and then a couple of years later, we don't even remember many of those books. But what are the books that truly stick with you from one year to the next? I liked this idea so much I decided to make a Favorite list of the previous five years of reading. I may do this every year.

Because I will still do my favorites of 2014, this is going to cover 2009-2013. Here are the books that have stuck with me most from those five years. These are the books I've reread and maintained my love and excitement for. Four of my all time favorite books are included on this list.

In the order I read them.

From 2009:



 I think everyone pretty much knows this is my favorite series. 2009 was the year I discovered it. I read The Thief on Father's Day. I had The Queen of Attolia from the library by the end of the next week. I read it the same evening I checked it out. My library didn't have King of Attolia so I immediately ordered the entire series. While I waited for them to arrive, I read The Queen of Atollia two more times. The day the books came in the mail, I read The King of Attolia TWICE in one sitting. I stayed up all night. I then went and immediately reread the three books over again. I reread them at least once a year (including the fourth book that's further down the list). For most other series, I'm only going to include my favorite and you can assume I love the others as well, but this series is special so they're all on here. It's also the only one I'm writing anything about.

 

 It's interesting to note that the discover of Megan Whalen Turner led to the discovery of all the rest of my favorite books that year.

From 2010:


 
 

From 2011:

 

From 2012:

From 2013:

 




There you go. I may do this every few years.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

TTT: Books for Christmas


This week's TTT topic: Books from Santa-which I'm changing to books I'm GIVING people for Christmas

For Bit (age 10):

For LM (age 6):

For my niece (age almost 3-she has a thing for penguins):


And for my sister (just because):

What bookish gifts are you planning on giving or wanting to get?



Monday, December 22, 2014

Alistair Grim's Odditorium

Alistair Grim's Odditorium by Gregory Funaro is a mixture of magic and mystery with a whole  lot of adventure and familiar aspects fantasy lovers will recognize.

Grub was raised by the wife of chimney sweep. He has no idea who is true parents are. When the lovely woman who has been the only mother he's known dies, his life becomes a drudgery of work as the sweep's apprentice. One day after a making a mess while being bullied Grub knows he has to run and he hides in the trunk of a mysterious stranger. Upon arriving at the stranger's house, Grub is discovered and finds himself in the position of keeping strange secrets, living in an odd house, and being beholden to the mysterious stranger named Alistair Grim. Grim has a collection of objects he calls odditoria that possess magical properties. These items fuel the energy the home runs on, but the magic is dangerous and could attract exactly the wrong sort of notice. When Grub accidentally allows some  of the magic out into the world, this is exactly what happens. Now the Black Fairy, shadesmen, and the malevolent Prince Nightshade know the Odditorium exists and they are coming after its inhabitants. Fleeing for their lives and engaged in an epic battle, Alistair Grim and Grub both have decisions to make about what is truly important and many secrets will be revealed.

There is a lot going on this book and it is quite long. The plot is an intense one with a lot of action sure to please fans of adventure. There are many places where the action comes to a complete halt so that Alistair Grim can have lengthy conversations with various other characters in which he talks and talks and talks and explains. And explains some more. Some exposition is always necessary when introducing an audience to a new world, but I feel like there are better ways to do it that don't bring the action to a screeching halt every thirty pages or so for an info-dump clumsily discussed as a conversation. These parts slow the book down, and became annoying the further I read. Despite these parts, I was pulled into the story's more exciting elements and continued to read to the end. The tempered my enjoyment, but didn't entirely kill it. There was enough intrigue and fascinating elements that I definitely wanted to get all the way to the end.

I did enjoy the characters. Grub is a little too trusting of everyone, and follows a typical fantasy arc, but he is a likeable hero and does many brave things. Alistair Grim is unpredictable and full of energy, driven by a haunting past and bordering on obsessive. Despite all this, I found him to be rather uninteresting. Maybe it's because of the exposition he's always doing. It is the larger supporting cast of characters that truly captured my heart. I won't say much more to avoid spoilers, but the other inhabitants of the Odditorium are the fascinating ones. I loved them all.

For fans of fantasy who aren't intimidated by long books, this is this perfect choice.

I read a galley provided by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, via NetGalley. Alistair Grim's Odditorium will be available for purchase January 6.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Favorite Characters of 2014

Every year I like to do a list of the characters I've fallen in love with during that year's reading. This list always ends up including some books that don't make my end of year Top 10 and it feels good to spread the love. This is only for new-to-me in 2014 characters. I may have read a book that includes characters I love but met in previous years. They won't be on this list.

Here are my previous lists for the blog:
2011
2012
2013

All the residents of Dimilioc (especially Ezekiel) from Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier
I fell for all the characters in Black Dog fast. And then they were all in immediate peril. This book was stressful to read let me tell you. I love the family dynamics in this book. All of the relationships are so well done, expressing closeness, but also the hardness that comes with living with people and fitting your lives together. The character Neumeier created for this and the voices, personalities, and struggles she gave each just make them jump off the page. I just want them all to stay safe.

The Fletcher Family (and Thalia and just everyone on Dare Island) from Virginia Kantra's Dare Island series
This may be due to my experiences growing up in a military family, but I just adore the Fletchers and I love the way Kantra includes all the generations of their family in her books. The kids are important. (And incredibly well written. Too many adult romance authors can not write kids. You would think they had never been around a kid when you read their books. Kantra does not have such problems.) The older generation is important. Kantra just writes family so well. 

Parker, Millie, Alyse, and Liam from Emma Barry's The Easy Part Series
I used to read nothing but romance when I wasn't reading for school, the second half of high school, through college, and my first four years of teaching. I read mostly historical. I wasn't a big fan of contemporaries. And then I took a really big break because I was tired of the formula and tropes. The past couple of years I've started to pick it back up and found that there are some smart talented authors doing new things and breaking old standard rules. Barry is one of those. She writes smart people are still figuring things out and her portrayal of modern romance is incredibly realistic. Of all the elements of her books I love, it's the characters I love the most. They are smart, witty, engaging, and flawed. They are not interchangeable, and have distinct personalities that bring them to life. 

Neverfell from A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
From my review: "This is the story of Neverfell, a wide-eyed, sheltered, compassionate, cheerful, inquisitive girl who longs to explore and see the world outside the front door she has been locked behind as long as she can remember. Characters like this usually drive me insane. There is so much goodness in her. An unbelievable amount of goodness. I normally can't stand this, but Neverfell caught me and held me and made me love her. And even though I knew she was heading for a host of awful discoveries that were going to change and disillusion her, I found I didn't want them to change her." I can't think of any better way to describe her than that. The courage she shows throughout the course of this book and who she is by the end is such a brilliant study in how to write this type of character and not make her hard to swallow. It shows how to give her depth and room to grow while maintaining who she is. And it's beautiful. 

Milo, his parents, and their guests at Greenglass House by Kate Milford
I love a good mystery and Greenglass House is definitely that. It is also a fascinating character study in every way like all the best closed room mysteries are. Milo is the center of this, and if he doesn't steal your heart, I may begin to suspect you just don't have one. No really. From the guilt he feels about imagining his biological parents mixed with his love for his adopted parents to the way he rises to the challenge of solving  mystery and saving the day, he is a wonderful young hero and the best of protagonists. 

Jamie, Helen, and Joris from The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones
As I was reading this, I could see why so many have compared the lives of the Homeward Bounders to that of military kids. This may be why I attached myself so quickly to the characters. I get them. Or it could just be that Diana Wynne Jones was incapable of writing bad characters. I've yet to read a book of hers that hasn't caused me to love and grief for her characters. Here is was a bit more personal though because their story is just so tragic in so many ways. But boy did I enjoy reading it and watching them win against the power that were controlling them, even if the winning came at such a high price. My heart.

The Maids from Jennifer McGowan's Maids of Honor series 
From my review of Maid of Secrets: "Basically? Yay for smart girls who spy, study, actively train, and come together to run circles around the men trying to control them! I mean really." I just love every single one of them: Meg's stubborn independence, Beatrice's beautiful brokeness, Jane's ruthless strength, Sophia's caring sensitivity, and Anne's brilliance. Most especially I love how they band together to support one another even when they are not necessarily liking one another at that moment. Their group is a brilliant depiction of female friendship and loyalty. It's the best. 

Which characters stole your heart this year?