04 January 2016

My Favorite Books from 2015

Here is my yearly post listing all of my favorite books from the year 2015! Check them out and let me know what you think.

The Emperor of Any Place
by Tim Wynne-Jones
5 star rating. This was a really enjoyable read. The book had some paranormal elements along with it being both historical and a mystery. I appreciated the ending as well.The book has two concurrent story lines – the first is that of the present day involving Evan and the mystery surrounding a book his recently deceased father kept hidden in his office. The second is the book Evan is reading: the story of a Japanese solider during World War II who washes up on a deserted island. The book’s story involves Evan’s grandfather, an American solider during World War II with ties to the island named Griff, who comes to help Evan get his father’s things in order. This mystery keeps the writer engaged and the strange happenings on the island keep you intrigued. 

"The truth is bigger than the stories people tell themselves and bigger than the lies they live with." -Griff

by Betsy Schow
5 star rating.  This book was a wonderful re-telling of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Our main character, Dorthea, is a spoiled princess who must stay inside because of a curse placed on the women of her family. She becomes engaged (much to her dismay) to a gorgeous and mysterious prince named Kato. But Dorthea makes a mistake trusting a seemly helpful young girl she meets in the garden and accidentally wishes Kato into an adorable, fluffy, cat-like creature that has wings. 

Thus begins a quest to save both Dorthea’s and Kato’s kingdoms (along with the awesome and spunky maid, Rexi (she was one of my favorite characters). Other favorite character of mine was a chimera named Bobbledandrapous aka Bob, who gave some awesome love advice: 

"True love is like a stalactite meeting a stalagmite. Complete opposites, but with time, calcium, and a healthy drip system, they meet in the middle. Or one crushes the other. It really depends."

*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

by Joelle Charbonneau
5 star rating.  The Need Network – it’s just the latest new social network right? A cool site where you ask for things you need in exchange for doing one task for the site. Ask for iPhone; you have to go take a picture of someone. Ask for an A on your math test; deliver some cookies. 

What does Kaylee need? - A new kidney for her little brother. But how far is Kaylee willing to go to get that kidney?

This is, for the most part, a fast-paced thriller that has you questioning who you can trust and how far you are willing to go for something you think you need. The betrayals and twists kept me on the edge of my seat and the ending was creepy, if you think about it.

Red Queen
by Victoria Aveyard

5 star rating. Do you think this book is just the latest in the dystopian craze of young adult books? Well, think again! This book is a mix of all my favorite things – think Red Rising, Game of Thrones, and the X-men. Incredible world building, plot twists, magic powers, factions – ahhh! 
But – this is either a love or hate book. I loved it – but you may be one who hates it. Check out theGoodreads page for all the varying thoughts on this book. 

Next book in the Trilogy, Glass Sword won’t be out until February 9th 2016 (and I red Red Queen back in March 2015!) To tease us with a little more of this world until then, we have two prequels in one book, Cruel Crown, coming out January 9th 2016. I cannot wait!

What We Saw
by Aaron Hartzler
5 star rating. A book inspired by true events (like the sexual assaults in Missoula at the University of Montana & the rape case at Steubenville high school in Ohio) gives us this powerful story. Stacey Stallard passed out a party and the next day, a very disturbing picture is distributed among her classmates. Stacey goes to the police to file charges against four prominent basketball players –and receives quite a backlash for it. 

The story is actually told from a different perspective, a bystander named Kate Weston. She wasn’t actually present for the assault, but she finds more evidence that these four boys were involved (and quite possibly, her own boyfriend). She struggles with knowing this information and if she should speak up. Every time she brings the situation up in her circle of friends, she is shut down – most of them taking the boys’ side and shaming Stacey, basically saying she brought it on herself.
“Well, I just think it’s awful what that Stallard girl is doing to them. Dragging their good names through the mud.”

Beastly Bones
by William Ritter

5 star rating. This is the sequel to Jackaby, where we were introduced to Abigail Rook and her unlikely and strange employer, R.F. Jackaby. They deal with the paranormal and the strange, taking cases that no one quite understands. In this book, Abigail and Jackaby are drawn to Gad’s Valley, where some dinosaur bones from the local dig were stolen. Lots of strange things/creatures, a little tiny bit of romance in the form of the hunky police detective, Charlie Cane, and adventure! 

This is an awesome mystery/paranormal series and I highly recommend you read Jackaby and then continue with Beastly Bones. There is a short story you should also check out (available in ebook form) called The Map, which is about Abigail’s birthday!

by Marissa Meyer
5 star rating. This is the final book in the Lunar Chronicles, and it is truly bittersweet to come to the end. You must read the previous books in the series to understand Winter. Please scroll further down this post to find another book in the series that I enjoyed, Fairest (Queen Levana’s backstory).

I still gave this book 5 stars because I absolutely loved it, but I will admit that it was slow going at first – let’s get to the revolution already please! Especially for an 800+ pages book…

Winter neatly ties up everyone’s story lines, which also made me love it. Fans of this series will not be disappointed. Even some people that didn’t love the other books admitted that this was a satisfying book and ending (see Keertana’s review).

by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
5 star rating. GAHHH! I adored this book so much!! This is a beautiful book (both literally and figuratively) that is told uniquely – through classified documents, such as interviews and emails. It is a fast paced read (though a very long one, this book clocks in at 599 pages). Our main characters are Kady and her ex-boyfriend, Ezra. They escape their home planet, which was under attack. They are now fleeing an enemy spaceship. The problems that arise are plentiful; Kady and Ezra are on two different spaceships – one where a mysterious plague breaks out and both being controlled by a psychotic AI known as AIDAN (Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network) who is quoted as saying “Am I not merciful?” a lot. 

"If it is the definition of insanity to repeat the same process and expect a different outcome, most of humanity must be insane." -AIDAN 

The dynamics between Kady and Ezra are complex with their conflicting feelings considering they broke up but sound like they still really care about one another: 

"…but I feel it's my duty to point out that [you’re] alone in a derelict spaceship, surrounded by pipe-wielding maniacs and now might not be the time for pillow talk" - Ezra to Kady 

Check out the author, Jay Kristoff’s own take on the book.  Can’t believe I have to wait until Fall 2016 for the second book, Gemina!

Violent Ends
by Various Authors

4 star rating. A very timely novel that deals with a high school shooting that leaves six dead (including the shooter) and five hurt. 

However, the telling of this story is different than most – we don’t have the perspective of the killer, Kirby. Instead, we have a book of short tales told from different points of view, those affected by the shooting and those that knew (or thought they knew) Kirby. Each story is written by a different author, so we truly get to see this overall story in varying lights. 

Authors include some of my favorites: Neal Shusterman, Beth Ravis, and Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Off the Page
by Jodi Picoult & Samantha van Leer

4 star rating. Off the Page continues the story of Between the Lines. Oliver is a storybook prince come to life. He quite literally came from the pictures of a storybook. Delilah is the real-life girl that Oliver escaped the book for. This is the story of what happens after the “happily ever after” ending and it is never that simple. 

Oliver has to deal with living in the real world and the real life guy, Edgar, learns that being a hero trapped in a book is not all it’s cracked up to be. There are consequences for trying to change the story and these characters learn the hard way. How far are Delilah and Oliver willing to go to keep their happily ever after?

by Sarah Darer Littman

4 star rating. Another book dealing with a very tough subject: cyber bullying. We get different perspectives with this book and learn that everything isn’t black and white. You want to hate some characters, but they are so real life that you learn to understand them (though some of their actions seem unforgivable).

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke
by Anne Blankman

4 star rating. This is the sequel to another great book, Prisoner of Night and Fog. Background information to know: Gretchen was raised among Nazi party members and even called Hitler Uncle Dolf. She turns her back on her family and the party. 

"...she chose to see with her own eyes, however painful and ugly the view." 

In this book, she has escaped Germany to live in England and maintains her relationship with a Jewish reporter named Daniel. However, Daniel receives word that his family is in danger (they stayed behind in Germany) and goes back to save them. Of course Gretchen must follow. 

"Hate had made her life easy. Love was so much harder, messy and complicated and confusing...She'd rather have the pain and pleasure of love than the comfort of hate."

Set against the backdrop of the 1940s, while Hitler reigned in Germany, this story is one of strength mixed with some romance and suspense.

Vanishing Girls
by Lauren Oliver

4 star rating. This is a contemporary thriller about two sisters and a terrible accident. Nick’s older sister, Dara, disappears on her birthday and Nick is determined to find her. A young girl by the name of Madeline, also goes missing and Nick believes the two disappearances are connected. Nick dives into a hidden world that Dara kept from her. A revelation at the end makes you second guess everything you just read.

Until the Beginning
by Amy Plum

4 star rating. This is the sequel to After the End. It picks up the story of Miles and Juneau. The two are on the run from Miles’s father, who wants to use Juneau. Her clan was kidnapped in the first book and she is still searching for them. We discover the secret behind her powers and why they want to capture her so badly. Great conclusion and bonus that this is just a duology instead of a trilogy! 

Dark Shimmer
by Donna Jo Napoli
4 star rating. I love my fairy tale re-llings and this one does not disappoint! This is a dark and chilling re-telling of the classic Snow White tale but we have the stepmother’s point of view. Dolce is our step-mother in this re-telling and we get to know her as a young girl – known as a freak on her home island. She is a giant and is ridiculed and has no friends. She learns the art of mirror making and hopes this will endear her to the community. Once her mother dies though, she decides to leave the island and finds people her size! She marries a wealthy scholar and becomes a mother to his young (and beautiful) daughter Bianca. She is an outsider and continues to make mirrors in secret to gain favor among the Venetians nobles, not knowing that the quicksilver to make those mirrors is slowly driving her mad…

What You Left Behind
by Jessica Verdi
4 star rating. This is a contemporary novel where we have a young man as the main character and voice of our story. Ryden is now the teenage dad to little baby Hope. His girlfriend, Meg, died after giving birth to Hope, combined with her weakened body due to cancer. Ryden is filled with guilt for getting Meg pregnant, as she had to stop chemo treatments in order to keep their baby. With those chemo treatments, Ryden felt that Meg could have lived. Meg’s family basically disowned their daughter and will have nothing to do with Ryden or Hope. Which doesn’t make any sense since they are rich and now grandparents….provide for your grand-kid! 

Ryden was hoping to get a soccer scholarship but it seems impossible now. He has Hope to take care of and soccer practice every day after school. The choices he must make are hard and Verdi writes a realistic boy – even the parts that make you dislike him. We get another love interest, but she knows nothing of Hope or Meg but that’s her appeal to Ryden, he can be a regular old teenager with Joni. 

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Dark Tide
by Jennifer Donnelly

4 star rating. This is the third book in theWaterfire Saga. This book was much better than the first book and slightly better than the second. See my reviews for Deep Blue and Rogue Wave

We are finally getting into the thick of things – Serafina has really grown into her own and is a fierce leader of the resistance. We find out more about the pasts of Ling and Astrid (yay!) I don’t want to give anything else away, as the journey is the story – if you’ve read the first two books, be sure to continue with this third one!

Daughter of Deep Silence
by Carrie Ryan

4 star rating. A dark revenge story! Frances is one of three survivors following a deadly attack aboard the ship she was on with her parents and best friend. The other two survivors are father and son; and they are lying about what really happened. To protect herself, Frances takes on the identity of her best friend, Libby, with the help of Libby’s father. She spends four years living as Libby and planning her revenge.  

This was a fast-paced story filled with intrigue and I enjoyed it.

Happily Ever After
by Kiera Cass
4 star rating. Authors are starting to write short stories set in their series’ world and package them up and sell them in one book. This is way I almost never buy the ebook novellas from authors now, because more than likely, they will make a compilation novel! Most of the time, I do feel like these books are a gimmicky scam, but I enjoyed reading these from the Selection series. I got my library to purchase a copy. I didn’t have to spend money on it and other fans can enjoy it free of charge as well! 

Included in this book are four novellas, all told from various POVs, some bonus scenes, and a map of the story’s setting. This is a must-read for fans of 
The Selection series.

I think my favorite of the novellas was The Queen, where we get a look at Queen Amberly and King Clarkson’s own selection. We are given insight into how these two characters grew into who they were in the regular series. 

by Alex Flinn
Another fairy tale re-telling for fans of that sort-of thing ;)

4 star rating. This is book three in the Kendra Chroniclesthough Kendra isn’t the main character. Snow White re-tellings are “the thing” this year, at least among the re-tellings I’m reading. 

Like the book I reviewed above, Dark Shimmer, we have some perspective from the evil step-mother. Like that book, we start out during the girl’s childhood, where she is ridiculed and made fun of. However, Violet has magical abilities, letting her transform (slowly) into a beautiful but still distant person. She can’t catch the eye of her crush, Greg, who ends up marrying the Violet’s nemesis, Jennifer. But Violent gets her revenge…..

Greg, the vulnerable widower & father to Celine, ends up marrying Violent. We now switch POVs to Celine, who is beautiful, just like her mother Jennifer, who feels that her beauty is a curse. And it can be since Violent is now her step-mother and sees a spitting image of Jennifer in Celine. 

Not as great as Dark Shimmer, but still a good read. We get to see Kendra again, who plays the role of fairy godmother to both Violent and Celine. Pick it up if you like fairy tale re-tellings as much as I do! 

Everything, Everything
by Nicola Yoon


4 star rating. Interesting concept for a book – a girl that is allergic to everything. Maddy has been kept inside, in a protective bubble for most of her 17 years. She turns 18 and is considered an adult now, and she does use this further into the book. She falls instantly in love with the new boy-next-door, Olly. Olly has his own family problems and is willing to see past Maddy’s “illness.” There are some hard to believe parts, but overall this was a unique tale. 

by Carolyn Lee Adams

4 star rating. Ruthless is an awesome horror/thriller book. Our main character, Ruth, has been kidnapped by a pyscho serial killer. She is taken to a remote cabin in the wooded mountains and thus begins the cat and mouse game where the prey can turn into the predator. Ruth must find out just how ruthless she can be when her life is on the line. 

by Marissa Meyer

4 star rating. For fans of the Lunar Chronicles (see my review of the final book in the series, Winter, above), we get the tale of the evil Queen Levana in this novella. Can you sense a theme in my books? Fairy tale re-tellings from the evil queen’s perspective, Snow White style. We get to see how Queen Levana turned into the power-hungry and paranoid ruler that she is today. 

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials:
The Official Graphic Novel Prelude

by Jackson Lanzing

4 star rating. This is a bridge book between The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trails, but told in a graphic novelization. I enjoy graphic novels (most of the ones I read however are of the adult-age variety) and to get some short stories from a series I love told in graphic novel form was refreshing. We get to see some familiar characters and tales from the different Mazes. We also get insight into how W.C.K.D. got started. You must also read the introduction from James Dashner.

Stay tuned for a post on my favorite audiobooks of 2015!

03 January 2016

2015 Reading Challenge

I attempted to do POPSUGAR's 2015 reading challenge this past year. The list included 52 books to read. I didn't start the challenge until August, so I think making it through 47 and a half books is pretty good! Here is the list:

  1. A book with more than 500 pages (Illuminae by Annie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff)
  2. A classic romance
  3. A book that became a movie (The Lost World by Michael Crichton)
  4. A book published this year (UnBound by Neal Shusterman)
  5. A book with a number in the title (100 Things Every Homeowner Must Know: How to save money, solve problems, and improve your home by Family Handyman Magazine)
  6. A book written by someone under 30 (Off the Page by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer)
  7. A book with nonhuman characters (The Infernal City by Greg Keyes)
  8. A funny book (I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan)
  9. A book by a female author (Yes Please by Amy Poehler)
  10. A mystery or thriller (Raging Heat by Richard Castle)
  11. A book with a one-word title (Ruthless by Carolyn Lee Adams)
  12. A book of short stories (Prep for Doom by E.R. Arroyo)
  13. A book set in a different country (A Dark Lure by Loreth Anne White)
  14. A nonfiction book (Moody Bitches by Julie Holland)
  15. A popular author’s first book (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling)
  16. A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet (Among Monsters by Jamie McGuire)
  17. A book a friend recommended (Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll)
  18. A Pulitzer Prize-winning book (I only got through page 53 of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan)
  19. A book based on a true story (What We Saw by Adam Hartzler)
  20. A book at the bottom of your to-read list (The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer)
  21. A book your mom loves (Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss)
  22. A book that scares you (Gemini Effect by Chuck Grossart)
  23. A book more than 100 years old (The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne)
  24. A book based entirely on its cover (Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard)
  25. A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t
  26. A memoir (Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson)
  27. A book you can finish in a day (Parenting is Easy: You're Probably Just Doing It Wrong by Sarah Given)
  28. A book with antonyms in the title (Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres)
  29. A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit (Until the Beginning by Amy Plum)
  30. A book that came out the year you were born (Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton)
  31. A book with bad reviews (Homemakers: A Domestic Handbook for the Digital Generation by Brit Morin)
  32. A trilogy (The Hybrid Chronicles: What's Left of MeOnce We WereEchoes of Us by Kat Zhan)
  33. A book from your childhood (Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss)
  34. A book with a love triangle (The Heir by Kiera Cass)
  35. A book set in the future (This is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death by Ryan North [editor])
  36. A book set in high school (Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson)
  37. A book with a color in the title (The Black Reckoning by John Stephens)
  38. A book that made you cry (What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi)
  39. A book with magic (Spelled by Betsy Schow)
  40. A graphic novel (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trails: The Official Graphic Novel Prelude by Jackson Lanzing & Collin P Kelly)
  41. A book by an author you’ve never read before (Younger by Suzanne Munshower)
  42. A book you own but have never read (Love Me Sweet by Tracy Brogan)
  43. A book that takes place in your hometown
  44. A book that was originally written in a different language (The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami)
  45. A book set during Christmas (By Winter’s Light by Stephanie Laurens)
  46.  A book written by an author with your same initials (Need by Joelle Charbonneau)
  47. A play
  48. A banned book (The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by A.N. Roquelaure)
  49. A book based on or turned into a TV show (The Walking Dead: Book Eleven by Robert Kirkman)
  50. A book you started but never finished (The Fall by R.J. PiƱeiro)

20 December 2015

A Thousand Nights

ISBN: 9781484722275
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: October 6th 2015
Number of Pages: 328
Source: Advanced Reader Copy
Goodreads Summary: 
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister's place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin's court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

My Rating:  

*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

"Lo-Melkhiin rode into the desert as a man, and he was something else when he came out." pg. 40

Very intriguing story that is reminiscent of the Arabic tale One Thousand and One Nights AKA Arabian Nights. In that tale, a king finds his wife to be cheating on him and has her executed. He assumes all women are like his wife and proceeds to marry a different virgin every night, having her executed the next day. Finally, there are no more virgins left in the city and his vizier's (high official) daughter offers herself. On the first night, the daughter tells the king a story but fails to finish it - thus promptly the king to spare her life so he can find out the end of the story. She does this for 1,001 nights. 

Like the Arabic tale, we have a king, Lo-Melkhiin, who takes a girl from each village to marry and they are found dead the next day after they marry. That is until one day he finds a girl willing to offer herself to save her older sister from this deadly marriage. We never find out the girl's name (the story is told partially from her point of view) and we actually never are told anyone's name, save for Lo-Melkhiin. The author doesn't give a reason for this but does tell us in the acknowledgements "Emily Meehan, who took me very seriously when I told her that no, no one was ever going to get a name." 

There is a mystical element to the story, as the girl has been made a smallgod from the shrines and prayers offered to her. This power allows her to battle with the demon who has taken possession of Lo-Melkhiin's body and mind. We have some chapters told from the demon's perspective that give us a little more insight into this strange and dangerous creature. 

The story is very well written and moves at a quick pace. I haven't read anything like it before.  

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