Mini-reviews – catching up

Relish: My Life in the KitchenRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Published by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

This is an adorable food-themed graphic memoir that was super enjoyable to read. Lucy Knisley basically takes the most pivotal moments in her life and relates them to what she was eating, cooking, or learning to make at that time. I really loved the experience of reading this book – not only is it a heartwarming memoir, but the illustrations are great and Knisley includes several of her tried-and-true and family recipes, as well. Overall I just really enjoyed it and will definitely be looking for more from this author.

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Published by Flatiron Books

The basic gist of this one is three couples, of varying degrees of friendship, get together one night for a barbecue and something disastrous happens. The book details the personalities and relationships of the characters before the big event, and then goes into depth on how it has a ripple effect on each one of the characters for quite some time after. I have really loved all of Moriarty’s novels and this one was no exception. The way she is able to create tension amongst a group of people and the way she is able to make even the most vile of characters sympathetic and relatable are two talents that she has that very few authors share with her to this degree. I was definitely kept on the edge of my seat throughout this novel and continue to be impressed with her writing and ability to craft a well-paced, unputdownable story.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Feyre is nineteen years old and her life revolves around finding food for her family and staying safe from the faeries that once ruled the world she lives in. When she kills a wolf in the woods, who turns out to not be a wolf but a faerie, she is collected by Tamlin, another faerie, to give her life in exchange for the one she killed. Once she gets to his estate, she finds herself falling in love with him and subsequently doing everything in her power to protect Tamlin and his world from the dark power that threatens to overtake it.

That was a cliffnotes version of a summary of this book – a book that I liked a LOT. I don’t read a ton of fantasy (almost none, actually) but this one really worked for me. The main element of the book that I loved was getting to know the characters – Maas did an excellent job making Feyre an incredibly believable character that I could really relate to. And Tamlin drew me in with his fiery, dark personality – I loved the two of them together. Plus, their chemistry was seriously hot. This is NOT a book for young teens – there were some pretty intense sexy times happening here. Anyway – I really liked this book and definitely will get to the sequel.

Sweet Disorder (Lively St. Lemeston, #1)Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
Published by Samhain Publishing

Romance is a genre that I’m just getting into and Rose Lerner is an author recommended to me by the lovely and brilliant Jenny at Reading the End. I am happy to say that I did like this one and it is a good example of feminist romance – the type of romance that I would like to read more of, for sure. Something I appreciated about the plot of this one is that both main characters’ actions were motivated by helping their families, and there was a lot of character development of not only the main love interests but their family members as well. Both Nick and Phoebe were drawn to each other, but both knew that their being together would go against everything they needed to do to take care of their families. In the end, obviously, it’s a romance novel – there’s a happily ever after. But the getting there was quite enjoyable and I really liked the journey these characters took.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the SkyAll the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Published by Tor Books

From the publisher:

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

There were things I liked about this book and things I disliked, but overall I have to say that I was not wowed by All the Birds in the Sky.

In short, I liked the beginning of the book and the end but not so much the middle. The beginning is set during Patricia’s and Laurence’s childhoods, and it reads almost like a YA book. Like a really dark and sad YA book, I guess, as there is abuse, bullying, and a general feeling of darkness that runs alongside the story. There were certainly moments of fun and humor, but neither of the two really had great childhoods, and Anders doesn’t shy away from showing the reader just now not great things were for them. I liked the two of them as kids – they were both awkward, shy, basically two nerds who really connected with each other. Something that bothered me about the beginning, even though I generally liked it, was that the abusive and destructive behavior of several characters was never discussed in-depth or dealt with in any way. There were some scary things that happened to these characters, stuff that was pretty much ignored and never talked about again. It did not ring true for me at all.

The transition in the book from their childhoods to adulthood felt shaky and really took me out of the story. And once we got into adulthood, I almost put the book down several times. It felt to me like it wasn’t going anywhere, like it was rambly and not much was happening and I was just, frankly, bored by it. But there was one point where THINGS start happening, and I drew back into it, and I did really like the last third of the book.

The end of the book really shows the world falling apart, and it was scary but I loved how Anders described the slow unraveling of everything we know to be necessary in modern life. That part reminded me a little bit of Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven. I liked the clashing of science and magic, and I liked how Patricia’s magic wasn’t this huge fantastical thing, but rather a minor element of her personality that came in handy sometimes and in some major ways. There’s also a particular element of the book, it’s a minor plot point but quite a spoiler, that I absolutely loved. One of those connection things that you go “ah!” as you read it.

So overall – not my favorite book, but I did enjoy parts of it. I’m glad I read All the Birds in the Sky and would still consider reading something else written by this author.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry OnCarry On by Rainbow Rowell
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin

From the publisher:

Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.

*Sigh*. I probably shouldn’t have even read this book. While reading Rowell’s Fangirl (a book I loved) my least favorite sections were the Simon Snow fanfiction. In fact, I actually skipped a couple of those sections because I didn’t really care and wanted to get back to Cath’s story. But because I have loved everything else Rainbow Rowell has written, I decided I had to read this book, too. And as I feared, I didn’t love it. I am not even sure I liked it. *hangs head in shame*.

There were things about it I liked, certainly. Agatha! Love her. And wow does Rowell know how to write unrequited love. And kissing scenes. And friendship. And dialogue. She is great, truly she is, and I can see some good elements of the book – some of the same elements I’ve loved in her other books.

BUT. The plot was kind of all over the place. To the point where I couldn’t really focus on it, I kept getting confused, and there was a ton of stuff that I felt should have been eliminated altogether (probably 200 pages worth, in my opinion). And I get that the parallels to Harry Potter were supposed to be obvious and they were supposed to be acceptable and actually sort of the whole POINT – but it annoyed me. Every time I was like, “oh that character is Dumbledore” or whoever (and this happens over and over and over again), I was annoyed. Every. single. time.

I knew this wasn’t going to be my thing going in, yet I hoped I was wrong, and I turned out to be right. Oh well. I guess I don’t have to love everything an author writes to still consider her a favorite author – right? RIGHT?

Mini-reviews (attempting to wrap up 2015 reading part 4)

Saga, Volume 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
Published by Image Comics

Publisher’s summary: When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

I chose to read Saga because I have been wanting to try more comics and everyone raves about this one, so I thought it would be a good choice. I really loved it! I loved the angle of these star-crossed lovers – individuals from two different intergalactic species that happen to be at war who fall in love, have a child together, and have to try to make it despite the universe telling them they cannot be together. There is war, drama, love, ghosts – you name it, Saga has got it. And the illustrations are absolutely beautiful and SO creative. I am by no means an expert on comics but I found this one truly excellent and am looking forward to reading the rest.

Mambo in ChinatownMambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok
Published by Riverhead Books

Charlie Wong has spent almost no time throughout her twenty-two years of life outside of Chinatown, where she lives with her father and younger sister. Her job as a dishwasher makes her miserable, so when she lands a new job as a receptionist at a dance studio, she’s thrilled. As Charlie gets to know this new world of dance, her own talents begin to rise to the surface and her life quickly changes into something she had never dreamed for herself. At the same time, however, her sister is having trouble in school and seems to become almost chronically ill. Charlie has to figure out how to grow into her new identity in the American world while at the same time figuring out how to get her firmly Eastern world-minded father to help her sister.

Jean Kwok has a talent for bringing to life the experiences of people I don’t read much about – in her first novel, she detailed the life of Chinese immigrants, and in this one it’s all about American-born Chinese – those who were born here in America, but have lived their lives immersed in Chinese culture. I really enjoyed this novel and felt SO deeply for Charlie. She is the kind of character the reader connects to immediately and roots for throughout the novel. I read so anxiously and hopefully as Charlie discovered this new world, as she learned that she has true talent for something other than washing dishes, and as she stood up to her father and her uncle in regards to her sister’s care. I was proud of her, even! Kwok really showed the reader how difficult a balance children of immigrants must strike between their parents’ ways of thinking and living and the ways of the culture they’ve been immersed in here in the US. Mambo in Chinatown is a fantastic story with a lot to think about, a ton of heart, and great characters. Highly recommended.

Why Not Me?Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling
Published by Crown Archetype

Mindy Kaling’s second collection of essays invites readers to see inside her brain as she talks about career, her quest to find happiness and excitement in life, falling in love, and looking different from just about every other person in Hollywood.

I’m a huge Mindy Kaling fan and I really enjoyed these essays. Kaling is smart, witty, extremely funny, and really has an eye for what’s going on in society. She pokes fun at people and ideas without being hurtful, while at the same time shows readers how tough it can be to be yourself in a world that wants you to be the same as everyone else. She is just great, I enjoy her tremendously, and if you like her humor you should definitely read both of her books.

Monday Minis

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Feiwel & Friends

This is a pretty adorable fantasy featuring twelve-year-old September, who has been whisked away by a man called Green Wind to Fairyland, where she is tasked with finding a talisman and presenting it to the Marquess of Fairyland, and of course the fate of everyone in Fairyland rests in her completion of this one task. I liked this book and can totally see its appeal for adults and children. September is rather intuitive and mature for twelve, but she’s also believable for her age, as she’s pretty naive too. Valente is very smart with her prose, she’s not just taking the reader on a journey, she’s looking to draw out emotions too, and she definitely accomplishes that. I am not certain that fantasy is really my thing, though, because I had difficulty keeping track of all the characters and even connecting with them. I don’t know. I might read the next book, to see if that enhances the story for me, I might not.

Vanishing GirlsVanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins

You guys know I’ll read anything Lauren Oliver writes, but I’ve been mildly disappointed with her most recent few novels. Vanishing Girls is my favorite of her books since Before I Fall – I thought it was pretty great, and brought me back to the Lauren Oliver I love – fantastic writing, characters that break your heart, and a story that you can’t put down. Vanishing Girls has it all.

In a nutshell, Nick and Dara are sisters and used to be best friends, until there was an accident that changed their relationship and scarred Dara’s beautiful face. On Dara’s birthday, she vanishes at the same time that a nine-year-old from their town disappears too, and Nick becomes determined to find them both. Oliver spends time inside the heads of both Nick and Dara, giving the reader a full picture of both girls and how their relationship was damaged so horribly after this accident. There’s plenty of twists and turns in this novel, tons of character development, really I couldn’t have asked for more. If you liked Before I Fall but haven’t been as enamored with Oliver’s recent novels, please pick up Vanishing Girls. It’s really, fantastically good.

Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances, and Home RemediesLike Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Published by Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group

This is a magical novel about a Mexican family, the De la Garza’s, focusing mostly on the youngest daughter, Tita. Tita’s mother, Mama Elena, decides to stick with Mexican tradition and force Tita to stay home and take care of her into her old age – despite the fact that Tita has fallen in love and wants to get married. Mama Elena fixes Tita’s love interest up with Tita’s oldest sister, propelling this entire family into dramatics for years to come.

Magical realism isn’t quite something I always get, but I did like what Esquivel did with it here. What I loved most was how the emotions of the characters came out in the food Tita cooked – food was a metaphor for every crazy dramatic thing that happened in this family over the years. While I can’t say I fell in love with Like Water for Chocolate, I was definitely charmed by it and can recommend it for something a little different than what I typically read.

Thoughts on Re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

It was a sad, sad day when I closed this book and thus ended my re-read of the entire Harry Potter series. It has actually been kind of a while since I finished, but I’ve been having trouble articulating any kind of real thoughts about this final book so I’ve put off talking about it. Here are some brief thoughts that are running through my head at the current moment about the final book in the series.

I remember that the first time I read this book, it seemed that Harry, Ron and Hermione did a LOT of camping and worrying and talking and thinking but very little actually DOING something. I must have felt that way because I was so anxious for them to get to some real action, I wanted to hurry through the slower parts. This time around, I didn’t feel that way at all; instead, I relished the time spent on trying to figure out the Horcruxes and it didn’t seem like overkill to me at all. It felt perfect.

The first time I read this book, I furiously read through the battle scene at the end, and I’m sure I missed a lot, but this time I read slowly and relished every moment – which probably made me enjoy it more. And Neville. Oh, Neville, how I love to see an underdog succeed – and in such a big way here. Made my heart sing.

I remember thinking, the first time I read this book, that when Harry sacrificed himself he was really going to die, and being so pissed off at Rowling for that entire scene. This time, I had so much more peace in my heart because I knew how it all turned out so I was able to relax and enjoy the creativity in the scene, and enjoy how the love that Rowling has for these characters and this story flow through her writing.

A lot of people hate the epilogue but I really love it. In an ordinary book I might not have liked it so much, but in this case, I was SO invested in these characters for such a long time, if I hadn’t gotten some peace over where they ended up in their lives the end of the books would have been a lot more difficult for me to handle. Also, if that epilogue hadn’t been there, I would have hoped and prayed for YEARS that Rowling would keep writing more. So for me, the epilogue is pure perfection.

I’m sad that these are over but I can always read them again another time! I have so much love for this series it’s not even funny. If you are a Harry Potter virgin, please do yourself a favor and check out these books. You won’t be sorry.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – thoughts upon a reread

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter, #6)Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Published by Scholastic

I am way far behind on the Harry Potter Readalong, but as of this writing I’ve already finished the last two books, just haven’t made the time to write about them. Well, here are some brief thoughts on the sixth book!

Love love love. I so overwhelmingly love this book and everything about it. I know I said the fifth book was my favorite, and maybe it still is, but this is a very close second. More than anything else about this book, what I truly love about it is just how much Harry learns about the truth of his life and what he has to do, and how much trust Dumbledore FINALLY places in Harry. After years of keeping him in the dark to “protect” him, Dumbledore finally gets that he needs to just be honest, Harry is not a kid anymore (well, I’d argue that a sixteen-year-old boy is most definitely a kid, but for wizarding purposes not so much), and he deserves to hear the whole story, nothing left out. So Dumbledore does a pretty decent job of that, and we readers are treated to the same information. Which is to say, lots and lots of information is thrown at Harry and the reader in this book. I’ve read this one a few times now, and I feel like each time I read it, I catch something that I must have glossed over the first few times. Every time there is something new to me – either I had forgotten a certain detail, or never paid enough attention in past readings to pick up on it.

This is also the book where I fully came to appreciate Rowling’s genius in writing this story. There are things that happen in this book that were foreshadowed several books back, only we as readers had no idea what was to come – but Rowling certainly did! Nothing proves to me more that she is immensely talented than every single word written in this book.

And Harry and Ginny! Cue trumpets and a parade because YAY! There are a lot of fans who thought Rowling got this wrong, who felt that Harry and Hermione should have ended up together, but I am not one of them. I love Harry and Ginny together and seeing it happen was oh so satisfying.

The end of this book is soul-crushingly devastating and I cry every single time I read it. It is terrible, awful, so unbelievably painful and every time I read it, I secretly hope that maybe they’ve changed it and IT doesn’t happen. Yet it always does. But it must be done to further the story and get Harry to the point of such anger and resolve that he knows with absolute certainty what he must do, what is his destiny, and that is exactly where the book ends. And I love it.

Obviously this is in no way a “review” of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. And it’s also not a comprehensive list of all of my thoughts (of which I have many more). But you get the general idea of my feelings for it, which is my goal.

Thoughts?