A Quick Update

You may have noticed I haven’t been around the past two weeks or so.  It’s been a busy time in my life – like I’ve mentioned before, college is starting for the year and it’s a period in my life of a lot of transitions, changes, and shopping.  You would not believe how much stuff you have to buy as a freshman in college, and my room STILL looks plain and boring despite all that!  I sort of never want to see another moving box again. 

Classes start tomorrow – these past few days have been for new student orientation, which is mostly useless (great, let’s all form a group with people who have the same birth month!  Now find someone with the same color shirt as you from a different birth month!  You will never talk to these people again outside of stupid getting-to-know-you activities!) aside from the occasional bit of actual important knowledge like how to change your major and the campus police number.  I’m not exactly a social butterfly, so all this forced interaction is… not my thing, to be honest.  Maybe it helps some people make friends, but it just exhausts me and makes me feel like I missed some important class on how to make small talk with people on the basis of similar clothing and hair styles or something.  I never thought I’d be saying this, but I actually can’t wait for classes to start.

So as I try to find my rhythm here at school, I probably won’t be blogging all that much – maybe not even the memes and comments I said I’d try and post before.  (The only reason I really have time to be online right now is because it’s Sunday morning and my alarm was set ridiculously early, and the dining hall isn’t open until nine…)  Hopefully some time in the next few weeks I’ll get used to school, have some more free time that I can actually relax in, figure out how to work the school library, and be back to your regularly scheduled blogging.  For those who are reading this, thanks for sticking with me!  I know it’s been and still going to be a bit of an irregular ride, but I’m glad you’re still here.

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Mini Reviews!

What’s Left of Me

by Kat Zhang (The Hybrid Chronicles, #1) (Author’s Site | Amazon)

Meh.

Seriously, I had such high hopes for What’s Left of Me.  The concept is great – everyone is born  with two souls, but everyone – most everyone, anyway – eventually settles, with only one dominant soul left while the other fades away.  For the past three years, Addie has been lying, letting the doctors and her parents believe that the soul she shared her body with, Eva, is gone – but Eva is still inside her, trapped.  If anyone found out, they’d be locked away in an institution, never to leave again and lead a normal life.

Sounds awesome, right?  Unfortunately, I did not connect with this book at all.  I never got a feel for the characters beyond their roles in the plot, the plot itself beyond the interesting concept of hybrids was a paint-by-numbers dystopian that never surprised me, and – slight spoiler alert – evil vaccines?  Seriously?  Come on, there are already enough idiots that believe vaccines are giving our children autism or whatever.  Vaccines killing off souls too?  Um, nice message, I guess.  Except ew.

There was never any real urgency to the plot, either.  I never felt Addie and Eva’s fear of being found out to be hybrid, and later, never felt the urgency to get out of the facility they were trapped in.  There was, to this reader, no real danger, or risks taken in having bad things actually happen to people the reader is told to care about.  “Oh no this bad thing might happen at some point” is nothing compared to actual, real fear for the characters’ lives or souls, and there was none of that present in this novel.

Just… meh.  I wanted to like What’s Left of Me so badly, but there was just nothing in it for me.

Rating:

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The Book of Blood and Shadow

by Robin Wasserman (Author’s Site | Amazon)

The Book of Blood and Shadow is nowhere near a perfect book, or even one with much literary merit.  It’s a 400-plus page popcorn flick.  It’s like National Treasure with teenage protagonists – IN SPACE PRAGUE.  And it was so.  much.  FUN.  This is exactly what I want in an adventure – gorgeous foreign setting, fast-moving plot, and a mystery to solve that spans centuries.

Admittedly, it does take the book a while to get going.  The opening slaps you in the face with the fact that awful things are going to happen to the characters, and tells you exactly which – and then you’re pulled back in time to the beginning, before things went bad, for chapters and chapters of getting to know these characters, learning about the protagonist Nora’s family and her relationships with the other major players of this early segment of the book: her best friend, Chris; his girlfriend and “by the transitive property of social addition,” now Nora’s friend, Adriane; and Chris’s college roommate and, in no time at all, Nora’s boyfriend, Max.  Nora, Max, and Chris are all working on the same archival project together with a noted historian, translating an alchemist’s letters that he believes may help them crack the Voynich manuscript.  Nora, relegated to translating the letters of the alchemist’s daughter Elizabeth, begins to relate to her, and steals the letters for herself – but then an attempt is made on the life of the historian she works under, seemingly related to what is revealed in Elizabeth’s letters.  And from there, everything spirals out of control.

This is a book about crazy-smart characters, which may turn some people off.  Nora has been a Latin scholar since a very young age, and uses words like “rescinded” in casual conversation with her friends.  She doesn’t talk or narrate like your average YA heroine, and some readers might find it pretentious – I personally found it fitting for the subject and tone of the book.  After all, Nora’s entire quest for answers is based around translating Latin, solving riddles and cyphers, and generally using her wits to get to the truth.  If she were a typical main character, all that would feel ridiculous – “this average teenage girl is solving these centuries-old mysteries?”  But there was no need to suspend my disbelief that Nora, Max, and Eli were all more than capable of cracking the case, so to speak.

I can’t say much as to the plot without revealing some twists that really should be experienced first-hand – the summary doesn’t give too much away, and so I knew much less than what this review reveals going in – which is how this book should be read.  I can, at least, tell you that the twists and turns the story takes are excellent, and learning the truth behind everything Nora and her allies uncover is absolutely worth getting through the slower first section of the book.  The Book of Blood and Shadow was just the adventure I was looking for, and I wish there was more YA like it.

Rating:

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Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn – Review

Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website

Published: June 11, 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Genre: Contemporary

Pages: 224

Received: From library

Summary (from Goodreads): Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself.

He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost.

He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable.

Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present.

Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild darkness inside his mind or make peace with the most elemental of truths—that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying.

It’s not often that I have any sort of visceral reaction to a book. I can read some of the goriest, most disturbing scenes in horror novels and only mutter “oh, ew” or pull an exaggerated face of disgust. I read a lot of YA “issue” novels that deal with dark and upsetting subjects, but they rarely upset me to a point beyond maybe tearing up a little.

Charm and Strange, however, definitely did get a reaction from me as things about Andrew’s past came to light – it made me feel physically ill. I know that sounds bad – “this book made me feel sick” is not, generally, a glowing compliment, but considering the subject matter I think it’s an appropriate reaction. This is not an easy read, especially if you’re triggered by discussions of abuse, which I wish the jacket summary had been clearer about. I didn’t know what Charm and Strange was about going in, and its Goodreads page lists it as paranormal, so I’d assumed that it was just going to be a dark paranormal mystery. It, um… wasn’t. Not exactly the nicest surprise for someone who needs to mentally prepare themselves before reading about this sort of thing. I realize giving away just what happened to Andrew would spoil the shock of finding out, but I would have liked some sort of warning as to the book’s content.

As far as writing goes: Charm and Strange has an incredibly strong narrative voice. I’ll be honest, I don’t find a lot of male narrators in YA to be very compelling; ones I find distinctive are few and far between. Thankfully, this is one of the ones I do. Andrew’s voice is a little bit hard to get used to at first – he uses a lot of fragmented sentences, and he doesn’t reveal anything about himself very easily. He’s also… not the most likeable of people, even admitting he’s “not a good person.” He purposefully cuts himself off from others, and even reads like he’s throwing up walls between himself and reader in the chapters set in the present. As someone who thinks that writers and reviewers both put too much stock in characters being “likeable,” I thought Andrew was a unique and fascinating protagonist, flaws and all, but, of course, that’s all subjective.

There isn’t much to say regarding the plot that wouldn’t be considered a spoiler. Watching Charm and Strange unfold and give you one tiny piece of the truth at a time is one of its strongest points, and to say more than I already have would take away from that. The book’s – and Andrew’s – unwillingness to give up any easy answers about what happened may be frustrating for a lot of readers, and I can tell it’s going to be a DNF for some. I personally liked that aspect a lot – it matches up perfectly with Andrew trying to push his past away, and the denial he keeps himself in. The reader is getting pieces of the story at the rate he lets himself remember them.

I absolutely loved the secondary characters in this novel, too. Jordan, the first to appear, is blunt and no-nonsense, and while she’s part of what drives Andrew’s story forward it’s not in a Manic Pixie Dream Girl way. She’s a very real character who’s made mistakes in the past and is a genuinely good person, and I kind of want a book just about her, because what little we learn about her past sounds like it would make an amazing story of its own. Lex starts off being just a douchebag, but as the night goes on we see that he really is a good friend to Andrew, and cares a hell of a lot about him. And Andrew’s brother Keith – he absolutely broke my heart. I love Keith, even if I can’t say much about him without giving some very important things away. I’ll admit it, I shed a tear over what Andrew has to say about him at the end of the book.

This is far from being a typical YA novel, even alongside other books dealing with similarly dark subjects, and I appreciate that. There is no easy ending, no happily ever after. No world is saved or bad guy vanquished or girl’s heart won. Andrew’s story ends on a positive note, but a realistic one – it’s clear that he still has a lot to work through and a lot of progress left to make, and that he won’t be easily fixed. Despite all that, it wraps up in a way I found completely satisfying, and touching without being cheesy. Charm and Strange was not an easy book for me to read, and I can’t imagine that was an easy story to tell, but it was absolutely worth it. This is an incredible, haunting book that I won’t be able to stop thinking about for a long time to come.

Rating:

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A to Z Bookish Survey!

Jamie from The Perpetual Page-Turner created this survey based on the Xanga and Myspace surveys we all used to fill out back in the day – always a guilty pleasure of mine that I still kind of miss, so I’m so happy she wrote a bookish one for all of us to complete!

Author you’ve read the most books from:

This is a really hard question to answer because I can’t just look at my Goodreads and check, since I’ve only been recording read books there for a few months!  I’m guessing Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler, though, because there were a lot of Series of Unfortunate Events books, plus The Basic Eight (one of my all time favorites.)

Best Sequel Ever:

Oh god, I hardly ever even like sequels.  A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett is definitely up there on my list of favorites, though, as well as all the Skulduggery Pleasant books (which are just getting darker and gorier and less kid-appropriate as they go on and it’s AWESOME.)  Maybe my problem is just with YA sequels, not other demographics – I feel like they’re often just an excuse to stretch out a story that would be better as a single book.

Currently Reading:

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman.

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Tazo Passion tea.  The rate at which I go through boxes of this is ridiculous.

E-reader or Physical Book?

Physical book, since I get most of my books from the library!

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:

See, this question is implying I would have actually dated anyone in high school.  No way.  I was such an obnoxious little shit for most of it – I wouldn’t wish dating me on anyone and it seems everyone at my school thought the same,

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  At first I was all UGH, WHY ARE ANGELS THE NEW YA TREND, because seriously, there is nothing at all appealing to me about a bunch of holy douchebags with halos.  Thankfully the angels in this series are nothing like that, and the mythology and world-building of the book are just wonderful.  And, yes, I did fall a little in love with Akiva.

Hidden Gem Book:

One Bloody Thing After Another by Joey Comeau, the author of one of my favorite web comics.  It’s such a weird little book, but I love it.

Important Moment in your Reading Life:

That fateful night that my grandmother first began reading me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  I am a huge 90s kid cliche, yes.

Just Finished:

Rebel Heart.  1) Ugh, that title sounds like a bodice-ripper and 2) SABA, HOW MANY LOVE INTERESTS DO YOU NEED?  Please let the third book focus more on the action and plot, less on adding as many love interests as possible.  Two is okay.  Three is just silly.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

Most things involving sports in their main plot.  If I need to know anything about them to understand what the hell is going on, the book’s not for me.  I don’t know a field goal from a three-pointer.  Also, most books with a main character suffering from some kind of life-threatening illness.  Someone got me Before I Die for a birthday a couple years back and I haven’t even read the first page, because EFF THAT.

Longest Book You’ve Read:

Goodreads says The Sweet Far Thing, at 819 pages.

Major book hangover because of:

The Book Thief.  Good lord.

Number of Bookcases You Own:

In my own room, four, plus a skinny one that’s meant to shelve CDs but is instead home to my manga, dictionaries/thesauruses, and old diaries.  I’m also pretty sure I count as partial owner to the smaller shelf in my dad’s room that has our Terry Pratchett, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Neil Gaiman collections.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve read Inkheart!  My copy is falling to pieces.

Preferred Place To Read:

I know I should say “in bed” – but at this time of year it’s too hot to follow my usual routine of making a blanket nest in bed and reading there.  So right now, I do most of my reading either in the bath or curled up in my favorite chair in our living room.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:

“How could I have ever been ashamed of loving Dante Quintana?”

This was the point where I started outright sobbing on public transit.  Not one of my finest moments, but one of the finest moments of one of my all time favorite books.

Reading Regret:

The seventh-grade Twilight phase.  I regret so much about that year.

Series You Started And Need To Finish (all books are out in series):

Despite my love of Inkheart, I’ve never actually read past the first twenty or so pages of Inkdeath.  I don’t think I ever wanted it to be truly over, and I haven’t picked it up since.  Also, Artemis Fowl – I used to buy these the moment I knew they were out, but I haven’t bought or read one since book #6.  Both series were huge parts of my childhood that I really owe it to myself to finish one day.

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books:

The Golden Compass, It, and Aristole and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (already mentioned in this post, see if I care!)

Unapologetic Fangirlboy For:

Holly Black, Courtney Summers, and a very, very long list of manga and anime.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:

World After. *grabby hands*

Worst Bookish Habit:

Dog-earing pages… and eating and reading.  No matter how careful you are, it’s really hard to eat spaghetti without getting a little bit of sauce on the book.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.  I didn’t even know I owned this…?

Your latest book purchase:

Morning Glories, volume 2, thanks to a comic-shop gift card from a friend!

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

I stay up far too late for my own good most nights anyway – but my dad found me asleep on the couch the afternoon after I finished Blood Red Road, as I’d been up at an ungodly hour trying to finish it.

Stacking the Shelves (2)

stackingtheshelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga at Tynga’s Reviews where we show off all the sweet stuff we’ve picked up, been sent, or otherwise got our hands on during the week!

IMG_0446[1]FROM THE LIBRARY:

Saga #1 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

45 Pounds by K.A. Barson

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan (Lyburn Legacy, #1)

Shift by Kim Curran (Shift, #1)

Gated by Amy Christine Parker

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes (Viral Nation, #1)

Rebel Heart by Moira Grant (Dust Lands, #2)

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang (The Hybrid Chronicles, #1)

Slide by Jill Hathaway (Slide, #1)

Have you read any of these?  Your thoughts?  Best books you got this week?  Let’s chat!

Feature and Follow

bloglovin-300x180  Feature and Follow is hosted by the bloggers at Parajunkee and Allison Can Read!  The purpose of this meme is to meet new people and gain more followers in the book blogging community.  (Click on the Bloglovin link on my sidebar or the image to your left to follow me!)

This week’s question: Back to School time! Create a reading list for the imaginary English Lit class you’ll be teaching this semester.

Speak The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 

1. I would be pretty damn surprised if this doesn’t show up on half the lists for this week’s prompt.  If you’re a YA fan, you’ve probably read Speak and understand why it’s an incredibly important book.  If not, READ IT.  This is one of the most authentic YA novels ever.

2. A perspective that doesn’t get a lot of attention – seriously, I can’t think of any other YA books I’ve read with a Native American protagonist (no, chick from House of Night, you don’t count, go home.)  Besides that, it’s hilarious and exactly the right book to get “reluctant readers” hooked.

3. Tell your students this is “like Mean Girls but real.”  Ask them to relate certain chapters or scenes to their own experiences and write about it.  Someone might cry.  Oh my god, I’d be a terrible teacher.  I do think that Some Girls Are would get students thinking, though.

4. Aristole and Dante is an absolutely perfect novel.  Ari is an incredibly relatable narrator and it’s not hard at all to put yourself in his shoes, whatever your own race or sexual orientation is.  You might not get every homophobic student in the classroom to reconsider their ideas, but if it changes even one person’s view, it’s still worth it, in my opinion.

5.  Yes, it’s manga.  Yes, it’s still absolutely worth teaching.  I was torn between this and Ai Yazawa’s Nana, both of which I consider absolute masterpieces of the medium, but there’s a lot of stuff in that series that would be considered objectionable for high schoolers (even more than the other books on this list, haha.)  The comedy and action in this would make it a hell of a lot of fun for students, but the story goes some very dark and serious places.

But Where are the Reviews?

Hello everyone!

You might have noticed that reviews haven’t exactly been coming at the speed of light, and I apologize for that.  Partially, it’s my own fault – the summer heat is making me lazy, and I went on a bit of a used-game buying binge last week, which is… distracting, to say the least.  But besides that, there’s the matter of college.  I was accepted late – I only found out last month – so everything around here has just been a big rush to get all the proper forms turned in and submitted, housing figured out, and to get my sleep schedule back on track in the weeks before school starts.

College may, for at least a while, throw a wrench in the works for book blogging.  I’m going to have my hands full learning the ropes of campus life, attempting to socialize, and trying to keep myself motivated to do my work after two years of being, for all intents and purposes, out of school.  It’s a hard habit to get back into!  I won’t be far from where I live now – only about an hour’s drive – so I can still get books from my usual library, thankfully, but I just don’t know if I’ll have as much time for reading of my own, at least until I can adjust a little more to college life.

Don’t worry, though!  I’ll still be around, probably reviewing from time to time, posting weekly memes and hopefully discussion posts, and, of course, commenting on other book blogs!  RBIB isn’t dying this young.  It’s simply going into hibernation.

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