Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December Wrap Up

Another month (and year) over! It feels like only yesterday it was May and I was packing up and moving to Pittsburgh. I had another good month of reading and blogging. I finished a series, reread a classic, and tried an author I've wanted to read for awhile. I read five books and one audiobook this month, which is one more than I planned.

The Quick Reviews:

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray
Full Review
Rating: 9 out of 10
My Thoughts: Book Two in the Gemma Doyle trilogy was even better than the first. The characters are complex and interesting, the world within a world dark fantasy story is unique, the mystery is complicated but solvable, and there are tons of deep themes about humanity and society.

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
Full Review
Rating: 8 out of 10 
My Thoughts:  A fitting ending of a great series. All the great things about the first two books plus so many surprises! The action was a little slower and it was a little longer than it needed to be resulting in some pacing issues but it was still great!

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith
Full Review
Rating: 8 out of 10
My Thoughts: An incredible and interesting adventure about the "Three Kings" in the biblical story. The characters are odious and interesting, there's tons of action, and amazing imagery especially when it comes to the explanation of gore. A great read if you're looking for a supernatural Christmas story.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Full Review
Rating: 10 out of 10
My Thoughts: One of my favorite books. It is funny, sad, and sweet. It's a story about love, loss, and family that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. The perfect book to read at Christmastime.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter
Rating: 7 out of 10
My Thoughts: Book Two in the Gallagher Girls series about a girl studying to be a spy in a secret boarding school. The book is fun and light but is also an interesting coming of age story with some easy too solve mysteries and memorable characters.

The Wolves of Midwinter by Anne Rice
Full Review to Come
Rating: 6 out of 10
My Thoughts: Book Two in The Wolf Gift Chronicles. It feels like a very early book in what will end up being a longer series. It didn't really enjoy it too much. The characters were interesting but there was not enough action and too much ominous explanations of things that it ended up being very confusing. It was disappointingly dull.

What have you read in December? What's the last book you plan to read in 2013 and the first book you plan to read in 2014? Leave me a comment and check out the full reviews if you have or plan to read any of these books! HAPPY READING!

Top Ten Tuesday - Top 13 of 2013

A weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I could probably pick ten but the Top 13 of 2013 just has a nice ring to it, plus it's my lucky number, plus it let's me talk about more books than the the ones I mentioned yesterday in my End of the Year Survey. I've you read that then many of these will not come as much of a shock. But with out further ado...

13.) The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
A non-fiction book about how small things can make a big difference. So much more enjoyable that I expected.

12.) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Amazing writing, funny, sad, heart-warming. An excellent story about love, loss, and life.

 11.) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
A unique historical fiction novel that looks at the mid-20th century in America but frames it around comic books. Interesting characters and incredible writing. (Full Review)

10.) Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith
 A dark and gory reimagining of the story of the Magi. It's full of complex and menacing character, incredible imagery, and huge adventure. (Full Review)

9.) Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins
The story of a woman who uses her overly large thumbs to her advantage. It's an amazing story about adventure, independence, and being yourself.  The writing style is unique, interesting, and poetic, and it was funny, sentimental, and deep.

8.) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
A unique dystopian novel set within a virtual reality games full of 1980's nostalgia. Interesting themes, characters you relate to, and tons of action. It was funny, sad, and interesting all at the same time.  (Full Review)

7.) Splendor (and the rest of The Luxe series) by Anna Godbersen
The conclusion of an amazing Historical Fiction series. It's Gossip Girl in the 19th Century. It's full of complex characters who walk the line between good and evil, themes that are easy to relate to, and so many love triangles it's hard to keep track. (Full Review)

6.) Rebel Angels (and the rest of the Gemma Doyle Trilogy) by Libba Bray
Book 2 in an incredible series the is hard to pin down in a specific genre. It's historical fiction, dark fantasy, coming of age, and supernatural thriller. The characters are complex, the plot is incredible, the mystery is complicated but solvable, and there are tons of amazing themes. (Full Review)

5.) The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Book two in a trilogy full of deeply flawed characters. It's a fantasy story for fantasy fans full of subtle references to known classics. It's full of adventure and interesting and complicated world-building and magical structure. It's such a unique and interesting story. (Full Review)

4.) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
An incredible contemporary story with relatable characters and situations. It's sad, sweet, and funny. The book made me feel warm and fuzzy throughout most of my reading. There amazing themes of friendship, family, first love, and acceptance. The writing style is simple but poetic and complex at the same time. (Full Review) 

3.) A Storm of Swords (and the first two in the series) by George R.R. Martin
There are no words to describe how incredibly earth-shattering this book is. I shall attempt it next week. The Song of Ice and Fire is an incredible High Fantasy series and this book (so far) is it's best book. It's funny, sad, and deep. The characters are memorably complex and are good and evil at the same time, many of them have amazing arcs throughout the series. There's amazing action and world-building. It's fantastic. 

2.) Divergent (and the rest of the trilogy) by Veronica Roth
Worth the hype. Everything about this book was perfect. Page-turning action, complex and interesting characters, and interesting themes about humanity and society. The world-building was interesting and unique and I seriously devoured it. The series does slowly fizzle as it goes on but this book was almost perfect. (Full Review) 

1.) The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
This book quickly became one of my favorite books. It was sad, sentimental, and sweet. The characters were complex and easy to relate to and the themes of acceptance and loneliness connect with the reader on a deeper level. Carson McCuller's writing style is incredibly poetic and absolutely beautiful. The book is incredible. (Full Review)

Honorable Mention to the two rereads that are two of my favorite books...

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

 What were your favorite books this year? Leave me a comment if you've read any of these and what were your thoughts?

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 End of the Year Survey

I waited a long time to do this tag because I really wanted it to be comprehensive. I didn't want to neglect any books that I read in late December. But as I am already starting my January reads... here it is without further ado... 

                                                  Hosted by Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner 


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)
Young Adult- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Divergent by Veronica Roth
Adult Fiction- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers 
and Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

 2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
Young Adult- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Adult- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness 
and The House of Seven Gables by Nathanial Hathorne

 3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013? 
Young Adult- Splemdor by Anna Godbersen and Rebel Angels by Libba Bray
Adult- The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

 4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?
Young Adult - Divergent (and the rest of the series) by Veronica Roth
Adult- A Game of Thrones (and the rest of the series) by George R.R. Martin

 5. Best series you discovered in 2013?
Young Adult - Divergent by Veronica Roth and The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray
Adult- None? All the series in the adult genre I read this year I had already discovered.

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?
Libba Bray. I want to read everything she's ever written now!

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
Fifty Shades of Gray by E.L. James (and I did not really like it!)

 8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?
Young Adult- Divergent by Veronica Roth
Adult- A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

 9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (in preparation for the movie)

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?
Young Adult - A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray and Splendor by Anna Godbersen
 (can you tell I have a thing for covers with pretty dresses)

Adult- Dracula by Bram Stoker 
(because in addition to being really pretty it looks like my copy of The Historian)


11. Most memorable character in 2013? 
Young Adult- Peter in the Divergent trilogy and Miss Moore in the Gemma Doyle trilogy
Adult- Sansa Stark, Jamie Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryean in A Song of Ice and Fire

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?
Young Adult - Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Adult - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013? 
Young Adult - Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Adult - The Heart is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read? 
Young Adult - Rumors by Anna Godbersen and A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Adult - The Magician King by Lev Grossman

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?
Young Adult
"What if evil doesn't exist? What if evil is something dreamed up by man, and there is nothing to struggle against except our own limitations? The constant battle between our will, our desires, and our choices?" Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

“For in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and valor. Of the endless fluid passage of the humanity through endless time. And of those who labor and of those who - one word- love. His soul expanded. But for a moment only. For in him, he felt a warning, a shaft of terror.” The Heart is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?
Shortest- Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter, 236 pages
Longest - A Storm of Swords by Geaorge R.R. Martin 1177 pages

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
Young Adult - Allegiant by Veronica Roth and The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
Adult- The Magician King by Lev Grossman and A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).
Young Adult - Cath and Levi in Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Parzival with Aech and Art3mis in Ready PlayerOne by Ernest Cline
Adult - Joe and Sammy in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously
Young Adult - Splendor by Anna Godbersen
Adult - The Magician King by Lev Grossman

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:
Young Adult - Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Adult - The Sherlockian by Stephen Graham

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?
Fantasy, across the board!

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?
Young Adult - Four in Divergent and Levi in Fangirl
Adult - Jamie Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire

23. Best 2013 debut you read?
I didn't read any debuts this year :(

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?
Young Adult - The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
Adult - Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith and The Magician King by Lev Grossman

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?
Young Adult - Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Adult - The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?
Young Adult - Allegiant, Fangirl, Ready Player One, The Sweet Far Thing, and Little Women
Adult - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,
and Storm of Swords

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?
Young Adult - The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen
Adult - Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith


1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2013 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2014?
Young Adult - There are so many! The Grisha trilogy is probably number one but also The Darkest Minds, The Lunar Chronicles, and These Broken Stars

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2014 (non-debut)?
Young Adult - We'll see how some of these series I start go but probably Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo. But also The Here and Now by Anne Brashares
Adult - The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman (I have to see how this series finishes)

3. 2014 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?
Young Adult - Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Page and NIL by Lynne Matson
Adult - ???? My most anticipated debuts are all YA
4. Series Ending You Are Most Anticipating in 2014?
Young Adult - Again we'll see how I feel later but The Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Adult - The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman (Shocking, I know!)

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2014?
To read or complete at least one series a month. To read 60 books. To keep my blogging as consistent as it has been lately.

Book Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Title: Little Women
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Published: Roberts Brothers, 1868
Amazon Goodreads
Synopsis: Little Women is one of the best loved books of all time. Lovely Meg, talented Jo, frail Beth, spoiled Amy: these are hard lessons of poverty and of growing up in New England during the Civil War. Through their dreams, plays, pranks, letters, illnesses, and courtships, women of all ages have become a part of this remarkable family and have felt the deep sadness when Meg leaves the circle of sisters to be married at the end of Part I. Part II, chronicles Meg's joys and mishaps as a young wife and mother, Jo's struggle to become a writer, Beth's tragedy, and Amy's artistic pursuits and unexpected romance. Based on Louise May Alcott's childhood, this lively portrait of nineteenth-century family life possesses a lasting vitality that has endeared it to generations of readers.

This past week I went home for Christmas, as I often do, and got together with a few of my friends from high school. I am usually meticulously early for everything and these friends really expect that of me. They were very surprised, however, when I arrived ten minutes late. I apologized profusely and said that I got hung up reading, and they of course asked what I was reading that made me break one of my cardinal rules (early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable). When I informed them it was Little Women they all made the same sound, "Aww." It was as if I showed them a picture of Ryan Gosling holding a baby, a puppy, and a kitten. Their faces lit up with such affection.

But this is how many women feel about Louisa May Alcott's seminal classic about family, love, and life in the mid 19th Century. It is a semi-autobiographical tale of the March family, a poor but happy family living in Concord, Massachusetts (I'm such a nerd I've actually been to Louisa May Alcott's house in Concord, it's actually where I bought my copy of the book). The family includes Mr. March who is off at war, the unflappable matriarch Marmee, and their four girls, beautiful Meg who wants beautiful things, headstrong and hot-tempered Jo who strives to be a writer, shy and kind Beth who has a love of music, and self-centered Amy who has a talent for art. Then there is Laurie the grandson of their neighbor who the Marches take under their wing to give him a little fun though he is shy, immature, and stubborn.

If you can tell by my explanation of the characters or you follow my twitter you know how I feel about each of the characters. But regardless of how I feel about them as individuals there is one thread that holds them all together, the need to be better and improve on their faults. I think we can all relate to this struggle to be the best person we can be, and it makes the characters incredibly likable. And, yes, the book is full of 19th century platitudes and illusions to religious ideasl but it also full of progressive reform ideas such as educational improvements, temperance, and of course women's rights. The Alcotts were part of a group of Concord reformers (including Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne) advocating the ideals of transcendentalism or being self-reliant and independent from societal institutions that serve to corrupt and that you need to look within yourself to be your best. They were incredibly idealist and had a lot of faith in the individual. Viewed in the context Little Women takes a very different tone.

But more than that it is a story of love. And we are not just talking about romantic love, it is also a story of familial love. For some of the sisters this is easier than others. But it's the challenging relationships that are the most compelling. I love the dynamic between Jo and Amy. While they do love each other, they don't often like each other. They are polar opposites with Jo's constant need to break gender norms and Amy's goal to be the perfect society woman. In Part 1 Amy is jealous of Jo for the opportunities she is able to have because she is older and Jo being so temperamental argues with Amy because of her arrogance. In Part 2 the tables are turned and Jo is jealous of Amy for the opportunities she receives often out of pure luck. This is a family dynamic that I can completely relate to, having a younger sister who is very different from me.

But of course there is the romantic love. The overarching theme, however, is that love is not really what you expect. Meg who is known for her beauty just wants to be responsible for a wealthy mansion but when she does find love it is with a poor man, Jo never thinks she will find love but she does, Amy expects to marry rich but never predicted who she would end up marrying, and Laurie who thinks he'll spend his whole life pinning for his first love who slighted him finds he is over her faster than he thought thanks to an unlikely source. I absolutely love Little Women for all this and more. It gives me all the feels. I laugh, I get angry, and I sob openly.

This is the perfect story to read during Christmastime and not only because the opening chapters are about Christmas. For me, and many people I would wager, this is a reread. I've read the book a few times, I've seen the movie a million times, I know these characters inside and out. Reading Little Women is like returning home after a long absence. It's catching up with old friends and family you haven't seen in awhile. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy and rejuvenates the soul. It's like puppies, or kittens, it's like Christmas!

What are your thoughts on Little Women? Leave me a comment and if you haven't read Little Women, seriously get on that! Happy Reading!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Feature & Follow #6- Gifts from the holidays!


To join the fun and make new book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. (Required) Follow the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts {Parajunkee & Alison Can Read}
  2. (Required) Follow our Featured Bloggers
  3. Put your Blog name & URL in the Linky thing. You can also grab the code if you would like to insert it into your posts.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say "hi" in your comments and that they are now following you.
  5. If you are using WordPress or another CMS that doesn't have GFC (Google Friends Connect) state in your posts how you would like to be followed
  6. Follow Follow Follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "HI"
  7. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the Love...and the followers
  8. If you're new to the follow friday hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
This weeks question: What book/bookish things did you get this holiday season

This weeks answer: I got three books.
Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky
Havisham by Ronald Frame
The De-Textbook from Cracked
and an Amazon gift certificate for $25

My friends and family don't usually buy me books because they know I always buy myself what I want.

What books did you get? Tell me about it in the comments! Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book Review: Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

Title: Unholy Night
Author: Seth Grahame-Smith
Amazon Goodreads

Synopsis: They're an iconic part of history's most celebrated birth. But what do we really know about the Three Kings of the Nativity, besides the fact that they followed a star to Bethlehem bearing strange gifts? The Bible has little to say about this enigmatic trio. But leave it to Seth Grahame-Smith, the brilliant and twisted mind behind Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to take a little mystery, bend a little history, and weave an epic tale.

In Grahame-Smith's telling, the so-called "Three Wise Men" are infamous thieves, led by the dark, murderous Balthazar. After a daring escape from Herod's prison, they stumble upon the famous manger and its newborn king. The last thing Balthazar needs is to be slowed down by young Joseph, Mary and their infant. But when Herod's men begin to slaughter the first born in Judea, he has no choice but to help them escape to Egypt.

It's the beginning of an adventure that will see them fight the last magical creatures of the Old Testament; cross paths with biblical figures like Pontius Pilate and John the Baptist; and finally deliver them to Egypt. It may just be the greatest story never told.

Seth Grahame-Smith seems like the kind of person who I would really enjoy people watching with. He’d make up these dark and twisted tales about the people sitting alone at the coffee shop and I would listen with rapt attention (I’m not su e if that says something about him or me). If you’re familiar with his other work (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter) then you know his style. He takes a well-known story and embellishes it with violence and gore. This book is just like those others but in this case the familiar story he reimagines is the story of the Magi. Instead of being three kings or wise men our characters here are three murderous thieves.

 The main character is Balthazar who is better known as the Antioch Ghost. He has a reputation around Judea for being a larger than life thief who tends to taunt the authorities including the ruthless and sickly King Herod whose dungeon he lands in after getting captured for stealing. In prison he meets two fellow thieves, Gaspar and Melchyor, and theuy hatch a plan to escape. In their efforts to flee they end up in Bethlehem where they stubble upon the newborn baby Jesus and after witnessing Herod’s soldiers murdering all the male children in town Balthazar commits to leading the holy family to safety in Egypt. The plot was interesting and engrossing and takes rthe readers on an action-packed adventure throughout the ancient Middle East full of subtle references to biblical and historical events and figures.

Balthazar as a an incredible anti-hero. He is sarcastic, gruff, and generally unpleasant to everyone around him. He ends up doing the right thing in the story, albeit for the wrong reasons, though that makes him all the more likable. He takes on this swashbuckling pirate persona making him into a Middle East Robin Hood and even though his morals are pretty dubious you learn through flashbacks that he is much deeper than you originally suspected. I was a huge fan of him and was rooting for him to get what he wanted in the end. But maybe I liked Balthazar so much because the villains of this story were incredibly unlikable. There was the devious and disgusting Herod who was not only vile in his actions but also in his appearance, but also a host of Roman soldiers and admirals that were pursuing the characters on their flight to Egypt.

 Perhaps my favorite part of the book was the fight scenes. They made the story feel so much larger than I expected giving it this epic adventure sort of vibe. They were gruesome and gory making me slightly uncomfortable more than once. Often I found myself thinking “that must be an incredible amount of blood! Who’s going to clean that up?” What Seth Grahame-Smith does really well is create incredible images of blood and guts being spilled that you cannot help but feel the horror that the characters are experiencing. This is not a book for the faint of heart.

The cover of the version I read compares it to A Song of Ice and Fire and at times it did feel like the little brother of that series. It was almost trying too hard to emulate it but when it was itself and didn’t think about being like something else it was incredible (thumbs up to you if you can follow my analogy). As the story developed it added elements of political intrigue, family dynamics, and romance that made it feel even more interesting and deep. At one time or another I felt every emotion possible. It was funny, sentimental, suspenseful, and mysterious. However, these changes in tones did sometimes get confusing as there was relatively little segue between them and often it was a little jarring. But probably my biggest criticism is that it was written in a very odd perspective. At times it was third-person omniscient but then we’d switch to knowing one character or another’s thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it would even shift perspective mid paragraph making it hard to keep track of who was being referenced.

On the whole however it was a very enjoyable read. I recommend it to anyone who likes adventure stories, gruesome retellings, or historical fiction set in ancient times. I give it an 8 out of 10

 If you’ve read Unholy Night, let me know your thoughts in the comments section. If you haven’t then check it out. It’s a great Christmas read. Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!