Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Reading on a Theme: What the Dead Left Behind

What can I say, maybe we just enjoy shedding a few tears while we read. More on this theme here.

New Habits:
I had heard really good things about Julie Buxbaum's Tell Me Three Things, so I decided to read her 2017 release. One day Kit, who is struggling with her dad's death, decides to sit with the class loner, David. And somehow he says just the right things, and an unlikely friendship begins. What to Say Next is like the YA version of The Rosie Project. David is awkward and lovable, but I also really appreciate that Ms. Buxbaum doesn't shy away from the difficult aspects of David's condition and their very real consequences. In her afterward, Ms Buxbaum she writes about wanting to create a character who looks like her own daughters. That personal connection made the book more endearing.

A Witness:
I decided to spend December reading the books that I really felt like I needed to read before the end of the year. Up first was Angie Thomas's breakaway debut The Hate U Give, which is winning all the things. Ms. Thomas's book is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It's the story of Starr who witnesses her friend get shot and killed by the police. The Hate U Give is definitely an issue book, but it is so well done. The book is very nuanced and does a fantastic job really showing the difficulties of the situation Starr is in. The book is filled with fantastic characters. Starr's family is awesome. I'm excited that making a movie. I think it will be very powerful. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Speed of Life is probably my favorite middle-grade read of the year. After her mother dies, Sofia begins writing to Dear Kate, the advice columnist for Fifteen magazine. Soon Dear Kate is a very important, but very secret, part of her life. Then she finds out that Dear Kate, Katherine Baird, is her father's new girlfriend. There was just something so sweet about this book. So many things change for Sofia over the course of the book. And, the title really is so fitting because the book is about how fast we grow up. Carol Weston's book reminded me of Goodbye, Stranger another middle-grade coming-of-age story that I adore. Review copy from NetGalley.

Missing Memories:
When Genevieve wakes up in the hospital she can't remember the car accident that killed her boyfriend, Dallas, an aspiring musician who had just gotten his first big break. To escape the media frenzy that follows, Genevieve goes to live with her dad in Southern Utah. No one there knows about Dallas, and she starts to heal while working at Zion's National Park, but then the memories begin to return, and it's hard to escape the internet. I've really enjoyed all the books I've read by Paula Stokes, and I was looking forward to This Is How It Happened. Even though I didn't like this book quite as much as I expecting, I appreciate the examination of media and the consequences of internet shaming.  Review copy from Edelweiss.

Suzy's best friend died over the summer in a drowning accident at the beach. Suzy believes that Franny's death was caused by the sting of a rare jellyfish, and she plunges headlong into an investigation to prove this is the case. The Thing About Jellyfish is a strange and lovely tale. Suzy's grief is so tangible, and it's made even more so by the secrets that are slowly revealed as the story moves back and forth between before and after Franny's death. Suzy is an intriguing character, and one gets the sense that Suzy's inability to cope is tied up with some greater personal challenges. Ali Benjamin's debut novel is truly an emotional journey. Review copy from NetGalley.

Friday, January 12, 2018

J's Favorite Books of 2017

The end of the year is my absolute favorite time to be a book blogger. I don't think I could ever get tired of reading year-end favorites and best-of's posts.

I read 118 books this year, and I gave 18 books 5-stars. It was so hard to pick my favorites this year. The historical fiction category was particularly difficult, but I persevered for all of you.

Without further ado, presenting the best of my bests in a variety of fun categories.

Favorites from mid-year here.

Favorite Series that Ended in 2017: Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud
For the last several years I've had this lovely tradition of reading the newest Lockwood & Co. for Halloween. This year, with the final book coming out, I reread the entire series. I cannot recommend a series more enthusiastically. If I could have my way, the series would go on forever so that I could continue my favorite Halloween tradition. (featured here)

Favorite Fantasy: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
I loved Graceling and Fire, the first two books in Kristin Cashore's Graceling Realm trilogy, and I finally read the third book in the series this year. So many fantasies are about overthrowing a horrible regime, and I really loved how Bitterblue thinks about what comes next. Bitterblue made me so nostalgic for the types of fantasies that were being written circa 2008. 

Favorite First Book in a New Series: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray 
I love Claudia Gray's books. Defy the Stars is so entertaining. I can't seem to get enough of the the sentient AI motif, and Gray's book is a great addition to this subgenre. I also love that Ms Gray handled religion and the idea of souls with so much respect and honesty. (featured here)

Favorite Audiobook: Sleeping Giants & Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

I've been telling everyone that Sleeping Giants is like the adult version of Illuminae. If you loved one, read the other. The story is told through a series of interviews and journal entries, so it is well-suited to the audio format. Plus, it has a full cast of voice actors. It's very entertaining.

Favorite Book Club Book: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
The beautiful, poignant, sad, and celebratory book about a neurosurgeon who learns he has terminal cancer was such a perfect book club pick. I listened to When Breath Becomes Air in one day. Maybe even in one sitting.  

Favorite New Book by a Beloved Author: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series is one of my favorite trilogies, and I've been eagerly anticipating her next book ever since I finished it. Strange the Dreamer is gorgeous and fascinating. Laini Taylor writes the loveliest slow-burn fantasy. (featured here)

Favorite Middle-Grade Book: Speed of Life by Carol Weston

There was just something so sweet about this book. So many things change for Sofia over the course of the book. Carol Weston's book reminded me of Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead, another middle-grade coming-of-age story that I adore. Beyond the similar setting, they both have a similar tone.  

Favorite Multi-Perspective Narrative: The Arsonist by Stephanie Oaks
Oh my, The Arsonist is such a strange and wonderful book. I really loved it. Told in a series of letters and journal entries written by the three main characters, the masterfully constructed story that unfolds reveals secrets, lies, and family tragedies. I also love the layers of symbolism in this book. (featured here)

Favorite "I Should Have Read this Forever Ago" Book: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
I had wanted to read Station Eleven for years but was slightly intimidated by it for some reason. When I finally got the audio book from the library, and I listened to almost the entire book in one day. It's that good. What I really loved about this book is the way that art is so essential to human existence even when individuals are fighting just to survive.  

Favorite Series Finale: Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
Aah. This series is pure fluff, but I guarantee it'll make you smile. A couple of things that I absolutely love about this series. First off, Lara Jean's family is great. I love her dad and sisters, especially Kitty. Secondly, I really like how this book handles the transition to college. Finally, what makes this book truly marvelous to me is just how normal Lara Jean is. I find her so relatable. 

Favorite Sequel: Now I Rise by Kiersten White
Definitely read this book if you are in the mood to feel raw and heartsick. Kiersten White has written some of the best and most emotional depictions of war and conquest that I've ever read. There are betrayals upon betrayals in this book, and all of the characters do such terrible things. Ms. White handles subtleties and complications so well. 

Favorite Historical Fiction: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
This book is a fantastic work of historical fiction, made all the more enticing by the fact that it is set in a time and place that gets very little attention
when it comes to fictional narratives--the 13th century in southern France

Favorite "Fits in Multiple Categories" Book: A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielson

A Night Divided is on par with books like The War that Saved My Life. This novel is emotional and gripping, and I wanted so badly for it to end well, but I was so afraid that it wouldn't. Jennifer A. Nielsen did a spectacular job conveying the tense atmosphere of the German Democratic Republic.  (featured here)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Series Salute: Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty

For the last couple of years I've been keeping up with a few Sherlock Holmes retellings. Posts here and here. It's been fun to see how the authors all take a different spin on the tale. Heather W. Petty's Lock & Mori is perhaps the darkest of the bunch, and that really worked for me. 

About the Books

Lock & Mori is a Moriarty origin story. Instead of a Holmes/ Watson duo, we've got a Holmes/ Moriarty pairing. And Mori is a girl. A brilliant, troubled, scared, and scarred girl who might be able to beat Sherlock at his own game or may be his true love.

Why I Love Them

1. Holmes/ Moriarty Pairing
These two together are so interesting. Lock is such a buttoned-up good guy, but the reader can tell that he would (and does) compromise his morals for Mori. Mori, for her part, is so worried about twisting Lock into something he's not. The relationship between Lock and Mori is so fraught. I wanted so badly for them to be happy, but I could see the tragedy coming. Mori could see the tragedy coming. I think even Lock could. It's interesting to read about a relationship that everyone knows is doomed. 
2. Dark and Gritty
Lock & Mori is pretty dark. Murder is always a serious business, but not all murder mysteries plunge into the potential for human depravity like this one does. In that way it's a bit of an emotional ride because Mori is rather a mess and understandably so. 

3. London Setting
The London setting was a huge bonus for me, in this one. Heather W. Petty does a great job evoking atmosphere, and I just felt like the characters were where they belonged.

4. Mori is Complicated
One thing I absolutely love about Heather W. Petty's series is how complicated Mori is. The reader can easily see how Mori could go down path that will lead to the amorality we associate with Sherlock Holmes's nemesis. In fact, Mori clearly identifies and struggles with this aspect of her personality as well.

5. Tragedy 
Sherlock Holmes stories carry with them an element of tragedy, and this series has it in spades.

6. Quick Reads
I absolutely flew through these books. Books 2 and 3 were particularly fast reads for me. They clock in at just about 300 pages. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Favorite Debut Novels of 2017

We are in the midst of my favorite season to be a book blogger: the season when all the favorite lists and book awards come out.

I read 22 debut novels this year, which is more than I would have guessed. It's fun to discover new authors just as their books are coming out and to be part of the excitement that comes from that first publication. We also love participating in That Artsy Reader Girl's Debut Author Challenge. A big congratulations to all the first-time authors we were able to feature on Intellectual Recreation this year! Here are some of my favorites.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden:
A story that blends Russian fairy tales and folklore with history, The Bear and the Nightingale is the perfect winter read, so curl up with a cozy blanket and a warm drink and crack this one open. (featured here)

Caraval by Stephanie Garber:
I loved the magic in Caraval. The dreamlike setting has Scarlett questioning what is real and what is not, and the reader is right beside her asking those same questions. What a fun and mysterious debut. (featured here) 

A List of Cages by Robin Roe:
After five years, Adam reconnects with his former foster brother, Julian. This story just about wrecked me. Be prepared to have to have lots of feelings.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas:
This is the debut everyone has been talking about. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas really delivered with this heartbreaking and provocative debut.  

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan:
One of my favorite reads of the year. Set in England during the early years of World War II, this book is a great choice for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. (featured here)

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali:
This classic coming-of-age story is set within a Muslim community. This story is such a lovely and  important addition to the YA scene. I'm always happy when I find a book that treats faith and faith communities with realism and respect. (featured here)

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody:
I love the mix of fantasy and mystery (always a good combination for me) in Amanda Foody's debut. Sorina, her illusions, and the other residents of Gomorrah have this intriguing strangeness that is both otherworldly and beautiful. (featured here)

A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck:
The story of Matt and his best friend and secret crush took a turn that I did not see coming. I don't want to spoil it. Don't read any reviews. Just read it. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Reading on a Theme: Circuses and Sideshows

We did this Reading on a Theme a couple of years ago, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the circus setting (post here). If you too are up for more, I've got five excellent suggestions.

The Electric:
In 2065, Adri is preparing to go to Mars as a colonist. Adri's never had a family, and bonding with her ancient and new-found cousin Lily does not come naturally. But Adri becomes fascinated with a collection of letters she finds at Lily's house. Catherine, who lived during the Dust Bowl, is desperate to save her sister from dust pneumonia and believes a traveling show called The Electric may be the answer. Lenore mourns her brother after the his death in WWI and plans to sail to America. In her lovely, lyrical way, Jodi Lynn Anderson weaves these stories together in Midnight at the Electric. This slim volume about the bonds of family is so powerful and gorgeous. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Cirque American:
Wire-walker Julietta (Jules) Maroni joins the Cirque American with the hope that her family will finally receive the recognition they deserve. However, the Cirque American is also the home of a family of trapeze artists who are the Maroni's rivals, the Garcias. Together and in secret Jules and Romeo (Remy) Garcia seek to unravel the mysteries of the past, discover why their families are enemies, and who wants the past to repeat itself. Gwenda Bond's Girl on a Wire is full of mystery and the romance of the circus.  The second in the series, Girl in the Shadows, follows a new set of characters as they navigate the ins and outs of show business (and family business). 

The Gomorrah Festival:
Sorina has spent most of her life with the Gomorrah Festival, a traveling circus-city of magic and debauchery. Sorina, an illusion-worker, has a large family of misfits, who are all the more unique because they are all Sorina's own creations. Things turn dark when one of the illusions is murdered. Sorina didn't even know her illusions could die. I love the mix of fantasy and mystery (always a good combination for me) in Amanda Foody's debut. Sorina, her illusions, and the other residents of Gomorrah have this intriguing strangeness that is otherworldly and beautiful. Also, impressively, this book had several tricks up its sleeve that I did not see coming. Daughter of the Burning City is out July 2017.

For years sisters Scarlett and Tella Dragna have dreamed of escaping life with their oppressive father and attending Caraval, a traveling circus-like show where the visitors are part of the show. When they finally get their chance, the sisters find themselves at the heart of Caraval's high-stake competition when Tella is spirited away and the winner will be the visitor who finds her. The game suddenly doesn't feel so magical to Scarlett anymore who is worried about her sister's safety. I loved the magic in Caraval. The dreamlike setting has Scarlett questioning what is real and what is not, and the reader is right beside her asking those same questions. What a fun and mysterious debut from Stephanie Garber.

Metzger's Menagerie:
In this urban fantasy, the beasts of myth and legend are a reality and, after a devastating event in the 1980s, cryptids have no rights. Metzger's Menagerie is just one of many traveling circuses that exhibit caged cryptids to paying customers, nevermind that many are sentient, intelligent beings. Delilah Marlow was raised human, but when it's discovered that she is not, she becomes Metzger's newest display. Menagerie is dark but gorgeous. The situation these characters live in is truly horrifying. But I found the sense of dignity and family they created to be quite lovely. It's been a long time since I've read an adult urban fantasy novel, and I just devoured this one by Rachel Vincent.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Reading on a Theme: Witches

The Halloween season is my very favorite reading season. If I had my way, I would just settle in for a month or two of spooky, atmospheric reads. If you haven't settled on a Halloween read yet, we've got five great options for you here.

More Halloween recommendations here.

Child of a Witch:
Julia and her bother, Dack, are part of Spira City's underground. Working for a group of spies and thieves, Julia finds herself spying in a grand house full of mystery. Her interest in the house's activities are piqued when a witch and her young son enter the household. Julia Vanishes has such a rich setting. I love that Spira City is split into many different sections and it's easy to tell the rich areas from poor ones based on their names. There are many religions in this book as well as folklore, witches, and magic, all with great details. For instance, witches only do magic when they write things down. Catherine Egan has truly created a magical world and I loved every minute. (It was also a great audiobook!)

Necromancer in Training:
Rin Chupeco's The Bone Witch is gorgeously written and so interesting. Tea is a bone witch, meaning she can raise beings from the dead. Powerful and feared, Tea must leave home to train with a more experienced necromancer. This first book in the series mostly chronicles Tea's training. However, the book is set up as a story within a story, and so the reader gets glimpses of a more powerful Tea recounting her tale, which definitely piqued my interest. The Bone Witch reminded me more than anything of Miriam Foster's City of a Thousand Dolls. It has a similar geisha-like training aspect to it. The setting is truly rich and lavish. I'm definitely curious about the sequel. Review copy from NetGalley.

A Family Affair:
At River's new high school the three most mysterious, most popular students are the Grace siblings, Summer, who is River's age and her older siblings, twins Fenrin and Thalia. Everyone says the Graces are witches, and River, wants nothing more than to be taken into their circle. The Graces by Laure Eve has a very mysterious air to it. River is an incredibly unreliable narrator, and there's this sense throughout that she is leaving out something big, but what is it? And is there really magic or not? River's interest in the Graces is a full-on obsession, and as the pieces fall into place, the reader starts to understand why. This book is an excellent Halloween pick. Review copy from NetGalley.

Rose and Moon:
When the Moon was Ours by Anne-Marie McLemore is the unique story of a girl, Miel, born of water and with roses sprouting out of her wrists, and Sam, known to the town as Moon because of the beautiful moon creations he hangs on trees. Miel and Sam are inseparable and have been friends for sometime. As strange as the pair are they aren't nearly as strange as the Bonner sisters who the town whispers are witches. The Bonner girls have a fascination with Miel's roses and believe in their magical abilities. They'd do whatever it takes to get them from Miel. The story was third point omniscient which made the story very different than anything I have ever read before. The details in the story were lovely and it was a short pleasant read. Review copy from NetGalley.

Baking Magic:
Maire is a baker who can endow her treats with magical qualities. She has no memories before the day she came to live with in her small village. Things go horribly wrong when marauders attack the town and sell Maire into slavery. Her captor forces her to bake cakes for witches' homes and gingerbread boys. All the while, a mysterious, ghostly being, Fyel visits Maire. He's trying to help her, but he can't touch her or tell her anything outright. Who is Maire? Is she a witch or an angel? Charlie N. Holmberg tells the most creative and strange stories. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet has really stuck with me, and I don't think I will ever forget this bizarre and beautiful tale. Review copy from NetGalley.

Julia Vanishes reviewed by Paige.
The Bone Witch, The Graces, and Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet reviewed by JoLee.
When the Moon was Ours reviewed by Sarah.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Series Salute: Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud

For the last several years I've had this lovely tradition of reading the newest Lockwood & Co. for Halloween. As far as Halloween reads (or really anytime of the year reads) go, I cannot recommend a series more enthusiastically. I love it. I don't know that I can adequately express how much. I'm currently rereading the whole series, and I cannot tell you how long it's been since I did any rereading, let alone a whole series in one go. (So many books. So little time.) But I am loving this reread. These books make me so happy. I find myself foolishly grinning and terrified all at once. (Kind of like Lucy and Lockwood on a case.) If I could have my way, the series would go on forever so that I could continue my favorite Halloween tradition.

About the Books

Lucy Carlyle is the newest agent on the Lockwood & Co team. Anthony Lockwood and his associates hunt and contain ghosts, and they have a lot to prove. Although Lockwood, Lucy, and George are extremely talented, they are also the only Psychic Investigation Agency in London without an adult at the helm. You see, only a few talented young people can see or sense ghosts, and as one ages one's talents lessen. Thus the young, by necessity, are on the front lines. The series takes the reader through Lockwood & Co.'s ever-intensifying string of cases. Terrifying it may be, but the series also is wildly funny and filled with characters who have wormed their way into my heart.

Why I Love Them

1. Lucy

Lucy is a fantastic narrator. She has emotional scars, a bit of a temper, and is, honestly, a complete mess at times, but that all feels very real to me. And, on the other hand, she gains confidence throughout the series and has a fascinating talent.  

2. Lockwood

Lockwood is the brash and confidence team leader. Quick with a smile and adept and making others feel they are important, Lockwood also can be secretive and brooding. Like Lucy, the reader loves him, but desperately wants him to open up a little. The tension between those two is thick.

3. George

On my second read of the series, I find myself loving George more and more. I think I'm developing a bit of a soft spot in my heart for George Cubbins. Untidy he may be, but he is also smart and funny, and what can I say, I love a good nerd. Honestly, I think George may be the glue that holds this team together. 

4. The Ghosts

These ghosts are terrifying. Jonathan Stroud really knows how to turn the creepy up to full blast. I think the episode in the department store in the third book is the scariest. I listened to the audio books and, while the narration is just lovely, I cannot condone nighttime listening, unless you want to be totally creeped out. I did not listen to my own advice and was lying awake in my bed on more than one occasion. 

5. The World

The world that Stroud creates is spectacular. "The Problem," as it is called, has been afflicting folks for about fifty years now, and there are whole industries built up around ghost control. The scenes are so atmospheric and vivid. While reading, I feel fully immersed in this alternate London.

6.  The Skull

Oh, I love The Skull. It is such a delightful, snarky much-needed dose of comic relief. This series wouldn't be half as great without this cheeky ghost. He has some real zingers, and he just makes me laugh. (And, spoiler: I was so worried for him in the fourth book.)

7. Quill Kipps

I know what you're thinking, but seriously just give him time. Kipps's team plays a vital role in the series, and I really can't help but like them all. Also, Kipps's interactions with the team are pretty darn hilarious at times. (He's especially great in book 4.)

8. The Adventure

The pacing in these books is near perfection. Sure I love a good slow burn, but it's also so much fun to just move through an exciting plot (especially when there are fabulous characters taking you for the ride), and that's what these books do.  

9. The Larger Mystery

I love how every book is arranged by jobs--all of which lead up to the larger case at the end of each book. And, sprinkled in amongst all that scary stuff are the traces of a larger mystery that runs through the whole series. Rereading the books all in a row, has really given me the chance to put those pieces together in a way I couldn't before.

Lockwood & Co. is featured on as many Highly Anticipated posts as it possibly could be (posts here). And on basically all of my big year-end favorites lists (posts here). That's how much I love this series.

More Halloween recommendations here.  

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