February 4, 2018

February 5, 2018

January is usually a good reading month for me and this year was no exception. Last year, I read eleven books, this year I upped that to twelve. A lot of that can be credited to the number of audiobooks I got through. I don't know what it is, that fresh feeling you get on January 1st, the cleaning projects...whatever it is, I am never more focused on getting through audiobooks than in January. All in all, it was a good reading month and I discovered quite a few amazing books.

Caraval (Caraval #1) by Stephanie Garber
3 stars
Finished on 1/1, Audiobook
 Caraval follows Scarlett Dragna as she participates in a legendary and magical game--the twist is that this year her sister, Tella, is a part of the game. Tella disappeared shortly after they arrived at the game grounds and Scarlett finds herself keeping questionable company as she desperately searches for her sister. I liked this book. I liked the crazy, high stakes world that Garber built to support these characters. There are some fantastic revelations that really twist the story up. As a theatre junkie and actor, the theatrical qualities of the game appealed to me. I'm always up for a good ruse. I didn't have any specific critiques of the book, but I did put it down feeling rather...unenthusiastic, maybe? It was a great book, but not one I'm inspired to shove in my friends' faces and demand they read.

Green Arrow, Vol 2: Islands of Scars by Benjamin Percy et. al
4 stars
Finished on 1/1, Graphic novel
Oliver survives volume one and washes up on a seemingly deserted island. He quickly discovers that he's not alone, as old allies and new enemies quickly make their presence known. In my opinion, this storyline felt more cohesive than The Death and Life of Oliver Queen. The writers and artists really seemed to hit their stride with this volume. As always, I was stoked to see my girl Dinah Lance kicking butt. I think that's one of the things about Dinah and Ollie that appeals to me. It turns the usual "highly-skilled fighter dude with a scrappy girlfriend" dynamic on its head. While Ollie isn't without skills, Dinah is by far the better fighter of the two (he has admitted this himself). And Ollie isn't threatened by this. In fact, he enjoys it. So yeah. It was nice to see this dynamic going strong. I also liked Emi's arc. I felt that was really well done, but I don't want to give too much away there.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
3 stars
Finished on 1/4, Audiobook
This is one of those books where my emotional reader self gets exposed. Ng tells the story of the Lee family, a mixed-race family living in Ohio in the 1970s. At the beginning of the book, the middle daughter is discovered dead in a nearby lake. As they try to deal with this tragedy, the family's carefully constructed fabric frays at the edges. Simply because of the story being told, this book was never going to get five stars from me. The ending was satisfying, but as you know, I am all about that magical, happy ending. And this didn't have that. It couldn't. Honestly, it would have gotten four stars--listen this was beautifully written and I totally understand why everyone loves Ng as an author--but I took issue with a couple of the plot points. Again, I don't want to spoil this for anybody, but like I'd like to have seen the dad's crisis take shape in a less cliched way. That said, the mom's journey--both in the past and the present--was portrayed was perfect. I loved how authentic her struggle felt. And the journey of little Hannah just broke my heart. That child deserves all the hugs. Anyways, if you're in the mood for literary fiction with tense family dynamics and a satisfying conclusion, I highly recommend this book. I can't wait to read her latest one.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
4 stars
Finished on 1/6, Audiobook
This book is about four teens fleeing Russian soldiers toward the end of World War II. It details the events leading up to the tragedy on the Wilhelm Gostloff, the most deadly disaster in maritime history (six times deadlier than the Titanic), but also one of the most overlooked. So I'm a history junkie. I love history. I loved this book. I knew going in that it was going to be a heart-wrencher, both because I'd heard that about Sepetys' books and because...well, WWII. This was a thought-provoking book, held up by a rich world and likable (well, most of them were) characters. Plus, I learned something new in this book. I will admit that there were parts of this that were predictable and not just the history parts, but it was still so well done that I didn't mind too much. If you're into WWII or historical fiction in general, this is the book for you.

iZombie, Vol 1: Dead to the World by Chris Roberson et. al
3 stars
Finished 1/7, Graphic novel
Gwen is a zombie. And a gravedigger. I know, a zombie gravedigger, who'd of thunk? She survives by feasting on the brains of the corpses she buries. She's also friends with a ghost from the 1960s and a were-terrier. Oh, and sometimes she tries to solve crimes. Pretty much the only thing linking the show with the comics is the fact that Gwen gains the dead person's memories after eating their brain. The cast of characters is completely different. The situation is completely different. That's not to say there isn't plenty to enjoy in the comics, but don't go in expecting your faves from the TV show. I like that there are more than just zombies in the comics, plus a little mythology to help explain how zombies (and other boogeymen) came to be. Like the show, it's a fresh (at least to me) take on the whole zombie thing and I like that.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
5 stars
Finished on 1/8, Hardcopy book
This follows the stories of Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden, four black women that were instrumental to the development of the American space program 50s and 60s. It's one of the most interesting biographies I have ever read. Yes, there was a bunch of sciency stuff and it got a little heavy, but I loved the honest way that Shetterly laid everything out for you. Each of these women was fascinating, the way they pushed past the obstacles in their life was amazing, and the things they achieved were fantastic. It is not often that a non-fiction book makes it to five stars with me, but this one did. It was the perfect mix of storytelling and solid factual evidence.

My Lady Jane (The Lady Janies) by Cynthia Hand, et. al
5 stars
Finished on 1/11, Audiobook
Jane Grey was one of the most infamous queens in England's history. Not because of anything she did, but because she was queen for nine scant days before summarily being deposed and beheaded by the soon-to-be Mary I. This tale is a little more imaginative when it comes to history, throwing in a dash of magic and a heaping helping of intrigue. As someone who has always been fascinated by Tudor history, I absolutely loved this. As someone who loves Shakespeare, this book spoke my language. As a girl who was entirely too obsessed with horses growing up, the male lead is a man after my own heart. "But I thought you didn't like unhappy endings, Margaret?" you say. I don't, I reply and I'll leave it at that. This was humorous. This was irreverent. This was possibly the funniest book I'll read all year.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
1 star
Finished on 1/14, Audiobook
Speaking of Margaret's dislike of unhappy endings... This is about a group of four friends and a disastrous summer. I can't really say much more than that without gross sobbing. I've blotted the names of the characters from my mind. I've blotted this book from my mind. Here, once again, is a prime example of how my emotional reaction trumps any writing prowess the author has. Writing-wise this book deserves five stars, let me be clear about that. But every time I tried to give it a higher rating, I broke out in hives. I haven't felt this betrayed by a book since Allegiant, but the writer did it so well I can't even be righteously angry about it. Just disgruntled and annoyed. Fantastic writing aside, if I could unread this book, I would unread this book. I do want to read more of this writer's stuff, but I'm kind of scared to try. (Do any of her books end happily? Please advise.)

Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy #1) by Richelle Mead
4 stars
Finished on 1/15, Hardcopy book
Rose Hathaway is a dhampir, a vampire-human hybrid in training to protect true vampires. She and her friend, Lissa, have a special bond that gets a little more up close and personal than Rose would like, but when trouble comes calling, Rose is ready to lay her life down in the pursuit of her duty. I really enjoyed this book. Rose is such a fiery, kick butt character. She's this fantastic ball of teenage girl and guardian-in-training and I just know I'm going to love her even more as this series goes on. For the most part, this is a light-hearted, fluffy read, because Rose is a light-hearted, fun-loving character (to her trainer's continual chagrin), but it does deal with some pretty deep stuff. Lissa does deal with depression and self-harm, so be warned about that. But one of the things I liked about this book was how Rose's reaction to this evolves as she gains a deeper understanding of what Lissa is going through.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
4 stars
Finished on 1/18, Audiobook
This was the perfect palate cleanse after its predecessor. I don't know what it is about Sarah Dessen, but when I started listening to this, it felt like coming home. Sydney is a normal teen dealing with a lot of guilt. Guilt that isn't even hers to carry, but if no one else is going to admit that her brother is the reason a boy is in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Sydney feels it's her duty to remember her brother's sins. This is a very intimate sketch of a family desperately trying hold together, to stay normal, despite the actions of one person nearly ripping them apart. It was fascinating watching Sydney struggle and try to make peace with what her brother did. It also perfectly captures what it feels like to be a teenage girl in a sketchy situation. The one thing that felt a little iffy to me was the long spots of exposition. I think we might have been through the first chapter before any real, present-day action took place, but despite the slow start, this book was worth the read.

Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
5 stars
Finished on 1/24, Hardcopy book
I hope y'all are prepared to hear about this book again and again because it's already one of my favorite reads of 2018. I loved it, y'all. An unlikely group of teens put together for an impossible heist with both a star-crossed romance AND an angsty, suppressed romance? Sign. Me. Up. There are not words, but I'm going to try anyway. I loved the character dynamics and the world was so good. And the dialogue. And the character dynamics, did I mention those???  I mean, I definitely had my two faves, but I also felt so connected to all of the characters in this book and my "Ugh, can we go back to my faves" moments were surprisingly low for a book with multiple POVs. I am SO excited to see how this series finishes off.

The Power of Six (Lorien Legacies #2) by Pittacus Lore
3 stars
Finished on 1/25, Audiobook
A group of children from another planet traveled to Earth years ago to grow up and hone their powers hidden from the vicious Mogadorians. They are now nearly adults and they've grown into their legacies--superpowers--but whether or not they can survive to find each other and get back home is another story. This series isn't bad. I've enjoyed both books enough to want to keep reading, but it's another of those that I'm not desperate to get others to read. I definitely liked how the author handled dual storylines in this book, but I was a little pissed off by the way he approached romance. You can tell it was written by a dude, if you know what I mean. Anyways, like I said, I'm interested to see what happens in the rest of the series and we'll see if the issues that bugged me in this book continue to bug me in the next.

I do want to stick in two honorable mentions, the first is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and the other is What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada. Both are fantastic picture books with heart-warming stories and gorgeous illustrations. If you have young kids, you should definitely check these out.

That's it for my January Reading Round-up, if you've made it this far drop down to the comments and tell what you read in January.

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