Book Review: One Paris Summer by Denise Grover Swank

Title: One Paris Summer
Author: Denise Grover Swank
Publisher: Blink
Paperback: 272 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Most teens dream of visiting the City of Lights, but it feels more like a nightmare for Sophie Brooks. She and her brother are sent to Paris to spend the summer with their father, who left home a year ago without any explanation. As if his sudden abandonment weren’t betrayal enough, he’s about to remarry, and they’re expected to play nice with his soon-to-be wife and stepdaughter. The stepdaughter, Camille, agrees to show them around the city, but she makes it clear that she will do everything in her power to make Sophie miserable.

Sophie could deal with all the pain and humiliation if only she could practice piano. Her dream is to become a pianist, and she was supposed to spend the summer preparing for a scholarship competition. Even though her father moved to Paris to pursue his own dream, he clearly doesn’t support hers. His promise to provide her with a piano goes unfulfilled.

Still, no one is immune to Paris’s charm. After a few encounters with a gorgeous French boy, Sophie finds herself warming to the city, particularly when she discovers that he can help her practice piano. There’s just one hitch—he’s a friend of Camille’s, and Camille hates Sophie. While the summer Sophie dreaded promises to become best summer of her life, one person could ruin it all.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016.*

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

When I went to BEA with my husband this past year, my main goal was to find great young adult books that his high school students could fall in love with. So when I saw this cute, fluffy romance book set in Paris, I went for it.

This is a cute book about two teenagers who go to Paris to reconnect with their dad, who left them just about a year before and who is now marrying another woman in Paris — Sophie and her brother, Eric, are sent to Paris to celebrate the wedding and meet their new stepmom and stepsister. Their stepsister is awful to them, and gets Sophie into all sorts of trouble by playing games and manipulating things. So, it becomes really complicated when Sophie ends up falling for Camille’s friend, Mathieu. Hijinks ensue.

One Paris Summer is pretty much what I was expecting. It’s a fast read and it’s fun. Sophie at first got on my nerves, but it made sense within the context of the story and her character evened out within the first few chapters, thank goodness, so I actually ended up enjoying her character and looking forward to reading about her adventures in Paris. My favorite parts were her interactions with her brother and her crush, Mathieu. It was nice to see Sophie realizing that people didn’t hate her and cared about her. My main problems with a lot of this book had to do with logic and drama. Characters’ reactions to things didn’t seem to fit with their personalities and seemed only to serve the purpose of creating conflict that felt melodramatic and fake.

However, aside from that, the romance and Paris aspect were really fun. This is a book you don’t want to think too much about — what I like to think of a beach read. Just breeze through it and enjoy the fun, cute parts. Because of that, this took me very little time to finish once I started focusing on it, and overall, I enjoyed it. I think younger teens would enjoy this a lot, but there isn’t a lot of crossover appeal for older readers simply because what I said earlier about the conflicts feeling overly dramatic.

Side note: I loved that we got some French words thrown in here, so readers might be able to learn a couple of phrases. Nice touch!

Book Review: Ann Veronica by HG Wells

Title: Ann Veronica
Author: HG Wells
Publisher: Penguin Books Limited
Paperback: 352 pages
Source: Own
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Twenty-one, passionate and headstrong, Ann Veronica Stanley is determined to live her own life. When her father forbids her attending a fashionable ball, she decides she has no choice but to leave her family home and make a fresh start in London. There, she finds a world of intellectuals, socialists and suffragettes — a place where, as a student in biology at Imperial College, she can be truly free. But when she meets the brilliant Capes, a married academic, and quickly falls in love, she soon finds that freedom comes at a price.

A fascinating description of the women’s suffrage movement, Ann Veronica offers an optimistic depiction of one woman’s sexual awakening and search for independence.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I had serious doubts about this book when I first started it, not only is it not science fiction, but a ROMANCE, from HG Wells? Yeah, okay. I was thinking it was going to be ridiculous, but once I started reading it, I realized it was completely different from what I had first thought — it’s an early book about feminism. And you know what? It’s done rather splendidly.

Ann Veronica is the youngest of a fairly well-to-do family. She’s not your typical turn-of-the-20th-century girl — she studies biology at a college (with her father’s permission) and enjoys talking about her intellectual interests with others. Her close friends are burgeoning suffragists, so she often joins their discussions about how women aren’t free to do what they want and how they’re caged up in society because men keep them imprisoned, basically. So, when her father literally locks her in her bedroom to prevent her from going to a ball, she runs away to the city to make it on her own. She quickly finds out that there’s not a great way for women to make a lot of money, and renting out an apartment in London actually costs quite a lot. Basically, she has to face harder truths than she realized were out there and more fully understands the plight of women because of her decision to not live under her father’s roof.

What I love about this story is how it covers everything and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It gives a clear, honest look at exactly what the situation of women was for that time period — hardly any job prospects (and any available were drudgery for pennies), no respect, and no vote. Their lives were at the mercy of the men in their lives and they weren’t taught anything about how to survive or live in the world. Ann Veronica even gets herself into a misunderstanding with a man and it’s sad how much that particular “misunderstanding” can still be seen in today’s world. They talk as if they’re friends, and they go out to lunch together as friends, and then he locks her in a room with him “to make love” because of course she had to know that they weren’t really friends and he wanted her, and deserved her after all that he’d given her. (Isn’t it creepy how familiar that sounds?) HG Wells does a tremendous job in outlining the various difficulties that women faced when they fought for equal rights and equal opportunities in London and really hits, if not all, then at least most of the points.

The first half was wonderful, but it does start to drag a bit as the book goes on. I think the first half of the book is perfect and it would have been 5 stars if it had continued in that vein, but then Ann Veronica falls in love and the whole story sort of starts to fall apart and get into themes that don’t make sense for where the book started. Alas. Basically, I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in feminism, its roots, or even how it was viewed during this time. I was blown away by how insightful this story was and a little saddened by how true those themes remain. If not a great story, it’s interesting to see the thoughts and themes of feminism from a male author born in the 19th century.

Book Review: Legend by Marie Lu

Legend by Marie Lu.jpgTitle: Legend
Author: Marie Lu
Series: Legend, Book 1
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Hardcover: 305 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I remember when Legend came out and people were raving about how awesome it was. The hype was so much that when Marie Lu went to the LA Festival of Books to sell signed copies, I stopped by her booth just so I could read it and see what the raving was all about. Of course, I’m terrible at reading books right away since my to-read list is ridiculously long, so now, years later, I am finally getting to see what the hype is all about.

Legend is yet another YA dystopia, this time in a world with a militaristic/war focus rather than an we-are-a-perfect-society focus. People who are born into wealthy families are groomed for the military so they can help in the Republic’s fight against the Colonies. June is a military prodigy — she’s smart, athletic, and can think outside the box, and is being groomed for a distinguished military career. She goes on the hunt for Day — who is also smart, athletic, and can think outside the box — the Republic’s most wanted criminal who grew up in a poor district in the Republic.

When Day allegedly commits a crime that hits home for June, she goes on the hunt for him to bring him to justice. What ends up happening is that they both learn a little bit more about what’s really going on behind the closed doors of the Republic.

This book is just straight enjoyable. I love that Lu kept it simple in terms of creating her world: no factions or groups for people to be sorted into, just poor and rich; military and civilian. Because of this, I think this book gives quite an amazing commentary on society in general in terms of how poverty is viewed and taken advantage of, and how people suffer under such strict hierarchical structures.

The conflicts within this world are revealed slowly — no information dumps!!! I enjoyed that I slowly got introduced to the complexities of the government and of what went on behind closed doors. I feel like this is the main reason why I enjoyed Legend. There’s an inherent conflict and pull in trying to figure out what exactly is going on with this dystopia — when the plot needed to stop for character development, I was pulled forward by what I wanted to know about this new world.

However, this book is fairly predictable — I don’t think there was one twist that I didn’t see coming. Also, I have a pet peeve about people being in a life-or-death situation, yet romance seems to be a priority. I get the whole young adult romance angle, but it bothers me, especially from characters who are supposed to be super intelligent, even if they are young.

With that said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the narrative of the book. It’s perfect amounts of tragic and heartwarming and I am very much looking forward to reading the sequels to see what exactly is going on with all the war stuff. I’d recommend this book for any dystopia lover. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s certainly better than many other dystopias out there.

Review: Manga Classics – The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Crystal S. Chan

scarlet letter manga.jpg
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Title: Manga Classics – The Scarlet Letter
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Story Adaptation: Crystal S. Chan
English Dialogue Adaptation: Stacy King
Illustrator: SunNeko Lee
Lettering: WT Francis
Publisher: Udon Entertainment and Morpheus Publishing
Paperback: 308 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A powerful tale of forbidden love, shame, and revenge comes to life in Manga Classics: The Scarlet Letter. Faithfully adapted by Crystal Chan from the original novel, this new edition features stunning artwork by SunNeko Lee (Manga Classics: Les Miserables) which will give old and new readers alike a fresh insight into the Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tragic saga of Puritan America. Manga Classics editions feature classic stories, faithfully adapted and illustrated in manga style, and available in both hardcover and softcover editions. Proudly presented by UDON Entertainment and Morpheus Publishing

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I was first interested in this book, because I’m starting to branch out to reading more manga and I wanted to see how a classic story like The Scarlet Letter would translate to a manga. Overall, I think it’s a huge success. The story itself stays true to the original and the overall main points are still hit, which was a concern of mine when I started it. The pictures are beautifully done, and while I think there were a few too many panels of the priest “clutching his chest,” overall, it works out to be a quick read for a classic, captivating story.

Its strength really lies in how the novel is written in the first place. Hawthorne is someone who likes to be wordy and include a lot of description that is able to simply be shown in the drawings — no need to worry about five pages of foliage, when the foliage is right there in the pictures; it cuts down a lot on the slog and lets the reader focus on the story and characters in general. For people who don’t find Hawthorne’s style to be engaging, but who might like this overall story, reading Manga Classics would be a great way for them to be introduced to this story.

I can also see this as an amazing addition in the classroom, since it can be used as a tool for lower-level readers or those who have a problem with reading a lot of words stay engaged with the story and be able to participate in overall discussions on theme, characters, etc. It can also be used in a lesson where students can compare different story-telling formats and analyze the differences of manga versus prose. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? Which do they personally prefer? Tons of possible lessons if you introduce a book like this to your classroom.

The Manga Classics version of The Scarlet Letter is a great read and definitely something to check out if you have a struggling reader who wants a bit of help getting through the story, or even if you just want to experience this story in a new format. Very well done — I recommend it.

 

Book Review: Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Naamahs Blessing.jpgTitle: Naamah’s Blessing
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Series: Moirin Trilogy, Book 3; Kushiel’s Universe, Book 9
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover: 610 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Returning to Terre d’Ange, Moirin finds the royal family broken. Wracked by unrelenting grief at the loss of his wife, Queen Jehanne, King Daniel is unable to rule. Prince Thierry, leading an expedition to explore the deadly jungles of Terra Nova, is halfway across the world. And three year old Desirée is a vision of her mother: tempestuous, intelligent, and fiery, but desperately lonely, and a vulnerable pawn in a game of shifting political allegiances.

As tensions mount, King Daniel asks that Moirin become Desirée’s oath-sworn protector. Navigating the intricate political landscape of the Court proves a difficult challenge, and when dire news arrives from overseas, the spirit of Queen Jehanne visits Moirin in a dream and bids her undertake an impossible quest.

Another specter from the past also haunts Moirin. Travelling with Thierry in the New World is Raphael de Mereliot, her manipulative former lover. Years ago, Raphael forced her to help him summon fallen angels in the hopes of acquiring mystical gifts and knowledge. It was a disastrous effort that nearly killed them, and Moirin must finally bear the costs of those bitter mistakes.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I can’t begin to express how much I adore these books. I started with Kushiel’s Dart in about 2007 and have read about one a year until I’ve now finally finished the overall series. These books are so immersive that I like taking my time through them and just enjoying the experience of reading about Phedre, or Imriel, or Moirin. It’s been a long journey with this series and I’m sad to see it end, but this series has been wonderful.

This book is the third of Moirin’s trilogy and the 9th of the Kushiel’s universe. Overall, Moirin’s series is a much different flavor from that of Phedre’s or Imriel’s, but this book is the closest to having the fully developed political scheming and intrigues as the first two trilogies. I greatly enjoyed the first two trilogies for including such in-depth political scheming and reading about how religion and relationships all played into how a country is run and how decisions are made.

It’s hard to go into depth without revealing spoilers, but this book is generally about tying up loose ends, since it is, after all, the last Terre d’Ange book. Basically, Moirin goes on a jungle adventure to save Jehanne’s daughter from being taken advantage of by people trying to raise their status in the realm, and to save the Courcel family in general. She has to finally face up to her past mistakes and make them right, which allows her to show how much she has grown and learned from her past adventures.

One thing that has always impressed me about these books, and continued to impress me in Naamah’s Blessing is just how difficult Carey makes it for her characters — they are not given easy choices to make and are put in just awful situations. The one that hurt me the most, at least, was when Moirin has to choose between remaining faithful to her husband or staying a night with a powerful man in order to move her expedition forward and basically save her country. With the previous books and with the Kushiel series in general, it’s obvious what choice she ends up making, but it’s a rough one and being married to someone I love wholeheartedly, I can’t imagine being in the same situation. (Luckily, we don’t live in a fantasy novel, so I doubt we’ll ever have to worry about that.)

I think that this was a fitting end to a wonderful series — loose ends are tied up and everyone seems to be fairly happy for the most part. I like that we’re able to return to Alba with Moirin so we can see her mother again. It really felt like everything came full circle, and while this wasn’t my favorite of the Kushiel trilogies, it was so, so nice to be back in Terre d’Ange one last time. If you like fully developed fantasies, you should try starting with Kushiel’s Dart. These books are long and the first 6 books of the series have a lot more to do with sex and romance, but they are intelligently written and have such wonderful characters to fall in love with.

Book Review: Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffrey

Freedoms Landing by Anne McCaffrey.jpgTitle: Freedom’s Landing
Author: Anne McCaffrey
Series: Catteni, Book 1
Publisher: Ace
Hardcover: 342 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The alien Catteni have attacked earth, emptying cities for slave labor. And other things.

Kris Bjornsen has been taken captive and finds herself dumped with many others on an empty planet–but one of the Catteni masters missed his ride back. Now Kris takes on a leadership role and has to help figure out how to protect these people and also what to do with the Catteni trapped on this plane with them.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

It has been way too long since I’ve read Anne McCaffrey, and how I have missed her. This series has been on my to-read list for years and years, so when the ReadThemAll challenge came up, hosted by Read At Midnight, I knew that I needed to use this as my Boulder Badge entry.

This book was slow going for me for most of the beginning. The very beginning was super interesting, where we meet Kris and learn about how she’s been kidnapped from Earth and is basically a slave to the Catteni, but when she gets dumped on the empty planet with Zainal, a rogue Catteni who landed himself in some trouble with his own people, I struggled a lot. Once everything got explained and set up, it was fine, but the first 80 pages or so were a slog for me.

With that said, I’ve really missed McCaffrey’s science fiction — this is the science fiction I grew up with and I have missed it so, so much. In terms of pure story, it’s wonderful, with the survival/colonization/new planet discovery aspect, with the characters discovering new technology and constantly finding themselves in danger they didn’t realize was around. It’s super realistic in terms of the characters needing to figure out what they need to have a balanced diet, how they’re going to handle hygiene and sickness, etc.

In terms of larger themes, McCaffrey has insightful and incisive commentary on race relations based on how other aliens are treated by humans, even though they’re also Catteni slaves and put in the same situation as humans — sometimes even with fewer tools and privileges for survival, like needing special nutrients for their diet that just aren’t really easy to get on the planet they’re trapped on.

One of the things I most appreciated about this novel was the way romances very slowly and organically came about. There was no, “Oh my god s/he is so hot and I need to have her right now, even though we’re all struggling to even just eat on this new planet,” which is sadly too common in some novels. Whenever romance popped up, it made sense in the context, and there was no sex for the sake of sex during times that didn’t really make any sense. Perfectly done and I wish I read more stories that were able to handle it so realistically.

Overall, this is a solid start to a science fiction series that I’m looking forward to continuing, and for those who like survivalist stories with a science fiction edge, or even just McCaffrey fans, you should give it a read!

Book Review: Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse

sevendaysofyouTitle: Seven Days of You
Author: Cecilia Vinesse
Publisher: Little, Brown
Hardcover: 336 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Anticipated Publishing Date: 7 March 2017
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days…until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.

Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016. All opinions are my own.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First, I have to say, that I was a little wary going into this, as I’m not a huge fan of young adult romances that are only romances — I think they either become vapid or too melodramatic, and I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case with this one. Luckily, it very much wasn’t, and I give Vinesse all the credit in the world for writing an incredibly grounded, realistic portrayal of a relationship that might happen at that stage of someone’s life.

The balance between Sophia dealing with her departure from Tokyo and also exploring her new relationship is beautiful. It’s nice to see that both of these situations are fully dealt with within the book — Sophia’s anger at leaving, confusion, and fear for what is to come next, and then her happiness for finding this new connection with Jamie, and the fear of what’s to come if she falls too far in. I think, in a way, most relationships start out with that fear, even without the imminent threat of what would very much be a long-distance relationship, so I think that feeling is incredibly relatable. Where is this going? Can we be feeling this so quickly? What if I really love this person, but it doesn’t work out? Even within the span of seven days, Jamie and Sophia don’t seem to fall for each other too quickly, although it helps that they knew each other before that week.

Mostly, though, this book is about self-discovery and self-awareness. In departing from the country she’s lived in most of her life, Sophia is able to take a closer look at her relationships and how she’s being treated by her friends and family. It’s a lovely coming-of-age sort of thing where she realizes that some people she’s been fighting hard to have relationships with are really not being good people to her, so she has to re-evaluate what’s really important spending effort on. Again, while Sophia’s situation is at an extreme, I think we can all relate to being put in a situation where we need to re-think what’s going on in our lives, so reading about Sophia’s journey of self-discovery is satisfying and rewarding in that we can self-reflect and compare her decisions to ones that we are currently making, or once made.

I very much appreciated this book for what it was — a second chance for two people to reconnect and forgive each other for past miscommunications and to explore their feelings for each other. The tension is kept strong through the short timeline of the seven days that Sophia has left in Tokyo, and it makes it a fast read, because everything is so condensed and there’s no time for anything to be drawn out. At the same time, nothing is rushed because of that, and I give Vinesse a lot of credit for not feeling the need to rush Sophia and Jamie’s relationships. It’s taken at a reasonable, moderate pace, and ends on a hopeful note, which I very much enjoyed. I can’t recommend this book enough for being everything you want in a young adult romance and containing none of the common cringe-worthy or exasperating tropes. Pick it up when you get a chance.

Book Review: The Erotic Poems by Ovid, tranlsated by Peter Green

Erotic PoemsTitle: The Erotic Poems
Author: Ovid
Translator: Peter Green
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Paperback: 464 pages
Source: Own
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

This collection of Ovid’s poems deals with the whole spectrum of sexual desire, ranging from deeply emotional declarations of eternal devotion to flippant arguments for promiscuity. In the “Amores”, Ovid addresses himself in a series of elegies to Corinna, his beautiful, elusive mistress. The intimate and vulnerable nature of the poet revealed in these early poems vanishes in the notorious Art of Love, in which he provides a knowing and witty guide to sexual conquest – a work whose alleged obscenity led to Ovid’s banishment from Rome in AD 8. This volume also includes the “Cures for Love”, with instructions on how to terminate a love affair, and “On Facial Treatment for Ladies”, an incomplete poem on the art of cosmetics.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I started reading this collection a long, long time ago back in the days of college, but other things came up and since I wasn’t assigned to read the whole thing for college, I didn’t end up finishing it. Finally, it came up on my reading list, so finally, I got around to reading the whole thing.

A few things struck me while reading this. I admit, I was biased to look for it, because the whole point as to why excerpts from it were assigned in college is that a lot of what Ovid talks about is still so relevant to today’s world. Even while the same laws aren’t in place, similar concepts remain constant. For example, a lot of his writing tries to assure the reader that he is not giving them advice for committing adultery or having a liaison with a highborn woman — while we are a bit more free with our views, or are at least jaded enough to accept that adultery happens, if someone were to publish a book with advice for how to successfully commit adultery, they would be heavily criticized in our society (especially America). So, while we don’t really have laws against it here, it’s still taboo, which is an interesting thing to talk about.

Another thing I loved about this particular version is the translation. Green is a hero. He is so good at translating not only just the words but the flavor of them in English that we can understand. Pop culture phrasing and literary devices are used with skill what he feels is Ovid’s attitude, which I found to be wonderful. This version is one of the most readable translations I’ve read of this particular collection because of that, and I immensely appreciated it.

I understand that some might find this collection a tough read, with the formal language and numerous mythological allusions, but even with my rudimentary understanding of mythology, I was able to grasp the basic allusions and still enjoy his language and storytelling. If you’re into classics, for sure read this one. It’s an interesting look at Roman culture during Ovid’s time, and Green does a fantastic job in giving an easily readable translation and enough background history for the reader to understand the context in which it was written. I admit that it won’t be for everyone, but I enjoyed it.

Book Review: Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

night circusTitle: Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Doubleday
Hardcover: 387 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air.

Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves.

Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way–a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a “game” to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I’ve been hearing about Night Circus for a while now, but there always seemed to be something else to read before I could read this (the dilemma when you have a long “to read” list). Also, whenever something becomes as popular as Night Circus, I’m more reluctant to read it, because I don’t want to be disappointed. (I’ve been burned before with Divergent, Twilight, etc., so popular books nearly always scare me when I first set out to read them.) However, this finally became available through OverDrive and I’d run out of excuses not to read it, so it was just time to get down to it. Luckily, there was no reason to worry.

The story itself is absolutely lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of reading it. It was one of those books where I couldn’t put it down, but I wanted to stretch out the experience so I could spend more time enjoying it — quite the dilemma when I’m reading a good book. It has a nice mix of realism along with fantasy, to the point where I could see it *almost* being reminiscent of magical realism, but it doesn’t quite hit that point. I think the way Morgenstern portrays the darker side of magic and the game/war between the two older magicians touches on a lot of deeply gruesome notes, and it kind of reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in regards to the dreaminess and darkness of the story itself. (But don’t worry! This novel isn’t nearly as long or as complicated. It’s much more to-the-point.)

I was worried when a romance started blooming in the book, but I think it was handled well. It was just whimsical enough to be believable, but not so overly dramatic that it annoyed me. The characters weren’t going crazy for each other and abandoning everything so that they could be together, which I really appreciated. This is the type of romance I want in young adult books. So, well done on Morgenstern for that.

The only thing that pulled me out of it is that I wasn’t quite sold on how the story is told. There were some chapters written in second person that I didn’t feel were relevant, and I’m not sure that the story was at all enhanced by the past-future switch that occasionally happens. Without those things niggling at me, this book would have been 5 stars for sure. Highly recommend. I’m trying to convince Andrew to listen to the audiobook version of this since it’s narrated by Jim Dale. Hopefully we can get a copy of that so he can listen to it soon, and then he can share his thoughts on the book!

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Narrator: Khristine Hvam
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Book 1
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Duration: 12 hours 32 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first of a series, and because it’s the first, it suffers from being a bit slow in the beginning so that the foundation is laid for the rest of the books. However, the payoff is there, and I was in love with the story by the end.

However, I actually didn’t start really liking the story until about midway through, when we get to the more fantastical elements. I think that Taylor was trying to set up a contrast between Karou’s human world and the otherworld she grew up in, but the Prague stuff just wasn’t all that interesting. Her ex-boyfriend Kasimir is a useless character who doesn’t add anything to the story, and while I liked her best friend, Zuzana, I just didn’t see how they really added anything much to the overall conflict.

But I loved the story once it got going. I generally try to set aside an hour a day to listen to a book, but when it’s good, I have to pry myself away. That definitely happened when Akiva showed up — once he came into the picture, I was listening to 2-3 hours a day. The “plot twists” were a bit awkward, because I think that they’re hinted at too much in the beginning and easily guessable, but that’s redeemed by the characters’ reactions to those twists — the characters are simply beautifully done.

Hvam is a great narrator who does a good job with differentiating between characters. I especially loved her ability to capture the characters’ personalities with the way she spoke. Issa had a crooning voice and lingered over vowel sounds, which made me think of her as a loving, doting sort of aunt figure to Karou. When Hvam spoke as Zuzana, on the other hand, her sounds were clipped, giving her a no-nonsense sort of feel. Hvam’s narration added life to the characters and the story, in general. I think I enjoyed the story more in audio format than I would have in printed, just because I felt so close to the characters through the audio.

I have already added the sequel to my “to-read” list, and am excited to continue with this story. For those who aren’t good at waiting, the end was a bit abrupt, so if you want to start this series, be sure to have the first two books at hand!