A Thank You to Books

I know it basically goes without saying that everyone in the bookish community is thankful for books. A lot of us had some sort of thankfulness post around Thanksgiving, talking about how books have influenced our lives for the better by giving us different lives to live and teaching us about the world around us.

This post is slightly different.

I got my December SAT scores today, and well, I’m very happy with them. I hadn’t really prepped, and this was the first time taking the SAT, and while actually taking the test was one of the most tiring experiences of my life, I walked out feeling better than I expected. After seeing my score, I know that I have books to thank.

Without reading, I am certain that the SAT would have been brutal for me. But I’ve been reading since elementary school, and reading a lot. Every author I’ve ever read has exposed me to a slightly different approach to the English language; they’ve taught me different turns of phrases and different ways to use punctuation. Every book I’ve ever read has helped me understand the English language more than I did before I read it.

Of course, I’ve been taught grammar in school, but there is a difference between knowing the rules on paper and being able to instantly know which way a sentence should be written. When I was taking the SAT, I wasn’t thinking about the grammar lessons I had in elementary school, I was trying to decide which sentence felt like something I’d read before. I used one of my recent reads in my essay.

The books I had read were a safety net, keeping me from freaking out. I could draw on examples from all of them when I needed to, and that was something that I have to thank authors for.

Just to be clear, I know that I started off at an advantage for the English language sections of the SAT. I’ve grown up in a household that doesn’t just speak English, they use intentionally complicated words. That sucked (a bit) when I was younger, but it also drove me to figure out wtf the words meant. I’ve been encouraged to read; I’ve never been told that a book was too old for me or too hard for me to try. I know that most of my peers can’t say the same things, so I should also say thank you to the people who made my reading possible: my family.

I think that people usually look to the emotional and psychological benefits of books when they reflect on how reading has affected their lives. I just wanted to take a few minutes and highlight the strictly educational value of books as well, because I’m feeling really thankful right now.

Book Review: Angelfall (Penryn and End of Days #1) by Susan Ee

An interesting dystopian novel that suffered from less-than-great writing.

3/5 stars

cover angelfall

Amazon Description

It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back. Anything, including making a deal with Raffe, an injured enemy angel. Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco, where Penryn will risk everything to rescue her sister and Raffe will put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

My Review

I’ve actually had this book for over a year, but I never picked it up. I’ve been in a phase where I don’t really want to read dystopians, and there didn’t seem to be anything special about this book. I’ve seen some positive reviews for this series, though, and I was in the mood for books with fight scenes, so I finally picked it up.

At first, I wasn’t sold. The whole evil-angel premise wasn’t terribly original, and the set-up reminded me of the Angel Burn series (which I love, btw, go check it out if you haven’t read it). I was disappointed that it wasn’t more unique, and the plot took a little while to get interesting.

I enjoyed Penryn’s character from the start. She was simultaneously stubbornly sarcastic and kind of awful at insults—(sort of) a unique combination for a YA heroine. I loved that there was a logical explanation behind her having taken a ton of self-defense classes (her mom’s paranoia). Her love-hate relationship with her mother was fascinating, and her love for her sister was palpable. (The whole mom-with-schizophrenia thing was really interesting, adding a lot of awkwardly funny-but-sad moments to the story.)

Raffe had his own quirks. He definitely fit the brooding male mold, but he also had a humorous side that caught me off guard. I wish that we had gotten to know more about his character in Angelfall, but he is a pretty reticent character for most of the book.

The plot of Angelfall is semi-free form. Basically, Raffe and Penryn agree to travel north together to get Raffe back to his home and to help Penryn rescue her sister. Most of the plot comes from the various things they encounter on the road, as well as their developing relationship. As far at plots go, it wasn’t the most gripping or well-paced one in the world, but it was a good framework for their budding romance, and there were enough fight scenes to keep me on edge. I wanted to keep reading to find out where the plot would go next, and it ended up going to Creepytown. Seriously, the climax of the book was so creepy and amazing and GAH I need the next book!

It took me a surprising amount of time to get on board with the Raffe-Penryn romance. It wasn’t until the climax of the book that I really started to feel their bond; before that, their relationship seemed more like a random crush than anything deep. Possibly with better writing, I would have felt Penryn’s affection for Raffe earlier, but it doesn’t really matter, because by the last pages, my heart was breaking over their relationship. 

My biggest problem with this book is the writing. Honestly, it was bad for a lot of the book. I am honestly frustrated, because this could be a new favorite book if the writing were better quality. As it is, I kept getting distracted by the awkward sentences and telling (as in not showing) of Penryn’s emotions. Side characters were cliche, and nothing about the world building struck me as new or surprising (until those creepy scenes at the end).

Also, a lot of the thing that happened in the plot were overly convenient. Like, inexplicably convenient. In a post-apocalyptic world, it is ridiculous that certain items they found would have been left in people’s houses. Again, I expected more from the author, and the story would have been stronger if certain plot holes had been sewn shut.

Angelfall is pretty good. I wasn’t amazed, but I also didn’t DNF the book. The ending was a great cliffhanger, and I really want to read the second book. The prevalent good/evil conflict with the angels was intriguing, and I want to know more about the angel politics. Honestly, I wish that the last quarter of the book had been stretched out to be half of the book, and that some of the beginning had been trimmed down.


Have you read Angelfall? What did you think? If you’ve read the rest of the series, does it get better?

Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

THIS BOOK. Oh my god, Sarah J Mass is a storytelling goddess.

5/5 stars

cover court of thorns and roses

Amazon Description

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin–one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin–and his world–forever.

My Review

Wow, just wow. How did I not read this book earlier?

Feyre is one of my new favorite characters. She was spunky and fierce, but she wasn’t the heart-of-stone assassin that Celaena was. I loved that though she knew how to hunt, she actually hated it Though she was physically strong, it didn’t define her character. I loved her artsy side, and her love/hate relationship with her appreciation for beauty.

Tamalin is just…wow. He’s badass, no question. His awkward flirting was hilarious, and though he did have the usual brooding male characteristics, it was clear that he had a genuine reason for being gloomy and serious. I loved the moments when we got to see him be light-hearted, but I also deeply understood why he was melancholy most of the time.

Tamalin and Feyre’s romance is perfection. It goes from awkward hatred to slow burn appreciation to OMG they’re in love at exactly the right speed. By the middle of the book I was dying for them to get together. I love that their relationship was both emotionally complex and, well, steamy (because WOW). (Seriously, just a warning, ACOTAR has some intense scenes for a YA book.)

For a book dominated by romance, it did a good job of avoiding classic pitfalls. I was so afraid when Lucien and Tamalin were introduced that there was going to be a love triangle, but it never turned into that at all, and I loved it. Seeing Feyre develop a platonic friendship with Lucien was almost as important to the plot and to her character as her love for Tamalin, and it was a nice deviation from the usual YA “males = love interests” mold.

The most amazing part about ACOTAR is the fairytale nature of it. I’ve read a lot of fairy tale retellings this year, and most of them use the original story’s plot but lose the tone of the story. On the other hand, ACOTAR was simultaneously a classically YA story and a fairy tale.

Things kept happening and I would stop and say, “OMG that’s so fairytale“…and then I realized that was the point. ACOTAR managed to give fairy tale plot devices new life, balancing cheesy unbelievable-ness (is that a word?) with YA plot drama. And even though the plot was clearly rooted in Beauty and the Beast, I was still surprised by the plot twists and reveals.

Out of all the retellings I’ve read this year, ACOTAR is the first one to mesh the addictive quality of YA books with the mood of a fairytale. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy books with a heavy dose of romance and incredible characters.

Book Review: Fire by Kristen Cashore

This was my fifth (maybe fourth? I’ve lost track) time rereading this book, and the second I finished it, I wanted to start all over and read it again. I freaking love this book.

5/5 stars

cover fire

Note: This book is a companion to Graceling. If you haven’t read Graceling, you can read Fire, but it will spoil a few things if you ever decide to read Graceling, so I suggest reading Fire after. They are both two of my favorite books ever.

Goodreads Description

It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.

This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she had the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.

Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, The royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there’s more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.

If only she weren’t afraid of becoming the monster her father was.

My Review

This book is just *swoon.*

Fire, the protagonist, is a female monster, the only human monster left in the Dells. Ridiculously gorgeous, she has the ability to enter people’s minds and bend them to her will; however, after her psychopathic father destroyed the Dells with his manipulations, Fire refuses to use her monster powers. She remains sheltered away with an adoptive family at the edge of the kingdom, avoiding the ruling family, which her father tore apart, and the chaos of the nation as it fights off internal rebellions–that is, until the royal family asks for her help.

I empathized with Fire’s character from page one. She loves and hates her father, who was a monster, but who also showed her kindness. She wants to help make up for his wrongs, but she is terrified of becoming the monster he was. She is afraid of getting hurt. Sometimes she acts selfishly, but never without reason. Throughout the entire story, I wanted to give her a hug of support. Though the story is written in third person, you get a clear and effortless window into Fire’s head and the complexities of her growing character.

Fire’s character is something you rarely see in YA: a female character who can shoot a bow and arrow well, and who does badass things, but whose character does not revolve around her physical (or violent) abilities. Don’t get me wrong, I love my badass female MCs (I’m looking at you Celaena) but it is refreshing to read a book that gives a female character physical–as well as emotional–strength.

The plot of this story is multifaceted and complex–but never “too complicated.” If you enjoy books with political intrigue, you HAVE to read this book. The delicate political dance Fire finds herself in the middle of is perfectly woven and subtly surprising. The main plot has lots of offshoots and important tangents, but they all work together to create a gorgeously realistic story. The other characters all add something to the book and none of them are “flat” or one-dimensional.

And then they’re the romance. HOLY CRAP. Fire and Brigan’s slow burn romance is a double edged sword: it is great because they are seriously the cutest couple on earth, and it is awful because you will forever be left wanting more. Though the romance is a major part of the book, it never overpowers the plot; it is never blatant or cheesy. They fall in love slowly and honestly (another thing that is often absent from YA books). Their relationship is just…swoon. Yep, that’s the only word I have for it.

This book also showcases a remarkably stark discussion of female sexuality. Fire starts the book in a very open relationship with Archer, which she slowly grows past as she falls for Brigan. Though I of course like her relationship with Brigan more (see the swooning in the previous paragraph), I really appreciate that she began the book with Archer. Fire is not the typical cluelessly chaste character of YA books (again, I’m not condemning that trope, I just love it when authors go beyond the norm). She’s had sex before, and there’s a lot of sex in this book–though all of it is “fade to black” implied.

With some characters, Fire’s sexuality wouldn’t work for the plot, but since Fire is basically a walking sex icon, it makes since that she’s not chaste. It also lends her character a maturity that makes her interactions with the older royal family more believable. I really appreciate that her character is never condemned for her sexual choices. The frank discussion of Fire’s yearning to have children is also surprisingly unique in the YA world.

Finally, the writing of Fire is gorgeous. Kristen Cashore’s writing style is poetic without distracting from the story. The messages and emotions woven into this book are powerful and heart-breaking. Certain scenes will always make me tear up, others will always make me laugh.

Fire is a powerful YA fantasy that breaks the genre’s stereotypes with complex characters and plots. I doubt I will ever stop rereading it.

Top Ten Authors I Read for the First Time In 2015

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. 

I can’t believe 2015 is coming to a close! I read a ton of amazing books this year, and a lot of the were from authors I’d never read before. Here are some of my favorite authors I “discovered” in 2015.

  1. Shannon Lee Alexander — Love and Other Unknown Variables
    • cover love and other unknown variables
  2. Isabel Wolff — A Vintage Affair
    • cover a vintage affair
  3. Jenny Han — Since You’ve Been Gone and PS I Still Love You
  4. Naomi Novik — Uprooted
    • cover uprooted
  5. Abigail Haas — Dangerous Girls
    • cover dangerous girls 1
  6. Sarah Ockler — The Summer of Chasing Mermaids
    • cover the summer of chasing mermaids
  7. Renee Ahdieh — The Wrath and the Dawn
    • cover the wrath and the dawn
  8. Zen Cho — Sorcerer to the Crown
    • cover sorcerer to the crown
  9. Oscar Wilde — The Picture of Dorian Gray
    • cover the picture of dorian gray
  10. Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman — Illuminae
    • cover illuminae

What about you? Did you discover any of these authors along with me? Who did you discover that you can’t believe you hadn’t read before?

Happy Tuesday 🙂

Book Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This might be my favorite Maggie Stiefvater book. I can’t stop rereading it.

5/5 stars

cover the scorpio races

Amazon Description

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

My Review

I freaking love this book. I’ve read it, I don’t know, maybe five times? And it doesn’t stop being worth reading again.

The characters are the defining characteristic of this book. Puck Connolly is the BEST. She’s the ultimate sarcastic, take-no-shit YA protagonist, but she also cares deeply for her family. The risk she takes in entering the Scorpio Races is massive, and I appreciate that she actually doubts whether it’s worth it. She’s impulsive and snarky and honestly human—the perfect voice to tell this story from.

Sean Kendrick, her biggest competitor and love interest, is equally complex. He has a love-hate relationship with his life and clearly struggles with issues of poverty and his lack of power over his own destiny. I love that even though he seems like your average broody tough guy, he actually grapples with internal conflicts and isn’t nearly as brave as he wishes he was. His relationship with Corr, his water horse, is beautiful to experience, and his fear of losing her is heart-wrenching.

The romance in this book is swoon-worthy. Puck and Sean’s relationship develops at a slow and realistic pace, but by the end, it is clear that the two of them share a deep emotional bond—and that it has changed both of them. Seeing Sean’s transformation as he slowly warms to Puck, then falls for her is a-freaking-dorable—and vice versa with Puck. Their romance is slow-burn perfection, and it never overpowers the other plot lines, though it helps them along.

The Scorpio Races is more than a romance, though. Both Sean and Puck face their own plot lines, culminating in the races. There is prevalent commentary on societal sexism; empathizing with Puck’s plight will make a feminist out of you (if you somehow aren’t one already). Poverty and the rich-vs-poor divide also figure prominently into the plot.

As always, Maggie Stiefvater’s writing is incredible. The world-building is gorgeous, and every character gets their own personality. Though the pacing of TSR is moderate, I couldn’t put it down; the plot is addictive without resorting to dramatic battle scenes or cliff-hanger gimmicks. There are scenes that will make you laugh, scenes that will make you tear up, and scenes that will make you angry.

I would recommend this book to fans of emotional stories with subtle-but-amazing romances. TSR has fantasy elements, a vaguely historical setting, and contemporary plot concerns—making it perfect for basically every book lover. Seriously, if you haven’t read this book, GO READ IT. You’ll have a new bookish happy place. 🙂

Why I Love Broken Spines and Crinkled Pages

Before you start yelling–yes, I know, that was a controversial title, but bear with me.

Recently, Ava @ Bookishness and Tea had a post on her blog where she wondered if being a book blogger has made her shallow. Basically, before becoming a book blogger, she didn’t care what her books looked like, but now that she is incredibly protective of her books’ physical appearances, sometimes to a ridiculous extent.

I connected with a lot of the things she said. I love having my bookshelves look pristine. I love it when I get a new copy of a book and it is perfect, and I’ve gotten angry when books I’ve ordered come less-than perfect, even if they are still in pretty good shape. I never read books with the dusk jacket on because I want it to stay safe  so that it will be forever gorgeous on my shelf.

However, I also love it when my books get worn out. I actually pride some of my favorite books in being so worn that you can barely read the spines. Which got me thinking…

Why do I simultaneously love perfect and well-worn books?

Loving perfect books is simpler to understand, so I’ll start with that one. This applies to hardcover books more often for me, because it is actually possible to keep dusk jackets pristine (basically, never let them leave the house). Hardcover books in shiny dusk jackets are gorgeous–I think all of us can agree. They photograph well, look cohesive when they are a part of a series, and give bookshelves an air of “aren’t you jealous of how pretty I am.”

My gorgeous TOG books (which for some reason don't include TOG itself)
My gorgeous TOG books (which for some reason don’t include TOG itself)

Sometimes I try to keep books in pristine condition because I know that they will be important to me. If I can tell that I love a book from the beginning pages, or if it is part of a beloved series, I am more likely to take care of it as I read it. I’ll have visceral reactions to getting food smudges on pages or accidentally crumpling pages. It is a way to show respect for the book, to keep it in good condition.

However, I cannot keep all of books in perfect condition. I read in the morning while I eat breakfast, so there are some crumbs/smudges on my pages. I’ve never been one to dog-ear pages or write in books, but my books do get crammed in my backpack, under my lunchbox and pummeled by the constant in-and-out of binders and notebooks through my backpack. Paperbacks get their covers bent, some pages get accidentally smeared. And for the most part, this sucks.

these books are in gorgeous condition, right?
these books are in gorgeous condition, right?
wrong... (under the dusk jackets)
wrong… (under the dusk jackets)

However, some of my favorite books–the ones that I should logically want to look perfect–are absolutely destroyed. I’ve considered re-buying them to have nicer copies, but even the idea of replacing these worn-out books freaks me out. I love how worn these books are.

Why?

For me, a book being worn-out means that it has been read over and over. Most of my favorite books have been read by my sister, my mom, my grandmother, and me. I’ve also reread most of these books at least twice, probably three times–and my sister has done the same. The wear doesn’t come from not loving the books or accidents, it comes from love.

these books have been read a LOT
these books have been read a LOT

A book cannot be read upwards of a dozen times without showing it. Spines break. Covers fade. My favorite book even has a page that has completely fallen out and is tucked into the right place like a bookmark.

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whoops…

Then there are the intentional marks: favorite quotes underlined, favorite scenes bookmarked with Post-It notes. Happy faces and hearts penciled into margins. Little details you missed the first time you read it discovered the second and marked for the third.

In these crumpled pages and broken spines are signs that these books have been loved, not just by me, but by my entire family. There is history trapped in these books, and to replace them in the name of cleanliness would destroy that history. When I see these worn-out books, I smile, because they make me remember just how much I’ve loved them throughout the years.

So yes, if I buy a book today, I want it to be perfect. I want it to stand proudly on my bookshelf. I’ll be angry if the pages get smashed or if the dusk jacket gets bent.

But if in five years that book has been read so many times that its pages are marked with love and its spine is broken, I’ll also be happy. I’ll be proud. And don’t you dare take it away from me.


What do you think? Are any of your beloved books worn out? I’d love to hear your thoughts!