February Book Haul

I’m trying to keep my book buying to a minimum this year while I catch up on reading what I bought last year, but of course, there are always exceptions. Part of the problem is that I refuse to stop borrowing books from the library (and other sources) even as I’m trying to eliminate unread books from my shelves, and thus as I’m introduced to more new books that I’m borrowing, I discover more that I want to add to my own collection. That was my biggest obstacle to restraint this month

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  1. The Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare, consisting of Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess. Since I last read any of these books, the new paperback versions with the cool spines came out. When I started rereading Cassandra Clare this year and loved having my own copy of City of Bones (even though I have the original, less attractive copy with the torso on the cover) and wanted to buy more, my first thought was to purchase this trilogy because I remember liking it even more than the Mortal Instruments. Also because then I would have the set in time to read my own copies when I got around to these three in publication order.
  2. The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, consisting of City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels, City of Lost Souls, and City of Heavenly Fire. I loved the new paperbacks of the other trilogy so much, and I still had four books left to read in this series by the time I found a good sale and ordered these, that I decided it was worth the cost to own them all. I’d almost forgotten just how much I loved the first three books in this series, and I’m loving them even more this time around, so I needed my own books. (Needed. Ha.) I did consider not buying City of Bones because I have an old and beloved copy (it was the first Cassandra Clare book I read), but (this is weird:) I didn’t want the shadowhunter on the new City of Bones spine to feel left out of the group by being shunned from the collection. Also the background image spans all six books, so the picture would have been incomplete without it. Other than two books from the Harry Potter set, City of Bones is now the only book I own two copies of.
  3. Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough. This was my February Book of the Month Club pick. I was in the mood for a thriller and this one was labeled as a thriller with such a great twist at the end that it was impossible to see it coming. Since I love books that are unpredictable, this sounded perfect. I’ve actually just finished reading it so stay tuned for my upcoming review!
  4. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood. One of my favorite perks of Book of the Month Club is that every month two books can be added to the monthly box for only $10 each–any hardcovers from previous months that are still in stock. I have a feeling that by the end of the year I’ll be utilizing this extra feature regularly, so I’m trying to take it easy as the year begins, but I couldn’t pass up their limited edition publication of BOTM’s 2016 book of the year. This one was already on my to-read list, and I know I’m not going to be able to get around to reading it until probably summer at least, but I’m glad to have this special edition of BOTM’s first ever book of the year on hand for when I find time to start reading it.
  5. The Girl Before by JP Delaney. Again, I will admit I’ve been in a thriller mood lately so as I’ve had my eye on new releases, this one stood out. I managed a pretty good discount on this one with my Barnes and Noble membership, so I couldn’t resist the purchase. Although there wasn’t room for this one on my official TBR for next month, I’m hoping I’ll find some extra time to fit it in sometime in March or April, while it’s still pretty new. It has something to do with a strange house or apartment or some place of residence where the new girl living there is learning strange things about the girl who was there before, and of course finds connections between them.
  6. Every Day by David Levithan. I picked this one up on the same Barnes and Noble trip. I’ve been seeing this one around for years, but something about the title and the cover art just never drew my attention enough to actually look into its plot. When I took the time to read its synopsis lately–a boy who wakes up every day in a different body, in love with the same girl in the same body–I realized it was actually a perfect choice for me as I fit more of the YA I’ve missed in the last few years into my reading schedule. There’s nothing actually wrong with the cover art, of course, so I picked this one up for its story and I have a feeling that the cover will grow on me. Also, David Levithan is a pretty big name in YA fiction, and I’ve only read one book he’s co-authored (Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which I liked but didn’t love, also written by John Green). If I end up liking this one as much as I expect, I’ll probably branch out to more of Levithan’s work.
  7. The Fireman by Joe Hill. This one has been on my radar for months, ever since I realized that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. I like Stephen King’s books (mostly, based on what I’ve read) and I admire his writing style (even in the books I didn’t like as much), so the fact that his son is also a writer immediately caught my interest. This was the first Joe Hill title I looked at, and based on the synopsis I knew I didn’t have to look any farther for a first Hill read. It’s been a few months now, as I’ve mentioned, so I don’t remember much about it, but I know it’s the same sort of horror/sci-fi genre that I loved from Stephen King’s books and the protagonist sounded particularly intriguing. I think he has some kind of special superpower/talent related to starting fires. Even when I like Stephen King’s plots, I often dislike his protagonists, so I couldn’t pass up one that sounded so promising. When I read this, I’m going to make an effort not to form any opinions about it based on my already-established Stephen King opinions, and I did think this story sounded immersive and unique enough that I won’t have to struggle with that too much. I’m highly looking forward to checking this one out more in depth.

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And that’s a wrap on my February book haul. I would have been pretty proud of my restraint if it hadn’t been for the Cassandra Clare books. Most of those were available at my library, so buying them all was a true moment of weakness. No regrets though. Even those I found on a good sale through Book Outlet, and the other books were free/cheap from my BOTM subscription and mostly covered between my Barnes and Noble membership discounts and a leftover gift card. So I feel like I made smart book buying choices, at least, which is probably more to the point than just cutting myself off completely.

How do you make yourself stick to a book-buying ban? Is there such a thing as too many books? Is that even a possibility…

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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March TBR

February flew by. I had too many reading ambitions and not enough time. I did work through all 8 books on my official Feb. TBR, but it was nowhere near the insanely great month I had in January. March, however, is slightly longer and I have big plans. BIG reading plans. This is my official TBR for the month:

  1. City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare. I’m actually currently reading Clare’s Clockwork Angel, the book that comes before Fallen Angels in publication order, so technically I’ll be reading these both. I’m reading all of Cassandra Clare’s books this year in publication order, and Fallen Angels is the next one on my list–the fifth published, and the fourth in the Mortal Instruments trilogy. I really enjoyed rereading the first three books in this series, and I know I love the Infernal Devices, but I’m a little nervous about how this second half of the Mortal Instruments will go–it seems like it could hold a lot of potential, but it could also start to feel like what was originally a trilogy will be drug out to long, so I’m curious to see where this one will lead me.
  2. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo. I thought it would make sense to only be reading one big series at a time, but I couldn’t put off the Grishaverse any longer; I read the first book in this trilogy in February and plan to continue with this sequel in March. I’m really enjoying this world and its characters so far (other than Alina at times, I hope she improves), so I’m looking forward to continuing onward.
  3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This is my designated classic of the month. I’ve actually started this book previously, but I was busy with college things so it was back-burnered after three chapters. I’m planning to start over and read it all the way through this month, and this is probably the classic I’m most excited to be reading this year. I know it’s a romance, and I’ve read Wuthering Heights previously, by another Bronte sister, so I have high hopes for this one as well.
  4. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. I wasn’t planning to pick this mystery up in March, but I saw it on the new arrivals shelf at my local library when I went in to request my holds for the month, and I couldn’t pass it up. A lot of the library books I read come through inter-library loan because all of the towns around my home are small and have to share copies of books. I have a weakness for checking out unplanned reads when I spot anything that’s been on my radar on the new releases shelf because I just get so excited that something I want to read has actually found its way to my library. So I placed my holds and added this one on extra even though I’d already planned for more than what’s on the rest of this list and was feeling a little overwhelmed by everything I wanted to be reading in March. But I’m excited for it anyway.
  5. Caraval by Stephanie Garber. This YA fantasy book was a new release in January of this year, and I put a hold on it at my library before it was even published but it’s taken this long for me to get my hands on it. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this one, and getting into this one while it’s new will give me extra incentive to also get around to reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern soon, which has been a goal for a long time. I wish I could have read The Night Circus first, but it took me too long to make time for it and I wanted to read this new release before it wasn’t new anymore. I’ve already missed that chance with The Night Circus.
  6. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I’ve been getting back into YA these past few months because I think that age bracket has really improved its literary options in the past few years while my interest dwindled. I’ve been rekindling my love for YA lit with some great newer releases, and this one (although not quite as new as some of my other picks) came highly recommended by a trusted friend who gave me a beautiful copy for Christmas.
  7. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. This book is quickly becoming a YA staple, and when I almost bought it at a bookstore last month I realized that I’m finally ready to actually read it. While I didn’t end up buying my own copy, I picked one up at the library soon after and plan to read it this month. It looks a little morbid, a little sad, and also a little heat-warming, so I’m excited to dive in.
  8. The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I’m currently writing an NA science fiction book, and feel that I need to read more adult sci-fi/fantasy before I make final edits and send the manuscript on. (Recommendations are highly appreciated!) This trilogy is one I’ve really been wanting to get into for a couple of months now, and I guess I’ve just given up on trying to finish one series before I start another this year. I don’t really know what this one’s about anymore, but I remember reading the synopsis and thinking it sounded absolutely perfect, so I’m happy to go in blind. I also know that this one has been turned into a TV show, and I’m all about those book to TV show adaptations, so I’m adding the show as well to my upcoming plans.

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Eight books was also my goal for February, and I didn’t read much past that, so I thought I’d stick with the same number for March. Although this next month will be a little longer, some of my TBR choices are also a little longer this month, so eight feels like a realistic goal. I’m enough ahead of my Goodreads goal for 2017 that I don’t even need to read this many, but I’m enthused about all of these books–so enthused that I can’t wait another month to read them. I know that I can read YA and thrillers faster than some other books, so I think a lot of these will actually go pretty quick. As usual, I have a couple back-burner choices in mind in case I actually finish all of these with time to spare, but these are my highest priorities for March and I’m determined to read them all. My track record for 2017 TBR lists is good, so here’s to hoping.

Have you read any of these books? What are you reading in March?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Shadow and Bone

I’ve been wanting to start reading the Grisha trilogy for months–but I was always in the middle of another series or had something else higher on my list. February 2017 was the month I finally decided that it didn’t matter what else I was in the middle of–and so I read Leigh Bardugo’s first book in the Grisha trilogy, Shadow and Bone.

shadowandboneAbout the book: Alina Starkov is an ordinary mapmaker–or so she believes. Her best friend, Mal, is Ravka’s best tracker, and she’s secretly in love with him. When they are attacked by a flock of hungry volcra while trying to cross the Shadow Fold and Mal’s life is threatened, a bright warm light fills the Shadow Fold and scares back the volcra. Only one of the magical Grisha could have manifested a power like that, but the other people crossing the Fold say the light came from Alina. She tries to tell them all there’s been a mistake, but the Darkling, head of all the Grisha, tests her himself. Not only does the Darkling remove Alina from her life and job and friends, but it seems he’s had plans for her powers since the moment they’re confirmed. With a little training, Alina might be the one who can finally destroy the Shadow Fold and make Ravka a safe country to cross again–or she could cause further destruction. Unsure of whether she’ll ever see Mal again, unsure of the Darkling’s intentions, and unsure of her own capabilities, Alina is thrust into a whole new world she’s only ever glimpsed from the outside, and she’ll have to choose her alliances carefully if she wants to survive.

“I had no idea what the future held or what waited for me at the end of this grueling journey and yet, somehow, I wasn’t miserable. I’d been lonely my whole life, but I’d never been truly alone before, and it wasn’t nearly as scary as I’d imagined.”

It took me exactly two chapters to become addicted to this story. I knew I would love this book, but in the first two chapters the reader is hit with a lot of names and new terms, a lot of place descriptions and rules for how this magical world functions. It’s not presented as confusingly as it may seem from that description, but it is a lot to take in. Once the basics are laid out, though, things start to happen very quickly. It’s a magical, adventurous, sometimes romantic tale of self-discovery.

The best part, for me, was the characters. There were times I wanted to roll my eyes at Alina because all she’s lacking is self-confidence and without anything happening but her realization of ‘oh yeah, wait, I can actually do this,’ suddenly she becomes very powerful. This is a lesson she has to learn more than once, and there really is no obstacle but herself, which was frustrating to read. Otherwise, I loved the characters. I knew the Darkling had to be evil (although it would be highly intriguing for the evil-sounding name to belong to the good guy for once), but there was a time when the narration made it easy to see his good sides; every villain needs a little hero in them, and vice versa, to become a really strong character. They make so much more of an impact when the character has seen both sides of morality and ends up picking one over the other.

“The first time I’d entered the Fold, I’d feared the darkness and my own death. Now, darkness was nothing to me, and I knew that soon death would seem like a gift. I’d always known I would have to return to the Unsea, but as I looked back, I realized that part of me had anticipated it. I had welcomed the chance to prove myself and–I cringed when I thought of it–to please the Darkling. I had dreamed of this moment, standing by his side. I had to believe in the destiny he’d laid out for me, that the orphan no one wanted would change the world and be adored for it.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I knew I would love this book, and I was still not prepared for how much I loved this book. One of the biggest attractions for me, however, was the feel of the setup in this one. Usually the first book in a fantasy series/trilogy has less plot, more world-building, so I wasn’t surprised to see that here; but really the whole book felt like it was just creating this great potential for the next parts. Shadow and Bone shows the pieces of the puzzle (although there must be more new elements still to come, as well), but now that I’ve seen the parts individually, I want to see the whole picture, the final outcome, in whatever happens next. The elements–character, world, magic functions–drew me in in this first book, but I’m highly anticipating diving into the sequel of this trilogy next month because I suspect they’re going to mix together to brew up some great plot points moving forward. At least, they better. This book brought in the storm clouds, but I’m hoping the storm will actually hit in the next volume–which it must, considering the title is Siege and Storm. I can’t wait to dive in to the sequel next month.

Further recommendations:

  1. Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury has a lot of similar elements and emotions as Shadow and Bone. It’s also set in a magical world with powerful characters, some who use their positions for good and some for evil. ACOMAF is the second book in Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series, but I didn’t like the first book as much. It felt more predictable and far-fetched, although it was still a fun read. The greatness lies in the second book, and if you’re a Grisha fan who hasn’t read the ACOTAR books yet, I highly recommend pushing through the first book to experience all the magic of the second. The third comes out in May, so… tick tock!
  2. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you won’t be at all surprised to see this next recommendation–Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. Brown’s trilogy was one of my absolute favorite reads of 2016, and I recommend it at every possible chance. Although it’s more dystopian than magical, it shares a lot of similarities with Shadow and Bone–complex characters, killer plot twists, tense fights, and a brand new world. This one takes place on Mars, and while the main character is made rather than born a powerful creature, he’s strong and fallible and irresistible.

What’s next: I’m currently reading my Book of the Month Club pick for February, Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes. Supposedly it’s a thriller with a super twist ending, which I’m really excited for because I love unpredictable endings. So far I’ve just been getting acquainted with the characters, who all seem pretty interesting and thriller-esque. I can’t wait to see where this one’s going.

What books are you ending this short month of reading with?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: You can now read my review on the next book in this series, Siege and Storm!

Review: Wink Poppy Midnight

I’m not usually one for cover buys. I let a beautiful/ugly cover capture or remove my attention, but I won’t every buy a book just because it looks nice. That said, Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke was a close call. I was relieved to be so interested in the premise  and reviews I found about this book, because the cover was definitely tempting enough on its own.

About the book: Wink is one of seven winkpoppymidnightchildren who live in a big farmhouse two miles outside of town. Nothing ever bothers her, and though her peers think her weird, she’s unfailingly patient and kind. Poppy is the bully who’s determined to flap the unflappable Wink, and to win back her boyfriend. She treated him like dirt too, but he was her dirt and she won’t let him go until she’s done with him. Midnight is the unlucky boy who was in love with Poppy for a year and finally broke things off by moving out of town. Two miles isn’t quite far enough to be rid of Poppy, though, and now that he’s living next to Wink, it’s easier for her to target them both. A nearby house that’s been abandoned and is supposedly haunted sees the worst of the battle between the three, and none of them will ever be the same.

The hook for this story is printed on the cover: “A hero. A villain. A liar. Who’s who?” Personally, this was enough for me to pick up the book. I love stories in which the reader is able to feel close with the characters and still be uncertain about who they are.

“All the strangest stories are true.”

This book certainly is strange. I wouldn’t quite call it magical, but certainly many aspects seem unreal. People disappear without a trace for no apparent reason. Violence and cruelty are common and often overlooked. Parents are absent. Children with a home and a mother are referred to as Orphans. Girls who look nothing alike dress in matching striped socks and appear to be twins. Every name is quirky and unquestioned. (My favorite character is Leaf, who, unfortunately, is a central character without first-person narration.)

And yet I’m not sure I would quite call it atmospheric, either. There are plentiful descriptions, and the place feels as alive as the people who inhabit it, but much of the elaborate language is used to describe emotion. The writing is very visceral, very blunt and unashamed of revealing the best and worst of every character. The plot is sporadic at best, but the level of detail with which each scene and event is described is meticulous. Metaphorical phrases are presented in oddly literal ways.

“I was sixteen and I wasn’t sure I had a heart, until it f***ing broke in two, ripped shreds and veins and blood everywhere.”

At heart, Wink Poppy Midnight is a study in character. From the beginning and throughout much of the book, the lines between hero and villain and liar are clearly drawn, but by the end of the story no one fits into the space that has been carved out for them. Perhaps the ultimate message of the book is that everyone has a little hero/villain/liar in them. Everyone changes with time. Each of these characters will surprise the reader as expected roles are broken.

“She was scared. She was genuinely scared. I wanted to take her hand and lead her back outside. I wanted to walk her home, and tuck her into bed, and make her feel safe. But I couldn’t. I was the hero.”

Although I couldn’t find a clear plot to carry me through the story with a major question or point of intrigue, everything did lead to one climactic moment and its dissolution gave the story its purpose. Despite the lack of sequential plot points, the characters and the odd nature of both the setting and the narration keep the reader moving forward with curiosity. The characters are extremes, almost more symbolic than realistically visual, but they are, nonetheless, compelling. There’s a little something in each of them for the reader to identify with.

“I thought of myself so little that I began to worry that I’d been the only thing keeping myself in existence…and now that I wasn’t the center of my attention I’d disappear, poof into thin air, and no one would ever know.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. Despite several aspects I particularly enjoyed about this book, its lack of a driving plot and the unreality of it all kept me from becoming fully invested in this story. I found the characters intriguing, the descriptions colorful, and the short chapters easily readable, and yet I had to coax myself to keep reading. If this book hadn’t been so small I might not have made it through. Wink Poppy Midnight made some great points about character and went about making them in an interesting way, but it lacked the spark of excitement that would have made it great for me.

Further recommendations:

  1. If the quirky presentation of this story is the most appealing aspect for you, try Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, a more clearly plotted novel that begins a wonderfully odd and fantastic series featuring a group of misfits on an epic quest for a dead king in a magical town.
  2. If the characters of this story are the element that calls to you, try The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis. Also narrated from three first-person perspectives including two girls and a boy, this book focuses on danger brewing in a small town and the interconnected lives of the incomparable teens who come closest to it.

What’s next: I’m currently reading Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, the first book in the Grisha trilogy. I’m planning to read all of the Grishaverse books this year and I’m getting my start this month with Bardugo’s first YA fantasy novel. So far I’m loving the characters and their experiences with the “small science,” and I can’t wait to see what happens with the Darkling. With a name like that he must be evil, but… he hides it well. I think I’ll finish this book tonight because I’m absolutely hooked!

Have you read any of the Grisha books? I hear they just keep getting better.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Saint Anything

I’ve been reading Sarah Dessen’s books since I was twelve years old. Honestly, I think nostalgia for how much I loved them at that time is a big part of the reason I keep reading them even past my YA contemporary appreciation days. I almost didn’t even pick up Saint Anything because her last release, The Moon and More, didn’t impress me much. But I loved the carousel cover and it was the only one I hadn’t read–so I picked up Saint Anything last week.

saintanythingAbout the book: Sydney’s brother is in jail. That’s the first thing anyone thinks when they look at her, and she can’t seem to escape his infamous legend of misbehavior. Even at home her parents only see her as another possible delinquent, when they see her at all. She thinks switching schools will give her the fresh start she needs, but really it’s the family at the pizza parlor across the street from her new school who make her see that there truly is more to her life than her brother. Layla befriends Sydney immediately, but it’s Layla’s brother, Mac, who really catches Sydney’s attention. The three become close friends, along with the rest of their group, and even Layla and Mac’s parents forge a healthy relationship with her that Sydney is lacking with her own parents. It isn’t quite enough for Sydney to forget what her brother has done, or even necessarily forgive him for the far-reaching consequences of his actions that have affected her own life, but it opens her eyes to change and reminds her that there’s more than one side to every situation.

“When faced with the scariest of things, all you want is to turn away, hide in your own invisible place. But you can’t. That’s why it’s not only important for us to be seen, but to have someone to look for us, as well.”

This book starts a little slow; it’s full of abstracts and background that feel somewhat forced, but past the first couple of chapters the story takes off with the usual atmosphere and depth of character that Sarah Dessen’s novels often employ. Sydney, her brother Peyton, and her friends Leyla and Mac, are complex and fully present in the story, and ultimately drive the plot forward with their development. Saint Anything is an exploration of family and blame, love and accountability. It’s an introspective look at a difficult situation–a brother spending time in jail–while also closely examining more common and relatable themes: how to be a younger sibling without being overshadowed, how to deal with overprotective parents, how to secure the right kind and amount of attention every child deserves from their family and friends.

This book is no soap opera of tragic betrayals and unlikely events. It doesn’t follow the typical YA romance structure. It’s a novel about an ordinary teen living an unexpected life, and learning, as we all must do, how to keep moving forward.

“That was just it. You never knew what lay ahead; the future was one thing that could never be broken, because it had not yet had the chance to be anything. One minute you’re walking through a dark woods, alone, and then the landscape shifts, and you see it. Something wondrous and unexpected, almost magical, that you never would have found had you not kept going. Like a new friend who feels like an old one, or a memory you’ll never forget. Maybe even a carousel.”

Best aspect: all of the food. The pizza parlor in which Sydney meets her new friends is a key setting in this novel, as is the truck Mac drives for deliveries. Layla is a french fry connoiseur, and everyone loves lollipops. There are plentiful food scenes to leave readers’ mouths watering, and they make this book feel as much like a meal at times as a novel. Reading about water in any form–drinkable or not–make me unbearably thirsty, but reading about food is like experiencing all the deliciousness without any of the calories.

Worst aspect: the creepy family friend who keeps trying to work his way farther into Sydney’s life. I had difficulty pinpointing how Sydney’s brother or parents could have befriended this guy, but more importantly I hated that Sydney kept having “bad feelings” about him that her peers obviously shared and not even trying to talk to her parents about him. At some point, she should have told them outright that he makes her uncomfortable. She should have described the awkward situations he puts her into outside of their supervision. I understood why this guy had a place in the story, but I didn’t understand why Sydney was so hesitant to make her parents see what the problem was. I could see how she would think they wouldn’t believe her easily, but I thought she was a strong enough character to at least try making her case, and I wish she would have done so sooner.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I was afraid at first that I had grown out of my enjoyment of Sarah Dessen books, but once I got past the awkward start and into the meat of the novel I was surprised by how much I cared for the characters and how invested I was in their futures. I read this book even faster than I thought I would, and was even sad when it ended. I will probably be picking up Dessen’s next upcoming release later this year because I had such a good experience with Saint Anything. This isn’t a book for everyone–the romance is definitely a slow-burn one, and even that isn’t the main focus of this story. I suppose I would label it as a coming-of-age book, primarily focused on discovering self-identity and voice.

Further recommendations:

  1. If you’re interested in reading more Sarah Dessen works, try my personal favorite, The Truth About Forever. This one also deals with difficulty communicating with parents, but it also explores grief, loss, and heartbreak. Macy’s mother expects perfection from her, but nothing in Macy’s life feels perfect after the death of her dad, the loss of her boyfriend, and the realization that her mother doesn’t seem to have time for her. This one involves a catering company and thus contains just as much food as Saint Anything, plus I thought many of the characters–especially the love interest–were stronger in this one.
  2. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is another great contemporary YA choice, especially if the romances are your favorite parts of Sarah Dessen’s books. This one’s not quite as slow and deals with more difficult and timely topics, like diversity, poverty, and abuse, but it still has all the cuteness of a Sarah Dessen book.

What’s next: I’ve just finished reading April Genevieve Tcholke’s Wink Poppy Midnight, a YA book about three characters who live in a mountain town and find all sorts of odd trouble. One is a hero, one is a villain, and one is a liar–but none of them are exactly who you think. One thing is clear though–these three will leave destruction in their wake as they try to figure out their identities.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Top 25 Favorite Books 2017 Ed.

Every year in February I update my list of Top 25 Favorite Books of All Time.

I scroll through past lists (check out my Top 25 from Feb. 2016!) and my reads from the last year, combining old choices with new for one master list that best reflects (for one year, at least) my favorite books of all time. My goal is to eventually produce a solid, unchanging list, and it certainly gets harder every year to narrow it down to the right number, but every year I end up with books that I think are my all-time favorites but end up being easily replaced the next year. Don’t get me wrong–favorite books of the year are important too (check out my faves of 2016), but I’m aiming for something more permanent with this list.

It’s also difficult to avoid accumulating a list of the most influential books in my life when I’m looking at long-term favorites, because there’s also a difference between beloved books and books that have made an impact–not that the two don’t overlap in places, but again, not what I’m aiming for with this list. I don’t currently have a compiled list of most influential books, but that’s something that I’m anticipating compiling this year.

A disclaimer: I love these all too much to sort my list in order of favoritism, so I’ve listed them loosely in order of age range, starting with middle grade books and ending with adult books and classics. With that, here’s my 2017 list of Top 25 Favorite Books of All Time.

  1. The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis.  The Chronicles of Narnia was the first fantasy series I read, way back in 2002 (and a few times since), and it will probably always have a home on this favorites list. This first book (chronologically), has always been my favorite of the seven in this series because it shows a beginning for Narnia as well as a glimpse into so many other worlds that exist in this system. I was outraged that the movie makers skipped this book when they started making Narnia films.
  2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling. Last year I had a different J. K. Rowling book on this list, but I think it’s time to admit that nothing will ever truly surpass Harry Potter as a favorite. It’s so obvious, but… it has to be here. I’ve also jumped around through the series trying to decide which of the seven books to list, and this year I’ve landed on the third. Sirius Black is one of my favorite characters, and I love books that play with time, so The Prisoner of Azkaban seemed like an obvious choice.
  3. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. This was my first Dessen read, at age 12, and although I’ve had other Dessen favorites, this one has always been at the top of that list. There may be other great YA contemporaries, but Dessen’s characters always feel so imperfectly real and learn lessons about individuality and perfectionism, as in this book, as well as other relatable challenges teens face. It’s an ordinary story, but an extraordinary read. Also, Dessen does this cool thing where old characters take mention in new books; two of the main characters of this one do appear in a later Dessen story, as well as other small honorable mentions.
  4. Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Here is another fantasy book I read early in my life, and I still reread this one almost every year because it’s so short and sweet and contains a little of all of my favorite story elements in bite-sized doses. It teaches the value of equality and peace, but it’s also a fun read full of powerful and exotic characters with dark pasts.
  5. Burned by Ellen Hopkins. Ellen Hopkins was an author who showed me as a teen that some teens have had it a whole lot worse than I did–a reminder I needed in my days of teen angst. Her books are brutally real and don’t shy away from pain, tragedy, and betrayal. The world is an unfair place; Hopkins’ books display that facet of life, and they do it in verse. I loved the layout of this book, and the way it was told, but even if this hadn’t been my first Hopkins read it undoubtedly would’ve always been my favorite. When the sequel was released unexpectedly years later, I bought it immediately and loved it almost as much.
  6. Looking for Alaska by John Green. Not only was this Green’s first book published, but it was also the first of his books that I read. It motivated me to read every other book of Green’s published since then, but none of them have hit me quite the same way. This book is a masterpiece of character and grief, adventure and love, and it’s definitely had a lasting impact on me. This is one of the first books on this list that I would reread if I had to pick from among these 25 favorites.
  7. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. This book–and its entire 4-book series–were nothing like I expected. I decided to give the first book a try based on its popularity, and ended up reading all four books as quickly as I could fit them into my schedule. I love books that mix reality with the impossible, and this one does that perfectly. Each character is perfectly mined for depth, and their shared goal is unique and as fun as it is frightening. The plot never quite goes where the reader thinks it will, and the quirky writing makes the narration feel like a meandering stream–it will certainly reach its destination, but it will take its own path getting there.
  8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I put this one off for a while because I didn’t think I knew enough about video games and 80s pop culture to do this one justice. However, after picking it up I decided I knew just enough, and that the plot more than made up for any references that didn’t connect for me. Despite its popularity, I never would’ve guessed that a book about the ultimate video game would be so immersive and addicting.
  9. Atonement by Ian McEwan. Although much of this story sticks with me, it was the metafictional element that initially struck my interest with this book. It is easy to become swept away in the romance and tragedy of this storyline, but my favorite part is that one of the characters inside the book admits that its a fictional story and explains why–but even her explanation is fictional. This foray into metafiction is an example of an influential read in my life, but the fact that I still remember the plot and would love to experience it all over again nearly ten years later is all the proof I need to see that this one is also a favorite.
  10. Golden Son by Pierce Brown. It was Brown’s assertion in the acknowledgements at the front of his first book that readers would “bloodydamn love these books” that convinced me to read his Red Rising trilogy. I didn’t have to read far to know he was absolutely right. The characters in this series are some of my most-loved characters of all time because they’re so layered and complex. No one is clearly good or evil, but they’re all involved in a whole lot of action. Despite the crazy cliff-hanger at the end of this one (or maybe because of it) this second book stood out to me as the best of the bunch. These are the betrayals I hate to love but can’t resist.
  11. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. I rediscovered thrillers last year, and in so doing, unearthed a new favorite author. I will henceforth be buying every single one of Ruth Ware’s new releases. I had such a difficult time choosing between the two already published for this list, and in the end I chose the one that had the warmer setting–it was that arbitrary a choice between this one and In a Dark, Dark Wood. This one was tense straight from the beginning, and unlike many thrillers, I would definitely read this one again, even before I’ve forgotten the plot twists.
  12. The Girls by Emma Cline. This is another book that didn’t go quite as I expected. I had thought there would be more of a thriller or at least mystery aspect to this one, but in the end I was glad that the story leaned more toward a testament on what it’s like to be a girl, and how someone can become mixed up in danger without even trying. There’s always more to a person than meets the eye, but with this book I was both compelled and disturbed to realize how much I may have in common with someone who has led such a distinctly different life–at least on the surface. Becoming involved in murder never seemed so easy.
  13. Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry. I love layered stories–characters and plots that seem to have nothing in common suddenly finding an unexpected common thread. This book weaves very distinct characters’ lives into one story as layered as an onion. Also, it takes place around the turn of the 20th century, one of my favorite time settings to read about. New York was a dangerous place then–and full of wonder. I’m not sure whether I was more drawn in by the carnival show, the asylum, the backstreets of the city, or the abandoned baby who brings everything together.
  14. 11/22/63 by Stephen King. A little horror fiction is a nice change of pace every now and then, but truly my favorite Stephen King elements are often the science fiction ones–like this mammoth novel about a time-traveling English teacher and his attempts to thwart the Kennedy assassination. The protagonist of this one is possibly my favorite Stephen King protagonist ever, though there are certainly some interesting ones to choose from.
  15. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I’m not sure I would’ve believed a science fiction thriller could be this good if I hadn’t seen it for myself. On top of the compelling characters, this one poses some great ideas for reconsidering the way the world is perceived, which (much like books that toy with time) is an element I can’t resist. Unpredictable reads are the best, and this one certainly hits that mark. When presented with a forked road, the narration instead takes off into the forest, forging its own path–or perhaps climbs a tree or digs a hole to cirumnavigate the choice altogether. I could never see where this one was going, and I loved every page.
  16. Lying by Lauren Slater. This one examines the blurred line between fiction and nonfiction, presented as a memoir in which the narrator states outright that she is lying. Unreliable narrators always capture my attention, and the presence of one of those in a form that should ordinarily be as close to truth as possible is a fantastic exploration. The story is as compelling as the concept behind it. This is one school book I’m immensely glad to have been assigned to read.
  17. Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes. I loved You, the first book in this series. It was like nothing I’ve ever read before, and I never knew which direction it would take next. But this sequel took the whole premise of stalking/murdering protagonist to a whole new place, and left me starved for more. I cannot wait until the next sequel is released, because the cliffhanger at the end of this second book reassures me that a third novel will only take this series to new great heights. It doesn’t seem like there’s much uncharted territory left in fiction, but this sequel definitely found some.
  18. The Secret History by Donna Tart. The premise of this modern classic almost gives away too much, but the beauty of this story lies instead behind the how and why of murdering a friend rather than the fact that it might happen in the first place. I was drawn in by phrases like “secret society” and “hidden murder,” but it was the characters that held my attention through the ups and downs that led to a cruel murder and its concealment.
  19. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This wasn’t my first Atwood read, nor was it my last, but it certainly stood out as a modern classic in a dystopian world that didn’t feel as foreign as it once might have. The premise of this book is horrifyingly interesting, but it was the fate of the main character that sealed the deal for this book receiving a spot on this list. There’s a little room left for speculation at the end–a favorite move of mine–but I have my own opinion on which way it was meant to go.
  20. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. As one of the first classics I read, I was surprised by how much I liked this one for its plot and atmosphere–it was the first classic I read that didn’t feel old or stuffy, and I’m continually reminded of how captivating the characters are each time I come into contact with this story. This book also contains my favorite final sentence of any novel.
  21. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. Another mandatory read from school, I was surprised by my enjoyment of this classic, as well. With a bit of an American-dream-gone-wrong feel, this book is a cautionary tale as well as an entertaining one. Many books have a tendency to wrap up the ending so neatly that they feel unreal–and I live for fiction that has the aura of reality; so the ending of this one caught my attention and pulled everything together. Here are characters who don’t know what they’re doing or where they’re going, and maybe they’ll never quite get to where they want to be, but that’s what makes them worth reading about.
  22. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Unstable minds are almost as appealing for me as warped time or other bends in reality. “Normal” is so close you can almost taste it in this book, but the narrator can’t quite seem to cross the line back into neutral territory. I think it’s worth remembering that trying so hard to succeed can just as easily drive one mad as lead to success. Having goals is one thing–pushing oneself to the point of breaking is quite another.
  23. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. As well as an intriguing look at science fiction monsters from the early 1800s, this is a timeless reminder of equality and humanity that every living human should read. Also, for those who’ve been saying it wrong without knowing, as I had mistakenly been, Frankenstein is the scientist, and “Frankenstein’s monster” is the only given name for his undead creation.
  24. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. This was the first classic I ever read, as well as the longest book I had ever read for several years (I think it’s still the third longest). It gives a perspective on the Civil War I hadn’t seen before reading this book, and it was also the first book I read in which I didn’t like the main character much but loved the book regardless. Scarlett O’Hara is selfish and mean, but she’s supposed to be a little unlikable. She’s human. And she’s a survivor. She’s also a bit of a train wreck that it’s impossible to look away from.
  25. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Although it took me two tries to finish this one, and in the end Anna was one of my least favorite characters in the book, I still hold this love story close to my heart. Levin is a particularly compelling character, and even the people I didn’t like as much had great lessons in love and life to impart. The Russian setting is vivid and captivating, and demonstrated to me how much I love Russian literature. I haven’t read nearly enough, but it’s such an interesting place. This book motivated me to broaden my literary horizons, but it also took me on an epic journey through romance and character development that kept me entertained through the morals it had to share.

This has been my Top 25 Favorite Books of All Time–2017 edition. It seems a little counter-intuitive for my updated list of favorites to come so early in the year, but when I first started refining this list I thought it would be a one-time thing rather than an annual event. Every year, though, I go back to the previous year’s list and “perfect” it.

What do you do when someone asks about your favorite book? Can you narrow it down to just one? Do your favorites change over the years? Are any of these on your favorites lists?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

 

Review: City of Glass

This year I’ve been rereading/reading for the first time all of Cassandra Clare’s books, and couldn’t wait to pick up her third book, City of Glass. In fact, I’ve been enjoying them so much that  I went ahead and bought the whole series. On sale, of course. This will be a spoiler-free discussion of the third book, but if you haven’t read books one and two yet, check those out before reading further!

mortalinstruments1-3About the book: Clary has been informed that something in Idris may be able to revive her mother. Jace, however, doesn’t want Clary going somewhere so dangerous and will do almost anything to stop her. Simon would do less, but he gets roped into Jace’s scheme in an unexpected way that keeps him in the center of this novel’s intrigue. Clary, of course, won’t let anyone stop her from doing anything, no matter how much trouble she may find in the process. Clary’s plan to save her mother meets a surprising snag related to Valentine and his… assistant. He’s threatening the Clave even more strongly than usual now that the third mortal instrument is within sight, but there is one way he might be stopped. Even if Valentine is thwarted, though, it won’t change the fact that Clary’s heart is breaking. Or will it?

The Clary/Jace romance in these first three books is probably the strangest romance I’ve ever read. There’s a crazy Clace plot twist in this third book which I remembered from my first read seven years ago. With knowledge of how it ends, I had a lot more patience for all the angst, although I found that knowing where Clary and Jace leave things at the end of this book did not make their strange brother/sister/love relationship any more comfortable for me. It certainly is a unique take on a romance obstacle, though, and I appreciate that. It’s definitely a memorable relationship, if relationship is the correct term for a tortured, incestuous flirtation.

“I love you, and I’ll love you until I die, and it there’s a life after that, I’ll love you then.”

On another note, I do think this volume is less funny than the first two. Jace usually has some good lines, and Simon, but even in general Clare’s sense of humor gave me a good laugh in the first two books. This one, though, is more serious, more emotional, and is a little less laugh-worthy. The heavier subject matter in this one is certainly not a bad element, but I thought the difference in tone worth noting.

It also feels like there’s less action for a good chunk of the middle chapters in City of Glass. There’s some drama involved in the initial travel to Idris, and certainly there’s action toward the end of the book when Valentine’s plans wreak havoc for the entire Shadowhunter community, but in the middle there’s a lot of conversation and traveling from house to house for more conversation and then back to the first house and more talking and then back to the second house for more explanations. It’s mostly important information, and backstory is often described by Clare in a way that puts the reader into a sort of involved story-within-a-story, so it’s by no means boring. It even felt a little more typical of teenaged lifestyle, to be in a town/city in separate homes instead of all under the roof of a single Institute, and thinking that whatever it is the characters need to say is so important that they have to go immediately in person to discuss the matter. Of course, in the Shadowhunting world, some of these details actually are life-or-death scenarios, which keeps things interesting.

The funnest aspect for me stemmed from half-remembering bits of who’s who and what’s what from my previous read–there are so many people in this series who are not who they say or think they are, and I found so much enjoyment in trying to figure out who was lying about what. The good guys have faults, the bad guys have redeeming qualities, and everyone is influential for some reason or other. Clare does a great job of bringing back old characters, or introducing new characters with links to people the reader is already familiar with, so with every new name began a new guessing game. This has probably been one of my favorite series to reread for that reason. Even the characters I had strong impressions of being good or evil I had to second-guess because Clare’s writing excels at disguising a character’s true nature until the key moment of its reveal, making these characters feel more real and intriguing every step of the way.

“People aren’t born good or bad. Maybe they’re born with tendencies either way, but it’s the way you live your life that matters. And the people you know.”

An inspiring note from Clare’s foreword included in the edition I read:

“Clary and her friends are heroes who make their stories true–as, in the end, do well all.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. None of these characters are perfect, but that’s what I find so appealing about them. This is the last book in the Mortal Instruments series that I’ve read previously. I remember reading it the first time and feeling like it had a solid ending, but now that I’ve reread it, I can’t believe I was so satisfied by that ending that I didn’t want to read three more books of Simon and his vampireness, and Isabelle and Alec kicking demon butt, and Jace and Clary… well, doing whatever it is they’ll be doing for the next three books now that they know more about their pasts. I will definitely be reading on in this series as soon as possible (taking into account my already full TBR), but before I dive into City of Fallen Angels, I’ll be picking up the next Cassandra Clare book in publication order, Clockwork Angel. This is the first book in her Infernal Devices trilogy, which I’ve also read several years ago, but I remember it even less than I remembered the Mortal Instruments, except I recall having the impression that I liked it even more than the Mortal Instruments books, so I have high hopes.

Coming up next: I’m currently reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but I’ll only be reviewing that briefly in my monthly wrap-up, so my next review will feature the next book on my TBR, Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything. This one’s about a teen girl who’s brother lands in jail, and to cope she makes friends with a family who runs a local pizza parlor who remind her that she’s got her own life separate from her brother and his (in)famous behavior. I anticipate having this post ready first thing next week, but in the meantime I have a list post for you tomorrow–my Top 25 Favorite Books of All Time. Stay tuned!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now check out my full review of the next book in this series, City of Fallen Angels!