Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Best Books of 2014

We may not have been very good about writing reviews this year but we certainly did our share of reading. So here is our annual list of the best books of the year, split by Rebecca's reviews and mine. Enjoy!

Esso's List:

#1. Alienated by Melissa Landers
Out of all the books I've read in my life, this book is one of the few that actually made me laugh out loud. (Seriously, it was kind of embarrassing.) I love the characters in this story and am looking forward to what might happen next. 

#2. Champion by Marie Lu
I wasn't sure I liked where Lu was going with the story in this last book. However, after finishing it I realized I truly did like it. I even reread the ending multiple times because I felt it was so powerful.

#3. Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
I usually don't read contemporary fiction but this was one of the few exceptions. I'm not sure if it was pregnancy hormones, but this book actually brought me to tears. I ended up reading it again. I highly recommend it. 

#4. Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
As far as series conclusions go, this was a good one. It may not be how I wished things would have turned out, but I can't argue with what happens. It's satisfying even though I still want to pout about it a little.

#5. Uninvited by Sophie Jordan 
I have enjoyed Jordan's other fluffy books and this one was just as good (but not really fluff). The concept is an interesting one and provokes real life questions about DNA and the effect it has on a person's life choices. I'm looking forward to the next book in this series. 

Rebecca's List:

#1. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
      I loved this book because it was a fresh concept.  It mixed adventure, romance, and strong characters together.  What is not to love about assassin nuns?

#2. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
      What is not to love about the continuation of a series you love?  Dark Triumph is a continuation of the Grave Mercy series.  LaFevers characters and setting were believable.  I lost myself in the world and wondered if I, too, could become an assassin nun!

#3. Champion by Marie Lu
     Finally a third book that does not obliterate its companions.  Champion continued the story of the Legend series nicely.  The resolution was very satisfying.  

#4. White Hart by Sarah Dalton
      White Hart was an upbeat, fast-paced, action-packed adventure sprinkled with romance.  Dalton is able to convince you to care for her characters, and the adventure is believable.  This is different than her Blemished series, but I enjoyed it just as much.

#5. Neighborhood Odes by Gary Soto 
      My students write odes every year as part of our Antigone unit.  I wanted more contemporary odes, and Gary Soto delivered.  My favorite ode is the ode to tortillas; it reminds me of my childhood. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Baring One’s Soul: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Just the Facts:

Overall Rating: 4 Stars

Addiction Level:  I ignored the hubby and puppies until I was finished. I almost stayed up all night!

Dystopia Factor:  Eh! It's normal life.


I picked up Love Letters to the Dead on a whim.  The cover and story line enticed me, so the book jumped in my cart. 

On the first day of high school, Laurel’s English teacher asks students to write a letter to a dead person.  Laurel does the assignment but does not turn it in.  Instead she keeps a journal of all the letters she has written…to many dead people.

This was an interesting way to learn about Laurel, her family, her sister’s death, her new life, and friendships.  For the most part I thought the prose style was well-done.  There were a few moments when she told the dead people what they had done that bothered me.  (I know it was for the benefit of readers who did not know whom she was referring to.)  Sometimes she said, remember when…I thought…  I liked this approach better.

What I liked:

  • The truth that grief is all-consuming.  Laurel lost her sister May and was unable to discuss it or think about it.  This book shows the value of friends and family helping you through a tough situation, but sometimes professional help is needed.  When my mom died I went to grief counseling, and it helped a great deal.  I was able to sort out my feelings and see the bigger picture.
  • The raw truth of divorce.  Divorce is awful.  I am not sure anyone really knows how to deal with it, but children suffer more than parents realize.  May tries to make up for her mother’s absence and fails miserably.  Dellaira does not hide or sugarcoat this reality.
  • The reality of Laurel’s mother abandoning her.  Yes, Laurel’s mother was devastated by May’s death but so was the rest of the family.  Selfishly Mom left town to chase after her dreams and grieve.  Dellaira brings to light that Mom’s leaving was abandonment.  Again, no sugarcoating.
  • The importance of taking care of one’s self.  To avoid life people numbed themselves and found other things to busy themselves with.  Because they neglected themselves (and lack of parental support) they got themselves into dangerous situations.
  • The importance of small gestures.  As a teacher I try to know every one of my students, but there is just not enough time or enough of me.  As a result I try to be kind and respectful to all.  Though Laurel’s interaction with her English teacher is brief, the teacher managed to make small impact.  I hope that I, too, positively impact my own students. 

What I disliked:

  • Absence of parents.  I know this is a common young adult trope, but I really wanted all the parents to be more involved.  Perhaps it would not be a very good story if parents were involved?  Although, their absence just reinforces the need to deal with life, grief, and one’s self.  There is a great need for positive parental influence.  Towards the end each set of parents begins to redeem themselves.
  • Partying lifestyle.  Because I was a child who did not party, drink, or do drugs, I do not understand the appeal.  As an adult, I see the futility of it.  While I do not approve of the behavior, the characters came from broken situations and needed to numb themselves.  While it is implicit that such behaviors do not have positive consequences, I wish that were a little more explicit.  Perhaps more parent involvement sooner would have curbed some of this.

Overall I enjoyed Love Letters to the Dead.  It was an enjoyable read, and I look forward to new books from Dellaira.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

For Entertainment Only: The Pirate's Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Just the facts:

Overall: 3 Stars

Addiction Level: I read it every waking moment.

Believe-ability: It was believable.

Dystopia Factor: Eh. It’s “normal” life.

Favorite Quote: “I thought about Naji. Jackass. I thought about myself. Idiot.” (I don’t know why I find this so amusing, but I do.)


            The Pirate’s Wish is the sequel to The Assassin’s Curse and if The Assassin’s Curse was Naji’s book, then The Pirate’s Wish surely belongs to Ananna. The Pirate’s Wish definitely has a different feel to it as we get a better glimpse into the life of Ananna. There is a lot more pirating and sea battles and it seems like Ananna is in charge of things now.

            One of the things I liked best about this series (besides a refreshing story that doesn’t take three or more books to tell) is that the story is simply entertaining. It’s nice to read a story where you feel like the characters are just there to amuse you and provide an escape from our everyday world. Plus, it’s kinda fun to read about pirates (without it being commercialized, if that makes sense).

            There is still a major lack of development to the story and unfortunately some of my questions about Naji remain unanswered, but we finally find out what the “make life out of violence” thing turns out to be and that was pretty entertaining, not terribly believable, but entertaining none the less. So, I’m giving this book 3 stars and a recommendation for those who might just want to sit back and enjoy a story for what it is.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

♥ ♥ ♥ Cover Love ♥ ♥ ♥

I get so excited when I finally get to see the cover for a book I've been waiting for. And recently, covers have come out for not one, but THREE of the books I've been dying to read! I'm so excited that I just have to share with you. Here they are:

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why the Hype?: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Just the facts:

Overall:  2 Stars

Addiction Level: I read it when I had spare time.

Believe-ability: It was believable.

Dystopia Factor: Eh. It’s “normal” life.


            I’m not sure where to start with this book. It seemed to have rave reviews and since I’ve been reading a little bit of realistic fiction I thought I’d give this a try. I was aware that there was quite a bit of colorful language (over 200 swear words, according to this article. It also includes an interview with Rowell on the subject.) before I started and that it was being accosted by those who find joy in banning books. (This, regardless of the way I feel about this book, is not something I support at all.) What I found, however, is that first impressions stick with you, even when you try to lay them aside.

            My first impression of Eleanor & Park was disgust at the amount and variety of vulgar language. (Rowell supports her use of profanity in the above mentioned article, but as a reader I don’t really agree with all she has to say.) I really hate it when authors use profanity and particularly a lot of it. I find that it distracts from the story. Every time I came across string of curse words I was immediately pulled out of the story world and I had to try to force myself back in. It felt like I was involved in some stupid tug of war. Story world versus reality. Reality was pretty strong, by the way.

            After I got past the constant tug of war (which nearly made me quit the book) and finished the story I was mostly dumbfounded at the praise Eleanor and Park’s love story had received. Honestly, I didn’t find it that wonderful. There are plenty of amazing depictions of falling in love in young adult literature. This was not one of them. And that’s saying something – I’m a bit of a sucker for a good love story. (I’m very happily married to my high school sweetheart, at that.)

            What I found most enjoyable about Eleanor & Park was actually Park’s family. (Not the aim of the story I’m sure.) I really enjoyed the relationship that Park’s parents have. Park may have found them embarrassing, but what would the world be like if more parents were in love like they were? Children need the example of their parents to show them what love really is. And it’s good for children to see their parents show affection towards one another.

            Lastly, I will say that there was one scene in the book that really moved me. About half way through the book, Park’s mother comes to him seeking his forgiveness for how she had been treating Eleanor. I loved how, even though it was difficult for her, she realized that her behavior toward Eleanor was not what it should have been and it pains her to realize this. She is very open and honest during this exchange and it quickly became the best part of the book for me. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Enchanted Woods: White Hart by Sarah Dalton

Overall Rating:  4 stars
Addition Level:  I read it every waking moment.
Believe-ability:  The setting is believable.  (I did not want to sleep, because I feared I would be trapped in the Waerg Woods.)


Apocalypse Reads specializes in reviewing dystopian literature.  However, we like to mix up our reading choices.  After reading Eon and Eona several years ago I have been on the hunt for good fantasy literature.  One might say I am on a fantasy binge.  In any event when I saw that Sarah Dalton was looking for reviewers for White Hart, I jumped at the chance.  White Hart satiated my hunger fantasy but left me wanting more with the cliff hanger ending!
White Hart is a story about Mae, an outcast, and her journey of revenge through the Waerg Woods.  Prince Casimir accompanies Mae to retrieve stolen property.  They make an interesting pairing. 
Mae and Casimir discover that the Waerg Woods are enchanted and not in a good way.  They face many evils throughout their journey.  Dalton’s descriptions of the woods made me never, ever want to visit such a forest.  I am not afraid of dying, but I would not want to die a slow, painful death in there!  I was afraid to sleep at night, because I feared I would be able to escape whatever danger awaited Mae and Casimir in Waerg Woods.

What I liked:

  • The way Dalton made me care for characters in the first chapter of the book.  I shed a few tears for the first person who dies. 
  • The way the story kept me involved. I read the story almost nonstop over a weekend.
  • The description of the Waerg Woods.  Dalton had me running scared.  I NEVER EVER want to meet the Nix. 

What I disliked:

  • Mae was a bit whiny and kept making some poor choices.  I have hope that she will grow and redeem herself.
  • It was a bit short.  I wanted needed more! In Dalton’s defense she finished one journey.  However, she put her foot over the line of a new journey and then WHAM-O door closed. (See next bullet point.)
  • The end! Cliff hanger. Need I say anymore?

Many thanks to Sarah Dalton for an ARC. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Not What I Was Expecting: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Just the facts:

Overall: 3 Stars

Addiction Level: I read it when I had spare time.

Believe-ability: It was believable.

Dystopia Factor: Eh. It’s “normal” life.


            A Monster Calls is more of a short story than a novel and it follows a thirteen year old Connor as he deals with the emotional impact of his mother’s cancer treatments. Connor is being picked on at school, dealing with a messed up family life, and experiencing a recurring nightmare when a new monster begins to visit him each night. This monster, however, is unlike his nightmare because Connor discovers that the monster is real and not a figment of his imagination. The monster makes a bargain with Connor that he will tell him three stories but that Connor will in turn tell him a story when the time comes. Connor never really agrees to this, but the monster carries on as if he did.

            I feel like I should say this book definitely could fall under the category of “cover deception”. Yes, I know you should never judge a book by its cover, but that’s easier said than done. I certainly was not expecting a hybrid realistic fiction/ fantasy novel. A pure fantasy novel, sure, but not the realistic fiction part of it.  It caught me off guard but I continued with the story because I have been reading a little realistic fiction lately. We have to try new things, yes?

            Although I thought the story was a little obvious (kids dealing with major illnesses seem to be pretty popular right now) there were some things I really liked about the book. First off, the book has some wonderful illustrations throughout. I read the eBook version and wished I would have had a hard copy so I could enjoy the illustrations more (they turned out ok in eBook form, but it’s just different than print). And secondly, I really enjoyed some of the writing. I don’t usually include many quotes in my reviews, but there were a number that stood out to me in A Monster Calls.

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak? (pg. 35)

It is a true story, the monster said. Many things that are true feel like a cheat. Kingdoms get the princes they deserve, farmers’ daughters die for no reason, and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You’d be surprised. (pg. 44)

“Son,” his father said, leaning forward. “Stories don’t always have happy endings.” This stopped him. Because they didn’t, did they? That’s one thing the monster had definitely taught him. Stories were wild, wild animals and went off in directions you couldn’t expect. (pg. 83)

            A Monster Calls isn’t necessarily a very surprising book or adventurous one, but it was worth the read, especially considering how short it was. Plus, Patrick Ness is a fantastic author. If you’ve read The Chaos Walking trilogy then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Fantasy Friday: Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

Overall Rating: 5 stars
Addiction Level:  I ignored the husband and puppy until I finished the book.
Believe-ability:  I daydream and dream about it.


I was hesitant to read a companion novel, because I adored Ismae in Grave Mercy and wanted to follow her in Dark Triumph.  However, I became just as enamored with Sybella soon after I started Dark Triumph.
Plot wise Dark Triumph overlaps a little with Grave Mercy.  It picks up where the duchess has come to meet with the Marshall and Sybella warns the duchess of a trap.

What I liked:
  • Sybella:  She, too, is a real character.  She is not perfect and struggles with her identity and role in life.  She has a lot to overcome, being one of d’Albret’s daughters.  Ew!
  • The Beast:  I am so glad he survived!  I liked him in Grave Mercy, but I like him even more in Dark Triumph.  He epitomizes strength, honor, and integrity.  Sure “he won’t win any prizes” for his looks, but his heart is one of gold.
  • The continuation of the story.  I like how many people rally behind the 13 year old duchess.

What I disliked:
  • D’Albret:  The man is despicable!!!  While this series is historical fiction, I wonder how much liberty she took with his character.  To say the least he is despicable.  It is recorded in history that Anne duchess of Britany would not marry him.  (For more info check out LaFever’s site.)  LaFevers did an excellent job of crafting a disgusting character.  EW!!!
  • Mortain’s Abbess:  There is something up with that woman.  Hopefully we will find out in the conclusion.
  • Having to wait for Mortal Instrument!  The anticipated date is sometime in 2014.  Oh the agony of having to wait…<sighs dramatically and places hand on head while swooning>

P.S.  In case you are keeping track, yes this is the second post for Dark Triumph.  We liked the book so much, we wanted to post again!
P.P.S.  Yes, the agony of waiting is…agony!