Half-Year Recap- Favorites So Far!

June 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

So we’re about halfway done with 2012 and there have been SO MANY AMAZING BOOKS come out already this year, with so many more good ones to come. I was looking over my Goodreads list (oh hai! I’m on Goodreads- you can friend me, if you like!) and some of them just stick out so much in my mind, and I thought I’d share with you my list of Favorites So Far.

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity, Code Name Verity, Code Name Verity

If you have not read this book yet, it is a problem. Remedy it. It’s funny and shattering and gorgeous and one of the most spectacular examples of distinctive voice, flawlessly researched, and utterly absorbing. This is a book that, once you open it, you CANNOT put down. This is one of those books that everyone needs to read. Elizabeth Wein is one of my new idols.

And speaking of shattering, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I haven’t reviewed this book for the simple reason that even now, five full months after reading it, I still can’t speak about it coherently. It’s rich and funny and tragic and glorious, heart-breaking and healing and one of the most beautifully, bizarrely hopeful books I’ve ever read. I laughed and cried in the same gulping breaths and it is SO HARD to tell people what this book is about. This is a book that doesn’t only change your life, it redefines it. If you read only one book this year (gah, what a terrifying thought!) make it this one.

Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probablity of Love at First Sight was a book that blew me away. It was completely out of my comfort zone in so many ways. It’s a contemp romance- not really my thing- and a very significant foundation of this story is parental divorce and remarriage- also not really my thing- and the combination of tense and perspective weirded me out the entire time. And I LOVED it. The characters were raw and real and wonderful, and it’s amazing how much can happen in twenty-four hours. It’s sweet and sad and silly and thought-provoking and doesn’t try to give everything easy answers. This was the book I was curious about but never expected to like, and to an extent that’s true. I didn’t like it- I loved it.

Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone was simply magical (and send congratulations her way- she just debuted at #8 on the NYT Bestsellers List!). It was rich and dark and atmospheric and a fantastic example of how strong you can make a setting without drowning in it. The world of the Grishas stepped outside of playing Russian and became something extraordinary, where the language was just alien enough that it melded with the familiar social heirarchies and human dramas that it became something both comfortable and exciting. It built just enough off of what we could recognize that it didn’t have to rely solely on those pieces anymore. It creates so many wonderful mysteries and opens up this huge world within a small space. This was not one to put down. In fact, I might have handed it to one of my co-workers and told her to buy it without actually telling her anything about it.

Want to laugh yourself into abdominal cramps? Then check out Christopher Healy’s The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, a look at what happens after the Happily Ever After for four princes who can’t quite manage to make the bards care about them. After all, the princesses are so much more interesting, and who wants to try to remember a prince’s name? Just call him Charming and be done with it. This book is a roaring adventure- and at least half of that roaring is laughter- full of dragons and giants and clever little sisters and boorish brothers and so much adventure. Do NOT read this while drinking or eating, or if you have liquids near your computer. Read it aloud, ogle the illustrations, and just enjoy this wonderful, fun-loving frolick.

Anyone who knows me knows I love faeries and faerie tales and faerie telling retellings. LOVE them. And Alethea Kontis’ Enchanted was everything I could have asked for. The sly references (and the sheer number of them!) to various stories was totally made of win, and the characters were unique and vibrant and richly flawed. It’s a world that, for all its magic and mystery, never quite steps apart from our own. It’s like walking down the street of your own town and suddenly discovering a wisp of wonder. It’s gorgeously written and it was physically painful to put down, with everything I love not just in a fairy tale but in a story.

What are some of your favorites so far of 2012?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Cover Love: June Edition

June 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm (Cover Love) (, , , , , , , , , )

It’s been a little while since I did one of these, but there have been some FANTASTIC covers recently that I just have to gush over.

This one was just revealed today, and oh my God I’m in love. It’s gorgeous! It’s also thoroughly eerie and creepy, and inviting and intriguing and everything you want a book cover to be. The blues are soft and mysterious, colors of secrets and sadness and somehow also calm and deep, like the bottom of a lake. The key, because it’s bright and a very different color than the rest of the background, stands out, but it’s not just a symbol of secrets- keys are also authority and things that should be kept away, and also things that are about to emerge. Funny thing about keys is that they have a way of getting used. The girl’s face emerges from the smoke and fog of the key, like she’s shrouded in mystery, like her entire life is birthed from the mysteries of that key and everything it can stand for. Behind her stretches walls with what looks like names- which calls to mind the Vietnam Memorial and it’s lists of the dead- but the walls also seem to close in behind her, both protective and claustrophobic. This is a cover I could happily study for hours at a time, and it leads so beautifully into the description. The Archived by Victoria Schwab- can’t wait.

I love Rick Riordan covers. The artwork is fantastic and if I’m honest, I love the fact that he’s the only author I know that can successfully get pre-adolescent and adolescent boys to read books with pink covers. Throne of Fire anyone? And now he’s released the cover for Mark of Athena and I love it like cake (even though I hate the color pink). Obviously the most immediately striking things about the cover is the owl’s face, specifically its eyes. They’re piercing and direct, and being the totem of Athena, and given that Athena isn’t too fond of Percy, it’s hard to tell if that’s meant to be menacing or protective. Then your eye goes down and you notice the two boys on horses apparently about to kill each other. Um…problem? Even there it’s distinct, with different shirts, different hair colors, even different types of magical horses. You really want to hope the boys are actually working together against a common enemy, but…well, the Greeks and Romans don’t really get along, do they? Expect LOTS of conflict in this one, especially as it’s the middle book of the series.

It’s no seccret that I love this book. I can gush about this book for WEEKS. I’m fairly sure all my co-workers are fairly sick of hearing me talk about it. But my God even the cover is fantastic! The background is black- stark, unforgiving, and entirely devoid of comfort. But because of the way the eye travels, at first we only see it as a background for the left image: arms reaching from opposite directions, bound with twine at the wrists, clasping each other. It’s hard to know which piece makes the strong impact. The way they’re holding each other isn’t casual- clasping at the wrist is a rescue hold, a support hold. It offers more strength, does less damage- and is a lot less likely to be pulled apart. They’re holding each other, so the bonds are voluntary. Yet there’s the twine. Twine is an interesting material, coarse and uncomfortable, easy to find but leaves a lasting impact with fabric splinters and rashes and scratches. They’ve chosen to hold each other but external forces also bind them. This may be hard to see in the photo, but there’s actually writing superimposed on the skin. We hold our secrets so close to the surface; scratch the skin and the emerge. It’s a gorgeous cover that draws out the
fiercest elements of the story. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Another recent cover reveal was for Laini Taylor’s Days of Blood and Starlight, sequel to last year’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It closely parallels the original cover, focusing on the eyes and the space around it. The mask- in this case the patterns painted around them- are striking and draw the attention in on an otherwise grey-scale cover. The first cover was blue- relaxing, bright, reminscent of Karou’s hair and her easy manner- but here the focus has shifted. Here we have flames and blood and the deep menace associated with that color, BUT, if you look through the letters, you can also see just a slight hint of a smile. Not much of one, and not a very nice smile, but it’s there, and it makes you remember that red is also a color of seduction and of passion. They’re exotic markings, and it’s only when comparing it to the first cover (and the first story) that you start to wonder if they’re actually painted on or if they’re somehow more inherent than that.

Any covers that you’re looking forward to?

Until next time~
Cheers

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Book Review: Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

May 23, 2012 at 5:39 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

It starts with a confession, a game she has no chance of winning. It starts with a war and a horror, a history. It starts with a chance, a crashing plane, a mission, and a changing name. But most of all, it starts with a friendship, one with the power to change the course of everything, a friendship that forms its own courage, its own strength, one that will defy the terrors of a Gestapo cell. Because sometimes, friendship is a code name for hope. Trapped in a nightmare, Verity will have to draw on that friendship to survive the unspeakable horrors that await a captured spy.

I’ll go ahead and give the warning: I can’t help but gush about this one. Days and distance are not helping any in that regard, because I think about all the amazing aspects of this book and I’m just blown away all over again. So there is gushing, and maybe a bit of drooling.

The ages of the characters in this book are somewhat nebulous. You get the distinct impression that’s on purpose, probably because it teeters on the edge between Young Adult and Adult. It really could have gone either way, but I’m so glad it went YA, because the voice- oh my God the voice- is so spectacularly compelling. This is a voice that sucks you in from page one and never lets go, and at no point does it become less than riveting. It’s beyond compelling straight into captivating, and even when you’re breathless and appalled and teary-eyeed, you cannot put this book down. Holy expletive, the voice.

It manages to make even the most horrific things matter-of-fact, not in a blase sense but in the sense that she’s tried very hard to prepare herself for anything. Watching the moments where her composure starts to crack, but you know she’s still thinking and planning and gah! awe. Absolute awe. She’s brutally honest and yet, there’s always this sneaking suspicion that she’s tricking us all sometimes. And sometimes, there’s the suspicion that she’s trying to trick herself. The fate of a captured enemy operative is torture and then death- she never flinches from this. She relates that torture in a way that’s sickening, but not grotesque. It doesn’t back away from details but neither does it dwell on them, as much a part of her experience as the fervent wish for clean clothing.

There is so much that’s going on in this book, and yet it has a single, easily identifiable pillar around which it revolves: friendship. Not a romance, but a friendship as deep and true, perhaps even more so, than a romance in such circumstances could possibly be. How these two very different young women come together under a common cause is both gratifying and hysterical as they compare fears, games, and histories. But they do come together, forging both a friendship and a formidable team, and that frienship sustains them through some truly horrifying trials. It’s more than edifying, it’s transformative. Because of this friendship, their lives could never be the same again. I love that even with the subtle threads of possible romances that crop up from time to time, the central focus is always on that incredible friendship.

I love love LOVE how even the villains are humanized with fears and histories and famlies. That human factor is a little bit terrifying- how can they be okay with doing this to other people’s children?- but so true to life and history. Sympathy for the devil is so hard to write, and even harder to sell to a reader, but it comes off so flawlessly it’s hard not to tear up even for the horrible people. Not are the ‘good’ people all valiant knights in shiny white armor. Just because someone is working for the same side doesn’t make them good, and there are distinct threats and discomforts even among your own people. A lot of this book takes place in the gaps in other stories, in the grey areas between accustomed roles and laws, between war and peace, between hope and death, but it doesn’t just hide in the grey areas, it flourishes in them.

This takes place in such a fascinating period of time, with vast leaps in both technology and the role of women. As men went off to the front lines, women stepped into the necessary duties of farming, civil service, and medicine, but also into the increasingly perilous roles in intelligence and aviation, whihc made for some fantastic opportunities they couldn’t be sure would still exist after the war. Entire auxilliary corps of women rose up to fill those positions and became instrumental to the advances that were made. Many of the radio operators- and nearly all of the first radar operators- were women. We see not only our captive’s work in the shadowy world of intelligence operatives, but also her best friend’s work as an aviatrix, a world of planes when aviation was still fairly young and in rapid development, and female pilots were few and far between and subject to discrimination from nearly every angle. The detail in these worlds, the precision of the story and the locations, is really just mind-boggling. This doesn’t come off as historical fiction, mainly because we never feel that divorced from the story. We feel like we’re there in the middle of things.

Oh, the twists. So many twists, and so wonderfully layered. Some you can expect, if you’re paying attention to the obscure details outside of the story, but they’re still wonderful in how they come to be, and others are wonderfully, devestatingly unexpected. More heart-shattering yet are the ones you’re waiting for, the ones you know will happen but you keep hoping and praying they won’t, and then they do and it’s just staggering.

Despite ALL THE TEARS, I love that this book had the grace, strength, and courage to go for the good ending rather than the happy one (and trust me, that’s not giving anything away; this book doesn’t let you make those kinds of assumptions). I don’t mind a book leaving me with a lingering hope-tinged sorrow if it coems hand in hand with the glorious satisfaction and contentment that comes of finishing an astrounding book.

If this review comes off as seeming light on details, it’s for a reason- I don’t want to deprive you of the discoveries. It is such an amazing book, with characters that live long after the pages end. And you can’t read it just once- as soon as you get to the end, tears streaming down your face, jaw somewhere around your knees with shock, you’ll immediately want to turn back and start it again to watch with more understanding how all of these pieces fit flawlessly, gorgeously together.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, and perhaps ever. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss this one.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, out in stores now.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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