Monday, September 30, 2013

Moribund Mondays

Let’s face it, Mondays are literally the worst. Doesn’t matter if you’re a student or a workin gal or guy, there is nothing worse than the feeling of dread we experience as Sunday draws to a close and we wonder what fresh hell awaits us in the coming week.

In the spirit of these cheerful reflections, I decided to invent a book blogging event called Moribund Mondays. Why did I settle on “moribund”? In sooth, I am not sure. I wanted to do an alliterative meme that would capture the agony of Mondays, and the word moribund just popped into my head. I’ll admit, I wasn’t completely sure what moribund even meant until a few moments ago when I Googled it. I had a feeling it wasn’t exactly a positive descriptor, but that was the extent of my knowledge. For those of you who, like me, have long since forgotten the majority of your SAT vocab words, I present MORIBUND (courtesy of Merriam-Webster):

mor·i·bund (adj.):
  • being in the state of dying :  approaching death
  • being in a state of inactivity or obsolescence
Examples of MORIBUND:
  • an actor who is trying to revive his moribund career
  • The peace talks are moribund.
Because I am not a completely glass-half-empty type of person, I thought we could use this Moribund Monday to discuss a book we’ve recently read wherein a moribund character manages to overcome his or her moribundity (not a real word, sadly), whether in the literal sense (e.g., a character on his/her death bed who makes a stunning recovery) or more abstractly.

A quintessentially moribund character that immediately comes to my mind is Julian Carax in Carlos Ruin Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, which I read this summer.


The young Carax is full of promise. He is a brilliant novelist and he has secured the love of a beautiful lady. Unfortunately, he is barely out of grade school when everything he holds dear in life is systematically ripped away from him. He loses the will to write, if not to live, and for the next couple decades plummets into a state of deep despair. Physically, he is disfigured and sickly; mentally, he is unhinged. He is pretty much the definition of moribund. But then through a sequence of incredible events, which I will be vague about so as to not completely spoil this book for you, he manages to pull himself out of this sad state and turn his life around. Hooray!

Like Carax, I feel pretty moribund these days when it comes to my writing. I keep saying to myself, WRITE YOUR NOVEL. But I remain inactive, moribund. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take disfigurement and several near-death experiences to snap me out of it, amiright??!

What characters have inspired you with their ability to cease being moribund?? 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: David Levithan, Every Day

This book is whackadoodle in the absolute best of ways. The premise is so far out there that I'm actually surprised this book has sold as well as it has amongst the YA crowd. In essence: the story follows an individual called A who wakes up every morning in a different body. A spends the day in that body, and then the next day whoever is the rightful owner of the body returns to their life and continues on with no memory or awareness that they were "possessed" the day before, while A moves onto the next body. What's especially crazy is that it could be a male body or it could be a female body, so A has no real gender identity. It's always someone around A's age (16-17ish) and within an hour or two drive at most of where A was the day before. A's main priority is to slide under the radar so that no one will suspect that anything is amiss with the person whom A has "possessed" for the day. Like many YA books, a lot of the book takes place in various high school classes, and A has to cope with many of the usual YA challenges like fitting in, dealing with isolation, trying to avoid being bullied, etc.

Things heat up quickly one day when A happens to fall in love with Rhiannon, the girlfriend of the boy A has possessed for that day, who is, incidentally, a complete oaf. A has gotten really skilled over the years at not getting attached to his daily surroundings. Otherwise, it's too painful to wake up the next day in a new life knowing the life s/he was in yesterday is dead and gone and utterly unretrievable. But falling for Rhiannon brings up all the old anxiety about the fact that tomorrow A will wake up in a different life. So A begins to break all of A's rules and finds ways to stay in touch with Rhiannon long after A has left the body of the oafish boyfriend. Rhiannon gradually begins to return A's affections, but the obstacles to engaging in any sort of stable relationship with a person who wakes up the next morning in a different body/gender/location seem insurmountable. Eventually, A learns that there may be a "cure" to his/her condition, but one that comes with a terrible price.

I will not give anything more away about the plot, but I will tell you that this book really moved me. Barf, I hate to admit it when something moves me. But this did! Without giving away the ending, I can tell you this was heartbreaking the entire way through. I really felt connected to the character of A, even though A's existence (waking up in a different body every day) is so bizarre and unrelatable on the surface. A is always an outsider, and you see A longing desperately for the type of family life and human connection that so many of the bodies s/he inhabits get to enjoy, even while studiously attempting to avoid emotional entanglement with any of the people who flitter in and out of A's life. A's motto is "do no harm" - or, essentially, leave things exactly as they were before you hijacked someone's life for the day. What a sad existence! Levithan does a brilliant job of conveying the heartbreak of living this way, while also presenting a book that is funny and strangely uplifting at the same time.

The only thing I didn't love about the book was Rhiannon. I feel like I am starting to sound like a broken record in these reviews, but I really just didn't grasp what it was about Rhiannon that inspired such a wild transformation in A. She seems like a pretty average girl, and A's immediate, overwhelming attraction to her was the only aspect of A's character (aside from the whole waking up in a new body every day thing) that I couldn't really relate to. This definitely didn't come close to ruining the book for me though--it was just a mild annoyance.

4.5 stars!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. 

Doesn't that send a thrill up your spine? I read this book about a year ago and loved the idea of it. Unfortunately, in retrospect, I think I liked the idea better than the actual book. It is a very magical idea, this whole night circus concept. A mysterious, stunning circus in black and white and red appears out of nowhere in the middle of the night and features the most unique and mind-blowing performances anyone has ever heard of. Excellent! It could stay for a day or a month or a year, who knows!

The main story here is not the circus itself really, but a fierce battle going on behind the scenes between two warring magicians who have each selected a "student" as their pawn in their sick game. The Night Circus is the venue. It's very complicated, and I never quite understood it really. Basically a boy and a girl find out from a young age that they have been chosen by the magicians to play this game. They never really seem to understand what the terms of the game are, who their Opponent is, when the game will begin, or how it can be won. Naturally, as soon as the opponents do meet each other, they fall madly in love, which is deeply tragic given the implication that one must kill the other.

The whole opponent/game thing was shrouded in so many layers of mystery and complication and vague, esoteric rules that I just never really felt too engaged with it. It took me a long time to finish this book actually and I think that's because I never really had a grasp as to what on earth was going on or what I wanted to happen.

I think the underlying problem in this book is that the author spends far more time discussing how enthralled everyone was with the Night Circus than demonstrating in a concrete way what it was about the Night Circus that was actually so enthralling. And she does the same thing with the Opponents. She hammers home the point that this is an epic saga of star-crossed lovers, but as a reader, I had a hard time feeling it...I was just really confused a lot of the time. I kind of felt like this was published too soon, like we have here an early draft not fully developed.

I wanted to love this book, but something about it just didn't quite do it for me....I just never felt all that connected to the characters or the story. Still, it was a super creative idea, so it gets points for that: 3.5 stars.

Also, the jacket art is amazing. Well done whoever designed this jacket!!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Feature & Follow Friday

I am so relieved that these blog-hoppy things still exist and that they still occur on Fridays! I am finally back to blogging after a long hiatus and am feeling excited and pathetic at the same time. Excited because I'm remembering how fun this is and pathetic because until a few hours ago, whenever I logged into "bloglovin'" I was greeted with a crushing message that said something like: "This blog has zero followers. Have mercy on this sad sack and follow her loser blog [frowny face]." It literally had a frownie face. Tres harsh! But then a lovely soul named Debbie @ I Heart YA Books became my first follower!!!!!!!!! Thanks Debbie!

ANYWAYS. One of the funnest things about blogging is interacting with other bloggers and finding people with similar taste who can help me decide what to read next. I am sad to see that so many YA bloggers I used to follow back in 2010 when I was really active have since absconded (not like I'm in a position to judge!). But there are sooo many more bloggers now and I'm pumped (if overwhelmed) about getting back into the scene and discovering other maniacal YA aficionados. Hopefully participating in FEATURE & FOLLOW FRIDAY, a weekly event hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee  where bloggerz can find each other and interact, will help me in that endeavor.

Happy Friday to all!

ETA: I am so bad at this. I forgot the whole point of the Feature & Follow Friday event, which is that every week there's a different Activity. This week's activity: reading nook tour! I usually read in bed because it is the most comfortable spot and if I want to take a nap after, the convenience is unparalleled:
If I'm feeling really wild and energetic though, sometimes I will go crazy and read on my couch:

Review: Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

Uhm, excuse me, but if you haven't read this book yet (which you probably have...this is another one I was late to the game on), you truly must rectify that immediately. I don't care if you are a Twi-hard or someone who would prefer to immerse himself in the three volume epic Winston Churchill biography (I won't mention any names), this book will appeal to anyone on the planet with any sense at all. This puppy blew me away, which doesn't happen too often. It is a WWII historical novel, but with a twist: it features women protagonists who are not just nurses or typists or evacuees, but actually fight on the front lines of the war itself (one of them is a pilot!).

The book is full of non-stop action that will leave you with little stubs for fingernails (if you have similar vices as me), but also has really compelling characters. It is the kind of book that stays with you for a long time after you finish it. I read it about four months ago actually and still think of it on the regular.

There is a major plot twist halfway through the book that will leave you hyperventilating (consider reading with a strong drink at your side, or a valium). I honestly can't say much more about the plot without giving that away. Holy HELL! This is so creative and well written. Elizabeth Wein is brilliant with voice: her characters sound unique and interesting and you just do not want this book to ever end. EVER! WHY DID YOU END IT, ELIZABETH?

Well I just Googled Ms. Wein and it looks like this is not her only book. Praise be. I will definitely be checking out her other work. GET YOUR HANDS ON THIS SUCKER IMMEDIATELY.

5 stars!!!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Swoon Thursday: Swooning over Orma in Seraphina

Obviously, I am a bit rabid on here lately in my attempts to make up for lost time. Just go with it. Anyways, over at YA Bound, they have this weekly event on Thursdays called SWOON THURSDAY. They have a very sexy little photo to go with SWOON THURSDAY that participants are supposed to copy/paste onto their own blogs. I thought about posting it here, but ultimately decided against it. I do like the idea of swooning on Thursdays though.

So, on SWOON THURSDAY, you're supposed to reminisce about a book (or character in a book) you read recently that made you swoon. I swoon pretty easily (I think I've watched the Darcy-in-the-lake scene in the BBC Pride & Prejudice maybe 200 times? Literally...) so this was not a challenge. The one twist is that the swooniest scene I have read lately was not a romantic one but a moment of father-daughter love between a young woman and her uncle (who is basically her surrogate father). It occurs in Seraphina, which I just reviewed here, incidentally. This moment is between Seraphina, a half-dragon, and her uncle Orma, a dragon. The bond between Seraphina and Orma is actually one of the main reasons I love this book as much as I do.

A bit of background info before I present the passage that made me almost swoon to death. In Seraphina, dragons can take the form of humans, but they do not really feel human emotion. Dragons are typically cold and calculating and tend to be puzzled by the mere concept of experiencing an emotion, let alone being guided by one. Seraphina has long lamented the apparent coldness of her uncle Orma towards her. Orma basically raised Seraphina, and she loves him, but, though he is kind to her, he never really expresses any overt fondness towards her. This frustrates her to no end. Then a lot of stuff happens and people grow and life & death situations ensue, etc., and the following scene occurs.

WARNING: this is a little bit spoilery, but not as much as you might think:

"I can't bear that you'll be alone."
"Not alone. There are others of my kind. I'm going to find them."
"Who will kiss you? Who will rock you to sleep?" His voice was slow, drowsy.
"You never did that," I said, trying to tease him. "You were more father to me than my father, but you never did that."
"Someone should. Someone should love you. I will bite him if he will not."
"Hush. You're talking nonsense now."
"Not nonsense. This is important!" He struggled to sit up straighter and failed. "Your mother once told me something, and I need to tell you . . . because you need . . . to understand it . . . "
His eyes fluttered shut, and he was quiet so long I thought he had fallen asleep, but then he said, in a voice so soft I could barely hear: "Love is not a disease."
I leaned my forehead on his shoulder, all the words I'd never spoken to him rushing my throat at once, forming a terrible lump there. Hesitantly he stroked my hair.
"I'm not completely certain she was right," he murmured. "But I cannot let them cut you out of me, nor her either. I will cling to my sickness . . . if it is a sickness . . . I will hold it close to me like the . . . the sun, and the . . . "

For real, tell me that's not swoon-inducing!?!?

Review: John Green, Looking for Alaska

I was late hoppin on the John Green train, but what can you do. I read The Fault in My Stars first, which, of course, made me weep like a baby. Maybe I'll review it one of these days, who knows. I liked it a lot. John Green is one of those literary YA authors that you go to when you're looking for something meatier than the latest Sarah Dessen or Jennifer Echols, but are not quite in the mood for an emotionally- and mentally-exhausting epic tale like Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series. I would not put him in the same class as Francisco Stork or M.T. Anderson...he's just a little too earnest and his stories aren't quite as imaginative. But he is still a breath of fresh air and I am appalled with myself for not picking up one of his books sooner.

Anyways, that being said, Looking for Alaska was not as good as The Fault in My Stars. It was still enjoyable and well written, but something about it just didn't quite do it for me. I think it was probably the character of Alaska herself, who is your quintessential manic pixie dream girl (MPDG). The book takes place at a boarding school and focuses on a group of friends there: primarily Alaska, our MPDG who prides herself on being both wildly promiscuous and deeply literary, and the two dudes who are, naturally, madly in love with her (but don't really stand a chance): Miles (the narrator) and someone else whose name I cannot recall. It was pretty boring that they were so into this chick because there didn't seem to be all that much to her, except that she likes to smoke a lot of cigarettes and talk about what a slag she is, while simultaneously dazzling her suitors with her wit.

Miles is definitely the more interesting character and I'm relieved he was appointed as our narrator. I don't think I could have suffered through it if we had to hear Alaska pontificating about how damaged and quirky she is for 300 pages. Miles is a pretty insecure, scrawny high school senior who is nicknamed "Pudge" (as a joke). I could really relate to him and the various insecurities he had about going to a new high school and playing the game well enough to maybe make a friend or two. It's a story old as time but it is well done here; Pudge feels like a real human.

Anyway, the story itself is basically a coming of age tale of love found, love lost, self lost, self found. Like most John Green novels, not a whole lot actually happens in the book. Well, there is one major event, but that's it. Most of the book is just following the main characters around as they feel things and talk about those feelings. And it does basically work. I just wish Alaska had been more intriguing...but I suppose Alaska herself is not the point, so much as the "looking for" her.

I am conflicted about how many stars to give this. If it was a John Green-only scale, I would give it 3, because it's just not as good as some of his other books. But, that isn't the case; we are rating this alongside trainwrecks like the House of Night series, so I will give this 4 stars.

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where book bloggers opine about forthcoming books we are eagerly anticipating.

As my ardent followers may have noticed, I've been a bit out of touch in recent times. However, just because I haven't been blogging as regularly lately (UNTIL NOW! GET READY FOR IT!) doesn't mean I haven't been staying up to date on the YA scene!

The book I am most passionately, most about-to-pee-my-pants-over-ly waiting for is: The Fiery Heart (Bloodlines #4) by Richelle Mead.

I love Richelle Mead with a fiery heart and cannot wait for the next installment in the Bloodlines series. Vampire Academy and Rose Hathaway will always be my favorite Richelle creation, but Sydney of Bloodlines is very pleasing to read about as well. I could have sworn this puppy was due out in October, but, to my horror, the pub date is not until November 19, 2013! Perverse world.

PS: Yes, I know I posted this on a Thursday, but the days are so short now! In my heart it is still Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss

It seems I am in the minority here, but I was pretty underwhelmed with this book. It is about a fairly normal girl on the eve of her senior year of high school who gets whisked out of her comfortable life in suburban Atlanta when her father insists on enrolling her at a boarding school in Paris. A typical high school senior, she is horrified at having to leave her friends and crush just as the last year of high school begins; the allure of Paris is nothing to her. Then she gets there and falls in love and learns to speak French and everything is a dream.

The book did make me feel violently remorseful that I never attended a Parisian boarding school, but that was really about the only emotion it inspired in me, so I'm declaring this to be something of a dud. The story pretty much revolves around the growing attraction between Anna and  Étienne St. Clair, a student at the Parisian boarding school. What draw me to this book was a number of reviews praising the author for her slow and careful development of their attraction. I think one review even said something like "it's so refreshing to have a female protagonist who doesn't fall in love with her suitor the moment he walks into the room!" That sounded great to me. I love nothing more than a painful, agonizingly long buildup of angsty romantic tension, and it is so rare in YA romances these days. Unfortunately, these reviews were LIES. An excerpt from the first time  Étienne and Anna meet:

The first thing I notice is his hair--it's the first thing I notice about anyone.  It's dark brown and messy and somehow both long and short at the same time. I think of the Beatles, since I've just seen them in Meredith's room. It's artist hair. Musician hair. I-pretend-I-don't-care-but-I-really-do hair. 
Beautiful hair.
"It's okay, I didn't see you either. Are you all right, then?"
Oh my, he's English. 
"Er. Does Mer live here?"
Seriously, I don't know any girl who can resist an English accent. 

The scene continues with a few awkward exchanges, and then Anna remarks to herself:  "The beautiful boy gives an amused grin. His teeth are lovely--straight on top and crooked on the bottom, with a touch of overbite. I'm a sucker for smiles like this." 

Really, if this is not an example of a female protagonist falling head over heels the moment she meets her suitor, I do not know what is. She's in love with him from the first moment, and it's just not all that compelling because neither character stands out that much--neither is terribly developed, and I don't really understand WHY they like each other so much.

The other problem I had with the romance is that for the vast majority of the book, St. Claire has a girlfriend (not Anna). Call me a prude, but this just irked me. Even as he clearly is falling deeper and deeper for Anna over a period of about 9 months, he resists breaking up with the girlfriend. I found this obstacle to be really off-putting rather than exciting. DUMP THE GIRLFRIEND, it's unfair to both the gf and Anna! I didn't really understand why he is so resistant to ending it with her, and ultimately I didn't care too much because I just never really felt it with him and Anna.

That said, this was not horribly written, and the "world building," such as it was, was pleasing, so...2 stars.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Rachel Hartman, Seraphina

I was skeptical about this book because, though I love fantasy and paranormal fiction, I am not generally a fan of protagonists that don't physically resemble humans (hobbits are about as far out as I like to get), and this book is about dragons. I admit that my bias against non-human looking creatures is dumb and superficial, but alas. I like to be able to picture human characters when I'm reading. I don't care if they're vampires, werewolves, witches, wizards, elves, etc., they just need to look basically human. For example, I would have a hard time visualizing a steamy romance between a pair of dragons. It is stupid and I am not proud of it, but that's my sad reality. That's why I never read the Redwall books.

I kept hearing great things about this book though. People praised the world building and spoke about the book in a tone that kind of signified that this is one of those rare gems in YA, really unique, not just another tired plot about a seemingly average girl who discovers she's actually a super hero and the hottest boy on earth falls for her and they save the world and live happily ever after. I have read hundreds of those books. I actually tend to enjoy those books, because I am a sucker. But I'm always on the hunt for something that stands out. So, I bought Seraphina and jumped in.

And I am SO HAPPY I did. This is hands down the best YA book I've read in months. And, even though it's about dragons, it turns out that dragons can actually take human form when they wish, so my silly hangup about non-human-looking characters didn't even apply.

The book takes place in a fantasy world where humans and dragons have just established a tenuous treaty after centuries of viciously slaughtering each other on the regular. The treaty is up for renewal, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is a sinister plot by someone (dragon or human, who knows!) to thwart it so the two species can get back to trying to exterminate one another. Seraphina, our half-dragon protagonist, makes it her goal to prevent that from happening.

There are numerous things going on in the book. There is the large scale saga of a nation on the brink of war and the political maneuverings between its leaders to avoid that scenario. There is also a murder mystery. Most interestingly to me, there is the story of Seraphina, a half dragon who feels she has to hide her true identity at all costs, and her journey towards self acceptance.

Seraphina is a wonderfully developed, complex, likable, quirky character. She has a distinct voice, which is SO RARE. She is self deprecating in an endearing way, and her struggle to accept her half dragon-ness and build up the courage to show her true self to the outside world is brilliantly depicted. The romance between her and Kiggs (a prince of the human nation) is also very well done. It proceeds at a slow pace (which is a mercy...if I read one more of these books where some broad enters a room with a boy, takes one look at him, and pronounces her undying love...), so the chemistry builds believably and agonizingly. Another pro (in my opinion) is that the romance is hardly the main story line of the book. It's one that is enjoyable and interesting, but it takes a back seat to the other major plot lines.

I am giving this 4 stars instead of 5 only because I got really confused from time to time with all the dragon terms being thrown out. The world building is really complex here, and sometimes I had a hard time following along what was happening. That didn't stop me from finishing though...I just thought this could have used a bit more editing.

ETA: It turns out there is a glossary hidden away at the end of the eBook! It defines all the whacky dragon terms and explains who each character is. Great idea! I wish I'd noticed this handy device while I was reading the book on my Kindle. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work too well in the eBook format. But the fact that Rachel Hartman thought to add it is a bonus, so I'm upping this to 4.5 stars.