Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Top Ten Books I Recently Added to My TBR List

Here we go, another Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! I'm sorry for not personalizing this list of my latest TBRs with snippets explaining how I found them. I went on a church retreat this past weekend, and lost a lot of valuable blogging time. So when it comes to the additions below, I'll just say that most of them are from Goodreads, and all of them are new-to-me authors except Erin Dionne (author of a personal favorite of mine, The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet), and Elisabeth Sladen (who, for the non-Whovians reading this, played Sarah Jane Smith on the TV show Doctor Who for many years).

1. Goblins by Philip Reeve
From the renowned author of Here Lies Arthur and No Such Thing As Dragons, the adventures of a goblin outcast who must save his world from the rise of a dangerous dark magic...
Welcome to a wild world of magical creatures and heroic adventure!
The squabbling goblins that live in the great towers of Clovenstone spend their time fighting and looting. Only clever young Skarper (who happens to be in exile) understands that dark magic created by a vanquished sorcerer is rising again. With the help of a wannabe-hero, a middle-aged princess, and a few bumbling wizards, Skarper must fight to save their world.


2. Greenglass House by Kate Milford
A rambling old inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart middle grade mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books and Blue Balliet's Chasing Vermeer series.
It's wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler's inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers' adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo's home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook's daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.


3. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
It all starts with a school essay.
When twelve-year-old Gratuity (“Tip”) Tucci is assigned to write five pages on “The True Meaning of Smekday” for the National Time Capsule contest, she’s not sure where to begin. When her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge, bizarre spaceships descended on the Earth and the aliens – called Boov – abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it “Smekland” (in honor of glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod?
In any case, Gratuity’s story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo.; a futile journey south to find Gratuity’s mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar called Slushious; and an outrageous plan to save the Earth from yet another alien invasion.
Fully illustrated with “photos,” drawings, newspaper clippings, and comics sequences, this is a hilarious, perceptive, genre-bending novel by a remarkable new talent. the planet from a really big catastrophe.


4. Everything that Makes You by Moriah McStay
One girl. Two stories. Meet Fiona Doyle. The thick ridges of scar tissue on her face are from an accident twelve years ago. Fiona has notebooks full of songs she’s written about her frustrations, her dreams, and about her massive crush on beautiful uber-jock Trent McKinnon. If she can’t even find the courage to look Trent straight in his beautiful blue eyes, she sure isn’t brave enough to play or sing any of her songs in public. But something’s changing in Fiona. She can’t be defined by her scars anymore.
And what if there hadn’t been an accident? Meet Fi Doyle. Fi is the top-rated female high school lacrosse player in the state, heading straight to Northwestern on a full ride. She’s got more important things to deal with than her best friend Trent McKinnon, who’s been different ever since the kiss. When her luck goes south, even lacrosse can’t define her anymore. When you’ve always been the best at something, one dumb move can screw everything up. Can Fi fight back?
Hasn’t everyone wondered what if? In this daring debut novel, Moriah McStay gives us the rare opportunity to see what might have happened if things were different. Maybe luck determines our paths. But maybe it’s who we are that determines our luck.


5. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.
This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.
But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?
The School for Good & Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.


6. Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling
Sylvia never expected to be at the center of a landmark legal battle; all she wanted was to enroll in school.
Aki never expected to be relocated to a Japanese internment camp in the Arizona desert; all she wanted was to stay on her family farm and finish the school year.
The two girls certainly never expected to know each other, until their lives intersected in Southern California during a time when their country changed forever.
Here is the remarkable story based on true events of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu, two ordinary girls living in extraordinary times. When Sylvia and her brothers are not allowed to register at the same school Aki attended and are instead sent to a “Mexican” school, the stage is set for Sylvia’s father to challenge in court the separation of races in California’s schools. Ultimately, Mendez vs. Westminster School District led to the desegregation of California schools and helped build the case that would end school segregation nationally.
Through extensive interviews with Sylvia and Aki—still good friends to this day—Winifred Conkling brings to life two stories of persistent courage in the face of tremendous odds.


7. Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne
For fans of The Westing Game and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler comes a clever, treasure-hunt mystery based on a real-life art heist.
Moxie Fleece knows the rules and follows them--that is, until the day she opens her front door to a mysterious stranger. Suddenly Moxie is involved in Boston's biggest unsolved mystery: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. Moxie has two weeks to find the art, otherwise she and the people she loves will be in big-time danger.
Her tools? Her best friend, Ollie, a geocaching addict who loves to find stuff; her Alzheimer's suffering grandfather, Grumps, who knows lots more than he lets on; and a geometry proof that she sets up to sort out the clues.
It's a race against the clock through downtown Boston as Moxie and Ollie break every rule she's ever lived by to find the art and save her family.


8. El Deafo by Cece Bell
Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece's class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.
Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school--in the hallway...in the teacher's lounge...in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it's just another way of feeling different... and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?
This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.


9. Jinx by Sage Blackwood
In the Urwald, you don’t step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butter-churn riding witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary. Jinx has always feared leaving the path—then he meets the wizard Simon Magus.
Jinx knows that wizards are evil. But Simon’s kitchen is cozy, and he seems cranky rather than wicked. Staying with him appears to be Jinx’s safest, and perhaps only, option. As Jinx’s curiosity about magic grows, he learns to listen to the trees as closely as he does to Simon’s unusual visitors. The more Jinx discovers, the more determined he becomes to explore beyond the security of well-trod paths. But in the Urwald, a little healthy fear is never out of place, for magic—and magicians—can be as dangerous as the forest, and soon Jinx must decide which is the greater threat.
Sage Blackwood introduces a daring new hero for an innovative new world as Jinx is joined by friends, battles enemies, and discovers life beyond—and even within—the forest is more complex than he can imagine, and that the Urwald itself needs him more than he could ever guess.


10. Elisabeth Sladen: the Autobiography by Elisabeth Sladen
When Elisabeth Sladen first appeared as plucky journalist Sarah Jane Smith in 1973 Doctor Who story "The Time Warrior," little did she know the character would become one of the most enduring and fondly remembered in the series' history. Here she shares the story of her years as Sarah Jane—traversing time and space alongside classic Doctors Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, while a generation of children were terrified but transfixed as their heroine found herself menaced by Daleks, dinosaurs, Cybermen, man-eating alien flora, Egyptian mummies, extras in Bubble Wrap, and even the Loch Ness Monster. By the time she quit the TARDIS in 1976, making front page news, Elisabeth had become one of the most familiar faces of a TV golden age. But that wasn't the end of Sarah Jane. Elisabeth discusses the many times she has reprised her role—anniversary specials, a 1981 spin-off pilot with robotic sidekick K-9, and radio plays. She discusses touring the weird, wide, and wonderful world of Doctor Who fandom. And lastly, she shares details of Sarah Jane's most recent incarnation—when TV wunderkind Russell T. Davies approached her to come back again, this time to a Doctor Who backed by lavish budgets and garlanded with critical plaudits, how could she possibly say no? Funny, ridiculous, insightful, and entertaining, hers is the story of another girl, another planet, completed just months before she died.

And . . . done! Have you read any of these? If so, do you think I should give them a try?

Teaser Tuesdays: The Great Greene Heist by Arian Johnson (March 31)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Saving the school -- one con at a time.
Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz.... But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.

Then Keith Sinclair -- loser of the Blitz -- announces he's running for school president, against Jackson's former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn't talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won't welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.
So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn't the only thing he wants to win.(245 pages)

Here´s my quote:
The Saturday afternoon air was warm and muggy as Jackson and Charlie stepped off the bus at North High and Price. Although the neighborhood of Short North was filled with legitimate art galleries, restaurants, coffee shops, if one knew where to look, one could always find a business of questionable intent.
Does this interest you? Check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Whispering Mountain by Joan Aiken, 1968

Click to view
on Goodreads 
In the small town of Pennygaff, where Owen has been sent to live after his mother’s death, a legendary golden harp has been found. Knowing of the prophesy of the Harp of Teirtu, Owen must prevent the magic harp from falling into the evil clutches of its reputed owner, the sinister and diabolical Lord Mayln. But it won’t be easy. Owen and his friend Arabis are plunged into a hair-raising adventure of intrigue, kidnapping, exotic underground worlds, savage beasts...even murder.
For only too late will Owen learn that Lord Mayln will stop at nothing to have the golden harp.
(240 pages)


I love Joan Aiken's books so much. Every year or so I go on an Aiken kick where I read a bunch of books in her amazing Wolves series. The thing about those books is that they always look so boring from the cover description and synopsis, but are actually amazing books full of humor, terror, mischief, and clever plot twists that make things fun. You always know the young main characters won't come to any real harm, but anyone else is fair game. Aiken's books are written for a less sheltered generation of children, where murder and terror are part of the story. This serves to increase the tension, and sweeten the reward.

Now for this specific book. I picked it up for a quarter at a flea market, very excited to find a Joan Aiken I hadn't read yet. I read it in one sitting (staying up a bit later than I really should have, more from an unwillingness to go to sleep than any driving desire to finish the book), and - well, and then I fell asleep. It was good, but it wasn't exactly thrilling.

This is a book with many pieces and people and plot devices, all rolled together in a way that makes things seem ridiculously complicated at first, but actually winds up fitting together perfectly in the end. There is a father and daughter team of gypsies, a nerdy-yet-inwardly-strong young boy, two nasty thieves, a prince, an evil Marquess (It took me a while to get it straight in my head that this is a male term), a monk, a foreign Seljuk (apparently some sort of Rajah), a bunch of dwarf-people, and many more wildly different characters. This is a story told in bits and pieces, where everyone pursues the truth from a different angle and then at the end of the book figure out the whole picture by talking to everyone else. This  is a very clever way of telling the tale, because there are many "mini books" inside the big book, with the various main characters ducking and weaving throughout the stories of the other characters.

However, it's the story itself that just doesn't really appeal to me. Aiken is a genius at taking seemingly worn-out tales and making them fresh, but it just didn't happen for me with this one. Arabis is like a mix between Aiken's other main female characters, Sophie and Dido, and I have to say I like the others better. Ditto for Owen - I liked him, but I like Simon better. According to Goodreads this is book 0 in the Wolves chronicles (does that mean it's a prequel?). I don't really see how it fits in with the others at all, except for its similar time-setting. I love the later books far, far more, from the wonderful Wolves of Willoughby Chase that I first read in lower elementary school, to Black Hearts in Battersea, which is one of my later-discovered favorites.

If you love old-fashioned adventures full of danger, excitement, humor, and compelling characters, then I wholeheartedly recommend you read this series. I'm sure that many would like this book, but for me at least it just felt a bit too ordinary - and I kept getting flashbacks to George McDonald's The Princess and the Goblins. If you're a fan of the series and haven't gotten around to this one yet, then by all means read it. It's not that it's bad by any definition of the word - it's just not as good as many of the other books in the series. If you have never read a Joan Aiken and you want to, then start with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase or Black Hearts in Battersea. Trust me, you'll be happy you did.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Bella At Midnight by Diane Stanley

Click to view
on Goodreads 
In the little village of Castle Down, in a kingdom plagued by war, lives a peasant girl called Bella. Blessed with a kind family and a loving friend, she manages to create her own small patch of sunlight in a dark and dangerous world. Bella is a blacksmith's daughter; her friend Julian is a prince -- yet neither seems to notice the great gulf that divides his world from hers.
Suddenly Bella's world collapses. First Julian betrays her. Then it is revealed that she is not the peasant she believed herself to be: She is Isabel, the daughter of a knight who abandoned her in infancy. Now he wants her back, so Bella is torn from her beloved foster family and sent to live with her deranged father and his resentful new wife. Soon Bella is caught up in a terrible plot that will change her life -- and the kingdom -- forever. With the help of her godmother and three enchanted gifts, she sets out on a journey in disguise that will lead her to a destiny far greater than any she could have imagined.
(278 pages)

So, I love The Silver Bowl books (link goes to my review of The Silver Bowl). I've had this earlier book by Stanley on my radar for a while, but it got buried under all the other books that were on my radar (i.e. it fell to somewhere in the middle of the infamous Goodreads "to read" pile). A month ago I made a Top Ten post listing ten books I can't believe I haven't read, and this was right near the top. I requested it right after posting the article, and read it in one day - as soon as I could wrestle it away from my mother, another Diane Stanley fan!

As an earlier work than the Silver Bowl series, you can see that Stanley's writing skills were still developing; the writing isn't quite a crisp as in her later series. However, considering how amazing those books are this really doesn't hurt Bella at Midnight very much. I initially thought the technique of telling the story from so many different POVs, switching every chapter between everyone from Bella to seemingly random people off the street, was clumsy and distracting. I soon realized, though, that the technique fit the story perfectly as all the threads began to weave together into one big, tightly knitted story.

Bella is a very interesting character, especially in comparison with the original Cinderella. Where Cinderella began life with a loving father but no real family outside of that, Bella grew up believing herself to be the peasant daughter of a loving couple. She has two siblings, village friends, and of course her best friend Prince Julian right by her side. When she is brought to her birth father's home to be lonely, abused, and neglected (not to a truly abusive state, but still pretty cruelly), she is homesick more than anything else. She doesn't dream of marrying a prince and riding off into the sunset; all she wants is to be back with the family who loves her. I love this, because at the end of the day it isn't wealth that matters to her: it's people. How can you not love a character with priorities like that? I won't pretend she's going on my list of "most memorable heroines" (if I were making that list, which I'm not), but she's definitely a engaging and sympathetic main character.

This is a fun, humorous twist of a classic fairy tale, one that I'm glad I read but I probably won't be in a huge hurry to reread. If you're looking for a well-written fairy-tale spinoff that messes everything up the time period and the happy ending, then this is most definitely the book for you!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Top Ten Childhood Books I Would Love to Revisit


It's time for another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's prompt asks what childhood favorites I'd love to re-read. It was a bit hard to think of ten (because I still read many of the books I discovered as a child, not because I didn't read back then!), so I just did seven.

1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Synopsis of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
When Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy took their first steps into the world behind the magic wardrobe, little do they realise what adventures are about to unfold. And as the story of Narnia begins to unfold, so to does a classic tale that has enchanted readers of all ages for over half a century.

These were the first books I ever read. And I mean this literally! I went straight from Dick and Jane to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. My mom was reading them to me and I got impatient waiting to find out what would happen next, so I picked it up and started reading. I haven't read them in years, but it seems like every time I turn around I bump into a copy of one or another of the books, so I'm definitely planning on re-reading these soon!

2. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Synopsis of Princess Academy:
Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king's priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year's time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king's ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.
Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.


I read this book long before it was part of a trilogy. It was my first real "princess" book, and I absolutely adored it. Still do, actually. And since the third book just came out a few weeks ago (click here for my review of The Forgotten Sisters), I've been dying to go back and revisit where it all began.

3. The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander
Synopsis of The Book of Three:
Taran wanted to be a hero, and looking after a pig wasn't exactly heroic, even though Hen Wen was an oracular pig. But the day that Hen Wen vanished, Taran was led into an enchanting and perilous world. With his band of followers, he confronted the Horned King and his terrible Cauldron-Born. These were the forces of evil, and only Hen Wen knew the secret of keeping the kingdom of Prydain safe from them. But who would find her first?


Ah, the memories. I love these books so much! They're like a shorter, easier-to-read version of Lord of the Rings. I loved them so much when I was little, and I would love to re-read them. I'd also love to get my siblings to read them - so far, no luck.

4. A Little Princess by Francess Hodgson Burnett
Sara Crewe's young but doting father sends her to a London boarding school when she is seven. On her eleventh birthday her life of luxury comes to an abrupt end when she receives news that her father has died, shortly after losing his entire fortune. The school-mistress turns Sara into a servant to pay off her debts, and though Sara uses the entire force of her imagination and her good heart to remember who she is and keep starvation from the door, her life is desperate. Until the past returns in a very unexpected manner...

Who doesn't love this book? I can't say it was a favorite when I was very small, but I definitely fell in love with it as soon as my parents thought to put it into my hands. Sometimes it's nice to go back to the simpler times when good and bad were black and white. This is one of the books that do that for me.

5. The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
Synopsis of The Sorcerer's Stone:
Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He's never worn a Cloak of Invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry's room is a tiny cupboard under the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in ten years.
But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him... if Harry can survive the encounter.


Yes, I put this. I haven't re-read this series in . . . a year? Maybe two? I read the first book in Spanish but kind of lost my oomph a few chapters into the second one. Anyway, I read them for the first time when I was eight and I will never tire of re-reading them.

6. Tom Swift by Victor Appleton
Synopsis of The City in the Stars:
Despite attempts to sabotage his newly-invented fusion drive spacecraft, a young scientist investigates the sinister, eminent head of the space colony who is hiding serious flaws in his own new craft.

You've never heard of these? Don't worry, no one else has, either. They were my dad's when he was a kid, so I initially read them because they were sitting in a really intriguing-looking milk crate (little me says "What's a milk crate?"). I kept them on my bookshelf for years because they're the kind of book


7. The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton

Jo, Bessie and Fanny move to the country and find Enchanted Wood right on their doorstep! And in the wood stands the magic Faraway Tree where the Saucepan Man, Moon-Face and Silky the elf live. Together they visit the strange lands which lie at the top of the tree, and have the most exciting adventures - and narrow escapes!

My parents bought this for me when we lived in Switzerland (a very long time ago). I grew up completely enamored with the folk of the Faraway Tree, and to this day the name "Moon Face" will make me break out in a smile.


What were your childhood favorites? Let me know in the comments section below!

Teaser Tuesdays: Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley (March 24)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In the little village of Castle Down, in a kingdom plagued by war, lives a peasant girl called Bella. Blessed with a kind family and a loving friend, she manages to create her own small patch of sunlight in a dark and dangerous world. Bella is a blacksmith's daughter; her friend Julian is a prince -- yet neither seems to notice the great gulf that divides his world from hers.
Suddenly Bella's world collapses. First Julian betrays her. Then it is revealed that she is not the peasant she believed herself to be: She is Isabel, the daughter of a knight who abandoned her in infancy. Now he wants her back, so Bella is torn from her beloved foster family and sent to live with her deranged father and his resentful new wife. Soon Bella is caught up in a terrible plot that will change her life -- and the kingdom -- forever. With the help of her godmother and three enchanted gifts, she sets out on a journey in disguise that will lead her to a destiny far greater than any she could have imagined.

(278 pages)

Here´s my quote, from page 66:
In those dismal years after we said good-bye (or rather did not say good-bye, but parted all the same), I thought often of that afternoon down by the river. It was how I always wished to remember him - not as he was that last time, when he broke my heart.
Does this interest you? Check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Chosen Prince by Diane Stanley, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads 
From master storyteller Diane Stanley comes a spellbinding tale based on Shakespeare's The Tempest of two princes--one chosen, one lost--and a mysterious girl on a magical island, all caught in a great web of destiny.
On the day of his birth, Prince Alexos is revealed to be the long-awaited champion of Athene. He grows up lonely, conscious of all that is expected of him. But Alexos discovers that being a champion isn't about fame and glory--it's about sacrifice and courage.
Alexos follows the course of his destiny through war and loss and a deadly confrontation with his enemy to its end: shipwreck on a magical, fog-shrouded island. There he meets the unforgettable Aria and faces the greatest challenge of his life. 

(368 pages)

I . . . really don't know if I liked this book. I suppose if I have to think so hard the answer is "no," but it just isn't that simple. On one hand, I loved it. It was deep, moving, and meaningful, with a lovable main character and an emotionally manipulative plot. On the other hand, I spent most of the book semi-loathing said main character, because I didn't know if I could bring myself to love someone who had done what he did. I both empathized with and despised Alexos, and my stomach twisted (and still twists right now, actually) at the horrible event that happens a third of the way into the book.

On the other hand, I loved Alexos for how much his father and the gods put him through. He never really gets a childhood, loses his ability to walk correctly to a summer sickness that sounds a lot like polio, and is practically cast aside by his ruthless father after becoming crippled. Despite all this (and perhaps even because of some of it), he is strong, good, and kind, wishing for nothing more than to make his kingdom a better place. I only wish a certain event had not happened, or at least not happened the way it did, because I could have really, really, loved Alexos for everything he went through. As it was, I couldn't help feeling (horrible as it sounds) like perhaps he deserved everything that happened to him. If I read the book again now I would probably like it a lot better, but I still hate The Chosen Prince for the way it utterly horrified me just far enough in that I couldn't stop reading, but early enough that I spent the majority of the book miserable.

A lot of the other reviews I've read of this book complain about the narration, which is third person present, calling it clumsy and distracting. The only times I had any trouble with it were when something was being talked about in past tense. I'm so used to reading third person in past tense that I had a hard time remembering that when say, the narration talks about what Alexos did, it's talking about something that happened before the scene I'm currently reading. This was a relatively minor issue, though, and overall it worked fine for me. Props to Stanley for trying something new!

I absolutely love Diane Stanley's Silver Bowl trilogy, and her standalone Bella at Midnight is a fun fairy tale retelling that isn't wonderful, but isn't horrible. This, however, almost feels like a different author wrote it altogether, and I don't think I'm as big a fan of this author as I am of the other. I do love The Chosen Prince, but I also hate it. And I don't think I'll be recommending it to anyone any time soon, just because I don't want to be the one to recommend something so horrifying, but I can't really give a very good warning about it without spoiling the whole story. So if you're deciding whether or not to read it, I can't really help you. I'm sorry!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale, 2015

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on Goodreads
After a year at the king’s palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!
Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses. 
As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen’s interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.
(323 pages)

This is the second of the two books I won from Bookshop Talk's giveaway in early March. When I was  picking out my books, I immediately knew I had to get The Forgotten Sisters because my library doesn't have it. I mean, what kind of library doesn't get the third book in an extremely successful/popular trilogy? I swear the people who run my library don't even read.

Anyway, I just finished this third and final entry into the Princess Academy trilogy with a smile on my face! I've been reading these books for a long time (for about as long as I've been able to read, actually), so finishing the trilogy is rather bittersweet for me. On one hand, I'm very relieved that things ended on a high note - both in terms of the story and of the quality of the book itself. I was deathly afraid that it would turn out to be just a cheap knock-off of the first book, but instead I found that it brought the story arc through a beautiful full circle, until everything and everyone was brought back to where they began.

While I can't say that the plotting is air-tight and fast-paced (because it's not), I can say that this isn't really a high stakes thrill read that requires such careful plotting. It's a book that was meant to have a slower pace, so you can enjoy it more thoroughly than if you sped-read through the whole thing on tenderhooks. There is danger aplenty, and worries galore, but it is at its core a book about brains, not brawn. It''s one final adventure with our beloved characters, a last hurrah of sorts that gives us a final chance to admire their bravery and intelligence before seeing them get their happily ever after.

While this may be one reason for the final book, the novel still offers up a compelling story of its own. Miri must learn to survive in the swamp, adapting to a new world all over again as she moves from the capital city Asland to this swamp in Lesser Alva. The threat of war with the kingdom Stora hangs over Miri and later the girls. The king of Stora is a thrice-wed seventy year old. How can one of these spirited young women tie themselves to such a man in a loveless marriage? Yet if they don't, peace will fail and thousands will be slaughtered in the war between the two kingdoms. It's a huge quandary, and I have to say I love the way it was resolved (sorry, no spoilers!).

At the end of the day, this is a good book. If you've read the first and/or second book, then please pick up The Forgotten Sisters and read its engaging tale for its own sake, as well as the closure it brings to the series. If you haven't read Princess Academy, then go read it! Right now! It's an amazing book, even as a stand-alone. Please don't read this book first, though, because it just won't be nearly as interesting without all the backstory you can only get by reading the earlier books. 

The Forgotten Sisters is a great book, and I'm glad to have read it. I'm also extremely glad that I own it, so I can re-read it whenever I want! I know I'll definitely be revisiting this one soon, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Edit 6/1/15: Click to check out my review of the first Princess Academy book.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Top Eight Books On My Spring TBR List

Okay, here we go. I'm kind of scrambling to put the finishing touches on this post at the last minute, because I got sucked into a book and forgot all about adding images to my list. So if the pictures look funny, that's because I put them in from my iPad at ten o'clock at night! Please let me know, and I'll fix them.

What was I reading, you ask? Funnily enough, it was Wendy Mass's Graceful, the #1 entry on this list. It came in the mail today (which is yesterday when you're reading this, I guess), and I have been walking on air all day. It was the first ARC query I ever sent to a publisher, and I never thought I'd get it. When I saw the Scholastic return address on the package, I thought I was going to burst! Talk about bad timing for my list, though. After a bit of thought I decided to leave it on the Spring reading list, even though I've technically read it, because a) it's almost Spring (March 20th is the official start date!), and b) I won't post my review until April, which is in the middle of Spring.

Now it's time for my top eight Spring TBRs. You can check out the original Top Ten Tuesday page over at The Broke and the Bookish.

1. Willow Falls #5: Graceful by Wendy Mass
Angelina D'Angelo has left town to see the world. It's now Grace's turn to use her magic to protect the people of Willow Falls, and she is up to the challenge. This is her destiny, after all. But destiny is a funny thing-it doesn't always behave the way you'd expect it to.
Mysterious postcards from Angelina begin showing up in the mail, Grace's parents are freaking out with worry, and something BIG is coming to town that will affect everybody who lives there. But all Grace is powerful enough to do is turn leftover meatloaf into pizza.
Fortunately, she's not alone. She has Team Grace on her side! Amanda, Leo, Rory, Tara, David, and Connor know a thing or two about magic and how it works. But none of them are prepared for what's coming, and none of them know how to stop it. Life in Willow Falls is about to change forever.


2. Gollywhopper Games #3: Friend or Foe by Jody Feldman
Chock-full of puzzles, riddles, and challenges for the reader to solve along with the main characters, this companion to the first two Gollywhopper Games books offers readers plenty of action and fun. The perfect choice for fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Chasing Vermeer.Zane is not that interested in the Gollywhopper Games. He'd rather play football and is sure that he's headed straight for the NFL. But when he gets his second concussion, his parents tell him, "No football for a year." Instead, to his surprise, he gets a chance to compete in the Gollywhopper Games. Zane's sense of strategy, his physical strength, and his competitive edge are all assets, and so is his ability to motivate his teammates and get them to work together. Zane becomes particularly close to Elijah, a young and scrawny genius who is friendly, awkward, and funny—Zane's polar opposite. These two unlikely friends end up head-to-head in the final challenge, where Elijah's quick thinking and Zane's physical strength make it a tough fight. This is a fun and fast-paced and interactive read for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society.

3. Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, VERY GOOD LIVES presents J.K. Rowling's words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life. How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?
Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world famous author addresses some of life's most important questions with acuity and emotional force.
Sales of VERY GOOD LIVES will benefit both Lumos, a charity organization founded by J.K. Rowling, which works to transform the lives of disadvantaged children, and university-wide financial aid at Harvard University.


4. The Arctic Code by Matthew J. Kirby
It is the near future, and the earth has entered a new ice age. Eleanor Perry lives in Tucson, one of the most popular destinations for refugees of the Freeze. She is the daughter of a climatologist who is trying to find new ways to preserve human life on the planet. Dr. Perry believes that a series of oil deposits she has found in the Arctic may hold the key to our survival. That's when she disappears—but not before sending Eleanor a series of cryptic messages that point to a significant and mysterious discovery. Now it's up to Eleanor to go find her.
This search will launch Eleanor on a breathless race to unlock the mysteries of what has happened to our planet, solving the riddle of the cold that could be humanity's end—and uncovering a threat to the earth that may not be of this world.


5. Royal Institute of Magic: Elizabeth's Legacy by Victor Kloss
Two years ago, Ben Greenwood's parents walked out the door and never returned. The police have all but given up finding them when Ben stumbles upon a peculiar letter addressed to his dad. “You are the most wanted man in the Unseen Kingdoms. Unless you come to us, we cannot help. For your child's sake, tell us what you know.”
The letter is from an organisation called the Royal Institute of Magic and is dated a day before his parents disappeared. Like most people, fourteen-year-old Ben hasn't the faintest idea what the Royal Institute of Magic is, but he has his first clue: the logo on the letter.
Armed with nothing but his wits and the help of his good friend Charlie, Ben sets out to find the Institute and, through them, his parents. To succeed, he will have to navigate a land filled with fantastic creatures and Spellshooters, where magic can be bought and sold, to unravel an ancient family secret that could hold the key to defeating an evil the Institute has been fighting for the last five hundred years.


6. A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder
Fans of How to Train Your Dragon will love this whimsical tale, the first in a series, by a Newbery Honor winner, featuring charming illustrations and pet "training tips" in each chapter.
Crusty dragon Miss Drake has a new pet human, precocious Winnie. Oddly enough, Winnie seems to think Miss Drake is her pet—a ridiculous notion!
Unknown to most of its inhabitants, the City by the Bay is home to many mysterious and fantastic creatures, hidden beneath the parks, among the clouds, and even in plain sight. And Winnie wants to draw every new creature she encounters: the good, the bad, and the ugly. But Winnie’s sketchbook is not what it seems. Somehow, her sketchlings have been set loose on the city streets! It will take Winnie and Miss Drake’s combined efforts to put an end to the mayhem . . . before it’s too late.


7. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars. 
Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?


8. The Palace Chronicles #3: Palace of Lies by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Desmia discovers the reality of royalty is far from a fairy tale in this third adventure set in the Cinderella-esque world of Just Ella and Palace of Mirrors, from New York Times bestselling author Margaret Peterson Haddix.
Desmia and her twelve sister-princesses are ruling Suala together at last, a united front. The kingdom seems to have finally gotten its happily ever after, but Desmia, trained by a lifetime of palace intrigue, is not so sure. She desperately wants to believe all is well, but she can’t help seeing danger around every corner.
And then the unthinkable happens, and Desmia’s worst fears are confirmed. Now, without the support of the sister-princesses she’s grown to rely on or the trappings of royalty that have always convinced people to listen to her, Desmia must find the courage to seek out the truth on her own terms—and to determine the course of two kingdoms.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale (March 17)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Princess Academy #3: The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
After a year at the king’s palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!
Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses.
As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen’s interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.
Fans of Shannon Hale won’t want to miss this gorgeously woven return to this best-selling, award-winning series.

(323 pages)

Here´s my quote, from page 71:
Miri flinched. Poisonous snakes were silent, harmless berries were loud, and in the middle of it all, Miri could not tell what was dangerous.
Does this interest you? Check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George, 2008

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on Goodreads
When a great white bear promises untold riches to her family, the Lass (as she's known) agrees to go away with him. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle. To unravel the mystery, the Lass sets out on a windswept journey beyond the edge of the world. Based on the Nordic legend East of the Sun, West of the Moon, with romantic echoes of Beauty and the Beast, this re-imagined story will leave fans of fantasy and fairytale enchanted.
(352 pages)

I won a giveaway over at Bookshop Talk for two books of my choice. How awesome is that, right? I know how awesome: very! I had read Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow many years before and loved it, so I knew this was the perfect time to re-read it and add the gorgeous book (seriously, look at that cover!) to my collection.

Jessica Day George is one of my favorite authors. I have read all of her books, and never met one I didn't like! She's a master at fairytale retellings and knows how to create some serious ambiance. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow differs from her amazing Princess books in that it isn't so much a complete retelling of the original tale as it is an imaginative fleshing out. What kind of family would give up their daughter to a talking bear? Why would a troll princess be so determined to marry a human prince? And why would she be so enchanted by the heroine's skills with a carding comb that she would let her into the palace? George fills in the answers to these questions and more in a way that creates a rich story that still reads like a fairytale - but a fairytale with far more detail and logic than any original version of "East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon" has to offer.

This isn't really a book that can be analyzed too much. It's a fleshed-out fairytale, not a regular story where realistic characters and plausible motives are required. The beauty of this book, though, is that it stays perfectly true to its magical foundations while at the same time managing to feature a lovable and realistic heroine, and logical reasons for everything that happens (logical in a world containing magic and trolls, anyway). The book's fantastical beginning may leave you with a lot of questions, but I guarantee that by the end everything will be explained.

The only (very slight) quibble I have is with the lass's wolf Rollo. He behaves much too much like a regular human for my taste. However, I know that George can write a realistic canine character (just look Pippin in the Dragon trilogy!), so I realize this must have been a conscious choice. It fits in well with the fairytale tone of the story. If the lass can speak to animals, then why shouldn't her best friend be a wolf?

All in all, this is just such a beautiful book - starting with the gorgeous cover, and lasting all the way through to the end! I love how everything is explained away with at least fairly logical reasoning, but the magical feel of the story is never lost. George expanded the tale, instead of cutting it up and pasting it back together, and I really love the result. The old adage "if it's not broken, don't fix it" comes to mind. The story "East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon" was not broken, and it didn't need fixing. What it needed was for someone to color in the lines and fill it out. This is what George did, and she did a fantastic job!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Redo Your Room by Karen Bokram, 2015

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on Goodreads
Whether you re looking for an all-out room redo or a few new tricks to brighten up your space, Faithgirlz! has tons easy how-tos and quick DIYs that'll morph your room into a true expression of y-o-u. Give your walls a burst of color (even without a bucket of paint!) and turn your fave pics and keepsakes into inspiring art. These floor-to-ceiling secrets help nix those piles of clothes decorating your space in favor of awesome add-ons, like mini murals and a magical ribbon chandelier (psst: we won't tell anyone it took you a half hour to whip up).
Redo Your Room is packed with cute and crafty ways to add pop to your domain. You'll learn how to make even the tiniest spaces into pretty places to sleep 'n' study, and clever ways to keep it all looking adorable. And the best part? You can make over your bedroom without going broke.

(128 pages)


Of all the books I've gotten for review, this is easily the most popular with my family! I told my sister (who's also my roommate) I'd requested it, and she asked me if it had come every day until it did. Before I got a chance to look through it she had already flipped through the whole thing, and our little brother had gotten a quick peek too. The cover just draws people in, making them want to see what sort of tips and tricks will make your room look as fun as the one in the cover picture.

I haven't followed all of the tips in the book (sorry, but I don't feel like moving my bed, painting my walls, or making magnets with pictures of my clothes on them!), but I've done enough to get a good feel for the book. The best advice the book had for me actually isn't even a project. In the section giving tips for organizing your belongings, the book suggests rolling your pants instead of folding them. Revolutionary! I tried it with both my pants and my skirts (what? Skirts can go in dressers, too!), and it's been working really well for me. I can find all of my bottoms really quickly because they're all laid out for me, and the rolling actually protects them from the wrinkles they would normally get when I root around looking for a particular piece.

Anyway, moving on from my wardrobe revelation. There are a lot of neat ideas like labeling jars with tags painted in chalkboard paint, and putting decorative tape around the cords coming from all your electronics so they don't look so messy. Bokram includes a lot of ideas for repurposing old things like camp t-shirts (a pillow or a rug!) and ribbons (a ribbon chandelier!). Of course, I only have two camp t-shirts so I can't make anything with them. And do most girls just have a random stash of "hair bows and scraps of pretty ribbons" lying around? Because I don't. To make the ribbon chandelier, I would actually have to go out of my way to buy ribbons for it. Which kind of defeats the purpose, in my opinion. However, there are enough different projects that there is bound to be something for everyone.

The one complaint I have about the book is that a lot of the projects simply don't work for me personally. For example, I'm not going to make sheer scarf curtains for my windows because then the light will wake me up in the mornings. And I can't decoupage my desk drawers because I don't have a desk! I get the feeling that the authors targeted the book for girls with nicer/more organized rooms than mine, with bedside tables just waiting to be decorated with post cards and desks dying for a spot of color via some washi tape. As for me, my bedside table is my bookshelf and my desk is my bed. That limits my personal use for the projects in the book, but I still think they're very neat and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to any girl looking to revamp her room.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exhange for an honest review.

Story Thieves by James Riley, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Life is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores.
But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen—his classmate Bethany climb out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half-fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character.
Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret, so Owen makes her a deal: All she has to do is take him into a book in Owen’s favorite Kiel Gnomenfoot series, and he’ll never say a word. Besides, visiting the book might help Bethany find her father…
…Or it might just destroy the Kiel Gnomenfoot series, reveal Bethany’s secret to the entire world, and force Owen to live out Kiel Gnomenfoot’s final (very final) adventure.

(400 pages)

Hmm. I'm not really sure what to say about this one. Did I love it? Did I hate it? Well, neither. Not yet, anyway.

The plot seems all over the place at times, but it actually comes together pretty cohesively by the end of the book. My main trouble, when I really come down to it, is the characters. Bethany especially just isn't particularly realistic. She's more of a stock character: she's got magical powers, one of her parents is missing/dead, she has this huge secret she hides from the rest of the world, and on and on. The fact that she's been going into books for years behind her mother's back for years makes her, to me at least, a little too dishonest to really be that sympathetic. I also felt like there was no way she'd really open up to some random classmate the way she did, and I seriously started questioning her judgement when she agreed to take Owen into the Kiel Gnomenfoot series. I mean, hello? What did she think was going to happen if she took this kid into his all-time favorite book series? She did get better as the story went along, though. Bethany didn't exactly become my favorite character in the world, but I have hope for her development in the later books. Riley has prepared some great set-ups for the next books, and if I had to guess he'll make me absolutely adore Bethany, Owen, and Kiel (who, by the way, is probably my favorite character yet) by the end of the series.

And that's really the crux of this review: I think this book is a set-up for the books ahead. If Riley does a wonderful job with the later books (as I'm 95% sure he will, based on his Half Upon a Time trilogy), then someday I'll look back at Story Thieves and have a ball reading through it again, because there will be all sorts of hints and foreshadowing that I totally missed without foreknowledge. I'll go back to retrace the beginnings of whatever relationships Riley chooses to favor in the later books (my money's totally on Bethany and Kiel!), and watch characters in a different light because I know what secrets they're hiding, or what will happen to them down the road. In a few years, I think I'll love Story Thieves because it is a beginning of a new series by a writer who is amazing at making me laugh, cry, and fall in love. Until then, this is a so-so book that makes an okay standalone, one that holds potential but no concrete prize. The best part was probably the ending, because it sets the stage for awesomeness in the second book.

If you want to read a James Riley, I recommend starting with his wonderful Half Upon a Time series. Story Thieves has potential, but doesn't hold a candle to Riley's crazy-fun fairy-tale spin-off. Of course, that could change - like I said, everything hinges on the rest of the series.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Becoming God's True Woman by Susan Hunt and Mary A. Kassian, 2012

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on Goodreads

Have you ever wondered why God made both Male and Female? Have you thought about His purpose for you as a female? Have you considered the fact that God has intentionally planned everything about your life? Yes, yes, and yes?!
Then, join Bible teachers Susan Hunt and Mary A. Kassian in this 35-day devotional digging deep into God's Word, hearing what He says about your womanhood, and learning how to live as a "true woman" day by day. Each day begins with a short devotion and then A Time For You section -- a time for you to read...to think..to pray...to live for God's glory Interspersed throughout are personal stories and thoughts from girls like you.
(176 pages)

My number one New Year's Resolution this year was to spend more time reading the Bible. My number two resolution was to be faithful to developing my blog. That's why I chose to review this, a girl's devotional. I don't really use devotions very much because I'm a very lazy person who doesn't like writing things out longhand, but I decided it would be good both for my spiritual health and my handwriting to try this out.

On the whole, I'm glad I gave this devo a try. I spent a week doing it every day on top of my regular Bible reading (In January I set myself the goal of reading the entire Bible in two years. I'm in Leviticus.), and I found that it broke the monotony of the laws of Moses very nicely. The devo is full of little stories from real-life girls, messages about God's love and our duty to obey, and lots of space for jotting out your own thoughts and prayers. The pages themselves are very pretty, with various shades of pink backgrounds and beautiful flowers winding their ways across the pages.

After doing about a week's worth of the devotions and reading through the rest of them, I am a little conserned about some of the content. It's written in such a positive, affirming manner that I really have a hard time taking offence at anything written in the book (it would be like arguing with my grandmother!), but I did still want to mention that the book skates dangerously close to some controversial issues a few times. For example, it states that women are designed to be men's "helper," but then goes on to define the word "helper" in terms of equality. They state that men and female are created equal but for different purposes, which makes me wonder just what exactly they mean by that. Is the "purpose" of women to sit at home and watch the kids while the "purpose" of men is to go to work and earn money? I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that (in fact, that's how it works in my family!), but I didn't exactly like the subtle suggestion that we women must remember our place, and refrain from becoming too masculine. In fact, at one point they even say that a "True Woman" always dresses appropriately - which I agree with - going on to say that clothes should "suit your . . . femininity" as one of the conditions inherent in dressing properly. Are they saying that they believe girls shouldn't wear pants? Because I definitely disagree with that.

Now I'm not a huge feminist, but I do believe that women should not be restricted to wearing pretty frocks and taking care of the children. The kicker is, the authors of this book may or may not believe that either. Everything is phrased in such positive, reaffirming tones that it's impossible to know for sure whether they're really condoning what I'm hearing. Still, if I had a teen I probably wouldn't give her the book just because of their support of gender roles and a few other minor issues. Like I said, though, it's all couched in such gentle and positive terms and mixed in with so much real, good, important advice that it might be okay. Plus, as a teen myself, I know that one devotional isn't going to change the way I think. I for one will likely go through at least most of the rest of the devotional, shaking my head at it every now and then but mostly just appreciating it for its gentle, loving messages about keeeping a level head and living to please my loving God.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My Top Eight Recommendations For People Who Like Harry Potter

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is rather open-ended. The prompt is literally "Ten Books For Readers Who Like _________." It doesn't get much more easy-going than that! I'm filling in Harry Potter because that's basically a catch-all for books with magic, adventure, and character-driven plots. However, in an effort to limit my reccomendations to books that are actually similar to the Harry Potter books in some aspect or another, I'm only listing eight instead of the usual ten.

In the description for each individual series I will explain how exactly it is related to the Harry Potter books. I'm also putting the synopsis and cover of the first book in the description, so you can get a sense for the series' flavor.

1. Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
Synopsis of The Lightning Thief:
Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can't seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse-Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy's mom finds out, she knows it's time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he'll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends -- one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena -- Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

I know, I know. You've already heard of these, touted as the "next Harry Potters." Well you know what? They are not the next Harry Potters. Nothing, ever, can replace Harry's position in the book world and in our hearts. However, the books are still good in their own right, apart from Harry's shadow. If you love Harry Potter for its magic, adventure, world-building and humor, then this is the series for you. Be warned, though, it's geared for a younger audience than the later Potter books are. You may not find it as funny as all the tweens do.

2. Septimus Heap by Angie Sage
Synopsis of Magyk:
The seventh son of the seventh son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby's father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a new born girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son Septimus?
The first book in this enthralling new series by Angie Sage leads readers on a fantastic journey filled with quirky characters and magykal charms, potions, and spells. Magyk is an original story of lost and rediscovered identities, rich with humor and heart.


This is one of my personal favorites as a Harry Potter substitute. Why, you ask? Because it wasn't geared to fill the demand raised by the Harry Potter books! It is set in a completely different universe from ours (or a thousand years in the future - same difference, right?), in a world with royalty and occupational wizards. I can't praise this humorous, exciting and heart-warming series enough, and I highly reccomend it to anyone who loved the relationships in the Harry Potter books - and maybe secretly wished there was a whole series written just about the Weasleys.

3. Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher
Synopsis of Knightley Academy:
Henry Grim is a servant boy at the Midsummer School—until he passes the elite Knightley Academy exam and suddenly finds himself one of the first commoners at the Academy, studying alongside the cleverest and bravest—and most arrogant—young aristocrats in the country. They thwart Henry’s efforts to become a full-fledged Knight of the Realm, but he and two commoner classmates are determined to succeed. In the process, the boys uncover a conspiracy that violates the Hundred Years’ Peace treaty—and could lead to war! Can Henry manage to save his school and country from their enemies—and continue to study at the Academy?

This is a two-book series that has basically fallen to the way-side. I have my serious doubts whether the author will ever finish the series, but if she did I'd be first in line to buy the third book! This is a work of love toward the Harry Potter books, full of sly references to the Potter universe even as it tells its own absorbing tale of the penniless orphan Henry who gains admittance into the posh private boarding school Knightley Academy. There's no magic but lots of fun in this awesome series that I always recommend to people who are interested in reading the Harry Potter books, but don't like the magic in the originals.

4. The Prydain Chronicles Alexander Lloyd
Synopsis of The Book of Three:
Taran wanted to be a hero, and looking after a pig wasn't exactly heroic, even though Hen Wen was an oracular pig. But the day that Hen Wen vanished, Taran was led into an enchanting and perilous world. With his band of followers, he confronted the Horned King and his terrible Cauldron-Born. These were the forces of evil, and only Hen Wen knew the secret of keeping the kingdom of Prydain safe from them. But who would find her first?

These are classics, so I'm not going to say too much about them. Let's just say that they're full of enough humor, friendship, and love that fans of these aspects in Harry Potter are going to love these books.
Bonus: if you like the Lord of the Rings books, you'll probably like these. The authors were friends in real life, and there are a lot of similarities between the two series.

5. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
Synopsis of Dealing With Dragons:
Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart - and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon - and finds the family and excitement she's been looking for.

These are some really fun books that play on a lot of fairy tale tropes. They're similar to Harry Potter in that they take traditional rules of magic and stand them on their head. Also, they're really funny but still heartwarming at the same time. I read them for the first time as little girl, probably before I even read Harry Potter, and loved them so much. Then, being a little girl, I completely forgot the title and couldn't find them again for like five years. When I re-read the books for the first time two years ago, I still loved them just as much as I did as a little girl. They've got that same ageless appeal that the Potter books do.

6. The Dragon Slippers trilogy by Jessica Day George
Synopsis of Dragon Slippers:
Many stories tell of damsels in distress, who are rescued from the clutches of fire-breathing dragons by knights in shining armor, and swept off to live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, this is not one of those stories.
True, when Creel's aunt suggests sacrificing her to the local dragon, it is with the hope that the knight will marry Creel and that everyone (aunt and family included) will benefit handsomely. Yet it's Creel who talks her way out of the dragon's clutches. And it's Creel who walks for days on end to seek her fortune in the king's city with only a bit of embroidery thread and a strange pair of slippers in her possession.
But even Creel could not have guessed the outcome of this tale. For in a country on the verge of war, Creel unknowingly possesses not just any pair of shoes, but a tool that could be used to save her kingdom… or destroy it.


So, these are on my list of all-time favorite books. On the surface they don't seem to have much in common with Harry Potter besides the presence of dragons - and where Harry Potter's dragons are basically just really scary wild beasts that breathe fire, these dragons are thinking, speaking creatures who actually make friends with the main character Creel. But this is a great trilogy full of humor and heart where the basic glue that holds everything together is friendship. Friendship and love - sound familiar?

7. Story Thieves by James Riley
Synopsis of Story Thieves:
Life is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores.
But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen—his classmate Bethany climb out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half-fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character.
Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret, so Owen makes her a deal: All she has to do is take him into a book in Owen’s favorite Kiel Gnomenfoot series, and he’ll never say a word. Besides, visiting the book might help Bethany find her father…

…Or it might just destroy the Kiel Gnomenfoot series, reveal Bethany’s secret to the entire world, and force Owen to live out Kiel Gnomenfoot’s final (very final) adventure.

So this is a very new series, with only one book out. My review will be posted on Friday, but here's the short version: I basically decided the jury's still out until the later books come out and I see how the series progresses. However, the reason I would reccomend this just-started series to fans of Harry Potter is that it incorporates quite a bit of the plot of the high-fantasy series Kiel Gnomenfoot. Kiel himself is actually sucked into the "real world" (their world), and we learn most of the story of the seven-series fake story. While the basic facts aren't really that similar, a lot of the themes of the Kiel books are so similar to the Harry Potter books that it's just all-around awesome to read about them.

8. The Ember books by Jeanne DuPrau
Synopsis of The City of Ember:
Many hundreds of years ago, the city of Ember was created by the Builders to contain everything needed for human survival. It worked…but now the storerooms are almost out of food, crops are blighted, corruption is spreading through the city and worst of all—the lights are failing. Soon Ember could be engulfed by darkness….
But when two children, Lina and Doon, discover fragments of an ancient parchment, they begin to wonder if there could be a way out of Ember. Can they decipher the words from long ago and find a new future for everyone? Will the people of Ember listen to them?


These are for a younger age group, but I love them a lot. I think they're a great read for people who love Harry Potter for the way it changed the way they look at the world. In Harry Potter it's Mr. Weasley who best shows the shift in outlook the books provide: as a wizard, he sees the Muggle world from an entirely different light. And those of us who read the books also begin to see our world in a different light, at least while we're hanging out in the wizarding world. How on Earth can those poor Muggles cope with wearing tight clothing that actually goes between their legs?! In the same way, the books of Ember give us a different perspective on today's world. Because the people of Ember have never been above ground they are completely ignorant about so many things that we just take for granted. So one series looks at our world from the point of view of an outside culture, and the other looks at it by looking at the ruins we left behind.

Okay, there we go. Have you read any of these, and do you agree with my reccomendation? Are there any books you would add to my list?

Teaser Tuesdays: Story Thieves by James Riley (March 10)


Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Story Thieves by James Riley.


Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Life is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores.
But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen—his classmate Bethany climb out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half-fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character.
Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret, so Owen makes her a deal: All she has to do is take him into a book in Owen’s favorite Kiel Gnomenfoot series, and he’ll never say a word. Besides, visiting the book might help Bethany find her father…
…Or it might just destroy the Kiel Gnomenfoot series, reveal Bethany’s secret to the entire world, and force Owen to live out Kiel Gnomenfoot’s final (very final) adventure.
(400 pages)

Here´s my quote, from page 10:
As Bethany slowly pulled herself out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by her chocolate-covered hands, she sighed. Why had she stayed so long? She was beyond late now. It’d just been incredibly relaxing to sit hidden behind the chocolate river, watching the Oompa-Loompas work and not being yelled at by Mr. Barberry or her mom.
Does this interest you? Check back on Friday for my review!