Monday, July 27, 2015

Meeting Online Friends IN REAL LIFE!!!

This month's vlog has a very special guest...

See Skylar's blog for more photos of our adventures!

Have you ever made a friend online - and then met in real life? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Rook by Sharon Cameron // Swashbuckling dystopia wheeeeee

Prepare yourself for all the Scarlet Pimpernel gifs. :-P

23399192History has a way of repeating itself. In the Sunken City that was once Paris, all who oppose the new revolution are being put to the blade. Except for those who disappear from their prison cells, a red-tipped rook feather left in their place. Is the mysterious Red Rook a savior of the innocent or a criminal?
Meanwhile, across the sea in the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to the wealthy René Hasard is the last chance to save her family from ruin. But when the search for the Red Rook comes straight to her doorstep, Sophia discovers that her fiancé is not all he seems. Which is only fair, because neither is she. 

As the Red Rook grows bolder and the stakes grow higher, Sophia and René find themselves locked in a tantalizing game of cat and mouse.

I started out wanting to like this book, but after the first few pages my expectations drastically dropped.
This is how I felt a few chapters in:

  • This is bad worldbuilding.
  • It's basically the French Revolution except it's the future and it's dystopic and everyone's abandoned technology and The Razor is just another name for The Guillotine. 
  • Our main character Sophia (i.e. The Rook - not a spoiler) is basically a young female version of The Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • I don't like this world-building AT ALL. It feels super lazy.

But this is how I felt by the end of the book:

  • Yessssss...
  • That was superbly exciting!
  • The climax was long and drawn out and thus EVER so dramatic and splendid and edge-of-your-seat.
You can see that my perception of the book changed quite dramatically.

*Sophia x Rene means multiple things, my friends. It is useful to share a name with the protagonist.

Now, the copy I read WAS an ARC, so perhaps in the finished version, the introductory worldbuilding is a bit clearer, and the other issues might be smoothed up. This book really had a lot of potential as an ARC, so I'm sure the finished version is fantastic. Particularly what I disliked about the beginning was that it took me a while to figure out the world - what had happened? how was it different from 17th century France? why couldn't it just have been set in 17th century France and all the dystopic future stuff avoided? why is this feeling so much like a genderbent rip-off of The Scarlet Pimpernel?

We get answers to these questions eventually, but for me they weren't answered soon enough.

Also, I came into this with an expectation for your usual YA dystopian drama and subtle-attempts-at-social-commentary. I usually like books that make me think, and that are written so as to hit me in the feels extremely hard - books written by people like Victor Hugo and Maggie Stiefvater and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Wein. So, I tend to avoid any sort of chic-lit-type-stuff, because I know it won't satisfy me.
I like books that rise above trivialities.

YA dystopians with their subtle social commentary (whether it's effective or not) get a nod from me because at least they're trying to get the reader to think about the deeper meaning.

Basically, if I can write an analytical essay on a book, it's done its duty for me.

So, when Rook progressed without any sign of what I could interpret or analyze or ponder as to how it related to my own position in the world and in society and in the universe - I began to discount it. Which was WRONG of me to do.

The moment I decided to take this story at face value and enjoy it for its action and adventure and badass protagonist (who shares my name *squeal*), I liked it a lot more.

When I was little, my sister and I were SUPER into old-timey swashbuckling hero adventure films like The Mark of Zorro and Errol Flynn's Robin Hood. I still can't help watching those movies without my heart swooning a bit for the dashing swordsman protagonist (who was similar in each and every one but we didn't care). I will also always love the high-intensity action movies with car chases and crazily choreographed fights and near-death moments.

So the instant I thought of Rook as a movie story, I fell in love. No more was I looking for my literary analysis and depth and underlying meaning. Now, all I wanted was a heartstopping climax standoff, a swashbuckling hero(ine), and a swoony love interest (who also happened to be swashbucklingly awesome and very Errol-Flynn-ish). Clearly, Rook went from kinda-meh to epically awesome.

Let's talk love triangle, because there was something of that ilk in this book.

No no, don't freak out, love-triangle-haters. This isn't your traditional romantic conflict.

Continuing with the film idea... Movie love triangles are different from literary love triangles, I've found. Literary love triangles are traditionally bad boy vs. nice boy.

But film love triangles are more like adventurous rogue vs. boring simpleton. At least the ones in the swashbuckling adventure films are, because Errol Flynn has to win the girl every time, right? So there really isn't much suspense when it comes to that.

Usually, when I read books, I fall for the nice boy because he is logical and sensible and sweet. The bad boy is usually clearly Not Right for our protagonist, in my eyes, since she needs someone to be her guiding rock. 

But in films, who wants to end up with the boring fellow when you could have dashing rogue who (somehow) always ends up falling head over heels for you even though he never has for any other girl and thus always has your best interests at heart? Not a hard decision. I'm clearly more reckless with my film crushes than with my book ones.

Rook has such a love triangle, despite it being a story in literary format and not film. Which is why this is the First Time I have EVER fallen in love with the "bad" boy in a book. But he's not exactly a "bad" boy, he's the dashing rogue of black and white adventure films whom I so adored as a child. He understands Sophia (our protagonist) and is an accomplice in her awesomeness, even though they mistrust each other a TON originally...

(something either one would totally say about the other in the beginning)

...whereas the other "love interest" (except he's not really because spoilery reasons) wants to conform Sophia to his own views of what she should be. 

What I'm saying is that this is not your regular love triangle, so even if you HATE them, give this book a try. This love triangle's unique. I'm also saying that Rene is perfection.

The whole book had an aura of fun about it - it's just such a WHEEEEE book, if that makes sense :-) When I finally got past the first bit of the book where I was judging it for being an obvious rehashing of Scarlet Pimpernel (which I really want to reread now), I had a ton of fun. I think it would make an epic movie (I'm sure you've already guessed that), not only because of all the stuff I've said above, but also because GOSH the costumes would be gorgeous. 

So. Read Rook because it's like reading an adventure film.
Read it because daring escapades and spies and saving people from the brink of death.
Read it because Sophia is a badass heroine and I love her.
Read it because Rene. And swoon. <3 Daughter stealer.

Lovely readers! Talk to me about books, movies, and what makes the storytelling different in them. Do you think my claim that "adventure" movies are less deep that "adventure" books is a legitimate one? And what is your stance on love triangles?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Recently Acquired Tomes

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by the fantastic people over at The Broke and The Bookish! Covers link to Goodreads.

This week's topic is actually not a "Top" ten, simply the last ten books that came into my possession.

I don't accrue books as quickly as some readers. I don't do a weekly haul post because, frankly, I haul as many books in a month as most people do in a week. So most weeks, there's nothing to share.

I think this is because I very rarely buy books I haven't read yet, and I'm not all up in the ARC game as some other bloggers are. So, mostly, the only books I get are from the library. And as I am in the middle of school (I'm always in the middle of school), I haven't been going to the library as much.

Oh well.

1. Fairest by Marissa Meyer

This one I got at Barnes and Noble, with a loverly gift card that had been sitting unused in my wallet for months. I finished this teensy little book two weeks ago and am DYING for Winter. Thankfully there were three bonus Winter chapters in the hardcover of Fairest, but that might not have helped so much as made me even more excited. My sister is reading Fairest now so I have a fangirling buddy.

2. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

This is from a recent library trip, and I read it two weeks ago as well. It was ethereal and magical and heartwrending and funny and cute and ALL THE THINGS. A review will be coming up eventually, if you wait long enough, because I somehow can't get my reviews on a nice schedule.

3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Another from the library trip, and one I finished last week. IT WAS SO GOOD. Review to come in an undetermined length of time.

4. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

The third and final acquirement from my library trip. Haven't started it yet, since I've decided I'm going to finish the Daughter of Smoke and Bone books first.

5. Watership Down by Richard Adams

This, the two Madeline L'Engle books below, as well as the Douglas Adams, came from the handy little shelf at my train station, where our local library puts books that they're discarding. And they're FREE FOR THE TAKING. I've found so many excellent (though slightly beat up) classics there. I haven't read Watership Down before, so I'm excited!

6. A Wind in the Door and 7. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L'Engle

These two are sequels to A Wrinkle in Time, and though I've read AWiT and AWitD, it's been a while. I need a reentry into this magical world.

8. Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams  

I confess, I haven't read the Hitchhiker books, but I know I should and I know I will love them! I thought I'd grab it as an incentive to read all the Hitchhiker books that came before it. 

9. Love Fortunes and Other Disasters by Kimberly Karlius

I got an ARC of this book, but it was a surprise since I didn't remember requesting it. I now vaguely remember entering an online giveaway - thanks, Swoon Reads! Anyway, I read it last month, and it was okay, but I had some issues with it. You can read about it in my review later this month!

10. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

I won this in an online giveaway and it's SIGNED! It was SUCH a lovely book. I ADORED the characters and the story and will be posting a review eventually.

Have you accrued any exciting books recently? What are you most excited to read?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Hyped Books I Haven't Read Yet!

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by the fantastic people over at The Broke and The Bookish! Covers link to Goodreads.

Today's topic is: Really really hyped books that I haven't read yet.
Now, this list could stretch a mile long because I am slow in catching up on all the books that I missed during my non YA reading years where 90% of the books I read were written by people who are dead by now.*

*This period of classics-inundation has taken up 89.47% of my life so far. That only leaves me with 10.53% of my life to have caught up on all the live authors. Cut me some slack.

SO. I'm going to try to focus on more recent releases (as in, last two/three years). And I promise, most of these are on my TBR.

I confess, some of these I don't have the slightest idea what they're about, even though I feel like people have been talking about all of these for AGES.

Also, I don't know if these were necessarily "hyped." They're just big name titles that get thrown around the YA-verse a lot.


I blather too much

Let us begin

1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Apparently this one is really intense and mysterious and suspenseful and thrilling.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)
2. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

My sister started reading this at one point (she borrowed it from a friend and only had a chance to read the first chapter). She said it was good and intriguing. It looks good and intriguing. I have no idea what it's about other than creepy children, which you can guess from looking at the cover.

3. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

I also have literally no clue what this one is about. Is it fantasy? Dystopia? Is it even magical? I sometimes just decide I'm too good to read GoodReads blurbs.

4. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
Again - drowning girls? Maybe? Is that what it's about? *shrugs*

To All the Boys I've Loved Before (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, #1)
5. To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
Now this one I've actually read the blurb for and vaguely know its premise. (Applaud me, people.) And it actually sounds super interesting! I wants it.

6. Paper Towns by John Green
Frankly, I've not read anything by John Green other than TFIOS, which I thought was okay. (No pun intended, I promise.) Everyone says I should give him another chance. The Paper Towns movie is coming out, and everyone's in a tizzy about it, but I might skip it and try Looking For Alaska, since that seems to be the general favorite among John Green fans.

7. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
I feel like I might be over it before I've even read it. But I should give it a chance, no?

8. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Huzzah and confetti, I got this book from the library last week and it sits on my shelf waiting to be read! Again - no clue what it's about. But I know Laini Taylor has pink hair, so that is a point in this book's favor.

9. The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey
EVERYONE says this is a great apocalyptic thing. I haven't read any apocalyptic books so I may have to pick this one up...?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7)
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
I knew I had to put this one on here. Don't get mad at me. I've read all the other ones! (Sometimes saying "I've read all the other ones!" somehow makes people madder.) *hides*

Which hyped books have you not yet read? Which on my list should I read next? (Other than Daughter of Smoke and Bone because I have that one on my shelf, so it has a pretty good chance of being my next read.) Do you think any of these were overhyped? Or which ones earned their good name? 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein // Look! My heart shattered into pieces on the floor.

17262236While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that's in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

I read this book at a bad time. I had just seen an opera called The Passenger which was about Women's Concentration Camps, particularly Auschwitz, and it was REMARKABLY and HEARTWRENDINGLY realistic for an opera. You think that opera is all about big spectacle and extravagant costumes and drama? Think again. The Passenger had me in tears three hours straight. It was awfully good and painful. 

Here are pictures from the production I saw:

So somehow I thought it was a good idea, right after watching this emotionally triggering and realistic opera about women's concentration camps, to read Rose Under Fire, an emotionally triggering and realistic book about women's concentration camps. 

I think I dehydrated myself from crying all these tears.

On top of it all, I have family history with these sorts of situations. I have reasonably close relatives who were sent to concentration camps, and many more, closer relatives, who were very near to being sent. And my own grandmother, who is right now sitting next to me peacefully eating her own homemade borscht, was running away under Nazi fire as an eight year old when her Ukrainian village was bombed. I would literally not exist if she had been taken to a camp and killed. 

So any sort of World War II story is extremely, extremely real to me, even if I never experienced it first-hand, because I grew up hearing the stories constantly.

It was so, so stressful reading this book. I didn't realize how many times my heart could be shattered. But it was also so, so upliftingly beautiful, because somehow, humanity finds a way to hold on to beauty even in the most horrific situations. The prisoners grasped on to anything to keep them alive. Even in situations that WE couldn't even DREAM of, they still wished to live and still clung to whatever they could. 
Somehow, humans are so tenacious and hopeful and resilient and lovely, that it gives me hope for humanity. 

The descriptions of the camp and its inmates was so torturous and yet so lovely and yet so disgusting and heartbreaking. Reading a book like this isn't easy. It isn't relaxing, and it takes something out of you. But in the end, you feel such empathy for those people involved - even though the characters weren't real, they were based on thousands and thousands of real people who suffered such things. And then it's not just about the Concentration Camps. PTSD is SUCH a real thing, so that even after you are technically "free," you can never really go back to the life before. Something of the horrors always lingers. And PTSD and its type were dealt with SO realistically in this book. 

I don't know how Elizabeth Wein does it, but she is somehow able to paint such impactful pictures with her words - pictures that are so real that it almost seems as though we are there with the characters, experiencing their struggles and emotions. Isn't this what good writing is all about? Bringing the reader into the experience? Elizabeth Wein is a master. I loved Code Name Verity (which is Book One of this series - Rose Under Fire is Book Two but they are fine as standalones) but I cried more for this one. Code Name Verity felt more plot-centered and twisty than this one. Rose Under Fire was more about characters and experiences and daily life in Hell. 

One particular thing I adored was this juxtaposition of poetry with the dangers and fatalities and Nazi awfulness. There was poetry interwoven through the book - whether it was Edna St. Vincent Millay (whom I now need to read more of because she writes loveliness) or Rose (which really means it was Elizabeth Wein, which means Elizabeth Wein is a spectacular poet). Good poetry makes my heart leap in a special way - like this:

Understand the horrible things that happened, so that they aren't forgotten.
Understand the tenacity of the human spirit, and have hope for humanity.
Understand the loveliness of LIFE, despite the atrocities that taint it.

Don't you think that if everyone read a book like this, about the atrocities committed - not only in Nazi Camps, but in other horrific historical crimes - the world would become a better place? I have a complicated thought about Empathy and Reading and Psychology and World Peace that isn't fully sorted out yet in my mind, but maybe one of these days I will be able to post something about it.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

June // Chemistry + Renaissance Faire + Camp NaNo

Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Americans!

This post is late because I deleted it all by accident right before I was about to post it. Why do these things happen? Argh.

Anyway, I decided that I didn't like my previous monthly recap look, and so I changed it. Yay for fresh looks!

~My favorite book this month was probably A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, though If I Stay by Gayle Foreman was definitely a close second.

~I've decided I'm not going to do Camp NaNo this July because I need to work on the book of my heart, which is VeniceNovel. All my other WIPs, I realized, were more like intellectual puzzles - I didn't have them in my heart, just in my mind. So they were going nowhere at the moment. That's why I've decided to go back to VeniceNovel for the time being, because I know exactly what I want the reader to feel when they read it. And VeniceNovel needs some major rehauls that don't work well with NaNo's quantity-over-quality mentality. So, good luck campers! Maybe I'll join you in November.

~I'm going to the Bristol Renaissance Faire in August! My mom found discount tickets and so my sister and I (and possibly some friends) are heading out. I AM MAJORLY EXCITED. Going to the Ren Faire has literally been a dream of mine since I was an infant and knew such a thing existed. AND NOW IT'S HAPPENING. FINALLY. SO PSYCHED.

~Summer school is in full swing and I am doing lots and lots of organic chemistry lab experiments and writing lots and lots of long reports on them. I don't awfully mind it, but it's making me SUPER grateful that there is such a thing as summer classes and I don't have to take orgo lab with my regular courses this fall. And also I am so happy that my other summer school class is Spanish, which is a joke. The language program at my school is crap, which, though it isn't teaching me much, means it's really easy to get good grades in Spanish without any work.

Watership Down by Richard Adams (from the lovely free book shelf my library set up at our train station)
A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L'Engle (also from the train station book shelf)
Fairest by Marissa Meyer (from a Barnes and Noble trip with friends - I had a gift card and put it to good use! So exited to read this one)
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (library)
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (library)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (library)

Click on the photos to go to their Instagram versions.


I only posted four times in June, so I don't think it's exactly fair to do a top three... so let's settle for two:

May // The Month of Adventure 
{Last month's recap was basically just pictures of my trip to London and Paris - how excitement!}

My Writing Strengths (and Weaknesses)
{No one's perfect. No, not even me. Shocker, I know.}

Brittany at the Book Addict's Guide posted the latest #OTSPSecretSister sign-up information! If you don't know what this is, you should go check it out. It's lovely and uplifiting and I hope I get to be a part of it!.

Cait at Paper Fury talked about why she always finishes books, and I basically agreed with every single thing she said.

Bennet at My Sky of Paper and Ink gave a pep talk on writing the first draft of a novel. I'm kind of crappy at finishing drafts so I always need this kind of motivation!

How was your month? Read any exciting books? Are you doing Camp NaNo? And if you are - tell me about your novel-project!