Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books On My Spring TBR

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR.

1. Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis: I read the first few chapters via Penguin’s First to Read program and am dying to find out what happens in the rest of the book. Thankfully there’s less than a month until its release!

2. The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron: I finally bought a copy of this purportedly hysterical tale about a smooth-talking wizard/thief, which has been on my TBR for a while.

3. The Witch of Painted Sorrow by M.J. Rose: One of my best friends read this book and loved it, so I picked up a copy from the local library. I don’t reach much adult fiction, but I’ve heard great things about this author and am excited to give her a shot.

Book cover for Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnisBook cover for The Spirit Thief by Rachel AaronBook cover for The Witch of Painted Sorrow by M.J. Rose

4.  Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor: I don’t know much about this book’s plot or characters, but I loved Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy and am excited to try her latest novel.

5. The Valiant by Lesley Livingston: Female. Gladiators. Need I say more?

6. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro: I have no recollection of buying this modern-day Watson/Holmes story, but I recently found it amongst the other e-books in my Kindle Library, which was a weird but pleasant surprise.

Book cover for Strange the Dreamer by Laini TaylorBook cover for The Valiant by Lesley LivingstonBook cover for A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

7. Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare: So far I’m not loving The Dark Artifices series quite as much as the others Clare’s written, but I’m still looking forward to seeing how everything plays out in Lord of Shadows.

8. Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas by James Patterson: My mom’s convinced me to join her book club (she doesn’t actually read the books, she’s just in it for the wine and board games, no lie), and this is the book they’ve chosen for the next meeting.

9. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Cassandra Clare: My coworker lent this to me over a year ago, which means I should probably get around to reading it so I can finally get it back to her. Oops.

Book cover for Lord of Shadows by Cassandra ClareBook cover for Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas by James PattersonBook cover for The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

10. The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin: I received a review copy of this middle-grade fantasy from Puffin Books and have high hopes for it, as the novel’s been touted as an “epic” read for The Chronicles of Narnia fans.

Book cover for The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin

What books do you plan to read this spring? Let me know in the comments below!

Review: Never Never by Brianna R. Shrum

Never Never Book Cover Never Never
Brianna R. Shrum

James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up. When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man, James decides he could try being a child - at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children's dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to be a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up. But grow up he does. And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate. This story isn't about Peter Pan; it's about the boy whose life he stole. It's about a man in a world that hates men. It's about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan. Except one.

Review:

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

As a kid, I watched a lot of Disney movies, and although I enjoyed the heroes and princesses, the characters that interested me the most were the villains. I don’t know what this says about me as a person, but I found Ursula, Scar, Hades, and the like far more compelling than their heroic counterparts.

Given my soft spot for fictional antagonists, it’s no surprise that Never Never pleased me as much as it did. It’s the origin story – or, I suppose, the entire life story – of Captain James Hook, Peter Pan’s arch-nemesis.

Much as I loved this book, the two of us didn’t initially get off to an auspicious start. Never Never is very slow at first, beginning with 12-year-old James’ family life in London and detailing how he meets Peter and is tricked into accompanying him to Neverland. The first several chapters are a slog, and it took me ages to get through the entire novel because I kept taking long breaks and having to go back and reread from the beginning. Once I finally made it to the end of the first section, though, I was completely hooked. (Pun intended! 🙂 )

I should warn you in advance: Never Never isn’t exactly what you’d consider an uplifting book. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it grim. Initially lured to Neverland with a promise that he can simply visit “on holiday,” James is dismayed when he realizes that he’s trapped in Peter’s fantasy world and can never return home to his family. Devastated, James joins the ranks of Lost Boys, where he remains until he commits Neverland’s gravest sin – beginning to grow up. Cast out by Pan, James soon realizes that options are limited in Neverland; if you aren’t with Peter Pan, you can only be against him.

“You were selected. So you could come and go from Neverland as you pleased, and so could your dreams…But the ones Peter likes, they stay here forever.”

Shrum does a fantastic job of imbuing James’ story with an air of wistfulness and loss. Lost family, lost home, lost friends, lost innocence…James has been robbed of just about everything good in his life, and the tragic thing is that he knows it. Peter and his Lost Boys wear figurative blinders; they’re childish and self-absorbed and don’t recognize what they’re missing. Nor are they troubled by conscience. In fact, they literally FORGET people and truths that are inconvenient to them and are therefore able to go on happily living in their little fantasy world. In contrast, James remembers everything that happens to him. He’s the only self-aware, memory-burdened person in Pan’s twisted world, and it’s a lonely and terrible thing.

What’s ironic about James is that he has all the makings of a hero…if only this were another world, another story. It’s Peter Pan’s treachery, and the madness that it drives James to, that makes him the villain in Pan’s Neverland. I couldn’t help but sympathize with James, even as I watched grief and bitterness drive him farther and farther down a path that I couldn’t condone. He transforms from James, a bright and noble boy, to Hook, a debauched, arrogant, ruthless pirate, and though it’s fascinating to watch, it’s also painful. He becomes less and less recognizable as he loses himself in revenge, guilt, and rage.

“‘Tell me, pirate,’ she said after he’d been silent for a while, ‘how am I to change what Neverland has willed me to be? You clearly couldn’t.’
Hook recoiled, ripped from his musings, struck by her words. ‘What did you say?’ […]
‘I’m saying that you were not a scoundrel when you came here. You were not a pirate. But it was your destiny, wasn’t it?’”

It’s not just James’ transformation into Captain Hook that makes Never Never so fascinating; it’s also Peter Pan himself. I’ve got to give it to Shrum – in Peter, she’s written a supremely infuriating, hateful little wretch of a character. He’s selfish, irresponsible, and cruel, and I found myself despising him almost as fiercely as James did. The thing about Peter, though, is that he has a strange allure. Neverland is his creation, having been manifested from Peter’s dreams. As a result, everything in his world is compulsively attuned to him. The land itself responds to his moods, which is scary given see how volatile he can be. It makes Neverland a place that is both wondrous and ominous, lovely and sinister.

“It was too beautiful to be real. But, everything in Neverland seemed too something to be real. Too beautiful, too horrible, too fantastic, too savage.”

Peter’s influence over Neverland and its inhabitants makes for great tension in the story. Think about it – what hope does James, Peter Pan’s sworn enemy, have for happiness in a world literally designed for and by Peter Pan? The odds are stacked against him. Even James himself feels the pull of Peter’s magnetism: “[S]omehow, in the darkest depths of him, as Peter was trying to murder him, a piece of James wanted to give him whatever it was that he wanted.”

Between James Hook and Peter Pan, Never Never has everything you need for a captivating story about the rise and fall of a villain. The only thing that might be considered missing is an element of hope and cheer, but I thought Never Never was better without it. The book is haunting and tragic, but that’s the kind of villain origin story that calls to me the most. If you have similar tastes, Never Never is definitely for you.

Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch Book Cover The Bone Witch
Rin Chupeco

The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Review:

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I am more than a little irritated right now.

If you’ve read my review of Courvalian: The Resistance by Benjamin Reed, you know how enraged I get when I feel like I’ve been cheated by a book’s ending. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s enough to send me over the edge. Hence, the single star for The Bone Witch.

The book’s pacing is terrible, the protagonist has about as much personality as a dead fish, and the plot is buried under a mountain of tedious and unnecessary details. And yet, Chupeco doles out just enough promising tidbits to make you think you’re being set up for something epic to eventually happen. Even as I grew increasingly bored and impatient, I forced myself to keep reading because I just KNEW there had to be payoff in the end.

I was wrong. This book is just a giant tease.

The novel is presented as a tale told to a traveling bard by a 17-year-old girl named Tea. Tea is a bone witch, capable of commanding the dead. Once a rising star in the world of asha (women who can wield magic and are highly sought-after members of society), Tea has fallen from grace and is living in exile. At the bard’s request, Tea agrees to share her story and explain how she ended up where she currently is. But here’s the thing – she never actually gets around to revealing what happened and why she’s been exiled.

The book alternates between the present, where the bard watches Tea ostensibly prepare for some kind of battle, and the past, which shows Tea’s discovery of her powers and her induction into the world of asha. Whereas past Tea is relatively pleasant and naïve, present-day Tea is bitter, sad, and set on revenge. You’d expect to learn, over the course of the book, what made her this way, what journey she took to get from Point A to Point B. Instead, you just get endlessly dull descriptions of Tea’s magical training and the duties of the asha. There are no actual answers. The tragic love story that present-day Tea keeps alluding to? It never transpires. The big event that ostensibly leads to Tea cutting ties with everyone she’s ever cared about? You never see it happen.

I’m not kidding – you get zero answers. At the end it’s basically like, “Now that you know everything you could possibly need to know about asha clothing and parties and the countries that make up this fictional kingdom, the book is going to end. Hope you don’t mind waiting until book two to actually learn something worthwhile!

What a complete and utter cop-out. I am a flaming ball of rage.

I might have been mildly appeased if the book at least had strong characterization and writing, but that isn’t the case. The only characters who are remotely interesting get very little page time, and the ones we see the most of – Tea and her resurrected brother, Fox – are insipid. The writing itself is just meh. This could have been because I was reading an ARC, but certain phrases were confusing and awkward, and I felt like a lot of sentences could’ve been reworded.

One last frustration, and then I’ll give it a rest: the world-building didn’t do it for me. There are so many details, so many kingdoms and cultures and clothes and politics, that it’s just too much to take in. It’s evident that Chupeco invested a lot of time and care into her world and its inhabitants, but I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it.

I was especially bewildered by the asha, who are essentially fantasy-world versions of Japanese geisha. I couldn’t wrap my head around their purpose. These women have magical abilities and are trained to be bad-ass fighters, but 95% of the time all you see them do is paint their faces, arrange flowers, play the sitar, and attend parties. They are highly popular and are paid to attend dinners and soirees, though I’m not really sure why. They’re basically just fashionable, glorified party guests, who happen to be able to work magic. Again, I don’t really get it. All I know is that if I have to read one more description of an asha’s elaborate hairpins or decorative waist wrap, I’m going to expire of boredom.

2017 Love-A-Thon: 7 Books You Should Read Based On The Movies You Like

Logo for 2017 Love-A-Thon

One of my favorite pastimes – other than reading, of course – is going to the movies. This next Love-A-Thon challenge allows me put both of those passions together. The purpose of the “X Meets Y” challenge is to somehow combine the books and movies that I love, in order for other people to find new recommendations for things to check out. I chose to do this by proving recommendations for books you might enjoy based on your taste in movies. Here you go!

1) If you like Titanic, you should read: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer.

I just finished The Midnight Watch a couple of weeks ago and was absolutely blown away. It’s some of the best historical fiction I’ve read in a while and is utterly fascinating. It tells the story of the Titanic tragedy from various points of view, such as a newspaper reporter investigating the disaster, the sailors on a ship that was close enough to save the Titanic’s passengers but chose not to act, and a third-class woman who lost her life when the ship sank. The Midnight Watch doesn’t have the romance plot line that Titanic does, but there’s great dramatic irony, plus lots of engrossing details and facts. (Read my review of The Midnight Watch here.)

Poster image for the movie TitanicBook cover for The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

2) If you love Remember the Titans, you might enjoy: Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher.

There are many parallels between these two; they both feature sports, groups of misfit athletes who have to come together as a unified team, and characters who have to fight against racial prejudice and bigotry. Whale Talk is about a swim team, not a football team, but it’s just as moving as Remember the Titans and gives me the same transcendent feeling that the movie always does.

Poster image for the movie Remember the TitansBook cover for Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

3) If you’re a fan of The Phantom of the Opera, you should try: Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine.

I know a lot of readers have been raving about RoseBlood recently, but Of Metal and Wishes is still my favorite Phantom of the Opera-inspired tale. I was very impressed with Fine’s imaginative take on the classic; her take is is set in a factory within a fictitious country that’s got a distinctly Asian feel. The romance, the characterization, and the world-building is just so, so perfect. Plus, it’s the first POTR retelling that made me love the “Raoul” character more than the phantom. Shocking, right?

Poster image for the movie Phantom of the OperaBook cover for Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

4) If you enjoyed Blue Valentine, I think you’ll like: Stay With Me by Paul Griffin.

I’ll give you fair warning – this book will break your heart just as much as Blue Valentine! Like the movie, Griffin’s book is a bittersweet romance and tells the story of how a guy and girl meet, fall in love, and then fall apart. It’s adorable, awkward, beautiful…and oh, so painful.

Poster image for the movie Blue ValentineBook cover for Stay With Me by Paul Griffin

5) If you like Braveheart, check out: Red Rising by Pierce Brown.

Although Braveheart is set in Scotland in the 13th century and Red Rising is set on Mars in the distant future, they have a lot of similarities. Like William Wallace, Darrow, the protagonist in the book, undergoes personal tragedy and becomes a warrior to fight against oppression. Also like Wallace, Darrow has an inner fire and charisma that win people’s hearts and loyalty. Red Rising also features games that are played out in a land of castles, highlands, forests, and vales. Add battle cries, ferocious warriors galloping around on horseback, animal pelts, and war paint, and you’ve got a great Braveheart vibe. (Read my review of Red Rising here.)

Poster image for the movie BraveheartBook cover for Red Rising by Pierce Brown

6) If you like Miss Congeniality, I recommend: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.

Whenever I talk about Beauty Queens – which is often – I like to summarize it as “a hilarious take on what Lord of the Flies would be like if a bunch of teen beauty pageant contestants had been plane-wrecked on the island instead of a bunch of British schoolboys.” Like Miss Congeniality, Bray’s novel is super funny, yet ultimately – maybe surprisingly – heartwarming.

Poster image for the movie Miss CongenialityBook cover for Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

7) If you’re a fan of Troy, you might enjoy: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Achilles is my favorite figure in Greek mythology, and he plays a prominent role in both Troy and The Song of Achilles. (Obviously!) Each story follows the events of the Trojan War, with Troy mainly focusing on the action and adventure Achilles is part of, and Miller’s book focusing on a tender, passionate romance between Achilles and Patroclus. (Read my review of The Song of Achilles here.)

Poster image for the movie TroyBook cover for The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

2017 Love-A-Thon: Let Me Sing You A Love Song

Logo for 2017 Love-A-Thon

The next mini-challenge I’m taking part in for 2017 Love-A-Thon is “Let Me Sing You A Love Song,” which requires bloggers to dedicate love songs to book characters. I was pumped for this challenge because I ADORE book playlists! I wouldn’t classify all of the songs I’ve chosen for today as actual “love songs,” but I can apply them all to fictional relationships so I’m going to hope it counts. 🙂

Book cover for Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi1) The Books: Shatter Me trilogy by Tahereh Mafi
The Song: “My Skin” by Natalie Merchant
Juliette, the heroine in Mafi’s trilogy, has a terrifying power: she can steal people’s energy and life force simply by touching her skin to theirs. As a result, Juliette is imprisoned, feared, and hated, and she lives a lonely, miserable life, desperate for connection and companionship. She does finally find love (and someone who can touch her, yay!) but for much of her life she’s terribly mistreated. Thus, the reason “My Skin” is her theme song: “I’ve been treated so wrong / I’ve been treated so long / As if I’m untouchable.”

Book cover for Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat2) The Books: Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat
The Song: “No Light, No Light” by Florence and the Machine
I can’t take credit for this pairing; on Twitter, C.S. Pacat noted that she played “No Light, No Light” on repeat while writing the love scene in Prince’s Gambit. If you’ve read Pacat’s trilogy, you know how perfect this song is for Laurent and Damen. If you haven’t read the trilogy, what are you waiting for?! Go buy a copy right now!!

Book cover for Every Day by David Levithan3) The Book: Every Day by David Levithan
The Song: “Wherever You Will Go” by The Calling
“Wherever You Will Go” sounds like it could have been written explicitly for Every Day. In Levithan’s book, the hero/ine, known simply as A, wakes up in a new body every single day. A is forced to live out each day in the life of a stranger before going to bed and waking up the next day as someone new. As you can imagine, this makes it almost impossible to forge lasting relationships…which is why it’s so beautifully tragic when A falls in love with a girl named Rhiannon. A decides to try to do whatever it takes to stay with Rhiannon and make a life with her, which is why “Wherever You Will Go” is such an appropriate song for this book. There’s so much more I could say about the connection between the book and song, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers!

Book cover for The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith4) The Book: The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
The Song: “Bruised” by Jack’s Mannequin
The tie between this book and song is a bit of a stretch, but there’s enough of a connection that I always think of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight when I hear “Bruised” on the radio.The Statistical Probability… is about a young couple that meets for the first time on an airplane and get to know one another over the course of the flight. On the flip side, “Bruised” is about a guy and his girlfriend who are on a plane and will have to part ways once that plane lands. They’re cherishing the last few hours that they have together in the air and wishing the time could last forever.

Book cover for The Opportunist by Tarryn Fisher5) The Book: The Opportunist by Tarryn Fisher
The Song: “Bad Things” by Meiko
I can’t say that the relationship between Olivia and Caleb in The Opportunist is a healthy one, but it sure is captivating. Olivia is a cold, calculating bitch, and she will do whatever it takes to be with Caleb. She’s definitely not a likable narrator, but her manipulative, scheming nature makes her fascinating to read about. That’s why “Bad Things” is the perfect song for her. Here are some sample lyrics: “You get yours, I’ll get mine / Then we run out of time, / You’re the only one that I desire, / ‘Cause I love to play with fire. / Good girls do bad things sometimes, / But we get by with it.”

Have you read any of the books listed above? If so, do you think the songs are fitting? Are there any other songs you feel would be a great match? Let me know in the comments section below!