Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier

Son of the Shadows is the second novel in Juliet Marillier's amazing Sevenwater's series which follows Sorcha's youngest daughter Liadan. Liadan is a talented healer; so kind and open that people constantly compare her to her wonderful mother. Like her uncle Finbar, she is also gifted with the Sight which is more of a burden than anything. She was blessed to have been raised in happiness, however, she keeps having ominous feelings and flashes of insight warning her that life will soon be changing for the worse. Powerless to do anything about this, she clings to her brother and sister, trying to keep them close any way possible. On the way home from seeing her sister wed, Liadan is captured by a group of mercenaries who are known for their fierceness and cruelty. Forced to heal one of their badly wounded men, Liaden finds herself drawn to these men who proclaim to have no past or future but who are in awe of her. She especially is drawn to the Chief, Bran, whose future, like it or not, is directly tied to hers.

Liadan faces some truly hard challenges, but unlike her mother Sorcha, she fights against what the Fair Folk and destiny have in store for her in favor of making her own future. I like that she's feisty and has a heart at the same time. I keep forgetting how young these girls are though. I mean Sorcha was 14 when she started her quest in Daughter of the Forest and Liadan is like 15 or 16 for most of the action in Son of the Shadows. Yikes, that's what you call a fast childhood.

This was such a fantastic sequel to an amazing first book. I am constantly amazed by Marillier's seemingly slow buildup of action and conflict. You know something is going to happen to her characters but they are just going innocently along hits and you never even guessed what she had in store. On top of that, her love stories are always hard-won. Liadan and Bran are no exception. There is no easy happily-ever-after in any of Marillier's books and I think that is what makes their stories just so dang readable.

reading order:
~ Daughter of the Forest
~ Son of the Shadows
~ Child of the Prophecy
~ Heir to Sevenwaters

Summer Reading Blitz update: 21/30

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Sorcha is the seventh child of a seventh son, Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Her elder six brothers adore and watch out for her as her mother died delivering her. Her life has been happy and full of wonderment until her father becomes enamored of a wicked sorceress who has him under her spell. Things begin to change quickly for Sorcha as her stepmother seeks to control their lives and pit father, brother and sister against one another. In an act of true inhumanity, the stepmother transforms Sorcha's six brothers into swans and Sorcha's only hope of lifting the curse is to weave six shirts, one for each brother, out of the painful starwort nettle and to not utter a word until her task is complete. Agreeing to the monumental task, Sorcha sets off on a long road full of suffering to restore her brothers and her family. But along the way she meets those will aid and alter her story forever.

Set in a pre-Christian Ireland, Marillier's work is full of Celtic mythology and descriptions of people and place that I felt myself right there along Sorcha as she traveled across the land. Marillier's characters never have a easy time of things and this book is certainly no exception - Sorcha pays dearly to gain what she wants with many casualties along the way. This was no easy read for me and is definitely recommended to mature readers only. I find that Marillier can create some truly good characters. They prove themselves time and again. But Marillier allows even her good characters to face challenges and difficulties that forever change them - usually for the better, but not always. Likewise, Marillier's villains are truly evil. There are some folks in this book that are too creepy to think about. It's an amazing book though - based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale - but competely unique and spellbinding in its heartbreak and joys.

I did find one part strikingly similar to another of her books, Wolfskin, which I read a few years ago. They both contained the same idea of a young Irish girl healing a foreign man in seclusion aided by a holy man. Not that it was the exact same circumstances, but both scenes were similar enough to make me wonder if anyone else thought about how much they paralleled each other.

reading order:
~ Daughter of the Forest
~ Son of the Shadows
~ Child of the Prophecy
~ Heir to Sevenwaters

Summer Reading Blitz update: 20/30

The Little Lady Agency and the Prince by Hester Browne

Just a warning: If you haven't already read the first two Little Lady Agency books, you may want to hold off reading this review - that is unless you don't mind a bit of a spoiler - I'll try to keep things to a minimum, but BEWARE.

Okay, onto the story. Melissa is back as The Little Lady who can solve any problem. No bachelor too scruffy, no family crisis too daunting - she's there to sort it all out. Her reputation has spread so much that she is hired to help Prince Nicolas clean up his bad boy partying ways for a shot at regaining the family castle. Nicky is more than a little charming and Mel feels she's in over her head especially after her sister unexpectedly gives birth and decides no one but Mel can plan the perfect christening for her son. And perhaps find the perfect name for said baby while she's at it. Ugh. All the while, she's trying to enjoy being engaged to the successful, romantic Jonathan Riley which isn't going entirely according to plan since his relocation to Paris. Unfortunately, Jonathan has his own ideas for Mel's Little Lady Agency and Melissa must sort out her own feelings before her life competely changes.

After dealing with Jonathan trying to control Melissa and her business for the past two books, I did my very own little happy dance when Melissa finally puts her foot down concerning a few troubling issues. Sometimes I wonder just who does Jonathan think he is?? He keeps setting up all these rules for Mel: first no pretending to be anyone's girlfriend (sort of understandable), then no wig (Eek!), then no agency (double Eek!)?? I just don't get why Mel is so head over heels with him when in every book she is basically crying her heart out becuase Remington doesn't quite see her for who she really is. But Ms. Browne does clear up all sorts of murky relationship issues and leaves me more than optimistic about Melissa's future.

After reading this series, enjoyable as it was, it's safe to say I'm done with chick-lit for a little while. I think I need a break from all this happily-ever-after stuff.

reading order:
~ The Little Lady Agency
~ Little Lady, Big Apple
~ The Little Lady Agency and the Prince

Summer Reading Blitz update: 16/30

Little Lady, Big Apple by Hester Browne

Melissa Romney-Jones transformed her blah life from being a doormat to her family and having horrible jobs to being the proud owner of a successful business, The Little Lady Agency, where she turns awkward bachelors into eligible men and scoring the boyfriend of her dreams, Mr. Perfect Himself, Jonathan (affectionately known as Remington Steele or Dr. No by Mel's friends). Business is booming and Mel is happier than ever when her flatmate and best friend, Nelson, tells her he is leaving for a few months during which their apartment will be undergoing severe renovations - translation: Mel has to find someplace new to live, fast. When Jonathan suggests she move to New York with him for the 2 months, Mel is hesitant to leave her clients, family, and London lifestyle.

Eventually she is persuaded to join him in the Big Apple, but once she arrives, Melissa finds it hard to compete with Jonathan's seemingly perfect Park Avenue friends, his demanding job, and the memories of his ever present ex-wife. Jonathan also forbids(!) Mel from employing her trade (aka helping out hapless chaps) while in New York and forbids her to wear The Wig. Oh no he didn't! The Wig is what transforms Melissa into her alter-ego Honey who wears skinny pencil skirts, has better manners than the Queen, and can plan any event in her sleep. Melissa agrees but out of loneliness and her very nice personality gets dragged into helping a fellow Londoner turned actor clean up his image. Things get very tricky in a hurry.

This second installment in Browne's Little Lady Agency series was good fun. The first I liked much more since this one was more uncomfortable with all the garbage Mel puts up with. That said, I like Melissa, not only is she funny, charming and so well mannered, but she happens to be so organized I'm envious. I only wish she'd learn to not let people (including Remington Steele himself) bulldoze her. And Nelson, oh how I adore you Nelson. Ever present with your fabulous home-cooked meals, foot rubs, and amazing advice, I think you are The Perfect Man. I'm crossing my fingers that some relationship rearranging will occur in the next installment.

reading order:
~ The Little Lady Agency
~ Little Lady, Big Apple
~ The Little Lady Agency and the Prince

Summer Reading Blitz update: 15/30

The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne

I'll just start this review off by saying: I'm torn after reading this book.

The Little Lady Agency is the first in a three part series starring Melissa Romney-Jones, a girl who has been fired - once again - from her job and has no clue where to go from there. Extremely organized and good at soothing the ruffled feathers of her co-workers and friends, Melissa, after a string of highly amusing events and coincidences, decides to open her own agency specially marketed to those blokes who have more than a little trouble organizing their lives. Whether it be a clothes makeover, someone to advise them on asking a girl out, posing as a girlfriend to get matchmaking mamas off their backs, or just firing the hired help, Melissa can handle anything with her no-nonsense attitude - everything except for laundry and sex that is.

Only thing is, Melissa doesn't want to be recognized due to her politically prominent family and thus dons a blonde wig and an alternate personality, Honey during 'business hours'. As Honey, Melissa wears tighter clothing and can make the honest yet somewhat brutal remarks accommodating Melissa would never dream of uttering. Even though her wonderful friends Nelson and Gabi insist that side of Melissa has always been there, she can't see it.

Okay, so now for my reasons for not totally being wowed by this one. I mean, at times, it's hilarious. Melissa gets into some laugh-out-loud situations with her awkward bachelors and her family had me in stitches to no end. My beef comes with her choice in men. I know Ms. Browne was going for a whole passion-over-friendship thing but I really don't see her decision working out for her in the end. I don't want to spoil it here, but if you too are feeling less than pleased with how things end up, let me know cause I am more than a little miffed at her decision. Other than that, I really enjoyed this book - the characters were great, it was surprisingly clean for a 'chick book', and it dealt with all things London and English. My idea of a good time.

reading order:
~ The Little Lady Agency
~ Little Lady, Big Apple
~ The Little Lady Agency and the Prince

Summer Reading Blitz update: 14/30

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

In book three of the Song of the Lioness series, Alanna has just received her Knight's shield and is anxious to be off on an adventure of her own making. Accompanied by the steady Coram, who trained her as a young page, Alanna feels ready for any eventuality. Heading southward, Alanna and Coram are attacked by murderous desert dwellers and are eventually rescued by the equally enigmatic Bazhir people who offer her two options: fight one of their own warriors and join the tribe or be killed. Wisely, Alanna fights and awes group with her fighting skills and compassion - except for a notable few members of the Bloody Hawk tribe. Despite all the tradition and prejudice against women, Alanna is slowing welcomed by the group, eventually becoming the tribe's newest shaman and training three youngsters to carry on her in place.

Even though she has escaped the confines of palace life, Alanna is confronted with the reality of determining her relationship with Prince Jonathan while the ever comforting presence of George, the King of the Thieves, silently keeps watch over her. All of Alanna's friends are wonderful but George has always been a standout for me. This book finally showed a little more personality in Jonathan and, for good or bad, made for a more interesting character.

Wherever she goes, Alanna draws attention. It's probably the whole red hair, purple eyes, warrior maiden thing she has going on but it really works for her. I'd probably stop in my tracks if she crossed my way too. That said, I love how she is constantly faced with difficult challenges where there really is no easy answer. Alanna faces each situation with maturity and intelligence that I can't help but admire. But above all, she is loyal to her friends and to the vows she made as a knight and it shows in everything she does. I am so enjoying this series and I can't wait to see what is up next for Alanna in the concluding volume, Lioness Rampant.

reading order:
~ Alanna: The First Adventure
~ In the Hand of the Goddess
~ The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
~ Lioness Rampant

Summer Reading Blitz update: 17/30

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce

Alanna has come farther than she ever expected - she's advanced so far in her knights training that she has been chosen as squire to the prince of Tortall, Jonathan. But that honor only comes as a surprise to Alanna as Jonathan has become one of her best friends and she has proven time and again that she would do anything for the brave prince. Alanna soon discovers how complicated their relationship becomes as she slowly matures not only into an excellent fighter but a woman as well (which of course she must constantly hide).

Alanna experiences so much in this book - her first battle, sorcery training, a little romance, and even court intrigues. But as she slowly begins to suspect that a crafty sorcerer is not only after the crown and Jonathan's life but her own life as well Alanna must decide where her true loyalties lie and how far she will go to discover the truth. In all honesty, I was a little confused by Alanna's hesitancy to divulge her suspicions, but Pierce lived up to her narrative and explained all nicely and to my liking.

Book two in Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness series was just as wonderfully crafted as the first. In this volume, Alanna becomes more comfortable in her own skin as she makes choices that have lasting effects on herself and those she loves. All my favorites were back in this wonderful little book: the Prince, George, Gary and even her brother Thom, who gets some much deserved screen time. As always, Alanna's can-do personality competely won this reader over and had me turning the pages faster than ever. In Pierce's unassuming style, I've truly fell in love with the courageous and loving Alanna - just like everyone around her does.

reading order:
~ Alanna: The First Adventure
~ In the Hand of the Goddess
~ The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
~ Lioness Rampant

Summer Reading Blitz update: 13/30

Sunday morning giggles

Thank heavens there was no Facebook around in Jane Austen's time.
But I absolutely die every time I read this little Pride & Prejudice parody as if it were written as Facebook status updates.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

I'm not quite sure how, but somewhere along the way in my fantasy reading I totally missed out on the perfectness that is Tamora Pierce. Most likely this omission is due to my not reading teen books while a teenager. That said, I've had several people recommend I start with Pierce's Alanna series and I am happy to report these books are as wonderful as everyone told me they were. Surprise, surprise.

Neither Alanna nor her twin brother Thom want to be what their father (and the rest of the world) want them to be. Thom has always preferred books and sorcery to outdoor pursuits while Alanna isn't happy unless she's out riding, hunting, or in general behaving like a boy. Both Alanna and Thom are more than disappointed when their bookish father decides to send them away - Thom to the castle to learn to be a Knight and Alanna to a local convent to study. Desperate to be spared their fates, Alanna chops off her hair and forges letters from their father sending Alanna as a boy to the castle and Thom to the convent to learn sorcery. Upon arriving at the castle, no one guesses Alanna's secret and she is free to train as a page. Though small, the other boys and adults are impressed with the spunky 'Alan' as she is now known and through hard work earns the respect of everyone around her.

Alanna is wonderful - she never understands her true worth or why those around her love her so much but it's immediately obvious to the reader. She works much harder than anyone else to become the best, especially since she much smaller than the other boys. I also loved Tamora Pierce's frank narrative style that seems to follow Alanna's mental development as well as her physical. Her world building is also a standout - a whole pantheon of gods and intriguing political relationships that continue to lend more maturity to the books as Alanna develops. This series was truly a revelation to me and I can't believe I have waited so long to read them. You can be sure I'll be finishing them in a hurry.

reading order:
~ Alanna: The First Adventure
~ In the Hand of the Goddess
~ The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
~ Lioness Rampant

Summer Reading Blitz update: 12/30

Stray by Rachel Vincent

There are so many urban fantasy series out there with a tough heroine more often than not trying to prove something to the world or herself. Faythe, the werecat turned student, actually has my attention in this believable action-packed story about a young werecat trying to make a place for herself in a predominantly male society.

She is a graduate student who is basically going to school to avoid her family - who she hasn't seen in give or take five years. Except for those sent to keep an eye on her over the years that is. But she had good reasons for leaving - being the only daughter of one of the most protective Alpha werecat has left her feeling like she has few options other than 'obey.' Outside her normal, college student world, female werecats or tabbies as they are known are extremely rare (unlike their male counterparts) and as such are highly prized and, by consequence, highly guarded. Faythe is set never to return home when she meets a stray werecat and finds out that other tabbies have gone missing. Scared and more than a little ticked off to be forced home to face friends and family she thought she'd put behind her, Faythe discovers she isn't the only one who has changed in the last five years.

Faythe is a believable heroine. Having grown up with four other brothers and an aggressive father, I could totally see her taking down some guy twice her size or at least giving him a piece of her mind. I also found supreme enjoyment in her inability to keep her mouth shut during an argument and the resulting consequences. Highly amusing. The action is set against some truly entertaining encounters with her overbearing brothers and dad, her ex boyfriend Marc, and the potential flame, Jace - these guys have personality to spare and really made every page come alive. I'll be sticking around for sure to see what comes next.

reading order:
~ Stray
~ Rogue
~ Pride
~ Prey

Summer Reading Blitz
update: 10/30

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn

Lady Julia Grey has had enough. Despite Brisbane's best efforts to keep her safely out of his path, she has decided to follow her sister Portia to his remote Yorkshire estate, Grimsgrave, on the pretext of helping him to outfit the place. Despite his strong feelings for her (and she for him) Brisbane decidedly does not want Julia to come to his new home but Julia convinces her reluctant family to let her go and force Brisbane to decide once and for all what is to become of their relationship. Upon arriving at the mysterious Grimsgrave, Julia finds things are not as calm as they appeared and she slowly unravel mystery after mystery surrounding the the previous owners of Grimsgrave and their connection to Brisbane. All my favorite elements from previous books are once again out in force - gypsies, the quirky Grim, servants who will happily spill gossip for a chance to chat with the lovely Lady Julia, and of course, bodies that keep popping up. Not to mention Julia's frequent interactions with her hilarious family - Julia and Portia's exchanges frequently had me in stitches.

This third installment of Raybourn's fantastic series is a real standout. I felt the mystery itself was much more unexpected yet entirely believable and for that reason all the more horrifying. Julia really comes into her own as well. Always outspoken, she finds herself for the first time on equal footing with Brisbane and adeptly holds her own. I loved it.

Lady Julia Grey is my hero. Not only is she smart and an extremely good dresser but she just so happens to expertly solve the most puzzling mysteries that normal people would run screaming away from. Her curiosity is one of her most intriguing characteristics - she is logical, methodical and can give one cutting remark. I love her. I want to be her. And I also want Brisbane. And Ms. Raybourne, just so you know, I sleep much better at night just thinking that a Brisbane could possibly be wandering around this earth. Thank you.

reading order:
~ Silent in the Grave
~ Silent in the Sanctuary
~ Silent on the Moor

Summer Reading Blitz
update: 9/30

A Room With a View by E. M. Forester

There's not much I can't say about this wonderful book that hasn't already been said by others much more eloquently and comprehensively.

So I'm not going to say much.

Well, not that much. I like to talk about books too much not to say anything. Forester's timely classic centers around a young girl, Lucy Honeychurch, who takes a trip to Italy with her spinster cousin, Charlotte, and there meets some other English travelers including Mr. George Emerson. Lucy is young, impressionable and used to being told what to think and what to do. However, while in Italy, she and George witnesses a murder (a dispute over 5 francs!) and she begins to slowly understand that life is more than just doing and feeling the things society says you should. George, I think, sees this potential for true emotion in Lucy. He himself is on the brink of some sort of change and sees Lucy a woman who can understand the complicated emotions he is experiencing. But Lucy is scared, she doesn't quite want to leave her safe world behind and so leaves Florence and her unsettling encounter with George. Upon returning to England, her trip seemingly behind her, Lucy accepts the proposal of one Cecil Vyse, a young man who she also spent time with in Rome. No one really likes Cecil and for all his professed modernism and intellectualism, he really just wants to keep Lucy on a pedestal. Thankfully, she finally wises up after another unsettling enounter with George Emerson in which she finally makes choices for herself and no one else.

All this happens with such subtle humor and wit. Forester is a master at understatement and descriptiveness at the same time. He paints the scenes of historic Florence with as much precision and beauty as he does Lucy's country home in England. I want to ramble through the woods at her house and see the church and pond. He makes it all come alive and it's beautiful. And the names in this book, they are undeniably English! Lucy Honeychurch, Windy Corner, Cecil Vyse - I mean, doesn't he just sound like a wimp? What's more is Lucy's transformation into a woman who can take charge of her own life and decides what she wants - even when those around her my be hurt by her choice. A beautiful book with so much insight and wit. I loved it.

Summer Reading Blitz update: 8/10

Teaser Thursday

I'm in the middle of A Room with a View (fantastic!) and thought I'd share a couple of highlights. Both these passages center around Lucy, who in the first doesn't know really what she wants but does without a doubt in the second. Enjoy!

"My dear," said the old man gently, "I think that you are repeating what you have heard older people say. You are pretending to be touchy; but you are not really. Stop being so tiresome, and tell me instead what part of the church you want to see. To take you to it will be a real pleasure."
Now this was abominably impertinent, and she ought to have been furious. But it is sometimes as difficult to lose one's temper as it is difficult at other times to keep it. p.24

"I won't be protected. I will choose for myself what is ladylike and right. To shield me is an insult. Can't I be trusted to face the truth but I must get it second-hand through you?" p.187

Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara

Seven years ago, Kaylin left the fief of Nightshade with various demons at her back, vowing never to return. Since then, she has made it into the ranks of the Hawks - one of the three branches of peacekeepers in Elantra including the Wolves, Hawks and the Swords. She's worked hard to get where she is, overcoming a rough childhood where she lived on the brink of poverty, scrounging to make a life for herself. These fiefs are areas full of old magic that don't really come under any government jurisdiction and it shows as crime is rampant. But she's moved past all that (or so she thinks) when Kaylin's boss gives her a new assignment, asking her to investigate a recent murder in the fiefs along with - surprise, surprise - her childhood friend Severn who she doesn't exactly have fond memories of. The murders throw her back into the horrors of her past as the killings mirror those that occurred seven years ago and above all seem directly connected to Kaylin. Kaylin is determined to stop the murders this time around and with Severn and a Dragon at her back she is prepared to unravel the mystery no matter what the cost to herself.

So much happens in this 400+ page book but not always what I wanted to hear about. I found myself confused about several points in this book. For the first 100 pages or so, I was just confused. I had absolutely no clue what was going on most of the time - so much history, the different races - it was a lot to take in. It got better, but I was still floundering for the rest of the book. Most of the time I left a scene only understanding a piece of what just occurred. But that's not to say Sagara's world building isn't extremely impressive. Elantra is composed of six races: humans, Aerians, Dragons, Barrani, Leontine, and the creepy Tha'alani. Each has it's own complicated set of customs and caste system that I, for one, would have loved to learn more about. And I wish I knew more about Kaylin's early years spent with the Hawks and Severn's time spent with the Shadow Wolves. I know this book is intended to be the first in a series but I really wanted MORE. There were also a few inconsistencies that stood out a little too much: like the fact that even though Kaylin was raised on the streets she refers to herself at one point as a spoiled brat. Huh. I didn't know street urchins qualified as spoiled brats. But Kaylin herself is wonderful. She does what it takes to get the job done and I can't but help love her for that.

reading order:
~ Cast in Shadow
~ Cast in Courtlight
~ Cast in Secret
~ Cast in Fury

Summer Reading Blitz update: 7/30

Under the Rose by Diana Peterfreund

Senior year isn't going quite as Amy Haskel would have liked. Sure, she's at prestigious Ivy League Eli University and she's also a member of that oh-so exclusive secret society the Rose & Grave, but Amy is quickly finding out balancing classes, a senior thesis, and society business is not all it's cracked up to be. Once again, the R&G seems to be falling apart as the current members receive vague warnings threatening that the society is rotting from the inside out. What's more, a traitor, who is slowly spilling society secrets, is on the loose and has everyone up in arms and once again convinced that admitting girls to the R&G was the worst idea EVER. Amy doesn't know which of her brothers has leaked the information but she isn't about to trust any of them on her quest for the truth - hoping that it doesn't destroy the Rose & Grave along the way. Just once, Amy would like to enjoy being a part of her society without all the worry and fear.

The second installment of Peterfreund's tell-all novels plunges us right back into the world of Amy's not-so-ordinary college experience. Standing out in this series is Amy with her blinding intelligence and loyalty, she is instantly likable and an unforgettable narrator. She is neurotic and doesn't always understand her worth, but she ALWAYS gets the job done. What's not to love? At times, I felt the drama and society debates dragged on a bit and rehashed the same topic over and over but there was always some witty dialogue or snarky remark that would bring a smile back to my face. A fun, summer read that hopefully continues to be just as enjoyable.

Now if only I could convince my library to buy the last two books in the series...

reading order:
~ Secret Society Girl
~ Under the Rose
~ Rites of Spring (Break)
~ Tap & Gown

Summer Reading Blitz
update: 6/30

Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund

Amy Haskel is just finishing up her successful junior year at Ivy League Eli University. She's editor of the Literary Magazine, has an awesome internship lined up, and is currently enjoying a nice friends with benefits relationship. Now if only she could finish War and Peace before finals... Amy figures she is a shoo-in for the literary secret society on campus, Quill & Ink, but when she is finally tapped, she finds out it's not the safe literary group she thought, but The Most Prestigious secret society on campus - the Rose & Grave.

And they only tap men.

Amy is more than confused and the societies' strict no-talking-about-anything-secret-society ensures that she continues to be in the dark. It's only when Rose & Grave alumns who are decidedly against any female admittance to their 'boys club' does Amy get a broader scope of the R&G's power and control.

I left this novel torn between feeling like I missed out on something during college by not being at a university with such traditions and being so grateful I wasn't mixed up with all these sorts of shenanigans. But then again, how can a girl resist the tell-all nature of Amy's 'confession' as she faithfully outlines the inner workings of the R&G? Let's just say I didn't. Amy happens to be my kind of girl - she over thinks everything, makes hilarious lists (did I mention how much I like lists?), and she's always up for a good conspiracy theory (LOVE). Most of all, Amy always stands up for her friends - especially her fellow Diggirls. She is my idea of a model woman.

reading order:
~ Secret Society Girl
~ Under the Rose
~ Rites of Spring (Break)
~ Tap & Gown

Summer Reading Blitz
update: 5/30

It's the end of the world as we know it

I have no idea why I enjoy reading doomsday or post-apocalyptic books. Maybe it's the extreme circumstances that build strong characters (or sometimes expose weak ones for that matter) or maybe I just have an unhealthy obsession with the end of the world. Whatever the reason, these books never fail to catapult me directly into the story and leave me shivering with delight. It's like watching a train wreck - it's gruesome and horrific but you just can't tear yourself away. So I thought I'd put together a list of some of my favorite post-apocalyptic books that just might make you want to get a gun, food storage and a whole stockpile of medicine.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Dark and moving book about teens living on their own in England through a devastating war. Told from the first-person, I loved the narrator’s psychological development and struggle to deal with the reality of her new life. And of course, it's a Printz winner - no further recommendation needed.

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Boy does this book ever make me want to get my food storage! In a series of diary entries, a young girl records her life after an asteroid hits the moon, throwing it off it’s path causing all kinds of natural disasters. The honest narration compelled me to honestly evaluate what I would do in the same situation.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Panem ruthlessly controls the 12 districts that once were known as North America. Their ultimate control over the populace lies in the Hunger Games where one boy and girl are chosen as 'tributes' from each District every year and are forced to fight for their lives while the struggle is broadcast to the entire nation as mandatory viewing. But that doesn't even begin to encompass it's greatness - just read it.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy has a classic on his hands here. An utterly amazing story of a father and son who travel across a devastated and scorched America. Along the way, they deal with love, loss, courage, the will to survive, and simple pain. Some of McCarthy’s images will stay with me for a really long time. It completely blew me away.

World War Z by Max Brooks
A compilation of first-hand 'accounts' from when zombies tried to destroy earth's population. Various countries and communities are featured, each giving a different look at how people reacted to a large scale threat – often in chilling ways.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Government control gone crazy. Each person has a ‘job’ but even in this highly strict society, corruption and greed are found as one woman tries to escape her life as a handmaiden to a civic leader and his barren wife. Not for the faint of heart.

1984 by George Orwell
George Orwell's bleak vision of a world under the thumb of a brutal, oppressive regime in which we are first introduced to that all-knowing and all-powerful presence: Big Brother.

Among the Hidden (Shadow Children series) by Margaret Peterson Haddix
These quick yet thought-provoking junior fiction books introduces us to a time when America is suffering from food shortages due to population explosion. The military has taken control and Haddix forces the reader to consider what our own government would do in the face of such crisis.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
A fascinating, almost chilling tale about a boy, Jonas, who is chosen to be his community's new Receiver. Jonas receives memories from The Giver; memories that are full of feeling - pain, love, loss, color, and life - that are deemed too dangerous for the community to be able to experience.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A totalitarian regime controls the populace through nonstop entertainment. Don’t think, don’t read, don’t be an individual – just enjoy TV. Follow the transition of Guy Montag from book burner ‘fireman’ into a man who is on the run for not only possessing books, but killing a fellow fireman to protect them.

So that's my list of post-apocalyptic books. I'm always on the lookout for the next great addition to this list, so please let me know if I've missed your favorite doomsday book!

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson is not one to shy away from difficult topics. Her debut novel Speak dealing with the issue of teen rape was, lets just say, incredible. In her latest, Wintergirls, Anderson deftly addresses the devastating effects of eating disorders.

Wintergirls is the story of Lia who daily fights a battle between herself and food. She's already been hospitalized twice for her eating disorder where she played the 'recovery game' until doctors and parents were satisfied and gave her enough breathing room to go back to her old habits. It's the one thing Lia constantly concentrates on in the midst of divorced parents who are too busy to notice her and school that doesn't really matter. How many calories (or lack there of) each day. How much she exercises. But then Lia begins to face the realities of her choices when she finds out that her (ex)best friend, Cassie, who also had an eating disorder, has died. As she stumbles deeper into grief, Lia tries to determine not the reason why Cassie killed herself, but why not?

What amazes me is how accurately Anderson is able to portray a teenager who feels constantly at odds with her family, herself and especially food. She is so isolated, so alone with the pain and destructive feelings in her head it seems to the reader she'll never be able to pull herself out. Lia's isolation is underscored by her nightly visits to supersecret and honestly so competely depressing online chat groups for anorexic/bulimic girls who discuss their struggle to lose that last 10, 15, even 25 pounds. Nameless girls who like Lia try to control the chaos of their lives by controlling their body.

Wintergirls was not an easy read nor was it easy to put down. I alternated between pity, depression and down right horror at the things Lia put herself and consequently, her family through. Though this is a teen novel, I would hesitate to give it to just any teen girl - it's something that needs to be digested with a little bit of maturity and sensitivity. But was it a heartbreaking beautiful novel that will stick with me a long time? Absolutely.

If you're looking for a movie tie-in, I'd recommend the moving HBO documentary Thin.

Summer Reading Blitz update: 4/30

Summer Reading Blitz

Reading and Ruminations is hosting a fantastic read-a-thon called The Summer Reading Blitz. I haven't really participated in an online reading challenge before and feel like this is the perfect chance to get my feet wet.

The Lowdown: The challenge is to read 30 books in 30 days during the month of June. I don't think I'll list the 30 books I'm reading becuase I usually don't know what I'm going to read until I either go to the library or check my mailbox. I'll admit, the challenge does seem a little daunting but I figure if I give up sleep, eating, and cleaning I'll just make it - just kidding, I'll probably just waste less time watching TV - except for So You Think You Can Dance night that is. I'm sorta addicted. I'll keep track of the books I read in my sidebar, so be sure to check back and feel free to give me a hard time when it looks like I'm falling behind. If I make my goal, I'll give away some free schwag, so please help me keep on task!!

Since I'm getting started a few days late, here are the books I've already read this month:

1. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
2. Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin
3. 'Tis by Frank McCourt

What about you? Care to join me in my month of books?

'Tis by Frank McCourt

As the second installment in Irish Catholic Frank McCourt's moving memoir series, 'Tis is the portrayal of a young man trying to find his place in a world ready to eat him up. His first book, Angela's Ashes, details his early childhood in the slums of Limerick, Ireland and 'Tis picks up in the fall of 1949 as he is finally making his way to America. What follows is a wry, hilarious and often heartbreaking deception of his struggles to make his way through a foreign country to find a job, education and even love. McCourt finds his start in America at seemingly dead-end jobs even as he dreams of one day becoming a college student like those he sees on the subway with their books and superior attitudes. After spending time in the army, he is finally admitted to New York University even without a high school diploma but is constantly fearful of being looked down upon due to his lack of education. After finally obtaining a teaching post, McCourt depicts the farce that is the American educational system as he battles with students and administrators until he is able to teach a creative writing class at a respectable high school.

Frank McCourt is a masterful writer. I think part of what makes him so dang good is his unusual lack of punctuation. No quotation marks and hardly any commas or periods either. I'd often read half a page before I realized it was all one sentence. This style made everything seem more immediate and more often than not, I'd feel myself right there with him during the war, at a job, or in his classroom. On top of that, his honesty is what really sets his narrative apart. McCourt cuts no corners and doesn't shy away from the truth, even if it is embarrassing or damaging to himself.

The Hubby and I listened to Angela's Ashes read by the author himself and since then I can't but help hear his unforgettable, almost simplistic voice in my head as I read 'Tis. His story is so poignant, so honest that it and the emotions they raise so fresh - it all stays with you long after you finish, truly making his books absolutely unforgettable.

reading order:
~ Angela's Ashes
~ 'Tis
~ Teacher Man

Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin

Raine is a seeker - she finds lost things that is - and is no stranger to trouble, but this time even she'll admit she's in over head. Hailing from a family full of thieves, Raine is honest herself but still has friends in the shadier parts of society. When one longtime friend steals an amulet that some powerful and decidedly not-so-nice sorcerers want, it ends up around Raine's neck and she's not about to take if off. Especially since everytime she does, it tries to kill her. More than troubling, that. Completely lost as to why everyone is now after said amulet and her by consequence, Raine turns to her most trusted friends for help and answers which ends up leading to even more trouble.

This was a great fantasy read with an interesting new world full of goblins, elves, and other magical things friendly and otherwise. Raine is resourceful, witty, and surprising likable. She easily kept my interest as each new page seemed to bring out her personality just a bit more. The secondary characters were a treat too - a young spellsinger who is like a little brother to Raine, a shady but devilishly handsome club owner, and her wizard Godfather among others constantly liven things up. They all leapt off the page and helped to define Raine as a character so much more. I will for sure be checking out the rest of this enjoyable series.

reading order:
~ Magic Lost, Trouble Found
~ Armed and Magical
~ The Trouble with Demons

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

I don't even know how to write this review. This book blew me away in so many different ways. Marcelo is smart - super smart - actually, he just doesn't come off that way since it takes him ten times as long as anyone else to process anything - verbal or nonverbal communication. He is happy to spend his summer working with the ponies at his school for disabled children until his father, who has never believed there is anything wrong with Marcelo, insists he take a job in the mail room at his law firm in order to become part of the 'real world'. Marcelo is convinced that he will be better off caring for his ponies but agrees to the arrangement. But Marcelo doesn't count on the unlikely friendship that forms between himself and his co-worker Jasmine and the unsettling interest the son of his father's partner, Wendell, shows in him either. Least of all, Marcelo doesn't expect or understand his reaction to the startling picture he finds of a young girl and his desire to help her.

I was so often reminded of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time since both boys like their order and routines, but Marcelo is able to interact with others on a much higher level and brought out more genuine responses than Christopher ever could. The biggest revelation to me was Marcelo's growth, just as his mother predicts, which pervades everything that happens throughout the book. As deep and serious as many of the topics in this book were, I still found it to be hilarious. Marcelo's tendency to literally define every expression to come his way competely endearing and just dang funny. Particularly when he became stumped by some slang term thrown around at the office. And since this book was obviously written by a male author who knows how to write about other men without creating caricatures, one particular scene with some old farmers had me cracking up to no end.

There is so much going on in this book with the underlying theme of music and religion that it was almost too much to take in during one sitting but I couldn't seem to tear myself away until I'd swallowed the story whole.