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all hearthfires & holocausts

eating books. bleeding words.

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R.J. Palacio
The Chaos of Stars
Kiersten White
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Cherry Money Baby
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The Dream Thieves
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Undying (Undying, #1)
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How to Love - Katie Cotugno NOPE.
The Beginning of Everything - Robyn Schneider, Robyn Schneider 3.5 starsFrom The Midnight Garden:"Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them... That everyone's life, no matter how unremarkable, has a moment when it will become extraordinary--a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen."This is the first paragraph of Robyn Schneider's The Beginning of Everything, and basically the entirety of the story. Ezra Faulkner was the golden boy of his high school. He was the star of their tennis team. The Junior Class President, and dating the most popular girl in school. And he got there, somehow, because of "a bad case of tragedy" Toby, his former best friend, came down with in seventh grade. When Ezra experiences his own tragedy--a car accident that shatters not only his knee, but his place in the world--he begins to realize that though he had everything, it was nothing he actually wanted. Without the role of popularity that had been thrust upon him, and the expectations that came with it, he begins to learn not only who he really is, but what he actually wants. He reunites with Toby, and meets a girl so startlingly different from everyone he knows, he can't help but fall for her. Cassidy pushes him to be different, to see the world from a different perspective, and to break from the mold that has been cast around him. But there's a sadness that surrounds her, and a wall around her he can never seem to scale. Will falling for Cassidy be yet another tragic lesson, or the beginning of everything?---Things I Liked:The story is told in first person, from Ezra's point of view, and the seventeen year old boy voice is absolutely spot on. Schneider did an excellent job of writing an authentic teenage guy; never once did I pause and ask myself if a guy would really say/do something like that, which happens more often than not when reading YA.Not only was Ezra's voice awesome, but the dynamics between the friends was perfect as well. Schneider really excels at dialogue, and I found myself laughing out loud more times than I can count. Toby. He may have been my favorite character, even above Ezra. I mean. He wears bow ties and quotes Doctor Who, for god's sake. The setting was basically my home town, and I got giddy more than once when a landmark was mentioned. The Floating Movie Theater. Is that a real thing? I would have been totally into that in high school. (And by high school, I obviously mean still.)The way it ended. (Which is all I'll say in order to keep this spoiler-free.)What Could Have Been Improved:Cassidy. Though I really wanted to like her, I never saw her as a real person. She was more caricature than character. Ethereal, eccentric, and talking in mostly metaphorical circles, she never seemed fully formed to me. I was always waiting for the point of her to present itself, for the other shoe to drop.And when the shoe dropped? It was at once completely predictable, and completely unbelievable. Nothing about it really made sense, as though the entire scenario was concocted just to tie everything together neatly. The story didn't need that kind of circular resolution, and it only served to reinforce my feeling that Cassidy was less character, and more plot device.This has nothing to do with the book itself, but I do wish they'd kept the original title and cover. Severed Heads, Broken Hearts is a much more memorable title (I kept forgetting The Beginning of After), and I think the old cover is much cuter.---That being said, The Beginning of Everything was a fun read with surprising depth, and the perfect way to spend a breezy summer afternoon.
Dare You To - Katie McGarry Holy moly this was long for what amounted to a contemporary romance.

Another Little Piece

Another Little Piece - Kate Karyus Quinn Was looking for more creep, less confusion. Who or what was the Physician, and what was his purpose? What purpose did the Brujas serve? I don't think I fully understood the point of this one, but the writing was solid, and the characters interesting, Will look forward to more from this author.

After Hours: (InterMix)

After Hours: (InterMix) - Cara McKenna I really appreciate Cara McKenna. In a time where it's nearly impossible to find a romance or erotica without a billionaire for a hero, and the down on her luck girl he sweeps off her feet, she's a refreshing voice of reason and realism. Her characters are most often blue collar, poor, and struggling with real life issues. And while the sex is as rough as her characters' edges, it doesn't veer into the trendy, BDSM-lite territory that's so pervasive.If you're looking for an erotica that is hot, but real, and a romance with more emotion than swoon or schmaltz, Cara McKenna's the author for you.
Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell I really have no idea how I'm going to review Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell without just, well... fangirling. Cath's story touched me on a very real level, and I'm still not quite sure how to put into words how I feel about it. So, I guess I'll start at the beginning.Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life--and she's really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it's what got them through their mother leaving.Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.Cath's sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can't let go. She doesn't want to.Now that they're going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn't want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She's got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone.For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?Oh, Rainbow. Rainbow, Rainbow, Rainbow. How do you do this to me every time? With each book I think I can't possibly love you, or your characters any more than the last, and you prove me wrong. Every time.You gave me brutal, agonizing, terribly perfect first love in Eleanor & Park. Giddy grins and a serious thing for shoulders in Attachments. And this time, in Fangirl, you gave me part of myself.Thank you.This is an important book, written at a very important time. I don't know if it's just the case of the internet making everything more visible, but it feels like more people than ever are becoming involved in one fandom or another lately. It's fascinating, and a little crazy, and I think so so wonderful. Fangirl is the first book I've read that contained the word 'fandom' and used it correctly--with all the connotations i holds, of community, and passion, and obsession, and just pure, outright love. It's the first book that not only mentioned fanfiction without derision, but spoke of the intention and devotion behind it. It's the first book I've read that truly understood and celebrated the growing culture of fandom, and in doing so, I think became an incredibly meaningful story for those who give so much of their lives to it.Certainly for me. I don't know if I've ever read a character I could identify with as much as Cath. Cath who lives off peanut butter and granola bars for the entire first semester, because the thought of going to the cafeteria makes her anxious."In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can't google.) Like, where does the line start? What food can you take? Where are you supposed to stand, then where are you supposed to sit? Where do you go when you're done, why is everyone watching you?...Bah."(Been there.)Cath who is awkward and weird, and not really all that interested in making new friends. "Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy and mildly socially retarded, I'm a complete disaster."(Yep.)Cath who loves to write, and is so good she qualifies for a senior level writing class, but can't seem to focus on anything but her Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) fanfiction. Because that's safe. That she knows she can do, and do well. Because when nothing else in her life makes sense, she can always fall back into the world of Simon and Baz, and lose herself in the familiar. Cath who goes to great lengths to be alone, but who never feels alone when she has her computer near. Until, of course, she falls for a boy who makes her question whether there isn't more to life than Simon Snow.What I love most about Fangirl is that even though Cath undergoes immense emotional growth throughout the story, never once does she stop being herself. She doesn't make friends, and fall in love, and then suddenly realize she didn't need Simon Snow after all. She didn't leave her world; she expanded it. And I think that's such an important difference. Okay. I've tried to be all analytical and actually talk about this book like a normal person, but really all I want to say is Fangirl made me so happy, and I swooned really hard, and since when am I attracted to receding hairlines and obscene eyebrows, oh I guess since Rainbow Rowell wrote Levi, and anyway everyone needs to read this. Ahem. Okay. It's out of my system now. Sorry about that.
The Sea of Tranquility - Katja Millay This review appears on The Midnight Garden. Check back Monday, 6/10/13 for a guest post by author Katja Millay!I’ve been in a book rut. I’d started no less than five books, and finished exactly zero of them. Nothing grabbed me. Nothing excited me, or made me feel anything but vague annoyance, boredom, or mild confusion.So, I did what anyone would do in such dire straits: I took my plight to the twitters, who told me almost in unison to read Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay. I was skeptical. New adult, you say? High on the angst, is it? Originally self-published? Hmm.But I remembered Wendy recommending it during our conversation with Leigh Bardugo, so I picked it up.And I didn’t put it down until I lay in bed with an aching chest and bittersweet tears rolling down my cheeks at two in the morning. I went to sleep with a shaky smile and a satisfied sigh because yes, THAT was what I had been looking for.Sea of Tranquility isn’t an easy story to read--on any level. The beginning was extremely slow for me; I think at least 20% of it could have been excised for a tighter story, and a trimmer pace. I’d flounced books for much less, but something about Nastya and Josh Bennett’s story kept me reading, reaching for more. I wanted to know them. I may have thought Nastya made ridiculous decisions, and rolled my eyes at her affectations--but I wanted to know the why of them. I wanted to know what happened to make her so brittle and brash. I could feel the throb of her bruises just under the surface of the story, but I needed to know their shape.“I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.”Katja Millay does an excellent job of keeping the reader in almost total darkness about Nastya’s past, giving us just enough to know without knowing, to feel without seeing. Sea of Tranquility is an unquestionably heavy read, but leavened with just enough humor and romance to keep the reader from drowning, and Millay excels at writing characters who feel and sound authentic, and infusing them with a depth that is often surprising. (Here I am speaking of Drew, of course, who may be my favorite.) Every single character has an arc, and grows in some way over the course of the story. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Josh Bennett. Josh f*cking Bennett--it says so right on his birth certificate. Has there ever been a swoonier guy? With the chair. (THE CHAIR.) And the pennies. (YOU GUYS, THE PENNIES.) And the EVERY. SINGLE. THING. ABOUT. HIM. (Except for that one thing. The one that made me want to barf.) He is supremely flawed, and damaged, and sad, but just so... so... good. Josh is a good person in the way real people are good, in the way you can be good but not always nice.“I’m going to walk over to you,” I say, taking one step at a time in her direction like I’m talking down a jumper. “I’m going to put my arms around you and I’m going to hold you,” I pause before taking the last step, “and you’re going to let me.”I think what I appreciated most about Sea of Tranquility was that love was not the answer to every one of their problems. Nastya and Josh’s issued didn’t dissolve because they fell in love. They helped each other, in some ways they healed each other, but they couldn’t fix each other. Not by themselves.When their issues had been written in such stark, unflinching realism, I appreciated that the resolution wasn’t a tied-with-a-bow happily ever after. It was just as romantic and bittersweet as it needed to be.And the last two words of the story? They made every stomach twist, heart ache, tear trickle, and next-day-puffy-eyes worth it. MY. HEART. So, Sea of Tranquility ended my Book Rut. But now I have a different problem: the Book Hangover. How can anything else I read possibly measure up? I guess I’ll have to take this to twitter again...
Wild Awake - Hilary T. Smith Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith does what should be impossible: be at once completely batshit crazy and unbelievable, while also painting a pretty accurate portrait of the modern teenager.Kiri Byrd's parents left her by herself for six weeks while they went on a cruise around the world, but she has a plan: she will water the plants, and check the mail. She will practice piano religiously and be perfect at her Showcase performance. She and her best friend Lucas will practice every day and win Battle of the Bands and then he will realize he's in love with her.Of course, things don't exactly go to plan, since that would be a pretty boring book. Kiri gets a call from a random stranger, saying he has her sister's things and if she doesn't come pick them up, he'll throw them away. Her sister. The only one who ever truly understood her. Her sister who's been dead for five years. Kiri knows it's a bad idea, but she can't stop obsessing about what things the strange guy might have.What she finds sends her spiraling into a reckless kind of mania that is as destructive as it is freeing. While she begins to uncover the secrets her family has kept from her, and grieve for her sister anew, she discovers herself in the process.Her seriously insane, but ultimately really cool self.Wild Awake was an absolutely hypnotizing read. From an objective point of view, few things about it are at all realistic, and Kiri is kind of an idiot who makes spectacularly poor decisions, but somehow it all made for a fascinating read. I found Hilary T. Smith's treatment of mental illness, and her depiction of the descent into mania very realistic, but I do wish she'd glorified it a bit less, or given more weight to the talk of treatment in the book's conclusion. As is, it paints Kiri's behavior as a summer lark, or a period of self discovery rather than serious issues that need to be dealt with.But all in all, Wild Awake's descent into madness was a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.


Reboot - Amy Tintera Posted at The Midnight Garden:As most of you probably know, Wendy is our resident zombie / horror lover, while I'm more likely to be found cowering under the blankets because I saw thirty seconds of a horror movie trailer. Three hours ago. So when I read the summary for Reboot by Amy Tintera, I thought, "sentient zombies? I can totally handle that."And I was half right. It wasn't scary at all, but I don't think my initial assessment was all that accurate. Reboots aren't zombie-like in the least. Well. At least, not when normally.When the KDH virus swept through the population, people began dropping like flies. Except... they didn't stay dead. Their bodies rebooted (heh, get it?) after death, coming back stronger, faster, healthier--a more perfect version of their previous selves. And, naturally, the government used this to their advantage, rounding up all the Reboots and training them to be super soldiers, keeping the peace and the boundary lines, to keep the virus from infecting the larger population. Wren is the strongest Reboot in her facility, having been dead a whopping 178 minutes before rebooting. Though she's the smallest, she's faster, stronger, and more ruthless than any of the others. And colder, too. Being dead so long means she feels less. Or so she thinks, until she is given a new recruit to train--Callum, a lowly 22, who has no skill and even less taste for the violence that is now his job, and the only reason he's allowed to live. When Callum's life is threatened, Wren must choose between the safety of the only life she can remember, and the possibility of a better life beyond the walls of the HARC facility.What I liked:It was a fun, fast-paced read. I liked that the smallest girl was the strongest, and the most respected--if feared. I liked that Wren was decisive and assertive, but still soft and vulnerable enough to feel human and relatable. The new twist on the post-apocalyptic genre was great, and the foreshadowing of greater zombie-esque things to come definitely has me intrigued.Things I Wished Were Better:I wished for more set up, and less romance in this one. (This is very out of character for me, heh.) While I liked Callum, his quippy personality quickly became over the top and out of place, and his constant fumbling was very annoying. In some scenes, it felt as though his only purpose was to show how strong and capable Wren was in comparison. I never entirely understood his and Wren's attraction to one another. It came out of nowhere, and they seemed to act on it in the oddest of moments. Perhaps immediately following a firefight, and while still recovering from third degree burns isn't the best time for a make out, eh kids? Ah, hormones...All in all, a good start to what I hope is a very interesting series.

Plus One

Plus One - Brighton Walsh A fun, sexy, sweet read that I devoured in less than an hour. Friends to more is totally my jam, and Ian is a sweetheart. I had a smile on my face the entire time. Definitely looking forward to more from Brighton.

Siege and Storm

Siege and Storm - THAT is how you write a 2nd book, son.
Coda - Emma Trevayne There are some people in the world to whom music is as vital as oxygen. To those--me, and certainly Emma Trevayne, the author of Coda--music has the ability to heighten emotions, to heal, to soothe, to enrige, and excite. To us, music is as potent as any drug, and almost as addicting. To Anthem, and the rest of the citizens in The Web, there is no almost. Music is quite literally a drug, one as addicting as any narcotic. And just as dangerous. In Anthem's post-war world on the island of Manhatten, the Corp--the nameless, faceless, despotic government--controls everyone through music specially encoded to be as addicting, and mood-altering as possible. It keeps the citizens passive, keeps them dependent--and ensures they don't live long enough to have time to do anything but survive. But Anthem has a secret. He and four others meet secretly once a week to play music together--real music, without any encoding. Music created just for the joy of it, an outlet for their rage, and their sorrow, and the sweet thrill of the illicit, and the free.But even with the pure high playing gives him, he can't escape the addiction the Corp has bred in him. He craves the high as much as he despises it. When he's tracking is the only time he feels free, yet it is when he's most chained.With drumbeat shackles and guitar-string ropes, I'm a willing prisoner. It's miraculous here: light and sound and color and shape coalesce around me before exploding into fireworks of bliss. Rainbow sparks tumble down to sizzle on my clothes. Songs change. Sweat flows. Energy gathers and releases and gathers again. This one's my favorite. It sweeps me away, floating, until waves of a thousand keyboards break all at once, crashing into my frantic body, tossing me higher, higher, higher.It isn't until a friend is killed right in front of him that Anthem begins to wonder if their music is worth something more than the few moments of freedom it allows him and the band. Could their songs incite a rebellion? Could they be an anthem for the revolution the people so desperately need?Coda has a cool-factor unlike anything I've read. A cyberpunk--part dystopian, part science fiction--thriller set in futuristic Manhatten, with the requisite gadgetry, romance, and the added benefit of a rockstar? Sign me up.It's a fast read, intense and sometimes violent, but not without nuance or sublety. In a world built on absolutes, Anthem is a character drawn in shades of gray. He is conflicted and flawed, never entirely sure of himself, only that he can't go on as he has. And though the action and intensity may be the melody to Coda, the elements that stick in your head the most when you remember the story, Anthem's heart is the backbeat to it all. Steady, unwaverying, and giving structure to it all.Coda is a unique read, fast and intense, and fun, with twists you won't see coming (but will probably want to yell at Ms. Trevayne about. Go ahead. I already have.)Full disclosure: I am one of Emma Trevayne's crit partners, and first read Coda when Emma pinged me and said, "hey, I read a chapter of this thing. Wanna read it?" And though it's gone through some changes from gdoc to book, at the heart it's the same story that thrilled me from the first page almost two years ago.

Naked (The Blackstone Affair, #1)

Naked (The Blackstone Affair, #1) - Raine Miller I've read this exact book at least three times before. Rich guy with secrets steamrolls some young, naive girl with issues into a Dominant/submissive relationship. Yawn.

Quintana of Charyn

Quintana of Charyn - Melina Marchetta Review and giveaway of all three Lumatere Chronicles hardcovers on The Midnight Garden blog!I keep to myself, but I find they are watching. I clench both my fists; I'll kill them in a beat. Your words pound my brain, Froi; if they dare try to touch me, a knife to the side and a slit ear to ear.Those in my cave, they grab and they drag me. They want me to bathe, but they'll soon know the truth. And the fear in their faces speaks loud of their awe, and I capture the crying and tell them what's true. ...and the women, they stare with fear in their hope, but it's a hope drenched in tears, and it smothers me whole.Every time I set out to review something by Melina Marchetta, I end up staring at a blank screen wondering just what I could say that could possibly do what I've read justice.Quintana of Charyn is my fifth Marchetta book, but it hasn't gotten any easier. I am, as usual, left speechless in awe.I could talk about the scope of the world building in the Lumatere Chronicles; how Marchetta has created a full-fledged country--or continent, maybe--with 11 different regions, and countless provinces within them. And within those, their own separate societies, languages, traditions, and lore.Or maybe I should focus on the characters. I should tell you about the way they reach off the page and wrap their fists around your heart. They way they crawl under your skin and build a home inside you, so you swear they must be real people you've known forever. So you burn, and ache, and grieve for them. So you love them, even when they're wrong. Maybe especially when they're wrong. Because their flaws make them feel all the more real. The sheer depth Marchetta is able to bring every last one of her characters is astounding--especially when you consider just how many characters there are in this series. And not one is superfluous.Froi's characterization in particular is nothing short of masterful. From "filthy little feef", to farmer, to assassin, to lover, to a beautifully flawed man, capable of loving with a ferocity that is as ruthless as it is endearing. His emotional growth is evident on every page, but never conspicuous. And then there's Quintana, who I have loved from the first shadow puppet. So broken, so strong. Her character only grows more interesting, more complex. More lovable. Just as insane, but imbued with an undeniable humanity. With the same fierce love as Froi, the same courage that grows from self-doubt, but with a grace that is all her own.One of the things I love the most about this series is how all the characters continue to grow through all three books. Finnikin and Isaboe, Lucian and Phaedra, Trevanion and Beatriss (and, and, and...) are not simply relegated to background characters. They continue to grow, to change, to have an integral part of the story. The relationships between them all deepen, stretch, conform to fit the shape of the new people they become. The message of family, and friendship, and love--for your country, for your home, for your people, for yourself--endures in Quintana. It is a gripping, haunting, sexy conclusion that fulfilled and exceeded every one of my expectations. So, no. I don't really know what to tell you, only that I hope you read these books--or any book at all by Melina Marchetta, who writes the most emotionally powerful stories I've ever read. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Though i don't know how well this would have held my interest if I'd read, the format worked great for the audiobook. The full cast narrating was awesome, and the amount of research Brooks put in was rather staggering.Will be interested to see how they pull this into a cohesive storyline for the movie.

Froi of the Exiles

Froi of the Exiles - Melina Marchetta I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MY FEELINGS.