Howl’s Moving Castle
Middle Grade / Juvenile / December 31, 2017

Howl’s Moving Castle #1. Author: Dianne Wynn Jones. Summary: Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye. My Thoughts: My younger siblings aren’t that much into reading – not as much as we wish they were – but when we got this trilogy for Christmas both of them (ages 12 and 10) devoured all three books in a matter of days, very nearly quarreling over who got which book. And, yes, I had to steal the books in the evenings too, to see what all the fuss was about. They’re great fun. I think the charm lies…

Wild Bird
Young Adult / December 29, 2017

Author: Wendelin Van Draanen. Summary: 3:47 a.m. That’s when they come for Wren Clemens. She’s hustled out of her house and into a waiting car, then a plane, and then taken on a forced march into the desert. This is what happens to kids who’ve gone so far off the rails, their parents don’t know what to do with them any more. This is wilderness therapy camp. The Wren who arrives in the Utah desert is angry and bitter, and blaming everyone but herself. But angry can’t put up a tent. And bitter won’t start a fire. Wren’s going to have to admit she needs help if she’s going to survive. My Thoughts: This turned out to be a surprisingly uplifting story. Wren is a highschool student spiraling down hard and fast towards a crash landing that might be deadly. It all started small, when – lonely and unhappy in a new school – she made a single bad choice and accepted drugs (just this once!) from a new ‘friend’. Fast forward three years, and Wren is still lonely and unbalanced. But now she’s also addicted, shoplifting with her friend, running errands for what is essentially a teenage drug ring,…

2017 In Bullet Points
Outside the Reviews / December 24, 2017

2017 summed up in one bullet list of Important Events!   Took my first solo cross-country trip, plane flights and all, to see my best friend. Complete with very-nearly-missing a flight. Acquired a baby sister by nefarious means. Already feels like she’s been here forever! Got a pixie cut for the first time. Won my first short-story contest in June. Acquired my driver’s license: so I could drive to the library. Went to a college summer program. Spent eight months working a part-time job at an animal shelter, the longest stretch yet, and learned both how to deal with hyper dogs and with the human limits of non-sleeping. Started learning to play the ukulele. Sent out query letters for my manuscript and received the corresponding number of rejections. My oldest pet, Sunflash the Cockatiel, died. Drew three different full-page drawings I actually like. Got accepted into college! (Also promptly lost the acceptance letter – my ability to lose anything and everything remains the running gag of my life – and then found it again.) Learned to crochet. Lost Nanowrimo for the first time ever. Reviewed 173 books. Continued to utterly fail at Sleeping and other such normal human things.

2018 Blogging Challenges
Outside the Reviews / December 21, 2017

Challenges, you say? ‘Tis the season to make unreasonable goals and take on a whole new pack of challenges. Ha, just kidding. I’m starting out small this year with just three blogging/reading challenges, all aimed at different aspects. First, there’s the awesome 2018 Discussion Challenge, hosted by It Starts at Midnight and Feed Your Fiction Addiction. The goal here is to do more “discussion” posts, instead of just book reviews. Since I’m trying to be sensible and all, I’m aiming for Discussion Dabbler (a goal of 1-10 posts) which is only one per month. If I can do more, that’d be great, but otherwise, I think one discussion post per month is an excessively reasonable goal. Next up, I have the Back to the Classics challenge, hosted by Books and Chocolate. This one is perfect for me, because I love reading classics, and always want to add more to my list. You only need to read 12 over the year, one from each of 12 categories. I think this one is going to be really fun! And last, we have Science Fiction Vs. Fantasy Bingo, hosted by Curiosity Killed the Bookworm. (I can’t seem to coax the bingo board into…

Renegades
Young Adult / December 18, 2017

Renegades #1. Author: Marissa Meyer. Summary: Secret Identities. Extraordinary Powers. She wants vengeance. He wants justice. The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies―humans with extraordinary abilities―who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone…except the villains they once overthrew. Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice―and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to the villains who have the power to end them both. My Thoughts: I think we’ve all been waiting to find out what epic twist Marissa Meyer was going to put on the classic superhero schema. Sure, the plot sounded totally cliche, but obviously she had secrets up her sleeve. …Right? Wrong. Completely, utterly, trustingly mistaken. The world-setting/backstory bears staggering resemblance to Steelheart (which Marietta first pointed out), the superpowers are no different than anything Marvel might introduce, and the romance is thread-bare and tired. Here’s the thing: I love Meyer’s other books and characters. They’re inventive, relatable, and fun….

Left Neglected
Adult / December 16, 2017

Author: Lisa Genova. Summary: Sarah Nickerson, like any other working mom, is busy trying to have it all. One morning while racing to work and distracted by her cell phone, she looks away from the road for one second too long. In that blink of an eye, all the rapidly moving parts of her over-scheduled life come to a screeching halt. After a brain injury steals her awareness of everything on her left side, Sarah must retrain her mind to perceive the world as a whole. In so doing, she also learns how to pay attention to the people and parts of her life that matter most. My Thoughts: Left Neglected plunges us straight into the hectic life of Sarah Nickerson, a highly successful career-driven executive and mom. There’s no time to think as she whirls from email to breakfast to helping kids back to email ontowards school drop-off and then she’s rushing off to work already behind. The writing is so good at immersing you in Sarah’s juggling act that the first couple of chapters are actually stressful. Then one rainy morning no different from any other, careening down a 70 mph highway, Sarah’s life comes to a screeching…

Jane, Unlimited
Young Adult / December 11, 2017

Author: Kristine Cashore. Summary: If you could change your story, would you? Jane has lived a mostly ordinary life, raised by her recently deceased aunt Magnolia, whom she counted on to turn life into an adventure. Without Aunt Magnolia, Jane is directionless. Then an old acquaintance, the glamorous and capricious Kiran Thrash, blows back into Jane’s life and invites her to a gala at the Thrashes’ extravagant island mansion called Tu Reviens. Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.” What Jane doesn’t know is that at Tu Reviens her story will change; the house will offer her five choices that could ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But every choice comes with a price. She might fall in love, she might lose her life, she might come face-to-face with herself. At Tu Reviens, anything is possible. My Thoughts: I think it’s fairly common knowledge, going into the book, that Jane, Unlimited takes an unconventional plot route, seemingly more akin to choose-your-own-adventure than most novels. (Somehow I was unaware of this, and it was quite confusing for a bit.) The whole story hinges around a single quote:…

Guardian Angels and Other Monsters
Adult / December 7, 2017

Author: Daniel H. Wilson. This ARC was provided, in return for an unbiased review, by Netgalley. Summary: In “All Kinds of Proof,” a down-and-out drunk makes the unlikeliest of friends when he is hired to train a mail-carrying robot; in “Blood Memory,” a mother confronts the dangerous reality that her daughter will never assimilate in this world after she was the first child born through a teleportation device; in “The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever,” a physicist rushes home to be with his daughter after he hears reports of an atmospheric anomaly which he knows to be a sign of the end of the earth; in “Miss Gloria,” a robot comes back to life in many different forms in a quest to save a young girl. Guardian Angels and Other Monsters displays the depth and breadth of Daniel H. Wilson’s vision and examines how artificial intelligence both saves and destroys humanity. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: You know how it is with any short-story collection – there are ups, downs, the “what the heck even??” stories. The over all tone of this futuristic sci-fi collection was fairly AI-themed and dark. Not surprising, given the title, but it started off with the…

Top Books of 2017
Outside the Reviews / December 6, 2017

Alright, you know I can’t pick favorites. It just isn’t happening. But I did go through all the book-reviews from the last year, and pick out the top ones, sorted by age. So, here’s some of the books I loved most in 2017*. ~ Adult ~ The Scent of Water. A quiet, slow-paced story set in the countryside. Probably not the sort of thing I usually review, but maybe I should try to find more such stories – this one is on my mental ‘inspirational’ list. To read it was mentally renewing in a way very few, maybe none, of the more ‘exciting’ books was. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Top of the line fantasy by Neil Gaiman. This is the sort of surreal story that slides from creepy to horrifying then somehow into beautiful and back to creepy again, the story of a little boy’s adventures narrated by the adult remembering, a story that might very nearly convince you – at least for as long as you’re reading – that this world is thinner than you thought and there are things behind the stars. Bellwether. This one’s just fun. An oddball sci-fi/realistic story about chaos theory…

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Adult / December 3, 2017

Author: Susan Clarke. Summary: English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory. But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England’s magical past and regained some of the powers of England’s magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French. All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative-the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington’s army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be…