Sunday, January 14, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend


TITLE: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

AUTHOR: Jessica Townsend

GENRE: fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Morrigan Crow is cursed. Not only is she blamed for everything that goes wrong in her hometown, but she is doomed to die on her eleventh birthday. However, the night she turns eleven, Morrigan is rescued by an eccentric man named Jupiter North, who has an infuriating ability to not answer many questions. Jupiter whisks Morrigan away to Nevermoor, a secret, magical world, where Morrigan will be safe from what hunts her. However, in order to stay, Morrigan must compete in the Trials and join the Wundrous Society. Only nine out of hundreds of applicants will be chosen, so Morrigan will have to fight tooth and nail to be able to stay in the safety of Nevermoor.

FIRST THOUGHTS: I've heard a lot of hype for this book, and I was actually hoping to get to it in 2017. Yeah... I hope for a lot of things that never happen. But I'm so glad that this was my second book of 2018, because it truly was a delight. This is a fun, magical adventure with a fantastic main character, and I enjoyed every page. This is a book aimed at middle schoolers, but the idea that adults can't (or shouldn't) enjoy children's literature is nonsense. If a children's book is truly well-written, it'll have something to offer to older audiences, too. This book is a prime example of that.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: I've heard this book's plot be compared to Harry Potter, and while there are some parallels, I don't think that's entirely fair. Stories about outsiders discovering a world of magic were around long before J.K. Rowling ever picked up a pen, and they'll be around hundreds of years from now. Humanity loves a fish out of water, it appears. That said, this book uses that plot extremely well, and the element of competition with the Trials makes it all the more exciting. Since Morrigan has literal death hanging over her head if she's forced to leave Nevermoor, the stakes are extremely high. The story takes place over the course of a little under a year, but it moves at a brisk pace, never dragging for too long, which is nice. I especially loved the Trials themselves; they were extremely well thought-out, and got me thinking about how I would handle it if I was competing for the same position Morrigan was. The ending is a definite sequel hook, as this is the first in a series, but I honestly have no idea where Townsend tends to take it -- and I can't wait to find out.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: There are no words to describe how much I adore Morrigan as a main character. She's an outcast and an oddball, but extremely easy to relate to and root for. Her snarky-yet-earnest attitude greatly reminded me of Matilda Wormwood, but Morrigan is definitely her own character. I especially loved her interactions with her mentor, Jupiter. I suspect Jupiter's got some hidden depths we'll see in later installments, but what we got in this book was great. His parental role towards Morrigan was a genuine breath of fresh air, after the opening chapters establish how absolutely crap Morrigan's biological father is. (Seriously, Jessica Townsend, if you're reading this; please have someone slap him in the next book. I'll love you forever.) Morrigan and Jupiter's dynamic felt incredibly real, and their banter is some of the best writing in the book. I also loved Hawthorne, Morrigan's fellow competitor and best friend. I liked how, despite being rivals in the Trials, Hawthorne and Morrigan are thick as thieves, and don't let the Trials get in the way of their friendship. The villain is also fantastic -- I can't say too much about them here, since they're a major spoiler, but I am so looking forward to seeing more of them. My main complaint is that aside from Hawthorne, the other competitors all felt really one-dimensional. Some of them had potential, like Cadence and Noelle, but they went mostly underdeveloped. Here's hoping they turn up in the next book, with more to offer.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: Reading this book transported me back to when I was nine and first reading the Harry Potter series. Judging from other people's reviews, I'm not alone in this. This is a middle grade book, meaning it was written for people seven to ten years younger than me, but it's still deeply enjoyable for teenagers and adults. It doesn't dumb anything down, or condescend to its audience, which I think is vital for children's literature. It has a lot of whimsical turns of phrase and clever hidden meanings, some of which you won't catch the first time they pop up. Basically, if you like the writing of Roald Dahl -- which I do -- you'll probably like this.

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Pretty good, but not in the way you'd expect. There are a couple POC, and a side character who's disabled, but none of that is brought up much. There is, however, a very strong pro-immigration message, which really surprised me, because that's not something you'd expect to see in a middle grade fantasy novel. A large part of the conflict stems from Morrigan being an "illegal" in Nevermoor, and how certain people want to deport her back to her hometown -- despite the fact that Morrigan is a child who desperately needed to escape her situation, and that Nevermoor is the only place she can be safe. Jupiter also has a great line about how being a "great" country that then turns away people that need your help is hardly something to be proud of. In this post-Trump world, we need to get this message across early. My only real complaint about this book is how Morrigan doesn't have any truly positive female relationships. (Unless you count Fen. True, she has a definite personality, but she's also a cat.) Almost every other female character is a rival or obstacle for Morrigan, or a distant (if generally nice) authority figure. I'm glad to see a male-female friendship, but I'd love to see Morrigan link up with some other girls in future installments.

7 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: This is a fantastic opener to a new series, and I cannot wait for the second installment. The Trials of Morrigan Crow is funny, exciting, and is actually one of the few books that actually made me tear up a little while reading. Whether you're in sixth grade or your senior year of college, or are even older than that, I'd highly recommend this book. It's off to an extremely strong start, and I can't wait to see where Morrigan and Jupiter will take me next.

FINAL GRADE: 8 / 10


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If you've read Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

The next book I'll be reading is The Cruel Prince, but after that, I'm putting it up to a vote. Remember, only patrons get to have their say! Vote HERE.



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Monday, January 8, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


TITLE: The Hate U Give

AUTHOR: Angie Thomas

GENRE: contemporary

PLOT SUMMARY: Starr's world is turned on its head when her childhood best friend, Khalil, is shot and killed by a police officer while he's unarmed. Starr is the sole witness to the crime, and at first doesn't intend to reveal she was there in order to protect her safety and privacy. However, as the mass media and people Starr knows at her mostly-white prep school slander Khalil's name, painting the officer as the victim, Starr must decide if she can find the courage to speak out, and fight for justice for her friend.

FIRST THOUGHTS: What a wonderful book to start 2018 with! I'd heard all sorts of hype for this book throughout 2017, and actually bought it the week it came out, but only got to it around December. Well, now I'm kicking myself for not starting it earlier, because this book is truly something special. It is worthy of the hype it gets, and I'm someone that suffers from "hype backlash" incredibly easily. This topped all sorts of "best of" lists for 2017, and I 100% agree -- enough that I listed it as an "honorable mention" on my own Top 10 Best Books of 2017 list, even though I was only a quarter of the way through it at that point. The Hate U Give is an incredible book, and I can't praise it highly enough.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: As you could probably glean from the summary, this is not a book for relaxation. Right from the word "go," you're plunged into this painfully honest look at the justice system, PTSD, everyday racism, and the fight for equality. However, the story has just enough humor and sweetness added in to keep it from being unbearable. It's a heavy story, and at times, a very sad one, but it's still enjoyable to read. I also appreciated how true-to-life this book is. Without getting into spoilers, it is a brutally realistic look at police shootings, and the immediate aftermath. As much as I would love to live in a world where justice is always served, and where everyone can be expected to be treated equally by the legal system, we don't live in that world. This book reflects that, and it's all the better for it.

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: This book has one of the best supporting casts I've ever read. Our protagonist, Starr, is engaging and likable, but it's the side characters that really make the book shine. I especially adored Maverick and Lisa, Starr's parents. I'd honestly read a whole book about them. Everything about them -- their interactions with each other, their relationship with Starr, their different viewpoints on the events that take place -- was just a delight to read. Starr's boyfriend Chris and her uncle Carlos were also great side characters, and they both surprised me in wonderful ways. I also really liked how One-Fifteen (the officer that shot Khalil, mostly referred to by his badge number) was mainly a background presence. He doesn't get a voice in this novel, because it's not his story. It's Khalil and Starr's. Overall, the characters are all unique, engaging, and deeply realistic.

9 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: The book is written in first-person, present tense; we're essentially reading Starr's internal monologue. A lot of writers don't work well with this kind of style, but Angie Thomas absolutely does. The book feels very much like the real thoughts and words of a teenage girl, especially one growing up in the 2010s. The dialogue is also sublime; each character has their own distinct voice, and I loved reading the interactions with one another. This is Thomas' first novel, and I can't wait to read what she puts out next. I know I'll be picking it up right away.

10 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Probably the most famous and most talked-about aspect of the book. Inspired by the murders of Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and countless others, the story examines and heavily discusses the unlawful and unjust killing of black people by the police, and the tendency of the media and the justice system to allow the murderers to get away with it. If you've been following any of the deaths protested by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, you'll recognize the parallels to real life in Starr's story. Khalil, Starr, and One-Fifteen may be fictional, but this is a story that's happened to countless real people, in countless ways.

10 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: If the rest of my 2018 reading experience is even half this good... I'm in for a fantastic year. The Hate U Give is a harrowing-yet-hopeful look at police brutality and institutionalized racism in America, and I predict it'll be taught in classrooms in the future. The sooner the better; it carries a message that many people don't want to hear, but needs to be said, nonetheless. This has quickly become one of my favorite books of all time, and I'd recommend it to anyone. Seriously -- go read it.

FINAL GRADE: 9.5 / 10


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If you've read The Hate U Give, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!



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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Reading Resolutions

Top 5 Wednesday is a Goodreads group that posts a weekly "top 5" list for book reviewers to tackle! If you'd like to join in, the group is HERE.

This week's topic was reading resolutions!

Self explanatory. Let us know 5 of your reading goals for the year. 

I was actually planning to do this topic anyway, so here are my 5 reading goals for 2018!

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels. [LINK.]

5. Read twenty-four books.

In 2017, I challenged myself to read twelve books, and I did it. In fact, I surpassed my goal! This year, I'd like to challenge myself even more, by reading twenty-four books before 2018 ends. I know averaging two books per month may not sound terribly impressive, especially since there are booktubers who read over one hundred books in a year, but for a college student with a job, it'll be difficult.

4. Read more of the Skulduggery Pleasant series.

A couple of you may have heard of this Irish fantasy series, which has a pretty devoted fandom online, but isn't exactly a household name. I've read the first two Skulduggery Pleasant books, and adored them both. There are nine books in the series, but a second "phase" of books is set to begin this year -- so I need to catch up! I won't promise to being able to read all nine books in the series in a year, but I'd like to read as many as I can. However, since it's been so long, I'll be rereading the first two, before continuing on. I won't be doing full reviews of the first series; I'll be doing SnarkNotes posts instead. Stay tuned!

3. Reread Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen's classic romance is one of my favorite books of all time. I'll watch or read almost any adaptation of it, and I can talk your ear off about it. (Seriously. Ask anyone that's ever spent any time with me in real life. They'll tell you.) I'd love to revisit it in the new year!

2. Read something on my literary bucket list.

As some of you may recall, I listed twenty-five books I want to read before I die here. Since then, I've managed to knock off two of the items: Six of Crows and The Disaster Artist. I'd love to get to knock off a couple more in the new year! I can't promise I'll get through the doorstoppers, like Outlander or Les Mis, but I can certainly manage to read at least something on this list.

1. Read at least a little bit every day.

Yep. I'm basic. But for me, this'll be a genuine challenge. I'm easily distracted and I often find it hard to force myself to sit down and read. Even with books I like! But this year, I hope to read a little, tiny bit each day. Even just a page.

(Watch me crash and burn on this in, like, two weeks...)

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What are YOUR reading resolutions for 2018? Tell me in the comments!




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Monday, January 1, 2018

The Top 10 Best Books of 2017

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

It's 2018! May your year be filled with prosperity, opportunity, and love. And, in my case, books. Lots of books. I've pledged to read 24 books this year on Goodreads -- time will tell if I can do it.

But now, let's reflect on the incredible books I read in 2017. Here are my top ten favorites. This was really hard to rank, but I'm happy with my choices. Please note that these are books I read in 2017; some of them came out earlier, but I only got to them that year.

Without further ado, let's get to the countdown!

HONORABLE MENTION: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas



Literally the only reason this book isn't on the list and near the top is because I'm technically only one-fourth of the way into it. But I'm mentioning it here, because I did start it in 2017, even if I'll be finishing it in 2018. This book is incredible. Simply incredible. Please go read it, and expect my rave review once I actually get to the end.

10. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green


John Green's return to the page is a melancholy, honest look at mental illness, mixed in with two delightfully realistic main characters. It's got John Green's classic top-notch prose, and his excellent character voices, all of which were very missed by those of us who love his previous work.

9. An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson


This is a classic fairy tale, and perfect for when you want something lighthearted and feel-good. Following the forbidden romance between a human artist and a fairy prince, this fantasy takes you on a journey through a lovely little world. I don't know if there are going to be sequels, but if there are, I'll gladly snatch them up. The prose in this book is simply beautiful, making it a complete joy to read.

8. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton


This is historical revisionism, through-and-through. Maybe 10% of the things in this book actually happened. 15%, if we're being generous. It's a completely absurd story, blending history, comedy, and fantasy, and I love it. All historical fiction bends the truth, at least a little; My Lady Jane is just honest about it. Telling a heavily edited version of the story of Lady Jane Grey, the girl who was Queen of England for nine days before being executed, this book is long, but incredibly easy to read. It's hysterical, exciting, and easily one of my favorite historical novels ever.

7. The Merciless by Danielle Vega


I feel like it's almost pointless to talk much about this book, since I've already said so much. This is the first in a YA horror series, and it's the best of the lot (so far, at least). It's creepy, tense, and atmospheric, just like any good scary story. I'd recommend this to any fan of religious horror. If you liked The Craft, Ginger Snaps, or Heathers, you'll probably like this.

6. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo


This is a powerful, heartbreaking narrative about a trans girl's struggles to find a place in the world that will accept her, written by a trans woman. Amanda is a very compelling lead, and her story is one that's sure to stick with readers, queer or not, for years to come. This book's actually been given the Stonewall Book Award, and I'm glad. It deserves the honor.

5. Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee


One problem I've always had with queer fiction is that it tends to be pigeonholed into being just that: stories about being queer. Not that we don't need those stories; we do. But it's nice to get some variety, you know? One reason I simply adored this book was that it has a queer main character, but the story isn't about that. It's a fun, tongue-in-cheek superhero story... that just so happens to feature a romance between two girls. And it's adorable.

4. The Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo


I finally caught up with the rest of the world and read these two books this year, and they were both so incredible, I had to rank 'em together. This dark fantasy story focuses on a team of six outcasts, as they try to pull off a heist that will make them all rich... assuming they don't kill each other before they even get there. Funny, dramatic, heartrending, and exciting, I'm sure that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom will be considered young adult classics in years to come.

3. The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee


This queer historical novel has been making a lot of lists this year, and with good reason! Fun, fanciful, and hilarious, it follows our main character Monty as he embarks on his grand tour of Europe. Also in tow are his little sister, Felicity (who will be getting her own spin-off soon!), and his best friend/true love, Percy. When Monty steals something that most people in Europe would kill for, he and his companions are sent running for their lives, all across the continent. This has some of the best bi representation I've ever read, and one hell of a funny main character. I can't wait until the spin-off comes out!

2. Vicious by V.E. Schwab


This left me with the book hangover from Hell. Literally. I think I had to lie down a bit. This book's characters are simply divine, and even as the plot grew more and more complex, I was hanging onto every word. The ending was perfect, in my opinion, but the fact that there's a sequel coming is just the cherry on top. If you like dark superhero stories mixed with intense rivalries, check this out. You won't regret it.

1. The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones


I'd say I'm sorry for shoving this book down everyone's throats, except I'm not sorry at all, actually. This book is amazing, and has consumed my life in a way I didn't expect. Seriously, ask anyone who knows me in real life -- I've definitely talked this book up to them recently. The world it creates, with demons and otherworldly monsters, is simply wonderful, and even better are its characters. I read most of this book in a single sitting, and was completely swept away by it. I plan to reread it very, very soon. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have a big following... yet. (Please read it.)

And those are my top picks for last year! Here's hoping I enjoy what I read in this coming year just as much. Happy New Year!

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Thank you so much for reading this top 10 list. If you liked it and would like to support my work, click on either of the buttons below to donate -- Buy Me a Coffee is a small, one-time donation, but becoming a Patron has several benefits and rewards. Either way, it's a huge help to me. A special thanks to those of you that choose to contribute!

Tell me about your favorite 2017 reads down in the comments!


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