Monthly Reading Wrap up: January 2015

January was a great month for reading. I read nine books and am currently reading two. Many of them were highly enjoyable. Two were classics, six were young adult, and one was nonfiction. Books are in the order I finished reading them with the earliest completed appearing first.

The Winner's Curse by Marie RutkoskiShort Synopsis: When seventeen-year-old Kestrel accidentally buys a slave at auction she learns the price she paid for a human being was higher than she could have imagined.

Thoughts: I started The Winner’s Curse at the end of 2014, and it became my first book finished in 2015. While I enjoyed it and plan to read the sequel I don’t think I liked it quite as much as most readers seem to. This has to do with the fact that I had difficulty believing any slave would be openly rebellious like Arin after years of servitude.

Rating:3.5 blue jays

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini TaylorDays of Blood & Starlight by Laini TaylorDreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

Short Synopsis“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”– Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

Thoughts: See my series review (spoiler free except where there are warnings) for my full thoughts, but overall I loved these.

Series Rating: five blue jaysThe Fire in Fiction by Donald MaassShort Synopsis: A nonfiction book to help fiction writers with the structural and characterization elements of their works.

Thoughts: I haven’t read many writing-craft books yet though I intend to read more, but it seems like many of them are about the marketing aspect of fiction. I liked that this book focused on the writing itself rather than publication. I didn’t like all of the brief exerts from other works and skipped many of them, but recognize these exerts may have been necessary to further the author’s points.

Rating: I haven’t read enough writing help books to feel confident rating them.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Short Synopsis: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” — Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austin

Thoughts: I know so many people who love this book I felt I had to read it. While I liked it, and feel I can understand why it’s a classic it was unfortunately not a life-changing read for me. Romance just isn’t my genre.

Rating: I haven’t read widely enough in novels from this time period to judge.

Firefight by Brandon SandersonShort Synopsis: Teen kills/tries to kill people with superpowers, but in the process uncovers that the solution to fighting the people he fights is nothing like he imagined.

Thoughts: I need to read more Brandon Sanderson books, that is my conclusion. Firefight is book two in the Reckoners Series that began with Steelheart. I’m loving this series so far, and think Brandon Sanderson has a great understanding of plot construction and world-building.

Rating:five blue jays

Charm & Strange by Stephanie KuehnShort Synopsis: Teenage boy deals with his complicated past and the fact that the “beast” inside might finally come out.

Thoughts: I’ve been looking for a book with a plot like this. In June I finished the second draft of a manuscript I’ve been working on with a similar plot (but more supernatural elements, less psychology). I’m not anywhere near querying it, but had no I idea how to market it if I ever got to that point. My other concern was that some agents like comparative titles in their queries and I couldn’t think of any. Now I have one. Unfortunately for this book, I guessed the plot within the first fifty pages. Once the reader knows exactly what’s going to happen the book isn’t nearly as exciting. Note that the only reason I found it predictable was that I wrote a story with a similar plot. This book is not predictable.

Rating: 3 blue jays

 

Oedipus Rex by SophoclesShort Synopsis: Classic Greek tragedy about King Oedipus.

Thoughts: Most dysfunctional family in literary history. If you thought all of the orphan characters in fiction had it bad wait until you read this! This play is extremely short, but the poetic language makes it difficult to get into.

Rating: I haven’t read enough Greek tragedy to judge.

 

Currently Reading:

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To see a full review of anything I’ve read this month but haven’t reviewed please comment below with a request.

Jacqueline--Name with a Bluejay

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series by Laini Taylor

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1281255013618440Titles: 
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight, Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Author: Laini Taylor

Publication dates: 2011-2014

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”– Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

Karou is a rather unusual art student from Prague. She never talks about her family or past, and answers all personal questions with an outrageous story about traveling around the world hunting for teeth. She mysteriously disappears often, and once returned to school having contracted malaria. The truth is, Karou can’t answer the questions about her past because they are as big a mystery to Karou as everyone else, but she’s about to find out the truth.

Lives will be lost. Wars will be fought. A forbidden love between an angel and a monster unearthed.

Review: The writing and pacing in this series is just amazing. I read the entire trilogy over the course of about a week, and there are so many great quotes to be taken from the writing.

I had some minor issues with the first book, especially the second half which consisted mainly of flashbacks, and felt there was an element of insta-love to the romance although it didn’t bother me as much as it does in most works because after the novel’s primary relationship was formed the characters’ reacted to learning hard to accept truths about one another in a relatively realistic way not normally seen in young adult fiction.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone feels much more typical in terms of young adult fiction than the next two books. The first book feels like urban fantasy as most of the novel takes place on modern Earth. In the next two books the fantasy elements take over and the story feels much more like high fantasy than urban.

One of my favorite elements in this series was the symbolism particularly that of the wishbone.

I appreciated the author’s portrayal of “angels” and “monsters.” I feel the message Laini Taylor was trying to get across involves questioning everything and not jumping to conclusions. Just because someone looks like an angel doesn’t make them trustworthy, and just because someone looks like a demon does not make them a demon.

Favorite quotes: “It is a condition that monsters do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry ‘Monster!’ and looked behind him.” –Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

“Imagine if [Juliet] woke up and he was still alive, but…” She swallowed, waiting out a tremor in her voice. “But [Romeo] had killed her whole family. And burned her city. And killed and enslaved her people.” –Laini Taylor, Days of Blood and Starlight

“Karou wasn’t a prize to win; that wasn’t why he was here. She was a woman and would choose her own life. He was here to do what he could, whatever he could, that she might have a life to choose, one day. Whoever and whatever that included was her own affair.” –Laini Taylor, Dreams of Gods and Monsters

What Readers Should Know: This series contains cursing intermixed with casual conversations in the way many teenagers speak. Sex is mentioned with some frequency, although no detailed sex scenes ever occur. There are also some fairly gruesome scenes in book two due to the main characters becoming involved in a major conflict. *minor spoiler* In Days of Blood and Starlight a character is almost raped, but the “r” word is never mentioned. While younger readers may mistake this scene for an act of mere aggression it will be immediately clear to everyone else what was narrowly avoided. Personally, I thought this scene captured the fear and horror of the girl involved.

Rating: The first book was a 4.5/5 for me, but the rest of the series was a 5. It’s rare to find a series in which I preferred the sequels to the first installment, but that was the case here. I recommend this for people willing to overlook a little insta-love who enjoy fantasy.

five blue jays

My favorite Books of 2014

The books I’ve read in 2014:

The Iron KnightThe Iron QueenFangirlThe Iron DaughterThe Iron KingGrave MercyOut of the Silent PlanetA World Without PrincesThe Iron TrialAbhorsenLiraelEverfound1984Ruby RedSilver ShadowsFinnikin of the RockUndividedThe Blood of OlympusIllusions of FateEverwildNaked Economics: Undressing the Dismal ScienceAfterworldsThe Infinite SeaThe Indigo SpellEverlostHeir of FireIf I StayThe Fiery HeartThe Revenge of SevenStarglassThe Poisonwood BibleThe Golden LilyHow to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the LinesBloodlinesLast SacrificeSpirit BoundOpalBlood PromiseOnyxThe Kiss of DeceptionSinnerShadow KissWhat's Left of MeClosed HeartsEona: The Last DragoneyeThe School for Good and EvilPoison StudyLament: The Faerie Queen's DeceptionUnhingedSplinteredCaptivateCity of Heavenly FireThe OneThe Maze RunnerObsidianOpen MindsSteelheartIllusionThe Great GatsbyThe Bone SeasonRuinsFrostbiteInfiniteThese Broken StarsIgnite MeAlienatedCressWorld AfterAngelfallPhoenix OvertureScarletCinderThe DivinersSabrielInvisibilityReal Mermaids Don't Need High Heels

In 2014, I read a total of 77 books, all of which are pictured above, and I ended the year currently reading three: The Winner’s Curse, Pride and Prejudice, and The Fire in Fiction.
 The Winner's Curse by Marie RutkoskiPride and Prejudice by Jane AustenThe Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
Of these I will be choosing my 10 favorite books and series I read in 2014. Before I continue I would like to point out that just because a book I read didn’t make this list doesn’t nessissarily mean I did not like it, or I don’t think the book is worthy of the praise it is given. For me how much I enjoy a book has a great deal to do with timing. I need to be in the mood for it, and I realize that this list is heavily influenced by this fact.
 City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments, #6)
10. City Of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments book 6) by Cassandra Clare
This book made the list not so much because of it’s content, but because of the circumstances under which I read it, and the length of time which I have been reading this series. I read around a fourth of this over 700 page book while in the middle of a lock down that lasted the entire school day, and an additional roughly two hours after school ended.
Without this book I would have been bored out of my mind, focusing on the fact that there was no way to access a bathroom, and pacing back and forth in the confines of our small classroom complaining about how much I never wanted to see the room again. Instead this book inspired me to write a middle grade story about faeries, quite a bit of which was planned during this time period, along with other stories planned but not yet written inspired by the event itself.
What kept this book from being higher on my list is that I felt some of the content setting the stage for the next series in the Shadow hunter Chronicles was unnecessary, and I feel that the characters’ personalities weren’t entirely constant with previous books in the series.
Vampire Academy (Vampire Ac...Frostbite (Vampire Academy,...Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academ...Spirit Bound (Vampire Acade...Last Sacrifice (Vampire Aca...
9. The Vampire Academy Series by Rachelle Mead
 I have put off reading this series for years. Back when I was 12 I was a fan of Twilight, but have made an effort to avoid books Vampire related ever sense, especially those with the word “Vampire” is in the title. I like this series for its suspense. Once I start reading I can’t seem to put these books down. These books made it extremely difficult to stop in the middle of a series to finish my summer reading.
Poison Study (Study, #1)
8. Poison Study by Maria V. Snider
This book was fast paced and engaging. It reminded me a lot of the Throne of Glass series which I also enjoy quite a bit. What kept it from being at the very top of this list is that I’m not sure I want to continue. The other books in the series don’t seem to have very good reviews. If anyone has read the other books in this series I would appreciate them leaving their opinion in the comments below.
SplinteredUnhinged (Splintered, #2)
7. Books one and two of the Splintered Series by A.G. Howard
I really enjoyed this retelling/reimagining of Alice in Wonderland. I had a hard time getting into book one, but once I got engaged in the story I absolutely loved it. This version of Wonderland was well thought out, and the small details helped make the world feel real to me. My one complaint is the love triangle.
Sabriel (The Old Kingdom Trilogy, #1)Lirael (Abhorsen, #2)Abhorsen
6. The Old Kingdom/Abhorsen Original trilogy by Garth Nix
I have been a fan of Garth Nix since I was about 11-years-old when I read his Keys to the Kingdom series. I often struggle to get into his books, but I love the world building which is what keeps me coming back to read more of his novels.
My favorite book in this series is book two, and I’m not sure that it’s necessary to read book one first although it would be helpful. A prequel to the trilogy was recently released, but I’m not sure if I will read it as it seems to be getting mixed reviews.
Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1)World After
5. Angelfall books one and two by Susan Ee
I read book one in a single day on a school night. This almost never happens because it usually takes around 50 pages or so for a book to truly engage me. Also, if it happened all the time I would never get any sleep and would have terrible grades.
My favorite of the two was AngelfallWorld After was still very good, but I liked the first book much more.  My only major complaint about this series is the cannibalism as I feel it is unnecessary, and a distraction from the overall plot.
Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)
4. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
This is the first Brandon Sanderson book I’ve read, and even though superheros aren’t something I typically enjoy, I loved the world-building in this book. I already own the box set of the first three Mistborn books. If I weren’t so intimidated by their length I would have started them long ago. I want to read the Mistborn books when I have a lot of time set aside to read uninterrupted which is unlikely to happen until next summer. The sequel comes out in a few days on January sixth, and I can’t wait to read it.
EverlostEverwildEverfound (Skinjacker, #3)
3. The Skinjacker Trilogy by Neal Shusterman
Neal Shusterman is one of my favorite authors. I love the way his world-building is so thought out, and how his books make me think, but at the same time how I never feel as if he is trying to manipulate the reader into thinking a certain way. The first book in the Unwind Dystology will always be my favorite, but this series and Bruiser are really good too. I can’t wait to read more of his books.
This series falls somewhere between middle grade and young adult whereas I feel Unwind is most definitely young adult rather than being able to fit into either category.
CinderScarletCress (The Lunar Chronicles, #3)
2. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
My favorite book out of the three is Cress, but I enjoyed all three of the books that have been released so far. Most series seem to have an amazing first book, but then the rest of the series ends up being either just okay or downright terrible. Not so with this series.
I love the way this series incorporates familiar fairy-tales, but is still it’s own original story. The interaction between characters is great, and I love the way each book introduces a new story arc while still incorporating the old ones. I theorize this is how the series succeeded while others have failed to keep my interest after the first book: by having each new novel focus on a new character but still having old characters narrate. The symbolism from the fairy-tales is another one of my favorite aspects of this series.
I have some problems with the believability of the world building in this series, but am willing to overlook this because everything else about it is amazing.
Undivided (Unwind, #4)
1. Undivided (Unwind Dystology book 4) by Neal Shusterman
This is the best conclusion to a series I have read in a long time. It’s also one of the only books to have actually made me cry. Books often make me teary-eyed, but this is one of the only ones that has made me sob. I wasn’t prepared to like this book as much as I did since book three was my least favorite book in the series, but it’s a tie between this book and the first as to which I love more.
I’ve been reading this series since my freshmen year of high school, and it’s hard to believe it is finally over. At the same time, I can’t wait to read more of Neal Shusterman’s books. His ability to shuffle between many characters and still give each a unique voice and personality is amazing, the world building in all of his books I’ve read has been well thought out, and I said this already, but I love the way his books make me think.