Thursday, June 28, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday #103

Welcome to the Feature & Follow

Gain new followers and make new friends with the Book Blogger Feature & Follow! If this is your first time here, welcome! You are about to make some new friends and gain new followers -- but you have to know -- the point of this hop is to follow other bloggers also. I follow you, you follow me.

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, (using the linky tools -- keep scrolling!) then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you!

What sets this Hop apart from others, is our Feature. Each week we will showcase a Featured Blogger, from all different genres and areas. Who is our Feature today? Find out below. Just remember it is required, if you participate, to follow our Features and you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) as a courtesy. How do you follow someone? Well, if you have a preference, state it in your #FF post. A lot of blogs are transitioning to Wordpress in which they do not have the luxury of GFC, so an RSS subscription is appreciated or if you choose an email subscription. If you don't have GFC please state in your post how you would like to be followed.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Release Date:
May 3, 2011
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Source: Library


Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .

In the summer before Cullen's senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone's eating "Lazarus burgers." But as absurd as the town's carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax.

Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It's about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances. (courtesy of Goodreads)


I finished Where Things Come Back several weeks ago. I'm still not sure what I think of it. I definitely see why it won the Printz award. Does that mean I liked it? I'm not sure. You know the saying that there's a fine line between genius and madness? In books, there's a fine line between genius and really weird. I can't decide on which side of the line Where Things Come Back falls.

Where Things Come Back is one of those books where not all that much seemingly happens. That's not accurate, since there is a strong plot: Cullen's brother disappears and a rare woodpecker is discovered just outside of town. But the book is so wordy and cerebral that the plot feels like a second thought.

Cullen is one of those stereotypical teenage boys who spends most of his time thinking and pontificating on the world around him. Think of Holden Caulfield, Augustus Waters of The Fault In Our Stars, or even Ethan Wate of the Caster Chronicles series. He fancies himself a writer and is always coming up with odd titles for a to-be-written novel or describing his surroundings in witty quips. Part of me loves him for his sensitivity, his intelligence, and his drive to be better than his narrow minded town. Another part of me simply rolls my eyes at Cullen's over-the-top pretentiousness and his unrealistic insights.

Like many literary novels, Where Things Come Back is not a page turner. To be fully appreciated, it should be read slowly, giving the reader time to ponder the underlying context and the amusing brilliance of Cullen's thoughts (whether Cullen's thoughts are brilliant is debatable, as noted). It is a short novel so you can probably get through it in a day or two.

I was ready to dismiss Where Things Come Back as a hoity toity novel until the end when everything came together. The book switches back and forth between the perspectives of Cullen, an African missionary, a college student, and more. This makes absolutely no sense at first, because the characters are entirely unconnected. But at the end, the puzzle pieces magically fit together. This is the only reason I think Where Things Come Back may be worthy of the Printz. It reminded me of how the stories in Jellicoe Road eventually meshed (although it lacks the emotional punch of my beloved Jellicoe Road). I'd recommend reading Where Things Come Back simply for the surprise at the journey's end.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Read Outside the Box: Best Adult Historical Fiction

In March, I fell in love with a book: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I read the 600 page biography in 5 days, having to force myself to put the book down for little things like sleep and showering. I wanted to shout praises for this book from the rooftops. I wanted to extol my adoration on my blog. But I review YA fiction, which this definitely is not. Of course, I could make an exception, but I've chosen a niche for my blog and I stick to it, with the exception of a few cross-over novels. So the idea for Read Outside the Box formed: a monthly feature in which I - along with my readers - will recommend favorite books outside the YA fictional genre. After all, if you're old enough to read YA, you're old enough (or at least capable) of reading other things as well. YA is simply one of many genres that many of us enjoy reading.

Historical fiction has been at the forefront of my bookshelf almost since the moment I started reading. History was always my favorite subject in high school. I have devoured many a history book, children's and adult, fiction and non-fiction. I am most interested in the Revolution-era United States (ironically, none of the below books are set in that time period) and World War II, but I'm not picky. I'll eat up pretty much any well written book regardless of the time period and subject.

Clearly, many of you feel the same, because I received tons of suggestions for this Read Outside the Box. Here are a few (well, more than a few) of my favorites and a few of yours:

My Favorite Adult Historical Fiction

Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (also recommended by Anne, Natalie, and Annette)
-Story of Masada: 900 Jews held out from Roman invaders in the desert for months. Only two women and five children survived.

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran (also recommended by Jennie and Roxanne)
-Discover the life of the famous wax artist, set at the height of the French Revolution.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
-A literary mystery set in post-war, Franco-era Spain. A coming of age story.

Everything by Jeff Shaara
-One of the best historical fiction writers today. I've read almost all of his books. I particularly love his World War II books, although he's best known for his Civil War books.

The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
-Story of the first commoner to marry the Crown Prince of Japan. Starts in World War II and goes until today. Apparently, loosely based on the real life Empress.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
-Massively popular book. Recent Ole' Miss grad writes the stories of the African American maids of the white families in her town. Set in 1960s Mississippi.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (also recommended by Jen)
-Read about Henry VIII's violent life from Thomas Cromwell's point of view. Unless other historical accounts, Cromwell is the good guy.

Everything by Georgette Heyer
-One of the best regency romance writers ever. A must if you love Jane Austen. A very prolific author.

Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky
-Tells about the lives of ordinary Parisians on the eve of the Nazi occupation of Paris. Written by a Jewish Parisian who later died at Auschwitz. The manuscript wasn't discovered for decades.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (also recommended by Dalene)
-Follow the life of a geisha in pre-War and post-War Kyoto, from childhood on. A very loose historical interpretation, I think, but fascinating nonetheless.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
-An epistolary novel focusing on the residents of Guernsey during World War II, the only part of Britain to be occupied by the Germans.

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
-A mail order bride and her eccentric brother comes to live with a widower and his sons. Set in 1909 Montana. Sarah Plain and Tall for grown-ups!

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
-An epic story of a family set during World War II. Covers every aspect of the War and American society at the time.

Readers' Favorite Adult Historical Fiction

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons - Jessie Marie
-A love story amidst the German siege of Leningrad during WWII.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - Jessie Marie, Natalie, and me
-A beautiful story of friendship and family before, during, and after the Taliban in Afghanistan

-A slave girl from Judea ends up at the center of ancient Roman society.

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman - Anne.
-A story of young love in pre-WWII Prague and the horrors of war.

Lionheart by Sharon Penman - Anne.
-An epic family story of the four surviving sons of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitane

Girl With the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier - Dalene and me.
-Step into Vermeer's famous painting and life in 17th century The Netherlands

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - Dalene and me.
-Life in 19th century China for women, from footbinding to marriages to families.

Outlanders  by Diana Gabaldon - Sarah and Lauren
-Historical Fiction/Fantasy/Romance: WWII nurse gets transported to 18th century Scotland, in the middle of the Highland wars.

The Other Boleyn Girl and everything else by Philippa Gregory - Jenny, Lisa, Jenni Elyse, Anna, Natalie, Jen, and me
-Mary Boleyn is the apple of King Henry VIII's eye until her sister Anne comes along. Drama ensues! I've heard this is a very loose interpretation of history, but it's so enjoyable that I don't care.

Lacuna  by Barbara Kingsolver - Annette
-Explore the Mexican world of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and depression-era America. Socialism, art, and history.

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant - Lisa
-Italian teenager falls in love with a northern European commission to paint the local chapel walls

Juliet by Anne Fortier - Lisa and Jennie
-Modern day Julie discovers her ancestor Guilietta in 14th century Italy may be the real Juliet.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon K. Penman - Lee
-A version of the War of the Roses where Richard III is actually the hero.

-A mystery series set in Tudor England at the height of the controversy over the Catholic church vs. Church of England. Thomas Cromwell is the bad guy in this one.

The Memoirs Of Cleopatra by Margaret George - Heidi
-Discovery the story of Cleopatra, Marc Antony, and Julius Caesar from Cleopatria's voice.

Everything by Sarah Waters - Wendy and Missie
-Popular British historical fiction author. Writes mostly (entirely?) about Victorian era England.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck - Jenni
-A story of two different families in the Salinas Valley - the heart of California agriculture.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Jenni and me
-Legendary story of Atticus Finch and his children Scout and Jem in 1930s Alabama.

Everything by Alison Weir - Anna
-Alison writes fabulously detailed biographies of British figures. And she has a great name.

-Explore the life of the famous Catherine de Medici in both France and Italy.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry - Living By Fiction
-Epic story of the wild west.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - Living By Fiction and me
-Famous Civil War novel. Snobby, overdramatic, strong Scarlett and handsome, dark Rhett.

Victoria Victorious by Jean Plaidy (and her other books too) - Shoshana
-The life of Queen Victoria from childhood through her reign.

Roses by Leila Meacham - Natalie
-Discover a 100 year epic story of 20th century Texas history. Love and loss.

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly - Natalie
-A London born woman immigrates to New York City in 1888 and has her own flower shop. First book in a series. Must read if you like Jennifer's YA books!

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault - Sophia
-Read about the last years of Alexander the Great's life. This is actually the second book in a series.

The Alexandrian by Martha Rofheart - Small Review
-A famous courtesan or over of people like Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian - Small Review
-Well known series about life aboard a master-of-war ship during the Napoleonic era.

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark - Laura Ashlee
-Two love stories set in India spanning a century.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton - Jennie
-Modern day Edie discovers her mother's past during WWII where she lived in a British castle. My mother loves Kate's books.

Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees - Jennie
-Historical mystery about Mozart's death. Music, Masons, passion.

What are your favorite adult historical fiction novels? Have you read any of these?

Any suggestions for next month's feature?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Release Date:
April 3, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Library


Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart? (courtesy of Goodreads)


Grave Mercy is a must for any lover of historical romance! Like many readers I picked up Grave Mercy on the basis of two words: "assassin nuns." I just love that phrase. I excitedly told my husband that I was reading a book about "assassin nuns." The silly guy rolled his eyes. I told my parents I was reading a book about "assassin nuns." They thought that was pleasantly nice. I wanted to shout "assassin nuns" from the rooftop simply for the coolness factor.

"Assassin nuns" is enough of a reason to read Grave Mercy, but it gets even better. Grave Mercy is a story full of girl power, romance, political intrigue, and killing people. Poison and crossbows.

Ismae is a fabulous leading lady who goes through enormous changes during the novel. She starts out full of self hatred. Left with a huge scar from a poison that her mother used to try to miscarry, she lives with the physical evidence that she was unwanted. The old wives tale that she was sired by Death makes her even weirder. Her father hates her. Her soon to be husband is the type who will hate her too. Rescued at the last moment by the sisters of St. Mortain, Ismae learns that she really is a daughter of Death (Mortain) and is to serve him by killing those men that Mortain has marked. Fast forward three years and Ismae is strong, confident in her abilities as an assassin, and determined to never again let a man trod upon her. She lives to serve Mortain and bring men to justice.

My favorite Ismae quote: "The sharp metallic tang of my weapons is more welcome than the finest perfume." (p. 239) Perhaps Ismae would feel differently if my favorite Chanel Chance perfume existed in 15th century Brittany.

Enter Duval. He and Ismae are similar in personality. Duval is supremely confident, as loyal to his Duchess as Ismae is to the convent, as skilled as politics and fighting as Ismae is at assassination, as mistrusting of Ismae and she is of him. As you would expect from two people whose good and bad qualities coincide so strongly, clashes between them occur immediately. Few things are more fun than romantic tension. The banter between them was at first fraught with anger, but slowly grow into trust, respect, and eventually love. There were definitely a few squeal moments. My favorite scenes were when he spent the night in Isame's room - but not in the way you'd expect.

Politics and history were a big part of Grave Mercy. I had forgotten that Brittany was once independent of France and fiercely fought for its continued liberty. Duval and Ismae are helping to protect Brittany by ensuring a profitable marriage to its ruling Duchess. Some reviewers complained that the book was too slow. You may feel that way if you're not a big fan of historical fiction or high fantasy, two genres where details and world building are as important as the plot and characters. But I thought the book proceeded at a steady pace and was richer because of the time spent on background. I also love that the relationship between Duval and Ismae developed very slowly. It allowed enough time for each character to respect the other as an equal. I particularly loved seeing Duval's trust in Isame's intelligence and abilities, something you don't see often enough in YA (or any genre).

As you'd expect from a book featuring assassin nuns, there's lots of action. People die. In all sorts of ways. I loved how the fight scenes were written. First of all, they weren't the same. Too often in action novels, it feels like the same characters fight in exactly the same way at different parts of the book. Here the instruments of fighting, the characters involved, the motivation, and the outcomes were different every time. It kept the book fresh. Plus, the scenes were perfectly described. I could see the fighting as though it was right in front of me. Best of all, they were equally spread throughout the book. I didn't have to wait until the end of the story to see some action. But neither was the book one giant fight scene. Everything flowed smoothly.

I highly recommend Grave Mercy. It has something for everyone: romance, humor, girl power, action, politics, history and more. It's definitely one of the best reads of 2012 thus far!

Rating: 5 / 5

Monday, June 25, 2012

Manga Mondays (108): Skip Beat vol. 9 by Yoshiki Nakamura

New Manga Mondays Meme!

I've been doing Manga Mondays every week since I started my blog 2 years ago. It's always been a personal feature, but now I'm going to try turning it into a meme. There are quite a few people who do Manga Mondays. I don't claim by any means that I owned or created the idea of Manga Mondays - it's an obvious choice given the alliteration. I think a meme would be a good way for everyone to publicize their own Manga Mondays and get a little more publicity.

The linky will be below my review.

Skip Beat! vol. 8 by Yoshiki Nakamura


Kyoko Mogami followed her true love Sho to Tokyo to support him while he made it big as an idol. But he's casting her out now that he's famous! Kyoko won't suffer in silence--she's going to get her sweet revenge by beating Sho in show biz!

Kyoko's big chance is finally here Her performance in Sho's promo clip impressed some important people, and now she's been asked to act in the year's most anticipated drama But Ren is the leading man and the character Kyoko is supposed to play is damaged and scary Can Kyoko overcome her fear of Ren and her shame about her demons, or will this chance of a lifetime slip through her fingers? (courtesy of the back cover and Goodreads)


*Warning: Potential spoilers. My manga reviews tend to be more of a summary than a review. I find it hard to review manga in the same way I do regular books.

The cover and the synopsis of this volume features Ren, but much of the plot is about Kyoko and Moko. Moko begins this volume clearly troubled. She thinks her acting career has been ruined. By a little boy. A superstar little boy from a prominent family who has decided that he hates her. Kyoko to the rescue! She's able to tease out the heart of the misunderstanding between Moko and the little boy and save her friend's career.

In so doing, we learn a lot more about Moko's past. She comes from a very large, poor family. Kyoko ends up spending the night with some of Moko's siblings and niece/nephews. The family is boisterous and chaotic, but there's a lot of love there. Moko is quite ashamed of her family's messiness and poverty. Hence, she's been hard at work since she was twelve years old, doing various acting jobs to give her family the lifestyle she thinks they ought to have.

We also learn a little more about Ren in this volume. For being such a star, he is very young - only 20 years old. And he is far from the stereotypical sex-crazed teen sensation. Ren has never gone for any of the girls who throw themselves at him. He's never been in love. As a result, his agency worries that he can't adequately act in a romantic film. When an opportunity comes to star in a film with Kyoko arises, he almost loses it.

The volume ends with Ren and Kyoko being assigned to star in a romance together. Both have issues to work through on why they think their respective roles might be bad for them, but it opens up a lot of plot opportunities. I'm excited to see what happens next.

Sign up for the Manga Mondays Meme!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bookish Recap

I'm joining Tynga's Reviews' meme Stacking the Shelves and The Story Siren's In My Mailbox meme today. Thanks for hosting Tynga and Kristi!

On the Blog This Week

Manga Mondays:


BEA Recap:

Books I Read This Week

Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

Skip Beat vols. 11-21 by Yoshiki Nakamura
-I went a little crazy for Skip Beat this week. I couldn't stop reading it!

Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
-Barely started it, but I'm excited to see where it goes.

Books Received This Week

Library Stash

-I really shouldn't have gotten anything at the library with all my BEA books at home, but I couldn't help myself.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Books For Review:

-Here are a few books that arrived in the last several weeks. I didn't put them up because I was just focusing on BEA books last week.

A Farewell to Charms (Princess for Hire #3) by Lindsey Leavitt
-For a blog tour. Thanks to Lindsey and Disney-Hyperion!

Triangles by Ellen Hopkins
-Thanks to Goldberg McDuffie!

From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thoms
-Up on Netgalley for this weekend only!!!! Get it now!!!

CD Stash

Blunderbuss by Jack White
-I bought the single "Love Interruption" off of iTunes weeks ago, but I finally got the whole album from the library! It's good, although "Love Interruption" is my favorite by far.

Bookish Related Web Obsession

I can't believe that it took me so long to figure out that John Green has a tumblr site set up where he answers readers' questions about The Fault In Our Stars.

If you've read The Fault In Our Stars and want to know more details about the book, you must check out this tumblr blog: TFiOS Questions Answered