Top Ten Tuesday of 2015

I know it is already the end of January, but I still feel like 2016 just started for me. So here is my Top Ten Tuesday books I read in 2015 (not always books published in 2015, but books I read in 2015).

10.) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood-

I didn’t score this book very high but I had to include it in my top ten because I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a book I wish I read in Feminist Literary Theory, so I could discuss it with other people. Because I have a lot of things to say about this book.

9.) The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

I am a huge fan of the Percy Jackson series. And the Heroes of Olympus series was even better. The last book was a great conclusion to the series. It also got me excited for his new series, Magnus Chase.

8.) Someday, Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham

I was a little worried the first novel by an actress I loved. I didn’t want it to be terrible. It was not terrible. It was lovely and delightful. It had awkward moments, but it had all the humor that I associate with Lauren Graham.

7.) Entwined by Heather Morris

I love fairytale retellings and this one was by far my favorite this year. A well done retelling of the 12 dancing princesses (that was a stand alone!) with enough of a twist to make it interesting.

6.) The Heir by Kiera Cass

I was not excited initially when it was announced she was doing more books from the Selection series. I was worried it would ruin the integrity of the original series. I was pleasantly surprised. It was fantastic with a fresh new voice. Can’t wait for the next book.

5.) Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

This book totally took me by surprise as I had no idea where it was going. It’s a little…odd. But in a totally great way. Just read it.

4.) The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I was hooked after I read a excerpt of this online. Game of Thrones meets the Hunger Games. Looking forward to the next in the series.

3.) How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

What a surprising find this was. It’s about what reinventing yourself really means and how things don’t go the way you think they will. If you don’t want to read the book, just read chapter 24. It’s two pages of brilliant.

2.) and 1.) Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot and Winter by Marissa Meyer

Really these books are tied. Excellent ending to both series. You can read my full review of Royal Wedding here. Marissa Meyer’s conclusion was extremely well done and didn’t fall flat as some dystopia society series have done. I love both these writers and look forward to more from them in the future.

Honorable mentions: Snow like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Exile by Kevin Emerson, The Fault in our Stars by John Green, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfield, and Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

 

Book: In Search of Scandal

*I received a free copy of this ebook through netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

Romance novels are my guilty pleasure. I started sneaking them from my mother at 16 and have been obsessed ever since. As an English major, I love reading anything. But when I am stressed out or tired with what I’m reading, I have to get my romance novel “fix”. I think of it this way: A romance novel is a playing field and I am rooting for courtship. Courtship wins every single time. In Search of Scandal Book cover

I had the opportunity to review this ARC which is released on December 1st (today!). In Search of Scandal is about Will Repton, travel botanist, recently returned from India running into the beautiful, dazzling Charlotte Baker. She loves him from the start but can Will overcome his dark memories from Tibet to love her back?

Likable main characters can make or break a romance novel. I liked the characters of Will and Charlotte. They each had their own unique voice, which can be difficult to do when switching point of views. They both also had chemistry and I liked them together.

One of the things I couldn’t quite figure out was everyone’s social position. Charlotte’s older sister married an Earl, but the sister was a beard since the love affair was really between the Earl and Charlotte’s brother Wally.*  The Earl died and the sister married a Mr. Ben Paxton (and Wally is in disgrace for obvious reasons), so they are not part of the Ton. Charlotte was raised as a lady (since her sister was married to the Earl and had a proper education) and is a hot commodity in society. The complicated family connections was much more complex and convoluted than it needed to be. I have read a lot of historical romance and my understanding is that if one person in the family is in disgrace, they ALL are. It seemed odd to me that Charlotte was accepted into society but no one else was.

Despite that, the beginning of the novel was promising and fun. Charlotte is besotted with Will before even meeting him, and falls even more in love with him on meeting. Will just can’t even believe this gorgeous girl likes him, and tries his best to avoid her.

The key moment for me is the ‘ah-ha!’ moment when they realize they both love each other. It is a difficult and delicate moment to coordinate. Many authors bumble or outright fail at it. This one was not the best. The moment hinges on them both saying it to each other, even though both of their actions already demonstrated their feelings. One can argue that Will’s character is a little oblivious and Charlotte’s character is naive. But it left me as a reader just frustrated with the two of them. It wasn’t the worst ‘ah-ha!’ moment, but I have read better.

The ending was a little messy. A couple sub-plots became main plots and complicated things to an unnecessary degree.

Overall, it was still a delightful read with solid characters and some sizzling chemistry. I would rate it 3 out of 5.

Another win for courtship!

*I liked Wally’s character, but his sexuality had no bearing on the plot. It seemed as if the writer was trying too hard to be modern and edgy.

Book: Royal Wedding

princess diaries bookI vividly remember reading Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries the first time. I was an awkward freshman, avoiding a family reunion because I could not put the book down. Reading about Princess Mia was like reading my own journal. We had the same birthday, the same frizzy awful hair, and the same neurotic, awkward personality. We obsessed and worried about the same things (grades, boys liking me, complaining about lack of boobs). The only difference was I wasn’t a princess (unfortunately) and my mother never dated my math teacher. I continued to read the series well into college, because I had to know how my literary twin got through high school. In doing so, I felt like Mia and I had become good friends. I was sad when the series had to come to an end. And of course, I had to watch the movie.*

I continued to follow Meg Cabot’s work and basically read every book she had ever written. Meg Cabot quickly became one of my favorite authors. Mia still remained one of my favorite characters.

I fangirl squealed with delight in learning that Meg Cabot was writing another Princess Diaries book, with Mia as an adult. It was a great move on Meg Cabot’s part. Everyone who used to read Princess Diaries when it came out have grown up. What made it better was Mia was planning her wedding. At the same time as the book came out, I started planning my wedding. Princess Mia and I continue to be twinsies.

royal wedding coverRoyal Wedding starts with Mia and Michael getting engaged and wedding planning. Before you know it, the Genovia government is in disarray, the princess has an internet stalker on the loose, and Mia discovers she has a royal half sister. Hijinks and hilariousness ensue.

Royal Wedding can be read as a stand alone by itself. I think Meg did a great job of introducing the characters as if they were new. The plot had romance, comedy, political intrique, and some family drama. It was a fun and easy read. For those familiar with the series, the book was a love letter to the fans. It was great to see all the same cast of characters and find out how they were doing. Mia is still paranoid, but less insecure. Michael is still awesome. Lily is still bold but less bitchy. Tina is still a romantic. Grandmere is still…well…Grandmere. I honestly felt like I was catching up with old friends, only just a little bit older and wiser.

The book was delightful. I can easily rate it a 5 out of 5. I am sad I won’t get another opportunity to check in on my friends, but I am glad with how the book ended.

*I will never do a book/movie comparison of Princess Diaries. The book series and movie are complete separate entities for me. I enjoy both of them equally, for different reasons.

Fairy tales Retold- PART 1

Fairy tales are timeless for a reason. They lasted as an oral tradition hundreds of years before they were ever written down. Several cultures even have different variations of the same fairytale, such as Snow White and Cinderella. It is interesting to see how fairy tales have become more prevalent in the media.

Disney movies seemed to be the only one capitalizing on the the market of fairy tales for the longest time. Now, it seems to be everywhere. Movies like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Jack The Giant Slayer, and Red Riding Hood have been released within the last 3 years. TV shows such as Grimm and Once Upon a Time rake in ratings every week.

And I love it.

As a kid, I was a huge Disney fan. I love the princesses and princes falling in love. But there was not a whole lot of variations of fairy tales as I was growing up. You either had Disney or you could plop down with a huge book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales*.

In theme with their movie and television counterparts, more and more books are also doing their own twist on fairy tales. I wish there were as many books based on fairy tales now compared to when I was growing up. Luckily, there were a couple of key books in my young adult life that kept my love for fairy tales alive.

Ella_enchanted_(book_cover)Ella Enchanted – Words alone cannot describe my heartfelt sentiments for this book. Cinderella is one of my favorite fairy tales because of my love for this book.** It is one of my favorite books of all time. It is one of the only books I have read countless times over the years, from age 12 to now. (I even rescued it from my parent’s house because I was craving a read through).

Ella is about a girl who has the “gift” of obedience given to her at birth by a ridiculous fairy. If Ella is given any direct order, she has to obey, no matter how much she doesn’t want to or how ridiculous it may be. She lives in a rich world of ogres, giants, fairies, and gnomes. Despite her curse, Ella is funny, charming, compassionate, and clever. Through her mother’s death, father’s remarriage, and obedience school, Ella falls in love with Prince Char and seeks her own fate to break her curse. It has such a great twist on the Cinderella story, and the main characters are so well told.

There was a movie version done of Ella Enchanted starring Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy, but the book and movie are so different from each other that I don’t think it’s worth doing a comparison. I will say that I enjoyed the movie, but not in the same way that I enjoyed the book.

zelZel – This book is why my second favorite fairy tale is Rapunzel and why I was overjoyed when Disney finally made Tangled. The author Donna Jo Napoli has other great novels based on fairy tales, but Zel was my favorite. It is also one of the first books I ever read written in present tense.

Zel follows the story of a girl who is taken care of by a witch. As the girl grows more beautiful, the witch becomes more jealous and eventually hides her beauty in a tower. One of the great things about this book is that it changes perspective: Zel’s, the young man’s, and the witch’s. I really appreciated the witch perspective, because that is part of the fairy tale which doesn’t make sense to me. Why would a witch basically kidnap a child? In Zel, you learn the witch is so desperate for a child that she takes the opportunity to barter for one. When Zel starts to fall in love with a man, the witch is terrified Zel will leave her alone and builds the tower. The witch was an interesting character and you almost feel sorry for her.

Zel is a beautiful rendition of the Rapunzel fairy tale. Rapunzel is really a darker fairy tale (compared to Cinderella), but Zel balances it well.

 

Once Upon a Time seriesOnce Upon a Time series – Before it was a TV series, it was a set of independent books that retold fairy tales by different authors. I caught onto them in high school and I was obsessed with them, to the point where I looked them up online, bought them the day they came out, and continued to buy them into my early 20’s. Alas, they no longer make them. Oddly enough, they were not always that good. There were a few really good ones in a series of so-sos and sup-par. The reason I really liked them was to see what the author did to the retold fairy tale.

A couple of my favorites was Sunlight & Shadow and Snow. Sunlight and Shadow is actually based on the opera The Magic Flute (which I still haven’t seen). Snow is obviously based on Snow White and was the first one I read. Most likely, if I had not read Snow first, I might not have bothered with the rest of the series. It shows you how desperate I was for retold fairy tales.

I enjoy the new twists and spins that fairy tales are being given nowadays. It gives new life to the fairy tale that it was based on. The old stories get a new chance to live on.

*Don’t get me wrong! I love the classic fairy tales. I specifically took a class in college to study and discuss fairy tales. But no kid wants to sit down and read 209 tales, especially when half of them aren’t even that interesting.

**I wasn’t a huge fan of Disney’s Cinderella. I mean, I liked it when I was 5 but not so much when I was 12.

Movie and Book: Divergent

divergent_bookMy roommate started my interest in the series, and I was thrilled when she gave me the series for Christmas. I manged to read the whole series a month before the movie came out.

Out of all the books in the series, the first one was my favorite. Divergent follows the story of Beatrice “Tris” Prior who lives in a post-apocalyptic Chicago where society is divided into five factions. When they are of age, teens choose to stay with their families faction or to join a new faction. Tris makes the decision to leave her family’s faction Abnegation “selfless” to join Dauntless “brave”, where she goes through a series of trials and tests to see if she belongs in Dauntless. But Tris’ brain isn’t like everyone else’s. She is Divergent.

I loved the premise of the series. I liked the factions and how the author explained them.* Although I have never been to Chicago, it describes a lot of the city and would be familiar to those who know it well. I also liked Tris. She wasn’t a perfect heroine but really struggled to belong to her old faction and then her new one. However, the best character by far is Four. Probably one of my favorite male characters to come out of YA fiction in a while. Edward who? Peeta/Gale what? No, it’s all about Four.

I would easily rate the book 5 out of 5. It dragged at parts but I was still intrigued by the plot and the last 50 pages are intense.

divergent_poster_movieI was excited to see what they did with the movie. I wasn’t sure about the casting of Shailene Woodley (since the only thing I knew her from was that horrible ABC Family show). I was pleasantly surprise though, as she impressed me as Tris. Theo James was even okay as Four. The movie plot was very similar to the book and I thought it set up the story well.

A few scenes were changed in how they were told and the timing was a little different. The biggest change was more scenes with the character Kate Winslet plays-Jeanine. It wasn’t necessarily a bad or good addition to the movie, just a different telling of the story. In reality, the second book has a lot more of Jeanine. It would be interesting to see how they add Jeanine in the second movie.

I would give the movie 4.5 out of 5, just because I have impossible standards for Four’s character. I’m looking forward to the next movies in the series

A lot of really good young adult books being turned into movies, so stay tuned.

*I am TOTALLY an Erudite. Except not a jerk about it.

All Things Jane Eyre

One of my favorite books of all time is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I like to call it “the book that doomed me to become an English major.” It feels like I read it for the first time only yesterday. I remember vividly being 16 and spending my summer days at my grandmother’s house, enjoying the cool air conditioning to avoid the 100 degree heat outside and physically not being able to put the book down. I remember falling in love with that book and rereading parts of it over and over and over again all summer long.

I was ecstatic when it was assigned reading in college 5 years later. I was worried that maybe it wasn’t as good as I remembered and maybe I changed too much to be able to appreciate it the same way. Luckily, it wasn’t the case. I felt like I was 16, falling in love with the book all over again. I passionately defended the haters of Mr. Rochester in my English class, to the point where the teacher pulled me aside and told me to tone it down. The scene where Jane has to leave Mr. Rochester breaks my heart. Every. Single. Time.

There have been MANY movie versions of Jane Eyre over the years and I doubt I will be able to watch them all (some of them you might not even be able to get on DVD and others might not be worth watching). There have been two recent adaptations of Jane Eyre that I recently enjoyed and wanted to share, a modern retelling novel and the most recent movie adaptation.

Jane BookFor those who don’t know the story of Jane Eyre, it is about a character named Jane Eyre and basically her life story. She is an orphan who is raised by her horrible aunt and mean spirited cousins. Her aunt ships her away to a religious school which ends up being just as terrible as her aunt’s. Despite it all, Jane grows up to be a pious, kind, caring, intelligent woman although often described as plain. She goes to work as a governess for the mysterious Mr. Rochester and then things start to get really interesting. Jane Eyre is a classic gothic fiction novel but also a love story woven in.

The novel Jane by April Lindner is a young adult modern retelling of Jane Eyre. Jane Moore drops out of college after the death of her parents to be a nanny employed by the mysterious, brooding, rock star Nico Rathburn about to make his comeback. I was dubious by a modern retelling as Jane Eyre is really a piece of literature that exists in the time period it was written for. I was convinced by my friend’s book review and decided I had to check it out  myself.

To give you an idea of how much I enjoyed this book, I started it late at night planning to only read a couple pages and instead finally went to sleep at dawn. I thought a successful modern interpretation of Jane Eyre would be impossible, but I was wrong. I loved it. Mr. Rochester as a modern rock star was ingenious and modern Jane was smart, strong, and endearing. I spent most of the book waiting to see if it was going to let me down in someway, but it never did. It gave me my Jane Eyre fix in a condensed, easy read version. I would rate it 5 out of 5.

Jane Eyre MovieI was excited when I learned a new move interpretation of Jane Eyre was being released in theaters. I really enjoyed the Kiera Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice and hoped it would be as good. I was devastated when I missed it in theaters, but added it first thing to my Netflix queue.

The movie starred Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester and Mia Wasikowska as Jane. I enjoyed the movie. I thought Mia embodied the awkwardness and plainness, but as well as the determination and strength of Jane. I wasn’t convinced with Michael’s portrayal of Mr. Rochester, but I thought he had good chemistry with Mia. Their interaction and banter were lines right out of the book which I enjoyed. The scenery for the movie was also beautifully done. The landscape and isolation of Thornfield was demonstrated well visually.

One of the really odd things about the movie was that it starts when she is leaving Mr. Rochester which is right in the middle of the novel. The timeline of the movie was very confusing in the beginning and shows a bunch of flashbacks. It picks up for awhile when Jane and Mr. Rochester meet and then becomes very confusing again when she leaves (which is where the movie initially started). For someone who might not be familiar with the story, they could get very confused. I have read the novel in it’s entirety at least twice and I was even confused at times.

The ending was very abrupt and unsatisfying, which I felt unnecessary as the novel has a complete ending. I also think the movie running time was a little short for the very lengthy novel to give it the depth that it needed. Despite those issues, I still enjoyed it and thought certain parts were done very well. I would rate it it 3.5 out of 5.

Movie and Book: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I love audio books.

It’s only been the last few years that I have gotten into audio books. I used to be one of those books snobs who would not be caught dead listening to an audio book. Then I started making an 16 hour drive round trip a few times a year, and I discovered the wonderful thing that were audio books.

Extremely_loud_and_incredibly_close_bookI picked up Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as an audio book at the library (unabridged because that is the only way to go). I had heard the book was good but that was about it. I had no idea what the story really was about. I’m glad I picked it up. It is about a boy Oscar who has lost his father on Sept 11th in the World Trade Center. Although you don’t figure that out right away because all he calls it is “The Worst Day”. You learn the story of his father in pieces.

Oscar is a unique character with his own terminology of things. He comes across a key and is determined to find the lock that fits it as he believes that his father left it for him to figure out. He comes across many unique characters in his search. It’s a beautiful story well told in the voice of Oscar. My only problem with the book was the side story about Oscar’s Grandma and Grandpa. Oscar’s grandparents suffered the tragedies in World War II and it goes into their story along with Oscar’s journey until both storylines converge. One of the things I really liked about the audio book was that each character was voiced differently depending on whose perspective the chapter was in. The bad thing was there was too much of the grandparents story. I really liked Oscar and I wanted more of his story. I did not really care about the grandparents, especially Grandma. The ending also fell a little flat for such a well crafted story. I would rate the book 4 out of 5.

 

extremely-loud-and-incredibly-close-movieI was interested to see what they were going to do with the movie version and I had heard people rave about the movie. Tom Hanks plays the dad in flashbacks with Oscar and Sandra Bullock plays Oscar’s mom. I loved the little kid who plays Oscar. I thought he did a great job (although I don’t know why his eye color kept changing crazy colors).

One of the things I liked about it is that the movie is strictly from Oscar’s perspective and doesn’t involve the grandparents story hardly at all. The only scenes with the grandparents were their relationship with Oscar. I think I liked them better that way. However, you do lose a little bit of the context of the story. I thought it was a decent movie interpretation but it pales in comparison to rich detail of the book. And actually changes quite a few scenes and add some scenes that didn’t even happen in the book. One of my favorite characters from the book was completely cut from the movie. I understand why it was necessary, but I was still disappointed. There was a lot to put in there. The movie ended on a much more positive note than the book, but I wish the book had come up with it first as it would have been written better. I think I would rate the movie 3 out of 5.

Conclusion- I think it is one of those situations where if you watched the movie, you would be satisfied and thinks it’s amazing if you haven’t read the book. If you read the book, the movie will be somewhat of a disappointment. But don’t listen to this as an audio book while you are driving! There will be tears.