Goodreads Book Tag

Thanks Rose Read for posting this book tag – I needed an easy blog post, too, after almost a week and a half vacation in Mexico (and two months since my last post…oops).

What was the last book you marked as read?

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

What are you currently reading?

  • A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell – a chick lit book for fun, as Brave New World was a bit heavy.
  • Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Soerens – this month’s read for a social justice book club at a nearby church. This will be my first experience with a book club, despite being an English major and English teacher!  

What was the last book you marked as ‘to read’?

Loathe Thy Neighbor by James O’Brien – Immigration is a hot topic now, and this book discusses how “ugly prejudices are being fed by professionals grown fat on the fear and fury of their consumers” and how “it is time to stop and ask whether the faceless group of immigrants really exists – or whether it just appeals to our basest fears.” I saw O’Brien speaking in a video that was floating around Facebook and found him very intelligent and interesting.

Do you use the star rating system?

On Goodreads? Yes. I like being able to look back and see which books I truly loved. I also get a kick out of marking my rating and then seeing that a majority of people on Goodreads rated it the complete opposite!

Are you doing the 2017 reading challenge?

You bet. I set my goal at 50 books even though I read over 60 last year, but I feel like my two year old is going to keep me from getting there this year. Right now, I’ve read 11 books and am on track to complete the challenge.

Do you have a wishlist?

I have 56 books in my To Read list, but I’m not very good at using it when I’m in a library or bookstore.

Who are your favorite authors?

Caroline B. Cooney, Katherine Neville, Steve Berry, Paullina Simons, J.K. Rowling, Kristin Cashore, Rainbow Rowell, and many more.

How many Goodreads shelves do you have?

Besides the shelves Goodreads sets you up with (Read, Currently Reading, To Read), I also have Did Not Finish, Favorites, and Re-reads.

I tag:

My fellow Goodreads users! 

Current Read: Across the Universe

imageWould you willingly press pause on your life in order to be frozen and re-awoken three hundred years later? If so, you might think twice about it once you read Across the Universe by Beth Revis.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship —tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming. image

So far, I’m enjoying the book, but it does keep reminding me of other science-fiction books and shows (Ender in Exile, These Broken Stars, Ray Bradbury’s short stories, The Giver, to name a few). Despite this, it’s fresh enough to keep me interested. One of the reasons for this is the author’s use of short chapters that switch between two characters. You want to find out what happens to the character next, but you’re interrupted by a chapter about another character, so you have to just keep reading. The beginning of the book was gripping and had my stomach on edge as the author described how to cryogenically freeze people. The pain the characters felt was palpable and I’m appreciating the author’s ability to describe the setting and events using all of the senses.

My hopes for the rest of the book are that it continues to surprise me, despite its sci-fi tropes, and that the characters will be people I care about and root for.

What are you currently reading?

Current Read: The Kingdom of Little Wounds

imageMe, a week and a half ago: Hm, this book sounds like something I would love. It’s a mix of historical fiction, fairytale, and mystery. Oh, and it’s a 2014 Printz award nominee? It must have great writing.

Me, days later: Ugh, this book is going nowhere…and gross, did I really just read that? Didn’t it say this was Young Adult? Yikes. I’m not sure this book is for me.

I really wanted to like The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal. The blurb was great. Or rather, the blurb was the best part about it. Here, read about the book first, and then I’ll tell you why it missed the mark for me.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne’s heirs, and a courtier’s wolfish hunger for the king’s favors sets a devious plot in motion.image

Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem—and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.

I’m struggling to get through this book. I have considered abandoning it on several occasions, but then I think, if I just read a bit further, maybe it will get better. I’m now 48% of the way though and the book hasn’t gotten any better. Here are a few issues I have with the book:

  1. It’s labeled YA, but it shouldn’t be. Even though I’m not a teenager and am technically mature enough to handle the content of this book, I was still surprised at the sexually graphic scenes included. I would not want my child reading this book and can only imagine the phone calls from concerned parents if I were to use this book in the classroom. I’m all for celebrating everyone’s freedom to read and understand some teens wouldn’t have a problem with this book, but I also believe in age-appropriate content. This book feels very adult.
  2. There are too many points of view. The book changes narrators in each chapter, but I don’t know who the protagonist is, or who I’m supposed to care about. There is a king who spends a lot of time on the toilet, a servant who lies to get herself ahead, a mute servant who is treated like she’s less than human, and two ambitious courtiers who are trying to gain power (one of whom stores gems inside his royal jewels, if you know what I mean). No one is very “likable.” They seem petty and self-serving instead of complex and interesting. The POV is odd, too, because it’s not really first person. It’s like first person, but then an omniscient presence creeps in every so often and tells us things that the character wouldn’t know. This feels like a mistake to me. Like an editor should have told the author that the point of view needs more consistency.
  3. The plot drags on with very little action. I feel like I’ve been reading and reading and nothing is happening (I’ve already spent over a week on it). The story is getting more and more depressing at this point. If something interesting doesn’t happen soon, I’m going to give up on this book.

What do you think, should I keep reading to find out why this book was a Printz nominee, or simply give up?

Current Read: The First Five Pages

imageOnce you’ve written the rough draft of a novel, it’s hard to figure out what to do next. It’s a ROUGH draft, after all. It’s a long way from a finished product. How are you supposed to go about refining it? I’ve searched on the web for editing and revising advice and techniques, but I still felt lost. During a recent trip the library though, I came across a book that finally seemed useful to me. The book is called The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, written by Noah Lukeman.

Back of the Book Blurb:

Whether you are a novice writer or a veteran who has already had your work published, rejection is often a frustrating reality. Literary agents and editors receive and reject hundreds of manuscripts each month. While it’s the job of these publishing professionals to be discriminating, it’s the job of the writer to produce a manuscript that immediately stands out among the vast competition. And those outstanding qualities, says New York literary agent Noah Lukeman, have to be apparent from the first five pages.image

The First Five Pages reveals the necessary elements of good writing, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, journalism, or poetry, and points out errors to be avoided, such as a weak opening hook, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, flat or forced metaphors or similes, melodramatic, commonplace or confusing dialogue, undeveloped characterizations and lifeless settings, uneven pacing and lack of progression.

With exercises at the end of each chapter, this invaluable reference will allow novelists, journalists, poets and screenwriters alike to improve their technique as they learn to eliminate even the most subtle mistakes that are cause for rejection. The First Five Pages will help writers at every stage take their art to a higher–and more successful–level.

If you’re looking for a book that helps you plot, plan, and write a novel, this book isn’t for you! This book is more about how to strengthen your writing once you’ve put in the hard work. Even though I don’t plan on submitting my novel to an agent or publisher (I know my work isn’t strong enough), I still want to complete it to the best of my abilities. I like this book because I’m able to focus on topics where I want to improve but skim through other sections that I feel more confident about. For instance, I know that writers need to stick to a consistent point of view and narrative style, but I have a bad habit of using too many adverbs in my writing. I’m over two-thirds of the way through the 200 page book, and I’ve already flagged several exercises and tips that I want to apply to my own novel. I need to fix my overuse of adverbs and adjectives, and choose interesting, specific words and active verbs. So if you’ve got a novel manuscript sitting around and you can’t figure out how to refine it, this just might be the next book you need to pick up.

Do you have any books (or websites) on editing and revising that you would recommend?

Current Read: I’ll Give You The Sun

imageFinally! Here’s a book I’m really excited to share with you: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. It’s Young Adult fiction and pretty spectacular. Despite the fact that the book has several ridiculous coincidences, talking ghosts, and a cliche British bad boy, this book still manages to feel real and honest.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.image

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

For me, the realness and honesty comes from the fact that our main characters and narrators, Jude and Noah, are dealing with true dilemmas: What does it mean to be that girl? Is it rape if I never said no? How do I handle guilt and grief? How do you continue on when you lose someone you love, but you didn’t have a chance to say goodbye? Will my family and friends still love me if I’m gay? Am I special or just weird? What if my parents get a divorce? Do my parents love my sibling more than me? These are relatable issues that teens (and even adults) can empathize with and learn from. This is exactly the kind of book today’s youth needs.

Jude and Noah were very real to me. They were more than words on a page. While at first I was drawn to Noah, Jude quickly won me over once I found out more of her story. The long chapters alternated between Jude and Noah’s point of view, and also from different ages. This allowed the author to reveal the different things each twin knew (or didn’t know) at the time. I found Nelson’s writing easy to read. It had moments of poignancy – like when you find out how the title of the book comes into play – as well as humor, suspense, and even a little romance. I highly recommend this novel and am looking forward to reading more works by Jandy Nelson in the future.

What are you currently reading?

Current Read: A Breath of Snow and Ashes

imageAnother Monday has come and gone, so I’m tackling Current Read Monday on Wednesday instead. This week, I am picking up a book I started quite some time ago and never completed. I started out 2015 enthralled by Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The books are long (usually over 850 pages), but action-packed.

The basic premise of the series is that nurse Claire, who is vacationing with her husband in the Scottish Highlands following their service in WWII, encounters a stone circle that sends her back in time to 1743. In order to protect herself from notorious Captain Jack Randall, Claire agrees to marry Jamie Fraser, a Scottish clansman she meets while trying to escape Randall’s clutches. She spends the first novel attempting to return to the stone circle, her own time, and her rightful husband. However, that proves difficult – it’s not like she can just drive back to the circle! She’s almost hanged as a witch, oh and most importantly for the series, she starts to fall in love with her new Scottish husband.

On the author’s website, Gabaldon says, “these novels are Big, Fat, Historical Fiction” which also include “history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul…” So, you really get it all with this series! I’m currently reading A Breath of Snow and Ashes, the sixth novel in the series (there are eight, so far).

Goodreads Book Blurb:image
A Breath of Snow and Ashes continues the extraordinary story of 18th-century Scotsman Jamie Fraser and his 20th-century wife, Claire.

The year is 1772, and on the eve of the American Revolution, the long fuse of rebellion has already been lit. Men lie dead in the streets of Boston, and in the backwoods of North Carolina, isolated cabins burn in the forest.

With chaos brewing, the governor calls upon Jamie Fraser to unite the backcountry and safeguard the colony for King and Crown. But from his wife Jamie knows that three years hence the shot heard round the world will be fired, and the result will be independence — with those loyal to the King either dead or in exile. And there is also the matter of a tiny clipping from The Wilmington Gazette, dated 1776, which reports Jamie’s death, along with his kin. For once, he hopes, his time-traveling family may be wrong about the future.

I thought Outlander was unexpectedly fantastic, the second book was great, the third book was wonderful (I gave it five stars), and then the books started getting a little more drawn out and boring. I mean, how many ridiculous things can happen to one couple?! The first few books had plots that kept moving towards an end, while the books after had too many characters to keep track of and had segments of excitement that were quickly forgotten about. It took until about 70% of the way through A Breath of Snow and Ashes before I was hooked and wanted to keep reading. Now, it just keeps getting better and better. Which means, of course, that I’ll probably want to keep reading the rest of the series! Darn you, Diana Gabaldon!

Have you tackled any of the Outlander novels? What did you think?

Current Read: The Alchemyst

imageFor this week’s current read, I am back to Young Adult fiction with The Alchemyst (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel Book 1) by Michael Scott. I didn’t know much about this book going in. I just knew that I’d been intrigued by the cover when I had seen the series in stores or online, that the name Nicholas Flamel was mentioned in Harry Potter, and that alchemy was the notion of turning metal into gold. Needless to say, I was intrigued! Are you?

Goodreads Book Blurb:
He holds the secret that can end the world.

The truth: Nicholas Flamel was born in Paris on September 28, 1330. Nearly 700 years later, he is acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of his day. It is said that he discovered the secret of eternal life.

The records show that he died in 1418.

But his tomb is empty.

The legend: Nicholas Flamel lives. But only because he has been making the elixir of life for centuries. The secret of eternal life is hidden within the book he protects—the Book of Abraham the Mage. It’s the most powerful book that has ever existed. In the wrong hands, it will destroy the world. That’s exactly what Dr. John Dee plans to do when he steals it. Humankind won’t know what’s happening until it’s too late. And if the prophecy is right, Sophie and Josh Newman are the only ones with the power to save the world as we know it.

Sometimes legends are true.image

And Sophie and Josh Newman are about to find themselves in the middle of the greatest legend of all time.

I haven’t wanted to spoil the ending of this book by researching the series, so I’m not sure what the titles of the other books are, or even how many books are in the series. All that I know is that the adventure doesn’t end with this book! That being said, I’m not sure that I will read the rest of the series. I’m not hooked by the concept or characters like I was with Divergent, Under the Never Sky, or Shattered (to name a few exciting trilogies). It feels like the book is geared for a younger audience, though I can’t quite put my finger on my reasoning for this. The book is complex in its references to legends, mythology, and historical events. It’s also dark at times and has a feeling of danger. But two of the book’s main characters, twins Josh and Sophie, feel young and naive. Unlike world-weary Katniss and adrenaline-junkie Tris, Josh and Sophie are regular teens who are just working normal jobs at a bookstore and coffee shop in order to buy a car. They get caught up in strange events that turn their world upside-down, but they remain wide-eyed through it all. Or, at least, until chapter 24, which is as far as I’ve gotten! I’ll definitely finish this first book, but I’m probably not jumping on the series bandwagon with this one.

It will be a busy week full of gift-wrapping, cookie baking, and to-grandmother’s-house-we-going, so this could possibly be the last book I finish in 2015. What book are you wrapping up the year with?