12) The Girl Who Drank the Moon

By: Kelly Barnhill

Date Finished: 03.17.17

15. The Girl Who Drank the Moon

A story can tell the truth, she knew, but a story can also lie. Stories can bend and twist and obfuscate. Controlling stories is power indeed.

This is, perhaps, the greatest love story I’ve ever read.

There is hardly any romance — what little there is happens mostly offstage — but love oozes from every page like a bog. (That may seem like an odd simile; I will make you read the book to find out why it’s perfect.)

This is a story about family. About the family you choose and the family you don’t. About the family you desperately want but they’re lost to you. About the family you think you can’t have until all at once you can.

This is the story of a compassionate witch, an inquisitive boy, a quixotic dragon, a poetic swamp monster, a grieving madwoman, and, of course, an enmagicked girl who drank deeply from the boundless well of moonlight.

This is the story of hope and resilience which are bound together like the two sides of a coin. This is the story of the full range of human emotions especially the burden of sorrow. This is the story of the consequences of disengaging and the strength of community. This is the story of stories and memory and the way time re-sculpts both. This is the story of power that destroys and power that heals and controlling power and the power of control. This is the story of magic – the kind that exists only in fantasies and the kind that is accessible in the real world.

This story broke my heart, not for a lack of love but for an abundance of it. Thankfully, “there is no limit to what the heart can carry” and so I know the cracks will mend.

Apparently, this is also a story that inspires creativity. My sister and I read this at about the same time, and she made this masterpiece:

15. Lizaleegrace

The paper birds are an important symbol/feature in the book and each of these represent a specific character. As for the moss, well, I did say there was a reason for the bog simile. Check out @lizareadsbooks on Instagram for more.

My sister’s project inspired me to do one of my own. The idea planted itself in my head and I couldn’t rest until I went on a late-night run to Home Depot and made this guy:

15. Me

I’m quite fond of my little crow but I will make you read the book to understand the quotes.

It feels a bit unnecessary at this point to do an “end of the day” conclusion because I think my feelings are pretty obvious but it’s tradition so…

At the end of the day: Completely for me

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11) Stars Above

By: Marissa Meyer

Date Finished: 02.20.17

Stars Above

Stars Above is a collection of short stories written within the world of The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter, and Fairest). Some stories were previously published in the paperbacks and on Meyer’s website so I’d read at least a third of them before. For the most part, I enjoyed these better in the context of the collection than when I read them as stand-alones.

As with any set of short stories, some are more captivating than others. I most enjoyed The Keeper where we get to see Michelle Benoit take in both a fugitive and a runaway (it may be a little too spoilery to use names), After Sunshine Passes By which shows Cress’s childhood, and The Mechanic which gives us Kai’s perspective of the first time he and Cinder met. One of the teasers for the book was that it included a wedding. I very intentionally kept myself from knowing which couple got married beforehand. While I liked the plot for that story, I didn’t love the POV choice, so unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the hype.

On the whole, it was nice to return to a world I love and to hang out with this pretty great cast again. Naturally, I laughed out loud at everything Thorne said. Obviously, Cress and Thorne did not get enough page time (either individually or together). It’s not a must-read but it is a friendly read.

At the end of the day: For me

10) A Conjuring of Light

By: V. E. Schwab

Date Finished: 03.09.17

13. A Conjuring of Light

A myth without a voice is like a dandelion without a breath of wind. No way to spread the seeds.

NOTE: Since I’m going to discuss the whole series, I will use the following abbreviations for the titles
A Darker Shade of Magic = ADSOM
A Gathering of Shadows = AGOS
A Conjuring of Light = ACOL

ACOL is the final book of the Shades of London series by V. E. Schwab (not to be confused with the Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson which is also amazing). And what a satisfying ending it was. Schwab has so much respect for her readers, and while she is unapologetic about doing what’s best for the story, she doesn’t break your heart without a reason. Granted, I might have said something very different a year ago when I finished AGOS. To say that book ended abruptly is to say Antarctica is a bit on the cold side.

ACOL picks up immediately after the mania that concludes AGOS and it’s frantic until the first episode ends and at least one thing has been resolved. It’s gentler from there – in comparison – as it becomes the story of a group of messy, complicated people trying to solve an impossible and potentially world-ending problem. As you do. There are some rough seas within the book but it was not as gutting as I expected.

This series is fantasy at its best. The rules of magic are clear and the costs are high. The worldbuilding is thorough and well-articulated. By the end of ACOL you know the people, the customs, the mythology, and even bits of the language for each of the Londons (there are four total — Gray London is ours and Black London is inhabitable). It’s enough that you could navigate Red London reasonably well as a tourist. You could navigate White London, too, if you’ve had extensive self-defense training.

Just like the Londons, the characters and their relationships are rich and dynamic and deeply flawed. Every one of the main characters is heroic. Every one of the main characters is heroic in a different, very unconventional way. Every one of the main characters is plagued by demons that they don’t always defeat. ADSOM and AGOS are largely about forming friendships and strengthening loyalties. ACOL forces the cast to form alliances with the people they’d much rather murder. It also forces the reader to weep for the last person they expected to care about (or that could just be me).

I’m prone to mix up the titles of the first two books (A Darker Shade of Magic indicates that there was something less dark before) but the sequence is meaningful. Even though it throws me off, “darker” tells you exactly what to expect from the magic of this world — there’s nothing cute or charming about it. A Gathering of Shadows is a set up for the last book, yes, but it also pushes all the characters to the edge of their strength and their faith. It’s hard to see any hope at the end which is why it’s so significant that the last book is A Conjuring of Light. You know where it’s headed. You know how they’ll battle the darkness. But there is no indication that it will be easy. Schwab is the perfect guide — adept at plunging you into the deepest darkness and then leading you through to the light.

In a case of fortuitous timing, my sister posted her reactions to the series on Instagram tonight — @lizaleegrace, or, more bookishly, @lizareadsbooks. And so, with her permission, today I leave you with my sister’s thoughts.

13. Conjuring Rachel

At the end of the day: Totally for me

09) Spindle

By: Shonna Slayton

Date Finished: 02.18.17

11. Spindle

Spindle. What a lovely and thoughtful story. This Sleeping Beauty-inspired tale is set in a spinning mill in the late 1800s. It’s a concept that is brilliant in it’s simplicity; of course the world needs to see how Sleeping Beauty would navigate a room that contains hundreds of spindles.

Like Cinderella’s Dress, this is a continuation of the fairy tale rather than a strict adaptation.  There are several parallels to the original while remaining plausible in the historical context. Slayton weaves the two constructs together so well they become nearly inseparable. Naturally, we can pick at the threads in our world but the fabric of Slayton’s universe is tight and strong. Certain historical events very believably become the work of fairy magic. Meanwhile, this Briar Rose is a sixteen year old orphan with three younger siblings to care for. Mill conditions are pretty much Dickensian at the time and Briar is desperate to keep her siblings away from the workhouses – not exactly a charmed life.

Briar has a devil and an angel on her shoulder in the form of her two roommates, Ethel and Mim. Ethel is an unabashed feminist campaigning for voting rights and temperance. Mim is more invested in fashion and catching the eye of a rich suitor. They are both supportive of Briar’s efforts to keep her family together even though they have wildly different approaches. (I’ll let you decide which is the devil and which is the angel.) On the whole, the relationship between the three of them is complex and very realistic. The rest of the cast is equally well-rounded and give Briar a lot to play off of — for better or for worse. (Just forget that jerk Wheeler already!)

The setting, these relationships, they make Briar a fighter from the beginning. She’s doing the best she can with the options available and though magic turns her life upside down, Briar is always after one thing: protection for her family. Her course of action changes multiple times but her objective and her resolve never wavers. It’s an interesting thing to see in contrast to the Disney tale of a mostly passive Sleeping Beauty. I’m grateful that Slayton took the opportunity to give this Sleeping Beauty more agency than most.

As far as historical fiction fairy tale adaptations go, this one fits as perfectly as Cinderella’s magic shoe. (Psst – Cinderella’s Shoes is another great Shonna Slayton book)

At the end of the day: Definitely for me

P.S. Spindle makes for an excellent salon read!

11. Spindle Salon

08) Inside Out & Back Again

By: Thanhha Lai

Date Finished: 02.05.17

08. Inside Out & Back Again

I admit that I have stalled in writing this. It’s been hard to get words around this book when it speaks so well for itself. In the simplest terms it’s the story of a young girl, Hà, who flees Vietnam with her family and ends up in Alabama. It explores her love for her home despite the dangers there and her struggle to find her place in a culture that wants nothing to do with her.

The story is fiction but draws heavily on the author’s personal experience. It’s written in a series of free verse poems — because it’s the closest structure to Vietnamese, Lai says. The poetry also allows Hà’s emotional life to be the central story. Through that emotion, Lai captures so perfectly the universal spirit of childhood. Hà is a young girl who is frustrated by limitations. A child who is selfish at times but is also lovingly sacrificial. A human who misses her father and her country and who she might have been if the war hadn’t torn apart their home.

A year ago, this may have been a beautifully written book with a historical setting. However, it’s impossible to read it today without thinking politically. With the refugee crisis continuing and xenophobic policies gaining momentum, every natural-born American would benefit from reading this. If this book does not grow your compassion, likely nothing will.

I often start with a quote but today I will finish with one:

Mother says,
People share
when they know
they have escaped hunger.

Shouldn’t people share
because there is hunger?

At the end of the day: Absolutely for me and absolutely recommended for where we’re at in the world right now

06 & 07) Mind Games & Perfect Lies

By: Kiersten White

Date Finished: 02.06.17

06-07-mind-games-and-perfect-lies

The moment he bends over to help the sorrow-eyed spaniel puppy, I know I won’t be able to kill him. This, of course, ruins my entire day. -Mind Games

How many lies can a brain tell itself before they become truths? -Perfect Lies

God bless the depravity of Kiersten White’s brain.

These books are BRUTAL but also completely brilliant. Fia has perfect instincts and her sister, Annie, is physically blind but can see the future. The sisters are brought to a school that trains girls with superpowers like theirs and then exploits the ones who excel.

Both books are fast-paced, action-packed, what-the-what?!-inducing, and also deeply heartfelt. The bond between the sisters is powerful and beautiful and pushed past the breaking point. Annie and Fia have vastly different ways of seeing the world (not just on the physical level) and yet their protectiveness of each other is absolutely compelling. They are the centerpiece of this tornado of a story in a way that makes you feel what’s happening more intently.

The writing style is very much an extension of the character. Each chapter is told from either Fia’s or Annie’s perspective, and the voices couldn’t be more different. Every word and punctuation echoes their mental state in ways that are super cool — but I won’t share details because, spoilers! The unusual sentence structure is part of the puzzle and it was so gratifying to solve it.

I have a tendency to become deeply invested in books I like and I may yell out loud once or twice if something big happens. Never has one complete book made me scream as much as the last twelve pages of Perfect Lies alone. I. Was. Living. It.

At the end of the day: FOR ME!!

5) Liar

By: Justine Larbalestier

Date Finished: 01.26.17

by Justine Larbalestier

Full disclosure: I listened to the audio book of this one and it may have altered my perception of the story. The performer did a great job but it was a difficult story to track. For one thing, it’s first person and I had a hard time distinguishing dialogue from inner monologue. For another, it frequently jumps in time. Each chapter is marked by “Before,” “After,” or “History of _______.” There were generally enough context clues to point to where it fell in the timeline but I did get lost on occasion.

The biggest struggle was keeping up with the unreliable narrator. It’s not a complaint exactly — the book is called Liar for goodness sake so there’s no use pretending that the main character is trustworthy. Still, it’s hard to keep up when you can’t flip back through the pages to see exactly what she said the first time. That’s where listening the audio book did me a disservice.

That being said, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this book even in print. I found it excessively repetitive. I suspect that I would have skimmed or skipped over large chunks if I had the option. Also, I never quite liked the main character enough to worry about her or cheer for her. I nearly abandoned ship a couple of times but that is where the audio book was actually helpful; I didn’t have to expend any extra time or effort to see it through to the end.

At the end of the day: Not for me

(Oh, I never summarized the story. Here goes: Micah is a liar partially because she’s hiding a big family secret and partially because she likes seeing how long she can get away with it. When her boyfriend turns up dead, lots of people think she killed him. Her lies start to get her into real trouble so she swears to start telling only the truth…and doesn’t succeed.)

04) El Deafo

By: Cece Bell

Date Finished: 01.16.17

by Cece Bell

By day, Cece is a kid who has to wear a bulky device – the Phonic Ear – in order the hear. But in times of trouble, she’s a brave hero on a quest to find the most precious thing of all: a True Friend. El Deafo is Bell’s memoir of her experience of growing up with deafness which includes the fearless, made-stronger-by-disability alter-ego that she created as a kid. And, like all good superhero stories, El Deafo is a graphic novel.

This book perfectly reflects the mindset and logic of a kid. Young Cece is embarrassed by the Phonic Ear and is convinced that she needs to hide her deafness in order to be accepted. The adult in me kept thinking, “You’re making this harder than it needs to be,” and Bell admits as much in the afterword. However, the story itself is free from this kind of commentary. Cece never wavers in her convictions that the world is exactly the way she understands it.

Ultimately, this is a familiar story to anyone who’s ever been a child or dealt with loneliness. It’s the tale of girl dealing with deafness, yes, but it’s also the saga of a girl navigating the politics of elementary school friendships, sleepovers, and birthday parties. It’s also a great empathy builder in the way it shows several characters (including Cece) struggle to empathize with one another.

At the end of the day: For me

03) The Cure for Dreaming

By: Cat Winters

Date Finished: 01.12.17

by Cat Winters

As I walked into my local bookstore to buy a calendar and absolutely nothing else, my eye drifted to a towering bookcase I had never before seen. It was pressed against the front window and flanked one side of the only entrance, and yet it was a surprise to me. My feet immediately abandoned their mission to investigate. This mysterious case housed shelf after shelf of used YA books. Some titles were familiar and/or interesting but this one hooked me. I left with a shiny copy of this novel and no calendar.

Take a look at that cover again, friends; savor that title. How could I resist?

I didn’t buy it entirely on impulse; I read about half of the first chapter and a few random paragraphs in the middle to make sure it was more than just a pretty face. The writing isn’t terribly complex but it is readable. The plot seemed interesting enough to make up for any lackluster writing, and it was…almost.

The book is set in Oregon and centers around the suffragist movement. Olivia is just independent enough to horrify her traditional father. He hires a hypnotist to cure Olivia of her wayward thoughts which results in her seeing the world as it really is — controlling men become monsters while compliant women fade into transparency. The book is unapologetically feminist which works within the setting. What doesn’t work so well are the characters.

Even our girl Olivia — the feisty, irrepressible heroine! — falls a little flat. Winters did provide a varied cast of minor characters; together they make a good ensemble but their personal quirks come across as inconsistent rather than complex. One of the big draws of the book was the concept of Olivia seeing people’s true selves in a physical way. However, this only worsened the problem, reducing everyone to a melodramatic caricature. It also made Olivia look stupid for needing supernatural intervention to realize certain people are shady.

And yet… I’ve seen worse. MUCH worse. The book held my interest enough that I finished it in just a few sittings and would consistently read past the “one more chapter” mark. The plot takes a few tangents but overall it was pretty tidy. Despite the stock characters, you do like who you’re supposed to like and dislike who you’re supposed to dislike. Even if you question Olivia’s choices, you always want her to succeed. And while the writing won’t knock you head-over-heels, it is respectable.

This is the kind of book that will ring the doorbell rather than honk from the end of the driveway, and the conversation will be pleasant enough. You won’t think the evening was a waste but there probably won’t be a second date.

At the end of the day: Sure, yeah, okay

02) Brown Girl Dreaming

By: Jacqueline Woodson

Date Finished: 01.09.17

by Jacqueline Woodson

Will the words end, I ask
whenever I remember to.

Nope, my sister says, all of five years old now,
and promising me

infinity.

As Jacqueline Woodson writes, “It’s easier to make up stories than it is to write them down.” Presently, it is easier for me to say, “Just read it; you’ll understand,” than to explain what makes this book so good. But I will try to give you something.

One, it’s beautiful. The story is told through a series of free verse poems. This structure lends a kind of buoyancy* to the tale so that while the subject matter is not always light the writing will keep you supported.

Two, Woodson masterfully says so much with so little (a clear advantage to poetry). She packs quite the emotional punch by describing the impact of events more than the events themselves. With just the right details, she shows how tragedy can alter a person. With just the right imagery, she makes you feel the difference between the sudden and the inevitable; she tightens the tension between the inevitable and the equitable.

Three, it adeptly captures the perspective of a child. This is non-fiction but there is little commentary on the events. The window through which we see Woodson’s world is that of a child standing on tiptoe to reach the sill and not of an adult stooping to look down.

Finally, the cultural context of the segregation cannot be overlooked. From the beginning there’s a theme of “emancipated but not free” when speaking of her family and her heritage. “So there’s a war going on in South Carolina,” Woodson writes, “and even as we play and plant and preach and sleep, we are a part of it.” She explores the different types of protests without making judgments on what is better or more effective. She keeps observing and listening and telling stories until she finds her own way to make a difference. This book is a textbook on resilience, not just in herself but in her community. And this book is vital for spreading the empathy and compassion we desperately need right now.

At the end of the day: Absolutely for me

*This word felt right although I couldn’t explain why. I looked it up on Merriem-Webster to make sure I wasn’t forcing a metaphor that wasn’t there and found this definition: “buoyancy: the ability of someone or something to continue to be happy, strong, etc., through difficult times.” That definition could be the entire review.