Sunday, December 29, 2013

Challenge complete!

I made it with two days to spare.  52 books in 52 weeks!  And this doesn't count all of the picture books and children's novels I read with my students at school.  With all my kids activities plus working, I really wasn't sure I was going to make it until this past few weeks but I am so glad I did.  I'm hoping to reach this goal next year too as well as participate in a few other reading challenges.

Happy New Year!

Review: The Night Circus

The circus arrives without warning... this is the first sentence of a story that, in my opinion, was one of the best I read this year.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was a perfect blend of mystery, history, paranormal, and romance.  I must admit that I started this book thinking would be a fun, yet predictable YA novel but I was completely mistaken.  This book is for adults as well as the younger set. I had not even an inkling about how it would end until the last few chapters of the story.  I was enchanted throughout the entire book and quite satisfied with the ending.

Synopsis from Barnes and Noble:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
The book is told in a clever mixture of flash backs and flash forwards with a smattering of stand alone chapters that capture the essence of the circus tent exhibits.  The exhibits are enthralling, unique, exotic, and astounding. Only certain members inside and outside of the circus are privy to the real magic involved in keeping the circus running. That the circus itself was created to be a venue for a game, a challenge between two people, Celia and Marco, who are bound to play the game until there is only one winner.  This seems like it isn't such a big deal until they realize they are in love and that the winner lives and the loser dies.  Celia is determined to find a way to change the ending so that they can be together and so the circus can continue. 
The circus theme is all black and white but the splashes of color in the story are chosen carefully.  Celia's dress, the deep red scarves worn by the circus followers, the bright red hair of the twins, Poppet and Widget.  These colors seem meant to pop out at you in the story against the black and white background, and they do.  
All of the characters in the book are wonderfully mysterious.  I loved them, even the crueler characters had a fascination about them.  My favorites aside from Celia and Marco were probably Poppet and Widget, the twins. Poppet could see the future and Widget could read the past on people.  These two end up playing a much larger role in the story than I originally thought they would.  And then there was Bailey, the outsider and yet so important to the story.  I couldn't help but think about Barnum and Bailey and wonder if this character's name was chosen purposefully even though there is no evident connection.
I could go on forever about this book and I will probably read it again because it is the type of book where you can probably find something new every time you read it.  It was truly a unique and wonderful read.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I had only once before picked up a Neil Gaiman novel.  Looking for a new read aloud for my students, I had read the first few pages of The Graveyard Book.  It wasn't appropriate for fourth graders because it was a bit disturbing at the beginning so I put it back on the shelf.  The Ocean at The End of the Lane caught my eye because I recognized the author's name and because I found the cover to be absolutely gorgeous.  I loved the color theme and the girl under the water peaked my curiosity.  I find it hard to resist an attractive cover.

The story begins with our narrator, a middle aged man whose name we never know, attending a funeral. This man decides to take a drive and ends up near the area where he grew up.  He recognizes a farmhouse and since it has been decades, he expects to find no one living there.  Instead, he finds old Mrs. Hempstock. But wait... it can't be, because she looks exactly the same as she did forty years ago.  As they sit down together, he reminisces about his childhood and we are teleported back as he tells a story of friendship, sacrifice, magic, mayhem, and things that go bump in the night.

This isn't a long story.  In fact, in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, the author states that it was originally meant to be a short story but then turned into a novel.  That being said, I worried that maybe the characters wouldn't be developed enough.  Not an issue.  I connected to the narrator as the seven year old boy he was throughout most of the book.  I felt his pain, his fear, his love and his yearning for things to go back to the way they were before the evil got in.  The reader is aware of the evil in the story pretty quickly and it is clear that our young narrator can't fight it on his own.  Enter Lettie Hempstock, the youngest of the Hempstock women, who brings him home to her mother and grandmother and helps him deal with this evil. His friendship with Lettie Hempstock was brief but profound and his trust in her was unconditional.  She was all he had and I loved how, even being so young, he was ready to sacrifice himself for the world, and she was ready to sacrifice herself for him.

I'm still not sure exactly what the Hempstock women were.  It seems to me they were almost guardians of some sort, protecting the world from other beings with a magic that seems similar to witchcraft, yet we are told in the story that witchcraft is not their source of power.  The story is original and unique and hard to put down once you start reading because it is not predictable in any way.  There are a few revelations at the end but the reader still doesn't have all of the answers when they get to the final pages.  I felt however, that it came to enough of a conclusion that it felt finished and I was satisfied.  I thought about the story for a long time after I closed it.  I may even go back in a few months and read it again.  If I were to rate this story on a five star system, It would get a 4.5.  I definitely recommend it.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking The Shelves is hosted by Tynga's Reviews and is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!

 These are my most recent purchases.  Mariana and The Night Circus have been on my TBR for a long time.  I kept seeing The Ocean at the End of the Lane on other people's lists so I figured I would try it. Graveminder I fell across by accident and I really liked the sound of it.  I'm really looking forward to each and every one of them!  Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Review: Clockwork Prince

Synopsis from Barnes and Noble: 
True love is shrouded in secrets and lies in the #1 New York Times bestselling second book of the Infernal Devices trilogy.
In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when it becomes clear that the mysterious Magister will stop at nothing to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.
With the help of the handsome, tortured Will and the devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal and fueled by revenge. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister knows their every move—and that one of their own has betrayed them.
Tessa is drawn more and more to Jem, though her longing for Will continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa answers about who she really is? As their search leads to deadly peril, Tessa learns that secrets and lies can corrupt even the purest heart.
Winner of the 2012 Children's Choice Book Award for Teen Book of the Year
My Review:
Well, this book was just as good as the first, if not better.  There was a lot of action and just as much romance, although not so much with the two people I wanted the romance to happen with.  I'm completely team Will and I do not get my way in the second book.  I'm hoping things will change in the final book.  While on the topic of romance, I just love the blossoming romance between Gideon and Sophie.  Although it hasn't quite happened yet, I'm also hoping that these two get together.  She deserves him but she needs to get over the fact that she is a servant and stop thinking that this means they cannot be together.
My favorite character in this book (aside from Will of course) was Jessamine.  Yes... she was impossible. Yes...she was selfish.  Yes...she was kind of stupid too.  I felt sad for her.  She never got over the death of her parents and the life that she lost.  She dreamed of a life she could not have and although her choices were usually bad ones, she just wanted to be normal and leave the life of downworlders and shadowhunters behind.  I hated her sometimes as I was reading but I also understood where she was coming from.  She did not end up in a good place at the end of this book but I'm still hoping to see more of her in the third book.
Jem got on my nerves in this book.  Too sappy.  I do feel bad that he is dying but I go a bit tired of his puppy dog eyes and declarations of love.  Other than that, I loved every piece of this story.  We still don't know for sure why Mortmain wants Tessa but I wonder, since his father was a warlock, if her wants her to change in the hopes that his father will return from the dead and she will be lost forever... just a thought. 
My dreams for the third book?  I don't want Jem to die but I don't want him with Tessa either.  I want Will and Tessa together, Gideon an Sophie together, Jessamine to somehow redeem herself and find what she is looking for, and an epic battle where Mortmain is defeated, leaving our shadowhunter heroes to live in peace.  Sounds perfect... I've only to open the next book and begin to read. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Best of the Bunch: November

Best of the Bunch

Best of the Bunch is a monthly blog hop at the end of each month, where we can share which books we have read or reviewed in that month, decide on our personal favourite and give that book our Best of the Bunch award. Set up and previously hosted at Lyrical Reviews, it is now hosted on the last day of each month at Always Lost in Stories.

To join in simply write your blog post telling us which books you have read or reviewed over the month, (and which book gets your Best of the Bunch award for that month), and then stop back here to add your link to the Mr. Linky. Visit the other blogs in the links to get some awesome new book recommendations.
Books I reviewed in November:
1.  The House of Hades by Rick Riordan
2.  Allegiant by Veronica Roth
3.  The Night is Alive by Heather Graham
4.  The Night is Forever by Heather Graham
5.  Truly, Madly by Heather Webber
6.  Deeply, Desperately by Heather Webber
7.  Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
and my Best of the Bunch for November is...
Although I enjoyed all of the books I read this month, I enjoyed this one the most.  I basically devoured it and loved every moment... even more I think than the Mortal Instruments series by the same author.  I thought the characters were well written, the historical setting of 1800's London was interesting, and the plot was engaging the entire way through the book.  
read my full review here.