Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Best of 2014


I can't believe it is already time to sum up year 2014 and start to look forward to 2015!
2014 was a pretty good year reading wise - I ended up reading a total of 100 books (my Goodreads goal was 85). I think for 2015 I am going to set up my goal at 85 as well, just because the spring might be quite busy with dissertation work. Hopefully I still find the time to read, especially since it seems like 2015 is full of interesting sounding new releases.

I decided to divide this Best of 2014 list into categories just to make it easier to read. I hope you all find this list interesting and I wish that you leave a comment, sharing some of your 2014 favorites with me.


Yes Please by Amy Poehler (✩✩✩✩✩)
Open Road Summer by Emery Lord (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
Full Measures by Recebba Yarros (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke (✩✩✩✩✩)
Magnolia by Kristi Cook (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
To All The Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
Falling into Place by Amy Zhang (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
All Lined Up by Cora Carmack (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare (✩✩✩✩✩)


In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (✩✩✩✩✩)
Columbine by Dave Cullen (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson (✩✩✩✩✩)
Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
  Cinder by Marissa Meyer (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (✩✩✩✩✩) (review)
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (✩✩✩✩)
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin (✩✩✩✩)
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (✩✩✩✩) (review)



(2014 titles in bold)

Her (2013, dir. Spike Jonze) (✩✩✩✩✩)
Nebraska (2013, dir. Alexander Payne) (✩✩✩✩✩)
The Thin Blue Line (1988, dir. Errol Morris) (✩✩✩✩✩)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, dir. Wes Anderson (✩✩✩✩✩)
Tangled (2010, dir. Nathan Greno & Byron Howard) (✩✩✩✩✩)
Capote (2005, dir. Bennett Miller) (✩✩✩✩✩)
Obvious Child (2014, dir. Gillian Robespierre) (✩✩✩✩✩)
Zombieland (2009, dir. Ruben Fleischer) (✩✩✩✩✩)
Michael (2011, dir. Markus Schleinzer) (✩✩✩✩✩)
If I Stay (2014, dir. R.J. Cutler) (✩✩✩✩½)
Melinda and Melinda (2004, dir. Woody Allen) (✩✩✩✩½)
Speechless (1994, dir. Ron Underwood) (✩✩✩✩)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (✩✩✩✩)
Ida (2013, dir. Pawel Pawlikowski) (✩✩✩✩)
Stardust Memories (1980, dir. Woody Allen) (✩✩✩✩)
The Wrestler  (2008, dir. Darren Aronofsky) (✩✩✩✩)


True Detective (HBO)
The Mindy Project (FOX)
Once Upon a Time (ABC)
Hart of Dixie (CW)
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Parenthood (NBC)
Arrow (CW)
Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
Scandal (ABC)
How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)
Brooklyn Nine Nine (FOX)
Selfie (ABC)
Fargo (FX)
Alpha House (Amazon Instant)


Serial Podcast (spin-off of This American Life)
Sochi Winter Olympics
Oulun Kärpät vs. Tampereen Tappara Finnish Ice Hockey League Finals + Game Seven Victory
Sidney Crosby
Cheek @ Qstock Music Festival (July 2014)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Review: Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke

Release date: October 14th 2014
Info about the author: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary
Age group: YA
Pages: 336
Buy the book:  Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

Hot girls get the fairy tales. No one cares about the stepsisters' story. Those girls don't get a sweet little ending; they get a lifetime of longing

Imogen Keegen has never had a happily ever after–in fact, she doesn’t think they are possible. Ever since her mother’s death seven years ago, Imogen has pulled herself in and out of therapy, struggled with an “emotionally disturbed” special ed. label, and loathed her perma-plus-sized status.

When Imogen’s new stepsister, the evil and gorgeous Ella Cinder, moves in down the hall, Imogen begins losing grip on the pieces she’s been trying to hold together. The only things that gave her solace–the theatre, cheese fries, and her best friend, Grant–aren’t enough to save her from her pain this time.

While Imogen is enjoying her moment in the spotlight after the high school musical, the journal pages containing her darkest thoughts get put on display. Now, Imogen must resign herself to be crushed under the ever-increasing weight of her pain, or finally accept the starring role in her own life story.

And maybe even find herself a happily ever after.

Enhance the experience with the companion soundtrack, Imogen Unlocked, by the author's band, Wedding Day Rain.



"I am whole. I am more that just the pieces that I see. I am stronger than I seem."

I liked this book so incredibly much. From page one, I felt a connection with the main character, Imogen, and throughout the 336 pages this book made me feel compassion, joy, anger, sadness, happiness and so many more feelings I cannot put into words. This review will attempt to open up why this book was such a great reading experience for me - in fact, one of the best overall reading experiences of 2014!

"I just can't understand folks who willingly go to the gym and participate in choreographed masochism. Maybe I'd have to experience it to get it. Like, maybe if I knew what it was like to put on my jeans without doing the fat-girl, jean-buttoning rain dance, I'd understand."

This quote, from the second page of the novel made me realize that this would be one of those books that I feel an incredibly connection with. It perfectly introduces us to the character of Imogen, who is funny and sarcastic, but also deeply troubled. The book starts with Imogen visiting a therapist, which right away makes us face the issues she is dealing with. Her mother had died when she was young, her father has remarried and now the daughter of her father's new wife is moving into to live in the same house with Imogen. And she's definitely not fine with that. Not at all. Carmella Cinder (later on known was Ella Cinder) has only met Imogen once, but it seems like the moment they saw each other, Carmella decided that she hates Imogen. 

"Being ignored means nobody's making fun. It means nobody's making comments under their breath about me being overweight. It means less anxiety."

Imogen is tired. She is tired of being feeling the way she is. More than anything, she just wants to be normal. But since normal does not seem like an option for her, she has accepted that her not being normal equals misery. When her step-sister Carmella, who happens to represent everything Imogen is not, moves in, things start to get even more complicated. Carmella seems to be there just to destroy the small resemblance of happiness Imogen has - her involvement with the theatre group, her invisibleness inside the school and her friendship with Grant, the boy Imogen has been in love with for a long time. At first, Imogen thinks that according to the laws of the nature, it is okay for Carmella to bug her - whereas she is perfect, beautiful and like the princess in fairytales, Imogen sees herself as the step-sister who is destined to be the loser, the one left alone and unhappy. For Imogen, it seems like there will be no happily ever after for her. 

"When are we gonna get a fat princess? How about a princess with bad acne and crappy posture and the mouth of a sailor? Probably never. Every. Single. One. Is the same. Totally hot. Totally predictable. "

You can't believe how refreshing it felt to read about a protagonist who is overweight. A protagonist who deals with issues related to her body image and how she is supposed to look versus how she really looks. I feel like many times when it comes to body issues, young adult novels deal with eating disorders so some sort, because those inevitably feel more dramatic than someone being overweight. But as someone who does not really fit into the "normal body type" category, I feel like I was able to identify with this type of description much more. Imogen so desperately wants to be confident and love herself and her body, but then there are people and situations that make her feel like the elephant in the room. She thinks about how her life would be if she would be skinnier, but comes to the realization that it is not really her weight that makes her life occasionally like hell. It is the people she has to deal with and their toxicity. What she realizes also is that she needs to just shut those people out, surround herself with people who love her despite the way she looks, and most importantly, learn to love herself and embrace herself as someone worthy of love.

"I look at myself, at my shape, at my body, and I smile."

Despite the heavy issues the book deals with, from bullying to mental health issues, Damsel Distressed is also extremely funny. And by that I mean laugh-out-loud, trying-to-stop-laughing-at-a- public-place, funny. Imogen is such a fantastic character to read about, and from page one I kept thinking that it would be awesome to have someone like her as a friend. Yes, she is troubled and messed up and all that jazz, but she is also incredibly kind, creative and caring. For a long time, she just does not seem to be able care about herself the way she cares about others. She has a great sense of humor and she is quite sarcastic, which I ALWAYS love, because I love sarcasm and being sarcastic. And despite her problems, she can make fun of herself.

"Real happiness? You show me a barrel full of chicken nuggets and ten different sauces, and I'll show you real happiness."

I think I already mentioned Grant once. But oh my, Grant deserves several mentions, because he is WONDERFUL! He is exactly the type of male character and a love-interest I want to read about. He is kind, funny, nerdy, loving, but also flawed. He can also be a bit ignorant towards Imogen and her feelings, but he learns from him mistakes, asks for forgiveness and rightfully gets it. For some, Grant might seem a bit boring, but for me, he was just perfect. He is entertaining and interesting without being dark, mysterious, sparkling, dangerous or a bad boy in general. The more and more I read about him, the more he made me think of Seth Cohen, one of the best fictional guys I've ever been fortunate enough to be introduced to. And seriously, anything that makes me think of Seth Cohen, has to be perfect.

"The mild October wind blows and steals away the last wisps of the smell of him, and I miss it before the leaves can settle again on the concrete."

I guess to some extent it could be argued that the relationship between Imogen and Grant is quite predictable in the sense that you pretty much can guess that they will somehow end up together. But I guess that is the case with pretty much all YA books that deal with friendships that turn into something more. What Macke excels with is the establishment of that moment, the building of that relationship and what it takes for the characters to declare what they are feeling or not feeling. There is no instalove here, no cliche moments - everything feels so real and so honest and just so romantic in its simplicity.

"I was just wondering how a girl who is as messed up as me managed to be here. With other humans. Who don't seem to hate me. Kinda makes me nervous I'll mess it up. 

I feel like slut-shaming often becomes an issue with books like this where there is a bully and the bullied, someone who is "perfect" and someone who is "imperfect". For a long time, I feared that despite how much I was enjoying this book, I would have to mention in my review that it does include some slut shaming. But oh man, I am happy to say THAT IT DOES NOT! Macke carefully untangles everything that could be identified as slut-shaming, making her "villain" a human too, someone who is also hurting, someone not so different from Imogen. The ability to do this made me like this book even more, and really made me appreciate Macke both as a writer and a human being, while also making me really excited to see what Macke comes up with next.

"You watch me live, live alone inside my pain
You watch me try, try to keep it locked away"
(Sinking by Wedding Day Rain)

Damsel Distressed is accompanied by a soundtrack by Wedding Day Rain, a folk-rock band the author of the book, Kelsey Macke, is a part of. The soundtrack can be found from www.damseldistressed.com and the book itself identifies which song should be listened when. Since I was mainly reading this book at home, I decided to listen to the soundtrack in addition to reading the book and really found it to be an interesting addition to the story. The songs really fit fell to the events that take place within the novel and I feel like the songs really give a voice to the characters, mainly Imogen and Grant. I almost wish this book would be turned into a film and the soundtrack provided with the book would be the one used in the film. 

As you can probably sense from this quite long and rambly review, I really LOVED this book. There are so many other things I could write about, but at the same time I do not want to give up too much because I want you all to pick this one up and love it as much as I did. Seriously, do it! You won't regret it.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review: Magnolia by Kristi Cook

Release date: August 5th, 2014
Info about the author: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Age group: Young Adult
Pages: 337 (Kindle edition)
Buy the book: Amazon - Book Depository 

Description (from Goodreads):

In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have arrived.

Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen, for goodness’ sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other! Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing better than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn’t exist.

But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma’s and Ryder’s true feelings for each other as the two discover that the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.



INTRODUCTION

The premise of this book instantly made me so incredibly excited! I have always loved books (and movies and TV shows) about people who are so clearly meant to be together but who claim to hate each other and deny their feelings for as long as possible. The synopsis for Magnolia promises that, in addition to a Southern setting, which is always a big HELL YES for me. I don't know exactly why, but for some reason I've always been really fascinated with the small town, Southern US setting. And I am just dying to meet my own Southern gentleman. 

STORYLINE

Magnolia is set in a small town in Mississippi called Magnolia Branch. It is one of those towns where everyone knows everyone and it is extremely hard to keep anything as a secret. Like in a lot of Southern towns, traditions are rooted deep in Magnolia Branch and the families that have links to the Civil War reign as the town's royalty. Since the Civil War, the Cafferty and the Marsden families have been at the center of Magnolia Branch's social life and for decades, the families have been looking for an opportunity to unite the two families through marriage. When Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden are born only a couple of weeks apart, the families, especially the mothers, feel like the perfect opportunity for that has finally arrived. 

Growing up, Ryder and Jemma are friends, but as they grow up and start to realize the destiny their parents have designed for them, they start to drift apart. And then Jemma overhears Ryder saying something about her that breaks her heart and eventually they end up hating each other with passion. Their parents try to push them towards each other, but despite everything they try, it seems like Ryder and Jemma can't wait for a time they can finally leave each other behind and show their parents that what they are hoping for is never going to happen.

When Jemma's sister gets sick and her parents travel with her out of town, Jemma is left alone in Magnolia Branch. Everything is fine until a storm warning is given to the region and Jemma realizes that it might not be quite so fun to be alone after all. Behind her back, Jemma's father summons Ryder to their house to be with Jemma. At first, she is furious but as the storm starts to brew, she realizes that having Ryder there might not be that bad after all... especially since it seems like he's acting in a way that's not what Jemma's used to.

CHARACTERS

From page one, I liked Jemma. She's funny, strong and independent and bit of a badass to be honest. She is also temperamental and stubborn, which is something I definitely was able to identify with. She is girly and popular, but she's not bitchy or scheming at all, which I feel sometimes is established as the Southern stereotype (for example Lemon at the beginning of Hart of Dixie). And guess what's the best thing about Jemma? THE FACT THAT SHE WANTS TO GO TO FILM SCHOOL! I always love reading about characters who want to do something with film because that is something I find so easy to identify with (because I am a film student). 

I completely understand why Jemma cannot stand Ryder. She has been pushed towards him since she was a child and I can say from personal experience that whatever my parents try to push me towards to intently usually becomes something I cannot stand. Also, Ryder seems almost too perfect at surface. He is the football star, the best student of the senior class and just generally loved by everyone. And in addition to that, he looks like a Greek god with his tall, toned body and dark eyes. 

But there was a time Jemma used to feel a connection with Ryder. And though she tries to deny it, the moment she is forced to spend time with him as a result of the storm, those old feelings start to surface. I liked how slow the development of the relationship actually is - it does not develop from hate to love in a snap of the fingers, but actually takes time, which makes this book a much more realistic and believable.

To some extent, I wanted to hate Ryder at the beginning, just like Jemma, but I just couldn't do it. He is sweet, a true gentleman and I guess the fact that Jemma couldn't stand her made me just more eager to fall in love with him because I knew that Jemma would get it too at some point in the novel. I kept wanting to compare Ryder to one of the characters from film or TV shows that have a Southern setting, but couldn't really make any sort of comparison. Initially, I wished for a character like Tim Riggins or Wade Kinselle, someone incredible attractive and sweet, but at the same time misunderstood. What I got with Ryder was more like Jason Street or Matt Saracen, which I first thought I would not like but eventually ended up enjoying. So in short, I did love Ryder and I will have fond memories of him.

The minor characters in this book are interesting as well. There is Patrick, the guy Jemma kind of has something going on with before the storm hits. There are Jemma's parents - her father who has taught her to shoot and who seems to be not to be as strict as Jemma's mother, who tightly keeps up to her wish to see Jemma and Ryder together. There are Morgan and Lucy, Jemma's best friends and confidantes, who I wish there would have been more about in the book, though I do understand that this is the story of Jemma and Ryder, not the whole Magnolia Branch.

PROSE, PACING

Cook's prose is easy and quick to read, and though it probably won't blow your mind away, I did enjoy this book and the way it was written immensely. The dialogue between the characters, especially Jemma and Ryder, is hilarious and I laughed out loud at several points. Also, with her words Cook was able to give me goosebumps with the romantic scenes between Ryder and Jemma. SO SWOONWORTHY! 
The story is well paced and I am happy Cook did not shy away from taking the time to establish the history of the families and the rekindling relationship between Jemma and Ryder. What they have definitely isn't instalove, which I know is a big no-no for a large group of YA readers.

IS THERE SOMETHING I DID NOT LIKE?

Honestly... NO! I immensely enjoyed this book and had a very difficult time putting it down at 2.30 am when I had to go to sleep so I could get up at a decent hour in the morning. Magnolia was funny, romantic, surprisingly action packed and extremely entertaining and engaging.

FINAL THOUGHTS

When I read the synopsis for this one I had a feeling I would like it, but I never expected I would like it quite as much as I actually did. Magnolia kept me engaged from page one and I could not wait to see what happens with the storm, with Jemma and Ryder, and with Jemma's dreams about film school. I highly recommend Magnolia to everyone, but especially to people who have loved Morgan Matson's novels, In Honor by Jessi Kirby and people who find themselves enjoying anything romantic with a Southern setting.


 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Stacking the Shelves (#24): Christmas 2014 edition

"Stacking The Shelves 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!"

For more information, click here

From the library
Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam-a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion-a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

"There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…"

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella's world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist-an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes' gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand-and fear-the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

From my JALS (Jane Austen Ladies Society) Secret Santa
On Dublin Street by Samantha Young 
Jocelyn Butler has been hiding from her past for years. But all her secrets are about to be laid bare ...

Four years ago, Jocelyn left her tragic past behind in the States and started over in Scotland, burying her grief, ignoring her demons, and forging ahead without attachments. Her solitary life is working well - until she moves into a new apartment on Dublin Street, where she meets a man who shakes her carefully guarded world to its core.

Braden Carmichael is used to getting what he wants, and he's determined to get Jocelyn into his bed. Knowing how skittish she is about entering a relationship, Braden proposes an arrangement that will satisfy their intense attraction without any strings attached.

But after an intrigued Jocelyn accepts, she realizes that Braden won't be satisfied with just mind-blowing passion. The stubborn Scotsman is intent on truly knowing her . . . down to the very soul.


Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley


Senior year is over, and Lucy has the perfect way to celebrate: tonight, she's going to find Shadow, the mysterious graffiti artist whose work appears all over the city. He's out there somewhere—spraying color, spraying birds and blue sky on the night—and Lucy knows a guy who paints like Shadow is someone she could fall for. Really fall for. Instead, Lucy's stuck at a party with Ed, the guy she's managed to avoid since the most awkward date of her life. But when Ed tells her he knows where to find Shadow, they're suddenly on an all-night search around the city. And what Lucy can't see is the one thing that's right before her eyes.

 Ebooks
Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke

Hot girls get the fairy tales. No one cares about the stepsisters' story. Those girls don't get a sweet little ending; they get a lifetime of longing
Imogen Keegen has never had a happily ever after–in fact, she doesn’t think they are possible. Ever since her mother’s death seven years ago, Imogen has pulled herself in and out of therapy, struggled with an “emotionally disturbed” special ed. label, and loathed her perma-plus-sized status.

When Imogen’s new stepsister, the evil and gorgeous Ella Cinder, moves in down the hall, Imogen begins losing grip on the pieces she’s been trying to hold together. The only things that gave her solace–the theatre, cheese fries, and her best friend, Grant–aren’t enough to save her from her pain this time.

While Imogen is enjoying her moment in the spotlight after the high school musical, the journal pages containing her darkest thoughts get put on display. Now, Imogen must resign herself to be crushed under the ever-increasing weight of her pain, or finally accept the starring role in her own life story.

And maybe even find herself a happily ever after.

Enhance the experience with the companion soundtrack, Imogen Unlocked, by the author's band, Wedding Day Rain.
 

Magnolia by Kristi Cook

In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived.

Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen, for goodness’ sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other! Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing better than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn’t exist.

But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma’s and Ryder’s true feelings for each other as the two discover that the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.

Other cool stuff I got for Christmas



What did you add to your shelves this week?  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Book Review: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Release date: September 5th, 2014
Info about the author: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: HarperCollins
Age group: Adult
Pages: 288 (ebook)
Buy the book: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

For readers of Nora Ephron, Tina Fey, and David Sedaris, this hilarious, poignant, and extremely frank collection of personal essays confirms Lena Dunham - the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO's Girls - as one of the brightest and most original writers working today. Lena Dunham is many, many things. Creator, actor, producer and writer of the award-winning cult television show Girls, the first thing you have to know about Lena is that she's unafraid to say exactly what she thinks. She's also provocative, very funny, original, dead-pan, disturbing, neurotic, simultaneously deep and shallow, and often way, way out there. This book is a collection of her experiences, stories that have, as she describes them, "little baby morals": about dieting, about dressing, about friendship and existential crises. These are stories that most twenty something year old girls will be able to relate to: about the guys she's let sleep in her bed who didn't really want to fuck her, about getting her butt touched at an internship and having to prove herself in a meeting full of 50-year-old men. It's all about trying to work out what to wear, what to say and how to be, every single day. "And if I could take what I've learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine was worthwhile. I'm already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you, but also my future glory in having stopped you from trying an expensive juice cleanse or thinking that it was your fault when some guy suddenly got weird and defensive talking about your cool interests and job. No, I am not a sexpert, a psychologist or a dietician. I am not a happily married woman or the owner of a successful support hosiery franchise. But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, sending hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle."


I have never really considered myself a fan of Lena Dunham. I remember when I first came across HBO's Girls, I got really interested about this young woman who writes and directs her own show that is being compared to Sex and the City. After watching the first episode, I quickly realized that Girls really isn't much like Sex and the City. It lacks the glamour and the glossiness of Sex and the City and it oozes with honesty, but at the same time I could not avoid thinking that the show is kind of pretentious in some sense - the characters, especially Lena Dunham's Hannah - are so cliche, annoying and fake that I first had a difficult time connecting with the show in any way. I haven't watched all of the episodes that have aired, but I definitely am interested to do so, even though the show never came my favorite in any sense.

I was kind of spectical about reading Not That Kind of Girl for several different reasons. First of all, the title really annoys me. What kind of girl Lena Dunham does not identify herself as? What kind of girl does she think she is? Another reason I was wary about this book is centered around the problematic characteristics of Dunham and some of the statement she has given about feminism and race in particular. But despite all of these problems, I decided to give it ago, just to see what all the discussions relating to the book are about (especially those relating to the story about her little sister Grace and the claims of sexual abuse). 


This book was a lot like I expected it to be. It was at parts funny, at parts touching and at parts so honest that it made me wince. Though there were segments here I really enjoyed, I could not stop feeling like there was this really pretentious undercurrent present throughout the book. Constantly I kept asking myself "can she really be like this?" She writes about her problems with fears that are constantly present in her life, about her sexual experiences and her relationship with her family, in addition to stories about her professional life in a way that at parts made me feel like she is not really telling the truth but rather trying to make up a story that's as amusing and weird as possible to fit to her public persona. Yes, these things might me true, but as she says at one point, she is not trustworthy as a narrator. One can only make her own interpretations and go with those.


Dunham, for sure, is a very talented writer. Her voice is honest, descriptive and the right amount of hilarious. She's morbid at one page, extremely optimistic at the next. Her stories are amusing and entertaining, but unfortunately I felt like they did not say much, which is a shame because this book that she made a lot of money of could have been a great way for her to actually say something... something a bit more relevant than her stories about her first blowjobs and camping experiences. No doubt all those stories have a deeper meaning, but for someone who does not want to read her words like scripture, that meaning might be hidden way too deep. 


I could not stop comparing this book with Amy Poehler's Yes Please, one of the best books I read in 2014. I have to admit that I am definitely biased when it comes to Amy Poehler, because I think everything she says or does is pure gold. But one who has read both books, Poehler's Yes Please and Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl, must note the differences. Whereas Poehler's book is inspirational and easy to identify with, Dunham's book feels contantly alienating - Poehler really tries to make a connection with her readers, whereas Dunham's stories are so tied up to her privileged background and upbringing that it feels extremely difficult to connect with her in any deeper level. Whereas Poehler manages to be funny without being bitchy or vulgar, I feel like Dunham occasionally has to go to the "dark side" to make her point. Don't get me wrong - I do not mind vulgar humor and I definitely do not wince while reading about vaginas and flacid penises, I feel like these did not really do anything to Dunham's book.... They really had no purpose.


In no way is Not That Kind of Girl a bad book. It is well written and paced and the stories Dunham tells are interesting and weird. But it is also a bit alienating and personally I just could not get rid of the feeling that it was kind of fake, which made it a less enjoyable experience for me than for example Poehler, Fey or Kaling's similar books. 



Top Ten Tuesday (#22): Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing This Year

For more information, click here.


This week's topic is Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing This Year
I usually don't get books for Christmas, for several different reasons. Books are really expensive in Finland and since I mainly read in English, the selection here is quite small. Also, my mother probably would not know what to buy for me. She also works in a library and thinks that buying books does not make sense because she can bring me books from her work. If I do get books, I purchase them myself as ebooks. 
We are more of an DVDs for Christmas type of family, but despite that, I'll make a list of 10 books I would not mind getting for Christmas.
1. You by Caroline Kepnes

Love hurts...

When aspiring writer Guinevere Beck strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe works, he’s instantly smitten. Beck is everything Joe has ever wanted: She’s gorgeous, tough, razor-smart, and as sexy as his wildest dreams.

Beck doesn’t know it yet, but she’s perfect for him, and soon she can’t resist her feelings for a guy who seems custom made for her. But there’s more to Joe than Beck realizes, and much more to Beck than her oh-so-perfect façade. Their mutual obsession quickly spirals into a whirlwind of deadly consequences . . .

A chilling account of unrelenting passion, Caroline Kepnes’s You is a perversely romantic thriller that’s more dangerously clever than any you’ve read before.
  

2. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
 
Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr's gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.

3. Sweet Thing by Renee Carlino

"You have to teach your heart and mind how to sing together…then you'll hear the sound of your soul."

Mia Kelly thinks she has it all figured out. She's an Ivy League graduate, a classically trained pianist, and the beloved daughter of a sensible mother and offbeat father. Yet Mia has been stalling since graduation, torn between putting her business degree to use and exploring music, her true love.

When her father unexpectedly dies, she decides to pick up the threads of his life while she figures out her own. Uprooting herself from Ann Arbor to New York City, Mia takes over her father's café, a treasured neighborhood institution that plays host to undiscovered musicians and artists. She's denied herself the thrilling and unpredictable life of a musician, but a chance encounter with Will, a sweet, gorgeous, and charming guitarist, offers her a glimpse of what could be. When Will becomes her friend and then her roommate, she does everything in her power to suppress her passions-for him, for music-but her father's legacy slowly opens her heart to the possibility of something more.

A "heartbreaking and romantic" (Aestas Book Blog) debut, Sweet Thing explores the intensity and complexities of first love and self-discovery.

4. These Gentle Wounds by Helene Dunbar

Sometimes I wish I’d lost a leg or something. Everyone can understand that. They never get it when what’s been broken is inside your head.

Five years after an unspeakable tragedy that changed him forever, Gordie Allen has made a new home with his half-brother Kevin. Their arrangement works since Kevin is the only person who can protect Gordie at school and keep him focused on getting his life back on track.

But just when it seems like things are becoming normal, Gordie’s biological father comes back into the picture, demanding a place in his life. Now there’s nothing to stop Gordie from falling into a tailspin that could cost him everything—including his relationship with Sarah, the first girl he’s trusted with the truth. With his world spinning out of control, the only one who can help Gordie is himself . . . if he can find the strength to confront the past and take back his future.

5. The Secret Side of Empty by Marie E. Andreu

As a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But M.T. hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant.

But it’s harder to hide now that M.T.’s a senior. Her school’s National Honor Society wants her to plan their trip abroad, her best friend won’t stop bugging her to get her driver’s license, and all everyone talks about is where they want to go to college. M.T. is pretty sure she can’t go to college, and with high school ending and her family life unraveling, she’s staring down a future that just seems empty. In the end, M.T. will need to trust herself and others to stake a claim in the life that she wants.

Author Maria E. Andreu draws from her personal experience as a (formerly) undocumented immigrant to explore an issue that affects over one million children in the U.S. But while the subject matter is timely, it is M.T.’s sharp, darkly funny voice and longing for a future that makes this story universally poignant.

6. Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Downton Abbey meets Cassandra Clare in this lush, romantic fantasy from New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White.

“I did my best to keep you from crossing paths with this world. And I shall do my best to protect you now that you have.”

Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets Finn, a gorgeous, enigmatic young lord who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility, a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t—power, money, status…and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, dangerous secrets that the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits and her determination, can stop him.

Kiersten White captured readers’ hearts with her New York Times bestselling Paranormalcy trilogy and its effortless mix of magic and real-world teenage humor. She returns to that winning combination of wit, charm, and enchantment in Illusions of Fate, a sparkling and romantic new novel perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare, The Madman’s Daughter, and Libba Bray.

7. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.
  

8. How It Ends by Laura Wiess

Following her stunning and critically acclaimed novels Such a Pretty Girl and Leftovers, Laura Wiess crafts a riveting and emotionally powerful tale of beauty, destruction...and love.

Seventeen-year-old Hanna has been in love with Seth for as long as she can remember, but now that she and Seth are in an actual relationship, love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Seth is controlling and all they seem to do anymore is fight. If that’s what love is, Hanna doesn’t want any part of it. Besides, she has something else on her mind: graduation. But she’s been ignoring the school’s community service requirement, and now she needs to rack up some hours in a hurry.

Hanna volunteers as a caretaker for her neighbor Mrs. Schoenmaker—an elderly woman with advanced Parkinson’s whose husband can’t always be there to watch over her. While caring for Mrs. S., Hanna becomes mesmerized by an audiobook that the older woman is listening to, a love story of passion, sacrifice, and complete devotion. She’s fascinated by the idea that love like that really exists, and slowly, the story begins to change her. But what Hanna doesn’t know is that the story she’s listening to is not fiction—and that Mrs. Schoenmaker and her husband’s devotion to each other is about to reach its shattering, irrevocable conclusion....

Spellbinding, timeless, and achingly poignant, How It Ends is a story of how love ends, how it begins, and how people and events have the ability to change who we are without our even realizing it.

 9. Sing Me To Sleep by Angela Morrison


THE TRANSFORMATION

Beth has always been "The Beast",that's what everyone at school calls her because of her awkward height, facial scars, and thick glasses. Beth's only friend is geeky, golden-haired Scott. That is, until she's selected to be her choir's soprano soloist, and receives the makeover that will change her life forever.

THE LOVE AFFAIR

When Beth's choir travels to Switzerland, she meets Derek: pale, brooding, totally dreamy. Derek's untethered passion,for music, and for Beth, leaves her breathless. Because in Derek's eyes? She's not The Beast, she's The Beauty.

THE IMPOSSIBLE CHOICE

When Beth comes home, Scott, her best friend in the world, makes a confession that leaves her completely torn. Should she stand by sweet, steady Scott or follow the dangerous, intense new feelings she has for Derek?

THE HEARTBREAK

The closer Beth gets to Derek, the further away he seems. Then Beth discovers that Derek's been hiding a dark secret from her that could shatter everything.

10. Behind the Scenes by Dahlia Adler

High school senior Ally Duncan's best friend may be the Vanessa Park - star of TV's hottest new teen drama - but Ally's not interested in following in her BFF's Hollywood footsteps. In fact, the only thing Ally’s ever really wanted is to go to Columbia and study abroad in Paris. But when her father's mounting medical bills threaten to stop her dream in its tracks, Ally nabs a position as Van's on-set assistant to get the cash she needs.

Spending the extra time with Van turns out to be fun, and getting to know her sexy co-star Liam is an added bonus. But when the actors’ publicist arranges for Van and Liam to “date” for the tabloids just after he and Ally share their first kiss, Ally will have to decide exactly what role she's capable of playing in their world of make believe. If she can't play by Hollywood's rules, she may lose her best friend, her dream future, and her first shot at love.
What are you hoping to see under your Christmas tree this year?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Release date: October 6th, 2011
Info about the author: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Indigo
Age group: YA (?)
Pages: 272
Buy the book: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

Have you ever had the feeling that you've lived another life? Been somewhere that has felt totally familiar, even though you've never been there before, or felt that you know someone well, even though you are meeting them for the first time? It happens. In 2073 on the remote and secretive island of Blessed, where rumour has it that no one ages and no children are born, a visiting journalist, Eric Seven, and a young local woman known as Merle are ritually slain. Their deaths echo a moment ten centuries before, when, in the dark of the moon, a king was slain, tragically torn from his queen. Their souls search to be reunited, and as mother and son, artist and child, forbidden lovers, victims of a vampire they come close to finding what they've lost. In a novel comprising seven parts, each influenced by a moon - the flower moon, the harvest moon, the hunter's moon, the blood moon - this is the story of Eric and Merle whose souls have been searching for each other since their untimely parting.


INTRODUCTION

Marcus Sedgwick's Midwinterblood definitely surprised me in several different ways. It wasn't as "YA" as I expected and I think I would rather categorize it as an adult fantasy/paranormal novel to be completely honest - it starts with an adult protagonist and though through the "timetravel" format we do get perspectives of younger individuals, I still think this was a lot grittier and darker than most titles decribed as "YA paranormal". 
I have to admit that I do not quite know what to think about Midwinterblood and how to actually write this review. On the other hand, I did like it and find it interesting, but on the other, I just wanted to it end so I could read something else. I hope to find reasons for those feelings while writing this review.
WORLDBUILDING

Midwinterblood starts from the future. It is 2073 and a journalist Eric Seven travels to the mysterious Blessed island to investigate the island itself and the people who live there for a story. Though the island is beautiful and the people are almost too friendly, Eric feels like something is not right, but always when he seems to start to doubt himself and the islanders, he drinks a cup of soothing tea and forgets his worries. Then he speaks to Merle, a beautiful young woman Eric feels like he has met before, and things start to get suspicious. The islanders get a hint of Eric's suspicions and do something that had actually been done before, years and years ago.

What happens to Eric at the island in 2073 (kind of given away in the Goodreads synopsis) is then echoed through several different lives, time periods and characters through stories that all are set in Blessed and which all intertwine and connect to the previous stories and the stories that follow them. Sedgwick excels in making a connection between the stories and manages to make them very different, but still deep down quite the same, which in this case is a very good thing. I really liked how Sedgwick described the people and the island itself during the different time periods - he talked about customs, about the people who lived there and about the weird things that took place within each period. The moon (harvest moon, blood moon) aspect was also well established and added depth to the story. The changes in Eric and Merle's story are also very interesting - they are lovers in one story, mother and son in one, and so on - throughout, they are connected more closely than anyone else, as if they were meant to be together, one way or another.
  
CHARACTERS

This section is a bit difficult to get into due to the sectionality of this novel. Eric and Merle are the main characters, I would say, but do to the fact that there are seven stories here, we get seven different versions of both characters. 
Let's just say that I think one of my main problems with this novel was the characters. I just did not connect with either Eric or Merle AT ALL, which is something I usually need to be able to do in order to enjoy a novel. And even if there is not a connection, I usually need to feel something for the characters, and in case of Midwinterblood, I didn't really feel anything. To be comletely honest, I think Eric and Merle were the least interesting part of this whole novel. 

It could be argued that the island itself becomes a character in this novel. If that is the case and if you see that argument as valid, then I would say that the island was my favorite character in this one. It changes throughout the stories, but still stays "honest" to itself - it is mysterious, a bit dark and full of people who might be hiding something.

PROSE, PACING

Sedgwick writes beautifully and it feels like the words just flow on the pages. His language is very poetic, yet very easy to read. He is also very descriptive, especially in relation to the island and the different time periods that take place there. 
As mentioned, the novel is divided into seven different time periods in which Eric and Merle all play a role. These time periods are well established and Sedgwick paces the stories well to keep the mystery and intrigue intact until the last pages of the novel. This is a fairly short novel and the different sections and chapters are all quite short as well. I am usually a fan of short chapters, so I personally really liked that aspect of this novel!

IS THERE SOMETHING I DID NOT LIKE? 

As I mentioned before, throughout reading this I felt like I liked it, but at the same time I wished that it would end so I could start reading something else. Now that I've put more thought into this through the process of writing this review, I think a lot of those feelings can be connected to the characters of Eric and Merle and how little I actually connected with them or felt for them. I was probably 2/3s into the novel when I started to continually check how much I have left to read and I was already thinking what to read next at the back of my mind. I think that at that moment I had already read so much about my favorite "character", the island, that I wanted other characters I could read about and be interested about.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Midwinterblood was in no way a bad book. It is beautifully written, well paced and quite unexpected and unique plotwise. The major issue I personally had was with the characters, which pulls my rating down a bit. In general though, Midwinterblood is a short, quick and a very different paranormal read.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Stacking the Shelves (#23)

"Stacking The Shelves 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!"

For more information, click here

From the library:
 
Have you ever had the feeling that you've lived another life? Been somewhere that has felt totally familiar, even though you've never been there before, or felt that you know someone well, even though you are meeting them for the first time? It happens. In 2073 on the remote and secretive island of Blessed, where rumour has it that no one ages and no children are born, a visiting journalist, Eric Seven, and a young local woman known as Merle are ritually slain. Their deaths echo a moment ten centuries before, when, in the dark of the moon, a king was slain, tragically torn from his queen. Their souls search to be reunited, and as mother and son, artist and child, forbidden lovers, victims of a vampire they come close to finding what they've lost. In a novel comprising seven parts, each influenced by a moon - the flower moon, the harvest moon, the hunter's moon, the blood moon - this is the story of Eric and Merle whose souls have been searching for each other since their untimely parting.
 
One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever
 
William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known.

And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a “proper” family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.

John Williams's luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world.
 
 
Ben and Rose secretly wish for better lives. Ben longs for his unknown father. Rose scrapbooks a famous silent actress. When Ben finds clues and Rose reads enticing news, the children independently run to New York for what they are missing. Ben's story in words, Rose's in pictures, come together in deafness.