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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Moriarty, L. (2014). Big Little Lies. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN: 9780399167065

Annotation: Three women in a idyllic suburban neighborhood are dealing with different personal challenges as their children begin kindergarten, and they learn to lean on each other for support.

Reaction: So on the surface, this book is a mystery. It opens with interviews of the attendees of a Parent’s Trivia Night at the local elementary school where Something Has Happened, but we don’t know what yet. The main narrative arc then begins about six months before the Trivia Night, and leads us through all the events that led up to the Something That Has Happened.

But really? The mystery is secondary to the relationships between the three main characters, Madeline, Celeste and Jane, and what’s going on in each woman’s life. Which is not to say that I didn’t spend the entire book trying to guess what happened to whom, but I think this book really triumphs in it’s depiction of the friendships between adult women. In talking about this book with my own friends, that’s the one aspect that has been really refreshing; Moriarty’s characters rely on each other and become stronger through their friendship, and I don’t think that’s something you see very often in literature. And sure, Madeline is a little catty, but when it comes down to it, she’s all about supporting the women around her, even her nemesis.

On top of that, all of the characters in this book, even those we only see in their interviews and the entire class of five year olds, are all really well drawn and unique. There are a lot of characters in this book, and I think it would have been really easy for them all to become just part of the crowd, but by the end, Moriarty has told us significant details about every one.

On top of ALL that, this book was compellingly readable. I was listening to the audibook on CD in my car, and I found myself not only looking forward to long drives alone so that I could really dig into the story, but also sitting in the driveway listening because I had to find out what happened next. It was completely engrossing and emotional and funny, and oh my God, I want to be Madeline when I grow up. She’s the best. And there’s nothing I love more than when an author creates characters I want to hang out with.

Author’s website

(Contributed to Cannonball Reads 7 as part of my 52 reviews in 52 weeks.)


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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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Taylor, L. (2011). Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Little, Brown Book for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780316134026

Annotation: Karou is an art student living in Prague, but she is also the errand girl for the wish monger Brimstone, whose shop is through a portal into Elsewhere. When all the doors to Brimstone’s shop are destroyed, Karou sets out to find another way to him.

Reaction: This book is delightful. Laini Taylor reminds me a lot of Sarah Rees Brennan, with great characters and sharp dialogue. I’d wanted to read this book since I first saw that gorgeous cover, but I didn’t get around to it until after the second book was released. When the third and final installment in the series was released in April, I decided to do a re-read of the first two before I dove into the last one. I am so glad I took this opportunity to experience the lushness of Taylor’s creation all over again.

Laini Taylor does something really interesting & unique with the idea of angels and devils in this series, and she does it really well. I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted by the fallen angel trope, and I am leery of anything that uses it. Taylor’s angels and devils, though, are different races from an alternate world rather than actual supernatural beings, which I find really refreshing. Her characters aren’t limited to a good versus evil dichotomy or a struggle against their “true nature” the way you often see in other books featuring angels. These characters are individuals and some of them are good while some of them are bad and most of them are somewhere in the middle trying to live their lives and survive the war that’s been raging between the two races for the last thousand years.

In the first book, she weaves mystery around these two races, using Karou’s journey of discovery to take the reader on a fantastical journey to figure out what is going on. Her writing is dreamy and magical, and the story is compelling. Taylor’s style is one that I love to read, full of beautiful descriptions that make me long to live in her world and enough plot development and suspense to keep the story moving forward at all times. At no point in this trilogy did I ever want her to just “get on with it,” because it was never boring or slow. And I love her characters! Zuzana totally needs to be my new BFF. But everyone is smart and snarky and super enjoyable, and the villains really make my skin crawl with how wonderfully vile she has made them.

I listened to the audiobook, and I loved the narration, though the voices of some of the characters are not as distinct as in some other books to which I’ve listened. The second I finished the first one, I downloaded the sequel from Audible, and I had the third on preorder in anticipation of its release. The narrator of this series, Khristine Hvam, has become one of my favorite favorite narrators, and I’m always excited to see that she’s reading something I’ll be listening to. Hvam’s voice does an excellent job of capturing the tone of Taylor’s writing, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to read the text without hearing her voice in my head.

Author’s Website

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Miller, M. (2012). The Song of Achilles. New York: Harper Audio. ISBN: 9780062126122 (US paperback edition)

Annotation: After being exiled by his father, Patroclus grows up with the half divine Achilles. Eventually, their friendship blossoms into love, and they become central figures in the Trojan War and the epic Illiad.

Reaction: My Bachelor’s Degree is in Religious Studies and Classics (as in, Classical Civilizations). I love stories about those ancient civilizations or their art or literature. I like the familiarity of these stories, and I love the heartbreaking bittersweet tragedy that so many of them have. I LOVE the Iliad; it was one of my favorite things that I read in college, and a huge part of my love was due to the larger than life figure of Achilles. I loved reading the story of his rage and pride and heartbreak. I loved that a figure such as Achilles could be so undone by the death of his “beloved companion.” I even loved the movie Troy, unashamedly and unironicaly.

In school, my instructor waved off the homoeroticiscm as a part of the culture that cannot even really be compared to our cultural norms. So it never even occurred to me to think of Patroclus and Achilles as a love story, but I am so glad Madeline Miller did. She has told a really beautiful, heartbreaking love story involving two men, one of whom was Aristos Achion: Best of the Greeks. And one of the things that I love most about the romance is how it’s Not A Big Deal, for the most part. There’s a few mentions about how men did not have male lovers, though they it was a common practice for boys, and how the pair tried to keep their relationship on the downlow when camped at Troy (though they shared a tent and spent all their time together; I feel confident that ALL THE GREEKS KNEW), and obviously Achilles’s goddess mother hated Patroclus for being inferior to her golden son, but mostly? They are two people in love with each other and NO ONE CARES. It’s great.

She has lovingly retold the myths and stories surrounding Achilles and Patroclus, and the amount of effort and research and dedication she demonstrates in her telling awes me. It’s been awhile since I’ve read the Iliad or any other literature about Achilles, but from what I remember, Miller’s version is very faithful to the original.

This story is told from the first person perspective of Patroclus, and I spent the entire book wondering how she would handle the telling of the aftermath of his death, of Achilles’s grief and rage. I was sort of expecting that she would handle it the way that she did, and I did not mind it. Seeing those events unfold through Patroclus’s eyes was all the more poignant and heartbreaking. (I also spent the entire book hearing Brad Pitt scream, “HEEEEEEECTOOOOOOOOOR!” over and over and feeling my little heart break a little.)

I would give this book to anyone who loves mythology, epic battles or starcrossed (and gay!) lovers. This book is ABSOLUTELY, 100% in my Top Ten Favorites. I know it’s early in the year still, but I think this is going to be one of my favorite books read in 2013. So beautiful and wonderful and epic and heroic and lovely and everyone should read it!

(Note: I listened to the audiobook, narrated by a man with a delightful, soothing voice that perfectly suited the tone of the story.)

2012 Orange Prize for Fiction

Here’s a great video of the author talking about this book:

Author’s Website

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Green, J. (2012). The fault in our stars. New York: Dutton Books. ISBN: 9780525478812

Annotation: Hazel has terminal thyroid cancer and has to drag around an oxygen tank. At a cancer kids support group, she meets Augustus Waters who changes her life.

Reaction: So let’s talk about The Fault in Our Stars. DO NOT read this book if you don’t enjoy crying your eyeballs out at the end of the story. That is not a spoiler. This is a book about kids with cancer. Let’s not even pretend like you’re not going to cry. First we meet Hazel, the narrator, who tells us up front that she’s got terminal cancer. So you spend the book preparing for her death and some sort of third person post death epilogue and girding yourself for that inevitable moment when she can fight no longer. But when the end comes, it’s SO MUCH WORSE than you could ever have imagined. Completely heartbreaking and shattering and JOHN GREEN, WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME?!

This guy, he’s a freaking phenomenal story teller: funny and smart and quick witted and snarky, but man oh man. The only other book that I’ve read by him, Looking for Alaska, which is also so so so great and which I highly recommend, ALSO made me cry and cry and cry and cry. (It also dealt with death by motor vehicle less than a year after my older sister was killed in a hit and run, so your mileage may vary with the crying in this one.) I’m a little scared to read more of his books because what if they’re ALL heartbreaking and tragic?! I’m gonna have to suck it up, though, because I think he’s too good to miss out on.

He writes teens that are relatable and real. They’re kids you might have known or might wish you had as friends, and they’re dealing with some stuff. In this one, Hazel and Augustus refuse to let their cancer get in the way of having a life and doing the things they want to do, even if it isn’t exactly normal teen stuff. These two, and their friend Isaac, and all the other kids from cancer support group have been through more pain and suffering than most adults ever have to deal with. And Green shows them dealing with it like real people, flawed and angry and hurt and completely infuriated by the injustice of it all.

Just a note: I listened to the audiobook of this, narrated by Kate Rudd, and I really enjoyed it.

I would recommend this book to EVERYONE (mature readers only!), and it’s totally in my Top Ten Favorites.

Odyssey Award (2013)
Goodreads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction (2012)
ALA Teens’ Top Ten Nominee (2012)
The Inky Awards for Silver Inky (2012)
Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2014)

Author’s Website

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Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

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Bray, L. (2011). Beauty queens. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 9780439895972

Annotation: When a plane full of teenaged beauty queens crashes on a deserted island, the surviving fifteen girls have to band together to survive life on the island and a plot to make sure they never get home again.

Reaction: Man, I love the way Bray tackles so many tough subjects in this book. One could probably argue that she’s taking on too many issues: gender roles, sexual orientation, race, the corporationization of the US, the entertainment industry that caters to the lowest common denominator, plus all the usual “figuring out who you are” YA novel stuff, but I think she handles it really well. I especially love the commentary on the societal expectations for women, and while it may not be subtle, it is powerful and gets to the heart of so many ridiculous expectations that people have for girls: be quiet, pretty and do what you’re told. Don’t make waves, don’t cause trouble, don’t ask too many questions, don’t be a “wild girl.” If you don’t fit in a predetermined mold, hide your true self until you do.

Gosh, I love the way she takes a fairly stereotypical group of beauty queens, exposes their secret selves and gives them the strength to be the women they are. She has built a great ensemble cast of fully realized characters each with her own voice and personality.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author, and it was just so wonderful. She gave each girl a unique literal voice, and her inflection really added an extra boost of humor to the book. I love the way she portrayed each different girl, and I really think Bray’s narration made this book even more enjoyable than if I had just been reading it. Hers is the type of dialogue that works best when spoken aloud, though I’m sure reading the book is also a great experience. I just highly recommend the audiobook.

This book is totally on my Top Ten Favorites, and is, I think, one of the best books I read in 2012. Smart, funny, great characters, great dialogue, fast paced plot, utterly delightful.

A 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist in Young Adult Literature

2012 Audie Award Winner for Best Narration by the Author

2012 Audie Award Nomination for Best Teen Audiobook

Author’s Website