Amy Says Read This

Seriously, you should totally read this.


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The Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale & LeUyen Pham

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Hale, S., Hale, D., & Pham, L. (ill.) (2014). The Princess in Black. Candlewick Press: Massachusetts. ISBN: 9780763665104

Annotation: When the monster alarm rings, Princess Magnolia jumps into action and transforms into her monster fighting alter ego, the Princess in Black!

Reaction: In this short beginning chapter book, the Hales introduce readers to the wonderful character of Princess Magnolia, who is a perfect, pink-wearing princess, until it’s time to kick some monster tush. Then it’s time for Princess Magnolia to don practical shorts, boots and a cape in black.

One of the best things about this book is the way Princess Magnolia embraces both sides of herself: the girly, super feminine princess and the strong, capable, monster-tush-kicking superheroine. I recently came across a great article about how it does a disservice to children and women to treat girliness as being less good than tomboyishness, and I think, in light of that, the Hales have done something remarkable here. This is a book that tells children that being feminine and wearing pink is great! And so is going out and saving the kingdom from monsters! The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and that’s a great lesson.

On top of that, the story is engaging and funny, and though this story is pretty brief, the Hales have managed to create fully realized characters and a world around them. The illustrations are bright and colorful and add a lot of whimsy and humor to the text.

I really, really hope there are going to be more adventures of Princess Magnolia/the Princess in Black. The Hales have only begun to scratch the surface in this one.

Media used: watercolor and ink

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website


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2014 in Review: My Top Reads

Looking back at my year of reading, I’ve read a lot, thanks to book clubs and graduating and not having a job for awhile. Plus, I’m now in an organization that puts out monthly reviews, which gets me even more excited to read and read and read and … I’m discovering over and over that my literary eyes are bigger than my stomach. Because no matter how many books I read there are hundreds more that I WANT to read, and I have to remind myself regularly that there’s nothing wrong with not being able to read everything ever.

I do feel fortunate that of all the books I read this past year, I rated nearly 20% of them 5 stars and only a handful 1 or 2 stars. However, that many 5 star books makes it difficult for me to narrow it down to my top picks for the year. Some are re-reads of past favorites, like Sandman, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Time Traveler’s Wife, some are sequels in series that I’m super excited about and in love with (Hello, Stormlight Archive and Saga) and others are massively popular hits; I mean, we’ve all already read The Fault in Our Stars, right? So … I guess it really isn’t that hard to figure out which were my ultimate favorites this year.

Originally, I thought this was going to be my Top Five of the year, but I read too many good freaking books, so have a Top 5% (in no particular order):

(All images from Goodreads.com

(All images from Goodreads.com)

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez – First of all, this cover is phenomenal, and thankfully, the story within backs it up. The main character, Valentina, is tough and smart and conflicted. The plot hooked me right away, and I couldn’t wait to read more about what happened to Valentina and see what she was going to do next. And I LOVED the ending. I think it would have been really easy for this to end unsatisfactorily, but Martinez gave us an ending that really feels true to the characters she created, and I thought it was wonderful.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta – This is, hands down, my favorite book that I read this year. In fact, I read it twice within a couple of months because I love it so much. This is one that I try to recommend as much as possible, to people who are looking for a great YA novel after finishing The Fault in Our Stars or If I Stay, to people looking for a good audiobook, and all my friends have heard about it around 50 times. It’s so good, and y’all need to read it, seriously. Read it. (Be warned, the first 100 pages or so are a little confusing, but it picks up quick after that!)

Landline by Rainbow Rowell – I love Rowell. She’s a great storyteller, and her characters are so wonderful and real, and I want to read everything by her. I made the mistake of starting this one (her newest) right before bed, and ended up reading it in one sitting (by the time 5am rolled around, I was really thankful I wasn’t working at the time). Her writing is smart and funny and wonderfully consumable; all of her books have sucked me in and left me thinking about the characters for days afterwards. (Incidentally, I also gave one of Rowell’s other books, Fangirl 5 stars this year, and I gave Attachments 5 stars last year [actually, Attachments might be my favorite of hers that I’ve read {I’ve yet to read Eleanor & Park}], so basically, you can’t go wrong with my gal Rainbow).

Primates by Jim Ottaviani – This book is a graphic novel look Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, how they came to study primates and what they did to advance what we know about them. It’s a great introduction to these women for middle grade (and older!) readers, and it presents the information in a fun, accessible way. I think this could be a great book to use in a classroom and could easily encourage kids to do more reading on their own about primates or these scientists. Also, the reveal of Dian Fossey’s fate (murdered by poachers) left me sobbing in bed at the tragedy of it, though the book, thankfully, doesn’t come right out and say that she was murdered by poachers; Ottaviani handles it delicately and age-appropriately.

East of West by Jonathan Hickman – The story in this graphic novel is a little weird, but it was interesting, and I enjoyed this take on the apocalypse. But what really appeals to me about this book, and what has me recommending it to people is the art. I love the art SO MUCH. I love the image of Death as a long, lanky cowboy, the fight scenes are stunning, and the use of color is really well done. I spent more time than usual just enjoying Nick Dragotta’s art as I read this, and it’s what made me want to continue the series.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Adichie has created a completely compelling and thought provoking story in Americanah. She spends a lot of time talking about race and feminism in America through the lens of a non-American black woman, and I found it really eye opening and encouraged me to examine my own white privilege. But even more than that, the characters were so well written, and I was always anxious to see what happened next with them.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan – I read this at the beginning of the year, so my memories are a little hazy, but my one line review gives me a pretty good idea of how I was feeling when I finished: “This book is just so damn beautiful and heartbreaking.” I do remember how I felt so powerless, right along with Sahar, and I really liked this portrayal of LGBTQ issues in a country that is so different from the US. I wish I could better remember how Farizan wrote the transgendered characters Sahar encounters, but I do remember liking that Farizan made it a point to draw a distinction between being gay and transgendered, and that gender reassignment surgery would not magically fix Sahar’s problems, in large part because she was not born in the wrong body.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley – This book follows two girls, one black, one white, in 1959 Virginia, as the local high school integrates for the first time. It shows us the torment Sarah experiences as one of the first ten black students to attend the white high school, and her inner turmoil as she comes to grips with the fact that she likes girls. And we follow Linda, as she reevaluates all the beliefs she’s held her entire life, and it makes the reader examine the how and why beliefs are formed and whether they are true beliefs or not. I really liked this book for the way it showed how the Civil Rights Movement was something very personal for the people involved and put a (fictional) face to the struggle.

(If you’re looking for even more lesbian coming of age stories, check out The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a great book about a growing up lesbian in a small town in the ’90’s.)

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – This was sort of the year of my feminist awakening, and I’m trying to make it a point to try to read more books about feminism in our modern culture. This book came on my radar during the Goodreads Choice Awards voting, and the title and simple cover really grabbed my attention. This book was really an engaging read, and Gay’s style makes even her essay about competitive Scrabble fascinating. As I noted in my initial review on Goodreads, not every essay spoke to me, but they were all well written and thought provoking. This is another one that encourages the reader to examine his or her own privileges and view the world from different perspectives.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – After reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which is hilarious and wonderful, I was not expecting how different this book would be, and I think We Were Liars helps demonstrate Lockhart’s range as a writer. There’s very little funny here, and the suspense kept me obsessively reading from the first page. This book was supremely compelling and the big reveal is a total gut punch. It’s really well crafted, and the characters manage to be pretty unlikable yet totally fascinating.

What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend by Lissa Rankin – I feel like the title of this book tells you everything you’d ever need to know about it. It was fascinating and had a lot of helpful information about various issues concerning one’s lady business, as well as a lot of hilarrible (hilarious and horrible) anecdotes that make you feel a lot better about whatever weird things are going on with your junk. I think there’s good information in here for anyone who possesses a vagina, and Rankin has answers to the questions you didn’t even know you had.


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Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Rosenthal, A. K, & Lichtenheld, T. (ill.) (2013). Exclamation Mark. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 9780545436793

Annotation: Exclamation Mark didn’t fit in with any of his friends. He tried everything, but he always stood out, and then the day came when he learned to embrace his differences.

Reaction: Omg, this book is so adorable, and if I thought my four year olds in storytime understood what punctuation was, I would totally use it in storytime over and over. As it is, I want to read it over and over, and I think it could probably be a good book to help introduce kids to punctuation and the different purposes of a period versus an exclamation point. I love the simple illustrations on what looks like lined writing practice paper. This is a simple sweet story that is original and totally delightful.

(And, here, have a video from the publisher!)

Media Used: Ink and “other exciting materials”

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website


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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

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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Mercedes Thompson (series) by Patricia Briggs

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

(I originally wrote this when Frost Burned (book 7) first came out about a year ago, but it’s been languishing in my drafts ever since. Book 8, Night Broken was released earlier this month, so I thought this would be an excellent time to actually publish this bad boy.)

You know that series that you┬ádevour in like two weeks and then wait anxiously for the next installment? And that book/series that is your totally guilty pleasure reading (except you don’t actually feel that guilty)? Well, the Mercedes Thompson books (written for an adult audience) are that for me. I happened across the first audiobook, Moon Called, a couple of years ago, when I was browsing for books to listen on my walks to work. I was a little skeptical about it, as I tend to be about any vampire/werewolf book I’ve never heard of before, but the premise sounded interesting, and I was getting it for free from the library, so why not? Also, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll read just about any werewolf/vampire novel. I love the genre, lordy.

Well, I loved it. LOVED. I read or listened to the next five books as soon as I could get my hot little hands on them, even buying books four and five because the library copies were already checked out. I then went on to read Patricia Briggs’s Alpha & Omega series, which is set in the same world.

Mercedes Thompson is a Walker, a Native American shape changer who turns into a coyote. She owns a garage and lives next door to the local Alpha werewolf. In the first book, a young werewolf shows up at her garage looking for work. A few days later, he’s dropped on her doorstep, dead, and she takes it on herself to find out where he came from and why he was killed. Hijinks ensue.

Each subsequent book has Mercy getting into all kinds of trouble, involving various supernatural villains, including vampires, wizards, and the Fae. One of my favorite things about these books is that, while they reference the previous books, I don’t feel any great need to reread the earlier books when a new one comes out. Each story is self contained and stands on it’s own, so I don’t have to worry about remembering what happened two books/years ago.

When I got the email from Audible that book 7 had just been released, I bought it immediately. Starting it was like going back to visit old friends. I love the cheesy, punny, snappy dialogue, and I love the way the action started within thirty minutes of the beginning the book. And I preordered book 8 from Audible, waiting with great anticipation for when I could spend some quality time with characters I’ve grown to know and love.

The Mercy Thompson books live in a sub-genre of fantasy in which ladies who have some supernatural abilities get into trouble, kick some bad guy booty and fall in love. I love that genre, I generally find the plots fun and engaging and the characters pretty decent, but after reading books in AT LEAST six or seven of these types of series, the concept gets a little stale. But you know what? I will always come back to Mercy. Maybe it’s just because she was one of the first experiences I had with this kind of book, but I find her stories exceedingly readable and the characters all really relatable and interesting.

Sidenote: I have listened to most of these books on audiobook, and I love them. The narrator is wonderful, and after about 5 or 6 books, she is the voice of Mercy to me. And I was able to download most of the audiobooks through my library’s e-audibooks provider Overdrive.

Author’s Website


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Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Cliff, T. (2013). Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. New York: First Second. ISBN: 9781596438132

Annotation: When Lieutenant Selim interrogates a mysterious female prisoner in Constantinople, he discovers that she is Delilah Dirk and has an amazing history. When she escapes prison, his boss assumes he is in league with her, and Selim had to fight by her side in order to survive.

Reaction: This book is wonderful. It’s a little more cutthroat than I had expected, but Cliff’s sound effect panels, which are so SO great, and beautiful colors make the story more light hearted than the amount of stabbing she does indicates. Plus the dialogue is wonderfully quick and witty, which is something I always appreciate. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but any character with a good one-liner is a character I love.

While this book doesn’t technically pass the Bechdel Test (Which says that a book/movie/video game, etc has 1. two or more female characters, 2. who have names, and 3. who speak to each other about something other than men), Delilah is such a badass character, that I’m willing to forgive the fact that she’s the only lady who really plays a part in the story. She is the most compelling part of this story, and I long to see more of her adventures. Also, I think there is the potential for Cliff to introduce more equally awesome female characters in the future.

The art in this is completely gorgeous and detailed. Cliff doesn’t say in the book what he used, but it looks to me like it was some sort of computer program. Whatever media he used, Cliff wielded it expertly. The characters are wonderful and real, and though Delilah might have the body dimensions of a regular super heroine, she is not as classically beautiful as we would expect the title character to be. And would you look at those backgrounds?! Ridiculous. They are so intricate and detailed and really help pull the reader into the story.

I would recommend this to high school readers and up, especially those who love an amazing strong heroine driven graphic novel. This is also great for people who are into the history of the Turkey/Greece region of the world or a good pirate adventure.

And everyone in the whole world should read Delilah Dirk and the Easy Mark, which is to say, “Delilah Dirk starring a CAT.”

Media Used: (from Twitter) The line art is pencil-on-paper and the colouring is all digital.

Author’s Website


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The Dark by Lemony Snicket

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Snicket, L., & Klassen, J. (ill.) (2013). The Dark. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN: 9780316187480

Annotation: Laszlo is afraid of the dark that lives in his basement, until one night when the dark comes up from the basement to Laszlo’s room.

Reaction: Oh, this book. This book caught my eye for several reasons. First, the cover is really striking: all black, with just Laszlo and a few stairs shown above yellow block lettering. Second, it’s written by Lemony Snicket, of A Series of Unfortunate Events fame. Third, it’s illustrated by Jon Klassen, who wrote I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat. I was pretty excited to read this and see what Lemony Snicket could come up with for small children and how the author/illustrator pairing would work.

His story about a little boy who is scared of the dark living in his basement, which also sometimes lurks in other places, is matched perfectly with Klassen’s illustrations. Klassen conveys Laszlo’s fear even when we are only shown half his face. The house is drawn hugely and sparsely: no furniture or adornments on the walls, which adds to the feeling of creepiness and unease in the story. Many of the pages are black, dominated by the dark, with only Laszlo’s flashlight beam to light the way.

The beginning of the story is spooky and almost definitely too scary for me to try to read during storytime. Snicket uses the same sort of tone for the beginning of this book as he does for A Series of Unfortunate Events, which left me genuinely wondering if he might have written a child’s horror story in which the dark consumes Laszlo. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. The resolution of the story and the conquering of Laszlo’s fear comes quietly, without too much fanfare or hooplah. It is simple and sort of brilliant and utterly reassuring.

I think this book could easily become a child’s favorite, and it certainly has become one of mine.

Media Used: gouache and digitally

Author’s Website (for his new series)

Illustrator’s Website