Saturday, February 13, 2016

Abbreviations #20: January Minis

I can’t believe how quickly the first month of 2016 has flown by. But, then again, I suppose time really does fly when you’re having fun! I’ve really been enjoying spending time with my friends and Macky, particularly when we’re all cozy and warm at someone’s apartment. Of course, all of this fun actually means that my reading life has been a bit slow lately (slow for me, that is), so I haven’t read as many books as I normally would in a month. Still, I’ve got a few reads from January (and one from December) that I haven’t yet reviewed, and that's what you’re going to get today!

Blackest Night book cover
Blackest Night by Geoff Johns (ill. Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert, Joe Prado)
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: July 13, 2010
Source: Hardcover borrowed from the library

I never really read any comics or graphic novels until last year, when Macky began recommending them to me. What I love about jumping into that whole world this way is that Macky has already read a lot of what’s out there, and is best able to sort out what story arcs would appeal to me. Blackest Night is the first comic I’ve read featuring the DC superheroes, and I loved it. It’s just so well-executed in terms of plot (the twists! the lore!) and characters (it’s an ensemble piece, so there are a ton of familiar faces involved, even for someone who’s only familiar with the basic line-up for DC). I honestly appreciated getting to read something that was clever and exciting, and I really wouldn’t mind revisiting this story again in the future!

Murder Most Unladylike book cover
Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens
Series: Wells and Wong #1
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Publication Date: June 5, 2014
Source: Signed paperback gifted by Daphne (Thanks!)

When I was a young girl, I was obsessed with Nancy Drew. Formulaic though her adventures might be in hindsight, there was nothing more enjoyable to me than diving into another mystery that this girl detective would solve. I’m still quite fond of middle grade mysteries to this day, and Murder Most Unladylike is a most enjoyable example! The premise of the series is that two girls – Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells – have set up their very own detective agency at their school. Their first real case comes in the form of one of their teacher’s dead bodies… and how it mysteriously disappears after it is first seen. What I love best about this story is how personal it felt, since it’s written in the style of a casebook. There are suspect/motives lists, recordings of encounters and discoveries, and even looks at the girls’ pasts every so often. I was pleased with how Stevens executed her mystery (though it also gave me the creeps). I definitely foresee another Wells and Wong mystery novel in my future TBR!

The Expatriates book cover
The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: January 12, 2016
Source: Hardcover from the publisher (Thanks!)

In many ways, I’ve lived like an expatriate for most of my life. I can now call both the Philippines and the USA home, but there were definitely transition years to be had for both! The kinship I feel with other people who live someplace that’s not their native home is definitely the main reason I was interested in reading The Expatriates. I found this novel a refreshing change from my normal reading fare. It relies heavily on the charm of subtle character development, which only works if the reader can really connect with a character. (Spoiler alert: I wound up getting deeply invested in these ladies.) In Lee’s capable hands, it is a slice of life story that focuses on the complicated, rich lives of three expatriates in Hong Kong. The pleasure and pain that they experience is so compelling, and I really couldn’t stop reading once I’d started! The only reservation I have is sadness about one particular plot point that’s heartbreaking and terrifying (since I’m a happily ever after kind of girl, even though I accept the reality that it isn’t always the case). But overall, I did like it, and I definitely think people who prefer character-driven tales might feel the same.

Paper Wishes book cover
Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
Publisher: Farrar, Strous & Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Source: ARC from the publisher (Thanks!)

Paper Wishes is a simply told tale, but the emotional resonance (even for an adult reader like myself) is undeniable. This is the story of Manami, a girl who is forced to leave the home she’s always known to live in an internment camp. While she’s able to stay with her family, and they are able to take some of the things they own, they have to leave behind their family dog, Yujiin. It is losing Yujiin that really breaks Manami’s heart, and this is the story of what happens after. What I particularly appreciate about Sepahban’s novel is the compelling way it tells Manami’s story, even as she includes details that show readers (in a way that even younger readers can understand) what’s going on during that time. It’s heartbreaking to see what these people endured, particularly when thrown into a new situation that was unfamiliar and unforgiving in comparison with the home they’ve always known. But this novel is not all sad, as there are also moments of hope to read about. And, of course, it wouldn’t have been as easy to get invested in this story, were it not for how charming and stubborn and fragile Manami is. I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and protect her from all the bad things. But since I couldn’t, I bore witness to the growth she goes through in the face of her situation – and it’s really well done. I definitely liked this one, and would happily recommend it to other readers too.

Very Good Lives book cover
Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Source: Hardcover purchased from Barnes and Noble

I first read the commencement speech that Rowling gave at Harvard in 2008 online. Even then, her words and their message struck me deeply; I've been inspired to do and try things because of that speech. While it's not necessarily a purchase I think everyone needs to make, I personally love owning this little book that has her speech laid out, with illustrations and lettering peppered between her actual words. I read this in January, and it was a fitting choice as it once again left me feeling encouraged, challenged and inspired to make this year even better than the one before. I was reminded how we can learn from our mistakes, and how, when we hit rock bottom, there really is nowhere to go but up. I was also reminded of the importance of creativity and imagination; it's how the world has continued to grow and progress and will continue to do so. Very Good Lives is a book I'll treasure, and one that I'll turn to again and again in the future. (This would make a great graduation gift, by the way!)

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend book cover
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: January 19, 2016
Source: ARC from BEA 2015

Before I started reading The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, my friend Tiff at Mostly YA Lit had tweeted a couple of us about how she thought we’d enjoy this one. And she was absolutely right! I did wind up liking this one. This is the story of a woman named Sara, who finds herself alone in the town of Broken Wheel after she learns the friend she came all the way to visit has died. Sara decides to stay on in the town as she had planned, and her presence and dear love of novels soon changes the lives of all these residents. It’s a simple enough story, but readers will be hard-pressed not to fall in love with Sara and the residents of Broken Wheel. The author skillfully maneuvers personal relationships and plot points, wonderfully integrating a love of books and lessons from stories too. It does meander a bit here and there, and the pacing does take a while to click into place, but the end result is pretty good. If the summary sounds at all appealing to you, I suggest giving this one a shot.

Madly book cover
Madly by Amy Alward
Series: Potion #1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Source: Hardcover from DJ

It was the cover that did it. I kept seeing the cover online and in bookstores, and I found myself drawn to it time and time again. I’m pleased to be able to say that the story lives up to its pretty cover. Madly is the story of Samantha Kemi, an extraordinarily gifted alchemist who is determined to repair her family’s reputation. The only way she can see to do this is by joining the Wilde Hunt, where participants are challenged to create a potion to cure the princess of Nova (who imbibed a love potion, and has fallen in love with her reflection). The novel is one part adventure, as Samantha scrambles to find all the ingredients, and one part puzzle, as she tries to figure out how to put everything together. It was a lot of fun to read! I really enjoyed getting to know Sam, as she’s a girl after my own heart – determined and smart, headstrong and brave. Her relationships with the other characters – friends, family or foe – were pretty well-done too. I’m so glad I finally took the time to read it, because I truly liked it and thought it was a lot of fun! (In other news, I still don’t understand my attraction to Zain, but I’ll run with it.) I’m definitely going to pick up the next book in this series!

The Distance from A to Z book cover
The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: January 12, 2016
Source: Purchased Kindle e-book

The Distance from A to Z was the perfect read to top off my last week of reading in January! It was this adorable contemporary YA, and I’m so in love with how it made me feel. For feel I did, and what I felt involved lots of giggles, big grins and sighs of delight over the swoony bits. Natalie Blitt tells the story of two teens – Abby, a girl in love with French and not-so-in-love with baseball, and Zeke, a boy who becomes Abby’s partner for their summer course in intermediate French and who just so happens to be a jock. It’s a simple enough story, but Blitt really develops Abby’s character and her relationships (not only with Zeke, but with her roomie Alice and a few other characters). I like the balance between the individual arcs and the relationship arcs; it was really well-done, and I never felt like one was favored over the other. I loved witnessing Abby’s growth over the course of a summer, loved her friendships (particularly with Alice) and really loved her relationship with Zeke (which is the stuff of a romantic comedy, let me tell you). (Also, Natalie Blitt knows how to bring on MAJOR swoons.) The French was a lovely addition as well, since I’m particularly fascinated by that language (and now feel inspired to relearn it all over again). It was a very enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to contemporary YA fans. Trust me, you’ll be smiling once you hit the very last page!

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