Friday, August 1, 2014

This Summer So Books

I'm kind of breaking the rules by talking about books too but, oh well ! 

A while ago we took a small hiatus from book blogging because a lot of things were going on. Not big things, just general busy-ness. Partially inspired by this post from River City Reading I tried to put these past few weeks into books.

Visions of the Sea

For the week of July 4th  we went on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico !  It was 4 days of tasty meals, sun, clear water and a missing cellphone fiasco that could have left us stranded in Mexico. While this wasn't my first cruise I was  fascinated by the cruising  lifestyle. Cruise ships are like these nonstop floating  party and hospitality machines that attract people of all ages and backgrounds.

On our last day at sea I discovered the 5th deck was where everyone came to read, I pulled up a chair (with a glass of White Zinfandel) and got through half of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson to the sounds of crashing waves.  After coming back I started reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace, his essay about his experiences on a 7 day cruise. I've never read his essays before, but I can see why he is so beloved in the literary community. What I find so fascinating is how nothing much has changed for the cruising world  in nearly 20 years, it's crazy how true it all still is !

This Old House

Parquet floors ?
Jess and I have shared an apartment for the last 2 1/2 years and recently  moved. I really loved the old apartment; it was huge,  in downtown and had an exposed brick wall--like Andrea in  Devil Wears Prada. However,  it was getting pricey and the parking was less than glamorous. So we moved to an area called the Near West End. While the new place has great parking and trees  it's kind of...old.  Like no dishwasher/washing machine old. The community is listed in the National Register for Historic Places and it made me think of Beautiful Creatures, because so much of that story is about old Southern homes.

In related news...a post on Bookshelf 3.0 should be coming soon !

Move ALL the books !

Moving was quite an experience, but perhaps the worst part of it was that it took  1 college trunk, 2 suitcases and a 35 gallon Rubbermaid tub to move the books. When I first moved on my own--3 months into book blogging-- I could fit them all in my college trunk. My overflowing 
One of many trips
TBR pile is pretty much all because of the book blogger world which makes me think of the one book series that was kind of the catalyst of this whole crazy book blog. The Mortal Instruments series.  I'm not sure if we've ever mentioned this but part of the genesis of Books and Sensibility  came from when I was unemployed and started annotating a copy of City of Bones Jess was reading. We were tossing the idea of putting that online and the rest is a (disputed) history. Needless to say I have a love/hate relationship with the TMI books... and I'm okay with that.

One Ticket to  Colby, NC Please 

It's hot and I can't talk about summer without giving a should out to Sarah Dessen, an author I don't think I'll ever grow out of. I picked up This Lullaby at random from the school library 10 years ago and have been reading her ever since. I still haven't gotten through all of her books, so I think this summer I'm going to tackle The Moon and More. I recently found out her fictional Colby, NC is based on Emerald Isle, NC which is like 4 hours away from where I live so I'm totally doing a road trip one day !

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review : The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

  • Release Date: March 4th 2014
  • Genre: Historical/ AU
  • Pages: 355
  • Publisher: Farrar Strauss & Giroux
SynopsisAs a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.
 For 10 years the Valorians  have ruled the Herrani, a race of people enslaved in their own land. At a slave auction Kestrel, a member of the  Valorian upper class, wins the Herrani of her choice and in that moment of winning she will also lose everything and she doesn't even know it.

The story follows Krestel as she makes her way through high society and  how it often clashes with her candor and affinity for music and art.  She is also at war with her growing feelings for Arin the Herrani slave and the truth he is making her see.

Honestly, I think Krestel had a bit too much going on conflict wise. She's at a crossroads she can either get married or become a solider but  wants to do neither, she likes music but that is not thought highly of by her people. She struggles with what how to treat Arin in addition to feuds with fellow Valorians. I  think I would have preferred to focus one one of these conflicts. 

The big winner in this book has to be the forbidden romance that forms between Kestrel and Arin , overall that was what kept me reading during the somewhat slow build in the novel. I don't want to give to much away about Arin, but his character development in the book was one I enjoyed reading. I wish that the novel focused more on him.

 I  wanted a little bit more action in the novel. It starts to pick up in the later half of the book which I left me racing to finish. The glimpses of  political  intrigue and the daunting rules of society reminded me of Robin LaFevers'  Grave Mercy, but without the ability to really root the story with any  historical context I kept feeling lost. When it comes to novels set in alternate worlds or low fantasy I just can't feel invested in the story if I don't know the world

 In the back of the book Rutkoski does say the world is based on the Greco-Romans but I kept getting 18th century vibes due to the balls and civility ( and because of the cover) so that kind of threw me off.

This novel fell into a void that wasn't quite the romance or  historically-set saga I was expecting. The story was interesting enough, but I just couldn't get a good grasp on Kestrel to really care towards the end.

This was the BIG book of  2014  and after reading Cuddlebuggery's review I was ready to love this as well, but it just fell flat.  Steph reviewed the audio, so I may try listening to it  if I decide to read the next one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Matter of Fate: If I Stay by Gayle Foreman & Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

At first these two books seem worlds away, one a much praised modern literary classic the other a backlist YA contemporary climbing its way up the NYT bestsellers list with a film release weeks away.  

I found myself reading both books at around the same time and the more I thought about writing the individual reviews, the more I realized these books have a lot in common. Both  main characters, Kathy  H. in Never Let Me Go and Mia in If I Stay are young women trying to figure out their future. While Kathy's path has been laid out  since  birth Mia gets the opportunity to decide hers.

If I Stay by Gayle Foreman

The concept of this novel is simple, after a horrific car accident with her family 16-year-old Mia comes out of her body. Taking form as an  apparition, she observes the fate of the rest of her family and must decide if she will stay with her body or if she will go. The retrospective storytelling explores Mia's past relationships to her family and friends. We get complex and whole images of her  punk rocker turned middle school teacher dad,  her "tough as nails, tender-as-kittens, feminist bitch" mother, her musician boyfriend and a host of other friends The story is not at all plot driven, but it works so wonderfully because looming in the background is the question of if Mia will choose to stay or go.

I listened to this on audio and the narrator, Kirsten Potter, does a good job with all her voices and keeping the narration interesting. The production is a little weird because sometimes cello music will start randomly playing and it comes of as kind of corny.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I'm  mad it took me so long to finally get to ! This little novel completely develops every character in a concise and compelling story. I thought this novel was amazing and I can't wait to see the movie coming out in August ! 

Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro

I've been trying to read more literary fiction lately and this book is one I always had in the back of my head. Nearly a decade after its release, this book seems to be always making its round including the Time's 100 Best English Novels. 

Like If I Stay,  Never Let Me Go is a retrospective story, only this time it's 30-year-old Kathy H looking back on her childhood at the Hailsham School, where it slowly becomes clear the children and the school are more than they appear. Once their fate is revealed, Kathy struggles with if she wants to avoid it and how.  

Never Let Me Go had its screen debut in 2010
Never Let Me Go is often classified as horror or dystopic, but it never really feels that way as you are reading it. When the revelations come they are simply there and not as big twists. It wasn't until well after I finished this novel did I realize how disturbing what was going on in the background really was. Ishiguro's writing is fantastic, I like the way he has Kathy sort of tell stories out of order or how she will have to back up to make a story make sense. It made the narration feel authentic. 

I wouldn't necessarily classify this as a YA crossover, it has a very different tone than most YA dystopians. However I think with its length and mysterious plot it's a great toe dip into literary fiction.

Check out the trailer for If I Stay 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

  • Release Date: March 1, 2013
  • Pages: 289
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic)
June Costa is the best artist in Palmares Três, the lush futuristic pyramid city built a midst a post post-apocalyptic South America. June's art has always been about expressing herself and the things she loves, but her street art takes on new heights when she teams up with Enki, the 17-year-old reigning summer king of Palarmes Três who, as dictated by tradition, will be sacrificed at the end of the year. 

The Summer Prince is fairly complex novel, there is just so much going on in this world and society I don't even know where to begin. The world building can be a bit tough to get into, especially for someone like me coming from a Western world. Johnson's  world  is so far from anything analogous to American society. The driving force of this novel is the tradition of the summer king; Palmares Três matriarchal society elects one boy to serve as the summer king alongside the Queen and he is sacrificed at the end of the year. The reasoning behind this tradition is a little fuzzy in the book, but this is based on some ancient South American traditions.

The main battle here is twofold; man vs technology and young vs  old. In the novel, people are able to live to upwards of 200 years meaning young people are seen  by their elders as extremely flippant and useless. Our protagonist June is a bit of a rebel who is starting to take issue with her city's traditions and isolationist stance, while  Enki is prepared to use his new position as summer king  to critique the city's caste system and incite a revolution of the young. When they team up it soon becomes a political battle between them and the city's most powerful matriarchs.

This novel seems to split readers and I can see's definitely weird at first. It can take some getting used to the world and language of Palmares Três. Johnson throws you right in without a lexicon so, it took me a few pages to figure out what all the Portuguese words meant. Sexuality also appears to be a fluid between all the characters and sex doesn't appear to be as much as a taboo topic. In fact, this book refers to sex more frankly than I've seen in most YAs. 

Johnson's writing style is beautiful, she has really crafted a world and a society that left me re energized and ready to leap back into dystopian fantasy novels.  The Summer Prince is a standalone and I have to say there is something powerful about entering a world, experiences an intricate dynamic story and then just having it end in under 300 pages.  While the ending isn't open ended, it gives the reader room to interpret instead of solving the problem.

I will say, I was originally pushed to this novel because it always gets talked about in reference to diversity. I think diversity in literature in so important, especially YA, but sometimes.... I struggle imagining what books with POC characters would look like to a point I didn't think it could be done. The Summer Prince quickly corrected all those fears, Johnson  diverse main characters work and works well in YA. I mean, our male protagonist, Enki  is a dark skinned dreadlocked bisexual and our protagonist is a South American girl. In fact, there are no white people in this book because America was destroyed 400 years earlier,  June specifically talks about never having seen a white person.  Which is interesting because it means this book exists in a world completely removed from European influences.

The Summer Prince started off a little rocky, but after having some distance from it, this novel really was an amazing experience and I hope it continues to be in the conversation about amazing diverse books that aren't about being a minority.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Books and Sensibility is on Vacation

So between an upcoming vacation and moving and everything in between we will be taking a small blogging break until July 7th 2014. Happy Reading !

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dispatches From BookCon: #WeNeeDiverseBooks

Last weekend Kat and I made the trip to attend the inaugural BookCon . The one day event  offered panels, autographing and chances for fans to connect. We had to see it for ourselves so here is our account of BookCon 2014

For the uninitiated,  #WeNeedDiverseBook is a movement that refuses to be a trend. In response to the disparity of minorities in children's and YA literature, Ellen Oh and 21 other authors worked together to created the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that ran for 3 days in May.

We participated here on Books and Sensibility and the fact that there was going to be a panel at BookCon was one of the reasons we wanted to attend BookCon.

So many phones went up !
We arrived 30 minutes early and the room was already  packed. It was  great to see so many people excited about diversity and books. For me it was so cool to see a panel full of authors of color. Seeing so many different people really shows how problematic representation is in YA and children's fiction.

As the authors talked about how they dealt with identity in their reading lives, I found myself nodding along to some of their experiences.

Ellen Oh announced the future of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and she is in it for the long haul. Here are some of the highlights :

  • #WeNeedDiverseBooks will work with NEA's Read Across America to promote diverse books and authors.
  • WNDB is developing a 2016 Diversity In Children's book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Can I say how excited I am about the book festival ? D.C is in my backyard so I hope I can attend/volunteer.

If you missed the panel you can read the transcript here or listen to the audio !

Dispatches From BookCon, The Bright Spots

Last weekend Kat and I attend the first ever BookCon in NYC.  The one day event offered panels, autographing and chances for fans to connect with publishers. We had to see it for ourselves, so here is our account of BookCon 2014. Based on my experiences here is who I think shined at BookCon.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Panel

via growingupisforsuckers
The #WeNeed Diverse panels found its way onto the BookCon agenda after the grassroots campaign started in response to BookCon's lack of diversity and other scary stats about representation in literature. It was great seeing people so excited about diversity in literature and they released a lot of amazing news.

Macmillan Publishing

While some big six publishers decided to forgo having a satellite booth an BookCon, Macmillan supported consumers and BookCon with full force. Macmillan offered multiple editor's picks
panels focusing on  YA, genre fiction, reading groups and kids books. At each event readers could hear about new books and pick them up afterwards.

I stopped by the reading group panel and I thought it was very well organized and the staff did a great job of keeping everything in place.

Macmillian also had a photobooth where you could put yourself on a book cover.  Plus one to Macmillan for making BookCon shine. #bookbrag.


Shadowhunter earrings FTW !
I think Scholastic did something pretty cool at their booth. They made you work a little for your swag. In order to get an awesome I Read YA tumblr, readers has to rec a book on social media with #ireadya. My rec was The  Raven Boys audio, yes I picked a Scholastic book !

The Fans

I knew John Green and Cassandra Clare had a big fans, but I was floored to look out and see all TFIOS and Shadowhunter gear.  I also loved how all the other fandoms were representing everything from Harry Potter, Doctor Who , Marvel and even Friday Night Lights ? Sometimes all on one person.

Meeting Danielle Fishel !

I usually never do celebrity stuff at BEA. I always figure the line is going to be to long. However, I was walking on the floor when I passed  the Danielle Fishel signing. I just hopped in line just to see if I could met her. The line went by so fast and she was so great with the fans. I mean she had no problem pulling fans in for a photo.

The BookCon App

What was cool about the app is it had this social media component that was like a mix of Twitter and Instragram. I liked seeing who was going to be there and reading live reactions. Even after BookCon I still see people interacting on the app. The app and its content will be available until 2015.


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