Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Ladybug Looks Back... December 2014

Here's a look back at what happened on my blog in December 2014:

I took part in an end-of-year survey.
I revisited an old post that I wrote in 2009 about how to write your own YA paranormal romance.
I wrote about ghostwriting in relation to the Zoe Sugg issue.

I signed up for two challenges for next year:

2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge
Fairytale Retelling Challenge 2015

I participated in Top Ten Tuesday:

Goals/Resolutions For 2015
Books I Read In 2014
New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2014
Books I'm Looking Forward To In 2015

I participated in Booking Through Thursday:


I shared the new books I got in New to the TBR Pile.  I got 8 new books this month.

I reviewed 5 books.  2 of those were novels; 1 was a short story collection; 2 were picture books.


My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris DNF
And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard DNF

Short Story Collections:

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins

Picture Books:

A Night in Santa's Great Big Bag by Kristin Kladstrup & Tim Jessell
Angelina's Big City Ballet by Katharine Holabird & Helen Craig

So that's what happened in December!
Join me next month when I look back on January!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 End of Year Book Survey

2014 End Of Year Book Survey 

This survey was created by Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner.  It looks like a good way to sum up a year of reading.

2014 Reading Stats

Number of books you read: 30 (I read 58 in total, including picture books, novellas & short stories)
Number of re-reads: 0
Genre you read the most from: contemporary fantasy

Best In Books

1. Best book you read in 2014?  Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t?  A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman.  (This is the first verse novel I've read that I really haven't liked.)

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2014?  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  (I had no idea I would dislike it as much as I did.)

4. Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did) in 2014?  I don't really push people to read books... and I would have no idea if they'd actually read them or not!

5. Best series you started in 2014? Best sequel of 2014? Best series ender of 2014?  Best series I started: The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M. G. Buehrlen.
Best sequel: Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor.
Best series ender: Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2014?  I'd like to read more of Julie Berry's books.  I really enjoyed All the Truth That's in Me.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?  Free as a Bird by Gina McMurchy-Barber.  I haven't read a lot of books that feature characters with disabilities, so this was a different one for me.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?  Stolen by Lucy Christopher.  I'm not sure if I'd call it "action-packed", but I sure wanted to find out what happened next!

9. Book you read in 2014 that you are most likely to re-read next year?  I don't re-read.  At some point in the future, though, I might like to read Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone series again.  But it probably won't be next year.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014?  Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.  I know I've mentioned my love of this cover on my blog before, but I have to mention it again.  It's something about the colours combined with the silhouette of the little girl and her book.  It's just so pretty!

11. Most memorable character of 2014? Ty from Stolen by Lucy Christopher.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2014?  Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor.  I have to keep a dictionary on hand when I'm reading Taylor's writing, but it's just so beautiful that I don't care.

13. Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2014?  Surrender by Sonya Hartnett.  It wasn't life-changing, but it was certainly thought-provoking.  I'm still trying to decide exactly what happened in that story!

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read?  Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.  I actually did pick it up years ago, but couldn't get into it then.  I'm surprised that, once I found out how much I liked verse novels, I didn't pick it up again sooner!

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2014?  The feeling, it was the sense of waiting drawing to an end. Not dread waiting, but excited waiting of the best kind: waiting for magic. ~ from Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

16. Shortest & longest book you read in 2014?  I read a number of 32-page picture books, but I'm not going to count those.
Shortest novel: Free as a Bird by Gina McMurchy-Barber.
Longest novel: Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor.

17. Book that shocked you the most (because of a plot twist, character death, left you hanging with your mouth wide open, etc.)?  Surrender by Sonya Hartnett.  (This book will mess with your mind.)

18. OTP of the year (you will go down with this ship!)?  Alex & Blue from The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare.  I can't wait to see where this relationship goes in the sequel!

19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year?  Po & Bundle from Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver.  I don't think I've ever seen a ghost/ghost-pet relationship before.  It was so cute!

20. Favorite book you read in 2014 from an author you’ve read previously?  Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor.  (I read the first book in the series, Daughter of Smoke & Bone, last year.)

21. Best book you read in 2014 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure?  Well, it wasn't solely based on recommendations because I'd already read the first book and enjoyed it, but I was told I needed to read the sequels.  So the answer is Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor.  (This book is sure turning up on this list a lot.  And we're not done yet!)

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2014?  Hazael from Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor.  Give me Haz over Akiva any day!

23. Best 2014 debut you read?  The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M. G. Buehrlen.

24. Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting you read this year?  Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

25. Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?  Journey by Aaron Becker.  This wordless picture book actually got my highest rating in 2014!

26. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2014?  Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor.

27. Hidden gem of the year?  Free as a Bird by Gina McMurchy-Barber.  I'd never even heard of it before I read it.  It's too bad that more people haven't discovered it... because it's really quite good!

28. Book that crushed your soul?  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  (I lost a lot of faith in humanity -- or at least in readers -- after this one.  Why is this awful book so popular?!)

29. Most unique book you read in 2014?  You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey & Soyeon Kim.  (The message and the art in this picture book were like nothing I'd seen before... especially in a book aimed at children.)

30. Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?  Oh, but I didn't like it!  The winner in this category goes to Vivian Versus the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle.  (This was the worst novel I read this year, and the only one to get my dead ladybug rating.  I'm mad that I wasted time on it when I could've been reading something less pointless.)

Your Blogging/Bookish Life

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2014?  Paper Fury.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2014?  Neverland by Anna Katmore.  (I had way too much fun snarking on the ridiculousness of this book.  Sorry!)

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?  I didn't really have many of those this year.  That's something I hope to change in 2015.

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?  I always enjoy participating in Top Ten Tuesday.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2014?  Finishing Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone series and realizing that I'd really enjoyed it!  (I don't have the best luck with series enders.)

7. Most popular post this year on your blog (whether it be by comments or views)?  I have no idea.  Blogger doesn't exactly make it easy to track these things.

8. Post you wished got a little more love?  I can't think of one post in particular.  I do wish my review posts got a little more attention, though.

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?  Riffle Select's newsletter.  My TBR pile has grown at an insane rate since Riffle started letting me know about bookish deals.

10. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?  I did the Goodreads challenge and decided to read 13 books.  I finished that back in June!

Looking Ahead

1. One book you didn’t get to in 2014 but will be your number one priority in 2015?  Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.  (I think I'm the last book blogger in the world to read this one.)

2. Book you are most anticipating for 2015 (non-debut)?  The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare by M. G. Buehrlen.

3. 2015 debut you are most anticipating?  The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes.

4. Series ending/a sequel you are most anticipating in 2015?  End of Days by Susan Ee.

5. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2015?  I want to enjoy more of the books I read.  Allowing myself to DNF when I need to should help with this.

6. A 2015 release you’ve already read & recommend to everyone?  I haven't read any 2015 releases yet!

So that was my bookish year!
How was 2014 for you?

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Goals/Resolutions For 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Goals/Resolutions For 2015.  I don't really like making New Year's resolutions; I almost always break them.  But there are some things I'd like to do differently in the coming year:

10. Allow myself to DNF... even if I paid money for the book.  I'm terrible with DNFing, especially if the book is one that I bought.  I need to give myself permission to DNF.  I just did it with two books; I was trying desperately to get through both, but after pushing myself to about the halfway point, I just couldn't go any further.  I'm going to set my threshold at 25%; if a book hasn't grabbed my attention by then, it's probably not going to.

9. Avoid buying any new books... unless they're already on my want-to-read list.  My TBR pile is ridiculous as it is; I don't really need any more books.  But I'm not going to stop myself from reading some of the 2015 releases that I've been looking forward to!

8. Read one book from the TBR pile for every library or NetGalley book that I read.  Otherwise, I'll never get through that TBR pile.

7. Write more blog posts that aren't memes.  Hey, we all like memes, but sometimes the best posts out there are ones that are written off the top of a blogger's head.

6. Come up with a better review format.  I think I need something a little more... structured.  As it is, I feel like I fall into a pattern of listing everything that's wrong with a book and neglecting its good aspects.

5. Comment on other bloggers' blogs more... and leave thoughtful comments.  I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.  We all like to know whether or not our thoughts have been read and appreciated.  If I really like someone's blog post, I'm going to let them know!

4. Read more books outside of my comfort zone.  Some of my favourite reads have been stumbled upon when I tried something outside of my preferred genre.  Many of my recent favourites have been historical fiction... so maybe I should actively try to read more of it.

3. Keep non-novel reviews to Goodreads.  While I have enjoyed reading and reviewing more picture books this past year, I think I'd like to keep my blog as a novel-only space from now on.  I haven't decided yet whether I'll leave the existing picture-book reviews up or not.

2. Complete the 2015 challenges that I signed up for.  As of right now, I've only signed up for two.  If some of the books overlap, I'll have to read at least 11 books this year to complete both challenges.

1. Try to enjoy reading more.  This ties in with #10.  When reading a book becomes a chore, or makes me feel like I'm back in my high school English class, it's time to call it quits.  Nobody's forcing me to read these books; I may need to remind myself of that from time to time.

What are your blogging/reading resolutions for 2015?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Review - My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century (DNF)

My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century (My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century #1)
by Rachel Harris
Date: 2012
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 304
Format: e-book

On the precipice of her sixteenth birthday, the last thing lone wolf Cat Crawford wants is an extravagant gala thrown by her bubbly stepmother and well-meaning father. So even though Cat knows the family’s trip to Florence, Italy, is a peace offering, she embraces the magical city and all it offers. But when her curiosity leads her to an unusual gypsy tent, she exits... right into Renaissance Firenze.

Thrust into the sixteenth century armed with only a backpack full of contraband future items, Cat joins up with her ancestors, the sweet Alessandra and protective Cipriano, and soon falls for the gorgeous aspiring artist Lorenzo. But when the much-older Niccolo starts sniffing around, Cat realizes that an unwanted birthday party is nothing compared to an unwanted suitor full of creeptastic amore. Can she find her way back to modern times before her Italian adventure turns into an Italian forever?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I thought this would be a cute, fluffy, fun read.  It was sort of cute.  It was definitely fluffy.  I didn't really have much fun reading it, though.  I got to 54%... and I don't want to kill any more brain cells.

The book seems to be aimed at a younger YA audience.  Cat is not yet sixteen, and she does come across as pretty young at times.  Unfortunately, the author also comes across as young -- or at least as someone who didn't really do that much research.  And when you're writing a book about a girl who goes back in time to Renaissance Florence, you really do need to do your research.

One of the main issues I noticed, aside from the numerous historical anachronisms (such as the boys punching each other in the shoulder like 21st-century teenagers) and outright inaccuracies (Cat's favourite painting was not by the artist she claimed it was... but by his apprentice), was the language problem.  When Cat goes back in time, she can somehow magically speak Italian.  This leads to a lot of weirdness when she says things like, "Who's that dude?"  Since that's a 19th-century word, and Cat's magically translating as she goes, most likely she would have simply said something like uomo... which shouldn't have made her relatives give her weird looks.  This "English as default" issue has come up in other books, such as Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone series (where they were making plays on English words... while supposedly speaking Czech), but in this case it's doubly annoying because it's so forced.  I don't think we need Cat to use so much slang like a giggly modern teenager to get the point across that she's a fish out of water.  There were plenty of other gaffes that didn't involve language that conveyed that message just fine.

I don't really like Cat's character, either.  She's so self-deprecating that I wanted to roll my eyes.  The fact that a boy might like her is beyond her comprehension, even though it's painfully obvious to everyone else.  Self-deprecation is okay in small doses, but here it was bordering on the ridiculous... and made even more annoying by her "poor little rich girl" attitude.  She grew up wealthy, is loved by her father and stepmother, and never wants for anything... and yet she has the nerve to continually whine about it all.  Poor me... my parents are famous.  Poor me... my stepmother wants to throw me a sweet sixteen party.  Poor me... I'm not as pretty as my movie-star mother, so therefore I must be ugly and unlovable.  I just wanted to smack her after a while.  She's also one of those people who seems to have her mind made up about everything.  As a result, she comes across as really judgmental.  Despite the fact that she's never had a boyfriend, she's suddenly an expert on young men and how they act, and immediately judges Lorenzo -- the love interest -- as an egotistical player... based on very little, other than hearsay and the fact that he's handsome.  She's continually surprised when people's behaviour runs contrary to what she expects, based on her snap judgments.  This started on the first page, with her whining about her perfectly nice (if overly exuberant) stepmother.  Her real mother sounds like a distant, cold diva of a woman... so I was never really sure what Cat's problem with her warm, friendly stepmother was.  It was as if she hated her just because she was supposed to.

The telling versus showing was the worst I've seen in a while.  Cat has to repeatedly tell us how she builds walls around herself to keep people out so she won't get used and/or hurt.  She tells us her stepmother is just throwing the sweet sixteen party so she'll be featured in a magazine.  She tells us that Lorenzo is a player because he's handsome.  You know what?  I didn't believe any of it.  There wasn't much evidence of Cat being used or hurt by people, her stepmother's actions suggested nothing more than a well-intentioned gesture, and Lorenzo (at least up to the 54% mark) had been nothing more than a really nice guy.  It's one thing to tell us all these things... but if they simply don't match with what we're shown, then you have to wonder if the narrator is trustworthy.

Oh, and that painting that Cat loves so much?  The one that birthed her interest in Renaissance art and inspired her to get a tattoo?  Here you go:

Next time, Cat, try to pick a painting with a creepier baby Jesus.  *shudder*

I bought this book and its sequel, so I felt kind of obligated to finish.  But I just couldn't.  While the premise is cute, the characters and weak "telling" writing really brought down my enjoyment of this book.

So, in the final analysis, the reasons why I didn't finish My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century are as follows:
  • historical anachronisms/inaccuracies
  • unlikeable main character
  • way too much telling, not enough showing
  • amateurish style

Review - And We Stay (DNF)

And We Stay
by Jenny Hubbard
Date: 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 240
Format: e-book
Source: library

When high school senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school library with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend Emily Beam, then takes his own life. In the wake of the tragedy, an angry and guilt-ridden Emily is shipped off to boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she encounters a ghostly presence who shares her name. The spirit of Emily Dickinson and two quirky girls offer helping hands, but it is up to Emily to heal her own damaged self.

This inventive story, told in verse and in prose, paints the aftermath of tragedy as a landscape where there is good behind the bad, hope inside the despair, and springtime under the snow.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I really thought I'd like this book.  But, at 47%, I feel like I'm reading page after page and getting nowhere.  For such a short book, it's extremely slow... so slow, in fact, that I'm beginning to wonder if it's warping the space-time continuum somehow.

Going into the book, I knew the subject matter was going to be heavy.  And it is.  But I can't really care about any of it because of the way the author wrote the story.  The style is very detached.  It's written in the third person, mostly in the present tense (with flashbacks in the past tense).  But it's almost as if the author made a conscious decision to separate the character from her readers.  We're told (rather than shown) how Emily's feeling, and when the author refers to Emily by her full name, it comes across as really formal and alienates the reader from the characters even more.  I've read newspaper articles that weren't so detached!

I thought I might like the book because of the addition of the verse sections, but And We Stay is really nothing like a verse novel.  The structure reminds me more of Mary E. Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which is mainly a prose novel with a few poems interspersed throughout.  I really wasn't crazy about the poems in this book, however; they seemed more like filler than anything else, and did little other than reinforce what we'd already learned.

And now we come to my biggest complain with the book: There are too many secrets.  The author holds too much back, and it got to the point where I felt like I was being manipulated as a reader.  The secrets come out slowly, in tiny little bits.  The author also chose to set the book in the winter of 1994-1995, which further adds to the problem.  None of the girls at Emily's school can just Google her to find out the real story of what happened.  They (and we) are at the mercy of Emily and the author for information... whenever they choose to reveal it.  And, after a while, it got so tiresome that I just didn't care anymore.

So, in the final analysis, the reasons why I didn't finish And We Stay are as follows:
  • too slow
  • unrelatable main character
  • reader manipulation
  • boredom

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Weekly Recap - December 21-27, 2014

Here's what I blogged about over the last seven days:

Monday - I reviewed Angelina's Big City Ballet by Katharine Holabird & Helen Craig and gave it 3.83 ladybugs.

Wednesday - I reviewed A Night in Santa's Great Big Bag by Kristin Kladstrup & Tim Jessell and gave it 3.83 ladybugs.

Thursday - I reviewed My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins and gave it 2.96 ladybugs.  I really wasn't impressed with most of the stories; only the first and last ones were amazing!

Friday - I signed up for the 2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge.  I'm going to try to read between 11 and 20 books from my TBR pile next year (I need to get through that stack)!

Saturday - I shared a link to an old post I wrote in August of 2009.  Ever wanted to write your own paranormal romance?  I'll give you some tips...

How was your week?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Ghosts of Blogging Past - How to Write Your Very Own Young Adult Paranormal Romance

I came across this old post when I was searching my blog for something else.  I barely remember writing it!  It was written more than five years ago, shortly after I started blogging, and I'd obviously been reading a lot of paranormal romances.  Unfortunately, based on the books I've read in the past five years, much of this is still applicable:

How to Write Your Very Own Young Adult Paranormal Romance

Friday, December 26, 2014

2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge

My TBR pile has become... unmanageable.  I really need to stop acquiring new books!  To help me get through the stack I do have, I decided to join the 2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge, hosted at Bookish:


I'm not sure how many books I'm going to get through in 2015.  I've already signed up for the Fairytale Retelling Challenge, and a few of those will be books from my TBR pile.  So I think I'm going to go for the A Friendly Hug level, which is 11-20 books.

Here are the books I've read (to be added as I finish them):

1. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
2. The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski
3. Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff
4. The Wide-Awake Princess by E. D. Baker
5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
6. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
7. Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
8. Freak of Nature by Julia Crane
9. Plain Kate by Erin Bow
10. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
11. Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

11/11 books. 100% done!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Review - My True Love Gave to Me

My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories
edited by Stephanie Perkins
Date: 2014
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Reading level: YA
Book type: short stories
Pages: 336
Format: e-book
Source: library

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins. Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or Kwanzaa, there’s something here for everyone. So curl up by the fireplace and get cozy. You have twelve reasons to stay indoors and fall in love.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I reserved this book at the library and (of course) it became available when I already had two other books on the go.  Since this one is season-specific, I figured I'd better concentrate on getting through it.

I was only familiar with a few of the authors going into it, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to sample the writing of some YA authors that I'd only heard of.

Here are my thoughts on the individual stories:

"Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell - This was my first exposure to Rainbow Rowell's writing, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised.  The characters weren't annoying or pretentious, though they were a bit quirky in their own way.  They felt pretty real, actually.  This was a cute little story about a number of New Year's Eves over the course of a few years, and how two teenaged friends celebrated those midnight moments.

"The Lady and the Fox" by Kelly Link - This story appears to be a variation on "The Ballad of Tam Lin" (with shades of "The Snow Queen" thrown in for good measure).  Although I liked the story, I wasn't a fan of the writing style.  There were just a few too many sentence fragments and comma splices for my taste...

"Angels in the Snow" by Matt de la Peña - I know it's the character's voice, but geez... say "shit" a few more times, will ya?  Fifteen times in a short story is... well, a bit much.  And that's coming from someone who swears like a sailor.  Other than that, this is a cute story about a guy and a girl who are sort of trapped in an otherwise-vacant apartment building by a Christmas blizzard... but it didn't really wow me.

"Polaris Is Where You'll Find Me" by Jenny Han - I didn't really like this one.  It was written passably well, but it came off as really juvenile (it is about Santa Claus and elves, after all) and also seemed a little bit racist.  Replace human/elf with black/white and you'll see what I mean; it's basically implied that you stick to your own kind, no matter what mutual feelings you both might share.  And since Santa's adopted daughter was Korean and "fell for" a blond Swede, that message was even more confusing.  (I honestly don't know what the point of this story was.  The girl was in love with an elf.  She couldn't have him because he was an elf and she was a human.  They supposedly had feelings for each other, though, despite having next to zero chemistry on the page.  Then the human girl is pushed into having a relationship with the one and only human boy she's ever met, simply because they're both human.  Sorry... I don't get it.)

"It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins - I wasn't that crazy about this story, which features a girl named Marigold and a boy named North, who basically spend a few hours together tidying Marigold's apartment to make room for a Christmas tree.  And then they abruptly decide they need to make out.  It was just a little too insta-lovey for me.  In a longer format where the characters could've gotten to know each other over a longer period of time, it might have worked.  But in a short story, the sudden transition from "let's chat over coffee" to "let me stick my tongue down your throat" within a few hours is almost enough to give the reader whiplash.

"Your Temporary Santa" by David Levithan - In this story, a boy dresses up as Santa Claus at the request of his boyfriend to bring a little magic to his six-year-old sister.  There were some intriguing things that were hinted at, and which could have made for an interesting novel.  My main issue with this story was that it was too short; it seemed like a chapter from a novel rather than a stand-alone short story.

"Krampuslauf" by Holly Black - I haven't been a fan of Holly Black's stories in the past.  They're often too gritty and edgy for my taste.  This story was no exception... though I did like the basic premise behind it, with a girl throwing a New Year's party where some magical creatures show up.  And that's why I was super frustrated with the weak writing and editing (which has been my major complaint with this author's writing in the past; see my review for The Poison Eaters).  Compared to the other stories in this book, this one comes off as unpolished and amateurish.

"What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Forman - This is a story about a girl who gets into a car with a complete stranger, and then he kills her in a cornfield while she asks herself the titular question.  Just kidding.  No, this is a short story about two college kids eating pie and hash browns, with a completely obnoxious and unlikeable main character, insta-love, and a final section so sappy that you may actually gag a little.  If you're a Christian, you might be offended by all the Christmas-bashing.  Heck, I was kind of offended, and I'm not a Christian.  (This story also has some of the nastiest language in the book.  Sophie repeatedly refers to her college town as "Bumfuckville".)

"Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus" by Myra McEntire - I started out enjoying this one, about a troublemaker who ends up having to make amends for setting the church on fire by helping with the Christmas pageant... but things took a wrong turn when Vaughn and Gracie started spouting unrealistic dialogue at each other.  They sounded like a couple of psychologists... not teenagers.  By the end of it, it was just one big eye-roll.

"Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Kiersten White - I wasn't sure if I liked this story at first.  The main character, Maria, comes off as pretty prickly, and I didn't think I'd like being in her head.  But the story actually moves along quite well.  Aside from a bit of sappiness, a few stereotypes, and a couple of technical writing issues, this is actually a pretty good story.  Although, I did wish we'd found out more about Ben's past.

"Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter - This is a passably well-written story about a girl who trades plane tickets with a stranger at the airport and finds herself living in the middle of nowhere with a nice family (and a cute boy, of course).  While I did get pulled into the story itself, at the end I was a little bit underwhelmed when the girl's big secret was revealed; I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't that.  The whole premise wasn't very realistic.

"The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer" by Laini Taylor - Though this author's writing drives me to the dictionary every other page or so, I really can't get enough of it.  This was my favourite story in the whole book.  It's like a fairytale, complete with magic and love and a holiday setting.  Neve is sought by a man she could never love and, in her desperation, accidentally awakens a force that she didn't even know existed.  If you enjoyed the mythology aspects of Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, you'll probably like this story, too.

All in all, this was kind of a mixed bag for me, with the two best tales acting as bookends for some more mediocre holiday stories.  While most of the stories didn't really wow me, a few have made me curious about their authors (who were unfamiliar to me before).  It's fun to read holiday-themed stories during the holidays, but I'm not sure if I'd ever want to read any of these on a yearly basis -- with the possible exception of "Midnights" and "The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer".

Overall: 2.96 out of 5

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Review - A Night in Santa's Great Big Bag

A Night in Santa's Great Big Bag
by Kristin Kladstrup
illustrated by Tim Jessell
Date: 2010
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: We Give Books

It's Christmas Eve, and Louis's favorite stuffed animal, Lamb, couldn't be more excited. While Louis is asleep, Lamb tiptoes downstairs and climbs into Santa's great big bag of presents. Inside is a magical world, filled with new friends: other toys waiting to be delivered as gifts. But soon Lamb starts to miss Louis, and he worries he will never make his way back home. Fortunately, Santa is there to save the day, and Louis is just a short sleigh ride away. Tim Jessell's exuberant art and Kristin Kladstrup's lively writing create a Christmastime world that you won't want to leave.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a completely inoffensive, charming picture book for very young children that would make for a lovely read-aloud session on Christmas Eve.  The story is very simple, about a stuffed toy lamb that stows away in Santa's bag.  He meets a variety of toys, and then has to figure out how to get back to his owner, Louis.

The illustrations are really the most magical part of this book.  They all have a warm, twinkly sort of ambiance to them.  The way the illustrator painted the toys, all illuminated with softly glowing light, is quite beautiful.  The whole thing reminds me of lit Christmas trees and crackling fireplaces.

While it's not the most intellectually challenging book, it is cute and sweet and comforting, like a mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter's night.

Quotable moment:

Santa's hand reached into the bag and picked up a dump truck.
"Good-bye!" shouted the truck.
"Good-bye!" shouted the toys.

Santa's hand reached in again and picked up the doll.
"Good-bye!" said the doll.
"Good-bye!" shouted the toys.

Recommended to: families with young children who can't wait for Santa to pay them a visit

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 5/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Monday, December 22, 2014

Review - Angelina's Big City Ballet

Angelina's Big City Ballet
by Katharine Holabird
illustrated by Helen Craig
Date: 2014
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

For the first time ever, Angelina is visiting the most famous city in Mouseland: the Big Cheese! She can’t wait to explore the city and perform her fairy ballet. But her cousin Jeanie tells Angelina that tap dancing is much better than ballet. How can the two girls overcome their differences and learn to work together in time for the big show?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've known about Angelina Ballerina, the little dancing mouse, for a while, but I'd never had a look at any of the books about her.  Angelina's Big City Ballet is a cute little story about a ballet-dancing mouse who visits her city cousin, who is a tap-dancing mouse.  The plot is a fairly straightforward one, about differing opinions, and the girls eventually work out their differences to put on a great show.

The illustrations are cute, and the writing is solid.  I probably would have liked this book (along with the other books about Angelina Ballerina) when I was a child, since I was really into ballet when I was in kindergarten; this little mouse and her adventures would have been right up my alley!

Quotable moment:

At last the big night arrived, and Angelina and Jeanie joined all the other young dancers backstage at the Big Cheese Dance Show. When Angelina saw the beautiful stage lit up with lights, and the eagerly waiting crowds, her tail tingled with excitement.

Recommended to: young children who enjoy dancing and anthropomorphized characters

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Weekly Recap - December 14-20, 2014

Here's what I blogged about over the last seven days:

Monday - I signed up for the 2014 Fairytale Retelling Challenge.  I'm hoping to read 5-9 fairytale retellings next year.

Tuesday - I participated in the Top Ten Tuesday meme.  This week's topic was the top ten books we read in 2014.

Thursday - I participated in Booking Through Thursday, where we discussed whether or not we read books written for children and teens.  Um... yeah!

Saturday - I shared the books I got this week in New to the TBR Pile.  I got one book from the library a couple of weeks ago, and I bought a discounted e-book from  In the new year, I think I'm going to switch to a monthly feature... if I can keep track of all the books!

Things have been a little slow on my blog lately.  I've been doing things other than reading, and Christmas is coming, and -- oh, crap! -- I haven't finished my shopping yet.  I've been slowly working my way through a book of holiday short stories (from the library), so the other books I was reading have been put on hold for the moment.

How was your week?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New to the TBR Pile (13)

Borrowed from the library:
My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories
edited by Stephanie Perkins

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins.

Bought from
Red Rising
by Pierce Brown

The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity's last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it's all a lie. That Mars has been habitable - and inhabited - for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield - and Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda.

What's new to your TBR pile this week?  Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Booking Through Thursday (41)

Booking Through Thursday asks:

Do you read books written for children or teens? Or do you stick to books for adults?

I read books written for non-adults all the time.  In fact, that's mostly what I read!  When I started this blog, I was reading mostly YA and MG... and then I added in more picture books.  I have read and reviewed a few adult titles, but they make up a very small percentage of my reviews.

I really feel like I should read more adult titles, though, especially since I haven't been all that thrilled with some of my YA reads lately.  I have a few adult novels in my TBR pile; maybe I'll get to them next year.

Do you read books written for other age groups?  Tell me in the comments!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I Read In 2014

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Books I Read In 2014.  I've got three books on the go at the moment, but I kind of doubt that any of them would make it onto this list, anyway.  So here goes!  These are the novels that got the highest ratings this year (I reviewed some picture books that got high ratings, too, but nobody seems to care about those):

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson - This verse memoir comes in at #10, but I think it probably wins for my favourite cover of the year.  It's one of three verse novels that made it into my top ten this year, all of which were historical fiction.

3.71 ladybugs

Surrender by Sonya Hartnett - I had no idea when I started this book that it would mess with my mind as much as it did.  What really happened in that small Australian town?  Who was Finnigan, really?  The setting was written so well that I could actually imagine myself there, and the characters kept me guessing.  It was also one of the few books I read this year with a male narrator.

4 ladybugs

The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle - I don't think I've ever read a book set in Cuba before... and I've certainly never read a book set in Cuba in the 1820s.  This lovely historical verse novel is narrated by Tula, a young girl who yearns to become a poet.  Her ideas about abolitionism and feminism are quite revolutionary for the time, and I enjoyed the free verse that was used to describe Caribbean life in the 19th century.

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Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor - I think this book would've made my top ten list no matter what year I'd read it.  It really was a good, satisfying ending to a young adult series... and there are very few books that I can say that about.  The author's writing, combined with the fascinating cast of characters and amazing world-building, took this book to a whole other level.  If she writes another series, I'm definitely going to give it a try!

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All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry - I'm still not sure whether to class this as historical fiction or not.  It takes place in a world that seems much like colonial New England, though the location and time period are never specified.  No matter; it's the story that's important, and this is an interesting one, a mystery that just begs to be solved.  The narrator starts out as mute, but she has a lot to say... if only she can figure out how to do so.

4.29 ladybugs

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse - This was the best verse novel I read in 2014, though it's the one that's been out for the longest.  I really enjoyed the story, and the setting of the Dust Bowl was something I wasn't that familiar with.  Though I might hesitate to recommend it to younger children because of some of the subject matter, I do think it's a really strong book and a must-read for fans of historical fiction.

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Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver - Despite my assertion that fantasy is my favourite genre, there really isn't a lot of it on this list!  But I did really enjoy this middle grade novel from Lauren Oliver, who also wrote Before I Fall, one of my favourite books of all time.  This charming story about a girl, a boy, and a couple of ghosts reads like a classic children's novel from another era.  It has the most adorable illustrations, too!

4.43 ladybugs

Free as a Bird by Gina McMurchy-Barber - I truly never expected to like this book as much as I did.  I chose to read it because it was short, and because it had a local setting.  But then I ended up falling in love with Ruby Jean's voice, and that really made the book work for me.  It's historical fiction about a girl with Down syndrome whose mother dumps her in the provincial asylum.  Not exactly light reading, but Ruby Jean's unique view of the world helped lighten what would otherwise be unbearably dreary subject matter.  The author's notes at the end about the actual "school" where Ruby Jean was placed were almost as interesting as the story itself, and well worth reading.

4.43 ladybugs

Stolen by Lucy Christopher - I really enjoyed this book, even though it's not the sort of thing I normally gravitate towards.  Like Surrender, this one is also set in Australia... but this time, it's the Outback.  Gemma is kidnapped by a young man and taken out to a remote homestead where there is no chance of escape.  While the ending is somewhat of a foregone conclusion (after all, the whole book is written in the second person point of view as a letter to Gemma's captor), the story itself is really kind of amazing.  The character development of the villain was especially skillful.

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Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor - Two Laini Taylor books on one list?  Yes... and there probably would have been three, had I not read the first book in the series in 2013.  I actually thought this second book was the strongest of the three, though maybe that was because it had the most development for two of my favourite characters, Hazael and Ziri.  In any case, the book was great, the series was great, and Laini Taylor is kind of a genius.

4.71 ladybugs

What were the top books you read this year?