Best Books of 2014

As this year comes to a close I think its time to chat about our favorite books of the year. For me, this was a tough reading year. There were definitely some books I LOVED, but it feels like there was less that totally blew me away. Because of this I spent a megaton of time re-reading books (okay, I always do that, but still). This year I found myself more lost in love with certain classics, or certain series and stand alones I’ve read multiple times, and those books—ones like Jellicoe Road, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, Princess in Love, To Kill A Mockingbird, and the Jenny Han Summer series—often took center stage.

 

But fear not. I read some good new (or new to me) ones too.

 

The Stand Alones/ First in a Series

Better off friends

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

It was sold as a YA When Harry Met Sally and it really is all that and more. This was one of those books I wanted to start reading again immediately after finishing it.

 We were Liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

In a word, breathtaking.

 

To All the BoysTo All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (#1) by Jenny Han

This book was so cute, so fun, and something in it just resonated with me. I read it and adored it and then, within months, read it again and loved it just the same.

More Than ThisMore Than This by Patrick Ness

You really can’t go wrong with Patrick Ness. The big question here is why on earth did I wait so long to read this?

 wonder

Wonder by RJ Palacio

I avoided this book forever because I worried that as a mommy it would be unbelievably difficult to read. And you know what? It was every bit as amazing as I’d heard and more. Yes, there were tears, but there was so much joy, so much warmth. This one dug a hole deep in my heart. I think it should be required reading for all kids.

these broken starsThese Broken Stars ( Starbound #1) by Aimee Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

I loved this book from the first pages. It was unique and intriguing, and it took me on an entirely different journey than the one I’d expected. And the swoons were pretty excellent. Like, really good.

 

The Sequels

 

Blue lilyBlue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Boys #3) by Maggie Stiefvater

I can’t get enough of the gorgeous prose, of these characters, or of the crazy bananapants problems they encounter. After the fourth and final installment I’m certain to be grieving their loss.

Gods and MonstersDreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3) by Laini Taylor

Oh, this series. See what I wrote above about grieving? All the feels. I can’t even explain it.

 

Ignite MeIgnite Me (Shatter Me #3) by Tahereh Mafi

Oh sweet holy moly, these books. And Warner, setting panties aflame across the nation. This was a good journey and though it was technically the end (and a good, solid end), Mafi wrote it in a way that left a whole new world of possibilities to explore.

 

Just Call My NameJust Call My Name (I’ll Be There #2) by Holly Goldberg Sloan

These characters slay me. Even though the first book ended so perfectly, I like that Sloan chose to explore some of the difficulties that follow Sam, Riddle, and Emily as they adjust to their new lives. Even happy endings take work.

 

 

Honorable Mentions:

Since You've Been GoneSince You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson- So adorably cute that I’ll be reading it again soon. It gave me happy feelings.

 

Second Chanc SummerSecond Chance Summer by Morgan Matson- Another case of why did I wait so long?

Biggest FlirtsBiggest Flirts (The Superlatives #1) by Jennifer Echols- All. The. Banter. I was into this book all the way, hook, line and sinker.

 

Happy Reading! If you’ve read something that knocked your socks off, please share it with me!

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Just Call My Name

18607158Just Call My Name (I’ll Be There #2) by Holly Goldberg Sloan

 

Emily Bell has it all. She’s in love with a boy named Sam Border, and his little brother has become part of her family. This summer is destined to be the best time of their lives–until a charismatic new girl in town sets her sights on Sam. Now Emily finds herself questioning the loyalty of the person she thought she could trust most.

But the biggest threat to her happiness is someone she never saw coming. Sam’s criminally insane father, whom everyone thought they’d finally left behind, is planning a jailbreak. And he knows exactly where to find Emily and his sons when he escapes…and takes his revenge. (Goodreads)

Just Call My Name picks up soon after the close of I’ll Be There, the stellar debut novel by Holly Goldberg Sloan. After the emotional, nicely tied up ending of the first book we settle in with the characters we first fell for and find out exactly what happens when they get their happy ending.  The truth is, it’s a lot of work, especially for Sam and Riddle, who’ve never had a normal life, never had stability or security, and have only been able to rely on each other.

In Just Call My Name, the boys are settling into their new lives, Riddle with the Bell family, who have adopted him, and Sam in an apartment nearby (the Bells wanted to adopt Sam as well, but since he was about to turn eighteen they were told it wasn’t necessary). Riddle is learning to read, trying to fit in with the adoptive family he adores (and the new brother who seems a teensy bit jealous of him). Sam is attending college and walks to the Bell family home on a daily basis to visit his younger brother. He’s struggling more with the adjustment process, so used to constantly worrying over Riddle. This new happiness is foreign and he lives as though it may somehow slip from his grasp.

Emily has a job at a local restaurant, joined by the ever-annoying Robb. Don’t call him Bobby. No, no, no. It’s Robb. Two B’s. And he’s every bit as obnoxious as that extra B makes him sound–at first. He still has this odd fixation with Emily that borders on creepy and he just doesn’t get what she sees in Sam. Sam and Emily are treading slowly, but we are able to see that these two seem to have an unshakable bond, something even they don’t quite understand.

But remember that they are, in fact, teenagers. As such, one night as Sam waits outside the restaurant for Emily to finish her shift, he meets Destiny, a girl who works at the boutique next door. Destiny has a pretty rough background and can use the help of a few friends, but she makes Emily uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s so experienced in life. Maybe it’s the way she dresses, or her obvious interest in Sam. Whatever it is, Emily can’t shake the feeling that this girl is trouble.

And let’s not forget Clarence Border, that stealth, arrogant man, so evil and driven in his contempt for his boys and the way they’ve been “brainwashed” by the Bells. He manages to escape prison and sets out get Sam and Riddle back to teach them all a lesson about how traitorous they’ve been.

My Thoughts:

I loved this book. I fell in love with the characters the first time around, and I loved them equally here. Sam is a genuinely tormented young man, balancing the damage done by his father, the changes in responsibilities with his brother (entrusting him to the Bells), and his deep love for Emily,which often confuses him in how beautiful and overwhelming it can be. The closer he gets to her, the more afraid he seems to be of letting her see how damaged he really is.  This is where Destiny finds a slight connection with him. In some ways, they understand each other. Emily is understandably insecure, but she’s still the bright, brave girl we met the first time around. I had mixed feelings about Robb and Destiny (of course I hated her at first because DON’T EVEN), but they both earned my respect in the things they were willing to do for their friends. The star of the show though was Riddle who, through the love of his new family and that of his big brother, has grown more vocal, and has embraced his new life with bright curiosity. I dare you not to fall in love with this kid.

If I have any complaints about this book it’s the fact that Emily’s parents play such a small role. They were such an integral part of the last book and they are the reason Emily is the girl she is, which is evident in the way they’ve taken in the boys (especially considering how awkward it must be to have their adoptive son’s big brother who is an almost-adult dating their daughter). Otherwise, this was a great book and a good follow-up to a story I already felt immersed in.

Crush Intensity: 5/5 I love Holly Goldberg Sloan’s omniscient storytelling style that lets us into the minds of multiple characters. Excellent sequel.

 

Thank you to NetGalley and to Little & Brown for giving me an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Film Talk: If I Stay

I’m so sorry it’s taken such a long time to get this review up. I’ve tried in a multitude of ways to make an actual vlog because…there’s stuff to say. I mean, Jamie Blackley? Hubba hubba. But technology, at least of the video posting variety, is not my friend. I probably could have gotten my twelve-year-old to figure it out in two seconds, but there this thing called pride.

Have you seen the film, If I Stay yet? And if so, what did you think? I saw it at one of those early release Thursday night showings. There were no dudes in the theater, which, while not surprising, I found funny. I went with two dear friends who love the books, and we had our tissues in hand.

I have to say, I really liked it. I think it’s absolutely a fan’s movie. It is, of course, possible to enjoy it if you haven’t read the book, but as is true in all cases, the book is always better. Let’s break it down:

THE CAST

Mia and Adam

Mia and Adam

I thought this group was put together beautifully. I initially had my doubts about Chloe Grace Moretz as Mia only because I still see her as that foul-mouthed cutie from Kick Ass, but she held her own as this strong young woman who is literally grappling with life and death. Jamie Blackley was divine as Adam because, well, Adam is Adam, flawed and perfect all at the same time. He captured that desperate way Adam loves Mia, a heartfelt, soulful guy rolled up into a rocker on the verge of something big.

More than anyone else in the film—more than Kim, or Teddy, or Grandpa—I loved Mia’s parents, Kat and Denny. They were played so well by Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard. I fell in love with these characters in each book, this quirky balance of aging rockers meet loving, hip, parents. They are innately cooler than their daughter, at least, in her eyes. And these actors nail it. They are Kat and Denny.

Mom and Dad encouraging Mia, as always.

Mom and Dad encouraging Mia, as always.

Dad and teddy

Dad and Teddy

Dad with Teddy as a baby. OMG. Be right back there’s something in my eye.

 

The Changes

Every movie does it. Sometimes it seems quite necessary, other times it makes no sense to me. In this film there are minor changes and some details left out, but nothing HUGE. Adam’s background is a little different and I guess that was supposed to make him seem edgier. After the accident there are some changes in terms of injuries and who is hurt at what times (meaning, Mia’s dad is not killed on impact). It didn’t feel necessary to me, but it didn’t really change things either.

I think they kept the most important scenes. I would have loved to have seen Mia reading Harry Potter with Teddy (that’s possibly due to the super Harry Potter nerd in me). The issue of Mia and Julliard was a much bigger deal, not only in whether Mia lives or dies, but before the accident, in terms of her relationship with Adam. Of course, the book doesn’t go into exhaustive detail about it really, we just know she and Adam have reached a difficult crossroads in their relationship just before the accident. Overall, it made him feel more demanding.

The Swoons

Yes, they’re all there. Jamie Blackley is quite adept as Adam. He hits the right note, balancing that aching love Adam has for Mia with this sexy confidence Adam has in all things. AS HE SHOULD. There are many lines taken directly from the book, and while they’re beautifully written in the novel, in some moments they feel a little cringeworthy. As with many book to film translations, it’s so different to read those words than to say them out loud.

And can we talk about the sex scene? I took issue with this part of the book, mostly because I was never entirely sure what happened (If you’ve figured it out, that’s great. Don’t e-mail me or anything).  It was really my only complaint about the novel (other than the band name which, thank God, has been changed in the film). But that whole “play me” business? Gone. They have a scene that alludes to sex and it involves chords in music, but it’s tastefully done and gets the point across without any cheese factor. That was definitely a positive change.

Also, I’ve heard some criticism of Mia and her uncertainty about her self worth, about where she fits into her family, and about whether or not Adam really loves her. I cannot tell you how much this aggravates me because, guess what? She’s a teenager. Not only that, she’s a human. I don’t know anyone who had the answers as a kid. As an adult, I’m still grappling.

The Music

Stellar. The fact that Jamie Blackley is a real musician played into it all, I’m sure, but I found myself wanting to go to a Willamete Stone show. Mia has this great moment where she’s explaining to Kim that sometimes after one of Adam’s shows she just wants to lick his face. Normally, I’d say that’s super-gross, but I have to say I SO GET YOU MIA. Maybe when my husband comes home from a tough day of teaching, I’ll lick his face. You never know what love will drive you to do, right?

Here’s a quick clip of the band:

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed this movie and yeah, I totally cried. There are some melodramatic  moments, but overall it was good. It wasn’t a perfect film, but at the end of the day, I found it to be a thoughtful tribute to a book fans loved.

Recently I’ve read a ton of reviewers who are doing the whole “it’s not The Fault in Our Stars thing. This irks me to no end. Outside of the fact that this film is based on a widely successful YA novel, they are completely different. I hate to see them compared in such a way because while yes, they are stories that grapple with death, and love, and life, they are not the same. For all those who want to bash If I Stay as though it’s some sad copy, please remember, If I Stay came first. I say this as an honest devotee to The Fault in Our Stars. Trust me, there’s room for both stories and both films.

Let me leave you with this, one of my favorite scenes in the book, beautifully translated into one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Here a short clip:

 

 

 

 

Film Talk: The Giver

My daughter asked me to read The Giver by Lois Lowry, one of her favorite books,  sometime last year. Of course, I loved it. It goes without saying then that I was so excited to finally see it on the big screen. Like any other fan, I watched the trailer over and over, watched every featurette, and scoured the internet for images from the film long before the release date.

 

We went to see it opening day (and ran into tons of kids from our school) and while there were some slight changes, and maybe a thing or two I would have done differently, I have to say, all four of us really, really loved it. In fact, virtually everyone we know who is a fan of the book that saw the film was very pleased.  So I’m not really understanding the criticism or why it hasn’t done well at the box office. With the kind of following those book have, I’m surprised.

Now, I understand that the book is always, always better than the movie. There’s no question about that. No one can match what’s in our own minds, no one can look or speak or react in the same way our brain dictates. But in this case I felt Jeff Bridges, who labored for years to make this film, made it with love and respect for the story and characters the fans hold dear.

The main issues I hear people griping about are:

1. Jonas’s Age- So, in the book he’s twelve. In the film he’s sixteen. I don’t know the reason for this change. I absolutely believe the story itself has a greater impact when it’s a twelve year-old who takes on the burdens Jonas does. BUT. Sixteen year old Jonas is not like every other sixteen year old you or I know. He is all innocence. In fact, Brenton Thwaites captures that wide-eyed sweetness so well. To me, he looked exactly as I pictured Jonas, only older. I totally freaked out when he was cast, too. I mean, he was way too old, right? Esoecially considering Twaites was twenty-four when he was cast! But I had a year to get over it. It’s not as though it was a surprise going in. And with time and with the images I saw, and finally, the film, he seemed like an excellent choice considering they’d decided to go with a teenage Jonas. Would I have preferred a twelve year-old? Definitely. But it did not make or break the film for me. What everything hinged on was Jonas, who he was, what he was willing to do, and the fact that he–still a child, especially when you consider his upbringing and naiveté concerning the world–was willing to go to the lengths he did.

Jonas and Gabe

2. The Love Story-  I am so sick of hearing this! We know that in the book, Jonas started having dreams and thoughts about Fiona, which he recalled led him to having to start taking his pills. His parents referred to these feelings as “The Stirrings” and assured him it was normal. Had Jonas been twelve in the film I think it would have made sense to leave it there. But he’s sixteen (see item #1). He’s not taking his injections (vs. pills in the book). It’s only natural that he develops an attraction to Fiona. Would I call it romantic love? No. It was the beginning of something. It was curiosity, and considering his age, it was far more authentic to do that than to ignore that hormonally and emotionally he was going to experience changes. If it was possible for him to feel love for Gabe or Giver, it was also possible for him to feel something–attraction, attachment, stirrings–for Fiona.

Fiona and Jonas

 

3. Meryl Streep’s Character Was Way Bigger- I have no issue with this. It makes sense to identify the evil and the control with one individual than with some ominous but vague threat. Also, when you’ve got Meryl Streep in a movie you capitalize on it.

Meryl Streep Giver

 

4. Been There Done That- This is the complaint that I struggle with most. Yes, we’ve seen YA dystopic worlds successfully turned into films in recent years. And we’ve seen legions of excellent (and not so excellent) book series that are all doom and gloom societies where it’s essential that one unlikely teen prevail over evil for the good of all. And yet Lowry was pretty much the YA writer from whom such ideas originated. Everyone, in some way stole from her genius, if only a little. So let’s give credit where credit is due. Maybe this movie took too long to make it to the screen, maybe not, but a strong story is timeless. It’s always good.

Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry

 

My Praise:

1. Jeff Bridges as Giver- Simply put, there could not have been a better man to play him. It’s been said that when he bought the rights to this book he envisioned his father playing Giver, and with all due respect to his father, I think Bridges was perfect.

Jeff Bridges, Giver

 

2. The Memories- I loved the imagery used, especially when Giver seeks to give Jonas strength for what he’s about to do. I’m not going to lie; I got choked up.

Giver images

3. Jonas- As I said above, I think Brenton Thwaites captured the heart of Jonas. He has great moments with Giver, with Gabe, and with Fiona.Giver and Jonas

4. Love- The scene where Jonas asks his father if he loves him. I really liked his father’s reaction (“I enjoy you”) and his mother’s reaction(which, honestly, it’s been a while. I don’t remember if it’s in the book), calling love “a word so antiquated it’s lost all meaning.” And I loved that he finally experienced love with Giver and with Gabe.

Giver parents

5. The End- I struggled with the end of the book because it was so ambiguous. Did they live? Did they die? Was it all some weird plan of Giver? Who knows? I didn’t know until the THIRD BOOK that Jonas and Gabe both survived.  I think the simple ending of the film still left it with clarity without truly changing the outcome.

As a fan of the book series, I really enjoyed this movie. Later this week we’ll discuss the film version of If I Stay.

 

Second Chance Summer

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

 

Second Chanc SummerTaylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.

Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.

As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love. (Goodreads)

The Story:

Taylor’s family is returning to their summer home at Phoenix Lake, someplace they haven’t been in ages. It’s the place she spent every summer of her childhood, the place she first fell in love with Henry, where she forged what seemed like an indestructible friendship with Lucy, and where it all fell apart five years ago. Now Taylor is returning there with her family on the cusp of receiving life-altering news. She has to face the heartbreak that is inevitably waiting around the corner, and face those she left behind without a word that last summer on the lake. Here, Taylor gets to know her family again, she faces her fears instead of doing what she’s always done–run away–and she gets what we all need sometimes: a second chance.

My Thoughts:

What a beautiful, sweet, sometimes heartbreaking book. Morgan Matson perfectly captures all those emotions wrapped up in first love, best friends, and family drama, and even simple things like summer jobs or days lounging by a lake. This book is everything a summer novel should be.

Taylor is grappling with earth-shattering news. Her father has only weeks, month maybe, to live. And this man, oh, what a guy he is. Both in flashbacks and in present day timelines, it’s impossible not to love him and love the way he enjoys life. The moments he takes with each person in the family, the special breakfasts he and Taylor have a couple of times a week, are the sweetest, loveliest parts of this book. To me, this is where the true love story lies. But we can’t talk about that too much because THE TEARS.

But yes, there is another story. First, that of Taylor and Lucy, her old BFF. The dialogue, the flashbacks, the ease of these two girls, is pretty much YA perfection. Every moment of it feels real, feels true, like any moment you or I may have had with our childhood bestie. And Henry, that adorable first crush, who has grown into that adorable guy, his relationship with Taylor has such promise. The reason Taylor had her falling out with the two of them five years ago is not high drama. As an adult, I don’t think it’s a big deal, but I can see how, at the age Taylor was at the time, it seemed massive. And her heart feels so raw until she rights that wrong.

This is a wonderful book. I was so sad when it ended, for many reasons, but mainly because Matson introduced me to characters I fell in love with and placed them in a town I’d move to in a heartbeat. It made me wish those summers of my childhood could have lasted forever.

Crush Intensity: 4.5 I could read this book again and again–but I’d need lots of Kleenex!

Where’d I Get It: The library

We Were Liars

We Were Liars by e. Lockhart

We were LiarsA beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE. (Goodreads)

 

 

The Story:

The Sinclair family summers in a private island just off the coast of Massachusetts. They are so beautiful, so privileged, so exceedingly wealthy that not only to they have an island to themselves, there are several homes on the island (each named, of course), one for each daughter, and one main residence for the family patriarch. And no matter how much they have they are never without secrets, never without a dose of animosity, both to each other and to Grandfather, who rules the family with disapproving looks and silent financial threats.

On the outside the Sinclairs live an ideal life, but inside they are just as imperfect as any other family. Perhaps more.

Cadence “Cady” Sinclair is our MC. When we meet her she’s recovering from an accident, a head injury that’s left her with migraines and weakness and with no memory of how it occurred. It’s kept her away from the island for a couple of summers, and more importantly it’s kept her away from the people she loves most: her cousins Mirren and Johnny, and her first love, Gat. The four of them are bound by love and by family, and by a shared belief in the strength of their trust over the value of their money. Together they are the antithesis of what Grandfather and the aunts stand for.

This is the summer Cady finally returns to the island, to the memories of the accident, and to the family she’s longed for these last two years.

 

My Thoughts:

This book. Oh, I loved it. I realize it’s not for everyone. Lockhart has a style and prose that’s unique, and sometimes choppy. As a writer, she always speaks to me and I find her words to be direct and lovely, and this novel more than any other, is hauntingly beautiful, but quite tragic. It is a different turn for her, especially if you’re accustomed to novels like The Ruby Oliver series, or The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, but one thing is similar: Lockhart is first and foremost a wonderful storyteller who imagines quirky, beautiful characters who live in worlds just distant enough to feel foreign, but realistic enough for us to relate to on a deeply human level.

There is little I can say about this story without spoiling it, but read it. Trust me. You’ll be so glad you did.

 

Crush Intensity: 5/5 One of my favorite books this year.

Thank you to Random House for providing me with an advance copy for review.

Top Ten Tuesday- Best Books So Far This Year

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

toptentuesday

This week we are discussing our favorite books we’ve read in 2014…so far. Big problem for me since I’ve probably spent more time re-reading books this year than I have reading new books. And honestly, there have been few that have blown me away. Here are a few that i really, really enjoyed:

 

We were Liars1. We Were Liars By e. Lockhart- I am a huge Lockhart fan. This is different for her, but I loved it. It stayed with me for days. And yeah, the big secret may not be a shocker, but the way she tells the story and conveys the pain is so good it doesn’t matter.

 

Better off friends2. Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg- Books don’t get cuter than this one.

 

Ignite Me3. Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3) by Tahereh Mafi- Good lord, the steam. I love Warner. Love him. Though this is the end of the series, it feel like the beginning of so much more.

 

these broken stars4. These Broken Stars by Aime Kaufman and Meagan Spooner- A sci-fi, a Titanic vibe, a rock-solid romance and a strange, spooky twist.

 

More Than This5. More Than This by Patrick Ness- Melancholy and odd, Ness never, ever fails to disappoint. His worlds are painful and strange, but the characters are so human, so much like ourselves, it’s impossible not to relate.

 

What I thought Was true6. What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick- The epitome of a summer book. Good story, sweet romance, but substance as well.

 

Biggest flirts7. Biggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols- This one was cute and highly addictive. Is it life changing? No. But it’s not meant to be. It’s fun and I couldn’t put it down.

 

Scandal8. #scandal by Sarah Ockler- Different than her other books, but compelling and fun. I loved the cast of characters and how timely it is that they struggle with the weight of stupid decisions made in the spotlight of social media.

 

husbands secret9. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty- This was a book club pick, Adult fic at its finest. I really enjoyed it. The epilogue is the best part.

 

That’s all for now. Have a great Tuesday!