The Girl of Fire and Thorns - Rae Carson

When I was younger, I devoured fantasy stories.  Unicorns, dragons and magical lands were my favourites, especially if the book was written by Piers Anthony.  Then something happened, I grew up and I lost my interest in fantasy.  I've tried to jump back into the genre a few times, but found the plots hard to follow.  Perhaps it's characters named Rxysharisk or trying to remember who's half falcon and half ogre or any other fantastical concept.  Or perhaps it's just a side effect of growing older, since it became harder and harder to relate to a world so far removed from our own.

Then one day, Alexa @ Alexa Loves Books and I were chatting about fantasy on Twitter.  I told her about the fact that I used to love fantasy, and wished that I could rekindle that love again.  She's a fantasy connoisseur, so I asked her for a recommendation.  She mentioned that she had heard good things about The Girl of Fire and Thorns, and asked if I'd like to read it with her.  Emboldened by the concept of having a fantasy friend on hand in case I got confused, I agreed.

Wow.  What a book!  Perhaps this isn't the most fantastical of all fantasy books out there (i.e. I'm still not quite ready to dive into Game of Thrones), but I really did love experiencing this magical world.  I'd almost label this book as fantasy for those that claim they don't like fantasy, since the characters and their struggles are very real-world, even though the setting is a fantastical world.  There are no dragons or mythological creatures in the story, but there is magic and a really great story.

Elisa is a great heroine, blessed with a godstone in her navel from the time that she was a baby.  Bearing the godstone means that she is destined to accomplish a great act of service, but she doesn't yet know what that act might be.  I was frustrated at times by Elisa's constant obsession with her weight and her figure (she constantly compares herself to others), but I did enjoy the way her character developed throughout the course of the book.

Rae Carson's greatest strength, in my opinion, is description.  She paints such vivid pictures of the scenery, the characters, the food, the clothes, everything.  I felt that the novel engaged all of my senses and I was swept up in the magic of it all.  The story is well-paced, balancing slower portions of character development and description with some action-packed scenes that had me flying through the pages and hoping that Marko would stay napping just a little longer so that I could finish the book!

THANK YOU Alexa, for encouraging me to read this one.  I've already put The Crown of Embers on hold at the library and I'm eager to read the continuation of Elisa's adventures.
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Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time

It's Tuesday and time for another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the wonderful people over at The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's topic is a freebie, so I have chosen top ten books that I wish I could read again for the first time.  You know that feeling that you had when you read your favourite book for the very first time?  I love that feeling, like meeting a new friend that you just KNOW will be your new BFF.  But once that first read is over, you'll always love the book and might re-read it one day, but that initial feeling of discovery is a one-time thing.  So, in no particular order, here are the top ten books that I wish I could read again, but have that "oh my goodness this book is awesome" feeling for the first time.

1. The Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling
2. White Oleander - Janet Fitch
3. Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult
4. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
5. Fall on Your Knees - Anne-Marie MacDonald
6. Second Chance Summer - Morgan Matson
7. Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver
8. The Neverending Story - Michael Ende
9. The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson
10. Wonder - R.J. Palacio

There are so many other favourites that I would LOVE to include on this list, but I've narrowed it down to my top ten books that I had that gut-wrenching "This is the best book that I've ever read, EVER" feeling during my first read-through.  I've read most of these books a second time and, although the books are still my all-time faves (and sometimes I love them more during a second reading), I'd love to experience that initial magic just one more time.

Please leave me a link to your top ten Tuesday post and I'll stop by to visit!
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Marko Monday [2]

I decided to start this feature last week, as a means of sharing pictures of my baby boy, as well as the picture books that we've been reading together.

This week's selection is a book that I downloaded from Netgalley, Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping.  I read the first Scaredy Squirrel book when I was taking a children's services course as part of my Library & Information Technology program, and I instantly fell in love.  The author, Mélanie Watts, gives Scaredy such a uniquely memorable voice.  In the first installment of the series, Scaredy is, just like his name, afraid to leave his tree.  In the subsequent books, Scaredy goes to the beach, has a party and makes a new friend.

The first reason why I love these books so much can be summed up in one simple description, although you really need to see the books in person in order to fully appreciate just how deliciously humourous they really are.  Scaredy likes to make lists, and they are absolutely hilarious!  Scaredy wants to go camping, but he's afraid of a few critters that may make this experience unpleasant, including mosquitoes, the Three Bears,  penguins and zippers.  Instead, he decides to watch a camping show on TV, but needs to find a way to plug in his television.  Enter the second reason why this series is great: Scaredy makes great maps of how he's going to accomplish his task, as well as a list of things that he'll need in order to survive the journey.  This list includes popsicles to distract the penguins and instant oatmeal for the Three Bears.

Scaredy is a likeable character with a unique voice, comparable to Mo Willems' Pigeon.  It's always refreshing to read a picture book that makes an adult laugh, and Scaredy Squirrel definitely falls into this category.  Plus, Mélanie is a Canadian writer who illustrates her own books!  I highly recommend checking out this entire series if you like a fun, colourful picture book with a great story.
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Marko Monday [1]

So, I've been thinking of starting a picture book feature for a while, since Marko and I have been working our way through stacks of picture books each week.  It's never to early to start gently nudging him towards a lifetime of reading, right?  I've been trying to find the right way to introduce it, as well as which day of the week is best.  Since there's no days of the week that start with the letter "P," I've opted for Marko Mondays.

Each week (or as close to each week as I can manage), I'll do a short review of a picture book that we've read and loved.  Sometimes (actually, probably more often than sometimes), I'll share a picture of my handsome little man, who's growing and changing every day.

I saw this video on Twitter last week (I don't know how to embed it, since it's on Vimeo not YouTube), posted in advance of Mother's Day (which was yesterday), and thought that the stars were aligned for this feature to be launched!  Happy Picture Book Month =)

With no further ado, my first review will be of Robert Munsch's Love You Forever.  Munsch is one of Canada's most well-known children's writers (although I just read in his Goodreads bio that he was actually born in the States!), who may be best known for The Paper Bag Princess (a story of one kick @$$ princess, but that's a story for another day).

I remember reading Love You Forever when I was younger, and even bought a copy for a good friend before the birth of her first child, but I don't think the story quite resonated as strongly as it does with me now that I'm a mother.  The mother in the story rocks her son and sings the following song,
I'll love you forever
I'll like you for always
As long as I'm living
My baby you'll be
From the time that he is a newborn, until he's a grown-up man, this is the heartwarming tale of a mother's love for her son, and it brought tears to my eyes.  I read it again to my husband the following day, thinking that I had the tears part under control.  But not only did this book make me cry a second time, my hubby also teared up!  It's such a cute little story, simply told but so heartfelt.  Highly recommended!
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Hopeless - Colleen Hoover

After I downloaded this book from Netgalley, I went onto Goodreads to add the book to my "currently reading" shelf.  I always quickly glance at the average review before I start reading, and was blown away to notice that it has over 4.5 stars, based on over 46,000 ratings.  Clearly, this book has had much love from the bookish community already.

Hopeless deserves that love, and deserves that rating.  If I could, I would have given four stars to the first half of the book, and then a well-earned five star rating to the last half of the book, which I read almost entirely in one sitting.

The book opens with our heroine, Sky, throwing some kind of massive tantrum, smashing a mirror and hurling furniture around a room.  She is subdued by Holder who wraps his arms around her and tells her to stop and leave.  The next chapter jumps back in time two months, and we start to get to know Sky, especially her inability to form meaningful relationships with boys.  Enter Holder -- the first boy who actually does make her feel something.  And drives her crazy at the same time.

I had issues with Sky and Holder's relationship throughout the first part of the novel because I thought it was gearing up towards an Edward-Bella unstable kind of connection.  I mean, at one point, Holder acts like a bit of a jerk, and Sky is not only okay with him not apologizing for his actions, she even seems to love how unstable he is.

Then we hit the first of many twists and the storyline positively EXPLODES.  All of a sudden, the things that were annoying me in the beginning of the book make perfect sense and I couldn't read fast enough to get through the remainder of the book.  Some of the twists I could see coming, while others I was left with my jaw hanging open wondering where THAT came from.  I can say one thing about this book: Colleen Hoover knows how to tell a story, and tell it well.

I've just signed up to participate in Books with Cass' Summer of Standalones.  If you're going to participate this summer, add this one to your TBR list -- it's a great read, and would be perfect for the beach!

Note: I received an e-galley of this book from Netgalley.  The fact that I received this book for review did not influence my review of this book in any way.
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Attachments - Rainbow Rowell

I've been seeing rave reviews of Rainbow Rowell's latest book, Eleanor + Park, popping up all over the blogosphere, and I'm super excited to read that one.  My library, however, seems to be rather slow in processing the newly acquired titles, and the book has been "on order" for quite some time.  I've seen other bloggers state that Attachments was equally wonderful; however, my library only had an e-copy, so I thought I'd wait and try out Eleanor + Park first.  BUT THEN, I discovered e-reading and decided to borrow my very first e-book from the library!

Success.  Success in so many, many ways.  First of all, downloading the e-book from the library was so simple.  I just had to install an app on my iPad, and then all it took was the click of a button.  The coolest part is that, every time I load up the app, it tells me right on the main page how many days I have left before my book expires.  (The loan period is 21 days).  It was a nice reminder each time I started reading that I only had X number of days left.  And when the loan period's up?  The book RETURNS ITSELF.  No late fines!  How cool is that?

And onto the story.  I'd only just started the story before deciding that Rainbow Rowell is one of my new favourite writers.  I think I'll add her to my auto-buy list.  I found myself unable to put this book down, and devoured the entire thing in just a few days.  In fact, I'd committed to reading The Girl of Fire & Thorns with Alexa @ Alexa Loves Books, but I fell behind in my reading because I just couldn't stop reading Attachments until the story was done.

Attachments has a dual narration.  Some chapters are told in e-mail form, as two women (Beth and Jennifer) e-mail back and forth at work.  The other chapters are told from Lincoln's point of view in a standard third-person narrative.  Lincoln is the IT person at the newspaper where Beth and Jennifer work, and his job is to monitor company e-mails and computer usage.  Although he should be reporting the women for spending their work days engrossed in e-mailing each other about the personal details of their lives, instead he finds himself falling in love.  What follows is a light-hearted (but at times quite serious) look at what it means to fall in love with someone for who that person really is inside, not just on the outside.

Attachments is a phenomenal book, and one of my favourite reads so far this year.  I'm even more excited now for Eleanor + Park (and contemplating a drive out the adminstrative centre for the library, to see if I can help stick a barcode on or something to speed the process along).  I've also requested a review copy of Fangirl on Netgalley, and I think that this is the first book that I will be really, really, really disappointed about if my review request is denied.

So add Attachments to your TBR list, fellow readers, if you haven't already experienced the wonder that is Rainbow Rowell.  And, if you're going to be participating in Books With Cass' Summer of Standalones, this would be a great read!
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