June 28, 2013

All Those Resolutions

Betsy Was a Junior and Betsy and Joe by Maud Hart Lovelace

Release Date: 1947 and 1948
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper Perennial
Pages: 640 pages
Series: Betsy-Tacy #7-8
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Betsy Was a Junior: It's the best school year ever, especially now that charming, funny Tib Muller is back in Deep Valley. But when her crowd gets into trouble, Betsy's best year could turn out to be her worst.

Betsy and Joe: Betsy always thought she and Joe Willard were made for each other - and now that summer's over and senior year's begun, it seems her dream is coming true! But her friend Tony Markham has come calling as well - and his intentions are definitely romantic.

Thoughts on Betsy Was a Junior
More adventures of Miss Betsy Ray! She's now going into her junior year, and she's ready for things to be different. Plus, she's got plans to make Joe Willard her beau before long... Whenever Betsy makes plans, things are sure to go awry. And this year is no different!

Things are different this year in the Ray household as Julia leaves for University. She's ready to see the world, but there's a little less music when she's gone. When she comes home for a visit, she introduces Betsy to the concept of sororities and fraternities. Betsy loves the idea - and so she decides that her group of girlfriends will form one of their own!

While it sounds fun in theory, you can imagine that exclusive sorority isn't exactly popular in a small town like Deep Valley. Most of the book involves all the highs and lows of trying to start such a group, and Betsy learns a hard lesson about fencing herself in and not letting other people be a part of her Crowd. She also continues to flit through school thinking mostly of fun, even when it means she forgets an important event with her sister, Margaret, or a school project that she's had all year to complete.

I love that Betsy is nowhere near perfect. She's fun and quick to laugh, which makes for a charming heroine. But she also doesn't always think things through or consider the consequences of her actions, which makes her feel real. I cannot tell you how much I love Betsy because I can identify with her! I wasn't necessarily as popular as her, but I know what it's like to try and figure out where and how exactly you fit in. Or to think something sounds fun only to realize it means others get left out.

Betsy is a girl who loves making resolutions, but she's not always great at the follow through. While you make shake your head and think "Heavens to Betsy!" every now and then, I'm sure you'll fall in love with this gap-toothed dreamer.

Thoughts on Betsy and Joe
This was one of my favorite high school Betsy-Tacy books. Why? Because we finally get to see more of Joe Willard! Betsy Was A Junior ends with Joe sending Betsy a postcard over the summer, which soon becomes one of her prized possessions. A flurry of letters are then exchanged, and we know that we're in for some fun when everyone's back at school and the summer is over.

But wait! Things aren't all sunshine and rainbows for these two. Betsy's got two admirers senior year, and there's trouble afoot when she can't say no to either. Torn between the one she's romantically interested in and the boy whose friendship she doesn't want to lose, there's bound to be a little trouble in paradise.

I adored getting to see Joe win over the Ray family, particularly his chats with Mr. Ray. There's something so endearing about boys who value your family and are able to have great conversations with adults. I can still remember which of my friends were just as comfortable talking to adults as they were to their peers, and I love how much time Betsy, her friends and her fellas spend with her family.

While this was one of my favorites, I did want to shake Betsy a little bit. It's hard to watch someone get something they've wanted for a long time - only to watch them jeopardize it. Betsy and Joe are both stubborn and proud, so I was clenching the pages and praying that they'd sort everything out.

There's romance in the air for Tacy, too. While she's never been interested in any of the boys in the Crowd, we finally get to see her fall for someone. These books are really, ultimately, about Betsy but I love that Tacy's story got a little more development in this one. Tacy surprises everyone when she gets stars in her eyes - and to think Betsy and Tib thought Tacy would be an old maid!

Finally, this ending is delicious and perfect and wonderful and swoony. It was everything I'd been waiting for, even if it did feel like it was a long time coming. Trust me, I felt like Sebastian from The Little Mermaid leading a chorus of "Kiss the Girl..." But Betsy's happiness and dreams for her future will leave a smile on your face long after you close the last page and leave her high school years behind. Now, Betsy's off to college and to see the great world around her!

So Quotable
Betsy Was A Junior: "All those resolutions she had made on Babcock's Bay! How they had been smashed to smithereens. She wondered whether life consisted of making resolutions and breaking them, of climbing up and slipping down."

Betsy and Joe: "Then he kissed her. Betsy didn't believe in letting boys kiss you. She thought it was silly to be letting first this boy and then that one kiss you, when it didn't mean a thing. But it was wonderful when Joe Willard kissed her. And it did mean a thing."

June 26, 2013

To Thine Own Self Be True

Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace

Release Date: 1945 and 1946
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper Perennial
Pages: 704 pages
Series: Betsy-Tacy #5-6
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Heaven to Betsy: Betsy Ray is loving every minute of freshman year at Deep Valley High - with new and old friends all around her... not to mention boys! But most intriguing of all is the one she and her best friend, Tacy, dub "the Tall Dark Stranger."

Betsy in Spite of Herself: Betsy is at the center of every activity as a Deep Valley High sophomore and suddenly, thanks to her old friend Tib, she's offered a golden opportunity for glorious transformation. But will she impress the special boy by becoming dramatic, mysterious Betsye or would she be better off just being Betsy in spite of herself?

Thoughts on Heaven to Betsy
Oh Betsy Ray! She's growing up, but she's still got the same fun-loving and mischievous heart. Heaven to Betsy opens the summer before Betsy's freshman year of high school. Tib has moved away, but not much else has changed in Deep Valley. Or has it?

Betsy's spending two weeks visiting the Taggart's farm, and she's overwhelmed with homesickness. The family has a surprise awaiting her return, but she meets one important person on her journey home: Joe Willard. Working at the Butternut Center, this handsome stranger will factor into Betsy's life in ways she can't even imagine.

Her freshman year is filled with things even modern teenagers (or adults) can relate to: moving, becoming friends with boys, wondering if a boy likes you, finding your "crowd" at school, the academic pressures of school and feeling like you don't alway belong. Despite the book's age and the time in which it is set, these books feel so fresh to me. For the most part, Betsy's concerns are still things that people care about today. Sure, the world has certainly changed since then, but people's desires and dreams aren't really that different.

One of the things I most love about Betsy and about her family is highlighted in the quote I chose below. It's noted that Betsy is shocked to find some of her friends are so focused on marriage. In Betsy's dreams, that's not her only wish for the future. She wants to be a writer, and she wants to see the world. There is not one person in ANY of these books that ever implies that Betsy can't be or do exactly what she wants. It made me adore these novels all the more!

It's particularly fascinating because these novels are almost autobiographical. Maud based almost all of the characters on people she knew in real life, and the action is taken directly from things that happened to her growing up. Deep Valley may be fictional, but it's firmly rooted in the real Mankato, Minnesota. In these editions, you can even read end notes that tell you what really happened in Maud's life. The best part is that you can see pictures of the school, library, and homes upon which all the places in the novels are based (and which the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter closely resemble), as well as pictures of the people who inspired different characters.

One plot line centers around Betsy and her sister's desire to change denominations. The way they approach their family about it and the way their parents respond just highlighted for me why the Ray family is absolutely the fictional family I'd want to join. Mr. and Mrs. Ray love each other, and their daughters, so very much.

Finally, we see Betsy neglecting her writing in this novel and witness the consequence of that. She's very much consumed by social activities and having fun, and she has yet to learn that she has to nourish her talent in order for it to grow. This rang so true for me, and it was absolutely one of my favorite things to read. It was a little hard to see Betsy fail to live up to her potential - and you can just feel her shame when she realizes that she neglected something that's so important to her - but it will make her victories all the sweeter to know that she's earned them.

Heaven to Betsy was an absolute delight, and it was the perfect transition into young adulthood for our spunky Miss Betsy Warrington Ray.

Thoughts on Betsy in Spite of Herself
Once again, Betsy proves to be her own worst enemy when it comes to being true to herself. There are so many reasons I loved this book, but the main one is the fact that Betsy's main struggle (figuring out who she is) is so timeless and realistic.

In Betsy In Spite of Herself, it's a relationship with a boy that helps Betsy realize that she must, above all, be true to herself. She's so dissatisfied with herself that she's always looking for ways to improve. From her straight hair that's made wavy each night with curlers to the "fashionable" slouch of her shoulders, Betsy wants to fit in... but she also wants to be noticed.

And isn't that so relatable? I can remember that time in my life where I wanted to make friends, to be liked, to find my "Crowd" (as Betsy calls her group of friends). But I also wanted to be noticed, to catch someone's eye and stand out as someone that was special. For Betsy, a trip to Minneapolis provides the perfect catalyst for a little reinvention. And when the handsome Phil Brandish takes notice? Well, can you blame a girl for loving the attention?

The best part about Betsy is that she won't compromise on the things that really matter. When a certain fella tries to take her hand, she's quick to inform him - "You might as well know," she said with desperate honesty. "I don't hold hands. I just don't hold hands."

As anyone knows, a relationship where you aren't being yourself isn't going to last. I wanted to underline and draw hearts around Betsy's realization - "It wasn't the real me that [he] liked. No particular compliment in having him crazy about somebody who wasn't even me." Amen, Miss Ray! Hold out for the boy that will love you for who you are, not for who you pretend to be.

We get to see a little more of Joe Willard in this book, and I was certainly intrigued by this loner. An orphan, working to support himself, a lover of books... with lips that Betsy can't help noticing. You may not be swooning over him yet, but Maud's certainly catching your eye with this one.

There are so many things I loved about this book and haven't even described. I've fallen more and more in love with the Ray family as the series has progressed, and I have a feeling you will, too. Betsy may not always have it together, but she's doing her best and charming the rest. I'm telling you, this book just solidified this series spot on my FAVORITES FOREVER shelf.

So Quotable
Heaven to Betsy: "She had been almost appalled, when she started going around with Carney and Bonnie, to discover how fixed and definite their ideas of marriage were. [...] When Betsy and Tacy and Tib talked about their future they planned to be writers, dancers, circus acrobats."

Betsy in Spite of Herself: "Did he know she was so dissatisfied with herself that she was always pretending to be different? Probably he did, and despised her for it. More than anyone she knew, Joe Willard was always, fearlessly, himself."

June 25, 2013

Ten At The Top In Twenty-Thirteen

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/top ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so it makes perfect sense that I'd love this feature!

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far in 2013


1. Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi - "So often, the second book in a series just seems like it's there to set up the action of the third book. Thankfully, Through the Ever Night avoids that completely. I learned more about some things introduced in the first book that weren't fully fleshed out, as well as saw how Rossi was setting everything up for an action-packed conclusion.

2. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - "No matter what you think about the controversial topic addressed in Me Before You, I am convinced you'll find the book engrossing and memorable! There's just so much to love about it. We're barely into 2013, and yet I feel confident in saying that this is absolutely a book that will top my list of favorite reads at the end of the year.

3. Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi - "Dear Tahereh, Thanks for writing one of my favorite books this year! Yes, some of your characters needed a good spanking or to be told, 'You have five seconds to change your attitude before I change it for you.' But you made me feel! You made me take sides, clutch my pages, sigh in happiness and then groan in frustration. So, I love you for that. Thanks for making me sit down with this big fat books and not get up again until I was done. Thanks for writing something that made me want to discuss it with friends and shove the series on everyone I meet. Thanks for putting the crazy down on paper and sending it out into the world. This reader is forever grateful!"

4. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell - "As soon as I started reading it, I absolutely couldn't put it down. I was flying through, flipping pages frantically, and alternating between smiling and sighing over it. I cannot begin to tell you how refreshing this book was for me!"

5. Just One Day by Gayle Forman - "This was one of those books that was so hyped, I figured there was no way it could live up to my expectations. Well, I'm happy to report that I was wrong! I wanted to write a full review for this, but I don't think I can even find the words to describe what I love about this book."

6. The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead - "Look, I can't say anything at all about the relationship that develops in these books, but you need to trust me when I say that you'll still have the feelings for this couple. Seriously, the train is pulling into SWOON CENTRAL STATION by the end of The Indigo Spell, and I seriously cannot wait to see where this series goes next! There is tension, banter, feelings, misunderstandings, complications, kissing... Do I need to say anything other than kissing?

7. Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham - "If you're nervous when a celebrity writes a book, especially a celebrity you love and admire, get over that fear and buy this NOW! It's a celebration of New York, acting and having the courage to follow your dreams. And what's not to love about that?"

8. Pivot Point by Kasie West - "I really liked the cover of Pivot Point, but I wasn't that intrigued by the description. The whole searching aspect didn't really appeal to me. However, I gave it a chance after seeing a bunch of rave reviews in the blogosphere. Well, I have to join in that chorus because I absolutely loved this book! I raced through this is one afternoon and was then absolutely depressed that I couldn't immediately dive into book two!"

9. Gift of Wings by Mary Henley Rubio - I haven't had the chance to review this one yet, but it's a must read if you're a fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery. At over 600 pages, there is so much to learn about the author of one of the world's most beloved characters. Lucy Maud's life was so different from the light and life she portrays on her pages, and I was so engrossed in this biography.

10. Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer - Another book I have yet to review, but I absolutely fell in love with the characters and quirk in this book. Set in a small town in Texas, this book about coming to terms with your roots and your perception of yourself won me over from the very first page. I couldn't put it down, and I've been recommending it like crazy to almost everyone I know!

Could Have Been My Entire List:

I just finished the final Betsy-Tacy book this weekend, and I'll be posting my reviews of them this week. To be honest, these ten books could have made up my entire list. I fell head over heels for Betsy, The Rays, Tacy, Tib, The Crowd... and Joe Willard. This series has now taken its place on my FAVORITES FOREVER shelf, and I plan on revisiting Deep Valley again and again. I almost cried turning the last page, saying goodbye to these characters I've grown to cherish, and you better believe I'm still dreaming about what they'd do with the rest of their lives. So thankful that we don't ever really have to say goodbye to the fictional people we love - they're always right there within our reach.

June 24, 2013

Welcome to Deep Valley

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace

Release Date: 1940, 1941, 1942 and 1943
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper Perennial
Pages: 736 pages
Series: Betsy-Tacy #1-4
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
There are lots of children on Hill Street, but no little girls Betsy's age. So when a new family moves into the house across the street, Betsy hopes they will have a little girl she can play with. Sure enough, the moment Betsy meets Tacy, one of the most heartfelt friendships in all of children's literature begins.

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury brings together the first four books in Maud Hart Lovelace's classic series: Betsy-TacyBetsy, Tacy and Tib; Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill; and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. Tracing the girls' lives from early childhood to the brink of adolescence, Lovelace illuminates their innocent, mischievous fun and their eye-opening adventures exploring the world around them - from the stories Betsy spins from their neighborhood bench and the sand stores they run in their backyards, to their first experiences at the library, the thrill of the theater, and the sight of their first automobile.

Thoughts on Betsy-Tacy
In the very first book of the Betsy-Tacy series, Betsy-Tacy, we meet Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly of Deep Valley, Minnesota. At five years old, the two little girls form a friendship that will last a lifetime. When Tacy moves in across the street from Betsy, a misunderstanding almost prevents the two from becoming friends. Thankfully, a birthday party is the perfect opportunity for them to get reintroduced. Mischievous Betsy quickly takes the shy Tacy under her wing, and the two become fast friends.

One of the best things about these two girls are their imaginations. From turning the piano box into a sand store to cutting paper dolls out of fashion magazines, there's no end to the adventures these two ladies have when they're together. They pretend that they're flying on feathers, that the milk man has a magic talking horse... you name it, they've probably played that game or imagined that scenario. It's such a delight to read about their childish wonder!

But it's not always fun and games. When one of them loses a sister and one of them gains one, both little girls are there to comfort each other. Betsy and Tacy understand each other - they know when the other is hurting. And it almost brought tears to my eyes to read about these sweet friends learning how to comfort one another, even at such a young age.

This is exactly the kind of book I'd want to give my little girl one day. Betsy and Tacy aren't perfect little angels. They're fun and charming! They chase hens, climb trees, and make up worlds. Best of all, they form a sweet friendship. As an adult re-reading this children's book, I found myself laughing aloud at their antics. The story is easy to read, but it's not simple. It's the perfect foundation for everything to come in this series.

The illustrations throughout the book by Lois Lenski are the perfect touch on this adorable read. I spent so much time just flipping back at the drawings - admiring the little scenes depicted and smiling to myself. In the last chapter, Betsy and Tacy meet Tib, a new little girl just their age. The text ends with the words THE END - and right below it is a drawing of all three girls plopped down on the Big Hill bench.

Thoughts on Betsy, Tacy and Tib
Ringleader Betsy and bashful Tacy are back for more adventures, but this time their joined by the straightforward Tib. As we learn in the first chapter, "Betsy loved to think up things to do and Tacy and Tib loved to do them." Now eight years old, these girls get into even more trouble when they've joined forces.

One of my favorite chapters is the one where the girls try to learn how to fly. Jumping off items of varying heights, Betsy begins telling a moving story in order to distract her little friends and siblings from the fact that she doesn't want to jump from the tree branches. Right from the beginning of the series, it's a delight to see Betsy master the art of storytelling. She's often leading the other girls into scrapes, including talking them into cutting off much of their hair for a keepsake.

Wherever there's mischief, Betsy is sure to be involved. They try to create a club devoted to being good, but it quickly backfires. But it's a scene that made me laugh just picturing it all! Everything about these books seems so realistic, so believable and so charming. I loved that these girls aren't meant to be models of good behavior. These are girls who want to live and have fun, even if it means their dresses get a little dirty in the process.

Thoughts on Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill opens with the three friends approaching their tenth birthdays. For them, it marks a turning point on their way to becoming grown ups. They started thinking of all the things they must do differently at 10, and they're sure they will feel so much older when that day comes.

Who can't remember that feeling? When there's a birthday that, in your mind, signifies that you've finally grown up and must put aside your childish interests. My favorite thing about the little episodes in each book is that they feel so familiar - even though they are fictional and were set more than 100 years ago.

The title of this book comes from the journey the girls take over the Big Hill. On the other side, they discover "Little Syria." In fictional Deep Valley, there is a large Lebanese immigrant population that has settled and formed their own community. I got a little concerned when the Syrian characters appeared because I wasn't really sure how they were going to be portrayed. Thankfully, this became one of the most surprising and enjoyable aspects of the novel. In one episode, the three girls make a new friend, Naifi, and spend an afternoon with her family. When they later discover group of boys mocking and taunting her, they are quick to jump to her defense because she is their friend. I love when there are moments like this in a book that don't feel like "Lessons," and yet can still teach young readers such important values.

Another key plot element in this one is a quarrel between Betsy and her sister, Julia. As the oldest of four siblings, I loved that there was some realistic tension between the two girls. Betsy is torn between her desire to win the argument and her love and admiration for her sister. The anxiety and tension the rift causes is so accurately portrayed that I was clutching the pages just waiting for them to finally work it all out. I also loved the way Mr. and Mrs. Ray try to get them to solve their problems and mend the rift! These are two pretty awesome parents.

This is another delightful addition to the Betsy-Tacy series, and readers finally begin to see the girls growing up. They're falling in love, thinking of their beauty, out canvassing for votes and getting a taste of the wide and diverse world around them. It's such a delight to see them coming into their own!

Thoughts on Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown (yes, poor Tib never makes it into a title) is the last of the pre-high school Betsy-Tacy books. Now twelve years old, the girls are at that awkward and in between stage of life. Betsy's older sister is flirting and talking to boys, and her younger sister is still playing with dolls. We get to see the girls in that transition between childhood and young adulthood. They're too old for some of their games but too young to care for teenage things.

There is a whole new set of adventures to be had in the fourth book of this series - seeing their first automobile, trying to hypnotize their classmate, seeing a play for the first time, performing on stage and a heartwarming family reunion. As before, there is such a great mix of funny and serious moments in this book. One of my favorite things about the series is that Betsy's concerns (even when childish) are never trivialized.

But, far and away, there is another element of this book that is my absolute favorite. Mrs. Ray sees how important Betsy's writing is to her, so she gives her daughter her very own desk. There is an aspect to that story that was so touching, but I want you to read it for yourselves. One of the results, however, is that Betsy is allowed to spend every other Saturday at the brand-new library all by herself. She's even given money so that she can get herself some food and stay downtown longer. Betsy's joy at discovering the library and developing her own writing made this book my favorite of the first four.

While adults have always had a part in these books, this was one of the first times when we learn a little more about their lives and their stories. In fact, there is a family moment involving Mrs. Ray at the end that absolutely had me tearing up as I turned the pages! It's fun to start to see more of Deep Valley and of the adults at the same time that the girls are finally seeing their world start to broaden. And with that, we're saying goodbye to Betsy's childhood and ready to move into her high school years!

So Quotable
Betsy-Tacy: "Betsy was given beautiful presents at that fifth birthday party. [...] But the nicest present she received was not the usual kind of present. It was the present of a friend. It was Tacy."

Betsy, Tacy and Tib: "It was strange that Betsy and Tacy and Tib ever did things which grown-ups thought were naughty, for they tried so hard to be good."

Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill: "Betsy and Tacy and Tib found plenty of things to do. They soon stopped being ten years old. But whatever age there were seemed to be exactly the right age for having fun."

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown: "She tried to act as though it were nothing to go to the library alone. But her happiness betrayed her. Her smile could not be restrained, and it spread from her tightly pressed mouth, to her round cheeks, almost to the hair ribbons tied in perky bows over her ears."

June 21, 2013

Luck Be A Lady

The Lucky Ones by Anna Godbersen

Release Date: November 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 384 pages
Series: Bright Young Things #1
Source & Format: Library; Hardcover
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, author of the bestselling Luxe series, introduced the girls of 1929, girls with big dreams and big secrets in the big city of Manhattan during the Jazz Age. Each girl had a different fate. One would marry. One would find fame. And one would die.
 
Lucky Ones, the thrilling conclusion to the glamorous Bright Young Things series, reveals the destinies of Broadway baby Letty Larkspur, bootlegger’s daughter Cordelia Grey, and flapper Astrid Donal.
 
Letty’s dream of fame is within her reach. Cordelia is the midst of a whirlwind romance with celebrity pilot Max Darby. Socialite Astrid is a new bride. But secrets and scandals could destroy their happiness as the last summer of the 1920s reaches its peak.

Thoughts on The Lucky Ones
As with Reached, I actually considered not finishing this series. I really loved The Luxe series, even though it could be a tad dramatic at times. Even still, I love historical fiction so I fell hard for the series. I was excited to find out about The Bright Young Things series because the 1920s is such a fascinating period of time.

While I didn't review the first two books on the blog, I thought they both fell a little flat. They were missing that spark that made me fall in love and want to lose myself in their pages. With three heroines, each book alternates chapters between the three leading ladies. I never felt myself connect to the any of the characters, which is likely why I felt rather apathetic about finishing this series.

I added it to my Summer Series Challenge list at the last minute, and I immediately put in a request for it from the library. I knew that I didn't really want to buy it because I wasn't 100% sure that I was actually going to read it. It came in for me right away, and I decided to dive right in.

While I enjoyed this one more than the previous two books, I still felt really disconnected from everything that was going on. I really wasn't too concerned with the characters or their fates, which doesn't necessarily bode well for a book.

I think this series tries to accomplish too much. With so many lead characters and so many different storylines, there's a lot happening in not many pages. While it means the book moves quickly, it also meant that there wasn't enough character development for me. People fall in love pretty quickly - and there isn't enough build-up to really make you root for or care about any of the relationships.

The action picked up a lot at the end, but it still felt all over the place. There was just so much going on! While I finished The Lucky Ones quickly and enjoyed it more than the previous books, it was still a lackluster read. I just kept thinking that the entire series really could have been tightened up and told in one book. If you've already started this series, I'd actually tell you to finish it out because Godbersen throws some surprises in at the end. I certainly didn't see everything ending the way it did!

So Quotable
"City dwellers are people who won't sit still. Every year they move faster and find new activities to absorb their manic energy. They parade and they cheer, they showboat and they observe, they play elaborate games of hide-and-go-seek as though the concrete canyons were some kind of buzzed-up jungle gym and, as long as they keep playing, none of them will ever grow old."

June 20, 2013

Join The Rising?

Reached by Ally Condie

Release Date: November 2012
Publisher: Penguin | Dutton Juvenile
Pages: 512 pages
Source & Format: Gift; Kindle ebook
Series: Matched #3
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
After leaving Society to desperately seek The Rising, and each other, Cassia and Ky have found what they were looking for, but at the cost of losing each other yet again. Cassia is assigned undercover in Central City, Ky outside the borders, an airship pilot with Indie. Xander is a medic, with a secret. All too soon, everything shifts again.

Thoughts on Reached
I really enjoyed Matched, but I was then really disappointed by Crossed. I'd found it long, slow and mostly boring. After a fun beginning, I hated that the second book was such a letdown.

When Reached was finally released, I asked for it as a Christmas gift. Even though I hadn't loved each book, I knew that I wanted to finish the series. Since I had such mixed feelings on the series at that point, I let this book just on my Kindle for months. I kept intending to read it, but I just couldn't bring myself to actually do it.

I'm so glad I put it on my goals list for the Summer Series Challenge because that finally gave me the push I needed to read it! Once I started, I actually finished this book in two days. Thankfully, I definitely thought this was an improvement over the second book.

Like the previous book, this book uses alternating perspectives. This time, however, it's actually Ky, Cassia and Xander. All three tell the story from their point-of-view. While I found it annoying in the last book, I thought the concept worked much better in this one. I still had to pay close attention to which section I was reading (so there wasn't always a clear "voice" for me), but I did think that it helped the pacing of the book.

A large part of Reached focuses on The Rising. Events are set into motion in Reached - so the pacing was better than in Matched. I thought the book moved much more quickly than I'd expected. Part of the action involves medical concepts. I found the details a little tedious at certain points, but it didn't detract too significantly from the rest of the book.

I wasn't entirely surprised by the resolution of the love triangle, but I did think it was one of the weakest aspects of this series. It always felt like that had been thrown in for a little added drama, so I still wasn't a huge fan of it in this one. However, each of the three characters has their own storyline in this one, so it was nice that the guys weren't there solely for the love triangle. I enjoyed that everyone got their own story that was resolved by the end of the book.

I think that part of the reason I enjoyed Reached was due to the fact that, sadly, I went in with such low expectations after Matched. Expecting to hate this one, I was pleasantly surprised and thought it was a good conclusion to this series. Did I love the series? Not really. But I'm glad I read Reached and finished it off.

So Quotable
"And it strikes me that this is how writing anything is, really. A collaboration between you who give the words and those who take them and find meaning in them, or put music behind them, or turn them aside because they were not what was needed."

June 19, 2013

History With Hannah - Lesson 1

One thing you should know about me is that I love historical fiction. I like to think that it all started (or at least turned to love) when I first discovered the Dear America books as a little girl. Written in journal format, each book focused on a different fictional girl from the past and the time in which she lived. I adored the books, and I still have them on my shelves today. Combine that with a deep love for the American Girl doll and accompanying books, and I was made to read and love historical fiction.

With that introduction to historical fiction, who can blame me for growing up and becoming so obsessed with it? In order to share the historical fiction love, I've come up with two features to highlight my favorite genre. The first, History With Hannah, will highlight a historical fiction book (adult or young adult) that I've read recently. Instead of reviewing it, I want to focus on the historical aspect of it. One of my favorite things about the genre is that I often learn things about a new or unfamiliar (to me) time and place. So, I'll highlight for you the Who (all the book details), What (book summary), Where (setting - place), When (setting - time period) and Why (things you'll learn about in this book).

So, let's begin!

Who?
Release Date: April 2013
Pages: 432 pages
Source & Format: Library; Hardcover

What?
Frances Irvine, left destitute in the wake of her father's sudden death, has been forced to abandon her life of wealth and privilege in London and emigrate to the Southern Cape of Africa. 1800 South Africa is a country torn apart by greed. In this remote and inhospitable land she becomes entangled with two very different men - one driven by ambition, the other by his ideals. Only when the rumor of a smallpox epidemic takes her into the dark heart of the diamond mines does she see her path to happiness. But this is a ruthless world of avarice and exploitation, where the spoils of the rich come at a terrible human cost and powerful men will go to any lengths to keep the mines in operation. Removed from civilization and disillusioned by her isolation, Frances must choose between passion and integrity, a decision that has devastating consequences.

Where?
London / South Africa

When?
1880s

Why?
1. Emigration
In The Fever Tree, the heroine emigrates to South Africa after her father dies. Her only living relations either don't want to help her or only want her if she'll work for them. Neither life is all that appealing to Frances, so she decides to leave for South Africa. She travels across the ocean in the company of other women facing similar fates - women who are hoping for a better future in a new country. Whether they marry or become nurses, they are all looking to change their fate. In The Fever Tree you'll get a glimpse at these brave women, and you'll get a small taste for the desperation they must have felt to make them take such an arduous journey.

2. Diamonds
You've probably heard about the corrupt practices surrounding diamond mining and that industry today, but this books gives you a look at its origins. It's certainly hard to read about the topic without wanting to cry at the way the native Africans are treated. Greed motivates almost every action - it's all about mining more diamonds and making more money. It's not unusual for people to make decisions that are motivated by selfishness, but nowhere is it more evident and more heightened than in an environment like this.

3. Imperialism
If you're at all familiar with South Africa's history, you probably know that it's been filled with racial tension. The suppression began long before apartheid, and in The Fever Tree you'll get to see those roots. The Dictionary of Human Geography defines imperialism as "an unequal human and territorial relationship, usually in the form of an empire, based on ideas of superiority and practices of dominance, and involving the extension of authority and control of one state or people over another."

Imperialism - and the attitudes that result from it - is a huge part of this book. From racist remarks to outright abuse, it's certainly heartbreaking to read about one group of people putting themselves in a position of power over another. The inequality of power between whites and blacks is not the focus of this book, but it certainly plays a key role.

4. Epidemics
Finally, there's an interesting look at the way diseases and infections spread. Similarly to when colonial settlers in America brought in diseases that decimated Native American populations, The Fever Tree introduces readers to the smallpox epidemic that swept through some these mining communities. Greed led to lies and cover-ups that resulted in death and devastation. One character is this book is a doctor who is fighting for the right - trying to shed light on the epidemic and the injustice taking place. Like the other things I've mentioned, I love getting the chance to learn about this aspect of South African history (even if it is really sad).

South African Diamond Mine in the 1870s

June 18, 2013

My 2013 Summer Reading List

Top Ten Tuesday  is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/top ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so it makes perfect sense that I'd love this feature!

Looking back over my Spring 2013 TBR list, I'm actually quite proud of myself. I managed to get through seven of the ten books I listed! Since I don't often stick to a reading list, I'm proud that I actually managed to get through so many of my spring reads. Hope I make that much progress (or more) on my summer TBR!

Top Ten Books At The Top Of My Summer TBR List


Series Summer Challenge

1. Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare - I read the first one quickly a few months ago, but I just never got around to finishing this series. I'm hoping to change that soon!

2. Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare - Once I finish book two, I'm sure I'll be that much more motivated to finish this series!

3. Requiem by Lauren Oliver - Honestly, I'm not that excited about reading this book but I still want to finish the series so that I feel like I can mark it off my list.


Review Reads

4. Spies and Prejudice by Talia Vance - Spies are awesome, as is Pride and Prejudice. I pretty much wanted to read this one from that moment on.

5. Once Upon a Prince by Rachel Hauck - Royalty? Duh. I don't need to know anything else. This looks like a perfect pool read.

6. The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway - This book came out months ago (reviewer fail), but I still want to get around to it this summer. It seems like a bit of a deeper and/or slower read so I keep hesitating to pick it up.


Non-Fiction Factor

7. Reclaiming Your Heart by Denise Hildreth Jones - I love this author, so I basically want to read her non-fiction book just because it's her. I have no idea if I'll identify with it or not, but I just can't get enough of her voice.

8. Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen - I've had this on my TBR for ages, and I think it's finally time to take it off. Who knows? Maybe I'll do a Little Women re-read to coincide with this book.


Library Loot

9. gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson - As a lover of all things Southern, I still can't believe I haven't read a Joshilyn Jackson book. I'm remedying that this summer and picking up her first! Here's to hoping I fall in love.

10. Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge - I'd never heard of this book before spotting it on my library's New Releases shelves. Since the cover is just so dang awesome and eye-catching, I had to take it home. 

June 11, 2013

Pack Your Beach Bag, Baby

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/top ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists - so it makes perfect sense that I'd love this feature!

This is one of my very favorite Top Ten Tuesday topics - favorite beach reads! When I did this topic last year, I decided to add a little personality to my list. Once again, my recommendations are sorted based on what you might be looking for in your beach read and some extra loot to complete the look. Enjoy and let me know what books or items you'd want with you at the beach!

Top Ten Beach Reads
A co-worker recently asked me for a book recommendation that was light, fun and had just a little bit of a love story. If that sounds like something you'd toss in your beach bag, look no further than Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. This quirky tale of friendship and falling in love will have you hooked!

If that touch of romance leaves you wanting more, dive into No Angel by Penny Vincenzi. The first book of this trilogy will introduce you the powerful Lytton family and pre-WWI England. This historical fiction family saga is incredibly addicting. Despite its length, you'll be swooning (and maybe occasionally swearing) your way through this series.

find that loot: sunglasses / lip balm / sunscreen / bag
Want to sit on the beach and take a journey to another time and place? The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh is the book for you! Travel to 1800s South Africa and discover a world of greed and exploitation. I flew through this book, even if I wanted to smack the heroine for being so stupid a time or two, and I think it'd be perfect for anyone wanting a little adventure across the globe.

Love the musical Chicago or the early 1920s? Toss The Girls of Murder City by Douglas Perry into your beach bag. This non-fiction book is anything but boring - it tells the true story the musical was based upon. It's an intriguing tale of crime and the beginnings of sensational media coverage. Don't be fooled by these doe-eyed ladies!

While There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones has some serious moments, but it's also completely hilarious. Jones is so quick-witted and quirky - I absolutely adore her sense of humor. This book is so funny, relatable and touching. It's got a lot of depth and definitely isn't fluff, but it will certainly have you smiling (even if you're tearing up a little, too).

Is it any wonder that Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (yes, THAT one) makes this list? It was such a delightful book, and I had a huge smile on my face almost the entire time I was reading it. Graham is witty and her heroine is charming - this is one celebrity author that left me begging for more!
find that loot: hat / sunglasses / lip balm / bag
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is one of the most psycho books of a marriage gone wrong that I've ever read. I started it on a flight to San Francisco, and I found myself reading the last few pages in baggage claim. I absolutely couldn't put this book down! The characters are all kinds of crazy, and you'll be frantically flipping the pages to find out what happens next.

Need a more relatable kind of drama? Then check out The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner. The travelogue tells the story of three friends who spent a year traveling the globe. From tight budgets to tense relationships, this kind of drama is perfect for a summer day by the ocean. Plus, it will totally make you want to take off and travel the world!

find that loot: towel / hair ties / bag / beach hair set
Sometimes the perfect beach read is one that's comforting and familiar - a book that you can casually pick up and fall back in love with the characters. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a childhood read that would be a great beach companion. The wonder, the mystery and the sweet discoveries in its pages make for a perfect summer read.

Want a little something more? Time to toss Little Women by Louisa May Alcott into your beach bag. The four March sisters will make you smile, laugh, shake your fist and wish they were real. This family is all things comforting and warm. It's a book that will warm your heart while the sun is making you sweat. Sometimes, the summer just makes you want to return to an old friend. 

find that loot: bag / lip balm / hat / paddleball set

June 10, 2013

Secrets, Surprises & So Many Animals

City Girl, Country Vet by Cathy Woodman

Release Date: September 2012
Publisher: Hachette | Hyperion
Pages: 384 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
London veterinarian Maz Harwood has learned the hard way that love and work don't mix. So when Emma, her best friend from vet school, asks her to look after her practice in the English countryside for six months, Maz decides that is just the change of scenery she needs. But country life is trickier than she could have imagined.

It is one thing to trade her smart heels for wellies; it's another to deal with unwelcoming locals, an intense rivalry with the town's other vet practice, and worse yet, the realization that her friend's practice is in as bad a shape as Maz's own broken heart. Things get even more complicated when she meets her rival's dashing son, who is totally unsuitable as a prospect... or is he? Can Maz win over the locals, save the lives of her patients, keep Emma's practice from going under... and find love again?

Thoughts on City Girl, Country Vet
Book cover love strikes again! This was in the Target book section (one of my favorite places to check for new books - there are always things I haven't heard of before that totally appeal to me), and I had to buy it based solely on my love for the cover. Add to that the fact that it is set in England! That's totally a "I want to buy it" word for me.

City Girl, Country Vet is about Maz Harwood, a veterinarian in the city who wants to get lost after her divorced boyfriend (also her boss) breaks up with her to reunite with his wife. Needless to say, she doesn't want to stick around for the humiliation that follows. As luck would have it, her best friend needs her help. Emma has opened her own practice, for small animals, in the country. The stress of running the clinic on her own has finally gotten to her, and she's begging Maz to come and offer some relief.

Come to find out, Emma wants to take a six-month leave to travel with her husband. Maz agrees since she doesn't know what else to do with her life, but she's not too keen about taking over for her friend. The worst part? After Emma's gone, Maz realizes that there's a lot more going on behind-the-scenes than Emma ever let on.

Unfortunately, this book was a letdown for me. I felt like it moved really slow and suffered from a lack of focus. There were numerous animal stories going on - to the detriment of the larger plot. Things just didn't seem developed enough, and that included the characters.

I found Maz often annoying, and I was downright shocked at how Emma kept so many important secrets from her friend. Her whole excuse of "I just didn't realize how bad things were" felt like such a cop-out, and I was legitimately surprised that it didn't seem to affect her relationship with Maz in the least.

There is also a huge focus on the tense relationship between Emma's vet practice (Otter House) and an older, more established vet. The two vets seem to hate each other and feel no qualms about making that very clear. In such a small community, I found it really weird and unprofessional.

Of course, Maz finds (potential) love in the country because obviously this book needed an additional storyline. Unfortunately, the love story was really under-developed, suffering the same fate as everything else going on. It wasn't believable at all, at least to me.

I did expect this to be a sort of happy read, and I was surprised that it's actually kind of depressing. From troubles with the practices to the deaths of some of the vet's patients, I felt really tense while reading this and didn't really look forward to picking it up.

From what I can tell on Goodreads, this is the first in a series that was first published in the U.K. (with six total books at this point). Only the first has been published here in the U.S., and it thankfully ends with most of the different plots wrapped up enough that there's no need to continue on. I wish I'd love this book more (since I still think the cover is adorable), but that doesn't mean it won't work for others!

June 6, 2013

Revolutionary Ridiculousness

The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

Release Date: March 2013
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 395 pages
Series: Renegades of the Revolution #1
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Major Lord Peter Tremayne is the last man rebel bluestocking Kate Grey should fall in love with, but when the handsome Bristish viscount commandeers her home, Kate throws caution to the wind and responds to his seduction. She is on the verge of surrender when a spy in her own household seizes the opportunity to steal the military dispatches Tremayne carries, ensuring his disgrace - and implicating Kate in high treason. Painfully awakened to the risks of war, Kate determines to put duty ahead of desire, and offers General Washington her services as an undercover agent in the City of Brotherly Love.

Months later, having narrowly escaped court martial and hanging, Tremayne returns to decadent, British-occupied Philadelphia with no stomach for his current assignment - to capture the woman he believes betrayed him. Nor does he relish the glittering entertainments being held for General Howe's idle officers. Worse, the glamorous woman in the midst of this social whirl, the fiancée of his own cousin, is none other than Kate Grey herself. And so begins their dangerous dance, between passion and patriotism, between certain death and the promise of a brave new future.

Thoughts on The Turncoat
Readers of this review should note a few things before continuing on. First, I love historical fiction and have desperately wanted some more set during the Revolutionary War. Second, I was highly anticipating this debut novel. So much so that I went to Barnes & Noble on its release day and asked them to get it out of the back for me (since it still hadn't been unpacked). Third, I always try to be respectful in my critical reviews. Unfortunately, I'm about to be majorly rant-y in this one. Also, I am going to spoil certain things in this book because I just have to do it in order to make my point. So, if you're absolutely dying to read this and want to have no idea what happens, just skim or skip this review. You've been warned.

Here's what I thought I was going to get with The Turncoat - a well-written historical fiction novel that included some awesome spying by a feisty heroine! My expectations were sky-high. Shoot, I'd already told a fellow Revolutionary War lover to put this book on her TBR. So, when I started feeling distraught over the turn this book was taking in the first forty pages or so, I soldiered on. Because it had to get better, right?

Kate Grey is a Quaker, which also means she's a pacifist. We're also told that she wears plain clothing and is not very worldly. While that certainly simplifies and in no way addresses what it means to be a Quaker, I point it out because it's a few things you're told about her and are also likely to expect from a Quaker character.

Well, Kate's father goes off to join the war efforts and she's left at home with some woman who turns out to a spy. Surprise! Before her dad took off for the fight, he left some very important papers that absolutely couldn't get into the wrong hands. Which they obviously did because Kate is a total nincompoop and gives the hiding spot away with her eyes. But fine. Let's move past that. The man who finds the papers, Peter Tremayne, is just so entranced by plain and unexperienced Kate that he tells her that she can have the papers back if she leaves her bedroom door open that night. SO SHE DOES. Because that's not completely out of character for a Quaker. No big deal.

Their little tryst or whatever gets interrupted, and he takes off. But, oh the joy, Kate's somehow infatuated with him and wants to be a spy now. Cue an episode where she sees her friend ripped from her home and raped, and then Kate is chased on horseback with her lady spy friend shooting from the saddle like this is some modern-day movie where the guns are that accurate. Sorry, but I'm just not buying it. Not in the least.

So, Kate becomes this expert spy that entrances everyone and fits right into their rich and worldly circles. To the point that she gets engaged to this English psycho who has a terrible reputation because he rapes and plunders wherever he goes. But it's not all for show! She's like legit attracted to this man. Who is Peter's cousin (or is he?). Who she is also still in love with or whatever. After he basically propositioned her for sex in order for her to get the damn letter back. Okay.

There's some spying and shenanigans, like torture, but there's also love (is that what this is?) and sex. And rape. Did I mention the rape? Because it's in there. And Kate just keeps charming everyone even though she hasn't got a single fault or defining characteristic. She's just Kate! Yay! And she's supposedly a Quaker but there's no real evidence that it has any meaning to her or influence over her actions. So why in the heck make her a Quaker in the first place?

Seriously, the characters in this book make no sense. They do things to further the plot along, but not things that actually fit who they are and/or are supposed to be. There was little to no character development. The villain was horrible but of course Quaker Kate wanted him. And his cousin. FOR NO DAMN REASON THAT I COULD TELL. And who are these idiot men that are so moved by this woman that they make terrible decisions? Aren't they supposed to be a little smarter and not so easily manipulated? Why do these people like each other? Why are they acting this way? I can't tell you. Oh wait, yes I can. They're acting that way so that things happen in the book. But I can't discern a motivation beyond that.

Basically, this was like a bodice ripper. And it had paper-thin characters. I didn't want a historical romance. Not ripping on people who love that genre, but it's not really my thing. So I was really frustrated because it's not what I expected from this one. AND HOLY CRAP IF I'M ACTUALLY READING A ROMANCE SHOULDN'T IT BE ROMANTIC?! Because I'm not rooting for  a guy that justifies his cousin's terrible actions by being like "Meh. We've all done it. Welcome to the war." Really? REALLY?!

The plot just seemed ridiculous, the characters were annoying as hell, and most of it just made me LOL in a way that definitely wasn't intended. So, yeah, I was so pissed about this book that made my husband listen to me rant about all the reasons it was the most disappointing thing I've read this year (ever?).
Clearly, this book brought out the worst in me as a reader and a reviewer. I will say that The Turncoat has a ton of four- and five-star reviews on Goodreads so maybe I'm one of the few that just didn't like it. Who knows! I just can't. My eyes are rolling just remembering it all. 

June 5, 2013

You're Making Me Les Miserable

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Release Date: 1862
Pages: 1329 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
First published in 1862, this sprawling novel is an extravagant historical epic that is teeming with harrowing adventures and unforgettable characters. In the protagonist, Jean Valjean, a quintessential prisoner of conscience who languished for years in prison for stealing bread to feed his starving family, Les Miserables depicts one of the grand themes in literature - that of the hunted man. Woven into the narrative are the prevalent social issues of Hugo's day: injustice, authoritarian rule, social inequality, civic unrest. And this new translation brings astonishing vivacity and depth to Hugo's immortal dramatis personae - the relentless police detective Javert, the saintly bishop Myriel, the tragic prostitute Fantine and her innocent daughter, Cosette, the dashing lover Marius, and many others whom Jean Valjean encounters on his path to sublime sacrifice.

Thoughts on Les Misérables
Okay, so I've actually been actively avoiding writing this review. I finished Les Misérables back in March, and yet I'm just now writing this blog post. I think I needed time to distance myself from the book and actually write some coherent thoughts on what I read.

I have many cousins, but the one I'm closest to (both in age and relationship) lives in another state (insert tears here). Since she also loves to read, we've started reading the same books at the same time and sharing our thoughts via phone call and text. It's like our own book club - but without regular meetings and no guilt if you didn't read or don't like the book.

We'd picked recent books for the most part, but we finally decided to tackle one that was on both of our TBRs - Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. We here high off the movie and our big dreams of saying we'd conquered this massive classic! We made a reading schedule - with the chapters/pages we wanted to read per week so that we could finish in a timely manner. And then reality set in. So, let's begin.

Exhibit A: The idea to include screenshots of our texts was actually Rachel's suggestion. She knew I was already struggling over how to review this book, and made this genius suggestion. Obviously, you're in for a few laughs when you see what we thought. Listen, just don't judge us. Also, as you can see, I was a bad influence. Rachel was trying to get me to read - and I was protesting!

Exhibit B: The push to finally take this book off our TBR? Seeing the movie! While I didn't love everything about the movie, I did like it enough to finally get me to sit down and read this chunker. After this conversation, I made our reading schedule and off we went!

Exhibit C: This is the text I reference in the first screenshot - when I said I'd have to start with this. When we began Les Misérables, we were in love. We wrote down quote after quote. We had patience for Hugo's rants and asides. We were giddy with the joy of discovering a new favorite! Who cares that we spent 100 pages talking about a bishop whose role was over after that? We sure didn't! Because it was love.

Exhibit D: Our first taste of the frustration that was to come. The words and names were so hard to pronounce! And the footnotes - oh my goodness. While I appreciate all the work that went into translating this book, the footnotes added like an entire book at the end. Struggle. Too much work! So we skipped those suckers, which probably also means like a bazillion references went over my head.

Exhibit E: Okay, so this just shows you how ridiculous some of the stuff in this book was. We couldn't help laughing at some of the weird details! For example, poor wronged Fantine? Yeah, just check out the description of the guy that used her. I mean, seriously, what a fella. Also, Rachel and I were continually having to ask each other if we'd actually done the reading. Oops!

Exhibit F: There is where trouble was really starting to set in. See, I had such love for this book in the beginning. High off the magic of Hugo's writing, we were flying through and loving almost everything we read. And then we started encountering his long, off-topic asides. About Waterloo. The sewer system. The poor. I totally get what he was aiming for (I think) but it was really such a drag to read. I know that trying to read on a schedule meant I was forcing myself to get through it a little faster (instead of just savoring it over a long period of time), but I honestly don't think I would have ever finished this book otherwise. I loved Hugo's writing when he focused on his characters and their actions. I really couldn't put this book down at those times! But, alas, that was like 40% of this book. Tops.

Exhibit G: You know what's discouraging? When you're 500 pages into a book and still hoping that it will get better. That it will magically become so entrancing that you just can't put it down. Also, yes, I totally skimmed certain sections. So kill me.

Exhibit H: Y'all, I couldn't even motivate myself to read it each week! I got into such a funk that I didn't even want to read anything else either. It's not that I don't understand why this book is a classic. I totally do! And, if you read this blog at all, you know I have some major appreciation for the classics. So, I don't know what happened here. I don't know if it's because I was expecting life-changing epic and didn't realize there'd be so many random rants. Anna Karenina had some similar rants (blergh these old men), but I didn't expect to love the book and then absolutely did. So maybe expectations got the best of me with this one! I just don't know. Also, I was only pretending to blush in embarrassment about only having moved my bookmark. In all honestly, I felt no shame.

Exhibit I: I can honestly say I would not have gotten through this book if it wasn't for Rachel! Like Asheley recently reading Anna Karenina, there's just something about these challenging classics that require a friend on hand to discuss all the feelings... or all the confusion.

I kindly left out the texts where we debated how we'd rate this on Goodreads. Look, I'll be that person who just didn't love this masterpiece. Doesn't mean I don't think it's deserving of being called a masterpiece - it totally is! I just don't think I'll ever read it again. The story at the heart of this book is powerful - redemption, second chances, forgiveness, first love. All amazing and totally up my alley! But Hugo needed to surrender some control and let an editor help him out. So much of the book felt self-indulgent. Why do I have to read about the Battle of Waterloo (with little to no bearing on the story he's telling) just because he wants to talk about it? Publish a dang essay about the topic and leave it out of this story. For the love.

Okay, so I gave it what I call the courtesy classic rating - 3 stars. For Goodreads, that means I liked it. And I did. I also loved some parts (Marius and Cosette, holla!). But I also hated some parts. And that evened out to about a 3 for me. Is it deserving of a 5 for the scope and the writing itself? Sure thing, sugar. But that doesn't mean I enjoyed it on the 5-star level, and I just rate based on my feelings.

Also, now that I'm totally proud of myself for having read this beast, I really want to read an abridged version so I can just read the best parts. Like I said, no shame in my game. (Okay, I do really wish I'd loved this one more. Partly because it seems like everyone who has read it does, and partly because I feel like the nitwit that poo poo-ed a literary classic.) So, there's my slightly random review that tells you almost nothing about this story other than the fact that I obviously didn't have the patience for it.

So Quotable
"The glance has been so abused in love stories that we have ended up discounting it. Hardly anyone dares now say that two beings fell in love because their eyes met. And yet that is the way you fall in love and it is the only way you fall in love. The rest is simply the rest and comes after. Nothing is more real than those great seismic shocks that two souls give each other in exchanging that spark."
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