Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Awake the Travel Bug

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It’s no secret that I love to travel. If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you’ll know that I take every chance I get to explore the world. Alas, travel can be a bit expensive, so while I’m saving up for my next great adventure, reading books that take me to exotic locales is the next best thing. Here are a few of my favourites for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl:

  1. Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan – “Alamak!” All of the fantastic locales that Kwan describes… and the food alone makes me want to hop on a plane and set out for Singapore. The entire series is an awesome and hilarious adventure.
  2. Love and Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch – Again, with the food. I love Italy, and this book took me right back to visiting the Duomo and eating too much gelato.
  3. An Age of License, by Lucy Knisley – I’m a huge fan of Lucy Knisley’s graphic memoirs, but this one is especially fun, because readers get to follow her as she travels through Europe.
  4. The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – Set in London, The Royal We features tons of cool locations in one of my favourite cities. Also, did I mention that there is a handsome, single prince in this book? Seriously, even if you hate London, the Prince is enough to keep things interesting.
  5. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon – Does time travel count? I mean, it’s still travel… Also, did I mention the super-hot scotsman in this one? No? Well… Why else does one travel?
  6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert – Yes, I was inspired by the travel. Also, this book just made me hungry.
  7. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain – Perhaps not an exotic locale for me, but I liked Twain’s descriptions of the languid Mississippi river set as the backdrop for boyhood adventures. If you are a fan of Nick Offerman (because why wouldn’t you be?) there is an audiobook out where he narrates.
  8. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed – I think I liked reading this one so much because for a few hundred pages I could experience hiking the Pacific Crest trail without actually having to hike. I hate hiking, ya’ll. But, I loved this book.
  9. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien – Confession: I kind of gave up in book two, because what is with all of that “they walked through the forest” for like a million pages BS? Sorry, bookish internet. I promise to go back and read it again. The Lord of the Rings did inspire some of my travels in New Zealand, though.
  10. Paper Towns, by John Green – One night, Quentin’s crush Margo climbs in through his window and everything changes. An awesome mystery/road trip novel that always makes me want to return to Florida.

 

What books make you want to travel more?

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Educated, by Tara Westover

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“This is not a story about being Mormon,” writes New York Times Bestselling author Tara Westover, at the start of Educated, a book that has been compared to narratives about cults. I’ll admit that I was intrigued initially, based on this description, but I was quickly won over by Westover’s candid and heartfelt account of her experience growing up in the mountains as part of a fundamentalist Mormon family. Readers who love a good, gritty memoir packed with excitement and a narrator that you can’t help but root for will love Educated.

Family Values

There were many elements of Tara Westover’s life that shocked and surprised me, to the point that I couldn’t set down the book, because I just had to know what would happen. The many visceral descriptions of abuse and other frightening moments in Westover’s life were fascinating to read about, but what stuck out as the most dynamic parts of the story were not her “escape” into more “mainstream” culture, but the relationships that she had with her family.

Even though Westover lives through some truly terrible moments at the hands of her older brother Shawn and her bipolar father, the view that she creates of her family feels balanced. No one is ever quite a villain in this piece, which makes them all the more endearing to read about. I think it is because she includes such tender, honest moments between these characters that they are made human in the readers’ eyes. Because I felt that Westover loved her family despite their flaws, I found myself loving them too.

A College Narrative with a Twist

Maybe it is because I went on to post-secondary education that I was attracted to the descriptions of Tara at College, but I liked reading about her experiences there. This section of the book had some particularly excellent tension, as I was constantly wondering how she would pass courses that required knowledge Tara did not have based on her lack of a high school education, or how she would pay for another semester when she was too broke to eat.

Even more fascinating was Tara’s point of view as a strict Mormon living for the first time with “gentiles.” It was a unique perspective to view and I found that while the earlier scenes featuring her family (and the many times that Tara was put in dangerous situations), this section had its own revelations that kept me turning the pages. I loved reading about her gentile roommates, who had to remind her to wash her hands, or the moment in a lecture where she didn’t know who Hitler was. Reading this section gave me a clearer sense of Westover’s struggle.

Read This Book

Deeply moving, raw and wild like the mountain that she hails from, Tara Westover’s Educated is a narrative that you won’t want to miss. I may have come for the sensational story about escape from a survivalist family, but I found that I never wanted to leave.

Have you read Educated yet? Feel free to share in the comments what you liked about it!

 

 

*Thanks to Netgalley for providing this Advanced Readers Copy!

The Witches of New York, by Ami Mckay

Book Review

 

Normally, I don’t like to choose big historical tomes for a plane ride regardless of how long the flight might be, but on a recent trip to Norway, this book caught my attention. And since today is my birthday, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about one of my favourite books I’ve read this year. …Maybe it was because it had a supernatural element woven into the plot that made me take the risk, but I’m certainly glad that I did. The Witches of New York is not only beautifully written, but it is also a wild historical adventure.  One that, admittedly, made me wish for an extra hour on that plane!

The Supernatural Sisterhood

IMG_6400Forget about The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants,* The Witches of New York features (mainly) three witches living in New York City and it is at least in part a story of their lives as they try to make an honest living in their tea shop, Tea and Sympathy. There are plenty of seances, ghostly encounters and other strange sprightly occurrences to keep the reader turning pages. What I loved though, is the narrative about women’s rights that also gets woven into the storyline, whether it is through the mention of the Suffragette movement or the more immediate struggles that Eleanor, Adelaide and Beatrice face as they strive to provide certain banned services to the women who frequent their shop looking for more than tea and gossip.

A Hair-Raising Mystery

As if fantastic girl-power narratives aren’t enough, on another level, The Witches of New York features an intricately designed mystery that unfolds as the characters are brought together. At first, I was daunted by the number of characters that are introduced at the beginning of the book. If they hadn’t each been distinct and interesting, it might have counted against my enjoyment, but as I watched the characters gravitating towards one another and learned of their interconnectedness, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of excitement.

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Verisimilitude in the City

Amidst the exciting setting and plot, the elements of verisimilitude were an added level of intrigue. Embedding bits of “newspaper” and pages from spell books or want ads created a thoroughly fascinating, multilayered world. This, paired with a whole cast of loveable characters makes The Witches of New York a totally engrossing read. Even if you don’t like historical fiction, this book is too magical not to read.

 

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*Actually, don’t forget about The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. I love that series too, for its’ fun, girl-power awesomeness.

 

 

Gorgeous Graphic Novels You Should Pick Up Today

  1. Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson – Even though it’s not a new graphic novel, I have to mention it, because it is just that awesome. Shapeshifters, weird -technology AND an evil genius who might not be that evil? Yeah. If you haven’t already, just go and buy it. Read it and then read it again.
  2. Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride, by Lucy Knisley – I’ve read ALL of Lucy Knisley’s graphic novels so far and this one is equally fantastic. With her sharp wit and funny, relatable stories about getting married, I loved dipping back into Lucy’s continued saga once again.
  3. Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq, by Sarah Glidden – I picked this book up because of the art on the cover, but I fell in love with the beautiful artwork. This book showed me so many different perspectives; through the narrative it feels like Sarah Glidden takes you along on her adventure.
  4. In Real Life, by Cory Doctorow – As a sci-fi fan, I was drawn into the engrossing online world of Coarsegold Online, but I was fascinated by the way that Cory Doctorow examines not only adolescence, but also poverty and culture-clash.
  5. Lumberjanes, by Grace Ellis & Noelle Stevenson – Hardcore lady-types rejoice! This series is a fun, fantastical and perfect reading material for anyone who likes strong-female-oriented narratives that involve all manners of supernatural coolness.
  6. ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times, by Andrew MacLean– As we follow Aria and her cat Jelly Bean through the apocalyptic landscape, we discover that Aria is on a mission. This fast-paced adventure has it all: sci-fi awesomeness, creepy aliens and some seriously action-packed scenes.
  7. Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, by Kate Leth – a fun, fast-paced story that is equal parts witty and thought-provoking, I couldn’t put it down. Sure, Patsy may have (literally) escaped Hell, but now she’s just trying to be normal in New York City. Naturally, hilarity ensues.
  8. SuperMutant Magic Academy, by Jillian Tamaki – set in an academy for SuperMutants, there are science experiments gone awry, a new kid who is also a fortune telling cat and a plethora of zany antics that still feel so true to the high school experience. Funny, poignant and beautifully illustrated, this is a great book to pick up if you love all things weird and wonderful.

What graphic novels do you love?

 

Diary of Anna the Girl Witch

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Anna the Girl Witch, by Max Candee is an interesting weaving of fiction and folklore. Although it had a slow start, the mystery surrounding Irvigne Manor and Anna’s heritage drew me in. As an orphan, Anna never knew her parents but instead was raised by Uncle Misha and Mama Bear in the Russian wilderness. On her thirteenth birthday, Anna is about to discover that not only is she not an orphan, but her family is more than a little bit strange.

An Unusual Sidekick

Samwise Gamgee and Hermione have nothing on Squire.  Sure, they may be loyal, but can they fit into a backpack? One of my favourite characters in this book was Squire, a disembodied hand. Maybe it’s the fact that for a “sidekick” character, a hand is unusual, but I also felt that the author still manages to infuse such warmth into his character without actually showing any facial expressions or body language other than bobbing and tickling. I think what I liked about Squire was that despite his macabre appearance, he isn’t scary or evil. He’s just…unusual.

A Sneaking Suspicion

The best part of any children’s book (I think) is the sneaking around that occurs as the story progresses and this book was no exception. Whether she was sneaking out to the forest to light a candle and discover more about her family or tip-toeing around the expansive orphanage in Geneva, Anna seems to always find a way to duck the rules and in the process, she takes the readers with her.

A Complex Character

Throughout the book, Anna struggles to uncover who she really is (other than being a witch, of course). While she ultimately discovers that there is a little bit of good and not-so-good in everyone, I thought that the portrayal of her struggle was honest. There were several times where Anna has impulses to do things that aren’t so heroic, but I think that her role models –Anne Frank and Malala Yousafzai — tempers her development and gives the reader a deeper understanding of who Anna is becoming.

If you love a good middle-grade mystery with some supernatural intrigue, then be sure to pick up Diary of Anna the Girl Witch!

What are your favourite supernatural sidekicks?

Throwback Book Club: Vampire Academy

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Confession: I’ve never read Vampire Academy. I know, I know. It was a big movie ten years ago…but…it just fell off of my radar and I never read the series. Then, one day last week, I picked up a copy at my local thrift store because, well, why not? When I discovered the #throwbackbookclub organized by EmmaBooks, Adam Silvera and Michael BookLion I knew that I had to give Vampire Academy a shot…

Told from the perspective of Rose Hathaway, Vampire Academy is the story of Rose and her best friend Lissa’s return to St. Vladimir’s Academy after being on the run for two years. Rose, a half-vampire, half-human dhampir must protect Lissa (a full vampire) from the constant threat of the evil Strigoi; what they learn is that inside the academy might be just as dangerous than the outside…

A Whole New (Vampric) World

9781595143600I’ve read a lot of vampire books during the whole “glittering vampire” phase, but what I liked about this one was the unique use of vampire lore to create an entirely different world. Creating different kinds of vampires like “Strigoi” (the evil ones), “Moroi” (the royal ones) and “Dhampirs” (the half-human guardian ones) added a whole new dimension to the story.

Cool Narrative Devices

Richelle Mead also uses some interesting devices with narration. Although the narrative is told from Rose’s point of view, because she has a connection that allows her to see inside of Lissa’s mind, we are transported to Lissa’s point of view occasionally too. I thought this was a clever way to work with point of view. This and the fact that the mystery was drawn out slowly made Vampire Academy a quick read.

Girl Buddies Rule

My favourite part of this book was Rose and Lissa’s friendship. Even though there is romance in this story, the narrative mostly revolves around best friends and what it means to be a good friend. I think that this is a great message to have in a YA book, because while romance is always fun, it’s also awesome to see girl BFFs represented in a positive, non-catty light.

Girls rule!

What books have you been meaning to pick up but haven’t yet? Have you read Vampire Academy? What did you think of it?

Vicious, by V.E. Schwab

I listened to Vicious as an audio book and found myself wanting to drive around endlessly just to see how the story ended. The first in the “Villains” series, we are introduced to Victor and and Eli, who were once college roommates working on a project on adrenaline and near-death experiences but are not better enemies. Who will win out in the end?

Good Vs. Evil

Usually, I’m not a fan of the standard “good vs. evil” narrative, but I was intrigued by the structure of this story enough to give it a chance. I’m glad that I did. While the first half of the book situates the reader in the mind of Victor, who has recently escaped from a ten-year stint in prison for murder, the second half drops us into Eli’s consciousness. Both characters, we learn, are as the title suggests: vicious. Even though I would argue that Victor is meant to be more of a heroic figure, Eli (who is on a quest to eradicate all humans who have ExtraOrdinary abilities) is still made to be a sympathetic character. Although some might argue that both characters inhabit a morally grey area, I think it makes them all the more enticing.

After all, as the narrator suggests…

“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”

Narrative Shifts

The narrative flashes back and forth between the past where Victor and Eli make disturbing discoveries and the present, ten years later when they are enemies. Each chapter is a different time frame, ranging from ten years ago to two hours ago. As an audiobook, I have to say that this sometimes got a bit confusing if I didn’t first hear the time shift. Narratively though, it kept me listening because I was so curious to piece together the puzzle of how Victor and Eli had become enemies.

A New Take on Superheroes

Reminiscent of the 1990 horror film Flatliners, the excitement begins when Victor and Eli begin to experiment with near-death experiences by trying to kill each other as a way of unearthing their own dormant ExtraOrdinary abilities. I’ve read some reviews that would call this plot “derivative,” but I would have to disagree. What V.E. Schwab does with this notion (even though it is not new) is clever, because she uses the idea of near-death experiences as a way to explain the existence of super heroes.  I would also argue that there have been plenty of stories that were derived in some way from other similar narratives (read more about that here) and what makes a story truly worthwhile is the gorgeous prose (check), fascinating characters (check) and fast-moving plot (check).

If you’re looking for a story where the good guys look like good guys and the bad guys wear black cloaks and cackle, go read something else. If you love complex, engrossing books with characters who will make you think, read Vicious. I guarantee it’s a book you’ll want to devour.

 

What are your favourite super hero stories? Why, exactly, are we drawn to tales of super hero strength?