Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Little Romance Anyone?

I read two books in less than a week.  It'a a miracle because it usually takes me a month to get through a  single book.  These were fun, quick reads that I just couldn't put down. 

Julianne Donaldson is an LDS author and hopeless romantic.  Both books are set in the regency era.  They have a Jane Austen feel to them, but with easier to understand language for simple minds like mine.  Yes they are a bit predictable and of course the characters have happy endings, but I loved them.  Maybe it was my romantic side or just my monthly feminine emotions that made me want to explore secret passages with Henry and sit in the orchard with Phillip.  And I'll admit that I wanted to yell "Yes! He loves you!"  to the leading ladies more than once, but overall these were fun, fluffy reads and I look forward to her next novel.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Historical Reads: It's what I like

I was going to post this on my blog, but since it's about books I figured I'd put it here.  I enjoy reading all kinds of literature, but I really enjoy historical accounts.  I've read a couple books recently that have had me thinking.

First, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.

It's about the Ten Boom family in Holland and they're experiences during WWII.  They became part of the secret underground and hid jews for several years in their own home, which is now a museum.  I've read other accounts from this time period and have enjoyed them, but what I really loved about this book and what has stuck with me was their faith in God.  Even in the darkest and most vile of times he is present and he will help us if we ask Him.  I love my Heavenly Father and my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, but as I read this book I often wondered if I were put in similar circumstances if I would be singing Their praises and preaching about Them to others.  Would I be thanking God for the flea infested "beds" and asking Him to bless my captors?  I honestly don't know. While a lot of books from this era can be depressing, I actually felt uplifted while I read The Hiding Place.

After reading about all the atrocities of WWII I always tell myself that something like that would never happen again.  People wouldn't stand for it.  But then I am reminded that history repeats itself and that even today mass murders and genocides are happening that we seldom hear about.

Our book club just read "To Destroy You Is No Loss" by Teeda Butt Mam and Joan D. Criddle.

Honestly, going into this book I was completely unaware of the history of Cambodia.  This book kept  me up until the wee hours of the morning to see what would happen next and hoping that it wouldn't get any worse - it kind of did.

Here's the summary:

A documentary account of the treatment of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge, written by a keen observor of character and events. Life changed radically for the 15-year-old narrator when the regime took control, turning lives and values upside down. Anyone with education was marked for death; the people of the cities were driven into the countryside to a life of forced agricultural labor under harsh conditions. Positions of responsibility were given to the uneducated and unskilled. As a matter of survival, Teeda learned to hide any sign of her previous education and urban way of life. Although her father was killed, the rest of her family managed to stay together, and her close family relationships sustained Teeda throughout her adolescence. The story of her escape is suspenseful.

As terrible, as horrible, as depressing as it is to learn how political and economic extremism can distort human perception and turn men into beasts, Teeda’s story is at the same time absorbing, edifying, and ennobling--even hopeful. She and her family are exemplars of human courage, determination, and resourcefulness. After four years spent in slave labor and another year in a frustrating attempt to escape with her family to the United States, their spirit of liberty was never crushed. If their destruction was “no loss” to the Khmer Rouge, their preservation has been a decided gain for the citizenry of the United States.  Teeda became a computer programmer in Silicon Valley.

So what this book had me thinking about was of course what would I do.  Would I quietly follow the communist to save my life even if no end was in sight?  Would I die fighting?  Would I commit suicide and escape the troubles of this world?  Once again I honestly don't know.  

It also had me thinking about how quick I am to judge others.  I thought about all the times I've gone to get pedicures in shops run by Vietnamese or others of Asian descent and have thought that I was superior to them.  Now don't get me wrong, it's definitely not an intentional thought, but after being asked questions or trying to carry on conversations and failing to understand their accents, I'll be the first to admit that I thought "They should at least learn English if they're going to live here" or "Why don't they get a real job?" (Sorry Jesse, I know doing nails is a real job, but I don't think you read this anyway) or "If this was a real business they would get someone to babysit the 4 year old kid running around acting like a ninja?"  Man what kind of person am I?  Who knows what theirs, or anyone else's for that matter, story might be.  The guy fixing airplanes at the airport could have been surviving in the jungle killing cobras and pythons, making poison darts to hunt monkeys, or trapping tigers, just a few years ago.  The lady at the donut shop could have been a prisoner and had seen more death and carnage than any human being should have to.  

I know they sound terrible, but they really are great books and I sometimes feel bad sitting in my warm house or lying in a comfy bed while reading about their conditions.  I'm thankful for these accounts to remind us of the past and to help me be grateful for what I have and for a Heavenly Father who hears and answers prayers and for Savior, who suffered so that we could not only have eternal life, but that so He could succor and comfort us in our times of need. 

Some other books I've read:

Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl (WWII) is a good read and helps you realize how resilient the human spirit and the amazing things our mind can do. His theories at the end are a little weird.

Jack and Rochelle is also an account from WWII, but instead of concentration camps, it explains how one Polish family survived by hiding in the woods for a couple years.

Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza - her story of survival and of finding God during the Rwandan genocide.  This took place during my life time, but I still didn't know much about it until I read the book. (Not my favorite though)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Hillary's favorites of 2013

Each year I keep track of all the books I read or re-read. Unfortunately I was unable to read as many books as usual this year because of the time it takes away from my new little one; but I was still able to read 27 books, including more than 12 series, or portions of series that I finished this past year.

There is a quote by G.K. Chesterton that says, "Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity." This rings very true for me. I read to escape from the troubles and turmoils of real life (not that I have a troubled life in the slightest). I live in the real world, I don't want to read about it for fun, I want to escape it which is why I not only choose to read fiction, but science and fantasy fiction at that. Though I do occasionally make exceptions for historical fiction mostly because even if it does take place in the real world, its not the world I live in today. So these recommendations are almost all sci-fi and fantasy stories.

Before I start on my top 5 I should let you know that these books weren't all written in 2013, that's just the year I read them. I also have two honorable mentions that were part of a 3 way tie for fifth place. My personal thoughts on these stories will be in blue text.

The first is Origin by Jessica Khoury

The jungle hides a girl who cannot die.

An electrifying action-romance that's as thoughtful as it is tragic.

Pia has grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest. She was raised by a team of scientists who have created her to be the start of a new immortal race. But on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Pia discovers a hole in the electric fence that surrounds her sterile home--and sneaks outside the compound for the first time in her life.

Free in the jungle, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Together, they embark on a race against time to discover the truth about Pia's origin--a truth with deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.

I particularly liked this book because in a world that is obsessed with series, trilogies, and sagas this is a complete story and stand alone novel, so not a single page is wasted. I also loved that though the love story seems very Shakespearean, it is still original. The ending has a surprise twist and a resolution that is opposite what most authors go for these days. Instead of the author giving immortality away left and right, and allowing their characters to be together forever Ms. Khoury takes that gift away, proving that her characters are only human; a quality that I love. 

Honorable mention number 2 is Viking Warrior by Judson Roberts.

In 9th century Denmark, a child born to a slave is also a slave, and the property of his mother's master. Halfdan, the son of an Irish noblewoman and the Danish chieftain who captured and enslaved her, has grown up a slave in his own father's household. But the Norns, the weavers of the fates of all men, have different plans for him--although rarely do they give a gift without exacting a price.

The Strongbow Saga is an epic tale of one man's unstoppable quest for justice and vengeance that carries him across the 9th century world of the Vikings. In Viking Warrior, book one of the Saga, a cruel twist of fate both frees Halfdan and robs him of the mother he loves, setting him upon the path to a new destiny. But a brutal act of treachery and murder upends Halfdan's new life, sending him on the run with ruthless hunters hot on his trail.

The First installment of the Strongbow Saga (I'm waiting for the library to get the other 2 so I can read them) written by a historian of the viking age, is incredibly accurate, heart pounding and a little tear jerking. If you are at all sensitive to historical violence this book is not for you with scenes of Pagan rituals to All Father Odin and Thor, viking raids and massacres, and passing mentions of rape it is not for the weak stomach. The fast pace and heart wrenching story of Halfdan will keep you turning pages all night long.

Alright, now down to business. My 5 favorite reads of 2013.

5. Syrena Legacy Series by Anna Banks


Galen, a Syrena prince, searches land for a girl he’s heard can communicate with fish. It’s while Emma is on vacation at the beach that she meets Galen. Although their connection is immediate and powerful, Galen’s not fully convinced that Emma’s the one he’s been looking for. That is, until a deadly encounter with a shark proves that Emma and her Gift may be the only thing that can save his kingdom. He needs her help—no matter what the risk.
Of Poseidon is the start of The Syrena Legacy series by Anna Banks.

Emma has just learned that her mother is a long-lost Poseidon princess, and now struggles with an identity crisis: As a Half-Breed, she's a freak in the human world and an abomination in the Syrena realm. Syrena law states all Half-Breeds should be put to death.
As if that's not bad enough, her mother's reappearance in the Syrena world turns the two kingdoms--Poseidon and Triton--against one another. Which leaves Emma with a decision to make: Should she comply with Galen's request to keep herself safe and just hope for the best? Or should she risk it all and reveal herself--and her Gift--to save a people she's never known?
Once again, Anna Banks infuses Emma and Galen's points of view with humor, intrigue, and waves of romance.

These books are much better than they sound and are filled with mermaids, romance, and mayhem. Though incredibly predictable with the handsome new guy in school who has all of the money in the world and a big empty house, it is well written (if you don't mind the first person present tense). One of the best parts of these books is the authors comedic timing and her stellar supporting characters.  The Syrena Legacy books are an easy read that will leave you grinning and begging for the rest of the story.

4. The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan

The Gang from Camp Half-Blood returns in this new adventure featuring several new characters and a few old ones. Fans of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series will find these books just as fun and entertaining, with a few references to the good ol' days of Percy and Annabeth's quests. Nevertheless, you don't have to have read the previous series to understand and enjoy this one. Riordan has done endless research into the Greek and Roman mythologies to paint a rich and detailed picture in these new mythological stories (and re-tellings of some old ones).  He also has (in my opinion) the most likeable, relateable, and realistic (minus the demi-god part) characters in Junior and Teen fiction since Harry Potter. 
 In this series Percy and the gang from Camp Half-Blood team up with some kids from the Roman Camp Jupiter on a quest to stop the evil earth mother Gaea from rising, causing the apocalypse, and handing the earth over to the titans.  

3. The Ruby Red Trilogy

Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. She was the one born on the date that had been foretold. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!
Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon—the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.

I could not put these books down, and even went so far as to get the audio books, so I didn't have to. A secret fascist society, a love interest already spoken for by her cousin, a plucky best friend for a sidekick, and a pet gargoyle (in books 2&3) are just a few of the things that make Gwyneth awesome and likeable. Not to mention her knowledge of pop culture and daftness when it comes to history which is why she is the ultimate awkward time traveler. And when an evil time traveling Count realizes that she will be his down fall, her life is on the line. The whole series takes place over a course of about 3 weeks and is very fast paced, it is also chaste and the language though there are 2 or 3 sh-- words used is quite clean for a YA novel these days. 

It was originally written in German, but takes place in London and is impeccably translated. Unlike with Inkheart, I couldn't even tell. I am just bummed that the film to be released March 14th, though filmed in London, is completely dialogued in German. I however take no issue with subtitles (if you knew about my k-drama obsession you would know I have subtitle imprints burned into my retinas long after I've stopped watching) and will be one of the first to buy the DVD with English subtitles of course.

 2. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.
BRILLIANT! Don't let the author's last name fool you. These books are richly developed and incredibly in depth in the science fiction realm. Ms. Meyer took inspiration from the Joss Whedon series Firefly to develop these stories. They are not just a make-over of Cinderella and Red Riding Hood, they are a total surgical transformation complete with nervous system reconstruction, brain surgeries, skin grafts, and prosthesis (the stories not the characters... well one character I guess). When reading Cinderella or watching the Disney movie I never thought of this.
 Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

 Incredibly clean, very chaste, with only a small amount of violence and gore, this series almost took the top spot for me. I cant wait for cress to come out next month
Cress (Lunar Chronicles, #3)

1. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

I did not just pick this book because I was at the release and got to meet the author, or because he inscribed my book with the address: Her Ladyship Queen Hillary Empress of the Universe and Beyond. (He said he would write anything I wanted him to and it was either that or Wibbly Wobbly timey Wimey diddle daddle Nutcracker pipsqueak. I thought he'd get a kick out of it).  This book topped my list because it is genius. A non-stop high velocity gritty action movie packed into 384 little pages. It does lack emotional connection or impact, but what it lacks in emotion it more than makes up for with it's awkward moments  and witty banter between the leading characters. 

One of the things that made this book great for me (Besides the lead character's quirk of coming up with painfully awkward metaphors*) was that in this phase where everyone is obsessed with dystopian literature and revolution Sanderson chose instead to write about retribution. Now the characters may have started a revolution (I don't know, the 2nd book doesn't come out until September) but that was not the point of his story. 

Brandon Sanderson was driving along one day when someone cut him off in traffic.
“I had this immediate guttural reaction of, ‘You’re lucky I don’t have superpowers, because I would totally blow your car off the road!’ ” Sanderson said of the incident. “And I was horrified, right? Because I was like, ‘Where did that come from, that side of me? It’s a good thing I don’t have superpowers!’ ” That idea joined another he’d already had in his mind: “What if the good guys didn’t always have the power?”

In this story the super villains "Epics" have taken over the world, but Steelheart is the worst of them all he has all of the powers of Superman plus the ability to transform any non organic or dead objects into solid steel. He makes the true "Man of Steel" look about as powerful and intimidating as a naked mole rat. He and his minions have taken over Chicago, turned the whole town and the ground beneath it into solid steel, and cast it into eternal darkness. The only person who is brave enough to go up against him is an 18 year old boy named David (Yes, that David was Sanderson's inspiration for this story)


There are no heroes.
Every single person who manifested powers—we call them Epics—turned out to be evil.
Here, in the city once known as Chicago, an extraordinarily powerful Epic declared himself Emperor. Steelheart has the strength of ten men and can control the elements. It is said no bullet can harm him, no sword can split his skin, no explosion can burn him. He is invincible.
It has been ten years. We live our lives as best we can. Nobody fights back . . . nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans who spend their lives studying powerful Epics, finding their weaknesses, then assassinating them.
My name is David Charleston. I’m not one of the Reckoners, but I intend to join them. I have something they need. Something precious, something incredible. Not an object, but an experience. I know his secret.
I’ve seen Steelheart bleed.

Knowing how the story goes now, that intro gives me chills just reading it. If you are looking for a cutesy girlie read, read #'s 5 or 3 on my list, This book is not it! This is very much a man's book, but I loved it. Then again I am the girl that would take the Avengers over Austen any day.

I hope you have enjoyed my post I'll post my worst reads of the year next week. For now I bis you Adieu and happy reading.

*a couple of my favorite "David Metaphors"  FYI: Sanderson had to work really hard to come up with some of these. Bad metaphors aren't easy for a good writer

 "But even a 90 year old blind priest would stop and stare at this woman. If he weren't blind, that is"

"I feel like a brick made of porridge"