Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite Books of 2010

2010 is coming to an end, and so is our first year of existence. We've read and reviewed 66 books over the course of the year, some amazing, some awful, some just average. I believe now is a good time to say which were the best reads of this year. Some were published this year, most were not. We just lay our hands on them during 2010. Without further ado, our top-5 reads of the year :

Aithen's favorite books of 2010


Wych-kin, similar to what we call demons, run all over London. It is up to Thaniel Fox to rid the city of them. On one of his hunting trips, he encounters a young woman, Alaizabel Cray. I especially loved the world created.


The Alienist
Laszlo Kreisler investigates a series of gruesome murders, all committed on young prostitute boys. He explores the psychology of the murderer in search of clues. What I preferred in this one is the complexity of the plot - every page was more complicated than the last.


Stuck in an alive prison, Finn tries to escape its grasp. Meanwhile, outside the prison, Claudia, the daughter of Incarceron's, the alive prison's, warden, is trying to escape a marriage to a boy she despises. Though at the time, I hadn't given it a very high rating, Incarceron marked me. I can't wait to read the sequel, I've already ordered it!


People have a chip inside their head that constantly gives them the latest updates on everything - fashion, games, vacation locations. Titus, a normal teenager, meets Violet, a young girl who rather dislikes her feed and the capitalist society that comes with it. There was so much emotion in this book, it overflowed. The world was frightening, yet amazing.

In a world where troublesome children, orphans and tithes can be unwound (have all their organs removed and donated), three Unwinds, Connor, Lev and Risa are running from their fate. The horrifying scenes and terrifying world in this book were what made Unwind memorable for me - I still think of them sometimes and cringe.

Beryl's favorite books of 2010


In Panem, every year, two children from twelve districts are chosen to compete against each other in an arena. The last person alive wins. The Hunger Games has a message, and this message is very clear. It is the perfect presentation of humans' cruelty and of how some people see many things as simple games that they watch from high above. It is the start of a good trilogy, but it's the best of all three books.


Noughts and Crosses
In a world where the white are persecuted and the black rule the world, and where both races are not supposed to mingle, Callum and Sephy struggle to love each other. This book really brings in a fresh point of view and slaps discrimination in our faces. It is true and tragic, and I recommend it to all young adults.


The Lovely Bones
Susie Salmon was murdered on December 6, 1973, after being raped. It's from her gazebo in heavens that she tells the story of how her family survives her loss and how life goes on. I had trouble putting this book down. It was filled with so many emotions it brought me to tears. It is a beautiful story that proves that after the greatest tragedy, not all is lost and that life keeps on going...


The Book Thief
In Nazi Germany, Liesel Meminger, a little girl adopted by a foster family, starts an amazing love affair with books and words. I will always remember this book for its wonderful characters and truthfulness, and how Zusak succeeded in showing a side of Nazi Germany that I didn't know. Told by the point of view of Death and written in a very original way, this is a must read.


The Garden of Everlasting Spring
One of the most beautiful and inspiring stories I ever read. It is the tale of the Laguna women who struggle against their curse of unhappy love throughout many generations. The characters are memorable and deep, and the writing is elegant and extremely rich. This book is for all who crave true love.

Happy New Year! And our best wishes for the upcoming year. May you read as much as you want!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Graveyard Book

After his family was murdered, a little boy wanders into a graveyard, where the ghosts decide to let him live with them and protect him from the murderer still searching for hi. Raised by spirits, the boy, named Nobody, will stay with his adoptive parents and guardians until he reaches manhood.

I got a lot of money for Christmas (people never know what to get me, so they opt for gift cards for book shops), and The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, is the first book I bought with my new (and temporary) riches. Wonderful, wonderful book, in all aspects, and even if it's sometimes labelled as a children's book, it's much more than that.

First of all, I had never personally seen a story about a child being raised by ghosts, in a graveyard. Sure, there are lots of ghost stories out there, but this one struck me as truly unique, and was well enough executed to excuse any resemblances to other novels.

The characters are amazing. Bod, short for Nobody, is growing up in a graveyard. Obviously, he's different from the other children, and Gaiman really has the trick to make his characters believable. Bod really grows throughout the novel, and has an amazing depth I can only admire. The crew of ghosts and spirits that raises Bod is also very diversified, and though none of them are as well developed as Bod himself, they are all unique.

The way this story was written was in a series of short stories, memorable moments of Bod's childhood. Most of them don't have much of a link between them, but that doesn't really matter. The tales of Bod's life are all equally adorable and they all draw you into the story. What I really liked, though, was how even though each story could stand alone, there was an actual plot : Jack wants, needs, to kill Bod. It was introduced in the first chapter, and concluded in the last, each story bringing its own contribution to the evolution of the story.

The only thing this book lacked was explanation. The book raised many, many questions, and hardly any of them were actually answered. Who is the Honour Guard, what do they do, how did they come to be? Where do the Jacks of All Trades come from, what is their purpose, who prophesied their death? I wish the book had provided answers to all these questions and more.

Overall, even though many side stories and plots in the book were left hanging, I thought it was a wonderful book. I didn't stop reading for an instant once I opened it. I read on the ride home, on the sofa, on the other sofa when my brother pushed me out of the TV room. I read it in a single sitting, and I couldn't have put it down if I had wanted to. I recommend it to everyone, young and old. It has the power to charm any reader, even if the years during which they were Bod's age are far, far away. After all, this childhood tale is, as Neil Gaiman said himself, also one about parenting.


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Rating : 9/10

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan's last thirty years, from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding, that puts the violence, fear, hope and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives, the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness, are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

The very first issue I had with this book was that I didn't like reading about a woman that is married against her will and that is afterward beaten for various reasons and trapped in an unhappy marriage. Because this is also the story of many real women, I felt bad and didn't enjoy reading the first few chapters. I nevertheless pushed myself and made it to the end rather satisfied.

I picked up A Thousand Splendid Suns mainly because I wanted to learn something new. This book is rich in history and culture of Afghanistan, and I'm glad it enlightened me.

This is the story of Mariam and Laila who survive the many conflicts in Afghanistan and also the hardships of their marriage to the same man, Rasheed, your typical cruel husband who beats and reduces the freedom of his wives. It's the story of how, despite those hardships, they create a family and find happiness after many years of death and war.

The book is written in the point of view of Mariam and Laila, and alternates between the two. The plot itself is quite good, but to me most of the characters seemed flat, at the beginning especially. There isn't much I could say about any of them. They aren't memorable characters, either, and got better only towards the ending of the book. Look how short my review is! I really don't have much to say about it. It is a book that will be appreciated for the mass of information it contains, for its message and meaning, but not for the characters.

I think this story should be read for the context and history it presents. It definitively has something to teach, but I consider A Thousand Splendid Suns as the kind of book that is only good to read if you want to get a good portrait of some chunk of history: The characters are flat, the writing style is simple and uninspiring, and so all you pay attention to or remember after the read is the drama and the moral.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Rating: 7,7/10

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Books that will become movies : Incarceron

Incarceron's review is here

No. I can't believe it.

And that was supposed to sound really, really depressed and annoyed.

So Fox 2000 is going to make a movie out of Incarceron. Super! I loved that book. I hope it'll follow the book's plot enough for me to appreciate it. I'm also anxious for Sapphique to come out in Canada, so I can buy it. I'm literally counting down days, and there are 5 left.

But guess who's been casted as Finn.

Taylor Launtner.



That just ruined it for me. He hasn't proven he can act, and he doesn't even fit the role! Finn isn't supposed to be over-the-top gorgeous (I don't think Taylor Launtner is gorgeous, but the fangirls do), he's an awkward misfit that looks ugly compared to his buddy.

Whatever. I'll go see it anyways, and review it anyways, but right now, I am I had high expectations for this book, the book itself fulfilled them, but THIS? I guess I'll have to wait to see the movie to really judge it, but I can hardly believe they actually casted Taylor Launtner as Finn. Ugh.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Zombies vs. Unicorns

It's a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths—for good and evil—of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

Aithen's Review

This was a pretty awesome anthology, to say the least.

I adore zombies (though as a kid, I was a fervent believer that unicorns existed and would be back to save the world - some day), and I was already 100% team zombie before I even started reading this anthology. But that didn't stop me from loving many team unicorn stories (even if the zombies were better, in the end).

Something I really loved is the little introductions Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier gave before each story. They were really funny, and it was cute to see them argue about which kind of mythical creature was best.

It was amazing to see all the different stories that could be done with the theme. Every single one was different, even if a zombie or unicorn had to play a main part. They were all quite different, and that is what made every single story interesting.

Of course, I won't review every single story in the book, but I'll tell you the highlights of my read:

- The Children of the Revolution, by Maureen Johnson
A seriously deranged story that sent shivers down my spine. My favourite story of all. No story can even start to amaze me as much as this one. I had never heard of the author before, but I am definitely hunting down more of her books with my Christmas money.

- The Care and Feeding of your Baby Killer Unicorn, by Diana Peterfreund
A really amazing unicorn story. Killer unicorns? Count me in! This story was really, really cool, and the best of the unicorn stories. If all unicorn stories were as good as this one, maybe my unconditional zombie love would've wavered. Maybe.

- Inoculata, by Scott Westerfeld
A strange spin on a zombie story. Zombie-human hybrids are extremely interesting, and the fact that the main love-story is between two girls just adds to the awesomeness.

- Princess Prettypants, by Meg Cabot
Absolutely hilarious, this story kept me laughing all through physics class (don't do like me, kids, reading in class is bad, bad bad XD). It was a caricature, really, of the sparkling purple and white unicorns of our childhood, and it was exquisitely done, too. Another author I've never heard of and am going to read more from. (Okay, wait, scratch that. ALL her stories are sparkling-colorful-girlish stuff. Guhh. )

These stories could've given this book an easy 10. Sadly, some of them weren't as good (Like Cassandra Clare's Cold Hands. I was so disappointed with it, and I already didn't really like her books and wasn't expecting too much. Margo Lanagan's A Thousand Flowers actually disgusted me. Bestiality? With a unicorn? Uh, sorry, but no. Hating that.) and made me want to give this book a 6. That's the problem with anthologies, I guess. Some stories are amazing, some aren't, and you have to live with it. Overall, though, it was really excellent, and I recommend it to all zombie-, unicorn-, and fantasy-lovers out there.

What team will you be on? Zombie, or unicorn?

The awesome-tastic promotional video


Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
Rating : 8,5/10

Beryl's Review

I'll tell you which story I liked, and which I didn't.

Those that I liked:

Love Will Tear us Apart (Alaya Dawn Johnson): This story is told by the point of view of a zombie, which I found interesting, since no other story did this. All the thoughts and the mentality of the protagonist who is actually the zombie really gave a cool insight.

Purity Test (Naomi Novik): Hilariously ridiculous. It's the kind of story that is so silly you just love it.

The Children of the Revolution (Maureen Johnson): This story was funny, but I found it a bit generic. I know Maureen Johnson is a popular and good author, but I found her story a bit unoriginal. She took the base concept of zombies and made her characters turn into them. Let's say there was no new element. She didn't try to redo the concept of zombies in her own way. The reading was nevertheless good.

The Care and Feeding of your Baby Killer Unicorn (Diana Peterfreund): I think this one is my favorite. I just found it really fun to read and I couldn't wait to learn what happened to the baby unicorn.

Inoculata (Scott Westerfeld) : This story had an interesting concept, and kudos for the lesbian pairing.

Princess Prettypants (Meg Cabot): I laughed so hard while I read this. This story really made me pity and relate to the protagonist. It's another of my favorite stories.

The Third Virgin (Kathleen Duey): The story is told by the point of view of a unicorn, and so it's another interesting insight. Loved the ending.

Prom night (Libba Bray): Libba Bray has a usual succeeded in creating this atmosphere that makes the reader want to keep reading. Her short story really seemed like the beginning of an awesome novel. It only lacked a bit more of zombie action.

Those I didn't like

The Highest Justice (Garth Nix): Very dull, lack of characterization, and a mess overall. I browsed through it quickly instead of wasting my time reading it.

Bougainvillea (Carrie Ryan): It had a nice decor and setting, but the rest was boring.

A Thousand Flowers (MargoLlanagan): Somewhat weird. A failed attempt at creating a sort of fairytale with bestiality. What I hated most was that the story was told by the point of view of three persons, but in the 1st person. You don't write a few pages using the 1st person point of view, because it has the effect that the reader quickly gets attached to the narrator. If you kill the narrator off a few pages after, and switch to another person, the reader is destabilized. The transactions from person to person were also messy.

Cold hands (Cassandra clare): Boring. It's Cassandra Clare, after all.


Rating : 9/10 (if you don't count the bad stories)

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Book Thief

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

This is a magnificent story about the power of words set in Nazi Germany, where Death tells the tale of a little girl who started an affair with books that eventually saved her life.

The writing is rich and Zusak toys with the words like only the best authors do; those that write for the joy of doing so. He painted the book like you paint an artwork, but with the use of words alone. The story flows easily and the plot is ingenious while being very simple. It stretches on four years, from the moment Liesel Memminger meets her foster family until the 'end of the world' arrives. This book is filled with feelings. The reader can definitively not ignore them.

The characters are true and it is hard to let go of them. You do not love them at first sight. You grow to love them, and I think that is what makes them such good, strong and willing characters. What I loved the most about The Book Thief was of how the narrator was Death. It fits, I think, for after all, the World War II was all about death, and death had become man's best friend. But in this book, instead of having a cruel and merciless picture of the end itself, Death is afraid of humans, and is described in almost a gentle way. It makes me want to believe that when I die, it is this Death that I shall meet.

Zusak offers the reader a different perspective on Nazi Germany, one where more than one person despises Hitler and his doings, and where children see Hitler's Youth as boring. It never occurred to me that German children could see Hitler's Youth as boring, or even have the opportunity to think so. But here you have Rudy defying his Hitler's Youth leaders and Liesiel adopting the uncanny hobby of book stealing.

This book is truly beautiful, and on the way to become a classic. It is a must-read that you should have on your shelf.


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Rating: 9,8/10

The Explosionist

The Explosionist (formerly known as Dynamite No. 1) is the story of a 15-year-old girl growing up in an alternate version of 1930s Edinburgh. There, the legacy of Napoleon's victory a century earlier at Waterloo is a standoff between a totalitarian Federation of European States and a group of independent northern countries called the New Hanseatic League. This world is preoccupied with technology (everything from electric cookers to high explosives) but also with spiritualism, a movement our world largely abandoned in the early 20th Century; Sigmund Freud is a radio talk-show crank, cars run on hydrogen and the most prominent scientists experiment with new ways of contacting the dead.

I thought this book was rather ordinary, and definitely not worth all the excitement I had over reading it, and finding it with Beryl at the bookshop for 2$. Lets just say I understand why it was only 2$.

First of all, this was extremely hard to understand. And not in a mysterious, interesting way. In the sense that the author never gave explanations or descriptions of the main, important events. Dialogues were often downright cut out and resumed into a paragraph. It was always unclear to me what was happening.

The timeframe was also extremely unclear. Up until the 3rd chapter, I thought it happened today (when I finally discovered it was in the past, it was rather shocking, actually, and I thought it was in the 1950s). And then, I was absolutely convinced it was a normal world, with no spins on history, and I only had a hint that it was an alternate history when a whole chapter, the 5th, was completely devoted to History. Never assume your readers know everything you know. Never assume they know History as well as you do, because they don't. They haven't spent hours researching the subject. No, I didn't have the slightest idea that Napoleon had lost at Waterloo in our world, and won in theirs. These are things that need to be explained early on in the book, when writing science-fiction.

Sci-fi lesson 101 : Introduce your reader to the world you've created within the first page, ideally, because the reader always assumes everything is exactly like in his world unless proved wrong.

Some details appear at random, and that can be quite annoying. Like Sophie's carsickness that suddenly starts to manifest itself in the end, while throughout the whole book she rides around in cabs and trams and never feels the slightest bit queasy.

Finally, the technology gets way too strange. I could've accepted the fact that mediums and spirits could communicate easily and were quite common, if it had been on its own. I could've accepted the whole turning-teenage-girls-into-emotionless-zombies-thanks-to-technology on its own. But combined together, they make a strange mix. Plus, neither element is the centre of the story. By the way, the actual plot isn't really introduced or explained until the last chapters!

Despite all this, I thought it was a rather remarkable idea, and the whole concept was quite amazing, frankly. I never saw such a unique alternate history, neither one that had such a source. It was really quite a compelling idea. It was simply quite poorly executed.

I had no fun reading it, and it was actually a laborious read. I constantly had to stop reading to simply think at what the author meant, and even the greatest idea can't overcome the description problems. In the end, it kind of felt like a childish Spy-Kids kind of plot and book, and greatly disappointed me. Definitely could have been better.

- Aithen

The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson
Rating : 6/10

Monday, November 22, 2010

The City of Ember

From Goodreads: The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to flicker. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save the city. She and her friend Doon must decipher the message before the lights go out on Ember forever!

I read this book years ago, and fell in love with it at first sight. It was an amazing read. As a young teenager, I didn’t think science-fiction could get any better than this. The characters spoke to me, the setting marvelled me, the story had me on the edge of my seat. When I found out a movie was going to be made about it, I squealed. Literally. And excitedly jumped up and down for about five minutes.

I have reread it with critical eyes. I found that even though I still appreciated the book, I no longer adored it like when I was younger. I was nonetheless drawn in and interested throughout the book. That, I believe, is the true mark of a good children’s book: it can mesmerize teenagers and adults as well as children.

The characters were interesting, and well constructed, though many things were left untold. I would’ve liked a little more characterization, but then again, it’s a children’s book; so if it were any longer it probably would’ve discouraged the less motivated readers.

The world created was probably what I loved best, and I remember, for weeks after reading this book, how I had an unhealthy obsession with caves. Indeed, the world Lina and Doon live in is built entirely underground, in a huge, brightly-lit, cave. I loved how it was completely decrepit, and how everyone lived in a perpetual state of need, and how there wasn’t enough of anything anymore and the people of Ember had to adapt and recycle literally everything. The ever-lasting longing every citizen of Ember felt for things as essential as food was extremely well described, and this is probably one of the strongest points of the book, with the world-building: the beautiful yet simple very descriptive writing.

The plot in itself is also interesting, though not quite original enough for me to love it. Indeed, it is a basic, simple, “we need to save the world” plotline, with not much twist to it. If it wasn’t for the amazing world, it probably would’ve been a very bland book. So don’t read this book expecting to see an amazing story, because there isn’t one: the true impressiveness of this book lies in the city of Ember itself.

It is a good read; fun, without being light-headed, serious, without drowning the reader in dark themes and nerve-wracking plot-lines. Some issues were still talked about, like corruption, poverty and how a society faces a crisis, but it wasn’t painfully moralizing like some other books. Overall, a nice, quick read that I recommend to those of you who still feel young at heart and want a fast-paced, interesting novel for a weekend’s entertainment.


The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau

Rating: 7,7/10
P.S.: This book has been made into a movie, but I haven’t seen it yet and the critiques about it are awful. Do any of you have comments about this?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Garden of Everlasting Spring

The curse hanging over the Laguna family ruins golden-eyed Clara’s love. The distress thrown on the girl causes a miracle to happen; the red house’s garden starts to bloom all year around despite nature’s laws. Women from the next generations live condemned by the merciless fate of unhappy love, loneliness and revenge. Will any of them manage to reverse their destiny? "The Garden of Everlasting Spring" is written in a colorful language. It is a multi-generational saga, where the heroines fall in love only once - for life. It is a stunning and inspiring story of hidden passions, sinful pleasures and about the power of love.

This book was originally written in Spanish, and it seems it has only been translated to Polish for now, so no, it isn't available in English. Yet, when it comes out, I really, really recommend readers that are fan of romance and drama to buy it.

I was in Poland, in my little southern village called Iwonicz Zdroj, when I bought this book. The cover was like a magnet. (I need to brag about how polish publishing houses know how to choose the best covers, even more beautiful than the American ones. :P ) I must say I wasn't disappointed by this novel, and if it wasn't for school, I would have already read it. I can't believe such a masterpiece was left unread for 3 months!

In Spanish; "The house of impossible love", and in Polish; "The Garden of Eternal/Everlasting Spring", is the kind of book that is so good you fear of reading it for too long, and end up reading it bits by bits, enjoying it slowly, and looking forward to the next time you'll pick it up. The books that I read this way are rare, but they always come out as my favorite works, the kind I can read over and over again.

This story is first of all a saga, and it starts in Spain, in a little village in the mountains around 1896. It is the story of multiple characters, that spreads over an entire century. Some might be ready to argue that because the characters live and die, and new ones appear, none of them are developed sufficiently enough for the 340 pages that contains the book. Wrong. The book is all about the characters, their love, misery, happiness. Their story is narrated so well that we very easily get to know them. I must say I loved all of the characters. They all had their faults and strengths, and every woman brought something new. The relationships were explored on all sides, and even when the time if a character came and went, her deeds weren't forgotten. They were mentioned again later in the book. Their presence never disappeared.

Another thing I loved about this book is that it's a saga. It takes place during an entire century. The changes of times, the world's evolution, all that was magnificently portrayed. I loved seeing the characters grow up, pass from childhood to adulthood and then give birth to the next girl, and watch the curse take effect each time. Of course it isn't really a 'curse'. The story has nothing to do with magic and spells. It's a beautiful tale of love and passion, and how it isn't love that dies, but ourselves.

The writing; Exquisite. Inspiring. Beautiful. Masterpiece. The book itself is a masterpiece in my eyes. The writing made the world come alive; the smells, every shadow and light, the colors, the characters themselves. There's only one book whose writing ever inspired me so much, and it was Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty (and its sequels).

I have nothing negative to say. This book isn't filled with action. It isn't a thriller you read in one sitting. it isn't Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games. It also isn't a cliche and sappy romance story like Twilight. It's this beautiful thing you don't want to die. I think it deserves a prize of some sort.

The Garden of Everlasting Spring by Cristina Lopez Barrio Rating: 9,7/10