My October TBR Pile

I have an endless and ever changing list of books I want to read, so (FOR NOW) this is what I hope to get read this month. 

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1) Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs.  

I was lucky enough to get to see Ransom Riggs (and his wife Taherah Mafi) during the Houston stop of his book tour! (I was too excited, nervous, and fangirly to get a picture and I'm still kicking myself for it!) I got my book signed and saw some exclusive and very secretive footage regarding the Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children movie, which is being directed by Tim Burton! *passes out from too much awesome*  Anywho, all of this is to say that I'm so excited to read the final installment of the Miss Peregrine trilogy, so keep an eye out for my review in the coming month!

2) We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

I scored a hardback copy of this book at Kaboom Books, a used bookstore in Houston, for $8! It was just released in May 2015, so I was surprised to see it on the shelves. I know very little about this book, but it looks like a quick read and I'm excited to dive in. 

3) Shatter Me by Taherah Mafi

As I mentioned previously, I met Taherah Mafi at the Ransom Riggs book tour, but I have never read any of her books! Truthfully, I only bought Shatter Me  a few days before the event so that I could get it signed. Shameful, I know, but I'm rectifying the situation this month! I've heard amazing things about this trilogy and I can't wait to see what all of the hullabaloo is about. 

4) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I've had this book on my shelves for several months now, but I haven't gotten around to reading it. Hopefully, I get to it this month. Honestly, I may get way too into Shatter Me  and just charge ahead with the rest of that trilogy instead of moving onto this book, but it is on this list because I'm going to try to get it finished. As I said at the beginning of this post, I make no promises as to the accuracy of this list! I sincerely hope I get this read in the next month or two because I've heard good things, it's a relatively short book, and Neil Gaiman's imagination is a place I'm always willing to venture into, but, again, no promises! 

What are you reading right now? Comment down below and let me know! Have you read any of the books on my TBR list? Tell me what you thought! 

Happy Reading,

Mallory

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

“On the outside, there's Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there's Amber, locked up for so long she can't imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls' darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.”

Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us left me asking one question: how could one person dream up such a dark, twisted, and disturbing story. TWAU is a supernatural thriller if ever I’ve read a supernatural thriller, and, believe me, I have. Rarely, though, have I been so utterly blindsided by a story. I did not, in even the most remote way, see this ending coming. I mean, wow. It has been a full week since I’ve read this book and I’m still gushing about it.

I think the trick here is that Suma showed all of her cards. She didn’t hold anything back until the last minute, banking on the fact that the reader wouldn’t have all of the information to put the pieces together. No, she laid it all out, in an admittedly non-linear way, but we still had all of the pieces. I like to flatter myself by thinking that perhaps if I had put down the book for a few minutes and thought up a few theories that I would have figured out how the book was going to end, but if I’m being honest with myself, I still wouldn’t have gotten it right.

However, in full disclosure, I wasn’t completely sold on the story. Did it surprise me? Yes. Did it get my blood pumping? Yes. But did it do both of those things without venturing into the territory of “Wait, what the heck just happened? How? Why? This doesn’t make any sense!”? No.

Suma’s writing was breathtaking on almost every page. Her imagery felt unique, but at the same time, I couldn’t imagine the image being described in any other way. The three main characters were vivid and original, and I didn’t prefer one particular storyline over another. Her lyrical prose propelled me through the book, even when I wasn’t entirely sure how the three different story lines of the girls were going to match up. However, the ending proved to be a bit of a roadblock.

Do you know the saying, “You make a better door than you do a window?” My mom used to say that to me when I’d stand in front of the television and block her view. That’s how I felt about this ending. The poetic prose mixed with, arguably, one of the only true supernatural scenes in the book proved to be more of a hindrance to the story than a help. The supernatural goings on in the last chapter or two were never crystal clear to me, and I still only have a vague idea of what happened and how.

Overall, this is a book I would hugely recommend to anyone who enjoys murder mysteries, supernatural fiction, or movies like “Shutter Island”. It was a relatively fast read and the beautiful story is worth the slight confusion the ending may cause. After seeing what Nova Ren Suma’s imagination can create, I’m thinking I’ll have to pick up one of her other books soon.

Let me know if you plan to read this book and what you think about it once you have!

Happy Reading,

Mallory

 

Columbine by Dave Cullen

The reason many people will pick up Dave Cullen’s Columbine is not the reason many will remember it. While Cullen does describe the hours prior to, during, and after the deadliest high school shooting in the nation, this isn’t until near the end of the book. Many of the over 400 pages unravel the twisted path two boys followed to mass murder.

Eric Harris dreamt up the shooting and carried out almost all of the necessary steps over a year and a half period, including building and testing bombs and taking on multiple jobs to save up money for guns and ammo. However, the dullest parts of the book are when Cullen channels Eric’s voice. Harris was a textbook psychopath: “charming, callous, cunning, manipulative, comically grandiose, and egocentric, with an appalling failure of empathy.” His journal, recordings, and website were filled with a smattering of hate, loathing, and death, while he portrayed himself to everyone else as wholesome, always repentant when he had done wrong, and hardworking. His teachers and parents thought he was full of potential. The truth, though, was that he wanted nothing other than to cause as much pain as possible. One page of his journal is filled with large writing that reads, “KILL MANKIND.” Cullen wrote, “Eric would prove the easier killer to understand. Eric always knew what he was up to. Dylan did not.” The portions of the book devoted to Eric are interesting in that they delve into what it means to be a psychopath, but there is this inevitability present when talking about Eric, as if he was always going to walk into Columbine with a gun and take lives. The tension dissipates into hopelessness. It’s dreary.

The depiction of Dylan Klebold, however, has depth. While just as guilty as Harris, Klebold evokes pity in the reader. His journal, where he divulged his secrets for two years before the attack, was filled with his desire for love and acceptance, and his anger at God for making him so seemingly unlovable. Cullen describes Dylan as “a brain, too, but not quite so cool. Certainly not in his own estimation. He tried so hard to emulate Eric—in some of their videos, he puffed up and acted like a tough guy, then glanced over at Eric for approval. Dylan was taller and even smarter than Eric, but considerably less handsome…Dylan saw the worst version of himself.” Later, when describing the way Dylan saddled himself to Eric, Cullen writes, almost as if he can’t contain himself, “What a waste!” The portions devoted to Dylan read almost like he is another one of the victims, and, while there should be a distinct line between the killed and the killer here, it feels accurate.

Columbine was never meant to be a school shooing. Harris wanted to obliterate the school. He and Klebold placed two propane bombs near columns in the cafeteria, hoping they would explode and bring the roof crashing down, crushing the nearly 500 students below. Had the bombs detonated properly, there would be no confusion about who Harris and Klebold were targeting. Even still, all of the twelve students and one teacher killed differed in age, social status, and ethnicity. There was no ulterior motive. Only death.

The two formed a deadly dyad—one a sadistic psychopath, the other suicidally depressed. Eric needed help to reach his desired death toll and Dylan needed a friend who understood his desire to die. Both boys entered the school on April 20th with every intention of dying inside. Eric wanted to be a martyr, Dylan wanted to be free.

The remainder of Cullen’s Columbine is a mixture between debunking the many misconceptions surrounding the events and motives of the Columbine massacre, mostly circulated by the vast media coverage, and telling the stories of survivors, mourners, and first responders as they move through the grieving process and attempt to find their own answers.

The media response to the Columbine shooting was immediate and immense. Cameras rolled outside as gunshots and bombs erupted inside. Students and faculty inside the building called news station when they couldn’t get through to police and their calls were played live on air. Understandably, the story became muddled. At some point during the attack, Harris and Klebold removed their trench coats, leading students inside to report anywhere from one to four gunmen. Wild speculations about the gunmen’s motives spread. Within two hours from the start of the attack, a group of local goths known as the Trench Coat Mafia were being implicated. Students who heard this information on the news began repeating it back to reporters later, causing a vicious circle of misinformation. Now, some fifteen years after the attack, many Americans still see Columbine as a classic case of outcasts picking off their tormentors in a moment of blind rage. Cullen seeks to rectify this.

Cullen describes the events of Columbine with sincerity and respect. His characters, whether classically “good” or “bad”, are visualized as real people should be, with good bits and bad bits all jumbled up. You leave with the idea that he sees the seven and eight-year-old Eric and Dylan, playing soccer, fishing in muddy creeks, and attending boy scouts just as much as he sees the seventeen and eighteen-year-old Eric and Dylan, causing death and destruction that would haunt a town for years to come.

Happy (or in this case, not so happy) Reading,

Mallory

Haints Stay by Colin Winnette

I bought Haints Stay by Colin Winnette on my last trip to Brazos Bookstore on a complete whim. A gorgeous cover, a mysterious title, and a guy who looked like he’d give great book recommendations holding it in his hands left me with almost no choice; I HAD to read this book.

“Brooke and Sugar are contract killers without a contract. Bird is the 13-year-old who appears in their camp one night, with no memory and palms as smooth as stones.

Driven from town after a bathhouse brawl, it’s only a matter of time before the sheriffs will find them. Before the cannibals and stampedes and marauders will find them. Before the past will clamber up from where they buried it, covered in animal skins and teeth.

In Haints Stay, Colin Winnette breaks down the classic Western and builds a bloody lean-to from the scraps. Brutal, surreal, and darkly funny, this bold new novel follows an ever-expanding cast of characters—each in pursuit of their own brand of justice and belonging.”

Haints Stay feels less like a novel to me and more like a glimpse into someone else’s life. It doesn’t seem like Winnette has an agenda or a lesson to teach; he captures the spirit of his characters, shares what the extraordinary days in their lives look like, and then lets them go. It’s beautiful. His prose is crisp and powerful, his characters are nuanced, and the story he unravels is haunting (which is fitting considering ‘Haint’ is a colloquial term for a ‘spirit or lost soul’).

I’ll admit that it was initially very difficult for me to get into this book. I stopped almost every twenty pages because I was either falling asleep (something which is VERY rare for me) or I just felt like I’d had enough. It wasn’t until around the middle of the book that I felt the story actually pulling me along. I wouldn’t let this discourage you from reading this book, though, because so many of the books that initially struggled to grab my attention are now my favorite books. Haints Stay isn’t quite on my favorites list, but it is a book I’m extremely glad I read.

These are a few of my favorite quotes:

“You put your hand in a lake, withdraw it, and the surface moves for a bit,” said Sugar, “it snaps back into place or it ripples on an on. Your involvement ends the moment your hand leaves the water.” – 37

“'It’s a graveyard,' said Bird.

'You’ll find that’s always the case,' said Sugar, 'if you pay attention.'” – 38

“It was funny to him, to die in this way. Alone and for no good reason.” – 79

“There was no shame in collapsing. There was only shame in letting fear or uncertainty give you pause.” – 81

“Haints stay where and as they please,” she said. – 179


“Bird stubbed his cigar then, and lit out for territory.” – 212 (I love that he ends the book in the same way The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ends.)

Anywho, keep an eye out for the follow-up post and let me know what you think if you've read Haints Stay or plan to!

Happy Reading,

Mallory

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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Admittedly, I know nothing about Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. However, if you’d like to talk about Disney’s The Jungle Book then I could be of some assistance (I own the special edition DVD). I feel like I should be up front about this information considering Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is based heavily on Kipling’s book and could be considered a ghoulish retelling. I’m honestly not sure how similar the two are in plot, style, or characters, so if I come off as a know-nothing dope during this review, at lease you’ll understand why.

With that out of the way, ON TO THE REVIEW!

“Nobody Owns, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are adventures in the graveyard for a boy—an ancient Indigo Man, a gateway to the abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, he will be in danger from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family.”

It took me longer than it probably should have to finish this book. I actually started listening to the audiobook almost six months ago, but I quickly lost interest and never finished. Then, I bought the book during a reading slump fueled book spree and decided to give it another try. Even then, though, I found it a bit hard to get into. Normally I can read books straight through in one sitting if need be, but I found myself wanting to take a break every couple chapters. However, I sailed through the last few chapters of the book in one sitting with zero problems.

Now that I have finished The Graveyard Book, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really enjoyed it. I think it is an especially good book to read aloud to younger children because it isn’t necessarily one continuous story that has to be read all at once. It can be broken up into several different smaller sections that might be easier for children to digest than one long continuous story (although, the ending does tie all of the separate story lines together). The characters are fun and just the right amount of quirky, and the stories are a perfect mixture of spooky and exciting. However, my favorite part of reading this book was imagining how much I would have adored it if I’d read it when I was ten or eleven. It would have literally changed my world, and there aren’t many books that make me feel that way.

All in all, this book is beautiful and fun and I can’t wait to read it to my own children some day.

“Sleep my little babby-oh / Sleep until you waken / When you wake you’ll see the world / If I’m not mistaken.

Kiss a lover / Dance a measure, / Find your name / And buried treasure.

Face your life / Its pain, its pleasure / Leave no path untaken.” - Neil Gaiman

 

Happy Reading,

Mallory

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach is beyond intense, y’all.

Before Ardor came we let ourselves be defined by labels—
The athlete, the slut, the slacker, the overachiever. 

But then we all looked up and everything changed. 

They said the asteroid would be here in two months. That gave us two months to leave our labels behind. Two months to become something bigger than what we'd been, something that would last even after the end. 

Two months to really live.”

As you can see from the book description, We All Looked Up has a very Breakfast Clubby vibe: four teenagers from different backgrounds and social statuses coming together to live it up before the world ends.

Now, I love The Breakfast Club, but that is not why I bought this book. I bought this book because it has the most beautiful cover I’ve ever seen. (Plus, the dust jacket feels amazing to boot!) I saw this in the store and said, “Yep. I need that.” I know, I know, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but show me a cover this beautiful and I’ll show you a book I’d like to own even if it is terribly written.

Luckily, this book was not terribly written. In fact, it was beautifully written.

First of all, I love that this book is set prior to and up to an apocalyptic moment, but not post-apocalypse. There are so many books and movies and TV shows out right now that cover what happens after the world crumbles, but not as many deal with what happens as the world is preparing to crumble. So, that’s pretty cool.

I also liked that Wallach alternated the POV between all of the main characters. The book opens in Peter’s perspective and my first thought was honestly, “Great, another story about a privileged, popular athlete discovering himself with a group of misfits. How novel.” Thankfully, though, Wallach surprised me by the next chapter being from Eliza’s perspective, followed by Andy’s, and then Anita’s. The story wasn’t about a group of people enriching one person’s life, but instead about a group of people enriching each other’s lives.

It was beautiful:

“And there in the darkness of the hotel room, scarcely more than twenty-four hours before the maybe end of the world, the three of them managed to laugh together. It turned out that no amount of terror could stop the great human need to connect. Or maybe, Anita though, terror was actually at the heart of that need. After all, every life ended in an apocalypse, in one way or another.”

It was funny:

“The end of the world revealed the futility of all commemorative plaques.”

And it felt like a call to action:

“You don’t wanna go out of this world with regrets. If there’s something you want to do, you do it. You take this life by the balls and you tell it that you existed.”

Despite my deep admiration for this book, not everything was perfect. My biggest problem was with the stereotypes Wallach used to create some of the characters. We had the popular jock with the mean girlfriend, the over-achiever with the emotionally abusive father, and the slacker who does drugs and rides around on a skateboard. The only character who didn’t fit into any well known character molds was Eliza, as the sexually promiscuous artistic type who is also a social activist. Starting from stereotypes isn’t always a problem, but it becomes a problem when you fail to turn them into something new. The issue here is that Wallach took the stereotypical characters and turned them into a giant cliché. The book ended (almost) exactly the way I imagined it ending when I started reading it. The lesson here seemed to be that all people are more complex than we imagine and human connection is important to humanity, which, hopefully, is something everyone already realizes. I just left this book with a slight disappointment that it didn’t explore new territory and push the boundaries a bit more as far as character development.

It did push the boundaries on what a reader will believe four teenagers can get themselves into in the span of a few weeks. These kids had their noses in every kind of tomfoolery imaginable and it became almost laughable at some points.

All of that aside, Tommy Wallach’s debut novel is well worth the read, even if I have my reservations.

If you are a fan of post-apocalyptic novels, The Breakfast Club, or understanding exactly how the world would fall apart if a giant asteroid threatened to end life on the planet, then this book is for you!

Happy Reading,

Mallory

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

I bought Vanishing Girls and the watercolors at Brazos Bookstore in Houston. So, if you are ever near Houston, I'd highly recommend stopping in at Brazos!

I read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver in May, and I knew immediately that I needed more Lauren Oliver in my life. So, in June I bought Vanishing Girls and it didn’t disappoint! Nick and Dara had a cool sister/frenemy dynamic between them from the start, even without the Parker drama! (But what YA book about teen girls is complete without at least a touch of boy drama? None, I say! It’s the drama we love to hate, especially when you realize you’re 22, married, and WAY too invested in the love lives of 17-year-olds. I digress.)

Along with the character dynamics, I really liked that the POV switched back and forth between Nick and Dara. Dara could have easily been the reckless, daring younger sister and nothing else, but being able to see her softer side helped me connect more with her and, by extension, Nick. I also think the POV switch helped me from siding too much with one character, and because these two were often pitted against each other, that was important.

Now, where I had trouble with the story was the build to the climax. I’m all about a slow burn when it comes to tension in a story, but Vanishing Girls was more of a stubborn flame that refused to light and then suddenly exploded in the second half of the book. The front flap tells us that Dara vanishes, so I assumed she’d, you know, vanish! I know what you’re thinking, “You know what they say about assuming, Mallory,” but the front cover said there’d be a disappearance so excuse me for expecting that to be the main part of the plot! *Calming Breaths.* Once Dara did finally disappear, I literally couldn’t put the book down. I’m not ashamed to say I carried it with me to the restroom on more than one occasion. If you like mysteries and romance and sister drama, then this book is definitely for you. If you don't like those things, then...have you considered non-fiction? I hear computer manuals are mystery free!

This brings me to the ending, which is especially spoilery. If you don’t want the ending to be ruined, then I suggest you stop here.

 

 

Hopefully you’ve come back post-reading Vanishing Girls to see what I thought about the ending you have just read. If you haven’t read the ending yet, then I’m really not sure what you are doing here. I will give you one more chance to not spoil the ending of this book for yourself. Seriously, this is the last chance. Leave. Go. Get out of here.

 

 

So, Vanishing Girls had a twist ending. I’m not sure how you feel about twist endings, but I had a creative writing professor in college who banned them (along with stories about death) from the class because he believed they were used for cheap thrills in place of a well-thought out plot. I don’t think my views are as strong as his, but I did have some deep-rooted emotional issues with the twist. I felt cheated.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the ending. I was super surprised that Dara had been dead the entire time and Lauren Oliver did a really good job of placing clues throughout the story that I looked back at with an “Oh, of course! How could I not have realized that Nick had a mental break and thought she was her sister!” reaction. However, Dara was dead….the ENTIRE TIME, and I didn’t know it. That bothered me. I felt like the character I’d connected to and sympathized with was a lie. We never really knew Dara, except for her diary entries, because everything from her POV was Nick pretending to be Dara! That is like telling someone you are going to make them cookies. You turn on the oven, you set the timer, and you light a cookie-scented candle. Sure, it smells like cookies. Heck, it even looks like you are actually baking cookies. But, alas, when that timer goes off and the oven is opened, that person is left cookieless and you are down one friend. 

In the end, I'm torn. I liked the ending, but I also hated it. I was happy with Nick and Parker, but I was also still sad about Dara. (Because, lets be honest, at this point I was still mourning Dara's death, even though it happened several months beforehand!!) This book did some messed up things to my brain, and I think that might have been the point. 

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes mysteries or psychological teasers (I may have just invented that genre of book). 

Happy Reading,

Mallory

P.S I Still Love You by Jenny Han

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han – the sequel to the New York Times Bestselling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – continues the story of Lara Jean Song and Peter Kavinsky’s…uhmm…pretend relationship/crush/break-up/real relationship, and as you can probably tell, it’s complicated. Not only does Lara Jean have to deal with Peter’s clingy ex, but when a boy from her past comes barreling into her life (and her heart!—Yes, I’m that cheesy.) she is forced to reevaluate everything.

First things first, this book is too cute. I read the entire thing in one day—although I did technically have to stay up until 2 AM to finish the job—and it charmed my socks right off! Lara Jean and Peter’s little fights are so sweet. However, I should add that it probably isn’t healthy to bribe your significant other with lemon cookies, regardless of how effective it is. Their romance doesn’t feel forced the way a lot of teen romances can feel, where the guy has perfectly tousled hair in the middle of a hurricane and always knows exactly what to say to make a girl melt. While I’m on the subject of melting, I love that Lara Jean doesn’t melt every time Peter (or anyone else) tries to sweet talk her. She is strong and seems capable to handle things on her own, which is something I admire about her. However, when it comes to admiration, Kitty has earned all of mine! I’d like to adopt her as my own little sister. She’s smart as a whip, she named her dog Jamie Fox-Pickle (hilarious!), and she knows how to get what she wants, whether it’s a dog or a ride in her sister’s boyfriend’s car. So many of the characters felt vibrant and real to me, especially Stormy Sinclair from the retirement community!

Now, as charming and all around heartwarming as PSISLY is, there are still a few problems for me. The biggest issue was an overall lack of tension. Even during the intense parts of the story, like when Lara Jean was being cyber bullied, I felt bad for her, but I didn’t pick up on the tension because it wasn’t clear to me what she stood to lose with the video going viral. Sure, her dad found out about it, but they had a brief conversation and everything was fine again. I like that Han didn’t get preachy and make her book into an after school special on cyber bullying or the dangers of teenage sex, but I did want to see some actual consequences for Lara Jean and Peter. I also needed to see more consequences for Lara Jean depending on which guy from her love triangle she decided to choose.

Overall, it was adorable and there was a general lack of consequences leading to a general lack of tension.

But, if you like romancey-funny-cutesy books, then give it a read!

Happy Reading,

Mallory