The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah

Kristin Hannah is pretty high up there on my favorite author list and her newest novel, The Nightingale, moved her up a little bit higher. Hannah’s writing is beautiful, descriptive, and full of feeling.

The Nightingale takes place in Nazi-occupied France in the midst of World War II. The novel follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, whose lives during the war dramatically differ. Vianne’s husband goes off to fight in the war, living Vianne to care for their young daughter. When the Nazis take over Vianne’s town, a soldier boards at Vianne’s house, forcing Vianne to align with the enemy in order to protect herself and her daughter from harm. Isabelle, on the other hand, cannot sit idly by. Isabelle searches for a way to play an active role in the war and joins the French Resistance. She continues to risk her life time and time again to protect the lives of Allied soldiers.

Weaving between the sisters’ perspectives, The Nightingale shows what life during wartime truly is: filled with pain and love but also full of love. I loved reading this novel – the characters were wonderfully developed, the story intriguing and the ending heartbreakingly beautiful. Definitely worth a read.

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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

This book. This book. This book. I don’t know how to accurately convey my feelings about this book because there are just too many wonderful things I could say about it.

Jandy Nelson is without a doubt one of the most beautifully descriptive and imaginative authors whose work I have read. While her writing style might not be for everyone, I loved the way she was able to create two completely different characters and weave together their stories into one cohesive and dynamic novel.

I’ll Give You the Sun follows the stories of twins Jude and Noah as they navigate the ups and downs of growing up. Marketed as Young Adult Fiction, I think that this book is suitable for all ages. The novel alternates between the two twins stories of growth. We follow thirteen-year old Noah as he falls in love with the boy next door and struggles with societal and familial pressures. In tandem with Noah’s story, we step forward three years and follow Jude’s story as she comes to grips with a terrible tragedy that has ultimately torn her and Noah apart. We see Jude grow and learn how to love and put her life back together.

I loved how this novel went back and forth between time and perspective, while telling a larger story about love, loss, and family. I couldn’t put this book down and thoroughly enjoyed every page, every line, every word that Jandy Nelson put on the page. Definitely worth a read.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It felt like an adventure, but it wasn’t so fast-paced that my anxiety was through the roof. It was well-written and beautifully thought-out.

After losing his web design job during the Great Recession, Clay Jannon enters into an old and mysterious bookstore searching for a job. At Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Clay works the overnight shift, which brings only a few very eccentric customers who only check out books from a certain section. As Clay gets to know the store and the owner a bit more, he discovers that there is much more than reading happening at this bookstore. Clay is thrust into a world of secret societies, age-old mysteries, and the battle between technology and books.

Again, I really really liked this book. The story line was engaging and thought-provoking. I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of books and technology and this book brought up a variety of thoughts and issues on how to bring those two seemingly different things together. Definitely worth a read.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I’ve been having trouble in the past week or two finding motivation to read, which is embarrassing and hard for me to say because reading is my thing. Maybe it’s because real life has been so busy, but I think a huge part of it is that I haven’t been connecting with books that I’ve been reading. So I decided that maybe it’s a good idea for me to reread books that I love but haven’t written about yet. So here we are with book one of the “Get Michelle to Love Reading Again” Initiative: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Cath’s entire world revolves around Simon Snow, a fictional series created by Gemma T Leslie (think Harry Potter but darker). Cath and her twin sister, Wren, grew up loving the books, constantly rereading them, talking about them on online forums, and writing incredible amounts of fan fiction dedicated to Simon Snow. However, as they enter into college, Wren decides she needs to branch out more, leaving Cath behind with only the fandom to keep her company.  We see Cath struggle through freshman year of college, including difficult classes, problems with her dad at home, and a tough roommate who has a “boyfriend” that is always hanging around. Through it all, we’re rooting for Cath to realize she too can be happy. Guess you’ll have to read it to see if that happens!

I really love Fangirl a lot. It’s incredibly well written – Rainbow Rowell really knows just how to transport you into someone’s mind. When Cath was experiencing all those awkward freshman year moments, it felt like I was reliving that tough time as well. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone in the suffering! I love that there are excerpts of both the “real” Simon Snow series and of Cath’s fan fiction in this novel. It was nice to have those little breaks in reality. I’d love to read full length versions of both those things!

This is 100% YA fiction and it is wonderful. Worth a read if you’ve ever gotten so entrenched in a fandom that there’s no end in sight – haven’t we all been there?

The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie

The Matched trilogy is a classic dystopian YA novel in which life is absolutely “perfect” because the Society plans and chooses everything for their citizens, including their life partners. When Cassia is matched with her best friend, Xander, it seems as though her future will be ideal. However, when she checks her Match data card later and sees another boy’s face, she begins to doubt the Society and the future they have planned for her. This trilogy follows the stories of Cassia, Xander, and Ky, the mysterious boy on the data card, as they grapple with questions of love, survival, and choice.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this trilogy. At times, the story lines could be a bit convoluted, but overall this was well-written. The romance aspect is definitely a key element to this series, but I enjoyed it and thought that the dynamics between the characters were especially engaging. I really enjoy reading dystopian novels because they really push me to think about the future I’m headed towards. Although I would not call this an intellectual novel, this book definitely made me think more about control and perfection within society and that’s always a good thing.

Bottom line: If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games/Divergent Series, try this trilogy.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice Forgot centers on Alice (shocker!) a 39 year old woman who falls during her spin class, hits her head, and forgets the past decade of her life. Imagine her shock when she wakes up in a hospital and learns that she is getting divorced, has three kids, and is about to turn 40 years old. Alice must navigate this new life, while trying to figure out where everything went wrong and why her life now seems so lonely. Throughout the novel, Alice gets back pieces of her memory that help her to understand why things have turned out they way they have. But is it possible to fix everything?

Sorry if that description sounds incredibly cheesy, summaries are not my strong suit. What Alice Forgot was a very entertaining read, especially because I am a big fan of amnesia redemption stories. I love the idea of getting a new perspective of your life and making you think about what is really important. Liane Moriarty does a great job of creating mystery about Alice’s past, so as a reader you want to keep reading to figure out what really happened. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about in this novel was the letters from Frannie (you’ll understand if you read) because they felt superfluous and I didn’t find them particularly engaging.

Definitely worth a read if you’re in the market for an easy-to-follow yet interesting novel.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

So good. I was glued to this book and read it in 4 hours. It was that gripping. If you are a fan of Gone Girl or Hitchcockian thrillers, this is a must read.

The Girl on the Train is written from a few different perspectives, but focuses mostly on Rachel. To put it delicately, Rachel is having a tough time sorting out her life. Every day, Rachel’s commuter train stops at a signal, which gives Rachel the perfect view of a seemingly happy suburban couple, who she names “Jess and Jason.” Rachel dreams up a magical life for this unsuspecting couple, imagining them as a perfect couple, with a perfect life. However, one day Rachel sees something that shatters the illusion and cannot keep it to herself. Soon, Rachel becomes entwined in the life of this couple in dangerous and thrilling ways.

If I haven’t made it clear above, you should definitely read this book. It is enthralling, engaging, and intriguing. It’s not a happy, fluffy novel, so don’t read it expecting any of that. But it is well-written and full of mystery.

If you read it, let me know what you think in the comments below!

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

I had really high hopes for this book, which may be why I finished it slightly disappointed. Another factor may be that it took me a while to read, since it’s a very long book and I was short on time. Maybe my disjointed reading of it contributed to the fact that I didn’t feel particularly engrossed in the novel. However, I also think that this book did not live up to the hype it generated.

The Paying Guests is set in a town outside London, just after the end of World War I. Because of economic turmoil following the War, Francis Wray and her mother are forced to take in boarders. In enter, Leonard and Lillian Barber, a young married couple, who are to be the Wray’s tenants. As the novel progresses, friendships are formed, limits are pushed, and the entire household changes forever. This is a book meant to ignite passion and invite intrigue.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Sarah Waters is a good author. This book, albeit at times slow, was wonderfully written. The images and scenery described really gave me a good understanding of the time this novel was set in. I’m trying to pinpoint why I didn’t exactly like this book and I have to say I am not entirely sure what it is. It could be that the plot seemed to be drawn out or that the climax of the book wasn’t as shocking as I thought it would be. I think I wanted to be more enthralled in this book than I was.

This is not one of those books where I will say – don’t waste your time, it’s not worth the read. What I’ll say is this: this book is beautifully written, but the plot is not as gripping as you may expect, so read at your own risk.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

This book will take you on one crazy ride. Be prepared to be confused, to be lied to, to be on edge, and to be a little freaked out when reading this book. Now, that may not seem like a glowing recommendation, but I swear it is. This book was great.

We Were Liars transports you into the mind of Cadence Sinclair, a teenage girl who spends the summer months with her wealthy family on a private island near Cape Cod. However, one summer Cadence mysteriously suffers a head trauma and can no longer recall the events of that summer. This novel takes us through Cadence’s thoughts, as she struggles with depression, pain, and confusion surrounding the events of that summer. We Were Liars explores the relationships between Cadence, Mirren, Johnny, and Gat (aka the Liars) and how all of their stories lead to the discovery of what caused Cadence’s amnesia.

E. Lockhart writes a very compelling and intricate story that will keep you guessing until the last page. Definitely check it out, but also I want to make sure that everyone knows there may be triggers in this book in regards to depression and harmful thoughts/behavior.

The Lunar Chronicles (Books 1-4) by Marissa Meyer

This series is one that you just won’t be able to put down. I reread them all in less than a week, every spare moment I had was spent on my nook reading, even though I already knew what was going to happen. These books are just that good.

Book one is called Cinder – a play on the fairy tale Cinderella, where our main character (Cinder) is a cyborg mechanic who lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters in New Beijing. A plague outbreak, a visit from the prince, and a crazed queen on the Moon throw Cinder into the midst of what might turn out to be an intergalactic (I love that word) war.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: cyborgs and moon queens – sounds a little too sci-fi for my tastes. I promise you that this book gives you the perfect dose of futuristic sci-fi action mixed with an incredibly intriguing plot line and wrapped up with just enough romance to make you feel that special spark. It’s a book for anyone who loves YA dystopian-esque or action novels. It’s awesome.

Scarlet and Cress are the subsequent novels in the series, both of which focus on another character mentioned in the previous books. These novels show a distinct progression in time, meaning it is not the same story told from three different viewpoints. I don’t want to give a lot away, so I won’t go into detail about them here, but feel free to ask me any questions you may have about them in the comments!

Fairest is the fourth book in the series, which gives us the back story of Queen Levana, a central character in all of the other novels. It’s a short story, less than 200 pages, but necessary to read in order to fully grasp how Levana came to be. It also gives you a great insight into the central character of the fifth and final novel called Winter.

All I can say is that these novels will keep you captivated and I cannot wait for Fall 2015, when the final book comes out!