Book Review – The Book Thief

The book thiefI don’t write blog post book reviews for every book I read.  (Follow me on Goodreads if you want an update for everything I’m reading.)  But when I read something that stands out to me as a writer and not just as a reader, I think it warrants a book review.

This is a book that stole my heart, shattered it, and handed me back the broken pieces.

Germany, WWII.  A girl who steals books.  Darkness and hatred and hope and the power of words to change to world.

It’s amazing and earth-shaking and quiet and huge, and THE WAY THAT THIS AUTHOR USES WORDS IS MY FAVORITE.  I laughed, I cried, I sat on the edge of my seat.

Where do I start? The characters. They were so real and raw and funny and I feel like I’ve acquired new friends from these pages.  They were flawed and scared and brave and I just wanted to give them all hugs and a new chance at life.

The writing. Okay, so the book is narrated by Death. Sounds weird, but works brilliantly. He’s the perfect narrator.  He’s not harsh and evil, he’s sad and weary and terrified of how humans are killing each other faster than ever before.  It terms of the writing itself, Markus Zusak’s command of words is chilling and beautiful and soul-wrenching at times. The way that he molds images and sentences makes you feel like you’re reading something written by Someone Other-worldy, which is perfect because Death is our unfailing narrator.

Final Thoughts: I can’t believe that it took me so long to pick up this book, and I’m so glad I finally did. It left an imprint on my soul.  I want to write books like this – ones that will haunt my readers for years after they put the book down.


Defacing Books

Today we’re taking a break from talking about writing to talk about my NEXT favorite topic: reading.  I’m about to open a can of worms with this subject, so let me go ahead say it: I deface books.

Yep.  I underline, circle, write in, draw in, and occasionally dog-ear my books.

Some Disclaimers.

First off, let me say this: I only write in books that I own.  Second, I always leave them readable.  My defacing efforts never hide the words on the page; I want to be able to re-read the books I mark up.

My Story About Defacing Books.

I grew up as a book purist; books were to be treated with respect – partially because I got most of my books from the library.  Occasionally I would underline something in a novel I owned, but JUST IN PENCIL, and I’d be super careful.  You didn’t break spines, you didn’t let books get dog-eared.

Then last year, two things happened:

  1. I was high school student without a ton of money to spare, so I started buying used books.  This meant that now my selves were filled with pre-loved editions, so “shiny covers all in a row” stopped being a reality.  I made my peace with used books, and never looked back.
  2. I watched this video of a BookTuber, and was blown away:


I watched that video, and my jaw fell open.  She hadn’t RUINED her book – she had made it into a work of art.  Around this time, I was starting to read the Hamilton Biography by Ron Chernov (you know, the gigantic book that inspired Hamilton, the Broadway musical).  And I decided… that I wanted to write in this book.

I’m not done with it yet, but I’m about half way through and I’ve been having the time of my life getting to doodle all over those wide margins.  Also, Chernov has a way with words that makes it really fun to write out some of his phrases.

Soon I started on other books.  Now I’ve written in a handful, but so far I’m only writing in certain books – ones that mean a lot to me.  Ones that I want to turn into works of art, ones with humor I want to underline for future reference, ones that have touched my soul. For example, I’ve tabbed my favorite parts of The Fault in Our Stars, because it’s a book I quote a lot and I want to be able to find my favorite quotes more easily.


The other book I started to deface is my edition of the Narnia Books.  (It’s a 7-in-1 hardback edition that is really nice.)  Here’s some of what I’ve done:

Dispelling Some Haters.

I can hear the Book Purists.  NOOOOO, you can’t abuse your books like that!

But what is the purpose of books?  Is it for them to look pretty on our shelves, or is it for them to fill our soul with hope and happiness?  Now, there’s nothing wrong per say about having shiny bookshelves, but in the age of BookTube and Bookstagram – where we follow people with hundreds of books in pristine rows on their dark shelves, almost like a mini Barnes and Nobel – I think we as an online Bookreading Community have put too much value on the appearance of books.

What I’ve Learned.

The first thing that I’ve learned is that it’s okay to “abuse” my books.  I now crack spines for easier reading.  I drink coffee and eat snacks around my books.  I take them places, and don’t care if the cover gets a little bent.  Every bent page, or tear stain, or crack in the spine, is a reminder of where that book has been.  It picks up a history of its own, and I think that’s beautiful.

I’ve also learned that I absolutely love this.  I love getting to combine reading with creating.  I love getting to make these books my own, and getting to turn them into works of art.  Sometimes I make mistakes, but that’s okay and I keep telling myself that it’s okay because it is.  It’s a learning process.  Also, I often date the pages that I mark up, so Future Beth can see how long it took to read a book, or when I drew that picture.  I really like getting to do that to capture my experience.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to play around with different pens and pencils and figure out what I like best.  I’ve tried black pens, blue pens, pencils, colored pencils, etc, and I love getting to discover what I like best or what works best for that book.  Right now I’m using a silver pen to mark up the Mortal Instruments series, and I adore the shiny, non-intrusive nature of the silver ink.

If you’re still reading all the way down here, then congrats!  Extremely long blog post is over.  I have one picture left to leave you, and it’s the cover of my Narnia hardback, which I drew with a silver marker and pen.  I’m really pleased with how it turned out.



So let me know your thoughts on defacing books.  Are you a Purist, who can’t even stand to crack the spines of their books?  Are you someone who takes their books on airplanes and to dinner and gets coffee stains on the pages?

Let me close with one last thought.  Say that someday, I’m a published author, and I’m doing Book Signings somewhere.  And amid the crowd, the noise, the people, someone brings me their well-loved and maybe even marked up edition of the book that I wrote?  WOW.  That would mean the world to me.

Book Review – Fangirl

fangirl It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review, but here you go:

Summary: Cather is a freshman in college.  She’s spent her whole life tailing around her beautiful-and-charming twin, Wren, and she’s liked that just fine.  But now, even though Cather and Wren are going to the same college, Wren wants to take her own path, leaving Cather to alone to navigate the frightening waters of being a freshman.

So Cather falls back on what’s always been there for her: fanfiction.  She’s practically famous to online fans of Simon Snow (ie Harry Potter), and she’s never happier than when she’s writing about the characters that have been her friends for years.  But soon she’ll be forced to learn that there’s more to college than sitting in your dorm by yourself.  With themes of family, friendship, and the joys (and pains) of writing, Fangirl is a pure delight.

There are some books that hit you right in the chest, because an author has put into words the exact things that you yourself were feeling and you thought inexpressible.  Rainbow Rowell did that brilliantly in Fangirl.  I think this book hit me particularly hard because I could relate so much to Cather – I read it after just finishing my first semester in college, I love to write, and I’m a die-hard Harry Potter fan.  I’m not exactly like Cather, but we are so alike in so many ways, and I loved that about this novel.

I also loved that this novel felt like a snapshot of real life.  It wasn’t just about fanfiction, or writing, or being a freshman.  It was about friendship and family and stepping out of your comfort zone and a million other beautiful things.


I read it in a day, and I can’t wait to re-read it.

Content advisory: there is a bit of language, and there is some romancy stuff.  (Nothing explicit, no graphic scenes, etc.)  It is definitely meant for college or high school people.

If you’ve read it, let me know your thoughts!  Or let me know if you’ve read anything else by Rainbow Rowell.  I absolutely adored Fangirl’s plot, it’s characters, and it’s glorious writing.  It was funny and sad and happy and interesting and fantastic.

Five out of five stars for making me feel all the things.

Book Review – The Martian

The Martian.jpg

I read this back in March, but never put up a review??? Whaaaat???

It deserves a review.

When Mark Watney is stranded on Mars – alone – he will have to use every ounce of cunning to contact NASA and make it back home alive.

Here’s the mini-review I put on Goodreads right after I was finished:

“I’m speechless. This is a book that never got dull, never let me put it down. I stayed up past midnight TWICE to keep reading. Painfully wonderful. I loved Mark’s humor. I loved the other characters. Gah I just loved the whole thing.”

You know what?  I feel like that sums it up pretty well.  Amazing characters.  Fabulous humor.  Never a dull page.  Not a wasted sentence.  Cool sciency-things if you’re a science person, but not written in such a way as to confuse non-science people.  Space.  Mars.  Laughter.  Hope in the face of hopelessness.


Content advisory: quite a bit of language, but used in humor rather than to offend.



The Siren

Kiera Cass, the author of this charming series:


Has just released (or re-released) this delightful stand-alone novel:


I really liked the Selection series.  It won’t go down in history as on my top ten list, but I enjoyed it.  It was fun.  Annoying at some points.  Endearing at others.  It was mostly well-done.  But The Siren?  It’s a whole new level of awesome.  I tore through it in just a few days, from one delightful page to another.

The premise?  The main character, Kahlen, is a Siren.  She sings for the Ocean.  And she is absolutely not allowed to fall in love.


I’m not usually one for romance-focused books.  But this didn’t feel like a romance book.  It felt like a really good fairy tale to be read on a sunny beach instead of in a cozy bedroom.  It felt like Since You’ve Been Gone if it had been written in the Fantasy genre.  It was delicious.  The friendships were beautiful, the characters cool, and the premise was fascinating.  And it had none of the annoying things that I disliked about the Selection series.

Kiera Cass, well done.

4.5/5 stars.

If you want a fuller review, this one on Goodreads perfectly sums up my feelings.


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Author: Robin Sloan

Synopsis: Clay used to work as a website designer, but then the Great Recession hits and he’s stuck looking for a new job.  When he sees a hand-written “Help Wanted” sign in the window of a bookstore, he cares more about getting the job than about the oddness of the store.  But after working the night shift for just a few weeks, he realizes just how weird the store really is.

It’s not just that the store is taller than it is wide, although that is strange.

It’s not that it’s open 24-Hours a day, although that’s unusual too.

It’s not even that the owner is an eccentric, bright-eyed old man.

It’s more like the fact that the entire back of the bookstore is shelved with old-smelling tomes that are written in code.  And that bizarre people come in at all hours of the night, desperate to exchange one coded book for another.

Clay really wants to hang onto his job.  But more than that, he wants to know what’s going on.  But the further he digs into the mystery, the weirder things get.  Clay steps from his world of buzzing fast internet, human androids, and insane technology, out into the dark world of ancient societies and black robes.  To uncover the mystery of the coded books and their strange borrowers, he’ll need the help of his girlfriend (who works at Google), his best friend (who is a millionaire), and maybe even Mr Penumbra himself.

My Thoughts: I was enchanted by this book.

Setting:  I loved the way that old, dusty books collided with new, lightning-fast technology.  It was a really neat setting (about 50 years in the future, I think), and I loved the way the MC described things.

Style: The writing style was really fun & interesting – I loved the voice.  And I especially loved how the MC was such a nerd – there were references to Harry Potter and other books/movies, and the MC was slightly obsessed with this Fantasy story.  It was awesome how the Sci-Fi world was mixed with the Fantasy-loving characters.

Characters: Awesome.  Diverse.  Funny.  Real.

Plot: Super cool.  Ever-changing, always going somewhere new.  I loved the idea of these special books that were written in code, hiding secrets even deeper than the MC could imagine.  It worked for me.

Content Advisory: There is some romance in the book, but it is NOT central to the plot.  That said, the MC mentions that he and his girlfriend “make out”, and there are a few scenes where they are in her bedroom (and one where it’s mentioned she’s naked).  However, there is NOTHING explicit at all.  Really, if you skip about two sentences, the book could be rated G.

Rating: 4.7 stars.

If you like books, computers, sci-fi, fantasy, nerdy things, things that make you laugh, or just REALLY GOOD BOOKS, then go get it from the library.


mr ppenumbra-glow-in-the-dark

Summer Reading

This week.  This will be the week that I really get back into writing!

But then… THIS happened.


I WENT TO THE LIBRARY.  And came home with:

1) Doctor Who Series 8.  Because every season of New Who deserves to be re-watched at least once.

2) Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, by Morgan Matson.  Because her other book, Since You’ve Been Gone, was so brilliant.

3) Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, because Cinderella + Sci-Fi sounds too cool to resist, and I finally found a copy at my library.  I’ve been wanting to read it for a while, and it caught my eye today – just sitting on the shelf, looking all mysterious and wonderful.

4) Uncommon Criminals, by Ally Carter.  Because Ally Carter is awesome and I am almost finished with the previous book in the series.  (The notable thing about this book: it is the last book by Ally Carter that I have not read yet.  So after this… I have to wait for her to write another one.  NOOOooooo…. Sadness.)

Okay, I guess I’m not gonna get much writing done this week.  Especially ’cause that Doctor Who DVD is due in just 7 days.  OH WELL!  This is just turning out to be a reading summer instead of a writing one.

In fact, I’m surprised my brain hasn’t exploded with all the reading I’ve done this summer.

I’ve already read All Fall Down, Heist Society, and Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter.  (Reviews coming soon)

Plus, for my book club, I’ve read all these:

1) Since You’ve Been Gone, by Morgan Matson.  A charming story about a girl who finds herself when her best friend disappears for a summer.  Full review HERE.

WE-WERE-LIARS2) We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart.

A story about a perfect family.

With all the money in the world.

And a private island with huge, expensive summer homes.

And a girl whose accident one summer breaks the pattern of her perfect family.

Quite an interesting read.  It’s left me a little scarred, however.

CNV3) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

A story about a British spy in occupied France during WWII.  She’s been caught by the Germans, and she has two weeks to live.  Two weeks to tell the story of how she came to serve as a spy.  But the real story is about her friendship with the pilot Maddie and their adventures together.  But it turns out the adventures have just begun.

I admit that I had a rough time getting into this book at first. It was a bit slow, and didn’t seem to really be going anywhere. But as the pages went by, the pace increased and I found myself more and more engrossed in the lives of the two amazing characters. I nearly cried at the ending, but loved it nonetheless.

I also loved the characters and the tone of the book. “Verity” has a wonderful voice – she’s witty and funny and rebellious and grand. And Maddie – she’s just brilliant.

My poor WIP is feeling rather unloved.  I’m so sorry, dear WIP, but you’re just gonna have to wait another week.  Or maybe two.  Or as long as it takes for me to balance my reading and writing schedules.  I want to feel bad for you, but I’m too busy enjoying my books.  🙂

Since You’ve Been Gone

Since You've Been GoneAuthor: The delightful Morgan Matson

Synopsis: On the brink of summer, Emily’s best friend – the one who makes her life 100% interesting – disappears.  Sloane is gone without a trace, and Emily is left on her own shaky legs to try to fill her empty days.  But then The List arrives – thirteen things Emily would never normally do.  But she might be willing to try, because they might just lead her back to Sloane.

Apple picking at night?  Sure, not too hard.

Dance until dawn?  She can manage that.

But what about Steal something or Kiss a Stranger?  Emily will need the help of some new, unexpected friends to finish this daunting task.  In the process, she might not only find Sloane, but also find a new side to herself.

My Thoughts: I liked this book even more than I anticipated.

1) It is such a fun, light read.  Lots of laughter, lots of beautifulness.
2) The characters are amazing, and all so three-dimensional. They surprised me a lot, in a good way.
3) The pacing. Despite the fact that there’s not a ton of suspense, I still felt pulled to turn the page, to keep reading. Instead of driving me forward with tension, it seduced me forward with its charm.
4) The ending.  It was a lovely ball of infinite perfection.

Content Advisory: I mean, The List features things like Go Skinny Dipping and Kiss a Stranger, so expect a little bit of that kinda thing.  There are a few kisses, but nothing explicit.  Definitely more of a high-school age book, though.

Rating: 4.2 stars.  It was a tiny bit slow at the beginning.  Still delightful, though.  Like an ice cream cone where you eat through the cone part first and then are left with nothing but the delicious, creamy swirl of goodness.

How I heard about it: my summer book club!  We all enjoyed it sooooo much.


My Favorite Beginnings

In honor of my Beginnings Workshop, I thought I’d look at some of my favorite story beginnings and see if I can analyze why I love them so much.

Let’s start with the ones I can do by memory.

In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.

(Wait, what comes after that?  *looks it up*)

Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

One of my favorites.  Why?  Those are the first words I ever read by Tolkien.  They are also very curious.  It takes everything we assume about holes and chucks it out the window.  Who keeps chairs and food in a hole?  So many questions.

How about another?  (I can also do this one by memory.)

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Not quite as much going on, but still a lot.  Why would they brag about being normal?  Unless (as you soon find out) they have something abnormal they are trying to hide.  (Wizard relatives!)  Plus, the voice established in just the first sentence is brilliant: “thank you very much” is a touch I would never have thought to add.  And I love the descriptions in the next few sentences – I aspire to write character descriptions this beautifully one day.

They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

Mr. Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large moustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blond and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours. The Dursleys had a small son called Dudley and in their opinion there was no finer boy anywhere.

How about another?  The next that comes to mind Divergent.  The book itself doesn’t make the shelf of favorites, but the beginning totally enthralled me.  I was standing in Barnes and Nobels one day and read the first two pages.  I didn’t buy the book, but soon wished I had – those two pages rattled around in my head for the next two weeks, until I finally had to go buy the book.

There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.

I sit on the stool and my mother stands behind me with the scissors, trimming. The strands fall on the floor in a dull, blond ring.

When she finishes, she pulls my hair away from my face and twists it into a knot. I note how calm she looks and how focused she is. She is well-practiced in the art of losing herself. I can’t say the same of myself.

I sneak a look at my reflection when she isn’t paying attention—not for the sake of vanity, but out of curiosity. A lot can happen to a person’s appearance in three months. In my reflection, I see a narrow face, wide, round eyes, and a long, thin nose—I still look like a little girl, though sometime in the last few months I turned sixteen. The other factions celebrate birthdays, but we don’t. It would be self-indulgent.

So.  Many.  Questions.  Why weren’t they allowed to look in mirrors?  What is it about the art of loosing oneself that was so important?  Like Tolkien, Veronica Roth had taken something so familiar to daily life – a mirror – and given it a new and deceptive quality.

But is the beginning everything?


One of my all time favorite books, Sundancer by Shelley Peterson, doesn’t play with our perception of reality.  It doesn’t put hidden meaning into an object, or ask a bunch of questions.

Alone in the paddock, the sleek chestnut gelding grazed.  He methodically trimmed the blades of grass close to the ground, left to right, right to left, as far as his neck could reach.  He took a step and began again.  Row after row.  Step after step.

Yet this book goes on to be a delightful tale about a girl who only talks to animals, a horse with a troubled past, and a broken family that comes together again.

I’m sure there was a point to all this.

Maybe it’s this: a great beginning doesn’t always equal a great story, and a mediocre beginning doesn’t always mean a mediocre story.  While your beginning should be the best you can make it, it doesn’t have to define you.


I’ve raved about Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girl series here.  They are some of my favorite books, and Ally is one of my favorite authors.

Yesterday, I got to meet her.

And get my picture with her.

It was the Gaithersburg Book Festival.  In a tent, in the 85-degree, 95% humidity.  Ally got up and wowed us all by talking about her books, her writing process, and her life in general.  We were transfixed.  When she was done, she opened it up to questions, and then professionally and enthusiastically answered each one.

Then my mom ran and bought me her newest book, All Fall Down.  (Book review coming soon!)


Look at how beautiful it is!




While she was signing it, I gathered the courage to say, “Hey, I really enjoy your website for writers.  It’s been very helpful to me.”  She replied, “Oh cool!  I haven’t updated that in a while.  Maybe I should look at it again.”


Me: Leaves book fair

Me: Goes home and starts reading All Fall Down

Three bonuses of the Gaithersburg Book Festival:

1) I met a friend from school, who was ALSO there to see Ally.  We didn’t plan on meeting up, it just happened that way.  I had no idea she like Ally’s books.  Kinda a God thing? Yeah.

IMAG0497_12) THERE WAS A NANOWRIMO TABLE!  WOOT WOOT!  I got a NaNoWriMo sticker and bookmark, and introduced said friend to the epicness that is NaNoWriMo.

3) I got to attend an awesome workshop on Crafting the Killer Beginning, that I think was put on by the NaNoWriMo peeps.  Not super sure about that.  It might have been The Writer’s Center.  Anywho, it was SUPER awesome, and there will be details about that coming soon.  Edit: details here.

For all of you that live within two hours of Gaithersburg, MD, YOU’D BETTER BE THERE NEXT YEAR!