Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: Of Beast and Beauty

“Of Beast and Beauty,” by Stacey Jay. The Goodreads summary:
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.

Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.

As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.
So good! It was way better than I was expecting. I was seriously impressed. It’s not like I had particularly low expectations for this book or anything, but I’ve just not been having super great luck with books recently, so I expected this one to follow suit. But I was so happy when it didn’t.

Admittedly, I don’t think any Beauty and the Beast retelling could ever live up to Robin McKinley’s duo, but those are very much classic retellings. “Of Beast and Beauty” takes the basic fairytale and transforms it into something uniquely its own. It’s mostly fantasy but kinda sci-fi too, and the world the author has created, while you don’t get to see all that much of it, is fascinating and complete with its own set of prejudices and social issues. And I loved how the lines were blurred between who was Beauty and who was the Beast. Gem and Isra are both . . . both, and it was just so dang clever of the author to do that.

Gem, I loved the whole time, but I feel like there’s not really all that much else to say about him. Tall, dark, handsome, brooding—what else do you need? Isra was a bit more interesting of a character, because while she’s likeable the whole time, she starts off weak and na├»ve and powerless. But then as the story progresses, she slowly comes into her own and finds her way. She reminded me a bit of Elisa from the Girl of Fire and Thorns series in that way. Gem and Isra were both characters that had me thinking about them even when I wasn’t reading the book, and when I finished it, they and their story stayed right there with me. (Which, since I finished this book right before bed, made it dang hard to fall asleep, let me tell ya.)

Overall, I enjoyed just about every single thing about this story. Not only was it a fresh take on Beauty and the Beast, but it was a fresh take that was done well. I whole-heartedly approve.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: Golden

“Golden,” by Jessi Kirby. The Goodreads summary:
Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.

Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.

Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.
I read “Moonglass” by this author ages ago, and while I don’t remember all that much about it, I know I thought it was adequate but not really anything special. And I think that’s how I’d characterize “Golden” too.

To me, nothing about “Golden” felt original or surprising. I mean, sure, I wasn’t 100 percent sure how things with Parker’s quest would turn out, but nothing about Parker herself or her situation felt unique to me. She didn’t stand out from any of the other likeable, over-achieving YA heroines who learn to loosen up. I felt like I’ve read different iterations of this same story a hundred other times. And it’s a story that, while I tolerate it just fine, I’m finally starting to get tired of.

The first half of the book felt pretty slow to me. I found myself starting to skim, and since I almost never skim, the fact that I wanted to with this book was pretty damning. I thought about not finishing the book, but since I knew so many people like it, I decided to press on. And truthfully, the second half was better. The pace picked up, and I started to finally get interested in the 10-year-old mystery Parker’s trying to solve. So that was a saving grace.

The romance in this book . . . I honestly can’t decide if I liked that it didn’t play a major role or if that same fact annoyed me. Because while I appreciate books that have enough other plot that they don’t have to rely entirely on the romance for the story, at the same time the romance is pretty much always my favorite part of the book. So I’m still divided on that issue with this book.

Overall, the book was fine but nothing new. I’ve been in a weird funk with YAs lately, so that may be affecting my feelings about this one, but either way, I wasn’t really impressed.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reviews: Isla and the Happily Ever After / Open Road Summer

Seeing as how I’m feeling super lazy and unmotivated, you’re getting two short reviews rather than one full length one. I’m going to forego including the book summaries (like I said, lazy), but the hyperlinked titles below will take you to the Goodreads summaries, if you’re interested.

Isla and the Happily Ever After,” by Stephanie Perkins:

Here’s the story. I really love “Anna and the French Kiss” and I mostly love “Lola and the Boy Next Door.” But this one . . . it’s not that I didn’t like it. I DID. But it didn’t leave me feeling as giddy at the end as the other two did, which kinda lowered it in my estimation by comparison. But here are the two things I really like about the book: 1) Isla has a totally platonic friendship with a boy. None of that we’ve always been friends, but I’m secretly pining over you biz. 2) I like that Isla and Josh get together fairly early in the book. This gave the book time to develop their relationship in a way YAs don’t often get to. Here, we get to see how their relationship evolves after the “I love yous.”

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Open Road Summer,” by Emery Lord:

This one was fun. I appreciated that Reagan was tough without being an A-hole. I also liked that she started making changes in her life before Matt comes into the picture; it made me believe that she was doing it for herself rather than for a boy. Another thing in the book’s favor was that although Matt and Reagan’s romance is a big part, a substantial part is also about Reagan and Dee’s friendship. They felt like real best friends rather than the superficial treatment friendship usually gets in YA. Also, I don’t know why, but I totally imagined the characters looking like specific celebrities. This basically never happens to me. But the whole book I imagined Reagan as looking like Lucy Hale, Matt as Scotty McCreery, and Dee as Taylor Swift.

Rating: 4 / 5 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: Moonraker’s Bride

“Moonraker’s Bride,” by Madeleine Brent. The Goodreads summary:
Born in a Mission in China, Lucy Waring finds herself with fifteen small children to feed and care for. The way she tackles this task leads to her being thrown into the grim prison of Chengfu, where she meets Nicholas Sabine - a man about to die.

He asks her a cryptic riddle, the mystery of which echoes through all that befalls her in the months that follow...

She is brought to England and tries to make a new life with the Gresham family, but she is constantly in disgrace and is soon involved in the bitter feud between the Greshams and a neighbouring family.

There is danger, romance and heartache for Lucy as strange events build to a point where she begins to doubt her own senses.

How could she see a man, long dead, walking in the misty darkness of the valley? And who carried her, unconscious, into the labyrinth of Chiselhurst Caves and left her to die?

It is not until she returns to China that Lucy finds, amid high adventure, the answer to all that has baffled her.
Here’s the thing: this book was more of an adventure/suspense book with a little romance thrown in, but I kept wanting it to be romance with a little adventure/suspense. Basically, I wanted there to be more kissing. But that wasn’t really the point of the story. So I don’t know if I’m allowed to be a little annoyed at this book or not, since it was my own expectations that left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied, not the book itself.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. In fact, I stayed up way too late reading it. But the thing is, from the moment we’re introduced to Nick in the Chengfu prison, I was a goner. That boy was beyond super appealing. I wouldn’t mind going to jail like Lucy if he was going to be in the cell next to mine. But then, [spoiler] since Lucy thinks he's dead, we don’t get to see him again until the end of the book, which kind of totally ruined my hopes for there being lots of scenes between him and Lucy. And to make matters worse, when he finally does make an appearance again, he’s too busy being a tool to be as appealing as he was in the beginning of the book (he does that dumb “I’m going to be a jerk so you don’t know that I love you” thing). Nick does manage to redeem himself by the end, for the most part, but that doesn’t quite negate the facts that 1) there wasn’t enough kissing, and 2) Nick didn’t quite live up to the swoony potential he showed in the beginning.[end spoiler]

Maybe I should mention Lucy now, seeing as how she’s the main character and everything. While I really loved how capable and smart and strong Lucy is, I couldn’t help but feel like she came off as a little flat as a character. She’s just so stoic and calm and reluctant to rock the boat, that it seemed like the author had to tell you what she was feeling because otherwise you wouldn’t be sure she actually had feelings. But still. You’ve got to admire a girl who can singlehandedly keep an orphanage from starving.

Overall, a book that had its issues but that was still a pretty good read. I think this review came off sounding more negative than I actually feel, so if you come across this book, give it a shot.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: Playing Beatie Bow

Review: “Playing Beatie Bow,” by Ruth Park. The summary:
Abigail Kirk was an ordinary enough fourteen-year-old girl, except that she could not understand the adults around her. Why had her father gone off with someone much younger than her mother? And why, now that he wanted to come back, was her mother agreeable. What did love mean?

It was while she was angry and resentful about the whole thing that she began to watch children playing a game called Beatie Bow. She had never seen the game before, nor the odd child who always seemed to be watching but never taking part. When Abigail tried to speak to her, the child ran off into a part of the city called The Rocks. Abigail followed, and suddenly found herself in The Rocks of another time. Only the strange girl remained the same. And she proved to be Beatie Bow, a child of a century earlier.

Abigail was taken in by the Bows, amid whispered comments about "the gift," as though there was something she was supposed to do. She didn't want to stay until she met a marvelous boy named Judah. And then for the first time she began to grasp the meaning of love. But why was she in the past, and would she ever again see her own time?

Abigail's story takes place in modern Sydney, Australia, and the Australia of a hundred years ago. The book was named the best children's book of the year in Australia in 1981.
A friend lent me this book, originally written in 1980, and she might have told me something about it, but if so I don’t remember. So basically I was going into this book with zero expectations. All I knew from the cover summary was that it takes place in Australia and involves time travel.

Two things became clear pretty much immediately. First, that this is a younger YA. Abby, the main character is 14, and the story generally feels geared to younger teens. The second thing that quickly became clear was that Abby was going to annoy me, mostly likely because she reminded me too much of what I was like at that age—snarky and selfish with a bad attitude. But I guess as much as Abby frequently got on my nerves, I appreciated how honest her feelings were and how vividly they were written. There were multiple times when I thought, “Yep, I’ve definitely felt that exact same way before.” So I think if I had read this book in my early teens I would’ve connected a lot more to Abby than I do now with my 10+ years of hindsight about how self-centered I was as a teenager.

As for characters I did like, Beatie totally stole the show for me. She’s actually not in the book all that often, but when she is she’s just so dang spunky and feisty that I didn’t doubt for a second that even though she’s only 10 or 11, she’d eventually manage to pull herself out of poverty.

Plot-wise, I’m not entirely sure what was going on. Or rather, why it was going on. So, yes, Abby travels back in time to Victorian Australia, but it’s never actually clear what purpose her time travel serves. She’s told that it’s so she can make sure “the Gift” (magic powers that are hereditary in Beatie’s family) survives to the next generation, but why the Gift needs to survive is never explained. As far as I could tell, the Gift never actually accomplishes anything useful. It doesn’t save the world or change the course of history or anything remarkable. So why Abby needed to save it, I don’t know. Which made the whole point of the plot pretty vague to me.

Overall, a decent book, but one I think I would’ve connected with way more if I had read it 15 years ago.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: We Were Liars

“We Were Liars,” by E. Lockhart. The Goodreads summary:
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.
True confession: I almost always read the end of books first, and I almost never regret it. But in this case, I really wish I hadn’t. Because so much of the book hinges on a secret that I wish I hadn’t ruined for myself. So word to the wise, don’t skim ahead in this book, if that’s your penchant. Just don’t.

I feel like I can’t talk too much about this book without risking giving everything away. But here are the two things I feel like I can say. First, that it was well written. I’ve read a few of E. Lockhart’s other books before, so I already knew she was a skilled writer, but I feel like “We Were Liars” is a cut above the rest in terms of writing. The other books I’ve read by this author tended to lean towards the witty (at least as far as I remember), but this book is more . . . artistic, I guess. Or stylized. Either way, the writing was a pleasure to read. And it was gripping. For real. Cady has amnesia at the beginning of the book, and you as the reader only get to discover the truth when she does . . . which subsequently resulted in my devouring this book pretty quickly.

Second, this book ended up being way more emotional than I was expecting. Even having ruined the ending for myself, this book ended up being about nothing that I thought it would be. Like, the story I came away with at the end wasn’t quite like anything I would’ve guessed when I started it. In a good way. Definitely in a good way. Despite the fact that it made me cry, which I hate.

Overall, a book that dealt with surprisingly heavy issues, but one that’s well written and well paced. Just remember: don’t skip to the end!

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: The Fiery Heart

“The Fiery Heart” (Bloodlines #4), by Richelle Mead. The Goodreads summary:
Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets - and human lives.

In The Indigo Spell, Sydney was torn between the Alchemist way of life and what her heart and gut were telling her to do. And in one breathtaking moment that Richelle Mead fans will never forget, she made a decision that shocked even her. . . .

But the struggle isn't over for Sydney. As she navigates the aftermath of her life-changing decision, she still finds herself pulled in too many directions at once. Her sister Zoe has arrived, and while Sydney longs to grow closer to her, there's still so much she must keep secret. Working with Marcus has changed the way she views the Alchemists, and Sydney must tread a careful path as she harnesses her profound magical ability to undermine the way of life she was raised to defend. Consumed by passion and vengeance, Sydney struggles to keep her secret life under wraps as the threat of exposure — and re-education — looms larger than ever.

Pulses will race throughout this smoldering fourth installment in the New York Times bestselling Bloodlines series, where no secret is safe.
This book has been sitting by my bed waiting for me to read it since January. And despite liking the previous books in this series, I was seriously struggling to work up the motivation to read it. I have no idea why it was so hard. But since “Silver Shadows” (book 5) just came out, I finally buckled down and read “The Fiery Heart.” And it was a bit disappointing, I have to admit.

It was just. So. Slow. I feel like absolutely nothing happens until the last third of the book. Well, I take that back. What happens is Sydney and Adrian moon over each other non-stop. And usually, I’m all for the romance, but since there was basically no other major plot to break up the lovey-dovey scenes, it all got a bit tedious. They do work on tattoo and Strigoi stuff a little, but that stuff was totally tangential to all the mushy I-love-you scenes.

Also, this book was from split Adrian and Sydney perspectives, which I have no problem with in theory. But I just didn’t think Adrian’s narrative voice sounded like a guy very much. I mean, he describes himself as “flouncing” to a chair. I mean, really? Flouncing?

The book does pick up in the last 50 pages or so, and the cliffhanger was enough to commit me to reading the next book. I just really, really hope Richelle Mead is back on her game in book 5, and that this one being a bit lame was just an aberration. Though honestly, even if the series doesn’t pick up from here, I’ll probably finish it anyway just because I’m this far in.

Overall, not the strongest book in the series. Fingers crossed for the next book being better.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: Roomies

“Roomies,” by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando. The Goodreads summary:
It's time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.
More than anything, I think this book made me realize how easy I had it when I went off to college. In “Roomies” it’s two girls stressing about everything to do with going to college, but I don’t remember it being that stressful for me. I mean, I was going out of state for college, but it was to a school that my older sister was already attending and my best friend from high school was going to be my roommate. Plus, I was the 5th kid my parents had sent off to college, so they knew the ropes pretty dang well by that point and I felt like I knew what to expect as well. But still, even though I didn’t necessarily relate to every fear and uncertainty that Lauren and Elizabeth had, I could definitely understand where they were coming from.

I think what stood out from the book the most for me was how adorable the two romances were. Both Mark and Keyon are way too good to be true, but I loved them anyway. I think I liked the romance between Lauren and Keyon the best, probably because out of Lauren and Elizabeth, I related to Lauren more, but also because I felt like Keyon came off as slightly less smooth than Mark. Neither of the two romances have all that much depth because they’re too busy being cute, but I guess when you’re trying to fit two romances into a book on top of all the other plot, there’s not a whole lot of page time to develop them.

Like I said, I related to Lauren more out of the two girls, but Elizabeth was plenty likeable as well, even if I felt she was a touch too dramatic about things sometimes. I liked seeing their relationship slowly develop from complete strangers into friends, and I especially liked how they both get to this point where they realize that their online friendship won’t necessarily translate into a real-life friendship unless they make the effort.

Overall, a cute and fluffy book that lives up to the tagline perfectly: “A novel about friendship, first loves, and random room assignments.”

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Wild Awake

Wild Awake, by Hilary T. Smith. The Goodreads summary:
Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy.
I really, really wanted to like this book. I’d heard such good things about it. But I couldn’t connect to the main character at all. And it’s not only because Kiri’s having a mental breakdown. I really tried to understand where she was coming from and what she was going through. But the drug and alcohol abuse turned me off pretty quick, as did the fact that she made one dumb decision after another. Plus, there was about zero resolution with anything. Not that I expected everything to be all happily ever after, but some kind of resolution about her sister’s death or Kiri’s metal illness would’ve been much appreciated.

Overall, it was too frustrating for me to enjoy. Well written, though.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

“Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3),” by Laini Taylor. The Goodreads summary:
By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.

Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael's brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz ... something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?
I love this series. I just really, really do. And I wouldn’t have expected that from the first book. I liked “Daughter of Smoke and Bone,” but I don’t know that I was necessarily drawn in by it. But oh boy was I drawn in by the second book, and this third book as well, though the fact that its page count tops 600 did test my dedication a few times. Not because it wasn’t well paced or something, but because I have this unexplainable thing against long books.

But my prejudices against long books aside, I do realize that it had to be that massive, because the author took on A LOT. Happily, I felt that it managed to stay just on the right side of biting off more than it could chew, but it felt like a dangerously near thing at some points. Because not only do you have the story of Eretz and the war between chimera and angels, but you also have Karou and Akiva’s story, and the Stelians’, and on top of that Razgut’s and Eliza’s, and it all approached being a bit much at times. But I think the author generally managed to keep her grip on all the storylines and didn’t let it get out of control. I did feel like the story of the angels vs. chimera got left a bit by the wayside amongst all the other storylines, which left me hanging a little since it was the entire focus of the second book, but there were enough other things to make up for that lack, I thought.

The characters . . . the characters in this series are so great. Which is another thing I didn’t really pick up on in the first book. But in the second and third, other characters are introduced, and I just got so, so attached to them. Like Liraz. Like Ziri. Oh my gosh, I love those two. So freaking much. And of course, Mik and Zuzana were still in this last book which made me smile, because Zuzana is hilarious.

Karou and Akiva—I really liked the approach the author took with them in this book. In the first book, their relationship is all insta-lovey, which I was not all that big of a fan of. But in this book, I think their relationship takes on some more depth. Yes, they’re still basically soul mates and wildly attracted to each other, but they also realize that after everything they’ve both been through, love isn’t a given for them. And there’s uncertainty and wariness and a whole host of other emotions that have to be sorted through and worked at before they can be together. And even then, events conspire to throw wrench after wrench into their plans for happily ever after. In other words, I love every second.

Overall, a fantastically well-written book that’s gripping and involving while still having these moments of humor that kinda totally make the book for me. It’s such a strong series that ended up nowhere near where I thought it was going to after I finished the first book.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Other books in this series:
-Daughter of Smoke and Bone
-Days of Blood and Starlight
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