Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: Up a Road Slowly

“Up a Road Slowly,” by Irene Hunt. The Goodread’s summary:
The Newbery Award-winning novel

From the author of Across Five Aprils and No Promises in the Windcomes her most beloved story of a girl's coming of age.

After her mother's death, Julie goes to live with Aunt Cordelia, a spinster schoolteacher, where she experiences many emotions and changes as she grows from seven to eighteen.
First of all, the copy I read didn’t actually have the cover above. But I saw this one on Goodreads and totally fell for it. I’m not usually big on ‘80s covers, but there’s something totally compelling about this cover and I found myself going back to it more than a few times. So I chose it for this post. Obviously.

As for the book itself, it was first published in 1966, and it shows. Like, you can definitely tell from the get go that not only does the story take place a while ago, but it’s definitely written in that young-adult style of the past. Do you know what I mean? To me, the stories and characters in most YAs from 20+ years ago feel more removed—like, the emotions feel more sugarcoated and distant or something. Anyway, while there’s nothing wrong with that style, it did take me a while to get into the book because of it. Everything just felt like I was seeing it through the haze of the years rather than living it with Julie.

And really, that could’ve been entirely deliberate on the author’s part, since the story is written as Julie looking back on her childhood and teenage years, which she spent living with her older, unmarried aunt. To me this story felt a bit like the “Anne of Green Gables” series. Nothing too crazy happens—rather it’s a year-by-year account of her growing up and the normal adolescent things, good and bad, that she goes through as she matures.

The story generally felt quaint and sweet, and I thought it would stay that way throughout. And it does, but towards the end, you get a few glimpses of Aunt Cordelia and Uncle Haskell that give them surprising but much needed depth. And I think that depth catches Julie herself off-guard a bit, as she’s used to seeing them through the eyes of her childhood rather than the eyes of a near-adult. And that depth towards the end made it all more satisfying than I think I would have found it otherwise.

Overall, a book that’s short and charming, if a little slow. If I had a 10- or 11-year-old daughter, I think this is the kind of book I’d want to read out loud with her.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters. The Goodreads summary:
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.
The best thing about this book was the setting: San Diego in 1918. Besides the fact that San Diego’s where I grew up, I liked it as the book’s location because I feel like I haven’t read too many books set in that city. And 1918 . . . my goodness, I never fully realized what a perfect time period that would be for a ghost story. Because, I mean, not only is there WWI going on, but there’s also the Spanish Flu epidemic. I knew prior to reading this book that the flu killed a lot of people that year, but holy hannah did this book bring the fear and paranoia and suspicion that went along with it to life.

Mary Shelley was a likeable main character for about the first half of the book, and then she started getting on my nerves. I can’t even pinpoint what it was exactly—probably something to do with the fact that she thinks it’s weird that everyone else thinks it’s freaky when she gets possessed by a ghost. Or maybe how she refuses to follow anyone else’s advice because she always thinks she knows what’s best. She just starts getting really full of herself, I think. But whatever it is, she started annoying me hard core.

The whole mystery with the ghost . . . it was a little predictable, but not enough for me to be 100 percent sure I knew what the truth really was. I didn’t think Stephen made a particularly likeable ghost, but I feel like I can’t really complain about that since I don’t think he was necessarily supposed to be likeable—we’re supposed to pity him, I think.

Overall, while the setting was awesome, the other aspects of the book were slightly less so. It does make me want to read more books about the Spanish Flu, though.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Emerald Green

Emerald Green (Ruby Red #3), but Kerstin Gier. The Goodreads summary:
Gwen has a destiny to fulfill, but no one will tell her what it is.

She's only recently learned that she is the Ruby, the final member of the time-traveling Circle of Twelve, and since then nothing has been going right. She suspects the founder of the Circle, Count Saint-German, is up to something nefarious, but nobody will believe her. And she's just learned that her charming time-traveling partner, Gideon, has probably been using her all along.

"Emerald Green "is the stunning conclusion to Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red Trilogy, picking up where "Sapphire Blue" left off, reaching new heights of intrigue and romance as Gwen finally uncovers the secrets of the time-traveling society and learns her fate.
So if you’ve read this blog lately, you know I’ve been diggin’ the Ruby Red series. While I like the first book better than the second, I’ve just really enjoyed how light and funny these books are while still being an adventure.

I’d say Emerald Green was a satisfying end to the series. I definitely liked it better than Sapphire Blue, but not quite as much as Ruby Red (that book just seriously rocked my socks). All the things that needed to be tied up in the series were tied up, and everything was happily resolved in pretty much the way I was expecting it to be. While being fairly predictable, Emerald Green was entertaining enough that I didn’t really mind. For me, it was more about enjoying the journey to the resolution rather than the nitty-gritty of how I got there, mostly because Kerstin Grier is a really amusing storyteller.

Gideon, who you may remember fell from my graces in book 2, did mostly redeem himself in this book. However, his redemption was tempered by the fact that his and Gwen’s relationship gets a bit too schmaltzy for my taste by the end. I had to roll my eyes just about every time they declared their undying love for each other. Because I mean, they’ve known each other 2 weeks and in that time learned nothing about the other person besides they’re a good kisser. So yes, I was skeptical about the true love angle.

But overall, I had a really good time with this book. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Gwen is just totally hilarious. And the secondary characters, like Aunt Maddie, Lesley, Mr. Bernard, Nick, and Caroline, were in especially fine form in this book, so it was even more of an entertaining experience.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Other books in this series:
Ruby Red
Sapphire Blue

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Racing Savannah

Racing Savannah, by Miranda Kenneally. The Goodreads summary:
They’re from two different worlds.

He lives in the estate house, and she spends most of her time in the stables helping her father train horses. In fact, Savannah has always been much more comfortable around horses than boys. Especially boys like Jack Goodwin—cocky, popular and completely out of her league. She knows the rules: no mixing between the staff and the Goodwin family. But Jack has no such boundaries.

With her dream of becoming a horse jockey, Savannah isn’t exactly one to follow the rules either. She’s not going to let someone tell her a girl isn’t tough enough to race. Sure, it’s dangerous. Then again, so is dating Jack…
This book was exactly like the summary led me to expect: rich boy and poor girl fall in love, but their families don’t want them to be together. And I have no problem with that storyline. It’s just that the story never went beyond that—it was absolutely predictable in every single way. I kept hoping that the characters or plot would surprise me, but they never did. It’s like I never got anything deeper out of the book than I would’ve gotten if I had only read the plot summary. I still had a good enough time with the book (it has horses, after all), but I spent the whole time wanting more from it than it gave me.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: Crash into You

Crash into You, by Katie McGarry. The GoodReads summary:
The girl with straight As, designer clothes and the perfect life—that's who people expect Rachel Young to be. So the private-school junior keeps secrets from her wealthy parents and overbearing brothers...and she's just added two more to the list. One involves racing strangers down dark country roads in her Mustang GT. The other? Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Walker-a guy she has no business even talking to. But when the foster kid with the tattoos and intense gray eyes comes to her rescue, she can't get him out of her mind.

Isaiah has secrets, too. About where he lives, and how he really feels about Rachel. The last thing he needs is to get tangled up with a rich girl who wants to slum it on the south side for kicks-no matter how angelic she might look.

But when their shared love of street racing puts both their lives in jeopardy, they have six weeks to come up with a way out. Six weeks to discover just how far they'll go to save each other.
I feel like at this point I know what to expect from Katie McGarry’s books: There will be two teens in messed-up situations who fall in love despite all the things working against them. Family drama will abound. The plot will veer towards the overly dramatic. The boy will be tough on the outside but more emotionally aware than any boy I’ve met in real life. Love will, of course, prevail. And you know what? I’m okay with these books being formulaic, because sometimes you just need a teen romance that you know will hit the spot without asking too much of you.

“Crash into You” meets all the criteria above. In this book, Rachel is struggling with panic attacks and a family who refuses see her for who she really is. Isaiah is dealing with being a foster kid and with his mom coming back in his life. And they both are trying to find a way to get a few thousand dollars that this shady guy thinks they owe him—which means racing to win money. So as you can guess, dramatic situations happen all over the place in this book. I pretty much spent the whole time cringing as one thing after another goes wrong for Rachel and Isaiah. They do not have it easy, that’s for sure.

Isaiah is hot, so that’s kinda all that matters to me on that front. Plus, as mentioned above, he’s got the whole tough on the outside sensitive on the inside thing going on. Rachel was an interesting character, I thought, because her whole life everyone has seen her as weak because of her panic attacks, but with Isaiah, she gets the chance to show her strength, so it was interesting to get to see those different aspects of her character.

The two things that bugged me bugged me for similar reasons. First, I feel like Rachel’s panic attacks, which take center stage for a lot of the book, all of a sudden drop completely off the radar a towards the end when something more dramatic happens. It’s like the author got distracted by this new turn of events and forgot to give any kind of resolution or wrap-up of the panic attack part of the story. The second thing was that I feel like the resolution with Eric (the shady guy they owe money) was really weak. Like, it felt way too easy considering how much it was built up to.

Overall, if you liked McGarry’s other two books, I’m sure you’ll like this one as well, since it follows the same formula. I was a little disappointed when I saw the next book will be about West instead of about Abby, but I’m sure I’ll be reading it all the same.

Rating : 3.5 / 5

Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: A Wounded Name

“A Wounded Name,” by Dot Hutchison. The Goodreads summary:
There's a girl who could throw herself head first into life and forge an unbreakable name, an identity that stands on its own without fathers or brothers or lovers who devour and shatter.


Sixteen-year-old Ophelia Castellan will never be just another girl at Elsinore Academy. Seeing ghosts is not a skill prized in future society wives. Even when she takes her pills, the bean sidhe beckon, reminding her of a promise to her dead mother.

Now, in the wake of the Headmaster's sudden death, the whole academy is in turmoil, and Ophelia can no longer ignore the fae. Especially once she starts seeing the Headmaster's ghosts- two of them- on the school grounds.

At the center of her crumbling world is Dane, the Headmaster's grieving son. He, too, understands the power of a promise to a parent- even a dead one. To him, Ophelia is the only person not tainted by deceit and hypocrisy, a mirror of his own broken soul. And to Ophelia, Dane quickly becomes everything. Yet even as she gives more of herself to him, Dane slips away. Consumed by suspicion, rage, and madness, he spirals towards his tragic fate- dragging Ophelia, and the rest of Elsinore, with him.


Yet even in the face of certain death, Ophelia has a choice to make- and a promise to keep. She is not the girl others want her to be. But in Dot Hutchison's dark and sensuous debut novel, the name "Ophelia" is as deeply, painfully, tragically real as "Hamlet".
First of all, this is a drop-dead gorgeous cover. And not only is it gorgeous, it fits the book perfectly—both in plot and tone. But beyond the cover, my feelings for this book are . . . complex, to say the least.

Dot Hutchinson can write. There is absolutely no doubt about that. She strings words together in a way that’s not only beautiful but that creates the perfect atmosphere for the story. But because the language is so lovely, I was about three-fourths of the way through the book before I realized I had some major issues with it. And to Hutchinson’s credit, I think all the issues I had with the book were deliberate on her part. Like, it didn’t seem like any of them were the result of carelessness or not developing something enough, rather they were all part of the way Hutchinson intended to tell the story, as frustrating as they may have been.

And let me tell you, this is not a Hamlet retelling where anyone is redeemed. It’s a tragedy as much as the original play is. And I was expecting that, based on a few reviews I read. But what I wasn’t expecting was for Ophelia to be such a passive character. And I like I said, I came away with the impression that Hutchinson fully intended her to be that way. But still. I wanted her to act for once, instead of always being acted upon. But she never does. She never takes her life into her own hands, always letting others shape her life for her. That was a tragedy to me as much as the deaths were. And I think what got to me the most about Ophelia’s passivity is that Dane is abusive—physically and emotionally—and she just takes it. And more than that, she wants it. She wants him to take his pain out on her, and I just really struggled with that aspect of her character.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read Hamlet, but as far as I can tell, “A Wounded Name” was a fairly close retelling. I think what I found most interesting was that rather than changing the story to make it easier to swallow, the author instead explores what kind of people and events and backstories are needed for the story of Hamlet end the way it does. And in that, she does a fantastic job. I didn’t always like the characters, but their dislikable and complicated qualities made it so obvious why the story had to end with bitterness and death and revenge.

Seriously, I could go on and on some more about this book. Like I said, my feelings are complicated. But I think the last thing I’ll mention is the supernatural element. I just really think it worked so perfectly in this book. It makes Ophelia walking into that lake so incredibly understandable, which is something you don’t get in the original.

Overall, not an easy book, but one I think is worth a read. Ophelia really got to me by then end—to the point where I started yelling at the book out loud—but I think all those complex emotions I had made this a book I’ve thought about more than most others in recent memory.

Rating: 3 / 5 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Review: Sapphire Blue

“Sapphire Blue” (Ruby Red #2), by Kerstin Gier
Gwen’s life has been a rollercoaster since she discovered she was the Ruby, the final member of the secret time-traveling Circle of Twelve. In between searching through history for the other time-travelers and asking for a bit of their blood (gross!), she’s been trying to figure out what all the mysteries and prophecies surrounding the Circle really mean.

At least Gwen has plenty of help. Her best friend Lesley follows every lead diligently on the Internet. James the ghost teaches Gwen how to fit in at an eighteenth century party. And Xemerius, the gargoyle demon who has been following Gwen since he caught her kissing Gideon in a church, offers advice on everything. Oh, yes. And of course there is Gideon, the Diamond. One minute he’s very warm indeed; the next he’s freezing cold. Gwen’s not sure what’s going on there, but she’s pretty much destined to find out.
So being as giddy about “Ruby Red” as I was, I pretty much immediately went to the library to check out the next book in the series and dove right in. The verdict? While I didn’t enjoy “Sapphire Blue” quite as much as “Ruby Red,” I still had a pretty good time with it.

Like with “Ruby Red,” the main thing that carried the book for me was Gwen. I just find her so refreshingly normal. I feel like with her, I’m in the head of a 16-year-old and not like I’m in the head of a 30-something-year-old author trying to sound like a 16-year-old. Of course, this does mean I get frustrated with Gwen sometimes for acting like a teenager, especially around Gideon, but she always redeems herself. Plus, she cracks me up.

Gideon was pretty much a tool in this book, and I’m really not sure why Gwen thinks she’s in love with him. By the end of the book, his reason for being such a jerk sometimes is revealed (not that it casts him in any better of a light), but still—I was not a fan of Gideon in this book at all.

Also like with “Ruby Red,” this book felt light. I was usually too busy having a fun time reading these books to mind, but they definitely tend to lack depth in terms of character or plot. I’m also starting to get the feeling that this series could actually have all been one book if some of the superfluous scenes had been taken out (seriously, I don’t know why that soiree scene needed to be so long).

Overall, a book that, while lacking in some areas, was still fun to read. On to “Emerald Green”!

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, May 26, 2014

Review: Ruby Red

“Ruby Red,” by Kirstin Gier. The Goodreads summary:
Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!

Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon--the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.
You’d think by now I’d have learned not to judge a book by its cover. I don’t know what it is about this cover, but it made me have about zero desire to read “Ruby Red.” But then I finally did anyway, and I was reminded for the billionth time why I need to stop judging books by their covers. Because I totally loved this book.

I think the thing that drew me in the most was the narrative voice. Gwyneth just tells her story in such an engaging and charismatic way. And she’s pretty dang funny as well. I think I would’ve enjoyed the plot no matter what, but the way it was told put it over the top for me. This book was originally written in German, I think, so kudos to the author for writing a book that could carry over so well into another language. And serious kudos to the translator for making the English version feel so natural. Pretty much, I just want to spend this review going on and on about how much I love Gwyneth as a main character. I basically adored the fact that although Gwyneth ends up being able to travel through time, other than that, she’s so completely normal that you can’t help but relate to her.

But maybe you might want to hear about some of the other characters too? Gideon, I really enjoyed for about 99 percent of the book. He and Gwyneth have that “I hate you but I’m secretly attracted to you” thing going on, and they pull it off well. I did think, though, that Gideon acted a bit out of character at the very end, so we’ll see if that carries over into the next books in the series. The other secondary characters were pretty great, especially Leslie, Gwyneth’s best friend. I do wish, however, that we could’ve gotten a little deeper look at Charlotte, Gwyneth’s cousin. But again, maybe in the next books.

Plot-wise, I thought that it seemed maybe a little light. Like, there could’ve been another 50 pages or something. But I guess I’d rather that than a series that tries to tackle too much in the first book. And really, handling the plot that way made me really eager to read the next books, so it was pretty effective in that way.

Overall, an amusing book with an interesting plot and a main character that I really loved. The other two books in the series are already out, and I’ll be reading them for sure.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: Allegiant

“Allegiant” (Divergent #3), by Veronica Roth. The GoodReads summary:
The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.
Due to the general outrage I’ve heard over this book, I wasn’t exactly in a big hurry to read it. But I was still committed to finishing the series. So after a few months of lending it to all my friends who wanted to read it, I finally decided to break down and read it myself.

Honestly, I didn’t have a problem with it, which I was happy about. While I still think the first book is by far the best, I definitely liked this third book better than the second one. In the second one, Tris annoyed me so incredibly much, and though I understood why she was acting that way, it didn’t make her any more likeable. But in this third book, Tris was back to being someone I could like and admire, for the most part.

I also remembered while reading this book how well Veronica Roth can write. I think the second book got on my nerves enough that I overlooked how deftly Roth can tell a story. But “Allegiant” reminded me that not only does Roth’s writing pull together a plot together pretty dang seamlessly, but she also can string words together in a way that skillful without drawing attention to itself. And I appreciated that she expanded the scope of the story in this third book. It felt like there were only three or four different settings in the first two books, and it was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic.

As for the thing that made everyone freak out, I have three thoughts (and I’ll try to keep it spoiler free). One, although I liked the book, I don’t think I was attached to the characters or story enough to truly care when that particular event happened. Two, I think doing what Veronica Roth did was pretty brave, considering she had to know the reaction she would get from her readers. And three, even though I think it took guts to put that in the story, I don’t think it was necessary; like, I think there were about a million other ways for the story to resolve without that event. It felt a little gratuitous.

Overall, much better than I was expecting based on other people’s reactions and how much I didn’t like the second book. While it didn’t amaze me, I was pretty content with it when I finished.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Other books in the series

Monday, May 12, 2014

Review: Throne of Glass

“Throne of Glass,” by Sarah Maas. The Goodreads summary:
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another.

Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.
So I know that a lot of people really like this book. And I can kinda see why. But for me, this ended up being one of those books that never quite lived up to its potential. I can already tell that this is going to be one of those reviews where I spend all my time whining about the things I didn’t like rather than balancing it out with the things the book did well. So I’ll preface it all by saying that in general, the book was fine, it’s just that the things that annoyed me really annoyed me and kind of skewed my perspective.

The number 1 thing that annoyed me? The love triangle. I’m pretty much never a fan of love triangles, but this one especially grated on my nerves. I think it’s because Celaena’s attitude pissed me off. On the one hand, she acts all oblivious that she’s totally coming onto both guys, but at the same time she gets all miffed if one of them seems to stop paying attention to her. And I really just wanted to slap her sometimes. Similarly, I feel like the only reason parts of the book were from Dorian and Chaol’s perspectives were so we could see how in love with her they are—those parts didn’t really seem to advance the story in any other way.

Another thing that got to me a bit was that Celaena never really acts like an assassin. The whole book she goes on about how she’s the best assassin in the country, but you never get to see that. You get to see her training a little bit and you get glimpses of the tests, but other than that, the rest of the book is about the love triangle and about the magic stuff that crops up, and it made me feel like Celaena was all talk and no action, and it frustrated me that the author did that when she could’ve made Celaena kick butt.

I also felt like there were too many plot lines. There’s the championship contest, there’s the love triangle, there’s the champions being mysteriously murdered, there’s the visitations by long-dead queens, there’s the stuff about Kaltain . . . it just felt like too much. Or at the very least, it felt like it wasn’t woven together very well. I felt a very obvious shift each time the story moved to a different aspect of the plot, and that lack of seamlessness made the story feel a little clunky to me.

Overall, it probably wasn’t as annoying a book as I’m making it seem, but man did I get frustrated with it sometimes—especially with Celaena. But I feel like everyone else I know enjoyed the book, so don’t let this review stop you if you think it sounds like something you’d like.

Rating: 2.5 / 5
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