Monday, December 29, 2014

My Favorite Books of 2014

Here we go. My top 5 YAs and 5 non-YAs that I read in 2014 (not that they were necessarily published in 2014). They're in no particular order, aside from the fact that “I’ll Give You the Sun” was far and away my favorite book of the year.

YA
-I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
-Days of Blood and Starlight, by Laini Taylor
-Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor
-Of Beast and Beauty, by Stacey Jay
-Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater

Non-YA (aka mostly Romance...)
-The Countess Conspiracy, by Courtney Milan
-The Suffragette Scandal, by Courtney Milan
-No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, by Sarah MacLean
-A Rose in Winter, by Laura Florand
-Night Broken, by Patricia Briggs

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

True love on a t-shirt

Facebook knows me frighteningly well and put a link to litographs.com on my newsfeed. It's now basically my life's goal to own every single one of these t-shirts. I'm practically salivating over here.

(Wuthering Heights)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

BRB

What started off as a desire to re-read one particular book ended up turning into a massive re-read kick. Then I realized I'm 3 books behind on Susan Mallory's Fools Gold series. Hence, YA has been on the back burner. So . . . brb.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

(Lazy) Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue

"Blue Lily, Lily Blue" (Raven Boys #3), by Maggie Stiefvater. The Goodreads summary:
There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.
As you may have discerned from the post title, I’m feeling a bit too lazy to write a full, intelligible review (that seems to be a common malady for me lately). Honestly, I’m feeling lazy enough to skip writing a review altogether, but then I thought that I should write at least something to let you guys know that this book was awesome. I mean, man. This series. It’s nice to have books you can count on, you know? Every single one of the books in this series so far has delivered. Has gone above and beyond delivering, really.

Those raven boys . . . I just love them so much. And it’s not just Gansey, Adam, Ronan, Noah, and Blue I love, it’s the Gray Man, everyone at 300 Fox Way, and even Greenmantle and Piper. That Piper—she grew on me more than she was supposed to probably.

You might thinking by now, “Hey, Karen, what about the plot?” Like, I said, lazy is the name of the game today, so can I just say the plot was good and gripping and well-developed—the whole shebang—and leave it at that? Though I will say that one scene where Blue and a certain raven boy touch fingers in the car made me feel like this: !!!!!!! Because that particular raven boy happens to be my favorite, and I didn’t think anything would actually happen between them—I thought Blue was going to go for a different raven boy altogether.

And while we’re on the subject of raven boys—Adam. I love seeing how his character is slowly developing. I feel like he—and maybe Ronan—is the one doing the most growing, and it’s gratifying to watch it happen. And, and, AND that scene in the courtroom with Adam when Gansey and Ronan show up? I swooned over all of them in that scene.

Overall, read it! If you haven’t started this series yet, get to it! One book to go in the series . . . I’m kinda dying over here.

Rating: 4 / 5

Other books in this series:
-The Raven Boys
-The Dream Theives

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: I’ll Give You the Sun

“I’ll Give You the Sun,” by Jandy Nelson. The Goodreads summary:
Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
I am in love with this book. That’s all there is to it. I mean, I knew going in that the odds were pretty high I’d like “I’ll Give You the Sun” since I totally and completely adore “The Sky Is Everywhere” by this same author. But still . . . there’s always that little bit of fear that you’ll be let down. But “I’ll Give You the Sun” didn’t let me down AT ALL. It was pretty perfect, actually.

I just don’t even have the words, really. Because Jandy Nelson creates two hot messes known as Jude and Noah who explode with passion and fear and shame and love and just generally feel all the feelings I want characters to feel. And, dang, can Jandy Nelson write. I mean, she can really, really write. She knows how to use all the words and emotions and descriptions to create prose that pulls you under and makes you wish you didn’t have to come up for air in the real world.

At its heart, I think “I’ll Give You the Sun” is equal parts a story about romantic love and a story about love for family. But it’s never an easy love. Never a love that can be taken for granted. The characters have to try again and again to get through the walls of hurt and fear that separate them from those they love, and I felt for them every single time they threw themselves at those walls only to crash against them rather than through them. But the thing is, every single time, they get up and try again.

And then there’s the small things, the things that made me smile. Like Jude’s aversion to oranges and affinity for onions and lemons. Like Clark Gable. Like Grandma Sweetwine’s bible. Like Noah’s self-portrait titles and the three words he wants to have with God. Like a certain parrot’s obsession with Ralph. Sometimes it’s the little things, as much as the big ones, that make a book for me, you know?

Overall, in case you couldn’t tell, this is one of my favorite books of the year. I kinda just want to carry it around with me all the time so I don’t have to let it go.

Rating: 5 / 5

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: Silver Shadows

“Silver Shadows” (Bloodlines #5), by Richelle Mead. The Goodreads summary:
In The Fiery Heart, Sydney risked everything to follow her gut, walking a dangerous line to keep her feelings hidden from the Alchemists.

Now in the aftermath of an event that ripped their world apart, Sydney and Adrian struggle to pick up the pieces and find their way back to each other. But first, they have to survive.

For Sydney, trapped and surrounded by adversaries, life becomes a daily struggle to hold on to her identity and the memories of those she loves. Meanwhile, Adrian clings to hope in the face of those who tell him Sydney is a lost cause, but the battle proves daunting as old demons and new temptations begin to seize hold of him. . . .

Their worst fears now a chilling reality, Sydney and Adrian face their darkest hour in this heart-pounding fifth installment in the New York Times bestselling Bloodlines series, where all bets are off.
So, remember how I really didn’t like number 4 in this series (The Fiery Heart)? Well, I’m happy to report that this one was much better. It was more on the level of the first three books. Which is to say, not quite as good as the Vampire Academy series, but still pretty enjoyable.

I think what saved this book is that Sydney and Adrian were separated for most of it. This thankfully meant that all the cheesy, puerile mushy stuff from the last book was missing from this one. Rather, this book is all about Sydney trying to use her smarts and her skills to survive the re-education center, and Adrian using his smarts and skills to try to track her down and break her out.

Adrian kind of annoyed me for the first half or so of the book because he fell back into his old habits, with all the partying and drinking. I mean, I get it—that’s his fall back when his life feels out of his control, but still . . . I thought he’d grown out of that in the last few books. Though, I did think it was pretty brave of Mead as the author to take a character that seemed to be making progress and set him back a ways. And I guess it kept Adrian from starting to seem too perfect, because Adrian wouldn’t be Adrian if he were anywhere near perfect.

On the other hand, Sydney was her usual put-together self in this book. It would’ve been nice to see her crack a little, actually. You’d think that being physically and mentally tortured for four months would have some effect on her, but nope. She remains unscathed. Maybe things will catch up to her emotionally in the next book?

Overall, I enjoyed this one nearly as much as the first three, though I wish the secondary characters like Jill, Eddie, et al. could’ve been in it more, ‘cause I love those guys. But mostly I just spent the book being happy that it was better than that disaster of a fourth book.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

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 naïve 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 loved 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

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.

I'VE NEVER BEEN THAT GIRL.

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.

YOU KNOW HOW THIS STORY ENDS.

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
Divergent
Insurgent

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: Legend

“Legend,” by Marie Lu. The Goodreads summary:
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.
“Cute” and “fun” are not typically words I use to describe books in the dystopian genre, but I kinda feel like they fit in this case. Legend was about as untaxing a dystopian as any I’ve come across, though I don’t think the author necessarily intended it that way. But the plot was pretty straightforward and the characters relatively simple, and the result for me was that the whole book went down pretty easily. I don’t mean any of this pejoratively at all. I enjoyed Legend more than quite a few other dystopians because of all these things, in fact.

Like I mentioned, the characters in this book aren’t too complex. Their motivations are clear, and although June misleads Day for a while, that gets brought out into the open pretty quick. June and Day are fairly young—15, I think—and it shows a bit in their naiveté and how quickly they get all starry-eyed about each other. This is the kind of thing that usually annoys me, but this . . . sweetness, I guess . . . fit well with the relative simplicity of the book.

Even the things like street fights, interrogations, escape attempts, and confrontations with soldiers never quite seemed as brutal as might have been realistic. And although some really tragic things happen, I never really felt for the characters; it was more like an “oh, that sucks” reaction. Again, these types of things would usually bug me, but since they meshed with the other uncomplicated aspects of the book, I didn’t care as much as I typically would.

Overall, a dystopian that stays in the shallow end. But honestly, after some of the convoluted and confusing dystopian plots I’ve read, light and easy was a bit of a relief. The jury’s still out on whether I’ll be reading the rest of the series.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: Just Call Me Ninja (plus a GIVEAWAY)

Just Call Me Ninja, by Clare Haltom. The Goodreads summary:
Sophomore Callista Trent is used to being the anonymous new girl. But when her mother’s nomadic job finally keeps her family in one place long enough to force Callista to settle in, she wants none of it. She doesn’t expect it to last, anyway—it never does.

She also doesn’t expect to stumble across a group of shinobi, modern-day ninjas who also happen to be high school students. Or for them to claim destiny sent her to join them. Or for the hot, harmonica-playing loner from her chemistry class to be one of the instructors.

For once, she starts to think that maybe she could belong somewhere. But she quickly learns her new friends aren’t running some casual karate school. And when Callista’s assigned to a dangerous mission they say only she can complete, she begins to suspect it wasn’t destiny that brought her to the shinobi at all but a carefully laid plan. Oh, and the worst part? The boy she thought she could trust may have known the truth all along.
Ninjas, right? How awesome is that? I always enjoy reading YAs with plot devices I haven’t read before, and teenage urban ninjas definitely fall into that category. But as crazy as modern ninjas might sound, the author makes them fairly believable, and I think she pulls it off mostly because of her main character, Callista.

Callista is just so dang likable and easy to relate to. Plus, she’s funny and down-to-earth . . . the whole package really. So naturally, being the smart girl she is, when she first gets introduced to the world of modern ninjas, she’s completely skeptical at first. And I think because she was as dubious as I was about the plausibility of ninjas, by the time she was finally convinced, I was too. We made the journey together, if you will.

So, obviously, being a book about ninjas, it’s a mostly plot-driven story. The plot falls more into the light and fun spectrum rather than being suspenseful or gripping like you might expect from a story about ninjas, but the less serious approach to the story really worked for me. And while there’s not necessarily a whole lot going on in terms of character development, Callista is so likable from the get-go that it was mostly a non-issue for me.

I could’ve used a little more insight into some of the secondary characters, though, like Mercer, Izzy, Aaron, and Sol. Because what you see of them is so intriguing, and you can just tell they all have good backstories, but the book doesn’t really give you more than glimpses. You get a bit of a deeper look at Nick, the crush, but even with him, I didn’t feel like I was getting the whole picture. So I’m looking forward to them being fleshed out in later books.

As for the writing, I thought the book was pretty dang polished for a self-published. There are a couple places where errors slipped through, but by and large it’s well-written and amusing and reads smoothly. For the most part, I don’t think I would’ve guessed that I wasn’t reading a traditionally published book.

Overall, a fun read that strikes a good balance between the martial arts and making out. Although I could’ve used a bit more development in some areas, Callista is a strong main character that carries the book along effortlessly. And the book sets up some promising plot twists towards the end, so I’m on board for reading any subsequent books in the series. Recommended for fans of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series or of Leila Sales’ writing style, and it's out today!

Rating: 4 / 5

Received for review.

GIVEAWAY!!!

In an effort to give a new author some buzz, Clare Haltom is giving away 10 copies of “Just Call Me Ninja” (Kindle or paper copy). All she asks is that you consider giving a fair and honest review on your blog, on Amazon, or on Goodreads. To win a free copy, just be one of the first 10 people to leave a comment on this post with your email (or Twitter name or some other way to contact you) by May 5, 2014.

Find Clare Haltom . . .
On her website
On Facebook
On Goodreads
On Twitter
On Amazon

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: This Song Will Save Your Life

“This Song Will Save Your Life,” by Leila Sales. The Goodreads summary:
Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

Told in a refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice, THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE is an exuberant novel about identity, friendship, and the power of music to bring people together.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Leila Sales two other books, it’s that the girl can write. Her writing style is just so engaging and witty, and I find myself getting pulled in whether I want to be or not. Because, to be honest, there were certain points in this book when I was thinking about tossing it into the proverbial DNF pile, but the writing always convinced me to keep going. So, you know, high five to Leila Sales for that.

I think the main thing that got to me about this book was Elise. She just . . . got on my nerves sometimes, and a really petty part of me couldn’t help thinking “No wonder no one at school likes you.” Which thinking that, even about a fictional character, made me feel like a terrible person, but guilt aside, I couldn’t handle Elise at times. I just wanted her to stop being so self-pitying and selfish and to get a grip and get some self-confidence. And, okay, I realize that the whole point of the book is Elise learning to like herself for who she is, etc., etc. But still, I couldn’t ever decide whether the fact that she annoyed me so much made Elise a really poorly written character or a really well-written one.

The other thing I wasn’t too thrilled about was that the “moral of the story,” so to speak, was so blatant. There were certain scenes that just felt like a public service announcement for self-worth. And I like to think most readers would be smart enough to figure out the message of the book without it being handed to them tied up with a bow.

But those two issues aside, I did find myself enjoying the book in other parts. Like all the stuff about DJing I found fascinating, mostly because my knowledge of indie dance parties and what it takes to be a DJ is approximately zero. I also liked the bits with Char in them. Yes, he’s a total tool, but I admired that the author could write a character who’s such a jerk without necessarily making him the bad guy.

Overall, although I had some issues with the book, the strong writing carried me through, and I’ll still be reading whatever Leila Sales writes next.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Cress

“Cress” (Lunar Chronicles #3), by Marissa Meyer. The Goodreads summary:
In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who's only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.
I really enjoyed “Cinder.” And I totally adored “Scarlet.” “Cress” . . . well, I want to make it clear that I did generally like it. I can tell already that this review is going to come off sounding more negative than I actually feel, so I feel I should state up front that the book was fine. It just that “fine” was a bit of a letdown after the amazingness that was “Scarlet.” So here we go.

First of all, I feel like this book has about a million points of view. There’s Cress’s, Scarlet’s, Cinder’s, and Kai’s, and that’s just for starters. Thorne, Dr. Erland, and Levana have bits from their perspective as well, and I’m sure there are other ones I’m forgetting. And switching between all those points of view got frustrating for me. I didn’t get to spend enough time in anyone perspective to really start to feel at home there.

I think this was especially the case with Cress and Thorne’s story. I mean, Cress is the title character, but I don’t feel like I got to know her in the way that I got to know Cinder and Scarlet in the other books. Same thing with Thorne. There wasn’t nearly enough time for him to develop as a character as much as I would’ve liked. With both of them, there were such promising hints of depth to their characters, but as soon as I felt like we might be getting somewhere with them, the perspective would change and we’d never really get back to that hope of depth.

And speaking of Cress, that girl did not come close to winning me over in the way that Scarlet or even Cinder did. I feel like Cress is always cowering and screaming, and yes, I understand why she’s that way, but it didn’t make it any less annoying. And don’t even get me started on her “relationship” with Thorne. He’s the first guy she’s ever seen, he’s handsome and charming, and they’re tossed in a stressful situation together—there’s no way that’s a foundation for a healthy relationship, and the author never really developed their feelings enough to convince me otherwise.

Plus, Wolf pissed me off in this book. He’s so awesome in “Scarlet” that I wasn’t expecting to be so constantly frustrated by him. It’s like he literally cannot function without Scarlet, and I just wanted to tell him to get a grip and focus on something other than his woe-is-me, my-life-is-over-without-her attitude. Mopey men are NOT attractive.

The shining moment of this book for me was the chapter with Winter. That girl has got fascinating written all over her, and I’m excited for the next book to see more of her.

Overall, like I started out with, I did like the book in general, it’s just that there were so many things I had issues with that it doesn’t really compare to, say, “Scarlet.” I mean, the “unputdownable” point for me (the point where I finally got sucked in) didn’t come until page 483, and in a book that’s 550 pages, that’s a long time to wait to finally get into it. Still, I’ll be reading the final book when it comes out.

Rating: 3 / 5

Other books in this series:
Cinder
Scarlet

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: Counting by 7s

“Counting by 7s,” by Holly Goldberg Sloan. The Goodreads summary:
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life... until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
Okay, so I know in the summary it says that this book “is not a tragedy,” but still, going into it I was kinda expecting it to be exactly that. I mean, it says right there in the summary that her parents die in a car crash. But actually, the summary was right. It wasn’t a tragedy. Sad in parts, yes. Obviously. But more than that, I think this book was hopeful. Because although the death of Willow’s parents is a driving force in the book, it isn’t the only thing it’s about.

Instead, it’s about all kinds of good things, like finding somewhere to belong. It’s about the effect we have on others without knowing it, and how small acts of kindness can change everything. It’s about family—both the kind you’re born with and the kind you choose. It’s about how finding a new normal can be so, so hard but possible all the same. I kinda wanted to hug this book when I finished.

Willow . . . basically I want to adopt her. She’s a genius, and it colors her relationships with others and her reactions to the world around her, but it doesn’t make her emotionally distant at all. She’s kind and caring and such a good kid, despite all the hard things she has to go through. I loved her interest in medical conditions and in gardening, and those were the kinds of things that made her feel so real and accessible as a character.

I adored the other characters as well, even the ones I didn’t expect to in the beginning. I mean, Dell Duke is about as pathetic of a character as you can get at the start of the book. But if there’s one thing this book shows, it’s the power that comes from being needed and from other people having expectations of you.

Overall, it was a solid book. I don’t typically go for middle grade books, but this one was worth it. It had powerful lessons to teach, but it didn’t shove them down my throat, and I really appreciate it when a book respects my intelligence.

Rating: 4 / 5
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