Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: The Lonely Hearts Club

The Lonely Hearts Club, by Elizabeth Eulberg. The GoodReads summary:
Penny is sick of boys and sick of dating. So she vows: no more. It's a personal choice. . . and, of course, soon everyone wants to know about it. And a few other girls are inspired. A movement is born: The Lonely Hearts Club (named after the band from Sgt. Pepper). Penny is suddenly known for her nondating ways . . . which is too bad, because there's this certain boy she can't help but like. . . .
The summary of this book sounded like exactly my type of thing, so I was looking forward to reading it. And generally, after reading it, I still liked the premise of the book and the whole idea of Penny’s Lonely Hearts Club and how it brings the group of girls together.

But oh my goodness, I could not handle Penny. She’s almost likeable, but I could not stand what came off to me as her false modesty and naiveté. I mean, she has two handsome, popular boys who obviously are interested in her, and she just acts like she has no idea that they like her. Even after one of them asks her out on what’s so clearly a date, she’s like, “Oh, this must just be a friends thing.” And then later, her attitude seems to morph into “Poor me. All these boys like me, but ALAS! I’ve sworn off dating. My life is so difficult!” Come on, Penny! You’re pretty, got a great body (as everyone keeps pointing out), and flirt like crazy—why are you so surprised these guys like you?

I also felt like the story and its characters never gained any real depth. They were all pretty much one-dimensional—with the possible exception of Diane. Diane was the best thing about this book, in my opinion. I admired the way that she decided to completely turn her life upside down because she was tired of not doing the things that made her happy. But the rest of the characters felt more like caricatures to me than real people—especially Penny’s parents. Don’t even get me started on them.

Overall, a book with a fun premise, but the story and characters felt too shallow even for a light, fluffy read.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: The Princess of Iowa

The Princess of Iowa, by M. Molly Backes. The GoodReads summary:
Paige Sheridan has the perfect life. She's pretty, rich, and popular, and her spot on the homecoming court is practically guaranteed. But when a night of partying ends in an it-could-have-been-so-much worse crash, everything changes. Her best friends start ignoring her, her boyfriend grows cold and distant, and her once-adoring younger sister now views her with contempt. The only bright spot is her creative writing class, led by a charismatic new teacher who encourages students to be true to themselves. But who is Paige, if not the homecoming princess everyone expects her to be? In this arresting and witty debut, a girl who was once high-school royalty must face a truth that money and status can't fix, and choose between living the privileged life of a princess, or owning up to her mistakes and giving up everything she once held dear.
I finished this book yesterday, but for some reason, despite the time I’ve had to think about it, I’m having a hard time gathering my thoughts on it. I think it’s maybe because this book deals with some hard issues—and gave me so much to think about—that even now I'm still processing it all. But anyway . . .

Paige is a bit of a difficult character. And I mean that in the best possible way. She feels so real, for better or worse. While I never disliked her, some of her decisions made me cringe big time, since she does some pretty unkind, thoughtless, petty things. But where Paige redeems herself is in her slow evolution from a popular, flawless, one-dimensional girl into someone who starts to see that maybe being perfect isn’t everything and that there’s more to life than being homecoming queen. The process is slow and painful, and she backslides quite a bit, but still, she moves forward and gradually becomes someone I can admire.

Somewhat perversely, I really liked the deteriorating relationship between Paige and Jake. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like Jake and I was rooting for Ethan the whole time, but still . . . I really thought Paige and Jake’s relationship was well written. The author made it so easy to understand why Paige is clinging so hard to her relationship with Jake, even when it’s clear to her and everyone that it’s just not working. To Paige, Jake represents an idyllic time when everything seemed perfect in her life, and I can’t blame her for finding it hard to let go of that, even when I got frustrated with Paige for letting herself stay in a toxic relationship for so long.

This book tackles quite a few issues: drinking and driving, homophobia, the beginning and ending of friendships and romantic relationships, parental pressures, popularity, taking responsibility, and a few others. Before I started this book I wondered why it was so long for a contemporary YA (464 pages), and now that I’ve finished it, I can see that the book needed to be that long just to deal with all the issues. And I appreciated the way that the author wrote about all these topics—I didn’t feel preached to or condescended to, and I liked that she took the realistic route and didn’t tie everything up with a nice little bow. Some stuff doesn’t get resolved, or it doesn’t get resolved the way I, or the characters, would have liked, but that’s how it goes in the real world. The book ends happily, but not everything is perfect, which is a valuable lesson, I think—that things don’t have to be perfect to find happiness.

Overall, a well-done issues-centered book. Recommended for fans of Lauren Oliver’s “Before I Fall” and Courtney Summers’s “Some Girls Are.”

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson. The GoodReads summary:
Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.
But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.
You may or may not recall my whining in my review of Shadow and Bone about YA trilogies resolving the romance in the first book. So I broke out in a little happy dance (only figuratively speaking, sadly) when I got to the end of this book and found that, hallelujah, the romance is left wide open. Plenty of room for blessed development in the next books. So I’m holding on to high hopes that it’ll be Hector in the end—although he needs to shave that creepy mustache for sure.

Elisa was a bit of a mixed bag for me in terms of a main character. I didn’t specifically admire or like her, but I didn’t specifically dislike her either. I did enjoy, however, watching her character growth over the course of the book. She's kinda pathetic and self-pitying in the beginning, but she grows stronger and more courageous little by little as she rises to meet each new challenge. So I give her kudos for that.

One of the coolest things about the book was the setting. I think it’s supposed to be loosely based on South America? Maybe? Anyway, there’s a definite Spanish flair to it, which I was not expecting. Usually this kind of epic fantasy takes place in Europe-influenced settings, so it was totally refreshing to have it take place somewhere completely different.

The one thing that didn’t work for me in this book is the whole godstone idea. Elisa has this stone in her stomach that designates her as God’s chosen and serves as a link to him. I felt that it gave the book more of a religious overtone than I like, since Elisa’s always praying and thinking about God and stuff. I realize that’s totally my personal prejudice against religion in fiction showing through, but, well, it still bothered me. Plus, I feel like the godstone gave Elisa the easy way out a few too many times—she was able to rely on God to save her rather than having to save herself.

Overall, it was a decent read. Not a book I fell totally in love with or anything, but still, it did quite a few things well enough that I’ll probably read the next books sometime.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Sunday, February 17, 2013

This is SO me...

Pretty much right after I wrote Friday's post about my favorite literary couples, I saw this little gem on a website. Um, yeah. It's basically the story of my life.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book Light Confessional: Favorite Couples

I meant to post this on Valentine’s Day yesterday, but, well, that obviously didn’t happen. But here we go anyway . . . a few of my most favorite literary couples. You know, those whose swoontastic romances make me ridiculously just a little giddy.

(In no particular order)
-Kate and Sean (The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater)

-Phaedra and Lucian (The Lumatere Chronicles, by Melina Marchetta)

-Paxton and Sebastian (The Peach Keeper, by Sarah Addison Allen)

-Juliet and Dawsey (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)

-Jane and Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte)

-Annabel and Owen (Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen)

-Taylor and Jonah (Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta)

-Anna and St. Clair (Anna and the French Kiss)

-Erin and Luthe (The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley)

-Senneth and Tayse (Mystic and Rider, by Sharon Shinn)

-Rose and Dimitri (Vampire Academy series, by Richelle Mead)
Who are your favorite couples?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo. The GoodReads summary:
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.
The thing is, I almost really liked this book. There were so many unexpectedly cool things about it. The world building, for instance, was really unique. The setting has a Russian feel to it, which is rarely used in YA, so I was diggin’ that. Plus, I thought the whole Grisha culture—where certain people have the ability to manipulate the elements around them—was fascinating, not to mention the mystery and tension surrounding the Darkling and his powers. And on top of that, the book was infinitely readable—it was well-written and well-paced, and I had a hard time putting it down.

See? So many good things about this book. But the more YA trilogies I read, the more finicky I become, and this book did one of the things I find myself increasingly unwilling to forgive: the romance was resolved by the end of this first book. I HATE that. Truly, madly, deeply. One of the few things that will keep me reading a series is the romantic tension, and when a series resolves that by the end of the first book, I have a hard time finding the motivation to read the rest of the books. And since I was liking this book so much, I was sincerely disappointed that it resolved the romance so early. The book was outstanding in so many other ways, I was really, really hoping it would be different from the normal pattern that YA trilogies seem to always follow. But alas. I’ll also admit that I was a little bitter about how things turned out with the Darkling, because despite everything, I still kinda love him a lot.

Overall, a good book, but my pickiness sadly prevents me from calling it a great book. But I have no doubt that people who mercifully lack the same obsession I have with romantic tension will be better able to give the book the credit it’s probably due.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: Paper Valentine

Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff. The GoodReads summary:
The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.

For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.
I’ll go ahead and admit that the sole reason I picked up this book was the cover. Gorgeous. And now that I’ve read it, you know what I love even more than the cover? Finny Boone. Oh my goodness, Finny. I’m such a total sucker for the strong, quiet, former bad boys of fiction, and Finny is swoon city—rough around the edges but kind when it matters. Even though we don't actually get to find out that much about him, I think he might possibly—possibly—be in the running to join Jonah Griggs, Sean Kendrick, and Owen Armstrong on my list of YA boys that I’m kinda totally in love with.

But tearing myself away from the topic of Finny, the rest of the story was pretty dang good too. It was a bit darker than I was expecting for some reason—it turns out this book is a murder thriller full of serial killers and ghosts. Which, while it a bit unexpected, I kind of really adored since I went through this phase six or seven years ago when basically all I read were romantic suspense novels about murders and serial killers. So this book was a bit of a throwback for me, and I had a good time getting sucked in by all the suspense. Although I noticed I definitely get creeped out way more easily than I used to, because this book had me vaguely regretting reading it at night on a weekend my roommate was out of town.

While Finny was the character I loved the most, there were quite a few other characters that I liked. Hannah, the main character, has an awesome sense of style, which may seem like a shallow reason to like a character, but I definitely envied all her sundresses. But aside from her clothes, I liked watching Hannah’s slow discovery of who she is without her best friend, who died six months earlier. I also really enjoyed Hannah’s relationship with her little sister, Ariel, who is totally spunky and awesome in her own right. And an honorable mention goes out to Decker, their stepdad, who I wouldn’t have minded getting to spend more page time with, seeing as how he’s so dang cool.

Overall, if you’re in the mood for a mystery that’s on the more darker, suspenseful side, this could be the book for you. If nothing else, read it for the swooniness that is Finny Boone.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: Scarlet

Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2), by Marissa Meyer. The GoodReads summary:
Cinder returns in the second thrilling installment of the New York Times-bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother and the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she has no choice but to trust him, though he clearly has a few dark secrets of his own.

As Scarlet and Wolf work to unravel one mystery, they find another when they cross paths with Cinder. Together, they must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen who will do anything to make Prince Kai her husband, her king, her prisoner.
I really liked “Cinder,” the first book in this series. It was so much better than I was expecting. So needless to say, I was pretty excited to read “Scarlet,” especially considering some of my most trustworthy sources said it was even better than the first book. And they were so right.

I enjoyed “Cinder” quite a bit, but I adored “Scarlet.” Something about Scarlet’s character grabbed me from the second she was introduced in a way that Cinder didn’t quite manage to do at first. Scarlet’s different than Cinder—she’s a bit more gritty and rough-and-tumble and not afraid to fight. And I don’t know . . . she just came across as a little more awesome than Cinder. Which is not to say Cinder isn’t awesome, because obvs she is, it’s just that Scarlet was a bit stronger of a heroine, I thought. And let me just say: WOLF. Kai was kind and charming, but Wolf is a street fighter. And isn’t that enough said? He’s just that wary kind of tough that gets me every time.

And lest you’re worried that the book doesn’t manage to continue the story started in “Cinder,” let me put your fears to rest. The story continues, and it gets even more exciting and complex. Scarlet and Wolf are the main characters in this book, but Cinder and Kai still play a large part as well, since some of the chapters alternate over to their perspective. And I just thought the author did a great job both balancing the two different stories and integrating them.

And the intersection between “Scarlet” and Little Red Riding Hood, on which it’s based, is really well done too. Scarlet has her signature red hoodie and a missing grandmother, but more even beyond that, there are some especially clever parallels. There was even one point where the parallel was so unexpected and spot on that I may have let out a little squeal of delight.

Overall, a fantastic second book. I can’t even remember the last time I read a strong second book in a series, but this definitely fits the bill. It has me looking forward to the next book for sure.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, February 4, 2013

Review: The Friday Society

The Friday Society, by Adrienne Kress. The GoodReads summary:
Set in turn of the century London, The Friday Society follows the stories of three very intelligent and talented young women, all of whom are assistants to powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician's assistant. The three young women's lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man.

It's up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder–and the crimes they believe may be connected to it–without calling too much attention to themselves.

Set in the past but with a modern irreverent flare, this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike–well, relatively ladylike–heroines poised for more dangerous adventures.
Fun. That’s how I’d describe this book. A whole lot of adventurous, girl-power fun. It’s not unlike Charlie’s Angels, if Charlie’s Angels happened to take place in a steampunk Victorian England. But this book one-ups even the Angels, since the Friday Society girls handle their own mystery solving rather than relying on a man to give them directions. And that’s kinda the point of this book—the three girls, who are assistants to famous men in their day-to-day lives, don’t need men to make their plans, solve problems, and kick butt when it comes to their crime fighting. The blurb on the cover flap pretty much says it all: “An action-packed tale of gowns, guys, guns and the heroines who use them all.”

Cora, Nellie, and Michiko are pure awesomeness. They each have their own set of talents that come together to make them an unstoppable team—Cora and her problem solving, Nellie and her ability to get out of tricky situations, and Michiko and her fighting. And what I love most about them is that they never really doubt their own worth and skills. Despite living in a society where women are second-class citizens, these three girls know they’re intelligent and don’t let others convince them otherwise. Not a group of shrinking violets, these three. Just take a look at the cover art. At first, I wasn’t that fond of the cover, but after reading the book, I think it captures the girls and their attitude perfectly.

The only thing that semi-annoyed me about the book was the writing style. This is probably just me being nitpicky, but the writing came off as a little too informal. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy writing that’s more casual, and I do think a casual style fits this book—it’s just that I think the book took that style a little too far sometimes. Occasionally, I felt like I was trapped in the movie Clueless or something, and things that would sound normal if they were spoken didn’t always come across with the same fluidity when they were written down.

Overall, a light, adventurous mystery filled with awesome girls kicking butt. I’m definitely interested in finding out what these three get up to next.

Rating: 3.5 / 5
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