Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Ask the Passengers

Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King. The Goodreads summary:
Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother's pushiness and her father's lack of interest tell her they're the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn't know the passengers inside, but they're the only people who won't judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she's falling in love with a girl.
This is yet another of those books that I probably wouldn’t have read if it wasn’t for book club but that I ended up being glad I read. There isn’t necessarily a whole lot going on in the plot department—it’s basically all about Astrid coming to terms with her sexuality and whether she’s gay or not. But man did it seem like an honest portrayal. I just really felt for Astrid, you know? It seems like everyone around her is pushing her around in one way or another, and like Astrid, I just wanted them all to stop for a second so she could figure things out.

Character-wise, I liked Astrid. She seems pretty grounded and mature, and for the most part she deals pretty well with all the crap that people say about her and do to her. The only thing that really consistently annoyed me about her is how she feels all isolated and like no one who matters really cares about her, but it seemed so obvious that people like her sister, her dad, and Dee would care about her if she’d open up and let them. So it kinda seemed like she was always complaining about something that was partly her own fault. But I guess that's being a teenager for you.

On the relationship front, I’m not sure if I completely bought Astrid and Dee’s relationship. I think it’s because Astrid spends a big chunk of the book pissed off at Dee for various reasons, and since you only get to see Dee through Astrid’s eyes, the picture I got of Dee wasn’t especially flattering. So I had a hard time seeing what Astrid saw in Dee besides her being a good kisser and having a great smile. But I did like that their relationship wasn’t idealized and all rainbows and kittens. Both Astrid and Dee have faults, and those faults cause problems, but despite it all they still care about each other, and that’s something I can get behind.

Overall, it was well done. I could’ve done with a bit more character development from some of the secondary characters, but by and large I thought it was satisfying and hopeful and other good things that I wasn’t really expecting when I started it.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, March 24, 2014

Review: “The Off Season” and “Front and Center”

“The Off Season” and “Front and Center” (Dairy Queen #2 & 3), by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.


So since I read these next two books in the Dairy Queen series back to back, I figured I’d just review them together. Because the odds of me being able to remember what happened in which book is slim. I also decide to skip my usual Goodreads summaries because . . . let’s face it: two summaries would’ve been waaay too much. But so you’re caught up summary-wise, basically in “The Off Season,” everyone gets injured: DJ’s brother gets seriously hurt in a football game, her mom throws out her back, and DJ herself injures her shoulder. So DJ has a lot to deal with, since as usual she seems to be the one to end up with all the responsibilities. And she’s dealing with Brian Nelson drama. In “Front and Center,” football season is over and DJ is playing basketball, which she’s phenomenal at so she’s being scouted by different college programs. Only all the pressure is stressing DJ out, and on top of that she has to sort out once and for all whether she wants to be with Brian Nelson.

Phew. I’m reminded why I never write my own summaries. Anyway, for a trilogy that’s probably 80 percent sports, I really enjoy it. Which I probably wouldn’t have assumed if I knew from the beginning that there was going to be so much sports. But DJ is just so gosh darn likeable. I would 100 percent want to be friends with DJ in real life. Even if we don’t have anything in common since basically her whole world is sports and her family’s dairy farm. But still, I just really admire her—she gets shouldered with way more responsibility than any 16-year-old should ever have (especially in “The Off Season”), but she never gets bitter about it. She just deals with it. Plus, the way her narrative voice is written has plenty of personality, but not so much that it’s distracting. So kudos to Catherine Gilbert Murdock for that.

The 20 percent of these two books that isn’t about sports is about Brian Nelson drama. I’m honestly still a bit torn about Brian. Because while he definitely makes a fantastic friend, I don’t know that even by the end of book 3 I was convinced that he’d make a good boyfriend for DJ. But I guess he’s trying to change, so he gets points for that. One of the things that I’ve really liked about this series is that the romance doesn’t take over the storyline. Sure, there’s some drama, but DJ has way too many other things on her plate for her to let boys take over her life.

Overall, I think the word I’d use to describe these books is “cute.” They’re just so adorable. And although I liked book 1 the best, I think they’re actually pretty consistent in terms of quality. Plus they’re pretty inoffensive in pretty much every possible way, so I feel like I can recommend them to anyone.

Ratings: both 3.5 / 5

Other books in this series
The Dairy Queen

Monday, March 17, 2014

Review: The Bitter Kingdom

The Bitter Kingdom (Fire and Thorns #3), by Rae Carson. The Goodreads summary:
The epic conclusion to Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.
All I have to say is YES. Because this trilogy wrapped up so well. Like the second book, this third book managed to have its own distinct plot while still continuing (and in this case, finishing up) the overarching trilogy storyline. And I just really, really appreciated that. Plus, Elisa stays as likeable as she was in the second book while managing to get even stronger as a character. Another point in the book’s favor was that it managed to surprise me plot-wise. I assumed I knew how Elisa was going to resolve the various conflicts set up in the second book, but Rae Carson ended up surprising me both with Elisa's methods and with how smart her solutions are.

The only thing that I wasn’t as fond of in the book was that some of the chapters were from Hector’s perspective. Don’t get me wrong—I really like Hector. But I think I liked him better when I saw him from Elisa’s perspective than when I saw him from his own.

Overall, a solid end to the series. My review’s so short because I suck at reviewing later books in a series and I'm trying to avoid spoilers, not because the book’s not worth talking about. So, yep. I definitely recommend this trilogy, and for once I can actually say that the second and third books are better than the first.

Review: 4 / 5

Other books in this trilogy
The Girl of Fire and Thorns
The Crown of Embers

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Books that make me swoon

So ever since that Top 10 Tuesday a while ago about books that make you swoon, I’ve been thinking off and on about what I consider the swooniest books. To be honest, the amount of swoon in a book is usually directly proportional to how much I enjoy it, but sometimes a book just needs one scene (or even one line) of swoony perfection--not even necessarily between the main characters--to make me adore it. I’ve divided my lists into YA and non-YA, but really, some of the books could’ve gone in either category, and the books aren't listed in any particular order.

-Quintana of Charyn, by Melina Marchetta. Because Lucian and Phaedra. Finally.
-Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta. Because not every first time is perfect.
-Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. Because who knew the awkwardness of sharing a bed could be so romantic?
-The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater. Because Sean freakin’ Kendrick.
-Graffiti Moon, by Cath Crowley. Because she breaks his nose on their first date.
-A Countess Below Stairs, by Eva Ibbotson. Because Tom's proposal is so dang wonderful.
-The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley. Because sometimes I can’t get the image out of my head of Luthe listening to the ground as Aerin rides away.
-The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley. Because it isn’t very comfortable for two people to hug when both are wearing leather armor, but they do it anyway.
-The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson. Because sometimes the dorkiest and sexiest moments of your life are the same moment.
-Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. Because not only “Are you rooting for me?” but also because Simon and Baz.

-Mystic and Rider, by Sharon Shinn. Because she kisses him. Both times.
-The Winter Sea, by Susanna Kearsley. Because the ending literally made me squeal.
-The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Because they could’ve gone on longing for one another and pretending not to notice forever, but they don’t.
-The Chocolate Kiss, by Laura Florand. Because she can trust him with her.
-The Chocolate Touch, by Laura Florand. Because he wants to spend four years proving himself to her.
-Unlocked, by Courtney Milan. Because he doesn’t just say he’s changed, he proves it over and over.
-The Peach Keeper, by Sarah Addison Allen. Because Pax and Sebastian. Obviously.
-The Piper's Son, by Melina Marchetta. Because chapter 29.
-Spindle’s End, by Robin McKinley. Because Narl never used to whistle.
-Silent on the Moor, by Deanna Raybourn. Because Brisbane makes you work for that ending.

So what do you think? What about a book makes you swoon? Which books would be on your list?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Cruel Beauty

Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge. The Goodreads summary:
Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.
Obviously, after Angie reviewed this book, I had to read it. Because ever since I first read Robin McKinley’s “Beauty” when I was 12 or so, I’ve been a sucker for Beauty and the Beast retellings. And “Cruel Beauty” is a fairly unique retelling, I think. It’s Beauty and the Beast, yes, but it also incorporates a lot of Greek mythology and other elements of ancient Greece. And I personally thought it had a bit of a Bluebeard flair as well.

On the character front, Nyx was a bit of an interesting main character. I didn’t find her all that likeable at first. I felt bad for her and her situation sure, but the malice in her heart, as Ignifex terms it, made me a little leery. But then she goes ahead and punches Ignifex about 5 seconds after meeting him, and that’s when I realized we'd be getting along just fine after all. And really, I think the fact that Ignifex sees her malice and bitterness and likes her anyway made it somehow easier for me to do the same.

And speaking of Ignifex, now there’s an enemy I can get behind. He reminded me a bit of a darker version of Howl, from “Howl’s Moving Castle,” so in other words I really adored him. The book’s atmosphere is fairly heavy and serious overall, so the occasional relief that Ignifex brings from that was much appreciated. But really, I think the thing I love most about Ignifex is that he sees all Nyx’s flaws and likes her better because of them. And I still have no idea how to pronounce his name.

Shade, I was kinda meh about. His personality was as gray as his appearance, and I spent most of the book trying to figure out if the author intended me to develop feelings for him, or if he was just a character necessary to moving the plot along. Honestly, most of the scenes between Nyx and Shade I spent wishing were with Nyx and Ignifex instead, because those two have got all kinds of chemistry going on.

Overall, I think that not only was it a pretty dang satisfying retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but the author did a good job at making the story her own as well. I could’ve used a little more time spent on relationship development (Nyx seems to have this habit of falling in love just from kissing a guy once), but other than that I don’t have many complaints.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, March 3, 2014

Review: Locked

Locked, by Eva Morgan. The Goodreads summary:
When eighteen-year-old Irene Adler meets her new neighbor, the gorgeous, brilliant, and arrogant Sherlock Holmes, she never expects him to be the one to make her feel like life is worth living again. Ever since her sister's death, she's been addicted to risk-taking as a way to deal with her depression, and Sherlock quickly becomes the biggest risk she's ever taken.

Locked is the story of a broken girl and the genius who gives her life back to her. It's the story of a witty asshole who's never known love, and the girl who shows him what love means. It's the story of an unexpected connection, two people who save each other, and the importance of seeing the goodness underneath.
So. Sherlock Holmes. I grew up with Sherlock Homes, mainly through the Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone interpretations and through the books on tape of Doyle’s original stories. Then there were the Robert Downey Jr. movies. And of course BBC’s “Sherlock,” which is, let’s face it, fantastic. So basically, I feel like good ol’ Sherlock and I are like this at this point. Which made me excited/nervous to read “Locked,” because there’s a lot for it to live up to. And it felt a bit, I don’t know, daring, I guess, for Eva Morgan to try to create a young Sherlock that would be believable as Sherlock Holmes while also being believable as a teenager.

But here’s the thing: she totally manages to do it. I was legitimately impressed with how she kept Sherlock sherlock-y while also making him her own character. I pretty much grinned my way through all the scenes with Sherlock because he’s all genius-y and fact driven and unemotional and frustrating, but at the same time unintentionally hilarious and increasingly human. And he’s a great texter. The texts he sends Irene were basically my favorite part.

Irene is likeable as well. She’s a charismatic narrator, despite the hard time she’s going through. Sometimes main characters who are depressed can be a bit hard to read for me, but Irene grabbed me from pretty much the first page. And part of that, I know, is because the book is so well written. It’s really engaging and readable, and despite there being some typos and other errors in the version I read, they didn’t put me off at all, because the storytelling was so well done (though I understand that the text has been cleaned up in more recent versions). Irene does get a little over-dramatic at the end, but not quite to the point where it was truly annoying.

Overall, I kind of adore this iteration of Sherlock Holmes. It keeps all the things that make Sherlock Sherlock while still being a unique interpretation of the story and characters. It's turned out to be one of those books that I can't help recommending to people. I’m totally up for more books in this series.

Rating: 4 / 5

Copy received for review.
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