Thursday, December 31, 2015

ARC Review: Passenger

Title: Passenger
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Format: eARC*
Goodreads | BookDepository

“In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles, but years from home. And she's inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she's never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods-a powerful family in the Colonies-and the servitude he's known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can't escape and the family that won't let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, his passenger, can find. In order to protect her, Nick must ensure she brings it back to them-whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods' grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home forever.”


Ever since BEA earlier this year, the hype has been all too real for Alexandra Bracken’s upcoming YA time travel novel, Passenger.  I adored The Darkest Minds trilogy, a gritty X-Men-esque survival story, so I had high hopes that Bracken would knock it out of the park with her new novel, out January 5. At the end of the day, however, I’m not sure how I feel about this. Nearly every review I’ve read of Passenger has sung its praises, touting it as Bracken’s best work. But I felt a bit underwhelmed, which is disappointing. Passenger was a highly anticipated 2016 release, but it ended up being a pretty middle of the road read for me.

I should have loved this book. It’s got time travel, epic romance, adventure, and secrets. Some of my favorite things! Plus there’s a healthy dose of pirates, and a portion of this book takes place at sea. The concept of this novel is so intriguing – a girl gets whisked into the past and discovers that she comes from a family of time travelers, but she has to go on a mission to find a missing object in order to return to her time. (This is like Outlander meets Doctor Who, amiright?) Every character in this book is ruthless, and that really enriched the reading experience for me, knowing that although there are some very likable or seemingly bland characters, each of them is willing to betray whoever it takes to achieve their ends (even in the name of good). We all know I love moral ambiguity.

Although this is billed as an adventure tale, Passenger is ultimately a love story. The romance between Etta and Nicholas, while bordering on insta-love, is sweet and pretty swoony, I can’t lie. They come from drastically different times, so seeing them try to bridge the cultural gap throughout their travels adds so much to their relationship. The tensions that arise between an 18th century guy and 21st century girl (hello, bare calves!), help to provide greater nuance to these characters, who on their own sometimes feel stiff. But the moments between them are very romantic, and I was absolutely rooting for these two throughout the story. I loved that we have an interracial couple front and center in a YA fantasy (YA anything, for that matter).

While I adored the relationship between Etta and Nicholas, this was not just a romance story. And it’s the time travel aspect that was a huge letdown for me. I found the world building and actual time traveling to be very confusing, and the explanations we get are sporadic and unclear. The reader is told that the stakes are incredibly high throughout the novel, but I never quite felt it. That’s probably because the book is so put-downable, which is a word I made up to describe how easy it is to put a book down and walk away from it. I did this several times during the first half of the book, because it took ages for anything to really happen. It isn’t even until halfway into this 400-page tome that Etta is actually tasked with the quest that is supposed to propel the entire duology’s storyline (yes, Passenger is the first in a series so hopefully the second book will clear up my issues with this one).

Passenger was a good read, especially after the halfway points when the action (and romance) picks up. But I was expecting a great read, and I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I pick up a time travel adventure story, I want to be unable to turn the page fast enough. So ultimately, while Passenger was a solidly good first book, it wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped, and I ended up underwhelmed. Hopefully the sequel, Wayfarer, will hit the ground running and pick up the pace from this first installment.

I’d still recommend this for fans of Alex Bracken and time travel stories, especially if you like your adventures with a healthy dose of romance.

Rating: 3.5 stars

*I received a free ARC via Netgalley/the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases For the First Half of 2016

Today is a Top 10 Tuesday post! TTT was created by the awesome ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish, check out their blog for great reviews and future TTT topics!


1. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. The fourth and final installment of the Raven Cycle Quartet comes out April 26, 2016, and I’m already planning to take the day off of work to read it. With a lot of tissues and all my feelings.

2. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. This sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic is released February 23, 2016, and I cannot wait to dive back into Schwab’s fantastic world of alternate dimensions based in London. Hopefully this time there are more kisses. I don’t care who’s kissing, as long as there are more kisses. I’m easily pleased.

3. The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye. Released on May 17, this YA fantasy sounds like the Tsarist Russian version of The Night Circus – a magical competition will pit our two main characters against each other, but I get the feeling there will be just as much angsty romance as magic, and I’m very excited.

4. Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop. The fourth book in The Courtyard of the Others series will hopefully answer my most burning question: WILL MEG AND SIMON FINALLY GET TOGETHER?!

5. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Y’all, this book. I need this book. After falling in love with Between Shades of Grey, I know that this February 2 release about a ship that sinks during WWII will break my heart in the beautiful way that Ruta Sepetys does best.

6. The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood. This May 3 release is a YA scifi of sorts that encompasses time travel, quantum physics, and romance. SIGN ME UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.

7. The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski. After the cover change that was-and-then-wasn’t-and-will-be, I was momentarily put off of this third and final book in the Winner’s Trilogy, coming March 29. But regardless of the cover, I need to know what’s going to happen to Kestrel and, if the title is any indication, just how much she’ll be kissing Arin. Please let the kisses be Kestrel/Arin kisses. (This is becoming a very kiss-focused post.)

8. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. After not being super impressed with A Court of Thorns and Roses earlier this year, I am still looking forward to its sequel, coming out May 3. ACOMAF is apparently going to have some Persephone/Hades aspects, which we all know I’m trash for. Hopefully the Night Court lives up to my swoony expectations. Hello, Rhysand.

9. The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine. This is a Snow White retelling, coming out on February 16, and I always keep coming back to fairytale retellings. This seems to have even more magic that the original, and a feistier female protagonist. So fingers crossed this story is deserving of that cover, and we don’t have another Red Queen situation.

10. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. I’ll be honest, the thought of three authors writing this June 7 release makes me pretty anxious. Three authors, really? But the undeniably truth of the matter is that I love Jane Grey and that cover is fantastic. This is pretty much a done deal for me. Plus the synopsis sounds super sassy, so I’m fully committed.

What are your most anticipated releases for the first half of 2016? Let me know!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

DNF Diaries: The Casquette Girls

Title: The Casquette Girls
Author: Alys Arden
Publisher: Skyscape
Publication Date: November 17, 2015
Format: eARC*

“After the storm of the century rips apart New Orleans, sixteen-year-old Adele Le Moyne and her father are among the first to return. Adele wants nothing more than to resume her normal life, but with the silent city resembling a war zone, a parish-wide curfew, and mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter, normal needs a new definition.

Strange events—even for New Orleans—lead Adele to an attic that has been sealed for three hundred years. The chaos she accidentally unleashes threatens not only her but also everyone she knows. Caught in a hurricane of myths and monsters, Adele must untangle a web of magic that weaves the climbing murder rate back to her own ancestors. But who can you trust in a city where everyone has secrets and keeping them can mean life or death? Unless…you’re immortal.”

I should have posted my review a long time ago – this book was released in November, and I had the ARC for a month or so before then. But the truth is, I didn’t know what to say. This book sounds so intriguing from the synopsis: New Orleans! Magic! Secrets! I thought I’d be reading a post-Katrina version of American Horror Story: Coven. I thought, since the author herself is from New Orleans, there was little chance I wouldn’t love this story. Turns out, I couldn’t even force myself to finish it.

Welcome to DNF Diaries.

I’ve decided to start a new series of sorts on my blog, DNF Diaries, to discuss the books that I simply did not finish. I feel like DNFing books is still a slightly taboo topic in the book community, and many people think that once they start a book, they have to finish it. Life’s too short to read bad books, so I’m going to use this series as a means to have a more open forum about DNFing books, and what leads us to ultimately abandon a book.

For this first installment of DNF Diaries, I’m discussing The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden. Now, I had high hopes for this book. It’s published by Skyscape, Amazon’s self-publishing teen imprint that also put out the Penryn and the End of Days trilogy by Susan Ee. I’ll admit that I have my reservations about self-published novels, which is perhaps elitist of me, but nonetheless true. Unfortunately, this book didn’t change my opinions.

The Casquette Girls tells the story of Adele, who returns to New Orleans after The Storm (never actually named, but obviously meant to represent Hurricane Katrina) and uncovers secrets of the magical sort when she starts exploring in her attic and attending a new school.
The Good: I really enjoyed the concept of this story, and thought a YA novel about post-Katrina New Orleans would be brilliant. There is so much potential! So much of New Orleans’ history and culture is woven into the story in a way that isn’t all Mardi Gras and whatever tourists expect when they visit Louisiana. However…

The Bad: The author is from New Orleans, and she never lets you forget it. The reader is constantly beaten over the head with long, winding, and unnecessary exposition about the neighborhoods in the city, the street names, and how much Adele LOVES NEW ORLEANS OK SHE LOVES IT SO MUCH. This book is over 500 pages long and it felt like the vast majority of the first 200 were wasted in this manner.

The Ugly: The fact of the matter is that the writing is the biggest downfall. Characters are unbelievably written, with little to no personality between them except to fulfill recycled YA tropes. It’s the interaction between characters, however, that was especially unpleasant to read. Every conversation feels forced, like the author is just trying to connect plot points, and the way Adele converses with people is unrealistic at best. I made it to 25% of this novel and literally nothing had happened other than Adele waxing poetically about New Orleans and having contrived interactions with a handful of other characters.

You can probably see why I had to DNF this book. Nothing felt natural, or enjoyable, or gave me any hope for improvement as the story progressed. I had to quit at the 25% mark because I was so frustrated. As someone who experienced Hurricane Katrina and lived close to New Orleans, it’s disappointing that this book fell so short of my expectations. But ultimately, there are far better urban fantasy novels out there to read. I highly recommend you pick up any one of those instead, or watch AHS: Coven.

I hope you enjoyed this first installment of DNF Diaries! Let me know what it takes for you to DNF a book.

*I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 19, 2015

ARC Review: Wolf by Wolf

Title: Wolf by Wolf
Author: Ryan Graudin
Publisher: Little, Brown/The Novl
Publication Date: October 20, 2015
Source: ARC*
Goodreads | Book Depository

"The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, they host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The prize? An audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor's ball in Tokyo.

Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year's only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele's twin brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael's every move. But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and stay true to her mission?"

Everyone, say hello to one of my absolute favorite books of 2015. Wolf by Wolf is a brilliant novel by Ryan Graudin that fuses alternative history with science fiction/fantasy, the outcome being one kick-ass ride with the strong female protagonist of my dreams. Graudin’s novel takes place in a world in which the Axis powers won the Second World War, and provides a fascinating look at what an Axis-ruled empire would look like ten years after the fact. When I first heard of this book months ago, it sounded like the perfect novel for me: I studied Germany during WWI and WWII for both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Spoilers: it was perfect.


Yael is the survivor of a concentration camp, and the experimentation she was subjected to during that time left her with the ability to skinshift – to completely change her appearance and become another person. Driven by the need for revenge, Yael joins the resistance and enters the race (as last year’s winner) with a singular goal: kill Hitler. I adored Yael because of her strength and conviction – she never wavers from her goal, doesn’t allow herself distractions. Throughout the novel, there are flashbacks to her time in the camp and her early days in the resistance, and those added such depth to the story and world building.  


The Axis Tour – the motorcycle race from Germany to Japan that Yael must win – sets a fierce pace for the novel. Much like the race, this story is intense, with very few low points or slower moments. This is a race story, and the punishing route and cutthroat competition are ever-present for Yael (and the reader!). The other riders are can absolutely stand on their own, no static background characters here. Watching Yael navigate Adele’s complicated relationships with Luka and Felix was really intriguing, although I do hope we’re not being set up for a potential Yael-Luka-Adele love triangle in the next book. I want to see more of Felix and understand where exactly he stands in all this. I think there’s more to his character than meets the eye. 


Wolf by Wolf is the first book of a duology, and I’m already eagerly anticipating the second novel. I need it now! I cannot recommend this book enough, and I’m not sure a review could even do justice to how awesome Wolf by Wolf is. Ryan Graudin constructed a world that not only asks “What if Germany won?” but, more importantly, “What would it take for one girl to bring the Axis to its knees?” You will root for Yael, and with each mile she races, you won’t be able to turn the page fast enough. 


Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

ARC Review: A Thousand Nights

Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E.K. Johnston
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Goodreads | Book Depository
Source: eARC/Netgalley

“Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next. And so she is taken in her sister's place, and she believes death will soon follow. But back in their village her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air in its place. Lo-Melkhiin's court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun sets and rises, and she is not dead. Night after night Lo-Melkhiin comes to her, and listens to the stories she tells and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong. The words she speaks to him every night are given strange life of their own. She makes things appear. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to rule of a monster.”

Ok, so I have to admit that I went into this book with the highest of hopes. After reading The Wrath and the Dawn earlier this year (and being massively disappointed by it), I desperately wanted this A Thousand and One Nights retelling to be amazing. And in many regards, it was.

A Thousand Nights is, at a very fundamental level, an ode to women and the strength of the bonds between them. Women are the ones who get stuff done in this book – and it’s largely the reason why I enjoyed this story so much. The reader never learns the name of the main character/narrator, or the name of any woman, for that matter. For me, it symbolized the fact that women have been largely written out of or diminished in history, and that any woman could have stood up and done what the women of this story did. To be entirely honest, I hadn’t even realized that I didn’t know the narrator’s name until nearly halfway through the story. Even though I don’t know their names, I know those women. Our narrator, her sister, their mothers – they are all so well sculpted by the text that I had a clear idea of them in my head while reading, both their images and personalities.

Johnston’s writing in A Thousand Nights is beautiful, with lyrical passages that caught me off guard with their rich descriptions. The world building was equally wonderful, and the culture and history Johnston presents are truly immersive.

That being said, I did have some issues with A Thousand Nights, mainly regarding the “magic” system. It’s not really clear what possessed Lo-Melkhiin (that’s not a spoiler, you find out pretty much right away), other than some demonic spirit-thing. I definitely would have appreciated a bit more explanation there. The narrator’s “powers,” while interesting and well described, felt a bit…too convenient. At times it felt like a heavy-handed plot device, and that happened rather unfortunately often. I did, however, really enjoy the concept of “smallgods” and that through the love and devotion of a loved one, a person could become a smallgod and develop these powers. The scenes when the reader realizes how much work the women in the narrator’s family have done while she’s been at court are powerful.

Personally, one of my favorite aspects of A Thousand Nights may be what others take issue with: there is no romance in this novel. And why would there be? The women in this story are too busy saving the day. The narrator knows that Lo-Melkhiin is possessed, and she is too strong in her resolve to be wooed by pretty words. Lo-Melkiin, for that matter, is not the type of demon-possessed king to do any wooing. (take note, The Wrath and the Dawn!).

A Thousand Nights was a powerful, beautiful read that surpassed my expectations. From the lyrical prose to the strength of female characters, this book was a really lovely read. If you’re interesting in reading a One Thousand and One Nights retelling, this should be the one you pick up.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

*I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review: Mad About the Hatter

Title: Mad About the Hatter
Author: Dakota Chase
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Publication Date: August 20, 2015
Source: eARC/Netgalley*
Goodreads | Book Depository

“This isn’t his sister’s Wonderland….

Henry never believed his older sister, Alice’s, fantastic tales about the world down the rabbit hole. When he’s whisked away to the bizarre land, his best chance for escape is to ally himself with the person called the Mad Hatter. Hatter―an odd but strangely attractive fellow―just wants to avoid execution. If that means delivering “Boy Alice” to the Queen of Hearts at her Red Castle, Hatter will do what he has to do to stay alive. It doesn’t matter if Henry and Hatter find each other intolerable. They’re stuck with each other. Along their journey, Henry and Hatter must confront what they’ve always accepted as truth. As dislike grows into tolerance and something like friendship, the young men see the chance for a closer relationship. But Wonderland is a dangerous place, and first they have to get away with their lives.”

The premise of Mad About the Hatter totally had me hooked. A LGBT story set in the world of Alice in Wonderland? Please and thank you. While I adore the original story, I was intrigued to see how successful a Wonderland story would be without the original Alice. Ultimately, Wonderland itself was my favorite element of this story.

Mad About the Hatter follows a dual perspective – on one hand we have Henry, Alice’s little brother who never believed in Wonderland until he woke up there, and the Mad Hatter, who will lose his head unless he brings “Boy Alice” to the Red Queen. From there, the two navigate Wonderland and despite their tense first meeting, become close. While I appreciated what the dual perspective intended to accomplish, there were chapters were it was difficult to tell their voices apart, and by the end it felt a bit unnecessary. The Mad Hatter was by far the most interesting character in this story, and it was fun to follow his thoughts and slippery language. Henry, on the other hand, often fell a bit flat, and I couldn’t really tell you about his personality. Their relationship was rather cute to follow, if a bit hasty.

Although this is Henry’s story instead of Alice’s, she is still present in Mad About the Hatter. Married with twins (named Louis and Carol, excuse me whilst I roll my eyes) at twenty-two, it’s hard to reconcile the Alice of lore with the domestic picture Chase presents. That connects directly into a bigger issue I had with this book: Henry and Alice live in the modern world. I understand why it was done, for many reasons, but it created an odd disconnect for me as a reader. It was almost impossible for me to accept that Henry’s Alice was the same girl in the original story, and I think that some of the magic got lost in the jump to 2015.

As I said earlier, Wonderland is truly the star of this book. The reader is treated to so much world building; all these parts of Wonderland that make it feel even richer. The thought behind these new areas of Wonderland fit in perfectly with what you’d expect from the original, and I eagerly anticipated the next stop in Henry and Hatter’s journey. I love the intricacies of Wonderland, and that came across really well in Mad About the Hatter.

Ultimately, this was a cute and enjoyable book, and if you want more Wonderland in your life, it’s definitely worth a read. The inclusion of a LGBT relationship in this world was great, and I would actually really like to know more about Henry and the Hatter’s story after this book ends.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

*I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Review: Drift & Dagger

Drift & Dagger
Kendall Kulper
The Novl/Little, Brown
September 8, 2015
Goodreads | Book Depository

“In Mal’s world, magic is everything. But Mal is a “blank,” the anti-magic. Blanks can’t be hexed or cursed or saved or killed by magic. And everyone is afraid of them – Mal included.  So Mal hides what he is – except from Essie Roe, a witch and his best friend. On the day Essie reveals his secret and casts him out from the only home he’s ever known, Mal experiences the true shock of betrayal.

Now Mal travels the world in search of rare, illegal magical relics. When his partner in crime, Boone, hears rumors of a legendary dagger that can steal a witch’s power, Mal knows he’s finally found his means of revenge. But as the chase for the fabled knife takes them from Boston to Paris to Constantinople, Mal realizes there are secrets afoot that he’s only beginning to understand – and all the while the blank monster inside him threatens to escape.”

Drift & Dagger is the companion novel to Kendall Kulper’s 2014 debut Salt & Storm. Set in the same world of whaling and witches and magic, I was intrigued to get another perspective from a different generation after reading Avery Roe’s tale in Salt & Storm. Salt & Storm was good – an enjoyable historical fantasy, even if I couldn’t quite connect with Avery. But after reading the synopsis of Drift & Dagger, I couldn’t pass it up. Excuse the awful sea pun, but Drift & Dagger blew me out of the water.

Drift & Dagger manages to combine all of my favorite things: heists, morally ambiguous characters, magic, and a protagonist who suffers greatly. And it works, wonderfully. Mal is tortured by the betrayal he experienced at the hands of his first and only friend, Essie Roe, when she exposed him as a blank. Unaffected by magic, Mal is ostracized, as his very existence threatens to undermine the entire magical system upon which society depends.  Mal is convinced that his blankness is an evil inside of him that will eventually take over and turn him into a monster. His continued struggle with his looming fate adds a layer of depth to his character, and gives Mal a rage that propels him throughout the story, all to get his revenge on Essie.

Drift & Dagger was fast-paced, and I couldn’t get enough of the heist scenes and action throughout. The reader travels the world in this novel, from New York to Constantinople, and the travel brings a richer world to life beyond tiny Prince Island. The magic system itself is really wonderfully fleshed out in this book, and the reader encounters different types of magical ability and perception. The grounding weight to all of this, of course, is Mal and his blankness. Ironically, in a world where people can charm speak or raise the seas or suffocate a person by controlling air, Mal is the biggest threat, the scariest possible rival. It’s difficult to see Mal struggle with his identity and what he fears he’ll become, but he is an infinitely likable character. He’s even worked his way into book boyfriend territory. I adored Mal, and I still want to know more about his story.

I expected to like this book, but I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed it. There were no awkward lulls in the story – I couldn’t drag my attention away from the pages. The only down side to this book is how close of a companion it is to Salt & Storm. If you read one, it will spoil the other. These stories take place during one generation to the next, so the events of one have bearing on the other. I read Salt & Storm first, so I knew, to an extent, how Drift & Dagger would end. If you’re interested in these books (which you should be), I’d highly recommend reading Drift & Dagger first, then Salt & Storm. Fewer spoilers, and I think the stories would flow really nicely that way. At then end of the day, I really loved this story and Mal. If you like magic and historical fiction, Drift & Dagger needs to be on your TBR list.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

ARC Review: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between

Title: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between*
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Publisher: Poppy/The Novl: Little, Brown
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Goodreads | Book Depository

“On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aiden only have one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they’ll retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide what their future should be. The night will lead them to friends and family, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations. But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever?

Charming, bittersweet, and full of wisdom and heart, this new irresistible novel from Jennifer E. Smith, author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, explores the difficult choices that arise when life and love lead in different directions.”

It’s been…several years since I stood on the cusp on my freshman year of college, so part of me worried that I wouldn’t be able to connect with the sentiment behind Jennifer Smith’s latest novel. Thankfully, that proved to not be an issue after all. I haven’t read any of Smith’s previous novels, but they’ve all been hailed as wonderfully cute contemporary goodness. I found it interesting that this book isn’t about meeting a boy and falling in love – Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between is about deciding whether or not to break up with said boy, even when you still love him.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between did not remind me of my own experience leaving high school and starting college. I graduated from a boarding school, so by the time I left for college I’d said goodbye to my friends months before, and my hometown years before that. Rather, this book reminded me of my last night of college. Freshly graduated and facing the unknown horrors of the real world that awaited us, my friends and I spent one final night together. We walked around campus, tried to complete any remaining senior challenges, and remembered four years’ worth of memories while ignoring the fact that we’d be separated that next morning. We shunned our parents and their hotel rooms in favor of one last night together. Huddled with all of our blankets on the floor, we barely slept because there was so much left to say. It’s that night I couldn’t help but think of the entire time I was reading Hello, Goodbye.

Clare and Aiden only have one night left – a mere twelve hours to say goodbye to their friends, hometown, and potentially each other. I really liked this concept (many of my friends went through the inevitable long distance break up during our first semester of college), and that they stood so firmly on opposing sides. Clare has a schedule and a plan, and she knows they should break up (she is, in my opinion, totally right). Aidan thinks they’ll make it and should stay together. They rehash the same conversation throughout the night, which made this brief novel feel repetitive. They went to a new location, had the same argument, rinse and repeat. But the times when they broke this repetitive cycle, the novel, and Smith, really showed some strength.

Their friend Scotty is staying behind, and this causes a secondary layer of tension throughout the evening. It also highlights the difficulty in moving away when your best friend is staying behind. Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the novel was the “surprising revelation” alluded to in the synopsis. I completely understood why that character made that choice, and also why they wanted to keep it a secret. That revelation brought some much-needed depth to the story and to that character. While I wasn’t sure how to feel at first, I ultimately enjoyed the way this book ended, and what Clare and Aiden decided would be the fate of their relationship.

This novel wasn’t perfect, and I did have some problems with it, mainly regarding the main characters. I never really understood why Aiden and Clare were together, or why they even liked each other. Neither of these MCs felt particularly likable, and I found myself unsympathetic to Clare, especially after the way she treats her best friend. That being said, I still think this book is very representative of that “end of high school” experience. It’s a time when people have to be selfish with their time and attention, and often struggle with letting go of high school and being excited to start college. I feel like that is something Jennifer Smith did extremely well, capturing that anxiety and excitement of the in-between.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between is a must-read for people starting college this fall, because it very accurately portrays the transition from high school to college and how relationships inevitably change because of it. This book has tempted me to read some of Smith’s other novels, so I think fans of contemporary YA will greatly enjoy her work.

Rating: 3.5 stars

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review from the publisher.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

#SummerOfSarah Check In: August

The Summer of Sarah has come to an end. Back in May, I decided to reread all twelve of Sarah Dessen’s novels this summer, to relieve the summer stories of my teen years and revisit that magical always-summer town, Colby. August was the final month in the #SummerOfSarah, so now I have the last three books to discuss.

Along for the Ride: There are several layers to this story, and I appreciated the depth in Along for the Ride that we don’t get in all of Sarah’s novels. Auden doesn’t sleep – hasn’t since before her parents divorced – and when she decides to spend the summer before college with her dad, his new wife, and their new born daughter, Auden meets fellow insomniac Eli. Along for the Ride has some of my favorite Dessen themes: female friendship, great tension between the MC and love interest, and a realistic protag. I remember relating to Auden when I was younger, because I was an insomniac and did everything I could to avoid sleeping. I loved, and still do, the idea of going on a mini-adventure every night while everyone else is sleeping. Like most of Sarah’s books, the family dynamic is tense in this one, but Auden’s parents felt so…self-absorbed and pretentious, it infuriated me to read. Ultimately this was a middle of the road Dessen novel for me: not the best, not the worst, but overall somewhat forgettable when lumped in with the rest.

What Happened to Goodbye: After her mother’s public affair and her parents’ subsequent divorce, McLean and her dad have moved – a lot. Every town is an opportunity to become a new version of herself: Eliza, Lizbet, each with different interests and personalities. When McLean and her dad move to Lakeview, she meets brilliant but accidental delinquent Dave and makes friends, while still trying to deal with her incessant mother’s attempts at reconnecting. If Along for the Ride didn’t signal a bit of a decline for Sarah, this book did it. While it’s an unique enough concept, in execution this book falls flat and forced. I found this book to be rambling without much of a focus, and it never feels as if the story has a clear direction or motivation. The “climax” didn’t make sense, and while I enjoyed the characters enough, What Happened to Goodbye was just okay upon a reread.

The Moon and More: Emaline has always lived in Colby, the beach town where most people just breeze in and out for the summer. But she plans to leave Colby for college with her boyfriend at the end of this summer, and nothing will stop her. Until, of course, her biological father shows up, a cute filmmaker arrives in town, and her boyfriend cheats on her – that’s when things fall apart. I’m just going to come out and say it: this is my least favorite of Sarah’s novels, by far. This is a rather long book in which nothing happens. It feels even longer when you don’t particularly like any of the characters, and don’t really care what happens to them. This is the only one of Dessen’s dozen that I don’t own, and never intend to read again. The Moon and More is different from her other novels in that it doesn’t follow the same formula, but straying from that formula clearly fails Sarah. It’s unfortunate, but true. I struggled through this book because I didn’t feel connected to the story, and Emaline might be my least favorite Dessen MC to date. This is one I’d say you’re safe to skip.

I hate to end #SummerOfSarah on a negative note, so I want to reiterate how much I adored Sarah Dessen’s books when I was a teenager (and I still do!). Sarah is capable of truly representing the teenage experience – from the intense loyalty of friendships to underage partying to the unbearable pain of heartbreak. In that perfect always-summer world of Colby and Lakeview, Sarah’s novels provide readers with relatable characters who struggle with the same insecurities and families, and who need a story in which everything turns out alight in the end.  I imagine I’ll keep reading Sarah’s books as long as she publishes them, or until that fearful day when I’m too old to enjoy contemporary YA at all. If you need a lighthearted read, or a reminder of that one summer, then a Sarah Dessen novel will do the trick.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

ARC Review: Hunter

Title: Hunter*
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Goodreads | Book Depository

“They came after the Diseray. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares. Monsters. Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it’s taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits live in enclosed communities, behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break though. Others are not so lucky.

To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people. Joy soon realizes that they city’s powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers, and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they’re in – to them, Joy and her corps of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV. When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, Joy uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than actual monsters infiltrating Apex. And it may be too late to stop them.”

For a very long time, I didn’t believe in DNFing books. I simply refused to quit, and would force myself to keep reading, even if I hated every line. As I’ve gotten older and taken my reading more seriously, I’ve come to realize that not every book needs to be finished. There are too many books that I want to read and will actually enjoy to waste my time trudging through books that I just don’t enjoy. Enter Hunter by Mercedes Lackey, stage right.

This book sounded intriguing, although I didn’t have quite so intricate of a synopsis with my ARC to go off of. Perhaps I would have been better prepared for the battle to come. Mercedes Lackey has written many, many books, of which I have read none. But I love female warrior protags and usually enjoy whatever Disney-Hyperion publishes, so I went in blind but with high hopes. This book was, in a word, awful. So awful in fact that I couldn’t even force myself to finish it. I had to DNF this book at a measly quarter of the way through. I did not read far enough to encounter any of the real plot conflict, or even more than a couple characters, and barely a handful of dialogue scenes. 25% of this book gone and nothing happened.

Allow me to explain my decision to DNF this book, and why I won’t be recommending this to anyone. The first reason is, for me, the most unforgiveable: the writing. Lackey’s writing in this book (as I said, I have no experience with any of her previous works), was painful to get through. Written in the first person, the prose is juvenile and uninspired. Even though you’re in Joy’s head the entire time, I have no idea if she even has a personality or interests. Lackey spends the first 15% of the book info dumping, and not even in a clever way. It’s lazy world building, and I don’t appreciate that. Even the target audience, which is admittedly much younger than me, wouldn’t appreciate it. So fifty pages or so have passed, and we know all kinds of random information about post-Diseray agriculture and religion, but nothing about our main character besides the fact that she’s the best. Just take her word for it.

The inevitable comparison to other YA dystopian novels is undeniable, The Hunger Games chief among them. Even if you could get past the writing, the simple fact of the matter is that this book is wholly unoriginal. It is every other YA book in which a girl is plucked from her humble beginnings because of her special skill and brought to the shining capital city to become the Chosen One, discover the secret evils of society, and probably fall into a love triangle along the way. And that makes me unspeakably angry. YA readers deserve better than the same recycled plot points. And adding in monsters from another world with the oh-so-clever name “Othersiders” does not an original story make. I weep for the lack of originality in YA these days, and Hunter exemplifies all of this.

Did I finish reading this book? No. Do I know what happens after Joy reaches Apex City? No, but I could take a guess and almost certainly be right. Will I ever finish reading this? No. Do I recommend it, or it’s inevitable sequels in a forced trilogy? No, a thousand times no.

I do genuinely want to thank Disney-Hyperion for the advanced copy to review, but they have published other, far better books that you should read instead of this. Hunter comes out September 1, but so do three other books you should read instead – such as Everything, Everything, which I reviewed last week.

Rating: ⭐️

Have you read any books lately that you had to DNF? What are your thoughts on DNFing books? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Penguin Little Black Classics

Celebrating their 80th anniversary, Penguin Books released their Little Black Classics in February. This collection of 80 pocket-sized books that celebrate literature across cultures, disciplines, and history, plays upon the idea of the classic little black dress. All uniform in size, with a simple yet striking black and white design, these wide-ranging classics were released in the UK for only 80p! The size and affordability of this collection helps to make literature accessible to the masses, and coming in around 50-60 pages, they make for easily digestible introductions to different writers.

Each book in the collection is numbered 1-80, and features poetry, short stories, and selections from longer works. I was particularly impressed by the wide-ranging selection, which incorporates ancient writers such as Sappho and Ovid, beloved classic authors such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and comes write into the modern era with Wilfred Owens and Kate Chopin.

If you’re not in the UK, you can still pick up these Little Black Classics on Book Depository. I purchased three books in the collection, and already want to get a few more.

How To Use Your Enemies by Baltasar Gracián. “Unlikely Spanish priest Baltasar Gracián shows us how to exploit friends and enemies alike to thrive in a world of deception and illusion.” My favorite of the three, How to Use Your Enemies has an undeniably Machiavellian flair that makes this perfect reading material for newly sorted Slytherins. Just saying. I underlined several passages and lines throughout these 55 pages, and although Gracián was writing in the seventeenth century, many of his maxims still hold true to today’s society. Undeniably cynical and calculating, this may become my default book gift.

The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. “Written with barely controlled fury after she was confined to her room for ‘nerves’ and forbidden to write, Gilman’s pioneering feminist horror story scandalized nineteenth-century readers with its portrayal of a women who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do.” Gilman’s short story was my very first introduction to feminist literature, way back when I studied it in high school. And what an eye opening experience it was! The Yellow Wall-Paper is iconic for its disturbing story and style, and I inhale it upon every reread.

The Night is Darkening Round Me by Emily Brontë. “Some of Emily Brontë’s most extraordinary poems.” [Great synopsis, thanks Penguin.] I can’t quite remember why I picked this one up…probably because the little excerpt I read sounded so haunting. This poetry collection was just that – dark and haunting and romantic, in a way I imagine only a Brontë sister could accomplish. Admittedly, poetry is not something I have a natural appreciation for, but I really enjoyed most of this collection. “…ever present, phantom thing; my slave, my comrade, and my king.”

I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked on these darling pocket books, and plan to acquire many more. Not all 80, but at least a few. Here are the five Little Black Classics at the top of my “want to acquire just take my money” list:

Ovid, The Fall of Icarus
Sappho, Come Close
Wilfred Owen, Anthem for Doomed Youth
Kate Chopin, A Pair of Silk Stockings
Anton Chekhov, Gooseberries

What do you think of Penguin’s new take on the little black book? Any of these pocket readers calling your name?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

ARC Review: Everything, Everything

Title: Everything, Everything*
Author: Nicola Yoon
Publisher: Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Goodreads | BookDepository

“My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in 17 years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla. But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black – black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare back. His name is Olly. Maybe I can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster. “

Everything, Everything – coming like the Hogwarts Express on September 1st – has received major buzz in the book community, as far back as BEA and Yall West when the first ARCs were released into the world. But rather than an intense PR campaign, it was readers who generated the most hype for this book. I’m always more inclined to read a new release when other readers loved the book itself, not just the marketing gifts. (But that’s a discussion for another day.) Spoiler alert: this book is worth the hype.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I do not enjoy YA contemporary on the whole, and am highly critical of the books in that I genre I do read. Nicola Yoon’s debut novel is a powerful representation of one girl’s isolation and desire to experience the world beyond her house – a world that could kill her. Maddy has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), a disease that makes her allergic to everything, so her life is strictly regimented inside of the house she can never leave. This premise drew me in, but the characters kept me committed to the story.

Maddy, our protagonist, is held apart from the world, but not completely removed from it. Maddy felt so vibrant to me, and I enjoyed her personality and that she makes the most of her situation. She reads and posts reviews on her Tumblr, but everything that enters her house has to be sterilized. When Olly moves in next door with his black clothes and harsh family, Maddy knows she shouldn’t get attached. But inetivably, Olly and Maddy strike up a friendship, and then more, and Maddy realizes more than ever how unhappy she is within her bubble. The relationship between Maddy and Olly is really earnest and cute, and the reader gets to chart their progress through instant messages and drawings (all done by Yoon’s husband!)

Everything, Everything is so much more than “sick lit,” and I appreciated that there was another side to this story I didn’t expect. The ending completely took me by surprise, and I won’t say anything remotely spoilery other than: wow. Just, wow. Did not see that one coming. But it was, at the same time, brilliant. This is contemporary with some punch, y’all.

It’s also worth noting that Everything, Everything brings a dose of much-needed diversity to contemporary YA. Maddy is a POC and has a disability, which I honestly don’t think I’ve encountered before this book. There have been some mentions of another 2015 release with a female protag who’s allergic to seemingly everything (cough Magonia cough), and whether the two books are similar. In short: no. Everything, Everything is nothing like Magonia – and we all remember how I felt about that one. I adored Everything, Everything and highly recommend it as your next contemporary YA read. This may not be a fantasy book, but Nicola Yoon’s debut novel is nothing but magical. Pick up a copy when it hits shelves September 1!

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

*I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Penguin!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Great Harry Potter Reread: Prisoner of Azkaban

This year, a few of my best friends from college and I decided to buddy read the entire Harry Potter series together. Thus began The Great Harry Potter Reread of 2015. Each month, we read one book and discuss it (admittedly, we've already strayed from our intended schedule, but that's life when you're all either in grad school or work full time). I didn't share the first two books on this blog, because...well frankly Sorcerer's Stone isn't much to write about and Chamber of Secrets is my least favorite, so content quality would have been very low. However, Prisoner of Azkaban (PoA) was the reread for July, and oh do I have feelings about this book.

Prisoner of Azkaban has always been one of my favorite Harry Potter books, but it wasn't until rereading it in July that I realized it's tied for first place in my heart (alongside Order of the Phoenix, my eternal fave but we'll get to that in September). This book perhaps best symbolizes one of my favorite themes in this entire series: friendship. We follow two parallel friendships in this book - the Golden Trio and the Marauders. As we see Harry, Hermione, and Ron struggle with moments of tension (Crookshanks vs. Scabbers, the Firebolt incident, etc.), we also see their connection its strongest yet, and they come to rely upon and respect each other in a manner that will carry through the rest of the series. On the other hand, the reader is also introduced to the Marauders, both in their idealized form via the Marauder's Map and the actuality of their current lives. James is dead, Sirius was blamed and put in Azkaban, Peter is assumed dead but lives as a rat, and Remus was left behind. This parallel really stuck with me as I reread Prisoner of Azkaban, and it's obviously one that we see again (Dumbledore's Army and the Order of the Phoenix, anyone?).

Hermione Granger is by far my favorite character, and she really shines in PoA. Not only is she a total badass for slapping Draco Malfoy (cough Dramione cough), she also takes none of Trelawney's crap and drops Divination. The storyline with her Time Turner provides a great insight into Hermione's character. It's also a good reminder of how erudite Hermione is: she wants to learn as much as possible, to be better than her classmates who grew up in this world, and she'll do whatever she thinks is necessary - including time travel. Her character is so much more complex that the bookish girl in the first two installments, and we finally start to see that in PoA.

PoA also introduces some excellent world building elements in what feels like a very natural way to the reader. Harry experiences the Knight Bus and stays in Diagon Alley, so you learn much more about the daily goings-on of the British wizarding world. Third years can visit Hogsmeade on certain weekends, which honestly sounds like the greatest place ever (BUTTERBEER!).

In this third book, we get the first instances of Harry being trained to become the Chosen One. Admittedly he's learning how to conjure a Patronus in order to repel Dementors, but "Expecto Pantronum!" becomes Harry's war cry after this book. This is the first of many scenes in which Harry is (often unknowingly) prepared for what is to come.

At the same time, part of why I enjoy this book so much is that Voldemort isn't in it. Seven books total, and this is the only one where Harry doesn't "fight" Voldemort. It's a refreshing and needed break.

Rating: ⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️

What my friends had to say:

AMANDA: "PoA is most probably my favorite HP book - it's the one that I've read more than any of the others, and I never get tired of how clever it is. I honestly feel like PoA is the bonus book in the bunch - it isn't "Harry goes to school, discovers something sinister about Voldemort, decides to fight Voldemort, beats Voldemort." Rather, it's an incredible loop of a story that makes you slowly realize how much care JK puts into her details, plot, characters, and foreshadowing. I also have a deep love for the new characters met in PoA - Remus and Sirius, of course - and the character development of the main trio. (Especially Hermione - there are few things I relate to more than Hermione being crazy about school to the point where it affects your physical/mental health. I also have have strong feelings about unsatisfactory teachers - I would have walked out of Divination too. Oh, and she punches Draco Malfoy. Few things beat that.)

ARIEL: "PoA is one of my favorites of the HP series. I really like the entire plot with Sirius Black, he's one of my favorite characters. I also like that it's before she [Rowling] just got too long. I know you [Jane] love world building, but I'm less interested in that stuff."

EMILY: "I like watching Harry's relationship with Hogwarts change when he gets the map, like he's more in tune with it and it becomes even more like his home. I also love that Harry finally gets a family in this one, in Sirius. And I think it's so great for him that he finally gets to know what his parents, especially his dad, were like as youths. I still struggle with the Time Turner because it's just SO impossible. I do however appreciate Rowling's effort to note several times during the novel that something seemed off about her suddenly dis/reappearing. I also love the amount of Quidditch in this book, and experiencing Hogsmeade where we learn more about wizarding brands and stores. That's always really fun for me."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

ARC Review: The Boy Most Likely To

Title: The Boy Most Likely To*
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Dial Books/Penguin Teen
Publication Date: August 18, 2015
Goodreads | Amazon (currently less than $9!)

"Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To find the liquor cabinet blind folded, need a liver transplant, and drive his car into a house. Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To...well, not date her brother's baggage-burdened best friend, for starters. For Tim, it wouldn't be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the "smart" choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard. Then the unexpected consequences of Tim's wild days come back to shock him. He finds himself in a situation that isn't all it appears to be, that he never could have predicted...but maybe should have. And Alice is caught in the middle."

The Boy Most Likely to is the sequel to My Life Next Door, which I adored for all of its contemporary glory. This follow up feels slightly more serious, as everyone deals with the repercussions of the events in My Life Next Door. If you haven't read My Life Next Door, you can still read this review...there are no spoilers for either books.

One of my favorite things about The Boy Most Likely To is that we return to the Garrett family and see how they're all faring. I adore little George, he's hands-down my favorite character. Seeing how their family functions with so many children is such a fascinating part of these books, and every sibling still very much has their own identify and unique relationships. But the best part of The Boy Most Likely To is that it's split POV of two characters that were portrayed in a rather limited way in the first book: Tim and Alice. Tim is Sam and Jase's alcoholic friend who was kicked out of school and has to get his life back on track. Alice is Jase's older sister who's trying to balance nursing school with the needs of her family. These two characters provided such brilliant voices from which to hear this story. I don't think the dual POV would have worked nearly as well in My Life Next Door, but with the characters and stories in The Boy Most Likely To, it was a great choice.

Seeing Alice struggle in this book is so heart breaking. She's trying to keep everything together for her parents - her siblings, mounting bills, and nursing school, but to do so she puts her own life on hold. I felt so much compassion for Alice and appreciated what a strong character she is. Tim's perspective was really enlightening, and I enjoyed seeing how snarky and self-deprecating his voice came across. The relationship that develops between Alice and Tim was nothing like Sam and Jase - not all sweetness and rooftops. Alice and Tim really have to fight throughout this novel, and I feel like that was a good representation of their characters.

I have to say that the "unexpected consequences of Tim's wild days" weren't so unexpected for me. Less than 50 pages in I knew what was going to happen, and it honestly felt a bit too obvious. But at the same time, it produced results. I ultimately thought the book ended the right way - I know some people may disagree with me on this, but I think the alternative would be too unrealistic and cliche. The Boy Most Likely To was a wonderful sequel to My Life Next Door, and brought two of the most complex characters in this cast to the forefront. The interactions between Tim and Alice and their respective families, and with each other, really leave an impact on the reader. But at the end of the day (and book), both Alice and Tim find such personal strength along the way, and that's why I enjoyed this book so much. If you enjoy contemporary, especially if you're a fan of Sarah Dessen, then you need to check out Huntley Fitzpatrick's novels.

Rating: 3.5 stars

*I received an eARC from Penguin via their First to Read program in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Penguin for this advance copy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

#SummerOfSarah Check In: July

Today I'm bringing you my (slightly belated, whoops!) July check in for #SummerOfSarah! As you probably remember from my original #SummerOfSarah post, I decided to reread all of Sarah Dessen's books this summer to celebrate the release of her twelfth novel back in May, Saint Anything. In July, I got to reread my favorite of Sarah's books, so let's get to it and I'll tell you how the month went!

This Lullaby: This Lullaby is hands-down my favorite Dessen novel of the dozen. The dynamic between Remy and Dexter is the stuff of YA perfection, and I still catch myself singing The Potato Opus when I'm distracted. Ever since the first time I read this book (probably a decade ago by now!), I could relate to Remy - cold, calculating, always pushing others away before they could hurt her first. Even now, I still see a bit of Remy in myself. But then along comes Dexter, who is still one of my top book boyfriends, with his band and dog and breaks all of Remy's carefully crafted rules. My love for This Lullaby is endless. Don't you give me no rotten tomato, 'cause all I wanted was your sweet potato...

The Truth About Forever: I loved this book when I was younger, but I haven't read it since my father died a couple years ago. I worried that it would make reading this book impossible...Macy is trying to find security in her perfect boyfriend after her father dies. But when Macy starts working with the Wish Catering crew, she understands that there's more to life (and truly living) than being perfect. Her relationship with Wes and their game of Truth always make me giddy (maple scented pencil!). The low point of this novel for me is Macy's mom, who succumbs to the unrealistic-crazy-parent trop in YA - and unfortunately, she's not the only example in Sarah's writing. But on the whole, The Truth About Forever is really hopeful and uplifting, and I still love it.

Just Listen: This book still affects me every time I read it. Annabel is the youngest of three sisters, and everyone thinks she's an It girl local model. But after her eldest sister moves to New York and her middle sister develops an eating disorder, Annabel feels like she can't be honest with her parents about what she wants - and modeling isn't it. I really enjoy Annabel's relationship with music-obsessive Owen who always tells the truth, and their music conversations are beyond cute. But for me, this book always comes back to Annabel and her sisters. There's a scene at the end of the book that gets me every single time, and it of course makes me think of my relationship with my own sister. 

Lock and Key: This was my least favorite of the four books, but I think it's still a great example of how Sarah Dessen is capable of writing powerful Quiet YA. With similarly dark themes from Dreamland, Lock and Key follows Ruby after her addict mother abandons her and she's taken in my her estranged sister and her husband. I enjoyed seeing Ruby's relationship with her sister Cora and her husband Jaime progress, and I wish that would have been the stronger focus instead of Ruby and Nate. While I of course felt empathetic for Nate's situation, it all got a bit jumbled towards the end with everything going on. But at the same time I felt like Nate's story was really important...maybe it would have worked better without the romantic connection? 

Those are the four books I read in July for #SummerOfSarah - have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments if you have, and what you thought of them! In the month of August I have the last three in Dessen's dozen to read: Along for the Ride, What Happened to Goodbye, and The Moon and More. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

ARC August | 2015

Hey everyone! Today's post is to let you know that I'll be participating in an exciting project this month - ARC August. Created by the lovely ladies over at Read.Sleep.Repeat, the purpose of ARC August is to read the ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) on your TBR shelf and work on reviewing them. I know that I'm bad about getting ARCS and then putting off reading/reviewing - it really takes a toll on my Netgalley percentage! So I'm excited to join in and get my ARCs to a manageable number. I'll be posting updates on my progress over at my Goodreads page, but also my Twitter and Instagram - go check those out for more weekly check ins and such. I'll do a final check in at the end of the month, letting you know if I met all of my goals!

These are the ARCs I'm planning to read and/or review in August:

The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick. I received an eARC via Penguin's First Reads program. This is the sequel to My Life Next Door (which I adored!), and follows Tim and Alice in a dual-POV. I read this ARC in July, but I need to refresh my memory and post a review before the release date (August 18th).

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. I received an eARC via Netgalley. This wonderful book follows a girl who is allergic to everything, and lives in her strictly controlled home. When a cute boy moves in next door, she has to decide if she can let him into her bubble, and her heart. I read this in July, but need to write and post a review before its release date on September 1.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. I received this physical ARC from Little Brown/The Novl and I am SO EXCITED TO READ THIS. It doesn't come out until October, but I've already included it in my BookTube-A-Thon TBR, so I'll read this in the first week of August. An alternate history in which Germany and Japan won World War II, Yael enters the Axis Tour race with one goal: kill Hitler. I plan to read and draft my review this month, but won't post my final review until closer to the publication date.

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey. I received this eARC via Netgalley. Monsters are crossing over into Joyeaux's world, and she becomes a hunter to protect others. When she gets called up to the capital, Joy realizes just how much is being kept from the citizens, and that there may be a more sinister reason these monsters are attacking her world. I haven't heard any buzz about this book, so I'm intrigued to see how it goes. The publication date is September 1, so I need to read and review Hunter this month.

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston. I also received this eARC via Netgalley. A Thousand Nights is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, in which a girl volunteers to marry the king who has killed three hundred previous wives in order to save her sister from that same fate. As she survives in his court and finds magic she hopes will be strong enough, her sister mourns and finds powers of her own. I am really excited to read this, and have my fingers crossed that this will be better than The Wrath and the Dawn. A Thousand Nights doesn't come out until October 6, so I will read and draft a review in August, and publish a final review in late September.

Those are the ARCs I'm definitely planning to read during ARC August - let me know if you've read any of the books mentioned, or want to!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: Devoted

Title: Devoted
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Publisher: Macmillan
Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Goodreads | Book Depository

"Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays everyday, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can't shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul."

Jennifer Mathieu's sophomore novel is an exemplary display of the power of Quiet YA. Devoted tells the story of Rachel Walker, who is raised in a Quiverfull community - a fundamental Christian movement that focuses on the subservience of women to men, and places great importance on having a large family. (The Duggars, for example, are part of this movement.) I was hesitant to read this at first, because I largely do not enjoy Christian lit, especially not books that glorify the "Christian Patriarchy." I was pleasantly surprised by Devoted, because it provides an honest portrayal of what it's like to question everything you've been raised to believe, and how to make your own way.

I want to make it clear that Mathieu did her research for this book: she interviewed girls who grew up in Quiverfull communities, so that she could accurately represent their beliefs and customs. Knowing that Rachel's family was based on facts and similar families made it difficult to read the first half of this book, because I knew it was all true. That girls are being raised in that environment, and taught that their only worth is derived from being a wife and having children. There were scenes that broke my heart for Rachel, and for every other girl in her situation who had questions she would be punished and shunned to ask, dreams she would be persecuted for wanting.

Ultimately, Rachel wants to know about the world outside of her church, of her potential outside the home. Seeing Rachel struggle with herself and her situation, which was wonderfully written, made me root for her so much. I wanted Rachel to make whatever decision was right for her - to stay or go.

There is a bit of a romance in this book, and I could take it or leave it. It didn't really add much to the story for me, but I could appreciate how it gave another facet to Rachel's experiences in the "real world." I enjoyed her relationship with Lauren, a girl who escaped their church years previously. But ultimately, Rachel made this book for me. I adored her character, and her strength, and I can't remember the last time I rooted so hard for a character to rise above.

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Celebrating Diversity and Diverse Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish, and each Tuesday has a different theme. This week's topic is "Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters." At first I thought I'd have no trouble coming up with a list, but I quickly realized that most of my diverse reads focused on LGBTQ characters/relationships. While that's obviously still great, I wish that I had more books on this list that highlight different cultures, religions, disabilities, etc. So if you have any recommendations for me, especially your favorite diverse reads, I'd love to hear about them!

1. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. Aaron Soto can almost handle being poor in the Bronx and dealing with the fallout of his father's suicide. But when he starts to fall for his friend Thomas, Aaron has to decide if he wants the new Leteo Institute to erase his memories and make him forget this part of himself.

2. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. (This doesn't come out until September, but I got an ARC so I'm cheating.) Madeline is allergic to everything, and the rare disease that causes her allergies is so severe that she cannot leave her home. So when a cute boy moves in next door and tries to strike up a friendship, Madeline has to decide if she'll let him into her bubble...and her heart. [I included this in today's list because Maddy is a WOC and also has a life-threatening disease/disability.]

3. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Will Traynor lived the perfect life, until an accident left him quadriplegic and determined to commit suicide with dignity. Desperately in need of a job, Louisa has no idea what she's getting into when she agrees to me his companion. (Spoilers for the reader: you are in for a MONSOON OF TEARS.)

4. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. This novel follows Hercules and Patroclus as they grow up together leading to the Trojan War. It ends like we all know it does, with Patroclus dead and Hercules devastated by grief, but Miller almost has you believing it could end differently. It's simply a beautiful story about two great warriors and the love they shared.

5. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. You haven't read this book yet? No, go and do it right now. I'll wait.

6. Proxy by Alex London. In a society where patrons can pay for proxies to take their punishments, Syd has almost survived long enough to earn his freedom before his patron kills someone else - the cost of which is Syd's life. It's amazing, just trust me.

7. The Curse Worker's Trilogy by Holly Black. This trilogy takes place in a world where a certain portion of the population has the ability to "work" different things (emotions, luck, death) through the touch of their hands, and in an effort to protect workers and non-workers, everyone wears gloves. Our main character Cassel is a POC and one of my all-time favorite male protagonists.

8. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. Pretty much the only part of this book that I enjoyed was the Middle Eastern setting and culture. Just saying.

9. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This takes place in France during WWII, and the female protagonist is blind. This is a beautiful story.

10. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. This fantasy standalone features a LGBTQ relationship that had me squealing with delight and feels. SO GOOD.

What are your favorite diverse reads/books that feature diverse characters? As I said, I'm trying to read more diversely, so any recommendations would be appreciated!