Sunday, May 31, 2015

Review: Extraordinary Means

Title: Extraordinary Means
Author: Robyn Schneider
Publisher: Katherine Tegen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: May 26, 2015

"John Green's The Fault in Our Stars meets Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park in this darkly funny novel from the critically acclaimed author of The Beginning of Everything. Up until his diagnosis, Lane lived a fairly predictable life. But when he finds himself at a tuberculosis sanatorium called Latham House, he discovers an insular world with paradoxical rules, med sensors, and an eccentric yet utterly compelling confidant named Sadie - and life as Lane knows it will never be the same. Robyn Schneider's Extraordinary Means is a heart-wrenching yet ultimately hopeful story about the miracles of first love and second chances."

I'm going to kick things off by telling you to completely forget the first sentence of the blurb above. This book is NOT TFIOS meets Eleanor & Park. It's not. I've complained about books getting the TFIOS comparison kiss of death (pun intended) before, and it's my least favorite marketing ploy publishers love to use lately. Extraordinary Means is the newest installment in the niche corner of contemporary YA that is quickly becoming "sick-lit," but TFIOS this is not. It's better. Yeah, I'm throwing down the gauntlet here and saying that I enjoyed Extraordinary Means more than The Fault in Our Stars. Not like reading is a competition, but still. Now you undoubtedly want to know why, and I'll gladly tell you. Not to sound insensitive, but there are lots of books about kids with cancer. Kids with tuberculosis? Now that's new for this century.

The premise of Extraordinary Means is fascinating: in the near-future there is an epidemic of a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, causing those infected to be sent away to sanatoriums, where our two narrators Lane and Sadie meet. Some potential readers may wonder if there's really a difference between kids with tuberculosis and kids with cancer...but there is, there is. This is going into personal stuff, but years ago I had a positive TB skin test, and became obsessed with the thought that I might develop active TB. No such thing happened, but I still have nightmares where I cough up blood and my lungs atrophy with every breath. So there was never a question of me not reading this book. Robyn Schneider is a bioethicist, so her knowledge and research created a sound medical foundation upon which to build this story about two teenagers trying to live their lives in an environment that exists because they're dying.

Schneider is a master of the "real teen prose," as evidenced by her much-loved previous novel The Beginning of Everything. Her characters are believable (I've known many Lanes in my life, and even a Sadie or two), they have realistic conversations, and act like actual teens - Lane's frank commentary on masturbation is a brilliant example. The characters are ill, but they're at a glorified boarding school, so they do what any normal teen would: they fight the system. Sneaking out and evading room checks and smuggling contraband...all the same things I did at boarding school. But it happens through the lens of TB, so there are med sensors that record their vital signs, strict nutrition guidelines, and constantly open windows for fresh air.

Extraordinary Means is a character-driven novel, and the narration is split between Lane and Sadie. Their relationship develops at a good pace, and the moments they share are wonderful and painful in all the ways first loves are. The friendships, especially the hilarious group dynamic, provide an anchor for the story that sometimes makes the reader forget why they're at Latham. The characters are all fleshed out and complex, and you see them each struggle with being themselves apart from their TB.

"Any of us could wake up the next morning with blood splattered across the pillow and a hole in our lungs so painful that having a broken heart on top of it would have been unbearable." (129)
As expected, there are very frank discussions about illness and death in Extraordinary Means, and there are very sad moments. The characters are confronted not only with the prospect of dying themselves, but also potentially losing every one of their friends. So many books force feed readers some moral about always having hope and just turning on a light in the darkest times and whatnot. But here's the thing: sometimes there is nothing more cruel than having hope. That idea gets explored considerably in Extraordinary Means. There's a theme throughout the novel about a potential cure, and it turns the characters' world upside down with dizzying, impossible hope for "what if."

"It had hurt to accept what was wrong with me, but it hurt even more to have hope." (215)

Extraordinary Means is therefore a deeply sad novel, and it quite simply left me devastated. More so than TFIOS or any other, because Schneider so strongly evokes the painful, desperate possibility of hope. Readers will feel it just as much as the characters, and there are a multitude of lines that will quietly break your heart:

"...they were just empty hospital words, the kind that you wish were true because the alternative is too painful to bear."

This book is more than just sadness, though. It's devastating and hilarious and clever and hopeful and real. And many more adjectives but that's probably enough for now. I know that some people just cannot get into "sick-lit" but I'd still recommend that you consider this. If you need a good cry, if your favorite author or composer died of "consumption," if you agree with Sadie that living and dying are different words for the same thing, if sometimes you have to try and beat the odds...Extraordinary Means needs to be the book you pick up next. A friend responded to my Extraordinary Means snapchat with "ugh that sounds awful," and if you're that kind of person, then I can't help you. Don't read this book because it will be wasted on you. But if you can appreciate that sad stories are still worth telling, and that you have to live on your own terms, then give this a shot.

Life goes on, until it doesn't.

Rating: 5 stars

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review: Because You'll Never Meet Me

Because You'll Never Meet Me
Leah Thomas
June 2, 2015

"Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie has a life-threatening allergy to electricity, and Moritz's weak heart requires a pacemaker. If they ever did meet, they could both die. Living as recluses from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times - as Ollie loses his only friend, Liz, to the normalcy of high school and Moritz deals with a bully set on destroying him. But when Moritz reveals the key to their shared, sinister past that began years ago in a mysterious German laboratory, their friendship faces a test neither one of them expected. Narrated in letter form by Ollie and Moritz - two extraordinary new voices - this story of impossible friendship and hope under strange circumstances blends elements of science fiction with coming of age themes, in a humorous, dark, and ultimately inspiring tale that is completely unforgettable."

I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

First, I need to say a Thing. My latest pet peeve is when a blurb gives away the whole freaking book. See above. I mean, why even bother reading it when you've just told me everything that happens? Grrr. The publisher's intro that came with this ARC describes Because You'll Never Meet Me as a bromance for the ages, which...ok, for the sake of this review I will not go on my usual rant about why bromance is an inherently problematic (and sexist) term. I hear you getting ready to comment. Two guys are best friends? Bromance! We need a special term to encapsulate how special this is! Two women? ...oh that's just normal friendship. Yeah. Anyway, I will ignore that word for the rest of this review and focus on the actual story.

I was really excited to read this novel, because the premise is so intriguing - two best friends who would kill each other if they ever met. Ollie and Moritz have very distinctive voices, and their relationship develops realistically yet completely. Reserved Moritz is initially repulsed by erratic Ollie, yet the two come to rely on each other. Their friendship and letters were so representative of their respective characters, and I enjoyed the culture clash as well. There were moments when I couldn't help but laugh aloud (Moritz rapping in a coffee shop, amazing!), and moments when I was close to tears. Leah Thomas explores so many themes in such a true fashion - painful first loves, familial ties, and the isolation (both physical and mental) that comes from being different.

Anyone who knows German will figure out the "big reveal" but it's honestly not going to ruin your reading experience. There's definitely a point where things take a slightly...creepy X-Men turn which threw me off a bit because I did not expect anything crazy enough for the reader to suspend belief. This book is marketed, or at least I interpreted it to be, as a contemporary YA novel, although now I realize we should pay more attention to the "blends elements of science fiction" comment from the blurb-that-makes-the-book-redundant above. My biggest issue, however, was that the final resolution felt a bit...obvious, or at least I wondered why it wasn't considered sooner for such an easy fix.

That being said, Because You'll Never Meet Me was such an enjoyable read. I loved Ollie and Moritz's friendship, and that this book gave a voice (or two) to those not always represented in YA - the disabled, LGBTQ teens, etc. - and still felt real. I definitely recommend this if you're looking for an unique book: I've never read anything quite like this, and it was great. BYNMM comes out June 2, 2015 - so check out your local bookstore and pick up a copy!

I also read this whilst listening to the Spring Awakening Broadway soundtrack. His name is Moritz, I couldn't help myself.

Goodreads Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Friday, May 22, 2015

Taylor Swift Book Tag

Wednesday, I went to the opening night of Taylor Swift's 1989 tour with my best friend Emily. To celebrate that AMAZING show, I decided to devote today's post to the Taylor Swift Book Tag, with Emily as my special guest.

1. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: a book/series you thought you were in love with, but then wanted to break up.

Emily - I was really, really excited to read Three Cups of Tea. I had read great reviews, and it appeared to be right up my alley. But I stopped less than 100 pages in because I just didn't believe the author. It was terrible, I was bitter, and I recommend it to no one.
Jane - Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. Don't even get me started on this one.

2. Red: a book with a red cover.

Emily - I'm currently reading A Court of Thorns and Roses and it has a delightful cover.
Jane - I second ACOTAR. So red, so pretty.

3. The Best Day: a book that makes you nostalgic.

Emily - Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl took me right back to college and all the awkwardness that was my freshman year.
Jane - Obvs HP, but also my Scholastic Royal Diaries...what a throwback.

4. Love Story: a book with forbidden love.
Emily - The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. Forbidden love --> death.
Jane - Karou and Akiva from the Daughter and Smoke and Bone trilogy, ahhh.

5. I Knew You Were Trouble: a book with a bad character you couldn't help but love.

Emily - Don Tillman from The Rosie Project. He tries so hard, but is so awkward, and I just love it.
Jane - Ok, I think we interpreted this question very differently, haha. The first bad boy that came to mind was Warner from the Shatter Me series. He's so bad but he does it so well...

6. Innocent: a book someone ruined/spoiled the ending for.

Emily - HP and the Half-Blood Prince. I read the whole book trying to pretend k didn't know what happened, but it didn't work.
Jane - Maze Runner series...because I asked to be. Whoops.

7. Everything Has Changed: a character from a book who goes through extensive character development.

Emily - This award goes to Don Tillman, who goes from painfully socially awkward, to just awkward.
Jane - Laia from An Ember in the Ashes. Realistic and empowering development.

8. You Belong With Me: most anticipated book release.

Emily - I really enjoy the Throne of Glass series, and am looking forward to Queen of Shadows which is due this fall.
Jane - The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Thankfully I have until February to emotionally prepare.

9. Forever and Always: favorite book couple.
Emily - Harry and Hermione.
Jane - Girl. Harry and Hermione ALL DAY EVERY DAY. Oh, they weren't canon you say? Y'all need to open your eyes to the Truth. 

10. Come Back, Be Here: a book you would least like to lend out, for fear of missing it too much.

Emily - Anna and the French Kiss. I just adore this book. It was a joy to read and I just...I need it in my life.
Jane - OMG ME TOO. I also picked Anna and the French Kiss. I need this book within reach at all times.

11. Teardrops On My Guitar: a book that made you cry.

Emily - Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Flash Flood Warning on my face.
Jane - I cry a lot, so...most recently it was Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.

12. Shake It Off: a book you love so much, you just shake off the haters.

Emily - The Selection series was such a guilty pleasure. It's a mix of The Bachelor and The Hunger Games and I just ate it up.
Jane - My Sarah Dessen collection, most  beloved of which is This Lullaby.

We tag all of you to do this as well! Answer in the comments below or send a link to where we can find your response.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Saint Anything and the #SummerOfSarah

Title: Saint Anything
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Penguin

"Sydney has always felt invisible. She's grown accustomed to her brother, Peyton, being the focus of the family's attention and, lately, concern. Peyton is handsome and charismatic, but seems bent on self-destruction. Now, after a drunk-driving accident that crippled a boy, Peyton's serving some serious jail time, and Sydney is on her own, questioning her place in the family and the world.

Then she meets the Chatham family. Drawn into their warm, chaotic circle, Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance for the first time. There's effervescent Layla, who constantly falls for the wrong guy, Rosie, who's had her own fall from grace, and Mrs. Chatham, who ever though ailing is the heart of the family. But it's with older brother Mac - quiet, watchful, and protective - that Sydney finally feels seen, really seen, at last."

I don't like contemporary YA. This is a fundamental fact of my personhood that anyone who knows me will tell you. There is, however, one exception: Sarah Dessen. Sarah is, without doubt or question, one of my all-time favorite authors. I have read and own every one of her twelve novels, and cherish them almost as much as my beloved Harry Potter collection. Seriously y'all, my love for Sarah runs deep. So when her twelfth novel, Saint Anything, was published, I cleared my schedule and got comfy.

Saint Anything is touted as Sarah's deepest novel yet, and it certainly covers some heavy themes - addiction, illness, family discord - from the beginning, this is a departure from Sarah's usual summer offerings. I was able to really identify with Sydney, as someone who's also had a family member struggle with addiction and gone to jail because of it. I know what it's like to feel like your whole life has been reduced to someone else's mistakes. So I really appreciated the way Sarah deftly portrayed two families: one whose hardships drove them apart, another whose hardships brought them even closer. I loved the Chathams, and Layla often stole the show for me. Be warned that this book comes with major food cravings - pizza and french fries are very much their own characters.

This novel did have a couple shortcomings that felt a bit uncomfortable whilst reading - namely, Sydney's hyper-controlling parents. There's a scene when Sydney's mom reaches across the table and slaps her hands down in front of Sydney...and I genuinely thought she was going to strike her. Her parents were just insane, and it almost made me as uncomfortable as Ames did. Which, bonus points to Sarah for portraying something that gets talked about so little - when an older guy doesn't actually try anything with you, but just makes you feel unsafe. Sarah wrote an essay about her own experience with a guy like Ames over on Seventeen, and it's definitely worth a read. I also never felt that connected to the relationship between Sydney and Mac, which definitely wasn't the purpose of the novel, yet still felt a little lacking. But overall, this was a great addition to the Sarah collection, and probably one I'll revisit when things with my personal Peyton get me down.

ALSO! Because Saint Anything was released so close to the start of summer - that magical time when all of Sarah's books take place - I decided that, in celebration of Dessen's Dozen novels, I'd do a reread. That's right, I'm kicking off my Summer of Sarah with Saint Anything, and then I'm going to reread all of her books! In chronological order, so that I'll catch all the little Easter Eggs she's known for. I'll be using the hashtag #SummerOfSarah on Twitter and Instagram with update posts here along the way, so please feel free to join! This is a very chill read-along, no hard deadlines. Instead, there will be a few books to read each month throughout the summer. If you want to join in for the whole summer, great! But you can also just read certain titles and participate however you'd like. Here's the schedule:

MAY: Saint Anything

JUNE: That Summer, Someone Like You, Keeping the Moon, Dreamland

JULY: This Lullaby, The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, Lock and Key

AUGUST: Along for the Ride, What Happened to Goodbye, The Moon and More

This may be a lot of reading, depending on your reading speed and personal schedules. So don't worry! Join in however works best for you. If you've read any of Sarah's books, comment down below telling me which is your favorite. Don't forget to use #SummerOfSarah if you join the read-along!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Well hello there, you get two posts in one day! Very exciting, I know. Admittedly I'm a bit late in posting this, but I'm participating in Bout of Books this week. It's my first official read-along as a blogger, so I'm really excited to join and get to work on my TBR. I'll post updates on Wednesday, Friday, and a final wrap up on Sunday. If you're interested in participating in Bout of Books, it can be as involved or casual as you want! Sign up on the Bout of Books blog and get to reading. Just be sure to use the hashtag #BoutofBooks on social media.

Bout of Books

"The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week-long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 11th and runs through Sunday, May 17th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 13 information and updates, but sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team."

Meeting Sarah Maas & Review of ACOTAR

Title: A Court of Thorns and Roses
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury

"When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin - one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it...or doom Tamlin - and his world - forever."

Oh my god, this book. ACOTAR was one of my top five more anticipated releases this year, and I knew. I just knew that I would love it. A Beauty and the Beast retelling, with hot Fae and potential sexy times - written by Sarah J. Maas, creator of my personal hero Celaena Sardothien? HYFR. To make this book release even better, I went to the ACOTAR tour stop at Octavia Books in New Orleans and MET SARAH.

How to even review this book? It was magical, with complex and incredible characters that make it hard to choose a favorite (Feyre, duh). Feyre is so strong and practical from years of being the only reason her family doesn't starve. And in a world of magic and shape-shifting Fae, she is wonderfully, bitterly, mortally - human. I also adored Lucien, with his sharp wit and fierce loyalty to Tamlin. The slow-burn relationship between Feyre and Tamlin felt true, from bumbling beginnings to powerful declarations. I'm very...let's say, intrigued by Rhysand. Good lord of body paint.

There were moments that directly paralleled Beauty and the Beast (specifically the Disney version), like Belle's library exchanged for Feyre's art gallery. Fairytale retellings are flooding the YA market lately, but ACOTAR feels fresh and imaginative. There were, of course, minor things along the way that prevented me from giving this a full five stars, but I think those come from me being an impossible to please reader. This was also my first New Adult book...and I'm gonna need Sarah Maas to only write in this genre from now on. I'm really excited to see how this series progresses, and I'm definitely committed to reading everything Sarah ever writes.

I'm going to take a fangirl moment to say that it was amazing to meet Sarah at the ACOTAR event at Octavia Books. She was hilarious, despite taking a tumble outside and suffering through the event with scrapes and an iced leg. It was so incredible to hear her talk about her journey as an author, and about ACOTAR. During the signing we had a nice little chat and bonded over Teen Wolf (because somehow when I'm nervous in front of a favorite author all I can think to talk about is Stiles, of course). But anyway, it was awesome and I'm now a card carrying member of the Sarah J. Maas fanclub. Major girl crush.

Totes BFFS.

Goodreads Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review: Magonia

Title: Magonia
Author: Maria Dahvana Headley
Publisher: HarperCollins / EpicReads

"Aza Ray Boyle is drowning in thin air. Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious disease that makes it ever harder for her to breath, to speak - to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn't think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who's always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes horribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world - and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power - but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza's hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity - including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?"

Oh, Magonia. I had the highest of hopes that you would be incredible, an epic urban fantasy just as beautiful as that gorgeous cover. I should have known better, because this book is billed as Neil Gaiman's Stardust meets John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. This is problematic for me because 1) I don't particularly enjoy Gaiman, and 2) books are advertised as the second coming of TFIOS left and right these days, and invariably the only real connection is dying kids. Dying kids in a book does not TFIOS make. Alas, I only realized this marketing mash up after I ordered the book, and besides, the premise sounds so. damn. cool.

I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed. 

I adored the first, let's say 100 pages of this book. Aza is angry and hilarious and always on the brink of actively dying. She comes across so strongly in the beginning, and anyone with a sense of humor will appreciate Aza.

"the moment someone decides to wrap you in blankets and you accidentally smile weakly, you're dead...I don't want to make myself into a catastrophic blaket-y invalid...Side note: invalid. Whoever invented that word, and made it the same as not-valid? That person sucked."

The beginning had me so excited, and I got emotionally invested, fast. There's a certain scene in which Shit Goes Down, and I lost it. Full-blown ugly crying.

So image my surprise when the rest of the book completely fell apart. Aza wakes up in Magonia and has to come to terms with the truth about who - and what - she is. There's a plethora of potential here, I mean...avian people! Ships in the sky! But much like Aza, the reader never quite connects with Magonia like you'd expect. I was really confused by much of the Magonian lore, and never at any point understood why Aza should embrace it. Plus, I honestly could not get over the fact that their chests have a flap that opens up, allowing a bird to NEST IN A LUNG. Seriously?! Every time it happened in the book, I physically cringed. Throughout the book, I kept expecting to reconnect and enjoy it as much as I had the very beginning - no such luck. Headley attempts some type of pseudo-lyrical writing style, but it falls flat and you're left with pages that look

for no reason. Can you tell I'm frustrated? Yeah.

Besides the first 100 pages, the other aspect of this novel that I enjoyed was Jason, Aza's genius best friend who makes chocolate eclairs from scratch and who's anxiety causes him to count digits of Pi. Despite some completely unbelievable hacking skills that I couldn't suspend belief enough to accept, Jason is the only character I found myself caring about. We only get a few chapters from his perspective, but those are some of the best chapters in the book.

Overall, I'm still not sure what to make of Magonia. It was certainly one of the most unique books I've read in a while, but there were flaws I couldn't quite get past. I don't want to write it off as a total miss, because I know some people really enjoyed it. If you're a fan of Neil Gaiman or like weird books (and I'm talking bird-in-your-lung weird here), then Magonia just might be the book for you. Final note: regardless, it was refreshing to see a new legend story brought to light, instead of the constant stream of the same fairy tale retellings currently flooding the YA market. So brava for that.

(See? Pro-Con-Con-Pro. Robert and his rules would be proud.)

Goodreads Rating: 3 (very generous) stars / 5

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Review: An Ember in the Ashes

"An Ember in the Ashes is a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, and pulse-pounding read. Set in a rich, high-fantasy world with echoes of ancient Rome, it tells the story of a slave fighting for her family and a young soldier fighting for his freedom.

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear. It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire's impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They've seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia's brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from the rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk life to spy for them from within the Empire's greatest military academy. There, Laia meets Elias, the school's finest soldier - and secretly, it's most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he's been trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined - and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself."

An Ember in the Ashes far exceeded my expectations, which were admittedly rather high. The hype around this book was undeniable, but so well deserved. Set in an unforgiving world inspired by ancient Rome, this novel weaves together the stories of two characters from completely opposite backgrounds - both of whom are desperate for freedom that's long-been denied to them. Sabaa Tahir's debut novel is exemplary, and she created a narrative so compelling that I couldn't seem to turn the page fast enough. (I read this on my kindle, but you know...I couldn't press the "next page" button fast enough doesn't sound as good.) This novel is even split-POV, which we all know I don't like...and it worked for me in this book. After reading An Ember in the Ashes, I'm convinced that Sabaa Tahir is my newest auto-buy author, and I cannot wait to devour whatever she writes next. Which had better be a SEQUEL, DAMN IT PENGUIN.

Before I go off on that tangent, I have Things To Say about these characters. Laia, our main female protagonist, was an amazing character. Unlike so many other YA female protags, Laia felt so realistic because she has real growth throughout the novel. In the beginning she isn't strong or blindly committed to the rebellion - she's scared, and considers herself a coward. It is only through her fierce commitment to finding her brother does she become more confident and willing to take action. Her personal development is inspiring to read, as it never feels rush or unrealistic. Elias provides a great juxtaposition to Laia - he's supposed to represent the Empire, to become a Mask and kill in the Emperor's name. But Elias wants nothing more than to escape and become free unto himself. Before he can carry out his plan to desert, Elias gets chosen to participate in the Trails, which will decide the future Emperor. I enjoyed Elias and appreciated his struggles, but there are moments when he errs on the side of dude-bro territory. "Dude, my best friend is in love with me? Now I'm gonna be completely worthless for a while so I can feel weird about it but it's totally her fault." This is not a spoiler because it's so damn obvious from the very beginning. So yeah, Elias has his moments but on the whole I thought his perspective was quite compelling.

Side note, my favorite character may be Helene, the only female Mask and Elias' best friend. She was, simply put, amazing. I would read an entire book just about Helene (once again, hint hint Penguin).  I know, unsurprisingly, my favorite parts of this book were the brilliantly crafted characters and excellent world building. I like what I like, and I loved An Ember in the Ashes.

The only issues I had with this book that prevented it from a five-star rating happen at the very end of the book. The ending felt rushed, so I had to reread pages at a time to figure out what exactly was happening, which was confusing. This is something I find myself saying more as I get older, but I could have done with less romance. There's a sort of love-square thing happening, but I didn't feel strongly about any of those pairings, and I think they were rather unnecessary and detracting. My biggest issue with this book is not remotely the author's fault, but nevertheless influenced my reading experience. An Ember in the Ashes is a standalone novel, so at this point there is no sequel - unless Penguin decides to green-light one. Which, seriously? We live in a world where trilogies are the norm, even when they're completely unnecessary. This is an instance where it's totally necessary. But while there isn't a proper cliffhanger at the end of An Ember in the Ashes, the ending didn't feel sufficient to me. I want another book, I need to know what happens to these characters. PLEASE PENGUIN, I WANT SOME MORE.

In short, this was amazing, I'm so glad I read it and cannot wait to read whatever Sabaa Tahir writes next. If you enjoy fantasy, ancient Rome, rebellions (I mean, who doesn't?), then you should check it out. Even if you don't, and just want a really kick-ass read, this is still the one for you. Let me know in the comments if you're intrigued by this book, and what you've been reading lately!

Goodreads: 4.5 / 5 stars