Saturday, December 26, 2015

Happy holidays, everyone!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, full of food, family, laughter, and of course, books! I can't believe it was Christmas yesterday. Did you guys get anything good for your gifts? Are you all looking forward to the new year?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul Review

Title: Underneath Everything
Author: Marcy Beller Paul
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher, Balzer and Bray, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

Relationships in novels fascinate me--a lot of the time, they're just as much a star as anything else in a book for me. I love novels that focus specifically on them, especially, because sometimes watching them unfold is like witnessing a star implode in the night sky: bright, searing, terrifying, and absolutely impossible to look away from. And this story is like that; once you begin, even as you begin to feel the terror escalate, you can't tear yourself away from it, even while you want to.

Underneath Everything tells the story of Mattie, a young woman who has had everything stolen from her. Her friends, her life, and most of all, Hudson, the boy she could've had, but doesn't. It all belongs to Jolene now, her oldest and closest friend, and the one she had to walk away from. And while she's on the outside looking in to what could've been, she has a secret, tucked way down deep that she cannot tell anyone: She never left Jolene in the first place. Caught in the web of the other girl's compelling, seductive manipulation, Mattie decides that she's going to take her old life back, until the two collide, with frightening and life changing results.

I've read books about toxic relationships before, and they've all rang of the same quality: Compelling, darkly thrilling, and even erotic. But this one is different. I felt sympathy for Mattie, pliable and easily manipulated, and her want to be accepted, all the while giving off the appearance of shedding what was left of her old life. At the same time, as the book went on, I was a little frustrated at the pacing of it, the eventual pattern.

And then, of course, there is Jolene herself, beautiful and confident and intoxicating, everything that Mattie is not and wants to be. To be honest, she terrified me. In a way, she was like a siren, not just to Mattie, but to the other characters in the book, Hudson and Kris, as well as her classmates, able to hold sway with nothing more than a sly smile and a bat of the eyelashes. And as she and Mattie intertwine, to the point where they see nothing but each other, it's like watching a bomb go off, or a massive explosion: terrifying, but so destructive you cannot hope to look away.

The bottom line: I loved this book, and its frightening, compelling, and oddly erotic premise--a must read for people who love books about friendships gone wrong--an amazing contemporary young adult debut not to be missed! Next on deck: Emma by Jane Austen!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman Review

Title: Almost Famous Women
Author: Megan Mayhew Bergman
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Short Stories/Anthologies
Series: N/A
Star Rating:  4.5 out of 5 Stars

I was given a copy of this book through Netgalley by the publisher, Scribner, in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

Almost Famous Women is a short story collection about women who are the siblings of famous people, women on the fringes of history. Bergman writes thirteen short stories, all with beauty and finesse. Each story was an insight into the author's imagination, as well as these nuanced, complex and very fragile women. I'll pick my favorites and review them individually, since my rating for the entire book is at the top:

Norma Millay's Film Noir Period, 5 out of 5 stars: Dark and chilling, an insight to Edna St. Millay's younger sister, and her relationship with her. I loved the gothic, ghostly feel of this story--it felt a little bit like Psycho, but it was exciting and rang of familial love. Possibly my favorite of the volume.

Romaine Remains: 4 out of 5 stars. Darkly comic and sad all at the same time, about a reclusive, aging artist and her poor, resentful caretaker, I was halfway between crying and laughing the entire story. I felt strangely sympathetic toward both characters. I really enjoyed the strange bond between two misfits, but at times it was hard to follow.

The Autobiography of Allegra Byron: 5 out of 5 stars. The story of Lord Byron's illegitimate daughter, and the nun who loves her. This story was so sad--the nun's story made me cry, and I fell in love with little Allegra, who wanted nothing more than her father's love, cookies, and freedom. It rang of a mother's love, and the sadness of an orphan without family. It was one of the contenders for my favorites.

Saving Butterfly McQueen: 5 out of 5 stars. I loved the style of this story, of a woman of color, who wanted to give her body to science, and made her living acting. It was deeply poignant and affecting for me--it told a story of a woman who was a minority, and the very personal struggles she went through, in her career and her own faith. Fantastic!

Who Killed Dolly Wilde? 5 out of 5 stars. Oh, this story. This was so painful. It told the story of Dolly Wilde, a descendant of the infamous Oscar Wilde, and an addict, and the close friend that loves her dearly. It dripped of the raw power of hopeless, unrequited love, and the horrors of war, and untreated PTSD. Absolutely amazing.

The Lottery, Redux: 5 out of 5 stars. I remember reading the inspiration of this story, by Shirley Jackson (may she rest in peace--she's an amazing writing inspiration for me, and a titan), in high school, and being absolutely terrified of it for weeks afterward. Bergman's take on it did a fantastic homage, and I loved every heart-pounding, frightening second of it!

I loved this book of beautifully written and meticulously imagined stories--absolutely amazing! Next on deck: Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Rose Society by Marie Lu Review

Title: The Rose Society
Author: Marie Lu
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Young Elites, book two
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Oh my God. Oh my God. How am I supposed to go on?

This book was amazing. I loved The Young Elites, which also happened to be my very first book by Marie Lu, and I honestly thought I couldn't get any better. I thought, There's no way that that can be topped. No way. I was wrong. So, so wrong. How do I put into words just how amazing this book is? I'm always afraid when I read a sequel, because I worry that after all the hype, after all that time I waited for it, would be let down by the explosive momentum of the first book, for the series to fizzle.

I'm so happy to say that this book did more than fair justice to The Young Elites. The White Rose begins a mere three weeks after the first novel, with Adelina fleeing from The Daggers and setting off to create her own society of Elites to do her bidding--and begins to plot her revenge. I don't want to say too much about the plot--this book is just too good to be spoiled. It is a book, and series, that deserves to be savored, with all its twists and turns and thrills.

The pacing of this book was breakneck--it took me a little while to wade back into the series, as I'd had it for a while, but when I was fully immersed, it completely took off--I was gasping for breath as I read, frantically turning pages to discover the fate of Adelina and all the other characters. If you're a fan of action-packed fantasies, this book is for you. This book is also for you if you love political intrigue, and plots driven by multiple points of view.

The characters, both familiar and brand new, were part of the reason I loved this book. If I love the characters--actually, if the characters provoke anything in me, not just love--I'm sold on a series completely. It was absolutely fantastic, and Adelina's character development was rich and exciting. I hung onto every page with bated breath, eager to see the book to his conclusion.

The world-building of this series is also very exciting--it was explained and doled out in a way that felt really organic to the narrative. (Can I just have a separate book full of this world's folklore, Marie Lu? Pretty please?! I'm dying here.) In short, I just can't wait for the third book. Can it just be 2016 already? I need to know what happens! Next on deck: Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Decided to Switch.

I'm really enjoying Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow by Rainbow Rowell, but it rings too much of Harry Potter for me, so I'm just putting it next on my library pile and switch to The Rose Society by Marie Lu.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell Review

Title: Fangirl: A Novel
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/New Adult
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I want to start off this review by saying that this is my first Rainbow Rowell novel. I've heard great things about this author from all quarters, and with the publication of Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow, I said to heck with it and had my local library hold it for me. I was a little nervous; all too often when I hear about a writer, I find that I'm not as in love with them and their books out of the gate.

I'm so happy to tell you guys that I was wrong. My doubts were rootless. Fangirl was everything I expected, and a whole lot more. How many times, and how many different ways, can I say that I loved it? It was a completely new stratosphere of contemporary young adult fiction for me. It was contemporary young adult fiction, but it was also a treatise of sorts on family, mental illness, books, the love of a fictional world.

In short? My heart is in a million pieces on the floor, and I will follow Rainbow Rowell anywhere if the rest of her novels are like this. (I'm looking at you, Eleanor and Park! But that's a whole other review.) This book was just fantastic, in almost every way. I enjoyed every single moment of it, and I'm looking forward to so much more from Rowell!

Fangirl begins with two twin sisters, Cath and Wren, and the two of them are going off to college. Cath and Wren, Wren and Cath--they love each other so much, you can practically taste it leaping off of the page. They are also growing apart--Wren wants to experience everything college has to offer, whereas shy, socially awkward and anxious Cath wants desperately to just stay the way she is.

I loved all the characters in this book--that was what really sold it for me, even though I was already invested. I felt like all the characters--Cath, Wren, Levi, Reagan, and even Simon and Baz--were real, flesh and blood people. I related to all of them so much that it hurt me. Rowell creates characters that stick to the fabric of your very soul, and I loved it.

There was also the added bonus of the story: contemporary, new adult, and fantasy fiction all smashed together, but in a way that felt so natural (despite all the obvious Harry Potter references! Lol.) This book, if you haven't read it, will steal your heart as well as your imagination. It was amazing, and one of the best of the year for me, hands down. The bottom line: A fantastic coming of age tale, with perfectly toned elements of heartwarming romance, mental illness, and more than a few nerds, Fangirl completely won me over--an amazing feat of young adult fiction! Next on deck: Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow by Rainbow Rowell!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Cursed by Monica Wolfson Review

Title: Cursed
Author: Monica Wolfson
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Tysseland Chronicles, book one
Star Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much, Monica!

First off, I want to say that I'm a fantasy novel junkie. It doesn't really matter what kind--urban, medieval, science fiction oriented--if it's a fantasy, I'm all over it. And the cover on this book--it's so freaking pretty! And I was very excited to read this. I wanted to love it, but unfortunately, there were a lot of issues with this book that really bogged down the narrative. I loved the idea of it--it had everything I wanted in a fantasy novel--magic, new worlds, romance, and excitement, and of course, an evil queen! But there are some parts of the novel that really need to be ironed out.

The editing of this novel really needs some work; at times the writing kept jumping back and forth between past and present tense, so it was hard to follow in some spots. The world-building was vague and confusing--I couldn't really picture Tysseland, except as a vague, confusing picture of a magical world slightly infused with our world's modern technology.

I liked the characters, especially Sasha, though at times it seemed like she was concentrating more on her infatuation with Evan, the hot guy who happens to save her life throughout the book. I also really enjoyed Evan and Sasha's relationship--it wasn't instant and moved along at a good pace. But other characters, like Sasha's sister Hannah, Vania, and Willow, seemed to only be vague people in the book--I didn't get to know them, and so they didn't feel real.

This book has a lot of potential--a fantasy foundation, a kick-butt main character, an exciting premise and good pacing, but it really needs to be cleaned up. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it--it was fun! Next on deck: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy Review

Title: The Boleyn Bride
Author: Brandy Purdy
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much, Brandy!

I have a fascination with history that started from the time I was a kid. It doesn't really matter what time period--I am, indiscriminately, a history junkie. But a time that has always captured my imagination is the Tudor era, even now. Henry VIII and his many wives have always ignited my imagination, exciting me and spurring me to do my own research. Anne Boleyn is one of the most notable, as she seduced the monarch and caused him to leave his wife of some twenty-odd years, Catherine of Aragon.

The Boleyn Bride is about the mother of Anne Boleyn, the beautiful, vain and shallow Elizabeth Howard, married at sixteen to the notorious 'court toady', Thomas Bullen. It begins just after the execution of her daughter Anne and son George, and goes backward from there, to explain her political ascension, and her many paramours, as well as her children's fate--beautiful, golden Mary, moody, mercurial George, and ugly duckling Anne.

Ugh. I wanted to love this book--historical fiction is one of my favorite genres--but Elizabeth Howard really just rubbed me the wrong way. She was spoiled and rude and mean, even to her own children. She was so selfish that her own needs took precedence over everyone else's, and any sympathy I had for her was long since lost by the end of the novel. If I felt sorry for anyone in this book, it had to be her three children, used by their parents and their king as they saw fit, until they were no more.

I also didn't like Elizabeth's spouse--Thomas was, I daresay, even worse than his shallow, superficial wife. But perhaps their dark deeds only served to shine an even greater spotlight on their children, who, for me, through the eyes of their mother, were the real stars of the novel.

King Henry, too, that pompous and foolish old windbag, really had me frustrated, though Purdy portrayed him perfectly--by turns joyous and jolly one moment, then screaming for someone's head the next.

I liked the clothing and food porn of this novel, as well as the characters of Mary, Anne, and George, but that was about it. In the eyes of Elizabeth, everything seemed to be so trite and false, and it really bothered me. Nonetheless, though, I enjoyed some of the novel. The bottom line: An untold story in Tudor history, Elizabeth Howard--the mother and grandmother of England's queens--tells her story--and I wanted to love it, but I just couldn't relate to the main character at all. Next on deck: Cursed by Monica Wolfson!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld Review

Title: Zeroes
Author(s): Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Zeroes, book one
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I'll start out this review with a little bit of personal history: Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by the idea of superheroes. It didn't really matter which one, or which company created them: Batman, Spiderman, Superman were the chief three, until I grew older. I just find them so fascinating, even now, because it asks a question that is timeless: What makes a hero, and also a villain? I was drawn to this book immediately; it had been resting in my library stack for a while.

And I'm so happy that I read it. This book is one of my favorites of 2015. A big claim, I know, but it was just fantastic! A diverse cast of characters, all with complex morals, and powers ripped straight from the comics, only better! Breakneck pacing! Multiple points of view! (I'm such a diehard for this kind of story now, it adds so much depth.) Humor, excitement, and twists!

This book was just so good.

Zeroes begins with five teenagers, all of whom have interesting and plausible powers, split into their own lives after one of them breaks them up. It almost goes backwards in that sense, but I enjoyed it. Each character was unique and oddly lovable, with their own issues and strengths. I really felt like these characters were real, and that's one of the reasons I'm so sold on this novel. I can't wait for book two! I don't want to give away much of the plot--part of the beauty of this book is going into it blind.

I also love that this novel, though mammoth, (it clocks in at over 500 pages, but it goes by quickly!) was a collaboration from three titans in the young adult fiction industry: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti. (Can this series never end? Please? It was just so good!) I've read a lot of superhero stories, but none like this. It was absolute perfection.

The only thing that I didn't like was that sometimes the drama between the characters bogged down the action, but it wasn't enough to make me put the book down--it was still one of the best books I've read this whole year. The bottom line: A triumph of an urban fantasy novel delivered from three titans of young adult fiction, Zeroes is a must-read for action and adventure lovers, as well as readers who have been craving more diverse characters--one of the best books of the year! Amazing! Next on deck: The Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy!