Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson Review

Title: The Unexpected Everything
Author: Morgan Matson
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

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

The Unexpected Everything was the library book club pick for June, and honestly? I wasn't expecting much, and it took me a while to get invested in it. But I'm very happy that I stuck with it, because Matson weaves an equally tender and brutal coming of age tale in the tradition of Sarah Dessen. The story of Andie and her life, as well as the people who populate it, really got into my heart. I feel like I've come away from the book with a new group of friends, and everyone knows that those kinds of books are the best. I love my book club! Plus, with its summery, gorgeous cover, bright and colorful and animal-filled, I was absolutely won over. What a winner! I can't wait for more from Morgan Matson!

 Alexandra Walker, better known as Andie, is not a girl who makes attachments. With her mother gone and her father more occupied with his campaign than their relationship, she thinks it's better that way. She is also someone who takes comfort in organization, in planning. But all of that is derailed when her plans for the summer suddenly go up in smoke. Forced to let go and come face to face with her demons, she realizes that instead of focusing on the past, she must learn to live in the moment.

This book was amazing. It was a coming of age story in the best kind of way, and I loved that it was set during the summer, a season that, to me, always seems full of possibilities. I also really enjoyed Andie, as well as her deep, heartbreaking character development in the book. Her friends and family created a really stark foil for her. At the end of the book, these characters felt like dear, beloved family members, who'd I'd loved with my whole heart. But my favorite part of the entire book was the romance that took center stage. I'm such a sucker for love, especially when it's the nerdy kind! (That's all I'm going to say; I don't want to give it away!) Clark was absolutely adorable, and I loved the way that he and Andie met--it was straight out of a rom-com!

The ending was kind of bittersweet, though I liked the way that it stayed true to life. It was realistic, even while it brought tears to my eyes and grief to my heart. This book was so much fun, it was like a day at the beach, basking in the sun. It felt like a hug from a trusted friend after you've just got done crying. This book was just so warm and wonderful, so sweet and full of love. The Unexpected Everything is a beautiful book, a celebration of friendship and love in every form. One of my favorite books of recent months! I cannot wait for more from Morgan Matson! The bottom line: A beautiful celebration of friendship and love, The Unexpected Everything took up a big space in my heart, and I'm so excited for more from this promising author! Next on deck: Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz Review

Title: Alex and Eliza: A Love Story
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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

Okay, so I'll admit it: Part of the reason this book nabbed my attention because of Hamilton. I've never listened to the soundtrack, but I just love Lin Manuel-Miranda. But de la Cruz won my heart with her book, Isle of the Lost, and when I heard she was writing a romance novel with Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler at its center, I was gone. Completely sold. I was happily, pleasantly surprised. I've only recently gotten into the romance genre, so this was lovely. I don't know if it's necessarily historically accurate, but I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless. A love story forming in the thick of The American Revolution, it captivated me totally, making me laugh and cry and cheer and scream in frustration. I loved de la Cruz's interpretation of these historical figures, as well as many of the supporting characters! One of my favorite books of 2017, hands down. It was just so much fun!

Eliza Schuyler is the middle sister, bookish and sharp-tongued, the brightest of three, and she longs to do something to help her country, fighting for its independence from Great Britain. But when she meets Alexander Hamilton at a ball, a relationship begins, one fraught with miscommunication, laughter, and genuine romance. The camp-de-aide and the general's daughter draw close, despite the many odds stacked against them, and they must decide what they are willing to sacrifice for each other.

I loved this book. I haven't been a real romance fan until recently, and this was a pure love story, to the core. It also didn't hurt that I've always been a hardcore historical fiction, and The Revolutionary War is a period in history that I've done extensive research on. So some of the elements were familiar about that aspect of things. But I really, really loved the clever banter between Eliza and her sisters, and the dashing, rakish Hamilton. The prose and pacing had me laughing, crying, cringing, screaming. This book was a wild, joyful ride through history, albeit one with several embellishments. I'm definitely going to do research into the figures that inspired it! The bottom line: Melissa de la Cruz has penned another winner in Alex and Eliza, a tender, romantic love story rooted in history! What a fun book! Next on deck: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson!

Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis Review

Title: Given to the Sea
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Given to the Sea, book one
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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

Mindy McGinnis won my heart last year with her groundbreaking, thought-provoking novel, The Female of the Species. It was one of my favorite books of 2016. When I heard that she was writing a new fantasy novel, due out in April, I was so stoked, and so intrigued by the plot that I reserved it at my library as soon as possible. (Plus, bonus: She lives in Ohio and is coming to my local library in August! I'm so excited! I only wish I had a copy of one of her books to sign.) A dark and politically charged series debut, Given to the Sea was an exciting, thought-provoking story that sent my head spinning and my heart racing. I can't wait for the sequel!

Khosa is the Given: Her life is a necessary sacrifice for her nation, after she bears an heir. She must give her life to the ocean that Stille borders, to save her people. Despite this, she cannot bear another person's touch. The exception is the Indiri, the last of an extinct race, two siblings called Donil and Dara. Their adoptive brother, Vincent, stands to inherit the throne of Stille. Will rules the Pietra, a brutal warrior race who will stop at nothing to conquer every bit of land of Stille for themselves. All of these individuals collide when war comes to call. Meanwhile, hearts are broken, political schemes are hatched, and Khosa must heed the call of the ocean, or else risk losing everything...

I really, really liked this book! It was really weird, but in a good way. I love books that use political intrigue as a plot device; it adds another layer of depth to the story. The pacing was breakneck, though at times it was kind of hard to keep track of everyone and their role in the story. The plot was really what drew me to the book, it was different and exciting and gave a new take on the 'chosen one' trope. But what really won this book for me was the characters, especially Khosa, Will, Donil and Dara, and Vincent. There were times when I was frustrated with several of the minor characters, and sometimes the world-building was confusing. But the pacing, political intrigue, twists and turns, and the ending--that ending though--really won me over, and I really enjoyed it! I can't wait for the sequel! The bottom line: A fantastic, meaty first book in a projected duo, I really liked Given to the Sea! Despite some flaws, I can't wait for the sequel! Next on deck: Alex and Eliza: A Love Story by Melissa de la Cruz!

Fireworks by Katie Cotugno Review

Title: Fireworks
Author: Katie Cotugno
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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

I'll start this review, first, with an apology. Due to the recent busyness that has become my life, I haven't been able to post as much, and I've been sitting on a few reviews. I'm so sorry! I will be doing my best to remedy that, guys! Between personal and medical issues in my family, I haven't had nearly as much time as I would like, to read or write. Now, moving on to the actual review.

Katie Cotugno and I--frankly, we're not on the best of terms. I didn't really like 99 Days, the first novel of hers that I actually read. But when I read that she was writing a new book that came out in April, set in--get this--nineties Orlando, with two young women who travel south to follow a dream of being in a girl group, well. I was pretty much sold. I mean, this has my childhood written all over it. This, for me, is nothing less than literary catnip. And overall, I really enjoyed it. It wasn't perfect, and I have some mixed feelings about it. But it was better than 99 Days, and that's good enough for me.

It was always supposed to be Olivia. Dana is just the sidekick, the wingwoman, the moral support. But they've been friends their entire lives, and so when Olivia asks Dana to come to Orlando with her for a girl group audition, being the good friend that she is, she agrees. But something unexpected happens when they get to Orlando: Dana is selected as well. Thrust into an unfamiliar, cutthroat world of fame, backstabbing, and endurance, Dana is overwhelmed, even as Olivia begins to drift away from her. When the girls are forced to go all out against each other for the ultimate shot at fame and stardom, Dana realizes that everything has changed, perhaps her relationship with Olivia most of all...

Like I said, I enjoyed this book. But, with that being said, there were also some things that I didn't like. Not enough to make me hate the book totally, but just enough to get under my skin. I loved the plot, as well as the pacing; I breezed through this book in barely a day and a half. The plot was original and exciting, and spoke to my childhood dream (however brief) of being in a popular girl group myself. I really enjoyed Dana, and related to her; she seemed really lost at the beginning of the book, and her character development really saved the book. Olivia--I get that she was necessary to the plot, but I didn't really like her at all; she seemed more focused on her career and what she wanted, rather than her relationship with Dana. But I digress. Full of drama, the bittersweet pangs of first love, and what happens when we grow apart from our childhood friends, I really enjoyed Fireworks. I didn't like the way female sexuality was dealt with in the book though, which was one of the same reasons I had an issue with 99 Days. I really think that women cutting other women down is not at all okay. The bottom line: Though there were a few issues with it, Fireworks--a coming of age story full of drama, swoony moments, and the glittering world of fame and fortune, was a fun, hilarious book that I really enjoyed. Next on deck: Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis!

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor Review

Title: Strange the Dreamer
Author: Laini Taylor
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Series: Strange the Dreamer, book one
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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

When I finally heard that one of my favorite young adult authors, Laini Taylor, who won my heart with her fantasy smash hit, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, had another book coming out in March of this year, I was absolutely thrilled. I had to return it because I couldn't read it in time, but when I went to book club, I couldn't resist taking it home with me to try again. I ended up getting sick over the weekend, but when I was well enough to read, I began Strange the Dreamer and was totally spellbound. With gorgeous prose, a strange, twisty plot that could only come from Taylor, as well as plenty of action, swoon-worthy romance, and more than a healthy dose of mystery and intrigue, Strange the Dreamer stole my heart, and I'm so happy that this weird, lovely tale has a sequel coming out next year! Easily one of my favorite books of 2017, hands down!

Lazlo Strange is a nothing, a no one, taken in by the monks of the library that he calls home. He is orphaned, and has no friends. But he has longed for adventure since he was a little boy, and when a mysterious man called The Godslayer turns up, he jumps at the chance to go with him, and see what the world is outside of his beloved stories. What he finds is more astonishing--and appealing--than his love of books, and combined with a group of outsiders, the boy discovers that he just might be the only thing standing between the hidden city he's found, and total annihilation...

I loved this book, so much. The prose was hypnotic and beautiful, the pacing breakneck. I also loved the strange (ha ha, Strange!), weird plot that Taylor weaves. What worldbuilding, as well! (I'm so freaking happy that this book has a sequel!) But I think what I loved most, more than anything, were the characters, especially Lazlo. I really identified with him, because he was a man that found excitement through stories, but wanted more. I laughed, I cried; I loved this book. It was so weird, fantastic, and romantic! I loved the political intrigue, the mystery, and that ending--just stomp on my heart, why don't you, woman?! I can't wait for the sequel! The bottom line: A beautiful, heartbreaking fantasy tale that stole my heart and healed my soul, I loved Strange the Dreamer! I can't wait for The Muse of Nightmares! Next on deck: Fireworks by Katie Cotugno!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert Review

Title: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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

One of my friends has encouraged me to cycle through my fiction with motivational books, as well as  nonfiction books on writing, to become more well-rounded. Since I was on my self-motivation part of it, I chose to read Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Gilbert is an author widely known, due to the success of her popular memoir, Eat Pray Love. But I've been wanting to read Big Magic since it was published, and now I had an excuse! I was really excited to dive in, and I came out the other side feeling validated and inspired. I feel like I've made a friend who gave me a hug right when I needed it, and now I feel like I don't have to apologize for seeking to create art, whether or not a career comes out of it.

Gilbert divides the book into six different sections: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust, and divinity, and gives advice to people who long to leave the grind behind, if only for a little while. She argues that anyone, no matter their career choice or circumstances, can live a creative life. But you have to go out of your own way to enable yourself to do so. A lot of advice helped me, and I obviously needed to hear it. It made me feel better about my budding writing career, and about my future. Gilbert is kind, gentle, and sometimes gives the reader a good kick in the pants when they need it. I also really loved the way she emphasized the sheer love and joy that comes from making things, from creating. What a wonderful book! (I ended up writing several things down to remember them; I feel so inspired and happy after reading this!) The bottom line: A self-help, nonfiction book that encourages readers to let go of their creative inhibitions and create just for the fun of it, I loved Big Magic--I feel so inspired! Next on deck: Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Battlemage by Taran Matharu Review

Title: The Battlemage
Author: Taran Matharu
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Summoner, book three
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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

My husband and I decided to read this series together, as I won the copy of the first book in the series through a giveaway at Book Riot. He's been reading them first, and then I follow suit. He's been warning me all about Battlemage, about how it was so good, but it was going to make me feel everything. I finally started it a few days ago, and was glued to the pages until the end, collapsing on my couch in a screaming, crying fit of emotion. How could you do this to me, Taran?! Haven't you made us feel enough pain?! As far as sequels go, especially for a series closer, this book was pretty much perfect. I loved it, even though my heart is bruised and battered, broken into a million tiny pieces. (You're lucky that you've already won my heart, sir, because otherwise I wouldn't forgive you!)

The Battlemage picks up where The Inquisition left off, with the repercussions of the previous book finally coming into play. I don't want to say too much about the plot, because I don't want to give anything away for the people that haven't yet read it. But I will say that Fletcher plays a bigger role than he had in the previous books, and I loved the character development! I also really enjoyed the way the loose ends were tied up. The ending was perfect, and despite the emotional agony, I really enjoyed it! I have to say that I'm really sad, though; I feel like I've lost a group of dear, beloved friends. I can't wait for more from Taran Matharu, and I'm hoping that it takes place in the same world as Fletcher's! Political intrigue, romance, twists and turns, secrets and loss--The Battlemage has something for everyone, and was a perfect ending to one of my favorite series! The bottom line: The final book in the Summoner trilogy, I loved The Battlemage, and I can't wait for more from Taran Matharu! Next on deck: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert!