Sunday, April 13, 2014

On Reading Slumps & College Visits

Over the past month, I feel as if I've been more absent from the blogosphere than present.


In all honesty, I've been in an odd form of a reading slump. Granted, I haven't been reading the best of books, but even when I do pick up a great book and give it a high rating, I don't feel fulfilled by the novel in the least. I feel as if I'm still searching for the perfect book to get me out of my strange moods and unhappy reading funks, but I can't seem to find it yet. I feel as if my inability to become wholly immersed in a story is due to my own mental and emotional turmoil. Usually I can distance myself from the issues of my day-to-day life by reading; I can devote myself completely to a new world and unique characters and different dilemmas. Usually. 

Ever since I got back from Disney World in late March, I've been receiving acceptances and rejections from colleges which, obviously, has been hard. I didn't get into my top choice school. None of my friends got into their top choice schools. In fact, my very best friend and I - who have been neighbors for the past decade and inseparable friends for at least the past five years - aren't even going to the same college. On some level, I knew we would all wind up on our own separate paths, but it suddenly feels so real. I have six Mondays left in the school year. Six. And then I'm done with high school. 


Anyway, the point of this post is this: I am taking a short break to visit colleges in Boston, so I will be back with (hopefully!) more frequent posts on Thursday. I did, luckily, get into my second choice school, so after a quick visit I have a feeling I'll be ready to put down my deposit and commit. Even though I didn't get into my top choice school, I have a feeling I'm going to be a LOT happier at the school I did receive admittance into and I'm really very excited about visiting. I'm even staying overnight with a friend of mine at her dorm, so it should be a great trip. :)

I hope you all had a fantastic weekend filled with plenty of coffee, sunshine, and books. And I hope the start of this new week is just as wonderful and exciting for you as it will be for me. 

See on Thursday, dear readers!

Friday, April 11, 2014

ARC Mini-Review: High and Dry by Sarah Skilton

Title: High and Dry 

Author: Sarah Skilton

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: April 15th, 2014

Following the success of her debut novel, Bruised, Sarah Skilton's sophomore effort, High and Dry left much to be desired. Quite simply put, High and Dry contains one too many plot threads to function efficiently as a cohesive novel. Where Bruised was direct, providing focused insight on the trauma surrounding a young teenage girl, High and Dry follows high school senior Charlie as he tries to win back his ex-girlfriend Ellie, help his other ex-girlfriend find her stolen flash drive, and thwart the authorities who insist on pegging him responsible for causing a classmate to overdose. Although aspects of High and Dry certainly shined, the overall effect of this story was not say the least.

As she did with her debut, Skilton proves - once again - to be adept at navigating the tumultuous waters of the teenage mind. Writing from the perspective of a male narrator, she still manages to keep Charlie's voice realistic, witty, and engaging. It's incredible easy to become sucked into Charlie's tale - a definite plus point - and his inner struggles were perfectly portrayed. At the forefront of this novel is the fact that Charlie is still in love with his ex-girlfriend, Ellie, and he's quite sure she's still in love with him too. In the fall, however, Charlie will be attending a nearby university while Ellie is still uncertain about her future. Every moment of their relationship, then, is spent as a ticking time bomb with Charlie firmly believing that Ellie is too good for him and their relationship won't last. Ellie, unable to put up with Charlie's attitude, breaks it off with him only to find him following her diligently, desperately hoping she'll take him back. From my perspective, the entire romantic set-up of High and Dry is original. A male protagonist who feels grounded - anchored, if you will - by his girlfriend, but not to an obsessive or unhealthy extent. Charlie's own insecurities are put to rest due to the knowledge that Ellie picked him. Without Ellie, however, Charlie hardly knows who he is and finds himself struggling to reaffirm his own worth without her approval.

It makes for an intriguing dilemma, to be sure, but one that isn't expanded upon as much as it should be. I found myself wishing that Skilton had chosen to delve deeper into Charlie's psych opposed to his day-to-day actions and interactions; everything inside Charlie's head was far more compelling than anything out of it. Instead, the pace of High and Dry moves quickly, highlighting the multiple action-filled plot threads. While these aspects of the story do come together by the end - with a few surprising plot twists too! - I didn't feel entirely engaged or connected to the Charlie who went out of his way to track down a flash drive. Skilton expertly showcases the multiple facets of Charlie's personality through her complex plot and, by the end of this novel, his growth is truly admirable. Moreover, I absolutely love the slightly open conclusion to this stand-alone, tying together the loose pieces nicely while still leaving room - and hope! - for Charlie's future. Yet, my inability to become entrenched within the fast-moving pace of the bulk of this story made for slow and disappointing reading. While Skilton makes an important statement about teens during this transitional period between childhood (high school) and adulthood (college), High and Dry needed better execution - desperately. Although I certainly wouldn't dissuade readers from giving this one a shot, only because Sarah Skilton wrote it and her characterizations are spot-on, I'd encourage readers new to her work to pick up Bruised first. It doesn't disappoint in the least; trust me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Title: The Winter Sea (The Slains, #1) 

Author: Susanna Kearsley 

Rating: 4 Stars

It likely comes as no surprise for those of you who have been following my recent reads that I've fallen in love with historical fiction - again. It happens a few times a year. I discover a historical novel I fall head-over-heels for and feel compelled to run out and read everything I possibly can within the genre before I become bored of it. In this case, it started with Kate Forsyth's The Wild Girl and seemed to swiftly end there as well since Forsyth's other historical fantasy title was miles away, across the ocean, sold seemingly everywhere but the United States. As a result, I stumbled across Susanna Kearsley; yet another author not sold within the United States but whose novels were slowly being re-published - with gorgeous covers, mind you - and this time available for American audiences. After reading glowing review after glowing review and receiving one too many recommendations to pick up The Winter Sea, I finally relented and requested a copy at my local library. 

The Winter Sea is a difficult tale to describe, but Kearsley's prose will have readers enamored from the first page itself. Following a young author, Carrie, as she embarks into depths of Scotland seeking inspiration for her latest novel, The Winter Sea is part fiction, part history, and part some other genre entirely. When Carrie stumbles across the ruins of Slains Castle, she feels oddly drawn towards the location and rents a nearby cottage, finally having found the spark to write which eluded her for so long. Now, approaching her novel from a different angle, Carrie begins to draft her novel from the perspective of a woman, one who she names after a distant relative, Sophie, who, too, was alive during the Jacobite Revolution Carrie plans to write of. But as Carrie dreams of Sophie's life, attributing her sudden knowledge of the time period to the vast research she performed prior to drafting her novel, she is eventually forced to admit that details of Sophie's life - an existence she believes is fictional - may, in fact, be real. 
Slains Castle Ruins
Kearsley's prose is stunning, not so much because of her words or their placement in a sentence, but rather because of the lush atmosphere she builds. I finished this book blinking in surprise at being in my rather dusty old home in New Jersey instead of the windy cliffs of Slains, Scotland. While I struggled at first to connect with Sophia's perspective, I absolutely loved the strong love stories and detailed historical research that went into The Winter Sea. Eventually, I was thoroughly wrapped up in these dual narratives; Carrie's in our present-day world as she struggled to find answers to the odd situation she found herself in while simultaneously striking up a tentative romantic relationship with a history professor and Sophie's as she resided at the Slains Castle during a dangerous time period and found her own love in the most unexpected of places. 
Slains Castle & the "Winter" Sea

Although The Winter Sea is a love story, it is, first and foremost, a tale of two fiercely independent women. Sophie, in particular, is forced to sacrifice much for her love due to her place in the era she lives in, but her courage and bravery is palpable on every page. In contrast, Carrie never undergoes the difficult journey that Sophie faces, partly because modern-day Scotland is a far safer place than it was centuries ago, but her spirit is no less indomitable. What I love, especially, is the fact that both Sophie and Carrie find men who are willing to fight for them and accept them for the women they are; men who treat them well and make them happy. The Winter Sea is a slow, languid story, but one I felt compelled to keep reading, if only to hang on and witness the fate of these two women whose lives had become so closely intertwined with my own. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

ARC Review: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Title: Open Road Summer

Author: Emery Lord

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: April 15th, 2014

Admittedly, I'm a little confused by the hype surrounding Open Road Summer. Lord's debut is striking, distinctly flavorful in its focus on strong female friendships, diversity, and prickly heroines. Nevertheless, the glowing five-star reviews around the blogosphere left me with an intangible wanting when it came to the end of this novel. Open Road Summer is a debut I wouldn't hesitate to thrust upon readers, particularly those looking to bridge the gap between YA and NA, but a perfect novel it is not.

Although most readers are likely drawn in by the synopsis of Open Road Summer, - a season spent on the road with a rock star best friend - I failed to be impressed. Frankly speaking, I'm not one for stories about fame. Yet, the emphasis on bold protagonists with enviable friendships compelled me to pick up my ARC and forced me to keep flipping the pages, even when my eyes ached late into the night. Reagan and Dee have been best friends for years; a constant in each others lives even when the world has changed around them. Now, at seventeen, Dee is a blooming musician, complete with a throng of besotted fans. On her tour this time, however, is Reagan, the friend Dee desperately needs after breaking up with her boyfriend, Jimmy. Dee isn't the only one who needs friendship, though. After finding her ex-boyfriend cheating on her and splitting off from him rather disastrously, Reagan is turning over a new leaf. Determined to give up smoking, drinking, and partying, Reagan needs Dee's presence to keep her grounded and focus. And this summer, it's going to be about them: Dee and Reagan. Infinity.

But, as expected, their plans don't quite pan out. When nasty rumors instigate a false nude scandal concerning Dee and her ex-boyfriend, Jimmy, the record label is forced to bring Matt Finch on tour. Matt, whose fame died out when his band disbanded a few years ago, is back with a solo album and as a close friend of Dee, has agreed to act as Dee's fake boyfriend to keep the media entertained and the rumor mill surrounding Jimmy at bay. For Reagan, however, Matt's inclusion into their duo is an unwelcome arrival. No matter how desperately she tries to deny it, there is something about Matt that pushes at her buttons. Unlike most guys, Matt genuinely wants to know the Real Reagan, the one hiding behind the thick barriers and, for the first time, Reagan might actually want to drop those walls after all. Only, is it really safe for her to trust Matt? Or is she simply setting herself up for heartbreak all over again?

What makes Lord's debut a note-worthy novel, in my opinion at any rate, is Reagan's personality. Unlike Dee, Reagan isn't the goody-two-shoes girl-next-door. In fact, she's the girl whose name is constantly being spoken in hushed voices around the school. Its her name you're most likely to see scratched crudely into bathroom stalls. And, what's more, her police record does little to dispel her bad-girl image. Thus, the close friendship between Reagan and Dee comes as an unexpected surprise. Yet, despite their different personalities, there is no denying the strength of the bond these two girls share. While it is easy, at first, to keep them in their stereotypical molds, Lord quickly dispels this, showing us the caring sides to Reagan's personality alongside the uglier aspects of Dee's. What I love about their characterization is the fact that is reads as truly teenage. Dee is quick to react tearfully to news of rumors while Reagan is eager to lash out in anger at those trying to hurt her best friend. And yet, despite the readiness of their emotional responses, neither Dee nor Reagan comes across as irritating, bitchy, or slutty - terms all-too-often associated with YA protagonists. If anything, both these girls come alive as realistic teens, uncertain about their futures, worried about their pasts, and trying desperately to live in the present. With both their good and bad sides expressed dutifully, the gray coloring that makes up the true personalities of these girls, beyond their famous and infamous statuses, is what shines through.

Although Open Road Summer is, technically, about a summer road trip, the novel lacked the needed feel of spontaneity. Dee's tour is meticulously planned and, as a result, the excursions into the world, outside of mandatory concerts, didn't do much for the story. Quite simply put, the setting of this novel never brought this story to life. Without the vivid characters and summer-esque feel to their languid interactions, you'd be hard-pressed to appreciate the scenery as these girls travel across the United States by bus. Nevertheless, despite that, the strong relationships throughout this story prevail. Aside from Reagan and Dee's friendship, minor bonds from Reagan's rocky relationship with her father - her only true parent after her mother ran away from home many years ago - to Dee's tight relationship with her parents are never brushed aside. I appreciated the fact that Lord included the parental units as part of her novel, if only because they are a realistic element in the day-to-day lives of teens, even celebrity ones. Moreover, we can clearly see how nurture has molded Reagan and Dee into different people, though their faults and rough patches only serve to make their friendship stronger.

Nevertheless, the aspect of Open Road Summer which truly opened up my heart and make me feel, swooning and sighing with glory, was the romance. At first, Matt Finch seems remarkably unoriginal - the sweet, boy-next-door type who simply wants to help out a good friend. But just as he kept unexpectedly surprising Reagan with his candor and infectious personality, he unexpectedly wormed his way into my heart as well. Although both Matt and Reagan are physically attracted to one another, their main draw to each other comes from their personalities. Matt likes the Reagan who hides behind a prickly exterior of disdain. While Reagan's cynicism comes with her true self as well, Matt appreciates both the good and bad sides to her, from her loyalty towards Dee to her unwillingness to open up to others. Similarly, Reagan cannot help but fall for Matt - the real Matt whose true emotions take over his expressions. Not the Celebrity Matt whose smiles are perfectly sculpted for the camera, but the one whose laughter is just a little bit crooked. While there are a plethora of hurdles in their way, most notably the fact that Matt is meant to be Dee's fake boyfriend for the summer, their romance plays out slowly. As the sexual tension, banter, and understanding between them builds, it is impossible to feel as if their love story is simply a summer fling: it's so much more.

Ultimately, Open Road Summer was a breath of fresh air. It's a quick read, practically impossible to set down once its momentum gets going. While it isn't the type of story that is likely to stick with me for long, I do not doubt that readers will connect with both Reagan and Dee, not to mention their respective love stories. Moreover, despite the minor flaws within this narrative - the underdevelopment of Reagan's step-mother, the lack of true setting in a road trip novel, etc. - Lord's debut is promising for readers for YA/NA. I, for one, will be checking out her future books without even a sliver of hesitation.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Showcase Sunday (#33)

Showcase Sunday is a weekly meme hosted by Vicki at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Its aim is to showcase our newest books or book related swag and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops and downloaded onto eReaders this week.

For Review:
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In this weeks ARCs I've got upcoming novels from three authors I have absolutely LOVED in the past - Nina LaCour, Mindy McGinnis, and Christa Desir. I have no doubt in my mind that I will thoroughly enjoy their latest novels and I've been reading so many positive reviews of Open Road Summer that I'm excited to tear into it, despite the fact that it's outside my usual comfort zone. Don't Touch seems to be an utterly unique take on coping mechanisms which has sparked my curiosity and despite the mixed reviews concerning Kiss of Deception, we all know I'm a sucker for high fantasy, especially with pretty covers. ;)

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I think it's quite obvious from my library stash this week that I've been splurging into the Adult Genre. Authors like Susanna Kearsley, Kate Forsyth, Matthew Quick, Sharon Shinn, and Samantha Young are already familiar to me, but I'm excited to get into the works of Kate Morton and Scott Lynch. Gabrielle Zevin has actually written YA - which I haven't read, so hopefully I'll enjoy her writing style enough to pick up those books too! - and Janie Chang's debut seems to be a popular one among readers of historical fiction/fantasy, so I'm curious enough to give it a shot. 

Once again, dear readers, I have to apologize for being slow on posting and commenting over the past few weeks. I'm busy visiting colleges, slowly trying to determine where I want to go and how to best convince my parents, so it's been a really stressful time period. Add to that scholarship applications and I've basically been swamped. I'm also not feeling well, thanks to the ridiculous weather over by the East Coast where it's warm one day only to be freezing the next and raining the day after that, so I've just in general been exhausted. I have a huuuge list of reviews I need to catch up on which I just haven't had the time or energy to get to, so I apologize for the creeping slowness of activity on the blog these past few days and during the upcoming days as well. Nevertheless, I absolutely love seeing all your book hauls - bookish pictures make me happy! - so don't hesitate to link me up so I can stop by! :)