Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mini-Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry 

Author: Gabrielle Zevin

Rating: 4 Stars
On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means. A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is, upon further reflection, the type of deceptively crafted title I absolutely love to devour on a rainy spring afternoon. Everything from the brief book reviews which preface its every chapter to the odd little details the author sprinkles within the opening pages of the novel--only to re-introduce them in miraculous means towards the end of the story--are utterly charming, delightful, and more than a little engaging. Fikry's book reviews not only introduce subtle events in every chapter to come, but they are written from the future as the story struggles to catch up to his current timeline, a method which works to perfection, crafted and re-crafted by Zevin throughout the course of the book. 

It's difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what it is about this novel that just works. Is it the quaint little bookstore in a tiny off-the-coast island, inhabited by citizens whose lives are extraordinary in their ordinariness? Or is it the transformation of A.J. Fikry, a rather aloof widowed bookstore owner whose life changes the day baby Maya shows up on his doorstep? Or, perhaps, it is simply that Zevin writes her contemporary title in the tone of magical realism, introducing even the simplest of emotions such as love or hope or happiness as pure magic. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry isn't a sugar-coated tale, though--for the most part--it appears so. Yet, it is the minuscule sprinkles of sorrow and grounded reality in a tale of love and redemption that, ultimately, make this a journey to remember, no matter how many times it is read.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

Title: Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy, #1)

Author: Ilona Andrews

Rating: 4 Stars

Forget the new Kate Daniels book, I just want more of the Hidden Legacy series. It speaks to the immense strength of the Ilona Andrews writing duo that, despite diverging from a well-known and slightly formulaic series, they still manage to put forth innovative, fresh, and genuinely captivating novels. It was already evident from The Edge books, a series of companion novels set in the same universe, but now with both The Innkeeper Chronicles and Hidden Legacy series, two incredibly promising series debuts, they have proved that there is much, much more up their sleeve either than Kate Daniels.

Frankly, that's rare. We see it all too often where authors simply draw out a series beyond its natural ending point or inundate fans with countless spin-off series. I admire Ilona Andrews all the more, however, for choosing to begin new ventures. Moreover, both Clean Sweep and Burn for Me contain characters written in a completely different vein from Kate and Curran. I love Nevada, the family-oriented and loyal protagonist of Burn for Me, and I particularly love the distinct quality of her narration. It's funny, just as Ilona Andrews knows to be, but it also lacks the loneliness and despair that marked Kate's voice in Magic Bites, instead giving rise to a flavor of indomitable strength and courage tinged with vulnerability--a state I was able to instantly relate to. 

Unlike Kate, Nevada is instantly like-able and her world, full of enormous leaps in social hierarchy, forces her to be a victim of her environment in more ways than one. The world-building in Burn for Me is intricate and intriguing from the start and only develops as the novel progresses, which I love. You're left with the sense that there is so much more left to be told, not just story-wise with this series, but also world-wise and I anticipate that sensation of peeling back layers to a new novel. Plus, for those of you who are fans of Ilona Andrews heart-stopping action sequences and penchant for mythological mysteries, have no fear; it is present in spades in Burn for Me. 

Yet, what makes Burn for Me such an incredible novel is, simply put, its characters. Nevada, her ex-solider mother, her younger brothers and sisters, her hacker cousin Bern, her grandmother who isn't too old to appreciate a shirtless (and very good-looking) man, and, of course, Mad Rogan himself. Without divulging spoilers, Burn for Me places Nevada, a woman with relatively little magical power, under control of the corporation to which her business is mortgaged and, as a result, she much apprehend a powerful fire-wielding psychopath, Adam. Mad Rogan, known for his immense power and the enormous death rate he has been responsible for during the war, is searching for Adam for reasons of his own and when the two team up, sparks fly. 

Mad Rogan isn't your typical hero. After serving in the war for years and wielding an unparalleled amount of magical ability, Mad Rogan is used to getting what he wants, who he wants, and when he wants them. Thus, he lacks empathy and sees murder as the first--and only--solution to every problem thrown his way. Needless to say, Nevada is terrified of the man despite the sexual tension palpable between them. To write a romance between a character such as Mad Rogan and a civilian such as Nevada is no easy task but Ilona Andrews truly makes us root for them. Moreover, it helps that we, as readers, are offered miniscule glimpses into Mad Rogan that Nevada lacks which gives us a stronger insight into the man. It isn't a fast-paced romance--but Ilona Andrews has never been known for that--and the slow-burn is torturous but oh-so-gratifying. Or, at any rate, I imagine it will be in the next few installments. 

Long story short, Burn for Me is a must-read for fans of Ilona Andrews and/or the Urban Fantasy genre. It's a true breath of fresh air from the all-too-typical insta-love sequences with vampires or other paranormal creatures and the lore of this universe will grab you in and won't let you go. Plus, don't even get me started on Mad Rogan. Move over Curran because Mad Rogan is here! ;) Burn for Me. Read it.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: Chaos by Sarah Fine

Title: Chaos (Guards of the Shadowlands, #3) 

Author: Sarah Fine

Rating: 4 Stars

If you'd asked me even a month ago, I'd have told you that Chaos was probably a finale I'd pass on. I loved Sarah Fine's Sanctum but ever since Fractured, I've been less-than-impressed by her work. Granted, Of Metal and Wishes was promising and I haven't even read Scan, but nothing Fine has written since Sanctum has managed to truly capture my attention.

And then Chaos arrived on my doorstep.

I rarely say this, but Chaos is an incredible conclusion to an innovative series. Sanctum was thought-provoking, compelling, and above all, intelligent. I loved the emotional discourse, the in-depth analysis of a depressive psyche, and I only hoped to see more of it in Fractured. Unfortunately, the latter devolved into a string of love triangles, unnecessary drama, and a cliffhanger ending as the cherry on top. Needless to say, Chaos sank quite low on my list of books to be read.

Oddly enough, it was Sarah Fine's Stories from the Shadowlands which finally convinced me to pick up Chaos. Malachi's journal entries in Stories from the Shadowlands, giving readers insight into his thought process during the dramatic events of Fractured, grudgingly allowed me to re-evaluate these characters and dive into Chaos with an open mind. And, readers, am I glad I did. Chaos completely lived up to the potential within Sanctum--and then some. As a finale, it satisfied. As a novel, it kept me entertaining. And a piece of literature, it made me think. I really don't ask for much more.

Chaos picks up directly where Fractured left off, throwing us back into the realm of the Shadowlands. What I love about re-visiting Fine's fantasy world is the fact that it is such an intelligent one. It exists because of depression, suicide, and other issues of mental illness that plague the human race. As a result, I constantly find myself re-evaluating what I know of these issues from Fine's perspective and I feel as if she uses the medium of paranormal/fantasy in the best possible way: to use fictional situations to highlight real-life problems. It's brilliant, gripping, and above all, integral to our society today. I particularly love that here is a YA trilogy that actually says something that needs to be heard by teens. To all those who constantly oppose the YA genre, Fine's trilogy proves that there is plenty of substance in YA just as in Adult fiction.

Yet, the reason Chaos stands out is due to its impeccable style. Fine strings together a variety of plot threads in this novel; so many that, at first, it seems impossible she's going to pull it off. But she does. Chaos never feels rushed or too slow. Fine's pacing is perfect and, moreover, even after two previous novels, her characters still feel fresh. Lela and Malachi are characters we've been with for years now and while parts of them are transparent and predictable, they are a far cry from the people we originally met them as. Furthermore, Fine brings back old villains and new heroes which make Chaos stand out within the trilogy instead of merely blending into the background as "just another" book in the "Guards of the Shadowlands" series.

Nevertheless, the romance is where Fine truly shines. Forgetting the drama of Fractured, we finally see Lela and Malachi as a united front in Chaos and the result of their strengths combined--their weaknesses balanced--is unbeatable. I love these two. I believe in these two. And they give me so much hope for the people in this world. Their journeys throughout Chaos are littered with despair, instances where fragility is on the brink of strength, but as Fine shows us, what doesn't kill you truly does make you stronger. I love the continued ambiguity in their morality and their depth never ceases to amaze me. I almost don't want to leave these characters behind because, really, there is more to them we still don't know and seeing them change over the years? I want that.

If it isn't already clear, Chaos has made me a die-hard fan of this series all over again. I can't wait to pick up Fine's next novel, in the hopes it surprises me as pleasantly as this one did, and if Fractured was even a fraction as irritating for you as it was for me, I can't recommend Chaos highly enough. Sarah Fine: well done.

P.S. -- I've begun writing for CHANGE Magazine, an online magazine run by college students with articles regarding social and political change in the world and specifically on campuses. I would be forever grateful if you'd take a few minutes to check out my first article in CHANGE Magazine, an interview with a domestic abuse and sexual violence organization. Thanks! :)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The TBR Tag!

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
I hate looking at one singular TBR list and finding books that haven't been released or which are classics or that I already own so I have multiple TBR piles which I keep track of on Goodreads. :)
Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

I'd have to say my TBR is a mix of both. Currently, I feel as if it's mostly e-book since I request publishers to send me electronic copies of books since I'm in college and it's just easier than receiving parcels and finding space to stack up ARCs, but I also have a decent amount of print novels at home which are on my TBR and desperately need to be read someday. 

How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

I'm a 100% mood reader. Most of the time, I'll know what I want to read next since it would have recently released and I'll snatch up a copy from the library or Amazon, but other times I just peruse my TBR shelves until I find a few books I really feel like reading that instant and then whichever one I can find I'll read. 

A book that's been on your TBR list the longest?
The Storyteller was, I believe, the first ARC I received and though I've wanted to read this novel many times since having received it, the sorrow that has been promised upon reading this has kept me away like the fearful reader I am. Someday...
A book you recently added to your TBR?
I haven't been able to avoid the gushing reviews of this novel on the internet and, of course, I had to add it to my TBR. If only I could get a copy as easily... ;)
A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?
I saw the cover for this novel and was a goner. I don't actually know much about it but, ugh, so gorgeous.
A book on your TBR that you NEVER actually plan on reading?
I plan to read every book on my TBR but there are some, like Black Spring, where I doubt the reality of that actually happening. I adore the haunting cover of this novel but the fact that it's a re-telling of Wuthering Heights almost guarantees I won't enjoy it and though I've loved Croggon's prose in the past, I haven't picked up a book by her in nearly five years and can't be sure this is quite for me after all. Still, just the idea of it on my TBR warms my heart.
An unpublished book on your TBR that you're excited for?
I think to say I'm excited for this is a vast understatement. Just tell me which organs I can donate to get my hands on a copy of this. 
A book on your TBR that basically everyone has read except you?
Yup, that's right. I don't even need to say anything else because everyone really had read this book. Except me. Oops!
A book on your TBR everyone recommends to you?
I'm almost tired of hearing about Mistborn. I love high fantasy, which is why this series gets recommended to me as often as it does, but I just haven't found the appropriate chunk of time to carve out for it yet. I know, I know, I need to. I will. Eventually.
A book on your TBR that you're dying to read?
I am such a die-hard sucker for werewolves (which clearly explains my torrid love affair with Adam Hauptman). Dunkle is an author I've really enjoyed in the past and combine that with the Scottish moors and creepy werewolves and I am basically a goner. If only I could find a copy of this book, though! :(
The number of books on your Goodreads TBR shelf?
I didn't want to know this number but if I count up all my multiple TBR shelves, it's 430. *winces*

Thanks for tagging me, Marlene! :)

I'm not actually going to tag anyone, only because I have no idea who has already been tagged vs. who hasn't but if you'd like to participate in the TBR tag, consider yourself tagged by me! ;)

I wish I could promise that exciting reviews are headed your way, but I can't. I'll hopefully get some blogging done this weekend--we'll see!--but I hope you enjoyed this post and wishing you all a fantastic weekend and week ahead! :D

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Release Day Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle, #3) 

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Release Date: October 21st, 2014

I’m not entirely sure Cabeswater is quite fictional. I cracked open the spine of Blue Lily, Lily Blue and from just the whisper of those initial words on the page, I could feel it coursing through my bloodstream. I emerge from Stiefvater’s novels blinking wildly at the sight around me. It takes a few seconds for my brain to process a mere desk, laptop, bookshelf, bed, and lamp before my eyes when, only seconds ago, I was running through the forests of Cabeswater, walking through hidden caverns, breathing life into my dreams. It’s simultaneously Stiefvater’s best and worst quality; her ability to immerse her readers thoroughly in her work and, sadly, her ability to render those fictional realms so life-like that the inevitable disappointment that I cannot, in fact, visit Cabeswater, is crushing.

But, I digress—Blue Lily, Lily Blue. After two beloved novels already published in this series, it’s easy to believe, by the third book, that you know the direction of the plot, the decisions the characters may make, or even the relationships they’ll continue to develop. Maggie Stiefvater, however, shatters every illusion you’ve harbored within the opening pages of her prologue itself and you’re taken back in time to that moment of trepidation before you cracked open The Raven Boys; that moment when you have no idea which character you’ll fall in love with, which one you’ll hate, who is about to become your soul sister, or even what the plot of the entire novel even is. Stiefvater proves to be just as unpredictable as always in Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and though reading this third novel in the Raven Cycle feels like returning home after a long, arduous year apart, its characters nevertheless manage to evolve, the plot twists and turns, and the relationship dynamics become ever-more complex. Thus, just when you’re thinking you’re going to enjoy another trip to Henrietta, your heart rate begins to pound, you lean forward in your seat, and, just like that, you’re just as frantic and impassioned and in love as Blue and her Raven Boys.

For me, perhaps the most jarring effect of Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the fact that the school year has, once again, begun. For Blue and her Raven Boys, this means that while the hunt for Glendower has not ended, it has become more difficult. Moreover, the economic gap between Blue and her Raven Boys, which felt, perhaps, diminished within the excitement of The Dream Thieves, rears its ugly head again. Blue Lily, Lily Blue marks the first Stiefvater novel I’ve read since attending college and, as a result, I find myself all the more grateful for the economic diversity Stiefvater writes of. I feel underrepresented within my economic bracket here, on my college campus, but it’s reassuring to know that isn’t the case within Stiefvater’s literature. Adam’s economic situation, as always, is keenly felt and the strides Adam makes in his thinking during the course of this novel are tremendous. But Blue, especially, stands out to be in Blue Lily, Lily Blue, not only because she has lost her mother, but also because her closest friends are looking into a future of posh, elite Ivy League schools while she herself must settle for a local college she can afford opposed to a college that caters to her academic intelligence level. Truly, I don’t mean to linger on this topic for too long, but for those of you who have felt as if the college admissions process has been simplified and far too glorified in literature up until now, you will love the harsh reality Stiefvater breathes into the situation with her latest.

But, yet again, I digress. I do not love Blue Lily, Lily Blue for its economic diversity (though that is certainly a noteworthy component to the novel), but I love it for the manner in which its characters and their relationships continue to surprise me. I wrote in my review of The Dream Thieves that though Stiefvater writes of a multitude of characters, everything she writes of somehow returns to Gansey. At the heart of the Raven Boys, at the heart of this quest for Glendower, lays Gansey. While this continues to be true in Blue Lily, Lily Blue, what struck me about Gansey in this third installment is how little we truly know of him. By the closing of Blue Lily, Lily Blue we’ve gained answers to the mystical powers that Blue and the rest of her Raven Boys possess but Gansey? Gansey still remains an enigma. But, in Blue Lily, Lily Blue he becomes a humanized one. The Gansey of this latest installment is not always the calm, collected, and put-together Gansey we’ve come to know. Stiefvater shows us the glimpses in which he morphs and isn’t quite the same person, though their essence is identical. It’s subtle, but Blue Lily, Lily Blue allows us to see Gansey through a lens of vulnerability—a term we’ve associated with everyone from Adam to Noah to Ronan to Blue—but, never before, with Gansey.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue further continues to alter the relationship dynamics simply between Blue and her Raven Boys. Noah becomes ever-more distant and otherworldly in this installment as Ronan and Adam begin to forge a tighter friendship now that Adam and Gansey are at such a stand-still in their own relationship. Between Blue and Gansey, however, there continues to be a strong stream of longing and though their relationship isn’t touched upon as much as it was in the previous installment, the scenes Stiefvater gives us are utterly bittersweet. Blue Lily, Lily Blue truly goes beyond just Blue and her Raven Boys, though. We finally get to meet Gansey’s Professor and Blue’s own relationships with the women in her house (and Mr. Gray!) take on a new significance with Blue’s mother missing. Additionally, Stiefvater introduces a slew of new characters; all of them complex, many of their roles unexpected. While Blue Lily, Lily Blue certainly furthers the plot significantly, it also leaves a large number of questions to be answered and generates new ones along the way as well, all contributing to an ending full of shock, excitement, and curiosity. Of course the wait for the next novel is sure to be unbearable but Blue Lily, Lily Blue packs such a punch that I am confident I’ve overlooked at least a dozen important clues. It’s the type of novel that, much like The Dream Thieves, simply demands to be re-read from its position on your shelf.

It hardly needs saying, but Stiefvater has outdone herself yet again. I believe she always says that her favorite book is the one she has just written and though I cannot agree with that statement, what with The Scorpio Races out in the world, Blue Lily, Lily Blue is one of her better novels. It doesn’t quite capture the madness and raw energy of The Dream Thieves for me, but it has an essence and magic all of its own. Just don’t expect to emerge from this novel unscathed and you’ll be good. (Trust me, Stiefvater just brings on ALL the feels…ALL OF THEM.)