Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Title: Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss, #3) 

Author: Stephanie Perkins

Rating: 5 Stars

Sometimes, you can just feel when a novel is about to change your life. Isla changed mine.

Stephanie Perkins knows the deepest corners of my heart; the spaces where the darkest secrets and most tragic insecurities lie. In Anna, Lola, Isla--in them she painstakingly reveals, piece-by-piece, the fears I hesitate to lay before even those most beloved to me. But, in doing so, she reminds me that I am not alone in my swirling thoughts. To sit down and curl up with a Stephanie Perkins romance is to lose yourself in the flesh-and-blood ideal that you are human; you belong on this Earth. You, with your quirks and flaws and bad parts, are not an anomaly.

I experience such a personal, visceral reaction to the tales Stephanie Perkins weaves. In Isla I could not help but become lost in the lines of Josh's artwork, the strokes of his dreamlike love, or the coils of tension which dictate their tragic love story. Perkins does little to re-build Paris, for location is of next to no importance to either Isla or Josh. Where Anna comes to realize that her home is St. Clair, Isla and Josh measure their romance in distance. Josh returned three hours ago from D.C. Josh's flight left two hours before Isla arrived. Josh is seated across the table from Isla but it feels as if he is across the Atlantic. It's curious, to me, that I re-call my favorite scenes from Anna based on their setting. That heart-warming reconciliation atop Notre Dame. When Etienne buys Anna a collection of love poetry from Shakespeare & Co. Or that moment when St. Clair rests his foot against Anna's in the movie theater as they watch a screening of "It Happened One Night." With Isla it feels as if every moment of the novel melts fluidly together. Isla. Josh. Isla and Josh. Their limbs intertwined, their hearts beating as one, their silent spaces.

In comparison to Anna and Lola, both which read--from the surface--to be "just another" contemporary romance with a blossoming love story, indomitable hurdle, and all-too-happy reconciliation, Isla is intense, explosive, and--dare I say it?--sensual. It feels distinctly foreign from any brand of American romance, merely because it is such a tangle of limbs, mess of hearts, and all-round love affair. What Isla and Josh share is far more than a simple love affair but the pacing, the sensation, the hit-you-in-the-feels emotions...surely nothing but the movies can feel this way? But Stephanie Perkins not only forces you to believe it on paper, she makes you believe it in life too. I want a romance like Isla and Josh; passionate, understanding, and messy. Forget Anna and St. Clair, Lola and Cricket, because Isla and Josh are the love story I never even knew I craved.

Like I said, this woman knows my heart better than I do.

For readers, Isla will most likely surprise, not because of its protagonist, but rather because Josh comes alive in a manner we never knew possible until this tale. We imagine we know him through Anna's lens but, in truth, it's such a tiny facet of the person he truly is. What I love most about Josh, beyond his encompassing, incredible artistic talent, is the fact that he is far removed from the ideal boyfriend. Not only is he on the verge of being expelled from high school but he treats those threats with disdain, ignoring high school for he believes he has found his true calling. On paper, I wouldn't want to know Josh, let alone date him, but through Isla's eyes we grow to see him as more than the qualities which define him.

Yet, for me, Isla remains the soul of this novel. Whether it be her insecurities, her strengths, her weaknesses, her mistakes; I understood her. I felt connected with Anna, likely because of her initial out-of-body experience in arriving to Paris and, later, because it's simply impossible not to root for her. With Isla, though, I felt a kindred spirit. I'm not petite or pale or ginger. I don't share Isla's physical appearance and, even mentally, I am not nearly as introverted or painfully frightened as she is. But I used to be. And, even now, I sympathized with Isla's struggle to break out of her bubble. Even now, I feel scared about my unknown future and the adventures college may bring--but like Isla, I'm more excited than scared. I lose myself in a book. I use studying as a coping method to forget about the difficulties in my life. I typically have nothing but time on my hands to devote to school work that when I do decide to pursue an endeavor solely for myself or take time to meet a friend it shows in a slight drop in my GPA and the unfairness of life hits me all over again. So many lines in this novel felt as if they were straight out of my head that I could scarcely believe it. Isla, in many ways, chronicles my own journey of growth, albeit in a far more romantic way (isn't that always the case, though?).

Moreover, Isla is the romance novel I've been clamoring for; the one which explores the hurdles in making a relationship work. With Isla not only must Isla come to terms with the tight friend circle Josh shares outside of the school they both attend but Josh, too, must learn how to ingratiate himself into Isla's already-established lifestyle and friendships. It's a dance, in so many ways, finding that perfect space where real life, friendship, and romance can all exist as one and, as Perkins writes it, it isn't easy. Not in the least.

I could go on about Isla for ages and, likely, still be unable to reveal anything concrete about the story without spoiling the tale for you. It's passion. It's adolescence. It's growth.

It's Stephanie Perkins. Of course it's goddamn perfect.

You can read my review for Lola and the Boy Next Door here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Just Another...Book Crush (#16): Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley (Interview & Giveaway!)

Just Another...Book Crush! is a monthly feature where I invite an author whose book I've recently reviewed and loved to write a guest post and share their three latest book crushes. It's a feature I'm starting mostly because I'm often very shy to approach authors, especially ones I admire, and also because I love reading guest posts since, more often than not, they convince me to pick up a book even when the reviewer cannot. 

I'M ALIVE! I moved into college on Monday and ever since I've been busy, busy, busy. You'd think I'd have a bit of time to just breathe and figure out all this college stuff, but NO. I've been thrown into Orientation and running around campus, finding buildings, and in general plastering a smile on my face in case I run into my future Best Friend For Life has been exhausting. So forgive my minimal online presence and, instead, welcome Joy N. Hensley to the blog! I looooved Joy's debut novel, Rites of Passage which I'll hopefully be reviewing soon (hopefully!). When I approached her to write a guest post for the blog she mentioned that she'd prefer an interview instead so, forgive my lack of creative questions, but I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did. 

Also, Joy was sweet enough to send me amazing swag for her upcoming novel along with extras which I will be giving away below. Since it's my birthday today I suppose you can treat this as a bit of a birthday giveaway! ;)
Sam McKenna’s never turned down a dare. And she's not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died. So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud-crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She's even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won't risk her future, or the dare, on something so matter how much she wants him. As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they will stop at nothing to drive her out. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active… and determined to force her out.At any cost. Now time's running short. Sam must decide who she can trust...and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.
1. First and foremost, thank you for agreeing to participate, Joy! I'm so glad you were able to make it onto the blog today. I knew next-to-nothing about you prior to your debut but after reading Rites of Passage I found out that you yourself had been to military school before. It is evident throughout your novel as the story and experiences feel so authentic. Were any of the scenes from Rites of Passage similar to your own life? Could you explain the process of fictionalizing a real experience and molding facts from your life into this tale? 

Thanks for having me, Keertana! I looked over your questions and realized I was going to have to take a little bit of time to think about them and actually craft some answers. It was actually a learning experience for me. I had to think past the basics of Rites of Passage and dig for the answers. I did go to military school, on a dare, in fact. There are a lot of scenes in Rites of Passage that could every easily have taken place. Near the beginning there's a day-long event called Dedication Day where the recruits have to show what they've learned in their "boot camp" week. I took a lot of that from the school I went to. I'm sure other military schools do something similar, but I'm not sure when in the training it happens. There's another scene in the book later on where the drill sergeant is doing some physical training with the recruits in the hallway. He turns the lights out and plays a song--the song I chose for that scene was very specific and that type of training was done by my cadre.

It's important to note, as you did in your question, though, that this book is definitely fiction. I survived my military school dare, however I didn't thrive. Basically, when I started to write Rites of Passage, I wanted to tell the story of how I *wish* I had done, and Sam is the character that embodies that. Were there nice upperclassmen? Yes. Attractive ones? Definitely. There were also cadets who didn't live up to the uniform and ones who still (after forty years of being co-ed) believed that females didn't belong on campus. Were there secret societies at my school? I don't know. There were whispers of them, as there are at many old, traditional universities. Would I call them out? Heck no! :-) But all of these facets went into creating this book, Denmark Military Academy, and the cadets who inhabit the novel. Is any one character true to life? I don't think so, not 100%, probably not even 50%. But, as with any book written by any writer, there were people that I drew on for inspiration and character building.

2. What stood out to me the most about Rites of Passage was the overwhelming feminist manifesto throughout. Sam, as a woman, is discriminated against for attempting to enter a predominantly male society and career. Was it your intent to write Rites of Passage with such a strong feminist focus or did you rely on experiences of female soldiers who have also undergone similar forms of discrimination in their field? More importantly, do you feel as if Sam's determination to push through the dire circumstances she finds herself in is due to her own sheer will or was it an intentional shout-out to women's rights? 

Wow, you're using some strong language in this question! I'm not sure I'd say feminist manifesto so much as feminist undertones , maybe? My intent was just to write a kick-ass female character, you know?

I didn't want Sam to have to depend on boys to get her through. I wanted to write a character who was okay with herself, who didn't need a boyfriend to feel important. I wanted to show how friendships in teen years are so much more important that relationships and how it's okay to not be dating all the time. Life can take us so many different places and while I love a good romance just as much as the next girl, it's important to see that we can love ourselves and be okay with ourselves. 

It's nice to be loved and held and kissed and swept off my feet, but I want someone who believes in me, too. Someone who understands that I need to accomplish things on my own and I don't necessarily need to be rescued.  As a teacher, I see so many girls who think they aren't worth anything because they don't have boyfriends. 

But that's not what life is, you know? 

Life is about finding out who you are and who you want to become. If it takes putting relationships on the back burner for awhile, that's okay.  Every single girl deserves to know that she is capable of whatever she dreams. She might need help, she might need friends along the way, but she can do anything!

3. Over the course of Rites of Passage Sam grows and changes, both mentally and physically as she finds herself training both harder and longer. Could you explain the process of creating Sam's growth arc--as it pertained to her military household, her blooming romance, and the brutal hazing she suffers? 

Sam's a pretty strong main character with pretty strong convictions about the way life should be. Throughout the book, I needed to make sure she questioned what she believed in. It's not enough to say "This is what I believe." You have to be able to answer the inevitable "Why?" that comes next. So for a character like Sam, I had to shake her to her core, which meant putting her through some pretty horrible things regarding her family and the hazing. She had to realize on her own that not everything is black and white, good and bad. There are gray areas to everything, but it's where you stand in the gray that makes you who you are. At the end of the novel, I hope it's clear that Sam understands the why--not only of her beliefs--but of the other characters' beliefs as well. 

4.  Lastly, I cannot help but ask: is there any possibility of a companion novel or sequel? What else can you tell us about your current projects? 

Right now Rites is a stand alone, but that doesn't mean there won't ever be a sequel or companion novel. How's that for a non-answer? :-)  Right now I'm working on my second book for Harper Teen called The Harder You Fall. I can't say much yet, but it takes place in the world of mixed martial arts.  

Thanks again for having me and for the great questions! Did I pass the test? :-) I hope everyone enjoys Rites of Passage.

Thank you so much, Joy! I don't doubt for a second that everyone is truly going to enjoy Rites of Passage--seriously, what a treat! :)


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Saturday, August 23, 2014

ARC Romance Mini-Reviews: I Want it That Way by Ann Aguirre & Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan

Title: I Want it That Way (2B, #1) 
Author: Ann Aguirre
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: August 26th, 2014

Aguirre's I Want it That Way is a relatively unexceptional piece of literature. It isn't the New Adult Series I'd recommend on a whim but, an important distinction to note is that I also wouldn't warn away from it. For me, it seems to be a new milestone in New Adult literature when I can find a novel that steers clear of slut-shaming, misogyny, rape, or other over-used tropes. Thus, though I hesitate to say it, Aguirre's I Want it That Way belongs to that new milestone of New Adult; not remarkable but a far cry from terrible too.

I Want it That Way is, at its core, a romance novel. Nadia moves into a two-story apartment complex and finds herself living above Ty, the gorgeously sexy single-father who works by day and studies by night. Nadia and Ty have chemistry--they can feel it, even from the vertical separation of a few feet, but with his son and complicated lifestyle there is no place for Nadia in Ty's life. But as Ty spends more and more time with Nadia he finds it more and more difficult to stay away. Just a brief place-holder relationship until The One came couldn't hurt, right? But what if The One was there all along and Ty just won't open his eyes...?

I hardly feel the need to touch upon the love story within I Want it That Way. Just the way I like it it's a slow, tortuous burn and I appreciate the fact that Nadia and Ty get to know one another on an emotional, mental level before they broach a physical relationship with one another. It isn't easy for Ty to let Nadia into his life and, similarly, it isn't easy for Nadia to choose to be with Ty. Ty lives the life of an individual at least another decade older than he really is and for Nadia to adjust to that--and vice versa--is tough. Aguirre leaves no stone unturned, however, in exploring their relationship and its struggles and I found it a delight to read. Moreover, I really enjoyed Nadia's collegiate experiences bleeding into her romance. Whether it be a tiff with her best friend and roommate or lending a shoulder for another friend to cry on, the dynamics of these four roommates and Nadia's role in the midst of it, juggling her school work with her social life with Ty, was not only a balance to have to live through but also to write. Granted, Nadia's experiences as a college student are not the focus of this novel but their presence enhanced the tale and brought Nadia's unique decisions into broader perspective. Perfect for a lazy afternoon or a stormy night, I Want it That Way is quick, entertaining, and satisfying. While you can certainly ask--and expect--more from both Aguirre and New Adult, this is likely the best you'll read of them together.

Title: Talk Sweetly to Me (Brothers Sinister, #4.5)
Author: Courtney Milan
Rating: 4 Stars

I find myself utterly charmed by the notion that the Brothers Sinister novellas shine brighter than their full-length companions. Whether it be The Governess Affair, A Kiss for Midwinter, or--now--Talk Sweetly to Me, each of these three novellas have contained tender, heart-tugging romances whose brevity worked to their advantage. That's not to say I don't adore the novels which make up this memorable quartet (or that I treasure A Countess Conspiracy or The Suffragette Scandal any less), but it simply wears easier on the heart to adore smaller volumes.

Stephen Shaughnessy, the infamous advice columnist for a women's magazine and a self-proclaimed feminist to boot, finds himself falling for the inexplicably brilliant Rose Sweetly. From the surface, Rose appears to be timid, shy, and painfully quiet. Not many know of her nor do they recognize the mathematical genius she possesses--but Stephen has. Initially having met Rose on the street, Stephen finds himself constantly seeking an excuse to bump into her, probe her analytic mind, and emerge from their discussions a different man entirely; one whose world-view has been shifted, ever-so-slightly. When the opportunity presents itself for Stephen to learn from Rose, employing her as his tutor, he eagerly pushes forth his luck. Stephen claims not to be seducing Rose but his every interaction, word, and gesture is simply too sweet to be true...or is it?

Talk Sweetly to Me is a novella of intense longing. From the beginning itself, Milan presents us both with Rose's perspective and that of Stephen's as well. Juxtaposed alongside one another it isn't difficult to see that both parties are already besotted with each other--they just don't recognize the full extent of their affection for one another. Thus, to read of their crackling dialogue, witty banter, and charged movements is only to prolong the agony, the wait, the slow-building sexual tension. Moreover, as can only be expected from a novella with a title of Talk Sweetly to Me, the story is extremely, extremely sweet. Not only is Stephen, known as a notorious rake, a complete gentleman at all times but he never allows Rose to lose sight of herself, which I love. What's more, as a colored heroine Rose adds another dimension to the otherwise Caucasian-dominated historical romance genre. From her early struggles as a woman pursuing the STEM fields to the drawbacks she faces (and witnesses!) due to her race and the color of her skin, Talk Sweetly to Me isn't always laughter and charm. Over such a short expanse of pages Milan manages to pack an entire era, truly, but all with Stephen and Rose's romance remaining sharply front-and-center. Despite the fact that there remains a tinge of bittersweet longing for more of the Brothers Sinister in my heart, Talk Sweetly to Me is a short, all-consuming love story with the sweetest of endings. Truly, the perfect coda to a perfect quartet; I can't wait for more, Milan.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

Title: Into the Darkest Corner

Author: Elizabeth Haynes

Rating: 4 Stars

I remember looking up from this novel, expecting it to be around 11:30 in the night and finding it was pushing past 1 AM. Like the bibliophile I am, though, I told myself I'd just finish the chapter I was reading but it was 2:40 when my traitorous eyes, struggling to stay awake, forced me to close the book and drag myself to bed, only barely remembering to shut the lights off.

I don't read too many thriller/horror novels. I relish the creeping sense of suspense, the hint of dramatic flair, and the embroiled emotions involved with such stories but, seeing as horror movies keep me anxiously awake late into the night, I often convince myself such books will do the same.

Into the Darkest Corner, however, is the perfect blend of thriller, horror, and contemporary fiction--all just with a hint of romance. Make no mistake, Haynes's novel is a dark one. Within these pages you will find graphic and gruesome detailing of an abusive relationship, domestic violence, and rape. Yet, it is an impeccably written and thought-provoking account of the type of day-to-day horrors people experience--and we often want to forget. Into the Darkest Corner is told in alternating timelines of 2004 and 2008. In 2004 Catherine Bailey went to a bar in a red silk dress and began an intense relationship with a man she met there, Lee. In 2008 Cathy Bailey lives alone in an apartment, aloof from her co-workers and neighbors, frantically checking and re-checking her locks for fear of her ex-boyfriend, currently in jail.

With every chapter alternating between Catherine and Cathy, it is impossible not to become utterly sucked into this tale. Catherine is young, friendly, flirtatious, and sexy; she drinks into the night, she finds different men to take home every week, and she discards her loneliness in a sea of friends. When she meets Lee--handsome, intelligent, caring--at first neither she nor her friends can believe her luck. While Lee keeps odd work hours and often dodges career-related questions, their relationship is stellar in every other regard--particularly in bed. Yet, week by week, month by month, Catherine begins to realize that her perfect relationship is not quite as it seems. Lee isn't so much besotted with her as he is obsessed with her, eager to control every aspect of her life from who she meets to when and where she meets them.

Reading Catherine's experience, side-by-side with Cathy's present-day problems as a result of her abusive relationship with Lee, is jarring. Catherine and Cathy hardly seem like the same person but, gradually, we can see how Lee's influence has Catherine become the cautious, timid, and often scared heroine that Cathy has become. Cathy suffers from both OCD and PTSD and the vivid descriptions of her symptoms--their direct influence in inhibiting her day-to-day lifestyle--are depressing. I found it difficult to read, particularly as my mother suffers from mild anxiety attacks on occasion and reading of a much more severe version of a similar illness was truly upsetting. Haynes captures Cathy's life so realistically, though, her facts spot-on as Cathy abhors any slight change to her schedule. Including her new neighbor, Stuart. Stuart is a therapist and recognizes Cathy's symptoms upon meeting her but their relationship isn't easy. In fact, juxtaposed with the ease in which Catherine fell into a relationship with Lee it's downright difficult.

But I really, really loved Stuart. First and foremost, he never "saves" or "heals" Cathy. If anything, he gives her the encouragement and support that she needs to seek help and follow her treatment. Moreover, their relationship isn't centered around Cathy's illness but rather around her. Reading Catherine and Lee's volatile relationship is like seeing a painting; the end result without knowing the work that went into it. Even when Catherine likes Lee, before he begins to hurt her, Lee hardly takes the time to get to know the real her, the one beneath the party-going and fun exterior. By the time he should, it's already too late and Catherine is terrified, desperately seeking a way to escape. Suddenly, their entire relationship becomes about Catherine's fear; the desperation she feels as Lee isolates her from her remaining friends and alienates her, alone and hurting. In contrast, Stuart seeks to know Cathy as an individual and as they fall in love, despite the stumbles and mistakes in their courtship, we know it's real; it's genuine and it's here to stay.

Into the Darkest Corner, however, thrives off of suspense. First, it's the suspense in Lee and Catherine's relationship--the unanswered questions. How did Catherine get away? When did they catch Lee? What mistake did he finally make that allowed Catherine to escape? Due to the short, alternating chapters it is never possible to forget Lee. Even when Cathy is moving on and having a good day, we remember Catherine from four years ago and the trauma she suffered--pain that still lives on in the form of scars on Cathy's body or simply the mental torture she's had to live with day-after-day. One of the strongest aspects of this novel was the fact that Lee charmed his way into Catherine's life and systematically turned her friends against her. None of them, let alone her best friend Sylvia, could understand how Catherine could be unhappy with Lee. So what if he was intense? So what if he wanted to know where she was and what she was doing all the time? Didn't she know how lucky she was to have a man whose world revolved around her? Wasn't that the type of man every girl was trying to find? It's a real slap into a reality, both because Catherine's long-time friends choose to believe her short-term boyfriend instead of her and, moreover, because Lee is the kind of man girls are told to find--and that's terrifying. Not the abusive traits, of course, but the bare-bones structure of him is built from the perfect man of our dreams.

All of this only serves to make Lee so much more scarier than he could be otherwise, particularly as he doesn't look or act like an abuser; he just is one. Haynes builds a growing crescendo of suspense, here, as present-day Cathy must cope with the fact that Lee is about to be released from prison--and she's confident he's going to come after her. She doesn't know when he'll find her or how long it'll take him, but she knows that one day she'll wake up, check her apartment, and find Lee there in some form or the other. And that's absolutely terrifying.

Into the Darkest Corner was a novel I couldn't disentangle myself from. I became so worried and protective over Cathy, wanting her to find her own footing in life while simultaneously wanting to whisk her away to Mars so she could escape Lee once and for all. I haven't felt so emotionally attached to a character in awhile and it felt good, frankly, to care so much for this fictional woman and want everything to go right in her world, just for once. I love these stories; the ones that make you forget you're reading and transport you into another reality altogether. Cathy, Stuart, Sylvia, Lee...they're characters I may forget, admittedly, but the overwhelming amount of information shared in this novel about these types of abusive relationships and the suffering they can cause--that I won't forget.

I'd never read or heard of Elizabeth Haynes prior to this novel but, if her writing and command over characters are anything to go by, Into the Darkest Corner certainly won't be my last read by her.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Release Day Review: Storm Siren by Mary Weber

Title: Storm Siren (Storm Siren, #1) 

Author: Mary Weber

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Release Date: August 19th, 2014

The more I ruminate over Storm Siren the less I find to enjoy about it. I found Weber's debut to be remarkable when I originally read it, mainly because I had read the novel in a single sitting and the adrenaline rush that comes from finishing an action-packed book is difficult to beat. It makes it hard to think and upon finishing Storm Siren I was concerned for the future of the series but, still, very much in love with the characters and journey I'd found inside. Now, having put a considerable amount of time and distance between myself and Storm Siren I am able to discern that this novel, while an excellent debut, is by no means flawless. What's more, the narrative lags seem more and more evident upon reflection and I find myself in the tenuous situation of not quite knowing whether or not I'll be picking up the sequel after all.

Storm Siren begins with a clap of thunder as Nym, an Elemental, is forcibly sold at an auction and, upon witnessing the cruelty of a master towards his young slave, retaliates in anger. In Nym's world Elementals are killed at birth and, what's more, are born male. Thus, Nym is an anomaly; she shouldn't exist. With a well of power she is unable to control, however, Nym is dangerous and has accidentally murdered dozens over the course of her short life span. Wracked with guilt and loathsome of her own gifts, Nym finds herself bought by Adora, a noblewoman and court adviser who promises to train Nym. Under Adora's command Nym finds Eogan, the handsome trainer who is immune to Nym's powers and claims to be able to help her harness it.

Nym's journey is a compelling one, particularly as her entire childhood has been spent being bought and sold from one owner to another. With her white hair Nym cannot escape the features which mark her as Elemental and nor can she escape her gift. Storm Siren stands out in large part due to the gradual arc Nym experiences. When she is first bought by Adora Nym resists training with Eogan. Not only does she lack faith in his promises but she doesn't believe in herself either. Thus, to watch her grow with every experience, get up from every set-back, and move forward from a past that has been haunting her is admirable.

Yet, as Nym conquerors her inner demons and finally finds self-confidence, the world around her grows weaker and weaker. Nym, having lived the life of a slave, has traveled extensively throughout the land of Faelen. Not only does she understand the downtrodden lifestyle of these citizens better than she comprehends the opulence of Adora's world but her bond to her country could have easily been felt. Unfortunately, it wasn't. Weber swiftly shifts the focus of the novel from Nym's past as a slave to her present as an Elemental. I found this to be a necessary direction for the novel as a whole but, as far as world-building went, Storm Siren lacks a comfortable balance. Weber provides readers with just enough information to understand the immediate situation on hand. Whether it be the politics, society, or class structure of this realm, Weber is careful to always impart the bare minimum. Thus, while I could follow the story line perfectly, I felt cheated of truly immersing myself in an original and intriguing universe. Towards the end of Storm Siren the political machinations at hand, which have been building throughout the narrative, truly reach a climax and, in those instances, a deeper understanding of the prior bonds, political struggles, and unspoken relationships between the characters would have been invaluable.

Nevertheless, the world-building aside, I didn't find much else to fault with Storm Siren. Granted, Adora's characterization veered on cartoonish, at times, for she is cast as a villain and desperately wants Eogan for herself, threatening Nym if she gets too close to him. Moreover, the conclusion of Storm Siren leaves much to be desired, forcing readers to remain hanging on a cliffhanger of deadly proportions shortly after a massacre that upends the former direction of the plot. I cannot bring myself to be satisfied with a novel that leaves too much up to chance, to fate, to imagination. I needed more concrete answers, particularly after reading an entire narrative composed of character growth and politics and war. Truly, I suspect this is a series to binge-read, back-to-back, or simply drive yourself crazy with curiosity.

For all those qualms, I still enjoyed Storm Siren immensely. Eogan, the mysterious trainer whose job it is to help Nym, is a bundle of surprises and the steady romantic arc built between him and Nym is both tantalizing and heart-breaking. What I love best about Nym and Eogan's relationship is the fact that it is multi-faceted, full of hard truths and unexpected hurdles, but it still remains wonderfully rewarding. Their companionship gives and takes strength in equal measure, which I appreciated, and I only wish for an even greater dose of swoon. In addition to Nym's romance with Eogan, however, another crucial relationship at the heart of Storm Siren is the friendship shared between Nym and Colin. Much like Rossi's Under the Never Sky, there is no love triangle caused by the presence of two men in Nym's life. Instead, while Eogan's support and faith gives Nym the strength to find her self-confidence, Colin's friendship and laughter allows her to embrace life once more and emerge from the shell she once was. Both these bonds are fierce, just as is the respect between Eogan and Colin as Colin, too, is Eogan's student. Together, the three of them are an unstoppable force to be reckoned with and their relationships bring them only closer, not farther.

There is much to love and cherish within the pages of Storm Siren but for fantasy lovers for whom world-building is a deal-breaker, I'd recommend waiting on this one. Its cliffhanger is nasty, the ending is remarkably uncertain, and though Storm Siren begins with such a promising tale I remain in the dark as to where this story is headed next. Sure, I'm curious, but I'm also wary. Storm Siren is a strong YA Fantasy debut but, coming off of the Grisha trilogy, Weber leaves more to be desired. Quite a bit more.