Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Review: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

Title: The Unexpected Everything 

Author: Morgan Matson

Rating: 5 Stars

I have a confession to make: I didn't expect to enjoy Morgan Matson's novels. I know, I know--how could I make a judgement like that without ever picking them up? But something about Matson's novels screamed "summer" and "contemporary" and somehow a little too...young? But I was really in the mood for a fun, contemporary summer romance so I gave The Unexpected Everything a shot and, color me surprised, I found a new favorite novel. I genuinely loved this book. It had everything I look for in my most cherished novels--a complex parental relationship, a prickly heroine who didn't always do the right thing, a tight-knit group of friends who grew and changed, and a slow-burn absolutely swoon-worthy romance. All against the backdrop of a sticky, hot summer and I wound up reading this with my window open, droplets of rain brushing my ankles as I stayed up late finishing this novel. 

As the daughter of a Congressman, Andie has grown up in the spotlight. Whether it be a new campaign or a speech or the funeral of her mother, Andie has been photographed through it all. This summer, though, she's about to do something for herself--attend a prestigious pre-med program for high school students in Johns Hopkins. But when a scandal is uncovered in her father's office, Andie's recommendation letter is withdrawn and she suddenly finds herself with no summer plans. Not only is her father home for the summer--taking a leave while an investigation is conducted in his office--but Andie now has to spend quality one-on-one time with her father for the first time in five years, since her mother's death. For Andie, the girl who always has a plan, living each day uncharted has never come easy. But maybe this summer, she'll discover more than she thought...about herself, her passions, and her father, too. 

For me, the best aspect to this novel is Andie's relationship with her father. It clearly isn't easy for either of them to be such a huge part of one another's lives this summer. Andie's father has been so dedicated to his job that he barely knows anything about Andie's life. Andie, similarly, has been managing on her own for so long that she can't handle having a curfew or a father who interrogates her dates. While these two begin the summer on a rough path, I really enjoyed seeing as they both made efforts to get to know one another. I loved their banter, the way Andie's father made himself a part of her life, and the manner in which they slowly began to move on from the grief they experienced over her mother's death--together. In fact, I think theirs is one of my all-time favorite fictional father-daughter relationships. 

Another huge part of this novel, though, are Andie's friendships. Andie is best friends with Palmer--who is dating a theater geek Tom--and Toby and Bri. Toby and Bri are best, best friends and have been since kindergarten. Though the four of them are a unit, Toby and Bri are together almost all of the time and their lives are so overlapped that half of their school gets the two of them confused. Toby is a romantic, determined to get her rom-com happily-ever-after while Andie treats relationships as three-week flings during which she has to sit patiently through the date to finally be able to make-out with the guy. The four of them are so different but I loved reading their group texts and watching as they made their summer a magical, entirely exciting experience. They've always got one another's backs and they talk about everything, from their families to their boy troubles and I loved that. This book definitely passes the Bechdel test and though their tight-knit friendship goes through its hurdles, I thought it was such a realistic dilemma and was handled in such a mature manner. I love a bittersweet, but realistic ending and that's exactly what this gave me. 

Of course, I can't not talk about the utterly adorable romance within these pages. Clark is nervous and shy, a fantasy author who falls for Andie and takes her on a disastrous first-date that neither of them enjoy. Where Andie avoids talking about herself, Clark pushes her to open up and Andie, who is closed-off and never lets any guy get "in", immediately shuts down. But somehow, Clark gets past Andie's defenses and their love story is just too cute. Clark has been home-schooled all his life and Andie pushes him out of that bubble, introducing him to her friends and her father and giving him a summer of memories he won't forget. On the other hand, Clark makes Andie comfortable enough to open up about her life--her father, her mother, her friend group--and for the first time in her life, Andie finds herself in a relationship lasting longer than three weeks. It's such a healthy, equal relationship and though it has its ups and downs, I really loved watching it unfold. I especially enjoyed that Clark wrote fantasy and his passion for writing is just as evident as Andie's passion for medicine or animals. Andie and Clark push each other to become their best version of each other and I loved that--not to mention I fell for Clark and his dimples so, so hard. 

The Unexpected Everything was such a lovely, unexpected surprise. I genuinely didn't expect to find my next favorite of 2016 when I picked this up but now all I want to do is re-read it. I can't recommend this enough to anyone looking for a realistic, mature, and romantic summer read. It's a contemporary YA that's cute, sure, but it's also deep and talks about sex and changing friendships and familial relationships. It has so much to offer and I can't wait to pick up Matson's other novels. I only hope they wind up being unexpected surprises too!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Title: A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Rating: 4 Stars

Note: There are mild spoilers for A Court of Thorns and Roses in this review but there are NO SPOILERS for A Court of Mist and Fury (the current book). Only brief spoilers of the last novel. You can read my review of A Court of Thorns and Roses HERE

I didn't expect to enjoy this novel. While I thought A Court of Thorns and Roses was a vast improvement over Maas's debut, Throne of Glass, I wasn't a die-hard fan. The former was a re-telling of "Beauty and the Beast" with a romance that was simply too easy. Tamlin never charmed me, despite his kindness towards Feyre, but I'll admit to being curious about A Court of Mist and Fury, if only because I was fascinated by the after-effects of Feyre breaking Tamlin's curse. This sequel is darker and far more mature than A Court of Thorns and Roses. Feyre isn't a human girl trapped in a faerie court; she's Fey herself, powerful beyond measure and terrified of her past.

I always find that there is a fine line between fantasy and realistic fiction. So many circumstances which are serious and deeply worrying in realistic fiction can be explained away by magic or otherworldly nature in fantasy and I've always been wary of this. Feyre and Tamlin are both suffering from PTSD, of sorts, following their escape from Amarantha's court. While they are very much in love, their fears of the past manifest themselves in different ways. Essentially, this means that Tamlin refuses to let Feyre leave his court, trapping her within the walls of the Spring Court and keeping her in the dark regarding the war brewing outside their borders. After killing innocent lives to save Tamlin, Feyre knows that she is capable of unspeakable things and Tamlin's behavior--his refusal to see reason and give her freedom--causes her to spiral. Their relationship is volatile, full of emotional abuse and depression so if you're a fan of Tamlin, likely you'll hate him by the end of this novel. It's hard to watch and it often made me uncomfortable, if only because it's difficult to discuss issues such as PTSD, depression, or abuse within the context of a fantasy novel with egotistical males and magic free-flowing.

Thankfully, Rhys arrives to whisk Feyre away to his court, making sure that she upholds her side of the bargain. And Rhys is an absolute sweetheart. You can tell that he cares for Feyre, deeply, and as the two spend more and more time together, we grow to see that Rhys is a far different being than who we met in A Court of Thorns and Roses. I want to make it clear that though the synopsis hints at a love triangle, there is absolutely not one at all. Feyre breaks ties with Tamlin when she joins Rhys's court and their romance is a slow-burn. It isn't the main purpose of the plot and I appreciated that, but nevertheless the growing relationship between Feyre and Rhys is important and beautifully written. I fell hard for their love story and will admit to have been converted to a die-hard shipper. Oops!

Rhys's court is complex and stunning. Readers are in for a series of surprises when it comes to this High Lord and I enjoyed uncovering all his layers, not to mention meeting his close friends and becoming attached to them, as well. The secondary characters are all well-developed and Maas effortlessly expands her host of characters. It is often difficult to develop a love for more than a couple of secondary characters after their absence in the first novel but Maas doesn't struggle with this at all. We also re-visit Feyre's sisters and I enjoyed witnessing those relationships grow and change, shift and be re-built.

The plot of A Court of Mist and Fury is fascinating and edge-of-your-seat worthy. The Fey lands are on the brink of war and Amarantha's court was only the beginning. The world-building is vastly expanded upon in this novel as we travel beyond the Spring Court, not only to visit Rhys's court but others as well. Moreover, as Feyre tests the extent of her new powers, she makes new friends (and enemies) along the way.

This novel is just so good at striking that perfect balance between characterization and plot--I've come away from this utterly in love with all of the characters but also unable to stop turning the plot points in my mind, searching for clues I might have missed. Truly, this is an incredible improvement upon Maas's previous novel in this series and I am so glad I gave this series another shot. The romance is butterfly-inducing, the plot is complex and compelling, the characters are well-developed and deep, and the ending is a torment but not in the same way a cliffhanger is. All I know is that I'll be pre-ordering the sequel when it becomes available because I just have to know how this is going to end. A Court of Thorns and Roses may not have impressed but this sequel more than made up for that--tenfold.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Monthly Rewind: April

3 Things About My Life This Month

1. Your comments on my Monthly Rewind: March post truly got me through April. THANK YOU! I needed to hear all of your words of wisdom, your support, your e-mails, your comments...I needed that and, perhaps because of that, April was a much better month for me. I wasn't as stressed or overwhelmed, despite exams, and I was able to get more reading in, which always makes me happier, plus I actually got more blog posts out too! So thank you all so, so much--you cannot know how much I appreciate it. *hugs*

2. Marathon Monday was FANTASTIC! The weather was perfect--arguably the best day of April--and I had so much fun cheering on the runners! My friend just bought an inflatable boat so the two of us took it out onto Lake Waban and had the most beautiful, pleasant journey just floating along on a bright sunny day. We had the lake to ourselves because the boat house was open and I was incandescently happy.

3. I had my last Choir concert of the year! Honestly, the entire concert felt extremely surreal but by the end, I was so proud of my group and truly sorry to be singing for the last time with our seniors, many of whom have become my closest friends and mentors. We had a visiting director this semester as our usual director was on sabbatical and it was his last day, too, so we had a tearful good-bye. All in all, it was a sentimental night! Choir is such a huge part of my life here at Wellesley so I can't believe it's yet another year gone by!

Best Book I Read this Month

This is a tie between The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski and Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar. Both of these books are beautifully written and though they are completely different genres and deal with entirely different issues, I cannot recommend them enough. I posted my reviews for both of these this past month so be sure to check them out!

Most Popular Post This Month

Release Day Review: Chase Me by Laura Florand

This book is so good so I'm really glad that this post got the attention it deserved. Florand is an absolute genius of a writer. I am forever in awe of her skill and this novel was equal parts sexy, laugh-out-loud hilarious, and swoon-worthy.

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

My recent post on Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum. Buxbaum is a debut author but her book blew me out of the water. It's such an adorable novel but it deals with some hard-hitting issues and presents sex and female relationships in a realistic light. I loved so much about it, from its familial relationships to its romance--don't pass up on this one!

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to in May

A lot of things I'm looking forward to in May have already happened like Holi, Choir Banquet, and Last Day of Classes. BUT, here are a few more...
Choir Officers '15-'16 at Choir Banquet!
1. The END! I  can't wait till I've submitted that last final, you guys! This semester has been SO HARD and I am ready for it to be done, academically. I am less than two weeks away!

2. Senior Week! I'm going to staying on campus till the end of May to sing with the Choir for Baccalaureate so this means that I'll be on campus during Senior Week! The seniors have a ton of activities planned which I hope to crash and I'm really looking forward to going into Boston and maybe finding a beach or two as well. It's going to be a really lovely, quiet time to be on this beautiful campus and I can't wait to experience it!

3. HOME! I'm going home! In less than a month! HOME!

How am I half-way done through college already? Remember when I started this blog I was still in high school? Where has time gone? How was your April? What are you looking forward to in May?