Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

Title: The Hollow Kingdom (The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, #1)

Author: Clare B. Dunkle

Rating: 4 Stars

If you had asked me just last year, I would have told you I didn't have a favorite fairy tale. I grew up hating "Snow White" and while I adored nearly every "Cinderella" movie re-telling I'd seen, the original story was not among my favorites at all. As a child, I never actually saw "Beauty and the Beast" or read the book, until one fated French class when we saw an old black-and-white version of it in French. Granted, I didn't understand everything that was said as it was only my second year of French, but I fell in love with the atmosphere and the very idea of the tale: of finding beauty where other people could not.

Needless to say, what makes The Hollow Kingdom such a successful re-telling of "Beauty and the Beast" is its ability to perfectly capture that very same atmosphere I so fell in love with years ago. For me, the joy of a re-told story lies not in its similarities to the original, but rather in its differences. As such, The Hollow Kingdom pleasantly surprised me by being a tale, not of a love that could transform a hideous beast into a beautiful prince, but rather one of a love that could look beyond a monstrous exterior to the beauty that lay within.

When The Hollow Kingdom begins, it reads much like a Gothic mystery. Hallow Hill, the countryside residence where Kate and her younger sister, Emily, have recently moved to is a place with a dangerous past, one where young girls vanish, never to be seen again. One night, when Kate and Emily lose their way back home, they come upon an encampment of gypsies who help lead them home. Yet, these nighttime travelers are no gypsies, but goblins, who have lived under Hallow Hill for centuries. And now, it is time for their powerful king, Marak, to marry. Very quickly, Marak decides on headstrong and stubborn Kate to become his bride, but exacting her acceptance to his proposal is far harder than he imagines.

From the moment you read the first page of The Hollow Kingdom, it is virtually impossible to set the book down. Everything about it, from its dark atmosphere to its witty banter, will keep you flipping the pages frantically. Kate is the type of heroine we all love - strong, intelligent, and quick to avoid traps that most protagonists would have fallen for due to naivete. Not only does she fight fiercely against Marak's advances, but she even turns the tables on him during more than one occasion. Emily, her younger sister, is no less compelling, charming us with her inquisitive nature and deep attachment for her older sister.

It is Marak who comes across as murky, indefinite, and hard to figure out. Although Marak desperately needs Kate to become his bride - and is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to take her underground with him - it becomes obvious that he grudgingly respects Kate. As he patiently deals with the curious nature of Emily, answering her questions about his magical world, it becomes evident that whatever Marak's plans are, hurting Kate isn't one of them. Furthermore, despite his sarcastic and rather rude nature, he cares deeply for his subjects and something about him ceases to be annoying and begins to become endearing. We know that Marak is supposed to be the villain of this tale, but gradually, it becomes impossible for our hearts not to thaw towards him.

Moreover, Marak sees Kate for who she really is, not simply a beautiful girl who can continue his lineage and not as a weak-willed lady who babbles about nonsensical creatures either. As such, he respects and even comes to love the very qualities that make her such a burden to her guardians. Although both Kate and Marak are fiercely stubborn - a trait which seems to cause them both nothing but irritation during their first few meetings - it is this same quality that later binds them close to one another. All in all, the love story in this novel is flawlessly executed, all side-by-side with descriptive prose and rich world-building.

Nevertheless, while The Hollow Kingdom had me completely besotted with it, I couldn't help but be rather disappointed by the end. In retrospect, it isn't a huge qualm at all, but one of the ending plot threads, built to make Kate realize the extent of her affection for Marak, was not one I particularly enjoyed. I felt as though the same idea could have been built in a much more poignant manner and this particular scene seemed to be thrown in to rush the inevitable ending for these two characters. Additionally, the writing leads you to believe that kisses lead to babies, probably because it is written for a MG audience. While I don't so much mind the latter issue, I was expecting more of a slow-burn romance till the end rather than a sudden twist into adventure.

Yet, let me re-assure you, The Hollow Kingdom is amazing. A re-imagined tale of "Beauty and the Beast" where the beast never turns into a handsome prince is a rare and wonderful thing to come by, so don't let this one slip by your hands. Even if you can't find yourself falling for an ugly goblin, Dunkle will ensure that you do and, believe me, you won't want to leave this underground world, even for just a glimpse of the stars.

Friday, March 29, 2013

ARC Review: A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

Title: A Corner of White

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty 

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Release Date: April 1st, 2013

It always pains me to have to write a review for a book that I know very few others will truly come to love. I don't deny that there are those who will pick up A Corner of White and persevere on through its slow start to eventually like this book, but the amount of readers who will possibly enjoy that slow beginning, the way I did? Few and far between. Nevertheless, A Corner of White is a splash of color in a genre suffering from cliches; a genre where originality has become a thing of legend. As such, although it is not a book everyone will love, it is a book I firmly believe everyone should read. Or at least try to.

A Corner of White is the tale of two teenagers, both who have lost their fathers in different ways, but both who feel lost in their own worlds in the same way. In Cambridge, England, we are introduced to Madeleine, a girl who used to run away often until, one day, her mother ran away with her; away from their rich father and into the cramped flat they now reside in. For much of the novel, Madeline remains an enigma. In fact, what we do learn about her, we learn from best friends Jack and Belle. Jack, who has a massive crush on Madeleine, sees her as a spirit who won't be tied down, as someone who adds color to the world. Belle, slightly more cynical, is quick to call into question the opulent past lifestyle that Madeleine used to lead, along with her strange-named friends who seem unreal. Yet, all Madeleine really aches for is the familiarity of her father and she detests being tied down both to England and her mother who seems to be half-crazed at times. Although she is an avid fact-collector, the fact that her mother attempts to be the same - unsuccessfully - in the hopes of winning a game show competition, frustrates her. As things in Madeleine's life slowly begin spiraling out of control, it is the letters she writes to a boy named Elliot who lives in Cello, a world she firmly believes in fake, that keep her from cracking.

In Cello, a parallel world, Elliot has just returned from another fruitless search for his father. In Elliot's world, Colors are dangerous creatures that can either attack or cause the inhabitants of the towns they pass to feel a multitude of emotions. Only a few years ago, Elliot's uncle was found dead, torn apart by a Purple, next to their truck and Elliot's father and the high school physics teacher found missing. Although many townspeople believe that Elliot's father ran off with the teacher, Elliot refuses to let go of the belief that his father is being help captive by a Purple. Now, back in his town, Elliot finds that his father's shop has been rented out to the Twinklehams, that the famed Butterfly Child is due to arrive in a jar any time in Cello, and that the Princesses are on a grand tour. In the midst of this, though, Elliot finds a letter in a small crack in the sculpture his friend made and thus begins a correspondence between himself and Madeleine. Although neither of them take their initial letters too seriously, with time, their bond of friendship and trust deepens until, surprisingly, they become the solution to each others problems.

A Corner of White has so much going for it that I hardly know where to begin. Each chapter of this novel alternates between Our World and Cello with the third person narration of Jack and Madeleine or Elliot and the Sheriff of Cello. Additionally, within the sections concerning Cello, Moriarty uses excerpts from Tourist Guides to explain her world and magazine clippings written by the Princesses on their tour to give us full insight into the political system present in her fantasy realm. Surprisingly, this method worked very successfully, mostly because it was used sparingly. Nevertheless, through it and the letters Elliot sent Madeleine, Moriarty was able to paint a thorough image of Cello in our minds, astonishing me with the depth of her world-building.

Yet, what makes A Corner of White such a special novel are the characters themselves. Madeleine, as I've said before, is a protagonist we are rather unsure of at first. As we slowly glean more glimpses into her life, however, our hearts go out to her. A Corner of White, it will surprise you to know, is a classic find-your-way-in-the-world novel, only in an entirely different way. What I love is that Madeleine has been running away all her life, unable to realize who she is or discern the harsh realities of her past. Only now, through strong friendships, bonds with the mother she never truly knew, and a grounding home is she able to look into herself and see the blessings she's been bestowed in life. Madeleine, in particular, enjoys metaphors and when she is assigned a project to become Isaac Newton, she begins to see him in every aspect of her life. Although I am never one for enjoying extended school assignments, especially in novels, the facts dispersed throughout this novel about Newton only served a greater purpose and the clever allusions and larger metaphors all came back to pleasantly blow my mind.

Along with Madeleine, though, Elliot too is lost in his world. Despite being the "star child" of his town, Elliot doesn't know who he is without his father or without the purpose of finding him. Yet, though Elliot is revered in his town, we can see that he has a bitter side to him as well. Using his wit, Elliot manages to sabotage any business the Twinklehams attempt to begin in his father's mechanic shop. Very cleverly, Elliot and his tight group of five other friends offer to fix broken items themselves or take them, free of charge, to the stores of other mechanics. As such, we can see that Elliot is not as perfect as he seems to the world. Moriarty shows us the dual sides, the depth, to her characters in such subtle ways that we continue to love them, but in the back of our minds, these alternate personalities still linger.

If you thought that was clever, though, just wait till you get to the last page of this novel. Although A Corner of White is a slow story, with Elliot and Madeleine simply living their lives and dealing with the problems that life throws at them, all while writing to each other, it does have a greater plot thread that emerges towards the end. And, trust me when I say that the wait is worth it. A Corner of White reads suspiciously like a set-up novel to a great series - and it is one - but as a stand-alone too, I find myself to be utterly in love. It is, very honestly, a strange novel, but it is one that is so easy to understand and resonate with, without even trying, that you cannot help but utter only one word when you're all finished with it. Beautiful.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mini-Reviews: A Straight Line to My Heart & First Grave to the Right

Title: A Straight Line to My Heart 

Author: Bill Condon 

Rating: 4 Stars

While I wish A Straight Line to My Heart was a little longer, it was perfect in its own way and utterly adorable. Seriously, don't let it's simplistic cover fool you - it's a novel that is deep in its subtlety, beautiful in its originality, and heart-wrenching in its happiness. I'm glad I took the time to savor this quick read - not to mention underline half the phrases in it! - and I know this is one I'll be thrusting upon others because it is just that good. 

Although a small book, A Straight Line to My Heart packs a punch. It is a story of people; of reality; of life. It doesn't have too much of a plot, revolving around Tiffany working as a journalist intern over the summer and her relationship with her adoptive brother Bull, adoptive father Reggie, and best friend Kayla. Yet, despite the fact that it charts the events of a typical summer holiday, it is an unassuming little tale of growing up. 

What I love the most about A Straight Line to My Heart is that it's such an intelligent novel. I couldn't help but go highlighter-crazy with phrases that made me both laugh out loud and mull over them for minutes. Tiffany's voice is fresh and realistic, wise and amusing, making you instantly fall in love with her tale. Even better, though, is the fact that so much of her life is focused on family, despite the fact that Tiffany isn't related by blood to those she considers to be her own. Each one of these characters truly come alive on the page; their problems and worries, dreams and aspirations, heart-aches and joint pains burying themselves deep inside you. Condon, proving to live up to the ideal that Australian authors really are better than everyone else out there, ensures that despite their likability, his characters remain realistic...authentic, really, to both their role in Tiffany's life and their role as humans too. 

I just want to say for a minute that Condon's writing is different from most I've come across. It is a quiet, almost hidden kind of prose, one that is slow and soothing, lullaby-like but engaging. It is extremely thoughtful and combined with his writing style, the ordinary events of these extraordinary characters become momentous journeys. Whether it be the growing together and apart of the friendship, the meets-cute of the romance, or just the tender affection felt between family, each of these seems so much more special and realized in this tale. A Straight Line to My Heart is truly a tale I can't say much about because more than anything else, I feel so much for it. It is genuine, heart-breaking, and compelling and even if you're the most cold-hearted person in the world, this book will melt even your heart. 

Title: First Grave to the Right (Charley Davidson, #1) 

Author: Darynda Jones 

Rating: 2 Stars/DNF

Usually, when I wind up disliking a book the masses have loved, I am the last person to be surprised. I do, after all, have a penchance for being the black sheep; a tendency, if you will, to rarely give out high ratings. With First Grave on the Right, though, I don't think anyone is more surprised than I am. Unfortunately, this novel is a clear cut case of 'it's not you, it's me.' 

Quite honestly, I am still struggling to come to terms with the fact that I did not enjoy this book, or as much of this book as I read. Jones has written a hilarious, engaging, and perfectly fun paranormal romance and, against all odds, all I found myself doing was finding fault with it. I suppose, technically speaking though, this book is flawless. Charley Davidson, the protagonist of our tale, is intelligent, brave, and witty. With every word that flies out of her mouth, you can't help but love her and, to top that all off, she's the Grim Reaper, responsible for convincing ghosts to leave the waking world and pass through her into the light. Add to that mix a sexy guy who gives Charley erotic dreams and who may or may not be a ghost and we have on our hands a perfect novel. 

Or so it would seem. In reality, I found that the famed humor of this series got old - quickly. Sure, Charley is snarky and her dialogue will ensure you don't fall asleep, but the conversation lacks depth. In fact, for a Private Investigator, Charley does less investigating and more ogling. Not only does she seemingly have facts handed to her because she can talk to ghosts, but she has no problem walking around talking to thin air and looking like a maniac. Granted, she doesn't do this in public all the time, but it seemed odd to me that only three-four people knew of her gift when she flaunted it everywhere like a madwoman. It simply screamed unrealistic and for some reason, I was unable to move on past that, imagining Charley talking to the air while other people stood staring at her in a room. Hmm... 

Even more than that, though, is the fact that the romance in this novel is seriously...odd? It seems as if there's a bit of a love triangle at first with Charley utterly intent on finding the guy of her dreams, Reyes, while her co-worker is bent on dating her. Nevertheless, it's obvious from the beginning that there is only one man for Charley, but I never felt invested in this aspect of the story at all. For one, Reyes and Charley have only met once and that was years ago when Charley helped fend off a man who was beating him, only to have Reyes threaten her with rape if she didn't leave him soon afterward. Of course, Reyes was only looking out for his younger sister and his actions can be forgiven - I guess - but either than seeing him as a figment of Charley's dreams, a mist that followed her and make her knees weak, there didn't seem to be much to him. 

Ultimately, though, this novel lost my interest, turned me off with its constant humor, and I wasn't exactly the biggest fan of Charley or the writing style, especially the manner in which the murder mystery in this case was tackled. A story of three lawyers all dying on the same night is fascinating, but throw in a ghost who discusses the hotness of Charley's co-workers with her and all seriousness is lost. I guess you need to really love humor and especially urban fantasy-lite to be a fan of this series and I guess I'm just one of those few people who doesn't. Regardless, I'd encourage readers who plan to read Darynda Jones to give this series a try. With such a huge fan base of lovers, there's clearly something wrong with me. 

Reviewer's Note: Is it bothering anyone else that the pairing of my mini-reviews is completely random? Actually, there are no similarities whatsoever with A Straight Line to My Heart and First Grave on the Right. Sorry! I need to work on pairing my mini-reviews better...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review: Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices, #3) by Cassandra Clare

Title: Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices, #3)

Author: Cassandra Clare

Rating: 2 Stars

For some reason, it is always easy to write a review for a book you dislike. When you have to write a review for a book you love, the words don't come because too much of it is feeling and less of it is tangible though. For a novel you dislike, though, the snark just flows without thought. Unfortunately, this doesn't apply for a book that gutted you, leaving you bitter and disappointed in the end. Just like novels that you hold dear to your heart, stories that upset you leave behind more emotion than what can be expressed with words. As such, I hope you will forgive me for this review. I fear it may ramble, it may deviate from the topic at hand, and it may leave many fans of this series shaking their heads at me. Sorry.

I suppose the best place to start at is the beginning. Shortly after finishing Clockwork Prince and giving it 5 Stars, I more-or-less made a decision to not pick up any more of Cassandra Clare's novels after Clockwork Princess. I had read - and loved - the first three books in her Mortal Instruments Series, but after CoG, I refused to continue because I loved the ending of CoG too much and, frankly, could not take the drama. After CP, I began to realize that the majority of Clare's future works were all similar to her previous ones and I was quite convinced that she didn't have too much more to tempt me as a reader. Yet, I was ecstatic for the release of CP2.

Like every other fan out there, I theorized and pored over both CA and CP until I was certain that the ending could go only one possible way. Until I was sure it had to play out either like this or like that with no leeway in the middle because, surely, anything else would ruin the series. I suppose then, in some ways, I have only myself to blame for the crushing physical pain I felt after finishing this book. Clockwork Princess disappointed me in the worst of ways. Although it contained Clare's tell-tale wit and humor, her classic writing style that flowed beautifully, and her usual depth of character, it failed to charm me.

Objectively speaking, CP2 does everything a good finale should do. It ties up the loose ends alluded to in the previous two novels perfectly, it leaves us without any lingering questions or doubts, and the romantic entanglements are all cleared up. Nevertheless, after the half-way mark of this book, something happened and slowly - very slowly - everything began to fall apart. Although I had cracked open the spine of CP2 and was enjoying it, my mind began to drift after awhile. While everyone else was clamoring about their emotional upheaval, I was reading, calm and cool as a cucumber.

After the half-way mark of this book, it began to both get better and worse. What I loved about CP2 was the fact that it shifted to the third-person perspectives of other characters. Although Gabriel, Gideon, Cecily, Charlotte, Sophie, and Henry had always been important characters, they never got their own spotlight to shine in - until now. All of their individual story arcs came together beautifully and CP2 surprised me by giving me a strange amount of emotional attachment to the Lightwood brothers. In fact, if it wasn't for the perfect balance of depth and action that was present within these secondary characters, I suspect CP2 would only garner one star from me.

Ultimately, what really went wrong were the characters themselves. It felt as if, all of a sudden, they had all just gone mad. I found myself flipping back to check that I hadn't accidentally pre-ordered some strange new version of Alice in Wonderland where Mad Hatters reigned supreme and was, in fact, reading CP2. Will, Tessa, and Jem are characters we have been with for the past three years now. We, the readers, know them inside and out just as well as Clare herself probably does. We remember their words, their actions, their anguish, their pain. Thus, to have them disregard much of what makes them uniquely them - for them to brush aside certain personality traits and perform actions that they would have normally never performed - was shocking.

Clockwork Princess disappointed me because its main characters behaved out of character. If you don't believe me, then just re-read Clockwork Prince and make a list of things that Will, Jem, and Tessa would never do to each other. Actually, just make that list after reading half of this novel. After that, you can proceed to watch as they do all of those actions, which essentially disregarded their respect for each other as well as mine for them. Without giving away spoilers, it is difficult to elaborate on this point any further, but just know that the main characters took decisions in this book that they would have never taken because of honor, respect, and pride. For me, the fact that they made those decisions was surprising more than anything else and, from there on out, the rest of this novel, particularly the ending, seemed too unrealistic for me to wrap my mind around and fathom.

Veering away from the love triangle temporarily, I have to admit that I was expecting a little more of a mind-blowing revelation from Clare. Yet, that being said, the ultimate explanations, although not wholly surprising to me, were still satisfactory and the final showdown, despite being one I wouldn't hesitate to label as "lame", was still excellently written. In all things concerned with plot, CP2 does not disappoint. We find out just who Tessa is, what her abilities are, how she came to be, all the manner in which we find out is all very cleverly revealed throughout the course of the novel.

As such, the only real complaint I had with this book seems to be the love triangle. For me, the unrealistic actions of the main characters in turn made this love triangle turn out to the way it did. I have no qualms about who ended up with who, but the very fact that it was unrealistic, that the epilogue raised more questions than it answered, that I found myself doubting all the traits I'd pegged on these selfless friends...all that just made me bitter and upset. I will admit, though, that CP2 brings to light the depth of the bond between Tessa, Will, and Jem and, in some instances, this was handled very well and with emotion. For the most part, though, I can't say I was satisfied at all.

Maybe I'm a cynic, so I'd warn you all to take my review with a grain of salt. A few. Nearly all of my most trusted friends have loved this and I am thrilled for them - I wish the same on every other reader who opens this book. I hope CP2 is the type of action-packed and emotional ending you all hope it is because, to be frank, disappointment is a terrible feeling. Although I'm done with this trilogy - and with Cassandra Clare, too, I presume, unless she writes something set out of this universe - the joy and love of reading is one I am not finished with. CP2 leaves me feeling as if I should avoid all love triangles - which I will - and all trilogies - which I might - for as long as I live, but I cannot disregard that these characters will stay with me, the way I remember them best, from CA and CP.

Monday, March 25, 2013

ARC Review: Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

Title: Going Vintage 

Author: Lindsey Leavitt

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: March 26th, 2013

If you're looking for a book that is cute, fun, and a complete time-pass, Going Vintage is the book for you. If, however, you're hoping to get a little more depth from this novel, a little more insight into the life of a teenage girl, I'd suggest Melina Marchetta's Looking for Alibrandi instead. You see, Going Vintageisn't a bad book - not at all - but it's kind of silly. It seems like that from the cover and synopsis too, but I guess I was just expecting something a little more, especially with all the praise for this author. In other words, this was interesting and engaging, but ultimately, just kind of forgettable.

Going Vintage starts out with Mallory, the protagonist of our tale, discovering that her boyfriend, Jeremy, has an online girlfriend he's been cheating on her with. Upset over this obvious betrayal, Mallory decides to swear off of technology, which seems to be the bane of her existence at the present, and live life like her grandmother did in high school - vintage. Ever since finding her grandmother's high school yearbook - where her grandmother looked more than just a little happy - and a list of goals, Mallory decides to follow in her grandmother's footsteps and find happiness again. What she doesn't quite count on is the interest of Oliver, Jeremy's hipster (but VERY hot) cousin, family secrets, or even that a research paper could be so hard without the internet.

Within the first quarter of this novel, I considered dropping it on probably...three or four occasions. Really. Going Vintage gets off to a slow start, telling us of Mallory's messy break-up and then just...continuing on with it. We see Mallory's family, all which are important to the tale, but the real story doesn't really begin until we meet Oliver. Mallory and Oliver have known each other for awhile, but when Oliver helps Mallory form a pep club in their school and then finds out his cousin dumped her, he begins to hang out with her more and, surprisingly to her, Oliver actually gets Mallory. Unlike Jeremy, he understands her witty jokes and the two of them become close friends...until something even more begins to brew between them. What I love about the budding relationship between Mallory and Oliver is that it is solely based on conversation. We can see how compatible these two are from their discussions and understanding of one another and best of all, Oliver knows how to treat a girl right. Mallory, just through with a messy break-up, needs space, which Oliver truly respects. Without a doubt, this romance is very easily the best aspect of the novel.

Unfortunately, that's the only part of Going Vintage that is truly great. You see, family plays a big role in this book, which I appreciated, but it was a little...underplayed, I guess. Mallory, first of all, is a rather endearing protagonist, despite her silly habits. I found her relationship with her younger sister, Ginnie, to be charming, full of realistic squabbles and affection. Leavitt obviously attempts to build a bond between the women of this novel, establishing their solidarity; this is a more successful plan in the mind rather than on paper. Ginnie and Mallory have a complex relationship with their mother, who has a complex relationship with her husband, who in turn has a complex relationship with his mother. Ginnie and Mallory also have an ever-changing relationship with their grandmother and these threads were all set-up to come together perfectly - which they did - but without the desired effect. to explain this? Looking for Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta's debut novel, is a perfect example of contemporary done brilliantly. Why? Well, it explores the life threads between three generations of women in a deep and heartfelt manner, truly touching the reader. Going Vintage attempts to do something similar with the family situation in this novel and while a valiant effort for sure, it doesn't even begin to compare to Marchetta. Nevertheless, what it does manage to do is establish the fact that although life may have seemed easier without technology in the past, it was still full of heartbreak and confusion. I love that Leavitt made this such a modern story as it really does appeal to today's teens and connect to issues that we all have with technology from time-to-time.

Ultimately though, I have to say that if you're used to reading deep, heartfelt contemporary, you might want to skip this. If you generally pick up a contemporary read for the romance, then you definitely don't want to miss the love story in this book - it's perfect. Yet, it wasn't enough to make up for the lack of connection and depth I felt with other aspects of this novel. It was a very cute story and sweet read, one that I don't regret spending time with, but I doubt I'll remember it for very long after.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Showcase Sunday (#23)

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.

Not only has it been weeks since I made a Showcase Sunday post, but it has also been many, many, many books that I have bought and received since then. MANY. Thus, I really do apologize for the length of this post. I'll try to go through them all as quick as I possibly can - promise! 

For Review: 
I've been meaning to read Feeling Sorry for Celia for years now, but I just haven't gotten around to it. In fact, the only Moriarty novel I read was The Spell Book of Listen Taylor which wasn't all that impressive, but I'm still quite excited to read to this one. Also, I just love that cover!
Siege and Storm (Grisha, #2) by Leigh Bardugo
You have NO IDEA how excited I was to receive this on my doorstep two weeks ago! I was SO EXCITED! And, best of all, I just LOVED this! In my opinion, it's even better than S&B, although many readers may disagree with me, but it is bound to satisfy all fans of this series! :)
Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
Wild Awake is the first book Edelweiss has approved me for. EVER. It's like...a miracle! I'm so excited to read this one and I cannot wait to dive into it soon!
Funnily enough, I hadn't even heard of this until BAM! raving reviews of it starting flooding my newsfeed. I knew I just has to get an ARC of it and - surprise, surprise! - Edelweiss approved me! AGAIN! *dies*
As a New Adult novel, this has received quite a few mixed reviews, but I'm curious enough to give it a try. It sounds a little like The Sea of Tranquility in the sense that they both share similar themes of broken identities, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed I enjoy this one as much as I did TSoT!
September Girls by Bennett Madison
THAT COVER! It is, hands down, my favorite cover of the year. Of late, I've been avoiding requesting books I'm not at least somewhat sure I'll like, but I haven't read even one early review of this one and am planning on going into it knowing nothing. Both the cover and synopsis have caught my eye, so I'm hoping this one turns out to be as good as I hope!

After reading Maja's glowing review of this one, I knew I had to get my hands on this. I finished it last night and simply LOVED it. Very highly recommended.
Although I was ecstatic to start this one, I wound up being really disappointed by it. A lot went wrong for me, but I know the majority of readers have enjoyed this, and I'm glad. It just didn't work out for me. *sigh*
Amber House by Kelly Moore
I've been meaning to read this for awhile, so when I saw it on a bargain books sale, I knew I had to pick it up. It's been a long time since I read a gothic mystery, so I'm very excited to pick this one up soon!
I've heard a lot about this trilogy and when I saw it in a bargain books sale - along with nearly all the other books I bought this week, by the way - I couldn't resist picking it up. Very excited to be giving this a try soon!
Hawksong is the first of a fantasy series I only recently discovered, but as it's about shapeshifters and magic, it seems right up my alley. Actually, the version I picked up had all five books of the series in one, so it's absolutely huge - a little terrifying to read, but I'm excited regardless. 
Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy
First of all, this isn't a series - it's a dualogy! I love the idea of two books instead of three or four or ten, so I'm excited to read this one because of the quicker pace. Plus, it sounds extremely unique and out of the handful of my friends who have read this, they've all loved it, which bodes well for me!
I don't think I can adequately emphasize what a godsend this book sale was for me. I've been looking for this book for a long time and even though I checked it out of a distant library once, I never had the time even to start it. At last, I shall join the throng of fans for this series! 
I loved Hubbard's latest novel, Wanderlove, and re-read it too many times to count. Although Hubbard's debut has received mixed reviews, I'm determined to read it, simply because Wanderlove is one of my all-time favorites. Ever. 
It seems as if no one knows that Gayle Forman wrote another book. And I found it. More Gayle Forman? YES PLEASE!
I kid you not, I bought the first six books in this series. For $5. I'm telling you, the bookstore I found is like heaven on earth. Anyway, I'm addicted to this series as of now and am through with Bone Crossed, Book 4. If you're a fan of adult urban fantasy and werewolves, you need to get on this. ASAP!
It seems as if this is one of Marillier's lesser-known - and loved - trilogies, but the entire set came so cheap that I couldn't resist it. And, as I always say, the more Marillier, the merrier! ;)

After reading Heidi's spectacular review of this one, I knew I had to get my hands on it and pleasantly surprised myself by loving it as much as I did. I'll have to get my hands on the rest of the series soon!
I was originally rather averse to this one, mostly because of the pink cute-sy cover, but I wound up simply LOVING it! Very highly recommended.
Yet another novel introduced to me by Heidi, and one that I've been dying to read ever since I finished A Face Like Glass. Very excited to get into this one!
FINALLY! I have the sequel to Wolfskin, the best book I've read so far this year and I am SO EXCITED to read this. If only the length wasn't so daunting. And the size of the font.
I was introduced to this through Wendy's lovely review and from the moment I saw the word "werewolf", I knew I'd wind up loving this one. I am counting down the days until I finish my ARCs so I can pick this one up!
I've heard a lot about this one, so I when I saw the audiobook in my library, I checked it out on a whim. I doubt I'll have the time to listen to it soon,'s worth a try, right?

Well, that's it for this...month? I feel like I'm drowning among review books, library books, and books I myself just desperately want to read. Nevertheless, if you're going to drown, what better way to do that by suffocation of too many books? ;) What did you get this week? I can't wait to see, so just link me up and I'll be sure to visit! :D

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review: On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves

Title: On the Island 

Author: Tracey Garvis-Graves

Rating: 3.5 Stars 

On the Island is a novel I finished with one thought: "why the hype?" Sure, it's a great love story, well-written, and keeps you flipping the pages, but does it really deserve all the hype it has gotten since its release? I don't think so; I've certainly read more profound and deep romance novels before and while I certainly feel as if On the Island offers something new to this rather - admit it - formulaic genre, it wasn't anything mind-blowing in the least. Nevertheless, there is something to be said of a novel that takes hold of you and doesn't let you set it down until you're finished with it and while I may not love On the Island, I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the lives of these three-dimensional characters that Garvis-Graves has created.

Anna, a thirty-year-old English school teacher, and T.J., a sixteen-year-old cancer survivor, are on their way to a summer of learning where T.J. will (hopefully!) catch up on the academic education he missed while being treated for his cancer. When their pilot suffers a heart attack, however, their plane lands and now the two are stranded on a beach, alone and without any means of survival. Against all odds, however, these two do survive - for three years in fact. While the first-half of this novel, the survival story part, wasn't overly impressive to me, the second-half detailing Anna and T.J.'s slow return to human civilization and their difficulties in coping with a relationship with such a huge age gap in-between them, certainly was.

You see, the first-half of this story requires a certain suspension of belief on the readers part. For me, at least, survival novels or programs always have a quality of unreality about them as often times, I can't fully grasp that something that bizarre could really happen - or that humans could survive through all that. Thus, some of the events in the first-half of this novel seemed a little too convenient or implausible, but that might just be me. It was still an extremely engaging first-half, even though I wasn't completely on board with romance either. It is a slow-developing type of love story, which I normally enjoy, but I felt somehow detached from this one. Perhaps it was the fact that this love story started out as lust; T.J. is a growing teen and when a grown, attractive woman is parading around in her bikini in a hot island, he is bound to want her. Similarly, a woman who has been estranged from civilization for three years and sees a boy grow into an attractive man in front of her eyes is going to want him too. Thus, their love story seemed to breed out of circumstance and physical attraction and while these two certainly did understand each other, I never felt as if it was one of those "meant to be" or truly fated romance. After all, when two people only have each other for three years, love is, once again, just bound to happen.

It was only when T.J. and Anna finally were rescued and forced to acknowledge their relationship in the face of society and its norms that I finally grew to love these two as a couple. While their interactions on the island were forced since they only had each other to rely on, the steady manner in which they both made an effort to make their relationship work outside of necessity, since they did truly love each other, completely won me over. It was all very realistically portrayed, with Anna having to deal with potentially never being hired as a teacher again, T.J. having to catch up on his education and find a job, Anna wanting to start a family since she was gradually getting older and older, T.J. trying to discover himself all over was all achingly real and the age gap between these two made this novel one that readers of varied ages will be able to relate to on a very personal level.

Thus, while I wouldn't call On the Island an excellent survival story - because I have read better, although the survival aspects of this were remarkable feats to endure - I will admit that it is a worth-while love story. T.J. and Anna face so many hurdles in their relationship and to see them work over it, come to understand each other, give each other space, etc., was heart-warming. More than anything else, it was that that eventually made me fall in love with this story. Although I don't believe On the Island is quite as impressive as much of the hype suggests, I do think it's a romance all contemporary fans should read, simply because it is so different from anything else out there and its characters feel so very real. Garvis-Graves has another novel ready for publication this summer and while I may not be the first person in line to get my hands on it, I'm already looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Blog Tour: Otherborn by Anna Sweat (Guest Post & Giveaway)

I am thrilled to be welcoming Anna Silver to my blog today for the blog tour of her debut novel, Otherborn.

Title: Otherborn (Otherborn, #1)
Author: Anna Silver
Release Date: April 4th, 2013
Genre: YA Dystopian/Science Fiction
Confined within Capital City’s concrete walls, London keeps an impossible secret: she dreams. And she’s not alone. Her friends are seeing themselves in “night pictures” too, as beings from another world. Together they uncover the story of their avatars, astral shamans they call Otherborn.

When one Otherborn is murdered and another goes missing, London realizes someone is hunting them. Escaping along the Outroads, they brave the deserted Houselands with only their Otherborn to guide them. Can they find their friend before the assassin finds them?
Ten Things That Inspired OTHERBORN

Writers can find inspiration anywhere. Writing fiction in the vein of fantasy, paranormal romance, or sci-fi, really throws open the gates to inspiration— nothing is off limits. Nothing is too weird, too kinky, or too implausible to be fodder for the fiction writer’s imagination. My YA debut, Otherborn, can be compressed down to a couple of major influences, but in truth, a lot went into shaping my characters and the dystopian world of the Otherborn. I don’t have time to list them all, but in order to stimulate your own imaginative reflexes, here are just ten of the things I pulled from to make this novel.
1. Otherkin
I first read about the Otherkin subculture in a magazine called PanGaia. I was instantly fascinated by the concept of people who experienced memories of past lives in which they were something other than human. To me, it just had fantasy/sci-fi written all over it.
2. Robert Moss
I’m obsessed with dreaming. I spend a fair amount of time recording and interpreting my own dreams, as well as reading anything I can about them. My favorite author on this subject is Robert Moss, who has written a ton of books on all aspects of dreaming as well as traveling the world giving workshops. It was while reading Dreamways of the Iroquois that the idea for astral shamans came to me, based on an experience Moss described in the book.
3. Reincarnation
Reincarnation is one of those fascinating topics that excites the imagination, whether it’s ultimately a part of your belief system or not. But the reincarnation stories that really interest me aren’t the ones where someone remembers they were Cleopatra or Joan of Arc, it’s the ones where someone remembers they were something entirely nonhuman, like a being from another dimension, or a plant deva, or even an animal.
4. Recycling
So, the green movement is all the rage and for the most part, everyone agrees it’s a good thing, though there’s a lot of talk about some people using it for personal financial gain, political power, and so on. I couldn’t help imagining a dystopia where green goes wrong. Picturing the dark side of recycling led to this world where “new” is stigmatized and reprocessing rules.
5. Gasholes
My husband is a lover of all things conspiracy. We watched this great documentary about oil and gas tycoons deliberately covering up new energy technologies in order to protect their outrageous profits. And living here in Houston, the major industry of oil and gas is right under my nose. Both of my parents and my grandmother worked for an oil company growing up. How much truth is behind the speculation in a documentary like Gasholes, I can’t say. But it makes for a great dystopian culture.
This one’s kind of a cheat. Technically speaking, I didn’t watch Thrive until after I wrote OTHERBORN, but it has been a big inspiration in writing the sequel and I wanted to give this documentary its due. Once again, my husband’s passion for conspiracy theories led me to this great documentary about renewable energy vs. power and greed. You can watch it online for free if you’re interested:
7. Punk Music
I’m not one of those uber hip types who’s up on all the indie bands or big into the music scene. I have friends to do that for me (you know who you are). I count on them to keep me posted on what’s exciting and up and coming with music. But one of my favorite genres of music since I was a kid has been punk. Again, don’t shout band names at me, I probably won’t know them. But I really wanted to write a female protagonist with the kind of bravado and grit it would take to front a punk band. Enter London.
8. Vintage
I love vintage anything. Mainly just because I love the treasure hunting experience of digging through a whole lot of crap to hit hipster gold. Creating a world where old, antiquated, and vintage are the new underground currency sounded like a dream come true. If only I could turn my own thrift hunter abilities into that kind of cash flow.
9. Shamanism
Alternative religions, indigenous cosmologies, myth, magic, Joseph Campbell…all of these things stir my imagination. Shamanism is fascinating to me because of the similarities it carries from one end of the world to the next, one century to the next. There is something very primal that seems to be a common thread in all of us; that weaves its way through shamanic practices. I’ve loved the idea of writing about characters that were shamans of some kind for a long time.
10. Astral Travel
Astral travel, astral projection, astral planes— we’ve all heard of these terms. And most of us have been curious. Through my dream research, I’ve come across some pretty extraordinary stories about astral travel from the people who experienced them. My own dreams have often bled over into real life, through precognition or healing results. There aren’t a ton of novels centered around dreaming or characters with supernatural dreaming abilities, and it felt like a natural choice for me to write one. 
Anna Silver grew up with a passion for words, books, and storytelling. She began writing as a child and eventually landed at St. Edward’s University in Austin where she studied English Writing & Rhetoric. She has always nurtured a vivid imagination and a love for art, expression, and fantasy. Currently she resides in the greater Houston area with her family and pets where she continues to read, write, and dream. Otherborn is her first published novel.

Thanks for stopping by, Anna! I love hearing about the different things that inspired authors as it always gets me more excited to read their novels and Otherborn seems like something unique - finally! - in the genre of YA Dystopian/Sci-Fi! What do you think?

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Just Another...Book Crush (#2): Small Damages by Beth Kephart

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 actually real Small Damages back in January, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, even though it's been two months and I've read a plethora of novels in between then and now. I figured, with all the thinking my brain was doing about this book, it only felt right to spread this never-ending crush with the rest of you, so it is with great excitement that I welcome Beth Kephart to my blog today! :)
It’s senior year, and while Kenzie should be looking forward to prom and starting college in the fall, she is mourning the loss of her father. She finds solace in the one person she trusts, her boyfriend, and she soon finds herself pregnant. Kenzie’s boyfriend and mother do not understand her determination to keep the baby. She is sent to southern Spain for the summer, where she will live out her pregnancy as a cook’s assistant on a bull ranch, and her baby will be adopted by a Spanish couple. Alone and resentful in a foreign country, Kenzie is at first sullen and difficult. She begins to open her eyes and her heart to the beauty that is all around her and inside of her.
It’s hard to believe, I’m sure, that I spent a decade of my life working (off and on) on the book that became Small Damages, but ask my husband, ask my son, ask the friends who said, Keep going. I always had the setting—that cortijo in southern Spain that I had visited with my family. I always had an old cook with a secret, an old man close to dying, a pack of fighting bulls, flamenco gypsies, the heat, the sun, and some one or two young people in the midst of ancient dust. I had all that. But it took me a long time to find the story that Small Damages became. I needed Kenzie—a young American girl with “a problem.” I needed love of another kind—the kind of deep, enduring love that I, as a mother, will always understand.

But in 2004, the book, which was written in alternating voices, began with this small moment from Terese, who was the daughter of the man who owned the cortijo and had been raised by the cook after her own mother died. Terese, oddly enough, would someday become a minor character in another one of my novels called House of Dance; I just couldn’t let her go. Many of the scenes in this version of the book would realign themselves to tell Kenzie’s story. This small scene reveals how continuously obsessed I was with the inscrutable qualities of a true cook’s kitchen.
She disappears as quickly as she had appeared, into the unlit cave that is her kitchen.  Leave it to Stella.  I hear a spoon inside a pot, I hear the creak of the oven door, I hear the water going on and off, and I will not disturb her.  How she does what she does in that cramped and dingy space is nobody’s business but Stella’s.  “Let me buy you a new oven,” my father has said.  “I know this oven,” Stella has answered. “Let me buy you a new set of copper-bottom pots,” I have said.  “Where would I put them?” she has answered.  Nobody new here would know that Stella had a boss.  She is the boss of the meals of Los Nietos, and my father and I don’t contradict her.
            The table is laid.  I have slapped the dust from the old loveseats, though they still smell of the stables where they’d been stored until yesterday, when Esteban and Manuel dragged them from in there to right out here.  They’re ugly things, these old loveseats.  Ugly loveseats that smell like horse and look rather stupid in the sun.
            The spoon in Stella’s pot is angry.  The water goes off and it goes on.  I cannot hear the gypsies singing.  They’re still far away, in the dust.

Just Another...Book Crush! 
To write about three book crushes—well, that’s easy, sort of. I write about the books I love weekly on my blog, Beth Kephart Books. Let me choose three recent love fests and share the links to my blog, in case you wish to know more. I will warn you though. I love books in which language matters as much as story. That’s a good thing for many people, but not a good thing for some. I love that we all have so many books from which to choose.

1. In the Garden of Stone by Susan Tekulve
"You know how it is when you steal that time to read the book you desperately want to read? I have been stealing that time...let me say that this generational book about the south and southern Italy (yes, they combine to perfection here) is so brilliantly built and quietly affecting that I could choose any single paragraph and it would impress you."

2. The Colour of Milk by Nell Lyshon
"And there, on the front table, I found The Colour of Milk, by Nell Leyshon. I had never heard of it or her, but because I am forever milking my own metaphors, I was intrigued. Read the first two lines.  Bought it.  Finished it on the flight home. Held it to my chest—this riveting, fierce, enveloping, and I-know-you-want-to know-what-it-is-actually-about book, so let me explain that in a line or two. The Colour of Milk is the story of a girl in the year 1831 who has learned literacy, but at a terrible price. Milk is her story, her confession. Milk will break your heart. "

3. Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
"I consider it a triumph every time I snare a sensational book and actually read it. So consider me triumphed again—discovering Swimming Home by Deborah Levy in Philadelphia's Thirtieth Street Station bookstore (a tiny clutch of a space that has yet to fail my good-book greed) and reading it on the way to Penn and back, then in a fold of early morning hours. ...This is the kind of book I love—dangerously intelligent, smashed and dared, big themes on a small stage, more revealed by the brave elisions and planted repetitions, the near repetitions, than most authors can disclose declaratively."

Beth, thank you so much for stopping by today! Quite frankly, I think it's astounding that this novel has been worked on for ten years, but it certainly shows in the writing and intense subtlety this novel contains. Also, the cooking aspect of Small Damages was one of the best, making this both extremely unique and playing a larger role in the relationships between characters, drawing them together over a love of food. I'm thrilled that this was present in the original draft too and, needless to say, I'll have to get myself a copy of House of Dance at once!

Also, I haven't heard of any of the novels you recommended, but they all sound amazing! Beth sent me links to reviews of her favorite novels that she posted on her blog, so I took the liberty of sharing some of my favorite lines from those lovely reviews. If you like Beth's writing style even remotely, I cannot recommend Small Damages enough. It's the type of book whose words and phrases you can get lost in. (You can read my review for it HERE.)

Anyway, what were your thoughts on Beth's post? I, for one, am thrilled that so far, each author has taken the fluidity of this feature and approached it differently. I'm thoroughly enjoying it, so I really hope you are too! :)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sarra Manning

Title: You Don't Have to Say You Love Me 

Author: Sarra Manning 

Rating: 3.5 Stars

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is the type of novel whose story you can predict from the synopsis itself. You know, even before you crack open the spine, that it's going to be a typical romantic comedy, a chick-flick, just like the thousands you've already seen, but you're willing to give it a try anyway. Or, at least, I was. Granted, I picked it up primarily because I wanted a taste of Sarra Manning's writing for adults after enjoying her YA Novel, Adorkable, so much last year, but like with Adorkable, Manning's adult romance surprised me with its unexpected depth and poignancy.

With You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, Manning creates a very Bridget Jones-esque protagonist. Neve is an intelligent young woman who works in an archive in London, but she's also a highly insecure one. Ever since she was in high school, Neve has been mercilessly teased about her weight. As such, she's always believed she was fat and has taken great pains over the past three years to lose weight. Even with her weight loss, though, she isn't happy. For Neve, happiness is a size ten dress and impressing her intellectual soul mate, William, who is in LA. William, who is returning in just a few months, is who Neve believes to be her Mr. Right. Not only is Neve preparing herself physically for William, but as a 25-year-old inexperienced with sex, she desperately wants to be prepared for a relationship as well. Thus, after a string of unsuccessful blind dates, she winds up fake dating Max, her sister's boss and a resident man whore.

As you can expect from the synopsis, Max and Neve fall in love, some drama ensues because they both have problems, and really, I am quite, quite sure you can guess what happens when William returns to London during the last couple of chapters of this novel as well. Yet, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is a fantastic novel, despite its predictable plot. What makes it such a page-turner (really, I could not put this down!), is that its protagonist, Neve, is so very endearing. From the first page itself, her voice is genuine, authentic, and easy to connect to. Although her constant cribbing about her weight can be a little irritating after awhile, it's obvious that her insecurities are real and not simply a statement to garner attention.

While I loved the manner in which Manning explored Neve's insecurities about her weight, using it as an issue that affected every part of her life and truly developing her thoughts about herself as her relationship with Max progressed, I did also have a few bones to pick with it. In some ways, Neve is a convenient heroine. As women, we all feel self-conscious at times, especially with the marketing industry the way it is and with Victoria's Secret models strutting around on TV and in magazines. Yet, for Neve, her obesity was genuine: a woman who used to be a little over three hundred pounds dropped to under half her weight. Thus, her insecurities were all based upon her bullying and the very real past since Neve was a big woman. On one hand, I appreciated that Manning took Neve as she was now, at just a hundred and fifty pounds, and made her still as insecure as she ever was; she took a woman who was curvy and made her see herself as perpetually fat, which is the reality for a lot of women. At the same time, however, I wish she had chosen to explore this image crisis for other women too. We get glimpses of Celia, Neve's sister, upset that she's very stick-like or even other women complaining about her bodies, but this book was so utterly focused on Neve and women just like her that it felt a bit too exclusive for my liking.

In addition to that, Neve's happiness with herself and who she was is directly linked to Max. Max and Neve's relationship progresses in a very realistic manner, with them both setting boundaries on their fake relationship and not truly trusting each other with their personal issues until much later. With such a large novel, Manning is able to really make this work over the course of a few months. Yet, we also see that when Neve is finally happy with Max, she ceases to care about her weight. While this is a great thing, I almost felt as if it gave the wrong message across. You don't need a man to have sex with you to feel good about your body image. You just don't. You can be single and STILL be perpetually happy and not dieting or constantly weighing yourself. I wish that at the end, this message was a little more clearer. It felt like the moment Max was out of the picture, it was just back to more and more diets.

Again, this is because Neve was bullied so badly for years - and that her bully happens to be her sister-in-law who lives downstairs and STILL bullies her - but, then again, isn't this just the exclusivity I was discussing before?

Nevertheless, despite my qualms with this novel, I really cannot stress enough that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Although it is a hefty book, it never felt too long or drawn out and while I frantically flipped the pages of this novel, I wasn't really worrying all that much about the issues I mentioned above. Instead, I was enjoying the hilarity and authenticity of Neve's narration and her blundering, romantic, and utterly sweet relationship with Max. Max has his fair share of problems, as does Neve, and the fact that he makes Neve eat properly and cares for more than just her appearance is so wonderfully brought across. While Neve's self-image is linked to the fact that she has a boyfriend, it is also evident that Neve has come a long way from the person she was in the beginning of the novel and still does, potentially, have a long way to go. Sarra Manning has written a novel that is compulsively readable, relate-able, and will keep you reading and laughing until the wee hours of the morning. Although this book tackles some very real and serious issues, it was such a cute contemporary that I genuinely loved it. In fact, I am honestly torn about rounding this up to 4 Stars because my lower rating doesn't truly reflect how much I enjoyed the novel. Whether it be in adult romance or young adult contemporary, Manning is an author I can count on for a delightful and romantic reading experience. Guaranteed.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Confessions & Recommendations: Breaking the News of a Mini-Break

Well...this is awkward. I'm not quite sure how to go about writing this post. I bet you're all just skimming through this anyway, wondering why the title of this is so morbidly cryptic. It's amusing how worried readers get over the word "break", even when there's a "mini" in front of it. Quite thankfully, for you all at least, I am not an author. At least not yet. Which means that I am generally not in the habit of making people cry, scream, or fall into depths of depression because their hearts have been shattered repeatedly over the course of just a few hours. I know, authors are vicious people.

Onto the real purpose of this post, though. I am taking a mini-break. Not because my honeymoon with blogging has ended (believe me, it is still going very strong), not because I don't have dozens of reviews backlogged (I do!), and not because I'm fed up of reading (impossible!). Instead, I'm actually taking a mini-break against my wishes. I know, I'm being forced to leave you all bereft of my reviews. For one week. Yes, ONE WEEK. I told you this was a mini-break!
So why a week? Why this week? Well, the simple reason is because I won't be in town. I'm going to Washington D.C. for a week from school and I'm absolutely thrilled! For those of you who know me well, you'll know that I love nothing more in my books than a heavy dose of politics, so what better place to embrace politics than the capitol of America itself? I last visited D.C. when I was only three years old, so it's been nearly a decade and a half since then, hence the reason I desperately want to go. Not to mention, all my friends will be there too! ;)
Well, now that that's out of the way, I do have to confess to something. Namely that, off late, I kind of haven't been reading. You all must have been The Lost Conspiracy on my "Currently Reading" Shelf for the past week, but I'm only on page fifty. Why? Well, the thing is, sometimes, instead of reading new books, all I feel like doing is immersing myself in an old one. It isn't even strictly re-reading. Instead, I open the book to a random page, start reading, finish up the chapter and either flip back or forward to read some more again. I'm honestly not quite sure if other people do this and ever since I've started blogging, I try to limit myself. I could spend weeks just doing this with all the beloved books on my shelves, but off late, I haven't, simply because of the desire to keep on reading. I find the number of books I haven't read yet to be quite daunting.

Thus, I figured that since I've leaving and confessing, I might as well be recommending too, right? I've compiled a list of some of my favorite novels, the ones I repeatedly return to on my shelves when I just want some comfort reads or am in the mood for characters I already know and love.
The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

I love this series. Love. It. It's definitely my favorite fantasy series out there, no matter what I may say about being a Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fanatic. Quite simply, this series is perfection, in the most complex of ways. KoA is the third in the series and by far my favorite, merely because of the transformation the main character, Gen, undergoes in the eyes of whom he's king. Whenever I pick it up for a re-read, though, I always find myself slipping into the well-worn and underlined passages of dialogue between Gen and Irene. I can never fully wrap my mind around their unique romance and although extremely subtle, it is probably one of the most swoon-worthy by far.
The Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill

I came across Cry of the Icemark half a decade ago, but I fell in love with it upon my first read. Even now, as a much older reader, I am unable to fall out of the magic within its pages to acknowledge the flaws it most certainly must have, like any book. For me, it remains a testament of fantasy in my childhood, of strong warrior queens and warlocks, of talking snow leopards and vampire treaties. Yet, most of all, it is a story of war and loss and hope and faith. It's a masterful work of magic and politics and every time I re-read it, I cannot help but get lost in the witty dialogue and honorable diplomacy within its pages. Just do yourself a favor and don't pick up the sequels: this first book, perfect as a stand-alone, remains the best.
Wanderlove by Kristen Hubbard 

Confession: I like this more than Gayle Forman's Just One Day. For me, Kristen Hubbard managed to nail the perfect travel novel with Wanderlove, and especially with her artistic protagonist, Bria. Whenever I re-read this, I am caught up in the descriptions of South America all over again, not to mention the slow-budding romance between Bria and a hitch-hiker she meets, Rowan. Guys, Rowan literally quotes books. I kid you not. Granted, he's a bad-boy through-and-through, but a reformed one and I can't get enough of him or the unexpected depth he has as a romantic interest. Wanderlove just transports me to another place in a matter of phrases, a contemporary magic all of its own.
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Out of all of Melina Marchetta's novels, this is probably the least favorite of many, along with Looking for Alibrandi. Naturally, since all my tendencies simply go against the norm, this is my most favorite of all of Marchetta's book. Sure, Jellicoe Road, The Piper's Son and The Lumatere Chronicles may be her best work, but that doesn't stop this from being my favorite. I love Francesca and a good tale of friendship between strong girls always makes my day. I also find that there is something so bittersweet, yet unbreakable, about the romance in this. Will and Frankie have a long-distance relationship, as we can see in The Piper's Son, but the strength of their bond always blows me away. I love going back and reading and re-reading their rocky start, one that led to a lifelong relationship of faith. Everything in this, from friendship to romance, and especially to family, makes my eyes tear up every time. I just love it.
Fire by Kristen Cashore

I feel like the world should be fed up of me talking about this book already. It should, but if it is, too bad. Until everyone on planet Earth reads this book, I will not tire of talking the cover off of it. Fire is very easily my favorite book, even though its cover is red and red is a color that looks worse on me than even yellow does. Quite honestly, though, I can't even explain why I love this book so much. I love every scene in it, every dialogue, every introspective word. It speaks to me. Fire isn't a kick-ass fighter like Katsa, the heroine of Graceling, the predecessor to this novel. Yet, she is just as strong because of her inner courage to keep moving on, even in the face of war, crime, and destruction. I am more than happy flipping this book open to any page when I pick it up, simply because Fire's interactions with each and every one of these characters is so important and complex. Everything, from war, politics, royalty, and romance is woven into this. Also, it is my favorite romance ever. I can never get enough of Brigan and Fire, their deep understanding for one another, their appreciation, their honest and equal relationship...everything about it is a model for life itself. If I'm feeling happy, elated, upset, or just down, I can count on Fire to cheer me up or brighten my mood, no matter what. I just hope everyone has a book like that in their lives.

Honorable Mentions
I've re-read all of these books at some point, but they aren't the ones I come to flip and re-flip the most. Not sure why, but it it a simple truth. 

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: I love Anna's narration and honestly, I can never get enough of St. Clair. Who can? Just simple scenes like these two sitting in a theater are sizzling with chemistry that I can't resist.
Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken: I just adore the characters in this one, not to mention a good curse, politics, and flirting scenes that can make me smile, no matter how many times I re-read them.
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley: In all honesty, this book transports you into the streets of Australia, which is possibly why I hate opening to a random page in it since my brain insists I start at the beginning. I can't resist the poetry dispersed between the pages of this, though, or the dialogue. So beautiful.
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier: We all know this book is way too sad to re-read, but the beach scene and the ending pages are too perfectly serene for me not to return to, time and time again.
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson: I only recently read this - so recently that I haven't even posted my review for it! - but I loved it. It's filled with poignant phrases or poetry and the romance is so butterfly-inducing that it makes me swoon every time. It's the perfect blend of happiness and sadness, making for a perfect read, no matter what type of mood I'm in.

Well...that's all for this week, my lovely readers! I hope you all have a fantastic week ahead, read lots of amazing books, and post many wonderful reviews for me to read when I return! When I get back, you can anticipate another Just Another...Book Crush! post along with an ARC review or two! I'll miss you all, but hopefully I'll find time to get through a few novels with my Kindle! *fingers crossed* :)