Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays + End of the Year Giveaway!

Happy Holidays! 

I hope everyone is having a lovely time with their family and friends today and for the rest of this holiday season. I'm wishing you all a very prosperous new year ahead with plenty of books, coffee, and reading time! ;) 

I'll be on hiatus until January 2nd, but until then I'm choosing to finally kick back, relax, and get some reading done. While I'm gone, however, you can enter for a chance to win one of the following books released this past year. I've received a LOT of books from publishers which I don't plan to read, so I will be picking THREE lucky winners to pick a book of their choice from the pile below. I hope you find something you like, so good luck! 
Books to Win: 
Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz (HB)
The Storycatcher by Ann Hite (PB)
Torn by David Massey (ARC)
Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall (HB)
The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher (ARC)
Fractured by Sarah Fine (ARC)
Phoenix Island by John Dixon (HB)
Shadow's Curse by Alexa Egan (PB)
Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian (Signed HB)
The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher (PB)
Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick (HB)
Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron (HB)

International Giveaway!
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Monday, December 23, 2013

ARC Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Title: Roomies 

Authors: Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando 

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: December 24th, 2013

It's always a strange feeling to see the words in your head written down on a piece of paper - typed, to be more accurate - by hands that were not your own. For me, Roomies was like a pensieve of thoughts; it's as if Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr snatched the phrases out of my mind and breathed life into them, creating two characters who are not like me in the least, but at the same time, totally are. As a high school senior, Roomies hit all the right notes and while it did have its share of flaws, I found myself hooked to the page, unable to leave behind these girls who have, slowly but surely, become my friends. 

R: Romance

Although I'd usually leave the romance till the end, it just so happens that romance begins with the letter 'r' so...there goes that plan. Still, the romance in this novel is well-developed, particularly as there are two romances, one for each of the female protagonists. However, I felt as if these love stories started off better than they ended. I certainly didn't mind reading about them, but they weren't the highlight of the story - not in the least. A good romance is always the icing on the cake of any novel, and the blooming summer romances in Roomies are messy, complicated, and real. Moreover, they are different but feel right for each of these girls. And yet, I felt as if my involvement with this aspect of the story waned towards the end of the novel, sadly. 

O: Order

I feel as if order was integral to the style and format of this book. Roomies is told in a dual narration from the perspectives of Elizabeth, an only child from New Jersey, and Lauren, the eldest of six children who lives an hour away from Berkeley. Although I often struggle to become emotionally entrenched into a novel with multiple points of view, Roomies worked really well because of the inclusion of an e-mail in every chapter. As future roommates, Lauren and Elizabeth start up an online correspondence and being able to read not only their thoughts, but also their words to one another and the impact those e-mails had made the novel come alive. 

O: O-thenticity 

As a high school senior, I feel fully qualified to say that Roomies is, in fact, a very authentic portrayal of the mind-set during this time. Although I'm not quite there yet, I was able to connect with the complexity of emotions that both Lauren and EB felt. What I appreciated most, though, was the fact that Altebrando and Zarr never tried to shove their opinions down your throat. It's almost a guarantee that when a teen meets an adult, that adult tells them that they must be so excited about college or tell them that they should know what they want to major in already. Thankfully, Altebrando and Zarr do no such thing. If anything, Lauren and EB undergo a spectrum of different emotional growth arcs; Lauren realizing that the family she is often so tired of taking care of is what she will miss the most while EB comes to terms with the fact that though she may think she is ready for change, she might not be after all. Altebrando and Zarr tackle these issues so effortlessly, though, proving that no matter what doubts we go to sleep with, in the morning, we just have to be ready for the day ahead, no matter what. 

M: Mothers (and Fathers too!)

One of the most interesting aspects of this novel, for me at least, was reading the stark differences between Lauren and EB's family units. Lauren, as I've mentioned, has a large family and though it often seems as if she's another parent, her real parents are extremely supporting, constantly there for her though they can sometimes heap too much responsibility on her shoulders. On the other hand, EB hasn't heard from her gay father for nearly a decade and her mother is one of the reasons she is so eager to escape New Jersey. I really liked that both Lauren and EB lived such different lives because of the scope of issues these authors were able to flesh out. It was also a relief to see that though the relationship between Lauren and her parents wasn't bad, it wasn't ignored either. All too often, a healthy parent-child relationship is mentioned and forgotten because it doesn't pose any conflict, so it was a refreshing change to see this one explored more. 

In short, Roomies is not to be missed. A frank, honest portrayal of the teen mindset during this time period is hard to find and I am thrilled Altebrando and Zarr chose to write this. Except for a few downs towards the end, specifically with the conflict between these two girls blowing a little out of proportion and one or two cheesy romantic scenes, this book delivered beautifully. (And I know my acronym spells "room" and not "roomies", but I couldn't figure out how to write this review and didn't fully think through the acronym concept until the end... Oops!)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Showcase Sunday (#29)

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.

I know it's Saturday's almost Sunday! (And, okay, I'll admit it: I didn't have another post scheduled for today. Oops!)

For Review: 
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Blog Update: 
Over the next few days I will be wrapping up the last of my college applications and then - hopefully! - relaxing for the first time in...I don't know how long. As such, I won't be posting as regularly. In fact, after another review (going up on Monday...), I will most likely be disappearing into my bed to sleep...and sleep...and sleep. ;) But I hope you all have an absolutely wonderful holiday season and a very happy new year filled with lots of reading and even more books! :D

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 End of the Year Book Survey!

best books 2013 end of year survey
A huge thanks to Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner for creating this survey! :)

Best YA book 2013


1. Best Book You Read In 2013?

Contemporary Adult: Unsticky by Sarra Manning
Adult Science-Fiction: Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy
YA Paranormal: Haze by Paula Weston
YA Fairy Tale Re-Telling: Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh. *YAWN* After loving Nevermore I really expected more from this sequel. :/

 3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013? 

Small Damages by Beth Kephart. I really do not condone teenage pregnancies, so when I found out that this book - with its gorgeous cover! - was all about one, I really didn't expect to like it. Kephart's prose and beautiful tale, however, gave me a completely new perspective on this issue and made me fall in love with Spain, family, and food all over again.

 4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

Unsticky by Sarra Manning & A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

 5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

Kate Elliot's Spiritwalker Trilogy and Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy both totally blew my mind. Other extremely notable series I read this year include Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson Series and The Scarabaeus Duology by Sara Creasy.

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

I've discovered many fantastic authors this year, but I haven't read enough of their books to determine if they're my favorites yet, like C. K. Kelly Martin whose debut New Adult novel I fell head-over-heels for. I'm a total fangirl of Sarra Manning, though, after this year, as well as Amy Kathleen Ryan.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

I don't read a lot of mystery/thriller novels with unreliable narrators or second-person perspective, but both Stolen by Lucy Christopher and All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry were absolutely fantastic and have hooked me into this creepy genre.

 8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill read exactly like an action movie, while Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow was so haunting and captivating I couldn't put it down.

 9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

 I will definitely be re-visiting Manning's Unsticky as it is such a deep and provocative novel. I can't get it out of my head...seriously.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?

11. Most memorable character in 2013? 

 Ugh, why this question? Isn't it obvious I love ALL the characters? Stiefvater's Raven Boys are the most memorable, however, particularly Ronan. And let's not forget Kavinsky! ;)

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

No and Me by Delphine de Vigan. de Vigan is actually a French writer and her books have been translated into English, hence the reason I could read them, but they are just beautiful.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013? 

Jessi Kirby's Golden, Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light, Hilary T. Smith's Wild Awake, The Jessica Darling Series, and Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment.

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read? 

I don't know how many times I've seen Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty on the shelves of my library since its release in 2002. Way too many times, but I finally got around to reading the series and just LOVE it. Moriarty writes epistolary novels like no one else.

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

“This is our story to tell. You’d think for all the reading I do, I would have thought about this before, but I haven’t. I’ve never once thought about the interpretative, the story telling aspect of life, of my life. I always felt like I was in a story, yes, but not like I was the author of it, or like I had any say in its telling whatsoever.” ~ The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

“Right now I want a word that describes the feeling that you get--a cold sick feeling, deep down inside--when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don't want it to, but you can't stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will now be a before and an after, a was and a will be. And that you will never again quite be the same person you were." ~ A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

 17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?

Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn, The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Cat & Vai's romance in The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott, Callie's relationship with her father in Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller, and the friendship between Otter, Kestrel, and Cricket in Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

(Thank you Thomas & Maja!)

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

I actually read a fair mix of Contemporary YA, Adult Romance (Contemporary + Historical), and Fantasy.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

Vai from The Spiritwalker Trilogy & Cathal from Heir to Sevenwaters.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

Elliott's The Spiritwalker Trilogy (CLEARLY, everyone needs to read this series because it is the answer to practically every question!)

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

Come See About Me by C. K. Kelly Martin & The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle



1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2013 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2014?


2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2014?

3. 2014 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Not only has one of my trusted reviewers read an early copy of this and enjoyed it, but it's being published by Strange Chemistry which nearly always turns up unexpected gems.

 4. Series Ending You Are Most Anticipating in 2014?

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2014?

 Attend a book event and meet an author or at least meet another blogger. *fingers crossed*

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

ARC Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Title: Cruel Beauty

Author: Rosmund Hodge

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: January 28th, 2014

Cruel Beauty veered far from the track of my expectations - in the best possible way. Although this novel is marketed as being "Graceling meets 'Beauty and the Beast'", let me tell you now: there are no assassins. In my eyes, Hodge's debut works perfectly as a unique spin on a classic fairy tale; one that truly plays with its subject matter in unpredictable ways.

Its premises seems fairly simple from the surface. Ignifex, the cruel ruler of Arcadia, keeps his throne as the Prince of Demons, making harsh bargains with his citizens. Nyx winds up betrothed to the "beast" due to a foolish bargain struck by her father and, leaving behind her naive sister and unloving family, goes to live with Ignifex. Now, we'd think that a romance blossoms, Nyx finds herself returning back home, and by the time she arrives back at Ignifex's castle, she's barely in time to break the curse that hangs over them all. Right?

Wrong. Cruel Beauty is precisely as its title describes it: cruel and beautiful, both at the same time. Hodge's novel has more than its fair share of annoying tropes and irritating flaws, but what makes it excel is the fact that it plays so cleverly on this classic tale we've come to know and love. Robin McKinley has written two versions of this fairy tale - Beauty and Rose Daughter - both following the original fairy tale perfectly in the sense that Beauty is kind and Beast is caring, not evil. In Cruel Beauty, though, Nyx's heart is filled with hatred. Ever since the age of nine, she has known that her father has chosen her, not her sister, to be the sacrifice given to Ignifex in marriage. Thus, while Nyx has lived her life training to somehow break the curse on her land and kill the monster who she must live with, her sister Astraia has lived knowing that she is safe. Needless to say, despite her best efforts, Nyx's envy and hatred for her sister, her father, her aunt who is conducting an affair with her father, and her dead mother all boil to the surface, turning her from the kind Beauty with a loving family to a stone-cold woman with nothing to lose.

Similarly, Ignifex is difficult to analyze at first glance. For one, he is neither kind like the original Beast of lore, but neither is he angry and upset like the Beast of Disney re-telling. Instead, he is sarcastic and clever, intensely aware of his cruelty to others - turning their wishes into evil deeds - and oh-so-comfortable in his skin. Shade, his shadowed counterpart, is just as enigmatic and hard to place. Although many readers are hesitant to pick up a novel with unlikable characters, that's precisely what these individuals are: unlikable. And that's the way they are, deep down to their core; they can't be "cured" and no excuses are given for the way they are made, but they are merely accepted for their complex personalities, which I love. Already, with her cast of characters, Hodge has managed to make Cruel Beauty stand out.Yet, her lore is what clinches the deal. Hodge's debut is infused with Greek mythology - an unexpected surprise - but the lore is dispersed throughout the novel in a timely manner, drawing parallels between Nyx's situation and hinting at the story behind the curse of Arcadia. Ignifex's castle is a labyrinth, so with dozens of hidden doors, the secrets and clues are simply endless.

Nevertheless, where this novel truly works for me - I hesitate to speak for the throng of diverse readers in and out of the blogosphere - is the unapologetic manner in which Hodge portrays her characters. Ignifex is never "tamed" by Nyx. From beginning to end, he remains as cognizant of his evil ways as ever, not to mention just as sarcastic and quick with his wicked tongue. Nyx, too, never turns into the kind Beauty we've come to know. Instead, she is constantly just as guilt-ridden and flawed as ever. And yet, these qualities are not detriments to the tale. Hodge never hesitates to expose the hidden underbelly of cruelty that we are all capable of. Moreover, Ignifex and Nyx are not merely defined by their bad traits - they are defined by their redeeming ones too. Cruel Beauty examines the idea of redemption and of the blurred line between black-and-white so very perfectly, it is nearly shocking. I love that Hodge dares to explore the psychological ramifications these two individuals face; the effects of karma and their inevitable fates. Although her characters are so starkly outlined and distinctly realistic, it remains that the love story between them is just as moving; a tale of acceptance, more than anything else. Ignifex is neither ugly and nor is Nyx a great beauty, but the love they hold for one another still extends beyond physical traits. Instead of seeing past the surface, these two must learn to appreciate the dark sides of one another they have been forced to see, but the journey is so very rewarding.

Where Cruel Beauty falters, however, is in the fact that it never comes together cohesively until the end; the threads grating, more than mystifying. And the primary reason this occurs is because of a slight love triangle. Nyx does harbor romantic feelings for two men in her life, but she ultimately chooses only one of them and their love story plays out remarkably well. Yet, the presence of the other man in her life is integral to the plot of the novel and, in fact, comes back towards the end, answering unanswered questions and proving that the awkward love triangle in this novel is necessary, to a degree. With that said, however, I felt as if this aspect of the story could have been dealt with much better. I was confused and more than a little uncertain about the romantic arc between Nyx and her original love interest; it lacked the spark, dynamic dialogue, and chemistry shared by Nyx and Ignifex. I think that the plot point Hodge was trying to make with this love triangle - evident by the end of the novel - is an interesting one, but poorly executed. Furthermore, I felt as if this novel could have benefited from a slower pace in some areas and a faster pace in others. It never went too fast or became boring, but it could have done with a decent bit of polishing in some parts, as far as pacing went, at any rate.

Cruel Beauty does have its fair share of flaws, but ultimately, its take on the standard tale of "Beauty and the Beast", not to mention its bold portrayal of unlikable characters, won me over. I truly enjoyed Hodge's lyrical prose, her intriguing world-building, and the unforeseen story arc she had created. Granted, this novel is not perfect - not nearly so, actually - but it's wildly entertaining and, more than that, thought-provoking; sometimes, that's all you really need.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Books I Cannot Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily danforth & Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

I rarely come across books that I cannot review; that leave me speechless, both in mind and body. Kristin Cashore's Fire is a novel I've re-read numerous times, but I can never - never - convey the depth of emotion that novel inspires in me, despite the fact that I can quote from it. Within the past month, however, I've been lucky enough to read two remarkable LGBT novels for teens, both of which have left me spell-bound and speechless. And, truly, I have tried, time and time again, to write reviews for these novels. I want to write reviews for these books because they deserve reviews and they deserve to be read and mulled over and cherished on a shelf. Yet, the words fail me. In a desperate attempt, I have tried to string together a few phrases, a couple of sentences, in an effort to spread my love for these two novels. Even if these non-reviews don't convince you, I certainly hope that someone, someday, will thrust these into your hands and make you read them. It's worth it.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily danforth is a novel I've been meaning to read for a long time - a very long time. It went onto my TBR even before it was released because of the acclaim it received and, even after winning an award, it went unread on my Kindle. I don't know why. It is a quiet, moving, and utterly fierce novel. It’s the type of story that creeps up on you; the prose keeps you flipping the pages, but it isn’t until much later that the full emotional impact finally hits. At somewhere around the 80% mark, tears leaked from my eyes; slowly, and then all at once, pouring out at speeds I couldn’t even have imagined. You see, this is a story of one girl's struggle to reconcile her sexuality and, although the narration can drag and even become dull at parts, it is incredibly moving all the same. Cameron's life, full of a multitude of sexual encounters, define her, slowly but surely, and the themes of feminism - of encouraging women to be proud of their sexuality and unafraid to stand up for it - is astounding. 

Nevertheless, this novel truly gutted me in its historical depiction. danforth's debut is set in the late 1900s and, as such, the LGBT movement isn't as prevalent as it is today. In Cameron's small town, a religious and conservative area, her identity as a lesbian is looked at as a sin. As such, she is sent to a religious camp over the summer in an effort to "cure" her. It doesn't really hit you, until you meet the teens at this camp, the type of behavior they've had to put up with all their lives. Everyone, from their parents to their teachers, are telling these teens that they are wrong, that they are bad, that they are horrible for loving someone who isn't of the opposite sex and the manner in which this is conveyed - the events that occur at this camp - just destroyed me. I've never considered the LGBT community in this manner before and, truly, danforth's debut is not only inspiring and feminist, but eye-opening as well. It isn't merely the journey of a girl, it is the journey and struggle of people everywhere, homosexual or heterosexual. It demands to be read. Much like The Book Thief, this is one book you're better off just experiencing - words do it no justice.

While The Miseducation of Cameron Post can come off as an overly sexual novel, with Cameron experiencing many sexual encounters over the course of her life, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is far more subtle in its exploration of homosexuality. It, too, is a quiet novel, slow to begin and often meandering, but beautiful. Saenz's writing is lush and gorgeous, capturing the complexity of adolescence and depicting an immigrant household in a realistic manner. Ari and Dante both experience inner dilemmas in reconciling their Mexican backgrounds with their American lifestyle and, moreover, with the stereotypes and stigmas they face in the world at large. Saenz is one of the few - actually, the only - author to truly understand this universal issue that all immigrant children undergo. As a first-generation Indian raised in America, I can testify to this fact myself. It isn't easy to fully embrace your heritage, but it doesn't feel right to disregard it either. At the same time, how much of your culture lies in stereotypes and how much of it lies in its true roots? It's a difficult situation to comprehend and convey, but Saenz really fleshes it out thoroughly between these two friends, so different and yet so alike.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe revolves around the friendship of these two boys, Ari and Dante. While Ari, the narrator, comes from a household where his older brother is in jail - and is never discussed - and his father is a veteran of war - another issue not discussed - Dante hails from an intellectual environment, an only child with parents who have made it beyond the stereotypical minimum-wage jobs their race is associated with. Although both boys are incredibly different, their growing friendship is complex and deep, certainly one to root for throughout the narrative. Moreover, I love the tidbits of truth and contemplation that lie within each chapter. Saenz's writing looks into your soul. While they may script Ari's thoughts, they reflect universal emotions in such a subtle manner, connecting the reader instantly with the novel.

Additionally, the relationships that Ari and Dante sustain with their parents are also just as important as the relationship they sustain with each other. I feel as if I've been repeating myself, though. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is about many things - it is about growing up, about accepting yourself, about maintaining friendships, about facing the past, about living with disappointment and anger, but mostly about the complexity of the relationships we sustain throughout our lives. It truly is a beautiful little book, worthy of its awards and transcending all barriers - age, sexuality, gender. Just read it. I promise, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review: Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis

Title: Simply Irresistible (Lucky Harbor, #1) 

Author: Jill Shalvis

Rating: 4 Stars

When it comes to Simply Irresistible, there are only three things you need to know.

1.) Jax Cullen.

2.) He does not look like this:

3.) He looks like this:

Hmm...still here? You're not running to find a copy of this book yet? Well, in that case...Take 2!

Simply Irresistible, I have to admit, is a resistible piece of work...if you don't open its cover, that is. Once you begin reading this romance novel, you'll be hard-pressed to put it down. From the beginning itself, it's difficult not to become utterly invested in Maddie's tale, one brimming with hope, new beginnings, and past mistakes. Just having gotten out of an abusive relationship and lost her job, Maddie is making her way to the small Washington town of Lucky Harbor where her deceased mother's inn lies. Maddie, with her two half-sisters, now has the responsibility of either running the place - like her mother dreamed - or selling it off.

And yet, nothing in life is so easy. Maddie, for one, is known as the Mouse in the family. As the middle daughter, she is neither the Steel Magnolia that her older sister, Tara, is or the Wild Child that the youngest, Chloe, is either. After having been trampled over and taken for a fool with her ex-boyfriend, though, Maddie resolves to become something more than the Mouse: someone stronger. And it is her unrelenting perseverance to charge forward and face her fears that makes her such a remarkable protagonist. Granted, Maddie has some classic chick-lit qualities - a love of chips, a plumper figure than most, and a klutzy walk to go along with it. Nevertheless, I found that Maddie, with her attitude of trying to be oh-so-brave, still brought something new to the table as far as contemporary heroines go and, all the more, won my heart.

What truly makes the title of this utterly fitting, though, is Jax Cullen. You've already met him; just see the above picture for clarification. (If you're even sitting here and reading this when that face is staring at you!) Jax and Maddie meet when - wait for it - Maddie nearly runs him over with her car, but before she quite knows what's happening, he's asking her out for a drink and their chemistry is just sizzling. Although the romance begins straight off the bat with a whopping dose of attraction, the reason I enjoyed it so much is because Jax and Maddie take time to still get to know one another. For one, Maddie has sworn off the opposite sex after her nasty ex, but Jax slowly breaks down her barriers and wins her trust. Is Jax a little too good to be true? Maybe. After all, even when these two do fight, he's completely willing to make it up to her first. Moreover, he's patient with her skittishness and downright sexy, which makes for a lethal combination. Jax has his own past, full of its own secrets, but the romance in this novel played out perfectly, with just enough tension and care to balance it out and not a drop of unnecessary drama thrown in.

Needless to say, I am already clamoring for the next two novels in this series. Shalvis, first and foremost, is a fantastic writer, something I can testify with her deep exploration of family and self in this story. One of my favorite aspects of this book was the slowly creeping relationship between these three half-sisters. None of them are all that close, but they manage to find the ties of family that bond them together and truly come into their own. I have no doubt that there is still so much more to tell about these women, each strong and weak and brave and vulnerable in their own way. I love just how much there is to their characters and the small town setting of this novel certainly does it many favors as well. All in all, I would definitely say this is one irresistible package. (Especially when there's a snowstorm raging outside, you're passed out in bed from cramps, and the only thing within arms length is a comforter and your Kindle.) Still don't believe me?

How about now? ;)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

ARC Review: Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky, #3) by Veronica Rossi

Title: Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky, #3)

Author: Veronica Rossi

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: January 28th, 2014

Into the Still Blue has been a novel I have anticipated ever since I closed the covers of Under the Never Sky. Even before Through the Ever Night released, I wanted to know the fate of these characters who had become so beloved. Veronica Rossi, as expected, delivers magnificently, tying up all loose ends in a conclusion that is wholly satisfying. While this novel is not my favorite of the trilogy – Under the Never Sky still holds that position – it only emphasizes how difficult it is to pinpoint any flaws in this debut series. It’s not so much that Rossi’s novels are perfect, but rather that they are flawless in their imperfections. And if you thought your heart tore apart in Through the Ever Night, be prepared for an emotional journey that will wreck your body seven-fold.

Into the Still Blue picks up directly where Through the Ever Night leaves off, leaving the Tides in a precarious situation, the world around them in an even more tumultuous state, and the score of enemies in the horizon only increasing in number. Although Rossi ends each of her novels on a satisfying note, never leaving her readers with cliffhangers, it is quickly made clear that not all is as content as is suggested by the last few lines of Through the Ever Night. Not only are tempers rising – Roar’s grief, Perry’s underlying distrust of Aria, Aria’s guilt, the expectations of the Tides – but the stakes have risen too. Where Through the Ever Night was a much slower, introspective, and character-driven look at the tensions prevalent in this trilogy, Into the Still Blue is one-third heart-pounding action, one-third kick-ass planning, and one-third straight-up emotional upheaval. In other words, it’s not a journey you’re going to want to miss.

In retrospect, it’s easy to look back on this trilogy and pick apart everything that could have gone wrong with it. After all, Rossi deviates from the typical dystopian route almost completely. Not only do Aria and Perry fall in love – and have sex – all within the span of the first book itself, but the consecutive novels explore the growth of their relationship without a love triangle. Roar, who could have easily become another prospective love interest, is kept firmly in his place as best friend – first to Perry, then to Aria, and ultimately to them both. Moreover, the plot direction of this series has been clear-cut from the start. It is no secret that once Aria and Perry’s romance took off, the next goals were to assimilate the separated groups of humans and find a way to reach the Still Blue, escaping the dangerous Aether realm. Unlike a classic dystopian venture where the ultimate outcome is shrouded in mystery – Allegiant, anyone? – this trilogy banks upon its characters. In them, we are constantly taken by surprise; our emotions deftly played with. It is a shock to see a character-driven dystopian series; one not focused on plot, but rather the complex relationships between people. And yet, I doubt I can ever pick up a trilogy driven forward by plot again; Rossi’s method works far too well.

Where Into the Still Blue shines is in slowly unraveling all that we, as the readers, rely on. Perry and Roar’s friendship is ripped to shreds within the opening chapters; Aria and Perry’s relationship must work to become stronger after their past ordeals; Perry only continues to struggle between his emotions and his duty. Needless to say, it left me writhing with FEELS all throughout, but the payoff was more than worth it. Everything about Into the Still Blue felt so cohesive merely because Rossi drew upon plot threads from the past two books, bringing them back to examine their impact on her characters over time. Whether it be the uncovering of Aria’s father, the mysteries behind the existence of the Still Blue, or even just the gradual solidification of past relationships, Rossi leaves no stone unturned.

Into the Still Blue, despite its character-driven qualities, never fails to surprise with the influx of new – and old – secondary characters. Soren, in particular, undergoes a drastic amount of change in this novel, representing the gradual mix of Dweller and Savage. Moreover, as the hunt to rescue Cinder gets underway, everyone from Sable to Kirra is brought back to the center stage. Rossi gets ambiguity like few authors do and no one, from Roar to Sable, is without it. Not only are the villains in this novel complex, never cold-cut black-and-white, but the heroes are too. We’ve seen the bulk of Aria and Perry’s struggles in Through the Ever Night, which makes Into the Still Blue a very much Roar-centric storyline. A favorite of many, Roar is not without his flaws, as Rossi makes evident, but these imperfections only increase our love for him.

It is difficult for me to articulate just why this novel excels as a conclusion without giving away important plot threads. I feel as if I can only re-iterate that the character interactions in this novel are infused with so much depth that more than one re-read is necessary to understand their unspoken tones. Moreover, the evident themes in this novel are heart-breaking, particularly that of sacrifice. Rossi has never shied away from character deaths, whether it be in Under the Never Sky or in Through the Ever Night, which only means that she brings out all her guns in Into the Still Blue. And yet, I really appreciate the manner and meaning which Rossi brings to these characters – deceased or on the brink of death themselves. Furthermore, the invisible threads that connect all these characters to one another ensure their survival, at least in memory, which is far more important than it seems.

If Into the Still Blue has any flaws, it is only in its rather rushed conclusion. Rossi paces every scene perfectly, never dragging-out the romance or rushing the action. And yet, towards the end, I felt as if the full repercussions of the last few events could have been explored in greater depth. Additionally, I felt as if a few momentous scenes are a bit…anti-climactic. It’s not to say that Into the Still Blue didn’t end perfectly – it did – but I wished for a little more to it as well. With this trilogy bursting from the seams in its flawlessness, however, I have little to complain about. Into the Still Blue is, truly, the only ending I could have imagined for these characters and this world. While the narration itself is never tinged with bittersweet longing, my heart certainly is. I can only wait for Rossi to deliver yet another incredible series; I feel empty without one to look forward to.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mini-Reviews: The Ocean at the End of the Lane & World After

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman

Read By: Neil Gaiman 

Rating: 4 Stars

It's a little embarrassing to admit that I've prolonged listening to this short story as much as I could, only because I didn't want to leave behind Gaiman's voice. (I promise you, that sounds a lot creepier than it actually is!) Needless to say, the audiobook of this novel is mesmerizing. Gaiman doesn't just read this story in his astonishingly lovely accent, he narrates it, infusing life into the words he has written. It makes for an extremely atmospheric listen and has ruined me for all print Gaiman books, which poses an issue as I'll likely have to wait years to get my hands on another Gaiman audiobook if the waiting list at my library is any indication.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane neatly crosses over the line from childhood to adulthood, exposing the flaws we grow up to notice in our parents, the adult figures around us, and the general ambiguity of morals. It is haunting, digging into the corners of your mind with the nostalgia it evokes; shocking, much like that first gasp of air after your head has been underwater too long; silent, stewing in your thoughts, growing into a novel of much larger magnitude than its size deceives it to be.

Gaiman's latest forced me to think, making me connect pieces from childhood to adulthood, and I feel enriched having read it. It's a quiet story with quiet characters who lead quiet lives. It isn't pretentious, it isn't bursting in your face (or ears, in my case) with revelations and, chances are, its open epilogue will leave you with more questions than answers. If you're anything like me, though, that's more than just a little okay.

Title: World After (Penryn and the End of Days, #2) 

Author: Susan Ee

Rating: 4 Stars

The long-awaited sequel to Ee's stunning debut, Angelfall, pales in comparison to its predecessor, proving to be a let-down after the excruciating wait for its release. Yet, when analyzed alone, World After is an entertaining, thoughtful, and unpredictable installment. In many ways, Angelfall is the story readers wanted: angel apocalypse, an unlikely alliance forged between enemies, and plenty of witty banter topped off with a kick-ass heroine, brooding hero, and scenes of resistance that keep the spirit of humanity alive. What's not to love? World After, on the other hand, is the story that readers need: the wake-up call into the brutality of survival, the flaws exposed in beloved characters, the struggle to persevere - alone - in a world that is, literally, changing. Although I won't be re-reading Ee's latest as much as I've re-read her debut, there is no denying that this is a powerful, vital, and necessary installment to the story arc of this five-part series. Susan Ee, once again, I applaud you.

World After struggles in its beginning, pulling readers into the world Penryn must now face, alone and saddled with her crazy mother and monster sister. It is a bleak place, one which seeks to destroy what it doesn't understand, namely, Paige. After being experimented upon by angels, Paige is no longer completely human. When she escapes the resistance camp where Penryn and her mother are lodged, the frantic search to re-unite their family begins once again. Where Ee excels as a writer is in the complexity of emotions that Penryn feels towards her family. Out of the three of them, she alone is in full control of both her sanity and humanity, which makes her connection to them burdensome. And yet, nothing is that simple. Penryn yearns for the security of a mother's embrace, the companionship of a sister, and the emotional safety that only a family can provide. Just because her definition of family is an unconventional one by no means disregards its value in her life.

Ee expertly weaves these complicated emotions into a heart-pounded storyline, filled both with action and desire. World After not only gives us a glimpse into these unusual family dynamics - filled both with love and bitterness - it also presents us with the much-needed world-building to propel this series forward. As an added bonus, we are given brief shots into Raffe's past - intriguing, to say the least - which only heighten his role in the series. While much of this novel centers around Penryn, a decent portion is dedicated to her reunion with Raffe and the events that follow. World After lacks the continued development we may crave from this couple, leaving us with a few dangling lines but mostly keeping this pair's interactions at the same level as they were in the previous novel. Needless to say, I am keeping my fingers crossed for an enormous amount of growth on this front in the sequel. At the end of the day, however, World After delivered with a heroine who is capable, strong, and flawed, not quite the hero we may think her to be, and once again, this is Penryn's series. While the secondary characters are enriching, none of them overtake the plot, which proves for a refreshing read. I can only hope the rest of this series continues on the same growth curve - up, up, up.

Friday, December 6, 2013

ARC Review: Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

Title: Being Sloane Jacobs

Author: Lauren Morrill

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Release Date: January 7th, 2014

If there is anything flawless about Being Sloane Jacobs it is its marketing campaign. Morrill has been launched as a chick-lit, contemporary romance author, akin to Stephanie Perkins, and while that isn't an altogether apt comparison (in my opinion), it isn't incorrect either. What I appreciate about this novel is that I knew what I was getting into even before I cracked open the cover: pure, mindless entertainment. Being Sloane Jacobs is the type of novel where you are forced to overlook the little details that fail to fit together, compelled to push aside the gaping plot holes that don't add up, and just read. For readers who were disappointed that novels like Just One Year promised endings that didn't happen, Being Sloane Jacobs is a relief, giving exactly what it says it will. For others, however, who anticipate the hidden depth in every novel, this story may just prove a little too juvenile, a lot too short, and a slight bit disappointing by the end.

Sadly, one of the best aspects of this story is its synopsis. Sloane Emily Jacobs, the daughter of a senator running for re-election, is a figure skater - one who desperately needs to re-launch her career after failing to perform well the past year. Sloane Devon Jacobs is an ice-hockey player - one with a bit of an anger management issue - who hasn't been playing her best lately. When the two Sloane Jacobs meet on their way to their respective figure skating and ice hockey summer programs, they decide to switch places. With similar builds and a desire to escape the mounting pressure they feel, Sloane Devon Jacobs goes off to figure skating camp while Sloane Emily Jacobs rushes off to play ice-hockey. As it turns out, however, running away doesn't solve your problems...not even close.

While the plot for this novel is similar to The Parent Trap, an important difference is the fact that these two Sloanes are running away from their lives. Not only do they belong to different social classes - rich and middle class - but their family issues are also vastly different. Yet, they find a thread of connection in their loneliness, fear, and inability to face their difficulties head-on. Needless to say, Morrill nails this issue in her sophomore novel, capturing the sinking feeling of despair and helplessness that so many teens feel. Where Being Sloane Jacobs faltered, however, was in the missed opportunity and lost potential for this concept to develop further. Both Sloanes, after a few initial difficulties, acclimate into their new lives with ease, making friends and learning their new sports with ease - a little unbelievable, don't you think? Moreover, they both find incredibly sweet love interests who - unfortunately - become a large part of the narrative.

With a plethora of issues at hand, this 352 page novel just didn't cover it all. Sloane Emily and Sloane Devon's growth is rushed and limited to the last few chapters, the development sloppy and lacking the layers of depth it could have had. Additionally, the guys these two girls fall for have their own share of problems which could have been explored to a larger degree as well. Mostly, however, the issue lies in the fact that Being Sloane Jacobs is far too much surface-story and too little depth. With alternating perspectives - that worked really well, surprisingly - Morrill could have easily focused this story on the inner dilemmas both these girls faced. Instead, there's unnecessary romantic drama, a large focus on proving these girls can master another sport, and a hasty epilogue that does little to the story as a whole. I wanted a novel about two girls who gained the courage to face their problems - and formed a tight friendship along the way - but the relationship these two Sloanes share lacks a true bond and the strength I wanted to emerge from these girls happened far too quickly, far too late.

Ultimately, I couldn't overlook the plot holes or missed opportunities in this narrative to enjoy the story within these pages. It is entertaining, certainly, and compulsively readable, forcing me to flip page after page even when I was bedridden and sick, but it lacks more than a little something to make it memorable. Both Sloanes are forgettable heroines, their journey unremarkable and childish, reading more like a middle grade comedy than a young adult contemporary piece. Being Sloane Jacobs will find its place among shelves of beloved readers - certainly - but it won't be replacing Anna and the French Kiss anytime soon on mine.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Review: Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick

Title: Drowning Instinct 

Author: Ilsa J. Bick

Rating: 3.5 Stars 

I've been wanting to read Drowning Instinct ever since I first laid eyes on its cover. Admit it: it's powerful. Unfortunately, the story Bick regales is more insane than powerful. Granted, I appreciate the moral ambiguity of the characters Bick has sketched, not to mention the complexity of their situations, but ultimately, this novel lacked a little something. Hope? Heart? Or maybe just purpose...

Drowning Instinct's first few pages are a dream, an intrusion into an original form of storytelling that truly worked, both for me and the novel as a whole. Jenna, our sixteen-year-old protagonist, is asked to speak into a recorder and tell her story. For me, reading Jenna's tale told through frank conversation made it easier to slip into her past. Yet, Jenna is chock-full of problems. Not only does she carry the burn marks of a terrible incident, complete with scars from cutting herself, but her family has a history of mental illness, her mother is an alcoholic, her father is constantly having an affair with a new woman, and her parents' marriage is falling apart. Moreover, Jenna's older brother is in Iraq and a taboo subject in their family. On one hand, Bick handles Jenna's issues cleverly, ensuring that they each are given an ample amount of screen time, but these multiple issues only served to make Jenna a sympathetic character. When stripped of her mental illness, her suicidal tendencies, her horrible family...there is very little to Jenna herself. Thus, I can't say I was a fan of this blatant attempt to garner feeling for the main character.

Due to its purposeful format, recounting events of the past, Drowning Instinct moves at a quick pace. It is nearly impossible to set down, merely because the reader simply has to know what is going to happen. Jenna is vulnerable and isolated because of her brokenness, so when Mr. Anderson, her chemistry teacher, reaches out a hand of kindness, Jenna grabs on. At first, Mr. Anderson is nothing more than a supporting teacher, willing to listen to Jenna, ensuring she gets home safely when her mother forgets to pick her up, and saving her from situations of molest. And yet, despite these kind acts, there is a niggling sense that something is wrong. It is; something is very, very wrong, for Mr. Anderson is just as screwed up as Jenna is, torn down by his past. In many ways, these two seek comfort and solace in one another, seeking to help each other stay above the water, not drown. Admittedly, a story of two people healing one another isn't so bad, but a sixteen-year-old girl and a teacher? It's more than a little sickening.

Where Drowning Instinct becomes interesting, though, is in the fact that Mitch Anderson really isn't painted to be a monster. If anything, he gives Jenna the support and courage she needs to begin facing her problems. With her parents dealing with their own doses of crazy, Jenna desperately needs an adult figure in her life to help her and, despite the nature of their relationship, Mitch does help Jenna - immensely. Although Mr. Anderson is proven to be many things, including a liar, Jenna can never forget the fact that he was there when she needed someone, even if it was just someone to listen to her. Nevertheless, I did feel as if the ending to this novel was a cop-out on Bick's part. Everything was tied up a little too openly, a little too loosely, and yet a little too neatly at the same time. We don't know if Jenna is ever going to be alright and, even worse, we have no hope for her future. Although I applaud Bick for tackling a taboo subject and putting it into a difficult perspective, either than her message of moral ambiguity, nothing else is left.

I don't think I can recommend Drowning Instinct. It's written well, filled with three-dimensional characters, and is impossible to put down. Yet, those final emotions that linger even after a book is over were bleak and confusing. Tabitha Sazuma's Forbidden tackles a taboo subject - an incestuous relationship - in a way that is far more effective and emotional. Drowning Instinct, on the other hand, holds you at arms length so that the greatest emotion you're likely to feel is shock. Bick's story isn't for everyone. I don't even think it was for me.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mini-Reviews: One & Only by Viv Daniels and Through the Smoke by Brenda Novak

Title: One & Only (Canton, #1)

Author: Viv Daniels (a.k.a. Diana Peterfreund) 

Rating: 4 Stars

One & Only is a surprising read, primarily because it’s a New Adult novel with a modicum of depth, complexity, and true worth. Forget the mindless, steamy novels you’ve known and imagine – just for a moment – a novel about an intelligent young woman, a bioengineering major, whose main goal in life is to never follow in the footsteps of her parents. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? After all, which teenager, fresh off to college, doesn’t set off with the hopes to distinguish themselves from the people who have brought them up? Moreover, which teenager wants to repeat the same mistakes of their parents? In her debut, Daniels writes a story that is one-part family, one-part friendship, one-part college, and only two-part romance. If that isn’t a formula for success, I don’t know what is. 

Of course, from the surface, One & Only is a love story. Tess, the illegitimate daughter of a millionaire, has lived with her single-mother all her life, abiding by the rules her father lay down for her and even attending the state college he commanded she study in lest she meet her half-sister in the prestigious Canton College she desires to attend. Thus, when Tess earns a scholarship to a summer program in Cornell the summer before her freshman year, she whisks herself away to a summer of scientific immersion. It is there that she meets Dylan – cute, intelligent, and ever-so-slightly nerdy – and sparks fly. But Tess knows better than to start a long-distance relationship and after that summer, she never meets Dylan again. Until, that is, she transfers into Canton after two years. Only, this time, while Tess is determined to make her relationship work with Dylan, he isn’t as available as he was two summers ago. And this time, he’s dating her half-sister, Hannah. 

What makes One & Only such a spectacular novel, aside from the fact that the messy romantic relationship is dealt with in a tasteful manner with little to no angst or drama, is the fact that the relationships drawn up throughout the story are authentic and realistic to this age group. Tess must not only balance school work and a job, but she struggles under the burden of her secret as an illegitimate child. Yet, her relationship with her mother is strong and sure, one filled with affection despite the fact that Tess refuses to follow down her mother’s footsteps and become “the other woman” in any relationship. Additionally, I enjoyed Tess’s blooming friendships with the sisters she waitressed with and the competitive biomedical students she found herself competing with. What I found interesting was the fact that both these groups of friends were part of very different friend circles, but Daniels still allows Tess to befriend them both, sharing different experiences with each. Just the portrayal of friendships in college is rare to find in New Adult novels, but the different types of friendships, the multiple bonds and their respective strengths is even harder to find, which is why I applaud Daniels for their inclusion. 

Ultimately, One & Only offers originality into the field of New Adult. Tess takes advantage of her relationships with her professors to find working internships, the economic struggles she faces are outlined but never judged, there is absolutely zero slut-shaming, and the inner growth Tess undergoes is universally relatable. Moreover, the icing on the cake is the fact that her romance with Dylan is both sweet and steamy. Dylan respects Tess’s boundaries, encourages her ambitions, and fosters her intelligence. In every sense of the term, they are a couple formed and bonded on equal footing, which is such a relief to see. I sincerely hope this is a signal that alpha males are fading into the background of long-forgotten nightmares. If New Adult is headed in this direction, I can only wait and watch anxiously for more. 

Title: Through the Smoke

Author: Brenda Novak

Rating: 4 Stars

Brenda Novak’s Through the Smoke is the first historical romance novel I’ve read in awhile now. After a string of misses, I have refused to touch this genre with a ten-foot long pole, but this book wormed its way onto my radar and stubbornly kept re-appearing. Eventually, I couldn’t resist. After all, with dozens of readers labeling this just as gothic as Jane Eyre and just as romantic as Pride & Prejudice, how could I resist? 

Needless to say, Through the Smoke delivered – enormously so. For one, the romance is tortuous and rewarding, a slow build-up of admiration, understanding, and desire. Although Truman and Rachel are from different worlds – one wealthy, the other poor – they manage to make their romance work through the hurdles they face. Truman is an Earl, suspected of murdering his cheating wife in the fire that consumed her, but In reality, he remembers nothing. Thus, when the bookseller’s daughter, Rachel, claims to have information about the murder, Truman seizes the opportunity to interrogate her. Truman’s entrance into her life forces Rachel into a world of worker politics, similar to that in North & South, and introduces her to a love she could have never imagined. 

Although Through the Smoke does contain a handful of historical romance tropes, consummating in a villain who is more black-and-white than gray, the setting of this story is vividly imagined and the mystery all the more so intriguing. Both Rachel and Truman are complicated characters, carrying messy pasts and even more doubtful futures, but their forbidden romance settles itself into your heart artfully. What I appreciated most about this novel was the fact that Rachel’s existence did not revolve around Truman and, instead, she proves herself a strong and capable protagonist, fiercely independent and determined for an equal relationship. Granted, Through the Smoke isn’t all that thought-provoking, but it is the perfect guilty-pleasure read to curl up with for a few hours – no harm in that.