Thursday, May 23, 2013
Review: Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland
Release date: May 7th, 2013
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Rating: A little sad, a little moving, very swoony, and I am conflicted.
For Cricket Thompson, a summer like this one will change everything. A summer spent on Nantucket with her best friend, Jules Clayton, and the indomitable Clayton family. A summer when she’ll make the almost unattainable Jay Logan hers. A summer to surpass all dreams.
Some of this turns out to be true. Some of it doesn’t.
When Jules and her family suffer a devastating tragedy that forces the girls apart, Jules becomes a stranger whom Cricket wonders whether she ever really knew. And instead of lying on the beach working on her caramel-colored tan, Cricket is making beds and cleaning bathrooms to support herself in paradise for the summer.
But it’s the things Cricket hadn’t counted on--most of all, falling hard for someone who should be completely off-limits--that turn her dreams into an exhilarating, bittersweet reality.
A beautiful future is within her grasp, and Cricket must find the grace to embrace it. If she does, her life could be the perfect shade of Nantucket blue.
The cover: Toally summery and beautiful. While this book doesn't focus on the romance as much as this cover claims-- it's mostly Cricket's relationships with friends and family-- I was powerless just resist such a beachy and enticing cover.
The story: I wanted to love this story a lot more than I did. And while I certainly liked it, I've got a few bones to pick before I get to gushing. Cricket, our heroine, was sometimes awesome and sometimes awful. She starts out the book rather childish and superficial, which she's meant to. It wasn't really that that I took isue with. But every now and then, Cricket would say something that would make me hate her, usually something judgmental about someone else's looks or body type.
Then she'd say something that would make me love her, so basically I don't know what to feel.
I'm not exactly sure why Howland left in some of Cricket's thoughts. They're things she thinks to herself and they made me want to thwap her over the head with something heavy. I also think they don't make any sense for Cricket's character. She's a kind girl, a great friend, and yes, she's a little too obsessed with appearances and having people like her, but not to that somewhat cruel degree. Which leads me to assume that Howland didn't see that these quotes could rub people the wrong way, like they did me. Honestly, if they don't bug you, that's perfectly all right. I know a lot of people who straight up loved Cricket, and there is a lot to love. But I have a few reservations on her. I did love watching her mature, though.
Also CRICKET. The final complication of her romance drove me nuts. I can't really talk about it without spoiling it, but CRICKET. SERIOUSLY. Also, she was really slow to get Jules' one hundred million hints, and obviously Jay was never worth a single second of her time.
Now. The romance. YES. Oh my giddy aunt, is this book swoon-tastic. Zack and Cricket are just magnificent. There's a bit of an age difference (he's an older sophomore, she's a rising senior), which, to be honest, is hard for me to wrap my head around. But my God are they adorable. There's a certain Fourth of July scene which just had me sighing and squealing and hugging my pillow. The romance is by far the best part of this book. It's so sweet, and real, and full of chemistry. There should have been more of it. Boats + kissing + fireworks = romantic success
The other aspect that's very well done is Nantucket. I've never been, but by reading this book I feel like I have. I got a really good sense of the place. There was summer in every inch of this book. It's the perfect thing to read as the weather turns. And goodness, every now and then I'd come across a turn of phrase that left me speechless. There is some mega good writing in here. So good it almost hurts, except a few too many "he said's".
I've got mixed feelings about Cricket's relationship with her best friend, Jules. Now, Jules' mother just DIED, so obviously Jules gets all kinds of slack about everything. And even though Cricket was practically a member of Jules' family, and loved Jules' mom almost like her own, she still wasn't. So, I get that Jules needed space or whatever. But... I don't know. Most of it was poignant and heartbreaking and made me want to sob for days on end, because we've all experienced that soul-crushing thing where you can feel the distance growing between you and your best/close friend, but a lot of it just angered me. Jules is really cruel to Cricket. She kind of sucks, actually. And the way it resolved, while probably realistic, didn't feel enough to me. It left kind of a bad taste in my mouth.
The whole book has a sort of melancholy flavor I wasn't expecting and didn't really enjoy, because that's not what I wanted. Yeah, I know the book starts off with a death, because, hello, I read the synopsis, and the emotional parts are all brilliant and moving, but I thought they overpowered the light parts a little too much. Also, the ending is totally abrupt. I was actually kind of shocked at where it ended.
Cricket's relationship with her dad is also appalling/heartbreaking/somewhat unresolved, but I adored the conflict between Cricket and her mother. Every character in this book is chock full of personality--particularly George and Lizzie and everyone at the Cranberry Inn, where Cricket works--and I always love that. Overall, contemporary romance lovers and those in the summer mood are going to love this. If you've read every single Sarah Dessen or Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book, you should read this ASAP. Even those who haven't ought to give this a try. Just because I had a few problems with it doesn't discount the fact that I read it in like three hours. I JUST NEEDED TO KNOW IF SHE AND ZACK WERE GONNA BE OKAY, OKAY?
Monday, May 20, 2013
|Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish|
This is based entirely on cover and has nothing do with my feelings for what's inside the paged. And again, ten is not my most favorite number in the world. Ten is so... binding. Limited. When provided a choice between option A and option B, I will invariably choose C-- all of the above. Or D, which is something else entirely. So when I hear the word ten, I just think let's heap the pretty on the people and be done with it. So, without further ado: a smorgasbord of pretty!
ETA: Because it's so pretty and I meant to but I forgot and obviously the one thing this post needs is more covers
What are some of your favorite covers? Leave me your links if you have them, please! I'd love to come visit.
As I said in my last discussion post, my TBR list is currently OF THE CHARTS long, and since BEA is right around the corner, it will only grow. So that means it's time for Mini Reviews, aka bite-sized nuggets of review-y goodness that go down quick and easy.
Review: The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni
Release date: May 14th, 2013
Publisher: Clarion Books
Rating: A lush historical setting, gorgeous prose, and complicated romance. On the negative side, slowwwwwwww pacing and an obnoxious heroine.
17-year-old Verity Boone expects a warm homecoming when she returns to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, in 1867, pledged to marry a man she has never met. Instead, she finds a father she barely knows and a future husband with whom she apparently has nothing in common. One truly horrifying surprise awaits her: the graves of her mother and aunt are enclosed in iron cages outside the local cemetery. Nobody in town will explain why, but Verity hears rumors of buried treasure and witchcraft. Perhaps the cages were built to keep grave robbers out . . . or to keep the women in. Determined to understand, Verity finds herself in a life-and-death struggle with people she trusted.
Inspired by a pair of real caged graves in present-day Catawissa, this historical YA novel weaves mystery, romance, and action into a suspenseful drama with human greed and passion at its core.
Perhaps, because I've been in a reading funk lately, I had less patience with this book then it warranted. I love historical, and I loved the setting and the writing and a lot of the characters, but it was pretty slow going for me. The true historical fact, and the story behind the titular caged graves, is fascinating. The love triangle (yes, there is a love triangle) is actually very well-executed, in my mind. Verity's relationship with her father is actually extremely moving. Sometimes I liked Verity, but mostly I found her to be a bit of a brat. And I though the plot could have been drastically tightened. I like the mood Salerni was setting, but it turns out I'm the type of reader who needs a bit more action than this.
When I say action, I don't mean I need a battle scene every ten pages (though the opening scene is pretty cool and action-packed). But the first hundred or so pages really lags. I felt like we could have gotten to the goods a lot more quickly, and then I probably would have liked Verity better as well. But there. Ultimately, I can recommend this book to historical lovers in need of a highly atmospheric mystery with a surprising conclusion, vivid characters, and very nice romance. Those (like me) with shorter attention spans may not be as thrilled. But that cover really is GORGEOUS.
Review: Hammer of Witches
Release date: April 1st, 2013
Publisher: Tu Books
Rating: Captivating, magical and informative. More middle grade than YA.
Baltasar Infante can weasel out of any problem with a good story.
But when he encounters a monster straight out of stories one night, Baltasar faces trouble even he can’t talk his way out of. Captured by the Malleus Maleficarum, a mysterious witch-hunting arm of the Spanish Inquisition, Baltasar is put to the question. The Inquisitor demands he reveal the whereabouts of Amir al-Katib, a legendary Moorish sorcerer who can bring myths and the creatures within them to life.
Now Baltasar must escape, find al-Katib, and defeat a dreadful power that may destroy the world.
As Baltasar’s journey takes him into uncharted lands on Columbus’s voyage westward, he learns that stories are more powerful than he once believed them to be—and much more dangerous.
Shana Mlawski’s magical debut novel takes a fresh look at one of the pivotal moments in human history.
This book is more fantasy-historical, which is something that greatly appeals to me. I think it tends more towards middle grade than YA (especially with that very middle grade cover), but it's charming, fun, and chock full of monsters. The setting is dynamite and so is the concept. I wasn't bowled over by the book, but I had a lot of fun reading it and probably would have gone nuts for it as a younger kid. There's a wide cast of colorful characters, an inquisitive narrator, and even Christopher Columbus. Where the magic of stories isn't just figurative, but actually magic. As in, they can actually come to life. Balthazar is a pretty plucky hero.
This is definitely a book that won't appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it, and learned a lot of historical things I didn't know before and in a very entertaining way. However, there is quite a lot of history. Which makes it feel all the more middle grade to me, but it's never not fun to read about unicorns and golems and Moorish sorcerers and the Inquisition and Columbus all in one book.
Now here's a sloth giving you a flower to brighten your day.
|A flower for you, my lady|
Friday, May 17, 2013
Lately I've been struggling with To Be Read pile. Actually that is a massive understatement. "Grappling" or "wrestling" or "being crushed beneath like the pea under all those mattresses" would be more accurate, but let's go with "struggling". Basically, I have bitten off more than I can chew, TBR-wise. Factor in a particularly busy week with very little reading time, and panic has set in.
This is when I start getting trigger-happy with my books. I need to read fast, because I've got so little time. So I'm hoping all my books grab me early and suck me right in, so I can finish quickly and move on to the next book. But sometimes... well, most of the time... it doesn't happen. The book isn't grabbing me. Or the book is just plain bad. I'm on a reading deadline, or I've got a ton of backlogged books, or I just bought a brand new shiny hardback I've been dying to get to. So what do you do?
Do you finish? Or do you give up?
I'm really, really bad at giving up books. I usually force myself through them. Sometimes I stop reading the book that's not grabbing me, go for something else, and come back to the first book some time later. I've got like twenty books on my Kindle that I'm only partially through. Every now and then I come across a book that I absolutely cannot finish, but it's very hard for me to make that decision. Especially if it's a book I've been given to review. Then I'm obligated. They've spun me gold and now I have to give them my first born child. Or something.
I hardly have a scientific process when it comes to DNFing a book. I should, probably. Weigh the merits of x and y and z and how statistically likely it is to improve and whatnot. I'm more DNF-y when I'm particularly cranky or stressed or hungry. It's hard to say what things in books prompt me to commit strongly to a DNF as opposed to my usual just-read-really-really-fast-and-suffer-bravely mode. I can handle shitty writing, characters or plotting (to an extent), but I'm quick to put the book down if I come across something truly offensive. I guess that's my usual to finish or not to finish criteria.
|Some days, though, nothing can please me.|
But sometimes I feel like I'm betraying the book if I give up on it. Or the author, or the publishing gods, for my own conscience. But mostly, there's a shamefully strong part of me that CANNOT LOOK AWAY from the really bad books. I'm kind of a book masochist. It's almost like they're car crashes and my eyes are glued and the rage is building inside and oh my God so many snarky comments rushing into my head if I don't get them out I might die. And before I know it I've read the whole book. I end up reading the crappy things, and then I get to post angry gifs and ranty reviews, but my head is just a little bit dumber, and I'm no longer sure I made the right call in not DNFing. So. It's always hard to decide whether I should stick with it or not.
And then there are the days where I'm particularly cross and I read the first sentence and just go, "Ugh. The opening sentence referenced weather. The whole book is a catastrophe." But that's rare and mostly just means I haven't had my coffee yet. Sometimes, I really can tell right away that the book and I are not going to jive, or it's an unmitigated piece of crap, or is racist or sexist or something, and I deserve a gold star for making it even five pages in.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Review: This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
Release date: April 2nd, 2013
Rating: Totally adorable and squee-worthy, with a few issues like flat characters and strange plot points. But I definitely recommend it if you need a cute summer romance with great prose.
If fate sent you an email, would you answer?
When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.
Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?
The cover: I love this cover. That sunny, happy yellow, the silhouettes on the boat, and the font style all appeal to me. I think I like it even better than the cover for The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.
The story: Notting Hill is one of my favorite movies. I've seen it an incalculable number of times (mostly for Spike, the daft Welsh roommate, but also for the uber cute love story and the Hugh Grant factor). I'm a sucker for the famous-person-falls-in-love-with-a-regular-person trope, because it has the potential to be oh so cute and cliche and fairy tale-esque. That aspect is really well captured.
Graham, lonely teen Hollywood superstar, falls in love with Ellie, the everyday girl from Henley, Maine with scandalous parentage, through a lengthy email exchange. It all started when Graham mistyped an email and accidentally sent it to Ellie. Neither knows who the other is, yet they strike up an online relationship, divulging all sorts of details about their lives, except for who they actually are. Graham and Ellie are just plain cute together. In a way that would make the more cynical among us gag, probably, and those with their insta!love feelings acutely tuned will most certainly grumble, but for some reason I didn't. I say it's not insta!love, since they have been talking for months and months before they actually meet.
So they meet, and sparks fly, and all the things you want and expect begin to happen. There are paparazzi, and movie schedules, and Ellie's mom is totally terrified of the press, and Graham and Ellie go on super cute dates. The best part of the book is the Graham-Ellie connection, which has nothing to do with fame, but everything to do with the connection they forged through their emails. And the cute things they say to each other. Being all cute and falling in love.
This book is a quick, breezy, squee-worthy read, all of which are major pluses. After the emotional trauma that was Siege and Storm, I just wanted to go on a brain-cation in Maine and fall in love with a movie star. And I did. But I guess this book didn't capture my feels the way Smith's other book, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, did. Maybe it was because I didn't get a lot of depth out of the characters? I'm not sure why. Graham and Ellie were reasonably fleshed out, but the drama with her best friend, Quinn, never sank in for me. I wish we'd gotten a sense of their relationship before their fight. Also, I think Quinn was rather cruel to Ellie and greatly overreacted, so the drama between them just sort of made me grumpy.
But it was the plot point with Ellie's father that really bothered me. The reason Ellie's mother is so wary of photographers is because Ellie is the illegitimate daughter of a senator (it's not a spoiler). I wasn't really a fan of how this played out. It felt unresolved, and it also felt a bit... meh. I'm not sure. It just didn't seem like a big enough deal to me. I felt like more should have come out of it.
That being said, I love the way Smith writes. I think she uses really beautiful language and lovely metaphors. I love the way she creates Graham and Ellie's bond. Again, it's all just so CUTE. Together, they do find what happy looks like. Even though there's no violin-playing goat, which is weird.
I also found it strange that Smith never talked about any of the kids Ellie goes to high school with. It feels like only three teenagers exist in all of Henley: Ellie, her best friend, Quinn, and this boy Devon. It's summer, and there's a movie shooting in town. I feel like you'd see your classmates everywhere, right? And you'd talk to them? Because you know more than three people in your life? You have friends beside Quinn and your own mother, right?
Basically, I loved all the cute, romantical parts of this book but had issues with all the dramas. Not that I wanted the book to be drama free, or anything (even though a small part of me just wanted to read about Graham and Ellie going on happy dates in the sunshine forever and ever like really bad fanfiction because they're SO CUTE). But I didn't really like the way the drama was introduced. Like, when Graham and Ellie hit this rough patch. It kind of... comes out of nowhere. Ellie freaks out about the fame thing, which is understandable, but sudden and dramatic and weird. And then Graham was all sad, and I was all sad.
I get it. I live in LA. I've seen the paparazzi literally Apparate out of nowhere and crowd the sidewalk and flash all these scary blinding lights in a celebrity's face before. That is understandably a roadblock to true love. But still.
Though this one's a mixed bag, ultimately I think the book falls onto the positive side. I actually liked the insta!love aspects here, even though I really wish we could have seen more of their email exchange, and more of what life was like before the summer they met while they were emailing. But hey. I was in the mood for something saccharine. I was in the mood for cliches and total suspension of belief. I wanted a little less blandness, a little more real drama, and a little less niceness, but I got a very cute love story, I thought, so in the end, I was satisfied.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Release date: June 4th, 2013
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Rating: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! MY BRAIN IS BROKEN. I CAN'T TURN THE CAPS-LOCK OFF. DEFINITELY NOT A CASE OF "SECOND BOOK SYNDROME".
Darkness never dies.
Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.
I would like to thank the amazing and most wonderful Christina for sending me this ARC. She deserves all the good things ever in the world. I might even share Sturmhond with her (might, big might).
My review of Shadow and Bone, book one in the Grisha Trilogy.
As always with sequels, there be spoilers for Book One in these waters. Ye be warned.
The cover: So obviously this cover is beyond gorgeous and few covers can ever compare to the beauteous-ness that is Siege and Storm so all the other covers should just go home. Hello. This one has a dragon on it. You can't beat a dragon.
The story: Okay. So. My brain is little more than scrambled eggs right now. This may be a very discombobulated review, but the main gist of it is: I LOVED this book, especially at the beginning and ESPECIALLY at the end. That end blew my socks off. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
At the end of Shadow and Bone, we left Alina and Mal just after they'd escaped from the Darkling on the Fold, aka that pesky swath of impenetrable darkness bisecting their war-torn homeland of Ravka. They're on the run across the True Sea, trying to evade him. Lucky for me, the Darkling's number one fan girl, they don't evade him for very long. I clapped with glee when my dark and evil prince returned to my life. He's a little badder know. A little eviller, a little more dangerous,
Mal and Alina's relationship suffers a bit in this book, and it's so realistic and natural and painful. Their differences make them drift apart, and you spend the whole book aching for them to remember their shared past and find each other again. DO THEY? I WON'T TELL. But because Leigh Bardugo knows the things I like (magic, fictional pain, and hot fictional boys), she chose to do something totally crazy and add a THIRD potential suitor for
Sturmhond. Hello, Sturmhond.
|Zac here's gonna do most of the talking from here on out.|
Sexy, silver-tongued privateer Sturmhond is, hands down, my new favorite character. He's changeable and slippery and oh so very witty. One of my favorite things about Siege and Storm is that, despite the very serious matters afoot, the characters retain a sense of humor, and none moreso than the delightful Sturmhond. I found myself laughing aloud almost every time he was on the page. I just want to sit down and share a bottle of kvas with him and have him flirt with me shamelessly. He and Alina have an excellent and awesome rapport. Their connection is so different from the one she shares with Mal. Alina herself has a really interesting internal journey in this one. She's grappling with a lot of power, the hopes of a divided nation, and the person she seems to be changing into. Also, she might be losing her mind (in the best/worst way possible). I don't dare say another word about it, but I have to say I love the complex person she's becoming. Dark parts and all.
Other character standouts include my old favorite David, kick-ass Tamar, and the awful Vasily. I can't really say anything about him, but MAN. Talk about disastrous characters flaws. So wonderful. So awful. Bardugo's writing continues to be lush and evocative, and her dialogue is witty, sharp, and always manages to stab me right in the heart. Her world-building is off the charts. Seriously, I would be willing to read a whole book on Ravkan folklore, or one about the saints. The Russophile in me adores all the call-backs to real Russian culture, but I also love the original twists she puts on it (a proto-Faberge egg even pops up at some point, which for nerdy, personal reasons delights me greatly).
So. The plot.
The Darkling catches up to Mal and Alina in the first chapter, so that's not a spoiler, and they head right back across the seas as his captives on one of Sturmhond's ships. They're off to catch an ice dragon. As one does. Now, I thought that would be the bulk of the plot, them on this ice dragon quest, but NOPE. THINGS HAPPEN SO QUICKLY. It's like one second we were here, and then this whole new wrench came out of nowhere and my mind was spinning. Somebody must have handed Bardugo a typical Book Two plot outline, and she must have laughed in its typical Book Two face, torn it to pieces, and simply said, "No." Things might have slowed down a little there in the middle, but in retrospect I was glad for the breather and for a chance to get some excellent political information. I'm usually pretty good at predicting the plots of books, but I literally had not one clue as to what was going to happen next. Eventually I just gave up trying to figure it out.
Which is why when the ending happened, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.
God knows what Ruin and Rising is even going to be about. The ending of Siege and Storm was my favorite part of the whole book because it was just this cavalcade of dread and action and misery and awesome. The whole last portion of the story was building up to this final point of conflict, slowly making me tenser and tenser, because I knew it was coming. But then SURPRISES WE'VE PUSHED THE ENDING UP AT BIT. IT SPRINGS OUT AT YOU BEFORE YOU'RE READY HOLY CRAP SOMEONE HOLD ME STURMHOND ZAC WHERE ARE YOU
With the way things ended, I literally don't have the faintest notion of anything that's going to happen in the next book. All the events in Siege and Storm are so radical that they change the entire landscape of Ravka. AND MY SOUL, I think. Reading this book was not a passive experience. Reading the final thirty pages consisted of me whispering, "Oh no, oh no, oh no, OH MY GOD, YES! No? No. NOOOOOOOO!" and flailing on my couch so dramatically that I scared my dog. I think I loved this book more than I loved Shadow and Bone, if that can be believed.
So. Ruin and Rising. It needs to be in my hands, and it needs to be there now. Because I CANNOT WAIT to see who rises and who's ruined. Here's to hoping it's our Sun Summoner Alina that rises, and not the Darkling (so many dirty jokes I had to pass up just now. It hurts).