Book Review – This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Book Review – This Savage Song by Victoria SchwabThis Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Also by this author: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
five-stars
Series: Monsters of Verity, #1
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Victoria Schwab’s Shades of Magic series was such a glorious read that I was actually a little hesitant to move on to This Savage Song.  As good as its synopsis sounded, I was just convinced that nothing could top the adventures of Kell, Rhys, and Lila and the 4 Londons.  Well, my concerns were completely misplaced because while it may not have topped Shades of Magic, This Savage Song is equally brilliant in its own way and easily one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year.

This Savage Song is an urban fantasy set in the war-torn city of Verity.  Not only is the city practically destroyed by war, but the violence that has taken place has actually led to the creation of actual monsters who threaten to overrun what is left of the city.  A treaty has divided Verity into two halves, one run by the ruthless Callum Harker, a crime boss who controls the majority of the monsters.  Being the “nice” guy that he is, Harker offers his services to protect the citizens on his side of the city from the monsters – for a fee.  Cross him or don’t pay your protection fee, and you’re the monsters’ next meal.  The other side of the city is run by Henry Flynn, a much more fair-minded individual who just wants to honor the terms of the treaty, keep the peace, and most especially, keep the monsters at bay so that his people are safe.

The story doesn’t actually focus on these two men, however, but rather on their children.  Kate Harker and August Flynn, and what happens when two children of powerful men become desperate to prove themselves to their fathers. But if you’re familiar with Schwab’s stories, you can guess that this is not your typical coming of age story.  Why?  Because August Flynn is a monster…literally. Yes,  Henry Flynn has monsters of his own, a rare breed that Kate’s father would love to get his hands on.  When August is finally given the opportunity to prove himself useful – by posing as a student at Kate’s school in case the Flynn resistance needs to grab her to use as leverage against her father, he actually ends up befriending Kate. He has to be careful though because if Kate finds out what he really is, what better way for her to prove herself to dear old dad than by capturing and bringing home one of Flynn’s rare monsters?

If you’re not familiar with Schwab’s writing, all I can say is be prepared for a ride that is dark, intense, creepy, and thrilling!

 

LIKES

I could go on for days about what I loved in this book, but here are some highlights to give you an idea of how amazing this book is.

The Monsters! I never thought I would hear myself gushing about a collection of monsters, but Schwab does a brilliant job of coming up with some of the most unique monsters I’ve ever encountered, and the idea that these monsters are “born” from violent acts committed by humans is just pure genius.  Schwab gives us the flesh-eating Corsai, who appear mainly as shadowy figures; the Malchai, who look like corpses and drink blood, and then finally the rarest form of monster, the Sunai.  The Sunai can actually pass for humans and they are the soul stealers.  The Sunai are, by far, the most fascinating of the three types, primarily because whereas Corsai and Malchai will attack anyone at any time, the Sunai seek justice and will only attack those who have committed heinous crimes.  They’re even more fascinating in terms of how they actually “attack” – each of the three Sunai uses music as their weapon.  They play music and draw the human’s soul to the surface and then feed on it.  It’s beautiful and awful all at the same time.

Complex Characters.  Kate Harker and August Flynn are the definition of complex characters.  Kate is a young woman determined to prove herself to her father by behaving like a monster, while August Flynn actually is a Sunai monster who wants nothing more than to be human.  August constantly fights against the Sunai instinct to feed on souls and just wants to prove himself to his “father” by being an active participant in the resistance.  In this sense, This Savage Song is as much a coming of age story as it is a dystopian story.  Both Kate and August have to make some difficult decisions as they decide what kind of people (or monsters) they want to be.

Action-Packed.  This Savage Song is set in the middle of a city that is already war torn and where the monsters are getting restless. There are monster attacks, assassination attempts, resistance missions, and so much more.  If you like action, this is your book.

The Overriding Theme.  The central idea that runs through This Savage Song – that human beings can be monsters may not be a unique one, but the way Schwab presents it – contrasting the behaviors of humans with actual monsters — totally is. It’s also a theme that seems very relevant these days with everything that is going on in the world.  There’s just so much hate and division out there.

 

DISLIKES

I thought the book was fantastic and had no issues with it at all.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

While it is a very different kind of read from what we saw in the Shades of Magic, This Savage Song is still a powerful read.  If you’re into dark, gritty narratives that make you think about human nature and the tough choices we all have to make in difficult times, This Savage Song is a great choice.

 

RATING:  5 STARS

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwaba young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives. 

five-stars

About Victoria Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

She is represented by Holly Root at Root Literary and Jon Cassir at CAA.
All appearance and publicity inquiries should be directed to either her agent, or one of her publicists:

Harper: Gina.Rizzo@harpercollins.com
Tor: Alexis.Saarela@tor.com

Book Review: Caraval

Book Review:  CaravalCaraval by Stephanie Garber
three-half-stars
Series: Caraval #1
Published by Flatiron Books on January 31st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 407
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW

It’s always so disappointing when one of your most anticipated reads doesn’t quite live up to the hype.  Unfortunately, this was the case for me with Stephanie Garber’s CaravalCaraval is a book that was instantly on my radar as soon as I started seeing people comparing it to Erin Morganstern’s The Night Circus, which is one of my all-time favorite books.  Based on that comparison and so many glowing reviews from my fellow bloggers, I fully expected Caraval to be a 5 star read for me and ended up so disappointed that it didn’t come close to that.  That’s not to say I didn’t like the novel, because I really did. I just didn’t love it like I had expected and hoped to.

Caraval tells the story of two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who live on a tiny island with their overbearing father. Ever since their mother passed away, their father has become cruel and abusive to his children and practically holds them both prisoner, never allowing them to leave the island.  Since she was a child, Scarlett has dreamed of attending Caraval, a once-a-year magical mystery and scavenger hunt of sorts, the winner of which is granted one wish. When her father arranges for her to be married to a man she has never met, Scarlett assumes that her dream of attending Caraval is dead once and for all, until her long-awaited invitation arrives.  Thanks to an elaborate scheme concocted by her sister Tella, and with the help of a sexy sailor named Julian, Scarlett and Tella run away for a few days so that Scarlett can finally experience the magic of Caraval before settling into this married life her father has chosen for her. The catch?  Her father has scheduled the wedding date so close to when Caraval takes places that it’s going to be a race against the clock to sail to Caraval, participate in the events, and then sail back home.  Can they make it back in time? And is experiencing Caraval really worth possibly exciting the wrath of their abusive father?

 

LIKES

I’d have to say my favorite part about this novel was the world building itself once the girls actually make it to Caraval.  I loved the idea of the exotic faraway setting and the hints of magic that were everywhere. Garber does a beautiful job of setting the stage for this great adventure and infusing everything with a touch of whimsy. One of my favorite parts was when Scarlett and Julian first enter Caraval and are greeted by a young woman riding a unicycle, immediately invoking a carnival-esque atmosphere.  Another whimsical touch I enjoyed was the outfit Scarlett was given to wear soon after her arrival.  At first glance, it looked like little more than a potato sack, but then it magically transformed into whatever attire the powers that be at Caraval decided Scarlett needed at any given moment, whether it was a gorgeous and daring evening gown or a sexy negligee.  How handy would an outfit like that be?!

I thought the whole concept for the event itself was brilliant too. I mean, seriously?  A magical game of illusion and trickery that will seem so real that you actually have to sign a contract acknowledging that you fully understand it’s all just a game before they will even let you play? How fascinating is that?  I also loved that the game was only played at night.  The participants played only once the sun went down and had to be back in their rooms before the sun came back up the next morning.  This added an extra layer of mystique to the already magical atmosphere.

I also liked the relationship between the two sisters, Scarlett and Tella.  Since their mother died, Scarlett has taken on the role of protector when it comes to her younger sister, Tella, and sometimes she has her hands full because Tella is much more free-spirited and rebellious than she is.  It is Tella’s love of taking risks that makes Scarlett’s dream of attending Caraval possible, and once they get there and Tella is “kidnapped” as part of the game, Scarlett is desperate to find her sister to make sure she’s safe.  That sisterly bond is beautiful – it’s clear either would do absolutely anything for the other.

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

Okay, so I loved the world of Caraval, I liked the overall premise of the game, and I enjoyed the sisterly bond between Scarlett and Tella.  So where did Caraval not measure up for me?

Characters that weren’t well developed or likeable.  While I felt tremendous sympathy for these two girls because their father was such a cruel beast, I just didn’t particularly like them all that much.  They kind of fell flat.  Even though I loved the bond between Scarlett and Tella, I got so tired of listening to Scarlett constantly whine about needing to find her.  I mean, seriously, she was told by two employees as soon as she entered Caraval AND had to sign a contract stating she was fully aware this was all a game, and she still kept whining about needing to get to her sister like she was truly in mortal danger.  I just found that incredibly frustrating.

I did like Tella more than Scarlett because I did enjoy her sense of rebelliousness, but she disappears for 90% of the book, so yeah, it didn’t really matter if I liked her or not.

I couldn’t stand their father of course because he was a monster, but at the same time, I didn’t understand why he became such a monster.  It’s stated in the novel that before his wife died, he was a much kinder man.  So the love of his life dies and he chooses to grieve for her by abusing their children?  I just didn’t get this at all.

Too many twists and turns.  I never thought I would see myself complain about twists and turns, but in the case of this book, I just thought there were too many. Once Scarlett started playing the game, at first the twists and turns were fun to follow along with, but after a while it felt like every page was filled with lie after lie and plot twist after plot twist.  It just got so convoluted that I often found myself going in circles, and since I wasn’t overly invested in any of the characters anyway, after a certain point, I just really wanted it to be over.

Distracting romance.  Julian, the handsome sailor Tella enlists to help them get to Caraval, decides to participate in the game with Scarlett after Tella disappears.  Even though Scarlett at one moment is frantic with worry about her sister, the next moment she’s practically falling all over herself as her attraction to Julian grows.  I wasn’t a big fan of the romance because it seemed to come out of nowhere, especially since in the opening pages, Julian and Tella were mad flirting with one another.  The romance did grow on me a bit the further into the book I got, but for a large portion of it, it just felt cringe-worthy and too ‘love at first sight’ for my taste.

Flowery prose.  I like vivid descriptions as much as the next person, but some of the descriptions in Caraval were just too much for me.  The book is just packed with sentences like this one:  “She could see the sting of her rejection in shades of stormy blue, ghosting over his heart like sad morning mist.” I’m sure there are plenty of readers that would love a book written with these types of descriptions, but I like prose that is more simple and straightforward.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

In some ways I think I probably set myself up for disappointment because I had overhyped Caraval so much in my own mind.  Those comparisons to The Night Circus set the bar really high for me.   Even though it didn’t quite achieve the magic and mystery of The Night Circus, I still enjoyed it enough to stick with it until the end and will probably continue with the second book when it comes out.  I think for the right audience though, maybe someone who hasn’t read The Night Circus, Caraval would make for a wonderful and imaginative read.

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

three-half-stars

About Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber grew up in northern California, where she was often compared to Anne Shirley, Jo March, and other fictional characters with wild imaginations and stubborn streaks. When she’s not writing, Stephanie teaches creative writing, and dreams of her next adventure.

Book Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Book Review:  Heartless by Marissa MeyerHeartless by Marissa Meyer
Also by this author: Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)
Published by Feiwel & Friends on November 8th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 453
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Marissa Meyer’s Heartless is one of the most wonderful, whimsical, and heartbreaking books I’ve read this year.  It was actually one of my most anticipated reads for 2016, but for reasons I can’t explain, I’m just now getting around to reading it.  Thankfully though, it was so worth the wait! I devoured Heartless in just a couple of sittings and feel like I can’t sing its praises high enough.

For anyone unfamiliar with the premise for Heartless, it’s meant to be an origin tale for the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, basically providing a plausible backstory for her and explaining what then led her to become the character that we all love to hate.  Well, not only does Meyer create a plausible backstory for the Queen of Hearts, complete with new characters and an original storyline, but she is also able to do all of this while retaining all of the whimsy and wonder from the original fairytale.  Although I knew the story would ultimately end badly for Meyer’s heroine, I still loved reading every magical moment of her journey.

 

LIKES

Cath.  Even knowing that she would eventually become the Queen of Hearts, I still fell in love with Cath right away.  She’s smart, sassy, and a girl ahead of her time.  While most girls in the kingdom of Hearts would dream of having a chance to marry the King and become Queen, Cath has absolutely no interest in that whatsoever.  Why?  Because she and her best friend and maid, MaryAnn, have their own dream.  They want to go into business together and open a bakery.  Cath is a gifted baker and MaryAnn has a head for numbers, so they have a whole business plan all worked out and ready to go, if only Cath’s parents would just let her follow her dreams instead of theirs.

Jest.  Jest was actually my favorite character in Heartless.  He is the new court jester for the King of Hearts, and he’s mysterious, a bit roguish, witty, and a real showman when it comes to entertaining the King and his guests.  He piques Cath’s interest from the first moment she watches him perform, and there is an instant connection between them when they finally come face to face.  I don’t know if I’d call it love at first sight, but there’s definite chemistry there and once Cath and Jest do start to get closer, it’s almost impossible not to root for them, especially when the alternative for Cath is the ridiculous, always giggling King of Hearts.  I swear, that King is way more of a fool than his court jester. I just cringed every time I read a scene with him in it, haha.

Characters and Scenes from the Original Fairytale.  I thought Meyer did a brilliant job of seamlessly weaving so many beloved characters and memorable scenes from Alice in Wonderland into her story.  It made me smile every time I came across something familiar, whether it was the mischievous Cheshire Cat, being just as much of a pain in the rear as he is in the original tale, or Caterpillar smoking his hookah pipe and asking “WHO…ARE…YOU?” or the Mad Hatter (Hatta in Meyer’s tale) with his tea party, and especially the croquet match where they used hedgehogs for balls, flamingos for clubs, and the deck of cards as wickets.  And don’t even get me started on what Meyer did with the Jabberwock…it was brilliant!  Much of my excitement while reading was because I was so eager to see how else she had incorporated elements from the original tale into Heartless.

Shout-outs to Other Famous Rhymes.  As if all of the cameos by characters from Alice in Wonderland weren’t enough, Meyer takes it a step further and includes a couple other famous tales that are sure to be recognized by most, if not all readers.  Peter Peter, Pumpkin Eater and his wife actually play a major role in the story, and then there’s also the most delightful shout-out to Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem, The Raven.  There is literally a raven, a sidekick of Jest’s of course, flying around and quoting lines from ‘The Raven: “Nevermore!”  And you might read this and think that sounds kind of hokey, but nope…trust me, it’s fabulous!

The idea that a sexist world is what ultimately creates the Queen of Hearts.  As much as I kept hoping something miraculous was going to happen and save Cath from the dreaded fate we all know is in store for her, I thought it was somewhat poetic that sexism plays such a huge role in Cath’s fate. I swear, if I lived in a place where no one took me or my dreams seriously and where everyone told me it was my duty to marry some daft king, I’d be running around yelling ‘Off with their heads!’ too.  Just ugh!

After everything goes dreadfully wrong for Cath and it appears she has no options left other than to marry the King, her parents try to make amends by asking what would make her happy (even though it’s already too late), Cath’s response just says it all: “How different everything could have been if you had thought to ask me that before.”  (I have to admit I shed a few tears when I read that line.)

DISLIKES/ISSUES

I loved pretty much every aspect of this story (aside from the ending of course since we already know, because this is an origin story, that Cath is doomed to become the Queen of Hearts. *cries*).  The only thing I didn’t particularly care for were the character names, Cath and MaryAnn.  They just seemed so ordinary compared to so many of the other names we came across.  Obviously, the names in no way hampered my enjoyment of Heartless, but I kept wishing the names were a little more whimsical in keeping with the rest of the story.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Heartless is one of those books I’d recommend to almost anyone.  I loved that it was an original read but that it also had so many familiar elements and characters that reading it reminded me of my childhood.  Meyer’s take on the original tale made me laugh and it made me cry. If that kind of read is one that appeals to you, then definitely consider giving Heartless a try.

RATING:  4.5 STARS

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

 

About Marissa Meyer

meyer

“One of my first spoken words was “story” (right along with “bath” and “cookie”), my favorite toy as an infant was a soft, squishable book, and I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first realized such a job existed.

When I was fourteen my best friend introduced me to anime and fanfiction—over the years I would complete over forty Sailor Moon fanfics under the penname Alicia Blade. Those so inclined can still find my first stories at fanfiction.net. Writing fanfic turned out to be awesome fun and brought me in contact with an amazing group of fanfiction readers and writers. As Alicia Blade, I also had a novelette, “The Phantom of Linkshire Manor,” published in the gothic romance anthology Bound in Skin (CatsCurious Press, 2007).

When I was sixteen I worked at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma, Washington, affectionately termed “The Spag.” (Random factoid: This is also the restaurant where my parents met some 25 years before.) I attended Pacific Lutheran University where I sorted mail that came to the dorm, carted tables and chairs around campus, and took writing classes, eventually earning a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. Knowing I wanted a career in books, I would also go on to receive a Master’s degree in Publishing from Pace University (which you can learn more about here). After graduation, I worked as an editor in Seattle for a while before becoming a freelance typesetter and proofreader.

Then, day of days, someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a book deal, so I became a full-time writer. CINDER was my first completed novel, though I have an adorable collection of unfinished ones lying around, too.

I married my husband in 2011, two months before the release of Cinder, and we adopted our two beautiful twin daughters, Sloane and Delaney, in 2015. Reading lots and lots of bedtime stories is most definitely a new favorite pastime.”

Marissa Meyer in her own words, from www.marissameyer.com

Book Review: Illuminae

Book Review:  IlluminaeIlluminae (The Illuminae Files, #1) by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
four-stars
Series: The Illuminae Files, #1
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on October 20th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 608
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Illuminae is a book that has been on my To-Be-Read list forever.  Even though I thought it sounded like it would be a great read, there was so much hype surrounding it that I was hesitant, having been burned by a lot of overhyped books last year. Last week, however, I finally decided I had put off reading it long enough and dove in….Wow, what a wild and intense ride!  I won’t say that Illuminae is without its faults, but it’s such a unique reading experience and such an action-packed adrenaline rush that its faults are barely noticeable.

Equal parts science fiction and horror, Illuminae centers on Kady Grant, a high school student who thinks she’s having a rough day because she just had to break up with her long-time boyfriend Ezra Mason.  Her day gets a whole lot worse, however, when her planet is attacked without warning and people start dying all around her.  With everything in chaos and ruins around them, Kady and a few other survivors, including ex-boyfriend Ezra, are able to make their way on to an evacuating fleet of ships.  The fleet, which has sustained some damage in the assault, takes off but is immediately pursued by an enemy warship.  It becomes a race to see if they can make it to safety before they are taken out by those who attacked their planet.

Because so many perished on the planet, the ships are running with skeleton crews and so everyone aboard is recruited in some fashion, either to be conscripted into the military and trained for combat, which is what happens to Ezra, or if they are deemed to have other skill sets, they are trained accordingly.  Kady, it is determined, has a knack for computers, in particular, hacking, and so that becomes her area of expertise.  It’s all hands on deck to get the ships back up to full operating capacity so they can get to safety that much faster.

As if that isn’t enough, people on one of the ships are getting sick.  It turns out that a biological weapon of some sort was released during the attack and some of the survivors who made it onto the fleet are infected.  And to say they become sick is to put it mildly.  While initial symptoms are chills, sweating, and fever, they quickly morph into something much more deadly.  Those infected basically become violent zombies running around trying to kill their fellow passengers.  Needless to say, it’s pretty violent and horrific.

In the midst of all of this chaos, Kady starts to get the feeling that their leaders aren’t being 100% honest and so she decides to use her computer hacking skills to see if she can find out the truth about what’s really going on.  When she realizes she can’t trust anyone else, she turns to the one person she knows she can, her ex.  Ezra is on one of the other ships, but with her excellent hacking skills, Kady is able to contact him and start unraveling the mystery.

LIKES

What appealed to me most about Illuminae is that, first and foremost, it’s a survival story:  “First, survive.  Then tell the truth.” This tagline from the cover of the book says it all. I was engaged as soon as I read that and my brain immediately went into overdrive trying to decide what it meant – “Survive what?  Tell the truth about what?  What happens to the truth if no one survives?  Is this some kind of cover up?”  I loved all of the tension that this created throughout the story and of course the action-packed scenes as those aboard the fleet were doing everything they could to survive and make it to safety.

I also really loved Kady.  She is such a badass.  Fierce, feisty, incredibly skilled with computers, Kady is absolutely determined to find out the truth, even if she has to sacrifice herself to do it.  I also love that in a reversal of the usual stereotype, she saves her ex-boyfriend’s life when their planet comes under attack, rather than the other way around.

I also actually enjoyed the romantic angle of the story as well.  I liked the tension between Kady and Ezra because of their history, and I liked their banter. At times they were snarky and sarcastic, but it was also pretty clear they still had intense feelings for one another, broken up or not.  And I don’t know, maybe it was just because of the sci-fi setting or maybe it was the snarky banter, but I almost get a Han/Leia vibe from them, which being a Star Wars fans, I of course liked.  It would not have surprised me at all if they had popped up with an:  “I love you/I know” exchange the more dangerous the situation around them got.

The book’s unique structure.  The structure was just fabulous, like nothing I’ve ever read before.  Instead of just being a straightforward novel, Illuminae is structured as a series of interview transcripts, video surveillance, classified files, instant messages, computer readouts, and more.  It’s as if you’re reading all of the accumulated data from an actual investigation of what happened from the time of the attack through the fleet’s escape and all of the ensuing action.  While it did make for a somewhat slow read early on as I was getting acclimated to the format, once I got used to it, I devoured the book and was fascinated each time I turned the page and saw a new type of document.  Illuminae definitely gets bonus points for creativity here.

AIDAN.  It’s hard to talk about Aidan without giving away too many spoilery details, so I’m just going to say that Aidan was my absolute favorite part of this book.  Aidan is the artificial intelligence system that controls the lead fleet ship.  He’s initially super pragmatic as one would expect from an AI, but then Aidan starts doing unexpected things and it appears that he is out of control. But is there more to it than that?  I don’t want to give anything away but I was left wondering “Is it possible for an AI to have a coming of age moment?”

DISLIKES/ISSUES

For the most part, I really loved this book.  However, I was not 100% sold on all of the artsy pages that were randomly inserted throughout the story.  Some of them were cool and complemented the actual story, but there were a few that just felt unnecessary, especially for a book that is already nearly 600 pages long. It started to feel a bit gimmicky to me, especially the ones with the words shaped like ships.  It’s one of those bookish quirks of mine where when a book starts getting really long, I start questioning everything that feels like fluff or filler.  Does it really need to be there?

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for an action-packed survival story that has a touch of romance, as well as a truly unique format, I’d say give Illuminae a try.  In my mind, I’m thinking it’s a great sci fi story for readers who don’t even usually enjoy sci fi.

RATING:  4 STARS

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

four-stars

About Amie Kaufman

Amie Kaufman is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Illuminae (with Jay Kristoff) and These Broken Stars, This Shattered World, and Their Fractured Light (with Meagan Spooner.) She writes science fiction and fantasy for teens, and her favourite procrastination techniques involve chocolate, baking, sailing, excellent books and TV, plotting and executing overseas travel, and napping.

She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband, their rescue dog, and her considerable library. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.

About Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of THE NEVERNIGHT CHRONICLE, THE ILLUMINAE FILES and THE LOTUS WAR. He is the winner of four Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, nominee for the David Gemmell Morningstar and Legend awards, named multiple times in the Kirkus and Amazon Best Teen Books list and published in over thirty countries, most of which he has never visited. He is as surprised about all of this as you are. He is 6’7 and has approximately 13030 days to live. He abides in Melbourne with his secret agent kung-fu assassin wife, and the world’s laziest Jack Russell.

He does not believe in happy endings.

Book Review: Scrappy Little Nobody

Book Review:  Scrappy Little NobodyScrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
three-stars
Published by Touchstone Books on January 1st 1970
Genres: Nonfiction, Autobiography
Pages: 275
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I went into Scrappy Little Nobody really hoping to love it because I am a big fan of Anna Kendrick’s.  I think she’s a great actress and I also love her wry sense of humor in interviews and on social media.  Overall, I have to say I liked it well enough, but didn’t love it.  The book is structured as a collection of humorous autobiographical essays on a variety of random topics, ranging from her childhood days to her entry into show business, her early attempts at romantic relationships, attending award shows, and even a random essay about themed parties she would love to throw.  It was all very random, quirky, and still somehow pretty insightful and therefore made for a fun read overall.

 

LIKES

As I mentioned, I love Anna’s sense of humor so that was probably the biggest plus for me as I was reading.  She is effortlessly humorous and each essay is filled with colorful anecdotes to show just how much of a “scrappy little nobody” she really is.

I especially enjoyed the stories from early on in her career, seeing how she got her start on Broadway while still in middle school, and then what it was like for her to move from the East Coast out to L.A. and into her first very modest apartment.

And of course, any mention of her films that I’m familiar with like Up in the Air, Into the Woods, and especially Pitch Perfect were highlights.

I also liked that even though the series of essays is seemingly quite random, they still move forward in a somewhat chronological manner – with a few detours – and show Anna figuring out how to live and function as a young, independent, professional woman even if she does she feel like a clueless kid.

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

My biggest issue with Scrappy Little Nobody was that I wanted a lot more behind-the-scenes looks at Anna’s most well known films, in particular, Pitch Perfect.  While there were a few nuggets here and there, her more recent works seem to be largely ignored so that was a bummer for me.

I also had a few issues where I had difficulty gauging Anna’s tone. Is she being funny here since most of this is meant to be humorous, or is she trying to be more serious?  I think my issue was because I was reading the print version of the book and for that reason I wish I had done the audio version instead. I think hearing Anna tell her stories and share her insights would have helped a lot because there would have been no guesswork as far as what’s meant to be funny and what’s meant to be taken more seriously.

One final issue I had was that sometimes it felt like Anna was trying a little too hard to prove that she’s just like us regular folks even though she’s a famous movie star.  Most of the time I thought the stories about her being awkward and not knowing what to do were cute and relatable, but after a few of them, I got to the point where I was like “Okay, I get it. You’re awkward. Let’s move on to a new topic.”  It’s probably not something that would bother too many people, but I tend to get irritated if I feel like someone’s hammering home a point too hard.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Even though I had a few issues with Scrappy Little Nobody, I still think it’s a solid and entertaining read overall.  I think Anna Kendrick fans will certainly enjoy getting a little more insight into her personality.  I definitely recommend trying to get the audio version if possible though. I think hearing Anna’s words will give you the most optimal reading experience.

 

RATING:  3 STARS

 

 

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch PerfectUp in the AirTwilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious). 

 

three-stars

About Anna Kendrick

Anna Kendrick is an American actress and singer, born and raised in Portland, Maine. She is widely known for her roles in The Twilight Saga, Up in the Air, and Pitch Perfect. Throughout her acting career, Kendrick has received various awards and nominations.

Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

Book Review:  A Court of Wings and RuinA Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Also by this author: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)
three-half-stars
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #3
Published by Bloomsbury Childrens Books on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 699
Also in this series: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

 

A Court of Wings and Ruin is the third book in Sarah J. Maas’ popular A Court of Thorn and Roses series.  Although several more books have been announced for the series, my understanding is that those will be more along the lines of spinoffs and that A Court of Wings and Ruin is pretty much supposed to wrap up Feyre’s storyline.  So, how did it do wrapping things up?  Well, for me there was definitely a lot to love about this book. At the same time, however, I had some issues with it.  I guess my overall feeling is that while I did enjoy it, it didn’t blow me away like I really wanted and expected it to, especially considering how truly incredible the second book in the series was.

LIKES

Feyre’s Growth.  Watching Feyre grow from a young woman who seemed to have minimal self esteem when we first met her into the powerful and confident High Lady of the Night Court has been one of my favorite parts of this series.  She is now courageous and badass and has truly become Rhysand’s equal in every way.  She’s also just as much invested in saving their people as Rhys is and I loved watching her in action and seeing the lengths she would go to in order to save them.  She has grown from what was practically a little girl in that first book into a warrior and a queen by this third book.

The “Family.”  My absolute favorite part of this series continues to be the family dynamic that we witness between Rhys, Feyre, Mor, Cassian, Azriel, and Amren.  I can’t ever seem to get enough of these guys bickering back and forth, sometimes like children, but always like family.  Their banter gives me life.  There was some awkward family drama this time around when Rhys puts Mor in an uncomfortable situation without giving her any kind of head’s up.  Because these characters are so real and so complex, there were hurt feelings and a sense of betrayal, but like a true family, they’re able to put aside their differences and come together when they need to.  This group is so fiercely devoted to each other and any one of them would lay down their life if it meant the others would be saved.

Cassian and Azriel.  I’m not sure if this was supposed to happen, but somehow Cassian and Azriel have risen from the ranks of amazing characters to become my actual favorites from the series.  I can’t even explain specifically what it is about them, but I just adore them both and want them to find love and be happy.  It gutted me every time something bad happened to either of them. I also just love watching each of them in their element.  It was especially thrilling watching Cassian command the Illyrian army.

The World Building.  You wouldn’t think this far into a series there would still be such lush world building going on, but WOW!  I was so excited to finally get to see some of the other Courts and they were just as enchanting as the Spring and Night Courts.  After seeing the polar bears and the cute little vest-wearing foxes(!), I kind of wanted to live in Winter Court, haha.

Fascinating New Characters.  I loved meeting the new characters from the other Courts and lands throughout the kingdom. There were so many interesting dynamics at play as the various High Lords came together to discuss Hybern.  I think Helion intrigued me the most, but I really liked the introduction of Miryam, Drakon, and Vassa.

Lucien.  Lucien remains one of my favorite characters so I was pleased to see that not only were he and Feyre able to re-establish their friendship, but that he also seemed to find a place for himself in the service of the Night Court.  I was a bit disappointed that he got sent off on a mission for a large chunk of ACOWAR, but I LOVED that we were given an incredible backstory for him that I hope will be further explored in future books.

The Bone Carver and the Suriel.  I didn’t really expect to see either of these characters, so I was thrilled to have them turn up again in ACOWAR and to be used in such unexpected yet epic ways.  I especially never expected to shed tears over the Suriel, so kudos to Maas because she totally got me on that one.

Redemption of Tamlin.  Tamlin remains one of the most complicated characters of the series, but if this is the last we see of him, I think overall I’m happy with his ending.  As angry and hurt and betrayed by Feyre as he felt for so much of the series, the idea that his love for her would overcome that in the end is a beautiful thing.  If we do see more of him, I hope that he’ll find his own happiness.

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

Okay, so…as much as I enjoyed ACOWAR overall, I still had some issues with it.  I honestly thought it was too long and that there were parts that could have been edited out without taking anything away from the overall story.  One of my issues with the length was that so much time was spent talking about what was going to happen in battle.  Yes, I get that they have to plan, strategize, form alliances with the other Courts, etc. as they prepare to battle Hybern, but after so much epic action in the prior books, I felt like I spent too much time with this book sitting around waiting for the excitement.  Once the battle finally began, it was incredible beyond compare, but I just expected more of the book to be devoted to it.

I’ll probably be in the minority on this, but I also thought too much time was spent on Feyre’s sisters.  Nesta was at least interesting, especially when it came to the tensions between her and Cassian and her training under Amren, who seemed to see somewhat of a kindred spirit in her, but nearly everything about Elain unfortunately just bored me.  There were so many other more fascinating characters introduced in this book that I would have rather seen more of, especially those from the other Courts.

Even though I enjoyed the ending overall, I think it would have been more powerful and more realistic if (please don’t hurt me!) SPOILER (mouse over to reveal) – one of the major characters had died.  Not that I wanted anyone to die because I love them all, but the Battle with Hybern was supposed to be the most epic battle ever, the war to end all wars, the possible end of life as they knew it, etc. and yet all of the major players came out okay in the end.  I would have been devastated of course, but I just think it would have packed more of an emotional and realistic punch if someone had made the ultimate sacrifice to save their world

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

While I have to admit I wanted more from A Court of Wings and Ruin, I still can’t deny that it was a pretty solid and satisfying end to Feyre’s journey.  I definitely see myself continuing with the series and I look forward to seeing who the next books will focus on.  Throwing my two cents’ worth in for books that focus on Lucien, Cassian, and/or Azriel!

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A nightmare, I’d told Tamlin. I was the nightmare.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

three-half-stars

About Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as well as a USA Today and international bestselling author. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-five languages. A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. Empire of Storms, the fifth Throne of Glass novel, released on September 6th, 2016.
She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.

Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Book Review:  Six of Crows by Leigh BardugoSix of Crows (Six of Crows, #1) by Leigh Bardugo
four-half-stars
Series: Six of Crows #1
Published by Henry Holt and Company on September 29th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 462
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But to claim it, he’ll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist:

Break into the notorious Ice Court (a military stronghold that has never been breached).  Retrieve a hostage (who could unleash magical havoc on the world).  Survive long enough to collect his reward (and spend it).

Kaz needs a crew desperate enough to take on this suicide mission and dangerous enough to get the job done – and he knows exactly who: six of the deadliest outcasts the city has to offer. Together, they just might be unstoppable – if they don’t kill each other first.

 

MY REVIEW

Six of Crows is one of those books that I could truly kick myself for waiting so long to read.  Now that I’ve finally finished reading it, all I keep thinking is what a fool I was to deprive myself of one of the most original and amazing fantasy stories I’ve ever read.  I feel like I’m not even going to begin to do this book justice, but hopefully, since I’m pretty sure I’m one of the last people on the planet to actually read it, you guys will all just nod your heads in agreement because you already know why Six of Crows is such a fabulous read.

For those unfamiliar with the basic storyline, Six of Crows follows Kaz Brekker, a teenage criminal mastermind, who has been offered an opportunity to achieve wealth beyond his wildest dreams.  How?  By completing what can probably best be described as Mission Impossible.  He has to break into the Ice Court, a heavy guarded military stronghold that has never successfully been broken into before. Once inside, his mission is to locate and smuggle out a scientist who is being held hostage there because he possesses knowledge on how to amplify and weaponize magic. Kaz knows enough about the dangers of the Ice Court to know that, without the right team, this heist is going to be nearly impossible, possibly even a suicide mission.  Lucky for Kaz though, he knows exactly who the right team is:  a deadly gang of young thugs, thieves, and runaways who are just desperate enough to agree to be part of this crazy mission.

 

LIKES

What I loved most about Six of Crows are the characters.  Leigh Bardugo has crafted some of the most fascinating and unique characters I’ve come across in YA fantasy.  I always enjoy stories that feature an anti-hero and with Kaz and his “Crows,” we have 6 anti-heroes! I love anti-heroes because they’re always such complex characters and these characters are no different. What each of the Crows have in common is that they have no family and they’ve each had to do some pretty awful things in the name of survival, including resorting to thievery and murder.  Through flashbacks that give us backstory on each of the characters, however, Bardugo manages to make this gang of thugs so sympathetic that you can’t help but fall in love with them. I also liked the angle that each character seemed to have their own, sometimes selfish motives, for wanting to be a part of Kaz’s mission and it added an element of suspense at times, as I wondered if someone would sabotage the mission to serve their own needs.

It’s hard to pick a favorite character because they’re all so badass, but Kaz is definitely near the top of my list.  As I’ve already mentioned, he’s a criminal mastermind. Even though he’s a teenager, his reputation precedes him and he is feared by many in Ketterdam, the city where the story takes place.  Kaz can be as greedy as he can be cruel, but he’s also so brilliant, brazen, and daring that you can’t help being drawn to him.  Kaz is also haunted by events from his past that left him alone and destitute, and he’s highly motivated by the desire for revenge against the man he holds responsible for what happened.

In addition to Kaz, there are also two badass female characters, Inej and Nina.  Inej, known as the wraith, has a reputation for being somewhat of a ninja.  Kaz calls her his spider because she can climb her way pretty much anywhere and can do so undetected, a very handy skill in their line of “work.” She’s also very skilled with knives and is perhaps the most murderous member of Kaz’s team. I just loved watching her in action as she cut down anyone who posed a threat to the team.  What made Inej especially fascinating to me was the connection between her and Kaz.  As much as Kaz tries to be all business, all the time and never show any emotion or weakness, it’s clear that he has a soft spot when it comes to Inej and her safety.  It’s also pretty clear that there’s a good chance the feeling is mutual.

Nina is what is known as a Grisha, which means she possesses magical abilities.  For the purposes of Kaz’s mission, Nina can use that magic to do useful things like slow people’s heartrates down until they lose consciousness.  She can also use her powers for healing purposes, also handy when you’re on a super-dangerous mission. As we learn from her backstory, Nina’s people have been persecuted for years because of their magic — imprisoned, tortured, and even burned at the stake.  Because the Grisha are the ones whose magic would be weaponized, Nina has personal reasons for wanting to take part in this mission.

Matthias is one of the characters that intrigued me the most.  At first, I couldn’t stand him, but the more I got to know about him, the more I just grew to adore him.  Kaz recruits him by breaking him out of jail and offering him a pardon for his crimes in exchange for his help with the mission.  Kaz sees Matthias as one of the biggest assets to the team because he used to work in the Ice Castle and can therefore give them the overall layout of the place, how the security works, etc.  Matthias is torn because he knows he should be loyal to the Ice Castle, but at the same time, how can you turn down a chance to be pardoned so that you can get your life back?  What makes the whole situation even more complicated is that he and Nina have shared history and he holds her responsible for his imprisonment.  Tension, much?  I swear I was convinced those two were going to kill each other for about half the book!  Beneath all that hate they seemed to have for each other though, you could sense there was something more, an almost smoldering attraction for one another.  Let me tell you – I’m not usually big on romance, but I was shipping the heck out of Nina and Matthias!

Jesper and Wylan.  While these two guys were clearly assets to the team as well with their knowledge of weapons and explosives, respectively, what I loved most about Jesper and Wylan was that they provided a bit of comic relief where the other characters were so intense all the time.  Jesper and Wylan teased each other relentlessly and their banter was just hilarious at times.

* * * * *

The world building in Six of Crows is also top notch.  Bardugo paints a vivid picture of Ketterdam with its rival street gangs swarming around duking it out for power.  It’s a dark and gritty world, as well as a dangerous one, filled with assorted thieves, predators, and traitors.  It’s hard to know who, if anyone, can be trusted.  The atmosphere definitely creates a sensation that all of the characters are vulnerable to attack by anyone anywhere so they have to be in survival mode at all times.

The Grisha magic system is also well thought out and vividly drawn. I went into Six of Crows without having read the Grisha series, which was probably a mistake as I’m sure it would have further enriched my understanding of the Grisha magic and their history, but even without having read it, I still felt like I completely understood the magic and why it would be such a valuable weapon if it could be amplified and harnessed. Imagine practically indestructible armies of Grisha fighting on your behalf.  You’d be unstoppable.

Action, Action, Action!  As I’m sure you can imagine just based on the details of their mission, Six of Crows is truly action-packed.  There are endless twists and turns, obstacles that need to be overcome, enemies that need to be taken out, plans that fall apart and then need to be improvised.  Although the novel starts out at a fairly slow pace as we are meeting each character and establishing the world of Ketterdam, once Kaz and his gang get started on their missions, it’s like jumping on a thrill ride that doesn’t stop until the final page.

 

DISLIKES

I can’t really say this is a dislike of the book, but it did take me about a hundred pages or so to really become invested in the characters and get sucked into the story.  Again, I’m chalking up my slow start to needing extra time to understand the Grisha magic and how it worked because I didn’t read the Grisha trilogy first.  Once I did get sucked in, however, there was no stopping me.  It probably took me 3 or 4 days to get to page 100, but then I inhaled the last 300 or so pages in another day and a half.  I guess my advice would if you are struggling to get into it, stick with it until they actually get started with the planning of their mission.  It might be a slow build in the beginning, but it’s a wild ride from that point to the very end.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I truly loved pretty much everything about Six of Crows, hence why I’m kicking myself for having waited so long to read it.  Up until now, Victoria Schwab’s Shades of Magic series has been, hands down, my favorite YA fantasy series.  I have to say though, Six of Crows is seriously giving it a run for its money.

 

RATING:  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the Six of Crows Duology and the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising), as well as the upcoming Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Aug 2017) and The Language of Thorns (Sept 2017).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be delighted if you followed her on Twitter, elated if you visited her web site, and fairly giddy if you liked her selfies on Instagram.

Beat the Backlist Book Review: When We Collided by Emery Lord

Beat the Backlist Book Review:  When We Collided by Emery LordWhen We Collided by Emery Lord
four-stars
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on April 5th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Seventeen year-old Jonah Daniels has lived in Verona Cove, California, his whole life, and only one thing has ever changed: his father used to be alive, and now he is not. With a mother lost in a deep bout of depression, Jonah and his five siblings struggle to keep up their home and the restaurant their dad left behind. But at the start of summer, a second change rolls in: Vivi Alexander, the new girl in town.

Vivi is in love with life. Charming and unfiltered, she refuses to be held down by the medicine she’s told should make her feel better. After meeting Jonah, she slides into the Daniels’ household seamlessly, winning over each sibling with her imagination and gameness. But it’s not long before Vivi’s zest for life begins to falter. Soon her adventurousness becomes all-out danger-seeking.

Through each high and low, Vivi and Jonah’s love is put to the test . . . but what happens when love simply isn’t enough?

MY REVIEW

Emery Lord’s When We Collided is a beautiful and moving story that follows teenagers Jonah Daniels and Vivi Alexander as they meet and fall in love in Verona Beach while on summer vacation.  What makes When We Collided such a standout novel for me, however, is that it’s so much more than just a contemporary romance.  It also offers up fully fleshed out, flawed and therefore realistic characters that I immediately connected with and wanted to know more about, has a strong focus on family, and most importantly, it gives the readers an honest and poignant look at what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder and depression.

 

LIKES

Emery Lord does an incredible job of crafting a dual point-of-view story where each point of view is distinct and equally compelling.  From the moment we meet them, we learn that each character has a secret they’re trying to hide – Vivi is trying to hide the fact that she has a mental illness while Jonah and his siblings are hiding the fact that their mother has been practically catatonic since their dad passed away seven months ago.  It’s easy to see that Vivi and Jonah’s decision to keep these facts hidden probably isn’t the best course of action in the long run, but at the same time, I can see where they’re coming from and why they’re not ready to let anyone know what they’re going through.

Jonah Daniels – I fell in love with his character from the first moment we encounter him as he’s walking his little sister down to the pottery shop so that she can paint a mug.  He’s such a sweet and devoted brother and son and he’s incredibly mature and responsible for his age, almost too responsible honestly.  His father’s death and his mother’s subsequent depression has forced Jonah to become an adult and the head of their household even though he’s only 17 and the third of six children.  It should be his summer vacation, but instead of enjoying his summer like his classmates are doing, Jonah spends every waking moment juggling work and taking care of his three younger siblings.

Vivi Alexander – Vivi has this vibrant, larger than life personality and so she blows into Verona Beach like a whirlwind and makes it her mission to spread her love of life all over the town. She is a free spirit who wants to see and experience everything that life has to offer.  As light and buoyant as Vivi seems, we do learn early on that there was some drama back at home and she and her mom are spending their summer at Verona Beach as a way to basically give Vivi a fresh start.  We also learn, when we witness Vivi make a production about tossing a pill out into the ocean, that she is supposed to be taking medication for something and has clearly chosen not to do so.  Seeing her do this so early on let me know right away that there’s way more to Vivi than meets the eye and I felt that things would not be all sunshine and rainbows for her during the course of the story.

Exploration of Mental Health – One of the things I really liked about When We Collided was that even though on the surface it looked like it was going to be summer romance story, it’s really so much more than that. Emery Lord explores many aspects of mental health, including bipolar disorder, grief, and depression.  Her exploration is thorough in that it not only allows us to see what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder and/or depression, but it also shows us what it’s like to live with and/or love someone who has either bipolar or depression.

In my mind, Vivi and Jonah aren’t so much in love with each other in this story as they “collided” at a time when each had a void in their lives that they needed filled.  For Jonah who has barely been living his own life since his dad died and his mom got too depressed to really function, Vivi arrives and brings much needed excitement, fun, spontaneity, and romance, giving Jonah somewhat of an escape from his all too serious life.  For Vivi, Jonah is someone she can focus her attention on this summer – she can have a fun summer fling with someone who isn’t watching her like a hawk for signs of mental illness and who knows nothing of the drama that her illness apparently created back home for her.  Since no one in Verona Beach knows of her history, everyone just assumes that her over-the-top enthusiastic personality is just that – her personality.  They don’t see it as a sign of untreated mental illness and so Vivi can live her life with a clean slate… well, as long as she can keep her disorder in check anyway.

Focus on Family – I loved Jonah’s whole family just as much as I loved Jonah.  Each sibling is well drawn and even though the story is mostly about Jonah and Vivi, Jonah’s family members don’t just function as a backdrop.  Lord really does a wonderful job of fleshing out the complexities of the Daniels family dynamic and I especially loved seeing Jonah’s relationship with each of his siblings.  He really does have a special bond with each of them, especially the older siblings that share the burden of trying to keep their family together.  While it was a little frustrating that they didn’t just go to someone to get help for their mom, I did admire how they all banded together to take care of each other.

The Setting:  Verona Beach is this charming small town on the California coast. I fell in love with the town because it reminded me so much of my own hometown.  It’s one of those places where everyone knows everyone else and there’s just a real sense of community.  There are also lots of quaint little shops all over town, like the pottery studio where main character Vivi ends up working and the diner where the waitress calls everyone nicknames like sugar and honeybun.  Everything about Verona Beach is just picture perfect.

DISLIKES

Because I saw this novel as more of an exploration of mental illness, I kind of wish it didn’t have a romance in it. What Jonah and Vivi each really needed was a good friend to confide in more so than they needed someone to flirt with and date.   Their relationship was still cute at times, but I think the story could have been even more powerful and memorable than it already is if it had been more about friendship.  Just a personal preference though and the romance didn’t diminish my love of the story.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a fun summer read, I’d honestly say that this probably isn’t the best choice.  Even though that romance is there, it’s definitely not the focus of When We Collided.  If you’re looking for a thoughtful read that gives an honest look into what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder and/or depression, then When We Collided would be a great choice.

RATING:  4 STARS

four-stars

About Emery Lord

Hi! I’m Emery. I’m the author of four novels about teenage girls:  OPEN ROAD SUMMER, THE START OF ME & YOU, WHEN WE COLLIDED, and THE NAMES THEY GAVE US.  I was born near a harbor on the East coast and raised near a beach, an ocean, a great lake, and the Ohio River. I’m a longtime Cincinnatian, where we love good beer, good music, and our public library.   I’m married to a scientist who shuts down every wedding dance floor, and we are owned by two rescue dogs.  I believe in the magic of storytelling, Ferris wheels, and you.” – Emery Load, in her own words

Book Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Book Review:  Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida CordovaLabyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1) by Zoraida Córdova
four-stars
Series: Brooklyn Brujas
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on September 6th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 324
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

MY REVIEW

Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost is the first book in the Brooklyn Brujas series and it follows sixteen year old Alex, who is just trying to live her life as an average teen in Brooklyn, New York.  Alex, however, is anything but average.  She comes from a long line of magical brujas and brujos, which are witches, so everyone in her family is eagerly anticipating the moment when her magical powers finally awaken.  The problem is that Alex doesn’t want her powers. Her family doesn’t realize it, but Alex’s magic has long since awoken and she thinks she accidentally caused something bad to happen with it since she couldn’t control it.  Because of that, she wants to parts of this magic and so has hidden her magic from others  for as long as she could.

Eventually, however, her family finds out and they throw her the traditional Deathday celebration. This celebration is a family blessing of sorts, including both living family members as well as the spirits of those who have died, which ensures every bruja and brujo’s magic works as it should.  As they are preparing for the Deathday celebration, Alex meets a new friend, Nova.  She is immediately drawn to Nova, although she’s not sure she trusts him because he acts so mysterious.  She confides in him that she doesn’t want her powers and he suggests a spell she can use to eradicate them during the Deathday ceremony.  Alex attempts the spell during the ceremony and, much to her horror, it backfires and banishes her entire family to another realm, an in-between world of sorts, called Los Lagos.  The rest of the book focuses on Alex’s quest to travel to this other world and to right her wrong and save her family.

LIKES

There were so many things I loved about this story that it would take me all day to list them, but here are some standouts for me.

Unique WorldbuildingLabyrinth Lost feels like a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Orpheus’ journey to the underworld to save Eurydice, and then on top of that, it is also filled with a rich history of Spanish and Latin American legends.  Córdova uses this unique combination of ingredients to create one of the most incredibly original worlds I’ve encountered since I started reading fantasy novels.  It’s equal parts creepy and magical and you can’t even begin to guess from one moment to the next what Alex will face on her journey across Los Lagos.  There’s a portal to the other world that must be traveled through, then there’s a ferry that must be taken across a river of souls where souls actually try to grab at the ferry’s passengers, not to mention fierce monsters that are prowling around just waiting to attack, and there’s even a random a tea party, complete with little toad stool chairs, in progress.  I really flew through these pages because I just couldn’t wait to see what Alex would encounter next.

DiversityLabyrinth Lost scores high marks in diversity. In addition to use of Latin folklore, the main character is a person of color and she is also bisexual.  (For those who are fans of love triangles, there’s one in this book and it’s f/f/m).

Family Relationships – I loved how Labyrinth Lost had such a huge focus on family and how important one’s family is.  Even though their relationships tend to be complicated, as most families are, Alex is so close to both her mom and her two sisters and it kills her to think they are suffering because of what she did.  She is willing to risk everything, including her own life, to do whatever she needs to do to free them from Los Lagos.

Coming of Age Story – I love reading journeys of self-discovery and Alex’s journey definitely fits the bill.  When the novel first opened, I honestly didn’t even really like Alex that much. She came across as very selfish and spoiled, and so in many ways, she was my least favorite character. That said, however, she shows such tremendous growth as she devotes herself to saving her family and learns to embrace her magic and all it entails along the way.  By the end of the novel, I ended up loving Alex.

DISLIKES

I won’t really call this a dislike because it’s more “Man, I really wish there was more of this” and that involves Alex’s friend and eventual love interest, Rishi.  Rishi is so devoted to Alex that when she sees this random open portal in Alex’s backyard and can’t find Alex anywhere, she dives into the portal without hesitation because she wants to make sure Alex is okay.  Beyond the fact that she’s totally devoted to Alex, however, we don’t really learn that much about her.  I loved the little glimpses of her personality that we did get and really wanted more.  I’m glad this is just the first in the series so there’s hope for more about Rishi.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Labyrinth Lost is such a unique and memorable read. I loved learning about the Latin folklore and look forward to exploring it further when the next book in the Brooklyn Brujas series is released.

RATING:  4 STARS

four-stars

About Zoraida Córdova

Zoraida Córdova is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and Labyrinth Lost. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. She is a New Yorker at heart and is currently working on her next novel. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro.

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Book Review:  The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
five-stars
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 28th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:   Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.  But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

MY REVIEW

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr Carter, a teenager who is basically caught between two completely different worlds, the economically depressed community she has grown up in and the affluent, mostly white high school that she attends.  In Starr’s mind, these two worlds are incompatible and so she has compartmentalized each and crafted two separate identities for herself so that she can exist in each world.  Although she switches back and forth between these identities with relative ease, she still spends the majority of her time pretending in an effort to fit in.  The end result is that she can’t really be herself and, at the point we meet her, has begun to question if she even knows who the real Starr is anymore.  What brings Starr’s struggle to figure out who she is to a head is when she witnesses her childhood friend Khalil being killed by a police officer during what appeared to be a routine traffic stop.  Protests erupt and soon the shooting garners media attention.  Everyone wants to know what happened that night and some are starting to fill in the blanks themselves, maligning Khalil’s character and referring to him as little more than a drug dealing thug.  Once the media begins reporting on the shooting, Starr’s two worlds collide because now even her rich, privileged schoolmates are talking about it.

Starr, as the sole witness, is the only one with the power to speak up and secure justice for Khalil, who was unarmed and did absolutely nothing to warrant being shot.  Will she remain silent and continue to hide who she really is because it’s easier that way or will she be brave enough to find her voice, step up into the spotlight, and try to get justice for Khalil?

LIKES

The Hate U Give is, by far, one of the most powerful books I’ve read in recent years.  It’s powerful not just because it’s inspired by and shines a light on the the importance of the Black Lives Matter Movement and because it exposes the systemic racism that continues to pervade our society, but also because it does so much more than that. It’s a beautifully crafted coming of age story as well, and it’s also a book about the importance of family and community.  Angie Thomas beautifully weaves all of these elements together into a compelling story that hooked me from page one and that I can’t stop thinking about now that I have finished reading it.  I don’t even think I really have the words to do justice to how wonderful a read this is.  All I can say is that it’s one of the few books I’ve read in my life that I wish I could hand out copies of to everyone I come across and encourage them to read it and then share it with someone else.

I tend to measure how good a book is by how many emotions it makes me feel while I’m reading and The Hate U Give is off the charts in that respect.  It made me sad and brought me to tears several times, it made me frustrated and angry, and it even managed to make me smile and laugh a few times along the way as well. I also felt the love between Starr and her family, as well as the love that held her community together.  When I say it’s a powerful read, that’s what I’m talking about.  This book is just so real and honest and raw that you feel EVERYTHING the characters are going through.

I fell in love with Starr right away.  She’s immensely likeable right from the start – funny, smart, sassy, and also a wonderful daughter and sister — and it broke my heart to watch her feel like she always had to hide half of herself in order to fit in.  It also broke my heart to learn that she has already witnessed so much violence and death in her sixteen years.  I mean, seriously. She is 16 years old – her biggest concerns in life at that point should be where she’s going to college, who she is going to date, what color dress she is going to wear to the prom.  Having to decide whether or not to speak out to defend her friend who was shot by a policeman should not be a part of her reality.  The fact that it is the reality for some young people makes Starr’s journey all the more poignant.

Speaking of Starr’s journey, I loved watching her change and grow throughout the novel.  She has some hard decisions to make.  I don’t want to give away any specific details here but I’m just going to say that watching her decide what she’s going to do and then finding her own voice and true self was one of the most beautiful parts of the story for me.

It wasn’t only Starr that I fell in love with though. I loved her family too and I loved how important their role in the book was too.  Her parents are so supportive of her every step of the way and vow to stand by her no matter what choice she decides to make.  Their love, support, and the lessons they have taught Starr and her siblings are what ultimately help Starr make her choice:  “Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared, Starr. It means you go on even though you’re scared. And you’re doing that.”

In many ways I connected with the parents even more than I connected with Starr, I guess because I’m a parent too.  I cried when I read the passage about how there are two important lessons that Starr’s parents taught her and her siblings: 1) the birds and the bees, and 2) how to behave if you are stopped by a police officer so that no harm comes to you.  As a parent, it just ripped my heart out to think there are fellow parents out there who have to teach their kids that second lesson.  As a mom, I have always taught my son that the police are who you go to when you need help.  No parent should live with the fear that their children are in danger if they come into contact with the police.

I also connected with the parents because even when they were at odds with each other about how to best raise their family, I understood exactly why they each felt the way they did.  Starr’s mom desperately wants to get her babies out of this community and into a safer one.  She’s a momma bear protecting her cubs all the way and I was right there with her.  That said, however, I was also right there with Starr’s dad, Mav.  What he said make perfect sense too.  He doesn’t want to abandon his community.  His view is how is anything ever going to change for the better if everyone just leaves and he has made it a crusade to save the community one child at a time.  If he hears of a teen who has gone down the wrong path and ended up in a gang but then wants out, Mav makes it his mission in life to get them out of that life and back on the right path.  I thought Angie Thomas did an amazing job of bringing these real parental fears to life and making it so easy for any parent to relate to and to sympathize with.  Every parent can understand that fierce need to keep their babies safe, whether it’s by moving them somewhere else or by trying to change the community itself so that all kids are safe.

DISLIKES

I have absolutely no complaints about The Hate U Give.  My only dislike is reading the character of Hailey and knowing that there really are people out there in the world like her, who are either racist or just completely oblivious about how hurtful and stupid some of the things they say are.  I cheered when she finally got the smackdown she deserved, although she clearly still learned nothing from it.  I really hope that everyone will read this book and learn from it and that we’ll end up with a few less Haileys in the world going forward.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve barely scratched the surface on why I think this book is so incredible.  All I can say at this point is GO READ THIS BOOK!  It’s eye opening and sobering, honest and raw, riveting and sometimes painful, but it’s also filled with love and hope, and I promise you that it’s one of the most important books you’ll ever read.  Its message will stick with you long after you’ve finished the last page.

RATING:  5  STARS

five-stars

About Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.