Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review: This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

Title: This Lullaby 

Author: Sarah Dessen 

Rating: 4 Stars

For Remy, planning her mother's fifth wedding is not a surprise. A cynic when it comes to love, Remy's life has been a flash of watching her mother cycle through different boyfriends, different husbands, and different attempts at happily-ever-after. Remy's own father, a musician, never even met her before he passed away, leaving behind a song, "This Lullaby", as his only legacy and gift to his daughter. Needless to say, Remy's life has been meticulously planned, not around love, but around preventing it. Of her rules, staying away from musicians ranks at the top of the list, swiftly followed by ending every relationship she's been in before becoming emotionally attached. Now, the summer before her freshman year at Stanford University, Remy has everything figured - or she thinks she does. Until, that is, Dexter bumps into her and forces her to re-evaluate everything she thought she knew about love, life, and family.

I picked up This Lullaby desperately needing to immerse myself back into the Young Adult genre. Sarah Dessen, though sticking to a rather predictable formula, nevertheless manages to stun audiences every time, using her words and characters to weave together the best aspects of the Young Adult Contemporary genre. With a Dessen novel, I can always expect a realistic protagonist, one whose flaws are even more obvious than her strengths; a swoon-worthy love interest who never "heals" the heroine, but merely helps her reach the stage where she can "heal" herself; strong female friendships with meaningful conversations; and complex familial ties. In all these aspects, This Lullaby did not disappoint in the least.

It has always surprised me that Dessen is never criticized for writing unlikable heroines when most authors most definitely are. In retrospect, though, it is clear that Dessen's protagonists are balanced, both their light and dark qualities ones which readers are able to connect to. Remy, however, doesn't fit into this box perfectly, which I swiftly welcomed. From the beginning itself, Remy is cynical and indifferent. When it comes time to break up with her boyfriend, she performs the task with a cold and singular type of devotion, reciting the lines without thinking about them because this is a path she has traveled down before - many, many times. Yet, despite her plethora of boyfriends and past sexual experiences, Dessen draws a firm line, making it clear that Remy's actions do not label her as a slut. Instead, we grow to love and appreciate Remy, despite her prickliness and especially despite the fact that she is not the simpering virgin that dominates literature.

Dexter, the cute musician who is drawn to Remy from the moment he lays eyes on her, is an utterly swoon-worthy addition to this cast. With Dexter and Remy, their relationship is slow and meaningful, carefully forcing Remy to break her own rules. It is her friends, in particular, who notice this change, though not all of them encourage it. While Remy's friends do not factor into a large portion of the plot, they are nevertheless present and distinct in their personalities, both supporting her decisions and offering their own. It doesn't come across as the classic one-best-friend-to-rule-them-all type of friendship, but it is unique and important in its own right. Even with Dexter, their relationship hardly follows the classic story arc. While it is, admittedly, peppered with a few circumstances which have been done before, I enjoyed its originality and, moreover, Remy's growing discomfort with her attachment to Dexter.

The crux of This Lullaby lies not in the Remy accepting her love for Dexter, but rather in her accepting the idea of love at all. Even within her own family, Remy cannot comprehend how her older brother has fallen in love; how did he make that decision? It doesn't hit Remy that love isn't a controllable emotion; that no matter how hard she tries, she either has to give in and fall at some point or merely make herself unhappy. In an effort to ensure she never becomes her mother, Remy fails to see that her mother's re-marriages are not a sign of failure, but rather a sign of hope; of trying at love, again and again and again. Remy's ultimate growth is a combination of her familial influence, her friendships, her blossoming relationship with Dexter over a summer which is coming to an end, and so much more as well. Dessen's novels contain such realistic issues and focus on them so thoroughly, with single-minded devotion, that their conclusions are intensely satisfying. It seems as if, these days, more and more contemporary novels seem to tackle on a multitude of issues from relationship problems to self-discovery and sibling strife all in one novel when, really, Sarah Dessen figured out the key a long time ago. This Lullaby is not my favorite Dessen novel, not by a long shot, but it is the one I will remember with the most clarity (if for nothing else than for the fact that there is a Potato Song within these pages). If more authors wrote the way Dessen did, you'd be hard-pressed to get be out of the Contemporary YA section...ever.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Recommended Reads: Books I Haven't Reviewed Edition

Quite simply put, I've been a little bit too busy, a little bit too tired, and a little bit too lazy to review every book I've read so far this year. I make a genuine effort to review the books I read, but sometimes I come across terrible ones I just cannot be bothered to waste time to review, or indifferent ones I cannot summon up any feeling to review, or just excellent time-pass reads which I am not required to review for publishers and which, fortunately or unfortunately, end up at the bottom of my review pile until I simply give up on them and decide not to review them altogether. At roughly a quarter through the year and a third of the way through my reading challenge, however, I figured it would be a good idea to compile a short list of the novels I haven't reviewed but which I do believe deserve a shove in the direction of any willing reader.

"Chick-Lit" At its Finest
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I've loved both Kristan Higgins work and that of Susan Elizabeth Phillips in the past and these three titles are every-bit as swoon-worthy and heart-warming as you could hope. (It definitely helps that they each contain swoon-worthy hunks too!) While some of Higgins and Phillips work is organized, very loosely, into a series, each book can be read as a stand-alone. Match Me if You Can is the 6th Chicago Stars book, of which I've only read the first book, and Call Me Irresistible is the 6th Wynette, Texas book, none of which I've read before, so you can read these books in whichever order you desire - it makes no difference. 

It's Getting HOT in Here!
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Ruthie Knox's books manage to be both incredible sexy and wonderfully poignant. Bailey's Asking for Trouble is the 4th installment in a series she writes, of which I've only read the first book, but it's my favorite one of the bunch. If you're looking for steamy reads with depth, place your bets on these good-looking covers. ;)

No Recommendation Required 
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I've reviewed work by these three authors before and waxed poetry about their writing style and characterization that I hardly felt the need to re-iterate those same words. Laugh, told in the same vein as Live, is absolutely wonderful and Mary Ann Rivers leaves me speechless every time. Stealing Heaven is far more light-hearted than Scott's Heartbeat and a great deal cuter, so if you're in the need of a quick novel to curl up with and smile, this is the one. And Stardust is downright magical. Admittedly, I enjoyed the film better, but I'm not complaining after listening to the audio version of this one as well.

Short and Sweet: Novellas
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I discovered Courtney Milan earlier this year and fell in LOVE. Both of these novellas are absolutely fantastic, as are her full-length historical romance novels. Milan's work is less steam and more depth, which I appreciate, so look out for a series of mini-reviews concerning her work sometime in the near-future. And Ilona Andrews. Well, I love them and Silent Blade is no exception. It's a short sci-fi novella that manages to pack both incredible world-building and plenty of sizzling romance into its short pages. A definite must-read for all fans. 

I apologize both for not having taken the time to review these and for writing increasingly shorter, poorer quality reviews these days. Just bear with me and hopefully my reviews will get back on track and feel less like performing a chore, which they've somewhat felt like these past few days. If you'd like any more information on these books, though, do e-mail me ( and I'd love to fill you in on any more information you may require as this post truly is quite inadequate in addressing specifics about these novels.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ARC Review: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama

Title: Plus One

Author: Elizabeth Fama

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: April 8th, 2014

From the moment I cracked open the spine of Plus One, it felt as if Elizabeth Fama had written her sophomore novel just for me.

For the past year and a half, practically, I've been dutifully rejecting every dystopian novel that has come my way, from the older Maze Runner to the newer The 5th Wave and the unreleased Salvage. In other words, I have been mentally and not-so-mentally raging about the dystopian genre; at its lack of originality, its failure to draw forth complex characters, and at its blatant efforts to tone down political and sexual themes for a teenage audience. Needless to say, when Plus One fell into my lap, I had reached the end of my patience, determined to give up on the genre as a whole if Fama's sophomore novel - which had already received wide acclaim - failed me as well. Plus One, however, proved to be not only the novel I needed to read, but the novel I didn't even realize I wanted to read. If you've ever experienced a similar emotion - of becoming immersed inside a novel your imagination couldn't even have conjured up - then you'll know that that isn't an experience you're likely to forget. Ever.

In 1918, when the flu pandemic destroyed much of human life, our government decided to segregate humans into two groups: Night and Day. With strict curfews put in place, alongside rules, regulations, and a different type of lifestyle entirely, our society worked tirelessly to prevent the spread of the pandemic, believing that this method of split civilization would work to contain the disease. Following its success, however, the segregation remained, Smudges and Rays staying apart, yet another twisted form of the classic "separate but equal" which, as history sadly informs us, is only separate, not equal. Plus One begins with Sol, our protagonist, planning to break into a hospital in broad daylight with the intention of showing her dying grandfather the face of his great-granddaughter before he passes away. For Sol and Poppu, her grandfather, going outside during the day is a criminal offense. Ever since Sol's brother, Ciel, was switched to a Day schedule, however, Sol has seen little of her brother and even less of his family. It is Poppu's dying wish, though, that forces Sol to break the rigid rules of her society, daring into the sunlight and into the hospital where her newborn niece lies sleeping. Only, D'Arcy, a Ray apprentice whose perceptive nature immediately finds Sol suspicious, quickly derails her best-laid plans. But there are plans in motion that neither Sol nor D'Arcy can anticipate and before either of them quite know it, their lives become about so much more than a dying wish, societal rules, or even a sleeping baby.

From the beginning itself, Fama's sophomore novel stand out due to its impeccable world-building. Fama unveils the details of this world slowly, gradually, and timely. It's an extremely detailed set-up and I appreciated that Fama never skipped over the political repercussions of her world. If anything, the political motivations, gains, and corruption of Fama's society are just as palpable and integral in her world as they are in ours. While this isn't a dystopian novel (strictly speaking since it isn't futuristic, merely an alternate type of society), we do come to know of many imperfections within this society - imperfections spurned by both political drive and human nature. As a stand-alone, Plus One avoids the icky set-up of a classic dystopian trilogy in which the "big reveal" behind an imperfect society is hyped up to such an extent that by the time we discover its secrets, we are no longer impressed. Instead, Fama times her clues perfectly, dropping hints but never ruining the ultimate surprise for readers, which proves to be satisfying in a clever manner, drawing together threads from much earlier on in the novel to tie up the story as a whole. Another plus point is that the class inequalities are explored carefully, proving to be multiple shades of gray instead of the black-and-white Sol may originally think it is.

Nevertheless, those technical issues aside, the plot of Plus One is driven by Sol's love for her grandfather, Poppu. In an effort to ensure he holds his great-granddaughter before he dies, she sets out to break the law. While Fama does use sparing flashbacks to build the strength of the bond that Sol feels for her grandfather and older brother, the love within this family is palpable and ever-present, more a feeling than a combination of words, which I loved. Additionally, these flashbacks never took away from the novel, only adding to it due to the fact that they were sparse and concise. All too often it is easy to become embroiled in the past, not the present, but Fama never wanders down that path. Furthermore, Plus One continues to win points from me due to its ending. It is ever-so-slightly open, the way I like it, and I hope Fama writes a companion novel set in this same world because I'd love to know more about the political machinations of this society. (Admittedly, we are given quite a lot, but, as always, I just want MOAR.)

When it comes to the romance, however, (which its cover promises is far more prominent than it really is), Plus One faltered, ever-so-slightly. While I loved D'Arcy, the romantic interest of this novel, and found him to be a million shades of swoon, I wasn't wholly sold on the romance. Granted, there is a hefty amount of development and Sol and D'Arcy, though enticing characters on their own right, are even more explosive together. Yet, their relationship jumps very quickly from like to love once they realize a mini-plot twist. Admittedly, I could understand their excitement at this revelation, but I couldn't emotionally get behind it as I didn't feel as if their relationship exuded that level of affection. Fama writes it on the page flawlessly but as for my heart? It just couldn't take in the magnitude of feeling that Fama claimed lay between them. I also felt as if the word "love" was thrown around a little too casually here. Sol's time is short, from page one itself, because she takes it upon herself to break the law. We know she'll be serving time in jail and I feel as if the relationship between D'Arcy and Sol was rushed into love as a consequence despite the fact that it didn't feel as natural. Moreover, while I am all for sex in YA, the short sex scene in Plus One didn't serve a purpose. Once again, it felt as if D'Arcy and Sol rushed into this because their time was so limited and while I am able to understand that sentiment, I wish that their experience had some meaning. I wish it gave strength or courage or at least comfort. Instead, it felt very much like bucket-list sex. Like "I might die soon so let's just get it on now while we can" kind of sex which I wasn't a fan of.

I was fortunate enough to have Elizabeth Fama reach out to be about my issues with her portrayal of the romance in this novel and I'd like to share with you what she said:

I just wanted to say that I was happy to see you mention the "bucket-list" sex that bothered you. For me, you hit the nail on the head when you said "The relationship between D'Arcy and Sol was rushed into love" and "D'Arcy and Sol rushed into [sex] because their time was so limited." 

Your discomfort is appropriate, in my opinion. The sex scene is in there for a very serious reason, and I think of it as crucial to the more meaningful theme of the book: the loss of liberty and civil rights. I wanted Sol and D'Arcy to bring a human face to the injustice, by making the reader care about them. Here are two young people who should have the simple right to get to know each other and be together, who can't be together for an arbitrary reason imposed on them by the government. And now you--the reader--have gotten to know and love them and you want them to be together, at whatever pace is comfortable for them, and doesn't it stink that this system interferes with that? Doesn't that mean we should all protect our liberties? (This sentiment that I hoped readers would feel is stated explicitly by Grady Hastings, who is quoting Clarence Darrow in his speech when he says "You can only be free if I am free.") Sol's determination to have sex with D'Arcy while she can is symbolically the crux of the book for me. Her urgency is directly related to the loss of control she feels, knowing they'll be torn apart. I think Sol and D'Arcy are the kind of kids who would have had a longer courtship if their world and their circumstance had been different. But given their situation, they didn't feel they had the luxury to choose.

For me, reading Elizabeth's words shed a LOT of light on this story. I chose to first share my original sentiments in this review because I can sense that other readers may feel this way about the love story as well - and that, as Fama has said, is a normal reaction. When forced to think beyond this bubble, though, beyond the scope of just that one sex scene or those few moments when the word "love" slipped out, I love that, in reality, this entire relationship is a statement about Fama's imaginary society. All too often, swoon is added into a novel in order to make it more appealing to audiences. For me, the fact that the romance in Plus One serves a greater purpose and does, in fact, both engage readers and hold a deeper meaning within the plot of this story, truly won me over regarding its growth arc. Often times, it takes stepping back to look beyond mere emotion to understand the magnitude of a scene, both in real-life and in literature, and I hope other readers will appreciate this aspect of Plus One as well. Needless to say, Plus One comes very highly recommended from me. If its cover hasn't already compelled you to pre-order it, then I certainly hope I will.

Once again, a huge thank you to Elizabeth Fama for taking the time to write to be about Plus One. Your words have enhanced my appreciation as a reader, thinker, and analyzer and for that, I cannot thank you enough.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Curse, #1)

Author: Marie Rutkoski 

Rating: 4 Stars

Ironically enough, I think the hype surrounding The Winner's Curse is its only flaw. 

Quite simply put, Rutkoski's latest venture into fantasy is stunning. Filled with rich world-building, vivid characters, and a simmering romance sure to make readers swoon with its intensity, Rutkoski adeptly maneuvers around typical tropes flawlessly. The Winner's Curse lacks a cliffhanger, lacks a love triangle, lacks insta-love, lacks a Mary Sue...basically, every nit-picky issue churned through the YA genre time and time again is absent from this novel. Moreover, the content within The Winner's Curse proves to be thought-provoking, pushing readers to fall in love with characters who are forced to make difficult decisions, whose moral compasses don't always point in the right directions. And, don't get me wrong, I loved all of this. 

But, after all the hype - the sheer LOVE pouring out for this book prevalent all over the blogosphere - I expected to be stunned. I expected to be brought to my knees in amazement, to shed tears of emotion and to be filled with the desire to re-read The Winner's Curse the moment I finished it. 

And, because I didn't feel that heady rush of emotion, I began to notice miniscule flaws within the story. Arin's severe lack of background. Odd shifts of time during the second-half of the novel. Disappointingly short action sequences. Political motivations hastily sped through. 

While the first-half of The Winner's Curse had me hook, line, and sinker, its second-half began to expose the holes in its veneer of perfection. Essentially, the plot direction of the latter half of this story is dense. It could, even, easily go on for another hundred pages, if only Rutkoski had bothered to include the fine detail she effortlessly poured through the first half of the novel. It isn't a major flaw; it isn't even a flaw I would have noticed had I not cracked open the spine of this book being aware of the hype surrounding it. Perhaps, if I had received an ARC, this would have been a 5 Star read. Alas, though I enjoyed The Winner's Curse, I did not love it. I want the sequel - desperately - but I also do not foresee this series becoming a trilogy, merely because the conflict seems to be rather condensed. Shadow and Bone felt like the start to an epic; The Winner's Curse, in contrast, merely seems to be the start of something very good.

Monday, March 24, 2014

ARC Review: Going Over by Beth Kephart

Title: Going Over

Author: Beth Kephart

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: April 1st, 2014

I feel oddly conflicted about Going Over.

Kephart's writing is, as always, a thing of beauty. From her vivid descriptions to her short, succinct phrases which convey emotion so artfully, the prose of this novel is to be marveled. Moreover, its subject matter - the tumultuous time period during which the Berlin Wall separated families and lovers in East and West Germany - has dutifully been researched, making this a novel which unabashedly immerses its readers into this era. Kephart writes of two young lovers, but even more than their tragic romance, she writes of their growth; of their relationship with family and friends, of their delicate dreams in a time period of suffering, and of their unrelentless hope for a future which seems so far away.

Nevertheless, that being said, I felt equally connected and distanced from certain aspects of this story.  Going Over is told primarily from the Ada's point of view, a young teenage girl who dearly misses her boyfriend stuck on the other side of the wall. In fact, it is Ada's perspective which brought this time period to life for me, particularly the entire story line concerning a young boy she looks after in day care. It is written with poise and flavor, fleshing out these complex relationships and managed to resonate deeply with me. On the other hand, though, the perspective of Stefan, her boyfriend who lives on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, fell flat. It was told in second perspective, which felt unnecessary, and the love story within these pages didn't completely win me over as a result. While the romance is not the central point of the novel, it is a driving force of agency between these characters, dictating much of their actions and shaping their personalities. As a result, to feel indifferent towards it did me no favors.

Moreover, the crux of this novel lies in the fact that Stefan and Ada are separated. Ada is constantly convincing Stefan to take the risk, jump the wall, and live with her. It's dangerous and Stefan shares many reservations about this, which makes up the main story line of this book. Interspersed are other plot threads, all relevant to the time period, but this main arc didn't strike completely true with me. Mostly because the tipping point that launches Stefan into finally jumping the wall for Ada rang false, not selling me on this epic love story in the least.

Small Damages, also by Kephart, won me over heart-and-soul when I read it last year. Not only did it contain beautifully written characters full of messy dilemmas, but it forced me to re-evaluate my opinions on the many issues it covered. Compared to that, Going Over falls flat as it never truly propelled me to think beyond the scope of the story. If you're looking to get a taste of Kephart's writing style, however, alongside a moving story, I cannot recommend that novel enough. Going Over is beautifully written and its ending is downright poetic, but I still am far more conflicted about it than I'd like to be...

Friday, March 21, 2014

Review: The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

Title: The Wild Girl 

Author: Kate Forsyth 

Rating: 5 Stars

More often than not, I finish a book and settle down to write a review in order to organize my thoughts, make sense of the work I've just read, and waste a few more precious seconds lingering in a fictional world before waking up to reality. From time to time, however, review-writing is a cathartic experience; an effort to push the novel - the words, the characters, the setting - out of my blood stream and into the void, where it can no longer haunt my dreams and every waking thought. The Wild Girl falls into this latter category of brilliant, beautiful, sweeping stories that have captured me, heart and soul, but not returned me to this Earth; not just yet.

The Brothers Grimm are known worldwide; in perhaps the earliest of childhood memories, their names and folk tales are set in stone. It is easy to think of them as hobbling old men, gray hair falling past their shoulders as they scribble late into the night, leaning on old wooden walking sticks as they crowd around a fire, or simply dreaming in the shade of faeries. In reality, however, the Brothers Grimm were young, ambitious men when they set out to collect old German stories and compile them into expansive volumes; originally for scholars, but later for children. Wilhelm Grimm, the younger of these two Brothers Grimm, was loved from afar by the second-youngest of his neighbors six daughters, Dortchen Wild. At the tender age of twelve, Dortchen looked upon nineteen-year-old Wilhelm's kind face and fell in love. 

In was only 1805 when the two first met in Hessen-Cassel, an era dominated by Napoleon's sweeping victories across Europe as he swiftly rose to power and fame. All the history books tell us of Wilhelm's life is that he diligently wrote the tales told to him by the village women, Dortchen being one of them, falling in love with her. Dortchen's father, Herr Wild, refused to have one of his daughters marry a Grimm and, it seemed, their love story was doomed. When he passed away in 1814, though, Wilhelm and Dortchen were still unmarried. It was only in 1825, after years of poverty and hardship, that the two become husband and wife. The Wild Girl is Forsyth's vivid re-imagining of the years in-between; the years spent in longing and heartbreak, in despair and hope, but always - always - in love. 

From the first page itself, The Wild Girl is a marvel of literature. Forsyth, having delved deep into the history of the Brothers Grimm and, in particular, Wilhelm's wife, narrates this tale from Dortchen's perspective, sticking devoutly to known historical dates and filling in details as accurately as possible, paying hommage to the mysterious companion of Wilhelm whose story-telling abilities were unrivaled. The Wild Girl sucked me in primarily due to the sheer scope of research evident throughout its pages. Not only did Forsyth perfectly mimic the German sentiment during these difficult times of war and poverty, but she never hesitated to delve into politics, medicine, and the law of the era. In every way possible, The Wild Girl is an accurate representation of 19th Century Germany, so much so that it became difficult for me to re-orient myself back into the 21st Century whenever I dared tear my eyes away from the page. 

While the historical aspects of this novel drew me in, though, the characters compelled me to stay. Dortchen is a vivacious narrator, known to be "wild" among her sisters. When we first meet her, Dortchen's naivety and childhood innocence linger, despite the fact that she is on the brink of adolescence. As Dortchen matures, however, growing into womanhood and surviving the hardships of war, poverty, and death, her change is drastic. Gone is the laughing, child-like wonder, replaced instead by demure fear and stone emotion. It is a gradual process, though, and for every grief Dortchen suffers, there are just as many stolen moments of ecstasy and delight to counter them. The Wild Girl is a dark tale, to be sure. It had me bawling into my blankets, covering my eyes from reading further in a poor attempt to protect my heart. And yet, it is remains a tale of hope, long-lasting relationships, and deep love. Although Dortchen is altered by the events in her life, she is never too far gone that she doesn't retain her quiet wisdom, teasing cleverness, or her tell-tale sense of adventure. Dortchen's journey is a hard one, but it also worthwhile. 

As life throws hurdles in Dortchen's path, so does her heart. At first, her infatuation for Wilhelm can easily be dismissed as a mere childhood crush. As it persists, however, aching with jealousy or smarting from ignorance, the idea of Dortchen and Wilhelm's romance becomes ever-more actualized. Over stolen stories, cups of tea, and garden parties, Wilhelm gradually grows to return Dortchen's love. And still, this affection is that between adolescents; an innocent union untouched by pain, one that does not know the power of dangerous storms which wish to quell it. Over the years, Dortchen and Wilhelm fall apart and back together again, their friendship persisting in strength even where their understanding fails them. Still, it is a beautiful, rich relationship to watch unfold, one that delights in every way imaginable. Moreover, the tales Forsyth weaves into their relationship share a greater meaning to their love story, those themes persisting as Dortchen and Wilhelm struggle to find a way back to one another, despite the lost years between them. 

In addition to the love story, though, The Wild Girl is an unflinchingly true story of family. Neither the Wild family nor the Grimm family are perfect, each harboring members whose cruelty or selfishness brings shame upon their name. And yet, that age-old sense of unity is palpable throughout these pages. Dortchen and her sisters may not always get along, but the pervading morale of sacrifice is evident in their relationships. Unfortunately, though, just as folk tales predict, the darkest betrayals and most harmful hurts come from those we trust and love: our own families. Forsyth walks a fine line in molding her characters into beings not quite heroic, but not utterly villainous either. While The Wild Girl is, admittedly, a love story, it is first and foremost the story of Dortchen. It is Dortchen's family, then, her friends and acquaintances whom she keeps in touch with over the years, who additionally grace the pages of this novel, coming to life through Forsyth's multifaceted portrayal of their morality. Looking back on The Wild Girl as a whole, I am able to see the craft Forsyth used to make even her secondary characters grow and change with time and circumstance. A truly noteworthy feat, indeed. 

Where The Wild Girl falters, ever-so-slightly, is in the fact that the majority of this novel takes place during the first ten years of Dortchen and Wilhelm's initial meeting. Following the death of Herr Wilder, the novel picks up its pace, rushing through the years. Nevertheless, it remains impeccably paced for the story at hand. Until, that is, the last few chapters. Dortchen's revival from the confused, broken shell she becomes into the confident, content woman who is finally ready to marry her childhood sweetheart wasn't touched upon as much as I would have liked. While there remains plenty of growth, granted, it felt incongruous with the depth of the Dortchen's earlier growth prior to her father's death. Nevertheless, The Wild Girl remains a literary masterpiece of history, folk tale, and love. It may be only my first Forsyth novel, but you can be sure it won't be my last. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

ARC Review: What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Title: What I Thought Was True

Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Release Date: April 15th, 2014

Although Fitzpatrick’s sophomore novel has made it onto many “Waiting on Wednesday” posts and “Top Ten Most Anticipated” lists, it’s one of the last books I expected to be reading this year. While Fitzpatrick managed to hit the nail on the head concerning quite a few issues with her debut novel, My Life Next Door fell seriously flat for me. Thus, to find myself quite besotted with her sophomore piece is a surprise, to say the least. But What I Thought Was True battles the crashing waves of adolescence with an honesty that is forthcoming, a romance that is flawed, and relationships that really do withstand the test of time.

What I Thought Was True is a tale with multiple plot threads, but Fitzpatrick manages to make these complex story lines converge in a cohesive manner. While Fitzpatrick’s debut was set in a small town, her sophomore novel takes place on a quaint island whose class divisions are starkly felt. Gwen Castle, the protagonist of our tale, hails from a long line of Portuguese fishermen and lives on the wrong side of the bridge. Stony Bay, just across the bridge, is home to rich private schools, decadent clubs, and wealthy homes while in Gwen’s own household her mother is a house-cleaner and both she and her cousin take on summer jobs to help carry the economic weight of the household.

Fitzpatrick instills the very mentality of this town slowly, but deeply, into your very bones itself. It’s always difficult to convey the sense, the feeling, of a fictional location without spelling it out explicitly but Fitzpatrick outdoes herself with What I Thought Was True. Gwen’s household, as well, is so vibrantly portrayed. First and foremost, it is an interracial setting with Gwen herself being only half-Portuguese but her cultural heritage is keenly felt, as are the personas of all her family members. Gwen’s parents, though divorced, are both still very much present in her life, albeit in different ways, as is her grandfather whose presence adds to the ethnic feel of the story. Of utmost importance, though, is Emory, Gwen’s eight-year-old brother who isn’t autistic, but isn’t perfectly normal either, as well as Gwen’s eighteen-year-old cousin brother, Nic, who has lived with them for as long as Gwen can remember.

Gwen, her best friend Vivian, and Nic have been the three musketeers for years and although Vivian and Nic have now been dating for years, their friendship hasn’t changed. While Vivian and Nic share the type of relationship that Gwen – and everyone, really – only dreams of, the summer brings forth unexpected cracks. For one, there is the wild rumor that Vivan and Nic have been looking at engagement rings – a fact kept wholly secret from Gwen.  Add to that the fact that Nic dreams of joining the Coast Guard while Viv simply wants to stay in their small island town and Gwen is officially caught between the two people who mean the most to her. Fitzpatrick does such a skillful job of navigating the multiple relationships that Gwen possesses in her life, taking the time to develop these integral friendships through meaningful conversation. While these three teens start their summer thinking they want one thing, they wind up realizing that life doesn’t always give us what we want and, even scarier, what we want can change – quite suddenly, too.
“And this is the hardest, weirdest part of not being that barefoot girl and that towheaded boy running down the sand to the water, all legs and elbows and unself-conscious. Suddenly, you edge your way to the end of your second ten years and BOOM. Your choices matter. Not chocolate or vanilla, bridge or pier, Sandy Claw or Abenaki. It’s your whole life. We’re suddenly this close, like Nic said, to the wrong move. Or the right one. It matters now.” (Page 236)
Surprisingly enough, though I enjoyed Gwen’s incredibly developed relationships, as well as the growth that she and her loved ones go through, the romance truly did sweep me off my feet. In fact, there are no love stories I love better than those which feature protected sex, a feminist heroine, and a respectful hero. What I Thought Was True starts off with Gwen trying her level best to avoid Cassidy and failing quite spectacularly as he seems to pop up wherever she goes. Cassidy lives in Stony Bay, the rich side of the bridge, and Gwen, for all her helpful tendencies, has a bit of a reputation. Fitzpatrick takes her time to unveil the truth of Gwen’s past, not just with Cassidy, mind you, but I loved that she never judged her own character for her actions. Even better, Gwen isn’t ashamed of her actions. Granted, she does have regrets – which teenager doesn’t? – but she isn’t embarrassed by wanting physical affection and, what’s more, isn’t a simpering virgin.

Yet, Gwen is a good girl. Not only is she honest, but she is respectful and kind. Not a slut, not a bitch, and not a whore. With Gwen, Fitzpatrick has created a heroine who doesn’t fit into the typical boxes – white, virgin, innocent – but she also hasn’t flaunted her protagonist. We don’t realize that Gwen is ebony-skinned until almost half-way through the book (although it’s quite easy to surmise from her heritage). We aren’t made to question Gwen’s virginity – or lack of it – or even gasp at the honest sexual discussions she shares with her best friend. Fitzpatrick makes it seem so effortlessly easy to include friendships, close family ties, culture, heritage, and a meaningful romance that stresses a respect for boundaries. I only wish more authors would write contemporary novels like this one because, frankly, this is what the industry needs, not more Twilight Fifty Shades of Grey rip-offs.

And speaking of alpha males, can we all applaud the fact that Cassidy might just be the total opposite of one? Admittedly, his relationship with Gwen has a bit of a rocky past but at the core he's an absolute sweetheart. Gwen and Cassidy's romance is slow, tortuous, and an enticing sizzle to read unfold. Full of open discussion, unsaid secrets, and an undercurrent of sexual tension, I loved every one of their interactions (particularly when Cassidy turns on his charm!). Yet, what I love most about their relationship is that it affirms the boundaries these two desire in their relationship and reaffirms them all over again when they change. It's such a healthy relationship, one in which both parties are happy and the pace is moving according to their own desires, not their past experiences. Of course, getting to the relationship in question is one of the best arcs in the story, but the sustaining romance is a favorite of mine as well.

Ultimately, I cannot recommend this book enough. What I Thought Was True is an incredible story about growing up and facing the hard truths that life throws at you. It’s a novel about coming to terms with the hand you’ve been dealt, learning to cope with change, and, most importantly, sustaining relationships despite the hurdles. Fitzpatrick could have easily molded this into “just another” summer romance but, trust me, it is so much more than that. Needless to say, I’ve already ordered a copy of this for my own bookshelf to hug, just as much as I will.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Where Dreams Come True...

Anyone want to take a guess where I'm going to be tomorrow? ;) 
^Cinderella's Castle! :D

I'm off to Disney World for my Senior Trip and I am SO EXCITED. I went to Disney when I was ten, but I barely remember my time spent there and with a three-year-old brother in tow, our schedule was hectic and absolutely crazy. But, this time, I am prepared to enjoy myself completely. I'll be up at 4 AM to catch my flight and will be back only next week, so expect my next blog post on Wednesday, March 19th. Until then...may all your dreams come true! :)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: Grace Grows by Shelle Sumners

Title: Grace Grows

Author: Shelle Sumners

Rating: 3 Stars

Ah, Contemporary Romance novel which sucks me in from page one, completely taking over both my mind and my time until it just...doesn't hold my interest any more. We meet again.

Grace Grows is rather endearing, a charming romantic tale that, in my opinion, had a few too many misunderstandings to completely win over my heart. Sumners has a unique writing style, though, and if nothing else, she managed to have me emotionally involved in her characters. When we first meet Grace, she is living with a steady boyfriend, a reliable job, and loyal friends. And then, she bumps into Ty. Ty, the dog walker for her next-door neighbor, is a budding musician with a dream of making it big. Although Grace makes it clear to him that she is in a relationship, Ty nevertheless pursues her, becoming her friend almost unexpectedly. Despite Grace's best efforts to push Ty away, he perseveres, forcing Grace to re-evaluate not only her life, but her heart as well.

Admittedly, I wasn't Team Ty within the opening chapters. If anything, I found him a little too...forward. As an intensely personal person, Ty's easy relationship with Grace surpassed the awkward stages of meaningless chit-chat, getting straight to the casual comfort one would maintain with a best friend or sibling. Needless to say, I wasn't surprised when Grace pushed Ty away, wanting the distance from him myself. But when he was gone, being ignored by Grace, I missed him. Ty's presence is much like Sumners writing - easy to take advantage of and gloss over until absent. While Grace is responsible and collected, a cool cookie whose life is planned out and orderly (much like her bookshelves), Ty is a whirlwind of emotion, bringing his passion for music to New York alongside his optimism at making a life for himself despite starting out with little. Moreover, he is an optimist through-and-through, always smiling and eager to please. While I struggled with both Sumners writing style and her initial portrayal of Ty, I grew to love and appreciate both as the novel wore on. Much like Grace, I just couldn't stay away, reservations and all.

Grace and Ty's friendship, and subsequent romance, is potent and strong. While Grace is a rock for Ty to lean on, a support system to him always (not to mention source of inspiration for is songs!), Ty propels Grace to re-evaluate exactly what it is she wants from life. Working as a textbook editor, Grace must follow guidelines of including diversity and nutrition in these nonfiction works while completely skipping the sex-ed facts she wants to include. In other words, she is being forced to comply with company policies instead of actually educating high school students. Despite her unhappiness with her job, though, it is a secure position which Grace never even dreams of rising above until Ty enters her life. Additionally, her relationship with her boyfriend is rocky - not to her, but to the reader. Grace enjoys spending time apart from her significant other, not minding in the least when he takes business trips across the globe while she stays back in New York. Seeing Grace and Ty's friendship contrasting with Grace's relationship sends warning signals in our heads. Surely enough, though Grace and Ty develop feelings for one another over the course of their time spent together, thankfully Grace Grows doesn't involve cheating.

In fact, what I truly appreciated about this novel was that in-between Grace's relationship with her original boyfriend and her relationship with Ty, she takes time off for herself to regroup; to find a job she loves, to spend time with the friends she wants, to discover exactly what it is she wants to do opposed to what she's expected to do. Up until this point, Grace Grows was on a surefire track to earn at least 4 Stars, if not a higher rating, from me. I couldn't stop flipping the pages, desperate to see what happened with Grace and Ty, hoping against all hope that despite his rising career and her disgruntled one, they'd find a way to be together.

Well. Long story short: Ty and Grace find a way to be together. After a long time apart. And then...something...happens. And then the book just falls apart. Basically.

It's difficult to impart more concrete details without divulging spoilers, but Grace and Ty tentatively attempt to forge a relationship despite the push-and-pull of their lives; Ty touring the country, Grace figuring her life out. Yet, with Ty's life moving forward while Grace's staying at a stand-still, a whole new slew of hurdles are thrown in their paths. Instead of working through these, however, the manner in which Grace and Ty eventually find their way back to one another wasn't a story arc I particularly enjoyed. First and foremost, I felt tense the entire time while I read because of the uncertainty of their future together and, moreover, the lack of communication between the two. I understood where both these characters were coming from, but the sudden jump from practically zero conversation to complete acceptance threw me off. And from that point on, the rest of Grace Grows felt like fan-service, dragging out the lives of these two in incredible (and unrealistic) detail. Essentially, by the end, I felt cheated. Grace Grows builds and builds the tension and relationship of Grace and Ty until readers - and me - are practically shaking with emotion, but instead of launching off of that foundation, I found that the novel went down a path that didn't gratify me. It's a personal qualm, it seems, from the rave reviews of this novel around the blogosphere, and I will certainly be picking up another Sumners novel, whenever she chooses to publish one, but an overwhelming sense of loss hangs over my post-Grace Grows glow.

Sumners's debut is written in a stark, original manner with realistic characters, intense character relationships featuring both love (romantic & familial) and friendship, and entertaining dialogue to boot. It may not be my favorite romance novel out there, but it's definitely worth a read.

Monday, March 10, 2014

ARC Mini-Reviews: Sunrise by Mike Mullin & Waiting on You by Kristan Higgins

Title: Sunrise (Ashfall, #3)

Author: Mike Mullin

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: April 15th, 2014

Unfortunately, these 3 Stars feel generous. I thoroughly enjoyed the previous two installments in this trilogy, but this conclusion seemed to lack...direction. Sunrise begins with a series of intriguing plot points emerging, from Alex's assumption of power to his increasingly volatile relationship with his mother. Yet, these issues are only briefly touched upon, never explored to a deeper potential, rendering the first-half of this novel quite dull. A snooze fest, really, as Sunrise focuses on a community gradually being built in this post-apocalyptic world. Mullin's latest also fails to shine in the secondary character department. While these individuals played important roles in the past novel, their personalities are overshadowed by Darla's presence. It seems this is a recurring theme in most finales, lately, that important characters from Book 1 and Book 2 finally meet and their arcs converge in Book 3, only to have one group or the other eventually overtake the other, sadly.

Sunrise does, thankfully, pick up its pace and gain well-needed focus during its second-half, but not quite enough to make up for its slow start. Where this series continues to shine is in Darla and Alex's romance. It is a subtle, minor aspect to the trilogy but remains a driving force of equality and true love. Sunrise is certainly a satisfactory ending, but I wonder if this novel couldn't be condensed into a novella or, better yet, edited to gain more perspective. Both Ashfall and Ashen Winter made bold, provocative statements about humanity while Sunrise seemed to merely wrap up the loose threads regarding these beloved characters. If you haven't picked up this series yet, I'd suggest reading Ashfall and ending there too. It works brilliantly as a stand-alone (for the most part) and, frankly speaking, Mullin hasn't been able to compare since.

Title: Waiting on You (Blue Heron, #3)

Author: Kristan Higgins

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: March 25th, 2014

By now, it's no secret that I adore Kristan Higgins. While her covers scream "chick lit" and her writing is humorously effortless, the depth found within her love stories forced her books to transcend the stigma of mindless, cheesy "chick lit." While her latest, Waiting on You, is nowhere near as amusing, romantic, or steamy as the previous two installments in her Blue Heron Series, it is still perfectly satisfactory for a gloomy day and, as always, is guaranteed to put a smile on even the sternest of faces.

Waiting on You follows Colleen, the bright and sexy bartender we've come to love. You know, the one whose matchmaking skills are legendary, advice is freely given, and friendship is the stuff of legends. While confident, sassy Colleen seems as if she can take on the world, in reality, her heart is a mess. Lucas, her first - and only - true love, left her broken-hearted just years after high school and, somehow, Colleen still hasn't moved on. When Lucas breezes back into town, looking after his uncle, more like an adopted father, whose days are numbered, Colleen is surprised and, most importantly, already falling back in love. But, this time, she is determined that Lucas will not be the one to break her heart, even when that same heart is so traitorously beating just for him...

Higgins impeccably paces a timely reveal of the situation which tore Lucas and Colleen apart so many years ago. It is heartbreaking, naturally, but the sparks between these two have our hearts rooting for them, despite the myriad of obstacles in their way. Yet, while Higgins develops Lucas and Colleen's original relationship, relaying the sense of serenity they feel together, their current emotional compatibility falls slightly flat. I wish Lucas and Colleen had worked through their past issues a little more in depth. While I completely understand the fact that they feel right together, that their bodies demand that they be with one another in order to feel at home, I still yearned for a few more insightful conversations between the two. Nevertheless, this a sweet and swoony romance sure to delight fans of the Blue Heron Series. If you haven't already picked these books up, find yourself a copy of The Best Man at once - Chief Levi Cooper is not a man you want to miss! ;)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Showcase Sunday (#32)

Showcase Sunday is a weekly meme hosted by Vicki at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Its aim is to showcase our newest books or book related swag and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops and downloaded onto eReaders this week.

For Review:
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I've been meaning to pick up a novel by Sarah Beth Durst since I first heard her praise, nearly two years ago. Vessel, for some reason, lost my attention within only a few pages and the mixed reviews have prevented me from going back to it. The Lost, I hope, will prove to finally ingratiate me into her fandom. *fingers crossed* Jennifer Brown's Torn Away will also be my first venture into her work. After reading Lara Zielin's The Waiting Sky last year, also about a tornado, I knew I had to pick up Brown's latest, so let's hope it doesn't disappoint. As for these other titles, they're self-explanatory. I adored Kuehn's debut Charm and Strange, I loved Moriarty's A Corner of White, Marillier has been a long-time favorite of mine, Brown's Born of Illusion proved to be a pleasant surprise, Sarah Ockler is one of the few contemporary authors I read without prompting, and Mary Ann Rivers's Live left me speechless

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I absolutely loved both The Wild Girl and The Laurentine Spy, two unknown novels that I feel compelled to write reviews for despite the fact that I do not know what to say. Moth and Spark, sadly, was a bit of a disappointment though Stealing Heaven was yet another successful venture into Scott's work. After enjoying Heartbeat earlier this year, I plan to make my way through her backlog. Raybourn's famous Lady Julia Series quickly lost my interest, but I'm hoping I have better luck with her latest, City of Jasmine. Of course, I couldn't resist the historical fantasy allure of Tsarina and The Winner's Curse was absolutely delightful (though a tad bit over-hyped in my opinion). I've been meaning to pick up a Kearsley novel for a loooong time since I adore historical fiction, so after my success with The Wild Girl, I'm hoping The Winter Sea becomes another favorite. And I just haven't been able to resist The Palace Job after Nafiza's glowing review.

What did you receive this week? I love checking out book hauls, so be sure to link me! :)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: Deeper by Robin York

Title: Deeper (Caroline and West, #1) 

Author: Robin York 

Rating: 2 Stars

I feel as if I've been saying this all too often over the course of the past few days, but...

...what a disappointment.

Deeper is a rather excellent New Adult novel, much the same way Easy is, but it failed to charm and enamor me. Moreover, York uses far too many tropes, forcing my eyes to roll as a knee-jerk reaction. Frankly speaking, the "bone melting" glances, the "weak knees" and the "flash of heat" is all getting a little too boring at this point. Caroline is rendered speechless by West's very presence and West's point of view does little but shake off his manliness, throwing him into a spotlight as a love interest whose every waking thought is consumed by "his girl", a possessive streak that begins long before these two even become involved. West and Caroline meet on the first day of college and for eighteen months, West is literally lusting after Caroline. Do guys really do this in real life? It feels like a rich fantasy New Adult authors have created in order to make their love stories seem more plausible because, surely, if the male love interest is sexually interested in the female protagonist for months before they wind up together it just must be True Love.

Caroline, a victim of sexual abuse after her ex-boyfriend posted naked pictures of her online, isn't a heroine I despised. In fact, her determination to barrel through each day is admirable and her actions - seeking out West for safety - are understandable. But, it all just feels too familiar. Caroline and West develop an easy relationship together, sexual tension aside, but they aren't "friends", a pretense of maintaining distance between them. West, in order to fulfill the typical role of a "bad boy" dutifully sells drugs, an exterior which, of course, hides a true softie. Plus, West is the only guy on campus to see Caroline's situation for what it is: harassment. With these New Adult novels, it feels as if there can only be one good guy, or else we have a love triangle on hand. Every other guy on this nerdy campus calls Caroline a slut or posts dirty remarks in response to her pictures - except West and his roommate, Krishna. It felt contrived, convoluted, and a bit unnatural; as if the reader is being forced to accept and love West. Also, where in the New Adult handbook is it a requirement for the love interest to beat up the crappy ex-boyfriend? I've never seen a fistfight in my life, yet, so I don't know why New Adult is crawling with violent alpha males, but I'm bored of it.

Deeper certainly discusses the issue of sexual abuse in a tasteful manner, shedding light on the atrocities the internet can contribute to. Nevertheless, its characters fit all-too-typical molds, the romance focusing a bit too much on the steam and chemistry than on individual growth or development (which I feel may have been more appropriate for this story), and the bottom line is simply that I am bored and fed up of these overused tropes. York writes them well, using them in a powerful manner, but no matter how well you dress them up, tropes remain tropes, from trust issues to rabbit sex. It seems I've gotten into the habit of reading quality New Adult - books like Unteachable or My One & Only - so Deeper fell into my lap as an unpleasant surprise. While I thoroughly enjoyed Knox's About Last Night and fully intend to pick up her other full-length adult novel (Ride With Me I think...?), York's New Adult fiction isn't my cup-of-tea. It seems that New Adult these days must include romantic "healing" and a heroine who is the victim of sexual abuse, but within those parameters, there are only a fraction of stories to be told. And, here's the thing: they've already been written, time and time again. Freshen up, New Adult.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

Title: Flame of Sevenwaters (Sevenwaters, #6) 

Author: Juliet Marillier

Rating: 3 Stars

This review is SPOILER-FREE for the Sevenwaters Series, but if you'd like to read my reviews for the previous novels, you can find their links - as well as links to other Marillier novels - at the end of this review.

I picked up Flame of Sevenwaters as a last-ditch effort to pull myself out of a reading slump.

What a disappointment.

Quite simply put, this novel was boring. It took a significant amount of time to find its stride and, even then, the tell-tale qualities I look for in a Sevenwaters novel were absent.

Maeve is a delightful heroine, her narration starkly realistic and bold. We met Maeve in Child of the Prophecy but now, nearly ten years later in Flame of Sevenwaters, Maeve has learned to survive despite the fact that her hands are burned and useless. While Maeve's voice can often veer into bitterness, I thoroughly enjoyed her inner struggle; finding the courage to move on from the past instead of giving into the fears she continues to harbor. Moreover, the relationships Maeve sustains with those around her - from her father who eagerly welcomes her home after a long stay with Liadan and Bran to her mother who is constantly aware of Maeve's disability - are nuanced and infused with depth. Marillier has always excelled at developing complex relationships, which continues to carry through with this installment.

Flame of Sevenwaters is a satisfying conclusion to this long, but beloved, series. It wraps up the loose ends of the Mac Dara plot line, but not too neatly. With this last novel, Marillier escalates Mac Dara's interest in Sevenwaters, heightening the stakes at hand. Unfortunately, far too much of the story line is spent chronicling menial tasks from Maeve's re-introduction into Sevenwaters to her blooming relationship with her younger brother, Finbar, to the interest she takes in two stray dogs, Bear and Badger, she finds in the woods of Sevenwaters. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Flame of Sevenwaters lay in the miniature snippets told in third person from Ciaran's point of view as he uncovered the secret to bringing down Mac Dara. Of course, these were far too few, contributing minimally to the story as a whole.

Another negative aspect to this novel was, unexpectedly, the romance. Marillier's romances are one of the strongest components of this series. Every novel has featured an incredible love story, but Flame of Sevenwaters lacked a true arc. In fact, the name of the love interest appears at around the half-way point of this story and he himself only makes a proper appearance towards the end of the novel. Even more disconcerting, however, is the fact that there is a male friend who isn't quite love interest material but could have had the potential to be if developed in a slightly different manner. Maeve and her romantic interest in Flame of Sevenwaters share an emotional bond; theirs is a relationship composed of little conversation but large amounts of trust. Of this basic foundation, I have no complaint, but I could have used a great deal more discussion and development of the love story in this novel. I simply...wasn't on board.

Both Seer of Sevenwaters and Flame of Sevenwaters have been rather disappointing in light of this series as a whole. Where the former at least contained a worthy romance and sufficient action to carry it forward, this last installment lacked even those two components. Marillier's Sevenwaters series is one of the best Adult Fantasy series out there. It's full of heart, soul, and deep emotion. While its second trilogy has lacked the excellence of the original trilogy - with the exception of Heir to Sevenwaters - it still remains a memorable experience I won't be likely to forget anytime soon. And, best of all? I can - and will - be revisiting Sevenwaters; whenever I need Sorcha's strength, Liadan's courage, Fianne's will, Clodagh's perseverance, or even just the presence of Red, Bran, Darragh and Cathal to remind me that true love does, in fact exist. For that, for them, I cannot thank Marillier enough.

Sevenwaters Series (Chronological Order): 

Other Marillier Novels: 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Just Another Book Crush (#12): Faking Normal by Courtney Stevens

Just Another...Book Crush! is a monthly feature where I invite an author whose book I've recently reviewed and loved to write a guest post and share their three latest book crushes. It's a feature I'm starting mostly because I'm often very shy to approach authors, especially ones I admire, and also because I love reading guest posts since, more often than not, they convince me to pick up a book even when the reviewer cannot. 

I'm so excited to have Courtney Stevens, the debut author of Faking Normal, joining us today! I unexpectedly received an ARC of Faking Normal and despite knowing next-to-nothing about the novel, the author, or the subject matter, I decided to give it a shot. As readers know, Contemporary YA is not always my genre of choice. Yet, this novel completely surpassed my expectations and I fell head-over-heels in love with its story, its message, and most of all, its strides within its genre. I only hope other readers will too. 
Alexi Littrell hasn't told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does. When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in "the Kool-Aid Kid," who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.

The Questions People Ask!

Over the last six months, people have contacted me through twitter, email and Facebook and asked a variety of questions. I thought I might cull the most popular ones for this post.

1.      Is Faking Normal true?

It’s an interesting question to be asked. I don’t blame people for asking, but it feels like the question under the question is a serious one. Have you been raped? That’s not only serious; it’s personal. Deeply personal. It was a question my friends prepared me for, and you would think the very nature and topic of my book would prepare me for. But honestly, I wrote, got an agent, and sold a book about rape before I ever realized I WROTE A BOOK ABOUT RAPE. What?!?! I didn’t exactly mean to do that. So the question still feels as if I’m standing naked in front of the world.

Here is my answer. The statistics say 1 in every 3 women has experienced sexual abuse by the age of 18. That statistic is staggering to me; staggering to me as survivor. I am not Alexi. Faking Normal isn’t “true,” but I am well-acquainted with Alexi’s pain. And my story, this is it in a nutshell: I believe there is hope on the other side of pain.

2.      Where did Bodee come from?

Following a difficult season in my life, an old friend came back into my life as a new friend. He was safe, and kind, and loved me in a powerful way.

While the character of Bodee is fictional in his circumstances, I tried to give all the safety my friend offered me to Bodee.

3.      What gave you the idea for the conversations on the desk?

I am not in favor of defacing school property, but I was at 16. (In pencil.) This is a true little snippet from life. I didn’t have a romance with the guy. He was just a friend who sat at my desk in the period after mine and we were in love with Hotel California. (So many lyrics.) On a dark deserted highway, cool wind in my hair … That’s how it started. If you have something that rich in your life, you have to work it into a novel.

4.      Will Bodee and Alexi’s story continue?

Never say never, but no. Although there is a world of story for them to live, I’d like to leave them on the page where they are and let the reader take if from here. There are many hard, hard things left for Alexi to face. I’d rather not put her through that in front of the world.

I can promise you that Bodee isn’t going anywhere. I don’t know that these two will “grow up and get married,” but they will always, always, always love and protect each other.

5.      Why did you choose to write about such sensitive topics?

I didn’t mean to.

I had an image of teenage-me crying in her closet, and I wanted to write a book for her. In developing that story, in trying to whisper, “Things will get better,” to her, the rest of the story emerged. These characters came walking into my life with weights on their shoulders, and I tried between page one and the page last, to say, “Hey, let me help you with that.”

You can read my thoughts on Faking Normal HERE. Seriously, if you haven't already added this one to your TBRs then get on it ASAP. It's worth the read, many times over.

Monday, March 3, 2014

ARC Mini-Reviews: Half Bad by Sally Green & Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

Title: Half Bad (Half Life Trilogy, #1)

Author: Sally Green

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: March 4th, 2014 

It seems that ever since Harry Potter, YA has ironically become dominated by female protagonists, paranormal romances, and magical realms. With Half Bad, though, debut novelist Sally Green returns to a familiar formula - male protagonist, a society of witches living among humans, and a young boy who grows up with a family raising him against their wishes. And yet, Half Bad has been making waves around the blogosphere, not because of its similarities to Rowling's work, but rather because Green breathes life into her characters, twisting a knife deeper and deeper into our gut; we bleed when they bleed, we cry when they cry, and we hope when they hope. Half Bad is not without its flaws, but it is an unforgettable debut; honestly, what more could you possibly ask for?

Nathan, the main character and narrator of Half Bad, is the son of the deadliest Black Witch in history, Marcus. Luckily - or unluckily, depending on how you look at it - he is also the son of a White Witch. Nevertheless, Nathan's entire life is a ticking bomb. Whether it be his family or his neighbors, everyone around Nathan is simply waiting for him to reveal the darkness within. And, even more dangerous, the White Witches are waiting for him to make a mistake...just one. Half Bad excels in exposing the ironies of Nathan's society, delving into the ugly politics of this world and keeping nothing hidden. Green's world-building, though lacking in some minor aspects, is, for the most part, quite remarkable. More importantly, though, it is timed impeccably, peeling back the layers to this realm expertly.

Half Bad is a worthwhile read, however, due to its characters. I dare you not to feel when you pick this up. I dare you. While some readers may struggle with sections told from the second person narration, I thoroughly enjoyed the prose and, in particular, the multiple shades to each character. Nathan, specifically, is a good person, forced to his breaking point since his entire society is against him. It is the evolution of his character and growth which makes Half Bad a novel to remember. Admittedly, the ending is rushed and the romance lacks true spark, but I am utterly confident in the directions Green plans to take this novel. Unpredictable, heart-pounding, and enticing, Half Bad is not a novel to put off - not for any reason in the world.

Title: Murder of Crows (The Others, #2) 

Author: Anne Bishop

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: March 4th, 2014 

Written in Red burst upon my radar last year, simply demanding to be read. And, to my utter delight, it not only introduced a rich new Urban Fantasy world, but it also charmed me, forging connections with characters I'd only just met and stealing my heart entirely. Needless to say, Murder of Crows swiftly became one of my most anticipated reads of the year and, I am pleased to report, it did not disappoint. Following the events of Written in Red, the Others of Lakeside are no longer the disturbingly scary non-human predators they've constantly claimed to be. Instead, Meg's appearance into their lives - and more importantly, into their hearts - has instilled a grudging level of respect and acceptance for humans. Now, however, a deadly group is about to shatter that fragile peace. When drugs specifically targeted to bring down the Others are used against them, Simon Wolfgard, leader of the Others in Lakeside, is determined to do stop the violence against his kind. Especially when the threat is not only to his own people, but to Meg as well.

Where Murder of Crows shines is in its prose, Bishop introducing perspectives of characters which later play a larger role as the novel wears on. It's an intriguing tactic and a style of writing which works perfectly, allowing the focus of this novel to be split between character development and mystery both. Of course, the plot is tight and enticing, keeping the pages slipping through fingers slick with tension. Yet, the reason this series is so beloved, even by just the second novel, is because of its characters. Meg is as charming as ever, though Simon, with his increased narration space, steals the show with his genuine confusion and noble intentions to be a good friend to his Meg. Simon and Meg's relationship changes and grows in this novel, teetering ever-closer to the romance we can feel sizzling between the two. Unfortunately, Murder of Crows zooms in on their friendship, largely ignoring the multitude of relationships Meg formed with many other members of the Compound. Nevertheless, those aspects of Written in Red are not pertinent to the plot of Murder of Crows, though they are missed. As a whole, however, Murder of Crows is a strong sequel, tying together an impeccably paced plot - one whose repercussions I am curious to see unfold in the next installment - and an even more beloved relationship. It builds upon the already expansive world-building of Written in Red and for readers waiting to see if this a series worth sticking with for the long haul, Murder of Crows confirms that yes, it definitely is.