Monday, June 30, 2014

ARC Review: The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

Title: The Kiss of Deception (Remnant Chronicles, #1) 

Author: Mary E. Pearson

Rating: 2 Stars

Release Date: July 8th, 2014

The Kiss of Deception is a bundle of contradictions, both on and off the page. It has a love triangle, it doesn't have a love triangle; it tells a tale of deceit, it doesn't truly hide any deception from the reader; its protagonist is a strong female, its protagonist is weak-willed. While I wasn't too keen on picking up this installment--at least not until the entire series had played out--the reviews left me in deep confusion. After combing through GoodReads far longer than I should have, I finally decided to pick up my ARC and simply dive in. Even if I didn't enjoy the romance, the reviews guaranteed that the second-half of this novel was a significant improvement and the political plot threads would certainly keep me satisfied.


As I mentioned, The Kiss of Deception is a novel of contrasts; in certain sections of the book, certain tropes seem far more evident than in others. Thus, I hope you will forgive me for taking the liberty to spread open this volume and critique it from its first-quarter, to its second, to the last half. I promise, this review is spoiler-free. (Not bitter-free, though, be warned!) 

The First Quarter (A.K.A. The Set Up) 

The Kiss of Deception begins with Lia, the princess of the realm, fleeing her arranged marriage with the prince of Dalbreck. Lia ascends from a long line of princesses with power--known as the First Daughter--and, for that reason, they are prized above all else. For Lia, this means that her abilities will join her to a man she has never met all for the safety of the kingdom. What's more, Lia doesn't truly possess any magic--her gift never blossomed and it seems it never will. Thus, to escape the sham that her life is about to become, she escapes her wedding and decided to strike out on her own. 

Following Lia's escape, the prince of Dalbreck makes his way after her, determined to meet the woman who dared flee her wedding alter, and, what's more, an assassin troops after her as well. During this first quarter of the novel, the tale is told from the perspective of Lia, the Prince, and the Assassin. Lia finds a job as a tavern maid and her attention becomes sought after by two men, Rafe and Kade, only both Lia and the reader don't know which one of these two is the Prince and which one is the Assassin. I found this portion to be reminiscent of typical fantasy works as Lia trekked across the country alongside her friend, Pauline, and their evolving friendship is so realistically portrayed throughout the narrative. I further appreciated Lia's willingness to embrace a new lifestyle and the format in which this part of the novel was written worked exceedingly well as I found myself trying to guess just who was who. 

Unfortunately, there are trickles of a full-blown love triangle in the beginning quarter of this novel as well. As a princess, Lia has never experienced intimacy with a man because of the fear her older brothers and father have inspired in any potential suitors. Thus, as a tavern maid she is given infinitely more freedom in every regard, including this one. I understood her as her thoughts strayed towards comparing and contrasting these two men, but it became irritating too. I wanted Lia to lose her naivety quickly and I also wanted the pace of the novel to pick up. It just felt too slow, this beginning, with so much being set up and the characters lacking true personalities. The Prince and the Assassin, especially, read far too similar during this portion of the novel to stand out and I didn't want Lia to fall for either of them. 

The Second Quarter (A.K.A. Who Will Lia Pick?) 

I'm not sure if it's a positive or a negative that Lia finally sets her sights on one of her two potential suitors in this section. Of course, the love triangle theme continues on during this last half of the first half, but once Lia sets her sights on one man, it was certainly a relief. Yet, what really shines in this aspect of the novel is the perspective of the prince. As he gets to know Lia, he also finds out why she fled her wedding and the accusations she holds against him are ones he uses to grow, change, and become a better individual. (The prince finds out about Lia's feelings through eavesdropping--she never reveals that she is a former princess.) 

Yet, what truly annoyed me about this section is the fact that both the men in question, the prince and the assassin, begin to love Lia. Granted, Lia only loves one of them, but she still holds the other in high regard and the very fact that two men love the same woman constitutes a love triangle label, in my opinion. Now that the set-up is over, you'd think there would be more action but, instead, this section continues at a languid pace, outlying the normalcy of Lia's life. As we near the half-way mark of the novel, circumstances become evident to Lia and she recognizes that escaping from her wedding had many unforeseen and negative consequences on the kingdom as a whole. Thus, Lia prepares to head home--and we finally get our first glimpse of some action! 

The Third Quarter (A.K.A. Action! ...Sorta) 

With Lia heading back to reclaim her throne, tensions run high since the assassin has yet to make his move and the prince, who hasn't claimed his royal position either, must make a decision about the future. Before Lia can reach her palace--or even near it--however, she is kidnapped. I won't be giving away any more details because of spoilers, but I'll say that she was kidnapped by The One She Didn't Choose. What I liked about this part of the novel is that we finally see Lia grow and embrace her destiny. While she began this novel by running away, as the situation turns dire she forces herself to leave behind a life she loves--a life of freedom and love--to return to her home. When this plan is further thwarted, the backbone she grows and the determination she assumes are admirable. I finally began to like Lia at this stage in the novel. Moreover, Lia's relationship with her brother, Walther, is built up over the course of the novel and its continued realism and strength even at this stage of the novel only added to our growing depth of Lia as a character. Of course, the relationships at this stage are at their most complex as Lia is reeling from truths that have finally been revealed and The One She Didn't Choose still cares deeply for her, despite kidnapping her. 

Sadly, I continued to feel a classic love triangle vibe as this portion of the story plodded along. It made me anxious throughout reading the narrative and the perspectives of The Guy She Did Choose were so weak in this section that I truly felt as if the romance was, once again, about the overtake the narrative. Due to the fact that Lia was no longer stationary, however, the world-building began to expand in this section and the political set-up at play, here, is certainly interesting to say the least. Unfortunately, with the focus of this novel being entirely on Lia and her relationship with these two guys, any real political situation was neatly prevented from being expanded upon. Instead, in this particular portion of the story, Lia gets to know her captives a bit better and their culture reflects further enhanced the world-building at play. 

The Last Quarter (A.K.A. The End) 

As I mentioned before, as this story draws to a close the love triangle is only further heightened as it becomes more and more obvious that both the men we met at the beginning of this story are besotted with Lia. Nevertheless, there are plenty of interesting revelations in this last quarter and as Lia undergoes various experiences, she finally transforms into a different kind of heroine, far removed from the naive girl she used to be. While I loved Lia's growth throughout the narrative, though, and found the reveals of "deception" to be well-timed, the ending of this story did little to strengthen my resolve in it. 

The Kiss of Deception is a novel centered around the growth of one heroine, which I love, but sadly this growth further stems from a love triangle and various acts of "deception" that never kept the reader shocked, surprised, or entertained. It's a story where little happens and the world-building, though interesting, is not impressive enough to keep me glued on for another installment. Just too little happens in this story and, towards the end, when the tale finally finds its true stride, it ends. 

Not only were the characters in this novel rather a-typical, but the desert setting and princess plot line has been done before and in far better instances. As a high-fantasy fanatic, I can claim that The Kiss of Deception is fantasy-lite, at best, if not romantic fantasy outright. It doesn't have a classic love triangle (not for its entire duration, at any rate), but even a situation where two guys are interested in the same girl seems to annoy me. What's more, The Guy Lia Did Choose and Lia have a very small romantic arc to constitute as true love. It needed a great deal of expansion for me and nearly leans towards the insta-love category in some ways. Ultimately, there is too little to recommend this novel forward. When I said that The Kiss of Deception came to an end, I meant my involvement with it came to a close as well. Granted, there are positive points to its narrative--I won't deny that--but this simply was not for me. The Kiss of Deception: here's to hoping I forget about you and your deceptively beautiful cover very, very  soon. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Review: Ruin & Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ruin & Rising (The Grisha, #3) 

Author: Leigh Bardugo 

Rating: 4 Stars

As a die-hard fan of this series from its nascence, Ruin & Rising became one of my most anticipated titles of the year shortly after closing the last page of Siege & Storm. Unlike many readers, I found the sequel to Shadow & Bone to be even stronger, darker, and more complex than Bardugo's first installment and, with this finale, was expecting all that and more, only on a grander scale. Yet, though Ruin & Rising may lack the grand, epic sensation of a finale, it in no way disappoints.

Ruin & Rising starts up where Siege & Storm left us--with Alina in the hands of the Apparat, severely wounded and unable to reach her powers. From the first page itself, Bardugo sets this finale at a breakneck pace, propelling the plot to the final quest we know Alina must take: tracking down the last amplifier. For me, the plot didn't truly captivate until the last third when a huge plot twist is revealed. From that moment on, Bardugo simply outdid herself. While I appreciated the intricate plot threads in the beginning, everything came together towards the end--plot, complex characterization, romance, and depth. I was, however, disappointed that the beginning of this story felt too easy. Bardugo made the executive decision to focus on the plot, which meant that the story progressed quickly but the character relationships felt far too easy. At the end of Siege & Storm I truly despaired for Alina because of the position she found herself in--primarily alone. I had little hope that she would be able to quickly bridge the separations that had built between herself and a number of other characters, so the relative ease at which this story picks up in regard to the friendships in this story felt too simple to truly deliver the type of arc and growth I wanted to see.

Nevertheless, the true strength of this finale lies in the secondary characters. Where Siege & Storm went deep into Alina's psyche, particularly her struggle between her newfound powers and her morality, Ruin & Rising focuses on the people around Alina to define who she is becoming. While we see, through our own eyes, just how different Alina is from the Darkling, coming from the perspective of her friends it is even more compelling, simply because it is small instances--the respect with with she treats others, really--that set her apart from the villain of this tale. Moreover, characters such as Baghra and Genya truly come alive in this tale; the former because her backstory is finally revealed in spectacular fashion and the latter because she finally stands up for herself against the hand fate has dealt her all along. What's more, this focus on the secondary characters allows Alina to forge deeper friendships, all while taking care to recognize who among her followers is truly loyal to her.

Nikolai, a character I eagerly anticipated getting to know on a more personal level, is both a delight and a disappoint in this installment. In Siege & Storm we saw very little behind the veneer of sarcasm and light humor he puts forth to the world and while we are given an even larger glimpse behind his mask in Ruin & Rising, it wasn't quite enough to satisfy completely. Nevertheless, despite that drawback, the few instances where we do get to see Nikolai are transparently revealing. Now, so close to the end, Ravka needs a new ruler; one who will truly do the best for the country, not for himself. Nikolai proves himself to be a capable and fair king, one who will lift Ravka from the poverty and injustice which has seeped into its pores. What's more, a strange twist of circumstances find Nikolai unexpectedly showcasing his vulnerabilities and the loneliness he experiences is all too raw. In fact, I desperately want at least a novella that explores Nikolai's transformation at the end of this novel. I found his story arc to be one of the most compelling of the series and would love to keep peeling back the layers to this prince. I have a feeling there is just so much more left to him than we could even begin to imagine.

The Darkling, however, is the character whose final arc I was most pleased with. Over the course of Ruin & Rising, Bardugo builds up the Darkling's past side-by-side with his present-day activities. While there is no denying his actions are cruel, there is also no denying that the rumors of his evilness are significantly darker than the reality. It is difficult to trace the full complexity of this storyline as it pertains to the Darkling, but his humanization in Ruin & Rising felt both heart-breaking and true. Looking back, it is clear that Bardugo had the Darkling's path planned from the beginning as his presence in Ruin & Rising is sparse, but combined with his past influence on Alina, his ending is one that cannot be forgotten.

In fact, I found the entire conclusion of this story to be perfect. In a strange twist of fate, I even loved the epilogue to pieces--practically unheard of as epilogues so rarely work in a series. Yet, Bardugo crafted this ending in such a way that it managed to be both surprising, revealing in last-minute character depths, and equalizing. Of most importance, to me, was the fact that the final third of this novel created much-needed tension between Alina and Mal and their romantic arc was every bit as swoon-worthy as I hoped it would become. Siege & Storm truly pushed their characters beyond the limit, but the strength required to cope with and face a difficult destiny is conveyed so subtly, but strongly, in this finale. Ruin & Rising is, by no means, a perfect conclusion but the strength of its ending and the sheer rightness of its conclusion--it really couldn't have ended any other way--made up for the gaps in depth during the first half of this story. Like Laini Taylor's Dreams of Gods & Monsters, Ruin & Rising has done little to satiate my thirst for Leigh Bardugo; her next novel simply cannot come quickly enough!

You can enter to win a copy of Ruin & Rising HERE.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

ARC Review: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: Sinner (The Wolves of Mercy Falls, #3.5)

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: July 1st, 2014

When it comes to The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series, I have a unique relationship--to say the least. I couldn't finish Shiver the first time I picked it up; I disliked it that much. But just a matter of months later, I was in the mood for Sam and Grace and their ridiculously uneven love story, so I picked up the novel again, opened its spine, and fell head-over-heels in love. Not only with Sam and Grace, but with Maggie Stiefvater as well. And, unlike most readers, I found Forever to be the pinnacle of perfection. I loved it in a way I hadn't loved the previous installments of this series; not quite as much as The Scorpio Races but so, so close.

Thus, when it was announced that Stiefvater was re-visiting this series, but not Mercy Falls, I was both eager and more than a little anxious. I enjoy ambiguous endings, which is why Forever worked so well for me. I liked knowing that Isabel and Cole were on their own but would, in the near future, find their way back to each other. I wasn't dying to know how that would happen, or when it would happen, or where it would happen. I was just glad knowing that it would, just as I was glad knowing that everything was going to work out for Sam and Grace. To me, Sinner seemed like an additional novel written to please Isabel and Cole fans but, I couldn't bring myself to complain as I'd happily read Stiefvater's grocery lists; her writing is that beautiful.

Now, having read Sinner, I can sincerely admit that I didn't expect this novel to be quite this good. Yet, it also didn't thrill, enchant, or captivate me to the extent that Sam and Grace's love story did. Isabel and Cole are dark, destructive characters; characters whose secondary presence throughout The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy enhanced the tale, certainly, but in limited doses. With an entire novel of these two--of their complex hearts, broken souls, and disjointed love story--it almost becomes too much. Moreover, Sinner moves away from the quiet stillness of Mercy Falls--a silence that practically weaves a magical bubble of its own--into loud, very-much-alive California and the distinction is palpable. It suits both Cole and Isabel, certainly, but I'm not entirely certain it suited me.

Sinner's strength lies completely in its main character, Cole St. Clair. Cole is back in LA, determined to re-launch his career as a rock star only, this time, having turned a new leaf. When we first meet Cole in Linger he has already gone down a destructive path of girls, drugs, and everything in-between. In fact, he becomes a wolf in order to lose himself and his problems--a solution that drugs never offered him. While Cole may know this, though, the rest of the world doesn't. If anything, the world believes that Cole St. Clair is the sum of his sins; if he isn't sinning now, he's going to do it in the near future. For Cole, earnestly struggling to get things right this time around, the lack of belief that those around him share only brings forth his past ghosts. No matter what he does, he can't seem to escape his previous sins; they haunt him.

Cole's reconciliation with his past is what makes Sinner such a spectacular novel. His entire arc is littered with flaws, imperfections, but also growth. While the wolf doesn't play as large a role in Sinner as it does in the previous installments in this series, it still lingers, tempting Cole with its quick method of escape. Though Sinner is more contemporary than paranormal, the sparseness of the wolf only makes it seem deadlier. It's an ever-present itch in the back of our minds as we wonder exactly what will drive Cole to the wolf and what, if anything, can wean him off of it.

Where Cole and Isabel were the secondary characters of Sam and Grace's love story, Jeremy and Leon are the secondary characters of Cole's tale. Jeremy, a former band mate from NARKOTIKA, once again joins Cole in making music but, above all, his friendship is invaluable. The Cole St. Clair that the rest of California sees is not the real Cole St. Clair that Jeremy or Isabel see and Jeremy's ability to see past Cole's facades create such an interesting relationship dynamic between them. Moreover, Jeremy is a constant reminder of Cole's past--of his sins--thus becoming a catalyst for the change he so desperately needs. Leon, Cole's driver, is another exemplary secondary. Leon's relationship with Cole isn't one of equality as, obviously, he works for Cole but, surprisingly, he also looks to Cole. Leon isn't an adventurous, spontaneous person the way Cole is, so the manner in which Cole lives and encourages him to explore out of his comfort zone casts Cole in such a different light. It is all too easy to cast Cole as a screw-up; someone who is still experimenting with life to get it right. Thus, to see him through Leon's eyes as a guy who actually has a few things figured out only enhances our view of him. Cole, above all else, owns Sinner so thoroughly that his three-dimensional characters makes him all-too-real; I half expected him to jump out of the page and into my bedroom.

Isabel, though harder to read than Cole whose emotions bleed all over the pages, is easily my favorite character in this novel. I am all for difficult, unlikable, and prickly heroines of which Isabel is the quintessential one. While she is initially surprised by Cole's arrival in California, she is equally pleased, eager to get to know him away from the events of Mercy Falls but still anxious for what their relationship may mean. Most of all, though, Isabel has to deal with the paparazzi, cameras, and girls that come with Cole's lifestyle as a rock star. In the midst of coping with those relationship changes, her family unit at home is utterly unstable, falling apart around her in such a way that Isabel is no longer in control. Moreover, Isabel is still battling with the guilt that she's falling for a guy who doesn't want to let go of the werewolf when it was the werewolf who killed her brother.

For both Cole and Isabel, there is just so much on their plates but Stiefvater deals with these issues so subtly, but poignantly, that they make an impact without overwhelming the reader with too many plot threads. If anything, Sinner is a character-driven tale with Isabel and Cole on such different paths in life though, deep down, they're one and the same. Both of them are coping with their careers and thinking about what they want from their futures and figuring out what exactly they want--or don't want--from a relationship and all these ideals are so integral to the New Adult age group Cole and Isabel find themselves in that I love reading about these realistic struggles in a paranormal story.

Where Sinner falters for me, however, is--unfortunately--in its ending. Isabel and Cole have a rocky relationship throughout the novel, with each of them making steps forward and strides backward, working to fix their mistakes and change themselves. Yet, as the situation heads towards a climax near the end, the motivations of both Isabel and Cole became increasingly murky. A series of events nearing the end of the novel simply felt out of place to me, not to mention the fact that I needed far more insight and explanation between a lot of the scenes we were given. It felt as if there were gaps in the chapters and, what's more, the ending scene that brings these two together felt far too contrived and crowd-pleasing to completely satisfy. For me, at any rate, the ending just wrapped up too quickly and I found myself grasping at straws, belatedly re-reading passages to discover some hidden meaning or scene I had missed.

That being said, Stiefvater's epilogue is clear, leaving no doubt about Cole and Isabel's future together. It isn't the type of epilogue I enjoy, but it certainly counters the ambiguity of her ending with Forever. While Sinner wasn't the brilliant tale I dreamed of, it certainly stunned me in the far-reaching depths it was willing to go. Not only did it present both Cole and Isabel in a new light, but it forced me to think, feel, and love their independent struggles. Sinner is brilliant in its themes, explosive in its ability to keep you turning the pages, and satisfying in its epilogue. While the journey to get there isn't always easy or, for that matter, written in an entirely successful manner, Stiefvater so rarely disappoints and Sinner is only further testament of that.

You can enter for a chance to win Stiefvater's The Raven Boys and Sinner HERE.

Monday, June 23, 2014

ARC Mini-Review: Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

Title: Complicit

Author: Stephanie Kuehn

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: June 24th, 2014

Kuehn's Charm & Strange burst upon my radar like a splash of color, surprising me not only with its vivid portrayal of psychological illness but also with its all-too-real characterization, forcing my heart into the story. Complicit, on the other hand, is far too emotionally jarring. While its premises is fascinating, I felt starkly removed from the novel until the last quarter. Jamie, our protagonist, is battling a sea of problems in Complicit, most notably that his older sister is finally out of jail. Crazy Cate, as his sister is called, is after Jamie with the sole intent that he know the truth; the truth about their dead mother, the truth about their past, and the truth about her crimes. Jamie and Cate are adopted and the journey Jamie undertakes to discover as much as he can about his mother, all while battling the anxiety disorders he lives through, pull at our heartstrings. While the synopsis of this tale makes the plot twist at the end abundantly clear, Jamie's voice is endearing and, as readers, we cannot help but root for him as he rummages for the truth in his memories.

Yet, despite this seeming connection, the bulk of Complicit felt too slow, too dull, and simply couldn't keep my attention. While Charm & Strange had me utterly engrossed, Kuehn's latest found me mentally checking out from time to time, eager to complete this story but lacking the motivation to barrel through. Despite the fact that it's a short novel, it feels long. Nevertheless, that hurdle aside, the ending of this story still manages to be explosive. Like I mentioned before, the synopsis of this novel hints at the reveal towards the end, but though I thought I had it all figured out, the minute details of what I didn't know made all the difference. What's more, the last few pages of this novel are haunting; chilling to the bone. Kuehn never fails to leave her readers with so much to contemplate, digest, and carefully think through. Like any good psychological thriller, Complicit does, eventually, get into your head.

Although Kuehn's latest did not enthrall me to the extent her debut did, it manages to remain a testament to her skill, knowledge, and prowess as a writer of both contemporary fiction and the male perspective. I cannot wait to see what she has up her sleeve next.

You can enter to win a hardcover of both Complicit and Charm & Strange HERE.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Graduation: The End of an Era!

I know, I know, it's not literally the end of an era, but it feels like one. I'm not a highly photogenic person (like, say, Jasprit from The Readers Den who always posts pictures of her trips and looks absolutely stunning in ALL of them!), but since I sorta promised I'd share some graduation pictures and you all seemed so excited to see them (you guys are so sweet!), here goes nothing! ;)

On the left is a picture of my mom and I outside the stadium where I graduated and on the right is my younger brother (so cute!) and my dad in front of our house. We're sadly blocking the daffodils that have bloomed, but you can see them peeking out the side.
I was actually with friends in both these pictures but I'm not sure they'd want their pictures online so I cropped them out. But, you can see me in my graduation robes!
Yet another picture where a friend of mine had to get cropped out...oh well! I posted another prom picture on my Instagram, so just this one, I guess, as a reminder of Senior Prom. :)
Washington D.C
I'd gone to D.C. over Memorial Day weekend and taken a mini-break from the blog, so here are some pictures of the time I spent there with my family!
On the top right is a selfie I took with my mom in front of the Washington Monument. On the top left is a picture with my brother around the Smithsonian museums. On the bottom right is a picture of me walking towards the Lincoln Memorial with the reflecting pool. And on the bottom left is a family picture where you can see the columns and fountains from the World War II Memorial in the background along with the reflecting pool again. 

Well, those are pictures! I'm celebrating it up at grad parties this weekend, so I hope you're all having a fantastic weekend as well! :D

Friday, June 20, 2014

Review: The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

Title: The Burning Sky (The Elemental Trilogy, #1) 

Author: Sherry Thomas

Rating: 3.5 Stars

It isn't a truth universally acknowledged--but it should be--that The Burning Sky has one of the absolute worst beginnings ever. In fact, for nearly the entirety of the first quarter, I put the novel down dozens of time, scratched my head in confusion, searched online for clarity to my questions, and once again picked up the novel with a sigh. It's a chore to barrel through the beginning of this story but, I promise you, it is very much worth it.

The Burning Sky is the type of novel I cannot believe hasn't already been written before. Granted, aspects of it are familiar--a mythical land with mages, an all-boys boarding school in Victorian England where a girl resides as a boy, a prince shouldering the burden of a terrible destiny, and even simulations of physical combat to improve and develop ones powers. But, somehow, combined together the mix of all these brilliant ideas is explosive. When Iolanthe innocently calls down lightning to fix a potion, she becomes one of the first mages in years to have done so, marking herself as an elemental mage of immense power. Titus, the prince of the realm, believes that with the help of Iolanthe he can finally fulfill the destiny he was born for--a destiny seen by his late-mother, a seer. Thus, he whisks Iolanthe away to the non-mage world, hiding her as Archer Fairfax in the all-too-normal all-boys academy he attends. With the Inquisitor on his heels, however, searching to exploit Iolanthe for herself, Titus will have a true calamity on his hands if he cannot train Iolanthe in time. Yet, what he doesn't expect is that working with Iolanthe may just be hardest task of all...

Thomas's foray in Young Adult truly hits its stride once Iolanthe becomes Archer Fairfax, a young boy reputed to be excellent in cricket. The Burning Sky begins with a confusing introduction, the world-building a little shaky and the rules of this magical realm still quite hidden, but those minor infractions cease to matter in the grand scheme of this novel. For all the plot threads thrown at the reader upon these first few chapters, The Burning Sky is very much a character-driven tale. Titus, who puts on the air of an arrogant monarch in his true land, has lived his life lying to those around him in order to do what he believes is right. In Iolanthe, he finally hopes to have someone he can be truthful around; a friend and, more importantly, a confidante. When Iolanthe first meets the prince after her grand escape, she is awe-struck by his bravery and intelligence. But the task Titus asks of Iolanthe--to essentially sacrifice herself for his cause--is too great a burden to bear. Left with no choice, Titus manipulates Iolanthe into believing she needs his assistance and binds her under a blood oath. Once Iolanthe discovers Titus's deceptions, it is already too late. While their initial interactions read suspiciously like insta-love, Iolanthe despises Titus while he cannot help but use her powers for the greater good. It's a difficult and often antagonistic relationship, but the greatest reward of this novel is seeing its growth. As Iolanthe grows to understand Titus's motives, she begins to see him as more than her captor. Of course, alongside their creeping friendship is romance as well, but it is so subtle and understated, easily shoved under the carpet for, above all, Titus and Iolanthe need one another's truth and loyalty before they can begin to think of one another's hearts. Although at first neither of these protagonists seem particularly remarkable, their layers are profound and the depth accumulated by them as the story progresses is admirable.

Even beyond these protagonists, however, The Burning Sky shines due to its break-neck pace which never falters, driving readers from Eton back to Atlantis and its political machinations and then to Crucible, a simulation where Titus and Iolanthe practice their skills by living through fairy tales, defeating Sleeping Beauty's dragons for example. Moreover, the secondary characters--though, by no means incredibly well-developed--all manage to hold their own presence. The Inquisitor with her ice-cold demeanor that made even Titus choke up in fear, Kashkari with his probing questions but loyal heart, Wintervale with his mad mother but sweet demeanor...all of them only contributed to both the plot and the character relationships in this installment. I definitely hope to see them developed in greater detail in the sequel, but as far as an introduction goes, I can't complain in the least.

Despite a very rocky start, The Burning Sky has only further solidified my love for Sherry Thomas. While this historical fantasy is nothing like her historical romance, it is still impeccable researched and the character dynamics remain bold and memorable. While I definitely hope to see more traditional fantasy elements emerge in the sequel, from stronger secondaries to more well-defined world-building, I wouldn't hesitate to label this as one of the better fantasies out there in the Young Adult genre. For readers who haven't already read this, I offer you only one piece of advise: be patient. The Burning Sky truly does pay off by the end.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Two Year Blogoversary Giveaways! :D

I graduated yesterday and the entire experience is so incredibly surreal. Four years flew by in a heartbeat and these past two have gone by even quicker. Did I even have a life before blogging? It's difficult to imagine one now. I know I've been slower to post off late, in the midst of my busy schedule, and the truth is that this year--starting college--I'll be lucky to find the time to post at all. I'm working on that, though. Quality over quantity, my friends, and I hope to have some significantly better quality reviews up and running soon this summer! 

Either way, I just want to give a big shout out thanks to all of you! I feel like the first blogoversary is so monumental; you made it! You blogged for an entire year and made friends and received ARCs and ahhh, you're sooo cool! Now, the second time around, it feels more like coming home every time I log on to Blogger. It feels like breathing to comment on blogs and engage in long book discussions. It feels only natural to have the last thing you see at night be a pile of ARCs that need to be read and reviewed and have the first thing you see in the morning be a pile of more books to be read and reviewed. It's hard every year because of the challenges of life that somehow interrupt blogging, but reading? Reading is our lives. 

Anyhow, I just want to thank each and every one of you for reading my blog, commenting, tweeting me, interacting with me in any way, and for writing gorgeous reviews that make my TBR grow. At this current stage in my life, I really am not sure what I'll finally major in once I attend college or where I'll find an internship (if I do!) or if I'll even find a job I like. I don't know who my teachers or classmates are going to be and in the midst of so much uncertainty, it's a relief to always have this; not just the blog, but the people. I may be traveling six hours away from home, shivering in the cold confines of Boston, but I'll always have this community to keep me grounded, so thank you. Seriously. Year One may have gone to me and a few select bloggers who truly made my experience online special, but Year Two goes to all of you. 

And, of course, my best blogging (and reading!) buddies--you know who you are! ;)

I'm running two giveaways for my two-year blogoversary; one for US Citizens and one for International Citizens. Of course, if you live in the US you can enter both giveaways, which is a perk. (BTW--both giveaways end at the end of the month, so a little more than a week to get in as many entries as possible!)

Giveaway #1
I will be selecting three US winners, each of whom will receive one of the following bundles:

Stephanie Kuehn Bundle
Hardcovers of Complicit (out June 24th!) and Charm & Strange

ARC Bundle
Chantress Alchemy (Chantress, #2) by Amy Butler Greenfield, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Torn by David Massey, and Fractured (Guards of the Shadowlands, #2) by Sarah Fine

Hardcover Bundle
pic name pic name pic name
Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz, Clockwork Prince (Infernal Devices, #2) by Cassandra Clare, and Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Giveaway #2
Your choice of any of the following Summer 2014 titles:
pic name pic name pic name
pic name pic name pic name
pic name pic name pic name
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Showcase Sunday (#34)

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:
pic name pic name pic name
pic name pic name pic name
pic name pic name pic name
pic name pic name pic name
I did indulge and buy a couple of books recently--novels I've already read and loved but simply needed to own on my shelves--but I've mostly been thriving on ARCs, lately, and older reads already on my shelves or Kindle. I definitely plan to head out to the library soon and stock up on summer reads, so my TBR is only going to be growing. :)

In non-book-related news, I'm graduating on Tuesday! :D Finally! I'll hopefully have pictures of my graduation (and a bunch of other pictures from other events/places I've been to this past year) on Thursday since Wednesday is my two-year blogoversary, so be sure to check back for the massive giveaway I have planned. :) If you haven't already, be sure to link me to your hauls since I love to visit them and have a fantastic reading week!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review: More Like Her by Liza Palmer

Title: More Like Her

Author: Liza Palmer

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I didn't expect More Like Her to wind up being my favorite Liza Palmer novel, but it is - it most definitely is. Both romantic and horrific, comforting and shocking, this isn't the warm story of Nowhere But Home or the amusing tale of Seeking Me Naked. Instead, it's much rawer, realer, and makes truly worthy statements about self-esteem and society. Just...impeccable. 

Frances is a guidance counselor at the prestigious Markham School, vying for a promotion alongside her best friend, Jill. Where Jill is in a steady relationship, however, Frances is recently single--yet again--and is eager to prove herself to the new headmistress, Emma. From the outside, Emma is everything Frances aspires to be--sophisticated, intelligent, and successful. When a bullying incident brings her closer to the headmistress, however, Frances discovers that behind the veneer of perfection, Emma is hurting, broken, and doubtful. With time, Frances and Emma only grow closer, on the cusp of an unbreakable friendship, when tragedy strikes.

From the surface, More Like Her seems to be nothing more than the far-too-often-retold tale of an unlucky woman who, when it comes to romance, never seems to get it right. In reality, though, this is merely a skin-deep perception of this novel. Palmer writes friendships--relationships, really--with such a careful, nuanced construction that we learn to understand them completely. From the perceptions our friends have of us to the minute details which comprise a tight friendship, Palmer presents the relationships between Frances and Jill, Frances and Lisa (another co-worker of hers who becomes a close friend), and most importantly, Frances and Emma with complexity and depth. Every one of these four women are real, filled with their insecurities and flaws, which makes them come alive on the page, their hearts suddenly stuck in our throats as Palmer unapologetically forces us to feel every emotion throughout this narrative. 

What's more, More Like Her is the type of novel whose pages we turn to a close but whose story lingers in our minds for days to come. You see, Emma's husband--all part of the veneer of her "perfect" life--brings a gun to a school event one evening and the lives of Frances and her friends are forever changed. Not only does Palmer write about a tragedy of this magnitude with poise and aplomb--particularly as this is not a novel that touches upon gun rights in the least--but she also manages to bring about growth from this event. As Frances is forced to look into her own life, she is made to look past the facades we all live with and accept as part of our lives, just as Emma likely accepted her husband for who he was and refused to see past his "calm" and "normal" exterior. It was Emma's own lack of self-worth that enabled her to keep living with a man who couldn't appreciate her value or give her the freedom to pursue the passions she wished and following the events of this tragedy, Frances--a single woman who may-or-may-not be falling in love--is forced to come to terms with her own self-worth. Whether or not she needs a man to keep her happy. Whether she truly sees herself as she is or simply sees a construct built by society that makes us view ourselves as inferior. It's a fascinating breakdown of our psyche and, what's more, Palmer observes this with each and every one of Frances friends, from her lover to her best friend Jill who seems to have everything put together in her life, particularly her love life. 

More Like Her, for all the serious subject matter it touches upon, is compulsively readable and, for the most part, a fairly light read as well. Moreover, the friendships within these pages will touch your heart, the romance will make you swoon (and smile and sigh and dream and cause butterflies to flutter in your stomach and your breath to catch and all of that), and most importantly, the characters will nearly (but not actually) outstay their welcome in your heart. It seems like the most innocent, unassuming of stories but--trust me--it'll change your life, at least a little. For me, there's no greater admission than the fact that words can change lives, but Palmer's have changed mine; irrevocably.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mixed Bag New Adult Mini-Reviews: Contemporary, Fantasy & Classics

While not all of these books have been explicitly labeled as New Adult, I feel comfortable throwing all four into this category as the age group of the characters perfectly fits this mold. Secret Society Girl and This Love are perhaps more traditionally New Adult, but Moth & Spark features young protagonists on the cusp of adulthood and Joyce's classic focuses largely on self-discovery prior to adulthood, covering a time span from Young Adult to New Adult.

Title: Secret Society Girl (Secret Society Girl, #1)
Author: Diana Peterfreund
Rating: 2 Stars

It seems Diana Peterfreund and I are truly meant to go our separate ways. For Darkness Shows the Stars underwhelmed me when it released, but I attributed my distaste of it to my love for Jane Austen's Persuasion, the novel Peterfreund attempted to pay homage to through her re-imagined futuristic setting. It - evidently - didn't work for me but, surely, Secret Society Girl should have. Of all my trusted reviewers, not one has found true fault with this novel. Thus, I must warn readers to take this review with a grain of salt. I am not of the majority opinion. Not at all.

While the premises of Secret Society Girl is intriguing enough - a young girl welcomed into an elite, previously boys-only, secret society - its execution falls flat. I found myself alternately bored while reading this, unable to connect with the main character or any of her friends. Although certain sections held my interest, for the most part, I found myself unimpressed - and unmoved by - the "witty" dialogue, "complex" relationships, and "secret" society happenings. But, as I've mentioned before, the fault clearly lies with me. I picked up Secret Society Girl hoping to discover a new series to label as a favorite but, it seems, we are just not meant to be.

Title: This Love (University of Branton, #1)
Author: Nazarea Andrews
Rating: 3 Stars

A quick read, but not one that makes any remarkable strides in the New Adult Genre. This Love deals with a forbidden student-teacher relationship, but this aspect of the romance is largely ignored by both love interests until the last quarter of the novel. In some ways, I can see the logistics behind this - a summer fling that wasn't supposed to come with emotional attachments - but I felt oddly distanced from the romance at hand, likely because of it. Andrews fails to play up the forbidden element which forced This Love from a unique category to a rather predictable one. I found the plot line to be reminiscent of typical romance novels, complete with two leads whose past troubles force them to seek solace in one another, only to find love instead. Unlike Unteachable, where the student-teacher romance only adds to the plot, This Love isn't a novel I'd recommend for those looking for a slightly different flavor of love story. Andrews's prose isn't anything spectacular and, I'm afraid, neither are her characters. In conclusion: not a bad novel, just one I feel remarkably indifferent towards.

Title: Moth & Spark
Author: Anne Leonard
Rating: 3 Stars

Moth and Spark is fantasy-lite. While it contains a plethora of intriguing ideas, the world-building, dragons, and magical elements aren't as deeply explored as the romance is. Quite simply put, though this could have easily been molded into an intense, political fantasy novel, it remains focused on the love story at hand. For an adult novel to push aside the intriguing political machinations of its universe, keeping its best qualities - dragons and magic - at bay, only compels it to dim in light of other fantasy novels. Leonard's writing and characterization are rich, but not rich enough to warrant remembrance. Not a bad debut, just a little different from what I expected...

Title: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Author: James Joyce
Rating: 2 Stars

It took my class a lot longer to finish this book than it took us to finish Crime and Punishment. Joyce is - by no means - a bad writer. If anything, his attention to detail, the clever symbols he incorporates into his work, and the motifs that recur again and again to create a larger meaning are all deftly woven together. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a wonderful piece of work in the sense that its subject matter is intriguing - a moral, internal struggle reconciling religion, lust, and identity - and, moreover, it remains a testament to more than just artistry, but history as well, drawing heavily upon its time period. Yet, that being said, Joyce's "stream of consciousness" prose did not sit well with me. I was unable to appreciate Stephen's character, feeling constantly distanced from the narrative throughout, and this novel's tediousness is its downfall. For modern readers, at any rate. Within my class itself, I struggle to name a single individual - with the exception of my enthusiastic teacher - who truly enjoyed this. Now, having finished the book, I am able to appreciate its significance but the experience of getting through this was far from entertaining. It's the way of classics, I suppose - you love some, you loathe others.