Monday, August 29, 2016

ARC Review: Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung

Title: Lucy and Linh
Written by: Alice Pung
Published: September 6, 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random House)
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: Gilmore Girls meets Fresh Off the Boat in this witty novel about navigating life in private school while remaining true to yourself. 

Lucy is a bit of a pushover, but she’s ambitious and smart, and she has just received the opportunity of a lifetime: a scholarship to a prestigious school, and a ticket out of her broken-down suburb. Though she’s worried she will stick out like badly cut bangs among the razor-straight students, she is soon welcomed into the Cabinet, the supremely popular trio who wield influence over classmates and teachers alike. 

Linh is blunt, strong-willed, and fearless—everything Lucy once loved about herself. She is also Lucy’s last solid link to her life before private school, but she is growing tired of being eclipsed by the glamour of the Cabinet. 

As Lucy floats further away from the world she once knew, her connection to Linh—and to her old life—threatens to snap. Sharp and honest, Alice Pung’s novel examines what it means to grow into the person you want to be without leaving yourself behind.

*** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. This fact has not changed my opinion. ***

I don't read a lot of contemporary YA but from to time to time I like to read them and this one caught my eye. I'm glad I got the chance to read because it was definitely a good read. It was an interesting and unique coming-of-age story with complex characters.

The thing that initially attracted me to this book was the Mean Girls comparison. I'm a huge fan of that movie and I think the comparison actually did make a lot of sense, although this was much more on the dramatic side and didn't have the humor of Mean Girls. But I usually enjoy books that show a bit of the darker side of high school and teenage girls. This definitely did a great job at showing that. There were some tough scenes with bullying and a lot of interesting themes too about popularity and what it means to be popular and a leader. It's the kind of book that makes you think about people and the way they treat each other. This was a fascinating aspect of the story and one that I really enjoyed.

And part of the reason that there was so much about the way people treat each other was because of the characters. This is a book full of characters that are very hard to like, particularly the secondary characters. Of course this is a book, a school, of queen bees and mean girls. They are terrible to their fellow students and exert their power over them with crazy tactics that as an adult I found ridiculous but oh so compelling. And the nice thing is that I don't think it went too far with things. It was a part of the book but it wasn't the focus which I think can sometimes get overly dramatic. Here it felt realistic and that was what made it so good.

But this was a character-driven narrative so much of the book was about the main character, Lucy. Lucy was a particularly interesting character. This is a coming-of-age story so much of the book involves Lucy figuring out the world and her place in it. She makes all kinds of mistakes but in the end she has fantastic development and you do empathize with her. When it comes right down to it she is a caring and compassionate person who just needs to stand up for herself and others more which I think is a lesson a lot of us need to learn.

However, this was a bit of a slow read for me. One of the reasons that I don't read a lot of contemporary is because I'm not typically a fan of character-driven narratives. I'm so much of a plot driven reader that it took me awhile to connect with the story. It's not the kind of book that I didn't want to put down and therefore it took me longer to get to through it than I expected. But I think fans of contemporaries will really enjoy it and like the way that the story unfolds.

On the whole, Lucy and Linh is an interesting read with complex characters and great themes about people and the way they treat each other. It's a book that will make you think and entertain you at the same time.

I give Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung 8.5 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy/Borrow. If you are a fan of contemporary coming-of-age stories then definitely check this one out, especially if you like YA high school stories that deal with more of the darker side of things like bullying and popularity. I think the Mean Girls meets Fresh Off the Boat is an apt comparison but it doesn't have the humor of those stories but it's still really good.

Have you read Lucy and Linh? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Crossing Over: Unique Fantasies with Unlikable Protagonists

Hey all. This month's Crossing Over is a little later than usual because I had a lot of other posts I was working on. I think. Or I was busy. I don't know. On top of that fact, like last month, I don't have a theme this month to focus me. But I've restored my idea stockpile for these and I have one that I'm really excited to share this one.

If you're not familiar with Crossing Over it's a feature that stemmed from my desire to recommend an adult book with crossover appeal based on a YA or sometimes Middle Grade book that are similar. I hate that we pigeonhole books into a specific age range and so I try to combat that. Plus it's basically an if you liked, then try but for crossover books. It runs once a month here and I pick the books based on the theme of what I'm reading. But like I said, no theme this month so here is a completely arbitrary choice.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Read My Review / Add to Goodreads

I love this series so much. It's one that I think is really polarizing within the fantasy community because of the way it treats magic and the characters but those are things that I love about it. For me, this is one of the most unique fantasies because of the way it plays with the classic tropes. This is a book with a magical system where magic doesn't solve problems it creates them, it's a magic that comes from darkness. There is also this really interesting world within a world that is not at all what you expect when you learn about it. Not to mention this is a book with a main character that is not easy to like. He's a selfish and whiny little jerk who never seems to be satisfied even when he gets exactly what he wants in life. But he also has some really great development throughout the book and surprisingly I empathized with him. This book is not for everyone but if you like unlikable characters and if you're looking for a unique fantasy absolutely check this out.

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar
Read My Review / Add to Goodreads

I loved this book a lot when I read it last month. I think honestly one of the reasons I liked it so much is that it reminded me a lot of The Magicians when I was reading it.  For me, this is one of the most unique fantasies because of the way it plays with the classic tropes. This is a book with a magical system that is unlike many magical systems and I loved that. I don't want to give it away but it's similar to The Magicians in a very particular way that I enjoyed.  There is also this really interesting magical realism type world that is not at all what you expect when you learn about it.Not to mention this is a book with a main character that is not easy to like. He's a selfish little jerk who never seems to be satisfied even when he gets exactly what he wants. But he also has some really great development throughout the book and surprisingly I empathized with him. This book is not for everyone but if you like unlikable characters and if you're looking for a unique fantasy absolutely check this out.

These are both good examples of books I think of really weird and unique fantasies. They have these really great atmospheric tones and a unique settings with some of the most interesting magical systems I have come across. It plays with the tropes in a interesting way and I like that about it. The Magicians has been described as adult Harry Potter and so the obvious choice for a similar book would be Carry On, but not to me. There are similarities but if you really want a book that has a similar tone and themes I think this is the book for you.

Have you read The Magicians and/or Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies? What did you think? What unique fantasies with crossover appeal do you like? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

ARC Review: The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron

Title: The Forgetting
Written by: Sharon Cameron
Published: September 13, 2016 by Scholastic
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: What isn't written, isn't remembered. 

Even your crimes. Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person's memories – of parents, children, love, life, and self – are lost. Unless they have been written. 

In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn't written the truth. Because Nadia is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten. 

But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence – before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her.

*** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher at BEA. This fact has not changed my opinion. ***

Oh man, this was fantastic. I don't want to give a lot away because so much of the best things about this book is that it's full of surprises. But if you are looking at the synopsis and thinking you know what it's about or what it's like, do not be fooled. It's much more complex. The Forgetting is not at all what I was expecting but honestly that made it all the more interesting because his is a really creative and compelling read.

One thing I loved about this book is the mystery. It's one of those SF/F reads that is full of mystery. I mean with a book called The Forgetting you would assume that remembering would be a big part of the book and it was. This is a book where you start about being so confused and then things slowly start being revealed. When everything is all said and done there is more than one big twist in this book and all of them were fantastic. That had little clues along the way to help you piece it together but ultimately it was full of surprises and I loved that.

I also really loved the world and the world-building. I can't go into any specifics here because that would give too much away and so much of the mystery here is related to the world. But suffice it to say, this is a really creative world that place around with science fiction and dystopian tropes. It made for a really engaging setting especially as you start learning more about it. And the author does a great job with the show instead of tell style of world-building. The more you see, the more you learn, the more invested you are.

You also get really invested in the characters. Pretty quickly into the book you are able to empathize with the main character, Nadia. She's in a very unique position of remembering when others cannot which made here one of those "too smart for her own good" protagonists. It is a little tropey at times but it kind of worked. But the think I liked most about Nadia is that she was motivated by her love of her family and her desire to help people for the greater good. It made me get behind her struggle and want to see her succeed.

There is also a ton of really great secondary characters here too. I already mentioned Nadia's family and I thought they had such a great relationship. She cares so much about them even when they don't really get along. I liked the way Nadia and her sister Lilya interacted. It felt so honest how they would bicker but still support each other. And while the romantic lead wasn't great for me from a romance standpoint, he ended up being a more layered character than I was originally expecting. So many of them are really complex and walk the line between good and evil, which I loved. On top of that it made for an interesting situation with antagonists. There's a lot of great conflicts here stemming from the fact that the characters are so complex.

My only problem however was with the pacing. This is a book which slowly builds to a thrilling conclusion which I liked but it wasn't very balanced. The beginning is a bit slow. Things are happening to move the plot along but it didn't really take off until half way through. Then when you get to the final act it was like a full-on sprint. I would have liked a little bit more of a balance. But that's just me being nitpicky.

Because seriously, this is a fantastic read. It's got likable and complex characters, a plot full of suspense and surprises, plus a really fascinating world. It's a book that while it can stand alone I would love to see a sequel for because it is so good that I'm not ready to let it go.

I give The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron 9.5 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy. I would absolutely recommend this book. It's much more complex than you might suspect by reading the synopsis. It's a mysterious and thrilling read with great characters and you should read it. Fans of science fiction and dystopia should absolutely check this out.

Have you read The Forgetting? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: The Midnight Star by Marie Lu

A weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine

Title: The Midnight Star
Series: The Young Elites #3
Author: Marie Lu
Published: October 11, 2016 by Putnum Books for Young Readers (Penguin Group)

Synopsis: The thrilling finale to the New York Times bestselling Young Elites series from “hit factory” Marie Lu.

There was once a time when darkness shrouded the world, and the darkness had a queen.

Adelina Amouteru is done suffering. She’s turned her back on those who have betrayed her and achieved the ultimate revenge: victory. Her reign as the White Wolf has been a triumphant one, but with each conquest her cruelty only grows. The darkness within her has begun to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy all that she’s achieved.

Adelina’s forced to revisit old wounds when a new danger appears, putting not only Adelina at risk, but every Elite and the very world they live in. In order to save herself and preserve her empire, Adelina and her Roses must join the Daggers on a perilous quest—though this uneasy alliance may prove to be the real danger.

Bestselling author Marie Lu concludes Adelina's story with this haunting and hypnotizing final installment to the Young Elites series

Why I'm Waiting 

Oh man, I am not ready to read this book. I have been so emotionally invested in this series and they always end up wrecking me. You wouldn't think that a book which is essentially a villain origin story would make me sob uncontrollably but this one definitely does. And the way the last book ended I can only imagine the emotional turmoil this book is going to put me through.

But at the same time I can't wait to find out what will happen in this book. I love this series so much. The world, the characters, the plot development. It's such a fascinating and dark YA fantasy and I'm interested to see where things go and how it will all end.

This book is one of my highly anticipated release for the fall and I have had a copy pre-ordered for awhile now. I cannot wait until it shows up on my doorstep so that I can read it.

What about you? What are you waiting for this Wednesday? Are you waiting on The Midnight Star along with me? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Adult Books I Owned Before Blogging and Haven't Read

A weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Before I started blogging and I read mostly adult books. A lot of literary fiction, mysteries, adult fantasies. But then as I started blogging I started finding more Young Adult books that were much more interesting to me. It's been a slow progression but I'd say now only 10% of the books I read are adult books. So here are some books I owned before blogging and never read.

1.) Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides - Add to Goodreads
I got this at a festival I was tabling at for work. The local library was giving out books. GIVING OUT BOOKS! But this is the book I am most ashamed of. I started it right before I started blogging and put it down and never picked it up again

2.) The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards- Add to Goodreads
I also got this when the library was giving out books. I've heard good things and I think someone told me it was set in Pittsburgh. So when I moved here I though, hey, I'll read a book about where I live now.

3.) Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - Add to Goodreads
I also got this book at a free giveaway from a library. I was really interested in reading it and yet I never did. Then there was a movie I think a few years ago and I still never read it. The author is coming to Pittsburgh, maybe I should use that as the excuse.

4.) The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides - Add to Goodreads
I got this one at the Goodwill a few years ago. I had wanted to read some Jeffrey Eugenides (hence Middlesex also) but I don't really like books about suicide because reasons and I don't know why I thought I would like this one.

5.) Freedom by Jonathon Frazen  - Add to Goodreads
People used to rave about this author (although now I don't see much positive talk and he seems like a pretentious jerk) so I got a copy of this book at a used book store because it was super cheap and sounded interesting. But I now I may just sell it back to that book store.

6.) The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver - Add to Goodreads
I read a different of this author's books and really liked it. This is one that is even more up my alley and I know a lot of people really love it. I got it at a library book sale a while ago and just haven't cracked it open yet.

7.) Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger - Add to Goodreads
I got this at Border's (R.I.P.) as one of those buy one get one half off deals. I like the Time Traveler's Wife so I thought I would read another of the author's books. I just never did and I'm not sure that I ever will.

8.) Drawing in the Dust by Zoe Klein- Add to Goodreads
Again, I got this book at Borders as part of a buy one get one half off deal. I was all about those man. Two paperbacks for like $20, what a deal. Anyway, this was really similar to a lot of other historical mysteries I was reading at the time and I got bored with them.

9.) The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Gailbraith - Add to Goodreads
I was interested in this series because I like mysteries and then I learned that it was written by J.K. Rowling so I was even more interested. So I picked up a copy at a used book store and still haven't read it. I should get on that.

10.) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - Add to Goodreads
I talk all the time I feel like about how I have a copy of Anna Karenina but I have never read it because I am intimidated by it. So why stop talking about it now and not include it on this list.

There you have it. Some of the adult books that I bought before blogging and never read. Now that I look at all of these I kind of want to read them. Well most of them. The first couple for sure. Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Monday, August 22, 2016

ARC Review: Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper

Title: Salt and Storm
Series: Salt and Storm #1
Written by: Kendall Kulper
Published: September 23, 2014 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: You don't know what you must give up to become a witch.

Avery Roe wants only to claim her birthright as the witch of Prince Island and to make the charms that have kept the island's sailors safe at sea for generations, but instead she is held prisoner by her mother in a magic-free life of proper manners and respectability.

Avery thinks escape is just a matter of time, but when she has a harrowing nightmare, she can see what it means: She will be killed. She will be murdered. And she's never been wrong before.

Desperate to change her future, Avery finds a surprising ally in Tane—a tattooed harpoon boy with magic of his own, who moves her in ways she never expected. But as time runs out to unlock her magic and save herself, Avery discovers that becoming a witch requires unimaginable sacrifice.

Avery walks the knife's edge between choice and destiny in Kendall Kulper's sweeping debut: the story of one girl's fight to survive the rising storm of first love and family secrets.

*** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher at BEA. This fact has not changed my opinion. ***

It is extremely rare for me to decide to pick up a book again after DNFing it, much less to do it two years later. But with that fact that historical fantasies and witch books have been working for me lately, I had the sudden and surprising desire to pick this up two years after deciding it wasn't for me. And while it was far from perfect I did enjoy it more this time around.

One thing that I do enjoy about this book is the setting. For one thing I loved Prince Island. It's a tiny island in New England in the late 1800's. The author did a great job of developing that world. You could imagine the ocean breezes, the waves breaking across the shore. It was atmospheric and engaging. Then on top of that you had the historical fiction elements. The author clearly did her research on whaling culture and what things were like as the industry was dying at. It all worked together to make an interesting setting.

I also did like the magical system here. I liked how it was so tied to the success of the island. And yet the magic is subtle or maybe it's just a small part of the book because of plot reasons. But it was interesting. However I would have like a little more magic. As the book developed we learned more about the source of the magic and saw it in action and that was when I wanted more from it.

That's also kind of how I felt about the plot development here. There was a lot of exposition. A lot of set up. That was one of the main reasons I DNF'd it two years ago and it was something that I didn't like again. It's a slowly paced plot too. It plods along to a few main climaxes but it takes it's sweet time getting. I'm such a plot driven reader that I eventually hit a wall again and just wanted to skim until I found out what happened. I just wasn't invested anymore.

But I think a lot of my lack of investment with the plot came from the fact that I seriously could not connect with the romance. This is a very romance heavy book and I am so picky about my romance. To me that isn't the most compelling narrative for a book. And this is a book where the romance dictates a lot of the plot development so if you can't connect with the romance you're at a huge disadvantage. And I didn't connect with the romance. I found it cliche, full of instalove, and aggravating. It did play with the tropes a little bit towards the end but at that point I was just so dumb to it that it didn't help much.

I'm not sure why I did end up liking this a little more this time around. Maybe because I listened to the audiobook. I feel like the narrator did a really good job setting the scene which is what I liked most about the book. But I also think she did a good job with the characterization. You get much more of the emotion with the audio and that kept me interested much longer.

On the whole, Salt and Storm is an okay read. It is decent historical fantasy despite the fact that the plot development didn't work for me and I never really connected with the characters. And while I don't regret picking this up again I think this is a good example of how if I DNF a book it really isn't going to work much better for me later.

I give Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper 7.5 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow. I didn't totally love this book but I think it's just not my kind of read. If you are a fan of romance narratives than check this out but if you are looking for a more plot-driven read I would not recommend this one.

Have you read Salt and Stone? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Friday, August 19, 2016

ARC Review: And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich

Title: And the Trees Crept In
Written by: Dawn Kurtagich
Published: September 6, 2016 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: A stunning, terrifying novel about a house the color of blood and the two sisters who are trapped there, by The Dead House author Dawn Kurtagich 

When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt's home, it's immediately clear that the "blood manor" is cursed. The creaking of the house and the stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too--the questions that Silla can't ignore: Who is the beautiful boy that's appeared from the woods? Who is the man that her little sister sees, but no one else? And why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer? 

Filled with just as many twists and turns as The Dead House, and with achingly beautiful, chilling language that delivers haunting scenes, AND THE TREES CREPT IN is the perfect follow-up novel for master horror writer Dawn Kurtagich.

*** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher at BEA. This fact has not changed my opinion. ***

I read and loved Dawn's debut The Dead House and I was so excited to read her next book. And wow, does this author know how to write a great YA psychological thriller. It has taken me two days to review this book (something that rarely happens anymore) but I seriously needed that time to wrap my head around what happened in this book and how I felt about it.

There is so much about this book that I want to talk about but I don't want to spoil you on it. Suffice it to say that there is a really interesting plot here. It's not quite a mystery, not quite a psychological thriller, and not quite horror either. It combines all three though to make a story that is so compelling. There are little clues along the way and points throughout the book that come together in a big way when you reach the eventual conclusion. And what a conclusion it was. It wasn't a total surprise but it did have me reeling. It was fantastic in that way.

A lot of the enjoyment of the plot and this book came from the tone and atmosphere. This is definitely a book full of confusion and suspense. I am the type of reader who likes being confused, I like not knowing what is happening so this book gave me that. There are a lot of unexpected twists too. Moments where you're not super scared but you're worried and looking around your shoulder. It made for an interesting and atmospheric read.

But most of the confusion I think came from the characters. This is a book with an unreliable narrator which I typically enjoy. And I did enjoy that aspect of Silla. She has definitely been through a lot and you want to see her and her sister Nori, who was so sweet, win in the end. However at the same time you see Silla slowly lose her grip on things. It was incredibly interesting but there is just something hard about connecting with a character like that. But mostly I found it hard to connect with the romance of the book. Despite liking Gowan, the male lead, the romance just felt strange to me and I think maybe that was because of my feelings of Silla. But in general I loved the unreliable narrator and the characters were complex.

And the Trees Crept in is a fast and engaging story full of mystery and suspense. It's an atmospheric read with an unreliable narrator and a plot that will mess with your head and keep you guessing until you finish reading. It only took me a few days to read this and I honestly didn't want to put it down.

I give And the Trees Crept in by Dawn Kurtagich 8.5 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow/Buy. If you like Dawn's debut then check this out or if you are looking for a unique read that combines mystery, horror, and psychological thriller in a subtle kind of way than check this out. It's be a good introduction to these kinds of books.