Thursday, April 30, 2015

Audiobook Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Published: May 6, 2014 by Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. 

 In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge

All the Light We Cannot See comes very highly recommended. A few blogger friends loved it, it was the Goodreads Choice for historical fiction last year, and just recently it won the Pulitzer for Literature. So I had very high hopes for this one. I don't usually love books that are set during World War II but after hearing such great things and loving The Book Thief I gave it a try and I'm glad that I did. It was a beautifully-written and emotional read with likable and complex characters.

One of the best things about this book is the characters. The author does a fantastic job connecting you to the main characters very quickly. Both of our protagonists have had some incredible hardships in their life but they have this amazing inner strength. Marie-Laure is blind and living in Paris with her father when we first meet her. But because of the war, her and her father have to flee in the night to a small village on the coast of Brittany. The interesting thing about Marie-Laure is that sometimes you forget she's blind. She doesn't let her disability get in the way of her life which is one of the things that makes her so likable. Then there is Werner. He's an orphan living in Germany who learns how to fix and build radios and other electrical equipment. He's also incredibly resourceful and smart but with this caring heart that makes him just as likable. Doerr's characterizations were so brilliant and it really made for a really enjoyable read.

Even better than the individual characters is the way that they interact. There are so many amazing relationships here. Most notably, Marie-Laure and her father. He was so caring and committed to taking care of her. He often went to great lengths for her and it was heart-warming and just one of the things that led to the feels for me. Marie-Laure also had a great relationship with her uncle Etienne. Being blind she really had to depend on others but they never thought any less of her and all their help was to make her independent. With Werner, it's really about friendships. As an orphan his only family is his sister who he is separated from pretty early in the book. So he is spending a lot of time connecting with others to find companionship. He is very sympathetic in that way, and you can't help but also like the characters he befriends at school and in the military. These relationships and the characters search for connections really helped as a reader to connect with the story and made it such an emotional read.

And once again I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed a book set during Europe in World War II. I used to say that I found them all the be very similar and not at all creative, that they tended to just focus on the most obvious historical events of the day. But now I'm starting to think that I was just reading the wrong ones. Like The Book Thief, which I loved, this focuses on the homefront. The war is happening around us but that is not the focus of this book. The history is subtle and not the focus of the book. And while All the Light We Cannot See has won awards for historical fiction to me it reads more like "Literary Fiction." The pacing of the book was slower and focus was more on the characters. The writing is purposefully sentimental and beautiful. I wouldn't say that it's purple prose but it definitely had a lyrical quality to it. All of this added up to make a powerful and emotional story that will definitely stick with me but it's not necessarily the kind of style that blows me away.

Or maybe I wasn't blown away because I experienced this book as an audiobook. And while it was a good audiobook I don't think it was the best way for me to read the book. The narrator did a great job establishing the atmosphere of the book but I usually prefer my audiobooks to have more action to them. In the case of this book it almost lulled me to sleep. Not so much to sleep, but it did lull me to distraction. I would have to rewind and relisten to what had happened because I would realize that I hadn't comprehended anything that had just happened in the book. So while I did enjoy it, I think I would have liked it a little better if I had read it instead of listened to the audiobook.

I give All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 9 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy/Borrow. This is a must read if you are fans of Lit Fic. It is a beautifully written character-driven story that will stick with you long after you are finished reading. If you also like historical fiction set during WWII then check this one out. I would also maybe recommend this if you want to try some historical fiction but don't want to get overwhelmed by historical events.

Have you read All the Light We Cannot See? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Book Review: Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Title: Under a Painted Sky
Author: Stacey Lee
Published: March 17, 2015
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.

Slowburn is the watchword for this book. Everything about Under a Painted Sky was slower but that's how it works it's way into your heart. Before you even realized what is happening, you're emotionally invested in the story and the characters. When it comes right down to it, this book is a fantastic piece of historical fiction with diverse characters you can't help but love and an engaging plot that will keep you reading from beginning to end.

One of the things that really surprised me about Under a Painted Sky was how much I enjoyed the plot of the book. I often talk about how much I hate travel as a plot point so I should have not liked this expedition. but it worked. Perhaps that was because the stakes were still very high. It wasn't just let's get from point A to point B, it was about how do we survive along the way. This was as much about survival as it was about travel. There is so much uncertainty and danger for our characters which really gave the book a lot more excitement and suspense. But that may have been because the historical fiction aspect of the story. I have always wanted to read a YA novel set on the Oregon Trail because it's a time period that has fascinated me since I was a kid playing that computer game where my oxen died fording the river. And like the game, Stacey Lee perfectly combined adventure with history. But the history is subtle. So subtle that it almost felt like an afterthought. It mentioned locations and experiences but that wasn't really the focus of the story (more on the focus later). However, along the way there was enough thrilling and interesting moments that I was not only engaged but I couldn't put it down.

The fact that I couldn't put the book down is all the more interesting because of the pacing. Like I said, slowburn is watchword. It wasn't a fast-paced story. Things slowly plotted along until the climax. But when it did hit that climax, it really kicked into high gear. There were a few moments where I just couldn't stop reading, I had to keep going to find out what happened to our intrepid characters. But one thing that I didn't love about the pacing or well maybe plot of this book is the way that it ended. It didn't necessarily end on a cliffhanger but it really left things wide open. As far as I know this is a standalone but it didn't wrap everything up the way I prefer (in a neat and tidy package). I would really love a sequel because honestly I need to find out what happens to these characters.

And it was those characters that made this book so enjoyable. Under a Painted Sky was full of amazing and complex characters that I couldn't help but love, even when they were doing stupid things. And boy did they do stupid things. This book is full of characters that were far from perfect, but that was what made them all the more realistic and endearing. There is a lot of talk in the YA community about the need for diverse characters. This book definitely has them. Of the five main characters, three of them were persons of color and none of them were stereotypes. In a time where being anything other than white made you inferior, these characters were unabashedly themselves and showed that no matter what you look like, you can do anything. The other great thing about these diverse characters is that we get to learn about their culture. There was so much about Chinese culture in this book and it was such a fascinating dimension. And that is because our main character is Samantha or Sammy, a Chinese-American girl who has to flee out West after an unfortunate event occurs. Along for the ride is Annamae or Andy, an escaped slave. The girls take to the trail as young boys, a concept I don't always like because I'm constantly wondering how others can't figure it out, but it worked for this story. Both girls are very different but they are both extremely strong mentally and emotionally. But they have help along the way in the form of three cowboys: Cay, West, and Petey. The cowboys, who are clearly more experienced and knowledgeable never treat Sammy and Andy like they incapable of anything. They are hilarious and tough but encouraging and helpful. Each of the boys are fantastic in their own way but they are even better as a group.

But the best part of these characters is how they interact and work together. That was the real focus of this story, there is a heartwarming friendship and commradere here. A shared event brings Sammy and Andy together but throughout the book they find solace and friendship in one another. Their relationship is incredibly sweet and supportive. Female friendships like this are not always common in literature and it is such a great thing when it happens. But then there was the friendship with the cowboys. The three of them together were fantastic but then with the girls the dynamic was even better. They took them under their wings and taught them all these amazing things like roping, shooting, and horseback riding. Things that seemed like they were just fun, but were ultimately about survival. It was an odd sort of mentorship but it was a delightful one. And just as delightful was the romance. I'm not always a fan of romance when gender-bending is part of the story. It can sometimes come off as odd but here it really worked. I absolutely shipped the ships and like a lot of my favorite romances it was a fantastic slowburn with a great endgame.

Everything combined for a really phenomenal read. Stacey's writing was engaging and beautiful. I didn't think that I was going to read this as fast as I did but I couldn't put it down and found myself staying up much later than I expected. When the book was done I was left wishing there was more.

I give Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee 9.5 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: BUY! This book is not to be missed for fans of YA historical fiction. 90's kids will love the connection with the computer game from our youth and even if you don't normally like historical fiction you will love the story of friendship this book contains. Under a Painted Sky is one more of the amazing 2015 debuts with fantastic characters and an engaging plot. A must read.

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books with Unreliable Narrators

A weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

First a note on unreliable narrators: You may be asking yourself what an unreliable narrator is. All it means is that you can't necessarily trust what they are telling you. A lot of times the narrator will tell you something like they don't remember exactly what happened. Maybe they are a self-proclaimed "liar," perhaps they are a storyteller used to embellishing, or maybe they just tell you they don't remember perfectly what happened. What I love about unreliable narrators is that there is this added level of mystery and confusion with the story. That doubt really makes things interesting for me.

*** Warning that there may be spoilers. I will do my best to be vague but mentioning unreliable narrators can be a spoiler in and of it self. ***

1.) The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - My Review
Offred, the narrator here, is telling her personal story but refuses to give us her real name. Things are going well until she pauses to tell you that she may not be remembering it exactly the way it happened and she even mentions she wants things to be different.

2.)  Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - Add to Goodreads
This is one of my all time favorite books and it's because of the dubious nature of the characters which our unrelaiable narrators create for us. I say narrators because we hear the story from one person through another person's story. It's like a game of telephone.

3.) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger - Add to Goodreads
We're all on the same page with Holden Caulfied, right. He's an unreliable narrator, right. I mean he's completely honest about how he thinks of himself as a huge liar. How can that be anything other than unreliable?

4.) The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stehen Chbosky - Add to Goodreads
One of the first things Charlie tells us is that he has changed some of the names in the book. But what else has he changed? As the book develops we start to doubt Charlie's ability to tell his story with honesty, but it doesn't make him unlikable. In fact it makes him more sympathetic.

5.) Life of Pi by Yann Martel - Add to Goodreads
This book is an older Pi telling a journalist about what happened when he was shipwrecked. But I mean he was in the open ocean in the heat, he may have imagined a lot of what was happening. Plus I'm still not entirely sure that I understand what happened at the end of this book.

6.) Verity in Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - My Review
The first half of this story is told from Verity's perspective. She has been captured by the Germans during WWII when her plane crashes and is forced to write down everything she knows. But seriously, how honest is a girl going to be to her enemy?

7.) The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - My Review
Okay so this one is mostly my personal opinion. But Kvothe is a storyteller, he's used to exaggerating and telling things in a compelling way. He says he's telling the truth but then he quickly moves past a part of his history that should be very compelling, so there's that.

8.)  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - My Review 
First clue: Our MC and narrator in this story is trying to remember what happened to her the summer before. She has no memory of it. Second clue: one of the first thing that she tells us is that her family are all liars. Third clue: the title.

9.) All Fall Down by Ally Carter - My Review
The main character in this book is constantly reminding us that she's not crazy. Okay, sure, I believe you. But more than that, she firmly believes that something happened and everyone else in her life does not believe her.

10.) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - My Review 
This book is a matter of "he said, she said."When Amy goes missing her husband Nick is the prime suspect into her murder. This book is told from him perspective (but can we trust him?) as well as from Amy's diary (but can we trust her?). The two unreliable and odious narrators here is what makes the book so interesting.

11.) Don't Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout - My Review
Samantha's and her best friend Cassie goes missing, but only Sam has returned and things don't look good, She doesn't remember anything. Not what happened, not even who she is. Throughout the book she is not only learning about herself but what happened to Cassie.

12.) The Good Girl by Mary Kubica - My Review
This was such a unique read. It is the story of a woman who is kidnapped told from four different perspectives: her, the police investigator, her mother, and the kidnapper. I mean talk about all different angles/ At least a few of those are unreliable most notably Mia.

And those are some of my favorite reads with unreliable narrators. Do you like unreliable narrators? What are some of your favorite reads? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Release Day Blitz: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

If you are anything like me, you have been waiting for this book for close to a year and now, and it's finally hear! I am so excited that AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir releases today and that I get to share the news, along with a special introduction from Sabaa herself!

If you have been living under a rock and don't know about this book by Author Sabaa Tahir, be sure to check out all the details below. If you have heard about it and don't have your hands on a copy (or even if you do), this blitz also includes a giveaway for a signed copies of the book and some of those awesome sword letter openers we’ve seen around courtesy of Sabaa, Penguin Teen, and Rockstar Book Tours. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

But first, a letter from Sabaa Tahir.

Dear Readers,

Today, my “baby” AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is finally out in the world! From inception to pub date, this journey took eight years. And what a journey it was: writing, rewriting, revising, editing, querying, submitting; Meeting other debuts, bloggers, booksellers and librarians, and hearing their thoughts on EMBER. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the radness.

And now, the book is here! I am so excited to see it in the hands of readers. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. To celebrate release day, I’m giving away two signed, first-edition hardcovers of the book. Details below!

All my best,


Author: Sabaa Tahir
Pub. Date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 464
Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.

LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.

When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.

Check out the book trailer!

About Sabaa:
Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s 18-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Giveaway Details:

2 winners will receive a signed hardcover of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. US Only.

3 winners will receive a hardcover of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES and a Sword Letter Opener! US Only.

Ends on May 9th at Midnight EST!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 27, 2015

ARC Review: The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

Title: The Girl at Midnight
Series: The Girl at Midnight #1
Author: Melissa Grey
Published: April 28, 2015 by Deacorte Press (Random House)

Synopsis: For readers of Cassandra Clare's City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

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

I really wanted to love The Girl at Midnight. It sounds like a book that is right up my alley. You all probably know that I read a lot of YA Fantasy and this one sounds completely creative with a unique world and interesting characters. And yes, it did have that. A lot of blogger friends who I have similar taste in books with really loved it. I feel a bit like a black sheep, because I didn't fully connect it.

One thing that I did really love about The Girl at Midnight was the fantasy world that Melissa Grey created. I don't read a lot of Urban Fantasy but I love the world within a world concept that was used here. The idea that there is some hidden magic out there is always so fascinating. In this book the actual magic is subtle but I liked that. Although we do get to see some cool magic that allows the characters to do things like teleport and protect spaces. No, the real hidden magic in this book is the race of the Avicen and the Drakhar. Two kinds of inhumans who have been at war for centuries. Their worlds are incredibly lush with details you can visualize. You can perfectly imagine what the Avicen's feather looked like, what the Drahkar's scales looked like, what they ate, where they lived, and what they wore. But more than that, they were both cultures with a history and mythology, a mythology that was effortlessly combined into the general plot of the story. I love those kinds of magical worlds. They feel so realistic and deep. The depth and lush detail all added up to create a really captivating fantasy world.

Another really great thing about The Girl at Midnight were the characters. The book was full of diverse and complex characters that have both strengths and weaknesses. First and foremost we have Echo, our protagonist. She's a thief who is in a place she doesn't necessarily belong but she adapts and ends up fitting in. I seriously loved Echo. She's a snarky and plucky heroine who is definitely too smart for her own good but that's both her biggest strength and her biggest weakness. But like most fantasy, The Girl at Midnight is told from a handful of different perspectives. The male lead is Caius, the Dragon Prince who is almost zealously looking for the firebird. Then we have the supporting cast Echo's best friend Ivy, Caius's best friend Dorian, and Jaspar a fellow thief. They're great as a team, full of laughs and affection for one another. But alternate perspectives are hard for me sometimes. The Girl at Midnight was unfortunately the kind of book where the changing perspectives made it hard for me to fully connect with the characters. It was just too many angles, muddying things for me. I would often find myself forgetting whose perspective the chapter was from and then when I would get used to it, it would change again. I really liked the characters and I think I would have it a little bit more if it was told from a single third-person perspective.

Unfortunately, the biggest thing that didn't work for me was the plot of the book. I am the kind of reader who needs a really strong plot-driven story to keep them engaged and I didn't find that in The Girl at Midnight. The general plot was a travel across continents in search of clues kind of story which, despite my dislike of travel monologues, I usually enjoy so I had high hopes. And surprisingly the travel didn't annoy me as much as the mystery. That part of the story felt a bit too convenient. The characters knew exactly where to go and exactly what they were looking for and if they didn't someone of something would help them. It didn't feel like the stakes were very high to me. And then there was the endgame which had a twist I saw coming a mile away. It almost felt like an out of book experience. It was like things were happening to the character and I was completely independent of them. This doesn't should all that odd but usually with my reads I like an immersive experience. But with The Girl at Midnight, I just didn't really connect with the plot.

On the whole I would say that The Girl at Midnight was a good book, it just wasn't for me. I enjoyed a lot of aspects of it but it didn't blow me away like I expected. It had a captivating world and likeable characters but the plot wasn't as complex and mysterious enough for me.

I give The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey 8 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow. This book does have a lot going for it. If the synopsis appeals to you then check it out. I haven't read The Mortal Instruments or Daughter of Smoke and Bone (which a lot of people are comparing this to) so I can't say if the comparisons hold but I do get the comparisons to the Grisha trilogy. If you are looking for a YA fantasy with an interesting world and likeable characters and don't mind travel adventures, especially if you prefer character-driven to plot-driven stories, then check this book out.

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

Friday, April 24, 2015

ARC Review: Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Title: Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albettalli
Published: April 7, 2015 by Balzar + Bray (HarperCollins)
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

I'm pretty sure I have a toothache from this book, it was that sweet! And I mean this in the best possible way. Because Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is the cutest, sweetest, and most adorable book I have read in a long time. I am not usually a fan of contemporary romance novels. It takes a very specific and well-written book to blow me away and Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda completely did!

The best thing about this book for me was the characters. Becky was able to create some of the most genuine and likable characters I have ever come across. It didn't take long for me to fall hopelessly in love with Simon Spier. He's feels like a real seventeen year old. He's quirky and fun with a snarky sense of humor. He makes mistakes and does stupid things. He swears and makes sexual innuendos. Throughout the novel he is figuring out who he is and who he wants to be but being a gay teen he can't completely be himself. He's a bit awkward and uncertain at times but at other times he's confident and intelligent. He also shows a tremendous amount of inner strength with his situation. But there was also an amazing cast of secondary characters that were just as realistic and likable. Simon's friends Abby, Nick, and Leah were fantastic and so were his family.

I think I liked the characters because of the way that they interacted. This book is non-stop witty banter, awkward conversations, and emotional heart-to-hearts. And sometimes they all happened at once. First I have to mention how amazing Simon's parents were. In a lot of YA the parents are minimally involved, if they are involved at all. But Simon's parents were totally involved in his life. In fact they may have been a little too involved. But that really made things all the more realistic. They were a little over-protective but it felt genuine because of their love and support for Simon. Same thing with his sisters. They interacted the way that siblings interact. I also really enjoyed the way that Simon interacted with his friends. They had very real conversation and they did real teenage things like going to parties and playing video games. But they also didn't always get along. It wasn't always sunshine and puppies for Simon, especially with these relationships, but it was great to see that there was a real support system for him. That support system is what allowed Simon to be brave enough to be himself and that really can't be anything other than heartwarming.

But my favorite interaction in this book was the ship. I seriously ship Simon and Blue so hard! When we are first introduced to Blue it is through emails. He and Simon have been talking anonymously for the past few months after Simon saw a post of Blue's on the school tumblr. Their interactions are the cutest and swooniest emails I have perhaps ever seen. Their flirty and full of thinly veiled sexual inneudos that had me giggling and feeling all warm and fuzzy. As the book develops so does their relationship and I found myself just as invested in their success as Simon was. Then when we finally find out who Blue is, it makes things even more exciting and adorable. You see, the underlying plot point in Simon is this mystery about Blue. I wouldn't necessarily call it a mystery but it was a great dimension to an engaging and fun story.

Because that is what Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is, it's fun. I like my contemporary novels to be on the lighter side of things but with a balance of the more serious moments of life. That's what this book does. Don't get me wrong, it deftly and honestly deals with some very serious and thought-provoking issues. But instead of getting bogged down in the heavy subject matter of being a gay teen and coming out (or being forced out) to your friends and family, it has a real humor and effervescent quality to it. It's a lighthearted and entertaining read that you will want to read in one sitting. I read it in just a few days and I will admit that at least one of those days I stayed up much later into the night than I intended. That never happens to me with contemporary romances. But I was so invested in Simon and his story, I couldn't stop reading until I found out who Blue was and found out if Simon got his happy ending. And that to me says how well-written this book is more than anything else. Sure, it's fun and deep and the writing is lyrical and interesting, but more than that you just connect with this story. You connect with the story, you connect with the characters, and you connect with the romance.

I give Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli a 10 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: BUY! This book is not to be missed for fans of contemporary romances. It's on the lighter side of things so if you aren't a big fan of the genre but are looking for a sweet and fun palate cleanser then check this one out as well. Simon Vs. is an absolutely adorable read with amazing characters, a flawless ship, and an engaging plot. One of my favorite debuts of the year so far!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Book Review: Skandal by Lindsay Smith

Title: Skandal
Series: Sekret #2
Author: Lindsay Smith
Published: April 7, 2015 by Macmillain
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: The dramatic sequel to Sekret, this psychic Cold War espionage thriller follows Yulia to Washington, DC, where she fights to discover the truth about her family without losing control of her mind. 

My mind is mine alone. 

Life in Washington, D.C., is not the safe haven Yulia hoped for when she risked everything to flee communist Russia. Her father is reckless and aloof, and Valentin is distant and haunted by his past. Her mother is being targeted by the CIA and the US government is suspicious of Yulia's allegiance. And when super-psychics start turning up in the US capitol, it seems that even Rostov is still a threat. Ultimately, Yulia must keep control of her own mind to save the people she loves and avoid an international Skandal.

I read Sekret [My Review] a year ago and was completely impressed with this debut. It was such a fascinating read with an amazing historical setting, an interesting magical system and world-building, and complex characters. So I was really excited for more of this series. And while it was a really enjoyable read, it didn't quite reach the level of the first book for me.

One of the absolutely fantastic thing about this series is the historical setting. I've always been so interested in the Cold War era. The contrasting ideologies, world powers competing for control, and threat of war. It was a time of fear which really makes for an interesting book. Lindsay absolutely captures that again here in Skandal. There is so much suspense and conflict in this book. In Sekret the book took place in Soviet Russia, but here we move to the United States and get to explore Washington, D.C. In DC, things are the same in some way and very different in other ways. It was great to see sort of an expanded world for this series and see the era from a different and more well-rounded angle. Lindsay also does a brilliant job of incorporating historical figures and events of the 1960's. To some degree the historical events she chose in Skandal had higher stakes which gave the book an even more dramatic turn. But it may have been the higher stakes that made it hard for me to connect fully with the book. I can usually suspend disbelief when I'm reading but for some reason I had a bit of an issue with it here in Skandal. I can't quite put my fingers on why, but it may have been the main historical plot.

However, the plot as a whole was a definite plus for me. This series is essentially a YA spy thriller, which I love. In this one the characters start working for the CIA and go on these amazing mission similar to the ones that they went on in the first book. And like I said the stakes are higher, the missions are bigger, and the consequences have global proportions. And because of all of this the general mystery was bigger. Sekret had some great plot twists, a few I predicted and one I did not, but Skandal was just one big mystery. As the book drew to a close I had no idea how it was all going to end. And while I wasn't shocked with how it concluded I loved the plot and pacing. It was a little more slower paced but things built to a thrilling conclusion and I love that in my books.

But this book isn't just a spy thriller, it's not even just historical fiction, it's a historical fantasy. And I enjoy the fantasy elements of the story just as much. You may know that I am a sucker for a magical system that is basically "the characters have superpowers." They're not usually super creative but they are my favorites. That is the case with the fantasy elements in this series, the characters have psychic powers. In Sekret we were introduced to Yulia and her ability to see the memories of a person or thing by touching. Here we get to explore her powers more. It was fascinating to see her powers grow and develop as her opinion of them grew and developed. We also got to explore the powers of a ton of new characters (more on them later). Many of them had powers similar to characters from the first book but with small variations. All of the powers were so complex and interesting. It really added an interesting and engaging dimension to the story. And while I usually enjoy a more subtle world-building, with Skandal I would have liked to spend more time learning about the psychic powers, especially with some of the new characters,

And speaking of those characters. While I really do enjoy them, I didn't quite feel the spark that I did in the first book. Yulia is still a really fantastic protagnist. She's a reluctant hero, which I always enjoy, and in the face of adversity she shows a lot of inner strength. She's tough and resourceful and has always been the kind of character I can get behind. We also got to spend a lot more time with her father in this book and that was definitely interesting. He's always been kind of a dubious figure and that didn't change in this book. His powers are really interesting and he's super complex. Same thing can be said for the group's antagonists. They have really cool powers and use them in a really sinister way. Then there are all the Americans. What I liked most about them is that I seriously didn't trust any of them. I found myself spending a lot of the book wondering why they were acting certain ways and therefore I held them a little bit at arms length. But my biggest disappointment in this book was Valya. I love Valya, I love Yulia and Valya together. I felt like he was under utilized here and I wanted more of the romance. They are such a sweet couple and everything they had been through together I wanted more. I mean there were some really great moments, don't get me wrong, I just wish Valya had a bigger role. In general I just didn't fully connect with most of the characters like I did in the first book.

On the whole Skandal is a really interesting and unique read. The historical setting is full of drama, the fantasy elements add a really fascinating twist, the plot is engaging and mysterious, and the characters are complex and likable. I think I'm just not really ready to let it all go. It wasn't the perfectly satisfying end to the series for me but it was a good read.

I give Skandal by Lindsay Smith 8.5 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy/Borrow. If you liked Sekret then definitely check this book out. Get more Yulia and see how the other half lives is this complex world full of psychic spies. If you are looking for a unique read and are a fan of spy thrillers or historical fantasy then check this book out.

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

A weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine

Title: Queen of Shadows
Series: Throne of Glass #4
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Published: September 1, 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Synopsis: Sarah J. Maas's New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series reaches new heights in this sweeping fourth volume. 

Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she's at last returned to the empire—for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past . . . She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die just to see her again. 

She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen's triumphant return. 

Celaena’s epic journey has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions across the globe. This fourth volume will hold readers rapt as Celaena’s story builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world 

Why I'm Waiting 

I was late to the Throne of Glass party. Fashionaly late, but late. I marathoned the series last September just after Heir of Fire came out. It is a total me series and I'm glad I took the time to read the first three books. But that being said I now have this problem where I am desperately waiting for the next book in the series.

I'm particularly excited and anxious because of the way Heir of Fire ended. It destroyed my feels and I mean that in the best possible way. Heir of Fire was my favorite book in the series and I am really enjoying the way the series has been developing. The stakes are so much higher and things are totally up in the air for some of my favorite characters including a few of them being left on some really nerve-wracking cliffhangers. I need to find out what happens to them!

And finally I just need more Celaena in my life. She is one of my absolute favorite female protagonists. She's such a well-rounded and complex character and I really enjoy her character development in Heir of Fire. Plus a part of me loves Celaena when she's out for revenge. I seriously cannot wait!

What about you? What are you waiting for this Wednesday? Are you waiting for Queen of Shadows with me? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: All Time Favorite Authors

A weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

How do you choose all-time favorite authors? An impossible task! I needed criteria. I think that in order to call an author an all-time favorite I need to have read more than one book or more than one series. I need a broader scope of their work to put them on this list. Therefore I had to leave off some favorite books because they didn't meet that criteria. So while this may not be the best or most accurate list but this is what I'm doing.

1.) Lois Lowry
Books Read: The Giver, Number the Stars, Gossamer
I met Lois Lowry a few years ago at book festival and I basically died. I love her so much. She's such a prolific writer and it doesn't matter what she writes it's emotional and captivating.

2.) Gregory Maguire
Books Read: Wicked, Son of A Witch, A Lion Among Men, Out of Oz, Egg and Spoon, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
So I haven't loved everything I've read of his but he does adult fairy tale retellings so well! I'm a huge fan of The Wicked Years and his YA, Egg and Spoon, isn't half bad either!

3.) Brandon Sanderson
Books Read: Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages, The Alloy of Law, Steelheart, Firefight, Legion, Legion: Skin Deep
Obviously! Last year was my year of Sanderson. So many of these books became instant favorites and I cannot wait to read more of his books. Next up for me is probably The Stormlight Archives.

4.) Rainbow Rowell
Books Read: Fangirl, Eleanor & Park, Attachments, Landline
Rainbow Rowell is everything. I have read all her books and I have loved all her books. It's impossible to pick a favorite, they are all so good.

5.) Louisa May Alcott
Books Read: Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys
I know I'm a broken record on LMA. I just adore this series so much. I even broke my rule to include her but how could I not. I regret nothing! I do want to read some of her other work espeically after reading The Revelation of Louisa May.

6.) Henry James
Books Read: The Portrait of A Lady, The Turn of the Screw
I like reading classic but sometimes I just don't connect with the book. That has never been the case with Henry James. Whether it's a parody of Regency romances or a Gothic ghost story, I love his books.

7.) Milan Kundera
Books Read: The Joke, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Immortality
If I want to sound pretentious I mention how much Milan Kundera I have read and how my favorite book of his is The Joke. It's a thing I do sometimes.

8.) Elizabeth Kostova
Books Read: The Historian, The Swan Thieves
The Historian is one of my all-time favorite books. And The Swan Thieves is also quite delightful. But Kostova is mostly on this list because I want her to write more books!

9.) Libba Bray
Books Read: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, The Sweet Far Thing, Beauty Queens
I still need to read The Diviners but if it's anything like Libba Bray's other novels I will love it. She writes some truly great characters and I always connect with her themes about humanity.

10.) Victoria Schwab
Books Read: Vicious, A Darker Shade of Magic
I know I need to read The Archived... I will. I especially know I need to read it because I absolutely loved Victoria's adult novels. ADSOM became an instant favorite and Vicious is so brilliant!

Bonus Entry:
J.K. Rowling
Books Read: The Harry Potter Series
So this is me once again breaking my rule and adding an author even though I've only read one series by them, but it's such a good series it has to be on the list. Plus it's a bonus entry so it doesn't count. I mean seriously, J.K. Rowling is queen. She gave us Harry Potter.

That's my list. Who are some of your top authors of all-time. Do you love any of these authors? What do you consider and all-time favorite author. Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!