Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Title: How to Save a Life 

Author: Sara Zarr

Rating: 5 Stars

I cried. As someone who is frequently teased for never having cried during "The Notebook" or "The Titanic" and rather well-known for my ice-cold heart, this admission carries quite a bit of weight. How to Save a Life is a novel that hasn't gone unnoticed by readers, but I remained skeptical about reading it myself. Frankly speaking, I find little allure in novels about teenage pregnancy, let alone when paired alongside with grief. After reading - and absolutely loving - Small Damages earlier this year, however, I began to realize that my pre-conceived notions about novels that dealt with teen pregnancy were utterly unfounded. And How to Save a Life simply proved me right. Sara Zarr's most popular novel lives up to its hype and delivered above and beyond my sky-high expectations, instantly making her one of my favorite authors. Ever.

How to Save a Life alternates between the perspectives of Jill and Mandy whose voices are so distinct and yet carry the same underlying current of one who is lost. Mandy, who has grown up with her mother, has always felt the distinct loss of love in her life. Thus, when she becomes pregnant, she vows to take care of her child and provide her in a way her mother has never been able to. Although all Mandy knows is that she is beautiful, her heart is kind and she quickly finds a family to adopt her child. Jill, who has recently lost her father, is grieving. Jill has always been closer to her father, more like him than her mother, and as such, she is unable to understand her mother's desire to adopt a child - and its mother, temporarily. When Jill and Mandy's lives collide and come together under the same roof, their initial interactions are cold and one-sided, with Jill refuses to make Mandy feel at home. And yet, as she will soon find out, Jill needs Mandy and Mandy's child just as much as her mother needs her - and Mandy just may need the both of them too.

Unflinching honesty is what I can always count on from Sara Zarr - and I love that. Jill is hurting, lashing out and isolating herself from others to keep her grief contained. And yet, she acknowledges that even without the ache of a missing father, she was always the type of introvert who was distant, prone to say things without thinking and rude to a fault at times. Yet, the very moment Jill came onto the page, I understood her and her narration captured my heart. Whether it was her awkward interactions, screaming for help, with her boyfriend or even the difficult manner in which she tried - and failed - to connect with her mother, Jill is such an endearing character. Although she appears to be a cactus, instantly pricking those who come too close, her inner strength is incredible and her character persona is real in its flaws.

Mandy, on the other hand, was a character I took awhile to warm up to. When we first meet Mandy, she is chatting up a fellow stranger on a train, helplessly trying to ingratiate herself within his life, much to his surprise. And yet, although Mandy seems like a creep at first, we recognize her actions as a sign of longing - for love, for a place to belong, for people who accept her. In Jill's life, Mandy is both worried at the prospect of finding a new life for herself after her baby is born and frightened that Jill's mother will regret her decision to bring Mandy into her home. Jill, of course, does not trust Mandy at all, but with time, these two grow to share a close bond. Mandy's narration is filled more with day-to-day musings or past recollections rather than the busy life that Jill leads, but both are just as poignant. I especially enjoyed all the care given to mention Mandy's child and her own conflicted feelings over giving up the baby and wanting a better home for it. For many teens, myself included, Mandy's feelings are difficult to understand and even for adults, it's a challenge to allow yourself to put yourself in a situation the way Mandy did. And yet, Zarr makes us come to understand Mandy perfectly, delving into her mind and witnessing her steady growth as she comes to realize where - and who - she truly belongs with.

While these two girls, vivid protagonists whose lives seem so real, are the heart of How to Save a Life, so many other aspects made me appreciate it as well. First and foremost, it must be noted that I fell hard for the romance in this novel. For some reason, grief and romance go so well together - not entirely sure why - but for the first time, I think I understood. Jill's grief makes her closed off to others, but one boy in particular is able to understand her and look at her, not with sympathy or pity, but with empathy. With him, Jill is able to confront her past ghosts and come to terms with her father's death, along with the new change in her life that includes Mandy and a baby - one who will be Jill's younger sister or brother. One of the reasons this romance is so strong is because it is built upon conversation. Here are two people who meet and meet and meet again, doing nothing but talking and pouring their hearts out to one another, and that makes it perfect. Furthermore, their ending is open and ambiguous, but that's what makes it oh-so-perfect. It was flawed, but most importantly, it was real and never contrived or forced. It is, hands down, one of my favorite literary romances of all time. And I can assure you, I never expected to find that in this book, but the fact that I did spoke volumes.

Moreover, this book is so much more than a tale of two girls who grow to find solitude and acceptance in each other. Mandy and Jill teach each other so much about life, but they affect the lives of so many others too. Jill's mother, for instance, is also grieving and her struggles as a parent never overtook the plot, but they were given their due. Additionally, there is the comfort that Mandy grows to feel and that feeling of safety, to feel that wrapping itself around Mandy when it was never there before, is so heart-breaking. We don't realize it ourselves, having been enveloped in it for nearly all our lives, but to see it assume its shape upon Mandy was one of the most brilliant developments that steadily occurred as the novel wore on. How to Save a Life is not a novel that can be explained in chapters or with words. It is, truly, an experience of living and letting go and embracing the future. Of accepting others and moving on, no matter what dark forces you have to combat. And, most importantly, of finding the courage to open up to the people who will stand there and fight the dark with you.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mini-Reviews: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers & The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

I firmly believe that there are two types of mini-reviews. More commonly, there are the type that are written simply because not much can be said about the novel. It is merely okay, forgettable at best, but a review must be written, so let's make it a mini one. And then there are the mini-reviews that are born out of an inability to say anything. What is there to say that can possibly convey the feeling of the book itself? What more to say than "read it"? I like to this today's reviews are of the second variety.

Title: Cracked Up to Be

Author: Courtney Summers

Rating: 4 Stars

Ever since I read this novel, I've been judiciously punishing myself. I made a vow to not pick up another Courtney Summers book until I had tackled this review first and although I have sat down to type out this review on more than one occasion, the words never came. Even now, over two months since I last held this in my hands, I struggle to find the words to adequately express what an emotional wreck this book rendered me. Parker are her struggles are still as real and visceral to me today as they were two and a half months ago as my eyes read the words that conveyed her story to me. And, just as I was so many days previously, I am speechless.

Cracked Up to Be, is not a perfect Courtney Summers novel in the way This is Not a Test is. Although I find myself unprepared to talk about this novel, that doesn't prevent me from admitting that I found the ending to be too abrupt, too devoid of the emotional punch I was looking for that marked the last line of Summers latest book. And yet, Cracked Up to Be is just as strong, raw, and powerful. Parker, the protagonist of our tale, is as "unlikable" as heroines come. Not only does she exude snark, but she genuinely despises people and wants to be left alone. Parker is rude, she is cruel, she is as mean as the most despicable villains of legend. And yet, Courtney Summers makes us sympathize, empathize, and only want the best for her. Just like the majority of the characters in this novel who never give up on Parker, doing their best to break through her tough defenses, we become just as invested and curious about her sudden fall from fame, her unexpected and self-imposed wall.

It is Parker who makes Cracked Up to Be the successful novel it is. As the truth behind Parker's past slowly comes to light, the relationships with her parents and friends disintegrate and re-build only to fall apart, our hearts and brains are turned to mush and broken and stomped on and overturned again and again and again. While objectively Parker doesn't seem to be the type of protagonist we can relate to, we all have our bad days, our bad moments, and the times in our lives when we simply want to punish ourselves and reading Cracked Up to Be is a snarling reminder of the monster that lurks beneath the surface of us all. It is beautifully written and wonderfully rendered, so much so that I can only beg you to read it. Not for me, not for Parker, and not even for Courtney Summers, but for yourself. I sincerely doubt you'll regret it.

Title: The Lost Conspiracy 

Author: Frances Hardinge 

Rating: 4 Stars

It's difficult for me to imagine reading a Frances Hardinge novel as a young child. Although her books are marketed as being Middle Grade, I fervently wish I could travel to every library and bookstore and rip off that constricting label. If there is any author whose writing transcends all ages and successfully manages to write complex stories that are never dumbed down for a younger audience, it is Frances Hardinge. Although The Lost Conspiracy is not my favorite Hardinge novel - A Face Like Glass still has my heart (and the Kleptomancer refuses to give it back) - this fantasy adventure is just as heartfelt, moving, unique, compelling, and utterly original.

The Lost Conspiracy takes place on Gullstruck Island, colonized by outsiders years ago but still thriving with a village of original islanders known as the Lace. The Lace, however, are foreign and inspire fear in the hearts of the islanders and all those who don't understand their peaceful ways. Into this tribe is born Arilou, the only Lost to ever be born into a Lace tribe. The Lost are a rare group who can control their five senses, sending them away from their bodies to explore the island. Hathin, the type of girl who is easily overlooked, has been assigned with the task of caring for Arilou - a purpose she has devoted her entire life to. When a mysterious tragedy is blamed upon the Lace, it is up to Hathin to take Arilou to safety and maybe, just maybe, find it within herself to emerge from the shadows she has lived in and find her true destiny.

Frankly speaking, I struggled quite a bit with The Lost Conspiracy. It's first few chapters sucked me in, but its pace drastically slowed afterwards and I don't think it was until the last third of the novel that I truly became fully invested in this tale. Nevertheless, despite that minor qualm, The Lost Conspiracy is a masterpiece of literature. Although it doesn't contain nearly as many light bulb moments as A Face Like Glass did, it still keeps you turning the pages frantically. Hathin is such an endearing protagonist, at once distraught over her situation and still filled with hope. While she remains to be rather naive, her cunning and skills come to light as the novel progresses and she truly comes into her own without others to define her or her status. It is this journey of self-growth that makes The Lost Conspiracy so fantastic. Granted, its mystery, conspiracy, and idea are all masterfully rendered in and of themselves, but Hathin steals the show in every way. Although there is much darkness in this tale - what seems like too much, almost, for middle grade readers to understand and fully comprehend the magnitude of - The Lost Conspiracy remains a novel of immense hope. Underneath all its complexity, it stands as a one of the best coming-of-age novels ever written and leaves your heart nearly bursting with joy at the very end.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Showcase Sunday (#24)

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: 
Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
I've heard a lot of amazing things about this book, particularly that it is intensely psychological, so I cannot wait to delve into this one.
The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler
Although I'm not one of those die-hard Ockler fans, I have really enjoyed her work in the past and the immigrant nature of the characters in this one have me dying to tear into it at once. I can't wait!

Mandee at Vegan YA Nerds and I did a book swap - my very first! - and she thoroughly spoiled me. Not only did she indulge me in three books, a notebook, card, pen, and eraser, but CHOCOLATE! *dies* 
You've probably heard Silvey's name in concurrence with Jasper Jones, the novel by him that everyone seems to love but I haven't read yet. Although I will eventually get around to it, I really wanted to start with this one, mostly because the MC is named Eleanor Rigby - which happens to be my favorite Beatles song. I can't wait to delve into this!
I've had this on my wishlist for nearly a year now and I cannot WAIT to read this one. It has such a vivid and bright cover and the story itself is New Adult, but the kind I like which is more self-discovery and less romance. I'm very excited to read this one (and probably will very soon)!
I first heard about this book on Mandee's blog and ever since have been eyeing it with envy. I loved the blog tour for this debut and the thought of a unique dystopian is simply too lovely to bear and Mandee must've seen me lusting for this from over the sea for she sent me her copy of it. 
Thank you, Mands, for such a lovely parcel! :)

I can't believe I'm actually DONE with this series. Although the last book didn't live up to my expectations, I absolutely LOVED all the other installments in this, particularly Fourth Comings. You can read my review for Charmed Thirds HERE if you missed it this past week.
I found about these two delightful romances through Angie's blog, Angieville, and I am so glad I took a chance on them. The Chocolate Thief was the perfect blend of depth and sensual romance and I suspect The Chocolate Kiss will be too! (Also, I ate the majority of Mandee's chocolate while reading this!)
I've finished this entire series already and I loved it, for different reasons than I love Mercy Thompson but with the same level of ardor. If you haven't already read MT or A&O, go hunt them down now!
I don't think this book actually has anything to do with wolves, but I've heard incredible things about it and snagged it this week. 
I haven't read anything by Scott in the past, but I've been told this book is just wonderful. It seems to be full of the depth and achy substance I love in my books, so I am really looking forward to this. 
I've had my eye on this ever since I finished Hold Still by LaCour last year and I'm really looking forward to this book, which is also on the cusp of New Adult. 

To the surprise of many, I haven't read this yet. In fact, the only Tamora Pierce Series I read was The Immortals, which I loved at the time but am told is not one of her best works, so I wonder how I'd find it today. Either way, I cannot wait to read this series - reputed to be her best by far. I find The Circle of Magic daunting because of all the sequel quartets of The Circle Re-Opens and The Circle Closes or whatever the else there may be. And Beka Cooper never appealed to me, maybe because of the covers, but I am very excited to read this quartet! (Not so much the sequels, though...)

I also borrowed a few romance novels this week, from two terrible historical romance titles to Julie James' latest to the first and third book of Lisa Kleypas' Wallflowers Series which didn't impress me too much. Frankly, I was too disappointed by them to take the trouble to post them along with the list of other books I borrowed this week, but you'll most likely see their reviews soon enough. (If you're interested in my snarky reviews, that are never posted, you'll have to check out GoodReads.) 

Anyway, that's my haul for this week...er...two? three? weeks. I can't wait to see what you've all received, so link me up!

Friday, April 26, 2013

ARC Review: Golden by Jessi Kirby

Title: Golden 

Author: Jessi Kirby 

Rating: 5 Stars

Release Date: May 14th, 2013

Very rarely do I come across novels that make me slow down, catch my breath, and actually reflect. Usually, I’m too caught up in the rush of the next book that I fly through my current read, type out a review, and put it behind me. Granted, I remember my favorite titles fondly, discuss and recommend them often, but either than the twist of my gut or intense swooning while reading, my love affair with the novel has ended almost as quickly as it began. Golden and I, however, are on an extended honeymoon – one I suspect will go on for awhile. Quite simply, I cannot get this book out of my head. Its quotes, its characters, its plot…all of it keeps spinning around and around in my head like a revolving door without air resistance to stop its momentum. 

I wish there was an apt anecdote I could find to convey exactly why this book struck such a deep chord within me, but there isn’t. Although I cannot determine the reactions of other readers, I know for a fact that Golden is so special to me merely because it mirrors my own hopes, fears, aspirations, dreams, and life itself so perfectly. In fact, I’ll take a leap of faith and simply state that Golden mirrors the thoughts of so many teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. For the first time, I have finally found a New Adult novel I am proud to call New Adult because it is deserving of that title. Golden is what New Adult should be – rich, intellectual fiction that transports its readers to the troubles of finding oneself in the world. 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ~ Mary Oliver 

Parker Frost, the protagonist of our tale, is a very typical heroine: class valedictorian, perfect goody-two-shoes, and set to win a scholarship to attend Stanford. Now, as her senior year is winding to a close, Parker helps Mr. Kinney return journals to his students from ten years ago. Every year, Mr. Kinney asks his seniors to reflect on their futures in a journal, only to ship it back to them in a decade. One of the journals Parker stumbles across, however, is written by Julianna, a teenage girl who died in a car crash with her boyfriend ten years ago on the night of graduation. Julianna and her boyfriend were seen as the Golden Couple, the two who “had it all” and their story has become the stuff of legend in the small town Parker lives in. As such, Parker cannot help but read her journals, but she soon learns that the girl whose life – and love – they all believed to be perfect was far more flawed than they thought. And, as Parker begins to follow the story of Julianna, she just may find herself as well. 

What I love about Golden is how unflinchingly honest it is. Although, at its core, it’s a mystery novel unraveling the truth of Julianna’s past, it is simultaneously a novel of friendship, first loves, family, and most importantly, finding yourself in a world full of people whose lives are entangled with your own. Although Julianna and Parker are starkly different people, both have lived their lives without making decisions for themselves, but for others. For Parker, it is her mother who she is fearful of disappointing and, as such, she becomes the person her mother wishes she herself was at her daughter’s age, stifling out who her daughter really is on her own. Although the interactions between Parker and her mother are minimal in this novel, they carry their own weight and the impact of even minor conversations is felt so palpably through Parker’s actions. Jessi Kirby, who failed to make me a fan of her writing with In Honor, successfully made me fall head-over-heels for her talent by capturing the tenuous and delicate relationship between a mother and a daughter in a way that felt only all too real. 

And, if I’m being honest, this is the heart of Golden. Its heart lies in Parker undertaking a task she feels passionate about – the mysterious death of Julianna, who she feels bonded to through her journal entries – and pursuing it to the point where she breaks the rigid rules her mother has always placed in front of her and finds herself while searching for completely different answers. Golden may belong to Julianna or to Parker, but these two never outshine one another, somehow managing to connect with us despite – or perhaps because of – their differences. All the relationships Parker experiences are like this, whether it is the inevitable separation with her best friend or the drawn-out tension between her long-standing crush, Trevor, so much is explored and comes to light during Parker’s journey. In terms of the romance, especially, I was pleasantly surprised by its subtleties; by its ever-present undercurrent that never managed to overtake the plot, by its sweet and eternal factor that was far more touching than any amount of swoon, and by its realistic ending full of hope. 

Yet, even more poignant were the ongoing messages of choices and fate. Although Parker learns and uncovers more than she bargained for on the journey she undertakes, she comes to realize that she has the choice to change her future – if only she is willing to act on it. If only she seizes the moment and doesn’t let it slip by. After all, life, as she learns, only gives you a few fleeting moments, a few chances, and it’s up to you to take them or leave them, if only you are daring enough to reach out and take that leap of faith. Moreover, all this self-growth is presented in a very realistic fashion. All the ultimate decisions Parker makes are perfect for whom she is and her relationships, whether they be romantic, familial, or friendly, are all viewed in the lens of reality; of inevitable change just around the horizon. And I love that. I love that perfect relationships don’t exist, but that everything is in equal measures bitter and sweet. I love that finding your way doesn’t mean seeking the meaning of life, it simply means seeking the meaning in your life. And I love that happy endings are not permanent because all that really means is that sad endings aren’t either.

Golden is a novel that I emerged from a different person. Or, at any rate, it felt that way. It is inspiring, realistic, and beautifully written. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw it up there with my other favorite coming-of-age story, Wanderlove, and I know that I will inevitably wind up re-reading it multiple times. While Golden may have come to me as a godsend at the exact right time in my life, I suspect it’s one of those novels that transcend time and age, managing to resonate within you no matter what. If you read one novel this year, let it be Golden. It could be the road less traveled by – or it could not – but I can assure you, it really will make all the difference.  

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Series Review: Mercy Thompson (#2-4) by Patricia Briggs

Ever since I read Moon Called by Patricia Briggs a short while back, I've been itching to finish the rest of her acclaimed Mercy Thompson Series. Although I am making a conscious effort not to lunge for books and devour them, I seem to be doing a terrible job. I finished the next three novels in this series over the span of a week, which unfortunately doesn't say a lot about my self control. Nevertheless, I have compiled my reviews together (the next three reviews will be separate) and I can assure you that none of these reviews contain spoilers for the series. Also, you don't need a lot of background on this particular to read and understand the reviews if you haven't read this series before, but just in case, you can check out my review for the first novel, Moon Called, HERE.

Title: Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson, #2) 
Author: Patricia Briggs
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Mechanic Mercy Thompson has friends in low places-and in dark ones. And now she owes one of them a favor. Since she can shapeshift at will, she agrees to act as some extra muscle when her vampire friend Stefan goes to deliver a message to another of his kind. But this new vampire is hardly ordinary-and neither is the demon inside of him. 
As with most UF Series, Blood Bound marks the moment where this series really begins to take off and, to be honest, I am more than a little excited to see how much better each installment gets. Patricia Briggs has solidified herself as another favorite urban fantasy writer of mine with this installment and although she may have made her way into that list rather quickly, I don't regret my quick decision.

While Moon Called was solely focused on the werewolves in Mercy's world, Blood Bound revolves around the vampires. For me, what made this novel in particular so spectacular was the chilling plot line. It was creepy, with a healthy dose of legitimate Dracula-esque vampires - a nice change from the sparkly monsters we've been seeing for the past few years. Yet, what really makes this incredible is that although Stefan is a vampire and we are shown the true horror of what it is to be a vampire - something Mercy never realized since Stefan was relatively normal around her - we are still able to recognize Stefan for the monster he is, but appreciate him at the same time. It's a delicate balance, one that involves bringing in a lot of depth to Stefan's character, but it worked perfectly.

Nevertheless, while I couldn't stop flipping the pages of this one frantically until the end, I felt a little aloof from Mercy herself in this installment. It was engaging, but the connection I'd established with Mercy in the beginning of Moon Called faded away, which I wasn't a big fan of. I certainly liked this book much better than its predecessor - which unfortunately fell flat for me during the middle and part of the second-half - but I'm hoping for more depth to Mercy with Iron Kissed. If Patricia Briggs keeps writing like this, I suspect I'll be giving her next novel a solid 5 Stars.

Title: Iron Kissed (Mercy Thompson, #3) 
Author: Patricia Briggs
Rating: 5 Stars
Mechanic Mercy Thompson can shift her shape - but not her loyalty. When her former boss and mentor is arrested for murder and left to rot behind bars by his own kind, it's up to Mercy to clear his name, whether he wants her to or not. Mercy's loyalty is under pressure from other directions, too. Werewolves are not known for their patience, and if Mercy can't decide between the two she cares for, Sam and Adam may make the choice for her...
It took three books for Patricia Briggs to get a 5 Star review out of me. I'd say that's pretty damn good. Iron Kissed is simply...breath taking. Not only did it center around the fae - easily the most mysterious and subtly dangerous of the three paranormal species that feature heavily in this series - but it also contained an unexpected depth of insight into Mercy herself. And, of course, for those who have already read this book, the end chapters will come as both a shock and an inspiration, a saddening act of events and one that is courageous and compelling at the same time. More than anything else, it is the perfect balance between plot and character, feeling and emotion that Briggs has managed to achieve with this novel that has made me love it so. 

What makes the Mercy Thompson Series so unique is simply how well-plotted they are. With the other UF novels I've read - Kate Daniels and Downside Ghosts - each book is a separate adventure that is loosely connected to the previous novels, mostly because of the secondary characters. While this works perfectly and keeps me enthralled, I'm both surprised and enamored by the clear-cut cause-and-effect method of Briggs' plots. Each novel builds off the events of the previous installment, making even the first book one of utmost importance. 

With Iron Kissed especially, the repercussions of past situations have come back to haunt Mercy and she finds herself suddenly in the debt of the fae. More than that, though, she finds herself forced to choose between Adam and Samuel. What I love about the love triangle in this series is that it isn't overwhelming or dramatic in any way - perhaps because it takes place between mature adults. Instead of a plethora of making out and then guilt and then a ridiculous death to get rid of the third - and unfortunately un-chosen guy - in the love triangle, the romantic entanglements in this novel work so that Mercy can clearly think through what she wants from life before rushing into any type of romantic relationship at all. 

Although I usually shy away from love triangles, I absolutely loved the way it was solved in this - the understanding, the friendships, the bonds. Iron Kissed is practically a perfect book in the sense that we really get inside Mercy's head - well and truly in it - and our understanding of her, of the other wolves in Adam's pack, and of the mystery at hand in this novel. With these three elements working seamlessly together, it's no wonder that this is the best of the series yet. 

Title: Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson, #4)
Author: Patricia Briggs
Rating: 4.5 Stars
By day, Mercy is a car mechanic in the sprawling Tri-Cities of Eastern Washington. By night, she explores her preternatural side. As a shapeshifter with some unique talents, Mercy has often found herself having to maintain a tenuous harmony between the human and the not so human. This time she may get more than she bargained for. Marsilia, the local Vampire Queen, has learned that Mercy crossed her by slaying a member of her clan—and she's out for blood. But since Mercy is protected from direct reprisal by the werewolf pack (and her close relationship with its sexy Alpha), it won't be Mercy's blood Marsilia is after. It'll be her friends'.
It always takes me awhile to really get into the groove of a series. In fact, I'm not much of a series reader to begin with. My shelves are either stocked with stand-alones or, if there are any series on my shelves, most of them are incomplete since I only buy the installments I've loved. Even worse, though, series usually drop steam after hitting a climax and from there on out, it's a downward spiral. As such, I was ever-so-slightly apprehensive about opening the cover of Bone Crossed, despite lunging for it the moment I finished the cliffhanger ending of Iron Kissed. Quite thankfully, though, this series only seems to be getting better or maintaining its excellency and as a follow-up to what is sure to be a favorite of the year, Bone Crossed is stunning.

Bone Crossed continues to amp up the stakes in terms of plot, throwing in even more mysteries, secrets, and danger. Yet, what it mostly focuses is on are the characters themselves. Not only is the tenuous friendship between Stefan and Mercy truly tested, but Mercy herself is forced to face her inner fears and overcome them, displaying an admirable amount of inner strength. More than even her, though, Adam completely won me over. We see Adam for the dominant Alpha male that he is, but the sweet side of him is just as prevalent as the protective. With every passing moment that Adam and Mercy spent together, simply understanding one another inside and out, talking with one another, and enjoying each other's company, I fell harder and harder for their romance. It is one where they both share their strength and power, trusting one another completely.

Nevertheless, I will admit that after the incidents in Iron Kissed, I was a little surprised at the speed at which romantic situations unfolded in this installment. Everyone deals with situations differently, and I think Mercy's reactions were quite realistic, actually, but one can never fully be sure. I have no complaints about the pace of her growth, but it did stick out a little to me, although I have no actual qualms with it. Like Iron Kissed, this sequel has just the right blend of everything - depth, romance, mystery, danger, and, of course, the slow unraveling of new information. It makes you wonder how much more Briggs has up her sleeve, especially with the mind-blowing plot twists she churned out in this book. I, for one, cannot wait to see where Briggs takes Mercy and Adam next.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jessica Darling: The College Years

Megan McCafferty became one of my favorite authors the instant I finished her first novel, Sloppy Firsts. The Jessica Darling Series is so very close to my heart and despite a few mixed reviews for this series after the first two books, I decided to continue - and I'm so glad I did. You can see my reviews for Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings HERE, but my review is spoiler-free for the first two novels in this series. At least, for the most part. 

Title: Charmed Thirds (Jessica Darling, #3) 

Author: Megan McCafferty 

Rating: 4.5 Stars

When you finish a Jessica Darling novel, there is only one thing to say: "OMIGAWD" (Or, you know, quote oh my gawd! unquote).

Whether it be after Sloppy Firsts when that heart-breaking cliffhanger just makes you want to rip your hair out. 

Or after Second Helpings after Jessica and Marcus finally, finally, finally get together. 

Or after Charmed Thirds when you are simply unable to digest the sheer magnitude, truth, and scope of one book, four years, and so many journeys. 

Quite honestly, I picked up Charmed Thirds more skeptic than excited. After two such poignant Jessica Darling books, I wasn't quite sure if the college years would live up to be just as powerful as the high school years had proven to be, especially as I have yet to experience college for myself. With Jessica Darling, so much of the punch is in the nostalgia, in the experiences long forgotten but still so pivotal and important to growth. Surprisingly, though, Jessica's thoughts in Charmed Thirds continue to mirror my own, even where her experiences are so different from mine. It seems almost strange now that I ever imagined that Jessica and I would be unable to relate to one another just because she went off to college while I'm still slaving my way through high school. Yet, Megan McCafferty continues to prove what I always suspected: Jessica Darling is timeless. 

Of all the Jessica Darling books, Charmed Thirds is easily the most messy of the lot. Not only is its format slightly different in that Jessica journals only rarely, skipping months altogether, but also in that this novel expanses an entire four years of Jessica's own life. In parts, it almost feels a little jarring to see Jessica remain the same from one month to a month five months down the road and yet, her growth is forever. Where the previous two Jessica Darling books chronicled every single slight detail about high school, from the people to the teachers to the homework assignments, Charmed Thirds has little to do in way of teachers and students. Instead, it is a deeper, more introspective look at Jessica's own college experience - her struggles to find a job, her stress at discovering her major isn't what she thought it would be, her ever-changing relationship with the elusive Marcus Flutie, and most of all, the crazy experiences she undertakes in trying to find herself. 

And while I may not agree with everything Jessica chose to do (and know for a fact that I will NOT be making many of the mistakes she made), these years are a true testament to just how difficult it is to find who you are and what you want from life. Jessica remains to be as witty and intelligent as ever, her insights both monumental and increasingly silly when it comes to the opposite sex. And, best of all, one of my favorite themes is still present in this series - that of impact. Just the fact that Marcus and Hope remain so important to Jessica while simultaneously being the people most apart from her continues to be such a realistic theme in this series. While Jessica and Marcus' relationship has its ups-and-downs, so does the one between Jessica and Hope. And yet, while Jessica is out feeling guilty, passionate, regretful, and everything-but-happy, the other people in Jessica's life provide us with immense insight into the college experiences of other people. Whether it be Bridget, whose relationship is a model of perfection, or Hope, who manages to achieve so much from her college years, or even Marcus, who finally finds who he is after years of misbehavior, not everyone's experience is like Jessica's. And yet, hers is by far the most realistic, messy, and poignant by the end. 

Perhaps best of all, though, is the mere fact that Jessica comes to learn more about her parents, her sister, her niece, her boyfriend, her school friends... Where before they faded into the background of Jessica's story as her journal entries were filled with increasingly anxious remarks about Marcus or high school or college, now her journals become an insight into the people who have made her, molded her, and continue to do so. What I love best about Jessica is that she thinks she has everything figured out, but she truly doesn't. By the end of Second Helpings, Jessica seems to be a self-confident individual, ready to tackle on everything the world has to offer, but she could not be further from the truth. With college comes an exposure to entirely different people and the shocking truth that contrary to popular belief, Jessica does not know what she's doing with her life. And that is okay. Easily the best part about these novels is the plain truth that it is perfectly normal to not know where you want to go in life. And while we all know this, Jessica included, coming to really know it is an entirely different journey altogether. 

Charmed Thirds is a collection of stories. While it is predominantly Jessica's story herself, it encompasses so much more, tackling on the world in entirely new and insightful ways. Although my review itself is conspicuously romance-free, Jessica's love story continues to be as messy and delightful as it always was, not to mention shockingly realistic. (You will cry. You will scream. You will often find yourself telling Jessica, "NO! NO! NO!" to no avail. And yet, you will love it. Just trust me on this one, okay?). All in all, Charmed Thirds has shaped up to be the most unforgettable of all the books in this series so far and I cannot wait to see where the adult years continue to take Jessica. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mini-Reviews: Arclight by Josin L. McQuein (ARC) & Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres

Title: Arclight

Author: Josin L. McQuein

Rating: DNF/2 Stars

Release Date: April 23rd, 2013 

Aesthetically pleasing and well-written, Arclight is not a bad book. McQuein's debut - for this releases before her other novel set to release this year as well - is, in fact, a rather interesting tale that promises to be loved, appreciated, and well-received by lovers of dystopian. As a fan of this genre myself, I expected to love Arclight. Unfortunately, having tried - and failed - to read through the entirety of this novel, it is time for me to admit that Arclight and I are simply not suited for one another. In other words, I fear I have to resort to a rather typical break-up cliche: it's not you, it's me.

Arclight takes place in a world, a futuristic one, where creatures known as the Fade prowl in the dark. As such, humanity is safe only in the light, cowering from the Fade who are bound to kill them. Only Marina is known to have survived a Fade attack and even her memory is sketchy. When our novel begins, the Fade are attacking once again, eager for the girl who escaped them, but afraid of her as well. In the midst of this is Tobin, whose father died protecting Marina from the Fade, along with many other adults. Tobin, however, takes it upon himself to protect Marina and before long, a strange relationship is struck between the two, all while they must struggle to save themselves and protect their societies.

Quite simply put, Arclight is not quite as original as it seems. If anything, the society in McQuein's novel is eerily similar to that of the one in Enclave by Ann Aguirre. You have Fade who are dragging people away? OH, those sound an awful lot like vampires now, don't they? You have humans, battling for survival and fighting off these Fade? OH, don't you mean humans battling off vampires? Essentially, the Fade can very easily be equated with vampires, which renders this novel as unique as a blade of grass. Which is not a lot. Yet, perhaps this could have been overlooked if the characters were interesting, but Marina, our main character, completely lacks personality. Not only is her narration dull if there isn't any dialogue to take up space, but she is very one-dimensional and detached from the reader. Furthermore, the world-building takes up the span of one chapter towards the beginning and proceeds to info-dump like there's no tomorrow. And, to make things worse, there is apparently a love triangle in this. While I have heard it isn't all that bad, I, for one, am not sticking around to find out. Especially when one of the love interests has already lost my interest.

Arclight is the type of novel I would have persevered through just last year, only to pass it along as being "meh." With my busy schedule this year, though, and a severe lack of time to read, I cannot afford to waste it on something I know I will dislike. I do encourage every lover of dystopian to give this one a shot, though. If, like me, you don't feel much attachment within the first ten chapters, at least you didn't waste too much time. Chances are, though, that most readers will love this tale. After all, in a genre overrun by re-used ideas, most people are used to this by now and far more tolerant of this than I am. Meanwhile, I'll be off searching for the next novel I can genuinely stamp the title "unique" upon.

Title: Burn Bright (Night Creatures, #1) 

Author: Marianne de Pierres

Rating: DNF/2 Stars

I feel like I've reached that stage in my life where I need to see a neurologist. Clearly, there is something wrong with my brain because I could have sworn before cracking the spine of this one that I would love it. And, honestly, this is happening a lot. I pick up a book with a great premise - one that I love - and that book happens to be one that my most trusted friends have also loved. I start the book and BAM! my brain just shuts off, refuses to connect with the characters, and my attention wanders. I keep thinking about the other books I could be reading with my time. I keep waiting for the book to pick up its pace. I keep waiting, that is, until I decide to abandon the book altogether. 

Burn Bright has been one of my most sought-after and eagerly-looking-forward-to books for the past year. As an Aussie fantasy debut, there's little that can go wrong with it and, frankly, it lived up to my expectations of it. From the start, Burn Bright is unusual, different, and compelling. Retra, our heroine, is embarking to Ixion, a land of partying and perpetual night, to find her brother. Even from page one, Retra is the type of protagonist I love; strong, courageous, but vulnerable too. As someone who has lived her life in a strict regime of rules, breaking them is painful, but her love for her brother forces her to travel to Ixion. 

Ixion, however, is as strange as you can imagine. Nudity, drinking, sex, and drugs are all encouraged, with the backdrop of night. Yet, there are dark secrets in this town as well with people being dragged off once they became too old for the carefree lifestyle that Ixion provides, not to mention other sinister characters. Now, despite the unrealistic atmosphere this book takes on, I really did love it. Ixion reminds me a lot of Shyness (from Leanne Hall's This is Shyness), only of a more crazier variety. And I can deal with crazy, especially if it means an honest portrayal of desire and character growth. 

Yet, for all its good qualities, Burn Bright is slow. I finished a quarter of the book before Retra finally reaches Ixion - after a very boring boat ride, mind you - and despite her will to find her brother, Retra repeatedly refuses to attempt to fit in with the strange Ixion lifestyle. Which is fine. But, even though I never found Retra to be irritating, I never formed a connection with her either until, after a short time, I simply could not care. Even more than Retra, though, I was unable to warm-up to her quest for her brother or the security she felt with certain friends in Ixion. All in all, I think I needed a better understanding of these characters. You see, throwing a bunch of unique personalities in a strange realm probably works for a lot of readers, but I desperately need some bond between myself and the characters for me to feel invested in their adventures. And sadly, that was missing. At the end of the day, this is simply a clear-cut case of it's-not-you-it's-me. It looks like Marianne de Pierres as I will be going our separate ways after all; she, to more successful writing endeavors, and me to the neurologist I promised I'd see.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review: Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews

Title: Bayou Moon (The Edge, #2) 

Author: Ilona Andrews

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Every time I read an Ilona Andrews novel, I am faced with the perpetual dread of having to express my thoughts because, really, what can I possibly say that can do their books justice? I feel like I say this a lot, but despite going into an Ilona Andrews book with high expectations, I always manage to come away from them knowing that, yet again, I have underestimated this writing duo. In fact, they force me to slow down my reading and drag out the concluding chapters, simply because my attachment to the world and characters they create is so strong. Bayou Moon, I can assure, is no exception to this rule; really, this is a book you just want to be stuck in forever.

Bayou Moon follows the story of William, the werewolf we first met in On the Edge. Even from our first encounter with William, he was an unforgettable character; handsome, intelligent, kind, and hiding a truly tortured past. My heart ached for him even when he was a secondary character in On the Edge and in Bayou Moon, he broke my heart, stole it, and mended it all over again, even though he may have forgotten to give it back. Our story begins with William hunting down Spider, a dangerous mastermind and murderer of child changelings. When William finds out about the number of deaths he is responsible for, he resolves to find Spider and kill him, for William is a changeling himself and feels this crime very personally. Will and Spider have also had a past of multiple encounters, which makes William all the more eager to finally finish him off.

In the midst of William's journey, he makes the acquaintance of Cerise, a beautiful and loyal girl who lives in the swamps of the Edge. Cerise is part of a large family, the Mars, who have had an ongoing feud with a neighboring family for as long as she can remember. When Cerise's father and mother go missing, making her the head of her family temporarily, she must struggle to maintain her crazy clan of family members, all while finding out what happened to her parents. William and Cerise meet and quickly realize that they need each other to fulfill their own separate tasks. Of course, falling in love is the last thing either of them expect, but then again, love is never in any plan, it just happens.

I'd be lying if I said I liked any character more than I liked William, but Cerise came pretty close, as did quite a few of her family members. William, if you remember from the first book, used to be a changeling soldier in the Weird army, treated as nothing but a savage animal growing up and used to inexplicable torture if he was unable to control the beast inside him. With abandoned parents who gave him up to the military and no other family to speak of, William has been alone all his life. Thus, he is a vulnerable character, one whose thoughts are filled with a longing for something more. Although William is a deadly fighter, his interior hides a sweet and caring man, one who is every bit as open to love and family as anyone else, which makes Cerise so very perfect for him.

Cerise comes with a large family, well-suited for William's loner needs, but more than that, she's a kick-ass heroine and incredible fighter in her own right. Cerise, though, is a protagonist who doesn't fit the usual Ilona Andrews mold I've come to expect and I loved that. Unlike Kate Daniels or Rose from On the Edge,Cerise does have a family, but she is just as destroyed by events in her life as both Kate and Rose. Furthermore, Cerise has that added pressure of having others depend on her, look up to her, and count on her orders to keep them alive in a world of feuding, constant battles, and ever-present bloodshed. The Mars, despite being a large family, are also a family that is a constant companion of death.

While Cerise is able to teach William how to bond, react, and live with a family, he in turn is able to teach her leadership qualities and support her in a way no one else is able to. Although both of them share similar personality traits of being strong, unyielding, and incredibly stubborn, they somehow balance each other out perfectly and make an unstoppable couple. Nevertheless, their journey to love is a long one, both because William keeps parts of himself strategically hidden from Cerise and Cerise is wary of opening her heart to love - and heartbreak - again. In the hands of any other writer, I am confident that these qualities would have made for a dramatic read - one that I would have found extremely irritating. With Ilona Andrews, though, these are obstacles that only enhance the character growth, give depth and meaning to the plot, and make the eventual romance all the more strong.

In addition to William and Cerise, the entire Mar family was surprisingly detailed and well-developed. It would take awhile for me to go into depth about each and every one of them, but know that they all made a significant impact on both the reader and William, as well as enriching the plot line still further. Even the concept of a family feud was made intriguing by Ilona Andrews and I found that despite the multiple elements to this tale, they all worked. Spider, as a villain, is absolutely terrifying, especially since we are treated to glimpses from his very evil mind. I will say, however, that the ending of this novel seemed a little rushed to me and a couple of plot details went unanswered. I suspect they will crop up in the sequel, but it was a little disappointing to rush through some of the concluding events (and drama)! Nevertheless, with plot twists being revealed, plenty of villains and beasts to defeat, as well as family squabbles and feuds, Bayou Moon is even more action-packed than an Ilona Andrews novel usually is, all while containing the perfect amount of depth and a realistic touch to ground us back to our lives, despite the fantastical adventure this novel takes us on. Nothing ever leaves you quite as satisfied as an Ilona Andrews novel - take my word for it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Title: Alif the Unseen 

Author: G. Willow Wilson 

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Alif the Unseen is one of those obscure novels that not many people have actually heard of, but, thanks to my numerous GoodReads friends who read such varied genres, it somehow came to my attention. Needless to say, all my friends have LOVED this book. For me, though, Alif the Unseen was slightly boring, hard to get through, and dragged ever-so-slightly. I thoroughly enjoyed the second half the book, but I wasn't as impressed as everyone else. While Alif the Unseen remains to be a difficult book for me to categorize, for it is full of so much within its pages, I can most definitely guarantee one thing - you haven't seen anything like it before.

Wilson's debut is the tale of a young hacker, Alif, whose lover, Intisar, refuses to see him again for she is having an arranged marriage to a man of a much higher status than Alif. Upset over his broken love story, Alif creates a software program that recognizes Intisar online and blocks all mention of him from her. Unknowingly, however, the Hand, a powerful organization, finds Alif. At the same time, Intisar sends Alif an old book - a powerful one - and before he knows it, he's on the run with his childhood friend, Dina.

Alif the Unseen is a strange tale, one that just keeps going, without stop. It starts off interestingly enough, drawing you into the rich setting of the Middle East, but before long, it began to drag for me. You see, Alif the Unseen never stops in its pace, which isn't a bad thing, but at times, it felt disjointed. Amongst the action, there are awkward moments of long conversation and the pace suddenly slackens, only to pick up again, all rather suddenly. It was a bit off-putting, I must say, but by the second-half of the tale, I was either used to it or too invested in the story to care. For some reason, the second-half of this story appealed to me much more than the first and I slowly began to fall in love with the characters and the fantasy elements of this piece, all with a backdrop of modern-day Middle Eastern culture and computers.

One of the best elements of Alif the Unseen is, hands-down, the characters. While Alif himself comes across as rather lame at first, especially since we can see from the beginning that Intisar isn't all that great and he's simply infatuated with her, Dina, his childhood friend, is a kick-ass protagonist to contend with. I loved her strong will, vulnerable qualities, and clear head that came in use during times of need. Vikram, a djinn-like creature that Alif winds up meeting, was another one of my favorite characters. Wilson's debut is full of humans, djinns, hackers, and even Americans, believe it or not. With such a wide variety of personalities, it's tough not to be sucked into this tale. Even better, the dialogue is witty, amusing, and will keep you on your toes, eagerly flipping the pages for more.

Nevertheless, for me, Alif the Unseen didn't stand out as an extraordinary novel. Yes, it was good, had an intriguing host of characters, and a unique plot, but it was also a tough story to get through and rather boring at times. But, I am quite sure this is an issue only I will have. Unlike my friends, I have grown up learning of the culture of the Middle East. As an Indian who has many Muslim friends, who has grown up surrounded equally by mosques and temples, who has had Arabian tales told to me by my grandmother, Alif the Unseen wasn't nearly as exotic as I think my other friends found it to be. It didn't enrich my knowledge of the country or culture any more than I already had, thus, while I enjoyed it, I wasn't quite blown away by it either.

Still, an excellent idea, very engaging dialogue, and some unforgettable characters lie within the pages of this book. I am confident that readers who are new to Middle Eastern settings or tales richly seated amongst those of A Thousand and One Nights will thoroughly enjoy and undoubtedly be swept off their feet by this debut. Despite my qualms with it, and slightly indifferent stance towards it, I still cannot help but look forward to Wilson's next novel. If nothing else, here is an author who isn't afraid to help spread the word about a little-known country or culture in literature today and for that, this certainly merits a read.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Just Another...Book Crush (#3): Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy

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

As you may (or may not, actually) know, I devoured Sara Creasy's Scarabaeus duology within hours just a few weeks ago. As a huge fan of science fiction, I was thoroughly impressed by Creasy's debut novel, Song of Scarabaeus, whose characters and story I still find myself thinking about every once-in-awhile. You'd be hard-pressed to find a series that deserves more recognition than this one and although I've been raving about it over the blogosphere (and probably tiring all of you already), I am nevertheless excited beyond all reason to be welcoming Sara Creasy onto my blog today to tell us about her books. 
Trained since childhood in advanced biocyph seed technology by the all-powerful Crib empire, Edie's mission is to terraform alien worlds while her masters bleed the outlawed Fringe populations dry. When renegade mercenaries kidnap Edie, she's not entirely sure it's a bad thing . . . until they leash her to a bodyguard, Finn—a former freedom fighter-turned-slave, beaten down but never broken. If Edie strays from Finn's side, he dies. If she doesn't cooperate, the pirates will kill them both. But Edie's abilities far surpass anything her enemies imagine. And now, with Finn as her only ally as the merciless Crib closes in, she'll have to prove it or die on the site of her only failure . . . a world called Scarabaeus.

Most speculative writers will probably tell you they love world-building. I’m no exception. It’s the reason I write (and read) science fiction rather than contemporary drama. I’m a sucker for futuristic technology, the bread-and-butter of science fiction. In Song of Scarabaeus, I've created a far-future world that combines technological advances in space exploration, genetic engineering, medicine, weapons, even sport, with more mundane references that remind us humans are still human. This future doesn't include Earth, but it still has taxi cabs, email, teddy bears, and bland food-court meals at the space station mall. People still bitch about their bosses and worry about raising their children in safety.

Without the restraints of reality, science fiction can magnify these concerns. What if your boss can kill you with impunity if you bitch too loudly? What if not just your home but your entire planet is at risk of destruction if you don’t pay your taxes? What I love about science fiction is when essentially ordinary humans – people with all the same dreams, foibles, and interrelationships as humans across the ages have shared – are plunged into these sorts of stressful, dangerous, world-changing situations that don’t or can’t exist in reality.

A fantastical setting also allows for twists on even the mundane. Trust issues can cloud any relationship, and the one between Edie, a computer wiz who terraforms alien worlds, and Finn, a convict assigned as her bodyguard, is no exception. But added to the mix is the “leash” – an electronic connection between them that will explode inside his skull if she goes out of range or dies. He was unwilling from the start, and now has a desperate motivation to do his job properly.

And then there’s the twist in the social mores of this futuristic universe, where most people accept without question that political prisoners of war can be forced to work on chain gangs, or bought and sold as slaves. While everyone else treats Finn as subhuman, Edie is more sympathetic because, like him, she’s essentially been denied her freedom and used by the authorities for years. Both have been terribly betrayed by their own people as well as by the enemy.

Song of Scarabaeus has its share of cool gadgets, but it’s the relationships that I most enjoyed writing, both the central one and the ones between Edie and her crewmates/captors. When these relationships are happening on pirate spaceships and exotic planets, when they’re tested by bombs and alien bugs and total ecosystem collapse – all the better!

Just Another...Book Crush! 

I’ve chosen three books I love on the assumption that if you like my books, you’ll like these as well. Of course, that assumption may be entirely wrong! These books feature amazing world building and interesting characters with a touch of romance – and I don’t ask for too much more in a good read.

I’m not a huge fan of fantasy, but this is the sort of fantasy I love. It reads like an alternate-history novel for the most part (historical and speculative fiction have much in common), set in a frozen steampunkish world with magic around the edges. The focus appears at first to be narrow because it’s a first-person narrative from the point of view of a sheltered young woman. But as the story progresses, she’s thrust into a complex world with far wider implications, both politically and personally. The romantic plot unfolds subtly – another thing I like, as readers of my books would know.

This one is 35 years old but I come back to it again and again. It’s a quest story: the heroine Snake is searching a barren post-apocalyptic world for a dreamsnake, which she needs for her work as a healer. While the plot is fairly straightforward, the story plunges you into a unique and fully realized landscape that creates an unforgettable ambiance.

Full disclosure: This is my husband’s debut novel, published earlier this year by Tor. I know, I know, I’m biased… but this space adventure has everything I love. (Not surprising, really, because he wrote it for me!) A wide backdrop of planets filled with exotic ports of call, a fearless heroine, a sexy hero, humor, romance, mystery, fascinating character cameos, and a smattering of philosophical gems thrown into the mix.

Sara, thank you so much for stopping by today! I truly loved reading this post, particularly since you touched upon so many aspects of this series I loved myself - the world building, the intriguing constraints and freedoms that came with the science fiction genre, and, of course, the relationships. I definitely agree that a large part of the reason that I loved this duology so much was because of my strong attachment to Edie.

Also, I am dying to find the time to read Cold Magic! I know a lot of readers have at least heard of Kate Elliot, so I'm glad she comes with your seal of approval. I'll have to bump her up my TBR-Shelf. And while I haven't heard of Dreamsnake, I love those timeless novels that one can never fully forget. 

Anyway, what are your thoughts on Sara's post? On the feature? If you haven't already read my spoiler-free reviews of both books in this duology, you can check them out HERE.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Lovestruck Summer by Melissa C. Walker

Title: Lovestruck Summer

Author: Melissa C. Walker

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Lovestruck Summer is, needless to say, the perfect summer read. It's ideal for those long, lazy, and humid days when you want nothing but to sit in front of a fan and crack open a good book - one that will make you laugh and twist your stomach with anticipation and give you the butterflies of swoon. Lovestruck Summer has all this and more, so, perhaps its only flaw lies in that I picked this up in the middle of winter. Or towards the end of winter, huddled in blankets and with a mug of warm coffee near me instead of a drink of cool lemonade. Still, regardless of what time of the year you read this, it's bound to be the type of book you just can't help but immerse yourself in and emerge from it, completely lovestruck yourself. 

One of the most difficult aspects of this novel is, hands-down, its protagonist Priscilla - sorry, Quinn. From the very beginning, it is obvious that Quinn is a flawed character - which I loved. In fact, she's more-than-a-little judgmental, immediately categorizing her cousin, Penny, who she's spending the summer with in Austin as a sorority girl - a term she uses with much disdain. In the same breath, Quinn creates for herself the ideal summer in Austin, one where she interns, finds a fling who loves the same music as she does, and spends the whole summer rocking out to her favorite band, the Walters. Russ, the attractive cowboy frat-boy who lives next door definitely does not factor into her plans. Neither, it seems does finding that her cousin may become a friend or that country music isn't all that bad. Clearly, Quinn's summer is about to become a lot more different than she thought it would be. 

You'd be hard-pressed to find a reader who wouldn't enjoy Lovestruck Summer. Although Quinn can come across as extremely judgmental in the beginning, her voice is never too overbearing or shallow, having just the right amount of sincerity and genuineness for us to enjoy her narration. Plus, this gives room for plenty of gradual growth throughout the story as Quinn is forced to emerge from her tight spheres into larger ones, all thanks to Russ. But, more about him later. In addition to Quinn's own personal growth, though, much of this novel focuses on the blooming friendship between Quinn and Jade, another teenage girl who works as an intern along with Quinn. While both girls share inherently similar tastes in music, Jade is far more accepting of differences and she, too, forced Quinn to look beyond the surface of her cousin and find a friend within. For me, there's nothing better than a solid tale of friendship and, on that front, this novel definitely delivers. 

What's a good summer, though, without romance? When Quinn first arrives, she immediately identifies the perfect boyfriend for herself - Sebastian. Although it's immediately obvious to the reader that Sebastian clearly isn't the right person for Quinn, Quinn herself fails to realize this. If anything, she's too busy complaining about Russ, the neighbor who somehow manages to get on her nerves and won't stop calling her 'Priscilla' instead of 'Quinn.' Even more, he makes her listen to country music and hand-in-hand with these qualities, he has moments of pure kindness. As Quinn's feelings for Russ deepen, so do ours until - you guessed it! - drama-lamas arrive. Unlike most contemporary romances, though, I didn't find the drama in this to be overwhelming. It was kind of necessary, in my eyes, to give Quinn that extra time to grow on her own and make decisions for herself, not because of circumstance, so all-in-all, I can't say I have too many qualms. 

Yet, where my issues do come in is within the slight idealistic-ness of some of the situations in this novel. As I said in the beginning, this is a novel meant to be read on a long, lazy day when your brain is too fried to pick apart at the happy-go-lucky nature of this story. First and foremost, some of the scenes in this novel are just too perfect. It's as if they're out of a fairy-tale date, which is all very nice in theory, but I found myself simply rolling my eyes once or twice. Furthermore, the characters do lack some depth. While Quinn herself is fairly fleshed out, some of the other characters, even Penny and Russ, seem to have no other life except that which Quinn witnesses. Quinn herself never speaks to her parents too much and any real adult figures are all conspicuously missing in favor of a "fun-filled" summer. 

Frankly, though, these are very minor problems with a novel that is in equal parts fun as it is engaging. Just to add to its impressiveness, though, Walker finishes this novel off with an achingly realistic and hopeful ending, one which really sealed the deal on my rounded-up rating. Without a doubt, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this, even to typical non-fans of contemporary romance and am already looking forward to my next read by this author.