Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lovely, Dark and Deep

Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. "
- Robert Frost

Synopsis via Goodreads:
A resonant debut novel about retreating from the world after losing everything—and the connections that force you to rejoin it. 
Since the night of the crash, Wren Wells has been running away. Though she lived through the accident that killed her boyfriend Patrick, the girl she used to be didn’t survive. Instead of heading off to college as planned, Wren retreats to her father’s studio in the far-north woods of Maine. Somewhere she can be alone. 
Then she meets Cal Owen. Dealing with his own troubles, Cal’s hiding out too. When the chemistry between them threatens to pull Wren from her hard-won isolation, Wren has to choose: risk opening her broken heart to the world again, or join the ghosts who haunt her.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Reading this book was like seeing everything I've been feeling perfectly articulated on a page. It's like Amy McNamara saw inside me and was able to put into words what I never could myself. It was eerie and beautiful.

So, thank Amy McNamara, for writing this stunning book.

The only thing I can think to do is include some quotes that really resonated with me..
"I'd leave if I had somewhere to go. I hate being the cause of their concern... I've listened to everything everyone had to say on the subject of loss and bereavement. Survivor's guilt. None of it mattered. Matters. They're just words. Falling like snow. But I have to listen to them. Because I'm not free. My parents are still in charge, and apparently now frighteningly united. Another weight on my chest. I want to get away from weights. From the possibility that people need me not to dissappoint them. But where else can I go? I have nowhere else." (50)
This book really touched me, I already expressed how I felt like I was reading my own thoughts on the page, but that isn't because I am dealing with loss. Yes, this book is about loss, but it is also about depression, sadness, anxiety, about what it feels like to suffocate under the weight of your own body. I think any one who has dealt with depression would find solace in this book, just for its utter honesty.
"What I now know about sleepless nights, hours moving us toward what's never not there. How scarce it matters to be scared or brave. Dawn lifting itself to the window all the same." (55)
"It's terrible when you can tell you're scaring your mother... I can barely imagine getting through this evening, much less planning anything long-term. Looking forward. I just want to be alone... It has to stop, this conversation. I have to let her win. That's how it goes. I fold just to end the conversation." (212)
"A lock I don't want to pick. A map I can't follow. Not now. I think about skipping my appointment, chucking my phone out the window, slipping away. Drive to Canada, maybe, or at least until I run out of gas, but that would kill my parents with worry, and I don't want to give them any more grief. It shouldn't be so hard to live without messing up other people." (221)

Now, for the plot. The reason this book is half a star away from perfection is that I had a couple problems with the story. But, as you can probably tell based on the rating, these problems were minor. I loved this book.

The romance.
Unlike the synopsis leads you to believe, this story doesn't revolve around Wren's romantic relationship. This book is about Wren and her journey to finally coming to terms with a traumatic loss and her emotions surrounding it. And during the year she finally begins to heal, she meets someone whom she comes to love.

Wren's relationship with Cal is fragile and tentative, they both feel an immediate connection and the more they learn about one another, the closer they grow. But both Wren and Cal (though especially Wren) are afraid of what that kind of closeness means. 

This story is a departure from what you normally see in YA, where the entire story is leading up to the ending where the two main characters finally get together. Wren and Cal are together for the majority of the story, their problems arise from the deep emotional (and physical) pain they are dealing with, though their obstacles are very different. Actually, the only slight problem I had with the story was how quickly Wren and Cal get together. To me, it felt slightly rushed and I would appreciated more pacing, but in the end I felt like their relationship matured and deepened throughout the book. Despite the awkward beginning, the romance in this book is sweet and well-executed.

The characters.
I really enjoyed reading Wren's story. She is 18, my age, and though she is technically an "adult" she is still a teenager. The author did a wonderful job of capturing what it's like in that "in between" phase. Personally, I really appreciated how mature all the characters in this book were, including Wren. Yes, Wren struggles, and at times she loses sight of other people and is overwhelmed by her own issues, but that is a result of her crippling depression, not any lack of maturity. 

This book also is excellent in the way it depicts Wren's family dynamic. There is no DPS in this book (Disappearing Parent Syndrome, common among YA books).  Wren's parents are divorced and although her mother doesn't live near her and her father is the more laid-back of the two, both parents are fixtures in Wren's everyday life. Throughout the whole story we see Wren's mother checking in over the phone constantly. Both parents are involved and worry about Wren. 

Another thing I love about this book is how the characters grow and overcome so much over the course of the novel, but at the same time their problems never completely go away. At the end of the novel they are not magically healed by the power of love, they are both still very much broken. But, through their relationship they find strength to face their problems and there is hope for the future. Their issues aren't nicely wrapped up in 300 pages or the year they are together, but that's how real life is. And I found that both refreshing and beautiful.

Final Thoughts.
This book is truly lovely, dark and deep. It is one of the truest portrayals of depression and anxiety that I've read. I kept finding myself, my experiences, within the pages. This book cracked open my chest and reflected thoughts and feelings I hadn't been able to put into words. This book, this story, was raw and beautiful. It was achingly honest, both the story and the ending. I loved it. Very highly recommend.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend

Synopsis via Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.
My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

There were things I liked and things I didn't like about this book. This is a book about a sarcastic, cynical girl who falls for a jerk, who turns out not to be such a jerk, and learns that labels don't define people.

Things I liked:

The author wasn't afraid to have sex in this book. Unlike so many YA books out there, the characters in this book are sexually active. Which is the case for many high school teenagers. (The way sex is portrayed in this book actually reminded me a lot of the MTV show "Awkward.")

The sarcastic quips.

It had a believable teenage voice -- just not a very likable one.

This book also addresses labels and the problems with slut-shaming.

“Calling Vikki a slut or a whore was just like calling somebody the Duff. It was insulting and hurtful, and it was one of those titles that just fed off the inner fear every girl must have from time to time. Slut, bitch, prude, tease, ditz. They were all the same. Every girl felt like one of these sexist labels described her at some point.”
...I found this message a welcome surprise in this book. 

Things I didn't like:

That Bianca's father's drinking and anger management problem was resolved so simply and easily. It felt unrealistic and naive. One day her dad is drinking until he passes out and then two days later he quits and is going to AA meetings, the problem is never addressed again and everything is perfect. 

Casey and Jess. From what I've seen, it seems like most people liked Bianca friends, but in my opinion they seemed pretty shallow and boring. Jess and Casey were nice, but they had no real defining factors, despite Casey being tall and Jessica being too nice. That's it, they each had one major characteristic. Talk about one-dimensional.

Bianca. She was self-absorbed, negative and a shitty friend. Yes, she had some good sarcastic remarks, but she kept getting caught up in her own web of cynicism and self-pity.

The triangle. I felt like Bianca's whole relationship with Toby was unnecessary. It felt like the author threw that in there because Bianca needed to seem desirable. It was dumb. 

Wesley. And Bianca and Wesley's relationship. Okay, I'll admit it I'm torn about this, Bianca and Wesley could be cute at times and the ending is what any chick flick could want, but there are issues to be addressed. Mainly that Bianca and Wesley use each other for sex. Bianca states repeatedly that she hates Wesley, he makes he skin crawl, not to mention that he insults her and gives her a nickname that tears down her self-esteem every time she hears. But she still uses him as a booty call five times a week. And she ditches and ignores her friends to do so (and then is completely confused when her friends aren't happy with her). 

It also happens that Wesley suffers from DPS, disappearing parent syndrome. He has no one taking care of him because his parents are always away and his grandmother, who is taking care of his sister, ignores him and hates him because of his "promiscuous lifestyle". I'm sorry, but in what world does that happen. No way is there a teenager living alone in a mansion with no restrictions and no consequences. It is completely ridiculous. (If you want to read a review I agree with that addresses even more problems with the book I suggest this one.)

So, turns out, this book wasn't for me. But I understand why some people might enjoy it. It's totally a matter up to you own discretion.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Best Books of 2014

So here are my favorite books that I read in 2014...

1. The Unbound (The Archived book two) by Victoria Schwab
I don't even know what to say about this book except that I fell head over heels in love with it. The story, the world, the characters... I was spell-bound. I still think about the characters and the Archive. Please just read this series. It has mystery, beautiful writing, compelling characters and a completely wonderful and unique premise. It's a must read.

2. In the Afterlight by Alexandra Bracken
This was the final book in the Darkest Minds trilogy and a fantastic conclusion to the series. It was true to the story and wrapped up all the major plots, but it also felt like the ending was a new beginning for the characters. I love this series it is one of my favorites. And I am very happy with how it concluded.

3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
This book was wonderful. Just this one book alone made me love Rainbow Rowell. The main character is so relatable and all the characters in this story feel so real. This book is about fanfiction, overcoming social anxiety, family, friendship and finding love, whatever that may look like. This isn't a fluff book, but it has some very cute moments. It made me happy. Probably the best contemporary I've read.

4. Throne of Glass (and Crown of Midnight) by Sarah J. Maas
This is a phenomenal YA (high) fantasy series. It's probably my favorite that I've read. Fascinating world and kick ass characters. And the main character Caelena is a total BAMF, I mean, she's an assassin, need I say more... I am so excited for this series, it is going to be six books and each one just keeps getting better and better.

5. Shatter Me, Unravel Me and Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi
This is a beautifully written story that I really found remarkable. The prose in this book is so breathtaking and I fell in love with the characters. The character arc of the main character, Juliette, is also really great. You really see her grow and find herself in this series. And I think it has a great portrayal of love and finding yourself. A lot of people critique the love story in the first book, but all those issues are addressed and actually serve as part of a greater message in the later two books. Juliette realizes her strength as an individual, she faces a lot of deeply ingrained beliefs about her worth, and in the end is the hero of her own story. More YA books need that kind of message. And in a way the first book almost points out that a flaw in most YA novels is how the female protagonist often only finds her own worth through finding a man. This book turns that on it's head. And it does so with some of the most poetic writing I've read.

6. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
I really enjoyed this book. It has a very dark and gritty feel to it and is one of my favorite vampire books I've read. It's brutal and gory and very cool. It also has sexually diverse characters, which I though was great (unfortunately it's not something you often see depicted in YA).

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Archived

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

“Because the only way to truly record a person is not in words, not in still frames, but in bone and skin and memory.” 

The Archived is a young-adult, fantasy novel that takes place in modern day and follows Mackenzie Bishop, a teenage girl who is a Keeper, one of the people entrusted with stopping Histories from escaping the Archive into the world outside. Histories are essentially an entire person's life (or "history") contained in a replica of their body and the Archive is like a library that houses all Histories. These Histories can sometimes wake up and become violent, and Keepers, like Mackenzie (or Mac), are responsible for making sure the Histories don't make it out into the real world.

This story has a mixture of mystery and fantasy while dealing with multiple relationships (family, friendship and romantic). It not only deals with Mac's job as a Keeper, but also how her family is dealing with the aftermath of Mac's younger brother's recent death. In the midst of this, Mackenzie starts to notice that more and more Histories have been escaping from the Archive and that these Histories are becoming increasingly more dangerous. As she starts to investigate the reason behind this new turn of events, she meets a History who is unlike any other she has met before...

My Rating: ALL OF THE STARS!! (But since that isn't an option... FIVE STARS!)

I love both books in this series so much, they are everything I love and need in a story and the writing, story crafting and characters are so beautiful I just...

The first book has a bit of a slow start so don't be dissuaded, once the plot picks up you'll be happy you got all the important information (world-building is important people). Personally, it took me a couple of days to get through the beginning, but I am so glad that I did because it is now one of my favorite series. And after the first 50 or so pages the plot picked up and I couldn't put it down.

The story is told mainly in present time, but throughout the book you get flashbacks. The flashbacks help unravel a lot about Mac's character and we get to see some defining moments in her life. Particularly from moments with her grandfather and her brother, who both have since passed away.

The flashbacks and Mac's narration emphasize her feelings of loss, overwhelming grief and even guilt as a result of her brother's death. This book doesn't just deal with superficial emotions. It is a story that deals with relationships, trust, family, grief and it does so in an intricately developed world that exists within the one we know, while also following a mystery.

Through the flashbacks we also see Mac as she was learning to be a Keeper from her grandfather, Da, who passed the job onto her and taught her everything she knows. Her memories of her grandfather and his lessons provide insight into Mac's personality and why she treats being a Keeper the way she does. Those flashbacks give a context as to why Mac is so methodical, careful and withdrawn. She isolates herself from her family and is hesitant to let anyone in, including and especially Wesley, the first Keeper Mac ever meets outside of the Archived world.

Speaking of Wesley... He is definitely one of my favorite characters. Ever. He waltzed into my life with his dyed hair, loud music and lined eyes and totally won me over. He is funny, clever and just an all-around fantastic. I pretty much couldn't stop smiling whenever he showed up. Some of the best moments in the book are his interactions with Mac. I'll give you some examples:

“It takes at least three assassination attempts to scare me off. And even then, if there are baked goods involved, I might come back.” 

“'I’ve been thinking.'

'A dangerous pursuit.'


I mean... I think everyone needs a Wesley Ayers in their life. The world would be a better place if more Wesley Ayers' existed. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

This book is just so stunning. Victoria Schwab is a beautiful writer. I read both books in the series this year and I can say that without a doubt this series is one of my favorites.

There are currently two books in the series and Victoria Schwab has announced that she is writing a third. And fortunately, both books in this series are wonderful in that they both wrap up in satisfying ways without cliff-hanger endings. I know, what a concept! Not to mention this world is so fascinating! The characters are captivating and feel so real that I just want to read more about them and this world. I truly fell in love with the characters.

And there is going to be a third book!!!

There is no set realease date, but I don't care. I'd wait forever to read another book with Mac and Wesley...

So, if this series sounds at all like something you'd enjoy, I strongly encourage you to go pick it up. You won't regret it.

Oh yeah, and if you were wondering about all the Princess Bride gifs, that's because Wesley in the story was partly inspired by Westley from the Princess Bride as if this book couldn't get any better. 

These books mean a lot to me. It's been months and I still go back and spend time thinking about the characters, the story, the world. I think that is the mark of a book that really has burrowed itself inside you. The kind that will stay with you even as you get older. My favorite books are ones that I know I will carry with me even after finishing that last page. This is one of those books.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Short Stories
(by all the authors listed below and edited by Stephanie Perkins)

Synopsis via Goodreads:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... This beautiful collection features twelve gorgeously romantic stories set during the festive period, by some of the most talented and exciting YA authors writing today. The stories are filled with the magic of first love and the magic of the holidays.

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell - 5/5
The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link- 3/5
Angels in the Snow by Matt de la Pena- 5/5
Polaris is Where You'll Find Me by Jenny Han - 3/5
It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins- 5/5 (this is my favorite one)
Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan - 4/5
Krampuslauf by Holly Black - 2/5
What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? by Gayle Forman - 5/5
Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire- 2.5/5
Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White - 3/5
Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter- 3/5
The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor - 5/5

I really enjoyed this. It was the perfect book to read over the holidays. It didn't feel repetitive or like reading the same story over and over again. Each story was completely it's own, each author did their own thing. It was great. Although I didn't love every story, I appreciated each one. My favorites were the ones that filled me with warm, happy feelings (Stephanie Perkins' story for instance) but I also really loved seeing whole worlds unfold within a few pages (Laini Taylor's). This book also did a wonderful job of showcasing diversity in some of the short stories, through the sexuality and ethnicity of the characters, which is something that is usually heavily lacking in Christmas stories.

...And that cover though. The picture doesn't even do it justice. It's beautiful and shiny and the edges of the pages are pink, serious props to whoever designed that cover.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Can I just say how happy I am with this cover change.
One of the best ever. Seriously. It's beautiful.
Synopsis via Goodreads:
Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. She is less than thrilled about boarding school in Paris - until she meets √Čtienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, he has it all - including a serious girlfriend. Will Anna get her French kiss?

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book gives me all the feels.

This is the kind of book that just makes me smiley and giddy. Every time I've read this book it's been impossible for me to put it down. Obviously, I know the story pretty well by this point, but that doesn't detract from my enjoyment each and every time.

The characters in this book are great. There are some stereotypes in this book: the mean girl, for one. But overall this story reads like life. The characters are realistic and relatable. I loved the romance. The best romances are built on friendships. And that is the case in this book. Nothing actually happens between the two characters until fairly late in the story. There is attraction, but mostly what we see develop is that the two characters gradually become very close friends who fall in love. And I love that. It's the opposite of all the aggravating YA romance tropes. There is no insta-love, no love triangles (not really). This is a very well done love story.

Although this book does have some things I can see people would find issue with, they didn't bother me. Because, you know what, in real life love doesn't tend to come without some angst and some drama. And the life of a teenager certainly doesn't. That's just how it is. Deal with it.

I honestly just wish I could read Anna and Etienne's story forever. They are one of my favorite couples.

Oh wait, did I even mention that this story takes place in PARIS. Oh yeah. Whoops. I loved the the atmosphere the author brought with the setting. I, never having been to Paris, had no trouble picturing Anna and Etienne walking along the Seine or standing on point zero. This book captured all the magic and romance of the City of Lights, it made me desperate to visit Paris while still feeling like I got to be there.

This is definitely one of my favorite contemporary romances. I love the characters and the story. I've already read it at least three times (maybe more) and each time it still makes me smile. This book makes me happy. Unfortunately, I didn't have the same experience with the other books in this series. In other words, Lola and the Boy Next Door was a bit of a disappoitment to me. I didn't hate it, I just felt "meh" about it. And, for me, a book like this is all about the feels. So I don't think I'll be reading Isla in the Ever After. I'm perfectly content with this book and this book alone. Anna and Etienne are more than enough for me.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Masque of the Red Death

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

I adored this book!! It was dark and atmospheric and utterly enthralling.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Synopsis via Goodreads:
Everything is in ruins. 
A devastating plague has decimated the population, and those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles around them. 
So what does Araby Worth have to live for? 
Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery makeup . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all. 
But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club, and Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does. 
And Araby may find not just something to live for, but something to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

First off-- side note-- I was under the impression both while I was reading and when I finished the book, that this was a stand-alone so let me just say I was SO excited that there was a sequel.

But what was amazing was that even though this book had an open ending and the future was very vague, I still enjoyed the ending because it fit the book. I was completely satisfied with this book as a stand-alone. This book ends at a bleak place where the fate that awaits the characters is very uncertain, so I completely get why there is a sequel. Yet, at the same time I thought that this ambiguous ending perfectly suited the mood of the book and the whole premise and world that is established in this story.

The Romance. Oh. My. God. Now, while in some cases love triangles can be awful and agonizing affairs, I think when they're handled correctly they can really work. This book was definitely one of those times. There was no time where Araby spent any effort thinking about who to choose or pitying herself "poor me! I have to choose between two guys!". Nope. None of that, THANK GOD. And there were no ultimatums from the guys. And, honestly, I couldn't pick a "team". Each male lead was completely unique and had both good traits and serious flaws. When Araby was talking to Will, I was totally for Team Will, but then Elliott would show a crack in his carefully constructed armor and I'd want Araby to just love him.

Okay, so while I haven't picked a side (yet), I will say that I particularly enjoyed the development of Araby's relationship with Eliott. It was rocky, to say the least, but they really got to understand each other more over the course of the book and the feelings (on both sides) seemed more genuine due to the fact that at first they had no trust or respect for one another.

Will was a bit more difficult. I would not say that by any measure Araby experienced insta-love with him. It was more that she had an immediate infatuation with the mysterious, dark stranger who worked at the club. I mean, Araby is seventeen in this book, it would be utterly ridiculous if she didn't appreciate hot, brooding boys. Who doesn't? But all Araby felt towards Will was a crush. And neither she nor the author pretends it's more. Araby's feelings don't become deeper until she actually gets to know Will and spends some time with him and even then I don't know she is ever completely in love.

But, like I said, this is a love triangle, so Araby's romantic fate is very unsure. But as a reader, I very much appreciated the absence of insta-love and the time spent developing relationships.

The only problem I had with this book was that at times the narration and descriptions were lacking. There were holes in the continuity of the story. There would be times when Araby would mention that she sees a carriage pull up and in the next sentence she will be gazing out the window at the street, and I'd have to go back and re-read to figure out where Araby was and with whom, so on. This type of gap in the writing happened a fair amount, which is why I thought I'd mention it. There would be places where I was reading and I'd have to stop and try to figure out who Araby was with or how she got there, because it felt that there were descriptions missing. But overall, I don't think this hurt the story.

In the end, this book was everything I wanted. It had complex characters, a dark, shadowy world full of fear and questions and evil. It was fast paced, the plot was engaging and I loved reading it, I could not put it down. This book was the perfect book to curl up under a blanket with. Highly recommend.