Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My True Love Gave to Me (Edited by Stephanie Perkins)

My True Love Gave to Me by Multiple Authors 
(Edited by Stephanie Perkins) 

Source: Purchased

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins. Whether you enjoy celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or New Year's there's something here for everyone. So curl up by the fireplace and get cozy. You have twelve reasons this season to stay indoors and fall in love.

This is going to be a rather lengthy review, because I wanted to write about my thoughts on each of the story stories. What do I think of it overall? It's a cute, fun read with some stories I would have rather skipped. Still, it's a nice book to cozy up with around Christmastime, and I might even pull it out to read next Christmas. My favorite stories were by Stephanie Perkins, Gayle Forman, and Laini Taylor. All for very different reasons. My least favorite stories were by Kelly Link and Holly Black. 

Here are my thoughts on the individual stories: 

Midnights by Rainbow Rowell: I really enjoyed this story--it was cute, short, and sweet. Just what I wanted. I also liked that Rowell used time as a way to tell her story, to resemble the New Years Eve Countdown. My only complaint is that Noel as a guy's name annoyed me. Don't know why. I also never felt like I got enough character development. I didn't "swoon" over him, or understand why she was in love with him.

The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link: This was an odd story, and one I did not particularly enjoy. I don't mind a bit of "magic" in my holiday stories, but it was just a little too much and overall forgettable. I didn't sympathize with any of the characters, and the pacing felt off. It felt long, especially for a short story. 

Angel in the Snow by Matt de la Pena: This was actually pretty cute! Both characters were flawed, but relatable, and there was definitely some chemistry. It read like a hallmark movie, which is perfect for this time of year. I didn't agree with how the characters handled their situation, but I liked how things managed to work out in the end. 

Polaris is Where You'll Find Me: This was a short story, but nothing special. I think my biggest complaint, is that things felt very unresolved. It read like the beginning of a novel, rather than a complete story in itself. Still, I liked the concept of a girl growing up in the North Pole with elves. It reminded me of a less funnier, and shorter, version of the movie Elf. With a female protagonist. 

It's a Yultide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins: Yes, yes, yes! Stephanie Perkins can do no wrong when it comes to contemporary romance. From the awkward (and curious) opening paragraph, to the end, I couldn't stop smiling. The dialogue, setting, and characters were all spot on. It's one of the highlights, if not THE highlight, of this entire anthology. 

Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan: This was okay, but the story felt a little aimless and I didn't connect with any of the characters. Actually, I rather liked the sister. She had quite a presence on the page, and that was probably the best thing about the short story. It's sweet, but nothing super special. 

Krampuslauf: This is my least favorite story, and not because of the writing or the characters. I liked the premise, but was severely lacking in Christmas/Holiday spirit. It felt out of place in this anthology, and I was very put off by it. I'm confused as to why Perkins (as the editor) agreed to use this short story. 

What the Hell Have you Done, Sophie Roth? by Gayle Forman. I definitely think, by the time we reach Gayle Forman's book, the anthology has hit it's stride. This short story was super cute, and funny! I liked all the characters, and I liked the message portrayed. After all, I'm sure there are many people who are dealing (or have dealt) with losing a loved one during the holiday. Or perhaps you're simply wishing they were here to enjoy the season. Regardless, this short story was funny and touching at the same with (with just the right among of Holiday spirit). 

Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire: I laughed a lot during this short story. It's your typical set up: bad guy and good girl. It actually reminded me of a much funnier version of A Walk to Remember (without the sad ending). After this, I am definitely planning on checking out McEntire's other work. 

Chrismas, USA by Kiersten White:  This has "Hallmark" written all over it. All our main character wants to do is get out of her small town called Christmas. She is working whenever she can to save up enough money, and then a new chef comes to town. He somehow has a knack for knowing the exact dishes people are craving, and it's actually super sweet. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised (and touched) by this story.

Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter: This story was okay, but you needed to suspend your disbelief. Through a series of events, the protagonist finds herself spending a couple days at a stranger's home. I don't want to give away the little twist, but I guess I was expecting more from Ally Condie. I've heard a lot of great things about her Ghallager Girls series.

The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor: People are either going to LOVE this story or hate it. I, for one, loved it (and not just because of Laini's gorgeous prose). It's a historical tale with a fantastical twist, about and old courting tradition during the first weeks of December. The writing is magical, the story is magical. I just can't get enough of Laini Taylor's words. It was a wonderful short story to end this anthology with.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Best of 2014

I have returned!!! And with my list of best books of 2014. Let me know what books you enjoyed last year. Here's to a great 2015 reading year! There are already so many books I am looking forward to. :)

Honorary #1: Cress by Marissa Meyer

(I read this book in 2013/2014, thanks to Macmillian for sending an ARC my way. And I LOVED it. The romance was spot on, the action was spot on, and CAPTAIN THRONE. He's my new ultimate book boyfriend now.)

1. Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

(I had to fortune of meeting Sue Monk Kidd briefly, but I honestly didn't have too high of expectations. Maybe it was my low expectations, or perhaps it was the phenomenal audio book narration. This book topped my list for many reasons, but it also managed to ignite my love for audiobooks. I've been trying to listen to more ever since).

(I can't choose between either finale, because Cassandra Clare has weaved both stories together so effortlessly. It took some time to get into Cassandra Clare's books, because I wasn't a huge fan of City of Bones, but I stuck with it and I am so happy I did!)

3. Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi

(This was probably one of the best conclusions to a dystopian trilogy that I've read in a long time. There were tears of heartache and tears and joy. I can't remember being THIS satisfied with a dystopian conclusion).

4. Never Fade By Alexandra Bracken

(I admit, it took some time to get into this book. I was confused for the first 50 or so pages, but then things started kicking into gear and I LOVED this book. The new characters introduced (specifically Vida) had me howling with laughter. By the end, I was nearly in tears and desperate for book three. Why haven't I picked up book three yet?!)

5. The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

(Victoria's writing is absolutely stunning. And the premise for this series was killer. Imagine a world where the dead rest on shelves? Yes, please! This sequel delivers, and really shows Mackenzie's struggle with the events of the first. And then there's guy liner, who's stole my heart. I can't wait to read the short story, so I can finally know his real name.

6. Iron Queen by Julia Kagawa

(This is another series that had a slow start for me, but this book was a game changer! I really connected to Megan and I admired her choices and her strength by the end of the book. It had me in tears.)

7. Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

(This is a book that "grew" on me as months passed. It's not as compelling as Crown of Midnight, but I really appreciate the book's character development--for both old and new characters. And how can I NOT love Rowan? I might love him more than Chaol, but don't tell him that.)

8. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

(I was conflicted about the ending, at first, but I added this book to my list because it still sticks with me to this day. And I can't deny how much I identified with Lousia. Is it a perfect book? Perhaps not. But there was something about the story that rang true for me, and I eagerly anticipate reading more of Jojo's work.)

9. Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard

(I liked Susan's first two books in this series, but THIS BOOK. I was not expecting to like it as much as I did. She took a risk with the ending, but I think it paid off. Again, I cried and I was left in shock. How could Susan do that? The more I think about it though, the more I appreciate her boldness. If you haven't picked up this series, do it now!)

10. Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

(Some people had issues with this book, but I found it to be a thrilling adventure. It was a roller coster ride, and while I would have done things differently, I was satisfied with the ending. This isn't true for everyone, so I would approach this final book with 'lower' expectations.)

Honorary Mention: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

(I mainly included this because of the fantastic TV series. I enjoyed the book, and the TV show has only heightened my love for the first book. I plan on continuing this amazing series in 2015.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review: The Vault of Dreamers

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien 
Release: September 16, 2014 
Source: ARC provided by publisher 

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What's worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.

Rosie Sinclair has managed to make it into the prestigious Forge School for the Arts. It's not just any school, though. Forge School televises the lives of their daily students, and enforces a strict sleeping schedule from 6 pm to 6 am. When Rosie stops taking her sleeping pill, she discovers that sinister things are happening at night. And she's torn between keeping her mouth shut and staying in the program, or speaking out an risking ridicule and expulsion.

It's an intriguing premise, no doubt. A mix between a mystery, a boarding school book, and a bit fantastical elements. I say fantastical, only because I don't believe it could ever happen in real life. I found it hard to image that this is OUR world, and that science could explain what was happening at night. It just doesn't make sense to me, and maybe that's partly why I didn't love this book.

I enjoyed the read, and I kept eagerly turning pages, but I wasn't FULLY invested. I kept reading, because O'Brien does managed to perfectly pace the mystery of Forge school. And I have to hand it to O'Brien for coming up with such a unique concept. Forge school was probably the most interesting "character" of the book. The school took a life of its own.

Unfortunately, I never connected to to the main character, Rosie. There's a particular moment, when Rosie is caught, that I wanted to scream at her to not be stupid. Her actions frustrated me, and I kept wondering what her authorities saw in her. Why she was so special? The romance also  felt like insta-love, placed in the book just because it's a YA book and it needs romance. I just didn't believe it, and I didn't feel that connection between them.

I really wanted to love this book, because my friend raved about it. It certainly had a promising beginning. Soon, though, the cracks begin to show themselves and I can't ignore the issues I had with The Vault of Dreamers. Would I continue on with the series? Maybe. The book left off on a cliff-hanger. My curiosity may lead me to pick up the sequel, but it's not a priority.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: Mortal Danger

Mortal Danger by Ann Aguirre 
Release: August 5, 2014
Source: Print ARC from publisher 

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Edie Kramer has a score to settle with the beautiful people at Blackbriar Academy. Their cruelty drove her to the brink of despair, and four months ago, she couldn't imagine being strong enough to face her senior year. But thanks to a Faustian compact with the enigmatic Kian, she has the power to make the bullies pay. She's not supposed to think about Kian once the deal is done, but devastating pain burns behind his unearthly beauty, and he's impossible to forget.

In one short summer, her entire life changes, and she sweeps through Blackbriar, prepped to take the beautiful people down from the inside. A whisper here, a look there, and suddenly... bad things are happening. It's a heady rush, seeing her tormentors get what they deserve, but things that seem too good to be true usually are, and soon, the pranks and payback turns from delicious to deadly. Edie is alone in a world teeming with secrets and fiends lurking in the shadows. In this murky morass of devil's bargains, she isn't sure who—or what--she can trust. Not even her own mind..

When Edie (Edith) Kramer decides to take her own life, she's offered a second chance from a mysterious boy. This boy, Kian, offers Edie three wishes. So what does she wish for? Beauty. She wants to return to school to exact revenge on every person that made fun of her. What she finds out, though, is that she's a part of a larger game involving the immortal and the supernatural. It's a book with so much promise, but it failed to deliver.

The world was intriguing, if a bit confusing. There are still questions that were left unanswered. However, the plotting and pacing were spot-on, and I was not bored for a single moment. I was eager to turn the pages.

My biggest issue, though, had to do with the characters and the romance.

Edie's voice didn't always match her supposed intelligence, and I never really felt the emotional impact of the prank that pushed to her commit suicide. I also thought Kian was rather flat, making the main romance feel like insta-love. The side characters weren't fully developed, either, which is a shame. Some of the deaths would have had more impact, if I actually cared for them.

And that's the issue: I was intrigued, but I didn't care.

The best characters, in my opinion, were Edie's parents. They were such a pleasant surprise, because parents are often ignored in YA novels. While her parents aren't perfect, I know they loved their daughter. So props to Ann Aguirre for doing what so few YA authors have done!

I did enjoy Mortal Danger for what it was, but I had hoped for more. If have the time, I will definitely pick up the second book.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Guest Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door


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Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins 
Release: September 29, 2011 

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion...she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit--more sparkly, more fun, more wild--the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket--a gifted inventor--steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door

Lola and the Boy Next Door is the companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss and while it is not necessary to read one book before the other, I chose to read them in order, simply so that I could understand and know any previously mentioned characters. I was lured into the series by a friend, the owner of this fabulous blog, who absolutely adored Anna and the French Kiss - she even got me a pretty signed edition - so how could I not read it? I got around to it the summer of last year and I really enjoyed it. It was a sweet story and the setting was exotic and exciting but Anna ... well, she was a little less than exciting. I just couldn't relate to her very much. 

Now, I'm largely in the minority when it comes to that opinion. Most people I know praise Anna as one of the best contemporary novels around and I can see why - like I said, the book was fun with an exotic locale and a cute and sweet boy interest. But Lola? Lola and the Boy Next Door - now that was a book I could get excited about. Let me explain...

Lola thinks she has it all - a great family, a nice job, the perfect boyfriend. The only thing she wants more than anything at the moment is to go to the Homecoming Dance dressed as Marie Antoinette, with the huge gown, makeup, wig and everything. What girl wouldn't? To be fair, Lola is a bit ... eccentric. She's an aspiring designer and seamstress who had created an identity for herself by, well, giving herself plenty of identities. She hates to wear clothes - or at least one outfit - more than once and one day, she might dress up like a picnic while going on a picnic (with a red and white checkered dress) or dress up like her best friend on Halloween. Lola is a surprise, each and every day and that, in and of itself, made Lola so interesting and likable. Add to that a set of two Dads - yep, count' em, two! - San Francisco, and a Rocker-I'm-Immediately-Suspicous-Of-You Boyfriend and you have an interesting set up. 

Despite her overbearing Dads, life is pretty idyllic for Lola, at least until a moving truck pulls up next door carrying the dreaded Bell family, who lived next door to Lola several years ago. When she sets eyes on twins Calliope and Cricket, she knows she's in trouble. Cricket, who broke her heart years before, can only be bad news. The problem? He's even more gorgeous and adorable than before and not even her supposed boyfriend can keep Lola's mind from wandering about the boy next door.

For those of you who have read a Stephanie Perkins novel, you know plenty of teenage hijinks ensue. The book is full of humor and heart and, before you know it, you'll have turned to the last page. I absolutely devoured Lola and the Boy Next Door and while I'm in the minority about Lola being better than Anna, I feel I have valid reasons.

First and foremost, as I mentioned earlier, I find Lola a more compelling character than Anna. Lola is relatable, particularly to young women and teenage girls who are truly trying to find themselves and their own identity - something that Lola struggles with throughout the entire novel. I sensed a camaraderie between myself and Lola that I know other readers who have ever doubted themselves will feel, too. Yes, the book is largely a romance book - and we'll get to that in a minute - but it was something more than that, too. But I felt it was a coming of age for Lola, too, and I certainly felt her grow through the whole book. Despite her confusion and indecision about how she wants to be defined, she makes her own decisions and doesn't let life choose them for her. And that's something that is becoming incredibly rare in teen literature nowadays. 

Now, the romance. Ah, I love me a good romance and boy this was one! I liked Anna and Etienne well enough - they were charming and cute - but I definitely felt the chemistry between Lola and Cricket in this one. From the time he was introduced, I was crying for Lola to dump rocker-boy already and get with the program. Lola and Cricket's romance isn't a fiery whirlwind like many other teen romances portrayed in YA today, but sweet, awkward and altogether complete. Perkins definitely knows her stuff. 

Did I like Anna? Yes. A Whole lot? Yes. But is Lola better? YES! If you've never read a Stephanie Perkins book yet, do yourself a favor and head to the nearest bookstore and get yourself a copy of either one. You won't be disappointed!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Heir of Fire

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
Release: September 2, 2014
Source: eARC from publisher

Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy. 

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

Heir of Fire is the third (but not the final) book in the Throne of Glass series.

And to be perfectly honest, Sarah had HUGE shoes to fill, after writing Crown of Midnight. That book was perfection. Despite not being my favorite book in the series, Heir of Fire is still a worthy addition. These books will always have a special place in my heart.

For those who haven't read Throne of Glass, this series revolves around an Assassin. After serving a year in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothian is released to compete in a competition to become the King's personal Assassin. That's all you need to know.

In Heir of Fire, we travel away from Adarlan into uncharted territory. And Celaena is on a mission.

I know that I say this with every Sarah J. Maas book, but I LOVE her world building. It's so rich, so detailed, and I am so excited that there are more books in this series. This book was a little slower paced, and it lacked the romantic aspects that made me love the first two books. Don't fret, though, dear readers: we still get to see Chaol and Dorian in action. And there's a new male character that appears: Rowan. He's not a love interest, but I have to say that he stole my heart. I loved him in the original Fictionpress draft (probably even more than Chaol or Dorian, if that can be imagined).

Anyone who has read my reviews, or discussed this series with me, know I am team Chaol. I wasn't Team Chaol in the fiction press draft, but I am now. Even so, I was frustrated with Chaol in Heir of Fire,  and I think Dorian really hit the nail on the head. Celaena shouldn't have to change who she is.  He needs to stop worrying, and let Celaena be herself. I definitely think book four will show more growth from my favorite Captain of the Guard. And I think future books will show Chaol's growth and him coming to accept Celaena for who she is.

I have to say, I really appreciated Dorian in Heir of Fire. He's grown of a lot since book one. I still am holding out on Chaol and Celaena, but I think I love Dorian--more than ever.  He really stepped up his game in this book, and he managed to show some backbone.  I think his relationship with Celaena is important, but he's a more interesting character without her as a romantic interest. He was stronger, and more of a leader in Heir of Fire, because he stopped moping and thinking about Celaena all the time.

I'm still team Chaol. I'm just not as opposed to Dorian as I was in the first two books.

And what about our leading lady, Celaena? She's in a foreign country, sent by Chaol and the King on a mission. Celaena, however, has other plans. And as she "befriends" Rowan, and begins to hone her new skills, readers will get more insight into her past. I think it's interesting to see Celaena humbled and struggling. It makes her more human and relatable. If there's one thing that that Heir of Fire does right, it's character development. This book is rich with character development--for characters both old and new.

Speaking of new characters, I have to give a shoutout to a very special new character: Manon Blackbeak. She's a witch, and the heir of a very well-to-do clan. It takes a number of pages to see how her story will eventually intertwine with Celaena's, but it will. And I cannot wait to see Celaena and Manon meet. It's going to be epic. These two ladies are absolutely fierce, strong, and independent women. Also: I want a wvyren! Now!

Heir of Fire is not a perfect book. In fact, I found the first half of Heir of Fire a bit slow and tedious, but Maas ramps up the drama and intrigue at the end. And I think most fans will be satisfied and aching for book four! I know I am after those CRAZY last few chapters!

Thank you, Sarah, for writing this amazing series! I cannot wait to see what's in store for Celaena in the next book.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review Kiss of Deception

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
Release: July 8, 2014
Source: ARC from publisher

In this timeless new trilogy about love and sacrifice, a princess must find her place in a reborn world.

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.

The Kiss of Deception is the first book in a new Young Adult fantasy series. And while I can think of a few other fantasy books that I enjoyed more, I am glad that gave this book a try.

There's nothing unique about the plot. Princesses often run away and resist arranged marriages. The main character is often "special" or the "chosen one". Love triangles are a staple in Young Adult series. These are cliches that Pearson uses, and in her skilled hands, she's crafted a story that I genuinely cared about.

Lia is the first daughter, born with the belief that she'd inherit powers. Lia knows she doesn't have the power, though. And she knows that her marriage of convenience to a neighboring country's princes is a sham. So she runs away, and settles for a new life in a small little village. While there, she meets two men. Unknown to her, one man is the jilted prince and the other is an assassin sent to kill her.

Yes, this book has a love triangle. But I think that it is handled well. Lia isn't wishy-washy, as she clearly has a preference.

My favorite aspects of this book, though, are the characters and the world. I found Lia very relatable, and I loved her faithful companion Pauline. It goes without saying that I also found the two men swoon worthy. The world, too, is incredibly rich. I have a feeling that Pearson only barely scratched the surface, and I look forward to reading more about this world.

I also have to admit that Pearson really managed to mess with my head. For the first half of the book, the identity of each of the two men are kept a secret. I had my suspicions of who was the prince and who was the assassin. And I was wrong. Now that I think about it, though, I recall hints carefully placed that identified each man. The fact that Pearson was able to trick me was impressive, and it added a bit of mystery that had me turning page after page.

If you are looking for a fun YA fantasy, this just might do the trick. It's not a perfect book, but I very much enjoyed the read.