Thursday, June 25, 2015

Review: Emmy and Oliver

Title: Emmy and Oliver
Author: Robin Benway
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: June 23, 2015

"Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy's soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles - impossible to fit together?

Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life... She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach - go anywhere without her parents' relentless worrying. But Emmy's parents can't seem to let her grown up - not since the day Oliver disappeared.

Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart. He'd thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who had kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing, and his thoughts swirling.

Readers who love Sarah Dessen will devour these pages with hearts in throats as Emmy and Oliver struggle to face the messy, confusing consequences of Oliver's father's crime. Full of romance, coming-of-age emotion, and heartache, these two equally compelling characters create an unforgettable story."

When my two favorite contemporary authors - Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins - started hyping this book months ago, I knew I needed to read Emmy & Oliver. I'm usually very cautious (and rather skeptical) when it comes to contemporary YA, but Emmy & Oliver blew me away. Yes, the characters are in high school and have overbearing parents who just don't get it, god! But Emmy & Oliver is so much more, and the story focuses intimately upon how everyone's lives are impacted by Oliver's kidnapping and subsequent return. From my reading, Emmy & Oliver is fundamentally about three things: friendship, feminism, and finding yourself (yay alliteration!).

The friendships in this book were amazing. I so enjoyed the dynamic between Emmy, Caro, and Drew. Their friendship felt so real, from the secrets they share to the quick-fire quips they throw at one another. There's the central dynamic between all three, but each of them has a special connection to the others. A true character test for me is that I could 100% imagine what Caro and Drew do when they're not with Emmy. Drew's relationship with Kevin was so damn cute, I wanted to hear more about Drew and his Starbucks barista. Also, bonus points to Robin for showing something YA authors tend to shy away from - teenagers curse, A LOT OK.

Emmy and Oliver is undeniably a feminist book. The overprotectiveness of Emmy's parents has nothing to do with her being a girl, and at no point in this novel are any of Emmy's struggles ascribed to or derivative of her being female. Robin Benway brilliantly injects social commentary that's real, not heavy handed. There are several moments, including Emmy getting catcalled at the beach, but one scene in particular stands out. Emmy and Caro are getting ready for a party, and Oliver doesn't understand why "you're not like other girls" isn't a compliment. Their response is perfect: "what's wrong with being like other girls?"

I adored Emmy, with her awkward responses and secret surfing, but Oliver stole the show for me. He spent ten years with his dad, and then is returned to a mother he doesn't know, people he doesn't remember, and reporters eager for a story. My heart kept breaking for Oliver, and you see him struggle with reconciling everything that's happened to him. The relationship between Oliver and Emmy is complex, but really sweet.

I loved Emmy & Oliver so much that I'll probably read it again next weekend at the beach. I laughed, I cried, the whole shebang...because this book felt so real. It's about being a teenager and trying to be yourself when others want you to be something else. But it's also about family, and distance, and reconciling the memory of a person with the reality of them. Robin created a story I know I'll return to often. Highly, highly recommend.

Rating: 5 stars

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Review: Daughter of Deep Silence

Title: Daughter of Deep Silence
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: May 26, 2015

"I am the daughter of murdered parents. 
I'm the friend of a dead girl.
I'm the lover of my enemy.
And I will have my revenge.

In the wake of the devastating destruction of the luxury yacht Persephone, just three souls remain to tell its story - and two of them are lying. Only Frances Mace knows the terrifying truth, and she'll stop at nothing to avenge the murders of everyone she held dear. Even if it means taking down the boy she loves and possibly losing herself in the process. Sharp & incisive, Daughter of Deep Silence by bestselling author Carrie Ryan is a deliciously smart revenge thriller that examines perceptions of identity, love, and the lengths to which one girl is willing to go when she thinks she has nothing to lose."

Daughter of Deep Silence was definitely an out-of-my-comfort-zone read. I'm not usually a big fan of thrillers, and TV shows like Revenge tend to provide more anxiety than entertainment. But I'd heard good things about this book, so when I spotted Daughter of Deep Silence at my local library, I decided to give it a try.

Frances watched her parents be brutally murdered, and then her best friend die moments before they were rescued. At the urging of Libby's father Cecil, Frances assumes Libby's identity. Four years after the attack on the Persephone, Frances returns with a plan to find out the truth, and get revenge. After years of obsessive research and shaping herself into a new person, Frances is a force to be reckoned with. Daughter of Deep Silence was a complete departure from my usual reading, but it had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. The novel takes a running start and never ceases in its breakneck pace. I really enjoyed that aspect: the book whizzed by because there was so much constantly happening without pause. To see Frances' meticulously constructed plan fall into place was awe-inspiring, if a bit disturbing. I loved that the story was so intense, that you never really get a chance to catch your breath.

Where things fell apart a bit for me were the other characters. Maybe it's that Frances is so vivid that everyone else kind of fades in comparison. For a media trained senator's son, Grey is conveniently easy to manipulate (seemingly because he's a teenage boy and Frances is attractive). But I really got lost when it came to Frances/Libby. She's spent the past four years becoming Libby, and then she develops feelings for Grey (again, or maybe still, despite making it her mission in life to destroy him and his dad), and then her entire identity seems to fall apart. Suddenly, she's torn between Frances and Libby, and if I'm honest it all did my head in a bit. Frances struggles between her two "selves" and it made me feel crazy. Maybe that was the author's intention, and if so congrats Carrie, because damn. The entire book is so focused on Frances' plan and need for revenge, but then towards the end certain revelations came a little too easily/conveniently, and I wasn't sure how to feel about the final "resolution." Ultimately I enjoyed Daughter of Deep Silence and its terrifying intensity.

Daughter of Deep Silence needs to be on your radar if you love thrillers and revenge stories, because Carrie Ryan's latest novel is filled with moments that will have you whispering "oh my god what is happening" late into the night. Seriously, I'm never getting on a cruise ship again.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Review: Uprooted

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey (US) & Tor (UK)
Publication Date: May 19, 2015 (US) & May 21, 2015 (UK)

"Our Dragon doesn't eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course, that's not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he's still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we're grateful, but not that grateful.

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on its borders, full of malevolent powers, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn't, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to saver her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose."

I know I'm a little late on the bandwagon with this, but once I got a look at that beautiful UK cover (as opposed to the definitely not-as-nice US one), I had to wait for it to arrive from the Book Depository. In the meantime, I read amazing review after amazing review about this book, and I started to worry about all that hype. But now that I've read Uprooted myself, I can safely say it is deserving of ALL THE HYPE.

First off, this book is technically adult fiction, but I think it's a really good crossover - the main character Agnieszka is seventeen, and although there are a couple sexy times (*fans self*) it still read almost like YA to me. The concept is awesome: a wizard takes a girl every ten years, and everyone is surprised when instead of taking the beautiful and brave Kasia as expected, the Dragon chooses Agnieszka. That kicks things off, but the book evolves so much beyond that. Agnieszka grows so much throughout the story, and becomes a badass witch herself along the way. The characterization in this story is incredible, from headstrong Agnieszka to the surly Dragon to the foolishly brave Prince Marek.

One of my favorite aspects of Uprooted is the Wood. A sentient, dark Wood that causes men to kill each other and trees that ensnare people to drain their life force. I got chills from how unflinchingly cruel the Wood is, and how alive it is. These are not Tolkien's trees, y'all. Gives a whole new perspective to that Taylor Swift lyric:

The best part of this book is the way it portrays relationships. While the relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon is equal parts swoony and steamy, it wasn't the main relationship in my opinion. The friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia is by far the strongest connection in Uprooted. The two girls grew up together, always expecting Kasia to be taken by the Dragon, but when Agnieszka is chosen it throws their lives and relationship into chaos. They have to face their resentment towards each other in one scene, and it was heartbreaking to read. But ultimately, they cling to and protect each other as only best friends can, and this display of such strong female friendship truly makes the novel an even more spectacular read.

Uprooted is an epic fantasy that breathes new life into the genre, by placing female friendship and a strong, realistic female protag at the forefront of the battle against the malevolent Wood. If you enjoy epic fantasy - hell, even if you don't but want to try something new - this needs to be the next book you pick up. The fantasy books I've read lately all seem to blur together because they end up being too similar, too ordinary. But I was blown away by Uprooted, and if you give it a chance I think you will be, too.

Rating: 5 stars

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Review: Silver in the Blood

I was provided an ARC in exchange for a review, but this is no way affects the content of my review or my opinion of this book. Thank you to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for this advance copy.

Title: Silver in the Blood
Author: Jessica Day George
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release: July 7, 2015

"As spoiled society girls from New York City circa 1890, Dacia and Lou never desired to know more about their lineage, instead preferring to gossip about their mysterious Romanian relatives, the Florescus. But upon turning seventeen, the girls must return to their homeland to meet their family, find proper husbands, and - most terrifyingly - learn the secrets of The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke. The Florescus, after all, are shape-shifters, bound by a centuries-old tradition to do the bidding of the royal Dracula family and it is time for Dacia and Lou to take their place among the ranks. But when the devilish heir, Mihai Dracula, sets his sights on Dacia as part of his plan to secure power over all of Europe, the girls choose to fight against this cruel inheritance with all their might. Only the dashing Lord Johnny Hardcastle and the mysterious Theophilus Arkady - members of a secret society charged with ridding the world of monsters - can help Dacia and Lou, but breaking the shackles of their upbringing will require more courage than the girls ever imagined.

The thrilling start to a richly drawn, romance-filled series, this epic adventure of two girls in a battle for their lives will have readers coming back for more."

There's been a fair bit of buzz around Silver in the Blood, which is released on July 7. Lots of bloggers who love fantasy spoke about how excited they were for this book, so I hoped this novel was going to kick off an exciting and unique new trilogy. But...I got myself into a bit of a mess with this one. I wanted to DNF this book, but because I agreed to review, I had to push through. Needless to say, I did not enjoy Silver in the Blood.

My first - and biggest - problem with this book is that I simply did not care about any of the characters. Dacia and Lou are spoiled and annoyingly pathetic, even in their moments of "strength." The entire cast of characters is one-dimensional and everyone has a singular, cliche personality. While the setting was really intriguing (I've never read a book set in Romania and wanted to learn more about it), the setting was probably the high point of this novel. Absolutely nothing of importance (or action) happens in the first 40% of the book, and the book blurb tells you literally everything else that goes down. They learn about their family secret, refuse to play soldier, and then Things Go Down. Well, kind of. The action scenes didn't really make much sense while reading, and nearly every single conversation and interaction between characters felt like it only existed to move the plot forward. All tell, no show. I was really disappointed on the whole, because I thought this would be a great fantasy read.

I'm keeping this short because it doesn't pay to harp on something I simply didn't enjoy. Sometimes a book just doesn't work for you, and this was one of those times. If you're already a fan of Jessica Day George and her previous books, then you should probably still give this a try. But if you're looking for a brilliant fantasy read...well, there are better options out there.

Rating: 2 stars (actually more like 1.5)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by the ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish, and each week has a different theme for bloggers to select their top ten of. This week I decided to join in on the weekly fun. After you read my top ten, go and check what other participating bloggers chose here.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is the Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List. These aren't all necessarily "summer" books, but nonetheless books that I'm dying to read between now and August. There's a mix of old and new, upcoming releases and well-loved favorites.

1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik: This is a bit of a cheat because I'm currently reading (and loving) it. Every ten years the Dragon picks a girl from Agnieszka's village to stay with him in his tower. Everyone knew her best friend Kasia would be picked when they turned seventeen...until the Dragon surprised them all and chose Agnieszka instead.

2. Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway: I've already preordered my copy, and can't wait for it to arrive on June 23. Emmy and Oliver were supposed to be best friends forever, until Oliver's father kidnaps him and they're forced to spend years apart. Now that Oliver's back, everything has changed.

3. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon: This isn't out until September, but I managed to swing an ARC from Netgalley so HUZZAH I AM VICTORIOUS and will read this very soon. It's about a girl who's allergic to everything, and the relationship she strikes up with the boy who moves in next door.

4. Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu: I didn't read Jennifer's debut, which dealt with slut-shamming and high school bullying because, well...I just can't read those books. But her sophomore effort is getting crazy amazing buzz around the book community. I can't wait to read about the protag, who was raised in a Quiverfull community and begins to question her religion, her family, and her place in the world.

5. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews: I wanted to read this because the film just came out in theaters...but it's not playing anywhere near me. Regardless, I still want to read this much-loved book about a guy, his bro, and a girl with cancer he's forced to befriend. Lots of people love this even more than TFIOS (no, I promise I won't start this again), so it's high up on the summer TBR.

6. The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson: Sweet mother of sequels, I'll be stalking my mail box on July 7 when this is finally released. The sequel to The Kiss of Deception, I fully expect The Heart of Betrayal to hurt just as good as its predecessor. I'm so looking forward to diving back into this world, and will probably reread The Kiss of Deception to remind myself of the total mind-eff of who's who that goes down. Because damn that messed me up.

7. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen: Look, there is a thing you need to know about me. This Lullaby is one of my all-time favorite books, ever. Ever. It just is. 2015 is the #SummerOfSarah, so this book is getting read in July, and I'm already looking forward to seeing Remy and Dexter again. This Lullaby is one of my personal trifecta of Sarah Dessen novels, including Just Listen and...

8. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen: This damn book, also being read in July for #SummerOfSarah. I haven't been able to read this book since my dad died, but I feel like it's time to revisit Macy and appreciate her in a whole new way.

9. Vivian Versus the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle: Also called Vivian Apple at the End of the World in America (I got the UK edition because I preferred that title, soz not soz). I don't know about you, but nothing screams summer to me quite like a road trip across American after the Rapture.

10. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: Apparently I want to cry this summer, I don't know. Two of my best friends read this book and, despite the monsoon of tears it caused, both loved it. I also recently found out that it's being made into a movie with Sam Claflin as the male lead, so...yeah, it's happening. I need to know what's going to happen so next year when I'm in the theater I can focus on Sam Claflin. Priorities.

Let me know what's on your TBR list for this summer!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Review: More Happy Than Not

Title: More Happy Than Not
Author: Adam Silvera
Publisher: Soho Teen, 6-2-2015

"The Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems to good to be true to Aaron Soto - miracle cure-alls don't tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can't forget how he's grown up poor or how his friends aren't always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it's not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn't mind Aaron's obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn't mind talking about Aaron's past. But Aaron's newfound happiness isn't welcome on his block. Since he can't stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is."

More Happy Than Not was hands-down my most anticipated debut this year. Adam Silvera's first novel combines two of my favorite things: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I'll be completely honest here and admit that I don't even know how to "review" this book. Much like Aristotle and Dante, it's difficult to explain why I was so affected by More Happy Than Not. Aaron lives in a place where it's dangerous to be himself, and has to deal with the added burdens of poverty and his father's suicide. There were moments when the harsh realities of Aaron's world made me feel slightly uncomfortable, but they served as moments for me to check my privilege and get a glimpse into what LGBTQ people have to experience. More than anything, this book was enlightening, and so damn powerful.

The cast of characters is a remarkable ensemble, every single person from our protag to MeCrazy feels real, and their conversations and interactions read like actual people would, not just ways to move the plot forward. The relationship between Aaron and Thomas develops so genuinely, and it was almost disarmingly heartwarming to witness Aaron find a true best friend. There comes a point in which certain things are revealed, and in that shocking moment of realization I had to stop reading, cry it out, and pull myself together. I pride myself on spotting plot twists and being unsurprised by big reveals, but More Happy Than Not caught me off guard (and I loved it).

More Happy Than Not brings into question some major themes: identity and memory most of all. The Leteo Institute allows people to repress certain memories so that they can live "better" lives. Aaron wants Leteo to make him forget that he's gay, but can you ever really forget who you are? Silvera brilliantly tackles this question, and while reading you can't help but wonder...what would I forget? If it forgot it, would I still be me? Or would I become a new, edited version of myself, forever split into pre- and post-forgetting?

Aaron Silvera's debut novel is a truly extraordinary read that brings sexuality, class, and race to the forefront of discussion. For a novel that confronts such heavy topics, More Happy Than Not is ultimately hopeful. Despite painful memories and self doubt, you have to make the choice to live your life, and realize that you can choose to be more happy than not (sorry, couldn't help myself).

Rating: 5 stars

Let me there a memory you wouldn't mind letting Leteo erase?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mini Reviews #1

I've decided to try something a little different and post some mini reviews. Sometimes I read a book and either don't have enough to say for a full review, or don't have a chance to post a review around publication date. So I have three mini reviews of recent (last couple months) releases. Let me know what you think of this format, and what you've been reading lately!

Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge (Balzer + Bay/HarperCollins, 4-28-2015)

I thoroughly enjoyed Cruel Beauty, so expectations were high for this not-sequel set in the same world. After an encounter with a forestborn turns Rachelle into a bloodbound, her anger (towards herself and her situation), causes her to resent Armand, who claims to have walked away from a forestborn losing only his hands instead of his soul. Rachelle is a fierce heroine, and her struggle with her own identity was painful and powerful, yet she still felt realistic. There are so many layers and facets to Armand that you're never quite able to pin his character down, and he provides a great foil to Rachelle (with great banter). Hodge is beyond talented at writing into the darkness - certain parts provide an almost sinister reading experience, and you can feel the forest creeping into the edges of you vision and the pages. The greatest shortcoming of this novel, however, was the romance. The love triangle, while it served a purpose, felt like a plot device, not any genuine emotional connection. Rachelle and Eric made me a bit uncomfortable. I really rooted for Rachelle and Armand and wanted them to get together, but it didn't come together that well, and left me wanting more for their relationship. Overall, this was a great action story with a kickass ba girl and clever good guy. As far as recent fairytale retellings go, this is a stand out. Crimson Bound is a massive tome and I devoured it in two sittings. If you always wanted your fairytales with more grit and (slightly existential) darkness, Crimson Bound needs to be on the top of your TBR pile.

Rating: 4 stars

The Wrath and The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh (Putnam, 5-12-2015)

A retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, Ahdieh's debut novel tells the tale of a young Caliph who takes a wife every night and kills her every morning, and the young woman who volunteers. The Wrath and the Dawn was a very highly anticipated release this year, and it got a lot of hype in the book community. This was a fresh take on the fairytale retelling trend, and introduced some much-needed diversity at the same time. The Middle Eastern setting and culture were perhaps the most vibrant aspects of this book. Because on the whole, this book was a major disappointment. This book begins with the premise that Shazi volunteers so that she can kill Khalid - instead, they fall in love. The real issue is that these mutual feelings develop unrealistically, and oh my the way, he's still the guy who killed your best friend and we get the barest explanation of why he's not a psycho bad guy. It just made no sense to me, and prevented me from enjoying their relationship/story. Further, the dynamics between all characters were unbelievable and all tell, no show. Ahdieh's writing itself is also hugely distracting, filled with nonsensical metaphors (like the poison toying with its remedy???) and exhaustingly overused descriptors. If I ever read/hear the phrase "tiger eyes" again, I will cause physical harm to myself and/or others. The Wrath and the Dawn is, of course, the first book in a series (that I won't be continuing).

Rating: 2.5 stars

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey (Delacorte Press, 4-28-2015)

The Girl at Midnight had a fair amount of buzz around its April release, a great deal of which was caused by its comparison to Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. This is a tall order, since DoSaB is a beloved saga with gorgeous writing. In truth, there are quite a lot of similarities, especially in the beginning. An orphan human girl is taken in and raised by a benevolent parent figure creature. But the fact of the matter is that TGaM is not even close to the same quality. There are some lovely lines, but on the whole I never felt like I had to keep reading or couldn't turn the page fast enough. I enjoyed how diverse the cast of characters was, but they still all felt rather flat and one-dimensional. Echo, the main protagonist, is the only real standout (although I appreciated Jasper for his comic relief). This book felt rather unimpressive on the whole, which was disappointing because it was so highly anticipated (and high on my 2015 releases list). Sadly, I don't know if I'll read the sequel when it comes out next year. The Girl at Midnight was good and enjoyable if you don't go in expecting too much. It certainly reads like a debut novel, but hopefully this series will improve in future installments. Fans of urban fantasy should give this a try - lots of people have loved this, so you might too.

Rating: 3 (generous) stars