Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: Devoted

Title: Devoted
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Publisher: Macmillan
Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Goodreads | Book Depository

"Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays everyday, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can't shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul."

Jennifer Mathieu's sophomore novel is an exemplary display of the power of Quiet YA. Devoted tells the story of Rachel Walker, who is raised in a Quiverfull community - a fundamental Christian movement that focuses on the subservience of women to men, and places great importance on having a large family. (The Duggars, for example, are part of this movement.) I was hesitant to read this at first, because I largely do not enjoy Christian lit, especially not books that glorify the "Christian Patriarchy." I was pleasantly surprised by Devoted, because it provides an honest portrayal of what it's like to question everything you've been raised to believe, and how to make your own way.

I want to make it clear that Mathieu did her research for this book: she interviewed girls who grew up in Quiverfull communities, so that she could accurately represent their beliefs and customs. Knowing that Rachel's family was based on facts and similar families made it difficult to read the first half of this book, because I knew it was all true. That girls are being raised in that environment, and taught that their only worth is derived from being a wife and having children. There were scenes that broke my heart for Rachel, and for every other girl in her situation who had questions she would be punished and shunned to ask, dreams she would be persecuted for wanting.

Ultimately, Rachel wants to know about the world outside of her church, of her potential outside the home. Seeing Rachel struggle with herself and her situation, which was wonderfully written, made me root for her so much. I wanted Rachel to make whatever decision was right for her - to stay or go.

There is a bit of a romance in this book, and I could take it or leave it. It didn't really add much to the story for me, but I could appreciate how it gave another facet to Rachel's experiences in the "real world." I enjoyed her relationship with Lauren, a girl who escaped their church years previously. But ultimately, Rachel made this book for me. I adored her character, and her strength, and I can't remember the last time I rooted so hard for a character to rise above.

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Celebrating Diversity and Diverse Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish, and each Tuesday has a different theme. This week's topic is "Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters." At first I thought I'd have no trouble coming up with a list, but I quickly realized that most of my diverse reads focused on LGBTQ characters/relationships. While that's obviously still great, I wish that I had more books on this list that highlight different cultures, religions, disabilities, etc. So if you have any recommendations for me, especially your favorite diverse reads, I'd love to hear about them!

1. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. Aaron Soto can almost handle being poor in the Bronx and dealing with the fallout of his father's suicide. But when he starts to fall for his friend Thomas, Aaron has to decide if he wants the new Leteo Institute to erase his memories and make him forget this part of himself.

2. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. (This doesn't come out until September, but I got an ARC so I'm cheating.) Madeline is allergic to everything, and the rare disease that causes her allergies is so severe that she cannot leave her home. So when a cute boy moves in next door and tries to strike up a friendship, Madeline has to decide if she'll let him into her bubble...and her heart. [I included this in today's list because Maddy is a WOC and also has a life-threatening disease/disability.]

3. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Will Traynor lived the perfect life, until an accident left him quadriplegic and determined to commit suicide with dignity. Desperately in need of a job, Louisa has no idea what she's getting into when she agrees to me his companion. (Spoilers for the reader: you are in for a MONSOON OF TEARS.)

4. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. This novel follows Hercules and Patroclus as they grow up together leading to the Trojan War. It ends like we all know it does, with Patroclus dead and Hercules devastated by grief, but Miller almost has you believing it could end differently. It's simply a beautiful story about two great warriors and the love they shared.

5. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. You haven't read this book yet? No, go and do it right now. I'll wait.

6. Proxy by Alex London. In a society where patrons can pay for proxies to take their punishments, Syd has almost survived long enough to earn his freedom before his patron kills someone else - the cost of which is Syd's life. It's amazing, just trust me.

7. The Curse Worker's Trilogy by Holly Black. This trilogy takes place in a world where a certain portion of the population has the ability to "work" different things (emotions, luck, death) through the touch of their hands, and in an effort to protect workers and non-workers, everyone wears gloves. Our main character Cassel is a POC and one of my all-time favorite male protagonists.

8. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. Pretty much the only part of this book that I enjoyed was the Middle Eastern setting and culture. Just saying.

9. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This takes place in France during WWII, and the female protagonist is blind. This is a beautiful story.

10. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. This fantasy standalone features a LGBTQ relationship that had me squealing with delight and feels. SO GOOD.

What are your favorite diverse reads/books that feature diverse characters? As I said, I'm trying to read more diversely, so any recommendations would be appreciated!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

ARC Review: Song of Summer

Title: Song of Summer*
Author: Laura Lee Anderson
Publisher: Bloomsbury Spark
Publication Date: July 7, 2015
Goodreads / Amazon

"The thirteen qualities of Robin's Perfect Man range from the mildly important "Handsome?" to the all-important "Good taste in music?" After all, Westfield's best high school folk musician can't go out with some schmuck who only listens to top 40 crap. So when hot Carter Paulson walks int he door of Robin's diner, it looks like the list may have come to light after all...until she realizes he's profoundly deaf.

Carter isn't looking for a girlfriend. Especially not a hearing one. Not that he has anything against hearing girls, they just don't speak the same language. But when the cute waitress at Grape Country Dairy makes an effort to talk with him, he takes her out on his yellow Ducati motorcycle. Music, language, and culture all take a backseat as love drives the bike. But long long can this summer really last?"

Full disclosure: I very nearly DNF this book. In fact, I actually put it down for about a week before forcing myself to finish reading. I also did something I very rarely do - I gave this book 1 star on Goodreads. I seem to have pretty bad luck with ARCs lately.

I was originally intrigued by this premise because I want to read more diverse books, and a profoundly deaf main character really drew me in. I went into this reading experience with high hopes for Carter and his relationship with Robin, but was ultimately disappointed. Song of Summer was yet another example of the overly cliché contemporary that causes me to distrust this genre on the whole (my faves Stephanie Perkins and Sarah Dessen withstanding). The characters all felt one-dimensional, and conversations and interactions read so unrealistically. Those are probably my biggest pet peeves with books - people aren't really like that! Everything just came across as forced and fake, and I felt no connection with any characters.

I also wasn't rooting for Robin and Carter - I never understood why they liked each other, or why I should care. Because this was the most cliché of contemporary tropes, of course the time came for them to have some sort of confrontation and break up, so they could miraculously get back together right at the very end. Their big "fight" was honestly ridiculous - do authors intentionally refuse to write characters who know how to communicate? (and no, that has nothing to do with Carter being deaf since he's actually the more mature of them) Ultimately, rather than accepting Carter as he is, Robin wants him to change (for a girl he's known a month, mind you), and when she thinks he's willfully refusing to (which is his right), she loses it. Robin was beyond annoying, and that scene made me want Carter to pack up his Ducati and leave her behind.

Song of Summer is only available as an ebook through Bloomsbury Spark for $4, which is pretty cheap for an ebook. If you love cheesy contemporary romance, then you might enjoy this. But if you want a genuinely good contemporary read, you should pass on this.

Recommended Reading:
Stephanie Perkins (the Anna/Lola/Isla trilogy is the best contemporary, ever)
Robin Benway (read about my love for Emmy and Oliver)
Huntley Fitzpatrick (I can't wait for The Boy Most Likely To!)
Sarah Dessen (THE QUEEN)

*I received this an eARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review: The Heart of Betrayal

Title: The Heart of Betrayal
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Publisher: Macmillan/Fierce Reads
Publication Date: July 7. 2015
Goodreads / Book Depository

"Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape...and even less chance of being together. Desperate to save her life, Lia's erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has a magical gift, and the Komizar's interest in Lia is greater than either Kaden or Lia foresaw.

Meanwhile, the foundations of Lia's deeply-held beliefs are crumbling beneath her. Nothing is straightforward: there's Rafe, who lied to her, but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom she always believed to be barbarians but whom she now realizes are people who have been terribly brutalized by the kingdoms of Dalbreck and Morrighan. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her very sense of self, Lia will have to make powerful choices that affect her country, her people...and her own destiny."

To say that The Heart of Betrayal was one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2015 would be a major understatement. Its predecessor, The Kiss of Deception, was published last year and blew me away with its vivid story and plot twist that no one saw coming. The Heart of Betrayal picks up right where the first book left off, and I'll go ahead and spoil you: this sequel does not disappoint. It may even be better than the first.

I can't go into too much detail without spoiling the first book, so I'll keep things a bit more general in this review, with an emphasis on thematic elements instead. The Heart of Betrayal takes place entirely within Venda, and one of the slow-burn amazing things about this book was how much you learn and come to understand about this kingdom, its people, and their customs. By far my favorite aspect of this installment was seeing Lia grow into even more of a badass, which I almost didn't think was possible. She learns how to play the game with a political shrewdness, and her further character development was done so well. Lia is cold and calculating in this book, and it made me like her so much more. I found Lia to be reminiscent of Kestrel from the Winner's Trilogy, and I mean that in a really good way.

Of course, the prince and the assassin are the other major players in this book, and this may be the first time I didn't really mind a love triangle, because I can't figure out who I would choose. Both Rafe and Kaden are complicated, and although Lia aligns herself with one of them, I think it's pretty obvious that things aren't quite settled. We learn more about Kaden's backstory in this installment, which I really enjoyed. The reader understands how Kaden came to be an assassin, and his relationship with the Komizar. Ultimately, I'm still #TeamLia because as this book demonstrates, she's more than capable without a man slowing her down.

Although it killed me, the ending of this novel was incredible. So much happens in the last few pages that I almost couldn't keep up. Mary Pearson brings such intensity to this book, and there's definitely a moment when you realized just how deeply screwed everything is...I feared for our trio. I'm still afraid for them, after reading the last page.

The only qualms I had with The Heart of Betrayal centered around the world building. We still know pretty much nothing about "the gift," much less how Lia is supposed to use it to save the world. I thought we'd get at least some background or fuller explanation in this book, but 400 pages later and I still know as much as I did after the first book. Also, the history of Morrighan and Venda and their world in general gets turned on its head in this installment, and it was a bit confusing at times. Mainly my biggest gripe with The Heart of Betrayal is that the third book isn't out so I could immediately continue the story.

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended Reading:
The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski - Goodreads / Book Depository
Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo - Goodreads / Book Depository

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

#SummerOfSarah Check In: June

Sorry this is so belated guys! I've been ill and then on vacation, but I'm back on track if slightly belated. As we all know, this year I'm doing the #SummerOfSarah, in which I reread all twelve of Sarah Dessen's novels during the summer of 2015. In the month of June, I read the first four books, so keep reading to see what I thought of them!

That Summer (Goodreads): Sarah's first novel was published back in 1996, and rereading it now, you can definitely tell. No cell phones! That Summer is centered around Haven during a summer when her family is in upheaval and she can't stop growing taller. I adore the focus on family in this book, and that we all remember events and people differently. Plus, this book was made into the movie How to Deal with Mandy Moore, along with...

Someone Like You (Goodreads): This book is a great friendship tale, as it chronicles best friends Halley and Scarlet after Scarlet's boyfriend dies and she discovers that she's pregnant with his child. I enjoyed this so much while I was reading, and while it's not necessarily one of her most well known books, it's one that feels comforting whenever I return to it.

Keeping the Moon (Goodreads): This has always been a book I want to enjoy more than I actually do. I adore Morgan and Isobel's friendship, and I try to root for Colie, but it's too difficult to embrace her character. Obviously a personal opinion, but I just don't like her as much as Sarah's other protags. It's by far the most lackluster "romance" of Dessen's dozen, although Norman on his own is such a great character.

Dreamland (Goodreads): Inarguably Sarah's darkest book, Dreamland deals with an abusive relationship, and at times it's heartbreaking to watch Caitlin suffer through Rogerson and lose herself along the way. This is definitely #QuietYA, and I think it gets overlooked a lot compared to her other books, but it's so impactful.

I'll admit that reading chronologically means that I read my least favorite books first. While I don't dislike any of the four above, I identify more with the books to come (especially in July!). These first four, however, are great examples of what I think Sarah does best - relationships. Friendships, romance, family...Sarah knows how to write an honest dynamic.

Have you been reading along for the #SummerOfSarah? Let me know, as well as if you're planning to read any of the July books: This Lullaby, The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, and Lock & Key!