Thursday, August 27, 2015

ARC Review: Hunter

Title: Hunter*
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Goodreads | Book Depository

“They came after the Diseray. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares. Monsters. Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it’s taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits live in enclosed communities, behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break though. Others are not so lucky.

To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people. Joy soon realizes that they city’s powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers, and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they’re in – to them, Joy and her corps of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV. When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, Joy uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than actual monsters infiltrating Apex. And it may be too late to stop them.”

For a very long time, I didn’t believe in DNFing books. I simply refused to quit, and would force myself to keep reading, even if I hated every line. As I’ve gotten older and taken my reading more seriously, I’ve come to realize that not every book needs to be finished. There are too many books that I want to read and will actually enjoy to waste my time trudging through books that I just don’t enjoy. Enter Hunter by Mercedes Lackey, stage right.

This book sounded intriguing, although I didn’t have quite so intricate of a synopsis with my ARC to go off of. Perhaps I would have been better prepared for the battle to come. Mercedes Lackey has written many, many books, of which I have read none. But I love female warrior protags and usually enjoy whatever Disney-Hyperion publishes, so I went in blind but with high hopes. This book was, in a word, awful. So awful in fact that I couldn’t even force myself to finish it. I had to DNF this book at a measly quarter of the way through. I did not read far enough to encounter any of the real plot conflict, or even more than a couple characters, and barely a handful of dialogue scenes. 25% of this book gone and nothing happened.

Allow me to explain my decision to DNF this book, and why I won’t be recommending this to anyone. The first reason is, for me, the most unforgiveable: the writing. Lackey’s writing in this book (as I said, I have no experience with any of her previous works), was painful to get through. Written in the first person, the prose is juvenile and uninspired. Even though you’re in Joy’s head the entire time, I have no idea if she even has a personality or interests. Lackey spends the first 15% of the book info dumping, and not even in a clever way. It’s lazy world building, and I don’t appreciate that. Even the target audience, which is admittedly much younger than me, wouldn’t appreciate it. So fifty pages or so have passed, and we know all kinds of random information about post-Diseray agriculture and religion, but nothing about our main character besides the fact that she’s the best. Just take her word for it.

The inevitable comparison to other YA dystopian novels is undeniable, The Hunger Games chief among them. Even if you could get past the writing, the simple fact of the matter is that this book is wholly unoriginal. It is every other YA book in which a girl is plucked from her humble beginnings because of her special skill and brought to the shining capital city to become the Chosen One, discover the secret evils of society, and probably fall into a love triangle along the way. And that makes me unspeakably angry. YA readers deserve better than the same recycled plot points. And adding in monsters from another world with the oh-so-clever name “Othersiders” does not an original story make. I weep for the lack of originality in YA these days, and Hunter exemplifies all of this.

Did I finish reading this book? No. Do I know what happens after Joy reaches Apex City? No, but I could take a guess and almost certainly be right. Will I ever finish reading this? No. Do I recommend it, or it’s inevitable sequels in a forced trilogy? No, a thousand times no.

I do genuinely want to thank Disney-Hyperion for the advanced copy to review, but they have published other, far better books that you should read instead of this. Hunter comes out September 1, but so do three other books you should read instead – such as Everything, Everything, which I reviewed last week.

Rating: ⭐️

Have you read any books lately that you had to DNF? What are your thoughts on DNFing books? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Penguin Little Black Classics

Celebrating their 80th anniversary, Penguin Books released their Little Black Classics in February. This collection of 80 pocket-sized books that celebrate literature across cultures, disciplines, and history, plays upon the idea of the classic little black dress. All uniform in size, with a simple yet striking black and white design, these wide-ranging classics were released in the UK for only 80p! The size and affordability of this collection helps to make literature accessible to the masses, and coming in around 50-60 pages, they make for easily digestible introductions to different writers.

Each book in the collection is numbered 1-80, and features poetry, short stories, and selections from longer works. I was particularly impressed by the wide-ranging selection, which incorporates ancient writers such as Sappho and Ovid, beloved classic authors such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and comes write into the modern era with Wilfred Owens and Kate Chopin.

If you’re not in the UK, you can still pick up these Little Black Classics on Book Depository. I purchased three books in the collection, and already want to get a few more.

How To Use Your Enemies by Baltasar Gracián. “Unlikely Spanish priest Baltasar Gracián shows us how to exploit friends and enemies alike to thrive in a world of deception and illusion.” My favorite of the three, How to Use Your Enemies has an undeniably Machiavellian flair that makes this perfect reading material for newly sorted Slytherins. Just saying. I underlined several passages and lines throughout these 55 pages, and although Gracián was writing in the seventeenth century, many of his maxims still hold true to today’s society. Undeniably cynical and calculating, this may become my default book gift.

The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. “Written with barely controlled fury after she was confined to her room for ‘nerves’ and forbidden to write, Gilman’s pioneering feminist horror story scandalized nineteenth-century readers with its portrayal of a women who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do.” Gilman’s short story was my very first introduction to feminist literature, way back when I studied it in high school. And what an eye opening experience it was! The Yellow Wall-Paper is iconic for its disturbing story and style, and I inhale it upon every reread.

The Night is Darkening Round Me by Emily Brontë. “Some of Emily Brontë’s most extraordinary poems.” [Great synopsis, thanks Penguin.] I can’t quite remember why I picked this one up…probably because the little excerpt I read sounded so haunting. This poetry collection was just that – dark and haunting and romantic, in a way I imagine only a Brontë sister could accomplish. Admittedly, poetry is not something I have a natural appreciation for, but I really enjoyed most of this collection. “…ever present, phantom thing; my slave, my comrade, and my king.”

I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked on these darling pocket books, and plan to acquire many more. Not all 80, but at least a few. Here are the five Little Black Classics at the top of my “want to acquire just take my money” list:

Ovid, The Fall of Icarus
Sappho, Come Close
Wilfred Owen, Anthem for Doomed Youth
Kate Chopin, A Pair of Silk Stockings
Anton Chekhov, Gooseberries

What do you think of Penguin’s new take on the little black book? Any of these pocket readers calling your name?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

ARC Review: Everything, Everything

Title: Everything, Everything*
Author: Nicola Yoon
Publisher: Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Goodreads | BookDepository

“My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in 17 years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla. But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black – black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare back. His name is Olly. Maybe I can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster. “

Everything, Everything – coming like the Hogwarts Express on September 1st – has received major buzz in the book community, as far back as BEA and Yall West when the first ARCs were released into the world. But rather than an intense PR campaign, it was readers who generated the most hype for this book. I’m always more inclined to read a new release when other readers loved the book itself, not just the marketing gifts. (But that’s a discussion for another day.) Spoiler alert: this book is worth the hype.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I do not enjoy YA contemporary on the whole, and am highly critical of the books in that I genre I do read. Nicola Yoon’s debut novel is a powerful representation of one girl’s isolation and desire to experience the world beyond her house – a world that could kill her. Maddy has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), a disease that makes her allergic to everything, so her life is strictly regimented inside of the house she can never leave. This premise drew me in, but the characters kept me committed to the story.

Maddy, our protagonist, is held apart from the world, but not completely removed from it. Maddy felt so vibrant to me, and I enjoyed her personality and that she makes the most of her situation. She reads and posts reviews on her Tumblr, but everything that enters her house has to be sterilized. When Olly moves in next door with his black clothes and harsh family, Maddy knows she shouldn’t get attached. But inetivably, Olly and Maddy strike up a friendship, and then more, and Maddy realizes more than ever how unhappy she is within her bubble. The relationship between Maddy and Olly is really earnest and cute, and the reader gets to chart their progress through instant messages and drawings (all done by Yoon’s husband!)

Everything, Everything is so much more than “sick lit,” and I appreciated that there was another side to this story I didn’t expect. The ending completely took me by surprise, and I won’t say anything remotely spoilery other than: wow. Just, wow. Did not see that one coming. But it was, at the same time, brilliant. This is contemporary with some punch, y’all.

It’s also worth noting that Everything, Everything brings a dose of much-needed diversity to contemporary YA. Maddy is a POC and has a disability, which I honestly don’t think I’ve encountered before this book. There have been some mentions of another 2015 release with a female protag who’s allergic to seemingly everything (cough Magonia cough), and whether the two books are similar. In short: no. Everything, Everything is nothing like Magonia – and we all remember how I felt about that one. I adored Everything, Everything and highly recommend it as your next contemporary YA read. This may not be a fantasy book, but Nicola Yoon’s debut novel is nothing but magical. Pick up a copy when it hits shelves September 1!

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

*I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Penguin!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Great Harry Potter Reread: Prisoner of Azkaban

This year, a few of my best friends from college and I decided to buddy read the entire Harry Potter series together. Thus began The Great Harry Potter Reread of 2015. Each month, we read one book and discuss it (admittedly, we've already strayed from our intended schedule, but that's life when you're all either in grad school or work full time). I didn't share the first two books on this blog, because...well frankly Sorcerer's Stone isn't much to write about and Chamber of Secrets is my least favorite, so content quality would have been very low. However, Prisoner of Azkaban (PoA) was the reread for July, and oh do I have feelings about this book.

Prisoner of Azkaban has always been one of my favorite Harry Potter books, but it wasn't until rereading it in July that I realized it's tied for first place in my heart (alongside Order of the Phoenix, my eternal fave but we'll get to that in September). This book perhaps best symbolizes one of my favorite themes in this entire series: friendship. We follow two parallel friendships in this book - the Golden Trio and the Marauders. As we see Harry, Hermione, and Ron struggle with moments of tension (Crookshanks vs. Scabbers, the Firebolt incident, etc.), we also see their connection its strongest yet, and they come to rely upon and respect each other in a manner that will carry through the rest of the series. On the other hand, the reader is also introduced to the Marauders, both in their idealized form via the Marauder's Map and the actuality of their current lives. James is dead, Sirius was blamed and put in Azkaban, Peter is assumed dead but lives as a rat, and Remus was left behind. This parallel really stuck with me as I reread Prisoner of Azkaban, and it's obviously one that we see again (Dumbledore's Army and the Order of the Phoenix, anyone?).

Hermione Granger is by far my favorite character, and she really shines in PoA. Not only is she a total badass for slapping Draco Malfoy (cough Dramione cough), she also takes none of Trelawney's crap and drops Divination. The storyline with her Time Turner provides a great insight into Hermione's character. It's also a good reminder of how erudite Hermione is: she wants to learn as much as possible, to be better than her classmates who grew up in this world, and she'll do whatever she thinks is necessary - including time travel. Her character is so much more complex that the bookish girl in the first two installments, and we finally start to see that in PoA.

PoA also introduces some excellent world building elements in what feels like a very natural way to the reader. Harry experiences the Knight Bus and stays in Diagon Alley, so you learn much more about the daily goings-on of the British wizarding world. Third years can visit Hogsmeade on certain weekends, which honestly sounds like the greatest place ever (BUTTERBEER!).

In this third book, we get the first instances of Harry being trained to become the Chosen One. Admittedly he's learning how to conjure a Patronus in order to repel Dementors, but "Expecto Pantronum!" becomes Harry's war cry after this book. This is the first of many scenes in which Harry is (often unknowingly) prepared for what is to come.

At the same time, part of why I enjoy this book so much is that Voldemort isn't in it. Seven books total, and this is the only one where Harry doesn't "fight" Voldemort. It's a refreshing and needed break.

Rating: ⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️

What my friends had to say:

AMANDA: "PoA is most probably my favorite HP book - it's the one that I've read more than any of the others, and I never get tired of how clever it is. I honestly feel like PoA is the bonus book in the bunch - it isn't "Harry goes to school, discovers something sinister about Voldemort, decides to fight Voldemort, beats Voldemort." Rather, it's an incredible loop of a story that makes you slowly realize how much care JK puts into her details, plot, characters, and foreshadowing. I also have a deep love for the new characters met in PoA - Remus and Sirius, of course - and the character development of the main trio. (Especially Hermione - there are few things I relate to more than Hermione being crazy about school to the point where it affects your physical/mental health. I also have have strong feelings about unsatisfactory teachers - I would have walked out of Divination too. Oh, and she punches Draco Malfoy. Few things beat that.)

ARIEL: "PoA is one of my favorites of the HP series. I really like the entire plot with Sirius Black, he's one of my favorite characters. I also like that it's before she [Rowling] just got too long. I know you [Jane] love world building, but I'm less interested in that stuff."

EMILY: "I like watching Harry's relationship with Hogwarts change when he gets the map, like he's more in tune with it and it becomes even more like his home. I also love that Harry finally gets a family in this one, in Sirius. And I think it's so great for him that he finally gets to know what his parents, especially his dad, were like as youths. I still struggle with the Time Turner because it's just SO impossible. I do however appreciate Rowling's effort to note several times during the novel that something seemed off about her suddenly dis/reappearing. I also love the amount of Quidditch in this book, and experiencing Hogsmeade where we learn more about wizarding brands and stores. That's always really fun for me."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

ARC Review: The Boy Most Likely To

Title: The Boy Most Likely To*
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Dial Books/Penguin Teen
Publication Date: August 18, 2015
Goodreads | Amazon (currently less than $9!)

"Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To find the liquor cabinet blind folded, need a liver transplant, and drive his car into a house. Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To...well, not date her brother's baggage-burdened best friend, for starters. For Tim, it wouldn't be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the "smart" choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard. Then the unexpected consequences of Tim's wild days come back to shock him. He finds himself in a situation that isn't all it appears to be, that he never could have predicted...but maybe should have. And Alice is caught in the middle."

The Boy Most Likely to is the sequel to My Life Next Door, which I adored for all of its contemporary glory. This follow up feels slightly more serious, as everyone deals with the repercussions of the events in My Life Next Door. If you haven't read My Life Next Door, you can still read this review...there are no spoilers for either books.

One of my favorite things about The Boy Most Likely To is that we return to the Garrett family and see how they're all faring. I adore little George, he's hands-down my favorite character. Seeing how their family functions with so many children is such a fascinating part of these books, and every sibling still very much has their own identify and unique relationships. But the best part of The Boy Most Likely To is that it's split POV of two characters that were portrayed in a rather limited way in the first book: Tim and Alice. Tim is Sam and Jase's alcoholic friend who was kicked out of school and has to get his life back on track. Alice is Jase's older sister who's trying to balance nursing school with the needs of her family. These two characters provided such brilliant voices from which to hear this story. I don't think the dual POV would have worked nearly as well in My Life Next Door, but with the characters and stories in The Boy Most Likely To, it was a great choice.

Seeing Alice struggle in this book is so heart breaking. She's trying to keep everything together for her parents - her siblings, mounting bills, and nursing school, but to do so she puts her own life on hold. I felt so much compassion for Alice and appreciated what a strong character she is. Tim's perspective was really enlightening, and I enjoyed seeing how snarky and self-deprecating his voice came across. The relationship that develops between Alice and Tim was nothing like Sam and Jase - not all sweetness and rooftops. Alice and Tim really have to fight throughout this novel, and I feel like that was a good representation of their characters.

I have to say that the "unexpected consequences of Tim's wild days" weren't so unexpected for me. Less than 50 pages in I knew what was going to happen, and it honestly felt a bit too obvious. But at the same time, it produced results. I ultimately thought the book ended the right way - I know some people may disagree with me on this, but I think the alternative would be too unrealistic and cliche. The Boy Most Likely To was a wonderful sequel to My Life Next Door, and brought two of the most complex characters in this cast to the forefront. The interactions between Tim and Alice and their respective families, and with each other, really leave an impact on the reader. But at the end of the day (and book), both Alice and Tim find such personal strength along the way, and that's why I enjoyed this book so much. If you enjoy contemporary, especially if you're a fan of Sarah Dessen, then you need to check out Huntley Fitzpatrick's novels.

Rating: 3.5 stars

*I received an eARC from Penguin via their First to Read program in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Penguin for this advance copy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

#SummerOfSarah Check In: July

Today I'm bringing you my (slightly belated, whoops!) July check in for #SummerOfSarah! As you probably remember from my original #SummerOfSarah post, I decided to reread all of Sarah Dessen's books this summer to celebrate the release of her twelfth novel back in May, Saint Anything. In July, I got to reread my favorite of Sarah's books, so let's get to it and I'll tell you how the month went!

This Lullaby: This Lullaby is hands-down my favorite Dessen novel of the dozen. The dynamic between Remy and Dexter is the stuff of YA perfection, and I still catch myself singing The Potato Opus when I'm distracted. Ever since the first time I read this book (probably a decade ago by now!), I could relate to Remy - cold, calculating, always pushing others away before they could hurt her first. Even now, I still see a bit of Remy in myself. But then along comes Dexter, who is still one of my top book boyfriends, with his band and dog and breaks all of Remy's carefully crafted rules. My love for This Lullaby is endless. Don't you give me no rotten tomato, 'cause all I wanted was your sweet potato...

The Truth About Forever: I loved this book when I was younger, but I haven't read it since my father died a couple years ago. I worried that it would make reading this book impossible...Macy is trying to find security in her perfect boyfriend after her father dies. But when Macy starts working with the Wish Catering crew, she understands that there's more to life (and truly living) than being perfect. Her relationship with Wes and their game of Truth always make me giddy (maple scented pencil!). The low point of this novel for me is Macy's mom, who succumbs to the unrealistic-crazy-parent trop in YA - and unfortunately, she's not the only example in Sarah's writing. But on the whole, The Truth About Forever is really hopeful and uplifting, and I still love it.

Just Listen: This book still affects me every time I read it. Annabel is the youngest of three sisters, and everyone thinks she's an It girl local model. But after her eldest sister moves to New York and her middle sister develops an eating disorder, Annabel feels like she can't be honest with her parents about what she wants - and modeling isn't it. I really enjoy Annabel's relationship with music-obsessive Owen who always tells the truth, and their music conversations are beyond cute. But for me, this book always comes back to Annabel and her sisters. There's a scene at the end of the book that gets me every single time, and it of course makes me think of my relationship with my own sister. 

Lock and Key: This was my least favorite of the four books, but I think it's still a great example of how Sarah Dessen is capable of writing powerful Quiet YA. With similarly dark themes from Dreamland, Lock and Key follows Ruby after her addict mother abandons her and she's taken in my her estranged sister and her husband. I enjoyed seeing Ruby's relationship with her sister Cora and her husband Jaime progress, and I wish that would have been the stronger focus instead of Ruby and Nate. While I of course felt empathetic for Nate's situation, it all got a bit jumbled towards the end with everything going on. But at the same time I felt like Nate's story was really important...maybe it would have worked better without the romantic connection? 

Those are the four books I read in July for #SummerOfSarah - have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments if you have, and what you thought of them! In the month of August I have the last three in Dessen's dozen to read: Along for the Ride, What Happened to Goodbye, and The Moon and More. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

ARC August | 2015

Hey everyone! Today's post is to let you know that I'll be participating in an exciting project this month - ARC August. Created by the lovely ladies over at Read.Sleep.Repeat, the purpose of ARC August is to read the ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) on your TBR shelf and work on reviewing them. I know that I'm bad about getting ARCS and then putting off reading/reviewing - it really takes a toll on my Netgalley percentage! So I'm excited to join in and get my ARCs to a manageable number. I'll be posting updates on my progress over at my Goodreads page, but also my Twitter and Instagram - go check those out for more weekly check ins and such. I'll do a final check in at the end of the month, letting you know if I met all of my goals!

These are the ARCs I'm planning to read and/or review in August:

The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick. I received an eARC via Penguin's First Reads program. This is the sequel to My Life Next Door (which I adored!), and follows Tim and Alice in a dual-POV. I read this ARC in July, but I need to refresh my memory and post a review before the release date (August 18th).

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. I received an eARC via Netgalley. This wonderful book follows a girl who is allergic to everything, and lives in her strictly controlled home. When a cute boy moves in next door, she has to decide if she can let him into her bubble, and her heart. I read this in July, but need to write and post a review before its release date on September 1.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. I received this physical ARC from Little Brown/The Novl and I am SO EXCITED TO READ THIS. It doesn't come out until October, but I've already included it in my BookTube-A-Thon TBR, so I'll read this in the first week of August. An alternate history in which Germany and Japan won World War II, Yael enters the Axis Tour race with one goal: kill Hitler. I plan to read and draft my review this month, but won't post my final review until closer to the publication date.

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey. I received this eARC via Netgalley. Monsters are crossing over into Joyeaux's world, and she becomes a hunter to protect others. When she gets called up to the capital, Joy realizes just how much is being kept from the citizens, and that there may be a more sinister reason these monsters are attacking her world. I haven't heard any buzz about this book, so I'm intrigued to see how it goes. The publication date is September 1, so I need to read and review Hunter this month.

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston. I also received this eARC via Netgalley. A Thousand Nights is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, in which a girl volunteers to marry the king who has killed three hundred previous wives in order to save her sister from that same fate. As she survives in his court and finds magic she hopes will be strong enough, her sister mourns and finds powers of her own. I am really excited to read this, and have my fingers crossed that this will be better than The Wrath and the Dawn. A Thousand Nights doesn't come out until October 6, so I will read and draft a review in August, and publish a final review in late September.

Those are the ARCs I'm definitely planning to read during ARC August - let me know if you've read any of the books mentioned, or want to!