Monday, August 22, 2016

Review of I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson


I'll Give You the Sun A brilliant, luminous story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.


(Summary from GoodReads)




Jandy Nelson is a YA author who people absolutely worship, and I understand why.  I read The Sky Is Everywhere in March of this 2014 and love love LOVED it.  When I was approved to read an e-galley of I’ll Give You the Sun, I was pumped. Although I almost wound up DNFing it about 100 pages in, I was very impressed with how this book was plotted, and was ultimately glad that I read it.

I absolutely loved the poetic language and the literal poems that filled The Sky Is Everywhere.  Jandy Nelson's writing is beautiful, but here there are times to me here when it felt overwrought. Some of the metaphors and imagery were too much for me.  To me it felt like a somewhat experimental writing style, though that may not be the right word.

There is a lot going on in this book. It takes readers a while to get into this one, and I think it’s because we’re reading from two different perspectives and timelines. Noah and Jude, are twins, but Noah’s perspective comes from age 13, and Jude’s comes from age 16.  Noah discovering his sexuality and Jude is struggling with art school and life in general.  Much like with Nelson’s debut, family is one of the most important components of this story, and that is ultimately what made it so strong.  Nelson has an astounding knack for showing how interconnected people are.

Although I had some issues with I’ll Give You the Sun when I first read it, I still think that overall, this is a stunning novel.  I wonder if this book would be a good fit for me over audiobook, I could imagine the story and the metaphors flowing well when spoken out loud.  Seeing what Nelson has done for I’ll Give You the Sun makes me very curious as to what future novels from her will look like.

Disclosure: I received an electronic galley of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review, and later purchased a hardcover. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Review and Giveaway of Lucky Strikes by Louis Bayard

Lucky Strikes Set in Depression-era Virginia, this is the story of orphaned Amelia and her struggle to keep her siblings together.

With her mama recently dead and her pa sight unseen since birth, fourteen-year-old Amelia is suddenly in charge of her younger brother and sister, and of the family gas station. Harley Blevins, local king and emperor of Standard Oil, is in hot pursuit to clinch his fuel monopoly. To keep him at bay and her family out of foster care, Melia must come up with a father, and fast. And so when a hobo rolls out of a passing truck, Melia grabs opportunity by its beard. Can she hold off the hounds till she comes of age?


(Summary from GoodReads)


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I went into Lucky Strikes with few expectations and was immediately surprised by how distinct the voice is.  Lucky Strikes toes the fine line between middle grade and young adult—if I had to recommend it to a specific age range, I think this book would particularly appeal to sixth through eighth graders.  Although Bayard’s novel had a few plotpoints where things started to feel infeasible, it’s character driven story, and by the end of the novel I cared about what happened to every last character.


Melia is unlike any heroine I’ve read before. She’s extremely smart and a hard worker who has a pretty good idea of what she wants to do with her life.  She also acts as a mother figure for her little siblings Earle and Janey, and never tries to hide the truth from them, going so far as to swear regularly in front of them.  Throughout the novel Melia is telling her life story, but you don’t find out who she’s giving this narrative to until the ending. It would’ve been easy to write Melia as a stubborn character who refused to change, and although she definitely is stubborn, Bayard gave her and her siblings much more nuance than that.  Melia is empathetic and constantly learning how to see those around her in a new light.

As the summary says, this novel is set in depression-era Virginia, and in a lot of ways is about societal expectations.  It’s about creating your own family and finding acceptance within a community, and it’s also about being different when faced with pressure to assimilate.  While there are a few moments that felt either predictable or infeasible, I was genuinely surprised with how it turned out. There are some minor threads get tied up and that feels appropriate.  A lot of readers will also find themselves debating whether or not what happened to Melia is what’s best for her, which would make this a great book club pick.

Lucky Strikes is definitely one of the more unique historical novels that I’ve read.   It feels true to the era that’ it’s in, but it also explores how complex finding one’s place in the world can be.  Readers who want a character driven historical fiction novel with a distinctive voice will love Lucky Strikes.
 
I received this book in exchange for a fair and honest review, and they've also been kind enough to offer one copy up for a giveaway!  Check out the rules below and fill out the rafflecopter form if you're interested.

*One winner will receive a hardcover copy of Lucky Strikes by Louis Bayard.
*Must be 13 years of age or older to enter.
*Open to U.S. readers only.
*Giveaway will close on August 29th at 11:59 p.m.
 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Review of Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

Complicit Two years ago, sixteen-year-old Jamie Henry breathed a sigh of relief when a judge sentenced his older sister to juvenile detention for burning down their neighbor’s fancy horse barn. The whole town did. Because Crazy Cate Henry used to be a nice girl. Until she did a lot of bad things. Like drinking. And stealing. And lying. Like playing weird mind games in the woods with other children. Like making sure she always got her way. Or else.

But today Cate got out. And now she’s coming back for Jamie.

Because more than anything, Cate Henry needs her little brother to know the truth about their past. A truth she’s kept hidden for years. A truth she’s not supposed to tell.

Trust nothing and no one as you race toward the explosive conclusion of this gripping psychological thriller from the William C. Morris Award-winning author of Charm & Strange.


(Summary from GoodReads) 



Oh my gosh, you guys, Complicit.  This is the only Stephanie Kuehn book I’ve ever read, and it varies a lot from what I typically read.  While I find this to be a more plot-driven story, I got really attached to the characters as I made my way through this one.  Complicit is the type of book that is smart and will keep readers turning the pages late into the night.

Kuehn knows what she is writing about.  It’s clear that a lot of careful research went into this story.  Given the way this story pans out, it would have been easy to bog the reader down in a lot of small details, but that never happens.  Readers learn what’s going on yet the ending of this story still carries a lot of impact.

The ending of this story is one thing that continues to sit with me, only because it feels a bit manipulative.  Kuehn gives her story an ending that is meant to pack a major punch, but it also feels realistic.  I’m torn, but I think it mostly works, because it fits with the atmosphere of the book, which is nicely drawn throughout the entire story. I also loved what fully fleshed characters Jamie and Cate are.

If you want a quick read that will leave you feeling shocked and opinionated, ready to discuss, definitely pick up Complicit.  This would be a fantastic pick for any book club.  I’m curious to try out Kuehn’s other stories to see if they have this same kind of feeling. 

Disclosure: I read a digital ARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Review of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for four years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.


(Summary from GoodReads)


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Throne of Glass is one of the most hyped up series in YA literature right now.  I’ve been excited about this book since ALA several years ago and only just recently got around to reading it.  I love fantasy, so I knew I was going to have to pick this one up.  It’s intended to be a Cinderella retelling and the plot of this story feels a bit like The Hunger Games, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a rip off.  Throne of Glass is a story of a badass girl and the world of political intrigue she finds herself caught up in.

Going into this book having already read The Assassin’s Blade made a huge difference in my reading experience, because it gave me such a big understanding of who Celaena was.  If you haven’t picked up that book, do it now.  Celaena is a total badass, like I said, and she’s confident, but we also see her moments of insecurity, and we learn what really drives her.  We also see her struggle over her feelings for Dorian and Chaol.

Throne of Glass was pitched as a Cinderella retelling when it first came out.  There are definitely traces of that, but this may not be the book for you if you want a more exact retelling of Cinderella.  The plot moves quickly, and the book is filled with intrigue all throughout. I loved that Maas gave the reader some characters that we would clearly love to hate.  The ending wasn’t necessarily astounding, but there were some good twists in the last scene.

Maas’s debut is a solid start to this fantasy series. Given what I’ve heard about the other books in the series and my experience with The Assassin’s Blade, I imagine it will only get better from here.  Pick this one up if you want fast paced adventure, court intrigue, and an amazing heroine.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book at a conference, but have since purchased a hardcover of that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review of The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas

The Assassin's Blade (Throne of Glass, #0.1-0.5)Celaena Sardothien is her kingdom's most feared assassin. Though she works for the powerful and ruthless Assassin's Guild, Celaena yields to no one and trusts only her fellow killer for hire, Sam.

When Celaena's scheming master, Arobynn Hamel, dispatches her on missions that take her from remote islands to hostile deserts, she finds herself acting independently of his wishes—and questioning her own allegiance. Along the way, she makes friends and enemies alike, and discovers that she feels far more for Sam than just friendship. But by defying Arobynn's orders, Celaena risks unimaginable punishment, and with Sam by her side, he is in danger, too. They will have to risk it all if they hope to escape Arobynn's clutches—and if they fail, they'll lose not just a chance at freedom, but their lives...

A prequel to Throne of Glass, this collection of five novellas offers listeners a deeper look into the history of this cunning assassin and her enthralling—and deadly—world.


(Summary from GoodReads)



I was told by Alexa, who may the biggest Throne of Glass fan that I know, that reading The Assassin’s Blade before reading Throne of Glass was a good idea.   Binding up novellas that fall between books has been a trend in the YA industry.  The Assassin’s Blade struck me as a bit different because while each story can stand on its own, together they all form one story arc that introduces Celaena, tells us about her past, and sets up the premise for Throne of Glass. I absolutely loved that about this set of novellas.  I also loved the world that Maas has built, and the thread of adventure that rain throughout these stories. With that said, I wanted to briefly address each of the individual novellas.

“The Assassin and the Pirate Lord”
If you don’t know this about me already, I love pirates.  They are fantastic.  This story had some great intrigue and had a fast pace.  It also served as a great introduction to Celaena’s moral conscience.

“The Assassin and the Healer”
The second novel reminded me a little bit of The Name of the Wind, which is one of my all time favorite books.  In this particular story Maas’s gorgeous writing especially popped out to me.  This one was predictable at times, but still excellent overall.

“The Assassin and the Red Desert”
Horses! Subterfuge! Twists! What more could I want?  Oh right, a beautiful, perfect ending. 

“The Assassin and the Underworld”
This story is full of passion, and it’s so well written.  This story is full of twists and swoons.

“The Assassin and the Empire”
This is where things get really twisty and also kind of gut-wrenching.  I was definitely extremely full of emotions as I read this one.

So there you have my thoughts on The Assassin’s Blade.  This was a fantastic collection of prequel novellas that is a must read for any Throne of Glass fan.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Review of Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands, #1) She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there's nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can't wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up "wed or dead," Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she'd gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan's army, with a fugitive who's wanted for treason. And she'd never have predicted she'd fall in love with him...or that he'd help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.


(Summary from GoodReads) 



Rebel of the Sands has gotten a lot of buzz in the book blogging community recently, and I can see why.  Hamilton’s debut has two elements that have been popular in YA lately: a Western setting and Arabian mythology.  Although I was pleased by how the characters and world in this story grew, it got off to a bit of a slow start.

At the beginning of this book, Amani seemed like a tough girl and Jinn like a typical love interest. Amani is incredibly independent, but something about her and Jinn’s characters both felt like they’d been done before.  Maybe this was because there I felt like there was a bit of instalove happening, or the fact that there was a decent amount of mystery surrounding Jinn at first.  By the end, though, their character arcs felt complete, and once I learned how they fit into this story, they felt much more unique.

While the characterization may have taken some time, readers definitely didn’t have to wait for the action.  I was initially worried that we were getting variations of the same plot point all throughout the story.  About halfway through, though, the world-building really picked up. Hamilton did a great job of making her world feel barren, luscious, and precarious in all of the right places.

I finished Rebel of the Sands feeling satisfied with where the plot had gone, the character development, and the world-building. However, this is a story that I would love to see more of.  As far as they’ve come, Jinn and Amani still have a lot of character growth to go through.  Amani is ambitious and learning to find her way, and I hope there will be a sequel to Rebel of the Sands so I can discover how she and her world continue to evolve.

Disclosure: A friend was kind enough to send me an ARC of this book.

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