Monday, 29 February 2016

Uppercase Box Review

I've been super intrigued by subscription boxes for books for a long time now. I was a subscriber so a couple of makeup related subscription boxes for a while and loved the fun of seeing what I'd get each month and playing, but things happened and I was getting bored after over a year, so I had to cancel them. But books! And the amazing swag they put with the books! What could go wrong?

Well, I had a few hold ups. For one thing, what if I already had the book? Or if I'd already read the book and didn't like it? What did I do when I had no interest in the book? And don't I get enough books? It just seemed like a lot of money for results I couldn't be sure of. 

Then Lisa at Uppercase Box contacted asking if I wanted to do a review of this month's box. I hesitated for a moment, but this was a way to answer a lot of my questions, so I jumped on the chance. There was some hold up with the box getting to me, which I mentioned to Lisa on Wednesday and then a box showed up on Saturday. So from the start, I know customer service is aces.

The box itself was actually a bag! The book and goodies were all tucked into a bag with the Uppercase Logo, which is honestly more practical than an actual box. Plus, I have to break down boxes to recycle them, but I don't have that issue with the little bag.

This month's book was Starlight by Melissa Landers - a book I haven't read, don't have, and am interested in. So I feel pretty good about this being the month I got to try it. And, the book is signed! The box also included nail wraps featuring details from the cover, a pretty little print, a bookmark, and an Anne of Green Gables scarf. 

I don't use nail wraps, so they're kind of wasted on me, but I can toss them in my swag bag for later use. I haven't read Anne of Green Gables, so though the scarf is a beautiful quality and SO my colors, I'll probably be passing this on as well. But the bookmark includes page numbers, codes and a URL to turn it into an interactive reading experience, which is a fun little addition. Finally, the print is beautiful and I love the quote, but because of how its packages, the print was folded in half and now has a mark in the middle, which is kind of irritating. 

So, what do I think? All in all, I'm pretty impressed. The packaging was great - aside from the folded print - and the book selection works really well for me. This month's swag was mostly a miss for me, but I loved the concept behind the products and know it can't be perfect every month. Lisa is quick to respond to emails and sort out any shipping issues. Ultimately, it was a really positive experience.

Would I do it again? Well, for now? I'm still not sold. This month's book selection was great, but I still don't have any guarantees. And if I'm not loving the swag either, then the whole month is a bust, even if just the excitement of a surprise package would make me happy. It was one thing to spend $11 a month to get my makeup bag of samples - it included many products, usually at least one full size, and an easy to reuse and cute bag that made it more than worth the cost. But book subscription boxes aren't nearly as cheap and don't have the same guarantees.  Plus, I'm not working at the moment and burning a LOT of money on my monthly train ticket and food/beverages so I can sit and kill time while waiting for trains and classes. And of course, I need to buy books for the NYC signings I go to. I can't really afford to spend any money on something that's not a guarantee.

But that's just ME. I think for the average reader and even for the well read blogger who does have the money to spare, I think Uppercase Box is great. Great customer service, great, very customized swag that's also really high quality, and their book choices tend to be #quietYA, which you know I approve of! If you want to learn more about them, I'm posting some more details below for you to think about. But check it out fast! The window to sign up for the March box ends tonight! 

Uppercase started in August 2014, and we've selected some great YA books so far. You can check out our past boxes here: uppercasebox.com/past-selections.

We offer two options: Expert and Book Exclusive box. The Expert box is $23 a month and includes a recently published YA book we think everyone will enjoy. The Book Exclusive box is $17 a month offers the same book content and publisher-provided goodies as the Expert box, just without the bookish item.

Lisa has been a part of the YA community for four and a half years through her YA book blog, Read.Breathe.Relax. She personally reads and recommends all Uppercase box books, and she absolutely loves sharing my passion of books with my subscribers.

 --Julie

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On
by Rainbow Rowell


Summary: Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
I actually expected to finish this book ages ago, but I had a very rocky start with it. Honestly, I thought it was going to be the first Rainbow Rowell book I've ever hated -- and for the first 100-160 pages, I did sort of hate this book. But by the end, I totally loved it.

The plot? The world within the story? To be honest, I didn't like it much until very near the end. I had so little interest in it. I think it was the melodrama of it all, it just didn't do it for me, plus it was very predictable in so many ways. The first quarter of the book was a total drag to get through -- that's the part that took me ages to read and made me put the book down for so long. Then I sped through the rest of it when Baz happened.

That's thing that saved the book for me: Baz. As soon as he showed up, things got so much brighter and I found I was turning the pages because I wanted to and not because I was just determined to finish the book (as I had been doing before). His character was interesting and adorable and I loved him. And I shipped him and Simon so hard, they were so sweet and funny and their relationship was really well done (and I lovelovelove that it didn't make this huge deal about them being gay or coming out -- those stories have their place but not every LGBTQ+ story has to be like that). I really liked the friendship he formed with Penny too, I liked her on her own but I loved her friendships with Baz and Simon.

I'd give the book 2 stars out of 5 for the first few hundred pages and everything not relating to Baz, 5 out of 5 for Baz and Baz/Simon...overall, I'll give it 4 stars out of 5. 

It does say a lot about how talented Rainbow is as a writer that there can be things about the book I kind of hate and I still find myself loving the book in spite of those things -- not many authors can pull that off.

(Oh, and if you've read the book/read it at some point, seriously check out the tumblr tags for the book/characters because the posts and fan art for it on there are awesome.)

Later.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (review & book to movie comparison)

The Princess Diaries
by Meg Cabot
Summary: Mia Thermopolis is pretty sure there's nothing worse than being a five-foot-nine, flat-chested freshman, who also happens to be flunking Algebra.

Is she ever in for a surprise.

First Mom announces that she's dating Mia's Algebra teacher. Then Dad has to go and reveal that he is the crown prince of Genovia. And guess who still doesn't have a date for the Cultural Diversity Dance?
For some reason, I've procrastinated about reading this series for so long and I'm not completely sure why -- I adore Meg's Mediator series and her 1-800-Where-R-You series and yet with this, I kept putting it off. Honestly, I'm only getting round to reading them now because I've heard good things about the New Adult sequel that was released not too long ago. But anyway, I actually really, really liked the first book.

I sort of wish this was one of those series I'd read when I was younger and grew up with. It's a really cute, fun, quick read and I think I would've appreciated it more had I read it as a young teenager than reading it now because things that bothered me now wouldn't have back then -- like recognising that her friendship with Lily is actually kind of toxic (hoping that changes in the later books, it seemed to be heading in the right direction near the end of this one), or that 17/18 year old guys date 14/15 year old girls.

Basically, I liked the book, but I think younger teenage me may have loved it. And I think that maybe the next books might be even better.

Now, for the comparison to the movie:

I think this is one of those rare cases where the movie is actually better -- maybe because the book is so short and so entirely told through Mia's limited perspective that the movie had an easier job of fleshing out the other characters. It's a decent adaptation, it still follows the same premise and has a lot of the same characters but I think the characters and their relationships in the movie are definitely better.

Like Mia's relationship with her grandmother -- I much prefer the dynamics in the movie and the way it develops there (their relationship is one of my favourite things about the movie, but I think a big part of that may be that Julie Andrews is fabulous and her and Anne Hathaway had amazing chemistry on screen). 

Jo, Mia's driver/bodyguard, isn't in the first book. There is a character that fills that role but he has a different name and isn't quite as present or developed. One of my favourite book characters was Tina and I enjoyed her friendship with Mia way more than Mia's friendship with Lily, but her character was cut from the movie. I think Michael Moscowitz and Mia's mum are the only characters that don't alter too much from page to screen (well, and Lana and the popular guy whose name I don't remember -- but their characters are quite stereotypical anyway).

Another big change is that Mia's dad is dead in the movie, but he's alive in the book -- and I think the movie version actually works better and requires less suspension of disbelief than the way it's done in the book.

So yes, I'd say the book is good, but the movie is better. But, keep in mind I've only read the first book so maybe the movie incorporated things from the sequels that I wouldn't pick up on having only read the first book -- the more developed characters and relationships might be based on the rest of the series.

I'd rate the book 3.5 stars out of 5. Not my favourite of Meg's series, but still really good and I can't wait to read the rest (especially so I can get to the NA one, because the movie sequel has a very different plot so it's like an alternate ending).

Later.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Wrap Up (45)

Lanna:
Well then. Hello. It's been a while. I think I last did one of these at the beginning of December? Maybe? So I've got quite a few books to mention, but it's like 3 months worth of books and a lot were bought with Christmas gift cards and things.

So... I'll shut up and get on with the books. As always, pictures are from my bookstagram account.

For Review:


The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski (from Netgalley)
Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (from Netgalley)
You Were Here by Cori McCarthy (from Netgalley)
First Touch by Laurelin Paige (from Netgalley -- review here)
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (from Netgalley -- review here)
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (from Netgalley -- review here)

Bought/Christmas:



Remembrance by Meg Cabot
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman
Silent Alarm by Jennifer Banash
Ten by Gretchen McNeil
Peter and Alice by John Logan (review)
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Wildthorn by Jane Eagland
Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
The Light Princess by George MacDonald
The Dumb House by John Burnside
Call the Midwife 1 & 3 by Jennifer Worth (still need to get the second)
North Child by Edith Pattou
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (review)
First & Then by Emma Mills (review)
The Outsider by Melinda Metz (not pictured)
Books 1 & 2 in the Chaos series by Kristen Ashley (not pictured)
The Royal Brotherhood trilogy by Sabrina Jeffries (not pictured)
The Duke & I by Julia Quinn (not pictured -- review)

Borrowed: 



The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Murial Spark (from my best friend, because reading a few Scottish classics is one of my 2016 reading challenge)

I think that's all of them. I'm probably forgetting some, but yeah... what've you guys been reading? Is there any I've mentioned you think I should review soon?

Later.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes


Summary: Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.
What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.
I had been on the fence about reading this book for such a long time -- there was so much hype about it, but I was never convinced it would be my kind of thing (the movie trailer finally prompted me to read it). Turns out I was wrong about that, because I did sort of love it, but my feelings about the book are complicated.

I enjoyed the book while I was reading, although it did drag a bit in certain parts and I didn't really like the random POV's thrown in every so often (I think there were 4 chapters like that? And the book would've worked just fine, if not better, without them)...but when I finished it, I realised it hadn't gotten under my skin as much as it should have, and it's one of those ones where the positive feelings I had will dim over time until I forget I even read it.

I think the problem is the romance. Maybe because the book (and movie) was marketed as being a romance, I expected more from that aspect of it (I knew how it would end, so it wasn't even that it didn't end the way I would've liked, because I knew what I was getting into). But something felt off about Will and Louisa's relationship. He was constantly trying to change her, to push her to do things he felt she should be doing with her life, frequently he would get pretentiously judgemental of her and things she liked/of the things she hadn't done, and it got to the point where their age gap and the difference in social class felt almost uncomfortable...it became more teacher/reluctant student (Louisa acknowledges this herself with Pygmalion/My Fair Lady comparisons).

I loved the characters as individuals, and I could understand why he was that way and why she'd react the way she did but it still made it so they never really felt like they were equals even though they loved each other. In the end, I did genuinely like them together and their scenes were my favourite in the book, and I was rooting for them...but yeah, I expected -- I dunno, something more from the love story than what it delivered?

Plus, it's one of those books that makes the current boyfriend really obnoxious and it's like it's done that way to make the intended love interest seem amazing by comparison -- and it works, but it's annoying and tends to feel like lazy writing (like the author wanted the added conflict of having him in the way for a time, but can't be bothered writing him well enough to make the reader care or to make the decision to end things difficult for the main character).

So yeah, while I liked the romance, those aspects made it feel kind of lacking. Maybe my expectations were at fault, but either way, it didn't meet them. I wouldn't even really class it as a romance, just a book with a romantic subplot -- but there's no way to really explain what the heart of the book is without spoiling it. The strength of Lou and Will's relationship was in the unlikely friendship they formed, not the romance.

I loved the family aspect of the books and seeing the difference in Will and Lou's family dynamics. And I loved all the stuff relating to Will's condition, and the fact that it showed that you can't always fix something broken with a love story.

That's all I can say about the book without spoilers really. Which is annoying, because the main part of the book, the part I most want to discuss is the spoiler-y parts (and the fact that the bulk of my review is discussing the romantic subplot really perpetuates the annoying idea that the story is about romance when it wasn't and that was one of its weakest parts).

I'd rate the book 4.5 stars out of 5, because it was really good -- the things that bothered me about it were less about me not liking it and more that those things stopped me from really, really loving it.

Later.

Update: I've since seen a lot of criticism about the story line perpetuating a harmful idea about people with disabilities. If you read the book/watch the movie, it's a good idea to look into that and listen to what people have to say about it so you can recognise the issues.

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

The Love That Split the World
Emily Henry
Razorbill
[January 26, 2016]
ARC from ALAMW


Natalie Cleary must risk her future and leap blindly into a vast unknown for the chance to build a new world with the boy she loves.

Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start... until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

Emily Henry’s stunning debut novel is Friday Night Lights meets The Time Traveler’s Wife, and perfectly captures those bittersweet months after high school, when we dream not only of the future, but of all the roads and paths we’ve left untaken.

I've been excited for this book for ages. Time travel? Romance? Then it got that cover. THAT COVER. But I worried. This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year - what if it didn't live up to the hype?

Oh, but it did. This book consumed me in a way so few have. It was an all time favorite before I even finished - and some of that may have had to do with when I read it.

I have to start with the writing. The writing was mind blowingly gorgeous. There were so many passages that were beautiful and heartbreaking. I was so enamored that I read most of it on the train and kept getting aggravated by texts interrupting me, even though they were kind of important. And despite being exhausted by a full day at ALA and six hours of traveling, I stayed up until I finished it. Because there was no question of me waiting to finish.

Helping to tell the story, origin stories were woven in - largely inspired by Native American origin stories. They added to the beauty of the book as a whole. Some were simple, short stories, while others were incredibly complex and in depth and they all were so interesting. It really added this later to Natalie - who is Native American - and the story. (EDIT 3/16: I've learned that the representation of Nat's Native American background, as well as the inclusion of the origin stories, is really problematic. Which is something you may want to consider when picking up this book. You can find more details here [the link won't let me go directly to the post, but it's the first post from the week of January 17], and that website is also an excellent source in general for Native American rep and information.)

I loved the story of Nat and Beau. They had such a fascinating origin story of their own. There was some insta-love type action which is usually kinda off putting, but it didn't feel forced or fake. I didn't even think about it until mid-way through reading and then I didn't really care. But they were also interesting characters on their own. Nat was adopted by a white family as an infant and she's trying to figure out who she is, what she wants, and if she's going crazy. Beau is a boy with a rough family life and conflicting loyalties. I loved getting to know them and watching them grow.

A lot of my favorite bits I can't discuss without spoilers, but the ending and the logic were so interesting and unique. Things unfolded masterfully and in a way I never could've imagined. I'm gonna leave it there though.

Ultimately, this novel is an origin story for Nat, mixed with origin stories of the world. It was beautiful, romantic, and such a wonderful story of family. And I got to read it as I left behind friends, many who I hadn't seen in months and a few I hadn't seen in years and some I met for the first time and was feeling light and happy. Sitting down and reading this in the frenzy that I did brought me back down and made me think, but also let me keep the wonderful high I was riding. I absolutely loved every second of the reading experience and while this book won't work for everyone, it's definitely one I recommend checking out. Emily Henry has pretty much guaranteed herself I'll be buying all of her future books already.

--Julie

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn


The Duke & I

by Julia Quinn


Summary: By all accounts, Simon Basset is on the verge of proposing to his best friend’s sister, the lovely—and almost-on-the-shelf—Daphne Bridgerton. But the two of them know the truth—it’s all an elaborate plan to keep Simon free from marriage-minded society mothers. And as for Daphne, surely she will attract some worthy sutiors now that it seems a duke has declared her desirable.

But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, it’s hard to remember that their courtship is a complete sham. Maybe it’s his devilish smile, certainly it’s the way his eyes seem to burn every time he looks at her… but somehow Daphne is falling for the dashing duke… for real! And now she must do the impossible and convince the handsome rogue that their clever little scheme deserves a slight alteration, and that nothing makes quite as much sense as falling in love…

Regency romance is my go to genre if I'm in a reading slump or if I'm upset and need a distraction or something...and this one, so many reviewers I trust rated it 5 stars that I expected it to be great. But, alas, it wasn't. I mean, I liked it -- but it wasn't a 5 star read for me.

It should be noted that my mood while reading might have impacted my overall opinion slightly, because the past few weeks have been kind of rough. Anyway...onto the actual review part.

The book started off great. It had me smiling a lot (like, my face hurt from smiling so much). It was fun, it was funny, it made Daphne's family have a big role in the story and I loved their dynamics. The romance, initially, was great but then it started to go downhill for me.

The writing remained consistently good, but I dunno -- it was like there was something missing. Maybe it was down to the fact that the thing keeping Daphne and Simon apart was so ridiculous that it made me start to really dislike Simon...and Daphne, she seemed to lose a bit of the spark she had initially after her and Simon got together. There wasn't nearly enough of the fun parts of regency romance novels, it wasn't one of those slow burn relationships or one with a lot of build up, it just felt abrupt and contrived.

And then there was a scene I hated and it just tainted the whole book. I know that books in this genre are set in a time where rape was viewed very differently than it is now -- but, I'm reading it from the perspective of someone now, so scenes that come across as really rape-y can wreck a romance for me.

The scene in question bothered me for two reasons. First, one person was asleep and intoxicated when the sober one initiated sex. I could overlook that (given he did consent when he woke up) if it wasn't for the fact that the guy had made a certain aspect of them having sex abundantly clear and the woman was deliberately taking advantage of the situation to ignore that (I can't give specifics because spoilers, but basically the consent was conditional and the condition was being ignored). Had the roles been reversed, there would be no doubt for the reader whether it was rape or not.

So yeah, that scene bugged me and hung like a shadow over the rest of the book for me.

Overall, I'd rate the book 3 stars out of 5, because I did genuinely love the first half of the book. I'll definitely be picking up more of Julia's books in future, but this one just wasn't for me.

Later.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

The Smell of Other People's Houses
Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Wendy Lamb Books
[February 23, 2016]
ARC from ALAMW

In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. This deeply moving and authentic debut is for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. Intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare talent.
 
Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.
 
Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This unforgettable book is about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed. 
It's ALAMW. I already have more books than I really intended to grab that day. I'd just walked away with a handful from a different booth after talking with someone who worked there when I pass by Random House. They've just put a bunch of books out, including one I'd been excited about, when I see someone restocking Anna and the Swallow Man. I half-jokingly ask if they've been warning about the need for tissues when read that one. She says she's been warning about Anna AND this book. I look at the gorgeous cover and soak in the beautiful title. I've seen them around, but never looked TOO closely. But I always love hearing what people in booth are excited about and I'm always down for books that make me cry, so I pick it up. A few days later, I'm way behind on my Book a Day for January goal and this one's short, so I pull it from the stack.

It was an excellent choice.

I fell completely in love with this book. But love may not be the right word. The thing is that it's not my kind of book. I don't tend to like the more recently set historical fiction - anything later than WWII generally - and I don't tend to like "issue-y" contemporaries. It's a story that's important for some people, but not for me. But I fell into its grips entirely. Hank and Alyce and Ruth and Dora's stories gripped me. I had to put it aside for a few days to read a blog tour book, which usually kills my desire to read something, but itched to pick it back up again instead. This book has this quiet weight to it, this importance. It's not my kind of book, but it could be such an important book for so many teens.

It's the story of teens - some white, some Eskimo, some Native American, and growing up in the aftermath of Alaska becoming a state, against many of their parents' wishes. Their families are poor and unconventional and they have annoying younger siblings and make bad decisions. They also have friends that are like siblings and want to help their families as best they can. They're all so real and they tell a story we don't see a lot in YA. There are stories about unconventional families, but not so many of them at once. Not when they're also poor. Not when everyone in the family has to chip in and there are other people to help raise them. Often it tends to be all or nothing, but in The Smell of Other People's Houses, there's a whole lot of grey.

It was also, undoubtedly, beautifully written. I'm always a sucker for pretty prose and this was so enthralling. It was stark and honest and created this amazing image of Alaska that I don't really think about. I could taste and smell some of the things described and could just see it all so clearly. It always stands out to me when I have that kind of experience.

Even though this wasn't a book for me, it was still an incredible book. And it's going to be so important to a lot of teens and I think it does kind of change the game of YA. There's nothing like this out there right now and I really, really encourage you to pick it up and pass it to the teens in your life.

--Julie

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

The Shadow Queen
C.J. Redwine
Balzer + Bray
[February 23, 2016]
ARC from publisher/egalley from Edelweiss


Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

First, let me remind you about my C.J. Redwine bias - I love her and I love her books and I've worked with her. I also love her editor and agent as I love pretty much everything they touch. So, bias.

Anyway, this was the first book I finished when I went abroad and it was the first one I knew I was packing. I read the first half while on trains to and from Bath, so I had to look up and admire the view every five minutes, then read the second half while cuddled in bed the next day. And oh what a good choice it was!

I loved Lorelai. Her tenacity and her intelligence were remarkable. I also adored her dedication to her family and her cause. She was never willing to give up, no matter the circumstances. She wasn't a perfect heroine, but she was trying to be the best she could be and that's always admirable. And Kol was another fascinating character, especially with certain events in the story. I loved getting to look at these two characters who had the weight of kingdoms on their shoulders and how they handled it.

The story itself was also remarkable. Redwine bent and twisted the original Snow White story - which is one of my least favorite fairy tales honestly - into something remarkable and beautiful and empowering. She also refused to pull punches in this story - there was a scene I read on the train and didn't see coming at all and had to close the book for a while because I was in public. There's always a concern with fairy tale retellings that they'll try to stick too closely to the story and it will become predictable; sometimes it's fine and the execution makes predictability easy to ignore, but other times it only loosely plays with elements of the original. Redwine did both and it worked SO well.

And the romance - because obviously, we have to talk about the romance in a fairy tale retelling. Man I loved it. Kol and Lorelai have a very complicated relationship from the start so Redwine gave them a rather remarkable story. It's the kind I always wanna see more of - but I don't wanna say too much for fear of spoilers.

Basically, I love C.J. Redwine and she continues to blow me away. I'm so excited for the next book!

--Julie

Friday, 5 February 2016

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the Swallow Man 
by Gavriel Savit

Summary: Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.
I'm not sure what to say about this book really because my thoughts on it are kind of torn. I liked it while I was reading it...but the way it ended, it left me feeling really unsatisfied and that kind of soured the positive feelings I had.

The characters were interesting and it was a unique WW2 story. Historical fiction set during WW2 is one of my favourite genres and I've yet to see one quite like this one, so I appreciated the originality. But it was told in a distant kind of way that prevented me from feeling really invested in or connected to the characters -- I saw a lot of comparisons between this book and The Book Thief, but it lacked the emotional impact that The Book Thief had even if their subject matter was similar (WW2, child protagonist, etc.).

The writing was good, but it could get a bit droning at times and sometimes it seemed like it was trying too hard to seem meaningful to the point where the dialogue felt unrealistic and contrived.

The plot was interesting (although, I'm glad it was a short book because any longer and it would've just felt dragged out and dull), but the ending -- like I said, it ends in a really unsatisfying way. On one hand I know that it was more realistic the way it was done, and I could appreciate that maybe we were being left in the dark because Anna was too, but a story that ends leaving the reader with more questions than answers can make for quite a frustrating reading experience, like you've invested hours of your time reading a story and it didn't deliver what you were hoping. Sometimes I like open endings in stories, sometimes I like the reader being left to fill in the blanks themselves, but not with this type of story.

This review is seeming way more negative than it should be. I enjoyed reading it but I can't pin point why exactly, I just did, but there were a lot of reasons I didn't quite love it. If I had to describe the book in one word, it would be interesting -- while the kind of book it was compared to, like The Book Thief, would get amazing or heartbreaking or stunning or devastating... This was just interesting, it didn't make me care enough to be more than that (not necessarily a bad thing, I like interesting, I just didn't love it because it takes more than that).

So...yes. I liked the book, it definitely wasn't bad, but I didn't love it. The strongest feeling it triggered in me was disappointment. But, that's just personal preference -- Julie's review was much more positive. I'd rate it 3 stars out of 5.

Later.

First Touch by Laurelin Paige

***Note: This is not a YA book***

First Touch
by Laurelin Paige


Summary: When Emily Wayborn goes home to visit her mom while on hiatus from her hit TV show, she receives a voicemail from her former best friend, Amber. Though the two were once notorious party girls, they haven't spoken in years. Although the message might sound benign to anyone else, Amber uses a safe word that Emily recognizes, a word they always used to get out of sticky situations during their wild days. And what's more chilling than the voicemail: it turns out that Amber has gone missing.

Determined to track down her friend, Emily follows a chain of clues that lead her to the enigmatic billionaire Reeve Sallis, a hotelier known for his shady dealings and play boy reputation. Now, in order to find Amber, Emily must seduce Reeve to learn his secrets and discover the whereabouts of her friend. But as she finds herself more entangled with him, she finds she's drawn to Reeve for more than just his connection to Amber, despite her growing fear that he may be the enemy. When she's forced to choose where her loyalty lies, how will she decide between saving Amber and saving her heart?
My feelings on this book are very mixed, but that's my fault. I went into it expecting it to be something other than what it was. Based on the summary, I assumed it was going to be a mystery/suspense novel with a romance plot...and it was, but it was more BDSM erotica than anything else (although the mystery aspect is still very much present throughout).

The BDSM stuff isn't really my kind of thing in general. I mean, I can acknowledge and understand that there are people who are genuinely into that sort of thing, but it can be difficult for someone (or at least, it is for me) who isn't into it to read those kind of scenes and not be really emotionally frustrated by them (e.g. there'll be things said or done in the book where my personal reaction would be rage...but it's something the characters actually enjoy so I'm reading and angry about what is happening but the characters are reacting in a totally different way = frustrating).

But then, in spite of that aspect, I didn't want to put the book down and in the end I did actually enjoy reading it -- it hooked me, it was entertaining, I cared enough to want to know what would happen and to know more about the characters.

Plus, it was well written (definitely more than other books I've read with similar subject matter). Maybe most of all though, the characters were really interesting. I liked that they were screwed up but the book wasn't making excuses for them, they've both made mistakes and did messed up things but it felt like instead of trying to justify those things to the reader, the author was trying to show that the characters were accepting those things in each other -- a distinction I've not seen enough of in my (limited) experience with this genre.

I loved that it wasn't one of those BDSM books that confuses a Dom/sub relationship with an abusive relationship. This book acknowledges that there's a line between abuse and BDSM (and it does it in a really interesting way, by having the main characters trying to figure out that line themselves). It isn't one of those books that tries to give characters some messed up reason for being the way they are, instead it just acknowledges that it's just a part of them -- a tragic past isn't a prerequisite to be into the BDSM lifestyle, I liked that it showed that.

I also really liked that Emily actually genuinely was a submissive -- it was something she wanted and craved to feel happy and complete in a relationship, it wasn't just something she experimented with or compromised on because she wanted to be with Reeve, it was a mutually symbiotic relationship (something the Fifty Shades of Gray's of the genre are severely lacking).

Basically, while I didn't necessarily enjoy the BDSM aspect of the book, I did really appreciate the fact that it was written well and not in the ignorant and harmful ways I've seen it portrayed in books before. Too many books get it so wrong so I like that this one didn't -- it wasn't perfect, but it wasn't badly done either.

Really, the only thing I hated about the book was the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger. Had I known that, I may not have read it -- I went into it thinking it was a standalone but it's the first in a duology. And now I really want the sequel to know what happens next.

I'd rate the book 3.5 stars out of 5, for keeping me thoroughly hooked and entertained -- it probably would've been higher if BDSM books were something I liked in general but for me I tend to like books in spite of that aspect rather than because of it, so that fault isn't with the book itself.

Later.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea
by Ruta Sepetys


Summary: It's early 1945 and a group of people trek across Germany, bound together by their desperation to reach the ship that can take them away from the war-ravaged land. Four young people, each haunted by their own dark secret, narrate their unforgettable stories.

This inspirational novel is based on a true story from the Second World War. When the German ship the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in port in early 1945 it had over 9000 civilian refugees, including children, on board. Nearly all were drowned. Ruta Sepetys, acclaimed author of Between Shades of Grey, brilliantly imagines their story.
Well then. Ruta has done it again -- she's managed to write another beautiful book that breaks my heart and opens my eyes to a part of history I was totally ignorant about. Definitely another favourite.

This one was different from Between Shades of Gray because loving it sort of crept up on me. I didn't really realise just how much the characters had gotten under my skin until the last few chapters and it hit me just how much I cared and how thoroughly the book had broken my heart.

I didn't love the alternating POV's, because one of the four characters was just really insufferable and annoying -- but he was intentionally written that way and while I didn't like reading through his parts of the book, they were necessary and tie the story together more neatly in the last third of the book. But the other three POV characters? I adored them all, and the side characters.

And I really love that Ruta chose to tell this particular story. Like with Between Shades of Gray, I hadn't really heard anything about this part of history -- it was never mentioned once in any of my history classes at school, I never see it mentioned in movies or documentaries or anything about the war... It really highlights how painfully one-sided and selectively we're taught to remember history.

There's not much else I can say about the book really. It was a beautiful story -- the writing, the characters, the plot...all of it. It'll make your heart ache, in good ways and bad, if you give it the chance. At this point, I'll basically read anything Ruta Sepetys writes.

I'd rate the book 5 stars out of 5.

Later.

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