THE COLOR PROJECT: Review

22892448The Color Project by Sierra Abrams
Published by Gatekeeper Press on July 18, 2017
Genres: young adult, contemporary romance
Pages: 464
Format: Paperback
Amazon Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Audible

Rating: ★★★★½ 


Before I read this book, I made a prediction. I’m normally terrible with predictions (unless we’re guessing the twist from Insurgent), but I was crossing my fingers and hoping I’d be right.

My prediction was this: that The Color Project would would feel like a Sarah Dessen novel, but with more heart.

Let me clarify what I mean by that, because I’ve said before (in my review of The Truth About Forever) that Sarah Dessen’s novels have more heart than your average mass-print YA contemporary. To some degree I still stand by that: Dessen is not afraid to touch on issues like chronic illness, the messiness of divorce, how a loved one’s actions can turn your life upside down, death of family members. Most of her characters deal with some serious topic such as these. But, in retrospect, I don’t feel that Dessen takes these issues home. Her books tickle the heartstrings like any Hallmark movie, but they’re too Hallmark-y (and similar, goodness gracious) to have a deeper, prolonged impact, though there’s certainly potential for such impact.

So when I say I was hoping TCP would be a Dessen novel with heart, I was hoping Sierra Abrams would address hard issues and have them hit home. I wanted intense and emotional and real. My prediction was that I’d get all three.

I’m pleased to say my prediction was correct.

I met Sierra sometime last year at a book signing, and I found out she was publishing a book through staying in contact with her on social media. So I know a little bit about this book’s journey and some of the inspiration behind the scenes. It’s hard to self-publish–mainly because you’re your own best publicist–and be successful. It’s even harder to self-publish your debut and get it right; a lot of “normally”-published books can’t even do that.

It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. Here, Sierra proves it.

I’m amazed by the life of this book. It’s a vibrant, pulsing thing–full of giggles and wide smiles and some incredibly heartfelt moments. This book doesn’t just ask for your attention while reading–it demands it, because it’s that engaging and that intense.

I loved Bee. So much. I’m not necessarily in the same position she is, but I can relate to her so well, and her voice just exudes off the page. She, too, is awkward and self-conscious, but she’s intense and sensitive by nature, and big-hearted by design. She’s my kind of girl. The writing style reveals some of her little mannerisms, like how she talks to herself a lot–sometimes to encourage, sometimes to shame herself. (Who doesn’t talk to themselves from time to time?) She’s just such a real character, so full of love for life, and her personality was too passionate to be ignored. It was so cute to see how Bee reacted to meeting Levi and being around him, and how Levi reacted to her. I was constantly grinning.

Speaking of Levi: wrap him up–I’ll take two! This boy (or, as Bee calls him, “the Boy,”) is adorable. He’s chivalrous, he’s respectful, he’s sensitive, he’s generous, and he’s stubborn, but in the good way. You’d think he’d quickly become the Manic Pixie Dream Boy (and there were some moments where he read more like a character than an actual person), but Levi’s just as real as Bee, and just as intense in his own ways. Their chemistry together–both the way it was written and the way it played out–was spectcular and realistic, even the conflict. It got cheesy during a few moments, but eh, cute couples are inevitably cheesy. They’re still my #relationshipgoals. 😉

Now on to the darker parts of this novel: the family tragedy. Bee’s experience with her family is based off the author’s own experience (key word being “based”), and my heart ached for both the author and her characters as we went through the uncertainty and desperation tragedies like these always leave in their wake. I won’t spoil anything, but this part of the book hit hard, and, despite never having something like this happen to me, I could easily sympathize with Bee and her family. There were many touching, tear-jerking moments.

This book is real (goodness, I’ve used this word a ton in this review) and honest–in so many heartwarming ways. Expect it to leave you laughing, crying, and grinning ear-to-ear with from warm fuzzies. When asked to find the balance between cutesy romance and meaningful, heartfelt moments, this book passes with flying colors.

Much thanks to the author for providing an ARC for me to read and review. I’ve been looking forward to this book for such a long time, so thank you for the opportunity! It more than delivered. 🙂

GIVEAWAY: Stars, Sea, Storm, and Sun by Matthew S. Roberts

Hello, all! It’s been a little while, heheh. But I’m back (momentarily) with something I think you’ll like: a giveaway! I’ve never hosted a giveaway before, so this is completely new–and incredibly exciting!–to me. Keep reading to find out more about the book I’m giving away. 🙂

234576374002202

Stars, Sea, Storm, and Sun is a collection of poetry and short stories written by a friend and colleague of mine, Matthew S. Roberts. In its pages, “S^4,” as it has been nick-named, discusses many thing: rejection, loss, uncertainty, the triviality and yet ironic weight of age, the importance of honesty, and more. But, primarily, Stars, Sea, Storm, and Sun is an exploration of pursuit: pursuit of passion, pursuit of truth, pursuit of love, and pursuit of God. Here’s the Goodreads summary:

“EVERYBODY DIES IF WE INTERCEPT THAT SHIP!”
On its way to provide relief to a disease-ravaged Earth, C.S.S. Compassion is forced to make a harrowing choice that drives her crew to pieces.

“LOOK OUT AROUND YOU. IT IS ALL PART OF THE SNARE.”
When a despairing sailor discovers a dark lighthouse wandering the open seas, the supernatural illusions he finds within prove deadly.

“IT’S NOT YOUR SADNESS, MR. CHESTER, IT’S HERS!”
An old man mourning the loss of his wife befriends a young girl whose outlook shows him a light he could not see.

A collection of short stories and poetry, Stars, Sea, Storm, and Sun invites you to explore in the pursuit of Compassion, Truth, Love, and God.

There’s a little bit of everything in this little book: spaceships, intriguing characters, and literary allusions; some serious gothic atmosphere, complete with Dracula vibes; and a heartwarming friendship between a weary old man and a starry-eyed young girl. This book deserves a chance to help you appreciate the profoundness of life, so I’m giving away an extra copy.

However, there are some rules:

  • You must be 18 or have your parents’ permission to give out your mailing address.
  • U.S. residents only. Sorry!
  • One entrant per household.
  • Giveaway ends July 2.

Click on this link to get started, and good luck! In the meantime, help me spread the word about this giveaway and S^4.

 

 

 

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1): Review

8490112Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1) by Laini Taylor
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on September 27, 2011
Genres: young adult, paranormal romance, fantasy
Pages: 422
Format: Hardcover
Amazon Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound

Rating: ★★★


Mm. Hmm.

I’m chewing my lip at what to say here, folks. It’s been almost a year since I read this book, and I don’t feel much toward it. Except disappointment.

This book has been on my radar for years. Almost all my favorite reviewers love it and Laini Taylor. They praise the vivid world-building, the complex love story, the enchanting way Taylor weaves her words. About 25% through the book, I almost found myself agreeing with them.

But then the romance happened, and my reaction to the rest of the book can be described in just one word: Huh?

Taylor gives us a lush, atmospheric setting for her novel: Prague. We learn about Karou, the unusual girl with the blue hair; her friend, Zuzana; Karou’s work collecting teeth for her chimera father figure, Brimstone, and his cohorts, the family Karou never had. And, on top of it all, there’s an angel named Akiva in Prague, looking for Brimstone and Karou–an angel who may know more about Karou than she knows about herself.

All in all, it’s a captivating, unique story, and it drew me right in, because I’ve never quite read anything like it. The setting, the writing, the mythology–all of it was unique and engaging, and I wanted more.

But that’s where my praises for this book end. Because then the romance takes center stage, and this book goes from fascinating paranormal story to a book about star-crossed lovers who, you guessed it, were star-crossed in a previous life, as well, causing a rift between their two worlds.

Maybe I could get behind this if it was something that’s not incredibly overdone in YA paranormal literature. But Karou and Akiva’s first romance wasn’t even very interesting, because there wasn’t anything to base it off of. Karou saves Akiva during a battle between his kind and hers, and all of the sudden, he’s in love? I don’t know. The progression seemed too hasty for me, and, seeing as the majority of this book’s appeal rests on your ability to engage in the romance from about 30% on, such a progression resulted in my growing disinterest with the story.

Then, some other drama gets thrown into the book (no spoilers here) which threatens the existence of Karou and Akiva’s relationship. Again, this is normal. This is okay. Maybe it might peeve me a little bit, but it wouldn’t bother me too much if we hadn’t spent so much time building up this romance instead of focusing on the other aspects of the story. Why are the doors closing? Exactly what does Brimstone do? I want to know more about him and the chimera and their relationship with Karou. I wanted to see more of Prague and all its magic. I wanted Karou to show us more of her abilities. As far as I was concerned, the romance, while initially intriguing, can take a hike. As soon as the “star-crossed lovers” slant is given to it, their relationship becomes incredibly generic. And tiresome, because we’ve seen this type of relationship before.

In short: With creative mythology, spell-binding prose, and interesting characters, this book had great potential to be an engaging, fresh look at angels and demons in a modern-day/fantasy setting. However, by focusing more on a cliched, overwhelmingly star-crossed romance, this book inadvertently hides the qualities that make it so unique for a story element not impressive enough to take the place of those qualities. I’m disappointed in this decision, and probably won’t be continuing the series.

RONIT & JAMIL: Review

30317423Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on February 21, 2017
Genres: young adult, realistic fiction, contemporary romance, poetry, retellings
Pages: 192
Format: Hardcover
Amazon Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound

Rating:


This rating is not what you think.

Or maybe it’s not what I would think it to be; usually, for me, one-star reviews mean that the reviewer didn’t just dislike the book they’re reviewing–they hated it.

But I didn’t hate this book. I was just underwhelmed by it.

Ronit & Jamil is pitched as a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in the midst of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Not only is this conflict a current issue–it’s divisive, and it’s affecting both ethnic relations between Arabs and Jews and U.S. foreign policy. So divisive, current, and important–but not widely covered. Not in YA literature, at least. I’m also part Syrian, and my heritage has partially influenced my cultural interactions with others whose families are involved in this conflict.

So I was really looking forward to this story, both as a unique approach to Shakespearean retellings and as a provoker of discussion. This story promised to address the question posed in its first pages: Whose land is it, really? And is there ever hope for peace in a two-state solution?

This story doesn’t answer those questions. There are mentions of peace and conflict and bombs (although, some of this might be metaphorical; kind of difficult to tell when the book is written verse [I’ll come back to that]). There are moments where Ronit and Jamil question why coexistence is so impossible, and why enmity between the two nations has become so prevalent and potent, it’s practically its own family tradition. But these questions are not developed more–they are touched on briefly, and then left to dissolve in to the backs of readers’ minds.

It seems what I’m trying to say is that this story’s priorities were focused more on the romance than on an important contemporary socio-political issue. But what I’m trying to say is that…actually, I don’t know. I’m really not sure where this story’s priorities were, and I think that’s one of its major faults.

Am I supposed to focus on the romance? It’s barely developed. Ronit and Jamil go from acknowledging the others’ existence to having the hots for each other and running away together. Their connection is so brief and underdeveloped that I have no idea why they fell for each other, or why either loves the other so much they would run away from their former lives and their family. I also had difficulty telling the two of them apart; despite their different ethnicities and the variations that result (different ways of addressing their parents/talking about food, etc.), their voices were almost identical. What makes it even more confusing is that Ronit is the girl here, and Jamil is the boy; I thought at least I could rely on the beginning letters of their names to distinguish who was who (R=Romeo, J=Juliet), but here, it’s swapped, I think. Even now, I don’t know. I barely remember the characters themselves.

Am I supposed to focus on the conflict between Israel and Palestine? This book acknowledges that conflict exists, but more words are wasted describing food, running errands, and kissing than on covering this conflict. If you’re going to include an issue like this as a springboard for discussion, please use it for something. Conflict is conflict–it is meant for causing change. Conflict is a force, not a setting. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be mitigated to a backdrop for two lovers if you’re not going to address the nuances that make this conflict so messy. You could set this book anywhere else, and very little would need to be changed to tell the same story.

Ronit & Jamil‘s failure to develop both its characters and its conflict as real, engaging, and relatable renders this story ineffective–as commentary, as a retelling, and even as a book of good poetry; nothing about the prose in this book grabbed my attention. It’s a very quick read (I finished it in about two hours), but it’s forgettable–the last thing a book featuring such an important issue should be.

A CROWN OF WISHES (The Star-Touched Queen, #2): Review (ARC)

29939047A Crown of Wishes (The Star-Touched Queen, #2) by Roshani Chokshi
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on March 28, 2017
Genres: young adult, romance, fantasy, mythology
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback (ARC)
Amazon Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound

Rating: ★★★¼


Hmm.

I enjoyed The Star-Touched Queen, although I had my grievances with it. It was tastefully-written and a lovely gateway into an enchanting world. I admired Gauri, and so when I heard she was getting her own book, I got super excited. (Also, a tournament of wishes? Sounds cool, right?)

I liked A Crown of Wishes, but I didn’t love it. Just like its predecessor, something seems missing in this book, and here, that missing X factor is time. We just don’t get enough time with these characters. I wanted more funny banter between Gauri and Vikram, more page time with that vanara (who really could have been a cool, humorous sidekick, if he’d been present for more of the story), more external conflict in the Tournament once Vikram and Gauri arrived.  I finished this book, and I still don’t feel I know the characters as well as I could have.

That being said, I enjoyed both Vikram and Gauri. Both are driven, distinct characters with good heads on their shoulders. Gauri is a warrior, but she’s not heartless. Vikram can’t wield weapons, but he’s cunning. It was a cool balance to read, and a nice twist on the stereotypical fantasy gender roles without being overbearing. I just wanted more on-screen bonding time between our two leads so I could root for their romance more enthusiastically. I’ve always been a slow-burner gal, so maybe that’s part of it, but I did feel like the romance moved too quickly.

The plot in this story is easier to follow than The Star-Touched Queen‘s: Gauri and Vikram compete in certain challenges to win one wish each. Maybe it’s because I hear “tournament” and think “Hunger Games,” but I felt the tournament wasn’t as present in the story as it was set up to be in the blurb. Yes, there are competitors and challenges, but we don’t really see much of the other competitors, and, while there are challenges, most are symbolic. Which is fine, just not filled with much action. Again, fine, but not what I expected.

This review makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy this book, but I did. I enjoyed the characters, and the writing is just as beautiful as always (a memo for anyone who might have been turned off by the writing in TSTQ: the prose is more tempered here). This novel is a story about magic and stories themselves–and about how we hold power over both. And, as both a reader and a storyteller, I found that delightful.

In short: This book was magical, vibrant, and clever–much like a folk tale. It just wasn’t quite a home run for me.

Much thanks to St. Martin’s for the ARC. No compensation of any kind was exchanged for this review.

 

 

 

THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN (The Star-Touched Queen, #1): Review

25203675The Star-Touched Queen (The Star-Touched Queen, #1) by Roshani Chokshi
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on April 26, 2016
Genres: young adult, romance, fantasy, mythology
Pages: 342
Format: Hardcover
Amazon Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound

Rating: ★★★½ 


I had a hard time making up my mind as to whether or not I would read this book. When I first saw the cover, I thought the answer would be yes. Then I read the blurb and wasn’t sure if it would be my thing.

The answer changed to a probable no when I read a few negative reviews on Goodreads. One trusted reviewer was not a fan of the (in their opinion) overly-flowery prose, which they claimed did not make up for the lack of plot. The quotes this reviewer included in their review sounded more stilted than flowery, so I decided on yeah, no thanks.

But then I saw this book at the library, and my answer changed to just try it.

So, with so much going back and forth on this book, what is my final verdict of The Star-Touched Queen? Well, for one thing, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed the writing style. Roshani Chokshi uses very vivid imagery with vibrant, well-chosen words; you can see the sunsets she’s describing; you can taste the food the characters are eating; you can see the magic of this world unravel around you in spools. As a result, I loved the atmosphere of this book.

However, the writing style might not be for everyone, so I’d recommend checking out a sample on Amazon (or another online retail site)  to see if the prose is something you’d enjoy. I liked it, but that doesn’t mean everyone will.

As a result of such vivid prose, you get a lovely little glimpse of Bharata. It genuinely felt like  a real place to me, like maybe, if I traveled far away and hoped hard enough, maybe I’d find it. I enjoyed the whimsical feel; it gave this story a very fairy-tale-like atmosphere.

However, I couldn’t help but wish there were more side characters in the story after Maya leaves for Akaran. Amar is intriguing and mysterious and sweet (and I wanted wayyyy more of him than we got), but part of his mysterious identity means he’s absent in many parts of the story.

This leaves readers to accompany Maya in her explorations of her kingdom, which, while interesting in that it offers a few more clues to exactly what kind of kingdom Maya has inherited through her marriage, is not enough to make the plot move forward on its own. In most of these scenes, Maya is alone, and, while she’s a sensitive and compassionate girl I could easily sympathize with and root for, her musings alone are not enough to keep this plot going. The book loses momentum in its middle, and something else—perhaps another, more present side character—might have prevented my interest from meandering. Anything would have worked to keep me invested in the story.

This wandering about means the twist seemingly comes out of nowhere—and, don’t get me wrong, I was ripping through pages to get to the end because I was so concerned about Amar–which made the conclusion a little unsatisfying. I wanted more–about Amar, about Akaran, about Maya and her past. But, when I finished the book, it didn’t seem like I had very many answers to those questions.

Fantastical world-building, luscious prose, intriguing mythology, and an alluring love interest–this book has them all. But, in many ways, while The Star-Touched Queen enticed me with promises of a sweet, delectable fruit of a story, my desires were not fully satiated.

 

FINDING AUDREY: Review

23305614Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on June 9, 2015
Genres: young adult, contemporary (romance), mental health/mental illness
Pages: 286
Format: Hardcover
Amazon Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound

Rating: ★★★½


I haven’t read the Shopaholic series, I’ll admit, so this was my first Sophie Kinsella novel. But, after reading this, I might consider checking out her other books. Because I enjoyed this a lot.

This book gives us a glimpse into the life of Audrey Turner–a girl struggling with a severe anxiety disorder–and the life of the rest of the Turners. It’s a life full of Mom’s hilarious overdramatics, Dad’s awkward yet heartwarming quirks, and Audrey’s brother’s video-games. It’s a life Audrey’s brother’s friend Linus gets to experience when he starts coming over to the Turners’ to hang out. Linus and Audrey form a connection that allows Audrey to, in turn, connect with the outside world, and delve a little deeper into her anxiety, helping her grow.

There are several things this book did very well, and the first was the portrayal of mental illness. Audrey sees a therapist regularly, and this therapist reminds her–quite accurately–that recovery and progress with a mental illness is not linear; there are highs and lows no matter where you are in your life journey. (For those worried Linus will “fix” Audrey: He tries, thinking that mental illness is something that can be “fixed,” but, while Linus helps Audrey make progress, he doesn’t heal her. There’s a very important distinction there, and it makes for a very realistic portrayal of love and relationships with others: other people cannot fix us, but they can definitely make for smoother sailing.) This book shows us some of those highs and lows, taking a very real issue (anxiety) and giving us a very honest, accurate depiction of it.

The result is some great messages about anxiety, mental illness, and recovery in general:

I think what I’ve realized is, life is all about climbing up, slipping down, and picking yourself up again. And it doesn’t matter if you slip down. As long as you’re kind of heading more or less upwards. That’s all you can hope for. More or less upwards.

Another:

We don’t have to reveal everything to each other. It’s OK to be private. It’s OK to say no. It’s OK to say, ‘I’m not going to share that.’

It really hits anxiety and depression right on the mark. I can’t even begin to describe how accurate this is:

The trouble is, depression doesn’t come with handy symptoms like spots and a temperature, so you don’t realize it at first. You keep saying “I’m fine” to people when you’re not fine. You think you SHOULD be fine. You keep saying to yourself: “Why aren’t I fine?”

So, yes, I loved the way this book handled mental illness. I wish we had more books like these.

I also love the Turner family. They’re so strange, but so normal, too? Whose mom doesn’t freak out over the smallest things sometimes? Whose Dad doesn’t make awkward jokes? Whose parents don’t have more than their fair share of awkward moments? Whose children don’t roll their eyes at their parents when their parents are overracting (and aren’t they always? Love you, Mom. 😉 ) This book was so relatable, giving us a flawed, messy family in all its humorous glory. I laughed out loud for over half the book.

Linus is sweet, too. He’s understanding, relaxed, and, well…normal. He’s a normal boy, just like the Turners are a normal family. But somehow that makes all of them more special. I enjoyed Linus’s interactions with the Turners and with Audrey and her brother, specifically; they were fun to read. His romance with Audrey was also cute, if a bit rushed at the very end.

One thing I wish this book would have done (besides making the romance a liiiittle slower at the end) was dive a little deeper into what sparked Audrey’s anxiety. We know there’s an incident at school, but we don’t know much about it. The ending felt kind of abrupt, and I was left wanting more closure on how Audrey’s learning to cope with her disorder, just a tad more on how she’d come to accept it as a part of her. (And that acceptance is a constant process.) I felt a little cheated when I closed the book, because I didn’t get the opportunity to understand/experience Audrey’s anxiety as much as I’d hoped. The book could’ve dug just a little deeper, but we didn’t get there, which left me kind of bummed.

All in all, this is a funny, sweet story with an honest look into mental illness and family life. Pick it up if you’d like a heartwarming contemporary read, or you’re in the mood for a good laugh.