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
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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.

A COURT OF MIST AND FURY (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2): Review

17927395A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)  by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 3, 2016
Genres: young adult/new adult, romance, fantasy, retellings
Pages: 624
Format: Hardcover
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Rating: ★★★★½ 


AHHH. I’m so glad I stuck with this series. This book was so good. In fact, so far, it’s the only Fae book I’ve read and enjoyed.

After reading ACOTAR, I was apprehensive about reading ACOMAF. So many people liked the first book, but I didn’t, so if they loved the first book, would I?

I was worried the answer would be no. I didn’t love Tamlin and Feyre as a couple, but I was all right with them by the end of ACOTAR, so, going into ACOMAF I wasn’t sure about Rhysand as a love interest—both because my first impression of him was less than stellar, and because I don’t like change.

Don’t get me wrong: The first 100 pages or so of this book was boring. Feyre is preparing for her wedding to Tamlin (or, more accurately, watching other people prepare for her wedding to Tamlin), and both of them are still processing the trauma they experienced under the mountain—trauma that is driving a wedge between them and making Tamlin overprotective and uncaring. I commend Maas for being willing to show this trauma; characters are people, guys; if they go through something traumatic, it’s not like that trauma just disappears after the traumatic experiences ends. But I was still very uninterested in the story, and I wondered how I would get through 500 more pages of this. For the slightest moment, I doubted I’d finish the book.

But I pushed through, and now I understand why this book is so long. It pulls you in, slowly immersing you in a fascinating, cleverly-developed world full of culture and customs I loved reading about.

This book is an amazing insight into Maas’s Fae culture, and I loved every bit of it. I want to disappear into this world and become Fae, you guys. I would love it. And I can picture my life here, because I can picture the Day and Night courts, Rhys’s house, the cabins, Starfall. I said in my review of ACOTAR that I wanted more world-building, and here, Maas gives it in abundance.

I also loved the slow development of Feyre and Rhys’s relationship, both as friends, and as lovers. I liked how it wasn’t instant attraction, how each of them have burdens they’re struggling to bear and trauma to get over, but how they challenge each other in small ways —and big ones—so one helps the other become a better person.

I loved how Rhys was patient with Feyre, how he never forced her to do what she wasn’t comfortable with and how he trusted her to judge circumstances fairly. He listened to her opinions, respected her needs, and deferred to her for important decisions she needed to make about herself. He respected her and did not try to undermine. He was supportive of her choices, and I loved that. He treated her like a woman, not a girl. It’s a rare sight to see in YA fantasy—not that all male love interests in YA fantasy are actively working to subjugate their female protagonists, but seeing Rhysand instead actively working to help Feyre and others recognize her own power and influence–and honoring that power and influence—was refreshing.

But aside from that, I love Rhys. He’s cocky sometimes, sure, but he’s definitely not the corny bad boy I thought he was when I read ACOTAR. No, Rhys is a man (or, as much a man as a High Fae can be, I guess). He’s a ruler who cares about the safety and wellbeing of his people—a ruler who would made the ultimate sacrifice for his subjects, and, in many ways, already has. And, on top of that, he’s sensitive and caring and merciful, but strong, too. To me, Rhysand is the perfect example of a happy medium for a male love interest somewhere between “I man you woman” and “sobbing pile of gook.” He’s just so well-balanced, and I love how he pushed Feyre to come into her own—without undermining her needs and without dictating who she will become. The level of trust there is, again, so refreshing and wonderful to read. (I’ll never stop talking about this, will I?)

Also, Rhysand’s inner circle? I love them. Each member is just wonderful in their own way, all fierce, but all compassionate. I wish I had a group of friends like that—friends just as deadly as they are loyal.

There were a few scenes I felt were excessive in content, and the length to which Maas vilifies Tamlin was a bit much for me, but overall this was a wonderful read. It took some time for the book to grow on me, but once I was in, I was slowly submerged in something vivid and engaging and fun. The world-building, character relationships, and even the plot were all constructed so thoroughly that this book didn’t feel (more or less) 700 pages long. I almost wish there was more of it.

 

 

MY SOUL TO SAVE (Soul Screamers, #2): Review

6763961My Soul to Save (Soul Screamers, #2) by Rachel Vincent
Published by Harlequin Teen on December 29, 2009
Genres: young adult urban fantasy, paranormal romance
Pages: 279
Format: Paperback
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Rating: ★★½  


Uh oh. I’m in trouble.

I’m reviewing this book, and I can barely remember a thing about it.

Granted, I didn’t exactly read this yesterday, so it might be that time is working against my memory. But I think the more likely reason why I couldn’t remember much about this book is there’s not much worth remembering.

The idea itself was super cool: teenagers selling their souls for things like fame and fortune and immortality. I enjoyed how we got to see more of Tod and the reaper world. But everything else is dull and underwhelming, and, as much as I wanted to like the idea of hellions and the Underworld, I grew more bored and tired of it than intrigued.

The characters weren’t very special, either; again, I liked Tod, and I liked how we got to see more of Nash’s mom (she’s so cool) and Kaylee’s (I had to look up her name again) dad, but most of the book is spent in the company of Kaylee, Nash, Addison, and Emma, and they just weren’t exciting enough to hold my attention or interest.

I don’t want to bore you, too, so I’ll be brief: I was disappointed by this one, but in the this-is-kind-of-boring-and-I’m-not-invested way. I’m seriously considering not reading the next book.

A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1): Review

16096824A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)  by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 5, 2015
Genres: young adult/new adult, romance, fantasy, retellings
Pages: 416
Format: Hardcover
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Rating: ★★★


If I had to use one word to describe this novel, I think it’d be “tepid.”

Others don’t seem to fit right. “Bland” implies I didn’t enjoy this novel. “Dull” makes it sound like this book was disagreeable. It’s not that I didn’t like A Court of Thorns and Roses. It’s that I didn’t love it.

I’d heard mixed reviews about this book from my peers, so I was a little wary of starting the series. But the people I knew who’d liked it had loved it. These people lauded Maas as a masterful writer. Fae combined with a Beauty and the Beast retelling seemed more appealing than assassins to me, so I picked ACOTAR up first.

I will say that Maas definitely isn’t a bad writer. Her descriptions are vivid without being overbearing, and she does a good job of establishing the setting, whether it’s the forest during the winter, Feyre’s home village, or Tamlin’s Spring Court. She’s a good world-builder (which is further evidenced in ACOMAF, but I digress), and that’s something difficult to get right in YA fantasy.

The world Maas has created here is intruiging and mysterious. I want to more about the Fae and other nonhuman creatures in this world. I want to know more about Fae politics and dynamics between the High Fae of each court. This novel does a great job of setting up all these elements for future installments, and it’s one of my favorite aspects of this book. I can’t wait to see what Maas does with this world in later books.

I also enjoyed the relationship Feyre had with her sisters. She’s angry and upset that she’s the only one providing for them (which is understandable), and, though their relationships are strained, you can see that these siblings care for each other in their own ways. I also liked how Feyre was the youngest, which flips the “older sister=family provider” trope on its head (a trope which, if you’ve read my review for The Stars Never Rise, you’ll know is a trope I’m very tired of). It was nice to see something different for a change.

In regards Beauty and the Beast undertones, this is a very loose retelling. I got vibes of the original from ACOTAR via certain elements included, but this story is very much its own tale. (Speaking of which, one of my fellow bloggers wrote a short post comparing the abusive elements in Beauty and the Beast to the same elements in ACOTAR. If you’re interested, the link is here.)

Unfortunately, though I liked all of these things about ACOTAR, I failed to fully invest in the book as a whole. It’s 416 pages long, and, for at least 150 of those pages, we’re with Feyre in Tamlin’s house, where she does little more than explore the grounds and paint. Rounded up, that’s about 36% of the book where she’s doing pretty much nothing, and, honestly, it’s pretty boring to read. I had to push myself through first two thirds of the book in hopes that I would get invested soon.

There’s almost nothing to keep you reading during that time, either, besides the mystery behind Tamlin’s mannerisms and the world of the Fae. But for readers hoping for some sort of romantic tension, there really isn’t much until about halfway through the book. (I’d estimate it at about 55% in.)

After the big twist, of course, things get interesting, but they took such a drastic turn that it seemed I was reading a totally different book, and I felt a little disoriented. We went from admiring the various rooms and flowers on Tamlin’s estate to battling giant carnivorous worms in front of almost all the High Fae, and that was a rough transition for me.

(Also, people might argue with me, but I actually found Rhysand to be kind of creepy in this book. One could use his situation Under the Mountain to justify these behaviors, but, where some readers say they liked him immediately, my first impression of him was “typical cocky, good-looking bad boy.” So, obviously, I wasn’t endeared to him immediately.)

The main thing this book is betting on is the romance. In order to be invested in the story enough to want to keep reading, you have to be interested in Tamlin and Feyre’s relationship. But again, there’s little romantic tension or anything to keep readers going in the beginning, and, by the big twist, all of the sudden we have several “I love you”s. I just wanted more build-up, and we didn’t get it. Thus, by the end of the story, I wasn’t fully convinced that Feyre and Tamlin really were in love with each other, and I felt I couldn’t fully root for them as a couple, which was kind of disappointing. (Or maybe it wasn’t, because of what happens in ACOMAF? Jury’s still out on that one.)

While we’re talking about the romance, some readers have taken issue with Tamlin and Feyre’s romance in this book, and, while I see the red flags in retrospect, I didn’t take an issue with the dynamics while reading (probably because I’m oblivious, haha).

In conclusion, ACOTAR provides an intriguing new fantasy world full of potential, but this novel is lacking in both plot and romantic development, which made the roses in this court look wilted. (But it’s okay, because ACOMAF exists.) If you need one reason to read this book, read it so you can enjoy ACOMAF.

EVOLUTION (Extraction, #3): Review

20734195Evolution (Extraction, #3) by Stephanie Diaz
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on September 8, 2015
Genres: young adult romance, dystopian, science fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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Rating: ★★★★


If you know me, you know my luck with trilogies. You know how I warm up to a series, and, just when things start to get good, the third book comes along and pulverizes me with disappointment. It’s happened so many times (with some of my favorite series, too) that I actually get antsy when reading the third book in a trilogy, because I know how they end, and I know that they usually disappoint me.

But I can say with confidence that Evolution is one of–if not the only–trilogy finale that did not disappoint me. Trust me when I say this is the highest of compliments.

Before I review this book specifically, I want to take a step back and look at the trajectory of the series as a whole. The first book, Extraction, is a dystopian at its heart, with sci-fi undertones–strong ones, but undertones nonetheless. Rebellion saw a step toward the sci-fi end of the spectrum, with spaceships and spying and an undercover resistance (and so many twists and turns my eyes were practically Gorilla-glued to the pages).

In Evolution, we’re full-on sci-fi, complete with more spaceships (Can you hear the nerd in me squealing?) and an alien invasion. Here, Stephanie Diaz really steps into her own and brings everything she’s got to the table, and it shows. I enjoyed every bit of it.

This book starts in a seemingly impossible situation: Aliens are invading Kiel, and Clementine and her friends in the rebellion might have to consider an alliance with Charlie and the Commanders if they want to stand a chance against the Mardenite armies. But knowing that the Commanders have been Clementine’s enemies–the enemies of everyone she’s loved, the threats to her safety and her security and her entire world–how can allying with them even be a possibility? How could it ever be part of the picture? I knew it was going to take a lot of skill to pull of this maneuver.

But Diaz manages it, and she manages it well. This book doesn’t shirk away from character deaths, and it doesn’t back down from the high stakes it sets up. Everything has been leading up to this, and Diaz delivers.

One of my favorite aspects of this series (besides the covers, of course) is the writing: simple and clean and sleek, but still beautiful. It’s theatrical and vivid, but never overbearingly so. We get breathtaking descriptions of space and stars, and I ate them up with a spoon (the descriptions, not the stars).

In Rebellion, Diaz really hit her stride, prose-wise, and, here, her writing shines just as brightly. Diaz is always aware of the mood of each scene, and her writing tone reflects that really well. Quiet scenes are quiet, and intense scenes are just as explosive as they should be. All of them are written beautifully.

All this being said, I did have a little trouble buying one of the big twists in this novel because I felt it made one of the characters a little too much of a special snowflake, but it wasn’t a deal breaker for me. The ending was also wrapped up a little too neatly for me, but, again, a minor complaint. I’m always saying I hate it when I don’t closure at the end of a series, so it was great to have that here.

In conclusion, this was a really fun sci-fi series that got my adrenaline pumping in all the right ways, while just happening to have pretty prose. Between the gorgeous covers, the gripping plots, and the lovely writing, Diaz has captivated me with this series just as much as the stars she so skillfully describes. A stellar (heheh) conclusion to an action-packed sci-fi series that’s just as exciting as it is enthralling.

FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK (Lumatere Chronicles, #1): Review

6719736Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1) by Melina Marchetta
Published by Candlewick Press on February 9, 2010 (first published on September 29, 2008)
Genres: young adult, fantasy, romance
Pages: 399
Format: Hardcover
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Rating: ★★★★★


I’m kicking myself. That’s how good this book is.

I’m kicking myself, because I can’t believe I didn’t read this sooner.

This series comes highly recommended by several of my trusted review sources, and, though it’s an amazing series (judging by the first book, at least), it’s also incredibly underhyped. And that makes me sad, because Finnikin has everything bookworms could possibly want in a good YA high fantasy: strong and vivid characters, a steady-yet-unpredictable plot (the twist blew my mind, it was so clever), a wonderful romance that does not overpower the rest of the novel, and solid, detailed world-building. I was so happy.

I loved every single side character in this book (except for Froi, though he grew on me eventually). They’re all such fighters, so fierce and strong in their own ways (especially Evanjalin and Trevanion, both of whom I was cheering for so hard). They’ve all undergone hardship or trauma of some sort since the five days of the unspeakable (the name for the assassination of Lumatere’s royal family). The people of Lumatere are refugees, scattered and suffering, and I loved that Marchetta chose to portray a hurting, broken nation rather than one simply corrupt from the inside. Instead of focusing mainly on the cruelty of the current powers at hand, Marchetta focuses on the suffering and the humanity of the subjects, making their exile a matter of the heart rather than just a political issue. She characterizes the island of Skuldenore not by its boundaries or its nations, but by the people themselves and by the cultures and causes they hold.

It’s something I’ve seen before, but not the way she portrayed it. It felt so fresh and so real, and my heart ached for the people of Lumatere and sympathized with their plight. I was rooting for all of these characters every step of the way.

I’ve mentioned how the plot is steady, but unpredictable.What I mean by that is that the plot does not meander and stays course, but still has several twists which kept me on the edge of my seat. I won’t spoil it for you, but I’ll tell you this: You’ll think you know exactly what’s going to happen, but, once you get to a certain point in this book, you’ll completely reevaulate your assumptions.

Finally, the romance. It was slow-burn and gradual and stubborn, just like the two characters it involved. I loved how fierce both of those characters are, and how they rub off of each other so well. They’re explosive, but in a slow and growing way, like rocks that create a spark, which expands into a fire that slowly warms you up. Even though they clash in several ways and they’re both strong-willed, they complement each other very nicely. (And, honestly, they’re probably one of my OTPs [One True Pairings].) Their relationship is a great reminder that nobody’s perfect and that compromise is necessary in relationships.

And the best part about it? Though it’s intense, it’s only an undertone to the main plot, never distracting from the rest of the story or the characters’ purpose. I loved that, just like I loved them.

If you enjoy YA fantasy and you’re looking for some great high fantasy, please, please, please check this book out. It’s very rare that I can love a book as completely as I loved this one. Books like this remind me why I love reading so much.

REBELLION (Extraction, #2): Review

18625184Rebellion (Extraction, #2) by Stephanie Diaz
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on February 10, 2015
Genres: young adult romance, dystopian, science fiction
Pages: 324
Format: Hardcover
Amazon Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound

Rating: ★★★★½ 


We can’t forget those who are still imprisoned in the work camps, especially now that there’s acid descending on them from the sky. They already lived in fear of death, and now they have one more way to die.

They deserve freedom. But even if the scouts return and bring us news so we can launch an attack, it will take a lot more than a single battle to liberate everyone in the camps.

Our uprising has barely begun.

One week ago, Clementine and Logan escaped Commander Charlie’s clutches, and are now in hiding on the Surface. Even though the idea of safety is tempting, Clementine knows the peace won’t last for long; Charlie is determined to find her and crush the Alliance she’s aligned herself with, regardless of the consequences.

To throw the Developers a returning punch, Clementine sneaks back into Kielan society disguised as a worker in one of the Sector camps. There, she tries to stay undercover long enough to find information that will incriminate Charlie and the other Developers. But, the closer Clementine gets to finding the truth, the closer she finds herself to losing everyone she loves, as well as herself.

It’s been quite a while from the time I read this to the time I’m writing this review, so unfortunately I can’t remember much about it. All I know is that this book is was amazing. It took its predecessor’s flaws, and polished them. It took Extraction’s tension, plot, and chilling atmosphere, and it cranked the chaos to stratospheric levels.

Every page, it seemed some new disaster had befallen Clementine and her friends, one more obstacle to surmount on the path to truth and freedom. I applaud Diaz for not giving her characters any leeway and making them work towards their goals; it made the pages fly by.

Clementine’s strength in this book was unbelievable. Her determination to find the truth drove her far, but her willingness to sacrifice herself for her loved ones was unbelievable. Her selflessness landed her in some pretty terrifying situations—ones she could have easily avoided if she’d been focused just on saving her own skin. But instead, she faces all the challenges thrown at her head-on, because she knew others were counting on her. Her ability to

In regards to plot, Rebellion takes the foundation laid in Extraction, and expounds on it, weaving mere plot threads into dark, chilling tapestries that show just how deep the Developers’ deception runs. The tone of the book is set by the stains of Clementine’s emotional trauma, which grow larger as the book progresses and she’s subjected to more tortures. However, despite every twist, there is always hope remaining for the characters in one way or another, giving Rebellion a sense of urgency that made the book difficult to put down.

Finally, my favorite part: the writing. Clementine is still trying to recover from her experiences in the previous book, and this lends some poignancy to the prose. It helps whet Rebellion into a sleek, sharp dagger aiming strait for the heart. In addition, the ending promises a thrilling conclusion to the trilogy. It looks like Evolution is going to be one heck of a ride.