Friday, June 22, 2018

Mini Review: Leah on the Offbeat

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli 
Publication Date: April 2018
Goodreads
Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.




I'm very conflicted over my rating. Parts of this book were amazing and worthy of 5 stars! Other parts I had serious issues with... 

*Spoilers*
What I liked:

1) Simon and Bram (obviously) <3
2) College talk! (Seeing these character going on campus tours while I'm at the same stage in my life was so cool)
3) The Leigh Bardugo and other fandom references (Nina and Inej. My heart!)
4) How the story handles racism (A girl makes a stupid, horrible racist comment after a rejection and this was treated with the levity it deserves. My heart broke for Abby.)
5) I love Leah's mom 
6) The American Girl Store Debacle 
7) I just love Albertalli's writing style and sense of humor

What I didn't like:

1) Leah's treatment of her mom
2) Leah's treatment of Garrett
3) Leah's treatment of people in general 
4) Prom felt very unrealistic. Very romanticized almost? And over dramatic? 
5) Okay... confession time: I just wasn't really feeling or shipping Leah and Abby together at all. This was a major issue considering they're the main focus. 

I'm overall glad this book is out in the world and it's a worthy addition to the Creekwood universe - but it isn't at all comparable to the masterpiece that is Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda.





Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review: Restore Me

Restore Me by Teherah Mafi
Shatter Me #4
435 pages
Publication Date: March 2018
Goodreads

Juliette Ferrars thought she'd won. She took over Sector 45, was named the new Supreme Commander, and now has Warner by her side. But she's still the girl with the ability to kill with a single touch—and now she's got the whole world in the palm of her hand. When tragedy hits, who will she become? Will she be able to control the power she wields and use it for good?


Shatter Me is one of my all time favorite trilogies. It's fast paced, beautifully written, and has some of the best character development I've ever seen. It's fun and compulsively re-readable. The original trilogy is almost like comfort food to me. 

That said, I was very nervous when Mafi announced she would be adding three more books onto the original series. I was excited, yes, but wary. 


I am happy to say that Restore Me was the perfect fourth book. It seamlessly picks up just after Ignite Me left off. Juliette is struggling as supreme commander, which is realistic and honestly what should be expected. We see that there has been no happily-ever-after, and I love it. Mafi's world is scary and fixing the whole world isn't (and shouldn't be) easy. 


I also loved seeing old favorites (like my beloved Kenji) and meeting new awesome characters (like Nazeera). And of course Warner was wonderful as always. Although he and Juliette definitely have stuff to work through. 


And, boy, were there plot twists galore! I cannot wait for book 5 after that ending. Please give it to me now! 


Mari is such an expressive, beautiful writer. And this continuation does the original trilogy proud. I am so relieved! 


4.5/5 Stars


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review: This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Pub date: September 2013
Goodreads
A powerful coming-of-age story about an outsider who finds herself when she enters the underground music scene.

Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski's strong suit. All throughout her life, she's been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up.

Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.



This book physically hurt to read. Elise's struggles weren't fiction or fantasy; they were real. The bullying, the awareness of being odd, and the silent, friendless days at school are realities for many. Her feelings of loneliness and hopelessness were acute like a knife wound. Sometimes the scariest books are the ones that take place in the world we live in. 

This Song Will Save Your Life is not all doom and gloom though. There is music and dancing! And, most importantly, there's hope. Elise's voice is charming and witty. Her little sister and her newfound friends at Start were all so lovable. In fact, Elise's journey to becoming a DJ was so inspiring and fun. 

The end isn't rosy and perfect, but it holds a bright promise for all the teenagers who have felt out of place. While the book had sad parts, the book itself is not sad. Sure, there is no epic revenge against the bullies. There is no whirlwind romance with a happily ever after. There are mean girls and douche bags. That won't change. However, music and friends and family can make up for all the bad. Sales' book is a story of life and all its ups and downs. 

I am amazed at how Leila Sales has so realistically portrayed the life of a so-called misfit. One just has to look at the various Goodreads reviews to see how much Elise has resonated with readers. The wonderfully written book was an eye opening experience. 



Monday, June 18, 2018

Review: Jeweled Fire

Jeweled Fire by Sharon Shinn
Pub Date: November 2015
Goodreads
As one of the four princesses of Welce, Corene always thought she might one day become queen. Only circumstances changed, leaving fiery Corene with nothing to show for a life spent playing the game of court intrigue—until a chance arises to become the ruler of a nearby country.

After stowing away on a ship bound for Malinqua with her loyal bodyguard, Foley, Corene must try to win the throne by making a play to marry one of the empress’s three nephews. But Corene is not the only foreign princess in search of a crown.

Unaccustomed to being anyone’s friend, Corene is surprised to find companionship among her fellow competitors. But behind Malinqua’s beautiful facade lie many secrets.

The visiting princesses are more hostages than guests. And as the deadly nature of the court is revealed, Corene must rely on both her new allies and Foley’s unwavering protection—for the game she has entered is far more perilous than she ever imagined…
 



YES! I can barely contain myself. This is my new favorite in the series! I absolutely love Corene and Foley. I loved having a new setting and a mostly new cast of characters in Malinqua. There's so much to discuss. 

First of all, if you haven't read the first books in the series, I would definitely recommend starting with those. Yes, each story has a new protagonist and a new plot, but the background knowledge is pretty important. 
So, with that out of the way, let's continue singing Jeweled Fire's praises. So why was this my new favorite in the series? 

1) Corene and the fun cast 

Corene is my favorite by far. She is spunky, fiery, and not perfect. Also she has survived so much and I have major respect for her. And I loved her relationship with those around her such as Liramelli and Melissande and Jiramondi. There were so many interesting friends. And we are also introduced to Leah the spy. (She's the protagonist for the 4th book!) 

2) The world building 

It's time to say goodbye to Welce and its elemental blessings. Malinqua doesn't have hunti, coru, torz, elay and sweela affiliations. Malinqua has a different sort of philosophy. Everything in the city is split two ways: between smoke and fire. There are two towers. One half of the city is red and the other white. There's this belief in balance but the Malinquans also acknowledge no one is ever solely one thing. It was all very interesting and I could tell Shinn put effort into fleshing out this new land. 

3) The plot

First of all, there is a definite murder mystery element going on in the Malinqua Court. And I'm such a sucker for murder mysteries. I couldn't help but try to guess the murderer. And tied in with the murders was political scheming and conflicts with the crown. The political intrigue was so fun as always. I love how the plot is so intricately weaved with all these different strands. And everything that happens in Malinqua is also important to Welce (the original setting of the series). 

4) The romance

So it's a barely-there romance but I still shipped it SO hard. I always love slow burn and this was no exception. Also, the characters are just perfect for each other. 

I apologize for my incoherent, ramble-y review. This book is just chalk full of good things! Jeweled Fire was a fun, intelligent, high-stakes ride. I could easily root for Corene and her friends, and I loved slowly devouring and savoring this fantasy tale. Sharon Shinn has done it again!



Sunday, April 22, 2018

Review: Royal Airs

Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn
Pub Date: November 2013
Goodreads
Josetta is a princess of one of the Five Families. But she is far from the throne, so she is free to spend her days working in the poorest sections of the city. 

Rafe Adova, an outcast since he was born, lives the life of a career gambler in those slums. He has no ambition other than cheating at the card tables—until the night he decides to help a girl named Corene, who looks like she's stumbled into the wrong bar. She, too, is a princess—sister to Josetta, who finds her with Rafe. He fascinates her. 

Josetta has never encountered anyone like him—someone seemingly devoid of elemental blessings. He is drawn to her, though he thinks they are unlikely to ever meet again—but their connection grows strong when she nurses him back to health after he is assaulted by foreign mercenaries. 

And when they learn the reason he's being hunted, they know that the truth about his history could endanger not only their love but also their very lives...



Royal Airs was a royal let-down. I am sad to say it, but it's true. This was by no means terrible! In fact, I still enjoyed it and rated it 3 stars. Put simply, this book was such a disappointment only because I loved Troubled Waters so much. 

Josetta and Rafe simply paled in comparison to Zoe and Darien. They seemed like nice people but they were bland and boring. Rafe was supposed to be exciting (he's a gambler and a pilot!) but he still lacked a personality. And the so-called plot twist about why he was so special seemed trite, unlikely, and unoriginal. It felt like Shin kept trying to yell at us "RAFE IS SO SPESHUL" to make up for his aforementioned lack of personality. 

Josetta was also nice; I liked that she ran a shelter in the slums. She was pretty low-key. She almost seemed too perfect; and perfect is boring. (The most interesting part about her was her past.) And the characters together made a "blah" couple. There was no build-up, no fire, and I was actually rooting for them to NOT end up together. And the plot was boring as well. Phooey. 

However, now that we're done with the bad, let's go over the good things:

1) The Setting: I established in my review of Troubled Waters that I LOVE Welce and all the Elemental Blessings. The world simply comes alive when you read.  

2) Side Characters: I loved seeing Zoe and Darien again. And all the primes and Corene. AND there are cool NEW side characters like Steff.

3) The sub-plots: I liked the sub-plots involving the royal succession, Alis, Corene, and other beloved characters. I liked learning about the other countries beside Welce like Malinqua. Basically I liked all the plots not heavily involving the main couple. 

4) The ending: The end leaves off with Corene, my favorite character, doing something drastic. Corene is so much more spunky and interesting than Josetta. And she's the protagonist of the next book. I have a feeling Jeweled Fire will be amazing. I can't wait!




Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Review: Troubled Waters

Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn
Published: May 10, 2010
Goodreads

Zoe Ardelay receives astonishing and unwelcome news: she has been chosen to become the king’s fifth wife. Forced to go to the royal city, she manages to slip away and hide on the shores of the mighty river.

It’s there that Zoe realizes she is a coru prime ruled by the elemental sign of water. She must return to the palace, not as an unwilling bride for the king, but a woman with power in her own right. But as Zoe unlocks more of the mysteries of her blood — and the secrets of the royal family — she must decide how to use her great power to rise above the deceptions and intrigue of the royal court. 



After I read the stunning, spectacular Summers at Castle Auburn I knew I needed to pick up another Sharon Shinn book. I decided to start with the Elemental Blessings series. I actually bought the whole series without reading a single book. It was pretty risky. I know. I'm living on the edge. 

Thankfully, Sharon Shinn did not disappoint. At all. The whole time I was entranced by the intricate world of elemental blessings and the slow-burn romance. I didn't want the book to end! It has everything: court intrigue, magic, romance, mystery, a wonderful cast of characters... 

So the first amazing thing about Troubled Waters is the heroine Zoe Ardelay. Her story is set into motion by a visit from the infuriating Darien Serlast. Her journey and character is ever-changing and evolving (part of her coru blood). However, she is also powerful and smart. She has morals and values that set her apart from a lot of the schemers at court. Her three blessings are beauty, power, and love. 

Speaking of blessings, the world of Welce was so creative. The people of Welce have a system of blessings; three are given at birth and random ones can be drawn anytime. The people also believe in the power of numbers and balance. Every part of the world was thought out. There are even car-like vehicles called elay-motives. Also, there are five primes for each element. Zoe is the coru prime and has tremendous control over water and blood. 

The first part of the book is pretty slow but I loved falling into Zoe's life. I loved reading about her time living by the river in the city, Chialto, fending for herself and making invaluable friends. I really got to know the world and the people. The second part of the book is at court. The intrigue at court and the plot twists were all very entertaining. Let's just say Zoe's ability to read blood lines uncovers a lot of scandals. And I have a feeling Queen Alys is going to cause more problems in future books. 

The ending was satisfying and left our main characters in a happy place. However, there are a lot of loose ends for the realm of Welce and I can't wait to read Josetta's story. You can bet I immediately picked up Royal Airs after this. I have a feeling this series will be a new favorite.





Wednesday, April 4, 2018

My Experiences with Literary Classics: Part One

Daisy Miller by Henry James 

So, let's talk about assigned reading. It's a touchy subject. It's a good way to get kids to read but what about just letting them read what they want? How are literary classics any better than Harry Potter?

Well, I see the merits to both arguments. But, personally, I have had some interesting experiences with classics that have led me to value them. They've broadened my world view. I've loved a few of them. Others I've hated. And some I'm not sure.

Today let's discuss Daisy Miller by Henry James

I read Daisy Miller for a essay I was assigned to write in my sophomore year. I thought I hated it. Reading it was torturous. I kept wondering how such a short book (a novella really) could take so long to read. I called it dry and dull.

Then I wrote my essay. I did research on the book and author. I scrutinized the dialogue. And all of the sudden I started appreciating it. I could find some feminist themes. I started being intrigued by expatriates. I analyzed the main character and all of the sudden had this deeper understanding. The tragic story became more fascinating.

And I ended up having some fond memories of Daisy Miller. I display my copy proudly on my vanity- although that may be in part due to the books prettiness and quality of elegance.

However, I still struggle with my perception of the book. Did I like it? Did I not?

I mean, I haven't had the desire to reread it. I remember the painful hours it took for me to get through it. However, I still think about the characters. The characters and storylines in Daisy Miller haven't left my brain since that essay. And I definitely have that essay and my sophomore English class to thank for that.

However, other classics, like Great Expectations, I still hate even after writing about it quite extensively. And some, like A Separate Peace, I've loved since I read the first sentence.

So is Daisy Miller a good novella?

Your guess is as good as mine.