Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Latest TBR Wants

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
When I say "latest TBR wants," I actually mean the "latest TBR wants that I listed on Goodreads." A few of these have been on my radar for a while, but I recently(ish) put it on my Goodreads' shelf. I need to do better in actively taking note of books I want to read on Goodreads instead of waiting later. So in no particular order:

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
Just look at that cover. I had to TBR it right away.

Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas
A completely new retelling of Cinderella where the Fairy Godmother's happily ever after isn't the one the main character wants. This is what I want.

A Whole New World by Liz Braswell
We have an Aladdin retelling. I repeat, we have an Aladdin retelling. 

The Revenge Playbook by Rachael Allen
Cuteness all around. 

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix
The cover looks like an adult book, but the synopsis is my favorite kind of YA. 

The Edge of Forever by Melissa E. Hurst
Parallel universes? Gimme, gimme. 

Just read that title and tell me you don't think it's going to be adorable. 

The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman
A spell to erase your memory? Reminds me vaguely of The Program. 

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
A Rome-like world, fantasy setting, an orphan, and a soldier. Need I say more? 

The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne
Another book that sounds strangely like another one I read. Doesn't this remind anyone else of Belles by Jen Calonita?  

What books have you recently listed as TBR? 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Review: I'M GLAD I DID by Cynthia Well

Title: I'm Glad I Did
Author: Cynthia Well
Publication date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Soho Teen

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and songwriting legend Cynthia Weil's extraordinary YA debut opens the secretive doors of the Brill Building-the hit factory that changed history. Part Mad Men, part Grace of my Heart, part murder mystery, I'm Glad I Did is a coming-of-age story at an unforgettable cultural tipping point: the summer of 1963.

JJ Greene, a gifted 16-year-old songwriter, defies her lawyer parents by secretly applying for a job in the famed Brill Building-the epicenter of songwriting for a new genre called rock-n-roll. But their warnings about the evils of the music industry prove far darker than she imagined when she finds herself at the heart of a cover-up that involves hidden identity, theft, and possibly murder.

Story Locale: New York, NY

Between the retro cover and the strong introduction, I really hoped I’m Glad I Did would be a success. That didn’t happen. Told in first person by JJ Green, I easily connected with the narrative and couldn’t wait for her songwriting job to start. I enjoyed everything about the set-up. Then more things were added to the plot and instead of increasing interest and making the plot run smoothly, it weighed it down.

A few things that didn’t work for me:
  • The romance. It wasn’t a focal point of the story, thank goodness, but even the romance that was there fell flat. I didn’t get the growing relationship between Luke and JJ because there was no chemistry for me. It felt forced.
  • The mystery. There’s this whole mystery going on in the plot and while it does deal somewhat with racial and cultural issues, this also fell flat for me. Let’s be real, it bored me. There were some parts that were included that felt really unrealistic and everything that seemed to intend to move the story along only made it feel forced. 
  • The cliches. Oh, the cliches. Sometimes I enjoy reading books, usually contemporaries, that has a different story (characters, relationships, etc.) but the same story structure. I know I like it and although it’s been done before, I still enjoy it. With this, I was promised something that I hadn’t really read before—a girl in the 1960s who defies her legalistic family to be a songwriter—but was given an unoriginal plot element or cliche too many times to count. The elements that “moved” the story along felt unoriginal as a whole, which goes back to the boredom I pointed out in the second point above. 

Although more enjoyable in the beginning, I did easily connect with JJ and I loved having a look into her perspective of the 1960s, even if it wasn’t as much as I had hoped. The narrative was entertaining, but the story fizzled and there wasn’t anything quite substantial to latch onto.

Verdict: A lukewarm book disappointing me with its potential.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Review: FAIREST by Marissa Meyer

Title: Fairest
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publication date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3.5
Warning: Spoilers for the beginning books may appear.

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now. 

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

Anyone else relate to the Castle gif? I'm pretty sure that everyone who finished this newest installment in The Lunar Chronicles world reacted similarly to this.

It's not as if I thought I would come out of this sympathizing with Levana or liking her a little bit more. But usually when you read a villain's backstory, there's somewhat of a bond that's created between the reader and the villain. And I love villain backstories. Reading about the villain and seeing the factors that led them to them, it's something I wish more authors did.

This was on a whole other level. The Castle gif accurately pictures my reaction because once I finished, I didn't know what to say or do. How do you describe the level of disturbing creepiness that I read? Horrifying, disturbing, sick, twisted...pick your word, any word.

Levana grew up in a lonely, loveless family. We don't meet her parents because they just died, but we understand that there was no sadness felt after their deaths. From reading the other books in the series, we know how important Channary and one particular actions of hers will be, so I was expecting something better from her. Either I missed a clue in the other books or I was just naive, because she was possibly even worse than Levana.

At first I really did feel sorry for Levana. She was disfigured for a reason we don't know yet and horribly treated by her sadistic sister. She's craving love and attention. That feeling of pity and sympathy quickly vanished and turned into horror when the story progressed. Because of her loveless childhood, she set her sights on an older man, who was one of the royal guards. Attractive and nice, Evret, the royal guard, stood out from the rest. Hey, that's normal for young girls. But considering that it's Levana we're talking about, I wanted to scream RUN, MAN, RUN when we were first introduced.

Of course, I was right to do so. I won't ruin anything, but how they get into a relationship and how Levana becomes little Winter's stepmother is truly disturbing. I don't think I stopped cringing throughout the book. We also get a "healthy" dose of Channary in the book and considering I have sisters of my own, I couldn't imagine how awful this woman was. While Levana might garner pity a couple times in the book, Levana is—and I hate to say that anyone is—irredeemable. I wondered if Channary was having a turning point near the end of the book and that maybe, maybe, she changed, but that hope was fleeting. Irredeemable sisters, the both of them. SPOILER she cut a woman's feet off! SHE. CUT. HER. FEET. OFF. So that this servant wouldn't be able to walk and be able to do all her sewing for her. Did I mention that she CUT HER FEET OFF SO THAT SHE WOULD ALWAYS WORK? END OF SPOILER (highlight the text with your mouse)

I wished we had seen a better insight to the Lunar world because I still felt like we had snippets here and there. The whole world is fascinating and Marissa Meyer has done a great job with it, I just wish we would experience it more. We still have hope for Winter, which this novella also did a good job in setting up. I loved reading about Winter in Cress and even more so in Fairest, although I realized how sad it is that I knew how most of her childhood would be like.

In the last part of the book, more politics are involved, and Levana's hunger for power is increased to the max. Again: creepy.

Now that we have more information for Levana's character and her history, we know that there will be no redemption for her. No soft spot for anything, no moment of weakness. I want to say that she only loves herself, but that's not entirely true either. Levana looks out for herself because no one else ever has and in a way, maybe that means she loves herself. But we know that she always hated her looks and conflicted in her feelings. She's selfish, and I think it's interesting to realize that that doesn't equal loving herself. I think I'll be a big ball of anxious nerves in Winter because Levana will give it her all to win over the heroes. But reading Fairest also makes me very excited to read the finale of this series. Each book in the series (besides this one) has increased in page count, so we know Winter will be the largest. I have hopes it'll be the most amazing one of all too.

As for Fairest and all of Levana's cringeworthy actions and Channary's sadistic character?

After finishing.
It isn't necessary to read this, but I recommend doing so because you get more information and backstory. How do you like reading about the backstories of antagonists? 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Top 10 Wednesday: The 2015 spring TBR of my dreams

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
Considering we are going into the last stretch of school, my reading is going to be even more limited. I'm planning on getting a local library card though since the YA section in my school library is just depressing. Technically, Google says that summer starts in late June, but I consider that to be already in the middle of summer. I constitute spring as March - May and all of these books have been released or will be released in this time frame. While I'm unsure of what I'll be able to read until May, I hope this gives all of you at least some suggestions.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (2/10)
Date: February 10

Two adjectives I most commonly hear associating with this book: addicting and surprising. Two of my favorite words! 

The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
Date: March 3

Again, I'm dying at the gorgeous cover. Whoever has been charge for this series is doing one heck of a job. But really, the first book was everything so I'm desperate to get more. 

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows
Date: March 10

Three words: spy, orphan, queen. THAT IS ALL. (There's also a really big cliffhanger, soooo)

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Date: March 10

I'm pretty sure the first book, Seraphina, was published in another lifetime because of how long we have had to wait for this sequel! A reread is definitely in order, and then I'll start this beautiful thing.

The Second Guard by J.D. Vaughn
Date: April 15

Just give me all the fantasy. All of it, don't stop.

Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby
Date: April 21

This one deals with a heart transplant and feels very similar to Return to Me, a Minnie Driver movie.

Date: April 21

Another sequel where I'll have to read the first one again because I feel like it's been forever. But hey, no complaints over the rereading here. 

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey
Date: April 28

The cover kind of hurts my eyes, but I don't think I've seen a negative review on this one. I know there must be one out there, but there's just a lot of squealing in my corner of the world. And it's fantasy. So I'm expecting great things.

Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger
Date: April 28

I'm expecting lots of laughter. I need this joy in my life.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
Date: May 19

And after I receive the joy, I'll go onto a more somber read. This deals with schizophrenia and I can't think of a better example for an original, diverse book.  

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham
Date: May 19

POC alert! POC alert! I honestly didn't notice the girl until after I read the amazing synopsis. Bonus.

What do you want to read this spring?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Review: ALL FALL DOWN by Ally Carter

Title: All Fall Down
Author: Ally Carter
Publication date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: Scholastic

This exciting new series from NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Ally Carter focuses on Grace, who can best be described as a daredevil, an Army brat, and a rebel. She is also the only granddaughter of perhaps the most powerful ambassador in the world, and Grace has spent every summer of her childhood running across the roofs of Embassy Row.

Now, at age sixteen, she's come back to stay--in order to solve the mystery of her mother's death. In the process, she uncovers an international conspiracy of unsettling proportions, and must choose her friends and watch her foes carefully if she and the world are to be saved.

Everyone says that Grace's mother died in an accidental fire. Everyone says that except for Grace, who claims that she witnessed her mother being murdered in the ambassador's (who also happens to be her grandfather) house in Embassy Row. Years later, Grace is finally back at Embassy Row and, as you can guess, things start heating up. 

A personal favorite aspect of this story was seeing the tenants of Embassy Row humanized. We don't just have Americans, but we meet Alexei, who lives in the Russian house next door. We meet Noah, who lives at both Brazil and Israel because his parents are divorced. We meet others as well, briefly however, but it was still a fun experience for me. It's set in Adria, a fictional European country, but Carter gives the right realistic feel to it. 

How she describes the Iran house is almost chilling. I think it's even more so because I remember seeing a post written by her saying how she saw the Iran house in an actual Embassy Row here. Abandoned, dark, mysterious. Like with all the other houses, they talk about the Iran house as if it's Iran. They say things like "don't go to Iran," which is a poor example and not a real quote, by the way. 

As for the plot, it was slow at first. I've been a mega-fan of Ally Carter for a very long time, but this one took a little more time than I expected to really sink my teeth into. I always love Carter's writing, but Grace's narrative was uneasy for me. I told myself I wouldn't, but I expected to see more Cammie in Grace than I did considering how much their experiences were similar if you compare the fifth book in the Gallagher Girls to this (in terms of memories and family). Once I fully realized that and pushed the comparison and expectation aside, I truly started to like the book more. It also helped that the plot seemed to pick up more. 

One of the best ways to make me appreciate a book: get me to like the secondary characters. I was already becoming increasingly aware of the other characters, but as the plot thickened, the characters deepened. Even though I was suspicious of him for most of the book, I couldn't resist liking Noah from the start. He declared Grace his best friend from the start, which reminded me of an adorable kindergartener. We don't see too much his twin sister Lila, although she has an important part early on. But between his sense of humor and just Noah being Noah, I felt like he was a keeper (friend-wise).

"You're not the one who owes me," I point out.
He nods. "Yeah, well, Lila is . . . Lila. I'm just grateful she didn't eat me in the womb."

Of course, this is a good time to mention the great things about platonic relationships. Romance isn't focused on much in this book, and while I was nervous that we would go into love triangle territory, Carter didn't let me down. Carter may have hinted in the beginning, but for the future books, I'd bet that there will only be one path for Grace. And in true Carter fashion, it will be slow-burn. 

Other secondary characters that deserve recognition is Megan, another American who used to be friends with Grace when they were younger. Although their relationship grew tense, I was actually on Megan's side. Rosie, a younger girl we meet and becomes part of the group, reminds me of Liz from Gallagher Girls and Sloane from The Naturals. I know I said I wouldn't compare, but come on, tell me you don't see a huge resemblance. 

Ms. Chancellor, who's like a surrogate grandmother to Grace, became a favorite of mine. I admittedly had a growing suspicion of her and I won't say anymore, but she deserves a shout-out for the following scene. 

"He said man stuff," I tell her as we walk away."
"He did indeed, dear."
"Are you okay with that? Tell me you are not okay with the phrase man stuff."
"I am not," she says through a too-bright smile.
"But Queen Catalina bided her time and ruled for sixty years, my dear." 
"So you're going to kill the prime minister in his sleep?" I ask.
She never softens her smile. "No. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the power of patience."

Sure, I wanted to tell off the prime minister along with Grace, but Ms. Chancellor showed a prime example of picking your battles. And I firmly believe that she has the incredible power of patience and the power of killing powerful men. 

In the latter half of the book, things speed up more, and Carter manages to surprise me. Having Grace as the narrator provides an unreliable view, which is mostly exciting because you're always on alert. You don't know what you don't know or don't see because we're getting it all filtered through Grace. 

While not a favorite Ally Carter book of mine, it still provided the reliable entertainment factor and enjoyable characters. I'll definitely be reading the sequel as soon as it comes out, especially considering that it ends right when it has all of my attention. Yes, it had great moments and intrigue and conversations, but it had a "first book set-up" vibe to me. Even so, I enjoyed it. In the mean time, I think I should reread The Gallagher Girls and Heist Society again.

What's your favorite Ally Carter book? 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Top 10 Wednesday: Books for people who want minorities

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
If I had picked contemporary or fantasy or something more broad, this list would have been miles long. Instead, I picked minorities. Take notice that I did not say diversity. We do need more diverse books, but I personally feel that we have a lot, just not the kind people are demanding for. We have girl warriors, a futuristic world that focuses on a suicide epidemic, and stories that deal with different stories with different characters. If I had said "diverse" books, we would have been here forever as well. Instead, this is for all the minority lovers. Unfortunately, I haven't read nearly enough of them, so these are only the books I have read.

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
Has: cerebral palsy 

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
Has: deaf protagonist

Don't Touch by Rachel M. Wilson
Has: mental illness

Has: post-suicidal attempt
Note: I think this is different because unlike other books, it doesn't stop with the trauma. We see her recover, which is not like the other suicide-related books I listed here.

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang
Has: depression

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Has: suicide

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler
Has: Hispanic protagonist

Hooked by Liz Fichera
Has: Native American protagonist

45 Pounds by K.A. Barson
Has: plus-size protagonist

What kind of minorities would you like reading about? 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Rewind & Review: What month are we in again?

Hosted by Shae Has Left the Room
It's apparently March. I'm not sure if I should be excited that the semester is halfway over or terrified that we're approaching the hard assignments at the end. My spring break is technically over today, but I won't be going back to school until tomorrow (hooray for afternoon classes). Unfortunately, I've also been working on school all week. Fun.

Books I received: 

Books I read [in the past two months]: 8...ish

What I'm reading now/next:

Bookish (and not-so-bookish) happenings: 
  • School kills. 
  • Thankfully, spring break saves...and then sadly pulls the rug out and tortures you with homework.
  • I kitten-sat for my brother and sister-in-law, which you can see on my Instagram, summer.mcdaniel
  • The two books that recently blew me away were A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and Lion Heart by A.C. Gaughen. Both were for different and various reasons.
  • Changes are coming! 

As you can see, there aren't a lot of happenings. I mean, yeah, normal stuff happens and probably other things that I'm not thinking of. School accomplishments, fangirling moments, the regular. As for the changes, stay tuned. 

Anyone else freaking out that it's already March?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Top 10 Wednesday: The Last 3 Years in a Nutshell

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
Yes, it's another belated Top 10 Tuesday, making it Top 10 Wednesday.

Way to make me stare helplessly at my computer, The Broke and the Bookish. We have to list our favorite books that we read in the last three years (it could also be possibly interpreted as books that have been published in the last three years instead). This feat is no small thing considering that not only have I grown greatly as reader in the last three years, but I also became a blogger and discovered ARCs (and other wonderful things) during this time. Besides, so many great books.

Disclaimer: in no way will this be comprehensive.

The Life-Changers: 

The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce
Specifically, the series in audiobook format, narrated by Trini Alvarado (Little Women's Meg March). This was my saving grace during a particularly rough summer job. It was also when I finally read it after lots of urgings from fellow Pierce lovers.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Obviously. I cashed in my HP virgin card late last year. It was magical.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
This was the first book I read as an intent to blog about. It was also when I started to listen to my sister's book suggestions and read something totally out of my comfort zone. I ended up loving it and now I'm a fantasy nut.

Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt
My first ARC, which was beyond exciting. I have the lovely Bloomsbury to thank for that.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
My first (and only) NA, but more importantly, it made me feel things. I connect with characters, but this was a connection in a whole different way. Unexplainable, really.

The Plain Ole Goodies:

Parallel by Lauren Miller
It won many awards in my End of the Year Book Survey and rightly so. I kept thinking about it a long time afterwards.

Lion Heart by A.C. Gaughen
The whole series deserves to be on this list (gender-bending fairytale retellings!), but this just stole my heart. Feelings galore. I also loved the author's note at the end and everything this book and series stands for. Again, thank you, Bloomsbury and Gaughen. Much love.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Another fantasy I need to reread. I just remember being completely hung up on this book during one of the busiest months of the year: December. 

United We Spy by Ally Carter
This could really double as a life-changer and a goodie considering that it's the last book in my beloved Gallagher Girl series. 

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
I won't ever stop talking about this book. Excluding the sequel, I have never had a book surprise me so much. Nothing but win.

Which books stand out for you in the last three years?