May 27, 2015

Book Review: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

May 27, 2015
All Fall Down
by Ally Carter
Series: Embassy Row
Publication: Scholastic Press on January 20, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Adventure, Espionage

Jacket copy:
Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:

1. She is not crazy

2. Her mother was murdered

3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her - so there's no one she can completely trust.  Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador.  Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row.  Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.
Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts.  But they can't control Grace - no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do.  Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn't stop it, Grace isn't the only one who will get hurt.  Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

Okay.  Confession time: I'm pretty much the only person in the world who hasn't read Ally Carter's other popular series (the Gallagher Girls, the Heist Society, etc.).  (Sorry, I'm terrible, right?)  Anyway, All Fall Down was my first taste of this author's writing . . . and it was a pretty good taste!

All Fall Down is considered YA, but it was definitely on the more juvenile side of the genre.  However, I immediately loved the book for this one, tiny little reason: the setting.  Grace lives on Embassy Row among the powers of the world.  I mean, Russia's next door.  Germany, France, China, Israel, Brazil?  Just a walk away.  Ally Carter is brilliant for thinking up such a setting.  I've never read about anything like Embassy Row before, so definite props to the author for earning that hard-to-get creativity factor.

So, I entered the book with my expectations high.  (I mean, awesome setting = awesome story, right?)  Well, in all honesty, I thought the author could have done so much more with the story.  A good portion of the book just felt stagnant, and though the book claims ACTION! ADVENTURE! MYSTERY! it really wasn't all that interesting until the reader neared the end.

I wanted to love the main character, Grace, but she was a bit on the annoying side.  Though I do admire her perseverance and her drive, it became a bit too much at times.  What drove Grace's actions throughout the story was her adamant, unwavering belief that "The Scarred-Face Man" killed her mother a couple years back.  And spoiler alert! (not really) basically the entire storyline is Grace embarrassing herself in public as she pursues this "Scarred-Face Man."

In All Fall Down we were only given glimpses at the multitude of characters living on Embassy Row.  There's Alexei, friend of Grace's older brother, the Russian boy next door.  There's Noah, the half Israeli half Brazilian boy down the street who claims the title of Grace's best friend (quite literally).  There's little, unassuming, gymnast Rosie.  And there's of course, Grace.  Honestly, there wasn't a whole lot of character development to this first installment, but I'm sure we'll be able to get past the acquaintance stage in the Embassy Row books to follow.  I'm excited to get to fall in love with all of these full-of-personality characters.

All Fall Down was an appetizer, appeasing to the reader's taste, but its main purpose was for setting up the main course.  Ally Carter was able to leave off on a high note, and I have no doubt that with each Embassy Row book released, the storyline will continue to grow better and better.

May 20, 2015

Mini Reviews - Throne of Glass & Cinder

May 20, 2015
Throne of Glass
by Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass
Publication: Bloomsbury on August 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 406 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Magic, Fiction

Jacket copy: 
When magic has gone from the world, and a vicious king rules from his throne of glass, an assassin comes to the castle.  She does not come to kill, but to win her freedom.  If she can defeat twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition to find the greatest assassin in the land, she will become the King's Champion and be released from prison.
Her name is Celaena Sardothien.  The Crown Prince will provoke her.  The Captain of the Guard will protect her.  And a princess from a foreign land will become the one thing Celaena never thought she'd have again: a friend.
But something evil dwells in the castle - and it's there to kill.  When her competitors start dying, horribly, one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival - and a desperate quest to root out the source of evil before it destroys her world.

This was the very first Sarah J. Maas book I've read.  I honestly don't know how I went so long without reading Throne of Glass, one of the book blogosphere's greatest loves.  Prior to reading, I had only heard good things about Sarah J. Maas and her writing, so I entered the Throne of Glass realm with fingers crossed for a good read that wouldn't disappoint.

And it didn't!  Throne of Glass was a book filled with excitement and thrill, and that for the most part, kept readers on their toes.

My favorite part of the book?

Celaena Sardothein herself.  I totally appreciated how different Celaena was from other main characters.  After reading a lot of similar books with similar characters and plots in the genre, everything just begins to blur together.  Sarah J. Maas created a character, Celaena, who really stands out above the rest.  Celaena is an assassin.  She's such a kick-ass main character with loads of personality and wit, one that I loved to read about.  Celaena was strong, fierce, and independent - qualities we all try to strive for.

And though there was that love triangle we've come to slightly despise over the years, it thankfully wasn't written terribly.  There was no annoying drama or cheating - nothing like that.  This book focuses on Celaena's relationship with The Crown Prince, Dorian, for most of the story, but begins to shift more in favor of The Captain of the Guard, Chaol, towards the end.  (This love triangle totally reminded me of The Selection, though.)

All in all, Throne of Glass lived up to its praise!

by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles
Publication: Feiwel and Friends on January 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 387 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Fairy Tales, Romance

Jacket copy:
Even in the future, the story begins with Once Upon a Time . . .
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing.  A deadly plague ravages the population.  From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move.  No one knows that Earth's fate hinges on one girl . . .
Sixteen-year-old Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg.  She's a second-class citizen with a mysterious past and is reviled by her stepmother.  But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction.  Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world's future.  Because there is something unusual about Cinder, something that others would kill for.

Cinder, the first book in The Lunar Chronicles, is a book practically everyone has both read and raved about.

However, before I get into the review, I have to apologize if you're a fan, because I've taken up the unpopular opinion here.

Unfortunately, Cinder just wasn't for me.  Cyborgs and lunar people sound interesting and all, but I didn't enjoy the story Marissa Meyer pieced together.  Prior to reading, I heard it took a few chapters to really get immersed in the book, but it took me, honestly, the entire book.  The ending was pretty much the only part that interested me.

What bothered me most about this book was the "jaw dropper."  Like all other readers, I want to actually be surprised.  Just because Cinder is a fairy tale retelling, it doesn't mean the entire plot has to be see through.  And . . . it was.  Only a couple chapters into the book, I honestly read this one sentence and knew exactly what the jaw dropper was.  That was just disappointing for me.  Knowing the jaw dropper only a handful of pages in really inhibited me from being able to enjoy the story.

I still stoically read on until the end, and fortunately, the story improved.  However, even though Cinder was able to leave off on an exciting note, I don't think I'll be continuing on with the series.

May 19, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Cute Bookish Gifts

May 19, 2015
banner credit: Carlisa from Confessions of Carlisa

It's Tuesday once again, and that means it's time for another Top Ten Tuesday post!  Yes, I know this TTT post may seem late, but it's actually still Tuesday in Hawaii!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which bloggers reply to a particular topic with a list of their top ten responses.

This week's topic was a FREEBIE!  Here's what I chose:

1) Frostbeard Studio Candles

What can be better than BOOKISH candles?!
Yup, nothing.

I am an occasional poet.  Magnetic poetry kit?

This Etsy shop sells adorable book lockets.
I don't think I can live any longer without one.

These bookends are way too cute for their own good.

5) MyBOOKmark Bookmarks

One word:

6) CozyMilArt Felted Bookmarks

A little reading buddy!

7) Bouncing Ball Creations Page-Wrapped Pencils

These will make even homework enjoyable.

8) Craft'ed Magnetic Bookmarks

The epitome of cute.

9) OldAndCold Wooden Book Rack

A creative way to display your books!

10) For Such A Time Designs Spoon Bookmark

Who can resist adorable hand stamped creations as this one?

Well that's it for this (very late) Top Ten Tuesday post!  Thanks for reading.

(And yeah . . . if you didn't notice, I'm kind of in love with Harry Potter merch.  Who isn't though?)

I Was Here - Gayle Forman

I Was Here 
by Gayle Forman
Series: Standalone
Publication: Viking Juvenile on January 27, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Death, Realistic Fiction, Mystery
Cody and Meg were inseparable . . . until they weren't.
When her best friend, Meg, drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated.  She and Meg shared everything - so how was there no warning?  But when Cody travels to Meg's college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there's a lot Meg never told her.  About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in the dead-end town in Washington.  About Ben McCallister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, and some secrets of his own.  And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can't open - until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend's death gets thrown into question. 

Though I've only read a couple of Gayle Forman books to date, I have never been completely taken with one of Forman's books.  Out of her works I have read, however, I cannot say I Was Here was a favorite.

Recently, a very popular topic in YA has been suicide.  In just the past couple of months, I have read more than my fair share of books dealing with this heavy subject.  And although suicide is an important topic that calls for discussion and action, I think it is a bit tired out in the genre.  Reading about suicide is never fun or enjoyable for me, and so I think it's best if I lay off the subject for a while.

My main issue with the book were the characters and their relationships.  I never felt deeply connected to Cody, Meg, or Ben, and I felt their relationships between each other were not developed well or enough.  I wanted to get a better sense for Cody and Meg's "inseparable friendship" before the incident, so I could better feel for Cody and relate to her.  However, the girls' friendship was painted to the reader as if they were more strangers than friends.  Cody knew absolutely nothing about Meg's life in college or about Meg for that matter.

There was also a bit of romance between Cody and Ben, romance that I felt was unnecessary.  The entire "thing" felt very awkward and strange to me, and ultimately distracted the reader from the main storyline.  I don't say this often, but I think the book would be better off without this slight touch of romance.

A lot went unexplained, unexplored, and unanswered, but I guess that's the whole point: there's not always a reason or an answer to uncover.  People sometimes act in ways you'll never be able to quite understand.

I do like the final note the book left off on, though.  Cody found the closure she was searching for and said goodbye to Meg in a beautiful way.

I Was Here is another sad but beautiful novel from New York Times Bestselling Author Gayle Forman.

May 13, 2015

99 Days - Katie Cotugno

May 13, 2015
99 Days
by Katie Cotugno
Series: Standalone
Publication: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray on April 21, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 376 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction

Jacket copy:
Day 1: Julia Donnelly eggs my house my first night back in Star Lake, and that's how I know everyone still remembers everything - how I destroyed my relationship with Patrick the night everything happened with his brother, Gabe.  How I wrecked their whole family.  Now I'm serving out my summer like a jail sentence: Just ninety-nine days till I can leave for college and be done.
Day 4: A nasty note on my windshield makes it clear Julia isn't finished.  I'm expecting a fight when someone taps me on the shoulder, but it's just Gabe, home from college and actually happy to see me.  "For what it's worth, Molly Barlow," he says, "I'm really glad you're back."
Day 12: Gabe got me to come to this party and I'm actually having fun.  I think he's about to kiss me - and that's when I see Patrick.  My Patrick, who's supposed to be clear across the country.  My Patrick, who's never going to forgive me.
Eighty-seven days of summer to go, and history is repeating itself.  The last thing I want is to come between the Donnelly brothers again . . . but the truth is, the Donnellys stole my heart a long time ago.

After hearing so much mixed feedback from readers of 99 Days by Katie Cotugno, I knew I had to get a copy to quell my curiosity and pick sides.


I honestly cannot fathom the opposite side of the spectrum: the extreme praise.  I don't understand why certain readers love the book so much, as, quite frankly, I didn't . . . not so much.

The writing itself, Katie Cotugno's craft, is okay.  It's quite good actually.  Under different circumstances, I do think I would enjoy another work of Cotugno's more.  The book was interesting enough to get into, and although at times I was tempted to stop reading, I couldn't.  Cotugno knows how to keep the reader stringed along until the end.

What I didn't like was the story itself.  And at times, the characters.  If a reader finds both the storyline and the characters unbearable, well, that can never be a good combination.

The reader is introduced to Molly on day one of her being back in town for the summer.  You soon find out that things got messy between Molly and the Donnellys the last time she was in Star Lake.  So, as you can imagine, Molly isn't too thrilled about her homecoming - not in the least.  Throughout the summer, Molly constantly has to live out her "jail time."  Though there are two people at fault for went went down, only Molly's being slapped on the label of the "town slut."  As a reader, I found this extremely frustrating, as it took the entire book for people to realize, "Hey! Maybe it's not ONLY Molly's fault!"  

And as for the main character, Molly Barlow, she's really something.  Like the situation at hand, Molly is also downright frustrating.  I felt as if she learned nothing from page one to the final page.  Take heed of the jacket copy: "...and history is repeating itself."  Yeah, seriously, though.  It is.  Even though Molly's being viciously attacked, she decides to go ahead and continue doing what she was slammed with in the first place.

I felt as if NOTHING REALLY HAPPENED in 99 days.  Molly, the Donnellys, the whole town of Star Lake is just chasing each other around in circles.

Yet at the end of the book, I couldn't bring myself to absolutely hate it, as there were a few redeeming qualities.  Like I said, Katie Cotugno really knows how to string readers along and (take my review for example), stir up emotion in you.

May 12, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: [Seven] Authors I'd Love To Meet

May 12, 2015
banner credit: Carlisa from Confessions of Carlisa

Happy, happy Tuesday to all my bookish blog friends!  This week, I've decided to join in on the Top Ten Tuesday fun.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which bloggers reply to a particular topic with a list of their top ten responses.

This week's topic:

However, I will be tweaking the topic just a bit to SEVEN authors I'd love to meet, simply because I don't have ten at the moment.  If I'd really wanted to, I could probably manage to add three more authors I'm somewhat fond of, however then, the list wouldn't be as genuine.  So seven authors it is!

(Yes, I can count, thank you very much.)

And now, without further ado, my chosen seven authors!

1) For number one on my list, Mrs. Joanne Rowling herself.  I know she made the top slot of many other book bloggers' lists this week as well, and rightfully so.  Honestly, this woman is amazing, and her writing is amazing.  Her Harry Potter books are so well thought out, well written, whimsical, and creative.  You can tell by reading just how much thought and care went into each and every Harry Potter book.  It's hard to believe one woman was able to create such a vivid world in words!

If I ever had the chance to meet one celebrity, time and time again, without a doubt, I would pick J.K. Rowling.  She's just such a fascinating person, and I think more than anything, I would love to get some writing advice from her.

2) I've loved every single one of Jessi's books.  Her writing gets you in the heart every time.  Jessi honestly just seems like such a vivacious, sweet, loving person - someone you would love to meet and chat with!

3) Like Jessi Kirby, I've also loved all of Morgan Matson's books.  I love her craft: the way she styles together her stories and creates such real characters you can't help but fall in love with.

4) Jenny just seems so quirky and fun!  Who wouldn't want to meet her?


5) I absolutely loved Melissa Kantor's Maybe One Day.  It would be awesome to meet the author behind the story!6) If you read my recent review on Kasie's newest release, The Fill-In Boyfriend, you know just how much I love her books.  I would love to meet her.

7) It's no secret that Sarah Ockler can write.  Two of my favorite Sarah Ockler books are Twenty Boy Summer and Bittersweet.  I'm hoping to add another favorite to the list when her June 2015 release, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, arrives in stores!

And that's the list!  What authors would you like to meet?  Do our lists overlap?

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

May 10, 2015

Vanishing Girls - Lauren Oliver

May 10, 2015
Vanishing Girls
by Lauren Oliver
Series: Standalone
Publication: HarperCollins on March 10, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

Jacket copy:
Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before - before Dara kissed Parker, before Nick lost him as her best friend, before the accident that left Dara's beautiful face scarred.  Now the two sisters, who used to be so close, aren't speaking.  In an instant, Nick lost everything and is determined to use the summer to get it all back.
But Dara has other plans.  When she vanishes on her birthday, Nick things Dara is just playing around.  But another girl has vanished, too - nine-year-old Madeline Snow - and as Nick pursues her sister, she becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances may be linked.
I've read my fair share of Lauren Oliver books over the years, and though written well, none were quite able to convert me into a Lauren Oliver fan.  When I heard news of her newest 2015 release, Vanishing Girls, I checked it out in hopes it would be one to turn the tables.
As I feel is the case in many Lauren Oliver books, Vanishing Girls is also one with frequent POV shifts.  From chapter to chapter, the reader jumps back and forth between the perspectives of the two Warren sisters, Dara and Nick.  I personally am not the biggest fan of such frequent POV shifts, but in this case, the changes in perspective were definitely necessary to build up the main storyline.  Besides the POV shifts, occasional photos, diary entries, and blog posts are also interlaced throughout the story to aid the narrative.

I did feel as if certain portions of the story were lacking and simply not followed through or developed enough.  Certain events seemed to happen so abruptly with no build-up whatsoever, as if Lauren Oliver was randomly pulling slips of paper with events written on them out of a hat.  (However, I won't go into specifics so as to allow prospective readers their own fair opportunity to draw individual judgement.)

If you're an impatient reader, be forewarned: the supposed main storyline, the "disappearance" of Dara only takes place a little ways after the halfway point of the story.  Personally, I didn't have much of a problem with this, as Lauren Oliver still managed to keep the events prior interesting and engaging to the reader.  And if you continue reading on, you'll soon understand why the book is written in such a way.

Although many readers said they were not taken by surprise with the big jaw-dropper of the story, I was.  Perhaps I was not able to foresee the jaw-dropper due to the fact I rarely read psychological thrillers, but there was a specific point in the story when I became extremely, utterly confused.  And this is the point when certain things begin to click into place, and others, begin to fall apart.  

Vanishing Girls is a book you'll need to flip through a second time simply to understand, to see.  And though it took me some time after, I was able to make sense of everything.  Clues that were not-so-obvious to me prior, stood out in bold, flashing letters when skimmed over a second time.

Read with this in mind: things can be read in different ways.  Though Vanishing Girls was not quite my cup of tea, I still enjoyed this newest release from Lauren Oliver.

May 5, 2015

The Fill-In Boyfriend - Kasie West

May 5, 2015
The Fill-In Boyfriend
by Kasie West
Series: Standalone
Publication: HarperCollins, HarperTeen on May 5, 2015
Format: Paperback, 352 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Friendship

Jacket copy:
When Gia Montgomery's boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast.  After all, she'd been telling her friends about him for months now.  This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed.  So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help.  The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend - two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.  After that, she can win back the real Bradley.
The problem is that days after prom, it's not the real Bradley she's thinking about but the stand-in.  The one whose name she doesn't even know.  But tracking him down doesn't mean they're done faking a relationship.  Gia owes him a favor, and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend's graduation party - three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.
Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her newfound relationship.

It's official.

Kasie West is crazy.

A crazy amazing author.

Everyone, she's done it once again.  Kasie West has written yet another practically flawless, unputdownable YA contemporary romance that you need ASAP on your own bookshelf.

For weeks I've been eagerly awaiting this day, May 5, simply for the fact that Kasie's newest contemporary, The Fill-In Boyfriend, would be released in stores.  Oh my, let me tell you: this book was worth the wait.  After school, I hurried off to Barnes & Noble just to receive my own copy.

And after reading The Fill-In Boyfriend from cover to cover, it's been confirmed: fans of Kasie West will not be disappointed.  (Does she ever disappoint, though?)

From page one, the reader is whisked off into Gia's realm at the start of everything - the start of a whole lot of problems and the start of new beginnings, too.  We find our beloved main character in her prom dress, in the prom parking lot, breaking up with her then-boyfriend, Bradley.  Yup, not too pretty.  The problem is, Gia needs to show up with Bradley to prove, once and for all, she wasn't lying all these many months leading up to the event.  Not to worry, quick-on-her-feet-Gia sees the solution to her woes and enlists the help of Fill-In Bradley all while in the parking lot, still in her prom dress and heels.

Thus, my friends, is how it all begins.  Thus, my friends, is the moment we are introduced to Fill-In Bradley, and as Gia only later learns, his real name, Hayden.

I absolutely love how Kasie West can so expertly build up a budding romance between two characters over the course of just one 300-or-so page story.  And the best part?  Nothing feels rushed.  Kasie West always, always takes her time, ever-so-careful with dialogue, situations, actions, and feelings between her characters.  Everything feels so genuine and so real.  I love it.  I loved it so much, in fact, I just had to write this review immediately after closing the cover.

And perhaps from reading the jacket copy, prospective readers will be turned-off by the "fluffy," somewhat cheesy sounding summary.  If you're, shall I say, on the fence (only some people will get this), make the choice to give The Fill-In Boyfriend a try.  Heck, not only this read, but Kasie's other written works as well.  The cover and the summary may suggest a simple, shallow story, but Kasie West always delves further, always delivering what we, as the reader, so very much crave.  

If you want a cute contemporary, read this book.  If you want a funny contemporary, read this book.  If you want a heartwarming contemporary, read this book.  Point being?  This book has bits of everything and caters to all.  Basically, read this book.

Everyone says this, but seriously?  I laughed.  I smiled like an idiot.  I felt that unmistakable aching in my chest as I felt for Gia.  I couldn't seem to stop turning the pages.  I wanted more.

I have no regrets whatsoever rushing off to the bookstore after school today.  The much awaited newest contemporary from Kasie West, The Fill-In Boyfriend, delivers.  

But then again, I'm sure that much is obvious from my rave review.

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