February 28, 2014

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

All I'm saying is, kindness don't have no boundaries.
-from The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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Amazon | Goodreads

After years of putting it off for one reason or another, I finally read The Help via audio book and I'm only disappointed in myself for not reading it sooner. The Help is Kathryn Stockett's fictional account of an era that can be considered a blemish on America's history. Set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962, nearly 100 years after the abolition of slavery, black and white Americans live segregated lives, separate but definitely not equal. Inspired by her own maid, white twenty-something college graduate Skeeter Phelan takes an interest in the lives and treatment of the maids in in her town. She secretly befriends strong and stoic Aibileen, a black maid who helps Skeeter write a housekeeping column for the newspaper. When Skeeter begins to see that the differences between Aibileen and herself are insignificant compared to those created by their society, she wants to write a book about the experience of the help. But this aspiration has painful, possibly deadly, consequences if anyone were to discover how Skeeter and Aibileen are blurring the line between blacks and whites. Together they must find the courage to challenge the social ideologies that separate them and promote the kindness that will begin to break down boundaries for the future.

There is almost nothing I can say that can convey the power in this book; most anything would be an understatement. It's safe to say that everyone is familiar with America's history of slavery, segregation, and the difficulties black Americans continue to face because of racism. I have always been disgusted by the idea that people should be treated differently because of the color of their skin and find it a fundamentally wrong. However, reading The Help gave me a cold, hard dose of reality in learning just how impossible it was for free, black Americans to live alongside white Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. And yet, they persevered with the courage, faith, strength and determination illustrated through characters like Aibileen and Minny in The Help. These characters allow readers a new detailed perspective of the difficulties Americans had to experience during this time, from the black Americans living in poverty to the white Americans who wanted to help them.

This book very eagerly but simply explores the concept of what is right and what is wrong when it comes to civil rights. Through the narratives of Aibileen, Skeeter and Minny the reader not only explores right and wrong and the courage to change it, but also the courage it takes to trust someone of a different race. Skeeter must challenge everything white society has taught her about black people being different from her. For Aibileen and Minny to trust Skeeter might mean deadly consequences if she lives up to what they've come to expect of white people. And yet, these brave women navigate their friendships despite what society tells them is "right" and "wrong", drawing enough courage from each other to challenge the status quo.
While The Help reflects mainly on racial segregation, it is also a narrative of boundaries society builds in other ways. I enjoyed how Stockett explores the segregation of classes amongst white people through Celia and Hilly; the segregation of sexes through Minny and her husband; and the segregation of being married versus single with Miss Skeeter and the other married women in her community. While skin color is the most obvious and prominent form of segregation and bigotry, there are other ways walls are built between people and it's our responsibility to break down those barriers and live with kindness toward everyone. The friendship developed by Skeeter and Aibileen over the course of this book gives hope for the future, making their courage and strength worthwhile despite the consequences.

Bottom Line: This book is a must read for everyone! It makes the Civil Rights Movement personal for readers who did not live it and helps us appreciate the progress we have made while evaluating what is still left to change. 5/5 Stars

On a side note: I listened to the audio book and it was one of the most entertaining audio book productions I have ever had the pleasure of hearing! I highly recommend it! You will be talking like you're from the south in no time at all! ;)

February 26, 2014

Tahereh Mafi (AND Ransom Riggs) Author Event

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On Monday I had the pleasure of attending an author event for Tahereh Mafi where she promoted her new book, Ignite Me, the last installment in her Shatter Me series. I am a huge fan of this series because of Tahereh's gorgeous writing; her stories are wonderful, but her writing just hits me hard. It was a wonderful surprise that her husband, the very talented Ransom Riggs (of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children fame) moderated the discussion. If you know anything about Ransom and Tahereh, they are equally hilarious and adorable when they join forces. Suffice to say, this event was absolutely wonderful in every way! I even got to ask a question and it was a wonderful answer and experience.

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Tahereh signed all three of my Shatter Me hardcover books, which was really cool considering a lot of signings only allow one item (unfortunately she didn't have time for any book defacing though). She was seriously the sweetest thing and we talked about The Lunar Chronicles a little bit. Just like everyone else, I'm in awe of Tahereh's style; check out her arm candy! And her shoes... oy! And I thought I had a talent for walking in heels! ;)

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I also got a wonderfully awkward picture with Ransom and picked up some Sprinkles cupcakes on my way home (a perk of the parking fees at The Grove!). Anna Carey and Margaret Stohl were also there and it was really awesome to see authors supporting authors! Overall it was quite a perfect event!! If you get a chance to meet Tahereh and/or Ransom any time soon, I highly recommend it!

Stay tuned for my reviews for the rest of the books in Tahereh's Shatter Me series next month. I'll be scattering them in between some book tours I'm scheduled for. You can read my review of Shatter Me here

February 25, 2014

Cress by Marissa Meyer

"[...]Maybe there isn't such a thing as fate. Maybe it's just the opportunities we're given, and what we do with them. I'm beginning to think that maybe great, epic romances don't just happen. We have to make them for ourselves."
-from Cress by Marissa Meyer

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**This review contains spoilers for Cinder and Scarlet**

The long anticipated third book in Marissa Meyer's The Lunar Chronicles series is finally available! I don't know about you, but I was so excited to finally get my hands on Cress (I was the first on the list at the library!). I even got to talk about this series with Tahereh Mafi last night! Seriously! (More on my wonderful experience meeting Tahereh tomorrow!!) If you haven't started this series, I highly recommend that you stop what you're doing and go get Cinder ASAP. As always, my reviews are spoiler free for the book I'm reviewing, but not for the previous books in a series.

True to form, Cress continues the story begun by Cinder and Scarlet while introducing a new title character. Based on the fairy tale of Rapunzel, Cress is a Lunar shell held captive in an orbiting satellite by thaumaturge Sybil Mira. With her excellent computer hacking skills, Cress' job is to monitor everything going on between Luna and Earth, namely spying on Earthen governments and helping Lady Sybil find Cinder for Queen Levana. But Cress has grown tired of her captivity and has been romanced by Earthen culture, especially enamored by Captain Carswell Thorne. When Cinder and company work to free Cress from her satellite prison, Cress comes face to face with freedom, friendship and her handsome crush. But after all of our favorite characters are split up from each other, they all must figure out how to work together independently to end Queen Levana's evil reign and plans to infiltrate Earth.

So much happens in this book! At first I was overwhelmed by the hefty 550 pages (not that I complained), but I was soon impressed that Meyer was able to condense so much action from so many characters in so few pages. I almost gave this book 4½ stars because it does take some time for the story to gain its footing; but when there are six main protagonists in addition to two separate planetary governments and many other perspectives on top of that, I cannot fault the gradual pacing necessary for a solid foundation. There was also one part where I felt everything clicked together too easily, but I think with a series of this magnitude, I can forgive that. If you feel this way upon beginning this book, have faith that in the end all of your patience pays off as many loose ends begin to come together. 

Each of our title-worthy female protagonists have struggled with feeling isolated and different from others; Cinder as a cyborg and Scarlet as a spitfire. Cress has faced similarly difficult circumstances prohibiting her from finding her identity, literally being cut off from civilization, not belonging to Luna or Earth. Her social awkwardness and coping mechanisms for facing reality reinforce her imperfections, which solidifies this series of fractured fairy tales. The terms "fairy tale" and "princess" often bring about the idea of a perfect female and little adversity faced to reach an easy life. Through this novel, Marissa Meyer continues to challenge the idea of what a fairy tale truly is by reshaping the perspective of a princess and a female heroine. My favorite quote of the book is when Cress tells Thorne that maybe we have to make epic romances for ourselves (quoted above) and I think this is a powerful theme throughout this series.

Another major theme throughout this book is friendship which overpowers even the obvious ideas of romance in these books and the fairy tales from which they are inspired. While there is no shortage of romance, I found that the friendship between everyone is much more prominent and this novel solidified these friendships. Cinder's relationship with Wolf was especially interesting to me because they develop a special level of trust in this book. It was equally fascinating to watch Cress adjust to being surrounded with friends after indefinite isolation. While Meyer's series touches on all the things that make us love fairy tales (romance and adventure, princesses and evil queens), I think it really focuses on the parts of fairy tales we may have overlooked as children, such as the love of friendship and the difficulty of fighting a war alongside your friends. 

As I mentioned, many things come together in this book that make the ending more fulfilling than most novels. While I'm utterly disappointed that I have to wait so long for the final book in the series, Winter, I'm also very satisfied with the end of this part of the series. This book is a non-stop adventure and I found every character equally fascinating to follow. If you're a fan of this series, I'm sure you will enjoy this book and it will only have you more excited for the next! 

Bottom Line: A must read for any fans of fairy tales, retold classics or just plain wonderful adventures! Just make sure you start with Cinder and Scarlet! 5/5 Stars

February 24, 2014

Monday's Reading Recap

I'm going to see Tahereh Mafi today!!! *does a little dance* Seriously, guys, in the last month she has easily become one of my favorite authors and I can't wait to bask in her awesomeness!

On a less exciting bookish note, I barely read last week (although I am up to 21 books this year, so I really shouldn't complain!). But I didn't get in a lot of reading for good reason: I got to spend a bunch of time visiting my amazing cousin/sister Wendy and her awesome husband, Josh.Wendy taught me how to crochet hearts and even though it took me a lot of trial and error to learn, I can't believe I made one!!

So basically, my week is consisting of 48-hours of awesome. Talk about a five-star February! ;)

What are you reading this week? Did you read anything great over the weekend?

Last Week I Finished Reading: Cress by Marissa Meyer and Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (audio book)

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This Week I Plan on Reading: The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh, Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis (I finally have a hard copy from the library giving me a deadline to finish this!) and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (in keeping with the Tahereh Mafi theme and all)

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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi and The Help by Kathryn Stockett -- I'm also throwing in my review of Cress by Marissa Meyer last minute because I want to squeeze it into 5-Star February! ;)

February 21, 2014

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Sometimes I think the loneliness inside me is going to explode through my skin and sometimes I'm not sure if crying or screaming or laughing through the hysteria will solve anything at all. Sometimes I'm so desperate to touch to be touched to feel that I'm almost certain I'm going to fall off a cliff in an alternate universe where no one  will ever be able to find me.
-from Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

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How has it taken me so long to find this beautiful series? I must have repeated that question to myself a hundred times since I began devouring this first novel in the Shatter Me trilogy by Tahereh Mafi. On Monday, Mafi will be at one of my (semi-)local Barnes and Noble stores promoting the final installment, Ignite Me. I decided to give this book a read to see if I might want to go to her author event and I am so happy that I did!

This dystopian novel is narrated by 17-year old Juliette, a girl with a very strange ability of injuring people with skin-to-skin contact. After accidentally killing a child with her power, Juliette is locked away in an asylum where we find her after 264 days isolated from the outside world. When the government decides to utilize Juliette's strange gift to reinforce their power, Juliette must learn to cope with how her touch can change her life and her future.

First of all, I didn't realize how sick I am of dystopian caste systems until Shatter Me broke the mold. Thank you, Tahereh Mafi, for not creating any districts or factions or groups,  yet successfully creating a dystopia. In Juliette's futuristic version of the world, Earth has been horribly abused and is left with limited resources to sustain life. In a veiled attempt to rebuild the standard of living, a new government, The Reestablishment, comes to power and things only get worse. I found it incredibly refreshing not to have to figure much out about the world from where Juliette comes. This book breaks the dystopian mold and executes a compelling story without much set-up.

The most enjoyable part of this book (and the series as a whole) is Juliette's narrative voice; Mafi's poetic prose and use of language is actually stunning at times. For example, instead of stating that time went by, Mafi writes, "1320 seconds walk into the room before he does." While it took some getting used to, Juliette does not use standard modes of punctuation, she constantly repeats words and edits herself by striking out sentences from her sub-conscience. Once I was accustomed to reading this style, Juliette's character comes to life and the narrative gives an authentic glimpse into this battered girl's stream-of-conscience. The confused, disjointed, poetic prose reveals who Juliette truly is.

Through Juliette's history and circumstances, questions of identity, belonging and isolation are considered. Can Juliette function in society? To what degree is she comfortable utilizing her power for a destructive government, if any? Can she reconcile who she is with who the government wants her to be? This book deconstructs what it is for Juliette to be a physical monster as a base for the rest of the series.

Finally, the pacing of this story is truly perfect. Readers are led through three phases of Juliette's existence which are full of action that keeps the story moving forward all the time. Every character introduced is enjoyable and the romantic element is very well done. For fear of giving anything away, I'm not going to comment any further on that, but just trust me! ;)

Bottom Line: If you love dystopian books, this needs to be next on your list! 5/5 Hearts!

And if you're on Instagram and want to follow a great Shatter Me fan group, check out ShatterMeOfficial

February 19, 2014

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Our kisses were seismic. When seen by the wrong person, they could destroy us. When shared with the right person, they had the power of confirmation, the force of destiny.
-from Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

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Based loosely on actual events, Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan is a web of stories woven together surrounding two boys who are aiming to break the Guinness World Record for Longest Kiss at approximately 32 hours. A chorus of gay men who died of AIDS in a previous generation narrate the stories, ranging from a budding gay relationship, to a lukewarm long-term gay relationship, to a single gay teen addicted to online sexual encounters. What manifests from these stories is a poetic and precise articulation of the multi-faceted experience of a gay teenager coming of age in a quickly changing social atmosphere.

I don't think I've ever highlighted a book so much in all my life. There are so many poignant, painful and beautiful passages in this book that any reader can relate to, gay or straight. Personally, I'm a straight female supportive of the LGBT movement, but aside from my personal beliefs, this was ultimately a book about love and identity. What makes this book so relatable on any level is that most teenagers (if not all) go through a struggle of identity; viewing this development through the lenses of gay teens and young adults is similar to the general struggle only magnified and even more lonely.

The narration coming from a chorus of gay men from a previous generation who died of AIDS gives them the knowledge and experience to relate to this new generation; the disconnect between generations gives the reader the insight not to take the current state of LGBT rights movement for granted. Through the narrative we can see how far we've come, but through the stories we see how far we still need to move forward. As I mentioned before, the poetic prose used in this book is just beautiful; but it's the insight of the narrators that give it the substance necessary for comprehension and motivation to change.

Overall and based on my experience amongst the LGBT community, I found these stories honest, authentic, and moving. Levithan does not leave anything out in the spectrum of the gay experience, from good and bad experiences, coming out of the closet, supportive parents, passive parents, hateful parents, navigating relationships with added pressure, etc; everything is included without sounding pedantic or pandering to the LGBT audience. I think this book can be appreciated by a wide audience and has the power to change negative opinions and chip away at homophobia. I would love to hear a future narrative of the generation featured in this book as they tell the story of future generations. Although on second thought, hopefully the next generation won't face as much adversity to have such an interesting story to tell.

Bottom Line: A must read! Beautiful articulation of the modern LGBT experience juxtaposed by the AIDS-generation of the 1980s. 5/5 Stars

February 17, 2014

Monday's Reading Recap

This week I have the opportunity to go see Matthew Quick at an author event, but I'm not sure if I'm going to trek out to LA for it. I'm already going out to LA tonight and then again to see Tahereh Mafi next week {squeeeals} but I'm kind of lazy because of LA traffic. Is anyone out there going to see Matthew Quick at Book Soup on Thursday? Maybe if I knew I was going to meet some online book friends in person I would be more motivated...

Last Week I Finished Reading: Fracture Me  and Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and Seeking Her by Cora Carmack (FYI, skip it!)
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This Week I Plan on Reading: Cress by Marissa Meyer (halfway done!) and The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan and Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

February 14, 2014

How to Love by Katie Cotugno

I felt so incredibly, unforgivably stupid, was the worst part- the lamest kind of stereotype, the dumbest kind of fool. I remembered that night outside the party at Allie's house, the pitying look on her sharp, familiar face: You definitely couldn't handle having sex with Sawyer LeGrande. I'd had sex with Sawyer, all right- I'd given him something I couldn't get back- and now he was done, game over, thanks for playing. It was gross. It was predictable.
-from How to Love by Katie Cotugno

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 Happy Valentine's Day! In honor of today, I think this book is absolutely perfect!

Katie Cotugno's debut novel, How to Love, is split into two periods of time: Before and After. "Before" chronicles studious and focused Reena Montero's school girl crush on Sawyer Le Grande, the less-focused son of her father's business partners. Although they grew up together, Sawyer doesn't show much interest in Reena until high school when they begin an emotionally messy romance distracting Reena from school and her life goals. When Sawyer disappears without any indication of where he went or when he'll be back, Reena must evaluate the consequences of her romance with Sawyer, consequences that include being pregnant at 15-years old. "After" takes place almost 3 years later when Sawyer returns. Reena must reconcile how Sawyer fits into her new life, if at all.

I admit that I decided I wanted to read this book before I had even read the synopsis because of the cute cover and sweet title; but then when I did read what this book was about, I was a little hesitant to read what I thought was simply going to be a story about teen pregnancy for the shock value of it. I'm so glad that I gave this book a chance anyway because it handles the subject of teen pregnancy respectfully and adequately. It's not centrally a book about a teen mom, it's centrally a book about love.

Initially I was so irritated that this book alternates chapters with the "Before" time period and the "After"; I figured it would just be split into two parts, clean and simple. But I quickly learned to trust Cotugno and the expert craftsmanship she put into this beautifully symmetrical blend of past and present. In reading Reena's life before Sawyer disappeared simultaneously with her life after his return, the reader is exposed to dramatic irony on multiple levels and the mixed emotions Reena experiences. Instead of compartmentalizing "Sawyer is a babe" and "Sawyer is a deadbeat dad", the reader gains insight into how Reena fell in love with him immediately after reading about her resentment for him when he returns to her and their 15-month old baby. The emotions are fresh and at times difficult to decipher because they are not black and white, giving the reader a similar experience as Reena. As the novel progresses, I was more and more impressed and fascinated by how "Before" and "After" chapters mimicked and complemented each other, setting this book apart from others in its genre.

Similarly, the use of two periods of time bring attention to who Reena is at different phases of her life and how she's changed. "Before," Reena isolates herself by taking no social action until she develops a relationship with Sawyer; "After," Reena's new role as a mother isolates her as a consequence of her actions. It took awhile before I appreciated the dichotomy. I also applied the theme of love to explicating Reena's metamorphosis and it helped me to appreciate Reena's growth even more. As always, I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll stop rambling; but rest assured, this book has plenty to talk about (and would make a great book club selection)!

In addition to great things to analyze, this book is strengthened by its strong metaphors and imagery. I especially loved the implementation of religion as it affects the characters. While I wouldn't call this a religious book by any means, Cotugno integrates enough spirituality to affect me in a positive way. Furthermore, the character dialogue was truly enjoyable; the emphasis of certain words helped me to hear the characters as clearly as if they were real people. I don't really have anything to complain about because all aspects of this book were solid and full of potential for meaningful discussions.

Bottom Line: Expertly-crafted, strong messages about love and identity, wonderful dialogue, and beautiful writing. Tip-top contemporary YA! Read this if you love contemporary YA and/or need a good love story for Valentine's Day! 5/5 Stars.

February 11, 2014

Encore Review: Faking It by Elisa Lorello

No, my only option was to fake it, play it cool, pretend like I wanted and needed nothing more, not even the bagel, to walk out feeling satisfied. Little did I know that when it came to Devin, I fooled no one, least of all him.
-from Faking It by Elisa Lorello
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Back when I first started this book review blog, I read Faking It and fell in love not only with the book itself, but with the characters, the author's writing and the whole idea that women's fiction can be fun without sacrificing smart. With today's release of Elisa Lorello's She Has Your Eyes, the third novel in the Andi Cutrone series, I couldn't resist re-reading Faking It to refresh myself with the characters that have leaped off of the page and into my life as if they were real people. My re-read proved to be even more powerful than the first time I started Andi's story and I've even upgraded my rating from 4-stars to 5. It also has inspired me to write my first Encore Review, a second look at a book I've re-read because I have so much more to say about it.

Faking It is the story of Dr. Andi Cutrone, a sexually repressed 34-year old college professor who meets Devin, a male escort often hired by her colleagues to escort them to university functions. Fascinated by Devin and hung up on her own lack of sexuality, Andi makes him a proposition: she will teach him about writing and rhetoric if he teaches her about sex. What results from their arrangement is the story of two emotionally broken people who help each other fix themselves in the most unlikely of ways.

Upon re-reading Faking It, my whole experience changed. In my first review, I complained that the beginning wasn't as fluid as the rest of the story; I had found it difficult to focus on piecing Andi's story together. What I didn't have when I read this novel for the first time was faith and trust in the author, especially considering how far-fetched the synopsis of this story seemed at the time. But now I'm a strong believer in Elisa Lorello; I relished in the details of Andi's life this time I read because I trust Lorello meant to include all of the details contained within the pages. I could better understand Andi as a character and better gauge her growth through this trust.

As with any re-read, the second time reading this book helped me to pay better attention to the little things I may have missed. This book, for example, is full of so much beautiful symmetry, one of my favorite things to discover in any book. I recognized that the setting of Andi and Devin's first meeting pops up later in the story which gave it more power to me and helped me better consider their journey. Similarly, Lorello uses symbolism in small ways that made a big impact on me: breakfast, packing, unpacking, so many things I want to flesh out in this review but I don't want to spoil anything for you. Suffice to say, when I grow up and have a book club, I plan on making this one of the first books we read because there's so much more I want to discuss and analyze, even if it's just to swoon over Lorello's unobtrusive use of literary devices.

My favorite part of Elisa Lorello's novels are her characters because without them, I don't think the overall stories would be executed as vividly. Her characters as a whole are written concisely yet nonrigid and interact with each other so realistically that you can't help but love them. I am especially sensitive to dialogue in novels as I feel that it's the lifeblood of the characters, making them fall somewhere on the spectrum of exciting to sterile. Lorello never fails to exceed my expectations with the dialogue of her characters, and Andi and Devin have some of my favorite dialogues in any book I've read. Their comical banter and intense arguments are my favorite parts of the book; I love how Lorello has crafted these two unique characters and then is able to have them interact in a way that is so lively and realistic. I could probably re-read chapters with Andi and Devin's banter over and over again, just like watching a good movie.

Finally, I want to express my appreciation that this book sounds like it's all about sex, but it has very little overtly sexual content at all. This might be disappointing to some readers, but to me it was so refreshing!! So many books have flooded the market about emotionally broken people who sedate their pain with explicit, unrealistic and often shallow sexual encounters. While these stories can entertain me, I cannot personally relate to them. Lorello's writing doesn't drip with shock value, and as a result I think she reaches a greater number of real people who can better identify with her characters. Furthermore, there's a message underneath the surface that I think different readers will take from in different ways. Both times I finished reading Faking It I felt emotionally fulfilled, like I had read something that made a difference in my life even if it was a pretty simple little love story. I think for readers of women's fiction it has the potential to be much more than a story about a professor and escort may sound.

Bottom Line: If you're a woman, you should read this! 5/5 Stars.

Don't forget, the third novel in Andi Cutrone's story, She Has Your Eyes, is out TODAY

I've already read it and can tell you that YOU MUST READ IT! But please read Faking It and Ordinary World first! Look for my review during a Fictionella Blog Tour in March or read it on Goodreads now!

February 10, 2014

Monday's Reading Recap

Last week I was soooo sick I actually missed most of the work week. On the bright side, I wasn't so sick that I was comatose, so I was very easily capable of reading. And that I did! My 2014 reading goals and challenges are off to a seriously great start. Now if only I could conquer other goals so aggressively..!

Last Week I Finished Reading: Destroy Me and Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi (Goodness, I love Warner LOL), Finding It by Cora Carmack and How to Love by Katie Cotugno

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This Week I Plan on Reading: Cress by Marissa Meyer and Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi (a week late on both of these, but it's going to be a perfect reading week, for sure! ;]).

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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Faking It by Elisa Lorello and How to Love by Katie Cotugno

February 7, 2014

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Sometimes people think they know you. They know a few facts about you, and they piece you together in a way that makes sense to them. And if you don't know yourself very well, you might even believe that they are right. But the truth is, that isn't you. That isn't you at all.
-from This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

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Where was YA like this when I was in high school? Any time I finish a book and that's the first thing on my mind, I know it earned its five star review. This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales was the first book I read in 2014 that had me asking myself that and made me envious of today's (legitimate) YA readers. You see, I read this book a week before I turned 30, which has been more of an identity crisis for me than I expected. It's also made me concerned that I won't be able to relate to YA novels as much, which totally sucks! However, this book kept me engaged and excited despite the generation gap between myself and the characters, further proof of how highly I recommend it!

Elise Dembowski is the stereotypical high school outcast and she doesn't know how she got there. The summer before her sophomore year she decides to re-invent herself, spending her entire break studying everything she needs to know about fitting in to high school culture. But when that plan fails and she's still bullied at school, Elise decides to kill herself. But she can't even do that right and finds herself cornered by not only her peers, but now her parents. When Elise discovers Start, an underground dance club that comes with new friends and a cute DJ, she begins to explore a life outside of high school with a clean slate where nobody knows she's uncool.

There are tons of novels about high school identity, but none have hit me as closely as This Song Will Save Your Life. Similar to Elise, I escaped my awkward high school identity through an underground music scene and could relate to her separate identities, wanting to keep them away from each other. I wasn't bullied like Elise, but I think most people can recognize the superficial, self-absorbed culture of high school enough to feel her pain in this book. The priorities of high school are so shallow, especially juxtaposed by Elise always wanting to be the best at whatever hobby she explores, that the post-high school reader can't help but relate to her sincerity.

What really separated this novel for me is all of the seeds Sales planted throughout and how they all came to fruition for a satisfying end. Much of what I loved I can't write about here lest I spoil the book for you, but trust me that everything comes together which is what made me adore the craftsmanship of this book. Another thing that made this novel superior to me than most coming of age high school tales is that Elise was a narrator I could support. It's easy to feel sorry for Elise, but she always maintains a somewhat upbeat (albeit sarcastic) attitude in which she always wants to learn. This was very admirable to me as a reader and it made her experience realistic.

Some parts of this book seemed a little bet far-fetched, like how 16-year old Elise can just walk into an underground night club and within weeks learns how to be a good enough DJ to spin a bit there. I was also a little bit suspicious that her wonderful, caring parents didn't have a clue how isolated Elise was in high school. I thought these things might eat away at me, as simple irritations often do for me; but I found myself trusting Leila Sales more and more as the book progressed and ultimately, with a tad bit of suspended disbelief, all the loose ends tied themselves up and I found that I wholly loved the book anyway.

Bottom Line: A must-read for any YA lover or former high school female! Very strong and well-crafted book about identity, growing up and loving yourself. 5/5 Stars.

February 3, 2014

Monday's Reading Recap + Five Star February

One month down, eleven to go! Who is still running on the momentum of the new year?! Yeah, me neither, but fake it 'til you make it, right? :) Honestly, this month felt like it lasted forever, but I'm not complaining because I read 11 books already, hooray!

I want to do something special for February to rev your reading engines. Originally I was going to post all love-story reviews, Valentine's Day and all. But then I got to thinking, if we're talking about "love", what books do I love more than 5-star rated books? This month my Friday reviews will all be for 5-Star books, most of which were popular last year (but better late than never, right?!). I'm calling it Five Star February and hope you enjoy the titles I've highly rated! I'm also going to give you more than one review most weeks (crazy, right? ha). Maybe it will even inspire you to post some 5-star reviews yourself!

Have you read any great 5-star books lately?

Last Week I Finished Reading: She Has Your Eyes by Elisa Lorello (that's the most excited I've EVER been for an ARC, let me tell you!!) + Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (LOVE!).

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This Week I Plan on Reading: Not A Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis and How to Love by Katie Cotugno, maybe even the next installment in the Shatter Me series.

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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales