November 28, 2014

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

But isn't this a dance? Isn't all of this a dance? Isn't that what we do with words? Isn't that what we do when we talk, when we spar, when we make plans or leave it to chance? Some of it's choreographed. Some of the steps have been done for ages. And the rest- the rest is spontaneous. The rest has to be decided on the floor, in the moment, before the music ends.
-from Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

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Today I am going to tell you about the best YA book to read once you're ready to relax and bask in the glow of the holidays. Dash and Lily's Book of Dares takes place over the days preceding Christmas through New Year's Day. I started reading it last year on Christmas Eve and it was really special to follow these characters through the holiday week nearly in real time. I suggest picking it up this week to make your holidays a little merrier!

When Lily leaves a red moleskin notebook full of instructions amongst the shelves of her favorite book store in New York City, she hopes it will help h er find a special someone with whom to share her lonely teenaged life. Dash, an artfully articulate teenage boy solves all of the notebooks riddles and dares, but instead of simply returning it to Lily, he sends it back with some dares of his own. What ensues is a whimsical adventure of two teenagers trying to find their own blend of love during the holidays and deciphering if their relationship can be sustained outside of their notebook.

There's a lot of talk about this book: it seems either you love it or you hate it. But I think if you can suspend reality that there are enough teenagers as funny, articulate and intelligent as both Dash and Lily for the two of them to meet for a battle of wits via a red moleskin, then it's a lovely story. There are many times where Dash especially was irritatingly superior in his wit and vocabulary that I definitely was annoyed. However, the sweetness of the holiday season and innocence of their adventure into love allowed me to enjoy this story thoroughly.

I really appreciated how Cohn and Levithan collaborated on this book and wrote each character independently without any outline to guide the initial story. While both characters sounded years ahead of their time, they both maintained separate voices that helped adjust when they alternated the narrative. I liked both Lily and Dash, despite my previous complaints, and trusted them both as characters and storytellers.

The premise of the chase was intriguing and kept me entertained throughout the first half of this book, but what really sold me into adding a fourth star was the exploration of loving a real person versus loving a person in our head. This book expounds upon the importance of the person you're pursuing versus the person you want to pursue. It discusses the fine line between a fairy tale and a happy reality. I think it's an important message for teenaged and young adult readers, especially with the glamorous love projected by fairy tales and Hollywood. I don't think Dash and Lily are realistic representations of the teenaged populace, even in New York City, but I think they experience and learning process are very identifiable to people of all ages.

Bottom Line: Looking for a light holiday read that will fit right into your Christmas Eve through New Years Day schedule? Pick this one up for teenaged adventure, romance and new vocabulary words! 4/5 Stars.

November 21, 2014

The Proposition by Katie Ashley

Have you ever wanted something so bad you think you’d die if you don’t have it? That the mere thought of it keeps you up at night. You can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you can’t drink. You are so consumed by that desire nothing else matters, and you’re not sure life is worth living if you can’t have it.
-from The Proposition by Katie Ashley
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Katie Ashley's The Proposition is the story of the great lengths female prototype Emma will do to get pregnant. After losing her fiance and her mother, Emma is so desperate for family that she's willing to do anything for a baby. This includes sleeping with a sexy chauvinistic guy from work, Aiden, who propositions Emma with his sperm so long as he can get her pregnant the old fashioned way. While Emma tries to protect her heart and think of their arrangement as physical only, she can't help but grow attached to the potential future father of her child.

I probably could have written this review before I even read the book because it was exactly what I expected and ended exactly the way I think anyone could imagine. This book was such a cliche I laughed much more than I swooned. The way Emma tries to protect herself and Aiden tries to pretend like he doesn't care about Emma wasn't even creative. I didn't even like either character, there was nothing that stood out about either of them to me. The author uses Emma's tragic history to make the reader feel bad for her, but this was such a sloppy way to try to force my feelings that I was mostly just annoyed by how stupid Emma was for wanting to bring a baby into the world for her own selfish loneliness and resented her way more than I felt sorry for her. There was nothing redeeming about this book, even the erotic parts were nothing notable.  The worst part about this book is how it perpetuates male and female stereotypes so horribly I was embarrassed by the content.

So why did I read it? I actually listened to the audio book during the last week leading up to my wedding and really needed something easy to take my mind off of all my stress. This was the only thing that met the bill available through my library and, for what it's worth, it definitely distracted me from all my stress! I don't regret reading it because of that, but I wouldn't recommend this one to anyone. Also, the narrative of the sexy scenes are so ridiculous in the narrator's monotone... I definitely don't recommend listening to romantic audio unless you want to laugh! While I knew what to expect with mindless romance, there are many mindless romances that can still get me to embarrassingly swoon. This was not one of them. I suppose if you really love contemporary romance you might be more forgiving, but this one was not for me.

Bottom Line: Boring, predictable, not even creative in the sexy department. The only memorable part about the characters is how annoying they are. The actual writing is fine and I wasn't enraged by it, so I don't feel right giving it only 2 Stars; but I disliked it enough not to give it 3... 2.5/5 Stars.

November 14, 2014

The Submissive Trilogy by Tara Sue Me

Gray was two people from different worlds coming together unexpectedly and creating something new. Gray took the best parts of us both and fit them together into something larger than we were apart.
-from The Dominant by Tara Sue Me

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So I was in a reading funk earlier this year and I wanted something so light and easy and non-life altering that I could finish it and not even realize I had spent time reading. Does that make sense? Do you ever get that way? The Submissive was the best written out of the contenders I had on my Nook at the time and it actually surprised me in a lot of ways.

Forgive me if this sounds all too familiar, but The Submissive is the story of sweet little Abigail who applies to become the submissive of rich, handsome, young business mogul Nathaniel West. Nathaniel is a dominant who participates in the sexual underworld of BDSM and, of course, he has a rocky past and has never been able to really commit to love. Until Abigail. The Submissive is Abby's point of view of their little love story while The Dominant is the exact same story told from Nathaniel's perspective.

Within a few chapters I became really frustrated because the story line of The Submissive was so ridiculously close to 50 Shades of Grey that I couldn't believe the lack of creativity. It even went so far to personify the female protagonist's inner-struggle (good Abby/bad Abby similar to 50 Shades' "inner goddess"). I can understand wanting to copy the success of a best selling book (even if it's terrible writing and has a lack luster storyline), but copying almost every ounce of it was disturbing to me! That was until I did a little research and found out that The Submissive is actually rumored to be the inspiration for 50 Shades of Grey, not the other way around! The fact that The Submissive is actually much better written and felt like it had more substance makes me really disappointed in the success of 50 Shades of Grey. If women are going to get all crazy about erotic romance novels (which is totally fine!), at least have the ability to distinguish decent writing from the terribly-edited fan fiction that is 50 Shades of Grey. Now, I don't mean to start a war with fans of 50 Shades, that's just my opinion on my blog.

Anyways, this isn't necessarily a review comparing two books, so I'll get on with it! What I found interesting about this series was that it really explored the lifestyle of BDSM. Instead of just having a guy who enjoys tying a girl up and whipping her with things, Nathaniel teaches Abby the whats and whys of his sexual lifestyle and the reader learns right alongside her. I think it helped to deconstruct something that's thought of as so taboo and humanized it, making it understandable to the average person. While I don't want to invest in riding crops or anything, it was interesting to learn about a world that is never really talked about.

I also found Abby and Nathaniel to be extremely relatable. Nathaniel didn't really seem like some big shot millionaire and Abby wasn't a pure virgin. They seemed human and normal. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to read The Dominant because even though The Submissive got the job done entertaining me, I did not care to hear the whole entire story all over again! But once I did begin to read it, I found Nathaniel's perspective to be refreshing and it gave enough new information to make it informative. I definitely do not think these books are for everyone, but for being an easy and light romantic read, it got the job done.

The third book in the series I probably could have done without; there was no real conflict or climax, it just followed the characters on with things after the end of the two other books. I felt that parts of The Training could have been included in the other two books to compact this series. There was a lot more informative information about the BDSM lifestyle in The Training, but I wasn't so interested in it that I needed to read this. If you really loved the characters (and I admit I did grow attached to them enough to finish the third book), you will probably want to read the complete series. 

Bottom Line: Not for everyone and not at all life-altering, but I enjoyed it as a light, fluffy and swoony read that is written way better than 50 Shades of Grey. If you liked 50 Shades of Grey and Bared to You, you will probably enjoy this series. 3.5/5 Stars.

November 7, 2014

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

This is no fiction, no exaggeration. If I have failed in anything, it has been in presenting to the reader too prominently the bright side of the picture. I doubt not hundreds have been as unfortunate as myself; that hundreds of free citizens have been kidnapped and sold into slavery, and are at this moment wearing out their lives on plantations in Texas and Louisiana. But I forbear.
-from Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

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Slavery and the Holocaust are two portions of semi-modern history that are so egregious and so unbelievable that I can't help but want to read about them and learn about them. There's no way I can wrap my head around why anyone would want to treat another human being the way people were treated during these blemishes on human history, but I admire any books educating on the subject because by learning more about the horrors of humanity we can better prepare ourselves to eradicate future atrocities. I also admire the bravery of authors who write about their personal experiences and the counter of goodness and strength of the human spirit they bring. Solomon Northup is no exception and his story is one of so much unfair horror and yet so much bravery that I really want to encourage you to read it.

Solomon Northup was born a second generation African-American in America. More importantly, he was born free. Twelve Years a Slave is Northup's personal account and just based on the prose of the narrative alone it's obvious that he was an intelligent, educated man. Northup lived the American dream in New York where he was married with three children and worked very hard so that his family was never wanting. One day when looking for extra work, Northup was drugged and kidnapped and sold into slavery where he remained a slave for twelve years. His memoir is a graphic account of the horrors he faced, the friendships he made and the way he was able to find his way back to freedom.

What is most interesting about Northup's account of slavery is that he, born a freeman, had no experience as a slave before entering slavery. Many accounts of slavery are based on people who were born into slavery, but Northup's account makes it especially easy for people who never experienced slavery firsthand or even segregation to identify with. It also makes it so much more horrifying to imagine being free one day and a slave the next and emphasizes how much we are able to take our freedom for granted. The injustice of Northup's story is absolutely infuriating, but similarly terrifying.

Because of his lack of experience with slavery, Northup explains his story with much detail and background for readers who also have little experience with the details of slavery. I found this both good for informational purposes but also terrible because of how horrible slavery is in all aspects. Learning about the sale process of slaves and how horrible slave owners could be was such a sad and shameful depiction of humanity.

Fortunately, Northup did share some of the better stories about people who took care of each other and even slave owners who weren't as terrible. While none of these stories make up for any part of the horrors of slavery, they shed some much needed hope on humanity and the human spirit. Had it not been for the goodness in people, Northup may have never become free again.

Bottom Line: This is a must read for everybody. You should know your history and you should never allow itself to repeat in any similar shape or form. 5/5 stars.