August 14, 2015

Review: Monday Sunday by Fenton Grace

Title: Monday, Sunday
Author: Fenton Grace 
Genre: Contemporary Romance?
Rating: C
Recommended For: Readers who love stories that push traditional social limits
Source: Complimentary e-book

One-sentence review: While this story of 32-year old widow Laney Secord's  love triangle with a 16-year old and his father is definitely an interesting (albeit limit-pushing) premise, it lacked the emotional support and character depth to pull it off successfully. 

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

I received a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Fenton Grace's Monday, Sunday chronicles the sordid love affairs of 32-year old widow Laney Secord. Laney's husband passed away shortly after she had an affair with his best friend leaving her incredibly guilt-ridden and empty as she tries to raise their seven-year old son alone. When 16-year old Eagle Scout Christopher comes to Laney's door asking for donations and ends up kissing her, it kickstarts a messy turn of events she wasn't expecting, including Chrisopher's father, Bill, showing interest in her as well.

I wanted to read this book because the storyline was so controversial I knew Fenton Grace must have had an excellent plan of executing such a boundary-pushing topic. While Grace's writing is skilled mechanically, unfortunately I felt the execution missed the mark and I finished this book feeling underwhelmed. I never felt anything emotionally from Laney that could justify her lust for a 16-year old boy and I never felt any connection between her and Bill to justify him even being a part of this story other than for an added complication.

Overall the characters felt very one-dimensional, which is somewhat understandable since this is from Laney's point of view, but even she felt somewhat sterile and mechanical. I wouldn't even classify this as any type of true "love story" because I didn't feel any emotions other than perhaps Laney's emotional void, if that counts. This void is understandable given her husband's death and everything but I couldn't connect the dots of justifying either relationship with Christopher or Bill. The only thing I felt from Christopher and Bill is lust and perhaps intrigue, like Laney was something fun to explore at the moment. I'm sure all of this could be deeply analyzed, but unfortunately I was too underwhelmed by the conclusion to care.

All of that isn't to say it's a bad book  just because I didn't enjoy the storytelling: the prose is well-written and Grace is clearly a skilled writer. Furthermore, even though I didn't think the overall story was executed well enough, I still think the content raises great discussions. It's a story that is sure to make most readers uncomfortable, especially because Laney isn't black and white; she isn't all good or all bad. It's easy enough to put ourselves in Laney's shoes and see how she gets where she does. While we may not all make the same choices as she does, we can agree she is a fairly average and relatable person. Furthermore, this story helps us examine our own values systems against Laney's and also examine our need for love, lust and adventure to take us out of the monotony of life. It asks the question what lines are we willing to cross to fill either of those voids.

While this book wasn't necessarily my favorite, I think it may still be enjoyed by many who like something out of the ordinary. It's a very quick read and as I mentioned, well-written. If you think you may like to examine the mind of Laney Secord, I think you should definitely give it a read!

June 26, 2015

Review: The Heir by Kiera Cass

Love did nothing but break down defenses, and I could not afford that. 

The Book Rest - YA Review - The Heir by Kiera CassTitle: The Heir
Author: Kiera Cass
Genre:  YA Romance
Rating: B+
Recommended For: Fans of The Selection series, fans of bubblegum YA romances
Source: Library e-book

One-sentence review: For a book I really don't think was necessary to be written, I was very heavily entertained by this addition to The Selection series even if I thought the main character was terribly annoying. 

TBR It: GoodReads
Buy It: Amazon

*This review contains spoilers for The Selection series*

I kind of feel like Kiera Cass needs to write something new already. I know I'm going to get so much hate for saying that, but The Selection has been done, it's over, it was cute, so move on. That was exactly my thought process getting into this book and I can't say that reading it has made me change my mind too much, but I'll admit I need the next book in this series ASAP. Oh Kiera Cass, look what you do to me!

While The Selection and its two sequels followed America on her journey through the Selection to become Queen of Illea, The Heir follows the same journey of her daughter, Eadlyn only on the opposite end of the competition about twenty years later. Illea is now caste-free but the new generation is angry for some reason about it. Even though the Selection as a mandatory way for the heir to find a spouse has been eradicated, America and Maxon ask their daughter, the future Queen, if she would be willing to participate in order to distract the country and make them happy. Eadlyn very unhappily agrees and finds herself in the middle of something changing her in all the ways she expected and wanted to resist.

First off, I really dislike Eadlyn. She is so selfish, self-righteous and self-absorbed that I could never truly sympathize or care about her. If this were a movie I think she should be played by Kendall Jenner or another Kardashian/Jenner because then viewers will be used to the whole poor-little-spoiled-girl routine. Fortunately, I think Cass meant for Eadlyn to come off as not-so-nice, especially in contrast to her mother, America's Selection story. But this cold, selfish heroine act definitely affected the way I read the story. She's just so out of touch with reality and unaware of how spoiled she is that I found it difficult to cheer for her happy ending.

Different from the original Selection, there isn't just a love triangle, there's a whole love-octagon... or whatever shape has as many sides as Eadlyn has potential love interests. I definitely have my favorite and runners-up, but it's actually pretty difficult to see who the front runner is for the winner of the Selection. Which, if you haven't realized, means yes - there will be more Selection books. The Heir does not end with a winner or any sort of conclusion. I can hear the cheers and groans alike.

Regardless of whether the new generation of characters is worth reading or not, fans of the original Selection will be pleased to see all of their beloved favorites interact. My favorite was seeing Aspen and Maxon in one touching scene, and Aspen and America during some exchanges. I will say it is extremely satisfying to at least have that sort of epilogue regardless of the rest of the content.

The rest of the content is not all bad and obnoxious though; quite the opposite if you can get past Eadlyn. Many new characters, especially the rest of America and Maxon's kids, are colorful, rich with depth and, as always with Cass' characters, have hilarious interactions and dialogues with each other. Eadlyn's twin brother might be one of my favorite characters Cass has created and I look forward to seeing if he will play a major role in the next book. The relationships Eadlyn builds with the boys in the Selection are filled with all of the fun character building elements that Cass is exceptional at and always makes her stories fun and enjoyable.

If you liked the original Selection trilogy, you will surely appreciate all of the similar elements in this continuation, even if it's still annoying that this story won't end. As for me, I will keep this series as my guilty pleasure that continues to ultimately entertain more than it annoys.

June 12, 2015

Review: What I'd Say to the Martians by Jack Handey

If you're an ant, and you're walking across the top of a cup of pudding, you probably have no idea that the only thing between you and disaster is the strength of that pudding skin.

 photo 2092146_zpsr29rupis.jpgTitle: What I'd Say to the Martians and Other Veiled Threats
Author: Jack Handey
Genre: Humor Short Stories
Rating: A
Recommended For: fans of BJ Novak's One More Thing
Source: My library (well, my husband's)

One-sentence review: Jack Handey's particular brand of sarcastic, ironic and often exhausting humor is not for everyone but I can guarantee it's funny and you'll find yourself laughing through this book no matter your comedic style.

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

I've been in a sort of reading slump lately. Can you tell by my lack of reviews?! I am so disappointed in myself for missing my first review in close to 3 years! I'm surrounded by great books but I've been too busy or exhausted from being so busy to really enjoy them. I was complaining to my husband about it and he recommended one of his favorite authors, Jack Handey, but he teased that I probably wouldn't like his work. When a serious reader is told what they will not like, they almost always accept the challenge to prove said provoker wrong. So, of course, I accepted my husband's challenge. He bet me $20 I wouldn't really read it.

Jack Handey's What I'd Say to the Martians and Other Veiled Threats is his first compilation of short humorous stories that highlight the brand of comedy Handey is known for cultivating. Best known for his signature Deep Thoughts comedic one-liners which were featured on Saturday Night Live, Handey brings the same absurd humor to this collection (which actually includes his favorite Deep Thoughts). If you're not familiar with Handey's style of comedic style, perhaps breaking down some of my favorite and least-favorite selections from this book will give you an idea of what to expect.

My favorite story is called "My Third Best Friend" in which Handey explains that his wife is his third best friend. I'm sure this is my favorite because my husband recommended this book to me, so now I always ask him if I'm his third best friend. The story is ironic because obviously the narrator's wife is way more devoted to him than his first and second best friends; his first being his co-worker and his second being his college roommate he doesn't even talk to anymore. He tells an elaborate and hilarious story of how his wife saved his life (one of many times) and yet she still only ranks third. If you're trying to decide if Handey's humor is right for you, I recommend reading this story and gauging your reaction.

Similarly, "My Nature Documentary", is another of my favorites. The narrators in all of Handey's works have very little sense of self-awareness which is the basis for most of the humor. This story in particular is basically a narrative storyboard of a nature documentary in which a giraffe and a monkey are separated best friends. The story is cute, but made hilarious with the stage direction. For example, one of the notes about a scene where the giraffe must laugh states "(choke giraffe and dub laughing sounds)". In a scene where a monkey is supposed to be praying, the stage direction says, "(glue monkey's hands together to show praying)". It's this over-the-top detailed humor that really makes Handey's comedy particularly special.

There are also some chapters on Handey's infamous "Deep Thoughts" which are another area you might want to read to gauge whether you will appreciate his writing or not. I made the intro quote above one of his Deep Thoughts mentioned in this book so you can see if you think it's funny or not.

My least favorite stories all had the same thing in common: there isn't a real story line or succinct concept that was able to hold my attention. "Lowering My Standards" was probably my least favorite in the book, I was bored reading it. Similarly, Handey's To-Do List featured was incredibly excessive albeit funny. But that's probably why Handey is so funny: he's excessive and he goes all the way with his humor, carrying it for much longer than the average comic writer. In many cases this brand of humor is wonderful, but for me sometimes it became daunting.

Overall I really enjoyed this book of humorous stories and I won't shy away from Handey in the future. I'm anxious to read his novel, The Stench of Honolulu, to see if his humor will translate well in a longer format!

Oh, and Tyler? You owe me $20. ;)

June 5, 2015

Review: The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Do not find peace. Find passion. 

The Book Rest - YA Book Reviews - The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle HodkinTitle: The Retribution of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Genre: YA Psychological Thriller
Rating: A
Recommended For: Fans of light horror, fans of the rest of this series!
Source: Local Library

One-sentence review: An absolute roller coaster of emotions bring this crazy (pardon the pun!) story to a gripping conclusion that satisfies romantically but leaves so many questions unanswered!

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

This review contains spoilers for The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin!

All I can assume after finishing the Mara Dyer series is that Michelle Hodkin loves to torture her readers. In The Retribution of Mara Dyer, Mara wakes up in a Horizon's testing facility after her face off with Jude. She doesn't know if any of her friends are alive, she doesn't know if Noah is alive. When she's given an opportunity to escape by none other than Jude, Mara takes it despite having to do some gruesome things to get out of Horizons alive. She reunites with some of her friends and they work to solve the mystery of what they are, who has answers, and if Noah Shaw is still alive.

There were times when I couldn't put this book down, there were times when I was too emotionally spent to continue; there were times when I wanted to throw the book across the room and times when I wanted to hold it close and cry for Mara. I cannot articulate how incredible Michelle Hodkin is at getting into her readers' heads which is truly apropos for the psychological aspect of this book. Mara's personality is one of my favorites as verbalized in her narrative and this is partially due to the fact that I can't really trust her. The comedic undertones of her sarcasm and the way she handles everything juxtaposed with her unreliability is highly entertaining throughout the entire series and it is only reinforced in this book.

Similarly, Jamie is one of my favorite characters in all of YA literature. I'm always so impressed when authors can craft characters with such quick wit and laugh-out-loud banter, especially for multiple characters maintaining consistency throughout a book or series. The characterization in this series is part of what makes it so lifelike and enjoyable despite the difficult content.

More specifically about this book, I found the first half pretty difficult to get through. It was structured almost like a road trip story, which is fun but given the content it also got old because very little answers are found quickly. I became exhausted following Mara and her friends search for answers when they had very little to go on anyway. It was still entertaining, but emotionally draining, especially with Mara's need to find Noah. I can't really explain when I felt the story pick up the pace because it would give spoilers away, but I do find it worth the read despite this complaint (especially if you've read this far into the series, duh! ;)).

The conclusion (which I won't spoil) was so difficult for me. Cristina at Girl in the Pages told me that the end of the series left her with so many unanswered questions and I have to agree with her so much! It wasn't like Hodkin just ended the story or it felt like a quick tie up (cough-Allegiant-cough!); I could feel that she definitely thought out and crafted the ending. Parts of it were absolutely stunning (let's just say I thought Tahereh Mafi wrote the best steamy romance scenes, but Michelle Hodkin gives her a run for her money!). But overall: my questions far outnumber my compliments!

While I can't say this is my favorite series necessarily, I can say that Michelle Hodkin has easily become one of my favorite writers. Her ability to balance Mara as trustworthy and yet possibly insane was something few others could execute as flawlessly. And I promise you that the letter in the first book I was so concerned about definitely comes into play. While I would recommend this book to anyone who loves light psychological thrillers, I will still wait for Michelle Hodkin to write us an epilogical novel to satisfy all of the unanswered questions.

May 22, 2015

Review: The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

I'll walk forever with stories inside me that the people I love the most can never hear. 

YA Book Review - The Book Rest - The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle HodkinTitle: The Evolution of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Genre: Contemporary? Paranormal? Horror?! 
Rating: A-
Recommended For: Fans of light-horror because this is becoming one scary ride! 
Source: Public Library

One-sentence review: If you thought the first book in this series was crazy (pardon the pun), get ready for a roller coaster of emotions, surprises and new obstacles for Mara Dyer as she tries to figure out her powers and why someone is targeting her.

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

This review contains spoilers for The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Book 1 in this series)

Michelle Hodkin's second novel in her Mara Dyer series,  The Evolution of Mara Dyer, has even more twists, turns and surprises than you would expect, which is really saying something. We find Mara in almost the exact same situation as in at the beginning of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer: in a hospital with almost no recollection of how she got there. Only this time Mara is restrained and under psychiatric care. Nobody believes that she saw her ex-boyfriend Jude still alive. In fact they have surveillance footage from the police station proving that it could not have been Jude that Mara saw. Noah is the only person who trusts Mara and will stop at nothing to protect her. The only problem is, Mara might need more protection than Noah can offer. If Mara wants to avoid being sent to live in a mental health facility, she must play the game of acting healthy, which might inevitably prove to be impossible.

What makes this story such an exhilarating experience is that there is so much going on and yet, as a reader, I don't feel annoyed by that. Usually if a story has too many directions I get frustrated and overwhelmed. But Hodkin weaves all of the threads of this story so that you trust the outcome will be a worthwhile finished product (I sure hope I'm right!).

Mara is coping with some strange supernatural abilities that she's somehow inherited and trying to figure out why she has them, especially in relation to similarities with her grandmother. She has strange dreams that seem like flashbacks from her grandmother's experiences. Mara doesn't know how to control her abilities, how they relate to  her boyfriend's supernatural abilities, or how she can get through life without accidentally killing someone.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg with her problems. She's also being stalked by someone, presumably her ex-boyfriend who everyone thinks is dead. While she's being terrorized, everyone except Noah simply believes she's certifiably insane. While all of this is happening, Mara must do everything she can to prove to her parents and doctors at her out-patient mental health facility that she's just suffering from PTSD. The stress Mara experiences in this book is palpable, it practically jumps off the page. Just when you think you're beginning to make sense of one area, something new happens that completely throws off any logic. The chaos of the story is written succinctly enough that instead of growing frustrated, readers just feel the overwhelming sense of insanity akin to Mara's experience.

The symmetry in this book is something that I really enjoyed from a literary perspective. The trend of Mara in the asylum is powerful and grows more and more claustrophobic. Similarly, the foils of Jude versus Noah is fascinating in regards to Mara. How it's implied that one wants to hurt her and one wants to save her. As the story progresses, I really wanted to know any and everything about Jude: is he a ghost? Is he alive? What is his back story? Obviously if he tried to sexually assault Mara we don't count him as a "good guy", but what is his story? I really hope that we get more information eventually.

The writing in this book is just as masterful as the first book, if not even more vivid and beautiful. It's elegant and witty, smart and juvenile all without sounding pretentious. Mara's narrative voice is one of my favorites I've read yet. There's so much personality in her writing that I wonder if future works by Hodkin will sound the same or if she'll be able to craft yet another colorful personality that has their own strong voice.

Michelle Hodkin's Mara Dyer series is truly unlike anything I've ever read before. I do not enjoy "horror" stories, so perhaps there are more similar stories out there that I just haven't read yet. But even without enjoying horror, I love how spooky, intense and chaotic this book is. The experience of reading it will keep you on the edge of your seat and you will need to know more. I can't wait to finish this series!

May 15, 2015

Review: From A Distant Star by Karen McQuestion

Love trumps logic every time, she'd said. He didn't understand at first, but now he did.

The Book Rest - YA Book Review - From A Distant Star by Karen McQuestionTitle: From A Distant Star
Author: Karen McQuestion
Genre: YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: A-
Recommended For: fans of Pivot Point by Kasie West and other contemporary YA sci-fi/fantasy
Source: ARC

One-sentence review: A refreshing examination of the human race through the eyes of an alien where he learns to understand why humans on Earth act, fight and love the way they do while he searches for a way home.

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

This week I'm sharing one of my favorite debuts of the year, Karen McQuestion's YA sci-fi adventure From A Distant Star. This book will be released next Tuesday, May 19, and I recommend you pre-order now!

When Emma's boyfriend, Lucas, is miraculously cured of terminal cancer she is elated. But her elation turns to suspicion when she realizes Lucas is nothing like he used to be. In fact, he behaves like he's from a different planet. Emma quickly comes to discover her boyfriend isn't her boyfriend at all, but the essence of a (non-threatening) alien scout from another planet who crash landed on Earth and is now inhabiting Lucas' body. If Emma wants Lucas back and the alien (dubbed Scout) wants to return home, they must work together to find a way to make contact with his planet and dodge a series of obstacles along the way.

I realize that synopsis sounds crazy, but this book is awesome. I'm not a huge fan of alien stories, mainly because I'm not a fan of horror stories and generally aliens are classified as threatening. But From A Distant Star is not like that; in fact, it's not like any story I've ever read before.

Scout, the alien essence that crash lands on Earth is gentle, thoughtful, and kind. His alien race has surpassed humans on Earth not only technologically, but also mentally and emotionally. He has problems reconciling human problems with their actions. He questions why people do things like drink alcohol to escape their problems instead of just solving their problems. He can't comprehend why people make decisions based on the way they feel or why they hurt each other (until, of course, he's faced with strong emotions himself).

Similarly through her experience with Scout, Emma learns to more carefully consider her actions. She questions and challenges her preconceived notions because she's able to see them through the eyes of her new friend. It's also funny to see how Emma explains Earthen culture to Scout. The dichotomy between Scout and Emma's experiences as alien and Earthling is incredibly refreshing. Many authors use different races, sexes or cultures to explore the human experience, but I've never read a story where the species are examined on such a level that sparks quality dialogue about the human race. Similar to McQuestion's Edgewood series, From A Distant Star would make a wonderful book for parents to read alongside their teenagers to create important conversations (all while being thoroughly entertained, of course).

Technically I think this book is written with simple enough prose despite its complex ideas that even young teens would be able to understand and relate to it. But I have one very big complaint: one sentence about sex. It's not even explicit or racy or trashy, but Emma mentions that she and Lucas "were just a breath away from having sex". In my opinion, I just didn't think this book needed that. I was able to appreciate the intensity of Emma and Lucas' teen relationship without the sentence that essentially isolated readers aged 12-15. Obviously that's up to the discretion of parents and/or readers, but in my (old fashioned) opinion that sentence kind of spoiled things for me. It won't be the same for everyone, I know, but I felt like it cheapened a good, non-sexual story.

My only other major complaint was the pacing at the beginning. The book began interesting enough, but it took so long to get to Emma and Scout's adventure toward resolving their problem. There's a magical element to the story that I didn't think was necessary, I think if that was eliminated the story would have read much more fast-paced and exciting. Once it did begin moving, it was so fun and adventurous, I really enjoyed the fast pace. There are a lot of ridiculous things that happen to Scout and Emma on their journey, but that made the adventure all the more entertaining. I just wish the entire book started at this pace.

The dynamic that blossomed between Emma and Scout was my favorite part of this book. While I love how in love Emma is with Lucas, her relationship with Scout is an entirely different thing. I won't spoil it, but rest assured it's a satisfying relationship that overall makes this book especially sweet. I less-than-three Emma and Scout so much!

While there are a few things that I didn't love about this book, it didn't detract from my overall experience reading. I think this book is not only entertaining, but also important. It would make a clever platform for dialoging with teens, friends, or a book club about why humans do the things they do; why we behave certain ways; what we can do to change our human experience. For that reason alone, I highly recommend this book and hope you'll pick it up next week when it debuts!

May 8, 2015

Why Elisa Lorello's Novels are So Re-Readable

Language is not unlike art in that words contain values of lights and darks, hues and tonalities, texture and sensuality. Words can paint complex pictures.

Title: Faking It / Andi & Dev Series
Author: Elisa Lorello
Genre: (Smart) Chick Lit / Women's Fiction
Rating: A
Recommended For: Female readers looking for something light, fun but smart and deep as well!
Source: My personal library

One-sentence review: Intelligent chick lit is difficult to find, but you will fall in love with Andi's adventures through love, loss and love again in my favorite women's fiction series ever! 

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

 photo FakingIt_BookCover_zps0afba89d.jpg  photo 18318647_zpsfb2114f3.jpg

I have good intentions of re-reading far too many books. Sometimes I want to dub an entire year, "Danielle's Year of Re-Reads!" I used to think it would be impossible to re-read a book because knowing what happens would ruin the ending. But that's not the case. When a book is re-read worthy it's because it transports you into a new world and gives you feelings you want to be surrounded by. If you're not a serious reader you might not understand, but if you do understand then this post is definitely worthwhile.

One book I find myself re-reading every single year is Faking It by Elisa Lorello. Lorello has become one of my favorite authors since I first read Faking It in 2012 (the year after it came out) and one of the few authors whom I will read a book the minute it comes out (or sooner, thanks to ARCs)! There's a feeling Lorello constructs when I read her books; something comfortable and warm but not cheesy with simple solutions to fairly typical chick lit problems. That's what keeps me coming back to her novels and what keeps me re-reading them, too.

It's been over a year since Lorello released her last novel She Has Your Eyes, the third part of the series that starts off with Faking It, but it feels like it's been so much longer than that for me! So this year when I was in a sort-of reading rut, I decided to throw all my TBRs out the window and re-read all three novels in this series from start to finish! It was just what I needed and I'm hoping I can convince you that you might need it, too.

If you want my first-read reviews for the novels, you can find them here: Faking It - Ordinary World and She Has Your Eyes. Those reviews are spoiler-free, but I'm going to keep this one a little more open, more of a discussion. I don't usually do this, but since I've already reviewed these books before, I think it's fair. Besides, my review for the second and third books would already spoil the first and second anyway. ;) Similarly, I'm not going to spend time on synopses of the books.

So I repeat, this review/discussion MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. If you haven't read these books, I'd rather you go read them than finish reading this blog. That's how much I heart them.

When I considered why I gravitate back to these novels, especially Faking It, I found that there's something about the realistic essence of the characters Lorello crafts that I can not only love but also intrinsically relate to. Andi and Dev are why I read and re-read and tell everyone to read these novels. They are real, they are flawed and they feel like people I would want to know or become. The characters have realistic flaws and come up with realistic solutions. Even if the idea of a professor and a prostitute exchanging services doesn't seem real, it won't sound weird once you jump in. Rather than a story about sex, Faking It is a story about identity and boundaries, especially the identities we fake to enforce the boundaries we keep. That's something more people can relate to than are willing to admit and a subject matter I feel Lorello attacks with fun but smart fervor through her emotionally complex characters.

When I re-read Ordinary World this year it was my first time re-reading it after losing somebody I love. Almost a year ago my grandpa, who was my father-figure growing up, passed away. Even though it's nothing like the loss Andi experiences in Ordinary World, I was much better able to appreciate the ebb and flow of  her grief. Andi goes back and forth in this book between feeling like she can't go on and feeling like she can tolerate life. When I first read this book it got somewhat frustrating because it was hard to see the shape of the book's arc. But I get it now and I love how Lorello can really bring reality to things that are so difficult to articulate. Somehow she uses words to construct a world of feelings without telling you how to feel as a reader. I love that.

And can we talk about how swoon-worthy Lorello's male characters are? Somehow Sam is made to be greater than Dev through the loss of him. Even without giving forward movement to his character in this second book, we fall in love with him as Andi mourns him and that just gutted me. Which means, of course, I was able to feel Andi's loss even more acutely. But don't discount Dev, because he's still one of the best romantic male characters ever. Readers get to see a new vulnerable side of Dev in Ordinary World which only increases his value. Neither Sam or Dev are perfect, but its their flaws that make them feel almost tangible and their humanity that makes me appreciate them more.

I'm going to be honest with you: She Has Your Eyes was difficult for me to re-read. I don't like Dev in most this book. More accurately, I don't like how Dev isolates Andi in this book. It was harder for me to relate to Andi not standing up for herself when I thought she deserved to. Perhaps it's because this book is so convicting that Andi is more easily forgiving than I am. There are also a lot of not-nice or not easily-lovable characters in this one. That's of course not to say that I don't love the book, but perhaps it was too real for me. Ironically, the first time I picked up an Elisa Lorello book was to escape the reality of a similar family drama that was happening in my life, so I suppose I should laugh at how this series has truly come full circle for me!

Of course, I still highly recommend She Has Your Eyes, it's a truly wonderful book no matter how my emotions mangle my re-reading experience. Andi's growth with her mother is especially notable and will make re-reading the other two books even more fascinating. Similarly, somehow Lorello makes Sam even more missed in this book with stories we haven't heard about him. And as with the other books in the series, Lorello structures this one in a beautiful symmetry that can only be truly appreciated the second time around. I would like to think it's not just me, but these books have so many things that make me happy to read them.

Of course, no series is perfect (except maybe Harry Potter). Some of the things Andi does, says, and thinks, are pretty awkward and there can be generational gaps that separate this series apart from New Adult readers. But it's obviously not a deal-breaker. And some of the awkwardness or references made for teens-of-the-80s just add to the humanity and personalization of the characters. I wouldn't feel like a legitimate book reviewer if I didn't mention those things that I noted in a somewhat negative light, especially because I want to reinforce that I'm not getting paid, bribed or blackmailed to write this bonus review.

My only huge complaint isn't directed at Elisa Lorello, but toward Hollywood: When is Faking It going to be a movie starring Ian Somerhalder as Dev? I cannot think of a better Devin or David, even if Sam is supposed to look like a young Rob Lowe and Ian Somerhalder is essentially a young Rob Lowe. I. don't. care. Somerhalder's smooth, cocky attitude coupled with his sweet nature make him perfect. #IanAsDev should be thing we start, yeah? ;)

May 1, 2015

Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Thinking something does not make it true. Wanting something does not make it real.

The Book Rest - YA Book Review - The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle HodkinTitle: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Genre: Paranormal YA
Rating: A-
Recommended For: Fans of dark YA
Source: Library copy

One-sentence review: This is by far one of the most bizarre books I've ever read and the only book that I've ever been on the fence about for so long without being able to put the book down.

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

This book is crazy. I had heard about it for so long and had so many assumptions about it even though the synopsis is so cryptic. Almost everyone I know who has read it raves about it, so I finally found the time to begin this series. And now, I don't even know what to say!

Michelle Hodkin's bizarre YA series starts with a letter from Mara Dyer. She explains that she doesn't even know her name, so she's selecting this one and telling her story. And what a story she tells: Mara wakes up in the hospital after a terribly tragic accident in which 3 of her friends (including her boyfriend) are killed in a building collapse. Somehow Mara survives with almost no harm done to her except for what appears to be a nasty case of PTSD. Despite moving out of state to escape the location of the tragedy, Mara sees the ghosts of her friends. She also has strange experiences with other people around her dying. And she knows that if she tells her mom, who happens to be a mental health professional herself, she'll have Mara committed. At her new school Mara catches the eye of the school's gorgeous rebel and tries her best to keep her cool so he doesn't see her crazy. But there's only so much Mara can handle and things only continue growing more insane.

The question I found myself asking throughout most of this book is, "What is the genre?!" Is this a paranormal book? Is it fantasy? Is Mara truly suffering from PTSD making this contemporary YA? I have never felt so confused throughout so much of a book and yet not considered quitting, which goes to show how well written this novel truly is. Even though I was dying to know if Mara's visions were in her mind or actually happening, it made this book so exciting to not know. Which is why, of course, I'm not telling you.

Despite all the crazy happenings in Mara's life that led me to believe this book was either paranormal or she was truly crazy, there was also a very teen-romance phase between Mara and Noah, the generally boring bad boy trope. While I despise the bad-boy-falls-for-nobody-girl-for-no-good-reason thing, Hodkin makes this work somehow. And at the conclusion of the book you'll be happy you trusted her. Again, I can't explain myself without spoiling the reading experience, but trust me that it truly is an experience.

It's both impressive and unnerving how often this book fades into different things. From a book about extreme PTSD to a cliche contemporary romance and then feeling like a totally different book altogether, this is one of the weirdest good books I've read. It's unknown if we can trust Mara as a narrator throughout this entire book. She's all but diagnosed clinically insane and yet I had to keep reading. Similarly, Noah can't necessarily be relied upon to be an honest character either. I just hope that the end of this series is worth all of the acts of faith the push me to keep reading.

I am still confused about the letter at the beginning of the book and hope it also has a good pay out. If Mara Dyer doesn't know who she is but she's telling her story, why does she reference so many people who could corroborate her story, like her family members? I can't see why that letter was left in place, even if it was gimmicky, without some greater purpose. I really look forward to this series clicking together the way the final quarter of this book did. It's amazing how much clarity a small portion of a book can give!

April 24, 2015

Review: Split Second by Kasie West

I thought I wanted these memories, but now I realize he hardly knows me.

The Book Rest - Book Review - Split Second by Kasie WestTitle: Split Second (Pivot Point #2)
Author:Kasie West
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy
Rating: B-
Recommended For: Fans of teen YA, especially if you want to bridge the gap between contemporary and fantasy. This series is the perfect segue.
Source: Library e-book

One-sentence review: While the story of how Addie and Laila resolve the chaos wrought from Pivot Point is adventurous, exciting and unpredictable, the writing is so obviously "teen" that I couldn't get beyond it to consider this a solid, recommendable book to just anyone.

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

This review contains spoilers for Pivot Point, the first book in this series

I had a love-hate relationship with Kasie West's Pivot Point that mostly ended with love. Although it's still no big surprise that I continued my love-hate with the sequel, Split Second. I also began my experience deflated because I read this book a few months after finishing the prequel so I had forgotten so many details from the original that were not refreshed by the author. Never have I read a sequel with so few reminders of what happened previously, especially considering how much happened! After I was already halfway through the book I saw a Goodreads review from Book Blog Bake recommending to read the last few chapters of Pivot Point to refresh and I highly recommend that!

This novel basically starts soon after the last novel ended: living in a supernatural Compound in contemporary middle America, Addie has the ability to view 2 alternate realities when she's faced with a choice. Her best friend, Laila, has the ability to erase memories. In Pivot Point, Addie asked Laila to erase her memory of the alternate ending she didn't choose because she wants Laila to restore them a few weeks later. What unravels is Addie's attempt to restore the love story of her previous fate while making some difficult discoveries about the Compound from which she's from. 

Hands down, my biggest issue with this series is the writing. It felt so teen to me that I can't decide if the author is excellent at writing in the voice of 16/17-year olds, or not a good writer at all. Regardless, the voice distracted from my experience and I can't give West credit for bridging the gap of teen and adult literature like so many other YA authors I love. There was just something I have to describe as "cheesy" about the writing and while the content was not bad at all, the delivery made me feel awkward. 

My biggest gripe with the storyline is that it feels like there are two arcs: the action leading up to Addie's memory restoration (come on, it's not a spoiler, you knew it would happen!) and everything that happens after. I felt like the memory restoration part was really anti-climactic because, duh, they have to accomplish this- it's the reason we're reading! However, I will give this one to the teens; perhaps a 14-year old reader wouldn't see this coming. I acknowledge that I can't pick on this book for its intended audience too much.

Other than that, the story and the action are really exciting and unpredictable. At first I didn't think I wanted or needed to hear Laila's perspective; she kind of annoyed me in the first book. But the romantic element West gives to her experience definitely showed off her character growth and gave me more empathy for her experience. Similarly, I had all kinds of feelings about Addie trying to recreate her relationship with Trevor and it was so sad to see how difficult it was to make it happen organically like the first time. 

I think the story could have used some editing but overall the action kept me reading despite the overly teen narrative voices. Although I must admit, I wanted to throw the book with those stupid text messages that were at the beginning of every chapter to remind the reader of who was narrating that chapter. THEY WERE SO STUPID. Again, maybe I should stop reading teen books. I don't think I should, but I'll probably step away from Kasie West's. While I definitely think this author can resonate strongly with other readers, unfortunately it's not me.

April 17, 2015

Review: Fairest by Marissa Meyer

She cried for the girl who had never belonged. A girl who tried so hard, harder than anyone else, and still never had anything to show for it.

The Book Rest - Book Review for Fairest by Marissa MeyerTitle: Fairest
Author: Marissa Meyer
Genre: YA Fairy Tale Fantasy
Rating: A-
Recommended For: fans of The Lunar Chronicles and fractured fairy tales
Source: library e-book

One-sentence review: Fans of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles gain satisfying insight into the early life of Queen Levana and pleasantly discover through her complex history that not all villains are born evil and not all evil is black-and-white. 

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

I must admit I was a little bit hesitant when I learned Marissa Meyer had added this book to The Lunar Chronicles from Levana's perspective. Not quite the size of a full-length novel but longer than a novella, I wasn't sure how I felt about an optional addition to a story I already love and respect so much. If you've been reading my blog at all you know that I'm not a big fan of pointless novellas and feel that more often than not they cheapen a series. I didn't feel that way with Fairest, however, and find that while you don't have to read it to understand the series, it is an interesting addition overall.

Fairest spins the story of Queen Levana's teen to young adult years, before she was queen when she lived in the shadow of her selfish, hateful sister, Channary. As a young teen, Levana has a strong crush on Evret, one of her parents' guards. When Evret's wife dies in childbirth, Levana goes to great lengths to do everything she can to force him to love her, including using her glamour to look identical to his late wife. But Levana can never really force anyone to love her and instead of becoming humbled by this, she grows more and more corrupt. We learn about Cinder's birth, her apparent death and this novel sets readers up for the story of the newest Lunar Chronicles character, Winter.

Even though all of the other books in The Lunar Chronicles are peppered with love stories, this is the only one that I might classify being a romance story (despite the lack of true love). This could be somewhat off-putting to readers who value the action packed fantasy of this series, but I think it's important to evaluate the concept that most hate stems from some form of love. Levana's evil and power-hungry attitude stems from her life being completely devoid of love; from her parents apathetic attitude toward her and her sister's torture to not understanding why the man she's crushing over won't return her feelings, Levana is terribly alone in the world. Based on her history of love, she completely misunderstands it, thinking it goes hand-in-hand with power. And while her actions cannot be justified, readers may find that they have a little more compassion for Levana when they see where she's come from. No matter how hard Levana forces people to do things, she never actually gets the love for which she's so hungry.

Another fascinating part of this story is to see how utterly evil Channary is, especially to her sister, Levana. If you're a fan of The Lunar Chronicles you're automatically assumed to be a fan of Cinder, so it's shocking to gain insight into her biological mother's pure insanity. It's shocking to see how humble, brave and good Cinder is compared to those in her family tree and makes me want to re-read the entire series for hints of Cinder's relation to her mother's family.

Similarly, this book has made me especially excited for the final book in the series, Winter, based on Evret's daughter and Levana's step-daughter. Winter doesn't have a huge role in Levana's story, but her history definitely does. I'm sure this background will come in handy when The Lunar Chronicles is complete later this year. For this reason and the others I've mentioned, I have to consider this novella The Book Rest approved. Definitely read it if you love The Lunar Chronicles as much as I do! In fact, I don't think I've ever heard of one person not loving this series, so if you haven't read it, what are you waiting for?

April 14, 2015

YALL WEST - Santa Monica - Day 2

Day 2 of YALL WEST was not as great of an experience for me as Day 1. This was due to a lot of reasons. For one, my husband and I had to drive an hour in the opposite direction in the morning (Santa Monica is already an hour away from us). Secondly, the venue (Santa Monica Public Library) was much smaller and there were a lot of non-YALLWEST people wandering around, which was weird. It was just too crowded and cramped, even though significantly less people were there than Day 1. Finally, I brought my husband with me which was really awesome of him, but he was BORED. HA! At one point I wanted to wait in this horrendous line to spin a wheel for a free book and he said, "I will take you to Barnes and Noble right now and buy you any book you want if we can not wait in that line..." HAHA! I don't recommend bringing someone who isn't as emphatic as you area about books!

Remember how I missed Veronica Roth's signing on Day 1? Well, 2 hour drive or not, I was committed to racing to her line the minute I got to the venue! Unfortunately they cut her line off an hour before it even began, so once again I missed her. Ohhhh well. I wasn't very happy with that last book anyway! #sourgrapes ;)

The Book Rest - YALL WEST - Leigh Bardugo and Marissa Meyer

In the morning, the only other author who I had a book that needed signing was Tahereh Mafi, so I stood in her line. I even made a friend who drove all the way from Arizona!! (Hi Kristi, if you ever find me here haha!). I had my paperback copy of Unite Me, the only book I haven't gotten signed by Tahereh. I mostly just wanted to thank her for Instagramming the hoop I made her, it was seriously so amazing of her. I almost didn't even give it to her, but to see how much she loved it was ridiculously special to me. When I told her she was super gracious and grateful for it all over again and then told me her husband, Ransom Riggs, ALSO posted the hoop!! I had no idea because he didn't know who to tag (and I admit I don't follow him online as religiously as I do Tahereh), so I was just dumbfounded. Awkward fangirl moment, for sure. Of course, I left Tahereh's table to find Ransom's post... gahhh!
The Book Rest - Tahereh Mafi Instagrams my Art!The Book Rest - Ransom Riggs Instagrams my Art!

The Book Rest - YALL WEST - Ransom Riggs
This guy Instagrammed about me, so crazy! Hahaha!
So after that awesome moment, I watched some panels, namely the Fandom panel moderated by Kami Garcia. I was excited to see Katie Cotugno and I had How to Love with me for her to sign, but her signing was hours away. I could tell that my husband was so bored and I was tired from the previous day, so together we found Katie in between panels and she was awesome enough to sign her book for me outside of her signing. Also, my husband swears we know her from somewhere. I WISH. She couldn't have been sweeter!

The Book Rest - YALL WEST - Fandom Panel

Unfortunately we left after that. It was hot, crowded and I needed to eat haha. While Sunday was kind of underwhelming, the whole weekend was epic and it fueled my fire to go to the LA Times Festival of Books next weekend!! I cannot wait!

Anyone else going? Did anyone go to YALLWEST? What was your favorite moment?

April 13, 2015

YALLWEST - Santa Monica - Day 1

I am SO HAPPY that I went to YALLWEST over the weekend. It was most definitely a YA book lover's paradise! I met so many of my favorite authors and got enough of my books signed that it was worth the approximately 5 hours I spent commuting over the weekend ;).

Day 1 was held at Santa Monica High School and I wish the whole weekend had been held there. This was definitely the superior venue. Parking was easy, right across the street from the high school which was such a blessing being that parking in LA is rarely simple!

I instantly spotted Stephanie Perkins and got her to sign my Anna and Lola books (still waiting for Isla to come out on paperback to match my set! #OCD). I took a picture with her, but it's terrible of me so I'll save you. I also snapped a photo of her with Richelle Mead, Marie Lu, Maya Van Wagenen and some other authors, which I will show you...

The Book Rest - YALLWEST - Stephanie Perkins, Marie Lu, Richelle Mead

I proceeded to go to Ransom Rigg's Keynote which started with a message from the mayor of Santa Monica. He named Margaret Stohl the honorary mayor of YALLWEST. One of my favorite quotes of the day was from the mayor who said that reading helps us learn that "the way things are aren't always how they have to be." I absolutely loved that!

The Book Rest - YALLWEST - Mayor of Santa Monica

Ransom's Keynote was fantastic... although I had basically just heard the same speech a month ago at one of his signings, so I kinda wished I had jumped in Veronica Roth's signing line instead of attending since I would spend the rest of the weekend missing Veronica Roth over and over again. Live and learn!

The Book Rest - YALLWEST - Ransom Riggs Keynote

I did manage to get many books signed, though! Including my Marissa Meyer and Leigh Bardugo books. Out of respect for the hundreds of people in line behind me, I did not take posted pictures with the authors. I went to Day 1 alone and I feel like if you don't have a friend to snap a super quick photo and you don't have the nerve to do a quick selfie, you shouldn't hold up the line.

The Book Rest - YALLWEST - Marissa Meyer

Leigh Bardugo was by far the best person I met all weekend. She was nice without it being awkwardly fake (which "awkwardly fake" is fine, that's me most of the time! But it's nice when people are real!). She asked who my favorite character from her books is (NIKOLAI!) and we bonded over his one liners, which she wrote a different one in each of my books! I told her how I love embroidering Nikolai quotes and she said she'd love to see my work. I told her I had made something for Tahereh Mafi and Leigh had actually seen it on Tahereh's Instagram! If there was a fangirling moment of the weekend it was learning one of my favorite authors saw my craft that another favorite author posted on her Instagram. I mean, come on...

The Book Rest - YALLWEST - Leigh Bardugo

I also just observed signings since the lines were pretty ridiculous. I'm lucky enough that I've already met the authors I observed and didn't need any books signed. Except, of course, Veronica Roth... that elusive little author....

The Book Rest - YALLWEST - Veronica Roth

The Book Rest - YALLWEST - Marie Lu

The Book Rest - YALLWEST - Ransom Riggs and Tahereh Mafi

I sat in on a few panels, including "Strong Female Characters: UGH!" moderated by Veronica Roth and "Writers as Superfans: Cosplay Panel" moderated by Richelle Mead. I would have gone to a lot more, but it was kind of chaotic and I was happy just sticking to one room and watching panel after panel in there, ha!

The Book Rest - YALLWEST - Strong Women Panel

The Book Rest - YALLWEST - Cosplay Panel
The costumes were the best part of the Cosplay panel... to bad taking DSLR pictures from my seat was so hard!

I almost stuck around for the Smackdown at the end because it would feature all the authors, but I had an hour drive home, I was exhausted and I had come alone so there was nobody to entertain me.

Tomorrow I'll reveal my experience at Day 2 and later this week I'll tell you what I would have done differently now that I have my first YALLWEST/Book Fest under my belt! 

April 11, 2015

YA for the Not-So-Young Adult

Today, after much debate, I'm going to YALL West, the West Coast equivalent of YALL Fest. YALL West is essentially 2 days of YA book-related panels, dozens of my favorite authors, book signings, food trucks, and "general geeky debauchery." It basically sounds like Young Adult reader heaven! So why did the decision to attend come after much debate? Because I'm not exactly a "young" adult (much to my chagrin).

In fact, after thoroughly crossing the 30-year old threshold, I was feeling some serious guilt over my go-to books. I've become more loyal to my Kindle than ever lest I be seen with a Selection book (gorgeous as those dresses may be). When someone in "real life" finds out I write book reviews they want to know what books I read and I find myself scrambling to explain myself: "Well, I read these books for teens because ummm.... you see, I studied English in college and.... have you ever read Harry Potter as an adult? It's like, good...right?"). Let's not even get started on going to YA book events alone and being the oldest person there besides moms. Don't get me wrong, I have met some great people at book events, but it's an especially awkward situation. 

Ultimately I felt like I should just stop reading YA lit.

But I can't help myself: I thoroughly enjoy too many YA books. Am I alone? 

I decided to examine the many reasons why I read this genre and whether or not reading YA novel is something I should feel guilty about.

First I considered why I read anything at all. For me, reading is my escape. I want to be entertained, gain new perspectives, exercise my imagination and evoke creativity. There is a time when I do read for educational purposes, but since starting my blog I mainly read for entertainment. I don't necessarily think reading for pleasure and reading for education have to be mutually exclusive. I wouldn't have gotten a BA in English if I didn't think reading for education could also be fun. However, I also don't think a book has to be written in Old English to be smart.

Establishing that I read mostly for entertainment, I examined the types of Young Adult books I enjoy reading. Considering I'm such a huge YA fan, I am remarkably picky when it comes to YA books. Those that I choose must be smart, or at least imaginative. I have certain ethical standards about the teen protagonists and won't read books that are simply hormonal and unreasonable romances (i.e. Jessica Sorensen novels). I also shy away from books that are too "teen" for me, illustrating issues only teens can really relate to. This is probably why I don't read as much contemporary YA as other YA enthusiasts. This is not to say such novels are "bad"; in fact, Gayle Forman and John Green are perfect examples of wonderful writers whose content I simply don't connect with the way they were intended for a teen reader. This rubric for reading YA as an adult is not for everyone, this is just my personal tastes I'm mentioning to establish a framework for my discussion.

What is it that makes a Young Adult novel universally loved and accepted by teens and adults of all ages? I think good writing is the fundamental foundation for this, or any book for that matter. A good authror can write for their audience without dumbing the text down, so to speak. Harry Potter is my favorite example of this. JK Rowling doesn't talk down to kids with her writing, she elevates them to a level simultaneously enjoyed by adults. Similarly, themes and characters and plot development can be understood by children, but the experiences each create are not lost on adults either. In fact, as the reader gets older they begin to understand the many layers of a story. Authors that write for younger audiences do their readers a disservice by underestimating them. But authors who can find that magic recipe for writing complex experiences with simple words will find that they can entertain multiple age groups.

Which brings us to content: a well-written Young Adult novel can be enjoyed by an adult if the adult can identify with the story and themes. Being a teenager is actually a fairly universal experience, whereas being an adult is not. This idea is what allowed me to be most accepting of my love for Young Adult literature, without the guilt. Most people know what it's like to be an awkward teen going through hormonal changes and navigating through a complex social system (i.e. high school); whereas not everyone has the same adult experience involving work, college, relationships, getting married, having children or choosing any number of different paths. I think this is why it's easier for someone to relate to a book involving teenagers than a book involving adults: there's more of an opportunity to identify. However, the key is for the author to make the story and themes bigger than "teendom" itself.

Simplified, there are a surprisingly large amount of issues and themes adults can identify with, even through the eyes of characters aged 15-20. Adult readers can identify with not fitting in, first love, surviving social systems and, most importantly, building our own values systems. YA literature allows adults to reconsider the values systems they've built and gauge how these systems have grown, devolved or shifted. We can live vicariously through characters and gain a sense of bravery, adventure, and love that we've lost amid the shuffle of working mundane 9-5 jobs just to pay our bills. I think well-written Young Adult literature helps remind us of where we came from and who we are, all while making adult readers feel like they still have an opportunity to grow.

I thought about the YA books that I love and realized most of them are fantasy and dystopian (The Hunger Games, Graceling, The Lunar Chronicles, The Grisha Series, Throne of Glass, Shatter Me... all series that I feel changed my reading life!).  These books don't really have the traditional high school teen setting yet they still deal with teen issues masked within stories that resonate with adults. The world building contained within fantasy YA is often complex enough to meet the imaginative needs of both teens and adults.

Consequently, adults can be captivated enough by the fantastical nature of a new world and identify with themes of bravery and identity without feeling like they're reading a novel for sixteen-year olds. YA Fantasy characters deal primarily with fighting for what's right, developing abilities, and destroying the evil in their world- which might be themes even more relatable to adults than teens. YA literature is a reminder of the lessons we have learned and the world we have built for ourselves as adults. It's also a reminder of what we still have left to achieve, even if our real-life idea of fighting evil is dealing with a passive-aggressive co-worker.

Today I'm going to be at YALL West to celebrate the stories that I love, to remember the lessons I've learned and to consider the things I had forgotten I want to accomplish. When I consider the things I love most about Young Adult literature- the lessons, the courageous characters, the reminders of who I am through the lens of a teen protagonist - I can't help but be grateful that I've found this form of entertainment that can also be used for personal growth. I may have missed this genre when I was at a more appropriate age, but it still contains lessons amongst its pages that I need to learn or be reminded of.

I don't think it will always be easy for me to be confident reading Young Adult literature and there might even be a time when I grow out of it. But for now I'm comfortable being a post-twenties YA enthusiast. I don't think anyone should be ashamed of what they read, ever.

So today when I'm feeling awkward for being the oldest non-author/non-mom in the room and I'm having trouble identifying with conversations about homeroom and driving school, I'll do my best to fit in to the faction like any good heroine. Based on what I've learned from YA novels, there's bound to be a satisfying conclusion.

April 10, 2015

Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

"I'm the Sun Summoner. It gets dark when I say it does."

The Book Rest - Book Review for Ruin and Rising by Leigh BardugoTitle: Ruin and Rising (Grisha #3)
Author: Leigh Bardgo
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Rating: A
Recommended For: Fans of The Young Elites, Throne of Glass, Red Queen
Source: Library hardcover copy

One-sentence review: This gripping and satisfying conclusion is something you cannot miss and will have you on the edge of your seat as Alina and her surviving group of misfit Grisha (along with Mal), search for the last magnifier, their only hope of destroying the Darkling. 

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

Warning: This review contains spoilers for Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm

While the final installment of Leigh Bardugo's Grisha series did not start off as quick and bold as I had hoped, I promise Ruin and Rising gets on track and delivers a story you can't miss. The story continues much like Siege and Storm started: with Alina and Mal running from the Darkling. Only this time they're part of a team, they have a goal and... oh yeah, they're not quite as romantically inclined (I'm not going to lie, I've been Team Nikolai ever since Bardugo gave us the impression of a YA love triangle, so I wasn't as disheartened by that as most).

The theme of teamwork continues to be present throughout this series and only gains momentum in this conclusion. Alina not only gains trust in others, but she learns to trust in herself. Furthermore, forgiveness is a much more prominent theme in this book: Mal and Alina's forgiveness of each other, Alina's forgiveness of Genya, Alina's forgiveness to herself, and even forgiveness for the Darkling. This element is important because love, mercy and forgiveness prevent Alina from using her power to become like the Darkling. There are elements of trust and forgiveness throughout.

Alina in general is a symbol of light, hope, and positive changes in her world despite her not always feeling like she's fully "good." This emphasizes Alina's many layers of humanity; despite being one of the most powerful Grisha in existence, Alina is still human and maintains such flaws. Conversely, the Darkling represents the dark, but he's also not "all bad". In this book we find remnants of his humanity, especially when he tells Alina his name. The dynamic between Alina and the Darkling surprised me in this book; it gave this series a level of depth that I wasn't necessarily expecting. The Darkling is much more multi-dimensional than your stock villain which emphasizes the idea throughout this series that nothing is black-and-white, or rather dark-and-light.

I must admit, I had some issues with the climax of this book; I was a little disappointed at how the fantasy element was used to solve difficult problems. However, given the ultimate conclusion, I suppose I am satisfied. Bardugo definitely does not leave any loose threads to this finely woven story, the reader won't wonder what happened to anybody. Which makes me very curious to read her next series, Six of Crows, which apparently takes place in the Grisha world years after Ruin and Rising ends. If this series is any indicator, I will follow Leigh Bardugo's stories wherever they will take me!

April 3, 2015

Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

“When people say impossible, they usually mean improbable.”

The Book Rest - Book Review of Siege and Storm by Leigh BardugoTitle: Siege and Storm (Grisha #2)
Author:  Leigh Bardugo
Genre:  Young Adult Fantasy
Rating:  A
Recommended For:  Fans of Throne of Glass, The Young Elites, Shatter Me
Source: Library hardback

One-sentence review: I thought I enjoyed Shadow and Bone but Siege and Storm has so much more action, adventure and evokes more feelings than I realized it could, shaping this series into something you definitely don't want to miss!

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

This review contains spoilers for Shadow and Bone (Grisha #1)

In Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo doesn't delay in throwing readers right into the action as Alina, a Grisha Sun Summoner, and her companion/best friend/boyfriend(?), Mal, are on the run from the Darkling. Almost immediately they are captured and put on a ship to go back to the Little Palace where the Darkling intends to use them for his dark purposes. But Alina and Mal quickly learn that they have friends in unexpected places, immediately highlighting how teamwork is better than single-handedly attempting to reach a goal, especially when trying to defeat a Grisha as dark and powerful as the Darkling.

There was so much more world-building in this book and access to information beyond Alina, Mal and the Darkling. I was thoroughly impressed by Bardugo's ability to expertly craft a new layer to this story that utilized everything learned from the previous book in the series. Now that the main three players have been established, there is much more time to focus on developing other characters, which also translates to Alina growing and developing priceless friendships.

One of the new characters we're introduced to is Sturmhond who I cannot elaborate on if I want to keep this spoiler-free (and, for the record, my reviews are always spoiler-free unless explicitly stated). Sturmhond has easily become one of my favorite fictional characters period. He is charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and gives enough advice and one-liners to fill a self-help book. His personality also warrants Alina and Mal to be weary and distrusting of him because he's a master of deception. But this only makes him a more interesting and complex character to observe.

The addition of new people and characters also highlights Alina's questions of, "Where do I fit in?" and "Who can I trust?" Even moreso, we find Mal wondering where he fits in within Alina's Grisha world, too. But Alina and Mal cannot defeat the Darkling alone, so they must learn to trust. They must learn to work as a team with everyone around them willing to help. And of course, that doesn't come without its own set of consequences: betrayals, people who fall short of Alina's expectations, people who are sacrificed because of the risk. All of these instances continue the dialogue of what friendship and teamwork is worth for a common goal and what it means to have friends and/or be a friend.

A fascinating element in this series (at least to me!) is the religious connotations. Alina is viewed as a Saint who has been delivered to save Ravka. From what I could gather about Ravkan religion, Saints are effectively gods, as there was no mention of an actual god or gods superior to the Saints. Another religious idea is Alina's trinity of magnifiers which stood out to me (I double-majored in English and Religious Studies, so these things might not matter to others so much). The religiosity of Ravka and its surrounding territories made me ask what this book is saying about religion. While obviously it's powerful, it tends to revere people as gods more than a superhuman god. But people aren't perfect; they can change and be manipulated. They can let you down, they will die. These seem to be issues Alina has with being revered as a Saint and the religious themes would make a great dialogue for any discussion about this book (especially a book club consisting of English and Religion nerds like myself!).

Sometimes great series can hit a sophomore slump, hitting the breaks after the momentum of a great first installment. That is definitely not the case of Siege and Storm. Leigh Bardugo doesn't slow the action of this series and doesn't intend to until its over. I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves (high) fantasy YA and even those who just want to get their feet wet in this genre.

March 27, 2015

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

“I've been waiting for you a long time, Alina" He said. "You and I are going to change the world.”

The Book Rest - Book Review for Shadow and Bone by Leigh BardugoTitle: Shadow and Bone (Grisha #1)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Rating: A
Recommended For: fans of Throne of Glass, The Young Elites, Red Queen
Source: Library hardback copy

One-sentence review: A fast-paced, exciting story that allows the reader to grow in real time with heroine, Alina, while navigating through one of the most vivid worlds I've read in recent YA lit.

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

In Leigh Bardugo's Russian-influenced kingdom of Ravka, the world contained within the pages of Shadow and Bone, people are either normal or born with supernatural powers, also known as Grisha. At a young age, orphaned best friends Alina and Mal are tested to see if they have special powers but neither of them are Grisha. As adults, Alina and Mal are drafted into the First Army and must cross the Shadow Fold, a near impenetrable stretch of darkness inhabited by hungry monsters who feast on human flesh. When Mal is attacked, Alina discovers a dormant power and saves his life. She is quickly whisked away to live and train as a Grisha in the Little Palace with the Darkling himself, the most powerful Grisha leader. Alina has been a nobody her whole life and now she might be the only hope of the nation to help the Darkling defeat the Shadow Fold.

I picked up this book because my new favorite author goddess, Sarah J. Maas, always mentions Leigh Bardugo in her acknowledgements so I knew this Bardugo character had to be something special! And she is! Bardugo's talent of weaving an epic fantasy story is so similar to Maas that I became a quick fan of the Grisha world.

At first I was a little put off by the familiar story of the poor, boring girl who finds out she's one-in-a-million because of some supernatural power. However, Bardugo's world-building, masterful writing and vivid character development quickly won me over. The fast pace of this story made it a surprisingly quick read. Even the more predictable elements were made forgivable because they're written in such a smart way that you don't care if you saw them coming; the story is somehow still satisfying. It may be a story written for a YA audience, but Bardugo's mature use of language and situations surpass the genre.

Initially I wasn't very impressed by bland, boring Alina. But I quickly learned that I wasn't supposed to be because that was the point. As Alina grows and develops, we get to see it first hand. She becomes more complex and interesting, making mistakes along the way but also learning to believe in herself in real time with the reader learning to believe in her. Similarly, Mal and the Darkling are as interesting to analyze as we learn more about them and their growing relationships to Alina.

As with all YA books these days, Bardugo includes a sort of love triangle, but it's unlike any I've seen before (except maybe Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me triangle!). Without giving too much away to ruin the experience, it's very satisfying and not overdone in the way of so many sugary YA love triangles. I didn't feel guilty for my feelings and I felt like my experience was more in-line with Alina's than in other romances.

Shadow and Bone was an excellent beginning to what I expect to be one of my new favorite series. Remember when I didn't consider myself a fan of fantasy? I think I officially am required to rescind that notion. With the majority of books I've read so far this year being high fantasy (and loving it!), the Grisha world has converted me and I am so excited to continue Alina's story with the rest of this series!