Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

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The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
By Michelle Hodkin
Published in 2011

Goodreads Summary: Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.

It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.

There is.

She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.

She’s wrong.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is unlike anything I've ever read. Ever. Mara can't remember the horrible night her best friend died. The stress of it is causing her to have scary hallucinations so her family decides to move to Florida for a change of scenery, but strange things are happening to Mara. Things she isn't sure are real or in her mind. 

I need to begin by saying that Michelle Hodkin's writing is beautiful. If you don't read this book for any other reason, read it for the writing. The writing is clear and purposeful, and the imagery is fantastic. 

I'm not sure how I feel about Mara as a character. She went back and forth between likeable and not while I was reading. The added element of her being sort of unreliable was also kinda confusing when I was trying to decide if I like her or not. I don't agree with some of her decisions, but I do understand why she makes them. I do feel bad for her, and I do understand that what she's gone through is hellish, but I also never fully connected with her.

On the other hand, I do know how I feel about Noah, the love interest. He is fantastically wonderful and perfect and amazing and perfect. Did I say perfect? But he's technically not perfect, because he's a bit of a womanizer and hasn't always been a good guy. Plus, he has secrets of his own. He is good for Mara, though. In case you couldn't tell, I totally have a crush on Noah. Did I mention he's British? With an accent? Which you have to imagine because you're reading, but still.

Noah's interactions with Mara are so perfect it's too perfect at times. Really, in real life no one has conversations like they do. The witty banter was slightly unrealistic, but oh so fun to read. 

What wasn't so much fun to read was when Mara was imagining things, or maybe not imagining things, or maybe imagining part of something but the rest was real. I didn't know what to believe and what not to believe. It was really strange sometimes. At first it didn't bother me, because the strange things were obviously just hallucinations. Until they weren't anymore. Then it got weird. 

It was difficult for me to put the pieces together as I was reading The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, but that's part of what kept me turning the pages. I had to know what was real, what wasn't real, how it was all connected. The end felt a little rushed, because everything comes together so quickly. The last page left me sitting there like "What?" and, well, I really need the next book. Like right now. 

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is a unique and page turning thriller with a hot romance. It was sometimes confusing, and the end was a little rushed, but I enjoyed reading it. I'm really looking forward to reading the sequels. 

4/5 Stars!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Audiobook Review: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

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Strings Attached
By Judy Blundell
Published in 2011
Borrowed from my Library

Goodreads Summary:
From National Book Award winner Judy Blundell, the tale of a sixteen-year-old girl caught in a mix of love, mystery, Broadway glamour, and Mob retribution in 1950 New York. 

When Kit Corrigan arrives in New York City, she doesn't have much. She's fled from her family in Providence, Rhode Island, and she's broken off her tempestuous relationship with a boy named Billy, who's enlisted in the army. 

The city doesn't exactly welcome her with open arms. She gets a bit part as a chorus girl in a Broadway show, but she knows that's not going to last very long. She needs help--and then it comes, from an unexpected source.

Nate Benedict is Billy's father. He's also a lawyer involved in the mob. He makes Kit a deal--he'll give her an apartment and introduce her to a new crowd. All she has to do is keep him informed about Billy . . . and maybe do him a favor every now and then. 

Before Strings Attached, I'd never listened to an entire audiobook. In high school, I didn't really have the opportunity. I'd never had to drive very far, classes were only a hallway away, and I didn't do a ton of housework. Now that I'm in college, I find that I have ample time to listen. The ten cold minutes I spend walking from class to class are a ton more enjoyable now, and I actually look forward to going places (even when it's freezing out!). Now that I've started doing this, and thanks to Overdrive and The Ohio eBook Project, I don't think I'll ever go without an audiobook again.

Now, onto the actual book. I was pleasantly surprised with Strings Attached. I love historical fiction, but I really wasn't expecting too much. I ended up being sucked in, big time. There was a point where I actually gasp out loud, and dug my fingernails into my cheek on accident because I was so emotionally affected by the events.

I found the beginning of Strings Attached to be a little confusing. Some of the chapters are flashbacks, which is made apparent by the date announced at the beginning of the chapter. I was disoriented a few times because I hadn't been paying attention to the date, and suddenly there were characters I'd never heard of and Kit was doing things that didn't fit with what I'd just heard. Once I realized things jump around, it was much easier to follow.

At the beginning of Strings Attached I wasn't really sure what I thought of Kit. She is a very strong willed girl, and I loved that she wasn't afraid to move to Manhatten on her own. Maybe because the whole story didn't come out for a while, but I was sightly put off at first by her sometimes ill feelings toward her family, and her boyfriend Billy. As Kit's story came out, I warmed up to her, and eventually found myself cheering her on.

The plot seems fairly straightforward at first, but it's really a web of events that all come together in unexpected ways at the end. I really could not fit the pieces together until they were put together for me. Maybe it's just because I wasn't expecting it, but the end of this book had me gasping for air and willing the actress to speak faster.

The strongest element of Strings Attached is, by far, the setting. I haven't read many books set from 1945-1950. Most books set around that time period are directly related to World War II, and I really liked that Strings Attached was set after the war. The war was referenced, but it wasn't the main source of conflict.

Blundell's descriptions were wonderfully vivid; I could almost smell the cigar smoke in the clubs. I really enjoyed how I was forced to pay attention to the details of the imagery because I was listening instead of reading. Sometimes when I'm reading I will gloss over the descriptive details without thinking about it, but I was always aware of the them in Strings Attached, and it made imagining the events of the book a really cool experience.

I wish there had been more of Kit's friend Hank. He was a refreshingly normal character in a sea of people with secrets and hidden pasts. I was also confused by how I felt about Kit's relationship with Billy, her boyfriend. There's a point in the novel where Kit describes Billy as extremely possessive, to the point where she feels like she can't do anything without him or his permission, but then that isn't really mentioned again or resolved. It seemed out of character for Kit, a very strong willed girl, to accept Billy's possessiveness.

Strings Attached was a surprising and delightful read. I was sucked into the setting, and at the end I wanted more of the characters, more of what happened next. It was a wonderful choice for my first audiobook, and I'll definitely try out Blundell's first book, What I Saw and How I Lied, sometime in the future.

4/5 Stars!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore

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Magic Under Glass
by Jaclyn Dolamore
Published in 2009
Source: Bought

Goodreads Summary: Nimira is a foreign music-hall girl forced to dance for mere pennies. When wealthy sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to sing with a piano-playing automaton, Nimira believes it is the start of a new and better life. In Parry's world, however, buried secrets are beginning to stir. 
Unsettling below-stairs rumors swirl about ghosts, a madwoman roaming the halls, and Parry's involvement with a league of sorcerers who torture fairies for sport. Then Nimira discovers the spirit of a fairy gentleman named Erris is trapped inside the clockwork automaton, waiting for someone to break his curse. The two fall into a love that seems hopeless, and breaking the curse becomes a race against time, as not just their love, but the fate of the entire magical world may be in peril.

Magic Under Glass is one of those books that was just okay for me. I didn't dislike it, but I didn't love it, either. 

I don't think I ever really connected with Nimira as a character. It was hard for me to figure her out, and though her motives for doing things were clearly stated, I didn't feel the emotion behind it.  She would say Nimira is doing something because of an emotion, but she wouldn't show that she was feeling that emotion. I also thought a lot of the secondary characters were underdeveloped, especially Parry. He seemed to be nothing more than a plot device, despite Dolamore's attempts to give him some character.  

The uniqueness of having Erris, a clockwork man, as a character certainly makes up for some of the less developed characters. Erris was my favorite, and probably the most developed of them all. He is one example of Dolamore showing his feelings more than telling them.

The plot is like nothing I've read before, and I really enjoyed how unique it was. Nimira's world wasn't developed enough for my taste, but then again, I like my fantasies rich with detail and so full of political intrigue I start to forget what the words "democrat" and "republican" mean. There was some explanation of how her world works, but it really just wasn't enough for my personal tastes. 

Perhaps because it wasn't bogged down by extensive explanations of the world in which it was set, this book had a nice, quick pace. It doesn't linger too long on any point, so it's not boring. It's also relatively short, and quite a light read. 

I enjoyed Magic Under Glass, but I never fully connected with the characters. It's a light read, but the fantastical elements are intriguing. As I mention above, I prefer my fantasies very detailed, sometimes to the point where they're boring at parts, and that is not this book. If you like yours a little easier to follow, then this could be a good fit for you!

3/5 Stars!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

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Pushing the Limits
By Katie McGarry
Published in 2012
Source: Borrowed

Goodreads Summary: No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal.But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.

Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.

I did not go into this book expecting to like it very much. What I was anticipating was a typical "bad boy meets good girl and he rocks her world" type of book, and though those can be done very well, I feel like my literary tastes are growing past a point where I can fully enjoy them. I was expecting a lot of cliches, and a lot of the same stuff we've all seen before. Thank goodness I was wrong.

Pushing the Limits is definitely a character driven story. The plot is a direct effect of the character growth that happens as the novel progresses. And boy do these characters grow. The Echo and Noah at the beginning of the novel are so far away from the Echo and Noah at the end of the novel, I hesitate to even call them the same names. But all of that growth feels natural and most of it happens at a slow enough pace that it's barely noticeable. 

I really enjoyed how developed the secondary characters of the novel are, especially the school counselor, Mrs. Collins. She is a large part of the lives of both Echo and Noah, and we get to know her almost as well as we get to know them. Echo's family is also very well developed, and I enjoyed how they grew as well.

The romance between Echo and Noah is not insta-love. It gradually builds and truly feels like an actual young adult romance. It isn't all peaches and cream after they get together, either, which is definitely a plus in my book.

I did have a few problems with this novel. I felt like Echo's mother wasn't as a big a part of the novel as she should have been. I was actually kind of disappointed at how underdeveloped she was, since all the other characters are so well done. I also thought everything wrapped up at the end a little too nicely. It was that the ending was too happy, because I love a happy ending, everything happened at the same time for everyone, and that seemed really strange to me. I really wish the epiphany Noah had could have been more gradual, that plot line seemed especially convenient. There were a few cliche parts that almost made me roll my eyes, but that only happens occasionally, and didn't retract from the rest of the novel too much.

After a slow start, I got really into this book and came out liking it a lot more than I originally thought I would. Pushing the Limits appears to be a typical contemporary YA romance on the outside, and in many ways it is, but there are a lot of unique elements that are very well done and make it stand out from the rest.

4/5 Stars!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day
By David Levithan
Source: The Library

Goodreads Summary: There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day

This book. I'm warning you now, this review is going to be nothing but gushing about this book. I adored this book. I want to marry this book.

I say I love books all the time. If I really liked it, then I loved it. But there is a difference between loving a book as a whole, and loving the entire book. Loving a book as a whole is loving it after you've finished. It's overlooking anything that mildly irritated you, like a pointless plot line or a dull chapter. Loving a book as a whole is saying that once you've finished, it was worth reading. Loving an entire book, on the other hand, is loving every single part as you're reading. It's feeling like you can't possibly put this book down because you simply must read the next chapter, the next sentence, the next word. 

I loved this entire book.

I loved reading about A's life, and I love A's character. I loved the way Levithan made each day a new chapter and each chapter a new day. I love how he spent a lot of time on some days, and only a paragraph on others. I love how he explained what was usual for a day in A's life, and how the events of this book were the exception to the rule. I love how all my questions about A were answered as the book went along, but I never felt like I was being force fed information.

I read this book over two days, in three separate chunks. As soon as I started I didn't want to stop unless I absolutely had to. I was enamored by the way each chapter was a new day, a new person, a new challenge. It was addicting.

But the really remarkable thing is, as I approached the end of the novel, I stopped feeling as excited when A changed bodies. I stopped seeing each new person as a new adventure and started seeing how awful A's life really is. The people didn't get less interesting. A's attitude never changed. I certainly never got used to the concept. What changed was me. The more I cared about A, the more I realized how horrible A's existence is, and the more weary I became each time A had to navigate the challenges of a new body.

Levithan handled the concept of this book amazingly well. As I mentioned above, all my questions were answered, but I never felt like time was being taken out of the story to explain the details. It was natural. The pacing is fantastic; I was never bored. We are given enough information about the new body each day that we don't forget it's a new body, but it never takes away from the plot. It was a perfect balance. 

Levithan is careful to not make any gender boundaries for A. A can be either male or female, gay or straight. Once, A is a female who identifies as a guy. That was very interesting to me. looking at the concept of A as more than an interesting plot device, there is a strong message; the most important part of a person is the inside, not the outside. 

Every Day is a fantastic novel with a flawlessly executed concept. I loved every page, and although I borrowed this book from the library, I may have to buy a copy for my shelves. I highly recommend it. 

5/5 Stars!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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Shadow and Bone
By Leigh Bardugo
Source: The Library

Goodreads Summary: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

Review: Fantasy is, without a doubt, one of my favorite genres. When done well, it can take you out of your life and completely immerse you in another world. Unfortunately, as a fantasy, Shadow and Bone fell a little short for me. 

Maybe it's because I hold all YA fantasy up to the bar Kristin Cashore has set with her Graceling books, but the world-building in this book wasn't up to par. Alina's world is unique and fascinating, but I never felt as if I had complete understanding of the dynamics, though maybe that will be explored more in future books. In the beginning, I felt thrust into the world with no sense of direction, and it took me a while to work things out.

Alina was a strong protagonist, but I never felt completely connected to her. Other than an obvious change near the middle of the book, I didn't see much development from her. Many of the other characters felt flat to me, and I had trouble caring about them. The one character I almost immediately took to was Genya, a servant at the palace who Alina befriends. Their relationship was the only one that felt real to me. I thought the romantic relationships and sort-of-kind-of love triangle felt forced and awkward.

The pacing of this book is very well done. I was never bored, even when there wasn't anything especially exciting happening. Although, I'm someone who enjoys reading about palace drama and workings, which was a big part of this book. The first half seems very straightforward and predictable, but the second half is when everything really gets interesting. I didn't see the plot twist coming and was pleasantly surprised with the direction it went. This book really shines in the second half. 

Though it wasn't the best fantasy book I've read, I enjoyed Shadow and Bone and will probably pick up the sequel when it comes out. I enjoyed the plot, and I hope to see more world-building in the second book. 

3.5/5 Stars!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Ask the Passengers
By A.S. King 
Source: The Library  

Summary: Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother's pushiness and her father's lack of interest tell her they're the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn't know the passengers inside, but they're the only people who won't judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she's falling in love with a girl.

As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can't share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don't even know she's there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers' lives--and her own--for the better.

In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society's definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything--and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love.

Ask the Passengers is the second A.S. King book I've read, the first being Please Ignore Vera Dietz. I found Vera to be ultimately forgettable, but Ask the Passengers is the opposite; a book that will stick with me for a long time. 

Astrid is the definition of "questioning." She doesn't know if she's gay or straight or bi, she just knows that she is falling in love with a girl, and that girl might just love her back. Astrid feels like an outsider in her town, as well as in her own family. Though her friends would understand, she hasn't told them about her girlfriend, Dee. Her confusion over her sexuality is what pushes the book forward and lets the reader care about Astrid. It was compelling to read about her journey to figuring out who she is.

I enjoy that Astrid's friends are gay, yet she still doesn't feel she can tell them about her feelings for Dee. It shows how Astrid isn't only afraid of the negative reactions some people would have if she came out, she really isn't sure of her sexuality.

The characters, or rather, the way Astrid views the other characters, are what drive this book. Astrid sees her mother as a tyrant who favors her sister to the point of not loving Astrid, her father as a useless pothead, her sister as brainwashed by her mother, and her friends as the ideal for having it all figured out. All of the characters, even the ones Astrid imagines, play a part in Astrid's character development. It was delightful to see the changes in Astrid happen as I was reading.    

The most unique part of this book is Astrid's relationship with the passengers on the planes she watches fly overhead. I've never read anything quite like it, and I enjoyed the way it kept things interesting. I wish there had been more of this, because it was one of my favorite parts of the book. 

This book was very enjoyable. The characters were interesting and Astrid's development was flawless. I would definitely recommend this book. I will be keeping an eye out for what's next from King, and see if I can get my hands on her previous books.

 5/5 Stars!