Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Title: Everything, Everything
Author: Nicola Yoon
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: expected September 1 2015
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

This innovative, heartfelt debut novel tells the story of a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world. When a new family moves in next door, she begins a complicated romance that challenges everything she’s ever known. The narrative unfolds via vignettes, diary entries, texts, charts, lists, illustrations, and more.

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

So there is a lot of hype surround Nicola Yoon's debut and Everything, Everything is pretty worthy of the attention it's gathered. It's a YA romance with a lot of diversity, great main characters, and a plotline that seems expected in the TFIOS-vein but is still clever and memorable for its own merits. For a novel that's on the shorter side of the contemporary scale, it also manages to pack in the emotion and ship in those 320 pages.

The story is told from allergic-to-the-world Maddy's perspective but it's peppered with illustrations, snarky reviews, clever asides, and personal definitions. These miscellany are infrequent but often charming and add another dimension to Maddy's characterization. She's well drawn as it is, but Yoon uses these ably and to great effect throughout the story to further personify her. Since the main character is so removed from all but two people, it would usually takes a lot of personality or sympathy to keep me engaged as a reader. Maddy does that. She's smart and an honest bookworm, but her growth through the book turns her into a more three-dimensional person.

Olly, her love interest is likeable but in the grand scheme of things, felt somewhat bland. They work well as a couple (and I do ship it)  but Olly doesn't feel fully realized the way Maddy or her mother do. The relationship between the teens is also a sticking point for me; it's one of the reasons this was not a full five-star read. I can see that Maddy's isolation leads her to feel things for Olly  intensely and quickly but the jump from "neighbors who IM" to "soulmates" was just too fast for me to fully enjoy. I ship them as a couple, I just wish the relationship had taken more time to mature authentically.

 Everything, Everything is also to be commended for a twist in the novel that changed the terms of the game. I thought I had figured out how this would play and Yoon is far smarter than the expected. Some may think it strains credulity and I can see that aspect but personally, I appreciated the sleight of hand and thought it made the end of the novel quite memorable. I also greatly enjoyed the diversity present throughout this novel. Maddy is Afro-Asian. Her closest friend is a middle-aged Hispanic nurse. 

Everything, Everything is a strong debut. I'd recommend it to fans of YA contemporary who like believable characters, authentic representation, and interesting plotlines. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Title: Devoted
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Genre: contemporary
Series: none
Pages: 336
Published: June 2, 2015
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5

Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

Jennifer Mathieu has hit another emotional, dark contemporary out of the park.

Rachel, the middle child in a family of ten, is part of the Quiverfull movement. Named for their strict interpretation of the psalm “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate,” (127:5, KJV,) Rachel’s evangelical parents are obsessed with having as many children as they can, so they can praise God with their sweet countenance and return to patriarchal ideals. (If this sounds familiar, yes, the Duggars are members.)

As the oldest girl in the house, (she also has three older brothers, who are not expected to help with “women’s work”, and a married sister,) Rachel is expected to work from sun up to sun down - cooking, cleaning, and homeschooling her siblings. She’s not allowed to read secular books or watch tv or get online. She can’t even leave the house without a chaperone. She can never date and her first kiss is reserved for her wedding day. Her life revolves around the church and her siblings.

After her mother falls into depression following a miscarriage, Rachel’s workload drastically increases and she feels suffocated and questions why it’s so hard to pray. She begins sneaking unauthorized web browsing, and after weeks of wrestling with herself, Rachel finds herself obsessed with the blog of a former church member, Lauren, where she documents her journey to escape the movement. When her father also discovers Lauren’s blog, he orders Rachel to a violent and brutal “camp” for reprogramming. Rather than go, the seventeen year old runs away instead, ending up at Lauren’s.

Lauren, much farther along in her grieving process, can be very difficult. She’s angry. Angry with her abusive parents. Angry at the church that shielded them. Angry with the patriarchy and factory farming and her ex-boyfriend and God and Rachel’s progress and her parents. She lashes out, dating the wrong boys and drinking, much to her new roommate’s distress. But Lauren’s one of the most loving characters I’ve read. She knows it could be dangerous for her to pick up Rachel. She knows what happened when she ran away. She does it anyway. She loves the animals at her vet and the Tasty family. She’s so passionate and scared and real and I found her more interesting and relatable than Rachel in a lot of ways.

My only true problem is Mathieu doesn’t go far enough. Of course the book was written before the current Duggar scandal, but one look at No Longer Quivering will show the depth of the abuse and corruption in the movement. Lauren tells Rachel the church is abusive and cites that her dad beat her when she left, but neither mentions the blanket training, the spanking of six month olds, the way Bill Gothard blames victims for sexual abuse, (not everyone uses the ATI homeschooling program, but it is the program used by the Duggars, an obvious inspiration.) Neither mentions the isolation and withholding of mental health care. The church’s abuse is a lot more serious than sheltering one domestic abuser, in and out of the book world.

Instead, the book focuses on the successes. Rachel finds a job, organizing and updating files for a friend of Lauren’s. She meets Mark, (who is totally awesome and swoony,) and finds a way to be friends with a boy and maybe more? She stands up for herself and makes relationships outside of family and learns and even when she stumbles, Rachel moves on.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review Take Two: The Wonder by Colleen Oakes

Title: The Wonder
Author: Colleen Oakes
Genre: young adult, fantasy, retelling, fairy tales
Series: Queen of Hearts #2
Pages: 238
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

An Exiled Princess.
An Ancient Tribe.
A Dangerous Stranger with Unknown Loyalties.

Dinah, the former Princess of Wonderland Palace, has been chased into the wilds of Wonderland after the brutal murder of her brother and the ruin of her impending crown. Now, as her half-sister Vittiore sits on the throne beside her Father, the brutal King of Hearts, Dinah finds herself alone in the forbidding Twisted Wood with only Morte, a homicidal beast, for company.

Hunted by the King and his army of Cards, Dinah struggles to evade those who long for her head, including Cheshire, the King’s clever advisor, who is slowly tightening his grasp around her. Spurred on by her rising terror, the former Princess finds herself at the center of a web of conspiracy reaching far beyond the Palace and deep into the mysterious Yurkei mountain tribes.
Even with the balance of an entire Kingdom at stake, Dinah knows something that her allies and enemies do not: that the most dangerous conflict of all has already begun as she battles the enticing rage that beckons her ever closer as love slips further from her grasp.

The second book in the bestselling and award-winning Queen of Hearts Saga, The Wonder takes readers back to the most wondrous and curious places in Wonderland, and continues this darkly addictive tale featuring one of the most infamous villains of all time.

But be warned…not every fairy tale has a happy ending.
This is the story of a princess who became a villain.

So The Wonder was pretty a solid read but it was not as spectacular as its predecessor. I liked continuing prickly Dinah's journey and characterization into more than a spoiled royal --- the introduction of Sir Gorrann as a foil for the exiled princess is fantastic -- but the book was hampered by the (lack of) length and the placeholder feel of the plot. Dinah continues to shine as a great example of imperfect protagonist. She is flawed but her flaws make her interesting.

I also enjoyed the inclusion of the nomadic horseriders, the Yurkei, to the plot and worldbuilding, though they don't really do all that much or stray outside of pretty standard fantasy tropes. This is a creative retelling and Oakes has a good imagination. I wasn't too thrilled with how quickly the romance led to Dinah's "bitter woman" thoughts but I am also beyond excited to see her come into her own as the Queen of Hearts.

More than anything this can feels like an extended set up for The Fury, the series final novel, and needed more time and plotting to really surprise as a sequel. There were a few good twists thrown in, but The Wonder lacks the finesse of the first. This is a darker novel and features some unpleasant/creepy scenes but it fits; I continue to enjoy Oakes's clever and harsh reinterpretation of the Alice in Wonderland staples.


Danielle's review of The Wonder

Book Haul

 So... Danielle and I kinda took an unofficial hiatus, didn't we? It's been a busy month and I just have not had the time for hobbies, much less the time committment that is blogging. I am less than 4 weeks from my wedding so I am a) working a lot b) doing a lot c) stressing a lot. I plan to return to normal-ish posting here soon. But life is hectic and it's summer anyway!

that said, stress relief in the form of book buying is doing wonders for me.


The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes (Walsh Family #5)
The Killing Woods by Lucy Chirstopher
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
#scandal by Sarah Ockler
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

 Now with Bonus Penny!

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (Jenna Fox Chronicles #1)

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine (The Great Library #1)


Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson (The Gold Seer Trilogy #1)

Thank you, Harper Teen!

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler (Daylight Falls #1)

Thank you Bekka from Pretty Deadly Reviews!

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Memoirs of Lady Trent #1)
The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan (Memoirs of Lady Trent #2)
The Voyage of the Basilisks by Marie Brennan (Memoirs of Lady Trent #3)

Thank you Lili and Tor!

I also got this because it is awesome:


The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
Lumiere by Jacqueline Garlick (The Illumination Paradox #1)
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
The Beast's Garden by Kate Forsyth
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

I have already read a few of these or am currently (A Natural History of Dragons, In Real Life, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Everything, Everything) and they have not disappointed. Any new releases or books you're excited about?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Book Tour Review: Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

Title: Love May Fail
Author: Matthew Quick
Genre: general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 416
Published: June 2015
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 2/5

Portia Kane is having a meltdown. After escaping her ritzy Florida life and her cheating pornographer husband, she finds herself back in South Jersey, a place that remains largely unchanged from the years of her unhappy youth. Lost and alone, looking for the goodness she believes still exists in the world, Portia sets off on a quest to save the one man who always believed in her—and in all of his students: her beloved high school English teacher, Mr. Vernon, who has retired broken and alone after a traumatic classroom incident.

Will a sassy nun, an ex-heroin addict, a metalhead little boy, and her hoarder mother help or hurt Portia’s chances on this quest to resurrect a good man and find renewed hope in the human race? Love May Fail is a story of the great highs and lows of existence: the heartache and daring choices it takes to become the person you know (deep down) you are meant to be. 

So having read The Good Luck of Right Now and enjoyed despite what could be the overly quirky nature of the narrative, I thought I was ready for Matthew Quick's latest adult novel. I was wrong. Love May Fail is like TGLoRN in that in pulls a disparate group of characters together to act out an outlandish plot while supporting the book's central themes.  But it's unlike TGLoRN in that it lacks the charming characters or writing to support the story and engage the audience. I wanted to love Love May Fail but in the end, I didn't end up feeling much about it besides annoyed and disappointed.

It's hard to engage in a novel when my character options are as follows: spoiled, privileged white lady, dead nun, morose ex-teacher with a fascination for Albert Camus (the writer) and Albert Camus (his deceased dog named after, oh I'm sorry, who was actually the reincarnation of Albert Camus-the-writer), and a genial but boring guy named Chuck who has loved the same girl -- despite not seeing her for years at a time -- for 20 years. This book is weird and it's not the kind of weird I could dig, personally. Portia never rises above her inherent privilege and is a mess for the whole book. Chuck is the least interesting POV of the bunch and it's because "nice" was the only characteristic given to him in over 400 pages.

And the length -- those 416 pages? They feel self-indulgent given how little plot exists in Love May Fail. This book is too long and too unfocused. Or perhaps just focused on the wrong aspects because it is also frequently tedious. People drink. Fight. Complain. Drama. More of the same. There are moments when I was caught up in the story -- that's how you know it's Matthew Quick. You fully realize the absurdity of what you're reading but you just don't care because it's so damn readable -- but they aren't as common as you would expect from the author of The Silver Linings Playbook. The humor is there, occasionally, but there's none of the poignancy from Quick's other books to be found.

There are kernels of a good story here, and I could see why, perhaps for a different kind of reader, this is already a good story. For me, it was just average and fairly unmemorable. It certainly wasn't to the standards I've come to expect from the author and the unlikely coincidences coupled with the overwrought characters made this one a hard sell. Love May Fail is unflinching and dark but with the lack of a substantial plot, but it wasn't enough to merit more than 2 stars.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review: The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

Title: The Heart of Betrayal
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Genre: fantasy, post-apocalyptic, young adult
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #2
Pages: 470
Published: July 7 2015
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 4.5/5

Intrigue abounds in this hotly anticipated sequel to The Kiss of Deception!

Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save her life, Lia's erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar's interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: there's Rafe, who lied to Lia, but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be barbarians. Now that she lives amongst them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country... and her own destiny.

If there's an antidote for Second Book/Sequel Syndrome, Mary E. Pearson has it.  Last year the first book in this post-apocalyptic/fantasy hybrid series was a fun and engaging, if flawed, introduction to the world of Lia and Terravin, but Heart of Betrayal, with the Komizar in Venda, is to Kiss of Deception what Crown of Midnight was to Throne of Glass. In every way, this sequel improves upon its predecessor. It's just as fun but has more depth; there's action, but it's balanced by a more political plot; the familiar characters are further developed and the new ones are just as well rendered. Pearson's story and filled out has grown to fit the imagination shown in the first.

The Heart of Betrayal is much less concerned with the romance this time around... and somehow, that makes the romance-as-a-subplot work a lot better. It helps that the cleverly constructed but still irritating love triangle is resolved (sorry Liaden shippers) but that doesn't mean that it's happily ever after for Rafe and Lia, especially once the Komizar comes into play.

So often YA novels focus on just the importance of starting a relationship between main characters but not dealing with the... shenanigans the preceded it, or the work that goes into maintaining it. That is not so here -- both Lia and Rafe have to come to terms with questions about their relationship and each other. They've both lied, deceived, and manipulated each other -- it's not a perfect pairing. It could be overwrought and overwhelm the real plot, but Pearson handles it pretty well. The forced-apart-for-reasons trope is rarely well-employed but Pearson sells it here by making those "reasons" authentic to the plot and the characters' situations.

Speaking of reasons keeping the love interests apart... let's talk about new characters and places. I loved seeing the new sides of the world with the introduction to Venda thanks to Lia's abduction. The author didn't go into as much worldbuilding detail as I would like to see (especially with the near-canon nod that yes, this was once America [CALLED IT!]) but did a decent job of presenting Venda as a completely different and organic culture. However, since we are two books in, there are some holes in the worldbuilding that need filling and fast, if this trilogy is going to wrap up satisfactorily. We do see more interaction between the countries but there is little else to go on, which bums my fantasy-loving heart. I am so interested in this world that Pearson has envisioned (almost akin to Erika Johansen did with The Queen of the Tearling series) but I need more solid information to really endorse it.

Character-wise, I can always appreciate a good antihero. Pearson walks the line with crafting  the Komizar -- I couldn't quuuuiiiiite get there even with my penchant for loving the antihero --- but she makes him a compelling and intriguing character despite his many faults. There are hints about his past that hopefully are explored further later in the books but he is the focus of the novel as much as Lia for all of his being a latecomer to the series. Lia reacts to him rather than the pattern we are used to from the first book (Lia making decisions and everyone else scrambling to keep up, compete, etc.) and he's a well-drawn antagonist. Calantha remains opaque and unpredictable but has potential for a larger role and more importance with her strategic position and her privileged knowledge.

Lia really comes into her own over the course of The Heart of Betrayal. She was always a likeable but naive character but here, with grief and maturity and determination tempering her, she's becoming quite a clever force to reckon with. Even as a prisoner, or a captive, Lia never gives up or stops playing the mental game.  Outnumbered and out of her depth, she fights back and plans her vengeance but she does so intelligently and with care. Lia is many things, but her intelligence and her empathy are two of my favorite aspects to her characterization. Rafe has less to work with (damn you third person) and less time as a narrator, but he also matures over the course of the book.

The Heart of Betrayal is darker book than I was expecting, given the first novel's plot and tone. It's not a typical fantasy, but Pearson isn't pulling punches. This second book is more serious, more thoughtful, and a damn good read.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Jessie's June Books

So I did really, really good at not buying books in June. It was weird. I mean I bought some -- I'm not a saint -- but it was way way down from what I usually bring in. See?


A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall -- so this has had mixed reviews but I love the title, the tagline ("it was all going so well, right up until he massacre") and there's a bisexual female general. Sold.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes - I've already read this and it is goddamn fantastic. Cults + The Girl With No Hands + great writing.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han - I have this as an ARC but the time was right for a physical copy.


What We Left Behind by Robin Talley --- thank you Harlequin Teen!
Mistletoe and Mr. Right by Lyla Payne --- thank you Bloomsbury!
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston --- thank you Christina Reads YA!
First & Then by Emma Mills --- thank you MacMillan!
Avelynn by Marissa Campbell --- thank you St. Martin's Griffin!


ARC of Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta --- thank you Lili for adding to my Marchetta collection <3
Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman --- HOLY SHIT GUYS READ THIS RIGHT NOW OK OK
Wonder by R.J. Palacio -- planned for a buddy read with the lovely Lili
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly --- new book by one of my very favorite authors! YAAASSS.
Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman --- want want want have have have joy joy joy 
Court of Fives by Kate Elliott --- I have loved all her adult fantasy so this is beyond exciting. 

thank you thank you Lili, Bekka, and Paige! <3 

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Talon by Julie Kagawa 

gifted by Lyn along with TWO awesome gifts -- a Tootless figurine and a dragon neckalce. I haven't taken the neckalce off and Tootless stands guard on my computer.

Thank you my lovely friend for your care package <3

Say Goodnight Gracie by Julie Reece Deaver--- So I made poor Lindsey read Jellicoe Road and I am pretty sure this book is her revenge.

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannnah Moskowitz - this was a generous gift from Christina of Christina Reads YA! I love this author's unique style and am really curious to see what she does with fairies.


Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older --- I have wanted this since the cover was revealed. I love the tagline and it's gotten some great reviews. So excited to start it sooooon.


The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett
The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Young Widows Club by Alexandra Coutts
Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales
Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith

Any new books you're particularly excited for coming out soon?

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