Review: A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody

Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Title: A Week of Mondays
Author: Jessica Brody
Genres: Contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 464
Published: Expected August 2nd 2016
Source: ARC via Publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

When I made the wish, I just wanted a do-over. Another chance to make things right. I never, in a million years, thought it might actually come true...

Sixteen-year-old Ellison Sparks is having a serious case of the Mondays. She gets a ticket for running a red light, she manages to take the world’s worst school picture, she bombs softball try-outs and her class election speech (note to self: never trust a cheerleader when she swears there are no nuts in her bake-sale banana bread), and to top it all off, Tristan, her gorgeous rocker boyfriend suddenly dumps her. For no good reason!

As far as Mondays go, it doesn’t get much worse than this. And Ellie is positive that if she could just do it all over again, she would get it right. So when she wakes up the next morning to find she’s reliving the exact same day, she knows what she has to do: stop her boyfriend from breaking up with her. But it seems no matter how many do-overs she gets or how hard Ellie tries to repair her relationship, Tristan always seems bent set on ending it. Will Ellie ever figure out how to fix this broken day? Or will she be stuck in this nightmare of a Monday forever?

From the author 52 Reasons to Hate My Father and The Unremembered trilogy comes a hilarious and heartwarming story about second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances. Because sometimes it takes a whole week of Mondays to figure out what you really want.

Ellie's having the worst Monday of all time. She's stuck in the rain, runs a red light, and her boyfriend wants to "talk". She flubs her student council speech, takes a terrible yearbook photo, misses a crucial hit in softball, and flunks a pop quiz. So when Tristan breaks up with her in the middle of a fantasy date Ellie's been concocting for years, she wishes to the universe that she could just have another chance to make it right. And that's how Ellie ends up in a Groundhog Day style loop of never-ending Mondays.

AWoM is long. The first four Mondays are covered in excruciating, minute-by-minute detail. How many times can you read about the same car ride before your eyes glaze over? The same election speech? The same band performance? There's a reason you don't see Bill Murray trapped in ten years of news reports. It's boring. The second half of the week, the part with all the actual plot and character growth, moves much faster.

Ellie tries to fix herself to fix the day. Tristan says she's too high maintenance, so she spends an entire day doing what everyone else wants her to. A TV love guru says she should be mysterious and aloof, so she spends a whole day avoiding him. She tries a rebellious persona and a hyper girly persona. An overly sexual day is the only one that seems to really make a difference, but as best friend Owen points out, can Ellie really maintain any of these personas long term? She's not being herself.

Ellie's tough to like because she isn't authentic. She turns down her volume to let Tristan shine. She lets life happen to her, signing up for sports and student council because others want her to. She ditches Owen so regularly, I don't understand why he stays with her. Obviously this is her character arc and the progression does work. I like EndofBookEllie a lot better than first chapter Ellie. She's also pretty selfish at the start of the story.

Like Groundhog Day, part of fixing the time loop is fixing the lives of those around her. At the start of the book, Ellie just breezes past these issues, so absorbed with getting back (staying?) with Tristan. But by the end, her dad's forgotten his anniversary; Ellie makes breakfast for him to take up. Her sister's obsessed with 80s teen movies because she's being bullied; Ellie gives the girls their comeuppance. She starts living for herself, too.

In between each "day", is a flashback to important parts of Ellie and Tristan's relationship. The first night they met, their first kiss, and finally, their fight. I like that Tristan wasn't set up as a villain. He's selfish and completely absorbed in his band, yes. But he's not a bad guy, just a seventeen year old one. He and Ellie worked, then they didn't. Their present doesn't change that in the past, there was romance and love and that can still be a good memory. I think it's important in a genre where we're often told first = only love.

A love triangle develops between Tristan and best friend Owen. Unfortunately, Owen needed more character development for it to work. I read 500 pages with him and the only definitive I can give you is he runs a book club? It's also not a great love triangle, because the winner's very obvious from day two or three, making the rest of the romance feel sloggy. <Spoiler>I don't think Owen and Ellie should have ended up together considering even in the perfect day, she still treated him like crap to go on the Ferris wheel with Tristan.</Spoiler>

I'm conflicted by A Week of Mondays. It's not badly written and parts of it are really fun, but I find myself hesitant to recommend it.

Book Tour Review + Giveaway: Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

Thursday, July 14, 2016
Title: Arabella of Mars
Author: David D. Levine
Genre: science fiction
Series: The Adventures of Arabella Ashby #1
Pages: 352
Published: July 12 2016
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 4/5

Ever since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, they proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.

Now, one century later, a plantation in the flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby. A tomboy who shares her father’s deft hand with complex automatons. Being raised on the Martian frontier by her Martian nanny, Arabella is more a wild child than a proper young lady. Something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.

Arabella soon finds herself trying to navigate an alien world until a dramatic change in her family’s circumstances forces her to defy all conventions in order to return to Mars in order to save both her brother and the plantation. To do this, Arabella must pass as a boy on the Diana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company with a mysterious Indian captain who is intrigued by her knack with automatons. Arabella must weather the naval war between Britain and France, learning how to sail, and a mutinous crew if she hopes to save her brother from certain death.
Steampunk, science fiction, and alternate realities combine with Regency-era manners and customs to create the fun mishash of genres and ideas that is Arabella of Mars. Part adventure, part coming-of-age story, with an excellent slow-burning romance, this series beginner introduces a lot of fun concepts and also its fair share of well-drawn, interesting characters. Veteran author David D. Levine makes creative use of some genre tropes and also isn't afraid to turn stereotypes and expectations on their heads.

In this alternative version of history, the English drive for domination have led them all the way to Mars. In Arabella's version of the world, her nation's people have been colonizing Mars since the 1600s, and do so using open-air steampunk ships equipped with automaton technology. Levine's version of space exploration is utterly unlike the real world's, but he adapts interstellar travel to his created world's available tech rather well. In fact, the steampunk elements are utilized sparingly and smartly and never overwhelm the plot. Some of the finer points of how the ship functions aren't too clear, but the fun in the story is enough that readers won't notice or won't care. 

Arabella Ashby, 16 and a frustration to her mother, is the eponymous and relateable heroine of the novel. Using an excellent third-person POV, Levine has created a visual and descriptive narrator, and a smart one as well. Her personality is large and multi-dimensional; she's headstrong, likeable, a bit naive, and stubborn. She's not a girl who is at home in the strict rules of British Society, but instead feels natural planning counter-maneuvers in the Martian sand with her beloved brother Michael. Her relationship with her brother is both the emotional core of the book and the reason behind Arabella's personal arc. This is a girl who loves her brother enough to risk pirates, mutinies, and a rebellion just to be near enough to protect him.

The beginning of the novel is a high-flying genderbending adventure. Arabella's hard work, both as a captains boy and to keep her identity a secret, on the Diana makes for an intense and exciting story. However, that fraught interstellar journey is just the beginning of her struggles. It's easy to see the analogy of the fictional British colonization of Mars with the real-world way India was invaded by the British Empire. Like with that historical occupation, the people of Mars are relegated to subordinate roles and their culture is ignored or desecrated. This uneasy coexistence is explored from both sides of the conflict as it builds more and more pressure, and creates a strong secondary plot for the last half of the novel.

There was a lot to appreciate over the 350-page length of Arabella of Mars as both a fan of YA and of science fiction. The strong sibling relationship was definitely one of the highlights, as was the subtle but slow-burning romance (enjoyable and painful at the same time), and the creativity of the steampunk technology is refreshing. Touching carefully but meaningfully on societal themes that intersect with Arabella's experience (such as racism, sexism, feminism, and of course colonialism) this is a multi-layered story. Mixing manners and magic, steampunk and starlight, Arabella of Mars is an excellent launch-point for further adventures to come.

And thanks to the wonderful people at Tor Books, I have a copy to giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway





Arabella of Mars is a 

Review: The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder

Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Title: The Rat Prince
Author: Bridget Hodder
Genre: Fantasy
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Expected Publication: August 23, 2016
Source: ARC via Publisher
Rating: 3.75 out of 5
Cinderella thinks she must work alone to save her noble family from the ruin and disgrace her stepmother has brought to Lancastyr Manor. She has an ailing father, a sweet, innocent little stepsister and dependent servants to protect from the wicked Wilhemina--and no way to call attention to their plight unless she figures out how to attend the royal ball.But Cinderella knows nothing of the ancient pact between the House of Lancastyr and the rats who live within the walls of her ancestral home.Nor is she aware that the sleek black rat she thinks is her pet is actually the Rat Prince...and she is not alone.

The Rat Prince is a cute, well written, but by-the-numbers Cinderella retelling. There are a lot of positives to it: I like that the aristocracy seemed real and made sense (obviously Regency/Georgian inspired) and I liked that the ton remembered the family had a daughter and asked after her. In a lot of retellings, the step-mother is able to abuse Cinderella without anyone saying boo *coughEllaEnchantedcough*, which is kind of crazy in a well enough off family to know the royals. Char's a really sweet prince and, except for the flaw of him literally being a rat, I could totally see him being a MG book boyfriend. The step-sisters are given some nuance, though I do see one being re-imagined as nice but helpless a lot lately.

Truly, my issue is with the rats. Their court is really interesting and fun and reminds me of the Borrowers, but this is the story of a human woman falling in love with a rat. He's not a man turned into a rat by magic. He's not a talking rat. He's just a pet. rat. I couldn't fully get past it, and though Char is turned into a human, I was left feeling super weird about the romance, especially since it was obvious Char was in love with Cinderella when they were different species. The addition of magic is also hasty and didn't really integrate with the generally realistic setting and the ending is rushed.

When I was MG myself, I went though a serious Cinderella phase, and I think this is a perfect followup when Ella Enchanted and Just Ella are over, but it's never going to be my go-to retelling.


Top Ten Things About Jessie

Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Top Ten Tuesday is all thanks to Broke and the Bookish!


Today's topic is pretty open-ended, so I'm going to go with some bookish related facts about myself.

1. I can read 100+ pages in an hour
This is seriously my superpower! I used to be so consistent I could tell how much time had passed based on how many pages I'd read. Nowadays I can read as little as 100 pages in an hour to 115 if I am really really into the story. I get super-focused and the pages just roll byyyyy.

2. I have a library!
I mean in this in the sense that I own enough books to populate a library and also in that I have a separate room in my house that serves just this function. It was the one thing I asked for when we moved and my husband delivered.


(this is just one wall) 

3. I'm a rereader
I know some readers prefer to read a book once and never revisit. And while I can't reread all the books I've liked over the years, I do make it a point to reread the truly special ones at least every couple years.

4. I'm a Ravenclaw
I'm a Ravenclaw twice-over, both my own decision and Pottermore's. But I do admit there's a good 27.8% of me that is definitely Slytherin-ish.

5. I'm a dragon fanatic
If a book mentions a dragon, hints at a dragon, or especially has one on the cover/in the blurb, I WANT TO READ THAT BOOK.

6. Sometimes I really do think the movie > the book
My love for HTTYD is expansive and well-known, but that love is for the movies only. The same goes for Coraline, and Stardust (sorry Gaimanites! I like his stuff... but the movies are better.)

7. Sometimes, I don't like having ARCs
Don't get me wrong, it is a privilege to get them. But it is also a lot of pressure, especially when they come unsolicited. And I always wonder -- what changes from the version I read to the final? Plus the waiting is even longer for a sequel!

8. Most of the time, I love having ARCs
It is really fun seeing your favorite author's newest land on your doorstop.

9. I don't want to be a writer
I know a lot of people assume readers/reviewers/bloggers do so with the hope of one day penning their own opus. Not me. I do like to write and that drive is fulfilled entirely by blogging.  I just have absolutely no desire to imagine and build a story.

10. I've been blogging for 5.5 years and have no plans to stop
YOU'RE STUCK WITH MEEEEEE





Captain America Book Tag

Monday, July 11, 2016
The Captain America Book Tag
Thanks to Morgan at Gone with the Words for the fantastic book tag! Morgan and her husband Chris also made that awesome graphic. Thanks, lady!


Steve Rogers/Captain America: a book/series with a big character transformation
Geder Palliako from The Spider's War by Daniel Abraham. Unlike Steve who inspired this question, Geder is very much the antagonist of this series. However, the person he is in the first book, The Dragon's Path,is a very far cry from the final form by series' end.

Peggy Carter: a book with a strong female protagonist
Since I've been flailing about them on twitter a lot lately (I have officially gone to the scary place) -- I am going with Brian Staveley's The Last Mortal Bond. All three of his books feature strong, varied examples of great female protagonists but the last one takes the cake.

Bucky Barnes: a book with your ultimate BROTP
Is there any other answer here besides Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen from the Gentleman Bastard series? Those two would defy the world for each other -- oh wait, they can and already have.  They complement one another and also act as foils; their banter and interactions mean so much to me. One of my favorite quotes is from Locke: "I don't have to beat you. I just have to wait for Jean to get here." #BFFgoals

Howling Commandos: a book with squad goals
Saint's Blood by Sebastien de Castell is centered around a pivotal group of characters that love, exasperate, and help one another. Falcio, Kest, and Brasti may have been the original trio, but like Steve with Sam and Natasha, they add new friends to their squad.

Red Skull: a book with a cliche plot
Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres has a great cover and a great synopsis and it's Aussie YA. Which is why I was really surprised and disappointed at the generic dystopian offering the contents had. Predictable, cliche, uninventive.

Natasha Romanoff: a book with a snarky side character
There are a lot of options for this, but I'm going to go with Hoid from the Cosmere books by Sanderson. His dialogue is full of snark, secrets, allusions, hints. And he's also pretty funny.

Sam Wilson: a book with a friendship meet cute.
I am kind of hard pressed to think of a meetcute for friendship but The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler has to be my answer. Elyse's meeting with Sebastien <3

Winter Soldier: a book with a great twist (plot twist or retelling)
Oh man, Illuminae was one of those books that kept rocking me back on my heels as I read it. One hit after another, those two authors pull exactly ZERO punches. It's a rollercoaster ride and one you cannot predict.

I’m Just A Kid from Brooklyn: a book with a memorable setting/character backstory
The world of Cruel Beauty! Rosamund Hodge gives you enough to see the world but still manages to leave you curious for more!

Do You Two…. Fondue?: a book with a love triangle
It's not my favorite trope, but sometimes a love triangle can be used effectively. The way Emma struggles to reconcile her confused feelings in One True Loves is the best example of this. 

You’ve Been Asleep, Cap: a book you love with a dual timeline/time travel
I could pick any of Kate Morton's novels for this, but I am going to go with the first one I read, the one that made me love her writing so intensely: The Distant Hours.

Til The End Of The Line: a book with the OTP to end all OTPs
I will never not have very intense, very real feelings about Taylor Markham and Jonah Griggs from Jellicoe Road. Their state of togetherness is v important. "Not driving anymore." "You being there changed my life." SO MANY FEELINGSSSSS.

I Had A Date: a book with a cliffhangerGeorge R. R. Martin's  A Dance With Dragons. And that's all I can say about that without descending into keysmashing frustration.  

I Understood That Reference: a book with a pop culture reference
Oh man, the Fug Girls EXCELL at this without being distracting. From their YA books (Spoiled, Messy) to their adult pub The Royal We -- each is full of funny references and clever asides for pop culture fans. 

I’m tagging:
Anyone!

Review: Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

Saturday, July 9, 2016
Title: Learning to Swear in America
Author: Katie Kennedy
Genre: contemporary, apocalptic
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Published: July 5 2016
Source: ARC from publishers for review
Rating: 2/5

Brimming with humor and one-of-a-kind characters, this end-of-the world novel will grab hold of Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell fans.

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize--if there's ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri's 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he's not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

Part dryly humorous contemporary and part impending apocalyptic disaster, Learning to Swear in America is an interesting story, but ultimately one that doesn't completely work. The novel centers on teenage Russian genius named Yuri as a fish out of water in America as he uses math to try to save the world from a planet-killing steroid. From there it involves a sadly stereotypical teenage romance (with a poorly-drawn female character named Dovie), and then kind of meanders around waiting for Yuri to get the girl and save the world. The premise has a lot of promise but the execution of this debut falters early on.

I had several issues with this book, but the biggest one was how dissatisfied I was with the depiction of Dovie. I liked Lennon's inclusion to the storyline far more, especially because he is a disabled character which are few and far between in any kind of YA, but his sister's characterization is cliche enough to warrant an MPDG label. Dovie is a collection of try-hard characteristics (admittedly Yuri calls her out on this as well), but the novel presents her as a reward for Yuri's heroics more than anything else. It's a waste of a character and a cheap way to present a love interest. I can't root for this romance if one character isn't presented as a complete person.

The writing in Learning to Swear in America can also verge on uninentionally hilarious. Yuri does not think or read like an American -- which I appreciated since he is very much Russian -- but occasionally Kennedy would really stumble when it came to writing her character's internal monologues or dialogue. This was taken from the ARC version but I present without comment the following quotation from when Yuri attend a high school prom: "...he was aroused just thinking about her hem swishing rhythmically against his shoe leather." Granted, that sentence could very well change. But it's a cringe-worthy line and not the only one to be found.  

By far, the best part of this book is the science angle and the depth of research that went into creating this pivotal piece of the plot. The preparation for the asteroid, the countless ploys to save the world, Yuri's own belief in his abilities.. those elements of the story really worked in a way the rest just did not. If the focus had been more on Yuri's experience there in the lab, I would have been a bigger fan. But sadly, and weirdly, the asteroid plotline is wrapped up far too early and then the book focuses more on the even less imaginable secondary plotline. It's a messy way to conclude the story and leaves little to no impact, much like 1019.



Two Minute Review: The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan

Friday, July 8, 2016
Title: The Waking Fire
Author: Anthony Ryan
Genre: fantasy
Series: Draconis Memoriae #1
Pages: 592
Published: July 7 2016
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

The Waking Fire is set in a vibrant new world where the blood of drakes—creatures similar to dragons—is valued beyond reckoning, and can be distilled into elixirs that grant fearsome powers to those who are “blood-blessed.” The novel follows an unregistered blood-blessed as he searches for an elusive variety of drake so potent, its capture would mean unrivalled riches; the second in command of a blood-burning ironclad ship; and a young woman in a lifelong contract to a trading syndicate, whose espionage mission places her on the front lines of a newly declared war. As empires clash and arcane mysteries reveal themselves, these characters are tested again and again and soon discover that the fate of the world rests on their shoulders.

The Draconis Memoria is a remarkable new epic fantasy series with steampunk flavor, full of the phenomenal worldbuilding and non-stop action that have gained Anthony Ryan a global fan base.

Anthony Ryan's newest fantasy, The Waking Fire, is almost 600 pages start to close. Somewhere in those many many chapters is a creative fantasy novel with influences of steampunk and dragon-like creatures used for their magic abilities. With a drake-harvesting system reminiscent of Sanderson's Mistborn magic combined with a Jane Bond pulling off dangerous missions deep undercover, this book is basically premise perfection. The execution sadly starts out stilted and stiff and never really improves.

The issues I had with The Waking Fire aren't huge in and of themselves, but were instead several small things that added up to an overall dissatisfaction by the book's end. This series opener is very detail-orientated when it comes to the technical side, which in turn affects the time, development, and attention that the characters receive.  Even in a long novel like this, there's no real sense of the people in the story for me. The worldbuilding is interesting, but is also confusing and never clarified. Two of the POVs link together well, but third POV has no real connection to the plot or others until far too late in the story.

The Waking Fire's magic system and the twisty character of Lizanne have the most potential for exploration and ingenuity. The harvesting of various kinds of drakes for varied magical abilities lends well to the primary plot of the book while still contributing to an even larger threat facing the people in this world. Lizanne is a strong female character, but is pretty much the only one to be found. I needed more depth for characters, and a more lively tone. I wanted to like this, but it just wasn't for me. 




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