Monthly Archives: February 2014

ARC Review – The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson

17157466Title:  The Tyrant’s Daughter

Author: J.C. Carleson

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations? 

Huge thank you to Random House Books for Young Readers and Netgalley for the advance reader copy.

River’s Review (4.5 Stars)

Wow this book was good. I wasn’t totally sure what to expect when I went into it, but I’m so glad that I read it. Sadly, I’m not really that up-to-date with everything that is going on in the middle east (I blame living in Japan, but it’s mostly my own apathy towards keeping up to date with world news), but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment of this book. I especially loved reading the authors note at the end and seeing how she used parallel events in her novel.

As a non-native living in a foreign country (American living in Japan) I could totally connect with Laila and her family on their exile to the US. I know what it’s like to move to a new country and be faced with having to explain and defend your own culture while trying to navigate, understand, and even accept the new culture that you’re in. I really loved how this was done. All of Laila’s stereotypes about the USA are ones that I hear from Japanese people ALL of the time. Everything is big, loud, noisy, too fast. At first it bothered me and I felt like the author was perpetuating the American stereotype, but the more I thought about it, the more honest it was. I find that A LOT of people outside of the USA are more-or-less trained to think that the USA IS this loud, fat, superficial nation. And the same goes for people in the USA. Laila’s friends were quick to judge her and her culture, and they often didn’t accept her culture. I loved it when she told the Cinderella story and the way everyone reacted. I can honestly say that I’ve also had similar reactions to Japanese culture. I try to understand, and have come to accept A LOT of it, but there are just some things that I cannot. But UNDERSTANDING is the key. So I really clicked with this aspect of the book and enjoyed the hell out of it.

I really loved Laila’s voice. She was such a strong character and so regal all through the story. She had her moments of weakness, anger, recklessness. She was able to rebel in more ways than a typical teenager, and she went all out at times. I’m glad that she stepped out of her comfort zone and tried new things. I liked her friends and the way she handled her choices. I loved watching her navigate her new life and deal with the freedoms she was suddenly handed.

I also loved the descriptions of the middle east. One of the BIGGEST issues I have with books set in foreign countries is that a lot of the time the author has no idea about the REAL LIFE stuff that happens. Anyone can watch the news and google about foreign countries, but if you haven’t spent a GOOD amount of time in a place, you wont really understand the way things work, the customs, the people. The author was spot on with the details though and I never felt the need to question what she was showing us. Credibility is important with books set in foreign countries, and this was full of it.

I was really surprised by the ending though! I didn’t see it moving in that direction and thought it was a brave choice.

And can I say how freaking COOL it is that the author was a legit CIA operative? One of my childhood dreams!!! Ah, so cool. Def check this book out guys!

Sam’s Review (4.5 Stars)

I went into the Tyrant’s Daughter with zero expectations. Truthfully, the story didn’t entirely sound like something I’d enjoy. Colour me shocked when I devoured 50% of the book in a day. Carleson’s book has these amazing powers of just sucking reader’s into Laila’s world and making you feel like you understand her hostility and aggression.

While I’m not always paying attention to current events, I found that the story Carleson told was surprisingly accessible. There’s a lot happening and for the most part (up until the end) it was easy to follow and Laila, for all her frustration and anger was a very easy protagonist to follow. Actually, I quite loved her. Being in her head was so fascinating, from her prejudice to her understanding. I liked that she wasn’t white washed — her culture is explicitly important to her, and even when she tries to be understanding or trying to fit in, her struggles are something that one can easily understand.

I think what I loved the most was just how real the story felt. Seeing how her mother and brother attempted to adapt was both interesting and heartbreaking. You get a sense that while their could be light at the end of the tunnel for everyone… not all the characters necessary want it. I also loved all the additional material at the end of the book that showed what inspired the story or the events that were rooted into the tale. I love having that extra bit of knowledge because I always find it helps me appreciate a story just a bit more.

The Tyrant’s Daughter is a very deep and layered story. It’s a great page-turner, but it’s not necessarily the easiest book to read. Laila is just such a great story teller, and that a lone is really what sold me on the entire novel. The writing is equally tight and fast-paced, and what I loved is the amount of realism. This book is definitely worth checking out, even if it’s something you might not think is your cup of tea — you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

ARC Review – The Lure by Lynne Ewing

18052928Title:  The Lure

Author: Lynne Ewing

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Blaise Montgomery lives in the gritty outskirts of Washington, DC, where a stray bullet can steal a life on the way to school. Drugs and violence are the only ways to survive, so Blaise and her friends turn to gangs for safety, money, and love. When Blaise is invited to join Core 9, one of the most infamous crews, she jumps at the chance. Though her best guy friends, Rico and Satch, warn her about the danger, she agrees to be beaten for a minute straight as part of the gang’s initiation ritual.

Now Blaise is finally part of a crew. A family.

But things get only more dangerous when she becomes a member of Core 9 and tensions with a rival gang heat up. Trek, the head of Core 9, asks Blaise to be his “lure,” the sexy bait he’ll use to track down enemy gang members and exact revenge. Rico and Satch tell her it’s a death sentence, but Blaise can’t resist the money and unparalleled power. As Trek puts Blaise in increasingly dangerous situations, she begins to see that there’s more to lose than she ever realized-including Satch, the one person who has the power to get under her skin. With death lurking around every corner, should Blaise continue to follow the only path she’s ever known, or cut and run?

Huge thank you to Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss for this advance reader copy.

Sam’s Review (2.5 Stars)

Considering all the low reviews for this book, it pains me to be another one tossing it into the pot. Ewing’s book has tons of potential, a wonderfully dark, gang-infested world, and an intriguing premise… that could have all been presented better.

Considering my interest in gang related narratives in YA, The Lure hit that note exceptionally well and I felt like Ewing did a great job of understanding the mentality and the cause and effect factors of what it means to be a part of a unique lifestyle. However, the writing is exceptionally dull, the descriptions are often flat, so while the intentions of a great story are there, the writing doesn’t heighten.

Another issue is how predictable the narrative is and how the characters add to that level of predictability. From the very beginning of the novel we know there’s going to be a love triangle, someone is going to get sacked, and bad decisions are going to be made. Even worse is that Blaise is just not a character you can sympathize with considering how poor her decisions are and the fact that she doesn’t see consequence, which is very baffling at times. In this type of story you think that consequence is something to learn from or be showcased and a lot of the time it’s not strongly represented. There are glimpses of great story moments, but are marred by the awkward dialogue. When I think gangsters, I think slang, and it was odd to not really see any.

Sometimes instances in this book felt flat or unrealistic, which is a real shame considering how realistic a lot of this narrative is supposed to feel. I think my issues with The Lure was that I wanted to see a strong, more cohesive narrative that just never came to be. I wanted to like the characters, but found them difficult to like. The Lure isn’t a bad book, it’s just one of those books with tons of potential that is never really realized.

Snow Day!!!

IMG_4747Snow Mamegoma!

It snowed today! Which I know, for most of you reading, that this is NOT a big deal (especially if you are in the USA, which is like 95% covered with snow) and DEFINITELY nothing new for my better half (Sam is from Canada if y’all don’t remember) but I haven’t seen this much snow since 2009. It DOES snow in Japan (in the northern areas) but the main island doesn’t see that much snow. Tokyo usually gets hit with snow in late February, but for the most part the East, West and Southern areas are just cold, snowless places in the winter.

IMG_4757 IMG_4739IMG_4740Last night’s weather forecast called for snow and all of my students started to cancel because they don’t have ~snow tires~ (which yes, I know if the area isn’t used to snow that people WILL freak out about having to drive in it and that it IS unsafe, but the whole OMG NEED SNOW TIRES FOR TWO INCHES OF SNOW thing cracked me up) and my manager was worried about if the train would stop/ be delayed, so she gave me the day off! Yay for having a Saturday off! So Husband and I went out for lunch, took photos and built a snow Mamegoma!

IMG_4742 IMG_4745The wind is actually blowing so hard it’s making baby snowdrifts! Awww, it’s like back home (If y’all don’t remember, I’m from the lakeshore area in Michigan where they currently have snowdrifts taller than human beings).

Also, if you’re wondering why we’re wearing surgical face masks… it’s a thing that people in Japan do. Most people believe that the masks will help keep you from catching a cold or that if you have a cold you should wear one to keep your germs to yourself. They’re also INCREDIBLY good at keeping your face warm, so Husband and I always wear them when we go outside.

IMG_4750 IMG_4753A few years ago Husband and I went on a trip to one of the more snowy areas of Japan and we built a snow Mamegoma. We’ve always talked about having the chance to make another one and today was finally the day! We built this little guy on our front walkway. I hope our neighbors think he’s cute!!!

18820442Snow day reading!

And now I’m going to curl up with a cup of tea and read this for the rest of this cold, snowy day! Mannnnn, I was having so much trouble getting into anything this past week (three DNFs in a row!) so I decided to try one of my most anticipated 2014 books and mmmmmm this is GOOD!

Happy snow day!

ARC Review – The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen

17878473Title: The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare

Author: M.G. Buehrlen

 

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever.

And will stop at nothing to make this life her last.

Sam’s Review:

Huge thank you to Strange Chemistry and Netgalley for this advance reader copy.

I feel like based on the synopsis that this book would have been right up my alley. The problem with The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare is that it’s going to be a very polarizing read for most lovers of young adult.

I’m throwing this out there, but this book is beautifully written, right down to it’s detailed and intricately written descriptions and use of imagery. However, there’s beautifully written and then there is beautifully written but going nowhere. That really is how I am going to sum up my feelings about this book because it has such a fabulous premise, but the size of it hinders the story more than develops it.

I get frustrated sometimes with larger books because you want to hope that everything within the texts fits and its something important to the plot or makes the readers want to turn pages. For example, in a series like Game of Thrones the reason that those books are such page turners is because (for the most part) there is always something happening. While this may be an unfair comparison for Alex Wayfare, I feel like because a good chunk of this is flashback, it gets harder to invest oneself in where the real narrative is moving. I had so many moments where I found myself saying something was fantastically done or very clever, because Alex is a heroine who gets crap done. On the other side of the coin, however, there are so many parts of this book that drag and often feel as if it’s going nowhere, and that really saddens me. I don’t mind reading a large book, but give me substance that makes me want to turn the pages.

I had a hard time with a lot of the side characters. I never felt connected to them or care about what they were doing. Alex, I had moments where I loved and cheered for her, and other moments where I was smacking my face into a desk because of hos idiotic she’d behave. She’s a very polarizing heroine in this sense because you feel like she’s balanced, but her flaws don’t feel as fleshed out as they could be.

So in the end, I’m torn and confused by Alex Wayfare it’s a great idea that really could have been cut down by a number of pages. It’s one that I’d recommend requesting from the library or reading an expert before making a decision because I feel like with the right reader, it could be an amazing experience for them. Unfortunately for me, I was clearly the wrong reader in the end for this timeslip.

Book Chat – A Book Written Just For Me

Have you ever read a book and thought: “Wow, this book felt like it was written just for me!” A book that has themes, ideas, concepts, anything really that just screams “me!” I love when I read a book and feel like the author has gone into my head because of themes or ideas that I often think about. Or heck, even if the book has similar interests to my own I often count it.

18599748My choice for a book like this is: Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff.

After finishing the book a few weeks ago and then Interviewing the author over @RPGamer.com, I found myself having one of those moments. First off, it’s a book about gamers, particularly two people who play RPGs (role-playing games) in various forms: Lesh likes massive-multiplayer games, while Svetlana loves Dungeons and Dragons. The novel’s key theme is looking at the roles we play in our lives, but uses gaming as an element to drive the narrative forward. In a lot of ways Brezenoff has written a sweet, if touching look at gamers, particularly those who feel like  oddballs because of the things that they love. 

 
In reading “Guy In Real Life,” I find myself completely nodding along with the story. Both Lesh and Svetlana are social outcasts, but their voices are distinctive and natural. Their views of the world around them feel valid, if selfish at times. While I don’t play MMOs (I do play tabletop RPGs from time to time), I know what it’s like to get so invested in a game (or even a book) and just escape reality to avoid dealing with problems. There’s a desire to want people to understand who you are. I admit it took me a long time to feel comfortable with myself, but when I finally did I had people love me ten times more, but I equally had people who left me because our tastes had changed. For me role-playing games are huge part of my life, heck I write for an RPG based website in my spare time! We always have fear of change, but we also have to accept who we are as well, even if others don’t. That is what I truly connect with when it comes to “Guy in Real Life.”
 
 
 

River’s Choice: “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater

I think out of the most recent pile of books I’ve read, the one that I really felt was made for 9780545224918_p0_v2_s260x420me was Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. SAY WHAT?! Not The Raven Boys? Haha, while that is the best book IN THE WORLD, I don’t feel that it was made for me (or that I can do it justice with anything I could write about it) but when I read The Scorpio Races I totally felt like it was just for me.

Why? Well… let’s back up a bit. A long time ago a friend recommended it to me. And I looked at the cover and looked at the blurb and got ‘scorpio’ mixed up in my head with ‘scorpion’ and just had this image of like, people in Egypt racing across the desert on horses while trying to outrun scorpions or something. IDEK OKAY. I just didn’t have ANY interest in it. 

But then came The Raven Boys and my undying love for Maggie Stiefvater was bone. So I picked this book up and it sat on my shelf and then I was all ‘okay self, give it a try!’ and when I did HOLY GOODNESS.

Maggie Stiefvater + Horses + Ocean

Those three elements had me hooked and it was like she was writing this for me. Not only do I currently live by the sea, it has always been my dream to live by the sea (yay life dream realized!). I also used to ride horses (all through middle & high school) and I wanted to be a jockey (but I was too tall) and race horses (life dream not realized). So all through this book I was just able to picture this as basically my pre-teen fantasy life come true. There were also little elements scattered through the story that were mirror images of my life (small town, mom-made sweaters, etc. etc.)

I even bought this book for my mom for Christmas because I thought it would remind her of me so much. (Plus I always have to share the Maggie Stiefvater love!)

So as much as I love and adore and obsess over The Raven Boys (Ganseyyyyyyy) I feel like THIS book was the one that was crafted just for me (ha! I wish it was).

So River and I want to know: what books have you read lately that have made you feel like it was written just for you?Let us know in the comments!

TTT – Top Ten Books That Will Make You Cry

toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Books That Will Make You Cry

River’s top five

For me, I usually cry about a book when it’s especially moving or touching. Sad things do make me cry, but it has to be a huge, emotional gut punch for me to tear up about it. So most of my picks probably wont make you cry because they’re sad, but more because they just moved me in some way.

1. Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare — Not only was this the last book, BUT PEOPLE I REALLY LOVED DIED. God the ending, I just sobbed through it. Just laid there in my bed and sobbed. Also the way things were wrapped up, what Tessa had to live through, her continued friendship with Magnus… omg I’m getting goosebumps even thinking about it.

2. Golden by Jessi Kirby — This book moved me in so many ways. I just kept becoming so overwhelmed with emotions and couldn’t help tearing up. Too many feels. Too many beautiful words. It was just a lot.

3. Marley & Me by John Grogan — It’s a dog book! About a hilarious dog. Who gets old and dies. How could I not cry?! Tears of laughter, tears of understanding, tears of happiness, tears of saddness. (I sobbed through the movie too).

4. A Separate Peace by John Knowles — This is one of my favorite books and just… everything. Especially when one of the main characters dies. And how the narrator feels about it and why he did what he did and ugh. Tears.

5. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater — OVERWHELMED BY FEELS. Nothing sad, just omg feels. The way things ended, the winner of the race, the relationship that came about… and the horses. Especially the horses. I cried for them all because it was all just so beautiful.

Sam’s top five

I admit, I’m a wuss and a crybaby. It’s so easy to make me cry, and I’m not sure if this is just because as I’ve gotten older I’m sucker or what. Who knows! But here’s a five books that just make me cry. There’s no order to this list.

1) The One, the Only, Ivan by Katherine Applegate – A middle grade book about a talented, yet caged gorilla. Everything about this book, from it’s wonderful characters, to it’s heartbreaking conclusion is just sob worthy. The prose is also SO LOVELY that it’s sob worthy.

2) Elanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell – You know when a book starts with a couple not getting to be together that it’s going to rip your heart out. After meeting Rainbow in person, I told her she ripped my heart out with this book. She laughed in my face.

3) Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta – There were a few parts of this book that just completely gutted me, and the mystery within the story is so compelling and when you get to the climax, the reveal, it’s just, I can’t even.

4) Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – Words to describe this book, ummm… destructive? Emotionally draining? Heartbreaking? Yeah, this book is one that hurts and is totally written for those of us who cry on a dime. The story is excellent and clever, but emotions! So many!

5) The Newsflesh Series by Mira Grant – Best zombie book series ever. It’s emotionally investing and draining. The characters just make you feel so damn invested, and I love this series. I can reread it and I will still have the same emotions I had the first time I read it.

ARC Review – Landry Park by Bethany Hagen

17350916Title:  Landry Park

Author: Bethany Hagen

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: In a fragmented future United States ruled by the lavish gentry, seventeen-year-old Madeline Landry dreams of going to the university. Unfortunately, gentry decorum and her domineering father won’t allow that. Madeline must marry, like a good Landry woman, and run the family estate. But her world is turned upside down when she discovers the devastating consequences her lifestyle is having on those less fortunate. As Madeline begins to question everything she has ever learned, she finds herself increasingly drawn to handsome, beguiling David Dana. Soon, rumors of war and rebellion start to spread, and Madeline finds herself and David at the center of it all. Ultimately, she must make a choice between duty – her family and the estate she loves dearly – and desire.

Sam’s Review

Huge thank you to Dial Books for Young Readers/Razorbill Canada for this advance reader’s copy.

This book. I don’t even know where to begin. I didn’t even have it on my radar until it showed up in my mailbox. It’s one of those books where the blurb in some ways does it no favours, making it out to be something you may have read or encountered before.

Landry Park is pretty damn fabulous and Hagen is surprisingly masterful in how she handles the development of her characters. Madeline is a heroine who gets crap done and she easy to have misconceptions about at the beginning of the story, yet her transformation as the narrative moves is phenomenally done. All the characters have a ton of depth, they are likable, their motives have a strong meaning, this book is such a page-turner! You want to keep going, and the book wants, no, demands your attention in such a way that most dystopian titles just don’t do (at least for me).

The issues of classism are very apparent in Landry Park and the way it is handled is pretty awesome. In some ways, we’ve seen the Rootless is countless other dystopian novels, but they are at times, a difficult group to sympathize with. However, as the novel unfolds you see how Madeline, David and Jude all change their tunes. The world Hagen presents is dark, but it’s also a regency novel with modern twists and turns. I think the best way to approach this book is to treat it like a dystopian version ofNorth and the South, though I can see why comparisons toDownton Abbey are made.

And then the ending… holy tension driven, Batman! I knew as soon as I hit the last fifty pages that I was going to barrel through to the end. This is one of those novels that just sucks you in, puts in debutante claws into you, and demands your attention, and I really loved the book for it. The elitism, the expectation, the drama, it’s all there and its done so well. You really feel for the characters in this story, you want to see them grow, and heck, I even liked the romance, which I don’t say too often about YA dystopian novels. Madeline is a great heroine, and I found myself cheering for her from start to finish.

Though I will say, damn Jude needs more love.

But in all seriousness, Landry Park is a fantastic debut and it has something for every reader. The world feels so believable and raw, the writing is gorgeous, the characters are full of surprise and depth. This book may have some familiar tones to it, but all in all, Landry Park is one debutante ball you may want to attend.

Januaryyyyyyyy – River’s Wrap-up

photo (1)January hair cuttttttt!

Hey guys! I know I’m a few days behind, but I finally have the time (and energy!) to do my January wrap-up. It feels like January was SO long ago… and at the same time I can’t believe how quickly it went by! Maybe this is what getting old feels like. cries.

Sooooo first up…

BOOKS!

16068973Best book read in January! The Half Life of Molly Pierce by Katrina Leno. Publishes July 8th, 2014.

I managed to read SIXTEEN books in January. SIXTEEN GUYS. I feel very proud of this. I first read all of my ARCs for January (due out in February) and then read whatever I felt like. And I re-read The Dream Thieves and it was amazing. For a full list of the books that I read in January check them out here on my goodreads challenge.

TV

Breaking-Bad_Wallpaper-I watched ALLLLLLLLL of Breaking Bad in one month.

So I know everyone and their dog has watched Breaking Bad, and for some reason I just never really wanted to see it. Everyone was all IT’S SO GOOOOOOOD WATCH ITTTTTTT but I literally have a pile of TV shows from LAST SEASON that I haven’t even finished. I’m in the middle of over TEN shows! I even had to just give up on some because I don’t have enough time to watch that much TV. But my husband would NOT stop talking about this show’s brilliance, so during vacation I gave it a try and WAS HOOKED. I had no idea what to expect (husband never gave me any specifics), so all I knew was that this high school teacher gets diagnosed with cancer and starts to cook meth to make money for his family. THAT WAS IT. I had this image in my head of him just cooking in the RV and making some cash and slowly dying. I never imagined all of the insanity that would follow. AND THE DEVASTATION AND HEARTBREAK omfg. This show is GREAT guys. It’s not just about ~cooking meth~ and ~drugs~. It is SO. MUCH. MORE.

But I’m kindaaaaaa glad that I’m finished with it because I really need to catch up with things like The Originals, TVD, Arrow and White Collar…..

Music

NEW TAKING BACK SUNDAY OH. MY. FUCKING. GOD. I have no words. I am so happy I could CRY. You guys THIS BAND. THIS BAND. I just can’t even. I wish I could go to the USA and go see them. I am so old and can’t even mosh anymore without probably breaking a hip (okay I’m not THAT old) but jfc. This is so good and I a so happy and COME TO ME MARCH 18TH. I need this album.

I also made a SOUND CLOUD account! I have no friends (I made it to follow Maggie Stiefvater), so PLEASE ADD ME. I only have one playlist which is for my novel!

Writing

Yes I am writing again! Now that I’m done helping my husband with his grad school applications I have time to do whatever I want and I’m back to work on the novel I started last winter. The novel that might actually get finished (I’m the worst writer ever and never finish anything so that is why I have never even attempted to find an agent but THIS WILL BE THE ONE DAMNIT). I have a title, CHAPTERS WITH NAMES, an ending (this is always the part that is most difficult for me), over 31,000 words written, an outline (again, not something I usually do) and general motivation. Goal is to finish the first draft by the end of Feb and then edit! Good luck self!

Personal

As I said above, I got my hair cut. It used to be REALLY long…

photo (3)

and I am so happy to not keep finding my hair in my food…

I also got the most AMAZING present from husband…

puddingSOY MILK PUDDING!!!! If you don’t already know I’m kinda-sorta deathly allergic to milk & dairy products. Like, I can eat a piece of cheese and not die, or a slice of pizza, but any raw dairy (especially a big glass of milk) will send me to the hospital (it’s happened before!) so I have to avoid ice cream, pudding, cheese, yogurt and so on… it’s a pain in the butt here in Japan because nobody seems to understand that MILK IS IN A LOT OF STUFF. Husband is pretty good about asking if there’s raw milk in stuff (I’m okay with things that have cooked milk in them, whatever I’m allergic to seems to get cooked out), but I’m always super sad that I can’t have things like ice cream or pudding. So husband searched online and found soy milk whipping cream (which I have since purchased and whipped into the most delicious whip cream I’ve eaten since 2004 when my allergy first showed up) and THIS AMAZING SOY MILK PUDDING. It has soy milk whipped cream on the top too. I’ve been eating them very slowly and pray that he will gift more to me in the future (it’s super expensive to ship!).

Soooooo that was January!!! Looking forward to writing a ton more, reading lots, and catching up on my TV shows in February! I also hope to have some good news about this next coming year and my living situation soon too…

 

ARC Review – Better off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

17228280Title:  Better off Friends

Author: Elizabeth Eulberg

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis:  For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way. Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder . . . are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated? From romantic comedy superstar Elizabeth Eulberg comes a fresh, fun examination of a question for the ages: Can guys and girls ever really be just friends? Or are they always one fight away from not speaking again — and one kiss away from true love?

Huge thank you to Netgalley and Scholastic for the advance reader copy of this book.

River’s Review (4 Stars)

This book was SO cute. I was totally drawn in when I saw it was about opposite-sex best friends. From 8th grade until 2007, my best friend was a guy and I was in love with him. We went through a lot together and I was SO totally able to relate to both Levi and Macallan’s situations and feelings. Unfortunately my story didn’t turn out like theirs (I ended up dumping his ass after years of being unable to fully define and commit to what our relationship was) and that was a huge, painful, life changing thing. So I was really cheering for these two through the entire book.

I LOVED the characters. Levi and Macallan were both such strong characters. They both knew who they were and what they wanted (even when they weren’t being totally honest with each other). I loved their banter and their love for a fictional BBC TV show (at least I think it’s fictional?). I liked their fights and how they were resolved. And I loved their families. Macallan stood up for what she believed and Levi really struggled to find himself, and was able to. Both voices were fresh and realistic.

I thought this was really unique because it spans many years. The story starts off with the two in 7th grade and over the course of the book time covers up until their senior year of high school (I think, it might have been junior year). For such a short book it did that really well and I rather enjoyed reading about their young, pre-teen days.

This book has alternating chapters, but the voices are SUPER clear and I had no trouble keeping track who was speaking. Also, the artwork was SO cute (each chapter starts with an image of the boy or girl from the cover to indicate who’s POV it was). And at the end of each chapter the two characters are having a conversation and reflecting back on what was told in the chapter. I really liked these sections, but due to the formatting (probably just an ARC flaw) it was sometimes unclear (there wasn’t any indication that it had switched from the first person POV to the conversation) and I really hope that the final copy has something super cute to indicate the change.

The only thing that I didn’t really like was the ending. I was hoping that they were at their wedding or something, reflecting back and telling their story (hence the conversations at the end of each chapter) but it just kinda trailed off…

Sam’s Review (4 Stars)

This is my first Elizabeth Eulberg book, and I have to say this one was quite the pleasure and introduction. <i>Better Off Friends</i> explores a boy and girl friendship (how often does one get to write that?) and shows the complicated aspects of what that type of relationship entails, be it assumptions, over-protectiveness, and possible feelings. I loved how easy it was to fall into this story and how wonderful Levi and Macallan’s points of view felt. Eulberg writes this very natural, real story that is easy to relate to if you’ve been in this situation (something I have dealt with) and doesn’t fluff it up for the sake of tension.

First off, this book has a very fast-pace. It’s easy to engage with and there’s such a natural tone of voice for both our protagonists. We get a huge sense of how their friendship works and why they behave the way they do. Truthfully, I was a lot more fond of Levi’s chapters if only because it was nice to read a male point of view and it *feel* like a proper boy’s point of view. Levi is a darling, but he’s a complicated soul who’s a little dense when it comes to people’s feelings and emotions, where as Macallan is so much more heighten in ways that Levi could never be. I just, I loved them both equally and more so than I thought I would. Plus they met through the mutual love of a British television show — I can jive with that.

I really love how this story moves from 7th grade to high school and the progression of time doesn’t feel as though its rushed or forced. Everything about this novel has so much ease, but it’s downfall is its ending — it simply trails off without feeling entirely completed which was quite the bummer. Considering the time progression I felt like there should have been a bit more to tie everything up.

I don’t think this will be the last book I’ll read by Elizabeth Eulberg, and in fact, I think this one may just be the beginning of a potential author binge. This book is wonderfully sweet, smartly presented, and one that if you like contemporary, should be on your to-be-read pile.

ARC Review – The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler

18079564Title:  The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

Author: Holly Schindler

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: August “Auggie” Jones lives with her Grandpa Gus, a trash hauler, in a poor part of town. So when her wealthy classmate’s father starts the House Beautification Committee, it’s homes like Auggie’s that are deemed “in violation.” Auggie is determined to prove that she is not as run-down as the outside of her house might suggest. Using the kind of items Gus usually hauls to the scrap heap, a broken toaster becomes a flower; church windows turn into a rainbow walkway; and an old car gets new life as spinning whirligigs. What starts out as a home renovation project becomes much more as Auggie and her grandpa discover a talent they never knew they had—and redefine a whole town’s perception of beauty, one recycled sculpture at a time. Auggie’s talent for creating found art will remind readers that one girl’s trash really is another girl’s treasure.

Sam’s Review:

Huge thank you to Dial Books for Young Readers for an advance copy of this book!

I love going into a book where I have no expectations. I love to see where stories I might not have been interested in will take me. Sometimes you get a dud, or in this case, you get a wonderfully rich surprise. The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky definitely falls in the latter category, creating a story that teaches us about the importance of inner beauty and community.

Auggie’s voices in infectious. You can tell she’s the type of person who has a good head on her shoulders and wants what’s best for those around her. What I also love about her is that she understands what it means to live within one’s means and create beauty out of old junk. I love that she is at war with the House Beautification Committee, yet her overall question in the novel is “Who deems the right to say what is and isn’t beautiful?” It’s an amazing question to ask in middle grade fiction because we’re constantly seeing this issues take shape within media, yet the definition of beauty has always been subjective, though for younger readers its always a bit harder to grasp because peer pressure can be so strong.

Auggie combats a lot of this. You see this issues of peer pressure with characters like, Lexie, where its handled so perfectly, yet true friendship can and will conquer all. A lot of the characters were surprisingly memorable as well. My personal favourite was Weird Harold, he was just a delightful odd ball who’s hat always said something new that reflected what was happening within the plot. It was a clever gimmick on the author’s part, but I love his suspicions about the committee and his desire to fight. In fact, that’s really the main aspect I love about this novel: its sense of community.

This novel deals with segregation in a way that is so easy to comprehend without being childish. When you dig below the surface, Auggie lives in a place where the rich stay rich and the poor get poorer, yet the beauty lies in its approach.  The characters who live at the Junction of Sunshine and Lucky are OKAY with being poor so long as they have places and friends to take care of. Everyone in the community has a strong desire to take care of one another and its quite a great sight to read about. I appreciated how community played a big role in this story as it added a lot overall.

The only thing that kept this book from being a five for me was how abrupt it ends. The conflict was so strong, yet towards the end it just felt like it trickled off. Still, it’s not often you read a book that incorporates folk art in such a way where its fun to read and accessible in the process. I think The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky will definitely have its share of readers who will easily resonate with a lot of its wonderfully positive messages, and it’s a great book for any middle grader on your list, especially those who have an interest in art.