Monthly Archives: April 2016

ARC Review – If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

23947922Title:  If I Was Your Girl

Author: Meredith Russo

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. She’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him in. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself–including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it. Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life–and her new love?

Huge thank you to Macmillan/Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

If I Was Your Girl has the potential to be a must read novel that looks at trans-issues written by a trans woman. There’s a lot in this novel that gives so much insight into trans issues, and I felt it to be a very eye-opening reading experience, even though I’ve read plenty of YA novels that focus on being trans. This one, however, I think provides an authenticity that really does make it stand a part.

My favourite aspects of this novel were the flashbacks during Amanda’s time as Andrew, and her growing into her transition. These were the parts of the novel that I felt to ring the most true in terms of understanding what it means to transition and the desire for people to accept transition as well. This felt so heartbreaking and truthful, and watching Amanda deal with her family at the beginning of the journey just hurt so much. When it moves into current time and we see more of how the parents accept Amanda, it brings a lot to the story, providing the before and after than I think many trans novels sometimes lack.

There was one glaring issue with this book though: I didn’t entirely buy how accepting everyone was of Amanda. It just didn’t feel realistic at all, and if anything part of me struggled with how easy a lot of her friendships felt. Everyone barely knows her and yet they confide all their deepest secrets to her. It just seemed very strange at times and it actually took me out of the story on several occasions. However, I will say that it does do a great job of showing positive friendships, which still seems so unheard of in YA.

I will say, however, that everything with Grant felt quite realistic. I wasn’t really into the smoopiness of the romance at first, but it did work and grow on me and I understood why the author portrayed the relationship as she did. There’s a very nice sense of building in the relationship and the issues that Amanda and Grant face do feel like realistic and challenging. I loved the way in which Grant handles Amanda being trans and how scared he was at first but grows into a mature way of understanding. It’s really something special how a lot of their relationship is portrayed and it did win me over in the end.

If I Was Your Girl is so smart in its depiction, and brave in its execution. I loved Amanda and reading her journey was such an inspiring and engaging experience. There’s definitely nothing out there quite like this book, and if you are interested in trans issues, particularly in YA, then this is a must-read for sure.

Huge thank you to Flatiron Books for sending me a copy for review!

River’s Review:

I first heard about this book last fall and was very curious about it. I kept missing out on chances to grab a copy or borrow it and I was THRILLED when a copy finally showed up at my house. I was in the middle of THE RAVEN KING and knew that this book would be a balm on my soul for when THAT was over. And I read this in a little less than 48 hours. It is engaging and eye opening and I couldn’t put it down.

The me from before 2007 would probably never have touched this book. The me from pre-2007 was a conservative Republican-by-default living in backwoods Michigan with a vague notion that God and Christianity might be an okay thing and that there were a lot of Wrong things going on in the world. I would publicly support things like Bush and anti-Queer rhetoric. Then I moved to Tokyo and got away from the bible thumpers and closed minded white people and saw a whole new world. My mind opened, my heart changed, and I started to read way more than Vampire YA books. And I grew and my mind expanded and I met people from different walks of life and I am no longer that girl from 2007.

I hope this book will do for some people what leaving my secluded, closed minded town did for me. I hope that people who are cisgendered will read this book or books like it and understand that we’re all people, we all struggle with feelings that we don’t understand, with feelings that other people don’t accept, and we all just want to be loved. I hope that other transpeople (teens and adults alike) can connect with this story and find themselves in this. I LOVE that this book was written by someone with the experiences being written about in this book. I believe that for true DIVERSE books to be out there that they need to be written by people who have EXPERIENCED the things they are writing about. Research can only go so far.

Story and writing wise I think that Russo has a nice voice for YA and that her writing will grow with time. There were a few places in this book that I would have liked to have seen more fleshed out, and there were times when the pace was a little off for me. Amanda was a relateable character because she’s felt things that we’ve all felt growing up and even as adults. Her struggles feel real and her voice was clear. I enjoyed the side characters, but they all felt a little flat and I would have liked to have had more depth in them. The parents were wonderful in the fact that they were both there and not there for Amanda. They had their own struggles with her choices, but in the end they were good, honest people who just did their best.

This is an important book and I hope that lots of people will read it and enjoy it or learn from it or have their minds changed and their minds challenged. I can’t wait to see what more Russo will come up with.

ARC Review – This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart

25861945Title: This Is the Story of You

Author: Beth Kephart

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: On Haven, a six-mile long, half-mile-wide stretch of barrier island, Mira Banul and her Year-Rounder friends have proudly risen to every challenge. But when a superstorm defies all predictions and devastates the island, when it strands Mira’s mother and brother on the mainland and upends all logic, nothing will ever be as it was. A stranger appears in the wreck of Mira’s home. A friend obsessed with vanishing is gone. As the mysteries deepen, Mira must find the strength to carry on—to somehow hold her memories in place while learning to trust a radically reinvented future.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Story of You is one of those very quiet books. Everything is slow, methodically put together, wrapped in poetic writing. It’s a very simple story that looks at survival, devastation, self-reflection and family, and it does all this in a very small package.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this novel as I read it, but it’s one of those books where it asks the reader to be patient, and it’s subtle in a lot of ways. Our heroine, Mira, is someone who spends a lot of the novel reflecting on her life, friendships, and the people she has met in her small town on Haven. Interesting, this book doesn’t have a lot of a dialogue, which I thought was great given how the novel was written. It was as if when all the devastation hits that there were no conversations to be had or words needed to be said.

The other thing about The Story of You is that its builds in a very specific way. All the emotion that the read is made to feel is built up, up, up, and then much live the waves of the sea, come crashing down hard and furious. I felt very frightened, uncomfortable, and even nervous at times as I was reading this book, and it just comes from how beautiful and intense a lot of the writing and imagery is in the novel.

If you want a book that will provide an emotionally engaging experience right from the get go, then The Story of You is definitely worth checking out. It’s so beautiful and raw, and while the pacing is something that I think some readers might not enjoy, I think it’s worth sticking through to the end, just to see how Kephart sticks the landing. Emotional and beautiful, The Story of You is a novel made for readers who want gripping, yet quiet experience.

Molly & her Raven Boys

kingおう + 王 + ou + KING
Make way for the Raven King!

In the summer for 2013 I read The Raven Boys. I’d been told over and over again by a very good friend that I HAD to read it. I… put it off. I was told to read The Scorpio Races (also by Maggie Stiefvater) and I put it off. Then I ended up getting an eARC of The Dream Thieves and a copy of The Raven Boys for .99 on my kindle so… I read it.

And hated myself for not having read it sooner.

trcThree years later and I have read ALL of Maggie’s books. And I love them all, but The Raven Cycle is just something more for me. It’s something special. I religiously re-read The Raven Boys on January first EVERY year. I have never re-read an entire series of books the way I have with these books. I have never COLLECTED books like this before. I mean, I thought I was a pretty big Harry Potter fan… but The Raven Cycle is my lifesblood.

I was thinking about it the other day, trying to figure out WHY I love this series so much, why I love these characters so much. And I think it’s because it feels like home to me. There are bits and pieces of these stories and characters and settings that speak to me because they were parts of my life. And each one of the boys, Gansey, Ronan, Adam and Noah, have parts of people that I have known and loved in them. I’ve had a grand total of ONE friendship like Blue has with these boys. And I can see my mother and my mother’s friends in Blue’s mother and extended family. I grew up around boys who loved fast cars with big engines and boys who swore too much and boys who were assholes and boys who grew up in the dirt and boys who were princes among men. I grew up with a magical forest (okay, not ~magical~ magical) in my back yard and cows across the street. I grew up with mythology and history and free thinking.

I also love these books because Maggie’s way with words is fucking witchcraft and I love it. I will read ANYTHING she writes and I’m 98% guaranteed to love it by default because of her writing alone.

I finished The Raven King last weekend (I was lucky to get an early copy thanks to my bookstore selling it early, shame on them!). I cried, I laughed, I handed the book to my husband at the end of it all and he tried to put it in the trash because I looked so. damn. lost. I sat on my bed and just SAT there and he came in and asked if I was okay and I just looked at him and said “It’s over. It’s really over.”

Guys, I don’t even know if I was THIS far gone when I finished the last Harry Potter book. The feelings I had after finishing The Raven King… I’m not even sure what to compare them to.

I just fucking love these books. And now I can’t believe that it’s over. But I still have work to do. I love to underline my favorite bits in the paperbacks (I don’t mark up my hard covers or ARCs) so now I have to wait until the paperback comes out so I can re-read and underline EVERY SINGLE RONAN LINE ugh he was perfection in this book.

ANNNND I get to see Maggie in May. I am kinda in shock over this. I thought that I’d never get to meet her and forever be vicariously living through my friends as they meet her and I force them to tell her that I’m their friend! She’s gonna meet me and be like “what a weird-o!” but AH! I can’t wait. I’ll blog about that FOR SURE!

***

HI GUYS! If you have made it this far into the post then I will now transition into a less Raven Boys post and into a more personal post. As you all saw, my coblogger, my love, Sammy, recently lost her mother. She just wrote a pot about it (points to post below) and I’d appreciate it if you could all leave her some love and support in the comments!

I do not have much to report on the personal front. I’ve been reading a lot, working at my job, and just hanging out. Husband is busy, as always, being a crazy mad scientist, so that leaves me with a lot of free time to READ. I’ve recently been cooking a lot of Japanese food (you can see it on my instagram @safeaslife) and watching a few anime here and there.

Actually here’s a thing that I’ve been dealing with lately. I’ve really been missing Japan. For those of you that are new, I used to live in Japan, and moved to Boston in 2014 with my husband so he could go to MIT. I lived in Japan for roughly 7 years and I LOVED it. The last year I was there I tried REALLY hard to convince myself that I was ready to leave Japan and part of me was. There WAS a part of me that wasn’t (and probably never will be) ready to leave and I just kinda… shoved that part down really deep. And then I proceeded to ignore that part for the past year and a half. My husband and I were DETERMINED to enjoy our US life and not miss Japan. We were going to eat American food and watch American TV and NEVER touch Japanese anything.

Well, unfortunately for him there’s a thing called culture shock and homesickness. And he did succumb to them. I… did as well. Yes, I am homesick for my second home. And I am FINALLY accepting this. He is too. He used to be so anit-Japanese stuff (minus food) and now we watch a lot of anime and he watched a lot of Japanese TV shows that he misses and we listen to Japanese music and I cook Japanese food and even have started to buy his favorite food (natto) on a weekly basis. I’ve been telling myself that it’s okay to miss Japan and to enjoy the stuff that I loved about Japan. We might move back in the future, we might not. But I need to be okay with this. I mean, I DO love being back in the USA, there’s a ton of stuff that I love/appreciate that I couldn’t get in Japan. But damn, there are times when I am just bowled over with nostalgia and homesickness.

So yeah. There’s that. Oh and I’m thinking about going by my real name on the blog again. I don’t really need to hide behind a pseudonym anymore (and I’ve been using my real name on twitter for awhile now).

Life Update and Where I’ve Been

Hi everyone,

So you may have noticed that other than ARC reviews, there hasn’t been much going on for the blog. I am really sorry about that, but life took an unexpected turn that I’m now working my way through.

My mother was a cancer patient for eleven years, and finally she passed away. It breaks my heart given that she managed eleven extra years on life, even though she was told all those years ago that she was going to die then. Since my dad passed back in 2013, we’ve really clung together, keeping each other sane, and being there for each other in order to make sure that everything in the house was in working order. She was my greatest role model, a champion fighter, and lover of others. She was so selfless in the way in which she dealt with people, always willing to give more of herself if need be. I always continue to strive to be like my parents — they were amazing people, so losing both of them in such a short span of time can really mess with someone.

So here we are. This is why there’s only been reviews on the blog. I’ve been trying to keep myself calm and sane, but the reality is that I have a lot of work ahead of me, and I need time to grieve what I once had, while also reminding myself of all the good memories I had as well. I hope to start having regular scheduled content back up from both River and I, but I hope for now a lot of these reviews of new and upcoming titles will suffice for a bit longer.

Thanks for your understanding, and keep sharing all your newfound reading loves with me in the comments. I always love hearing from everyone and what they’ve been enjoying as of late.

ARC Review – Heir to the Sky by Amanda Sun

25502639Title:  Heir to the Sky

Author: Amanda Sun

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: As heir to a kingdom of floating continents, Kali has spent her life bound by limits—by her duties as a member of the royal family; by a forced betrothal to the son of a nobleman; and by the edge of the only world she’s ever known—a small island hovering above a monster-ridden earth, long since uninhabited by humans. She is the Eternal Flame of Hope for what’s left of mankind, the wick and the wax burning in service for her people, and for their revered Phoenix, whose magic keeps them aloft.

When Kali falls off the edge of her kingdom and miraculously survives, she is shocked to discover there are still humans on the earth. Determined to get home, Kali entrusts a rugged monster-hunter named Griffin to guide her across a world overrun by chimera, storm dragons, basilisks, and other terrifying beasts. But the more time she spends on earth, the more dark truths she begins to uncover about her home in the sky, and the more resolute she is to start burning for herself. 

Huge thank you to Harlequin TEEN and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am one of those people who adored Amanda Sun’s Paper Gods series. It was basically reading manga, with fun and over the top characters. I loved those characters. So of course I was super excited for Heir to the Sky and after reading it, I kinda wish I hadn’t hyped it in my mind. This read like a Final Fantasy plotline — begins interesting and then gets bogged down by a romance subplot and a save-the-world mentality.

I really found the majority of this book dull. The beginning had all the intrigue, the world building seemed great, but once I hit the middle I found myself slogging through, hoping I would get the spark of the beginning. It never quite happened. There’s a lot of great action, a neat use of mythology, but I couldn’t connect with these characters AT ALL. Kali was missing something for me that Katie had in Paper Gods, which is growth granted Katie had growth through three novels, but Kali never truly finds her way for me, and the romance is in a lot of ways her characteristics. She lets the other characters push her around despite being the “entitled one” which I thought was a little odd. The male characters feel really one-dimensional and if anything I didn’t get their appeal at all.

And that’s just it. The world building is SO FANTASTIC until Kali falls to earth, and then everything just feels like such a mess. The drive in this story just never felt compelling to me, and as I read on, I kept hoping for a spark — something that would redeem the rest of the novel for me. But it just never came. Which is a shame given how lovely Sun’s prose is. She has such fantastic ideas, but for me this novel just felt so flat and it never got the momentum that I was use to from her Paper Gods series. Seriously, it hurts me that I didn’t love this book. I think Amanda Sun is really talented, but this book lacked the spark for me.

ARC Review – The Fall of Butterflies by Andrea Portes

26115772Title:  The Fall of Butterflies

Author: Andrea Portes

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Willa Parker, 646th and least-popular resident of What Cheer, Iowa, is headed east to start a new life. Did she choose this life? No, because that would be too easy—and nothing in Willa’s life is easy. It’s her famous genius mother’s idea to send her to ultra-expensive, ultra-exclusive Pembroke Prep, and Willa has no intention of fitting in. But when she meets peculiar, glittering Remy Taft, the richest, most mysterious girl on campus, she starts to see a foothold in this foreign world—a place where she could maybe, possibly, sort of fit in. When Willa looks at Remy, she sees a girl who has everything. But for Remy, having everything comes at a price. And as she spirals out of control, Willa can feel Remy spinning right out of her grasp.

Huge thank you to HarperCollins for sending me an ARC for review!

River’s Review:

I was NOT expecting to love this book as much as I did. I started reading it because I was in the mood for something contemporary and I remembered really enjoying Portes’ previous YA title. I got SUCKED into this book and read almost 200 pages in one sitting. I was expecting a typical small town girl goes to expensive prep school and gets sucked into a new, exciting world, story butttttt this took an unexpected dark turn. And I loved it. I loved the characters and the way that Willa deals with the new life around her. She’s curious (too curious at times) and willing to explore new things. But she’s also very secure in who she is (despite her own feelings that she isn’t) and knows when to put on the brakes.

Willa’s mother is a world famous economist who basically left her family to run off to France and peaced out of Willa’s life. Willa lives in a small town in Iowa and she’s not popular. She’s very flippant about the small group of people she spends time with but clearly doesn’t care about them at all. She’s set to kill herself just because she’s so sick of feeling her mother’s expectations on her shoulders and when she moves to New England to attend an elite boarding school that her mother got her into.

The only real problem I had with this book was that Willa talks about wanting to kill herself, but I never really felt like she had an actual reason why. She didn’t seem depressed, she didn’t seem suicidal, she just seemed done with life. Over it. And after she starts to sink into her new life that vein of story just kinda slowly falls away… it seemed a little odd to me.

Other than that thought I loved the way that Willa comes to terms with her mother, with her father, with the life she left, and the new life she’s leading. I loved watching those around her react to her and help her grow. I loved seeing her try so hard to save her new friend and coming to terms with the fact that sometimes you just can’t help people who don’t want it.

I really love Portes’ writing style too. It’s very unique and quirky and fun to read. I liked that this story was being told to you (the reader) and that Willa is aware of you (the reader). It makes for a very quick read.

ARC Review – Down With the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn

25647300Title: Down With the Shine

Author: Kate Karyus Quinn

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 / ★★★★★

Synopsis: There’s a reason they say “be careful what you wish for.” Just ask the girl who wished to be thinner and ended up smaller than Thumbelina, or the boy who asked for “balls of steel” and got them-literally. And never wish for your party to go on forever. Not unless you want your guests to be struck down by debilitating pain if they try to leave.

These are things Lennie only learns when it’s too late-after she brings some of her uncles’ moonshine to a party and toasts to dozens of wishes, including a big wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was abducted and murdered six months ago.

Lennie didn’t mean to cause so much chaos. She always thought her uncles’ moonshine toast was just a tradition. And when they talked about carrying on their “important family legacy,” she thought they meant good old-fashioned bootlegging.

As it turns out, they meant granting wishes. And Lennie has just granted more in one night than her uncles would grant in a year.

Now she has to find a way to undo the damage. But once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wonder if I read this book at the wrong time. My co-blogger swears by Kate Karyus Quinn novels, and I own all of them, but decided apparently to start here. Down With the Shine is a fun book, but it’s also very ridiculous in a way that plays with the reader’s senses. Haunted moonshine is a great concept — haunted moonshine that can grant wishes? Even greater.

And yet, it didn’t entirely work for me. I’m not sure why that is either, given that a lot of the wishes in the novel were pretty fantastical or outright morbid, but it’s almost as if the novel wasn’t sure which it wanted to go, and I got a large sense of that. I thought the characters were really entertaining, if a bit flat, I thought the story was cheeky, if a bit corny at times too. It’s like reading certain Stephen King novels — they are so much fun, but at the same time you want a bit more than the novel is providing.

Like I said, perhaps it was me reading it at the wrong time (my mother was in the hospital and sadly passed way). While it was so fun and silly, it didn’t hit the notes that perhaps I was looking for in a spooky read. Perhaps down the road when I have a clearer head I may give this one a reread because the potential is totally there and I’m wondering if it was more me than the book. Still, Down With the Shine is A LOT of fun, and I do look forward to trying some more of Kate Karyus Quinn’s other novels.

River’s Review:

THIS WAS SO GOOD I LOVE ALL OF KATE KARYUS QUINN’S BOOKS I NEED MORE!

Also apparently all of her books take place in the same world because the characters from her previous books are referenced in this!!!! Now I want to go back and re-read the others to see if there are any connections omgggggggggg.

I loved this book so much. I loved everything about it. I loved the characters, the craziness, the writing, the magic, EVERY.THING.

This is one of those reviews where I loved the book so much I don’t even have words.

GO. READ IT. READ ALL HER STUFF. AHHHHHHHHHH!