Thursday, October 27, 2016

Unblemished~Sara Ella | Review

Title: Unblemished (Unblemished #1)
Author: Sara Ella
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Length: 362 Pages (Hardback)
Release: October 2016
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I received a copy of this novel through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
*I would also like to thank the publisher for the physical copy of this novel that I won through their giveaway on goodreads.*

This is a book that I've been looking forward to reading for around a year now. Sara Ella is a booktube friend and when she announced her debut novel I was extremely excited for her. And I must say that she did an excellent job with this. 

Urban fantasy tends not to be a genre that I reach for all that often. I prefer high fantasy stories and find most urban fantasy disappointing. I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I wanted to enjoy it, was worried I wouldn't, and still did enjoy it a lot. The genre is not one that I often reach for, but the story of the fight between good and evil is a classic plot line that I almost always enjoy. And it was presented very well here. 

The writing in this was really good. There were some stylistic decisions that I was not particularly fond of, but overall I found the writing very beautiful and easily read. The story is filled with great pop culture references and superb musical metaphors that made it a lot of fun to read. 

Sara Ella's world building was great. There are some things that I found slightly lacking in clarity, but overall the world created was vivid and complex. In the beginning it was a bit difficult to keep track of everything that was rapidly introduced, but it does become easier as the story progresses. The fight between Verity and the Void, the Talents, the idea of the various Reflections, it all comes together to create something fascinating. So while I still have some questions and clarifications I am waiting for, I did really enjoy what I got in the world building aspect of things. 

The characters were a bit difficult for me to connect with. Even Eliyana, our first person narrator, was a bit difficult for me to really understand at times. The only issues I really had with the writing were through her inner dialogue, which I found rather clumsy at times. Until around the halfway point I didn't really feel like I knew anything about the characters. Toward the end it was made clear why that was done and necessary, but it didn't work for me in a lot of ways. I need to be invested in the characters to be invested in the story and it was hard to begin with. Particularly with Joshua (who I still don't love). 

I am not a fan of love triangles in general, so the one in here was somewhat frustrating. It was more that I felt Eliyana was too obsessive over Joshua in the beginning. This got better as the story progressed, but without any of the details behind their relationship it was a point of annoyance for a majority of the book. Ky, the other love interest, was an interesting and likable character. I found him much easier to relate to and understand. 

The ending was exciting, but some of the events were a little jumbled and left me with questions. The outcome was also slightly different than I was hoping it would be. Luckily there is a second book coming out next summer, so I have hope that many of my questions will be answered. This was a very solid debut and Sara Ella has showcased that she is a very talented and creative writer. I am very excited to see where this story goes and how Sara grows as an author.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tuesday Talks | Halloween Reads

Tuesday Talks is a goodreads discussion group created by Janie and Janelle for booktubers and bloggers to discuss book related topics.

This week's topic is all about books to read for Halloween. Personally I am not really into horror books nor do I have certain books that I read for specific holidays every year, but I would like to recommend a trilogy that I think would be perfect Halloween reads.

The Jasper Dent trilogy by Barry Lyga is a trilogy of young adult novels that I read in 2014. It surrounds Jazz, our titular main character, as he struggles to determine if his upbringing will determine his future, or if that's in his control.

It's a somewhat dark read, but not overly gory or anything. Jazz's father is a serial killer and in an effort to distance himself from that image and use his knowledge for good, Jazz starts investigating a string of murders and aiding the police. Things get twisty and crazy along the way and it spirals into a longer connection with people that Jazz never expected.

This has a great cast of characters and an interesting concept. It would be perfect for someone to read over Halloween, particularly if they want something with a bit of suspense and horror without it being terrifying.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Favorite Reads | July-September 2016

Here are some of the books that were my favorite during the third quarter of 2016. I was able to get quite a lot of reading done and read some great books. I would love to know what your favorites were during this quarter.

Graphic novels can be difficult for me to read, including one adapted from the writing of Brandon Sanderson. There's a lot of sensory input and it often gives me headaches. Once I figured out what worked best for me while read, however, I was hooked. White Sand introduces a new magic system and a fascinating cast of characters into Sanderson's Cosmere universe. It lacks some of the development that his full novels have, but for a graphic novel I thought it was excellent.

Emery Lord and The Start of Me and You took me completely by surprise. I absolutely adored it. It has excellent familial relationships, stellar friendships, and the cutest slow burn romance. It's one of my absolute favorite books of the year thus far and I look forward to reading it again and again.

This follow up to Stay the Distance was excellent. It has all of the horsey goodness I've come to expect from Mara as well as complicated family dynamics, unsteady romances, and some solid friendships. All Heart has more of everything you love about Stay the Distance and leaves enough open for the next installment. If you like horse related books, Thoroughbred racing, or young adult contemporary/romances in general, this is a series for you.

S J Kincaid has been an author on my reading list for years now. And I can finally say that I have read one of her novels and it was great. The Diabolic was different than I expected, but in all the best ways. Nemesis was learning to feel and accept emotions that she never thought she could have. It's set in space. Tyrus was a genius. This is a fast-paced exciting young adult novel and I am exited to read more from Kincaid in the future.

This conclusion to Sanderson's middle grade series is fast-paced, humorous, and exciting. The Dark Talent is darker than the previous books in the series, but has a fair amount of humor as well. And what an ending. Have we seen the last of Alcatraz and company? Only time will tell.

 If you want an honest look at mental illness that doesn't sugar coat but also doesn't shove things in your face, Challenger Deep is the book for you. It's a stunning look at what mental illness looks like, how its treated, what happens when love and medicine aren't enough, and has a realistic ending that is often shied away from in young adult literature. This was an extremely powerful read and I know I will be adding it to my collection.

While not as powerful as Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom was a solid follow up to that book. And also an excellent conclusion to the duology. There was further exploration of the characters, new developments in relationships, insane odds and impossible feats, and hints at what may still be to come in the Grishaverse. Leigh Bardugo has such a beautiful writing style and it comes alive through Kaz and his crew of misfit thieves.

This is a novel that I read after a recommendation from my mother. Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture deals with a mathematician who became obsessed with proving the conjecture mentioned in the title. The narrative style was so cleverly used and compelling. It blends these fictional characters in seamlessly with real mathematicians during their time among the greats.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fever at Dawn~Peter Gardos | Review

Title: Fever at Dawn
Author: Peter Gardos
Genre: Historical/WWII Fiction
Length: 224 Pages
Release: April 2016 (First published 2010)
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I received a copy of this novel through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is a novelization of the story of the author's parents, Miklos and Lili, who were both survivors of the Holocaust. Miklos wrote to over 100 Hungarian girls after the war, hoping to find love. And thus began his correspondence with Lili.

In the beginning I wasn't sure I would enjoy this. They first 50 or so pages were very difficult for me to connect with. I had a hard time really connecting with the characters, although I did feel for them. Once I got past this first part I enjoyed the story much more. 

One of the things that worked best was the epistolary style. It was not an entirely epistolary novel, but included many letters (or fragments of letters) throughout. This gave more of a connection with the two central characters and their emotions. This was the aspect of the novel that I thought worked best. 

The focus of the novel was not the horrors that the characters faced during their time in Concentration Camps, but this did have an impact on the story. It is always heartbreaking to hear about the things that people have endured during wars, but it can also be inspirational to see how they survive and what they do afterward. 

The novel follows the events after that first letter and how Miklos and Lili fall in love. It's often quite sweet and has some bitter moments as they each face issues with health and friends. Not everyone is as thrilled with their love as they are, quietly working to sabotage their chances. 

This was a translation so I don't know if that has anything to do with the aspects of the writing style that didn't work for me. The main thing that held me back from enjoying this even more than I did was the way the narrator (or author) interjected himself into the story. This worked well to introduce the reader to the fact that the story was about his parents, and at the end to wrap up their story, but I found it pulled me out of Miklos and Lili's story when the narrator referred to himself in the first person. 

Overall I found this to be a very enjoyable novel. There were sweet moments as well as sad, love found and love lost. I would recommend this to those interested in stories involving Holocaust survivors, WWII, or the epistolary form.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Moon and More~Sarah Dessen | Review

Title: The Moon and More
Author: Sarah Dessen
Genre: YA Contemporary/Romance
Length: 435 Pages (Hardcover)
Release: June 2013
My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

While not my favorite of Dessen's novels, I did really enjoy this one. Emaline was a likable main character, though she made some decisions that had me quite angry with her at times. A lot of her insecurities were understandable. So let me tell you about the things I did and didn't like.

The family dynamic. Emaline had a strong family with her mother, dad, and two sisters. But she also had her biological father who things were not so great with. This was done so well. It was great to see her strong relationship with the family she grew up with, but also her desire to have some form of connection with the father who was never around. She wasn't trying to downgrade her dad or push away her sisters, she just wanted love from the man that should have taken care of her in the beginning. Her half-brother Benji was also great. There relationship was so sweet.

The friendships. Emaline's best friend Morris was such a great character. And her other best friend Daisy was great too. They were just genuinely good people. And you could see them and their relationship with Emaline growing and morphing as the novel progressed. I just wish this had been more of a focus, these two didn't get the attention they deserved. I also really liked Luke, Emaline's boyfriend in the beginning of the novel.

The ending. The conclusion to this was extremely satisfying. Emaline grew up a lot, made some great connections, made new friends, learned from her mistakes, and the possibility of her working out a relationship in the future was left open and possible, without being forced. It was rather different from a lot of Dessen's endings, but for this one in particular it really worked.

There's really only two main dislikes: Emaline's father and Theo. These two characters were extremely bothersome. Theo seemed sweet enough and cute in the beginning, but the more you got to know him the more you realized how much of a user he was. He was really only out for his own interests and expected everyone else to follow his lead. Particularly Emaline, who he saw as an unrefined country girl. And her father was very similar. He couldn't see what his children (particularly Benji) needed because he was too busy thinking about what he needed and wanted. It was ridiculous.

Overall I really enjoyed this and thought the story arc was satisfying. There are some things I would have liked to see more of or done differently, but it was enjoyable and had some great relationships and life lessons.      

Friday, October 14, 2016

Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture~Apostolos Doxiadis | Review

Title: Uncle Petros & Goldbach's Conjecture
Author: Apostolos Doxiadis
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 224 Pages
Release: 1992
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I read Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture after it was referred to me by my mother. We both enjoy studying mathematics (it's what I have my degree in) and she enjoyed this historical account of a man obsessed with solving Goldbach's Conjecture, one of the most famous unsolved mathematical statements. 

What makes this novel great is not the mathematical genius that it delivers. In fact, if you're worried that you wouldn't enjoy it because it might be too "mathy," you would be mistaken. While math problems are discussed and the main characters are mathematicians, this is not an overly technical book. No, what makes it great is the writing style. It's a very compelling and readable story. It's just so cleverly put together. 

The name of the first person narrator is never mentioned. All you know is that he is the nephew of Uncle Petros. You know the names of several other people in his family, his college roommate, but his own name is never of importance to the story that he is relating. Because it's Petros' story. Not his. I am not sure that I have ever read a book constructed quite like this one, but I very much enjoyed it. 

This is a historical novel, so it weaves together actual events and people. Famous mathematicians make appearances. And all of it is blended so smoothly together. Doxiadis obviously did his research. 

The novel is very much a novel of mathematical obsession. Petros, a brilliant young mathematician, became obsessed with solving one of the great problems so that his name would be always remembered by mathematicians, not cast aside because he only contributed minor proofs. And so he tackled Goldbach's Conjecture. The progression of this obsession and what it did to his life was very interesting to follow.

Having an appreciation for mathematics would probably give readers more enjoyment while reading this book, but I don't think it's strictly necessary. The writing and story construction stand on their own very well.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Crooked Kingdom~Leigh Bardugo | Review

Title: Crooked Kingdom (The Dregs #2)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 546 Pages (Hardcover)
Release: September 2016
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. Six of Crows was one of my favorite reads last year and I reread it in preparation for this conclusion. I liked it even better the second time around. 

Crooked Kingdom picks up where the previous installment left off, with Kaz and crew trying to salvage their job and get their money. This one has more focus on action that the first novel, which I enjoyed but also found rather frustrating. One things that makes Six of Crows such a stand out is the exploration of the characters, which I found somewhat lacking here. 

The character focus for this one is more centered around Jesper and Wylan than anyone else, since they didn't get as much attention in the first book. It was nice to see some of their history, but I missed learning about Kaz and Inej. Nina and Matthias probably got about the same amount of attention in this one. 

There were a lot of moments that I really appreciated in this. Overall it was an extremely satisfying conclusion. There was action, character development, beautiful writing, great friendships, and some really powerful messages. Bardugo's writing is stunning.

Near the end there was an event that I found rather disappointing and unnecessary. I feel that it was there because Bardugo felt she had to do something of the sort and not actually because she wanted to. Perhaps that's just me, I just got really irritated with this one thing. While the beginning was less captivating than I had hoped, it was this one thing that really knocked off that one star on my rating. 

Overall the ending was very satisfying. We knew where each of our main characters were headed and it was mostly filled with hope. There is definitely room open for more exploration in this world with these characters and I very much hope that we get more with them in the future.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone~ J K Rowling | Review

Title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter #1)
Author: J K Rowling
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Length: 309 Pages (Paperback)
Release: June 1997
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I read this novel for the first time almost fifteen years ago. While I have read it a few other times since then, this is the first time I've read it in around ten years. I was a bit worried that I would not enjoy it as much now that I'm an adult, but luckily that was not the case. 

Rowling has a very nice and easy to follow writing style. The style of the narrative is not my favorite style, and the writing is not the most captivating I have ever read, but she is a very talented writer with a great story to tell. 

There were a few things that I reacted to differently as an adult than I did as a child. A few events toward the end of the novel were less believable for me now, but still very much enjoyed. I just found it hard to believe that these seemingly brilliant professors would put their students in so much danger, often knowingly. 

The friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione has such a real beginning that I found believable and greatly enjoyed. They are all very different from each other (particularly Hermione), but their friendship works really well. 

For a middle grade novel the pacing is just about perfect. Everything is explained with enough detail without being overly wordy or descriptive. And for being so short and fast paced the writing and scenes are very vivid. 

The cast of characters is great and I am really looking forward to rereading the rest of this series. This is a childhood favorite and I think it will continue to be a favorite for a very long time.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Life Expectancy~Dean Koontz | Review

Title: Life Expectancy
Author: Dean Koontz
Genre: Thriller
Length: 335 Pages (Hardcover)
Release: 2004
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I started reading Dean Koontz when I took a semester off of college five years ago. While searching my house for something to read I found my mother's copy of Life Expectancy and immediately started reading it. This initial reading started what would become my "Koontz" phase. I read around 19 of his novels from September-November of 2011 and I have been a fan ever since. 

All of that just tells you that I have read this book before and that I absolutely adored it. Perhaps adore doesn't seem like an appropriate word to describe my feelings for a thriller/horror novel, but adore it I do. There is just something magical about Jimmy Tock and his "five terrible days." There is something special about the closeness of his family, the descriptions of food, the exploration of what it means to be good and what it means to be evil. This book delivers

The novel is split into several sections that outline what happens to Jimmy on the "five terrible days" his grandfather predicts are in store for him. The events span just over 30 years, from Jimmy's birth to the final of his terrible days. And there is a lot of terror within those days. 

One thing that I appreciate most about reading Koontz is the humor, and this book has more than perhaps any other that I have read. There are moments of laugh out loud worthy dialogue, even in the most dire of circumstances. This, more than anything, is what keeps the horror at bay. To lose your sense of humor is to lose a crucial part of what makes you you.  

To delve into the specifics of the story would be taking away the chance that you (whoever might be reading this), will lose the the magic that it has to offer. Just know these things: clowns can be scary, a beautiful face does not make a beautiful person, family is more than blood, nothing is lost as long as there's cake, and laughter can brighten the darkest of days. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Truthwitch~Susan Dennard | Review

Title: Truthwitch (The Witchlands #1)
Author: Susan Dennard
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 416 Pages Hardcover
Release: January 2016
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I went into Truthwitch with a mix of expectations, not necessarily high or low expectations. I was hoping for a fun read and it was, I was expecting an epic female friendship and don't feel that it really delivered.

For the first few chapters of this in my head I just kept saying "this is kind of silly" which seems strange, since it's a fantasy novel (my favorite genre) and not entirely different from many fantasy novels that I have absolutely adored. There was just nothing about the characters upon introduction or the writing in the beginning that grabbed my attention. Merik was the only character that I actually enjoyed upon first introduction. I found his story quite interesting.

The friendship between Safi and Isuelt was not what I expected. It was probably around the halfway point that I finally started to have any appreciation for this pair. There was little background in the beginning about why they were friends, how they met, what bound them together. They were devoted to each other, which I appreciated, but without much building of that relationship. I wanted more of their history and what made them such a great team.

I found the magic system in this quite compelling. The concept of the various types of witches and how each of them had certain strengths and not all of the same type of witch had the same powers was an interesting concept. But some of it was still not very clear.

The political aspect of this was somewhat lacking for me. There wasn't enough background to explain the political tension. The main characters seemed to distance themselves from the problems of their kingdoms (aside from Merik, of course). It had the foundation for an interesting system and conflict, but didn't really deliver.

There was a great deal of character development as the story progressed, which I did really appreciate. None of the characters were still very captivating to me, but I did grow to appreciate them more. The ending was interesting but didn't leave me very eager for the sequel. It's focus is going to be Merik though, so I may give it a chance since I liked him the best. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Challenger Deep~Neal Shusterman | Review

Title: Challenger Deep
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: YA Contemporary/Mental Health
Length: 308 Pages
Release: April 2015
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I have yet to read a Neal Shusterman book that I did not enjoy and this is one that I have been wanting to read for a while now. Going into this I didn't really know much about it (which is the way I like it), but it was so much more than I expected.

The main story follows Caden, a boy who suffers from mental illness. It never gives you an exact diagnosis, which I thought was a good thing. I guess you could say he was schizophrenic, but, as discussed in the book, no diagnosis is 100% accurate because no two people are the same. Things manifest in very different ways.

I've read a few other books that deal with mental illness, but I've never read one that I believe portrayed it so well. This was beautifully written and crafted, with a heartbreaking story and characters, but wasn't so over the top that it was too depressing to appreciate what was going on. I think that's where my issues with other books come in. They try to be too hard hitting and in doing so lose a lot of the emotional factor they could have otherwise. But this did not do that.

It's also kind of a mystery as you piece together the various aspects of the story into one "real" story. Which is one of my favorite techniques in writing, though I have never seen it presented quite like this.

There were some extremely emotional moments for me in this book. I've suffered from major depression my entire life and some of this story was so real to me that it was frightening. Watching Caden fall further and further below his obsessive hallucinations and paranoia hit very close to home. And it broke my heart.

This is an extremely honest look at what it's like to suffer from a mental illness. It doesn't turn it into a glamorous thing or give you an easy fix. It just tells it like it is, ugly and beautiful pieces together. And I loved it for that. So if you're looking for a book that will give you an insightful and honest look at mental illness, look no further. Challenger Deep has what you're looking for.