Friday, August 8, 2014

Guest Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door


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Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins 
Release: September 29, 2011 

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion...she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit--more sparkly, more fun, more wild--the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket--a gifted inventor--steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door

Lola and the Boy Next Door is the companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss and while it is not necessary to read one book before the other, I chose to read them in order, simply so that I could understand and know any previously mentioned characters. I was lured into the series by a friend, the owner of this fabulous blog, who absolutely adored Anna and the French Kiss - she even got me a pretty signed edition - so how could I not read it? I got around to it the summer of last year and I really enjoyed it. It was a sweet story and the setting was exotic and exciting but Anna ... well, she was a little less than exciting. I just couldn't relate to her very much. 

Now, I'm largely in the minority when it comes to that opinion. Most people I know praise Anna as one of the best contemporary novels around and I can see why - like I said, the book was fun with an exotic locale and a cute and sweet boy interest. But Lola? Lola and the Boy Next Door - now that was a book I could get excited about. Let me explain...

Lola thinks she has it all - a great family, a nice job, the perfect boyfriend. The only thing she wants more than anything at the moment is to go to the Homecoming Dance dressed as Marie Antoinette, with the huge gown, makeup, wig and everything. What girl wouldn't? To be fair, Lola is a bit ... eccentric. She's an aspiring designer and seamstress who had created an identity for herself by, well, giving herself plenty of identities. She hates to wear clothes - or at least one outfit - more than once and one day, she might dress up like a picnic while going on a picnic (with a red and white checkered dress) or dress up like her best friend on Halloween. Lola is a surprise, each and every day and that, in and of itself, made Lola so interesting and likable. Add to that a set of two Dads - yep, count' em, two! - San Francisco, and a Rocker-I'm-Immediately-Suspicous-Of-You Boyfriend and you have an interesting set up. 

Despite her overbearing Dads, life is pretty idyllic for Lola, at least until a moving truck pulls up next door carrying the dreaded Bell family, who lived next door to Lola several years ago. When she sets eyes on twins Calliope and Cricket, she knows she's in trouble. Cricket, who broke her heart years before, can only be bad news. The problem? He's even more gorgeous and adorable than before and not even her supposed boyfriend can keep Lola's mind from wandering about the boy next door.

For those of you who have read a Stephanie Perkins novel, you know plenty of teenage hijinks ensue. The book is full of humor and heart and, before you know it, you'll have turned to the last page. I absolutely devoured Lola and the Boy Next Door and while I'm in the minority about Lola being better than Anna, I feel I have valid reasons.

First and foremost, as I mentioned earlier, I find Lola a more compelling character than Anna. Lola is relatable, particularly to young women and teenage girls who are truly trying to find themselves and their own identity - something that Lola struggles with throughout the entire novel. I sensed a camaraderie between myself and Lola that I know other readers who have ever doubted themselves will feel, too. Yes, the book is largely a romance book - and we'll get to that in a minute - but it was something more than that, too. But I felt it was a coming of age for Lola, too, and I certainly felt her grow through the whole book. Despite her confusion and indecision about how she wants to be defined, she makes her own decisions and doesn't let life choose them for her. And that's something that is becoming incredibly rare in teen literature nowadays. 

Now, the romance. Ah, I love me a good romance and boy this was one! I liked Anna and Etienne well enough - they were charming and cute - but I definitely felt the chemistry between Lola and Cricket in this one. From the time he was introduced, I was crying for Lola to dump rocker-boy already and get with the program. Lola and Cricket's romance isn't a fiery whirlwind like many other teen romances portrayed in YA today, but sweet, awkward and altogether complete. Perkins definitely knows her stuff. 

Did I like Anna? Yes. A Whole lot? Yes. But is Lola better? YES! If you've never read a Stephanie Perkins book yet, do yourself a favor and head to the nearest bookstore and get yourself a copy of either one. You won't be disappointed!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Heir of Fire

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
Release: September 2, 2014
Source: eARC from publisher

Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy. 

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

Heir of Fire is the third (but not the final) book in the Throne of Glass series.

And to be perfectly honest, Sarah had HUGE shoes to fill, after writing Crown of Midnight. That book was perfection. Despite not being my favorite book in the series, Heir of Fire is still a worthy addition. These books will always have a special place in my heart.

For those who haven't read Throne of Glass, this series revolves around an Assassin. After serving a year in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothian is released to compete in a competition to become the King's personal Assassin. That's all you need to know.

In Heir of Fire, we travel away from Adarlan into uncharted territory. And Celaena is on a mission.

I know that I say this with every Sarah J. Maas book, but I LOVE her world building. It's so rich, so detailed, and I am so excited that there are more books in this series. This book was a little slower paced, and it lacked the romantic aspects that made me love the first two books. Don't fret, though, dear readers: we still get to see Chaol and Dorian in action. And there's a new male character that appears: Rowan. He's not a love interest, but I have to say that he stole my heart. I loved him in the original Fictionpress draft (probably even more than Chaol or Dorian, if that can be imagined).

Anyone who has read my reviews, or discussed this series with me, know I am team Chaol. I wasn't Team Chaol in the fiction press draft, but I am now. Even so, I was frustrated with Chaol in Heir of Fire,  and I think Dorian really hit the nail on the head. Celaena shouldn't have to change who she is.  He needs to stop worrying, and let Celaena be herself. I definitely think book four will show more growth from my favorite Captain of the Guard. And I think future books will show Chaol's growth and him coming to accept Celaena for who she is.

I have to say, I really appreciated Dorian in Heir of Fire. He's grown of a lot since book one. I still am holding out on Chaol and Celaena, but I think I love Dorian--more than ever.  He really stepped up his game in this book, and he managed to show some backbone.  I think his relationship with Celaena is important, but he's a more interesting character without her as a romantic interest. He was stronger, and more of a leader in Heir of Fire, because he stopped moping and thinking about Celaena all the time.

I'm still team Chaol. I'm just not as opposed to Dorian as I was in the first two books.

And what about our leading lady, Celaena? She's in a foreign country, sent by Chaol and the King on a mission. Celaena, however, has other plans. And as she "befriends" Rowan, and begins to hone her new skills, readers will get more insight into her past. I think it's interesting to see Celaena humbled and struggling. It makes her more human and relatable. If there's one thing that that Heir of Fire does right, it's character development. This book is rich with character development--for characters both old and new.

Speaking of new characters, I have to give a shoutout to a very special new character: Manon Blackbeak. She's a witch, and the heir of a very well-to-do clan. It takes a number of pages to see how her story will eventually intertwine with Celaena's, but it will. And I cannot wait to see Celaena and Manon meet. It's going to be epic. These two ladies are absolutely fierce, strong, and independent women. Also: I want a wvyren! Now!

Heir of Fire is not a perfect book. In fact, I found the first half of Heir of Fire a bit slow and tedious, but Maas ramps up the drama and intrigue at the end. And I think most fans will be satisfied and aching for book four! I know I am after those CRAZY last few chapters!

Thank you, Sarah, for writing this amazing series! I cannot wait to see what's in store for Celaena in the next book.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review Kiss of Deception

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
Release: July 8, 2014
Source: ARC from publisher

In this timeless new trilogy about love and sacrifice, a princess must find her place in a reborn world.

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.

The Kiss of Deception is the first book in a new Young Adult fantasy series. And while I can think of a few other fantasy books that I enjoyed more, I am glad that gave this book a try.

There's nothing unique about the plot. Princesses often run away and resist arranged marriages. The main character is often "special" or the "chosen one". Love triangles are a staple in Young Adult series. These are cliches that Pearson uses, and in her skilled hands, she's crafted a story that I genuinely cared about.

Lia is the first daughter, born with the belief that she'd inherit powers. Lia knows she doesn't have the power, though. And she knows that her marriage of convenience to a neighboring country's princes is a sham. So she runs away, and settles for a new life in a small little village. While there, she meets two men. Unknown to her, one man is the jilted prince and the other is an assassin sent to kill her.

Yes, this book has a love triangle. But I think that it is handled well. Lia isn't wishy-washy, as she clearly has a preference.

My favorite aspects of this book, though, are the characters and the world. I found Lia very relatable, and I loved her faithful companion Pauline. It goes without saying that I also found the two men swoon worthy. The world, too, is incredibly rich. I have a feeling that Pearson only barely scratched the surface, and I look forward to reading more about this world.

I also have to admit that Pearson really managed to mess with my head. For the first half of the book, the identity of each of the two men are kept a secret. I had my suspicions of who was the prince and who was the assassin. And I was wrong. Now that I think about it, though, I recall hints carefully placed that identified each man. The fact that Pearson was able to trick me was impressive, and it added a bit of mystery that had me turning page after page.

If you are looking for a fun YA fantasy, this just might do the trick. It's not a perfect book, but I very much enjoyed the read.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend

Release: May 13, 2014
Source: ARC from publisher

Summer, boys, and friendships gone sour. This new series has everything that perfect beach reads are made of!

Gemma just got dumped and is devastated. She finds herself back in the Hamptons for the summer—which puts her at risk of bumping into Hallie, her former best friend that she wronged five years earlier. Do people hold grudges that long? 

When a small case of mistaken identity causes everyone, including Hallie and her dreamy brother Josh, to think she’s someone else, Gemma decides to go along with it.

Gemma's plan is working (she's finding it hard to resist Josh), but she's finding herself in embarrassing situations (how could a bathing suit fall apart like that!?). Is it coincidence or is someone trying to expose her true identity? And how will Josh react if he finds out who she is? 

Most people judge a book by their cover. I know I do this many times. But what drew me to this book was the title.

While long, the title is cute, charming, and creative.

At the Nashville Fierce Reads tour stop, Katie actually said that her idea for this book came from the titles. So there's something to be said about a good title. 

Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend is all about broken heart and mending bonds. Gemma did something awful to her friend, years ago. After a terrible break up with her boyfriend, Gemma returns to the Hamptons and runs in to her ex-best friend, Hallie. From then on, she determines to win back Hallie's friendship. Things don't go as planed, though. 

Overall, this book was a fun, quick, and entertaining read. Perfect for Summertime. I think Gemma is a very relatable character. While she is not perfect, I understand her motivation. What frustrated me, though, how many times Gemma had to "cover up" her mistakes. Unfortunately, I felt that the side-characters were rather bland. I wanted more from them, and from the Hampton setting. There was a lot of potential, and the book fell short. 

Still, that ending? So twisty! I guessed part of that twist, halfway through the book, but there was another aspect of the twist that had my mouth opened in confusion. With that cliffhanger ending, I definitely plan to get my hands on the next installment. I didn't take this book seriously, and I didn't have high expectations. Perhaps that's why I managed to enjoy the book.

ALSO,  Katie is also Morgan Matson. How did I not know this? I didn't know this until the Fierce Reads tour stop, which is embarrassing for someone like me. I don't know if this is on par with her "Morgan Matson" works, but I'm excited to read more of her work. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

by: Rob Thomas and Jennifer Grahm
Release: March 25, 2014
Source: Audiobook/Purchased

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

I only started watching Veronica Mars last year, in the midst of the kickstarted frenzy. I thought, a TV show that can garner so much love and support from fans must be good. And the fans were right. I loved the TV show, even if the third season wasn't exactly a satisfying conclusion.

But that didn't matter anymore, because the movie was going to come out and tie up all the loose strings.

Like most "marshmallows", I loved the movie and was thrilled to discover that a book series would be released. These books follow the events of the movie, so if you haven't seen the movie, then you probably shouldn't read this book. And if you haven't watched the TV show, what have you been doing with your life? Go now and watch! I promise that it will make reading this book so much more entertaining.

As for The Thousand Dollar Tan Line--it was a great book. A fun, quick, and entertaining read. I picked up the audiobook, mainly because Kristen Bell was narrated. I was not disappointed. Kristen does an amazing job with tone infection, and voicing other characters. Some were done better than others, of course, but never once was I turned off by her narrative style.

In this book, Veronica is just as strong, and determined, as ever. Support cast--Mac, Wallace, Weavil, and Dick--all return. If I had any complaints, it's that I wished to see more Weevil and Dick. Both of them could have certainly played a big part in the investigation, but each character has only one scene and that's not enough. I wanted more. I also missed Logan, even if he had good reason to not have a physical presence. Overall, the movie and this book confirmed how much love I have for Veronica, and the other characters. I was pleasantly surprised by a return of one character, and I hope she shows up in future installments. I won't say who this character is, though, because I think it's best to be surprised.

As for the plot, it definitely took some unexpected twists and turns.  There were a couple of CRAZY twists at the end, when it appeared that the case was solved. And I enjoyed every minute of listening to it unfold.  Trust me, you don't want to be spoiled.

So as a fan of Veronica Mars, I love this book. And I think most Veronica Mars fans will love it to. If you choose to read the book, without having watched TV show or film, I don't think you'll be as blown away. I don't think you'll enjoy it to it's fullest potential. After all, this book is for the fans (as it should be).

Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: The One

The One by Kiera Cass
May 6, 2014
Source: Purchased 

The Selection changed America Singer's life in ways she never could have imagined. Since she entered the competition to become the next princess of IllĂ©a, America has struggled with her feelings for her first love, Aspen—and her growing attraction to Prince Maxon. Now she's made her choice . . . and she's prepared to fight for the future she wants.

Find out who America will choose in The One, the enchanting, beautifully romantic third book in the Selection series!

There are some books that have deep meaning and emotional impact. Then there are other books that serve as pure entertainment. The One is definitely the latter.

With The One Kiera Cass has completes a trilogy that is considered a mash-up of The Bachelor and The Hunger Games. The trilogy revolves mainly around one young America Singer, chosen to be brought to the palace to compete in a competition for the Prince's hand in marriage. She leaves behind her former lover, Aspen, and finds herself actually falling for the young Prince. The question of who America ends up with is answered in this final installment, and I am overall happy with the way things turned out.

This world, set in the distant future, has fallen back into a monarchy and a very rigid "caste" system that segregates families into a line of work. For example, America's family is part of the fifth caste that makes up the artistic contribution to society.

To be honest, I had a hard time believing that this system could be in place for so many years without rebellion. To be fair, there are rebels attacking the palace, but I never got a sense that they were a real threat. There were two groups of rebels--Southern and Northern--both with different objectives. I did not find the rebellion to be as big of a threat, and I felt as if there should have been more objection and protests for change.

It is the lack of world building that makes this series seem diluted and watered down. This series is obviously more focused on the romantic aspect, rather than dystopian. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the series feel superficial.

Of course, I have to admit that these books are addicting. They are easy to read, and I actually find America to be a strong protagonist. Sure, she makes stupid mistakes, but I feel as if her actions in The One were more calculated and more mature. She wasn't as rash or reckless as in The Elite. She proved herself as a worthy candidate for Prince Maxon's hand. I also appreciated that the remaining girls got to actually bond. Cat-fights aren't as common in this book, and instead, we see friendships begin to blossom and we get a better idea of what the other girls are like. This was probably my favorite part of the book.

If you haven't read the first book, I do suggest to you give it a chance. Keep in mind, though, that is a far cry from typical dystopians. It reads more like a contemporary romance, but it's what makes the book unique. And addictive. I can see why so many have fallen in love with this series, even if I am not head-over-heels in love with it. The issues previously mentioned became glaringly obvious once I closed the book, but I can still appreciate The One (and The Selection trilogy as a whole) for entertaining me.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
Release: April 8, 2014 
Source: Published 

By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.
Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael's brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz ... something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy. 

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?

Dreams of Gods and Monsters is the conclusion to a fantasy series, and penned by the incredibly talented Laini Taylor.

I have already voiced my disappointment with Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Despite the issues, I decided to give the sequel a chance based on three huge factors:

Laini Taylor's writing is ABSOLUTELY gorgeous. And addicting. 

The world is fascinating. 

 Karou is a strong and an amazing character (when she isn't mourning/??? Akiva) 

I read the sequel, loved it, and began to eagerly anticipate this final installment. It did not disappoint.

For those who have not read the first book, this series revolves around two star crossed lovers, and a war brewing between Chimera and Seraphim. Karou, a blue haired girl, has been raised by the Chimera Brimstone. He specializes in wishes, and his currency of choice is teeth. Karou helps by traveling through portal doors, until one day, these doors cease working, with only an ominous handprint left behind.

To give any more of the plot would be to spoil parts of the trilogy, so I will just say read the book. And if you did not like it, perhaps give the sequel a chance.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters opens up by introducing readers to a new character named Eliza. She has been haunted by dreams of the apocalypse and the arrival of monsters. In this book, while war is a central plot point, romance does take a more central role. Karou and Avika, the star crossed lovers of this trilogy, are trying to work together to establish a brighter future. A future where they might be together, where there is no prejudice and animosity between Chimera and Seraphim. A brighter future for all of Erez.

There's a battle, most definitely. There's a sort-of show-down between the main antagonist, and Karou and Akiva. However, this show-down felt somewhat anticlimactic and the ending felt too drawn out. Some will feel that the ending lacks finality, but in a way, the ending does open up to spin-off tales. I would be surprised if Laini didn't write more stories centered in Eretz. I appreciate that Taylor chose to address some of the issues in the aftermath of this show-down. Too many writers like to leave their story at "happily ever after", only to leave me with even more questions.

While this book isn't perfect, there's a magic to Laini Taylor's words. Dreams of Gods and Monsters was intense, beautiful,  and ethereal. Fans of the first two books, I believe, will be happy with this final installment. And if you haven't read this trilogy yet, I believe it is worth reading, if only for it's gorgeous writing.