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.