Saturday, April 11, 2015

BR: All The Rage

by Courtney Summers

I've read every novel (minus novella) that Courtney Summers has published, and I feel like I have this "bond" with her books - mostly because she debuted the year I got into blogging (2009) and I remember reading reviews of Cracked Up to Be and then buying the book for myself just to know what the big deal was (it was a BIG deal). I've been a fan ever since; I've got all her books on my bookshelf back home and all of them are brilliant (several 5-star reads!).  I'm gonna plug an interview I did with her a couple years ago because that was on my blogging bucket list (click here!), and I fondly say that she is the "plus one" to my holy trinity of YA authors.

Wow, that was a long intro. Let's get to her book.

Summary (goodreads):

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous.But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive? 
**

My Thoughts

Before I start, I want to mention how important this book is. Summers brilliantly tackled difficult themes and the current discourse around rape, and I want to say that All the Rage is a book that should be read and discussed and thought about. It's a book that is especially relevant in our current cultural climate, where the realities of rape culture are horrific (among many other things), ad Summers intelligently explores the complexities and consequences of our societal standards.

So what about the book? Many good, some not as wonderful.

This first bit is a bit of a rant on the structure as opposed to actual bookish parts: The novel is split into a sort of "Now" and "Before" and "After" type of thing, but I really had some issues with it. Claiming a passage as "Now"sets up a reader to expect certain things, and it can help the reader get into a mindset of timelines, of setting up a story, to expect information that can fit into what "now" should be like. I promise you that I read this book carefully... because I wanted to throw my hands up in exasperation, I was so frustrated. If "now" is NOT the "now", why in the world would you label it as such? I just hated how unnecessarily confusing it is. It's the very first thing that pops up, and it completely throws off the first third of the book. Two weeks before what? Before the "now"? Well, apparently not... The reason I have such harsh feelings about this is that I feel like the confusion I was feeling really hindered my enjoyment and ability to be sucked into the novel immediately. Okay, moving on. That might've been an overreaction, sorry.

The characters... I liked Romy. I liked her a lot, she was well written, gritty, fierce, and very, very raw. And hugely unlikeable at times, but it's part of the package, and it's what makes her stand out. She's a sympathetic and complex character right from the start, Summers has some truly spectacular prose that makes Romy become this very REAL person. I think Summers' writing is her biggest strength, and it is through the fact that the writing is so well done that it actually shields the flaws of the book. The secondary characters just "okay". They have moments to shine, moments to spit out the hard truths or reveal the darkness and cruelty of human beings, but they don't feel as fleshed and nuanced out as I would have hoped. They feel well-placed and well-written, but fall into "prop" mode to move the story along. I get it -- it's Romy's story (rightfully), but I would have liked to see something more (what a vague phrase, I know).

The mystery... okay, in order for a good mystery to work, I personally think there needs to be certain elements: 1) it needs to be interesting, 2) I (the reader) need to care (I just made those up off the top of my head).
Interesting? Yeah, I guess. Not tremendously so, but it gets the point across.
Did I care? Ummm, I guess. Except this is where I felt the book ran into trouble-- it couldn't decide what it wanted to be. Does it want to be an examination and commentary of rape culture and young women? Did it want to be a mystery? Did it want to a character exploration of PTSD? It probably wanted to be all these things, and while it worked on certain levels, it also didn't. The mystery just lacked heart. Romy had heart, the mystery did not, if that makes sense. Romy has such a complex relationship with her peers and Penny and her community, but it never felt that Romy was emotionally invested in the mystery for the sake of the mystery-- therefore, I as a reader did not *really* care either. What I DID care about was how it affected Romy, and in that sense, Summers definitely succeeded in making me invested in her character.

I've briefly touched on the writing, but to nobody's surprise, it is superb. It's unforgiving, and deserves the highest of compliments.

It's a book that may be ambitious, but is such a welcome addition to the very relevant discussions we must have as a community. Romy Grey is worth everything and brings the reader into her intimate reality, but at the expense of the overarching mystery. But I dunno, even after writing that, I don't mind. I was always about the characters anyway*.

Well done again, Courtney Summers. You haven't disappointed me yet. Thank you for writing this book.


"You should have believed me." -- the one line that just brooooke my heart. 



8.5/10 m - I was frustrated with the structure/set-up, and wasn't as engaged with the mystery plot. I also feel like the marketing/summary for the book is a tad misleading. However, I loved the writing and the characters and the incredibly important themes of All the Rage. It's very, very good, and I'd highly recommend all of you to read it. Also, damn, that cover is PERF.



*I read this book last year, and while the plot doesn't really stick with me, I can still remember the emotions and the writing style. The details might not be there, but I still remember how the book made me feel.

author website / twitter / tumblr

Friday, March 6, 2015

BR: Landline

by Rainbow Rowell

3 down, 1 to go... anyone have a copy of Attachments?

Summary (goodreads):

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn't expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?


**
My Thoughts

Rainbow Rowell is a disgustingly talented writer.

Am I the right demographic for this book? Probably not. I'm not married, for one. I'm not in love, for another. In any other author's hands, these characters would have felt over the top and terribly cheesy to me (I'm cynical like that), but Rowell really sold it. I believed in Georgie McCool and her imperfections and desperation to make things right.

I remember when I met Rainbow Rowell- she was in Canada for her Fangirl book tour, and during the 45 seconds you get to chat with the author as she signs your books, I remember telling her how Eleanor & Park (my favourite read of 2013) made me believe in love. It was real then, and reading Landline was like a reminder of how well Rowell could make these things feel real. There's just something about the turns of phrase that she uses, how it feels so intimate and real- like it's a small story but the stakes are still so high, because this is life beyond a first kiss and a boyfriend. She also writes some incredible dialogue.

I didn't think it was perfect - the story started snagging somewhere around the last third and it just didn't completely click for some reason; I felt that as it was crossing the finish line, it had already lost its momentum.

Reviewers had mentioned that they didn't find Georgie likeable, but I just found her to feel incredibly alive, and with that came the validation of her emotions and actions and difficulties. I kind of liked that the magic phone was never really explained, although it's a bit of a cop-out, it worked within the story. And oh, how I adored Neal and his dimples (I need to learn to have his temperament).

This is really a love story, and as someone who dislikes love stories, I liked this one a whole lot. It's not for everyone though, because it's the type of story that won't always work for everyone. It's not perfect, but it's very different, very well written, and very, very good.


8.4/10









source: library
author website / twitter / tumblr
Angieville's awesome review just because

Monday, March 2, 2015

BR: The Winner's Crime

by Marie Rutkoski
The Winner's Trilogy; book I

The Winner’s Curse was one of those unsuspecting books that really swept me off my feet- I had such a book crush on it, especially since it left me DYING for a sequel.

Summary (goodreads):


**contains SPOILERS for book I!**




The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement…if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.
**

My Thoughts

So, The Winner’s Crime.

!!!

Let's start with the good bits- the best bits- which are the characters. I loved Arin’s character development, The Winner’s Curse is mostly from Kestrel’s point of view, so it was really exciting to get to learn more about Arin. I liked the character traits he embodied this time around that (mostly) couldn’t be seen in book 1, such as his lack of self-preservation, his risky need to push limits. While he was definitely more complex as a character, I found him frustrating as well-- there was a bit too much push-pull (although we can all agree, his situation really isn't ideal).

It was like the book was filled with these maddening moments where readers are teased over and over again, until I stopped feeling that stirring of surprise and longing for something to just happen already. I'm still a fan of Kestrel, though I had some issues with her INABILITY TO JUST GET WITH ARIN ALREADY (wait what? did I say something?). I liked the new characters introduced—the Emperor is a delightfully awful person (although a bit too familiar), Verex seemed sweet, and Tensen was such a great surprise. Also, Kestrel’s dad deserves a sentence too: here you go, General Trajan.

Where the book failed to earn five stars though, is the plot. The pacing was great, but the plot itself just felt messy at times. A mixture of too many things going on (Empire, Herran, Eastern lands), plus the subplots which theoretically ties well into the plot, but were executed poorly (like the trail is set… just awkwardly, but the final reveal is no less satisfying). Like, there’s this whole part with Arin that felt very “good not great”. It definitely falls to sequel-syndrome, in the sense that it feels like a bridge between books 1 and 3, but I’m also a little wary of what book 3 will bring—I think the plot will be a major make or break factor for the final book in the trilogy. It also calls back to how The Winner's Curse (book 1) felt more contained in terms of both setting and plot, and thus felt more tightly wound and better executed.

Writing? Well done, for the most part, although there was still a bit too much tell-not-show.

So overall, I very much enjoyed reading this sequel, mostly because I adore the characters—Kestrel and Arin. Rutkoski did a fine job keeping their character motivations in check, but there were just other aspects of the book that just didn’t hit the right notes.

8/10 – because it was a valiant effort, but not quite perfect. Rutkoski expanded her world and cast, but at the (minor) expense of plot and secondary characters. Kestrel and Arin are lovingly frustrating (THAT ENDING), but hey, I can deal with that. I can’t wait to deal with that.

The Winner's Crime is released March 3, 2015! 








source: e-galley
author website
series website

My mini-review of book one, The Winner's Curse. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

BR: All the Bright Places

by Jennifer Niven

TFIOS meets Eleanor & Park is lofty praise, but I don't usually listen to blurbs like that. Instead, I saw how highly rated this book was on goodreads + its subject matter + the other author comparisons... which made me so incredibly stoked to read it (I actually purchased it instead of waiting for the library, that's how badly I wanted it). But of course, this comes with high expectations.

Summary (goodreads):

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
**

My Thoughts

A lot of my thoughts have to do with things I wanted from this book. Perhaps it is a bit unfair to go in with high expectations, to want to be overwhelmed and impressed, to wish for something spectacular. I thought this was it, this would be the one to blow me away. But, well, it wasn't.

To put it in perspective, I got more upset during the acknowledgements than during the book itself.

My reasons for not loving this book has less to do with the book, and more to do with my personal reactions, in a true "it's not you, it's me" reaction. I can recognize how objectively, this book is well done- the main characters are incredibly complex, the writing is whimsical and fitting, and the plot was overloaded with quirkiness.

However, for the life of me, I just couldn't connect with Violet, and at the end of the day, I think that's what is needed for a reader to fall in love with this book. I wasn't really on board with Finch until maybe the halfway point. There wasn't that personal emotional investment in these characters, and I didn't feel like I needed to flip the pages faster to make sure these people are going to be okay at the end-- that feeling, the urgency just wasn't really there, and I think that's what I wanted (and why I was disappointed). And the thing is, I can't really give any reason why - which is why I'm not faulting the book.

What I did like (love) was certain beats of the book. I feel like the 'beats' in the novel (the word just fits, to me, it means like a small chunk of a chapter where things kind of expand for a moment - seriously emotional parts, particular turns of phrases, specific paragraphs of especially powerful writing) were very well done. I could feel myself being pulled in for a second by something Finch does, or something Violet says, but then I'll fall back as the plot continues moving along. I do want to comment on how much I liked Niven's portrayal of Finch - his Awake and Asleep and inbetween, all-consuming feelings were well done-- I liked that Niven wasn't scared to go places with her characters that made my jaw drop (this is true).

There were also parts of the book where I just couldn't really buy into Finch and Violet's romance (and couldn't stand Finch's pushiness, although I understand it's part of the character). It felt very high-school and very insta-love at times. I wish there were more development with the Eleanor aspect, I'm not sure how, but I didn't feel like the closure part hit the right notes for me.

Lastly, I definitely want to discuss how mental illness is such a vital part of this novel - and how well Niven dove head-first into these serious issues. I respect her book's portrayal of the consuming thoughts that an individual is NOT at fault for, the ways she describes fighting and fighting against something that feels so overwhelming and inevitable. It made that big "thing" that happened not feel off, and ultimately made this book heartbreaking and Remarky-able.

7.8/10 - because the characters just didn't do it for me, and with that, I couldn't get as invested in the book as I wanted to be. Perhaps it was my high expectations, but I'm left a bit disappointed. That said, even though it didn't completely connect for me, I'm still singing praises for this one.








source: bought
author website / twitter

Thursday, January 22, 2015

BR: Everything I Never Told You

by Celeste Ng

This novel topped Amazon's Best Books of 2014... and I'm like, oh cool, I guess I'll read it. Plus it's not YA, so huzzah for stepping outside comfort zones!

Summary (goodreads):

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart
**

My (brief) Thoughts

Tears and tears.

There's a lot to love about this book. The characters are complex and intriguing; they carry the story as we flit through histories and grief and the moments in life where perspectives clash and misunderstandings happen. Ultimately, it's a book about histories that shape individuals and the dynamics that hold a family together or tear them apart.

The writing was a little heavy handed at times- Ng's prose sometimes felt too 'tell' instead of show, especially regarding James and Marilyn. However, she shines when really creating the suffocating atmosphere of the Lee household, and setting the stage before and after Lydia's death. Each character had his or her own motivations and complex relationship with Lydia, which made the story richer and Lydia's death that much heavier. I appreciated Ng's refusal to shy away from the racial aspect of the novel and the harsh realities befell upon people of colour and intolerance of society, and felt particularly realistic given the time period and setting.

The story is quiet and beautiful and sad, it's about people and their desires and dreams and promises kept because of love. Oh, and tears. Definitely recommended!

8.4/10









source: library
author's website / twitter