Monday, November 16, 2015

Mini-Reviews: Katie McGarry Edition

Title: Breaking the Rules (Pushing the Limits, #1.5) 

Author: Katie McGarry

Rating: 3 Stars

McGarry's books are the type of guilty-pleasure reads I genuinely feel ever-so-slightly guilty about reading. Not only are they chock-full of the type of predictable drama romantic comedies are full of--an ex-girlfriend appears out of the blue, a more sophisticated guy is interested in your girlfriend, etc.--but they also contain a nearly sickly-sweet romantic couple. Yet, I find that McGarry's writing is simply irresistible. She makes you FEEL for her characters and though I could see the conflicts coming from a mile away, they still made me gasp and my heart squeeze in worry. It's all Standard Romance Plot but, sometimes, that's precisely the kind of novel a girl needs to forget about her finals.

Moreover, what I did really enjoy about Breaking the Rules is the manner in which McGarry writes Noah and Echo's relationship. By the end of Pushing the Limits, it seems as if these two are riding out into the sunset and living their happily-ever-after. The fact that neither Noah nor Echo are completely healed from their pasts is a relief. The fact that they haven't had sex by the opening of this novel and take time to talk about it and discuss their insecurities and wait until they're both comfortable is yet another relief. Most of all, though, the fact that their futures aren't set in stone and are subject to change is a wonderful message. At its core, Breaking the Rules is a romance novel, sure, but it also has plenty of note-worthy New Adult qualities that I support. Now, if only Noah could get rid of that terrible habit of calling Echo his siren and we'd all be that much happier...

Title: Nowhere But Here (Thunder Road, #1)

Author: Katie McGarry

Rating: 3.5 Stars

McGarry has a rare and fortunate talent in that her novels are compulsively readable. Despite the fact that Nowhere But Here takes awhile for its true plot to emerge, despite the fact that I cringed once or twice at the stereotypes and presumptions made in this narrative, despite the fact that there remains a tad bit too much angsty sexual tension (the kind where you roll your eyes and want to beat your head against the wall in annoyance, not impatience), I still managed to finish this. And, what's more, I might even be sticking around for the companion novel.

While I've struggled with McGarry in the past and fully expected Nowhere But Here to be my last venture into her work, I managed to become sucked into the world of motorcycle gangs that she depicted. I adore a YA romance that features family and individual growth and, alongside some action, that's exactly what this is. It still contains classic McGarry tropes that I don't love but, nevertheless, they aren't enough to completely drag down this narrative. If McGarry is a hit-or-miss author for you, I'd say it's worth giving this one a shot.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Monthly Rewind: October

Sadly, I am in the midst of midterm season. Again. Hence the reason I have been MIA but, I have to say, October was a rocking month! ;)

3 Things About My Life This Month

My best friend at Wellesley and I at Garba!

1. I visited my best friend since 5th Grade in NYC! It was so much fun! Admittedly, it was a whirlwind trip since I stayed over with her for two nights and then ducked home for two nights but it was so nice to catch up with her and get a glimpse into her life now. She lives in a wonderful apartment with five other roommates and they cook incredible food and are so independent, which is really different from my campus-centric life at Wellesley. Anyhow, it was a really fantastic weekend and it's so nice to now be able to put faces to the people she tells me about. (Just a clarification, she's not the friend in the picture. We totally forgot to take pics, believe it or not, but I did go to Garba this month with my friend from Wellesley and it's one of the only pictures I took this month, oops! Will take more in November!)

2. Um, party central? October was a month of crazy good parties. I don't mean a typical college party with frat boys and beer. No, I mean hanging out with a bunch of good friends and belting out to Taylor Swift while stuffing our faces with chips and guac. I mean dressing up for Halloween and playing Cards Against Humanity while discussing how to smash the patriarchy. ;)

3. I declared a  major! I am officially a math major, folks! Everyone needs a major adviser and I love my current math professor, so I set out to ask him on Monday and it kept getting postponed to Friday and by then I had stressed myself out so much. I was a nervous wreck but it was totally fine and he's my major adviser and...ahhh! *throws confetti*

Best Book I Read This Month

It's a tie between Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I read both of these on the bus rides to and from NYC over Fall Break and, let me tell you, I was an emotional wreck in public and didn't even care. Because these books. Read. Them. Now. 

Most Popular Post This Month

Mini-Reviews: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman, and After the End by Amy Plum. I don't often post mini-reviews, so I was really excited by the popularity of this post. Not to mention they're actually all fantastic, thought-provoking novels. Recommended!

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

Just Another...Book Crush! Jennifer Donnelly is one of my favorite authors ever and These Shallow Graves is so, so lovely. I hope more people check out her work!

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to in November 

1. Thanksgiving! I'm going home with my best friend for Thanksgiving, which is going to be so much fun! She has a huge family and I've never actually celebrated Thanksgiving before, since my family really doesn't do much, so I'm really excited for my first taste of a real Thanksgiving! 

2. Dober Concert! Technically, this already happened but I was really looking forward to it and (spoiler alert!) it was great! Every Fall Semester the Wellesley College Choir joins up with another Choral Society to perform together during the first or second weekend of November. This year we performed with the Radcliffe Choral Society, on Friday and Saturday night both. It was exhausting but also incredibly rewarding.
3. Diwali! Diwali is this Wednesday and I am so excited! It's one of my favorite holidays and I have some gorgeous new clothes I'm going to be wearing, which is what I'm mostly looking forward to. ;) But, Diwali is always such a beautiful night, filled with lights and sparklers. I always miss my family most during Diwali but I know I'm going to have a great time.

How were your Octobers? Did you dress up for Halloween? If so, what did you go as? Anyone do any travelling like I did? What are you looking forward to in November? What are your Thanksgiving plans? Let me know in the comments below--I can't wait to hear! :D

Monday, October 26, 2015

Just Another...Book Crush (#20): These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Just Another...Book Crush! is a monthly feature where I invite an author whose book I've recently reviewed and loved to write a guest post and share their three latest book crushes. It's a feature I'm starting mostly because I'm often very shy to approach authors, especially ones I admire, and also because I love reading guest posts since, more often than not, they convince me to pick up a book even when the reviewer cannot. 

I am so incredibly excited to be welcoming Jennifer Donnelly to the blog today. I read her sophomore novel, Revolution, when I was in high school and quickly followed it with her debut novel, A Northern Light, and loved them both. Revolution is one of the first books to have made me cry and A Northern Light is still among one of my favorite novels. Donnelly writes rich, realistic, and headstrong female protagonists who fight tooth-and-nail to fulfill their dreams. They're the type of heroines I look up to and emulate and I am so grateful that her books are out there to inspire young women. Her latest, These Shallow Graves, is just as feminist, romantic, and suspenseful as I hoped so I'm thrilled to be promoting it on the blog today. Welcome, Jennifer! :)
Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.

Ghosts from the past haunt the characters from THESE SHALLOW GRAVES, and they also haunt me. But I'm not afraid of them. In fact, I love ghosts. They help me do my work. Researching for THESE SHALLOW GRAVES, or any historical novel, is all about digging up ghosts. 

I tend to start my research by reading, broad, historic surveys of the time period I'm writing about. Then I go deeper, into primary sources -- autobiographies, diaries, memoirs, cookbooks, guides to etiquette or housekeeping, advertisements, newspapers and magazines that were published during the time my characters lived. In these sources, you can hear the voices of the past, and how they spoke, both formally and informally. You can get a sense for social proprieties, social roles, and how people were expected to conform to them. 

I also go to museums to look to look at jewelry, paintings, clothing, toys, dishes, furniture, and carriages. The Victorians were fond of hair jewelry -- lockets, rings or necklaces in which a lock of hair from a deceased loved one was kept. Holding a pendant in my hand that contains a twist of hair from a child reminds me how closely the Victorians walked with death. 

I also spend a lot of time in the place I’m writing about trying to absorb what remains. Old buildings speak volumes about the people who lived or worked in them. They can tell us what those people thought was beautiful and inspiring, how they worked, and how they lived. 

My chief duty as a novelist is to get the souls of my characters down on paper. Accuracy with names, dates, and places is crucial -- and good research provides it -- but letting the ghosts in, as well as the facts, is also important. It's what brings the dead back to life.    

Just Another...Book Crush! 

Winger by Andrew Smith
Because it's hilarious and real and the voice is true.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Because Robinson speaks to the soul like no one else.

Plenty More, a cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi
Because his food is so good, and the pictures are so gorgeous, that I drool just looking at them. 

Thank you so much for stopping by the blog, Jennifer! The attention to detail that Jennifer describes during her research process truly pays off in the historical fiction she writes as they always feel incredibly authentic and well-researched. I am extremely picky about the world-building of my novels, even non-fantasy novels, which is why I enjoy Jennifer's novels so much. I haven't read any of her latest book crushes, though--have you? If you haven't read my review of These Shallow Graves you can do so right here. I want to know what you all think of this post, this novel, Jennifer's books, and just historical fiction in general. Any good recommendations to tide me over until Jennifer's next book releases? Let me know in the comments! :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1) 

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 5 Stars

Six Reasons Why Six of Crows Is LIFE: 

1. A HEIST! 

If you haven't already heard by now, Six of Crows is a heist novel. I've heard it compared to Ocean's Eleven, which I haven't seen, but I'd liken it to The Avengers since there's an epic round-up of our team and an utterly satisfying journey as they learn to trust one another and work together, despite the fact that a handful of them are strangers. Moreover, I can promise that Bardugo doesn't disappoint. Not in the details, not in the plot twists, and definitely not in the sucker-punches to the gut (you know, that feeling you get every time you're reminded of how this is an impossible task and the team assembled is guaranteed to fail).

2. Legends 

Every one of the six characters who make up our heist team are legends in their own right. There's Kaz Brekker, the criminal mastermind and genius who is unstoppable. There's Inej, the Wraith, who is as silent as a shadow and can travel anywhere, anyhow, without being detected. There's Jesper, whose guns never miss their mark. And so on and so forth. We're introduced to these characters by their legends--the stories that surround them, the rumors that circulate about them--but by the end, we've slowly started to peel back the layers and expose that they, for all their impossible feats, are mere people. I love how Bardugo does this, so gradually, and it works perfectly. It forces us, as the reader, to become invested emotionally and then just keeps twisting the knife in deeper until our hearts are bleeding and our breath is becoming shallow and we can't imagine our lives before we knew about these characters; I am so in love with all six of them, it's desperate.

3. Multiple POVs

Bardugo writes Six of Crows from a third-person perspective, which works perfectly as she alternates between narrators. Each of the six have their turn, time and time again, and though I usually shy away from multiple perspectives, Bardugo perfected it. Not only is it ideal when we're working with a heist, especially one as elaborate as this where the team members need to be split up, but it's also ideal when peeling back the layers of a group of six people who don't trust each other, who don't know where they stand with one another, and who all want money desperately. I never thought the POV shifts were abrupt, unexpected, or unwanted so kudos to Bardugo for walking that fine line flawlessly.

4. Politics, Slavery, and Discrimination

Shadow and Bone revolved mostly around Grisha politics, centered in Ravka and working its way inward through the Second Army and the different ranks of Grisha. With Six of Crows, we've entered a whole new underbelly. Admittedly, some parts are familiar--Grisha, Fabrikators, Heartrenders, etc.--but others are relatively new. Bardugo expands this world so much, including different races of people and different customs, some of which despise the Grisha. I found it interesting to see how these six individuals, each with completely different--and tragic--backgrounds interact with one another despite their prejudices and pre-conceived notions which are, perhaps surprisingly, harder to let go of than we may think. Bardugo never info-dumps this onto us, instead revealing to us bits and pieces in multiple narratives. As a lover of fantasy, and particularly fantastical politics, I ate this all up.

5. Romance

No one can slay me with a romance quite like Bardugo can. Remember how, in Siege and Storm, your heart was breaking page after page because Mal and Alina so desperately wanted to be together and so clearly were destined to be together but their rank and circumstance and past just couldn't allow them to be in the relationship they once dreamed of? And it was so painful because of how unfair it was? Because neither of them could really do anything except give up a part of themselves? And how could we ask them to do that? Well, that's how the romance is in this novel. Except times fifty. So...just get ready for a lot of blood and tears. But it's so, so good. My favorite romance is, obviously, the one that seems utterly doomed and full of strife and peril but, I hold on to the smallest shreds of hope, even as the sexual tension kills me, slowly. There's another romance, too, one which I think is less subtle and I love the depth and complexity that this one has, too. Moreover, I strongly suspect there's yet another romance, hidden deep in small phrases and tiny gestures, so though I may simply be fangirling for no reason, I ship yet another couple in this novel (and I will go down shipping them, so they better become a prominent couple soon, Bardugo)!

6. Villains

Every good novel has a good villain--or two, or three--and this book is teeming with formidable villains. Ones I want to see go down. While the Darkling was more like Draco Malfoy--extremely attractive, to the point where you didn't want to hate him, and not entirely evil--the villains in this novel, much like the main characters, are flawed and without remorse. I love the fine line Bardugo emphasizes between hero and villain because, our crew? None of them are heroes. All of them have lied and stolen and cheated their way to where they are now and though they may have survived out of circumstance, none of them are without guilt or blame. Yet, Bardugo makes us root for them and believe in them, much like real people whose pasts are messy but whose futures still hold hope. We've gotten glimpses of our villains in Six of Crows; strong and potent glimpses. I am sure they will come further into the forefront as the series wears on and I cannot wait to meet them, head-on, with Kaz and his team.

If you need more than six reasons to pick up Six of Crows, I promise I can come up with them for you. This is a novel that features disabled characters, diverse characters, mature characters and if you're searching for a New Adult-esque fantasy novel that explores the ideas of a New Adult novel--finding your place in the world, albeit through mistakes and strange situations--then Six of Crows fits that bill too. It's so many incredible, wonderful, surprising stories and genres in one that I am truly astounded by it. Easily one of the best books of the year, if not the best, this is one I couldn't put down, classes be damned. (Although, Bardugo, I might be begging for more than just the next novel at this point. It would be nice if you could give me my GPA back too...)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Carry On

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I didn't expect to love Carry On nearly as much as I actually did. Admittedly, I've been shipping Simon and Baz ever since Fangirl but mostly, I came away from Fangirl dying over Cath and Levi (obviously). I adored their story and enjoyed Simon and Baz's interactions along the way. But Carry On? Oh. My. God. I will die with this ship. Seriously. Rainbow Rowell characterizes Simon and Baz perfectly, tracing their violent past, their "hatred" for one another, and transforming into a completely believable, utterly adorable, entirely sexy romance.

Now, that's not to say that Carry On is a perfect novel. To me, its strength lies in the fact that I fell so hard for these characters and their interactions. In fact, my rating is a primarily emotional one: I love Simon and Baz, separately but mostly together. What I will say, criticizing this book, is that it feels like a part of a whole. Loosely based off of Harry Potter, Rowell's "fanfiction" lacks the length of Rowling's epic. We don't know the intimate details of Simon's past six years; his relationship with the Mage (think: Dumbledore) as it developed over time, his friendship with Penelope (think: Hermione's brains with Ron's loyalty and his large family) or his relationship with his girlfriend, Agatha. While Rowell does an excellent job of truly fleshing out these core secondary characters, especially as they relate to Simon, there are still gaps that are felt in the narrative.

Additionally, Rowell's world and plot is quite different from Rowling's, though I'd argue quite complex, but it's difficult to get a strong grasp on it since we don't have prequels of world-building the way we do when reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I really love Carry On for what it is but when compared to other fantasy novels, it definitely comes off as lacking. Moreover, the deaths and emotional aspects of this book were relatively lost on me, both because I didn't have a strong connection to all of the secondary characters (some who play really important roles towards the end) and also because the romance feels were so overwhelmingly in this narrative. Now, that's not to say that the romance takes over or is the focus but it's a huge part, at least in that the romance contributes to the growth of the two leads immensely.

I still, though, loved Rowell's latest. It's my favorite of her YA line-up, though Fangirl comes in a close second (though Attachments is still unbeatable IMO). Carry On was un-put-down-able for me and I read it all in one sitting, devouring Simon and Baz's story and their incredible romance. I love nothing more than copious amounts of sexual tension, fantastical elements, and an epic reveal that changes the trajectory of the plot and Carry On had all those elements. Plus, Rowell drops in plenty of diverse characters, which I appreciate so much and her writing, as always, is impeccable. If you're a fan of Fangirl this is obviously a must-read but if you're a fan of romance, in general, or are just craving a different type of love story from the all-too-familiar, then Carry On isn't to be missed. I want more romances like this: where I can root for the main characters regardless of gender or sexual orientation or race and just be caught up in the love. One thing I'm certain of, having finishing this novel, is that carry on I simply cannot; I'm going to be stuck in this world for a long time to come.