Thursday, August 27, 2015

ARC Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff


Title: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)

Author(s): Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: October 20th, 2015

Shockingly, I really did not love this book and doubt I'll be continuing with the sequel either. I adore epistolary novels, particularly when they're written by Jaclyn Moriarty, but a science fiction novel written in this format just didn't do it for me. For one, when compared to the contemporary epistolary written by Moriarty, Illuminae was not as humorous or as poignant. While the story told within these pages is stellar--and very cleverly conveyed through data files, journal entries, and chats--a multitude of other facets did not sit well with me.

1. Illuminae revolves around Ezra and Kady, a young teenage couple who has recently broken up and find themselves on two separate spaceships due to the fact that their planet was attacked. Though Ezra and Kady are broken up, much of their relationship stems from the fact that they used to be dating--and are still in love with one another despite the circumstances that wrought their breakup. As a reader, we don't know Ezra and Kady's backstory. We don't know who they are as individuals, forget as a couple, and their interactions throughout the entire first half of the novel failed to resonate with me. I just couldn't bring myself to really feel for these characters, both through their personalities--so tied up in one another, understandably so--and their situation, so far removed from anything I could even imagine.

2. A few of the methods used by these authors to convey snippets of the story felt distinctly like cheating. While I understand that there are a limited number of ways to tell this story in an epistolary manner, at times it was necessary for this to read like a normal tale. I enjoyed this--quite a lot, in fact--and wonder if Illuminae would have been a stronger novel had it not been epistolary. Kady and Ezra speak to each other through technological means and their diary/journal entries are not truly as soul-searching as one would wish, which convinced me that either than an epistolary format being unique and interesting for Illuminae, it was not necessary. Nor did it improve the story-telling in any manner. Again, however, keep in mind that this epistolary format made me feel more isolated from the story, as a reader, than a part of it so take my cautions with a grain of salt.

3. The pacing of Illuminae was FAR too slow. The events outlined in the synopsis take hundreds of pages to occur and I considered DNFing this novel numerous times. It picked up drastically by the end and I enjoyed the last 30-40% of the novel a LOT, but not enough to want to continue with this series, sadly.

I seem to be the black sheep on Illuminae so I recommend giving it a try. If it isn't meshing for you early on, though, it probably won't click for you miraculously until the end and, even then, it's only a shell of the true emotion you wanted to be feeling throughout the novel. Illuminae is certainly a unique and compelling novel; just not one for me.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Review: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White


Title: Illusions of Fate

Author: Kiersten White

Rating: 4 Stars

If you, like me, dismissed Illusions of Fate because...well, Kiersten White, then please, please give this one a chance. White's debut, Paranormalcy, released when I was just thirteen and my young, teenage self fell head-over-heels for it. Admittedly, it didn't contain a love triangle and, at the time, that was enough to get me to enjoy it. Its sequels, though, quickly highlighted the fact that White's premises was not nearly as original as I thought and neither was it nearly so well-executed.

Which is why it is a pleasant surprise for me to admit that Illusions of Fate is well-written, romantic, and surprisingly unique. White's stand-alone follows Jessamin, a young woman who arrives in a foreign country, Albion, looking out-of-place with her dark skin and black hair and resolves to pursue her education. Jessamin's relatively poor, island home is home to many women who gave birth to half-Melei, half-Albion children and Jessamin, one of them, has grown up learning the customs, language, and traditions of her father's country. A father who has never acknowledged her and a country she feels no kinship with. Thus, when we meet her, Jessamin is working with a cousin of hers, using the wages she earns to pay for a small room and her admittance into school. She is contemplating the dreariness of Albion, a country whose temperament and society are similar to our own Victorian England, when she bumps into Finn.

From the moment she meets Finn, Jessamin is the victim of a series of odd events; ravens seem to follow her everywhere, her shadow seems unusually different, and her interactions from Finn are far from typical. As it turns out, Finn is a member of the ruling elite in Albion and, like them, he possesses magical ability. Only very few are strong enough to do much with their magic, though, and as one of two extremely strong magicians, it is up to Finn to stand against the Minister of Defense who seeks even more magic. Jessamin, who is the first weak link the Minister of Defense has found against Finn, is thrown into a political war for a country she has no ties with. All Jessamin wants is out but the truth is far more complicated than she could imagine.

I loved Jessamin. Although she knows only a few people in Albion, she constantly overcomes her fear and puts on a brave front, courageously charging into new situations boldly and refusing to feel ashamed of the heritage she wears proudly on her skin. Moreover, Jessamin is not the savior of this tale. If anything, Jessamin is the liability; the only one in this political game who possesses not a drop of magical blood at all. Yet, she never lets this prevent her from learning as much as she can, thus equipping herself in the only way she knows how.

Yet, what I admire most about Jessamin's character is the fact that she never succumbs to insta-love. Finn, who Jessamin meets purely through fate, bonds with Jessamin on a molecular, magical level. Even when Jessamin finds out about this, though, she never ceases to argue with Finn for her freedom or push him to accept that she will not be a mere spectator in the situation she finds herself in. It would be so easy for White to throw these two together at once but instead, Finn and Jessamin's relationship develops at the perfect pace and their interactions--their banter, their support of one another, their acceptance of the other's cultures--all made this novel stellar.

Finn, too, is utterly charming. Not only is he sweet and kind, but his power and protective tendencies never push him over to becoming an alpha male. What's more, the secrets that surround him never made him take on a "bad boy" appeal. Instead, I simply enjoyed peeling back the layers to his personality, swooning at his maturity and capable gaze. In addition to Finn, though, Jessamin's friend Eleanor, another member of the ruling elite but one whose magical powers are greatly diminished in comparison to Finn's, is one of the strongest secondary characters. Eleanor and Jessamin's close friendship is a delight to behold and, what's more, I truly rooted for Eleanor, a young woman who is often underestimated by her brother and uncle but truly possesses far more skills than others would imagine.

If there are any flaws to Illusions of Fate it is that it is too short. I found the ending to be jarring; vividly abrupt, though I didn't mind once I realized that other readers felt the same way and no, I was not missing the epilogue in my copy after all. I also wished for more world-building, more time spent uncovering Finn's past, more of Jessamin's family in Melei, etc. I was satisfied with what White gave us, and Illusions of Fate is crafted in such a way that the reader is never missing the information they need to understand this realm, but I still wanted more from a world like this, brimming with possibility.

Nevertheless, I cannot recommend this novel enough--particularly if you're in the mood for a story that will keep you flipping the pages into the wee hours of dawn--and, naively, I hope that White will write a companion novel and return to this world, somewhere down the line.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Review: Burn by Paula Weston


Title: Burn (Rephaim, #4)

Author: Paula Weston

Rating: 4 Stars

Note: This review is SPOILER-FREE for the entire series. You can read my reviews for the previous novels in this series, Shadows, Haze, and Shimmer by following the links. 

Since I read the first cliffhanger ending of Shadows, I've been complaining about anxiously waiting for and theorizing about this series, time and time again. With each new installment, Weston both managed to soothe my fears and build them up within the span of a few hundred pages, leaving me desperate for the next installment right now. The one where I'd finally have the answers to all my questions.

And, here it is. Burn.

But, now that I actually do have all the answers to my questions, answered beyond satisfactorily, I am beginning to realize what a privilege it was to have Weston's cliffhangers living with me for a year. I can remember waking up, still six months prior to the release of Weston's next novel in this series, and just lying in bed turning over all the possibilities and burning questions and unsolved mysteries. And now, with this series at an end, I am unbearably sad that I won't be tossing and turning at night, thinking of these characters as I used to. Yet, I got what I wanted, didn't I? As they say, be careful what you wish for. It turns out, all these years, what I really wanted wasn't actually the missing pieces of the puzzle (although, believe me, I'm not complaining that I have them now!) but actually more from Paula Weston. Now.

Weston's debut quartet has been a series like no other. It's the type of collection of novels that are filled with tropes--twins, lost memories, manipulation--but they're all done so well that instead of rolling your eyes, you're actually sitting on the edge of your seat. Weston makes you lose your heart to her characters, each flawed and guilty in their own way, but she also makes you root for them and care about them so, so deeply. Burn completes the metamorphosis that her characters have been undergoing since Shadows, giving us the maturity we've been vying for and the answers we've been craving.

I wasn't sure how Burn would be written--a series of flashbacks, an extended flashback and then the present day?--but I really enjoyed how Weston structured this novel and the flow of it traveled seamlessly from flashbacks to present day and back again. It wasn't jarring, as I imagined, and I further appreciated that Weston took her time revealing these answers to us. Moreover, the true strength of this novel lies not in how cleverly the true answers were interspersed in the previous installments but, rather, in how these characters deal with the truth and accept their fate.

Burn may be Young Adult Fantasy but it ticks off so many contemporary boxes--parental relationships, female friendships, familial ties, sibling issues--that it truly shines in any genre it's placed into. What's more, Weston leaves us with the type of ending that ties up loose ends and leaves readers smiling but in such a way that there is more, here, if she should choose to return to this world and its people.

It's always difficult to review a finale because--spoilers!--but rest assured that fans of this series will not be disappointed by its ending. For those of you who haven't picked up these books yet, I cannot encourage you enough to do so. They're so much more than expert plot and world-building; they're about finding best friends in these characters and re-visiting them, years down the line, when the plot has faded away into memory but the distinct feeling of these characters and the comfort they provide have not. Although I will say that I found a plot element or two to be explained a little too conveniently--I always despise long paragraphs of revelations--overall, this was a near-perfect novel and a near-perfect series. All I can ask for is all I've been begging from Paula Weston always. More. Now.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Review: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler


Title: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

Author: Sarah Ockler

Rating: 5 Stars

I blinked hard when I finished The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, both because of the sheer perfection of this novel and in a tireless effort to keep at bay the waves of emotion that Sarah Ockler's "Acknowledgements" section had inspired. Then, after a long moment of contemplation, I turned back to the beginning of the novel and re-read it, cover-to-cover, even more slowly and with ever more deliberation than before; desperately trying to make the experience last a lifetime, not a mere few hours.

I read The Summer of Chasing Mermaids in January. Only eight months later, in the summer heat of August, am I able to finally put words to my emotions. Ockler's latest hit me like a sucker punch to the gut; I didn't even know how desperately I yearned for this book. Elyse, the beautiful protagonist of our tale, is mute. Once a singer, about to embark on tour with her twin sister, Elyse is now merely a visitor in Oregon, a sea away from her home and at an arm's length from those around her.

As a singer myself, I understood Elyse's fear, tension, worry, and pain implicitly. Yet, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids did not resonate with me simply due to the fact that Elyse and I are both singers (obviously, she is MUCH better). No, the reason Ockler's novel hit so close to home is because it forced me to think of all the people in my life--myself included--who have felt as if they didn't have a voice, at some point or the other. Elyse literally has no voice but in losing her literal voice, she loses all other means of communicating her dreams, her hopes, and her desires. And for me, watching Elyse find a group of friends she could belong with, seeing her converse with a tight-knit group of females who are both inspirational and vulnerable, reading her fall in love with a guy who respected her boundaries and pushed her to be a better person--all of these pushed me to look beyond my own limitations in life, whether they be the literal loss of a voice or something else entirely, and persevere on.

Beyond the thematic, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids ticks off all the right boxes of what I seek for in Contemporary YA. Not only is Elyse a person of color, her heritage and culture is tastefully explored. Ockler has done her research and this novel truly pays homage to the diversity Elyse represents. Moreover, Ockler is, as always, one of the strongest proponents for sex-positive YA, which I appreciate on so many levels because it empowers her characters and allows them to be, without the pressure or stigma of society. I've already mentioned a host of strong female friendships but it's worth mentioning again: Elyse has at least two close female friends throughout the duration of this novel and, what's more, she has female role models she looks up to, respects, and can confide in. It's so rare to see such a strong host of woman-power in a YA novel so I appreciated the effortless manner in which Ockler incorporated her secondary characters.

Even more than the characters, though, this is a novel of place; time, wind, and the sun. This small coastal town in Oregon felt so real to me that I Googled it. I fell in love. For Elyse, being in Oregon is an escape; a way for her to avoid dealing with her twin sister, who is still pursuing the dream meant for the both of them, and the rest of her large family. Yet, place grows to take on a whole new meaning for Elyse as she begins to fight to keep the coastal town a place for natives, not tourists. Aiding her in this in Christian Kane, the gorgeous summer boy whose boat she helps to restore and vows to sail. Christian, at first glance, seems to be the classic womanizer. Known for the string of beach girls whose hearts he breaks, Christian seemed about as far away from swoon-worthy as you could get.

But then, the guy just charmed the pants off of me. I love how his relationship with Elyse begins as a firm partnership, something built on mutual respect, and grows into a genuine friendship. I began to look forward to their interactions not for the sexual chemistry but, rather, for the insight into their lives that I knew would accompany their dialogue. Christian's younger brother, Sebastian, is also an important character in his own right and the two brothers must deal with the baggage of never being quite "man" enough for their father. I really, really loved how Ockler explored both coins of the gender difficulties in this novel; the men, who face immense pressure to act a certain way and fulfill a quota of expectations and the women, who are meant to conform to a single "type". So much of the growth these characters experience is in learning to disregard those labels and feel comfortable in their own skin; in owning who they are, right now. And I love that.

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is wildly entertaining and vividly romantic, all while being the type of YA novel to inspire teens and propel them in the right direction; the path that leads to self-discovery. Needless to say, it's a favorite; not just of 2015, but of my entire reading career. I lack the appropriate words to fully express just how much this novel moved me, but know that it did; intensely. If I had to recommend just one Ockler novel, or even just one Contemporary YA novel of 2015, it would be The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. I only recently discovered that it is a re-telling of "The Little Mermaid" and, truly, is has become a part of my world.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Monthly Rewind: July

I've always loved reading "Monthly Rewind" posts. It gives me a chance to catch up with my favorite bloggers--the books they read, the novels that stood out to them, and, most importantly, their lives. As many of you have noticed, I haven't posted nearly as much this year. In the midst of college, internships, travelling, and just LIFE, reading has never been forgotten but this blog...maybe? Either way, I want to shift the focus of this blog to include not only the books I read--honest, true reflections of novels that moved me or completely missed the mark--but also general discussion posts about my thoughts and, most importantly, the life I lead outside of the blogosphere.

I've always been a strictly "professional" blogger, or someone who has refrained from sharing much about themselves or their life on the blog. Partly because I was young when I started this blog--very young--and didn't know what to expect from the world wide web. And partly, too, because I didn't know how. But, as this long paragraph comes to a close, know that I want to. I hope that with these "Monthly Rewind" posts that I will begin, inspired by Jamie from The Perpetual Page Turner, I can become more than a reviewer; I can become a person. And, perhaps, we can become more than blogger and reader; we can become friends.

3 Things About My Life This Month 



1. I returned from South Carolina! For those of you who don't know, I spent nine weeks of this summer in South Carolina, pursuing biomathematics research. I began college intending to become a Biology Major, which swiftly switched to a Math Major by the end of first semester. When applying to internships, however, a biomathematics program seemed the perfect fit due to my immense background in biology, established quite thoroughly in high school. This past summer, though, completely solidified my love for Mathematics. South Carolina was warm and beautiful (and I'm officially in LOVE with Sweet Tea!) but the highlights definitely include getting close to the seven other girls in the internship with me and
truly pushing the boundaries of my limited mathematics knowledge. If any of you are interested in the Biology or Mathematics field or just want to talk about finding your major in college or obtaining an internship, feel free to shoot me an e-mail! :)
2. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. My grandparents are visiting from India this summer and, as you can imagine, I don't get a chance to see them as often as I'd like because they live so far away. I usually try to see them once a year--either they come here or we go there--but that hasn't been the easiest task with flight expenses and my busy schedule while applying for college. They flew in while I was in South Carolina and I've been really enjoying spending time with them and learning a few simple Indian dishes from my grandmother.
3. I made plans to study abroad. With junior year swiftly approaching, and application deadlines for study abroad programs only a few months away, I've been thinking a LOT this month about studying abroad. Where I want to go, what I want to do, how costly it will be, and all the forms I'll need to fill out to do it. Needless to say, I am committed to studying abroad and will be applying this fall. If I get into the programs of my dreams, you all will be the first to know! *fingers crossed*

Top 3 Books I Read This Month


1. These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly - Releasing in October, Donnelly's latest YA historical fiction novel is spectacular. It received a full five stars from me and you can read my review up on GoodReads, though it will be up on the blog closer to the release date.
2. Burn by Paula Weston - Yet another book whose review will be up on the blog soon, I've looooved Weston's Rephaim series and Burn, the concluding novel to the quartet, did not disappoint.
3. A Wish Upon Jasmine by Laura Florand - Just about everyone knows my love affair with Florand's novels. Her prose is decadent and her romances, set in France, are infused with depth and just so, so good. You can read my review of this one on the blog, already.

3 Most Popular Posts This Month 


1. Discussion: On YA's Tropeyness - In which I discuss common tropes which have plagued the YA genre for a few years (at least) and reflect on what I want from this genre in the future (including female role models, female friendships, diversity, etc.).
2. 2015 Favorites (So Far)! - I haven't had the greatest luck with books this past year--hence the reason this is one of my shortest favorites lists to date--but I'm hoping to change that with the latter half of the year ahead. Any good recommendations that I missed out on this year?
3. Review: Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare - One of my all-time favorite Tessa Dare historical romances (if not THE favorite of mine), I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and cannot recommend Dare enough, particularly for romances that feature headstrong, feminist females, supportive male counterparts who aren't assholes and a slow-burn, equal-footed romance.

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love


My review of Renee Ahdieh's The Wrath and the Dawn because it's one of my favorite books of the year and I want more readers to fall in love with it the way I did.

5 Posts I Starred in my Blog Reader This Month 


1. Beyond the Pages: Friend Breakups - I read this post and re-read it and then read it again. If there's anything that defines your entire first year of college, including the summer before your second year, it's friend breakups. Not just the friends you want to break up with from high school, but the friends you didn't want to breakup with between first and second semester of college and somehow...did.
2. On Becoming a Re-Reader - I've always, always, been a re-reader and reading this post put a smile on my face because re-reading...yes.
3. Perfect Opening Lines - Angie is--easily--the blogger I look up and aspire to become because her prose! But also, I just love her posts and this is a prime example of a beautiful, bookish article.
4. Why the Most Important Part of College for Women May Happen Outside the Classroom - I attend a women's college and, as such, I am fascinated by (a) women who attend co-ed universities and their experiences and (b) women's education. I enjoyed this post primarily because of how much it made me think about my own future as a woman and other women I knew who faced this same dilemma of reality when they stepped outside the classroom.
5. The Blog Most Likely To... - I was invited to join this "meme", of sorts, and couldn't come up with anything quickly enough but I really loved Lauren's post because it's so her and got me thinking about my own writing/reviewing/editing process (um, nonexistent, oops!) and, essentially, this post made me admire her more than I already do. Which is a lot. :)

Obsession of the Month


Mad Men! I've been binge-watching AMC's Mad Men like nobody's business and I am hooked! I love this show for its feminist themes and, most of all, Jon Hamm (swoooon!). But, mostly, I adore this show because of how much it forces me to think and reflect on happiness, the pursuit of happiness, and how difficult it is to truly attain it. It sounds morose, but this show is absolutely kick-ass and if you're looking for a new TV series to binge-watch, complete with superb film-making, scripts, and dialogue, look no farther than Mad Men.

Something I'm Looking Forward to Next Month 


Returning to Wellesley! I'm heading back to Wellesley on August 15th, two weeks before classes start so I can be trained as a Student Leader and help out during Orientation. My best friend is already on campus since she's been working at the Admissions Office all summer so I cannot wait to reunite with her and enjoy the campus before the Class of 2019 joins us and, most of all, before the rest of the students return. Orientation is terrifying as a first-year but as a sophomore, actually knowing the campus and having my friends with me, I can't wait!


What about you? What you have been up to this month? What are your most recent obsessions? Any TV recommendations for me since Mad Men is drawing to a close? What are you most excited for next month?