Monday, February 20, 2017

On Second Thought

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a review of a romance book by one of my favorite authors. I've been reading Kristan Higgins books since high school and if there's one thing I can say about each and every one of them, it's this: they are hilarious. They may have their sad points and their awkward points, but all of them make me laugh out loud at least once or twice. And that is amazing. So many of the books I read are depressing, even if they're really good. It is hard to write humor, and Higgins succeeds every time.

Retrieved from Goodreads
96 days ago, Kate got married. 96 days of marriage before she became a widow. Now she's living in a new town trying to work through her grief for a husband she'd known less than a year. Meanwhile, her half sister Ainsley has been with her boyfriend since college. Over ten years of the perfect relationship. And then he was diagnosed with cancer, and everything changed. He became insufferable. All she wants is to marry him and continue their perfect life. But then he dumps her. And blogs about it. And it goes viral. These sisters come together to figure out what to do with their lives and become closer in their shared pain, laughs, and wine.

I binge-read this 500-page book in two days by reading on the train, on my lunch breaks, and settling down with it as soon as I got home from work. There's something about Higgins' books that just flow so easily. The characters are vivid and funny, and there's always a spectacular secondary cast. Her last two books have fallen more in the chick-lit category than straight romance, but it's there in the background as these characters deal with their grief in different ways. And it's so realistic. They go through the stages without seeming to just be checking off the boxes. There are revelations and a scene in a douchey bar that is so satisfying I actually fist pumped while at my desk when it happened. There's hilarity and sadness and everything that is good about Higgins' books. It made me tear up, it made me laugh, it made me care for the characters. And there's delicious food and a cute puppy. I can't sing the praises of this book loud enough. Read it. Seriously. While you do that I'll be sitting in the corner rocking back and forth while waiting for her next book to come out.

Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars
Up Next: Spinning Starlight by R. C. Lewis

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Lucky Ones

The Lucky Ones by Anna Godbersen is the final book in her Bright Young Things series set in the roaring 20s. Being the history nerd that I am, I always enjoy Godbersen's focus on slang and fashion and how different social customs were between eras. Flappers wore long straight dresses with fringe and glitter, and their hair was short and wavy and might be dyed blond. It's these kinds of details that I really enjoy in my historical fiction, things that remind me of how much the world has changed and will change again. I doubt anyone in the 20s would have foreseen the rise of skinny jeans. But enough of that. On with the review! [Also, of course, beware of spoilers]

Retrieved from Goodreads
Astrid is married, Cordelia is in love with Max, and Lettie is now apprenticed to two of the biggest names in the movies. But beneath all the glitz and glamour, things are not perfect. If people find out the truth about Max, he could lose his career. Astrid's marriage is already fraying at the edges with Charlie becoming more and more erratic. And Lettie would never do anything to hurt the couple she's living with. But she finds herself more and more drawn to the husband. And it seems he might be drawn to her as well. As the summer of 1929 comes to a close, these three girls have to decide what they want with their lives and what they're willing to do to get it.

I think my favorite book in this series is the first one. While I still really enjoyed the threads coming together in this book, and it even got my heart pumping a couple times, some of the threads were sloppier than others. First and foremost: what happened to Good Egg on the night of the party!? And after all the decades of animosity, I couldn't believe that the Hales and the Grays put their feud aside just like that. It seemed too convenient in order to sweep in the new, more violent gang that Charlie was going up against. I think the fact that the Hales and the Grays had more of a gentleman's feud increased the shock to Cordelia and Astrid when the new bad guys turned up meaning business. I loved Max and Cordelia together, but was completely thrown by how that story ended up. Astrid's was better, I think. She was always more airy fairy, but the climax from the last book made her realize more how surface-level her life was. So when her story evolved into the romance I saw coming from book one, I was happy for her. She really matured and came to realize it's not money that makes happiness, but the people you spend your life with. And Lettie...poor Lettie. I wish there had been a scene with her confronting yet another man who used her to his own ends. I really was devastated for her. But luckily she was able to walk away with a promising career. All in all, a satisfying series that couldn't quite pull together everything in the end, but what an enjoyable ride getting there.

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Up Next: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Beautiful Days

This Christmas I received the full Bright Young Things series by Anna Godbersen and I finished them off in quick succession. So I'll apologize right off if I can't quite remember exactly where one book left off and the other began. As soon as I finished off Beautiful Days I picked up The Lucky Ones, so the lines are a little blurry.

Retrieved from Goodreads
Cordelia's father is dead and Lettie has been reunited with her friend after her disastrous attempts at love and making it big on the stage. Astrid is engaged to Charlie and moving in with him and her two best friends. And while they lounge by the pool and drink mimosas, it's easy to ignore all the bad things happening around them. Like Cordelia not knowing if Max the pilot ever wants to see her again. Or if Lettie will ever have the courage to audition again. Or if Charlie cheating on Astrid was a one-time thing. But in the meantime, Cordelia is put in charge of opening a new club in the city and the music and booze is always flowing. It's the summer of 1929 in New York City, and you never know what could happen.

Poor Astrid. Seriously. She lived such a privileged life and it made her so entitled and naive. But at the same time she's so loyal to Lettie and Cordelia and she doesn't deserve what happens to her in this book. Talk about shattering a world view. As for Lettie, she becomes a rising star and meets people she's only ever heard about in the papers and movies. She can be a bit insufferable, letting herself wallow in misery over the smallest things that could be fixed easily if she just expressed herself a little bit. That wore on my nerves a bit. As for Cordelia, her and Max were so sweet, and I liked how he mellowed her and gave her a different perspective on the life she had always dreamed of in NYC. Her competing loyalties between Charlie and Astrid really start to show in this book, and her thoughtlessness hurts people she cares about. I enjoyed this book a great deal, even though sometimes the naivete of the main characters was so acute it was rather painful. Still, an excellent segue into The Lucky Ones!

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Up Next: The Lucky Ones by Anna Godbersen

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Rose & the Dagger

I'll admit, I never thought of a retelling for One Thousand and One Nights. And it should have been obvious! What better retelling could there be than one where the main character tells stories to stay alive. It's a writer's dream. So when I read The Wrath and the Dawn, I loved it, though I had a few quibbles. But in the main I loved Shazi's relationship with Khalid and the revelation that it was a curse, not from someone who wanted to take over the world, but a grief-stricken father than brought Khorasan to the brink of revolt. So I was eager to pick up the sequel, The Rose & the Dagger. And I devoured it just as quickly as the first one.

Retrieved from Goodreads
With Khorasan in flames, Shazi is forced to leave Khalid behind. She ends up in the desert camp of those who wish to take down Khalid's regime, led by her childhood love. Together with her sister, Shazi does the only thing she can do: act. She has a burgeoning magic she does not understand, but it might be the only way she can save Khalid from the curse. Meanwhile, Khalid is slowly going mad. He misses his wife and he might lose his throne. These star-crossed lovers will stop at nothing to save the kingdom, and each other.

Oh my. I can't believe I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed Ahdieh's writing style. It just flows from one sentence to the next to the point where it's 2am and I forgot to eat dinner but don't even care because I need to read just one more chapter. Now, I will say that the story is not perfect. I could have done with more content about the bordering kingdom trying to destabilize Khalid. But at the same time...I don't think this was supposed to be that kind of book. In the end it was the relationships between Shahrzad and her sister, Khalid, and Despina. And can we take a moment to talk about Despina? Because I adore her. I've read all the novellas that go along with this series, and I think Despina's was my favorite. She is such a good actress. Where Shazi is all fire and passion and fierce intelligence, Despina is the snake in the grass that you invite into your home because it promises not to bite you. And then somehow it's still surprising when it does. She was magnificent and was probably the one character that could put Shazi in her place. There's also some stuff in here about magic, but the true magic was the interactions between the characters. I will absolutely be picking up Ahdieh's next series.

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars (more like 4.5)
Up Next: Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Girl in the Blue Coat

Here's another sort-of YA book. All the main players are in their teens, but I think it's shelved with the historical fiction rather than in the YA section. But for the purposes of this review, I'm calling it YA. As you can see, here we have another WWII historical fiction. I really should branch out and try a different era. If you have any suggestions, sound off! I'm always looking for new books to read, even if my TBR pile is actually over 100 titles long at this point...

Retrieved from Goodreads
Hanneke lives in Amsterdam, a city under Nazi control in 1943. She spends her day working for an undertaker and dabbling in the black market. That is, until one of her clients asks her to find something much more difficult than sugar--a Jewish girl. Suddenly, Hanneke is swept in the underground where people her own age risk their lives to spirit away people the Nazis deem unworthy. She's not sure this is a world she wants a part of, but she doesn't really have a choice now. She needs to find the girl in the blue coat who ran away from her safe house for unknown reasons and might have run straight into the Nazi cages.

This book sort of reminded me of an episode of White Collar. The premise is simple: Hanneke is given limited, strange information and must use it to find a missing girl. The setting is what is interesting about it. The Dutch underground is an under-examined portion of WWII, and the glimpse that is given here is interesting. There are some truly scary moments as Hanneke defies Nazi rule and nearly gets caught several times while trying to find a girl--a task that she reminds herself she does not necessarily have to do. One thing I was very pleased with in this book was that the romance I predicted did not evolve. It ended up being a story of friendship and perseverance in a terrible point in history. And if I got bored at times because of the straight-forwardness of the plot, I still ultimately enjoyed the tale.

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Up Next:  The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Way of Kings

I'll fess up to this right now: It took me over a year to read this book. But not because I didn't love it with every fiber of my being. No, it's because I listened to the audiobook which may be the longest thing in the world. Why did I listen to the audiobook instead of reading the book, you ask? Simple! Because I knew going in that I was going to love this book. Several people in my life had already done everything short of shoving the book in my face and manacling me to a chair to make me read it. And I wanted that languid experience I get whenever I go back and listen to Harry Potter (at least once a year). So, coupled with the fact that the audiobook has an insane number of holds on it at the library, it took me over a year to finish. Also, you may ask, this blog reviews YA. The Way of Kings isn't YA! Well, I'm going to let this one slide because Brandon Sanderson does write YA as well. And also because it's just an awesome book. Here we go.

Retrieved from Goodreads
Roshar has been at war for years, ever since the Parshendi killed the Alethi king by sending a Shardbearer after him. Dalinar Kholin, the dead king's brother, has doubts about the war. Plagued by realistic visions every time a high storm sweeps across the stone plains that make their battlefield, his status as the new king's adviser becomes ever more precarious. Kaladin is called Stormblessed, but he really has the worst luck ever. Everyone he tries to protect has died. So when he is enslaved after a battle and sent to the Shattered Plains to be part of the bridge crews tasked with laying bridges across chasms to let the army proper across, he knows it's only a matter of time before he and everyone else dies. Across the sea, Shallan studies at the side of a heretic scholar, Jasnah Kholin. She needs the Soulcaster Jasnah uses in order to save her family from destitution. But upon taking up her studies, the betrayal becomes ever more difficult to complete.

I There are no words to encompass this magnificent beast of a book. Clocking in at over a thousand pages (and apparently there are going to be 10 books), the plot is slow without plodding. The characters are so developed that I feel I would be able to pick them out if I saw them on the street. Plans are made slowly, executed slowly, sometimes failing and then having to be reworked. The past is still being unraveled, and the truth behind the history of Roshar and how the Shards came to be in the hands of humans and a dozen other things are key points of this book. There are much more detailed reviews out there of how amazing this book is so I'll try not to go on too long. There are great debates, there is a fantastic backstory for the characters, there are palpable villains and hidden ones. There are cultures that are fully developed and sub-cultures within those. The world building is the best I have ever seen managed in one book. And I do not say that lightly. I did not care how slow the book was because I knew it was building to the final confrontation and I was not disappointed and when I finished reading I just sat back and stared at a wall for like 10 minutes because I could not believe how satisfied I was with what I had just read. This easily takes its place alongside my favorite books of all time. And I hear Words of Radiance is even better. I simply cannot wait to find out how.

Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars
Up Next: Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Enchanter Heir

It's no secret that I prefer Chima's Seven Realms series to her Heir Chronicles. I've got my paperback copy of Flamecaster all pre-ordered and if the reviews I've seen are any indication, I'm going to keep loving it. Now, I nearly stopped reading the Heir Chronicles after the Dragon Heir. But I figured, hey, I'm committed to this author and I want to keep going. So I picked up The Enchanter Heir to see where the story went after it supposedly finished in The Dragon Heir.

Retrieved from Goodreads
Jonah can kill with a touch, something he discovered during the Thorn Hill Massacre that claimed the lives of his parents and baby sister. Emma grew up with her grandfather, making guitars and not knowing how she narrowly escaped the same disaster.  But now, members of the mainline guilds are turning up dead, and all eyes are pointing to Nightshade, an organization built from the leftover members of Thorn Hill. Was it really a peaceful commune, or a hotbed of experimentation on those whose powers did not fall within the guilds?

As usual, Chima's strengths come from poking fun at the existing characters from past books. Jonah is not part of the Trinity Weir community. His abilities fall outside the scope of the guilds and that makes pretty much everyone look at him with either pity or revulsion for essentially no reason. Like, it's all magic, guys, get over the fact that he doesn't have a stone in his chest. And Jonah gets that. And the story pokes at the others who don't. As usual, it's fun to see Ellen and Jack who are still my favorite of the original characters. I love Chima's dialogue about treaties and laws because it's fun to see the loopholes and logic flaws and corners that everyone gets backed into. It was also one of my favorite parts about the Seven Realms series. I enjoyed Jonah's storyline a bit less than Emma's. The guitar business and having to bounce around family and finding out more about her background was more enjoyable than Jonah's angst about killing with a touch. Though the scene where the meet and the inevitable happens was a very cool read. All in all, a decent chapter in this series, but I still have the issue of a plodding plot and characters who for the most part have pretty flat dialogue/plots. But, only The Sorcerer Heir left and then in a month I can coo over my copy of Flamecaster. Chima is still an author I really enjoy reading, but I have clear favorites when it comes to her series.

Goodreads Rating: 3 Stars
Up Next: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Monday, February 13, 2017

Cruel Beauty

I have written two books that are retellings of classic stories. The first one, Poison Ivy, is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet in a fantasy world. The second, Masque, is a retelling of Cinderella, where Cinderella is unknowingly part of an assassination attempt that takes place at the ball. For NaNoWriMo this year my story was a retelling of Swan Lake, one of my favorite stories as a kid. I've devoured every book by Marissa Meyer, have read R.C. Lewis's Stitching Snow and am currently reading Spinning Starlight. All this to say, I really enjoy retellings. It's so cool to see a classic story tweaked and warped so that when you come to the familiar fork in the path where the characters should take a left, it's surprising when they take a right. Cruel Beauty is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and it seemed appropriate to read since the Emma Watson film is coming out next month. Also, that cover, am I right?

Retrieved from Goodreads
Nyx has been betrothed to the cruel ruler of their kingdom since birth. And since birth she has been training to kill him. But when she is finally handed over to the lord, she is surprised to find he is not as evil as he looks. He gives her the ability to leave, if only she can find the answer to his question. Nyx is beguiled by the labyrinth of rooms, ever changing, in the castle, and comes to find that the evil lord might not be so evil after all.

Maybe it was the name Nyx, which reminds me of the River Styx, but the combo of medieval and Greek-like mythos in this world really threw me. Maybe it's because I listened to the audiobook and so would sometimes get distracted and miss something important, but this book didn't really resonate with me. There's some really interesting bits about pocket universe kinds of things, and the scenes between Ignifex and Nyx are pretty good. But I just had no idea where the plot was going most of the time, so the emotional beats missed a good portion of the time. I've read some really good retellings of Beauty and the Beast/East of the Sun, West of the Moon. East is probably my all-time favorite, by Edith Patou. I just didn't sympathize with Nyx. Her personality was too hot and cold to really get a read on her. But, the last chapter was really great, enough so that I wonder if maybe it wasn't the inspiration for the whole story. If the next book is like the last chapter, sign me up.

Goodreads Rating: 3 Stars
Up Next: The Enchanter Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Bright Young Things

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I'm a sucker for Anna Godbersen books. Even though I know the character development isn't the most complex, and there are so many characters and story lines that none of them get the attention they probably should, I love the lush settings and fun description of period clothing, slang, and practices. So it should be no surprise that when I finished reading Godbersen's Luxe series that I would pick up her Bright Young Things series which takes place right before the stock market crash of '29.

Retrieved from Goodreads
Cordelia Gray and Lettie Larkspur have been friends their whole lives. Lettie is from a family that never stopped mourning their vivid matriarch, and Cordelia was raised by her strict aunt who took every opportunity to tell her who disappointing her parents were. Both girls dreamed of New York City for different reasons, had different dreams. Cordelia wanted to find her bootlegger father, one of the best in the city. Lettie dreamed of being on a stage. Together, they pool their money and get tickets to a city they have only seen in films and read about in the papers. But the reality of New York City is very different from the glittering pictures. These two girls pursue their dreams and try to navigate the roaring twenties that never really made it back home. Meanwhile, Astrid, a flirty socialite continues her tempestuous relationship with Charlie Gray. It's a summer of new beginnings for Astrid, Cordelia, and Lettie, and a summer of endings.

Oh the fun of this book had me smiling. There's romance in the air and girls trying to make it in the theater while being impossibly naive, and a touching, imperfect reunion between father and daughter. What I love about Godbersen's book is that none of her characters are perfect, but she doesn't comment on it. Lettie is naive to the point of stupidity, and Godbersen lets her get taken down a few pegs because of it. Cordelia is headstrong and was always the most rebellious girl back home. But in New York she is practically a shut-in and her confidence needs to stop being a smoke screen. She, also, is naive about life in an illegal business like bootlegging. And Astrid...oh, Astrid. Flighty and charming, she falls into every pit possible when it comes to her relationship with Charlie. She is petty and is pushed around and swayed by pretty things. But all three girls have a great dynamic, and you feel bad for them as they make their mistakes. And, of course, no review of a Godbersen book would be complete without talking about the setting. In a word: fun. Gone are the gloves and fancy hairstyles of the Luxe series. Now it's peroxide bleached hair and cigarettes. While the stories aren't perfect and the characters' naivete can become annoying, I still really enjoyed the first installment in this series.

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Up Next: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Salt to the Sea

For those of you who don't know, I was a double major in college with English and history. For my history major, I focused a lot on World War II (and medieval European history. I'm such a renaissance woman). So when I read historical fiction, most often it's set in WWII. Now, I don't read a ton of historical fiction, and I'm trying to change that since as I get older settings mean more and more to me. Now, I'll try to do my best to recall this book for the review, but it has been a while since I've read it (see previous post about falling off the reviewing wagon).

Retrieved from Goodreads
In the winter of 1945, four teens work their way toward boarding the Wilhelm Gustlov, a ship that will take them away from the war. They each have their own secrets, and all have experienced the atrocities of World War II. But the road to the Gustlov is littered with the SS, with bombs, with people desperate to do anything to survive. And the Gustlov might not be the haven it seems.

It has been a really long time since I read this book, so I'm sorry if I'm not super specific here. But I enjoyed this book. I tend to like stories with many characters all converging on the same point. It can be so satisfying when all of the threads pull together and you see the big picture the author has been painting the entire time. There's something so chilling about the SS officer's letters to his "girl back home." He is a true believer in the beliefs the Reich espouses. But mostly because believing them gives him power to overlook his own shortcomings. Like he was a weakling who actually holds a very low post in the army and has a skin condition and no one likes him. The other three characters were a little touch and go for me. There's a pregnant young girl who felt rather one-note to me. But the slow reveal of her story and the reality of her pregnancy was satisfying. There's the nurse and the boy who accidentally helped steal museum artifacts. And their romance...meh. I didn't care very much. The looming setting of the war was much more interesting to me, and the reason this book doesn't get 5 stars is because it felt rather detached. Having studied the horrors of WWII, this book just didn't hit quite the right note for me. I didn't feel like I got to know the characters enough for the tragedy of the journey to the Gustlov, and then the tragedy that happens afterward to have the emotional punch. It's like when I watch the last half of Titanic. Rose and Jack mattered far less to me than the old couple holding hands in the bed as their room filled with water. So, while an interesting WWII YA, not my favorite book of all time.

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Up Next: Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen