Sunday, March 19, 2017

Mini-Reviews: London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning, Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama, and The Next Together by Lauren James


Title: London Belongs to Us

Author: Sarra Manning

Rating: 4 Stars

I didn't expect to love this book as much as I did, but I should have known better because Sarra Manning. This entire book is a crazy roller coaster of an adventure as our heroine, Sunny, finds out that her boyfriend has another girlfriend from his previous school and has been two-timing her for the entire duration of their "relationship." Sunny starts off wanting to forgive him, but as she searches London for him, she begins to realize that she deserves a lot better. The plot doesn't seem all that revolutionary, but the people Sunny meets on her night--girls who encourage her to stand up for herself, friends who tell her that self care is not selfish, buddies who support her for who she really is, and even other girlfriends who prove that women support each other instead of putting each other down--make this a wonderful story. I love these types of strong friendships and this book passes the Bechdel test ten times over. It also has so many meaningful conversations about class, privilege, and race. Just... I love Sarra Manning. Can every YA book be this nuanced and yet still so much fun?

Title: Monstrous Beauty

Author: Elizabeth Fama

Rating: 2 Stars

Oh, this book had so much potential. I want to start by saying that, whatever my reservations with this story, I did really love the mermaid lore. Fama's mermaids are deadly and savage and I loved them. However, the story, which alternates between present-day where Hester, a young teenager, begins to investigate her family history where every woman has passed away after giving birth, and between a time years ago when Syrenka, a mermaid, fell in love with a human, Ezra, and left the ocean to be with him, leaves a lot to be desired. 

Syrenka's story is vastly more interesting than that of Hester's. For one, Hester has sworn off of dating because she doesn't want to end up like her mother and grandmother before her, which is rather faulty logic because dating someone very rarely equates automatically having a child with them. What's more, Hester's storyline undergoes some vast changes, with some rather late insta-love happening and weird details seemingly explained away such as her absentee parents and her far-too-understanding-best-friend Peter. It just never came together for me and I wasn't able to love Hester as a heroine, either.

Syrenka, though, I adored. Her story is expertly told but the mystery plaguing the novel and subsequent solution is all a little too flimsy for my liking. I'm not one for strange supernatural tales, so perhaps this is just a case of "me-not-you", but Monstrous Beauty is a novel I'd skip, fascinating folk lore and all. Take my advice and read Fama's sophomore novel instead: it's brilliant.

Title: The Next Together

Author: Lauren James

Rating: 3 Stars

I had heard a lot of praise for this novel before launching into it, but it wound up falling seriously short for me. I really love the premise of this one--a couple, separated by circumstances in every generation but they keep managing to find each other again in their next life. It's done quite well, too, with James slipping between eras seamlessly as she makes us swoon for this couple. But, where the issue crept up for me was in the final third of the novel. Our main era, essentially present-day-ish, features Katherine and Matthew as high school students. As we learn how they fell in love in previous lives, present-day Katherine and Matthew are investigating their aunt and uncle, respectively, who were married and then labeled as terrorists. Of course, they realize that they are their reincarnations but their love story, based completely upon their recollections of past lives, is flimsy at best. I couldn't root for present-day Katherine and Matthew, despite loving all of their past incarnations.

What's more, the explanations for how Katherine and Matthew remember their past is essentially non-existent. The book is written in such a way that it seems as if there is some higher time-traveling power that is watching over Katherine and Matthew and reincarnating them to save the world, for some purpose or the other. But, none of this is ever explained. I suppose I have to pick up the sequel, but I'm so confused and rather irritated by the lack of answers that I won't be launching into the companion novel. The Next Together is well-written and I'm impressed by the multiple historical fiction love stories bound together in this one, but the ending doesn't pull off this intriguing premise as much as it promises to and, by the end, I was only left disappointed.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone


Title: The Loose Ends List

Author: Carrie Firestone

Rating: 4 Stars

This book had so much packed into it that I honestly just feel like I need to re-read it because I'm concerned I might have missed something. And I don't want to have missed anything about this debut. It's strange and bizarrely unique but I can't deny that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Loose Ends List is about a family whose matriarch is dying of cancer. When she decides that her last wish is for her family to join her on a cruise around the world, they are helpless in the face of her disease. Maddie, our protagonist, loves her Gram and it's difficult for her to not only see her health slowly deteriorate, but it's equally hard for her to come to terms with the fact that the other members of the cruise are also dying. For a novel with such a morbid premise, there is a palpable sense of humor underlying these pages. It isn't bogged down by its subject matter but rather it celebrates the life of its characters and I commend Firestone for walking this fine line with aplomb.

Surprisingly, this book is about traveling and discovering new places and putting yourself out there, no matter how much time you have left. It's about family and holding on and learning to forgive and move on. It's about facing your fears and owning who you are, regardless of your sexuality or relationship status. There isn't a lot of friendship drama, here, but Maddie and her cousin are as close as sisters and their evolving relationship passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Maddie's family dynamics, not just with her Gram but with her mother and father and brother, are all sources of thoughtful, remarkable characterization. Her romance with Enzo, the son of the cruise company owner, is deep and heart-breaking, but also open, trusting, and full of growth for both of them. Maddie forces Enzo out of his shell and, in turn, Enzo shows Maddie what a relationship built on equality and trust can be like.

But there is so much more that I loved about this novel. I loved its honest, open conversations about sex. I loved its inclusion of an older generation of characters who we often overlook and like to pretend don’t exist in YA. I loved the difficulty with which Maddie makes bonds with those dying on the cruise ship and has to cope with that grief. There is so much grief, in this book, but there is also so much to be thankful for and to celebrate—Firestone really, truly doesn’t make this a tragedy and for that, I loved it most of all. It’s a really different, unique novel and not everyone will love it, but I certainly did. A re-read is in my future, not to mention a close stalking of Firestone’s future releases. You can bet I’ll be pre-ordering them at the first chance I get.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab


Title: A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3)

Author: V. E. Schwab

Rating: 5 Stars

You can read my review of the first book in this series, A Darker Shade of Magic, HERE.

A Conjuring of Light was everything I hoped for and more. For me, this series has gone from a whimsical, adventurous fantasy tale to a thrilling story with brewing darkness to, now, epic fantasy. Schwab has transformed her trilogy from a more light, exciting novel that is a pleasure to read and re-read to a darker, more serious tale where the stakes are high and the repercussions are higher. This final installment loses none of the charm, wit, or humor of the first two books but it is dark, throughout, which makes for a thrilling finale but A Gathering of Shadows nevertheless remains my favorite.

That being said, I loved this book. And I love this series. The first 10% or so is high tension, heavy action as Schwab picks up where her torturous cliffhanger left off. Then, the darkness settles as the Red London we've come to know and love is transformed. What I love about Schwab's writing is that she strikes the perfect balance between action and contemplation, darkness and light. We delve deeper into the minds of the King and Queen, Maxim and Emira, as well as into Holland's past and getting the chance to understand these secondary characters better was an unexpected treat. I didn't think I'd come to care for them as much as Kell or Lila or Rhy, but I did.

Schwab further challenges each and every one of her characters in this story. We've seen Kell put the test, time and time again over the course of this series, and Holland as well, but this time we see Lila and Rhy, Alucard and Maxim, Emira and Tieren, all put to the test. It's not easy but it's a worthwhile journey. Kell and Holland aren't forgotten for, as always, these two Antari are tried and tested. The challenges facing these characters in this finale seem insurmountable but the conclusion--the second half of this story--is all fast-paced action and sacrifices, grief and bloodshed, and I couldn't put it down.

I set out to devour this novel slowly, and to a large extent I did. But I sped through the last half of this novel and I feel bereft and strangely alone now that this seductive series is over. I will miss it, terribly. And while I will read and re-read these books again and again, nothing can compare to the feeling of first flipping through these pages. If you haven't already picked up these books, do it. They'll change your life and your heart will never quite be the same again; these books have replaced my prior favorite books--that's how good they are. Anoshe.