Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: A Mad, Wicked Folly

I saw A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller making the YA book  blogger rounds back when it was released in January and I was intrigued. I asked my blogger and library friend, Natalie, to put in a request for me at the library and they ordered it! Yay! I'm really glad I got to read this book. I found it to be so different than any YA book I had read before. That might not be true for everyone but, as a fairly newbie YA reader, I hadn't read a historical YA book with this much depth and with such a gripping story before.

Here's the synopsis:
Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.       
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?
I didn't realize how much of the story would follow the suffragette movement. That was more than fine by me (I really don't know enough of that history) but I wish the synopsis had mentioned it just a little more. For the most part, the book was about Victoria trying to escape the golden cage that is her life. Eventually that leads her into the suffragette world and she learns how important the movement is.

There is a romance in this book, which isn't surprising, and I loved it. Vicky is the daughter of a wealthy family and there are certain expectations that comes with that life. One of those expectations is marrying well. Her family sets her up with a boy who doesn't seem to be horrible so she thinks the whole arranged marriage thing might be ok. Enter PC Will Fletcher. He's the copper she meets while unintentionally getting involved in a rally. He's also a gorgeous boy that she can't wait to draw. I couldn't see how things would work out for the two of them so I was on the edge of my seat until the end!

While I loved reading this book, I feel like it paints a bit of a rosier picture of what things would have been like during the Edwardian time for women like Victoria and the suffragettes. I know novels tend to do that a lot so perhaps I'm being too critical.

One of the great things about this novel was that Vicky was an art lover and an artist. There aren't many YA characters, especially historical characters, who are artists and it was really interesting to read about what it could have been like for a young woman who wanted to be an artist. Basically, it's a battle. Women weren't meant to be educated and I couldn't imagine not being able to go to school to do what I love (not that that's painting but you know what I mean!). I was intrigued by the paintings that were mentioned and I liked that the book made me look up and learn about the art and artists that showed up in the book.

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller was a really enjoyable read and I think those who read it (and I think many should) will need to be aware that, while this novel is rooted in fact, it's just a novel. Do more reading on the suffragette movement to get the real story. Basically, if the synopsis grabs you in any way, read it. I think you'll like it!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: All the Bookish Things

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly meme created by the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish. They created it because they're "particularly fond of lists" and since I also enjoy lists, I've decided to participate in this fun feature.

I found this week's Top Ten Tuesday to be both easy and hard. It was easy because I just hopped over to my Pinterest boards and picked the bookish things I loved from my many pins. But, it was hard because I want so many bookish things! The criteria I used for this list was: would I want this to be gifted to me for my upcoming birthday? Would I be over the moon excited to receive it? The system worked well. I limited this list to actual things - clothing, jewellery, and other nifty items. I didn't include any prints, not because I don't have any that I love, because that would make this already over ten item list even longer. If you want to see ALL the bookish things I love, you can check out my various Pinterest boards. The links will lead to the site where the item is sold.

Three Broomsticks - I love the design and I love Butterbeer. 
Rock Stars - Obviously. Especially awesome because Austen is on the shirt.

Fuck Off, I'm Reading - Really, who hasn't thought this before?
Lined page - Simple but so unique.

Anne of Green Gables - There are many scarves out there but I love this one.

Read - I adore this necklace. Just love it.
Bookish - Really, everything from the BookFiend shop could be on this list.

Wingardium leviosa necklace - I don't love gold but I DO love this necklace.
Wizardry bracelet - I love how everything works together in this bracelet.

Ravenclaw glass - This shop has a ton of awesome stuff but I love my house's glass!
Flourish & Blotts - This is one of the HP stores I'd LOVE to go into. I'd settle for the tote.
Candles - This shop has a ton of awesome candles but I love the sound of these two scents.

Candle - Again, this shop has many choices but I chose Dauntless because it smells like cake.
Grammar teacups - As a book nerd, I hate when people mess up your/you're. So these are awesome.
Jane Austen figure - Need I say more?  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Just Destiny

I read a lot. Obviously. I like to think that I'm quite good at realizing which books aren't up my alley so I don't end up agreeing to review a book that I know I won't end up loving. Turns out I'm not as good as I thought. I recently read Just Destiny by Theresa Rizzo and I didn't love it. There was nothing really wrong with it, per se, it was just not my kind of book. And I hate when that happens. I just want you to know that going into this review. I'll explain why I didn't like certain things and you can decide if those are things you like. The book actually has a really great average rating on Goodreads right now (just over 4 stars) so I appear to be in the minority.

Here's the synopsis:
What would you do if your whole world fell apart?
Jenny Harrison made some poor choices in the past, but marrying Gabe was the best thing she’d ever done. They had the perfect marriage, until a tragic accident leaves Gabe brain dead and her world in ruins.
Devastated by grief, she decides to preserve the best of their love by conceiving his child, but Gabe’s family is adamantly opposed, even willing to chance exposing long-held family secrets to stop her. Caught in a web of twisted motives and contentious legal issues, Jenny turns to best friend and attorney, Steve Grant. Steve wants to help Jenny, but he has reservations and secrets of his own.
When something so private and simple turns public and complicated, will Jenny relent? What is Steve willing to sacrifice to help Jenny?
It may be unfair but the first thing to put me off this book was the prologue. Confession time: I hate prologues. I hardly ever see the point of them. I just want the story to start! Plus, major plot points are sometimes given away and I feel like the story would have been stronger had those things not been hinted at or divulged. This particular prologue confused me. It was all about Steve and his girlfriend Annie. I knew the book was mostly about Jenny and her husband so I wasn't entirely sure why we were seeing this part of Steve's life. Minor thing but I went into chapter one confused and that's not a good thing to be when you start reading a book.

Like I said, this book isn't bad. It hits all the emotional notes - especially the heartbreaking ones. Rizzo wrote some exceptionally hard scenes and did it well. I felt the grief Jenny had when she was mourning Gabe. I could feel how conflicted Steve was with his feelings for Jenny. I was angry on behalf of Jenny, and others, when certain secrets were revealed during the court battle. If I hadn't been able to feel these things alongside the characters, I wouldn't have liked the book at all.

The aforementioned court battle was another thing that made the book less than appealing for me. It seemed to take forever (and I know court cases can go on forever but I don't want it to feel like it when I'm reading about it) and, since it took up a good chunk of the story, made the whole novel drag. It also got into a lot of sort of scientific and moral issues (I don't really want to say much because it would take away from the beginning of the story) that got slightly confusing.

There were some other things about Just Destiny that took away from my overall enjoyment of the novel (I just didn't get the progression of Jenny and Steve's relationship) but, for the most part, I do think others would like it. Theresa Rizzo's novel shouldn't suffer simply because I've realized that I just don't enjoy heavy women's fiction novels.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: The Chase

I'm not a huge mystery reader. I don't like blood or gore or being scared witless. But, give me an amusing caper with some twists and turns and I'm happy. Bonus points if there's a bit of a steamy romance (hey, I'm a chick lit lover...can you blame me for enjoying a touch of romance?). I read and enjoyed the first book in Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg's new series last summer (you can read my review of The Heist here) so I was looking forward to The Chase, the recently released second book. It was just as much fun to read and I enjoyed it.

Here's the synopsis:
Internationally renowned thief and con artist Nicolas Fox is famous for running elaborate and daring scams. His greatest con of all: convincing the FBI to team him up with the only person who has ever caught him, and the only woman to ever capture his attention, Special Agent Kate O’Hare. Together they’ll go undercover to swindle and catch the world’s most wanted—and untouchable—criminals. Their newest target is Carter Grove, a former White House chief of staff and the ruthless leader of a private security agency. Grove has stolen a rare Chinese artifact from the Smithsonian, a crime that will torpedo U.S. relations with China if it ever becomes public. Nick and Kate must work under the radar—and against the clock—to devise a plan to steal the piece back. Confronting Grove’s elite assassins, Nick and Kate rely on the skills f their ragtag crew, including a flamboyant actor, a Geek Squad techie, and a band of AARP-card-carrying mercenaries led by none other than Kate’s dad. A daring heist and a deadly chase lead Nick and Kate from Washington, D.C., to Shanghai, from the highlands of Scotland to the underbelly of Montreal. But it’ll take more than death threats, trained henchmen, sleepless nights, and the fate of a dynasty’s priceless heirloom to outsmart Fox and O’Hare.
It was interesting to see what kind of caper Kate and Nick would get up to. There's always a dangerous element (Carter, the guy they're going after, is one badass dude with some ruthless killers on his payroll) but, for the most part, the action is all about a con or two. I like that there's a cleverness to what Nick does and that he's not a mindless criminal. He has a reason for doing what he does and has a knack for understanding what other criminals would do as well. It's interesting to read about, that's for sure.

Of course, as enjoyable as the book was, it was pretty formulaic. I suppose you can expect that with genre fiction and I should expect it knowing that Evanovich's other series, the Stephanie Plum series, always follows the same sort of format. It's not a bad thing. In fact, I purposely read this book on a Sunday afternoon when I needed a quick, fun, and easy read and it totally fit the bill. Win all around!

I like that this book is funny. There are lots of little clever remarks and it doesn't take itself too seriously. As in the first book, there was a Harry Potter reference (love when adult books reference HP). And this really amusing quote that, as a Canadian, had me laughing out loud:
How bad could a Canadian prison be? It was in Canada. Canadians were civilized.
- page 199 
As I mentioned, there's a romance aspect to the story - though it doesn't take over the story nor is it particularly romantic. Kate and Nick are attracted to each other but have so far managed to avoid jumping into bed together. Though Nick is trying really hard, Kate seems to have magnificent willpower. For now, the will they, won't they is fun to read about but I won't be able to handle it for too much longer!

If you want a fun and mysterious book to read, check out The Heist. It is part of a series but you don't really need to read Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg's first novel. It's good if you want more background but this book stands well on its own. I'm still looking forward to the next book!

*I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, Random House of Canada, in exchange for an honest review.*

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: The Here and Now

One of my favourite series of all time is Ann Brashares' The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Because of that, I've read her other novels. And I keep reading them even though I haven't loved them. I was pre-approved for the newly released The Here and Now on NetGalley so I thought I'd give her another shot. While I didn't love this new novel, I didn't outright dislike it either.

Here's the synopsis:
An unforgettable epic romantic thriller about a girl from the future who might be able to save the world...if she lets go of the one thing she’s found to hold on to.
Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.
This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.
Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.
But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves. 
I don't really read sci-fi and The Here and Now sort of felt sci-fi-ish to me. That might be my biggest issue with it. And since it's pretty personal issue (obviously others like sci-fi), I encourage you to look past it...but I'm still going to talk about it! When I read non-contemporary novels, I tend to go more for fantasy novels...magic, dragons, wizards, you know. Time travel is a sci-fi concept I can get behind, though. In a way, this book was actually kind of a mix of contemporary and dystopian. Prenna came from the future and her world was all but destroyed by an awful pandemic. Instead of fighting her way through that barren world, she, and many others who also escaped, went back in time for a do-over, of sorts. It was interesting to read about what the world was like in the future (they came from 2080something or 2090something, I can't remember) and how they were trying to fix things. Trying to connect the dots and figure out how to save the world was stressful, in a good way. 

To generalize, it wouldn't be YA without a love story. I have to say that I liked Ethan more than Prenna. Not really sure why. Maybe because he was more relateable...I can't imagine losing almost my entire family, going back in time, and then being constantly monitored. I did like that Prenna was rebelling as that showed that she had a spark in her. Part of that rebellion included spending a lot of time with Ethan, which was a problem as she is forbidden from being emotionally or physically intimate with anyone from the present day. Bummer! I liked that Ethan automatically accepted Prenna once he learned all the details of her past (his future..weird). Even though they're trying to save the world, they're still teenagers and it was kind of fun to read as they figured out their feelings for each other.

Random note: I actually really like this cover. It's different than the YA covers we've been seeing and I think it really conveys the feel of the story. Plus the colours are pretty. :)

I have to say that I went into reading The Here and Now with low expectations, since I hadn't seen very many good ratings or reviews. Like I said, I didn't love Ann Brashares' latest novel but I didn't dislike it. This was one of those hard reviews to write because I was so middle of the road with my feelings. I think if you find the synopsis interesting then you might enjoy the book. In the meantime, I'm going to keep hoping for another Brashares book that blows my socks off like the Sisterhood!

*An eARC of this novel was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Books

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly meme created by the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish. They created it because they're "particularly fond of lists" and since I also enjoy lists, I've decided to participate in this fun feature.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday was a tricky one. What books do I find unique? This is tricky because not everyone will agree with what unique means. And what is unique to one person might not be to another because the first hasn't read the same books the second has. Does that make sense? So, in my list, there may be other books like them out there that I just haven't encountered yet. Feel free to leave suggestions for similar sounding books in the comments! In this list (of eleven because that's just how it happened) I've only included books I've read in the last two years (with one exception). What are some of the unique books you've read? This list is in chronological order, from earliest read to last and the links lead to my review.

Arranged - Catherine McKenzie
This is my exception to the read in 2013 or 2014 rule. This is also my very favourite McKenzie novel. I think it's unique because of the main story line...arranged marriages through a service, like a dating service. But more permanent. Sounds bizarre but this is an amazing novel.

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
I've read fantasy before but the story and world Morgenstern comes up with...just, wow.

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
This was a totally different take, I think, on a reincarnation story. It's so good.

Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan
The location of this novel played a large role in its uniqueness for me. I can't recall ever reading a book that takes place in Singapore and I liked reading about it.

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion
This whole book was unlike anything I had ever encountered before but it was mostly main character Don who made things unique. He was a socially awkward (likely undiagnosed Aspberger's) professor who was looking to meet a wife that met all of his requirements. This was one of those books that I didn't expect to love but I did.

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
There are all sorts of "shy girl starts college and then makes friends" stories out there but I found that Rowell's character Cath was unlike any I had read about before. She wasn't just shy. She was extremely introverted and stressed about all of her new surroundings. It was refreshing to read about a girl who really didn't have it all together.

Just One Day/Just One Year - Gayle Forman
I adored this series. I find this one unique because there's a romantic element to the story but the love interests barely spend any time together in the books.

The Orenda - Joseph Boyden
This is the only book I've read about Native Canadians. I'm sure there are others out there but I think all the accolades this one has received is warranted. It's real, which means it's brutal, and it really made me think about what life was like when the Jesuit missionaries came to, what would eventually be, Canada.

Don't Even Think About It - Sarah Mlynowski
A bunch of teens get ESP from a flu shot. Sounds totally hokey but, oh my goodness, it's so much fun to read.

A Mad, Wicked Folly - Sharon Biggs Waller (review to come soon!)
This was a really great historical fiction YA novel. It dealt with the suffragette movement in England and a young girl trying to receive an education in art. It was interesting and a great read.

Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date - Katie Heaney
There are other memoirs out there like this, I'm sure, but this new one had a voice that is equally as new, as well as being unique. Has anyone ever been this candid about not ever having a boyfriend?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Review: Shatter Me Series

I requested Tahereh Mafi's series from the library without knowing a thing about it. Seriously. All I knew is that the YA bloggers I follow couldn't stop talking about it and the fact that Ignite Me, the final book in the series, was being released soon (it came out on February 4). These bloggers haven't really let me down before (see: Divergent) so I thought I'd give Shatter Me, Unravel Me, and Ignite Me a chance. The first two didn't thrill me but the third book was so much more enjoyable.

Disclaimer: There's a possibility this post won't make a whole lot of sense because I started it right after reading the first two books in the series but before reading the third. Why? Because I knew I had awhile to wait before getting Ignite Me from the library and didn't want to forget what I thought about the first books. So, forgive me if things sound weird!

Like I said, I didn't know a thing about this series before I started reading it. A friend actually asked what they were about after I posted this picture on Instagram:

And I really didn't know what to tell her. All I knew was that a lot of people were loving the series so I thought I'd give it a go. Once I started reading Shatter Me I realized it was dystopian/post-apocalyptic series (can someone explain what, exactly, the difference is between those two. I feel like I should know!). Once I had that figured out, I, unfortunately, started comparing it to similar series - Divergent, Delirium, even The Hunger Games. I say unfortunately because I didn't want to compare them. I wanted these books to stand on their own and wow me with their story. They didn't, not really. All I could think about was how they had to fight the leaders of their messed up world, which included training for the inevitable battle, as well as how a romance played into it, and how all these little things compared to series I had read previously. It's not fair, and I know it (and I've been yelling at everyone who's been saying the Divergent movie is the same as The Hunger Games...ugh, pot meet kettle), but that's what happened. I'm not saying I didn't like this one. I was interested in the story and the characters and I wondered where Mafi was taking things and I can see why other people adore these books.

But wait! I wrote most of that last paragraph before reading Ignite Me. And guys? I fell in love with that book. I think it had a lot to do with Juliette's personality (which I'll get into later) but also just the storyline itself. I was completely invested and read it in one sitting in an afternoon because I just couldn't stop.

I found it interesting that Juliette played the part of the reader, sort of. She had been institutionalized for so long that she had no idea what was going on in the outside world. The reader was equally clueless so Mafi was able to explain details without doing a dreaded info dump. It flowed and whenever the reader was confused, Juliette was also confused and another character would explain the importance of what was going on.

Continuing with Juliette, she was an interesting heroine. She was so timid and unsure of things in the first two books (which might have played a part in why I wasn't loving the books) that it was hard to really root for her. I could understand where she was coming from (being terrified that you can kill someone with a single touch can really screw you up) but she didn't make for a particularly riveting character. That all changed in Ignite Me. Juliette found her spark and her drive and her anger. It was kind of awesome. She also realizes how much power she has and what she can do with it. It was really interesting!

I had a wee bit of trouble with the instalove between Adam and Juliette. I could kind of understand...Juliette had never been able to touch someone before and suddenly she realizes that not only is this (gorgeous) guy interested, but he can touch her. That's some heavy stuff. Plus, they're thrown into an adrenaline-filled situation and, of course, that's going to heighten their feelings. I just wonder why relationships like this have to take place and why they need to happen so freaking quickly. I couldn't always understand why she'd risk her life for Adam and why she'd literally destroy things because she thought he was in danger. Maybe I'm just too old to get the teenager love thing anymore or maybe I just don't understand how these series work, but I wish the relationship had been toned down just a bit. *reads Ignite Me* Ah ha! All these issues were addressed in book three. SO glad. I'm ridiculously happy with the way things turned out. The love triangle (minor spoiler but you should be aware going in that there's a love triangle in this one) was super intense and, I admit, I may have teared up a time or two reading the final book. So many feels. Love it! And Warner? Sa-woon. Fun fact: I know Warner is blonde but I couldn't help but picture Colin O'Donoghue (Hook from Once Upon a Time) as Warner. I think it was the bad boy swagger and the fact that Warner calls Juliette "love" that really did it.

The other thing I didn't love was the way the book was actually written. It almost read like poetry (not my favourite thing in the world). Mafi used so many descriptive words and often used an unconventional structure. She also used strike throughs throughout the series. Just take a look at this picture I snapped from Shatter Me and you should understand what I mean:

Again, I'm not saying this is a bad thing but it just wasn't for me. But...once again, things changed when it came to the third book. The strike throughs were not present. I didn't find the descriptiveness to be annoying...maybe because it was toned down. I don't know why Mafi decided to change things up but my guess is that it was supposed to represent how Juliette had changed and how much stronger she was. No more questioning what she was thinking (ie the strike throughs), she was confident and more straightforward.

As for the story itself, it really did interest me. Mafi wove together a captivating tale and I couldn't help but become invested in the outcome. It also helped that she threw in a few twists that I didn't expect. I don't want to go into too much detail on the plot points because I don't want to give anything away!

So, since I didn't love the first two books of the trilogy, Shatter Me and Unravel Me, but did love the third, Ignite Me, what does that mean for my overall feelings toward the series? I say read them. If you think it sounds interesting, just give them a try. I sort of wish I had been able to read all three back to back to back but maybe it'd be good to read one, read a few others, read the next, read a few others, read the last. Maybe that's what made me love the third book so much...I had had a break from the series. Who knows. I just know that I loved the final book and think that many others would love this series. My next question is if I should hunt down the half stories (Destroy Me and Fracture Me). Have you read the series? What do you think of it? Should I check out those other stories?