Friday, September 11, 2015

Review: 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers

Title: 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survie Inside the Twin Towers
Authors: Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn
Publisher: Times Books
Genre: Nonfiction
384 pages
Release Date: 2006

Everyone has their 9/11 story. I was a junior in high school and first heard rumors that something was happening as I was standing at my locker in the hallway. Later, my chemistry teacher would tell us what she had been told not to tell us: a plan had struck the World Trade Center. At lunch, my brother and a friend of mine, who had a car, came and found me saying they wanted to go home. So I checked out through the office and went home, clutching my little permission slip that said "Reason for leaving early: national emergency."

Little did I know at the time that 10 years later, I would move to New York City, where the events of 9/11 have yet to become as distant in New Yorkers' memories as they have for the rest of us who had only been indirectly affected and watched from a distance. In the book, 102 Minutes, they often reference the 1993 WTC bombings and note that by 2001, "even if the memory of that attack had lost some of its vigor, it still slept fitfully in every pore of the place." That same sentence can now just as easily reference the WTC attacks that occurred 14 years ago today.

Here I've heard first-person accounts from coworkers of their experiences on that day. People who had views of WTC on fire from the safety of their own buildings and people who had to walk all the way uptown to get home and people who lived nearby and had to show ID in order to get onto their own street. Here in NYC, if a building has a gas leak and explodes or if a subway train derails, it's inevitable that a local news reporter will interview a witness who says "The first thing I thought of was 9/11." It's never far from anyone's minds here - in fact, it's nearly impossible to forget it when you can look downtown from almost anywhere and see the new Freedom Tower slowly inching its way up into the sky.

But back in 2011, I was just on the cusp of 16 and at that age, I wasn't all that interested in the news. Of course I put it on as soon as I walked into my house that day, but I mostly just remember wishing my family would get home and be safe. I saw the constant replays on the towers falling and I heard the incessant talk of terrorism and war, but after a couple of weeks I was no longer glued to the tv. As a result, I paid no attention to reports that were released and discussed in the years to come - reports about the structural integrity of the buildings, blueprints designed and based only loosely on building codes, flaws in communication amongst the rescue teams...the list goes on.

102 Minutes cobbles together hundreds of interviews, phone messages, emails, emergency transcripts, and oral histories to give you a timeline of what happened to all of the very real people who were trapped in, escaping from, and ultimately dying in the Twin Towers during the 102 minutes between the first plane hitting and the second tower falling. This book is everything you'd expect and yet not at the same time. I knew I would get to read personal first-hand and second-hand accounts of what happened in the towers that day. I did not know I would get to read about technical aspects of the buildings and why they fell despite several people's adamance that they could withstand a plane hitting them. I expected to hear survival stories of people taking the stairs all the way down, but I never thought about the people who got stuck in elevators and knew nothing about what was going on the entire time. (By the time one guy got out of an elevator in the north tower, the south tower had already fallen and he didn't even know yet that airplanes had crashed into them.)

102 Minutes highlights the bravery of so many New Yorkers, and not just the first responders, while also highlighting the faults of the construction and why things went from bad to worse. The deaths on that day could never be justified, but it all did still lead to better standards when it comes to the construction of skyscrapers and the planning of fire safety and escape routes. I was surprised by some things and then moved by others. This book managed to take an event that saturated the news for years and turn it back into something that is very personal. It took buildings full of faceless people and gave them names and personalities and stories of their lives.
I can't recommend it enough.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: Eve Trilogy

Title(s): Eve, Once, Rise
Author: Anna Carey
Series: Eve Trilogy
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: YA/Dystopian
Release Date: 2011, 2012, 2013

Sixteen years after a deadly virus wiped out most of Earth's population, the world is a perilous place. Eighteen-year-old Eve has never been beyond the heavily guarded perimeter of her school, where she and two hundred other orphaned girls have been promised a future as the teachers and artists of the New America. But the night before graduation, Eve learns the shocking truth about her school's real purpose and the horrifying fate that awaits her.

Fleeing the only home she's ever known, Eve sets off on a long, treacherous journey, searching for a place she can survive. Along the way she encounters Arden, her former rival from school, and Caleb, a rough, rebellious boy living in the wild. Separated from men her whole life, Eve has been taught to fear them, but Caleb slowly wins her trust... and her heart. He promises to protect her, but when soldiers begin hunting them, Eve must choose between true love and her life. 

-taken from Goodreads

This was another dystopian series that I picked up at random. When I first started Eve, the first book, I wasn't sure how I felt. The writing felt like it was geared to a much younger audience than, say, The Hunger Games. It threw me off, but I did like that the story appeared to be a nod to The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood (which I recently reviewed). Not only was the plot similar, but the book actually opens with a quote from The Handmaid's Tale, making it clear that Carey knew what she was doing. The first few chapters progressed much faster than I had anticipated. It felt like the author was rushing me through some key points so that she could get to the good part: ok here's your main character, she lives in a school, oh and there's this other character who's breaking out and on the same night Eve finds out the truth and breaks out too. I swear that's all just in the first couple of chapters.

However, once Eve's journey begins, the book finds a good pace. I really enjoyed all of the characters; I thought they were all well written and diverse and relatable. The way the world and the government were set up made perfect sense and I loved reading about her days spent in the wild.

Now here's where things get interesting to me: I thought the second book, Once, was the best in the trilogy. Let me repeat that. The MIDDLE book of a trilogy was MY FAVORITE. This has never happened before and may never happen again. In this book, Eve's journey takes her the Sand City (no spoilers on how or why) and there happens a major twist that I did not see coming. I'm a sucker for a good twist and I ended up finishing this book in just a few hours as a result. I also loved how much Eve grows emotionally in Once. She really starts to take care of herself and make good decisions and even when she's forced into situations beyond her control, she doesn't just lay down and take it. She makes the most of what's thrown at her and doesn't break.

On the heels of the awesomeness of Once comes Rise, ironically named as the story actually descends into blahness. The story starts to have that rushed feeling again and it's as though the author got tired and said "ok now this happens, this happens, and this happens." The most disappointing part was the ending. For the majority of the book, you pretty much know what the big climactic ending will be, and then it's almost no ending at all. It feels like a huge loss when Carey basically just cuts you off from the scene you've been waiting for. I'm trying to come to terms with it and not let the ending ruin the entire series. I keep going back to how good that middle book was and then I feel ok with imagining my own ending.

I have to give the overall series 3 hearts. That middle book kept it from falling to 2 and the ending of the third book kept it from rising to 4. And so it goes.

Buy it: AmazonBarnes and Noble

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Review: Down the Rabbit Hole

Title: Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny
Author: Holly Madison
Publisher: Dey Street Books
Genre: Memoir
352 pages
Release Date: June 2015

A former girlfriend of Hugh Hefner describes how her years inside the Playboy Mansion went from a fairytale of A-list celebrity parties to an oppressive regime of strict rules, scheduled sex, and a total loss of identity, so much so that she even contemplated suicide.
-taken from Goodreads

Hello, everyone! I do apologize for allowing summer to steal me away for a bit. It didn't stop me from reading but it did keep me from talking about my reading!

To get back into the swing of things, here's a review about a more recent book all about the life of Hugh Hefner's former #1 girlfriend, Holly Madison. I, for one, had marked the release date for this one in my calendar (judge if you must). When I was in college I was obsessed with The Girls Next Door on TLC and Holly, Bridget and Kendra often kept me company while I was studying or doing homework. I was fascinated by each of them as people in addition to being fascinated by their way of life - how utterly accepting they seemed of this girlfriend hierarchy they had with a man who was old enough to be their great-grandfather.

I found this story fascinating. Holly had a lot of interesting facts for us that I'd never heard before. For example, Hef doesn't own his mansion, but instead rents it from Playboy, paying per bedroom. She also talks about her time as the low girl on the totem pole, back before the tv show came around and the only people who knew much about Hef and his girlfriends (all 7 of them!) were the people in LA who would run into them when they went out on the town.

Holly paints Hef as a controlling, manipulative borderline sociopath, which honestly isn't that big of a surprise. He's certainly an odd duck. What I had the hardest time with was Holly's own story. I struggled to find empathy as she talked about how lost she got in that world and how unhappy she was and how she saw this life as her only option. I know some people in this world get trapped after making wrong decisions, but I (fortunately) am not one of those people and so I had a hard time feeling bad for her. It's also very obvious that Holly is no professional writer - I had to laugh at some of her attempts to sound like she knows how to write a book. But I'm genuinely happy to know that she found happiness in the end.

Overall, it's kind of hard to rate this book since my rating is so subjective. I personally was thrilled with the sordid goings on and the spilling of secrets and the explanation of Holly's feud with Kendra, but if you have no interest in Playboy and the people who have been involved with that enterprise, then you will care less. So I give it 4 hearts (minus 1 because of how average the writing was and because I get it won't be everyone's cup of tea).

Buy it: AmazonBarnes and Noble

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

Title: The Handmaiden's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Fawcett Books
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
395 pages
Release Date: 1986

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife. She may go out once a day to markets whose signs are now pictures because women are not allowed to read. She must pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, for in a time of declining birthrates her value lies in her fertility, and failure means exile to the dangerously polluted Colonies. Offred can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name. Now she navigates the intimate secrets of those who control her every move, risking her life in breaking the rules.
-taken from Goodreads

I've recently decided to expand my horizons here in NYC and get out there to try and meet new people. One of the ways I'm doing that is I've joined a book club! I'm very excited about it and the book for this month is The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood.

I'd never heard of this book, even though it appears to be very popular, especially in the feminist community. It's a dystopian story written before dystopian became the craze that it is now. What set it apart for me is that the big change in society only happened 3 years ago. Most dystopian novels I've read occur years after the world as we know it ends, but Offred (the main character) remembers a time when she had a normal life with a husband, a child, and a regular job. It was odd to focus more on the people involved in The Change* and what they would have to go through.

Offred's way of telling the story was kind of disjointed with rapid changes in topic and even a few different versions of one story. But I thought it worked - as a Handmaid, she had a lot of time on her hands, and whose mind doesn't wonder when you're just sitting with nothing to do? And also, who doesn't think of alternate endings to moments in your life? We do it all the time as humans, so it was interesting to see that aspect of human nature played out.

Offred was an interesting character in that she seemed both beaten down and yet strong at the same time. She's clearly given in to her circumstances and yet she's willing to go against the rules here and there...but only a little. I can't imagine her ever taking large steps in helping herself, unlike her friend Moira who rebels against everything. This is no hero story, merely a person telling you a story. In fact I would imagine the ending is very controversial with people either loving it or hating - I loved it. Although the end of the book startled me, I thought it was very appropriate to the tone of the rest of the book. In fact, looking back, I really should have seen it coming.

Well done, Atwood.

*official dystopian term

Buy it: AmazonBarnes and Noble

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Review: Matched Series

Title(s): Matched/Crossed/Reached
Author: Ally Condie
Series: Matched Series
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA/Dystopian
Release Date: 2010, 2011, 2012

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

-taken from Goodreads

Once again, I'm going to review a series as a whole instead of doing each book individually. When all the books in the series have already been published when I start reading them, then I usually finish them in under a week - it seems silly to post a separate blog post for each one 3 days in a row.

The Matched series was very interesting for me in that I finished it having no idea how I felt about it. I don't think I've ever finished a book or series and not been sure whether I liked it or not.

Matched, the first book, had me completely hooked from chapter one. The idea of every aspect of your life (from the food you eat and the clothes you wear to the person you marry and how many children you have) being decided for you by the government was so intriguing. I was fascinated by these people's lives and the way they seemed to just blindly accept everything they were told.

Condie does a wonderful job of making the reader see how easily our own world could turn into this one. As a result, the poignancy of Cassia's feelings toward creativity and what little art she's allowed to experience was amplified by my own feelings toward art - I couldn't help but think about how I would feel if I were limited to only 100 paintings or 100 songs. Thanks to our technological advances, our world has become indundated with art...anyone can write a story, sing a song, or draw a picture and thousands of people could see it online somewhere by tomorrow. The Matched series reminded me to try and truly appreciate the opportunities I've been given to be able to freely create and view beauty in my world.

I leave you with a quote from Crossed - it's my favorite little passage in the whole series because it's about love and it's so true.

"Everyone has something of beauty about them. In the beginning for me, it was Ky’s eyes I noticed, and I love them still. But loving lets you look, and look, and look again. You notice the back of a hand, the turn of a head, the way of a walk. When you first love, you look blind and you see it all as the glorious, beloved whole, or a beautiful sum of beautiful parts. But when you see the one you love as pieces, as whys—why he walks like this, why he closes his eyes like that—you can love those parts, too, and it’s a love at once more complicated and more complete."

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Review: A Sea of Stars

Title: Sea of Stars
Author: Amy A. Bartol
Series: The Kricket Series
Publisher: 47North
Genre: YA
320 pages
Release Date: March 2015

Eighteen-year-old Kricket Hollowell was looking for her place in the world when she discovered that the universe was bigger—and more dangerous—than she had ever dreamed. Now, whisked across space to the planet Ethar, Kricket learns that her genetic ability to see the future makes her a sought-after commodity…and the catalyst for war between her star-crossed parents’ clans. According to Alameedan prophecy, one house will rise to power and the other will be completely wiped out, and Kricket’s precognition is believed to be the weapon that will tip the scales.

A target of both the Rafe and the Alameeda houses, Kricket finds protection—and a home—in the arms of Trey, her Etharian bodyguard-turned-boyfriend. But her visions of what’s to come disturb her deeply, especially since she must discover whether the gift of foresight will allow her to rewrite the future, or if her fate is as immovable as the stars.

-taken from Goodreads

This is the second book in The Kricket Series. I read the first one, Under Different Stars, months ago and really enjoyed it. It led me to read Bartol's Premonition series, which is all about angels and fallen angels and lots of other creatures, but I personally think The Kricket Series is a lot better. It's better written with stronger characters and just feels like the author didn't have to work so hard make a YA book relatable to teens.

The story involves a sister planet in another dimension that's similar to Earth. I loved the terminology Bartol came up with for this other world's vocabulary. There are lots of slang words and I can't even imagine how she came up with them. I love Kricket and her whole attitude of not allowing things to just happen to her. She takes control of her life as much as possible and gives in to circumstances when she knows she needs to.

This particular book, as opposed to the first book in the series, is packed with action. Literally packed. I think at least the first half of the book is nonstop craziness with no breaks in between. It was good in that it was fast paced but I almost had to sigh with relief when Kricket finally got a break from running around and got to relax for a just a second. Still, at least it didn't fall into the Middle Book Syndrome category. I enjoyed it just as much as the first, the storyline wasn't weak, and I can't wait for the last one to come out!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Interview: Tracey Martin

Author: Tracey Martin
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Sci-fi
Books: Another Little Piece of My Heart, Miss Misery Series, and RedZone Series

Yesterday I blogged about the release of Revive, the first book in a new sci-fi YA series (you can read my review here). The author Tracey Martin let me read her book early and pick her brain a little! It's very hard to discuss the specifics of this story without revealing major spoilers, but we managed to find some things to talk about.

Not only do you write young adult fiction, you also throw in science fiction and fantasy. What steered you toward these specific genres when you started to write?

I’ve always loved fantasy and science fiction. Epic/secondary world fantasy is my favorite, and so it was the first genre I tried writing. But after a couple attempts, I realized I found it much easier to immerse myself in someone else’s made up world than in my own. I moved on to writing stories set more in the real world and discovered on the way that my writing voice skews young, so setting out to write YA just made sense. My non-YA books actually started out as YA, but I knew the YA ages weren’t working for the stories I wanted to tell so I had to make the characters older. I think all my main characters end up having a lot of YA in them. Figuring out who you are seems to be my go-to theme.

In Revive, Sophia has amnesia right from the start. Where did the idea for that come from?

The entire idea for Revive actually came to me while watching a science fiction movie. I can’t remember the title, but I was getting very bored with it. Halfway through I just had the thought that I could have made better use of the premise. Of course, Revive ended up being nothing like the movie except for the idea of alternating timelines. The amnesia itself was just a convenient way to pull that aspect of the story together. I was on a big spy/thriller kick at the time, and so many spy stories make use of amnesia as a premise.

Was it more difficult to write the story with the amnesia factor thrown in there? Did you have to approach the writing process any differently than usual, as far as having to outline or plan ahead?

Ugh, yes! I always outline because if I didn’t, my stories would never go anywhere. But for this, I needed to basically outline two stories that built on each other until they came together in a way that made sense and sprinkle in clues, red herrings, and twists—and gah. It was so painful. Then I showed a version of it to my agent at one point, and she told me it was too confusing and suggested I pull it all apart and reassemble it, which I did. After that, I vowed I’d never write a story like that again. And I didn’t—until I wrote the sequel. But now I mean it, never again!

I love hearing about an author’s process – do you have a specific writing spot you prefer?

Other than my house, no. I’m so easily distracted that I can’t write in public places, or with the TV on or music. I can edit, but I can’t write. I wish I had a nice, dedicated spot in the house for it too, but I don’t.

Who was your favorite Revive character to write?

I’m going to refrain from saying the name, but definitely my villain. Villains are almost always my favorites. Most of us are taught our whole lives what’s right and what’s wrong, and we want to do good things. What makes a person do something evil then, how they break free of that teaching, and how (if) they justify their actions—that fascinates me. Although, in this case, getting inside Sophia’s head also gave me an interesting way to tackle the idea.

 Which character do you feel you relate to the best?

When you have a story packed with badasses, it’s hard to relate. I’m going to have to with Audrey, Sophia’s best friend at college. Audrey always has her nose in a book and an abhorrence of doing scary things—that sounds an awful lot like me. We’ll both take our thrills vicariously, thank you.

Are any of the names of your characters important?  For example, is anyone named for someone or inspired by someone?

Kyle and his mother, Sarah, were both names shamelessly stolen from the Terminator movies. I was Netflixing the Sarah Connor Chronicles around the time I wrote Revive, and I know it influenced me. Using those names was a way to acknowledge it.

Revive takes place mostly in Boston – what made you choose the setting?

I love Boston. I was born in Philadelphia, but Boston is my favorite city. All the Boston locations in the story are places where I’ve spent way too much time, so choosing them was partly for convenience. It also just fit the story well. There are so many colleges in the Boston area, and I knew how easy it would be get my characters to the locations I needed.

And now for random questions that have nothing to do with writing!

Crayons, markers, or colored pencils?

Favorite alcoholic beverage?
Red wine

Vanilla or chocolate?
Chocolate all the way, the darker the better.

Do you enjoy breakfast or dinner more?
Breakfast, in fact, I could eat breakfast for every meal.

If you had to choose only one book that you’re allowed to read for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
Can I pick a series? Harry Potter.

Favorite Harry Potter character?
Ack, favorite is hard, but I think I'll go with Neville. I have a thing for underdogs, and he's kind of the ultimate underdog. He's the almost-was hero of the story, a misfit who gets bullied, and on the surface not very talented. But when he's pushed, he shows incredible inner strength. He not only becomes a leader, he becomes a total badass who takes out the most dangerous horcrux. No one could have seen that coming. Neville is the quiet one who kicks ass.

Are you a morning or a night person?
I’m a morning person who wishes she was a night person.

Are you binge watching anything on Netflix or Hulu right now? What is it?
I tend to only watch TV with my husband, and he’s anti-binge watching. But if I could, it would probably be Orphan Black or Game of Thrones.

Buy her brand new book, Revive, here: AmazonBarnes and Noble

Tracey Martin grew up outside of Philadelphia, the lucky recipient of a drama-free childhood, which is why she spent so much time reading about other people's lives. It was while she was working on her doctorate in psychologry that she had an epiphany - imaginary people are way more fun than real ones. And so she began writing.

She likes her coffee simple, her music epic, and her movies to contain explosions. A city girl at heart, she doesn't understand how she and her husband ended up living in New Hampshire, but writing keeps her off the mean, small town streets.

Although she considers herself a hermit, she's a friendly one. You can find her online here:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: Revive

Title: Revive
Author: Tracey Martin
Series: Redzone
Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Genre: YA
275 pages
Release Date: May 19, 2015

Alone in a train station bathroom, Sophia Hernandez has no memory of who she is or how she got there. All she’s certain of are three things: her college ID is a lie, bad people are coming for her, and no one can be trusted. The only clue to her past is the fellow student who finds her. Although Sophia’s gut tells her Kyle is lying when he claims he can’t help her, his touch makes her heart race. Is it because of a red-hot natural attraction, or a missing memory of something far more dangerous?

As two mysterious, menacing men chase them from the station, Sophia’s memories return in frustrating fragments. So do deadly skills she didn’t know she had. In the next forty-eight hours, a loved one’s life will be on the line as she sifts through a mounting tangle of secrets and lies. Including the most heart-wrenching secret of all. Not only isn’t she a normal college student, she isn’t even a normal human.
-taken from Goodreads

Happy release day to Revive!

I love it when a book throws you right into the middle of an exciting story with no explanations. Who is this girl? Where is she? What time period is this? In this case, the protagonist doesn't even know the answers to these questions so I certainly don't either. Little by little, small bits of information slip out...ok, she's some sort of spy? Wait, possibly since she was 5? Hold on, did they just talk about the 20th century as though it's in the past?

Revive took me completely by surprise. It turned out to be a major page turner - I finished it in one day! Martin does a great job of completely immersing the reader into a world we know very little about. Not only that, but I didn't care that I didn't know everything about that world! I was just happy to be in it.

Sophia made a great character. She was smart and quick on her feet. She never once came across as weak or indecisive, even when she had no clue who she was or what was going on. I really liked and admired her.

This book also falls into a category of YA fiction that I like best: plots that revolve mostly around the choices the protagonist makes as opposed to plots that revolve around random stuff happening to the protagonist and how they respond. I am not a fan of "reactive plots"* and find them extremely frustrating and boring. However, "proactive plots" are fun and interesting and can even be inspiring!

When the whole story finally came out - who/what Sophia is, who/what Kyle is, etc. - it wasn't anything I'd suspected. The idea felt so original, which is rare in this age of young adult book overload. I highly recommend this book and am off to go check out Tracey Martin's Miss Misery series.

*I just came up with those terms.

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Buy it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review: The Grisha series
Title: Shadow and Bone/Siege and Storm/Ruin and Rising
Series: The Grisha
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: 2012, 2013, 2014

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee. Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
-taken from Goodreads

I really enjoyed this series. It was nice to read a YA novel that didn't fall into the ranks of the countless dystopian YA novels that have flooded the market the past few years.* Although the protagonist was young, a teenager, it was easy to forget because she actually acted so much older. She never fell into that trap of portraying a whiney, overly-emotional, dramatic teen. She reacted to stressful situations the way a mature teenager might react. It was very refreshing.

If you enjoy magic and fantasy, you'll enjoy this story. The magic part of it had a simplicity to it that I can appreciate. It was easy to understand - black = shadows and evil, gold = sunshine and good. The idea that Grisha control certain elements by drawing on the particles that make them was very basic, which made it easy to understand and follow. It also made it more believable, as though you could imagine how even people in our world would be able to control the elements.

The plot kept me going throughout the entire series. There were lots of twists and turns, even with the romance of the story. I'm not going to hint at anything there, but I will say that I was kind of emotionally torn at first, just like Alina! At one point I just sat there thinking, "No no no no no no." I thought it was a great choice to make Alina really struggle with her growing power and worry about becoming evil. Her struggle felt so genuine and completely relatable - don't we all worry about that little devil voice we sometimes hear? I loved the entire emotional roller coaster that lasts through all 3 books.

I could not figure out how things would end! I love to try and figure out how things could possible work out, especially when things seem so hopeless, but I could not do it this time. Then even once certain huge moments started resolving the questions, they would just create more questions! "Well now that that's happened, how could this other thing possibly work out??" So frustrating, and yet SO GOOD.

My only complaint is that the middle book fell into that middle-of-the-trilogy trap where it just feels like a bridge between the 2 other really great books. It was a little slow with very little exciting moments, just a lot of waiting around. However, the first and third books are good enough that it's worth sludging through.

*Don't get me wrong...I love dystopian novels.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review: Overseas

9780425261262_p0_v3_s260x420Title: Overseas
Author: Beatriz Williams
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Genre: Romance
464 pages
Release Date: May 10, 2012

When twenty-something Wall Street analyst Kate Wilson attracts the notice of the legendary Julian Laurence at a business meeting, no one’s more surprised than she is...Why would this handsome British billionaire—Manhattan’s most eligible bachelor—pursue a pretty but bookish young banker who hasn’t had a boyfriend since college? The answer is beyond imagining . . . at least at first. Kate and Julian’s story may have begun not in the moneyed world of twenty-first-century Manhattan but in France during World War I, when a mysterious American woman emerged from the shadows of the Western Front to save the life of Captain Julian Laurence Ashford, a celebrated war poet and infantry officer. Now, in modern-day New York, Kate and Julian must protect themselves from the secrets of the past, and trust in a true love that transcends time and space.
-taken from Goodreads

I've had this book on my to-read list for a while, simply because I love time traveling stories. However, I'm also very picky about time travel novels because they can so easily be done wrong. Time travel is tricky.

I know that it's technically impossible* in and of itself, but I don't like it when a book gets it wrong, when the time traveling doesn't make sense. Although Overseas keeps its timelines in order, it does the other two things I don't like in time travel novels: when the characters don't seem to understand it and when the how of it, the explanation for it, makes no sense.

Without spoiling the plot, in case anyone does decide to read this book, the characters make choices to try and change events, even though, if they were successful, it would make sense that they would suddenly lose certain memories,etc. For some reason, the characters don't seem to grasp this and continue to forge headlong into crazy plans that could affect them in way they don't think about that should be obvious.

The romance of it is weak. Julian is a bit overdone - a strange mix of some Jane Austen hero and Edward from Twilight with his flowery words and control issues. Kate was annoying in her hesitance to commit. Their relationship felt forced and not very believable.

Basically, Overseas felt like a letdown for me. It had a lot of potential and didn't deliver. However, I wouldn't say for sure not to read it - the basic story is a fun idea and just because I'm neurotic about time traveling, that doesn't mean everyone is. And hey, if people like the romance of Twilight, it's likely they'll like the romance of Overseas.

*for now...right? RIGHT?

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