Blast to the Past: Requiem by Lauren Oliver (Delirium #3)

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“Requiem” by Lauren Oliver

3 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Now an active member of the resistance, Lena has transformed. The nascent rebellion that was underway in Pandemonium has ignited into an all-out revolution in Requiem, and Lena is at the center of the fight. After rescuing Julian from a death sentence, Lena and her friends fled to the Wilds. But the Wilds are no longer a safe haven. Pockets of rebellion have opened throughout the country, and the government cannot deny the existence of Invalids. Regulators infiltrate the borderlands to stamp out the rebels.

As Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous terrain of the Wilds, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland as the fiancée of the young mayor.Requiem is told from the perspectives of both Lena and her friend Hana. They live side by side in a world that divides them until, at last, their stories converge.”

So, I have currently been in a re-reading kind of mood; I’m so behind on what’s currently coming out in YA, so I thought that I return to some of my oldies-but-goodies that have been sitting quietly on my bookshelf waiting to be picked up again. I recently repurchased the entire “Delirium” trilogy because (1) the covers are STUNNING and they make for great accents on my colored bookshelf, and (2) it is one of those trilogies that really left an impression on me when I fist started reading YA fiction. I loved “Delirium” because it felt so new and inventive for a dystopian world, and Lauren Oliver’s writing style and approach to storytelling demanded my attention the moment I picked up her book. The plot of “Delirium” was emotionally driven at times and then it could feel cold and closed off, much like the two warring sides of the cureds and the un-cureds; I liked the contrasting views and sides being reflected in the writing style. It was “Pandemonium” that totally stole my heart, though, when I first read it back in 2012. It felt wild and earthy, dynamic and rich, rather than cold and sterile one moment and deliriously emotional the next, like “Delirium” had. I personally did not like Lena in “Pandemonium,” but experiencing the Wilds sprinkled with new characters and then meeting Julian made it such a rich, warm feeling book to me. Normally I wouldn’t call a dystopian “warm” or “fuzzy,” but that’s what I feel whenever I pick up “Pandemonium.” There are two completely different vibes within the same series, and I loved them both. As much as I loved “Delirium” and “Pandemonium,” I could never bring myself to read the final book in the trilogy, “Requiem.” That is, until now.
I never wanted to read “Requiem” because I had heard from so many fellow readers and read so many reviews about it, nearly all of them agreeing that it was a total let down. Mind you, this was back in 2013, which was the year of Trilogy Ending Let Downs (for me, at least). There were several series/trilogies that I was avidly following that year, and their final books were total let downs. The problem I found with them was how their plots and final executions of tearing down the old world to build a new one felt empty or completely open-ended, making it seem like the last book was entirely unnecessary. A lot of the love triangles were also poorly executed or left unresolved in these unnamed series. After so many terrible endings, I didn’t want to read “Requiem” and have it ruin or taint my love of the previous two books. I lasted 5 years, but I caved this past month when I repurchased “Delirium” and “Pandemonium,” because, well, odd numbers are more aesthetically pleasing when one is decorating. I also have a weakness for pretty hardcovers, so…
I adored rereading the first two books in the “Delirium” trilogy, and I think that I appreciate them even more now than I did when I first read them. I love how starkly different each of Lauren Oliver’s books are in this trilogy, and it definitely showcases her talent as a writer. That being said, I was not a fan of the vibe that “Requiem” put off.
“Requiem” felt a bit limp and lifeless in comparison to the previous two books, and I think that it is mostly due to Lena. Her character was so aggravating in this book because of her internal monologue and how she treated both Alex and Julian. Personally, I think that both of them were better off without her. The guys got s*** done, whereas Lena whined 90% of them time, blamed other people for her problems, but then somehow she was credited for her “heroics.”

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In addition to Lena dragging the story down with her whining and indecisiveness, I feel like the book was really slow and wandered (literally and figuratively) for 300 pages until something finally started to happen. Hana had some interesting moments, and she actually was the most dynamic person in this book, but it still took some time for her sections of “Requiem” to lead somewhere meaningful. I feel like the ending was so abrupt and empty due to how long the story wandered and how unresolved the world felt, “Requiem” almost felt pointless in this trilogy. Some advice, just stop at book two and make up your own ending, because that will be a hell of a lot more fulfilling.
I was not missing out on much over the last 5 years, but I am glad that I did finally read “Requiem.” It was so much fun to come back to a trilogy that I loved as a teen and to have its story and characters still resonate with me. Even though this trilogy had an unsatisfying final book, I definitely recommend reading this trilogy solely for the first two books, because they are SO worth it.

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Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

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“Fawkes” by Nadine Brandes

Publishing House: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: July 10th, 2018

Quality of Writing: 5 out of 5 stars.

How Much I Enjoyed It: 4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did it. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.”

*Thanks to Nadine Brandes for sending a copy of “Fawkes” to a friend of mine, and to said friend who was generous enough to let me borrow their ARC of “Fawkes” so that I could write this review.* ;-D

“Fawkes” was a total surprise to me when I started reading it. I had heard a little bit about it from Ashley Townsend, who had already read it, but I was pretty much in the dark concerning the plot of “Fawkes.” In all honesty, I think that helped with the reading experience for me, because I went into this book without any expectations for the story line or its characters, other than knowing that Nadine is a talented writer and the sweetest and squishiest person you will ever meet. Seriously, Nadine’s like the human equivalent of a stuffed animal. Knowing so little about this book’s plot, but trusting its author, made for a very enjoyable reading experience, and I was also so excited to have the opportunity to get my hands on an ARC of this novel well before its release date. Okay, now for the actual review!

Thomas was one of those main characters who was not instantly loveable. He was a little petulant in the beginning of “Fawkes,” albeit justified. Thomas might as well have been an orphan, since his mother’s death caused his Father’s subsequent departure to wars and lands far away. In the alternate England that Nadine wrote, children are raised in the anticipation of receiving their color masks from their parents when they come of age. These masks are humankind’s only hope and protection against contracting the plague, enabling them to bond with and control a particular color. For Thomas, the mask he was meant to receive from his father was not only his birthright, but it was also his last and only hope; he was already plagued and it was only a matter of time before he succumbed to the stone sickness unless he bonded with a color and a mask of his own. Yeah, I would say that could jack up most kids growing up, so Thomas’s desperation to have his way made perfect sense while reading this book. And then when his father failed to show up to his masking ceremony ( no back-up masks allowed), I totally got why he was pissed and freaked out. Yeah, massive #ParentingFail on Guy Fawkes’ part.

That all being said, Thomas was one of those characters who you really have to be patient with while they grow into themselves and transform into someone who is resilient and competent. Thomas was massively flawed and needed to grow a lot, but Nadine got him there by the end of her novel. In the end, I was happy with the personal progress Thomas made in “Fawkes,” but the character that I really loved in this book was Emma.

Emma was a total female badass. She had a depth of character that made me really root for her, and her backstory aided in making her actions much more believable than Thomas’s at times. I feel like Nadine delivered a heroine that YA readers have been craving for in historical/fantasy novels, so I was quite happy about that. Honestly, I just wish that there would have been more of this book centered on Emma’s character! As much as I want to go on and on about Emma, I can’t really talk about her too much because her story line has some explosive surprises for readers. Just take my word for it, she’s pretty awesome!

Besides great characters, I did find Nadine’s fantasy twist on historical fact to be very creative. In Thomas’s version of England, there are Keepers and Igniters. Keepers are the traditionalists when it comes to their color powers, each person only “morally” being allowed to wield one color. Igniters, on the other hand, play with fire: they train to wield every color. Both factions are at war with one another, Keepers being persecuted by their Igniter rivals. Both sides are trying to eliminate one another. I thought that Nadine did a great job of paralleling the religious strife between Protestants and Catholics during the last leg of the Renaissance, representing both parties with the various attributes and faults of her Keepers and Igniters. Both sides did some pretty shady stuff to one another, but I will let you read “Fawkes” for yourself to see how Nadine resolved the issues of her fictitious England. 😉

Overall, I really enjoyed reading “Fawkes.” I was truly surprised to find out that this is a standalone novel. Despite that, I thought that Nadine wrapped everyone’s stories up quite well and closed the door to her world soundly; I like when an author properly ties up loose ends. It was refreshing to read a story that was intended to just be one book, and I was happy by how complete and finished the ending of “Fawkes” felt. If you enjoy the historical fiction or fantasy genres, definitely give this book a try!

Now I am just going to sit her until Nadine’s next novel, “Romanov” comes out. *Sees release date is in 2019…*

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What I Have Been Reading…and Not Finishing

*sighs* There have been quite a few books lately that I have had to mark as DNF. I hate doing it, but I have come to a point in my life where I do not waste my time on books that do not improve my mind or entertain me. My free time is limited, so I have chosen to give most of the books I read 100 pages before I carry on with it or quit it. There were several novels over the past 3 months that I have tried desperately to like, and since being the odd one out is in my nature, I, of course, ended up disliking several of this years most popular books.

Sorry, but I am who I am! Now for the DNFs on my reading list!

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“American Panda” by Gloria Chao had the appearance of the perfect YA contemporary. This book seemed like it was going to be humorous, fluffy and sweet, and a story with a good moral to it. I have been enjoying books that explore other cultures, especially when they intersect with another, very different, culture; the traditional and born-into lifestyles, as well as those that are adopted. As much as I wanted to like “American Panda,” it just did not do it for me. The humor did not come across the page for me, and I was sad that the moments of learning about Mei’s Taiwanese heritage were overshadowed by her distaste for them and her snarky remarks about her family. Maybe this book got better after a 100 pages, but I did not feel the need to continue a book with another snarky female lead who disliked almost everything about her family’s lifestyle. That’s just not my deal.

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If you are looking for a sweet YA contemporary that explores a girl’s coming of age story in the midst of Asian-American traditions (in said case, Korean), then you should read “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” by Jenny Han, if you haven’t already. That trilogy has some of the best real-life sibling/family dynamics that I have ever read, and Laura Jean is just the cutest! “American Panda” aside, I also had some issues with two other books that I was honestly super excited for.

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What is with these contemporary books?!!!!! “Emergency Contact” also seemed as if it could be a fantastic contemporary novel, with a dash of intersecting cultures in it, and some good old real life happening. Unfortunately that was definitely not the book I ended up reading.

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I wanted to like “Emergency Contact” by Mary H.K. Choi SO BAD, but again, there was the snarky, judgmental, and disrespectful female lead who drove me crazy. The guy wasn’t horrible; he had just gotten hit with the crap-stick of life and had experienced some pretty bad luck in a short period of time. He was also pretty unremarkable, because I could barely remember his name after I quit “Emergency Contact.” Oops!

My real problem with “Emergency Contact” was the main girl, Penny. I’m sorry to those of you who liked this book, but I disliked her so much as a character. She had a horribly judgmental, mean girl attitude, but as a reader I was supposed to just side with her because she was from the other side of the “tracks”? Nope, a mean girl is just a mean girl, and that kind of behavior will always be unacceptable to me, no matter where you come from. We all possess the freedom to believe certain things, and we have the power and a choice to treat others with kindness or to disrespect them. Penny was just awful in how she treated those around her, including her mother, but she somehow always found time to play her pity violin. I hate that kind of attitude, so getting through a 150 pages was a struggle for me. Mary H.K. Choi’s writing was engaging and comical at times, I just could not endure her female character.

Last, but definitely not least, “From Twinkle, with Love” by Sandhya Menon was my most recent DNF.

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Let me just say that I think Sandhya Menon is an absolutely adorable and sweet person. That being said, I unfortunately do not like her female characters. I really disliked Dimple in “When Dimple Met Rishi,” for various reasons that I will not get into right now, and Twinkle was, unfortunately, no better, and I quit this audio book after a few chapters. Twinkle’s inner monologue was nails on a chalk board, and her awkward/snarkiness did not come across as charming or endearing. One of the many reasons I was not a fan of “When Dimple Met Rishi” was how little Indian culture was explored in it; I wanted to learn more about Dimple and Rishi’s heritage and see how their families individually chose to express their Indian-American lifestyles. “When Dimple Met Rishi” was a lot of tell not show, and “From Twinkle, with Love” was the same. I’m sorry, but I quit this book and ran in the opposite direction.

Call me a quitter, but I just did not connect with these books or their characters at all. Despite the disappointment of these books, I am really excited about this summer and the books and movies that will be coming out. It seems like a promising season, so I will definitely have some more (and hopefully better) reviews coming your way!

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

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“Sky in the Deep” by Adrienne Young

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield — her brother, fighting with the enemy — the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.”

“Sky in the Deep” by Adrienne Young is one of the best books of 2018, and it is in my top ten favorite books ever as of May 21st, when I finished this beautiful novel. I went into reading this book by Young with low expectations; I was intrigued by the clansman and Viking-esk vibes that the cover and synopsis hinted at, and I had heard fairly good things from other readers and reviewers. I have learned, though, not to trust pretty covers, well-constructed summaries, or (usually) popular opinion. That being said, I honestly could have gone into reading “Sky in the Deep” with extremely high expectations and I still would have come out on the other side of reading this novel satisfied and shocked by how addictively good it was. This novel was intelligent and compelling, beautiful yet brutal; it was a consuming read that had me torn in two from beginning to end. The last book I read that had so completely captured my attention in a similar way was “The Winner’s Curse” by Marie Rutkoski. There was a ton going on when I was reading it, and normally that would prevent me from picking up a book, let alone finishing it. Lately I have found myself getting easily distracted by the tv or computer work when I am not working, but “Sky in the Deep” was so addictive and engaging that I honestly tuned everything out. This book was SO good that I tried to hide away so that I wouldn’t be interrupted by anyone or anything.

Alright, now to the reason(s) why “Sky in the Deep” was such a refreshing and addictive fantasy novel.

Eelyn, the heroine of “Sky in the Deep,” both surprised and impressed me. I admire Adrienne Young so much for how she was able to write such an intense, driven, and compassionate character. Eelyn was a literal warrior, and at times I truly feared that she was going to become the next Katniss Everdeen, but she never did. I do not know how Young managed to do it, but Eelyn was written in such a way that her fire and her anger toward the Riki were realistic, yet her attitude and internal dialogue never come off as being bitchy. Eelyn bore some pretty horrible scars left by her past, but she had a good heart, and I loved seeing how she grew to understand just how similar the Aska were to the Riki. I was rooting for Eelyn throughout “Sky in the Deep,” and I was truly impressed by how Young was able to bridge the gap between a fierce warrior and a strong, yet kind-hearted woman. In my opinion, Eelyn is one of the most interesting and engaging female heroines in YA fantasy right now. If not for the beautiful and fluid writing, read this book for Eelyn and the other fierce women in it.

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Eelyn is a heroine to contend with, and another thing that I adored about this book was how Adrienne Young managed to create side characters who were just as impressive and moving as Eelyn was.

Oh, Fiske…

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Fiske was a tough cookie to crack, and I was taken by surprise with how much I liked him as a character. He kind of just simmered in the background for half of this novel, but I really grew to like this character, much to my surprise. The dynamic between Fiske and Eelyn was SUPER tenuous for a large majority of “Sky in the Deep,” but I liked what they brought out in each other and how they challenged one another throughout this novel. I also loved seeing Fiske and his family interact, because it made what could have been a cold story feel rich and warm despite the brutality of the tribal lifestyle. Okay, no more about Fiske, otherwise I will spoil the reading experience for you!

As well-developed and interesting as the characters were in this book, I was also insanely impressed by Young’s ability to write such a brutal world that was as chilling at times as it was beautiful. I adored how different “Sky in the Deep” felt from other fantasy books that have come out recently. I loved the historical feel that this book had, and Adrienne Young did a fantastic job of capturing the brutality and fear of everyday life that was rooted in the tribal cultures. These clans created their own dynamic cultures and communities, yet they built that culture and society off of the unnecessary belief that any clan other than their own was meant to be their enemy. They were always warring with one another, sometimes for no real reason other than tradition and because of hate, and I thought that Young displayed that aspect so well in “Sky in the Deep” with her Scandinavian- inspired Aska and Riki clans.

There are obviously so many things that I loved about “Sky in the Deep,” and I could honestly go on and on about how much I adored reading this book, but I have to end my review sometime. “Sky in the Deep” was such an amazing read and I am so happy that I picked it up after my sister recommended I give it a try. Adrienne’s debut was elegantly written, with its brutal yet moving story and fabulously flawed heroine. I wouldn’t change a thing about “Sky in the Deep” or my reading experience, and my only regret is that it wasn’t longer!

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I will definitely be picking up the companion novel to “Sky in the Deep” when it comes out next year.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles #1)

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“The Belles” by Dhonielle Clayton

4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.”

From the very start, “The Belles” had an entrancing quality to it. I could feel the textures, see the colors, and experience the sounds of Clayton’s novel from the first chapter of Camellia’s story. I instantly connected with the rich and fluid quality that Dhonielle’s storytelling style seemed to possess, and I really love how “très français” the begging of this book felt while I was reading it. Between the opulence of the court, the fashion, and the absolute need and desire for beauty and power, I felt like I was reading about King Louis XIV’s court. It has been a long time since I have read a book that has so instantly drawn me into its story, and I was both enthralled and disgusted by the opulence and excess of the broken world that Dhonielle portrayed in “The Belles.” Dhonielle Clayton is a very impressive author to elicit so spontaneously both positive and negative emotions; the beauty was alluring in this book, but then I would pause to think about how vicious and truly disturbing the heart of the “culture” of Orléans was. With this book, I appreciate the fact that I felt so strongly opposed/drawn to the world that Dhonielle had created for her heroine. I was also pleasantly surprised that Camellia was not a born rebel, already prepared to usurp the authority of Orléans, when I was “introduced” to her.

Camellia was a follower. She was obedient, subservient. Most people might have issues with that aspect of this character’s personality, but I rather liked it. Sometimes I feel like YA novels get more than a little too formulaic with the development of their heroines and heroes. Somehow these girls and boys are just born rebels, unlike anyone else in their culture or society, and that their “perfectly” devised rebellion against the rules is exactly what all the world needs. I’m tired of reading the same type of characters recast with new names. So for me, Camellia was a breath of fresh air. This poor girl was unique by her society’s standards due to the fact that she was born with the gift of beauty, but she was otherwise the opposite of a rebel in the beginning of this book. What I so enjoyed about “The Belles” was how it took trials, experiences, and seeing the ugly truth behind the elegantly constructed façade of her world to make Camellia think about the consequences of such a cruelly stratified society. Gradually, she began to see what needed to stopped, what needed to be changed, and learned to be brave enough to do what was right. Camellia was not born with the tools that so many other heroines are given in their own books, but Dhonielle did such an amazing job of writing the struggle between Camellia’s desire to only see and create beauty for her society, while also wanting to be free of the confines of the Orléans’ toxic culture. I loved that Camellia’s character development was a slow-burn; she still has a long way to go in the next book, but I am really looking forward to seeing Camellia grow more fully into who she has the potential to be.

A unique aspect to this book was how the tone of the novel changed as Camellia began to discover what made her world keep spinning. I know that many books get darker as they go along, or they become grittier as the characters uncover what’s going on or who needs to be stopped. But with “The Belles,” it felt almost artful in how the tones were fluffy, elegant, and airy while Camellia was enamored with the court of Orléans, but as she became aware of what others were doing to gain power and beauty and that she was just a pawn in their game, the tone became darker, almost grayish in hue. I know that most books attempt to do this as its hero or heroine evolves, but the writing style in “The Belles” made the transition and change in tone feel so fluid and elegant that I did not notice the contrast right away, because I was so engrossed in the story. Dhonielle’s writing style didn’t lose its fluid descriptiveness even as it maintained a sense of gravity that was appropriate for the situation and the parallels it was drawing between this book and our current society.

Oh, the parallels! Honestly, I just loved how Dhonielle put societies’ standards of beauty, past and present, on display in “The Belles.” The culture of Orléans was built off of the idea that you are only good or valuable if you maintain the ever evolving standard of what it is to be beautiful. Sound familiar? Fallow the trends, or else you’re an outcast. Ostracize those who do not fit into your groups based on how they dress or how you look. Block the less pretty people/accounts from your instagram because they’ll “kill your image.” I saw in “The Belles” so much of the current generation of what beauty is, what men and women do to themselves to obtain it, because beauty is power, right? It is a tale as old as time, and I admit that I have been guilty of this same behavior at times in my life, just like everyone else. But to me, I loved the fact that Dhonielle brought these parallels to the forefront of her book, not to accuse, but to encourage people to stop that kind of behavior, and to not let others’ ideas of what beauty is to make you hurt yourself or change how you look, just to make them comfortable enough to accept you. I thought her message was poignant considering the swipe right and instagram generation we live in. There’s nothing wrong with being beautiful or wanting things to make you feel pretty (I love my makeup and pretty clothes!), but what makes it wrong is when that desire becomes an obsession that consumes and hurts you, driving you into a mindset that leaves you unhappy.

I was truly surprised and impressed by Clayton’s refreshing approach to her heroine, and her book’s progression and message. I also found the other characters like Ivy, Rèmy, and her sisters to all be very interesting, despite not getting as much time to get to know them as I had wanted. I feel like “The Belles” was really about setting up the world, revealing the villain, and beginning Camellia’s true journey, rather than throwing too many other dynamics into the mix. It was a fairly complex book, but I can definitely tell that there is going to be a LOT more going on in the next book. I hope that Rèmy and the sisters get a bit more page time, because I felt like there is so much more to all of these characters, and I am curious to see where Dhonielle intends to take her story.

This book was a big win for me!

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Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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“Lucky in Love” by Kasie West

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Can’t buy me love…

Maddie’s not impulsive. She’s all about hard work and planning ahead. But one night, on a whim, she buys a lottery ticket. And then, to her astonishment—

She wins!

In a flash, Maddie’s life is unrecognizable. No more stressing about college scholarships. Suddenly, she’s talking about renting a yacht. And being in the spotlight at school is fun…until rumors start flying, and random people ask her for loans. Now Maddie isn’t sure who she can trust.

Except for Seth Nguyen, her funny, charming coworker at the local zoo. Seth doesn’t seem aware of Maddie’s big news. And, for some reason, she doesn’t want to tell him. But what will happen if he learns her secret?”

“Lucky in Love” was the YA contemporary novel that I have been looking for since “The Fill-In Boyfriend”! It has been very difficult to find a YA contemporary novel that I enjoyed this past year/year and a half, and the only one that truly stuck out to me this year so far was “Geekerella,” which was several months ago. But now the wait is over, and Kasie once again delivered a fantastically adorable and light-hearted contemporary novel that I absolutely loved reading.

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Kasie West is the best at writing contemporary fluff pieces that always feel like coming home or like comfort food. Whenever I read one of her novels, I know that I am going to have a smile on my face the entire time I am reading it, and that I am going to get a couple of great laughs out of Kasie’s amazing comedic timing. Most of the time contemporary novels are a hit and a miss for me, but with Kasie West I can pretty much be guaranteed a good time, and “Lucky in Love” was no exception to the Kasie standard.

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“Lucky in Love” was just one of those books that I could finally sit down and enjoy, even after an interminably long reading slump. It was adorable like all of Kasie West’s contemporary books, but it also felt a little different and had a flair of its own that made it stand out next to the other stories that Kasie has already told, The whole concept of an newly eighteen-year-old winning the lottery was a charming and funny idea to begin with, but Kasie made it pretty hilarious and even cuter than I had anticipated it would be, and it was her characters who were at the heart of the adorable awkwardness and fun.

Maddie was such a cute and relateable character! I loved reading from her perspective because she did not have a diva attitude, she definitely did not have her life or family situation figured out, and she had some great friends. I think we can all predict what might happen when someone, especially an eighteen-year-old, wins the lottery. Despite that fact, though, I felt like Kasie did a great job of keeping me as a reader engaged in the story, even if I could see something terrible that was going to happen from a mile away. Maddie was just so endearing and likeable, so between that and her newly acquired money, “Lucky in Love” was as cute as it was comical!

Besides just Maddie being great, I also really liked Seth, who was her co-worker/kind-of-friend/love interest. Seth was super cute and endearing in “Lucky in Love,” and I liked how their relationship slowly evolved over the course of this book. Honestly, all I wanted was for Kasie to have Seth in this book more because of how great a character he was. Kasie West has a knack for creating likeable and unique characters, and I just adored Maddie and Seth together. They were supportive of each others’ dreams and they had very cute dialogues, so I was completely on board with their relationship! Now all I really want in a book about the college years! ;-D

Besides it be all fun and games, I feel like Kasie did a good job of pointing out all of the disastrous things that can happen when someone comes into a lot of money suddenly. Even though Maddie was a complete sweetheart, she fell victim to the curse of the lottery, as well as her family. The family dynamic between Maddie and her sibling and parents was pretty interesting and accurate for a struggling middle-class family, and it’s no wonder that they went a little crazy when Maddie won the lottery, despite her best intentions for how the money should be shared and used. For how light-hearted and delightfully fluffy most of this book was, I think that Kasie did a fairly good job of addressing Maddie’s family’s issues, as well as leaving her readers with the feeling that many of those problems had the potential to get resolved eventually.

If you are looking for a sweet treat for the summer, you definitely need to give “Lucky in Love” a try. It was a light, quick read, but it still had depth and substance, which I always appreciate in a contemporary novel. The only thing I might warn you of is that, if you should choose to read “Lucky in Love,” you might want to quit your current job and go work for your local zoo. Or maybe that’s just me…

Thank you again, Kasie West, for not disappointing!

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Blacksouls by Nicole Castroman (Blackhearts #2)

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“Blacksouls” by Nicole Castroman

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Nicole Castroman brings the dangerous pirate ports of the Caribbean to life in this vibrant sequel to Blackhearts—the reimagined origin story of history’s most infamous pirate, Blackbeard.

Edward “Teach” Drummond is setting sail to the Caribbean as first mate on the most celebrated merchant ship in the British fleet—until he rebels against his captain. Mutiny is a capital offense and Teach knows it could cost him his life, but he believes it worth the risk in order to save his crew from the attacking Spanish ships.

Sailing on the same blue waters, Anne barely avoids the Spanish attack, making it safely to Nassau. But lawless criminals, corrupt politics, and dangerous intentions fill the crowded streets of this Caribbean port. Soon, Anne discovers that the man entrusted to keep the peace is quite possibly the most treacherous of them all—and he just happens to hold Teach’s fate in his terrifying hands.

Life and death hang in the balance when Teach and Anne are given a dangerous mission. It’s a mission that will test their love, loyalty and devotion, forcing them down a path neither one could have ever imagined.”

“Blacksouls” is one of those books that the more time you spend thinking about it, the more you come to love and appreciate the story and its characters. I honestly think that this is in my top three favorite books of the year, and I cannot believe that it took me this long to write a review for it! I guess reading a bunch of duds this spring kind of took up the free time that I use to write reviews… 😦

Last year, “Blackhearts” was one of the best books of 2016, and I completely fell in love with Nicole’s characters and her storytelling style. I loved the fact that “Blackhearts” was a historical novel rather than an high-octane adventure story, and that it was centered on developing the characters and the dynamics between them, rather than the drama that was about the ensue. I love historical fiction and learning about times and new places that I do not know much about, and I love the feeling of taking away some new piece of knowledge or developing a new perspective due to something that I have learned while reading. That sensation of discovery and enjoyment was one of the reasons why I loved “Blackhearts” so much, because it was more than a pyro maniac’s dream; it was about relationships and the invisible cords that linked them all together, and how people and many of their choices were dictated by the time that they live in. That aspect of “Blackhearts” was depicted with such accuracy that I instantly became a fan of Nicole Castroman, and I so admire her skill as a writer and the accuracy of her research. With all that being said about “Blackhearts,” I do have to say that as dear to my heart as Castroman’s debut is to my heart, “Blacksouls” definitely showed how much Nicole has grown as an author over the past year, and let me tell you, this book was one killer of a ride.

After hearing the announcement that there would be a second book in Nicole’s retelling of Blackbeard’s life, I was, to be honest, a bit wary. I had loved the bitter sweet, tormenting ending of “Blackhearts” so much that I did not want a second book to ruin how I felt about the first. Seriously, readers, I should not have wasted my time worrying, because “Blacksouls” was so amazing and it exceeded all of my expectations!

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The second book of Ann and Teach’s story was dynamic, full of the perfect amount of drama and heartache, as well as tension and romance. “Blacksouls” was so well-balanced and wonderfully layered that it kind of blew me away; it was grittier and a bit more wild than “Blackhearts,” but I personally feel like that was the perfect match for how Ann and Teach’s story was unfolding. It was a truly magical experience to read a book that I instantly connected with, especially after a fairly disappointing spring for books!

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Nicole’s research skills were once again put to good use in “Blacksouls,” and I felt utterly transported to the time and place where Teach and Ann lived, fully experiencing the beauties and horrors of that era as their story unfolded before me. Nicole Castroman’s writing made the past come vividly back to life, and since I already have a weakness for well-written and well-researched historical fiction, it is no shocker that I fell more in love with this series and its characters because of how well-executed the historical aspects were!

Teach was (and is) the best pirate character that a reader and fangirl could ever ask for! (sorry, Jack!)

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He was equal parts swoony, wild, and determined, as well as good-hearted. Teach had been amazing in “Blackhearts” and I had completely fallen for him as a character, but underneath his strength, charm, and determination, Teach had felt like a boy during parts of the first book. In “Blacksouls,” however, Teach came in to his own, becoming a more quietly bold and strong young man. I loved seeing the character development that he experienced over the course of “Blacksouls,” especially since he and Ann were apart for half of this book. He was clever, charming, and intelligent in how determined he was to find Anne, which was pretty attractive, let me tell you. As much as I loved Ann and Teach together, though, I did like the fact that I could get to know each of them separately, and I liked seeing the friendship between Teach and John in action as they set sail together again.

I adored pretty much all of the characters in “Blacksouls”; I loved Teach and his fellow sailors, the young brother and sister that Ann sailed to Nassau with, and I loved to hate the villains of Ann and Teach’s story. Unfortunately, the only person I was not a huge fan of in this book was Ann herself, which surprised me because of how much I had liked her in “Blackhearts.” In “Blacksouls,” I had a hard time connecting with Ann, and I found her boldness and ferocity in certain situations to be a little unrealistic, feeling that her actions were sometimes foolish rather than brave, especially when the lives of others were at stake. I still liked Ann and Teach together when they had their reunion moment and they began to make plans together once more, but I really feel that Teach’s character development completely eclipsed that of Ann’s, which I am actually okay with. I would have loved to feel a bit more connected and attached to Ann like I had in “Blackhearts,” but me not being wholly on Ann’s side did not at all detract from my love for this book.

Ahhh, the romance. I still loved Ann and Teach as a couple, even if I was a bit more of a fan of him than her. It was wonderful seeing and experiencing the personalities of these two wonderful characters while they were apart, because I feel like I got to know both of them so much better that way. Them being separated for so long in this book also built the tension and made me more invested in their story and their situation as a whole. Nicole Castroman did such an amazing job of giving me as a reader just enough of their interactions to keep me reading and to be invested in their relationship, but not so much that it detracted from the rest of her book’s plot. I feel like the quote, “[his] parting was my pain,” basically describes this book and what it made me feel, especially when it came to the open ended ending!

Nicole was cruel once again with her ending, but I totally respect her because I AM HOOKED!

I do not want to spoil anything about “Blacksouls” for you, so I will just say that Nicole Castroman did an amazing job of creating another magical and well-developed book. I was held in suspense of what might happen to Teach, Ann, and the other characters in this book, and there was loads of adventure and drama, and piracy to boot! I adored seeing the characters grow and develop apart as well as together, and it was wonderful to see how complex and dynamic Nicole’s story and characters have become. I loved the adventure and intrigue that was woven throughout “Blacksouls,” and I appreciate the fact that this book did not wander away from the heart of this series’ story: the second installment to Nicole’s series still had the tug of war between the romance and relationships like the first book, but it was also more. More complex, more dynamic, and I honestly just wanted to read more. Here’s to hoping that there’s a third book coming out next year, because that cliffhanger will haunt me until I get another book!

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“Blacksouls” was a wonderful, adventurous, and refreshing read, and if you have any fondness for historical fiction, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and/or “Poldark,” I think that you would absolutely adore this fantastic series!