American Gods | Review

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

How to describe American Gods? It’s a roadtrip book with magical realism that explores the relationship of theology in the creation of America. It’s wonderful and rich and full of layers. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Shadow is about to be released from a three-year stint in prison when he finds out his wife, whom he has been looking forward to returning to, has died in a car crash, and his best friend, who had a job for him, was in that same crash. Everything Shadow had planned for him, his life after prison, is gone in a moment, and he’s left with nothing, no prospects, no friends, no life. When a mysterious stranger offers him a job he can’t refuse (like, literally can’t), his life takes a twist into one of gods, strangeness, heists, and a search for himself across the depths of America in epic proportions. That’s the basic beginning, but this book is so much more.

american_gods___mr__wednesday_by_fuelreaver-d7kzta7Simply put, American Gods will make you question everything you know about America and humanity, while at the same time reaffirm it. It’s creepy and dark and beautiful.

This is some of Gaiman’s best writing. It’s complex, detailed, and puts the reader on Shadow’s strange journey without any hesitation.

There are so many layers and Gods this book deserves multiple readings, and I’m happy to partake in them.

It was slow-going for me not because the story was boring or lacking, but because it was so rich it took me time to process and think and wrap my brain around it. I wanted to enjoy it, to savor it, to dive into it rathe than to just rush through and mark it as “read”. It deserves a slow boil, but the result is worth it.

Breathtaking.

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Emma | Review

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Emma by Jane Austen

Emma is my second Jane Austen read, and while I didn’t enjoy it as much as Pride and Prejudice, Austen once again creates complex, interesting characters and a wonderful little love story.

Emma herself is silly and conceited, but in a way that is also very endearing and loveable; you can’t help but like her, even if you’re laughing at her cluelessness at times.

The pacing was a bit slower for me than P&P, and I didn’t fall in love with the characters as much as I did Elizabeth, Jane, Bingley, and Darcy; but I did like Knightley and his relationship with Emma much better than I did Darcy’s with Elizabeth. Knightley is exactly the sort of man Emma needs in her life, and just like the standard best-friends-who-turn-lovers scenario, it takes ages for them to realize what they want is right in front of their face.

valentines-day-quote-watermarkedThat’s not to say I didn’t like the secondary characters of Emma; Frank Churchill is pompous, Miss Bates is hilariously annoying, and Mrs. Weston is a great role model for Emma; but at times the triviality of their lives became quite tedious. I didn’t want to read Miss Bates’ incessant rants anymore than Emma wanted to listen to them, and Harriet’s neediness just annoyed me.

I became quite bored with the middle of the book and had to switch over to the audiobook, which helped with the pacing quite a bit, and the tireless conversations, read with inflection, were more interesting and funny to listen to than read dry.

4 stars because once I got into the audiobook, it picked up and the last quarter of the book, with relationships, feelings, and secrets revealed, was quite exciting. Plus who doesn’t love a good, classic, Jane Austen love story?

The One | Review

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The One (The Selection #3) by Kiera Cass

Exchange between me and my fiancé while reading The One:

Me: reading, grumbles, forcefully shuts book
Him: What’s wrong?
Me: This book. Ugh. proceeds to explain plot points of the book
Him: reads the cover. That doesn’t seem like something you’d enjoy reading. I’m surprised you picked it up.
Me: But it’s so good!
Him: What are you talking about? You just said you hated it!
Me: No, I didn’t say that. I’m annoyed because I just want them to end up together and of course *spoiler* has to happen. But it’s soo good, I love it.
Him: confused

4-e1388614068943That’s basically the gist of this series for me. It’s frustrating and annoying and the writing is terrible, but it’s seriously crack. I couldn’t stop. I wanted so badly for Maxon and America to get together and I wanted to see the love story play out, that as irritated as I was, I couldn’t put it down.

Thank goodness, the love triangle has dissipated by this book. America knows who she wants, and he seems to be okay with that too. There’s still drama with it later on because nothing is easy and there had to be SOMETHING to disrupt the happiness for awhile, and it’s annoying but predictable and whatever.

Everyone makes stupid decisions, and the ending is too convenient and obvious but there had to be something to bring everyone to their senses. It was also nice to finally see the story with the rebels resolved (well, okay, more like acknowledged and heightened), though nothing really felt like it had changed by the end of the book. Just promises. But it’s fun, it’s enjoyable, and dammit, it’s a love story, and who doesn’t like those?

The Elite | Review

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The Elite (The Selection #2) by Kiera Cass

The Elite picks up right where The Selection left off… and with the competition narrowed to six girls, tensions are higher than ever.

Overall, The Elite felt unnecessary, and even more so since the competition is STILL. NOT. OVER. at the conclusion. Because of that, a lot of the second book seems like filler, and doesn’t really add anything new to the story. I feel like a lot of it could’ve been cut and the series could’ve been much better at two books instead of three.

There’s a lot of whining and wishy-washy attitudes from America, and the Prince is ready to move on. I get it. Though I don’t get the rashness and anger from the caning incident, on either side. Yes, your friend is being hurt at the Prince’s orders, but really? What did you expect? They committed treason; it was mentioned before you entered the contest, so what choice did he have? And on his part, OF COURSE she’s upset. Do you even know her? Her best friend was hurt and she thinks the world is unjust (because, let’s be honest, the caste system sucks), so naturally she’s going to blame you, the man in charge. Or second-in-charge.

fan-art-the-Elite-the-selection-series-34295673-552-776I’m tired of the love triangle. At this point I feel like it’s only there for drama. Both men are pretty much the same, except I like the Prince better because he actually seems to listen to her. Not that Aspen is bad, but I just don’t feel like she loves him. Not like she loves the Prince at least. Not anymore.

The typical second-book-in-a-trilogy, things are bleak, characters change their minds, and the stakes have to be upped somehow, but I don’t really feel like this book did that. Other than make the Prince like another girl. Well, duh. He’s been trying to do that the entire time.

Oh, and now the King is evil. Shocker.

All that being said, of course I enjoyed it. It’s a love story that I know how it’s going to end, I just want to watch how it gets there. And it better get there. I love all the over-the-top drama and the secrets, and I WANT. TO. KNOW. more about all of it. I loved the diary, America’s brazenness about the castes, the Prince’s secret, and the maids. I love all the flirty glances and kisses and the jealousy and backstabbing.

And I want to see how this plays out.

Black: The Birth of Evil | Review

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Black: The Birth of Evil (Circle #1) by Ted Dekker

If you die in your sleep, do you die in real life?

Thomas Hunter is a man split between two worlds, but the problem is he can’t figure out which one is real, and which is the dream. If either is a dream at all.

In the modern world, Tom is a struggling writer with a shady background littered with poor choices, but when he goes to sleep, he awakens in a future, fantastical world where Good and Evil are separated, and the presence of God (by the name of Elyar) is a revitalizing, real element. The problem is he has no memory of his existence in this world.

Both worlds feel real (both to Thomas and the reader), and he must save both, though in different ways. His choices in one world affect what happens in the other.

ILL-Research-2014-black-ted-dekker-sketch-1It’s a mindbending story, that’s for sure, but one with an unique concept that grips hold of the reader.

While it took me awhile to get into the story and accepting of the weird “colored forest” land with fuzzy bats and magic water, once the plot picked up in both worlds, my attention was hooked.

I prefer the “modern” world, in Bangkok, to the magic one, simply because it’s easier to picture, relate to, and I prefer the story of a mutating virus and how Thomas must, against all odds and everyone’s disbelief, stop it.

The story in the “colored forest” world is more about temptation, the nature of good and evil, and employs strong religious undertones (i.e. allegory of the events in the Bible, complete with religious symbols). The fantasy world is very black or white, the representation of God is a little boy who hugs everyone and tells them he loves them, and everyone is very innocent and playful; whereas the Evil, black, side of the world is filled with killer bats, a deceiving Devil figure, and death and destruction. Dekker, is, however, a Christian author, so be forewarned if that isn’t your thing. As someone who is not super religious, the representation was too obvious at times and somewhat distracting, though I was able to still enjoy the story as a whole.

This book is part one of a four-part Circle series, and the ending is definitely a cliffhanger and doesn’t leave the reader with any major answers.

All I Know Now | Review

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All I Know Now by Carrie Hope Fletcher

You may know Carrie Hope Fletcher from her YouTube channel, It’sWayPastMyBedTime. Or you might know her from her portrayal of Eponine in the West End’s production of Les Miserables. Or perhaps you know her brother, Tom Fletcher, from the bands McFly/McBusted. Or even her sister-in-law, Giovanna Fletcher, author of British chick lit such as Billy and Me. However you know her, if you do, you know Carrie is a phenomenal person with a good heart, values, and a “big sister” to many. If you don’t know her, you should.

All I Know Now started as Carrie’s blog, where she gave advice to teens about growing up, boys, bullies, friends, and following your dreams. Just out of the teenage years herself, at 22, Carrie still remembers her own teenage struggles with clarity, but has enough hindsight to have learned a thing or two. She’s not perfect, and she doesn’t claim to be, but she offers what teens need: a “handbook” of sorts about growing up gracefully written by someone who isn’t an “adult”.

carrieThere are sections dealing with a majority of the things you deal with when growing up, and answers all the questions you were too afraid to ask your parents: how to deal with bullies and recognize if you are one; what to do if your boyfriend wants to have sex and you’re not ready; how to make friends and realize it’s not all about you; how to “properly” use the Internet; and so on.

The writing style is easy and conversational; it reads with Carrie’s voice and is almost like an extended vlog from her channel. She uses easy examples and references Harry Potter and pop culture frequently, something I love.

As a 28-year-old female who has successfully navigated adolescence into adulthood (that’s a scary thought), I can agree with Carrie on many points. She and I have similar values, and I could directly relate with many of the experiences she recognized. The only difference is it took me a LOT longer to realize a lot of her points than she did.

That being said, the book doesn’t really help me anymore. Sure, it makes some good points that I still am too shy to deal with myself, but at least I’m aware of them. And while certain sections had me like “YES!”, a majority of the book, to me, wasn’t helpful anymore, simply because I’ve already navigated those waters and come out alright. I know how to deal with bullies (ignore/agree with/walk away/tell someone if it gets too bad), and seeing as how I’m engaged and not in an abusive relationship, I don’t need to be told what it’s like to kiss someone.

When I was a teenager, however, this book would have been incredibly helpful. It would’ve helped me feel less alone, and I think that’s the magic of this book. Carrie is truly a good role model for young girls to look up to, and her honorary title of “Big Sister” is well deserved and fitting. I plan to not only use the section on social media as additional content in my social media unit in school, but will keep a copy in my classroom library, on hand for any student who needs it.

Well done, Carrie.

The U.S. paperback release date is set for September 1, 2015

The Martian | Review

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The Martian by Andy Weir

Mark Watney’s crew escaped, but he didn’t. Now he’s the only person on all of Mars. No radio contact. No one knows he’s alive. Only he can save himself.

The Martian is a rollercoaster ride of a science fiction novel, and the word “science” is heavily emphasized. The only way Mark can survive is to “science the shit” out of his situation. And then everything that can go wrong, just like Murphy says, does. It seems like Mars wants Mark to die there, but Mark has other intentions.

Told through mission logs where Mark recaps the day’s adventures, and interluding “Earth-based” chapters spread out through the novel, it’s got a fast-paced, humorous and yet grounded sense of style.

Mark is brilliant, hilarious, and an absolute joy to read about. He thinks his way into and out of the box and so far beyond the box that the box is no longer a box, and it’s astounding and mesmerizing and way over my head, but still captivating.

martian-gallery3-gallery-imageScience is not my strongest asset. Math, I hated but could figure out and pass advanced classes with a B; Science… well, I got a B in Chemistry but avoided Physics for a reason. I can do it, but it hurts my brain and even then, I don’t really understand everything behind it. That being said, The Martian has a lot of science. Like, A LOT, a lot. Watney explains everything he’s doing and how it works and walks you through it (often skipping the math, thank goodness). I tried to understand, and I get the basic principles of it, but if I were stranded on Mars, I can tell you without a doubt that I wouldn’t survive. Then again, I wouldn’t be an astronaut, as cool as space seems. AND YET, I didn’t find that to be a problem when reading The Martian. Weir knows that not everyone reading it has a degree in Chemistry of Astrophysics or Engineering or Botany or whatever (hence why he explains it in a very realistic way), but it doesn’t hinder the reading experience if you don’t understand it exactly. If anything, it makes the story that much stronger, and his survival that much more difficult. It works in favor of the ignorant reader because the reader isn’t overanalyzing it to make sure the science works. It just does.

Watney deals with a lot, and every time he gets something working, something else blows up in his face (sometimes quite literally). It’s action-packed and it’s one problem and challenge after another, but it keeps the reader engaged and wondering how Watney will figure out his way around this new problem.

The side characters are done well, and the argument of humanity is touching and beautiful, but Mark is the star of the show. He is The Martian, and his story will leave you on the edge of your seat.

Also, Matt Damon plays him in the movie version coming out in November. Score.

The Selection | Review

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The Selection (The Selection #1) by Kiera Cass

The best way to describe this book is The Bachelor with a prince in a dystopian future. If that doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will.

America Singer is, of course, a lower-class girl who is selected to compete with 34 other young women from across the country to win the heart of the young Prince, who is seeking a bride.

The world is split into a caste system, with Ones at the top and Eights the homeless. A Five, America is part of the “artists” class, struggling to make a living but grateful that they’re not lower. Of course none of those at the top know of the struggles (are they that ignorant!?) and maybe meeting America and seeing her attitude will help the lower castes? There was also a weird comment about how there weren’t any history books, and mysterious rebels… which makes me think there’s definitely more to this story than the Royals are letting on.

imagesThe Selection employs many of the common YA tropes: naturally, America is “not like other girls”; she doesn’t think she’s that pretty when in fact she’s stunning; she is not gaga over the Prince but sees him more of a friend and isn’t afraid to call him out on things; there’s a love triangle that is so obvious and tiresome and overdone that it’s annoying.

Despite that, it’s fun. If you go into knowing that it’s a fluffy, YA romance thinly-guised as a dystopian, then you’ll have a blast. America is funny and the Prince charming.

The writing wasn’t that wonderful, parts of it are predictable, but it’s fast paced (I read it in a day for BookTubeAThon).

If nothing else (and oh there is, because in a love triangle there’s always a Team you’re rooting for), the dystopian elements and world building are enough to keep me reading. I want to know if my slowly budding theories are correct, and dammit I want my happily ever after.

I will say, a forewarning: this book ends before The Selection process is over, so be ready to pick up The Elite as soon as you finish.

Basically, it comes down to this: it’s like reality TV; you know it’s bad for you and complete and utter fluff, yet it makes you giddy and you instantly get hooked. The Selection is The Bachelor in book form, and who can argue with a concept like that?

The Shell Seekers | REVIEW

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The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

I chose to read The Shell Seekers to fulfill the “read a book your mom loves” challenge on the 2015 PopSugar challenge, and I got about what I expected.

The Shell Seekers takes place in England in 1984 (and no, there’s no Big Brother), and follows the story of Penelope Keeling, a 64-year-old woman who just had a heart attack. The reader is introduced to her three children: Nancy, Olivia, and Noel; and her backstory is woven through the present. The Shell Seekers, a painting for which the book is named, is the last bit of her old life in Cornwall and her father than Penelope has left. When other works by her father, Lawrence Keeling, come onto the market and sell for a large sum, her children ask Penelope to look into selling the three artworks she has left.

The plot is simply the life of Penelope, from a young girl traipsing from Cornwall to London to France with her bohemian parents, to that of a young adult trapped in the midst of a war and a loveless marriage, to as she is in the present, a fiercely independent woman.

This book is more about the characters than the plot, though there is a hidden love story that influences many of Penelope’s decisions later on and is heartbreakingly beautiful; the characters are what drive the book, however.

2df7d6ccaab0d5e9c654a6b9939897f1Where Penelope is kind and generous and independent and loving, her children are the opposite. Nancy is lazy, ungrateful, and whiny; Noel is spoiled, flighty, and wheedling; and Olivia, the best of the three, can be cold and unloving at times (though her stint in Ibiza was one of my favorites in the book). I got very upset at Nancy and Noel, especially, with the remarks and treatment they gave their mother.

Antonia and Danus, however, are wonderful and lively, and the reader can see why Penelope would want to spend time with them instead of her own children, who mollycoddle, look down upon, and can’t be bothered with her. They are a breath of fresh air in the novel, and help keep it young.

The pace was a bit slower, simply because it was a dense novel packed with details, and the character-driven structure, which I liked, didn’t help with the pacing as it allowed the reader to really get to know the characters.

While I didn’t love it, I did appreciate the themes of family and independence, as those are things I value as well. I can only hope to be like Penelope when I’m older.