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Mini Book Reviews: Hyped YA books

Sometimes I read/watch reviews of highly anticipated books and it just makes me want to read them so much even when I know that it probably won’t be as good as reviews make it out to be considering my tastes. I guess that’s kind of the point of glowing reviews. This is the story of how I got sucked into hype once again…do they live up to that hype? Or will they falter??

Alex Approximately by Jenn Bennett (3/5)

YA Contemporary | Goodreads 

Tis the season for contemporary. And the contemporary buzz book of the season is Alex, Approximately. And let me tell you, the buzz around this book was insane around the booktube community. The hype train always gets me even when I say it doesn’t. And I Image result for alex approximatelywas in the mood for contemporary so why not. And this is a reminder that I should take the hype train with a grain of salt. This is a You’ve Got Mail retelling (which I haven’t seen but really need to). At the beginning of the book, Bailey moves from DC to California to live with her dad. She’s a film buff, so much so that she is a member of an online forum for the film community where she’s been talking back and forth with fellow film buff and Californian, Alex, who she may or may not have feelings for. In fact, moving to California will give her the perfect opportunity to meet Alex in real life. Meanwhile, she lands a summer job at a museum where she meets Porter and it’s hate at first sight until it’s not….

First of all, this book feels like it was written by someone who does not live in SoCal because it feels so stereotypical. It’s basically like the California you see on the Hannah Montana set except with the inclusion of churro carts (I need that in my life) and poke (because we eat poke a lot too apparently) and of course, the surfers.

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But I guess Jenn Bennett must be doing something right because after reading it, I just felt like going to the beach and having a bonfire. And there was something exciting and fun about having adventures in an underground museum. In terms of the romance, what you see is basically what you get. Porter was basically spat out from the formulaic YA boyfriend machine–he’s kind of a nerd but he’s just so cocky and omg if I hear that word one more time, I will sue–but he kind of missed the step where they give him a unique personality and any kind of flaws really. I did like that Bailey got to grow throughout. She’s someone who tends to avoid confrontation and being put on the spot but she learns to be comfortable with herself (even though the character development felt random and sudden; I get the gist). They both have tragic pasts that are discussed throughout and it felt off but maybe that’s just me.

The thing I hate about YA contemporary is that the 1st 10% of the book is spent developing the side characters like the parents and the friends and the backstory and the next 80% of the book is spent developing the relationship and then the last 10% suddenly the author remembers she has other characters so they suddenly have more page time but it feels like too little too late. This happened to Grace who works with Bailey at the museum. She feels kind of like the token diverse best friend considering that the author describes her father’s voice as having an “African sway”. What does that even mean?? There’s also Davy who is Porter’s ex-bestie and is basically there to make Porter look better. Also, he turned out to be a lot worse than I anticipated so the storyline turned out to be really melodramatic (complete with guns and drugs). The dad is there to instill wisdom and curfew times although I did like all the Settlers of Catan references. They all just felt token and bland.

My point is, this is YA contemporary and it doesn’t bring anything original to the genre but it’s fun and cute and actually kind of the perfect beach read literally.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (3.5/5)

YA Fantasy | Goodreads

I think after this series Laini Taylor and I might need to part ways. I enjoyed this book when I was reading it. It is magical and mysterious and as surreal as Laini Taylor’s previous works with mythic worldbuilding. Years ago, the city of Weep was erased from the minds of all the people in this world. Now it is only the stuff of legends, a good story but not real. However, Lazlo remembers Weep, in fact, he’s obsessed with it. He’s a librarian whose head is always in the clouds (“Strange the Dreamer”) and spends his free Image result for strange the dreamertime researching Weep dreaming about the day when he will be able to see Weep for himself. I have to applaud Taylor’s ephemeral writing; as over written and dramatic as it is, it does make you feel as if you were living a legend, a hero epic. There’s no other way to describe her worldbuilding except that it is epic like the libraries of Zosma. It’s completely sweeping and otherworldly, larger than life but is still grounded in what the reader knows which only makes the reader imagine it better.  I loved Lazlo’s dream landscapes of Weep, so imaginative like the fever dream of a child who has only read books about unicorns and rainbows.

But I realize after reading it why I can’t fully love this book. It’s because the payoff to all this buildup is just not satisfying. Lazlo has spent 7 years researching about Weep and it feels to the reader like an unattainable goal but then suddenly the answer comes right in front of him like all that buildup was for nothing. When they arrived at Weep, again the problem seemed insurmountable, but then when the solution arrived it didn’t feel satisfying? There’s also this instalove that annoyed me. It was almost like Laini Taylor was trying too hard to make me believe in their love by coating their instalove with frosting, with copious amounts of descriptions of how beautiful Sarai’s skin is and how mysterious Lazlo’s nose is. Are there really that many ways to describe someone’s crooked nose?? And omg this is the first time, someone has seen me!! The first time someone said I wasn’t disgusting!! Cue the blushing.  I think my eyes rolled straight out of my head. At points, it seemed like Sarai was a manic pixie dream girl and the ending didn’t help that theory either. The other side characters had a lot more potential to be intriguing characters such as Eril-Fane who was involved in the war that occurred before the events of Strange the Dreamer. I liked the concepts and themes that Laini Taylor introduces, about grief after war and guilt over the part you played in a war, how to figure out how to live with yourself after all the devastation. I wish there was more of that instead of the woe-is-me, melodramatic romance. If you liked Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, you will adore this, it’s actually quite eerie how similar the two are if you think about it.  The premise of Taylor’s books always hook me but the execution somehow always falls flat for me though.

Let me know if you’ve read these two books or if you’re planning to (they’re actually quite perfect for spring/summer) and what your thoughts are!

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book review · mini book review · Uncategorized

Mini Book Reviews: Memoirs (and my favorite book of 2016?)

I’m really excited about this post because I gave all of these memoirs 4-stars which is a feat especially for me and this year of books. I love all of these and would highly recommend them.

Yes Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

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For some reason, I’m not all that into cooking but I love reading about food and the making of food. That appetite was probably fed by watching Ratatouille. My favorite part of that movie being, you guessed it, the food. In fact, my favorite scene of the movie is when Remy is adding all these ingredients to the soup that Linguini leaves out. So I initially wanted to read this because it’s the memoir of a professional chef but Samuelsson is quite the renowned chef having appeared on Masterchef and was a guest chef at Obama’s first state dinner.

Born in Ethiopia but raised by Swedish middle-class parents, Samuelsson was first exposed to extravagant home cooking through his grandmother. From there, he worked at some well known restaurants in Austria, Switzerland, and New York. Samuelsson is able to evoke this sense of coziness of his grandmother’s house but effortlessly conveys a dog-eat-dog world at Restaurant Aquavit where the upper chefs consistently humiliated the young chefs and one mistake could get you fired. It makes his memoir feel so rich and diverse. There’s no doubt that what makes Samuelsson so compelling to me is his undying ambition probably because it is so different than mine. He can come off as an arrogant asshole but I liked that he talked about the sacrifices that ambition takes. Few people are willing to work 16 hour shifts 6 days a week with little pay and endure humiliation to reach the top of the cooking world. Samuelsson could not even attend his father’s funeral. Besides the cooking though, his life is so interesting. He talks about how he reconnected with his birth father whom he thought was dead his entire life. He has lived in Switzerland, France, New York and has traveled the world trying out and currently owns a restaurant. He talks about all of this with such passion and occasional bouts of humility and it was quite inspirational in many ways.

Another thing that stood out to me was the fact that he wrote such a perfect balance between cooking and food jargon and his life stories. I feel like whenever you read about another professional not familiar to you it can become tedious because there is so much vocabulary you don’t know but Samuelsson combines it with enough context to make you want to look it up yourself. It’s a lovely ode to food.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

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I’ve been a fan of Anna Kendrick ever since I watched 50/50 (an awesome comedy about a guy who has cancer). She’s absolutely hilarious on Twitter; I love her self-deprecating but snarky humor and we both like red pandas so I mean we are obviously soul sisters. Obviously..

This celebrity memoir is in my humble opinion a little different from other celebrity memoirs because instead of telling me their whole life story, she only told me snippets of some of the more entertaining stories of her going into theater and being an actress and how she got into the acting world because let’s face it I don’t want to hear every single thing you did as a child.

The best part about this memoir to me is that listening from her perspective you get the sense that she was almost thrust into this world because she always seems surprised that she has acquired recognizable fame but it just helps readers be put into her shoes, what it’s like for someone who has only become “famous” recently. She knew she loved acting but she didn’t know what it came with so to speak. I really liked the parts when she was talking about the first time she went on a red carpet (Twilight) or the first time she got a hair stylist.

I highly, highly recommend the audiobook for this. Anna Kendrick has such a sharp, clear voice and you can really feel her sense of humor based on what she emphasizes or when she lowers or raises her voices for certain parts when it’s suppose to be funny. Of course, if you don’t like Anna Kendrick, it’s not the book for you because her trademark is very apparent but even if you have a passing interest in her, I highly recommend.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

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This might actually be my favorite book of 2016 because it changed me a little bit. The author, Bryan Stevenson, is a lawyer representing people on death row and life imprisonment and he recounts his experience working on these cases with the case of Walter (a wrongly convicted death row prisoner) as an overarching case throughout. His words are taut with tenderness and the self-righteous passion of what he felt justice should be. I have always believed the saying that no matter how bad a childhood a person has, he/she still has a choice to be good so there are no excuses for criminals to use their past as an excuse. But reading the accounts of the people Stevenson has represented (most of them poor and nonwhite), you realize that what they’ve been through shapes their actions so much and even after they had been convicted, the justice system continued to fail them.

One case in particular was especially heartbreaking to me: Trina grew up with an abusive and alcoholic father who repeatedly beat her, her mother, and her siblings. When he beat her mother to death, some of her siblings ran away. She ran away to her sister’s and her husband’s place but ran away again when her husband was sexually abusive. One day, she decided to sneak into some friends’ house at night; she couldn’t see, lit a match and set fire to the house killing everyone inside. She was thirteen when she was sent to life imprisonment. In jail, she was raped by a guard and became pregnant with a son. She had been repeatedly hospitalized for mental illness and intellectual disabilities which worsened when she was incarcerated. Though Stevenson does not excuse the crimes these people have committed, he pleads for the system and us to show compassion to those who might not want it or even to those society deems unworthy of compassion and mercy. These cases add a human touch to the abundance of legal procedures and trials that Stevenson employs to get these people out. These cases only prove that our legal system is fueled by racial and gender politics instead of being as objective as it needs to be. Stevenson covers all of these procedures and rulings as well as his experiences trying to protect those convicted though legal ruling. The result is equal parts frustrating and touching.

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book review · mini book review · Uncategorized

Mini Book Reviews: Recent YA & NA Reads

I read some YA and NA this month and I gave them pretty similar ratings so I thought I’d share them with you =)

It Ends With Us

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3/5

what

Sassy, strong, stereotypical NA heroine, Lily Bloom meets arrogant and unoriginal NA hero, Ryle Kincaid who just so happens to not do relationships!! Who would have thought?? Oh woe is me.

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But they hit it off and start to date but things go awry and Lily finds that her past has become her present (I’m being vague on purpose).

There are also flashbacks from Lily’s past in the form of letters talking about her first love, Atlas Corrigan (a much better name than Ryle imo) and living with an abusive father.

thoughts

Colleen Hoover mentions that this book is a very personal book for her, that she wanted to tell the story of her mom and answer the question, why do victims of abuse stay with their abusers? And I feel bad for not loving a book that an author has such personal ties to. But that’s the thing: I felt like the characters were just devices to make a point about abuse but not to exist as characters for themselves. And while she does a somewhat decent job of portraying this horrible cycle of abuse, it doesn’t discount the fact that a lot of its power was taken away by its excessive melodrama (some of the predictable and over the top plot points made me roll my eyes), gag worthy monologues and dialogue

“You were standing there like an angel backlit by the light of heaven”

and the stereotypical NA characters. There are some decent scenes (even though one of the scenes was actually taken from Hoover’s mother’s personal life) but not enough for me to continue reading anymore of Hoover’s work. Sorry not sorry but kind of sorry.


Vengeance Road

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3.5

what

Kate Thompson wants to get revenge for the people that have killed her father. To catch them, she travels with a pair of brothers (don’t worry, no love triangle) and a Native ally (stereotypically portrayed as the stoic and spiritual Native American). Little does she know that her father has been hiding secrets from her her entire life and getting revenge is more important than ever.

thoughts

Vengeance Road is a fun Western adventure that explores revenge and letting go of one’s past. Our main characters are determined, flawed, and easily relatable. This is one of those YA books where the main characters are traveling for most of the book so if you’re not into that, this book’s not for you but it was never tedious because I think Bowman did a wonderful job describing the rough and tumble of the Wild West. Bowman really tries to keep to the Western dialect throughout the story so props to that as well. Add in a couple of flashbacks, a couple of cool action scenes, several plot twists, and a spot of romance and I was basically hooked.


And I Darken

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3/5

what

And I Darken is a alternative historical fiction centering around Vlad the Impaler except retold as if he were a girl named Lada Dragwlya. Lada is a violent, smart and merciless person. She has a complicated relationship with her brother Radu, her tenderhearted brother.

Radu and Lada are sent to the Ottoman capital where they meet Mehmed, future sultan of the empire but Lada is biding her time until she can return back to Wallachia to claim her birthright.

 

thoughts

Ok, I have no idea how to express my feelings on this one. To sum it up, I felt it was..ok..which is odd because if it had continued to be like it was for the first 20 percent of the book, it would have easily been a 5 star book. I love how consistent Kiersten White portrayed Lada, she was brutal and remorseless, and the reader can actually see it. It was something I wish Throne of Glass had done but didn’t. However, after that, I thought the middle 70 percent was kind of a disaster. The fascinating relationship between Lada and her brother Radu took a backseat and I was left with their constant thoughts about Mehmed and I’m wondering, what is so special about this guy? Kiersten did not spend nearly enough time developing Mehmed for me to understand why Lada and Radu felt so deeply about him. Also, I never felt a sense of urgency or conflict for these characters. Problems were solved without any real buildup, the choices the characters made were suppose to feel important but just didn’t, and the plot was basically nonexistent until the last third of the book. I don’t know why this book was marketed as a fantasy book, it’s not. It’s not an action-packed book and is heavy on the political intrigue. In fact, it reads a lot like a coming of age story. A lot of the book is focused on Lada from her young childhood to early teens and her journey to learning what it means to be a woman and Radu who feels a lot of resentment towards Lada for being so unforgiving towards him but eventually finds his place in the world. I also wished Kiersten White trusted her characters enough to let their actions speak for themselves instead of saying they’re doing this because they’re feeling this way or vice versa. The writing was so generic but I did enjoy the worldbuilding enough to learn more about the Ottoman Empire so I guess that’s something.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them. Maybe it’ll help me with some of my more conflicting thoughts. =)

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