New Release: Down and Across

Down and AcrossRelease Date: February 6, 2018

Down and Across
by Arvin Ahmadi

Summary from Goodreads:
Scott Ferdowsi has a track record of quitting. Writing the Great American Novel? Three chapters. His summer internship? One week. His best friends know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but Scott can hardly commit to a breakfast cereal, let alone a passion.

With college applications looming, Scott’s parents pressure him to get serious and settle on a career path like engineering or medicine. Desperate for help, he sneaks off to Washington, DC, to seek guidance from a famous professor who specializes in grit, the psychology of success.

He never expects an adventure to unfold out of what was supposed to be a one-day visit. But that’s what Scott gets when he meets Fiora Buchanan, a ballsy college student whose life ambition is to write crossword puzzles. When the bicycle she lends him gets Scott into a high-speed chase, he knows he’s in for the ride of his life. Soon, Scott finds himself sneaking into bars, attempting to pick up girls at the National Zoo, and even giving the crossword thing a try–all while opening his eyes to fundamental truths about who he is and who he wants to be.

I can’t wait for this book because:
Sounds like a great coming-of-age story! I love that it focuses on the idea of grit and perseverance. Fiora, with her crossword obsession, sounds like just the type of quirky character I’d love! And it’s set in DC, my childhood hometown!

This author will be at the NoVa Teen Book Fest on March 10, 2018!

Book Review: Heartless

HeartlessHeartless
by Marissa Meyer
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Form: Audiobook & Hardback
Big Themes: Fate, Freewill, Love, Friendship, Baking

Summary from Goodreads: Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

“But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.”

My thoughts: At it’s core, this book is a tragedy about a girl trying to build her own life and everything that prevents her. Girls of today will read this and be so grateful that they don’t have to deal with the social norms and restrictions that were common for women years ago.

The theme of fate vs freewill is developed beautifully. Throughout the book, you root for Cath’s freewill–for her bakery plans to come to fruition, for her to choose Jest over the King. She knows what will make her happy, but fate and those around her keep getting in her way. The tragedy in this story is that ultimately it is one choice she actually does make that results in her losing everything.

One moment that really broke my heart was on Cath’s wedding day, when she is marrying a man she doesn’t love, her parents finally ask,

“Is this what’s going to make you happy?”
“How different everything could have been, if you had thought to ask me that before.”

Marissa Meyer did such an outstanding job of capturing the whimsy and nonsense of Wonderland in this origin story for the Queen of Hearts. The characters, dialogue, and world all felt like an authentic new addition to Carroll’s canon.

And the nods to Poe through Raven were an unexpected fun touch!

If you are a foodie or enjoy binge-watching The Great British Baking Show… this is your book. Cath is a passionate and gifted baker, and the descriptions of her baking are enough to make this book worth reading purely for that alone. One chapter in, and you’ll be craving lemon tarts.

I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by Rebecca Soler. She was FANTASTIC as a narrator. I began this book as an audiobook and finished the last 40 pages in hardback. The audiobook really brought Marissa Meyer’s words to life and captured a tone of whimsy that was hard to recreate in my own head. I just can’t recreate the Cheshire Cat’s drawling voice like the narrator could.

Overall: A wonderful and whimsical tragedy from Marissa Meyer. Highly recommend the audiobook. 4.5 stars

Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

ACOWARA Court of Wings and Ruin
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury
Form: Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Magic, War, Love, Relationships, Sisterhood, Sacrifice, Identity, Redemption

Summary from Goodreads (Book 3): Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords – and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

My thoughts:
The final book in the series really excels in two ways: world-building and showing the costs of war.

In this book, more than any other, we get glimpses of the other Courts: Autumn Court, Winter Court, Dawn Court, and Day Court. The Dawn Court in particular was one that I loved imagining. Their palace reads like a calm, pastel paradise:

Steps and balconies and archways and verandas and bridges linked the towers and gilded domes of the palace, periwinkle morning glories climbing the pillars and neatly cut blocks of stone to drink in the gilded mists wafting by.

It’s not just places that we get glimpses of, but the people who inhabit each of the different Courts. The world really comes to life, and sets up a wealth of possibilities for future books.

I was also really impressed with how the author conveyed the costs of war. While lives lost, injury, and overall destruction were portrayed, it was the mental and spiritual toll that she highlighted in the story. Seeing war from Feyre’s point-of-view, someone who hasn’t experienced it prior, gave a glimpse of how war changes your soul. And yet why she fought and what drove her. For a series that has explored abuse, trauma, and recovery–it made sense for the author to show the toll war takes on the mind and spirit.

While not the last book in this world, this book is a solid conclusion to the trilogy that is Feyre’s story arc. Readers will be satisfied with her growth as a character and her role in protecting the world she loves.

Overall: This series was a pleasant surprise. If you enjoy lush fantasy world-building, strong female protagonists, deep ensemble cast of characters, and well-written action sequences, this series delivers. Recommended for older teens due to mature content and themes (sex, violence, abuse).

Audiobook Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

Dimple Met RishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi
by Sandhya Menon
Published by: Simon Pulse
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Arranged Marriage, College Life, Love, Friendship, Indian Culture, Coding, Comics

Summary from Goodreads: Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

My thoughts: This book was such a fun surprise!! It was such a fun, sweet love story. The story alternated between Dimple and Rishi’s point-of-view, which I really enjoyed. You get to see what each character is thinking and feeling as they get to know each other, and it made you so invested in seeing their love story work.

I loved how Dimple and Rishi grew and changed over the course of the story. Each character had a fear that they had to overcome in order to be truly happy. The parallel structure of their stories was a nice touch by the author.

I am a sucker for characters with passionate interests. So Dimple’s obsession with coding, and Rishi’s love of comics made the story all the more lovable.

Rishi is a great example of healthy masculinity. He is compassionate, honest, loyal, and strong. We need more male leads like him!

I also really loved a particular moment between Dimple and her mother towards the very end of the book. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it was so sweet!

HR sealofapprovalOverall: Five stars! Highly recommend! If you want a happy, feel good read–this is your book! Better for older teens due to some sexual situations.

Book Review: The Westing Game

Westing GameThe Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin
Form: Hardback and Audiobook
Big Themes: Murder Mystery, Contest, Disguise, Partnership/Friendship

Summary from Goodreads: A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger – and a possible murderer – to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead… but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

My thoughts: I can definitely see why this book is a children’s classic. Well-crafted characters, unique mystery, and unexpected twists.

My favorite characters were Angela, Turtle, and Chris Theodorakis. I appreciated how our understanding of Angela changed over the course of the book. Turtle is a spunky and a tad unlikable, but you root for her just the same. Chris Theodorakis warms your heart.

This book is a quick read, and perfect for kids ages 8-12. This is the kind of mystery that will grab a young reader and blow their minds.

My only criticism is that the red herrings are so plentiful that the mystery is near impossible for a reader to solve. I prefer mysteries where an astute reader could come to the correct conclusion.

Overall: A classic mystery for young readers.

Audiobook Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One
by Ernest Cline
Published by: Crown Publishers
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Virtual Reality, Video Games, 80’s Pop Culture, Social Class, Corporate Power, Identity

Goodreads Summary: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

What I Liked: The world and concept of Ready Player One is fun to read about. The idea of a virtual world wide contest and the puzzles being linked to 80s pop culture is the engaging core of the book. The idealistic nature of Oasis has relevance to the current battle of net neutrality.

Wil Wheaton is a great narrator of the audiobook. He narrates a lot of near-future, cyber-heavy books. I enjoyed his narration of Cory Doctorow’s Homeland as well.

Criticism: The book was incredibly heavy on info dumps. The author doesn’t just drop 80’s references–he explains each one. I wanted the plot to progress, and even listening to the book on 1.5 speed didn’t help the pace with these constant dumps of information.

I also wasn’t pleased with the roles the female characters played in the story. Both Aech and Art3mis existed for serving the hero’s story which really irked me.

I dreamed up an alternate ending–where Art3mis’ reluctance to be with Wade was due to the fact that her and Aech were already in a relationship. This would have forced Wade to acknowledge and consider other’s goals/wants and not just his own. Wade had to make zero sacrifices in the story to achieve a happy ending.

Instead, I felt like the ending was very much a geek fantasy:

  • Meet hot girl
  • Go from fat to muscular
  • Become famous
  • Defeat bad guy single-handedly
  • Win ultimate game
  • Get super rich
  • Get the hot girl

Wade is a bit of a Mary Sue. He’s too good at everything. I had a hard time believing he had played every video game (dozens of times), watched every TV episode (dozens of times), and watched every movie (dozens of times) at the ripe old age of 17/18? Really? He lacked flaws or anything he had to sacrifice to achieve his goals. And therefore, I had trouble rooting for him.

Overall: A fun adventure story with 80s pop culture references, but with slow pacing due to info dumps and characters who lack depth and growth.

Series Review: A Court of Mist and Fury (Book 2)

ACOMAFSome spoilers in this review because I want to discuss some of the key topics in this series: relationships and abuse. Trigger warning, but I think this series does a nice job with the topic.

A Court of Mist and Fury (Book Two)
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Form: Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Magic, War, Love, Relationships, Trauma, Abuse, Recovery, Sacrifice

Summary from Goodreads (Book 2): Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

My thoughts:
Again this series has a huge following with abundant fan art and Etsy merchandise. I’d heard so much about the series–and had to see what all the fuss was about. However, I’d also heard that the second book in the series, not the first, is is the best in the series. (And yes, it’s very much necessary to read ACOWAR first in order to appreciate book two.)

In the first book, the author sets up a romance that ultimately becomes an unhealthy relationship. The author is forcing the reader to question and consider how relationships are portrayed in fiction.

Sarah J. Maas is flipping expectations and stereotypes:

“You think I don’t know how stories get written–how this story will be written? … I am the dark lord, who stole away the bride of spring. I am a demon, and a nightmare, and I will meet a bad end. He is a golden prince–the hero who will get to keep you as his reward for not dying.”

The golden prince, Tamlin, is controlling and abusive. In the first book, he is portrayed as protective, generous, and handsome with a hint of danger. But these traits evolved in book two–protective became controlling; generosity stemmed from misogyny; and that hint of danger became actual violent outbursts.

The dark lord and demon, who we disliked in book one, morphs into someone who deeply understands the value of freedom and the depths of emotion. Rhysand, the bat-winged lord of the Night Court, is an ally and supporter of the women around him. Not only is he comfortable with powerful women, but he encourages them to take center stage.

This flip was not something I was anticipating, and it was executed beautifully. We witness the slow and painful realization by the main character, Feyre, that something isn’t right about her relationship. Part of the book’s exhaustive 600+ is giving Feyre the time she needs to heal after both emotional and physical abuse. And by the book’s end, Feyre has discovered what true love is and should be–an equal partnership of mutual respect.

I realized how badly I’d been treated before, if my standards had become so low. If the freedom I’d been granted felt like a privilege and not an inherent right.

This novel forces readers to consider heavy issues, such as abuse, trauma, and recovery. I went into this series expecting a fantastical world and love triangle romance. But what I got was a heroine who battles PTSD to discover her own inner strength and redefine her self-worth. I had some issues with Feyre in book one, but I am certainly a big fan by the end of book two.

Side note: The settings in this book are stunning. I love the world-building and descriptions of the various courts.

Overall: This book was a pleasant surprise compared to the first book. It twisted the story away from our conventional expectations and explored difficult topics such as abuse, recovery, and identity. Definitely worth reading if you are a fantasy/romance fan.

For mature teens–sex, violence, language, sensitive topics.

I am currently over half way through book three, A Court of Wings and Ruin. Look for a review of the final book in this trilogy soon!