Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

30965521Published: July 7th, 2016 by Riverrun.

Format: Kindle Edition, 352 pages.

Goodreads Summary: It’s the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma. The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can’t remember what happened, she doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does. Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town’s heroes.

Thoughts: In the interest of keeping this review straight forward, I will refrain from my personal comments until the very end. Asking For It by Louise O’Neill tells the story of an 18-year-old girl named Emma who is in her last year of secondary school. O’Neill has created a story the expands beyond fiction. Emma O’Donovan is a real person. She exists somewhere in the world with a different name. O’Neill presents us with a topic that society doesn’t like to talk about and sweeps under the rug as if it never happened. Sexual assault is not something to be taken lightly. And this book takes the issue head on.

The author challenges the reader to look at every angle and side of the issue. While reading, she makes you question who is truly at fault and how you would react in a similar situation. The most difficult and arguably most clever part of this novel is the main character herself. Emma O’Donovan is terrible. She is self-centered. She is a liar, a tease, and a thief. She knows she is beautiful and flaunts it. It isn’t difficult to hate her. I did.

But despite all her unfavorable qualities and hideous behavior, she is still a victim.

Asking For It presents rape in all it’s ugliness. The reader is forced to tackle a subject that has the ability to quickly reveal someone’s true moral code. This is a topic that needs more attention and I urge more people to read this book. Through this book, O’Neill is starting a conversation.

On a personal note, this book was difficult to read. However, It never sugar-coated the important events regardless of being categorized as a Young Adult novel, which I was grateful for. There were times when I was so frustrated that I wanted to throw the book across the room or stop reading, but I made myself finish this one. Through reading, I questioned my views on gender, consent, and personal assumptions. As for O’Neill’s writing itself, I thought it captured the perspective of teenagers really well. There were times in the beginning that I felt I was being bombarded with character introductions. It took me a while to figure out who was who. I also wish that she would have mentioned that sexual assault can happen to anyone, man or women. In the end, Louise O’Neill cares about this topic and that is very apparent when reading this novel.

This is a heartbreaking and realistic book that more people should read. The national conversation about sexual assault is slowly growing, but there is still a lot of work to do. If you have a continued interest in this topic I suggest reading more about cases and watching documentaries such as The Hunting Ground and Audrie and Daisy. Both are worth a watch. Rape isn’t something that we should ignore.

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Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

27190613Published: June 28th, 2016 by Delacorte Press.

Format: Hardcover, 475 pages.

Goodreads Summary: No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Thoughts: And I Darken follows two siblings who find themselves prisoners of the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s. It is most notably described as a gender bend of Vlad the Impaler, a brutal ruler of what is now known as Romania. As soon as I heard about this novel I couldn’t click ‘read’ fast enough. It’s refreshing to see YA branching out and covering a topic of history that not many people know about. Kiersten White has done her research, for the book stays consistent in historical accuracy throughout. While reading, I felt like I learned more regardless of my prior knowledge of this time in history. It’s fascinating! The author has mentioned that she will take more creative liberties in the next two books to make her story work.

Our two main characters captured my attention instantly. Ladislav is an unattractive young woman fighting to be a warrior in a man’s world. She demands respect and breaks every rule of the Ottoman court as she attempts to return to her homeland. On the other side of the coin, her brother Radu must find strength in a different way. Although he has the benefit of being a handsome male, Radu is punished for his kindness which many around him perceive as a weakness. Unlike his sister, he finds a place in the Ottoman Empire despite other misfortunes. Lada and Radu both find themselves at the mercy of their emotions and this acts a catalyst for much of the novel. They will work with and against each other to secure their place in this society. Both characters are complex and illustrate important gender themes highlighted within the novel.

“As the baby latched on with surprising fierceness, the nurse offered her own prayer.
Let her be strong.
Let her be sly.
And let her be ugly.”

And I Darken transports readers into a vivid world of castles surrounded by mountains and ornate buildings containing harems. The writing was dense, but this seemed fitting for the story. When I was reading I was completely enveloped by the setting and found it difficult to pull myself out of it. I will admit that the plot is slow and meticulous. Therefore, it requires your utmost attention as every sentence reveals pieces of the story. Knowing this, And I Darken may not be for everyone. The first book covers a large amount of time in the span of roughly 500 pages. The Conquerors Saga will consist of three books, the next one releasing in Summer of 2017. For readers who enjoy Historical Fiction, Fantasy, or YA this is a novel you don’t want to miss. This brutal novel will gut you.

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Bookish Tags, To My Reader

Bookish Tags: Hamilton Book Tag

Bookish Tags

Like everyone else on the internet I’ve taken quite a liking to the Broadway Musical about the American founding father Alexander Hamilton. Okay, I haven’t been able to stop listening to the soundtrack but that’s beside the point. If you haven’t listened to any of the songs the entire album is on Spotify. Anyway, a Youtuber by the name of Maureen created a tag involving both Hamilton and books! To check out the original video you can click here to watch it.

A quick warning before starting that there may be spoilers below. Proceed with caution! If you haven’t read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and don’t want to be spoiled stop reading NOW.

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Question 1: “The Room Where It Happens”

A book world you’d put yourself into..

6547258For this question I’m picking Scadrial or The Final Empire in the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. It’s not the cleanest of places, but there are so many different areas to explore. Not to mention the interesting people who live there. I’ve always wanted to visit a high-fantasy world and Sanderson is an expert at creating complex ones.

Question 2: “The Schuyler Sisters” 

An Underrated Female Character..

7417780 (1)My choice has to be Georgie Finch from Melina Marchetta’s novel The Piper’s Son. This book is highly underrated and although the plot itself is subtle it carries a powerful message of family. Georgie has to go through misfortunes of death and betrayal, but regardless of her heartbreak still she finds time to help her depressed nephew. She’s a wonderful character that deserves more appreciation.

Question 3: “My Shot” 

A character that goes after what they want and doesn’t let anything stop them..

27190613This one goes to a new favorite character of mine. Ladislav – the daughter of Vlad Dracul (yes, that Vlad!) knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t follow the rules. She is bloodthirsty and violently protective of those she cares about, which is few. Lada is brutally honest and won’t hesitate to rip out someone’s throat. How lovely. She is a main character in the new novel And I Darken by Kiersten White.

Question 4: “Burn” 

The Most Heartbreaking end to a Relationship You’ve Read..

27362503It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. My heart hurts. In the event of massive spoilers I won’t say anything else. Read this book!

Question 5: “You’ll Be Back”

Sassiest Villain.. 

17675462The only villain that comes to mind instantly is Piper Greenmantle from The Raven Boys Quartet by Maggie Stiefvater. Or really any of the villains in this series. Although she isn’t my favorite evil character of all time her comments are golden, and I can’t help but laugh every time she speaks to her husband.

Question 6: “The Reynolds Pamphlet”

A book with a twist you didn’t see coming..

8490112For this answer I’m picking Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Lani Taylor. It was such a creative twist to a story that already had me clenched within its claws. This trilogy keeps getting better and better. I knew this story was weird, but I would have never guessed what would happen. It’s fantastic!

Question 7: “Non-Stop”

A series you marathoned.. 

angelfall-susan-eeI’ll admit that I was late to this party, but decided that I finally had to read it. When I started Angelfall by Susan Ee I was hooked. The first book reads like a movie and everything is so easy to visualize. After finishing one book I couldn’t stop. I remember staying up all night reading World After (book two) and rushing to finish the last book. It was worth it.

Question 8: “Satisfied”

Your favorite book with multiple Point of Views.. 

11264999There are so many books I could’ve picked and I’m sure many others have chosen this as well but I couldn’t help it. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is the ultimate book when it comes to a wide variety of characters. Each character adds to the massive scope of A Song of Ice and Fire. For those of you who were wondering, Arya and Jon are my favorite characters to read from.

Question 9: “Stay Alive” 

A character you wish was still alive..

A Little LifeWillem. Do I even have to explain? For more about this heartbreaking and fantastic story read my review here. It’s my favorite book of all time.

Question 10: “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”

A Book/Series that you believe will be remembered in history..

3What other book is there to pick besides Harry Potter by J.K Rowling? It 11016gave magic to an entire generation and then some. But in order to be a little more interesting with my answer I decided to pick my favorite classic too. Jane Eyre.

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Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

25614492Published: February 2nd 2016 by Philomel Books.

Format: Hardcover, 391 pages.

Goodreads Summary: Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.

Thoughts: Ruta Sepetys needs to stop stomping on my heart. This story follows a lesser known tragedy in the 1940’s and ups the anti by looking at the event from the perspective of young men and women whose lives have been destroyed by war. Sepetys never ceases to amaze me with the amount of emotion she is able to portray in each one of her novels. This one in particular quickly introduces lovable characters who all have their own motivations and voices. They react realistically and bring the novel alive. The story tests their limits of survival to the brink. The author is truly gifted when it comes to storytelling, but she also manages to keep her stories grounded in historical context which I believe adds to the overall emotional core of the novel.

The novel features short chapters that I believe work to increase the pace of Salt to the Sea. Because the chapters are so short you will have the desire to find out what will happen next. (After all the chapter was only two pages.) Why not continue? The faster storyline parallels the speed of the book’s main event on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Even though the ship is doomed to sink, there is a part of you that hopes everything will work out. – It took this ship less than an hour to sink below the depths of the icy water. The story had me on the edge of my seat and witnessing the war through four very different perspectives was clever on the authors part. It added suspense and a wider understanding of all sides.

“How foolish to believe we are more powerful than the sea or the sky.”

At the end of the story Ruta Sepetys talks about the importance of history and how she hopes that, although the story itself is fictional, the presence of humanity and the shadow of war will inspire readers to learn more about other stories lost in history. I am a huge fan of the Historical Fiction genre, and Ruta Sepetys hasn’t let me down yet. If you are interested I highly recommend you read this one. It is beautiful.

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Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

18047651Released: August 26th, 2014 by Ecco.

Format: Paperback; 416 pages.

Goodreads Summary: On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Thoughts: This book has been sitting on my shelf for the longest time. I was surprised when it appeared on my Second Semester English syllabus for this year.  Now, I don’t know much about the country of Amsterdam or its full scale involvement in the Dutch East India Company, but this story did shed some light on my lack on knowledge. I found this story easy to read and believe the author did an impeccable job researching the topic. This is all great, but I can’t shake this feeling that the novel fell short somewhere.

As Jessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturist is vividly rendered with the magic of 16th century Netherlands. Nella Oortman has been preparing for her inevitable role as a wife and mother. Anticipating the moment when she reaches her marriage bed and can contribute something to her new household. However, events don’t unfold as she hopes. I found this book to be deeply rooted in the many aspects of gender roles and attitudes of human sexuality. We are met with a outspoken protagonist that must figure out how she fits into an influential family.

The novel has this underlying magical element to it, that ultimately becomes the source of mystery for the entire plot. How does this miniature doll house affect Nella’s new life? With the help of a stranger she is able to bring life into her dreary home. Although I enjoyed this aspect, I found that the novel lacked an important emotional element to it. I also found myself somewhat confused by a few parts, but maybe that means I need to read the story again. I may do that at some point. Burton has no shortage of shock worthy twists, but ultimately I didn’t feel a sense of closure. At least not in a way that satisfied me. That’s not to say that the author didn’t wrap up the story nicely.

Each character is unique and the story is easy to to get immersed into. For me, the most fascinating part of this novel was the author’s inspiration for it. I loved hearing about how Burton came across an intricate cabinet while on vacation, and built her entire story around an inanimate object. You can tell she took great care in the creation of the story.

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Yes, I will decorate my house, Marin, Nella thinks – with all the things that you detest.”

This just goes to show that writers can take inspiration from anywhere. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction novels, and although The Miniaturist didn’t make it onto my favorite books list, the story is full of intrigue and magic. Readers will have no problem getting swept into this sixteenth century novel. A stunning, and historically accurate debut by author and actor Jessie Burton. I look forward to reading more from her.

Let me know what you think.

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Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

18460392Published: January 6th 2015 by Knopf.

Format: Hardcover, 400 pages.

Goodreads: Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

Thoughts: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven encapsulates every extreme emotion that appears in the human condition. From happiness that appears nothing less than effulgent, to a darkness that reaches deep enough to shake your bones. This is a story about what it means to be alive and in the moment. Every wonderful glimpse, and what is sacrificed to see that they aren’t lost. Although I wasn’t initially impressed by the first quarter of the book, I found myself connected to the characters by the end. Violet and Finch just snuck up on me.

“The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”

In a way this story reminded me a lot of “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green which quickly became an international best-seller about a boy teaching a girl how to live again. (I loved that story, but years have passed and I don’t see that book in the same light anymore.) Because of that, I felt the plot in All the Bright Places had been done before. Or at least aspects of it. Frankly, in the YA genre there are copious amounts of novels with this same story line. A boy and a girl. Regardless of this, I could tell that the author gave a piece of herself when writing this book. She shared emotions that could only be explained by someone who had lived through them.

This book touches on important issues that have continuously been labeled as taboo and many people still feel uncomfortable talking about them. We need to understand that times are changing and with that comes a new set of issues to be faced. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is beautiful and has struck a cord with many readers. For that reason, I believe this book is worth a read. It was recently announced that Elle Fanning would star in a motion picture adaption and that Niven would write the screenplay herself.

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What do you think?

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Book Reviews

Book Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforePublished: April 15th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Format: Kindle Edition; 288 pages.

Source: Amazon.

Goodreads Summary: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

Thoughts: Since summer officially began for me two weeks ago, I thought I’d start it off with a contemporary novel. I ended up enjoying this book a lot more than I thought I would. I wouldn’t call the plot heavy or complex but the story was really cute. Lara Jean is a junior in High School and she panics when she finds out that her love letters have been sent out. I’ve never read a book that made me more embarrassed for a character than this one. Wow! When I first started reading this I thought it was going to be a book about dealing with the consequences after these letters were sent out, but instead this is more of a coming of age story following Lara Jean as she navigates the ups and downs of family, school, and love.

My favorite aspect of the novel was the attention the author placed on family and the relationship between sisters. More specifically the Song Sisters. Lara, Margot, and Kitty had a realistic relationship and the way they took care of each other while pushing each others buttons at the same time was great. I also appreciated that Lara Jean’s father played a role in the story and was not nowhere to be seen. I hate when novels dismiss the parents entirely. They’re important too. Jenny Han has created one of my favorite book families and I also love that she created a biracial Korean-American protagonist. We definitely need more diversity in YA literature.

Now let’s talk about Peter Kavinsky. His relationship with Lara Jean was everything you’d expect. It was light-hearted, sweet, and full of angst. He’s your typical handsome, and popular classmate. At times I loved him for the things he did, but also hated him at the same time. He is so flawed, but readers must remember that he’s only 17. He’s not going to be perfect, although a lot of people seem to think so. Regardless of how frustrated I was with his character sometimes, I was still rooting for him and Lara Jean.

This book was a cute contemporary, but I still had some problems with it. I know that Lara Jean is a High School student, but I hated that she was so insecure about herself. It seemed like every couple of pages she would say how she wasn’t good enough and that drove me crazy. “No, Lara Jean you are!! Really.” I get that some girls in High School have trouble with their image and how they’re being perceived by others, but every time Lara Jean doubted herself I wanted to yell at her.

Overall, this book was a fun and light read. It wasn’t amazing, but If you’re looking for another contemporary to fill your days then To All the Boys I’ve loved before is worth it. The sequel P.S I Still Love You is already out and I do plan on reading it soon. Also, I wanted to share this short fan adaptation of the book with you. It’s superbly done.

Please share your thoughts.

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