Monday, March 31, 2014

Giveaway: Best Series Blog Hop Hosted by Cuddlebuggery


Yay, giveaway!


As you can see, we are participating in Cuddlebuggery's Best Series Blog Hop! I know, very exciting. We each decided to choose one series we really love and leave it up to the winner which series they'd like to try out. These are our picks (click the cover to go to the Goodreads page):

Kiersten's Pick 
The Sweetest Dark - Shana Abé
I won a copy of The Sweetest Dark through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway and it was the most wonderful thing that ever happened EVER. I fell in love with this book and its characters, then again when the second book in the series came out. This series is a great mix of romance, fantasy, action, and history all in one. If you want more about why I love it so much, check out the review I posted along with Marlon and Noor around when this blog was starting up (here). We all loved it and I think you will too!

Noor's Pick 
Partials - Dan Wells
I came across Partials by accident, while playing around on my Nook, and I think it was one of the best accidents to ever happen to me: the paragon of serendipity. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time, and a wonderful beginning to a very unique series. Dan Wells does something so new and different with Partials, that it's unexpectedly refreshing, from the exciting plot to the fantastic characters. If you want a more detailed reason as to why I love the Partials Sequence, I reviewed the first book a few months back (here), so be sure to check that out!

Amrutha's Pick
City of Bones - Cassandra Clare
Last year, my lovely book blog friends pushed me to read The Mortal Instruments. I had seen the books before and read some spoilers that I wrote off as awkward. However, as soon as I opened up the first book and got to know Jace and Clary and Simon and Alec and Isabelle and my favorite, Magnus, I fell in love with the characters and the plot. Cassandra Clare has a way of making me feel so much for the characters while providing an interesting fantasy plot with fabulous twists of romance.


Marlon's Pick
Legend - Marie Lu
Legend is . . .  wait for it (here it comes), Legend (wait for it again) dary. Marie Lu spins a beautiful, rugged dystopian world and who doesn't love a good dystopian novel? A good dystopian novel that doesn't read like some knock-off of the hunger games like so many do. A good dystopian novel that is highly realistic and jeeze, just all of the feels will be had!




Prizes and Rules
One lucky winner will receive a copy, either print or ebook, of their choice from the books listed above. This giveaway is international, so long as Book Depository ships to you or you can receive a gifted ebook. The rules are simple: use the Rafflecoptor honestly in completing the tasks. The giveaway will run through April 6th and the winner will be notified by April 8th. The winner has 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. We are not responsible for any packages lost in the mail. May the odds be ever in your favor!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Check out the other stops on the hop for more chances to win!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review: Orange is the New Black - Piper Kerman

Orange is the New Black
Piper Kerman
Series: N/A
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Captivating
On Goodreads

This past summer, I binge watched the entire first season of the Netflix original show Orange is the New Black and completely fell in love with every aspect of the show. I loved the dynamic of the characters, the witty dialogue, the prison drama, all of it. I quickly learned that the show was based off a memoir and mentally added it to my reading list. I didn't end up reading it until now, just a few short months away from the next season of the show, and I really wish I'd picked it up sooner, as it was a very enjoyable read. It was really interesting seeing how the book compared to the show. I feel like I would have liked the book better if I had read it before watching the show, but I'm glad I read it when I did. Obviously, a TV show takes many liberties and hypes up drama for entertainment factor, and I was expecting the memoir to be a lot more mellow, which it was. I really liked meeting the characters or reading the stories and connecting them to incidents and people in the show, and I can't wait until next season, when I can watch and pick up on which parts of the book they're referencing.

Okay. Enough about the show vs. book comparison. Let's get down to why you should totally read this book. The first and foremost reason is the characters. They are all so wonderful and dynamic and it makes it even better that these are real people. Piper stays among the company of a very wide variety of people and she tells us about all of them. There's Pop, who works the kitchens, and there's her bunkmate Natalie, and tons of other characters. I really wish she had told us more about them, which is partially where she loses stars. Some of the characters were barely described, and when she would bring them up later I would get confused as to who she was referring to. This didn't take too much away from the other people she wrote about. From the shady correctional officers to the fiesty women of Danbury correctional facility, everyone's stories were so interesting and fascinating I just wanted to keep reading about them. In one scene, Piper wakes up and sees a woman peeing on the floor of another woman's "room." She also talks about how she got an on-site electrical job and all the people she worked with and got to meet, how she had to learn to hold her own among the seasoned and experienced prisoners, and just so many interesting stories that talk about life in prison.

Piper's correctional facility was a low security one, and even though prison is prison, this isn't a tough-as-nails, horrifying account of being tortured and treated like less-than-human in some dump. Piper received pleasures like being allowed to have books and visitors, and was allowed to do things like work. Nevertheless, the personal account of prison life is still full of surprising details and strange experiences that make this book totally worth reading.

Sometimes, her writing style got a little dry, but the story itself made up for that. I didn't like hearing about her own experiences as much -- unless they were from her rebel days -- because her upper-class WASP lifestyle seemed a lot less interesting than the stories about the people she spent a year with in prison. She had a huge support system including her family and her fiancee, Larry. Even though I was happy that she didn't have to deal with being ostracized and judged outside of her prison life, it was all very clean and happy, and not as fun to read about as the other women.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I definitely recommend it to everyone, especially if you watch or are planning to watch the show, which is phenomenal in its own right.

- Noor

Have you read any good memoirs lately?
Let us know in the comments!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Blog Tour Review: Before They Find Us - Michelle A. Hansen


Before They Find Us
Michelle A. Hansen
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Thriller, Contemporary
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Amazing
On Goodreads

About the book:

I’m going to make you wish you were dead.

Just a text. Seventeen-year-old Rebecca Hales tries not to worry. Probably a wrong number. Not really meant for her, and definitely not related to the crime she witnessed six years ago. Right?

Then two states away, a bomb goes off in her best friend’s locker. Soon Ryan is labeled a terrorist and runs to the safest place he knows—Rebecca’s house in small-town Wyoming. It doesn’t take long for the FBI to show up asking questions. Rebecca lies, of course, and says she hasn’t seen him.

Now she’s neck-deep in it with him, whatever “it” is. The only way out is to return to Vegas, where Ryan is a wanted man. The city of lies and illusion tests Rebecca’s wits as she struggles to find the person who framed Ryan and why.

Is Rebecca’s text linked to the bombing? And what does it have to do with a six year old murder? Rebecca needs to find out before she loses Ryan—and her own life.

Review:

To be completely honest, when I got the initial tour email regarding Before They Find Us, I didn't remember signing up for it. Me chose a thriller? Highly unlikely. However, I'm very happy that I did sign up for this tour and that I read this book because it was absolutely incredible and so much better than I thought it would be.

One of the greatest things about Before They Find Us is how well-written the characters are. All of the characters were believable and came to life on the page. When things were getting crazy, they all responded in a way that seemed real and logical for who they were. On top of that, they were all interesting people and I felt invested in the outcome of their lives. I wanted Rebecca and Ryan to clear their names. I wanted everything to work out for them.

Speaking of Rebecca and Ryan, the way they interacted was just magical. The relationship felt so real and natural. These two characters really were people who grew up as best friends and stayed friends despite Ryan moving away. Michelle A. Hansen did a fantastic job building this relationship throughout the book.

Then, of course, there's the plot. Although I've never thought of "thriller" as a genre I liked, Michelle A. Hansen has made me rethink that with Before They Find Us. This book kept me invested and interested through every page. A lot of the time in reviews I'll say that I couldn't put a book down, but in this case it's the truth. I was up very late into the morning reading this and only went to sleep because I felt some obligation to do so. I wasn't even tired - the excitement of Before They Find Us was keeping me awake.

Normally I write a lot about the books I review, but in this case, I think it's best with less. I'm sure I can come up with many more ways to tell you that this book is incredible, but the only way you'll know for sure is if you pick up a copy and read it!

- Kiersten

Purchase links:

About the author:

Michelle A. Hansen was raised in southeastern Washington. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in English teaching from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and taught high school English for six years.

Michelle loves Pepsi and Doritos more than chocolate. She loves summertime and hates to be cold. She has had three near-death experiences. She’s addicted to office supplies and has an irrationally large stash of pens and notebooks.


Author links:

Giveaway:

Open INTL: 
-- $25 Amazon gift card
-- Signed paperback copy of Before They Find Us
-- Before They Find Us charm necklace, bookmarks and signed postcard
-- Ebook copies of Before They Find Us & Painted Blind

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour hosted by:


Monday, March 24, 2014

Review: The Magician King - Lev Grossman

The Magician King
Lev Grossman
Series: The Magicians, #2
Genre: Fantasy, Magic
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (...Ish...)
Word Rating: B, to use the proper scale.
On Goodreads

Have you ever made a bad decision. And then repeated it? That's what this book is.

Okay, I'll admit, it was a lot better than the last one in that I actually enjoyed it . . . at times. I went and finished The Magicians because I had pride, and then told myself that the book was okay enough to warrant seconds. Eh.

Grossman maintains his incredible ability to play with literary tropes and archetypes, to the point where social commentary would be much appreciated, at which point he continues to screw with them. There is that lovable lack of sentimentality, but it quickly tires one out and the dismal, untrustworthy world just starts to . . . suck, as in, suck the life out of you. While found The Magician King a tad lighter and more sensible, maybe that loatheful notion could have been thrown in the closet.

My main love is Julia's story. One thing Grossman has absolutely down in this book is the narration. Julia's past and Quentin's present collide so elegantly I almost wish something of import actually happened because of it. But seriously. If there was ever a need for the utterance "started from the bottom now we here," it would be for Julia. Her story is just painful to get through. She has to push her way into power because she isn't as privileged as Quentin. The world does not smile on her.

Unfortunately, Julia . . . she's a self absorbed [Insert favorite curse word or complaint about censorship here] and though she's gold in comparison to the unbearable hellish cynicism and asshattery that is Quentin "It's Too Cold" Coldwater, she needs to get over herself. However, I can't help but sympathize with her now that I know where she's come from.

Actually scratch everything, I love Poppy. I love love love Poppy. Remember when Stephanie Meyer wrote Jacob's part in (yuck) Breaking Dawn and you were confused because you assumed she simply had someone else write it? Because the character finally had depth even though words like loam were still used? That's what Poppy is. Poppy is charming and inventive and so incredible. But like Jacob, who Meyer turned into a pedophile, Poppy's fate was doomed simply because she exists in a Lev Grossman novel and her name isn't Quentin "Seriously I Need a Towel or Something" Coldwater.

Thank the old gods and Fillory that there is still beautiful sarcasm in the book. And thank goodness for the rich and gorgeous depth that the fantasy part of this anti-genre book details. The landscapes are gorgeous and realistic and though it takes a while, the 'telling' rather than 'showing' stops annoying you as much. Even I have no idea what the hell Fillory is for or what, and I couldn't care less that Quentin is pissy about being the King of it and annoyed with the sea voyage, I would love to be encompassed by these worlds. If you want a list of my grievances read just about any other review, or my review of Magicians. I don't want to discuss in depth what I hate about this book because the faults mainly carry on from the first. I will say this though: I still don't know what the heck Grossman is trying to say. Quentin is still a wonderful conduit, a medium to express the fallacies of fantasy and fiction without ad nauseam delineations on the author's own cynic hatred of everything that ever existed ever.

And that's the problem. So much is wasted! This novel is so good and so bad and there is no middle ground! It's ironic and beautiful about the literature it expresses and Grossman portrays this notion with deadly precision, but it's drowned out and conflated with whatever aim he has.
"He who completes a quest does not merely find something. He becomes something."
I'm curious to see what will become of this book series.

(If I really had to rate it, I'd give it a "It's Enjoyable but you Might Get Stabby".)

- Marlon

A bit random but, multiple narrators? Yay or Nay? Or Hay?
Let us know in the comments!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cover Cosmetics: Divergent factions

Hello, everyone! As I'm writing this, I just got back from seeing the Divergent movie! As you can imagine, I went all out for this - I did themed makeup, wore a Divergent tank top, and even put on a temporary tattoo of Tris' birds for the showing. I actually really enjoyed the movie! Sure, there were some changes here and there that I still need to think a little more about before I come to a full conclusion about how I feel about the movie, but overall I think it was fairly true to the story and very true to the feeling of the world. To be honest, my biggest disappointment came from the lack of Dauntless chocolate cake! I mean, seriously - important stuff. Anyway, I really enjoyed it and I think it has a lot of potential to make Insurgent an even better film adaptation.

Now onto the makeup looks! I've been posting a different faction look on Twitter every day but now I will compile them and write a bit about my thought process behind each of the looks.


Abnegation is a faction dedicated to selflessness. Part of this includes rejecting vanity and not wearing makeup. However, choosing to do no makeup for my Abnegation look would be counterproductive and silly. I still wanted to keep the look fairly neutral, so I stuck with tan and then I used grey, the color of Abnegation, in the outer half of the lid. I'm also not a person to go without eyeliner but I decided to smudge black eyeshadow instead to keep the look soft. I used all shadows from the Divergent collection for this look: Humble Sheen, Radiant Initiation, Abnegation Stone, Dauntless Ink, Serene Vanilla, and Altruistic Almond.


For my Amity look, I thought about incorporating their red and yellow colors but, obviously, decided not to. Instead, I drew more inspiration from their symbol of the tree and the way the symbol is represented on the cover of Insurgent. To do this, I used green, brown, and tan to blend the colors into harmony - a thing that Amity loves. I also added the green eyeliner just to add a little more pop to the look. From the Divergent collection I used: Bold Espresso, Intrepid Moss, Golden Honesty, Altruistic Almond, Burnt Mahogany, Radiant Initiation, Dauntless Ink, and Serene Vanilla. In addition, I also used Nyx Jumbo Eye Pencil in Milk (white cream base) to make the highlight more prominent and Urban Decay 24/7 Eye Pencil in Mildew for the eyeliner.


With Candor everything is black and white - right or wrong. I think the sharp black and white is important for Candor so I wanted to base my look around the stark contrast between the colors. From the Divergent collection I used Dauntless Ink. Since there's no full on white color in the Divergent collection (Serene Vanilla comes close), I used a white cream base and Glamour Doll Eyes Electric Chair.


When I was thinking about Erudite, I felt like an Erudite woman might not want to take the time to do a lot of makeup - she'd rather spend her time researching or developing something new to help their society. Keeping this in mind, I still wanted to incorporate some Erudite blue into the look. From the Divergent collection I used: Humble Sheen, Erudite Sapphire, Dauntless Ink, Serene Vanilla, and some Gleaming Pearl from the cheek palette. In addition to that, I also used a white cream base for the highlight and Urban Decay Haight.


Last, but certainly not least, is Dauntless. For Dauntless I wanted to stick with something daring. Black was an obvious choice since black is the Dauntless color; however, I felt that all black would be boring and I wanted to make it a little more fun. I added the grey on the lid to add more light rather than an all consuming black and I added the red along the edge as a pop of color to symbolize the fiery coals of Dauntless. From the Divergent Collection I used: Dauntless Ink, Abnegation Stone, and Serene Vanilla. I also used a white cream base and Glamour Doll Eyes Electric Chair for the highlight.

Which faction look is your favorite?
Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review: The Magicians - Lev Grossman

6101718
The Magicians
Lev Grossman
Series: The Magicians, #1
Genre: Fantasy, Magic
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Well, Different.
On Goodreads

DNF.

Don't hound me, I do have reasons. I would have kept reading, and I really did want to but I'm sorry, I just couldn't anymore

This book does have some good qualities, which is why I haven't shut it down completely.

It's light and reads fairly easily to read. There's lots of sarcasm! Some of the lines are just absolutely brilliant and some of the scenes are thoroughly exciting and well transitioned and oh so fluid. The commentary on Harry Potter through the modern, realistic eyes of our narrator is pretty cool. The school and Quentin's obsession with Fillory are fantastically portrayed.

And that's where it stops. I can't simply praise and love a book for the few gold nuggets it contains.

The reason it's light and reads easily is because there is no 'showing', there's just a hell of a lot of info dumping, description, delineation, so that the book becomes more or less completely perceptive to the surrounding of the book, rather than placing the reader in the active plot. So it's the anti-contemporary Fantasy novel, yeah? Yeah. There are different ways to critique and display a different style of writing from the genre of the book you are writing . . . this is not one of those ways. It conflicts with one of the main tenants of such a book: the reader has to be engaged.

Yes, I understand there is a small group who wish to be floored with the 'tell' aspect. Yes, I understand that being anti-fantasy is all this book is about, but one has to be deceptive about an anti-book. Grossman simply scares us off with this, makes the first half of the book, the "Harry Potter" half, much more awkward than it has to be. I can't even gather myself to analyze this anymore it's so frustrating.

The entirety of the first half reads like this: "Here's something I didn't like in Harry Potter. Here's my cool, modern version. Ooh let's talk about something else, like Quentin's alcoholism. What a guy, eh?"
Literally, check it out . . . I'm too mad to copy lines from this book, I can't look at it anymore.

And the worst part of this whole anti-genre crap? There is no social message. You won't walk away thinking "wow that guy really had something to say about the fantastical and fallacious portrayal of human beings". Here's a hint: he doesn't. He takes the saying "people never change" and stretches it to the sun and back. Fantasy novels portray humans of all kinds, the best and the worst, and we usually find ourselves in the eyes of the 'best', growing alongside them, however dark it may become or they may become. Human nature is not so facile to be reduced to Quentin Coldwater's less-than-tepid selfish arrogant buttfacery.

See, I know that people suck. I'm not an idiot. People like to think they are the centers of the universe, or in the opposite, that they don't matter at all. People like to just suck. But that's not the point. Grossman had a chance here. A wonderful opportunity to portray Quentin slowly realizing the fallacy of the fantasy world he's being chucked in. But no, he's just a little prick and dresses it up as depression, which it isn't, ruining it for anyone who suffers. He's a cynic, and dresses it up as skepticism, which ruins it for any freethinkers . . . I just don't understand what Grossman was trying to do. He seems to be tackling so much that it just collapses.

I predicted the end and couldn't bring myself to finish, I'm sorry. I quit.

- Marlon

I'm anti-question so no questions. Ha!*
Let us know in the comments!
I'm still angry about this book.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Review: Divergent Makeup Collection

If you couldn't tell by all my Cover Cosmetic posts, I'm kind of into makeup. Naturally, when I saw that Divergent was putting out a makeup collection as promotion for the movie, I HAD TO HAVE IT. And the nail set too. Obviously.

So here are some pictures of the makeup collection. I have to say, the packaging of this is simply stunning! The box pictures the ferris wheel from when the Dauntless initiates play capture the flag and it has these sort of holographic strips that make it shine.



Inside the box, there are three eyeshadow palettes, a face palette, four lip glosses, and a double ended brush - one side being a face brush and the other an eyeshadow blending brush that's really great for the crease.




The three eyeshadow palettes are named after the three factions that Tris had an aptitude for: Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite. The palettes consist of 4 plain eyeshadow colors and one super shimmer on the side. The part containing the 4 colors has a mirror in the top.

Abnegation: 

Dauntless:

Erudite:

These are all the super shimmery colors (from Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite, respectively).


The super shimmery colors on the side of each palette actually detach and can be swapped between the different palettes.



The face palette comes with two blushes, a highlight, and a bronzer. This palette also has a mirror built into the top.


Here are the four lip glosses. From left to right: Fear Not, Natural Virtue, Supreme Ritual, and Temptation's Choice.


Onto the nail set! This is the outside packaging of the nail polish set as well as a view of the polishes outside of the packaging. Once again, the box features the ferris wheel motif. The colors of the polish are a bit distorted in the image so here are some descriptions along with the names. Midnight Calm - a dark navy, almost black; Violet Abnegation - a purple-ish gray; Opal Compassion - shimmery gray with a purple shift; True Pearl - shimmery white with a blue / pink shift; Neutral Lace - nude; Evolve - clear with multi-color glitter.



The nail set also comes with these sort of "nail tattoos" that work similar to temporary tattoos. They feature several iconic images like the ferris wheel, the birds, and the dauntless symbol as well as several other prints that match the nail polishes. There are instructions on how to use them in the bag.


Overall, I think the collection is really great. The packaging is absolutely stunning and totally spot on. I haven't had an opportunity to use all of the colors yet, but from what I've used and swatched, the colors are really great and pretty well pigmented. The colors I've used have applied very smoothly as well and I think the set offers a great variety. My biggest complaint, I'd have to say, is actually in some of the theme-y ness of the set. The palettes are named after the factions and the colors sort of fit those descriptions but the naming of the shadows within the palettes is kind of random. I think it might have been more interesting for the collection, or at least as another separate palette, to have some more vibrant colors that reflect all of the factions. The names could have been a bit more creative too, rather than just slapping an adjective that fits a faction in front of a color name. As for the shimmery colors, these definitely can't be applied as they are - they are VERY glittery. Applying wet or using a glitter base would probably help to make them really stick. As for color, I wish Transform and Chose weren't so similar. There is a distinct difference between the silver sheen and gold sheen of the two, but they are so similar to each other in comparison to the black and gold that is Diverge. The brush is also a pretty good quality. I like the crease brush but I kind of wish it was two separate brushes since the face brush sort of weighs it down. For all the stuff you get and the great quality, I think the set is definitely worth the $59.50 it'll put you back. The collection can be purchased here.

As for the nail set, I haven't had an opportunity to use the polishes yet, but I think there is a nice variety of colors that can be mixed a bunch of different ways. I also really like the decals, although I wish there was more of the themed ones. With how much is provided, it's really only enough to use one of the designs for two accent nails before the whole thing is gone (unless, for example, you cut out small pieces of the bird pattern). The one thing I really love about this, so far, is how DIVERGENT is cut out across the front. I like how the top half of the lettering is all cut out so you can see the nail polish through it. The nail set is $27.50 - I can't quite speak on whether or not I feel this is worth it yet, but I'll definitely touch on it more on Friday after I try the polishes out. The nail set can be purchased here.

Along with the collection and the nail set, there is also a multi-piece palette available for $32.50 here.

A week of Divergent makeup!

As a celebration / in anticipation of the movie coming out THIS FRIDAY, I'll be posting a different faction inspired eye shadow look every day on Twitter (@wlabb) and then I'll put them all in a post on Friday with a description (just like a Cover Cosmetics post). I'm going to mostly use products from the Divergent collection but I'll be using some other products as well. Make sure to check them all out!

- Kiersten

What are you most looking forward to seeing in the Divergent movie?
Let us know in the comments!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review: Out of the Dust - Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust
Karen Hesse
Series: N/A
Genre: Children's, Historical Fiction, Poetry
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: As Depressing as Cancer, but Totally Worth the Read
On Goodreads

If you are looking for something cheerful and happy, step away from this book. Just step away. Leave. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

Okay, got that disclaimer out of the way. So I read this book a few years ago and I liked it very much and then it sat in my bookshelf until now, other than that time my mom read it, which it has also been a while since. Which is not to say it is a forgettable book, because as I was rereading it today. it all came flooding back to me, even specific phrases and lines, and all the little plot details, like Livie moving and the boy who came and asked them for food. So it's not a forgettable book in the slightest. It's more of something with a quiet punch that you won't ever forget, but won't always be thinking about. I was reminded of the existence of this book when my train of thought wandered into the territory of fire and burns. And since it had been years since I'd read it, I realized the intended audience for this book had to have been of the younger variety. And so, I really wanted to know if I would still find it as heartbreaking or impactful now as I did back then. The answer, in short, is yes. I do. I'm glad I reread it because it has quite a different impression at this stage of my life than it did the first time I read it.

The book is written in free-verse poetry and when I read it the first time, I didn't really understand why. I thought it read like normal diary-type entries. I guess it's because it's very narrative poetry, and it focuses more on the story than on fancy words and metaphors. However, reading it this time around, I appreciate the way it's written so much more. For one, it seriously adds to the tone and the feel of the book. The verses are just long enough to get the point across, but don't waste time on unnecessary detail. This way, when the extra detail here or there is added in, you pay extra attention and I like the effect achieved. The book has a very empty and depressing feel to it, as if Billie Jo, the main character, is just experiencing daily life without actually living. This girl is so young and she already feels like life is hopeless, like it's all about surviving from one day to the next. The word choice and style of this book is just one of the things that really makes it stand out. For example, in the very beginning, this is how Billie Jo describes herself:
Daddy names me Billie Jo.
He wanted a boy,
Instead,
he got a long-legged girl
with a wide mouth
and cheekbones like bicycle handles.
He got a redheaded, freckle-faced, narrow-hipped girl
with a fondness for apples
and a hunger for playing fierce piano.
It's short and sweet but still manages to get across not only her physical appearance, but two of her most prominent traits: her love for apples and her skills at piano. There are other lines scattered throughout that I love, too but listing them all would just involve me retyping this whole book onto this document, which would defeat the purpose of the review. Even though it's such straightforward writing, the way she described the apple trees and her mother and the dust storms are just really well done.

Speaking of apples and mothers and dust storms, there's a lot that goes on in this book. It doesn't really have a specific "plot" where there is a specific conflict to resolve and certain antagonists to face. Set in the 1930's, not only is the Great Depression in full swing, but out in Oklahoma there are these terrible, awful dust storms. They destroy all the crops -- which is their primary method of livelihood -- and they make people sick and they are horrible and unrelenting. And they happen often, unlike the rain, which comes almost never. And so they've got no food, no money, and no positive outlook. On top of this, Billie Jo goes through so much trauma. This isn't a spoiler, because it says it right there on the back cover, and it happens very early in the book, but she loses her mother and her unborn brother in a horrific fire that she feels guilty for but also blames her father for, too. In the aftermath of this fire, her hands are burnt to bloody, pus-filled pulps that aren't so good for piano playing. At least, not until they heal. It sounds bad enough as it is, but the way it's written about in the book is just heartbreaking. On top of that, a slew of other things happen to her, which I won't spoil, but are just as depressing. Hell, at one point, her father is digging a 6 foot deep "pond" which I am almost definitely sure was supposed to be his own grave.

Basically, read this book and have a good cry and just appreciate how well done it is. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

- Noor

What stories have haunted you because of how depressing they were?
Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Tour Review: Third Daughter - Susan Kaye Quinn


Third Daughter
Susan Kaye Quinn
Series: The Dharian Affairs Trilogy, #1
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Steampunk
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: ALL OF THE STARS
On Goodreads

About the book:

Skyships, saber duels, and lots of royal intrigue... and, of course, kissing.

The Third Daughter of the Queen wants her birthday to arrive so she'll be free to marry for love, but rumors of a new flying weapon may force her to accept a barbarian prince's proposal for a peace-brokering marriage. Desperate to marry the charming courtesan she loves, Aniri agrees to the prince's proposal as a subterfuge in order to spy on him, find the weapon, and hopefully avoid both war and an arranged marriage to a man she does not love.

Third Daughter is the first book in the The Dharian Affairs Trilogy (Third Daughter, Second Daughter, First Daughter). This steampunk-goes-to-Bollywood (Bollypunk!) romance that takes place in an east-Indian-flavored alternate world filled with skyships, saber duels, and lots of royal intrigue. And, of course, kissing.

From the author of the bestselling Mindjack Trilogy, The Dharian Affairs is a new series filled with equal doses of action-adventure and romance, meant to appeal to fans of Mindjack.

Review:

It's kind of an understatement to say that I liked Third Daughter - I absolutely loved it. It's no secret that I am a fan of Susan Kaye Quinn's work and this book is no exception. Susan Kaye Quinn always does a beautiful job of balancing description with smooth character development, world building, and plot development. Once again, Susan Kaye Quinn delivers on a beautifully written and original story that brings you to a new world and makes you feel all the feels.

The world of Third Daughter is unlike any I have read before. The world is, just as advertised, a mix of Indian culture and steampunk culture. The greatest thing about this world is that even though it combines two things you might not traditionally mix together, it doesn't feel forced. The mix between Indian culture and steampunk seems very natural and is described vividly throughout the entire book.

Just like the world, the characters are masterfully developed. I found that the characters were very easy to love and empathize with. The Third Daughter, Aniri, is a perfect balance between tough girl, reckless teen, scared child, and noble royal. Aniri is a character that feels so believable and real. Like most book heroines, Aniri wants to fight for herself, but she has no problem accepting help when she needs it (although she often thinks she doesn't need it).

While Third Daughter is clearly a romance, I definitely would not say that the romance is in your face. Susan Kaye Quinn mixes the romance into the plot in a way that the romance has plenty of time to grow in a life-like way. It's not insta-love, it's not the stereotypical love triangle - it is a beautiful telling of a girl torn between her heart and her country and how her relationships grow and change as she learns more and more about what's really going on.

In Third Daughter, Susan Kaye Quinn brings a totally original and well developed world to life. Third Daughter has a perfect balance between the romantic element as well as the action and intrigue. As a fan of the Mindjack series, I can say that this is definitely a must read for fans of Mindjack, but also for everyone else. READ THIS BOOK! IT'S AMAZING! Especially if you haven't read any of Susan Kaye Quinn's work before. Susan Kaye Quinn has such a different approach to the young adult genre that I think all readers of YA can appreciate.

- Kiersten

Purchase links:

About the author:

Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Trilogy, which is young adult science fiction. The Dharian Affairs trilogy is her excuse to dress up in corsets and fight with swords. She also has a dark-and-gritty SF serial called The Debt Collector and a middle grade fantasy called Faery Swap. It's possible she's easily distracted. She always has more speculative fiction fun in the works. You can find out what she's up to by subscribing to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!).

Author links:

Giveaway:

PRIZES:
$25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash

RULES AND RESTRICTIONS: Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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I Am A Reader, Not A Writer

Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

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The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath
Series: N/A
Genre: Psychology, Adult, Mental Health
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Authoritarian
On Goodreads

I'm reading a lot of books before I finish the War of The Fae series. Woops!

This won't be my last word on Slyvia Plath's only novel. This isn't my first word. This is my initial reaction.

First, I'm miffed I haven't read this before. It's incredible. There is almost too much to write.

Brief context: Plath killed herself a few days after the novel's publication. This is a novel about a woman who nearly kills herself but doesn't. It's almost impossible to detach the author from the work (as some of us would like to do with Ender's Game and Orson Scott Card or Star Wars and George Lucas; these are terrible examples for the expense of petty humor but you get the point). One can't help but conflate Ester, our protag, with her author. And even if that wasn't the case, it speaks to the work's most defining quality: it's drowning in Sylvia Plath. She is indeed 'silver and exact' in this novel.

Which brings the first of my main points: holy hell that word choice. She takes the English language and just snaps it in half and builds it again from the ground up. It's absolutely gorgeous. This is exemplified in just the first and second page: there are five paragraphs that start with 'I' . . . in a row. And they're all one sentence. This is personal and intimate and conversational, but also completely challenging the aesthetics and formality of varied language, of 'proper' English.

And let's not forget the poetry either, all of the "being burned alive along all of your nerves", all of the "cindery dust" (Plath, 2 (ebook)). . . and:
"I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of the tornado must feel . . . "  (2)
This isn't even three pages in. This is still the introduction. I love it. This is 1963 and yet it has all of the trappings of a current YA novel.

I might return to word choice another day, but just be assured that it only gets better as the novel intensifies.

What struck me most, however, and really defines why this is a five star novel for me, is the way that depression and mental health are portrayed. It's acutely difficult to pinpoint what faculties should be explicitly stated or implied when writing about mental illnesses, it's horribly hard to say what depression is like or how to describe it. Everything is just muddled in our heads. But The Bell Jar, for a hell of a lot of people, it seems, honestly portrays the descent of the mind, the confusing nature of it all. There is so much fragility in being human and Sylvia Plath is deadly honest about it and it shows.
"In the afternoon we went to see a baby born." (53, ebook. A page or two in from chapter six, whatever).
Over and over and over again, Ester describes her actions in this detached, passive fashion, as if she isn't experiencing them at all. It's happening to someone else. She explicitly states on the first page that she should be happy. But she isn't, but we don't realize what her statement means until later on.

It's so flipping subtle, isn't it!? It's so subtle that you won't even realize what it's about until it just jumps at you. Depression plays with you, life feels detached, Holy Poseidon this book is so amazing.

You can't begin to discuss depression with anyone who has been brainwashed into thinking it isn't a serious issue, that it's just being sad, that you can simply take pills to cure it. It's huge and explainable and in the exact same way that you feel happiness (with your entire body, literally your entire body heats up and your nerves are so much more active) you feel this horrible feeling that she describes as a Bell Jar. But you can discuss it with this book.

I'm going to shut up now, or I'll just ramble. Read this book. Do it.

- Marlon

How would you describe depression?
Let us know in the comments!

Review: Deuce - Janine Caldwell

Deuce
Janine Caldwell
Series: Vortex Series, #3
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Science Fiction
Rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: This had so much more potential
On Goodreads

And here comes my review of the final book in the Vortex series, the first two of which I have put reviews up for in the last few weeks.

I wanted to like this book so much. I really wanted it to be exactly what was missing from the other two. I tried so hard to love it.

I couldn't do it.

Okay, I didn't hate it. It fell very short but it was bearable and I could deal with it. I feel like this is just going to be a repeat of what I essentially said in the last two reviews, so it'll probably be short because most of my complaints are just continuations from what I didn't like about the rest of the series.

While the characters are certainly more fleshed out than they were previously, I feel like that has less with the audience getting to know them and more with the fact that I just got so used to them making the same choices and decisions that I started to just see them coming. Also, I still can't deal with some of the narration and how, three books it, they narrate the exact same way. That bothers me a lot because multiple narrations is often tricky and if the narrators are going to sound the same, it might just be easier to keep it as either one first person narrator or just do it in the third person, the latter of which would have worked excellently for this series.

Also, I felt like there was too much going on and it didn't all make sense, and honestly, if the second book had a few slight changes, the whole series could have ended there. This book felt like it was just tacked on and an awkward addition that didn't really belong.

The storyline was interesting enough that I kept reading until the end, but I didn't feel the satisfaction/agony/emotion that comes with finishing a good book, especially the end of the series.

I know most of what I'm saying sounds negative, and I may not have liked the series, but I really think Janine Caldwell can do more with her writing and if she publishes anything in the future, I will definitely be open to reading it and see how she has grown as an author. She had good ideas and hopefully next time her execution will be more on point.

- Noor

Have you ever felt like the last book in a series was unnecessary?
Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cover Cosmetics - Percy Jackson and the Olympians series - Rick Riordan

If you have yet to see the stunning new covers of the Percy Jackson series, you're about to. As the covers were revealed one by one, I fell in love with all of them - they are simply gorgeous and I love how they all connect together. Seeing the color scheme on the covers, I knew I had to do a cover cosmetics for it.

The covers:


The makeup:


For this look, I focused on the colors that really popped out to me when I was looking at the covers - the yellow cloud in the center, the orange cyclops, and the green and blues of the ocean and labyrinth. I also incorporated a little bit of purple from the ocean and clouds on the first cover. The colors don't show up quite as vibrant in this photo as they were in person, but the yellow and orange are on the lid with the blue in the outer crease, green in the inner crease, and purple on the inside of the blue in the outer corner. I also did a green, blue, and purple gradient on the lower lash line.

Although I didn't have time to do so before making this post, I'm planning on doing another more neutral look inspired by the spines that go with these new covers. Hopefully soon, so stay tuned!

- Kiersten

What do you think of the new covers?
Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Tour Review: Of Stardust - February Grace


Of Stardust
February Grace
Series: N/A
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Brilliant
On Goodreads

About the book:

“Dreams are sacred…”


At the age of twenty-six single, geeky bookseller Till Nesbitt inherits the shock of a lifetime: a huge Victorian farmhouse filled with unique tenants, and the knowledge that there is a reason she’s always been different. She’s destined to become a Fairy Godmother, because the skills are written into her DNA.

Till embarks on her fairy education at Dreams Come True University with much trepidation, guided on her journey by a unique mentor: a Celtic hybrid with a secret by the name of Gus.

When Till falls head over heels for Gus, will she break the most serious law in the Fairy Code, or will the truth of what really happened to Gus’s parents keep them from repeating history?

Review:

I'm not sure what you are doing right now, dear reader, but whatever it is, it is not as important as this book is. February Grace wrote one of the most charming modern fairy tale dramas I have read in a long time, and I strongly suggest you read it.

The story follows Till Nesbitt, who is adorkable and completely easy to empathize with. She handles juggling her new-found life as a fairy godmother with her regular, human life with the assistance of the one and only, Gus, whom I will get to later on. Till, who has magic in her genes, is a little boring before the magic part of her life comes along. She is without quirks, but that can be forgiven, because after she enters the Fairy Godmother realm and goes to Dreams Come True University, that all changes.

The bulk of this novel consists of the construction of the FG realm, where there is teleportation, rules against Gus and Till's love, and of course, mystical magic. Other than the construction of the university and the setting's back story, this book is filled with a slow-building romance. While these slowly simmering romances are hard to find, they are almost unheard of in fairy tale style books. Gus (who is totally swoon worthy, by the way) and Till are adorable together, and the forbidden love kindles this really great spark between these two characters.

I think what I really enjoyed most about the book was the way the author teased a bit with the romance, rather than having it be an over powering lust-at-first-sight type of romance. This author did it tastefully while still leaving me holding on to the edge of my seat. The ending of the book tugged and pushed and pulled at my heartstrings, and believe me when I say I am desperately awaiting a sequel. Honestly, my need for a sequel is the only reason this book didn't get a 5/5 star rating - it was not cool to leave me hanging with a lack of Gus and Till, as it was a bit choppy towards the end.

Although the ending wasn't as stellar as the rest of the book, I would also like to compliment the humor in the novel - Dreams Come True University references other fairy tales, has sassy teachers, and has classes on designing the perfect fairy godmother costume. The book is honestly giggle worthy and cute, and despite the absolute need for a concrete ending to this story, it was phenomenal.

- Amrutha

Purchase links:

About the author:

February Grace is a writer, artist and poet who lives somewhere that is much colder than she would like most of the time. She sings on key, plays by ear, and is more than mildly obsessed with music, clocks, colors, and meteor showers. Her poetry, prose, and/or flash fiction have appeared in The Rusty Nail Literary Magazine, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rose and Thorn Journal. Her work can also be found in the following anthologies: Poetry Pact Volume One, Anything Prose...And Poetry, Too! and Orange Karen, Tribute To A Warrior. GODSPEED, her debut novel, is a labor of love she refers to as "Literary romance with steampunk embellishments." Her second novel, OF STARDUST, is a modern, romantic fantasy tale.

Author links:

Giveaway:

PRIZES:
2 print books of Of Stardust (US)
7 ebooks of Of Stardust (INT)

RULES AND RESTRICTIONS: Contest is void where prohibited. Entrants must be 13 or else have parent or guardian’s permission to enter. Winners will be notified via email and will have 48 hours to respond or another winner’s name will be selected. Winning entries will be verified for authenticity.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

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The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time
Mark Haddon
Series: N/A
Genre: Mystery, Young Adult, Contemporary
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Breathtakingly Simple and Realistic
On Goodreads

I first read The Curious Incident for AP Lang way back in the high school days (last year) and I loved it. I was recently gifted another copy as a birthday present (she was mad I read it and thereby would understand her clever inscription, you know how it goes). And so came this review (it will be brief). Of this book (that is indeed brief). That only ever gets better.

The very first association I have when this novel crosses my mind is the voice of the main character, Christopher. I don't know what kind of sorcery or in depth study Mark Haddon had to do to delve into Christopher's alternate vantage point (namely Asperger's Syndrome) and write this book. Actually, I do. He works with autistic children, and it bloody pays off.

It's absolutely fascinating not only to have the raw clarity of Christopher's thoughts and actions, completely devoid of figurative stretching, but to constantly forget that Christopher is not real. I am reminded of the honesty and simplicity of Ocean at the End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman and Mortality by Christopher Hitchens.
'And this is why I like timetables because they make sure you don't get lost in time.' (Haddon, 195)
Honestly, you could crack open the book to any page and in it you will find something striking that gives you insight into Christopher, because first and foremost, this is a book about Christopher, about how he sees the world. And it's fascinating, there is such a wealth of information in this novel to be explored and though it's written simplistically, it's hard to grasp all at once. Getting into Christopher's head is incredibly difficult, as in the beginning he demonstrates that he recognizes and understands emotions differently than other people. But there's a bit of Christopher in everyone and it comes out.

Who doesn't appreciate the relateability of:
'On the fifth day, which was a Sunday, it rained very hard, I like when it rains hard. It sounds like white noise everywhere, which is like silence but not empty.' (103)
Or the depth behind:
'And when I am in a new place, because I see everything, it is like when a computer is doing too many things at the same time and the central processor unit is blocked up and there isn’t any space left to think about other things. And when I am in a new place and there are lots of people there it is even harder because people are not like cows and flowers and grass and they can talk to you and do things that you don’t expect, so you have to notice everything that is in the place . . . ' (143-144)
I just love love love Christopher and the dynamic that occurs with his character. If only slight, Christopher does shift and it's a hard change and it displaces something within any reader who can empathize with him and heck, what else is writing about?

Of course, there is the clever construction of the book. The chapters are in prime numbers, the bolding of terms and the listing and the graphs make the math come to life. The plot is just gorgeous.

I've heard people complain about the simplicity and predictability of the plot and that 'it's not even a mystery it's just a bunch of maths' I'm like


If you want that kind of book go read friggin Sherlock Holmes. The Curious Incident is not unique (see Virgina Woolf) in making its plot incidental, but it is rare in that everything seems to be centered around Christopher's analysis of the world. Why? Because it's so damn cool it makes a mystery out of a dead dog, it makes walking past the end of the road a bloody war, it makes math simple and people complex, all for people who might not think this way, the 'normals'. And you know what? Christopher does it. He makes the journey, and he wins.

Why are we not preaching this book from rooftops?

As a wise Mr. Gump once said, 'And that's all I have to say about that.'

- Marlon

Tell me how much you love maths!
Let us know in the comments!