Sunday, May 24, 2015

Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier

A Great Conclusion to an Amazing Trilogy!

From Goodreads:
Gwen has a destiny to fulfill, but no one will tell her what it is. She’s only recently learned that she is the Ruby, the final member of the time-traveling Circle of Twelve, and since then nothing has been going right. She suspects the founder of the Circle, Count Saint-German, is up to something nefarious, but nobody will believe her. And she’s just learned that her charming time-traveling partner, Gideon, has probably been using her all along. Emerald Green is the stunning conclusion to Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red Trilogy, picking up where Sapphire Blue left off, reaching new heights of intrigue and romance as Gwen finally uncovers the secrets of the time-traveling society and learns her fate.

Rating: 4 Stars
Emerald Green is the third and final book in the Ruby Red Trilogy, also known as the Precious Stone Trilogy. Just like I did with the first two books in the trilogy, Ruby Red (review) and Sapphire Blue (review), I would like to start the review by addressing the beautiful covers. Both the paperback and hardcover are designed beautifully; however, I prefer the hardcover. The colors are again very vibrant and deep, and the intricate design around the front cover is very elegant.  The green marks in the design are raised and they are made to look and feel like emeralds.

I will try and be as vague as possible in order to avoid spoilers, especially for those of you who didn’t read the first two books in the trilogy yet. The story in Emerald Green picks up where Sapphire Blue left off. The entirety of the trilogy spans over only a few weeks, so the conclusion was fast paced. This book addressed the many things left unanswered by the first two books. Each and every trip in time has a purpose. Gwen and Gideon must find out the ultimate goal that the Count of Saint Germain has in order to defeat him.

I think one of my favorite things about this book was the history that Gier managed to beautifully weave into the story. The beautiful word building made the reader feel like they were transported into another period themselves. I also loved the details shared on the outfits that both Gwen and Gideon had to wear during different trips.

Overall, I was very happy with the character growth in both Gwen and Gideon. I think that although the trilogy spans a mere few weeks, both of them matured and learned from their mistakes as the story progressed. They both seemed to be more grounded in the most extreme of situations. That being said, there were a few instances I found myself quite angry with both. I think that the issues I had with their characters throughout this book only emphasized their overall growth in the end.

Lesley and Xemerius still have huge parts to play in this book. If you read my Ruby Red and Sapphire Blue reviews, you know just how much I adore them. I don’t think that Gwen would have been able to overcome all the obstacles she faced without her best friend Lesley. The bond of friendship between Gwen and Lesley is stronger than ever in this book. Xemerius, the ever so awesome gargoyle ghost, was as funny as ever. He is the one that will have readers laughing out loud at his witty comebacks and sarcastic remarks. In addition to his usual funny self, we get to also see a softer side of him and the love he has for Gwen.

Our lovely James is also part of this book, and I was extremely happy with the way things wrapped up for his character. In this book we got to see him more in his own element and as always he was extremely charming.

I can’t talk about the romance in this book without spoiling it, so I will just settle on saying that I was very satisfied with the way things wrapped up. 

The prophecies presented to us in the first two books slowly unravel and new clues emerge as the final book progresses. Traitors are discovered and we finally get answers to questions collected from the two previous books.

While the ending was quite satisfactory, there were a few things that I still wanted addressed. There were a few loose ends left, but not enough to ruin the story. There are a few characters that I wanted to know more about and also what became of them. Overall, I absolutely loved this series and was quite sad to finish it. It was a marvelous series to read! 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

The Twistiest Faerie Tale 

From Goodreads:
Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Rating: 5 Stars

The Darkest Part of the Forest was one of my Most Anticipated Books for 2015. I previously read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and was blown away by Holly Black’s writing style. Having read both of these books, I now see a pattern. Not only does she write beautifully, but she has the ability to draw the reader into the world she creates. Her stories have a dark and twisted element that I must admit I love. I never thought I would be interested in reading a book about fae, but Black’s story had me hooked from the first blurb released for this book.

Black’s fae are beautifully written. She sometimes uses antonyms to describe them, and while that could be confusing, it actually works at providing a full picture. The fae are described to be beautiful, and creepy looking; they cannot lie but they have a way with words, playing a double meaning word game, and they are very cunning; they are peaceful but can be dangerous.

The story focuses on Hazel and her brother Ben, who live in Fairfold, a small strange town where fae and humans live alongside one another. The fae attract tourism, so the town people of Fairfold for the most part are not weary of the fae. However, perhaps they should be…

Hazel and Ben have lived in Fairfold for most of their lives. The small town of Fairfold is tucked away in a forest, which also holds a glass coffin. In the casket sleeps a horned boy, who Hazel and Ben have been in love with since early childhood. They both are very protective of the horned boy and they both like to share their stories with him. For many generations the boy has been a fixture of the forest in the little town of Fairfold. Until one day the coffin is empty. Nobody knows who opened the coffin,  how they managed to do it,  or where the horned boy is. Early in the book we are also introduced to Ben’s best friend, Jack, who is a changeling, but has been raised by a human family.

As the story develops, the town becomes more and more terrified of the faeries, friendships are tested, the bond between Hazel and Ben is tested as more and more secrets they hold come into light, and the peaceful relationship between the fae and humans becomes more strained.

Black’s characters are all flawed and broken in some ways which makes them easier to relate to. She does not shy away from equally highlighting their strengths and their weaknesses. All the characters she focused on are very well developed, making it impossible to pick favorites.

The story is filled with secrets, love, power, magic, and adventure. The underlying question at the core of the book is ‘what sacrifices are you willing to make for those you find worthy’? My only complaint about this book was the length. I did not want it to end as soon as it did; however, the book did offer a very satisfying ending. I found this book to be much darker than your typical young-adult novels, but it is something I came to expect from Holly Black. The combination of modern day with fairy folklore is absolutely fascinating. This is without a doubt one of the best reads of 2015 for me. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Spelled Spotlight Tour and Gift Basket Giveaway

By Betsy Schow
Sourcebooks Fire
June 2, 2015
Advance Praise for Spelled
“A cute adventure with romance set in a world full of fairy-tale mash-ups. Readers will love Dorthea’s evolution from spoiled princess to strong, confident heroine… For Oz fans, this work is a great clean-read alternative to Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die.” -School Library Journal
“This wickedly funnyfast-paced adventure has it all: brains, courage, and heart. (Plus a kickin’ pair of heels.) .” --Jen Calonita, author of The Secrets of My Hollywood Life and Fairy Tale Reform School series
“Fairy tale survival rule #1, do NOT read this book late at night. You will wake up your entire family with loud laughter. Fairy tale survival rule #2, if you love the Wizard of Oz, clever fairy tale mash-ups, and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing what will happen until the very end, you MUST read Spelled.” --J Scott Savage, award winning author of FarworldCase File 13, and the Mysteries of Cove series.
A hilarious and snarky reimagining of the world of Oz, along with many other fairy tales injected throughout, "Spelled" is one fabulous read…Kick off those silver slippers and tuck in with this wonderful tale!” —Senator Sipes, Lil Book Bug (Palmdale, CA)
Book Info:
Talk about unhappily ever after. Dorthea is completely princed out. Sure being the crown princess of Emerald has its perks—like Glenda Original ball gowns and Hans Christian Louboutin heels. But a forced marriage to the not-so-charming prince Kato is so not what Dorthea had in mind for her enchanted future.

Trying to fix her prince problem by wishing on a (cursed) star royally backfires, leaving Dorthea with hair made up of emerald flames and the kingdom in chaos. Her parents and everyone she loves are stuck in some place called “Kansas.” Now it’s up to Dorthea and her pixed-off prince to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz and undo the curse…before it releases the wickedest witch of all and spells The End for the world of Story.

Amazon | B&N | BAM | !ndigo | IndieBound | Kindle |  Nook

Betsy Schow:
Betsy Schow is the author of the memoir Finished Being Fat, and has been featured on The Today Show and in The Wall Street Journal. She lives in Utah, but travels the country with Color Me Rad 5k, and partners with nonprofits to teach kids creative thinking and how to reach their goals.
Excerpt from Spelled:

Most of the crowd had dispersed. The final few stragglers looked at me with the all­too-common look of fear mixed with trepidation. Pix ’em. They were just servants. It wasn’t like their opinion mattered.
Only one remained, watching me with open curiosity. He looked to be in his late teens or was magically enhanced to appear so. He could have been a hundred for all I knew. I’d never seen him before in my life. He was handsome enough, for a commoner, even in his worn leather pants and cracked work boots. A foreigner, his hair was unruly and dark auburn, which complemented his tanned but dirt-smudged complexion, though the tall, dark stranger vibe was ruined by his piercing pale blue eyes.
Well, I’d had enough of being a sideshow for the day. “If you’re the new gardener, the hedges are overgrown and in need of a trim.” I pointed in the direction of my father. “While you’re there, you can help the king with the wisps.”
The young man’s expression clouded over, but he didn’t move.
I stamped my foot and pointed more forcefully. “Off with you. Courtyard’s that way. Be sure to clean those awful boots before coming back in.”
“Someone told me I’d find a princess of great worth here. One with the strength to be the hero this realm needs.” He stared at me with those unsettling blue eyes. They were cold, like ice water—made me shiver from head to toe. Then his gaze seemed to search even deeper. Finally, he looked through me, like I was nothing.
In brisk steps, he strode across the marble to the courtyard. But before crossing the threshold, he turned back to glare at me with his lip curled ever so slightly. “It seems she was mistaken.”
Just like that, I had been sifted, weighed, and found wanting.
I felt my own lip curl in response. How rude! Who the Grimm was this peasant to judge me? I was wearing a Glenda original. Original! Not some fairy-godmother knockoff worn by those servant girls turned royal. I was a crown princess, for the love of fairy, and no one dismissed me.
Before I could put the boy in his place—down in the dirt, where he belonged—a clatter came from behind, making me nearly jump out of my shoes. I checked and was relieved that Sterling had simply dropped his sword. By the time I looked back, the gardener was gone.
After stowing his blade, Sterling held up his shield, not in defense of the entrance but so he could look at his reflection. “Clearly he’s blind and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
I didn’t ask for Sterling’s opinion, but it made me feel better.
Until he opened his mouth again.
“Worth, pffft. I mean, look around at all the jewels. Your palace has everything you could ever want. Honestly, I don’t know what you’re fussing about. Why would anyone want to leave?”
Because a cage is still a cage, no matter how big or glittering the bars are.
And I would find a way free, no matter the cost.

US/CAN only 

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Every Day by David Levithan

Mind blowingly amazing!

From Goodreads:

In his New York Times bestselling novel, David Levithan introduces readers to what Entertainment Weekly calls a "wise, wildly unique" love story about A, a teen who wakes up every morning in a different body, living a different life.

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.
There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

With his new novel, David Levithan, bestselling co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, has pushed himself to new creative heights. He has written a captivating story that will fascinate readers as they begin to comprehend the complexities of life and love in A’s world, as A and Rhiannon seek to discover if you can truly love someone who is destined to change every day.

Rating: 5 stars

Every Day is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve ever read; I think this book has left its mark and years from now I will still talk about it and recommend it to everyone who listens. It is a captivating beautifully written story, full of depth and wisdom, which will leave readers pondering the lessons learned long after they finish.  This was my first David Levithan novel (I previously read his short story in “My True Love Gave to Me” and like it very much); I am now adding all of his books to my to be read list. I found the concept of the book to be a very unique mixture of contemporary fiction, romance, and science fiction. It’s a bittersweet love story that emphases the power of human connections and the importance of self-identity.

The book is filled with memorable quotes. I will post a few of my favorites throughout this review.

"Falling in love with someone doesn't mean you know any better how they feel. It only means you know how you feel."

“Some people think mental illness is a matter of mood, a matter of personality. They think depression is simply a form of being sad, that OCD is a form of being uptight. They think the soul is sick, not the body. It is, they believe, something that you have some choice over.

I know how wrong this is.

When I was a child, I didn't understand. I would wake up in a new body and wouldn't comprehend why things felt muted, dimmer. Or the opposite--I'd be supercharged, unfocused, like a radio at top volume flipping quickly from station to station. Since I didn't have access to the body's emotions, I assumed the ones I was feeling were my own. Eventually, though, I realized these inclinations, these compulsions, were as much a part of the body as its eye color or its voice. Yes, the feelings themselves were intangible, amorphous, but the cause of the feelings was a matter of chemistry, biology.

It is a hard cycle to conquer. The body is working against you. And because of this, you feel even more despair. Which only amplifies the imbalance. It takes uncommon strength to live with these things. But I have seen that strength over and over again.” 

The premise of Every Day is quite simple, sixteen year old named A wakes up every day in a different body. A is neither male nor female (I will refer to A as “he” as the review goes on just to avoid confusion); I think of him as a wandering soul. There are no set rules that A must follow and no patterns to the body he inhabits, there are no gender, ethnicity, or physical appearance restrictions; therefore, A has developed a self-identity that transcends each of these.  The only constant in his life is his age. A is aging at a normal pace and he inhabits bodies that are the same age as himself.

"I wanted love to conquer all. But love can't conquer anything. It can't do anything on its own. It relies on us to do the conquering on its behalf."

He has learned over time what he can and cannot do in surviving his day-by-day existence. I was very intrigued by A as he is able to maintain his own identity through the ever-changing beliefs and feelings that he has access to when inhabiting a body.  To aid with remembering and storing his memories he created an email account in which he can write to himself.

“I am a drifter, and as lonely as that can be, it is also remarkably freeing. I will never define myself in terms of anyone else. I will never feel the pressure of peers or the burden of parental expectation. I can view everyone as pieces of a whole, and focus on the whole, not the pieces. I have learned to observe, far better than most people observe. I am not blinded by the past or motivated by the future. I focus on the present because that is where I am destined to live.” 

“Self-preservation isn't worth it if you can't live with the self you're preserving”

The story starts with A inhabiting the body of a boy named Justin, who has a girlfriend, Rhiannon, that he very often mistreats. During his day in Justin’s body, A goes against the rules he set for himself (never get attached) and takes her to the beach and ends up falling in love with her. Desperate to hold on, he saves Justin’s email and password in his own account so that he can follow up with how Justin and Rhiannon are doing.

“People are rarely as attractive in reality as they are in the eyes of the people who are in love with them. Which is, I suppose, as it should be.” 

“If you stare at the center of the universe, there is coldness there. A blankness. Ultimately, the universe doesn't care about us. Time doesn't care about us. That's why we have to care about each other.” 

The next day he wakes up in a different body, but the love he has for Rhiannon is still there, getting stronger with each passing day. We are introduced to many different characters that have a great impact on the reader. There are many bodies that A inhabits, and each provides a unique insight and learning opportunity for the reader.

“If there's one thing I've learned, it's this: We all want everything to be okay. We don't even wish so much for fantastic or marvelous or outstanding. We will happily settle for okay, because most of the time, okay is enough.” 

“Kindness connects to who you are, while niceness connects to how you want to be seen.” 

I absolutely adored A! I thought of him as the gentlest of souls. He was respectful to his hosts, he tried to never harm them, left them as he found them, and carefully considered the impact of the decisions he made while inhabiting the bodies. He is intelligent, understanding, patient, opinionated, passionate, and so much more. He accepted his fate and tried to make the best of each and every day. At times I found it hard to accept the hopelessness of his situation; he is alone, no one knowing of his existence. Until one day when everything changes.

"People take love's continuity for granted, just as they take their body's continuity for granted. They don't realize that the best thing about love is its regular presence. Once you can establish that, it's an added foundation to your life."

An extremely powerful read that hopefully will change the readers’ perspective on life, love, and the power of human connections. David Levithan is an excellent writer that managed to break my heart and put it all back together without all the pieces fitting quite the same as before. I would recommend this book to all, regardless of age, gender, and ethnicity, as it has the unique ability to touch everyone in a different way. Words cannot explain how much I adored this book.

“If you want to live within the definition of your own truth, you have to choose to go through the initially painful and ultimately comforting process of finding it.” 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Paper Towns by John Green

Read the book before seeing the movie!
From Goodreads:

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew... 

Rating: 5 stars

It is no secret to those who know me that John Green is one of my favorite authors ever. I recently re-read Paper Towns as a read-along with a Goodreads group and I must say that this book was even better the second time around.

If you are familiar with John Green, you know that his books are full of symbolism, deep understanding of human perception, literary references, very important life lessons, and lots of humor. While Paper Towns is considered to be a YA novel, I think that people of all ages can learn a lot from the story.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first section we meet Quentin, who goes by Q, a nerdy high school senior, his friends: Ben and Radar, and his life-long crush Margo Roth Spielgelman. Margo is one of the most popular girls in school, she is very adventurous and unconventional. She also happens to live next door to Q. One night she sneaks into his room and convinces him to accompany her on a revenge exploit against some of her friends who have wronged her. The night is filled with adventure and some illegal acts, making this section extremely fast paced and exciting. In this part we also get a glimpse of the depth of the feelings Q has for Margo and we get to see the parts of the real Margo underneath the persona she portrays. This night leaves Q feeling that maybe a new page was turned and that he and Margo really do have something special. But the next day he discovers that Margo has vanished. This is not the first time she has run away, so at first he thinks nothing of it; until he discovers new clues that Margo left for him.

In the second section, Q is following all the clues that Margo left for him and we get a better understanding of both of them, but particularly Margo. This section also develops Ben and Radar who are mentioned in the first part but not explored. I absolutely adored both of them. The bond of friendship between the three seniors is developed and tested over and over as the clues become harder and Q becomes more and more obsessed with finding Margo. Radar and Ben offer a very much needed comedic relief in the most intense situations; I often found myself laughing out loud when Radar and Ben were around. One of my favorite things about this section was the exploration of “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman. There were so many angles of this poem discussed that I finally feel like I fully grasped the message of the poem. I tend to struggle when reading poetry, but John Green managed to offer a lot of insight into Whitman’s message. This section is slower paced than the first, but still offers a lot of intense moments as Q not only learns more about Margo, but also about himself.

The third section I won’t discuss much because it is very short and it offers the resolution to the book. I will just say that I thought it has a very satisfying ending without being predictable or conventional.

To sum it all up: I loved this book; the story was very well written and unique. I believe this book will leave readers pondering different ideas that were presented and that there are many valuable lessons to be learned from this book. I am super excited about the movie adaptation that will be released this summer. So go forth and read this amazing book before hitting the theater!