Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

One Epic Love Story

From Goodreads:

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all. 

Rating: 5 Stars

When it comes to fairytale retellings, there is no one more excited than I am. As a child, I was always reading stories, listening to stories on old vinyl, or being told stories by my grandfather. One of my favorites was the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves; the story is one of the many stories in A Thousand and One Nights, also known as The Arabian Nights. The Wrath and the Dawn is an extraordinary retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Arabic folk tales in which a king marries a new girl each day only to kill them at dawn the following day.

Renee Ahdieh re-created a magical world that I never wanted to leave. Ahdieh is a remarkable storyteller with outstanding world building skills and an astonishing ability to develop unforgettable characters. I don’t think that my review could ever do this book justice. I am writing this review a few weeks after I finished reading the book, and I am still thinking of it. I think the wait for the sequel is going to be brutal and I have a feeling I will have to re-read the novel in order to fill the void.

At its core The Wrath and the Dawn is a love story unlike any other; it is a magnificently beautiful love story, but extremely painful at times. I felt the story more than I read it. The world Ahdieh described felt enchanted; she spared no details about the palace, the clothing, and the food: she described the vivid colors of different attires, the most meticulous details of the palace rooms, and the smell of foods, making it very easy for the reader to transport themselves into the world she created.

Khalid, the Caliph of Kjorasan, the King of Kings, the monster boy-king, seems to be a ruthless killer. He is introduced to the reader as a monster who kills innocent women every dawn with no remorse or consideration for the girls or their families. Not only does he kill innocent women, but he seems to be oblivious to his people living in fear under his rule. I didn’t want to grow to love him, I didn’t want to excuse his behavior because I found killing women each night to be inexcusable. However, as the story progressed and more of his past and character developed, I found myself rooting for him. And I think that the reason I grew so attached to him was the fact that, besides all that was happening on the surface, deep down he is a feminist. I think the way he treated Sharzi proved that time and time again. He never saw her as his property in a culture where that seems to be the norm, he stood up for her at times, but also left her to fight her own battles. She becomes his everything but he allows her to be herself, with all of her fiery personality. He doesn’t want to tame her and turn her into a compliant wife. He respects and loves her for who she is.

Shahrzad, known as Sharzi to those who love her, is a girl who lost her best friend (Shiva) to the Caliph. She volunteers to marry the Caliph in order to kill him and revenge not only her best friend, but also all the other brides that came before her. During her first night (and what is supposed to be the only night) as the Caliph’s wife, she captures his attention and curiosity with her absorbing storytelling abilities thus earning a few extra dawns and soon Kaliph’s heart.  Ahdieh created an amazing protagonist in Sharzi; she is smart, fiery, and extremely brave. I found myself rooting for her from the very beginning, although as the book progressed I was worried about her “mission” as I was swooning over Khalid. I can’t say much about her without spoiling some of the major story twists, but I can tell you that she is extremely strong and I was impressed with her ability to see past her own revenge and try to understand the bigger picture. She knew that some of her choices would lead her to betray her family and those she cared for, but her pursuit of the truth was more important. She was always able to read a situation and make quick decisions, which we rarely get to see in characters. All in all, she is quickly becoming one of my favorite female characters.

In addition to the two main characters, Ahdieh created many side characters that were equally well developed; Jalal and Despina were two of my favorites as they provided great comedic relief and managed to perfectly balance out the dark aspects of the story. I think one of the best things Ahdieh did was give a voice to several of her characters by writing the story from multiple characters point of view. This allowed the reader to get to know and form their own opinion about them.  

At the end of the story there were many things left unanswered; and, there were many things that Ahdieh introduced and hinted at but never fully developed, that will leave readers longing for the sequel.

One word of advice: there are many terms the author uses in the story that I was not familiar with; and, while for some the meaning could easily be deduced from the context, a glossary of terms has been included at the end. Make sure to bookmark it and refer back to it as necessary. I found it extremely helpful as I read along.

The Wrath and the Dawn is without a doubt one of the best debuts for 2015 and one of my new all-time favorite novels. Ahdieh’s writing style is absolutely flawless, allowing the reader to be transported to a wonderful world full of romance, adventure, action, magic, and so much more. I would recommend this novel to everyone who likes to read; probably even those who think they don’t like to read might change their minds when they are done with this novel. Absolutely fantastic!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Defiance by C.J. Redwine

An Unforgettable Read

From Goodreads:
Defiance by C. J. Redwine is rich postapocalyptic YA fantasy perfect for fans of Graceling and Tamora Pierce.

While the other girls in the walled city-state of Baalboden learn to sew and dance, Rachel Adams learns to track and hunt. While they bend like reeds to the will of their male Protectors, she uses hers for sparring practice.

When Rachel's father fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the city's brutal Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector: her father's apprentice, Logan—the boy she declared her love to and who turned her down two years before. Left with nothing but fierce belief in her father's survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can't be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.

Rating: 5 Stars
Defiance is C.J Redwine’s debut novel, the first book of a trilogy, and a must read for YA fans. The novel is an extraordinary blend of dystopian, fantasy, adventure, and steampunk. There are so many different aspects I loved in this novel that I struggle with finding a good place to start. Redwine is a remarkable storyteller with striking world building skills and an impressive ability to develop unforgettable characters.

One of my favorite things about this book is the abrupt way it started. From the very first page I had the feeling that this would be an extremely fast paced novel, and I wasn’t wrong. Even though the book is 400+ pages, the fast pace of the story made it end sooner than I wanted. I read this book in two sittings, and I was unable to stop thinking about it while not reading it.

The world created was absolutely fascinating; it had a historic feel, yet it was completely original and unique. Redwine provided many detailed explanations of the world she envisioned, which painted a crystal clear picture of Baalboden and the Wasteland. Also, a great deal of time was spent on building a very detailed political system. Baalboden is ruled by Commander Jason Chase, a terrible and controlling man that keeps his people oppressed, under the false pretense of keeping them safe from the dangers outside the city walls.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will refrain from mentioning all the secondary characters that were introduced as the novel progressed, but I will, however, say that each and every character was very well developed. I will instead focus on the main two characters; Rachel and Logan, who were easy to love from the very beginning. The book is written in alternating view points between Rachel and Logan, both narrating in first person, making it easy for the reader to get to know them in an intimate way.

Rachel is a very strong female character; she is fierce, fiery, impulsive, smart, and she loves the people in her life more than anything. She is willing to go to extreme lengths for others and sacrifice herself in order to protect the people she loves. Logan is fiercely intelligent, methodical, meticulous, and calculated. He would do anything to keep his loved ones safe, even if the price is his own life. Words cannot express how much I adored Logan. There is a huge contrast between the two characters; we get a very good sense of who Rachel is very early in the story. She has a lot of emotional walls built that we get to see crumble as the story progresses. Logan on the other hand, develops much slower, but I loved his journey to a fierce protector. In the beginning he is very insecure and we get to see a vulnerability in him that we hardly ever see in male protagonists. He finds himself in the most hysterical situations and we get a sense of how shy and awkward he is in social interactions. He is the ultimate nerd, which is what I loved most about him. I am a huge math and science nerd, and Logan made me fall in love with him when he said: “I wait until their footsteps fade. Until the door at the entrance closes. Until I’ve silently recounted everything I know about the Pythagorean theorem. The conductive propertied copper. The relationship between negative mass and negative energy. […] I clench my teeth and tell myself pain is just a state of mind. I can rise above it. My body doesn’t agree with my theory, so I force myself to recite the periodic table […]”

The story does have romance, but not the insta love we so often find in YA. Redwine took her time in developing all relationships in the book. The connections and relationships are extremely deep and beautifully written. Because I was so invested in the characters and their relationships, as the book progressed and events unfolded, I sometimes wanted to just crawl in a corner, curl into a ball, and cry. I often found myself gasping, laughing, cringing, grinning, and crying with each turning of the page.

Overall, Defiance was an exciting read that kept me captivated until the very last sentence; it was an outstanding read, unique in its composition, with amazingly strong characters.  I cannot wait to read the sequel!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Great Summer Read

From Goodreads:
It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um... 

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait...what?

Rating: 4 Stars

Since You’ve Been Gone was my first read by Morgan Matson and I can say with certainty that it won’t be my last.

The story stars quite suddenly, with Emily finding that her best friend, Sloane, is gone. There was no notice, no goodbye message, and no note explaining her sudden departure. But things take a turn when one day Emily receives a to-do list from Sloane. After weeks of worry, she finally receives something from Sloane. Emily believes that by completing all the items on the list she will somehow get her best friend back. And so begins Emily’s most epic summer, filled with new friends, self-discovery, and adventure.

Morgan Matson has developed great characters that were very genuine and memorable. I found most of the characters to be very relatable, Emily in particular. She was very shy and socially clumsy. I am quite shy and tend to be quite awkward in social situations, so I found her very endearing and was able to instantly connect with her.

The novel is filled with flashbacks on Emily and Sloane’s friendship, how they met, and how their relationship evolved over the years. In the flashbacks, we get a sense that Emily is quite dependent on Sloane. She appears to live vicariously through Sloane. She is more confident when Sloane is around because she allows Sloane to take the lead; but when Sloane disappears, she finds herself quite lost. People don’t seem to really know her in school except as the girl who is always with Sloane. Additionally, the flashbacks provide an insight into what kind of person Sloane is; she is portrayed as very outgoing, friendly, and thirsty for adventure and mischief. While reading, at first I was convinced that Emily relied too much on Sloane, but as the story developed I understood just how much Sloane relied on Emily as well.

As Emily starts completing tasks from the list, with the much unexpected help from Frank Porter, she manages to make new friends. At first the friends she makes are almost by accident because she doesn’t know how to handle or avoid certain situations. However, throughout the book we get to see Emily find her own voice, grow more confident, make new friends, make mistakes and learn from them, build new relationships, and most importantly find her own identity.

The book was a great journey of self-growth and self-discovery. I really liked that while the book did have some romance, it was not the main focus. I loved the relationship Emily had with her parents and her brother, and all the relationships and friendships she built over the summer. The book expressed how important it is to surround ourselves with worthy people, because the people in our live have a huge effect on us. The book starts with Emily being completely lost, and in a slight state of depression, but with each page she finds herself and becomes a much stronger person; she does so with the help of the people she has around her. 

The items on the list that Emily had to complete were very funny. There were many times I found myself laughing out loud, earning me quite a few curious glances from those around me.

Since You’ve Been Gone was the perfect start to my summer reading; it was a fun and easy read. It is one of the best books featuring friendships that I have ever read. I found Morgan Matson’s writing style to be just wonderful; she is an incredible storyteller and I cannot wait to read her other works, as I am convinced that they are equally amazing.

Monday, June 8, 2015

As You Wish by Jackson Pearce

Quick Lighthearted Read

From Goodreads:
Ever since Viola's boyfriend broke up with her, she has spent her days silently wishing—to have someone love her again and, more importantly, to belong again—until one day she inadvertently summons a young genie out of his world and into her own. He will remain until she makes three wishes.

Jinn is anxious to return home, but Viola is terrified of wishing, afraid she will not wish for the right thing, the thing that will make her truly happy. As the two spend time together, the lines between master and servant begin to blur, and soon Jinn can't deny that he's falling for Viola. But it's only after Viola makes her first wish that she realizes she's in love with Jinn as well . . . and that if she wishes twice more, he will disappear from her life—and her world—forever.

Jackson Pearce spins a magical tale about star-crossed lovers, what it means to belong . . . and how important it is to be careful what you wish for.

Rating: 4 Stars
Jackson Pearce’s debut novel, As You Wish, is a quick, fun, heartwarming read that will leave readers wanting to grab her other novels. With this being her debut novel, she has managed to set the bar quite high for herself.

As You Wish has just the right amount of romance and humor, perfect for a rainy day read. I particularly loved that the story is told in alternating view points between Viola and Jinn, both narrating in first person, making it very easy for the reader to get to know both of their deepest feelings.

From the very beginning of As You Wish, the main thing that Viola wants is to belong. The book is centered on the struggles we all face at some point in life, wanting to belong, to be loved, and to not be “invisible”. Ever since she broke up with her best friend turned boyfriend, Lawrence, Viola feels like she has become an “Invisible Girl”. She constantly feels overlooked and out of place in school, her art projects, and even her home. She and Lawrence are still good friends, but at times that is more of a hardship; she still sometimes longs for him, but knows things can never be the same.

Jinn(not really his name), is a jinn (genie), that lives in Caliban, where he believes everything is perfect compared to earth, a magical place where jinns live in harmony with no worries and where no one ages. But being a jinn, he must take frequent trips to grant wishes to humans who unknowingly summon them. While on earth the jinns age just like a regular human, so his main goal is to always grant the 3 wishes the human makes in as little time as possible, so that he can return to Caliban. But when Viola becomes his master and refuses to hastily wish on things he is forced to spend more time than intended on earth.

As time passes, Viola and Jinn become closer until the lines of genie and master are blurred. There is only one problem, when Viola makes her final wish, Jinn must leave and she will lose all memories of him. Viola and Jinn come from two extremely different worlds, but as the story develops we see just how much they need each other.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the friendship between Viola and Lawrence. Despite their breakup, the friendship that was there before the romance and the friendship that came after the breakup was just amazing.

Even though the book was quite short (less than 300 pages), the characters were very well developed. Pearce took her time to develop each character just enough to get me emotionally committed to their happiness. She developed beautiful friendships that left me awed. I found myself quickly attached to most of the characters and I wanted to know what happened to them in the end, which Pearce managed to deliver flawlessly.

As You Wish was an insanely fun read that tackled very realistic struggles in a non-preachy way. I am looking forward to reading more from Jackson Pearce; I have a feeling I won’t be disappointed. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

One Word Review: Perfection

From Goodreads:
John Green's The Fault in Our Stars meets Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park in this beautifully written, incredibly honest, and emotionally poignant novel. Cammie McGovern's insightful young adult debut is a heartfelt and heartbreaking story about how we can all feel lost until we find someone who loves us because of our faults, not in spite of them.

Born with cerebral palsy, Amy can't walk without a walker, talk without a voice box, or even fully control her facial expressions. Plagued by obsessive-compulsive disorder, Matthew is consumed with repeated thoughts, neurotic rituals, and crippling fear. Both in desperate need of someone to help them reach out to the world, Amy and Matthew are more alike than either ever realized.

When Amy decides to hire student aides to help her in her senior year at Coral Hills High School, these two teens are thrust into each other's lives. As they begin to spend time with each other, what started as a blossoming friendship eventually grows into something neither expected. 

Also known as Amy & Matthew: A Love Story

Rating: 5 Stars
This is a young adult contemporary romance novel unlike anything I’ve read before. Cammie McGovern has managed to make me laugh, cry, get angry, cry some more, and still feel hopeful. The characters she created are absolutely brilliant; I adored Amy and Matthew, the struggles they faced, the outcome of the story, and the strong message the book offered its readers.

Amy is not your typical YA heroine. She was born with cerebral palsy, she is unable to walk without a walker, she is unable to talk without a voice computer, and she can’t control her own facial expressions. She does not have any friends mostly because she always needed a helper that has been an adult. At the same time, Matthew is not your typical YA male protagonist either. Matthew struggles with a very aggressive form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), he hears voices, has certain rituals he must follow, and is crippled by fear. Ever since developing OCD Matthew has become more isolated and has found himself a senior in high school with no friends or social life.  

One of my favorite things about this book is the fact that while both characters have severe disabilities, the novel is not about disabilities and disorders. The main focus of the novel is the struggles that each teenager faces: love, friendship, acceptance, relationships with parents, and becoming independent adults.

The book is written from both Amy’s and Matthew’s point of view, alternating beautifully between the two. McGovern has managed to give her characters splendid voices, making readers fall in love and root for them. The struggles and situations they face along the road are heart wrenching, keeping readers constantly emotionally involved.

The story begins during Amy and Matthew’s senior year in high school, when Amy decides to hire peer aides, people from her own high school and the same age to assist her with getting around. She hopes that this will help her in preparing for college life when she plans to live on her own on campus. One of the aides Amy chooses is Matthew and this marks the beginning of one of the most epic relationships I have ever read. While they face different challenges, they develop a wonderful relationship that allows them to grow, be accepted for who they are, and learn together how to live as normal of a life as possible.

The novel spans their senior year in high school along with the first year after graduation, thus allowing them to develop, make mistakes, learn from their mistakes, and grow as the readers hungrily turn each page.

This is a novel that left me emotionally drained in the best possible way. I am not sure I can adequately express in words how much I adored this book. Cammie McGovern has created a masterpiece that will tug at the heart of its readers, reach in the depths of their soul and challenge them not to get emotionally attached.  If I had to describe Say What You Will in only one word I would choose: perfection.