Friday, February 24, 2017

REVIEW: We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

It is the spring of 1939 and three generations of the Kurc family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war grows closer. But soon the horrors overtaking Europe will become inescapable and the Kurcs will be flung to the far corners of the world, each desperately trying to navigate his or her own path to safety. As one sibling is forced into exile, another attempts to flee the continent, while others struggle to escape certain death, either by working grueling hours on empty stomachs in the factories of the ghetto or by hiding as gentiles in plain sight. Driven by an unwavering will to survive and by the fear that they may never see one another again, the Kurcs must rely on hope, ingenuity, and inner strength to persevere. 

Knowing this story is based on real members of the author's family, it's a bit difficult to review the plot adequately. Most of the events in this book are real, after all. It's a book set during WWII, which means there is despair and loss and heartbreak and yes, some hope. You have to have some hope in these books or you would never be able to get through them. This book is about a family who becomes separated after WWII. The books follows them through the entire war and it spans across Europe and Africa. I think that my rating went up a little when I finished the book and read the author's note detailing how this book was about her family. And the ending kind of helped me too. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what issues I had with this book. First of all, there were just so many members of the family and the chapters went back and forth between each one. It took me a while to get everyone straight in terms of who the parents were and siblings and spouses and honestly, I still wasn't sure I had everyone straight by the end of the book. But I eventually fell in love with these characters, even though I wasn't entirely sure who was married to whom. The author did a great job with her research and there were so many little details that made this book read like a truly accurate account of the horrifying conditions during the war. I loved that aspect of the writing. But there were times when the timelines would jump around and people would be in a different location the next time we saw them with no explanation of the time in between. I can appreciate that the author was telling the story of a lot of people, but I guess there were just so many people that the author couldn't really focus on everyone. So there was too much detail on some events and not enough detail on others. I do like that the author also put a note on the end, describing where everyone was in their lives and what happened to them. This was a very emotional story and it's worth reading, but I just didn't think there was enough focus on emotional depth on some events for my taste.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Borrow this one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

REVIEW: Waking In Time by Angie Stanton

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The schedule publication date is March 1, 2017.

Still mourning the loss of her beloved grandmother and shaken by her mysterious, dying request to “find the baby,” Abbi has just arrived at UW Madison for her freshman year. But on her second day, she wakes up to a different world: 1983. That is just the first stop on Abbi’s journey backward through time. Will is a charming college freshman from 1927 who travels forward through time. When Abbi and Will meet in the middle, love adds another complication to their lives. Communicating across time through a buried time capsule, they try to decode the mystery of their travel, find the lost baby, and plead with their champion, a kindly physics professor, to help them find each other again ... even though the professor gets younger each time Abbi meets him. This page-turning story full of romance, twists, and delightful details about campus life then and now will stay with readers long after the book’s satisfying end.

I guess I am going to be in the minority with this one. Most people seemed to enjoy this one, but I just couldn't. Here's what I did like: I liked the description of the different time periods Abbi traveled to. I know that women's rights kind of sucked in the 20's (understatement, I am sure), but I love the fashion from that time period. And it was nice to see how fashion and attitudes and technology changed throughout the years. The author obviously did her research with that. 

So why didn't I like this book? Honestly, for a time travel book, it was kind of boring. Abbi was kind of a bland character. I can't say that I loved or hated her because I didn't really feel much for her at all. And there was a guy who was introduced at the very beginning of the book and I had no clue why there was even a scene with him in it until the end of it. Then there was the love interest, Will. While Will was a very sweet guy, there was zero chemistry. They also didn't even share that many scenes together because of the whole time traveling thing so I didn't get the relationship. Because of the whole time traveling thing, we didn't even see Abbi and Will's relationship until more than halfway through the book and I had lost interest at the point. There also wasn't a lot of action. Every time period was the same: Abbi woke up, tried to fit in, met some physics professor for clues about what was happening, go to sleep and then start all over again the next day. Just add a random encounter with Will in there every once in a while and that was the story. I didn't like that Abbi didn't know the mystery she was supposed to solve until past the halfway point (I already knew, by the way, because it was predictable) and the resolution to the mystery was so slow to unravel. The entire book is mainly Abbi traveling through time with no clue why it's happening or how to get home and then all of a sudden, every mystery is just solved within the span of a couple of pages towards the end of the book. It was a bit unsatisfying. Sorry, but this one was not for me.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Skip this one.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

DISCUSSION - Writer's Block + Pick My Next Discussion Post!

I have had a huge problem over the past few weeks. I feel like I have nothing to say.

There is a reason why I haven't posted that many discussion posts and it's not laziness. Okay, so it's not just laziness. Last month, I was spending a lot of time with my family and didn't have the time too write anything. And this week, I have been struggling with jet lag from my trip back to Italy.
Most of my posts have been reviews and it isn't because I don't have ideas. I do. I promise. I have several posts in my drafts folder. The problem is that when I go to write something on these posts, I have NOTHING TO SAY. Or at least . . . nothing that I think you guys would want to hear.
I don't know if I'm genuinely blocked or if I am just having a hard time drumming up any excitement for these posts. Maybe it's a little bit of both. So I thought I would tell you some of the post ideas I have and you could tell me if you would be interested in a post on that subject.

1. Using a spreadsheet to track my reading. How does tracking my reading affect what I read?

2. Books I would like to read for the first time again.

3. Feeling guilty for not rereading more.

4. Why is everyone so down on YA?

5. Have your reading tastes changed?

6. Cons of being a speed reader

7. What percentage of my books get different ratings?

See? Ideas are not the problem.

What do you guys think . . . do any of those posts sound remotely interesting? Any ideas on how to love past this writer's block?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

REVIEW: The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is March 1, 2017.

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night. Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

I love WWII books. They are my bread and butter and I was so excited to find a new twist on one. I absolutely loved the addition of the circus and the magical atmosphere. Noa and Astrid are two women with secrets and they managed to forge such a strong friendship despite everything. Astrid is a woman of Jewish faith who marries a German soldier. She comes from a long line of circus performers and when her husband leaves her because of the fact that she is Jewish, she is devastated and decides to join a competing circus since her family has disappeared. Noa has a one night affair with a German soldier and is kicked out of her family home when she learns she is pregnant. Her child is taken away from her, but she gets a second chance at motherhood when she rescues a baby boy from a boxcar full of Jewish babies, on their way to their deaths.

One of the things I loved about this book was that the romance was very subtle. The focus was on the friendship between these two very strong women. Astrid distrusts Noa and is worried that her secret will be found out. I had no idea that there were circus people who basically hid Jewish people among their workers to give them a job and to hide them. The author stated in her author's note that she had read about this and was intrigued. I was definitely intrigued to hear this. The owner of the circus in this book risked his life to hide Astrid and Noa's baby, among others. What a crazy time to live in. Noa learned how to become an aerialist so that she can earn her place in the circus. I know Noa was a gymnast at one point, but I still thought it a little convenient that she was able to learn the act so quickly. But given that, there were still wonderful scenes in the circus and behind the scenes. Being an aerialist involves a lot of trust and committing herself to this act allows Noa to gain Astrid's trust and respect.

This book was full of magical scenes with the circus and also a lot of suspense and fear with checkpoints and the Nazi regime. There were these moments when the circus performers put on their act and you could almost forget the despair of the war because there is just so much hope and beauty with the performers. But the author never lets you forget the stakes or what could happen to both go these women. There was a little insta-love with Noa, but I am so glad that it was a subplot and not one of the major points of focus. Both of these women have lost loved ones and family but they find what they have been missing from each other. This was such a beautiful story. Yes, there are incredibly sad moments (it is a WWII book after all), but there are some beautiful ones as well. Great book!

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy this one!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

REVIEW: The Book of Etta (The Book of Nowhere #2) by Meg Elison

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is February 21, 2017.

Etta comes from Nowhere, a village of survivors of the great plague that wiped away the world that was. In the world that is, women are scarce and childbearing is dangerous…yet desperately necessary for humankind’s future. Mothers and midwives are sacred, but Etta has a different calling. As a scavenger. Loyal to the village but living on her own terms, Etta roams the desolate territory beyond: salvaging useful relics of the ruined past and braving the threat of brutal slave traders, who are seeking women and girls to sell and subjugate. When slavers seize those she loves, Etta vows to release and avenge them. But her mission will lead her to the stronghold of the Lion—a tyrant who dominates the innocent with terror and violence. There, with no allies and few weapons besides her wits and will, she will risk both body and spirit not only to save lives but also to liberate a new world’s destiny.

I absolutely adored the first book so I was super excited for this ARC. I was a little wary of the focus on a different character because I loved the first one so much. I shouldn't have worried though. Etta is still a very compelling character and Elison is so incredibly talented at building this post-apocalyptic world. This book picks up about a hundred years after the first one. Just a note that this is still not a standalone novel. You should definitely read the first one before tackling this one.

This book focused a lot on gender and gender identity and sexual identity. It's interesting to see the new society that has formed and the way some people in the town of Nowhere worship the Unnamed Midwife and her words. This new society is mostly run by women. It's a great flip from the usual man run societies. Because so many women died in the plague (and continue to die in childbirth), they kind of run the show in the town of Nowhere. Etta explores other towns and villages and of course there are differences. In Nowhere, women do look down on other women who are lesbians or transgender. Women are one of two things in this town: mothers or midwives. There is an understanding that lesbians still sleep with men for the purpose of breeding. The whole emphasis on breeding despite all the risks was disturbing, to say the least. 

Ellison's writing is just as good as ever. The world she creates is bleak and cruel, but it also has its moments of hope. She does such an amazing job with all of the characters. The women are flawed, but relatable and I loved seeing how some of the men were adapting to the new society. Some of the men were cruel and took advantage of the women, while other men treated women with a huge amount of respect (because there were less of them). I will say that I loved the first one more than this one, but this was still a very well done sequel and I can't wait to see where Ellison goes with the next book in the series.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy this one.

Friday, February 10, 2017

REVIEW: The Free by Lauren McLaughlin

I received this ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is February 28, 2017.

In the beginning, Isaac West stole to give his younger sister Janelle little things: a new sweater, a scarf, just so she looked less like a charity case whose mother spent money on booze and more like the prep school girls he’d see on his way to school. But when Isaac’s petty theft lands him in juvie, he’s cut off from helping Janelle. Friendless in a dangerous world of gangs and violent offenders, he must watch his every step. His sentence requires him to meet regularly for group therapy, where the inmates reenact their crimes, attempting to understand what happened from the perspective of their victims. The therapy is intense. And as Isaac works through scenes with the group, he begins to recall a memory he’d long ago repressed. A memory that changed everything. And as he begins to piece together the truth about the circumstances that shaped his life—the circumstances that brought Isaac to Haverland in the first place—he must face who he was, who he is . . . and who he wants to be.

Where do I begin with this book? So it took me a while to connect with the main character. The book is told through first person by Isaac and his time in a juvenile detention center. Isaac has a sister that he loves deeply and a mom who is a prostitute and an alcoholic so he is the only one around to take care of her. The problem is that his method of taking care of her lands him in juvie. The scenes in group therapy were intense. Isaac meets some interesting characters there and has to figure out who his friends are and who he can trust. In the beginning, he is just about doing his time and getting out of there as soon as possible. The other characters are interesting, especially the ones in his group therapy class. Eventually, Isaac realizes that he has to work the program and this is where things get a bit interesting. The memories he has of his childhood with his mom and his sister are truly heartbreaking. The group helps him to come to terms with a few repressed memories and I loved those scenes.

I guess the issue I had with this one is that there was also this subplot of Isaac's crime and this theft ring that his teacher was running and I thought it got a little too "made for TV," if you know what I mean. I also thought the ending was a bit rushed and the character development was a little forced. I thought the focus on this theft ring took attention away from Isaac's crimes and it's almost like the author was looking for some villain to place all the blame on for stuff that Isaac did. I would have much rather read a story about Isaac exploring the reasons behind his actions and even talking about the poverty that led to some of his poor decision making. And the end with his sister and his mother was just a little too neat and wrapped up. 

Parts of this book were interesting, but I just didn't think the book went deeply enough.

Borrow/Buy/Skip: Borrow this one.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

REVIEW: Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts #1) by Vic James

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is February 14, 2017.

Our world belongs to the Equals—aristocrats with magical gifts—and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world. Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of their noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty—but will her heart pay the price? Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution. And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts. He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

The premise for this book was awesome and I did enjoy parts of it. The author painted a very bleak picture of Equals and the commoners, who are required to be their slaves for a period of ten years at some point during their lives. So there is inequality and more importantly, there is magic among the Equals. The magic is what separates the Equals from the commoners. It's passed down through the families, but this is kind of where the author lost me with the world building. There just wasn't enough magic in it for me. I craved it something fierce. When there was magic, I was so excited but those scenes just weren't enough. I also don't think the author delved too deeply into where the magic came from originally and how the laws got to be passed about everyone's slave days. It seems so odd that these laws were passed without too much resistance, but then again people used their magic so I think some of it can be explained by that.

Let's talk about the characters. First of all, I think there were way too many POV's. The main problem with this book was that I couldn't connect with any of them. Most of the characters were just boring. This book took a while to read because so much time would pass with nothing happening to any of them. I did like Luke and the resistance that he joined. I think that is relevant with what's happening today, but I don't think they carried the resistance part far enough. They could have done more with that, I think. There isn't really a lot of romance here, which awesome. But there is some insta-love between Abi and her master. How can you possibly fall in love with someone who is basically holding you hostage. I also had a really hard time following the bloodlines and the family ties of the most powerful family in England. There were so many names and events from the past that my head started spinning and I found myself rereading few paragraphs to try and get everything straight. 

The ending to the book was pretty awesome and that does make me want to read the next one. I don't know that it would be a priority for me though.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Even though I liked parts of it and I thought the ending was exciting, I still think you should skip this series. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

DISCUSSION: Bookish Apps

Today, I thought I would share a few book related apps that I use all the time.

1. Goodreads
Of course, this one is a given. I read quickly so I am on this app to track my books ALL THE TIME.

2. Google sheets
I have become OCD with tracking my books read. I like to keep this spreadsheet to keep track of details that I can't really keep track of on Goodreads. In addition to the columns shown, I also track the genre and whether it is young adult, adult, or new adult.

3. Serial Reader
I LOVE THIS APP! You know how classics can be so tough to read because of the language and the fact that all classics have a tendency to move really slowly? It always feels like they take me forever to read. This app has SO MANY classics on it and it basically divides all of them into easy ten or fifteen minute "issues." You pick a classic and just commit to reading ten minutes a day. How easy is that? I have already read several of them. It makes it so much easier to actually finish a classic! If you are like me and you want to expand your reading to include some classics, but you are intimidated, this app is perfect!

4. We Read Too
Just discovered this one and while it is a little limited, I am still loving the concept. It's basically a resource that provides names of books written by authors of color featuring characters of color! I love that, especially since it can be tough to find books with more diversity sometimes. Right now, they only have children's fiction and young adult fiction, but they are working to expand that. And they do have a section where you can submit your own recommendation.

What apps do you use on a regular basis? Are there any new ones you can recommend?

Monday, February 6, 2017

REVIEW: Heart of the Storm (Undertow #3) by Michael Buckley

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is February 7, 2017.

After seven months as a captive of Minerva, the insane Alpha queen, Lyric Walker has escaped to the surface. Her only goal is to warn the world about the Great Abyss. When she finally arrives back in Coney Island, she discovers a world she never expected, one where humans and Alpha are finally working hand in hand to rebuild the country. But she soon discovers that an old enemy allied with an old friend may kill them all before the monsters get their turn. Where will Lyric’s loyalties, and her heart, lead her? With nail-biting action and romance, Michael Buckley’s epic trilogy draws to a stunning conclusion.

After a kind of lackluster second book in the series, I was kind of wary about this one. I wanted to read the final one to see what happened, but I was worried that this one would be a bit slow and uninteresting. I am very happy to say this was NOT TRUE.

Yes, the book took a bit of a weird turn at the end of the last one when Lyric was taken captive by Minerva and taken underwater. The book goes back and forth between her time as hostage and the time after when she escaped. There is a lot of adventure and action in this book and there are also new monsters. Humans and Alpha must learn to work together to fight these new creatures. But they have to get past their own prejudices first. This book had a lot of political and racial undertones and I thought it was quite relevant considering everything going on in the world today. 

I liked that the romance part was a subplot instead of the main thing with this one. The focus was all about saving the world (kind of annoying that Lyric was apparently the only one who could do that, but whatever). There was a little bit of a love triangle, but not much. Lyric is still obviously pining for Fathom, but she still makes some adult decisions about their relationship. She starts to realize that maybe things weren't love at first sight for them, which was a refreshing change.

There are parts of the ending that I enjoyed and one thing happened that annoyed me (no spoilers), but all in all, I was pretty satisfied with the conclusion. I loved seeing more of the Alpha and Lyric's family and all her friends. Good ending to the series.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy this one.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

January Wrap-Up

I am linking up to both the Sunday Post @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer and the Sunday Post @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

How is it February ALREADY???
Seriously . . . does anyone else feel incredibly exhausted and so over this year already?

I don't know if it's the election aftermath or what, but I just feel like this year has gotten off to such a rocky start and every single day, something happens that makes me sad or angry and it's overwhelming. I have to try to realize that there are only so many things I can control. I need to go about my life and just do the best I can.

Anyway, at the beginning of the month, I made a last minute trip to the States to see my family. My grandmother was really sick and we weren't really sure what was going to happen. Luckily, she is much better for now but I decided to spend a month here to spend some quality time with my family. Usually, when I come back home, I only spend about a week or so here so it has been great to really relax and see everyone I want to see. The only downside has been that I really, really, REALLY miss my husband and my dog. I think a month away from them is a little too long. I have a week left here in the States and as much fun as I have had with my family, I am really looking forward to seeing my husband again.

I have also been severely jet lagged and that has affected my blog and my reading. I had some posts scheduled, but I haven't been responding to comments and I haven't posted this week because I am behind in my reading and my reviews. You know what? I am okay with that. Sleep and family time have been coming first and I have also tried to catch up on my reading when I can. I will be catching up with the blog soon, but for right now, I am cutting myself some slack.
Look at me. I'm growing.

I managed to read 21 books this month. During the last few weeks, my reading has slowed down and I haven't been loving the books I have read. Either that or I just haven't been in the mood for it. But I got a lot of reading done regardless, so that makes me happy.

Here were a couple of my favorite reads:
Most disappointing read of the month: 

How was your January? What was your favorite book of the month? Do you feel like you have aged ten years in the last month or is that just me?