Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Best Books I've Read So Far in 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Here at We Live and Breathe Books, two of us choose five books each week. This weeks topic is...

Best books I've read so far in 2015!

Kiersten's Picks

Martina Boone
The Heirs of Watson Island, #1
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I seriously cannot stop raving about this book. Compulsion completely exceeded my expectations, pulling me in and thoroughly enticing me. From the characters to the setting to the plot, I just loved it all. Review coming soon, and possibly a giveaway!

Marie Lu
Legend, #3

If you read my Champion review, you'll know how hard I fangirled over this book. This book was an absolutely incredible finale to a series I love. It took me a while to finally read it because I'm afraid series finales will betray me, but it was definitely worthwhile and amazing.

The Witch Hunter
Virginia Boecker
The Witch Hunter, #1
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

THIS! The Witch Hunter is the only 2015 release on my list mainly because I haven't read that many 2015 releases yet. That being said, it definitely deserves to be here. Like I said in my review, the characters and plot of this book are just woven together so seamlessly, and I absolutely loved how the main character, Elizabeth, was forced to rethink her opinions she's had her whole life.

Sarah Fine
Guards of the Shadowlands, #3
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Chaos was another finale I read this year that blew me away. I'm a huge fan of the Guards of the Shadowlands series, and after the end of Fractured, I knew Chaos would be one hell of a ride. Sarah Fine, as per norm, did not disappoint. Chaos was an absolutely incredible and more than satisfying ending. I really loved the end!

Paper Towns
John Green

I've wanted to read Paper Towns for a while, but I finally read it this year in anticipation of the movie (which looks amazing because Nat Wolff). Paper Towns is way different than The Fault in Our Stars, but I think I may have liked it slightly better. I really enjoyed the humor and slight mystery in the story.

Noor's Picks

Note: It's very hard for me to have a list of "best books" like this so these are books that I've read this year that are at the top of my list but that Top Five could potentially change and shift because I'm not good at listing things in concrete orders like this. Some of the books I reviewed very recently were also ones I considered putting in my list of five, but I figured to add some variety and not have the same content over and over, I'd list ones of equal (or higher) value in my mind so here you go!

Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn 
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Like I mentioned in my review of this book, I was absolutely sucked in to the high intensity, gripping, edge-of-your-seat type book that this was. Gillian Flynn's writing style was definitely precise and well-crafted and this book has stuck with me as a novel I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone.

It's Kind of a Funny Story
Ned Vizzini
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I read this book very early this year, way back in January according to my review! After meaning to for a long while, once I read it, all the characters just stuck with me and I think it was a book I needed to read and also that it's a book one can reread at different points in their life and get different impacts. It was a funny story, a sad story, a punch-packing story all in one and the fact that Ned Vizzini channeled his own experiences into this made it all the more impactful.

Nayyirah Waheed
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

salt. is a book of poetry that I have not yet reviewed on this blog but I hope to soon because I definitely have a lot to say about Nayyirah Waheed as a writer and a person and how much I love her (which is why I'll try to keep it short here). This book deals with a variety of topics -- Waheed's identity as a woman of color, experiences with love, human complexes, the inner recesses of the soul. All of it hits you with such powerful bursts, some clinging to your bones a little tighter than others. This is definitely an experience and it's absolutely beautiful.

The Darkest Part of the Forest 
Holly Black
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

While I didn't review this book either, I did go to a fabulous book signing event for it with one of my good friends from college (the same one Holly Black went to holla) where I had such a wonderful conversation with Holly Black about writing and my writing and lots of things I'm still not over. Hearing her talk about her own writing process in the talk she did during the event really made me appreciate the book in a new way when I read it, although I know I would have loved it even without the extra insight. Anyway, I really love faeries and I'm glad Holly Black wrote a faerie book because she wrote a fantastic one with such wonderful characters and such a great story.

Royal Wedding 
Meg Cabot
The Princess Diaries, #11
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I grew up with this series and now Mia is growing up and getting married and I am staying committed until the end. I loved this book and I loved seeing the way Mia's voice changed from anxious teenage girl who worried about everything to self-actualized princess who was very put together. The book had the same humor and drama but added a grown-up-Mia vibe. I thought it was excellent and can't wait to review it!

What books have you loved this year?
Let us know in the comments!

Monday, June 29, 2015

2nd BEA Clean Out Giveaway

Last year, after attending BookExpo America and getting a ton of new books, the bloggers of We Live and Breathe Books decided to give away some old books for our BEA Clean Out Giveaway. It was our way of giving back for our rookie mistake of grabbing all of the books our first time at BEA. Now, a year later, we've realized that maybe we're still susceptible to the grab-everything craziness of BEA. As a result, we've decided to hold another BEA Clean Out Giveaway!

Most of the books we're giving away are ARCs, but there are some finished copies. We've also decided to throw in some ARCs we received at BEA this year, either because we won't get to read and review them or because we ended up with extras. Speaking again of rookie mistakes that we made, last year at BEA we thought it was cool and great to get every book personalized. As a result, some of the books in these boxes are personalized to us. We hope that even with our names in them you'll still enjoy reading the books! (Or you can totally cross the names out and write your own name or rip out the page and burn it or put cute unicorn stickers over our names if you want.) Noor would like to apologize for her books that may have a bit of poster tack on them.

While we only had two boxes to give away last year, we have an enormous FOUR boxes to give away this year! Yay! Here are the boxes up for grabs:

Box #1

Swoon Reads Sampler

Box #2

Box #3

Box #4

How to Enter

All you have to do to enter is fill out the Rafflecopter below. The giveaway is open US only and is open until July 19th. (We are open to sending the prizes internationally if you'd like to cover the shipping; however, since we are sending these in USPS medium flat rate boxes, the international shipping prize is really high. We'll definitely be having an international giveaway soon though!) You must be 13 or older to enter or have a parent enter for you. The winners will get to choose which box they receive in the order they are drawn. Each winner will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. We are not responsible for any prizes that are lost in the mail. Best of luck to all who enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Double Review: None of the Above - I.W. Gregario

None of the Above
I.W. Gregario
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Happy Pride! This is gonna be a long post so you might want to just scroll down past the text and pretty pictures to the REVIEW part! What follows this sentence is a lot of stuff related to the book, and indeed has some thoughts about the book, but if you're just looking for a quick review, scroll down. Otherwise enjoy my incredibly dull syntax and poor humor:

It has been an incredible week for LGBTQ+ people across the world: Mexico, and then shortly after, the U.S. both nationally recognized and legalized same-sex marriages, granting much needed marital rights (like the right to inherit a partner's estate or easily adopt their children) to those who needed them. Even more striking perhaps was Ireland's decision to remove the stifling requirements that trans people (over 18, unless a doctor's statement companies the request) used to have to meet to legally change their sex or gender identification on their legal documents (passport, license, etc). This comes barely a month after Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum.

This is much-needed good news for some LGBTQ+ people. However, there is still work to be done. And that brings me to the novel currently resting in my Top Ten books, and one of the most important books I've read this year. I.W. Gregario's None of the Above, a story about Kristin, a varsity track & field nut with an almost cookie-cutter life. Until, of course, she tries to have sex with her boyfriend, also a varsity track and field nut (seriously there is a lot of running in this book) the night after homecoming, and as our horrible Sex-Ed teachers warned us: that's when it all went to hell.

Kristin refers herself to a gynecologist and quickly learns she has Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS but referred to as AIS in the novel for simplification purposes). This means her chromosomal sex is "Xy." This is commonly referred to as "male, genetically male, natally male" or and so on, but basically she is physiologically between sexes, though most with CAIS are identified as physiologically female and generally choose to identify this way post-diagnosis. Kristin's body cannot fully use the testosterone and other androgens she is producing, and therefore, her genital makeup was never affected by any androgen hormone, and so while she has testes, they are not descended and sit next to her vagina, which is not fully developed.

Now, that all may sound incredibly complex, and it really, really is. Gender and sexuality are two massive spectrums we are often reduced and taught as sides of a coin. I believe that's why Gregario opted to go with something as cut-and-dry as CAIS, because most people in the U.S. have never had to work through the complex way biology and socialization actually intertwine. I patiently await the day we have novels representing far more complex cases of intersex persons, but considering it took us this long to grant marital benefits to same-sex couples, I believe the decision to have what Gregario refers to as one of the most common kinds of intersex, represented.

While my book-loving companions are usually very progressive, I was still hesitant and pessimistic concerning the response to this novel. But go on goodreads or Amazon . . . over four stars on both platforms (and on every platform I've checked). The response has pretty much been this:

Seriously, Karen. 

What I mean is that a lot of people who previously did not know what intersex really entailed or where it fit, really took to Kristin's journey and, though I've seen some well-intentioned but still a little in bad taste comments, I've witnessed an overwhelmingly positive response. I was willing, right then and there, just because of this kind of response, to give this book five of the biggest stars I've ever given and just be done with the whole thing.

BUT I SHOULD PROBABLY JUST REVIEW IT: (Warning: very weak spoilers ahead. Also note: I actually met with the author during BEA and asked her a couple of questions. I've paraphrased them/integrated them below.)


The writing itself is phenomenal. Gregario's words leap of the page, syrupy sweet:
"Dawn is my favorite time of day. There's something sacred about being awake when the rest of the world is sleeping, when the sky is just turning toward the light, and you can still hear the sounds of night before the engines and conversations of the day drown them out. When I start on an early-morning run, there's a clarity to the world, a sense that it belongs to me." (Gregario, 1)
deftly hilarious:
"We'd literally been friends since before we were born, when our mothers bonded in postnatal yoga." (6)
tremendously sharp:
"What I really wanted to know was how I was going to tell my boyfriend that I had testicles." (41) 
 and finally downright cruel:
"He leaned in, and I allowed myself to hope that he was going to listen. But instead he just whispered, 'I thought I loved you, you fucking man-whore. And you've been lying to me. I have nothing to say to you. Ever. Again.' . . . The bell rang. The ground went silent. And I began to process how deeply I had been betrayed " (114)
I mean, come on. The first word of the book is dawn, as in, in between day and night. Kristin feels the world belongs to her. There's so much symbolic meaning in the opening paragraph, in just the first word it was either one of the most clever openings or just accidental good writing. I can definitely understand why an author would have their protag feel the world belongs to them: to totally and violently take it away from them. That seems quite in line with what the rest of the opening chapters are like: setting Kristin up on a high pedestal to be knocked down. But I can't seem to get over how the first word is dawn. Day and night are such a powerful symbol for sex, especially considering that day and night are a spectrum, with many different places in between. (I asked Gregario about this. It seems she might be on the accident side, but it doesn't lessen the genius.) 

Anyway. What stands out throughout the book is how fluid and effortless Gregario shifts from the above kinds of language. As many reviewers have commented already, Gregario gives an incredible sense of what it must feel like to be in Kristin's position, by drawing the reader in so deeply to Kristin's mind via the easily accessible, and very natural language used. We are meant to feel every high as if it is ours, and every low as if it is ours. While it is a lot easier to grasp dancing, running, or pancakes than a diagnosis that sends your world spinning, Gregario never lets us go without feeling connected to Kristin. This is especially true during the parts of the book where Kristin was being bullied or otherwise persecuted And this is pretty much half of the book, so . . . fantastic job.

As a surgeon, it might have been tempting to info-dump the AIS information all at once, but Gregario is as deft with the pen as she is with the scalpel, opting for a phenomenal balance of just enough information for Kristin and the reader to understand, while focusing far more on how Kristin responds, drawing me to my second point:


I found myself wanting to give Kristin a good hug and slap at the same time. Make no mistake, she is less cruel to herself than her bullies but still painfully so. She often refers to herself by the derogatory term "hermaphrodite," and in the beginning feels so disgusted at her self and her body that she can't reconcile with the idea of "identifying" as female. As if it were any less authentic than someone else's identification.

I asked Gregario about this. She said that one of the most difficult parts of writing the book was actually choosing the harsh ways in which Kristin responds, such as using the word "hermaphrodite" considering its negative connotations, and constantly considering the decision to remove her testes (won't spoil if she does or not). In the end, Gregario had to settle with what worked for Kristin.

But it is precisely because of her reactions that the reader gets a sense of how truly terrifying her life has just become. Kristin is a powerful character because she's quite realistic: she balances her athletic life with her school life, has dealt with a major family death, has snark-tastic best friends. She simply makes sense. This is a person I could potentially know, as YA standard as her life might seem. Best of all for a YA character, we get to experience her problematic side a lot more than other characters. Whereas much of the stress in YA books come from external, often magical sources, Kristin's is rooted at least half in self-loathing and the stress that comes with learning something about your body that changes your view of the world. Because of this, Kristin is basically far more realistic than most teenagers in YA books: she's temperamental, aggressive, has a mouth like a wildfire, and is generally falling apart in slow motion. 

Actually, Kristin behaves outrageously, is often in poor form, finds herself insulting trans people and not wanting to care about definitions of heteronormativity. I almost wrote her off as childish, but I realized that, at that age, with that big of a bomb being dropped on her and then that bomb being dropped on the school and her entire life and no immediate support system . . . it begins to take shape why Kristin acts childish: it's because, for the most part, she is a person who is completely defeated and must build an image back of herself. Should I blame her for wanting that image to look like it did before she learned the world was not grayscale? Her reconstruction isn't perfect, but it comes with the promise of something better, at least.

All of the other characters are basically this:

It's high school, so by some YA Creed, we need all of it. We need Vee, the beautiful snarky monster of a best friend with a heart of gold. We need Faith . . . I mean, if you can't guess by her name which one she is, then I can't help you. Vee is hilarious, Faith is there for Kristin, there's loads of high-school drama. We need the secondary group of friends, and the other possible love interests, the firm dad who can only cook one thing, and generally, suburban middle-class white life. 

Gregario spoke to me about this, as well. I could tell that a great many factors pushed the decision to have the setting be what it is. One of the things she had to decide was whether Kristin was going to be white. Considering that so many portrayals of queer characters are often very normative in other senses (are white, for instance) this seems a genuine struggle. In the end, it boiled down to making the book as much about Kristin and her diagnosis as possible. While I am disappointed that intersectionality had to be sacrificed, I genuinely do understand having to pay tribute to what people will read and how easily it will get to them. And the truth is that a novel about a cis-gendered white girl who's middle class is going to reach a wider audience in the United States. Am I sad that that is considered what is normal? Sure, but as far as I understand it, this is one of the first books about intersex (though Gregario points to a couple of others in her closing remarks) out there, so it's critical that readers are able to recognize tropes and narrative cues without explanation or exposition, because the subject matter needs to be as simple and forthright as possible. Am I waiting for the next intersex book to have people of color? That would be a step, yes. Let's write it, people.

To be fair to Gregario, she does include a lesbian intersex woman that Kristin meets. But judging by a couple of confused reactions, especially Kristin's reaction in the book, I can understand the need to keep the book normative.

Also, I'm extremely miffed that the book ends with [SPOILER ALERT] the male secondary love interest basically saving Kristin, both physically and emotionally? Was this necessary? I'm happy for Kristin but the love interest in question had to go out of his way to be with her and isn't just accepting her enough? I want Kristin to be happy, and if being in a relationship makes her happy, then fine, but seriously? The one character who accepts her just happens to be in love with her as well? [SPOILER ALERT]

We don't really need to read another story about it, but it presents us with familiar character tropes and does a lot of work to try shed light on how they respond to certain events, which brings me to:


Okay. Arguably, this is where the novel isn't conventionally incredible. Don't get me wrong, Gregario expertly plans where to execute pitfall moments where Krisin realizes how another part of her life is going to suffer, like when she learns her track scholarship might be revoked because she's not, as she thinks the school will think, female.

However, because it runs like the white suburban high school drama, it is fairly predictable. There's maybe one or two twists that are pleasant surprises but otherwise, the plot is not what you'll remember the book for.

Which is why I won't penalize the book for it. With a book like this, an over-complicated plot would have taken time away from Kristin's struggle. And I honestly don't see anywhere else the plot could have gone, most aspects of Kristin's life were covered, and the book is about the initial journey of learning one is intersex, and the book covers Kristin's initial journey very well. The plot was engaging enough where Kristin was always on her toes, always thinking through something, so it was just enough.

Closing thoughts:

Okay but seriously that one moment on page 53-4 when the kids in the English class are all talking about Shakespeare being a subversive commentator on racism and sexism was beautiful. So many truthbombs being dropped so frequently. 

Also oh my god. This quote:

"Love isn't a choice. You fall for the person, not their chromosomes." 

SO I MADE THIS FOR YOU (using an image from oglyzone's tumblr)

That is so beautiful. I really hope that the fact that this is the most frequently quoted passage from this novel on sites like Goodreads that this will hold true for those people, and eventually, the rest of the world.

One of the final things I discussed with Gregario was this question: have we come to the watershed point? Are queer books of this nature enough to spurn public opinion into action? She mentioned that there seemed to be a quota for diverse books and only so few get out a year. But on the other hand, the U.S. just nationally legalized same-sex marriage, right? Are we doing enough to make the world a better place? Gregario responded, of course, in the only way a writer who has spent hours writing, rewriting, and editing mistakes can: she said. "It's getting there, but we're not there yet." There's a lot of work to do, and this book does enough of it that it should be required reading.

- Marlon
Amrutha's Review of None of the Above
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

First off, if Marlon didn't emphasize this enough YAY FOR DIVERSE BOOKS AND I.W. GREGORIO. I'm so happy that we get to review this book in a week that has been so happy for the LGBTQIA+ community, and that I got to revel in their joy right alongside them. I cannot stress the importance of equality and I'd also like to take this moment to recognize the role of books and diverse novels in my life. I grew up in an extremely conservative town in Kansas, and outside of what my parents told me or what little TV I watched, my entire opinion on the LGBTQ+ community until age 9 or 10 was formed off of diverse books (a lot of credit to David Leviathan and Maureen Johnson). Books shed light on people of different backgrounds and intersectional diversity and situations that I had never experienced and probably will never experience. I'm forever grateful to diverse books for teaching me when my access to knowledge was limited, and for providing insight on so many communities. I am so glad that None of The Above exists, because it will serve to educate people in the same way that it has educated me.   

IMPORTANT NOTE: This book is not great because it is a diverse book (well it is), but outside of being diverse it is well written, and there is incredible character development. Nothing too crazy happens in the plot, but honestly, I'm not sure it matters, because I cared more about the writing than anything else here.

Kristin is intersex -- there is a link provided in Marlon's review above and I really encourage you to read it and learn more about AIS and other cases. I am not nearly as educated on this topic as Marlon or the internet, but I do read up and try to be informed (for myself, and because the more you know, the more intuitively nonjudgemental you are (emphasis: not that there is anything to judge because someone is from a background different from your own, but it is human nature to judge things you don't know anything about or look different than what you are used to)). 

As Marlon touched on above: the plot is pretty cut and dry and you could pretty much predict it from the start (really the reason for the 4 star rating instead of 5). White girl (Marlon points this out above too) finds out she is intersex, people find out, she gets a lot of hate, she tries to accept herself, the whole nine yards. On its own, the plot is okay. Nothing too WOW, but then, the writing gets thrown in the mix.

While I genuinely enjoyed the writing of the novel of the whole time, even the kind of annoying (but what I found to be realistic to my interpretation of events) voice of Kristin, what I enjoyed most was the accuracy in the voices of cruelty and kindness that approached our protagonist. The voices of cruelty actually shook me while reading them, because although I could never imagine someone saying anything along those lines to me, it is the reality of many people's lives, and I thought the writing really did that reality justice and allowed me some insight into it. While Kristin annoyed me a lot in the beginning, I realize that I might've reacted the same way in that situation -- especially because the only person she has to rely on is her father (which is nice, but not what she really needed). I think her voice really held true to her character throughout the novel, and that the slurs she used towards the trans and intersex communities were needed for her character development. 

Other than the just okay plot I feel like I should include that I wasn't really a fan of the ending, it was okay and fairly predictable but I was also kind of just like COME ON, WHY. See Marlon's spoilers above to understand my overly italicized feelings. 

All in all, I really loved the book, and although I feel like a little more could've been with the plot (mostly the ending) and that more intersectional diversity could have been included, the brilliance of the book is in the writing. 

- Amrutha 

Do you think chromosomes, or people themselves, are more important in determining love?
Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Stuffed Animal Saturday: A Million Miles Away - Lara Avery

Stuffed Animal Saturday is a meme that we post here at We Live and Breathe Books to showcase the book we're currently reading with one of our favorite stuffed animals and discuss our stuffed animal's opinion (well, it's really our opinion, but that's besides the point). We hope you enjoy our quirky feature as much as we enjoy writing it!

First things first (I'm the realest), I need to apologize for the awful picture quality. My room doesn't have the best lighting even when it isn't three in the morning so I just needed to acknowledge that I know it's a bad picture and I hope you won't think lesser of me (even tho I'm thinking lesser of me). Anyway, Lizard and I are currently reading A Million Miles Away by Lara Avery!

So far: Okay, so if we're being real, while it technically is our currently reading, I haven't started yet, because I just finished what I was reading before this last night (tonight????? I don't know, time is an illusion it was recently) but judging by the blurb it looks really interesting and I'm really excited and I can't wait, but it's also described as "perfect for fans of Nicholas Sparks" and I'm really not into Nicholas Sparks, I think he's hella extra, so I'm not sure if I should be apprehensive or if I should take that with a grain of salt and figure it's just for marketing purposes. Either way, I'm very interested in seeing where the story goes!

Sneak peek: Since we haven't gotten a chance to start yet, we'll share the blurb and let you decide if A Million Miles Away is your cup of tea.
When high school senior Kelsey's identical twin sister, Michelle, dies in a car crash, Kelsey is left without her other half. The only person who doesn't know about the tragedy is Michelle's boyfriend, Peter, recently deployed to Afghanistan. But when Kelsey finally connects with Peter online, she can't bear to tell him the truth. Active duty has taken its toll, and Peter, thinking that Kelsey is Michelle, says that seeing her is the one thing keeping him alive. Caught up in the moment, Kelsey has no choice: She lets Peter believe that she is her sister.  
As Kelsey keeps up the act, she crosses the line from pretend to real. Soon, Kelsey can't deny that she's falling, hard, for the one boy she shouldn't want.
Since Lizard and I got an ARC from BEA, there are still a few weeks until the book comes out, but in the meantime, watch out for a review and find out whether Lara Avery hits or misses the mark with this romance.

- Noor

Are you and your stuffed animal reading anything interesting? 
Let us know in your own Stuffed Animal Saturday!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Review: And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed
Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Adult, Contemporary
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

If you, like me, are already an established fan of Khaled Hosseini, having been drawn into this book through his other two phenomenal beyond belief novels (which I would give five out of five stars each, no question), know that this deviates in the composition and explores a new method of structuring the story. This isn't a bad thing, and I love the fact that Hosseini is expanding his skill sets while still keeping the core aspects of his novels and I'm very interesting in seeing what other new ideas he tries in future novels and what concepts he brings back. The main difference was that, rather than focusing on a few main characters and telling their stories throughout the course of the book, And the Mountains Echoed had a slew of characters, interconnected and crossing paths at various places and points in time, and like a series of short stories about a large cast of characters, told their tales, switching perspectives chapter after chapter, until it was over and all the loose ends were tied up. While I did prefer the style of writing in his previous two novels, this was in no way ineffective and I would still highly recommend reading it along with the rest of his works.

One thing that wasn't compromised and I give the highest compliments to is the writing itself. Hosseini's prose flows absolutely beautifully and his descriptions pull the reader into the story. Set in various places like Afghanistan, France and Greece and California, Hosseini paints vivid images of where the characters are physically and also which period of time they're in. Even when describing people, he has a certain florid quality. He doesn't just call a character plain looking, he says "Despite the eyeliner, and the lipstick that defines her lips, she has a face now that a passerby's gaze will engage and then bounce from, as it would a street sign or a mailbox number." Everything is detailed and said in a purposeful manner, and it is all artfully done.

The themes focused on in the novel ranged from the familial ones he wrote about in his previous novels to themes of love, depression, sexuality, morality. I thought the stories were gut-wrenching and I know saying I found myself crying might not mean much considering I've said that about a decent chunk of the books I've reviewed, but the narrative will honestly tug at your heartstrings. I appreciated that even though Hosseini didn't use one or two main characters as extended protagonists throughout, the emotional impact was not lost. There were some characters whose stories I was not as invested in as others, but with nine shifts in nine chapters, that is bound to happen, and there was never such a large gap in which I felt interest fading that I thought it detracted from the overall essence of the book. I felt Parwana's sorrow and guilt over Masooma. My heart ached with Abdullah's for Pari. I felt the emptiness inside Nila. Each character was so well developed that I felt their grief and anguish and also their happiness and joy. I also loved seeing the way the Afghan characters existed in places like Paris and San Francisco, how they went back to Afghanistan and for what reasons and what impact this had on them, whether it scratched only a superficial surface or went deeper to the bone. Another aspect of the characters I really enjoyed was seeing all the relationships in play. It was very interesting seeing how some characters reacted to things like depression -- in one case, there was blame of another character; or how characters hid their emotions for fear of reaction. One character built up an entire life but kept his sexuality a lie. It's also interesting the people you choose to protect or help out, even without obligation.

Honestly, so much happens in this book that just stating the names of the characters feels like a crime because they have so much history and so much that comes with them, that simply discussing them in terms of sorrow and anguish rips that from them. The only way to do their stories justice is to read the book, no plot summary can come close.

- Noor

Have you ever given up anything important? 
Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: The Lost Chalice - Anita Clenney

The Lost Chalice
Anita Clenney 
Series: Relic Seekers, #3
Genre: Paranormal, Romance
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Thanks to Montlake Romance for the eARC I received via Netgalley!

I normally write quite a bit in my reviews; however, this one is going to be on the shorter side.

I was beyond excited when I saw that The Lost Chalice was available "Read Now" on Netgalley - I really enjoyed the first two books, giving the first 4 stars and the second 4.5 stars. I had high hopes for this third book in the series based on the first two. Unfortunately, upon reading it, I was immensely let down.

My biggest problem with The Lost Chalice is that it should have been the last book in the series. To clarify, what I mean to say is that I thought it was going to be the last book in the series, and I was really annoyed when it was not.

Besides not being the series finale I expected, I also felt that The Lost Chalice was a bit anticlimactic. What I expected was a fast paced, action packed story about finding lost relics (as the first two books provided); what I got was a somewhat unexciting search. Occasionally there was something that pulled me in, but for the most part, I felt like the story was pulled a little too long for what actually happened. My main memory of this book is that there was a lot of walking around.

All in all, I will definitely still read the next book in this series - I am really invested in what happens with these people! I hope that the next book (possibly the actual finale?) goes back to being as action packed and enticing as the first two books for. It's just unfortunate that this book was a bit of a lull in the series.

- Kiersten

Have you read any series with a middle book that was disappointing?
Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Favorite Top Ten Tuesday Topics Done in the Past Five Years

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Here at We Live and Breathe Books, two of us choose five books each week. This Top Ten Tuesday marks the five year anniversary of Top Ten Tuesday! Even though We Live and Breathe Books hasn't participated the for that long, we'd like to congratulate The Broke and the Bookish for coming up with such an awesome meme! In honor of the anniversary, this week's topic is...

Favorite Top Ten Tuesday topics done in the past five years!

Kiersten's Picks
  1. Books that made you cry - If you read my Top Ten Tuesday post for this topic (aka the week of Top Five Tuesday), then you know that all my favorite books give me the feels, and the feels give me the cries. I liked this topic because it made me reminisce on some of my favorite books and some books that just ripped me apart.
  2. Debuts I'm excited for - This is a great topic because it really gets me thinking about the debuts coming up in the year. I think talking about upcoming debuts is a great way to spread the word about new authors whose books may not be that well known. Most anticipated 2015 debuts was also our first Top Ten Tuesday post on WLABB!
  3. Gateway books/authors in my reading journey - While I didn't do this topic, it means a lot to me to think about books and authors that sort of got me to where I am now. When I was in middle school and high school, I wasn't a reader - I was very much overwhelmed by all my assigned reading and kind of burnt out. But when The Hunger Games movie came out, I loved it so much that I actually (reluctantly) read the books because I needed to know what happened. It still kind of amazes me that the series was a gateway to me becoming an avid reader and eventually becoming a blogger.
  4. Worlds I'd never want to live in - As a huge fan of dystopians, I love this topic! I always think about how much it must suck to live in some of the worlds in books I read, and it's funny to think of them battling to be the worst for a Top Ten post.
  5. Fictional crushes - Fictional crushes are the best - there's a reason people talk about book boyfriends and all that! Some characters are just so swoon worthy, even when you just know you wouldn't actually like them in real life (I know I definitely would have written off some of my fictional crushes after a first impression), but reading them and finding out more about them makes them bearable. I didn't do any picks for our fictional crushes post, but it's still a really fun topic!
Marlon's Picks
  1. Things I Dislike When It Comes to Romance in Books - Romance can be insufferably weird in books. We discussed a bunch of these in our post here. Romance can be so crucial not only to the characters involved in the romance but the direction and drive of the story and what it means for the people reading it. That said, it's right to get realistic romances in books. It's something I've come to immediately think about, especially when millions of people think 50 Shades of Grey is a nice romance. 
  2. Books You Loved and Never Wrote a Review For - There's so many books I absolutely adore that I just find impossible to write a review for, don't think the review would do the book justice, or simply don't want to write one for. Not to say I haven't tried . . . and failed miserably. I should do this one at some point . . .
  3. Favorite Heroines in Books - This one (which we've done here) holds a special place in my heart primarily because it makes me so damn happy that, at least in YA, there is this trend that is not apparent in most other pieces of art: female leads. I entered literature through Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter, and the Tapestry series. These are incredible books that all have some of the most incredible female/femme characters I've ever had the pleasure to read, but the books, don't center on these characters. Very soon after, however, I noticed more and more books had started flooding the shelves without the "hero" as the lead, but instead a heroine. Heroines are important, they are everything!
  4. Favorite Secondary Characters - I really like BrokeandBookish's (read it here if you haven't already), it's pretty spot on! One of my favorite parts of book are the secondary characters, because they're often not given a lot in the overall word-count, and so everything they do or say defines them, hard. Most books can have wonderful plots, a thrilling villain, a protag with just the right traits for the incredible universe that's been built . . . but then the secondary characters fall flat. What makes a book really astounding to read is, as when all of the characters, not just the protag, are realistic. 
  5. Books I had Very Strong Emotions About - to be honest if I did this all of my picks would be The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Many emotions. Anyway, some books really just flush you with emotions that can be life-changing or simply make you throw things. Either way, isn't that the point of books? 
What have been your favorite topics?
Let us know in the comments!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: Written In the Stars - Aisha Saeed

Written in the Stars
Aisha Saeed
Series: N/A
Genre:Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Since I had a lot of feelings, I'll make a checklist first:

1) This book is spilling over with realistic, complex characters.

2) The romance is as much of a heart-wrenching tease as Game of Thrones: it will rot out your heart and you'll eat it right up.

3) The language is so beautiful. 

4) The We Need Diverse Books team is incredible! The work they are doing is pivotal and is literally changing the face of literature as we know it. 

Okay! Here goes:

1) The Cast

Meet Naila: a high school student set to attend med school under a pretty tight scholarship. Her best friend is your dream best friend. Her hot soccer boyfriend is your dream hot soccer boyfriend.

Her parents, on the other hand, are not your dream parents. Describing them as over-protective is like calling the sun a light bulb. The book opens with Naila asking to go to a soccer game, and her mom giving her one of these:

Naila's clever. She knows precisely where it her parent's paranoia stems from. While always aware of her boundaries, she nevertheless chooses to say what needs to be said:
"It's not you I'm worried about. it's all the boys that would be there. Besides, Auntie Lubna is having a party tonight. Did you forget already?"
"Is Imran going?" I bite my lip, knowing the answer. . . . "Why can Imran skip these parties but I never can?" 
"What has gotten into you today?" My mother glances at me. "If you don't go, people will wonder. You know how they talk. Besides, your brother gets bored . . . " (Saeed, 7) 
It stems from the traditionally inequality of genders in most South Asian communities. Don't get me wrong: her father knows she means business."Imran struggles with basic algebra, but Naila? She's brilliant. She's worked too hard to get there. She can wait and get married later." (10) Still, whether or not he can recognize this, in his community it's all about familial respect and honor, and therefore, what's best for upholding the family in the eyes of a community her parents need, are prioritized over the needs of a developing young woman. (Which is why often in the book, other women will be shamed: Naila's cousin, for example, chose her partner outside of the familial arrangements, and is now a divorced mother of young children and an example to Naila of what will go wrong if she makes a similar choice.) And still, he chooses to teach Imran, 15, to drive, while Naila, 17, is denied this because . . . because "boys and cars" . . . seriously?

But damn, just writing that above paragraph took some dissecting, because Saeed doesn't make it boringly cut-and-dry. While her parents and their decisions are antagonistic to Naila's needs and wants, and are openly misogynistic the characters are, at least, genuine and not two-dimensional.

Speaking of complexity, I love the distinction Saeed makes between forced and arranged marriages. You can read a bit more on her blog here, Simply put, all forced marriages are arranged, but, as Saeed points out, very few arranged marriages are forced. it's like how all squares are rectangles, but very few rectangles are squares. In the current cultural tradition, the norm is that parents of female children receive marriage proposals. They discuss these marriage proposals and both children involved are informed and accept or deny this, and so it goes. Sadlythere's still discussion of this book on places like goodreads that use the terms interchangeably.

And make no mistake, Naila is drugged, coerced, and totally stripped of autonomy. She is stripped of her friends, her home, everything. She is expected not only to preform her duty but to genuinely thank and praise her parents for taking her back to her roots, to who she truly is. Which, as a 17-year-old, is a psychological slaughterhouse of emotional damage, because that's exactly what 17-year-olds need: to feel comfortable in their skin. Her parents are doing things with the right language of what's best for her and the wrong actions of what's definitely not best for her.

If you're cringing already, this book is going to wreck you.

2) The Romance

Okay seriously Saif is so incredibly adorable. This is a photograph of him. The picture might be a little blurry though:

Naila and Saif go through a lot. After a couple of chapters, they become separated by thousands of miles. There are botched phone calls, a failed embassy trip, it's everything you didn't know your heart could feel. I won't say much more on this only that it will give you the feels. Few books start out with the romantic interest and the main character already in love. But this one does that and I LOVE it because it gets to skip all of the awkward beginning part and we get a real sense of people who actively care and want to be in each other's lives and not . . . insta-love.

Even the person Naila is forced into a marriage with is not horrible. Amin is generally quite kind to her, enough that Naila comments on that. Enough so, that, when everything is falling apart, he's pretty much the only person other than Saif to be on her side.

3) Beautiful Words
I watch the trees along the road fly by as we drive past. It's almost summertime. . . . Elsewhere there are seasons. Leaves bloom green and then turn gold and crimson as they fall to the earth, change coming to everything in its path. Not here. In my world, the leaves stay green, the same Florida heat beating down on us, day after day, year after year, unchanging. But not for long. Soon things will change. Soon they will have to. I've spent my entire life banking on this truth. (8) 
The end sentences are particularly poignant once everything does change. Instead of going to college though, Naila is taken to her parent's home in Pakistan.

Saeed's narration is a fascinating, difficult trip inside Naila's, and a true journey into the mind of a betrayed, paranoid, deeply sincere and loving individual. It definitely took me a couple of pages, because it takes a couple of pages for Naila's voice to start shining. But once it does, oh man it gets tragic real fast.

Other thoughts:

One thing that shocked me was the lack of religious discussion in the book. Naila is cast into a lot of isolated, dark places. She could have seeked solace in god/s here, as characters are wont to do in most contemporary works. However, I understand why religion may have been left out: so there won't be blame cast elsewhere but the parents. Even though none of the South Asian religions in this case are really to blame, it's always difficult creating a nuanced perspective of any culture when you're writing it for an American audience. This is again why I think Saeed stresses that this forced marriage is not the norm, but still a problem. That way, an entire people and culture are not dragged into the mud, and instead it personalizes Naila's struggle with her parents. I for one still think I've been cheated of having Naila either struggle with her faith, or show her understanding of it to depart from her parents, but I also think that the book is perfectly fine without it.

There are only two "bad" things to say about this book. First, the dialogue, while usually fine, can sometimes read as slightly off, either because the character or because of what the story demands. Like Naila's mother mentioning that they are going to a party, once her father closes the family's dry cleaning business for the day. Clearly Naila knows this business exists. Only the reader benefits from the dialogue-info-drop. It doesn't happen too often, but often enough. Second, I wish there was more time for nuance in the book, more time spent on the difference between types of marriage and differences inside the culture as well. At times, the South Asian culture Naila stems from can seem like a monolith.This especially in light of the fact that the book drags on a little: to make it to 300 pages, and to keep up with the fast pace the author sets, the ending is stretched out and gets repetitive thematically.  I almost knocked two stars out because of this, but decided the quality of the rest of the book made up for it in miles.

To close: this book was wonderful.

- Marlon

What kind of over-the-top over-protective things have your parents done?
Let us know in the comments!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Double Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Jesse Andrews 
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Published in 2012, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has been blowing up with attention recently, resulting in a movie that was just released on the big screen a few days ago. After reading the book, I'm siding with the masses and making it known that I totally loved every page in this great novel.

It's hard to believe that this book was a debut and that Jesse Andrews isn't a seasoned novelist by the ease with which he injected his humor and wit into this book. After finishing it, I regret even more than before not being able to attend his BEA panel (it wasn't my fault okay, I couldn't just bolt from my hospital room in another state) but I'm glad my co-bloggers got the experience and I've been following him on Twitter -- I was told his tweets are as funny as his speaking was -- and I find him just wonderful. So I'm already enamored with this author and impressed by how well he can word things just in his every day life and once I started to read the book I immediately loved the voice of the novel. Not only did Andrews' own unique sense of humor make its way into the writing, there was something else in the voice that belonged entirely to the characters.

Each character spoke so distinctly and had so much entertainment value in reading about. Greg, the "me" from the title and the first person point of view narrator, proved to us how he was internally honestly kind of a jerk but probably meant well deep down. He went on tangents, he made lists, he separated incidents in his life into scenes from a movie script. All in all, it was very interesting. Earl is up next. He's Greg's only friend and they make movies together that are mostly terrible (okay, all terrible). Earl was hysterical so much of the time, with so many of his conversations with Greg, but delivered a few hard truths and also providing some of the necessary pushes needed to incite action. I totally loved Earl and how down to earth he was although I think if I was his friend in real life I would have more argumentative conversations with him. Anyway, his voice was great and I loved chapters about him or involving him. Rachel (the dying girl) was interesting to see because we saw her through Greg's eyes so when he didn't want to be there she was described as being boring but when he got to know her she was a "good listener" and "opened up." I really enjoyed seeing that progression and how all the characters influence one another.

I touched on this before, but another thing I really like was the way the story was told with the way it wasn't just a strict progression of "this happened and then this happened" typical novel form and it was broken up into things like screenplay formatting, and bullet point lists, and breaking the fourth wall and talking about how this book probably sucks and why are you still reading, kindof like it was a journal but it wasn't a journal it was a book. Not only was it refreshing, but it was very interesting and I liked all those inserted parts because they were always super entertaining.

Also, I keep mentioning how the book was hilarious, but it was also poignant and I found myself emotionally compromised at certain points without expecting to be at all. And I know the book promises a dying girl in the title so you'd expect it but when you start reading you do not expect o be sad at all so the scenes that really get you in your gut you do not see coming at all. It's great.

Overall, I loved this novel. I loved the story, I loved the way it was told, and I am so happy I had the chance to read this book and now I cannot wait until I watch the movie and see the story up on the screen.

- Noor
Amrutha's Review
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

First things first: Jesse Andrews is the realest. I got to go to that panel that Noor mentioned before, and let me just say, Jesse Andrews is hilarious and it's true, his twitter provides some insight into that personality! While I've heard of this book before, I didn't pay much attention to it until I heard about the movie but to be honest, until I heard Andrews speak. It was then that I decided I needed to read the book and see the movie and while I'm still waiting on seeing the movie until it comes around to New Jersey, I read the book just days after BEA/BookCon and needless to say, I loved it.

Let me just start by saying: if you don't like sad books, and are afraid of reading this out of the idea that it's sad (hint: dying girl is in the title), I wouldn't worry too much. This book is written with a certain humor that takes a few very sad tropes and makes the reader laugh. I know a lot of people that don't read books to be sad so they avoid these kinds of titles, but this book definitely falls out of that category so do not fret, and read this.

So Greg, our main character, is the heart of all of this humor. While reading the book I could sense so much of Jesse Andrews' voice, but somehow, even with the very obvious inclusion of the voice of the author, shone the distinct voices of Greg, Earl, and even Rachel.

Like Noor touches on, Greg is kind of a jerk -- but let us be honest: most people are jerks. Most people will not face a life altering moment or person that will flip everything upside down and change our lives instantly. Character development is slow and tedious and even so, not everything about a person will change, especially not because of being party to the lives of one or two other people. I think the best part of the novel was the development of Greg's character while staying true to himself. Events that might be considered an immediate turning point in the novel aren't, and more importantly, they embarrass Greg, which I'd just like to say how much I liked Greg's character's embarrassment, because I find that the awkwardness of that particular emotion doesn't always come across in most books I've read, and I truly loved that I could feel awkward alongside Greg while also rooting for Earl and Rachel. This is so reminiscent of how high school actually was and a way more accurate rendition of actual character development than I had read in a long time.

Earl and Rachel are also incredibly vivid characters, both of whom have really separate voices that contributed more to the story than I thought they would when first reading Greg's PoV -- I guess because the book was written in a journal format, we found out what events were important and who was important to Greg's life, because as Greg says so many times over, the book is not about cancer or death. Cancer and death are just /apart/ of the book, which is pretty true in real life too.

And with all of these mature themes, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was so funny, and so lighthearted. I love love loved it, and my only critique is only that the next Jesse Andrews book isn't out yet. Can't wait to see the movie and can't wait to read anything else this man writes.

- Amrutha

Have you read anything hilarious lately?
Let us know in the comments!