Sunday, August 30, 2015

ARC Review: Infinite in Between - Carolyn Mackler

Infinite in Between
Carolyn Mackler
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Thanks to HarperTeen for the ARC I received at BEA!

Five freshmen, five letters to open after graduation thanks to a freshman orientation activity, and four years separating them from one another. Infinite in Between is an easy read that still brings about its fair share of feelings.

Told through five different points of views and following them through high school, I definitely liked some characters more than others. Mia was by far my favorite. I felt like her voice stood out the most. It was distinct, defined, her distress and angst was palpable as she felt herself live life as the screwball character. Her frustration with her life, her parents, her "best friend," -- they were all artfully done, and Mia's scenes were my favorites. I was rooting for her the whole way.

I think Whitney was my least favorite which might be an unpopular opinion? Whitney is the biracial beauty who's queen bee but is still nice to everyone around her, even if she has to be superficially nice. Whitney isn't a bad person, even if in the beginning she's very quick to judge other people and is so concerned with who her friends are that she ends up losing a lot. She goes through a lot of character growth though. so she understands her mistakes there. She still rubs me the wrong way though and no matter how much I want to. I can't like her character. I love her older sister though. Alicia is three years older and just a more fun character and I liked exploring their relationship too.

Now that we've covered favorite and least favorite, I don't want to spend three more paragraphs going in depth about every single character so I'll just say that I enjoyed all the other characters and every single person's "thing," their hardship. was interesting, and well fleshed out, and enjoyable to read. I feel like there maybe could have been a little more of a shift or a distinction in tone/voice in the characters but when you're writing five characters who all have to age I understand that's hard to do and there definitely was a certain amount, just maybe not as much as I would have liked. However it didn't take away too much because the voice shifted as they got older which drew attention away from the fact that some of the voices sounded a little similar.

I liked that towards the end the story started to get more cohesive, but it takes a long time to get to the point where it reads like one story rather than five individual ones. I personally didn't mind this because I liked the stories of each person and I was willing to wait until the end to see if they met up or if their timelines collided but some readers might want the story to become intertwined earlier on, provided a more solid/stable plot, which is something to think about if you'e planning to read this.

I thought it was a worthwhile read, full of proof that everyone is fighting a battle, and full of cute moments and sad moments and happy moments and lots of other kinds of moments in between.

- Noor

What's your favorite memory from high school?
Let us know in the comments!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Double ARC Review: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between - Jennifer E. Smith

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between
Jennifer E. Smith
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Release Date:September 1st, 2015
Publisher: Poppy Publishing House
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Thanks to Poppy Publishing House for the ARC I received at BEA and thanks to Jen E. Smith for signing it (and gracing me with her presence in a photograph)!

There's something to be said about a book that makes you resonate with an experience that isn't yours.

The whole time, I didn't feel like I was just reading about two teenagers deciding whether or not to break up on their last night before leaving for college on opposite sides of the country; I felt like I was part of the last hurrah, like I hadn't actually finished my sophomore year of college three months ago and that this book was Just For Me in my Time of Need even though realistically I did not have to break up with anyone before leaving for college which was, like I said, two years ago, and most of my friends, barring a few outliers, either went to Rutgers which was 20 minutes away or went to other not-exceptionally-far-but-far-enough-to-dorm schools. Sure, I had painful goodbyes but you've got four best friends here and three of them are leaving the next day, all to different parts of the country, and it's this dramatic night of running to places where they've had big experiences in their relationship and I just felt like I was a part of it even though I should have been removed from the situation, which I just think is the mark of a great book.

The couple in question is Clare and Aidan. Clare is the level-headed, list-making, practical one. Aidan is the more go-with-your-gut, impulsive kinda guy. Smith does a good job of not making them too much these tropes -- Clare isn't too attached to her list (she makes a list of places to go that each signify something important, a "greatest hits" or "refresher course" of their relationship) and when some things can't be done, she rolls with it; likewise, Aidan gets serious about things like the word "love," his friendship with Scotty, and his relationship with his Dad and how he didn't ever want to go to Harvard. They are never too much of the "serious girl" or the "chill guy" and this is why they have chemistry.

They also work because they aren't perfect throughout the book. As the story progresses we learn of fears and setbacks in their relationships, we see fights and problems. We watch them become a dynamic couple rather than a hopelessly in love set of collegebound students.

Their friends add another set of dimension. Scotty, Aidan's best friend, and Stella, Clare's best friend, add another set of drama to the story. Clare's relationship with Stella is on the rocks but she's so focused on making a decision about breaking up with Aidan or not that she can't grasp what's in front of her with Stella, which is frustrating because the reader will definitely understand. Scotty and Aidan aren't in the clear either -- they end up duking it out in a fistfight. Last night of college and you might break it off with your significant other of two years as well as lose your best friend? Talk about rough.

I finished this book in one sitting because I started it expecting not to know the verdict on the breakup situation until the very end but surprise surprise, the decision happens somewhere in the middle of the book, (which is something I loved by the way, because I had just let down my guard and was expecting more running around and lists and there it was) and then I finished it expecting her to pull something and change their minds at the last second because there was an entire half a book to go.

It's a pretty short read so I suspect the one sitting thing will be common but I'm warning you now, this book is a very cute, light, fluffy, read, and if you aren't a fan of those, and like things with a little more meat and heavy plot and things like that, I would probably skip this one.

I know I accidentally let all my reviews get annoyingly long but I just want to add one last thing that I forgot to mention. My favorite quote from the book is one about Scotty, who isn't going away to school:

"The only thing harder than leaving is being left behind." 
It isn't a revolutionary concept, but it's poignant, and relateable to a lot of people, and having someone who wasn't leaving helped ground the story a little, although half the fun of the book was that it was this dramatic book and in the town all their friends went away and they had One Last Night and there was a party and stealing and jail (unrelated) and punching and not drowning. Overall an excellent book; Jen E. Smith definitely did not disappoint.

- Noor

Amrutha's Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between Review
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Loved this. Jennifer E. Smith is back at it with this one and it's honestly so great. Like Noor said though, this is a fluff piece, which personally I am all about, so if you aren't, you might not like it as much as we did.

I'm a sophomore in college now, and just last week I had my goodbye dinners with my friends who go to school far away (there aren't that many of them and even they are only a few hours away). And while I didn't have an SO to break up with, I do fully understand the idea of thinking you might lose your loved ones due to distance.

It's such a complex feeling, where you might lose someone due to circumstances outside of your control, and I've never read anything that made it so I could wrap my head around all of the craziness of leaving and getting left behind. I really felt this story because of where I am in my life, which I think has a lot to do with why I liked it so much.

My consistently favorite thing about Jennifer E. Smith's books are that there is never a static character, and none of them are written stereotypically or to an extreme version -- they are always fleshed out in ways that make me feel like I know them in real life, which I am all about. Clare and Aiden and Scotty and Stella are all honestly so interesting, and more importantly, their relationships are interesting.

As Noor touched on up there, Clare and Stella's issues were really frustrating to me as the reader, because I could see what Clare couldn't. Aiden and Scotty struggling to figure their issues out were very complex as well, and this was so good to me because this book is set in a very small time frame. This is such a short book, and complexity is hard to build in this kind of a fluff novel, so I loved it.

I liked how the book was structured as well, which is to say I liked where certain plot things were addressed, and I don't want to elaborate more on this because I don't want to give anything away.

This book delivered on everything it promised -- good writing, dynamic characters, evolving relationships, and a solid fluffy plot. Couldn't ask for anything more.
- Amrutha

Goodbye for now or goodbye forever?
Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: The Fate of Ten - Pittacus Lore

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week I'm waiting on The Fate of Ten by Pittacus Lore!

The Fate of Ten
Pittacus Lore
Series: Lorien Legacies #6
Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Waited on by: Marlon

The sixth book in the thrilling, action-packed, New York Times bestselling I Am Number Four series! For years the Garde have fought the Mogadorians in secret. Now all of that has changed. The invasion has begun. If the Garde can't find a way to stop the Mogs, humanity will suffer the same fate as the Lorien: annihilation.

There is still hope. When the Elders sent the Garde to Earth, they had a plan—one which the Garde are finally starting to understand. In the climax of The Revenge of Seven, a group of the Garde traveled to an ancient pyramid in Mexico known to their people as the Sanctuary. There they awoke a power that had been hidden within our planet for generations. Now this power can save the world . . . or destroy it. It will all depend on who wields it

The Lorien Legacies books are another serious case of Orson Scott Card. James Frey, one half of the pseudonym Pittacus Lore, is not what I'd call a good person. These books are all collaboration efforts with him and relatively unknown authors. He uses unfair contracts to pay them very little, remove their name from the work, or remove them from the project entirely. You can read more about it here. With that said . . . the Lorien Legacies are still good books. I didn't find out about the James Frey controversies until about the fourth book, so I'd already been entrenched in the lovely writing, the low-level but intense sci-fi and YA blend, and the endearing characters. I've been reading them for like six or seven years now, and I really want to finish them! They're funny, sincere, and though there are a lot of YA and sci-fi cliches in the earlier books, it's been a genuinely good ride for me. Even when the authors decide to kill of my favorite characters and make other characters evil. Even then.

- Marlon

What are you waiting on?
Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Books that Would Be on Your Syllabus If You Taught YA Dystopians 101

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...

Books that would be on your syllabus if you taught YA dystopians 101!

Kiersten's Picks

The Giver
Lois Lowry
The Giver Quartet, #1 
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I read The Giver when I was in elementary school, and while I was definitely too young to fully understand the society that Lois Lowry built, I really enjoyed it - this is definitely the part where I became a fan of dystopians before I even knew what those were. Even though there were definitely dystopians written before The Giver, I'm pretty sure it was one of the early YA dystopians, bringing a more intellectual look at the world to younger readers, which is why it would be the first book on my syllabus.

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games, #1

I think this one is kind of a given. Even though there's quite a time gap between The Giver and The Hunger Games (since I'm only doing five picks for this topic, a book that was published between these two, such as The City of Ember, had to be removed for my top picks), I think The Hunger Games is definitely a major part of YA dystopian history - it's where dystopian really became prominent in popular media. With the success of the movie, so many more people were picking up the books and being introduced to a dystopian world. I mean, this is the book that turned me into a reader as a high school student, so that's a pretty impressive thing.

Lauren Oliver
Delirium, #1
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I was between Delirium and Divergent for this pick, but since I liked the ending to this series slightly more than Divergent (it still wasn't the best), I decided to pick this one. While it may not be the strongest dystopian, it was one of the first ones I read after The Hunger Games and I did enjoy it. I also like having this book on this list because it's one of the less action/violence driven books (although it does get there in later books).

Marie Lu 
Legend, #1
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

While Legend is certainly not the most popular dystopian, I really love this series, so I wanted to include it in my syllabus (it was a hard choice between Legend and The Young Elites since they're both awesome). The Legend series really evolves throughout the books, changing from a Romeo and Juliet type of scenario into something much larger than that. Marie Lu does an excellent job showing a very political side to the change that I think is sometimes missed in dystopians, which makes Legend a great addition to my syllabus.

Red Queen
Victoria Aveyard
Red Queen, #1

Last but not least on my abbreviated syllabus is Red Queen. I wanted to pick a new dystopian to end the syllabus because awesome YA dystopian novels are still coming out, and also because it would torture the class since they can't just binge read the whole series to find out what happens since the series is incomplete! (I know, seriously evil.) Anyway, I really enjoyed Red Queen, and I think it's a great fusion of magic into a dystopian world.

Noor's Picks

Two sidenotes:
1. I would have put The Giver and Delirium on my list if Kiersten hadn't beat me to it and I just needed that out there.
2. There was a YA Lit class offered at my school that I tried to get into -- it wouldn't fit into my schedule or some issue like that -- and while it wasn't exactly dystopian literature I just like that this TTT is like potentially a real thing. 

Scott Westerfeld 
Uglies, #1
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I read Uglies so long ago that I actually got it at a Scholastic book fair -- actually I got the second book, because that's what they had, and then I bought the first book later, and those were the only two published at the time. Anyway, I think this is an excellent YA dystopian novel/series not only personally (which I definitely do -- this is the series that introduced me to Scott Westerfeld which I'll forever be thankful for) but also as teaching material. There's so much to discuss: the moral ambiguity of Tally Youngblood (is she a hero, a villain, some murky combination???), the in-your-face theme of what it means when a society is purely beauty and leisure focused, the slang and the language used throughout the books. This series is like a treasure trove of discourse and I love it!!

Dan Wells
Partials Sequence, #1
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

What a beautiful book. There are so many dystopian novels out there marketing very similar things and while I definitely believe that every book one reads has something to offer, it still is nice to get a taste of something new and I think this is an unprecedented book/series. It isn't without its cliches and "I figured out that major plot point" moments but I'd still teach it because I feel like it embodies the basic core of what many people think when they hear the phrase "dystopian literature" -- cymborgs, viruses, war-torn society -- so I think it serves as a good reference point for discussion and comparison.

Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles, #1
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I don't know if this actually counts as dystopian? On Goodreads at least a few people categorized it as such and one of the genres it was listed under was Sci Fi > Dystopia so I feel like I can include it here. Cinder is another "I love this with all my heart but also it's super teachable" things. It digs its roots in fairytales -- Cinder is Cinderella, but there are more books so more fairytales of course -- which provides my imaginary students a chance to analyze the way these classic stories are being restructured. Also, I love the whole fractured fairy tale thing, I can't get enough of it, so I needed to stick this in here. Also, Marissa Meyer is perfect and The Lunar Chronicles are amazing.

Michael Grant
Gone, #1
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

In Gone, everyone over the age of 15 disappears, leaving this entire town with this Lord of the Flies-esque situation, which is a comparison I would definitely make if this was on my syllabus in a class I taught. Most students read LotF in high school so we could discuss the two books comparatively -- clearly these are two different situations but two similar things are happening and why are they being handled in these ways? Is it the time period difference? Gender? Age? Location? If I have students who didn't read LotF, they can discuss how they might expect the handling of the situation to change if things were changed: if everyone over 12 disappeared rather than 15, if the kids who took charge were people of color, if everyone was female. It's interesting to see, in this book, the ways everyone interacts and reacts to the situation and it would be even more interesting to see it analyzed.

The House of The Scorpion
Nancy Farmer
Matteo Alacran, #1
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I didn't even obtain this book on purpose. I was really young and I was buying books and my parents told my brother he should buy a book too and he picked this one because it had a scorpion on the cover and he never read it but I finished all my books and went for his and I even bought the sequel (which came out 11 years later) and he probably doesn't remember buying this book. But it was a really good book. It's about a drug lord in a country called Opium, located in modern-day Mexico, who not only uses humans with computer chips in their brains to do his harvesting (so they won't protest) but uses clones so he can harvest their organs and live forever. And the protagonist, Matteo, is one such clone, and the book is really good, and also features entirely Mexican characters (even the clones) I'd love to talk about the research behind it and the themes within the book, such as the fact that the United States is a third world country and people run from the US to Mexico, or the dehumanizing of the people who are working in these poppy fields, even if they can't "feel" it.

What would be on your syllabus?
Let us know in the comments!

Monday, August 24, 2015

ARC Review: Legacy of Kings - Eleanor Herman

Legacy of Kings
Eleanor Herman
Series: Blood of Gods and Royals #1
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, High Fantasy
Release Date: August 18th, 2015
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Thanks directly to Eleanor Herman for this ARC copy of Legacy of Kings! (Thanks Harlequin Teen for creating this ARC, however).

Legacy of Kings is a wild, wild trip. It takes place right on the cusp of Alexander's claim to his destiny as one of the most accomplished leaders of the world.

I'm not a history buff, but I was totally drooling over this book. Herman has actually written non-fiction history before, and is well-acquainted with this time period. And it really shows. The usual contemporary YA interactions can be seen, to a degree, simply because that's the genre . . . but beyond that, the characters act on passion, impulse, and sheer whim most of the time, and everything is very Greek.

The setting and atmosphere are absolutely fabulous. From the first chapter, there's already the notion of scheming plots and certain death, and the tease of possible intimacy. The magical creatures and kings place it firmly in the hands of High Fantasy, but the book often refuses to use the loftiness of High Fantasy, opting to portray the great story of Alexander in less flowery, but no less bloody, undertones.

Though I hate comparisons like this . . . it might help someone who is unsure of Legacy of Kings: the writing style, to me, seems a slash halfway between George R.R. Martin and fantasy romance YA writers like Cassandra Clare. It took maybe half a chapter to get used to it, and it never really bothered me. In fact, Herman's language was one of my favorite parts. She makes such liberal use of italicized thoughts. I am a huge fan of italicized thoughts. I can't understand people who don't like this way of writing. It's beautiful, effective, and it really helps when characters are having butterflies and wanting to make out and or stab to death other characters.

The language really begins to shine about a quarter way through the novel, when the plot starts to surge forward and the novel picks up. Herman is glorious with action verbs and choreography. I was delighted to imagine her characters expertly murder other characters in such graceful, precise ways.

The plot is an absolute monster. To detangle it would take a very long time. There is no main "protagonist" like we are used to in YA, either. It begins with Kat, but quickly rotates.

I loved the characters. Herman really breathed to life historical figures of legendary status, with a flair. She portrays them just as human as their legends, but often in less of a complimentary light. Alex's ambition is accurate, but sour and bitter at the same time, as his ambition is in direct contrast to the people who deem him unfit because of his inauspicious scarred leg. It's that kind of thing that really made me eat this novel up, all of the characters are battling themselves and the world in some way and its marvelous. And there's a lot of characters, too.

Kat, for example, isn't in love with Jacob, who is willing to die for her. Kat's general demenour is about as polite as a bear. But she's kind and she's definitely a thief, as she stole my heart by the end of chapter one.

My other faves have to be Cynane, Alex's sister, and the queen, his mother, are scheming like hell at every point in the novel and I absolutely love them for it. Cyn especially. She's probably my top character because she has absolutely no regard personal space, and this often leads to some really interesting (and bad) situations. This includes Heph waking up to her face while having just had a dream about Kat and him having sex.

I have two major misgivings in the novel. First, the six-character narration is confusing. Kat, Haphaestion, Cyane, Zofia, Jacob, Alexander . . . I think it's six?

The problem with having so many POVs is simple: the story can become disjointed if the character's unique interests, motivations, and ways of managing information are not handled with perfect precision. Herman takes the road of least resistance by narrating these perspectives in the third person, but even then, it's not enough. Some characters sound too much like other characters to distinguish between each of them. This is understandable. An author's voice can only be so flexible in one piece while still trying to create an air of style. Not everyone can be George R.R. Martin. This could have been mended with a tag at the beginning of the chapter or reducing the amount of POVs. Three or four probably would have done the trick. Unfortunately, the confusing narration really did leave me turning back pages and trying to figure out what was going on.

My second misgiving is Alexander and Hephaestion's relationship. To me, I am just unsatisfied with how it is portrayed. Historically, the legends for these two individuals span between the greatest friends, to intimate lovers. You can research it in depth for yourself, but I'll shorten it here for you: Alexander's sexuality is not entirely clear, and much of his life is shrouded in legend. The ancient world is ripe with references to the Illiad, and one of the earliest ships is the pairing between Patroclus and Achilles. Though these two were not shown to be in an intimate relationship . . . basically half the ancient world including Plato shipped these guys harder than we ship Sherlock/John or Malec. And guess who made shrines to honor these heroes? You guessed it! Alexander and Hephaestion. Alexander even dies in a similar way to Achilles. Historians like Mary Renault postulate that Alexander, learning of Hephaestion's death, quickly deteriorated in health after losing the ability to care well for himself, similar to how Achilles acted recklessly after Patroclus's death. (Alexander's death is of course a matter of debate, but no matter the cause of his death, Hephaestion's death is contended to have had a stark negative effect.)

Given this, Alexander died, in part, because of grief. I'm not saying they are lovers. They have been portrayed as lovers and as friends in other adaptations of this history and both work just fine. I just wanted to give a summary of how extremely deep their relationship runs. However, in Legacy of Kings, this level of intimacy is not apparent. It seems to have been reduced somewhat to fit the novel. Heph definitely see's Kat and even Cyn in some kind of intimate (sometimes sexual) light, but on Alexander there seems to be a hesitation to really talk about him. Alexander's character in this novel is pretty reserved, and I'm glad he's somewhat ambiguous, opting to form a platonic relationship with Kat rather than a romantic one. While Alex obviously favors Heph, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of a really deep, lifelong connection. I was left unsatisfied, as much of their interaction hinged on the scheming and such. Their connection seems genuine, I just don't get the feeling from their narrative cues to each other that they will grow to be much closer than they are. Heph gives major major major narrative cues that he really wants to kiss Kat all the time. Literally all the time. And he gives nothing for Alex, beyond admiration, loyalty, and mild fear. That's friend-level. That is not die of grief level, nor does it indicate that their relationship will grow to that level.

The reason this didn't bring the novel under four stars, even though I just spent a lot of this review talking about it, is that Alex and Heph are still kids, and therefore there is still time for their relationship to develop. Much of Hephaestion's early life is speculation from the writings of contemporaries. If not for Alexander, we probably wouldn't know anything beyond his name. Even his early to mid teenage years are somewhat shaky. Secondarily, Herman doesn't really focus on romance. There's a little between Jacob and Kat, and Zofia has her own side-person, but to be honest, the novel is quite devoid of deep romance. I think what Herman does to his character to bring him alive, with all of his anxieties and quirkiness and kindness, is fantastic and reads quite well. The reason I wrote so much about it, though, is that the following books definitely need to capitalize on this legendary relationship in a grander and more intimate way, and I'm forcing future me to stay true to current me's standards.

In any case, neither of my misgivings made me really dislike the novel. In fact, I genuinely enjoyed it and I can't wait for Empire of Dust!

- Marlon

What is your favorite historical period?
Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Stuffed Animal Saturday: Infinite in Between - Carolyn Mackler

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!

I know you're all going to judge me for this, especially Kiersten, but I still have boxes I haven't unpacked in the garage, which include my stuffed animals, so in lieu of Stuffed Animal Saturday, here's Framed Picture of Noor and Her Brother with Matching Haircuts Saturday? We'll work on the name. Anyway, I'm reading Infinite in Between by Carolyn Mackler, who I met when I got a signed ARC of this book at BEA!

So far: Little Noor and Current Noor have slighly different perspectives on this book, as it chronicles the four years of high school of five students who aren't friends and don't quite interact (not at the point we're at anyway) but Little Noor hasn't quite grasped what teenage life is like the way Current Noor has and Current Noor doesn't have the same fresh young perspective of Little Noor. We can both agree that the book is intriguing and we like the different voices of the five characters. Personally, I like Mia the best, but Little Noor is really feeling Zoe.

Sneak peek: One of the parts I actually really like the best is the prologue:
In the beginning the five of them made a promise. It was the day before the first day of high school. They wrote those letters to their future selves, hid them in a secret place, and vowed to unearth them at graduation. 
From the noisy, crowded gym at freshman orientation (day 1) to the noisy, crowded gym at graduation (day 1,387), four years of high school seemed infinite.  
On that first day they had no clue that one of them would experience the worst of losses (day 691) and another would watch her family break apart (day 38) and another would fall deeply and dangerously in love without buckling up for the ride (day 1,045). There would be a fatal car accident (day 123), a supreme betrayal (day 489), a kiss with the most unlikely person at a waterfall in the woods (day 943), and a walk along the Seine in Paris (day 352), where a long-held secret is definitely not discussed.  
And then there would be that night (day 1,386) when it all unraveled.  
But back to day one. The beginning. 
The actual narration from the points-of-view of the characters is more straightforward, and when the characters are fourteen year old freshmen, they truly sound like fourteen-year-olds speaking, so this was just a different tone and I really liked it (not that I don't like the one of the rest of the book, or at least of what I've read!). If you're interested, stay tuned for a review soon and if you really want to read it, it hits the shelves September 15th!


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

Friday, August 21, 2015

Double ARC Review: Lair of Dreams - Libba Bray

Lair of Dreams
Libba Bray
Series: The Diviners, #2
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Release Date: August 25th, 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for the ARC I received at BEA!

After loving The Diviners (review here), I was very excited to dive into Lair of Dreams and see what was in store for the characters I came to love. While Lair of Dreams didn't quite live up to The Diviners, I still really enjoyed the story and thought it was a great second book in the series!

In Lair of Dreams, all the characters from The Diviners are back and getting into more trouble. While we still get a bunch of story from Evie, she takes a bit of a back seat to Henry and a new character, Ling, as they explore - you guessed it - the lair of dreams. Ling actually makes a slight appearance in The Diviners, although she is unnamed, so I was excited to see her become a part of this story.

The story starts off in Chinatown as a mysterious sleeping sickness starts to spread throughout the city. While many people have chosen to blame Chinese immigrants for bringing over this disease, the real reason is unknown. Ling, living in Chinatown, feels first hand the effect this sickness is having on the people of her town - not only are people afraid to come to Chinatown, but they want Chinese people to stay out of other parts of Manhattan.

The fact that Ling lives in Chinatown is not the only thing that makes her interesting. Ling grew up feeling the effects of racial prejudice in the 20s - she had an Irish parent and a Chinese parent, neither of whom were citizens since citizenship was rarely granted to Chinese immigrants and marrying a Chinese person meant sacrificing any hope for citizenship. On top of that, Ling is somewhat crippled - she has to wear leg braces and use crutches in order to walk. I'm pretty sure Lair of Dreams is the first book I've read with a character who is physically handicapped, and I think Libba Bray did a fantastic job showing how Ling felt about her legs without making it a huge plot point in the story. Libba Bray once again did an excellent job with incorporating diverse characters into this series in a way that is consistent with the time period and adds another level to the story. As for Ling's personality, she definitely juxtaposes a lot of the characters from The Diviners. Ling loves science and reason, and she's definitely not the type to go to a speakeasy. She's somewhat severe, quite sarcastic, and very devoted to her friends. While I did like Ling, she definitely doesn't have the charisma and charm of Evie O'Neill (which is totally fine in terms of character); however, since Evie's charm was part of the reason I loved The Diviners, this difference in personality made Lair of Dreams less fun than The Diviners.

The other main half of the story was Henry. I always felt like Henry wasn't given enough back story in The Diviners, so I was absolutely thrilled that he got his time to shine in Lair of Dreams. It was great to hear about his (tragic) past, and I loved hearing about his struggles in trying to get his music published.

Similarly to The Diviners, Lair of Dreams is a slow building story, full of many different layers and story lines, and Libba Bray's gorgeous prose once again added another dimension to the story. While it wasn't quite as exciting as The Diviners, I really enjoyed Lair of Dreams. Plus, that ending! I can't wait to find out what happens next, although I'm sure I'll have quite a while to wait.

- Kiersten

Marlon's Lair of Dreams Review
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Shout out to Little Brown for this ARC! And to Libba Bray for taking gorgeous selfies!

After having read Beauty Queens a couple of years ago, and regarding it as completely iconic, I then proceeded to not check if Libba Bray had other books. That was my bad.

I have thus far rectified that mistake through The Diviners and Lair of Dreams.

Lair of Dreams picks up after The Diviners. While the characters from the first book are present, most of them are taken out of center stage in lieu of the new protagonist, Ling. Henry's character is also upgraded and he features prominently in the book. The characters are all trying to deal with Evie outing herself, and a strange sickness spreading through New York.

First of all, the language is awesome. It sure sounds realistic and from the 20s. I don't have an incredible amount of knowledge in the linguistics of this time, but if Libba Bray had made up all of the phraseology, I feel like I'd still believe her. Like in the first book, it can get dicey when uppity characters begin speaking in their formal tones and it's meant to be serious but I can't help but laugh at them. The silliness, however, is generally mitigated by the fact that Bray's passive narration is masterfully maintaining the strong (almost pungent) atmosphere in the background. It helps to remind me that someone speaking in formal tones usually means the plot is about to shank someone in a dark alley.

Speaking of the plot. It's . . . simply awesome. While the first book definitely had more flair to its plot, helped by its characters, I liked that this novel delved into a more serious, dark place. It seems to follow a murder mystery, but delves far deeper into the characters and setting than that. While I did like the direction it took from the first book in terms of plot . . . the main plot line of the book just seemed less refined and truly creepy than the last one. Don't worry though, you will still be terrified.

Bray's true talent seems to lie in balancing. Lair of Dreams's keeps its predecessor's mix of being deeply ingrained in the historical time-line, sneakily involved with the supernatural, hungry for suspense with the horror, yet light on its feet with the humor. On top of it all, Bray is able to analyse and break down the societal problems in the 20s: racism, ableism, poverty, and so on. I'm especially glad for the change in main characters, too, as it is far more intimate and subtle when it comes from Ling, the half-Chinese, half-Irish woman who must use leg braces and crutches to get around.

My only real fault with this book, and I can't believe I'm saying this, is that it's very long. Usually, I love that in a book, and I wish more books were this length. This nearly 700 page book is, like the first one, slow building, with myriad plot lines interwoven with each other. While that is a commitment I was totally willing to make . . . my reading style is more along the lines of "devour in one sitting." You can't do that to this book. There just isn't enough basic action going on, because the story is far more involved than that. Trust me. I tried . . . and I ended up reading over a whole section from Henry that I immediately forgot.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty awesome sequel to a book that seems impossible to follow up, and I think fans of the first will really enjoy it.

- Marlon

Do you like historical fiction?
Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Guest Post: Writing for a Series by Christina Benjamin

Earlier this summer at UtopYA (recap here), Kiersten met Christina Benjamin and found out about her series, The Geneva Project. Today, Christina is here with an awesome guest post - it's especially great for aspiring authors! We hope you enjoy Christina's post and check out her series below!

Writing for a Series
By Christina Benjamin

Hi all you amazing book lovelies! I’m so excited to be writing a guest post to share with you today on We Live and Breathe Books.

I write a YA fantasy fiction series called The Geneva Project. It’s about a young girl who learns the shocking truth about her secret identity, which happens to land her right in the middle of an ancient legend that gifts her magic powers, but requires her to save her civilization. It’s a great read for fans of books like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson or Divergent.

Writing for The Geneva Project has been a dream come true! I started it in 2012 with 5 little words on my lunch break, “My name is Geneva Sommers…” and they’ve transformed my life. I’m now set to publish the 3rd book in the series, The Geneva Project –Lies, on September 1st.

I never imagined the wild ride that writing a series would take me on when I first started it. Heck, I didn’t even know I was writing a book that anyone else would read. I just wanted to do something fun for myself. I’d always had this crazy imagination and when I sat down to write, it all poured out in Geneva’s voice.

What I’ve learned is that the first book in a series is a gift. It’s where you get to have complete freedom. You create a whole new world, people to live it and fun little back stories, and in my case myths, magic and legends. I even created new species and a whole new language. What fun, right?

Well that was before I knew what I was getting into. When people started to read the book and actually enjoy it, they all wanted to know more. The Geneva Project – Truth ended on a major cliffhanger, so I couldn’t really blame them. So, I sat back down to start on book 2, The Geneva Project – Secrets. That’s when I realized I’d made my life as a writer pretty difficult. I created a world and characters, but now I had to figure out how they could continue to live in it. What would be their goal in the next book? How could I pepper in fun, after everything the characters had been put through in Truth. Plus, they’re older now, so how should they change? Can I add in new characters? Will that change the dynamic? Oh, and I better remember all the crazy details that I thought were so fun to pepper around in the first book, because everything needs to make sense. I don’t want to have holes in my back story! Yikes! Suddenly I realized I was writing a series and that’s a whole different beast to tame. Especially for someone like me, who’s a total pants-er.

I muddled my way through Secrets, which ended up being so long due to the new characters and continuation of story, that my neat little trilogy turned into a quadrilogy! (if that’s even a word?) Secrets was hard work, compared to the gift that Truth was. But I was determined to make it great for my loyal readers and I think all the extra work that I put in elevated my writing and my characters. I realized I could set up things in Secrets that wouldn’t take place until the next book. Once I started to embrace the endless possibilities before me, I started to have fun writing again. The dedication that I gave Secrets really allowed me to put a lot of my heart into that book and I was sure it would be my favorite of the series.

So when it came time to start on book 3, The Geneva Project – Lies, I was feeling pretty good. I was no longer a one hit wonder - I’d written two books in a series. But, that feeling of accomplishment vanished quickly when I found myself completely stuck in the middle of Lies. Again, there were new characters, even crazier plot twists (because you have to keep stepping it up, right?), the vanishing element of childhood innocence, and then, just to make my life more difficult, due to a plot twist, I put a cap on the magic that often made it easier to write my way out of difficult situations.

So at that point I thought maybe I’d give plot outlines a try. Maybe writing by the seat of my pants wasn’t the best choice when crafting a series. After all, I was setting up a long epic adventure, so maybe some organization would help. For most writers, I would say it’s probably a great idea to outline when you know you’re going to be writing a series. But for me, I found it stifling. I spent a week, writing out beautifully color coded notecards that organized Lies into chapters and broke the book up into a beginning, middle, and end. Genius, right? Well not for me. I tend to let my characters lead me to where they’re meant to go and trying to change my writing style in the middle of a series where I already had an established voice was not only a bad idea, it was impossible. I’d look up after an hour of furiously typing and realize I’d gone completely off course according to my pretty little outline. So after a month of yelling and stomping around my house, I packed up my notecards and kissed them goodbye.

After I did that I felt like I’d gotten my freedom back. I knew loosely where I wanted to end up, thanks to my outline, but I liked keeping my options open about how the characters were going to get there. So moral of the story? Writing a series for your first book is difficult, but not impossible. I’d recommend some light outlining, but ultimately listen to your heart and the voices in your head that feed your characters. That’s what I’ve been doing and I’m having a blast, and isn’t that the most important thing?

Thanks so much to We Live and Breathe Books for hosting me! I’m looking forward to all the fun events I have in store leading up to the launch of The Geneva Project – Lies on September 1st. I’m celebrating with a Giveaway for a $50 Amazon giftcard and a Facebook Release Party on August 31st featuring 20 amazing YA authors and tons of giveaways every thirty minutes!

You still have time to catch up on the first two books in the series and the eBooks are on sale for $.99! Follow me on Facebook to see what’s next and you can join our fan club HERE to become a BeliEVA and stay on top of the latest news.

Happy Reading!
Christina Benjamin

About The Geneva Project

Trapped on a flood ravaged island full of orphans, natives and wealthy citizens of the prosperous city Lux, a young girl named Geneva finds herself enslaved at an orphanage with no future and a past she can’t remember. That all changes when she meets someone who promises her that there’s more in store for her than she ever could have imagined. Her once dull life rapidly spirals out of control as she starts to acquire new magical powers that may be the key to unlocking an ancient legend along with her true identity. But first she must master these powers, all while trying to keep them secret from her friends and the evil head mistress at the orphanage. Before she knows it, Geneva is in over her head and has inadvertently wrapped her friends into her web of magic and lies and now all of their lives hang in the balance once the head mistress finds out her plan to prove that the legend of Lux may not be a legend at all! Who will Geneva trust and how far will she go to save her friends and find out her true identity?

What if you were part of a secret so powerful it could change everything? Would you pursue it? Could you survive it?

Geneva finally knows the truth about her identity. The Book of Secrets gave her a name, a family and a destiny to fulfill, but it also revealed many more secrets she must uncover. Some are dark and mysterious and beyond her wildest dreams. Now she has to decide who she can trust with her secrets and which of them she must keep to herself.

Can you keep a secret? What if you life depended on it?

Can you live a life of lies?

That’s exactly what Geneva finds herself doing to protect everyone she loves. While Geneva and her friends embark on a dangerous mission to fulfill her destiny, the dark forces that seek her powers are closing in, putting everyone she cares about at risk. Geneva must lie about who she is, what she knows and her true feelings. Are all these lies worth it or will she go too far and lose everything she’s been fighting for?

About Christina Benjamin

Young adult author Christina Benjamin grew up in the small town of La Plume, PA, where at an early age her playful imagination lent itself to love the art of story telling. She began to write short stories in grade school and continued practicing her craft all the way through college where she attended the University of Central Florida to complete her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Technical Writing.

After spending some time writing for blogs and websites, she was inspired to get back to her true love of telling stories, and dove head first into The Geneva Project, her first novel.

Christina now lives in Florida with her husband, dog and cats and spends her free time writing The Geneva Project series.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

ARC Review: The Accident Season - Moïra Fowley-Doyle

The Accident Season
Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Magical Realism
Release Date: August 18th, 2015
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Thanks to Penguin for the ARC I received at BEA!

To say that I enjoyed The Accident Season would be an understatement. The Accident Season absolutely cut right into me and chilled me to the bone. It made my heart ache; my head spin. The Accident Season is one of the best books I've read this year.

"So let's raise our glasses to the accident season,
To the river beneath us where we sink our souls,
To the bruises and secrets, to the ghosts in the ceiling,
One more drink for the watery road."

The Accident Season follows Cara and her family as they are experiencing this year's accident season - a month a year where their family is especially accident prone, often ending in tragedies. While they know that the accident season happens every year, they have no idea why, and the reason might be something they would never expect. I was instantly intrigued by this concept - I wanted to know why their family was cursed by this accident season every year. While the story wasn't what I expected, it completely exceeded any expectations I could have had for this book.

I absolutely loved Moïra Fowley-Doyle's writing style from the very first page - her beautiful yet haunting prose sucked me in and kept me flying through this book. Her writing is always smooth and effortless, never awkward or mundane. She absolutely took my breath away with the way she could turn a phrase.

Aided by the beautiful prose, the characters of The Accident Season are brought to life on the pages. Cara is so complex - she's constantly imagining things, constantly in denial, and constantly searching for answers. The way she sees things and the way she thinks really dug deep into my soul. The other characters were equally well fleshed out, especially Alice.

Since this book is kind of complicated and I'm pretty sure I'll spoil something if I try to talk about the plot, I'm going to leave you with this: The Accident Season is absolutely compelling and haunting. From the beginning to the very end, Moïra Fowley-Doyle pulled me in and wrapped me up in this story. This is such a strong debut, and I can't wait to see what's next from Moïra Fowley-Doyle!
“There are no ghosts; only the dust in the light, our breath and the wind in the quiet, and the feeling that something, or a lot of somethings, are watching us. So maybe there are ghosts after all.”
- Kiersten

What's the last book you read that chilled you to the bone?
Let us know in the comments!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Double ARC Review: Another Day - David Levithan

Another Day
David Levithan
Series: Every Day, #2
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Release Date: August 25th, 2015
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I expect everyone is getting tired of me beginning half my reviews mentioning how much I love the author but if you're looking for unadulterated hatred, you have to go to Amrutha's reviews for that and if you want to skip my ramblings of love proceed to the next paragraph. Anyway, David Levithan has been a favorite of mine for quite some time now. From my first experience with his books (Boy Meets Boy) to falling in love with his command of language in The Lovers Dictionary (and subsequently stalking and going on retweeting binges on his Twitter, which he's dedicated to posting the unabridged version of said book), from reading Every Day (review here) and being enamored by the feelings it left in me to meeting him at BEA at reading Another Day before any other BEA book (resulting in a Save the Date post), it's been a wild ride.

My feelings about this book are honestly a little mixed. Going into it, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect because the entirety of Every Day chronicles A's and Rhiannon's journey, so I didn't know how Rhiannon's side of it would be different and nuanced and not just be a rehashing of the same story. I trust David Levithan as an author because his other works are so well-done in my opinion that I wasn't worried about it being the last one but I still didn't know where to put my expectations.

I really liked the fact that the voices for the two books are clear and distinct. You know how sometimes you see a quote and you just know it's from a certain author? While I'm sure David Levithan has his own authoristic flair (I know authoristic isn't a word shush) he still wrote Another Day with a separate narrative style than that of its companion. It added to the sentiment that this was truly a companion novel because it didn't feel like a continuation of the same story, in the same voice. This was something different. And, of course, the actual voice and writing was spot on. David Levithan's writing is remarkable and I admire his ability to slip powerful lines into dialogue-heavy writing.

An aspect I had mixed feelings about, however, was Rhiannon herself. I liked her as a narrator, but I'm not sure I liked her all that much as a character. I'll start with the positives. As a narrator, Rhiannon gave another dimension to the story. If you don't know the gist of it, Rhiannon meets A, a being who wakes up in a different body in every day, no restrictions on gender, but the age and general location stay the same. I elaborate a little more on this background in my Every Day review which I linked above in the first paragraph so if you want a slightly longer explanation it's there. Anyway, from Rhiannon's perspective, we can see the way she struggles accepting this facet of A's being and with her accepting A's different bodies, which shows us her internal struggle to reconcile her emotional attraction to A but her lack of physical attraction to some of the bodies A is inhabiting.

For example, we see her shy away from holding hands when A is one female (a "pudgy Indian girl") and we also see another scene where A is in the body of a suicidal teenage girl and kisses Rhiannon and she thinks "If it's A, the person who kissed me at the beach, it's one thing. But if it's this girl, that's another." She does let this one happen for a minute (I don't know if that's a long time to lock lips considering I'm not experienced in that area but it seems like a decent amount of time, long enough that it wasn't an immediate recoil) before telling him it's definitely weird and it should be obvious why, citing three reasons, one being that A is a girl. In one scene we see her speaking to a friend about attraction, asking if we love people enough, do our "types" matter? He replies with the opinion that "we're all wired to like certain things and to hate certain things," explaining that he prefers boys with swoopy hair, and he could love a boy without swoopy hair and yes, he could love a boy with a mullet but it would be harder, and now talking about if he could love a girl with a mullet, he says only as a friend, that he wouldn't want to have a relationship with her.

Objectively speaking, lips are lips and hands are hands, right? But Rhiannon is seeing how love is not objective and who they're attached to physically is just as important as the person inside. So I really liked going into that aspect of her character, and seeing that part of the perspective. However, I'm just not sure if I'm remembering Every Day differently or if reading it in her voice changes things, but I found her to be more annoying in this book. I actually liked A less in this book as well and I wasn't sure if it was the lens I was viewing them through, but I feel like that might be it. Something just felt off about the pair, not as a couple, just as characters.

The other characters were a bonus, though, because in Every Day, we didn't get to really see anyone in Rhiannon's life, we just got a story about A and Rhiannon. Now, we meet her friends, who were excellently written and down to earth, and we get to see a lot more of Justin, Rhiannon's boyfriend in the beginning of the book, whose body A wakes up in in the beginning and kickstarts everything. In Every Day, we see a brief glimpse of him and think "oh what a jerk glad he's gone" but now we see more, why she stuck around, a much more dynamic picture.

Overall, I definitely don't think David Levithan retold the same story, even though the same general story remained the same. I didn't realize how much time they actually spent apart and it made for an interesting look into the side of the person's whose days aren't spent floating from body to body. The end of the book was definitely ambiguous and set the book up well for a sequel, and if I recall correctly, Every Day had sequel-worthy points as well, so I think it'd be interesting to see a new chapter in the story.

I apologize for the long review for anyone reading, I didn't realize as I was typing that I had gotten wordy, but in general I enjoyed it though I do think some parts of it needed to pick up the pace just because they were Rhiannon-heavy and she wasn't as strong as the supporting characters.

- Noor

Marlon's Another Day Review
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Literally I screamed when I heard about this book. This happens a lot, because Levithan writes a lot of books (and edits tons more). I want to thank him and his team for an ARC copy of this book, and for being kind, yet efficient, while handing them out at BEA; the line for this book was long, so pictures and small talk were not an option. Luckily I happened to see him right after the signing and get the picture. You can find it on my twitter. I also have a shrine of it inside my heart, with the rest of his books (collabs included, of course).

Anyway, with that out of the way, I really like this book. On the first page, there's a letter addressing three types of people: those who have never read Every Day, those who have read it a while back, and those who have read it right before Another Day. I read Every Day either last fall or the fall before, I'm not entirely sure . . . and I only remember my emotions, random quotes, and the general plot.

My main worry was that Another Day wouldn't be able to deliver on its promise of being a stand-alone. Not because I didn't trust Levithan's writing, I just wasn't entirely sure what was missing from Every Day, as Rhiannon's character seemed very open and developed.

Another Day delivers. It builds narrative tension and character development the way a stand-alone does: from the ground up, and it never relies on past material to prompt the reader. It's hard to even consider some of the lines as throwbacks since they take place at the same time. Something that really drove this distinction from Every Day was Rhiannon's narration. Her tone and style diverge from what we see A deliver in Every Day.

It is just as beautiful as Every Day and all of David Levithan's work. That clipped narration is always cut with gorgeous wordplay and devastatingly emotional thoughts. Rhiannon's narration, though, stems from a different place. I see traces of the narration from one of the Wills from Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and the harsher sides of The Lover's Dictionary.

A, perhaps from their* transient nature, is not aggressive and has generally neutral thoughts open to outside stimuli (like their love for Rhiannon). Rhiannon, on the other hand, is edgier, more erratic. It makes sense, given the situation she's in. Like the reader just opening Every Day, she has to come to terms with what A is after having a complicated, painful relationship with Justin.

*(Most reviews will use he, or rarely she. Rhiannon goes back and forth depending on A's current sex. A doesn't have a sex and his gender is questionable, but definitely more masculine. I just use they because otherwise I'd be really confused.)

What I really liked about Rhiannon's side is that it can be a lot darker and spiteful than A's, and thus it has more room to deal with the emotions that come from this adventure, from learning more about herself and what it's like to love a person who is the same yet not the same, and especially from thinking about that lowlife Justin.

Other than that, the plot is pretty much the same. Sort of in a bad way, sort of in a good way. Both characters are usually trying to find each other, now we just see more of that from Rhiannon, though now we get to actually see what Rhiannon's life is like without A, and that space really helps her and us with clarity. We get to see the little lies Rhiannon tells Justin and even her mom so she can run off and be with A; it's all very adorable. There's unique and wonderful discussion about sex, gender, and what it means to love a person rather than a body (but why preference is also important), but now we see Rhiannon coming to terms with that rather than having A literally exude that philosophy from their life. The novel climaxes and ends on a similar note to Every Day. 

My only real problem with this book is that Justin features so prominently in it. There are too many Justin thoughts. He's a gross human being who, while I now understand better, only hate more. And Rhiannon nearly wants him back at a point! This is where Rhiannon's side of the narration gets hard to deal with, as her self-hatred mixes itself with her dying love for Justin and it takes its toll on her. It is highly fascinating and leads to very painful moments like this:

"A lot of the time, love feels like it's about figuring out what the other person wants and giving it over."
While personally I like what this does for the tension, as it complicates the primary relationship in the novel, it brought, in my mind, too much negativity and confusion to the book, often leaving Rhiannon tired and angry, unable to neutrally and effectively understand A or tackle the hard questions the book has to offer, which she leaves for later in the book, only easing them out in the first two acts.

In all, it's a very good book. Whether you've read Every Day or not, I think this will be an enjoyable journey.
- Marlon

Do you have a "type?"
Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Double ARC Review: Court of Fives - Kate Elliott

Court of Fives
Kate Elliott
Series: Court of Fives, #1
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy,
Release Date: August 18th, 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Court of Fives is an ARC we picked up at BEA, and focuses on the protagonist, Jessamy, and her struggle to compete in the Fives -- an athletic competition that someone of her social position wouldn't dare participate in. In fact, there are a decent amount of things someone "like her" shouldn't or can't do. The book is heavy with descriptions of classism and racism, both of which remain central to the story, which is about more than just the aforementioned competition -- while the Fives are interlaced throughout the book, something bigger and more sinister is happening as the story progresses.

Overall, I enjoyed the book enough to want to read the next book in the series, so I'd deem it a successful literary endeavor, though there were definitely some parts I liked more than others.

The story itself was compelling, in my opinion, even though it wasn't too complex (although I feel like in the next book in might get a little more complicated (but I'm not the author so I won't make any hasty predictions)). I was generally interested in where it was going, but at some points it did seem to drag where it seemed like not much was happening to advance the plot. Those parts were nice to read for a little while and it isn't that they were bad but I just wanted to know when I could expect a shift. Also, towards the end, I felt really tempted to skim, and I'm not sure if it was the writing or the story or if I just, again, wanted to get to get to a point where something else was happening. Something I liked about the story was that even though the story is about the Fives, it isn't totally about the Fives and they aren't the primary focus of the plot.

As for the characters, I had mixed feelings about them. I liked Jessamy's character a lot, and I liked her sisters but I thought they were very one dimensional for a lot of the book. Bettany and Maraya, two of the sisters, kindof stayed one dimensional the whole time, but Amaya showed a little bit of growth/change. They were still fun to read about and I liked them all but I just wished they were fleshed out a little bit more than "the smart sister", "the pretty sister", and "the loud sister." In fact, we see very few multifaceted characters. Everyone else is either purely good or purely bad.

Another thing I wasn't a fan of was the love story. The two just didn't seem to have a connection or have chemistry, the whole thing seemed forced and awkward. I really liked Kal's character on his own and I really liked Jes, and I didn't think it was even obnoxious or in your face -- that's actually something I'd like to commend Kate Elliott on, because if the two characters fit well together I would have really liked the way she handled the romance. However, it just didn't really work for me.

I feel like I've spent a lot of this review talking about negatives and I swear I didn't mean to, so I'll mention something I liked, which was how heavy an influence classism and racism had in the society Elliott wrote about. I know it sounds weird writing that I liked those things but what I mean is that I liked that they were included and touched upon because in a lot of fantasy books you have different species and sure, elves are better than dwarves but that's pretty abstract, and in this book it's clear that the dark skinned people are unattractive and those who sail to the new land are superior Patrons to the lowly Commoners and it just created a whole aspect of the world-building that was really cool.

Speaking of the world building, I liked the idea of it, but sometimes it was carried out in large info-dumps, like "oh hey dad why don't you tell us this story" or like sometimes Jessamy, who was narrating, would just break up chapters of action with narration of world-building, and it was a lot of info-dumping and a lot of names that I honestly forgot a lot of. It was kindof hard to keep straight and I got some of it confused so I wasn't huge on the way it was told, but at the same time, I get it because there are only so many ways to get that information across in a book this size, you know??? So I'm not too hung up on that, but I definitely liked the subtle things, like slipping in things into lines and actions of characters rather than chapters of explanation.

I know my review has made my opinion sound really mixed, but I actually got through this book really quickly because I was enjoying myself reading, so it wasn't something I forced myself to finish or that I finished so I could laugh at. I really liked the language and the actual flow of the words, which really gave the book an added flair. Despite the things I mentioned that I disliked, the story and the supporting characters pulled me through and like I mentioned earlier, it was likable enough that I would definitely read the second book in the series once it comes out (although this one isn't even officially out yet so I might have to wait a bit).

- Noor

Amrutha's Court of Fives Review
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I really agree with Noor for most of her review: the characters were a bit one dimensional, the plot seemed to drag a tiny bit due to not being as complex as I would've liked, but all in all, the book was a fast and easy read (I read it all in one sitting), so I will definitely read the second book in the series.

That being said, let's get started. The book is, like Noor mentioned, about Jessamy and her sisters, who grow up in a lower class/social standing than what is needed to train for the Fives, which is this really intense athletic competition that could bring really good things for her. However, Jessamy is the daughter of a Patron (higher social standing) and a Commoner (lower social standing), which is forbidden in her land. She faces not only pseudo for being the daughter of these two, but also classism for being in such a low social standing -- this is probably one of my favorite elements of the book, solely because it's a part of dystopian fantasy that I always look forward to. I read a review of this book that compares Jessamy to a mudblood in HP, so here it is basically a half-blood with the same amount of discrimination of a mudblood.

So, I liked Jessamy to an extent -- she was a bit wishy washy but she is still a young protagonist with a lot of issues, so I tried to look past it. I think that this will all play into her character development in future books so I'm withholding judgement for now. Kal (our love interest) was interesting too, I'm expecting that he'll be a bit more fleshed out in future books so I'm reserving judgement again. Pretty much all the other characters are really one dimensional and static, which as we all know is something that drives me absolutely insane, so I wasn't a huge fan of that.

100% agree with Noor on the romance, I didn't love Kal and Jessamy together because they just didn't quite fit. But to be honest, I didn't think Katniss and Peeta fit that well in THG but they still ended up having quite a bit of chemistry, and I feel like Kal and Jessamy could be similar in that sense.

I'm honestly a little disappointed at the lack of world-building and how it was more of just a dump of information that I had to wade through, I wanted more from it than what I got. Everything just felt very slow, and as someone who likes fast paced fantasy, this just didn't deliver on that front.

That all being said, I really did enjoy the book. The book flowed together in a way that was enjoyable and interesting, and while it had its flaws, I look forward to reading the next one, because it really feels like it has so much potential.

- Amrutha

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