Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed: Review


Written in the Stars

by: Aisha Saaed

published: Nancy Paulsen Books

acquired: received for review

buy the book: amazon | bn

summary: This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

review: I read this novel a week or so before I read Devoted, which has a very similar message and theme. And like Devoted, I couldn't put this one down and finished it in a single afternoon (practically unheard of these days). Basically, religion taken to its extreme is always dangerous. It's tempting to criticize books like these for misrepresenting or exaggerating religious practices, but it's clear Saeed understands the subject matter.

The truth is, there isn't a religion out there that doesn't have its extreme fundamentalist believers and practices. It's foolish to pretend they don't exist, and it is what allows further abuse. By not talking about it or brushing it aside as something insignificant is a further crime.

So, this book. It's really painful to read. It flows so smoothly into a complete disaster for Naila. It's a situation that I saw coming almost from the very beginning, but as it unfolded I was completely horrified. The plot tightens and winds until it's a taut string of tension I felt from the middle of the book until the end. Thankfully, there is a pretty great payoff at the end. And though there are some incredibly mature themes in this book, Saeed doesn't cross the line into to gruesome, making this book (in my opinion) appropriate for teen readers.

In addition to its beautiful writing, there are several other things going for this book. It's set in Pakistan, which is pretty rare for a contemporary book. There is a diversity in the characters as they explore religious practices. Naila's parents are strict and conservative. Saif's parents are more relaxed, causing a rift between his and Nalia's parents.

Pick this one up if you're looking for something a little different from the average contemporary. Besides being entertaining, you'll learn something.
written in the stars by aisha saeed quote

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Abertalli: Audio Review

simon vs the homo sapiens agenda becky abertalli coverSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
By: Becky Abertalli
Read by: Michael Crouch
Published: April 2015, Balzer + Bray
Acquired: Received for review
Buy the book: amazon | audible | bn | king's english

Summary: Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn't play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone's business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he's been emailing with, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon's junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he's pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he's never met.

Audio Review: Michael Crouch was a fantastic voice for Simon. I'll get more into Simon's personality in the book review below, but voice was spot on. The narration and production was so clear it was honestly like I was listening to a good friend talk and tell his story. If you're looking for a great audiobook, I'd recommend trying thing one out.

Review: I loved every second of this book. I started it during an epic kitchen cleaning project and listened to it for the entire 8 hours and 45 minutes straight. That's not something I do often unless I'm on a road trip. But from the moment I met Simon, I liked him. And after nearly 7 hours of his story, I love him.

This is definitely a character-driven novel. Simon has the normal pitfalls of high school (except for one rather large scandal), but for the most part, this is a very quiet book. It's not about misery or death or an epic journey. It's about a kind, quiet boy trying to figure out who he is and how he fits in his world. He's learning to be honest with himself and his family while also recognizing how his actions and words affect others. And in that way it just so beautifully captures the teenage experience that I want to shove this book into every teen's hand I can find.

One more thing about Simon. I think the reason I connected with him so much is because he reminds me of a good friend I went to high school with. I've been graduated from high school for 10 years now, and I still keep in touch with my friend. We went to senior prom together. We spent many late night talking about science and religion and politics. Even though he lives half a world away now, we still email and call frequently. And, I'll be honest, when he came out to me, I took it hard. At that point in my life, I was very religious and devastated by his news. I told him we'd work something out and that I'd be his friend no matter what. And despite my less than enthusiastic reaction to his news, he stuck with me. It wasn't until many years later that I realized our friendship wasn't about his sexual orientation. I wasn't there to be someone who wanted him to be someone different.

It's embarrassing for me to admit how I felt then. Even typing it now seems like some kind of a betrayal. But, even though I hardly recognize the girl I was then, I'm trying to be gentle with myself and embrace the change and become a better ally. Because my friend deserves that. Kids like Simon deserve allies who are going to be willing to stand up for them and then let them speak. And that's precisely what this book does.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas: Audiobook Review

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J Maas Cover

Crown of Midnight

By: Sarah J. Maas

Read by: Elizabeth Evans

Published: August 2013, Brilliance Audio

Series: Throne of Glass

Acquired: received for review

Buy the book: amazon | audible | bn | king's english

Summary: Celaena Sardothien is the king’s Champion—yet she is far from loyal to the crown, for the man she serves is bent on evil. But working against her master in secret is no easy task. As Celaena tries to untangle the mysteries buried within the glass castle, she can trust no one, not even her supposed allies Crown Prince Dorian, Captain of the Guard Chaol, and foreign princess Nehemia.

Then, an unspeakable tragedy shatters Celaena’s world. She must decide once and for all where her loyalties lie…and whom she will fight for.

Audio Review: I love Elizabeth Evans's narration for this series. She does a fantastic job giving each character a distinct personality and tone. If you are considering this series on audio, I give it a solid 5 stars for the narration and production.

Review: So, as a recap for my experience with this series: I read the first book when it came out several years ago and I was unimpressed. For YEARS after that, I endured people telling me this series was good and I was crazy for not liking it. And in my stubbornness, I was sure they were wrong. So, I continued to not read the second book. Though a tiny part of me wondered if I was missing out. Then I decided to give the series another chance with a re-read on audio. And I loved it!

Then we come to the second book. And now I feel like a total loser for not just trying this second book anyway. Because every problem I had with Celaena was solved with this second book. She was the ruthless assassin I wanted her to be in the first book. She was so fierce, I was terrified of her. A lot of the intensity and depth that I felt was lacking in that first book really shone through. The swagger was gone and instead we were left with a trained killing machine that is trying to work through some intense problems.

Speaking of intense problems, Maas puts Celaena through the ringer. She took the things that would hurt Celaena most and made her face them: death, betrayal, and love. I very rarely say this about sequels, but this novel was much better than the first one.

I am completely impressed with Maas's ability to turn this story into a character-driven novel that has all the right elements. If you love romance, this book will thrill you and break your heart. But, that's not the focus of the story. There is plenty of politics, twists, turns, and flat out epic fighting scenes that keep this story moving at a break-neck pace.

Basically, I need the sequel yesterday.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Lion Heart by A.C. Gaughen: Review

Note: I also published a review for this title with The Deseret News

Lion Heart

By: A.C. Gaughen

Published: May 2015

Series: Scarlet

Acquired: received for review

Buy the book: amazon | BN | king's english

Summary: Scarlet has captured the hearts of readers as well as the heart of Robin Hood, and after ceaseless obstacles and countless threats, readers will finally find out the fate of the Lady Thief.

Imprisoned by Prince John for months, Scarlet finds herself a long way from Nottinghamshire. After a daring escape from the Prince's clutches, she learns that King Richard’s life is in jeopardy, and Eleanor of Aquitaine demands a service Scarlet can’t refuse: spy for her and help bring Richard home safe. But fate—and her heart—won’t allow her to stay away from Nottinghamshire for long, and together, Scarlet and Rob must stop Prince John from going through with his dark plans for England. They can not rest until he’s stopped, but will their love be enough to save them once and for all?

Review: I read Scarlet ages ago and loved it because I'm always intrigued by a Robin Hood retelling. I especially loved the twist of Will Scarlet as a woman. And, I'm sad to say that I never got around to reading the sequel. But, when I was approached to read Scarlet for review, I decided to go ahead and skip the second book (I know!) and dive into the final chapter. And honestly, even though I hadn't read the first book in years and didn't read the second, I still found this book to be utterly amazing. So, though I don't recommend skipping books in series, this one totally worked.

The beginning was a tad slow to start, and I have to admit that the ending was rather abrupt. So, despite a little bit of uneven pacing, I read this book in a single evening. Where this novel really shines is in the characters. I went right back to loving Scarlet and Rob and everyone else. Gaughen pushed her characters to the limits, which is always a good thing for me, and the romance felt completely deserved. However, some readers (I don't necessarily find myself included) may be disappointed that almost everyone gets a happy ending.

Some other bonus points in this book include court intrigue (I love a good political scandal), epic journeys, and escapes from prison. If you love Robin Hood books, this is a series you really should miss.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Emily's Epic ARC Giveaway

I have a confession to make. I have a hard time getting rid of ARCs. It's mostly a matter of thinking I'm going to read something and just not getting around to it. So, in the past six years I have collected a lot of ARCs and other books. And, it's time to let them go. Some of them I'm donating to the library, others I'm donating to school teachers in the area. And others I'm giving to you. I've separated them by theme, and I'm excited to share this crazy pile with you.

Pro tip:
I'll be doing exclusive giveaways on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. So, make sure you're following me there not only for extra entries into this contest, but also to snag something that I don't have here.

All of these are U.S. only. I know that's super disappointing to international readers. However, books are heavy, and I'm going to be spending a ton shipping these as it is.

The books that are included in each package will come in a package together. I'm sending them grouped together for a reason (that reason being that I'm getting rid of a bunch all at once and I don't want to ship out 100 separate packages).

I will contact the winner of each package within 48 hours to collect mailing information. If I don't get a response back within 48 hours, I'll pick a new winner. Books will be shipped out within 7-10 days after I get shipping info. (I'm going to have to make a LOT of trips to the post office.)

UPDATE: Feel free to enter to win as many packages as you'd like. It is possible to win more than one!

So, without further explanation, here are the packages!

YA Contemporary
Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland
Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder
The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Just One Day by Gayle Forman

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lunar chronicles marissa meyer giveaway

The Lunar Chronicles Package
Scarlet and Cress by Marissa Meyer

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post apocalyptic giveaway package
Post-Apocalyptic Package
Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
Monument 14: Sky On Fire by Emmy Laybourne
Stung by Bethany Wiggins
Fragments (Partials #2) by Dan Wells

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historical fiction giveaway package
Historical Fiction Package
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
The Madman's Daughter by Sara Shepherd
Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed
Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

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sci-fi giveaway package
Sci-Fi Package
The 100 by Kass Morgan
The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist
SYLO by D. J. Machale
Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci
When We Wake by Karen Healey

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End of the World giveaway package
End of the World Package
The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Prodigy by Marie Lu
The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe
The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
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murder mystery giveaway package
Murder Mystery Package
Hysteria by Megan Miranda
Dead Silence by Kimberly Derting
Game by Barry Lyga
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New Adult/Romance Package
Two lucky winners will get a box with 13 new adult and adult romance titles. There are books from Jay Cronover, Molly McAdams, Sophie Jordan and many more in there.

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Bookish Grab Bag

This will be a surprise package with 10 books in it. I have two of these to give away. There may also be a hardcover or two thrown in there. The selection will be random, but it will be worth it!

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