Holiday Words & Sips

It seems as though this year sprinted from start to close. So much has happened over the past 12 months, and I am beyond grateful for where I find myself in life during this holiday season.

I haven’t had as much time to read as I would have hoped (but isn’t that always the case?). But for this post – as a holiday special, if you will – I decided to share some of the books that I’ve been reading over the past month, and the drinks that I have paired with them. Note: I am still in the process of reading the books listed below, so my opinion may change as I read further.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
My Thoughts: The writing is incredibly beautiful and although the sorrows shared are poignant, the language makes them feel a little less harsh. Even if you don’t typically indulge in YA fiction, I would highly recommend this novel just for enjoyment as an art form.
One Word Description: haunting.
Drink Pairing: Twinings Herbal Unwind (chamomile & green apple), served hot with honey to taste.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated to be 5/5.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My Thoughts: In my mind, characterization is Doerr’s main strong point, at least thus far. I love all things WWII, and seeing how the two main characters are coming to life thanks to Doerr’s word magic makes this book a treat to read. The pacing is a little slow at times, which is a downside, but it’s more of a “cozy” slow pace than it is a “oh my gosh when will we get anywhere in this story” kind of slow.
One Word Description: Engaging.
Drink Pairing: Leinenkugel’s Pomegranate Shandy.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated 4/5.

Christmas In London by Anita Hughes
My Thoughts: I’m trying really hard to let myself just be engaged in the story, but I am getting somewhat frustrated with some quirks in Hughes’ writing style. Since it is a romance, there are plenty of times where characters kiss; however, the kisses are always described in terms of how they taste. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, not every kiss tastes like something specific like “champagne and berries” (direct quote). Also, characters never just run into each other; it’s always something like “Louisa sees a young woman coming toward her in a plaid Burberry coat and recognizes Kate” (not a direct quote). Like… does it really take someone that long to recognize another person that they are very familiar with? NO, it does not! So please stop. I do love all of the imagery though. Describing scenes and food is definitely one of Hughes’ strong points.
One Word Description: I don’t just have one word, I have two. Infuriating & entertaining.
Drink Pairing: Tazo peppermint hot chocolate.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated 3/5.

The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
My Thoughts: I really am enjoying this book. I’m not typically one who reads a lot of humor, but over the past year I’ve discovered that I enjoy humor as long as I read it in small doses. Schumer’s book is no exception. If I read too much of it at one time, the humor does grate on me, but in small doses I love it.
One Word Description: Relatable.
Drink Pairing: Mike’s (Hard) Mango Lemonade.
Rating: None yet due to it being a current read, but anticipated 4/5.

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Memory – Madison E. Grey

 

4/5 stars.

Initially, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to enjoy this book. The blurb sounds similar to a lot of YA fantasy that I’ve read, but after the disastrous attempt at reading (and enjoying) The Cabin (see my review here), reading Memory was a relief.

Ms. Grey did an excellent job of reeling the reader into the story. There were parts of the story that were less gripping than others, but overall, I wanted to find out what happened, and nothing got in the way of that throughout the story. There were a few slips in the editing throughout the book, but compared to many other YA authors that I’ve read (again, see my review on The Cabin as a direct comparison), Grey’s writing was a joy to read.

The only thing that caused me to rate this a 4/5 instead of a 5/5 was that the pacing in the last 40% of the book or so was a little rushed, and there were parts that were a little unclear. There was also a lot of action packed into the latter 40% or so, that seemed to serve little purpose but to move the story along. But again, these were not enough to be a detriment to the book overall or to decrease my enjoyment of the story.

Here is a list of what makes Memory work well for me:
* No insta-love and the romances are not the main focus of the story
* Main characters that are actually likable
* Humorous but realistic view of life/the world/the situations in which the characters find themselves
* Compassionate characters
* Not a lot of telling, but a lot of showing (YES!!!!!)
* Prose that is not clunky and a story arc that flows well

The only other issue that I have is that Memory ended on a kind-of cliffhanger that points to reading the sequel… but I can’t complain too much about that, since some of my favorite YA authors do the same.

Definitely would recommend to anyone who loves a quick, action-filled fantasy tale. Also for those who are burnt out on the typical YA protagonists and love triangles – this was a welcome breath of fresh air. I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye out for more books by Ms. Grey!

This Is Where It Ends – Marieke Nijkamp

Many thanks to SOURCEBOOKS Fire, via NetGalley, for an opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review!

3.5/5 stars

This is the first book of this nature that I’ve read – a YA novel that deals with a school shooting, told by 4 different POVs over the course of only 54 minutes. It was interesting, and I enjoyed it to a degree, but I never really felt a deep connection with any of the characters.

* Autumn – She was the character I felt the closest to. The dancer. She wanted to escape Opportunity, Alabama, and had been accepted to Juilliard for ballet. The sections of the book that involved her seemed to be the most emotionally laden, because of her abusive father and how he discouraged her dancing once her mother died…

* Sylv – Autumn’s girlfriend (but this was kept a secret until the shooting occurred, due to worries about what people would think – including Sylv’s family, who had very traditional values. And again, this takes place in Alabama, which is Bible Belt territory). I didn’t really ever feel connected to Sylv – it was clear that she cared for Autumn, but aside from that I found her to be a fairly forgettable character.

* Tomas – Sylv’s brother. Not forgettable at all, due to the fact that (view spoiler)

* Claire – the only one of the four who was not in the school when the shooting began. The one who went to get help. Yet she also was not terribly memorable nor did I feel any sort of emotional connection from her.

Perhaps that was intentional – the lack of emotional connection to the characters. Because of the horrific nature of the shooting, the disengagement might serve a purpose… because if it were too real, too emotionally-laden, then the readers might… oh, I don’t know. I’m really just bullshitting here.

And Ty. It was never really clear why he went on the rampage. He felt like no one was there for him… he was bullied and then dropped out of school, but it wasn’t clear what he was bullied about, since he seemed to be fairly popular when he was at school. He and Claire had dated for a time. I… really don’t understand. I mean, from what was shared in the book, the bullying had been fairly bad, but the point of it (him being awkward, a social outcast, a geek – any “reason” that kids bully other kids) was not really ever stated clearly. Then again, kids don’t always need a reason for bullying others…

Also, Sylv stated near the end of the book that Ty had hurt her in some way. It was alluding – I think? maybe? – to sexual assault (I’m thinking this due to a few other passages earlier in the book) but I don’t know and this was also never made clear.

Overall, it was the lack of emotional connection and lack of clarity about several key points that knocked this book down from a 4/5 or higher to a 3.5/5. It was interesting enough but the blurb pretty much tells the story… there wasn’t really anything hidden or any surprises throughout the book.

Relentless – T.L. Childs & T. Deebs

Many thanks to SOURCEBOOKS Fire, via NetGalley, for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

4.5/5

I loved this book.

I didn’t read the first in the series (Powerless) but I think I’m going to – at some point – because I loved the world that Childs and Deebs created. A world where maybe the heroes aren’t all good, and maybe the villains aren’t all bad…

Kenna and her “gang” were very much enjoyable – hilarious, fun, and interesting – although I felt a little like I was missing some information since I hadn’t read the first book in the series. However, Relentless is standalone enough that I understood the majority of what was happening. That being said, for anyone who wants to read this, I’d recommend starting with Powerless for a smoother ride through Childs’ and Deebs’ world.

Nitro cracked me up.

I did get a little tired of Draven being “the bad boy” at the start, but then that illusion disappeared.

The ending was amazing, and I could totally see it playing out in my head like one of Marvel’s movies. (And that is a definite plus!) That being said, I’m not vying for this book to be the next YA made into a film, since I think that would do it an injustice. Though I do think that it would be a very interesting and enjoyable movie, I am more excited about the world and the action scenes being so vivid on paper alone.

I’m not sure what else I can say about this without spoiling elements of the story, but I do recommend it to those who want a rather different take on the hero/villain world. 🙂 I whizzed through Relentless and even though I’m a fast reader, I’m pretty sure it would be a fairly speedy read for anyone.

Now I want to get my hands on Powerless… 🙂

Surviving Haley – Brenda Baker

Thanks to Pelican Book Group, via NetGalley, for an opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review!

2/5 stars.

Well, there’s a list of pros and cons about this book. And although I zoomed through this, I have a feeling that the list of “things I hated” is going to be a lot longer than “things I liked/loved.”

The things I liked/loved
* The fact that this book dealt with (or attempted to deal with) the difficult topics of grief/loss and how blame gets “passed around.”
* The fact that the disordered eating portrayed in the book was overeating, rather than undereating. That’s pretty rare, at least in my experience, regarding protagonists with eating disorders (or disordered eating).
* The fact that the school psychologist, who was the person that really ended up helping Protagonist, was cool and off-beat. 🙂

The things I disliked/hated
* Mean Girl was introduced, it was exposed that she had bulimia, but there was NO follow-up to that, and then suddenly, magically Mean Girl and her posse are being kind to Protagonist?
* Insta-insta-love. Jonah’s “God thing” was so humiliating, although he himself was and is adorable, and then BOOM…. all of a sudden after he shares that he’s not perfect, Protagonist loves him and he loves her, and they tell each other that…?
* Therapist (school psychologist) – who seemed REALLY cool, I loved that part – told Protagonist to friend her on Facebook “so they could chat”?? VERY SKETCHY ETHICS, YO. That’s not how therapy works…
* Introduction of Jazz and soccer and then again, surprise!!… NO FOLLOW-THROUGH. Granted, this is not a major part of the story, but I wanted to hear more about it!!
* Eli. Random guy who has a face full of pimples and ragged clothes, who is never anything but nice to Protagonist (and to whom Protagonist, who is herself an outcast, is mean and dismissive), is found by Protagonist in the art room cutting after having seen her and Jonah kissing…? and there is NO FOLLOW-THROUGH, once again.
* When the family moves to the new area, it’s only been TWO MONTHS since Haley died? How is that remotely logical?!! Two months after a child dies… I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure no family that I’ve ever met would be “put together” enough to move from Minnesota to Nebraska and have jobs lined up, etc. TWO MONTHS. Not two years. Not even a year. MERELY SIXTY (yes, 60) DAYS, and the family is up and moving. NOT REALISTIC.
* Mom goes into rehab, once she magically realizes that her drinking has become dangerous… bada-bada-BOOM… and once again, NO FOLLOW-THROUGH. And one month (ish?) into rehab, surprise honey, the family is going on a cruise BECAUSE WHY NOT?!

I guess a lot of magic happens in this book, because so many things just magically get better.

It’s really irritating.

That being said, I can’t totally say this book isn’t worth reading. Baker has done a pretty amazing job of introducing overeating and the obsession regarding using food to soothe. It’s not something you see much, if at all, in YA, and I think it needs to be talked about/written about more because it is a problem, just as much as anorexic and bulimic behaviors.

Also, I liked the honesty of how parents (and people in general) can blame specific people (in this case, Protagonist) for the death of a loved one… Seeing how this was dealt with in the novel was interesting. Although again, I don’t buy how Mom and Protagonist “made up.”

I’ll also admit that this book yanked me in. It was very interesting and despite all of the things I disliked, it was what could be called “compulsively readable.” I am interested to see what else Ms. Baker comes out with, because I do think that there is talent there… there was just too much shoved into this book for it to completely work. But that’s a common error for debut novels, at least from what I’ve seen.

Haven – A.R. Ivanovich

Many thanks to Alloy Entertainment, via NetGalley, for letting me read this book in exchange for an honest review!

5/5 stars.

I’ll be honest. I’ve read a lot of lackluster YA fantasy in the past couple of years – not enough that my interest in the genre is burnt out, by any means, but there certainly seems to be a lot of reuse regarding world building, etc.

I found nothing in Haven that I would consider a trope.

I also found myself enjoying Haven far, far more than I thought I would.

Yes, our protagonist, Katelyn, can be a bit of a brat. Yes, there is instalove (although I didn’t really find myself getting annoyed by that, since there was a lot of other stuff going on throughout the book as well).

But the world was amazing. Many of the scenes – if not all – that took place outside of Rivermarch (and even some that took place there) were ones that I could easily envision, almost like I were watching them unfold on a TV screen. The characters, the places – everything, pretty much – came alive for me.

I don’t really have any complaints about this book, at least not that I can think of right now. If any do pop into my brain, I’ll definitely edit this and add them. But for me at least, this was one of the rare 5/5 stars as well as a book that I think I’d be happy rereading (which is generally what I mean by giving 5/5 stars to a book).

Definitely do recommend to any fantasy lovers, YA lovers, etc. 🙂

Under the Dusty Moon – Suzanne Sutherland

Many thanks to Dundurn, via NetGalley, for an opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review!

2/5 stars

I hate writing bad reviews of books that had a lot of potential. But truth be told – this was a really disappointing book. By the time I read it, I’d forgotten what the basic synopsis was – so I read the first part of the blurb, and then dove into the book.

And – as has happened all too frequently in the past months – this book falls under the category of WTF did I just read? It wasn’t that the writing was awful, or that the characters were totally unbelievable (I loved Micky’s obnoxiously adorable mothering style, although it was a little over the top). I just am not quite sure what the point of the book was.

I think that the talent is definitely there to write a good book. And I think that if Sutherland did a rewrite, after seeing what reviewers have posted, she could probably turn out a better version of this story. I’m not saying that that’s remotely viable, but I’m also not trashing the author’s ability to write. There is potential in this book – it just felt to me like Under the Dusty Moon was put together too quickly, and not enough effort was made to ensure that there was a problem that needed to be addressed (i.e., formation of the plot), and that there were logical steps taken to solve that problem.

My biggest peeves were:
* Vic is whiny. End of story. Whining because she’s too hot, too sore, too lonely. Just whining. That’s all it feels like she does. I didn’t really like her. At all. Which – again – was a huge letdown.
* There was the “geek boyfriend” that wasn’t really thatgeeky (which was a huge let-down… based on what was shared in the book, I have NO idea why Vic liked this guy so much… nor do I have the slightest idea why his “round cheeks” were mentioned so many times… how is that “hot”? It makes me think of a baby-faced boy, not a hottie that “could get all the girls he wanted” – or something to that effect).
* Feminist gamers played way too small a part in this book. Wanted more! MORE!!!!
* Mentioning a “distant grandmother” in the blurb generally makes me think of a reconciliation or… something, anythingthat would solve the distance (or explain it!) between grandmother, mother, and granddaughter. But nope. Distant grandmother stayed distant.
* Best friend. After the first portion of the book, I was pretty sure that there was going to be a disclosure about best friend’s sexuality or… something, anything that would incorporate tension and stress and an actual problem into the story that needed to be solved, fixed, coped with, whatever. But nope.

Again – I think there’s potential for Sutherland to write a really good book. I think this book showed that because it had a lot of potentially good elements. Sadly, however, it did not live up to even my low expectations (low because I wasn’t sure what I should have been expecting from it, nothing to do with the author).

But it felt – also – like there were way, way, waaay too many different elements being packed into this book. Distant grandmother, mom going away on a tour (plus concerns about mom’s boyfriends), daughter left at home under grandmother’s charge, boyfriend that was kind of geeky but not really, best friend who didn’t really like boyfriend, elements of gaming/writing games for an all-female gamer group (that weren’t super realistic IMO), girl trying to figure out her place in the world with a world-famous mom (or Canadianfamous anyway)…..

Yeah. Just way too much crammed into a fairly short book. You could take any two or three of the above-mentioned things, and create a book from that alone by going more in-depth with the characterization and other elements of the story that were missing in Under the Dusty Moon, like relationships, tension/a problem that needs to be resolved, etc.

But despite my disappointment, I would read something by Sutherland again for sure. Even though this book felt like it had no purpose, the writing was interesting enough to keep me entertained. Not an “edge of your seat” book by any means, nor quite a “relaxing summer read,” but I did get through it without any cringing or complaining. And unlike the books that I absolutely cannot handle, I didn’t write out the things I hated and wanted to bring up in my review on index cards stashed around on my desk. 🙂