Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle, #1) 
Title: Nevernight
Author: Jay Kristoff
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: August 11, 2016
In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?
To be perfectly honest, I haven't cracked open a book in months. Nope, I'm not exaggerating. Months. MONTHS. And it's not just your regular slump either. The main reason why I haven't been able to bring myself to read is... well... life (the past two months have just been crazy!)... but there's a also the fact that I haven't been able to find a book that has successfully piqued my interest.

And then enter Nevernight.

You see, I have a lot of friends who adore Jay Kristoff, his Stormdancer series, and EVEN MORE friends who can't get enough of Illuminae. Me? Well... I have yet to read a Jay Kristoff novel. So there was a lot of curiosity with this one - one of the most hyped books of 2016, and an author that so many people are a huge fan of. If you happen to read my blog regularly, you should know by now that I'm one of those reviewers who always, always checks out the hype.

So. What did I think?

Heh. Read on. (You didn't think I was going to summarize what I thought in one sentence, did you??? Come oonnnnn!)

First things first (and I noticed that practically all bloggers say the same) - the writing of Nevernight is a wee bit intense. Intense in the sense that it's just a bit too flowery, a bit too melodramatic, and a tad too wordy. And hey, this is coming from someone who loves Cassandra Clare's writing! I honestly couldn't help but feel overwhelmed at the beginning - there's just too many metaphors! So, was the writing a DNF factor for me? Nope. The writing was indeed jarring at first, but as I read on, I got used to it. It  became part of the magic.

Um and okay how brilliant was the beginning? That whole compare-and-contrast that basically set up the entire book? Amazing, wasn't it? (As much as I would like to talk about it, I can't. Spoilerrrrr!)

Also, Nevernight is one of those YA books that is not quite like the YA that we're used to - this book is DARK. There are a whole bunch of graphic scenes, violent scenes, but don't worry - they're not out of place, and they're not there just to shock you. I do think that the dark overtones worked - I mean come on, how can a book be about an assassin if it's all fun and games?

Mia. Mia Mia Mia. I was prepared not to like our main character just because she clearly has a chip on her shoulder (I mean she did watch her father die in front of her) and because she's a freaking assassin but hey guess what? She's not that different from you and me, and she makes do with what she has. Sooo I did end up liking her, and rooting for her. Also, it took a while for the plot to unfold, but damn - once it did... the twists and turns are enough to take your breath away!

All in all, I do understand why some people didn't like Nevernight, but hey, between you and me, give the book a shot. Read it until you get the writing, and then allow the story to engulf you. You won't regret it.

Rating: 4 Stars

[Defiantly Yours: A Bookish Podcast] Episode 2 - A Love Letter to Sabaa Tahir and An Ember in the Ashes

First of all, I'd like to thank you guys for all the great comments and tweets we received about our first episode. You are all sooo awesome!!! Again, thank you so so so much!

In this week's episode, Dianne of Oops I Read a Book Again and I talk about Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes. Don't worry, folks - there are NO spoilers, so it doesn't matter if you have or haven't read it yet... We'd really love it if you have a listen! We list down the reasons why we adore this book (and Sabaa's writing!) oh so much, and what we hope for in the sequel, A Torch Against the Night. 

And you all guessed it right - OF COURSE there's gushing and flailing involved, but we also get a wee bit serious in some moments. Basically we have another endlessly entertaining podcast for you guys! *winkwink*
BTW I think we pronounced Elias incorrectly (we pronounced it El-yas and I think it's supposed to be E-li-us) so our apologies for that!

Without further delay...

We want to hear your thoughts! Have you read An Ember in the Ashes? If so, did you love it as much as we did? What are you favorite parts? Who are your favorite characters? If you haven't read An Ember in the Ashes yet, did we convince you to pick up a copy? Also, are there any other fantasy books that we should pick up? And finally... what topic should we discuss next?

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[Defiantly Yours: A Bookish Podcast] Episode 1 - YA OTPs

Ummmmm... How exciting is this!? WE HAVE A PODCAST! *cheers* This has been in the works for a few weeks now, and I am SO THRILLED that we finally have the first episode recorded! So just few things about the podcast... we want to maybe produce about 3-4 episodes a month, and we are game to talk about ANYTHING about YA and NA! If you're looking to listen to something on your daily commute or while you're drafting posts for your blog... this podcast is for you! Oh - and did I mention that we laugh and talk a lot?

About today's episode: Dianne of Oops I Read a Book Again and I talk about our Top 5 YA OTPs. Prepare for gushing, squealing and our long-winded explanations of why we love our OTPs! (Just a side note - I sound so awkward the first few seconds... and I mention "best *insert word here* EVER" A LOT. Whoops! Hihihi. Also, there are some technical glitches here and there, but you should be able to still listen to the whole thing with no problem!)

Without further delay...

We want to hear your thoughts! Who are your bookish OTPs? Did you agree with ours? Also, what topic should we discuss next?

Subscribe to our feed here! (Our podcast hopefully gets approved by iTunes soon!)
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Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands, #1) 
Title: Rebel of the Sands
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 8, 2016
She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there's nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can't wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up "wed or dead," Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she'd gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan's army, with a fugitive who's wanted for treason. And she'd never have predicted she'd fall in love with him...or that he'd help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.
As a blogger (or a reader in general, come to think of it), one of my favorite things to do in the world is to read books that generate a lot of hype before publication. Sure, there's a lot of excitement mixed in with a little trepidation and wariness involved, but I've always been one of those people who want to know why a certain thing (in this case, a book) is so often talked about, and so I go and grab myself a copy. This what what happened with Rebel of the Sands - I saw all the glowing, positive early reviews and I just know that I owe it to myself to give this one a shot as soon as possible. Do you know what another of my favorite things is? When said book manages to actually live up to the hype, and fast becomes something that you are incredibly glad to have taken the time to read.

GUYS. Give me a few minutes to freak out here because lately I have been on a huge fantasy binge (but I have to admit that so many of them are of the same vein and have similar premises) and I am in love at how unique and one of a kind Rebel of the Sands is! IT IS SOOO GOOD.

I'm sure that we all know that world-building can make of break a fantasy novel, and I honestly am at awe at how rich Hamilton's writing is. I found myself completely hooked from the get go, and I knew from the first page that I was in for a wild ride with Amani. Hamilton's world is beautifully crafted and excruciating detailed; every nook and cranny explored - Rebel of the Sands is set in the desert, and believe me when I say that I could practically feel the sand stuck all over my body and the desert heat as I read through this book. As I have previously mentioned, I also found myself intrigued at Rebel of the Sand's premise and setting - we rarely encounter YA novels set in the Middle East and that delve into its culture, and I LOVE that we are getting more and more of them this 2016.

The heart of Rebel of the Sands is Amani and her desire to to find a better tomorrow. After the untimely death of her mother, she is then sent to live with her aunt and uncle where she isn't exactly treated well. After Amani overhears a conversation wherein her uncle decides that it would be best to marry her off - maybe even to himself - Amani realizes that time is running out, and that she needs to escape from her village fast. She decides to join a gun shooting contest that will provide her with enough money to get her life started should she win. Amani ends up meeting a mysterious foreigner - Jin - who gives her the help she so desperately needs, and together, they set out to cross the desert.

I don't know if you guys know this but I am huge sucker for slow-burn romances. Rebel of the Sands isn't exactly romance-centric, but we do get little hints and telling moments between Amani and Jin every now and then. I loved the fact that Hamilton took care in building up the developing relationship between Amani and Jin, and that nothing was ever rushed. I also appreciated that we were shown through interactions how the trust between them grew, and how they learned to support and lean on each other through the tough times experienced while in the desert. At the end of the day, Rebel of the Sands is about Amani and her journey, and I believe that Hamilton choosing not to give unnecessary attention on the budding romance between Amani and Jin made the real focus of the story shine.

The plot pacing of Rebel of the Sands is more on the slow side for first half of the novel, and this first half of the novel centered around Amani's escape and growth, and how she and Jin learned to stand together and with each other. It was more about character growth and development, which is something I greatly appreciated. The latter parts of the novel, however, shifted its focus to more intriguing supporting characters, and the role of magic and mythology in the story. I didn't think it possible but I found myself even more hooked to the story!

All in all, consider Rebel in the Sands one of your must-reads of 2016, most especially if you're a fantasy fan. I found myself enthralled at this majestic world tat Hamilton has allowed us to be a part of, and I already can't wait for the sequel! Oh, just a quick note - you'll be glad to know that Rebel in the Sands does not end in a cliffhanger, so that's always a plus!

Rating: 5 Stars

[Blog Tour: Review] Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three Things 
Title: Tell Me Three Things
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Buy from: Fully Booked 
ISBN: 9780399552939
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?
Okay. Wow. I literally just stopped reading Tell Me Three Things about ten minutes ago and I still have this ridiculously huge grin on my face! (And I really don't think that it will be disappearing any time soon...) There were actually parts wherein I had to stop and pause because FEELINGS and I needed a squealing break! I've come into this book expecting A LOT - I've yet to encounter someone who didn't like it, after all - and boy, oh boy... my expectations were exceeded BIG TIME. Yes folks, Tell Me Three Things is THAT GOOD. I've been stuck in a reading slump for maybe one to two weeks now and for a book to make me feel so much is just the best feeling IN THE WORLD.

So many all caps. Sorry for that. But let me back up a bit...

The premise of Tell Me Three Things is relatively simple - Jessie and her father move to LA to live with her new stepmother (whom her father eloped with with no prior notice whatsoever) and stepbrother, and after a few days at her new school, Jessie receives an email from someone called Somebody Nobody - SN - who offers to help her navigate the murky waters of high school. Jessie is initially unsure if she should accept help from someone she doesn't even know, but a after a particularly tough day, she gives in, emails SN back, and they start to forge a friendship that quickly becomes a constant in Jessie's new life.

Most contemporaries these days tend to be more on the heavy side, but what immediately drew me to Tell Me Three Things is that while it tackles serious issues, it didn't lose this freshness and lightness that made it a quick read that is so easy to lose yourself into. Let me elaborate - Tell Me Three Things is not just about Jessie dealing with her mother's death, her father's sudden marriage, or her moving to a completely different city - it also explores how she finds herself in this new city, both her old and new friendships, and the mystery of who SN really is. Tell Me Three Things has plot points that have either light or heavy undertones, but instead of overpowering each other, they complemented each other perfectly. Buxbaum was able to brilliantly juggle the different aspects of the novel brilliantly; she was able to form a coherent story that is engaging from start to finish.

At the heart of it all, Tell Me Three Things is largely about Jessie picking up the pieces of her own life, and learning how to move forward. The death of her mother is something that she can't completely wrap her mind around, and her father, consumed by his own grief - hasn't been able to support and comfort her when she needed him the most. You can't help but empathize with Jessie for all that she has gone through, and all that she is going through. Her relationship with her father is practically non-existent, and she's not entirely comfortable with her stepmother either. As if all that is not bad enough, some classmates at school have also made it their mission to make life terrible for Jessie. But you know what? She may not see it or believe it, but Jessie is one heck of a strong girl. Her tenacity - her will and determination - allow her to keep on getting up even when life hasn't exactly been easy, and to say that I rooted for her is one massive understatement. Jessie has fast become one of my favorite YA heroines simply because she is both so relateable and unique!

Another selling point of Tell Me Three Things is how Buxbaum took great care in exploring the different relationships that she introduced. There's Jessie's relationship with her father and her stepmother, as well as her relationship with her stepbrother, Theo, which personally quickly became one of my favorites from the novel, and her friendship slash romance with SN. Another laurel in Buxbaum's cap is how she was able to depict healthy (complete with unwavering support and unavoidable misunderstandings) and realistic friendships between young girls (which I find has been missing in contemporary YA lately). I loved reading through Jessie's IMs with Scar, her best friend, and her budding friendships with Dri and Agnes.

Ah, but of course, how can we not talk about the romance? Because that was also one of the best things about Tell Me Three Things! There's the thing between Jessie and SN that I mentioned a while back, and Jessie also has tell-tale interactions with Ethan, her partner in English, and Liam, the son of the owner of the book shop she works at. And then there's also Caleb! I wasn't only hooked with the story and Jessie's character growth - at the back of my mind, I feel like I was also doing my damned hardest in trying to figure out who SN is (and I enjoyed every minute of it!)

All in all, I LOVED Tell Me Three Things. It has all the components I look for in my contemporary reads - it has both lightness and depth, and its main character is someone whom I adored from start to finish. The characters all feel authentic and genuine, and the writing just flows. I already know that this is a book that I will read again, just like I know that Tell Me Three Things is on my list of my favorite contemporaries of ALL TIME.

Rating: 5 Stars

[Blog Tour: Review + Giveaway] The Natural History of Us by Rachel Harris

The Natural History of Us 
Title: The Natural History of Us
Author: Rachel Harris
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Source: eARC for review
Release Date: April 5, 2016
One class assignment. One second chance at love. The school player is all in. Now he needs to win back the sweet commitment girl who's forever owned his heart.

Justin Carter has a secret. He's not the total player Fairfield Academy believes him to be. Not really. In fact, he used to be a one-woman guy...and his feelings for her never went away. Too bad he broke her heart three years ago and made sure to ruin any chance she'd ever forgive him.

Peyton Williams is a liar. She pretends to be whole, counting down the days until graduation and helping her parents at the family ranch. But the truth is, she's done everything she can to get over Justin, and salvation is just around the corner. With graduation one short month away, she'll soon break free from the painful memories and start her life fresh. Of course, she has to get through working with him on one last assignment first.

For Justin, nothing ever felt as right as being with Peyton, and now that fate's given him a shot at redemption, he's determined to make the most of it. And for Peyton...well, Justin Carter has always been her kryptonite.
Rachel's one of the first YA authors I got to interact online with - I adored both My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century and The Fine Art of Pretending, and when I saw that Rachel has another YA set to be released this year, I knew that I had to get my hands on it!

The Natural History of Us is the companion book of The Fine Art of Pretending, and its male MC, Justin, had a pretty big role in the aforementioned book. While you can read The Natural History of Us as a stand-alone, I would recommend that you read The Fine Art of Pretending first. It will allow you to familiarize yourself with the world of these characters, and at the same time, it will give you the chance to know Justin better. Justin was one my favorite characters from The Fine Art of Pretending, and finding out that we would get to read his story made me thrilled beyond belief! Also, a second chance romance? SOLD.

Justin was introduced in The Fine Art of Pretending as your quintessential bigger-than-life jock - he's cool and confident, and he couldn't be bothered with serious relationships with girls. He does end up getting knocked down a peg or two when things don't exactly go his way with a girl, and that, I believe, sets up The Natural History of Us perfectly. Graduation is around the corner, and when Justin is partnered with Peyton - the only girl he has ever had a serious relationship with, and also the exact same girl whose heart he has irrevocably broken - he grabs the chance to set things right, and to try again with the one girl he has never forgotten.

Peyton, meanwhile, has steered cleared of Justin for the past three years. To say that she is not pleased at being partnered with Justin for this final assignment is an understatement. A lot has changed in Peyton since she and Justin broke up, and Justin quickly realizes that he needs gets to know her once more, just like he did during their freshman year. Through flashbacks of the times Peyton and Justin were together, we find out that Peyton previously suffered from a rare illness, and this is what makes her willing to always take life by the horns. Some time after Peyton and Justin's break up, however, Peyton suffers from a riding accident, and as a result, she's a bit more apprehensive, and even a little scared. She now lets fear dictate what she should do, as opposed to who she was before. Justin gets to know this new Peyton, and at the same time, he does what he can to support her.

I'm not saying that the way Justin treated Peyton in the past was not horrible and callous, because it was. However, I have seen that Justin has matured and changed for the better. As I mentioned earlier, this was spurred in part by what happened between him and Aly in The Fine Art of Pretending, and I can't blame him for wanting Peyton back again in his life. Also, it is so apparent from the beginning that Justin and Peyton bring out the best in each other - when the people in Peyton's life hold her back, Justin believes in her and her capabilities. Peyton also never sees Justin just as some cocky jock, she knows and realized that there is more to him that meets the eye. Their interactions never failed to make me smile while reading the book, and I was rooting for them to work through their issues - which they did - and to give what they clearly still have between them another shot.

All in all, The Natural History of Us was just the light read I was looking for. While it was a sweet and fun read, it also had just the right amount of angst and depth to keep me on the edge of my seat. The book was also told in dual timelines and dual POVs to flesh out the story more, and while I would agree that these aspects made the book it was, the were still moments wherein I had trouble keeping track of what timeline I was in. Nevertheless, what I learned about Peyton and Justin I loved, and I finished The Natural History of Us with one big smile on my face.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

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[Blog Tour: Review + Giveaway] Walk the Edge by Katie McGarry

Walk the Edge (Thunder Road, #2) 
Title: Walk the Edge (Thunder Road #2)
Author: Katie McGarry
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
Source: eARC for review
Release Date: March 29, 2016
Smart. Responsible. That's seventeen-year-old Breanna's role in her large family, and heaven forbid she put a toe out of line. Until one night of shockingly un-Breanna-like behavior puts her into a vicious cyber-bully's line of fire—and brings fellow senior Thomas "Razor" Turner into her life.

Razor lives for the Reign of Terror motorcycle club, and good girls like Breanna just don't belong. But when he learns she's being blackmailed over a compromising picture of the two of them—a picture that turns one unexpected and beautiful moment into ugliness—he knows it's time to step outside the rules.

And so they make a pact: he'll help her track down her blackmailer, and in return she'll help him seek answers to the mystery that's haunted him—one that not even his club brothers have been willing to discuss. But the more time they spend together, the more their feelings grow. And suddenly they're both walking the edge of discovering who they really are, what they want, and where they're going from here
Wow. Wow wow wow. First thought after finishing Walk the Edge? I've forgotten just how good of a writer Katie McGarry is. Second thought? Nowhere but Here is a strong book and a great beginning of a series (and if you know me there's a good chance that I have raved about it to you), but Walk the Edge blows it completely out of the water. Yes, folks - it's THAT good. I myself was shocked at how quickly this book drew me in - it was such a quick read for me (mainly because I couldn't make myself stop no matter what), and I was able to finish it in one sitting. The words flowed, and it was so easy to lose myself in Breanna and Razor's story. Third thought? Heck, what did I expect? This IS Katie McGarry - author of Pushing the Limits - after all!

To sum it all up? This is a book that you need.

While reading Nowhere but Here, I always thought that we would get Chevy's story next, so color me surprised when I saw a sneak peek at Razor's story instead. Why is this, you may ask? Well, if you read Nowhere but Here, you would know that Razor has always been painted as young man who is very much troubled, and even a little bit unhinged. This was a character who has already experienced so much in life despite his young age, and he didn't seem like the heroes we always see in YA. I honestly didn't think that we would get the chance to explore his character; I thought McGarry would be content for him to remain in the background - an integral but small part of the series - but damn, I couldn't be more wrong. McGarry challenged herself and her writing in telling us a story about such a damaged character who is fifty shades of imperfect and who is beyond flawed... and kicked ass in doing so.

One of McGarry's strong suits has always been her unflinching portrayal of all sorts of filial relationships, and we get those in droves in Walk the Edge. Breanna, our female MC, is the middle child in a large family, and she has never felt at home with her parents and siblings. Her eldest sister treats her with thinly-veiled contempt, and she doesn't exactly have close relationships with the rest of her siblings either. Her parents already feel stretched thin with all that they have to do, and they're not exactly able to provide the emotional support that Breanna badly needs. It was difficult to read about Breanna's situation - you can't help but have a lump in you throat when you see how callously her siblings treat her, and how her parents seem to take her for granted. She can't count on their help and support, and all these was just so heartbreaking to read. What's even more sad about it all is that you know that Breanna's suggestion is not unique - this is a situation that a lot of people find or have found themselves in.

Meanwhile, our male MC, Razor, doesn't have the easiest of relationships with his father either. His mother passed away a few years ago, and the talk of the town is that she chose to take her own life because of how miserable she was. Razor's father seemingly starts a new relationship, and Razor doesn't stomach this is so easily either. Add in the fact that new evidence has recently come to light that Razor's mother may have been murdered by the rival motorcycle club, and shit basically hits the fan. Razor feels like his father is not honest enough with him, and as a result, their relationship suffers under the strain of the secrets of the past. Reading through Razor and his father's interactions was heartwrenching, to say the least. Here you have Razor who just wants his father to talk to him, and he can't even have that. McGarry did an amazing job in exploring the nooks and crannies of Breanna and Razor's relationships with their families, proving time and time again what a multi-faceted author she is.

I also loved how McGarry took her time in building and developing the romance between Breanna and Razor - before anything else, they are friends, and they don't lose that throughout the course of the book. When Breanna becomes the victim of blackmail and cyberbullying, it's Razor she leans on, and it's Razor she asks for help. Razor stands by Breanna when she most needs it, and he exerts his utmost effort in helping her. While yes, the attraction was there during their first meeting, the fact that everything came after was thoroughly explored and not rushed made you root for Breanna and Razor - at the end of the day you just want them to be happy! They sooo deserve to be happy!

All in all, I can't say it enough - I am blown away at how McGarry has outdone herself. I didn't think it would be possible for a book to even equal Pushing the Limits in my heart (I love Noah and Echo oh so much), but Walk the Edge has done just that. Not only has McGarry created two characters that will have captured your heart from the get go, she also tackled the concept of cyberbullying astoundingly and respectfully. I honestly can't wait to read the next book in the series!

Rating: 5 Stars

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The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin

The Year We Fell Apart 
Title: The Year We Fell Apart
Author: Emily Martin
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: January 26, 2016
Few things come as naturally to Harper as epic mistakes. In the past year she was kicked off the swim team, earned a reputation as Carson High’s easiest hook-up, and officially became the black sheep of her family. But her worst mistake was destroying her relationship with her best friend, Declan.

Now, after two semesters of silence, Declan is home from boarding school for the summer. Everything about him is different—he’s taller, stronger…more handsome. Harper has changed, too, especially in the wake of her mom’s cancer diagnosis.

While Declan wants nothing to do with Harper, he’s still Declan, her Declan, and the only person she wants to talk to about what’s really going on. But he’s also the one person she’s lost the right to seek comfort from.

As their mutual friends and shared histories draw them together again, Harper and Declan must decide which parts of their past are still salvageable, and which parts they’ll have to let go of once and for all.
I've always been of the opinion that contemporary - especially in YA - is the hardest sub-genre to write. Why, you may ask? When reading contemporary novels, we want our stories realistic, and yet at the same time, we don't want them too reminiscent of our real lives. We want our main characters familiar and relateable, and yet at the same time, we don't want them making mistake after mistake. We want them as close to perfect as possible. We're a hard to please bunch, aren't we? Recently though, I've found myself reading more of contemporaries that feature imperfect characters - characters who actually learn and find themselves throughout the story; and storylines that are messy, gritty, and captivating, and I'm happy to say that I found these components in The Year We Fell Apart.

If I were to choose a phrase to describe my reading experience of The Year We Fell Apart, I would choose 'it hurts SO good'. See, it's not an easy book to read. You'll find yourself frustrated with Harper and Declan, our main characters, too many times to count, and there are numerous interactions that would leave you with your gut clenched and you uneasily drawing shallow breaths. Again, it hurts so good because despite everything that I have just mentioned, you still can't stop reading! You just have to know how Harper and Declan's story ends. All these is the magic of The Year We Fell Apart - its realistic take of your classic teenage love story is what sets it apart from other books of its genre. Martin was careful with her writing - nothing felt forced, contrived, or overexaggerated. Rather, the gradual progression of our characters' stories all felt natural, and they made sense.

Let me say it point blank, Harper is not an easy character to like. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people decide that they don't like this book because of her. But you know what? She's flawed. She's imperfect. And that's OKAY. There were multiple instances wherein she made me want to gouge my eyes out. But here's the thing - at the end of the day, she's just like you and me. Let me reiterate - she is as imperfect as you and I are. Sure, Harper made a whole slew of mistakes throughout the book, and some of her decisions were difficult to fathom, but you know what? Not once did I ever doubt that she was doing the best that she can. She was surviving the only way she knew how, and there is just no way that I can fault Harper for that.

It didn't escape me that so many problems and issues could have been avoided had Harper and Declan simply sat down and talk, but hey, that's so much easier said than done. Harper isn't avoiding talking to Declan for no reason at all - she knew that she what she would say would hurt Declan immensely, and THAT'S what she's trying to avoid. I'm not saying I agree with the decisions that she made, but I understand why she chose to deal with the fallout of her actions the way she did. She was frantic, desperate, and afraid, and all these in turn lead to poor decisions. Harper may not be your cookie-cutter chosen one heroine, but that's okay. I was able to relate to her, and I understood her. That's enough for me.

Another strength of The Year We Fell Apart is how it depicted the positives and negatives of relationships, and how they grow and change in time. I felt excited, frustrated, anxious and hopeful (believe me when I say that you will be through one heck of an emotional roller coaster with this book!!!) while reading Harper and Declan's journey as they tried to pick up the pieces of their failed relationship, and how they tried their damned hardest to move forward. It was NOT an easy ride, but the grit and rawness of it all was what made the book so magical!

While I'm in the topic of relationships, let me also talk about Cory and Harper's friendship - this right here is what made me LOVE this book. I don't think I've ever been happier to read about a platonic friendship between a boy and a girl - there were no hidden agendas nor hidden feelings whatsoever, just a strong friendship that has successfully weathered both good and bad times. Cory's devotion to Harper, as well as in unwavering belief that Harper is so much more than she makes herself seem, were both so heartwarming to read.

All in all, if you're in the mood for a slightly angsty but wholly realistic contemporary read, The Year We Fell Apart is the book for you. And just because I have to say it again... this book hurts SO SO SO good and YOU HAVE TO READ IT.

(Well. So much for staying calm.)

Rating: 5 Stars

[2016 Love-a-Thon] Introduction Post

I know that this post was supposed to be up yesterday morning, but life got in the way. *hides* Forgive me! Anyway, this is my first year to join Love-a-Thon, and I couldn't be more excited! The book blogging community has always been about fostering good will, sharing our love for books, and building new friendships, and it's nice to join an event that celebrates all of this. I know I might be a little late to all the festivities, but I'll be visiting as many blogs as I can over the next few days to hopefully meet new people, and to basically show love to the book blogging community! *throws confetti*

And now, without further delay...

[Blog Tour: Review + Giveaway] Remembrance by Meg Cabot

(Check out the rest of the tour stops HERE!)

Remembrance (The Mediator, #7) 
Title: Remembrance (The Mediator #7)
Author: Meg Cabot
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: February 2, 2016
You can take the boy out of the darkness.

But you can’t take the darkness out of the boy.

All Susannah Simon wants is to make a good impression at her first job since graduating from college (and since becoming engaged to Dr. Jesse de Silva).

But when she’s hired as a guidance counselor at her alma mater, she stumbles across a decade-old murder, and soon ancient history isn’t all that’s coming back to haunt her. Old ghosts as well as new ones are coming out of the woodwork, some to test her, some to vex her, and it isn’t only because she’s a mediator, gifted with second sight.

From a sophomore haunted by the murderous specter of a child, to ghosts of a very different kind—including Paul Slater, Suze’s ex, who shows up to make a bargain Suze is certain must have come from the Devil himself—Suze isn’t sure she’ll make it through the semester, let alone to her wedding night.

Suze is used to striking first and asking questions later. But what happens when ghosts from her past—including one she found nearly impossible to resist—strike first?

What happens when old ghosts come back to haunt you?

If you’re a mediator, you might have to kick a little ass.

[Blog Tour: Review] Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the Swallow Man 
Title: Anna and the Swallow Man
Author: Gavriel Savit
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 26, 2016
ISBN: 9780399553042
Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.
I don't usually read Middle Grade books, but upon seeing the blurb for Anna and the Swallow Man, how could I not give this one book a shot? The blurb is short, simple, and sweet - one day, seven-year-old Anna's father left for the day... and he never came back. Wait... what!? I know, right!? How can you NOT be intrigued? How on earth can you not even be the littlest curious as to what happened to Anna's father... and most importantly, to what will now become of Anna? Also, I was a bit surprised to find out that this book was marketed towards young adults (and even as a YA book) even though the main character is seven. Hmmm... makes you wonder, right? And well, once my curiosity was piqued... well, I had to satisfy the damn thing.

We get right to the thick of the story from the beginning - the first few pages describe Anna's father, their relationship, and ultimatlely him leaving her for a while. It didn't take long for Anna to realize that her father wasn't coming back, and she had no one to care for her. Simply put, she had no one. This all changes when one day, Anna comes across a gentleman that enthralls her.  She follows him, and soon enough, the two travel together. This gentleman never reveals his name to Anna - rather, he asks her to call him Swallow Man, and at the same time, for her to not use hers unless the two of them are alone. Journeying together for years, the Swallow Man teaches Anna how to live without her father, how to fend for herself, and how to survive.

To be completely honest about it, Anna and the Swallow Man is a confusing book to read. More often than not, I feel like there were two Lyras reading the book - one Lyra who appreciates the beautiful prose and writing and just reads along; and one Lyra who sees every sentence as a metaphor and a hint of what terrible thing is to come as the story progresses. It was hard not to feel this way - while the book was told through the eyes of young Anna and we are more often than not engulfed in her naivety, there were also times wherein there were snippets that gave us a peek of how things really were. After all, Anna and the Swallow Man is not just a story of little Anna losing her father and journeying with her new friend - it's also a story of war.

What I appreciated the most about Anna and the Swallow Man is that while the war is definitely an aspect of the story, it didn't overpower the other facets of the novel. At the heart of the book is still Anna growing, maturing, and starting to see the world as it really is. Little by little, the layers of Anna's innocence are peeled away, and we start to understand Anna as a character. As early as the first page of the novel, a recurring theme of Anna and the Swallow Man is Anna trying to figure out who she is amidst all the lying she has to do in order to survive, and amidst the chaos that has continuously threatened the peace that she once knew.

Easily the most intriguing character of Anna and the Swallow Man is the Swallow Man. We have no idea who he is, and what we know of him, we only know because of Anna. We only see the parts of him that Anna sees, though of course there are those tantalizing all-knowing snippets that I mentioned earlier that hint at something more. The Swallow Man is the chameleon of all chameleons - he can be anyone he wants to be, and he's a master of making people see only what he wants them to see. I understand why Anna found him so fascinating in the first place, and why she's ready to follow him wherever. (I won't lie though - I need to learn MORE about the Swallow Man!)

As I have mentioned earlier, there is something so hauntingly beautiful about how this book was written. The prose is captivating, and while it was hard to wrap my head around it at first, I couldn't get enough of it in no time. Savit is an incredibly talented wordsmith - he says so much in one sentence, and he has no problem painting a picture of what he wants you to imagine. I've also touched upon this before - I think it takes a great deal of talent to be able to tell a story set in war without the war overpowering the other themes of the story. Instead of overshadowing Anna, the war instead complemented her character growth.

People say all the time that sometimes, it's not about the destination, but rather, about the journey. I know you see where I'm going with this... but yes, I do this that this the case with this book. Anna and the Swallow Man travel together for two years with no clear destination in sight, and we see how much they grow and change during this time. While the ending may be a bit perplexing, try to instead focus on how the Swallow Man - and most especially Anna - arrived at that point. At the end of all, Anna's new beginning on the last page just might be the closure - the ending - that she (and maybe we) needed.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan

Sword and Verse (Sword and Verse, #1) 
Title: Sword and Verse
Author: Kathy MacMillan
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: January 19, 2016
Source: eARC from the Publisher
Raisa was just a child when she was sold to work as a slave in the kingdom of Qilara. Despite her young age, her father was teaching her to read and write, grooming her to take his place as a Learned One. In Qilara, the Arnathim, like Raisa, are the lowest class, and literacy is a capital offense. What’s more, only the king, prince, tutor, and tutor-in-training are allowed to learn the very highest order language, the language of the gods. So when the tutor-in-training is executed for teaching slaves this sacred language, and Raisa is selected to replace her, Raisa knows any slipup on her part could mean death.

Keeping her secret is hard enough, but the romance that’s been growing between her and Prince Mati isn’t helping matters. Then Raisa is approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slave rebels—to help liberate Arnath slaves. She wants to free her people, but that would mean aiding a war against Mati. As Raisa struggles with what to do, she discovers a secret that the Qilarites have been hiding for centuries—one that, if uncovered, could bring the kingdom to its knees.
Of all the fantasy novels that I have read recently (and I have read A LOT), I have no qualms in saying that Sword and Verse has the most intriguing premise bar none. I mean, come on - a kingdom where literacy is banned? Where education is not a right but a privilege granted to only the most powerful? Where the one who will teach the prince and heir to the throne is a slave - a slave treated well, but a slave nonetheless? And if you're still not convinced... this book also has elements of mythology woven in to its storyline! Sounds amazing, right!?

I'm not going to lie - despite my initial excitement, the first few chapters of Sword and Verse were not the easiest to read. I found them a little bit boring, but more than that, it was a struggle making sense of the decisions Raisa and Prince Mati, our main characters, made. I initially found their characters immature, and I had a hard time believing that they were truly in love because they profess it so early on! I also found it difficult to like Prince Mati because feel like I didn't get to know him like Raisa knows him. The first 20-25% of the book read more like a love story than a fantasy novel, and not that there is anything wrong with that, but it's just not what I signed up for, if you get what I mean.

I'd like to point out, however, that the love between Raisa and Prince Mati isn't exactly insta-love though it may seem like it. It's just that I feel like their relationship started and developed (though they didn't exactly realize it) as they grew up and learned the Language of the Gods together as tutor-in-training and heir apparent respectively... and thus before the happenings of the book. As a result, we weren't exactly privy to it. I do think that it would have been much better if we got more of the 'before' - how Raisa and Prince Mati met, how they became friends, and how they learned to trust each other.

Okay, folks, so I know that the last few paragraphs might have made you decide to pass on this book, but DON'T LISTEN TO ME... because as I read on, well damn, the book GOT SO MUCH BETTER. (So much better that I needed to express myself in all caps!) Remember how I thought Raisa was an immature character? Nope, I couldn't be more wrong. She wasn't immature - she simply was just a young girl who was distracted in love. Also, my previous misgivings of how Sword and Verse seemed more of a love story than a fantasy novel? Uh-huh - I was proven wrong too! The latter part of the book gave due focus to this beautiful world she has created, and I also want to take a moment to laud how expertly MacMillan developed Raisa into a believable character that you root for and someone you want to succeed!

Raisa is not your quintessential fantasy heroine. She's not brash and outspoken; and she's not a skilled fighter. This doesn't mean that she isn't any less strong though - Raisa uses her intellect and her wit to win battles, and these are what make her a force to be reckoned with. The most difficult of decisions and tasks were thrust to Raisa, and since Raisa had no one who can guide her, everything she did she had to do herself - she stood up, dusted her hands, and took action. I also liked the fact that MacMillan portrayed Raisa as a girl that everyone she can relate to - she gets upset, she sometimes makes the wrong decisions, she sometimes lets her feelings get the best of her... her character is as realistic as they come.

Sword and Verse is not just your ordinary fantasy novel, nor is it your ordinary romance either. It's a tale of strength and courage; a tale of love and passion; a tale of growth and self-discovery, and most importantly, a tale of change... all these amidst political dissent. You might find the first few chapters bland, but I encourage you to continue reading because next thing you know, you'll be tearing through the pages because you cannot get over the world-building, the heart-pounding action, and Raisa's character development. Oh - and did I mention that Sword and Verse can be read as a standalone? And that it doesn't end as a cliffhanger!? (I KNOW!!!)

Rating: 4 Stars

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt

Dream Things True 
Title: Dream Things True
Author: Marie Marquardt
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Source: eARC from the Publisher
Evan and Alma have spent fifteen years living in the same town, connected in a dozen different ways but also living worlds apart—until the day he jumps into her dad’s truck and slams on the brakes. The nephew of a senator, Evan seems to have it all—except a functional family. Alma has lived in Georgia since she was two, surrounded by a large – and sometimes smothering – Mexican family. They both want out of this town. His one-way ticket is soccer; hers is academic success. When they fall in love, they fall hard, trying to ignore their differences. Then Immigration and Customs Enforcement begins raids in their town, and Alma knows that she needs to share her secret. But how will she tell her country-club boyfriend that she and almost everyone she’s close to are undocumented immigrants? What follows is a page-turning debut that asks tough questions, reminding us that love is more powerful than fear.
I was thisclose to DNFing Dream Things True because the first two chapters bored and confused me, and well, I don't really like being bored when reading. The main reason I wanted to call it a day was because the constant shift between English and Spanish in dialogues confused me, but hey, I didn't want to give up that easily. It did get easier to read between the lines (even though I cannot for the life of me speak Spanish) as I read on, and boy, am I glad that I soldiered on. I thought that Dream Things True would be your typical feel-good romance but it's so much more than that. It's a love story, sure, but it explores other issues we experience in this world today, and all these, in turn, make for a unique, refreshing story.

To kick things off, the female MC, Alma, is an undocumented (I love how it was mentioned and thoroughly explained in the novel why illegal is not really the right word to use) immigrant, and the male MC, Evan, is the quintessential American boy next door - rich, an athlete, and from a conservative family, and you just know that they will not have an easy relationship. The attraction is immediate, however, and cannot be ignored -  almost as immediate as the backlash the two main characters suffer while attempting to have a relationship. I should also point out that most of Alma's friends and relatives are undocumented immigrants as well, and that Evan's uncle is the senator who is lobbying for deportation laws left and right... add all these to the confusion and complications of any budding relationship and you have a mess.

I initially thought that Alma would only reveal her status to Evan near the climax of the novel - that Alma keeping this important secret will be the backbone of the story - but I'm glad that this was not the case. They were early on in their relationship when Alma told the truth, and I love how Evan listened and asked questions to understand her background. He squashed all judgments, all his preconceived notions, and actually listened. Alma introduced Evan to her friends and family, and Evan was able to actually see them as people, and not just 'illegal immigrants' - the same people whom he has been taught so long ago to avoid and look down on. Their relationship was built on love, trust, and honesty, and it was such a treat to read a realistic, finely-crafted tale of first love.

Being with Alma also encouraged Evan to open his eyes and actually see what was going on in their little town. He saw how all these immigrants were treated as criminals even though they weren't doing anything wrong, and it was clearly showcased that they never get the benefit of the doubt. Evan and his friends simply get slaps on the wrists every time they do something remotely close to breaking the law, but that's not the case for Alma's friends and relatives. Evan starts questioning the system that he grew up in, and once he takes a long, hard look at what he used to look past, well, he didn't like what he saw. Because of Alma, Evan is more aware, and that makes all the difference.

While there were a lot of aspects that made Dream Things True a fantastic read, what I like the most about the book is Alma. I'm not going to lie - it took a while before I warmed up to her character, but once I did, I can't help but be amazed at how strong she is. There are numerous instances in the novel wherein she could've taken the easy way out - wherein she could've relied on other people to save her, but instead, she chose to save herself. She chose to do things her way; she did what she felt was right. Doing all that Alma did took a lot of guts, and I was so so so proud of her!

All in all, Dream Things True is an emotionally-charged read that will make you stop and think. The beginning might be a bit confusing, but read on. I'm pretty sure that you'll end up liking it more than you think you will (just like I did!)

Rating: 3.5 Stars

[Speak Now...] Top 15 Books of 2015

Oh heeeeeyyyyy look I just made my first graphic! I think it might be TOO pink but meh I think it's pretty to look at, and I surprisingly enjoyed making it! (But... any tips for a newbie? Some nice fonts that I can download?)

Usually, I write a list of bookish resolutions at the beginning of each year, but I'm switching it up this year. I only have one resolution about the blog, and that's to READ. Yup, that's it. I don't really want to pressure myself and all that because blogging is supposed to be a passion - it's supposed to be fun!

So... I think I'm going to be pretty successful with my resolution this year! ;)

Before I keep rambling on and on and on, here are my top 15 reads of 2015. I didn't get to read a lot last year, but I did stumble upon a few gems diamonds that now have a place in The Best Books According to Lyra list. Without further delay, here they are, plus a few sentences on why I enjoyed them so so much!