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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