Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review: Dare Mighty Things

Dare Mighty Things by Heather Kaczynski
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 10th, 2017
Source: Edelweiss
Date Read: 9/17/17
384 pages

THE RULES ARE SIMPLE: You must be gifted. You must be younger than twenty-five. You must be willing to accept the dangers that you will face if you win.

Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Gupta’s entire life has been leading up to this—the opportunity to travel to space. But to secure a spot on this classified mission, she must first compete against the best and brightest people on the planet. People who are as determined as she to win a place on a journey to the farthest reaches of the universe.

Cassie is ready for the toll that the competition will take; the rigorous mental and physical tests designed to push her to the brink of her endurance. But nothing could have prepared her for the bonds she would form with the very people she hopes to beat. Or that with each passing day it would be more and more difficult to ignore the feeling that the true objective of the mission is being kept from her.

As the days until the launch tick down and the stakes rise higher than ever before, only one thing is clear to Cassie: she’ll never back down . . . even if it costs her everything.
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from ARC may or may not be in the published edition.

I'm going to be honest I have no idea where to start with Dare Mighty things. I read this book in one day, (and it wasn't even one day it was more like one night) and I ended up staying up until 1 am or so. All in all, this was a pretty good book even though I knew that it wasn't going to be taking place in space just yet. (Because I love all things space).

Why does this not take in space, you ask? Well it’s because the main character, Cassie, is competing for a spot on a spaceship, by performing all these mental and physical tests. This is such a big deal since a trip into space hasn’t been funded in years, maybe even decades. And Cassie is going against a bunch of other 18 to early 20 year olds, so the competition is intense. Even after the first “trial”, more than 50 competitors dropped out, leaving only a handful behind.

The majority of the novel focuses on the number of tasks Cassie and her newfound friends go through. And although the blurb mentions genetically engineering, this didn’t end up being the focus of the book. Some but not all of the competitors were genetically altered.

Either way, I liked how the competition was drawn out. I loved Cassie’s friend group, and her relationships with all of them. Even though they were supposed to be competing against each other, teamwork and support was equally rewarded for during the challenges. Also, can we just talk about how driven and ambitious Cassie was? She’s kind of the person I strive to be (even though I’m a bum sometimes. It’s easier said than done, ok?). AND the book tackled the issues of unequal standings due to gender, and how the bar for women & POC is set so high compared to white males. And don’t forget that she’s Indian-American, and apparently asexual!

And then, there’s the “love interest”, Luka. Well who I assume to be the love interest. Every time I’m reminded of Luka, I’m just reminded of the ending. And yes, I’m going to say it, it’s…random…and…stupid. And uh, I don’t even know what to say about it? Which is why I’ll just shout out all my feelings in this spoiler section.

SPOILER (highlight to read):

Luka turns out to be an alien from outer space, and he and his family basically dragged Cassie, the crew, and their spaceship from Earth to a completely different galaxy. The initial plan was to explore this new galaxy and establish some sort of colony, but nope, this galaxy is not only inhabited, but also completely destroyed. Really reminds you a lot of what happened in my favorite video game, Mass Effect Andromeda.

But I mean other than that ending, I didn't really have anything else against this book. I mean yes, I admit the book was pretty predictable at times, and I do wish that there was just more done in space in general, but I think what really affected my rating the most was the really random ending. Which I'm assuming we'll find out more about in the sequel. But either way, I did enjoy the novel and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel at some point.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: Far From The Tree

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 3rd, 2017
Source: Edelweiss
Date Read: 9/9/17 to 9/15/17
384 pages

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from ARC may or may not be in the published edition.

Far From the Tree isn't my first book by Robin Benway, who I think is pretty underrated and deserves more hype. Both this and Emmy and Oliver are phenomenal. I highly recommend both of them.

But back to this book. Far From the Tree tells the story of three adopted kids from three different families. There’s Grace, Maya, and Joaquin (nicknamed Joaq). After becoming pregnant and giving up her own child for adoption, Grace realizes that maybe her own birth mother went through a similar experience. This leads her to reach out to her two siblings, in hopes of being able to contact their mother together. Having been an only child her whole life, she’s hesitant about meeting both Maya and Joaquin.

Maya, on the other hand, doesn't want anything to do with her birth mother. She believes that her birth mother just abandoned them without a thought. It doesn’t help that her non-biological parents are going through a rough patch, in which Maya blames herself for causing. She thinks that she has broken up the family by being the adopted daughter, while Lauren is the perfect biological child.

And then lastly, there’s Joaquin, who's just been cycled around different foster families. He's scared of being adopted since he doesn't believe that the foster parents actually like him. He regrets some of his past behavior, even though as a child, he was only trying to shield himself from more emotional pain. Joaq also struggles with his identity of being half-Mexican, as he is constantly reminded of how he knows nothing about “being Mexican”. Yet even after meeting his fully white siblings, he still loves them unconditionally.

Out of the three characters, I liked Grace the most. It’s obvious that she cares a lot about her child, who she nicknames Peach. She spends a lot of time picking the perfect family for Peach, and worries about whether she chose right or not.

(Perhaps I loved this book so much because a baby was mentioned a couple of times. Shh)

Though it’s not apparent in the beginning, over the course of the novel you can tell that having a family to come to really helps all three of them, especially when they each have their own problems to solve. As you can tell from my review, Robin Benway does an amazing job with character development, and I honestly expected nothing less from her. I don't even have anything negative to say about this book. Other than the fact that Goodreads LIED and said this book was only 256 pages (it’s really 384 pages, thanks Shannon for letting me know). Like no wonder it felt longer haha. But seriously, I actually read word for word this time, rather than skimming through like I usually do (my bad).

Overall I really loved this book and I will just read anything by this author.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Rise of the Empress #1
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: October 10th, 2017
Source: Netgalley
Date Read: 9/2/17 to 9/7/17
384 pages

An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl's quest to become Empress--and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng's majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins--sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from ARC may or may not be in the published edition.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was a tough book to review, mainly because I was initially so excited about the synopsis, but the closer it got to the release date, the more I felt like I (for some reason) wasn't going to enjoy the book? And I'm not sure why, but I feel like this biased me a bit, causing me to go in it with lower expectations.

Yet when I started reading, I was in for a surprise since I had no idea that this was about an anti-heroine. I remember when the cover reveal happened, I was like, “how is the cover NOT a beautiful scene of a thousand lanterns, you know, like in Rapunzel?” Clearly I was in the wrong, because that image would have not fit with the story at all. But yes, the main character being classified as an anti-heroine is awesome, but she wasn't really the anti-heroine I had in mind.

The story revolves around Xifeng, who’s completely taken advantage of by her aunt (Guma). Her aunt emphasizes the importance of physical beauty and court manners all for a prophecy that may or may not be true. She tries to turn Xifeng into someone she is not, all for the sole possibility that Xifeng might one day be empress. After a falling out with her aunt, Xifeng runs away and escapes with her boyfriend, Wei.

The both of them end up in the Imperial City, where Xifeng finds a way to join the court. Since ladies-in-waiting cannot have outside relationships, she leaves Wei behind. To me, the motivation behind this made no sense. For one, Xifeng loves (or I supposed loved) Wei, but she immediately abandons him in order to fulfill her aunt’s dream. But then, since when did her aunt’s dream become her own dream? There never was any mention of her desperately wanting power or riches. I suppose it could be that she just simply wanted to be better than everyone else, yet her love for Wei seem stronger (even though Wei was an asshole)?

Xifeng also starts forgiving and appreciating everything her aunt did for her. Maybe to the point of even loving her. Even though I kind of get this, her aunt’s actions were so extreme and almost unforgivable. Even without being present, Xifeng’s aunt still found a way to manipulate her thoughts.

The rest of the book focuses on Xifeng’s slow climb up in rank. She serves and puts up with the emperor’s primary concubine, gets in the Empress’ good graces, befriends the eunuch Kang, the one person who truly likes her as a friend. In order to become empress and fulfill her aunt’s dream (?), she needs the emperor to like her. In other words, Xifeng has to get with this man who potentially might be a lot older than her, since she's only about 17 (18?) years old.

The plot definitely picked up during the second half of the book, only because that's where all the killing starts! Well, all the action is. But anyways, I enjoyed that much more than just seeing how she worked her way up in rank.

In the end, I did warm up to Xifeng, even though I had no idea what her motivation was for all of this. I do want to read the next book, as I’m curious to see how magic will play a role in the series.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review: Wild Beauty

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: October 3rd, 2017
Source: Macmillan
Date Read: 8/16/17 to 8/22/17
320 pages

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from ARC may or may not be in the published edition.

I finished! My thoughts! Well. I didn’t really think of any while I was reading. Which sometimes happens when I’m into a book and its characters. For one, I don’t think I could adequately describe the plot of this book, except flowers, and a strange boy, and a family full of women, who can magically grow the flowers.

Oh, and they can’t leave their home, La Pradera, for fear of being branded witches. And for the fact that their flower magic goes completely out of control.

Before I say anything else, you should read this book if you love elegant writing. I literally can flip to any random page and I’ll find something like this:

“…the ground was whispering, the grass and the flower beds giving up strange things Estrella could not name.”


“Their mothers did not notice the other moments that made color bloom in their daughters’ cheeks.”


“She imagined pressing her lips to Bay’s so lightly the wind would find its way between them.”

As you can see, it’s extremely well-written. And, the writing is really flowery, literally and figuratively.

I also did enjoy reading about the characters, but I didn’t really have many feelings. It didn’t help that it was hard to differentiate between all the characters introduced. Also, the plot didn’t pick up until the second half of the book, so I ended up being quite bored until then. These reasons are partially why I have no words for this review.

Other cool things I liked about this book:

  • It’s beautifully written. I wish I could write like that.
  • All of the daughters have a secret crush on Bay, who’s a girl. And there is no backlash at all whatsoever.
  • The culture. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to what I have been reading recently, in regards to the fantasy genre.
  • SO MUCH FOOD. AND DESCRIPTIONS OF FOOD. Most of it was in Spanish though, so I can’t even repeat it here because I have 0 experience with Spanish and remember nothing.
  • And of course, all the flowers. Can’t forget those. This is magical realism at its finest (unless I'm wrong and I'm getting the genre wrong). 
  • I say I was bored with the first half of the plot, but it did pick up and I like where it went! Also conveys a really deep message that is pretty relevant to current and social issues.

But yes, don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy this a lot. 4 stars in fact! I just don’t have much to say about the characters and the plot unfortunately.

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