No traveling pants, but still a good read | The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares [ARC]

The Whole Thing TogetherRay and Sasha are more or less part of the same family. They grew up in the same house, with the same sisters, in the same bedroom…but they’ve never met. A long time ago, Ray’s mom used to be married to Sasha’s dad. A nasty divorce and two remarriages later, Ray and Sasha were born. 17 years later, their¬†worlds are about to collide for the first time.

Okay, so I know that Brashares has written more things than¬†JUST¬†The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but I honestly haven’t read anything else by her. I remembered really like that series though, so I decided to give this one a shot since it had a really intriguing premise to me. Right away, I really enjoyed the writing. The narration and dialogue all flowed together really well and the writing made the book very easy to read. The plot wasn’t super predictable, but there also wasn’t much that happened that was super surprising. This book is more about the characters anyway.

Family dynamics are very interesting. I’m going to say that it’s impossible for a family to be completely drama-free and the family in this book is definitely not an exception. The narration rotates between the five kids: the original three sisters (Emma, Quinn, and Mattie) and the new kids (Ray and Sasha). That, at times, got confusing for me. I was reading a digital ARC and sometimes there wasn’t a clear indicator that the book was changing narrators–I hope that’s something that is fixed or different in the physical book. That being said, if the narrators had very different tones or voices, this wouldn’t have been so confusing. Unfortunately, all of the narrators pretty much sound alike. It was very difficult to tell them apart just from the language. The only signals we get are from context.

The good thing about having so many narrators, though, is that I really felt like I got to know each of the siblings on a pretty deep level. If there had just been one or two narrators, we would have only gotten to know the other characters on a superficial level from our narrator’s perspective. I enjoyed getting to know how characters were perceived but then also having the internal viewpoint for each of them. I expected to not like at least one of the siblings, but I honestly really came to care for each of them in separate ways. Obviously they each had some less desirable traits, but I was willing to overlook them because I felt like I knew each of them on a deeper level so those things didn’t matter.

The only kind of negative thing that really stood out to me was that Jaime’s family seemed a little random. They had a ton of drama as well, but then they’re not really explored at all. I would have either liked more exploration there, or less description of it.

After reading (and pretty much loving) this book, I was surprised to see that there were many negative reviews for this book on Goodreads. One reviewer in particular (who admits to being a straight, white, female) thought that this book displayed “blatant sexism, body-shaming of all sorts, stereotyping, and some racism”. While I could see her points, I just wanted to give my two cents on some of those things. I’m also straight and female, but I’m only a quarter white so I might have a slightly different perspective.

“Blatant Sexism”. The reviewer points out a section of the book where one of our main characters, Ray, is looking at another character’s body–specifically her chest. The reviewer’s response: “This is a direct example of the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude that results in the normalization of rape and sexual assault. What could Ray do? Well I’ll tell you–he could have not looked down at Sasha’s dress, and kept his eyes to himself…” I see her point and I’m not at all trivializing the normalization of rape and sexual assault that is happening. However, I was listening to an interesting podcast the other day. It was a rerun for¬†This American Life (great podcast if you’re not already a subscriber). It was an episode completely about testosterone (listen here). In one of the sections the reporter was interviewing a transgender man about his transition. As part of the¬†transition, he had to be injected with a very high dosage of testosterone. It was really interesting to hear him talk about how he thought about women pre-transition (and testosterone) versus post. There was a stark difference. Obviously, we all have agency and can make our own choices, right? However, as a woman, I felt that my eyes were opened to this chemical thing that happens in boys that doesn’t happen in girls that I really had no idea about. It seems apparent to me that it’s not just a moral or ethical thing, but that natural chemicals and hormones are coming into play as well. I guess what my point is, is that even though I agree that Ray shouldn’t have been looking at Sasha’s chest, I¬†don’t feel that this interaction was necessarily out of place. I was uncomfortable when I read it too, but I’m not necessarily angry at Brashares for including it–I feel like I get it.

“Some Racism”. The reviewer describes her frustration that an Indian American man (actually he was raised in Canada)¬†is stereotypically a “tech genius”. Just as an aside here, I thought he was in finance, but I could have gotten that wrong. Another reviewer criticized the fact that this same character, Robert, was really trying to downplay the fact that he was Indian and wanted nothing more than to be just like all the white men out there. I can see why that’s bothersome, but I feel like we need to look at the overall context here. He was adopted by white parents and it sounded like he was raised in a white community. So from that perspective, it makes sense that he might not identify as being Indian–he wasn’t raised that way. In addition, it can be frustrating for people to make assumptions about you based on your physical appearance (I speak from personal experience here). I can understand why Robert would want to be “as white as possible” (for lack of a better term) since that’s more or less what he identifies as.

Those are just some of my thoughts about the negative comments that have been made about this book. I think a lot of the problems that people have with this book just need to be viewed in the appropriate context instead of being taken out and examined under a microscope. I, personally, was not offended by the book as a woman or as a person of color–in fact, I actually really enjoyed it! I’ll allow you to judge for yourself, but I don’t think these negative reviews should be enough to keep you from reading it if you would have picked it up otherwise.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Heavy
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate (some drinking and some underage smoking)
Sexual Content: Moderate (nothing explicit).

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Perfect Series Ending to a Great Series | Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger

Manners & MutinyIn the final book of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School¬†series, Sophronia, Dimity, and Agatha gear up for one final adventure before officially finishing. There will be impossible romances, invading Picklemen, and the most wonderful dinner party that, unfortunately, may or may not end in an explosion.

I love this series so much. I’m a fan of Carriger’s in general, but of the three series’ set in this universe, this one is by far my favorite. Sophronia is just such a likable main character! She’s smart and manipulative, but also kind and loyal. She develops wonderfully as a character over the four books and grows up to be someone who I desperately want to be friends with. Carriger has also done a good job developing secondary characters like Dimity, Pillover, and Agatha. My problem with some of Carriger’s other characters is that they seem a little…exaggerated. Luckily, Sophronia just seems like a really normal girl given the circumstances.

This book probably had more action than the first three (or it at least felt like it) and that’s not a bad thing. I really liked getting into Sophronia’s head and seeing all of the skills that she’d been learning at school come into play. It’s kind of hard to explain without spoiling anything,¬†but it was really enjoyable to watch Sophronia strategize. The plot included a couple of twists involving certain characters that I did NOT see coming and they were pleasant surprises. In the end, there wasn’t much else that I was looking for from the plot. There were a few things that were left unresolved, but I feel almost certain that those things will (or have been) addressed in the other series’. I thought this series wrapped up really nicely and (of course) there were a few cameos of characters from Carriger’s other series¬†The Parasol Protectorate.

Overall, this was a very fun book and series altogether. While some of Carriger’s other series’ stray into more “adult” territory, this series is firmly YA and I would recommend it to any pre-teen/teenage girl (or boy for that matter–plenty of action). Sophronia may go down as one of my favorite protagonists of all time.

Overall Rating: 5 (rounded up from 4.5)
Language: None
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

BLOG TOUR: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria [GIVEAWAY]

Iron CastIron Cast
by Destiny Soria
Release Date: October 11, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

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SYNOPSIS:¬†It‚Äôs Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths‚ÄĒwhose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art‚ÄĒcaptivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny‚Äôs crowds, and by day they con Boston‚Äôs elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron‚Äôs hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.

REVIEW:¬†The author starts the book with a note regarding her two main characters. She emphasizes that she really wanted to focus on their relationship as opposed to their individual relationships with the boys they like. I always like a little romance in books, but I really appreciated that the romance wasn’t the sole focus. This book has much more depth to it than that. The thing that I really loved about this book is the interactions between Ada and Corinne. They’re so different and the author does a great job of really portraying them as individuals. Their loyalty to each other is inspiring and I love that the author didn’t have them get into any catty arguments or jealous fights. Their relationship is so much bigger than that.

I loved the atmosphere of this book as well. It’s set in a Boston winter shortly before Prohibition is passed. This book makes Boston seem like this really magical and atmospheric city and I think it was the perfect setting for this story. The magic was also very intriguing to me though I don’t think it was explained very well. What exactly is hemopathy? Why does iron effect hemopaths? And how do they get their powers? What determines what kind of powers they have? Even with all of these questions, I like how wordsmiths and songsmiths have their powers so closely tied to emotion. On the other hand thespians and whatever Saint’s hemopathy is called don’t really seem to tie-in. While I like all of the different skills, it seems like there’s a disconnect. The four “powers” don’t really seem to connect to each other. That being said, they’re all extremely cool.

Overall I really enjoyed this book even though the plot was pretty slow at the beginning. There’s a lot of background and character development that the reader needs to get first, but once the plot really got going, I was hooked. I’m just so intrigued by this world! I don’t know if the author plans on making it a series, but I would love to read another book featuring these characters!

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild



Destiny SoriaABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
Destiny Soria writes Young Adult fiction. Her debut novel, IRON CAST, will be published by Abrams/Amulet in Fall 2016.

Destiny lives in Birmingham, AL, where she spends her time trying to come up with bios that make her sound kind of cool. She has yet to succeed.

Website|Goodreads|Twitter|Facebook|Instagram


Fantastic Flying Book Club

Note: I received this book free from the author/blog tour in exchange for an honest review.

HW Assignment: Book Blog Entry 2 – Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell [ARC]

Loving vs. VirginiaTitle: Loving vs. Virginia
Author: Patricia Hruby Powell; illustrated by Shadra Strickland
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: January 1st, 2017
Age Range: 14-18

Loving vs. Viriginia was the hallmark case that overturned years of laws that made interracial marriage illegal. The story of Milly Jeter and Richard Loving is told in verse from alternating perspectives and readers will be inspired by the courage and love shown by both narrators. Milly and Richard didn’t mean to change any laws, they just wanted to live as a married couple near their families in Virginia. Unfortunately, Milly was black and Richard was white and interracial marriages were illegal in the state of Virginia. They were forced to start their young family while living in D.C., but both were miserable there. Luckily, a young lawyer believed in their case and ended up taking it all the way to the Supreme Court where they won.

This book details a case from our not too distant history as Americans. Laws banning interracial marriage¬†existed as late as 2000 in some places. While both Milly and Richard had passed away before the author had the chance to¬†interview them, Powell was able to speak with several people who knew them personally. She takes their stories and creates beautiful poems out of them. At the same time, Powell also incorporates documents and quotes from the time scattered throughout the book that help the reader to establish where the Lovings fit in with the overall Civil Rights Movement. While readers may pick this book up because of the underlying “love story”, they may find themselves interested in learning more about the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation in general. While this book deals with some heavier themes, the free verse narrative is accessible to younger readers as well.

As a reader, I really loved this book. I loved the way the author made such an impactful topic accessible and interesting to younger readers. My husband and I are a third generation interracial couple in my family. After reading this book, I found out that my grandparents (a white man and a Hispanic woman with dark skin) got married in the 60s and actually lived in the Virginia/D.C. area at the same time that the Lovings did (before the ban on interracial marriage was overturned). I’m grateful that this book prompted me to learn a little more about my own family history and I believe that it might make other readers, teens especially, interested in learning more as well.

This book is especially timely with the new movie¬†Loving coming out on November 4th. Teens who watch the movie may be interested in learning more about the people and the case of Loving vs. Virginia specifically. This book would be perfect for those who aren’t especially strong readers or who simply want to read a little bit more about the case without getting in too deep.

New Semester Mini-Reviews

Okay, so I’m really trying to get caught up on all of my reviews. I read a lot in August, but did not do so great on writing my reviews. So here goes:

One of the GuysOne of the Guys by Lisa Aldin
Honestly…I don’t even remember TOO much from this book. There’s a tomboy girl who goes to an all-girl prep school. She’s got four best friends and she starts this rent-a-date service? Anyway. It was all very predictable and I honestly didn’t really like how the friendships between the four friends resolved. I mean, I know that friends grow apart and all that, but if you’re really so tight, then I don’t think that just falls apart over one event? The conflict between the main character and her parents was interesting, but didn’t really add too much to the story, in my opinion. There were a few secondary characters that I really couldn’t stand, but other than that I think the characters were okay. The romance was alright and maybe this is a spoiler, but I appreciated that there wasn’t a love triangle. Overall, not an entirely realistic plotline, but the story was easy to read and had a nicely predictable ending. 3/5

99 Days99 Days by Katie Cotugno
So…I did not find the main character in this book particularly likable. She just kept making these decisions that had me face-palming THE WHOLE TIME. I’ll be honest, I have never been in the position where I have feelings for two brothers and have to decide which one I’m going to date. That being said, is it really that hard to have a little self-control? I mean, like I said, I don’t really know and I don’t want to come across as judgey, or preachy, or holier than thou or anything like that but…COME ON. I understand that one of the brothers is her ex and she has some unresolved feelings but is it really that hard to not make bad decisions? On another note, I thought it was interesting that each chapter was another day, but that also created some weird breaks and a lot of “Oh, let’s hang out tomorrow” so that a new chapter could start with the characters hanging out. I liked the ending because it just seemed more realistic instead of the typical ending for books like this. Overall, there were some good things, but there wasn’t too much about this book that I liked. I will never be behind the whole “brothers fighting over one girl” trope. 2/5

BlinkBlink by Malcolm Gladwell
I love this book! I’ve read it once before and just reread it for book club. I feel like this book is especially applicable now–even more so than when it was initially published. There’s a section on police work and it really helped me to understand what exactly goes on in a situation where a policeman needs to make the decision on whether or not to fire their weapon. I feel like with all of the police brutality situations and the Black Lives Matter movement going on, everyone needs to read this book in order to understand just what is going through a policeman’s mind. Obviously I’m not saying that it’s okay, but after reading this book I’m less inclined to put the policeman at fault. Does that make sense? Maybe not, but if you read the book I think it will. Anyway, Gladwell is such a good writer and all of his books are absolutely fascinating. I recommend them all! 5/5

The HuntThe Hunt by Megan Shepherd
Let me just start by saying that I am still weirded out by the whole inter-species romance! Like, come on Cora, the guy is NOT EVEN HUMAN. I though this book was a little more interesting than the first one, but I’m still a much bigger fan of Shepherd’s¬†The Madman’s Daughter trilogy. This is like a sci-fi book but without a lot of the science-y stuff. Like, it’s almost to the point where I wish there was more science because some stuff just still doesn’t really make sense to me. Like how is time the same in space and on Earth? I would just assume that if Cora and the gang ever were able to make it back to Earth and Earth was still there, everyone they knew would be long dead by hundreds of years. Also, I’m not sure that I like the whole telepathy/mind powers bit it seems like a bit of a stretch. The plot itself was okay. There was this little twist that comes in near the end that I’m still confused about. Overall, that part of the story doesn’t really make sense and I’m not sure how it moved the plot forward. The characters are a lot more enjoyable than they were in the first book so there’s that. Honestly, I’m just waiting to see how this series ends. At this point, it doesn’t really seem like it’s going to end well. 3/5

ÔĽŅ”Perfect” Girl Realizes That Being Perfect is Boring (The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen)

The Truth About ForeverMacy is fine, just fine. That’s what she’s been telling everyone since her dad died. While this doesn’t always feel true, Macy wants everyone around her to believe it and her boyfriend Jason makes things a little bit easier. Jason is perfect. He’s organized, smart, and most of all he makes Macy feel normal–not like that girl whose dad died. But Jason is going to “Brain Camp” and Macy knows that she has a long summer ahead of her until she meets the Wish Catering crew.¬†They take Macy in and make her feel normal even if she’s not always perfect.

This is my absolute favorite Sarah Dessen book of all time. I feel like I relate to Macy in a lot of ways. There have been times in the past when I’ve disagreed with some of the choices that Dessen’s protagonists are making, but I really feel like I get Macy. Her decisions make sense to me. Deep down she’s just a really good girl who is genuinely trying to help others around her–especially her mother. She’s realistically flawed and most of all, she’s someone who you can cheer for.

I love the cast of secondary characters in this book and the relationships that they have with each other. The Wish crew is absolutely perfect in every way. Delia, Kristy, Monica, Bert, and Wes have a really fun dynamic and I love that Delia has taken a “mother” role with all of them. Every scene where Wish is working a job is fun to read. Disasters are happening all over the place, but it never feels overwhelmingly chaotic–the reader knows that things are going to work out.

Macy’s family has a really interesting dynamic as well. I like Caroline a lot as a character because I feel like she’s really brave. By renovating the beach house, she’s doing something that the other members of the family don’t have the courage to do. She’s noticed that the family has splintered a bit since her father died and the beach house is her way of bringing the family back together and saving those relationships. I also like that she’s forgiving. It’s not in her to hold grudges.

Wes and Macy’s relationship is just a friendship for most of the book, which I liked. I liked that they really go to know each other well by playing truth before anything remotely romantic happened between them. Wes was definitely my first hardcore book crush. His sculptures sound amazing and I’d really like to see a picture of them or something. Like a lot of Dessen’s other romantic leads, he’s a really good guy. I always appreciate that our main character ends up with a good guy and I like that Wes had a slightly troubled past, but realized he wasn’t heading down the right path and got on the right one.

Overall, this book makes a great beach read while also having depth. Dessen is really good at exploring relationships and this book is no exception. I really only have one critique that holds true for her other books as well. I feel like teenage drinking is handled really casually. Characters are always going to parties and drinking beer–even the “good” characters. I wish Dessen didn’t portray that as so normal because I actually don’t think underage drinking is a good thing. That’s really the only problem I have though. Go read her books!

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Moderate
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild

Magical Realism at its Finest (The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman)

The Ocean at the End of the LaneI really tried to write a summary for this book, but it’s literally indescribable. Neil Gaiman is a master of language and storytelling and this book makes me want to read ALL THE BOOKS. Gaiman handles child narrators in a way that makes them so much more mature but while still maintaining that innocence that is inherent in children. I say this from my experience with reading The Graveyard Book as well as this one. Our narrator in this book is so serious but is still just a child (I think he’s 7?) and has moments where he acts like one. I love that he loves to read books and maybe that’s why he reacts the way he does. All of these magical things are happening around him, and he kind of just accepts it. There are a few times when he tries to make sense of things, but in the end he’s just like, “Yeah, sure, that’s how it is. Of course.” He’s just so ready to believe in the Hempstock’s magic.

I also love the way that Gaiman uses the setting in his book. His descriptions are so vivid and it¬†just¬†makes the whole story so real. What’s actually based on real life and what’s fiction? It’s really hard to tell in this book. The food descriptions were also unreal. I just wanted to transport myself to the Hempstock’s kitchen table because those meals sounded AMAZING.¬†The characters were fantastic as well. I loved the way that our narrator’s perception of the Hempstock women changed as he grew older. I also loved the characterization in general. Each character felt like an individual with a past and a future–no cardboard cutouts here.

Despite the fact that this book (for the most part) has a child narrator, this book is for adults. It deals with some heavier topics (such as suicide and adultery) and contains some scenes that may be disturbing for younger children. That being said, since the story is being narrated by a young boy, he sees some things that he doesn’t quite understand. So if a younger reader were to get their hands on this book, a lot of things may go over their head since descriptions aren’t very explicit.

Overall, I thought this book was absolutely magical. I loved the characters, I loved the setting, I loved the story. I would DEFINITELY recommend this one.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Mild
Violence: Moderate (some of this is magical violence)
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate