REVIEW: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea is Morgenstern’s second novel coming after the success of her first novel, The Night Circus. I’d read The Night Circus a while ago and remembered loving it, but didn’t know if it would hold up to a reread. Recently, I tried the audio book for The Night Circus (read by Jim Dale!) and it was AMAZING. Highly, highly recommend. Le Cirque des Rêves was just as captivating as I remembered it. All of that is just to say that my expectations for this book were already HIGH, but then the synopsis of this book comes out including secret societies and underground libraries and quests… If it was possible, my expectations rose even higher.

Now, you may have heard some conflicting things about this book. I’ve read some reviews that strongly disliked this book. Let me just say, this book is very different and it’s not one that can be zoomed through (as I typically zoom through books). If I’m really enjoying a book (300-400 page range) I can usually finish it in about three days max (usually less). This book is around 500 pages, so a little longer than my average and it took me almost four WEEKS to read (26 days to be precise). Caveat: I wasn’t reading this book exclusively or reading every single day, also we were in the process of moving house to another state for some of that time. With that being said, however, this is a book that DEMANDS you take your time to read it. If you don’t, you’ll get confused and you’ll miss out on all of the wonderful complexities that this book holds.

The story is made up of several different sections and multiple perspective shifts with interwoven short stories. It’s confusing, especially at the beginning, but after a while I found that I liked the variation of the chapters. It’s amazing to me to think about Morgenstern writing this book. There are just so many pieces to it and I feel that she really masterfully weaves them together into a cohesive tapestry of deliciousness.

There has been a lot of criticism calling this book “boring” and “plotless”. A lot of people have especially had a problem with the main character, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, feeling like he just purposelessly drifts through the story with no development. I strongly disagree on both of those points. First, no this book isn’t what I would call fast-paced, but I wouldn’t call it boring by any stretch of the imagination! The short stories are beautiful, well-written, and frankly not that long compared to Zachary’s chapters. I, personally, was sucked into Zachary’s story immediately. There’s mystery and magic(?) and even a little action thrown into the mix as well. I think that Zachary’s character makes a lot more sense if you remember that he’s a grad student studying video games. He often views his journey as a video game and I think that informs some of the decisions that he makes. He’s not delusional or anything, he doesn’t think he’s ACTUALLY in a video game, but the “aimless wandering” that a lot of people have a problem with makes more sense if you view it from that lens. A lot of exploring type video games have a main quest, side quests, and then a bunch of other random stuff that you can explore. Zachary does a lot of exploring that I guess some people found to be boring, however, I did not.

As a character, I think Zachary undoubtedly develops. He’s not the same boy that he was when he first encountered a door painted on the side of a wall. He starts the book as a 2D character, but ends as a fully fleshed out being. There are decisions that he makes towards the end of the book that he simply would not have made at the beginning. Zachary does not finish the book as the same person that he was.

I’m finding it really hard to put into words EXACTLY what I loved so much about this book. It’s just so cozy. I loved all of the little stories and I loved when the pieces started to overlap and click together. Some people had a problem with the ending, but I thought it was perfect and right and fit the book precisely. The writing was beautiful and whimsical and the setting of the Harbor was just as magical as Le Cirque des Rêves, in my opinion. And then The Kitchen. Oh how I loved The Kitchen. This is the kind of book that you want to start over immediately after finishing because now you finally get it and can pick up on things that you missed the first time.

I’ll just end this review by pleading with you to not let the negative reviews scare you away. Give it a try and if it’s not for you, that’s fine. But where others found this book boring, I found it captivating. Where others found the descriptions to be too long, I found them to be beautiful and evocative. Just one warning: because of all of the interweaving stories I’d probably not recommend this as an audio book–I think it would just be confusing. But as a physical book or an eBook? Magical. You will never find another book like this.

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

BLOG TOUR: A Constellation of Roses by Miranda Asebedo [GIVEAWAY]

A Constellation of RosesA Constellation of Roses
by Miranda Asebedo
Release Date: November 5th, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Contemporary

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SYNOPSIS: Ever since her mother walked out, Trix McCabe has been determined to make it on her own. And with her near-magical gift for pulling valuables off unsuspecting strangers, Trix is confident she has what it takes to survive. Until she’s caught and given a choice: jail time, or go live with her long-lost family in the tiny town of Rocksaw, Kansas.

Trix doesn’t plan to stick around Rocksaw long, but there’s something special about her McCabe relatives that she is drawn to. Her aunt, Mia, bakes pies that seem to cure all ills. Her cousin, Ember, can tell a person’s deepest secret with the touch of a hand. And Trix’s great-aunt takes one look at Trix’s palm and tells her that if she doesn’t put down roots somewhere, she won’t have a future anywhere.

Before long, Trix feels like she might finally belong with this special group of women in this tiny town in Kansas. But when her past comes back to haunt her, she’ll have to decide whether to take a chance on this new life . . . or keep running from the one she’s always known.

With lovable and flawed characters, an evocative setting, and friendships to treasure, A Constellation of Roses is the perfect companion to Miranda Asebedo’s debut novel The Deepest Roots.

REVIEW: Man, this book REALLY gave me a craving for some baked good! The pies are obviously the main feature, but I would KILL for some of Mia’s muffins too! This book had a really fun premise where each of the women in this family have a special “gift”. It’s a nice touch of magical realism that weaves its way throughout the book. I liked that the atmosphere wasn’t too dark though it did get a little gritty at times.

Trix was a tough character for me–I didn’t always like her and I felt like she read people completely wrong about 75% of the time. I did, however, really like the rest of the McCabe women and I ended up really liking Trix’s relationship with each of them. I thought this book just had a really great cast of strong women.

A couple of minor plot holes for me…it seems like the McCabes would be really sick of pie at this point? I mean, they have it around all the time and they eat it repeatedly throughout the book. How are they not sick of it by now? Also, because of Ember’s ability, she shies away from everyone. But I wondered why she didn’t just wear gloves? Wouldn’t that keep her from learning everyone’s secrets? Anyway, overall I thought this book was good. I felt like it dealt with some tough topics in a really respectful way. The ending was expected and a tad HEA, but I still liked it.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild


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authorABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
Miranda Asebedo was born and raised in rural Kansas with a love of fast cars, open skies, and books. She carried that love of books to college, where she got her B.A. and M.A. in English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing and Literature. A Seaton Fellowship recipient, her short fiction has appeared in Kansas Voices, Touchstone, and Midway Journal.

Miranda still lives on the prairie today with her husband, two kids, and two majestic bulldogs named Princess Jellybean and Captain Jack Wobbles. If Miranda’s not writing or reading, she’s most likely convinced everyone to load up in the family muscle car and hit the road.

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

This book made me feel 100% Latina | Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno [ARC]

Don't Date Rosa SantosThe Santos women are cursed by the sea. Any man that they fall in love with will be claimed by the ocean. Rosa has grown up her entire life with this knowledge and has never really grappled with it until now. She’s about to pick which college she wants to go to when she meets Alex. He’s tall, has a beard, ocean tattoos, and…a boat. Rosa knows it’s a bad idea to fall for him, but how can she resist especially when she finds out that he bakes too?

TL;DR – This book will make you wish you had an abuela. The Cuban culture is so authentic throughout that it makes my heart hurt.

eBook | Hardcover

My ethnicity is a mixed bag. I’m a quarter white, half Chinese, and a quarter Hispanic. The grandparent I grew up closest to is my mom’s mother who was born and raised in Panama. Rosa’s abuela, Mimi, reminded me so much of my own grandmother. I could see her doing and saying so many of the things that Mimi did. There are more similarities as well that I’ll address later on. Seriously though, this book made me feel so much more Hispanic than I actually am. During and after reading I found myself gesturing at things to my husband with my lip/chin. I never do that!

First, I just want to say that I absolutely adored this book. It was so close to being a five star read for me! I thought Rosa was a really enjoyable character right off the bat and I loved her dynamic with all of the other characters. She was so interesting and really felt alive for me. I also loved the dynamic and tensions between Rosa, Mimi, and Liliana (Rosa’s mom). All three women were incredibly strong in different ways. I enjoyed that the author was able to portray that differing strength in women. Women can be strong, even if they’re not all strong in the same way.

Secondary characters were amazing! They all felt like they had depth to them and I felt they contributed to the story in an important way. I especially enjoyed Rosa’s best friend and the viejos. Please, I would follow their Instagram in a heartbeat!

The atmosphere of the book also felt so real. The weather was almost another character and I loved how that played into the slight magical/mystical thread throughout the book. It was all very fun. The weather also contributed to the raw emotions that came out at times. There are a few scenes throughout this book where the emotion is just so heavy. Despite that, this isn’t a heavy book and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a Summer read.

***Slight Spoiler Ahead***

This book hit me especially hard because my grandmother just passed away last month in a way that was similar to Mimi. It was kind of sudden and like Liliana, my mom was the one there performing CPR on her own mother until the paramedics arrived. There were some other similarities as well that I won’t go into. It just felt eerily similar to me. When Rosa was dealing with Mimi’s death, I felt it so hard. I saw myself in Rosa and parts of my mom in Liliana. The emotions felt so real and it’s obvious that the author has lost someone close to her. I still forget some days that my grandma isn’t around anymore. I hope, like Rosa, that I can one day make that pilgrimage back to my grandmother’s homeland. The sacrifices that she made to come to America amaze me every day and I would literally not be here without her. I love you, Llaya.

***Spoiler End***

Anyway…I highly, highly recommend this book. I appreciate the call for diversity in YA, but a lot of times I think it’s done poorly or in a way that’s inauthentic. That is NOT the case with this book. If you want to read diversity in YA, then this is the kind of thing you should be reading.

Overall Rating: 4.5
Language: Mild
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

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

 

Why is it so hard to just pick a genre? | Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand

Sawkill GirlsGirls have been disappearing from Sawkill for decades, but no one seems to find this suspicious. Except for Zoey. Her best friend Thora disappeared last year and everyone seems to have forgotten. Zoey is positive that Val’s family has something to do with it, but nobody believes her. Marion is new to the island after her father had a tragically fatal accident. She and her sister have no idea that girls have been going missing–and that they might be next.

TL;DR – Ultimately disappointing. I felt like the book was trying to fit into too many genres at once. Overall, it felt like it was trying too hard and lost what it was trying to be.

This book started off delightfully mysterious and creepy with a hint of magical realism and I was so into it. Magical realism is a genre that I tend to really enjoy. I like the subtlety and wonder of it. Several things happen that are completely unsettling and I was ready to figure out what the heck was going on. But then the plot took this turn and there were secret organizations and it turned into this weird amalgamation of sci fi and fantasy and horror. It lost all subtlety and I felt like it cheapened the whole plot.

The characters were fine. I didn’t feel particularly connected to any of them. We have three narrators in Marion, Zoey, and Val, but I honestly wouldn’t have been super heartbroken if any of them hadn’t made it. Secondary characters were okay. Nobody was super developed. I thought Grayson was an exceptionally poor character, though. He literally served no purpose except to conveniently move the plot forward. We need someone to decipher a dead language? Conveniently, Grayson can do it! We need a boat? Grayson’s family has one!

I think a lot of readers will appreciate that all three of our main characters are queer. I appreciate the diversity too, but I’m not sure how it really plays into who the characters are and how they act. It felt like it was just kind of thrown in there so the author could claim diversity? I don’t know, maybe other people feel differently about that.

Overall, I was extremely disappointed by this book. I wanted it to be subtly creepy, but instead I feel like it tried to go too far and do too much and it lost me. I think the author should have stuck to a more subtle magical realism (like Bone Gap).

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Heavy
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Heavy

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Sawkill Girls review

Summer Cleaning Mini-Reviews

If Spring Cleaning is a thing, that means Summer Cleaning is too, right? I have so many backlogged ARCs to review, it’s not even funny. Covers link to Goodreads.

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Say No to the Bro by Kat Helgeson [ARC]

Okay…to be perfectly honest I read this back in April and I’m having a hard time remembering everything. The notes that I wrote down for this, though, are as follows: “I’m not really buying their relationship. I feel like it doesn’t fit with who I think the characters are.” From what I remember of the book, all of a sudden the two main characters were dating and I was like, “Okay, that’s random.” Like, not random plotwise, but random because it didn’t feel genuine. I also remember not really liking any of the characters–they all just seemed really selfish to me. 2/5

Seeking MansfieldSeeking Mansfield by Kate Watson [ARC]

I always love a good Jane Austen retelling and I’d heard good things about this book, so I was super excited. The issue I had with the original Mansfield Park is that I felt like Edmund just randomly decided to like Fanny in the end. Like, what was going on? Fanny deserves better than Edmund shrugging his shoulders going, “Well, I guess I’ll just marry Fanny now since that last relationship didn’t work out.” So I was hesitant going into this book in case it was the same thing. To some extent it was, but I did like the ending of this retelling better than the original ending. One thing that really bugged me is that I don’t feel like Harlan would have acted how he did towards Finley if he really respected her dad as he said he did. There was also a lot of angst that I could have done without. 4/5

A Million Junes

A Million Junes by Emily Henry [ARC]

First of all, stunning cover. My first impression was that the main characters were both super likable which is always nice. I also rejoiced to find a main character who loved both her biological father as well as her step-dad. I’d been searching for such a book and I absolutely loved the relationships that June had with both her father and her step-father. The plot itself was a little abstract and I did find myself confused a time or two, but I was still okay with it. The magical realism aspect of the book was so well done and definitely gave the entire story a dreamy quality. In my opinion, this book was a definite step up from Henry’s last book. I also thought this book was a really great look at grief and grieving in general. 4/5

Follow Me Back

Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger [ARC]

So…this book is CRAZY. As I was reading, I thought that this was a nice departure from my normal genres–I don’t read a lot of thrillers (psychological or otherwise). I honestly didn’t expect too much from the plot. I thought it would just be a very basic twist at the end. But about halfway through I started to suspect that things weren’t going to end up being the way I thought they would be. Was Eric going to end up being the stalker instead of Tessa? What about that weird Mrs. Eric Thorn from Twitter? How does she fit in? What the heck happened to Tessa last summer? Then the ending kind of came out of nowhere, but it also makes sense. At this point, however, I find myself very uncertain about the very end (was it an epilogue?). I didn’t anticipate this being more than one book and I’m very confused as to what is actually happening. Confused in a good way though. The only thing I didn’t particularly care for is the way that Tessa’s mom and boyfriend treated her mental issues. I mean, I don’t know how I would react in their shoes, but they seemed so insensitive! Also, WHAT IS UP WITH TESSA’S PSYCHIATRIST??? 4/5

Songs About a GirlSongs About a Girl by Chris Russell [ARC]

I had high hopes for this book because I thought it was going to be something a little more similar to Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway. Like, the main character goes to school with a guy who ends up being a massively famous pop star and turns out he carried a secret torch for her all through high school and so all the songs on his band’s new album are about her. That’s not what this book was about (but that would be an awesome book, right?). I didn’t really understand the plot all the way and I was really confused as to why Charlie felt so strongly that she needed to lie to her father. And I didn’t understand why she was being targeted at school. Also, to be honest, I thought this was going to turn into an accidental incest situation. It didn’t, but I had no idea where the plot was going for a while if not in that direction. 2/5

They All Fall DownThey All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Clair

This book could have been so good, but instead it was just freaking weird. I don’t know…somehow I thought there was going to be a little bit more of a mystery involved that the reader could try to solve. Instead, it’s just a big conspiracy thing that’s plopped in your lap in the last 50 pages. The characters were strange while also being blatant stereotypes (brooding bad boy, aggressive jock, mean girl cheerleaders). In addition, I thought Kenzie’s best friend was basically the most annoying side kick of a character I’d ever read. She only cares about becoming more popular and gets super upset when Kenzie isn’t interested in being popular as well. That drama was so unnecessary and just made the book that much harder to get through. Don’t read this. 2/5

Crazy Rich AsiansCrazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Okay, let me stop you right there. This is not a book about Asian people who are crazy and rich. This is a book about Asian people who are crazy rich. Get the difference? This book was surprisingly funny and exasperating all at the same time–there are some seriously ridiculous characters and situations. As someone who is half-Chinese (I’m descended from Hong Kong peasants–no shame) I felt like this book was so refreshing. 99% of the characters in this book are Asian (with the exception of an Au Pair here or there). This book depicts such a wide range of Asian people and I loved it. We’re not all the same, you know? And even though the characters in this book are crazy rich (and I’m not) I still felt like I could relate to them? Anyway, this book gave me a giant hankering for some dim sum. I need a pineapple bun, stat. 4/5

Note: ARCs were received for free in exchange for an honest review.

I am now extremely thankful for all my senses | The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy [ARC]

The DisappearancesAila and her brother have just moved to Sterling, the town their recently deceased mother grew up in. Right away, they notice some strange things–the flowers have no scent and there doesn’t appear to be any mirrors in the house. As they investigate, they’ll learn secrets about the town and about their own family. Is it a curse? Or is there another explanation? And what does their mother have to do with it?

This is a strong debut from this author and I’m very excited to see what she brings us next. I was decidedly NOT expecting much from this book. The premise intrigued me, but I didn’t really know what I was in for. As it turns out, I ended up LOVING this book. The writing was so beautiful and the entire atmosphere of the book was ethereal but grounded at the same time. This book seemed to have some magical realism elements woven throughout, but then there was also a sciencey aspect to it and I really enjoyed that contrast.

The main characters are all terrific. I love Aila. She’s fierce but kind at the same time. Her relationship with her brother Miles feels genuine and imperfect, but strong. My heart seriously broke for Miles so many times in this book. I thought that the relationships between Aila and Miles and the Cliftons felt realistic. It helps that every single character had depth–that makes their relationships feel like so much more. The only character I felt lacked a little bit was Will. His motivations could have been developed a little more, but at this point I’m just nitpicking. Even the mean kids at school had depth, which doesn’t usually happen in YA books.

I loved the time period. The book is set during World War II which is the perfect backdrop for the plot. The plot would not have worked in any other time period. We’re immersed into this town that has so much shared history. It’s really created this community that’s had to band together through these trials. Perfect setting.

The story itself is so interesting as well. As Aila starts to try to solve this mystery, the reader feels like they can follow along as well. I mean, Aila’s just reading Shakespeare–I can do that! This book made me want to read some Shakespeare to try to find clues as well. Ultimately, though, I wish that the Shakespeare clues played a bigger role in solving the mystery. It would have been really cool if the reader could solve the mystery by fitting those pieces together, but as the story is written, we can’t. I guess I wish there had been a little bit more of a treasure hunt-ish aspect, but I get why the book wasn’t more like that.

Overall, I thought this book was SO GOOD. Seriously, I think everyone should read it. At this point, it’s super underrated. I have literally heard nothing about this book. So when it comes out on July 4th, I expect everyone to go out and pick up a copy–I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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

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

Blog Tour: Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn Marsh

Fear the Drowning DeepFear the Drowning Deep
by Sarah Glenn Marsh
Release Date: October 4th, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Fiction

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SYNOPSIS: Witch’s apprentice Bridey Corkill has hated the ocean ever since she watched her granddad dive in and drown with a smile on his face. So when a dead girl rolls in with the tide in the summer of 1913, sixteen-year-old Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her granddad to leap into the sea has made its return to the Isle of Man.

Soon, villagers are vanishing in the night, but no one shares Bridey’s suspicions about the sea. No one but the island’s witch, who isn’t as frightening as she first appears, and the handsome dark-haired lad Bridey rescues from a grim and watery fate. The cause of the deep gashes in Fynn’s stomach and his lost memories are, like the recent disappearances, a mystery well-guarded by the sea. In exchange for saving his life, Fynn teaches Bridey to master her fear of the water — stealing her heart in the process.

Now, Bridey must work with the Isle’s eccentric witch and the boy she isn’t sure she can trust — because if she can’t uncover the truth about the ancient evil in the water, everyone she loves will walk into the sea, never to return.

REVIEW: First off, that cover is absolutely GORGEOUS. I thought this book had a really promising premise, but then I just had such a hard time getting into it and I couldn’t really figure out why. There were so many names and it was difficult for me to keep people straight, especially the main character’s sisters.

I liked the setting of this small island surrounded by the ocean–which was really a character by itself–and I thought all of the place descriptions were really beautiful. Even when Bridey was looking out at the waves frightened, they were frightening in this beautiful, beautiful way.

That being said, I did have some issues with the plot and the pacing of the story. Like I mentioned at the beginning of my review, I had a really hard time getting into it. The story just started so SLOW in my opinion. It took me over a week just to get halfway through it. I mean, stuff was happening and sure it was exciting stuff, but I just didn’t find myself turning the pages faster and faster to find out what would happen next. I felt like maybe we were in Bridey’s head too much. While I think this was true to her character, I just felt tired by all of the uncertainty and by her dwelling so much on her grandfather and Lugh and Fynn.

The plot itself had a lot going on with sea monsters and magic as well as Bridey’s relationships with some of the islanders. It seemed almost like the drama amongst the characters was fighting with the drama created by the actual plot. Morag was an interesting character, but perhaps a little cliche. There’s a rumored witch that nobody on the island likes…original. Then there’s the mini-love triangle/insta-love situation that occurs (blech).

Overall, I don’t think this book is bad, by any means. I definitely think it has it’s audience, but I don’t think I’m necessarily a part of it. I have a hard time when I feel like books are paced too slow. There were definitely parts I really liked and parts that I didn’t. In the end, I would give this one a 3/5.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
Sarah Glenn Marsh writes young adult novels and children’s picture books. An avid fantasy reader from the day her dad handed her a copy of The Hobbit and promised it would change her life, she’s been making up words and worlds ever since.

When she’s not writing, Sarah enjoys watercolor painting, ghost hunting, and pursuits of the nerd variety, from video games to tabletop adventures. She’s never met an animal or a doughnut she didn’t like.

Sarah lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and their tiny zoo of four rescued greyhounds, a bird, and many fish. She is the author of Fear the Drowning Deep, the Reign of the Fallenduology, and several picture books.

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