Reading Sara Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses AND A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J. Maas
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modern romance

Reading Sara Review: I am combining these books because they are the first two in the series (third one coming out in 2017). Like most series, I actually hate it when I can’t just keep reading them – so perhaps should have waited until the third book to begin. Oh well, too late now.

I picked this one up on a whim over a holiday weekend because I had been hearing a lot about it and the second book won the Best Young Adult Fantasy Book on the Goodreads Readers Choice Awards for 2016. I hadn’t read much fantasy this year and thought it would be a fun way to wrap it up. I realize that I am posting this in 2017 – but I finished both books in 2016.

Let me start with: this did not feel like a young adult book to me! Both of these had some pretty darn steamy scenes, so I’m not sure how these books get categorized, but just a warning!

A Court of Thorns and Roses is loosely based on Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorite fairytales. I thought it was creative, fun, and brought my imagination to life. Our heroine, Feyre, kills a wolf in the forest as she is hunting to feed her family. A beast-like creature arrives demanding her life for the life of the wolf, so she is sent to live with him across the wall (parts of this series felt like they were “borrowing” a bit from Game of Thrones, but I’ll let that slide). The beast-creature turns out to be an immortal faerie, who humans were taught to be afraid of. And lucky for Feyre he is a handsome and rich faerie named Tamlin. Tamlin and his people are under a curse, which is revealed throughout the storyline. Her hatred and fear toward the faeries subsides and by the end, she is willing to do anything to save their kind – but especially to save Tamlin from ruin.

There is action, adventure, romance, fighting, a badass female heroine -it has a lot of great pieces for a fantasy story. I definitely enjoyed it.

So, I jumped right into the second because it was a quick read (and I read like I watch movies – I want to know the ending!). It is going to be hard to review the second without any spoilers, so read ahead at your own risk (if you never plan on reading these, it shouldn’t be a problem and perhaps you already stopped reading!).

A Court of Mist and Fury picks up about three months after Feyre has broken the curse on the faerie lands. She is struggling with the guilt of what she had to do, who she had to become, and her new self. Tamlin, unfortunately, is not a calming presence during this time and instead is confining and protecting her rather than letting her breathe and heal. So, lucky for Feyre, she made a deal with the handsome Rhys while Under the Mountain that obligates her to a week with him each month. With Rhys and Tamlin being enemies, this complicates matters in her relationship with both of them.

So, Rhys is dreamy and wonderful – and we quickly discover that he isn’t who everyone thinks that he is. He has wonderful friends and truly helps Feyre heal and learn who she can be with her new powers. My biggest complaint is that it sort of felt like we were supposed to get invested in Feyre and Tamlin in the first book, and then all of sudden hate Tamlin and move on to someone else. The love of Feyre and Rhys was done well, through a deep friendship and connection rather than a classic love triangle, but I still had a difficult time getting on board. I wish that more had been set up in the first book so that I was better prepared. But, by the end, it is impossible not to be on team Rhys.

Beyond the love and friendship, truly why this book was good (and I believe why it got the hype on Goodreads and other outlets) was that Feyre becomes even more badass. She is the female heroine that readers want her to be. She defends herself, her people, her friends and doesn’t rely on a man’s power. She figures out what she believes in, what her destiny is, and follows her heart. In the beginning of the book she is so broken, but Maas does an incredible job of growing the character and letting us see into her mind and soul as she heals. With her flaws, she is an incredibly real character.

I heard rumors of a movie deal for this series – it would be so fun to watch this come alive and see the characters and places of Maas’s imagination (even if they do continue stealing things from GOT, I am ok with that because GOT is awesome). So, if you are in the market for some fantasy (I really don’t know that it is young adult appropriate!), pick this series up. It’s a good one.

 

Reading Sara Review: All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven

all the bright places

Hardcover: 400 pages

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (January 6, 2015)

Reading Sara Rating: 7/10

modern romance

Reading Sara Review: I loved many parts of this book. For young adult readers, and adults alike, it touches on the challenges of youth in a deep in a meaningful way. All the Bright Places had been on my TBR list since it was released in 2015 to rave reviews. I am so glad that I finally had a free weekend to devour this book.

All the Bright Places follows two protagonists, Violet Markey and Theodore Finch. They come from different worlds (Violet is popular and well-liked while Theodore takes pride in being the school ‘freak’). It sounds like a tired story until you learn how they meet in the first chapter: both on the belltower of their school, contemplating a jump. Spoiler alert: neither jumps, but they do build a friendship.

Violet and Theodore face inner demons that haunt them. They are different than the rest of their friends but are brought together by a sense of their shared hurt and struggles. This book is a story of first love, of the first opening of the heart to another soul. It is also the story of depression: how it can come as suddenly as it disappears and how love and friendship (no matter how great) cannot fix people who suffer.

Throughout reading the book, I had a feeling that something terrible was going to happen, which kept the book interesting until the last page.

This is one story of mental illness and certainly does not speak to all of the forms and struggles that people (especially teenagers) face. But I felt that this story was told well. The characters felt alive – you had hopes for them, you wanted them to get help, you hated some of the adults in their lives and had empathy for others.

If you are a fan of other heartbreaking young adult books (Fault in our Stars etc.), add this to your TBR list. It has a quirky tone for a book about something serious, which did not bother me – but I have heard of others complain of it. I thought Niven wrote a lovely story, with memorable characters, unforgettable emotions and lovable writing.

Read it now, before the movie comes out! I hear Elle Fanning is slated to play Violet in the 2017 film adaption.

Some of my favorite quotes, to give a sample of the writing style:

“The problem with people is they forget that most of the time it’s the small things that count.”

“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

“Sorry wastes time. You have to live your life like you’ll never be sorry. It’s easier just to do the right thing from the start, so there’s nothing to apologize for.”

“Because it’s not a lie if it’s how you feel.”

Reading Sara Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon

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Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Delacorte Press (September 1, 2015)

Rating: 7.5/10

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“Just because you can’t experience everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience anything. Besides, doomed love is a part of life.” – Nicola Yoon, Everything, Everything

Reading Sara Review: Everything, Everything is simple in its premise: a young adult story about a bubble girl, a person isolated from the world – her world is only discovered by reading, conversations with her full-time nurse, and her doting mother. Luckily for the reader, Yoon weaves a story that is so much more than simple. The story is about friendship, first loves, discovery, and forgiveness.

I know people who shy away from young adult novels, but I would encourage those people to give this book a try if you want to dip your toes into the genre. Similar to I’ll Give You the Sun, it has themes that go much deeper and characters that we readers understand through their pain. Critics of this book will say that it is just another cheesy YA love story (ala Fault in Our Stars, Eleanor & Park, etc.). YA literature is not as deep – and this book is not perfect. But it is a quick, lovely story that I highly recommend.

“I was happy before I met him. But I’m alive now, and those are not the same thing.” We get to fall in love with Madeline, our sick, near death central character. And we get to watch her fall in love with Olly, the neighbor who quickly becomes fascinated by the girl in the window that never comes outside. We follow her adventures, her daring challenges, the ups and downs of her relationship with her mom – who has always loved her deeply and protected her above all else.

“Sometimes you do things for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong ones, and sometimes it’s impossible to tell the difference.”

Everything, Everything is definitely on my list for best books of 2015. Have you read it? I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

Book & Wine Wednesday! Last Minute Gift Buying for your Book and/or Wine Loving Friends & Family!

Book & Wine Wednesday Special Feature

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I will be the first to admit that I haven’t finished my holiday shopping. I usually get a pretty good head start with most of my family, and then get distracted and fail to complete my shopping promptly and have to suffer through going to the mall around the holidays.

So, if you have not finished your shopping, or thinking about grabbing a little something extra, I bring you the first Reading Sara Book & Wine Wednesday Gift Buying Feature! Bonus: you can still use Amazon Prime and get everything in time!

For your niece: If she loved The Fault in Our Stars and all of Rainbow Rowell’s books, she would devour Everything Everything, by Nicola Yoon. I devoured it, too, so you may want to sneak in a quick read before wrapping it. Everything Everything is a great coming-of-age story about a girl who learns to explore her world inside her head and outside, and, because it’s YA, it includes a lovely love story.

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For your crafty, travel-loving friend: Paris Coloring Book by Min Heo. I picked up this bright orange Paris Coloring Book in San Diego over the weekend. I can’t wait to color everything from Notre Dame to baguettes to the Seine. Pair the book with some beautiful colored pencils and you will be giving your adventure-loving friend hours of relaxation and dreaming in the coming New Year.

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For your work BFF: She’s the one who listens to you complain and always has a hug to give you. I recommend a badass book for this badass friend. The book, You are a Badass, by Jen Sincero is a great confidence-booster and reminder to her that she is totally awesome.

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For your sister who graduated in May and has not quite figured it all out yet:  Adulting: How to become a grown-up in 468 easy(ish) steps, by Kelly Williams Brown. Adulting is a must read for any out-on-their-own-for-the-first-timer. I went to college with the author, so am biased toward her brilliance, but truly wish I had a book like this when I was 22! It is full of creative wit with sound advice.

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For your single brother: I am a huge Aziz Ansari fan, and I bet your brother is too. Help him out with Ansari’s newest book Modern Romance. Buy the hardback, not the Kindle version of this one!

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For your Mom: I think it is a fact that all women over 55 love Robert Redford and they especially loved him in the movie Out of Africa. I recommend treating your mom to the new Paula McLain Book, Circling the Sun, reviewed by yours truly here, and the Out of Africa movie for a girl’s night in. Throw in a bottle of bubbly, recommended here, some popcorn and chocolate, and you are in for a special evening!

Circling the Sun

For your Sister-in-Law: I have a sister-in-law who is the absolute best and very much like a real sister to me. If you are as lucky as I am, you will want to get her something special. For my birthday, she bought me the complete Jane Austen Book Set from Penguin. Trust me, your sister-in-law (or real sister) will love this gift. They are so beautiful and a perfect decoration for her shelf, and (obviously) classic books to pick up and read when she needs her Jane Austen-fix. She will be surprised and delighted to find a thoughtful gift like this under the tree! Jane Austen, the Complete Works can be found on Amazon.

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For your boyfriend/husband: If he has not read the Song of Ice & Fire Series by George R.R. Martin yet, the entire set is a great gift that will last him months (this is that Game of Thrones thing that all of your friends keep talking about…but the books, which are great). If he has already read them, spruce up his collection with these pretty ones!

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For your BFF: Almost Famous Women: Stories, by Megan Mayhew Bergman. First of all, the cover itself told me that this would be the next favorite book of mine. I will post a review of this one soon, but in the meantime, I plan to give it to some of my favorite women this holiday season!

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For your other BFF: Humans of New York: Stories, by Brandon Stanton. This book came out in October and is an incredible compilation of stories that will inspire and astound you. Grab a favorite bottle of wine and read the book together!

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For Your Book Club: You all worked hard this year! Don’t forget to treat your group to something special for the next meeting! I recommend California Sparkling Wine, made by One Hope. Every bottle provides 15 meals to a child in need…So you are drinking a beautiful bottle of bubbly, talking about great books, and helping kids eat…seems like a pretty good deal to me!

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Good luck with your holidays! Don’t forget to buy yourself a book (or two or three!).

Reading Sara Review: If I Stay and Where She Went, by Gayle Forman

If I Stay and Where She Went, by Gayle Forman

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If I Stay

Rating: 4/5

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Speak; Reprint edition (April 6, 2010)

Where She Went

Rating: 4/5

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Speak; Reprint edition (April 17, 2012)

Reading Sara Review: I have had a wonderfully lazy weekend, which has inspired a Sunday Double-Feature Book Review! If I Stay and Where She Went are a part of a two-book series by Gayle Forman.

I first heard about If I Stay from a movie trailer. I was at the theater seeing Fault in Our Stars, the book of which I had already read – and knew was a wonderfully sad young adult book.  Well, when the preview for If I Stay came on the screen, I was already crying – and continued crying for the next couple of hours through the movie. I did not go back to the theater to see If I Stay, but remembered the preview and was interested, and heard that it was a book, so I added it to my TBR Goodreads list and mostly forgot about it. Then, recently the movie came on Netflix and I watched it – and cried a bunch again.

Now friends, I did something that I had never done before after finishing the movie. I read the sequel to the book before reading the first one. To be honest, I just was not sure that I was going to love the book and felt like I could just get a taste of what happened (because there is a big cliff hanger at the end of the movie and I really had filed these books in my head under “guilty pleasures” not necessarily good books). But, here’s what happened: I ended up really liking the book. I thought it was creative, well written and a good portrayal of what happened later. But we’ll get to that in a minute. After I finished the second book, Where She Went, I decided to read If I Stay – because I was convinced by now that I would like it (and it is always fun to see what is different between the book and the movie). I am not recommending that you follow my super unique way to read these books and watch the movie – do it your own way!

If I Stay follows a teenage girl, Mia as she makes heart-breaking decisions. Her family is in a terrible car-accident and Mia has an out-of-body experience and watches the aftermath of the accident unfold (ok, so she is sort of a ghost – but not in a creepy way). She relives her past, how she fell in love with musician Adam, how her family loved her, and her incredible talent as a cellist, and has to make a decision – does she want to continue to live?

In Where She Went, we meet the characters again 3 years later. Some are famous now, some are struggling, but this time the story is from Adam’s point of view. As a fly on the wall of what happens when two former flames reunite and resolve unspoken hurt, I found myself less moved emotionally than in the first one, but just as invested as I had been before in the outcome. It was a wonderful resolution to the first book.

Clearly I am avoiding spoilers in this review – because I want to keep the fun of discovery for all future readers. I thought these were well done young adult books that deal with some heavy issues, but in a loving way. They are not destined to be classic literature by any means. But, for fans of the young adult genre, both books are well written and well told, unique stories. And, if you need a good cry – check out the movie and buy an extra box of tissues!

Reading Sara Review: I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson

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Rating: 4.5/5

Hardcover: 384 pages

Publisher: Dial Books; First Edition first Printing edition (September 16, 2014)

Amazon Book Description: Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

Reading Sara Review: This is one of those books that I know I will think about in years to come because of the lovely and unique way the story was told, the beautiful flawed characters and the redemption that comes from setting the truth free. As cheesy as it is, I laughed and cried and felt deep emotions for these characters, and that is a feeling that I will not easily forget.

As the description notes, Jude and Noah, fraternal twins, only have one side of the story, and it is told alternating from their point of view and in different time periods. They are teenagers, coming-of-age, learning who they want to be, who their real friends are and learning that every action comes with consequence. The story is a mystery, because the reader does not know how things unfold, how everything became so complicated until the time periods come together.

I loved reading Noah’s POV. His artistic passion came out at every scene, his conflicted heart and desires were right there on the page. It felt like with his artist’s eye, he could really see through people (most especially Jude), he knew when they were closed off, sad or something else entirely. Rather than speaking with other people, he used his drawings. I know that some critics of this book felt that the artistic metaphors go completely over the top, and honestly, who knows if a 13 year old boy would be that advanced in his artistic expression, but I did not mind. I thought it was a unique form of expression for a book to describe art in this way, and I felt like I could see the art each time in my mind (when you read it, you will know what I mean!). I knew what each drawing, sketch, sculpture or painting looked like just from the words, and that is really amazing writing.

This book is in the young adult category, but the themes and characters are much deeper than many young adult novels go to. The bond between the twins is deep and certainly a primary theme throughout the book. The bond is not always positive though – because Jude and Noah associate themselves so much with one another, that association can come with jealousy, hurt and misplaced anger as well as the pride, love and friendship.

This book is so real – about families, secrets and teenage angst – but on the other side, it’s magical (no, not in the Harry Potter sense), but magical in the ghosts, the prophesies and the worlds colliding seemingly unintentionally, but it most certainly was some form of magic, was it not?

The story did end pretty perfectly, which I hope is not a spoiler, but I feel like it should be a warning, because a lot of people do not like their novels with everything tied up in a bow. I hope instead that the happy ending proves that secrets have a way of coming out, and the anticipation and worry is often much worse than the actual result.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book (no spoilers!)

“Everything is true at once. Life is contradiction. We take in every lesson. We find what works.”

“We were all heading for each other on a collision course, no matter what. Maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story.”

“Who knows if there are ghosts or just the living, breathing memories of your loves ones inside you, speaking to you, trying to get your attention by any means necessary?”