Quick Takes: Cruel Beauty

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
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Image result for cruel beautyGoing into this, I thought I was going to end up with a completely different story than what I was left with at the final page. Cruel Beauty is about a young woman, Nyx, who trained her whole life to defeat the evil ruler of their kingdom. When she finally reaches the castle and meets the enemy, things  don’t go as planned. There’s more to Ignifex than meets the eye, and her mission must adapt.

I kept hearing how this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Though I usually find those cringe-y, I actually think this book would’ve been better off if there were more similarities. I wish it were as simple as that summary, as Beauty and the Beast, as another YA novel with a love triangle and predictable twists and turns. Because my biggest problem with this book was that it was jam packed with all this mythology.

Beauty and the Beast is fine. Mythology is fine. But trying to do both, and so heavy handedly, is trying to do too much. Anytime authors lean too much on another culture/society or whatever, it just starts to feel lazy and gimmicky. The naming, the world-building, the constant myth-referencing, just…ugh. Come on. It was like reading an allegory–am I supposed to enjoy the story, or is this some sneaky way to brush up on my history? Greco/Roman Mythology is great, but you can pull from it without being so obvious about it. The plot would have been way less clunky/cluttered that way.

So this is one of the few instances I’m not complaining about the “meh” protagonist or the love triangle or insta-love. In fact if those would have been my only critiques, I probably would have enjoyed Cruel Beauty a whole lot more.

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Quick Take: Love & Gelato

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
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love & gelatoI think this was the perfect transition book from my summer reads into my fall reads. This was a lovely, yet not overly sweet contemporary novel.

This novel follows Lina as she goes to spend a summer in Tuscany to get to know the father that she didn’t know about, per her mother’s dying wish. Despite Tuscany’s picturesque beauty, Lina is definitely in no mood or rush to enjoy what Tuscany has to offer…or really even that interested in getting to know a father who’s never been around. Once Lina arrives, however, she is given an old journal of her mother’s that takes her on a whirlwind romantic adventure. Lina follows along in her mother’s footstep with her newfound friend, Ren, as she gets to know a side to her mother that she didn’t realize was even there.

Overall this novel was sweet and romantic, but again, not in an overly sweet kind of way. There were elements of love, family and grief, that it makes this a great transitional novel between the summer and fall seasons. I appreciated having a contemporary that felt more multi-dimensional than other contemporary novels, so that definitely gets two thumbs up from me!

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Quick Take: Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
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Oh goodness, just all the feels with this book. Val has also read this beautiful novel everythingand has reviewed it, so I encourage you to check out her blog post!! I am going to go into a quick synopsis and then the rest of this is going to be pretty spoiler-y, so if you haven’t checked this out, you need to ASAP! I’ve read another Nicola Yoon book earlier this year (check out my review!) and she is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary authors!! She not only writes beautiful books that tug at your heartstrings, but she also weaves in such important themes such as family and race relations. All of which is super refreshing and so important to see represented in YA novels.

Now a quick synopsis: Madeline has just turned 18 and has never left her house due to having SCID. This basically means that she’s allergic to everything, so she stays inside her house with her nurse and her mother. Olly, a cute and interesting boy, moves in next door peaking Madeline’s interest in the outside world. And that is it for a synopsis! And if you are reading the synopsis thinking that you know exactly how this story turns out…I am going to tell you to ignore that voice in your head and read this book! This book takes the most interesting of turns, and while it is the cutest and sweetest love story you’ll probably ever read, it’s also a beautiful and heartbreaking story about family. So now, I’m going to get into some spoilers, so get out of here if you haven’t read this yet!! 🙂

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Mini Reviews: Full Metal Alchemist (#1-3)

Full Metal Alchemist (Volumes #1-3) by Hiromu Arakawa
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full metal alchemist 1This is definitely something that I’ve been wanting to read for quite some time now and I am glad that I finally got around to it! 🙂 I will also definitely be continuing on with this series – pretty excited for it!

Now, quick synopsis: these two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, are alchemists who attempted to bring their mother back from the dead using alchemy, which is seen as the ultimate misuse of the science of alchemy. In the process, Edward lost an arm and a leg and Alphonse lost his entire body, so Edward had to bind his soul into a body of living iron. They now both work for the government as state alchemists. There are other alchemists who would rather use their abilities for evil, however. Ultimately, all alchemists are in pursuit of the most epic of treasures, the Philosopher’s Stone, which would give eternal life.

Overall, I had a super fun time reading this first group of stories. The artwork is wonderful and it was such an easy story to fall into. It was action-packed, full of some deeper themes around religion, life and death, which definitely made it a more surprisingly impactful read. It feels weird to break each volume down in order to do mini-reviews, as it really does all make up one bigger story. I will say, each volume definitely felt an episode of a TV show which made them super fun to read. I am going to attempt to break down each volume and give you some of my highlights from those volumes.

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Oh How Strange Indeed…

Strange the Dreamer (#1) by Laini Taylorfive-star-rating-black-clip-art-hi

OH. MY. GOODNESS!!!! YES! YES! ALL THE YES!! That is what this book was to me! Like, strange the dreamerall the heart eyes emojis and all the stars!!!! I have never read a Laini Taylor book, but my oh my…if this is how all of her books are, I definitely need to give her other books a go, as well!

First of all, just look at that cover!! It’s beautiful!!! 😀 Just so beautiful! And we all know how much of a sucker I am for beautiful covers! 😉

Secondly, I am going to give the quickest of synopses because a) I don’t want to give anything away and b) this book is actually quite difficult to summarize concisely. In this book, we follow Lazlo Strange, who is a librarian obsessed with the Unseen City called Weep. The City is called Weep because the original name has been forgotten by everyone, including the people who live in Weep. That is all I am going to do in terms of a synopsis.

This book was beautifully written, truly magical and so captivating. This is categorized as a YA fantasy, however…I really do think that this can appeal to anyone, despite their age. This book is written like any other adult high fantasy novel with the complex world building, that is steeped in politics magic. So, if any of this appeals to you…I highly recommend this to you! Now, onto major spoilers!! 🙂 Another apology, this one is going to be a long one – I warned you 🙂

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Series Review: Shades of Magic Trilogy

I honestly don’t know why it took me so long to review these books! I finally got around to finishing the third one this summer, so it only seemed right to lump them all into one super-review! And be sure to check out Christina’s review of the first, where she also offers a good summary! Needless to say, the later ones may contain some spoilers 🙂

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab four-star-rating-black-hi

a darker shade of magicThis was my first foray into Victoria Schwab’s writing, and it definitely won’t be the last! From the get go, I was impressed by her storytelling capabilities. She expertly crafted three dimensional characters in a well-built universe. I loved the idea of four different Londons! Especially White London, which feels particularly bleak. (Didn’t Gaiman have a similar idea in Neverwhere? Clearly it’s working.) It was refreshing to dive into something that felt so new.

The best part has to be the characters. Kell and Lila felt new and exciting, both in their behavior and physical descriptions. This isn’t your cookie cutter dynamic duo, particularly since they aren’t swooning over each other every chance they get. The sadistic Dane twins worked incredibly well as the antagonists. Seriously fantastic villains. And for favorite character it may be a tie between Holland and Kell. Both Antari felt like they carried much beneath the surface. Even so, it felt at times that there was too much held below, and it was hard to connect to the characters at points. It also hit some slow points, but they end of the book definitely picked up the pace.

A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab
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If the first book was on the higher end of four stars, I would place this one slightly on the lower end. This is mainly because it felt like I’ve read this story before, even if they did do a good job of it. Arenas? Tournaments? Isn’t this in like every dystopian novel? This book also seemed to miss that villain piece that the first book nailed.

Even so, it was still a fun read, and the character development continued on. Some complain about Kell, that he’s too moody or sullen or serious, but I kinda like that about him. He and Lila balance each other out. I’m not particularly sold on them as a couple, kinda like the idea of keeping it a friendship, but I don’t hate the pairing either. Lila did grate on me at times, though.

A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab
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29939230I honestly think I would be giving this book a higher rating if I didn’t switch to audiobook while doing my road trip. Seriously, the narration was so. bad. All of a sudden the characters felt annoying (or way more so than before) and I didn’t think the voices fit at all. So, big mistake on my part there.

That being said, I did think it was a good wrap up to the trilogy. Osaron was a formidable opponent, and I think he presented enough of a threat and challenge and leading to enough loss so that readers aren’t left thinking everyone’s safe. I also really enjoyed Holland’s role in this book, especially having the opportunity to learn more about his background. Thankfully, the romance between Kell and Lila played a lot better as well. Overall a satisfying ending to a refreshing trilogy!

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In Defense of the Foolish(Romantic)

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauerfive-star-rating-black-clip-art-hi

My high school students don’t typically read even when they’re required to, so when one makes a point to recommend a book she’s read multiple times, I stand up and take notice. She brought it up to me so often that I became moved by her love for Into the Wild. I decided to pick it up this summer when I took my solo trip to the Pacific Northwest–a perfect opportunity for this tale of travel and survival.

“As for me, I’ve decided that I’m going to live this life for some time to come. The freedom and simple beauty of it is just too good to pass up.”

I could not have read it at a better time. I was in the right mindset to completely understand and empathize with the characters in this book–not just Chris McCandless, but also Krakauer and the numerous other examples of adventurous travelers he gives. Because this seems to be the key to falling in love with what appears to be a very polarizing book: understanding the mind of the Romantic.

“At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt previously cut off from the raw throb of existence.”

Chris was a Romantic, simply put. People quickly paint him into many other things he’s not. He’s not much of an Idealist: he prepares too much for that, though his practicality will fall short. He’s also not a Hero. He made mistakes, we can all agree on that. But he’s not a Villain either, as so many of these mistakes were understandable, especially when we stop trying to be curmudgeonly, self-righteous adults and remember the romanticism of our youth. This leads me to a quick aside, because I have some beef with the people who don’t like this book.

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