Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter Release date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Pages: 336
Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Historical
Source: Netgalley
Links: Author's Website/Goodreads

Overall: 3 out of 5 stars
When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto?
TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master's injured gladiators. But his warrior's heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.
LUCIA is the daughter of Tag's owner, doomed by her father's greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she's been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air. . . .
When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them -- to Lucia's father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?


Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres and I like to read about a wide variety of time periods. When I first heard about Vicky Alvear Shecter's novel of Pompeii I was so excited- this was one part of our history that I hadn't read about recently and I was intrigued to see how she would depict this horrible disaster. While this was a well-written novel with strong characters, I didn't find this book as engaging or informative as I had hoped.

Lucia is the daughter of the master of the gladiators in Pompeii and Tag is a medical slave. Curses and Smoke is told through alternating points of view between the two of them. Lucia lived a luxurious life, but was very much under her father's control. Even though she did have an adventurous side and seemed to really care for Tag, it often appeared that Lucia just wanted to be with Tag because he was something different and allowed her to do something against her father's wishes. Tag was a much more likable character, in my opinion. He cared deeply for his own father and was dedicated to his medical duties; yet Tag still had aspirations to become a gladiator and earn his freedom.

The plot was very slow-paced at first, but the last few chapters definitely had me on the edge of my seat. It was strange knowing what everything was leading up to. It's hard to describe my feelings about this book because it is based on a real natural disaster, but it was especially awful to see what happened to Pompeii after experiencing the city through the eyes of Tag and Lucia.

I have to say the ending was a huge what. So much happened at once that I just had to sit there after I finished and try to process it all.

I would recommend Curses and Smoke to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a romantic twist. As a whole I liked this new book by Vicky Alvear Shecter, but I had a few issues that left me conflicted. I am looking forward to seeing what time period she covers next, though!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mini-Reviews: School Spirits and Shades of Earth

I have gotten behind in reviews the past year since beginning college and I figured doing some mini-reviews would be the perfect way to share some quick thoughts on those titles I never got around to fully reviewing. Enjoy!


School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins
Release date: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Pages: 297
Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Paranormal
Series: Book 1
Source: Publisher
Links: Author's Website/Goodreads 

Overall: 3 out of 5 stars
Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy's mom decides they need to take a break.
Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who's always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.
Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt? 


I am a huge fan of the Hex Hall series, so I was beyond excited when I found out Rachel Hawkins was writing a spin-off about Izzy. While I did enjoy this one, it wasn't as good as I had hoped. Izzy was a fun and likable heroine. Her family history of hunting magical creatures leads to her sister's disappearance and from there Izzy's life changes forever. She starts attending a new high school and quickly learns that there is something dark plaguing the students there. While Izzy expects to figure out the problem and prove herself to her mother, she does not expect to make close friends and meet a cute, but unique, boy. I enjoyed the mystery angle of this story and watching Izzy navigate her new life. She was a character I could root for and I liked how different the secondary characters were- it made them stand out a lot. While I did enjoy School Spirits, some things felt a little rushed to me, particularly the ending. I also found myself not as engaged in the story as I would have hoped. For such a short read this one took me awhile to finish. The characters and plot were fun, but the rushed pace and lack of connection I felt to the story at times left me disappointed. Hopefully news of the sequel will be released soon because I think this series does have the potential to develop into something better.


Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
Release date: January 15, 2013
Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 369
Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 3
Source: Publisher
Links: Author's Website/Goodreads

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Amy and Elder have finally left the oppressive walls of the spaceship Godspeed behind. They're ready to start life afresh--to build a home--on Centauri-Earth, the planet that Amy has traveled 25 trillion miles across the universe to experience.
But this new Earth isn't the paradise Amy had been hoping for. There are giant pterodactyl-like birds, purple flowers with mind-numbing toxins, and mysterious, unexplained ruins that hold more secrets than their stone walls first let on. The biggest secret of all? Godspeed's former passengers aren't alone on this planet. And if they're going to stay, they'll have to fight.
Amy and Elder must race to discover who--or what--else is out there if they are to have any hope of saving their struggling colony and building a future together. They will have to look inward to the very core of what makes them human on this, their most harrowing journey yet. Because if the colony collapses? Then everything they have sacrificed--friends, family, life on Earth--will have been for nothing.


I can easily say that this is one of my all-time favorite series. I devoured Across the Universe, A Million Suns, and Shades of Earth and was left feeling quite sentimental when I turned the last page in this action-packed and romantic trilogy. Just when things seem to be working out for Amy and Elder and the rest of the passengers aboard Godspeed, they land on Centauri-Earth. The joy of reaching their new home is quickly shattered when the planet reveals it's darker side. Nature is attacking them and it seems they are not the only ones calling the planet home. I think this was definitely the most intense read of the series, especially because I was so attached to the characters at this point. Amy and Elder are put to the test over and over again and I was worried they might never find happiness. Beth Revis is an incredible writer and story-teller and I am heartbroken that this series has come to an end. I don't want to give anything away, but if you read and enjoyed the first two books in this series you will love this final addition to what is easily one of my favorite new series. I can only hope Beth's next offering will offer up such brilliant plot twists, lovable and strong characters, and sweet romance as the Across the Universe series did. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Review: Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters

Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Ann Peters
Release date: June 10, 2014
Publisher: Little, Brown BFYR
Pages: 256
Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Netgalley
Links: Author's Website/Goodreads

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
When Alix's charismatic girlfriend, Swanee, dies from sudden cardiac arrest, Alix is overcome with despair. As she searches Swanee's room for mementos of their relationship, she finds Swanee's cell phone, pinging with dozens of texts sent from a mysterious contact, L.T. The most recent text reads: "Please tell me what I did. Please, Swan. Te amo. I love you."
Shocked and betrayed, Alix learns that Swanee has been leading a double life--secretly dating a girl named Liana the entire time she's been with Alix. Alix texts Liana from Swanee's phone, pretending to be Swanee in order to gather information before finally meeting face-to-face to break the news.
Brought together by Swanee's lies, Alix and Liana become closer than they'd thought possible. But Alix is still hiding the truth from Liana. Alix knows what it feels like to be lied to--but will coming clean to Liana mean losing her, too?


This is my second book by Julie Anne Peters and it certainly won't be my last. Lies My Girlfriend Told Me dealt with a lot of heavy subjects, but it never felt like an "issues book" to me, something that I was very happy about. For example, there was no need to make a big deal about the sexuality of the main characters, they were who they were and that was that. Family, death, and love were just a few of the topics explored in this latest offering from Peters and I would recommend it to any fan of contemporary YA with a grittier feel.

Alix's girlfriend, Swanee, dies tragically and it is only after this that Alix discovers the truth about the girl she thought she loved. The biggest plot element was Alix discovering her late girlfriend had been cheating on her with a girl named Liana. I liked Liana's character and she brought out a new side of Alix. Unfortunately Alix is hiding something from Liana and this might tear them apart forever.

Alix was a complex character. She seemed to be struggling to find herself and didn't always know the right thing to do. I liked how big of a role family played in this book. Alix's parents and younger brother were key players in the story and I especially enjoyed watching Alix's relationship with her baby brother develop. Alix also interacts with Swanee's family and it was interesting to see how different Swanee's family life was from Alix's and how that shaped them individually.

While I liked this book overall, I did have a few issues. First off, I sometimes felt frustrated with Alix's character and wanted her to be more independent and confident. I also wish we got to see more of Swanee before she died so I could better understand who she was.

Contemporary YA is one of my favorite genres and Julie Anne Peters has written a unique read that many readers can relate to in some way. She faces the struggles of being a teenager head on and I will definitely be reading more by her in the future. There are not a lot of young adult books out that feature LGBTQ characters and while Lies My Girlfriend Told Me wasn't perfect, I would still recommend it to fans of contemporary reads.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios 
Release date: February 3, 2015
Publisher: Henry Holt BFYR
Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Links: Author's Website/Goodreads 
If seventeen-year-old Skyler Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage-months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.
Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings them together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper. Gritty, romantic, and ultimately hopeful, I'll MEET YOU THERE explores the complicated lives of an unforgettable cast of characters. This is the story of teens outside the picket fence. It doesn’t soften the edges of adolescence or the individual consequences of war; it’s life on the fringes—maddening, weirdly endearing…and completely screwed up.

I have a strange obsession with contemporary YA of late and I'll Meet You There sounds like a heart-breaking blend of young love, broken dreams, and tragedy.

Waiting on Wednesday Is Hosted By: Breaking the Spine

Monday, July 21, 2014

What I've Been Watching

Orange is the New Black 
Netflix / Season 2

I can't believe I waited this long to start watching OITNB! I finished the first season in just over a week and am about half-way through the second one now. Everything about this show is awesome: the characters, the drama, the plot twists. I don't know how I am going to wait for season 3 after I finish the next few episodes. I definitely recommend watching this show ASAP if you have access to a Netflix account.

American Horror Story
FX / Season 3

Well this show is just plain crazy! I watched the first season on Netflix a few weeks ago and am currently working on season 2. I think my favorite thing about this show is how dark and unexpected it is. I have never been a big horror fan, but AHS definitely changed that for me. I also love how each season features a new plot and characters. Hopefully I'll be able to get caught up before the fourth season airs this fall!

Breaking Bad
AMC / Five Seasons

I am definitely late to the game with this show, but I like the fact that I'm never left with a cliff-hanger because all of the seasons are on Netflix! I'm almost done season 3 and can't wait to see what happens next. This show is dark, intense, and incredibly well-acted. I never expected to get as into this show as I am, so if you haven't dived into this show yet I highly recommend it! Breaking Bad is completely unlike any other show out there and it only gets better each season.

What shows have you been watching? 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Love, Lucy by April Lindner

Love, Lucy by April Lindner 
Release date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Poppy
Reading level: Young adult
Genre: Contemporary
Links: Author's Website/Goodreads
While backpacking through Florence, Italy, during the summer before she heads off to college, Lucy Sommersworth finds herself falling in love with the culture, the architecture, the food...and Jesse Palladino, a handsome street musician. After a whirlwind romance, Lucy returns home, determined to move on from her "vacation flirtation." But just because summer is over doesn't mean Lucy and Jesse are over, too.
In this coming-of-age romance, April Lindner perfectly captures the highs and lows of a summer love that might just be meant to last beyond the season.

I adore contemporary romances, but what makes this one even more special is the setting: Florence, Italy.

Waiting on Wednesday Is Hosted By: Breaking the Spine