What Annie Read // Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

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Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
Published September 20th, 2016
Jimmy Patterson

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

The story’s shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling, #1 New York Times bestselling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.

I rated Stalking Jack the Ripper 3/5 stars on Goodreads.

This review, like all my reviews, is spoiler-free.

I was largely underwhelmed by Stalking Jack the Ripper.  With all the rave reviews on Goodreads, I expected this book to be an impeccable historical fiction with a dark, gothic twist.  I couldn’t wait to dig into protagonist Audrey Rose’s story and read about a badass young woman performing postmortems and catching murderers in between luncheon and high tea.  I expected sheer awesome, but what I got was nothing more than average.

Audrey Rose was consistently inconsistent.  At the beginning of the book, she raved about her surgical pursuits and the awful way proper society has handcuffed her as a woman.  She wanted nothing but freedom to practice medicine with her uncle, but enter her cousin Liza and Audrey Rose is privy to experiment with makeup and appreciate the finer things in life she formerly detested.  It’s one thing to understand beauty and it’s another thing to hate femininity one day and love it the next.  If her perspective on life had been somewhat constant, I might have related to her better.

Maniscalco tries to portray Audrey Rose as a feminist: she’s a woman with modern ideals who takes what she wants and keeps no prisoners.  However, her vague attempts at feminist undertones were ill-placed and didn’t fit well in the culture of 1880’s London.  If Audrey Rose were raised properly, she would still not hold the contemporary view of feminist portrayed in the book.  Dissecting bodies is a believable type of rebellion, but her outbursts regarding the relative weakness of men were unconvincing.

The budding romance between Audrey Rose and the mysterious Thomas Cresswell was just as inconsistent as Audrey Rose herself.  One scene, they were all but professing their love and next, they were exchanging insults and holding grudges and keeping secrets.  Their relationship felt incredibly ingenuine and almost unhealthy.  They couldn’t be honest with each other.  Just because they both have a penchant for gore doesn’t mean they’re meant to be together.  As I read, I found myself wishing another romantic interest would show up just so I didn’t have to read about them anymore.

In the middle of the book, Audrey Rose mentioned her Indian heritage that she inherited from her late mother’s side of the family.  I enjoyed reading about this detail because it made Audrey Rose seem like a more complete character, but there wasn’t much description of Indian culture outside of this one scene.  I wish that this facet of Audrey Rose’s identity had been weaved throughout the story rather than plunked in one scene.

Throughout the book, Maniscalco tries to set the scene of 1880’s London by using flowery diction and complicated syntax, but her efforts had an opposite effect.  Rather than seeming antiquated and charming, Audrey Rose’s voice came across as wordy and confusing.  She repeated the same sentiment multiple ways before moving onto the next thought rather than elaborating on each thought.  For someone as bright as Audrey Rose, I was intrigued by her thought processes and wanted to know more about how she saw the world through her analytical eyes.

One thing I did enjoy about this book was the ending.  I thought I had it figured out, my friends.  Halfway through, I cast my bets on the Ripper’s identity, but I had it all wrong.  Maniscalco’s smoke and mirrors to hide the Ripper’s true identity were impeccably bulletproof; I totally didn’t see that coming.

Overall, Stalking Jack the Ripper was a mildly disappointing read that did not even approach its assumed level of greatness.  While I will give points for the surprising climax, this book left plenty to be desired.

Have you read Stalking Jack the Ripper?  What did you think?

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What Annie Read // The Hawkweed Prophecy Series by Irena Brignull

 

The Hawkweed Prophecy and The Hawkweed Legacy by Irena Brignull
Published June 16th, 2016 and August 15th, 2017
Hachette Books

I received copies of this series in exchange for an honest review.

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Click here to learn more about the author, Irena Brignull!

Goodreads synopsis of The Hawkweed Prophecy:

Poppy Hooper and Ember Hawkweed couldn’t lead more different lives. Poppy is a troubled teen: moving from school to school, causing chaos wherever she goes, never making friends or lasting connections. Ember is a young witch, struggling to find a place within her coven and prove her worth. Both are outsiders: feeling like they don’t belong and seeking escape.

Poppy and Ember soon become friends, and secretly share knowledge of their two worlds. Little do they know that destiny has brought them together: an ancient prophecy, and a life-changing betrayal. Growing closer, they begin to understand why they’ve never belonged and the reason they are now forever connected to each other.

Switched at birth by the scheming witch Raven Hawkweed, Poppy and Ember must come to terms with their true identities and fight for their own place in the world. Enter Leo, a homeless boy with a painful past who – befriending them both – tests their love and loyalty. Can Poppy and Ember’s friendship survive? And can it withstand the dark forces that are gathering?

Goodreads synopsis of The Hawkweed Legacy:

Poppy is discovering a purpose for her powers in Africa, but she is haunted by a vision of her own death. Taken in by a boy and his great-grandmother, a healer, they vow to keep her safe-even if that ultimately means holding her captive. But Poppy never stops longing for Leo and, when she feels his magic begin to spark, she will do anything to be reunited with him.

Desperate to regain Poppy’s trust and bring her home, Charlock embarks on a plan to reunite Leo with his mother. What Charlock doesn’t foresee are the string of consequences that she sets into motion that leave Ember all alone and prey to manipulation, the clan open to attack from other witches, Sorrel vulnerable to Raven’s ghost, Betony determined to protect her son from his father’s fate, and which leave both Leo and Poppy in terrible danger.

I rated both The Hawkweed Prophecy and The Hawkweed Legacy 4/5 stars on Goodreads.

This review, like all of my reviews, is spoiler-free.

The Hawkweed Prophecy and The Hawkweed Legacy tell the story of Poppy Hooper and Ember Hawkweed, two girls switched at birth by Poppy’s evil aunt because of her jealousy.  Why switch an innocent human girl and her unassuming niece at birth?  Well, Poppy is destined to become queen of the witches and Raven would much rather see her daughter, Sorrel, on the throne.  (Side note: these details are not spoilers.  They’re given in the description of the book.)

Poppy and Ember are drawn together by forces larger than themselves, causing their peaceful lives to collide and shatter.  They begin to wonder why they both feel out of place and alone in their respective worlds.  Poppy, prone to accidents that can’t be explained, and Ember, the witch with no abilities, inadvertently expose a conspiracy to keep Poppy from claiming her crown.  And then things get messy.

On top of trying to determine which life she wants to have, Poppy falls in love with a human boy named Leo.  As if her life weren’t complicated enough, Poppy learns that she and Leo cannot be together because witches are forbidden from having relationships.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a character who walked away from true love because it was “forbidden.”  You can guess what Poppy does next.

This modern fantasy duo was a lovely combination of the witchy magic we know and love with a handful of grit and a sprinkle of fate.  The earthy, gritty magic practiced by the witches in this series was unlike any I’d ever read before.  The witches confine themselves to their camp, living off of what nature provides and avoiding contact with any human life, especially men.  These women share a sisterly bond that’s tough to break and made me feel like a sister as well.

I wholeheartedly enjoyed the entire cast of characters not because they were perfect, but because none of them were truly likable.  They were all flawed beyond repair, but it made them unique and realistic.  Reading characters with whom I could identify so easily enhanced my reading experience and made me want to wrap up everyone in one giant hug.

Brignull switches perspectives often in these books, recounting both past and present while changing the central character in each chapter.  In The Hawkweed Prophecy, the chapters were not labeled, which wasn’t a terrible setback but did leave some detective work to the reader.  However, the chapter labels in The Hawkweed Legacy made reading a much easier experience and allowed Brignull to easily describe both past and present events.

The frequent change in perspective did leave some to be desired.  After investing so much time reading these books, I felt as if I were only reading half of each story rather than a cohesive work.

Brignull ameliorated this by making the writing style rather synonymous so we switched plot lines with each change in chapter, but not style.  Artistically, this definitely felt like the right choice for telling a story with so many facets.  This also created an abundance of dramatic irony, which had me gripped with anticipation as I approached the climax.  I knew what was coming, but I didn’t know when.

The development of Poppy and Leo’s romance was undoubtedly swoon-worthy.  Their personalities complemented each other beautifully because they brought out the best and the worst in each other.  Poppy and Leo exposed each other’s flaws, making them see even more human than before.  The speed at which they fell in love felt somewhat unrealistic for two teenagers, but the magic involved justified it.  If it’s true love, why not fall in love fast?

Similar to Poppy and Leo’s romance, the pacing of the book was definitely speedy.  This pace was entirely necessary because of the width of perspectives that Brignull had to cover.  We learned important snippets of information about each character and then learned another important snippet about another character.  This format made for an interesting complexity about the story and gave me as the reader a plethora of opportunities to fill in the blanks and personalize the reading experience.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Hawkweed Prophecy and The Hawkweed Legacy.  This duo was packed with interesting, complex characters and a story just as dynamic.  If you love a modern fantasy with an adorable romance and fantastically earthy magic, these are the books for you.

Have you read The Hawkweed Prophecy series?

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What Annie Read // When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Published May 30th, 2017
Simon Pulse

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

I rated When Dimple Met Rishi 4/5 stars.

This review, like all of my reviews, is spoiler-free.

When Dimple Met Rishi is about, well, Dimple and Rishi: two Indian teenagers growing up in America with vastly different perspectives on life.  Dimple is a strong feminist with a penchant for coding, annoying her traditional Indian mother, and paving her own path.  Rishi, on the other hand, takes great pride in his heritage and wants to please his family by being the perfect Indian son, which includes a quasi-arranged marriage to the fierce and fiery Dimple Shah.  Their parents arrange for them to meet at Insomnia Con, a summer camp for teenage coders, at which Rishi plans to woo his future wife.  The only problem?  Dimple had no idea that she and Rishi were betrothed.

This book absolutely oozes sticky, gooey, adorable teenage romance, but it doesn’t necessarily start out that way.  The balance of sass and sweetness is impeccable and so tastefully done.  Our two main characters, Dimple and Rishi, are such perfect compliments to each other whether they’re at each others’ throats or gazing into each others’ eyes.  They’re charming and quirky and really, really, really perfect.  Also, Rishi Patel may have shattered my boyfriend expectations, but that’s whatever.

I absolutely adored the juxtaposition of the geeky coder vibes and the traditional Indian influences.  These two aesthetics meshed so well together that they were practically seamless.  Menon dropped so many phrases in Hindu that I started to recognize what they meant regardless of their context, but there was enough context to not feel overwhelming.  I do wish that Menon had written a little more about the coding aspect, but the book was packed so full with romance, there was hardly any wiggle room.

Toward the end of the book, Menon added in a subplot involving Rishi’s younger brother, Ashish, that felt largely insignificant in terms of the entire plot.  Ashish was an entertaining character and I enjoyed reading about how his typical-jock personality contrasted so drastically with Rishi’s.  However, he didn’t serve much of a purpose other than to restate how different Rishi was from the average American teenage boy.

I think this book can be summed up by the image on the back: Dimple, wearing an orange kurta and big “geek” glasses, throws iced coffee on Rishi with a grimace on her face.  Dimple’s fire and sense of individuality, set in contrast with Rishi’s sense of tradition and propriety, makes for a delectable tale that’s sweet enough to give you cavities.

Have you read When Dimple Met Rishi?  What did you think?

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What Annie Read: A Study in Charlotte Book Review

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A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
Published March 1st, 2016
Katherine Tegen Books

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

I rated A Study in Charlotte 5/5 stars.

This review, like all of my reviews, is spoiler-free.

Oh boy.  Where do I start with this book?  I’ll start with this: it’s amazing.

Jamie Watson and Charlottes Holmes are the descendants of the original detective duo and have the same wit and deductive capabilities as their ancestors.  Jamie, a boy on scholarship for his half-hearted rugby skills at Sherringford Prep, encounters the ever-so-enchanting Charlotte, whose penchant for the morbid and creepy is almost as striking as her raven black hair.  The stars seemed to align when Jamie and Charlotte met, but not for the better: within days, a Sherringford student turns up dead in his room.  And our leading guy and gal are on a suspect list that’s two names long.

I mentioned this book in Annie Gives Book Recommendations Based on Hogwarts House for it’s wit (I also mentioned how gorgeous the cover is in my post on my favorite book covers), which is this book’s most notable feature.  Jamie’s charming, dry look at life was captivating.  He’s thrust into a place that feels entirely foreign, but he approaches it with an uncharacteristic willingness.  He’s such a sport about dealing with the familial tensions created by moving to Sherringford as well as the whole Charlotte Holmes situation–she’s not exactly a walk in the park.  Overall, Jamie was a likable character, an easily supported protagonist, and what felt like a reliable narrator.  He looked at life with a certain clarity that comes with being mature beyond your years.

Charlotte had a similar maturity, but she was chaotic where Jamie was methodical.  I think Charlotte is best represented by the way Jamie describes the jar of teeth found in her lab: odd, extremely concerning, probably hazardous, but mesmerizing all the same.  Charlotte was a hurricane of sharp cracks of wit and superhuman deductive power.  She was a force of nature, but her destructive tendencies applied to herself as well.  She was just as flawed as the rest of us, even though she could deduce blood type without sticking a vein.

One of my favorite aspects about the book was that it was laden with just enough clues to make you, the reader, feel like a detective yourself.  Charlotte’s philosophy throughout the entire book was to not theorize before you’ve collected all the facts.  This methodical acquisition of facts, which we learned about as Jamie and Charlotte discovered them, gave me the chance to start putting theories together myself: maybe it was Mustard in the hall with the knife… or Violet with the dumbbell in the theater… or Green with the pistol in the observatory.  With the way Cavallaro wrote about their investigation, I felt like I was playing a game of Clue, using strategy to deduce whodunnit.

The setting was equally as fabulous.  I went to a private high school (and am going to a private college, which I’m moving into today!) so the formal yet quirky atmosphere that accompanies academia has a special place in my heart.  Sherringford Prep, where our two protagonists attend class (well, they ended up skipping a lot), was a prestigious institution in the rolling hills of Connecticut known for educating the sons and daughters of the high and mighty, but I found that the school itself was a bit like Charlotte.  The exterior was pristine, the facade was glimmering and well-built, but the school ran rampant with corruption and nasty habits.  There were drugs and violence and underground gambling, all showing that exteriors and interiors rarely match.

My one complaint is… well, I don’t really have a complaint.  I thought long and hard about something that I’d perhaps want to change, but I truthfully cannot conjure up an idea in the slightest.  Overall, this book was as pristine as Sherringford’s campus appeared to be.  The characters were dynamic and interesting, the dialogue was fresh and packed with cracking wit charm, and the book as a whole was like reading one of the  classic Sherlock novels with which we all fell in love.

Have you read A Study in Charlotte?  What did you think?

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What Annie Read: My British Bear Book Review

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My British Bear by Dawn Dagger
Expected Publication: September 1st, 2017
Self-published

I received a free copy of My British Bear from the author in exchange for an honest review.  This review is part of a blog tour for My British Bear.

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Goodreads Synopsis:

After two months of hell living with her uncle, Maria is ready to give up. She’s already lost everything, and has no one to hold on to. Stuck in a small town where she knows not a single person, and physically abused by her uncle, she sees no hope. The only respite she gets from the hits on all sides is the small coffee shop down the road.

After an unlikely accident resulting in meeting a backwards British kid who is too polite and awkward for his own good, Maria starts to see a light in the darkness, but she’s also afraid of it.

She has her heart broken before, a hundred times in a hundred ways, and she doesn’t know if she’s ready to love, ready to let go, or even ready to face the reality of things. She doesn’t know if she’s ready to open up again and be happy.
She doesn’t know if she’s ready to live. 

I gave My British Bear 2/5 stars.

This review, like all of my reviews, is spoiler-free.

My British Bear tells the story of a young girl Maria, who has a chance encounter with British-born Brooks and is enchanted by his dashing looks and charming sense of humor.  In addition to struggling to comprehend her emotions, Maria lives in an abusive household and is caught between what her heart and her head are telling her to do.

This book had a lot of promise for me: a struggling character facing insurmountable challenges, a cute romance, a quirky cast of characters.  I wanted to love this book, but it didn’t live up to my initial perceptions.  Let’s talk about why.

I didn’t connect to Maria, the protagonist, probably because I didn’t enjoy her narrative voice.  For someone assumedly in high school, she had an immature tone that lead me to believe she was younger than intended.  I especially had a problem with a girl who spoke like a middle schooler contemplating love like she’d known her quasi-boyfriend for half her life.  Immature narrators and themes involving serious love are fine on their own, but I found they didn’t mix well.

Beside Maria and Brooks, the rest of the characters seemed flat.  Brooks and Maria’s gaggle of school chums were a fabulous device for comparing Maria to the picture-perfect image of a normal high schooler and were an even better device for representing her reintegration into normal high school activities, but they weren’t good for much else.  All of their friends seemed like cookie-cutter versions of the same character, but with different names and descriptions.  After a while, they all blended together and became indiscernible.

One of the major plot threads in this book is the abusive relationship between Maria and her uncle.  This subplot was supposed to tug at my heartstrings and make me feel for Maria, but I harbored a startling lack of sympathy for her.  Abuse is a heavy topic with multiple facets to explore and consider, but I felt that this book didn’t hit it out of the park.  I understand that every case of abuse is different, but this book seemed to show a sensationalized version, something that highlighted the causes but didn’t show the effects.  I wanted Maria to be vulnerable and open and honest and she was anything but.

The relationship between Maria and Brooks was frustrating on multiple levels.  First, I found that immense emphasis was placed on the fact that Brooks was British.  All we needed was one paragraph at the beginning or a few lines of colloquial dialogue to understand his heritage, not the constant barrage of reminders that he hailed from Great Britain.  In addition, a majority of their interactions felt forced.  Often, I felt that they were reading monotonously from a script rather than exchanging witty banter.

Like Maria’s narrative voice was uncharacteristically immature, Brooks had a similar childlike nature.  I found it hard to believe that he, who was supposed to be a hunk, slept with a bunch of stuffed animals on his bed.  There’s nothing wrong with stuffed animals–I still have the stuffed animal I slept with as a child–but it clashed with his existing character development so much that I found it unbelievable.  The teddy bears were an allusion to Brooks himself, which makes sense in theory, but didn’t exactly translate in the narrative.

Overall, this book was not for me.  I didn’t relate to the characters, found the narrative voice immature, and expected much more from this book than I got.

Have you read My British Bear?  What did you think of the book?

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What Annie Read: Captain Guinevere Book Review

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Captain Guinevere by Clara Bennet
Published November 21st, 2016

I received a copy of Captain Guinevere from the author, Clara Bennet, in exchange for an honest review.  You can check out Clara’s blog here.

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Run! She has to run. Gwendolyn Patience has no intention of marrying a man she doesn’t love, but when her parents betroth her to the prince of Voyagea to unite their countries, her only option is to run. With the help of some new friends along the way, she commandeers a ship to sail away from her troubles, but instead she encounters the evil Ravenoth who has other plans for her. While trying to defeat the evil faerie, she finds the secret lies within herself. What she doesn’t expect is to fall in love with the very man she detests.

I rated Captain Guinevere 2/5 stars.

This review, like all of my reviews, is spoiler-free.

Before I begin this review, I’d like to give a little disclaimer.  Yes, I did give this book 2/5 stars, which is a low rating for me to give.  I’m just going to say it: I’m not a fan of medieval fantasy.  While there were a few issues (which I’ll discuss later) that had to do with the fundamentals of the writing, my distaste for this book stems largely from my distaste for the subject matter itself.  Medieval fantasy simply isn’t for me… and that’s okay.  If you prefer something a little more fantastic, this may be the book for you.  If you’re like me and want to keep it somewhat realistic, let’s chat about what I liked and didn’t like about Captain Guinevere.

When I received a copy of Captain Guinevere, I decided to go into it with an open mind.  With that said, I wanted to give this book a real chance before counting it out simply because of its genre.  I assessed the story for what it was and not what my preconceived notions might tempt me to believe.  Captain Guinevere is a unique story about a complex protagonist, packed with adventure, with a little bit of romance as the cherry on top.  Is there anything more we can ask from a book?

However, this novel had a lot of hasty beginnings and untidy endings.  For example, in the first few pages, protagonist Gwendolyn finds a magical book and learns about the girl trapped between the pages.  Gwen finds a way to release the girl by enlisting the help of a local witch, but I expected this storyline to go somewhere.  The book served solely as a delivery truck for a supporting character and I felt like I’d been cheated out of what could have been an interesting storyline filled with well-placed world development.

There was world development, but there seemed to be just a touch too much.  As someone who loves well-crafted settings, I’m shocked to even be writing this, but the world was overexposed.  There was an undeniable medieval vibe, but we were also on a different planet… where everyone spoke languages from Earth.  There was talk of people going to other planets in the book, but how did people from this antiquated culture travel from one celestial body to the next?  The setting was anything but cohesive and left me with more questions than answers.

My other bone to pick regarding the novel’s exposition comes with Gwen’s decision to forego marrying Prince Ignatius, who she claimed to be too possessive.  Choosing not to marry someone because of their tendency to be clingy is all fine and dandy, but we never got any evidence to back this claim up.  If Ignatius was possessive, how?  Why?  This was prime character development material but instead of building a realistic, flawed human being, we were left with a faceless cutout labeled “Possessive Male Protagonist.”

One thing I did enjoy about the beginning was a singular page (or two–I can’t quite remember) when Bennet portrayed Gwen’s thought process when deciding to run away from her betrothed.  Rather than typing out a string of “Gwen thought this, Gwen thought that,” Bennet italicized the whole page and simply followed Gwen’s train of thought.  This artistic choice was spot-on for conveying the decisions Gwen had to make without describing them in a monotonous way.

As a character, I liked Gwen.  She was headstrong and determined and passionate, but I felt that she changed personas far too often.  With her family, she was a brooding teenager.  When out shopping on her own, she acted like a curious child.  When aboard the ship she and her crew commandeered, she had the ferocity of a swashbuckling pirate.  I could hardly pin down who she was at her core.  The character development pieces were all there, but they pointed in different directions.

I did enjoy Gwen’s character when she was with her love interest, Shiloh.  He seemed to bring out the best in her, the softness she’d gained from years as a princess.  In the end, I loved where the romance ended up.  “Where does the romance end up?” you might be asking yourself.  Well, you’ll just have to read the book and find out.

Overall, this debut novel was somewhere in between a miss and a hit; I neither loved nor hated this novel.  As I said before, you may fall head-over-heels in love with this book if you’re a fantasy fan.  For me, it just wasn’t in the cards.

Have you read Captain Guinevere?  What did you think of the book?

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What Annie Read: All Fall Down Book Review

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All Fall Down by Ally Carter
Published July 20th, 2015
Scholastic Press

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Goodreads Synopsis: 

A new series of global proportions — from master of intrigue, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Ally Carter.

Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:

1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her — so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.

Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace — no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

This review, like all my reviews, is spoiler-free.

When I received this book in the mail and so how tiny it was, I made a bet with my mom on whether or not I could finish it in one day.  Let’s just say she’s out a few dollars.

As aforementioned, the size was what struck me first and maybe this was for the worse.  I set my mind to devouring this book in a matter of hours (three hours to be exact), so I think I missed some of the witty charm that makes an Ally Carter book something special.

With that said, the book left something to be desired in all accounts.  It wasn’t poorly executed or poorly planned, but the quality of the book was about eighty-five percent of what I expected.  I imagined hard-hitting political drama (or as hard-hitting as young adult political drama can be) and characters with snark and sass and years of global education under their belts.  This book may not have exceeded my expectations, but it did get pretty close.

The characters felt a bit recycled from what Carter has written in the past.  I’ve read both her Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series multiple times (they’re my go-to’s when I’m in a slump) and I found tenants of her past characters in almost every major All Fall Down character.  I saw Gabrielle in protagonist Grace, Cammie Morgan in Meghan, Josh in Noah, Zach Goode in Alexei, Liz in Rosie, and many more cross-character similarities that made for a pretty confusing reading experience.

Grace was a well-developed character… with a few flaws.  Her reputation as the crazy daughter of Caroline Blakely, daughter of the American ambassador to the fictional Adria, was supposed to proceed her, but it didn’t.  For the girl who was supposed to be alone and lonely, she had a surprising amount of trusting friends.  It seemed too good to be true, as I’m sure it is.  I’m totally expecting her life to hit the fan in the second book.  Nothing is that perfect, even in book world.

My final bone to pick with this book is about the pacing, and I promise I’ll be brief: I felt that every plot point ended two pages too short.  I was left wanting more, but not in the edge-of-my-seat way.  Rather, I wanted more because the chapter felt unfinished.

Okay, let’s talk about what I liked after all that negativity.  The book was, overall, enjoyable and terribly entertaining.  Reading this was like walking down my proverbial middle school memory lane when I couldn’t be caught dead without an Ally Carter book in my hand.  (Who am I kidding–I still couldn’t be caught dead without an Ally Carter book in my hand).  Everything I love about her books was present.  The dialogue was sharp and witty, the characters had some spunk to them that was reminiscent of real life, and the plot was unique and intriguing.  Like with all her books before, Carter made me want to throw away my life and become the granddaughter of an international ambassador in some beautiful made-up European country.  Is that too much for a girl to ask?

Have you read All Fall Down?  What did you think of this book?

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What Annie Read: Eleanor and Park Book Review

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Goodreads Synopsis:


Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.

Park… He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

I rated Eleanor and Park 5/5 stars.

For a reason that I cannot quite explain, I was skeptical about this book.  I had absolutely no reason to be, but I was nonetheless.  Maybe the hype was a little too much for me and my cynical side made me think that the book wasn't worth the hype.  I really don't know.

Regardless, this book blew my expectations out of the water.  For this first time in a long time, I was uncomfortable.  Every word, every sentence was pure poetry so it wasn't an unpleasant reading experience, but this book pushed my boundaries and forced me to fall in love with an awkward teenage romance that was doomed from the start.  I had to imagine the main characters for who they were: an awkward, self-proclaimed "fat girl" with red hair and a random sense of style, and a skinny, short Asian-American boy who likes to wear eyeliner.  I had to embrace them for their quirks in the same way that they embraced each other and not dreamcast them to be "prettier" than they were.

The strengths in this book lie in the characters themselves.  Eleanor and Park, our leading gal and guy, were phenomenal.  (When I was writing this, I actually had to pause and think about a word I could use that would capture the explosiveness of their character development.  That's how phenomenal they were.)   They were so well-defined while also so ambiguous that they might honestly be some of my favorite characters.  Ever.  Do you know how many books I've read?  Saying that they're some of my favorites really means something.

What I also loved about Eleanor & Park was the reality in their intertwined stories.  There was no sugar-coating here: the story was raw and real and painful and beautiful and a million different adjectives at a million different times.  When Rowell wanted us to root for them, she crafted the story so we would root for them.  When Rowell wanted us to scream with frustration, she crafted the story so we would scream with frustration.  Every word was purposeful and carried a palpable intention.

As aforementioned, the plot made me uncomfortable in the best way possible.  I love me a contemporary novel, but I prefer to stick to books that I know will have a happy ending, or at least a comfortable resolution.  I had no such luck with this book and that was okay with me.  I felt that the plot had an ease about it that just made sense.  With this natural flow, we sometimes entered treacherous waters filled with bitter realities, but I didn't mind.  The plot was a reflection of, get this, life.  In this reflection, I found so much beauty and fulfillment that I wouldn't have experienced had the plot been filled with fluff.

Overall, this book was a knockout.  If you have a pulse and want to read a fabulous book, this one is for you.  Eleanor & Park is a book of the highest caliber and I'm sure I'll be ranting about its fabulousness for a long, long time.

Have you read Eleanor & Park?  What did you think of it?

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What Annie Read: Me Before You Book Review

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Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Published December 31st 2012
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Louisa Clark is an ordinary young woman living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair-bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A love story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

My Review:

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is part of the pop culture vernacular: everyone knows the blockbuster movie that brought entire theaters to tears.  This book and its movie are probably best known for the ending that feels like a knife in the gut, but there is so much in between the bouts of heartwrenching sadness.

In this book, quirky, awkwardly confident Louisa Clark is fired from her job and takes a post caring for Will Traynor, a wildly successful businessman and daredevil turned quadriplegic.  Will is set on ending his life via assisted suicide and Louisa, the ever-cheerful and annoyingly optimistic, is his parents’ last attempt at changing his mind.

For such a heavy premise, the book was surprisingly light and airy.  From the first page, the banter and wit of Moyes’s cast of characters was enough to plaster a stupid smile to my face.  The relationships are rich and realistic and mirror life in a family just trying to scrape together enough pennies to pay rent and fill the fridge.

In the same frame of mind, the dynamic between Will and Louisa was entirely believable.  In books I’ve read where Little Miss Sunshine is sent to brighten up the grumbly grump’s life, I thought that the change in the grumbly grump’s personality was quite unrealistic.  I mean, really, can one person change that much?  Me Before You answers the question with confidence: yes, they can, and Louisa Clark can make it happen.  Will’s development as a character was perfectly timed and so well done.

What I loved most about this book was Louisa’s narrative voice.  She’s twenty-six (I think), unemployed at the beginning of the book, and sees no respite in sight because she didn’t go to college and is unqualified for several of the well-paying positions.  Despite her lack of higher education, Louisa is so smart.  She looks at life with an intelligence that is engrained, not adopted.  She may not have a college degree on her resume, but her wit and sense of benevolence place her way above the curve.

Overall, this book was a long, resounding yes.  Moyes handled the sad parts with grace and the happy parts with joy and everything was just yes.  I would recommend this book to anyone.  If you are reading this post, then you should read this book.  It was that stellar.

Have you read Me Before You?  How do my thoughts compare to yours?

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What Annie Read: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Book Review

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Published April 15th 2014
Simon & Schuster

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Goodreads Synopsis:

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?
Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved–five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

My Review:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han is the story of Lara Jean, the middle sister of the Covey family.  Lara Jean has written a letter to every boy she’s ever loved (five in total) and stores them in a hatbox, which was given to her by her late mother.  One day, for reasons unknown, the letters are sent, sending Lara Jean into a tailspin.  However, Lara Jean maximizes on this unlikely opportunity: she makes a pact with Peter Kavinsky, one of the boys who received a letter, to fake-date in order to Peter’s ex Genevieve and Lara Jean’s crush Josh madly jealous.

When I picked up the book, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was going to be about.  Everything I’d read about it seemed cloudy: the blurb, the synopsis, the reviews.  They didn’t seem to give any indication about the book’s subject matter other than Lara Jean and her tendency to write letters.  Going into this book with no premonition was annoying and, at the same time, refreshing.  I got to see this book for what it was.

With that said, I felt that the beginning was rather slow.  Maybe my fresh perspective compounded this phenomenon in that I kept waiting for something major to happen before realizing that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before wasn’t terribly structured in the first place.  It took me a while to get interested because the plot seemed to wander without purpose, waiting to stumble upon something that would stick.  Something stuck eventually, but it took about forty pages too long.

The rest of the book was fairly well-paced, but retained some of that aimless feeling.  We ended up where we needed to be, but the way we got there was willy-nilly and the proverbial scaffolding, the reasons why we took this path, were flimsy at best.  It didn’t seem logical that quirky-cute Lara Jean would throw herself into the arms of the school’s grade-A jerk only to make Josh, who had also dated Lara Jean’s older sister Margot, jealous.

However, I did enjoy reading about the characters.  There was ample variation between the characters and they each had their defining idiosyncrasies, making them feel like real people instead of cardboard cutouts or paper dolls.  I liked Lara Jean’s narrative voice in particular, especially when she described life with two sisters.  I have a sister myself and I can personally attest that life with a sister is as random and weird and wonderful as it sounds.

The dialogue was somewhere in between stellar and awful; it covered the whole spectrum.  Some conversations were charming and reflective of how high schoolers communicate, but others were forced and unrealistic.  Some dialogue made me want to cringe while some dialogue was the highlight of its respective scene.

Overall, I enjoyed this book for its unique plot, dynamic characters and relatively accurate portrayal of life as a high school girl who accidentally confessed her love to a bunch of teenage boys.  Despite its few shortcomings, I would recommend this book as an easy, heartwarming read to anyone who loves contemporary, romance, young adult, or any combination of the three.

Have you read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before?  What did you think of it?

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