Saturday, July 11, 2015

Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella

Goodreads Description: Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) has stars in her eyes. She and her daughter, Minnie, have joined husband Luke in LA — city of herbal smoothies, multimillion-dollar yoga retreats, and the lure of celebrity. Luke is there to help manage the career of famous actress Sage Seymour — and Becky is convinced she is destined to be Sage's personal stylist, and go from there to every A-list celebrity in Hollywood! But things become complicated when Becky joins the team of Sag'’s arch-rival. How will charming and supportive Luke deal with this conflict? Is it possible that what Becky wants most will end up hurting those she loves most? Shopaholic fans old and new will devour Sophie Kinsella's newest adventure!

My Review: Becky is back! I was thrilled when I realized at the end of Mini-Shopaholic that there would be another Shopaholic book...and I was not disappointed. Becky Bloomwood has turned into a sort-of friend over the years. You know those characters that become so familiar and lovable to you, it's almost as if you know them? They're comforting. They're safe. Becky is one of those characters for me. I love the Shopaholic series. They're chick-lit with heart and a lovable heroine. 

A lot of people actually didn't seem to like this one for reasons that...well, I DID like. Essentially people complained that this book wasn't even about shopping and that Becky was really selfish and cruel in this book; her antics weren't funny anymore, they were just obnoxious.

Hmmm. I'd disagree. Don't get me wrong, her shopping addiction is what made me love her in the first place—but I'm really glad that this book didn't focus on a shopping problem. I mean, come on, we've had about FOUR books where buying too much stuff is the biggest issue. How much more of that plot can you take before it gets boring? Becky keeps buying and buying, Luke gets exasperated and annoyed, Becky figures out some way to get rid of the stuff and fix the problem. Come on. We've read that story before. If Becky came to Hollywood and focused on SHOPPING, that would have been ridiculous. She's been exposed to expensive clothes before but she's never been surrounded by stars! Of course she'd be dazzled by that life. 

And I understand her fascination with Hollywood. Most people will say that that life is too shallow and fake for them but I will openly state that I've thought it'd be fun to be famous in Hollywood. I'm not silly enough to believe that everyone is a fake jerk (to be fair, Kinsella did write some nice, normal stars into her story) and I think it'd be nice to get attention for what you love! (Also, I love acting.) So when Becky felt frustration that no one seemed to take her fantasies seriously, I understood her. Perhaps she wasn't being sensible but she's not the first person to get starstruck and she really HAS always loved styling people—so who wouldn't want to be a big-name Hollywood stylist, you know?

I'm just saying that I understood some of her motivations.

Anyway, overall, I thought the book was pretty good! Not the best one in the series but I laughed till I was breathless quite a few times (always a good sign) and the plot was interesting. Becky was thoughtless and careless—but no more than she normally is, in my opinion. I wasn't too fussed. She's Becky, she messed up, this is why we love her. And what I love most is that she ALWAYS comes back to reality; she's a good person at heart. No one is perfect. 

I have to admit, the book took a somewhat shocking, dark turn near the end. I wasn't really expecting it to veer off into that territory—it got almost creepy. And then it ended on a cliffhanger! Which is just... AAARGH. I need to know what happens next. So I will most definitely be reading the 8th book when it comes out! 

Also, Luke Brandon deserves an award for being the most patient husband on the planet of Earth. OH, and I'm calling it now: Alicia is still a fake. I'm with Becky on this one. But we'll see in Shopaholic to the Rescue

Cover: So not impressed. I'm actually really annoyed because it doesn't follow the format the other books in the series have (and all from the same publisher). The font is different, there's no artwork, they used Times New Roman for the blurb—it all looks and feels really cheap and hastily-put-together. Come on. They could have tried harder. I'm even more annoyed because the British cover is so much cuter! I want that cover. 

Overall Grade: B+ 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Goodreads Decription: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. 

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

My Review: Ehhh. That's about as much emotion as I can muster. This book (and this entire series) is very well-loved so I'm definitely in the minority here...but I just felt like what I read wasn't that special, nor amazing, nor fresh in any way. 

Don't get me wrong—the potential was all there. I will give credit where credit is due and say that Marissa Meyer wrote a really interesting world. Cyborgs, plagues, enemy colonies on the moon... It felt like a blend of sci-fi, fairy tale, and dystopian to me. However, I think Marissa Meyer kind of wasted the potential her entire world had in an effort to get to what we all know REALLY matters: the romance. *eye roll* 

Again, I'll give credit where credit is due: the romance wasn't rushed nor was it obvious and all in-your-face. However, the whole plot of the story felt muddled, as if the author was flying over any important character development and world building she could have done just so Cinder and Kai could meet...and meet...and meet... 

Perhaps I'm being overly harsh. I did finish the whole book and I didn't feel overly bored at any part. It was reasonable. However, I never really felt a thrill at any point, either. The romance was subtle and downplayed, which normally I like, but for all of the BUILD towards it, it had a very abrupt cliffhanger sort of ending which irked me. A character important to Cinder apparently was killed off early just to give Cinder some emotional pain and it felt so...flat. Fake. It felt literally like the author was moving from plot device to plot device to keep the story going. Important character dies so Cinder can have some emotions. Other character does something horrible so Cinder has an excuse to go to the palace and run into Kai. It's not that these things ruined the story—but I wish there had been MORE to go along with these parts. More emotions, more back story, more world building, more exploration of the city around Cinder, more exploration of society, just...more. 

I couldn't bring myself to get attached to Cinder! She didn't have that emotional pull for me and I don't know why. She seemed to be suffering from Katniss Everdeen Syndrome: things happened TO her in order for her to STATE that she was feeling emotions...but I, as a reader, never really felt her emotions with her. I never really felt like she was real. Her sorrow, her hurt, her happiness—they all felt rather flat. 

Kai's emotions were a little clearer than Cinder's but he wasn't that relatable, either. I have a hard time liking royal characters who seem unprepared to take the throne. It doesn't seem realistic to me. They've been groomed to be the king/queen/emperor/whatever their whole lives, they ought to be a bit more confident. And Kai just seemed totally clueless. Like, I could have been a better emperor than he was planning to be. 

It wasn't an awful book. It had just enough action, subtle romance, exposition, and winks to the fairy tale of Cinderella to keep me reading. I just didn't feel very excited to read the next book in the series after. Maybe it's just me; I personally did not click with the book. It felt like beautiful potential...squandered in a slightly juvenile book. She could have done better, in my opinion, written a more mature book with depth. I expected a lot more, due to the hype. I expected more action, more emotion, more plot twists, a bigger plot, more drama, more history, more social justice commentary on the bigotry and slavery that cyborgs face (which, by the way, the author NEVER REALLY ADDRESSED? She literally threw bigotry and prejudice in as a plot point but never addressed it as a topic of concern or something to fix?)... I mean, with the dystopian world she created plus the Cinderalla aspect, she had SO MUCH to work with—and yet she only used about 20% of that material to create a dull, two-dimensional main character who stated how she felt most of the time and wasn't relatable at all. 

Plus, I figured out the main plot in like the first 50 pages. That's definitely not a good sign. Again, it felt juvenile when I read it, like she had written a book for much younger readers. My 12-year-old sister is reading it and seems to really like it, so... *shrug* 

Cover: It's striking, I'll grant that. It definitely caught my eye in stores and online—and yet I never felt the urge to really pick it up and read the synopsis or read it at all. Perhaps there's some sort of force field around this book keeping me from loving it the way others have? Ha. 

Overall Grade: C+

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Goodreads Description: It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um... 

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait...what?

My Review: This book is the kind of book that makes me want to gush. It's the kind of book that just makes me smile. It's the kind of book that leaves you feeling hopeful and happy. 

In a well-ordered universe, more people would write books about friendship like this book. 

This book has received a TON of hype over the past few months; you saw it featured in book haul after book haul, photographed on book blog after book blog. Due to the hype, I kept my expectations low. Counterintuitive, I know, but I hate it when I'm disappointed in a book that everyone else seems to love. It's the worst. Also, it's a YA book and the premise seemed fairly average—it's nothing we've never seen before—so I made sure not to get too excited about this book...specially because it's about friendship. 

This has actually been one of my pet peeves with YA fiction. The importance of true friendship is never emphasized. Realistic friendships are rarely written. Friends are passed over for the love interest. The characters always SAY they have a best friend but the friendships always feel kind of two-dimensional and flat. I rarely feel as if the main character truly LOVES their best friend. Either that or best friendships are dramatized in a really fake way, where the best friends sit around ONLY having deep John Green-esq conversations. So unrealistic. So when I realized this book was about best friends, I wondered if I was in for a disappointment. 

Clue: I was not!

This book was, in short, fantastic. It was nothing extremely deep or thought-provoking. But it had heart and soul. The main character was a socially awkward introverted type and she felt realistic. Not the "Oh no, I can't walk without tripping, I am so klutzy!" or "Heehee, I can hardly talk to guys, I'm so shy!" type. No, Emily actually seemed like she had actual social anxiety and introversion. Sometimes she just wanted to be away from conversations because it was too exhausting to try and figure out how to keep it going smoothly and that is exactly how it feels for an introvert. Sloane's loss was also amplified because when introverts find that one true best friend they open up to, that friend becomes everything to them. It's not easy to replace friends like that. 

The secondary characters felt developed and were fun. The romance was subtle, cute, and actually had build to it. We saw a lot of character development and growth for Emily. There was romance, there was comedy, there was drama—but I loved that Sloane was never forgotten. Emily's ache to find her friend and remember her friend flowed like an undercurrent throughout the whole book and the flashback memories helped show us how close they were and I really loved that. They seemed like actual best friends. I know because they felt like how my best friend and I behave. And if my best friend vanished the way Sloane did, I would be just as lost and lonely as Emily was. The friendship aspect was written beautifully and I'm glad that we finally have a popular book that focuses on the importance of friendship. 

All in all, a very cute, worthwhile summery read that gives you the feels and puts you in a good mood, ultimately. I'm definitely going to try some of Morgan Matson's other books! She has a way with blending sentimentality with normality and I really loved it. Perfect summer read. 

Cover: I LOVE IT. I can't stop looking at! It's so summery and fun and cute. It just puts me in a cheerful mood. Plus, the models actually look like real teenage girls! 

Grade: A+

Monday, July 6, 2015

Beautiful People by Wendy Holden

Goodreads Description: A witty, utterly addictive novel from bestselling author Wendy Holden,Beautiful People is a tale wicked in its observations yet buoyant at its heart: an irresistible confection you'll want to devour immediately.
Darcy-a struggling English rose actress when The Call comes from L.A. An Oscar-tastic director. A movie to make her famous. The hunkiest costar in Hollywood. So why doesn't she want to go?
Belle-a size-zero film star but she's in big, fat trouble. Hotter than the earth's core a year ago, she's now Tinseltown toast after her last film bombed. Can she get back to the big time?
Emma-a down-to-earth, down-on-her-luck nanny trying to weather London's cutthroat childcare scene and celebrity mom whirlwinds. What will it take for her to get back in control of her own life?
Jet to London, Hollywood, and Italy; toss in a passionate star chef, a kindhearted paparazzo, and a reluctant male supermodel; and find Wendy Holden at her best-a smash international hit.
My Review: Am I missing something? I feel like there's some big secret and I'm missing out. How did people actually LIKE this book? How did it get almost 4 stars on Goodreads? If the rest of Wendy Holden's books are anything like this one, HOW did she ever become an international bestselling author? I feel utterly confused. This book was awful. I can't even begin to describe how horrendous this book was and I feel so bewildered right now by all the people who loved it or even semi-enjoyed it!
I'm a big chick-lit fan...when it's well-written. I adore Sophie Kinsella's books (that woman knows humor) and I'm a huge fan of Liane Moriarty (if her books could be classified as chick-lit?). As for YA, I'm a staunch loyalist of people like Kieran Scott and Janette Rallison. Not every chick-lit in the world is good but I can be a big girly-girl and I love humor, so chick-lit does appeal to me. So when this book was described as "literary cheesecake" on the back, of course I had to get it!
And I regretted my decision. So, so much. I had to force myself to plow through this 400-page book. I didn't understand a single thing that was going on or why Holden decided to weave together a story as flat, two-dimensional, and insipid as this. 
For one thing, the book was far too big, there were too many characters, and it was too long. It was a pretty hefty-sized book with a small font and right away we were introduced to about 20 characters—NONE OF WHOM I LIKED! It's unbelievable. I can find redeeming qualities in the most boring of characters. And I didn't like anyone here! Some people seemed okay at first but then they just made these strange decisions that I didn't understand and it was just so...boring. They were all so two-dimensional, I literally did not care for a single one and I absolutely hated a few. 
Also, her portrayal of Hollywood ground my gears. Perhaps I'm sensitive because I'm a cinephile and I'm really into the Hollywood scene but it was the worst portrayal of Hollywood ever. I'm not naive; I know there are empty-brained, shallow, heartless jerks in Hollywood. But there are also a lot of nice, good-hearted celebrities in Hollywood. This portrayal of Hollywood as a dog-eat-dog, heartless world filled with vapid felt so cliche, boring, and old-fashioned. Perhaps Hollywood used to be that way? But I doubt it. Celebrities are humans like the rest of us and there will always be a mix of good and bad among them. I would have liked to see a more realistic portrayal of Hollywood. 
The individual stories droned on and on and on and all of the characters seemed so flat it was almost incredible. Eventually, stories began to criss-cross and tie together and I didn't feel any thrill at all. Normally I'm the person who gets really excited over stories crossing over but I felt zero emotion or anticipation while reading this book. It was like watching a train wreck. I literally kept wondering, Why the hell am I reading this book?
And then it ended on a "happy" note (for some characters), I suppose? But it just felt really abrupt and random to me. 
This book was not enjoyable. It was not gossip-y fun in a good way. There were quite a few shocking topics—such as child neglect—which were glossed over as one-note plot points? Which was awful. And even when she tried to make her characters deep and emotional, it felt so fake. Also, the humor was atrocious. I don't think I laughed out loud even once. Perhaps I cracked a few smiles.
I realize I'm being super harsh here. Clearly, her books have fans. But personally, I think there is so much better chick-lit out there. I am not going to be wasting my time with any of her other books. 
Cover: I think it's pretty cute, for those cartoon-y types of covers anyway (which have never been my favorite). 
Overall Grade: F

Ink by Amanda Sun

Goodreads Description: On the heels of a family tragedy, the last thing Katie Greene wants to do is move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn’t know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks, and she can’t seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building.

Then there’s gorgeous but aloof Tomohiro, star of the school’s kendo team. How did he really get the scar on his arm? Katie isn’t prepared for the answer. But when she sees the things he draws start moving, there’s no denying the truth: Tomo has a connection to the ancient gods of Japan, and being near Katie is causing his abilities to spiral out of control. If the wrong people notice, they'll both be targets.

Katie never wanted to move to Japan—now she may not make it out of the country alive.

My Review: I was initially turned off this book by the description. When I realized Katie was a white blonde girl, I rolled my eyes because really, can we EVER get a main character who's not white? I mean, even in a story set in JAPAN, the main character is white? Are you kidding me?! These were the thoughts running through my head. But then I did some research into the author and realized that she is a white woman who lived in Japan for a while and purposely wanted to write from the perspective of an outsider. Perhaps it seems like a cop-out...but it made sense in my mind. The author had been an outsider so naturally, she would write what she knew. Plus, after I read the book, I realized Katie being an outsider in Japan actually played a role in the plot, so I let that whole issue drop.

Aside from that...I'm not really sure what to say about this book. It was neither horrible nor was it brilliant. I can tentatively say that it was a decently entertaining read and was an admirable effort to, at the very least, come up with a creative plot far different from other supernatural or paranormal YA books out there. I can at least give the author kudos on that front; she really did try to create a mythology that I hadn't read about before.

Setting the book in Japan was also nice. I mean, obviously it would be set in Japan, considering the mythology she wrote about—but still. It was fascinating, reading about the little details of daily Japanese living from an American's eyes. I think she did a good job of incorporating Japan and Japanese culture/life into the book without totally overwhelming the reader. 

However, aside from the backdrop of Japan and the unique mythology used...the book was just average. The characters seem to fall a little flat to me. Nothing about them really stood out. Tomohiro seemed like the typical Asshole Love Interest who's mean to the girl to "protect her." BARF. I am so sick of that cliche. And yes, he did have things going on beneath the surface—but honestly, I'm just tired of that surface to begin with. It's a boring, overused surface. 

Katie was a little better...but just a little bit. She did a lot of INCREDIBLY stupid things because she had a feeling that Tomohiro was shady. I'm sorry, but that's very stalker-ish and not very realistic at all. I don't think any girl would willingly creep on a guy like that...especially a guy who gives HER the creeps! Girls tend to be more wary than that. However, Katie also didn't take a lot of Tomo's BS and stood up for herself a fair few times so for that boldness, I'll give her props. Often the heroine just shyly stands around, mumbling and blushing when the Asshole Love Interest is saying something ridiculous, but Katie straight up said, "Cut the bull," a few times so...good on her there. 

The secondary characters felt as flat as paper (ha). The best friends were clearly just fillers there to always invite Katie out at convenient times and warn her against Tomo at convenient times (for reasons that made no sense, either; at one point, her friend warned her against Tomo...but then later admitted that she didn't REALLY know what Tomo had done to be so feared. I'm sorry, but what? You're basically slandering some guy who you're not really SURE if he did anything bad?). And of course, there was a strange third love interest thrust in, to make things awkward and have that forced love triangle which felt very out of place.

I was honestly way more interested in reading about the mythology, Japan, and seeing a little more of Katie's agency than I was in the romance aspect. The romance was cute but it also felt a bit...flat. I didn't feel the sparks. I wish she'd just focused more on the magic, less on the random romance, and developed the secondary characters a bit more. (Although I did like Katie's aunt, she was interesting.)

However, I'll read the second book when I find time because Ink did have potential to be really good and sometimes it takes a while for a story to find its footing. I won't give up hope yet that the second book is good. 

Cover: This cover is so simple and so beautiful. It's absolutely gorgeous and I can't stop staring at it. I wish more YA books utilized art in their covers because the results often turn out really breathtaking. 

Overall Grade: B-

Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

Goodreads Description: Harper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper's destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts.

Just when life can't get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she's charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper's least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him—and discovers that David's own fate could very well be to destroy Earth.

With snappy banter, cotillion dresses, non-stop action and a touch of magic, this new young adult series from bestseller Rachel Hawkins is going to make y'all beg for more.

My Review: I was expecting nothing. I always keep my expectations low when I read light-hearted chick-lit so that A) I'm not wildly disappointed when it's not amazing, and B) I can enjoy the book for what it is: some fluffy, fun entertainment. However, to my surprise, Rebel Belle ended up being slightly better than just fluffy fun! 

I have a weakness for stories set in the South about debutantes, Cotillions, all that good old fashioned charming Southern stuff. However, I'm rarely rewarded with the kind of book about the South that I enjoy reading. Rebel Belle didn't disappoint me. The descriptions of Southern life were subtle but charming enough to be enjoyable and add a bit of flavor to what would have still be an otherwise-good book. The setting really added that tiny bit of flavor. Picturing all this mayhem going down on shady, magnolia tree-lined streets made it all the more fun. 

I liked the main character. I knew I would from the moment I met her. I like female characters who are confident, bold, who like themselves. Bonus points if she knows she's pretty (because I can't STAND that silly cliche when the heroine is all "I'm so ugly, I'm so plain!" when it's clear she's not. It's just eye-roll inducing) and likes fashion and girly things—and Harper did! (Sorry, but girls liking girly things is looked down upon far too often, so when a cool, confident girl character comes along who unabashedly enjoys being feminine...I'm probably guaranteed to lose my heart to her.) She was a great mix of sass, heart, trauma, and snark. She felt like a real person, which is the best thing you can say for a character! 

I also liked how the side characters were more fleshed out than normal (in YA books anyway) and defied several stereotypes. Her boyfriend wasn't a brainless, mean jock. Her best friend wasn't an out-of-control, obnoxious Manic Pixie Dream Best Friend who overshadowed the main character in ridiculous ways. I actually liked the best friend and boyfriend, which is astonishing. 

There was no indulging in creepy Edward Cullen-ish behavior on David's part. No stalking, no creepy aggressiveness, which was refreshing, to say the least. Hurrah for respectful male characters being normalized in fiction, right? 

But most important, the MAGIC. I was pleasantly surprised! I'd expected half-baked magic with no thought put into it but that's not what I got. Rachel Hawkins actually wove a pretty detailed mythology, one that pulled me in and made me interested in learning more about it, one that seemed somewhat based on real history (though I'd have to do research to see if she made it all up or if it actually IS based on real history). Either way, the magic element was tied in very well and the progression from the characters being clueless to accepting what was happening to them felt very natural as well. 

I'm actually pretty excited to get my hands on the sequel, Miss Mayhem! 

Cover: Love it! It's adorable. The shades of pink, the pearls, the dagger... All of it fits the tone of the book very well (picture Blair Waldorf turned into a ninja) and looks really pretty. 

Overall Grade: A-