Book Review: “Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares” by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan 9780375859557_p0_v2_s260x420

Publisher: Ember
Published: October 2011
Genre: young adult, romance, holiday
ISBN: 9780375859557
Goodreads: 3.88
Rating: 
★★★★

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a cosmic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Dash, a snarly word buff who’s done with the whole concept of Christmas, stumbles across a red notebook next to his favorite books at The Strand. The directions inside send him all over the store to solve a riddle and answer a dare. Intrigued, he follows through, and waits his next turn. Lily, the instigator and lover of all things festive, continues with the red notebook dares, thrilled to have something to look forward to while her immediate family is away for Christmas. Soon enough, the daily interactions between Dash and Lily across NYC leave them wondering: do they want to meet in person, or would that destroy their notebook persona?

This is a teen rom-com if I ever read one. There are moments in this book that are outrageously hilarious and entirely implausible, and yet it’s so perfect for who Dash is and for who Lily is that it simply works. It’s like online dating, only a bit more fun, organic, and mysterious. Dash and Lily don’t know one another, yet their interactions through the notebook reveal their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes and dreams, successes and failures. They’re their true selves — albeit somewhat edited (because, heck, sometimes writing/speaking to a perfect stranger is easier than face-to-face confrontations) — are in that notebook. Their fear of shattering it and desire to genuinely meet war within, and it’s exciting!

A short holiday read, perfect with cookies and cocoa. It made me wish to visit NYC again in the winter, and that’s saying something!

Top Ten Tuesday: Places to Visit

Top Ten Tuesday, a concept started by The Broke and the Bookish, is a themed post that connects bloggers to bloggers, bloggers to readers, and readers to readers. Every Tuesday has a special topic, and this Tuesday is Top Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want to Visit.

top ten tuesday

Lindsey got me (and Morgan) all excited about this, and I’ll bet several of us have similar places on our lists! Let’s get to it!

1. Hogwarts

2. Narnia

3. Scotland / Isle of Skye (Outlander and Letters From Skye)

4. Paris (Anna and the French Kiss)
Which is odd because I don’t really want to visit France. 

5. Hogwarts

6. Nebraska (Rainbow Rowell books)

7. Wales (The Winter Witch)

8. (re-visit) St. Petersburg / Leningrad and Moscow (The Bronze Horseman and The Boy on the Bridge)

9. Winter (Snow Like Ashes)

10. Hogwarts

Book Review: “Snow Like Ashes” by Sara Raasch (ARC)

17399160Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publishing Date: October 14
Genre: young adult, fantasy
ISBN: 9780062286925
Goodreads: –
Rating: ★★★★

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

Meira is one of the last remaining Winterian refugees and is desperate to prove to the general, Sir, that she’s worthy of warrior status. For sixteen years, the Kingdom of Winter has been without a free home, without a monarch, and without magic. Meira seizes the opportunity to reclaim the Winter conduit from Spring, the destructive Season kingdom that’s slowly but surely taking over the Rhythm kingdoms as well. But her mission doesn’t go smoothly, and Meira is thrust into battles and politics and a destiny she never thought imaginable.

Wow oh wow. For a while I was certain I was finally reading a YA fantasy that could be a stand-alone — it was so epic, and so much was happening all at once — the politics, the passion, the humor and sadness and self-discovery, the world-building, and the major reveal at the end. And though we discover it’s not a stand-alone, that there may be a companion book or trilogy in the future, it’s still worth every second of time, every word.

Meira was a joy, a breath of fresh air. She’s strong-willed, determined to find her place, anxious to prove to the general/adoptive father Sir that she has a purpose for the restoration of Winter, funny, insightful, and emotional. She has moments of weakness, moments of strength, moments of clarity and reasoning and compassion. She’s by no means perfect, but it was so wonderful to read about an independent warrior-lady who’s not all about sacrifice — that she has moments of longing for love like every teenage girl, that she has moments of wishing she could be more than who she is what she believes she’s destined to become. She felt real. And that’s all any reader can ask for in a fantasy novel with high stakes: a character as human as the reader.

The kingdoms are fascinating too. There are eight total, divided into two categories: Seasons and Rhythms. The Seasons are one season throughout the entire year, and the Rhythms experiences all four seasons. This book primarily focuses on two Seasons and one Rhythm, and it’s interesting to see the discrimination and justification for those prejudices pan out. But my biggest moment of awe was the concept behind each Season, specifically the Kingdom of Winter and the Kingdom of Spring. Typically, we view winter as a cold, harsh, dead season, the end of life and the darkest time; spring is full of color and fresh, new beginnings, of life and vitality and awakenings. Oh, so vastly different in this book. Winter may be cold and harsh, but it’s full of life, clean and clear and brilliant and pure. Spring, on the other hand, is dark, controlling, manipulating, filled with death and caution and fear. In a way, I’m glad there will be more to read from Raasch — I’m interested to see the other Rhythms, to meet the other Seasons and watch those stereotypes shatter.

This is a world you’ll never want to leave.

Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Balzer + Bray for review!

Book Review: “First Impressions” by Charlie Lovett (ARC)

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett 6352576

Publisher: Viking Adult
Publishing Date: October 16
Genre: contemporary, historical fiction, mystery
ISBN: 9780525427247
Goodreads: —
Rating: ★★★.5

Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield.  Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

Sophie Collingwood’s life is dedicated to books. Thanks to her Uncle Bertram’s enthusiasm for literature, she too began collecting and reading books at a young age. When her uncle dies outside his apartment unexpectedly, Sophie is certain it was murder. Upon arriving at his apartment, she finds it completely bare of books — and after acquiring a job at an antiquarian bookshop, she makes it her personal mission to find Bertram’s murderer and his personal library. Soon enough, she becomes entangled in a mystery connecting her family to Jane Austen’s career, and she must decide if it’s a secret worth dying for.

Lush and exquisitely told, Lovett’s dual narrative between present-day Oxford graduate Sophie Collingwood and the young Jane Austen — prior to her publishing career — is a rich, cozy read. I think Austen fans will enjoy this interpretation of the beginnings of Pride and Prejudice, and I certainly enjoyed the mystery and thrill in Sophie’s life. Threatening phone calls to obtain a rare book that may or may not be connected to Austen can definitely make a bookworm’s heart pound. Between Oxford and London, libraries and bookshops, graveyards and old estates, Sophie’s narrative is exciting for the bookish researcher. Jane’s narrative is calmer, revealing a growing friendship with an old cleric who also enjoys literature. His influence on her books is profound, and their connection deep and unyielding.

I cannot pinpoint why exactly I didn’t give this four or five stars. It’s one of those books that, once you begin reading and fall into the rhythm of the narrative, you can’t put it down. Seeing as I had to repeatedly put it down for other responsibilities in my life, I didn’t quite fall into it like I wanted to. The mystery is justifiably intriguing, the hunt for books engaging, and the threat to reveal the truth behind Austen’s most famous work terrifying. I liked it. Bookworms will too!

Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Viking for review!

Book Review: “Black Ice” by Becca Fitzpatrick (ARC)

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick 20651947

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 
Publishing Date: October 7
Genre: young adult, thriller, mystery
ISBN: 9781442474260
Goodreads: —
Rating: 
★★★.75

Britt Pfeiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn’t prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

In exchange for her life, Britt agrees to guide the men off the mountain. As they set off, Britt knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there… and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target.

But nothing is as it seems in the mountains, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

Britt’s trained hard in the past year for her backpacking trip the Teton Range in Wyoming. She knows how to survive the weather, the mountains, and exhaustion. But she’s not prepared to be taken hostage. Britt is positive that one of these men is responsible for the murders of intelligent, beautiful girls whose bodies were discovered in these very mountains. In an effort to save her friend, Britt agrees to help two young men off the mountain during a terrible snow storm — all the while hoping her ex-boyfriend will find her before she becomes the killer’s next target.

I read this thriller in a day and loved every minute of it. It was fresh and exciting. I loved reading about a physically and mentally strong, independent female character who doesn’t have superpowers to get her through tough situations. She’s still very much a heartbroken girl after her ex, Calvin (who is also her best friend’s older brother), unexpectedly ended things with her several months prior to this trip, and I think that’s what drew me to her. The female protagonist doesn’t need to be cold-hearted to be strong and independent. She acknowledges she’s spent her life depending on the men who surround her, and this trip would be a message for them and to herself that she can go out on her own and literally survive. Loved it.

While I was able to piece together the real killer and the connections everyone had to other characters in the story about 75% of the way through, I was still incredibly curious as to the killer’s motives — and that alone was spine-chilling. It’s that charm and hidden misogynistic hatred that all girls fear in men, and it felt so incredibly real. It’s a message to men, as well. I hope boys read this book. It’s the perfect peek into a self-sufficient girl’s mind, and her ongoing calculations about men who are kind as well as severe. It gives the reader an idea of what it’s like to walk in a girl’s shoes, only heightened by the immediacy of a kidnapping.

I’m not sure what else to say other than it’s a great thriller! It’s perfect for YA, too. I’d imagine that, if this book were geared for adults, more suspenseful passages would have been written to heighten the tension. This YA is fast, and I will not be surprised if it’s one day turned into a movie. It really has that cinematic feel to it. Oh, love it!

Thank you, Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster, for providing the digital and BEA print copy for review! And thank you/shout out to my grad pub friends, Hannah and Morgan, for standing in line at BEA to get this!

Book Review: “My True Love Gave to Me” edited by Stephanie Perkins (ARC)

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins 20309175
Stories written by Stephanie Perkins, Holly Black, Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Matt de la Peña, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, Kiersten White

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publishing Date: October 14
Genre: young adult, romance, holiday
ISBN: 9781250059307
Goodreads: —
Rating: ★★★★

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME: TWELVE HOLIDAY STORIES by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins.

From New Year’s Eve parties to last-minute Hanukkahs, supernatural creatures from dreams to fantastic parallel universes, and down to your usual Christmas holiday story — twelve great YA authors bring wonderful new sets of characters this holiday season for some cozy, warm-feeling cheer that would go perfectly with a soft blanket and hot cocoa.

I’ll admit I read only the short stories written by the authors I already enjoy (Perkins, Forman, Han, Rowell, Taylor) and those I’ve heard praise for but hadn’t read yet (Black, Carter, Levithan). Because I loved those short stories — such variety! — so much, I’m going to go back and read the ones by the authors I haven’t heard anything about.

Rowell and Forman were my favorites, followed closely by Perkins. Rowell’s characters Mags and Noel went to the same New Year’s Eve party across all of high school and freshman year of college. They change with each passing year, grow closer, and their friendship is so beautiful and solid you can’t help but cheer at midnight. Forman’s Sophie is hilarious and witty, extremely sarcastic, and it intensifies when she meets Russell, the first person she views as her equal. Perkins’s story is heartfelt and authentic, Han’s was a surprising twist of her usual writing, Taylor’s was lush as usual, and Black’s was fun and quirky.

This is an adorable winter holiday read, perfect to get you into the spirit!

Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from St. Martin’s Press for review!

Book Review: “Dragonfly in Amber” by Diana Gabaldon

1068825Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon 

Publisher: Seal Books
Published: July 1992
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy, romance, adventure
ISBN: 9780440215622
Goodreads: 4.31
Rating: 
★★★★

For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones …about a love that transcends the boundaries of time …and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his ….

Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart …in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising …and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves…

Scotland, 1968. Claire brings her daughter Brianna to Scotland to visit the place Frank studied with such depth and devotion. Claire introduces Brianna to Roger Wakefield, the adopted son of the reverend Frank corresponded and shared academic stories with during and after his second honeymoon with Claire. But Roger and Brianna are set in store for more than nostalgia and acquaintance reunions — little do they know they’ll learn of the years Claire spent away from Frank, and what it means for them.
Scotland & France, 1744-1746. Claire and Jamie flee Scotland for France, and work their way into Charles Stuart’s court in Paris in an attempt to thwart his efforts to reclaim the Scottish throne. Leading the life of a double-agent, Jamie’s political leanings and pride in his country war in his heart, and Claire attempts to navigate court life to help in his efforts. Soon enough their work is needed in Scotland once more, and it appears that fate has a different plan set in store for the Frasers, the MacKenzies, and Scotland.

Note: All Outlander books will be filled with spoilers. If you haven’t read Outlander yet, do not read on!

This would’ve received five stars if it weren’t for France. Not that Gabaldon’s writing was poor in France, or that the history wasn’t fascinating — nothing like that. And it’s not that it was the setting that put me off (France versus Scotland…mmm, I’d take Scotland). The slow pacing and political intrigue was just like in Outlander, except that this time we’re set in the opulence of a French court, with too many characters and too much gossip and too much scheming and it not only took a toll on me but also on Jamie and Claire. They love each other deeply and they care about their cause, but it clearly disrupted their life, being double agents and attempting to change the course of history. It created a rift, in a way. I promise you, if you’re reading Dragonfly in Amber right now and you’re not back in Scotland yet, keep reading. It’ll be worth it! Soon our lovers are back on home land and even they admit France was tedious!

At first I was slightly put off by the twenty-years-into-the-future part of the story — including the switching perspectives — but after a while I genuinely liked it. We see how Claire struggled to maintain a secret, read her mind as she flashed back to the difficulty in her marriage with Frank post-return, felt her love for her daughter Brianna and all that she meant. We can sense how heartbreaking it was for her to come back to the twentieth century and have a child. And then to tell the child about her years away from Frank and hope against all hope she’d believe Claire. That’s tough. Although I still find it hilarious that the most logical of men in this series still believe Claire faster than any woman has (first Jamie, then Anselm, then Roger).

I know that everyone is okay. It’s clear, reading the summaries of the other books, that everyone is okay. But that still didn’t stop the feeling of dread once we were back in Scotland, once you realize Claire really did return to the future, once Jamie and Claire have to say goodbye. So many tears. So. Many.

And the cliffhanger? Good Lord.

There’s a reason this series is successful. It’s not a romance about how two people come together and live happily ever after. It’s about a marriage. About following these two people across time and space, about all the hardships they’ve encountered together and apart, how they work with one another and make decisions and still come out loving one another so deeply and fully it makes your own heart shatter. It’s beautiful.