Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: The Luxe

Title: The Luxe
Author: Anna Godbersen
Part of a series? Luxe #1
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: November 20, 2007
Length: 433 pages (hardcover)
Genre: YA historical romance
Source: Library eBook

Pretty girls in pretty dresses, partying until dawn. Irresistible boys with mischievous smiles and dangerous intentions. White lies, dark secrets, and scandalous hookups.

This is Manhattan, 1899. Beautiful sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland rule Manhattan's social scene. Or so it appears. When the girls discover their status among New York City's elite is far from secure, suddenly everyone--from the backstabbing socialite Penelope Hayes, to the debonair bachelor Henry Schoonmaker, to the spiteful maid Lina Broud--threatens Elizabeth's and Diana's golden future.

With the fate of the Hollands resting on her shoulders, Elizabeth must choose between family duty and true love. But when her carriage overturns near the East River, the girl whose glittering life lit up the city's gossip pages is swallowed by the rough current. As all of New York grieves, some begin to wonder whether life at the top proved too much for this ethereal beauty, or if, perhaps, someone wanted to see Manhattan's most celebrated daughter disappear...

In a world of luxury and deception, where appearance matters above everything and breaking the social code means running the risk of being ostracized forever, five teenagers lead dangerously scandalous lives. This thrilling trip to the age of innocence is anything but innocent.

First Impression: Gossip Girl with a historical twist. That's what I thought The Luxe was going to be. And to some extent, it does bear not-so-startling similarities with Gossip Girl: the gorgeous cast of rich and spoiled teenagers, the decadent setting, the deliciously snooty narrative, the life-altering scandals and secrets. But it only takes the first couple of pages for me to realize that there's something else in The Luxe that sets it apart from Gossip Girl: mystery. The kind that hooks your interest, gets you to sit up a little bit straighter, and turn page after page after page.

The rest, as they say, is history.

SQUEE-worthy: I absolutely adore how this novel opens! The mystery is there from the get-go, and I think using the flashback approach is a brilliant move. Then there's the characters. These are not your average cookie-cutter characters with one-dimensional personalities and even shallower problems. The main characters--Elizabeth, Penelope, Diana, Lina, even Henry--are not purely good or bad; they're a writhing mix of both. I find myself vacillating on my opinion of each character, and this is one of very few books out there that actually made me hate--like gut-wrenchingly despise--a fictional character (*cough-Lina-cough*). There's also something about Godbersen's narrative voice that swoops and swells, bows and curtsies, just like the glittering boys and girls whirling across the ornate marble ballroom. It's grand, it's atmospheric, it's delicious.

"Meh" Moments: If you're a hardcore history buff like me, you'll soon realize that The Luxe is riddled with historical inaccuracies and a few instances of clunky dialogue. But the thing is, it never promises a meticulous account of life at the turn of the century (for that, you may want to read something by Edith Wharton). At best it's meant to entertain and suck the reader into this posh, extravagant whirlwind of upper class pageantry, and I think it certainly managed to do both.

For fans of: Edith Wharton, Gossip Girl, Downton Abbey, Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty.

Buy or Borrow? Buy! This is a great read for historical fiction fans who can tolerate a couple of inaccuracies here and there. I borrowed the first book in the the Luxe series from the library, but as soon as I completed it, I bought the 3-volume box set on Amazon!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday #2

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Isla and the Happily Ever After

by Stephanie Perkins


 Release Date: Sept. 17, 2013

From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and √Čtienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.

These days I've been on a contemporary YA romance binge, yet I'm ashamed to say that I haven't read a single Stephanie Perkins novel. (I knoww! What's wrong with meee?) But anywho, I can't wait to read about Anna, Lola, and especially Isla. And if I haven't read the first two by the summer, feel free to stone me (and no, not with cupcakes).

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Review: Meant to Be

Title: Meant to Be
Author: Lauren Morrill
Part of a series? Nope
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release Date: November 13th, 2012
Length: 304 pages (hardcover)
Genre: YA contemporary romance
Source: eBook

Meant to be or not meant to be . . . that is the question.

It's one thing to fall head over heels into a puddle of hazelnut coffee, and quite another to fall for the—gasp—wrong guy. Straight-A junior Julia may be accident prone, but she's queen of following rules and being prepared. That's why she keeps a pencil sharpener in her purse and a pocket Shakespeare in her, well, pocket. And that's also why she's chosen Mark Bixford, her childhood crush, as her MTB ("meant to be").

But this spring break, Julia's rules are about to get defenestrated (SAT word: to be thrown from a window) when she's partnered with her personal nemesis, class-clown Jason, on a school trip to London. After one wild party, Julia starts receiving romantic texts . . . from an unknown number! Jason promises to help discover the identity of her mysterious new suitor if she agrees to break a few rules along the way. And thus begins a wild goose chase through London, leading Julia closer and closer to the biggest surprise of all: true love.

Because sometimes the things you least expect are the most meant to be.
First Impression:

It was love at first sight.

Gaaahh, just look at that cover! I know, I know, call me a cover slut or superficial or whatever, but you can't deny that that is one good-looking cover! All those bold colors are certainly STRIKING, and I remember thinking, "Omgosh, I don't even care what that book is about--it can be about sparkly male vampires wearing sequined dresses for all I care--I need to read that book!!"

Well, on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013, I finally started it. And on Friday, March 22nd (roughly 3 days later), I finished it. It took only THREE days, which is record time for me to finish a book--and read during a busy work week, might I add--so a book has to have been seriously, seriously addicting for me to gobble it up so quickly like that.

SQUEE-worthy: I love love LOVE Julia. Out of all the slightly neurotic heroines in YA lit, she ranks up there with Jessica Darling and Mia Thermopolis in my book. No, seriously. She does. I can usually spot from a mile away when authors try to make their heroines more neurotic than they really are, because the neuroses always feel more like add-ons rather than something that hugely shapes who the character is; but Julia is the real deal. I mean, the way Morrill goes through Julia's thought process and inject even the littlest detail with major OCD-type stuff makes her the kind of character that leaps off the page, the kind of character whose voice feels distinctly authentic, almost as if it's your best friend talking to you.

And then there's the boys. SQUEEE!!! (Yes, I literally squee'd in the Squee-worthy section--sue me.) I really, REALLY don't want to be spoiler-y in this review, but I do have to say one thing: the boys are not only scrummy--they are ACCURATE. These are the guys you had crushes on in middle school and high school! The aloof yet uber popular guy you secretly stalk (and concoct whole daydreams about) but is too intimidated to approach. The near-stranger you met only once and whose very mystery is the main thing that he's got going for him (who knows? he might be EXACTLY like your perfect dream guy!). The cute, incorrigible jokester who infuriates you but--admit it--gets under your skin not in an entirely bad way. And they're all so multi-dimensional, too!!

I'm not even going to get into the fact that the story takes place in London (SQUEE!) and features Beatles songs (double SQUEE!!), but Meant to Be is bar none one of the most enjoyable and resonant light-hearted contemporary YA romances I've read in a while.

"Meh" Moments: I honestly can't think of any. Nor do I want to. Few books have the power to do what this book did: transport me back in time. No, not to a different time period (though I do love my historical fiction), but to an earlier version of myself. All of a sudden, I'm fifteen years old again, holed up in my room sulking because my parents just enforced a "no books at the dinner table" rule, reading and rereading every Sarah Dessen, Meg Cabot, and Megan McCafferty book like they hold the secrets to surviving high school (which they totally do). So for a book to do that... well, it's no easy feat that's for sure, and one that no amount of nitpicking can undermine.

For fans of: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, and if you want to go old school, the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty.

Buy or Borrow? Buy! The witty chapter headings alone are worth shelling out a few bucks to have this on your bookshelf, virtual or otherwise.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday #1

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Siege and Storm 

(The Grisha #2)

by Leigh Bardugo


 Release Date: June 4th, 2013

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

ZOMGOSH. I can't wait I can't wait I can't WAIT to read it!!!

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Review: The Nightmare Affair

Title: The Nightmare Affair
Author: Mindee Arnett
Part of a series? Arkwell Academy, #1
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Length: 367 pages (hardcover)
Genre: YA contemporary fantasy
Source: NetGalley ARC

Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.


Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.

Then Eli’s dream comes true.

Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.

First Impression:

When I first heard about this book, I had no idea that nightmares could actually mean actual creatures. But then I looked up "nightmares" on Wikipedia and encountered this lovely visual:

Well, that's disturbing.

Thankfully, Mindee Arnett's heroine, Dusty, is nothing like that little gremlin--though she does have to employ a similar awkward position during her "feedings" (a fact that made me LOL on the subway). But for all intents and purposes, it becomes clear from the get-go that Dusty is very much your average teenage girl.

Okay, not that kind of teenage girl.

SQUEE-worthy: This book was such a FUN read! Not only is Dusty a hilarious narrator, but Arnett has really done a top-notch job with the fantasy aspect of this. From the intricate classification of magical beings to the classes at Arkwell Academy, it was like returning to Hogwarts--albeit a crazier, more diverse version of Hogwarts. I also thought the mystery component was well executed; I hate books with "mysteries" that are completely predictable, so the fact that The Nightmare Affair kept me guessing until the very end is commendable. Speaking of the end, I'm going to try hard not to be spoiler-y, but I love that Arnett has taken an old legend that we're all familiar with and turned it on its head. I mean, with so many retellings out there, sometimes "twists" can seem unoriginal or overplayed. That's definitely not the case with Nightmare Affair, though. The twist was creative and original enough that I didn't see it coming--and that's always a good sign!

"Meh" Moments: For me, this was the kind of book that was good... but could've been GREAT. I love the world that Arnett has created, along with its corresponding magical system, and I really like Dusty as a narrator, but the biggest drawback for me was the lack of depth in the secondary characters. They just fall a little flat and feel one-dimensional to me. I understand the need to place more focus on the action--it certainly helps put things at a faster pace--but there's also something to be said about thoroughly fleshed-out characters that feel real, that are complex, that linger in a reader's consciousness long after you turn the last page. And while Dusty as a heroine does achieve that to some extent, I can't help but wonder how much more epic the story could've been if more was revealed about Selene, Katarina, or even Eli. For instance, the Harry Potter series wasn't just about the magic and the adventure; it was also about Harry, Ron, and Hermione and the colorful cast of characters that they encounter along the way.

For fans of: Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, magical boarding school stories, and fairy tale retellings.

Buy or Borrow? A tentative buy. While it's a good, fun read, it might be worth skimming the first few pages of it first, just to see if you like it.