Mar 29, 2014

Review: Black Box by Cassia Leo

From New York Times best selling author Cassia Leo, comes an epic love story about rewriting destiny.

Over the course of five years, Mikki and Crush cross paths on three separate occasions. Their first encounter changes Mikki's life forever, but their second meeting leaves them both buried beneath the emotional wreckage of a violent attack. Mikki is left with more questions and grief than she can handle, while Crush is forced to forget the girl who saved his life.

Now nineteen years old, Mikki Gladstone has decided she's tired of the mind-numbing meds. She books a flight to Los Angeles to end her life far away from her loving, though often distant, family.

Twenty-one-year-old Crush has always channeled his blackest thoughts into his music, but he's never had great aspirations. He decides to fly to Los Angeles to record a demo of the only song he's never performed in public; a song he wrote for a girl he doesn't even know: Black Box. He has no expectations of fame and he's never felt like his life had any purpose... until he meets Mikki in Terminal B.

When Mikki and Crush cross paths for the third time in Terminal B, neither has any idea who the other person is; until they slowly piece together their history and realize that fate has more in store for them than just another love story.

I bought Black Box on a whim. I saw a Facebook post that was raving about the emotional intensity of this book, and I just used my handy-dandy "One-Click" buy button via Amazon, and it was in my virtual library. Helps that it was only $0.99...

I really had no idea what Black Box was about. I was going for spontaneity by just diving into a book without any expectations... But I really didn't know what I was in for with this one...

I'll start with what I liked. The writing style. The author can write - you can hear the voices she portrays and it flows... It's just.... everything else I had a problem with.

Mikki goes through a horrific experience. I just... can't... It's awful, and I can empathize with the pain she feels. But she was suicidal way before this tragedy. She's bipolar, which is a major contributing factor to her desire to end her life, but there's one problem. I didn't sense any bipolar-ish qualities in her personality. She was depressed, definitely - but she had zero highs or lows that I could tell. This claim of being mentally ill was not reflected anywhere in her character development. It was just that: a claim. 

We get a glimpse of her first suicide note, before she was brutalized, and I really couldn't understand her reasoning. She wanted to kill herself because she didn't like Kim Kardashian or makeup? (I'm sorry, but who really likes Kim Kardashian?) Or because some immature highschoolers made up a rumor about her? It just didn't add up to me... Maybe I'm insensitive, but it just felt whiny and weak.. Honey, not everyone is interested in the same things, and bad shit happens to people, even when they don't deserve it. It's a part of life. Maybe if I was made to believe she really was bipolar, then I could empathize... Otherwise, it just sounded like a couple of really shallow reasons to end your life and leave your family. 

Other things that bother me about Mikki: 

1.) She keeps saying she wants to die (over and over and over), but she's worried about her sensitive skin.

2.) She still wants to die, but she's smiling and excited about a guy and what he's beginning to mean to her.

3.) She insists on watching Pretty in Pink, but still... you guessed it. She wants to die.

4.) She asks Crush to brush the tangles out of her hair because she can't get to them, but she doesn't care about her life.

The way I see it, if you don't care about your life, why would you care about your hair, sensitive skin, or watching any movie with Molly Ringwald?

This book is basically about suicide, through and through. Just about every single character has this overwhelming desire to end their own life. Far fetched? You betcha. 

I wouldn't joke about suicide - it's on the list as one of the most serious subject matters an author could write about. But giving every one of your characters suicidal tendencies? It just isn't believable. And, in all honesty, it makes it seem like suicide is a normal thought for people. Like it happens all the time to almost everyone, that it's easy to feel this way, and that takes away the weight it carries.

The one thing that saves Mikki is love. And just like everything else in this book, it's not believable. Enter the dreaded insta-love. Crush (wtf kind of name is that?) loves Mikki. He saves her, which saves him, and now he's head over heels in love with her. After twenty minutes. With zero conversation. I get being grateful, but love? Annnd the author takes away the importance of that emotion as well.... by making it seem easy. 

I did like Crush though, despite my inability to believe how he felt about Mikki. He was sensitive, patient, and had a good sense of humor. He doesn't push Mikki in any way, even when it comes to talking her off the ledge. 

But what is the point? Really? Because I don't get it. When I finished the last sentence, I couldn't believe that was it

I guess it's supposed to be about two people saving each other? But even in the end, Mikki doesn't believe they will grow old together. She still believes they will die young. WTF? - an expression which basically sums up the entirety of my feelings about this book....

I don't even know....



Review: Fire and Flood by Victoria Scott

A modern day thrill ride, where a teen girl and her animal companion must participate in a breathtaking race to save her brother's life—and her own.

Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She's lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she's helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there's no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

Fire & Flood is nothing like Victoria Scott's Dante Walker novels. It's more like a cross between The Hunger Games and The Amazing Race with a little bit of Pokemon thrown in. It's good - there's excitement, adrenaline, and a little bit of unexpected shock value, but even with all that, I'm having a hard time rating this novel, and here's why:

1.) The main character Tella. She really, really, really got on my nerves. Her good intentions were admirable, but any moment that I felt like "Hey, this girl is finally growing up...," she ruins it with her ridiculous obsession with fashion, makeup, and massages. You're in the jungle/desert fighting for your life. People around you are dying. Your brother - who is also dying - is counting on you. Who gives a flying crap about Nordstrom and Chanel makeup? Tella takes away from the seriousness of the situation by basically being a complete vain idiot.

2.) World-building - or lack thereof. There's nothing. Nothing. We are thrown into this story and BAM, there's a race, a love interest, a bad guy, and a screwed up authority. What time are we in? Why is the Brimstone Bleed still going on? 

3.) Character-development - or lack thereof. I could not relate to Tella. She was too all over the place, so you could never really figure out who she was. Was she a survivor? A dependent? A girly girl who only cares about makeup and what clothes she's wearing? I couldn't tell - and as soon as I thought she might be evolving, she'd regress back to being a spoiled little city girl. The other characters were pretty bland and cliche. Guy was the strong, silent type - except, instead of opening up sometimes, he pretty much says nothing at all until the end. Titus was the typical bad guy - except he was all bad. A good bad guy (if that makes sense) should have some kind of quality or past that you can empathize with. This guy was just totally evil, and it didn't make sense given the situation. Everyone is there to save someone they love, but this guy didn't seem like he could love anyone, much less want to save them.

4.) Writing style. I love Victoria Scott - I really do. But I felt like the writing style in Fire & Flood was immature compared to the gravity of the content. It clashed, and as a result, I couldn't take any of it seriously. 

On the other hand, there were some pretty awesome, adrenaline-inducing scenes. Twists and unexpected moments. My numbered list above would be enough to add a book to my DNF list, but I couldn't stop turning the pages, and that counts for something. The story is there. It's exciting and has the potential to be an emotional roller coaster. 

Key word: potential

Which is why I'll read the second novel. I'm really, really hoping that things shape up, and Tella grows the "F" up. 

I'll give Fire & Flood a hesitant three stars. It has it's issues, but like I said, I still didn't want to put it down. 


Odd combination of feelings about this book, but there you have it....


Mar 17, 2014

Raising a Reader

I'm all about raising a reader. I try to read to Sully every night for as long as he'll have it (sometimes he's just too tired). Maybe a four month old can't quite understand the story, but he definitely interacts by talking, getting excited over the colors and pictures, and by trying to reach toward the pages.

I do all the voices, add an accent here and there, and point things out to him. Like I said, he may not understand the story, but every time I crack open a book with him on my lap, I know he's learning something new.

Needless to say, we've read his entire library several times. He doesn't really seem to care, but I, on the other hand, can only read Where the Wild Things Are so many times before losing my mind. (Love it, but 27 times is my limit for a while.)

Soooo we decided to take a hike down to the Limerick Library to get 1.) a library card and 2.) some new books! Limerick is teeny tiny, but the library is pretty nice. They're even with the times - you can get a Portland Library card there (getting access to lots of e-books) and set up an online account to renew, reserve, or request books. They even have story time for kids and book signings by authors. Pretty impressive for our hole in the wall (yet very quaint) little town.

The children's section is half the library (which is amazing), and I really didn't know where to start. That being the case, I stuck with the classics, grabbing a few books I've been eyeing to add to Sully's library permanently.

Super cute, huh? 

Does he seem happy to you? I swear, the kid never stops smiling! 


Mar 16, 2014

Bookish Rants

I love Victoria Scott. I've followed her since before Dante Walker came stomping gloriously into my life with The Collector. She's got this great personality, and I always find myself interested in what she has to share with her readers.

I was surprised when I heard that she was coming out with a brand new novel - not related to Dante in any way. When did she have the time? Even with that question in the back of my mind, I was stoked. The cover rocks and the synopsis sounded like something I needed to get my hands on - especially if it was written by an author I already loved.

You know when something becomes really popular and in high demand, then all of a sudden the person who created that something tries to capitalize on its fame? I'm about halfway through Fire & Flood, and that's all I can really feel about it.

Granted, I haven't finished Fire & Flood yet, and there are some interesting twists... but it all feels very juvenile, rushed, and incomplete.

Why, oh, why? How could this happen? I feel like I've been duped. There's no groundwork, no real research, no depth. It feels like Scott just whipped this one out for the sake of having another "completed" novel to sell to the masses.

Not. Cool.


Mar 6, 2014

Bookish Rants

**Bookish Rants is a post dedicated to just that: ranting related to anything bookish ;)**

I just posted my review of The Edge of Always, and there was one aspect that I said irked me... How Camryn and Andrew keep saying that don't want to be like "those people," meaning people who settle down and work to pay the bills. They want to keep traveling, even when they have a child.

Having had a wonderful baby boy recently, I know that you don't stop being you just because you have a little one to care for. Your dreams are still there, and while life changes, it isn't over like so many people seem to think (I heard that a lot when I was pregnant and still don't believe it). But while your life and dreams don't end, priorities change, and keeping the heat on and your baby fed and safe is more important to a lot of people than traveling and holding on to their spontaneity.

I said in my review that Camryn and Andrew's outlook felt unrealistic and accusatory. I say that because, in the book, they have a six figure inheritance that Andrew received to fall back on. Of course they can just up and quit their jobs and ride off into the sunset! Those People, referring to most of the general population, simply don't have that luxury. 

My husband and I talk all the time about all the places we'd like to see and things we'd love to do. Buy an RV and travel for a year. Living in Europe for a while. Moving just for the sake of living somewhere different (we've done it before, we wouldn't mind doing it again). But with a baby, security and stability seem more important, even if it does sound boring, and taking a risk that we'll run out of money or we'll end up somewhere unsafe with our little guy just doesn't seem worth it. Maybe we'll have the means to do all those things one day, but in the near future, it just isn't in the cards... 

Maybe I'm taking it too personally, but while I've settled down and my husband works his ass off to pay the bills (and I've recently started working part time to help), I don't feel like we're those people. I feel like we're doing what we have to to make sure Sully (my son) has everything he needs. Sure we plan on taking Sully places and showing him that the new or unknown doesn't have to be scary, but there's no way we can just up and quit our jobs because it's what we want to do. And I bet most readers can say the same thing - so while I can relate to and admire Camryn and Andrew's outlook on life (living in the moment, not getting sucked into living for work, etc), it sucks that they have to call everyone else those people. Kind of puts a damper on the admiration. Especially when they have the means to live life the way they want. What would they do if they didn't have that money in the bank? Hmmm... That's a story I'd like to hear... 


Review: The Edge of Always by J.A. Redmerski

Five months ago, Camryn and Andrew, both dealing with personal hardships, met on a Greyhound bus. They fell in love and proved that when two people are meant to be together, fate will find a way to make it happen.

Now, in the highly anticipated sequel to The Edge of Never, Camryn and Andrew are pursuing their love for music and living life to the fullest as they always swore to do. But when tragedy befalls them, their relationship is put to the ultimate test. As Camryn tries to numb her pain, Andrew makes a bold decision: To get their life back on track, they'll set out on another cross-country road trip. Together they find excitement, passion, adventure-and challenges they never could have anticipated.

I think I've started writing this review ten times, only to delete, delete, and delete again. I really don't know how to start.... I fell in love with Camryn and Andrew, their relationship, their passion and spontaneity, and their fearlessness. The Edge of Never blew my mind, but I'm not sure I can say the same about its sequel. 

**There are minor spoilers in this review.

Camryn has a moment in The Edge of Always in which she decides she doesn't want to try to relive great times because it might ruin the initial memory. That's kind of how I feel right now. Like I wish I hadn't revisited Camryn and Andrew and had just held on to the memory of reading a truly amazing book.
“It’s like, you know, it doesn’t matter what you do, even if you try to replicate an experience down to every last detail, it’ll never be the way it was when it happened naturally the first time.”
That's not to say The Edge of Always wasn't worth my time; it just wasn't what I hoped for. I felt like it dragged on, and while the message the book gives is one I can admire and hope to aspire to, it seemed redundant. 

The tragedy to which the blurb is referring was indeed that, but it didn't feel like it could have been the main event that put their relationship at risk. It was obvious what was going to happen, and the way it played out made this twist fall flat. I was pretty annoyed with Camryn for how she acted, and while everyone handles grief differently, I felt like Andrew's feelings were totally ignored. 

In true Andrew fashion - where all his worries lie with Camryn - he decided to "fix" things on the road where everything began. 
“Because this is our life. We met on the road; we grew to know and to love each other on the road. It's where we were meant to be for however long, and it's what we're going to do until it becomes clear that we're meant to do something else.”
This is where I got excited, because it is what I loved so much about the first book. It reminds me of my husband and I and how we took a road trip from Texas to Maine where we settled down. Totally spontaneous, totally the most amazing thing we've ever done. Enter nostalgia again... 

We experience some more epic scenes with Camryn and Andrew, but like I said, a lot of it felt redundant. Some of it even irrelevant. There are some major time gaps in which we skip over months, even years, and it made everything feel rushed. Like the author just wanted to get it over with. 

One aspect that irked me was how Camryn and Andrew are always saying how they don't want to end up like "those people," meaning people who settle in one spot, work to pay bills, and raise a family in a single location. Yes we all have a choice, but when you have a child, it's not just about what you want to do anymore. Your life isn't over, but money is important if you want to keep the heat on and your baby fed. I'd love to just up and go on a whim when my little man got a little older, but not all of us have a six figure trust fund to fall back on... I guess it just seemed unrealistic and accusatory. (I have a separate post about this topic - Bookish Rants.)

All that being said, I still felt the electricity between Camryn and Andrew and J.A. Redmerski's writing style always gets me hooked, no matter what. I'll always remain a huge fan, but I'm kind of wishing that The Edge of Never was a standalone novel. The Edge of Always is still a great read - the emotion is very real and if you were hooked by the first novel, you won't be able to help yourself - but...it just didn't live up to its predecessor. 

3/5 Stars.