Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Audiobook review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Book Summary
Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.

Flo's Review
Carry On has been on my TBR for years. It was gifted to me by one of my Secret Sisters, and I placed it on my shelf with all the best intentions to get to it ASAP. Well...you know how the best laid plans go. Especially when it comes to TBR piles. Fast forward to the announcement of the second book Wayward Son. "I need to read Carry On before Wayward Son comes out!" I told myself. Then fast forward again to the Book Con announcement of Rainbow Rowell's attendance. "Yes!" I said. "Carry On is on my list to read before the beginning of June!"

So...here we are at the end of July, and I've just finished it. Still before Wayward Son, so I'm going to give myself a pat on the back for that. Shout out to the IGGPPC BookWorms for finally getting me to bump this up to the top. I'm so glad I finally read it!

It took me a little bit to get into the story at first. The beginning of the book felt like a huge info dump to me. I think that was unavoidable because we had to be introduced to a new world and a new magic system, so there might not have been any better way to do it. Simon was obsessed with Baz, but unnaturally so, and it didn't read as anything other than weird.

Carry On is divided into several books, and I really started to enjoy the story in Book Two for two reasons. First, the story really came into its own. Up until then, it read as similar to Harry Potter. I didn't mind that so much because I love Harry Potter, but nothing really felt new, storywise. I felt I knew all the characters and the school, etc etc. But with the start of Book Two, the story really took off in directions that are nothing like those in Harry Potter. I really started feeling the story here. Second, my favorite character to read was introduced in Part Two. I don't want to spoil anything about the book, so I won't say who, but guys...my swoony, swoony heart.

One thing I really enjoyed about Carry On was how Rainbow didn't take herself or the story too seriously. It reads like she was just writing to have fun, and this really shines through in her words and her tone. In some ways, it even reads a little bit like a parody. But while the magic spells are just fun -- nursery rhymes and song lyrics -- there is actually a deeper element to it. The magic depends on intention. The magician has to really believe, really feel, really want the spells he is doing. This is a great analogy for life. It's classic Disney: "There can be miracles, if you believe." And because I am a word nerd by profession and hobby, I love the nuances that language, history and language, language and society all have on the magic system.

The reveals were also done really well in this book. It might be the type of situation where people figure out what is actually happening before it's spelled out for the reader, but I never get that stuff, so of course I didn't. How the different characters reveal things in sync with what's happening in the story and with what other characters learn as they learn it was brilliant. 

I am so looking forward to Wayward Son! Come on September 24th!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Audiobook review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Book Summary
A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends...

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him. 

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

Flo's Review
Okay guys. I don't know how I'm going to do this coherently. I loved this book. SO. MUCH. I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH. I have been giving a lot of books 5 out of 5 stars this year, and if that's the scale I've been working on, then this one is 6 out of 5 stars for me. Seriously. It's like, I was thinking about it when I wasn't listening to it (I audiobooked), and most of time my thoughts were, "Oh, I love this book! It's so cute!" I kept jotting down notes on Post Its for things I wanted to include in my review, but I'm pretty sure I've lost all the Post Its but one. Also, it's kind of late at night and my brain is a little mushy, but I want to get this review done now, before too much time passes. 

Okay, now that my disclaimers are done, let's dive right in!

My first thought is -- are they marketing this book as YA? It's SO NOT YA. I've read a good deal of New Adult (when New Adult was still a thing) and this feels more like that to me. I think it's closer to a Romance than a YA book, but it's definitely one of those that fall into the hazy area that needs to be better defined in the industry.

Alex was such a delightful narrator. I really enjoyed being in his mind. He's passionate, fun, flawed, and determined, and he would be such a great friend to have. His humor brought an entirely new dynamic and layer to the story that made it read completely differently. If Alex had a different personality, and Henry had a different personality, I don't know that the perfect chemistry and magic of the two would have been there. But I'll get back to their relationship in a minute. The humor in this book was fantastic. There were times that I was literally laughing out loud in my car as I drove along. Alex's reactions are priceless. And the scene with his mother and the PowerPoint was my absolute favorite thing.

The relationship between the White House Trio was unique and fascinating to read about, too. It was great how they were given an identity, which they owned, but then they also had their own identity and dynamic as well, outside of just being the White House Trio. The addition of the other three was perfect. There was a scene where there six of them went out and it sounded like so, so much fun. They fit together so well.

Speaking of fitting together so well -- Alex. Henry. Alex and Henry. I love these boys so much. I love these boys together so much. The two of them are like puzzle pieces, and the other person is the perfect fit that slides into place to make the complete picture. The author recognizes this, as she often describes how Alex will sleep, curled up behind Henry, just fitting there perfectly. It's a great physical and visual representation of the dynamic of their personalities. They are both funny. They are both wicked smart. They are both powerful. They are both great leaders. They are both vulnerable. They are alike in a lot of ways, but the in the specifics of those ways they are different. And the differences fit together. Them together just seems more complete than each of them separately. I cannot commend Casey McQuiston enough on how the relationship was visualized and made its way onto the page. It was absolutely phenomenal.

You guys, they write LOVE LETTERS to each other! Love letters! I am DYING. And then, and then -- the love letters have QUOTES. All these beautiful and romantic quotes from historical figures in both the U.S. and England. It could not be any more perfect and romantic for this word nerd! I listened to these letters back and forth and just swooned and swooned and swooned some more. I listened to this on audiobook, which was fantastic, but I am literally going to go out and buy a physical copy of the book this week just so I can flag and highlight my favorite passages. A lot of these are going to come from the letters. I wonder how much research it took on Casey's part to find these perfect, perfect quotes? Did she fashion the boys' letters around these amazing quotes, or did she really just happen to find the absolute most perfect excerpts from history?!?!

My favorite thing about this book was its message of HOPE. There was hope throughout the book. Alex is one of the most hopeful characters I have come to known, and I absolutely love him for it. It made sense that he was the narrator, because his hope was the baseline and guiding light for the story. His hope illuminated everything else, and even when things looked super bleak, I remained hopeful because Alex remained hopeful. He was able to see the good in so much and I admire him so much for that. There is hope on several levels in this book. When I put this book down, I felt hopeful for this country and the goodness of people. I felt hope that this country will move forward. And these are times when we desperately need this hope. Thank you so, so much Casey, for giving this to your readers. At first I questioned whether it was a good idea to have specific dates in this book and have them be an integral part of the story. But this is a story for right now. For 2019. This is a picture of modern times that I can see being put in a time capsule for future generations to review. History, huh? (That will make sense if you've read the book!) 

Speaking of history: what a great theme for the book. Through Alex and Henry we learn about the history of the U.S. and London on large and small scales. By that I mean we see history in the quotes, and read about the history of queer men and women. And just like the histories of the U.S., England, and the world are built on many different elements, so is the history of Henry and the history of Alex. Their histories play a huge part in the men they've become, and Casey illustrates this so well.

The love story has the classic and timeless element of "us versus the world," but it manifests in a different way in this story. Alex kept telling Henry that they will do this together, and I just love seeing the same idea that lovers throughout history (there it is again) have embraced coming forward as a strong element in these boys' relationship. One of my favorite books of 2018, if not my favorite, was What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. I am a hopeless romantic, and there is something so vulnerable, raw, and strong about young men trying to understand how their sexuality fits into who they are and who they want to be.

A quick note on the audiobook -- loved it! The reader did a great job going from British accents to flawless, believable  Spanish. 

I am almost positive that I missed something I wanted to talk about. I'm still in book hangover mode from this story, so I'm sure I'll think of it later. Maybe I'll add my additional thoughts to Instagram or Twitter. 

In conclusion, in case y'all couldn't tell...OH MY GOSH I LOVED THIS BOOK. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Book review: Five Dark Fates by Kendare Blake

Reviewer's Note
I won't post the book summary for this one, as it's the final book in the series. That being said, I will not reveal any spoilers for Five Dark Fates or any other of the books in my review. If you're not up to date with the Three Dark Crowns series, you have plenty of time to get caught up before this final installment comes out on September 3rd!

Flo's Spoiler Free Review
Five Dark Fates was one of my most anticipated, if not my most anticipated book of this year, so I was beyond the moon to read it. I am so, so happy to report that it did not disappoint! I flew through this book in under 48 hours. This series is just so compulsive readable. You find yourself flipping the pages because the pacing is so strong and steady, while it builds and builds to the conclusion.

I definitely had a book hangover this one and had to step back for a few days before writing my review so I could process my thoughts. In a nutshell: Five Dark Fates is a thrilling and satisfying conclusion to a fantastic YA fantasy series. Each one of the queens has a fulfilling role in the fate of the island. That's not to say that my heart wasn't wrenched out a bit, so be prepared! But each queen's story ended in a way that was true to her individual character. I can honestly say that I understood each queen's arc and where it led her. They were realistic, and I really enjoyed following their journeys from book one to book four.

The best kind of ending for a series is one where you set down the last book with a bittersweet feeling in your heart: you are sad to leave the world and the characters, but you are also so proud of them and you know that they will be alright. I definitely had this feeling for Fennbirn at the end of Five Dark Fates.

I will end by reiterating what I said above -- if you haven't read this series, I highly, highly encourage you to do so. You will not be disappointed! Kendare Blake has given us such a fun roller coaster of a fantasy ride. Pack your bags and head to the island.

If you have read the series and are eagerly anticipating this conclusion -- you will not be disappointed! Pick this one up as soon as you can.