Holding Up the Universe (ARC Review) ~ Wanted, Necessary, and Loved

Monday, August 29, 2016
Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary
Page Length: 400 pages
Format: ARC (won as a B-Fest/First in Line prize)
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Although I received a free copy of this book, my opinion of it is completely my own.

About Holding Up the Universe (via Goodreads):

From the author of the New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places comes a heart-wrenching story about what it means to see someone—and love someone—for who they truly are.
Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything. 

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything in new and bad-ass ways, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone. 
Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. . . . Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.
Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are—and seeing them right back.

Let me say it right now: I loved this book. And before all the haters who haven’t even read this book start having a fit, let me say something. So maybe Libby is a girl who once had to be lifted out of her house by a crane, and that's a big deal (I won't deny it). But she and this story are both so much more than that.
Holding Up the Universe is a story about finding yourself and your voice despite social stigmas. It's about learning to be comfortable and confident in your own skin. It's about learning to embrace your flaws and learning to love yourself, inside and out (and to learn to love others the same). It’s about learning to dance, even when everyone is staring, and to not care because you’re doing you and you’re happy.
Yes, maybe Libby was fat-shamed by her classmates constantly, and it was heartbreaking to watch them do these awful things to her. Really, truly heartbreaking. In no way am I saying it’s acceptable to bully people, no matter who they are. It’s just not okay, period. However, this story wasn’t about society peer pressuring her into becoming someone else. She lost weight from the accident for her health, but after that, it was up to her. And she, through it all, decided to be herself. And that is pretty damn inspiring. She chooses to be an individual who sticks up for herself and her friends, rather than conforming to others’ expectations of her.
Jack’s story is a bit more complicated. While I didn’t agree with all of his decisions in the beginning, I could understand in some ways why he did it. I can only imagine how hard it would be to be recognized by everyone, but not be able to recognize them in return, and how he felt he had to conform to what his classmates expected so he could lay low instead of standing out (or being cast out). Despite all his personality/attitude problems, I couldn’t hate Jack. He was a good person deep down, as Libby points out, even if he didn’t realize it.
The romance was definitely cute and I loved Libby and Jack’s relationship, but I appreciate that it didn’t overwhelm the plot. It started off as skepticism, then friendship, then something more (aka it wasn’t the dreaded instalove). They helped each other grow and become better people, but they didn’t magically change because of the other, which I’m so glad about. I feel like a lot of times, characters are expected to (and often do) change for the sake of others or their love interests, but that wasn’t the case in Holding Up the Universe. They were catalysts of each other's change in the scientific sense (speeding up the reaction/change) rather than causing one another to change for the sake of the other. In simpler terms, they already wanted to find themselves, but because they had such a good relationship, it was easier to recognize who they wanted to be. Maybe it’s a bit cheesy, but I think it’s true. It’s easier to find the best in yourself when you’re with people who care about you for you and want you to be the best you can be.
I was afraid Holding Up the Universe would pale in comparison to All the Bright Places, but Jennifer Niven once again swept me away with her newest novel. While Niven’s novels are quite different, both stories have a special place in my heart. All in all, Holding Up the Universe was a heart-wrenching, heartwarming, beautiful, and inspiring story that deserves a chance to be loved.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Carry On (Review) ~ Things Left Unsaid

Sunday, August 21, 2016
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Page Length: 522 pages
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

About Carry On (via Goodreads):

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.
Okay, so to be honest, I wasn't planning on writing a review for this book at all. However, I realized that I had too many thoughts about this book that I needed to share so I would stop thinking about it all the time. Horrible reasoning to write a review, I know. I'm sorry. I'm just so conflicted about this book and need to pour out all my thoughts and feelings.

First of all, it's a Rainbow Rowell book. Which means that I was going to love it, even though I didn't like it at the same time (which somehow happened with this book, even though it doesn't make any sense). So let's talk about the good first.

1) The romance *heart eyes* My gosh, I absolutely ADORED the romance. Simon and Baz were amazing together. That is all.

2) The writing style. I love Rainbow Rowell's writing. She's a brilliant writer.

3) Baz himself. Such a fantastic character. He's just so precious and I loved him to death. Honestly, if he were real, this would be me if/when I met him *holds him close and doesn't let him go*

4) Rainbow Rowell had me feeling all the feels for these characters. (Carry On is one of my good friends' favorite books, and she can attest to my flailing when new things were revealed, and characters came back into the story, and when people made horrible decisions, etc etc.)

5) It was an incredibly fun book to read, despite all it's flaws. 5/5 stars for sheer entertainment purposes, but there were still tons of issues I had with it.

Now for the negatives.

1) While I enjoyed the writing style, I also didn't think it was the best choice for fantasy. It felt like exactly what it was, a Rainbow Rowell book. What does this mean, you ask? By this, I mean it felt too much like a contemporary. I do love Rainbow Rowell as a contemporary novelist (she's one of my favorites!), and I was really interested to see what she'd do with a fantasy novel. However, I was kind of disappointed. Fantasy requires extensive world-building, and with that, the story fell flat.

I'm not saying that the magic system and world were bad, per se, it just felt like they were really underdeveloped and rushed. Something about it just wasn't fantasy enough for me. Not to say there can't be all different types on the fantasy spectrum, but based on what she was trying to create, I was expecting a lot more.

2) Onto the plot/pacing. Not only was the world-building rushed, but so was the plot. She crammed 7 or so years of backstory into a single book while somehow speeding through the present plot and the final battle and all that. Even when they were battling, it seemed like there wasn't much going on. It's honestly hard to explain, but Rowell would brush past all the seemingly fantasy-esque parts of the story and all the action. And I said before, I adored Simon and Baz. But their relationship did seem a bit awkward and rushed like the rest of the book, and it seemed to consume way too much of the plot.

3) The secondary characters were kind of boring and predictable. Even the ones that were supposed to be a mystery were easily crackable. I just did not care about them and thought they could have added a lot more to the story, based on what little information Rowell gave about them.

4) There was a lot of hype throughout the book leading to the final battle, and it was probably the most uninteresting and anticlimactic event to ever take place. So maybe there were some bumps in the road to victory, but they were pretty much tiny little speed bumps rather than the mountains young heroes typically need to cross to accomplish their goals. It was rather disappointing, considering how much they seemed to fear the Humdrum.

5) The ending was extremely disappointing. Like the final battle, it seemed so anticlimactic and boring. I was not pleased.

6) I know this book was a spin-off of the world she created in Fangirl, and it was supposed to have huge parallels to that of the Harry Potter world, but I would have liked for it to have been more unique. I liked the concept of the Humdrum and that creative bit, but I feel like there could have been more of a Rainbow Rowell flair to it, even though she did write a wizarding school story.

My Rating: 3/3.5 stars

Waiting on Wednesday (57)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that you are eagerly anticipating.

The Midnight Star by Marie Lu
Series: The Young Elites #3
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Page Length: 416 pages
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 11, 2016

About The Midnight Star (via Goodreads):

The thrilling finale to the New York Times bestselling Young Elites series from “hit factory” Marie Lu.

There was once a time when darkness shrouded the world, and the darkness had a queen.

Adelina Amouteru is done suffering. She’s turned her back on those who have betrayed her and achieved the ultimate revenge: victory. Her reign as the White Wolf has been a triumphant one, but with each conquest her cruelty only grows. The darkness within her has begun to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy all that she’s achieved.

Adelina’s forced to revisit old wounds when a new danger appears, putting not only Adelina at risk, but every Elite and the very world they live in. In order to save herself and preserve her empire, Adelina and her Roses must join the Daggers on a perilous quest—though this uneasy alliance may prove to be the real danger.

Bestselling author Marie Lu concludes Adelina's story with this haunting and hypnotizing final installment to the Young Elites series.

Kids of Appetite (ARC Review) ~ Contemporary Cravings will be Satisfied by This Upcoming Novel

Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Kids of Appetite by David Arnold
Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary
Page Length: 352 pages
Source: ARC won at B-Fest (Barnes & Noble's Teen Book Festival)
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers

Although I received a free copy of this book, my opinion of Kids of Appetite is completely my own.

About Kids of Appetite (via Goodreads):

The bestselling author of Mosquitoland brings us another batch of unforgettable characters in this tragicomedy about first love and devastating loss.

Victor Benucci and Madeline Falco have a story to tell.

It begins with the death of Vic’s father.

It ends with the murder of Mad’s uncle.

The Hackensack Police Department would very much like to hear it.

But in order to tell their story, Vic and Mad must focus on all the chapters in between.
This is a story about:

1. A coded mission to scatter ashes across New Jersey.
2. The momentous nature of the Palisades in winter.
3. One dormant submarine.
4. Two songs about flowers.
5. Being cool in the traditional sense.
6. Sunsets & ice cream & orchards & graveyards.
7. Simultaneous extreme opposites.
8. A narrow escape from a war-torn country.
9. A story collector.
10. How to listen to someone who does not talk.
11. Falling in love with a painting.
12. Falling in love with a song.
13. Falling in love.
I had no expectations going into Kids of Appetite, and it was kind of nice. Although now that I've read it, I kind of wish there was more buzz about this book because I LOVED IT TO PIECES.

Kids of Appetite offers an extremely diverse cast of brilliant characters who I instantly fell in love with. They all had such unique backgrounds and stories to tell, and it was lovely having the opportunity to be an honorary (or so I'd hope) member of the Kids of Appetite. Hearing their stories and watching them write new chapters in their lives was such a pleasure. The characters were all so battered and broken at the start, and despite even more hardships along the way, they grew and pieced themselves together again. I couldn't be more proud of them.

I absolutely loved Arnold's writing style (Kids of Appetite has some of the most well-written POVs I've ever read), which obviously contributed greatly to my love of this book. And I loved each and every scene that brought the whole story together, especially how Arnold pieced them together to parallel the special scene/epilogue at the end.

But my favorite part by far has to be the friendships. All the characters were so strong and brave (and brilliant, as I said before) on their own, but together, they seemed unstoppable. They were so loyal, patient, trusting, and, most of all, respectful to each other. The most important thing (and often the hardest to do) is that they respected each other for their differences, and in doing so, those differences brought them together.

Even though the characters had extremely different stories from my own (and those of my friends), I could really relate to them. My friends are definitely nowhere near as close or as cool (no offense, friends!) as the Kids of Appetite, but we are each extremely unique and I think our uniqueness is what binds us together, just like this literary quintet.

I don't want to go into too much detail about the plot because I don't want to give away what happens in the end (and I definitely don't want to spoil who killed Mad's uncle!), but let me just say it was a bit slow. But fear not! I still found myself devouring the book because there were so many fabulous stories told, funny comments being made, crazy food being served, and fantastic characterization and development throughout the entirety of the plot.

If you're looking for a wonderful, character-driven contemporary with a focus on friendship and identity, Kids of Appetite is the book for you. Good characterization and voice are two of the most important things for me when it comes to contemporary novels, and David Arnold definitely satisfied my appetite with his newest novel.

My rating: 4.5 stars

BookItCon Recap + Haul

Saturday, August 13, 2016
Hey guys! So last weekend I was lucky enough to attend BookItCon: Chapter Two, and I thought I'd share how my experience went. (Sorry if this goes into too much detail, I just didn't want to leave out anything!)

So when I got there, Nori immediately greeted me at the door, and it was so lovely to finally meet her! I can finally conclude that she is not a poodle and is indeed a wonderful human being. I got my wristband, tote bag of goodies (that I for some reason didn't even look at until I got home), and some raffle tickets. There were a ton of raffles to enter, but I was already running a bit late and wanted to meet everyone as soon as possible, so I held off on distributing my tickets until much later. But that's not really relevant right now...

Anyway, we were required to buy at least one book at the event from the Barnes and Noble Kiosk, so I quickly picked up a copy of Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper (a book I hadn't heard about until recently that sounds AMAZING) and This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee (which I've been wanting to read since before it came out last year) before heading into the main room with all the autographing tables and panels and stuff.

I scanned the room looking for some of my blog friends, and almost right away I noticed Cat (Let the Pages Reign) and Deanna (Reading in the Rain) and had to say hello. I'd already met them in real life before, so it was nice to see familiar faces. After chatting with them for a minute or two, I got my book signed by Kendall Kulper and ran into Kelly and Melissa (Live, Love, Read) and Heather (Kelly's cousin) who I'd previously met at the PassTruth Tour stop in NYC back in January.

And then the time came to meet Rachel (A Perfection Called Books). Most of you probably don't know this, but I became friends with Rachel 2 1/2 years ago on Goodreads. In 2014, I had just joined Goodreads and had decided to explore some of the groups on there to connect with fellow readers like myself, and I became friends with some awesome people, Rachel included. I won't go into a ton of detail about all that stuff (I'll save my Goodreads life for another day), but anyway, it was so surreal finally meeting someone who I've known after so long.

My memory is a bit jumbled as to what happened next, but basically the series of events that followed: I set my bags down because I was carrying way too much stuff, I had the awkward bathroom encounter with Sush (S. Usher Evans) that I'd been trying to avoid which was proceeded by lots of hugs and laughs and book-buying, I met Mackenzi Lee and struggled to figure out how to hold a mechanical arm, I met Jodi Meadows and got to try on her magical cloak, I listened to the Surprises in Publishing panel, I met Julie Eshbaugh, and I met two of the Swanky 17s (A.V. Geiger and Amanda Foody). And I also met MC, who is an awesome blog person and twitter friend.

After the panels and signings were over, the VIP ticket-holders were invited to dinner at a restaurant across the street. I ended up sitting with Deanna and Cat, and it was super nice to catch up with them after so many months. Dinner was satisfying, but dessert was even better (the mini cupcakes were absolutely delicious). And after dessert, there was a live RQWN chat (a IRL version of Nori's famous twitter chats) followed by another raffle. It was super fun rotating between tables and sharing our answers to Nori's random questions (although as someone who is bad at meeting new people, I prefer her online chats to IRL ones).

After a few questions in the chat, Nori announced the raffle prize (13 books that released or were going to release from January 2016 - January 2017 and a poster), and I somehow won. So basically I came home with a TON of books:

So I guess that means I should do a haul.

Books I Bought:
  1. The Mirror King by Jodi Meadows (I technically bought this a few days before the event, but I never officially hauled it and I bought it for the sake of BookItCon, so I'm including it)
  2. This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee
  3. Salt + Storm by Kendall Kulper
  4. Fusion by S. Usher Evans
  5. Empath by S. Usher Evans
ARCs I Received:
  1. My Secret to Tell by Natalie D. Richards
  2. Resurrecting Sunshine by Lisa A. Koosis
  3. Spells & Sorcery by S. Usher Evans
Trade/ARCs from Friends:
  1. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco (thank you so much, Rachel! <3)
  2. Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge (thank you so much, MC! <3)
  3. Bunheads by Sophie Flack (thank you for trading with me, Jacquelyn!) 
ARCs/Books I Won:
  1. The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles (ARC)
  2. Spindle by E.K. Johnston (ARC)
  3. Scythe by Neal Shusterman (ARC)
  4. What Light by Jay Asher (ARC)
  5. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake (ARC)
  6. The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee (ARC)
  7. Run by Kody Keplinger (ARC)
  8. The Memory Book by Lara Avery
  9. Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes
  10. South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf (ARC)
  11. Girl Last Seen by Heather Anastasiu and Anne Greenwood Brown
  12. Of Better Blood by Susan Moger
  13. Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
I also got a ton of swag including stickers, bookmarks, postcards, posters, and a bunch of other things that I didn't take photos of. But anyway, I am so excited for all of these books and am so grateful to Nori for making BookItCon happen! I had an absolute blast!

Waiting on Wednesday (56)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that you are eagerly anticipating.

The Reader by Traci Chee
Series: Sea of Ink and Gold #1
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Page Length: 448 pages
Publisher: Putnam
Publication Date: September 13, 2016

About The Reader (via Goodreads):

Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.

What I Learned from My Hogwarts House Identity Crisis

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Hello friends. Today, I'd like to discuss something a little more... obscure. So if you follow me on social media or if you've read my June Wrap-Up post, you may have noticed one of the things I’ve mentioned is that I am "forever in a Hogwarts House identity crisis." I'm not going to go into depth about that throughout this discussion, per se, but it definitely contributes greatly to why I am writing this post. Because the thing is, I liked Harry Potter a lot. At the time, I thought Hogwarts Houses were a fabulous thing. And there are still plenty of positive things about them, such as bringing the community together, bolstering friendly competition and house pride, etc etc.

However, I've realized a few things since then. Please bear with me as I talk about them.

The key thing: humans (Muggles) and wizards/witches are complex creatures. They cannot be stereotyped and categorized so easily. A single person can be courageous, ambitious, loyal, and wise. It's not as simple as possessing one trait or another. Not everyone (in fact, most people) don’t fall into a single category. But with Hogwarts/the Sorting Hat categorizing people in this way, we fall under the impression that those people aren’t anything more than what their House represents.

There are so many ways for personalities to develop, but when in a certain House, it’s like being tied down. You are expected to be a certain way and I don't think you can truly expand your horizons and it’s hard to become someone greater than the stereotype/House you're sorted into. The way you are nurtured greatly impacts the person you become, so growing up in a school that forces you into Houses based on a specific set of personality traits...? It just doesn't make sense to me.

While there is limited ability to choose what House you want to be in (as Harry *minor spoiler for Book 1* chooses to be Gryffindor over Slytherin *end spoiler*), often the House you are in seems to seal your fate. While not all Slytherins are evil, for instance, most people associate them with evil, and that's what many of them become. Gryffindors are expected to be courageous, daring, and bold. They’re expected to be heroes. But there are other ways of being courageous in less loud and attention-seeking ways. Basically, people aren’t always brave in the let-me-fight-you way. But I think people feel the pressure to conform to the standard of the loud and proud Gryffindor.

Speaking of loud and proud, I’d like to discuss the "friendly competition" among the Houses. It’s honestly not that friendly. A lot of the stereotypes cause people to shy away from developing inter-House friendships. Especially Gryffindors and Slytherins, who tend to be sworn rivals. And not in a good way. Yes, it’s understandable if you want to win the House Cup or annihilate people in Quidditch, but it’s a bit much when they play dirty off the pitch and in real, day to day life. While this is probably more the case in the books than among us Muggles who are lucky enough to live in a world with Pottermore, it still may cause tension and false impressions of people.

Lastly, people change. A LOT can change between the ages of 11 and 17. This time is the prime time to start exploring, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. People should have the opportunity to develop through unique, new, and liberating experiences. They should discover who they are for themselves, not be told who they are from the start.

We should be able to choose our own destinies and write our own stories, not have someone (or something) tell us what we have the capacity to accomplish.

NOTE (8.10.16): I am not, by any means, trying to say that this system did not work for the characters in J.K. Rowling's fabulous series. There seemed to be a bit of a misunderstanding when others before read this post, and I just wanted to clarify by saying that what I meant by this post was that given my circumstances and traits that I actually possess, this system would not work for me. If I were thrown into the Harry Potter universe, I would be a complete mess. Because I would feel like I'd be forced into a box of expectations and I wouldn't know what to do with myself. Maybe that means I'm weak (aka the Hufflepuff is finally emerging in me), or maybe it's something else. But it's my opinion, and I wanted to clarify and defend it.