Book Review: Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor

Touted as an Outlander for teens, I was more than excited to get my book nerd hands on Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor. I literally finished this book within 48 hours, so right off the bat I’m going to tell you it’s good, and yes, you should totally read it! Here’s a quick synopsis before I delve into my review:

Into the Dim Book Review

Being “the homeschooled girl,” in a small town, Hope Walton’s crippling phobias and photographic memory don’t help her fit in with her adoptive dad’s perfectly blonde Southern family. But when her mother is killed in a natural disaster thousands of miles from home, Hope’s secluded world crumbles. After an aunt she’s never met invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic. She’s a member of a secret society of time travelers, and is actually trapped in the twelfth century in the age of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Now Hope must conquer her numerous fears and travel back in time to help rescue her mother before she’s lost for good. Along the way, she’ll discover more family secrets, and a mysterious boy who could be vital to setting her mother free… or the key to Hope’s undoing.

The settings for Into the Dim are lush and exciting, and the story itself is so engaging. As a massive fan of time travel (pretty much by way of Outlander and Dr. Who) and history, I was thrilled to see a YA capitalize on them both. Unlike many sci-fi novels, there aren’t any glaring plot holes. The manner of time travel is easily explained and the conflict is complex but not unbelievable. I loved the characters, although I’m really hoping that the next book delves more into the Viators and the Timeslippers – I feel like we haven’t yet had enough time with all the characters!

Into the Dim kindle cover

I loved Hope, she is a great YA main character. She has this amazing photographic memory, which is counterbalanced by her serious phobias like anxiety and claustrophobia. I love that despite her various issues, Hope is never really weakened by them, she doesn’t engage in any sluggish self-pity. Despite her crippling anxiety she handles her situation rather well. Going along this journey from Hope’s perspective was a joy, she’s the kind of character that you definitely look forward to hearing more from.

I do wish that the book was longer – I know it’s 432 pages, but it felt like it went by so fast! Also, I wasn’t thrilled with the ending which felt rather rushed. I know everyone hates a cliff-hanger, but they’re a necessary evil. They leave you reconsidering everything you just read and wanting more, and I don’t really feel like there was a serious “gasp! Until next time…” kind of ending. That being said, I loved Outlander and I love that Diana Gabaldon gave this book her stamp of approval, one drawback about Outlander for me is that I wouldn’t share it with my younger sister because it has so many intense mature themes. However, Into the Dim allows me to share the world of time travel and history because it’s written for that young adult audience and I know my sister will get hooked because with a story like this – brimming with adventure, history, time travel, and romance – how could you not? It’s just so utterly engrossing and wonderfully told.

Into the Dim by Janet Taylor

All in all (wow, I feel like I haven’t written that phrase since my senior thesis), Into the Dim is an exciting YA novel not just because it’s amazingly written but also because it’s a great way to introduce younger readers into the world of time travel and history, and I cannot wait to see what else Janet B. Taylor has up her sleeve! The book is anticipated to hit shelves on March 1st 2016 – make sure you get your hands on a copy!

Preorder Into the Dim for your kindle here.

Title: Into the Dim
Author: Janet B. Taylor
Pages: 432
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Adventure
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers

*I received a digital copy for review via NetGalley, find more of my reviews and talk books with me on goodreads!

Book Review: The Trouble with Destiny by Lauren Morrill

At first I hated this book. I could not connect with the main character, Liza, who I felt was way too uptight and controlling. I was tempted to put the book down (or in this case, my Kindle) but I didn’t and I’m actually pretty darn glad that I finished it. The Trouble with Destiny by Lauren Morrill stars Liza Sanders, a drum major who has just found out her band is losing funding. Armed with her clipboard and baton, she finds Destiny – a luxury cruise liner hosting a Spring break talent show complete with a $25,000 prize. Throw in an old friend (a.k.a. new flame), the school jock, and an ex-bestie/current arch nemesis and you’ve got a recipe for YA Contemporary gold.

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You see, when I was in my senior year of high school I finally took Musical Theater, the only art credit that would fit into my perfectly crafted schedule where I attempted to spend the least amount of time in school, little knowing that I would be selected as Stage Manager for our Winter performance. If you don’t know what a Stage Manager is, they’re basically that person that does everything – they have to make sure that everything and everyone has what they need, is where they need to be, and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I was one of the only senior’s in a sea of freshman, given the burden of stage managing as well as having to perform “Can You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables. Suffice it to say it was one of those terrible, horrible experiences that you sort of chuckle about years later, but also still feel weirdly bitter about. In the middle of running around moving people and props on stage I had a classmate open the stage door on my finger, ripping my fingernail up and backwards off of my nail bed exactly one act before I was supposed to perform. The pain in combination with angry stress left me crying angry tears. I still remember going on to perform and hearing my musical theater teacher whisper from the front row “sing LOUDER Krista”. I don’t think anyone could have given a more genuine French revolution-inspired (pardon me, June rebellion) performance.

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This tale of woe has a point (I promise), you see while I initially abhorred Liza’s over-controlling personality I began to understand her. I could identify with stress and pressure and feeling like you’re the only person who can see “the big picture”. I can identify with giving yourself over to stress in such a manner as you do and say things you instantly regret. For people who are natural born leaders, like I believe Liza is, there is a struggle with trying to get people on the same level of motivation when they are not as invested. Which is why I loved that the story ended the way it did.

Of course, there were some parts that I just couldn’t even – like when she got in trouble with her band teacher. I get how in terms of moving the story along that would be a quick way to get Liza out of leading the band, however, I just didn’t like how it was written, I didn’t like that that was what ended up happening. I also didn’t like her antagonistic relationship with Russ throughout most of the book – I liked Russ instantly, as a reader you know he’s the good guy so every time Liza is mean or just plain rude to Russ it makes you sort of kinda hate her. I went to a city school where I feel like cliques weren’t as big of a deal as they might be elsewhere, so I’m not sure if this sort of resentment has any root in reality but I wasn’t a fan of the sports team-hating on Liza’s part – it felt a little too cliché. Also, the ending is really rushed – like the author is tying up all these loose ends that have been floating around – Liza’s relationship with Demi gets a quick and unrealistic ending, which brings me to the conclusion of this lengthy review…

I realized while writing my review that the issues that I had with the story were all mainly issues with the tendency of the writing to be unrealistic. I mean, would you really do what Liza does? Would anyone? And then it hit me – this book is a literary chick flick for the younger set – does anyone bump into a billionaire in the street, end up interviewing with them, solve their corporate issues with your knowledge of shopping, and magically fall in love? Not often. In the same way no one would really raise enough money for a luxury cruise ship excursion with the entire band in the middle of being defunded, and casually compete to win $25k in between buffet bars, jacuzzi’s, and romantic entanglements? Probably not. But we love these stories just the same, which is why I can gladly give The Trouble with Destiny a tidy recommendation.

Pick up your copy of The Trouble with Destiny here!

Title: The Trouble with Destiny
Author: Lauren Morrill
Pages: 272
Genre: Young Adult, Teens, Fiction, Contemporary
Publisher: Random House, Delacorte Press

*I received a digital copy for review via the NetGalley, find more of my reviews and talk books with me on goodreads!

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Two weeks ago I went on YA reading rampage. Well, not really. But I did finish three books in a span of three days, and one of those books was Uprooted by Naomi Novik (the others were the first two books of The Remnant Chronicles series). The blurb for Uprooted promised to be an intriguing, if not dark, retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It’s only until recently that I’ve become a fan of BATB, as a kid I never really liked it because it was my older sister’s favorite Disney movie and as rascally younger siblings do, I didn’t want to like everything that my sister liked. Of course now when she asks if we should watch Beauty and the Beast, I’m always game!

Kindle Book Review Uprooted

But back to the book, while this is modeled generally off of the framework of BATB, it’s not really a retelling. It’s more just inspired by BATB – sure we have a “beast” character, a Belle, and even a sort of Gaston, but the stakes are much higher here than in Belle’s little village and the curse in this story is a dark and dangerous woods that is a legitimate threat to life in the entire kingdom.

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
 
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
 
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
 
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
 
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

As far as main characters go, I really adored Agnieszka. She was spunky and honest, brave but in a realistic way. I’m not a big fan of leads being surprised that they have some hidden strength that no one else has – girls that are “just normal” but find out that they’re in fact princesses, have epic ninja skills, or are secretly another being entirely – but when we find out that Agnieszka is unique in her own right, it’s so well written that we don’t feel that this makes Agnieszka no longer relatable. She doesn’t become this awesome, cool heroine who is impossible to emulate because you don’t have a similarly tragic past that’s murky with mystery and deadly family secrets (I’m looking at you dystopian fiction). She’s still this normal girl, who is struggling with a life and future that she never anticipated – i.e. spending ten years with the “Dragon”, a mysterious and grumpy/rude but generally helpful wizard.

This story was packed with so much great stuff, I honestly don’t know where to begin, and really party of me just wants you to stop right now and pick up a copy yourself. So if you haven’t read it, I recommend you stop here. If you have then continue –

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So I loved the idea and the character of the ‘Dragon’, but I wish that there was more development where he was concerned. I don’t know, I felt it was like a gun on the mantelpiece – there is so much more potential for story here! I am demanding a sequel Naomi!

The whole premise of having a forest that is pretty much alive with deadly forces is so enchanting, and I loved how the author doesn’t leave flagrant plot holes and does not overwhelm you with useless information. I do wish that there was more interaction between the Dragon and Agnieszka – their relationship goes from 0 to 60 in a matter of a few scenes, and I honestly don’t think she was prepared to get into bed with the Dragon when she did. In fact I wish she hadn’t – partly because I would’ve recommended this book to younger readers (like my younger sister) if this scene hadn’t been included. I love Agnieszka’s relationship with Kasia, but I also feel that there is so much more that could be done/said with both of their characters.

I get that this is one of those do you or don’t you book reviews – but the reality is is that I loved this book, but on the other hand I can understand people who are not as enamored with it as I am. For instance, I love lyrical and descriptive writing – my imagination can fill in the scenes with all the suspense and drama required – but some people prefer it to be written out for them and there’s nothing wrong with that. I do sincerely hope that Naomi writes a sequel, as the book really just scratched the surface of iceberg of potential this world she wrote has.

Pick up your kindle copy of Uprooted here!

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Pages: 448
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Del Rey, Ballantine Books, Random House

What’s On My Kindle: Cinder – Book One of the Lunar Chronicles

I had heard so many good things about Cinder on blogs and vlogs that naturally I chose it as my form of procrastination the week before finals (yep, shudder in yer boots – finals). Unfortunately I just couldn’t get into the beginning. I don’t know if I was restless from doing so much academic reading, but try as I might I couldn’t connect with the story. I normally am not a massive sci-fi fan – aside from Dr.Who – aliens and robots don’t appeal to me as a reader (or viewer). But finally, finally, the week after the finals I sort of fell into it and I couldn’t put it down.

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Basically, Cinder, which is book #1 of the Lunar Chronicles, is about Linh Cinder – a female cyborg mechanic who can boast both an evil stepmother and stepsister (the other sister is meant to be good). There’s also a prince, an evil queen, and an old pumpkin car waiting to become an enchanted mode of transportation. Well, sort of. Here’s the Goodread’s synopsis:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Doesn’t that sound like a good read?! Alright, I actually didn’t think much of the blurb either – but there were so many reviews saying that the book was great that I just had to read it. It’s like peer pressure for book lovers.

Cinder

Anyways, Cinder takes off towards the middle of the book – and there is a certain part where you realize who Cinder is – which is way before she figures it out – and then everything following that will basically have you on the edge of your seat because suddenly everything gets way more intense. As for Cinder herself, as a character I thought she was alright. She has the basics for a great female character – she’s sarcastic, feisty, even a little comedic but she’s also really slow on the uptake and really self-deprecating, which is great for who and where she is during this book but boy am I ready to see who she matures into for the following books (Scarlet, Cress, and Winter).

As a leading male character, I was not overly thrilled with Prince Kai. But to be fair we haven’t really had time to see him develop as a character. I felt like he gave in to Levana so easily, and after being so promising at the beginning of the story he just seemed to quit too fast towards the end. I know, I know, he’s in a no-win situation but I feel like I’d have to side with Captain Kirk on this one – I just don’t believe in a no-win situation. Queen Levana makes all evil stepmothers (including Cinder’s) pale in comparison – she’s cruel, evil, plays terrible mind games, and is pretty much just the Dolores Umbridge of the story. The story ends sort of on a frustrating cliff-hanger – and trust me, it’s not at all like the classic fairy tale (in a good way!).

All in all, I can’t wait to read the next books in the series. I don’t think I’ll pick up the next two until the third one comes out – I’m the sort who prefers to have them all in hand rather than having to wait. If I had to star this, I’d give it 3.75 stars – if you like fantasy or sci-fi then you will love this one!

Pick it up from Amazon for your Kindle here!

Title: Cinder: Book One of the Lunar Chronicles
Author: Marissa Meyer
Pages: 448 pages
Genre: Fiction, YA – Teen, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Macmillan Publishers, Square Fish

What’s On My Kindle: Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

I’ve been a fan of Sophie Kinsella since my sister gave me a copy of her first Shopaholic books back in middle school. This particular book of Kinsella’s was recommended by Natasha Polis of YouTube book vlogging fame – you can find her channel, Tashapolis, here (she’s pretty awesome)! “Can You Keep a Secret?” is a story about Emma Corrigan, Emma is a typical 20-something who just happens to have a fear of flying. It’s this fear of flying combined with some bad turbulence that leads her to spill all her secrets to the guy sitting next to her on the plane. Only it turns out that that guy who now knows all her secrets also is the head of the company that she works for!

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I immediately fell into the story in the worst sort of way. You know how it is – where you’re grinning at the page like an idiot and you can’t hear someone call your name even though they’ve said it like three times. I mean, I’d like to consider myself a pretty smart reader, I’m familiar with le Carre, I’ve dallied with Shakespeare, I’ve even read literary essays, and have had a subscription to Businessweek since I was fourteen – so what if I’ve never read Proust and can’t ever bring myself to start finish Anna Karenina – the point is I can’t even be bothered with things like literary devices or the impossibility of the plot when reading “Can You Keep a Secret?”. I never worry about things like world hunger or the greater implications of our main characters’ life decisions. Or that the chances of getting a complimentary upgrade on a flight are even crazier than the chances of meeting (and falling in love with) a self-made millionaire. Really – that doesn’t happen in the real world. But Kinsella sure makes me wish it did! She knows her reader, and she gets that sometimes we need a fairly large dose of wish-fulfillment.

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I loved the character of Emma, I felt like she was generally just a sweet person and I really sort of resented the other characters who, I felt, took advantage of her personality (ehem, her family, her coworkers, *cough* maybe even Jack). I loved the plot, I mean Kinsella books function as literary cotton candy – they don’t necessarily have great nutritional value but they do have plenty of sentimental value, and summer just wouldn’t be complete without it. I laughed, I got misty-eyed, and at the end I felt unsatisfied and ardently hoped for a sequel. So basically, if you’re looking for a sweet story that has loads of humor and the perfect amount of drama – get your hands on Sophie Kinsella’s “Can You Keep A Secret?”!

You can pick it up from amazon, here!

Title: Can You Keep a Secret?
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Pages: 400 pages
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Random House, Delta Press

What’s On My Kindle: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

It’s been such a long time since I’ve been able to pick up a piece of fiction and finish it. If the book doesn’t suck me in within a few pages, chances are I won’t keep to it. In addition to my literary pickiness I’ve recently been in sort of a fiction reading slump – nothing has really sparked my interest. At least that was the case until this weekend, where I finally got around to opening The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley – a book I had downloaded onto my Kindle ages ago, but hadn’t really felt up to reading.

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Here’s the description/blurb from amazon:

“History has all but forgotten…In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.

Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her…”

Basically, the book centers around Carrie – a writer who is working on a novel about the 1708 attempt to return James Stewart to Scotland and the throne. Carrie’s writing becomes almost entirely based on the memories she seems to have inherited from her ancestor, Sophia – now the main character and heroine of her tale. I’m not going to spoil it all for you, but if you’re in a reading slump this is one of those really great I-stayed-up-all-night-reading books.

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The history woven through the tale ensures that this tale is not purely a romantic novel, giving depth to the story and kindling an interest in the reader (at least this reader) to do a little research of her own into the time period where our main character is meant to exist. The writing of the characters and detail of the setting just make this an entirely engaging story.

Personally, as a reader, I’m not the biggest fan of time travel nor am I the biggest fan of parallel storylines. But it was written in such a way that I became just as invested in Carrie’s life as I was in Sophia’s. And despite the plot twist (at hello, 72% of the way through) I hung on and was rewarded with a satisfying – if not unsatisfying in the way all good books are – ending.

Although there were a few bumps, it still rates for me as a great book, one that pulled me out of a reading slump and one I have happily added to my collection! Find it here on amazon.

*SPOILERS*: If you haven’t read the book, then read no further! This next bit is for readers who have already read The Winter Sea and wouldn’t mind commiserating over it.

First off, I loved the dynamic between Stuart, Graham, Jimmy and Carrie. They read so well to me! It was easy to picture and sympathize with all four of them. Also, I loved that Kearsley wasn’t so heavy handed with the romance – which would have cheapened the book in my opinion.

I also really love Sophia’s interaction with most of the other characters. I especially loved the character of the Countess, and wish that there was more development or storyline featuring her. She came across as such a strong female character, I definitely could see her having a story of her own.

What I Didn’t Love:

Her leaving Anna behind. I mean after she “meets” (and I say that so as not to spoil anyone who hasn’t read the book and has scrolled down too far) McClelland, I get why they ditch Anna – but prior to that, I just don’t get it. In fact after her and McClelland make their plans I still don’t get it – that decision feels far more selfish to me then what I’m guessing the author intended – which leads me to my second point…

What is with the implied incest there at the end??? So weird, so just NO. It really detracted from the book for me. Up unto that point I would’ve even been up for an epilogue – more story to tell me what happened to Sophia – but instead I was like “ew! what!? why? why would you just drop that in there and run?!”. Also, I could’ve done with more interaction between Carrie and Graham and wouldn’t have minded if she ditched the genetic memory storyline altogether – it was unnecessary, as I reader I had already suspended disbelief the second I found out the character was having memories from hundreds of years ago.

Have you read The Winter Sea? What are your thoughts on this book??? Let me know in the comments!

What’s On My Kindle: The Tuscan Sun Cookbook by Frances Mayes

As much as I love the feel of an actual physical book, I live in NYC where space is something I don’t have – so I rely on extensively on my Kindle to store all of my favorite stories. The most recent addition to my digital library is The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen by Frances Mayes. The author of the acclaimed Under the Tuscan Sun (from which the movie starring Diane Lane was based) has published this collection of inspired recipes.

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I saw Under the Tuscan Sun when I was in middle school and I fell in love with the sweeping views of Tuscan countryside, the field of sunflowers, the dilapidated but incredibly charming villa Bramasole, the parade of characters. But there was one scene that got me everytime (besides when Frances begins renovating her house), when Frances begins to cook. Bread, pastas, artichokes, wine, and poached pears only manage to rate two minutes of the movie but it always stuck with me. The food all looked, well, welcoming – which is why I was thrilled to read The Tuscan Sun Cookbook.

Frances writing style has always appealed to me, and her narration of this cookbook is as warm and enchanting as ever. The cookbook includes more than 150 recipes, with Frances guiding us through each. The recipes do not come across as complicated, instead they capitalize on the heart of Tuscan cooking – where ingredients are “left to shine, not combined with a list as long as your arm or tortured into odd combinations”.

The photographs make me wish I owned this in hardcover – where it would be much loved, and quite possibly end up with sprinkles of flour between the pages along with other wayward ingredients.

If you’re in the market for a good cookbook with simple recipes and an engaging narrative, this one is for you. Find it here.