Sugar & Gold: A Book Review

Books: Sugar & Gold (Dreamcatcher #2)

Author: Emma Scott

Sugar & Gold (Dreamcatcher, #2)

Blurb:

Nikolai Alexei Young was born with a special gift…one he’d do anything to lose. The heart and soul of every person he comes into contact with is an open book to his heightened senses. Colorful emotions, whispers of thoughts, the sour tastes of old memories…He feels them all. The sci-fi books would call him an empath. For Nikolai, his ability has made him an exile. He roams the U.S. alone, avoiding the glut of life in big cities, and using his innate talents to win money in underground poker games. Just enough to keep going, one town to the next. He has no hope that his life can be anything else, until he meets her…

At nineteen, Fiona Starling was trapped in an ugly, desperate situation until she freed herself the only way she knew how. Now three years later, living outside Savannah, Georgia, she is rebuilding her life on her own terms; seizing every moment and saving every penny so that she might fulfill her dream of moving to the raw wilderness of Costa Rica. But behind her carefree smile beats the heart of a lonely young woman haunted by her past, until a chance encounter with a tattooed stranger changes everything…

Fiona takes Nikolai under her roof for three sultry nights, waiting out the rain of a summer storm. She grows more and more fascinated by this brooding stranger with whom she shares an intense physical connection—a connection so strong, she wonders if there is something between them beyond lust and passion. Nikolai is shocked to discover that Fiona calms the raging turmoil in his heart. She alone silences the din of other people’s lives, and envelops him in the sweet beauty of her inner self. Every moment he’s with her—every touch of her skin—brings him closer to the peace that’s been eluding him his entire life.

But Fiona harbors secrets that she is too terrified to reveal. After Nikolai confesses his unique ability, she is caught between wanting to believe him and fearing he’ll eventually unearth her own dark past. When the unthinkable happens, Fiona’s plans come crashing down, and Nikolai discovers his hated ability might be the only thing that can save the woman he loves.

My thoughts:

If I’m being honest, the cover and title are what attracted me to this book. Shallow butterfly that I am, I thought they were absolutely gorgeous. I didn’t think twice before requesting this book from Net Galley.

I’ve read other books by Emma Scott. I really enjoyed the Full Tilt duology and The Butterfly Project. I think both are fantastic new adult books that show how a relationship can transition from platonic to romantic, and that dealing with other serious issues doesn’t mean that a relationship isn’t viable.

However, in Sugar & Gold, the relationship was too fast and too dramatic for me. Though the characters themselves seem to acknowledge the relationship is “backwards”, they do not make a real effort to slow it down and get to know each other. Another thing that might offend you: I was a bit uncomfortable with Fiona’s obsession with Nik’s “Russian-ness”; to me, it seemed like a fetish to me instead of a distinct appreciation for a portion of his character.

I think the concept is beautiful. It is not the first time I’ve seen an extremely empathetic person who can see auras in a novel, but I adored how Nik put his abilities to use in poker. His poker skills also allowed for great banter between the characters and gave them some chemistry. I also think that his empathy made him the perfect person to reassure Fiona, who suffered from emotional abuse, that she was beautiful and worthy.

The reason that this book failed for me was because I did not think there was enough build-up in the relationship between the characters. Additionally, I was not a fan of the pacing. The beginning dragged on with multiple sexy scenes, but not enough substance. The characters were too wrapped up in themselves and their own secrets. For most of the book, I felt like they were courting an ideal instead of an actual person. This made the first 50% seem repetitive.

The ending felt inconclusive and anti-climatic to me. There was very little retribution and it just wrapped up too neatly and quickly for the bloodthirsty part of me which likes the characters to be uncertain and precariously balanced at the end of a novel.

This book will still appeal to readers who want to read a love story about a genuinely kind people who have suffered meeting a person who will always put them first. However, if they think about it too long, they will realize that it’s sugar, empty calories and gilt. There’s no real nutrition or metal in Sugar & Gold.

Overall Rating: 2/5

Oh and BTW, this might be because I read How To Save A Life  (Dreamcatcher #1) a long time ago, but I really didn’t feel as the two books needed to be connected. Frankly, it felt unnecessary.

Advertisements

Hold me: A Book Review

Book: Hold me (Cyclone#2)

Author: Courtney Milan

Blurb:

Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.

But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…

My thoughts:

This book was hugely anticipated for its diversity. A Latina, transgender main character and a bisexual, Asian love-interest. Compared to Trade Me (the first book in the Cyclone series), the cultural diversity issues take a backseat.

I haven’t included the cover.Don’t worry, it was purposeful. I feel a bit awkward about posting such an obvious romance book clinch on my young-adult blog. I wouldn’t say the cover is misleading–there’s definitely sex in the book, (after all, this is new adult) so the somewhat racier cover fits.

I’m torn on whether I mind the lack of emphasis on cultural diversity. On one hand, I loved the culture-clash in the last book; as an Asian, I easily related to the embarrassment that some customs of your culture can cause, and the guilt that your parents (who grew up in the culture) know how to take advantage of. On the other hand, I like that this book wasn’t about diversity– it was about a character who happened to be diverse, and as a result, there story seemed to feel so much more natural.

Additionally, I wonder where all these cultural-struggles would have gone. This book focused on gender stereotypes that women in STEM have to combat. It also spent a good amount of time on how childhood traumas affects adult life. Maria was kicked out of her house at age 12, when she told her parents she identified as female; her fear of being kicked out of her house followed her to college.

I’ve heard Hold Me compared to “You’ve Got Mail”. Not having watched the movie, I can compare it only superficially. There is obviously this whole element of 2 protagonists getting on like a house on fire online, but hating each other (for reasons of varying validity) in real-life.

I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for the hate-at-first-sight trope. I especially like watching 2 sworn enemies find something they admire in each other, and seeing the chemistry explode.  And there’s something satisfying about watching two people flirt online–with math of all things– that makes this interesting. The one thing that I worried about in this book was whether Milan would draw out this book endlessly using petty jealousy and terrible communication between the characters. No, despite the pranks and the passive-aggressiveness at the beginning of the book,  by the time the characters get to the middle, they are communicating like real adults.

I still don’t know if I like Jay. Like Maria, I find myself taking umbrage to the way he took one look at her and dismissed her as a ditzy girl with a limited IQ. His reasons for it seem weak. Though the reason he shares is that he blames a pretty, shallow girl for distracting him enough to prevent his younger brother from suicide, I wonder how much of it is because he’s intimidated.

“I’m more of a pickup basketball kind of guy, and she’s… Well, she’s into whatever game you play with a French manicure and Louboutins. The game she’s playing sucks, the players are mean, and I want nothing to do with it or them.

Nothing, except… My stupid lizard brain wouldn’t mind watching her play.”

Yet, he’s the character that grows the most in this book. He comes a long way from dismissing accusations of sexism because he works with women.

“You’re a goddamned professor. If you assume your female students who care about their appearance don’t know math, you’re doing them an incredible disservice.”

 Unlike other books where you can see the love interest has a deep antipathy for women, and even while falling in love with one (*cough* Whitney, My Love *cough*), falls in love with her because she is different and completely unlike other women, by the end you can see that for Jay respecting women is not theoretical, he has concrete examples.

This book was good, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly amazing. The first part was fun to read if I suspended disbelief that characters in their late 20s would act that way (people who are older than me may agree that this is normal, but as a measly teen–I think I expect more). It was a good read–Courtney Milan is an amazing writer.  But i dove in the book, expecting to be wowed; here expectations worked against me and so I’m a little disappointed.

Overall rating: 4/5

Julie Cross: The Comfort of Patterns

“Pressure is just that—pressure. It’s all in your head. It has nothing to do with what you can or can’t do.”
―  Whatever Life Throws at You

I’ve always wondered what was more important as a writer: having the agility to make all of your characters and plots completely unique, or being able to write a few things well.

While having cookie-cutter characters and plots would be totally boring (imagine having a template where you just add in names and places), I think the old adage “write what you know” makes sense.

Julie Cross is a perfect example. Most of her books share similar elements:

  1. There is always at least one set of absentee parents. (what a cliche)
  2. The protagonist is usually a  precocious girl in her late teens who’s socially awkward due to an unusual childhood.
  3. Each story has a heavy sports angle to it.

However, these repeats are precisely what makes her books so compelling. Julie Cross writes with a confident authority about sports. I don’t know much about sports or the training that goes into it. The extent of my athletic capability is using a bike to get around dancing alone in my room for an hour.  However, either Cross was once a serious athlete or someone close to her was.  She writes so competently about the persistence, the determination and the challenges an athlete faces, it’s hard to believe anything else.  She doesn’t name drop terms or over-explain them; she just inserts them in a way that is immaculate and natural.
Note: I just googled her and found out that she was a former gymnast and now she’s a coach. 

Though there is always at least a dead parent or a dead-beat one, there is also a rational, supportive adult the protagonist can rely on. Julie Cross is fantastic in dismantling the young adult “the adults can’t be trusted trope”. This is not to say the coach/remaining parent is rah-rah, perfect and infallible . More often than not, they don’t know how to bridge the gap with their teenage ward. They enforce curfews and limit independence and have no idea how to talk about feminine issues. But they do try hard. They are stable and present, making it obvious they have the protagonist’s best interests at heart. Watching an angsty teenager and clueless adult bridge the communication gap and build a strong relationship is truly amazing.  I don’t usually make judgments about people’s personal lives, but I think she would be an amazing mother. I know I sound like a stereotypical teen, but she just gets it. 

“You’re always observing people, but maybe you’re studying the wrong things.”
-Third Degree

By reading her books, you can tell that Julie Cross really likes slow-paced, mature relationships. The romance between characters is always born out of friendship and trust. It begins with talking, then there are demonstrated common interests and showing that you understand and care about your to-be-significant-other. This is the ideal I aspire to for love. The characters (and Julie Cross by extension) deal with sex and intimacy in almost a grown-up way. There is no raging jealousy over exes, although there is some insecurity, which is dealt with by talking (how novel!). In Cross’s books, sex is a big deal (most of her teenage girls are socially isolated and young enough for them to be completely inexperienced) but it’s not called a “precious gift” or a guarantee of marriage. She doesn’t even imply that the first time is perfect; in fact, the moments leading up to it are a bit awkward.

I don’t like “Letters to Nowhere” and “Whatever Life throws” and “Third Degree” in spite of the repetitive patterns. I like them because of it.

Third DegreeWhatever Life Throws at YouLetters to Nowhere (Letters to Nowhere, #1)

 

Kick Push: A Book Review

“You said that life’s just like skating; I just need to kick forward and take a chance, push off the ground and follow through. And when everything works out, I’ll coast.”

Book: Kick Push

Author: Jay McLean

Kick Push (Kick Push, #1)

Blurb:

There’s a single defining moment within every skater.
It lasts only a second. Two if you’re good.
Three if you’re really good.
It’s the moment you’re in the air, your board somewhere beneath you, and nothing but wind surrounds you.
It’s the feeling of being airborne.

The sixteen-year-old version of me would’ve said it was the greatest feeling in the world.
Then at seventeen, I had my son.
And every single second became a defining moment. Even the ones that consisted of heartbreak when his mother left us.

Seventeen. Single. Dad.
That’s what my life became.
Yet, every day, I managed to find that feeling of being airborne.
Or at least I convinced myself I did.
But I lied—to myself and to everyone around me.
Until she showed up; Tanned skin, raven dark hair, and eyes the color of emeralds.

You know what sucks about being in the air?
Coming down from the high.
Sometimes you land on the board and nail the trick.
Then kick, push, and coast away.
Other times you fall.
You fall hard.
And those are the times when it’s not as easy to get back up, dust off your pads and try again.
Especially when the girl with the emerald eyes becomes your drug…
And you become her poison.

My thoughts:

Kick Push was one of my Random Reads. I don’t know why I picked it up. It was about a skater. I know nothing about skating. It was a new-adult romance. I typically dislike angsty, over-blown new-adult romances. It promised to cover teen pregnancy. (This is going to sound awful) I’ve never considered the difficulties of being a single parent in your teens. Not in anything more than a vague, distant way.

Kick Push has amazing writing. It is lyrical and descriptive. Each word is violent and necessary. Each sentence high-kicks you in the face and each paragraph shoves your head under water. Sometimes, the writing was so beautiful and sad and simple, I found my lungs burning because I had forgotten to keep breathing.

“He punches the steering wheel. And then he breaks. The boy I love breaks. And there’s nothing sadder, nothing harder in the world than watching the person you love fall apart right before your eyes—and you can’t say or do anything”

Yes, it’s melodramatic and overblown. You can tell just by reading the blurb (which I did not do because it was a Random Read). It’s overly-poetic and unabashedly sorrowful but I can forgive it….Almost.

This book gave me so much more respect for single parents. In an abstract way, I knew that it wasn’t easy to be a single parent (or to be a teen parent). I know that jobs rarely want to hire high-schoolers with no experience. I know that child-care is expensive and I know that parents make sacrifices, but never has it resonated so much with me.

I am so impressed by Ms. McLean’s gutsy decision to write this from the perspective of a guy. Again, this  makes me sound recklessly uncaring,  but even though I’ve heard of single-mother teens, I’ve never considered how tough it would be for the father.

“You know what’s worse than your landlady calling you out on wearing cologne purely because you want to impress her granddaughter? I’ll tell you what. Being in the confined space of a truck while your son tells said granddaughter about how you paid him five moneys for him to tell you about what she said about you. Yeah. That’s happening.”

But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?)  this is first and foremost a love story. While I loved both characters individually, I couldn’t root for their relationship. They were just so broken and dealing with so many responsibilities, that I kept thinking their relationship was unhealthy. Maybe, that’s why I wasn’t surprised the relationship turned to shit, that the break-up was so destructive.

I appreciate that the book acknowledges that real-life lesson, that love isn’t always enough. That sometimes there is some scary, horrible things happening below the surface and that you need to be careful when you give your heart to someone, even if they’re the most selfless, bravest, kindest person you know.

This book ends on a cliff-hanger and I’m not even angry about it. If there was a happy-ending, I would have considered it rushed. Both characters fought some of their nasty demons in this book, but they still have a lot of growing up to do. There’s a second book (no idea when it’ll be released though).

“There’s a big difference between being happy and being selfish. Choose to be happy. Fire truck the rest.”

Overall Rating: 3/5

On a barely related side-note, this book makes me realize that real-life is scary.

A Court of Thorns and Roses: A Book Review

Title: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)
Author: Sarah J Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)

Blurb:

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and George R. R. Martin, this first book in a sexy and action-packed new series is impossible to put down!

My thoughts:

I absolute adore the Throne of Glass series. So as soon as I knew that S J Maas was writing another book, it went on my TBR list-no questions asked. It’s another retelling of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast along with a good, old-fashioned dose of village folklore and it’s…beautiful.

I really didn’t like Feyre at the beginning of the book. She just seemed so Mary-Sueish as soon as I found out she was single-handedly taking care of her family and they didn’t even appreciate her. What was even more irritating was the fact that she had taught herself how to hunt and how to patch herself up once she got hurt. Not to mention her over the top distrust and cynicism. Cliche, anyone?

But I forgave Feyre quickly enough once she got over herself. The worldbuilding in this book was absolutely fantastic and so was the writing. Here are a few examples:

“I threw myself into that fire, threw myself into it, into him, and let myself burn.”

“I was as unburdened as a piece of dandelion fluff, and he was the wind that stirred me about the world.”

“You look . . . better than before.”
Was that a compliment? I could have sworn Lucien gave Tamlin an encouraging nod.
“And you hair is . . . clean.”

Elegant and beautiful, isn’t it?

The love interest’s in this book were a hundred times hotter than the ones in the Throne of Glass series. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Tamlin was sweet and considerate at some times, totally feral and dangerous at other. And he was amazing, but really I’m all-like TEAM RHYSAND. If I read things correctly, we’re going to have a love triangle (normally I don’t like those but I’ll make an exception for this series) on our hands in the next book. Join me on Team Rhysand because Rhysand is dark, mysterious, has scarier powers- Oh! And he gets the best dialogues.

So if you liked Throne of Glass, you’re going to love this book. If not, you may like it but definitely not to the same extent. And I feel the need to warn you: this book is targeted to the older side of the YA audience. While you might enjoy it as a 16 year old, I wouldn’t recommend letting your little brother or sister read this book.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

If you like this book, you should read: Cruel Beauty, Throne of Glass


Pearls of Wisdom from the Book:

“Because all the monsters have been let out of their cages tonight, no matter what court they belong to. So I may roam wherever I wish until the dawn.”

A life for a life–but what if the life offered as payment meant losing three others?”

Lauren Layne : Isn’t She Lovely?

Remember that post I did recently about Why New Adult Romance and I Have Never Got Along? I am forced to take some of that back. Don’t get me wrong! I dislike the genre as much as I always have but I know that there are some exceptions (actually, if you read that post carefully, you’ll notice that I never implied that all NA was bad.)

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that NA is a sub-category of YA. As much as I dislike the New Adult genre in general, I’m not completely willing to write it off for this reason. It may also be because the 18-25 age bracket which NA is all about is one that I’m eagerly anticipating. Although…if NA’s an accurate representation of that life, I may be actually willing to wait till I’m 18 and in college.

Getting back onto the topic of the hour: Lauren Layne. Lauren Layne’s books aren’t exactly quality literature. I’m sorry to say that, but if I had to classify it into a category it would be a guilty pleasure (for some of them but I’ll get to that later).

Isn't She Lovely (Redemption, #0.5)

The first Lauren Layne book that I read was ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ and it’s a retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Pygmalion. In case you need a refresher, Pygmalion was a sculptor who one day, decided to carve a sculpture of his ideal woman. Ironically, he fell in love with her. He prayed she’d come to life and she did but eventually she was unable to live up to his expectations. I’ve always loved the myth of Pygmalion- it does show that you can’t simply project your desires onto someone else because you’ll only end up disappointed that way. However, I had no idea that My Fair Lady (which I completely adore, by the way) was inspired by Pygmalion.
Lauren Layne and her characters do a superb job casting themselves in a modernized version of My Fair Lady set in New York where instead of a cockney accent, it’s her goth self that the protagonist has to give up. In true new adult fashion, the protagonist has a deep, dark past (which I’m sorry to say only evoked sympathy not empathy from me) and is using god-ugly boots and thick eyeliner as a shield to protect herself from her tragic past. She’s grown to accept it as part of her and is understandably hesitant to cast it off, even if it’s for the sake of a film project in which she has to infiltrate the upper echlons of New York society.

One thing that had me really excited me about the book was the beginning. Stephanie, the protagonist and main narrator begins with a sarcastic explanation of what a meet-cute is ( I totally get points for knowing what a meet-cute is despite hating film, right?). To be honest, I’m tired of meet-cute’s- a couple’s first meeting in which something embarrassing or totally embarrassing happens. When a couple has a meet-cute, they always have a good answer to ‘So, how did you two meet?’- so when I got this sarcastic meet-cute, I was pretty thrilled. Although, slamming into a guy and having him help you pick up your feminine sanitary products…well that’s really a meet-cute.

It’s not just in this book. Lauren Layne has a real penchant for meet-cute’s. In the sequel to this book Broken, I think there’s a reference to suicidal tendencies and giving the ‘circus-freak’ a dollar to see his scars. In her book, Only For You, there’s the mother of all meet-cute’s- the love interest mistakes her for a …gasp! hooker! I’m still on the fence as to whether I like meet-cute’s or not…

One thing that Lauren Layne was not able to convince me of is Happy Ever Afters. I still don’t like HEA’s and I mean no offense, but I really dislike the huge demonstrative ones in which you make a significant change to your lifestyle and then run half-way across the country to show your significant other how serious you are in your desire to get back together to your significant other. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been in a relationship, but I really don’t see the appeal.

The beginning and ending may seem a little formulatic but I can promise you the in-between is completely organic and beautiful. Lauren Layne is brillinant with her double- PoV . This is  made even more impressive by the fact that one character is male! The plot actually moves along (unlike most NA’s) and the dialogue is so witty and cute it’s…lovely.

Broken (Redemption, #1)

This is the case for the sequel to this book, Broken even though it’s more angsty. It’s also true for her The Best Mistake series which deals with older and more mature characters (and scenes). I wasn’t able to properly enjoy her Sex, Love and Stiletto series because I highy doubt journalists are able to lead lifestyles like ones shown in the books-which reminds me, that a film-buff friend was unexcited by the lack of filmi-passion in this book.

That hardly makes Lauren Layne’s books formulatic or even similar to each other. One thing I really enjoy about her books is how each romance is so different, but still so beautiful. I recently wrote to her

Me:

Not really a question, but after reading Isn’t She Lovely, Broken, Only for You and Made for you- how is it possible that you’re able to write such different romances and that they’re all so great?

Her reply:
Aww, so sweet of you to say this! Especially since it’s something I worry about as an author … there’s always this sense that the “superfans” of one book won’t like the next one because it’s so different. Isn’t She Lovely and Broken were especially like this for me!! Isn’t She Lovely was snarky and funny, Broken was a bit more gritty. Was worried I’d alienate my ISL fans!
So it’s lovely that you wrote this message 🙂 Mostly it comes down to trying to do your best by the book … writing the character/story as it comes into your head without deliberately trying to make it emotional/sad/funny, whatever.

Isn’t that inspiring? Isn’t she lovely?