January 28, 2016

Book Review | Second Star

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**Review also posted on GoodReads

Second Star is a reimagining of Peter Pan set in California. We experience the story as Wendy Darling, who has just graduated from high school and is looking to start at Stanford University in the fall. However Wendy’s mind is more focused on the disappearance of her younger brothers, twins John and Michael, who reportedly passed away during a surfing accident nine months prior to the start of the novel. Wendy doesn’t believe they are dead, however, and vows to spend her summer finding them. At her school’s graduation bonfire on the beach she meets a surfer named Pete. She later finds him again on a beach called Kensington, where he lives with a gang of homeless teenage surfers, including his ex-girlfriend Belle. There is another group on Kensington led by a drug dealer named Jas. Wendy spends pretty much the entire novel talking to Jas, Pete, and Belle trying to find out if they know her brothers, and learning how to surf in order to feel closer to her brothers.

Overall I really liked this book. It was an interesting take on one of my favorite stories. I loved the author’s descriptions of the beach and the waves. It made me wish it was summer.

There were only two things I didn’t really like.

First, the love triangle thing. I didn’t buy it for a second. I never get fully invested in that trope, and it didn’t seem really necessary for this particular story.

Second, the ending was…I don’t know. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t bad, but for the last 20 or 30 pages I was in a constant state of confusion.

Again, I really enjoyed this. Will it be the first book I reach for when recommending things to friends? Probably not, unless they are big Peter Pan fans themselves, but I definitely think this is a book people should check out.

December 15, 2015

Skipping Christmas

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Merry almost Christmas everyone!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and one of my favorite times of the year, but if I’m honest, I’m not one hundred percent in a festive mood. I suppose it’s because I spent the first two weeks of the month worrying about finals and presentations for my second to last semester of college, which doesn’t leave much room for festivities. Then I can home and started watching Christmas movies, listening to music, staring at our family’s Christmas tree…and I still didn’t feel the way Christmas used to feel. I felt like Cindy Lou Who in the live action Grinch movie, wondering where the feeling of Christmas had gone.

That is until I picked up Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.


I’ve read Skipping Christmas every year since the fifth grade, so about eleven years now. It’s only 177 pages long, but the story is so captivating and told so well that it doesn’t really seem that short. I also adore the movie, Christmas with Kranks, which was based off of the book.

If you don’t already know, the story is about a married couple who decide to go on a cruise instead of dealing with the stress that Christmas tends to bring while their daughter is off in Peu with the Peace Corps. The book centers around them avoiding all the hullabaloo that comes with the commercialized expectations of Christmas.

The story itself is hilarious and that’s a big part of why I read it, but I think what I love most about this book is how many memories I have of the past Christmases where I read this, and through the pages of this I was able to relive all those moments.

If you have never read this novel, I highly recommend it. It’s just the thing to get you in the holiday spirit if you, like me, have been feeling less than festive.

November 10, 2015

Book Review | A Whole New World

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Aladdin has always been one of my favorite Disney movies. There is even an old home movie of me at age 2 or 3 standing in front of the TV singing the entirety of “A Whole New World” (and nailing almost all the words). Something about the land of Agrabah has held a special place in my heart of the years, so I was beyond excited when I learned about this book.

A Whole New World by Liz Braswell is the first book in the Twisted Tale trilogy, stories which are inspired by classic Disney movies. This particular novel poses the question: What would happen if Jafar got the lamp?

The novel starts off pretty close to how the animated film starts. The dialogue is pretty much all lifted from the film, but we get to learn a bit more about Agrabah  and what it is like for Aladdin to be growing up in this environment. We then meet Jasmine, Aladdin is arrested and “rescued” by Jafar who takes him to the Cave of Wonders. And this is where the Twisted Tale kicks off. As Aladdin tries to escape the collapsing Cave of Wonders he asks Jafar for help getting out. Jafar asks for him to give him the lamp, which Aladdin does, before Jafar kicks Aladdin and he falls and is trapped in the cave. We all know that in the movie Abu the monkey stole the lamp back from Jafar, but in this version, Jafar is victorious in getting his hands on it and is quick to take over the kingdom.

I thought this would kind of like that Twisted musical that Starkid has on YouTube (which is hilarious and I recommend checking it out, unless you don’t like swearing or things that might ruin your childhood, in which case you might not like it).  Unfortunately a lot of the humor and characters were flat.

The Genie is not funny. I know a huge part of his humor comes from his character being voiced by Robin Williams, but you would have thought that the author would have carried over some of his humor, especially in this darker situation with Jafar being in charge. That seems more in character for him. Sadly, he was just a sad blue guy who popped into Jasmine’s parts of the story on occasion.

Aladdin and Jasmine were relatively the same as their iconic movie counterparts, although it felt like they needed a little extra something. There were just a few scenes where they felt flat, but for the most part they were good.

One thing I will say about this book is that it offered a look into Aladdin’s life as a “street rat.” I found the different layers of the poor people in Agrabah to be interesting. There was like a whole class system of thieves, with Aladdin at the top of the system (stealing only what was necessary to get by) and those who kill and steal for sport/as a career at the very bottom. We have a lot moments where this system is explored and how Jasmine discovers this later on when they are trying to defeat Jafar.

Overall, I would give this book about a 2.5 out of 5 stars. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it, it was just okay. There are two more books in this series for Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast, two of my other favorite Disney movies so I am holding out hope that those are good.

Have any of you read this book or the others in the Twisted Tale series? Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

July 25, 2015

Book Review | The Beast Within

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Hey there Literature Lovers! Today I’m reviewing The Beast Within.

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The Beast Within by Serena Valentino is a re-imagining of the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. It focuses on the Beast when he gets cursed and his transformation. In this particular story, the Prince doesn’t turn into his beastly form right away after the curse is placed upon him. Instead we see how he slowly evolves into the character we all know. We also get more of an opportunity to see him interact with the servants in the castle, as well as the people from the village.

This re-imagining touches on one of the plot holes from the 1991 animated movie: why the heck does no one in Belle’s village know about the castle? It’s not that far away, and surely they would have remembered that they used to have a prince, or at least the king and queen who had lived there? Why don’t they remember? Due to the curse and the prince’s slow transformation, we see the effects of the curse gradually take hold of the villagers, including Gaston, who was the Beast’s best friend when they were younger. We also have a moment where Beast sees Belle at a ball, but only the back of her head and only really notices her when she arrives at the palace to save her father because he was teasing Gaston for having a crush on her.

I don’t know how canon this particular story is in the Disney universe, but Disney Hyperion published it so it has to mean something, right? Or it could be a cash grab. The world may never know.

Overall I really enjoyed this story and I am looking forward to seeing what other “villians” will get their backstory told next.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 Stars.

Have you read The Beast Within? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

May 19, 2015

Book Review | The Distance Between Us

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The Distance Between Us by Kasie West is about a sixteen-year-old girl named Caymen who lives with her single mom above the antique doll shop her mother owns. One day Xander, a rich, handsome, and charming boy comes to the shop to pick up something for his grandmother. The two begin talking and start to take an interest in one another. Caymen was taught by her mother at a young age not to trust the rich, and she decides to ignore Xander. But Xander’s persistence convinces Caymen to give him a shot, only to learn that her mother’s warnings of avoiding the rich might be true. In the end Caymen and Xander decide they are willing to work through the obstacles of their different financial backgrounds in order to be together.

This was a cute and quick read, the kind of summer time book you read in one sitting while lying in a hammock with a glass of lemonade. It was quite easy to fly through this story. It was a bit of a cliché story in a way, with the poor girl and the rich guy falling in love despite the protests of everyone around them, but something about the way Kasie West told the story made it new and different (if that makes any sense).

I thought it was cool how they were trying to immerse the other in something completely out of their comfort zone at the beginning of their friendship, although I personally thought Caymen’s choice of visiting a cemetery and digging graves was a little much. But hey, that’s just me.

Regarding the characters, I really liked Caymen. I couldn’t personally relate to her life, but I had no problem getting into her mindset and seeing things the way she saw them. She had such a strong voice that pulled me in, which is always important.

Would I classify The Distance of Us as my absolutely favorite young adult contemporary? No. But I did enjoy it a lot. I think I gave this about a 4 on Goodreads, and I am looking forward to reading some more of Kasie West’s works as I did enjoy her writing

I’d love to hear some other opinions on this story. Feel free to leave me a comment below. I’m curious to know what other contemporary books you enjoy.

Thanks for reading!

May 8, 2015

Book Review | The Heir

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Hello everyone! Today I wanted to talk about The Heir by Kiera Cass.

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This is the fourth installment in The Selection series, and while I did like it, I’m still a bit surprised that this came out. The original three books in The Selection series made an aggravating, but satisfying trilogy. But I was excited to see Maxon and America in their later years.

This new addition to the series follows Eadlyn, the eldest of Maxon and America’s four children, and the twin of Aaron. Because she is the eldest, Eadlyn is heir to the throne, making her the first female leader of the country of Illea. There are still rebellions happening in the kingdom, and Eadlyn’s parents suggest holding a Selection for her as a distraction for the people. Eadlyn doesn’t want to because she doesn’t think she needs a man to rule with her. However she agrees, and soon there are suitors lining up to win the hand and the heart of the princess.

Eadlyn is a character who you can feel very wishy-washy about. When she first introduced herself, I didn’t mind. The opening line about how she is the most powerful girl in the world made Eadlyn seem like a very tough girl who could get things done, which I thought was a good image for girls. It showed how seriously she was taking her role as the future Queen of Illea.

However, she soon started to take her toll on me. She started acting irrationally, which her mother did in the earlier books, but at least America showed a bit of decorum. Eadlyn started acting like a toddler when she was asked to consider holding her own Selection.

The boys in this Selection seem very…one dimensional. Eadlyn doesn’t give half of them the time of day, and it feels pretty obvious who is going to win. Who knows, though? Kiera could totally pull the rug from under us.

And that ending…um, cliffhanger much?

All in all, I did enjoy it. I definitely think this is one of the prettiest covers (along with The One). If you liked the original books in the series then I would recommend you continue to this.

Happy reading!

April 22, 2015

Book Review | The One

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Hey there Literature Lovers! We have reached the third book in The Selection series, entitled The One.

the one

I can’t really say too much about this particular book without giving away spoilers so if you haven’t read the first two stories, you should check out my posts here:

http://laurenecox.com/the-selection/

http://laurenecox.com/the-elite/

Definitely check these books out if you haven’t already.

 

– SPOILERS  BELOW –

Let me just tell you, it is a good thing I was home alone while I was reading this because the amount of times I yelled frustratedly at this book was ridiculous and my roommates would have thought I was insane.

I actually found America a bit more bearable in this particular story…but only a bit. She still had her moments where she was being stupid. When she finally realized she loved Maxon, she refused to tell him. She kept going, “Oh, later. I’ll tell him later.” Or when Aspen was trying to tell her something she would brush him off and say, “I can’t handle this right now. Tell me later.” JUST DO IT NOW.

Thank goodness King Clarkson died. He was such a jerk. But America’s dad? And Celeste, who had just had a huge character change? I was not okay with that.

The meeting with the rebels was interesting. I liked August, but I really liked Georgia. She was funny and seemed to genuinely appreciate America. I especially found her amusing at the tea party because no one knew she was a rebel.

Speaking of rebels, I definitely thought Kriss was a Southern rebel for pretty much the entire book. I saw an untagged spoiler on Tumblr regarding one of the girls in the Elite being a rebel. At first Celeste popped into my mind, but it then became obvious that it was Kriss. Then I started thinking that Kriss was planted in the pool for the Selection by the Southerners and she was there to win the crown and when she got it she would kill the royal family and the Southern rebels would take over the country. I was so excited and kept waiting and waiting…and waiting…and waiting…and it never came. Oh well.

The end of the book was great to me. Aspen and Lucy were together, Maxon was now the king, he finally proposed to America, it was all perfect. When it came time for the epilogue, I was preparing myself for a cute little scene with Maxon and America looking out over the kingdom or playing with their kids or something, I don’t know. Instead it was their wedding, and I was like, “Okay, yeah, this is cute.” Until freaking Aspen is the one to walk her down the aisle. I’m sorry, no. I know he was a big part of her life, and he has Lucy and she has Maxon, but in what universe is a guy okay with having his fiancé’s ex-boyfriend walk her down the aisle?

–END OF SPOILERS –

 

I greatly enjoyed this series. This is one of those stories where you are so annoyed the entire time you are reading, but at the same time, you can’t put it down. The characters are hair-ripping frustrating and so easy to invest your time in. I recommend this to anyone who is looking for something light, but not overly fluffy.

I can’t wait to see what The Heir holds in store!

 

 

April 21, 2015

Book Review | The Elite

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Hello everyone! Today I finished reading The Elite, which is book number two in The Selection series. I did a review of the first book last week if you want more information.

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This post is going to be full of spoilers, so if you have not read either the first book or this one then you will probably want to avoid this particular post.

 

– SPOILERS –

America Singer continues to be the most indecisive person ever, who would have guessed it. This is my second time around and I kept rooting for America to do the right thing, to tell Maxon that she was starting to feel something for him, that Aspen was in the palace, anything to redeem herself from the sheer stupidity, and she never did any of it. This girl is more indecisive than Katniss and as reckless as Bella Swan. There were times where I had restrain myself from actually yelling at America.

Aspen continues to get on my last freaking nerve, too! Like, are you kidding me? He is again risking both their lives by sneaking around with her behind Maxon’s back. Maybe you don’t care that much about your own life, but if you truly cared about America, then you wouldn’t put her at risk like that! Geez! And the part where he tells America that Maxon is an actor and that it’s good America learned that now before she ended up married to Maxon…and America just listened! America is the only person, besides Maxon, who actually knows Maxon. Okay, she might not know everything, but she knows him better than all the other girls. Yet she is like, “Aspen obviously knows all about Maxon so I should listen to him.” No. Aspen needs to go.

I will give Aspen one point though because this line was cute: “It’s just the way it is. The sky is blue, the sun is bright, and Aspen endlessly loves America.” That is actually sweet.

The King. Oh my gosh. He is so repulsive. I still don’t understand why he is so cruel to everyone he interacts with. And what I really, really cannot deal with is that he beats his son. That takes things way too far.

I was tearing up having to reread what happens to Marlee. I kept picturing my best friend in her position, and it was really hard to get through those few pages.

–END OF SPOILERS–

I kept getting frustrated with this book, and at times I almost felt like skipping over it because I had already read it and knew what was going to happen, but at the same time, it’s one of those you can fly through in a day. It didn’t feel like I wasted time reading it again, but I was so fed up with America. Then again, maybe she is an allegory for America the country, since we are indecisive and irrational a majority of the time.

This is my least favorite of the three books in the series. The writing is good, the story keeps invested, but it all boils down to how cringey America was in this book.

If you have read the first one and are debating giving this a shot, I say go for it. You will want to throw your book across the room in frustration, but, hey, that’s the sign of a good story.

April 14, 2015

Book Review | The Selection

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In preparation for the new release in The Selection series (written by the wonderful Kiera Cass) that is coming out in early May, I decided to reread the existing books in this series and immerse myself in the glimmering world of .

 

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For those of you who are unaware what this series is about, here is a brief synopsis:

The story is set after the fourth World War. The U.S. was taken over and after  it was newly named Illea.

Making up the population of Illea are the eight castes, with Ones being the nobility and Eights being the most destitute (basically think the Factionless from Divergent or the people of District 12). Whenever a new prince comes of age, there is a competition that allows the “daughters of Illea” (aka the common folk) a chance to win his heart and the crown.

Reviews have labeled this as The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor, though to me it’s a very small comparison.

Our main character is named America Singer. She’s a Five, which means she is a musician. She is in love with a boy named Aspen Leger, who is a Six. Aspen is very poor and has to do a lot of manual labor to support his very large family. They have been dating in secret for two years and always talk about how they are going to get married one day. When the sign-up for The Selection comes around, Aspen tells America to sign up even though she doesn’t want to. She agrees to make him happy, and then he dumps her. Shortly after America is chosen along with thirty-four other girls to go live in the palace and meet Prince Maxon. America makes it clear to Maxon that she doesn’t want to compete for him, but instead she’ll be his friend and be able to help him lower down the candidates for his future wife.

The cover is beautiful, the story is interesting. Even if you aren’t super girly or interested in the whole princess thing, you would probably still enjoy this. There are a lot of fluff moments, but it’s not too overdone. I would talk a bit more about the characters, but I feel like I might start spoiling it. But if you think this is something you would enjoy, definitely check it out.

March 22, 2015

Book Review | The Lost Crown

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The Lost Crown is a young adult historical fiction novel following the royal Russian family in the years following up to the Russian Revolution and the years they were forced into hiding. Told from the POV of the four grand duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, we get a look into how their privileged life is.

I’m a huge history buff, and the Russian Revolution was always one of my favorite lessons, probably because I was so in love with the Fox cartoon as a kid. It was a real life mystery, the disappearance of one of the Romanov sisters, and it is still one of those things that I find so fascinating.

In the author’s note, Sarah Miller explains who she gathered as much information as she could from letters and other documents from the Romanovs or that were associated with the family in order to piece together a true story of the four sisters.

Juggling the story from four different viewpoints sounds dizzying as it is, but Sarah Miller managed to execute it perfectly. There was never a moment for me where I couldn’t tell who was speaking and what they were feeling in that moment.

Sarah Miller did a fantastic job at capturing the lavish lives of the girls and the confusion and panic they felt as they were forced away from everything they ever knew into the small place where they were to spend their last days. If you are a history buff, or simply just a fan of the Fox cartoon, definitely pick this up. You won’t regret it :)