Review: Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

Title: Free to Fall
Author: Lauren Miller
Genre: YA, sci-fi
Publisher/Publication Date: HarperTeen / May 13, 2014
How Did I Get It? Bought it
Format? Hardback

Synopsis from Goodreads: What if there was an app that told you what song to listen to, what coffee to order, who to date, even what to do with your life—an app that could ensure your complete and utter happiness? What if you never had to fail or make a wrong choice?

What if you never had to fall?

Fast-forward to a time when Apple and Google have been replaced by Gnosis, a monolith corporation that has developed the most life-changing technology to ever hit the market: Lux, an app that flawlessly optimizes decision making for the best personal results. Just like everyone else, sixteen-year-old Rory Vaughn knows the key to a happy, healthy life is following what Lux recommends. When she’s accepted to the elite boarding school Theden Academy, her future happiness seems all the more assured. But once on campus, something feels wrong beneath the polished surface of her prestigious dream school. Then she meets North, a handsome townie who doesn’t use Lux, and begins to fall for him and his outsider way of life. Soon, Rory is going against Lux’s recommendations, listening instead to the inner voice that everyone has been taught to ignore — a choice that leads her to uncover a truth neither she nor the world ever saw coming.

Amazon | Barnes and NobleBook DepositoryGoodreads

Okay, so I’m pretty sure I can put my sci-fi likings into two piles. One would be the space and hyperdrives and aliens a la Ender’s Game and Avalon, and the other would be the really-close-to-our-society-but-really-effed-up-in-a-dystopian-sort-of-way a la Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. Free to Fall would be of the latter variety. Seriously, I haven’t been this astounded and had my view of life challenged since I reread F451. It was like…

The entire concept brought me right back to 9th grade, when I was sitting in American Lit class and we were discussing Thoreau’s Walden. My teacher was trying to argue that technology is evil and it’s turning the human race into mindless creatures who disrespect everything, etc., etc. Cue 13-year old me having a mini-meltdown because I couldn’t find the words to say NO TECHNOLOGY IS AN INANIMATE OBJECT WITH ZERO POWER AND IT’S HUMANS WHO MAKE THE CHOICE TO BECOME IDIOTS WITH OUR TECH in a classroom appropriate way. But thank god Miller could. That was the moment I pretty much went full fangirl mode because one of the big points in the book is that technology is simply a tool for us to use; it all depends on how we use it that determines the detriment or benefit. So huge kudos right there for that incredible plot point/theme.

I’ve made it known that I’m not a huge mystery fan, yes? Well, now you know: Kayla and the mystery genre are mortal enemies. No Nancy Drew or Boxcar Kids for this girl. And the Westing Game? Pshaw. HOWEVER! The twists and turns and the slight “whodunnit” aspect of this novel didn’t bother me at all. It was more of a thriller like – oh my god I figured out who it is but OH MY GOD THEY’RE THE GOOD GUY but then who is the bad guy. <— My thought process. You’re welcome. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, finishing all 400+ pages within a few hours. I may have gotten to the point where my mom called my name several times and I still didn’t hear her. I mean… I never get that invested in a book. Ever 😉

And okay, I have to give a paragraph to the characters and romance. I loved how Rory was just a girl – she wasn’t any archetype. She was strong, brave, girly, weak, grumpy, sometimes mopey, distracted by a hot guy – all of that and more. She was just trying to get through life in the best way possible, and in that she was a strong character. I mean just slow clap it out *again*. Because WOW we need more girls like Rory in YA fiction! And then there’s North – who relies slightly more on the freedom-fighting hacker trope, but still stands on his own nevertheless. I should also admit right now that I fell in love with him the moment forearm tattoos taken from literary sources were mentioned. If I had to pick a body part, it’d be forearms, and when you put tattoos on them oh my word I just melt into a puddle.

I hope that wasn’t TMI, but it’s the truth

As far as the romance – I thought it was a wee bit insta-lovey, but it was a slow burn. So I guess maybe insta-attraction? Okay, I lied. I totally loved the romance. There is seriously nothing I can complain about here! Every single word was just flawless. Sue me if I fell for a trope – I still love it!

Long story short – y’all need to read it. If you love sci-fi that’s really close to our society, but just a bit more creepy *shudder*, then Free to Fall may be for you. Aimee @ Deadly Darlings and I read this together, and she ended up giving it 3 (2.5?) stars, so you can check out her review here to see her side of the story. But as for me – FULL STEAM AHEAD! Now I just need to hunt down a copy of Miller’s first book, Parallel. Also: I’m so glad my professors had me read Dante’s Divine Comedy, because I actually caught a few of the references. And how the title relates to the theme and poem? Oh lordy it’s just like *mind blown* again.

My Final Rating:

Six stars

Review: Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Title: Love and Other Foreign Words
Author: Erin McCahan
Genre: YA, contemporary
Publisher/Publication Date: Dial / May 1, 2014
How Did I Get It? Gifted!
Format? Hardcover

Synopsis from Goodreads: Perfect for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell, Love and Other Foreign Words is equal parts comedy and coming of age–a whip-smart, big-hearted, laugh-out-loud love story about sisters, friends, and what it means to love at all.

Can anyone be truly herself–or truly in love–in a language that’s not her own?

Sixteen-year-old Josie lives her life in translation. She speaks High School, College, Friends, Boyfriends, Break-ups, and even the language of Beautiful Girls. But none of these is her native tongue — the only people who speak that are her best friend Stu and her sister Kate. So when Kate gets engaged to an epically insufferable guy, how can Josie see it as anything but the mistake of a lifetime? Kate is determined to bend Josie to her will for the wedding; Josie is determined to break Kate and her fiancé up. As battles are waged over secrets and semantics, Josie is forced to examine her feelings for the boyfriend who says he loves her, the sister she loves but doesn’t always like, and the best friend who hasn’t said a word — at least not in a language Josie understands.

Amazon | Barnes and NobleBook DepositoryGoodreads

My rating for this book is actually a bit odd – I’ve given it four stars, but it’s actually earned a spot on my favorites shelf. Objectively, it’s four stars, because there we some flaws in the book which I’ll detail later. But personally, I connected with this book so much, especially with Josie. I swear, it was like McCahan took 15 year old me and shoved her into a hardback cover. I wasn’t gripping the pages, rushing to see what would happen next, but this story was one of those slow, meandering ones that I enjoyed a few chapters of before bed.

Like I said – Josie could practically be my twin. The confusion of how to communicate with her peers in high school, starting college at 15, the sensory issues, all of it! Especially the sensory issues; I was FREAKING out, yelling at my mom and shoving the book in her face to say MA SHE GETS IT WITH THE SOCK SEAMS AND THE TOUCHING AND THE HAIR BRUSHING AND THE PONYTAILS. I’ve never read a book before where the protagonist has sensory overloads, and honestly I’m finally starting to understand the whole “representation in YA” issue. Because this is such a little thing, but I was able to say, “she understands,” and that’s something every reader should be able to experience. /soapbox

In identifying with Josie so much, I had a really hard time being objective with the rest of the characters. I thought Geoff was the biggest douche-wad ever and I just wanted to tell him to stick it where the sun don’t shine, and it was such a struggle to step back and realize, hey, maybe he’s just a bit nervous and has the best intentions but doesn’t communicate that well to Josie. But the one issue that I really couldn’t get over was Kate’s attitude towards Josie’s physical appearance. I mean, forcing someone to wear contacts because “glasses won’t look right in pictures” and insisting that she get her ears pierced? Way too much for me. I was just flabbergasted that Kate had the gall to say that to her sister, especially in front of other people.

But I think that was the best part of the novel – the reconciliation and strengthening of relationships after hardship. It was really refreshing to see a strong family unit stick together even in their arguments. Plus, I just really have to give a round of applause to Josie’s parents for making sure she was as challenged as could be, and encouraging her to embrace her intelligence in a healthy way. It reminded me of my parents, and how they made sure I was able to go to college at such a young age. Like I said; so many of Josie’s experiences are ones I shared as well.

But there was one pitfall to the book: the ending. I felt like the romance came out of nowhere (even though I knew it was going to happen sooner or later), and was resolved a bit too quickly. Like I was going on all these twists and turns at a nice steady pace, then the last 30 pages came at me all at once, then hit a wall abruptly. I was a bit startled to find that it had ended, but I guess that just means that I loved it so much that I wanted more!

In the end, I stick with my 4 star rating. I think it’s suitable for the story, since I’m not keyboard smashing from excitement or anything, but it’s going to stay with me for a long time in a special little place in my heart. It’s one of those books that I’ll walk past on my shelf and smile fondly because it’s a special baby of mine.

My Final Rating:

Four stars

Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ruin and Rising (Grisha #3)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: YA, fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Henry Holt & Co / June 17, 2014
How Did I Get It? Bought it!
Format? Hardback

Synopsis from Goodreads: The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Amazon | Barnes and NobleBook DepositoryGoodreads

Just a warning: this review is going to be completely unstructured and mainly random thoughts thrown together because I can’t even control myself. But let this be my guiding statement: Ruin and Rising was the best possible ending I could have imagined for this series. The fates of the characters were appropriate, the final battle was heart-stopping and breathtaking, and the epilogue left me in tears (I think they were happy, but maybe a bit sad too because I can’t believe this is the end of this trilogy). I’ll have two sections to this review: the first completely spoiler free, and the second will be spoilers because I need to get all of these thoughts out.

Spoiler Free Review:

Allow me to begin with a gif:

I think that about covers it. Not even. My experience while reading this book was very strange. I picked it up, but couldn’t read it the second I got home. I had to sleep on it, then the next day I told myself I had to finish it by the time I went to bed. The first half I read one or two chapters at a time, alternating some blogging and other work between the segments. But then I reached the 200 page mark, and I couldn’t put the book down until I read the final page. I reached that reading place where I can’t hear anything outside of the story inside my head; my mom and sister finally stopped trying to talk to me. My heart was racing, I was gasping and laughing and crying, and I may have screamed once or twice.

As far as the story: I thought Leigh balanced the need to wrap everything up without info dumping very well. I mean, there was A LOT to divulge and sort through, but I never felt as though I was sitting through a history lesson. The legend of the amplifiers was HOLY CRAP inducing, and I didn’t see the twists coming at all as far as that aspect of it. The final battle was satisfying, yet gut-wrenching. I knew what would happen, and I knew it was necessary, but it didn’t lessen the hurt. And the epilogue… it made me feel the same way the end of the Return of the King makes me feel: nostalgic, grieving, yet hopeful. How is it that I’m nostalgic for a past that isn’t even mine?? I’ll tell you how: Leigh has written such a fantastic story that it’s become a world I live in part time and feel just as strongly as the characters.

And the characters… oh my wow. All my favorites were back, plus a few new characters that I fell head over heels for within just a hundred pages. Harshaw and Stigg were the two I most loved, and then there was Adrik and Nadia, who had been in the previous books but really expanded their roles in this story. And then of course the main cast: Alina, Mal, Nikolai, the Darkling, Zoya, Genya, David, Tolya, Tamar, and so many more. They were all so well balanced, and I didn’t ever feel as though one was dropped off or focused on too much. And they all grew so much in this book; they still had their personalities, as abrasive as some of them were, but by the end they all had that battle-worn connectedness that was really touching.

I really don’t think I can say any more before I start getting into the spoilery specifics. But if you need a sign that you should read this series, this is it. Honestly, it’s the best series conclusion I could have possibly imagined – joining the ranks of Allegiant and Ignite Me.


Okay, now my summary in a gif:

I’ve got to bullet point this whole thing. And I do mean SERIOUS SPOILERS if you somehow missed that big header up there.

  • MAL IS THE FREAKING THIRD AMPLIFIER?? I screamed. I totally, completely, screamed. Out loud. Very loudly. I may have interrupted my mom’s movie. BUT WHAT THE HELL I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING AT ALL. But it all makes so much sense now! I mean, I knew there was something different about Mal, but my theories weren’t even CLOSE to the truth.
  • Oh my poor baby Nikolai. He survived – praise God – didn’t get a girl – I volunteer as tribute – and is so scarred from the Darkling’s nichevo’ya – that bastard. But at the same time he’s still that swaggering, charming, hilarious, passionate, and incredible character that I fell in love with in Siege and Storm. I wish the epilogue had addressed how he handled the throne and all the fallout from the battle, but I know he was okay in the end.
  • I don’t even know how to voice my thoughts on Alina losing her power. In a perfect world, she would have lead the Second Army and been the badass Sun Summoner with Mal at her side, but I think the two of them living as regular humans and running the orphanage was a different sort of a perfect world. But really that epilogue, when Zoya gave Alina the blue kefta and the letter – I lost it. TEARS. AND FEELS.

  • The Darkling. I know he’s so controversial, and I don’t intend to forgive/forget all of his atrocities, but I thought it was so incredible how humanized he was. It was really uncomfortable, but it was also so eye-opening to see him as a person, not just a dark figure looming in a courtroom. I also had the prequel story from the Barnes and Noble edition, but it was actually just a fully written out story of a tale told in R&R. So never fear – it’s not as though you’re missing a critical part of understanding the Darkling! And I thought his name suited him so well: Aleksander. It just fits. In the end, if we really had to classify him, I’d say he’s a sympathetic villain. Hugely, intensely sympathetic. Just a broken boy jaded by the bigotry who turned to the wrong methods to end the persecution.
  • I’d also like to make note here that Genya is a freaking warrior queen and someday I hope to achieve that level of badassery. Just slow clap it out. Seriously – every time I wear my “I am Ruination” pin I got from the Fierce Reads tour, I feel a bit more powerful, not gonna lie. I think Genya is a perfect example of how men who take advantage of women’s bodies should be handled.

Okay, I think I’ve typed myself out. Leigh: if you somehow manage to read this (FYI – still holding out for that Tolya and Tamar novella/prequel story/whole trilogy), THANK YOU for writing the flawless end to one of my all time favorite series. And you are now an auto-buy author for me.

My Final Rating:

Six stars

Review: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Title: Everything Leads to You
Author: Nina LaCour
Genre: YA, contemporary
Publisher/Publication Date: Dutton / May 15, 2014
How Did I Get It? Gifted
Format? Hardcover

Synopsis from Goodreads: A love letter to the craft and romance of film and fate in front of—and behind—the camera from the award-winning author of Hold Still.

A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.

Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.

Amazon | Barnes and NobleBook DepositoryGoodreads

Okay, let me take a minute and compose myself. *deep breaths* Disclaimer for this entire review: I’m writing this at 11:45PM, after being up since 5:45AM, I’ve got a kink in my neck that’s been giving me headaches (got it fixed today, thank God), and I’ve started the Paleo diet and my body is screaming for bread and other stuff that I’ve cut out. So I’m a wee bit loopy. You’ve been warned. And now I start with this: fjkaljfksd;jfkdsajfs;. <– That’s how I feel about this book. It was just… magical. ELtY was one of those books that from the very first page – from that first paragraph – you jus know you’re going to fall in love with. By page 20, I was hooked. There isn’t anything negative I can say about this book, so this is going to be less of a review and more of a time for me to talk out all my feelings.

1) I hesitate to call this a romance book. There is a romance, and I really did love that bit (that last line? TEARS. HAPPY, JOYOUS TEARS), but it’s so much more than just a romance. It’s about seeing people for who they are, who they truly are inside, and not the images or expectations that people place on themselves or have projected onto them by others. About seeing past all the exteriors and just loving someone at their most basic level. And I think that’s why I love this book so much: when Emi stopped seeing things as they “should be cinematographically” (I just need to let you all know that I spelled that right the first try, and at this late at night *not a speller*) and just started seeing life and people as it is, I just had this huge sigh of relief (followed by happy tears), because YES she got it.

2) The setting and background stuff. Set decorating – I never even KNEW there was this whole world like that. I mean, it makes sense now, but I just hadn’t considered it before. Emi’s talent was so unique and so vividly described that even in her picking out a couch, I learned more about her character. LaCour infused every part of Emi’s personality into her hobby and job that it never felt forced or cliche at all.

3) The friendships. Everything starts as a friendship, even the ones that later blossom to romance. It was so organic and I never questioned it at all. And – they were healthy relationships. Charlotte was the best – she straight up told Emi when she was being an idiot, and didn’t hold back from the truth. If there was something Emi needed to hear, Charlotte said it. But it was in the most loving way possible – not in spite or anger but in the purest love.

I could go on and on about this book and nitpick each little thing and go on for paragraphs about why I loved it, but I think I can sum up my adoration in one sentence: Everything Leads to You made me believe that magic can exist in the world – even in the quietest moments. Like not everything is hopeless, no matter how it seems in that moment. That there’s something really important about living, and grabbing life with both hands and just running ahead until you find yourself somewhere you’ve never been before.

I plan on buying both of LaCour’s novels and reading them very soon, but I’m pretty sure I can say that she’s become one of my auto-buy authors. Everything Leads to You was that good.

My Final Rating:

Six stars