May Reviews

Hey y'all!It's Grace here to talk about my latest reads.As y'all know, I was in a reading slump for most of the spring, so I wasn't particularly motivated to read- and therefore review - any books. Recently, I've been devouring plenty of reads (especially after reading American Psycho - I'm dying to get that out of my head.Recently, though, I've been taking to Instagram to share my latest thoughts. It's a quick way to ease back into reviewing (and it forces me to get pretty creative with the tone words I pick for any given read.) Without further ado, here are the books I've enjoyed lately.the conspiracy of us insta

"Secret societies + international locales + a likable heroine stuck in a riveting love triangle."

Novel: The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall | GoodreadsRelease Date: January 13, 2015Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (PRH)Format: ARCSource: Publisher

A fast-paced international escapade, laced with adrenaline, glamour, and romance--perfect for fans of Ally CarterAvery West's newfound family can shut down Prada when they want to shop in peace, and can just as easily order a bombing when they want to start a war. Part of a powerful and dangerous secret society called the Circle, they believe Avery is the key to an ancient prophecy. Some want to use her as a pawn. Some want her dead.To unravel the mystery putting her life in danger, Avery must follow a trail of clues from the monuments of Paris to the back alleys of Istanbul with two boys who work for the Circle—beautiful, volatile Stellan and mysterious, magnetic Jack. But as the clues expose a stunning conspiracy that might plunge the world into World War 3, she discovers that both boys are hiding secrets of their own. Now she will have to choose not only between freedom and family--but between the boy who might help her save the world, and the one she's falling in love with.

I first read (and loved) this book back in the fall of 2014, so when I sorted through my blog looking for any mention of it during the whole Dan Brown debacle, I was shocked to see that I hadn't actually reviewed it. I'd been thinking about rereading it anyways, so I decided to get my thoughts on it the second time around.The Conspiracy of Us, while it can be predictable, is a wild ride that takes the reader through some glamorous cities and scenarios with the perfect doses of action, romance, and intrigue sprinkled throughout. It makes a great beach read - and would probably make a fabulous screen adaptation due to its cinematic resonance. The main character, Avery, is witty and fiery. Her flirty friends and compelling love interest(s) are engaging without being over-the-top, in a vein that reminds me of my beloved Gallagher Girls series.

"Morgan Matson is the perfect writer to read over the summer. Her authentic voice, adorable scenarios, and fresh heroines make for vibrant beach reads."

the unexpected everything instaNovel: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson | GoodreadsRelease Date: May 3, 2016Publisher: Simon & SchusterFormat: HardcoverSource: Bought

Andie had it all planned out.When you are a politician’s daughter who’s pretty much raised yourself, you learn everything can be planned or spun, or both. Especially your future.Important internship? Check.Amazing friends? Check.Guys? Check (as long as we’re talking no more than three weeks).But that was before the scandal. Before having to be in the same house with her dad. Before walking an insane number of dogs. That was before Clark and those few months that might change her whole life.Because here’s the thing—if everything’s planned out, you can never find the unexpected.And where’s the fun in that?

Books by Morgan Matson are my go-to beach reads. They're cute, without being overly "fluffy". They're earnest and cinematic, with characters who are endearing in specific ways. They have this incredible mix of poignancy and flair that quite simply entertain me. This one was no different.The Unexpected Everything follows a politician's daughter, Andie, who loses everything at the beginning of the summer. Although she's stuck in her town for the foreseeable future, she tries to salvage it by getting a part-time job: walking dogs. Pair that with a rambunctious group of friends who try to stay together despite leading increasingly different lives, as well as a refreshingly dorky love interest, and you've got a winner.I loved the relationships built in this book. The friendships, the allusions to inside jokes that clearly have a lot of backstory behind them. It fleshed out the setting and the story so fully that I felt immediately as if I knew the characters in all the ways that mattered, and I was invested in where the story took me.My twin sister read this one, and she loved it so much because she said she felt like Matson really understood teenagers. Certain aspects of it - esoteric details about parties, dating, texting - felt so real as opposed to this packaged, normal idea of what these aspects are like in YA. As a teenager myself, I really appreciated that Matson clearly did her research with teenagers in a way that came off authentically; it made Andie sound like a friend of mine. So the voice was 100% spot on. (For the record, that also made this one my go-to recommendation for my friends. They'll relate to this one.)There are some aspects I would have liked to see tackled differently. The length, for one, I felt could have been condensed. Would the book have been more powerful? Also, the climactic scenarios felt a little unrealistic and distanced me a bit. But the positive parts of this book definitely outweighed that, and I'll still champion it as winning my favorite recent beach read.

"Sparse, thoughtful reflections on grace and mortality from a Stanford neurosurgeon in his final days. I enjoyed it - but it also made me cry."

when breath becomes air instaNovel: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi | GoodreadsRelease Date: January 19, 2016Publisher: Random HouseFormat: HardcoverSource: Bought

For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?  At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

I would love to get better about picking up memoirs, and reflective books of this nature. They don't necessarily have to be about mortality - although that's definitely a subject in which I'm interested - but I'm always looking to expand my repertoire. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I practically worship the blog Brain Pickings, a collection of writings on philosophical and scientific subjects. While this book is undeniably different, it captures the same meditative and academic tone that I adore so much.Paul Kalanithi was, no doubt, a talented writer. He balances his genuine questions about the meaning of life with a clear-minded logic that makes for an equalizing, powerful read. As I said in my caption, it could be sparse, but it also carried a simple beauty in the prose. When it drifted into metaphysical musings, it tied it into his day-to-day actions and experiences so it didn't feel too abstract. It could be plainspoken, but never in a way that was dull for me.It's not explosive, or earth-shattering. It wasn't heartbreaking for me. But it was sad, moving, and lovely. As much as I love passionate books that absolutely destroy me, another part of me is always looking for quiet books that make me sit and think for a while. If that's not your cup of tea, I can see why it might not feel like the most beneficial book in the world. But I feel better for having read it, and I'll carry it with me for a while.

"I binge-read this trilogy over two days. Heart-pounding plot twists, a vivid political landscape, and an engrossing pair of star-crossed lovers."

the winner's curse instaNovel: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski | GoodreadsRelease Date: March 4, 2014Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (Macmillan)Format: PaperbackSource: Publisher

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love...As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

It took me too long to get on this bandwagon. The lovely Sajda offered me a copy through Macmillan and I was more than happy to finally start the series.I always heard people raving about it, but never quite picked it up myself. I'm so beyond glad that I finally did.Like I said on Instagram, I binge-read this series over two days. I started it about three minutes before our Baccalaureate service (oh right - I graduated high school, y'all) and devoured the final book before the end of school the next day. My twin sister did the same. We were addicts.I like high fantasy, but I never really seek it out myself. When the blogosphere is hyped over a series, though, it's usually a pretty good indicator that the writing has a lot of merit. I was blown away by the plotting - by the intricacy of the details. The forbidden love is swoon worthy. The prose could be gorgeous at times, although never in a way that's distracting. She juxtaposes phrases and concepts in a way that's synesthetic and absolutely epic - reminded me of The Book Thief. The politics are glorious - I LOVE political intrigue so that was a major plus for me. (Marie Rutkoski did marvelous research.)On that note, none of it would have succeeded if not for the stunning depth of the characters. The moral crossroads, the complexity of their relationships. The backbone of secrets, lies, and betrayals that makes up much of the heart of this trilogy hinges entirely on these elaborate dilemmas that do display the "Winner's Curse": the idea that getting what you want costs you what you love in a devastating way.I wholeheartedly recommend this series to anyone who wants to escape reality for a while - it'll take you away.

"This one is like Hitch, in book form. The amusing senior year of a teenage matchmaker - it's a cute, quick read."

galgorithm 2 instaNovel: Galgorithm by Aaron Karo | GoodreadsRelease Date: May 5, 2015Publisher: Simon PulseFormat: ARCSource: Publisher

A romantic comedy that's "a good choice for fans of John Green" (Booklist) about high school, heartbreak, and having all the answers.What if the secrets of dating and love were revealed in one simple formula? That's the tantalizing proposition high school senior Shane Chambliss offers the hopeless and hapless guys who come to him for relationship advice.After the girl of his dreams breaks his heart, Shane devises a mysterious formula called the Galgorithm and establishes himself as the resident dating guru at Kingsview High School. But his attempts to master the art of romance go outrageously awry.As Shane tries to navigate the ensuing drama, he must follow his heart, abandon all the rules, and ignore his own advice in a quest for true love. What he discovers, no formula could ever predict...

Truthfully, I was expecting a different story. The description made me expecting something a bit more mathematical - a physics nerd, perhaps. I still really liked Shane, but he was a character on the complete other end of the spectrum.Galgorithm rings with honesty. Shane is pretty down-to-earth, although he could have some lofty ideas. At the root of it, he was quite friendly - which made me really like him as a narrator. He went out of his way to make everyone feel special, not in a way that was manipulative, but in a way that felt overwhelmingly good.The book itself felt pretty surface-level to me - there was little that was particularly unique to me - but I still enjoyed myself while reading it. The development of certain characters felt choppy, and some teenage details felt like a stretch, but I think some parts of it were fantastically done. There was one scene in particular that resonated with me long after I closed the book. (Also, props to Aaron Karo for writing romantic contemporary - a sub-genre mostly dominated by female authors.)It was humorous and pretty cute. It makes for a likable read. I'm not sure I would buy it, but I would definitely borrow it if given the chance.

What have y'all read lately?

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