24 March 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Okay, I usually review a book first before I give my recommendation on it, but not this time.  Graceling was amazing.  The moment I finished the book, I logged on to Twitter and wrote "Kristin Cashore's GRACELING is one of the best books I've ever read. Quite possibly *the* best. Wow."  And that just about summarizes how much I loved reading Graceling.

Graceling takes readers inside the world of Katsa, a warrior-girl in her late teens with one blue eye and one green eye. This gives her haunting beauty, but also marks her as a Graceling. Gracelings are beings with special talents—swimming, storytelling, dancing. Katsa's Grace is considered more useful: her ability to fight (and kill, if she wanted to) is unequaled in the seven kingdoms. Forced to act as a henchman for a manipulative king, Katsa channels her guilt by forming a secret council of like-minded citizens who carry out secret missions to promote justice over cruelty and abuses of power.

Warning:  Spoilers may follow.

For a fantasy novel, I was pleasantly surprised that Graceling was so character-driven.  Katsa is such a strong main character, and her personality is clearly expressed.  It is her actions, primarily, which drive the story.  She is a well-rounded character, with definitive likes and dislikes, ideas, and her own unique way of interacting with those around her.  From the very first page of the book, the reader is exposed to Katsa's unique and strong personality.  Of course, like anyone, Katsa has her flaws.  She is young, and still learning how to control her powers, so at times she is very impulsive.  However, these flaws just add to her depth as a main character, and provides for the reader just one of many reasons to want to keep reading Graceling.  Will Katsa overcome these fatal flaws in order to save the kingdom?  Or will they get the best of her and cause her ultimate downfall?

Another huge character component of the book is the relationship between Katsa and Po.  Unlike many relationships found in YA fiction novels, theirs seemed very real.  It was definitely not love at first sight for the two of them!  Throughout the entire novel, both characters must work to learn how to trust each other.  This is really the crux of their entire relationship.  At different times in the book, Katsa and Po learn new things about each other, and each time, one or the other of them must decide how this new information will affect their relationship.  Katsa and Po's relationship is, in fact, the overarching plot line that stretches from the very first page of Graceling to the last, and in its own way, affects every other plot point of the book.

I am not going to go in to too much more detail about Graceling here- if you want to know more, you'll just have to read the book yourself!  While it is fairly long, Graceling is not a difficult book to read and it is absolutely worth your time.

Book summary (inside dashed box) courtesy of Amazon.com.

21 March 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina Garcia

I received Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina Garcia as part of an ARC tour from Good Golly Miss Holly.  This was the first ARC tour I ever participated in, and it was a really fun experience!

Unfortunately, the book itself was not quite so pleasant.  In fact, Dreams of Significant Girls is the first book that I'm reviewing on this blog that I did not finish reading.  After starting and stopping the book close to five times, I finally gave up on reading it about less than 100 pages in.

It seemed as though Garcia was trying too hard to create a unique voice for each of the three girls by separating each of their stories into separate sections.  I did not like this setup as it became very redundant when each character retold the same event from her own point of view.  This is why I prefer books with one narrator; it is an easy way to avoid such redundancy and it keeps the book moving at a better pace.

In addition, I felt like Garcia gave me no reason to care about her characters.  The reasons she gave for the girls spending time at the summer camp seemed weak, and even in the part of the book I read, I had a hard time coming up with reasons for the events that took place except for the fact that something has to happen in a book.

Though I only had a week to read this book (as part of the rules for the ARC tour), I am sure that even if I'd had years and years to read Dreams of Significant Girls, I would not have finished it.  Garcia may have been trying to imitate The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, but that series was written much, much better.

Dreams of Significant Girls will be released on July 12, 2011- although I really would not recommend reading it.  If you are looking for a coming-of-age type story, there are many better ones out there.

15 March 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Forgotten by Cat Patrick

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Cat Patrick's debut novel, Forgotten, from Hip Scouts.

Warning:  Spoilers may follow.

This book is about fifteen-year-old London, who can remember the future, but not the past.  Every night, her memory resets, and the only way she has to know about the previous day is to read her notes about the events that transpired.  Then, London starts having a recurring memory about a funeral, which starts around the same time that she starts dating Luke, the new kid at school.  London must make some difficult decisions in order to better understand this memory, her past, and her future with Luke.

I really enjoyed this book, although it was a lot different than I expected it to be.  From the title and the description, I thought it would be a very fluffy, "chick flick" sort of story.  I was very wrong!  While those aspects were definitely a part of the plot, the main piece was a lot more psychological and required much more thinking.  This actually came as a pleasant surprise to me.  I like not knowing exactly what is going to happen next in a story, and that was the case with Forgotten, for sure.  On that note, however, nothing that happened was completely unexpected.  The sequence of events all made sense, it was just not necessarily what I saw coming.

I do have to comment on the fact that the cover image shown here is not the same cover as is on the ARC I read.  The cover of my copy is a lot more flirty, with playful shadows and a more comical font.  I think that in this case, the design of the cover definitely would influence my preconceptions of the plot.  I guess the fact that the cover of my copy sported pink butterflies, versus the actual cover with cracked, ominous-looking block letters, changed my expectation of the story.  However, after seeing both covers I think that the one pictured in this blog post (which is the actual cover that will be printed, as far as I can tell) fits the book much better.

All in all, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a page-turner novel.  I finished the book in three days, and it only took me that long because I started reading it right before I wanted to go to sleep!  When I finally had some free time during the day, I spent upwards of three hours straight finishing the book because I just could not put it down!  There was no good stopping point, because the story was so action-packed.  With all of the surprises Cat Patrick has put into each chapter, this book can be a quick read if you want it to be, or a slow, analytical story on the other hand.  Either way, I'm sure you will enjoy reading Forgotten, which will be released on June 7, 2011.

11 March 2011

Even more FREE :D - BzzAgent and Maybelline lip color

Apologies for my lack of posting over the last month.  It seems as though this semester is going to be crazier than I expected, so I will probably be doing the majority of my posting during breaks.  Like now!

While I'll be sure to update with an even larger "free stuff" post once I get home this week and pick up all of my free samples that have come since January, I have one exciting freebie to share right now!

I've been a member of BzzAgent for about ten months and I just got my second "real stuff" campaign this week!  ("Real stuff" means that they actually sent me products in the mail, and didn't just base the campaign solely off of the internet.)

For those of you who don't know what BzzAgent is, it is one of the leading word-of-mouth marketing sites.  Companies use BzzAgent to spread the word about their hot new products by sending samples out to consumers.  It is then up to the Agent to learn about, use, and talk about the product they've received.

My new campaign is for Maybelline SuperStay 24 2-Step lip color.

This product is designed with microflex technology so that it will not become flaky even after you wear it for an entire day.  The two-step process includes the lip color itself, which is the first coat, and a conditioning balm- the second coat- to add shine.

I am not one to use lip color on a daily basis, and even when I dress up I usually just wear lip gloss.  However, I was willing to give this product a chance anyway.

I tried the Forever Chestnut shade, from the Naturals shade family.  This lip color comes in four shade families- Reds, Pinks, Plums, and Naturals.  I did not want something that was too bold or bright, so I opted to use the brown.

I found that if I applied it lightly, the lip color blended well with my natural lip tone.  While you could tell that I was wearing lip color, it was not too loud of a color, which is exactly what I was going for.  I also liked that my lips felt moisturized and did not ever feel dry through the course of the day like with other lip colors I have tried in the past.

Unfortunately, the color itself did not last for 24 hours.  Right now my lips look pinker than usual, but not anywhere close to the brown shade I started with this morning.  It's been just about 15 hours since I put the lip color on in the first place.

Overall, as someone who does not often wear lip color, I found this product to be a nice addition to my minimal makeup routine.  It blended nicely with my natural skin and lip tone and gave me a subdue yet beautiful look for my day.

You can try Maybelline SuperStay 24 2-Step lip color for yourself with this $2 off coupon!

Also, I would highly recommend BzzAgent for anyone who loves trying new products for free!  While you're not guaranteed to get campaigns, BzzAgent is working hard to improve their company and I've noticed recently that there are a lot more opportunities becoming available.  Definitely check it out! =D

Disclaimer:  I received samples of Maybelline SuperStay 24 2-Step lip color from BzzAgent.  This review is my own opinion and I am not being compensated for publishing this blog post.
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