August 10, 2018

Max's Most Anticipated | Mini Reviews with a Special Guest

Hi everyone, I’m Max, the guest blogger Tessa has mentioned, here to review some of my most highly-anticipated reads of this summer! Keep reading to figure out if they were just as great as I had hope they would be. In case you don’t know me, I used to post on this blog back in its early days, until I unfortunately just didn’t have the time to keep up with it. Thankfully, Tessa’s done and amazing job with it and I’m so proud of how it’s grown since back in the day.

By Madeline Miller

Published April 10, 2018
394 pages
Fantasy, Mythology

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

(Just a warning, there are some non-graphic references to sexual assault and rape in this book for those that are sensitive to those subjects)

Out of all of the books I’ve read so far this summer, Circe by Madeline Miller was probably my most anticipated read. It has elements of everything I absolutely adore--mythology and magic and feminism!--and had such high praise from pretty much everyone that I really thought I was going to love it. I didn’t love everything about this book, but it came pretty close!

First, the female-empowering perspective on a myth that I already knew a little bit about (thanks, Percy Jackson) was honestly inspiring. I loved being able to understand this character from a new perspective, after always being portrayed as a petty, vindictive villain. There were so many beautiful lines about the role of women in Circe’s world that still apply, so so so many gorgeous lines about love and strength and mortality. In case you’re not as familiar as I was with Greek mythology going into the book, Miller also does a really good job of explaining characters and their relationships without constantly dumping information or assuming the reader knows everything about the plethora of myths mentioned. One of my favorite parts was the appearance of so many familiar figures, ranging from the epic hero Odysseus to the famed Titan Prometheus.

Circe herself, despite being a literal goddess, is an acutely complex character that I think everyone can relate to at some point in their lives. Even though she’s eternal and has some impressively dangerous magical powers, she struggles with intense loneliness and a desperate, desperate desire to finally be accepted by people she knows never will. Despite everything she’s gone through, every rejection she’s faced, she still finds a way to balance her compassion and her rage, which I thought was incredibly admirable. I never really found myself questioning the reasoning behind her decisions like I do with a lot of more “morally grey” characters--in this case, her character was so completely explained that I could tell how everything she did made sense in her mind, even if I couldn’t exactly relate to her decisions.

Where the book fell just a little flat for me was in its pacing. I think it’s a result of the fact that Circe’s immortal, so time for her is obviously not as important as it would be for a human narrator, but there were so many instances where I genuinely couldn’t tell how much time had passed. While this didn’t hinder my understanding of the book’s events, it did make me feel just a little bit disconnected from everything was going on. Thankfully, Miller’s ability to portray Circe with such universally human emotions and struggles made the pacing issue insignificant--I was still able to connect with her as a protagonist, no matter how much time had passed.

Miller’s Circe gives a reviled figure in mythology a chance to present her surprisingly relatable story full of tender relationships, heartbreak, vengeance, defining what it means to be both human, a woman, and a mother. I think just about anyone would find something they like in this book, but I recommend it especially to those who appreciate mythology, strong and complex characters, or intricate stories of love and loss.

By Marie Lu
Warcross #1
Published on September 12, 2017
402 pages
Young Adult, Science Fiction

When a game called Warcross takes the world by storm, one girl hacks her way into its dangerous depths. For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn't just a game—it's a way of life. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. When Emika hacks into the game illegally, she's convinced she'll be arrested, and is shocked when she gets a call from the game's creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year's tournament in order to uncover a security problem ... and he wants Emika for the job. In this sci-fi thriller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu conjures an immersive, exhilarating world where choosing who to trust may be the biggest gamble of all.

Even though it’s been quite a while since I’ve read any of her works, I have extremely fond memories of reading Lu’s Legend trilogy and her Young Elites series. That, combined with the really exciting description released for Warcross, had me really excited for this release. While it was certainly a really exciting and fun read, exactly what I like during the summer, it certainly did not live up to my standards for Marie Lu’s books.

One thing I really liked about Warcross was the world-building, and specifically, the setting in Tokyo. Not only was this really unique and interesting to read about, Lu did a really great job of bringing the reader to wonder at the marvels of this futuristic city along with Emika. The same can be said about the virtual world of the story--Lu explains the world very clearly, and although such a virtual reality game has been featured in other media before, I still find it really interesting to read about.

Emika herself is an interesting character that I didn’t really love but also didn’t really hate. Her gaming/hacking talents are unique to most characters I’ve read before, but I feel like a lot of her personality/appearance involves trying a little too hard to seem unique. Her voice is certainly entertaining, though, and Lu does a good job of balancing her flaws and her strengths. I don’t have any problems with the love interest beyond the fact that he kind of seemed a little one-dimensional for most of the book. The characters I liked the most were certainly Emika’s team in Warcross--they’re a super diverse cast that definitely have the kind of character depth I look for.

For an action-based book, the plot was a bit too predictable for my tastes, but it was still very engaging if you didn’t think about it too much. Then again,  I am kind of a sucker for competition, tournament-based plots, so keep that in mind. Even the gaming scenes were easy to follow and enjoy to this non-gamer. I actually really enjoyed the spying-based elements of this book along with the fast-paced gaming scenes, but predicted pretty much every twist in the book, so it lost a bit of suspense for me.

While this book isn’t my favorite of Marie Lu’s, I still think anyone interested in an action-packed, fun summer read full of interesting characters and complex, beautiful world-building would enjoy Warcross.

Save the Date

By Morgan Matson
Published on June 5, 2018
417 pages
Young Adult, Contemporary

Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait—for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster—all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.
The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster.
There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.
There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo.
Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractingly…cute.
Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.
 I realize that it’s currently August and that the title of this post includes the phrase “summer reads,” but bear with me for a second while I explain why this book reminds me of something you’d read around Christmas.

  1. The intense, heartwarming family focus
  2. The structure of the book focusing on the build-up to a single day, the day being Linnie’s wedding in this case, not Christmas.
  3. The sheer amount of unrealistic mix-ups and dramatic accidents can only be rivalled by a cheesy Christmas-time chick lit read or by a cheesy holiday movie.

Needless to say, this book isn’t perfect and it probably isn’t for everyone, but (maybe it’s because I’m such a fan of holiday books) I really liked it! I think Matson did a really good job of throwing the reader right into the middle of the Grant family with all of their history, quirks, and inside jokes, which was both really fun to read but also successfully reminded me of my own family and our similar atmosphere. I think the big-family focus is so unique for YA books. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve pretty much always found parents in YA books to be pretty absent and I can barely remember a YA book in which the protagonist had more than one sibling.

Another refreshing aspect of Save the Date was that unlike the other Morgan Matson books I’ve read (and most other YA contemporaries in general), the romance was a very very minor focus. What was there, I thought was cute and fun to read, but I appreciated that the family dynamic took the spotlight for once.

That being said, much like a warm and fuzzy holiday read, the plot is a bit unrealistic and a bit predictable, but that didn’t really take away from my enjoyment of the book--I went into the book familiar with Matson’s previous, similarly character-driven books. Like the other Morgan Matson books I’ve read (Since You’ve Been Gone and Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour), I really enjoyed Matson’s light writing style designed to help the reader manage the constant chaos of the Grant household.

Save the Date by Morgan Matson manages to be both a quick, light read, and hold surprising depth that I rarely find in YA novels. I recommend it to anyone who loves weddings, anyone looking for a light contemporary read for the summer, or Morgan Matson’s other books!

Thanks to Max for reappearing on the blog for a guest post! How many of you remember the good old days when she co-blogged with me? Anything you want to say to her? (Like, please come back forever because Tessa needs you?) Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? What were your most anticipated reads of this summer?

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