Friday, October 23, 2015

Review: The Sword of Summer - Rick Riordan

The Sword of Summer
Rick Riodan
Series: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Rick Riordan dedicated this book to Cassandra Clare, "for letting [him] share the excellent name Magnus," which set off the first of many squeals from yours truly reading this book and also finally allowed me to accept our dear protagonist's name with an open heart.

Which was great timing, because Magnus Chase is the sarcastic little shit you a. know you truly are inside or b. know you need in your life. 16 when the book begins, our homie's spent the last two years as a homeless kid after his mom was attacked by wolves...with blue eyes???? *Insert several eyes emojis here* He's got a deep phobia of wolves since the incident though he doesn't encounter them much in the heart of Boston, living on the streets with like two friends, who are also homeless people. Weird homeless people. It's almost as if they're...not...homeless people???

I present to you, Blitzen and Hearthstone, resident old married couple (well not canonically and not old but like let's be real). Blitzen is a Black dwarf who just wants to be a fashion designer which isn't really the type of craftsmanship dwarves do (think chairs, weapons, that sort of thing). Hearthstone is a Deaf elf who uses ASL (Alf Sign Language) -- which Blitz known well and Magnus knows too but gets confused when he goes too fast -- to communicate and is learning magic using runes and has a tragic backstory that'll make you cry for sure (so does Blitz tbh why are my babies so sad :((). All three of them just feel like a family, no matter how different the places they come from and need to end up may be. Magnus's sarcastic and often clueless quips combined in a sweet way with how Blitz and Hearth were kindof like his Mom and Dad and how they supported each other and bounced off one another and were in general so in sync.

Moving on from these adorkable characters though, let's talk about the meat of this ~500 page book. I personally loved it and found it to be a better first book than Riordan's other series (note: I haven't read Heroes of Olympus so can't speak on that one) but that's just one opinion. I also in general would rank Norse mythology towards the top of the list of mythologies, so I thought this material was fairly interesting subjectively as well, but overall the book did not disappoint as the beginning to what I'm sure will be an amazing series.

I'll admit, I was a little apprehensive, because it started off with a "This is the story of how my life went downhill after I got myself killed" on the first page and that is Flynn Rider territory but it was not the cliche I expected at all. Home skillet really did die, and stayed dead. He ended up in the Hotel Valhalla, the afterlife for the heroes and warriors slain in battle, where they prepare to fight again at Ragnarok. (And then a bunch of other stuff happens but you can figure it out when you read it) Valhalla is cool 10% because it's everything you could imagine of a warrior's heaven operated by Norse Gods and 90% because Mallory Keen lives there (and the rest of the people but mostly her).

Also introduced in Valhalla is honorary Magnus-Hearth-Blitz family member, Samirah Al-Abbas, a Muslim Valkyrie with a camouflaging (read: invisibility cloak) hijab. YOOOOOOOO. I am so here for this. Like, can that be me??? I am so ready to be a valkyrie???? I just can't be a calc tutor like she apparently is. I'm a regular tutor though, that counts for something, right? Anyway, this girl is stubborn and cryptic and the way the four of them grow into a family together is the most beautiful relationship development I have ever seen. Also, homegirl is a daughter of Loki, the love of my life. I could be her mom. We could be mother-daughter valkyries.

 Anyway, I think the book could have used a teeeny bit of shortening; I still read it quickly and didn't get bored of it or anything but I just think the length wasn't entirely necessary and it would have been more fun to read if it was a little shorter. Regardless, the story was captivating and although the information about the mythology was a little info-dumpy at times, it wasn't ever anything that interrupted the flow of the plot or anything uncharacteristic of Riordan's other series so I'm gonna chalk it up to a stylistic choice because with that much info sometimes you gotta dump it on us.

Besides, I barely noticed anything I didn't like with all the moments I spent laughing or squealing. Seriously. Like, they MADE A LOWKEY LOKI JOKE:

"He likes to be noticed. He's not exactly low-key."
"'I get it,' I said. 'Low-key. Loki.'" She rolled her eyes. 
(There are more Loki references, he even makes some appearances but I can stop now because I have self control) There were also some references to Percy Jackson! Like when Magnus was trying to glamour his sword and was talking to it:

"I imagined it saying, A pen sword. That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
Also, Annabeth has a cameo! It's not in your face for anyone who doesn't know her but it's enough to make fans of PJO smile.

Anyway, I'm sorry I'm rambling but this was honestly an A+ book! The Gods were once again quirky and erratic (Thor watches Arrow (aaayyyy) and other network cable shows so there's that). I feel like this time it was less important whose kid Magnus was and more his own strengths and powers which was cool. The story was entertaining and captivating and the characters were remarkable and easily the best part of the book, along with Magnus's voice. I found myself laughing out loud at certain parts, honestly, and I'm so glad that among the October 6th release date craziness I managed to get this one and actually read it first! I'll leave you with these two quotes because they make me very happy:

"I had a sudden image of Taylor Swift's mom and Freya having a girl's night out in Nidavellir."

"It's Magnus, rhymes with swag-ness."

- Noor

Would you rather fight Loki or Thor?
Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Wishes I'd Ask The Book Genie To Grant Me

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Here at We Live and Breathe Books, two of us choose five books each week. This week's topic is...

Wishes I'd Ask The Book Genie To Grant Me!

Noor's Picks

You guys should get used to me being alone for these so I can avoid putting a disclaimer before every post about how I have no company *eyes emojis*
  1. Marauders Era Harry Potter Book(s) - I would honestly sell my soul for this because I live for Marauders era headcanons and fanfics and I am here for the concept as a whole I feel like I know them better than I know myself I could probably a full-length series on them just being lame and goofing off around Hogwarts, no dark wizards or trolls in dungeons or anything, and be totally satisfied, but let's be real with them there's always something cool. 
  2. Meeting JK Rowling - I almost was able to go to an event with her a few years ago but the website messed up the tickets and released them at the wrong time and it was a huge mess and I haven't gotten over it but like I don't just want some seated event where I'm taking snapchats from the back row I want like coffee and one on one conversation with the freakin' queen of my heart ya feel???? 
  3. Writing Inspiration/Guidance - If there's a word for the type of writer I am, it's reckless. If you want more words, we can go with: fickle, impulsive, self-sabotaging, and there a few more but the point is, if I had a literary genie I'd ask for help being more focused and grounded and resolute so I could take myself a little more seriously. 
  4. Victorian Style Library - One of my personal life goals for when I have my own place is to have a library and for years and years I've always had this image in my mind of my perfect Victorian library (I really wish I could draw because I need the architects to know exactly how to do it!!!). However, once I started spending more time on Pinterest, I became open to the idea of cool new ideas straying from my initial fantasy so it might not be the same one I've had in my head since elementary school (I admit the design is outdated) but I promise it'll be super important and amazing. 
  5. Become a YA Protagonist - My life so far has been kinda sketch. I'll spare you the details but I'm only 19 (64 days 'til my birthday holla) so it isn't too late for my YA novel plot to kick off. It could be anything really, I'm not picky about genre. Maybe I meet a cute boy at a vintage bookstore and he turns out to be a ghost or maybe I'm disenchanted with my life after moving and I run away, discovering myself in the process with the help of some quirky companions or maybe I'm a genetic anomaly in a sea of people who are not genetic anomalies and the government is after me and we can ignore the fact that I've run maybe twice since high school gym ended because only I can save the world. I'm up for anything honestly, even a love triangle sounds kinda fun.
  6. Unlimited Book Spending Money - I know I could have asked to just have all the books or have them appear on my shelves whenever I wanted but there's such a thrill in buying a book and going out to the store specifically for a book and feeling the binding loosen and smelling it and finding out what kind of smell the pages have and how glossy they are and sometimes the person at the register is into the book too and they share your excitement, especially if its release day, and that's a thrill I want to keep experiencing rather than just knowing I have everything I want to read, but books are hella ca$h money and I can't depend on my parents' income forever.
  7. A Magic Carpet Ride - I love to travel. I love airplanes, airports, trains, road trips, all an unhealthy amount. Another thing I do an unhealthy amount is get invested in books and their fictional worlds. So I want a chance to see all the places that I can't on this plane of existence. Disney's Wizarding World isn't enough, I need to visit the real Hogwarts, the Shire, Neverland, everywhere and anywhere. 
  8. My Homie Luna Lovegood - I would bring a lot of characters to life if I could, but Harry Potter is where it's always going to come back to and Luna Lovegood is my favorite character from the series. I admire her, I resonate with her, I find her charming, she's just all around a quality human, and I want to live out our lives as those best friends who live next door to each other and come over every day without knocking (you know the ones I'm talking about). 
  9. Norberta the Dragon - Dragons are my favorite animals, along with dinosaurs and elephants, and I really would like to have one, and since this is would be bringing a literary character to life, it would fall under the jurisdiction of a book genie and not like, a pet genie. I'm not just asking on a technicality though, if I have a dragon I want it to be out of Harry Potter or HTTYD and Norberta is a real home skillet. 
  10. Rereading Without Rereading - I love rereading books and there are some books I've read more times than I can count (that's not a difficult task my math grade ain't too high). Not only do I just love reliving a story again and again but I really do feel like each experience is different and you gain something new each time or catch something new each time. However, some books it would be amazing to have the chance to read again for the first time. Whether it's the book that you knew was your favorite book the moment you finished it or a book you hated but liked with time or just a really good book with really solid characters, there's nothing like reading something and not knowing what to expect, and the best wish a genie could grant would be the ability to have that experience over and over again whenever one wanted. 
    What would you wish for?
    Let us know in the comments!

    Saturday, October 17, 2015

    Stuffed Animal Saturday: Illuminae - Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

    Stuffed Animal Saturday is a meme that we post here at We Live and Breathe Books to showcase the book we're currently reading with one of our favorite stuffed animals and discuss our stuffed animal's opinion (well, it's really our opinion, but that's besides the point). We hope you enjoy our quirky feature as much as we enjoy writing it!

    This Saturday, we're reading Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff!

    So far: Illuminae is a book told through a dossier (that's on my list of favorite words just so y'all know) of letters, diagrams, files, emails, etc. and tells the story of an invaded planet, a plague, two teenagers, and some other weird things.

    I generally have a specific taste for sci-fi type books so I'm a lil wary about them and dossier might be my favorite word but it isn't my favorite storytelling method, which isn't to say I dislike it. However, Illuminae, the little I've read of it, has proven to be interesting and I hope it continues to be.

    Sneak peek: We aren't too far in, but here's an excerpt we really liked!

    Two minutes out there is about all it takes to teach you how little you know about everything. You're a speck of animated carbon and water with about seven centimeters of ballistics-grade ceramic between you and absolutely nothing. Ninety-three billion light-years of  ****ing nothing. No up. No down. No sky. No ground. Just endless dark shot through with tiny spears of sunlight older than you and your entire species stacked end to end. You want to feel small? Spend sixty seconds in a Cyclones cockpit, chum. Look out at the nothing and feel it looking back. Then you know exactly how much you add up to.
    We hope there's more existential space talk, because we're always suckers for that. Illuminae comes out October 20th, so if you're interested, only a few more days!


    Are you and your stuffed animal reading anything interesting? 
    Let us know in your own Stuffed Animal Saturday!

    Tuesday, October 13, 2015

    Top Ten Tuesday: Author Duos You'd LOVE To See Write A Book Together

    Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Here at We Live and Breathe Books, two of us choose five books each week. This week's topic is...

    Author Duos You'd LOVE To See Write A Book Together!

    Noor's Picks

    Hey home skillets, I'm flyin' solo for this week's Top Ten Tuesday so all the picks will be Noor's picks whaaaaaat. 
    1. Ransom Riggs and Tahereh Mafi - I just feel like it'd be so cute if they co-authored a book because they're like married author couple goals (honestly they're the cutest people alive I love it) and I'm always here for the whole concept or writing a book with someone who's really close and important to you (such as your spouse). I know their published books aren't totally similar or anything but half the fun of writing is writing new things so it could work. 
    2. Nicola Yoon and Rainbow Rowell - I was blown away by Yoon's Everything, Everything and two of the things I loved about the book were the attachment I developed to the characters and the beautiful way she had of writing, which are also two things I admire in Rowell's work, so I think it'd be cool pair them together. Nicola Yoon is a new author and Rainbow Rowell is a bit more seasoned which I think would make it interesting. 
    3. Marissa Meyer and Rick Riordan - One of them writes futuristic fractured fairytales, one of them writes contemporary heroes about Greek/Roman/Norse/Egyptian/whatever Gods. Put them together and who knows what they could accomplish????? This one is like a crackship but like an author crackship because they have really different writing styles and I'm not sure this'd ever come to fruition or how it'd work but like I'm digging it to be honest. 
    4. Stephanie Perkins and Jennifer E. Smith - I kindof just associate these two authors together in my head??? Like all the time??? I don't know but they both write really cute contemporary YA romances and I love those so like imagine if they wrote one together. I am all about it. I wonder what the cover would like though considering they both have such distinct cover designs. Hmmmmm. 
    5. Neil Gaiman and JK Rowling - The two authors who own the most of my soul collaborating??? I would honestly drop dead before the book came out. I think this would be the best collaboration like I totally think these two would have a really good writing dynamic on the page and could write a killer novel (literally killer like it would kill me I would not breathe). 
    6. Lauren Oliver and Scott Westerfeld - Two interesting dystopian authors, I think the issues I sometimes have with Lauren Oliver could be mended by this pairing and her creativity and ideas could bring a lot to the table. This duo would be really cool, why isn't it a thing yet??
    7. Holly Black and Libba Bray - These are two of the fiercest writers out there and two of my favorites, and I love that they're also friends with each other. My favorite thing ever is authors being homies it just brings me joy and I can 1000% see these two writing a book together. Holly Black's started a series with Cassandra Clare, it's only fitting she writes one with Libba Bray as well. 
    8. Mindy Kaling and David Sedaris - Both hilarious, witty, sharp people, I feel like they could draw from one another's humor and style and create the content we all knew we needed but didn't know how to ask for. 
    9. David Levithan and A.S. King - I mentioned in my review of I Crawl Through It how enamored I was with King's surrealist style in the book. While I realize not all her books are like that, I could still see she had a strong grasp on language and I think David Levithan is another author whose language is superb. A collaboration would be beautiful. 
    10. Stephenie Meyer and E.L. James - The former wrote a fanfic of her own book and published it and the latter wrote a fanfic of the original work and published that and also then published the same book from the other character's point of view which was a thing the former was going to do and got like part of the way through before it leaked on the internet and she stopped writing it out of spite. Basically everything is a hot mess and why not make it a hotter mess??? (I'm not serious about this I just think it'd be funny)
    11. BONUS ROUND: Me (Noor Azeem) and All of the Above (except maybe numbers 10 but if the opportunity presented itself I would probably go with it) - I love all of these people and I love to do the writing things wow this is actually my number one fav duo me featuring my faves!!!!!!
    What author duos do you want to see?
    Let us know in the comments!

    Monday, October 12, 2015

    Previously on WLABB: September 2015

    Previously On We Live and Breathe Books is an end of the month wrap up post. Previously allows us to recap all our posts from the past month and discuss what's going on in our lives, including what books we're reading, any fun things we've been doing, and a TBR for the next month. Our inspiration for this meme comes from Midnight Madness Newsletters created by Melanie at YA Midnight Reads.

    Posts from September

    Release Day ARC Review: The Copper Gauntlet - Holly Black & Cassandra Clare
    ARC Review: Bream Gives Me Hiccups - Jesse Eisenberg
    Previously on WLABB: August 2015
    Review: Firewalker - Josephine Angelini
    Stuffed Animal Saturday: Dumplin' - Julie Murphy
    ARC Review: Lizard Radio - Pat Schmatz
    Top Ten Tuesday - Completed Series I Have Yet to Finish
    Waiting on Wednesday: Carry On - Rainbow Rowell
    Review: Everything, Everything - Nicole Yoon
    Review: Tonight the Streets Are Ours - Leila Sales
    Double ARC Review: Dumplin' - Julie Murphy
    Stuffed Animal Saturday: Financial Accounting 9th Edition, Jerry J. Weygandt, E. Kieso, Paul D. Kimmel
    ARC Review: I Crawl Through It - A.S. King
    Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Fall TBR
    ARC Review: Six of Crows - Leigh Bardugo
    ARC Review: Zeroes - Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti

    Keeping Up with the WLABBers (one of them)


    I am sorry to inform you that my cobloggers were discovered to be a part of a secret murder plot in which they did not do a very good job of covering their tracks (unlike yours truly) and are now either being interrogated, imprisoned, or executed. Okay, probably not that, but that's honestly the most realistic option for why our Previously post for September is being posted halfway into October and I'm the only participant. Homies' corpses are probably rotting somewhere.

    I used my sleuthing skills to snag some makeshift comments so you can pretend you're keeping up with all of us when really everyone's caught in a painful, soul-suckingly crushing college bind:

    What well-rested enthusiastic individuals!! I bet Amrutha and Kiersten are definitely are not dying under the weight of their textbooks and papers and plays and exams!!!!! I bet they are also not part of the deliberate murder of a highly classified government official *insert many eyes emojis here*. You may have noticed Marlon is not part of this exchange and that is because he is hella off the radar, like I know Ruthie and Kiersten are swamped with work and so we aren't gonna get to keep up with them today (it's cool, RuRu only read one book this month and it was Dumplin', there her section is over back to me) but I don't actually know if Marlon goes to college or class or is alive???? I mean I guess he's alive because he posted his Six of Crows review but that could been a ghost writer so like???? I haven't actually had any proof he exists since BEA and even that was a little shady but I'm not losing sleep over it. 

    Ok so now that y'all got a semi-decent explanation of why it's a one woman show today, we can see what I've been doing. My last two posts have been about my room and I contemplated not talking about my room because it's not relevant but because of who I am as a person I needed to mention it so like sorry not sorry. All I really have to say is that I started putting up things??? But not that many things because I still have a box of posters and things and my cardboard Loki cutout in my garage and I have like 200 photo prints sitting on my dresser so I have some things but not a Lot of things but wow look at this tapestry 

    I took this photo very late at night so the natural light from my windows was not coming in so this was clearly not optimal lighting to make it look the prettiest but you get the gist also please note the painting on the right do you see it with the blue and the pink and the vaguely eiffel tower looking building yes hello I painted that wow!!! Also if you look at the second shelf you will see Harry Potter Illustrated but it came out in October and this is a September post so I don't know if I'm allowed to talk about it?????? Eyes emojis everywhere. I feel like if I were an emoji I would definitely be the eyes emoji which is a great irony considering I cannot see anything with these plain non-elf eyes. 

    I'm going to stop showing you pictures of my room even though I have so many Things. Besides home decor, another relevant thing in my life this past month was Eid, a Muslim holiday (I am Muslim) (therefore it was relevant) (in case you didn't connect the dots). I bought like four outfits online and I looked really cute so here is a photograph so you can see how adorable I looked: 

    Now that you've gotten over my cuteness, you can fawn over this really cool used bookstore I found! I love love love used/vintage bookstores; really anyplace that has a combination of any of the following: 1. aesthetically pleasing, 2. smells good 3. has a lot of books (this one is like a requirement) 4. makes you warm and fuzzy inside 5. amazing!!!!! This place was super cool and I'm definitely going to be coming back here, but North Carolina has a lot of vintage bookstores so I'll be sure to check em all out and fill my tiny little heart up with joy.

    Wow this keeping up section is so disjointed, I'm sorry, but this is the last thing I'll mention before moving onto September Reads and October TBR's. So I decided I'd save HP Illustrated for next month's Previously (cries for days) but you know what did come out in September???? Take a guess. The last book in my favorite non-Harry Potter book series: Library of Souls. (no I'm not crying) (yes I am) (I really like writing in parentheses I'm going to write a novel like this no one can stop me)

    Tell me it's not the most beautiful book you've ever seen. Or read. Or smelled. God it smells so good. Wow I sound so terrifying????? Ok I'm going to be done now but just know this book is my heart and soul and you are not done hearing about it. Not by a long shot.

    Also, I swear I did Real People things too but I don't like talking about those things so I don't. Also, more fun disclaimer: All these pics are straight from my Instagram so follow me y'all bc I'm proud of my aesthetic: @looonylovegood. (also follow me on Twitter I swear I'm funny @abnoormality look even my handle is funny) Aaaayyyyy shameless plugs. 

    I started this month hella strong and I still sometimes think about I Crawl Through It because it was such a weird book but it straight up changed me as a person. It's definitely a love or hate book though, like if you aren't into the surrealist ish she's pulling you aren't gonna be a fan. A Curious Tale of the In-Between is middle grade and I really really enjoyed it -- it definitely had that haunting vibe I really like in books like this that's hard to pull off. Also, it was about ghosts and who doesn't love ghosts. I've mentioned my thoughts on Zeroes and A Step Toward Falling in full length reviews but both were solid books, especially Zeroes, which, despite some writing flaws, really was an ingenious story. Also, I know I'm hella late to the game with Go Set a Watchman but I literally bought it the day it came out and then I just...didn't read it???? I don't know what's wrong with me???? I finally did read it though, so better late than never. My most important read was Library of Souls which I mentioned earlier. The moment I first read Miss Peregrine, I fell in l o v e. The photographs. The concept. The storytelling. Everything was so amazing. I was entranced. And I didn't even realize there were more books. I just thought there was one. And then more happened and I was amazed and it was beautiful and this was amazing too and I'm so sad it's over. The last book on my read list is by David Sedaris, who is my best friend Anika's favorite author and very Important to her and I read this because she always tells me to and I think it's super important to read books and authors important to people you love or who are important to you and I absolutely loved it, Sedaris is a wonderful man, except I keep forgetting to tell my home slice that I read one of his books, which I should do eventually.

    Because I like to consider us friends, I'm going to tell you a secret. I actually already finished Magnus Chase, because it came out six days ago so I finished it six days ago but I already put it on my list so I left it there and honestly I'd probably be done with Carry On, too, but I read Black Widow first so I could review it and then I just decided to spent four days looking at the illustrations in Harry Potter Illustrated. Anyway, Magnus Chase is my sarcastic little homeboy and we are going to rule the world together but next, I cannot wait to start Carry On because I have waiting far too long. The rest of these books are also books I generally am tryna read, especially October 6th release twinsies A Thousand Nights. Also, I didn't put it on the list because I forgot, but I'm totally going to read Life and Death, not because I'm a Twilight fan, because I really have hated Twilight since my phase ended after middle school, but because this inner desire in me needs to know how it pans out.

    Illuminae - Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff 
    Carry On - Rainbow Rowell 
    A Thousand Nights - E.K. Johnston
    The Scorpion Rules - Erin Bow
    Need - Joelle Charbonneau
    The Sword of Summer - Rick Riordan

    If you've stuck with me until the end of this post, thank you and I apologize for being as all over the place as I am, but like, it happens????? 

    What have you been up to last month?
    Let us know in the comments!

    Sunday, October 11, 2015

    ARC Review: Black Widow: Forever Red - Margaret Stohl

    Black Widow: Forever Red
    Margaret Stohl 
    Series: N/A
    Genre: Young Adult, Superhero, Action
    Release Date: October 13th, 2015
    Publisher: Marvel Press
    Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
    Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

    Natasha Romanov hates pierogies and that's more insight into her character than we've seen from all her scenes in every Marvel movie she's been in combined -- and that's from the first line of this book.

    Black Widow is my heart and soul. I want her to pull a gun out of a cleverly concealed spot in her clothing and shoot me in the face. I welcome the sweet embrace of death if it's being delivered by a swift punch from Agent Romanov's gauntlet clad fists. So when I heard this book existed it was a big deal to me, because her on-screen scenes are not enough for me. Margaret Stohl was giving me a full length novel about the queen of my heart, and I could have it months in advance, signed and everything by arguably the sweetest author in existence? A dream come true.

    The story Stohl tells in her book is of Ava Orvola, a girl Natasha Romanov saved eight years ago from Ivan Somodorov, the same man who ran the Red Room where Natasha became the Black Widow. Now, he's back and down to even shadier shenanigans and of course now only does Nat have to get Ava involved (whose just trying to live an innocent civilian life at this point) but another homie, Alex, gets mixed up in this business as well.

    The book was full of action. From page one to the end, I don't feel like it ever lost its momentum or it pacing. It was a short book but because of the way it was paced, so many things happened one after the other (or all at once) that content-wise, nothing was lacking.

    The characterization was the most interesting part to me. There were some scenes where I could see the Black Widow I had in my head saying and doing those things and there were some scenes where she seemed slightly out of character, like the dialogue didn't quite match up with the mouth of the person saying it. I wasn't sure if I just had a false perception of her or if Stohl's representation of her was a little off, but ultimately, she still displayed the signature Black Widow characteristics, and considering I have mostly the movies to go off of, my view of her is probably skewed as it is, so I don't want to knock Margaret Stohl for her characterization. I do think some of the lines read a little bit choppy/awkward, but I think that might have been a dialogue issue, not a character issue. Overall, I liked her imagining of Natasha: she had the sarcasm, -- especially evident in the bits of dialogue from the case files inserted after each chapter -- the closed-off nature, the intelligence.

    The other two main characters, I totally loved. They were well-written and well developed and even though I wished there was slightly more Black Widow point of view compared to their point of views, I still loved their point of views. Ava had the same tormented past and her snark and loner lifestyle mirroring Natasha's was just too interesting not too be drawn into. And Alex was hilarious and endearing and once Black Widow starts digging deeper, a mystery. I did think they were a little insta-lovey (more from his side considering she saw him in her dreams so at least she thought she knew him kinda???) but they were cute and not obnoxious and not the point of the story so I'm willing to let it go. Also, on the topic of characters, I loved the appearances from Tony Stark and Phil Coulson and the references to the Avengers. Stohl did a great job tying everything to the universe.

    Some of the writing was a little awkward, particularly the fight sequences. I enjoyed the parts about analyzing the scenes, but other than that, the fight scenes didn't really hold my attention and I didn't enjoy reading them, even the internal monologue-y parts. I don't know if that's just me or if they truly were awkward to read but throughout the book there were just bits and pieces of weird phrasing.

    However, there were also beautifully phrased parts and most of the story was enjoyable enough that I plowed through, trying to figure out the next plot point. I liked all the directions the story took (speaking of directions, there was a One Direction joke in the book, which is automatic grounds for recommendation) and a lot of them I didn't see coming at all. It was cool how all the characters were interconnected and there was always a little more to the story.

    I'm still waiting for that novel all about Nat's grueling Red Room training so that better be next, but until then, I totally liked the book, shortcomings and all, and would definitely suggest fans of Black Widow pick it up, if not for the story, for the sole fact that Alex Manor's longest inside joke is "Taylor Stark" -- a poster of Tony Stark with Taylor Swift's head taped on -- and if that doesn't inspire you, nothing can.

    - Noor

    Black Widow movie? Yes or Yes?
    Let us know in the comments!

    Monday, October 5, 2015

    ARC Review: A Step Toward Falling - Cammie McGovern

    A Step Toward Falling
    Cammie McGovern
    Series: N/A
    Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
    Release Date: October 6th, 2015
    Publisher: HarperTeen
    Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
    Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

    There's always a clear distinction between throwing in certain characters as an aside in a a story -- the token black girl, the sassy gay friend -- and truly creating a story with dynamic, diverse characters. Cammie McGovern does the latter, exploring different ways those with disabilities can function and interact, without reducing them to gimmicks. These characters are the heart and soul of the book, carrying the story.

    The events of A Step Toward Falling begin when Belinda, a developmentally disabled senior, is being attacked behind the bleachers at a football game. Emily sees and freezes in panic mode, doesn't physically help her. She sees Lucas coming out from behind the bleachers too and figures he must have stopped it or said something, he figures the same and neither of them do anything. Belinda eventually saves herself by yelling and getting the attention of a janitor, who calls the cops. The guidance counselor makes Emily and Lucas volunteer at a Boundaries and Relationships class taught at a learning center for disabled adults as they are both responsible for not speaking out.

    The story is told in alternating points of view: Emily's and Belinda's. Honestly, I'm glad we had Emily's and Belinda's and not Emily's and Lucas's because while I did really love Lucas as a character we got to learn so much more about Belinda this way than we would have from the scenes we would have seen if we only saw her through the other two's limited vision. Also, while I'm not really too sure Emily was a character I liked all that much, I feel like I appreciated her point of view, if that makes sense? I didn't hate her, I just felt like she could be a little full of herself sometimes and she didn't see the way her words affected others. In the beginning, she had this image that all football players are dumb and none of them need to go to college and blah blah blah and now she meets Lucas and he can hold a decent conversation and he's funny and decently smart and she knows those cracks get to him but she still makes them and doesn't realize it's rude? And she still has all her notions about her "smart" friends and the "popular" kids. Like, in one part Lucas is talking about what they do at parties and she's literally like "I think about how my friends and I talk about weightier issues. Usually it's through music and song lyrics that we analyze to death." Just think about a bunch of high school seniors sitting in a bedroom analyzing printouts of song lyrics. Think about it. She's a little off kilter but I think ultimately she has a good heart.

    Belinda provides us with a stark contrast to Emily. She sees the world differently than her point-of-view counterpart. Where the audience understands things, Belinda doesn't. For example, when Ron, a football player, and his friends laugh at her attempts to ask him to watch Pride and Prejudice with her, the audience knows they are being rude, but Belinda thinks they are a group of people who laugh a lot and something funny has happened unrelated to her question. She's more well-adjusted than some of her classmates -- one is wheelchair-bound and cannot speak or move due to his cerebral palsy and her close friend with Down Syndrome is often hard to understand -- but still is struggling to find work once she finishes high school. Her main job in school was sorting mail, but clerical jobs like that are few and far between and the list of disabled people up for them is in the hundreds. Her grandmother refuses to let her do janitorial work, so she has few options. This dilemma of hers did well to highlight a huge real life problem for those with disabilities. Many are unable to find jobs that suit their needs and the waiting lists for jobs available are ridiculous.

    As the story provides us with insight into these characters and more, not only does everyone grow on you, but the whole story just grows on your heart. Some of my favorite parts were reading about Lucas and Emily's volunteering sessions at the center. Cammie McGovern didn't write a classroom full of disabled characters like children who needed to be taught manners and discipline and control. She wrote them like the people they are who have a different set of rules for their lives. And Lucas and Emily talked to them like people, not awkward creatures to skirt around, which the discussion leader mentioned in one class as well. Speaking of Lucas, he was one of my favorite characters. I felt like he was the most compassionate, the most kind, and had the biggest heart. Without seeing his point of view, he had an air of mystery (maybe a little more mystery than I wanted but it happens), but we got to know him through dialogue, which Cammie McGovern did excellently. His character development was done beautifully, not too rushed or too slow, and I'm just in love with him as a person and as a character.

    I feel like there is so much about this book and I've just spent all these words just talking about characters but there's a lot more and I don't want to bore you. Basically, the story is excellent and well done and equal parts funny and cute and sad and witty and all the YA things you could ask for. There are characters you will totally love, like Belinda and Anthony, and there are some really shitty characters like Ron and Richard (ok I know Richard is supposed to be redeemable but I really don't like him, he's Emily's "best friend" but he's pretentious and selfish and she can do better; actually all her friends kinda suck).

    There was some of the actual writing that was a little iffy for me but not enough that I didn't like the general feel of the book, just a few lines here and there. Like, in the beginning, Emily is attracted to a boy so she thinks "I feel a tingle in my armpits." My armpits have never ever been a place that have tingled in any situation ever and I doubt they ever will so that was just weird. There were a few other random lines that just didn't fit but overall the book was well written. Also, some situations in the book felt a little unrealistic while some were done pretty well. Like, many of us know there's a big issue with rape culture and victim blaming and assailants getting off without many repercussions, so I wasn't sure if the backlash was something that would happen, but it wasn't something I disliked because it felt like a portrayal of how situations should go. Also, this could totally be how some school handle situations where they have proof of assault. Another thing was the whole trope where the football players are idolized and worshipped and are jerks and airheads mostly. I don't know many high schools where this was actually true. But it didn't detract from the story, so it's not a huge complaint.

    I feel like I could probably talk about a decent amount more but, on an end note, it does an amazing job discussing the stories of people with disabilities, whose voices we definitely need more of. Cammie McGovern works with disabled children and young adults in a resource center and also has an autistic son so she has first hand experience connecting and interacting with those with disabilities which means she isn't just pulling their personalities and mannerisms from thin air, she's working from real-life experiences. This gives the book authenticity and makes it that much more important because these are positive, accurate portrayals of disabled people, which are lacking in novels and media.

    - Noor

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