#T5W: Favorite Underrated Books

Top Five Wednesday is a book meme that Lainey started and I discovered through the lovely Samantha‘s videos. If you’re interested you can join the goodreads group to get the topics for each week.

This week’s topic:

January 25th: Favorite Underrated Books 
–Give some love to those books that aren’t as widely talked about. Those hidden gems. Those books that maybe used to be popular but people have forgotten about and they still deserve some love.

In no particular order (links bring to my reviews):

How to Repair a Mechanical Heart, by J.C. Lillis

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Read it. Read it. Read it. Read it. Read it. Read it. Read it. Read it. Read it. Read it. 

Truth in the Dark, by Amy Lane

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Adhhsdhjds read this one too please. 

The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black

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And then read this while you’re at it. 

Air Awakens, (series) by Elise Kova

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This is the only one of these books that I have not reviewed (I will do it whenever I reread it, because I will rearead it) but I absolutely adore this series! It has such a classic fantasy feel to it and yet it feels completely fresh and it has so many different themes. The characters are spectacular and I love every single one of them (that’s not always something to be glad about, because people in this series get hurt for real. All I’m saying is: guard your hearts.)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, (series) by Laini Taylor

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I feel like this trilogy is more popular than the other books I mentioned, but I still think it’s not as wildly popular as it should be. I’ve barely seen any booktuber mention it and I don’t really know why, because it deserves to hang out with the popular  books.

I understand why and how some books become more popular than others. That doesn’t take away from their value in my opinion, but I think we bloggers should try to do our best to review what we genuinely want to and try to keep in mind that while reviews for popular books will attract more blog views, it is important to also review books that aren’t as well-known, so that more people can have a chance to find out about them.

Review: How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

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★★★★

Wow. This was so incredibly cute and heartwarming, and it’s definitely a new favorite of mine.

I keep asking for signs. And here she is. Someone who prays to a neon Virgin Mary and lives her whole life in all-caps and thinks God and my happiness go together just fine.

Brandon lives in a very religious family, to which he came out as gay not long ago. They didn’t take it well, bringing their priest into it and all, but allow him to go on a six-weeks road trip with his friend Bec, in the hopes that he…becomes straight and falls in love with her, I guess. This road trip will connect all the locations of the conventions of Castaway Planet, a show Brandon is huge fan of.

Little does his family know that Abel, co-host of the most famous Castaway Planet vlog channel together with Brandon and very openly gay, will go on the road trip with them.
They have one purpose besides meeting the Castaway Planet actors at the conventions: prove the Cadsim (Cadmus+Sim, protagonists of the show) crazy fangirl shippers wrong by asking the actors and creators of the show whether something happened or not between Cadmus and Sim in the season finale, because it obviously can’t have happened, despite what every piece of Cadsim fanfiction says. I mean, Sim is a freaking android, so there’s no way. No way.
Fangirls go a bit beyond Cadsim shipping though, and Brandon and Abel will have to deal with them in a different way.

There are so many themes within these 250 pages.

First off, the fandom and fanfic themes are huge and interwoven in the narrative, a bit similarly (but even more so) to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. If you are or have ever been an active member of any fandom, this element alone will appeal to you.

“When I give the world my characters, it’s because I don’t want to keep them for myself. You don’t like what I made them do? Fucking tell me I’m wrong! Rewrite the story. Throw in a new plot twist. Make up your own ending.”

Second, is obviously the romance. There’s not much I can say without spoiling it, but know it’s just adorable.

I want to make a sweater out of this week and wrap myself up in it until it falls apart.

Last but not least is the religion. I wouldn’t say that Brandon is struggling with internalized homophobia because he never thinks his feelings are wrong, but throughout the story he remembers what Father Mike told him or he imagines what he would say. Horrible things that I don’t even want to repeat here, coated with a facade of understanding and “God loves you”.

…I glance past the rides and snack stands to where the blond stone wall of the church is, but I can’t let my eyes linger there either. It’s like looking at a house you don’t live in anymore. You wish you could go in again, but strangers live there now and you aren’t welcome, and it wouldn’t be the same anyway.

The religious element isn’t too heavy and, as an atheist, its presence didn’t bother me. What bothered me were Brandon’s family’s hateful words – don’t get me wrong, they’re not the worst family I’ve ever read about, but for some reason this made me legit angry-cry even more while reading their words.

Despite the last few things I wrote about, this is a very fun and overall lighthearted novel. I really have no idea why I haven’t heard about it before my friend read it and recommended it to me, because it seems like it should be on everyone’s bookshelves.

December Wrap-Up

Has really another month passed? It felt really short this time around. Oh well.

BOOKS:

(All titles lead to my reviews, either on goodreads or on the blog)

  • Le cose così by Labadessa: this is a short graphic novel by an Italian artist who has become really popular on Facebook, posting his ironically philosophical comics whose main features are the yellow background and the fact that its characters are birds. It’s a must-read for any Italian millennial.
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  • L’amore di Audrey by Alessia Esse
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  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch: this book took me a very long time to read, as I explain in my review. I really liked it and its characters, but I’m also pretty sure I won’t continue this series.
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  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: it was my first RR book and I loved it so much! Her writing style really resonated with me and I’ll make sure to read more of her books.
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  • Carry on by Rainbow Rowell
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  • Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat
  • Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat
  • Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat

    I reread (okay, I’m still currently reading Kings Rising, but whatever, I’ll finish it before the new year) these for the 3rd time wihin the past six months. That’s perfectly normal, right? Yes, yes it is. It’s my favorite series and I wanted to finish the year on a good note. Also I’ve been buddy-reading them with a friend (it was the first time for her) and she loved them so much, and there’s no better feeling in the world than having your friends love your favorite books!


SHOWS/ANIME/MOVIES:

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Yuri!!! On Ice and Skam were really the only things I’ve been watching, so nothing really changed from last month. Sadly the current seasons are both over, and while I’ve been able to let Skam go, I’m still riding the YoI wave, in form of fanfiction (reading and writing), obsessive fanart search, countless re-watches. Tell me I’m not the only one.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so involved in a fandom (which is, btw, so amazing and supportive), and the feelings Yuri!!! On Ice has given me are so real and positive. It’s exactly what I (and many of us) needed.

MUSIC:

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Not much has changed for me in December, with the only exception of the YoI soundtrack having being released. I’ve been listening to it for weeks now and I love it. It has so many different genres and if you don’t feel like listening to the whole thing you can just loop one or two songs that go well with your current mood (or for whatever activity you’re doing).
Basically, it’s safe to say that YoI has taken over my life in every possible way, but I don’t regret it at all.

 

How has your month been? Did you find any last-minute favorites for 2016?

Review: L’amore di Audrey (Audrey’s Love) by Alessia Esse

It’s no secret that I’m Italian and that means that sometimes I happen to read books in my mother tongue. Duh. The problem comes when I want to actually review them because my blog is in English. I’ll leave here my Italian review in case some of you can/want to read that.

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★★★★

(Actual rating 4,5 stars but I have no idea how to do that graphically oops)

I received an advanced copy of this book by the author but that didn’t influcence my opinion.

I rarely read contemporary books, but I’ll read anything that Alessia Esse comes out with, thank you very much. I loved her dystopian series La trilogia di Lilac and I’d probably read her shopping list if she publishes it.
The thing about L’amore di Audrey, but about any of her books really, is that they teach you something. Does it matter that you’re an adult and you probably know those things? No. Because sometimes knowing things is different than really knowing them, and a book might be what helps you with that. You let the book speak to you because you know the book is not there to speak to you. You know it’s not judging you, and it’s easier for you to let its words sink in and do their job of opening your eyes.
This is what I feel all of Alessia’s books (but especially this one) do.

Furthermore, this is, in a way, a book about books. The protagonist, Audrey, owns a library in New York City, and one of the other characters is an author with writer’s block. Books about books will forever be one of my favorite things, because, before finding this amazing community online, they were my first gateway into seeing my feelings about books and reading reflected somewhere. They made me feel like I wasn’t alone (which is something you tend to do when you’re a rather solitary kid who enjoys reading), like someone else in this world understood what I felt.

This is obviously also a really romantic and spicy book, but if I’m honest I cared much more about the things I previously mentioned than the actual romantic element in it. Regardless, the romance was sweet and it featured realistic elements, things that can happen to any of us.

I’ll keep reading whatever Alessia Esse has in store in the future (and in the meantime I might reread her first series and hope it’ll get translated to English because more people need access to it ♥)

Discussion+Series Review: All for the Game by Nora Sakavic

I knew I was going to have to write a series review from the moment I started reading The Foxhole Court. I had heard almost only positive things before starting it, and the few negative reviews I’d seen revolved around the fact that the sport elements in it weren’t realistic. To be honest I don’t care much for sports so I knew it wasn’t something that would bother me. Flash forward to after I read the whole series: I start seeing people that say negative things about it (sometimes without having even read it) that don’t make any sense to me, and (coincidence?) they are the same (or similar) things I’ve seen thrown at my other favorite series, Captive Prince. So I decided to make this post a little bit more than just a review because I feel like there are things that need to be addressed.

Please note that I’m not trying to shit on people’s opinions. Everyone is allowed to like or not like whatever they want. But. I see a trend of “opinions“, or to better put it: “reasons why I wouldn’t recommend this series” that I think is just harmful for these books, for these authors and for the people that enjoy them, and I find it problematic because it doesn’t take into consideration something fundamental to any written story: the fact that perspective is always key.

So, allow me to write a big fat disclaimer first:

I am in no way criticizing your opinion if you’ve read this series and you didn’t like it. Be it the characters, the story or the writing that didn’t appeal to you, I respect you and your opinion.

Also I need everybody who hasn’t read them to know that both series I’m talking about are ADULT series. Not YA.
With that out of the way, I want to address a few (just two really, because this post will be very long already) of the complaints that I’ve heard about both All for the Game and Captive Prince, often from people who haven’t read these series.

  • There are words like “faggot”yes, this is true for All for the game. That word is used (two times throughout the whole series) in dialogues, never in the narrative. Does it mean that every character uses that word? No. Does it mean that the author agrees with calling people “faggot”? No. Does it mean that the character that uses that word is idolized? No. Does it mean this series has zero or bad LGBT representation? Absolutely not. To give you an example of how that word is used:

    “Fuck you, faggot,” Seth said.
    “I don’t like that word,” Andrew said. “Don’t use it.”
    “I would say ‘fuck you, freak’, but then you would’t know which one of you I was talking to.”
    “Don’t talk to us at all,” Aaron said. “You never have anything useful to say.”

    As you can see, Seth is immediately called out on his use of the word. Seth is not a likable character throughout the series, and he’s the only one that uses that word. So why would you criticize this series for using this word, if you don’t know or (purposely or not) forget to mention the context it’s in? It would be nice to live in a world where nobody ever called anyone that, but the fact is, homophobic people exist, and to ignore that fact would be much more problematic than using a bad word twice and pointing out that that’s not okay.

  • But there is rape: look, yes, there is rape and (past or present) abuse in both series. Abuse (sexual or otherwise) exists and there need to be books that talk about the effects it has on a person. The abuse in both series is never used as a plot device, and both of them deal with how the persons affected by it is able to cope with it. Are they pretty, fluffy stories? Hell no. But are they important stories? Hell yes.

With this I don’t want to say that everyone should read it. There are strong trigger warnings for both series, so if that’s a problem for you, you should absolutely stay away from them. But should you denigrate these series based on the pure fact that bad things are said or done in them? I don’t think so.

I’m going to focus just on All for the Game now because that’s what I want to review today.
This series has awesome, realistic LGBT representation and is one of the best lessons in consent that I’ve ever read. I’m 24 and I’ve never read anything that takes consent more seriously than this. So allow me to be slightly pissed off when someone comes along and shits on its value, indirectly implying that it condones rape or the use of words like faggot.

I believe that we, as readers, should be able to understand that, allow me to repeat myself, perspective is key to reading any given book. End of rant.


 

But let’s come to the actual review for this.

★★★★

The main character is Neil Josten, well, he has become Neil Josten. He had to change names and countries more than twenty times, because he’s been on the run with his mother for eight years, running away from a criminal father that is on the hunt to kill them both. And indeed, he did manage to kill Neil’s mother one year prior to the beginning of the story. So Neil is alone and lying low, with only one passion: playing Exy in his high school.
Exy is a fictional sport that I won’t even pretend to have understood completely. But hey, that’s entirely my fault because I don’t follow any team sport and I don’t care much for them. So here’s a description taken from the book for all of you sports lovers: “an evolved sort of lacrosse […] with the violence of ice hockey”. Whatever that means. (I promise I have understood a little bit of how it works. Just not enough that I can explain it to someone else.)
But high school is almost over, and he gets an offer to go to Palmetto State University and keep playing Exy there with the Foxes. He accepts.
Coach Wymack selects all of his players from problematic families or situations. He saw potential in Neil and understood Neil’s profile fits perfectly within this team, despite not knowing exactly what his past looks like.
As the story continues, Neil will learn the full truth about his past, who his father is involved with, how all that is somehow connected to Exy, and he will have to trust others with half or full truths and even put his safety in their hands.

Other things you can expect from the plot, in completely random order:

  • Life lessons coming from team play and sport: well there really can’t be a book about sport that doesn’t have those, can there?
  • Seriously though, to call this a series about sport is ridiculous. Exy is obviously important, but it can be totally overlooked if you’re like me.
  • Complex, morally grey characters. Secrets. Troubled and tragic pasts.
  • Japanese mafia.
  • Lots of character development.
  • Positive and realistic LGBT representation.
  • One character is demisexual. Like, hello, have you ever seen that in a book? (Demisexuality is not explicitly mentioned, but the description of this character’s interest in romantic and sexual relationships seems to match this type of sexuality)
  • CONSENT IS A MAJOR THEME.
  • Healthy relationships.
  • Healthy, positive female friendships. 👭👭👭👭👭
  • Your morality will feel challenged by some of the things you find here.
  • A girl is the captain of the team. 😀
  • Lots of diversity.
  • Honestly there’s just too many positive things I can say about this and this should be an endless list.

But, this wouldn’t be one of my favorite series if it wasn’t character-driven, so I need to talk a bit about the characters. The Foxes are divided in two friendship groups: the Upperclassmen (Matt, Dan, Renee, Allison, Seth) and Andrew’s group (Andrew and Aaron or “the monsters”, Nicky, Kevin). Neil learns gradually to get along with both groups in different ways. He obviously has trust issues and can’t reveal all of his past.
As I mentioned, Neil is not the only one with drama in his past. As we find out the Foxes’ backstories, we learn why they ended up in this wreck of a team, and I can guarantee you that each story is heartbreaking.

Besides Neil, my other favorite characters were Andrew and Nicky.
Nicky is “the talkative” one and is cousin to the twins Andrew and Aaron. He’s hilarious, supportive, and ultimately a really good person.
Andrew…I won’t lie and say that I understand him fully even after having read the whole series. I’ve stated in my review for book one that Andrew reminded me a bit of Ronan Lynch (from The Raven Boys). After having finished the series I don’t think that’s true anymore, but I’ve somehow still felt the need to associate him with other known characters while I was reading this. I don’t know why that is, probably him being just too complex. Another character I’ve tried to associate him with is Laurent from Captive Prince, but it just doesn’t do it. Andrew is his own character and doesn’t feel like a copy-paste of any other one.
I don’t agree with a lot of things he does, but his is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve met in my reader life, and I don’t necessarily feel like I need to agree with or understand a character in order to love him. And love him I do.

If you’re looking for romance, you should know that what you’ll find here is extremely slow burn. But it will eat your soul. You will cry at night thinking about it, you will listen to songs that remind you of the characters involved in the romance and start crying in the middle of the street because of how perfect the songs fit and you just hope the characters are doing okay. I wish I was just being overly dramatic. I wish.

I’m already planning a reread of this series (probably in January with some buddies) and I feel like it’s much needed, as it often happens in character-driven stories. I know I will understand a lot more than I did the first time around. That’s not to say the story wasn’t clear; on the contrary, the story was very clear, but some of these characters (not just Andrew) are too complex to fully appreciate them if you only read the books once. Besides, these fictional people aren’t planning to leave my head anytime soon, so I might as well dedicate my full attention to them again.

If you want to read my reviews for the single books you can do so here (warning: not all reviews are complete and I’m likely to go edit them often and probably not in a way that makes much sense at all):
The Foxhole Court
The Raven King
The King’s Men

I really hope this series will gain more notoriety and recognition because it honestly deserves it all. I also hope Nora Sakavic will come up with some new books/series because I enjoyed her writing far more than it should be humanly possible.  Oh, have I mentioned this series only costs about 3€ in e-book format? Can it get any better than that? I don’t think so.

Bonus: Spotify playlist.

Review: The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

★★★★

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Picture by yours truly

I am always nervous before starting a new contemporary. I’ve come to accept that most contemporaries are not for me, but still the occasional contemporary book catches my attention and I venture into it with conflicting expectations.

I am happy to say that The Sun Is Also a Star is one of the few contemporary books I’ve liked so far! And when I mean I liked it, I mean I enjoyed every single word of it. And that’s a very satisfying feeling after having had bad experience with similar (on paper) books.

So, about the plot. It takes place within a day (a little more than 12 hours, excluding the epilogue) in New York City and it follows two main characters, Daniel and Natasha.
Natasha is 17 and about to be deported to Jamaica with her family. She is trying to use her last day on US soil to somehow change this, being the only one in her family that is actually going to be hurt by the deportation. She is a science girl, she believes in tangible, observable facts and I particularly liked this aspect of her personality. I am in fact that way myself, and it was refreshing to see a character like that (especially a girl!).
Daniel is also 17 and Korean American. His parents moved to the US before he and his brother were born and expect great things from both sons. In fact, Daniel is on his way to an interview to be able to be accepted into Yale, a future he doesn’t really want but doesn’t think is unavoidable.
The two meet and end up spending the day together. The way this book is written, we get both point of views alternatively, with the occasional point of view from people in their family or people they interact with. All point of views, even the very short ones, are meaningful and well-placed within the story.

So now you’re thinking, wait. Isn’t this supposed to be a romance? And it takes place within less than a full day? You’re telling me you’re giving 5 stars to a book that has insta-love? Um, I mean, I guess I am! But I swear it made sense to me! I can’t really explain it very well, but this insta-love didn’t bother me one bit and I actually found it very realistic.

I genuinely cared about the main characters and about their stories and their future. I’m not even ashamed (okay, a little bit) to say that I even cried a bit? But happy tears, don’t worry.

With that said, is this book for everyone? Probably…not. But it was definitely a book for me, and it gave me a few happy hours when I needed them.