Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wish You Were Italian - Kristin Rae (Review)

Wish You Were Italian - Kristin Rae
Wish You Were Italian by Kristin Rae
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Source/Format: Publisher (Thanks Bloomsbury!) || ARC
[I received this book for review from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

Pippa is in Italy for the summer and, despite her parents’ wishes, she has no intention of just studying the local art! She has a list of things of her own to do: from swimming in the Mediterranean Sea to getting a makeover – and falling for an Italian boy! As Pippa explores the dramatic ruins of Rome and Pompeii, she is swept into her own drama with two guys: an irresistible local she knows is nothing but trouble and a cute American archaeology student . . . Will she find her true love? (from Goodreads)

There's nothing quite like the warm fuzzies one gets from reading a fun, summery contemporary! Wish You Were Italian is just the type of delightful read I like as the warmer weather starts to arrive. It's got a great cast of characters, a surprisingly compelling story and an amazing exotic locale (actually, more than one of them!). All these elements combined to create an awesome story that I couldn't put down once I'd started.

Hands down, my favorite thing about Wish You Were Italian is the setting. While it's always been my sister's dream to go to Italy and explore one day, I am now convinced to go too after reading this book. Rae really made everything that main character Pippa experiences come to life with her words. I find myself itching to go and see the Colosseum, grab some actual gelato and pizza, visit Pompeii and more.

The story also won me over. Even though there were certainly moments I thought were a touch too dramatic or unbelievable, I still really liked it. The plot almost feels like it could work as a movie (perhaps a Disney Channel original movie?). Pippa's adventures involve romance and friendship and shenanigans too. Every step she takes leads to her realizations about what she likes, wants and is capable of. Don't get me wrong - there's also surprising depth, as Pippa has to deal with her parents (especially her mother) and her own lack of courage sometimes. But for the most part, Rae tells Pippa's story with a light hand and it totally worked.

The characters are such a delightful bunch. There is Pippa, who is trying to forge her own way in the world - and figuring out what that means. There's her best friend, Morgan, who gives her an awesome present for the trip and provides plenty of support and encouragement. Her new Italian friend Chiara, who helps Pippa make her way to Cinque Terre and is an amazing, enthusiastic pal. Bruno, Matilde's other son, who becomes an irresistible Italian crush, and Darren, the cute American archeology student who keeps crossing paths with Pippa (and who I generally favored). Pippa's awesome grandmother also deserves a shoutout too! There are plenty of characters to meet, and enjoy meeting, and I loved that they each entered in a way that felt organic to the tale.

All in all, Wish You Were Italian is the kind of contemporary that I think many people will enjoy. It's filled with funny moments, adventures in Italy, moments of realization, sweet romance -- all revolving around a main character who is fun, smart and not necessarily perfect (which makes her all the better to me). It's one of those stories that will entertain; it's also a story that will proceed to make your wanderlust and desire to visit Italy grow in gigantic proportions. Definitely consider adding this one to your summer reading pile!

Rachel and I have decided to collaborate on this new feature, since we often end up having a lot of the same ARCs. We've decided to read them around the same time, so we can discuss them, and we're sharing answers to one burning question related to the book, author or series with our reviews!

Our question: What are the 5 things you want to do in Italy?

First of all, I would just like to go to Italy. Period. To be able to visit Europe at all would be lovely, really. There are seriously so many things that come to mind when I think about visiting this country in particular, from visiting a boat ride in Venice, a visit to Pompeii and Cinque Terre, to dropping by the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But these would be the five things I'd want to do in Italy:

1. Visit the Colosseum. If there's one site that I would like to see in Italy, this would be it.
2. Ride a Vespa. Because I think it would seriously be tons of fun.
3. Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain. I've always believed wishes can come true.
4. I want to visit that site where people leave their letters to Juliet. I'm a sucker for romance.
5. Eat. Who can resist all the pizza and pasta and gelato? No one, that's who.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It Runs in the Family: Vampire Academy #1-3 by Richelle Mead

Inspired by the fact that reading is a big deal in our family, I've decided to start up a new feature called It Runs in the Family. This feature will allow my friends and family to share their thoughts on books they've read, and hopefully, offer more of a variety to the reviews on the blog.

My sister Melissa is back this week with another review for you all! Mel reads a lot of paranormal YA, as well as NA novels, so she'll be posting about books that I might not necessarily read (or haven't gotten to just yet). This week, she tackles the first three novels of the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead. While I do intend to read this series this year (along with Rachel), Mel has beat me to it - and you can see her thoughts below.

Vampire Academy // Frostbite // Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead
Series: Vampire Academy #1-3
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: August 16, 2007 // April 10, 2008 // November 13, 2008
Source/Format: Bought/Kindle e-book

Summary for Vampire Academy: St. Vladimir's Academy isn't just any boarding school--it's a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They've been on the run, but now they're being dragged back to St. Vladimir's--the very place where they're most in danger. . . . Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy's ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi--the world's fiercest and most dangerous vampires--make Lissa one of them forever. (from Goodreads)

+ The Story: If you’re thinking Edward & Bella right off the bat, think again. The Vampire Academy series, once you start reading the books – will not remind you of Twilight at all. I mean you’ve got the romance factor, sure, but if anything, there’s more kick-ass action involved and less (actually, NO) sparkling vampires. Plus there’s the fact that vampires (the moroi, at least) have power over the elements – water, fire, air or earth. There are chosen few who have special abilities – over spirit. But that’s something you’ll just have to read about for yourself. I will say this though – that kind of power is freakishly amazing, but risky. 

With the first book, we are basically introduced to the world of the Vampire Academy. We’ve got the moroi, who are considered royalty even though some of them are actually non-royal. Basically they’re the higher species and because they are vulnerable to the strigoi, murderously blood-thirsty immortal vampires who are out to increase their evil numbers, they need to be protected. That’s where the dhampir (half-moroi) come in. Some train to become guardians (while some become blood whores, but I refuse to think about that). Our main character is the beautiful Rose. She’s training to become the guardian of her best friend Lissa, who is a royal moroi. While this may sound like a plan set in stone, there’s more to these two that meets the eye. As we go along for the ride with the next few books, you’ll realize that danger seems to follow them wherever they go. Lissa’s never safe, not even from her own kind or herself. And Rose? Well, she’ll never let anything bad happen – not if she has any say in it. But what if she doesn’t… shadow-kissed and all, can she really fight against the darkness looming around them both or will it consume her first? 

+ The Main Man: While the first three books aren’t particularly centered on the romance factor, we’ve got to talk about Dimitri – Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome. He’s an older guardian who at the very beginning is assigned to give Rose some extra training. Little did they know that between practicing fighting stances and strigoi takedowns, it ignites a different kind of passion – for each other. Both try to hold back, knowing very well it could ruin their guardian duties, but when someone tries to exploit what they have, it only becomes more evident how much they care about each other. Pretty soon, there’s no use trying to fight against it. By the time you reach the third book, especially its last few chapters where the stakes become higher than ever, this relationship becomes more important than it ever was, and Rose has to decide whether or not she is willing to risk it all for him. 

+ Rose Hathaway: If there were one word in the entire English vocabulary that would describe this woman, it would be… badass. Not only can she hold her own in a fight, verbal or physical take your pick, but she also has this fearlessness about her, one that you wish you had yourself. Her determination and passion are quite contagious. I’m not saying she’s perfect, because she does act childish one too many times and has the tendency to act before she thinks, but really – it’s her ferocity, her resilient personality and the fact that she’s willing to do anything and everything for her best friend, that makes her a great heroine. 

The Unforgettable Lines 

“The greatest and most powerful revolutions often start very quietly, hidden in the shadows” 

“If I let myself love you, I won’t throw myself in front of her. I’ll throw myself in front of you.” 

“Life and death were so unpredictable. So close to each other. We existed moment to moment, never knowing who would be the next to leave this world.” 

So far, so good – that’s what I would say. The Vampire Academy series (at least the first three books) have enough intrigue, mystery and action that I’m excited to find out what happens next. Plus I’m a sucker for love – and if you’ve read the third book (Shadow Kiss) already, you’ll know what I mean when I say that I can’t just let it…them… end there.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

After Hello - Lisa Mangum (Review)

After Hello - Lisa Mangum
After Hello by Lisa Mangum
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Source/Format: Borrowed from Rachel || Hardcover 

Seventeen-year-old Sara is a seeker. She’s always on the lookout for the perfect moment to capture with her ever-present, point-and-shoot camera, especially on her first trip to New York City. 

Sam is a finder. He has a knack for finding what other people can’t—a first-edition book or the last two tickets to a sold-out Broadway show. In New York, there is always something interesting to find. 

When Sam and Sara’s paths cross, neither one of them is prepared for what they will find out about each other—and about themselves when they form an unlikely partnership in search of a seemingly elusive work of art. They have one day to find the impossible. Fate brought their talents together, but what happens when time runs out? Will love be able to overcome fate? (from Goodreads)

How many of you believe in fate - of things falling into place just so because they were meant to? How many of you also believe that every choice you make determines the course of your life? I believe in both these things, which is why After Hello resonated so strongly on a personal level. On the surface, it seems like the story of a girl, and a boy, and a one-day adventure they share in New York City. But the book is much more than that -- it's a challenge to readers to think about fate, choice, and past, present and future.

After Hello is narrated by the two main characters, Sam and Sara, in the form of alternating chapters. It was a nice touch, as using the dual point of view gives readers a chance to get to hear from both Sam and Sara. For the most part, the story wound up reading well, with an easy flow from one chapter to the next, one event to the next. However, there were a few occasions where I found myself confused about whose chapter I was reading, since their voices did sound very similar.

But this story wasn't about the characters -- it was about the journey. I've said it many times on the blog about various books, and I'll say it again about this book: sometimes, the journey is just enough to get to me when I'm reading something. In the course of one day, Sam and Sara go on a whirlwind trip around New York City. Their adventures, and the interesting personalities they encounter along the way, make for a fun read (and are also easy to visualize, so it's easy to imagine this one as a film). Both learn from their experiences and from each other, and it changes them forever. Cliche as it may sound, it's actually quite possible and Mangum tackles that possibility relentlessly in After Hello

Sure, there were a few instances where the words felt preachy and slightly unnatural when someone said it. And there were definitely moments where the writer worked a little “movie magic” (where unbelievable coincidences appear). But these things weren’t so bothersome, as the message of this book was one I really connected with.

After Hello was a surprising, refreshing read. While I didn’t particularly care for either character, I did care about the story and how it made me feel while I read it. Even though it was pretty short, it definitely packed a lot of thoughtfulness in. Books that make me think are generally the kind that I wind up liking, and it was no different in the case of After Hello.

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