Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-to-the-universe-by-benjamin-alire-saenzTitle: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Series: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, #1
Pages: 359
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 21st 2012
*This review is based on the audio version of this book, narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda*

      “Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

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“There were so many ghosts in our house – the ghost of my brother, the ghost of my father’s war, the ghost of my sisters’ voices. And I thought that maybe there were ghosts inside of me that I hadn’t even met yet.”

Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is compelling coming-of-age story, infused with both touching and tragic moments in the life of Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza. The summer of Ari’s fifteenth year, he meets Dante and while the two could not be any more different, they quickly become friends. Over the course of two summers, both their lives are irrevocably changed by this friendship. This is the very first audio book I’ve listened to and although I was apprehensive about whether or not it would be able to hold my attention, I could not ask for a better narrator than Lin-Manuel Miranda. In fact, I might have been spoiled and need every audiobook I listen to to be narrated by him.

I loved how important family was in this book, not just for Ari but for Dante as well. Much of Ari’s resentment toward his parents comes from how closed off they are around him and this is never more apparent than with regard to his older brother, Bernardo, who is currently incarcerated. Ari wants so badly to know why, to be able to utter his brother’s name, but there’s a lot of hurt and shame that keeps both his parents tight-lipped. Ari’s father is also a veteran who continues to deal with the psychological effects of war. Ari is desperate to know his father, to have a real honest conversation, but this isn’t always possible for his dad. There is so much to love about Dante’s parents and it’s obvious right off the bat that they are meant to be a contrast to Ari’s. Dante’s father shows more affection in one interaction with his son than Ari has ever witnessed from his father. I thought it was still really important that Dante still finds it hard to open up to his parents. When he is contemplating telling them he is gay, he confesses to Ari that he doesn’t want to be a disappointment.

From the very beginning it’s clear that Dante is more sure of himself. He’s curious about the world and himself and isn’t afraid to share his feelings about both. He’s one of those people who lights up a room and his optimism is infectious. Ari’s feelings for Dante are gradual. Unlike Dante, he isn’t so sure of himself. He has a lot of internal dialogue that can be messy, contradictory, and evasive. He hides behind a lot of sardonic comments, but there’s so much happening underneath the surface, you can’t help but feel the weight he carries around. Of course, there were still times when I wanted to slap him upside the head to knock some sense into him. Ari feels more for Dante than he’s willing to admit, but still has to deal with his own internalized homophobia before being able to label what his relationship with Dante really is.

Both Ari and Dante are Mexican American and I found it really interesting and insightful how the characters deal with their ethnic identities. Dante never feels quite “Mexican” enough and is often convinced that other Mexicans don’t like him because of it. Ari makes snide remarks about what it means to be Mexican, even going so far as to say he’s more Mexican than Dante because of his darker skin. When you grow up in a society that stereotypes your culture and places less value on you because of your background, it can really do a number on how you perceive yourself, not just your place in society, but your place within that group. These stereotypes are often perpetuated within the community and I’ve known plenty of Mexican Americans that feel not quite American and not quite Mexican either and it’s a hard line to walk. That being said, I do wish the characters had come to a resolution regarding their identities or at least had a continued discussion about this part of who they are.

Sáenz does a fine job of capturing the pain and uncertainty of growing up when you’re on the brink of adulthood. Ari’s journey of self-discovery is incredibly moving and will have you rooting for him till the end.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

The Friday 56: Heartstone

The Friday 56The Friday 56 is a weekly blog meme hosted by Freda’s Voice. Join us every Friday and share an excerpt from a book you’ve been reading.

Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
*Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It’s that simple.

**Be sure to leave a link to your Friday 56 post in the comments!**

“Brysney gave me the dagger and I cut away the hem from my own shirt, willing my hands not to shake as I handed him the strip of cloth. As he wrapped Anjey’s arm I squatted beside the dead gryphon, at once transfixed and appalled by the sight.”

I just finished Elle Katharine White’s Heartstone, a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, but with dragons. I don’t have a review of this one up yet, but look for it next month. Cover is linked to Goodreads.

From the Goodreads Synopsis:

      “A debut historical fantasy that recasts Jane Austen’s beloved Pride & Prejudice in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom: gryphons, direwolves, lamias, banshees, and lindworms.
      They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.
      Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.
      Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.
      It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.”

cc-banner-march-1Special Note: Sign-ups for the Winter 2017 Comment Challenge for March are now open. This is the final month for the winter challenge and we’d love for you to join us. We’ll be partnering you with another book blogger and all month long you will be encouraged to comment on each other’s blogs. Click the image to the left for all the info. Special thanks to all those who have participated this season! Note: the final day to sign-up will be the 25th.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

allegedly-by-tiffany-d-jackson Title: Allegedly
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Series: N/A
Pages: 387
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: January 24th 2017

      “Mary B. Addison killed a baby.
      Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.
      Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.
      There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?”

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“I’m dizzy from holding my breath for so long, maybe for years. And something ugly, hidden deep inside me is threatening to erupt. I can’t hold it back anymore. How do I make it stop before it’s too late?

Tiffany D. Jackson’s Allegedly is one of the strongest debuts I’ve ever read. Mary B. Addison’s life is run by the state. Convicted of manslaughter at age nine, Mary has been in the system for nearly seven years. The group home she currently resides in is a living nightmare. The adults she is surrounded by are apathetic at best and the other girls in the group home can be ruthless and cruel. Mary just tries her best to survive, but when she discovers she is pregnant, she has more than herself to worry about. Mary wants to keep her baby, but with the kind of conviction she has on her record, Mary will be lucky to even hold her baby before its taken away. In order for her to even have a chance to raise her own child, Mary must confront her past and speak up when so many have wished to silence her.

Mary’s story is both compelling and heartbreaking. Mary is adamant about her innocence, but she’s also torn between telling the truth and condemning the one person in her life she’s always felt protective of: her mother. The author does an incredible job of holding the reader’s attention, not only by using Mary’s appeal to overturn her case to push the story forward, but also by weaving in excerpts from interviews and various officials’ notes in order to give a clearer picture of Mary’s past. With the entire system stacked against her, it isn’t hard to root for Mary, to hope that she could somehow have a happy ending. But there are instances when Mary’s credibility is brought into question. It isn’t that she is necessarily lying, but that she isn’t telling the whole truth. What happened the night little Alyssa died is shrouded in mystery and while I wanted to hear the whole story from Mary sooner, it was the secrecy and uncertainty of that night that kept me reading.

The most interesting and powerful relationship in Allegedly is Mary’s complicated dynamic with her mother. Though Mary has been through a lifetime of pain, she’s still in many ways very young. Her emotional age is never more apparent than when discussing her mother. Though she blames her mother for what happened to Alyssa, she still wants to protect her. She still worries about her mother’s mental health when she isn’t around, whether she’s been taking her pills and if she’s been having as her mother phrases it “a day.” She wishes more than anything to be able to talk to her mother when it comes to her pregnancy, but her mother remains antagonistic toward the very idea, so Mary remains very much isolated. Mary is starved for motherly love, but is also understandably distrustful of strangers. For her, it isn’t a matter of if the people in her life will disappoint her, but a matter of when.

Allegedly examines minors in the justice system, systemic racism, mental illness, teen pregnancy, and a myriad of other important topics. Jackson has crafted an amazing debut that is both moving and thought-provoking and one that I will not soon forget.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

Top Ten Tuesday: Romance Tropes I Kind of Love

Top Ten TuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is an original blog meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is “All About Romance Tropes/Types — top ten favorite hate-to-love romances (from books or movies or tv), top ten favorite (or least favorite) instalove romances, favorite slow-burn romances, favorite starcrossed lovers, etc. etc. Can go so many ways with this one).” This week I’m listing romantic tropes that I find really hard to resist (though I admit, some are harder to resist than others like the slow burn and love/hate relationship). Last year I listed romantic tropes I can’t stand (click here to take a look), so this year I thought I’d stay more positive. Covers are linked to Goodreads.

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1. Slow Burn – My all-time favorite romantic trope is the slow burn. I live for the slow burn. I love the agony of waiting, I love the build up of tension, I love the ultimate payoff of seeing the relationship develop and then happen (hopefully with a swoon-worthy kiss). I’m always, always up for a slow burn romance.

  • Book recommendation: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

2. Enemies to Lovers – I think part of the reason I like this trope is the slow burn aspect of it (if it isn’t slow burn, you’re doing it wrong). I love the potential for character development with this trope because it means that both characters’ world views are going to be challenged.

  • Book recommendation: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

3. Fake Relationships – Is the fake relationship trope extremely predictable? Yes. Do I end up enjoying it despite this fact? Absolutely. Sometimes you should just enjoy the ride.

  • Book recommendation: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

4. Friends to Lovers – This trope sometimes works for me and sometimes doesn’t. I have to really believe that the two characters have a connection beyond friendship.

  • Book recommendation: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

5. Arranged Marriage – I never thought that this would be something that I’d really enjoy, but you know what, I kind of really enjoy arranged marriage plots, especially when it’s a slow burn (anyone really surprised?).

  • Book recommendation: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

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6. Assassin to Lover – I’m not sure what the official name for this type of plot would be called and I know some people may lump it in with Enemies to Lovers, but I’m particularly prone to love any plot that starts off with one character wanting/ordered to kill another and failing for whatever reason. I haven’t found too many books like this that I love, but I’m always intrigued whenever a book with this plot creeps up.

  • Book recommendation: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

7. Former Love Rekindled – This is one trope that I never really thought I was interested in, but there are some really good ones out there and I’d really like to see more of it.

  • Book recommendation: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

8. Fairytale Retellings – I love fairytale retellings so much. Really, I’m up for anything, but I will say that less-familiar fairytale retellings are much more interesting.

  • Book recommendation: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

9. Love/Hate Relationship – Another trope that I’m not sure what to call it, but I always associate it with Pride and Prejudice. It’s that I-really-don’t-like-you-but-somehow-we-still-have-this-connection-and-I’m-going-to-deny-it-for-as-long-as-possible kind of thing (slow burn here).

  • Book recommendation: Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

10. You’ve Got Mail – Pen pals without knowing the other person’s identity? Yes, I will read all the books that do this! Like the fake relationship trope, it can be predictable, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it.

  • Book recommendation: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Do you enjoy any of these romantic tropes? What is your favorite romantic trope? Have any recommendations based on the tropes I listed? Please share! Be sure leave a link to your own TTT post as well, so I can visit.

cc-banner-march-1Special Note: Sign-ups for the Winter 2017 Comment Challenge for March are now open. This is the final month for the winter challenge and we’d love for you to join us. We’ll be partnering you with another book blogger and all month long you will be encouraged to comment on each other’s blogs. Click the image to the left for all the info. Special thanks to all those who have participated this season! Note: the final day to sign-up will be the 25th.

Kernels of Nonsense: Are ARCs Worth it?

Kernels of Nonsense (2)Kernels of Nonsense is a discussion feature where I like to tackle various book and blogging related topics. This week I’m discussing ARCs and if they are really worth pursuing as a book blogger and reader. I know this isn’t a new topic around the blogosphere, but this is what my mindset currently is with regard to ARCs.

I have a confession to make. I’ve been avoiding NetGalley. I recently submitted a review that made my feedback ratio 100%. It’s been a while since I’ve had every NetGalley request reviewed and I think for the time being I’m going to bask in this sense of accomplishment.

There is another reason why I’m avoiding NetGalley and that’s the added pressure that comes with these ARCs. As a mood reader, having to read certain books by a certain time can have a huge impact on how I enjoy them. I’m not always in the mood for a certain genre or a certain book and when that happens, I put down the book and pick up another. I can’t do that with ARCs because they come with deadlines attached to them. And while I understand that I’m not going to be disciplined if I read an ARC after its release date, I sort of feel like I’ve entered into an agreement with the publisher that I will read and review these books before their release dates. And so I do.

When I first started blogging, I wanted it to be fun and low-pressure. Things don’t always work out the way you intend. Although I will say that blogging can be really hard work, it can be the kind of hard work that’s worth it. I’m proud of the fact that I work hard on my blog. I’m proud of the fact that writing a review doesn’t always come easy, but I still get through them. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve grown both as a blogger and a reader since joining this community. Still, I’m learning that there has to be a limit to how much time and energy I devote to blogging. If I’m overwhelmingly stressed when it comes to blogging, it’s no longer a hobby but an obligation.

I confess that another reason I’m less excited about ARCs is because I end up not enjoying most of them. The last two ARCs I read received 2-stars ratings from me and really, I’d rather be spending my time reading books I enjoy than ones I don’t. Below is a graph of NetGalley ARCs I’ve read by rating (please note that 5-star percentage was rounded up, so it’s actually below 3%).

netgalley-arcs-by-ratings

I ask myself why I am still requesting these ARCs. Is it the blog stats? We know there’s a desire for early reviews among readers and these ARC reviews are a way to drive traffic to your blog. Is it impatience on my part? Sometimes I want a book so bad, waiting a few extra weeks to buy or check it out from the library seems impossible. Neither of these reasons seem good enough when I’m trading my time for ARCs I’m not loving.

So as of right now, I will not be requesting any new ARCs on NetGalley. I don’t know how long I’ll be on this “ARC strike,” but I’m aiming for the summer. And if summer comes around and I’m still not feeling the need to request, I’m not going to force myself to get back into the swing of things.

How do you feel about ARCs? Has your opinion changed since you started blogging? Have you ever looked at how you rate the ARCs you read? Do you think the added pressure is worth it when it comes to ARCs? Let’s discuss in the comments!

cc-banner-march-1Special Note: Sign-ups for the Winter 2017 Comment Challenge for March are now open. This is the final month for the winter challenge and we’d love for you to join us. We’ll be partnering you with another book blogger and all month long you will be encouraged to comment on each other’s blogs. Click the image to the left for all the info. Special thanks to all those who have participated this season! Note: the final day to sign-up will be the 25th.

ARC Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

Title: Gilded Cage
Author: Vic James
Series: Dark Gifts, #1
Pages: 368
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Release Date: February 14th 2017
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review*

      “Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
      A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
      Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?
      A boy dreams of revolution.
      Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
      And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
      He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

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Gilded Cage by Vic James has a unique premise, but never quite held my attention. It’s always disconcerting to go into a book thinking one thing and finding out it’s entirely something else. From the synopsis, I got the impression this was a historical fantasy; however, the novel is more in the vein of dystopian fantasy. In a world divided between those with unique Skills and those without, the Equals wield power through unconscionable means. Each citizen is required to fulfill ten years of slavery, most in the dilapidated slavetowns. When Abi arranges for her family to serve the Jardines, one of the most powerful Equal families, she hopes the decade passes quickly without incident. But her plans immediately go awry when her younger brother, Luke, is torn from his family and forced to work at the slavetown of Millmoor. Both will discover that Equals are far more dangerous than anyone imagined and there may be no stopping them.

Abi is a character that deserved a better storyline. She’s a hopeless romantic, but she’s smart and keeping her family safe is of utmost importance to her. Unfortunately, much of Abi’s story centers on her attraction to one of the Jardine sons. She spends most of her time inquiring about her brother or swooning over Jenner. Jenner was the least complex of the three Jardine brothers. None of the chapters are told through his perspective and he only shows up in order for Abi to silently wish he felt the same way about her. Abi’s crush is hard in itself to understand. The Equals are not known for their generosity and for whatever reason, Abi seems to forget that Jenner is part of the family that has enslaved hers. They literally treat a man like a dog, though Abi never struggles to reconcile Jenner’s supposed goodness with the acts of his family. There’s never a moment where he needs to prove himself to her as she’s all too ready to admire him based on the fact that he’s nicer than his brothers (which isn’t a hard thing to be).

Luke had the far more interesting storyline when he ends up working in harsh conditions, but finds light when he meets a group of commoners who aren’t ready to give up total control to the Equals. There’s a strong sense of community among them as they look after and provide for one another when those in charge see them as less than human. Their plans begin to expand as they get word that there is a possibility of the slavedays ending for good. Luke learns a lot through his time at Millmoor, but I did begin to wonder why neither he nor Abi had any real understanding of what went on in the slavetowns if everyone in the population, save for the Equals, was required to serve. Luke is just beginning to find his place in this group when he’s suddenly pulled right out of it. His arc comes to a chaotic close at the end of the novel that left me wondering if the rebellion really knew what they were doing to begin with.

The most interesting character was the youngest Jardine brother Silyen. He was manipulative and vicious and it was only when he was yielding power that I felt I had a grasp of what having a Skill meant. But even he wasn’t enough to save this novel. The periodic info-dumping didn’t help either, especially as I struggled to get through these chapters in particular. I was also never sure if this was a universe built upon real-world history or a form of alternate history as it never addressed colonialism and slavery, which I imagine would have an impact on how this new form of slavery would be received.

Rating: 2/5

★★