BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small #blogtour

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the Bright Burning Stars blog tour! A huge thanks to Brittani Hilles for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. There was just something about the blurb of this story that caught my attention right away and I have been excited to read it. And while it turned out to be not entirely my cup of tea, I’m having a feeling the right reader will fall in love with it. Please join me while I share my thoughts on Bright Burning Stars!

Title: Bright Burning Stars
Author: A.K. Small
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 21st 2019
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Finished reading: May 10th 2019
Pages: 304

“Marine, notre monde, this world of ours – the stage and studios and barres – is intense and lonely. There is no space for friendship, love, or even an old and perhaps sacred bond between twins. Nothing shadows the art of dance. It’s a union of body, mind, and music. Classical dance is known for being ruthless.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Like I said before, there was just something about the blurb of Bright Burning Stars that caught my attention right away and I have been excited to finally read it. It’s true that it turned out to be not entirely my cup of tea, but I do believe the right reader will enjoy this story immensely. Fans of more gritty and slow-paced YA contemporary romance will be in a treat with this ballet-inspired story mainly set within the Paris Opera Ballet School.

Why wasn’t Bright Burning Stars a good fit for me personally? It’s hard to put my finger exactly on the why, but I think part of the reason has to do with the sheer amount of cliche drama relating to both competition, jealousy, romance and friendship. All this drama made it hard for me to stay focused and I confess it took me longer than expected to actually reach the final page. On top of this we have what you can call multiple love triangles and more jealousy and drama resulting from that… And you all know by now how I feel about those pesky love triangles in the first place. I’m sure romance fans who don’t mind a cliche or two will react different to this part of the story though. Another thing I didn’t like was the fact how they skimmed over abortion and basically make it seem like you can just go to the pharmacy, get a little something as if you were buying a cure for a headache and solve your problems that way. I’m not going into the whole abortion discussion, but I do feel this gives the wrong message to teenagers about safe sex and having to face the consequences of your actions and mistakes. Trigger warnings are also in place for other sensitive themes including eating disorders, suicide and drugs. I understand the ballet world is brutal and unrealistic (and basically unhealthy) demands are made of the bodies of the dancers, and I do think this is well portrayed in Bright Burning Stars, but it can potentially trigger more sensitive readers so you’ve been warned.

The story is told with the help of a dual POV, where we get to know Marine and Kate and learn more about how the constant competition has changed their relationship and how their final year once again puts a lot of pressure on both their bodies and their minds. I’m not sure I actually liked them, especially since their is a lot of teenage drama, boy stuff and jealousy involved, but they do help address various issues related to the ballet world. Bright Burning Stars is mostly a character-driven story where we follow the development of Marine and Kate. The pace is considerably slow at times, but shouldn’t be problem for those who enjoy this kind of story. I did wonder about the use of random French words in the text, as they didn’t seem to add anything substantial to the story… And with a Paris setting aren’t they speaking French all the time anyway in the first place? Instead of the French words, I think I would have liked to see more dancing and more descriptions of Paris and the school. But that could have been just me. Overall this was still a solid read, and while not my cup of tea, I can see how others could fall in love with Bright Burning Stars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A.K. Small was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

SOCIAL LINKS

aksmallwords.com
Twitter: @aksmallwords 
Instagram: @aksmallwords 


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DNF ARC REVIEW: Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution – by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Title: Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution
(Fat Angie #2)
Author: E.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: March 5th 2019
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Finished reading: March 1st 2019
Pages: 352
DNF at 32% (113 pages)

“Angie did not like sequels. By their very nature, they rarely met the expectations of the consumer.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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There was just something about Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution that immediately caught my eye and made me want to read it. As someone who has always struggled with her weight and had a pretty miserable time during high school, I thought I was going to be able to relate to this story… But I guess it just wasn’t ment to be. I’m aware of the fact that I didn’t realize beforehand that this was a sequel and this might have played a role in my reaction to this story. I will keep this in mind and any missing background information is of course my own fault. My reaction to Fat Angie and my decision to DNF it are based on my experience with the sequel alone. I feel sad I had to take the decision to DNF as I rarely do that, but I’ll try to explain below why I didn’t see other way out. First of all I like to state that this is probably another case of this story simply not being a right fit for me. I thought I was able to connect to the main character as I had some of the same struggles during my time in high school. Sadly, I wasn’t all that impressed by Angie. She seems over the top, almost like a cartoon and not at all the realistic representation of a teenager struggling with her weight and the other things going on in her life. I was seriously frustrated by the way she behaved and expressed herself and I felt she was being turned into a cliche with almost too many different elements that were supposed to marginalize here being jammed inside her character (weight struggles, panic disorder, suicide attempt, dead sister, being queer, having almost no real friends, bullying, best friend ignoring her etc etc.). It felt like an overload of different elements being dumped on you instead of creating a realistic situation and this made the story less credible. I also really struggled with the writing style. The story didn’t really flow for me, it was packed with cliches and between short sentences and interruptions with definitions I struggled to find the motivation to keep reading. The plot moves quite slow, or at least up until the point where I stopped reading (about a third in, and the roadtrip hadn’t made its appearance yet apart from a brief mention in a letter). Between the writing style, almost cartoonish extreme reactions and violence, overload of different elements stuffed in the same character and that same character being unlikeable I saw no other choice than to DNF Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #85 – Shatter Me (DNF) & Wintergirls

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two books that have been published over five years ago and titles I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. The first, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, sadly turned out to be my first DNF of the year. The second, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, is without doubt an emotionally tough read to read with lots of trigger warnings and a prose that is both beautiful, almost bordering the magical realism realm and at the same time somehow started to irk me.


Title: Shatter Me
(Shatter Me #1)
Author: Tahereh Mafi

Genre: YA, Dystopia, Romance
First published: November 15th 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins
Finished reading: February 13th 2019
Pages: 357
DNF at 51% (182 pages)

“The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.”


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WARNING: It’s unpopular opinion time again! Please don’t feel offended if you love this series. We are all entitled to our own reactions and feelings after all…

Ever had your sixth sense screaming at you to back off and stay away? Well, that is what happened to me whenever I started thinking about trying the Shatter Me series. I’m not sure why or how, but there was just something about it that made me think it wouldn’t be for me… But curiosity won in the end and made me ignore my instincts. I should have known better… Because sadly this turned out to be my very first DNF of the year. Why? There were various reasons, but the main one is this: I absolutely could not stand the writing style. The endless metaphors, the short sentences, the wacky grammar, the 1 2 3 4 numbers… It seemed like every single word and page was destined to annoy me to the limit and I simply reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I feel sad for reacting this way to a story I know so many seem to love, but that doesn’t take away that Shatter Me and me definitely didn’t get a long. Nothing much was happening in the pages I read either; lots of words, metaphors and feelings, but no real actions or proper worldbuilding descriptions. The fact that I could already see a love triangle coming from a mile away didn’t really help either. Things might have improved in the second half, but since I had such an extreme reaction to the writing style and had already started skimreading just to reach the end faster, I decided to throw in the towel and leave this series alone to be enjoyed and treasured by those who can connect to it. Oh well, at least I know for sure now… Intuition, you were right. Sorry I didn’t listen to you.


Title: Wintergirls
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: March 19th 2009
Publisher: Speak
Finished reading: February 20th 2019
Pages: 300

“The sentences build a fence around her, a Times Roman 10-point barricade, to keep the thorny voices in her head from getting too close.”


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I have been meaning to try one of Laurie Halse Anderson‘s books for years, but somehow other books always ended up getting in the way. The BTB Epic Bingo challenge was the perfect excuse to finally pick up Wintergirls. I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this story, and if you go in blind you will definitely be up for a surprise. Trigger warnings are in place for eating disorders, self harm, cutting, suicide and mental health problems… Wintergirls is a story that will bring those cold and chilling winter feels and is an emotionally draining read that shows us the struggle of the main character with her eating disorder and the way she sees herself and her surrounding world. It’s not an easy or happy read, but I thought the topic was well handled and represented in Lia. The prose is both beautiful, almost bordering the magical realism realm and at the same time somehow irked me at points. I named magical realism because the writing sometimes almost has that otherwordly and magical feel, especially the descriptions of how Lia sees herself and the world. The story also has a hint of paranormal with a symbolic feel; those two aspects making it hard to properly place the story in just one genre. I suppose you can say this is mostly a realistic fiction story with a mental health angle, where we can see how the eating disorder takes over Lia’s life through her very own eyes. I had a hate/love relationship with the writing style, but there is no doubt that the writing has that original and almost otherworldly feel and I can understand why so many people seem to love this story.


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ARC REVIEW: How To Experience Death For Beginners – by Jessica Branton

Title: How To Experience Death For Beginners
Author: Jessica Branton
Genre: YA, Mystery, Paranormal
First published: February 14th 2019
Publisher: Charlie’s Port-FRINGE
Finished reading: January 26th 2019
Pages: 330

“I experienced death when I was seven years old. Ten years later, I found myself wondering if I would ever stop.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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When I first heard about How To Experience Death For Beginners, I was immediately intrigued. A YA mystery with a paranormal angle? Yes please! I had really high hopes for this one, but sadly I cannot say those expectations were met. While the writing in general reads easily enough and the pace reads quite fast, I found myself struggle with the plot. Or should I say plot holes. The premise itself is fascinating, but I don’t think the execution is all that great… The plot is kind of all over the place and between plot holes and lack of credibility not the easiest foundation to build the story on. This brings me to the many many high school cliches, cliche gay best friend and the way cutting is handled in one of the principal characters. This all left me with a bad taste in my mouth and was a turn off for this story. The main characters themselves were also quite cliche, bland and lacked fleshing out. I also felt they read a bit young for high school seniors. The idea behind the paranormal aspect and so-called powers is fascinating, but lacked developing more since this is basically the book’s strongest feature and would have made it stand out from other stories. Instead, I didn’t find it credible how the paranormal was handled nor how others react to it… A shame, because the premise had all the signs of turning into an extraordinary story. Instead, we get a cliche high school drama with a bunch of cliches as main characters and a serial killer and paranormal powers both pushed into the background. One of those stories where the priorities were set wrong? Maybe. But the fact is that sadly How To Experience Death For Beginners didn’t hit the mark for me.

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When Casey and her twin sister lose their father in a car accident when they are seven, their lives change forever… And not only in the most conventional way. Ever since seeing those final moments of her father, Casey somehow can enter the minds of people just before they die. She has isolated herself for years trying to protect herself and keep her from harm, but she might not have a choice when a serial killer makes her small town his hunting ground. And this situation might escalate faster than she would think…

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I can’t deny that the idea behind this story is fascinating and shows a lot of promise, but I don’t think the execution lived up to expectations. The paranormal element of How To Experience Death For Beginners, by far the most interesting aspect of this story, lacked development for me as instead we get an uncomfortable mix of different and sometimes cliche elements that fail to combine into a coherent plot. The lack of credibility, the main characters, the way difficult topics were handled… Sadly this story just didn’t work for me.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #63 – Girl, Wash Your Face & All Your Perfects

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two completely different genres and two completely opposite reactions… The part memoir, part self help book Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis only managed to frustrate me, while contemporary romance All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover hits most of the marks.


Title: Girl, Wash Your Face
Author: Rachel Hollis

Genre: Non Fiction, Self Help, Memoir
First published: February 6th 2018
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Finished reading: November 10th 2018
Pages: 241

“If you constantly make and break promises to yourself, you’re not making promises at all. You’re talking.”


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Fact: I hadn’t heard of the author before when I decided to add Girl, Wash Your Face to my TBR. Fact: I didn’t check out the existing reviews properly before getting a copy, or else I would probably have never considered reading it. This part memoir, part self help book seems to be having two extreme and opposite reactions depending on if you have a similar mindset and background to Rachel Hollis. If you loved it and her advice helped you in any way, that’s great. It shows that we are all different and work in different ways, which is the beauty of life. BUT. It also means I’m by no means entitled to ignore my feelings of pure frustration either. Oh yes, this is going to be rant, so don’t say I haven’t warned you. I was hoping to find something interesting and inspirational in Girl, Wash Your Face, especially after hearing others swear by it. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Let’s see why, shall we? First of all, the preaching. Yes, religion plays quite a big role here and both the Scripture and God are used numerous times to supposedly get you back on track. This whole preaching is a big no no for me and a huge turn off. I respect religions, but forcing your religion on others is infuriating. That said, the tone she uses in Girl, Wash Your Face is belittling and doesn’t respect others who don’t fit her idea of ‘successful in their lives’. It’s easy to talk about problems from the privileged background she has, saying it’s up to you to improve your future and achieve your goals, when there is more than enough money in the bank and health as well. Trust me, not everyone has it that easy and it just feels as if she is discriminating everyone who doesn’t have it as easy as her. ‘Get your act together!’ feels more like a mother scolding a child without respecting individual struggles and differences, and seriously left me with a bad taste in my mouth. And then there’s the whole chapter about weight. No no no NO! As someone who has struggled with her weight her whole life, this is just seriously offensive. I should just drink water and stop use food as comfort? Excuse me, because there are a zillion reasons for a person to struggle with their weight, and just exercise and other simplistic tips aren’t going to cut the deal. Who is she to give advice in the first place?! Also, her whole idea of being happy means you have to be thin, successful and other warped ideas is offensive. And I can’t get over the fact just how full of herself she is, talking about how successful she is all the time, all she has achieved and how wonderful her life is. Yuck. Ah, and don’t even make me start about the whole chapter about the first year she dated her now husband, how he treated her like dirt and then glossed over it saying: ‘but he’s wonderful now!’. Basically saying it’s ok for someone to psychologically abuse you and who knows, they might change later? Not cool. I could keep on rambling for a long time, but I hate being this negative so I’ll leave it here. As you might have guessed already, Girl, Wash Your Face wasn’t exactly a positive experience for me.


Title: All Your Perfects
Author: Colleen Hoover

Genre: Contemporary, Romance
First published: July 17th 2018
Publisher: Atria Books
Finished reading: November 10th 2018
Pages: 320

“If you only shine light on your flaws, all your perfects will dim.”


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I always seem to be having a love-hate relationship with CoHo’s books and it’s always a surprise how I will react to her books. I was hoping All Your Perfects was going to keep up my recent positive streak, and I guess I got lucky. There is a lot to love in this newest novel, and part of me wanted to give it an even higher rating. BUT. I just couldn’t ignore the frustration I felt with everything related to the cheating (SPOILER: especially since he gets to be painted as some sort of hero and apparently it was her own fault he did it in the first place.) Justifying cheating is NOT ok, and I was seriously disappointed to see the story go that way. That said, there is no doubt Colleen Hoover is a star in creating flawed and realistic characters that will have to go through a lot before they reach the final page. The story is divided in Then and Now chapters, and I have to say I enjoyed the chapters in the past considerably better. This has a lot to do with Quinn. I get that she goes through a lot and is suffering from depression, but her constant complaining did get a bit too much for me. The ending was a bit too abrupt for me as well, as the change was a bit too drastic for me to be completely believable. I still think All Your Perfects was mostly a great read though and once again she has managed to make me enjoy a genre I normally tend to stay away from. And that is something not to take lightly.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #61 – Every Note Played & The Cheerleaders

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two completely different stories I both ended up enjoying. Every Note Played by Lisa Genova and The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas, both Goodreads Choice Awards nominees.


Title: Every Note Played
Author: Lisa Genova

Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
First published: March 20th 2018
Publisher: Scout Press
Finished reading: November 3rd 2018
Pages: 321

“Life is not a static organism. Every day, he’s a little more shut down, shut in, turned off. A little less in motion. A little less alive. “


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This is already my third Lisa Genova story… I’m always in awe how she is able to put a devastating neurological disease in the spotlight, mixing medical facts and symptoms with a fictional story in such way that you end up both being educated and entertained at the same time. This balance between facts and fiction is what makes Every Note Played such an interesting read for me. It’s not just a simple description of ALS and its symptoms. Through the main character Richard we get to see exactly how this disease evolves and what effects it has on both his life and those close to him. This impact is shown really well through both Karina and Bill, and in a lesser role Grace and other characters  as well. As always, I enjoyed the writing style and the way the story was told, although I do have to say I wish there would have been a bit more focus on the character development itself. I understand and appreciate a very present role of ALS in the story, but it did make me feel the main characters as persons were pushed a bit in the background. I would have liked to learn more about Richard and Karina and their background. I guess this would have made it easier to connect to them straight away… I loved the musical element though, and how music played a role throughout a story. In short, despite a few minor details Every Note Played was without doubt another excellent and fascinating read.


Title: The Cheerleaders
Author: Kara Thomas

Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
First published: July 31st 2018
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Finished reading: November 5th 2018
Pages: 384

“Everyone goes through shit, and there’s always someone somewhere who has it worse. It doesn’t make what you’re feeling any less real or any less shitty.”


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After really enjoying Little Monsters last year, I’ve been looking forward to read more of her work. It took me longer than expected, and it isn’t the book I originally planned to read first, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t excited to be starting The Cheerleaders. There was just something about the blurb that caught my attention, although the blood spatters on the cover alone weirdly made me want to read this story already. A possible high school murder mystery with cheerleaders involved? Talk about an interesting twist! I already knew I was probably going to enjoy the writing style after Little Monsters, and my instincts were absolutely right. There is just something about the writing that draws you right in, makes you forget about your surroundings and just read. I was intrigued from the start, and even though not all characters are likeable and there are a few high school cliches involved, somehow the mystery around the death of the five cheerleaders was enough to forget about those objections and keep on reading. Entertaining and twisty enough to finish it in record time. The Cheerleaders is without doubt one of the strongest YA contemporary/mystery reads I’ve had the chance to read this year, minor flaws and all.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #58 – The Princess Saves Herself In This One & The Smallest Part

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two genres I don’t read all too often, but two titles that turned out to be winners. The Princess Saves Herself In This One has a very powerful message and The Smallest Part was simply brilliant.


Title: The Princess Saves Herself In This One
(Women Are Some Kind Of Magic #1)
Author: Amanda Lovelace

Genre: Non Fiction, Poetry, Feminism
First published: April 23rd 2016
Publisher: CreateSpace
Finished reading: October 25th 2018
Pages: 156

“When I had
no friends
I reached inside
my beloved
books
& sculpted some
out of
12 pt
Times new roman.

— & it was almost good enough.”


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I actually read the second poetry bundle of this series earlier this year, and I’ve been meaning to pick up The Princess Saves Herself In This One ever since. While there is no complicated poetry style to admire and the main technique seems to be the use of the space bar, somehow I wasn’t as bothered by that. Because there is one thing for sure: where The Princess Saves Herself In This One might lack in proper technique, it’s the words themself and the powerful message behind them that will blow your socks off. WOW! It doesn’t happen often that I’m able to connect this much with poetry… Relatable, emotional, clever wordplay; these words will no doubt move you. I still prefer the second bundle, but I can understand why so many seemed to have enjoyed this one. It shows Amanda Lovelace has gone through a lot in life, and I admire her for being so open about it and her not afraid to show the hurt and beat the monsters by throwing words and poems at them. I will definitely be looking forward to the third bundle coming out next year.


Title: The Smallest Part
Author: Amy Harmon

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal
First published: February 13th 2018
Finished reading: October 27th 2018
Pages: 325

“We’re more than just a collection of bones, cobbled together by God or eons of evolution. We have souls, We have purpose. We’re more.”


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I have enjoyed every single Amy Harmon book I’ve tried so far and I love how different and unique each story is. I have been looking forward to read The Smallest Part ever since it came out earlier this year, and decided to finally read it as a treat to myself. This story has once again reconfirmed my love for her work. What an absolutely brilliant and moving story! I think this is one of the first times I wasn’t bothered at all by the appearance of a love triangle, and somehow I actually enjoyed the romance. Between the wonderful writing style, the excellent character development, an interesting plot and the paranormal angle The Smallest Part has everything and more needed to turn this into one of my top reads this year. The flashbacks added history and more background to the characters, which I was able to connect to immediately and they will stay with me for a long time. Well developed, original and an emotional rollercoaster… The Smallest Part will take you on a wonderful journey with highs and lows and characters you will cherish. This is without doubt one of the must-reads I will be recommending to everyone.


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