Review: After Us

AfterUsTitle: After Us (Before & After #2)
Author: Amber Hart
Publisher: K-Teen
Publication date: December 2, 2014
Number of pages: 368
Source: Arc received by courtesy of Netgalley – thank you!
In a nutshell: Strong sequel to the first book

Sometimes secrets kill. Maybe slowly, maybe painfully. Maybe all at once.

Melissa smiles. She flirts. She jokes. But she never shows her scars. Eight months after tragedy ripped her from her closest friend, Melissa is broken. Plagued by grief, rage, and the painful memory of a single forbidden kiss.
Javier has scars of his own. Life in the States was supposed to be a new beginning, but a boy obsessed by vengeance has no time for the American dream. To honor his familia, Javier joins the gang who set up his cousin, Diego. The entrance price is blood. Death is the only escape.

Two broken souls could make each other whole again—or be shattered forever.

Our time will come. And we’ll be ready.

Abtrennung

I am not lying when I say that After Us was probably one of my most anticipated reads last year. If you are into books that deal with culture clashes (which are rarities in the literature world, but there has been a promising trend in the last few months/last year) you definitely do not want to miss this one. I think I almost experienced a meltdown, anxious to be rejected when I hit “request review book” on NetGalley and basically…nothing happened for the next few hours.

WhatIfImNotGoodEnough

What if I’m not good enough to be approved for this book? What if the peeps of the publicity team are mean sadists? These were the questions running through my head during those…I don’t know, 12 never-ending hours? Fortunately, I must have been a good girl last year since Santa decided to give me an early present — my request was mysteriously approved!

CantBelieve

 

This review might contain some spoilers if you haven’t read the previous book yet

Anyway, I jumped right into reading this book and the first word that popped up in my mind was hot. And I do not only mean Javier’s physical attraction (don’t worry, Javier has plenty of it), but more importantly, the relationship between Javier and Melissa. Because what they basically do throughout the book, is playing with fire. Decisions have to be made, but to what extend are they willing to hurt each other? Secrets overshadow their relationship, and in the end it is all about not getting burned (that fire metaphor sounds smart, right?)

The story of After Us picks up a few months after Before You. Whilst the book does not star Faith and Diego – the two main characters in the first book – the story is directly connected to the previous book. Also, it of course does not mean that the read was less intense.
We meet Melissa and Javier as two broken characters — Javier cannot get over the fact that Diego – his cousin, his best friend, his brother – was killed by a gang, and Melissa — well, that was definitely an interesting story: While she was introduced to us readers as a cheerful and always-caring character in Book 1, it quickly becomes clear at the beginning of Book 2 that she has changed throughout the last few months. We can still see lots of her happiness in the story, especially when she spends her time together with Javier, but her character is also so full of sadness this time. She is hiding a secret which runs much deeper than you would expect it, so the story also has got that emotional twist.
Javier, on the other hand, was so much more than that flirtatious guy I initially thought of. Whilst there were lots of moments in the book where he almost crossed my tolerance limit on head-over-heels-actions (I mean seriously. It can only go wrong when you join a gang in order to take revenge. It is a matter of fact that we have learned from many films and books. Decisions fuelled by anger are always doomed to failure), you simply cannot look over the fact that he is a character with a big heart. There were many obstacles in Javier and Melissa’s relationship that I definitely did not expect which mostly reflected the conflicts Latino families are facing in America. For example Javiers’s mom disapproval of “white girls”. Javier always stayed true to his character, standing by his opinion and defending his love to Melissa. Melissa and Javier complement each other, and the story was not about why they are broken but how they make each other whole again. It is not about playing with fire but taking risks by opening up to people that truly love you.
That being said, I do have to say that there were some bits and pieces in the plot that were a little bit too oversimplified for my liking, especially Melissa and Faith’s friendship. Whilst I did understand Faith’s motives for her disappearance, Melissa was sometimes a bit too forgiving and patient. Moreover, her secret could have been further explored because the pain she was going through was a little bit too predictable, if that makes any sense? But this really is just a first world problem on my behalf.

Nonetheless, Hart does not hold back in this book. Instead, she goes to full extremes – each sentence is more emotional, deeper, more powerful. The plot becomes more and more fast-paced throughout the book, and by the end, I was literally gasping from the emotional roller coaster. If you nearly got a heart attack in the first book, this time your heart will drop into your gut. With all the action scenes in this book (Javier is seriously badass), coupled with all those twists and turns of events, the book was unputdownable.

Guys, I may have fallen in love with this series. Diversity in literature is shown at its best in Hart’s books, defying norms in our society with three-dimensionality created by words. This book is different from any YA book in the YA universe, so if you want to read something new (as in unusual or extraordinary) I can only recommend it to you.
4Schmetterling

Favorite Reads of 2014

We’re coming closer to the end of 2014 so I thought I’d share my reading highlights of this year. I read about 50 books in 2014, and considering the fact that I was extremely busy this year because of school I’d say that’s a pretty okay number. Beside that, 2014 was definitely one of the most exciting reading years of my life since I created this book blog, and I feel fairly blessed having met so many new authors and fellow bloggers! Blogging has absolutely shaped my way of “judging” a book, especially in the way they make me feel. Anyway, while you’re here, don’t forget to share your personal favorites of 2014!

Btw, all books are shown in a random order. Also, click on the cover to be redirected to my review (if available).

PiecesOfOlivia

Pieces of Olivia is, hands down, one of the best New Adult books I’ve ever read, if not even the best one. It’s a book filled with emotions from the beginning to the end; it’s like Melissa West put the best parts of NA into one book, yet creating something more beautiful, unique. I didn’t expect Olivia’s story to be so deep, profound and unbelievably moving –I fell hard for West’s touching writing. Also, I had so much fun re-discovering my passion for the genre again since it doesn’t follow the usual, very predictable NA plot scheme; quite the contrary it re-ignited my passion for NA books again. Thank you, Melissa West, for writing such an amazing book!

HeartShapedRock

Just another book about cancer again, you might think? Well, not this one. I can’t say how many times I burst into tears while I read Heart Shaped Rock, and Laura Roppe is a pro in depicting the ups and downs of when being faced with the aftermath of cancer. Seize the day. That’s what the book is about, complemented by a very lyrical and surprisingly strong writing style.

Stunde der Lilie

If you happen to be a German-speaking reader, GO AND READ THIS BOOK. Seriously. Die Stunde der Lilie is set in 17th-century-France (Louis XIV plays a minor role in the book) so as a history geek and a frankophile I was instantly sold. There’s so much wit and sarcasm in this book, I think I almost pissed myself laughing. Sandra Regnier is a German YA author you should definitely look out for!

TheBronzeHorseman

This book is one of the few adult books I read this year, and although being a little sceptical towards the story at first, it quickly grew close to my heart. Paullina Simons’s writing is lyrical, simple, complex, I.N.C.R.E.D.I.B.L.E.! The story is gut-wrenching, gives you the feels, makes you realize how much beauty in a single book can be. My heart broke for Tatiana and Alexander who – due to WW2 – somehow always lose sight of each other but always find their ways back. Definitely a must-read. Epic love story.

EXTRACTION FINAL COVER

I’m gonna admit this: I really didn’t expect to love this book. I mean, the plot sounded pretty decent and the premise didn’t sound too bad either, and I was in need of an action-packed book. But guess what? Exctraction was about so much more. Friendship. Failure. Betrayal. Hope. I fell in love with Diaz’s evil genius brain writing. The book is, hands down, one of the best dystopias literature has to offer.

Defy

I’ve never been a big fan of High Fantasy but Sara Larson showed me once again how wrong I can be sometimes. Not only is Defy about magic, Larson herself created some kind of magic with this book, the way I emotionally responded to the story. I laughed, I cried, I suffered with Alexa together — in a nutshell, it was an unforgettable reading experience.

TheWinnersCurse

I really hoped I’d end up liking this book but NO, I’m in LOVE with it! I was a little bit suspicious at the beginning though, since there was so much hype about it. Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever met a heroine in literature as stubborn and strong-willed as Kestrel, and I’ve hardly ever encountered a writing style as unique as Rutkoski’s. Just read this book. You won’t regret it.SweetReckoning

…is one of the most awesome conclusions to a trilogy that has ever existed in the YA universe. Wendy Higgins has definitely outdone herself with this book — there was simply so much love in it; seeing the dynamics among the characters felt like a treat. It also, however, felt unreal to say goodbye to the characters in the series so I’m glad there’ll be another book published in this series next year (I guess?) but which will be from Kaidan’s POV!

Happy Holidays!

I know I’ve been MIA for like months, but I was crazy studying for the last exams this year (it won’t get better until spring 2015 guys) and I feel seriously drained now. I mean, in Germany we’ve got two written exams for each and every single subject per semester, so my brain was basically like this:

It didn't explode, thank you very much for asking, but it gave off clouds of smoke I swear (kind of).

It didn’t explode, thank you very much for asking, but it gave off clouds of smoke I swear (kind of).

Anyway, in Germany we already celebrate Christmas today, i.e. on Christmas Eve, so I wanted to avail myself of the opportunity to wish everyone of you out there a very happy Christmas! It feels a little bit surreal, though, especially since it hasn’t started snowing in Germany yet (you can’t really call 2cm sleet snow). It didn’t stop my mom from decorating our house though.CreepyFireplaceDo you see that creepy Santa? He scared the hell out of me when I saw him for the first time — I mean, he’s got that creepy Annabelle look!!
Also, I can’t say to how many Christmas markets I’ve already been to this year — Germany is going crazy!!!! On the bright side, they definitely raise my anticipation for Christmas Eve dinner (if you happen to follow me on Instagram, be prepared to be spammed!!).

Anyway, have an amazing Christmas time and enjoy your time with your family and friends!

(And now please excuse me while I continue to sing German Christmas carols.)

Review: Miles from Kara

MilesFromKaraTitle: Miles from Kara (Charleston Haven #2)
Author: Melissa West
Publisher: Penguin / InterMix
Publication date: December 2nd 2014
Source: Arc received via Netgalley – thank you!
In a nutshell: It won’t give you the feels.

Kara Marcus is desperate to forget the past and move on. But she can’t escape her choices—especially when she finds herself falling in love…
Since the first day she stepped into her childhood Southern Baptist church, two truths have been engrained in Kara Marcus’s head: sex before marriage is bad and murder is a sin. And that’s why Kara can never forgive herself for what she did at the age of sixteen.
Now, as second semester of freshman year comes to a close, Kara has stood by her high school boyfriend, Ethan. But as they seem to grow further and further apart every day, Kara realizes that she has feelings for someone else: Ethan’s roommate Colt.
Suddenly, Kara’s clear-cut world shifts out of focus, and she’s torn between what her head tells her is right and what her heart is desperately pushing her to do—even if it means committing another undeniable sin…

Abtrennung

I started this book assuming I would quickly be swept off by a brilliant plot and well-developed characters. I mean, Pieces of Olivia was – by far – one of the most fulminant NA books I have ever read, so I expected Miles from Kara to be a deep, humorous and edgy read as well. Too bad only parts of my expectations came true — to be honest, I was largely disappointment by where the story was leading to.

First off, I believe Kara’s story reads better after getting to know Olivia and Preston first. Without that background, Miles from Kara probably might not read as strong since it is crucial to understand the friendship dynamics.
As a reader we meet Kara right in the middle of a midlife crisis: Her relationship with her boyfriend Ethan is about to fall apart; insecurities of whether she chose the right major (psychology) or not dominate her life. Also, she is struggling with the aftermath of an abortion she had as a sixteen-year-old teenager.
In order to find out if she chose the right subject field, Kara decides to volunteer in a counseling center where she finds herself unwillingly confronted with her own past: Assigned to look after Maggie – a girl struggling with a teenage pregnancy herself – Kara quickly ends up in a vortex of emotions and cannot help to face her own demons.
Considering the fact that abortion is a taboo subject in many ways, Melissa West did a great job in dealing with this complex topic. Her writing makes you realize that not everything is black and white, and I really respect her for being able to make the best out of such tough issues.

That being said, I really wished I would have enjoyed the dynamics in her and Colt’s relationship more. Colt was too much of that oh-so-perfect boyfriend type, making him a not-so-interesting character. Romance plays a major role in the book, however it sometimes felt as though it pushed the main plot away. It did not feel like the romance part and Kara’s inner demons would complement each other, making me feel a little bit annoyed halfway through the book.

It was not always easy to follow Kara’s understanding of sin. Kara is such a broken character — yet she is strong in her own way and conceals her brokenness with her bubbly and always-happy breeziness. Her approach of dealing with guilt however was often based on selfishness, denial and repression. Although the book is all about finding yourself, we barely see Kara undergoing the process of self-reflection: There are certainly some kind of “attempts” of her to do so, but they are often simply just whisked off — instead, she turns into an insecure hormone-driven and emotion-fixed girl again. See, on the one hand she constantly blames herself for having an abortion, but then on the other hand she cannot stop addressing reproaches to her mother by trying to tell herself she was forced to kill her and Preston’s baby. Mysterious character, much? I think so.
Also, the ending felt a little bit too rash. Yes, she eventually finds all her strength to give voice to her grief and guilt by talking to the people she has to talk to. But exactly those conversations were too oversimplified to compromise the mixed emotions Kara has had for years. 

On the bright side, I was very pleased to see that we meet many characters that have already played a more or less significant role in the previous book again. It was amazing to see that Rose (Olivia’s turned Kara’s therapist) has not lost her sense of dry humor, and that Prestion and Olivia are still crazy for each other.

Ultimately, I find it really hard to rate this book. I expected more turns of events in this book, probably a darker and more twisted story; instead, it is a story about optimism and finding happiness (with lots of cliched romance). Miles from Kara is not West’s strongest work to date, and it failed to give me that I-can-so-relate-to-the-characters-moment, but it definitely gave me some bright reading moments.

3Schmetterling

Waiting on Wednesday: The Witch Hunter

WaitingonWednesdayWaiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature hosted by Breaking the Spine, focusing on unreleased books we are excited for!
This week I picked:

 The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

WitchHunterThe magic and suspense of Graceling meet the political intrigue and unrest of Game of Thrones in this riveting fantasy debut.

Elizabeth Grey is one of the king’s best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. When she’s accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to die at the stake. Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can track down the person who laid a deadly curse on him.

As she’s thrust into the world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and all-too-handsome healers, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate.

Publication date: June 2, 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

I’m currently so into fantasy books, I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Okay, not really. But have a look at the blurb, doesn’t it sound ridiculously intriguing? And OMG, the cover!!! It’s so different from all the YA covers I’ve ever seen but I think it perfectly captures the mysterious-ness in this book, even though I haven’t read it yet (and it looks a little bit Illuminati). If you happen to have an arc of this book, feel free to send it to me LOL.

What did you pick for this week? Let me know in the comments or send me the links to your own post!