Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Favorite Books of 2016

As of December 30, I've completed 177 books in 2016. Most of those were comic books and graphic novels, but I did read a full 58 novels and listened to 23 audiobooks. As always, I like to share my favorite reads from the year. Out of fairness, I'm only going to mention books that were published in 2016, otherwise my favorites list would probably be three times as long. (In addition, the book titles link to my reviews on Goodreads or on The Dancing Lawn.) There are in order of how I read them, not how I rate them.

Three Wishes by Lisa T. Bergren
I had the privilege of beta-reading Three Wishes for one of my favorite authors. Three Wishes is a new River of Time book set in a new time period and in a new location: California during the 1840s. I love historical (or time-travel) stories, so I was swept away by Three Wishes. Zara is a fantastic character. It's not my favorite book, but it was wonderful to read.

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
Stars Above holds a special place in my bookish heart for two reasons. The first is that it brings more stories about my favorite characters from The Lunar Chronicles (so I didn't have to say goodbye so soon) and also gave a nice, happy, feels-worthy epilogue to the series. In addition, I bought this book when I went to meet Marissa Meyer, so of course it's special and magical (and signed).

Siren's Song by Mary Weber
There aren't a lot of books that can make me sob. Yes, there are a few, but mostly because tragic things occurred in the stories. (Bridge to Terabithia, anyone? Where the Red Fern Grows?) Mary Weber's Storm Siren trilogy swept me away two whole years ago with the first book. Thus, I was eager to read the final book, and it made me cry--but they were happy, glorious tears. The ending was so worth the wait, and I adore this series for everything it is. Give me more!

Season of Glory by Lisa T. Bergren
Season of Glory wrapped up the Remnants trilogy by Lisa T. Bergren. It was a heart-pounding, nail-biting book that left me satisfied and content. Until I finished the book, I didn't realize how much I adored the characters and the story. Season of Glory contains a powerful message and a lot of hope that I am grateful to have experienced.

The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
Ever since I read Percy Jackson and the Olympians, I've been dragging my feet to say goodbye to the beloved characters and world of the series. I was granted a second series, The Heroes of Olympus, and thought it couldn't get better. But now, Trials of Apollo has come, and I get to experience the Percy Jackson world once more. Yes, Percy isn't around that often in this book. But other characters come and go, the concept of Greek and Roman gods grows larger, and Apollo is hilarious as a human. How can I not love this book?

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes ruined me. Ruined. Me. And I thought I could handle A Torch Against the Night. I was wrong. This book ruined me just as much if not more. It continues the story of Elias, Laia, and Helene in this cruel world, but it opens up a lot more than the previous book. It was a bit unexpected, which was off-putting at first, but by the end, I was sobbing and absolutely ruined. I can't wait until 2018 for the next book!

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Like Stars Above, Crooked Kingdom has a special place in my 2016 list for two reasons. It finished the Six of Crows duology, bringing me back to my favorite characters and amazing world-building and just a fantastic story. But I also had the privilege of meeting Leigh Bardugo during her tour for this book. It was amazing; she's amazing. And Crooked Kingdom exceeded all my expectations and swept me away. Plus, waffles.

The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan
This book was great. No, fantastic. No, magical. It had the Rick Riordan charm and humor while educating me about Norse mythology. It was so fun! Everything about it is just wonderful. But that ending, THAT ENDING, was too much. I can't wait for the next book, and I'm not crying (okay, I'm definitely crying) and it's just going to be great. Thank you, Uncle Rick. Thank you.

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet
This was my unexpected favorite of 2016. I didn't even know it existed until my mom brought it home, and I didn't know I would care so much until I had finished it (in two sittings). It's a biography about E.B. White, but it's formatted like a crazy art journal/scrapbook with beautifully designed pages, cute notes from White himself, and many pictures of his life. I was swept away by the design and by the firm message about writing throughout the book. This book surprised me, and I think that's magical.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer
You aren't going to believe me when I say I met Marissa Meyer twice in one year, are you? But it's true! I did. I had a chance to hear her speak and meet her for her Heartless tour, and both the meeting and the book were enchanting. This book was hard to read because it's about the Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland--so obviously it won't end well. But boy, did it end! The story was great, the characters were swoon-worthy, and the ending was perfect. It's not my favorite book of hers, but it adds to her collection of masterpieces.

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
Okay, so this series. Is. Amazing. I adore all the characters. I adore the world-building. I adore the plot. While the first one kind of left me a little bitter and disappointed (so much potential that just ended!), this one amplified the entire story. It was fun and exciting and clever. I loved meeting new characters and being reunited with the old. I loved the twists and turns and the suspense. And I loved the magic and the Elemental Games. And oh my gosh, I'm ruined. Again. And I need A Conjuring of Light right now. Give it to me!!!

Lumberjanes by Stevenson, Ellis, Watters, and Allen
There are several volumes of Lumberjanes that came out in previous years, but volume three came out this year, so I'm counting it. I love the Lumberjanes series. It's fun, adventurous, and magical. The characters are lovely and diverse. The adventures are hilarious and so freaking ridiculous I can't help but love it all. Basically: it's the best.

Gotham Academy by Cloonan, Fletcher, and Kerschl
The first volume of Gotham Academy left me feeling a bit confused and a little unsure, but volume two made me fall in love with the series and the characters. The story arc and the characters are becoming more and more interesting as the comic progresses, and I just love the little details and the dialogue. It's awesome.

Spider-Gwen by Latour, Rodriguez, and Visions
Spider-Gwen has quickly become a favorite comic book of mine. I love the concept of Gwen with Spider-man's powers. She's funny and relateable. I adore everything about these comics--crazy Matt Murdock, father-daughter relationship, the spider-verse, and more. Honestly, I wish they could just make Spider-Gwen into a movie or TV show and skip rebooting Peter Parker again. *sigh*

Ms. Marvel by Wilson, Miyazawa, Alphona, and Leon
I will never be tired of Ms. Marvel or Kamala Khan. She's great, and the latest volume in her series proves that. I enjoyed every moment of Kamala trying to juggle her life as she officially became an Avenger! She is a true gem to the comic book world.

Groot by Loveness and Kesinger
If I had to pick one comic book that I enjoyed the most this year, I would pick Groot. It was unexpected and magical and just amazing. There were jokes and outer space and friendship. And despite the main character only saying one thing over and over again, this comic book said a lot. I loved it.

Other bookish accomplishments
I completed 177 books.
I met two authors.
I read through the entirety of Les Miserables.
I read several Star Wars books (and they were all terrible).
I started listening to audiobooks and changed my life.
I re-read/listened to the entire A Series of Unfortunate Events.
I finished Library Wars manga series (and cried a lot). 
I hit the 100 mark for books I've reviewed on my blog.
I started reading the Sherlock Holmes books/stories/collection.

You can see my entire year in books from 2016 over on Goodreads

What are your favorite 2016 books?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Book Review: Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

As you may know, I like to write fantasy. Every time I try to write a contemporary story or that science-fiction novel dancing in my head, it doesn't happen. I always default to fantasy. Some people might say that's a bad thing and I should widen my horizon, but honestly, fantasy is my favorite and I'm sticking to it. Thus, I also love to read fantasy. The worlds, the characters, the magic--it's all fantastic. And recently, I've been introduced to fantasy that goes beyond the same-old story, the same-old world-building of medieval Europe setting, and the same-old magic systems.

Leigh Bardugo, a YA high fantasy author, knows how to do fantasy, and I love it. Her first series, The Grisha trilogy, swept me away. I loved the world, most of the characters, and the entire magic system. I was eager for more, so I was stoked to hear she was writing a second series (a fabulous duology) set in the same world but with different characters. I needed it immediately.

Fast forward to this year, and the second book was released. If I had to choose one book to my favorite 2016 release, I would choose Crooked Kingdom (though it would be hard, so many books). I loved the Six of Crows duology even more than The Grisha trilogy.

What was it about Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom that not only gave me a grand adventure to enjoy with fantastic characters but has inspired my own writing to reach beyond the same-old fantasy? Let me tell you.

1. The characters

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom follows six unlikely heroes--actually they're thieves, assassins, and criminals--as they take on an impossible heist to not only become rich but possibly save lives. As I read Six of Crows, I couldn't find a favorite character. All six of the characters were wonderful. They had rich backstories, striking personalities, and swoon-worthy abilities. Every time I thought "This is it, this is the one I will love the most," I found myself enjoying another character just as much. I don't know if I've ever experienced a series where I loved each character equally and couldn't choose a favorite. I cared for all of them, and I wanted all of them to succeed.

2. Backstory
Speaking of characters and backstory, the way Leigh Bardugo wove the plot with the characters' backstories was truly magical. It never felt dull or awkward to be thrust suddenly into a flashback or a glimpse of something from their past. It all came together, perfectly crafted. I'm still amazed at how well she did that.

3. World-building

The Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology are set in a fictional world based on Russia instead of Western Europe. And I loved that it was different. The world-building is phenomenal. There is a lot of diversity and detail to every place the characters go and every country involved in the story. The Grisha trilogy had fantastic world-building as well, but I feel that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom was a step up. It's almost as if you can tell that Leigh Bardugo has grown in her story-telling craft.

4. Diversity
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom is chock-full of diversity across the board. But it's never done in a trite or stereotypical way. Yes, race and beliefs come into play, but it's not the focus or a plot device. It's just part of who the characters are and what this world is made of. And it's fabulous. I'm tired of diverse themes being thrown into the story to create conflict or raise the stakes; I just want characters to be diverse because that is how the world truly is. Leigh Bardugo pulls that off splendidly.

5. Plot

The plot of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom is wild. Leigh Bardugo basically described it as "Ocean's Eleven with magic," but I think it's better than that. It's a heist story filled with the bottom-of-the-barrel (pun definitely intended) characters that suddenly becomes so much more. While The Grisha trilogy was about saving the world, this is toned down a bit--sort of. It's not so big picture, but it's about saving your own skin and maybe your city from internal destruction. And I just love that. So many stories are about saving the world or the galaxy or whatever, but sometimes, I want a story that isn't so cataclysmic. And the Six of Crows duology is that. Yes, the stakes are raised. Yes, they still have to save a large population. But it just comes across different, I guess. Plus, every element of the plot is woven together in a fantastic way that kept me guessing and kept me interested. It was amazing. I admire Leigh Bardugo's writing so much.

6. Waffles
Okay, so this isn't a serious point, obviously, but I loved it nonetheless. In Crooked Kingdom, there are several (almost a dozen) instances where the characters mention waffles or are eating waffles. And it was hilarious. Despite the more-serious tone of the books or the darker themes, there was still room for humor and fun and just good-old bonding over waffles. It made me realize that I can write stories that are serious, that point to real-life situations and problems, but that also have a ray of hope and light amidst the darkness. Whether that hope is through humorous waffle scenes or characters that care for one another, I want to write stories that resound with the same feelings Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom evoked within me.

As always, I'm sure there can be flaws nitpicked from these books. Nothing is ever perfect. But nevertheless, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom stole a piece of my book-loving heart and gave me a grand adventure that I was able to enjoy and also learn from. That, in my opinion, makes for a wonderful story. I look forward to more by Leigh Bardugo.

No mourners. No funerals.

Why yes, I did meet Leigh Bardugo. You can read about it on The Fangirl Initiative.

What books have inspired you to make your writing better? 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Book Review: Red Death by Jeff Altabef

Welcome to a Novel Publicity Tour! Today, I'm helping Jeff Altabef launch his new book Red Death!

Novel Publicity has been with Jeff from the start, and they love helping him launch his latest titles. He and his daughter just finished launching the last of The Chosen series, Scorched Souls, and now it's time for something new!

To celebrate, there are prizes, an exclusive interview, an excerpt, and more! Check it all out below.

About Red Death
What happens when everything you believed turns out to be a lie?

Every child of Eden fears the Red Death. All those afflicted with the plague die young, their souls stripped away as punishment for ancient sins long forgotten. For centuries, Guardians have protected Eden from the Red Death by killing outsiders who stray too close.

Seventeen-year-old Aaliss is a highly-trained Guardian, but when her rather odd thirteen-year-old brother, Wilky, discovers a cure to the plague, her world turns upside down. Branded as traitors by the corrupt High Priest, Aaliss and Wilky are forced to seek refuge in the last place Aaliss thought she'd ever go—beyond the boundaries of Eden and into the land of the Soulless. Here they must navigate a medieval world filled with witches, magic, and warrior kingdoms run by Elders only a few years older than her.

Aaliss yearns to return home, but when her heart tugs her deeper into the world of the Soulless, she questions everything she once believed. Has her soul been taken? Will she and Wilky fall victim to the Red Death, or might they die sooner in the center of a battle that threatens to tear apart the Soulless world? Or... might Aaliss finally find, against all odds, what her heart has yearned for all along?

About the Author
Jeff Altabef is an award-winning author who lives in New York with his wife, two daughters, and Charlie the dog. He spends time volunteering at the writing center in the local community college. After years of being accused of “telling stories,” he thought he would make it official. He writes in both the thriller and young adult genres.

In the young adult genre, Jeff co-authored The Chosen Trilogy with his teenage daughter, Erynn. The Chosen Series has won multiple awards including the 2015 Readers' Favorite Gold Medal for Best Coming of Age Novel, the 2015 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best YA Fiction, and a Mom's Choice Award. 

As an avid Knicks fan, Jeff is prone to long periods of melancholy during hoops season. Jeff has a column on The Examiner focused on writing and a blog designed to encourage writing by those who like telling stories.

You can connect with Jeff on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

My Review
For me, Red Death is a mixed bag. There wasn't anything significantly wrong with it, but it didn't hold my attention like I wanted. As I read, I enjoyed most of the story, but there was a lot packed into such a short span of pages and I wasn't left satisfied.

First, there are a lot of characters. Too many characters. I couldn't keep everybody straight. Chapters flip back and forth between all of the different point of views, even unimportant, minor-minor characters. It was messy and confusing. Some of it was unnecessary. I also had a hard time connecting to any of the characters. There were moments when the characters did great things or possessed great qualities, but it never felt consistent.

Second, the plot is complicated. Like I said earlier, there is a lot packed into this novel. It's complex with a lot of ideas woven together and interconnected, which is great. But the execution of the ideas fell flat. I couldn't keep all the different tribes and groups straight. There was a lot of moving from one place to another, trying to weave these characters' lives together, and it was hard to enjoy.

Third, the world-building was mediocre. I could see the potential of this world and the setting and the intricacies of the people and places, but it didn't pan out. I didn't care about the main characters' quest when I couldn't focus on where I was or what this world meant. It was hard to tell if this was supposed to be a future earth stuck in a dystopian-esque world or if it's a fictional world with a dystopian society. It felt as if it was trying to be both at the same time. I wish the author would have slowed down to let the world (and plot) flourish. I wanted to know more about the firefoxes or the weird killer ant things. I wanted to know more about the tribes and their practices, about Eden and the leaders and how it all came to be. (Also, what was with the ostrich suits? That's a super weird option for material and where do they even get the ostriches? Yeah, this detail isn't pivotal for the story, but it makes me wonder and I want to know the answer.)

However, Red Death did do some things right also. For one, it wasn't your typical dystopian story. It didn't have the same exact plot as every YA dystopian since The Hunger Games. It was different, unique, intriguing. It also created this entire new world that has a lot of potential for future books. Maybe in this one it didn't explore as deeply as I would have liked, but that doesn't mean it can't later. There is definitely more to this story. And finally, it kept me guessing. Some things may have been predictable or cliche, but there was a lot that happened that I wasn't expecting. There were moments I though "That won't happen." or "He'll be okay." But I was wrong. The author was willing to take risks and shake the story up to keep the readers guessing. I admire that.

Overall, Red Death wasn't the book for me. But that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed. If you're looking for a quick, simple, and clean read with a interwoven plot and a different kind of dystopian world, give Red Death a chance. You might be surprised by how it all turns out.

Exclusive Interview
Novel Publicity asked author Jeff Altabef three questions that you won’t see anywhere else besides this tour. Read below!

NP: Thanks for offering some extra questions for our bloggers Jeff! First, what’s your favorite meal and drink?

JA: Coffee and chocolate! I'm not sure what that says about me. My favorite time to write is in the morning so coffee is a no-brainer. My mind can't start to function without my first cup of Joe. I also like to write in coffeehouses from time to time when I need a little more energy and can feed off of those around me. So when in Rome!

I have a pumpkin stuffed with tootsie rolls on my desk. It's a terrible habit that I quit from time to time, but it keeps coming back.  I just grabbed another one!  I'd like to say my favorite writing food is something healthy like kale, but I won't lie, and I hate kale!

NP: Some of our staff have a love hate relationship with chocolate and coffee too! I bet that’s pretty common with our bloggers too. Now, the next question is tough, but do your best! Who was your favorite character to write in Red Death?

JA: This is such a hard question to answer. I really feel such a close connection to all of these characters, that choosing one is a bit of a "Sophie's Choice." I loved to write Piers. I thought he was such a deep character and certainly Aaliss was a lot of fun. She's a really strong character that most people love. The Viper and the High Priest were also a lot of fun. I always love dwelling on the nasty characters, but my favorite character to write was probably Wilky. I did a bunch of research before starting to make sure I captured someone with his condition just right. In many ways, he's the real hero of the series. Now I feel bad that I didn't mention Eamon or P'mina. Argh!

NP For such a tough question you did a really good job of explaining why so many characters in Red Death are loveable. Last but not least, and it may be another head-banger...who are your favorite authors?

JA: This is a tough question too! I love a wide variety of genres. Really everything from thrillers (Dean Koontz), to historical fiction (Bernard Cornwell), to mysteries (Jonathan Kellerman) and even horror  (Steven King). In the young adult genre I really like the characters Sarah J. Maas writes in the Glass Throne series. They come across as strong and memorable. I absolutely loved the End of Days series by Susan Ee. Her dystopian world and the use of angels was totally brilliant. I love the first person voice Joelle Charbonneau writes in the Testing Trilogy. She was a huge help when writing the Chosen Trilogy. Still, if I had one writing wish and could write like anyone, I'd choose Christopher Moore. He makes writing funny characters and situations seem effortless. I love his books!

Wow, those are some really interesting authors, and definitely diverse. I bet you’ve introduced our readers to some great new authors! Thanks again for doing our interview Jeff!

You can sign up to Jeff Altabef’s newsletter and get a FREE short story.

Excerpt from Red Death

Chapter 5 – Eamon
Eamon studied the faces around the campfire, worry etched on his own as he wondered whether this would be the last time they would all gather together. He sat between his two older brothers, King Dermot and Prince Fintan. Dermot had lived six winters more than Eamon had, and Fintan one, yet he was the planner and worrier. Often he wished he could be more like them, but he never stopped fretting about tomorrow, the next season, the next winter. All the council members, twelve in total, joined them this night, forming a loose circle around a campfire that had started to lose its intensity. They met in the Courtyard, in the middle of the Stronghold, a small city protected by a sturdy stone wall. The Stronghold stood in the center of Dermot’s kingdom between the Outpost to the north and the Settlement to the south.

When Eamon realized everyone had stopped talking and were looking at him, he remembered what they had been discussing. “We’ll have to slaughter more cattle this year. The tribe’s grown since last winter.” The answer was obvious to him.

“The herd’s also added numbers this year, my Lord,” added Keenan, the Cattle Master. Built broad and strong like a steer, he had been Cattle Master for three years, and Dermot trusted him. “I reckon we could cull the herd by another twenty over last year and still maintain the size.”

All eyes turned toward Dermot. His reign had already lasted six years, almost an eternity. The Sword of Power lay across his lap, a long sword so heavy that it required two hands to wield it in battle. Its blade gleamed in the firelight, and the many rubies in the gold and silver hilt sparkled brilliantly. An inscription, written in a language no one understood, ran down both sides of the blade and glimmered in the firelight. The smithies could no longer make a weapon like the Sword of Power. That knowledge had been lost. They made other swords, fine ones, victorious ones, but none so grand. Only the King could wield the Sword of Power, the tribe’s finest.

Giveaway and More
Check out these great prizes from author Jeff Altabef, including a six month Kindle Unlimited Subscription! Did you know we offer exclusive reviewer prizes for tours just like this one? Want in on it? Sign up to Novel Publicity's Newsletter for more great review opportunities!

Advanced Praise for Red Death
Not sure if Red Death is for you? Take a look at this advanced praise from MidWest Book Reviews and The US Review.

“Red Death will appeal to a wide audience since it has something for everyone. It's action-packed, with plenty of chases and fights for those who enjoy adventures and drama. There are enough twists to surprise those who are intrigued by political intrigue, suspense, and cliffhangers. Amid kingdoms to unite, princes to save, and lives on the line, there is also a playful romance sprinkled throughout for those who desire some lightheartedness.” Maria A. Hughes, The US Review

"...[A] thought-provoking saga about belief systems and religion, courage, adaptability, greed and goals of ruling humanity, and a seemingly juggernaut of change that rolls over everyone in its path....[P]erfect for readers who appreciate the complex worlds and feisty protagonists of The Hunger Games and similar novels."  Pick of the Month for November, Midwest Book Review

You can add Red Death to Goodreads and buy a copy on Amazon.

~I was given a free copy of Red Death through Novel Publicity in exchange for an honest review.~

Friday, December 9, 2016

Comic Book Conglomeration #7

After Nanowrimo ended and I finally finished reading a book I've been waiting ages for (Okay, it was only a year), I checked out about four comic books from the library. And then a few more. I haven't read through the entire stack, but I've finished a couple. Here's what I thought.

Lumberjanes Vol.3: A Terrible Plan by Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters

Have I told you how much I love the Lumberjanes series? There are so many reasons this series rocks, and I've only just begun. The characters, the adventure, the magic, the intrigue--I love it all. It's so fun! And hilarious. And ridiculous.

(I mean, there are dinosaurs and a shape-shifting bear lady and oh my goodness, real and genuine female friendship. *gasp*)

The adventures are exciting, the characters are lovable, and the concept is endearing. Please, just go read these graphic novels.

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall Vol. 8 by Hajime Isayama

My biggest problem with manga is that it takes forever for the serialized volumes to be released in America. Thus if I'm actually caught up with a series (at least caught up in the sense of legal publications), I wait a long time to read the next chapters and I forget anything important that happened. With Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, I forgot so much what happened I started reading volume 6 and then 7 before I realized I had already read them.

This manga isn't bad, but it's not good. I like the characters and watching bits of Attack on Titan lore unfold, but I can't keep track of what is happening and what people are doing. I probably should just wait until the entire series is finished (When?!) and read them all at once like I did with Fullmetal Alchemist last year (*sniffles*). But until then, I will probably continue to read, hope I remember what happens, and just fawn over Kuklo's face. He's glorious.

Young Avengers Vol. 1: Style > Substance by Kieron Gillen

I think this comic was recommended to me by a friend (or the back of another comic book)It's been a while since I added it to my "to-read" list, so I wasn't sure what to expect when I read it. I know I've read at least one Young Avengers comic previously, probably for Civil War, but I can't recall exactly which of the heroes were there and which weren't. (Some of them were familiar). By the end of the volume though, I was pretty excited.

First off, the Young Avengers are a ragtag group of kids trying to save the world. That's one of my favorite kinds of groups. Second, there is a lot of diversity and history with these characters that flesh out the story and give the plot interesting twists. I enjoyed watching it all unfold, even though it was kind of bizarre. Plus, you've got Kate Bishop. Kate Bishop is the best. You can't go wrong with her. And you get Baby!Loki (Okay, he's Teenager!Loki) from the Agent of Asgard comics. I love him. He's great. His jokes and internal dialogue and everything is great. And there's Billy... mhmm... Billy.

Anyways, it was a fun comic, and I already have volume two in my stack to read. I'm excited to dive deeper into the Young Avengers story arc. And can I please order a Netflix show while I'm at it? Please?

What comics have you read recently?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Book Review: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I'm not a contemporary YA reader, especially if that story is romance-centered. I prefer my dragons and magic and all sorts of weird things. But every once and a while I do read a contemporary YA book, and even rarer, I find one that is not only great but important to read. Such is the case with Nicola Yoon's The Sun Is Also a Star.

The book follows two teens who lead different lives that encounter each other and are changed forever by that moment. Natasha is an illegal immigrant about to be deported to Jamaica. Daniel is a Korean American trying to please his parents' high expectations. One believes in science, while the other is swept up in dreaming. When they collide, everything shifts.

The premise of the story sounds a bit fluffy. Two strangers happen to meet and fall in love in a single day. It's the classic case of "boy meets girl," "insta-love," and "love at first sight." Sort of. You see, deep inside of this "fluff" book, there are hidden truths about our world. It dives into the lives of two people of color in America--one Jamaican, one Korean American. It shows the intricate details of their lives, including obstacles but also the good memories. It helped me understand their struggles, their lives, and their hopes and dreams. It's something vital for not only our world, but our country.

The plot is what helps move these characters together. It was adorable and interesting. Most of the story is told through first person perspective of Natasha and Daniel. But we also get other third person snippets, random people who are involved in their day and help move their lives together, such as a security guard, an attorney, the driver of a car that almost hits Natasha, and Natasha's father. I love how the book is set up, how it all takes place in a single day, and how magical it feels. While it seems like a fluffy concept, there are deep truths and science at the heart of the book as well.

As I said, I don't know normally read or enjoy contemporary YA or contemporary romance, but I am highly recommending this book to all. If you're an advocate for diverse books, read this book. If you want to gain a new perspective on immigration and people of color in America, read this book. If you just want a cute, fluffy story about love, read this book. If you believe in love at first sight or that a single moment can change your life, read this book. Ignore the fluff and read this book!

It is absolutely stunning, and something I think our world needs more of. As a warning, there are some mature themes within the story, such as harsh language and a few heavy kissing scenes. I would recommend anyone fifteen and older to read this book--no matter what you normally enjoy reading.

Plus, that cover is just gorgeous.

What makes you read a book outside of your preferred genre? Are there other YA contemporaries I should give a chance?

I chose to check this book out from my local library and review it of my own free will.