July 21, 2017

Review: Lucky in Love

Lucky in Love by Kasie West
Grade: B
Summary: Maddie doesn't believe in luck. She's all about hard work and planning ahead. But one night, on a whim, she buys a lottery ticket. And then, to her astonishment --

She wins!

In a flash, Maddie's life is unrecognizable. No more stressing about college scholarships. Suddenly, she's talking about renting a yacht. And being in the spotlight at school is fun... until rumors start flying, and random people ask her for loans. Now, Maddie isn't sure who she can trust.

Except for Seth Nguyen, her funny, charming coworker at the local zoo. Seth doesn't seem aware of Maddie's big news. And, for some reason, she doesn't want to tell him. But what will happen if he learns her secret?

With tons of humor and heart, Kasie West delivers a million-dollar tale of winning, losing, and falling in love.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Kasie West has been one of my go-to contemporary romance authors for a long time. I was a bit a concerned, after By Your Side, that she'd lost her touch; Lucky in Love was better than BYS, but it wasn't nearly as good as Kasie's previous books.
Maddie is touted as a responsible, thoughtful girl who doesn't give into her impulses, but a lot of Lucky in Love refutes that. After she wins the lottery, she starts spending money left and right without consulting a financial advisor or even her parents. I cringed at so many of the plot points involving her spending habits. (I'm also questioning the celebrity bit, and her being featured on a gossip site. The local news station and a local newspaper are believable, but I don't think a celebrity gossip site would care about a lottery winner.)
I'm really glad Trina turned out to not be a cliche, although Maddie's brother annoyed me. I also think just a little more time needed to be devoted to Maddie's family. Little problems are hinted at, and I wanted them to have more of an impact.
I adored Seth. He was a teeny bit bland, but I liked how the romance with him built. I also liked that he and Maddie met through work; I love when YA books give teens jobs.
Super clean in every area. There might've been some underage drinking, but I can't recall.

The Verdict: If you like Kasie West's books, you'll probably like this one, too.

Will I be adding this book to my library?: My preorder arrived yesterday.

July 19, 2017

Review: The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Grade: A
Summary: Winning what you want may cost you everything you love... 

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. 

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. 

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: I had an ARC of The Winner's Curse way back in 2014, but it had been messed up in the printing process (a section of approximately 30 pages was repeated instead of the pages it should've been), so I never got to review it. I finally decided it was time to share my thoughts on one of my favorite books.
Kestrel has long fascinated me. Her thoughts explored in a third-person POV are calculated and intelligent. She's a girl who has grown up around people who are constantly strategizing and looking to exploit weakness, so she's adapted to that. She was one of my favorite parts of The Winner's Curse when I first read it.
I also appreciate how the book is fantasy without magic. The various nations have their roots in ancient Greece and Rome (and later China, as well), and I love how Marie Rutkoski played with her influences and created a unique world. She also uses words masterfully. For example:

"After Enai's death, Kestrel sat in her rooms remembering how the woman had taught her how to paint a tree by blowing through a hollow quill at a pool of ink on paper. Kestrel saw the white page. She felt the ache in her lungs, saw the black branches spreading, and thought this was what her grief felt like, digging roots and twigs into her body.
She had had a mother, and that mother was gone. Then she had had another mother, and that one was gone, too." (page 128)

In my opinion, Marie Rutkoski writes grief as well as Emery Lord.
The romance felt weakest to me in this book; it always has, and I think that's because part of it develops in the 30 pages I was missing in my first read. I'm also a bit uneasy about any romance where there's a power imbalance (the book opens with Kestrel wandering into a slave auction and buying Arin). The Winner's Curse does verge on problematic, just because it deals with slavery and primarily presents the Valorians as good and the enslaved Herrani as bad (particularly when they rebel). I don't agree with a lot of the Herrani's actions in their rebellion, but I can see where they come from. However, I think the problematic elements are alleviated a bit, thanks to the dual narration from Kestrel and Arin. I also think the rest of the books in the trilogy help overcome these issues, and it doesn't hurt that several points in the narration point out how barbaric the Valorians were before they adapted some elements of Herrani culture.
Language is very tame. Violence is perhaps the iffiest element (although it gets worse in latter books).

The Verdict: I acknowledge that this book might be a problematic fave, but I love it. I need more "light" fantasy where there isn't magic.

Will I be adding this to my library?: Already did.

July 17, 2017

A Birthday and a Blogoversary

As of today, Awkwordly Emma has existed for six years - most of my high school years and all of my time in college thus far. And since yesterday was a Big Deal Birthday for me, I decided it was only fair to celebrate with a giveaway...or maybe two. :D

I'm currently in Canada with my parents, and we went to a Very Fancy Restaurant last night to celebrate. (More to come about that and hopefully the entire trip in a few weeks because I'd love to do a couple blog posts about the whole experience.) So while you're reading this post, I'm exploring another country! So we're gonna keep this post short and sweet. There's two giveaways with two different sets of rules, so make sure to read everything! You can enter both giveaways, if you're eligible!

Giveaway #1: ARCs
~U.S. only
~One winner, who will get to pick two ARCs from the stack below
~Must respond to my email within 48 hours; otherwise I'll pick another winner
~No cheating!

Giveaway #2: One of My Favorite Books
~Open internationally, as long as The Book Depository ships to you.
~One winner, who will get to choose a book from my favorites list, and I'll buy them a copy! (As long as it's under 20 U.S. dollars.)
~I'm making following my blog mandatory for this giveaway, just as a thank you to y'all. :)
~Must respond to my email within 48 hours; otherwise I'll pick another winner
~No cheating.

Image result for may the odds be ever in your favor gif

July 15, 2017

Review: Since You've Been Gone

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Grade: A+
Summary: It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um... 

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait...what?

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: This was the first Morgan Matson book I read, shortly after it released in 2014, and I can't believe it's taken me this long to review it. I've talked a few times recently about "books of my heart," in reference to Tash Hearts Tolstoy and The Names They Gave Us. This is the third book on that list.
There's just something about Since You've Been Gone that pulls me in. The prose is surprisingly weighty, and the book is long, but it's all worth it. Emily is a relatable protagonist with flaws, and Frank is one of my top book boyfriends. I also love Sloane's presence, even though she really only appears in flashbacks. Speaking of flashbacks... Most of the time they feel clunky in contemporary fiction, but they are such an integral part of Since You've Been Gone, and they work well.
I love how Emily goes about conquering the list and how it led her both to new friends, and to Sloane in a way. Collins and Dawn were fun characters, too, and I really liked Gideon (the poor boy got totally screwed over by the book, though). And I really just love how this book feels like summer.

The Verdict: It's hard to put into words how wonderful this book is, so you'll need to read it for yourself to find out.

"It was like swimming under the stars, like sleeping outside, like climbing a tree in the dark and seeing the view. It was scary and safe and peaceful and exciting, all at the same time. It was the way I felt when I was with him. 'Like a well-ordered universe.'"

Will I be adding this book to my library?: Already have.

July 13, 2017

So You Like... #54

I'm happy to present another So You Like... centered around classic literature. Enjoy!

If you like...



(for the sort-of hate-to-love trope)

If you like...



(for the groups of people being attacked)

If you like...



(for the lead couples, doomed from the start)

If you like...



(for the girl thrown into a world she didn't want to join)

If you like...



(for the women; and trust me: A Madness So Discreet is much better than The Scarlet Letter)

If you like...



(there's six of them, not four, but INTRIGUE)

What's your favorite classic novel? What YA book would you recommend for fans of it?
Are there any topics you'd like me to use for a So You Like... post?

July 11, 2017

Review: This Is How It Happened

This Is How It Happened by Paula Stokes
Grade: C+
An ARC was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: When Genevieve Grace wakes up from a coma, she can’t remember the car crash that injured her and killed her boyfriend Dallas, a YouTube star who had just released his first album. Genevieve knows she was there, and that there was another driver, a man named Brad Freeman, who everyone assumes is guilty. But as she slowly pieces together the night of the accident, Genevieve is hit with a sickening sense of dread—that maybe she had something to do with what happened.

As the internet rages against Brad Freeman, condemning him in a brutal trial by social media, Genevieve escapes to her father’s house, where she can hide from reporters and spend the summer volunteering in beautiful Zion National Park. But she quickly realizes that she can’t run away from the accident, or the terrible aftermath of it all.

Incredibly thought-provoking and beautifully told, Paula Stokes’s story will compel readers to examine the consequences of making mistakes in a world where the internet is always watching…and judging.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: This Is How It Happened surprised me. It definitely hasn't had a lot of buzz, and it also wasn't Paula's original planned 2017 book. But I've enjoyed a few of Paula's past books (Girl Against the Universe is excellent, in case you were wondering), so of course this one was on my TBR list. But ultimately, it did not live up to Paula's other books.
I really enjoyed Genevieve and her inner narrative. While she interacts with plenty of people in the book, she is also alone with her thoughts a lot. I appreciate introspective books, and I love how seeing the beauty of Zion National Park made her second-guess her religious assumptions. I also appreciated how her relationship with her stepmother flourished and how kind Rachael was. I also liked where the plot went with Brad Freeman. I liked how Stokes played with first impressions and truth.
However, one of the book's biggest issues was its pacing. It took over 100 pages for Genevieve to get to her dad's house and the national park, and I assumed that would be where all but a teeny bit of the book was set. The first 1/3 of the book dragged too much as a result. I also felt like Dallas was too two-dimensional. Since he was only in (largely negative) flashback scenes, I didn't really see why he had made such an impact on Genevieve's life, so it didn't feel too fast to me when she started getting involved with Elliott (although I wish that had been slowed down just a teeny bit more). Freeman's daughter really pissed me off, though; she was waaayyyy too mouthy and her parents did nothing to rein her in a bit. Considering she was only thirteen, she definitely should've been reprimanded.
Maybe a dozen s-words? Underage drinking happens (although Genevieve never participates).

The Verdict: Eh, it was okay. Nothing especially remarkable though.

Will I be adding this book to my library?: Hmm...possibly.

July 10, 2017

From the Bookshelf to the Kitchen: Moon Muffins

I've said this before, but muffins are one of my favorite things to bake. They're super easy, especially if you use a packaged mix. They're the reason I did so many Muffin Mondays this past year at school. But this recipe was from scratch.

You'd be surprised that Alex, Approximately, a book that focuses mainly on movies, would feature a food distinctive enough that I'd want to recreate it for a blog post. But there's a scene where Bailey and Porter go up to a cliffside in a ski-lift sort-of ride, and on the way they eat moon muffins. I knew they'd be perfect for a blog post, so I asked author Jenn Bennett if she had any suggestions, and she sent me links to two recipes.

Moon Muffins

1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
¼ cup melted butter
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1.    Preheat oven to 375°F.
2.    In a mixing bowl, combine sugar and egg. Add flour, baking powder, and salt and mix well. Finally, add the milk, vanilla extract, and melted butter. Mix until completely blended and dry ingredients are incorporated with the wet.
3.    Spoon into greased or paper lined muffin pans, filling full.
4.    Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over muffin tops.

5.    Bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

The only difference between these and the moon muffins in the book is that they're definitely mini muffins in Alex, Approximately. I didn't have any mini muffin papers though, and I hate making muffins without papers, so I made them regular-sized this time.

They tasted absolutely scrumptious, especially when warm! Enjoy!

Have a book/recipe suggestion? Leave it in the comments below!

July 9, 2017

Rewind & Review #89

~2018 releases are starting to get cover reveals, and let me tell you, there are some gorgeous colors. 
~I made a blueberry-peach pie completely from scratch. It turned out well, to my surprise, and it was delicious.
~I traveled to Chicago for a good friend's wedding, and got to see one of my best friends yesterday. We only had a few hours together, but it was good to catch up and not just text.
~I'll add a book haul video to this post in a few days! Book haul video is up! Check the bottom of this post.

Books I Received for Review
The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash by Candace Ganger (from St. Martin's Griffin)
Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman (from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley)
Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (from Read Between the Lynes)

Books I Was Gifted
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (ARC from Read Between the Lynes)

Books I Bought
Someone Else's Summer by Rachel Bateman
Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau

Books I Read
Open Road Summer by Emery Lord (reread)
This Is How It Happened by Paula Stokes
Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers (reread)
The League of American Traitors by Matthew Landis
Not Now, Not Ever by Lily Anderson
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (3.5 stars)
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson (3 stars)
Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder (3 stars)
The Hidden Memory of Objects by Danielle Mages Amato (2 stars)
Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner (3 stars)

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