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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

SISTERS OF SALT AND IRON by Kady Cross \\ Looking For A Good Scare?

Review by Krista...

By Kady Cross
Series: The Sisters of Blood and Spirit #2
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Language: English

Lark Noble is finally happy. She’s trying to move on and put the events of the past behind her: the people who avoided her because she talked to the ghost of her dead twin sister, the parents who couldn’t be around her anymore and even the attempt she made on her own life. She finally has friends—people who know her secrets and still care about her—and she has Ben, the cute guy she never saw coming.

Wren Noble is lonely. Unable to interact with the living, she wants to be happy for her sister’s newfound happiness, but she feels like she’s losing her. It doesn’t help that Kevin, the very not-dead guy she was starting to fall for, seems to be moving on.

Then Wren meets Noah, the spirit of a young man who died a century ago. Noah is cute, he’s charming and he makes Wren feel something she’s never felt before. But Noah has a dark influence on Wren, and Lark’s distrust of him drives the sisters apart for the first time in their lives. As Halloween approaches and the veil between the worlds thins, bringing the dead closer to the world of the living, Lark must find a way to stop whatever deadly act Noah is planning, even if it means going through her sister to do so.

The second book in this series is just as good as the first, if not better. It starts out where the last left off and carries on the story of Lark and Wren, one sister dead, the other living. Together they battle the ghosts that want to hurt them or the living.

In the second book all the side characters are still involved and Wren falls in love with another ghost. It all builds up to Halloween night and the huge party that is to take place at the abandoned Asylum. Also Lark and Wren begin to discover more about their past and how their bloodline may have lead to their present situations. You will need to read the books in order as the stories continue on from the previous one.

The pacing of these books is pretty fast, there are several other side story lines that are happening along with the main one. Because of this there is always something happening and developing to the next step.

I really enjoyed so much about this story it's really hard to say my favorite. I enjoyed how involved their grandmother gets into helping them look for answers. There is also the traveling between worlds, the Void and the Shadow-lands and the interaction of others in those worlds, but perhaps I would say that my favorite part is the layering of mysteries and the connection to their bloodlines to possibly the Greek Gods? I am really excited to keep up with this series and recommend it to others that enjoy a good scare, a variety of characters and mythology.

Monday, July 25, 2016

OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS by Krystal Sutherland \\ A Book With A Kick Of Realism

Review by Jackie...

By Krystal Sutherland
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: G.P. Putnam (September 6, 2016)
Language: English

John Green meets Rainbow Rowell in this irresistible story of first love, broken hearts, and the golden seams that put them back together again.
Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can't-eat-can't-sleep kind of love that he's been hoping for just hasn't been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he's been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything's about to change.
Grace isn't who Henry pictured as his dream girl—she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys' clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It's obvious there's something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn't your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland's brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.

"Oblivion isn't scary; it's the closest thing to genuine absolution of sin I can imagine."

There are instances in a person’s life that change them in ways that cannot be imagined. Sometimes those instances are people. In OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS those instances are people. Henry and Grace are two people who are incredibly different. This is not a love story. I think it’s a story about losing people, and the love that you gave them.

When Grace rolls into town, Henry doesn’t experience the heart-stopping attraction he’s imagined for True Love. Grace has suffered insurmountable trauma. Both of these people want Something from the other, and this book is about how they dealt with these Things.

I’m going to just go ahead and dive right into character assessments, because this book is character driven. I have a love / completely despise relationship with both of the main characters in the novel. I love them because they’re (read Henry, pointedly) selfish in what they want, and in who they are. They really do only think about what will benefit them the most. And as much as I love it, it also breaks my heart. This is also the part that I hate about them. Their selfishness. It was an intimate part of who both Henry and Grace are—and why shouldn’t they be worried most about themselves? And their own happiness? It was for different reasons: one was sanctity and safety while the other was more so just. . .because he couldn’t be bothered to thing about the emotions of someone who had just suffered and unimaginable loss and was literally emotionally unstable.

Their teenage self-involvement (especially Henry) came off as aloof and inconsiderate. I can’t even say I actually liked either one of them by the end of the book. I can say, however, that I felt so, so horrible for Grace.

I wish that there had been a bit more focus on her mental health in the book because I felt like her actual state of mind (and healing) was waved over. And that’s just really not acceptable.

The character development itself was amazing. And, to be completely honest, it was my favorite part of the book. Even if the main characters themselves weren’t my favorite. (Henry’s 30-year-old, tattoo and totally pieced, neurosurgeon and mother of one sister was) Krystal Sutherland really peeled back the layers of the characters as the book progressed. Much like an onion.

This book had a kick of realism. There was family drama, and personal life hell on earth, falling in love, high school, and the friendships that are with you through it all. This isn’t my favorite book (not by a long shot) but it is a book with a unique story line, I think. Not only because of the sheer amount of trauma that Grace is trekking through, but also because of Henry. I don’t like him at at, but on some weird platform I sort of get where he’s coming from.

And that, folks, is why I think this story is valuable. You don’t have to like something/one to be able to try to understand where they’re coming from.

So in the end, OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS is about breaking hearts, and the chemical reactions in our brains that let us experience the emotion.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA by Katie Kennedy \\ One Of The Best Male Protags I've Read In A While...

Review by Sara...

By Katie Kennedy
Hardcover: 346 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury (July 5, 2016)
Grade Range: 9 up
Language: English

Brimming with humor and one-of-a-kind characters, this end-of-the world novel will grab hold of Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell fans.

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize--if there's ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri's 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he's not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

I am going to start this review by saying that I simply looooooooved this book. Loved. It. It is brilliant, funny, and has one of the best male protagonists I have read in a while.

When the story starts, we meet our male protagnoist, Yuri, traveling to California. Yuri is a seventeen year old Russian prodigy genius. He has a doctorate in physicist, in the running for the Nobel prize in antimatter work, and has been summonded to help the Americans figure out a way to avoid/destory/miss/whatever the huge asteroid that is on a collision course with Earth. No pressure at all, right? Yuri is immediately thrown into the pit with the other scientists and doctors trying to solve the problem that is the asteroid. He suddenly realizes that his research in antimatter will be the best solution but no other scientist believes him. While trying to clear his head, Yuri meeting Dovie. Dovie is living her life like a typical teenager, unphased by the pending doom of the planet. 

Becoming friends with Dovie helps Yuri see what life outside of a lab can really be like. He sees that life is worth living and that it might be worth saving.

There are so many things that I loved about this book and Yuri is high on that list. Yuri was so well written that he felt real. He felt like a real teenage prodigy that spent most of his life inside the walls of a lab or classroom. If something couldn't be explained by math or science, then it was not important. Yuri was trying to hard to understand both sides of himself: prodigy physicist genius and seventeen year old teenager tasked with saving the planet and the fact that that he had never been kissed. The way he developed as the story progressed was so great to read.

Dovie's character was a little tougher for me to read as she felt forced. She is the opposite of Yuri in almost every possibly way and that almost seemed cliche. She is an artist, a daughter of hippies, quirky, and a free spirit. Yuri has never been around someone (a girl) like that before but he's attracted to her regardless. She is the only friend Yuri has in the US so he latches on to her and her brother Lennon. Lennon is in a wheelchair but he doesn't let that stop him or his snarky comments from going on crazy adventures with Yuri and Dovie. I did like Lennon as a secondary character as he brought a lot of depth to the story.

The wit sprinkled throughout this entire book had me smiling from ear to ear. I haven't actually laughed out loud while reading a book in a while. Yuri's comments and simple misuse of English phrases had me belting out laughs. The constant banter and snarky responses between Yuri and Dovie's family was brilliant. All of the kudos to Katie Kennedy for doing such a great job with the dialogue.

I don't want all of my talks of wit, amazing characters, and humor to overshadow the fact that this story is also about a huge asteroid rushing through space towards Earth. There is a lot of tension that builds as the story progresses. Will the scientists be able to stop the asteroid in time? Will Yuri save the day or will he be dismissed simply because he is 17 years old? Will the people living in California be spared? So much pressure on Yuri! Not only does he need to try to save the planet, he has to try to save his work back in Russia. As the story continued to move towards the ending, I was so invested that I skipped a meal to finish. I just had to know what happened!

I really cannot say enough good things about this book. I pretty much loved every single thing about it. I highly recommend to everyone!! This was a 4.75 star read for me. Don't let the science part of the story stop you from reading because this is not a high-techy book. It is funny, heart warming, and you will soon discover the admoriation I have for Yuri.  


Friday, July 15, 2016

JULIA VANISHES by Catherine Egan \\ Maybe I'm The Black Sheep?

Review by Sara...

By Catherine Egan
Series: Witch's Child #1
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (June 7, 2016)
Language: English
Grade Range: 8 up

Julia has the unusual ability to be . . . unseen. Not invisible, exactly. Just beyond most people's senses. 

It's a dangerous trait in a city that has banned all forms of magic and drowns witches in public Cleansings. But it's a useful trait for a thief and a spy. And Julia has learned--crime pays.

Her latest job is paying very well indeed. Julia is posing as a housemaid in the grand house of Mrs. Och, where an odd assortment of characters live and work: A disgraced professor who sends her to fetch parcels containing bullets, spiders, and poison. An aristocratic houseguest who is locked in the basement each night. And a mysterious young woman who is clearly in hiding--though from what or whom?

Worse, Julia suspects that there's a connection between these people and the killer leaving a trail of bodies across the frozen city.

The more she learns, the more she wants to be done with this unnatural job. To go back to the safety of her friends and fellow thieves. But Julia is entangled in a struggle between forces more powerful than she'd ever imagined. Escape will come at a terrible price.

I was so excited to read Julia Vanishes as the blurb makes it sound like a mysterious fantasy. How awesome is that?! Sadly, that is not what I read when I made my way through this book.

When we meet our MC, Julia, she is a young adult and already knows that she is a witch. Ever since she was a child, she knew that she had the ability to vanish without a trace. Mind you, she is not really invisible, she mearly blends in to her surroundings and other people cannot see her. Julia lives in a time when all forms of magic are illegal and anyone being accused of being a witch is burned alive or drowned. Julia has found solice working for Mrs. Och, a lady who has an odd assortment of people living in her home. Julia finds herself digging up information on who all of these house guests are... you see, Julia is a spy posing as a housemaid. It is a dangerous job but one that pays well and Julia knows no fear. The more Julia finds out about these houseguests, the more she wants to be done with them and on to other things. She also has been looking into the killings that are happening throughout her city and fears a serial killer may be on the loose. Unfortunately, that is percisely when she finds herself in deeper than she ever imagined and the cost to escape will be at a horrible price.

This is the first book in the Witch's Child trilogy and it did not start off well in my eyes. The story is so painfully slow. So slow that your brain starts to think of other things and you forget that you are supposed to be reading a story. All of the people, places, and things the author took great pains to describe were not entirely necessary. I understand this is based in the gaslight era, but taking the time to describe the sidewalks and the fashion of nearly everyone walking was overkill. Instead, I wanted to know more about the witches powers, where they came from, how could they be developed, and more. 

I did not ever find myself connecting with any character. I didn't fancy any of them. They felt dry and flat. Julia was not relatable to me as she came across overly self-assured and cocky. Plus she was too nosey for her own good. She felt she needed to know every single thing about every single person regardless if she was asked to look into them or not.   

I felt there were just too many elements introduced as the story went on. This is supposed to be a the first novel in a new series and too much was happening at once. The author should have picked one solid concept to start with and branched out from there. Instead, every possible topic was thrown into this one book: unusual creatures, witches, strange house guests, mysteries, secret books, possibly murdering beasts. 

Overall, this book just did not work for me. I was never fully invested in what was going on. I did not feel anything for the characters or the story line. It all felt forced and I that made me care even less. I gave this book a 2 star rating because reasons stated above. I was going to give a 2.5 but as I wrote this review, I remembered how frustrating this book made me so I dropped the rating. I know I will be a black sheep with this book but I'm okay with that because I have been on a lot of other books lately.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

THE GIRL I USED TO BE by April Henry \\ Short, But Not So Sweet...

Review by Sara...

By April Henry
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books (May 3, 2016)
Language: English
Grade Range: 7 and up
Age Range: 12 and up

When Olivia's mother was killed, everyone suspected her father of murder. But his whereabouts remained a mystery. Fast forward fourteen years. New evidence now proves Olivia's father was actually murdered on the same fateful day her mother died. That means there's a killer still at large. It's up to Olivia to uncover who that may be. But can she do that before the killer tracks her down first?

This is the first book by April Henry that I have read and if all of her books are like this one, I may sit them out. My initial reaction was to give this book 3.5 stars but I may drop that down to 2.5 stars. The more I digest this book, the more I realize things just don't add up.

This is the story of Olivia Reinhart, who is actually Arial Benson, the daughter of the infamous murdered couple Naomi Benson & Terry Weeks from . Olivia's parents were murdered when she was only 3 years old. She grew up not remembering what happened to her parents, other than her mom was murdered and her dad was accused of murdering Naomi. All of that changed when Terry's jawbone is found and the investigation is reopened and that is all this small town can talk about. Did Terry actually murder Naomi? What really happened? Olivia takes it upon herself to move back into her mother's old house under the new identity and try to ask the questions that will hopefully give her the answers that she desperately needs. Because if both of her parents were murdered, doesn't that mean the killer is still out there?

I love a good thriller mystery book but this one just felt a little off to me. First, the book is barely over 200 pages so you better be able to pack a lot of action into that (which this book fell short). Second, everything just seemed way too easy for Olivia. Period. Examples:

               Olivia just moved into what used to be her mom and grandmother's house without anyone wondering who she is. How many teenagers just up and move without taking stuff from their old apartment? You mean she didn't need to pack anything? What happened to her stuff? This girl isn't exactly wealthy so what gives?
               She askes so many direct questions and nobody gets suspecious? How can one person, who is supposed to be a complete stranger in this town, ask very specific questions to very specific people about very specific things only insider people would know and the townsfolk just spill their guts? Sorry, doesn't jive.

I never really connected with Oliva/Arial as a protagonist. She just felt too self assured and cocky for her own good. I do understand wanting to find out what happened to your parents and help solve their murder, but there are smarter ways to go about it. Her character just kept doing dumb things over and over and over again, and luck just happened to be on her side the entire way. Her side kick through all of this, and one character that was so out of place, was Duncan. He grew up with Olivia/Arial and knew who she actually was. He wanted to help her but also wanted to be her boyfriend. He professed that he hadn't stopped thinking about her in 14 years. You were a toddler old when she left. How can you have feelings for her now?? The one character I did really enjoy was Nora. She was the elderly neighbor that called Olivia on her BS early on and I appreciated that. Other those those three characters, I didn't care about the rest of them. Actually, it felt as if there were just too many characters and they were hard to keep straight.

There was almost zero world building in this story so it was by no means a deep book. It started off with a chase in the woods then BOOM, the story starts over and you have to follow Olivia along as she quickly solves this mystery. It was over far too quickly and the ending did not do it for me. I guessed the killer and was not surprised when they were revealed. The book just ended with a neat, yet strange, bow and I said outloud, "That was it?" I felt let down. There were just too many things left unexplained. Characters and items were introduced but never explained. That was really frustrating. 

Overall, this story was not bad, but it did not feel like a well thought out YA book. It felt as if it was more for middle grade readers, 6-9 grade. The story felt rushed and haphazardly thrown together.