March 22, 2018

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Thrillers are totally my jam, although I'm really on the fence with YA thrillers since I tend to find them too predictable. But with the hype surrounding One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus (and the fact that I got to meet her at a local event a few weeks ago), I figured I needed to give this one a shot. Plus, Karen described this story as "The Breakfast Club, but with murder" so obviously that got my attention right away.

When five students are sent to detention for something they didn't do, only four walk out of the room alive. Simon is dead, and now Nate, Bronwyn, Cooper, and Addy are the prime suspects. You see, Simon ran the school's gossip app, About That, and there were pending stories about all 4 of them that were about to be posted. Did one (or more) of them decide to kill Simon to keep their secrets from getting out? Building off the criminal, the brain, the athlete, and the beauty from the original Breakfast Club, the story follows these four teens as they deal with questioning and try to figure out who the real killer is.

The story was told from all four points of view. I loved how each character had a very unique voice, and personal struggles they were dealing with in addition to the murder investigation. I really identified with Addy, but I loved Bronwyn and Nate the most (especially together!). I just couldn't identify with Cooper, probably because he was the athlete in the group and I just couldn't relate to all the baseball talk. I loved that there was a gay character in this story as well and I think that aspect was really well done. When I saw Karen speak, she mentioned that she actually let her son name one of the characters, and thus Hank Budapest was born. I just love that, and knowing the story behind it made me laugh every time his character showed up.

Unfortunately, I did figure out the killer pretty early on. Like I said before, I can usually predict thrillers (probably because I've read so many...both adult and YA) but from what I've heard most people were not able to predict this outcome. I also wanted a little more from the ending, but there will be a B&N Special Edition coming out this summer that promises an extra chapter! Overall this was a quick, fun read, and definitely a good first thriller to try if you're new to the genre!

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

March 20, 2018

Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Historical fiction is usually not my thing, and when I say usually not my thing I mean I've maybe picked up 3 historical fiction reads in as many years. But when I saw Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood, I knew this would be one that I needed to try out. Badass female wing walker? Count me in.

This story takes place shortly after World War I, and follows Grace Lafferty, a teen obsessed with wing walking and her barnstorming team, The Soaring Eagles. Grace is dead set on saving enough money to get the team to the World Aviation Expo and a shot at a high-paying contract with Hollywood. But earning that money means coming up with harder (and more dangerous) stunts, and constantly risking her life for this goal. Throw in an opposing team and its owner hell-bent on getting Grace and her team out of the running, and Grace finds herself in danger more often than not. When push comes to shove, Grace's team is her family, both old members and new, and soon she has to decide what is worth more: the shot at a steady income she's always hoped for or her life and the lives of those around her.

I really liked how this story was laid out, identifying the date, location, and how many days were left until the Expo at the beginning of the chapter. I think this helped the reader identify with Grace's panic as the Expo approached. It was historical fiction, but I didn't get the bland historical fiction vibe that I've gotten from others I've read (you know the one, where it feels more like a school lesson than an exciting story). All the aeronautical terms were explained clearly and I wasn't confused at all. I felt fully immersed in the world of The Soaring Eagles.

As far as characters go, I honestly didn't like Grace. Her attitude, flippancy towards the fact she could die at any time, and the way she talked to her teammates really rubbed me the wrong way. I completely understand having a goal and working toward it, but you don't have to be a complete jerk to everyone around you in the process. I loved her friends, side characters Ethel and Mary, and they were the complete saccharine-sweet opposites to Grace's abrasive personality. But more than anyone in this story, I adored Henry and was completely enveloped by his character. I loved how he latched onto Grace to protect her when she was being too stupid to protect herself. I was pained seeing his PTSD and injuries from the war, but I think knowing this as his back story helped the reader understand him and his actions.

This was a solid read with a great plot, but unfortunately that was muddied a bit by my complete distaste for Grace.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

A big thanks to Flux for early digital access to this read. Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood releases next week, on March 27th, so be sure to pick up a copy!

March 15, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
No cutesy introduction is needed for this post because this book was FIRE (and just hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list). I heard so much buzz before it was released that I knew I had to go out and pick up a copy on release day. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi takes West African mythology and creates a world full of both beauty and danger, in which its main characters have to fight for their rights and take back the magic that was given to them by the gods but destroyed by the king. Three main characters tell this story through their own unique points of view: Zélie, the daughter of a maji killed for her magic, who is now fighting to get it back; Princess Amari, daughter of the king who did that killing, who has a death of her own to avenge; and Prince Inan, Amari's brother who is struggling to reconcile his upbringing with the new information he learns throughout the story. 

From the world building to the character development, this book was phenomenal. For a high fantasy it was incredibly easy to follow and understand. Many scenes (including the boat arena battle) had me on the edge of my seat. For a 500+ page book I flew through this in record time. I absolutely loved the world of Orïsha and its charactersI truly think Inan was my favorite. His character went through the most as far as development goes, and his inner struggle to reconcile the beliefs he was raised with against what he has learned on his own is something I think a lot of people can relate to. I loved Zélie and Amari equally and I think choosing between the two would be like having to choose your favorite child...impossible.

I was fortunate enough to meet Tomi and hear her speak this past weekend, and she talked a lot about how this book was personal for her. She said that while she wrote Children of Blood and Bone as a response and coping mechanism for everything going on regarding police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, the book itself isn't meant to be preachy. Tomi was clear that her first intention is to entertain and tell a good story, but that if people choose to look into it further, they will see parallels to everything happening in society today. She wants people to see through her story that what makes them different also makes them beautiful, and described it as "Black Panther," but with magic. Through this work she wanted to give black girls their own fantasy characters to embrace, and give them something where they could see themselves depicted as beautiful and strong.

I fell into this story and the world oOrïsha head first. I am completely invested in this world and its characters, and I have no desire to climb out of this fantastic story any time soon. I can't wait to see what the next book in the series will bring!

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

March 13, 2018

In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner

Cover Art Courtesy of St. Martin's Press
I don't cry at books, I just don't. I get sad and do feel emotion for whatever is happening, but I don't ever shed physical tears. BUT HOLY WATERWORKS. This book got me. In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner melted my icy heart and sent tears streaming down my cheeks in droves. This story follows Klee (pronounced Clay), a teen struggling with his father's suicide, who in a moment of weakness hurts himself and ends up in a mental hospital (more fondly known as the Ape Can). It's then that he's forced to reconcile everything that's happened...with his dead father, with his mother, and most importantly with himself.

This book is 100% character driven, which is good because the characters were fantastic. Sister Agnes Theresa was such a joy! While at first she was a completely random character with her board games and snack delivery, she ended up being one of the biggest supporters of Klee.  I also absolutely adored Dr. Alvarez. I thought she was supportive and nurturing in all the right ways, letting Klee take his time with things and pushing just enough to let progress blossom on its own. Between what Klee did for her at the end and what she revealed about herself to him, I just couldn't hold myself together. I really didn't like Sarah, but I don't think I was meant to. She's the typical manic pixie dream girl who takes what she wants without giving anything back, and even at the end she just left a bad taste in my mouth. Klee's mother was a difficult character to crack, but the more the story developed, the more you start to understand why the "Ice Queen" is the way she is.

And Klee himself, I have so much to say about Klee (but I can't without spoiling too much). From his love of Van Gogh to his fierce loyalty to his father, Klee is emotionally complex and raw. I loved seeing him open up to everyone in the Ape Can, and you could tell that no matter how much he was struggling, he really wanted to understand what was happening and get better.

I loved all the stories and flashbacks with Klee and his father, and the tales he told Klee to teach him about life. The whole thing was beautifully written and like I said before, it takes a lot to touch me enough to make me cry, and this story succeeded. Trigger warnings for suicide and self harm are definitely needed, but the subject was touched on in a sensitive and tender way. This book was deep and emotional, and one that will definitely stick with me for a while.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

A huge thanks to St. Martin's Press for sending me an early finished copy of this beauty. In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner is out TODAY so be sure to pick up a copy of this beautiful emotional roller coaster.

March 12, 2018

NoVa TEEN Book Festival 2018 Recap

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to go to the NoVa TEEN Book Festival in Arlington, VA. This was a free event full of panels, breakout sessions, signings, and more. This was my first major event since joining the book community, so I was obviously nervous, but it ended up being a fantastic day!

Dhonielle and Tomi
The first panel, 24K Magic, featured Tomi Adeyemi, Susan Dennard, A.C. Gaughen, and Audrey Coulthurst. While I did DNF Truthwitch, Susan Dennard is an absolute doll! She is so cute and nerdy and precious. Tomi Adeyemi is a goddess. She has the most amazing personality and I loved getting to hear how she (and all these other amazing authors) got the inspiration for the magic systems in their books. Next up came The Power, a panel highlighting both super powers and empowerment, featuring Dhonielle Clayton, Jennifer Mathieu, Shaun David Hutchinson, and Sam Miller. Dhonielle made some really powerful comments about beauty standards, and they all made sure to highlight that with great power comes great responsibility. The third panel of the day was a conversation between Tomi Adeyemi and Dhonielle Clayton. These ladies are so amazing on their own, but hearing them together was inspiring. 

Go the Distance Panel
After a lunch break, the fourth panel centered around family, and included Atia Abawi, Brigid Kemmerer, Anna-Marie McLemore, and Eric Smith. Some of the questions were pretty hard-hitting, and the authors revealed a lot of personal struggles they've had with their own families that led them to develop specific familial relationships for their characters. The fifth panel was all about royals, so this one was right up my alley. Alexandra Christo, Sarah Glenn Marsh, Linsey Miller, and Jodi Meadows all discussed their characters, the political systems in their books, and even had to choose which Disney hero/villain/sidekick their main characters would be! Next came Go The Distance, a panel about obstacles, which featured Rachel Hartman, Arvin Ahmadi, Meagan Spooner, and Scott Reintgen. Whether physical or emotional, all their characters faced some major obstacles, and more than one of these authors admitted to being extra mean to their characters in this aspect a few times throughout their stories.

Thriller Panel
I ended up going to a breakout session instead of the seventh panel, and I picked the Q&A session with Dhonielle Clayton and Eric Smith. I've followed Eric on Twitter for a while now so I wanted to get some more time around him, and obviously Dhonielle has a personality that you just gravitate towards! I returned to the main room for the Thriller panel, featuring Karen McManus, Dana Mele, Megan Miranda, K. Ancrum, and Kimberly Reid. I love thrillers so I really enjoyed hearing these ladies talk about the research that went into their books (including having to be careful what they look up on Google!) and their writing processes to determine whodunit. I was fortunate enough to meet Karen and Megan at a local event earlier in the week, so I enjoyed getting to see them again in conversation with a few other authors. 

Finally was the keynote by Anna-Marie McLemore. This girl is fire! Her speech was about not only the doors that have been slammed in her face due to being queer and Latinx, but also how she overcame them, and how we can all overcome obstacles if we choose to write our own stories rather than letting others write them for us.

Keynote by Anna-Marie McLemore
After all the panels and sessions were over came the signing. You got to enter based on what time you arrived at the event, so if you had been there since the beginning you got to enter the signing room first, and so on. This surprisingly wasn't as chaotic as I was anticipating! Each guest could bring up to 3 books from home, then buy any additional books they wanted signed at the event. I preordered mine, which was an easy process! During the signing I got to meet Tomi Adeyemi, Alexandra Christo, Jennifer Mathieu, Dhonielle Clayton, Meagan Spooner, Anna-Marie McLemore, Dana Mele, and Sarah Nicole Lemon. They were all just the sweetest human beings ever. I also got to spend some time during the day with Sam from Thoughts on Tomes, and she gave me some great advice on being new in the community and connecting with other creators. 

Overall this was a really fun day! I'm going to another big event in about 2 weeks so I'll be sure to do a recap of that as well. Can't wait to go to this again next year!

March 7, 2018

The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton is one of those witchy books that just grabs you and pulls you in, enveloping you with both beautiful writing and magic. This story follows Nor Blackburn, a teenage girl living on Anathema Island. Nor seems like your typical teenager: she has a part time job, she has a quirky best friend, and she has a crush on a boy. But what's not so typical about Nor is that she's a witch. In fact, she's ninth in a generation of famous witches, tracing back to Rona Blackburn, the first female to ever inhabit Anathema. While Rona was an all-powerful witch, each of her descendants has been blessed with only one power, or "burden" as they call them...all that is except for Nor, who has all of them, just like Rona. 

Abandoned at a young age by her mother Fern, Nor has been raised by her grandmother Judd and her partner Apothia. She keeps all but the most basic of her powers (being able to understand animals) quiet, since all she wants is a normal life. She works at The Witching Hour, a store for witches famous for its tours of the island. One day a book turns up while she is working called The Price Guide to the Occult...and it's written by her mother. The book contains a multitude of spells and their prices, and Nor doesn't think anything of it until her mother becomes internationally famous for her mail-order magic. But all magic comes at a price, often much steeper than money, and soon they will all find out what that price is.

I absolutely loved this book. Walton's writing was gorgeous and poetic. Nor was a fantastic character, and you were really able to get inside her head and feel her internal struggles. I also loved all the minor characters, including Savvy, Judd and Apothia, and even the little dog Bijou. The magical realism was authentic, plausible, and very well done. My only real complaint with this book was that I wanted more. I wanted more at the climax of the story, and more follow-up at the end. You know that feeling when you finish something amazing but are suddenly let down because it's over? That was me with this book. I became immersed in Anathema and its inhabitants, and really invested in Nor and what happened to her, her family, and her friends. Plus this cover is utterly stunning, and super relevant to the plot as well!

I've heard that Walton's first work, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, is amazing as well, so now I'm going to have to pick that one up!

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Candlewick Press for an ARC of this fantastic read. The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton  releases March 13th, so be sure to pick up a copy!

March 6, 2018

The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Cover Art Courtesy of
Random House Children's Books
The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk is a book about loss. Most of us have experienced at least one great loss in our lives (and if you haven't, you're so very lucky). Experiencing a great loss tears you up inside and makes you question everything, and often when this type of loss strikes you're forced to rebuild your life from the ground up.

In this story, Autumn, Logan, and Shay have all recently lost someone: a best friend, an ex-boyfriend, a twin sister. From a car wreck, to suicide, to cancer, these deaths were mostly unexpected, and tear each of the characters apart. Autumn turns to her dead best friend's brother for comfort (and a little more), Logan picks up the bottle and develops a destructive relationship with drinking, and Shay runs, literally, away from every situation that reminds her of her sister. But all three characters also find comfort in music. Through their love of music, they all know one another as acquaintances, but really come together at the end of the story to honor the loved ones they lost through the music that held them together.

But in addition to loss, this book is more about finding yourself after that loss, holding onto what you have, and embracing your own life while learning to live without the person that is no longer with you. Woodfolk's main characters do exactly that: find themselves and hold on to each other in their times of loss, truly living with an unwavering determination in memory of those now gone. Each of the characters was well developed, and it was easy to get inside their heads and understand their feelings. The diverse representation here was important, but the characters were so much more than that. The plot was simple but effective.

My biggest complaint with this book is the same one I usually have with YA contemporaries...the youth/parent interactions just didn't seem realistic. Maybe it's me, but I just don't believe (and have never experienced myself or even witnessed) the high level of obliviousness and leniency that I see with some of these parents. That being said, this book was beautiful. It tugged at your heart strings and you were really able to relate to the characters, no matter who you've lost in your life.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Random House Children's Books for sending me an advanced copy of this book! The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk releases TODAY so be sure to pick up a copy!

March 5, 2018

Gun Love by Jennifer Clement

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
When I first heard about this book, I was super excited for it. Gun Love by Jennifer Clement is a coming of age story that centers around a young girl growing up in a world obsessed with guns. Sounds relevant right? The main character Pearl (named for her alabaster skin) lives in a car with her mother in a small trailer park in Florida. We learn about Pearl, her mother, and their neighbors and friends, as Pearl struggles to find herself and learn about the world when her own world is so small.

I have to say I'm very neutral on this book. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. I wouldn't reread it, but it also wasn't a waste of time. There wasn't much of a plot, and even what you might call the climax was a disappointment. And as far as a coming of age story goes, I didn't really see any character development with Pearl, who simply just existed. Everything was very flat when it came to her character, and you got more character development and motivation from the minor characters than from her. I did very much enjoy those minor characters, as I think they added a large amount of value, and I loved learning about their personalities and backstories.

One big complaint that I had with this book was that quotes weren't distinguished as quotes. They ran into the normal descriptive paragraphs and it was hard to figure out what was a quote versus what was just descriptive or Pearl's stream of consciousness. Otherwise, the writing was beautiful, detailed, and flowed well, and was a quick read. It was easy to imagine yourself in that Florida trailer park.

I did appreciate that this book talked about the relevant topic of guns, but I wish the overall message had been a little stronger. People in Pearl's life were obsessed with them, whether that meant going out and shooting randomly into a lake at all hours of the day and night, trying to get guns off the street in the name of God, or selling guns across the border. And ultimately, it was a gun that lead to a turning point in Pearl's life. I also liked all the Selena references, and I obviously have to mention that the cover is stunning. 

If you like flowy books with pretty writing and very basic plots, you'd really enjoy this story. If you're looking for something more complex with some action, this might not be your cup of tea. Since to me this was a very middle of the road book, it's getting a very middle of the road rating.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Hogarth for sending me a finished copy of this book! Gun Love by Jennifer Clement releases tomorrow, so if this sounds like something up your alley, be sure to pick up a copy!

March 1, 2018

People Like Us by Dana Mele

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
If a book (or show or movie, for that matter) has a boarding school, snobby teenage girls, and an unexplained death, you can count me in. That's why I was so excited to receive a copy of People Like Us by Dana Mele. 

This story follows Kay, a popular girl at Bates, a boarding school for the rich and preppy. She has her typical clique of friends, and as predicted they tend to bully others at their school just for the fun of it. One night a fellow student Jessica turns up dead, an apparent suicide, but as both Kay and detectives start looking into the death, it turns out it may not have been suicide after all...and Kay is one of the prime suspects. After she gets a threatening email from the deceased Jessica, Kay has to solve a series of riddles, taking out each of her friends in the process to save her own dark secrets from being spilled. She finds an unlikely ally in Nola, an unpopular goth girl with superior hacking skills, who Kay and her friends made miserable in the past. The two of them work together to solve Jessica's riddles, bringing down each girl in Kay's circle and piecing together clues to try to find the killer. 

This was a solid read, it just wasn't fantastic. It was an overall quick read with a gorgeous cover, and I would definitely recommend it for fans of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars for the big brother/communication from the grave vibes. Unfortunately I thought the killer was predictable from about the halfway mark, and the reveal wasn't even that good. Some parts did drag and were somewhat boring, and you didn't see very much character development. Of all the characters, I loved Spencer the most, and I would have liked to see more of him. I did appreciate the diversity and LGBTQ+ representation in this book, and it's important that we're starting to see more of that in YA novels.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A huge thanks to Penguin Teen for sending me a finished copy of this book! People Like Us by Dana Mele just released on February 27, so you can pick up your copy now!

February 28, 2018

No Filter by Orlagh Collins

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Sometimes it just takes A LONG TIME to get into a book. That's why I always try to make it at least 50-75% through before giving up, rather than risking really missing out on something good. No Filter by Orlagh Collins is the prime example for sticking it out and really finding a gem (and one of the characters is named literally, a gem!).

No Filter follows two teenagers, Liam and Emerald. After finding her mother after an attempted suicide, Emerald is shuttled off to Ireland for the summer while her parents in England try to handle everything going on. She is devastated that she won't be spending the summer with her Instagram-perfect friends, but rather in Ireland with her grandmother. But then she meets Liam, a boy with big dreams but a family wrong to right, even if it will cost him the future he wants. As Emerald's home life becomes even more strained and Liam can't seem to find a way to make his dreams a reality, they cling to one another, until they discover the truth about the tumultuous connected past of their families. It's then that they have to determine what really matters, old feuds or new romances?

This book really bugged me at first and I almost DNF'ed it. Between the difficult to understand accents and purely disgusting point of view towards social media, it took a lot to make me power through this book, but I'm glad I did. While the first half was a challenge, the second half was fantastic. I actually got used to the accents, and ended up being really happy that they were written authentically as it really gave more insight into who Liam and Emerald are. As characters they unfolded before themselves and each other, pushing buttons they didn't know they had and teaching one another the true value of things they might have missed before. I thought the irony of a character named Emerald spending the summer in Ireland was super cute, and the island scenes with the wallabies were a nice addition of a little real life magic in an otherwise bland environment.

I am still displeased with the way that Collins wrote Emerald's relationship with social media. Being invested in social media isn't a bad thing, and it's how many of us make a living today, but it was written distastefully, as if the author thinks that any form of new technology is a thorn in the side of civilization. Overall No Filter is a cute contemporary read that emphasizes forgiveness, second chances, and the importance of the truth-even when at first you or others around you are blind to it.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

A huge thanks to Bloomsbury for an early digital copy of this book. No Filter by Orlagh Collins releases in hardcover on March 6, so be sure to pick up a copy!

February 26, 2018

Island Games by Caleb J. Boyer

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Island Games by Caleb J. Boyer follows two teenage boys, Matthew and Ryan, after they are randomly dropped on a desert island and forced to survive a series of traps and solve puzzles to try to escape the island. The boys soon discover that truly working together is their only hope for survival. As the story progresses, the boys are transported to different quadrants on the island, ranging from tropical to desert, prairie to frozen tundra. Each quadrant comes with its own set of challenges, which when successfully passed results in a bounty of supplies for the boys designed only to last until the next test.

I think this book is decent as a middle grade, but way too juvenile to be really considered young adult. The reading level and vocabulary just aligns much better with 6-8 grade than 9-12. The characters to me also acted more in the middle grade age range than high school range. Matthew and Ryan were smart, but also acted incredibly juvenile. In a life or death situation like survival on an island, I would hope there would be more seriousness and planning and less joking around. Yes, humor is a way to make light of a difficult time, but sometimes it just didn't suit the situation in this story.

The plot and overall concept were excellent. I think it's an interesting survival mix of the plot and excitement of The Hunger Games and the relationship building and conflict in Lord of the Flies. The writing, however, was less than fantastic. It was basic and extremely repetitive. Yes, I do have to acknowledge that the author is only 12 years old, but unfortunately that's pretty obvious from the writing. Boyer uses the exact same phrases over and over within the same paragraph, and I'm pretty sure if one of the characters said "Wow!" one more time I would have thrown the book across the room. Boyer would have greatly benefited from the use of a thesaurus.

I was also really displeased with the ending. It ended as if there was going to be another book, but there was no clarity in the author's note or anything else as to when that is actually happening (although the Amazon page definitely says this is the first in a series). So many questions were left up in the air without any clarification. I hate finishing a book and not knowing what happens, especially if I don't know when I can anticipate the next installment. Island Games was still an interesting and fun story, but unfortunately just didn't live up to my expectations of good writing.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Thanks to Online Book Club for digital access to this novel! Island Games by Caleb J. Boyer is out now.

February 21, 2018

The Secrets We Bury by Stacie Ramey

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
I've read a few books lately that had hiking at the center of the plot, but it wasn't until this one that I actually got inspired to research a hike of my own. The Secrets We Bury by Stacie Ramey follows Dylan, seventeen-year-old who has run away from home and decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. Dylan believes that his mental issues are what caused his father's death, and afraid of having to attend a school for special kids decides to flee and pursue this journey to process his grief. 

Along his journey, he meets a girl his age, Sophie, who seems to be running away from her own problems just like he is. They also meet Rain Man, a seasoned hiker who, like both Dylan and Sophie, has experienced a devastating loss. Throughout the story, Dylan learns to connect, and even care for, others, while getting out of his own head and facing his fears for the safety and well-being of his new companions.

I really enjoyed this story. I read it in a few short hours, and thought the plot was solid. You could also tell that Ramey did a good amount of hiking research. I really enjoyed both Dylan and Sophie as characters, and respect both of them for the journeys they took and what they learned along the way. I would have loved to have seen this story told from both Dylan's and Sophie's point of view. I really appreciated seeing the relationship between Dylan and Sophie develop without any of the typical tropes that many YA novels have: yes Dylan saved her but that's not why she liked him, and they bonded on a level much deeper than physical attraction and desperation.

My only real issue with this book was the ending. I feel like everyone was so nonchalant about Dylan saving the lives of two people and coming home, and that things would never actually play out this way in the real world.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks to Sourcebooks Fire for access to a digital arc of this book! The Secrets We Bury by Stacie Ramey releases March 1st so be sure to pick up a copy!

February 14, 2018

Honor Code by Kiersi Burkhart

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
***Let me start off this review by saying that it may be the most disorganized review I've ever written, and give a huge trigger warning for rape/sexual assault. I'm writing this not caring about grammar, or flowy writing, or anything else, because I walked away from this book so rage-y that I can't really put into appropriate words all the things I felt. Also my reviews usually do not contain spoilers, but this one does because it's the only way to accurately express my full range of emotions. If it turns out you love this format of review, let me know because this is different than what I normally do but I'm happy to change up my style if that's what you guys like reading!***

Honor Code by Kiersi Burkhart follows Sam, a fifteen-year-old girl who gets into an elite private school, where behind closed doors she learns and experiences things she never expected. From having to line up naked and be ranked by upperclassmen, to being forced to join a sports team, Sam isn't sure she's ready to handle what's in store for her, but her desire to earn a scholarship to college keeps her motivated to tough it out. When she gets matched with the hot upperclassman she's been drooling over for the school mixer, she thinks that she's finally fitting in, until that upperclassman takes advantage of her attraction to him and her naivety and rapes her when she went to him for help with schoolwork. Wanting to keep the school honor code sacred, Sam seemingly tries hard to avoid exposing the incident or identifying herself or the prosecutor, but she still fights in her own way to seek justice.

My thoughts through the first 2/3 or so of this book were all positive. We need more books about rape culture to bring the issue to light. This showed why girls don't come forward when they've been sexually assaulted, and details all the fallout that happens when they finally do. YAASSS, I thought, this book is everything. Until the plot twist happened that had me raging until the very last page (and I'm still raging, as evidenced by this review).

SAM DIDN'T ACTUALLY GET RAPED. It was her roommate Gracie that went through that traumatic incident, and Sam in some deranged quest to help her decided to make the story her own and go public with it. Yes, the boy who raped Gracie attempted to rape Sam too, but she was able to escape before anything happened. THIS MADE ME SO ANGRY. DO NOT TAKE SOMEONE'S SEXUAL ASSAULT EXPERIENCE AND MAKE IT YOUR OWN. I don't care if you want to help them. I don't care if you're trying to expose someone and make them seek justice. Rape is such a terrible and deeply personal occurrence that if the person who experienced it doesn't want to pursue reporting/exposing it or do anything about it, THAT IS THEIR DECISION, not yours. Please, come forward with your own experience of how he attempted to rape you, and make him face justice for that, but DO NOT MASQUERADE. 

Now I do think this book had some great themes. Exposing corruption in private schools, showing how girls are treated cruelly after coming forward with this type of information, and how rich white male privilege is unfortunately alive and well today are all things that it is important to address, and it did all these things extremely well. That being said, I just couldn't wrap my head around what Sam did and why this is ok. I'm not sure if it was her fifteen-year-old mind and care for her friend that made her think this was a good idea, or if she just wanted the spotlight, but this just does not sit right with me. And judging by the Goodreads reviews, I'm the only one that thinks this.

I've struggled a lot with my rating for this book because while the false rape report really set me off, I think it tried and succeeded to shine light on the overall rape culture issues our society faces today. I originally wanted to rate it as 2 stars, but I think I'm going to bump it up because despite the problematic plot twist, the message was good and the writing was fantastic, and I did really enjoy reading it.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Thanks to Lerner Publishing Group for allowing me early digital access to this book. Honor Code by Kiersi Burkhart releases on March 1st!

February 13, 2018

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
The cover of this book is what drew me to it, but it was the story that kept me interested. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan was a thought-provoking, beautiful read that emphasized the power and importance of both holding on and letting go.

The story follows Ren Ishida, who has recently moved to Akakawa, Japan to pick up the pieces following the murder of his older sister Keiko. He quickly falls into his sister's old routine: taking her job teaching at a cram school, moving into her former room, and befriending her coworkers-finding comfort in the things she used to do. But it turns out that Ren didn't know his sister as well as he thought he did. Through building relationships with those his sister was close with, Ren begins to discover bits and pieces of information that when combined with unique dreams lead him to the discovery of Keiko's killer and the motive behind it all.

While the plot does center around a murder, it's not at all a thriller or even really a murder mystery. This story is more about Ren finding himself through the relationship he had with his sister, discovering when it is important to move forward and let go, as well as what memories are worth holding onto. You see Ren grow as a character as the story progresses, identifying things from his past that are no longer relevant (his sex-crazed friend from high school), and learning the importance of what could be in his future (his desire to reconnect with his girlfriend Nae). He takes the lessons his sister always taught him and actually begins to apply them to his life, realizing that he needs to move forward.

The writing was absolutely beautiful, and I found myself lost in the story. The chapters are short and flow together well. I've heard others say that this mirrors the style of Haruki Murakami, and as I've been curious about his work for a while I think it's time to pick up something of his!

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

A huge thanks to Soho Press for sending me an ARC of this beautiful book! Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan releases on March 6th, so be sure to pick up a copy!

February 7, 2018

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
I think I may have been the last person in the world to read this book. But just in case I wasn't, I wanted to write a review anyway on the off chance that one of you reading this has been hesitating about picking up this novel. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is one hell of a read, which is probably why a movie version is releasing next month. Like your typical bibliophile, I wanted to make sure I read the book before seeing the movie, so I made it a priority on my TBR and I'm so glad I did.

This story follows Wade Watts (username Parzival), your average teenager looking for an escape. It's set in the future, and we're out of space and almost out of resources as a human race. Trailer parks have turned into trailer towers to maximize land, and food rations are doled out on a voucher system. The only comfort is the Oasis, a completely immersive (and free) virtual reality, containing schools, jobs, shopping, and almost everything else you need to live. When the creator of the Oasis dies and leaves his fortune to whoever solves the puzzle hidden within the Oasis itself, Wade knows that winning this fortune is his only way out of his daily hell. 

But with about half a trillion dollars and complete Oasis control at stake, obviously Wade isn't the only one seeking out the prize. Powerful industries have also taken an interest in the winnings, wanting control of the Oasis with plans to start charging for access, and companies have created special "gunter" departments who dedicate every second of their time to solving the puzzle. These people will stop at nothing to win that prize, even killing off their competition if that's what it takes.

This book was fantastic! I don't even know where to begin with everything I liked. The amount of 80's references was wonderful, and the descriptions of this world were elaborate and painted an intense picture of life in the future...both inside and outside the Oasis. I felt for Wade...he was a good kid that just wanted a better life for himself, which really made you root for him to win. I really liked Art3mis as a character as well and wish we learned more about her. 

My biggest complaint is how abruptly it ended. There's a lot of debate as to whether this will have a sequel or not...nothing has really been confirmed by Cline one way or another. If this really will be a standalone, I would have liked to see it go a little more into what happens after the big battle. If it is intended to be a duology/trilogy/whatever, knowing that would have alleviated some of that disappointment.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

February 2, 2018

This Heart of Mine by C.C. Hunter

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
It's been a while since I've read a damn good contemporary. But that all changed with this book. This Heart of Mine by C.C. Hunter made me laugh, it made me cry, but most importantly it taught me a lesson that is so easy to forget.

This book follows Leah, a high school student with an artificial heart. She carries her heart around in a backpack until one day she is fortunate enough for a transplant. Enter Matt, the charmingly handsome boy who's twin brother Eric's heart Leah was fortunate to receive after Eric committed suicide. After Leah gets her transplant, she starts to have dreams hinting that it may not have been a suicide after all. She and Matt bond over this unsettling notion, because like Leah, Matt is also having dreams and feeling's regarding Eric's demise. Leah promises to help Matt get to the bottom of what really happened to Eric...after all, she did get his heart, and the fact that she's falling for Matt doesn't hurt.

This book was way more than I ever hoped for. There's love and passion, mystery, fear, and above all else, hope. Hope to get to the bottom of what happened to Eric. Hope that Leah's body won't reject her new heart. Hope that Matt and Leah's relationship really is the real deal. And an underlying but ever present hope for tomorrow. This book teaches us to not give up that hope, and to take advantage of what time we are given. Life is too short to waste it worrying about what could happen rather than actually living our lives. I sound like a complete cheese ball, but really this book was incredibly cheesy and I wouldn't have it any other way. As a 28 year old, it takes a lot for a YA contemporary to touch me, but this one not only touched me but violently grabbed at my heartstrings and pulled until I was drained of all emotion after both laughing and crying my way thorough this book.

And to top it all off, not only is this just about the best contemporary I've ever read, but it's an own voices novel! The author's husband had a kidney transplant that saved his life, so all the emotions, both hope and fear, packed into this novel are 100% genuine. 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

A huge thank you to St. Martin's Press for allowing me early digital access to this book. This Heart of Mine by C.C. Hunter releases on February 27th, so be sure to pick up a copy!

January 31, 2018

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Short stories about the creepy and the unusual...count me in! If it's eerie and weird it's usually right up my alley, so I couldn't wait to dive into this collection of short stories. Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill features a collection of 5 magical tales that aim to set the reader on a journey of weirdness and wonder.

This book ended up being very middle of the road for me, with a mixed bag of stories that I either really liked or didn't enjoy at all. It was a quick read and I breezed through it in a couple of hours. While some stories I really enjoyed (I'm looking at you "Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch' and "Dreadful Young Ladies"), others left something to be desired ("The Insect and the Astronomer" and "Open the Door and the Light Pours Through"). The novella at the end, "The Unlicensed Magician," has won the World Fantasy Award, and I can see was well thought out, contained just enough to tell a full story, and was completely fascinating! I also have to note that the cover is absolutely stunning.

This was my first experience with Kelly Barnhill's works, and I've heard that The Girl Who Drank the Moon is quite good, so I may pick that up and give it a try even though it's a middle grade novel. I thought there was a lot of potential in this collection of stories, but something was missing overall that just might be there in a novel-length work.

Since there were 5 stories and I enjoyed 3 of them, this rating may very well be the easiest one I've ever done!

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Thank you to Algonquin Books for sending me a copy of this short story collection to review! Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories releases on February 20, so if this sounds up your alley make sure to pick up a copy!

January 26, 2018

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Cover Art Courtesy of  Goodreads
Well, it was bound to happen. I've had a pretty good reading month so far so I knew it was about time for a dud. Unfortunately it was this book. Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan had promise, but it just didn't deliver. Long Black Veil follows a group of friends who experienced a tragic event years ago and are now living with the consequences. After a night accidentally ends with the group trapped in Eastern State Penitentiary and one of them missing, the group drifts apart, only brought back together when the body is found years later.

Instead of being a mystery/thriller, this really was a story of a trans woman with the crime as almost an afterthought. Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem at all with trans characters and diverse representation, and I really love seeing more of them as main characters literature today. What I do have a problem with is a book masquerading as something that it's not, ultimately tricking the reader into picking it up only to be let down the further in they get. I was really looking forward to a good thriller, and because I was mislead, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth as I progressed through this book. If you go into it knowing that the main idea isn't surrounding the murder, but rather focuses on self-discovery and how to reconcile who you once were against who you are now, you might enjoy this story a lot more. Knowing what I do now, I can say that this was a great own voices novel, just not at all a good thriller.

The scenes that took place in Eastern State were excellent, and for the first almost half of the book I couldn't get enough. But that's where my enjoyment ended and boredom began. The ending was chaotic and hard to wrap my head around, but honestly by that point I didn't even care what happened. I did enjoy some of the character development, especially that of Rachel and Quentin/Judith, but I also thought some of the side stories were unnecessary. Another thing that really rubbed me the wrong way were the scenes regarding animal euthanasia. Maybe that's just me and my huge bleeding heart, but when I read things like that I'm immediately turned off.

I had high hopes for this book, but disappointingly it wasn't at all what I thought it was going to be.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars (as a mystery/thriller, which is what it was advertised as)

Thanks to Blogging for Books for sending me a copy of Long Black Veil in exchange for an honest review!

January 23, 2018

The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Dystopian futuristic society. Coming of age teen angst. A love triangle. Human/robot hybrids. Dragons unrelentingly setting virtually everything on fire. Check, check, check, check, and check. The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith has all of this and more. I'll be honest and say that I had no clue what this book was about at first, but I was fascinated by the cover. The neon graffiti-ed look drew me in, but as soon as I read the synopsis I was hooked. 

The scene is Empire Island, a once booming metropolis now nearly abandoned as dragons have burned it to the ground. These two dragons appeared randomly in the sky and have not left for years, looming above the city 24/7 and taking no prisoners as they burn and reburn what little remains of Empire Island. Enter Duncan Ripple, a rich, privileged teen set on disregarding orders and living his life, as he crashes his hovercraft on a neighboring desert island. Here is where Abracadabra, or Abby, nurses him back to health until they are both rescued. Upon returning home, they are met by Swanny, Duncan's betrothed, as their parents force a union that neither of them seems to want. Chaos ensues, the three teens escape, and they are left to their own devices on a journey of self-discovery and survival in a smoldering city.

I really enjoyed this book. It is so unique, fun, and engaging, and almost impossible to categorize. The characters were all very well developed, and the plot was exciting and different. While the three characters were intertwined, they each had their own distinctive arc that developed them individually. Although it didn't bother me much, I will say that some of the language used might annoy a more traditional reader. Men are "pros" and women are "fems", and traditional names of objects are abandoned in favor of modernized versions such as the "Toob" for television, a "HowDouse" for a firetruck, and "LookyGlass" for what seems to be a cell phone. 

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith releases TODAY so be sure to pick up a copy!

Thank you so much to Crown Publishing for sending me a finished copy of this beauty!

January 22, 2018

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
WOAH. This book was a rush. I flew through it and I can tell this is one that will stick with me for a while. Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan is set in London and follows a cast of characters, Sophie, James, Kate, Holly, and Alison. After owning up to an affair, prominent government worker James gets accused of rape and must face trial for his supposed actions. Told in both present day and flashbacks, the reader soon realizes that there are more ties that bind this group together than originally thought, and that everyone is not always who they seem to be. 

This novel deals very heavily with sexual assault and rape. As this is a prominent topic in our society today, I think this book is both timely and necessary. Revealing how deeply a rape can impact an individual, how celebrity and prominence can play a role in prosecution, and how easily someone's guilt can be questioned, it speaks to the deep set issues that for many years our society has ignored that are finally coming to light. 

While this was a tough topic to swallow, I loved everything about this book. I loved the characters, especially Kate. The plot was fast moving and interesting, and even though there were flashbacks it was very easy to piece together. The ending was so satisfying as well, even if it isn't what you initially expect it will be, and there are a few plot twists along the way that keep you engaged. Each character's section was the perfect length, enough to let you know what was happening and what they were thinking but not too long to get bored of them before moving on, and I really enjoyed Vaughan's detailed yet simple writing style.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan releases TOMORROW so be sure to pick up a copy!

A huge thanks to Atria and Goodreads for allowing me early access to an ecopy of this fantastic read.

January 16, 2018

Just Friends by Dyan Sheldon

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
I love a good, cute contemporary, which is why Just Friends by Dyan Sheldon caught my attention. Sheldon is the author of Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, which turned into the widely-popular Lindsay Lohan movie, and since I really enjoyed that book I couldn't wait to give this one a try. Just Friends follows Josh Shine, an underdog known for things like attempting to blow up the science lab, as he falls for new girl Jena Capistrano. 

Unfortunately, Jena immediately joins the popular crowd, those that don't give Josh and his friends a second glance. But when Josh ends up in a tree in Jena's front yard, a friendship blossoms that gives Josh hope for something more. Every time he builds up the courage to tell Jena how he feels, something happens to dissuade him, and eventually he thinks he missed his shot when Jena falls head over heels for another guy.

While this was a cute read, I definitely had a few issues with it, but these may be things that I'm only identifying because I'm an adult and this book is geared more towards a younger audience. First, I don't think it teaches the right lessons to those embarking on a first romance. Josh consistently blows off his friends at the drop of a hat when Jena comes calling, which while may be understandable with young infatuation is not the way to develop a healthy relationship. She was using him as a backup, or a stand in, and playing with his emotions in the process. In addition, Jena keeps going back to a boyfriend who is controlling and has anger issues. Even if she didn't fall for Josh, I think it would have been better to see an empowered female character who realized she was being mistreated and left the situation rather than one who just kept running back time after time.

If you're into contemporary reads, looking for something short and fun, and don't overanalyze things as much as I do, then this would be a great read for you! 

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

A big thanks to Candlewick Press for sending me a copy for review! While this was originally released a few years ago, it is being re-released in hardback on February 13th!

January 10, 2018

The Thousandth Floor Series by Katharine McGee

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
If you like Gossip Girl and futuristic societies, boy do I have the series for you! I recently read both books currently available in The Thousandth Floor series by Katharine McGee (The Thousandth Floor and The Dazzling Heights), and loved every minute of them! The story follows a set of teenagers from different backgrounds living in The Tower, which is basically New York City built upward into one building. With one thousand floors, The Tower boasts schools, homes, hotels, restaurants, shopping, and even a "Central Park." Technology is insanely developed, as people now wear contacts that allow them to communicate with one another, and use hovercraft to get from place to place. Movies are now called holos, hair and makeup can be done at the push of a button, and in-home computers can do anything from picking out your outfit to procuring a glass of water for you before bed. 

Main characters include Leda, a formerly poor but now wealthy girl struggling with drugs; Eris, the Serena Van Der Woodson of the group who recently discovered a terrible family secret that turns her life upside down; Rylin, a less-affluent girl who takes a job cleaning the home of one of the hottest boys on the upper levels; Watt, a technology obsessed boy who takes hacking jobs to provide for his family; and Avery, who is as wealthy as they come and lives in the thousandth floor penthouse pining over the one boy she is never allowed to love.

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
I loved that both books immediately started off with a death, then flashed back to the story leading up to it. The whole time you were left to wonder who the person was that ends up dead, only finding out at the very end. Each chapter is told focusing on one character or another, allowing the reader further insight into him or her, and showing us how the different social classes interact with and rely on one another. While sometimes this method of storytelling can be confusing, there were no gaps and each character's chapter flowed seamlessly from one to the next. The class relations were realistic, and I loved envisioning the technological playground that these teens called home. McGee paints a very realistic picture of how technology has advanced, and even though so many of these things are still far from reach, it was easy to imagine how they all fit into daily life in 2118.

A third book, The Towering Sky, is coming out this August, and right now this is set to be the last book in the series, but I have my fingers crossed for more! I could definitely see this being adapted into a TV series as well.

The Thousandth Floor Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
The Dazzling Heights Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars