Sunday, June 30, 2013

5 stars: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

"In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time."

Published April 2nd 2013 by Amulet Books. I received a digital ARC of this story.

Seances! Ghosts! My kind of book!

This was such a wonderful story. It was filled with suspense, some horror, and an interesting history lesson about a very dark and different time in America's past. I really loved that it included real photos from that time period; they helped with the world-building and atmosphere. The story rarely dragged, and it was very well-written. I really liked that it had such strong female characters who were defined by things other than men.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

5 stars: In the After (In the After series, #1) by Demitria Lunetta

"They hear the most silent of footsteps.
They are faster than anything you've ever seen.
And They won't stop chasing you...until you are dead.

Amy is watching TV when it happens, when the world is attacked by Them. These vile creatures are rapidly devouring mankind. Most of the population is overtaken, but Amy manages to escape—and even rescue “Baby,” a toddler left behind in the chaos. Marooned in Amy’s house, the girls do everything they can to survive—and avoid Them at all costs.

After years of hiding, they are miraculously rescued and taken to New Hope, a colony of survivors living in a former government research compound. While at first the colony seems like a dream with plenty of food, safety, and shelter, New Hope slowly reveals that it is far from ideal. And Amy soon realizes that unless things change, she’ll lose Baby—and much more."

Published June 25th 2013 by Harper Teen. I received a digital ARC of this story.

Incredible. Seriously. 

This was one of those stories where while reading it, you can picture everything so well, and you think "this should be a movie or a TV show." And I was even thinking that when I wasn't very far into the book. Then I realized that its TV show counterpart would be The Walking Dead, only that has zombies instead of aliens.

The thing is, I'm not a huge fan of The Walking Dead, so this is way better in my opinion. It was terrifying and filled with suspense, so I could not stop reading. Trust me, there are no issues with pace here.

I'm guessing that the book may have been written in a different order, but then the timelines were weaved together to create a much richer story. You get to see the past and the present and each is consecutive, but interlaced. So you sort of know how things will turn out later, but you don't know how things got to the point they are now. This doubles the suspense since you're seeing two scary stories play out. It was an absolutely brilliant way to write the book.

I've had patrons and others gripe about how there aren't YA books that don't have love stories. This one does not have one (there is a kiss, but that's it). I absolutely love romance in my stories, but I think that if this one had a love story, I might actually be pissed off, like I was with The Madman's Daughter; there is just way too much going on to even worry about boys.

This book was not written hastily. There was so much thought put into every single thing, which made it a very cohesive story with no plot holes. Since it was written in a way that provided a lot of mystery and clues (you don't find out much until the end of the book), it would have been too easy to slip-up along the way and possibly forget to get back to a certain clue or oddity. When things didn't make much sense, I liked how Lunetta actually had the characters know this too, as not to insult the reader's intelligence. This is extremely rare to find in a story, and I can't begin to express how impressed it made me.

OK, there was one tiny thing that made no sense, and since I had an ARC, it's possible it was edited out later. Amy was 13 or 14 when the aliens arrived and her life switched from the Before to the After (before the aliens and after the aliens), yet somehow, she was asked three years later if she had ever taken the SATs (strange question to ask since she's 16 and it's the After) and she replied that she had taken the pre-test. Maybe she did, but I don't know if that's likely. Yes, that is my entire gripe about the whole book, and that's just from two sentences of the 400 page story.

Anyway, this book is truly fantastic and is written incredibly well. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

4 stars: Storm (Elemental series, #1) by Brigid Kemmerer

"Becca Chandler is suddenly getting all the guys; all the ones she doesn't want. Ever since her ex-boyfriend spread those lies about her. Then she saves Chris Merrick from a beating in the school parking lot. Chris is different. Way different: he can control water just like his brothers can control fire, wind, and earth. They're powerful. Dangerous. Marked for death.

And now that she knows the truth, so is Becca.

Secrets are hard to keep when your life's at stake. When Hunter, the mysterious new kid around school, turns up with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time, Becca thinks she can trust him. But then Hunter goes head-to-head with Chris, and Becca wonders who's hiding the most dangerous truth of all.

The storm is coming."

Published April 24th 2012 by Kensington. I read the digital version of this book.

Thanks to Sarah who loved this book and lent me her Kindle copy! You can check out what she has to say about this series by clicking on her name.

This was a fun story that had really great pacing; I never got bored or felt like I needed to put it down. One thing that didn't hurt was that there was a love triangle. Poor Becca (yeah, another thing the story had going for it, a character with my name) had two cute guys crushing on her and fighting each other over her. Pssh, I think I was kidding when I said "poor girl." One is the new boy Hunter, who is pretty mysterious and intriguing. I feel like almost all YA books in this type of genre have book summaries that say "a sexy, mysterious new guy shows up," but this one really does deliver.

While it is a fun story about teens who can control the elements (earth--things like earthquakes, air--uh oh, tornado, fire--lightning and duh fires, water--um rain storms... yeah, that's not a really cool element to be able to control, and spirit--being able to control all the elements) and the issues that they have, it's not the deepest story. There is character development, but not a huge amount of depth. Some things were also predictable. It's still a good story though!

If you're a fan of this series, read the Lux series by Jennifer Armentrout! And well, if you like the Lux series, read this series! Sarah and I both agree that there are similarities.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

5 stars: Slammed (Slammed series, #1) by Colleen Hoover

"Following the unexpected death of her father, 18-year-old Layken is forced to be the rock for both her mother and younger brother. Outwardly, she appears resilient and tenacious, but inwardly, she's losing hope.

Enter Will Cooper: The attractive, 21-year-old new neighbor with an intriguing passion for slam poetry and a unique sense of humor. Within days of their introduction, Will and Layken form an intense emotional connection, leaving Layken with a renewed sense of hope.

Not long after an intense, heart-stopping first date, they are slammed to the core when a shocking revelation forces their new relationship to a sudden halt. Daily interactions become impossibly painful as they struggle to find a balance between the feelings that pull them together, and the secret that keeps them apart.

Published September 18th 2012 by Atria Books.

I loved Hopeless by Colleen Hoover, which is what led me to this book series. You know how sometimes you love a book by an author, but the other books aren't as good? Not the case here! Before I read Hopeless, I stayed away from Slammed, because I didn't think that I would be into the slam poetry angle. You guys, I was wrong, I was so wrong. I fell in love with slam poetry during the first performance in the book, and I could picture it perfectly in my head. Then I started looking forward to more poems! That aspect is so well-done. No. The whole book is well-done. Oh, and I need to find a place here that has slam poetry nights.

Most of the characters are well-developed (there were a couple secondary/tertiary characters that weren't, but they were kind of "extras" since some of the book takes place in a high school class and there needed to be enough characters). Some of the character development is done through slam poetry, which is a creative way to do it. There's also really great character growth, and with that growth came tears. While it might seem that this is just a love story (and such an amazing one at that), it isn't; there's also important story lines about the importance of family and about living life to the fullest. It was those last two story lines that brought the tears. One reason is because the characters, along with all of their actions, are all very relatable. In fact, everything in this book, along with every quote, seems realistic, and that's rare (You Look Different In Real Life by Jennifer Castle is similar in that respect). I guarantee that the characters will make you feel every emotion while reading this story.

The book is completely solid. Aside from Hoover nailing it with her character work, her story has a lot of depth. While it is the first book in a series, this book could definitely be a stand-alone. That didn't stop me from starting the sequel, Point of Retreat, immediately after finishing (this one is the continuation of the story, but it's told from Will's point of view instead of Lake's!). I have an ARC of the third book, and will most likely read that right after as well!

The pacing of this book is also fantastic; I didn't want to put it down, because it was so engaging. Some books are hard to put down, because they're like junk food and they have little substance or even quality, but they're so enjoyable and fluffy; this is not one of those books. This is high quality and a new favorite.

Last but not least, I mentioned a love story. Will is now a new member of my Book Boyfriends list! We are talking swoon central here. Lake is in high school, but Will is a few years older and is a few million years more mature. He's smart, good looking, sweet, caring, and I could go on and on. There are two big things keeping these two apart though, and I can't share, because I don't want to spoil the surprises. Will isn't the best at handling this conflict between them, and it's actually what makes him less than perfect, which in book world makes him the perfect book boyfriend. I mean, aren't the perfect guys (I'm looking at you Stefan Salvatore) boring? This boy can be broody. Sexy broody. And jealous. Sexy jealous.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Doll Bones by Holly Black

"Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . ."

Published May 7th 2013 by Margaret K. McElderry Books.

 My last post was a week ago, and it's not that I haven't been reading, because I have; it's because I keep starting books and giving up since I can't get into them. This includes ARCs too, which I feel obligated to read, but at the same time, if I can't get through the book, I'm not going to torture myself trying.

This was the first book to break the curse. Was it an earth-shatteringly-good book? No. But it was fun and had a nice coming of age adventure story. Only, it didn't, because the characters were 12 years old, so the characters did not become anything resembling adults. They went from playing make believe to going on a real life excursion that resembled their games, plus they ended up more grown up at the end. But in the end, they still decided to continue their make believe games. The issue is that I've only seen this book classified as YA, but it's really for Middle Grade (ages 8-12) readers. I am a bit confused about why this is YA, because the subject matter is nothing  more mature than what you would find in children's books. Yes, the story is longer, but it's not as long as the Harry Potter books. For this reason, I can't give the book a rating, because it feels like rating this and rating the other books on this site is kind of like apples and oranges. The book would be a fun, slightly scary story for a child, but it's not that deep, and it's not going to be a story that many adults will read, like Harry Potter.

When reading it, I was first reminded of "Are You Afraid of the Dark?", which I loved! It could have been one of their stories had it been condensed and scarier, with more action. The book reminded me of the stories I enjoyed in elementary school, like The Green Ribbon from In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz. Just like that book, there were illustrations in Doll Bones as well (and I loved them).

If I knew then, what I knew now, I wouldn't have read this. I almost bought it in the book store (in the YA section), and I'm so glad I got it from the library instead.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

2.5 stars: Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike

"Moving to a new high school sucks. Especially a rich-kid private school. With uniforms. But nothing is worse than finding out the first girl you meet is dead. And a klepto.

No one can see or hear Kimberlee except Jeff, so--in hopes of bringing an end to the snarkiest haunting in history--he agrees to help her complete her "unfinished business." But when the enmity between Kimberlee and Jeff's new crush, Sera, manages to continue posthumously, Jeff wonders if he's made the right choice."

Published April 30th 2013 by HarperTeen. I read an ARC of this book.

First off, Pike made an interesting choice by not making the ghost, Kimberlee, the main character. Instead, the story is told from the first-person point of view of a teenage boy, Jeff, who doesn't know her, but he can see her. It is an odd choice since the story is about the ghost. I think that by making him the observer, the story turned out to be predictable fluff. The main reason why, was because he didn't have an emotional connection to Kimberlee. He describes Kimberlee crying a lot, but it's hard to care since she's an unlikeable character and we can't see the hurt from her point of view. There is one other character with a very emotional connection to Kimberlee as well, but again, we don't see the story from her point of view either, so the reader feels very little. I honestly think this book, if written differently, could have evoked quite poignant emotions from the reader. All I can guess is that it just wasn't meant to do that. Perhaps it was just supposed to be a light-hearted story about being a good person while you're alive and forgiving others. When Kimberlee realizes these things, it's sudden, and again, we don't really know what she's thinking and what her process was.

Like most YA books, there is a love story, but it's not central to the story. It was a case of insta-love; we see Jeff and Sera casually dating, and then all of a sudden, they profess their love after just a few weeks. There was no build-up to get to that point. Even though the story is told through Jeff's eyes, we don't even see his emotions building when it comes to Sera. I think the more appropriate word here is lust and not love. All he wants to do is get in her pants anyway.

I think what it comes down to is that the reader won't feel an emotional connection to the story, nor will it be very relatable.

On the plus side, there are a couple scenes that are written with a good amount of tension, which keep you reading, so that you can find out what will happen next. The book is also an easy read. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

4.75 stars: You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

"For the rest of the world, the movies are entertainment. For Justine, they're real life.

The premise was simple: five kids, just living their lives. There'd be a new movie about them every five years, starting in kindergarten. But no one could have predicted what the cameras would capture. And no one could have predicted that Justine would be the star.

Now sixteen, Justine doesn't feel like a star anymore. In fact, when she hears the crew has gotten the green light to film Five at Sixteen, all she feels is dread. The kids who shared the same table in kindergarten have become teenagers who hardly know one another. And Justine, who was so funny and edgy in the first two movies, feels like a disappointment.

But these teens have a bond that goes deeper than what's on film. They've all shared the painful details of their lives with countless viewers. They all know how it feels to have fans as well as friends. So when this latest movie gives them the chance to reunite, Justine and her costars are going to take it. Because sometimes, the only way to see yourself is through someone else's eyes."

Expected publication: June 4th 2013 by HarperTeen. I received a digital ARC of this story.

I hate admitting when a book has made me cry; probably because I'm embarrassed or something. The thing is, when writing a review, it helps to be as honest as possible and say everything you think about it and how it made you feel. So here it is... I cried a lot. At first, most of it was out of sadness, because the book is so well-written and you can just feel the pain that all the characters are feeling. It's so palpable and realistic. The author so clearly had the characters express teen angst, jealousy, hurt, and loneliness. But later, I was crying because of good things that were happening to the characters, and at the end I was crying because of the pride I felt for the main character Justine.

This tale is like a modern day Breakfast Club. You have five teens who are required to spend time together, but there is so much tension, emotions, and other feelings between them that have been causing conflict for the last five years. Then as the story progresses, they have to work through their issues and they become closer than ever. Someone on Twitter recently asked if there are any stories out there that focus on friendships instead of love, and this book does just that.

These characters are your typical teens. They have trouble enjoying their lives, because they feel that other people they know have it better than them, or in the case of the main character, she isn't who she thought she would be by the age of 16, and she feels like she's let herself and everyone else down. The teens learn what makes them special, and Justine still feels she hasn't found it at the end of the journey, but then it's pointed out that it was there right in front of her, and that others had seen it. The ending, which resulted in some very ugly crying on my part, is where Justine and the world see how amazing she is. Obviously, this is a book I would recommend that teenagers read since it will show them that they're not alone and it will give them hope that there is a place for them in the world.

I mentioned that this book is realistic; well, I meant every single detail. There are just these tiny things that are mentioned that are so true to life and help make this story the most relatable thing ever. "We sit in total silence now, Felix running his finger in strange patterns on the couch, making the microsuede change grain back and forth." I don't know about you, but I have done that a lot! That's just one of so many examples.

 To say that this book is well-written would be an understatement.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

4.5 stars: Sins and Needles (The Artists Trilogy series, #1) by Karina Halle

"Ellie Watt is used to starting over. The daughter of a grifting team, Ellie spent her childhood being used as a pawn in her parents' latest scam. Now she's much older, wiser and ready to give her con artist life a rest. But returning to the dry desert town of Palm Valley, California means one more temptation than she bargained for - Camden McQueen. Once known as the high school weirdo, Camden is bigger and badder than the boy he used to be and a talented tattoo artist with his own thriving business. Ellie's counting on Camden still being in love with her but what she's not counting on is how easily unrequited love can turn into obsession over time. When Camden discovers Ellie's plan to con him, he makes her a deal she doesn't dare refuse, but her freedom comes with a price and it's one that takes both Ellie and Camden down a dangerous road." 

Expected publication: June 4th 2013 by Forever. I received a digital ARC of this story.

This book is different than all the other ones I have reviewed here, because it is the most mature. The protagonist is 26, and that is the very end of the New Adult age range. No, make that Naughty Adult. Yes, there are some graphic sex scenes. I don't think it's meant to be NA, but as I was reading the book, it seemed like it to me based on the plot. That also explains why I really liked it.

You know when you're reading a book and you think "I wish such and such would happen," but it normally doesn't go the way you would write it? Well, this one did. While reading, I kept picking up on small things and I kept thinking "wouldn't it be great if this was leading to such and such?" and normally, it lead to such and such (I don't really give too many spoilers, sorry)! You could call that predictable, but I wouldn't really say that because most books just don't have the fun plots you come up with in your head while reading, so you can't really see it coming when it does happen.

Now that I've said that, I'll reveal a bit more and say that most of it has to do with the relationship between Ellie and Camden. It played out perfectly. He became the bad boy I wanted him to be. Bad boys like these aren't for all readers, because he's obsessed with Ellie, has control issues, and he's really overprotective. But the thing is, this isn't a story about a good girl being with a bad boy; it's about a very bad girl being with a bad boy. Camden's actions and feelings are justifiable (that's actually a theme in this story... "justified") and she's not some victim... even if Camden does sort of kidnap Ellie, but it's not like it's completely against her will. Ellie is no angel and she's done far worse to others than he does to her; plus she's had way worse things happen to her. As Ellie says before she even comes into contact with Camden, "There wasn't a car or a soul around for miles. It was just me and Jim Morrison and the extreme landscape. The endless sky, the searing heat, the relentless sun that made the highs pop and the lows sink. This was a high contrast land and I lived a high contrast life." This was just how her life was and this was the type of guy she kept ending up with. I have to say that Camden was the best choice out of all the other guys, and he helps her become a better person. Unlike many obsessive, controlling male characters in books, Camden is actually quite nice and isn't abusive. To add to that, he's not only a bad boy but a good boy too! How is it possible? And that's the best combination. Let me just say it, I fell for him. You probably will too.

 Wow, that was really wordy, but it was the best way to describe it. They're both justified in how they think and act, and what you want to happen between them does happen. That's a much shorter way to say it. 

 Ellie is not a likeable character for most of the book, so I was pretty shocked that there were actually two men who were obsessed with her. Two men who she had majorly screwed over. Not the most believable, but it does make it a bit romantic that Camden can love her despite her serious flaws. I'm more confused about what the other man, Javier, sees in her and the great lengths he goes to in order to make her his again. Not the most life-like. Neither is the fact that both Ellie and Camden are having trouble with dangerous gangsters (different gangsters).

Oh well. So yes, there were story lines that were meh, but I really did love this book, and I will definitely read the rest of the trilogy!  

I completely forgot to mention that there were Nine Inch Nails references! This book gets bonus points for that.