Monthly Archives: May 2014

ARC Review – #scandal by Sarah Ockler

18667034Title:  #scandal

Author: Sarah Ockler

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Lucy’s learned some important lessons from tabloid darling Jayla Heart’s all-too-public blunders: Avoid the spotlight, don’t feed the Internet trolls, and keep your secrets secret. The policy has served Lucy well all through high school, so when her best friend Ellie gets sick before prom and begs her to step in as Cole’s date, she accepts with a smile, silencing about ten different reservations. Like the one where she’d rather stay home shredding online zombies. And the one where she hates playing dress-up. And especially the one where she’s been secretly in love with Cole since the dawn of time.

When Cole surprises her at the after party with a kiss under the stars, it’s everything Lucy has ever dreamed of… and the biggest BFF deal-breaker ever. Despite Cole’s lingering sweetness, Lucy knows they’ll have to ’fess up to Ellie. But before they get the chance, Lucy’s own Facebook profile mysteriously explodes with compromising pics of her and Cole, along with tons of other students’ party indiscretions. Tagged. Liked. And furiously viral.

By Monday morning, Lucy’s been branded a slut, a backstabber, and a narc, mired in a tabloid-worthy scandal just weeks before graduation. 

Lucy’s been battling undead masses online long enough to know there’s only one way to survive a disaster of this magnitude: Stand up and fight. Game plan? Uncover and expose the Facebook hacker, win back her best friend’s trust, and graduate with a clean slate.

There’s just one snag—Cole. Turns out Lucy’s not the only one who’s been harboring unrequited love.

Huge thank you to Simon Pulse and Edelweiss for this ARC!

River’s Review:

I LOVED this! Going into it I was really worried because of some of the low ratings and meh reviews, but wow. This was SO much fun. #scandal is actually my 2nd Ockler book and I loved it SO much more than the first!

#scandal, with it’s trendy hastag title, is a layered story that touches on a lot of important topics facing many teens today. Not only does it deal with things like friendship, first love, heartbreak, and high school, it also touches on social media, online bullying, and slut shaming. And I thought the way that all of these topics were handled was not only well done and relatable, but really accessible too.

The story starts out with Lucy going to prom with her BFF’s boyfriend, Cole. Only, the problem is…Lucy’s been in love with Cole since he first moved to town. They’re pretty good friends, but she hasn’t done anything about her feelings because, duh, her BFF is dating him. So when BFF, Ellie, ends up with the flu and can’t go to prom, she begs Lucy to go in her place. Lucy isn’t really into things like prom, and she’d rather be playing video games on her computer or watching zombie movies. 

After prom Lucy goes to a party with Cole and ends up kissing him. Someone takes a photo of her doing it and then the next day a whole bunch of photos from the party wind up on Lucy’s Facebook… and it looks like she posted them. Lucy didn’t though, and soon finds that her phone is missing. This starts a chain of events that leads to a few mysteries… who stole her phone, who uploaded the photos, who TOOK the photos and… who’s Miss Demeanor.

Miss Demeanor? Think Gossip Girl on Facebook, focusing solely on Lucy’s high school, Lav-Oaks. Miss Demeanor posts about the Lav-Oaks’ gossip and even has a #scandal contest. Lucy’s photos are tagged for the contest, which causes them to go even more viral.

The photos not only cause Ellie to find out that Lucy kissed Cole, but it also causes a lot of kids to get into trouble with the school and their parents. And in good old high school bullying fashion Lucy is labeled a slut and a narc and everyone starts to do and say horrible things to her.

So I can’t say too much more without spoiling the rest of the book but I was actually surprised at the culprit. I had a few guesses, and none of them were right. I mean, I didn’t think it was who they thought it was, but once someone handed over the phone I figured it out. I was disappointed in that person, but could see why they did it. We also find out who Miss Demeanor is and I found the true identity to be HILARIOUS. 

The characters in this were great. Lucy’s voice was so spot on. She’s not perfect, can be judgy herself, and she’s super sarcastic and witty. I loved the banter that happened between her and ANYONE. Franklin was my next favorite, and he came out of literally nowhere. His interactions and the friendship that grew between him and Lucy was the best. I really really loved him. And then Mr. Freckles, the horse, the whole story about him was just too precious. Next I really liked (e)VIL (the school’s anti-technology/ conspiracy theory club). All of the members were so funny. Cole was really sweet and caring and I liked how he felt awful for hurting Ellie, but how he wanted to stand by Lucy’s side and stay true to himself as well. And Jayla Heart… I wont say anything about her, but the whole storyline that followed her was really well done too. 

Another thing I liked about this book was the writing. It doesn’t do much with the telling and there’s A LOT of showing and sometimes skimps on the backstory and a lot of things are presented to the reader like they already KNOW the backstory. At first I found this a bit jarring, and it does walk a VERY find line between giving you enough backstory and just letting you feel like you already know it. I personally love the feeling when I’m so into a story that I feel like it’s already familiar and this… had that feeling. I never felt that I had to ‘learn’ the world, but I never felt that I didn’t understand it. The beginning does just throw you into the mix though, so if you don’t like that kind of writing it might be difficult to really get into this book.

I really just had so much fun reading this. The blurb doesn’t really do it any justice, and if anything, kinda leads the reader to make assumptions that might not be met in the story and I don’t think that’s fair. So try not to put too much stock in the blurb and just read this and enjoy the hilarity that ensues.

 

Advertisements

ARC Review – The Swift Boys & Me by Kody Keplinger

18693363Title:  The Swift Boys & Me

Author: Kody Keplinger

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis:  Nola Sutton has been best friends and neighbors with the Swift boys for practically her whole life. There’s the youngest, Kevin, who never stops talking; the oldest, Brian, who’s always kind and calm; and then there’s Canaan, the ringleader and Nola’s best-best friend. Nola can’t imagine her life without the Swift boys — they’ll always be like this, always be friends.

But then everything changes overnight.

When the Swifts’ daddy leaves without even saying good-bye, it completely destroys the boys, and all Nola can do is watch. Kevin stops talking and Brian is never around. Even Canaan is drifting away from Nola — hanging out with the neighborhood bullies instead of her.

Nola just wants things to go back to the way they were — the way they’ve always been. She tries to pull the boys back to her, only the harder she pulls, the further away they seem. But it’s not just the Swifts whose family is changing, so is Nola’s, and she needs her best friends now more than ever. Can Nola and the Swift boys survive this summer with their friendships intact, or has everything fallen apart for good?

Nola’s struggle to save her friends, her unwavering hope, and her belief in the power of friendship make Kody Keplinger’s middle-grade debut a poignant story of loss and redemption.

Huge thank you to Scholastic and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’m a new Kody Keplinger fan, and since I’ve enjoyed all of the books I’ve read by her, it was natural I was going to end up devouring The Swift Boys and Me. If there’s one thing Keplinger does well, it’s give us characters with very distinct voices and personalities, and Nola and the Swift boys follow suit.

What I loved about this story is it’s one of growing pains. Nola spends a large chunk of her life next door to the Swift boys, so she knows a lot about their difficult family life and hardships, yet never judges them for it. Moreover, when when she’s mad at Canaan in particular, there’s a part of her that is always waffling between forgiveness and aggression, and her emotions are so perfectly written. 

To be honest, I’m not sure why people are weary of Kelinger writing a middle grade novel, because I think she borrows her talents of making tough exterior characters and bringing them to a new playing field. Nola has so much growing and learning, much like Whitney in A Midsummer’s Nightmare, but has the spunk of Bianca from The Duff. She’s a fantastic little protagonist to follow — she knows what she wants, and she is always seeking to the do the best or right thing. I love that about her.

I was also in love with Teddy. He was just such a great character from the start. Wasn’t likeable right away, but he grows on you and experiences the same types of growing pains that Nola does. I also loved Canaan because he goes through a different kind of growing pain, and one that makes him so unlike-able at times, yet you feel for him. You feel for him from the start of the novel to the end.

Ultimately, what I loved is that The Swift Boys and Me captures growing pains with such ease, that it makes for a great read. The characters are fantastic, Nola’s voice eases the reader into the complications of her life and the life of those around her, but there’s always this glimmer of hope. If you love Keplinger’s YA books, don’t be afraid to try her first middle grade endeavour — it’s a beautiful story of friendship.

ARC Review – Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet

20388219Title:  Pills and Starships

Author: Lydia Millet

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: In this richly imagined dystopic future brought by global warming, seventeen-year-old Nat and her hacker brother Sam have come by ship to the Big Island of Hawaii for their parents’ Final Week. The few Americans who still live well also live long–so long that older adults bow out not by natural means but by buying death contracts from the corporates who now run the disintegrating society by keeping the people happy through a constant diet of “pharma.” Nat’s family is spending their pharma-guided last week at a luxury resort complex called the Twilight Island Acropolis. 

Huge thank you to Black Sheep and Edelweiss for this ARC!

River’s Review:

Wow. Just wow. This book was beautiful, deep, poetic, though provoking, and bittersweet. Don’t be fooled by the low page count either, this is not a light, nor is it a quick read. It’s dense and will pull you in and not let you go. I was originally drawn to this book because of the title (it’s rather snappy) and the cover. While there are a lot of pills in the book, there aren’t that many starships so don’t be fooled into thinking that this will take place in outer-space.

The world in Pills and Starships is so well done. Global warming has reached and surpassed a tipping point and now the climate shift has become so bad that not only are people dying from new diseases and the failing eco system, but they’re also living too long and becoming too depressed because of the dying world. This is all managed by corporations, or ‘corps’ that control everything. These corps feed the dying population a steady diet of pills, called pharams, and the world is high or stoned or on antidepressants. And the older generations (who live well into their 100’s due to irradiating cancer and old age), they can’t stand to live in this dying world any longer. 

So the coprs have a system where if you want to die you have to take out a contract with them and let them kill you. There’s some stuff in the book about what happens if you DIY (your death, that is) and how it affects those you leave behind. If you do it the right way then the survivors (your family) will be okay and taken care of. So Nat and her brother Sam are both shocked and saddened an angry when their parents take out a contract to end their lives, leaving Nat and Sam behind. 

Nat and Sam are in the 1% which means that they live comfortably and have some money. They can afford to live in a clean condo, they can keep themselves fed and drugged. So their parents decide to go out in a fancy, rather expensive way, and they book a week stay in Hawaii for their ‘Final Week’. This is a week of closure, counseling, forgiveness, and goodbyes. As the week goes on Nat’s parents get more and more drugged and further and further away from who they used to be. Nat and Sam are dealing, but Sam, who’s a genius hacker kid, finds out that there is a lot more going on than just the generally accepted social structure and way of things.

I can’t say much more from here because this book took an unexpected turn that I was not expecting and I loved it so much. It was so hopeful and I don’t want to spoil anything. But in the beginning of the book I was horrified that Nat’s parents were leaving her and her brother, that they were being so selfish and then as things became more clear it was just… wow. Unexpected. The things that Sam and Nat learn and see and experience, it was just so sad and it scares me that this could be a future for our world.

The writing in this book is beautiful. It’s told from Nat’s POV and she’s recording the story in a journal. She imagines that she’s writing to a future survivor who lives in space (hence the starships portion of the title) explaining what happened to the world, her family, and herself. I thought this was well done because not only did it allow for a lot of backstory, it didn’t feel too info-dumpy (as it could have with this style of story telling). Nat’s voice was strong (though she did come off a bit younger than 17), and I really loved how she was always not only questioning the world around her, but herself and her own knowledge of it. 

If you like post-apocalyptic, dystopian, or just beautiful writing, check this book out. It will blow your mind.

ARC Review – The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

18668051Title:   The Secret Hum of a Daisy

Author:  Tracy Holczer

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis:  Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. Just when she thinks she’s found it her mother says it’s time to move again. Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels and will always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

After her mother’s sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she’s never met. She can’t imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe itis her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

Huge thank you to Putnam/Razorbill CA for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I went into The Secret Hum of a Daisy completely blind. I didn’t know very much about the story other than it was about a young girl who’s mother dies and she is forced to live with a grandmother who didn’t want her in the first place. This titbit alone sounded incredibly harsh, and interestingly, it does follow through in that sour relationship.

Grace has a beautiful story to tell, and one she shares with such honesty. She isn’t afraid to speak the truth or explain what her life was like in the past with her gypsy mother and her present with her angry grandmother. Exploration of family roots in this story is impeccable, as Holczer gives you just enough information to make your own guesses about some of the mysteries surrounding Grace and her family. Like an onion, the book peels back each layer, giving you a bit more each time.

The writing in this book is gorgeous, poignant and engaging. This book is also a very slow burn and one that I don’t think every middle grade reader will pick up with ease and whiz through. This isn’t a book to be rushed — everything is slow, deliberate and thoughtful. There’s no room for rushing because every piece has it’s place. That being said, witht he right reader, there’s a lot to love in this story.

I also loved the friendship between Lacey and Grace and that was easily my favourite parts of the book. I loved the letters they would send each other and the way Grace would remember about their adventures. For Grace, her family is so broken and detached and you can see her envy of Lacey and her mother — she wants stability, and above all else, happiness.

I don’t want to spoil too much else about this novel, but it’s one I strongly recommend checking out if you love a tough contemporary read that makes you work a little for the whole picture. The time investment in this story is completely worth it.

ARC Review – We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

18189424Title: We Are the Goldens

Author: Dana Reinhardt

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Nell knows a secret about her perfect, beautiful sister Layla. If she tells, it could blow their world apart.

When Nell and Layla were little, Nell used to call them Nellaya. Because to Nell, there was no difference between where she started and her adored big sister ended. They’re a unit; divorce made them rely on each other early on, so when one pulls away, what is the other to do? But now, Nell’s a freshman in high school and Layla is changing, secretive. And then Nell discovers why. Layla is involved with one of their teachers. And even though Nell tries to support Layla, to understand that she’s happy and in love, Nell struggles with her true feelings: it’s wrong, and she must do something about it.

Huge thank you to Wendy Lamb Books and Netgalley for this ARC!

River’s Review:

I don’t really have much to say about this book other than it was lovely. I loved the writing, Nell’s voice, and the pace of this story. Nell is less than two years younger than her sister and she believes the two of them are connected, that their lives are intertwined. So when Nell gets to join her sister in high school, she’s beyond excited. She sees herself following in her sister’s footsteps, and basically becoming her. Only that’s not what happens…

I loved the relationship between the two sisters. I was never close with my own sister growing up, but we did find each other later on in life and now we are best friends. I wish I’d had a better relationship with her when we were younger, and I envied Nell and Layla. But I totally can understand some points in their relationships. I’m actually the older sister, so I could connect with some of the ways Layla was feeling, especially when she wanted her own space. 

I loved the ebb and flow of this story. It’s told in 2nd person, so Nell is telling the story to her sister and the entire time I was like ‘omg is Layla dead?’ and then spent the entire time trying to figure out if she killed herself over what must have become a scandal, with her dating a teacher. But then at the end we never really find out… maybe this was an apology. Maybe it was Nell explaining to Layla why she was going to do what she did. Or maybe it was a story to a dead sister. 

I hope it wasn’t though. And I guess the ending leaves you wondering because you’re supposed to hope. The entire story is told juxtaposed against the death of two brothers whom Layla and Nell both knew. One brother died (possibly from drugs) and the other one followed later (possibly a suicide). I want to believe that Nell was able to help her sister and that they were able to survive together, because I can’t imagine Nell without her sister. 

This was a super fast read and it totally drew me in. I couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to know so badly how things were going to turn out. So when I did get to the end and was left to wonder… well that dropped it down a star. I’m not a huge fan of open-ended novels. But the writing, the sister and family relationships, even Nell’s relationship with her best friend Felix… they were all so rich and detailed and I loved them.

Bout of Books 10.0 Update & Book Ban Check-in #3

Hey everyone, it’s time for two kinds of check-in posts! Let’s start with…

BoB10-200x200Bout of Books 10.0 Readathon!

Progress:

Currently Reading: 

– The Chaos of Stars, by Kiersten White

Books Completed: 

– Take Me On by Katie McGarry (544 pages)

– The Blue-Haired Boy by Courtney C. Stevens (71 pages, eNovella)

– The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (280 pages)

Total Pages Read: 895 pages.

Not a bad start to the readathon considering I had guests visiting from Scotland for the last ten days. I don’t know when I’ll be updating again (probably at the end of the readathon), but so far I’m having a lot of fun and I’m crazy proud of myself for knocking out a big chunker like “Take Me On.” I’m hoping to finish “The Chaos of Stars” soonish and also start “The Divided”by Elise Chapman (which releases at the end of the month along with “Take Me On”!). Hopefully, I enjoy it — I wasn’t as huge on the first book, but maybe the sequel will improve what I didn’t like.
But we’ll see how much I get done. I’ve also got a new review game on my plate for RPGamer.com so I need to make that a priority as well (and I’m a slow game reviewer to boot!)
Book Ban Update #3
BntQpn9IgAACbVp
(Still not featured but completed, For the Win by Cory Doctorow)
Newly added to this challenge: 
Cress by Marissa Meyer: This is my new favourite in the series. I’m not going to spoil anything from it, but just read it. READ IT. SO GOOD. FIVE STARS!
The Unbound by Victoria Schwab: I am so sad we aren’t seeing another book in this series. I took my time with this book and devoured it pretty slowly. I just get so into Scwab’s worlds and characters and I think I liked this book more than The Archived. FIVE STARS!
Summer Days, Starry Nights by Vikki VanSickle: A beautifully written middle grade that takes place in the 60s. I loved this book. I was so into the characters and Reenie’s story was so beautiful, heartbreaking and thrilling to read about. If you haven’t read any books by Vikki VanSickle, you should — she does a good job at giving you some warm and fuzzies. FIVE STARS.
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner — It’s weird but I have so many people rave about this book and I thought it was… just all right. Pretty dull for a good chunk of the book and then all of a sudden the last fifty pages gets its mojo going and I found myself glued to the pages. I love fantasy, but I need more than just a slow burn sometimes to get me engaged. THREE STARS!
There will be an update for the end of Bout of Books 10.0 on Monday, but as for the book ban, well, I’m in Disney when it ends, so you won’t see an update for that until after I return home.
What are you all reading right now? Any new favourites as of late?

ARC Review – The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

18365279Title:  The Castle Behind Thorns

Author: Merrie Haskell

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside-from dishes to candles to apples-torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. Why wasn’t this in the stories?

To survive, Sand does what he knows best-he fires up the castle’s forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place?

Huge thank you to Katherine Tegen Books and Edelweiss for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book is beautiful. Start to finish, Haskell takes the reader on such an enchanting journey with some really lovely characters. I completed adored Sand and Perrotte, and their secrets were just so shocking and heartbreaking, and I loved them.

I don’t want to spoil a lot of this novel because the mystery element is a huge part of it, but this was a book I was just completed glued to. I found myself turning pages, falling head over heels with the descriptions within the text and just loving the events. It’s also interesting how much personality the castle Haskell created has, on top of the fact that the brambles and thorns are a huge part of the narrative.

Sand is a fantastic protagonist as well. He’s methodical, perceptive, understanding and above all, kind. He has such a sense of right and wrong, but he struggles with trying to do the best or right action. His interaction with Perrotte was also so perfectly woven in the story, and I loved the two of them together. Haskell really does offer a lot of surprises in this story, and a lot of it I admit, I didn’t predict.

I think this is a book to watch out for. Its such a down to earth fantasy story with no bells or whistles, just a ton of heart. I think teens will enjoy the characters and narrative as much as adults will. There is just so much intrigue within Castle Behind Thorns, that the layers will keep peeling off, and the surprises will be plentiful.