Monthly Archives: January 2016

End of the Month Round Up!

Every month in 2016, I’ve asked my co-blogger, River, to select a shelf from the TBR Shelf of Shame. I thought by having her select a random shelf for me every month, it would force me to start reading what I owned, as well as encourage me to try titles that may have been sitting on my shelf for awhile.

For the month of January, she selected my ARC shelf (purely by chance, might I add). Here’s how the shelf looked at the beginning of the month…

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And now for the after shot…

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Does it look like my pile has gone down? It’s kind of hard to say. What really matters is I managed to read quiet a few ARCs this month that were coming due. While I didn’t tackle as many ARCs during #TBRTakedown (which I’ll discuss in a moment), I did read nothing but during #RYBSAT (Read-Your-Book-Shelf-A-Thon) which happened from January 19th to the 23rd. Here’s a shot of my TBR for that event:

CY78uEAWsAAtZieI managed to get through…

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I also participated in #TBRTakedown 3.0 at the beginning of January, and I managed to get through everything as shown, EXCEPT for my out of my comfort zone selection, which I didn’t make it to. I’m still proud of the amount I read,

One of my biggest distractions from me reading my own books is going to the public library. Scratch that — it’s working at the public library. Whenever I have a shift at my local library, I get completely distracted by new books we get in, as well as books that I’m searching for when doing reference requests for patrons. I love that I am an avid supporter of the public library, but the main issue is simply me not reading my own books. I still have about three books out from the library, but my ultimate goal in February is to borrow NO BOOKS FROM THE LIBRARY. I think I can manage this because my goal is to knock out at least ten books from my personal TBR that are NOT ARCs or library books. I want to start reading more of what I own, and if I don’t enjoy it, I’m going to get rid it. Shelf space is at a premium and I need it!

Anywho, this is what I accomplished this month… on top of a pile of comics. Perhaps I should do another comics round up for you all (if it’s something you’ve found helpful) because I’ve read a lot of great stuff worth sharing recently. I hope February is as productive a reading month as January was!

ARC Review – Ava XOX (Ava and Pip, #3) by Carol Weston

25679827Title: Ava XOX (Ava and Pip, #3)

Author:  Carol Weston

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: In Ava XOX, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and Ava couldn’t care less. That is, until a new girl, Kelli, asks out Ava’s friend Chuck…and he says yes! What?!? Ava is NOT okay with this. But since when does she think about boys? For the first time ever, words fail Ava. She isn’t sure what she’s feeling (Like? Love? Friendship? Frustration?), or what “going out” even means. After all, fifth graders aren’t allowed to go anywhere by themselves, are they? To top it off, Pip’s friend Tanya is being bullied for her size. Ava wants to help—but, it’s not as easy as she imagines.

Huge thank you to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

If there is a series I adore and hold close to my heart, it’s Ava and Pip. This series does an amazing job of being something middle graders can relate to, and isn’t written in a way that feels dumbed down. This time around, this third novel focuses on Ava having a secret crush and all the crazy surrounding that.

If I’m being honest, this was the book of the bunch that I connected with the most. I knew what it was like to be Ava’s age and having a crush on a boy who seemed off limits. Moreover, her feelings of inadequacy and jealousy were totally something I could relate to. That wanting to be the girl, but it not being in your favour. I equally love the reveal when she discovers that she does have a crush, and that sort of explosion that occurs in her mind because it’s something she struggles to articulate. I really just loved the portrayal of Ava’s emotions and found them to be done in such a realistic way.

If there was one part of the book that made me a bit uncomfortable, it’s what happened to Tanya and Pip. I get that that kind of bullying still very much exists, but it still made me uncomfortable. I also didn’t like Ava’s approach to helping Tanya either with her problem because while I get that she meant very well, it’s also none of her business. However, I was a bit more forgiving when the novel showed how Ava learns her lesson, and more specifically when she learns about issues with body types. I feel like applauding Weston for that just because it’s something that often goes undiscussed by parents.

With each installment I continue to fall in love with this series, simply because there’s a genuineness in Ava’s voice that just sucks you in. She’s a good kid, and the books do such a fantastic job of teaching morality, but also still having fun in its presentation. Ava XOX is a solid entry into this series, and I can only hope Carol Weston has more adventures in store for Ava very soon.

 

Honesty

Let’s be real friends, I hardly ever blog anymore. Sure I write reviews and Sammy (the best coblogger in the world) posts them but my actual presence over here is lacking. And here’s the thing, I want to blog. It’s just such a hassle because I have to think of a topic, get some images, take some photos and then put it all together. And I just don’t always have the energy for that.

So I’m not gonna do it. Ya’ll like to read books, so you can read my blog text and take it or leave it. I figure the only way I’m going to blog is if I do it the way I want to. Maybe I’m old school (more like just old) but when I started blogging it wasn’t about gifs and being as witty as possible. It was about writing down your thoughts and feelings. And that’s what I’m going to do.

Guys, I can’t believe that it’s 2016. I just renewed my lease on the apartment that I feel like I JUST moved into. My one year anniversary for my “new job” is in three months. My husband just finished his masters thesis (and got all A+s in his classes, boom!) I wrote 2000 words of my Japan Novel for the first time in two years. Time, what are you.

January was an odd month. A lot of famous people died and everyone was sad. It snowed once here in Mass and then it was 40 the next day and all the snow melted. I went to ALAMW and it was AH-MAY-ZING. Yesterday I went to the launch party of my friend Emily’s book, THE YEAR WE FELL APART. I’ve hung out with friends and eaten a lot of good food. I went to Chinatown with husband. We ate sushi and watched a shit ton of anime.

And I’ve read 15 books so far. And while reading I started to think about my reading habits and my likes/dislikes when it comes to YA and how I rate stuff. I came to realize that last year I was reading and rating emotionally. Now that I have more writer friends and we talk about books in a different way I’ve noticed that I’ve started to read more critically. And my ratings are reflecting that… so I think this year I’m going to rate more honestly and read more critically. Sure I’ll let myself get swept up in feels (I just finished The Serpent King and the writing was awful but holy shit the story and characters were amazing and I gave it an honest 5-star rating) and read emotionally, but I think that I’ve grown as a reader and I like that.

I also think that it’s important because I would really like to get back into writing my Japan Novel. I put it aside while moving to the USA and then just kept putting it aside and making up excuses. I’m not going to hold myself to any set standards or goals, but I just would like to finish a first draft by the end of the year. I’m having fun thinking about it again, and I’ve even come up with some fun new things that I want to do with it. I’ve also decided that I’m going to re-write it from the very start. I know that my writing has to have matured in the past two years. And I’ve changed as a person. So I think a fresh start will be good for me, my characters and the story I want to tell.

And that’s about it I guess. I just wanted to write something for the blog and I did. I apologize for being such a bad blogger friend too, I know that I suck at responding to comments and visiting other blogs… but I guess that’s what social media is for… hehe.

Love.

 

ARC Review – Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace

22663629Title: Shallow Graves

Author: Kali Wallace

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: When seventeen-year-old Breezy Lin wakes up in a shallow grave one year after her death, she doesn’t remember who killed her or why. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious—and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her is hiding a murderous past. In life, Breezy was always drawn to the elegance of the universe and the mystery of the stars. Now she must set out to find answers and discover what is to become of her in the gritty, dangerous world to which she now belongs—where killers hide in plain sight and a sinister cult is hunting for strange creatures like her. What she finds is at once empowering, redemptive, and dangerous.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this for review!

River’s Review:

Honestly, I had no idea what this book was going to be about. Zombies? I went into it with low expectations and thought I’d just get through it and review it but I ended up REALLY enjoying it! I started reading it in the middle of the night and didn’t want to put it down before going to sleep.

My only complaint about this book is that it felt like it could have been about 100 pages longer. I WANTED MORE! Especially when it came to the monster department. A lot of the monsters weren’t really explained and I feel like if you’re proficient in monster lore then you’ll Get It. But I only vaguely know stuff about ghouls and banshees and this book either expects you to know a lot more or it also only knows vague things.

Aside from wanting more explanations about the monsters, this book was very good. Breezy wakes up in a shallow grave, a year after her death. A man is digging her up (okay another thing that is never really fully explained… why was he digging her up? Did I miss the reason?) and she kills him. She spends a couple weeks trying to figure out what she is and what her limits are. Does she need to breathe? No. Does she die if she tries to kill herself? Nope. Have people stopped looking for her? Yup.

Unsure of what to do with herself Breezy starts to just… wander. She hitchhikes and gets picked up by random strangers who take her with them. She makes up stories about why she’s wandering around and ends up at a gas station where she meets a boy who gives her a flyer for a church that “helps people like her” and then she gets into the car with a murder (Breezy can “see” when people have killed before).

Eventually Breezy finds her way to the church on the flier only to find out that it’s really a place that takes monsters and “fixes” them. Breezy, not wanting to be “fixed” (which from what she’s seen from the people at the church, means killing them or basically taking away their faculties) and tries to make a run for it. Along the way she gets capture, meets other monsters, escapes, and faces her own demons and the questions of what is she and who killed her.

Aside from some details being glossed over and vague, I really enjoyed Breezy as a character and I loved her voice. I also enjoyed ALL of the side characters. The creepy church and religious aspects were wonderful, and I really loved how dark this could get.

I honestly can’t pin down what I loved about this book so much other than I just DID.

ARC Review – The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin

22449806Title:  The Year We Fell Apart

Author: Emily Martin

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Few things come as naturally to Harper as epic mistakes. In the past year she was kicked off the swim team, earned a reputation as Carson High’s easiest hook-up, and officially became the black sheep of her family. But her worst mistake was destroying her relationship with her best friend, Declan.

Now, after two semesters of silence, Declan is home from boarding school for the summer. Everything about him is different—he’s taller, stronger…more handsome. Harper has changed, too, especially in the wake of her mom’s cancer diagnosis.

While Declan wants nothing to do with Harper, he’s still Declan, her Declan, and the only person she wants to talk to about what’s really going on. But he’s also the one person she’s lost the right to seek comfort from.

As their mutual friends and shared histories draw them together again, Harper and Declan must decide which parts of their past are still salvageable, and which parts they’ll have to let go of once and for all.

In this honest and affecting tale of friendship and first love, Emily Martin brings to vivid life the trials and struggles of high school and the ability to learn from past mistakes over the course of one steamy North Carolina summer.

Huge thank you to the author for letting me borrow an advanced copy of this!

River’s Review:

Ugh this book got me right in the feels! Emily Martin writes a very witty, funny, sad, and heartwarming contemporary novel that really took me back to a place in my life that I will probably never get over. And that was a little difficult for me to face, but sometimes I need books that are like therapy, and this was one of them.

This is the story about Harper and how she deals with healing herself and her relationships while coming to terms with her mother’s fight against breast cancer. In 2000 my Grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and I spent two years falling apart over it. Much like Harper I destroyed relationships and dealt with things by drinking and hooking up with guys that I shouldn’t have been. I destroyed my relationship with my best friend and really didn’t take care of myself. There were times when the things Harper did were the things that I’d done and I was just shaking my head and saying HARPER NOOOOOO.

I loved the characters in this book! Everyone was so real and so relate-able. Declan was swoonworthy and Cory was such a good friend. I really enjoyed how Harper got to know Gwen and Mackenzie. And I really wanted Sadie to get her just deserts. But really it was Harper who I really connected with. I understood a lot of her feelings and a lot of her pain and even thought I didn’t always agree with what she was doing, I could understand it.

This is the type of book I wish that I’d had when I was going through my Grandmother’s cancer.

Another thing I really loved was the subtle mid-western-isms (since the author is also from Michigan!) which just made it even more personable for me.

If you’re a contemporary fan like I am you’ll so want to check this out come January! It’s perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Jessi Kirby, and Sara Ockler.

Sam’s Review:

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

My co-blogger told me that I was going to have a bit of a hard time with this book due to the content. She was right. This is a novel that focuses on a young woman who has learned her mother has cancer and has a slew of other problems as well. Harper seems herself as a screw-up, a mistake, and she’s someone who wants to make amends with those she’s hurt.

The part of this novel that worked for me was in regards to Harper’s mother. I could relate to a lot of her feelings, as my own mother has had an eleven year on and off battle with cancer. There’s a lot of self-sacrifice and constantly feeling like you’re being selfish when you don’t want to do something. I understood Harper’s feelings perfectly, because living or taking care of someone with cancer can take a lot out of you both emotionally and physically. But I also could sympathize and understand a lot of Harper’s mother’s feelings — the chemo brain, the fog, wanting to be as strong as possible for yourself and others, it’s a lot of hard work as well. You feel like a burden on your loved ones when all you really want to do is feel like yourself. I understood both points of view since it’s something I live with every day.

But this book is full of emotions, which is what I truly loved about it. Martin writes in a way that is both witty as it is gut-punching. Harper is a character who makes so many mistakes and yet she is someone who I found myself sympathizing with throughout. She makes mistakes, she doesn’t feel as though she has self-worth, and yet she’s spiraling through so many emotions that she feels out of control. She doesn’t know how she can take care of anyone, let alone herself. I can identify with that wholeheartedly. Unlike Harper, I found myself clinging to others when things went bad, rather than pushing people away. Still, I understood a lot of her feelings and part of me just wanted to say how much I understood what she was going through.

The friendship element in this novel is fantastically well developed, and Martin gives us so much insight into Declan and Harper’s relationship. We understand how and why it fell apart, and yet the way in which they begin to converge in the story is just mind-blowing. Every character in this novel and their relationships felt so real. Also I hated Kyle. I hated him so much throughout the story and every time he was on the page I just kept cringing with disgust. He just made me so angry! But even he felt realistically portrayed.

If you love contemporary literature, especially ones that focus on tougher issues, this is a great choice. It not only shows grief, but portrays it in such a realistic way. Watching Harper fall apart and then collect herself was such a fantastic and important reading experience for me. She reminded me of myself when I was first going through dealing with my mom and her cancer. This is such a powerful and poignant read.

ARC Review – The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos

22811780Title: The Mystery of Hollow Places

Author:  Rebecca Podos

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis: All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It’s the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist, she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when she was a baby, a woman who was always possessed by a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as troubled waters.

When Imogene is seventeen, her father, now a famous author of medical mysteries, strikes out in the middle of the night and doesn’t come back. Neither Imogene’s stepmother nor the police know where he could’ve gone, but Imogene is convinced he’s looking for her mother. She decides to put to use the skills she’s gleaned from a lifetime of her father’s books to track down a woman she’s never known, in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she’s carried with her for her entire life.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review!

River’s Review:

I read this book in less than 24 hours. I read it in two sittings. I had momentary existential crisis while reading it. Parts of it took place down the street from my house.

I first heard about this book because it’s written by a friend of a friend and I was like hmmm friend I’ll have to read this book. I know that it’s not big on everyone’s lists, but it should be. Put it on your TBR now. It’s a beautiful novel about loss, love, mental illness and friendship. The writing is gorgeous and simple and clean and I just loved it so much.

It’s so weird for me to read books set in a place that I live (other than the handful of books set in Japan that I’ve gotten though). Nobody ever writes about Western Michigan (where I grew up), so it always kinda wigs me out a bit when I read about places that I’ve been to and know of. This book takes place in and around Boston. The characters eat at a restaurant that is five minutes away that I went to the friend of the author’s birthday party at. It just made this book feel so much closer and so much more real.

What is this book about? I’ve heard a lot of bloggers express not wanting to read this because they aren’t sure what it’s about. It’s about a girl who loses her mother and then her father and how she goes to find them. It’s about being friends with someone not because you have to, but because you want to. It’s about family that isn’t your blood. It’s about how mental illness and how it can effect everything around you… past and future.

Imogene (or Immy for short) only knows that her mother and father met when her mother went to the morgue to ID her grandmother’s dead body. Immy’s father was the medical examiner who did her grandmother’s autopsy. Immy’s parents fell in love and had her and when Immy was two, her mother left. Years later, when Immy’s in high school, her father re-marries and then one night, gets up and leaves the family.

Immy’s father, a famous author of medical mysteries, is bi-polar. Immy remembers the highs and lows. She thinks that her father has gone to find her mother and has left her clues. So Immy starts to search, using her father’s books as a “how to solve a mystery” guide and with the help of her best friend, her very own Watson, she does just that.

I loved that this book dealt with how mental illness in an adult can effect a teen. So often we see books where the teens are struggling, and it was very interesting to see how the adult in the picture is. Often times I read YA books where the parent disappears and you’re left wondering how could they do that? Exploring the way is important.

I really enjoyed the mystery in this too. Immy is smart and resourceful. I loved her best friend, Jessa, and how she helped Immy and stayed by her side even when things got tough.

Overall this is a beautiful book with some powerful messages and great writing. Please check it out!

ARC Review – The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

25821928Title: The Night Parade

Author: Kathryn Tanquary

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother’s village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take an interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family’s ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.

But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked… and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth – or say good-bye to the world of the living forever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

The Night Parade is one of those middle grade novels where the cover doesn’t tell you much. It’s beautiful, there’s creatures, darkness, but that’s only the tip of what this story is about. This is a book that explores Japanese culture and folklore, and it’s one of those stories that does a fantastic job of immersing the reader from beginning to end.

This novel focuses on a young girl named Saki who is forced to go on vacation to her grandmother’s remote village for the Obon ceremony. Leaving the glitz of Tokyo behind, Saki is forced to accept that she has no escape and no cellphone reception. She is told she had to make friends for the summer and suck it up. I have to say, I loved Saki. She’s a bit bratty at times, but her plight of a potentially boring vacation is completely understandable. While she seems like a bit of a snot at the beginning of the novel, Tanquary does this amazing job of showing Saki’s gradual growth and transformation in the story. She goes from being completely unappreciative of the world around her, to someone who begins to value it. Essentially this novel is about Saki proving her worth to both the human and spirit worlds.

When Saki defaces the her family’s ancestral shrine (shame on her!) that is when the fun of the novel really begins. A fox, tengu, and tanuki, creatures of folklore begin to appear, and they plan to make Saki’s life a bit more difficult. This novel is rich with beautiful descriptions and poses as a cautionary tale in a lot of ways. There are moments that feel dark and tense, and you get this huge sense that Saki has done so much wrong in defacing her ancestors, and yet you also see how remorseful she is as well. Her guides were cute, funny, and full of sass. I loved how they helped Saki in her journey and I thought how they were used in the story in terms of Japanese mythology was spot on.

This is one of those novels where I read it and adored it all the way through. The Night Parade is full of life and it’s engaging not only for middle grade readers, but adults as well. While the writing is a tad simplistic, I appreciate a lot of the messages shared throughout the story. There is so much fun and adventure to be had reading The Night Parade and I definitely encourage lovers of middle grade to check it out.