Tag Archives: balzer + bray

ARC Review – Take the Fall by Emily Hainsworth

15782557Title: Take the Fall

Author:  Emily Hainsworth

Rating:  ★★★

Synopsis: Fear grips the residents of Hidden Falls the night Sonia Feldman and her best friend, Gretchen Meyer, are attacked in the woods. Sonia was lucky to escape with her life, but Gretchen’s body is discovered at the bottom of a waterfall. Beautiful, popular, and seemingly untouchable, Gretchen can’t be gone. Even as Sonia struggles with guilt and confusion over having survived, the whole town is looking to her for information…could she have seen something that will lead the police to the killer?

At the top of the list of suspects is Gretchen’s ex-boyfriend—and Sonia’s longtime enemy—Marcus Perez. So when Marcus comes to Sonia for help clearing his name, she agrees, hoping to find evidence the police need to prove he’s the killer. But as Gretchen’s many secrets emerge and the suspects add up, Sonia feels less sure of Marcus’s involvement, and more afraid for herself. Could Marcus, the artist, the screwup, the boy she might be falling for have attacked her? Killed her best friend? And if it wasn’t him in the woods that night…who could it have been?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins for sending me a copy for review!

River’s Review:

When I started this book I could not put it down and I blew through the first 100 or so pages. It was so fast paces and everything was just clicking along I was really excited to see where this was going. Sonia was a great MC, there was a really nice mix of characters, and I liked the small town feeling. I was super invested in WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.

And then things kinda slowed down. There were a few moments of AHA murder mystery, but a lot of it was just dealing with the loss of Gretchen and slowly figuring out that she wasn’t THAT great of a person (friend, sister, girl friend) after all. And this whole time I was fighting with myself over if Sonia was a reliable narrator or not. And I was pretty set on the idea that she was and that this was going to have some crazy twist and that we’d NEVER see WHO DUN IT coming and… I guessed it and I was right and I bumped it down to a 3 star rating because those kinds of twists are the lamest. And I don’t buy it. And just ugh.


ARC Review – Bluescreen (Mirador #1) by Dan Wells

20499652Title: Bluescreen (Mirador #1)

Author:  Dan Wells

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Los Angeles in 2050 is a city of open doors, as long as you have the right connections. That connection is a djinni—a smart device implanted right in a person’s head. In a world where virtually everyone is online twenty-four hours a day, this connection is like oxygen—and a world like that presents plenty of opportunities for someone who knows how to manipulate it.

Marisa Carneseca is one of those people. She might spend her days in Mirador, the small, vibrant LA neighborhood where her family owns a restaurant, but she lives on the net—going to school, playing games, hanging out, or doing things of more questionable legality with her friends Sahara and Anja. And it’s Anja who first gets her hands on Bluescreen—a virtual drug that plugs right into a person’s djinni and delivers a massive, non-chemical, completely safe high. But in this city, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and Mari and her friends soon find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy that is much bigger than they ever suspected.

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

River’s Review:

When I first heard about this book I was SO EXCITED! I was a huge fan of Wells’ previous series (despite having a few issues with it) and I was all HELL YEAH CYBER THRILLER. Then I started to hear some negative reviews and got a little worried…

I’ll be honest. The first 100 page or so of this? Boring and made me want to put it down. I didn’t care about the games they were playing and the whole “the only way to live is to be in a gang despite having honest ways of living that are way harder no thanks I’ll just join a gang oh shit I’m in poverty and can’t get a job now cuz I joined a gang FUCK THE GOVERNMENT” attitude was REALLY off-putting. If you have a kid and girlfriend who depend on you get a fucking job.

Thankfully once the Bluescreen drug showed up things picked up and I couldn’t put this down! I LOVED Marisa, she was really cool, smart, and actually had her shit together. I enjoyed her friends, a nice mix of rich and poor kids of all different ethnicities and talents. Sadly this book wont get thrown up there with the #weneeddiversebooks bundle because… well, reasons. But since we feel the need to point out any book with POC (deletes rant here) this one should be pointed out. Marisa’s family is Hispanic and there’s a TON of Spanish and Mexican culture in this. I’m not sure how true-to-tone it is but I’m just gonna throw that out there. Anyways, I liked all of the characters in this and hated the appropriate ones.

Also Wells’ must be some kind of Japanophile because he litters his books with obscure Japanese references that only other otaku/Japanophiles will get. Because I lived in Japan for over seven years I tend to catch them. In Partials he made them swear in Japanese. In this there were a few shout outs that I wont get into but, well played sir. I nod to you. I also wonder who else caught them?

Anyways, this book is really action packed, and a very quick read once you get to the heart of things. I will admit that I tended to skip over the parts that were “in game”. I just didn’t care that much about them. I also saw elements of some of my fav TV shows in here (Dollhouse, that Battlestar Galactica prequel that’s name I forget…) which was kinda neat. I guess this just spoke to my cyber thriller loving self. And while it started off shaky and I was going to give it a 3, I’m rounding up to a 4 because I literally read more than half of it in one sitting and only stopped because I had to sleep.

I’m very curious to see where the next book goes!

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 – Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

22692740Title: Symptoms of Being Human

Author:  Jeff Garvin

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is . . . Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender-fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

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

River’s Review:

I was really excited for this book when I first heard about it. I hadn’t heard about someone being gender fluid until I was listening to a podcast last year and one of the discussions was on gender fluidity. I thought it was very interesting and I was even able to think of a few people in my life who might have even been gender fluid.

I grew up in conservative, rural gun country. Questioning your gender would never even be thought of there. Queer people were not out. Dressing and looking different were a guaranteed way to get yourself picked on. I don’t live there anymore, but I am always scared for the future of the kids who are growing up there. Will they be able to express themselves the way they want? Or will they be crushed down and boxed in?

I think books like this are important because kids who do live in places like that need a way to know that there IS a world outside of places like that. I was lucky to have the internet as a teen and I learned that there WERE places where people thought outside the box, dressed differently and expressed themselves. I am a much different (and far less conservative) person now that I’ve lived outside of it all.

I liked the writing in this book, I liked the characters, but it was a bit predictable. As an important story I give it five stars. As a novel, I give i three. I knew “who done it” from the second it was done. I thought things were too convenient and that Riley’s blog popularity skyrocketed a little too fast. I would have liked to have seen Riley as more of a blogger and less of a sensation. And I think that if we’re talking about all these difficult topics that the ending events shouldn’t have been so vague. I’m not sure if it was to play it safe or just because this wasn’t a book about assault, but I would have liked more clear language.

Overall this is a great book and I hope that it makes it into the right hands.

ARC Review – Hollowgirl (Twinmaker #3) by Sean Williams

24892730Title: Hollowgirl (Twinmaker #3)

Author:  Sean Williams

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis: Clair’s world has been destroyed – again. The only remaining hope of survival is for her and Q to enter the Yard, a simulation as detailed – and as real – as the home they have lost. But in the Yard there are two Clair Hills. The other Clair is headstrong, impulsive, suspicious – just like Clair herself used to be, and their very existence is causing cracks. As Clair searches for a solution, a surprising new ally emerges from the ashes. Together they fight their way through the digital and political minefield in the hope of saving Jesse, her friends and the whole of humanity.

HUGE thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy for review!

River’s Review:


I read Twinmaker back when it first came out and LOVED it. Then I read Crashland and while I really enjoyed it, I remember being confused about some things that I’d forgotten fromTwinmaker. So when I got a copy of this book I knew that I was going to be even MORE confused because I’d forgotten so much from the first book… so I did a re-read. I almost NEVER do this, and I am SO glad that I did. I HIGHLY recommend reading these books one after another, if not very closely after having finished the previous book because these books ARE complex. There IS a lot of science, a lot of people (and people dying, and then coming back… and then dying…) and just so much going on that if you can keep track of it all you’ll enjoy these books MUCH more than if you read them spaced out and forget important things.

I’m really surprised that in the WE NEED DIVERSE books movement and culture that we’re currently participating in that these books aren’t mentioned more. The MC is a POC and they live in a futuristic world where genders are fluid and same sex couples are the norm. It’s a very beautiful world (sadly not without terrorists and dictators) that I actually would love to live in. Science has advanced beyond our wildest imagination (or so we think! I wouldn’t be shocked to know that a lot of this stuff IS going to be happening soon if it hasn’t already happened). I don’t remember exactly, but I think the author is doing (was doing) his PhD on some of the science that he fictionalizes in this book. I’m going to need to check that out…

I LOVE the characters in this book. I love how diverse they are and how they all grow and make mistakes (some are HORRIBLE mistakes) and how they are always trying to do what’s right. There’s a lot of philosophy in these books and a lot of debate about ethics. Some things discusses in these books rings very true about our current society.

I highly recommend these books and really hope that everyone will check them out. Despite being on the thicker side, these are a quick read (I flew through all three in a week) and there are so many unpredictable twists and turns being thrown at you that you wont want to put them down!

ARC Review – Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul

18336982Title: Underneath Everything

Author:  Marcy Beller Paul

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Mattie shouldn’t be at the bonfire. She should be finding new maps for her collection, hanging out with Kris, and steering clear of almost everyone else, especially Jolene. After all, Mattie and Kris dropped off the social scene the summer after sophomore year for a reason. But now Mattie is a senior, and she’s sick of missing things. So here she is.

And there’s Jolene: Beautiful. Captivating. Just like the stories she wove. Mattie would know; she used to star in them. She and Jolene were best friends. Mattie has the scar on her palm to prove it, and Jolene has everything else, including Hudson.

But when Mattie runs into Hudson and gets a glimpse of what could have been, she decides to take it all back: the boyfriend, the friends, the life she was supposed to live. Problem is, Mattie can’t figure out where Jolene ends and she begins.

Because there’s something Mattie hasn’t told anyone—she walked away from Jolene over a year ago, but she never really left.

Huge thank you to the publisher for letting me read an advanced copy of this book!

River’s Review:

I went into this book expecting to love it and it was just okay for me. I’d heard it was a little like Dangerous Girls and while I noticed a few parallels between the MC and her BFF, that’s it.

I actually wanted to like this more than I did. The writing was really good, but the characters were all trying too hard. It was supposed to be super deep and twisted and I didn’t really feel that much of anything.

Mattie, our MC, used to be one of the four elite in their school. She was chosen by Jolene, a strange, beautiful, fun girl who was always making up stories. Then there was Kris, the brooding journalism student and Bella, the cute bouncy preppy girl who throws great parties. They all have their demons and they spend all their time together being awesome. Then something happens and Mattie walks away from it all, including the boy that she was falling for.

This book starts at the beginning of senior year. Mattie convinces Kris, who s now her one and only friend, to go to their senior year bonfire, and then to Bella’s party. There Mattie reconnects with Hudson, the boy she was supposed to be with but wasn’t, and Kris reconnects with Bella. Mattie also has her first real run in with Jolene in over a year. This is the catalyst for Mattie to start to change. And Kris doesn’t like it. Mattie is suddenly changing herself, dating Hudson finally, and Jolene seems to have fallen to the bottom of the dog pile.

Typical ugly pretty people in YA. Only nothing really connected with me. I didn’t really feel anything when it came to any of the characters. I didn’t feel any of the relationships at all. And Jolene and all of her twisted games and stories was just weird. I’ve never know anyone like that at all. And even when it came down to the big reveal and the whole reason WHY Mattie and Kris had walked away I was just like… that’s it?

Overall, I was very underwhelmed.

ARC Review – Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

18304322Title: Dumplin’

Author: Julie Murphy

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . . until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

Huge thank you to the publisher for letting me read an advanced copy of this book!

River’s Review:

Well I flew through that! I wasn’t sure if I was going to read this book or not. It’s being pushed hard right now and I’m only hearing good things. So I went into it with high expectations. And I couldn’t stop comparing it to a slightly similar book, The Duff, another over-hyped book that I didn’t really like that much. But I enjoyed this. I really liked how it was very body-positive. Lately I feel like there’s a lot of focus on fat-shaming and it’s turning into skinny-shaming and that’s just not right. I think we need to focus on body-shaming as a whole. I have very strong feelings about body-shaming (especially the idea that it’s okay to shame skinny girls because being skinny = all the happiness in the world or something ::eye roll::) that I wont get into in this review, but I was a little worried that this was going to be too pro-big girl and anti-anything under 150lbs and it wasn’t. I loved that all of the girls had flaws. That even the ones who were perceived as “perfect” and “ideal” had issues. That pretty girls had ugly personalities and flawed girls had ugly personalities and pretty girls had nice personalities and flawed girls had nice personalities. It was all very well rounded.

I really enjoyed the characters in this book too. Some made me cringe, some made me want to scream. Millie was a gem and I loved how tough she was. I liked the unlikely friendship that developed between Will and Hannah. I liked how the mom struggled with her ideals and her love for her daughter. I even loved the ghost of Lucy.

I did not like the “romance” or the relationships that Will had with Bo and Mike (Mark? He was so blah that I can’t even remember his name!) This is where it felt like The Duff and I really didn’t like how things played out at all. I really would have liked more of a fluid relationship developing between Will and Bo and not whatever they had and then didn’t have and then tried to have again.

I also had issue with the pacing in this. I felt like the entire synopsis (minus the pageant) took place in the first 30% and then there was this unnecessary two month time jump (couldn’t this have just all taken place during the summer? I didn’t feel like them going to school really did anything for it, and the pageant could have easily taken place in the summer, right? No? idk). Also there were times when the chapters just seemed to END. And the book just seemed to END. No transitions.

So yes, believe the hype on this. It’s good. But for me it wasn’t a top read or anything. Enjoyable, important, but not without it’s flaws.