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ARC Review – The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver

21469095Title: The Secrets We Keep

Author:  Trisha Leaver

Rating: ★★ / ★

Synopsis:  Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy’s shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she’s chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy’s world.

When—after a heated argument—Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy’s death and everyone’s grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy’s life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options—confess her deception or live her sister’s life.

Huge thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers & Netgalley for this ARC!

River’s Review:

Man I wanted to like this book more than I did. I thought it was going to be mysterious and emotional and it just felt so flat to me. We all know that it’s about a twin who’s twin dies and how she takes over the twin’s life. That sounded twisty! It was not. There was no depth in this book. I never felt like anyone was really grieving (well, the mother because we’re told she is, but it didn’t really seem like it for quite a bit of the time). Ella-as-Maddy spends so much time trying to convince herself that nobody cares about Ella and everyone loves Maddy and how Maddy deserved to live and blah blah blah, it was just so annoying. I also didn’t like how Ella basically thought that her own twin sister would just… move on with life and not even act differently after her own twin DIES. Ugh, the whole ‘I must be Maddy’ thing just didn’t work ever for me.

I guess I really didn’t like how nobody gave Ella-as-Maddy any slack. The boyfriend is all ‘keep it together, why are you acting strange, you aren’t acting like yourself’… um HER TWIN SISTER JUST DIED. Jesus.

And then the whole ~Mystery of Maddy’s Life’~ was just not as mind blowing as I had expected it to be. We get a glimpse that something is going down and Ella has to try to figure it out, and she does, and it’s just… idk.

And the love interest. Never felt it. Ever.

Sigh. I really wanted so much more emotion from this.

Sam’s Review:

I have to admit something — I can’t remember the last time a book really made me legitimately angry while reading it, but here we are with The Secrets We Keep. It’s about twins! One twin dies! The other decides to take on her life because she was more popular and well liked! Chaos… doesn’t actually ensure, and that’s really the issue with this book. The plot hole is so large and flimsy that the book doesn’t have a foot to stand on.

First off, and this drove me nuts while reading the book — even though the twins are identical, every identical twin has a distinguishing feature that allows people to tell the difference, especially if you interact with them it’s often clearer who is who. It baffled me that everyone just rolled with it that Ella was Maddie. Even the parents! The parents who SHOULD have been able to see physical or key differences and nope, they got smacked with the stupid stick. Alex as a character was no better — for someone who was so in love with Maddie, he should have easily clued in just through Ella’s gestures that Ella was deceiving him.

I understand feeling guilt about an accident, and I understand that Ella was not popular and kind of hated by everyone, and taking Maddie’s identity meant that she could live her sister’s legacy in her honour, but let’s be realistic here — it felt so hollow. Ella talks about how easy it is, everyone blames it on “trauma” but I struggle to buy how easy all of this deception was. The novel makes it so simple in fact that it takes the last thirty pages for everyone to realize that she isn’t who she says she is, meanwhile it’s way too obvious considering her interactions with those who are in Maddie’s clique.

Furthermore, I don’t understand how the adults were just so accepting of it either. I mean, I am sorry but even if someone says their name, what medical professional wouldn’t check further to ensure that the truth was being told. I get that these mistakes are possible, but again every resolution in this book is just so simply wrapped in a bow and pushed aside. Even when Josh discovers the truth, instead of trying to get Ella to confess, he just scolds her and that’s kind of it and then when she finally accepts herself as Ella again, everyone in the story isn’t even MAD about it. They are just “Oh, okay.”

HOW IS THAT OKAY?

The level of disbelief suspension in this book was just too much. There’s nothing realistic about this novel and while this concept should have been interesting and better developed, The Secrets We Keep is perfectly okay with taking the easy road and making every conflict seem so little. While I felt for Ella in some ways, particularly where she admits at Maddie’s grave that she’s not doing a great job being her, I still found myself wanting to just toss the book because again, it’s simple. The ending left me completely infuriated, again because it’s so easy and simple, and no, it’s not. It’s never that easy.

For those who can suspense their disbelief and suspend it hard, perhaps you’ll like this book. The glaring inconsistencies and plot holes just left me baffled. This book treats the reader like they are stupid, but everything is written so obviously that I kept scratching my head as to how everyone was so oblivious to “Maddie’s new personality.” Unfortunately, I cannot recommendThe Secret We Keep, because for me, there was simply nothing redeeming about the book.

 

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ARC Review – Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein

24607189Title: Becoming Jinn

Author: Lori Goldstein

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Forget everything you thought you knew about genies!

Azra has just turned sixteen, and overnight her body lengthens, her olive skin deepens, and her eyes glisten gold thanks to the brand-new silver bangle that locks around her wrist. As she always knew it would, her Jinn ancestry brings not just magical powers but the reality of a life of servitude, as her wish granting is controlled by a remote ruling class of Jinn known as the Afrit.

To the humans she lives among, she’s just the girl working at the snack bar at the beach, navigating the fryer and her first crush. But behind closed doors, she’s learning how to harness her powers and fulfill the obligations of her destiny.

Mentored by her mother and her Zar “sisters”, Azra discovers she may not be quite like the rest of her circle of female Jinn . . . and that her powers could endanger them all. As Azra uncovers the darker world of becoming Jinn, she realizes when genies and wishes are involved, there’s always a trick.

Huge thank you to Macmillan and Netgalley for this ARC!

River’s Review:

To be honest I probably would have passed this book by if not for the author. Not that it doesn’t sound like a good book, but because it’s not really my thing. I’ve never really been interested in this type of paranormal, but the author is a local (from Boston) and I’m hoping to go to her release party, so I dove in.

As a debut it’s very solid! The writing is good, with a clear voice and style. I loved Azra from the start because she was just so sassy. Later on in the story she made me mad, but then she grew into herself and by the end I really started to empathize with her.

This is a coming of age story about Azra and her life as a Jinn. She has magic and can grant wishes, but her world is secret and hidden from humans. Only the female Jinn are allowed to live among humans and the men and retired Jinn live in their underground secret world due to a complex political structure.

I really liked the world building in this. And as I read I never once had a moment where I had to suspend belief or just kinda gloss over any of the how & why of the world. I hate it when I KNOW that something doesn’t work but we’re just expected to believe it for the sake of the book. In this everything made sense, was explained and seemed quite plausible.

The pacing of the book could be a little better done, but that’s something that I believe Goldstein will grow into as she writes more. The first half is a bit slow and filled with mean girls and mean mothers and sometimes a bit too much sass and attitude from Azra. And I felt like I was reading about Azra’s birthday party FOREVER. But around 60% the book really picks up and that’s when I fell in love with it (before 60% I was thinking three stars, but the last half boosted it up).

Azra is very much a flawed character despite her great beauty and perfect body (that Jinn get when they turn 16). I normally don’t like it when characters go through these ~magical transitions~ that make them perfect, but I liked the juxtaposition with Azra’s perfect outside and less than perfect inside. She does A LOT wrong (and at one point she did something SO wrong and I just couldn’t even believe it and was SO mad at her) but she does learn fro her mistakes and grow from them.

I enjoyed the relationships in this book and would have liked a little more closure with Yasmine and Laila, but I’m sure we’ll get that in the next book. I liked her friendship with Henry and how it showed how complicated a male/female friendship can be when there are other love interests in the picture. Some people have been reviewing about the ‘love triangle’ but it wasn’t really one at all. I feel like it’s a triangle when the MC is clearly into BOTH and does the whole ‘but who do I choose?!?!?!?!? woe is me’ thing but Azra doesn’t do that. And I liked Nate and how he broke stereotypes, but I would have liked a LITTLE more chemistry and swooning.

I also loved Azra’s relationship with her mother. Yes her mother can be pushy but you find out WHY and she has a DAMN good reason for a lot of what she does.

Overall this is a very solid book that can be enjoyed by both contemporary and paranormal readers a like!

ARC Review – The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre

21469091Title: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things

Author: Ann Aguirre

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Sage Czinski is trying really hard to be perfect. If she manages it, people won’t peer beyond the surface, or ask hard questions about her past. She’s learned to substitute causes for relationships, and it’s working just fine… until Shane Cavendish strolls into her math class. He’s a little antisocial, a lot beautiful, and everything she never knew she always wanted.

Shane Cavendish just wants to be left alone to play guitar and work on his music. He’s got heartbreak and loneliness in his rearview mirror, and this new school represents his last chance. He doesn’t expect to be happy; he only wants to graduate and move on. He never counted on a girl like Sage.

But love doesn’t mend all broken things, and sometimes life has to fall apart before it can be put back together again…

Huge thank you to Macmillan and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

The cover of The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things is somewhat misleading (minus the post-it notes). Judging by the cover, I was half expecting this novel to be a lot more fluffy than it actually was. The models look so happy ont he cover, how could I be wrong?

Well, because, I was. I was not expecting the amount of angst this book provided considering the beginning of the book was so cute and entertaining. Angst is not a bad thing, but even reading the synopsis, this book went to a few places I didn’t expect it to go for better or worse.

I absolutely loved Sage though as a main character, and being in her head throughout the story was quite the delight. I loved her positive initiative with the post-it notes, I loved that she wanted to bring joy to people, even if it was in such a simple way. Yet, it does make her a meddler, and one who finds herself in quite a bit of trouble throughout the story. Her darkside is also so unexpected and I liked that side of her too.

Funny enough, for me it was Shane I had the hard time with. I just didn’t see the appeal, and that’s hard for me when there’s a romance. Usually when I read a book with a romance I hope to love both characters, and I find I never seem to have a lot of luck with this. Shane was all right, but I just couldn’t connect with him (and may be in some ways his distance that’s the point). I also found myself not caring as much as I’d like to in regards to the secondary characters, they just felt there and that didn’t work for me either.

If you go into this book thinking it’s fluffy, you are dead wrong. It’s anything but, and that will either work in your favour or it won’t. Unfortunately, I was looking for a fluff read after so many depressing novels, and this one made me pretty darn sad at times. The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things is a good book, but it’s one you definitely need to prepare yourself for, especially if you get swept up in how cute that darn cover is.

ARC Review – I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

21469068Title: I’ll Meet You There

Author: Heather Demetrios

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

Huge thank you to Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) and Netgalley for this ARC!

River’s Review: 

This book was difficult to read at times. I will not sugar coat that this book does not sugar coat anything. War, poverty, double standards, alcoholism. It’s all in there, it’s all real, and it’s sometimes difficult to read about.

I think something that I really love bout Demetrois’s writing is that she pushes the envelope, just enough. You feel uncomfortable and question things and just think ‘how can this be real life?’ but it IS. And that’s what this book was about. Her letter at the end almost made me cry because it was just so damn real.

This is the story of a girl who falls in love with a boy. And not his dreamy eyes or his rock hard abs. She falls in love with HIM and all of the pain that followed him home from the war.

Sam’s Review:

This book completely destroyed me.

Every page I turned, every word I read, this book just left me emotionally drained. Demetrios never shies away from tough topics, and this book has numerous issues, each handled in such a realistic way. This book deals with PTSD, poverty, family issues, double standards, alcoholism, war, and it wraps all these issues into one very compact story.

I was heartbroken reading this novel. Skylar is someone who knows exactly who she is but cannot seem to find her place in the world, while Josh, an ex-marine, comes home only to feel completely displaced by the very people he fought to protect. Josh also is missing a limb, suffers from PTSD, finds himself constantly reliving battles, and has lost emotional stability. Dammit, he tries SO HARD and yet he’s constantly pushed aside because people are afraid of him. All, except Skylar.

I’m not saying Skylar is the special snowflake who breaks through his walls, it’s more that Demetrois juxtaposes the two characters in such a way where they struggle to connect because they both have issues that feel beyond them. Yet, when they finally breakthrough to each other, it’s not fluffy or romantic, but almost cathartic in ways.

I’ll Meet You There is one of those rare, raw and emotional reads that leaves you thinking well after you’ve completed it. A lot of the subject matter is tough to read and hard to turn away from and yet you want to get to the end, you want to see how Skylar and Josh break free from their chains. They are also such fantastic leads, and they were supported by an even stronger secondary cast who were just as memorable. I may have felt emotionally destroyed at the end of this book, but it’s easily one of my new favourites that I hope you’ll consider checking out when it releases in February 2015.

 

ARC Review – The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

18885674Title: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

Author: Julie Berry

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: There’s a murderer on the loose—but that doesn’t stop the girls of St. Etheldreda’s from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.

The students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings.

Huge thank you to Roaring Brook Press and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I enjoyed The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, but unfortunately not as much as I thought I would. There is a crazy amount going on in this book all at once, with so many characters to follow, that for a middle grade novel, I found it surprisingly overwhelming at times to read. The positives to this book are that it sends a strong message of friendship, girls communicating with one another without aggression or jealousy, and that being sassy has its perks.

The negatives, however? Well, I admit, the writing style in this book irked me a great deal. It’s very dry, often lacking the same kind of punch the characters actual have. I often found it overly descriptive, yet because there’s so many characters, it’s really hard to get to know them without remembering that each girl has a “character trait” attached to her name and it’s a core part of who she is, but I needed more to attach myself to them, and I just struggled a lot of the time because the writing and I just didn’t get along. The overly Victorian style just didn’t work for me — the writing just felt so stilted and samey.

However, this book is immensely creative, quirky and I feel like it does have a lot to offer. The mystery elements in the story are really well done, very humourous, and it definitely keeps you asking questions throughout. However, getting tot he end of the story and realizing what everything was? I’m not sure whether it was genius or just awkward.

I wish I hadn’t had such a hard time reading this book because I feel like the premise itself is wonderful but the execution was just lacking for me. This was really a case of ‘its not you, its me’ and I wish it wasn’t that way because I feel like it had everything going to be a favourite middle grade pick for the year, and my expectations just fell too short of what I actual got. It’s not a horrible book by any means, in fact, with the right reader who appreciates Victorian style storytelling will likely appreciate this more than I did. There’s certainly a likeable story here.

Though I will admit, that cover is amazing.

ARC Review – Firebug by Lish McBride

16117921Title: Firebug

Author: Lish McBride

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Ava is a firebug—she can start fires with her mind. Which would all be well and good if she weren’t caught in a deadly contract with the Coterie, a magical mafia. She’s one of their main hit men . . . and she doesn’t like it one bit. Not least because her mother’s death was ordered by Venus—who is now her boss.

When Venus asks Ava to kill a family friend, Ava rebels. She knows very well that you can’t say no to the Coterie and expect to get away with it, though, so she and her friends hit the road, trying desperately to think of a way out of the mess they find themselves in. Preferably keeping the murder to a minimum.

Huge thank you to Henry Holt BFYR and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Two words: Magical Mafia. That is actually what sold me on requesting this book because there just isn’t enough Mafioso reads, let alone in the young adult world. That alone scored major points with me!

But seriously, Firebug is a fun read. Our heroine, Ava, is quirky, sassy, and quite the troll when she wants to be. She knows what she wants and what she expects of herself, but unfortunately she’s caught working for an organization that uses her as a magical tool. Ava is also supported by a great secondary cast, and the friendship between her, Lock and Ezra is especially well developed. Seriously, her friends behave like a band of merry men getting ready to tackle anyone and everyone out for their blood and you know what? They kick some serious ass.

This book does, admittedly suffer from some repetition and pacing problems. I admit there were points where Ava was doing a lot of detailed description and exposition that I wanted the story to get on with it. The pacing its varies throughout the whole text and it never entirely feels balanced at any given moment, which for me as a bit jarring. Still, what the book faltered in, it made up for in tons of crass and humour. McBride writes some fabulous characters and gives them great motives to become stronger, better, awesome(r) people. I can honestly say I liked every character in this book, which says a lot for how McBride develops her characters. I always felt like I had just enough information to know the characters, but never enough to feel like I was entirely prying into their lives.

More importantly this book is FUN. I felt such a range of emotions reading this book, but it always came back to humour. It wasn’t a perfect read, but I feel like McBride as a writer can win over even the prickest of reader with her snarky bunch of lonesome firebugs.

ARC Review – Evidence of Things Not Seen by Lindsey Lane

20518882Title: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Author: Lindsey Lane

Rating: ★ 1/2

Synopsis: When high school junior Tommy Smythe goes missing, everyone has a theory about what happened to him. He was an odd kid, often deeply involved in particle physics, so maybe he just got distracted and wandered off. He was last seen at a pullout off the highway, so maybe someone snatched him. Tommy believes that everything is possible, and that until something can be proven false, it may be true. So as long as Tommy’s whereabouts are undetermined, he could literally be anywhere.Told in a series of first-person narratives from people who knew Tommy, Evidence of Things Not Seen by award-winning author Lindsey Lane explores themes of loneliness, connectedness, and the role we play in creating our own realities.

Huge thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I tried to like this book, honest. I thought the premise sounded so interesting and different from a lot of mystery novels, which is why I initially requested it. However, what this book really is, is a disjointed mess of prose thrown together in the attempt to weave a story together.

Tommy Smythe goes missing, and everyone has a theory about what happened to him. Everyone also has their own problems and issues to face, and each “character” if you can call them that has one chapter only to — poof! Never hear from them again. Seriously, how is anyone supposed to connect with the mystery if they are a one shot character? It’s a little tough to muster sympathy and sadness where there’s not much to work with.

Furthermore, the stories in this book are either about rape, murder, abuse, etc, but it jumps around so much that you don’t really get a chance to digest a lot of what you’re reading, nor does the significance in adding these elements feel as important as they could. I think if this book had spent some time on developing characters, may be this would feel more important? I don’t know. I just struggled to care about anyone (including Tommy) because there just isn’t enough to work with. Actually, there’s squat to work with.

This is a book wherein readers I feel will be wanting and expecting more than they will actually get. The ideas in this book are solid, but the execution of all of it just rubbed me the wrong way, making it difficult for me to find any enjoyment. The negatives just really out weighted any positives I could find, and I hate when that happens.