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ARC Review – The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks

Author: Emily Barr

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I feel very torn when I think about The One Memory of Flora Banks. On one hand, it’s a very compelling story about a young woman who has been in a near vegetative state who is unable to make new memories, but on the other side of it there is something very frustrating on a whole as to how this book presents itself.

First of all, this book is compulsively readable. The writing isn’t anything spectacular, but Barr does this great job of making the read want to turn pages and keep going. The repetition, though I understand why it was there, drove me kind of bonkers at times and I found myself going “Yes, be brave, Flora. We know this already!” many times. Again, this book is like a YA version of Mr Robot or Momento, but it lacks the visual cues and punch that those stories provide because it’s in text form.

I won’t lie, I did feel sorry for Flora through the entire story, but I also found myself annoyed and angry how the story moved or progressed. Sometimes it felt like it was meandering, and sometimes it would go at a rapid pace. I’ll be frank in that I hated the Drake parts of this book (up until the end any ways) given that Flora repeats and repeats and repeats how she kissed “Drake” and we’re supposed to take that at face value from an unreliable narrator. When I got to the twist, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest because I had figured it out pretty quickly, so I think that also hindered my enjoyment a lot as well.

I will say, I did like the ending to a point. Learning about Flora’s brother, Jacob, was actually some of my favourite bits in the story. When Flora was thinking about or trying to understand Jacob’s motives, I found that’s when the story hit its stride with me and I constantly wanted to know more about what was happening and why Flora’s family behaves the way they do. When the book was about Flora trying to find Drake to get her memory back, it fell into that trope I hate which is that “boy fixes girl.” I hate that trope, and while I understand why it exists in this story, I still found myself angry by it. There are better ways to give characters agency, and in YA, the boy shouldn’t always be that factor.

I love unreliable narrators, and I adore books when I need to put my thinking cap on to try and put pieces together. Sadly, The One Memory of Flora Banks left me more annoyed than satisfied. I feel like there will be readers out there who will gobble this up and it be their jam, but for me personally, I struggled to find any connection with this story.

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ARC Review – Crossing the Line (The Raven Files #1) by Meghan Rogers

23566919Title:  Crossing the Line (The Raven Files #1)

Author: Meghan Rogers

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Jocelyn Steely was kidnapped as a child and raised in North Korea as a spy. When her agency sends her to the U.S. to infiltrate the very group her parents once worked for, Jocelyn jumps at the chance to turn double agent and finish off her kidnappers once and for all. She convinces the head of the American spy agency to trust her, but it’s not quite as simple as that: Jocelyn has to fight the withdrawal symptoms from the drug that the North Koreans used to keep her in line, and her new fellow spies refuse to trust their former adversary. Worst of all, there might be some new information to uncover about her parents – if she even wants to find out.

Huge thank you to Penguin Random House for sending me a copy of this book for review!

River’s Review:

WOW! So. When I got this book I wasn’t sure if I was going to read it. Yes, I judged it by the cover. It looks kinda cheesy and… young. A little middle-grade-ish if you will. Well. It’s not. And it was SO SO GOOD! So I really wish this would get a new cover so more people would be prone to picking it up.

This book is pitched as a Bourne Identity type book, but for me it was A LOT like La Feme Nikita. I am OBSESSED with that movie/ TV show (the TV show mostly) and this book had SUCH a Nikita feeling to it. Our MC, Jocelyn, is SO BAD ASS. And she’s smart, fierce, and willing to do what it takes to survive. She’s kidnapped by a North Korean spy agency as a child and trained to be a killer. She’s good at what she does, but she isn’t as brain washed as they’d like to believe she is… and when she has a chance to go to the USA to join a rival spy team as a double agent, she takes it. But turns the tables and instead becomes a double agent for the US team, IDA.

I loved the way that Jocelyn dealt with her past and present situations at the same time. She learns about herself and grows, makes friends, and starts to trust for the first time in her life. She’s got some Katniss in her, but she also reminded me of a mix of Nikita and Alex from the Nikita TV show. Despite being similar to some of my favorite badass females, Jocelyn is very much her own well developed character. And not only was she well developed, but all of the characters were too. I LOVED how complex everyone was!

There’s a lot of really awesome action in this that just SPOKE to my action hero loving self. I am a sucker for old (and new-old) action movies with all our favorite action heros from the 80s and 90s. Okay even some of the new ones (hello Jason Statham!). So this really kept me engaged.

I also liked that there wasn’t any romance in this. Often times a lot of YA action novels get bogged down with the heroine falling in love and making stupid mistakes and having to be rescued. That did NOT happen in this and I was SO glad. There’s a lot of focus on friendship in this and trusting your partner. I think that we WILL see some romance in future books, but I’d be okay with that because Jocelyn has earned it!

The only issues that I had with this was the plausibility of a few things. For one I never learned Jocelyn’s ethnicity. Is she Korean or at least Asian? Would North Korea have non-North Korean spies? I’m not sure about this. I told myself that yes, they would, so they could have people on the ground anywhere. Another thing that bugged me (which is the most nitpicky thing ever, I know) is when Jocelyn is in China and she “presses the Chinese symbol for 25” in the elevator. For one, Chinese for 25 is three characters. Two, I don’t believe that a high tech science institute would have non-numeric numbers on it’s elevator buttons. And finally when Jocelyn and Ethan are in North Korea and they’re in public HOW DOES NOBODY NOTICE HIM? Unless he’s also Asian? (Again, I don’t think we ever got his ethnicity, but I always pictured him as a brown haired good ole American boy). Seriously, just a few tiny things.

BUT THIS BOOK WAS SO AWESOME GO GRAB A COPY AND A BOWL OF POPCORN AND READ IT YOU WONT REGRET IT!

River’s Quickie Reviews #7

It’s been a long time since I’ve thrown one of these together, but River managed to get a crapton of books from ALAMW 2016, and has been writing some mini reviews for a few of the books she got her hands on. Enjoy some mini-reviews of titles that have either just released or will be coming out later in the year!


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Title: Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann (May 3rd 2016 by Greenwillow )

Synopsis: Addie has always known what she was running toward. In cross-country, in life, in love. Until she and her boyfriend—her sensitive, good-guy boyfriend—are careless one night and she ends up pregnant. Addie makes the difficult choice to have an abortion. And after that—even though she knows it was the right decision for her—nothing is the same anymore. She doesn’t want anyone besides her parents and her boyfriend to know what happened; she doesn’t want to run cross-country; she can’t bring herself to be excited about anything. Until she reconnects with Juliana, a former teammate who’s going through her own dark places.

River’s Review: This is a very fast read. I think I read it in about a half hour? It’s written in verse and the writing is SO gorgeous.

This is the story of a girl who has an abortion. She goes to a catholic school so there’s a lot of religious stuff going on in this book, but it’s not a book about condemning what was done. It’s not a book about a broken girl, just a girl who deals with the consequences of her actions and does what she believes is the right thing. This book isn’t preachy, but it does give a very interesting view on both sides of the debate, and I loved the juxtaposition going on in it.

I also really liked how quiet it was. She doesn’t go crazy and become a broken thing, but she does lose faith in herself and interest in things that were once important. Friends and family show concern, but it’s all very subtle and overall very well done.

This is a great book for a lazy afternoon. Beautiful writing, important content. It was something different and I needed it. 5/5 Stars.


25203675Title: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi  (April 26th 2016 by St. Martin’s Griffin)

Synopsis: Cursed with a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, sixteen-year-old Maya has only earned the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her world is upheaved when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. But when her wedding takes a fatal turn, Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Yet neither roles are what she expected. As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds friendship and warmth. But Akaran has its own secrets – thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Beneath Akaran’s magic, Maya begins to suspect her life is in danger. When she ignores Amar’s plea for patience, her discoveries put more than new love at risk – it threatens the balance of all realms, human and Otherworldly.

River’s Review: Here’s another book that I very much enjoyed but didn’t LOVE. The writing in this is breathtakingly gorgeous and I really enjoyed some of the side characters. But over all I felt a little displaced with the world and the two main characters didn’t do too much for me. I LOVED that it was based on Indian mythology, that’s not something that I’ve run into very much in YA. Kamala the flesh eating horse was hilarious, and I really enjoyed Gupta and his eccentricities. Sadly Maya was a little too gullible at times, but I did enjoy her growth as a woman in the story. Amar was every other brooding bad-good-guy.

The first 100 pages or so of this was slow and boring at times, but around 150 things really picked up and I loved the way that things were reveled and pieced together through Maya’s own personal journey.

I’m very excited to see what more Chokshi writes, because wow does she spin some beautiful tales! 4/5 Stars.


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Title: The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter (March 15th 2016 by Philomel Books)

Synopsis: Cassie O’Malley has been trying to keep her head above water—literally and metaphorically—since birth. It’s been two and a half years since Cassie’s mother dumped her in a mental institution against her will, and now, at eighteen, Cassie is finally able to reclaim her life and enter the world on her own terms. But freedom is a poor match against a lifetime of psychological damage. As Cassie plumbs the depths of her new surroundings, the startling truths she uncovers about her own family narrative make it impossible to cut the tethers of a tumultuous past. And when the unhealthy mother-daughter relationship that defined Cassie’s childhood and adolescence threatens to pull her under once again, Cassie must decide: whose version of history is real? And more important, whose life must she save?

River’s Review: So I really liked this but something about the story felt super dated. I couldn’t place the time, and then there were mentions of cell phones and a couple of pop culture references, but overall this felt like it was set in the late 80s or early 90s for some reason.

And the college aspect of this was REALLY weird for me. I didn’t do the whole “freshman” thing when I was in college (I transferred in during my 2nd year) but I don’t remember my college (or any of my friends) having dances (like formals like you do in high school) and the pay phone at the end of the hallway and the very lack of anybody really following up with anything regarding Cassie just seemed really random and strange.

The emotional aspects, the mental health issues in this, and the writing were all really good though. 3/5 Stars.

 

 

ARC Review – Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

25614492Title: Salt to the Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war. As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom. Yet not all promises can be kept.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Confession time: this book made me sob in public. I was reading it on the bus on my way to work and it just left me an emotional train wreck. Here’s the thing about this book: it’s based off of real historical events, and knowing that means you’re in for a trip to sadtown.

I have yet to read Ruta Sepetys’ other novels, but I heard from a trusted friend that she has a powerful way of weaving a story together and giving the reader all the information possible without being too revealing. Salt to the Sea is the story of refugees attempting to survive during the Nazi regime, and the book offers four very different perspectives: a nurse, an expected teen mother, a fugitive, and a Nazi solider. Each perspective offers unique challenges for each character, as well as how each are interconnected.

This book is depressing, but heart felt. You get a large sense of who these characters are and their struggles during a time where it was hard to have any sense of individuality. I spent a lot of the novel cheer for Florian, and wanting Alfred to get what he deserves. He made me feel so much anger, and yet I could understand him because he seemed so brainwashed into thinking that he was so big hero. Emilia and Joana were also fantastically written, and I felt for them so much throughout the story. Sepetys’ writing is just so emotionally engaging, and it really makes the reader feel as though they are involved in it’s telling.

This may be my first Ruta Sepetys’ novel, but this will definitely not be my last (given that I own Between Shades of Grey and just need to read it). She makes a genre that I generally don’t reach for so accessible and emotional gripping that I will seriously read anything she writes.

River’s Review:

So wow. Brb going and getting all of Sepetys’ books and binge reading them.

I almost didn’t read this book you guys. I grabbed it at ALAMW and then when I got home it was sorted into my “maybe” pile. I don’t know why I put it in my TBR for this month other than I was just in the mood for something different. I don’t generally seek out historical fiction, and I got over reading Holocaust stories in middle school when we had to read that one really sad popular book that they make all kids read to learn about WWII? Yeah… I generally keep away from WWII historical fiction because it’s just really hard to read about the Holocaust that much.

But this book was different. It’s not a Holocaust survival story. It’s a refugee story and it’s an important one, especially in this current political time. I wont get into all that, but I am glad to see a book about refugees and what they go through when they are forced out of their own countries because of the atrocities of war.

This book is told in an alternating four-POV first person narrative. I generally don’t read alternating/multi-POV books, but this worked so amazingly well. Each chapter is short and that makes it IMPOSSIBLE to put the book down because you feel like you can read “just one more…”. I loved the mixture of voices and ages. I was able to empathize with each character’s plight, and I ABHORRED Alfred and it was amazing the way Sepetys wrote such a twisted character.

Another issue I usually have with historical fiction is how bogged down we can get with facts and how damn dense it can be. This is… I don’t want to say light, but it’s incredibly accessible while being full of rich details. I feel like I learned a lot! The fact that a lot of this is fact (while the story is fiction) is mindbloggling. Also the way that the horrors of war were handled in the writing was perfect. There’s just enough sprinkled in that you don’t dwell on the fact that mothers are tossing their babies at a boat in hopes that they’ll land safely, but you do take a moment.

The ending of this really got me and I had to read it twice. I was not expecting that at all.

This is full of gorgeous writing, horrific war time and gut wrenching moments. Read it.

ARC Review – Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton

18371361Title:  Chasing the Milky Way

Author: Erin E. Moulton

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Lucy Peevy has a dream–to get out of the trailer park she lives in and become a famous scientist. And she’s already figured out how to do that: Build a robot that will win a cash prize at the BotBlock competition and save it for college. But when you’ve got a mama who doesn’t always take her meds, it’s not easy to achieve those goals. Especially when Lucy’s mama takes her, her baby sister Izzy, and their neighbor Cam away in her convertible, bound for parts unknown. But Lucy, Izzy and Cam are good at sticking together, and even better at solving problems. But not all problems have the best solutions, and Lucy and Izzy must face the one thing they’re scared of even more than Mama’s moods: living without her at all.

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

Sam’s Review:

Chasing the Milky Way may be one of the best stories I’ve read that deals with mental illness as a prime focus. The book follows Lucy, a budding scientist at the age of twelve, who has to grow up a little faster than the other kids because her Mama isn’t quite all there. Refusing to take her meds, and being… all out frustrating, Lucy questions what it means to dream, when her reality is something she is struggling to change where and now.

I loved reading about the relationship between Lucy, Mama and Grammie. Throughout the books you’d get these italicized bits that really looked deeper into how these three woman all co-existed, especially Grammie and Mama in the treatment and raising of Lucy. There’s so much emotion within these sections, especially the fighting and aggression. Lucy functions as an observer throughout the text, and she’s watching her Mama come a part at the seams. It’s heartbreaking and raw, and I think many of us understand and have been in this kind of situation — sometimes you just never know how you should respond.

I think what I equally loved about this book is the maturity aspect. This is a middle grade novel, but it’s one that feels light-years ahead in terms of the overall themes and concepts. Lucy is very intelligent and mature for her age, yet she responds in the way any twelve year old might when encountering mental illness — she attempts to rationalize it. But coming to terms with mental illness is never that simple, and I love how Lucy tries to find logic in her situation when there’s no easy way to respond to it. All her feelings are so real and that made the connection is.

And then there’s Mama. So frustrating and aggravating, and even hateful at times. There were moments where I should have hated her — hated the treatment of her daughter and mother, and yet I couldn’t. I just couldn’t hate this woman with good conscience because of her desperation — her need for help but her lack of acceptance and will to find it. There are so many people like this, and you always want to hope that they do get the help they rightfully need, but it’s not as simple as we think it is, and the book does an amazing job illustrating that point.

I was captured by Chasing the Milky Way from the very first page. Erin E. Moulton has crafted some wonderfully real characters who feel so human in how they respond to the world around them. Lucy is the kind of dreamer where you want all the good to happen to her, and the ending is so bitter sweet that when you get there, there’s almost this sigh of relief. This is one emotionally little book and one middle grade read that definitely should be on your radar.

Also Lucy wants to build robots. BEST CHILD EVER.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Investor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer

18058211Title: The Investor’s Secret

Author: Andrea Cremer

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: In this world, sixteen-year-old Charlotte and her fellow refugees have scraped out an existence on the edge of Britain’s industrial empire. Though they live by the skin of their teeth, they have their health (at least when they can find enough food and avoid the Imperial Labor Gatherers) and each other. When a new exile with no memory of his escape  or even his own name seeks shelter in their camp he brings new dangers with him and secrets about the terrible future that awaits all those who have struggled has to live free of the bonds of the empire’s Machineworks.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

This is my first foray into Andrea Cremer’s work and it was an interesting experience.The Investor’s Secret has a great premise, but considering it’s supposed to be an alternative history, I wanted a bit more for that side of this story. The book took me a good while to get into, as it starts out great, fizzles, and then picks up its pace again. Steampunk novels usually suck me right into their world, but this cast of characters I had a hard time rooting for.

I think the story is pretty fun for the most part, but it drags in spots making it a challenging to devour. There’s a great positive attitude and strength within the ensemble cast, and one that gets surprisingly infectious during some of the action sequences. I don’t know if I can say I loved the characters, truthfully, because I found they started to blur (other than Charlotte). Another thing I kinda wished is that this book had been written in first and not third because most of the story really is about Charlotte and it would have been nice to be in her mind for some of the more critical moments in the story.

This is a tough book to review because I see the appeal and in the end I just “liked” it. I struggled with parts of it, I never was a book I wanted to instantly keep reading and I was able to put it aside with ease. That said there is aspects to like about this book and if Cremer is turning this in a series, parts of me are curious as to where it will go. I just wish the writing had felt more compelling to make me want to devour the book as soon as I started it.