Sunday, July 31, 2016

July Wrap-Up

I am linking up to both the Sunday Post @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer and the Sunday Post @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

Another month has come and gone. We are more than halfway through the year! Unbelievable. This has been a very good, but very busy, month. I came back to Italy after visiting my family in the States a couple of weeks ago. It has taken me a while to get back in the swing of things when it comes to blogging. A couple of months ago, I started beta reading for people. Basically, I read people's unpublished manuscripts and provide feedback. It's been good to earn money while reading. That's the dream! This month was busier than it has been. This month alone, I read six unpublished manuscripts. Four of those were just in the past week. So this week I didn't really do a lot of reading for pleasure. Oh well, love the work. It keeps me busy!

Including the number of unpublished manuscripts, I have read 27 books this month. It has been a GREAT month in terms of quality of books read. I read several five stars and most of my books were four stars. I only had a few disappointing reads.

Favorite book(s) of the month:

There is no way I could choose. These are my favorites and I refuse to pick sides. #thesearemybabies
Most disappointing book of the month:

There are no words for how mad this book made. You can read my review here if you would like. 

Reviews Posted

Red Queen (The Chronicles of Alice #2) by Christina Henry
The Siege (The Six #2) by Mark Alpert
Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally
All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker
Signs of You by Emily France
Black River Falls by Jeff Hirsch
Gemini by Sonya Mukherjee
Girl In The Shadows (Girl On A Wire #2) by Gwenda Bond
All We Have Left by Wendy Mills
All The Ugly And Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Nice Girls Endure by Chris Struyk-Bonn

Top Ten Tuesday Posts

Top Underrated Books
Top Books Set Outside the U.S.

Other Posts

The Totally Should've Book Tag
DISCUSSION: Why do I feel the need to apologize?
DISCUSSION: What does the term "diverse" mean to you?

How has your month been? Are you having a great summer (or in the case of Australia, a great winter)? What was your favorite book read this month?

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Saturday, July 30, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Nice Girls Endure by Chris Struyk-Bonn

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is August 1, 2016.

Chelsea Duvay is so many things. She's an avid musical lover, she s a gifted singer, and she has the most perfect, beautiful feet. But no one ever notices that. All they notice is Chelsea s weight. Daily, Chelsea endures endless comments about her appearance from well-meaning adults and cruel classmates. So she keeps to herself and just tries to make it through. Don't make waves. Don't draw attention. That's how life is for Chelsea until a special class project pushes the energetic and incessantly social Melody into Chelsea's world. As their unlikely friendship grows, Chelsea emerges from her isolated existence, and she begins to find the confidence to enjoy life. But bullies are bullies, and they remain as vicious as ever. One terrible encounter threatens to destroy everything Chelsea has worked so hard to achieve. Readers will be captivated by Chelsea s journey as she discovers the courage to declare her own beauty and self-worth, no matter what others might think.

So for the first part of this book, I wasn't sure I liked it. I thought it was going to be a two or three star book. The plot started out as kind of blah and I didn't necessarily like Chelsea at first. For the first part of the book, Chelsea basically spent the entire time complaining about her weight. I don't know why this irritated me so much because I do the same thing. Maybe I just related to her too much. Her mom insists on putting her on diet after diet and everyone in her family and everyone at her school seems to love calling Chelsea names and telling her how fat she is. It's heartbreaking and kind of uncomfortable to read about. I also hated how Chelsea just smiled through all the bullying. I just wanted her to DO SOMETHING. But that's easier said than done because I was bullied in high school and said nothing. Apparently, I have higher expectations for fictional characters than myself. Take from that what you will. Now as much as I love fat representation in books and as important as I think it is, I wasn't really sure what the plot was and I guess I was anxious for something to happen. I was also afraid that this would be one of those books where the girl meets a guy and loves herself when a guy starts to or maybe she would only love herself once she started losing weight. I didn't want either of those things to happen.

But then something started happening about midway through the book and I slowly started to fall in love with Chelsea. I felt so bad for everything that she was going through and I hated that everyone in her life (except her wonderful father) was determined to make Chelsea feel bad for who she was. Chelsea always had perfect feet and she adored musicals and she was such a sweet girl. So why wasn't that enough for people? One thing that did help propel Chelsea's character development was the friendship of a wonderfully eclectic girl named Melody. Melody was hyper and intense and so wonderful to Chelsea. She really encouraged her to come out of her shell and develop some more confidence. And for the first time ever, there was someone who needed Chelsea as much as she needed them. I absolutely loved their friendship. There need to be more books with great friendships like that. Yeah, there was a guy that Chelsea was crushing on but he wasn't the one who inspired change and there wasn't a focus on romance at all. I loved that.

This is a very empowering story and is worth the read.


Buy/Borrow/Skip: Borrow this one. Not sure if it's worth the money, but I would still recommend reading it.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: All The Ugly And Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is August 9, 2016.

As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It's safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold. By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery. When tragedy rips Wavy's family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world. Kellen may not be innocent, but he is the fixed point in Wavy and Donal's chaotic universe. Instead of playing it safe, Wavy has to learn to fight for Kellen, for her brother, and for herself.

If you were to go by the other reviews, you would probably think this was a good book. Most of the other reviews give it four or five stars. 

I just have one thing to say to that.
Let's start with Wavy. Wavy's life is heartbreaking. She is bounced around between family members who can't deal with her and she works hard to take care of her baby brother, Donal. Wavy doesn't talk, she hates to be touched and she doesn't eat in front of people. Her mom has OCD and her stepfather is a meth drug dealer. Her mom's OCD has caused Wavy to think that she is dirty and she shouldn't speak or touch or be touched. It's so sad just how many issues she had thanks to her mom. 

Then she meets Kellen. She is eight years old when she meets him. She immediately develops a crush on him and at first, their relationship is very sweet. He is the only one who can touch her, he takes her to school every day and registers her when her mom can't be bothered, he feeds her, he doesn't pressure her to talk. He just lets Wavy be Wavy and I loved that. The premise was kind of vague, so I didn't think that there would be anything between them, other than a father/daughter type relationship. That's where I was hoping it would stay. And again, Wavy was EIGHT when she met him. Kellen was somewhere in his mid-twenties (24, I think). I totally get why Wavy had a crush on him. She is a child and Kellen was the first person to take care of her and since Wavy had always had to take care of herself, she loved that. And Kellen was the first person she could trust. But no, the author didn't stop there. Wavy is twelve the first time they kiss and when he gives her an engagement ring and she is thirteen when they start doing other stuff. I can't really talk much about Kellen. I thought his feelings for Wavy were sweet at first, but then I just thought he was dirty. 

I just have to say that when other reviewers say you have to be open-minded to read this book, I call bullshit on that one. 
I have counseled sex offenders before. Do you know how hard it is to convince those men they did something wrong when the eight year old or ten year old actually says yes? They don't understand that they are CHILDREN and are not capable of understanding what is happening. And of course these victims are manipulated so much that they feel like THEY did something wrong. So when there are people who look at this story and see a beautiful love story between two broken souls, it makes me mad. Really mad. I did not root for this couple. I rooted for Wavy to grow up and get a more appropriate relationship. I rooted for Kellen to be the adult he was supposed to be and take responsibility for his actions. I guess even worse than the "relationship" (and I use that term loosely) was the reaction of every single adult around them. 
Kellen and Wavy spent so much time together and everyone knew that they "loved" each other and yet, no one tried to stop it. Wavy's mom and her stepdad didn't care. Then again, her stepdad (Liam) slept with every woman who crossed his path and made meth at home so I guess he wasn't the best judge of what was appropriate. The only person who tried to stop this "relationship" was Wavy's Aunt Brenda and the author totally vilified her. Yeah, she tries to stop a relationship between her twelve year old niece and a grown man, but she was the villain.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Please skip this one. Don't read this book unless you are "open-minded" enough to read about a child molester and the victim who loves him.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: All We Have Left by Wendy Mills

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is August 9, 2016.

Now:
Sixteen-year-old Jesse is used to living with the echoes of the past. Her older brother died in the September 11th attacks, and her dad since has filled their home with anger and grief. When Jesse gets caught up with the wrong crowd, one momentary hate-fueled decision turns her life upside down. The only way to make amends is to face the past, starting Jesse on a journey that will reveal the truth about how her brother died. 

Then:
In 2001, sixteen-year-old Alia is proud to be Muslim . . . it's being a teenager that she finds difficult. After being grounded for a stupid mistake, Alia decides to confront her father at his Manhattan office, putting her in danger she never could have imagined. When the planes collide into the Twin Towers, Alia is trapped inside one of the buildings. In the final hours, she meets a boy who will change everything for her as the flames rage around them . . . 

Interweaving stories from past and present, All We Have Left brings one of the most important days in our recent history to life, showing that love and hope will always triumph.

This book was such an amazing and emotional and thought provoking book about one of the biggest events in our history. This book blew me away. I finished it almost a week ago and I am still thinking about it.
I was in college when the Towers fell. I admit that I was kind of naive about just how big this event was and how much all of our lives would be shaped by it. There is "before 9/11" and "after 9/11."

This book alternates between two characters and two different timelines. It would seem like this would be confusing, but it's not. In the year 2001 we meet Alia, a Muslim who is struggling with her parents' expectations and her faith with who she wants to be. The morning the towers fall, she decides to wear her hijab for the first time, gets in a horrible fight with her mom and then goes to the World Trade Center to talk with her father. In the year 2016 we meet Jesse, a girl struggling with her parents' neglect and her father's hatred towards Muslims, both of which started after her brother Travis died in the Towers fifteen years earlier.

Alia was so interesting and I just loved her character. Her parents wanted her to be a lawyer or a doctor. She wanted to write comic books. She even had a comic strip about a Muslim superhero she named Lia. Awesome, right? When she decides to wear the hijab for the first time, I could see how big of a deal that was and how much her faith meant to her. When she goes to the World Trade Center, I wanted to shout at her, "DON'T DO IT!" 

I knew what was coming and reading her chapters was so hard. When the planes hit, there was panic and smoke and confusion and no one really knew what happened or why it happened. There were so many heroes in that building and so many people who helped perfect strangers. I think I cried every time I read her chapters. I am tearing up now just thinking about it. I can't imagine what it must have been like to be in the World Trade Center on that day. One thing I didn't realize until reading the author's note was just how many people survived on that day. I guess I thought that most of the people in the Towers died. There was so much suspense around Alia's chapters because I had no idea if she was getting out or not. I wanted her to so badly, especially because her last words to her mom were, "I hate you." I'm not going to give away the ending. I will just say that I don't think I stopped crying for the last 10% of the book.
It took some time before I was as invested in Jesse's chapters. I guess she was just kind of a blah character at first, but she did grow on me. I hated her family and I hated the things her dad would say about Muslims. More than that, I hated that she was absorbing some of that hate. She had so much anger inside of her and I could see her going down the wrong path. Even though the Towers fell when she was only three years old, she felt the effects of her brother's death every single day. I can see why she took on some hate for Muslims, even though I didn't like it. Her parents refused to talk about her brother AT ALL and the only time her dad acknowledged her was when he was yelling about Muslims at the TV. 
This author did a good job of showing how much prejudice Muslims went through (and continue to go through) since 9/11 and sometimes those things were so hard to read about. Maybe that's a bigger reason why it took me a bit to invest in her: the anger that her and her father showed just made me uncomfortable. There was so much incredible character development and growth and I loved it. I also thought the romance was slow burn and it was sweet, even though it was incredibly complicated.

It's hard to tell too much without giving things away. But I will say that there were so many ways that this book made you think . . . about religion and race and death and even new ways of thinking about this incredibly tragic event. This book is a must read!!
 
Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy this one for sure!!

Monday, July 25, 2016

DISCUSSION: What does the term "diverse" mean to you?

We all talk about reading more diverse novels, but what exactly does that mean? Typically, we use the term diversity to represent groups of people that are underrepresented in novels. I think we all automatically think about race or sexuality when it comes to diversity. While it's important to read about other races and about the LGBT community, diversity isn't just about that. 

Here's a list of other items that can be included in that diversity label.

1. Location
I live in the United States, so I do consider books that take place outside the United States part of that diversity label. And to go one step further, I like to read books that are set in locations other than the United States or Europe because Europe is almost as popular as the United States.

2. Religion
In most of the books I read, if religion is mentioned, the person is a Christian. But what about people who are Jewish or Muslim or even Hindu? I don't read about people who follow other religions very often so I would really consider that part of the diversity factor. And while we're at it, where are the books about atheists? And NOT the ones where they "suddenly" find their faith in God by the end. I am an atheist and I would love to read more books featuring them.

3. Medical condition or disability 
I recently read a book featuring a character with muscular dystrophy. Do you know how excited I was  to see that? I actually have a form of muscular dystrophy, so that was all kinds of awesome. I also recently read a book about conjoined twins and that was a first for me. 

What does the term "diverse" mean to you? Are there any other factors that may lead you to classify a book as diverse?

Friday, July 22, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Girl In The Shadows (Girl On A Wire #2) by Gwenda Bond

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Eighteen-year-old Moira Mitchell grew up in the shadows of Vegas’s stage lights while her father’s career as a magician soared. More than anything, Moira wants to be a magician too, but her father is dead set against her pursuing magic.When an invitation to join the Cirque American mistakenly falls into Moira’s possession, she takes action. Moira takes off to join the Cirque. If she can perform alongside its world-famous acts, she knows she’ll be able to convince her dad that magic is her future. But when Moira arrives, things take on an intensity she can’t control as her stage magic suddenly feels like…real magic. As tensions mount and Moira’s abilities come into question, she must decide what’s real and what’s an illusion. If she doesn’t sort it out in time, she may forever remain a girl in the shadows. 

I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this one. I didn't realize it was a sequel until I received the ARC (that happens sometimes with NetGalley), but then I realized this one could be read as a stand alone so I decided to give it a chance. I am so glad I did. 

Moira is the daughter of a famous magician. She longs to follow in her father's footsteps, but her father is adamant that she not have anything to do with magic. When she finds an invitation to Cirque American, she defies her father's wishes and joins the exclusive circus so she can perform. During her audition, Moira is stunned to realize that she has real magic. This book is full of illusions and surprises and I loved the magic of all the performances. Moira is very headstrong and determined and she takes a lot of risks with her magic. There were many times when Moira was performing a trick and I swear that I had to grit my teeth because it was so suspenseful. And Moira was apparently a pioneer because famous woman magicians were unheard of. Loved the girl power! There was also a secret society and a mysterious (but very powerful) villain and some mysterious coin that everyone wanted because it made the owner very lucky. The main issue I had was that the romance part happened a little quickly for my taste. I can see why she fell for Dez and his knife throwing was impressive. Note: if you want to win over a girl, just throw knives at her head. It'll get her every time. He was charming, but I don't feel like Moira knew enough about him to love him. I would have liked more development in that part of the story.

Other than the romance (and a little dragging towards the end), this really was a worthwhile story to read. Very magical.


Buy/Borrow/Skip: This one is worth buying.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Gemini by Sonya Mukherjee

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is July 26, 2016.

Seventeen-year-old conjoined twins, Clara and Hailey, have lived in the same small town their entire lives—no one stares at them anymore. But there are cracks in their quiet existence and they’re slowly becoming more apparent. Clara and Hailey are at a crossroads. Clara wants to stay close to home, avoid all attention, and study the night sky. Hailey wants to travel the world, learn from great artists, and dance with mysterious boys. As high school graduation approaches, each twin must untangle her dreams from her sister’s, and figure out what it means to be her own person.

Wow. What a story. I have never read a book featuring conjoined twins before and this was such a good one. Clara and Hailey have lived all their lives in the same town. They have friends and no one stares at them or makes them feel like a freak. That is exactly why their mom chose the town as a place to live: so no one could make them feel like freaks. But now Clara and Hailey are getting closer to graduating high school and they are realizing that they want different things. Of course, being conjoined means you can't do anything without the other so these differences are an issue.

The book is told through alternating POVs and I admit that I had a hard time telling them apart at first. Clara loves looking at the stars and the constellations and she starts to panic at just the thought of going outside her comfort zone and leaving home. Hailey loves art and she dreams of traveling to different cities and going to college outside of their town. Despite the fact that they are conjoined twins, I thought both of the twins were so relatable. They want to grow up and be independent from each other. But the fact that they're conjoined makes that impossible. I really loved their relationship and how much they depended on each other.

As much as Clara and Hailey's mom annoyed me, I loved her because she was so REAL and PRESENT. That is so unique in YA books. Their mom tries to act like everything is normal and they can do anything they want to do while keeping them sheltered in their little town and making sure NO ONE takes any pictures to post them online. She is extremely protective and it seems like she is very sensitive to other parents' of conjoined twins making the decision to separate them because she chose not to do that. Yes, she was annoying in her overprotectiveness, but I got it. There was some growing pains between her and the girls because they wanted to become more independent and their mom was scared that they would suffer on their own. 

I really felt like the author did her research with this one and honestly, I was expecting this one to be way more heavy than it was. But these were just two ordinary girls who just happened to be conjoined and that made their struggle for independence that much harder. And the best part? Even though there was some romance in this book, it was NOT THE FOCUS. The focus of this book was 1000% on the family and that made me so happy. I was so incredibly happy with the ending. I won't give anything away, but I will say that I was scared the author was going to go a certain way with it. But the ending was realistic and I was grateful for that.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy this one!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Black River Falls by Jeff Hirsch

I received this ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

Seventeen-year-old Cardinal has escaped the virus that ravaged his town, leaving its victims alive but without their memories. He chooses to remain in the quarantined zone, caring for a group of orphaned kids in a mountain camp with the help of the former brutal school bully, now transformed by the virus into his best friend. But then a strong-willed and mysterious young woman appears, and the closed-off world Cardinal has created begins to crumble. A thrilling, fast-paced work of speculative fiction for teens, from a bestselling author, Black River Falls is an unforgettable story about survival, identity, and family.

This one was a bit of a letdown. The premise sounded awesome: a town under quarantine because of mysterious illness that wipes away your memory, a mysterious girl . . . it sounded very exciting. The problem was that everything was just blah. I have been saying that about a lot of books lately. Maybe it's them or maybe it's me. Who knows?

First of all, the mysterious girl didn't really move the plot along like the premise would suggest. She was just a girl who showed up and didn't know who she was. Join the club. That was pretty much everyone in town. There was some mystery about how she got to the town or why she was there, but it wasn't super exciting, especially when the author never revealed that information. She was just a girl for the main character (Card) to crush on.

The entire book is basically a letter that Card is writing to his brother, Tennant. I think the problem with this book was that the pacing was so slow and there wasn't much of a plot for the first half of the book. Card looks after this group of kids who live on top of the mountain, separate from the rest of the town. Card has not been infected with the virus so he remembers how bad things got when people lost their memories. Greer is his friend and is infected. Greer is an ex bully who now looks after quite a few of the kids from town who have no family to speak of. Card spends his time not doing much of anything really. I still don't understand his role. They all lived at the top of the mountain, apart from the rest of the town. Card wears a mask and gloves to try and prevent infection and he also spends as little time as possible around Greer and the kids. He keeps himself at a distance from everyone else and spends his time chopping wood or just sitting. Sounds kind of boring, right? It was. I can imagine that the worst thing in the world would be for your parents to completely forget you or for you to forget them. For half of the book, it seems like Card kept obsessing over this fact. When he wasn't obsessing over his mom (who had no memory of him), he was yelling at poor Greer and Hannah (the mysterious girl) for not taking the virus seriously enough. 

A little more than halfway through, the plot and the action starts picking up. The second half focuses on the National Guard pulling out of the town and a new security firm taking over. There was some more explanation about the virus and how it started, but the problem was that this information wasn't given nearly enough attention. I liked the conclusion; I just wish there had been more around the virus and what caused it and even more discord between the citizens and the government. But the whole walking around and moping thing wasn't cutting it for me. In the end, this one did not live up to the premise.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Skip this one.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Books Set Outside the U.S.

This is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. They feature a different top ten list every week. This week's topic is top books set outside the U.S.

1. Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson (setting: Naples, Italy)
2. Daughter Of Smoke And Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1) by Laini Taylor (setting: Prague and Morocco)
3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (setting: Germany)
4. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (setting: France)
5. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (setting: Poland)
6. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (setting: France, Germany)
7. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (setting: Japan)
8. Shanghai Girls (Shanghai Girls #1) by Lisa See (setting: Shanghai, China)
9. Wolf by Wolf (Wolf by Wolf #1) by Ryan Graudin (setting: Europe and Africa)
10. The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (setting: Paris)
11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (setting: Afghanistan) 
12. The Martian by Andy Weir (setting: Mars; okay I know this one was WAY outside the United States. I just couldn't resist adding it to the list because it was so good!)
13. The Chocolate Thief (Amour et Chocolat #1) by Laura Florand (setting: Paris)


What are a few of your favorite books set outside the United States? Any recommendations? Go on: crush my TBR!

Monday, July 18, 2016

DISCUSSION: Why do I feel the need to apologize?

Maybe you have noticed that I have been a bit absent on the blog lately. Or maybe I am not nearly as important as I thought and you haven’t noticed anything amiss.

In the middle of June, I left Italy and visited my family and my husband’s family and my best friend in the span of almost three weeks. It was a whirlwind. While I did schedule some blog posts for that time period, I put in ZERO effort for my blog during that time. I was part adapting to the time change and part enjoying some quality time with the people I loved.

Last week, I returned and I am still playing catch-up thanks to the exhaustion that comes from jet lag. I actually thought about apologizing for being away, but then I thought: why do I feel the need to do that?
 We all have our own lives. And yes, on the one hand, I feel bad that I didn’t have time to respond to comments or read all of your blogs or write some new discussion posts or about a million other things. But on the other hand, I really don’t feel bad. I wanted to devote myself to relaxing with my family and friends as much as possible and I had a great time. I didn’t even take that many pictures because I was just trying to enjoy the moments.
I am not sure why I feel the need to apologize. Maybe I feel bad for taking a much needed break. Or I feel like you guys are waited with bated breath for me to respond to your comments and I imagine you guys getting angry when I don't and thinking very bad things about me. I have a high opinion of myself, don't I?
In the past, I have apologized if I fell behind with my blogging stuff or if I took a break, but I really shouldn't. Everyone needs a break. Blogging is also just a hobby. It's a pretty awesome hobby and I love doing it, but the last thing I want is for it to start feeling like an obligation. Once it becomes an obligation, it becomes less fun and that's the last thing I want. 

So no more apologies! 

Do you feel the need to apologize when you take a break from blogging?

Friday, July 15, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Signs Of You by Emily France

I received this ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is July 19, 2016.

Since sixteen-year-old Riley Strout lost her mother two years ago, her saving grace has been her quirky little family in the grief support group she joined as a freshman. Jay, Kate, and Noah understand her pain; each lost a loved one, and they’ve stuck together in spite of their differences, united by tragedies only they understand. When Riley thinks she spots her mother shopping in a grocery store, she fears she is suffering some sort of post-traumatic stress. Then Jay and Kate report similar experiences. Only Noah hasn’t had some kind of vision, which is perhaps why he’s become so skeptical and distant. When Noah disappears, Riley fears she’s lost another loved one. As they frantically search for him, she, Kate, and Jay are drawn into the mystery and Riley finds herself wrestling with her feelings for both Noah and Jay—which have become clear only in Noah’s absence. If Riley is to help those she loves, and herself, she must set things right with the one she’s lost.

Where do I start with this one? I loved the premise and the beginning held a lot of promise. Riley and her friends were initially drawn together because of one thing: they all lost someone close to them. Riley is still grieving for her mother, Cam's brother committed suicide, Jay's father did as a result of his alcoholism and Kate lost her aunt. One thing that struck me was how amazingly unbelievable Riley's dad was. First of all, he showed his love by FOOD! God I love food. I would love a dad who cooked eggs or bread at 2:00am and spent time on a pot roast for Sunday dinner just so he could show his daughter how much he loved her. Too often in YA literature, one parent's death means the other parent tends to neglect the child. I am so happy that did not happen here. Riley's relationship with her dad and a conversation she had with him about possibly moving on with another woman were the best things about this book.

I loved the possible mystery of Riley and her friends seeing their loved ones and what that could mean. The problem was that the mystery behind it was so BORING. You wouldn't think a book about teenagers seeing the ghosts of their loved ones would be boring, but you would be wrong. There was a lot of stuff about a religious relic and a saint and a possible curse and other spirits trying to cross over and it was all just too boring and too much. This book could have been more about these kids trying to move on and I guess to some extent it was, but there was all this other religious stuff added to it and there was a lot of history about some saint that I honestly didn't really care about. So much potential and absolutely no follow-through. It looks like I am a black sheep on this one though because just about every review on Goodreads is four or five stars. Oh well.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Skip this one.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

It begins in the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut, where everything seems picture perfect. Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, struggles to pretend this horrific event did not touch her carefully constructed world. As Tom and Charlotte seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town - or perhaps lives among them - drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion. As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town - or perhaps lives among them - drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.

If you experienced a traumatic event, would you want your entire memory of it to be replaced? That is the very hard decision that Jenny's parents have to make for her and they are not prepared for the consequences. Jenny is sixteen years old when she is brutally raped in the woods during a party. The description of this rape is told in a very clinical way, but it's still brutal. The rape lasts for an hour and the description and the injuries are enough to turn anyone's stomach. At first glance, this miracle memory erasing drug seems like the answer to her parents' prayers. If I went through an attack like that, I would love to be able to just forget. The parents have to make this decision very quickly because the drug HAS to be administered right away for it to work. Jenny gets the drug and she is told about the assault, but she tries to go home and pretend like nothing happened. The problem is that her dad becomes obsessed with finding out who committed this crime and of course, no one thinks about the emotional memory that Jenny has about the rape. I appreciated the way memory was discussed and the scientific explanation of why Jenny's body might still appreciate the assault, even when her mind couldn't remember. 

The problem I had with this story was the narrator. The narrator was the therapist that Jenny's parents eventually send her to so she might recover her memories and move past the assault. The first half of the book was written EXACTLY as if it were written by a therapist and that is not a good thing. All of the details regarding the assault and Jenny's parents and Jenny's suicide attempts were described as if a therapist were just making case notes. It was so detached and emotionless. The therapist also talked about things that seemingly didn't have anything to do with Jenny, like other patients and background for Jenny's parents. These things don't seem to connect with Jenny, but they eventually do. The premise said the conclusion was a shocking one and that is very true. But the rest of the story is just so slow and it takes so long to reach any action.

The first half of the book details how Jenny comes into the therapist's care. After about halfway through, there is a little more emotion from the narrator but that isn't what saves the book: it's the actual plot that saves this book from being so incredibly boring. I really wish this had been told from Jenny's POV, but then again, I am not sure the conclusion would have worked in the same way. Another issue I had besides the narrator was the focus of the story. I wanted it to be MORE about Jenny's memory and the trauma she was experiencing even though she didn't remember anything. Instead the focus was on finding Jenny's rapist. I understand that, I just wanted more from the whole memory aspect of it. I can't give away too much about the plot that bugged me without giving away spoilers, but I can say that it is twisted and shocking. It just moved way too slowly for my taste.


Buy/Borrow/Skip: Borrow this one. The first half is very slow, but if you can get past it, the conclusion does make it worth it. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Captain of the soccer team, president of the Debate Club, contender for valedictorian: Taylor's always pushed herself to be perfect. After all, that's what is expected of a senator's daughter. But one impulsive decision-one lie to cover for her boyfriend-and Taylor's kicked out of private school. Everything she's worked so hard for is gone, and now she's starting over at Hundred Oaks High. Soccer has always been Taylor's escape from the pressures of school and family, but it's hard to fit in and play on a team that used to be her rival. The only person who seems to understand all that she's going through is her older brother's best friend, Ezra. Taylor's had a crush on him for as long as she can remember. But it's hard to trust after having been betrayed. Will Taylor repeat her past mistakes or can she score a fresh start?

I am typically a huge fan of Miranda Kenneally's work. I have read most of this series and I have adored just about all of them. I still can't quite put my finger on what bothered me about this one, but I just felt it was missing something. Taylor was a great character and I could relate to her in so many ways. Granted, I was NOT born to a wealthy family but I could relate to her need for perfection. Taylor put so much pressure on herself and felt like she had to work herself to death to get into Yale and fulfill her parents' expectations. Been there, done that. (Not the Yale part, but the trying to fulfill other's expectations part.)

Taylor does something to get herself expelled from boarding school and so she is back to regular old high school at Hundred Oaks. I think part of my problem was how much she whined about the consequences of her actions. Even though part of what people thought about her was wrong, there was still an element of truth to it. But Taylor just blamed everyone else. She took the blame for something her boyfriend did. She wrongly assumed that her dad would bail her out. When he didn't, she got pissed at her boyfriend for not coming forward, even though it would mean him losing his scholarship. She kept mentioning that fact over and over and over. Honestly, I thought she was a bit of a martyr about it. 

Taylor's family just drove me crazy. She makes ONE mistake and everyone turns on her and acts like they are embarrassed of her. Annoying. He did seem to care at points though and I liked the resolution between them. The romance was just kind of meh for me. I don't really understand why she was so heartbroken over Ezra standing her up years before. They had never gone out before and it just didn't seem like that big of a deal, especially since it wasn't really a date. Then their relationship just moved too fast and there was a lie Taylor was keeping from him and I knew how that was going to turn out Maybe that's part of the reason I wasn't super impressed with this one. Aside from Taylor's whining, it was kind of predictable and the romance was boring. One thing I do appreciate with Kenneally's books is that she isn't afraid to talk about a teenage girl's sexuality. Yes, girls want sex too and no, they don't always have to be in love to have sex and that's okay. And of course, it's always appreciated when they use condoms. 
In my opinion, this wasn't one of my favorites of the Hundred Oaks series but I can see why others probably enjoy it.

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Borrow this one. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Siege (The Six #2) by Mark Alpert

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Adam gave up everything for a new chance at life. Now with a cutting-edge digital mind, he is smarter, faster, better than a normal teen. Except Adam is anything but invincible. He's indebted to the government program that gave him this ability-and freedom comes at a price. Adam and his teammates, the six Pioneers, swore to defend humanity against Sigma, the most ruthless artificial intelligence program ever designed. The Pioneers are all that stand between the AI and world domination. But Sigma has an advantage. It has learned about human weakness, and its new weapon? Betrayal. In this war between good and evil, the battle lines have been drawn...but someone is about to switch sides.

This book is kind of hard to review. I am still not sure how I feel about the characters because, well, they're robots. They don't feel things the way most people do and yet, they do. Because all of their memories were implanted in the machines, they are like a weird hybrid of robot and human. This was so hard to get used to. I didn't really get the romance thing between Adam and Shannon. How can robots even have a relationship? That part was so weird and honestly, I would have liked that part to be explored a little bit more. Shannon does get upset at something Adam does pretty early on and she ends things with him. I wish more of the book would have been spent on exploring that relationship and what it means.

But I get why a lot of time couldn't be spent on romance . . . the Pioneers were still trying to destroy Sigma and there is a traitor in their midst. I did find that part of the storyline a little predictable. Maybe it was because suspicion was deliberately thrown towards someone else, but I figured out who it was. In the last book, I thought the battle scenes with Sigma were so intense. This time, I was actually a little bored. It was hard to follow sometimes and it just didn't seem as action packed. Actually, the pacing of this book was a little on the slow side anyway. The final battle at the end was a bit anticlimactic. I just wasn't excited by it. There was a twist at the end that I did not see coming. I am interested to see how this series ends.


Buy/Borrow/Skip: If you enjoyed the first book in this series, you will enjoy this one too. It's not my favorite series, but it is still very entertaining. I would say you should borrow this one.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Red Queen (The Chronicles of Alice #2) by Christina Henry

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. The scheduled publication date for this book is July 12, 2016.

The land outside of the Old City was supposed to be green, lush, hopeful. A place where Alice could finally rest, no longer the plaything of the Rabbit, the pawn of Cheshire, or the prey of the Jabberwocky. But the verdant fields are nothing but ash—and hope is nowhere to be found. Still, Alice and Hatcher are on a mission to find his daughter, a quest they will not forsake even as it takes them deep into the clutches of the mad White Queen and her goblin or into the realm of the twisted and cruel Black King. The pieces are set and the game has already begun. Each move brings Alice closer to her destiny. But, to win, she will need to harness her newfound abilities and ally herself with someone even more powerful—the mysterious and vengeful Red Queen

Another reviewer had mentioned that they felt like they were reading a completely different story with this sequel and I have to agree. The first one was so much darker than this one. There was also a little more focus on romance with this one between Alice and Hatcher. I don't actually have a problem with the romance part of it. In the first book, there was so much support and friendship and protectiveness between Alice and Hatcher that it seems natural they would start falling for each other. It wasn't really an instantaneous thing. I loved the relationship between these two. Both Hatcher and Alice have their demons and because of that, they understand each other and they have each other's backs.

The book starts with Alice and Hatcher trying to make their way through the Old City to find Hatcher's daughter. The journey takes them deep into a forest where there are fearful townspeople and gentle giants who are stuck under the spell of the evil White Queen. As usual, Alice's love of food and her sweet tooth totally endeared her to me. I love people who love food. I loved the character development of Alice. Maybe it was because everything that happened to her in the last book, but she became less naive and more proactive. She was willing to jump right into things and fight evil without waiting on someone to tell her how to do it. She also spent some time struggling with her magic powers and how to use them. That was another plus in my book: I liked that she wasn't automatically a genius when it came to magic and the author didn't write it as something that came naturally to her. 

As usual, Christina Henry takes a well loved story and adds her own twist to the story we know so well. Yes, there was a Red Queen but there was also a White Queen and a Black King. The story of the dynamic between the three of them was intense and surprising. I won't spoil the book by mentioning which characters were evil and which ones were good, but I will say there were a few twists to it. 

So what did I not like about this book? Mainly the pacing. This book moved so slowly at parts. There is also a time when Alice and Hatcher get separated because of the White Queen and they spend a majority of the book apart. Since I loved their relationship so much, I wanted more of them. There were long periods where not much happened at all, except for some encounters with giants and townspeople. I wanted more darkness and more magic and more of the Queen. Even though I loved the story of the two queens and the king, I wanted more. The author told the story and Alice had to rescue some children, but there was actually very minimal interaction with the Queens themselves. That was another surprising twist.

All in all, this book was a good finale to this story even if it did have a few issues. 

Buy/Borrow/Skip: Borrow this one. It is worth the read, especially if you read the first one. I just don't think it was as good as the first one.