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Reading Reviews

To go along with my general insanity, I subscribe to about 115 blogs on Google Reader, so every week, I have a ton of reviews hitting my feed. If I actually read each one slowly and in detail, I'd probably end up spending more time reading reviews than sleeping.

Instead, I usually only read reviews for books that I'm interested in or that catch my attention, and when I do, I tend to skip the synopsis, skim the body paragraphs, and closely read the conclusion. I find this is the fastest way to glean information about the reviewer's thoughts without losing or getting bogged down by detail.

The only exceptions are when I come across reviews written by bloggers whose opinions I particularly trust. These are essentially people who I've noticed (a) have similar likes/dislikes in books as me and (b) articulate their feelings very well.

How do you guys read reviews? And if you're also bloggers, has it changed the way you write reviews?

The Book of Blood and Shadow: Review

Title: The Book of Blood and Shadow
Author: Robin Wasserman
Release Date: April 2012
Published By: Random House
Pages: 352
Goodreads Rating: 4.30 stars

Review: In one terrible night, Nora's best friend's boyfriend is dead and her own boyfriend has disappeared and is being accused of murder. Desperate to prove his innocence, she and Adriane follow his trail to the ancient streets of Prague, where age-old secrets lurk in a manuscript, the Lumen Dei, that holds the power of infinite knowledge and communication with the Divine. Only Nora has the key to unlock it... if she lives long enough.

One of the most notable aspects of THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW is the incredibly original plot, which you can see just from reading the synopsis. I don't usually request books from NetGalley that I haven't heard of before, but the summary just pulled me in, and the novel lives up to its intriguing premise. A book like this is very rare in YA lit, and I thoroughly enjoyed the concept.

Of course, it wasn't just the concept that was good. The whole book was made up of twists and turns, some of which had me honestly surprised at the big reveal. Naturally, I won't reveal what they are to avoid spoilers, but the character and plot revelations came especially heavily towards to the end, which I felt worked pretty well.

Unfortunately, though, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I wanted. I can't pinpoint a single reason why, but it just didn't hold my attention very well. I found myself drifting a lot while reading this, and had trouble focusing myself to the end. After about halfway through, I ended up counting pages, only stopping when certain intriguing twists occurred.

All in all, THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW is a fantastic novel that just wasn't really for me. However, I'm sure that it'll be perfect for many other readers (and I don't say this lightly - it really just didn't work for me specifically). The premise is fascinating and the story is packed with suspense, as well as some major twists and turns. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes creepy or mysterious novels.

I received a free copy of this book for review. This in no way affected my review.

In My Mailbox (41)

Unfortunately I wasn't able to post for the last two days because they've been busy, busy, busy (attended an event I've been organizing for quite some time on Friday night - it was awesome - and then had the SAT subject test yesterday), but I'm back! I had a small but exciting load of books this week.

For Review

Deadly by Julie Chibarro.
Girl Meets Boy by Kelly Milner Halls.
Starters by Lissa Price.
Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott. 

What did you get in your mailbox? 

Every Little Thing in the World: Review

Title: Every Little Thing in the World
Author: Nina de Gramont
Release Date: March 2010
Published By: Atheneum
Pages: 288
Goodreads Rating: 3.73 stars

Review: When sixteen-year-old Sydney's pregnancy test has the dreaded plus sign, she confides in her best friend Natalia, and they borrow her mom's car to confront the baby's father. Before they get far, though, the police catch them and bring them back home, where their parents send them off to wilderness camp. Now the clock is ticking, and Sydney's not sure what choice to make. As she meets more and more people and finds friends in the strangest of places, she learns that the right choice can mean many different things.

I know what you're thinking when you read the synopsis of EVERY LITTLE THING IN THE WORLD: Oh, another pregnancy book. And that's what I thought too, and I really only picked this up on a whim. Oh, how wrong I was. How very, very wrong. This book is anything BUT the typical pregnancy book. Yes, Sydney is a pregnant teenager who doesn't want to tell her mom and isn't sure if she should get an abortion, and yes, it was a big focus, but there was so, so much more to this story.

This book could still stand just fine even if the whole pregnancy angle was taken out. The camp Sydney and Natalia attend is far different from any camp I've ever attended (or would want to). The counselors are distant and rather abnormal, and the other campers aren't exactly your average high schoolers either, which made for both emotional and hilarious moments throughout the novel.

And speaking of the emotions, it's so rare for a book to make me so entirely invested in a character that it affects my moods even when I put the book down. At the low points, I found myself put in a depressed haze (so, yes, be wary if you're very easily depressed, but do keep in mind that *minor spoiler alert* a happy ending *end spoiler alert*) and I was rooting so hard for Sydney.

Even with the emotional roller coaster this novel put me on, by the end, I experienced this quiet sort of satisfaction from it. Quite honestly, this book is just pleasurable to read, with its grit and honesty and well, just plain awesome-ness. My only complaint would be that the resolution concerning Sydney and her mother came far too easily after all the build-up, but other than that, the ending was perfect.

If you don't usually enjoy teen pregnancy novels, or you do but just want something different, then EVERY LITTLE THING IN THE WORLD is for you. I can't emphasize just how spectacular this contemporary novel is, from the sympathy-drawing characters to the stunning emotions to the laugh-out-loud moments, and highly recommend that everyone give it a try.

Waiting on Wednesday (32)

This week, I'm waiting on...

Fair Coin by E. C. Myers. Here's what Goodreads has to say: Sixteen-year-old Ephraim Scott is horrified when he comes home from school and finds his mother unconscious at the kitchen table, clutching a bottle of pills. The reason for her suicide attempt is even more disturbing: she thought she’d identified Ephraim’s body at the hospital that day.

Among his dead double’s belongings, Ephraim finds a strange coin—a coin that grants wishes when he flips it. With a flick of his thumb, he can turn his alcoholic mother into a model parent and catch the eye of the girl he’s liked since second grade. But the coin doesn’t always change things for the better. And a bad flip can destroy other people’s lives as easily as it rebuilds his own.

The coin could give Ephraim everything he’s ever wanted—if he learns to control its power before his luck runs out.

Fair Coin releases in March 2012. Have you ever heard of this book? Do you want to read it? And what are you waiting on this Wednesday?

A Blurb About Blurbs

Well, not really, but I couldn't think of a better title, so bear with me. Recently I've been considering all the elements that come together to make a book (cover, title, synopsis, etc.), and I started thinking about blurbs. After all, they're everywhere.

However, I've noticed that I never really pay much attention to them. This is simply because I know whatever's put as a blurb is going to be gushing and positive, whereas a synopsis, for example, is something I can consider for myself if it's a plus or a minus.

Even in cases where authors I really enjoy blurb a book, I'm not much persuaded. Just because someone wrote a book I like doesn't mean we have the same interests and opinions about other books.

It is interesting to note, though, that if I follow an author's blog, and he or she writes a review or even a little positive note about another person's book, I find that pretty convincing. I think it's because unlike a blurb, I have the full context - I know about that author's past posts, and I have more of a full context. A blurb often feels like something rather manufactured, whereas a review in a blog is more organic.

What do you think? Do blurbs persuade you? What about call-outs in other authors' blogs?

Bittersweet: Review

Title: Bittersweet
Author: Sarah Ockler
Release Date: January 2012
Published By: Simon Pulse
Pages: 384
Goodreads Rating: 4.18 stars

Review: Hudson once knew what her future was going to be, what with her extraordinary ice skating skills, but all her dreams shattered after a shocking betrayal. Now she stays under the radar, baking cupcakes for her mom's diner and obsessing over what could have been. But all of a sudden, things are looking up and she just might have a second shot. That is, if she's willing to sacrifice everything for her last chance...

From Sarah Ockler comes yet again another phenomenal novel, BITTERSWEET. I loved her earlier books, and this one is no exception. Hudson struggles so hard to reach her dreams, even when she's plagued by self-doubt and incredible obstacles, and this story drew so many emotions from me. It's funny, sad, sweet, and did I mention the cupcakes? Because there are a lot of cupcakes. And boys. Did I mention boys?

But even apart from the cupcakes and boys, I love that this book contradicts so many clichés in young adult fiction. I can't count how many books I've read where all the protagonist wants is to escape her tiny town and go to the city and be rich and famous and have everything she could have ever desired. And I mean, there's nothing wrong with this plot device, and I've seen it work really well, but I appreciated that the author didn't choose to go in this direction. Instead, Hudson came to realize that, well, her 'tiny town' isn't so bad and she doesn't have to run away to be happy.

The whole infamous love triangle device was also contradicted here as well. There certainly was a triangle, what with Will and Josh, but it didn't grate on my nerves as love triangles tend to do. It actually felt like a natural conundrum here, without any despicable cheating or anything going on. The only issue is that I absolutely disagree with who she ended up with, though that's more personal preference than anything.

More than just a great plot, BITTERSWEET also has a fantastic cast of characters. Hudson is smart, strong, and hard-working, and I love her family. Her mom is somewhat tired and over-worked, but she plays a big role in the story and you can tell she really cares about Hudson. My favorite character, though, would have to be Bug, Hudson's super-adorable, wise-beyond-his-years little brother.

All in all, BITTERSWEET is a story that combines both serious struggles with light-hearted fun, and it's one that makes me anticipate more novels from the author. From the lovely characters to the emotional plot to the different spin on typical YA clichés, this is a book I would recommend to any fan of contemporary fiction.

I received a free copy of this book for review. This in no way affected my review.

Cover Comparison: Under the Never Sky

I haven't read this book yet, but it's sitting on my Kindle so hopefully I'll be able to soon! Either way, though, I've noticed two covers of it floating around and decided to do a cover comparison.

The first cover:

Well, there's only one way to say it: I love, love, love the background of the cover. The typography in the text (with all the neat colors inside the letters!) is gorgeous, and the awesome landscape with the glowing white lines and twisting sticks are really beautiful as well.

The model is great too, walking all powerfully in the cover. I like strong female protagonists, so this is a big thumbs-up for me.

The second cover:

This, I believe, is the UK cover, and well, er, it's not my favorite. The color scheme is all right (I prefer blue, but the glowing moon is pretty nice), and the girl looks great, but... well... I'm just going to come out and say it...

What's up with that guy? He looks scary, like he's about to kidnap her, and he's not wearing clothes, and honestly, it's just a big turn-off. I prefer my dystopian/fantasy/paranormal/what-have-you novels to have a romantic subplot, and here it is, dominating the entire cover.

What do you think? Which cover's your favorite?

Ruthless: Review

Title: Ruthless
Author: Sara Shepard
Release Date: December 2011
Published By: HarperTeen
Pages: 336
Goodreads Rating: 4.03 stars

Review: In the latest Pretty Little Liars installment, the Rosewood girls' lives are looking anything but perfect. Aria's love life is on the fritz, Emily's exploring her wild side, Hanna's fraternizing with the enemy, and someone from Spencer's past - someone she never thought she'd see again - is back to haunt her. And none of this can compare to what happened last spring break. A is here to pay them back for their crime, and the only thing scarier than that is the thought that maybe, just maybe, they deserve what's coming to them.

Sara Shepard does it again in RUTHLESS when she writes an addicting book in an addicting series that's simply impossible to put down. I found myself turning pages as fast as I could to find out what happens next, and with each chapter, the suspense was knocked up another notch, until I ended up flipping the last page with a sigh of disappointment.

If I did have a complaint to make, though, it would be that by this tenth book, the plot is starting to get quite a bit stretched out. I wouldn't say it necessarily repeated or anything, but some events that occurred here were strongly reminiscent of events from previous books in the series, and this book lacked that freshness factor that made the early books pop so much.

Still, even though I rationally think that the series should end, emotionally, I can't possibly let it go. Despite whatever flaws I find in the plot, I still am incapable of just putting the book down. There's something so easy and readable about this book that makes it so incredibly appealing, and that's the same quality that has me thirsting for the next book in the series. I'd recommend this to anyone who adored the rest of the series.

I received a free copy of this book for review. This in no way affected my review.

Follow Friday (34)

This week's question is...

What's the craziest thing you've done to get your hands on any particular book?

Well... I've never done anything especially crazy, but when my friend got a copy of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, I bothered her every day for a week until she finished it so I could borrow it. (Just finished it today, by the way, and it was AMAZING!)

If you're new to my blog, welcome! Drop your link in the comments so I can return the favor :)

Saving June: Review

Title: Saving June
Author: Hannah Harrington
Release Date: May 2011
Published By: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 336
Goodreads Rating: 4.19 stars

Review: Harper's older sister has always been the perfect one, so everyone reels with shock when June killed herself a week before graduation - Harper the most devastated of all. She goes against her parents and plans a road trip with her best friend to deliver the ashes to the ocean. When Jake, a boy with a connection to June, insists on coming along, she's desperate enough to let him. Except it turns out June's not the only one with secrets - Jake has one with the power to turn everything upside down.

SAVING JUNE's execution was as lovely as the premise sounds, every word on every page brimming with honest, gritty emotion. Hannah Harrington wove a story of grief, love, and longing set to a backdrop of a road trip across America, the melancholy sweetness of the narrative strong enough affect even the most stolid reader. From Harper's quest to deliver her sister to where she always wanted to go, to the budding emotions concerning Jake's secret, this book promises to pull tears.

Although the writing was exceptional, there were some plot devices that occurred that felt far too contrived. Everything fit together a little too perfectly and coincidentally to be truly satisfying, and the plot's smoothness was perhaps its largest flaw. Some of these events were rather cliché and a bit too overused to be anything but stale, and the novel could have benefited from a more original take on the road trip romance in this regard.

From a talented author comes a remarkable debut book with a sweet, moving plot and a cast of characters sure to warm the grizzliest of hearts. The storyline bordered on contrived at points and was not wholly original, but it was executed well with emotional writing. This is a novel for anyone who enjoys young adult contemporary fiction with grieving and road trips.  

I received a free copy of this book for review. This in no way affected my review.

Waiting on Wednesday (31)

This week, I'm waiting on...

Lucid by Ron Bass and Adrienne Stolz. Here's what Goodreads has to say: What if you could dream your way into a different life? What if you could choose to live that life forever?

Sloane and Maggie have never met. Sloane is a straight-A student with a big and loving family. Maggie lives a glamorously independent life as an up-and-coming actress in New York. The two girls couldn't be more different - except for one thing. They share a secret that they can't tell a soul. At night, they dream that they're each other.

The deeper they're pulled into the promise of their own lives, the more their worlds begin to blur dangerously together. Before long, Sloane and Maggie can no longer tell which life is real and which is just a dream. They realize that eventually they will have to choose one life to wake up to, or risk spiraling into insanity. But that means giving up one world, one love, and one self, forever.

How fantastic does that sound? I'm not a huge fan of the cover but I do love the synopsis! Have you heard of this book? What do you think of the cover and/or synopsis? What are waiting on this Wednesday?

The Great Fitzgerald

This blog is generally devoted to young adult lit and I prefer to keep it that way, but recently I've been really enjoying the literature I've had to read for school. Last year, it was about 50/50, where I enjoyed some and despised others, but there were never any that I really loved.

Then we were assigned The Great Gatsby and a few short stories of Fitzgerald. It was love at first page. I could spend hours rereading his gorgeous prose and analyzing all the intricacies of his writing. The Great Gatsby was fantastic, and I love the short stories of his I've read even more - "Winter Dreams" and "Bernice Bobs Her Hair".

What literature have you been assigned in school that you ended up loving... or hating? Do you enjoy Fitzgerald? And if you do, any particular suggestions?

Prized: Review

Title: Prized
Author: Caragh M. O'Brien
Release Date: November 2011
Published By: Roaring Brook Press
Pages: 368
Goodreads Rating: 4.08 stars

Review: Sixteen-year-old Gaia wanders out into the deserted lands with nothing but her baby sister, a handful of supplies, and a rumor to guide her, but even she doesn't expect to be captured by the people of Sylum, a society ruled by women. If she wants to see her sister, she must submit to their dictatorial rules where even a kiss is a crime and where it's physically impossible to leave, but can she give up her sense of justice, curiosity, and everything in her heart that makes her whole?

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, so of course I leaped at the opportunity to review PRIZED. In terms of plot, I certainly don't regret it. The premise of the whole series is interesting enough to begin with, but the twists that occurred here put it in a whole class of its own. I found myself unable to put the book down, driven with an urge to find out what happens next, and marveling over the intricate details of the society painted.

What did bother me, though, was Gaia. Her character wasn't bad and I was still able to sympathize with her, but she made some decisions that had me wanting to take her by the shoulders and shake her. I won't say them here to avoid spoilers, but I know she's smarter than that, and that's one of the reasons her decisions bothered me so much.

Probably what annoyed me the most in this book, though, was the love square. In particular, I found myself actually hating Leon. Even if Gaia did some dumb actions, he blew them way out of proportion as if he had a right to be angry, and I couldn't believe that she accepted his apology so easily. It was hard to want them to be together when I mostly wanted him to fall off a cliff.

All in all, PRIZED was an excellent book but not as good as its prequel. The plot was fascinating with an intriguing society and enough suspense to keep the pages turning, but I was disappointed with the characters. Leon was far too cruel for me to enjoy the romance at all, and the number of suitors Gaia found herself with was just too high. Still, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed the first book and wants to continue the story.

I received a free copy of this book for review. This in no way affected my review.

In My Mailbox (40)

I had a great in-flow of books in my mailbox this time around!

For Review

Forbidden by Syrie James.
Hallowed by Cynthia Hand.
Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin.
Irises by Francisco Stork.
Incarnate by Jodi Meadows.
Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown.
What did you get in your mailbox? 

Winter Town: Review

Title: Winter Town
Author: Stephen Emond
Release Date: December 2011
Published By: Little, Brown
Pages: 336
Goodreads Rating: 3.52 stars

Review: Every winter, Ivy League-bound Evan looks forward to seeing his childhood friend Lucy, but this year, something's different. She now has dyed black hair, a nose stud, and a scowl that never goes away. But Evan knows that somewhere beneath her harsh surface, the girl next door he's always known is there, and he's determined to find her, even if it means pissing her off.

WINTER TOWN is exactly what I look for in a young adult romance: it's different, refreshing, and quirky in every possible aspect. At its core, the story isn't anything special compared to all the romances out there, but Stephen Emond tells it in a unique way that makes it truly come to life. He weaves something beautiful into this oft-told tale, something magical that makes this novel stand out bright against all the others.

The most obvious way this story is fresh is the medium through which it is told. It isn't really a graphic novel since the majority of it is traditional words as narrative, but there are many clever comics sprinkled throughout the story. On the surface, the cute stories that are told within them feel superficial, but in actuality, they add a whole hidden dimension and center the plot.

But even without the comics, this book would still be wonderful. The author has a unique ability to toy with the readers' emotions. Even at times when I knew rationally that Lucy was being a complete jerk, I was still able to sympathize with her and root for them to be together. The love story was at once sad and beautiful, gorgeous and heart-breaking, and the best part was that it wasn't even just a love story. There were other elements, all gritty and honest, combining to make this a fantastic read.

I can give only the highest recommendation for Stephen Emond's WINTER TOWN. This is a story of life and love and learning and simply being, topped with lovely comics that add a fantastic element to the story. Anyone who enjoys contemporary novels but just wants something more is sure to appreciate this novel... especially if read in the winter time.

I received a free copy of this book for review. This in no way affected my review.

Follow Friday (33)

This week's question is...

Tell us about a few of your favorite bands/singers.

I'm completely, utterly obsessed with Panic! at the Disco (although I suppose they're not really for everyone, given their rather unique style). Last September I was able to go to one of their concerts, and it was probably one of the top five most amazing nights of my life.

Other bands I like include Jimmy Eat World, the Offspring, Neon Trees, Franz Ferdinand, and Fall Out Boy.

If you're new to my blog, welcome! Please drop your link in the comments so I can return the favor :)

Without Tess: Review

Title: Without Tess
Author: Marcella Pixley
Release Date: October 2011
Published By: Farrar, Strous, and Girrax
Pages: 224
Goodreads Rating: 4.13 stars

Review: Tess and Lizzie are as close as sisters can be, living in their secret world of magic, selkies, and flying horses. But when Lizzie is ready to grow up, Tess still wants to cling to her fantasies, and as she sinks deeper and deeper into her delusions, she decides to leave her family forever. Now in high school, Lizzie struggles to understand what happens to her sister, and with the help of Tess's old journal, searches for a way to let go.

I started WITHOUT TESS expecting it to be like every other contemporary dealing with the loss of a sister. Boy, was I wrong. This book far and above exceeded my expectations, delving into a haunting portrayal of childhood psychosis. I found myself riveted to the spot as I read about Tess's antics, starting off innocent and soon becoming something darker and twisted.

This book is told primarily through flashbacks, and while this is normally something that bothers me, it worked perfectly for this book, dealing with both the present and the creepy occurrences of Lizzie's past. What happened to her in childhood with Tess is at once heart-breaking and horrifying, and there were times when I literally could not put the book down.

I feel like my review can not do this novel justice, but every moment in this book was haunting, emotional, and sad. Tess was a fiery character, full of fantasies and dreams that twisted into something horrible, and Lizzie struggled to pick up the pieces. This is a book that everyone must read, especially those who seek out psychological suspense.

I received a free copy of this book for review. This in no way affected my review.