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Expectations vs. Reality: Foreign Identity

Expectations vs. Reality is a feature here inspired by Small Review that will compare my expectations from a book cover before seeing the summary with the summary itself.

This week, I'm looking at Foreign Identity by Becca Campbell. 

This cover is obviously that of some sort of horror novel, from the blood-like font on the canvas to the ghostly hand reaching out, not to mention the creepy feel of the forest in the background. The canvas makes me feel like this is about an artist with a second, murderous personality who perhaps sometimes takes over while painting. This would also certainly explain the title.


From Goodreads:
Cold. Confusion. Fear. This is how it all begins.

Waking up without your memory in a cell and bound by chains is terrifying.

Two nameless strangers, a man and a woman, find themselves imprisoned together. With no memories of their own identities, let alone their captor and tormentor, escape is the only option. The pair faces a bizarre labyrinth of rooms and clues that confuse more than they explain. Every discovery only brings more questions.

Who captured them? Why were they taken? What does their captor want from them? What can the riddles mean?

Who are they?

Lacking allies and options, the duo must learn to trust one another. Mazes, puzzles, and even strange, lurking creatures force them to rely on their wits--and each other--for survival. But survival isn’t enough. They need answers.

Will the answers be enough? Will the truth bring them closer together, or drive them forever apart? Will discovering their identities finally bring them home?
Well, it looks like I wasn't that close after all. But can I just say that this summary sounds AWESOME?

What were your expectations when you saw the cover? What do you think of the actual summary?

Empty: Review

Title: Empty
Author: Suzanne Weyn
Release Date: October 2010
Published By: Scholastic
Pages: 192
Goodreads Rating: 3.14 stars

Review: It's the near future - the very near future - and fossil fuels are running out. No driving. No heat. Supermarkets and malls are empty. No one ever expected the end to come so quickly, and in the small town of Spring Valley, decisions that were once easy are now life-and-death. There is hope, but only at the price of sacrifices that would force society to rethink itself.

EMPTY brought a frighteningly realistic concept to life in novel form and painted an apocalyptic future in a time not far at all from our present day. This concept itself was interesting to read about, but I felt that by and large, the apocalyptic elements didn't really stand out from other books in the genre. That's not to say I didn't like it, because I did enjoy reading it, but it just wasn't as unique as it could have been.

I also felt that at certain parts of the novel, the story diverged into something a bit too preachy. Perhaps this was just my perception and other readers might feel differently, but the story itself told enough about the dangers of relying too much on fossil fuels. Certain bits of dialogue felt like they were just woodenly expounding on this fact rather than directly contributing to the story.

However, I did find that the characters were well-written and developed nicely. Rather than being flat, each of Tom, Gwen, and Nicki had their own distinct personalities and although they were quite likeable, they still had realistic flaws. Nicki was difficult to relate to at first, but over time, I became more and more sympathetic towards her.

All in all, EMPTY brings an intriguing concept to life, complete with interesting, three-dimensional characters. Unfortunately, this book isn't particularly memorable and doesn't stand out too much among dystopian books, and also sometimes bordered on preachy. I would still recommend this to anyone who really enjoys apocalyptic novels.

Waiting on Wednesday (on Thursday)

This... er... Thursday, I'm waiting on:

Stung by Bethany Wiggins.

Government attempts to save endangered bees by genetic modification causes their sting to induce deadly, flu-like symptoms in humans. A vaccine created in response changes children into ferocious, killer beasts. The uninfected have built a wall to keep the beasts out, and a girl has awakened on the wrong side.

How cool does this sound, not to mention the awesome cover? What do you think of this book? What were you waiting on this Wednesday?

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares: Review

Title: Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
Author: David Levithan, Rachel Cohn
Release Date: October 2010
Published By: Knopf Books
Pages: 260
Goodreads Rating: 3.93 stars

Review: Lily has left a red notebook on the shelves of a bookstore in New York City, just waiting for the right guy to come along and follow the clues inside. As Dash and Lily exchange dares, dreams, and desires in the pages of the notebook from various locations in the city, they start to wonder. Could they connect as well in-person as they do in the notebook? Or will they be a cosmic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

As you can tell just from reading the summary, the concept of DASH AND LILY'S BOOK OF DARES is adorable. Not to mention that, hello, David Levithan and Rachel Cohn wrote it, so obviously this book is more or less destined to be great. It came as no surprise to me that every word of this book lived up to my expectations of both a fun and heart-warming romance.

Every romance is only as good as the two characters involved, and can I just say, Dash was perfect. He was witty, kind, vulnerable, and oh-so-real, and it was not hard at all to feel that side of the romance. Initially, however, I was lukewarm towards Lily as she came across as a bit too annoying and uptight, but over time, my feelings towards her relaxed and I liked her as well.

But what I loved most about this book is that it wasn't as predictable as you might expect. From the summary, you would think this is a novel where the guy and the girl meet through cute notebook exchanges and then eventually meet up and since they are obviously perfect for each other, they fall into obvious perfect love. But it wasn't like that. Much more realistically, things weren't so simple when they actually met in person, and while the ending wasn't precisely what I'd been rooting for, I could understand it.

All in all, DASH AND LILY'S BOOK OF DARES had exactly the kind of quality you would expect upon seeing the authors' names stamped across the cover. From the adorable romance to the incredibly written characters, everything about this book is simultaneously transporting and real. Even the end is perfect, if a bit on the painful side of honest. I would recommend this to anyone who's a fan of either of these authors, or wants to try them out for the first time.

Once: Review

Title: Once
Author: Anna Carey
Release Date: July 2012
Published By: HarperCollins
Pages: 368
Goodreads Rating: 4.18 stars

Review: In this sequel to EVE, for the first time in months, Eve is able to sleep soundly in Califia, a haven for women. But her safety comes at a price: she had to leave Caleb, and when she finds out he's in a trouble, she leaves to rescue him. Captured and without Caleb, she's brought to the Capital of New America where she discovers a shocking secret about her past. Now, forced to confront her future, she must choose the ones she loves... or risk losing Caleb forever.

I enjoyed EVE but was not particularly impressed by it. However, to my pleasant surprise, I ended up liking ONCE even more, which is not often the case with sequels. In this case, I felt the storyline was more compelling, and as a result, I had a lot of trouble putting the book down in certain areas. The tension was racheted way up, more than it as in EVE, and I loved that aspect.

The ending itself was perfect. This might just come down to personal preference since I know a lot of people absolutely detest cliffhangers, and there are cases where I'm not such big fans of them either, but I thought that the cliffhanger used here worked very nicely. After those tantalizing last few pages, I'm itching to get my hands on the next book.

What did disappoint me, though, was that there was still a huge focus on the romance between Eve and Caleb, to the point where the whole book was largely their romance. I wanted to see Eve undergo more development and have more self-reflection, particularly in light of the secret she discovers, and to highlight more the citizenry's state of unrest. This felt less like a dystopian with an important romance element and more like a romance set to a dystopian background.

All in all, I liked ONCE quite a bit, more than I liked EVE, and loved the higher levels of suspense. The plot line as well was more intriguing and certainly kept me flipping pages. However, I did wish there was less of a focus on the romance since I felt it took up too much page time and plot time. Still, I look forward eagerly to the next novel and recommend this one to any fans of EVE.

Counting Backwards: Review

Title: Counting Backwards
Author: Laura Lascarso
Release Date: August 2012
Published By: Atheneum Books
Pages: 279
Goodreads Rating: 3.69 stars

Review: When Taylor lands in court from a stolen car, her father convinces the judge of an alternative: a psychiatric correctional facility. Sunny Meadows is anything but the easy way out, as Taylor soon learns when she struggles to maintain her sanity. But even as she tries to hold on to who she used to be, she finds herself letting in two unlikely friends: Margo, an arsonist, and AJ, a boy who doesn't speak. She just might survive after all.

COUNTING BACKWARDS is an emotionally charged novel with moving passages that nearly made me tear up in several places. Taylor is easy to relate to, and so her struggles pull directly at your heart strings as she tries to make sense of her world and herself. Sometimes protagonists in novels of similar storylines can become very tiresome, but this was certainly not the case here.

However, I did have a hard time relating to the romance. I felt like this part of the story was rushed too much, and it went very quickly from Taylor meeting AJ to falling in love with him, which made it hard for me to really believe it. If there was more development in this area, I most likely would have enjoyed the book more, but as it was, I found myself only questioning the likelihood of their romance.

I also had some quibbles with the ending. I won't go into too much detail at risk of giving away spoilers, but it was difficult to believe that everything would just fall into place so smoothly. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for happy endings, but it was just too happy in this case. Something bittersweet, perhaps, or even something that just suggested a happy future might have worked better.

All in all, COUNTING BACKWARDS tells the moving, emotional story of Taylor as she attempts to come to terms with her life. The romance was weak and the ending bordered on being too convenient, but this remains a lovely novel that would be well-suited to any fans of contemporary young adult fiction.

Distractions While Reading

I've been spending most of my lunch break at my internship hanging out at a nearby bookstore, reading. But one aspect of that bookstore that really bothers me is the music they have playing. I don't mind quiet music in the background, but the speakers are just by the reading area and it's loud enough to be distracting.

Generally, I'm all right with dealing with distractions, but it does take me a few minutes to slip into a state where I can concentrate on the book and not anything external. When I'm at home, though, the music definitely gets turned off when I want to read, especially since music I like is infinitely more distracting than pop music I can't stand.

What about you? How do you deal with distractions when you read?

The International Kissing Club: Review

Title: The International Kissing Club
Author: Ivy Adams
Release Date: January 2012
Published By: Walker & Company
Pages: 400
Goodreads Rating: 3.70 stars

Review: Piper, Cassidy, Mei, and Izzy have been friends their entire lives in the small town of Paris, Texas. But when an exchange program gives them an opportunity to be away from their home - and each other - for the first time, they take it. Piper goes to France, Cassidy to Australia, Mei to China, and Izzy, unable to afford it, stays home. To spice things up, they start the International Kissing Club, a Facebook page to brag about all the amazing guys they meet. But not everything turns out the way they plan, and these four friends may not be reunited as the same people they were before.

Ivy Adams tells a cute and fun story through THE INTERNATIONAL KISSING CLUB, chronicling the various adventures the four girls go through. However, the story moves away from the boundaries of traditional so-called "chick lit" by expanding its themes to include serious, budding romances and friendship-straining issues. Though the girls were initially portrayed as somewhat shallow, they revealed themselves to have deeper and more thoughtfully developed personalities, and the growth they experienced from beginning to end was admirable.

Although the plot was enjoyable to follow, there were some aspects that were never quite explained at a satisfying level of detail. At some points, it can be difficult to suspend disbelief enough to not taint the reading experience. Had these plot holes been resolved, the novel would have run more smoothly with fewer snags to distract along the way.

All in all, THE INTERNATIONAL KISSING CLUB is a fun and exciting adventure with much in the way of witty narration. The four characters grow immensely throughout the novel, learning lessons about love and friendship that any reader can relate to. Although the novel would have been better if certain aspects of the plot were explained in greater detail or portrayed more believably, this remains a good story for any fans of relatively light-hearted contemporary fiction.

I Hunt Killers: Review

Title: I Hunt Killers
Author: Barry Lyga
Release Date: April 2012
Published By: Little, Brown
Pages: 359
Goodreads Rating: 4.06 stars

Jasper Dent is a charismatic teenager, well-liked in his small community. But he's also the son of the world's most infamous serial killer, for whom Take Your Son to Work Day was everyday. Jazz has seen unspeakable crimes, and knows exactly how criminals work. So when bodies are piling up in Lobo's Nod. He joins the police in a hunt for this new serial killer. But he has a secret - could he be more like his father than anyone knows?

I HUNT KILLERS brings a fascinating look at serial killers, depicting them with a brutal accuracy and complete with all the gory details, yet without going farther than where it needs to go. It's an unflinching look at the darker side of human nature combined with the compelling voice of Jazz Dent and a story that's never been told quite like this before.

In particular, I appreciated the rich character development of Jazz. He's a difficult person to portray, given the circumstances, but he was depicted as honestly as you could ask for. Yet despite these scary dark points of his personality, he remained relatable as he struggled through his personal obstacles and tried to stay strong. There are people around him who love and care for him, and in a way, I HUNT KILLERS was just like any other young adult book.

It's strange to think that a book about serial killers would have a good romance, but that was definitely true in this case. The characters were strong and complex, and thus Jazz's love story was both awesome and well-written. It was believable and endearing, and added another great component to the story as a whole.

All in all, I HUNT KILLERS is a memorable and fascinating book that's not likely to be forgotten soon. From the wonderfully complicated cast of characters to the sweet romance, this is a book I would recommend to anyone... who isn't too afraid of violence, in any case.

Slide: Review

Title: Slide
Author: Jill Hathaway
Release Date: March 2012
Published By: Balzer + Bray
Pages: 250
Goodreads Rating: 3.75 stars

Review: Everyone thinks Vee's a narcoleptic, but when she has episodes, she doesn't fall asleep - she slides into others' minds. She's seen the worst in people, but nothing could prepare her for sliding into the mind of someone holding a knife over her sister's friend's body. She desperately wants to tell someone, but who would believe her? It's up to Vee to find a way to unmask the killer... before he strikes again.

I originally picked up SLIDE because of its interesting concept of a supposed narcoleptic who can slide into other people's minds. It's a nice twist on the old story of reading people's minds or otherwise gaining alternative perspectives, and I liked how it was incorporated in the story smoothly with just enough explanation to be satisfying without bordering on overwhelming.

However, I did wish that the romance was a little less predictable. There were two main romance lines, one with Vee's best friend Rollins and one with the new guy, Zane, and you could see both of them coming from a mile away. It developed more or less how you would expect it to as well, so I found it difficult to truly enjoy this aspect of the story.

I also had some quibbles regarding the pacing of the plot. Many events built up very slowly, which isn't bad in and of itself, but then I felt like the main mystery of the story wasn't explored as fully or for as long a period of time as it could have been. I wanted a suspenseful and creepy read, and there wasn't as much of those types of elements as I had hoped upon reading the summary.

All in all, SLIDE is a compelling novel with an intriguing concept whose execution was good, but not great. I wanted a better romance and improved pacing so that the novel would be both less predictable and more suspenseful, but it was still a decent read. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys novels with fascinating concepts and relatable protagonists.

Big Girl Small: Review

Title: Big Girl Small
Author: Rachel DeWoskin
Release Date: May 2011
Published By: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Pages: 304
Goodreads Rating: 3.42 stars

Review: Sixteen-year-old Judy is not your average girl, with her incredible singing talent and sarcastic exterior yet vulnerable interior, and you'd expect her to be shaking the auditorium at Darcy Academy, the local performing arts school. But instead she's hiding out from the media in a hotel room because of a scandal - one made worse by the fact that she's three feet, nine inches tall.

Rachel DeWoskin introduces a concept not often seen in YA fiction in BIG GIRL SMALL: dwarfism. Of course most of us have heard of this affliction but unless you have some manner of first-hand experience with it, it's difficult to truly understand what it's like. That's why I loved that the author chose to highlight this issue in her book, because it brought an interesting perspective to something infrequently discussed.

At the same time, I was grateful that the author didn't make it the focus of the book. "Disability books" too often either nearly completely ignore the disability in question or devote far too much plot space to it. I felt this novel struck the perfect balance. Judy's struggles with it were certainly detailed but at the same time, she was presented as a believable teenage girl with the same sorts of problems most teenage girls deal with (boys, friends, etc.).

This read goes pretty quickly because of the fantastic voice used to narrate the novel. Judy was both funny and heartfelt, and reading just the first few pages makes you instantly connect and relate to her as a character. She feels honest, about to come to life on the pages, and makes the 304 pages of this book go very, very fast.

All in all, BIG GIRL SMALL is a read I was pleasantly surprised by. From a brilliant cast of characters to a well-done handling of the issue of dwarfism, this book does not disappoint. I would not hesitate to recommend this novel to anyone who wants to read a contemporary different from what you usually see marching the shelves of a young adult section.

Expectations vs. Reality: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life

Expectations vs. Reality is a new feature here inspired by Small Review that will compare my expectations from a book cover before seeing the summary with the summary itself.


This week I'm looking at The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando.

First, I love this cover. It looks like such a fun and cute read that no matter what the summary actually says, I'm definitely going to pick this up. Now, the title and the car is a dead giveaway that this book features some sort of nighttime adventure, possibly with a popular girl and her friends taking a nerdy guy or something out.  


From Goodreads:

An all-day scavenger hunt in the name of eternal small-town glory

With only a week until graduation, there's one last thing Mary and her friends must do together: participate in the Oyster Point High Official Unofficial Senior Week Scavenger Hunt. And Mary is determined to win.

Mary lost her spot at Georgetown to self-professed "it" bully Jake Barbone, and she's not about to lose again. But everyone is racing for the finish line with complicated motives, and the team's all-night adventure becomes all-night drama as shifting alliances, flared tempers, and crushing crushes take over. As the items and points pile up, Mary and her team must reinvent their strategy--and themselves--in order to win.
 So I was actually pretty off... about the only thing I got right was the nighttime adventure component. But still, the summary sounds even better than what I expected, so yay!

What were your initial thoughts when you saw this cover? Did it match up with the summary?

The Pull of Gravity: Review

Title: The Pull of Gravity
Author: Gae Polisner
Release Date: May 2011
Published By: Farrour, Straus, and Giroux
Pages: 208
Goodreads Rating: 4.00 stars

Review: While Nick Gardner's family slowly falls apart, his best friend Scooter is dying. His last wish is that Nick and their strange classmate Jaycee deliver his prized copy of Of Mice and Men to the father that abandoned Scooter as a baby. There's just one problem, though - no one's heard from the Scoot's father in years. Guided by Steinbeck's wisdom and their own tentative friendship, Nick and Jaycee set out on a journey that just might fix - or destroy - everything.

THE PULL OF GRAVITY is a sweet and touching read, focusing around Nick and Jaycee as they struggle to make sense of life. Both have their problems, and their ways of confronting and grappling with the issues they face are admirable and heart-warming. There's both laughter and tears present in this novel, from the sarcastic witticisms of Jaycee to the hard-hitting obstacles they come up against.

One aspect that I truly loved was simply how well fleshed-out the characters were. A book like this has a concept that's certainly been done many times before, and in order to make it unique, there has to something different. In this case, it was the depictions of the characters. The individual personalities of Jaycee and Nick felt real, and their responses to the problems plaguing them were honest.

However, I did wish that either the romance was handled a little differently or that there simply wasn't one at all. It seemed to come out of nowhere, which bothered me, and so I couldn't really relate to the love between them. Perhaps if it developed a little more slowly, I could have bought into more and have had a better reading experience. As it was, though, I think I would have preferred to just see their friendship grow.

All in all, THE PULL OF GRAVITY is a short but lovely read examining two lives brought together in the face of their varying hardships. I particularly enjoyed reading about how much Nick grew as a character by the end of the novel, and although the romance was not exactly my favorite part of the book, the wonderful cast of characters made up for it. This is a book for anyone who enjoys a nice, touching contemporary coupled with a journey of sorts.

Waiting on Wednesday (on Thursday)

Happy late Independence Day, everyone! This is my Thursday blog post sneakily masquerading as a Waiting on Wednesday (shh...). Although it's too late for me to participate in the official meme, I wanted to share a book I'm anticipating anyway.

Let the Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger. Vane Weston should have died in the category five tornado that killed his parents. Instead, he woke up in a pile of rubble with no memories of his past—except one: a beautiful, dark-haired girl standing in the winds. She's swept through his dreams ever since, and he clings to the hope that she's real.

Audra is real, but she isn't human. She's a sylph, an air elemental who can walk on the wind, translate its alluring songs, even twist it into a weapon. She's also a guardian—Vane’s guardian—and has sworn an oath to protect him at all costs.

When a hasty mistake reveals their location to the enemy who murdered both of their families, Audra has just days to help Vane unlock his memories. And as the storm winds gather, they start to realize the greatest danger might not be the warriors coming to destroy them, but the forbidden romance growing between them. 

Let the Sky Fall releases March 2013. I'm normally not a big fan of paranormal romance but I approve of the girl being the guardian and also THE COVER LOOK HOW PRETTY.

What do you think of this book? What are you waiting on this... uh... Thursday?

Fair Coin: Review

Title: Fair Coin
Author: E. C. Myers
Release Date: March 2012
Published By: Pyr
Pages: 285
Goodreads Rating: 3.53 stars

Review: Ephraim Scott is horrified when he comes home to see his mother collapsed from a suicide attempt because she claims she saw his dead body at the hospital. Among his dead double's belongings, he finds a coin. With a single flip, his mother changes from an alcoholic to a model mother, but the more flips he makes, the more things change... and not always the way he wants them to. The coin can give him anything he wants, if he learns to control its power before his luck runs out.

I thought FAIR COIN would be more or less your typical magic wishes novel, where the protagonist learns that his original life situation was better than making so many changes and so on and so forth. However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised at the rather unique (and science fiction-esque) explanation behind the "magic wishes". It was well-explained, believable, and very original compared to explanations I've seen in other books.

It was unique not just in its concept but also in its cast of characters. Each character was fully developed and original, particularly the entire scenario concerning one of the characters, Nate. Of course, I won't go into it in order to avoid spoilers, but he was particularly complex in a good way. In general, the characters felt real, as if they are captured personalities stuck on a page and could walk off at any moment.

All in all, FAIR COIN was a suspenseful and intriguing science fiction novel that takes a new spin on an old concept. From the un-put-down-able storyline to the well-developed cast of characters, this is a book for anyone who doesn't usually enjoy science fiction or just wants to read something with an interesting concept behind the plot.

Too Many Books

Can such a thing be possible? Of course not :) But what I mean by the heading of this post is reading too many books at once.

Now that it's summer, I have not only more free time but also a great deal of summer reading in addition to my regular reading to accomplish. As a result, I am somehow juggling five books at once, which at first I thought I would not be able to handle.

Surprisingly, though, I haven't found it to be that confusing, perhaps because some of the books are nonfiction and the novels are distinguishable enough that I don't overlap the books in my mind at all.

What about you? Do you have problems reading too many books at once? Do you prefer just reading one book at a time without any interruptions from other books?