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Perfect Escape: Review

Title: Perfect Escape
Author: Jennifer Brown
Release Date: July 2012
Published By: Little, Brown
Pages: 368
Goodreads Rating: 3.73 stars

Review: Kendra has always felt overshadowed by her older brother, Grayson, whose OCD forces him to live a life of carefully coordinated routines. The only way Kendra can stand out next to Grayson is to be perfect -- until a cheating scandal threatens her flawless reputation. Kendra decides to drive away from it all -- with enough distance, maybe she'll be able to figure everything out. But eventually, Kendra must stop running and come to terms with herself, her brother, and her past. 

As one might hope to expect from a novel with "perfect" in the title, PERFECT ESCAPE does a perfect job of drawing emotions from the reader. There were several places throughout the novel where the story was so moving that it even drew tears from me, which is difficult for a book to do, and I found myself relating so much to the protagonist and her brother even though I don't deal with similar issues in my own life.

Speaking of the protagonist, I loved how realistic she was portrayed. Sometimes authors will depict siblings of kids with issues as super-human beings with incredibly empathy who never have ill will towards their challenged brothers or sisters, but that wasn't the case here. While Kendra definitely loved her brother, she experienced immense frustration with him, and that made her seem like such an honest character.

My only complaint about this book is that I really wanted more out of the ending. I didn't feel like everything was wrapped up as well as it could have been, and while I guess I can understand why, stylistically, the author chose to end where she did, I really wanted more in the way of resolution, such as the characters' relationship with their parents. It left me wanting to know more, which is definitely not what a stand-alone novel should do.

All in all, I really enjoyed PERFECT ESCAPE, from the emotion it inspired in me to how honest and real the protagonist felt. It's true that the ending definitely could have been improved, but I still loved it and would freely recommend it to anyone, especially those who are fans of contemporary "issue" books. This is a fantastic depiction of mental illness - OCD, in this case - and I encourage everyone to pick up a copy.


Waiting on Wednesday (58)

This week, I'm waiting on...

Games by Barry Lyga. Here's what Goodreads has to say: Billy grinned. “Oh, New York,” he whispered. “We’re gonna have so much fun.”

I Hunt Killers introduced the world to Jazz, the son of history’s most infamous serial killer, Billy Dent.

In an effort to prove murder didn’t run in the family, Jazz teamed with the police in the small town of Lobo’s Nod to solve a deadly case. And now, when a determined New York City detective comes knocking on Jazz’s door asking for help, he can’t say no. The Hat-Dog Killer has the Big Apple–and its police force–running scared. So Jazz and his girlfriend, Connie, hop on a plane to the big city and get swept up in a killer’s murderous game.

I loved the prequel, I Hunt Killers, so I have no doubt that this sequel is going to be amazing as well!

What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Her and Me and You: Review

Title: Her and Me and You
Author: Lauren Strasnick
Release Date: October 2010
Published By: Simon Pulse
Pages: 208
Goodreads Rating: 3.14 stars

Review: Alex moves with her mess of a mother to a new town, where she is befriended by hot, enigmatic Fred—and alternately flirted with and cold-shouldered by Fred’s twin sister, Adina. Others warn Alex to steer clear of the twins, whose sibling relationship is considered abnormal at best, but there’s just something about Fred—and something about Adina—that draws Alex to them and makes her want to be part of their crazy world…no matter the consequences.

This is a book that overall got some rather negative reviews, and I chalk this up to the book's, well, quirkiness. There's something about this plot that's very, very different from what you typically see, and that's the kind of thing that's going to really appeal to some readers and really turn off others. In my case, it was definitely a case of major appeal. HER AND ME AND YOU was disconcerting in just the right way to strike me as completely awesome.

Underneath the layer of quirkiness, though, there's a lovely, moving story. There is enough emotion in here to drive through your heart, and there were certainly parts of the plot where all I wanted to do was give Alex a huge hug and tell her everything will be okay. The writing was gorgeous enough to perfectly convey all the sweet emotion through the beautifully simple prose.

And of course, the romantic sub-plot in this book was a major component of the novel, so it would be a huge damper if it didn't live up to expectations. Luckily, the romance was amazing, and exactly the kind of thing I've been looking for in a book - a love interest who isn't necessarily all that eye-catchingly attractive and a romance that's fun and sweet and moving without the characters swearing their undying, eternal love for each other.

All in all, HER AND ME AND YOU was everything I look for in a book. It was quirky, it had heart, and it had an amazing romance that honestly ranks among my favorite YA romances ever (I guess this means I have weird taste). If you're fans of quirky books that don't always necessarily get great reviews, I can't recommend this enough.
 

Don't You Wish: Review

Title: Don't You Wish
Author: Roxanne St. Claire
Release Date: July 2012
Published By: Delacorte Books
Pages: 368
Goodreads Rating: 3.93 stars

Review: When unpopular Annie Nutter gets zapped through one of her dad's crazy inventions and turns into rich, beautiful, and popular Ayla Monroe, she thinks nothing could be better. She lives in glitzy Miami, parties backstage at concerts, hits the clubs with her friends, and has the most gorgeous boyfriend she could imagine. But on the inside, she's still Annie, and not everything is as great as it seems. Soon she's confronted with a choice to make: should she stay or should she go?

I had my reservations about DON'T YOU WISH, and at first I thought my worries came true because the start of the book was slow-going for me. Annie seemed relatively flat at the beginning and I found her complaints to be rather tiresome. However, as the book progressed, the plot grabbed me more and more, and Annie definitely matured and became much more likeable and readable. 

The other main concern I had before starting this book was that the plot would be cliche because, let's be honest, this kind of plot-line has been done too many times to count in the past, whether it be through parallel universes or wishing or a bizarre invention that lands the nerd girl in the queen bee's body. Fortunately, the story quickly revealed its own unique way of dealing with this kind of plot, so for that reason, this book stands out among others with similar stories.

This isn't usually the case for me, but one of my favorite parts of this book was the romance. Because of length constraints and by nature of being a subplot, I often find that the romances I read in novels don't really grab me that much, but this was certainly not the case here. Annie/Ayla's romance with Charlie built up slowly but steadily, and it was definitely one of the better romances I've read. For sure, I wouldn't mind knowing him in real life!

All in all, DON'T YOU WISH surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. I came in expecting a cliche book with an irritating main character, and while that seemed true for the first chapter or so, the quality of the novel soon emerged. This stands out from other books with similar plots and has a great romance, to boot. I recommend this to any fans of Fair Coin, or anyone who wants a different type of "wishing" book.

Waiting on Wednesday (57)

This week, I'm waiting on...

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling. Here's what Goodreads has to say: When Barry Fairweather dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?


I mean, it's by J. K. Rowling, so I'm not really sure what else there is to say! What do you think of this book? What are you waiting on this Wednesday? 

A Blue So Dark: Review

Title: A Blue So Dark                                                  
Author: Holly Schindler                                              
Release Date: May 2010                                            
Published By: Flux                                                     
Pages: 277                                                                   
Goodreads Rating: 3.80 stars                                   

Review: Fifteen-year-old Aura has had to rely on herself ever since her dad left her with her mother, a talented artist being drawn farther and farther into the depths of schizophrenia. As her mother sinks into mental illness, she tries to ignore her own artistic urges, convinced that "creative" equals "crazy", but she can't stop herself from being drawn to art. Just as desperation threatens to swallow her whole, she learns that love, family, and art are inextricably linked.

A BLUE SO DARK is a beautiful book that explores family dynamics and the impacts of mental deterioration, and of course, any book that covers such topics is bound to be depressing, as this one was. I don't mean that in a bad way, though. This is a book that hits you right in the feels, and while it wasn't at John Green levels of heart-wrenching, tear-inducing sadness, it certainly provokes a great deal of emotion from you.

Of course, as with most young adult novels, there was a romantic subplot intertwined with the main story line, as hinted at in the summary. Going into the book, I worried that the romance would take over the story, but luckily, this was not the case. It was an important element but managed to not steal the focus of the novel, which I greatly appreciated.

There were, however, some aspects of the story that I didn't quite believe. For example, a major component of the novel was Aura's own struggles with her artistic talents. She was utterly convinced that doing art is what leads to mental illness, but I just don't believe that out of all the intense research she did on schizophrenia, she never learned that fact. I also felt that some of her interactions with her grandmother were unbelievable, but I'll leave it at that to avoid spoilers.

All in all, A BLUE SO DARK was an emotional and moving novel about the effect of schizophrenia on a family struggling to hold themselves together. It's a great look at schizophrenia, and while there is a bit of an emotional roller coaster, it ends on an ultimately high note. I would recommend this to any fans of "heavy" contemporary fiction.

Expectations vs. Reality: Unremembered

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 Unremembered by Jessica Brody.


EXPECTATIONS

This cover is so pretty! The blurry face and of course the title make me think this is a book about amnesia. Perhaps the protagonist, a teenage girl, underwent some sort of accident and emerged from it with her memories missing, which makes sense with the subtitle at the top. "A love unchanged" definitely implies there's some sort of romantic angle going on.

REALITY

Here's what Goodreads has to say:
When Freedom Airlines flight 121 went down over the Pacific Ocean, no one ever expected to find survivors. Which is why the sixteen-year-old girl discovered floating among the wreckage—alive—is making headlines across the globe.

Even more strange is that her body is miraculously unharmed and she has no memories of boarding the plane. She has no memories of her life before the crash. She has no memories period. No one knows how she survived. No one knows why she wasn’t on the passenger manifest. And no one can explain why her DNA and fingerprints can’t be found in a single database in the world.

Crippled by a world she doesn’t know, plagued by abilities she doesn’t understand, and haunted by a looming threat she can’t remember, Seraphina struggles to piece together her forgotten past and discover who she really is. But with every clue only comes more questions. And she’s running out of time to answer them.

Her only hope is a strangely alluring boy who claims to know her from before the crash. Who claims they were in love. But can she really trust him? And will he be able to protect her from the people who have been making her forget?
Okay, let's just take a moment to contemplate how utterly AWESOME this summary sounds. I suppose I was fairly close with the whole wiped memory aspect.

What do you think of this book? What were your expectations when you saw the cover?

Dark Parties: Review

Title: Dark Parties
Author: Sara Grant
Release Date: August 2011
Published By: Little, Brown
Pages: 320
Goodreads Rating: 3.51 stars

Review: Sixteen-year-old Neva has been trapped beneath the Protectosphere since birth, a shell that both keeps citizens safe from outside and locks them in. Neva and Sanna believe the government is lying about what lies beyond the sphere and decide to stage a dark party to recruit others who are questioning the government as well. But as Neva begins to uncover the truth, she realizes she must question everything she's ever known, including the people she loves.

As soon as I started DARK PARTIES, I discovered how wonderfully addictive this story is. It's true that the summary sounds like it belongs to a generic dystopian novel, but the actual details of this story are what make the book unique, not to mention utterly engrossing. Once you really get into the middle of the book, it becomes close to impossible to put this book down and just ignore the suspense ratcheting higher and higher.

Apart from the suspense, another reason this book was such a page-turner was because of the protagonist. Neva had a voice that made the novel very easy to read, and as a character, she was everything you could want. She had a personality that felt like it belonged to someone in real life, and while she was strong and admirable, she still had character flaws that made her someone readers can relate to.

Of course, a reading experience can be soured by a poor ending, but this was luckily not the case. I loved the ending in this book and thought it wrapped up the story line very nicely, both with the plot progression and with her familial, friend, and romantic relationships tying up mostly neatly with plenty of room for growth. I'm excited to read the sequel to this book, which better come out soon.

All in all, I ended up enjoying DARK PARTIES a lot more than I would. If you're finding yourself tired of reading dystopian novels that all have very similar plots and writing, you may find this to be a refreshing change. There's something about it that's uniquely addicting and suspenseful, and of course, once you pick it up, there's no guarantee you can put it down.

Ripper: Review

Title: Ripper
Author: Amy Carol Reeves
Release Date: April 2012
Published By: Flux
Pages: 340
Goodreads Rating: 3.54 stars

Review: In 1888, after her mother's sudden death, Abbie lives with her grandmother in London and volunteers at a local hospital, but as bodies murdered at the hands of Jack the Ripper show up, she comes to a realization. She and the Ripper are connected through her visions, leading her on a perilous hunt for the killer where she uncovers a mysterious brotherhood that affects not just London but all of mankind.

I had high hopes for RIPPER, but unfortunately I was disappointed, largely because of the characters. Abbie had a lot of potential to be an interesting character, but instead she came across as rather flat and wooden. There just wasn't anything that particularly stood out in her personality, making her a generic "I don't want to be a lady" female protagonist in historical fiction. I just couldn't care about her enough to be much affected by the twists and turns nor the love triangle she found herself swept up in.

Speaking of these twists and turns, I do have to say that there were places where the story became rather suspenseful. However, these were in contrast to other areas where the suspense was just not there. There were supernatural twists that didn't excite me, perhaps because I didn't feel that the historical and paranormal aspects meshed well enough. It felt almost like the element of her visions was just thrown in there.

I also thought that a good deal of the plot was rather cliche. The idea of there being more to Jack the Ripper than just a serial killer was interesting, but as I said, Abbie was generic and her love triangle was woefully predictable. There was just wasn't enough to make it unique, and the new aspect of the brotherhood and all that didn't really balance out the flaws.

All in all, RIPPER had a great deal of potential but didn't measure up. The protagonist just came across as too dull to me, and the suspense was not as high as it could have been. The melding of the two genres (historical and paranormal) wasn't that smooth either, and overall I felt a bit disappointed with this book.

Hush: Review

Title: Hush
Author: Eishes Chayil
Release Date: September 2010
Published By: Walker Children
Pages: 368
Goodreads Rating: 3.96 stars

Review: Inside the closed community of Borough Park, where most Chassidim live, everyone abides by the strict rules laid down in an ancient text thousands of years ago. But one thing not covered is abuse, and when Gittel learns of the abuse affecting her best friend, she doesn't know what to do. Everyone around her tries to persuade her it's nothing and to forget about it, but as she's continually confronted by the situation and her own overwhelming guilt, she begins to question everything she was raised to believe.

I'm not entirely sure why - perhaps it had something to do with the cover - but when I started this book, I thought it was going to be a dystopian novel. I was certainly far off the mark! But even though this was not what I expected, I found myself loving this book far beyond my anticipations. HUSH was truly eye-opening, a novel told through elegant writing that slowly peeled away the layers of this dark, dark story.

There are a lot of books out there that cover topics like abuse, ranging from within a family to external forces, but HUSH provided a unique look at this issue by telling a story about the not-so-well-known Chassidim culture. I am not a religious person and didn't know much about this type of community, so I really appreciated getting the opportunity to learn about it, especially because it seemed to be an unbiased view, highlighting both the positive and negative aspects of the culture.

This book's most obvious aspect, of course, is how emotionally wrenching the storyline is. It is very difficult to get through all these pages without crying or at the very least tearing up at some points during this beautiful and moving story. Gittel was a fantastic narrator, and through her voice the reader can glean information not only about the events and people around her but her own complex character.

All in all, HUSH was a phenomenal story, the rare kind of book that you can only come across once in a while. It is moving and complex, with an emotional beauty that will rock even the hardest of hearts. I cannot recommend this book enough, and encourage everyone, particularly fans of "issues" books, to give it a try.

Waiting on Wednesday (56)

This week, I'm waiting on...

That Time I Joined the Circus by J. J. Howard. Here's what Goodreads has to say: A music-obsessed, slightly snarky New York City girl, Lexi is on her own. After making a huge mistake—and facing a terrible tragedy— Lexi has no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. Rumor has it that Lexi’s mom is somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus.

When Lexi arrives at her new, three-ring reality, her mom isn’t there…but her destiny might be. Surrounded by tigers, elephants, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds some surprising friends and an even more surprising chance at true love. She even lucks into a spot as the circus’s fortune teller, reading tarot cards and making predictions.

But then Lexi’s ex-best friend from home shows up, and suddenly it’s Lexi’s own future that’s thrown into question… 


It involves joining the circus. I'm not really sure what else there is to say other than MUST HAVE.

What do you think of this book? What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Brightly Woven: Review

Title: Brightly Woven
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Release Date: March 2010
Published By: Egmont
Pages: 354
Goodreads Rating: 3.89 stars

Review: When rain comes for the first time in a ten-year drought, Wayland North shows up to take Sydelle away from her village to act as his personal assistant. She's eager to join him in the fight against the war threatening their kingdom, but he has secrets about himself, why he chose her, and what his real reasons for the journey are - and most of all, why his sworn enemy has an interest in Sydelle too.

I love books with strong female protagonists, and BRIGHTLY WOVEN was no exception. Sydelle has guts, which I appreciated, and she was both spunky and fun to read about. Occasionally I'll stumble across a book with a protagonist who spends far too much time whining and submitting to everyone around, so it's always a breath of fresh air to read about a character like Sydelle.

Of course, few fantasy books are complete without a romance, and this was no exception. This novel had possibly one of my favorite romances of all time. North was an incredible love interest, and I could totally relate to how much Sydelle liked him. He was kind, smart, funny, had a dark past, and - not going to lie - he was hot.

I know, I know, it sounds completely cliche to hear about a romantic interest with a "dark past", but I promise it's well done in this book. North's secrets were both believable and unexpected, and though he was occasionally moody, it didn't completely discolor his character in any way. He was a complex and flawed character, and one I was so ready to fall in love with.

All in all, BRIGHTLY WOVEN is one of the rare fantasy novels that truly has it all: brilliant characters, fantastic plot developments, and an amazing romance. Fantasy isn't exactly my favorite genre for the most part, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. I would recommend this book to everyone, but particularly to those who don't typically read fantasy.

Expectations vs. Reality: The Dead and Buried

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 The Dead and Buried by Kim Harrington.


 

EXPECTATIONS

This cover is fantastically creepy! The girl seems to be descending into a cellar or basement of some sort, and the combination of the ghostly feel with the title makes me suspect there are ghosts and spirits haunting her house. Perhaps it's the kind of story where the protagonist needs to resolve the ghosts' problems and free them to the afterlife.

REALITY


Here's what Goodreads has to say:
A haunted house, a buried mystery, and a very angry ghost make this one unforgettable thriller.
Jade loves the house she's just moved into with her family. She doesn't even mind being the new girl at the high school: It's a fresh start, and there's that one guy with the dreamy blue eyes. . . .
But then things begin happening. Strange, otherworldly things.
Jade's little brother claims to see a glimmering girl in his room. Jade's jewelry gets moved around, as if by an invisible hand. Kids at school whisper behind her back like they know something she doesn't.
Soon, Jade must face an impossible fact: that her perfect house . . . is haunted.
Haunted by a ghost who's seeking not just vengeance, but the truth. The ghost of a girl who ruled Jade's school -- until her untimely death last year. It's up to Jade to put the pieces together before her own life is at stake. As Jade investigates the mystery, she discovers that her new friends in town have more than a few deep, dark secrets.
But is one of them a murderer?
Okay, so I was pretty close with the ghostly part, although it wouldn't take a genius to figure that out! The idea of one of the people in her town being a murderer is intriguing though. I'm looking forward to picking this one up!

Starters: Review

Title: Starters
Author: Lissa Price
Release Date: March 2012
Published By: Delacorte Books
Pages: 352
Goodreads Rating: 3.91 stars

Review: When the Spore Wars wipe out everyone between the ages of 20 and 60, Callie, her brother Tyler, and her friend Michael live as squatters, where they could killed any second. Callie's only hope is renting her body to Prime Destinations, allowing the elderly to inhabit her body for weeks at a time. But when the neurochip they implanted malfunctions, she discovers that her renter wants to do more than just party - and that Prime Destinations' plans are more than she could ever have imagined.

There are plenty of dystopian novels out there that deal with similar concepts as STARTERS, such as a war or disease wiping out a large portion of the population, but I'd never read anything that featured something like Prime Destinations. The idea of Starters (young people) renting out their bodies to Enders (the older generation) was both fascinating and horrifying, and although I thought it was a little unrealistic, it was interesting to see how the author dealt with the dynamic of only the young and the old surviving.

Probably one of my favorite aspects of this novel were the plot twists. In particular, I was very thrown off with what happened with Blake, especially since I had thought that it was something predictable - how wrong was I! These really spiced up the book and kept me guessing throughout the story. Dystopians are sometimes rather formulaic, so something like this ended up being quite refreshing for me to read.

However, while the plot in general was woven skillfully, I did wish there was more development in other areas. Specifically, I was hoping there would be more concerning Michael. That could have been an interesting dynamic for the author to go more in-depth with, and I was disappointed that only the surface of his relationship to Callie was explored.

All in all, STARTERS was an intriguing and original dystopian novel with a fantastic concept and numerous unpredictable plot twists. I wish there had been a little more development in places such as Callie's friendship with Michael, but overall this is a solid book that I would recommend to fans of dystopian fiction.