Monday, May 25, 2015

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Breckenbrough Review

Title: The Game of Love and Death
Author: Martha Breckenbrough
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Scholastic, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

Not since The Book Thief has the character of Death played such an original and affecting part in a book for young people.

Well, first off, they used The Book Thief. I was in when they said that. (As Zeke from Bob's Burgers would say, 'I just got a little tingle when you said that!') And then Love alongside Death? Yes, yes please!

Flora Saudade and Henry Thorne are complete opposites. One longs for flight, and for the freedom it promises--a reprieve from a life of hard work and hard times, grief and fear obvious in every step; the other longs for a place to belong, a poor boy tucked into a family of rich people, and for the magic that music brings. Brought together by forces neither of them can even imagine, the two of them realize that while love may cost them just about everything, it might just be worth it after all.

Where do I start with this book? As I said previously, they used The Book Thief, one of my favorite books of all time, for the marketing. I was already intrigued, but the curious, unique style that Breckenbrough brings to the table really did me in. Love and Death, fighting a game for ultimate supremacy, using humans as the pieces? Heck yes!

The writing of this book is gorgeous, exquisite, a literary feast for the imagination and the mind. From birth on, the story of Flora, and Henry, and their intertwining lives spins an intriguing, if unconventional, story. And then there's the players in the background: Death, cold, inevitable, terrifying, but secretly lonely and longing for a connection. And then there's Love, the permanent loser, tender and sensitive and sweet, but not above using his own tricks to affect the outcome of the deadly Game/

But what really sold this novel for me was the relationship between Flora and Henry: torn apart by all the differences and hatred of the world, but brought together by first love. There's Flora, who for love has reaped nothing but tragedy, and Henry, who doesn't really know what love is, but is certain that Flora is to be his for the rest of time. Their relationship, even in the developing stages, was painful to watch. But it was worth it--this book is a lovely, worthy chronicle to what terrible (and wonderful) trials love and death bring us all, and poses the question: Is giving up everything worth being with your soulmate? The bottom line: An achingly lovely, gorgeous tome, The Game of Love and Death is a more than worthy debut--an all time favorite of mine! I will be looking forward to more from Martha Breckenbrough! Next on deck: Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace Review

Title: Archivist Wasp
Author: Nicole Kornher-Stace
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Dystopian Fiction/Horror
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Small Beer Press, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

Did you enjoy The Sin Eater's Daughter? Do you like novels that aren't exactly one clean cut genre? Badass heroines with smart mouths? Gore? Ghosts? Weird, twisty plots?

If you said yes to any or all of these questions, I'm not kidding--go to your nearest bookstore and grab this gem. What an odd, weird little book. But it is strangely beautiful, even though I couldn't put my finger on exactly what genre it belongs to. This book is one that can't be put in one category. And I think that's one of the reasons I loved it so much.

Wasp is an Archivist--a young woman in the service to the Catchkeep, the reigning goddess of her strange world. Bound by duty to her village, its people, and the priest of Catchkeep, Wasp has grown tired of her burden: catching ghosts, killing upstarts, being feared by all who know her. Her hands dripping in blood, Wasp resents her purpose. When she catches a ghost who happens to be able to talk, she finds herself in a predicament even she isn't sure she can get out of unscathed. Leaving her village to brave the Underworld, she discovers that in order to find the freedom she craves, she must fight with every fiber of her being, and even that may not be enough.

Where do I start with this? I loved this book. It wasn't very clear, setting and world-building wise, but I didn't really care about that. The focus of this novel is Wasp. The girl who tires of killing, of fear, of spirits of the dead whispering to her. Frustrated and trapped, she is offered an out: a mysterious ghost asks her to help him find his best friend, Foster. Seeing this opportunity as a means to an end, she agrees, fully intending to cut and run when she's able.

I loved Wasp's character development: first, she is angry, frustrated, and tired. Forced to do her duty, to cling to her only purpose, even though she senses right off that something's wrong. And it wasn't even just her character development; I loved that she was a woman with power in her own right, formidable and terrifying. Wasp is a complex and relatable character, and I really enjoyed her. And then there's the mysterious ghost. (Throughout the whole book, it doesn't have a name. It's just 'the ghost'. But strangely, I was okay with that..) Begging Wasp for help to find his only friend, he too is hiding secrets, just like her.

But what made this book for me, really, was the journey, from Wasp's town to the Underworld, and through it. A terrifying, harrowing, and eye-opening quest, I loved this book. Almost everything about it. Couldn't give it five stars completely though, as the world-building was very vague and confusing, but I loved it anyway! The bottom line: For those of you that enjoy a good enigma, go pick up Archivist Wasp! Next on deck: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma Review

Title: The Walls Around Us
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Horror
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

Ballet has fascinated me ever since I was a child. What little girl doesn't dream, however briefly, of being a prima ballerina, seducing the audience with her grace, beauty, and form, telling a story with her body as the pen? It reminds me of my first ballet--a mandatory school trip, back in elementary school. I don't remember much--the velvet darkness of the hall, the hush of the audience as the spotlight dropped on the star, and the way the music enchanted me just as much as the dancer had. Every one of us dreams of being a higher being than we really are--and ballerinas get to have that, but not without sweat, blood, and tears.

This book has got to be one of the best of the entire year. Nova Ren Suma, where in the world have you been all my life? Gorgeous, frightening, lifelike prose frames the story of three young women: Orianna, Violet, and Amber. Ori is a gorgeous dancer, life and her love for it pouring out of her, but not as much as when she takes to the stage to dance. And then there's Violet: Violet who is tortured repeatedly by her fellow dancers, good enough for the background but never for the spotlight. And then there's Amber, the dead girl who 'killed' her stepfather and paid the ultimate price.

Where do I begin? I loved the way ballet was mixed into the plot. (I'm more than a bit curious about watching Black Swan now..) The prose was glorious, dark, gory, and potent. Well-worded metaphors and comparisons frame frightening incidences, more often than not with more than enough gore. (I love gory horror stories! Makes it that much more fun.)

I'll warn you guys, now: prepare to be mind fucked like never before, should you choose to read this novel. (Which, you should! Worth it.) The thing I loved most about this book was that it veered it all sorts of directions, and it exposed the darker part of human nature that most would rather ignore than face. This book is dark, gory, and terrifying. But it is also a powerful message: If society doesn't even want you, then what's the point in trying to be good? (Not condoning any bad behavior here! Lol.) What do we do with the 'dregs' of society? Are a bunch of bad little girls even worth saving?

Part of what was so dark about this lovely little book were the characters: There's Ori, who did nothing but try to protect a friend in desperate need of help, with a bright future ahead of her. And then there's Violet: too scared to stand up against her tormentors, the constant pressure of being perfect already cracking her fragile facade. And finally, there's Amber, who did something so terrible at thirteen that it got her put away for life.

But the twists--the twists!--were what really made me love this book. I couldn't predict it; half the time, I had to reread at least twice so I could really understand what was going on. And the ending--holy fucking hell, what a bombshell of an ending! Amazing! Bravo! Wonderful! (Why can't all my books end like that? *sob*) The bottom line: If you love horror novels, ballet, a good mind screw, or friendships gone wrong, The Walls Around Us is a perfect fit! Next on deck: Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook Review

Title: Every Last Promise
Author: Kristin Halbrook
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Balzer and Bray, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

Trigger warning: rape/sexual assault

Again, as I've said before, 2015 seems like the golden year for contemporary fiction. I love the way authors this year have taken tough issues and crafted stories from them, using fiction to tell readers about hard truths--and the reward of doing what's right. Rape is something that happens all the time. And excuses are made. "Boys will be boys." "Well, she was asking for it. Look at how short her skirt was!" "She shouldn't have flirted with him." Halbrook's debut novel isn't just a story, or a warning, or a moral.

She's speaking out for the victims who are too frightened or traumatized to speak out, and for the people who have witnessed such an assault who fear retribution.

Kayla has returned to her home after an excruciating time in Kansas City. In the aftermath of a scarring event, the home she loves so much--with every fiber of her being--doesn't love her back anymore. Harassed or ignored entirely by peers, bullied and frightened, fragile, broken Kayla wrestles with guilt large enough to crush the soul, torn between doing the right thing and belonging in the home she cares so much for.

This book was by all turns terrifying, and terribly sad. Who do you go to when you have no one else? Where do you go, when you lose your place in the world? Despite Kayla's hesitation, I really felt for her. She was so scared, and so scarred. Was it a party simply gone out of control? Or did she actually witness a heinous, horrible crime? What was interesting for me about Kayla, too, was that for most of the book, even she isn't altogether certain what happened.

It really hurt me, as well, to watch Kayla lose her friends, her one support system in the dog-eat-dog world of high school. And in high school, nothing is more important to you than your friendships. But I also remember how quickly people can turn on you--and it brought back some intense memories.

I loved that every single character in this book is important: Selena, Kayla's former best friend, Bean, another friend who has mysteriously cut ties with them, Caleb, Kayla's older brother, who is wrestling with his own burden of guilt. Jay, the golden boy who can do no wrong, and the whole town that worships him and his family.

The bottom line: A beautiful, darkly terrifying book revealing the ugly side of small town living, Every Last Promise should be a must-read for all. A greatly important piece of fiction--one of my favorite contemporary books of the entire year! Next on deck: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Finding Paris by Joy Preble Review

Title: Finding Paris
Author: Joy Preble
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Balzer and Bray, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

Lately, I've been getting into contemporary fiction--it's a genre I've grown to enjoy (dare I say, love?) as much as any high fantasy novel. And I'm happy to report to you guys that 2015 seems to be a great year for contemporary young adult fiction. This is Joy Preble's contemporary fiction debut. I've had my eye on her Anastasia series for a while now, so when I saw that this was up for grabs, I went for it, letting my curiosity lead me.

I love novels about family; in particular, married couples, and sibling relationships. Leonora aka Leo Hollings and her sister, Paris, are complete opposites. Paris is the social butterfly, the life of the party, flighty and beautiful, magnetic and compelling. Leo, on the other hand, is the go-getter. The straight shooter, the would-be doctor, science fanatic. Two sides of the same coin, and there's no one they trust more than one another.

That is, until the night Paris disappears, leaving Leo in a diner in the middle of Vegas at four in the morning. Led by a mysterious set of cryptic, vague clues, she meets Max Sullivan--a stranger, an acquaintance forged by a piece of bad coconut cream pie. Feeling she has no one to trust, Leo and Max set off to try and find Paris. And in the process, discover themselves, and the fact that even the most unassuming people have their secrets.

I really enjoyed this book. It was nice getting inside Leo's head. The girl who thinks she has it all figured out, until the night her life is turned upside down. I really enjoyed her, and her character development. Quiet, unassuming, and rock solid, I loved that you got past her perfect facade. Our image is so important to us when we're young--we all want to be seen in a certain way. I loved that she was real, and flawed, and utterly beautiful. And then there's Paris, her sister, a figure you only really interact with in Leo's memories, a faint presence of the past always on her mind. And then Max, the boy that Leo may or may not be falling for, who has more secrets of his own than he's willing to really admit, but truly wants Leo to be happy. Leo's family, too, were complex and dynamic. Not really likable, but definitely able to leave an impression on the reader.

The pacing was breakneck--I couldn't put it down, once I began to try piecing together Paris's disappearance. I loved the way the book went--I was expecting it to go one direction, but it completely reversed, and I didn't see it coming! I loved the twists that this book contained. A lovely tale of road trips, sisterhood, cute boys, and self-discovery, but what really sold me on this book was the explosive ending.

This book was wonderful, it really was, but at times, it just seemed like the journey Leo goes on gets a little out of control, and it didn't make sense to me that Leo was directed away. (You'll see in the book!) The bottom line: An engaging, sensitive contemporary debut, I loved Finding Paris--one of my favorite contemporary books of the year! Next on deck: Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

99 Days by Katie Cotugno Review

Title: 99 Days
Author: Katie Cotugno
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Balzer and Bray, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review-thank you so much!

This is a difficult review to start. I wanted to love this book, and I did--parts of it. Others, I was completely frustrated with. This book had enormous potential to be a real contender for my favorite contemporary of the year, but most of the book just fell flat and turned me off. I still am not quite sure how I felt about this novel.

The beginning of this novel was like a dream. We are introduced to Molly, at the beginning of the summer, sick and full of dread. She's lost everything: her friends, her boyfriend. She has no social life to speak of, and is counting down the days until fall, where she can go to Boston and make a fresh start for herself. I loved Molly at first, searching for herself in a life suddenly unmoored by a foolish mistake.

That is, until the Donnelly boys make an appearance. There's Patrick, Molly's first love, first boyfriend, her best friend for her whole life. And then there's his brother, Gabe. Gorgeous, open Gabe, who she is drawn to like a magnet. The whole later half of the book is focused on the love triangle. It was so frustrating--Molly completely stops thinking of her own future, and instead, she's torn between the two boys.

It all becomes one giant clusterfuck--Molly almost has her normal life back, then she ruins it all over again. And the whole book was full of slut-shamers--it really bothered me. The bottom line: This book could've been beautiful, but was bogged down by an insane love triangle. Loved the first half, hated the last half. Next on deck: Finding Paris by Joy Preble!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman Review

Title: Challenger Deep
Author: Neal Shusterman (illustrations by Brendan Shusterman)
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This book was given to me by the publisher, Harpercollins, through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!

I'm slightly embarrassed to tell you all that this is my first work by Neal Shusterman. (I don't know what it is, but apparently authors with the name Neal seem to stick with me..) And I spent a good amount of this book wondering why I had waited so long. (I can't wait to read more from Neal Shusterman! Yes, I'm officially fangirling. Moving on..)

Mental illness still in this day and age still has a bad stigma; to be diagnosed with a mental illness, to some people, is tantamount to being told that you're 'crazy'. I'll be the first to admit that many people I know struggle with it, myself included. I've dealt with anxiety and depression. Mental illness, addressed in anything these days, makes me nervous. Some people are so judgmental about it.

Neal Shusterman understands mental illness. In Caden, the protagonist he creates, the reader is led across his mind, and a terrifying, enlightening journey it is. This book was one giant mindfuck, but one I definitely enjoyed. It was unpredictable, heartbreaking, terrifying, magical. Impossible, even? Sometimes you're on a pirate ship. Sometimes, you're in one of Caden's memories. Sometimes, you're being seen by a doctor. Part of the reason I loved this book so much was because it was so wild.

And how's this for a bonus? Neal's son, Brendan, drew the illustrations! It added an even richer depth to this beautiful, heartwrenching book. Caden's journey is one that I thoroughly enjoyed. This book gave me everything: I laughed, I cried, I rejoiced, I raged.

I don't really know how to explain the plot, but perhaps it's for the best. It's better to go in blind on Caden's quest through the mysteries of his mind--it makes it even sweeter when you come out on the other side. Wow. I can't stop smiling, knowing that there may be more of Shusterman's work in my future. The bottom line: A gorgeous and frightening mind screw of a novel, Challenger Deep is a must--one of my favorite books of the year! Next on deck: 99 Days by Katie Cotugno!