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Review: The Memory Book

The Memory Book - Lara Avery

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

This book was an absolute heartbreaker. And I loved it. Surprised because I really wasn’t expecting much considering I really didn’t like the last book I read by the same author, but I really enjoyed this one.

 

The novel tells the story of 18 year old Samantha, who has a rare disease which will cause memory loss and other nasty side effects, very few teenagers are diagnosed with the disease and very few (if any) survive. Sam is very smart and almost ready to graduate high school, with dreams of going to college in New York. Determined to survive and live her life the best she can, in spite of the horrible news she’s been dealing with.

 

She writes The Memory Book as a guide to her future self for when her memory has been sliding and she can’t remember things. She has two younger siblings, a brother and a sister and involved parents who are reluctant about the whole college thing. She sees a guidance councillor regularly and doctors regularly.  Sam is a brilliant debater, she’s off to Regional Debate Championships with her friend and debating partner Maddie, she’s set to be Valedictorian when she graduates. And the boy she’s had a crush on for years, Stuart, who went off to New York and became a published writer, has come back into town. All going pretty good. She’s going a high school party and actually talks to her long term crush.

 

However, it all starts to go wrong, symptoms of Sam’s illness which cause her to forget where she is, strike suddenly, and unexpectedly. Maddie freaks because Sam didn’t tell her about the seriousness of her illness, Sam is naturally crushed. Bright point of life is when she starts developing a friendship into something more serious with Stuart. At the same time her childhood friend Cooper has recently come back into her life as well, Cooper became a big baseball star in high school then blew it with a pot addiction. Sam finds an unexpected closeness with Cooper, opening up to him as they reminisce about their childhood companionship.

 

The novel was very emotional, I loved Sam’s voice, given what she was dealing with she was incredibly strong and very brave. Her inner monologue went from a range of emotions from excitement and swooning over her developing relationship with Stuart, funny, moody, despair. She talks about her fears, her desires, what she longs for. The struggles with talking about what she’s going through. Dealing with the fall outs when things happen.

 

There’s a love triangle that does pop up but it’s one that works really well and managed to surprise me. And still made me smile.

 

Sam’s memory book also includes input from her parents and siblings and later Cooper who all start adding to the narrative.  The emotional impact was incredibly deep and moving.

 

By the end I was in floods of tears. I was reading the last 20% or so during a slow afternoon at work and by the time I’d finished I had to leave the office and have a cry in the toilets for five minutes. I reread the end again at home and cried all over again.

 

Beautiful, beautiful book. The story manages to go from cute and funny to gut wrenching with some incredibly sad moments. Even so, it was a really amazing read. I loved it so much I bought a finished copy.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Hatchette Children’s Group.

DNF: The One Memory of FLora Banks

The One Memory of Flora Banks - Emily Barr

I received a copy from Netgalley.
Not for me, read about 30 pages and I hated it. It's an interesting concept about a girl who can't remember anything until she kisses her best friends boyfriend which she actually remembers. The best friends boyfriend is a dick who is clearly taking advantage of FLora because he KNOWS she won't remember, yet says some bullshit about her being different from all the other girls, so she's convinces herself she loves him. That alone is eye rolling enough to make me want to throw things. The narrative is also very repetitive I'm guessing because of the uniqueness of Flora's illness she can't remember things so she writes the down and says it to herself over and over, dry annoying very quickly. Not for me. Marking as did not finish.

Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK Children's books for approving my request to view the title.

Review: The Turn

The Turn: The Hollows Begins with Death - Kim Harrison

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

Since The Hollows is one of my favourite urban fantasy series, and probably one the series that got me hooked on urban fantasy in the first place, a prequel to the Hollows was a must have. I put in a Netgalley request as soon as I saw it. (Even though I’m only up to book 7 in the series).

 

Though after reading it, I can’t honestly say I liked it all that much. It was okay, somewhere between a two and a three star read for me. The first half of the book was full of science stuff that I found incredibly boring and a slog to get through. I’ve never DNFed a Kim Harrison book before, so series and author love made me determined to finish it.

 

 I found it quite confusing, it didn’t help also that I could have sworn there was a Trent Kalamak in the Rachel Morgan series. It was only when I was reading reviews on Goodreads and saw the questions about this book section that someone else had asked the same thing that was puzzling me. Not the same character, two different characters (though there was a ding! moment towards the end of the book that made me go aaaah, that’s why).

 

One or two familiar characters also popped up, demon Algaliarept (who’s name I can’t pronounce to save my life) was his usual delightfully obnoxious (and somewhat amusing in a snarky way) self and Quen.  One of the vampires makes an appearance towards the end as well.

 

This is all about two dark elf scientists who are fighting it out for funding, Trent and Trisk, both of whom hate each other, Trisk’s created a genetically engineered tomato that will supposedly end third world hunger. Forced to work together each have their own separate agendas. As I said, the first half was all very technical and the two of them playing off each other to get to their own goals. (I had to keep reminding myself this was set in the 60s as well). Favourite classic songs are on the radio as new music.

 

But of course, jealousy rears its ugly head and one thing leads to another, something goes hideously wrong. This resulting in a wide spread disease that nearly wipes out the human race, bringing out the fear and repercussions of a bunch of vampires, witches and other species trying their best to get head of it and survive as well.  While at the same time Trisk and a companion, the Dr who created the virus in the first place, there’s links to her genetic tomato, and Trent trying to keep on top of things.

 

The second half was much more exciting as things went from bad to worse and Trisk and her friends try to fix the problem. There’s something – satisfying is not the word I’d use – but there’s definitely a so that’s how it all happened feeling about now knowing how The Hollows all started, but it’s certainly not a favourite novel. Though I am glad I read it, and would certainly recommend to Hollows fans.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for approving my request to view the title.

Review: The Disappearances

The Disappearances - Emily Bain Murphy

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

This book was brilliant. So delightfully different and unexpected. I’d completely forgotten what it was about when I started reading it. It’s an early 1940’s based YA novel, set sometime during the Second World War.  Beautifully written and really really unique, the way the fantasy is woven together could almost boarder on magical realism.

 

The novel tells the story of Aila and her brother Miles, their mother has died and their father is a pilot who has gone to fight in the war. With no other close relatives, the two are shipped off to the small town of Sterling, where their mother grew up and move in with a dear friend of their mom’s, Matilda Cliffton. Her household consists of her husband, Dr Clifton, their son William who is Aila’s age, and a housekeeper named Genevieve. The Clifftons are very nice if formal and clearly wealthy.

 

Though Aila notices something strange immediately, whilst going through the small town centre, they pass people well known to Mrs Cliffton, give them the cold shoulder. They’re polite, but very frosty and it all seems to do with the fact that Aila’s mom left the town.

 

In the house Aila notices more strange things and finds out a phenomenon occurs every year something “Disappears”, touch, dreams, reflections. No one really knows how they started, but there are magical remedies called Variants that can recreate these lost things. Aila struggles to make sense of this mystery, at the same time fitting in in a new school and trying to make friends.

 

All the while there is the underlying hint that her mother may have had something to do with starting The Disappearances. Aila’s mother seems to be the only person who has ever left Sterling and regained the things the Disappearances have taken. Which has caused a great mistrust and dislike amongst the townspeople.

 

As Aila makes friends and gets to know the people in her class, she learns more about the history of the town and the founding families and the other interconnecting towns in the area.  Early in the novel Aila discovers a book of Shakespeare’s works that has notes written by her mother. The Shakespeare connection is brilliant. It’s woven beautifully into the narrative without being too overwhelming.

 

There’s also a second point of view in alternate chapters from a mysterious man who appears to be looking for his father. It’s not all together clear (or at least not for this reader) of whether this is something happening at the time or something that happened in the past. It all becomes relevant later on in the novel.

 

The writing is gorgeous and almost lyrical in its tone, it’s completely absorbing and everything is so incredibly described and so so easy to picture. Incredible history and backstory believable as well. Aila was a very likeable, intelligent lead, head on her shoulders, with some recklessness, a good friend and good sister to her little brother Miles.  All the characters are brilliant, all fully fleshed out from the good ones to the nasty ones. There’s a great sense of family as well, the adults are not just side characters, they have their own importance in the novel and not just relegated to necessary background characters.

 

There was nothing about this book that didn’t absolutely love to pieces. I am definitely looking forward to more from this author.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and HMH Books for Young Readers for approving my request to view the title.

Review: Letters to the Lost

Letters to the Lost - Brigid Kemmerer

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

This was a gutwrencher of a book. I could only read it in short spurts because the emotional upheaval was so deep.

 

The novel tells the story of Juliet and Declan, both of whom are dealing with tough losses, both as results of tragic car accidents. Declan lost his younger sister, Juliet lost her mother.

 

 Declan appears to be your typical YA bad boy. Darkly good looking, grumpy yet possibly a lot smarter than everyone thinks he is. He’s sullied by a bad reputation. Whereas Juliet is a typical high school good girl. She has a run in with Declan in the halls one morning and accidentally spills her coffee on him running to class. However, when a teacher comes in a finds him moaning about it and yelling at her, he’s the one who’s carted off to detention.

 

Juliet has been spending a lot of time at the cemetery where her mother is buried and leaves her letters. Declan has community service with the grounds keeper at the same cemetery and one day he finds the unsigned letter Juliet has left her mother. And responds to it. Leading to a letter writing exchange without names. Where both parties explore their grief and guilt over their own losses and start to talk to each other in a way they can’t open up to anyone else.

 

The grief poured into the letters is raw and unflinching, mixing of guilt, anger and responsibility. Juliet and Declan are able to explore feelings they have never admitted to anyone else before, it’s much easier to talk to someone anonymous than admit these feelings their closest friends. The letters eventually become emails.

 

Yet in real life whenever Juliet and Declan have run-ins with each other, it’s unpleasant. They rub each other the wrong way. Yet keep finding themselves running into each other. He helps her out several times. And sometimes some of the things anonymous Declan says in his letters resonate deeply with Juliet, particularly when he talks about how unfair it is that with a bad reputation that wasn’t his fault he’s blamed automatically even when things aren’t his fault. This makes her start to try to open up.

 

Both have tough home situations, Juliet’s dad is trying but kind of absent and checked out. Juliet’s mom was a renowned photographer who was often out of the country in dangerous places. War zones and such. There’s a very hard hitting scene at the front of the book where Juliet’s dad asks her if he can sell her mom’s camera equipment to her mother’s agent, and Juliet falls to pieces. It’s tough to read and absolutely heart breaking.

 

While Declan’s mother is equally passive. His father is in jail after the accident that killed Declan’s sister, and his mom has since  gone through a patch of bad relationships and finally married a snotty man who has taken an instant disliking to Declan (bad reputation at fault again) and automatically assumes the worst. They argue a lot and Declan’s mom just won’t step in to defend her son.

 

Though Declan doesn’t help himself with an equally pissy attitude. Though it’s clear he loves his mom he’s obviously frustrated by her at the same time. His support system comes from his best friend Rev and his family. Who are all awesome.

 

Juliet and Declan keep finding themselves thrown together and start realising who the person they’re writing to might be. Which shocks both of them. But their feelings for each other are growing deeper and deeper despite their equal reluctance to admit the truth and open up to each other for real. Both find themselves dealing with some home truths in their own home lives which shock them to their cores.

 

It’s kind of obvious what’s going to happen in the romance department, but even you the way the story is written makes the reader want to get these two together. (Or it certainly did for me).

 

Beautifully written with some incredible characters. I loved it so much I bought a finished copy as well.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (UK & ANZ) for approving my request to view the title.

Review: One of us is Lying

One of Us Is Lying - Karen  M. McManus

I received a copy from Netgalley

 

This is a brilliant mystery that keeps the reader guessing right until the end. I had my suspects, and still turned out to be wrong. I watch a lot of crime drama so I’m usually quite good and guessing the killer, but I didn’t see the twist in this one coming at all. (Admittedly by the time I got to 80% and all my guesses were still wrong I did skim to the last few chapters to find out who it was, then went back and read it properly). Still managed to really surprise me.

 

It’s not the fluffy “Breakfast Club” retelling with a mystery aspect I was expecting. It’s a gritty novel full of secrets. While it’s filled with your typical mix of high school clichés – the jock, the brain, the dangerous but hot dude, the nerd, the princess – each character has their own secrets and well fleshed out personalities behind the cliché façade.

 

All of these characters, who don’t really know each other, they may have one or two classes together but have different friends, and they don’t hang out really. They wind up in detention because a teacher catches them with cell phones in a class where cell phones are not allowed. The phones are not theirs. Of course the teacher won’t listen. By the end of detention, the nerd, Simon, is dead.

 

Simon was notorious for running the school’s unofficial gossip app, posting students secrets. As the police investigation deepens, posts are revealed that contain damning secrets about each of the students that could ruin their reputations and possibly chances of their futures for certain characters.

 

Each one reacts differently. There’s a great sense of diversity among the characters, and I love how they all dealt with things and showed immense emotional growth over the course and came together to defend each other and solve the mystery. Nothing is as it initially seems and truths slowly start to come out creating big changes for different characters. No one is really who they are first seen to be.

 

The twists are really good.   I’m being vague, I know, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

 

It’s a really good read and I definitely look forward to more from this author.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK Children’s for approving my request to view the title.

Review: Windfall

Windfall - Jennifer E. Smith

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

As soon as I saw this title pop up on Netgalley I put a request in. Delighted when I was approved.

 

An interesting enough plot, but I can’t say I really liked the characters all that much. Alice lives with her cousin Leo after the deaths of her parents, and has lived with them for some time. She’s got a hopeless crush on Leo’s best friend Teddy.

 

Alice is really smart and her dream is to go to college at Stanford because she believes that’s what her parents would have wanted. But when on Teddy’s 18th birthday, Alice buys him a lottery ticket, the ticket is actually winner and Teddy wins a humungous jackpot. Which naturally changes everything. Teddy lives with his mom in a crappy apartment, a downturn after his dad lost all their money due to a gambling habit. Now their lives can massively improve.

 

I don’t get Alice’s crush on Teddy. He’s self-centred and a jerk.  I didn’t like him much at all. Alice herself was too much of a goody-two-shoes for my liking. She had a fairly good emotional journey throughout the course of the novel, dealing with her feelings for Teddy, the huge changes that came about since Teddy’s lottery win, the impact it has on their friendship. And of course a hot new guy comes into her life as well, there may or may not be feelings there. Then there’s Alice’s college issues.

 

Spoiler, but this bit really annoyed me.

 

Teddy offers Alice half of the winnings as she was the one who purchased the tickets. She turns him down. SHE TURNS HIM DOWN. I just can’t imagine an 18 year old without parents turning down that much money. It could make a huge difference to her life. She volunteers at a soup kitchen and has a do gooder nature about her.  Good for her. But she’s so saintly it became across as very annoying, at least to this reader. I just can’t believe she turned the money down. She didn’t even take a small sum or anything.

(show spoiler)

 

Teddy of course achieves instant fame and does what any teenage boy would naturally do – splurge on himself and his friends. With Alice and Leo to try and get him to remain grounded. None of these changes seem to sit well with Alice, who’s still trying to work up the nerve to tell Teddy how she feels but they are arguing more and more. So she distracts herself when a new guy turns up working at the soup kitchen she volunteers at. They hit it off, and suddenly Teddy’s jealous. Insert eye rolling.

 

While this is going on Alice is trying to help Leo decide where he wants to go to college. Leo’s boyfriend is going to one college and Leo has a dream of going somewhere else, and he’s debating on following his boyfriend or trying a long distance thing. Leo is struggling with the decision, but he was a good friend to Alice. He was there when she needed someone to listen to and cheer her up.

 

There was some really good parental involvement in this one, from Teddy’s mom and Alice’s uncle and aunt. Likeable adults with good heads on who actually listen to what their kids are telling them. Alice’s aunt and uncle have some good listening skills, her aunt wants to make sure she knows what she wants when applying for colleges, making the choice for herself and not doing something just simply because this was where her parents went or what Alice thinks they wanted for her. To be in a city she barely remembers anymore, even though she may have lived there briefly when she was a kid.

 

This part of Alice’s journey was quite moving, and had a good emotional impact to it. There were a few scenes when Alice’s dealing with these issues made my eyes mist over. Particularly when she tries to talk to her uncle who was her dad’s brother about what her parents were like after she makes a trip to where she used to live. Quite bitter sweet and a definite tear jerker.

 

The romance angle was completely unsurprising. Kind of predictable really.  Teddy did make some personality improvements by the end of the novel, again, not entirely surprising.

 

Not my favourite novel by this author, can’t see myself reading this one again. Jennifer E Smith is one of my favourite contemporary YA writers, and usually an autobuy author for me. Though unfortunately this book was a miss for me.

 

Thank you to Negalley and Pan MacMillan for approving my request to view the title.

Review: Seven Days of You

Seven Days of You - Cecilia Vinesse

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I sort of liked this one and I sort of didn’t. I’m somewhat torn on what to feel about this book. It’s somewhere between a 3 star and 2 star read for me. The Anna and the French Kiss comparison is what made it snag my interest. Sofia has spent the last few years of her life in Tokyo at an international school with her best friends David and Mika. She has a gigantic crush on David. Her mom is a professor at a university in Tokyo. Mom has been transferred back to the United States. Sofia, her older sister Alison and her mom are leaving in seven days. Sofia has seven days to pack up her room and say goodbye to her friends.

 

Most of this book is pretty much teenagers being teenagers. Sofia is supposed to be packing, but she hangs out with her friends, enjoying the delights of Tokyo, partying, karaoke, staying out way late and lying to your parents about where you are, and crashing at her friend’s house, arguing and making up. And to add to the drama the friend Sofia fell out with years ago, Jamie, is back in Tokyo. She really liked him, but he was jealous over her crush on David and said something he shouldn’t have creating an argument that cost their friendship. Jamie’s good friends with her BFF Mika, and Mika insists on dragging Jamie along on their escapes. Friday is Mika’s birthday and with Sofia’s going away so there is a huge party. Not helped either by the fact that David’s sort of girlfriend Caroline has attached herself to their group even though no one really likes her that much. Typical teen drama.

 

Unfortunately, I found David and Mika to be some of the most incredibly annoying characters I’ve come across in a while. David is loud and arrogant, and I just don’t understand Sofia’s obsession with him. He nicknames her “Sofa” which is stupid and irritated the hell out of me. Mika came across to me as selfish. She’s very loud and foul mouthed, with a decent creative streak, she had her moments, but there were plenty of incidents where she and David were really crappy friends to Sofia.  Which lead to Sofia being really hurt.

 

While at the same time all this friendship drama is going on, Sofia is having family drama with her older sister Alison. Their parents are divorced, their dad lives in Paris with his new wife and new family. Sofia is given the opportunity to go and live in Paris with him for her senior year rather than go back to the US with Alison and her mom. Which causes major drama between Alison and Sofia as something like this has happened before and it didn’t pan out. Sofia was hurt and never quiet dealt with it.

 

When friendship drama with Mika and David hits a sour note, Sofia finds herself turning to Jamie, even though they had a massive argument years ago, they seem to have been able to move past it and grow closer, Sofia realises her feelings for Jamie may or may not be stronger than friendship, and she may not be the only one who feels this way. Made all the worse by the fact that the clock is ticking down to her leaving time.

 

Jamie was a much more likeable love interest than David. He was a nice, considerate boy, who talked to Sofia like a real person, he had his own problems and secrets, and tried not to let the drama have much of an effect on him. He was almost bordering on shy when he came in to the novel, he came alive more and more as the novel developed and showed more of a personality, particularly when he was hanging out with Sofia and their friendship became something more.

 

Sofia had a believable tone of voice and was actually quite likeable. She could be very immature and irritating, for sure. But she had some very deep emotional moments as she dealt with her feelings over leaving Tokyo, returning to the states, working out her true feelings about her father’s flakiness and if she still wanted the dream of living in Paris. The hurt she experienced when her friendships fell apart, and the romance as it developed between her and Jamie.

The constant drama did get a bit annoying, and I really did not like David and Mika at all. I did like Sofia. And thought it had a decent ending, a believable one as well, given the dramatics of the novel.

 

I can’t say this is a contemporary I would read again, but I would definitely read something else by this author.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Hatchette Children’s Group for the review copy.

Review: We Come Apart

We Come Apart - Sarah Crossan, Brian Conaghan

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I must admit I didn’t read the blurb properly on this book. It came through in a reader recommend thing from Netgalley on my email. I was at work at the time and just glanced it over, the premise was enough to peek my interest. So I put in a request. I didn’t actually read that it was a novel in verse.

 

I’m not a fan of novels in verse. I’ve never read one, the concept just holds no interest to me. While this was certainly a quick read, I read most of it during my lunch hour and finished it off at home, probably under two hours reading time in all. I can’t say I was blown away by the telling of a novel in verse. I find it distracting and annoying.

 

I can’t say I liked the story that much either. It’s a UK based novel, set in London.  I found the main character Jess very hard to have much sympathy for. Which makes me feel horrible because she comes from a really awful home situation. Very passive mother who has an absolute asshole of an abusive boyfriend who beats her and rules with an iron fist of fear and intimidation.

 

 It’s downright scary to read about. Especially must be awful for Jess who clearly loves her mum but can’t do anything about it.  Jess has a definite attitude problem and potty mouth, clearly puts a tough girl act on and has some bitchy tough girl friends. It’s not that I had no empathy for Jess, there were times when I felt terrible for what she was going through. Given her circumstances, her attitude is not at all surprising. But I just didn’t like her.

 

Jess finds herself arrested for shoplifting. Instead of juvenile detention she gets a community service sentence, clearing up trash in her local park.

 

The saving grace of this book was Nicu. I loved Nicu to pieces. He made reading this whole book worthwhile. Nicu’s family are Polish immigrants, looking to make money in the UK. They want to make some decent cash to take back home to their village to give Nicu a good start with a new wife, arranged by his parents and the parents of a girl from their village. Nicu gets no say in this. He has no interest in getting married at all.

 

He’s a decent boy, who in a stupid moment tried shop lifting and got caught. Because he’s an immigrant and because he doesn’t speak very good English, he gets caught and in trouble, but he’s given the same community service option given to Jess.  Nicu seems like a nice guy who generally tries to do the right thing. He just caved under pressure of a future he has no desire for and no options to really do something for himself. He made a bad decision and there were consequences for his action. Which he understands and takes responsibility for, by doing what is required of him. Unfortunately, this means attending English school too.

 

He meets Jess at the same community service programme. They have nothing to say to each other at first, but notice each other. And soon find ways of talking to each other. They also both go to the same school and of course notice each other there as well. Jess appears to be embarrassed to be seen talking to Nicu. Her friends are the popular kids, and they are bullies. Nicu suffers terrible bullying, and while Jess doesn’t take part in the name calling and pranks, she doesn’t exactly do anything to stop it either.

 

But Nicu has such a heart wrenching tone of voice, it’s solid and dependable, and as he struggles to cope with his situation he finds Jess to be his reason for going on. As far as he’s concerned the sun rises and sets on her. He’s completely infatuated. And she eventually starts to thaw, little pieces of her tough girl personality slipping aside as Nicu breaks through her layers of protection and starts to get to know a whole different side of Jess.

 

Of course given their respective parental situations, nothing is easy going. Jess’s friends don’t make I any easier, and neither do the boy bullies in their class. One bad decision leads to another and Nicu and Jess find themselves with a horrible choice to make.

 

While the novel certainly hit some rough emotional notes,

I didn’t really think much of the way it ended. While one character got a break, one didn’t. And…it just didn’t sit right with me, that one gets away clean and the other makes a huge sacrifice. They both should have got a new start.

(show spoiler)

 

I can’t say I will be reading another novel in verse any time soon. If either of the two authors wrote a contemporary YA that wasn’t in verse, I would be interested. This novel really didn’t work for me.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & AUS) for approving my request to view the title.

Review: The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star - Nicola Yoon

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I don’t really know what to say on this one. I was really looking forward to it as I absolutely loved the author’s debut, Everything Everything, which I just devoured. But I just couldn’t get into this one. It wasn’t a bad book really. The characters were delightfully diverse, the two leads, Daniel and Natasha had fantastic chemistry and a believable romance in a tough situation. I thought it was handled fairly realistically.

 

But…I just didn’t like it. It just didn’t work for me. The premise is an interesting one. Daniel comes from a Korean family who immigrated to America, his dad runs a pharmacy. His brother Charlie has always been the high achiever of the family, though has recently come home from college in disgrace. Daniel has always been in Charlie’s shadow. His parents have very high expectations of him. (Charlie is an absolute dick). Daniel is a more sensitive soul, he has a big university interview, he’s not sure what he wants to do with his life. He has a quirky, almost snarky tone of voice. He likes to write poetry.

 

Natasha’s family came over from Jamaica, her family all live in one small apartment, her dad had dreams of being an actor. He’s got great talent, but can’t seem to get a break, Natasha has a younger brother, and a hard working mom. Natasha herself is very smart and loves science. Her dad got drunk and wound up spilling their family history to a police officer, including telling the police they are illegal immigrants. And now Natasha and her family are twelve hours away from being deported.

 

Natasha is determined to make one last stab at saving her family from deportation by meeting with a lawyer who specialises in deportation cases. Stopping in a record store a chance meeting leads her to run into Daniel on the way to his interview.

 

They spark a great connection and start to get to know each other, despite the fact that both of them have places to be and a limited time, their connection is so…just there…they keep finding ways to keep the conversation going; Daniel is more optimistic and romantic. Natasha is a lot more practical and logical.

 

While they both have great voices, I think what really distracted from their story was random chapters from a whole other points of view. Various characters who have random interactions with both Natasha and Daniel, and whole chapters of random information about things that are relevant in the novel. Sometimes sciency things.

 

There was an almost quirky tone of voice to the while thing, but it felt to me like it was trying to be clever and funny, but it just came across as distracting from the main story. And by half way through these chapters were making my eyes roll more than anything. Even though they all had a part of play in the eventual story.

 

It did at least have a believable ending, which I did like, a realistic tone to it. I wouldn’t particularly read this book again, but I do love this this author.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK Children’s for approving my request to view the title.

Review: A Million Junes

A Million Junes - Emily Henry

I received a copy from Penguin's First to Read. I used some of my points to secure my copy of this one.  I have a weakness for Romeo & Juliet inspired stories, and that plus the promise of magical realism was what caught my eye about this title.

 

A little apprehensive as I tried to read the author’s debut novel and didn’t get very far at all with it, but I fell head over heels in love with this book almost right away. (And now I will have to go back and read that debut novel again).  

 

It’s almost impossible to recap the plot because that would be extremely spoilery. The basic premise is Jack “June” O’Donnell has lived in a mysterious little town her whole life, she knows there is a feudal history between her family and their neighbours, the Angerts. Something that has been going on for years and years and years. There’s deep history all connected to the strange little magical wonders that surround June’s house and an infamous tree in her family’s yard.

 

It all start to unravel when hanging out with her best friend Hannah one night, June’s neighbour, Saul Angert appears back in town after being gone for years. June knows that the last thing she should be doing is hanging out with an Angert. However, inevitably, June finds Saul knows one of her friends, and she finds herself hanging out with Saul more and more.

 

The writing is delicious, it’s superb. The novel elicits an incredibly emotional response.  It’s so amazingly written. It paints such a vivid picture and really made me feel engaged with the characters, and hooked on the story.

 

The relationship between June and Saul is wonderful, beautifully built, it has ups and downs, trust, friendship and romance. Both face hidden truths about their past and the secrets which caused the falling out between their families all those many years ago.

 

Also – bonus points for female friendship. June’s relationship with her best friend Hannah is everything you want in a BFF friendship. Trust, sticking up for each other, silliness, being there for each other, listening. It was just wonderful to see the dynamics between the two girls not overshadowed by boys or bitchiness.

 

All with a delightful touch of magical realism floating through the novel.

 

A brilliant story going easily from funny to cute to dramatic to romantic to gut-wrenching and back again. (The end made me cry). I absolutely loved everything about this book.

Review: Flame in the Mist

Flame in the Mist - Renee Ahdieh

I wound up with two review copies of this one. I first put in a Netgalley request which I figured was a long shot, and when I didn’t hear anything back in months, I used some of my Penguin First to Read points to secure a copy when it popped up on their read to review site. And then when I’m half way through the book my Netgalley request was approved. Oh well.

 

I don’t really know what to make of the novel in the end. I gave it a generous 3 stars, but it’s more like two and a half. While I can appreciate the journey of inner strength from the main character, Mariko, I didn’t actually like her all that much. I found the first 100 pages or so incredibly boring. The novel is beautifully written, the scenery is fantastic and the descriptions are vivid and lyrical. The fantasy setting in a Japanese world is fascinating. All marks of a fantasy I should love.

 

But personally, I just could not get into the plot. I found Mariko almost aloof, I didn’t get much of a sense of personality from her at all. I couldn’t connect with her character in a way that would make me as a reader care about what happened to her.

 

That being said, as the novel progressed, the plot did get better and Mariko did show some pretty impressive growth and strength. She’s definitely intelligent and determined, you have to give her that. On the way to her politically arranged marriage her carriage party is attacked by a notorious mercenary group the Black Clan. Mariko survives the attack and doesn’t cower in fear. She’s furious and decides she wants to know the reasons behind. Disguising herself as a boy, she follows the Black Clan and worms her way in.

 

Back in her home province, Mariko’s twin brother Kenshin, is convinced she survived the assassination attempt. Other plots include devious goings on between the Emperor and his Mistress who seems to have some hint at dark dangerous magic and her own political agenda. The Empress who seems quite passive but there’s more to her than meets the eye. The Emperor’s legitimate son (Mariko’s intended) and the illegitimate son with their own squabbles. And while all this is going on Mariko in the guise of a boy is uncovering the inner secrets of the Black Clan.

 

Of course there are lots of plot twists and everyone has secrets of their own. Mariko uncovers some shocking truths about the lands she came from and how her lord father runs them, and must decide where her true loyalties lie. There’s a romance agenda as well for Mariko when the truth about her identity is revealed. There are secrets within the Black Clan itself.

 

The plot did improve as the novel goes on and starts getting more into the twisty secrets, there’s a barest hint of some sort of magic involved, but very little of it is explained. Though it’s enough to make the reader want to know more (or it certainly worked that way for me). While Mariko was a difficult character to warm to, her journey throughout the novel is impressive, even with a kind of predictable romance, I want to know what happens next.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for approving my request to view the title.

 

Thank you to Penguin First to Read.

Review: Witchtown

Witchtown - Cory Putman Oakes

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

An enjoyable YA fantasy with a rather unique take on witches. In this novel witches have been living among humans forever, Natural witches, witches born with power, and Learned witches, those who become witches with training. The secret came out and there was wide spread panic, leading to the US government creating “havens” for witches. Towns just for witches where they can feel safe and be with their own kind.  There’s also a darker more mysterious kind of witch known as a Void witch. Little is known other than they’re bad news.

 

Most havens aren’t the best places in the world to live, someone came up with the idea of making a town better than all the other havens, a multi billionaire with big government influence created a spectacular, wealthy haven called Witchtown.

 

The novel starts with teen Macie and her mother Aubra arriving in Witchtown to start a new life. Only Aubra and Macie have a secret – they’re con artists and thieves there on a specific mission – to rob Witchtown.

 

Aubra is the latest addition to my Worst YA Parent list. She’s obnoxious right from the get go, Macie is clearly struggling with something that happened in the last Haven they conned, something to do with a boy she really liked, but right off there’s an impression it ended badly and the mother was to blame. She flat out ignores Macie’s obvious objections to being where they are now and heads off on her plan. Aubra is a very powerful Natural witch, Macie has a secret about her own power and Aubra often holds this against her to manipulate things to her advantage. She really is a horrible piece of work, but can be very charming when greasing the wheels.

 

Macie was much more likeable. I don’t usually con artist main characters and definitely not characters who are thieves. Though there is something quite sympathetic about Macie, that as a reader I found myself actually liking her as a character. She was a bit stubborn and sulky, under the circumstances this is quite understandable. She could be a bit of a bitch herself, but as the novel progresses, Macie shows some pretty impressive character growth over what she feels is right and wrong.

 

Aubra’s determined to go ahead with her plan to rob the town, and gets to know the right people. Macie finds herself fitting in more than she ever has anywhere and as she gets to know some of the other teens in town, she learns not everyone is what they first seem. There’s much more to people, and as she starts getting to know people and make friends she begins to think of a life without her mother’s overbearing presence.

 

Through flashbacks we learn a little bit of Macie’s history, what happened the last time she had a potential friend, and why she’s so reluctant when the kids she meets in Wichtown want to get to know her.

 

It goes to Macie’s character growth. Over the novel as Macie learns more about Witchtown and the people and discovers her own inner strengths, she also learns some pretty shocking secrets about herself and her own levels of power. And some pretty terrible deceptions on her mother’s part as well.

 

It’s a fun easy read with some great world building, and decent, well fleshed out characters, twisty secrets and some good friendships built, though not without a little drama thrown in. There’s also a little hint of romance but not the main focus of Macie’s attention. Macie shows a tremendous amount of strength and self-worth as her story is told. Also, a really interesting and different take on YA witches, something I’ve not seen before.

 

I would definitely read something by this author again.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group for approving my request to view the title.

Review: The Piper's Price

The Piper's Price (The Neverland Wars Book 2) - Audrey Greathouse

eArc review copy provided by author.

 

An enjoyable follow up to the Neverland Wars. Picking up shortly after where the first book left off, Gwen is now back in Neverland with Peter Pan and her beloved sister Rosemary, ready to aid Peter in his quest to find the Pied Piper.

 

There was a lot more action in this second instalment, much more of an actual plot, than focusing on Gwen torn between wanting to hang on to her childhood or be a grown up. While there was certainly a huge issue with Gwen still struggling with this problem, there was nowhere near so much philosophical waxing and waning over it.

 

Peter needs the Piper’s help to formulate a plan that will stop the adults in Reality attacking Neverland. Gwen is sent back into Reality to team up with a now grown up friend of Peter who can help solve the clues to find the means of attracting the Piper’s attention.

 

Tiger Lily makes an appearance in this one, as a grown adult woman, with friends of other adult women who have left Neverland and grown up, but still remember Peter and the allure of Neverland itself. It’s interesting to see how they cope with Gwen’s appearance and her strange requests. Though it pulls Gwen back into reality and a life she’s not sure if she wants to give up or not. The women hold a “book club” and there’s one rather poignant scene where they’re discussing a romance novel, “Tryst on the Thames” and later Gwen finds a copy wants to know what it’s about, she’s old enough to understand, but the lady who comes to her aid, Dawn, says rather bluntly if she’s still flying about with Peter Pan she’s not old enough to be discussing romance novels.

 

Kind of a bitter sweet but apt point to illuminate Gwen’s awkward positon. Gwen finds herself going on a shopping trip and getting a new hairdo and these normal teenage things help give her flying the happy boost. Things that would give a normal girl a happy, not something someone deep in magic and Neverland should be that fussed about. Just more of the awkwardness of a teenager dealing with Neverland.

 

And being back in reality brings Gwen back in touch with her potential love interest from the first book, Jay. I actually really like Jay as a character, he listens to Gwen, he likes her, he doesn’t think she’s nuts when she explains her predicament to him. He’s a nice, decent guy and I can see why Gwen confides in him. I like the way their friendship develops and hints that there could be something more between them, but Gwen of course is torn with her duty to Neverland.

 

Gwen has some interesting friendship developments in this one, bringing her to see the sides of adults who have been to Neverland and grown up, and then the more magical side of friendships with the Lost Children and the fairies and Lasiandra the mermaid.  The Piper himself is quite a dark and creepy character, and something of a jackass. (Though I also quite liked the Piper and the role he played later on in the novel). We also get to see some of the nastier side of the adults in reality and what they’re doing with the magic and beings stolen from Neverland.

 

Lots more action and some great character development on Gwen, though Peter Pan himself…I found him annoying really. An interesting ending, and I’m definitely looking forward to the final part in this trilogy.

DNF: Wayfarer

Wayfarer (Passenger) - Alexandra Bracken

I didn't like the first book in this series much, but this is one of my auto-buy authors, and I snagged a copy from Netgalley with my Hatchette Children's auto approval. And even bought a finished hardback (despite the fact that this is not a series I really like, the hardback is really pretty). Sometimes I've found second books better than first books. 

 

Unfortunately, I only made it 250 pages or so before calling it quits. Following on from Passenger, Nicholas and Etta are now separated and struggling to find each other and deal with the changes brought about by the events of the end of Passenger. More secrets are revealed, more plot twists. However, I just can't seem to get into this series at all. 

 

It's beautifully written, plus points for diversity in the characters, and there is clear attention to detail and a phenomenal amount of historical research must have gone into plotting the novel, but I just don't like it. It's long winded and boring and not capturing my interest at all. 

 

Not for me. 

Review: Last Seen Leaving

Last Seen Leaving - Caleb Roehrig

 

I snagged a copy of this one from Netgalley when it was a Read It Now title. I do rather enjoy YA mysteries. I’m a sucker particularly for missing person mysteries. The plot of this one drew me right in. The mystery aspect was what kept me reading.

 

Overall, I just didn’t like the main character Flynn much. I found him annoying and boarding on obnoxious. He had zero personality, and seemed kind of self-absorbed. Which is not exactly unusual behaviour for a teenage boy. He was so wrapped up in his own issues he barely noticed the problems his girlfriend January was having.  January had a friend at the toy shop she worked at, Kaz, who was a few years older. All of course the reader hears from Flynn in the beginning is what an ass Kaz is.

 

Kaz actually turned out to be my favourite character in the whole novel. Who is nothing like Flynn first assumes. As the novel progresses I found as a reader I had a lot of empathy for January, who has lived most of her life in the same town, has the same friends as Flynn, and then her mom married some up and coming Congressman who was fabulously rich and had a certain image to maintain and an asshole of a wayward son of his own, Anson. January was forced to move from her comfortable existence into this new world of fabulous rich political people where January and her mom were supposed to dress and act a certain way. While her mom lapped it up, January not so much.

 

As the novel progresses through flashbacks of conversations and moments that happened between January and Flynn, the reader learns about some of the problems that January was having with her situation, the ones that she told Flynn about. As Flynn starts looking deeper into January’s disappearance himself, he learns about a side of her he never really knew. Which makes him feel confused and guilty.

 

There are lots of questions and very little answers and information and everything new Flynn learns is something surprising. Flynn’s other major conflict throughout the novel is he’s gay and struggling to deal with it. He doesn’t seem to want to really accept it. Kaz is a big help here, and part of what makes Kaz such a wonderful character. He was a voice of reason and someone who really seemed to want to help Flynn and cared about him.

 

While Flynn himself…urg. I just found Flynn dull and boring and hard to connect with. He seemed very two dimensional.

 

The mystery of what happened to January was enough to keep my interest to the end of the novel, and to be fair, I didn’t guess who the bad guy was. There was a twist at the end – which was kind of a bit unbelievable to me, but left a possible question hovering.

 

Just an okay one for this reader.