Review: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

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Overall Score: 9/10

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mental Health

Series: No

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Release Date: June 16th, 2015

Source: Bookclub

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

Review

I wouldn’t have picked this book up on my own but, after finishing it, I was incredibly glad that someone in my book club picked this one. It was sweet, touching, and had a great message.

The story revolves around Samantha, or Sam, a high schooler who is trying to hide her OCD from everyone except her family and therapist. Since I have no reference point, I don’t know how accurate the portrayal of her OCD is. However, I do believe that the author does a good job of examining the current stigma regarding mental illness, particularly in the context of high school.

This book had some definite similarities to The Dead Poets Society (minus a Robin Williams character) but it worked. Through poetry, many of the characters in the novel find freedom and a way to deal with major life events. The other members of the Poet’s Corner were well-developed characters and the community they built was something wonderful to see. The romance wasn’t the highlight of the book for me but it wasn’t off-putting either.

Sam’s journey through the novel was not what I was expecting. Seeing her learn how to trust, both in herself and others, was the highlight of the novel for me. Her character really grows in a variety of ways in this book. She identifies toxic friendships, finds her inner strength, and learns to accept herself for who she is.

This book was a joy to read, with interesting characters and a charming plot. While it didn’t delve as deeply into some topics as i would have liked, it was a very good young adult book that has a universal message.

Review: The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe

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Overall Score: 6.5/10

Genre: Historical Fiction

Series: No

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Release Date: June 7, 2016

Source: Once Upon a Book Club subscription box

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

Passing meets The House of Mirth in this “utterly captivating” (Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of The Kitchen House) historical novel based on the true story of Anita Hemmings, the first black student to attend Vassar, who successfully passed as white—until she let herself grow too attached to the wrong person.

Since childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the scion of one of New York’s most prominent families.

Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman—the person everyone believes her to be—and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It’s only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita’s brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister’s, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita’s college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret.

Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Gilded Age, an era when old money traditions collided with modern ideas, Tanabe has written an unputdownable and emotionally compelling story of hope, sacrifice, and betrayal—and a gripping account of how one woman dared to risk everything for the chance at a better life.

Review

I actually hadn’t heard of this book before it arrived in my Once Upon a Book Club box subscription. I started reading without any expectations and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. This book is based on the story of Anita Hemmings, the first black student to attend Vassar College (although it is highly fictionalized).

The book begins as Anita returns to Vassar for her senior year, her secret safely kept for the last three years. She has been given a room with Lottie Taylor, a larger than life character whose family is incredibly wealthy. The two of them become instant friends and begin their senior year. The author does an excellent job of portraying Anita’s worries and fears by showing the reader the lengths Anita went to in order to preserve her secret. The contrast between her life at Vassar and her home life, or even her brother’s college experience, are quite striking.

However, the character of Anita began to wear on me a bit in the second half of the novel. While I understand the constant state of fear she must have lived in, it was difficult to sympathize with her while her actions weren’t always the smartest. As for Lottie herself, I wasn’t a huge fan of her. I did really enjoy meeting the other secondary characters, although I wish that the Vassar girls had been fleshed out a little bit more.

The book is incredibly rich in detail and does describe the time period quite well. At times, I felt as if I could see the scenes from the book unfolding before me. The descriptions of Vassar and the places Lottie took Anita to visit were equally as intricate as those about Anita’s childhood home and neighborhood. It is a great historical fiction piece that takes place in the Gilded Age. The last portion of the novel was my favorite because it showed life outside of Vassar and the college bubble. Characters dealt with the consequences of their actions and grew because of their experiences. Additionally, the reader was given a glimpse at the rest of the world Anita lived in throughout her life, which made the story much more real for me.

Overall, I’m very glad that I read this novel and was introduced to Anita Hemmings and her story. I actually would have rated this book higher had I not read the author’s note about the real Anita Hemmings and her story at the back. While I understand that it is a fictionalized account, I wish that more of the real story had come through because it portrayed a woman who I admire even more than the fictionalized version.

Review: Haven by Katherine Bogle

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Overall Score: 6.5/10

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Yes, Book 1 (Chronicles of Warshard)

Publisher: Friesen Press

Release Date: May 11, 2016

Source: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

Princess Haven was never meant to be Queen.

Her immortality has saved her time and time again, but when the last of her royal family dies at her feet, she is next in line to rule a nation on the brink of war. With no formal training on how to be Queen, Haven must rise to the occasion with the help of her best friends, and personal guard, or risk losing everyone she has ever loved.

With war to the West, and no escape to the East, the evil tyrant Kadia sets her sights on the six kingdoms. Haven’s neighbors are quick to fall under the swords of Kadia’s shadow soldiers, leaving a sea of bodies and a clear path to Haven’s only home.

As Kadia’s obsession with Haven mounts, little time remains, and Haven must make a choice; join together with her fellow Royals, and test her immortality in a final stand against the evil Queen, or flee across the sea to a foreign republic in hopes of salvation. Both choices have a cost. Both plans could go awry. Haven must decide quickly, or she might be the only one left.

Review

If you like action-packed fantasy novels with a young independent queen protagonist, then you’ll probably like this one. However, much of the plot of this book felt very similar to other books, the writing was average, and there wasn’t a lot of substance behind the action. That being said, I did like the characters and I felt as if there was potential for future books in the series.

Haven was strong, kind, and incredibly resilient (beyond her healing ability). She went through a lot in this book and managed to emerge stronger while still maintaining her kindness and belief that is good in the world. At different times in the novel, she struggles with coming to terms with her new position as Queen and what was done to her by Kadia. This humanizes the woman who, knowing she cannot die, runs into a burning city to save whoever she can. However, I frequently felt myself wanting more insight into her.

The other characters were not particularly well developed and seemed somewhat one-dimensional. They all had the potential to be very interesting characters (particularly one in particular as I would have loved to see his moral ambiguity explored a bit more). The female friendships in this novel were actually more interesting to me than the romance. The fight and battle scenes were well-done and the character of Queen Kadia was interesting. The world itself seemed like it could be really interesting, especially given the closeness of the kingdoms.

Overall, this book was enjoyable but didn’t really stand out to me. I will read the second book if I get the chance because I do believe that the characters and the story have the potential to be excellent but they aren’t quite there yet.

Review: Glitter by Aprilynne Pike

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Overall Score: 8/10

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Dystopian

Series: Yes, Book 1

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Release Date: October 25, 2016

Source: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

Outside the palace of Versailles, it’s modern day. Inside, the people dress, eat, and act like it’s the eighteenth century—with the added bonus of technology to make court life lavish, privileged, and frivolous. The palace has every indulgence, but for one pretty young thing, it’s about to become a very beautiful prison.

When Danica witnesses an act of murder by the young king, her mother makes a cruel power play . . . blackmailing the king into making Dani his queen. When she turns eighteen, Dani will marry the most ruthless and dangerous man of the court. She has six months to escape her terrifying destiny. Six months to raise enough money to disappear into the real world beyond the palace gates.

Her ticket out? Glitter. A drug so powerful that a tiny pinch mixed into a pot of rouge or lip gloss can make the wearer hopelessly addicted. Addicted to a drug Dani can sell for more money than she ever dreamed.

But in Versailles, secrets are impossible to keep. And the most dangerous secret—falling for a drug dealer outside the palace walls—is one risk she has to take.

Review

This book was constantly entertaining and surprising. Just when I thought I knew what would happen next, an unexpected twist would change everything. What struck me the most was that even though I really disliked the main character, I loved the book.

Set in a near-future world, the residents of Versailles act like it still is the eighteenth century (with all the comforts modern technology can provide). After Danica witnesses the King/CEO killing his lover, her mother blackmails him into a betrothal. Danica is desperate to escape her fate and begins selling glitter, an insanely addictive drug, disguised as cosmetics.

Danica is a character that it’s incredibly hard to be sympathetic toward, which was a refreshing change of pace. She makes some bad choices, has some incredibly questionable morals, has an inability to speak up at important times, and is selfish. Despite that, I found myself captivated by the story that unfolded (perhaps due to the same reason you can’t turn away from a train wreck?). The story itself was original, creative, and somewhat quirky. The ending was pitch perfect and left me eagerly awaiting the next book in the story.

As for the setting, it definitely took some getting used to the idea but I warmed up to it. Setting the story in a modern day Versailles was a gutsy move on the part of the author. Luckily, it worked (I have no idea how but it just does). It added to the suspense and the tension of the political drama because it allowed it to play out in a way that a modern setting wouldn’t. Also, I was a little worried about the possibility of a love triangle. Luckily, there isn’t one at all. I was pleased with the way romance was handled in this book – it was present and interesting but didn’t take over as the center of the plot.

Overall, it was an innovative concept that was well executed. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy fast-paced young adult fiction involving political intrigue.

Anticipated Releases – November 2016

So I’m a little late on this but I wanted to let you know my top six anticipated reads for November. There are a lot of sequels coming out so if I haven’t listed one of those, it’s probably because I haven’t read the first one.

I started a Master’s program this month so my reading time is probably going to be diminished for a while. However, I have added all five of these to my TBR list so hopefully I’ll get around to them one day! I’m eagerly awaiting my delivery of Heartless though! (My plans are to await the book then hide away from the world until I’m done)

18584855Title: Heartless
Author:Marissa Meyer
Release date: November 8, 2016
Genre: 
Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling
Series: No

 

 

 

 

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Title: 
Congress of Secrets
Author: Stephanie Burgis
Release date: November 1, 2016
Genre: 
Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Series:  No

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Title: 
The Diabolic
Author: S. J. Kincaid
Release date: November 1, 2016
Genre: 
Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Series:  No

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Title: 
Scythe
Author: Neal Shusterman
Release date: November 22, 2016
Genre: 
Young Adult, Fantasy, Dystopia, Science Fiction
Series:  Yes, Book 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Title: 
First Light
Author: Bill Rancic
Release date: November 1, 2016
Genre: 
Fiction, Survival, Contemporary
Series:  No

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Title: 
Blood for Blood
Author: Ryan Graudin
Release date: November 1, 2016
Genre: 
Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Series:  Yes, Book 2

Review: First Light by Bill Rancic

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Overall Score: 8.5/10

Genre: Fiction, Survival, Contemporary

Series: No

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Release Date: November 1, 2016

Source: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through the Penguin First to Read program in exchange for an honest review

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

A father from Chicago takes a road trip to the city of Whitehorse, in Yukon Territory, with his wife and son. During the car ride, they reveal to the boy their harrowing experience surviving a horrific plane crash in the wilderness ten years before, which is how the boy, in fact, came to be born.

Set amid the deep, wild woods of the Yukon, First Light tells the story of Daniel Albrecht and Kerry Egan, young lovers leaving a work trip in Alaska to plan their wedding back home in Chicago. Not long into their trip, both engines of their plane catch fire and send them careening into a mountainside in the middle of a terrible snowstorm. Kerry is seriously injured in the accident, and it soon becomes clear that search-and-rescue teams aren’t going to find the survivors in time to save her. Daniel—the one person with survival experience amid the passengers—makes the courageous decision to find help and bring it back to the rest of the passengers, hoping against hope he might save the woman he loves. He leaves Kerry in the care of their coworker, Phil Velez, himself seriously injured in the crash, and takes off into the woods to find a town, a house with a telephone, a road. Something.

But Daniel’s choices are made all the more difficult by the presence of his boss, a stubborn man more interested in results than taking care of people. Only one man will come out of their trek alive, but it still may not be in time to save Kerry and the others back at the crash site, slowly dying from their injuries.

As the parents’ story draws to a close, the truth about the boy’s life, and the identity of his father, will at last be revealed.

Review

This book was very unexpected. It was tender, emotional, and utterly captivating. Even though you knew from the beginning that two of the main characters survive, this book manages to stay extremely high-tension. It balances the actions necessary for survival with the emotional development of the characters.

The book does an excellent job of setting up the characters, giving you a background on their skills and setting up relationships. Even before the plane crash, the reader becomes emotionally attached to the main characters. The fight for survival seems incredibly realistic and at times brutal. The personas that the characters had in their previous lives are stripped away as they discover new aspects to themselves. While Daniel was incredibly brave, the emotional development that Phil went through was perhaps the most touching aspect of the story for me.

This is an intense read that grabs the reader and doesn’t let them go. It stays with you after the last page, haunting in its portrayal of what individuals will do to survive. While I wish the current relationship between the parents had been developed a little more, there were hints as to the depths of emotion they felt for each other.