Weekend trip turned nightmare | S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett [ARC]

S.T.A.G.S. STAGSGreer just started at her new boarding school, a posh place called St. Aidan the Great School. As a scholarship student, she doesn’t fit in among the elite upper class–the ones who look born to be wearing the black Tudor coats that is their school uniform. So when she gets invited to spend the long weekend with the “it” group on campus, the Medievals, she leaps at the chance. The invitation says they’re in for a fun weekend of “Huntin’, Shootin’, and Fishin'” and Greer can’t wait to prove to these popular upper classmen that she deserves to be friends with them (and maybe even more in the case of Henry de Warlencourt). What she doesn’t expect is to have the picturesque weekend marred by creepy servants and terrible “accidents”.

TL;DR – There was way too much clumsy foreshadowing. The plot wasn’t as exciting as it initially sounded. Characters were just…meh. Pass.

I had pretty high hopes for this book. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have a strangely specific passion for books about unique boarding schools. This book also sounded like it had some Hunger Games elements to it so I was all in. Unfortunately, I don’t think that the writing was up to par the entire time and the plot was a little weak.

The way the book is written, Greer is essentially narrating the events to the reader. She drops a lot of “hints” throughout the book as to what is actually happening. But instead of creating suspense, as maybe the author hoped, it destroys it and becomes more than a little annoying. There is a time and a place to use foreshadowing effectively, but it was just too heavy-handed in this book–not at all subtle and definitely overkill. Greer keeps referencing how the weekend ends and she makes it seem like a¬†really big deal. By the time we actually get to that point, I was a little let down. It almost didn’t seem like as big a deal as Greer had made it out to be throughout the book.

Like I said earlier, the plot was intriguing to me going in, but once I was actually in the book, it started to make less sense. I understand how the entire plot comes together in the end, but it still seems a little bit of a stretch–just not very believable. I’m not saying that every plot has to be super believable, but in this case, a believable plot would have made the book seem a lot more interesting. I don’t want to get too much into it because of spoilers, but I feel like this same plot could have been done in a much more intriguing and clever way.

The characters themselves were just okay. I don’t really feel like any of them were fully fleshed-out, not even Greer. That made it hard to really care for any of them. It didn’t really matter to me if they made it out alive or not. I think it would have been a lot more interesting if Greer hadn’t been the object of a certain character’s affections. The author made it seem like he might like someone else at the beginning and I think following through with that would have been a lot more unexpected and interesting. And wouldn’t have had a huge impact on the story line.

Overall, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book. There were so many parts of it that just dragged. I was really hoping this book would be so much better than it was.

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: None

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I am now extremely thankful for all my senses | The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy [ARC]

The DisappearancesAila and her brother have just moved to Sterling, the town their recently deceased mother grew up in. Right away, they notice some strange things–the flowers have no scent and there doesn’t appear to be any mirrors in the house. As they investigate, they’ll learn secrets about the town and about their own family. Is it a curse? Or is there another explanation? And what does their mother have to do with it?

This is a strong debut from this author and I’m very excited to see what she brings us next. I was decidedly NOT expecting much from this book. The premise intrigued me, but I didn’t really know what I was in for. As it turns out, I ended up LOVING this book. The writing was so beautiful and the entire atmosphere of the book was ethereal but grounded at the same time. This book seemed to have some magical realism elements woven throughout, but then there was also a sciencey aspect to it and I really enjoyed that contrast.

The main characters are all terrific. I love Aila. She’s fierce but kind at the same time. Her relationship with her brother Miles feels genuine and imperfect, but strong. My heart seriously broke for Miles so many times in this book. I thought that the relationships between Aila and Miles and the Cliftons felt realistic. It helps that every single character had depth–that makes their relationships feel like so much more. The only character I felt lacked a little bit was Will. His motivations could have been developed a little more, but at this point I’m just nitpicking. Even the mean kids at school had depth, which doesn’t usually happen in YA books.

I loved the time period. The book is set during World War II which is the perfect backdrop for the plot. The plot would not have worked in any other time period. We’re immersed into this town that has so much shared history. It’s really created this community that’s had to band together through these trials. Perfect setting.

The story itself is so interesting as well. As Aila starts to try to solve this mystery, the reader feels like they can follow along as well. I mean, Aila’s just reading Shakespeare–I can do that! This book made me want to read some Shakespeare to try to find clues as well. Ultimately, though, I wish that the Shakespeare clues played a bigger role in solving the mystery. It would have been really cool if the reader could solve the mystery by fitting those pieces together, but as the story is written, we can’t. I guess I wish there had been a little bit more of a treasure hunt-ish aspect, but I get why the book wasn’t more like that.

Overall, I thought this book was SO GOOD. Seriously, I think everyone should read it. At this point, it’s super underrated. I have literally heard nothing about this book. So when it comes out on July 4th, I expect everyone to go out and pick up a copy–I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: None

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Just Another Magic Boarding School | Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross [ARC]

Miss Mabel's School for GirlsBianca¬†needs to get into Miss Mabel’s school and once she does, she also must win the yearly competition to study directly by Miss Mabel’s side. Usually only third years are allowed to compete, but a loophole allows Bianca and another underclassman to compete as well. A lot of Bianca’s classmates thinks she’s just competing to show off, but they don’t know that for Bianca this is a matter of life and death. Literally. Her grandmother was cursed when she was Bianca’s age and Bianca has inherited it. Winning the competition doesn’t guarantee Bianca’s survival, but losing would mean certain death.

I really thought this book was going to be a great cross between Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series and Kathleen Baldwin’s Stranje House series and I was really looking forward to it (love both those series’). Unfortunately this book read more like a (rough)¬†rough draft of Harry Potter with only girls. There were so many things that were reminiscent of Harry Potter. The forbidden woods, the dining hall, the competition…just too much and not done nearly as well as Harry Potter (obviously).

That being said, I thought that the characters were alright. There were a couple that I found particularly interesting, but the requisite “mean girl” was flat, boring, and not compelling. Bianca herself also rubbed me the wrong way a few times. The main character that I felt was more than just a piece of cardboard¬†was Miss Mabel. She was SO evil. Delightfully evil. I was kept wondering what foul thing she would do or have Bianca do next. At the same time, she had like…no purpose. ¬†Her motivations were not made clear at all so she’s basically just being evil for no reason the whole time. Towards the end of the book we get some sense of her motivations, but it doesn’t feel like they come from the person, more like they come from the situation…¬†Does that even make sense?

The plot itself was also pretty weak. I understand Bianca’s overall plotline, but the competition feels kind of pointless and all the pages about Bianca’s struggles studying really weighed the book down. One thing it did have going for it is that there was no romance. I mean, I love romance in books (especially YA books) but it’s just so rare to read a book without even a hint of romance.¬†Overall, I thought this book was just okay. I’m mostly just disappointed because I had such high hopes in the first place.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: None

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Doctor Who with a dash of Sherlock Holmes (Jackaby by William Ritter)

JackabyAbigail Rook is fresh off the boat and looking for a job. Unfortunately, it seems that the only one hiring is the strange Mr. Jackaby. The rest of the people in town tend to give Jackaby a wide berth, but Abigail can’t afford to do that if she’d like to have a warm place to sleep and food to eat. On her first day she follows Jackaby to a crime scene–a murder investigation to be exact. While Jackaby seems to notice things that may or may not be there and may or may not have fantastical origins, Abigail is quite good at noticing the ordinary. The two misfits make quite a team as they investigate just what kind of supernatural killer they have on their hands.

I was lucky enough to get signed copies of the first three books in this series¬†at BookCon. William Ritter is very nice and refreshingly genuine and I’m so happy that I can say that I enjoyed this book. It is¬†very reminiscent of both Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, but not necessarily in a way that is annoying or tiring. Jackaby is a really delightful character and it’s a really nice change for¬†me that there is NOT a romance brewing between him and Abigail. Abigail herself is perhaps a little flat for a narrator–I wish she had a little more depth. That being said, I still thought she was a good narrator and didn’t get annoyed with her at all. Secondary characters were all fine, but I think they’ll probably have bigger roles in later books.

The plot itself is intriguing and I like how all kinds of mystical/fantastical elements are woven into the story so matter-of-factly. It really feels like the author did his research into these mystical animals/creatures. I had some ideas about who the murderer was, but I was by no means sure of myself. I think the best kind of mystery is where the reader has a suspect, but cannot say for sure whether or not they are right. This book definitely accomplishes that.

Overall, I thought this book was great! I also really appreciated that the book has very little adult content outside of violence/gore. Very little language, no sexual content, and very little alcohol/drug use. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Doctor Who or Sherlock Holmes, or anyone who is looking for a nice, clean mystery. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of them myself!

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: None

Genius by Leopoldo Gout [ARC]

GeniusRex, Tunde, and Painted Wolf are best friends and they’re about to meet in real life for the first time. The CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world is hosting an event simply called The Game. 100 of the best and brightest from around the world will be competing head-to-head and they’re all under the age of 18. Rex is a coder, Tunde is a brilliant engineer, and Painted Wolf can out-strategize anyone. They’ll need all of these skills if they want to win, but the question is, what will happen if they do?

I felt like this book was a really great idea. The premise was interesting and I always love the idea of gifted teenagers coming together to compete in a reality show-esque atmosphere. The characters were interesting and I liked that they were all very distinct. Sometimes when authors try to do multiple perspectives, all of the narrators just end up sounding the same. Luckily that wasn’t the case here. Since all three of our main characters have such different skill sets, it makes sense that they would think and communicate very differently. This really came through with the switching narratives.

I liked the way the author took the reader through The Game. It could have been easy to feel passive as a reader because there’s no way we can help our characters to move on, but each problem was still engaging and I found myself thinking about possible solutions. Overall, the plot follows a pretty linear path and I thought most things made sense and nothing was too technical. I also appreciated the drawings and diagrams that were scattered throughout the story. It makes things more interesting and also helps the story to feel like it’s moving faster.

Those things being said, however, I felt like this book and the idea would have been much better suited as a movie. I don’t think the book was able to create as much or the same kind of tension that the author was looking for. It just doesn’t come across on the page whereas I think film would have been a very good medium for it. In addition, while I liked that some of the contestants were very, very young, I think the book would have been better if the competitors were all college students. It’s almost hard for me to take the characters seriously because they’re so young.

Overall, I thought this book was pretty good. There were definitely some changes that I would have made, but I think readers will still enjoy the book anyway.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: None
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: None

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

BLOG TOUR: Love, Lies, and Spies by Cindy Anstey [GIVEAWAY]

25320766Love, Lies, and Spies
by Cindy Anstey
Release Date: April 19th, 2016
Genres: Historical, Young Adult

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SYNOPSIS: Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She’s much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she’s determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish their research.

Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana’s traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself.

REVIEW:¬†This book was quite enjoyable and reads a lot like a Jane Austen novel while at the same time using more modern language¬†and is therefore a quicker read. The characters were great. I really enjoyed both Juliana and Mr. Spencer Northam and thought they had a really fun relationship. Carrie and Mr. Reeves were both awesome secondary characters who acted as a great support system for Juliana and other secondary characters were delightfully hateable. Characters weren’t 100% original, but I found myself enjoying them anyway.

There wasn’t too much of a plot throughout the book, which I was okay with, but it did make the overall story¬†feel a little flatter. I was kind of bugged throughout that Juliana was supposed to be portrayed as this strong, intelligent woman, but then she keeps being put in physical danger where Mr. Northam has to save her. I would have just liked a little less “damsel in distress” and a little more “I don’t need a man to save me”.

Overall, I thought this book was a really fun read. The narration is witty and speeds the story along even if it seems like the author is trying a little too hard at times. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Jane Austen novels and regency era stories.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: None


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Version 2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
She has lived on three continents, had a monkey in her yard and a scorpion under her sink, dwelt among castles and canals, enjoyed the jazz of Beale St and attempted to speak French.

Cindy loves history, mystery and… a chocolate Labrador called Chester. Love, Lies and Spies is her debut novel.

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BLOG TOUR: Blackheath by Gabriella Lepore [GIVEAWAY]

BlackheathBlackheath
by Gabriella Lepore
Release Date: December 21st 2015
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult

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SYNOPSIS:¬†Seventeen-year-old Maggie Ellmes is dogged by a case of chronic bad luck. She figures that‚Äôs just her lot in life‚ÄĒthat is, until the psychic at Blackheath‚Äôs annual carnival reveals that Maggie‚Äôs problems are caused by more than just ordinary misfortune; she‚Äôs actually been cursed.

Desperate to shake the hex, Maggie has no choice but to seek out the help of Joel Tomlins, a rebellious classmate who’s descended from Blackheath’s most powerful line of witches. After breaking all of his coven’s conventions to help her, Joel discovers that the curse isn’t as bad as Maggie fears. In fact, it’s much, much worse.

REVIEW: The synopsis of this book is a little bit misleading…I thought we’d see more of this “bad luck” that Maggie’s supposed to be suffering from. It really doesn’t play much into it though and doesn’t really have much to do with what’s going on. Let me just start by saying that this book was pretty good. I felt that the premise was solid and the main characters made realistic choices for the most part. The book did a good job of grabbing me right away and making me want to keep reading. The plot became predictable at parts, but not necessarily in a boring way.

That being said, I had some confusion as to where this book was supposed to be set.¬†The author is from the UK and so it made sense that she used British terms like “Maths” and “Jumper”, but then one of the characters is trying out for the soccer team. Literally, the book uses the word soccer. I was under the impression that everyone in the UK used the term football? Seriously, correct me if I’m wrong. So that kind of bothered me.

The secondary characters in this book were really flat and didn’t feel as developed as they could have and should have been. Some of them seemed purposeless. Why is Blonde Lauren called Blonde Lauren? We have no idea. Also, what does it even mean that Evan is the “Chosen One”. It’s never really explained–they just keep calling him that and it never really plays a role in the book. It seems possible that there would be more books after this where it might play a bigger role, but in this book…nothing.

Overall, this book was okay. I thought it started out pretty strong, but then the ending was a little anti-climactic. That being said, I like the way that magic is portrayed and some of the characters are interesting.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild. One scene of underage drinking.
Sexual Content: None


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GabABOUT THE AUTHOR:¬†Gabriella Lepore lives on the coast of Wales in the United Kingdom. She¬†began writing at an early age and grew up with a passion for all things¬†supernatural‚ÄĒespecially¬†witches! She currently has six Young Adult books¬†in print: Evanescent, The Blackheath Witches, How I Found You, Secrets¬†In Phoenix, and The Witches of the Glass¬†Castle books 1 & 2.

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Note: I received this book free from the author/blog tour in exchange for an honest review.