This book was pure magic | Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the DreamerLazlo Strange has always been obsessed with the city of Weep. Abandoned as a child and raised by monks, Lazlo is ecstatic to receive an apprenticeship at the library where he is able to continue his research on the mysterious city. When a band of warriors from Weep arrives, Lazlo knows that this is his only chance to lay his eyes on the city he’s heard so much about. The leader of the group from Weep is named Godslayer and he claims that they have a problem and require outside help, but he won’t divulge any information beyond that. What kind of problem could cause the great warriors of Weep to leave their city? Lazlo isn’t sure, but he knows that he must go with them.

First of all, I had no idea this was going to be a series (duology?) but I don’t necessarily mind. I just wanted to say that first thing so anyone who only likes stand-alones can go into this review with their eyes open. Right away, it’s obvious how GOOD a writer Laini Taylor is. I love reading books by other YA authors because I’m not really looking for super high quality writing (don’t get me wrong, they’re good for sure, but it’s nothing AMAZING) but I feel like Laini Taylor is on another level. I’m not usually one who really notices the quality of the writing (unless it’s really bad) but reading this book…I couldn’t NOT sit up and notice. Honestly, it makes me want to reread her first series to see if I just missed that the first time or if she’s really stepped it up with this book. Everything about this book is interesting and beautiful but the writing is SO BEAUTIFUL. The way that Taylor describes things…it could be the most ordinary thing, but she can pull the beauty from it. The writing just flows throughout the book in a really elegant way.

But enough gushing about the writing. I thought the plot moved a little slow at the beginning. I wasn’t super into it and I kept finding myself reading a few pages and putting it down. It probably didn’t help that I had literally no idea what to expect from the book. I just knew that it was getting great reviews from everyone and it was written by an author I had enjoyed in the past. I honestly don’t think I read the synopsis once. With all that being said, once the pace picks up a little bit, I was hooked.

I thought the characters were all amazing. They are all super complicated and have a certain depth to them. None of the characters have just one motivation–no cardboard cutouts here. The book is in third person and so it jumps around between characters letting the reader get a deeper glimpse than we would have if it had been written from a different perspective. I really enjoyed Lazlo as one of our two main characters because he is just so…GOOD. Like, seriously good in this really pure and innocent way. There’s just something about him that makes you want to take care of him, but at the same time you have complete trust that he could take care of you too and wouldn’t expect anything out of it. I also loved Sarai and how she develops throughout the book. Her and Lazlo’s relationship was intense but it still felt real and I thought it grew at a realistic pace. I can’t get into all the secondary characters here, but they all rock (except for the ones who suck).

I definitely saw the “twist” at the end coming, but I also think that maybe the reader is supposed to be able to guess? It will definitely make things a lot more interesting in the next book.

Okay, but really, here’s why I like this book. There’s so much push from readers, reviewers, and basically everybody in the book community for more diversity in YA. As a POC, I appreciate that. However, I feel that the push for more diversity has, in some cases, caused diversity to be included in ways that are harmful or disingenuous (see my last mini-review for Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howard for one). With all that being said, Taylor does diversity the right way, in my opinion. She’s created a society where there are two skin colors, brown/white or blue. The dynamic between the two “races” is definitely hostile and I think the next book is set up real nice to address some tough issues in the safe setting of a fictional world. She’s not trying to make overt statements but rather lets the content of the story speak for itself. Taylor also includes an LGBT couple in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Most of all, I appreciate that she doesn’t feel the need to incorporate every single type of diversity that exists into her story (when authors do that I feel like it seems SO FORCED). She includes what feels natural and leaves the rest for another book, perhaps.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. Content-wise it’s pretty clean though there are a couple of non-graphic scenes that may not be suitable for young readers (though it’s even possible those scenes might go over their heads). With that being said, while I feel like this book could definitely be read by younger teens, I don’t feel like they’d totally understand it–I know I wouldn’t have when I was 14. So yeah, older teens would be my recommendation here. If you like beautiful things, you should read this book. And then go read Laini Taylor’s other series.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: None
Violence: Moderate (mentions of child abuse, rape, and infanticide, but no graphic depictions).
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Moderate

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BLOG TOUR: League of American Traitors by Matthew Landis [GIVEAWAY]

League of American TraitorsLeague of American Traitors
by Matthew Landis
Release Date: August 8th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Historical

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SYNOPSIS: Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it. . . . 

When seventeen year-old Jasper is approached at the funeral of his deadbeat father by a man claiming to be an associate of his deceased parents, he’s thrust into a world of secrets tied to America’s history—and he’s right at the heart of it.

First, Jasper finds out he is the sole surviving descendant of Benedict Arnold, the most notorious traitor in American history. Then he learns that his father’s death was no accident. Jasper is at the center of a war that has been going on for centuries, in which the descendants of the heroes and traitors of the American Revolution still duel to the death for the sake of their honor.

His only hope to escape his dangerous fate on his eighteenth birthday? Take up the research his father was pursuing at the time of his death, to clear Arnold’s name.

Whisked off to a boarding school populated by other descendants of notorious American traitors, it’s a race to discover the truth. But if Jasper doesn’t find a way to uncover the evidence his father was hunting for, he may end up paying for the sins of his forefathers with his own life.

Like a mash-up of National Treasure and Hamilton, Matthew Landis’s debut spins the what-ifs of American history into a heart-pounding thriller steeped in conspiracy, clue hunting, and danger.

REVIEW: I absolutely loved the premise of this book. Just the idea of the descendants of America’s most hated traitors coming together has so much potential. This book actually made me wonder where the real descendants are and what they’re doing. Beyond that, however, I felt the story needed a little bit of development. On a technical level, the transitions between sections weren’t always very smooth and it made things a little confusing at times. Like, things would be happening, but I wasn’t actually sure WHAT was happening. The book is less than 300 pages long and I really think it could’ve benefited from being longer to fill in some of the gaps.

The characters were likable, but didn’t really develop. I liked Jasper quite a bit as a main character, but I felt like his relationship with Nora came out of nowhere. I didn’t actually think they made sense as a couple and we didn’t really get to see the feelings develop on either side. Jasper thought about her a few times, but I honestly couldn’t tell if his feelings were platonic or romantic until he actually talked about kissing her.

I thought the plot was fine. Maybe some of it would have made a little more sense if I was a big history buff, but I’m not. Pacing was a little bit of an issue because some scenes would go really slow, but then it felt like the story would fast forward all of the sudden. I kind of saw the ending coming…but then didn’t at the same time. It was definitely a plus that I was kept guessing and I liked that it wasn’t some random character that hadn’t been introduced. But why did Jasper’s hair get mentioned so many times? I didn’t really get that.

Overall, I thought this book was pretty good. If you’re into American history, you might really like this book. I thought the premise was AMAZING but didn’t necessarily live up to its potential.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild


League of American Traitors Giveaway

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Matthew LandisABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
I love history, but not in the old, awful, kill-me-now-please kind of way. My passion is convincing my students that the past is actually hilarious, shocking, tragic, disturbing, and altogether UN-boring. While getting my graduate degree in History at Villanova, I realized that there was yet one more way to do this: write contemporary young adult books laced with history to convince my students that past isn’t as awful as they think. That’s a huge reason why I wrote The Judas Society.

Some other stuff: I love poetry but don’t understand it; I want Gordon Ramsay to give me a fatherly hug at some point; I tend toward the unapologetically dramatic; and (to my great shame) I didn’t read the Harry Potter series until last year. I’m also really good at covering up patent insecurities with self-deprecating humor (like this joke).

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

QUEEN DESSEN DOES IT AGAIN | Once & For All by Sarah Dessen

Once and For AllLouna met Ethan at a wedding. That fact on its own isn’t necessarily notable (her mother IS a wedding planner after all). But then she and Ethan shared the most perfect night together, wandering the streets of Colby. For one night, everything in Louna’s life was perfect. Until it wasn’t. Ethan was her ONE and what is a girl supposed to do when that one is gone? So Louna’s given up on love. She isn’t bitter–just realistic. She already had her chance at true love and what are the odds that she’ll get another one?

My expectations are always so high whenever a new Dessen book is coming out…it’s honestly not very fair to her. Except, she always delivers! Louna is such a great main character and gives off so many Remy vibes (which I LOVE). Honestly, they almost could have been the same character except I think Remy comes off as slightly more cynical. This only means that Louna is a fun combination of mild cynicism and general impatience. The secondary characters were awesome as well. I loved Louna’s mom and William–they had such a fun dynamic and often served as comic relief. Also serving as comic relief (in my opinion) is coffee shop guy, so quick shout out to him. I liked Jilly quite a bit as well, though I felt like I was missing that super strong female friendship that is often in Dessen’s books. Jilly and Louna were definitely great friends, but Jilly just wasn’t as present as other best friends have been. That being said, Jilly’s siblings were hilarious and I hope we see more of her little brother in another book.

Ambrose and Ethan…I thought they were great characters in different ways. I liked how we got to meet Ethan piece by piece in flashbacks and that his relationship with Louna didn’t feel forced or fake. I think that’s hard to do since they spent such a short amount of time together, but I was buying the whole thing. Also, thank Dessen for featuring my favorite location that she has ever created–the Pie Laundromat. So happy to see that place again. Ambrose was a completely different character from Ethan for sure and it was interesting to see Louna falling for both guys. I’ve seen some reviewers say they really didn’t care for Ambrose’s personality. I can honestly see why some readers may dislike him, but he’s so different from all of Dessen’s other romantic leads that I found him really interesting. And also the fact that he was so different from Ethan gave Louna more depth as a character, in my opinion.

As is common in Dessen’s books, there wasn’t really a plot since the book is more focused on the characters. That being said, I loved all of the different weddings that we got to see. I live just a couple of blocks from a really popular, local wedding spot and seeing so many brides and weddings day after day really just made me start to think how un-special weddings are. Like, they literally happen every day in the summer! I just found myself pondering the interesting paradox of this being one of the most important days of the bride’s life while for me it’s “just another wedding by my house”. Anyway, that’s a long explanation to say that I’m sure Natalie and William feel the same way to some extent and it’s interesting to view weddings from that perspective.

Overall, I loved this book just as much as all the others. As long as Sarah Dessen writes, I will continue to read and purchase her books. Honestly, she’s the only author I’ll pre-order for. The ONLY issue I have is that there’s a bonus chapter that exists, but it’s only available in the special B&N edition. For an Amazon addict like me, that’s no good. I’d already pre-ordered the book on Amazon when I found out bonus material even existed! Whatever. I confess to going to B&N just to sit on their floor and read the bonus chapter. I don’t even feel bad about it. But anyway, if you like Dessen, READ THIS BOOK. And if you don’t like Dessen or have never read anything she’s written, READ THIS BOOK.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate

I find it weird that these books never mention Dylan Thomas once | This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back [ARC] by Estelle Laure

Lucille and Eden have been friends forever. But the summer before their senior year, Lucille’s mom decides to take off on a solo vacation. She promises to come back before school starts, but Lucille and her little sister Wren are left waiting long after that deadline has passed. Meanwhile, Eden is struggling to come to terms with her future in ballet and the new feelings that have arisen between Lucille and her twin brother, Digby.

Just to start off, I really liked This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back was also enjoyable, but I didn’t like it AS MUCH. I just really had so many feelings about Lucille and Wren. Lucille has to be so tough and is put in this impossible situation. I noticed that some reviewers haven’t liked how mean she is to Eden and Digby after a little while, but I feel like I can understand it completely. She has to be so stressed out and she can’t REALLY talk to anyone about her situation. But one thing this book does do is make me believe in the kindness of strangers. So…there’s that.

The relationship between Lucille and Digby is…a little weird. It feels completely one-sided at the beginning of the book and it’s not completely clear what makes Digby have a change of heart. He’s got a girlfriend at the beginning of the book and he cheats on her with Lucille which is NOT OKAY. That being said, I did end up liking their relationship in the end. Mostly, though, the relationship that I really liked was between Lucille and Wren. I LOVE a good sister relationship and I felt that this book definitely delivered in that area. There’s a sizable age difference between the two girls, but they love each other and are there for each other through everything. My heart was seriously just breaking for these girls throughout the whole book.

There wasn’t too much of a plot beyond trying to survive while Lucille’s mom is gone, but I was okay with that. Again, there have been some reviewers that disliked how the first book ends because they felt like there wasn’t a resolution. I can definitely see that, but I finished the first book and immediately went into the second which picks up right where the first one left off so…I didn’t really mind the lack of a resolution.

The title is something that really drew me to this book initially. The poem it’s quoting is great (who doesn’t love it?) and the girls discuss it a little in the book. But then they never mention Dylan Thomas to my recollection. There’s no real reason why the NEED to talk about him, but perhaps it could have added an interesting layer or dimension to the book.

This is the point where I’m going to transition into my review of the second book, so if you don’t want some things spoiled from the first book, do not continue reading.

I didn’t like Eden as a narrator as much as I liked Lucille. There’s just something a little…chippy about her? I felt like she had this undercurrent of anger throughout a lot of her interactions with people. Then because Eden’s just woken up from a coma, there are some weird things that she sees that almost gives this book a magical realism feel to it where that was NOT present in the first book. It almost feels like a different genre.

The new characters that were introduced in the second book are interesting. I was a little confused, though, because apparently Eden has these two really good guy friends who are over all the time but who are never mentioned in the first book. I didn’t like the way that her new guy friends or even her parents and brother reacted to Eden at times. They got really angry with her when she didn’t want to do something–the girl just got out of a coma! I would think she’s allowed to not want to go to a club or party.

This book was interesting because we really get Eden’s point of view in the whole fallout between her and Lucille. Lucille really isn’t painted in the BEST light in this book, which was hard for me since I liked her so much in the first book. At the same time, I thought it was a great way of showing that there are two sides to every story, you know? I understood why Eden felt the way she did and ultimately why she reacted to Lucille how she did in the first book.

Overall, I thought these books were pretty great. I think it would make more sense to read them in order, but you could definitely read them separately and I think the second book would still make sense…mostly.

Overall Rating: 5 (TRL), 4 (BTICB)
Language: Moderate for both
Violence: Moderate (TRL), Mild (BTICB)
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate for both
Sexual Content: Moderate (TRL), Mild (BTICB)

Note: I received But Then I Came Back free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Diversity? Check. Great Characters? Also Check. | 180 Seconds by Jessica Park [ARC]

180 SecondsAllison is just trying to get through college interacting with the fewest number of people possible. She’s about to start her junior year and to the disappointment of her adoptive father, Simon, has been mostly successful at that goal. Allison grew up in the foster care system and has a hard time trusting that people are going to stick around. She knows that she needs to work through some of her issues, but it’s a lot easier to stay in her dorm room and live vicariously through her best friend, Steffi. When Allison gets roped into participating in a social experiment, her whole world changes in just 180 seconds.

I’m going to start off by saying that even though NetGalley classified this book as YA, I would say it fits a lot better in the NA category if only because our main characters are in college. But also, it just feels like an NA book. But anyway, I really appreciated the amount of diversity in this book because it was present without hitting the reader over the head with it. Characters had subtle diverse traits that actually effected who they were as a developed character. I also enjoyed that this book tackled some important topics without trying to take on EVERY important topic (I’m looking at you The Names They Gave Us).

But back to the characters…I absolutely LOVED Allison. My heart really went out to her. I can’t say that I had any of the same experiences in college that she did, but I’ve had my fair share of social anxiety. Obviously what Allison is going through is much bigger than just social anxiety, but I still felt like I could relate to her on some level. Secondary characters were fantastic and had just enough depth in my opinion. My only critique on the character front is that maybe Esben seemed a little too…perfect. There was never any real friction in his and Allison’s relationship and he was super understanding about everything. It’s nice for the story, but I don’t know that it’s necessarily realistic–especially in a boy who’s in his early 20’s. My experience with that age group is that they’re just not that mature.

The plot was great–I loved learning about some of Esben’s social experiments. I liked seeing Allison and even Simon getting involved. However, I’m not totally sure how I feel about the plot twist at the end. Was it necessary? Or not? I’m still on the fence. In the end, though, I feel like even though the plot wasn’t really the focus of the story, it did a good job helping each of the characters to grow and develop.

Overall, I thought this book was another great showing for Jessica Park. I loved Flat-Out Love and this book has definitely convinced me to read everything she writes.

A trigger warning: this book does deal with rape though it isn’t the main focus of the book.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Mild
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate. They’re in college, they talk about it and do some stuff but nothing is really explicitly described.

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

BLOG TOUR: The Bakersville Dozen by Kristina McBride

Bakersville Dozen

The Bakersville Dozen
by Kristina McBride
Release Date: July 4th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller

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SYNOPSIS: You have four days to locate five treasured trophies. Break the rules and you all die. Happy hunting!

Back in September, the town of Bakersville, Ohio made national news when a video went viral featuring thirteen of the high school’s elite in compromising positions. Now it’s May, and every month since the “Bakersville Dozen” made their infamous appearance on the national stage, one girl has gone missing. Officials are no closer to identifying the criminal.

Bailey “Like a Virgin” Holzman is getting really fed up with the scrutiny. She just wants to enjoy the rest of her senior year and have an epic summer before heading off to college. So when she discovers a note in her locker on the last day of school inviting her on a scavenger hunt, she thinks it’s just a sweet surprise from her boyfriend trying to cheer her up.

But following the clue leads her, instead, to the first official casualty. And another sinister envelope. The killer is close, and it could be anyone. Even the people Bailey’s always trusted most—her best friend, her perfect boyfriend, or the boy-next-door she’s always pined for.

With the clock ticking, she faces a terrifying choice: play the game by the killer’s rules—follow the clues, tell no one, and no cops—for a chance to save the rest of the missing girls, or risk becoming the next grisly victim.

REVIEW: I always like reading YA Thrillers because I feel like it’s a genre that isn’t very popular right now. We’re getting a lot of contemporary romances, fantasy, and sci fi, but we’re not getting A TON of thrillers. This book had all of the suspense of a great thriller which was really nice. The author did a really good job of making it seem like anybody could be the bad guy. I feel like sometimes books either make it really obvious who the bad guy is from the start or you have literally no suspects. I also like that the reader was given a good amount of clues to the point where we could potentially solve the mystery ourselves.

At the beginning of the book I got really excited because it really seemed like the characters were going to tell the cops (they never tell the cops). But the book didn’t end up going that route which, I thought, was a shame. It feels like that would be way more original than just having the characters stumble around by themselves, but maybe that’s just me.

The characters were fine, but I didn’t really care about any of them that much. I didn’t feel emotionally connected. The secondary characters were also fine and created some depth to the story. I was going back and forth trying to figure out whether I felt it was demeaning for Bailey to reference all of the Bakersville Dozen girls by their descriptors from the video. In the end, I feel like that’s legitimately how the kids at their school would think about them from then on, so I wasn’t necessarily bothered by it.

The plot was a bit preposterous, to be honest. I’ve read some really good thrillers where I felt the plot was plausible so I know it can be done. In the end, it just didn’t feel like it was thought through to the end. The “scavenger hunt” was well-done, but the ending was just so strange. Like…the logistics just don’t seem plausible.

Overall, I thought this book was pretty good. Thrillers is a section of YA that is lacking so I’m excited to see new books coming out in that genre.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate



Kristina McBrideABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
Kristina McBride has published three novels for young adults – THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES, ONE MOMENT, and A MILLION TIMES GOODNIGHT. Her fourth novel, THE BAKERSVILLE DOZEN, will be released July 2017.

Kristina is a former high school English teacher and yearbook advisor, as well as an adjunct professor at Antioch University Midwest and Wright State University. Kristina has a thing for music, trees, purses, and chocolate. You might be surprised to learn that Kristina was almost kidnapped when she was a child. She also bookstalks people on a regular basis. Kristina lives in Ohio with her husband and two young children. You can learn more at www.kristinamcbride.com.

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

Sex Trafficking Isn’t Just In the Movies | Ruby in the Rough by Emily Shore

Ruby in the RoughRuby has survived in the Ghetto for four years thanks to her friend Ink and her own ingenious survival skills. The Ghetto is a place where women are bought and sold regularly and are solely around for breeding and pleasure purposes. The Ghetto is ruled by gangs, a corrupt police force, and brothels. Ruby must avoid each of those groups if she ever hopes to make it out of the Ghetto alive. But with her face plastered on wanted posters all around town, that’ll be harder than you’d think.

I feel like independently published books are always a bit hit or miss when it comes to the quality of the writing (mostly a miss if I’m being honest), so I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing in this book. It read well, the language flowed, and I didn’t find myself noting errors every couple of pages. In addition to the great writing, I thought the overall message of the novella was great. The author is really trying to bring awareness to sex trafficking and to help readers to understand how people get caught up in it and why they might stay. Even though she’s created a world that is pretty different from the world we live in, I don’t feel like the topics she touches on are foreign.

I thought the characters were alright, but sometimes fell a little flat. The most developed characters were Ruby, Ink, and Angel which makes sense because they were the main characters, but I do wish there had been some kind of development of Big Sister and the other gang boss. Or even Ruby’s brother. I recognize that it’s a novella, so there’s only time for so much, but maybe that just indicates that this shouldn’t have been a novella–it should have been a full-length novel.

Some other areas where I feel like more time would have been beneficial is with world building and the plot. I didn’t really feel like the world was built all that thoroughly. The Ghetto was described to be really dirty and undesirable, but I needed more. I wanted more than just visual descriptions. I just wanted the world to have more depth overall. Then for the plot, there were some things that happened really suddenly–I didn’t feel like I’d gotten enough build-up to the events that happened. There were times when I would have questions regarding the plot. Some of those questions got answered eventually, but I feel like an author should anticipate what questions the reader will have and answer them before the reader even forms them. In this case, it was more like the author’s thoughts were developing at the same time as my own and all of the sudden she’d come up with a question and then answer it. The ending also took me by surprise and I’ve found myself questioning why the author chose to end the book that way, again, instead of just making her book longer.

My main issue, I think, is that I didn’t always feel like Ruby’s actions always made sense given the situation. There were times when she was really rude to the gang bosses and I just wanted to be like, “Girl, SHUT UP. They will KILL you. Aren’t you supposed to be a survivor? This is not surviving!” I also wondered a few times why Ruby didn’t cut her hair short? If it’s so dangerous to be a girl in this city, I’m doing everything that I can to pass for a boy.

Overall, I felt like there were some minor things that didn’t make the most sense to me, and I think the story could have benefited from being about a hundred pages longer. With that being said, I again want to say how important the cause is that this author is bringing awareness to.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking Moderate
Sexual Content: Heavy

Note: I received this book free from the author in exchange for an honest review. If you purchase this book, 50% of proceeds go back to Women At Risk, International – www.warinternational.org