Let’s just say it’s been a while since I’ve read some of these books [Mini-Reviews]

There are so many books that I read last year that I still haven’t gotten around to reviewing. Hopefully, this post can make a (small) dent in that list.

mini-reviews

The Conspiracy of Us and Map of Fates by Maggie Hall

map of fates

conspiracy of us

I really thought I was going to like these books because it seemed like it was going to be one massive treasure hunt. Instead, we’re gifted with insta-love and a completely unnecessary love triangle. I also don’t really understand why there’s this slight magical element? I mean, one of the characters is literally fireproof and I don’t know how that can be explained without magic. The main character is so naive and very annoying. I never understand why protagonists have such a hard time being left behind on “missions” when they have no training and would clearly only get in the way. I, personally, would be happy to sit on my behind in the hotel room and let people with ACTUAL TRAINING take care of the dangerous stuff. I honestly don’t know why I even bothered with the second book, but I am definitely NOT going to be reading the third one. 3/5

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

Orphan Monster SpyI wasn’t super impressed by this book. I thought it actually started off pretty strong, but it didn’t maintain that excitement through to the end. While I felt like it had a different tone from most books, that didn’t really make things any more interesting. The plot was fine, but not super engaging and I had a hard time figuring out what the end goal was supposed to be. Our main character is going through a bunch of stuff, but for what? I also didn’t find myself connecting to any of the characters. The main character was…fine. Kind of bland–you really don’t get to know her that well. The author also chose to include some pretty messed up characters, but I didn’t really feel like they added to the story. 3/5

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

The ArchivedThis book had been on my TBR forever because I really liked the Monsters of Verity duology. Also, I love any kind of twist on the “library” so if you know any good alternate library books, let me know in the comments! To get into my review, I felt like the world was pretty complex and didn’t really get explained very well at the beginning, which just left me feeling confused. I was also very confused for the first three chapters because I didn’t realize that Da and Dad were not both Mackenzie’s father. I liked Mackenzie as a main character, but she made some really questionable decisions. I never really understood her resistance for sharing information with the librarians, but especially Roland. He seemed to obviously be on her side and some things could have been prevented if she had been more transparent. I thought Wesley was a bit much as a character, but I did like watching his relationship with Mackenzie develop. Owen, on the other hand…that relationship seemed to come out of nowhere. In the end, there was a twist that I did NOT see coming and I’m just left with so many questions. Like, what is up with Ms. Angelli? Such a mystery. 4/5

ebook | Paperback

The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher

The ChristmasaurusThis is such a fun middle grade Christmas book. The language was pretty silly throughout, so I would definitely recommend for younger middle grade readers, but I think that age will find the silly language really enjoyable. This book has wheelchair representation which I don’t think I’ve seen in any other books–let alone middle grade. I’m no expert, but it felt like it was portrayed accurately and definitely felt super respectful. I also thought that the characters developed in a realistic way. Even though Brenda is horrible, I felt like I understood her and that’s not always the case with antagonists. I loved all of the illustrations throughout and the Christmas feels were SO STRONG. There’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming (am I just oblivious???) which was such a fun surprise. I recommend getting the version of the book that comes with the soundtrack–not necessary, but a really fun and festive bonus. 4/5

ebook | Hardcover | Musical Edition

Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake

Two Dark ReignsOkay, I’m hoping to get through this review without any spoilers, but it’s book three in the series, so I’m really sorry if I reveal anything from the first two books–unintentional. After the second book I wasn’t sure how invested I would be in the rest of the story–I didn’t really see where Blake could take it from there. However, the third book got me reinvested real quick. I found myself liking this book much more than the second one and the different POVs continued to be a nice change of pace. I enjoyed each POV equally. There continue to be many, many questions and I need the next book asap. The ending took me by surprise and I’m still not sure exactly what’s going on or what’s going to happen. There’s some interesting things going on on the island and I guess we’ll just have to see what happens next. 4/5

ebook | Hardcover

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, & Brodi Ashton

my plain janeI love this series! The tone is fun and light and easy to enjoy. Once again, I thought the rotating perspective worked well, but Jane’s sections were probably my least favorite. I do wish that I’d read Jane Eyre first, though, because there are certain plot points that were so strange and I don’t know if they were extra or if they’re part of the original text. This is partly why one of my 2019 reading goals is to read Jane Eyre. I also liked that this is somewhat of a “Jane Eyre origin story”. The plot itself was good, but not completely thought out or explained. Why do the talismans work on ghosts? What really determines if a ghost moves on or not? Is a special “moving on” room really necessary? I also felt like red rooms were mentioned several times and I don’t really know why. Despite all that, the tone of the book is so enjoyable that I happily overlooked the times when things weren’t fully explained and I’m excited to continue on with this series. 4/5

ebook | Hardcover


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The book to read if you ever wanted to learn more about autism | Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik [ARC]

Things I Should Have KnownChloe doesn’t have what anybody would call an “ideal situation”. Sure she’s pretty popular at school, but her dad died a few years ago and her mom married a total tool. On top of that, she has an autistic older sister to worry about. Her friends are supportive, but don’t really get it–not that she expects them to. When Chloe tries to set her sister up on a couple of dates, Chloe begins to see one of her classmates in a completely different light. She starts to think that maybe there is someone who can understand her after all.

This book was truly great. The author has a child who is autistic and I felt that that really shows in the book. It feels real and authentic and I learned a lot more about how to interact with people who are on the autism spectrum. This is the kind of diversity in characters that I can appreciate. The author has first-hand experience with autism and can portray it in a way that somebody without that first-hand knowledge never could in my opinion.

Chloe and David are both just really great characters. The love that they have for their siblings is obvious throughout the book. They’re definitely flawed, but I can’t help but feel that they’re still better people than I am. They have normal lives, but at the same time, their worlds kind of revolve around their siblings. Chloe and David make me want to be a better person when I’m around those with disabilities for sure. Their relationship with each other felt real and progressed at a natural pace. I thought they really balanced each other out. As far as secondary characters go, I felt that both sets of parents could have been developed a little more. More depth was shown at the end of the book, but it almost felt like too little, too late. James and Sarah were both really flat characters as well and didn’t contribute much of importance to the story.

One criticism that I have is with Chloe’s relationship with her step-dad. It just seemed so obvious to me. For once I would like to read a book where the main character looses a parent that they had a good relationship with, but then they also love their step-parent as well. Does that ever happen in real life? Does it even exist? Or am I just wishing for a unicorn here? It just feels like a really cheap way to add drama.

Ethan and Ivy were also great characters. I felt like they really showed how differently autism can manifest itself. Not all people with autism act the same way or have the same triggers. Also, I thought the author did a great job of showing that even their loved ones get fed up with them sometimes. People who have autism don’t necessarily need to be babied–they just need to be treated like normal people. The LGBT aspect of it was interesting as well. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I think the author brings up an important topic here.

Overall, I thought this book was fantastic. I’ve really liked LaZebnik’s books in the past and while this one was different, it didn’t disappoint. I definitely look forward to reading anything else that she comes out with.

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

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

HW Assignment: The Six by Mark Alpert

Note: This post was used as a homework assignment and may contain spoilers.

There are two things that I think teens should pull from this 61h4qR4hM5L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_book. First, adults are not always perfect. Two, “weak” characters can do strong things. A lot of times, in dystopian books especially, it seems that our main teenage characters are tasked with fixing the mistakes that the adults made. In this way, the idea of “imperfect adults” is not new. What this book has that is new, however, is the fact that the adults are working with the children to fix their mistakes, even while making new ones. I like that there is a codependency in the relationship as I feel that exists in real life as well.

The second, and most prevalent, idea that I mentioned shows that just because a character (or person) is “weak” in one aspect doesn’t mean that they as an entire person are “weak”. All of these children have terminal illnesses and, as is the case with Adam and DeShawn especially, have physical limitations. When they are released from their limitations, they have all kinds of potential. I think DeShawn especially shows this. He was arguably the most limited of the six characters but as soon as he gets into his robot, he starts cheering. This is Adam’s reaction: “I feel like cheering too. DeShawn’s not pretending. It’s the bravest thing I’ve ever seen” (pg 94). Throughout the book, DeShawn continues to be brave and shows that he’s just grateful to have this second chance at life. In their own ways, each of the Pioneers shows the strength that they have.

As mentioned in its Kirkus Review, this book “raises interesting questions about ethics, technology, and human nature”. I agree that the question of whether or not it was ethically right to put these kids (even though dying) into robots is a tough one. In addition, the question that Adam and his mother especially struggle with on what makes a person human is impossible to answer. Behind the action and the science, I believe that this book has a lot of themes that can inspire deep discussion among teens.

Some read-a-likes that I would recommend are Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Ender’s Game is similar because in both books, kids (or teens) have to fight a war started by adults. The adults would like to fight their own battles, but physically cannot because of the way their brains are. I thought of Ready Player One because of something that Adam says at the very beginning of the book. “That’s what I like about VR programs—how you can use them to build a virtual world that’s way better than ordinary reality” (pg 5). Ready Player One also has a main character that uses virtual reality in order to escape from his own, less-desirable reality.

BLOG TOUR: This Ordinary Life by Jennifer Walkup (GIVEAWAY)

ThisOrdinaryLife_FCThis Ordinary Life
by Jennifer Walkup
Publisher: Luminis Books, Inc.
Release Date: October 1st 2015

Goodreads|Amazon|B&N|Book Depository|Pinterest

SYNOPSIS:
Sometimes Hope is the Most Extraordinary Gift of All.

High-school radio host Jasmine Torres’s life is full of family dysfunction, but if she can score the internship of her dreams with a New York City radio station, she knows she can turn things around.

That is, until her brother Danny’s latest seizure forces her to miss the interview, and she’s back to the endless loop of missing school for his doctor appointments, picking up the pieces of her mother’s booze-soaked life, and stressing about Danny’s future.

Then she meets Wes. He’s the perfect combination of smart, cute, and funny. He also happens to have epilepsy like her brother. Wes is living a normal life despite his medical issues, which gives Jasmine hope for Danny. But memories of her cheating ex-boyfriend keep her from going on a real date with Wes, no matter how many times he asks her.

Jasmine can’t control everything. Not who wins the internship, not her mother’s addiction, not her brother’s health–not even where her heart will lead her. She wishes she could just have an ordinary life, but maybe what she already has is pretty extraordinary after all.

REVIEW:
I was really interested in radio when I was in high school, so I was excited to pick up this book where the main character is also interested in radio. Jasmine seems like the kind of girl who really has her head on straight–and for good reason. Her mom has been kind of neglectful, so Jasmine has had to step into the parent role. Even though she’s trying to take care of her family, I liked that she still had time to be sweet with Danny. They seemed to have a really special relationship and it made me think of my own little brother.

Overall, I liked Jasmine quite a bit as a main character, but she had some traits that I disliked. She could be a little vindictive and bratty towards her mom. I understand that her mom isn’t doing what she’s supposed to be doing, but I don’t feel like there’s ever an excuse to be that rude to another human being. Another thing is that I don’t feel that the author showed us why Jasmine is so special. I get that she’s awesome with her brother and is very mature, but if you gave her a different family, what’s special about her? This made it so that I couldn’t quite see what Wes saw in her. It didn’t make sense to me why he was being so persistent with wanting to date her. I will say this about Jasmine though, I’m so glad that she never ONCE thought about taking her ex-boyfriend back. Way to stand up for yourself!

The story line and drama is mostly centered around the radio internship/epilepsy so I was glad that neither Wes nor Frankie added to the drama. There are times when I feel like an author has put too much drama into their book, but in this case I felt that there was a really nice balance. Overall, I liked the ending of the book. It’s not your typical happy ending, but it’s hopeful. Most of all, I love that this book brings attention to a disease that I, personally, did not know a lot about.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: None
Sexual Content: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy (alcoholic adult character).

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

GIVEAWAY


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Jennifer Walkup
Award-winning author Jennifer Walkup is most often found writing, reading, and spending time with her husband and young sons. A member of SCBWI and RWA, Jennifer also works as an editor and creative writing instructor, and is an advocate for Epilepsy awareness. This Ordinary Life is her second novel.

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Note: I received this book free from the Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.