May 20, 2012

Review: Ultraviolet

By: R.J. Anderson
Published: September 2011 by Carolrhoda Books
Format: Hardback, 303 pages
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Everything you believe is wrong.

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special.

This is not her story.

Unless you count the part where I killed her.

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison's condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can't explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori -- the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that's impossible. Right?

Rating: 4/5

For some very strange reason, I was not looking forward to this book at all, actually. I don't even remember buying it, which rarely ever happens to me. So when I sat down to read it, I figured I would end up skimming and forcing my way through it. Why? I haven't the strangest idea. However, I really enjoyed this book. I really did.

The plot was incredibly original. Something I haven't read before. Synesthesia. Who would have thought someone could create a brillant storyline dealing with that, without it becoming cheesy or overdone or obvious? Anderson pulled it off, if you ask me. Not only was the writing was solid, but I loved Anderson's use of description and detail. She really got me seeing, feeling, and tasting what Alison was.

On Alison, I really loved Anderson's characterization with her. I felt she was a believable character, with true emotions and feelings, while not becoming annoying or boring. While she was distant to others, I felt close to her. She deals with a lot emotionally, from her own personal guilt to what others treat her as. Anderson made me feel for her while keeping me interested in where her story was going.

My only main problem was with the romance. I never truly connected with Faraday or their feelings for each other. Their relationship was rather blah for me. Other than that, my nitpicks are minor. This book was just very original. Anderson had me on the tips on my toes, my face inches from the book, trying to figure out where she was taking the story (in a good way).

Overall, a great read. I recommend giving it a try. Definitely refreshing and mysterious and exciting, with fresh characters and "gifts" new to the YA.

Review: The Island of Lost Girls

By: Jennifer McMahon
Published: April 2008 by Harper Paperbacks
Format: eBook, 214 pages
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What happens when they go missing...

While parked at a gas station, Rhonda sees something so incongruously surreal that at first she hardly recognizes it as a crime in progress. She watches, unmoving, as someone dressed in a rabbit costume kidnaps a young girl. Devastated over having done nothing, Rhonda joins the investigation. But the closer she comes to identifying the abductor, the nearer she gets to the troubling truth about another missing child: her best friend, Lizzy, who vanished years before.

From the author of the acclaimed "Promise Not to Tell" comes a chilling and mesmerizing tale of shattered innocence, guilt, and ultimate redemption.

Rating: 5/5

I've been getting into mysteries lately. This is my second book by Jennifer McMahon, and I must say I liked this even more than Don't Breathe a Word, which is really saying something, considering I really liked that one as well.

Speaking of Don't Breathe a Word, I must say that I did notice quite a few similarities between the two. I would love to read McMahon's other work, but I hope she branches off from the same type of sub-storylines in the future.

However, I very much appreciate McMahon and how she's able to keep me so engaged that I want to read straight through the book to find out what's going on and what's going to happen. This book had so many dark twists and secrets, and characters that I was very engaged in. I never expected the outcome at all, but I never quit guessing. From the beginning, McMahon had me wrapped around her finger.

Rhonda, our MC, was solid and realistic, a young woman riddled with guilt over not helping the little girl at the gas station. As she does everything she can to help find the girl, she dives deep into her past, uncovering secrets and finding the truth. I was there with her every moment.

I also must mention how well McMahon weaves two stories together. This story takes place in 1993 and in 2006, jumping back and forth, and McMahon did a beautiful job investing me in both stories, while keeping the main focus clear. Very crafty and wonderful work.

Think of my rating as more of a "4.5" rounded up for the very reason that I devoured this and couldn't put it down. I had my nitpicks too minute to mention and I wished the outcome would have been a tad bit different or somewhat slightly more developed, but overall, I really enjoyed this. I loved the mysteries and stories that were woven around one another and was on the edge of my seat wondering what was going on, who did what, and what was going to happen. Simply, I loved this, and highly recommend it.

Review: Just Listen

By: Sarah Dessen
Published: April 2006 by Viking
Format: Paperback, 383 pages
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“Don't think or judge, just listen.”

Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything"—at least that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store.This year, she's the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen's help,maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.

Rating: 5/5

I haven't read all of Sarah Dessen's novels, and while this is only #4 for me, I have a feeling this will always be one of my favorites of hers. I had some time off, and while it was already getting later in the afternoon, I decided to grab a book and start reading. I grabbed Just Listen, thought, I'll probably read a few chapters and then finish later. Instead, I sat in one spot and read straight through this.

Dessen has one of my favorite writing styles. So simple, yet beautiful and so full of meaning. She captures me within just a few pages and hold me until the very end. I have no idea how she does it, all while creating wonderfully developed characters and a plot that holds such purpose and meaning.

Annabel, while her initial setup seems overdone as "the girl who has everything," but instead of her falling into the cliche trap in which the character is just an ungrateful snot, she became this real person, with feeling buried so deep down. Feelings that she knew about and feelings that she didn't realize she had until she had to confront them. I felt for her; her emotions and thoughts seemed like they could have been my own at times, and her voice seeped off the page, as if she were literally sitting in front of me, telling me her story. Showing me her story, and making me feel as though I was her.

And Owen. Oh, Owen. One of the best general fiction love interests. I don't fall in love with fictional guys now-a-days, especially not guys from contemporary reads. Which is kind of backwards, I'd say, but...ah well...Anyway, back to Owen. He has his own secrets, his own problems, just like everyone else, but he's found his outlet with music. I love what he teaches Annabel, what he taught me. Wonderful characterization with him and Annabel.

What else can I say about this book, other than I felt it was stunning. Music, what a great theme. While overused, in my opinion, Dessen's work stands out. It wasn't something the character(s) were just interested in, or loved. It was therapy, woven throughout the plot instead of just popping up every now and again. In a sense, music was a character in itself.

Overall, this book is one I think everyone should read at least once. Even if you somehow dislike the characterization, or the plot pacing, or the setup, one thing is for sure, in my opinion: You will take something away. You will learn that sometimes all you have to do is just listen. Don't speak, don't judge, don't even think, just listen.

Beautiful read.

May 19, 2012

Review: Wither

By: Lauren DeStefano
Published: March 2011 by Simon & Schuster
Format: Hardback, 358 pages
First Reviewed: April 2011
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What if you knew exactly when you would die?

By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.
When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape—before her time runs out?

Rating: 3/5

When I read the description, my very first thought was, Um...what? Okay, DeStefano, you better make this believable. You do that, and this should be pretty awesome. Do I think she did that? No. I shall explain...

How in the world can every continent besides North America be destroyed (I'll get into my thoughts on that in a second) and taken over by water, but Florida and Manhattan are still fine? No, no, no, wouldn't happen. Anyway, that aside, I felt the world-building was great and very descriptive.

I liked the characters all right. Some, I'd give five stars, but others I didn't care for. So I settled on three stars. The main character, Rhine, was just okay for me. She had a nice, solid voice and personality, but she annoyed me with some of her complaining and whining about stuff. I get that she was a victim and all, was just over the top in some places. Other than that, I thought she was pretty solid. The sister wives were the most developed, in my opinion, and I felt they were very distinct without being cliche or one-dimensional. The others, though, were just okay. Especially the male leads. One of them, I was meh over, and the other was just kind of there, like a puppet. I never really felt anything from those two. Overall, though, I didn't dislike the characters, some were great, some were just okay.

DeStefano has beautiful writing, I think. She gives her main character a solid voice, the dialogue was believable, and the prose was nicely formed and flowed well. And even though it deals with a tough subject and some graphic stuff, the narrative is kept clean so that I never really felt uncomfortable, which is a skill.What bothered me was that she repeated herself a lot. For example, I get that so-and-so has red hair. You don't have to tell me ten times in one chapter. Or I get that he's your twin brother, you don't have to keep telling me his name and that he's your brother. I get it. But that's really all that bothered me about the actual writing. I think if she makes her stories much more believable, then she'll really have fantastic books.

The plot is where I struggled. Okay, some of this you get from the description, and a couple of things are very, very small spoilers, but they must be addressed. How on earth does a virus have the concept of time? Cue Pete from O' Brother, Where Art Thou?: "That don't make no sense!" Please explain to me how a virus is going to know exactly when you're twenty/twenty-five? It's unrealistic and was never truly explained in a way that I bought it.

Next: What? North America is the only place in the world after a third world war because they had the most advanced technology??? No lie, that's what it said. That is incredible BS! America/Canada/Mexico would never win a third world war against the entire rest of the world. Are you kidding me? Most advanced technology. Please. AND it said that the rest of the world wasn't just destroyed, it was gobbled up by water from whatever the heck North America did. What? What? ... ... ...What?

Okay, and if all of these people were raised in this world, a pregnant thirteen-year-old would be normal. Teenagers would not be innocent little kids, yet Rhine kept acting like they were losing their youth. Girl, you done lost your youth when you were, what?, ten? Twelve? The word "Christmas" didn't survive, but she knows about Dorothy and Oz? North America was so advanced in technology, but Rhine doesn't know about contact lenses? Also, contact lenses aren't enough to conceal one's identity. "Let me change my eyes and no one will recognize me." What? Come on.

Lastly, why did they ring in the new year on January 2nd?

Okay, that's enough of that. That's only a fraction of my issue with the believability of this stuff. The reason this section is rated three stars, though, even after all that up there, is because it was a solid read. Realism aside, the plot moved along at a nice pace, I was interested in what was going to happen, and I pretty much devoured this in one setting. If it was believable, I'd probably give this five stars, because it is an original spin on the dystopian genre. But, as you all know, an original spin isn't enough. It has to be believable.

Random: This, in all honestly, may be one of my favorite book designs of all-time. It's absolutely stunning! The digital copy of the cover does it no justice, and you have to see the inside to really understand what I mean. HUGE shout out to Lizzy Bromley for this design. Amazing!

I'll say it again, if this book was believable, I would have given it five stars. Overall, it's a decent read and a nice stray from all the other dystopians today. And I have to acknowledge the book design one more time: It's so beautiful! Oh, how I wish the book lived up to it.

Review: Wintergirls

By: Laurie Halse Anderson
Published: March 2009 by Viking
Format: Hardback, 278 pages
First Reviewed: June 2011
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“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.

I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.
Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend's restless spirit.
In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia's descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.

Rating: 4/5

This poor book has been on my shelf for a long, long time. I think I got it for my birthday in 2009. Aw, I'm sorry, book! Anyway, this is my second time reading Halse Anderson. My first time was yeeeaarrsss ago when I was in middle school, I think. I read Fever, and remember I loved it. So I was excited to dive into this. Though there are a few issues I have, this still did not let me down.

When reading books with main characters like Lia, who have problems/depression/illnesses/etc., I'm always weary. Most of the time the characters are never fully developed, or I just never care about their issues. Halse Anderson, thankfully, doesn't fall under into that trap. She gave Lia a distinct voice and, personality, and I cared about her. For the most part, I cared about her problems, how she was going to get through them, and how they were affecting those around her. There were those times where I didn't feel like I was getting enough emotion or feeling from her, and sometimes she threatened (though never actually crossed into) going into the "annoying" category. But, again, for the majority of this, she came off extremely realistic.

This really is Lia's story, but her supporting cast was realistic as well. They were developed and all had important roles to play. It felt like a real family, without it feeling like Halse Anderson needed obstacles for Lia, if that makes any sense. Also, the therapists felt believable, how Cassie was used was great, and the male character in this (not a love interest, surprisingly and gratefully) was a nice and interesting addition.

I have one complaint about the writing, so I'll get it out of the way: I felt disconnected. Sometimes I just couldn't grasp the narrative. While it's different and I really enjoyed that uniqueness, I think some of the stylistic choices were a bit much. Like the striked (wait, is that a word?) out words, which were fine at times, but then felt a bit over-the-top in other areas.

Nevertheless, Halse Anderson is pretty darn great with her writing! She's gifted with giving her narrator a voice that stands out and she knows how to really get into a character's mind to the point where the reader almost feels like they're having the thoughts. I really enjoyed her flashback moments and how she incorporated details. Her prose is fantastic and she really knows how to move a story along in such a way that I had to keep reading.

In a way, this reminds me of If I Stay by Gayle Forman. They don't have much in common, but I say this because both books have such a strong message that the plot almost didn't matter for me. Though If I Stay had better emotion for me, which is why I was able to look past my nitpicks with that. While Wintergirls has a ton of emotion as well, like I said before, I was disconnected at times. When I got hit with the emotion, it was so, so powerful, but then it would seem to taper off. I'm teetering on the edge of "I don't really know how to explain what I'm thinking," so I apologize. But those breaks in the emotion allowed me to dissect the plot more than I would have otherwise. There were a few plot points that I felt were unneeded. They were just...there. Some places I felt could have been tighter, and I think the ending was far too rushed. I would have loved to see that slowed down a bit. However, I loved the points that came together and the message this gives.

Halse Anderson is a great author; that's no secret. I think knowing her record made me expect a bit more from this. It was a very, very great read, don't get me wrong, and I highly recommend it, but I just wanted that extra oompf! to push it into must-read territory. Emotion is what I crave with books like this, and I only got it at certain times. But, still, a great read!

Review: Where She Went

By: Gayle Forman
Published: April 2011 by Dutton
Format: Hardback, 260 pages
First Reviewed: May 2011
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It's been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard's rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future–and each other.
Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

Rating: 5/5

Sequel to If I Stay. I don't even know where to begin, what to say. For now, all I want to do is sit down and cry. Cry for so many incredible reasons. This book was simply breathtaking.

When I read If I Stay yesterday, I loved it. I have my nit-picks of course, but the feeling I got from the story was amazing and so full of emotion. I didn't know it was possible to top that kind of emotion, but Forman did. From the moment I started this book, I had a tugging at my heart. That lasted until now, and I have a feeling it'll be there for a good while.

Just...gosh, I don't know what to say. Maybe starting with the technical will help: The writing and characterization improved so much that I felt as though I were reading a book by a different author (I did find some errors, though; ahem, editors). It was really incredible. The way Forman made me feel for both Adam and Mia was so much stronger than If I Stay. These characters felt so real.

Honestly, I don't have many nit-picks at all. They're just not worth mentioning. For a book to leave this kind of feeling in my heart--this sense of joy, sadness, love all in one--is something I crave from books. I don't get it often. If I Stay left an impression, of course, but it was nothing compared to this. To be honest, I don't think I've ever had this type of feeling throughout an entire book and after.

Forgive the repetitive, probably-unhelpful review. I'm just speechless. Completely speechless. This is a must-read, even more so than its predecessor. So if you for some reason didn't care for the first book, I highly recommend picking this up. You won't regret it. It's heart-wrenching, breath-taking, beautiful, and tells a story that will stay with you forever. Don't forget tissue.

Review: What Happened to Goodbye

By: Sarah Dessen
Published: May 2011 by Viking
Format: Hardback, 402 pages
First Reviewed: June 2011
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Another town? Another new school?

Since her parents' bitter divorce, Mclean and her dad, a restaurant consultant, have been on the move - four towns in two years. Estranged from her mother and her mother's new family, Mclean has followed her dad in leaving the unhappy past behind. And each new place gives her a chance to try out a new persona: from cheerleader to drama diva. But now, for the first time, Mclean discovers a desire to stay in one place and just be herself - whoever that is. Perhaps her neighbor Dave, an academic superstar trying to be just a regular guy, can help her find out. Combining Sarah Dessen's trademark graceful writing, great characters, and compelling storytelling, What Happened to Goodbye is irresistible reading.

Rating: 5/5

"Third times the charm." That's exactly what I was thinking when I started this. I read Dreamland first, really, really enjoyed it, then Lock and Key, which is now on my favorites shelf, and then this one. I expected it to be even better than Lock and Key, and at first I wasn't sure it was going to be, but so far, it's my favorite Dessen novel.

I love seeing growth in authors from book to book. This is no exception. From the time I read Dreamland (which was written 10+ years ago), that was clear, but I think this is her strongest work yet. Sure, she still has her favorite words that she uses a lot, but that was so much better with this. And there was a bit of repetition in the beginning with details, but it wasn't overly so. Those were my only nitpicks, and those nitpicks vanished once I was a few chapters in. Dessen has an incredible ability to make a reader read. I don't know how she does it, or how she crafts such a realistic voice for her characters, but she does, and I so appreciate that. The way she uses symbolism and themes is so refreshing, as is her phrasing. There's just something about Dessen that's so magnetic. This is writing, my friends. Commercial, yet beautiful and poetic without being too literary. Loved it.

Not sure what I haven't said about Dessen's characterization with her other works, but I'll probably just repeat a bunch of praise. Honestly, Dessen has some of the best characterization I've read. Ever. Mclean was this realistic, heart-broken, yet strong girl that I immediately connected with. Not only did I have a lot in common with her, but I think any reader will have something in common with her on some level. She had such realistic emotions, almost down to a "T." I loved her and how believable her relationships were with her friends and family. The development with the friends was even more believable and nice to watch.

Her supporting cast was just as fantastic. Dave wasn't the typical love-interest that I've now come to expect in YA books, and that was so refreshing. I loved him. Both his family and the family backgrounds of the other characters were all realistic and different. I just can't say enough about the characters in this book, so I won't ramble too much. Know that all of them, every single last one, had a distinct personality and part in the story and in Mclean's life. Dessen is a master at realistic characters that the reader can't help but love.

I have zero complaints about the plot, really. Okay, maybe one very small one: The beginning was just a bit slow. But that's it, seriously. This plot was paced so well. So much happened, yet so little happened, which is such a beautiful combination. And considering it was paced so well that it felt so real, it became even more beautiful. The build-ups, the relationship developments (both romance and non-romance), the changes, everything. And while not as big as in Lock and Key, Dessen still did the major-minor character sub-plot thing that I've mentioned before, where we got to watch other characters go through their own journeys and reaching their own goals. I love, love, love that, and I honestly couldn't get enough of this plot.

This book had conflict, emotion, and intense scenes, but then happy endings and seeing the characters find places where they can be happy and live a good life even after they thought their lives couldn't be repaired tugged at my heart in a good way. As with Dessen's other novels, this one consisted of so many wonderful messages and uplifting realizations that I couldn't help but smile when I finished this.

Other: Connections! Eeek! :D I so can't wait to get my hands on the rest of Dessen's novels because this is just so fun to me. haha! Anyway, I loved the whole use of basketball, because it's different from other books, and I really, really loved the whole setup of this with what Mclean's dad does for a living and how that tied in. Dessen knows how to put interesting and unique spins on contemporary fiction without making it boring or unrealistic or over-the-top.

F=What I loved most about this was that it was not a general fiction romance. It was general fiction. Just general fiction. Such a refreshing thing to see in YA world. I wish more publishers would see that works like this are still as marketable as a commercial dystopian fiction. No main romance plot--instead, it's just a relationship development between two people that leads to just a bit more later on. It's not the point of the story. And I think we need more of this type of fiction. Wonderful, beautiful, and so full of realistic emotions, there's no way this isn't a must-read for me.

Review: We'll Always Have Summer

By: Jenny Han
Published: April 2011 by Simon & Schuster
Format: Hardback, 291 pages
First Reviewed: October 2011
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Two brothers. One true love. Summer will never be the same.

Belly has only ever been in love with two boys, both with the last name Fisher. And after being with Jeremiah for the last two years, she’s almost positive he is her soul mate. Almost. While Conrad has not gotten over the mistake of letting Belly go, Jeremiah has always known that Belly is the girl for him. So when Belly and Jeremiah decide to make things forever, Conrad realizes that it’s now or never—tell Belly he loves her, or lose her for good.
Belly will have to confront her feelings for Jeremiah and Conrad and face the inevitable: She will have to break one of their hearts.

Rating: 5/5

Sequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty and It's Not Summer Without You. Excuse the language, but it's necessary: Damn! Jenny Han. My goodness. There are very few books in the world that have left me with a heavy heart after finishing. The good kind that says I felt a lot during the story and after. I have a feeling I'll be thinking about Belly's story for the rest of the night.

In the beginning, I didn't know if I was going to like it as much as I did the second book, as that one had me in tears two many times to count before the midway point. But this one built up the emotion in a different way, which, now that I've finished, really worked for the book.

Something I failed to mention in my review of the second book, which Han also did in this one, was the dual narrative. In book two, there were a few chapters with Jeremiah narrating. This time we had Conrad, and it was a great choice, methinks. I loved being inside his head, seeing Belly through his eyes and getting to know how he (also Jeremiah in the second book) was really feeling.

The plot was one I was worried about, to be honest, once I started reading, as I was kind of feeling like Belly's mother. If you've read the book, that'll make sense. But the last half just blew me away. I just have to say one name, and some of you will understand: Susannah. That's all I'm going to say.

Han delivered with this series. She really gave me all I want out of a romance story and even more. She made me cry, laugh, and everything in between. I still have that heavy, emotion-filled heart right now, and I doubt it'll be gone any time soon. I have a feeling these will become summer reads for a very long time. Quick, easy reads packed with so much. I highly, highly recommend them. Fantastic, stunning, and just breath-taking.

Review: The Vespertine

By: Saundra Mitchell
Published: March 2011 by Harcourt
Format: Hardback, 293 pages
First Reviewed: April 2011
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Jump with me...

It’s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.
When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia’s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she’s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.

Rating: 3/5

I must say upfront that I hate when books don't come with some kind of tagline. Dog-gone-it, I don't like coming up with something to put at the beginning of reviews. Anyway, if you read the description, you should already know that I was excited to drive into this. Historical fiction with a psychic-type twist set in Victorian Baltimore?! Come on! Be amazing! was not.

I would say that I'm not going to repeat myself, but that would be a lie. Any setting that I love deserves to be praised. Victorian Baltimore. Loved it. And considering Mitchell did a great job capturing this time period, I loved it even more. Sadly, it's nearly the only thing I loved about this.

I never connected with Amelia. While she had a great time period appropriate voice, she was just a character. I didn't feel any substance to her. As for the other characters, you might as well just laugh at me or something because I don't even remember everyone's name. This is not because there were too many characters--there weren't--it's because they were so dull that I couldn't care less about them. My favorite character was one that was only in a few chapters. However, the male lead, if you could call him that, was better than the majority of the characters, even though he wasn't as intriguing and mysterious as I would have liked. With these characters, it was more of great voices instead of great voices and great personalities.

I'm going to get my pet peeves with the writing out first, that way I can concentrate on the good. First: She did a lot of those "Doing this, I did this" sentences, and after a while, they kind of grated on my nerves. Second: Adverbs drove me nuts for the majority of the book. Then Mitchell got out using them every paragraph and it because a much, much smoother ride. Now, that's all that really bothered me. The writing ended up being the other thing besides the setting that I really liked. Mitchell grasped the voices and the tone of this time period well. Apart from some minor "modern" slip-ups, sometimes I even felt like this was a book from the late 1800's. She has beautiful prose, and if she had some great characterization and plotting to go along with it, she'd be one of those incredible authors. Oh, wait, I have one more thing to critique, and excuse the all caps, this just drove me nuts. NAMES ARE NAMES!!! Okay, back to normal typing. Names are names, please add the apostrophe "s." Nathaniel's hands. Thomas's hands. Not Thomas' hands. Dear jeezus...all right, back to the review.

Where this book lost me was the boringness of the plot. In the opening chapter, I was intrigued and excited to drive into the world and Amelia's story, but after the second chapter, I was just bored. Nothing really happened, and once we got to the climax, I was ready for some intensity. But I was just disappointed. It's clear that this is supposed to be a historical romance with a paranormal twist, but the romance and paranormal elements were just bland. With what Amelia could do, I expected so much more. Yes, there was some surprises, but it just wasn't enough. The ending chapter even made me a bit sad, because it was set up so nicely and give me that feeling of something tugging at my heart, but then I thought back to the rest of the book. Oh, how I wish the content between the opening and ending chapters would have been just as breathtaking.

With beautiful prose, a fantastic premise, and a setting almost everyone loves (am I right?), this book had so much going for it, but it just didn't deliver. It was, however, a decent read, and I enjoyed reading Mitchell's writing and being in Victorian Baltimore for a few hours.

Review: Vampire Academy

By: Richelle Mead
Published: August 2007 by Razorbill
Format: Paperback, 332 pages
First Reviewed: March 2011
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Only a true best friend can protect you from your immortal enemies.

St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger. . . .
Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.

Rating: 5/5

Whoot! Whoot! A re-read before the spin-off series! I've read VA quite a few times since 2008, but this is the longest stretch of time in between re-reads, and oh my goodness was it fantastic to get back into! I fell completely back in love with Rose, Dimitri, and the world, and found newfound appreciations for Mead's characterization. One thing I did see this time many. ERRORS!

Richelle Mead is a genius, and of course I'm not just basing that off this book, given that the sequels are one million times better. Seriously. Not kidding. But she is. She's as much a god as totally different ways, of course. I can count on one hand the amount of authors who can literally make me sit down for hours reading without me even realizing it. Mead is one of those authors. I forget about everything--food, bathroom breaks, life--all because of her writing. There's just something about it. And, come on, she's a master at comeback lines.

Okay, the errors. Seriously, I found so many I wanted to throw the book. Missing quotations, quotations in the middle of a dialogue line, misspelled words (describrd instead of described, for example), other editing errors that I blame the editors for not catching, and some formatting errors that probably only go noticed under my eye. And also because she's way too adverb-happy. Lay off 'em, Richelle Mead! Listen to me!

Anyway, Mead's still a favorite author, and probably even more so because of her use of voice and characterization.

Sort of already mentioned the fact that Mead's great at creating characters, but...I honestly can't stress it enough. Rose is one of the very, very few--actually, I think just her and Saba from Blood Red Road--characters who I just completely love. Completely. She's one I will remember for years and years, probably forever, no matter how many books/series I read. Sure, there are other characters I'll remember, but usually only because the book's overly hyped up or a movie's shoved them in everyone's faces. Rose is just fantastic. Feisty and reckless, but caring and loving. Strong in every way possible, but also has emotions and feelings. She's just amazing.

And don't even get me started on Dimitri. Can I just say "the only book-crushes I have are on boys in this dadgum series" and be done with it? There are no words besides "god" to describe Dimitri. Just...Dimitri. And BACK OFF EVERYONE! I READ HIM FIRST!

Lissa. You know, I remember not caring for Lissa as much before, but after re-reading this for the millionth time, I got so much more of her character and I really, really liked her. Liked the shifts that Mead showed and I love not knowing what she's going to do. It's in a different way from Rose's out-of-controlness, and both compliment each other so well.

Overall, the characters are just amazing. Christian...sigh. Love him. Mason? him. Mia, Natalie, Victor, Everyone Else Who Had A Name? Sigh...loved them. Fan. Tas. Tic.

Okay, so upon a very first read, I probably wouldn't have rated this more than a four max. Three, probably, but after reading the whole series...? Oh my goodness! Do you know how much foreshadowing there is in this? DO YOU KNOW?! Okay, I'm getting out of control, but that's what this series does to me, and this book in particular isn't the best of the series, but now there's so much more to it than before.

For me, I loved the pace. There was action, but this book didn't focus on as much of that as the next books do, and I found myself still loving it as much. Tangled up in the conflicts between characters and others and characters and themselves was great to me. Not to mention the romance is perfect. Not overdone. And here's another way Mead's amazing: She somehow takes a setup with a beautiful girl that gets hit on a lot and whatnot and makes it fitting to the point where I was never once annoyed like I would be if someone else had wrote this. Seriously, Rose could get hit on every page and it wouldn't bother me. That's how great Mead is.

Anyway, because I'm trying to hurry up and finish this review--hello! I have five other VA books to read and I want to read them now!--I'll wrap this up fast. There's action, romance, some of the most hilarious scenes and lines, emotional ties, creepiness, and twists you'll never see coming.

Other: I have to mention it one more time: THE ERRORS!!! Razorbill, come on, now! I hope the newer editions have fixed all of them by now. They were overwhelming. Also, I have to say how annoyed I am, still, that the covers changed mid-series. Mine (see picture) don't match the last three. So wrong. Oh, and FYI: There is language and sexual scenes. All throughout the series.

Vampire Academy is probably the only book is history that I've rated five stars just because the overall series is incredible and my favorite. I probably would have given this three-four stars if I'd just read it for the first time. But seriously, you've gotta read this entire series! I'm leaving now before I ramble on about why because...I'll be back later tonight to tell you all about Frostbite. :D

Review: Unwind

By: Neal Shusterman
Published: November 2007 by Simon & Schuster
Format: Hardback, 335 pages
First Reviewed: March 2011
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What if your parents could unwind you?

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape-and to survive.

Rating: 4/5

After reading the first page, I was like, "Uh, this would never happen. That makes no sense." You can read the summary above to kind of get an idea. However, I let that go and just went on with the story, which ended up being a great read.

Having multiple leads and multiple major-minor characters that all have their own chapters usually makes it difficult to get into the characters. But I didn't have that problem at all in this book. I felt each character was different, but not so different that it looked forced. It was natural, as were the characters' personalities. I cared about each one and cared about their journeys and plans. My adrenaline would pump when their did. The characters were pretty great, though there were some of the minor characters I didn't care for as much.

Overall, I'm impressed with how Shusterman managed to write in all the character's heads without getting me confused or boring me. While this is in third person, it's still in multiple points of view, even points of view of minor-minor characters at times. But never once did I get confused. The writing flowed nicely and that made for an easy read. I felt like Shusterman knows where to put the action and suspense and where to tone it down, which was great. However, I felt their were too many errors and places where the grammar just wasn't as it should have been. If you're not a writer or don't have a personal editor in your head dissecting everything you read, then you'll probably completely miss these things.

Loved the plot! Seriously, it was pretty darn awesome! Like I said earlier, at first I was like, "Okay, really? Pro-Choice would never go for that and neither would Pro-Life." And still, part of me thinks Shusterman could have used a different reason, or at least a more...realistic reason for unwinding, but that aside, the plot really was incredible. I've never read anything like it. It really was one of those books I couldn't put down. You know, the ones that have you going, "Okay, one more more...just one more." My heart raced, there was action, adventure, mystery, suspense, dark and creepy scenes, and overall greatness. I thought this might have grossed me out, but it didn't. Seriously, great plotting.

 Loved this book, just like everyone said I would, and I cannot wait for the next one...which doesn't come out until 2012! What the heck? No matter if you're Pro-Choice or Pro-Life (considering that argument "caused" this unwinding in the book). It doesn't matter. This is a great read, though not completely sold that it's a must-read.

Review: The Uninvited

By: Tim Wynne-Jones
Published: May 2009 by Candlewick
Format: Hardback, 353 pages
First Reviewed: March 2011
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Part gripping thriller, part complex family drama.

Mimi Shapiro had a disturbing freshman year at NYU, thanks to a foolish affair with a professor who still haunts her caller ID. So when her artist father, Marc, offers the use of his remote Canadian cottage, she’s glad to hop in her Mini Cooper and drive up north. The house is fairy-tale quaint, and the key is hidden right where her dad said it would be, so she’s shocked to fi nd someone already living there — Jay, a young musician, who is equally startled to meet Mimi and immediately accuses her of leaving strange and threatening tokens inside: a dead bird, a snakeskin, a cricket sound track embedded in his latest composition. But Mimi has just arrived, so who is responsible? And more alarmingly, what does the intruder want? Part gripping thriller, part family drama, this fast-paced novel plays out in alternating viewpoints, in a pastoral setting that is evocative and eerie — a mysterious character in its own right.

Rating: 1/5

This had been an impulse buy quite a while ago and I'd forgotten about it until recently when I was rearranging my bookshelf. When I re-read the description, I got excited to read it. There aren't enough plain ol' thrillers in YA, so I was hoping for this to be a breath of fresh air. Instead, it was just a hot mess.

The one part I really liked about this was the setting.. It was an eery setting and one that isn't overused. It was described well enough and really set the tone for the story. Best part, in my opinion.

The characters. Eh...they were just that: characters. I never bonded with them, or cared about them. They were pretty bland, even when Wynne-Jones was clearly trying to make them interesting. And for the characters that weren't bland, they were just annoying and/or confusing. Also, some were extremely unrealistic. Some characters didn't seem their age; they'd seem older at times. But I what I did like was that the characters weren't teens. Well, one was 19, but the others were twenty-two or older, and it was nice to see, considering those ages are still in the young adult range. Overall, though, the characters were just "meh." I think Wynne-Jones focused too much on making one character crazy and just whipped together the others. Oh, and he totally took too many things from RENT and/or La Boheme. "Mimi (age nineteen)" and "Joanne (who's a lesbian)." Though, I probably just noticed because I love RENT. :D

The writing wasn't bad, but it just...kind of...drove me nuts a lot of the time. The dialogue, for one, was just not believable. I literally kept wondering if this was supposed to be set in the way back, of course with cell phones somehow transported. I swear I was going to punch a wall if he had someone say "phone them," or "phone me back," or "I'll phone you." Someone please tell me what American 21st century nineteen-year-old says that? If some of you say that, my bad, but I've never heard that and it was driving me up the freaking wall. Mainly because Wynne-Jones had the characters "phone" people too much and also because he'd switch to "call" for sections. It was all over the place. Anyway, I also think Wynne-Jones put in scenes that weren't even needed and connections that were clearly just made up out of the blue. It was just all over the place. Has potential, but needs a lot of tightening.

Excuse the language, but: What in the hell? Really? I think there's a fine line between original and creative and just stupid and over the top. It seemed to me that Wynne-Jones had so many elements and ideas in his head that he wanted to write them all, the problem being that none of them worked too well together. This book would have been so much better with some of the sub-plots ditched. Most of this was just unrealistic and there were some things that really weren't explained too well. And the ending...oh come on! Are you kidding me? Again, it was like Wynne-Jones wanted to do it, so he just did it, even though it didn't work at all. Relationships (won't say what kind) formed that were extremely unrealistic, and nothing was ever creepy, save for a few things in the beginning. For the most part, I was just disturbed at a lot of things. This premise had so much promise, but there were just too many sub-plots that only confused and annoyed me. Instead of a thriller and complex family drama, it was just silly and overly done.

Oh, and...PHONED! Please, please, who uses that?! Who?! (That's American, mind you.) CALL! It's CALL! I'm going to CALL him! -_- Drove me insane! And there was far too much calling in this book.

Overall, it was just eh. I expected so much more from this. I wanted to be scared and have my heart pound and be curious to what was actually happening. Instead, everything was just flat and some things were even flat out silly. Over done, but some people like it.

Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

By: Michelle Hodkin
Published: September 2011 by Simon & Schuster
Format: Hardback, 452 pages
First Reviewed: October 2011
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Maya Dyer doesn't think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. It can.

Mara wakes up from a coma with no memory of the accident that caused the deaths of her best friend, boyfriend, and boyfriend’s sister. The doctors tell her parents that starting over in a new state and a new school will be good for her and that she should let the memories come back on their own. But Mara’s new start is anything but comforting when she sees the faces of her dead friends everywhere, and her world starts to fall apart. She begins to see people’s deaths just before they happen—at least that’s what she thinks she’s seeing. On top of that, the most beautiful boy ever is pursuing her, but his intentions may not be so pure….
Part thriller, part paranormal, this hotly anticipated debut novel will have readers on the edge of their seats.

Rating: 3/5

I've been wanting to read this since I heard about it months ago. Finally something creepy. And after reading tons of good reviews, I thought I was going to love it. Instead, I just liked it, and I'm left feeling confused and let down with some of the open ends.

The writing in this was okay for me. Not bad, not amazing, just good in some places and annoying in others. Massive amounts of telling and unneeded information bogged down much of this story, mainly in the beginning. I found myself wondering several times how paragraphs of this made it through all the editing rounds.

Besides that, the Hodkin's main style was nothing special for me. It didn't stand out or feel emotional, in my opinion. Where I should have felt emotion, I found myself being annoyed with it, and with the prose, I felt there was a sort of tug-of-war between a literary/commercial mix and flat commercial. Almost like Hodkin wanted to create vivid pictures and descriptions and emotion, but instead stuck with commercial. If that makes sense.

However, I did like some of the simplicity, as well as the overall narrative voice of Mara; she stayed consistent with that, even if I had issues with some of the prose. And the dialogue, I felt, was realistic and fun at times, even cute. I guess I just wanted more dynamics and more uniqueness to Hodkin's writing. To be honest, I think this would have worked better written with a literary/commercial mix, as then the eeriness would have really shined. Overall, decent writing.

Only after I've finished the book do I realize that I didn't have many problems with the characters. Originally, I thought I'd hate our male lead, Noah, as he seemed like the typical love interest in YA today, but I did end up liking him. I liked his humor the most, though I do wish we could have gotten to see a little more of his dark horse (I've been watching too much Dexter) throughout. That way there would have been more of a mysterious air about him.

As for Mara, I hated her in the beginning, not gonna lie. I really didn't like her. It mainly had to do with the lack of emotion, methinks. I just couldn't connect with her and I didn't feel sorry for her. This did change somewhat, and I think she can only grow even more, but she did end up being my least favorite character of the bunch. Annoying at times, weak at times when I think it would have been beneficial to make her react a different way finally, but she was solid at other times, too.

With the minor characters: I loved Jamie. I would have loved more from him during the last half. And I also liked Daniel and his relationship with his sister, Mara. The sibling relationships in this was one of my favorite aspects. Though I did think Jude characterization could have been entirely stronger. Overall, I thought the characters were pretty good. I think there's a ton of room for development, but I think they fit well with this story in general.

Hmm...I'm not sure where to start with the plot. What I liked about the plot was Hodkin's risk with the mystery and creepiness. Even after I've finished, I don't quite understand it, which I'm not sure if I mind about that yet or not. So for the time being, we're calling it a good thing, as I'm intrigued. I also liked that the creepiness was there (pretty much) throughout. One time I even muttered an "oo, that's creepy." But...I still don't feel there was enough.

To me, the focus fell away from that, only coming back at the most convient of times, or at the times where it felt Hodkin's remembered it and through it in at the end of a chapter. Instead, this felt more like a general fiction romance with some added paranormal creepiness and mystery. Also, some of the mystery and twists felt a bit forced and/or rushed and/or sudden. At one point, I literally set the book down in my lap, looked up, and was like, "What in the world? How'd we get to this point so quickly? She's not even questioning it." It just didn't seem to flow well.

Oddly enough, though, I didn't mind the romance. While it's still what I'd consider Instant Romance, Hodkin didn't have them all over each other for the entire book. That, I did appreciate. I also liked the slow reveal of what happened at the asylum, though I still think I would have liked more background history with the friends (the first chapter only semi-worked for me). And I've sort of touched on this, but I think Hodkin tried putting too much into this book. I think a few of the plot lines should have either been played up more or just ditched completely. There was just too much to follow, so some elements lost the mysterious intrigue and thrill for me.

So...I sound like I didn't like anything about this book, but I did like it once I finally got into it. Part of me is conflicted about a lot of my thoughts, but there were many things I liked. The overall premise was interesting and not something I've read before, some of the creepiness was generally creepy and interesting and intriguing, and I do look forward to the continuation, as I'm curious to see how Hodkin will handle the final twist she tossed at us. I want her to make me believe she didn't throw that in there at the last minute. :)

Other: FYI: There is cussing in this. The f-word quite a few times. Normally, I don't mind if it fits, but these felt out of place and unnecessary for me. And for anyone who's read this, can you please let me know if I'm crazy? No pun intended. I just want to know if Maya's mom had an English accent. I mean, they said she grew up in England, or something? And if so...why didn't she have one?! Completely random question and it spoils nothing, I promise.

I'm sorry to say I didn't care for this as much as I'd hoped. At times I was bored, sometimes annoyed, while other times I was intrigued and creeped out. There was a lot to this I think could have worked tightened up, but I just think it contained too many mystery plotlines, which lessened their impact. I did, however, enjoy it to some extent after I got into it. I think it's worth a try, and I will be checking out the next book when it releases, as I think it can only get better.

Review: Uglies

By: Scott Westerfeld
Published: February 2005 by Simon & Schuster
Format: Paperback, 424 pages
First Reviewed: January 2011
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In a world of extreme beauty, anyone normal is ugly.

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait. Not for her license -- for turning pretty. In Tally's world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.
But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to be pretty. She'd rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world -- and it isn't very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

Rating: 3/5

I'm going to be honest and say that no matter how many people have told me to read this book, I still wasn't overly excited to dive into it. Probably because I'm not one for futuristic dystopians. I figured I was going to like it, but it did take me a few pages to get into. But I was right about it not being for me.

The setting felt overdone, for the most part. It was described okay, but I never truly felt like I was there. However, that may have something to do with me not being one for futuristic setups.

In the beginning, I wasn't too sure how I was going to like the characters. Though, Tally and others developed well throughout this, and I did like them, I didn't love them as I felt I should have. For some reason, I felt a little something missing from them. I could never put my finger on it, but it just kept me a tad bit disconnected from them at times. Overall, they were just okay. I didn't care for them too much, but I didn't dislike them.

Maybe it's just me, but the writing style made the story hard to read. I just couldn't get into Westerfeld's style. It wasn't bad, but it just didn't sit well with me, and I didn't much care for his character and plot building. The writing was just okay, but it didn't blow me out of the water.

I didn't care too much for the plot. There was some good action and some good storyline, but it felt rushed in places and too slow in others. It was creative, but just not for me.

This is completely random and just a personal thing, but I can't stand the name Shay in a book (not in real life). Don't ask me why, I don't know. It just drove me nuts. Ha!

Okay. Just okay. Worth the read, definitely, though.

Review: The Twin's Daughter

By: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Published: August 2010 by Bloomsbury
Format: Hardback, 390 pages
First Reviewed: February 2011
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Does a child not recognize her own mother?

Lucy Sexton is stunned when a disheveled woman appears at the door one day…a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Lucy's own beautiful mother. It turns out the two women are identical twins, separated at birth, and raised in dramatically different circumstances. Lucy's mother quickly resolves to give her less fortunate sister the kind of life she has never known. And the transformation in Aunt Helen is indeed remarkable. But when Helen begins to imitate her sister in every way, even Lucy isn't sure at times which twin is which. Can Helen really be trusted, or does her sweet face mask a chilling agenda?
Filled with shocking twists and turns, THE TWIN'S DAUGHTER is an engrossing gothic novel of betrayal, jealousy, and treacherous secrets that will keep you guessing to the very end.

Rating: 4.5/5

Okay, I was looking forward to reading this. It seemed to have everything I wanted in a book with it's being a Gothic mystery. At first, I was liking it, and in the middle, I figured it'd earn four stars, but then I got to the ending...

First off, I love the setting! London during the Gothic Era in an old stone mansion...what more could I want? It was perfect for me. One of my all-time favorite settings!

You know, I haven't really thought about the characters until now. And I don't mean that in a bad way. This is a very "story-driven" novel. The mystery is more of the main character, in my opinion, however, the characters were developed nicely, especially considering this spans over about five years. The main character, Lucy, not only has one of my favorite names, she also had a great voice and a clear personality. The surrounding characters were also nicely developed. There were times when I was a little bit confused with a couple of them, like Kit. I didn't really know how to take to him for a while. Overall, good characterization.

Applause for Baratz-Logsted for her consistency with the language. She did extremely well with it, in my opinion. I'm always worried when I read historical fiction or other novels set in a time period /realm that speaks differently than we do. But she handled this very well that I felt as though I was there in that time and place. The nitpicks I have with the writing come down to the structure, for the most part. With almost every piece of dialogue, she stuck the tag in between the sentence, so a lot of the time it made the dialogue feel choppy since it was interrupted all the time. She also had some sentences that would run-on a bit, and I'd have to re-read. However, she still gets insane brownie points for the dialect in this. I thought it was great.

Sooo much happens in this book. So much. It was a little overwhelming at times. It's not fast-paced, but I will admit that I never got bored. Toward the middle of the book, I didn't know whether I was liking the plot too much. I thought it was drawing on and on, but then I got to the ending, and oh boy was it a twist I never saw coming. I honestly thought I had everything figured out. I even thought, Darn, this is too predictable. But I was wrong. I love being wrong about stuff like this. There really is so much to this book, that it makes you wonder what the main plot is and even sometimes I thought she could have condensed a lot of things, but it does come all together in the end. I don't say this much, but the description hits the nail on the head: "Filled with shocking twists and turns, THE TWIN'S DAUGHTER is an engrossing gothic novel of betrayal, jealousy, and treacherous secrets that will keep you guessing to the very end."

Great work with the language and time and with having so many elements within a book that it still works. I love a book that changes my mind and rating at the end. Really, it's a good read! I should probably also add, though, that this isn't a cheerful story. Yes, there are moments, and an uplifting ending, but there's death and sadness as well. Though, there's something in this book for everyone. It's not your typical, commercial young adult novel. Nice change!

Review: Twenty Boy Summer

By: Sarah Ockler
Published: June 2009 by Little, Brown
Format: Paperback, 290 pages
First Reviewed: March 2011
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"Don't worry, Anna. I'll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it."
"Promise me? Promise you won't say anything?"
"Don't worry." I laughed. "It's our secret, right?"

According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy ever day, there's a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there's something she hasn't told Frankie—-she's already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie's older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.
Beautifully written and emotionally honest, this is a debut novel that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer.

Rating: 5/5

I was excited to read this after reading Ockler's newest novel, Fixing Delilah (which everyone should read), and boy, was I not let down!

Normally, I'd think the whole summer vacation would be a overdone, but Ockler put her own spin on it, which I loved. The imagery was beautiful as well. I felt as though I was there, smelling and seeing the ocean.

The characters were wonderfully developed! They felt like real people and their relationships with one another were also just as real. The emotional balance they all had felt true and honest, without ever being overdone. I loved the main character, Anna, and felt her best friend Frankie (love that name, too!) was a great counterpart without being too different or too out there. They balance one another out and felt like true best friends. The minor characters were all great, as well.

Still love Ockler's writing! She gives the perfect balance between beautifully written prose, great, realistic dialogue, fun scenes, and emotional scenes. She knows what a read needs in a book. She had me smiling and nearly bawling. I felt as though I was in the story rather than just reading, which I loved. I can't say enough great things about Ockler's writing. It's simply beautiful.

The plot made me feel. Completely feel. Normally, when I read books dealing with romance (this isn't a complete romance, by the way), I think it'll be just on the girl and her relationship(s). But I gained so much more from this book. It hit home with some things. "Emotionally honest" is written on the back of the book, and that couldn't be more true. It really is. Without being cheesy in any way, it sends powerful messages on grieving and love, in more ways than just a romantic love. Seriously, I had chills at the end of this book, and when that happens, I know I've just read a fantastic book.

Sarah Ockler, I cannot wait to read more of your stuff. Bring it on! Seriously, for most of the book, I thought I would like Fixing Delilah a little better, but once I finished, I knew they were both equally amazing. I just love them.

Review: Through Her Eyes

By: Jennifer Archer
Published: April 2011 by HarperTeen
Format: Hardback, 374 pages
First Reviewed: November 2011
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository
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Every ghost has a story to tell.

The last place Tansy Piper wants to be is stuck in Cedar Canyon, Texas, in the middle of nowhere, with a bunch of small-town kids. But when her mother decides to move to the desolate West Texas town, Tansy has no choice but to go along. Once there, Tansy is immediately drawn to the turret of their rickety old house, a place she soon learns has a disturbing history. But it's the strange artifacts she finds in the cellar—a pocket watch, a journal of poetry, and a tiny crystal—that have the most chilling impact on her.
Tansy soon finds that through the lens of her camera, she can become part of a surreal black-and-white world where her life is intertwined with that of mysterious, troubled Henry, who lived in the same house and died decades earlier. It seems their lives are linked by fate and the artifacts she found, but as Tansy begins spending more and more time in the past, her present world starts to fade away. Tansy must untangle herself from Henry's dangerous reality—before she loses touch with her own life forever.

Rating: 3.5/5

It took me way too long to finally finish this book. Life just got in the way. So after a two week break a third of the way through, I finally got to sit down and read it to the end. Even now, as I sit here and contemplate, I can't completely decide how I feel about this book. Luckily it's a battle between liking it and really liking it.

While I didn't think the writing was stunning or unique or a style that stands out in the crowd, I did like it. Archer, for me, crafted commercial narration in a way that didn't feel cheesy or annoying or unrealistic. She gave a strong voice to Tansy, giving her realistic thoughts that weren't overbearing or ridiculous and an attention to detail that was believable. It felt as though it came from Tansy and not from the author just trying to throw details out there.

What else I enjoyed about Archer's style was her ability to create the atmosphere that somehow managed to stay away from cliches. Even with the general setting seeming overdone, Archer made it her own and also quite eerie. I liked that I was able to connect with the creepiness through the descriptions and believability Archer gave her narrator.

What bothered me a tad was that Archer seemed to relay on certain elements. Ones that would be funny the first time or two around, but after a while became a little annoying. Like the names. Did they all have to have weird names? I didn't mind the names, but it became annoying when Tansy would always comment on them. Probably doesn't make too much sense unless you've read the book. Anyway, I don't have many nitpicks. It was solid writing, just not amazing or a style I'll remember.

Overall, the characters were good. Tansy was a strong lead, in my opinion, realistic and interesting to follow. I was intrigued by her lifestyle as well as how she handled it. She was believable in how she reacted to things, and wasn't the stereotypical, dumb idiot who couldn't connect things that are throw right in her face. So that was refreshing. I also loved, loved, loved Bethyl Ann. For me, she was the most developed. Shakespeare-loving, thirteen-year-old geek. She was great. Loved her lines. She also stayed away from stereotypes.

But it was many of the other characters who fell into the stereotypes. Not all of them, but many of them were characters I felt I'd read a thousand times before, or characters that felt unneeded. I'll go into this a bit in plot. Misunderstood, popular girl with a past. Snobby for no reason popular girl's best friend. Popular, football-stud who secretly hates football and isn't really stuck up. However, Tate, said football player, wasn't too bad, though. While I did feel like I'd read his type of character a lot, I didn't mind too much. He became a very likable character in the end.

Also, while the other, non-cliched characters were good, and I liked them--the characters from the past as well as Tansy's mother and grandfather--I just never felt entirely as connected as I would have liked. Looking back, I like them more now that I can reflect on some of the scenes, but I also wish I would have seen more of the mother/daughter relationship, as I thoroughly enjoyed those scenes, as well as grandfather/granddaughter times. I wanted to see more of the relationship we kept hearing about. Nonetheless, I liked the characters.

Let's get my issues with plot out of the way first: Like with the characters, there were elements that were just overdone in so many other books, like the "moving to a new town and starting off on the wrong foot with people" thing. You know, the "automatic outcast" ordeal. Or the popular crowd, etc., etc. Also, like I'd mentioned earlier, some of the characters felt unneeded. Sure, sub-plots are great, but I felt some of the sub-plots in this that developed because of secondary/tertiary characters couldn't have been thrown out to make room for more development dealing with the past characters/scenes, in my opinion.

However, other than those main things, I really enjoyed the uniqueness Archer bought to this. Overall, it was different. Much different from the typical paranormal reads that have been coming out. There wasn't any instant romance; the romance was actually done in a very interesting way. The creepiness factor was actually creepy and intriguing, and I loved Archer's use of the ghost. It wasn't a traditional haunting--which I probably would have loved as well; you all know me--and even involved time travel and possession.

Save for a few chapters here and there, I was thoroughly engrossed. The mystery of it all held me and made me think. I kept wondering if others were in on something or if I had everything figured out. Though I would have liked a bit more twist to the ending, I did like it. That's probably the main thing keeping me torn between liking and really liking this.

Other: Can I just say that I hate the cover? Because I do. Grr! It reminds me of the covers people make for their writing online, you know? No offense, anyone, I promise. It's just, it looks like all they did was grab a picture, stick some Microsoft Word regular font on it, and blur our the text on the sides (which drives me the most insane! I keep thinking someone got water on my book). Ahem, anyway, I just don't like the cover. But something else I should mention: This book was very clean, and I appreciated it.

Overall, I liked this. I even really liked a lot of it. Think of my rating as a 3.5. Archer's style fit for this book, in my opinion, and had me feeling the creepiness. Tansy was a strong, solid narrator, and I loved the overall premise of this. Many elements were refreshing, interesting, and I found myself intrigued throughout most of the story, and while it fell just a tad flat in the end and had a few cliches, I still enjoyed it. I recommend trying it out.

Review: The Tension of Opposites

By: Kristina McBride
Published: May 2010 by Egmont
Format: Paperback, 277 pages
First Reviewed: August 2011
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository
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What happens when your best friend is kidnapped...and then comes home?

Two years ago Noelle disappeared. Two long years of no leads, no word, no body.

Since the abduction, Tessa, her best friend, has lived in a state of suspended animation. She has some friends, but keeps them distant. Some interests, but she won’t allow herself to become passionate about them. And guys? She can’t get close—she knows what it is like to really lose someone she cared for.

And then, one day, the telephone rings. Noelle is alive.

And maybe, just maybe, Tess can start to live again, too.

A haunting psychological thriller taken straight from the headlines, The Tension of Opposites is a striking debut that explores the emotional aftermath a kidnapping can have on the victim, and on the people she left behind.

Rating: 2/5

Just a forewarning: The review and rating of this book was one of the hardest I've ever done. This was one of those books that just wasn't for me, but I could still see the good in it. I wanted to love this, given the subject matter, and expected to be thoroughly moved by it, but I just wasn't. I never connected with it, which ended up being the problem for me.

McBride's writing is not in any way bad. It's actually quite decent, but I never connected with it. In the beginning, I figured I was just trying to get used to the style, but the disconnection continued throughout the book. It's my main nitpick with it, because I think I would have been a huge fan if the connection and emotions were there.

Good things I liked were her use of voice with our narrator, Tessa. Even though I have my issues with Tessa, I still heard her voice quite well. I also liked that she seemed to stay with the story. She just told it without trying to dive too deep into prose and whatnot.

Now I'm about to sound a bit contradictory, but I swear it makes complete sense in my mind. While I quite enjoyed McBride's simple style, I do wish I would have gotten more emotion from it, even if that means giving a bit more to the prose in a few sections. Also, I felt sometimes the simple kind of switched to choppy. But, honestly, my main problem was just with the connection. It didn't seem to matter what was happening in the story, as I just couldn't get into the writing.

Again, my feelings for the characters all comes down to connecting emotionally with them. They all had different personalities, realistic feelings and emotions, and hobbies, but I never felt their sadness, or their passions, or their happiness. Whatever emotions came up, I knew they were there, but I never felt it.

Which was a shame, because that was the only thing missing from the leads. Tessa, who had a good hobby to throw her energy into--photography, which could have done so much more for her than I felt it did--had a great, solid foundation to be amazing. McBride attempted to show the conflicted, confused, broken emotions that Tessa had within her, and she did a good job making me know they were there, but I never felt it. Never connected with her.

When it came to Elle, I really felt disconnected. It's hard to critique a character like Elle, because I've never met a girl who's been through what she has, nor do news shows really let you know how a kidnapped person handles returning to life. And that's where my problem lied. Since, as a reader, I had no idea the emotions Elle should feel, I didn't know how McBride was trying to portray her. Okay, I can't say that really, as I did get where McBride was trying to go, but I didn't feel it. And I feel like I'm repeating myself, but that's just the truth. Elle was broken in her own way, she had her moments that almost got to me, and her journal entries we got to see where some of the most powerful moments of the book, but I just couldn't...feel her emotions like I wanted to. Or understand some of the actions, which I guess is where McBride was trying to go, but some aspects just didn't seem to work.

So, I'll some up the other characters quickly: Max was all right. Love interest, in case you're wondering. He only made the point of this book harder for me to grasp. I understand why McBride brought him in, but instead of feeling that point, I just got a bit of a controlling personality from him at times. Mostly, though, I felt he was pretty good. And the other characters didn't do anything for me at all. Some of them stereotypical and the others, I just didn't have any feelings from.

I'm pretty sure if you're reading this entire review, you're already sick of me mentioning the words "emotions," "feelings," and "disconnect," and I'm sorry to keep on repeating them, but it's really my biggest issue with every element of this book.

The premise of this is a good one. Kidnapped girl comes home after two years? The toll that would have one the family and friends would/should be one that really tugged at the heart strings. I read the summary and I see "a haunting psychological thriller," but then I think about the book. I didn't feel any of that. I just knew that Tessa was having a hard time understanding her best friend and wondering what to do around her, with her, and for her. I just knew that Elle was wanting freedom and things she thought she'd never have again and not to have people pity her or talk rumors about her. And I just knew that Max wanted Tessa to put herself first before her best friend. No "haunting psychological thriller" about it for me.

And, you know, that would have been okay guessed it...I would have felt the emotions and feelings from the characters. If the scenes would have grabbed my heart and twisted it. If Tessa's thoughts would have gotten to me. If I could have connected with everyone and every situation. But I just didn't.

Also, the pacing kind of bugged me. I think there was too much going on and yet not enough at the same time. It's a bit hard for me to explain, as I don't even realize what I mean. Another one of those things that makes sense in my head, but when I write it, it doesn't make sense. I just think I would have loved more with the photography, but then it felt like there was too much sometimes. I would have loved more with the development between the friends and the boyfriend/girlfriend. It didn't feel like it was happening over time; the relationships were just there.

Overall, I liked the premise and the elements were all there. I just never connected and never felt.

Other: The word "dunno" drives me up the freaking wall, and that was used quite a bit in this. Random Me Fact. Also, I think this would have been a bit stronger if we got more journal entries from Elle. Those were extremely powerful. And one more thing: I did not like the fact that it seemed more like a romance than a broken yet still connected bond between two friends. I wish that was the focus. Instead, there were too many things fighting to be the focus.

We all have those books that we just can't get into. Those ones that have many things going for it--in this book's case, the overall premise, the simple writing style, and the understanding of the broken, confused, and conflicted feelings of the characters--but that just don't connect with the reader. This was one of those books for me. I still recommend you give it a try if it seems like something you would like. It was just one of those books I couldn't connect with. Not bad, just not for me.