ARC Review: See All the Stars by Kit Frick

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Release Date: August 14, 2018

synvia Goodreads 

It’s hard to find the truth beneath the lies you tell yourself.

THEN They were four—Bex, Jenni, Ellory, Ret. Electric, headstrong young women; Ellory’s whole solar system.

NOW Ellory is alone, her once inseparable group of friends torn apart by secrets, deception, and a shocking incident that changed their lives forever.

THEN Lazy summer days. A party. A beautiful boy. Ellory met Matthias and fell into the beginning of a spectacular, bright love.

NOW Ellory returns to Pine Brook to navigate senior year after a two-month suspension and summer away—no boyfriend, no friends. No going back. Tormented by some and sought out by others, troubled by a mysterious note-writer who won’t let Ellory forget, and consumed by guilt over her not entirely innocent role in everything and everyone she’s lost, Ellory finds that even in the present, the past is everywhere.

The path forward isn’t a straight line. And moving on will mean sorting the truth from the lies—the lies Ellory has been telling herself.

review3 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley &  Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing

I had a hard time rating this book because on one hand, I couldn’t put it down, and on the other hand, it dragged so badly at some points that had I not wanted to figure out what happened, I would have DNF’d and moved on. 

But I needed to know. Despite the blatant toxicity of the friendships in this book, despite so-so characters, and a shrug of a love story, that hint of a good mystery was all I needed to push forward. No spoilers and I should have seen it coming because the book comparisons alone were enough to give it away. Do yourself a favor and DON’T read the full Goodreads synopsis from the top. 

If you read this book for what it’s marketed as, you’ll be disappointed. If you read this book for what it really is, an ode to friendship and a navigating through loss (whether it’s of friendship or tragedy) you won’t be disappointed. 

At its heart, See All the Stars is a gripping mystery that explores the complexity of friendship and how toxic relationships can shape us into who we are and it might not be what you desired for yourself. When you let someone take the reins of your life and lead, you might not be happy where you end up. This book is about 4 friends who are all connected by their fiercely independent and adventurous ringleader, Ret. Ret is the center of their universe and without her leadership, the girls have nothing in common, so you can see where the drama comes into play. Lies, punishment, pitting the girls against each other is all part of Ret’s hold. The story is from Ellory’s POV. She’s really into metalworking and dealing with some stuff. Her world revolves around Ret in a very unhealthy, almost obsessive fixation. She checks her actions against Ret and looks to her to see how she responds. Why Ret has such power over these girls is a mystery. When Ellory starts to pull away things quickly go downhill and in comes the romance. 

As romance goes, this one was kind of bland. There wasn’t any real fire, not even really a connection-it just was. Don’t get me wrong, at times there was really beautiful writing and gorgeous metaphors but the words did not match up with the actual feelings between the characters-or at least, it didn’t read that way. The emotions weren’t there. 

I liked that the story was told between the past and present. Towards the end it all collides and it gets a little confusing. I had to reread one section because I wasn’t sure whether it was in the past. There are flashbacks in the now sections as well. 

There’s colossal build up. Tension is high because as the reader you know something terrible happened but not the magnitude. When you get to the end everything suddenly makes sense with startling clarity. 

Keep reading, 

Jordan

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ARC Review: The Life and Death Parade by Eliza Wass

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Release Date: June 26, 2018

synvia Goodreads

One year ago, Kitty’s boyfriend Nikki Bramley visited a psychic who told him he had no future. Now, he’s dead.

With the Bramley family grieving in separate corners of their home, Kitty sets out to find the psychic who read Nikki his fate. Instead she finds Roan, an enigmatic boy posing as a medium who belongs to the Life and Death Parade–a group of supposed charlatans that explore, and exploit, the thin veil between this world and the next. A group whose members include the psychic… and Kitty’s late mother.

Desperate to learn more about the group and their connection to Nikki, Kitty convinces Roan to return to the Bramley house with her and secures a position for him within the household. Roan quickly ingratiates himself with the Bramleys, and soon enough it seems like everyone is ready to move on. Kitty, however, increasingly suspects Roan knows more about Nikki than he’s letting on. And when they finally locate the Life and Death Parade, and the psychic who made that fateful prophecy to Nikki, Kitty uncovers a secret about Roan that changes everything.

From rising star Eliza Wass comes a sophisticated, mesmerizing meditation on the depths of grief and the magic of faith. After all, it only works if you believe it.

review3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Disney-Hyperion 

When I first started reading this book, I was struck by the style-it’s like The Great Gatsby meets Rebecca and has dinner with The Diviners. There’s something whimsical, yet dark and Gothic about the word choice and overall atmosphere of the book-because that’s what was created here, an extensive and powerful atmosphere of mystery, magic, and yearning. 

Here’s the thing, while I have an English degree and love the classics, I’ve never been one for magical realism. Something about it feels false but to tell this story, it was the perfect choice. The Life and Death Parade is unsettling. It will make you question what is real and what is cleverly promoted through lies, smoke, and mirrors. There are many times when it seems you’re on the verge of answers but when they come, they’re to a different question or not all what you expected. And some things are started and left unfinished. Whether it was an intentional decision or not, it’s as much of a mystery as the truth itself. 

There’s a kind of lazy, upper-class entitlement that threads through the book. Like Holly Golightly in male form. The characters are…eclectic and not exactly likeable. They did have unique, if odd, personalities. I wish I would have liked them enough to become invested in their future, but really, I just cared about the story itself. 

The plot was intriguing. It sucks you in and holds you prisoner. You need to know what happened and there are so many possibilities. I loved the blend of magical, traveling performers, and praying to specific saints for favors. The Life and Death Parade is a culture in itself and so cool. There’s a New Orleans vibe set in the English countryside. The crafting of altars, psychic readings, and sensationalization drags the reader right into that world, and begs them to question whether they believe and how much it matters.

At its heart, this is a story of grief and trying to process how it happened after the fact. The characters are lost in the past and don’t know how to move forward because of their tragic loss. They all mourn in different and arguably unhealthy ways because they were waiting for closure that would not come on its own. 

I liked that there wasn’t really an in-your-face consuming romance, but one that hummed beneath the story and yet was the entire foundation for the events that occured. 

All in all, this was a strange, enjoyable read. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this: 

Read on, 

Jordan

 

ARC Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

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Release Date: June 6, 2017

syn

Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.

Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.

review4.5/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Knopf Books for Young Readers

This book is beautiful.  

It’s haunting and aching, gut-wrenching and bittersweet. Full of hope, loss, and memories. 

This book will make you laugh. It will also make you cry. But more importantly, it will make you feel. 

I finished this book over an hour ago and I’m still reeling. It’s the kind of book that sticks and leaves an impression. That makes you feel inspired. Those are the best kind. I’ve never felt so compelled to write in the margins. To explore a used bookshop. To confess everything I’ve ever felt about everything to a stranger. 

This book is about what’s lost and what you find when you lose someone and about how you find yourself again when you feel like you’ve been ripped in half. The emotions are poignant, honest, and raw. If you’ve ever lost someone, you will understand this on a soul level. 

This book is beautiful not only for content, but for the words. 

It’s a love letter to books. To words. To how words make you feel and the journey taken on the wings of a story. It’s poetry. The descriptions, the casual and offhand way that things are written about in an entirely new way. You might find yourself seeing the world differently.

Slowly falling in love. Rachel and Henry. The passion. The friendship. The angst. It’s a sweet and funny realization that happens in a blink for one, and has been building for the other. 

There are so many things in this book that are important and cathartic. That will bring comfort to those who are numb or bleeding or lost in memory. 

But mostly, the love just pours off these pages. Those of you who follow my reviews know that I am not a fan of contemporary, but this book makes my heart happy.

My only, only critique is the pacing.  Occasionally the plot is a little slow for my taste and Henry’s obsession with Amy makes you want to shake him. I mean come on, that vapid twit. But he’s mooning, he’s in lust, and it’s incredibly believable. 

I didn’t know how much I needed this book and I can only imagine how much others will appreciate this. So thank you, Cath Crowley. Your letter moved me. Your book is fantastic. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Read this, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

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syn

Everyone who really knows Brooklyn knows Devonairre Street girls are different. They’re the ones you shouldn’t fall in love with. The ones with the curse. The ones who can get you killed.

Lorna Ryder is a Devonairre Street girl, and for years, paying lip service to the curse has been the small price of living in a neighborhood full of memories of her father, one of the thousands killed five years earlier in the 2001 Times Square Bombing. Then her best friend’s boyfriend is killed, and suddenly a city paralyzed by dread of another terrorist attack is obsessed with Devonairre Street and the price of falling in love.

Set in an America where recent history has followed a different path.

review3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via FirstToRead & Penguin Teen

+++This book does contain mature situations that may not be appropriate for younger teens

PROS:

  • Some parts are gloriously awkward in the way that only first love can be. Others are a question, a struggle to define, and a learning process of how to understand and share intimacy in the many ways it presents itself. There are all aspects of love in this book and often it evolves, transforms, and rebuilds after loss, tragedy, and heartache. Sometimes the love you thought you wanted is nothing like you imagined. Sometimes love has a time and place and no matter how hard you fight for it, it’s a losing battle. Cringe-worthy, provocative, and eye-opening. 
  • Sex positivity. Girls that are comfortable with their bodies, their passion, and willingness to express themselves sexually. Sure, there’s judgment from others but this expression of love is seen as natural and necessary.
  • There are a number of beautifully lyrical and blunt truths that feel like revelation. Perceptions on love and what it means to be in love, to be loved, and to give love shift within the story and as the main character goes through each phase, we experience it right along with her. The confusion, the hurt, the yearning is all there in full force. This is also an ode to loss and the many ways we deal with the empty after. 
  • The premise itself is interesting, though I would hesitate to call it magical realism like many other readers and reviewers have. There’s enough belief in the curse to influence every aspect of the people’s lives who live on this street. That strength in belief is its own form of magic and carries incredible power. It’s quirky, it’s weird, and a little unsettling. The lemons, the windows being left open, it was all fairly ritualistic and earthy. In my Goodreads status updates I tried to encompass the feeling of this book through comparatives: 
    February 17, 2017 – page 75

     

    26.04% “Still undecided. It kind of reminds me of The Graces meets Tell Me Something Real and then there’s little Practical Magic meets The Sun Also Rises. If you think that sounds interesting, check it out. Still not sold though.”

     
    February 17, 2017 – page 25

     

    8.68% “So far I don’t know how to feel about this book. It feel like it’s set in the 70s or 80s, it’s super literary, and thoughtful. While there are things in here that suggest alternate history and local mythology, I’m not sure I want to read more.”

CONS:

  • The pacing. For a story so interesting and poignant, it’s one of the slowest I’ve ever read. And insanely short. For so much story it felt unfinished. It lacked development that could have made the ideas and atmosphere stronger.
  • I didn’t really care for any of the characters. While there were unique and I appreciated what they were going through, I struggled to leave my post of indifference. I pushed my way through the story hoping to feel for the characters, but my heart was with the words, the ideas, not the individuals living it. 
  • The ending. So much happens in those last few pages and it’s certainly jarring but left things feeling unresolved and random. It didn’t add up. It felt rushed, incomplete, and did not fit with the rest of the book. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Read on, 

Jordan

 

Review: Fire Color One by Jenny Valentine

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syn

A father and daughter reconnect after a life spent apart to find their mutual love of art isn’t the only thing they share.

Sixteen-year-old Iris itches constantly for the strike of a match. But when she’s caught setting one too many fires, she’s whisked away to London before she can get arrested—at least that’s the story her mother tells. Mounting debt actually drove them out of LA, and it’s greed that brings them to a home Iris doesn’t recognize, where her millionaire father—a man she’s never met—lives. Though not for much longer.

Iris’s father is dying, and her mother is determined to claim his life’s fortune, including his priceless art collection. Forced to live with him as part of an exploitive scheme, Iris soon realizes her father is far different than the man she’s been schooled to hate, and everything she thought she knew—about her father and herself—is suddenly unclear. There may be hidden beauty in Iris’s uncertain past, and future, if only she can see beyond the flames.

review

3/5 Stars 

Fire Color One is a kind of Vonnegut meets Palahniuk brand of bizarre and insightful. The kind of book that’s blunt, raw, and challenges perceptions by showing people as they are in all their horrible glory. 

PROS:

  • Insightful, honest looks at the hard truths. Sometimes people are flawed and corrupt and greedy and sometimes those people are your family. Not everyone is redeemable, not everything is sunshine and roses and crystal clear. The shades of gray are vast in each individual. Fire Color One explores the complexity of human nature and the relationships that manifest between the most unlikely of people. Characters are nuanced.You love to hate them and enjoy their randomness. 
  • The story is creative. Pyromania, getting into Iris’ head and how the fire makes her feel was beautifully written and thoughtful. There are some serious epiphanies in this book that read like concise and thought-provoking life advice. The way art functions in the story is equally as magnetic. The twist is epic and a long-game revenge that will make you feel gleeful and satisfied. 
  • Hannah and Lowell are these laughable caricatures of truly despicable people who are so real it’s unsettling. Greedy, selfish, verbally abusive, Iris is seen as a burden and a mistake. Their characters were the most developed. Some of their personality traits and actions and laugh out loud funny because they are so ridiculous and occasionally sickening. Absolutely pathetic, money-hungry people. 

CONS:

  • As flawed and compelling as these characters are, they’re mere glimpses into their personalities. It felt like the author was just scratching the surface. She laid the foundation, but she could have taken many characters much further and it would have made for not only a better story but stronger connections to each character, whether good or bad. Characters that were inherently interesting were foisted for the main character. For all of the influence Thurston has on Iris, he’s only seen in snaps that fade away. There’s hardly any interaction or even voice. It’s stuff you hear secondhand and don’t entirely experience. The same with Iris’ father. The emphasis was always off. 
  • The book was super short and would have benefited from more development in terms of exploring characters and how they related to Iris, her pyromania, and how she perceives the world, i.e. Thurston and her father. Instead, the story seems packed into the last handful of chapters, rushed after a very slow pace, and while it did help to magnify the twist, it was jarring and offset the whole book. 50+ more pages would have fleshed out the story, but what was actually presented felt a little like a summary.

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Pleasant reading, 

Jordan

Review: After the Fall by Kate Hart

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synA YA debut about a teen girl who wrestles with rumors, reputation, and her relationships with two brothers.

Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing.

But Raychel doesn’t want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother.

The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.

review2.5/5 Stars 

+++Potential triggers for sexual assault, tragic loss

***Contains mature content

After the Fall feels like a draft. It takes several directions and doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The story is split into two parts, the before and the after-though the before is such a short duration that it’s like an underdeveloped Polaroid, a glimpse with huge, life-altering emotional development that there is no time to explore. And while that may be the point of the plot, a little more would have made the loss more potent. 

There are so many important discussions in this story-discussions that so many teens and adults could benefit from in regard to sexual assault and how it’s defined. Like the fact that if at any point during a sexual encounter you change your mind and the yes is now a no, you can take away your consent and the other individual should respect that. That’s not leading someone on, you have control of your body, you have agency, and you are the ONLY one who can give and take away permission to access what is yours. This includes ALL forms of sex. These discussions are between teenagers in the book and wise adults who approach the subject with respect, compassion, and righteous anger. Having these talks between adults and teens and with variety through the story was both thought-provoking and comforting. Sometimes knowing whether an encounter is assault or not can be hazy because of popular perceptions and how we view sex as a society. This book does a fantastic job both bringing up the subject and the commentary that follows. There is also commentary on prejudice and racial jokes, derogatory remarks, and gender roles. 

All of the characters were flawed and complex. While I normally enjoy the broken, confused, and wayward because generally these are coming of age stories and characters are going through a ton of stuff, these characters weren’t exactly likeable. They were self-righteous, blinded by their ideas, bull-headed, self-absorbed, and for the most part, didn’t have much of any redeeming qualities. Matt was a “poor me” character and some of the stuff he said was chauvinistic and demeaning and so near-sighted. How he could be a potential love interest was perplexing. Raychel is a mess. While it’s cool that she makes mistakes and embraces her sexuality, she’s not exactly a role model and doesn’t really learn anything. There’s no big resolution, it’s a cut off, hopefully things will be better in college situation. Does there necessarily have to be a moral to every story? No. But should the characters grow? Yes. 

The romance itself was short, fast, and development could have been stronger to build up to the tragedy. I would have liked to have seen more of them together, rather than the reference back to a time they had that the reader never saw. It felt like a summary and I wanted imagery. The emotions, the romantic ones at least, were muted because there weren’t enough scenes to reinforce the feelings. 

Secondary characters were in and out and there were so many of them that they didn’t make much of an impression, even if they were diverse and interesting, they didn’t have enough space. The book could have been longer, definitely, just to build on these smaller relationships. So much of the focus is one Matt and Raychel, that when anything happens to any of the other characters, it feels miniscule by comparison. 

The book was enjoyable to read because in some weird way, you wanted to see who Raychel ended up with. 

Side note: I also went on a tangent recently about this misleading synopsis.The way it’s initially worded makes you think this will be a romance or even a comedy. There’s a serious suggestion of dating two brothers, but this is not a romance, not really. This is a full-fledged drama and exploration of loss. I was thrown. After reading the synopsis, you go into the book with expectations and what the book really was felt like a stretch. 

If you like any of the following, you might enjoy this:

Introspective reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage

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Release Date: Feb 21, 2017

syn

Mira and Francesca Cillo—beautiful, overprotected, odd—seemed untouchable. But Ben touched seven parts of Mira: her palm, hair, chest, cheek, lips, throat, and heart. After the sisters drown themselves in the quarry lake, a post-mortem letter from Mira sends Ben on a quest to find notes in the seven places where they touched. Note by note, Ben discovers the mystical secret at the heart of Mira and Francesca’s world, and that some things are better left untouched.

review2/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

+++Potential triggers for: sexual abuse, death/loss, suicide

Beautiful Broken Girls is the kind of book you tilt your head and look at sideways, puzzled and perplexed, trying to figure out what happened and how it evolved into what it did. Unfortunately for me, even when the mystery unraveled, there were so many questions left unanswered that I was at a loss for what to make of this bizarre story.

When I initially saw this cover, I knew I had to have it. It’s creepy and unsettling. It looks like something out of a horror film, so that’s kind of what I expected when I opened the book. This is not that kind of story. At its core, Beautiful Broken Girls is a mystery and an ode to learning to cope after a horrible tragedy, and for Ben, after a lost first love. 

The story is told from multiple characters (Mira, Francesca, and Ben) and takes place in two different years. The pieces are not in order and are further separated by body parts that Ben touched on Mira when they were seeing each other. If it sounds strange, that’s because it is. The idea itself is an interesting one. Getting to each note that Mira left for Ben was like a nostalgic scavenger hunt as he relived the sensual moments he had with Mira as they feel for each other. What the notes meant and getting to the truth propelled the story forward, even when the pacing was excessively slow. 

I made guesses throughout the story about what really happened to the dead girls; I suggest trying this and seeing if you guessed right. I did, to an extent. As the story evolves and the clues are found-in the form of Mira’s cryptic little poem snippets-Ben makes a whirlwind of assumptions. It’s hard to talk about this book without giving anything away and I HATE spoilers. One of the first things you learn about Ben, is that he was molested as a child in little league. So he’s known as touched or damaged. There is so much wrong with this, but I digress. Apart from the fact that this is used as a device by others in the story so that Ben is doubted and seen as projecting his past on the situation, it didn’t really function in the story and threw me off as a story arc. It felt like so many elements of this book were jumbled and thrown in and never really came together to form a coherent narrative. 

One of my major issues was with voice. Ben, the other boys, Mira, basically everyone in the story, despite being set in 2015-2016, felt like they were using language from the 80s or 90s. Maybe even before that. It could be the setting and maybe those phrases are abundant and natural there, but to me, it felt off. Some phrases are crude and made me feel slimy, and other times, it felt like things were thrown in to emphasize that they were teenage boys, whether they were realistic or not. You’re introduced to a lot of characters at once. It took a bit for them to develop into their own people, it was hard to distinguish them at first because of how they were introduced. 

I labeled this with a mental illness tag because of some of the descriptions of Mira and the actions of Francesca (which I can’t really go into without spoilers). But Mira has some disturbing imagery attached to her and her thoughts that make you question her…though somehow nowhere near the way you do Francesca and Mira almost functioned as a secondary character-her voice, her personality, the romance, none of it was emphasized or clear. Mira flitted in and out of the story and there are brief interludes of memory, but other than that, she fades away-ghostly. Back to the point, these thoughts, like wanting to drink toxic chemicals or throw herself off a cliff are dangerous, reckless, borderline suicidal and very disturbing, and yet, they’re just there. Not really deliberated over or anything and it makes you wonder why even put them there other than to show that Mira was messed up too. 

I wasn’t invested in the characters, I was invested in the mystery. The need to know what happened was enough. However, that ending, the truth, the reveal, what about all of the other stuff? Was it real? Was it a psychological issue? So many questions. If you’re looking for something weird, something that when you finish reading you’ll question what you just read, then check this out. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Mysterious reading, 

Jordan