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Review: Those Girls by Lauren Saft

Those GirlsPublished: June 9, 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 336
Format: e-ARC

Some girls will always have your back, and some girls can’t help but stab you in it.

Junior year, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Alex, Mollie, and Veronica are those girls: they’re the best of friends and the party girls of the school. But how well does everybody know them – and really, how well do they know one another? Alex is secretly in love with the boy next door and has joined a band – without telling anyone. Mollie suffers from a popular (and possibly sociopathic) boyfriend, as well as a serious mean streak. And Veronica just wants to be loved – literally, figuratively, physically… she’s not particular. Will this be the year that bonds them forever… or tears them apart for good?

Those Girls takes three incredibly unlikable characters, makes them “best friends,” and then throws them all together into one spectacularly messed up book. So to say the least, this isn’t going to be the right one for everyone.

“With friends like these, who needs enemies?” describes this book really well. The three main characters, Alexis, Mollie, and Veronica, describe themselves as being best friends, but in reality, their relationship is extremely toxic. I felt from the start like they were definitely just friends out of habit, rather than because they actually had any affection for one another.

Going into the book, I thought it’d be a coming of age novel, but it isn’t, not really. The book focuses mainly on the three girls’ super messed up friendship, and their relationships with the boys in their lives. There’s a lot the girls could come to terms with, but I felt like they never really learned from their mistakes, or learned much of anything at all. There were quite a few loose ends, some a bit more unsettling than others. I actually would have rated the book a bit higher, but I was pretty disturbed at one of the turns the book took, which wasn’t resolved in a way I found at all satisfactory.

Those who like stories with unlikable narrators will likely find something to enjoy here, but the complete lack of real consequences for the girls’ actions can be frustrating, and while Saft puts a lot of work into making them feel human, their complete disregard for each other at times undoes a lot of that. That said, I had a hard time putting this book down – it was hard to look away from the trainwreck the girls were setting up for themselves and I wanted to see how it would all be resolved. So, if you enjoy stories with unlikable narrators, toxic relationships, and a lot of shock factor thrown in, Those Girlsmay be the book for you. If those things aren’t your style, you may want to steer clear of this one.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book!

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Review: Material Girls by Elaine Dimopoulos

Material GirlsPublished: May 5, 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Pages: 336
Format: e-ARC

In Marla Klein and Ivy Wilde’s world, teens are the gatekeepers of culture. A top fashion label employs sixteen-year-old Marla to dictate hot new clothing trends, while Ivy, a teen pop star, popularizes the garments that Marla approves. Both girls are pawns in a calculated but seductive system of corporate control, and both begin to question their world’s aggressive levels of consumption. Will their new “eco-chic” trend subversively resist and overturn the industry that controls every part of their lives?

I’m not big on fashion. I have next to no interest in it, really. But when I received an e-mail from NetGalley about Material Girls, I decided to give it a shot. The tagline (“Revolution never goes out of style.”) interested me, and I really liked the style of the cover. I’ve also been trying to expand my reading horizons where I can, so I’m glad I gave this book a shot.

Material Girls is a bit of a mashup of fashion, science/speculative fiction, and satire. It also brings up a lot of points about sustainability in the fashion industry, society’s obsession with celebrities, and worker’s rights. I thought what it was aiming for was interesting, but the novel isn’t super lengthy, and while it covered angles about celebrities, fashion trends, and environmental awareness well, there just wasn’t enough time to focus on other aspects of the story, which left it feeling like it had spread itself a bit too thin. That said, I thought it excelled when it came to discussing issues of environmental sustainability and the downright absurdity of some fashion trends.

When I initially picked up Material Girls, I was expecting a dystopian society with a focus on the fashion industry, and that’s sort of what you get, but there doesn’t appear to be any kind of militaristic government or anything, like you might see with a lot of other current dystopian/speculative fiction novels. In Dimopoulous’ novel, our current expectations of how the job industry works, and how a lot of major entertainment industries work, has been turned upside down, and she built her world’s society around that concept. I really liked how she switched things up, but on the other hand, I REALLY wanted more history on how this society formed. While teens often start some of today’s trends, their opinions and ideas also generally aren’t treated seriously and aren’t given the same weight that you would see from an adult, so how did the Junior and Superior Courts come to exist? I thought it was interesting that the teens in this society were given the majority of the power in the fashion, movie, and videogame industries – or at least, they had the illusion of it.

This book also has a TON of characters. I was a bit overwhelmed at first. It alternates between Marla’s chapters, which are told from a first-person POV, and Ivy’s are told from a third-person POV. Both of them have their own cast of characters in their narratives, and the number of names adds up really quickly. It would have good to see the cast culled a tiny bit, so we could see more of specific characters in the supporting cast – I felt like there were maybe a few too many to really get to know anyone outside of Marla and Ivy, with very few exceptions – but the characters Marla and Ivy associated with added much different tones to their stories, and I did like that aspect of it. It just would have been nice to see more development in the supporting cast.

The pacing is also fairly slow, so this book won’t be for everyone. Toward the end, the pacing does pick up quite a bit, but while things are happening early on, the book takes a while to get where it’s going, and that will make some readers turn away. That said, I thought the issues Material Girls explores are important ones, and I think it’s worth giving this book a shot to see if it works for you.

There are some darker undertones to the story, and I would definitely like to see those explored more in future novels in this world, if possible. Material Girls seems like a deceptively light novel at first glance, especially compared to a lot of other novels that explore similar issues, but it’s also quite unsettling once all is said and done.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book!

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Review: Placid Girl by Brenna Ehrlich

Placid GirlPublishing Date: August 25, 2015 by All Ages Press
Pages: 206
Format: e-ARC

Punk was created for the malcontents, something that loner and aspiring drummer Hallie understands all too well. Trapped in a boring suburban life – dysfunctional parents included! – Hallie drowns her angst in the angry songs of Haze, a masked musician who has not been heard from in five years. So naturally she’s surprised – and more than a little skeptical – when someone who seems to be Haze starts flirting with her via her favorite photo-sharing app. Is he who he says he is? What does he want from her? The questions only multiply when Hallie – along with bandmate Sarah and aspiring music journalist Steve – roadtrip to Haze’s comeback gig to unmask the reclusive musician once and for all.

“I live in a placid town by a placid little seaside, where everyone is born and bred to wear placid little faces. I live by a placid little bridge that goes up and down, separating one side of the placid little river from the other at placid little intervals. But I am a roiling-insides girl and I feel the tide coming in and I need to escape.”

This book really surprised me! When I read the blurb, I was expecting a contemporary roadtrip-type YA, and while that’s sorta what I got, I also got something entirely different.

I’ll admit that it took me a while to warm up to Placid Girl. I had a hard time, initially, growing accustomed to Hallie’s voice. Pieces of the prose definitely didn’t work for me – I mentally stumbled a few times while reading because certain imagery just didn’t work for me at all – but I pressed on, and I’m glad I did. This book was so much more than I first thought. The book is also a bit slow to start, but once things got rolling, I had a really hard time tearing myself away.

Music was a pretty huge part of my late high school & early college years, though not as much as it was for some of my friends… but the musical aspects of this story fit comfortably into that part of me. That was sooooo nice. I enjoyed the lyric snippets, especially. Some weren’t to my taste, but I really liked others. There’s also a really creepy undertone threaded throughout the book, which definitely kept me turning the pages, wondering what was going to come out of it.

Overall, Placid Girl is a slow build in the beginning, but it took me places I DEFINITELY didn’t expect. I really enjoyed it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Review: A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

A Song for Ella GreyPublished: October 2, 2014 by Hodder Children’s Books
Pages: 272
Format: e-ARC

“I’m the one who’s left behind. I’m the one to tell the tale. I knew them both… knew how they lived and how they died.”

Claire is Ella Grey’s best friend. She’s there when the whirlwind arrives on the scene: catapulted into a North East landscape of gutted shipyards; of high arched bridges and ancient collapsed mines. She witnesses a love so dramatic it is as if her best friend has been captured and taken from her. But the loss of her friend to the arms of Orpheus is nothing compared to the loss she feels when Ella is taken from the world. This is her story – as she bears witness to a love so complete; so sure, that not even death can prove final.

This book has been difficult to review. I felt like a lot of it went over my head, which doesn’t help – not sure it is easy to review a book when you feel like you just didn’t “get it” – but the structure was weird, as well. A Song for Ella Grey is a retelling of the tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice (Ella, in this story), told through the eyes of Ella’s best friend, Claire. I was intrigued but this setup, but I’m not sure it worked for me.

The writing was really lyrical, and the artwork interspersed throughout the book was pretty, but I had a hard time connecting to the characters and events in the story. The writing style seemed to take precedence over everything else – characters didn’t really talk the way I thought modern characters would, and sometimes events in the story felt very vague. I wouldn’t have minded that so much, but I did feel a bit lost throughout much of the story, and like a lot of the story’s events were going over my head, or that there was some deeper meaning of which I was unaware.

Even well over 85% into the book, I felt like the characters were strangers. I’m not sure if this is because it was a retelling or what, but having the main character distanced from so many of the events in the story was weird for me. I also felt like Claire had romantic feelings for Ella, and I wish that had been confirmed one way or the other, rather than just being left to wonder. It was hinted at several times, but I wasn’t sure if I was reading into it too much or not.

I found the last quarter of the book pretty enjoyable, but still felt like I didn’t quite get it. I’d be interested in reading another of Almond’s books in the future, though. I have a feeling this book just wasn’t for me.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book!

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Review: Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne

Since You've Been GonePublished: February 17, 2015 by Dundurn
Pages: 224
Format: e-ARC

Is it possible to outrun your past? Fifteen-year-old Edie Fraser and her mother, Sydney, have been trying to do just that for five years. Now, things have gone from bad to worse. Not only had Edie had to move to another new school, she’s in a different country.

Sydney promises that this is their chance at a fresh start, and Edie does her best to adjust to life in London, England, despite being targeted by the school bully. But when Sydney goes out to work the night shift and doesn’t come home, Edie is terrified that the past has finally caught up with them.

Alone in a strange country, Edie is afraid to call the police for fear that she’ll be sent back to her abusive father. Determined to find her mother, but with no idea where to start, she must now face the most difficult decision of her life.

This book and I got off to a really bad start. Within the first few opening pages, I was furious at the main character and her mother, wanted nothing more to do with either of them, and was sitting in tears at a table in the food court at work. But I forced myself to go on, and while I’m glad I finished the book, it fell short for me. I’m afraid my initial reaction to the book soured it a bit for me, which isn’t really the book’s fault, but I’ll try to go into what I liked and didn’t like, aside from the book’s opening.

My main issue was with the main character, Edie. Over time, I’ve come to realize that the main character in a book doesn’t necessarily need to be likable for me to enjoy the book, and Edie definitely fits the bill of an unlikable character. She’s angry, lashes out often, and judges others pretty harshly. There have been plenty of other characters like her, characters that I have grown to like in spite of their cruelty to others, but I didn’t feel that way with Edie for a long time. The Edie we see in some scenes seems completely separate from the Edie in other scenes, and I had a hard time reconciling the two. I wish we as readers got to know Edie better over the course of the book, that we got to know more of what her life in Canada was like, just… more.

The story itself, Edie aside, is enjoyable, but I wish it had been a bit longer. There’s a lot of stuff crammed into this book, especially into the last few pages, and it felt a bit overwhelming. The book brings up some really good points, and it would have been nice for a lot of those issues to be given more page time or otherwise explained in a bit more detail. I think they would have had a much bigger impression that way. At times, it felt like the reader was getting too much at once, and other times, it was very frustrating to get little hints of what was going on when we were fairly late in the story and wanted to know much more.

I enjoyed Payne’s writing quite a bit. I finished the book fairly quickly, despite my initial reaction, and would definitely read another one of her books in the future.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book!

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Review: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (Finishing School #1)

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, #1)Published: February 5, 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 307
Format: e-ARC

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners – and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes that the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young ladies learn to finish… everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage – in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education.

This was my first book by Gail Carriger, and it definitely won’t be my last. This one was fun, humorous, and overall, really enjoyable. I really liked Sophronia, the atmosphere of the school was fantastic, and even at the times when I wasn’t particularly enthralled by what was going on in the book, the pages seemed to fly by. It took me a while to get used to the voice of the book, but once that happened, it was hard to put down.

My only complaint is that the central plot of this particular book didn’t really draw me in, but the concept of the school Sophronia had been recruited to intrigued me enough to keep reading, and I’m glad it did. I LOVED the idea of a school training girls in both etiquette and, well, espionage. :)

It took me a while to get around to reading this one, but I’m so glad I did, and the timing turned out pretty spectacular, because the other books in the series happened to go on sale while I was reading it. Looking forward to reading them when I can, and maybe catching up in time to read the fourth book later this year!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book!

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Review: The Hit by Allen Zadoff

The HitPublished: May 24, 2013
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 352

Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about.  He shows up at a new high school in a new town under a new name, makes a few friends, and doesn’t stay long.  Just long enough for someone in his new friend’s family to die – of “natural causes.”  Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, moving on to the next target.

But when he’s assigned to the mayor of New York City, things change.  The daughter is unlike anyone he has encountered before; the mayor reminds him of his father.  And when memories and questions surface, his handlers at The Program are watching.  Because somewhere deep inside, Boy Nobody is somebody: the kid he once was; the teen who wants normal things, like a real home, and parents; a young man who wants out.  And who just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program’s mission.

This book is apparently known by at least three different titles (Boy NobodyI Am the Weapon, and The Hit), which confused the hell out of me at first. Once I sorted that out, though, I was good to go.

I had an extremely difficult time getting through the beginning of this book. It wasn’t boring, it wasn’t badly written, none of that stuff, but I still struggled. I must have reread the beginning sections three, four, maybe even five times before I finally got through it for good and read the rest of the book. Before that, I kept putting it down in favor of other things. The beginning of the book made me so nervous because I was afraid it was going to be violent/gory beyond what I could handle at the time, and I couldn’t figure the main character out. I didn’t know what his motivations were or why he was doing any of this, and I don’t like seeing bad things happen to good people, through no real fault of their own, which, of course, happens in books all the time… but seeing it from the POV of the “bad guy” made me kinda go, “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” and put the book down… repeatedly. I generally love books that do this kind of thing, but for some reason, in this book, it just made me super nervous and it was really difficult to continue.

Thankfully, the book wasn’t too gory or violent, and once I actually got through the beginning and continued on, I found it to be a really enjoyable book. There were still scenes that made me really uncomfortable, but I think that was the point. The main character has a really unique voice, and I liked that a lot. His observations let the reader see things in a different way than if another person were telling this story, and I thought that gave the story a lot of character and let it stand out.

The main character is a type of assassin working for The Program, an organization which appears to work for or be part of the government. This book covers what happens when that assassin starts to question things. It’s hard to go into why I found this book so unique compared to similar stories without spoiling anything, though. The premise of the book itself isn’t unique by any means, but it still stood out from a lot of books I’ve read recently, and I’m still thinking about it long after finishing it.

Overall, I found this book pretty enjoyable once I was able to get through the beginning and get a sense of what was going on with the main character, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next installment in the series!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you for the opportunity to read this book!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Review: Earth & Sky by Megan Crewe

Earth & Sky (Earth & Sky, #1)Published: October 28, 2014 by Amazon Children’s Publishing
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 336

Seventeen-year-old Skylar has been haunted for as long as she can remember by fleeting yet powerful sensations that something is horribly wrong.  But despite the panic attacks tormenting her, nothing ever happens, and Sky’s beginning to think she’s crazy.  Then she meets a mysterious, otherworldly boy named Win and discovers the shocking truth her premonitions have tapped into: our world no longer belongs to us.  For thousands of years, Earth has been at the mercy of alien scientists who care nothing for its inhabitants and are using us as the unwitting subjects of their time-manipulating experiments.  Win belongs to a rebel faction seeking to put a stop to it, and he needs Skylar’s help – but with each shift in the past, the very fabric of reality is unraveling, and soon there be no Earth left to save.

Earth and Sky gives us a different type of protagonist – one I couldn’t exactly relate to in some ways, but whom I liked nonetheless. Skylar is definitely different from a lot of other YA protagonists, and I liked that a lot. She’s definitely an unlikely hero in this story, and I liked seeing how she dealt with all that the story threw at her.

There is a love interest, of course, but no love triangle (Can I say YAY?!). Win is interesting, and he definitely isn’t without his faults, and I liked that a lot. While I wasn’t particularly attached to him, I did think he was likable despite some of the downright frustrating or rude things he does, so that was a plus. He may not be the most interesting love interest in YA, but I definitely thought he was on the more likable side of things, and I didn’t hate the romance. It isn’t overbearing, and there is no insta-love, either, so between the no love triangle thing and that, the romance gets quite a few points in my book.

Like other time travel stories, you may need to just throw aside your doubts and enjoy the ride. There were definitely times when I was a bit confused about the time travel aspect and how things would be affected or changed in the present, but eventually I just had to take things at face value, and this book is definitely more enjoyable that way. That said, while a couple of things did throw me a bit, I didn’t have too many issues on that front.

I wish we had gotten to learn a little more about Skylar’s life in the present, because by the end of the book, the details from the beginning were a bit fuzzy, having not really been reinforced since early on. I also wanted to know a lot more about the specifics of what was going on and why, but I got enough that it didn’t bug me too much.

I thought the technology used in the book was fairly unique and kind of fun, and I didn’t feel like too much of the science-y stuff went over my head, so that was good. This book was definitely a fun ride, and I am really looking forward to reading the second book in the series ASAP!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you for the opportunity to read this book!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Review: Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz & Michael Johnston

Frozen (Heart of Dread, #1)Published: September 13, 2013 by Hatchette Children’s Books
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 336

This review is for the first book in the series Heart of Dread.

Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice.  Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature – freezing.  But some things never change.  The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.

At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestel, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out.  Like many, she’s heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.”  They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise.  More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.

But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson to take her there.  Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other.  But can true love survive the lies?

Frozen was a really, really weird book. It has really (intentionally) odd punctuation, and capitalization, and in the end, I just couldn’t really get past that. I loved the idea of the world and I wanted to know a lot more about it, but I couldn’t get into the characters.

I really tried to get past the capitalization and stuff, but I had a REALLY hard time with it. It really annoyed me that I couldn’t seem to find a pattern or reason to it, and that kind of preoccupied me for a lot of the book. So while I tried not to let it affect my rating, it did in the end. I found it so distracting that I had a hard time focusing on the story.

I did enjoy the story (what I could focus on), and the world, as I mentioned before, but didn’t care for the characters much, and I’m a person who generally needs to care about characters to enjoy the story, so that was a pretty major problem for me, but I did enjoy what was there enough to want to continue the series in the future. Overall, I enjoyed where the story took me, though I was MAJORLY disappointed about one thing toward the end, something I thought could have been a really interesting twist, but then I was let down… a lot. :(

Another issue I had was that I kept forgetting the book was intended for a YA audience, not because of the writing or anything like that, but because I kept forgetting that the characters are supposed to be 15-17 years old, for the most part. I… did not buy that, at all. They act like teenagers at times, but most of the time, I didn’t feel like the characters were teens at all. Maybe that’s part of the point, that the world being the way it is forced them to grow up, but every time that was brought up I was kind of thrown for a loop. Definitely could have done without that, lol.

I wanted a bit more background on Nat and Wes, and how the world came to be the way it is in the book, but hopefully we’ll get more of that in future installments in the series.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Review: Day 21 by Kass Morgan

Day 21 (The Hundred, #2)Published: September 16, 2014 by Little, Brown
Format: e-ARC
Pages: 320

This review is for the second book in the series The Hundred.  There are some spoilers for the first book in the blurb.  My review for the first book, The 100, is here.

It’s been twenty-one days since the hundred landed on Earth.  They’re the only humans to set foot on the planet in centuries… or so they thought.  Facing an unknown enemy, Wells attempts to keep the group together.  Clarke strikes out for Mount Weather, in search of other Colonists, while Bellamy is determined to rescue his sister, no matter the cost.  And back on the ship, Glass faces an unthinkable choice between the love of her life and life itself.

Once I finished reading The 100, I moved on to Day 21. I wasn’t a fan of the first book, but having already requested the second one, I figured I would read it next to get it out of the way. Thankfully, Day 21 was a significant improvement over its predecessor. Going into the book knowing it focused a lot more on the romance then on the science fiction aspect helped a lot too, I suspect. :)

A bunch of new characters are introduced in this one, some of them from the original hundred. I liked that we got to know more of them, but it felt like since the narrators were already semi-familiar with them, the reader never got a real introduction to them. It felt like some new names were just thrown in, and that left me feeling really confused for a while. I kept wondering if I should remember the characters from the first book, haha. But it was really nice to be introduced to more of the hundred, especially because I was hoping they’d be more likable than the main characters.

Day 21 has the same structure as The 100, with three POVs on Earth and one on the Colony. While I still felt like this was too many, at least the reader knows the characters now, and in Day 21, we finally get some of the much-longed-for character development that was more or less absent in the first book, due to the fact that the reader gets very little time with each character. I still didn’t really care for the main characters much, but it was still a pretty big improvement!

In terms of world-building, there is a bit of an improvement versus what readers got in the first book, at least on Earth, though I will still disappointed on the “savage Earth” front. One entire section of the ship still remains unexplored, though, so that was pretty underwhelming.

I honestly wasn’t too enthralled with this book, but about 2/3 of the way through, things picked up quite a bit, to the point that I’m interested in checking out the third installment in the series at some point. I still haven’t seen any of the TV show, but I’m considering it, since I’ve heard it’s better than the books. Day 21 was, despite its faults, a solid improvement over The 100, and I am happy that I am looking forward to learning where it’s all going in book three.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars