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Review: Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Let It SnowPublished: October 2, 2008 by Speak
Pages: 352
Format: Kindle Edition

Sparkling white snowdrifts…

Beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you only see in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss with a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks.

Thanks to three of today’s best-seller teen authors – John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle – the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.

I normally don’t go out of my way to read holiday-themed reads during that particular time of year, but this year, I decided to go for it. The other collection I wanted to read (My True Love Gave to Me by Stephanie Perkins) had too long of a waitlist at the library, so I went for this one, and I’m glad I did. It introduced me to two new authors I hadn’t read before.

The first story was “The Jubilee Express” by Maureen Johnson. I LOVED this story. It’s definitely not the usual kind of thing I read, but it still managed to keep me engaged and invested in the characters. It had a lot of great humor and definitely made me laugh and smile. There were a couple of things that felt out of place or that weren’t tied up, but they tied into the latter two stories in the book. I really liked Jubilee as a character and I liked the romance elements. This story was the exact kind of thing I was expecting from this book, which was great. I own another book by Johnson and I’m definitely looking forward to reading it now.

The second story was John Green’s, titled “A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle.” I enjoyed some of the humor in this one, but the characters’ attitudes toward girls/other girls made me pretty uncomfortable, even though I know a lot of teens do feel that way. I was glad that some of it was discussed by the end, but it didn’t entirely redeem the story for me.

The third story was “The Patron Saint of Pigs” by Lauren Myracle. I liked the way this story brought everything together, but it was definitely the most over-the-top of the three. I found myself boggling a bit at the ridiculousness of it all, but not necessarily in a bad way. I liked that Addie’s friends called her out on her actions, but I could understand how she was feeling from her point of view, too. So definitely not the most realistic of stories, but I found it enjoyable enough.

I thought it was a little weird that one of the characters in John Green’s story was essentially credited with getting the other characters to use the word “asshat” and that that word in particular was WAAAAAAY overused (basically, any time someone was being a jerk, that’s what they were referred to as being, and it got really distracting after a while), but other than that, I didn’t have too many issues with the writing itself.

Overall, I generally enjoyed the humor in this book, and I liked the different romances. It was also cool to be introduced to two new-to-me authors. I would have loved to read a longer version of Maureen Johnson’s story, for sure. This was a really nice holiday/blizzard read, and I’m glad I checked it out, especially considering the time of year!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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: Seed by Lisa Heathfield

SeedPublished: March 10, 2015 by Running Press Kids
Pages: 336
Format: e-ARC

All that Pearl knows can be encapsulated in one word: Seed. It is the isolated community that she was born into. It is the land that she sows and reaps. It is the center of her family and everything that means home. And it is all kept under the watchful eye of Papa S.

At fifteen years old, Pearl is finally old enough to be chosen as Papa S’s Companion. She feels excitement… and surprising trepidation that she cannot explain. The arrival of a new family into the Seed community – particularly the teenage son, Ellis – only complicates the life and lifestyle that Pearl has depended upon as safe and constant.

Ellis is compelling, charming, and worldly, and he seems to have a lot of answers to questions Pearl has never thought to ask. But as Pearl digs to the roots of the truth, only she can decide what she will allow to come to the surface.

“Seed loves her.
Seed will never let her go.”

I’ve had a really hard time writing a review for Seed. Part of it, I think, is that I’m afraid that for some reason, whatever I write won’t be good enough. I really loved this book. It kind of horrified me, sure, but I also couldn’t put it down.

Fifteen-year-old Pearl is part of Seed… and as it turns out, Seed is a cult that worships nature, led by a man known only as “Papa S.” There’s incredibly dark undertones throughout this book – even when things are calm and relatively “happy” from the narrator’s POV, the reader knows something isn’t right, and that was part of what made it so hard for me to tear myself away from this book.

When a woman, her teenage son, and young daughter join the cult from the “Outside,” the son, Ellis, begins to make Pearl question some of what she’s been taught.

This book isn’t for the faint of heart – there were parts that definitely made me feel sick to my stomach while reading. I just wanted so badly for Pearl and the other characters to be safe.

I LOVED Heathfield’s prose. I think it was one of my favorite things about the book. Pearl’s voice is lyrical and innocent at times, and it really helped set the tone for the book. Some of the situations in the book, juxtaposed with Pearl’s voice, really made it hit home that Pearl didn’t know any differently from the way she’d been raised.

I was left wondering if there would be a second book, and I really hope there will be. If not, I know I’m definitely looking forward to Lisa Heathfield’s next book regardless.

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: 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: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)Published: September 18, 2012 by Scholastic Press
Pages: 416
Format: Kindle Edition

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love… or you killed him.”

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be-dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them – not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all – family, money, good looks, devoted friends – but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

To be honest, I had to restart this book three times before I stuck with it. I kept getting to the 10-12% mark and putting it back down for other things. But this time, I got to 13%, and apparently that was the magic number, because this time I had a very hard time putting it down. The book does have a bit of a slow start, but it really gets going around 1/5 of the way through. And I knew there had to be something to love about this book because so many friends love it so much. So that helped.

I LOVED the characters in this book, particularly Adam (and Gansey). I haven’t been this attached to a book’s characters in quite some time. The Raven Boys throws a lot of characters at you in the early pages, so it takes a while to get to know them all, but they’re all very distinct, and a lot of them are very likable.

This was my first of Maggie Stiefvater’s books, and it definitely won’t be my last. I loved her writing style, loved this book’s twists and turns, and am REALLY excited for the second book to come off hold at the library. I’m #1 on the waitlist at the library, and this very possibly will be the longest two weeks of my life. XD I did NOT see a lot of the things in this book coming, and it was just so awesome and yay.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Review: What Lies Within by James Morris

What Lies WithinPublished: June 2, 2015 by Kindle Press
Pages: 226
Format: Kindle Edition

As a warning, the blurb for this one gives quite a bit away!

What Lies Within drew me in right away. The opening scene was really creepy. After that, the book takes a bit of a step back, but not much of one. The pacing is pretty quick. Some of the language use felt a bit awkward to me at times, but generally, it flowed fairly well.

I LOVED the dialogue in this book. For the most part, it felt pretty genuine, and I liked the two main relationships the book focuses on (Shelley and her father, and Shelley and Wilson). They felt fairly authentic to me in a lot of ways. Actually, while reading this, I almost felt like I was watching a TV show or movie. It felt very movie-like a lot of ways. A lot of lines and scenes reminded me of things out of crime shows and whatnot. Not in a stereotypical way or anything, though.

The only thing that REALLY irritated me about this book was that Shelley seems to have a habit of taking these HUUUUUUUUGE leaps in her reasoning and I felt like I was scrambling to keep up because I didn’t get why that would be a logical thing to think. She’s also very melodramatic, which was frustrating. I didn’t exactly find her likable, but it’s hard not to cheer her on as she searches for the answers to the questions she has about herself.

Overall, this was a decent, fast-paced thriller. A few things threw me, but it was pretty enjoyable, and I’d be up for more books from this author in the future. I’m definitely curious as to whether there will be a sequel.

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Review: Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan

Daughter of Deep SilencePublished: May 26, 2015 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Pages: 375
Format: Kindle Edition

I’m the daughter of murdered parents.
I’m the friend of a dead girl.
I’m the lover of my enemy.
And I will have my revenge.

In the wake of the devastating destruction of the luxury yacht Persephone, just three souls remain to tell its story – and two of them are lying. Only Frances Mace knows the terrifying truth, and she’ll stop at nothing to avenge the murders of everyone she held dear. Even if it means taking down the boy she loves and possibly losing herself in the process.

“I am nothing except this: a girl reborn of the deep ocean silence, meant for nothing but vengeance.”

I had to suspend my disbelief a LOT for this book. And I struggled to do that. A lot. (But it was still awesome.)

Daughter of Deep Silence was not the book I was expecting it to be. I assumed some things based off the blurb which then confused the hell out of me when I first started the book.

First, I assumed that Frances and Libby were best friends who went on this cruise together. That is not the case. They meet on the cruise ship and their friendship develops over the course of the cruise.

Second, I could NOOOOOOOOT believe that Frances was only fourteen at first. (There is a time jump shortly after the beginning of the story, so she is eighteen during most of the book’s events, but still.) And I struggled a LOT with that because I felt like the whole thing wasn’t… I don’t know. I couldn’t buy this stuff happening to a fourteen year-old girl and having her turn out the way Frances does. I couldn’t buy 14-year-old Francis’ relationship with Grey. So that aspect of the story made things really difficult for me.

Third, Frances takes Libby’s identity (with the help of Libby’s father, but still) after only having just met her during the cruise (and then when they were in the ocean together on the life raft, of course, but still). I found that really hard to wrap my mind around… but I eventually just tried my best to accept it and kept reading. But I wasn’t expecting that AT ALL and it completely messed with my expectations, and then I felt like I spent the rest of the book trying to undo what I THOUGHT the story was going to be versus what it actually was.

Sooooo, yeah. If you can get past all that, there’s a pretty awesome story here.

This is a pretty fast read. I was hooked at the beginning, then things sloped off a bit, and then I hit the halfway point and finished it in about a day. I love Carrie Ryan’s prose and I love her characters.

I read her Forest of Hands and Teeth books and really liked them, even if I disliked the romances in them, so I was hoping I’d like this, too. I think I liked this one even more. I wasn’t a huge fan of the romance in this one for a lot of reasons, but I didn’t flat-out hate it, either.

Frances herself is complicated. At times I was rooting for her, and at other times I was horrified by her. To Frances, just about everything is a means to an end, and I wanted her to be more than that, but she’s also a product of the things that have happened to her, in a lot of ways. I liked the way Ryan crafted her character.

So basically… this book had some aspects that were really hard to swallow, but once I did, I was totally reeled in and couldn’t stop reading. I would definitely recommend it if you think the above issues wouldn’t throw you off too much. Yay, Carrie Ryan!

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: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

I Was HerePublished: January 27, 2015 by Viking Children’s
Pages: 288
Format: Kindle Edition

Cody and Meg were inseperable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until… they weren’t anymore.

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything – so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Meg can’t open – until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I had high expectations for this book after If I Stay and Where She Went, and I wasn’t disappointed. I Was Here definitely won’t be for everyone, but parts of it resonated with me in a way I didn’t expect. There’s a lot going on in this book, both up front and beneath the surface – about secrets, family, friendship, and forgiveness, and Forman handles it beautifully.

The romance was a huge disappointment for me, but I also felt like the focus of the main story wasn’t on that, so I was mostly able to ignore it (thankfully).

Cody’s mission to learn the truth behind Meg’s suicide really pulled me in and kept me turning the pages. Her anger and heartbreak fueled her through her journey, and the lengths she went to made me almost want to look away because the direction she went in made me so uncomfortable.

Overall, I thought this was a really strong book, if really tough to read at times, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Forman’s works in the future.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars