Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review: Devoted

Title: Devoted
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Source: I received a complimentary ARC in exchange for an honest review

Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

I don't usually read a lot of contemporary, but when I come across a book like this, I know I need to read more. I find extreme religion, including cults and sects, super interesting. And while Rachel's family beliefs are not what I would call a cult, they certain are extreme and restrictive and, honestly, angering. Rachel is only allowed to interact with people from her church. She's home schooled, can't cut her hair and must dress modestly at all times.

I loved Rachel's character so much and I think many other readers will too, since we can see ourselves in her. Rachel is a bookworm at heart, but her family does not condone reading (other than the bible of course), especially Rachel's favourite book: A Wrinkle in Time. That's just one of the trials Rachel must face. She is also fearful of her future, which can only be one thing: being a loving and obedient wife and mother.

I really enjoyed the contrast between Rachel and Lauren, another girl who took issue with the church's restrictive beliefs. It shows the differing ways that different people react in similar situations. Both girl's stories were tough for a bookworm, equal rights kind of girl like me.

However, I do like how Jennifer Mathieu treated the topic of religion in her book. Too often books take sides, either becoming preachy or bashing religion altogether. I think the author walked a fine line and stayed fairly respectful of religion. She did not indicate that Rachel's family was wrong, just that their beliefs didn't work for Rachel. And Rachel maintains her relationship with God throughout, yet the book never felt preachy to me.

I also really enjoyed Rachel's relationship with her little sister Ruth. Ruth was the lifeline that kept Rachel sane in her life with her family. They always supported each other, even though they were very different characters. It made me want a little sister. Although I definitely could do without an older sister like Faith. And their last scene together break my heart a little bit.

There is a hint of romantic interest in this one, but it's so subtle, because, let's face it, Rachel is not ready for a relationship right now. I'm so glad the other didn't force her into a relationship, since I believe the book is so much stronger as it is now.

Devoted was one of my rare forays into contemporary fiction and I really enjoyed it a lot. I though the book was well balanced while dealing with potentially volatile content and I will definitely be reading more from Jennifer Mathieu.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Kiss and Tell

Title: Kiss and Tell
Author: Jacqueline Green
Series: Truth or Dare #3
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Source: Purchased.

Since their dangerous game of truth or dare began, Tenley Reed, Sydney Morgan, and Emerson Cunningham have lost almost everything. Closely guarded secrets, romantic relationships, and sought-after spots at the top of their school's social hierarchy-all gone in the blink of an eye.

Now the darer has upped the stakes, leaving another body behind in the girls' isolated beach town of Echo Bay. And if they can't untangle the twisted web leading to whoever is behind the mysterious deaths, one of them could be next. But what happens when the trail leads to those they trusted, those they loved?

Filled with intoxicating twists and shocking betrayals, the final installment in the Truth or Dare trilogy will keep readers guessing until the very end.

Kiss and Tell brings the Truth or Dare trilogy to an exciting conclusion. Sydney, Tenley and Emerson have been through so much together, dealing with the death of their classmates and the constant threat of the darer exposing all their secrets, or worse. 

I really felt for these girls. They have been through Hell! While I understand wanting to keep certain aspects of their life private, the stakes get so much higher than just revealing a dirty little secret. One of my favourite aspects of this book is the way the girls banded together and drew strength from each other. They were far from friends when the story began, but in the end supported each other so much.

This book was my favourite of the trilogy. I liked the girls more throughout and it was a relief to finally know what was going on in Echo Bay. I really enjoyed reading a mystery, which isn't something I do very often. I'm hopefully as figuring out who-dun-it, so I was certain surprised at the reveal. I knew something was up, but did not guess the identity of the darer.

While I didn't love the other books in this series quite as much as this one, I would definitely recommend this series to someone who wants to give mystery a try, but also wants the YA aspect to shine through.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Review: Who is Mackie Spence?

Title: Who is Mackie Spence?
Author: Lin Kaymer
Publisher: Merit Press
Publication Date: January 2, 2015
Source: I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review

A love story about a girl who comes back from a near-death experience with powers no one can explain

With a strong, appealing boy narrator, Who Is Mackie Spence? is a story no boy would be ashamed to read and no girl would want to miss
This ecological and mythological story is spiced with everyday questions of young love: if someone you care about has a destiny beyond your town-even beyond your world-do you give her up?

Jeremy has known Mackie Spence all their lives, growing up together on a small island in the Atlantic. But after a near-drowning accident, Mackie is changed. She's different, and if no one else can see it, Jeremy can. But maybe he's only looking through the eyes of love, as his feelings for Mackie have gone way beyond childhood friendship. She's even more beautiful, but it's as though she has a new soul . . . or something. Jeremy can't explain it; he's a jock, a real-world kind of guy. Then things start happening that he couldn't explain even if he could find the words. One night, at the local nature rehab center where Jeremy and Mackie volunteer, Jeremy sees with his own eyes how terrified, dangerous, injured birds of prey grow calm in Mackie's presence. It's as if they know her. She doesn't understand or even seem to notice. Without being some kind of stalker creep, Jeremy makes it his job to grow more protective of Mackie, and sees her with wild otters and other creatures in situations that are beyond belief. And finally, something happens that not only changes Jeremy's future, but the way he will see life, forever.

Unfortunately, Who is Mackie Spence didn't really work for me. I had a lot of trouble connecting with the narrator Jeremy and I wish there was more mythology and fewer hormones.

I want to start with what I did like. I'm a big fan of mythology, especially Greek, and I think the mythology featured in this book definitely had potential to make an interesting story. However, the mythology ended up being a tiny portion of the book, which was disappointing for me.

I just didn't really connect with the narrator Jeremy. He was either just telling the reader about his general day-to-day life or dealing with his teenage boy hormones whenever he thought about Mackie. I also didn't find his voice very realistic for a teenage boy. First, he would often say random scientific facts, as if the author was trying to trick the reader into learning some biology. Second, I don't think any 17 year old boy would actually say "stinkeroo" if something was smelly.

Overall, the book felt pretty flat. Even in the parts I knew should have been exciting, I just didn't feel any excitement or tension. Overall, no really a fan of this one, which is disappointing, as I thought the mythology aspect had potential, but was terribly underdeveloped.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

April Recap

How is April over?!?! At least summer is coming! Also, please enter my giveaway for a copy of Unlovely (US only).

Book Reviewed in March:
Skandal by Lindsay Smith - 4 stars
Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier - 4 stars
The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong - 3 stars
Unlovely by Celeste Conway - 3.5 stars
The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski - 3.5 stars

Average rating = 3.6 stars

Books Received in April:

Unlovely by Celeste Conway

Giant TBR Challenge:

Previous TBR Total: 177
Incoming Books: 1
TBR Books Read: 4
Current TBR Total: 174

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Review: The Winner's Crime

Title: The Winner's Crime
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #2
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Source: I received a eARC in exchange for an honest review

Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement... if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

I didn't end up loving this book as much as I wanted to, but I'm still definitely emotional invested in this series. I like the characters and love the world, but forbidden/star-crossed love isn't my thing.

I really go enjoy the character of Kestrel. She is feisty and smart and finds herself in a tough spot. Arin is less of a favourite for me. He jumps to conclusions too quickly and is generally a bit reckless for my taste. The character in this book I wanted to know the most about was Verex. I feel like there is an opportunity for Kestrel to make a powerful alliance there that she is currently not seeing. And, of course, I love to hate the emperor. What a creep!

The thing that has drawn me in the most with this series is the world-building. We see a bit more of world Rutkoski has created in this book and I generally find it fascinating and am looking forward to the next book so I can learn even more about this world.

I felt like the pacing of this one was a bit off. It drug a lot for me early on, where it was focusing a lot of Kestrel and Arin's feelings and general star-crossed-ness. In the second half, things picked up for me and I got into the book quite a bit more. And the ending! So frustrating!

Overall, this series hasn't made it into my favourites, but I'm still invested in it and can't wait to see what happens next.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Unlovely + Giveaway

Title: Unlovely
Author: Celeste Conway
Publisher: Merit Press
Publication Date: January 2, 2015
Source: I received a copy in exchange for an honest review

If he falls for a beautiful dancer, does he risk his heart? Or his life?

• Unlovely is narrated in dark mystery wrapped around a world teens love, that of dancers and dancing.

• Bewitching writing, an eerie story, and a here-and-now thriller, combine for a captivating read of love, loyalty, and dark revenge

• Celeste Conway's book The Melting Season was featured by the New York Public Library as among 2006's best teen reads. She also has written two middle-grade novels and teaches writing at Berkley College

"A perfect combination of romance and horror with (dare I say this?) some culture thrown in." --Lois Duncan, author of Stranger with My Face and Locked in Time

Accidents happen. But they happen more often when the beautiful ballet dancers return each summer to the island. When he hears the ruthless way that the loveliest dancer talks about boys getting what they deserve when they break girls' hearts, Harley, home for the summer after his first year of college, wonders if he's losing his mind. He knows for sure that he's losing his heart to this girl...But then, strange incidents start happening all over the island and Harley is caught between desire and fear: could he also be in danger of losing his life?

Unlovely was an interesting read about a relationship between two young people for very different circumstances. Our narrator Harley is from the small town the book is set in. He is back from his first year of college and he and his father actually live on a boat instead of a proper house. Cassandra is a ballerina from New York who is going to the summer ballet school in Harley's town. There's a major rift between the town and the school, no neither Harley nor Cassandra's friends are supportive of the relationship. And I can't forget to mention Mairin, Harley's childhood friend and girl the whole town assumed he would marry, who is now engaged to a biggest loser in town and pregnant with his baby.

The most interesting part of the story for me was the relationship between the townies and the ballet school. There was a lot of prejudice on both sides, especially following the death of one of the town's high school students at the school. The death had been deemed a suicide, but many people in the town believed there was more going on. On the other hand, the people at the school were very standoff and aloof towards their neighbours, acting like they were better than them.

The other part that interested me the most was the relationship between Harley and Mairin. Harley tried to convince Mairin to go away to school together, but Mairin's mother was not supportive of the idea. So while Harley left, Mairin stayed in the town and took up with the biggest loser she could find, Smits, and got pregnant. It's very clear through the book that Mairin and Harley both have feelings towards each other and how much better off they'd be with each other. But Harley is enamored with Cassandra and Mairin is stubborn to make things work with Smits and it was tough for me, since it was so clear they should be together.

One thing I wish there had a bit stronger was the dark aspect of the story. It's there and it's great in the end, but I just felt the end was a bit rushed. I liked the dizzying quality of some of the scenes and wish they had been extended or there had been more of them.

The other thing that bothered me was how fast Harley and Cassandra's relationship went. They hardly got to see each other, since Cassandra was so busy at school, yet they said I love you within a few weeks of meeting each other.

Overall, Unlovely was an interesting read about a very messed up ballet school and the town it is near but certainly not a part of. It's the story of the dangerous path Harley takes to ultimately find his destiny again.

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Review: The Summoning

Title: The Summoning
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Series: Darkest Powers #1
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: July 1, 2008
Source: Gifted.

My name is Chloe Saunders and my life will never be the same again.

All I wanted was to make friends, meet boys, and keep on being ordinary. I don't even know what that means anymore. It all started on the day that I saw my first ghost - and the ghost saw me.

Now there are ghosts everywhere and they won't leave me alone. To top it all off, I somehow got myself locked up in Lyle House, a "special home" for troubled teens. Yet the home isn't what it seems. Don't tell anyone, but I think there might be more to my housemates than meets the eye. The question is, whose side are they on? it's up to me to figure out the dangerous secrets behind Lyle House...before its skeletons come back to haunt me.

I always hear people raving about Kelley Armstrong, but this is my second book by her and I still haven't found the magic. The Summoning felt to me a bit generic. Which is a bit weird, since there is actually some interesting ideas, including necromancy, which isn't as common in YA paranormal. 

But I think the blame for this can fall on the main character Chloe. She just wasn't able to grab my attention and make me like her. I wish she was a bit stronger of a character and was able to actually make me care about her and her friends.

Another thing that bothered me a bit was the over-used idea of all adults being either useless or evil. Although I guess I should give one of the adults in question a chance to explain herself in the next book before labeling her as evil. But you know what I mean.

I still feel fairly neutral towards the other kids at Chloe's home. Victoria is a bitch, but has her reasons, as we find out. Derek creeps me out, even though I don't think he's supposed to (anymore). Simon and Rae are pretty neutral for me all around. I feel super bad for Liz and hope we get to hear from her a bit in the next book.

Overall, The Summoning felt a bit like generic YA paranormal for me, but I still plan to finish the series and see how things end up.

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