Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review: Grasping at Eternity by Karen Amanda Hooper

Title: Grasping at Eternity
Author: Karen Amanda Hooper

Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Starry Sky Publishing

Length: 328 pages
Original Publishing Date: May 21st, 2012
Series: Kindrily #1
Where I got it: NetGalley

Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Leave it to Maryah Woodsen to break the one rule that will screw up eternity: Never erase your memories.

Before entering this life, Maryah did the unthinkable—she erased. Now, at seventeen years old, she’s clueless that her new adoptive family has known her for centuries, that they are perpetually reincarnated souls, and that they have supernatural abilities. Oh, and she's supposed to love (not despise) Nathan, the green-eyed daredevil who saved her life.

Nathan is convinced his family’s plan to spark Maryah's memory is hopeless, but his love for her is undying. After spending (and remembering) so many lifetimes together, being around an empty version of his soulmate is heart shattering. He hates acting like a stalker, but has no choice because the evil outcast who murdered Maryah in their last lifetime is still after her.

While Maryah’s hunter inches closer, she and Nathan make assumptions and hide secrets that rip them further apart. Maryah has to believe in the magic within her, Nathan must have faith in the power of their love, and both need to grasp onto the truth before they lose each other forever—and discover just how lonely eternity can be.

X-MEN meets MY NAME IS MEMORY in Karen Amanda Hooper’s latest young adult release

Main characters: 2/5

Maryah was a very bland main character. Part of this may have been intentional, to represent her as the "blank slate", however it meant that she didn't have a strong image in my mind. I didn't know what she liked or didn't like, or even what her personality was. The other thing that bothered me about Maryah was her naivety. This may be in part due to the writing style which let the reader in on what was happening, but everything just appeared so obvious to me.

Secondary characters: 3/5

Nathan also appeared one-dimensional. Besides his love for Maryah I really didn't know anything about him and I was frustrated with their relationship. He also had a really pessimistic way of looking at the situation (although I realize that it was a depressing one) that started to irritate me.
The rest of the secondary characters were better but there were so many! It was hard to keep track sometimes. I liked Carson because he didn't like Maryah at first and that was refreshing to have a character not fall instantly in love with her. Krista was also fun and upbeat.

Writing style: 2.5/5

The story switched POVS between Nathan and Maryah, which I wasn't a fan of. Normally I wouldn't mind but because we knew what was going on, Maryah just seemed like an idiot for not questioning or realizing some of the obvious stuff. Or even just the weird way everyone was acting. Also, I don't know what it was but some of the description threw me out of the story.

Plot: 3/5
Here's the thing: this trope? The lovers through multiple lifetimes? I've seen it before. I'll mention a couple minor details that I did like though. The Arizona setting was perfection and the descriptions were spot on. I liked the introduction of something new to the been-done-before reincarnation plot: the idea of erasing was cool and I liked the mystery of figuring out why Maryah erased. The aspect with the stars and astronomy was a neat touch as well. I liked the idea of a kindrily (although it reminded me of the Cullen family from Twilight) and the quirkiness that came from reincarnation regarding age and previous family ties. I didn't understand, however, how despite all of this plot information being thrown around, the plot could lack action so much. It really seemed like not a lot happened in this book.

Ending: 3/5

Bonus points for not ending on a cliffhanger, and for some real action. The downside? I didn't feel like we really learned anything. We have this whole mystery and at the end I was wondering if anything was solved.

Best scene: The climax

Reminded Me Of:  Transcendence by C. J. Omololu

Some fun twists on the reincarnation trope, well thought out world-building

Negatives: Instalove (destined to be together), bland and one-dimensional main characters, not enough action, the writing style threw me out of the story

Cover: I actually don't really care for this cover. I like the title text but the image doesn't pull me in enough.

Verdict: Stereotypical addition to the reincarnation trope with lackluster characters.

Rating: 5.4/10 (3 stars)

What I Was Listening To: 
Something else fun about my quirky music taste is that I love remixes to great songs. For this one, the Tailors DJs remix a Tracy Chapman staple, Give Me One Reason. I listen to this song all the time because it pumps me up and relaxes me at the same time (is that even possible?). Check it out and let me know what you think!

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Review: The Liar Society by Lisa & Laura Roecker

Title: The Liar Society
Author: Lisa and Laura Roecker
Genre: YA Mystery
Publishing Information: 368 pages; March 1st, 2011 by Sourcebooks Fire
Series: The Liar Society #1 

Where I got it: E-book from the library

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Kate Lowry didn't think dead best friends could send e-mails. But when she gets an e-mail from Grace, she’s not so sure.

Sent: Sun 9/14 11:59 PM
Subject: (no subject)

I'm here…
sort of.
Find Cameron.
He knows.
I shouldn't be writing.
Don't tell.
They'll hurt you.

Now Kate has no choice but to prove once and for all that Grace’s death was more than just a tragic accident. But secrets haunt the halls of her elite private school. Secrets people will do anything to protect. Even if it means getting rid of the girl trying to solve a murder...

Main characters: 3.5/5

Kate was intriguing because she was trying to figure herself out as much as anyone else and I think the Roecker's did a good job of portraying her conflict. There were qualities about Kate that I admired, and qualities that I cringed at, but together they made a compelling main character. She was determined, smart, witty and honorable. I didn't like the way she treated Seth a lot of the time, but I could tell that she was still a good-hearted person. I liked some of the quirky inclusions, like Kate's pink hair. I also enjoyed the way that Kate learned so much about herself throughout the mystery and it was truly a healing process. 

Secondary characters: 3.5/5

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of depth given about the lives of minor characters off the bat, including Taylor and Bethany. It was interesting to hear Kate's take on them and connect the rumors and family lives with the characters. As a reader, I don't get that level of detail about relatively minor characters often. I do wish that I had some more physical detail so I could picture the characters in my mind. Grace fit a stereotype that I'll call "Dynamic-best-friend-ends-up-dead", seen in the TV series "Pretty Little Liars", where the popular and outgoing best friend is the one who dies. This leaves her quieter and less popular best friends in a mess after her death. Seth was a cute and quirky guy and I loved reading the interactions between him and Kate, even if I felt bad for him. I like how the relationship between Kate, Liam and Seth turned into an almost love-triangle, but not really. I had mixed feelings about Liam; I feel like he was in a lot of ways underdeveloped and it was hard to get a read on him.

Writing style: 3/5

The opening chapter moved slowly and it was difficult to get into. After the intriguing and thrilling opening email, I was expecting some action right off the back and it was tough to read through long details of the past. The flashbacks sometimes seemed random although I appreciated the look back to the past to learn more about Grace, Kate and Maddie before Grace's death. Kate's voice was bitingly witty in some places and achingly sad in others, which was a fantastic mix. The Roeckers also did a fine job of creating suspense and tension through their writing, which kept me on edge through so much of the story.

Plot: 3/5
I hate nitpicking little plot things, but right off the bat I was shaking my head in disbelief over a couple things. Kate is convinced that the email couldn't be a joke because no one could hack into their school's database, but if they live in the 21st century, I'm pretty sure there's a hacker who could get in. I was intrigued by the plot clues, including Cameron's sketch, because they made me think about the mystery as well, instead of waiting back for Kate to solve it herself. When I had the same clues as Kate did, I felt just as involved because I at least felt like I could solve it too. That proved not to be the case because the whole mystery had me stumped. Without giving anything away, I felt like the 'bad guys' were more ominous than was justifiable, and these 'bad guys' are pretty easy targets for being the 'big bad' in novels. Regardless, I was fascinated by the mystery and I was really only disappointed that there were no huge hints or clues for me to really dig my teeth into. Those clues that I thought I could solve were really just teases.

Ending: 3/5

I like that while the mystery was solved, justice wasn't necessarily served. Not everything ended up perfect, but Kate discovers that life goes on. Even though plot-wise the ending wasn't rewarding, Kate grew so much as a character and discovered herself and that was what made it entertaining and worthwhile.
Best scene: I loved the homecoming scene and the descriptions of the theme & attendees

Positives: Strong and three-dimensional main character, well rounded secondary cast, excellent tension and pacing for the most part, the fact that the ending didn't solve everything

Negatives: Overused plot & plot devices, some slow sections, a couple minor characters could have used more development (I think it was an attempt at making them mysterious/possibly the 'bad guy' but I still would have liked more).

Cover: I love the representation of Kate! She's so awesome and quirky. The pink hair + the preppy outfit= love. The one knock is that the cover is more lighthearted than the book was. The book was such a blend of a witty main character, a mystery and self-discovery and some of that was lost on the simple cover.

Verdict: A fun and surprisingly deep YA prep school mystery

Rating: 6.4/10 (3 stars)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Review: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Title: Scarlet
Author: A.C. Gaughen

Genre: YA Historical Adventure
Publisher: Walker Childrens

Length: 292 pages
Original Publishing Date: February 14th, 2012
Series: Scarlet #1
Where I got it: NetGalley

Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Many readers know the tale of Robin Hood, but they will be swept away by this new version full of action, secrets, and romance.

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.
Main characters: 3.5/5

Scarlet's wittiness, independence and daring were likeable characteristics, but overall she often seemed immature. Scarlet's past affected her present to a great extent, but it also made her sometimes lacking morals make sense. Her weird issues with food made sense, but it almost felt like anorexia, which I shied away from. She also had some moments where I just shook my head, such as when she misinterprets what Robin means (I feel like this happens a lot). I liked the fact that she was willing to play outside the rules, sometimes to a fault. Sometimes her wittiness came off as sharp or abrasive, but either way it was clear that Gaughen had taken the time to create a well-developed main heroine.

Secondary characters: 3/5

Gaughen threw a lot of characters on the reader at the onset. I'm a little ashamed to admit this, but I don't have a lot of experience with the Robin Hood tales besides *cough* the Disney movie *cough* so I wish there had been more description and character development.
Robin was a little mysterious, a little heroic and a lot frustrating. The relationship between him and Scarlet was full of misunderstandings and hiding feelings. Gaughen included more depth on Robin toward the end by discussing why he became an outlaw, but he still felt one-dimensional for much of the novel. John Little was funny in his "player" ways and I liked his sassiness, but again I felt like I didn't understand his motivations and his character didn't have much depth.

Writing style: 2/5

Gaughen used colloquial phrases in her writing style but one thing that bothered me was the use of "were" instead of "was" in order to characterize Scarlet in her time period. I just kept stopping and being jolted out of the text because it threw me off so much. I also had a tough time getting into the groove of the writing style. Every once in a while I'd be sucked in for a few pages but it never thoroughly kept my attention. I think part of it was the fact that I was being told a lot of information, rather than shown. The writing did pick up in the second half after the plot twist and it was much easier to read.

Plot: 3/5
The retelling of Robin Hood through the eyes of Scarlet was a great concepts; but it ultimately didn't deliver. Even the plot points made for a good story however the pacing and the writing fell flat. Additionally, the tension wasn't strong enough and there weren't enough action scenes to merit the retelling of such a great adventure story. However, the plot did improve in the second half of the novel with the plot twists (which I saw coming but was still exciting). The action picked up and I breezed through the second half.

Ending: 4/5

The plot twist came relatively early on and that was the turning point where the action picked up for me. The ending was eventful, tense and full of "You go girl!" moments.

Best scene: The ending

Reminded Me Of:  Robin Hood: Men in Tights... just kidding but not really.

Positives: A fun retelling premise, an exciting plot twist, a very sassy and independent lead heroine, the ending

Negatives: Instalove, writing style, the use of "were" rather than "was" (couldn't get past it!), one-dimensional secondary characters, boring plot for the first half

Cover: I was pleasantly surprised by the cover, especially for the historical which I've found generally doesn't have as pretty of covers. The simplicity really makes the girl's face stand out and the font is perfect.

Verdict: A cool premise with a unique main character, but the plot and writing fell short of making this an exciting adventure story.

Rating: 6.2/10 (3 stars)

What I Was Listening To: 
I was listening to this amazing Coldplay cover of "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)". Love that Coldplay can pull off pretty much any song, but especially love that this was a tribute. 

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Review: You Wish by Mandy Hubbard

Title: You Wish
Author: Mandy Hubbard
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Publishing Information: 304 pages; July 29, 2010 by Razorbill
Series: Standalone

Where I got it: E-book from the library

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Kayla McHenry's sweet sixteen sucks! Her dad left, her grades dropped, and her BFF is dating the boy Kayla's secretly loved for years. Blowing out her candles, Kayla thinks: I wish my birthday wishes actually came true. Because they never freakin' do.
Kayla wakes the next day to a life-sized, bright pink My Little Pony outside her window. Then a year's supply of gumballs arrives. A boy named Ken with a disturbing resemblance to the doll of the same name stalks her. As the ghosts of Kayla's wishes-past appear, they take her on a wild ride...but they MUST STOP. Because when she was fifteen? She wished Ben Mackenzie would kiss her. And Ben is her best friend's boyfriend."

Main characters: 2.5/5

My first impression of Kayla is that she's a little quirky. I like to have a character that is acknowledged as a bit of a pessimist, however I think it's maybe a little unrealistic that she can identify herself thus at age sixteen? For example, I was a major pessimist in high school and I would have denied it with the best of them. I could relate with Kayla's sense of feeling like her best friend has outgrown her, but I feel like she may have overemphasized the point to where I was a little sick of her whining. And the whole thing with her wanting her best friend's boyfriend? It's realistic, but I was tired of Kayla's jealousy and downright meanness about their relationship. I appreciated how she changed at the end of the novel, realizing her mistakes and deciding to create herself anew.

Secondary characters: 1.5/5

Some of the characters were one-dimensional, for instance, Kayla's mom. Ann was a little quirky but I ended up liking her because she was a foil to Kayla. Even though the end explained why Nicole had been acted weird, I didn't feel like she was fully-formed and therefore likeable. Ben, the love interest, was a little more three dimensional, but I still didn't feel that there was enough justification given as to why Kayla was in love with him.

Writing style: 2/5

Some of the action felt a little passive, and I couldn't get into it because it felt like it was being described to me rather than feeling like I was in the action. Some parts of the novel were hilarious, both in writing style as well as situational, however others parts seemed like Hubbard was trying too hard to be witty or have that sarcastic teen voice.

Plot: 2/5
I know this is minor, but right off the bat I was turned off by the reference to Old Navy being the "in-crowd" place to shop. I'm sorry, but Old Navy hasn't been a cool place to shop for about ten years. Some more research would have helped this point, I think. Just randomly, I loved the bit about the Photography class because I took two in high school and failed pretty miserably at them. The fantastical aspect of all of Kayla's wishes coming true was part cute and fun and part over-the-top. I appreciated the point where Kayla realized her past mistakes and had a revelation about herself and her life, but it was a little obvious coming.

Ending: 2/5

The ending moved really quickly and a lot of it was unbelievable; and I don't just mean the part about the birthday wishes coming true. It wasn't satisfying and it wasn't exciting.

Best scene: Nothing really stands out

Positives: Some funny situational humor, good final transformation for Kayla

Negatives: Passive and boring writing style, one dimensional characters, over-the-top plot devices


Verdict: Fell a little short of the reviews I'd read... I wasn't expecting greatness but I expected more than this

Rating: 4.0/10 (2 stars)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Review: Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle

Title: Kissing Shakespeare
Author: Pamela Mingle
Genre: YA Fiction
Publishing Information: 352 pages; August 14, 2012 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Series: Standalone

Where I got it: E-book from the library

Synopsis from Goodreads: 

"Miranda has Shakespeare in her blood: she hopes one day to become a Shakespearean actor like her famous parents. At least, she does until her disastrous performance in her school's staging of The Taming of the Shrew. Humiliated, Miranda skips the opening-night party. All she wants to do is hide.

Fellow cast member, Stephen Langford, has other plans for Miranda. When he steps out of the backstage shadows and asks if she'd like to meet Shakespeare, Miranda thinks he's a total nutcase. But before she can object, Stephen whisks her back to 16th century England—the world Stephen's really from. He wants Miranda to use her acting talents and modern-day charms on the young Will Shakespeare. Without her help, Stephen claims, the world will lost its greatest playwright.

Miranda isn't convinced she's the girl for the job. Why would Shakespeare care about her? And just who is this infuriating time traveler, Stephen Langford? Reluctantly, she agrees to help, knowing that it's her only chance of getting back to the present and her "real" life. What Miranda doesn't bargain for is finding true love . . . with no acting required"

Main characters: 3/5

My initial reaction to Miranda was not favorable. She complained a lot about her parents and her life, and I didn't find her thoughts regarding her own acting to be very mature. Miranda's initial reaction to the time travel was also unbelievable and over-the-top, which turned me off of her for the first bit of the book. I did see signs of life, however, such as when Miranda whacked Stephen with the tree branch at the beginning.
But Miranda began to change over her time in the 16th century and I appreciated her rate of change and the fact that it wasn't easy. It was a steady change, not exceptionally crazy or too slow. I liked learning more about her relationship with her parents and the fact that Stephen questioned what she had assumed to be true. 
Ultimately, there was nothing particularly memorable about Miranda, but her slow and steady change turned her into a more layered character at the end of the book.

Secondary characters: 3/5

At the beginning of the novel, Stephen seemed stuffy and lacked a personality. However, similar to Miranda, he grew on me as the novel progressed. He didn't take shit from Miranda and had his own personal conflicts which added complexity to him as a character. I also liked that he and Miranda didn't have "insta-love" which is always refreshing. One pet peeve though is that he was deliberately mysterious which got on my nerves. For example, Stephen would tell Miranda something about the time travel and then when she questioned further he would say, "Oh, I can't tell you". That's frustrating for Miranda and for the reader. If you're holding on to information for later, then keep it more subtle!
While I liked Stephen more and more as the novel went on, I found that Shakespeare fell lackluster. I liked that he was less the main character of the novel and more of a secondary character, but he lacked a lot of depth that I think Mingle could have added even though he is an important historical and literary figure. 
Writing style: 2.5/5

As with some of the young adult books these days, Mingle's writing style wasn't particularly descriptive or what some may call "literary". That being said, the novel moved along at a good clip. At some points, this was appreciated but at other points, such as before the time travel and immediately after, I wish Mingle had spent a little more time explaining and going into more depth on the action. Some things could have been written with more subtlety, for instance Stephen is described as as looking "exhausted, like maybe this powerful magic was wearing him down. And there was an infinite sadness in his eyes, along with something else. Vulnerability." This was a little heavy-handed and could have been taken down a notch. There were also a few cases where lot of stuff is thrown at the reader with no time spent on it. It's possible that we were meant to put ourselves in Miranda's place and be overwhelmed with her, but if this was the case, it could have been executed better. 

Plot: 3/5

The plot was decidedly unoriginal, but there were some cute and unexpected moments. I liked the fact that Miranda's challenge was to keep the future the same by seducing Shakespeare, that was one of the unique aspects. Also, integrating the religious turmoil of the time added depth and I could tell that Mingle had really done her research. It made the plot more than just some throw-away and created conflict with deep meaning. One knock that I had was that I saw everything coming a mile away. And I do mean everything. Toward the end, the scheming seemed to resemble its own Shakespeare play, which I also really enjoyed.

Ending: 3/5

Without spoiling, I liked that it didn't end on that "denouement" (pardon the English major term that I learned this week) where everything wraps up all neat and pretty. I felt like the characters had improved throughout the novel and I really enjoyed where Miranda ended up personally.
Best scene: When Miranda smacked Stephen with a branch

Positives: Good and steady change of the characters, some interesting plot points and surprising complexity

Negatives: Writing style, unoriginal, saw everything coming, unmemorable characters

Cover: Really pretty actually. I was surprised by how much I liked this cover

Verdict: A fun and cute time-travel story with a couple unique twists, but mostly sub-par writing and characters

Rating: 5.8/10 (3 stars)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Review: American Fraternity Man by Nathan Holic

Title: American Fraternity Man
Author: Nathan Holic

Genre: Adult Contemporary
Publisher: Beating Windward Press LLC

Length: 436 pages
Original Publishing Date: June 3rd, 2012
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: NetGalley

Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Charles Washington, a college grad brimming with energy and idealism and promise, is swept up in the Compassion Boom. At the height of the financial meltdown, he spurns the prescribed job market to take a job with a not-for-profit, sacrificing salary for the selfless mission of his first post-college employer. Charles is out to save the world - the world of fraternities! Charles is an Educational Consultant with the Nu Kappa Epsilon National Fraternity Headquarters. He's making no money, but he's on a noble mission: he will crisscross the country to clean up the corroded culture of fraternity life, driving from college to college, fraternity house to fraternity house, conducting leadership development workshops and serving as a 24/7 role model for his NKE brothers. Charles will whisk away the alcoholism and drug abuse, and put an end to the hazing. He will help transform 21st-century fraternity life into a leadership experience just as enriching as the Boy Scouts. The only problem: Charles isn't nearly the clean-cut role model he wants to believe he is, and he's about to learn that he is ill-prepared for the true demands of leadership. Very quickly, he finds himself caught in a whirlwind of alcohol, parties, hazing, and sex, a series of events and decisions which will test his new values and threaten his entire future. "American Fraternity Man" is an intimate portrait of a young man struggling to become the right kind of professional, while coming to terms with the harsh financial and political realities behind the ambitious mission statements and corporate philosophies. Set within a broad panoramic of the national fraternity world, American Fraternity Man offers a humanizing look at the individuals who live and breathe Greek Life, while also giving an unrivaled glimpse at the power, potential, and absurdity of the National Fraternity/Sorority business. Through both text and illustrations, Nathan Holic offers the very human story of one young man's longing for morality and purpose in a world he simply has not been prepared to understand."

Blogger's Note: 
This novel elicited a lot of responses from me as a reader. I am currently a sorority woman and I've been on my chapter's executive board for two years. I would like to be a sorority consultant after college. So, there was a lot in this novel that really affected me and while I hope that my review is unbiased, it is something to keep in mind. 

Main characters: 5/5
Charles seemed like he could be one of my guy friends. He's a smart guy but a little idealistic at the beginning and I think that was part of his downfall. He was so eager to change himself to fit the image of a role model that I knew he was headed down the wrong path. By the middle of the novel, I really didn't like Charles and as much as I think I wasn't supposed to, it was hard to fight through when I didn't like the main character. Ultimately, I think Charles was just really lost and in any young adults' life, that is realistic in the most heart-creaking way. For Charles it was especially difficult because I think he really did want what was best for his national fraternity but he went to the furthest extremes to do so. More importantly, Charles was well-developed and thought-out so I give Holic some major props on creating a character that I hated at points and loved at others but ultimately was incredibly realistic.

Secondary characters: 3/5

Jenn was the voice of reason at the beginning, but she becomes a little flat and one-sided. Ultimately I didn't find Jenn that likable. Unfortunately, whether it was because of the lack of attention compared to Charles or not, Jenn was less developed a character. Fabre was particularly distasteful and left me wondering if there are actually people like him out there. I try not to be too idealistic about greek life but I was shocked by his character and some of the other alumni and it was tough for me to move beyond that. I would have liked some more engaging characters. I felt like most of the secondary characters had extreme flaws and therefore it was hard for me to relate to them.

Writing style: 3/5

Holic's writing style was thoughtful and detailed. His ability to get into Charles' head was especially wonderful and he really found the college feel on so many different campuses. I was disappointed that my ebook version didn't include a lot of the illustrations! Another plus for Holic though was his attention to detail. There were times when I just had to smile because Holic painted some of the things I feel about greek life perfectly. I did feel that the book seemed unnecessarily long. I got the picture pretty early on and I felt like Holic was beating a dead horse at some points. There were also some paragraphs with excessive detail that, although I appreciated, were a little tough to read through.

Plot: 4/5
When Charles started telling Jenn how he wasn't going to change, I knew exactly what was going to happen. I wasn't thrilled with how obvious that plot twist appeared. While I pointed out above that Holic got a lot of details right for a reader currently in greek life, some of it did feel over the top. To be fair, I'm not sure if this is fraternity versus sorority differences but some of the politics about shutting down a chapter and some of the dare I say corruption seemed unrealistic to me. Further, some of the plot points as Charles visited the fraternities seemed repetitive. While Charles did fall into a rut where the universities ran together, I would have liked either that section have been shorter or gotten more details about each school. Another bonus point for the unique plot! I've never read anything like this book before.

Ending: 4.5/5

The way that American Fraternity Man ended was funny, ambiguous and yet wrapped everything up perfectly. I love the way that Holic made it so clear without having to specifically tell the reader what would happen after the book ended.

Best scene: The scene in Mexico

Realistic and well-rounded main character, the ending, the balanced view of fraternities and sororities, Holic's attention to detail

Negatives: The secondary characters (particularly the way that some were extreme one-sided or flawed), the length, the excessive details and repetitive nature of the plot

Cover: I'm in love with this cover; it depicts the realities of college life all in one image. Plus the font is huge and can either stand out or fade away depending on how long you look at it.

Verdict: Although sometimes long and tough to get through, American Fraternity Man is a journey through fraternity life of epic proportions with a narrator whose complexity and realism is astounding. 

Rating: 7.8/10 (4 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review: Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

Title: Alice in Zombieland
Author: Gena Showalter

Goodreads Summary:
"Had anyone told Alice Bell that her entire life would change course between one heartbeat and the next, she would have laughed. From blissful to tragic, innocent to ruined? Please. But that’s all it took. One heartbeat. A blink, a breath, a second, and everything she knew and loved was gone.

Her father was right. The monsters are real….

To avenge her family, Ali must learn to fight the undead. To survive, she must learn to trust the baddest of the bad boys, Cole Holland. But Cole has secrets of his own, and if Ali isn’t careful, those secrets might just prove to be more dangerous than the zombies….

Main character: 3.5/5
Alice was a well-developed character. I could relate to everything that she was feeling and going through; including her self-pity at times, which was not overwhelming the way that some main characters are. Alice had the perfect blend of feeling sorry for herself and understanding the need to eventually get over it (it's hard to read that much pity partying). The one main knock on Alice is that she didn't have anything that made her supremely memorable in my mind, which would have taken her character to the next level.

Secondary characters: 4/5
Kat was fantastic; I wasn't sure if I would like her at first because of her directness and almost over-the-top confidence, but I ended up really enjoying her as a character. I wished that some of the "gang" had been further developed, but I realize that sometimes the author needs to choose who best to develop further. Cole was frustrating at times in an Edward Cullen type way which I hated, but he improved throughout the story.

Writing style: 4/5
One of my favorite aspects. Showalter made a long book fly by with her vivid descriptions and fantastic action scenes. Everything was believable and I bought into the story, which I think has a lot to do with the way that the author presents the story. Showalter did a beautiful job of painting the setting and plot.

Plot: 3/5
I wish that the Alice in Wonderland motif had been used more! The connections were very minor and I would have loved more crossover between the Zombies & the Alice in Wonderland tale. Regardless, the plot could have been overdone but Showalter's take was fresh and well-told. I loved the mix of romance, mystery, family drama & action-adventure thriller.

Ending: 2.5/5
While the ending accomplished it's purpose, I just felt that it advertised itself too much as opening for a sequel. To be fair, the conflict was solved and Showalter did a good job of leaving mystery open for the sequel without leaving us with a cliffhanger, but something was just unsatisfying.

Cover: So pretty and just the right amount of light and dark. And you gotta love that tagline, "Off with their heads".

Rating: 6.8 / 10 (4 stars)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Review: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst

Title: Conjured
Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Genre: YA Paranormal/Fantasy
Publisher: Walker Children's

Length: 368 pages
Original Publishing Date: September 3rd, 2013
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: NetGalley

Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she's in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.

At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined."

Main characters: 3/5

When the main character is an amnesiac, it is obviously difficult to get a lot of background. Despite this, I didn't feel a noticeable lack of depth in Eve. She stayed calm through her traumatic situation and her stubbornness about her memories and Zach were endearing. It was difficult to get a clear read on her personality because Eve herself is continuing to search for who she is. I would have liked to see a little more firm development of a personality throughout the story. Somehow Eve is the subject of a lot of male attention, which was a little bit stereotypically "heroine" of her.

Secondary characters: 4/5

Zach was so kooky. I think that's the best word to describe him. Like when he first meets Eve and starts talking about how he wants to kiss her. He also has this thing about never lying. Zach felt very real to me; he was never described as the incredibly handsome love interest. Another quirk was that he was very talkative. Read: he never shut up. But the ordinariness of Zach was refreshing and I love that some of his flaws were so upfront. As for the rest of the secondary characters, I loved seeing some of the history behind Malcolm and Nicki, but Malcolm felt too perfect and I wanted some more imperfections from him. I also wanted more time with our "bad guys" since they only appeared pretty late in the novel.

Writing style: 4/5

More than anything, Durst's writing demonstrated her remarkable and beautiful descriptions. However, her dialogue was also realistic, funny and easy-to-read and the pacing was well done. My one critique on the writing was that the book was just so darn long! We don't learn anything about Eve's past for a great deal of the novel and as interesting as it was, it can only keep my interest for so long. I was also unsure about the third person narration but Durst pulled it off and still allowed me to experience the same disorientation that Eve was going through.

Plot: 4.5/5
Okay, I'm gonna admit it, I'm a huge sucker for psychological novels where the reader has to dig deep and think. The face that Eve had both short and long term memory loss and can't remember huge chunks of her life is terrifying... and a fascinating mystery for me as a reader. Beyond that, the world-building was subtle but incredibly well constructed and distinct. It was the first time I'd experienced something like this and I also loved the carnival influences running through the novel (although it might give me nightmares).

Ending: 3/5

There were a couple points about this ending that were a little rushed and, if I'm honest with myself, could have just been cut out. Pretty minor stuff, but I was so caught up in the central plot that I just wanted to focus on that resolution. Still, I loved the final playout and that epilogue was gorgeous.

Best scene: Zach and Eve's kisses- all of them

The whole premise, the worldbuilding, the tension that arrives from Eve's memory loss, Zach, the writing

Negatives: A slow start, lack of development from Eve and secondary characters, slightly rushed ending

Cover: It's not really my style but it's definitely been growing on me. The simplicity is definitely eye-catching.

Verdict: Don't go in expecting a fast paced thriller, but this fantasy/mystery has a unique premise and incredibly strong worldbuilding plus that carnival premise!

Rating: 7.4/10 (4 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Review: Since You Asked by Maurene Goo

Title: Since You Asked
Author: Maurene Goo

Genre: YA Contemporary
Publisher: Scholastic

Length: 262 pages
Original Publishing Date: June 25th, 2013
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: NetGalley

Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"A humorous, debut novel about a Korean-American teenager who accidentally lands her own column in her high school newspaper, and proceeds to rant her way through the school year while struggling to reconcile the traditional Korean values of her parents with contemporary American culture."
Main characters: 4.5/5

Holly's wit and disillusioned view of high school made her perfect to write her rant-y column. Sometimes I would have a little twinge of, "I kind of liked that about high school", but it fit Holly perfectly. Holly was really well developed and being able to see her through an entire year made her really come alive. Mostly, I could really connect with a lot of what Holly was feeling. I think everyone has those moments of hating high school and the popularity contests that come with it, we all struggle with the stress and pressure, and all have issues with our parents. Also, Holly's narrative voice was unique and hilarious.

Secondary characters: 4/5

I was really impressed with how well Goo characterized Liz, Carrie and David. They each had their own quirks and problems to deal with. Especially when the three of them compare their families and parents, you really get a clear glimpse into how each of them are so similar and different. I would have liked a little more development of Holly's family; I feel like we understood that they loved her in their own way, but it wasn't tied up neatly and I wanted to see more connections made between their family.

Writing style: 4/5
The ease of the dialogue and the wittiness of Holly and her friends was funny and refreshing. As someone who lacks a lot of wit, I am always impressed when people can just pull funny out of nowhere. This novel also read so quickly! I read it in pretty much one sitting and Goo's writing left me laughing out loud in some points.

Plot: 4/5
While there weren't a lot of "plot points" per se, everything was realistic because it chronicled a regular year in the life of a high schooler. I love that part of the conflict was Holly attempting to reconcile her Korean background with American culture. The mix of Holly's columns with her descriptions of normal teenage life made the plot move quickly and realistically.

Ending: 2.5/5

I was a little disappointed with the ending. It seemed to end really quickly and not much was wrapped up. While we got a fun last column that detailed some of what happened to Holly, I would have preferred a little more time spent on the ending. 

Best scene: When Holly first gets the column

The fast moving pacing, realistic plot, Holly and her hilarious wit, well-characterized secondary characters

Negatives: I wanted more depth from Holly's family, the ending

Cover: Gah!!! I love this cover, especially the typography.

Verdict: A witty and quick read about a girl struggling through high school; Holly's voice is worth the read!

Rating: 7.6/10 (4 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? How does it compare to other time travel books you've read? Let me know!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Review: Forevermore by Cindy Miles

Title: Forevermore
Author: Cindy Miles

Genre: YA Paranormal
Publisher: Point

Length: 288 pages
Original Publishing Date: June 25th, 2013
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: NetGalley

Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"On a misty cliffside, mystery and romance await. . . .

Ivy Calhoun's life has been turned upside down. Her new stepdad has uprooted Ivy and her mom, bringing them to live in an actual castle in the misty Scottish countryside. There are stone-faced servants and shadowy corridors, and the ancient walls seem full of secrets. Ivy is at once frightened and intrigued.

Especially when she meets Logan, a gorgeous, elusive ghost who has haunted the castle grounds for decades. Ivy is immediately drawn to him . . . but Logan is not the only spirit around. Something dark and deadly is afoot, and soon Ivy finds herself in mortal danger.

Is Logan exactly what he seems? Could his mysterious past be tied to Ivy's present? And can Ivy stop herself from falling in love with him?"

Main characters: 3/5

Ivy was pretty rad. She's a violin prodigy who loves 80s punk and has pink hair. And she had a really good head on her shoulders. The cool thing about Ivy is that I found myself picturing myself in her footsteps a lot, mostly for the way she interpreted the situations she was put in. I wish there had been a little bit more background/complexity to Ivy.

Secondary characters: 3/5

In contrast to Ivy's level-headedness, Logan was good-hearted but didn't know how to interact with Ivy at first. I didn't get a lot of insight or depth about Logan other than the fact that he was a musician too (he played the flute). It would have been cool to learn more about Logan. Niall and Ivy's mom get a little bit of a backseat in this novel, which is disappointing. They're actually some cool parents and I like how we learn more about Niall and see him develop as a new stepfather. Ivy's friend Emma was spunky and fun. The speed with which Ivy made friends with her was a little quick, especially given her earlier characterization.There was actually a pretty big cast of secondary characters for a pretty quick and easy to read book. Most of them were fairly well developed but a few could have used a little bit more time (the twins, the Munro family, etc.)

Writing style: 4/5

Miles has a way with illustrating the Scottish landscape incredibly well. Her descriptions aren't too dense and are easy to read but the visual illustrations are fantastic. I could imagine everything in my head which is so important to me as a reader. The pacing was also pretty darn impeccable. Right as I started to get tired of any one given scene, we moved right along.

Plot: 3.5/5
I adored the Scottish setting and especially how Miles used the setting so centrally in the plot. The plot/conflict itself had a lot of elements that I'd never seen before. Some of the plot itself wasn't explained quite to the fullest extent however so I was left with some question marks. Other things were explained at the very end which felt like an information dump.

Ending: 2.5/5

A little bit cheesy for my tastes but I liked the place that all the characters ended in and the final scene was pretty cool too. In a dream world, there would have been a bit more complexity to the ending as well.

Best scene: Any of the beginning scenes where Logan and Ivy first interact

Positives: Ivy and her awesome hair/violin/punk, cool plot elements, Scotland, writing style

Negatives: Underdeveloped and large secondary cast of characters, some cheesy parts, the end

Cover: Not exactly my taste, but I like that we get a good look at our main characters and the castle is pretty.

Verdict: Entertaining and light, Forevermore had a notable main character, setting and some cool plot points. 

Rating: 6.4/10 (4 stars)

What I Was Listening To: 
I think I found out about Ron Pope in high school and this is one of the first songs I heard. It's absolutely gorgeous and everyone should listen!

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: Deeper by Blue Ashcroft

Title: Deeper
Author: Blue Ashcroft

Genre: NA Contemporary
Publisher: Blue Ashcroft

Length: 172 pages
Original Publishing Date: August 3rd, 2013
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: NetGalley

Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Rain Wilson isn’t ever going to love again.

It’s a promise she made the day her boyfriend died in a water park accident, one she still blames herself for. Now she’s a senior lifeguard in a new town with a new pool and she’s just going to keep her head down and everyone safe.

Until a mysterious guy follows her into the waves at the pre-season bonfire and kisses her senseless. It’s just one mistake, and Rain is determined to put it behind her, until the dark haired, blue eyed hottie turns out to be her new co-supervisor Knight Mcallister.

Knight is hot, tatted, and carrying baggage of his own. He’s not happy about having Rain for a co-supervisor, and he’s even less happy about his attraction to her.

But between lifeguard drama, hot underwater kisses, and a growing attraction between them that can’t be stopped, Knight and Rain are being pulled deeper into their pasts, and realizing that sometimes too much broken can make a relationship impossible.

Then again sometimes it’s the broken parts of us that fit together best."

Main characters: 2.5/5

Rain was intriguing but beyond her traumatic past, I didn't feel like I got to know her that well. Sometimes she was easy to connect to because she was a character that I connected to at the base level, but the way that her mind worked about the accident sometimes made me just shake my head. Ultimately, I just didn't have enough to go on with Rain. Just when I thought Rain was going to be the "messed up" one in the relationship, Knight comes into the picture with his own load of baggage.  I actually liked the fact that both of them were a little screwed up in their own way. Knight was altruistic and tried to hard to save Rain. I just wanted to shake him sometimes and yell, "What are you thinking?!" but I like that he was imperfect and had his own stuff to get through. The relationship between Rain and Knight had a lot of believable chemistry but I felt like there were so many back and forth moments. One minute they're a couple, the next they're not? I was over it by the end.

Secondary characters: 1.5/5

I was going to put Knight in this secondary characters category but he got equal attention in the story (the POV even switched back and forth) so I bumped him up to a main character. Amy's character was fun and I liked her unique inputs to the situation. However, she seemed pretty strong and witty at first and then seemed to lose characterization through the novel. There were a lot of other secondary characters who didn't get enough development time and just became names in a crowd. Secondary cast definitely fell flat.

Writing style: 3.5/5

There were a couple minor issues where characters would get mixed up. A character would be "Nate" one minute and then "Patrick" the next. Beyond that minor issue, Ashcroft's writing had some definite positives. There were some beautiful descriptions and Ashcroft could seriously get into her character's heads. This also became a negative at points because it held up the pacing and left me wanting more action and dialogue. When there was plot action, the writing moved well and left me tense and involved in the story. Another minor flaw was that sometimes the writing seemed a little melodramatic and over-the-top. Sometimes I became turned-off of the story because of how romance-novel-y it became.

Plot: 3/5
I loved the water-park setting. I've never read a book set at a water-park and the interactions between the lifeguards was fascinating. Who knew there was such a distinct lifeguard culture? The plot itself could move a little slowly at times and sometimes felt a little thin, but because the story focused on the romance and character development of Rain and Knight, there didn't need to be a lot more plot points. Majority of the plot was predictable, so don't go in expecting to be surprised.

Ending: 3/5

It's tough to make a short novel feel like it has a truly satisfying ending. I feel like Ashcroft did as well as could be expected, although some parts did indeed seem rushed. I loved how determined Knight was and that endeared him to me. The final note was sweet and did was it was intended to do.

Best scene: The opening scenes where Rain is introduced to the rest of the lifeguards. 

Positives: The fact that both main characters had their own problems to overcome, some beautiful descriptions by Ashcroft, the unique waterpark setting and lifeguard interactions

Negatives: Slightly underdeveloped main characters (outside of their traumatic pasts), large and one-dimensional secondary cast of characters, melodramatic writing, predictable plot.

Cover: The simplicity in this cover is stunning. It's seriously gorgeous!

Verdict: A quick summer/beachy read with a fun setting and equally damaged main characters.

Rating: 5.4/10 (3 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? How does it compare to other time travel books you've read? Let me know!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review: When the World was Flat (And We Were in Love) by Ingrid Jonach

Title: When the World was Flat (And We Were in Love)
Author: Ingrid Jonach

Genre: YA Science-Fiction
Publisher: Strange Chemistry

Length: 272 pages
Original Publishing Date: September 3rd, 2013
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: NetGalley

Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Looking back, I wonder if I had an inkling that my life was about to go from ordinary to extraordinary.

When sixteen-year-old Lillie Hart meets the gorgeous and mysterious Tom Windsor-Smith for the first time, it’s like fireworks — for her, anyway. Tom looks as if he would be more interested in watching paint dry; as if he is bored by her and by her small Nebraskan town in general.

But as Lillie begins to break down the walls of his seemingly impenetrable exterior, she starts to suspect that he holds the answers to her reoccurring nightmares and to the impossible memories which keep bubbling to the surface of her mind — memories of the two of them, together and in love.

When she at last learns the truth about their connection, Lillie discovers that Tom has been hiding an earth-shattering secret; a secret that is bigger — and much more terrifying and beautiful — than the both of them. She also discovers that once you finally understand that the world is round, there is no way to make it flat again.

An epic and deeply original sci-fi romance, taking inspiration from Albert Einstein’s theories and the world-bending wonder of true love itself."

Main characters: 2/5

Lillie seemed a little bland. I knew that she liked photography and that her mom was really into some quirky New Age stuff. One interesting thing about her was how she used repetition of words to calm herself. I would have liked to see a lot more development and a little more backbone from Lillie.

Secondary characters: 2/5

The cast of secondary characters were also a little bland and fit into tropes and stereotypes. For example, Lillie's two best friends are Jo and Sylv, one of who is described as larger and "mannish" and the other who is described as sexually promiscuous and an aspiring model. I'm not even sure how to describe Tom, which I guess denotes how underdeveloped he was as a character. Even Lillie's mom was "the kooky new age lady" and we didn't see a lot more development than that.

Writing style: 3/5

I'm never a huge fan of novels that have a reminiscing writing style- I'm sure this has a more technical term but for example, Lillie states "Looking back now, I understand...". I feel like these sort of "looking back" statements ruins a lot of the surprise and tension in the writing. Beyond this minor nitpick, I generally enjoyed Jonach's writing style. The pacing could sometimes drag a little and I wish we had learned the "big secret" slightly earlier but the dialogue was generally believable and the descriptions were neither too weighted and long or too meager.

Plot: 4/5
Okay, I knew as soon as the word "soulmates" was uttered that I was in for an instalove treat. No surprises there and I definitely wasn't a fan. However, the plot itself was mind-boggling- in a good way. It made me think and consider different possibilities. Some of it was a little over-the-top- and I'm not even talking about the basic plot but rather some of the small details that Jonach chose. I loved the entire premise however; it was thoroughly original and mind-bending.

Ending: 4/5

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the ending. I appreciated that it left some things open to interpretation because the plot/premise itself was so mentally challenging that I think leading the reader to the exact ending would have been a cop out. Instead, Jonach leaves an open ending with the promise of hope.

Best scene: The train scene

Reminded Me Of: Sort of The Time Traveler's Wife meets Source Code (the movie)

Positives: The unique premise, writing style, ending

Negatives: Bland and underdeveloped characters, some minor pacing issues, the "looking back" style

Cover: It's really pretty and I love the font (and the title! Did I say that yet?)

Verdict: A novel with a unique and interesting premise weakened by bland characters and some minor other issues

Rating: 6.0/10 (3 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!