humor, short story, young adult

Book Review: Open Mics: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices edited by Mitali Perkins

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Title: Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices
Editor: Mitali Perkins
Publisher: Candlewick
Length: 144 Pages, Ebook
Genre: Short Stories, Young Adult, Humor
Rating: 5 Folded Pages

Blurb:
Using humor as the common denominator, a multicultural cast of YA authors steps up to the mic to share stories touching on race. Listen in as ten YA authors — some familiar, some new — use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him friends for a while — until it comically backfires. A biracial girl is amused when her dad clears seats for his family on a crowded subway in under a minute flat, simply by sitting quietly in between two uptight white women. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction uses a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poingnant, in prose, poetry, and comic form.

Review:
I found this book by chance when going through my libraries ebook collection. After reading it I immediately preordered a physical copy of it because I need it on my shelves to reread. The short stories and poems seamlessly show what it’s like to grow up having different cultures while being funny.

Personally, I preferred the short stories. They helped get the point across better and allowed for more detail. As a person who doesn’t necessarily care for poetry, though, I would take this with a grain of salt if I were you.

I read the entire collection in a matter of a few hours but each of the stories definitely had me thinking for the rest of the week. Open Riffs opens up so many new perspectives that are hard to see unless you are experiencing them yourself. I hope to see more diverse stories similar to these in Young Adult in both collections similar to Open Riffs and in full length novels.

I can’t say much without spoiling the stories, unfortunately, but I will say that the stories had me both laughing at some points and tearing up at others. It’s a book I hope will be included in school curriculum’s because I think it makes diversity easier to understand and can help build a better world view. I enjoyed this book immensely and strongly encourage anyone even slightly interested to pick it up and give it a try.

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dystopian, Horror, young adult, Zombie

Book Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

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Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Length: 322 Pages, Ebook
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Dystopian, Zombies
Rating: 3.5 Folded Pages

Blurb:
In Mary’s world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

Review:
So this is the first zombie book I’ve read and honestly I didn’t know it was about Zombies when I picked it up from the library. I just thought it was a weird fantasy/dystopian and it looked really interesting. I was definitely surprised and I can’t tell whether it was a good or bad surprise.

I appreciated Mary as a character. I both like and dislike her. It was interesting to watch her point of view but she’s definitely an unreliable narrator. I don’t often read books with an unreliable narrator but it was interesting and I finished the book the same day I started it.

My thoughts on this book are a little muddled. I have nothing to compare it since I don’t read the genre often. Some of the characters fell really flat and some were just plot devices. I feel like you don’t really get to understand any of the characters including Mary. You’re in her head but it feels really distanced.

The plot itself was interesting but also, there was no real climax. It felt fast paced but there wasn’t really a climax or a resolution. I think I’m going to read the sequel only to see where this story is going. I’m curious about how Ryan is going to continue the story and whether Mary will continue to be unreliable.

My review is all over the place but long story short. I think I liked it but I’m not 100% on that. I both liked and disliked Mary and I think the story/characters could have been fleshed out more.

science fiction, young adult

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

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Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Length: 240 Pages, Paperback
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Rating: 5 Folded Pages

Blurb:
The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community. Lois Lowry has written three companion novels to The Giver, including Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.

Review:
It’s amazing how much of this book went way over my head the first time I read it. I think was about 15 at the time and I remember enjoying the book but not really getting why everyone praised it so much. This is my second time reading and wow this book packs a punch.

I think my favorite thing about The Giver is Lowry’s writing. It’s to the point but still descriptive enough to give you the whole picture. It’s the kind of writing I aspire to have. I never felt bogged down by meaningless details or unnecessary information that just muddies the story. I enjoy when things are straight to the point especially when it’s a story like The Giver. The message would not be the same if it was written in a more flowery way.

The character’s themselves are kind of 2D except for Jonas and maybe the Giver. Normally this would bother me but for the world it makes sense. They don’t have a reason or a need to be more than that.

I read this book in about 2 days. It was quick but it resonates with me as it does with the thousands of other people who have read it. My version of the book also has an introduction by Lowry that I found extremely interesting. I won’t give anything away but if you have a chance to read the introduction by her, you should.

I think it’s pretty obvious that I really enjoyed The Giver. It has all my favorite things about books aside from romance. It was funny sometimes and extremely sad others. It had interesting characters. It wasn’t trying to be poetic with the writing. Basically, I need more books like The Giver in my life.

Fantasy, romance, young adult

Book Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

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Title: Truthwitch
Author: Susan Dennard
Publisher: Tor Teen
Length: 426 Pages, Ebook
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Rating: 3.5 Folded Pages

Warning: Might be slightly spolier-y. I can’t tell, but better safe than sorry.

Blurb:
On a continent ruled by three empires, everyone is born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others. Now, as the Twenty Year Truce in a centuries long war is about to end, the balance of power-and the failing health of all magic-will fall on the shoulders of a mythical pair called the Cahr Awen.

The biggest thing on Safi and Iseult’s minds is saving money for their planned future in the Hundred Isles. Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the emotional Threads binding the world. Safi, on the other hand, is a Truthwitch-she always knows when a person is telling a lie. A powerful magic like that is something people would kill to have on their side-or to keep off their enemy’s side-and so Safi cannot even admit what she truly is.

With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and a ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must rise above their doubts and fight to learn who they are and what they are made of, if they are going to stay alive and preserve the balance of their world.

Review:
I’m not sure if it was just me or not but I found this book a little hard to get into. Once I got past the first 100 pages or so I couldn’t put it down but it didn’t hook me like I thought it would from all the reviews I’d read up to this point.

Let me start by saying that even though the story jumped into the action from page one, the beginning was boring. I had no reason to be invested in the characters or care about why they were in that predicament so I didn’t really want to read it. I also had a hard time differentiating between Safi and Iseult for the first 100 pages or so. I think this is a world and book that could have used a bit of build up instead of jumping straight to action.

I do appreciate the connection Iseult and Safi have. It’s refreshing and fun for the main story line to revolve around a female friendship and have romance be the side thing instead of the other way around. That being said, I had expected more of this because of the hype. The majority of the book Iseult and Safi spend apart. I hope the next book can showcase them as friends more and have them actually be together so I can get more of their dynamic.

I also think that the romance involved is very insta-love. Even more so, it feels, because it’s such a side thing. There’s not love confessions and I appreciate that. But there unavoidable attraction to each other is weird.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Dennard builds out this world and how the story continues. So far the Truthwitch series is a definite improvement over Something Strange and Deadly which I DNF’d before 50 pages. I can definitely see an improvement in her writing.

Fantasy, romance, young adult

Book Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

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Title: Dreams of Gods and Monsters
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Length: 624 Pages, Hardback
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Rating: 2.5 Folded Pages

Review of Book 1 and Book 2.
Warning: Possible spoilers for books 1 and 2 of this trilogy.

Blurb:
What power can bruise the sky?

Two worlds are poised on the brink of a vicious war. By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera’s rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her.

When the brutal angel emperor brings his army to the human world, Karou and Akiva are finally reunited–not in love, but in tentative alliance against their common enemy. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves.

But with even bigger threats on the horizon, are Karou and Akiva strong enough to stand among the gods and monsters?

Review:
I have to be real here. I was super disappointed by this book. I was SO bored while reading, especially during the first 300 pages or so. I’m pretty sure I skimmed at least 50% of it, if not more. According to my status updates on Goodreads, I didn’t start to get interested in it until about page 464. For a 600 pages novel, that’s pretty bad.

For me, I think the novel had too much exposition. Taylor could have cut out a lot of Akiva’s and Karou’s point of view and still got the point across. She didn’t need pages and pages dedicated to how they were pining for each other. It was so annoying.

I usually hate when new characters are added in the last novel of the series but for this, I found myself enjoying the new characters POV more than the main protagonists. Of course, I have to say Zuzana’s POV was still my favorite and she’s still my favorite character. But you didn’t get much of her or Mik.

The action packed scenes were really good and I was thoroughly invested in those which saved this book from being a 1 folded page review. Honestly, I think the only reason I didn’t DNF this book is because it was the last in this series and I wanted to finish the series since I had already invested so much time in it.

I hate how disappointed I was by this novel because I LOVED the first book and the second book I thought was good. It wasn’t great but I still enjoyed it. This one, however, was so hard for me to read. I found my mind wandering a lot because it wasn’t engaging.

I really do like Taylor’s writing style, but I think she needs to cut down on the exposition and maybe stop repeating the same idea over and over, IE how much Akiva and Karou want to be together but can’t.

Horror, romance, science fiction, young adult

Book Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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Title: Illuminae
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Length: 608 Pages, Hardback
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance, Young Adult, Horror (kinda)
Rating: 5 Folded Pages

Blurb:
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than a speck at the edge of the universe. Now with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to evacuate with a hostile warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A plague has broken out and is mutating with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a web of data to find the truth, it’s clear the only person who can help her is the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, maps, files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Review:
I’m like 95% sure this book almost pushed me into a book slump and not in the bad way. This book was so good it had me contemplating what I would do with life while I wait for the sequel. I was a little unsure going into this book. I’d heard great things but typically I don’t do well with weird formats. I was extremely surprised by just how much I loved the unusual way of storytelling in this.

Even though the book was not told through normal conventions, the characters were SO well developed. Kady was sassy and fun even when facing big issues. Her character shined even when she was nervous or scared. Ezra was confident and it was obvious with how quickly he took to being a pilot.

I won’t go further into characters to avoid spoilers, but I generally loved how each character was built and shown. With how the story was told, it would have been very easy to tell and not show but Kaufman and Kristoff managed to do more showing with their unconventional point of views than a lot of the novels I’ve read.

I do have to give a warning for some pretty hardcore gore. The novel isn’t technically labeled as Horror but for me it definitely reads like it. I haven’t read any horror but parts of it felt like I was watching a horror movie so I wanted to add that warning to any who might be squeamish.

The plot was super interesting. Again, I won’t be detailed about it to avoid spoilers but I felt like plot twists just kept coming at me and almost none of them were expected. On a side note, homosexual relationships were thrown in very nonchalantly and treated as normal. I appreciated this. As always, it would have been nice to have LGBTQ+ stuff at the forefront. I’m still glad that this kind of thing was included and that they didn’t make a big deal of it.

This book was such a breath of fresh air. I’ve been struggling to find books to read since finishing this because it was so good. It also took me much too long to write this review. I don’t think words could justify just how much I loved this book. If I can convince you to read one book, it’d be this one. It’s the best book I’ve read in a very long time.

Fantasy, romance, young adult

Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publisher: Razorbill
Length: 464 Pages, Hardback
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Rating: 4 Folded Pages

Blurb:
Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Review:
I’m not sure if something’s wrong with me or not but I think this book may have been overhyped. I definitely didn’t love it as much as others seem to. That’s not to say I didn’t like it but I’m not sure it deserves all of the glorifying it’s received since it came out.

I like Laia. She seems very real. She’s destined to save the world or something but she still has doubts about herself and her skills. I like that. I’ve had enough of the heroines who just decide they no longer have fear and suddenly have skills. It’s a breath of fresh air.

I also like Elias. He just wants to escape the hell he’s been forced into. He’s not really out to save the world or anything. He’s sweet but doesn’t know where he stands and I like that about him.

Honestly I love all the characters. From Cook to Izzi, to Keenan and even the Commandment because she’s evil but that kind of person exists in the real world and we even get to see bits of other sides of her.

Tahir does an amazing job with her characters honestly. I really enjoyed them all. Her writing is also beautiful.

So why don’t I love this?

I found it incredibly boring at some parts. I’m not exactly sure why either. The book was mostly action packed and yet there were certain parts where I was like oh my god is anything different going to happen.

As I write this, I’m realizing it might have to do with lengthy exposition. As much as I like Laia and Elias, I think Tahir may have spent too much time writing out their inner monologues that say the same things about the character over and over in different words. It was boring. There’s a reason one of the biggest pieces of writing advice is “show, don’t tell” and I think Tahir did a little too much telling sometimes.

Aside from this, I absolutely loved the book. I’m looking forward to the sequel. I’m also hoping it will be better. This was Tahir’s debut novel after all so I’m hoping she grows from book to book.

Fairytale Retelling, romance, science fiction, young adult

Book Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

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Title: Winter (The Lunar Chronicles Book 4)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Length: 832 Pages, Hardback
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance, Young Adult, Fairytale Retelling
Rating: 4 Folded Pages

See my review for the first 3 books in The Lunar Chronicles here.
Warning: This may contain spoilers for the first 3 books.

Blurb:
Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend–the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s national bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.

Review:
This was probably my most anticipated book of 2015. Unfortunately it came out during my great November/December reading slump so I didn’t get to it until this month. Mostly because the book was on hold for forever at my library.

This book is massive. The paper is just slightly thicker than bible paper and I think how big it is lends itself to why I found the book very stop and go with action. I found some parts weren’t actiony enough and other parts were almost too actiony.

The book is still a super satisfying ending to an amazing series but I almost wish it was split into two books and the action bits more detailed to help offset some of the slowness.

I both liked and disliked Winter. Some parts with her were very annoying but in others she was endearing. I don’t think she stands up well to the other characters in the series though. She falls kind of flat compared to Cress, Cinder, and Scarlet. Jason also seems very two dimensional.

I don’t want to give much away so that’s all I’ll say on the matter. I think Cinder is still my favorite book in the series and while this ending is satisfying I feel like it was missing something in the writing and I wish it would have had steadier pacing.

contemporary, romance, young adult

Book Review: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

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Title: Since You’ve Been Gone
Author: Morgan Matson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Length: 464 Pages, Hardback
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4.5 Folded Pages

Blurb:
Emily is about to take some risks and have the most unexpected summer ever in this new novel from the bestselling author of Second Chance Summer and Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour.

Before Sloane, Emily didn’t go to parties, she barely talked to guys, and she didn’t do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—someone who yanks you out of your shell.

But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list with thirteen bizarre tasks that Emily would never try. But what if they can lead her to Sloane?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Wait…what?

Getting through Sloane’s list will mean a lot of firsts, and with a whole summer ahead of her—and with the unexpected help of the handsome Frank Porter—who knows what she’ll find.

Go Skinny Dipping? Um…

Review:
I read this as a break between all the heavy fantasy and science fiction books I was reading (basically after Days of Blood and Starlight and before Winter). It was perfect to mellow out with before reading Winter. I finished it in a day because I just couldn’t put it down.

I really, really loved Emily. Seriously, you guys have no idea how much I love her. She’s just like me if I’m being honest. Super shy and kind of awkward. Unable to easily make friends. Paralyzed but doing things outside of her comfort zone. Where was this book when I was teenager to help me discover myself? I’m a little biased I realized. Emily did get on my nerves sometimes like her indecisiveness and another bit that I won’t spoil because it’s a big part of the book.

But still, even at 22, I find the message this book sends great and helpful. I found myself thinking if Emily can go outside her comfort zone so can I.
Sloane reminds me of a friend I had in middle school and most of high school and it made me really reflect on that friendship as well. I love when books and characters make me think and challenge my views and this book definitely did that. I found myself hating Sloane in some parts and loving her in others.

The friend group Emily falls in with is pretty great as well. I love how the relationships feel like the happen organically. They aren’t forced and I can see most of them occurring in real life. It was very fulfilling to read.

This is the best contemporary novel I’ve read in a while and it’s definitely making me rethink my choice to not read Second Chance Summer.

Fantasy, romance, young adult

Book Review: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

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Title: Days of Blood and Starlight
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Length: 528 Pages, Hardback
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Rating: 3.5 Folded Pages

See my review of the first book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, here.
Warning: Possible spoilers for book 1 in the series.

Blurb:
Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is–and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

Review:
So I actually listened to first 200 pages or so on Audiobook but it was too boring that way and switched to hardback. I think that kind of sets the tone for how I feel about the book.

I was super excited to see what happened next between Karou and Akiva and all their friends and the two worlds but this book was SO SLOW. Both on Audiobook and paper book. Some parts were lightning quick and others just dragged and dragged and dragged. I spent the first half of the book wondering when something would happen and when the point of view (POV) would stop changing.

The first book didn’t feel so jumpy when there were POV changes but I think Taylor went a little crazy in the second book with unnecessary character jumps and it made the book feel that much slower.

Eventually, around the 250 page mark, it really picked up and I wasn’t able to put it down. Still, the first 250 pages shouldn’t be that slow in the second book of a fantasy series. This book could have gotten a solid 4.5 folded pages if it wasn’t so excruciatingly slow in the beginning.

However, it’s definitely worth reading once the plot picks up. Also, the book ends with a massive cliffhanger so I’m eagerly awaiting my hold on the third book. Overall, I think it was good but it could have been so much better and I’m disappointed Taylor didn’t manage to do it because her writing is beautiful.