Firstlife

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Firstlife

By:  Gena Showalter
Published:  2016
# of pages:  467
Series:  Everlife (#1)
Quote:  “That’s not our way,” Archer says. “Death isn’t the answer. Where there’s breath, there’s hope.”

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Goodreads description:

Tenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live — after she dies. There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, long-time enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms that will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t where the boy she’s falling for lives? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision…

My review:  My husband listened to this on an audio book and went on to listen to the rest of the series.  He really enjoyed the story so I decided to check it out as well!  This is a fun beginning to what will probably be a fun series.  While the concept of the book is thought provoking, this isn’t an overly emotionally deep story.

At the beginning of the book I found myself frustrated over how silly the whole concept of choosing a realm during life seemed.  At least, to the extent of sending your kids to be tortured to ensure they choose the “right” side.  But as the book progressed I began to understand it more and I realized that for some people, this isn’t neccessarily a fantasy.  There’s plenty of religious people in the real world who manipulate, persecute, discriminate, and even kill all because of a belief that their belief is more important than other people’s beliefs.

The down sides were that at points it became hard to track who was Ten’s current “favorite” and who was rescuing her from the numerous bad situations in which she found herself.  Back and forth, back and forth, it all kind of ran together.  But overall this was an entertaining story that I recommend to fans of YA fantasy.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting story idea, fast paced, entertaining.

The Astonishing Color of After

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The Astonishing Color of After

By:  Emily X.R. Pan
Published:  2018
# of pages:  462
Quote:  “Nothing is right, she says. The only three words I catch. If someone had asked me, I would’ve said that everything seemed right except for my mother, who seemed totally wrong, and that in turn made everything else feel dark and stained. I would’ve carved out my heart and brain and given them to her just so she could feel right again.”

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Goodreads description:

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My review:  Part of this hit close to home since it’s in part about a mother struggling with depression.  So maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy this book more, it was heartbreaking at times.  It was a beautifully written book, but it was hard for me to immerse myself in the story.

The story is about Leigh, who is an average teenager until her mother dies by suicide one afternoon while she’s hanging out with her best friend and crush, Axel.  One day, while she’s in the midst of grieving, a package is delivered by a bird that Leigh recognizes as her mother.  The package contains photographs and information about her mom’s family in Taiwan.  She travels to visit her grandparents and begins a journey of making new memories with her grandparents and uncovering the memories of her grandparents and parents in the process.

The story was long and felt disjointed at times.  I think it was supposed to feel that way, but it kind of lost me.  But like I said before, I think part of my reluctance to read was the way it made me feel personally as a mom dealing with depression.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Beautiful narrative, but a little too drawn out and disjointed.

Mosquitoland

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Mosquitoland

By:  David Arnold
Published:
  2015
# of pages:  352 (Kindle edition)
Challenges:  Monthly Motif (vacation read)
Quote:  “Maybe I could muster the courage to speak those words so few people are able to say: I don’t know why I do the things I do. It’s like that sometimes.”

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Goodreads description:

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

My review:  I can’t adequately describe how much I love this book.  I’ve given it a few days to soak in before writing a review, but I still don’t know exactly what to say.  My reaction to this book reminded me of my reaction to Turtles All the Way Down.  The main character, Mim, had a hard struggle with mental health issues in her past just like Aza struggles with her mental health in Turtles.  Mim’s still learning to deal with her health as well as the divorce of her parents and her dad’s sudden remarriage.

She sets out on a journey from Mississippi to Ohio.  Along the way she has all sorts of adventures and meets all sorts of interesting characters, both good and bad.  Not only is Mim a beautiful character, but I loved many of the other characters.  I also appreciate the way Mim is willing to admit when she’s wrong or change her opinion/perspective as needed.  She’s witty and makes profound statements, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s “just” a teenager who still has more to learn.

While this is a great YA book, it does have some strong “bad language” if that’s a concern.  Also, I found myself at times thinking how great it would be to just run away from responsibilities and go on a spontaneous road trip like Mim’s.  It’s a little concerning to think that some people, especially younger teenagers, might actually consider doing that for real!  Maybe not, maybe it’s just me that has that desire (I do relate to Mim in many ways), but if I gave this to my teen to read I’d make sure to have a little talk about the dangers of a teenager being on his/her own on a cross country trip.  😉

I do highly recommend this to adults and teenagers alike and I think there’s many more positive messages than negative throughout the novel.  Also, I was initially leery of the book based on the cover.  It seemed like one of those contemporary teen books that you see everywhere, but I was amazed at the depth of emotion and thought evident in the writing.  It’s definitely worth giving it a chance.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Great characters, entertaining story, important messages.

Stalking Jack the Ripper

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Stalking Jack the Ripper

By:  Kerri Maniscalco
Published: 
2016
# of pages: 
337 (Kindle edition)
Series: 
Stalking Jack the Ripper (#1)

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Goodreads description:

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.


My review: 
I was excited by the description of this book and while it was slightly disappointing, it was still a fun read.  I had to keep telling myself that it was young adult and I’d probably enjoy it more as a teenager.  There’s young adult novels that are written to be just as enjoyable for adults as teens and then there’s young adult novels that are geared solely for young adults.  And this book falls in the latter category.

Audrey Rose is an aspiring forensic technician in 1880s London.  She apprentices for her uncle and nothing makes her happier than cutting into the cold flesh of corpses.  The problem is that her father doesn’t know she’s chosen an inappropriate career for a lady of that time.  Her secret life suddenly becomes harder to hide when one of the bodies she helps dissect turns out to be a murder victim of a killer who soon became known as Jack the Ripper.  Audrey Rose feels a kinship with the female victims and takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of the murderer’s identity.  Add in a handsome, mysterious young man named Thomas and things get even more complicated.

I figured out the mystery fairly early in the book, which I’m sure didn’t help with my opinion.  Audrey Rose is an interesting character, but whether purposefully or just because of poor writing, she’s very flighty and doesn’t come across as talented and intelligent as she should have been.  Thomas on the other hand…  I’ll admit, I have a little crush on him.  If I do read the next book in the series it will solely be because of Thomas.

Overall I recommend this book to young adults who are able to handle reading about some blood and gore (nothing too detailed).  The concept of a novel about Jack the Ripper is intriguing and I wouldn’t mind trying to find another one that’s better written.


Why I gave this book 3/5 stars: 
Cool concept for a young adult (or adult) novel, steamy male protagonist, main character was meh.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

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That Inevitable Victorian Thing

By:  E.K. Johnston
Published:  2017
# of pages:  330

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Goodreads description:

Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

My review:  I’ll be honest, I decided to read this book solely based on the cover.  The description also sounds good, but it was mainly the pretty cover!  I didn’t have super high expectations so thankfully I wasn’t too disappointed, because as great as the cover is, the book isn’t so great.

The story is about a handful of teenagers living in a future British Empire.  In Canada, the debutante season is in full swing.  The crown princess, Margaret, is undercover in Toronto so that she can have a last few months to herself before assuming the responsibilities that come with ruling a worldwide empire.  She stays with Elizabeth and meets Helena and August at the various upper class functions they all attend throughout the season.

The future British Empire is peacefully ruled thanks to society being built around “genetic matchmaking.” Supposedly, decisions such as who has money, who rules, who marries who, who is influential, etc, are based purely on the decisions of a computer.  The entire world is doing really well with this except for the United States because they were rebellious and didn’t embrace the Empire’s peaceful reign (can I insert a laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying emoji here?).  Except the Southern U.S. because the slaves revolted and, of course, made the reasonable choice to join the empire.

Sounds like a cool concept for a book, right?  And it is.  It just wasn’t well written.  And honestly, with such an advanced society that trusts the computer above all, why would you need to hide your sexuality and choice for a mate?  Perhaps that was supposed to be the point of the book, that things weren’t as perfect as they seemed, but it didn’t come across that way.  The ending was a let down and didn’t make sense, but overall the book had some cute moments and it is cool to think of a future society similar to the one presented in this novel.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  The setting was a cool concept and the characters were okay, but the book wasn’t as seamless as it could have been, the end left me wondering what was the point.

Turtles All the Way Down

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Turtles All the Way Down

By: John Green
Published:  2017
# of pages: 
298
Challenges: 
A to Z
Quote:  “I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.”  -Aza

5Stars

Goodreads description:

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

My review:  I was amazed to discover that there’s a book about someone like me.  I not only suffer from depression, but also an anxiety disorder.  I also have undiagnosed OCD symptoms, but I know a large part of that is due to the anxiety.  My symptoms and thoughts are like a less exaggerated version of Aza’s, but I was stunned that there’s actually a book out there, written by a popular author, with a main character who struggles with severe anxiety.

This book is about Aza, who suffers from extreme anxiety on a daily basis.  Not only is she navigating high school, friendship, and her relationship with her mom, she’s also dealing with memories of her dad’s death, managing medications, and going to doctor’s appointments.  On top of all that, she is suddenly reintroduced to an old friend of hers, Davis, whose father is missing.  At first she wants to solve the disappearance to split the reward money with her best friend Daisy, but she quickly comes to care for Davis.

The story goes on from there.  I’m biased, but I felt entirely sympathetic for Aza.  The story also tells of her best friend Daisy’s feelings about Aza’s anxiety and shows how her mom feels.  I understand it’s hard living with someone who has anxiety and other mental issues, but nothing compares to living it yourself.

“Felt myself slipping, but even that’s a metaphor. Descending, but that is, too. Can’t describe the feeling itself except to say that I’m not me. Forged in the smithy of someone else’s soul. Please just let me out. Whoever is authoring me, let me up out of this. Anything to be out of this.”

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Well written, unique characters and story, interesting mystery, good representation of mental illness.

 

The Book of Blood and Shadow

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The Book of Blood and Shadow

By:  Robin Wasserman
Published: 
2012
# of pages:  450
Challenge: 
Full House (plot twist)

3Stars

Goodreads description:

It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up.  When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love.  When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark.

But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead.  His girlfriend Adriane, Nora’s best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora’s sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.

Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.

My opinion:  Man, I wrote most of this review and then saved it for later…except that it didn’t save properly so most of my review was erased.

This book sounded very intriguing and half of it was great and the other half not so much.  The story follows high school senior Nora just as she finds a place as an intern for a nearby college professor along with her best friends Chris and Adriane.  Everything is going great, especially after Max joins their group and finds a place in her heart.

But their lives suddenly change and they realize that the project they’ve been working on over the past few months may be of interest to people other than the quirky college professor.  Nora embarks on a quest to save Max and maybe even the entire world.

Like I said, this book had a lot of potential, but I feel like it kind of went off the rails in the last third.  It wasn’t bad or anything, there were just things that didn’t quite add up and the teenage angst mixed in with a world-changing adventure seemed forced at times.

Also, I’m a little tired of these modern titles.  This would have been better if it was simply The Book of Blood or, even better, a more original title entirely.  End rant.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Cool concept, okay characters, somewhat disappointing story line.