Hey, y’all! It’s been a while. I’ve been inspired by BookCon to get back on the writing book reviews train, so hopefully the motivation sticks! It got to be not fun for a while there, being REQUIRED to review books. So for a change of pace, I’ll review a few I am absolutely not required to! Starting with this gem!

I had a fantastic time at BookCon. The most notable event for me, was, of course, meeting Sarah Dessen. I’ve read her books since her beginning as a writer, and I was very excited to tell her so. For her part, she was super sweet and wonderful. And her publicist handed out flowers. It was amazing. Ignore my messy hair and weird eyes in this photo, but please share the joy:


I was super stoked to get Once and For All a few days early, so that I could have it done by the time the rest of the world got their hands on it. The book follows the standard Dessen formula: girl meets boy; girl rehashes some past traumatic event; girl avoids getting with boy we all know she should be with; girl ends up with boy, “healed” from trauma. We all know that I am not a romance person. But for some reason, Dessen and her formulaic approach to contemporary romance just really work for me.  I love her writing, her stories, her characters…etc etc. Clearly I am a fan.

To the specifics of THIS book!

I love Louna as the protagonist. I love her name, for starters, the combination of Louis and Natalie. Louna is a strong girl, but she’s damaged in the typical Dessen fashion. A romance set in a wedding planning society is a fun concept, but with massive cheese potential. Once and For All, does not, however, stray to the land of the cheese. The wedding planning aspect forms a nice background to the story–damaged girl sees everyone else falling in love, but she remains cynical after the terrible events that befell her first epic romance. Louna doesn’t wish. Louna doesn’t have expectations. She comes to work for her mother’s company, and she makes weddings run smoothly, but she does not believe in true love. 

“‘Do you believe that true love can last forever?’ … I knew she wanted a yes or no, something concise and specific and if this were any other question, I probably would have given it to her. But instead, I just sat there, silent, as I tried to put the image in my head … into any kind of words”

Enter Ambrose. He is the fairly typical Dessen male counterpart to the female protagonist. I have to be honest and say that he didn’t totally ring true for me. I wanted to like him, so badly. The text itself screamed at me to like him, especially when he saved the dog (read the book to find out more, that’s as spoiler-y as I get!). But there was something about him that didn’t ring true to me. I think it’s that, while we see Louna come full circle as a character, we don’t see Ambrose actually change. He is A one minute, and he is B the next. Others may disagree, but his evolution is too abrupt in my opinion, especially when laid beside the evolution of our lead. Louna gets there in a legit way for me. We can follow the gears in her head shifting:

“Everything in weddings and life had its phases, and if you were smart, you learned to appreciate them all. What really mattered, though, were the people in those moments with you. Memories are what we have and what we keep, and I held mine close … I was choosing to believe we had time, plenty of it.”

I just love Louna. This is the same for me for all of Dessen’s female protagonists, and it comes from the way she crafts them–Dessen’s writing of her lead is so strong that she gets us inside their heads. We follow them every step of the way down their healing path, and we’re so inside their point of view that we feel with them when they get there. I think this love is, largely, what makes Ambrose a weak counterpart for me. 

Long story short, because you’ve figured out by now that I can rave about Dessen all day long, if you like romance that’s a cut above the average, then Dessen is for you. If you like weddings and reading about behind the scenes bridal shenanigans, then Once and For All is DEFINITELY for you. Pick it up; you won’t be sorry.

4.5 stars on the Goodreads scale, .5 deduction solely for my Ambrose dislike. Agree? Disagree? Hit me up.

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detached

I’ll note that Detached, by Christina Kilbourne, got some pretty nice reviews on Goodreads. However, I’m going to take the rare position of disagreeing with the majority. This book should have been in my wheelhouse. I wanted to like it. The plot fit my interests in terms of what I normally like to read—Anna seems like a perfect teenager on the outside, but on the inside she is a complete mess of depression and has NO idea how to tell anyone. She’s smart; she’s talented. But the suicidal thoughts that keep coming back have turned her into a walking black hole, and she becomes certain that the only way out is to do something about it. As a added “bonus,” we get to see how Anna’s depression and suicidal tendencies hurt those around her by reading some chapters from their points of view. Sounds interesting, yes?

Here’s the problem. I did not like the people around Anna. I didn’t like the way their POVs interrupted hers. I didn’t like the way their POVs jolted the chronology of the narrative. I especially didn’t like how Anna was able to attempt suicide FOUR times and absolutely NO ONE realized that this was a serious issue. While I understand that people who really want to kill themselves are not going to broadcast it to the world, the fact that Anna attempted four times and NO ONE tried to help her really bothers me.

Anna as a character is pretty great. Her sadness is so overwhelming that it invades her every thought, and that’s something Kilbourne handles really well. Had the entire book been from her POV, I would have been much more sold. However, as it stands, it comes across as too many different pieces of suicide, a large issue with many intricate pieces, crammed into too small of a book. 3 stars.

**Detached, by Christina Kilbourne, was given to me as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Detached was published by Dundurn Press on August 13th, 2016.

cresswell.jpg

The Cresswells are a strict religious family living in a house governed by firm guidelines from the clothes they wear to what they read to the way that they’re punished. Father runs the show, pushing Castley, Hannan, Casper, Mortimer, Del, and Baby J to follow the scary universe that he himself created. In the beginning, the children follow along, accepting what is told to them and even agreeing to marry their siblings when they become adults. But the older Castley gets, the more she sees of the world, the more she begins to question her way of life.

This type of book is my favorite to read after my own religious background. I wouldn’t say that the topic is for everyone, but it is definitely fast paced and easy to get through. I read it in one day, getting on and off the subway. I enjoy real world suspense books without the fantasy, and I love anything that draws attention to the ways in which religion can be dangerous when left unchecked. 

Castley is great as a sympathetic protagonist. The way that she wavers back and worth between wanting to follow Father and wanting to explore her doubts is very strong—a cult follower is not going to simply jump out of the cult the instant someone snaps their fingers. The follower will need time to think, to disassemble the beliefs that have been engrained inside of them. Castley is a perfect portrait of that description. It was nice to see her evolution as she slowly grew out from under Father’s beliefs. It was also interesting to “watch” as she tried to balance being a regular teenager with being under Father’s wing, and the ways in which this forced her to fly on her own.

My only real problem with this is that I don’t really understand the motives behind Father’s creation of their religion. Why did he really choose to segregate them? Did he suffer a traumatic act in his childhood that made him shun the secular world? Or was he just completely insane? The book that the children read scripture from seemed largely created by Father with some aspects of the real Bible thrown in. I wanted to know more background, but the book didn’t give it to me. The ending (spoiler free) left me unsatisfied. The characters of the children were solid, but the religion itself was not carefully built.

All in all, this gets a 3.5 from me. The prose was great and I mostly enjoyed the characters, but I was left with a lot of questions with no answers. This could have easily been a much longer book.

**I received The Cresswell Plot, by Eliza Wass, as an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The Cresswell Plot is expected for publication June 7th, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion.

tg

Tragedy Girl by Christine Hurley Deriso tells the tale of a teenage girl, Anne, and her path through the high school landscape after the death of her parents in a car accident. Anne meets Blake, and it seems like a match handed to her directly from her parents—he too has suffered a great loss; his girlfriend Cara drowned in a freak accident before the beginning of the school year. But the more Anne gets to know Blake, the less she wants to be alone with him. She begins to think that perhaps Cara’s death was not really an accident at all, and wonders what part Blake had in her death.

This is not a love story.

Well, okay. It’s supposed to be a love story. Anne meets Blake. Everyone says “there’s something off about him,” “you should stay away from him,” etc etc, but Anne decides to go on a date with him anyway. They are mirrors for each other’s grief, or so she thinks. But Blake shows a darker side quickly, and Anne realizes that something isn’t quite right with him. However, SHE KEEPS MOVING FORWARD WITH HIM ANYWAY.

Note from the book author: “Attention readers. When a significant other is verbally abusive to you, it’s all cool. Go ahead and stay with them even if you suspect they’ve done deeper darker things.”

Anne learns that Cara’s body was never found, and in trying to do some investigation, encourages Blake to take her to the beach where Cara died. Blake, of course, flips out at the beach. (Predictable, but okay. I guess I’ll go with the mystery here). I just can’t buy that Anne would stay with Blake through all of his outbursts and ups and downs combined with the mysterious notes warning her away from him and his best friend Jamie.

Note from moi: “If you have relationship doubts, it’s okay to leave that relationship. Don’t stay just because you think you’ll make the person sad.”

Long story short, the borderline (and at times flat out) abusive nature of the Anne/Blake relationship ruined this book for me. I get the idea that in our grief, we can be drawn to things that aren’t good for us. However, there are too many red flags and too many icky messages that aren’t carefully delivered to the reader to make it really stick.

I would, however, like to say that Deriso does a pretty good job writing wise. Characters aside, her set/world building is great, the dialogue is lovely, and she has some great prose happening. The characters just simply aren’t there for me, and really, it’s the characters that make or break you. As this is a message close to my heart, I was looking for something stronger.

2 stars.

**I received Tragedy Girl, by Christine Hurley Deriso, as an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Tragedy Girl is expected for publication April 8th, 2016, by Flux.

flawed

Cecelia Ahern’s Flawed reminds me of many of the other young adult novels I’ve read as of late. We have our female protagonist, Celestine, who has a perfect life with perfect grades and a perfect boyfriend and a seemingly perfect family. The people in society are branded with an F for “flawed” if they do something wrong or make a poor decision; these people are not allowed to lives the same lives as the non-flawed and are forced to exist under a completely different set of rules. In true young adult dystopian form, Celestine recognizes the insanity of this society, stands up against it, and gets punished for that rebellion. This punishment leads her to a situation where she is forced to choose between two suitors in her life—the typical good boy and bad boy scenario. There is a definite formula to this first book of the series, and it is followed to the letter. You might be thinking now, “Okay, so then why do I want to read this?” Answer? There’s just something about this book.

Ahren’s prose is spot on. The writing is smooth and engrossing, and I never found myself annoyed or lost. The pacing is perfectly laid out and kept me flipping the pages; Flawed never dragged, and I didn’t want to put it down. World building is worked into the story in a way that is shown and not told. I’m really a fan of this sort of build, as a lot of times society setup can turn into one giant info dump. The characters are well constructed as well, albeit slightly predictable. Most characters get a narrative arc of some sort and display growth over the course of the story. Celestine goes from rule follower to logical savior. Her sister Juniper goes from being sassy and not totally authentic in her actions to being very real and gaining a more solid backbone. Even Colleen, a side character, gets a nice little growth arc where she learns about expressing anger.

I found myself wanting to know more about Carrick, as he was intriguing but relegated to a back burner position for most of the novel. I assume his character will play a strong role in the sequel—at least I hope so!!! The only character in this I really didn’t care for was Celestine’s boyfriend, Art. He doesn’t really grow or change at all over the course of the narrative, remaining very fixed and rigid despite many opportunities to grow and change with those surrounding him.

The assessment of this as being a Divergent and Scarlett Letter hybrid is pretty accurate. While nothing unique, Ahren’s prose makes this worth a grab.

Four stars.

**I received Flawed by Cecelia Ahern as an ARC from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. Flawed is expected for publication on April 5th, 2016 by Feiwel and Friends.

truth

The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston is one of those books that exceeded my expectations. At face value, it looks like a pretty cut and dry young adult mystery. We have Chris, the protagonist, who wakes up tied to a chair in a room he doesn’t ever remember being in before, and we have Derek–the older brother of the boy Chris shot and killed. Derek is seeking to prove that his little brother didn’t deserve to die. Sounds pretty formulaic, right? It’s not.

Johnston sets apart his brand of mystery with staggeringly powerful themes, most notably those of what it means to be a family and what the truth really is and how far it can bend. I found Chris’s devotion to his family to be sweet and believable. I was incredibly invested in Chris, and I kept flipping through pages wondering if he would be okay. The continual question on my mind while reading? IS HE GOING TO LOSE A FINGER?!? (You’ll have to read it to find out!) The interactions between Chris and Derek kept the plot moving forward despite the back and forth nature between the past and present day. I never felt lost in the story, which was a definite added bonus!

The ending felt a little rushed for me; I definitely saw it coming before I hit the halfway point. However, I believe that a younger audience would be surprised by the twist–and the writing in this book is most definitely geared towards a younger crowd. I’d put this book in middle grade over young adult. If you are looking for strong adult prose, this is not the book for you. However, it’s definitely worth a read and will speak well to its given audience. 4 stars.

**I received The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston as an ARC from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. The Truth is expected for publication on February 2nd, 2016, by Sourcebooks Fire.

storm

I was quite excited to receive The Storm by Virginia Bergin as a DRC. I read its predecessor, H2O, the week that it was released last year, and I quite enjoyed it. This book picks up about three months or so after H20, finding Ruby alone in her house with the deadly rain still falling. As the story progresses, Ruby finds out a both devastating and amazing secret—the key to saving the world. Trouble is, she has to keep her mouth shut.

My beef right out of the gate with this book (not to say that I didn’t like it, because I did) is that is has been over a year since I read H2O, and I didn’t completely remember where it left off. There was absolutely no recap; the story simply took off at a several months later point in the timeline. I’m not calling for a chapters upon chapters recap here, simply a page or two to fall back on. But I digress. I really did like The Storm, though not as much as I enjoyed H2O.

Ruby is as strong a narrator in The Storm as its predecessor, albeit a touch more on the whiny side. I enjoyed getting to spend a substantially larger amount of time inside of her head. Ruby seems to be much more self aware as well. I’ve noticed many reviewers saying that they liked Ruby more in The Storm than in H2O, but I disagree. She seemed a lot more comfortable with the goings on within her world, and a lot more able to handle herself, even though she was definitely a lot crazier than in the previous book. Ruby’s humor is another part of her that is spot on; I enjoyed reading all her “swears” and her nods to things she had read.

The plot of this was a lot more predictable than H2O. It was largely focused on running to and from different places and people, with near continual travel. Point A to Point B to Point A to Point C to Point A….we spent a LOT of time going back to Point A (the army base). Thus this has a bit of a repetitive ring to it. There is not as much unique conflict in this book as there was in the first, and what we do get to see seems quite rushed.

All in all, if you like deep point of view dystopian fantasy worlds, then this is probably a great book for you. But, in my opinion, this is a duology that may have been better off as one longer book.

3 stars, largely for the strength of Ruby’s character. Ruby made it worth the read for me.

I received The Storm, by Virginia Bergin, as a DRC from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. The Storm was publish October 1st, 2015, by Sourcebooks Fire.