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.

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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.

gambit

Gambit, by C.L. Denault, is the first book of The Prodigy Chronicles series. It centers around Willow Kent, a seemingly ordinary sixteen year old girl. She lives in a village with her family, works in their tavern, and helps to take care of her siblings. But when the military, or Core, comes and discovers that Willow has the genetic code of a person they have been searching for, Willow must leave everything she knows behind and move from her village into the big city; she is expected to leave her family, marry a man she has never met, and blindly follow the Core without question.

Gambit has some excellent characters. I found myself deeply invested in Willow as a character. She’s incredibly well written and believable. She’s funny and a bit snarky at times, which I totally appreciate. Willow’s character grows throughout the story, expressing a wide range of emotions and actions fitting to the situations she finds herself in. I also really enjoyed Joshua as a character, and the more little pieces of him that were revealed, the more I desperately wanted to know about him.

The world building in this is also excellent. One of the hardest things in this genre to sell is the world; so many author’s don’t take their time and really just slop through the setup, or they take TOO much time building and lose the characters along the way. Denault balances her world building and her character development in a stellar way, making the book quite enjoyable to read. One thing that I struggled with in this regard was the difference between the first and second levels of abilities—but I feel like this will be explained more in the next book. At least, I hope so.

What I didn’t appreciate was the over the top down the throat romance. Gambit has this awesome world, but then Willow and Reece are at the center of it going hot and cold and everything in between. In all other aspects, I am completely sold on Willow. Reece’s character definitely fits the story, but their feelings for each other yo-yo’ed so much that it was difficult to keep up or to even decide which way to root in terms of their relationship. I also feel like Willow was too young for Reece, but, again, this is something that could be explained as a normal occurrence as the series moves forward.

This book is an interesting idea for sure. But it’s certainly not one we’ve never seen before. Girl has normal life; girl has to change that life in order to save the world; girl falls in love with a boy along the way. The formula is all too familiar. Well written, it will appeal to fans of the dystopian genre as a whole. But if you want something completely unique, this is not the book for you. 4 stars.

**I received Gambit, by C.L. Denault, as a DRC from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. Gambit was published March 31st, 2015, by REUTS Publications, LLC.

santa

So. Santa; by Nicola Mar. What can I say about this book?

For starters, the semicolon in the title is totally intentional; it’s a nod to Project Semicolon, which is a nonprofit organization that seeks to give hope and love to people who struggle with depression, self-injury, and suicide. Read more about them here: http://www.projectsemicolon.org

I guess that paragraph pretty much sums up what this book is about.

June survives a horrible attack at the hands of her classmates, and then becomes the victim of severe bullying. Her classmates needle her to the point of her considering suicide. June completely loses faith in the human spirit, which is when Santa appears—her guardian angel of sorts. Santa brings June a message of hope, but is June willing to listen?

I liked this book so much that I read it in less than a day while riding back and forth on NYC transit for work. I’m not sure why it hasn’t gotten more notice. It’s wonderfully written and arguably one of the most powerful messages I’ve seen delivered in a YA book to date. June and her story are incredibly relatable. I love the deep point of view moments, which make up a large portion of the book, and how much they allow us to really feel June’s emotions and pain. I love the backstory behind June’s family (though, as you’ll read later, I don’t care for the end). I love June, plain and simple, and because I loved her, I rooted for her. She is a fantastically created character. I also really enjoyed Alice, who I also found to be quite realistic. She continually tried to support June, and eventually became frustrated like any teen would and began to drift away slightly. The characters were all very well done.

The story in this is also well crafted. The message is so powerful, that the victims of bullying do nothing to deserve it, that this could be given to every teen as a required read. It made me cry many times in the first two thirds, it was that well done.

But. BUT.

Here’s my beef with this book. My only beef, but it’s a huge one, and the reason for the lower rating on what easily could have been a five star. The last third of this book turns into a literal cheese fest. A big, fat, festival of cheese. I’m staying spoiler free as always, but the end in particular was like the cushy part in the middle of the cheese ball. Things wrapped up much too quickly, much too perfectly, and much too … I’ll say it again … cheesily. For a book that was so true to the detrimental effects of bullying, this last third was just really, really hard to swallow. Everything else was so realistic, and then … BAM. I get that the book is faith-based, and I’m cool with that. But even still, life does not work up perfectly this way, with every single detail perfectly stitched up like a scripted television show. People do not just get OVER trauma. Eventually, yes. Immediately? No. This really took away from the rest of the book for me, and had I not been so invested due to the WONDERFUL first two thirds of the book, it’s entirely possible I would have put it down.

I admire Mar’s effort with this one, but it starts out strongly and fizzles out with a layer of cheese that even this former Wisconsinite can’t appreciate. 3 stars.

**I received Santa; by Nicola Mar as a DRC from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. Santa; was published September 15th, 2015, by FoxDay.

crawl

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King is one of those rare books that is so unique I struggle knowing what to say about it. I struggle knowing how to summarize it without giving all the things away. I’m not even sure what I could give away.

Here’s my biggest takeaway—

WTF DID I JUST READ?!?

This book is completely surreal. I was never quite sure while reading what was real and what was inside the characters’ heads. As I was reading, I kept thinking that this was the type of book I would normally put down and never put back up. But King’s prose was so solid that I kept reading…and reading…and reading.

There are four characters: Gustav, who is building an invisible helicopter with a kit he got from the naked guy that lives in the bush; Stanzi, who likes to dissect things, has a pair of oddball parents that like to take field trips to school shooting sites, and has literally split herself in two; Lansdale, whose hair keeps growing every time she tells a lie; and China, the girl who swallowed herself. No, really:

“I am China—the girl who swallowed herself. I just opened my mouth one day and wrapped it around my ears and the rest of me. Now I live inside myself. I can knock on my rib cage when it’s time to go to bed. I can squeeze my own heart.”

These kids are all suffering from some sort of trauma—neglect, post traumatic stress disorder, and the like. They are incredibly disconnect from everything and literally crawling through their lives. The story is told completely from inside the characters’ heads, showing the power of imagination to get people through the difficult times in their lives while at the same time also displaying the high level of danger. The ending really ties nothing up, but that’s the beauty of it—the real world does not have shiny wrapping paper and pretty bows, and this book is very much about the real world even though it’s told in a very surreal fashion.

This book is equal parts bizarre and brilliant, and the words of a review simply can’t describe it. To get it, you have to read it. So read it. 4 stars.

**I received I Crawl Through It, by A.S. King as an ARC from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. I Crawl Through It is expected for publication September 22nd 2015 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

body

The Body Institute by Carol Riggs is one of the most well written ARCs I’ve read thus far this year. Originally I clicked on it because the cover intrigued me. I was mildly concerned upon first reading the summary that this book was borrowing a little too much from Lissa Price’s Starters series. However, having heavily studied Starters, (I even wrote a thirty day lesson plan for teaching it at one point), I can pretty solidly say that beyond putting a mind in someone else’s body, The Body Institute and Starters are two totally different entities.

Morgan Dey does not have an ordinary day job. As a Reducer at The Body Institute, Morgan is tasked with taking over the body of another teen girl, helping that girl’s body to lose weight and tone up, before returning to her own body. Morgan is not supposed to remember anything that she does in her client, or Loaner, body. But memories from her Loaner start taking over and controlling Morgan’s actions, making her feel more like the Loaner and less like herself. When protests start cropping up regarding the policies of the institute, everything that Morgan knows about herself threatens to disappear.

I love the characters in this. Morgan is a great protagonist. Her character is so well developed that she shines through no matter what body she is in. I love watching her evolution as she adjusts to new bodies, the way that her personality still shines through despite the way she looks as well as the way that her looks define her personality. She is different and less confident when her body is heavier, really reflecting the thoughts of real teens today.

The romance in this was well executed. I know, I know. It’s rare for me to say that (though happily less so lately!). It was interesting to watch Morgan approach her love interest in different bodies, and equally intriguing to see how her interactions differed. I really approved of how different Morgan was with the love interest in text than in person. I felt it helped to solidify Morgan’s character to watch her interact with someone that she quite obviously cared about.

Speaking of interactions, I also really enjoyed Morgan’s relationship with her grandfather. He always saw her for who she was and insisted that switching into the bodies of other people would change her. Was he right? Read the book and find out!

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is the bright light it shines on the issue of fat shaming. In this world, those who are overweight are punished, regardless of the situation or the reasons behind their weight. No consideration is given from medical or monetary issues. The program that is implemented by The Body Institute has its obvious problems, but very few people in this novel’s world comment on them. This idea runs parallel to our current society’s notion that being overweight is inherently bad. Trying to fix obesity without acknowledging the factors that are behind it is never going to work, and Carol Riggs perfectly illustrates this in The Body Institute. 

My only real beef with this book is the last quarter or so. It felt quite rushed, as if someone said, “Hey, you absolutely must finish this book RIGHT NOW.” The Body Institute screamed to be two books rather than one. There was just too much plot (staying spoiler free, read it to find out what I mean) crammed into the last quarter with too little detail. A second book would have given these events a chance to be more developed and really shine like the first three quarters of the book.

This book is a solid 4.5 stars.

**I received The Body Institute by Carol Riggs as an ARC from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. The Body Institute is expected for publication on September 1st, 2015, by Entangled: Teen.

sister

Allie and her sister Leah made a pact that they would stick together forever, through everything, in life AND death. When Leah break their promise and commits suicide, Allie is determined to find out why. Stacie Ramey’s novel The Sister Pact explores the boundaries of the sister to sister relationship and how far one sister will go for another; what is harder: learning the truth behind a death or facing the reality of it?

This story is given to us totally through Allie’s point of view. She’s an incredibly unreliable narrator, but that really works for her. Allie follows a similar path to her sister Leah in terms of drug use. Allie’s art and her ability to express herself within it versus expressing herself in the real world are spot on. Allie’s position as a survivor opens an important window to conversation for the reader, showing how awful it is to be the one who is left behind and how you cannot only live in the moment but must also think of the future.

The mystery in this was a slow build, but totally worth it. The book opens in such a way that the reader is not clued in to why Leah killed herself, but the slow pacing and the layering of details keep the reader turning the pages to find out what will happen next. While the payoff at the end of the book may come close to falling into place a touch to easily, it is still well worth it.

Allie’s relationship with Max was super annoying to me. Every single scene that the two had together read exactly the same. I understood Allie’s need to cling to normalcy when everything in her life was changing, but Max just fell flat. His motivations didn’t ring true to me, nor did Allie’s motivations for wanting to keep him in her life. All of the characters surrounding Allie, from Max to Nick, read as static flat. They displayed one trait, and one only, in relation to Allie—with the exception of Leah. Leah was the foil to Allie, and her colorful nature and the slow unraveling of the story of her death really helped to support Allie’s story. All in all though, I would have liked to see the supporting cast of this a little more rounded.

A dark, but not dreary, read, The Sister Pact will appeal to anyone who is into reading contemporary YA; it will especially appeal to anyone who has lost someone. A solid book with some minor flaws. 4.5 stars.

Side note, I have had the pleasure of reading several Sourcebooks Fire ARCs this year. This is a hot publisher to watch. Their books are of a high caliber, dealing with an impressive array of topics, and are a must have for any bookshelf.

**I received The Sister Pact, by Stacie Ramey, as an ARC from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. The Sister Pact is expected for publication November 1st, 2015 by Sourcebooks Fire.