Friday, February 27, 2015

Mini Review: One, Two, Three by Elodie Nowodazkij (ARC)

One Two Three by Elodie Nowodazkij
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: June 26th, 2014
When seventeen-year-old Natalya’s dreams of being a ballerina are killed in a car accident along with her father, she must choose: shut down—like her mother—or open up to love.

Last year,seventeen-year-old Natalya Pushkaya was attending the School of Performing Arts in New York City. Last year, she was well on her way to becoming a professional ballerina. Last year, her father was still alive.

But a car crash changed all that—and Natalya can’t stop blaming herself. Now, she goes to a regular high school in New Jersey; lives with her onetime prima ballerina, now alcoholic mother; and has no hope of a dance career.

At her new school, however, sexy soccer player Antonio sees a brighter future for Natalya, or at least a more pleasant present. Keeping him an arabesque away proves to be a challenge for Natalya and his patient charms eventually draw her out of her shell.

When upsetting secrets come to light and Tonio’s own problems draw her in, Natalya shuts down again, this time turning to alcohol herself.

Can Natalya learn to trust Antonio before she loses him—and destroys herself?
Disclaimer: I received an eARC from NetGalley. This did not impact my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this.

I have to admit that it's been a while since I've read this book, as in I read this in July or August, and it's now February. As you can probably guess, this means that I've forgotten most of this book. Because of this, I'm grateful that I took notes. I've decided to just type out my notes and label this a mini-review. I hope this doesn't work out too terribly! (The notes in the brackets are notes I'm adding now.)

  • Yay for ballet!
  • Rehab with mom felt a bit too easy and/or unrealistic. [I wouldn't know, as I don't have the experience but compared to other books, this is my take on the situation.]
  • Some of the dialog felt awkward, forced, and/or unrealistic
  • Though I love Tonia and Nata's relationship, it was SO obvious and felt way too rushed
  • Love Karina-so cute!
  • LOVE Nata and Becca's friendship--one of the stronger/strongest aspects of the book
  • Becca's relationship with James seems really sudden, but it's cute and it works
  • The Spanish mix-in felt really awkward, but that might just be me
  • Iffy about Nata's parents' friendship with Derek and Mina
  • I enjoyed the inclusion of Russian culture, but sometimes it felt weird
    • For example, Nata says thank you in Russian to Becca and says she does that when she's emotional, yet she barely knows Russian
  • Holy plot twist! Well done with the Yuri point but the one about Tonio and Camillo's bet wasn't really addressed much or handled well [I don't know if you can guess, but I have no idea what this is about, so I hope it isn't spoiler-y]
  • I love how Natalya comes to see that ballet isn't all that matters and that some other aspects of her life are more important
  • Ending felt really abrupt and a bit too open-ended for my taste, as too much was left unresolved [It seems this may be the first in a series?]
  • The book is about change, friendship, trust, and forgiveness.
One, Two, Three: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Elodie Nowodazkij: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review: Moore Zombies by Wendy Knuth

Moore Zombies: The Search for Gargoy by Wendy Knuth
Publisher: Self-published
Release Date: September 16h, 2014
You’re not really afraid of zombies, are you? Take a peek into the lives of the Moore zombie family. When Gargoy goes missing, Baby Zom enlists her siblings to help in the search. Follow along with Gothina, the critter loving goth zombie, Broheimer, the nerdy zombie, and Kamper, the messy zombie who enjoys camping. Who, or what, is Gargoy?
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author. This did not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this post.

To be honest, I'm not really a huge zombie person. I don't watch The Walking Dead, and basically the only zombie-eque thing I've read/watched/enjoyed is Susan Dennard's Something Strange and Deadly series. But this book sounded fun, and the pictures looked amazing.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this picture book was the illustrations/pictures themselves. They really stood out and were extremely well done. The images matched the words perfectly. The colors are rich and are sure to captivate young children.

The story itself is also pretty engaging and leaves kids hanging until the end. The text is easy to follow but would probably still offer challenges for children learning to read. The plot is interesting and there are parts that kids might not find funny or at least amusing, but anyone reading along with them probably would (like play on words and stuff like that). My only qualm is that there are portions where the zombies are compared to humans, and I don't think it's necessary. It'll be like "this is a little known fact about zombies" etc, etc, but again, it's not necessary and sort of breaks/detracts from the narrative and the rest of the writing.

Overall this is a fun, engaging read that's perfect for kids who love zombies and perfect around Halloween (which was when this was supposed to go up)!
Moore Zombies: Goodreads | Amazon
Wendy Knuth: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Monday, February 23, 2015

Music Monday (#9): Budapest by George Ezra

Every other Monday, I'll share a song/artist/album that I'm either currently listening to or currently obsessed with, though they often go hand-in-hand. Some may have special themes or surprises. This means that I might share a playlist, fan!mix, Top Ten list, etc.

It's been a while since I've done one of these, but as I've started getting back into regular blogging, I wanted to share this. 

I stumbled upon George Ezra after watching his performance on Ellen, and oh my gosh, I'm now obsessed with him and his voice. His most well-known song right now is probably Budapest. I can't praise him and his music enough. I highly recommend you check out more of his music. AH-MAZING.

George Ezra on Ellen:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 2nd, 2009
Just listen, Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel.
I open my eyes wide now.I sit up as much as I can.And I listen.
Stay, he says.

Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind?

Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it's the only one that matters.

If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.
"I liked the book, but it doesn't stand out in any way in the sea of other books."

To be quite frank, this book disappointed me. It's not that I enjoyed it. I just went into it expecting a lot more. I read this around the same time as I read Just One Day, and they were my first Gayle Forman books. I've heard people gushing about how amazing her books are and how amazing her writing is. So it isn't hard to say that I had fairly high expectations. But while many readers find her as a staple author, similar to that of Sarah Dessen, I don't know if I do. Her writing doesn't stick with me the way other authors' works and words do.

As I mentioned, I enjoyed If I Stay, but it didn't wow me. It didn't really impact me or leave a huge impression. It felt more like I was skimming it, even though I read every word. Certainly, Mia's story is compelling. It's tragic and sad. It's a beautiful story, or it should be. But it didn't do anything for me. I loved learning about Mia and her connection to/with music. As a violinist (ex-violinist?), I could understand her love, even though I've never felt that much of a connection myself. This is not something you see in most YA books and even in most books generally, so I found it to be beautiful and extremely well written.

I liked the exploration of Mia's relationship with her family, especially her brother, and her friends. They were semi-compelling for me. I could see why others might have enjoyed this book a lot more, but again, nothing was particularly spectacular to me. Just meh. I did love Kim as a character, and she really stood out to me in this book. She felt fully formed, and she was interesting. In a sea of pretty forgettable characters (not all, but for the most part), she stuck out. I also found the pace to be really slow, and though the back and forth between past and present was interesting, it was also very jarring at times. It felt as if we were moving on to something else before the scene was already done.

Perhaps the biggest hindrance to my enjoyment of the book and the most disappointing aspect was Mia and Adam's relationship. To be quite honest, I didn't really feel their connection. There were small glimpses here or there where I could start to skim the surface of their relationship, but otherwise, it felt really empty. It felt awkward and at times one-sided, and it just irked me for some reason.

I can't say I hated the book, however. It just didn't really work for me, and it didn't wow me. There were scenes that I loved and scenes that I hated or winced about (Mia playing Adam like a cello? Awkward as heck, let me tell you). At the end of the day, I liked the book, but it doesn't stand out in any way in the sea of other books.
Gayle Forman: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin (ARC)

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
Publisher: Little, Brown
Release Date: November 4th, 2014
730. That's how many days I've been trapped.

18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible....

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister....

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She's about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window.....

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.
"I couldn't put the book down, and I stayed up really late on a school night just to finish reading it."

Disclaimer: I received an eARC via Netgalley. This did not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this review.

 The Walled City was everything I was hoping it would be and more! I was drawn in by the fact that it takes place in Asia (there was an actual Walled City--Kowloon Walled City) with Asian characters. Hooray for diversity!

The book is fast-paced and suspenseful but not in a way that makes the story hard to follow. I couldn't put the book down, and I stayed up really late on a school night just to finish reading it. It's an interesting concept, set in a unique setting, and it's very well executed. The setting felt so real, and it isn't hard to picture the Walled City. Graudin's writing brings the story to life, and it draws you into the plot.

I absolutely love the characters and how they are written. Every one of them makes mistakes, but you can't not cheer for Dai, Mei Yee, and Jin. And as for the characters I don't love, I still think they're well-written, even if I hated them. ;) In addition, the sibling relationship between Jin and Mei Yee, which can be hard to achieve because of their circumstances but is shown through their thoughts and actions, is well-explored and is complex. I love the way it was written, and having a younger sister, I really connected with a lot of what Jin was thinking/going through because I think I would have felt the same way had I been in her position. I also enjoyed how the romance was very subtle and was secondary to the other relationships (friendships, siblings, parent/child, etc). Yes, it wasn't the greatest romance, nor was there much to it. Normally I would hate such a relationship, but I didn't mind it in The Walled City, likely because though it played a large role in some of the characters' actions, it was really just a small part of the overall story.

As I mentioned, the book is fast-paced and a lot is slowly revealed as the story progresses. One of the main revelations is in regards to what the countdown is about. I enjoyed the slow reveal of the pieces that make up Dai's story. We don't know much at the beginning, but we slowly figure it out. The countdown was slightly annoying and/or confusing before the reveal of what it was, but I thought the reveal/explanation itself was well done.

I don't fully understand Dai's parents and their thoughts on the entire situation, but it didn't hinder my enjoyment much. I also wish more had happened with Bon. I loved how he redeems himself, but. And similarly, I like how readers' feelings of Dai's redemption comes from his actions for Jin and Mei Yee more than anything else.

Honestly, I just can't stop thinking about the book, even though it's been a while since I've finished it. I highly recommend The Walled City!
The Walled City: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Ryan Graudin: Website | Twitter | Pinterest | Tumblr | Blog

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Review: Find Me by Romily Bernard

Find Me by Romily Bernard
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: September 24th, 2013
“Find Me.”

These are the words written on Tessa Waye’s diary. The diary that ends up with Wick Tate. But Tessa’s just been found . . . dead.

Wick has the right computer-hacking skills for the job, but little interest in this perverse game of hide-and-seek. Until her sister Lily is the next target.

Then Griff, trailer-park boy next door and fellow hacker, shows up, intent on helping Wick. Is a happy ending possible with the threat of Wick’s deadbeat dad returning, the detective hunting him sniffing around Wick instead, and a killer taunting her at every step?

Foster child. Daughter of a felon. Loner hacker girl. Wick has a bad attitude and sarcasm to spare.

But she’s going to find this killer no matter what.

Because it just got personal.
"While I enjoyed the book, it left me feeling a bit disappointed."

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author. This did not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this review.

I'm not going to lie. I went into this book with pretty high expectations because so many of my blogging friends love this book and raved about it all the time. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the book, it left me feeling a bit disappointed. 

The book's premise is what originally drew me in. It sounds intense and exciting, fast-paced and just right for me. I love crime shows, and I always love the sequences when they're hacking their way through a computer or a system. So intriguing! The book, however, remained a merely "okay" read for me.

Firstly, considering the situations and challenges the characters face in the book, particularly Wick, the book felt slow, dragging out parts that didn't need to be. The slow pace doesn't fit the expectation of something intriguing, as we're led to believe in the blurb. Everything develops slowly, moves slowly, etc. On the other hand, a lot seemed to be resolved quickly, particularly Wick's conflict with her father.

Secondly, while the characters themselves were interesting to read about, I really didn't feel Griff and Wick's romantic relationship. I like Griff on his own (A LOT), and for the most part, I enjoyed his interactions with Wick. However, when it was the two of them romantically, I really didn't feel any real connection. After so many people talked about Griff/Wick, I was hoping for a lot more.

My last big thing against the book was that after a while, it seemed like the diary excerpts were either repetitive or weren't really enhancing the story any more. At first, I really enjoyed those sections, but they seemed much less effective and necessary later in the book.

That being said, I did enjoy the book as a whole. I enjoyed the plot, and to some extent, it did hit my expectations. I loved the complexity of the situations, leaving you unsure of how much you agreed or disagreed with different characters' actions. There was a lot going on, but it wasn't overwhelming by any means. The relationships between the characters were generally well done, especially between Wick and her sister and Wick and her foster mother. 

Also that ending?! What a twist! I didn't see it coming at all. Now, I know I haven't said much about the positives and the reasons why I enjoyed the book, but there was something about it that I can't quite pinpoint. The story was still interesting and, for the most part, kept me engaged.

(I should really pick up my ARC of Remember Me and finally read it. Exciting stuff!)
Romily Bernard: Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | YouTube

Monday, February 9, 2015

Review: Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard (ARC)

Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 22nd, 2014
In the conclusion to the trilogy that Publishers Weekly called “a roaring—and addictive—gothic world,” Eleanor Fitt must control her growing power, face her feelings for Daniel, and confront the evil necromancer Marcus...all before it’s too late.

He took her brother, he took her mother, and now, Marcus has taken her good friend Jie. With more determination than ever to bring this sinister man to justice, Eleanor heads to the hot desert streets of nineteenth-century Egypt in hopes of ending this nightmare. But in addition to her increasingly tense relationships with Daniel, Joseph, and her demon, Oliver, Eleanor must also deal with her former friend, Allison, who has curiously entangled herself in Eleanor’s mission.

With the rising dead chomping at her every move and Jie’s life hanging in the balance, Eleanor is convinced that her black magic will see her through to the bitter end. But there will be a price. Though she and the Spirit Hunters have weathered every battle thus far, there will be consequences to suffer this time—the effects of which will be irreversible. And when it’s over, only some will be able to live a strange and ever after.
"Strange and Ever After lived up to my expectations, even going beyond them."

"[Dennard] gets at the nuances of human life, and she knows how to craft her story realistically, even while it's set in a very unrealistic world/situation"

Disclaimer: I received an eARC on Edelweiss from HarperTeen. This did not affect my review in any way, nor am I being compensated for this post.

So I was supposed to review Strange and Ever After ages ago (around the end of July/early August), but I got so caught up in everything else that it just didn't happen. Anyway, I absolutely adore this series, and I was so excited to read the final book to the trilogy (despite being saddened by the fact that this is the last book). While the previous book suffered from "second book syndrome," Strange and Ever After lived up to my expectations, even going beyond them.

Dear gosh, this book has a little bit of everything, and it's honestly my favorite book of the series. Firstly, there's all the suspense and the plot twists, some of which I saw coming, some of which took me by surprise! The plot is fast-paced but still has its mix of great, memorable, slower intimate moments. The book really found a perfect balance between the two.

And all the feels too! There was romance, friendship, betrayal, and so much more. Each relationship is complex, just as each character is. Every single character is flawed and makes mistakes, but you still cheer for the good guys. Yes, there were many times when the characters annoyed me or times when I just wanted to smack them for being so dumb or oblivious or whatever, but at the end of the day, I love the Spirit Hunters, Eleanor, and even Oliver. Seeing how Eleanor's relationship with the Spirit Hunters after the events in the second book changed made the story so much more real; their interactions are ones that could actually occur in real life if all of these events had actually happened. In tandem, there's Oliver and El's evolving relationship, growing ever more complicated and complex but still so exciting to read about and experience in the book. There's also the interesting development of Jie and Oliver's relationship, which should seem surprising but isn't once it's broken down a bit and explained. Then, it makes complete sense considering all that both characters have been through and continue to struggle through, which brings me to my next point. Jie's trauma from being kidnapped and all that happened to her while she was under Marcus' influence, especially in terms of how violated and weak she felt, is really well-written. I'm so glad to see that trauma such as hers is discussed and isn't glossed over, as it is in many other books. It's ever-present, and it impacts her decisions, her relationships, etc. It's this holistic approach, as well as the holistic approach towards Eleanor's trauma in regards to her mother, that truly makes the book stand out among others in the same genre or with a similar plot.

Lastly, I want to mention the ending of the book and of the series. I won't spoil anything, but I think the end is really important and impactful. It left me in tears, but it reminded me of just how great of a writer Susan Dennard is. Besides her beautifully crafted story and world, she gets at the nuances of human life, and she knows how to craft her story realistically, even while it's set in a very unrealistic world/situation. When I was at the panel at Books of Wonder (Sarah J Maas' release party for HoF), Susan spoke about having realistic consequences in books. Realistically, with a book such as Strange and Ever After, there isn't going to be a completely happy ending. It's improbable that everyone will get through the fight alive. And it makes me SO happy that she did just that. The characters face real consequences, ones that they can't escape and that would likely occur if such events happened in real life. Yes, it broke my heart, but I can completely understand why Dennard wrote it. It makes sense. It's sad, but it's life. Just as there are consequences to war, there are consequences to the war they fight in the series. And seeing how the other characters honor the dead character (I'm intentionally leaving this very vague) made me sob but also made me smile. It's perfect.

Props to Susan Dennard for this amazing book and for this amazing series. I can't wait for Truthwitch! If you haven't read Something Strange and Deadly, the first book of the series, yet, get on it!
Strange and Ever After: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
Susan Dennard: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr | Pinterest | YouTube
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