Story Thieves (Story Thieves, #1)

story-thieves-9781481409193_hrFirst Lines: Owen wanted to scream at the horror before him.  But the sound wouldn’t come and the nightmare only continued, forcing Owen to ask himself, deep down, one question: “Can anyone tell me what three-fourths times two-thirds is?”

This is a book that I, 100%, would not have picked up on my own.  I got talking books with a student of mine and he simply asked, “Can you finish a book in two days?”  I laughed and said I could.  He replied, “I’m bringing in a book for you to read tomorrow.”  I thought he’d forget, but he didn’t.  And so I felt I owed it to him to read it.

Owen knows better than anyone how boring normal life can be, dealing with chores and homework and horrific math problems.  But everything changes the day he sees his classmate Bethany appear out of a book.  Bethany is half-fictional and looking for her father, a fictional character who went missing into a book years ago.  No one can know Bethany’s secret, so Owen makes her a deal: take him into his favorite book series and he’ll never tell anyone.  It’s perfect.  Owen can visit Kiel Gnomenfoot and be part his daring adventures and no one will be the wiser…except when things go wrong and suddenly no one is quite where they belong.

Now, this is not my normal read.  It’s definitely middle-grade, which is something I have 0 experience with.  I don’t even think middle grade was a thing when I was in middle school.  So I really wasn’t sure what I’d be getting.

But truly, it was kind of cute.  As you can kind of tell from the first lines, it’s witty and sarcastic the whole way through.  A couple of characters are well-known for their quips, and I enjoyed that.

The action was a bit different too.  There were good twists in it and I liked the premise of actually being able to dive into books and explore.  That’s pretty awesome.  I wish more stories had a premise like this.

I had a little beef with Owen though.  He was kind of an idiot.  Like, things he was specifically told not to do, he did.  Or he didn’t take dangerous situations as seriously as he should have and bad things happened.  Bethany I was cool with.  A worry-wart, she was mature and responsible, a nice contrast to Owen’s impulsiveness.

The plot kind of dragged for me.  Like, there were parts that were predictable, sure, but there were also moments that felt fake suspenseful.  Maybe for a 12-year-old, it wouldn’t.  Also, the story eventually has revolving narration between Bethany and Owen, with the chapters switching between them.  And that killed the pace for me.

Overall, I’d say that it’s probably not my thing.  The plot is ambitious and I think there is definitely an audience for this.  I just was not it.

Lady Renegades (Rebel Belle, #3)

lady-renegadesFirst Lines: His head hurt.  It always hurt these days and had for a long time now, long enough that David couldn’t tell whether it was getting worse or whether he’d just been hurting for so long that it was starting to become unbearable.

I’ve been a fan of Rachel Hawkins’s writing style since I found Hex Hall years ago.  Besides, another series to finish?  Sign me up.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Finally, Harper’s been getting used to her new super powers as Paladin.  But of course, as soon as the world starts making sense, it has to change again.  Overwhelmed by his powers, David ran away from Pine Grove…only he’s been leaving a trail of teenage girls-turned-Paladins in his wake.  Worse news?  They all seem to think Harper is the enemy David needs protection from.  Sure, normally they wouldn’t be any problem for Harper to tackle.  But with David being away for so long, her powers are dwindling…and if she doesn’t find David soon, they might disappear altogether.  Is this a problem too big for Pres to handle?

Alright.  So as I mentioned, I’m a fan of Rachel Hawkins’s writing style.  She’s hilarious.  Multiple times throughout the novel, Harper described the South as being “hotter than Satan’s armpit” which is just kind of apt, you know?  And the sarcasm is thick.

But this book had a few issues for me.  First was character development.  Seriously, Harper and Blythe are the only characters that get any screen time (figuratively speaking).  Geez, even David, who should be a main character, only popped up a few times.  It just didn’t seem to be adding anything new to the characters I liked, like Bee and Ryan and Aunt Jewel.

On top of that, the story drags on.  It’s the Curse of the Road Trip.  Bouncing from city to city, the only excitement in each town quickly becomes cliche and expected.  Look, there are very few books that can successfully pull off a road trip.  This was not one of them. I got bored.

But I will say that there were a number of pretty good fights scenes. I mean, if there’s one thing Harper’s good at, it’s defending herself (whether physically or sarcastically).  So that was at least entertaining.

Overall, it was just kind of meh.  Nothing about it really stood out.  For a finale to a series, the ending was incredibly anti-climactic.  A fast read, for sure, but not terribly exciting.

Spotlight Friday (154)

Hello my lovelies!  As the school year comes to an end (only 5 more days!) I find that my work load has increased incredibly.  And beyond that, I needed a fix of Jamie Fraser, so I started rereading Outlander…but I promise I will get back to YA soon.  Finals for my students is a time when I get a ton of reading done.  Until then, here are new books to keep an eye out for!

51yoqtizt1l-_sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_Exile for Dreamers (Stranje House, #2) by Kathleen Baldwin

Release Date: May 24, 2016

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Summary (from Goodreads): Tess can’t run far enough or fast enough to escape the prophetic dreams that haunt her. Dreams bring nothing but death and grief, and Tess refuses to accept that she may be destined for the same madness that destroyed her mother. Until her disturbing dreams become the only means of saving Lord Ravencross, the man she loves, and her friends at Stranje House from Lady Daneska and her lover, the Ghost-agent of Napoleon, who has escaped from Elba. Can the young ladies of Stranje House prevail once more? Or is England destined to fall into the hands of the power-mad dictator?

What’s To Like: This is the kind of book with strong women in a time when women weren’t considered strong.  I’m drawn to that, since I love history and I know there had to be women out there like this.  They just were seen as quirky or–at worst–insane.  Still, the previous book had some interesting action, some interesting love scenes, and some interesting characters.  I’m…interested.

my-lady-jane_gallery_largeMy Lady Jane by Cythia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Release Date: June 7, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): For fans of The Princess Bride comes the comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey.

Lady Jane Grey, sixteen, is about to be married to a total stranger—and caught up in an insidious plot to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But that’s the least of Jane’s problems. She’s about to become Queen of England. Like that could go wrong.

What’s To Like: Ok, this book had me at “Lady Jane” for sure, since she’s one of the more tragic figures to reach England’s throne, but I’m also won over by the fact that this is supposed to be funny, fantastic, and romantic.  I’m actually really looking forward to this, even if they change the history.  And as a history buff, I don’t say that very often.

the-way-to-game-the-walk-of-shame-jenn-p-nguyenThe Way to Game the Walk of Shame by Jenn P. Nguyen

Release Date: June 7, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): Taylor Simmons is screwed.

Things were hard enough when her single-minded dedication to her studies earned her the reputation of being an Ice Queen, but after getting drunk at a party and waking up next to bad boy surfer Evan McKinley, the entire school seems intent on tearing Taylor down with mockery and gossip.

Desperate to salvage her reputation, Taylor persuades Evan to pretend they’re in a serious romantic relationship. After all, it’s better to be the girl who tames the wild surfer than just another notch on his surfboard.

What’s To Like: You know what this sorta reminds me of?  Easy A.  I’m not entirely sure why, except maybe the way the girl is lying to the whole school about her reputation.  Otherwise, it doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with the movie.  Anyway, it sounded kind of charming.  Also, I have to meet this surfer dude.

When We Collided

lord_whenwecollided-cover_cata-678x10242bfor2btaylor2bagent2bpageFirst Lines: I knew I was in love with Verona Cove on the first day, but I waited until the seventh day to commit.  After one week here, I’m carving my name into a tree in the center of town.

Getting my hands on a new Emery Lord novel was a lot like suddenly coming into possession of a rich piece of chocolate: I wanted to savor it and draw out the enjoyment.

At seventeen, Jonah never pictured his life turning out the way it has as he deals with his family falling apart.  Why would he?  Still, he never pictured someone like Vivi coming into his life, all charisma and charm.  Vivi never expected someone like Jonah to light up her world.  It may be the summer neither of them imagined, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.

Let’s go back to that aforementioned chocolate analogy.  This book ended up being the surprise chocolate in the box…the one with the weird orange creme filling that you’re not sure you like.

I adore Emery Lord, in her books and on Twitter where she frequently lambasts anyone who tries to “put women in their place.”  I love her attitude.  But this book just wasn’t it for me.

I loved Jonah.  He’s saddled with a horrible situation that doesn’t really seem to be getting better no matter what he does.  But Vivi is like a firework in his dark sky, lighting it up with sparks and color.  I truly felt for him.

I just couldn’t get into Vivi’s character.  Vivi struggles with mental illness. (I don’t think I’m spoiling anything if I tell you she’s bipolar.  I knew that going into this book.)  And while I appreciate what this book is trying to do, bringing attention to mental illness and making it real to those who have no experience with it, it wasn’t working for me.  Vivi was unpredictable and brash and–I felt–uncaring.  Some of this is 100% a part of being bipolar. I get that.  But I didn’t like Vivi.  I didn’t like the way she treated Jonah sometimes.  My personality is the exact opposite of Vivi: I like order and routine whereas she could skinny dip one minute and want to paint a mural the next.  That’s not me in the least and it made it difficult for me to want to read about Vivi.  (No matter how I try to say this, I feel like I’m somehow bashing people who are bipolar because they can’t help some of this and that is truly not my intent in the least.)

I was also really looking forward to Lord’s sarcasm and snark.  It was heaviest in Open Road Summer, but still present in the follow-up novel as well.  There’s none of it here.  There are few jokes and even fewer moments of comic relief.  I was disappointed in that and I think that also played into my struggles with this book.

So it didn’t work for me.  However, it was really well-written and I think there is a large audience that would enjoy.  I just happen to not be one of those people.  But if it sounds like it appeals to you, I encourage you to try it.

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2)

crown-of-midnightFirst Lines: The shutters swinging in the storm winds were the only sign of her entry.  No one had noticed her scaling the garden wall of the darkened manor house, and with the thunder and the gusting wind off the nearby sea, no one heard her as she shimmied up the drainpipe, swung onto the windowsill, and slithered into the second-floor hallway.

It’s been a little while since I’ve read a high fantasy, right?  It was time for this.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

The King of Adarlan rules with an iron fist, and Celaena made a pact with the devil when she won his tournament and became his personal assassin.  But Celaena is far from loyal to the crown.  She only needs to keep it a secret for as long as possible.  That pretense becomes more difficult as Celaena realizes that there are others also fighting for justice.  And because of her position to the King, no one is above questioning her motives and loyalty.  Not Prince Dorian, not Captain Chaol Westfall, not even Princess Nehemia.  But when tragedy strikes, Celaena will have to give up what is most precious to her and decide once and for all who and what is worth fighting for.

I actually really adored this.  I’m a fan of books that are complex and contain multiple plot lines like this one did.  It wasn’t just about Celaena killing for the King.  It was also about Dorian’s secrets and Chaol’s secrets and Nehemia’s secrets and the others who are fighting for justice.  There were so many people we were following and it was just lovely to have so much going on.  Sure, it means there’s more to keep track of, but it also feels more realistic.

Celaena’s a great heroine.  I like that she’s so strong and fierce when she needs to be but she’s also soft and caring when she’s around her friends.  And Celaena has real moments of vulnerability in this book, which was nice to see.  It definitely made her more relatable, to see how she dealt with tragedy.

The plot of this book is, as I alluded to early, quite complex.  It’s nearly impossible to always know who is good and who is bad.  It’s hard to always see someone’s motives, even when you think you’ve got them pinned down.  People that Celaena knows and cares about are sometimes the ones with the worst intentions.  I loved the foreshadowing that was dropped along the way because it kept things interesting.

Lovely world-building.  Lovely characters and tons of action.  It was a load of fun and I’m looking forward to seeing what else is in store for Celaena and the crew.

Endangered

schreferendangeredFirst Lines: Concrete can rot.  It turns green and black before crumbling away.  Maybe only people from Congo know that.

A professor of mine in college, knowing that I was a huge YA fan, recommended this to me one of the last days I saw her.  Well, my college days are behind me, but I never forgot her recommendation.  It was always there, in the back of my mind.  After being burnt out on fantasy and love stories, I thought this would be an interesting change.

For 14-year-old Sophie, the bonobo sanctuary her mother runs is both a haven and a chore.  She spends the school year in Miami with her father and the summers in Congo with her mother, helping at the sanctuary.  When Sophie rescues a bonobo baby from an abusive owner, she quickly finds in him a new friend.  But life in Congo is far from stable…and when a revolution comes to her doorstep, Sophie will need the bonobos as much as they need her to survive.

I know this sounds a little bizarre.  I thought the same two years ago.  But for animal lovers, it’s really cool.  I didn’t know really anything about bonobos before I started this book.  Now, I feel like I have a better understanding of their species and even more about human nature.  It’s amazing what you see happening in times of darkness and despair.

Alright, so I’ll straight-up tell you that Sophie can sometimes be annoying.  Growing up in the US has made her feel somewhat entitled to certain things.  She’s whiny.  But she’s also what I’d expect to find out of a teenager who doesn’t really know/see her mother much and who feels her life is uprooted every summer.  And as the story goes on, she does get better.  Tragedy tends to do that.

The amazing thing was that the bonobos were characters too.  They had personalities and quirks.  I didn’t always understand what was going on with all that hollering and body language, but I slowly got there.  Well, at least enough to know who was in charge and who lived at the bottom of the pecking order.  I truly started to like them more than the human characters!

The setting is also fascinating.  I don’t always take the time to talk about this.  As Sophie will tell you, Congo (and Africa) isn’t necessarily the backwater village we think it is.  They have the Internet and cell phones.  But terrible regimes have stunted their growth somewhat.

And that’s what Sophie walks right into the middle of.  There is very real violence in this book, in so many different ways.  It’s not gory violence, perhaps, but there’s a lot that’s insinuated.  You know.  And that’s sometimes hard to read about.

There are times the story proceeds at a slow pace, but it is still pretty interesting.  If you’re looking for something a bit different…this may be it.

Until The Beginning (After the End, #2)

22445886*Potential Series Spoilers IN THE FIRST LINES.  You were warned.*

First Lines: Miles has been dead for one hour.

I checked this out weeks ago, but it just languished on my shelf for ages.  Wasn’t what I was in the mood for, you know?  But I finally just kind of picked it up, knowing if I didn’t read it now, I never would.

*Again, Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Juneau cannot get over the sense of betrayal she feels.  After her clan was kidnapped, she learned that everything she’d been taught about the world had been a lie.  World War III had never happened.  But she’s desperate to rescue her clan.  With Miles, she’s going to go across the country if she has to to get to them.  What Juneau doesn’t know is that she has a huge target on her back…and those with power know that she’s the key to everything they want…

I still really like the premise of this book.  I love the concept of Juneau being completely out of her element in the modern world, but she’s got this fantastic skill set that comes from being one with nature.  (That makes her sound like a hippie…)  Miles and Juneau are kind of like yin and yang, which is incredibly awesome.

And I do like Miles and Juneau.  I kind of like Miles more, though, because, like me, humor is a defense mechanism for him.  So he’s constantly making these little quips that are just so funny.  But Juneau’s great too because even though she’s so young, she feels this massive responsibility toward her clan and she will do what it takes to protect them.  I kind of like that quality in a heroine.

But one thing that I thought was missing from this book was more of a relationship with the minor characters.  I mean, it’s basically The Miles-and-Juneau Show for the entire book.  Whenever a minor character appears, they are only there for a dozen pages and then gone.  (That’s a minor exaggeration, but it’s still remarkably true.)  Even characters like Whit don’t have that big of a role in this book.  I was a bit disappointed in that.

Random note, the more I read Amy Plum’s works, the more I see a few similar themes/motifs running through her novels.  Sacrifice, death, immortality, etc.  Anyway, just wanted to mention that.  The English teacher in me…

I’m about to give you a contradiction: while there is a lot of action in this book, there are also moments that are kind of boring.  Much like old-fashioned warfare, it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait with this story.  You know when the fights are coming, so you anticipate it.  And the fights are worth it.  But cross-country traveling, as any road-tripper can tell you, is a tedious business.  There’s not a lot that happens in that part of the story.  It drags on a little there.

Still, I thought this was a nice conclusion to this duology. I’m glad they didn’t try to drag it out into a trilogy because that was just not going to work.