Reviews-A-Plenty

Hi folks, so I’ve been keeping up with my creative goal to read a book a week! Thought I’d better catch you up on the wonderful things I’ve been reading.

caravalCaraval by Stephanie Garber | Scarlett’s grandmother has told her and her sister Tella stories about Caraval since they were young– an audience-participation game that is like a magical carnival. Scarlett has always longed to go, but getting tickets now— less than two weeks before her marriage to a mysterious count she has never met– is not the ideal timing. At Caraval, Tella goes missing, and the game revolves around the sisters. Julian, the young sailor who brought the girls to Caraval, is shrouded in mystery too, and Scarlett can’t tell who is friend or foe, or whether the game is really just a game.

It’s intense, has gorgeous imagery, and keeps you guessing the entire time. I am happy to say that I did not figure the ending out ahead of time!! This is a must read, folks.

cursed-childHarry Potter & the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany | I think I went into this screenplay with reasonable expectations. I waited quite a while to read it because I knew that it was not going to be like “the 8th Harry Potter book,” as some stores touted. First, it’s a screenplay, not a novel; I knew I couldn’t expect the same thing. Because I went into it with realistic expectations, I loved it!

The story picks up about nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts took place; Harry’s youngest son Albus is headed to Hogwarts for the first time, and it is hard living in your father’s shadow, especially when your father is Harry Potter. Albus isn’t like his dad, and they butt heads, which leads Albus and his friend Scorpius Malfoy (Draco’s son!) on an adventure that gets worse and worse and worse … until it all comes together in J.K. Rowling fashion. I loved getting to revisit the characters. The important thing, I think, is not to treat it as the 8th book but as what it is: the script for a play that takes you back to the wizarding world for one more adventure.

poem-she-didnt-writeThe Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems by Olena Kalytiak Davis | This one was staggering. I absolutely adored it. It was like e.e. cummings had become a female spoken word artist. The rhythms were impossible to miss, even without hearing them, and I was exposed to a new vocabulary. I thought it the poem topics were really brave, and there were quite a few that she approached from such a stunningly unique perspective. The title poem, in particular, was mind-blowing. I will be purchasing her other books.

chinoiserieChinoiserie by Karen Rigby | This was the 2011 winner of the Sawtooth Poetry Award– and well deserved. Beautiful writing, rich imagery, the poems took me to other places, something I always love. I was happy to let this collection sink into my bones.

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Even though I really loved Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology (spoiler-free review), his new series wasn’t really on my radar. Then the first book– Scythe— kept getting rave reviews from my favorite book bloggers, so I knew I needed to read it.

scytheIT. WAS. SO. GOOD.

Here’s the set-up: it’s the distant future, and the internet “cloud” has accumulated all knowledge and become the nearly sentient Thunderhead. Because the Thunderhead now prevents things like disease, war, and even death, the only issue left is population control. There is a worldwide network of scythes who are given the power to glean life and to grant immunity. They are highly respected and rarely challenged. Citra and Rowen are two sixteen-year-olds chosen to become scythe apprentices. Then things get crazy.

I’m hooked. Just like the Unwind books, this series is so thought-provoking. I was especially captured by the question If men become immortal, what will inspire them to create? There is a scene where Citra and Rowen are taken to museum. These days, art has all been perfected via the Thunderhead, but they find that they actually like the “Mortal Age” art better … it is imperfect, but there is passion to it that is rare in their time. I have maybe 70 or 80 years on earth. In what ways does that drive my art?

That’s just one of the questions raised by this incredible book. It’s full of twists and the stakes are high. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Review: Dreamology by Lucy Keating

dreamologyAlice has dreamed of Max for as long as she can remember– in her dreams, they are happy and in love, going on the kind of crazy adventures that can only happen in dreams.

When Alice moves to Boston, though, Max is in her psychology class at her new school! Except this Max seems detached … and he has a girlfriend.

I really enjoyed this one! There were some really great lines, and I especially loved the character of Oliver, one of Alice’s new friends. I loved the dream sequences, and it was fun to tweet with Lucy Keating while I read it too. An interesting concept, though the conflict at the end confused me a little bit. All in all, an enjoyable, light read!

 

Review: Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

0-545-05474-5I loved this book.

I’ll be honest, it’s not one that I would normally pick up from the description. But my editor is reading it right now and encouraged me to read it too. I got a copy from the library, devoured it, and then bought a copy for my personal library.

The premise of the book is simple: Marcelo is on the autism spectrum– he says he’s best described as having Asperger’s but admits that’s not quite accurate either. He goes to a special school that he LOVES. His father, a lawyer, tells Marcelo that if he can successfully handle an internship at his dad’s law firm that summer (in the “real world”), he can go back to his school for senior year. Otherwise, he will need to go to the public school in town.

As I said, a simple enough premise. But the execution is masterful.

The characters– especially Marcelo– are so deep, the conversations are fascinating, the writing is beautiful.

It was one of my favorite reads of 2016.

 

 

Review: The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

rose and daggerI’ve made it no secret on this blog that The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh was my favorite book of 2015The Rose & the Dagger is the sequel, and I could not WAIT to spend time with these characters again. Shazi is seriously one of my all-time favorite heroines, so fierce and stubborn and incredible. She takes zero shit, not even from the king himself.

Speaking of the king– or rather, the caliph of Khorasan– Khalid is one of my top book boyfriends. He is breathtakingly INTENSE and sexy and mature. I love him love him love him.

Plus, we are introduced to new(er) characters in this book too, a few of whom stole my heart. A few of whom broke my heart.

I’m not going to say too much about this book, just that you need to read it. The first book still takes the top spot for me, but this sequel was just the reunion I needed!

Review: Love & Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

love and other.jpgThis book has been sitting on my TBR shelf for over a year, and after I cruised through Calvin (review), I wanted something a little bit light. This was just right!

Love & Other Foreign Words is about a brilliant (no, literally– she has a genius IQ at age 15), overly-honest girl named Josie as she learns to navigate love in light of her older sister’s impending wedding to a man Josie can’t stand. Josie starts with a younger voice than I usually am drawn to in YA, and in fact, a few pages in, I almost put it down to try something else. But then I got drawn into her voice and the story and actually stayed up to finish it in the same night.

I could absolutely understand the main storyline about Josie feeling like she was losing her sister Kate to a man she (Josie) didn’t like. Note: I LIKE MY FRIENDS’ HUSBANDS, but it’s sort of the story of my life to continually “lose them” to a man and feel jealousy (hey I want my friend back) and envy (hey I want a man too) while watching them fall in love. So I understood that.

I also knew which boy I wanted Josie to end up with, but unfortunately, this guy didn’t have as many scenes as I would have liked!

The time period this book covered was interesting: spring of junior year, summer, and fall of senior year. You could see Josie grow and hear it in her voice too.

A fun, light read that was just what I needed this week.

 

 

Review: Calvin by Martine Leavitt

calvin.jpgSo.

This book is about a boy named Calvin undergoing a schizophrenic break.

He has always had a connection with the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, being that there are so many similarities between his life and the comic strip (including a toy tiger and a girl next door named Suzie), so when Hobbes starts talking to him again at age seventeen, Calvin decides the only way to make it stop is to take a pilgrimage across Lake Erie to meet Bill Watterson, the creator of the comic strip. If he can make one last strip about a seventeen-year-old Calvin who is “normal,” Calvin will be healed.

And so he heads off.

I loved it. I loved everything about this book: the format (it’s a letter to Bill Watterson and the dialogue is written like a play), the main character (brilliant, brilliant boy; adored Calvin!), the humor, AND the fact that I didn’t know if what I was reading was actually happening in real life or in Calvin’s head. I thought it was so rife with thought-provoking conversation and delightful humor. I read over half of it in one setting and finished it off the next night.

Fans of Calvin and Hobbes will especially love this book, all the references to the comic strip and to Spaceman Spiff, what a great dose of nostalgia. I’m not sure how close it was to describing a real schizophrenic break– it had a tremendously different tone than Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (review), which I read a few months ago.

It was a total delight, one of my favorite reads of 2016 so far. If you read it, let me know! I wanna hear your thoughts– Goodreads is a little split, and it’s hard for me to understand why!

Review: In A World Just Right by Jen Brooks

I met Jen Brooks during a panel discussion we were both a part of last November, and I was fascinated by the excerpt she read from In A World Just Right. I bought a copy that very night, but I haven’t had a chance to dive in until yesterday. I started it yesterday. I finished it yesterday. I was home sick from work, so I legit just read for eight hours straight.

in a world just rightThis book.

Let me tell you.

The premise is clever: ever since Jonathan went through a traumatic accident at age eight, he’s been a world-maker, that is, he can invent worlds and come and go from them as he pleases. The one he spends the most time in is Kylie-Simms-is-my-girlfriend, where– you guessed it– Kylie Simms is his girlfriend. In real life, that’s not even close to being true. Jonathan is a bit of an outcast, mostly invisible to his classmates.

Fascinating, right?

Things get trickier from there, once the real Kylie Simms starts paying attention to him and Jonathan starts learning the extent of his powers and has to deal with some pretty huge moral decisions. Like, fantastically huge. He really, really wrestles through things, and I loved him for it.

Then things get even trickier. Really.

Let’s just say that this is as close to a YA Inception that I’ve ever read. That’s a good thing– no, a great thing.

About halfway through, I tweeted to Jen that “I can’t figure out how in the world(s) this will end,” and she tweeted back, “Fingers crossed you like where it ends up. :)”

After my eight-hour journey of my mind being blown, I tweeted her, “PERFECT ENDING!”

Not my typical read, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. You guys know I love books that make me think. This book will make you think.

Enjoy!

Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

It feels like a million years ago that Marisa Reichardt first contacted me– she wanted to interview me for The Sweet Sixteens (interview here). I sent her a PDF copy of Truest, since there weren’t even ARCs at that time. Since then, Marisa has become so dear to me, someone I can go to about all my writer-problems, someone who gets it and is brimming with compassion and empathy.

underwater3Now it was my turn to read her book!

Underwater is Morgan’s story– readers learn in the earliest pages that she was witness to a school shooting and has since been dealing with agoraphobia. Yes, Morgan has not left her family’s apartment in months. Then a new guy moves in next door, and things start to change.

My favorite part of this book was how much I understood what Morgan was going through– the panic, at first, then later, as she begins to venture out (starting with just the welcome mat!), the way she has to sit with so much uncertainty and fear– but how she accommodates to it! I had the distinct thought, “This is exposure therapy. This is also how you treat OCD.” Afterward, I looked it up online, to see if my guesses were right. The sites that I looked at talked specifically about exposure therapy being the best treatment for agoraphobia.

Mind. Blown.

Here I thought we with OCD had the corner on the exposure therapy market! Not so.

Some reviews I read said that the book is a little dark and heavy– but I disagree. Well, time out. Yes, it begins dark and heavy. But it should. We are dealing with PTSD here, people, not a hangnail! But what I loved most about Underwater was how it bent toward the light.

Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

salt to the seaI’m not sure whether to say that the paragraph below this is a spoiler or not. It’s not a traditional book spoiler– it’s the historical event this book is based on. But if you want to go into this book completely blind, best to skip it.

Last summer, when Ruta Sepetys was in St. Paul, I had the chance to hear her speak passionately about a bit of nearly-lost history: a ship called the Wilhelm Gustloff that was carrying WWII refugees to safety was torpedoed by the Soviets, and about 9,000 of the 10,000 passengers died. Most of them were children and youth. The Nazis tried to cover it up, so even though more people died than in the sinkings of the Titanic and Lusitania combined, many people don’t know about this tragedy.

Till now.

Ruta Sepetys brings it to life in Salt to the Sea, and it’s wonderful. There is a slow build throughout the story with the climactic event taking up a surprisingly small part of the story. The characters are well-drawn, there are plenty of secrets, and there’s a sweet romance too.

I did think the book wrapped up fast, but that was fine by me. I stayed up late to finish this one, and I was pretty emotionally ragged by the end. Also, it’s been a while since I read Sepetys’s debut Between Shades of Gray, so it took me a looooong time to catch a connection between the two books that was in pretty plain sight. Once I did, it delighted me.

This is one of those books where knowing the historical truth behind the story does nothing to diminish it. It only amplifies, and you hold on for the ride.