Book Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Book Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava DellairaLove Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on April 1, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 327
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person.

Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead—to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse—though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven't forgiven?

It's not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was—lovely and amazing and deeply flawed—can she truly start to discover her own path.

In a voice that's as lyrical and as true as a favorite song, Ava Dellaira writes about one girl's journey through life's challenges with a haunting and often heartbreaking beauty.

Book Review:

LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD isn’t my typical sort of book, but I had read a couple of reviews praising it, and I had also checked out the first few letters and thought I might enjoy it. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I couldn’t even bring myself to finish the book, and usually I have to finish books. I made it to page 74 before I said no more.

Here’s why I couldn’t get into the book:

–The idea of the “love letters.” I didn’t really see any point for Laurel to be writing love letters to famous dead people. Yes, it’s a neat idea at first, and probably what attracted a lot of people, myself included, to the book. But 99% of the letters are identical. Laurel starts off with “Dear _____,” then launches into a boring monologue about her day, complete with dialogue and misplaced purple prose descriptions. Most of the time, I forgot I was reading a letter. The epistolary format just didn’t work for me, especially when Laurel educated the dead person about their own life. She actually told Judy Garland and Janis Joplin what their childhoods were like. And the subjects of the letters? I can’t see a lot of teens knowing who many of these people are, such as Mister Ed or River Phoenix.

–Laurel had no personality for me. I didn’t care about her at all, and I couldn’t connect with her. In LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD, she’s just starting high school, but at times, I could have sworn she was 10 because of her innocence and naivety. Laurel is mourning her dead sister, May, but instead of showing us how broken up she is, the author just tells us. I am aware that people mourn in different ways, but I never felt any grief from Laurel.

–Within the 74 pages I read, Laurel smokes, drinks, flashes people, sneaks out, and watches her friends steal alcohol. I’m no prude, and I like when teens exhibit realistic behavior in young adult books, but I thought this was a bit much.

–I had no idea where LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD was going. Usually I get a good sense of where a book is headed, but here, I had no idea, and I like to know the plot’s general direction. I acknowledge that I didn’t finish the book and maybe a better story showed up later, but I shouldn’t have to wait until the middle or end for something to happen. A book needs to keep my interest, and LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD did not.

–The writing. I cannot imagine a freshman writing something like this: “I liked everything about it. I liked waiting in line with everyone. I liked that the girl in front of me had red curls on the back of her head that you could tell she curled herself. And I liked the thin crinkle of the plastic when I opened the wrapper. I liked how every bite made a falling-apart kind of crunch (p. 8).” That quote is about buying a Nutter Butter. A NUTTER BUTTER, people.

LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD is a book that just didn’t work for me. I wanted to like it, and I tried to read it, but I could not get into it.

Socialize with the author:

Ava Dellaira:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: The Young Elites by Marie Lu

Book Review: The Young Elites by Marie LuThe Young Elites by Marie Lu
Series: The Young Elites #1
Published by Putnam Juvenile on October 7, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: First to Read
Goodreads
2 Stars
I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

Book Review:

Villains are usually my favorite characters in books. Call me twisted, but I love bad women/guys, characters who do anything to get their way, characters who have questionable morals and/or goals. So I should have loved THE YOUNG ELITES, because it’s supposed to be a villain’s story.

Adelina is tired of being hurt, of being used. A survivor of the mysterious blood fever, she lost an eye. One would think that would be enough, but her father has hurt and hated her for years, trying to find some value in having a malfetto for a daughter. When Adelina finds out her father is going to sell her, she escapes … and murders him in the process.

On the day of her execution, a fire already set at her feet, Adelina is rescued by the Young Elites. They are a group of malfettos with magic powers, and they want Adelina because she’s one of them. But the rescue isn’t quite what it seems, because the Young Elites want to use Adelina, as does Teren, leader of the Inquisition that nearly killed her.

All of that? Pretty promising, I’d say. But there was just something missing in THE YOUNG ELITES, something that’s very difficult for me to put my finger on. I should have flown through this book, but it took me days to finish. That’s abnormal for me, because I usually read a book a day. THE YOUNG ELITES just didn’t hold my interest. I feel like I trudged through it, and there were several points where I just wanted to put it aside. I didn’t, but only because I’d heard the ending was worth it. The ending was okay, the best part of the book for me, other than the epilogue.

Why didn’t THE YOUNG ELITES hold my interest? To start, there’s a real lack of worldbuilding for a fantasy book. The world feels a lot like Renaissance Italy, and there are lots of descriptions of buildings and pretty masks and clothing, but not of the important stuff. Where did the blood fever come from? How does magic work for the Young Elites? Adelina describes using her powers, but I didn’t quite get the idea behind the threads, or many of the powers of the other Elites. Etc.

I also never connected to Adelina. I don’t necessarily have to like a main character to like a book, but there has to be something about a character to grab me if the story doesn’t. I should have loved that Adelina is making steps towards being the bad guy, but she didn’t feel very developed to me. I read in the Acknowledgments that she was originally a side character, and then the author rewrote the book around her.

There’s more bad I could go on about, but I’ll stop there and just say I was underwhelmed and disappointed by this book. I expected more — I really liked Marie Lu’s first book, LEGEND, which read almost like playing a video game. If I made the same comparison, THE YOUNG ELITES read like being stuck on the loading screen.

So why 2 stars instead of 1? Because there is some cool stuff in THE YOUNG ELITES. Parts of the book are quite dark, which I usually like, and I liked that the author tried to go there. I could see promise, but there was a lack of execution/focus. I probably would pick up the next Young Elites book, but I’m crossing my fingers that it’s better.

Socialize with the author:

Marie Lu:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: I Become Shadow by Joe Shine

Book Review: I Become Shadow by Joe ShineI Become Shadow by Joe Shine
Published by Soho Teen on June 10, 2014
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
Ren Sharpe was abducted at fourteen and chosen by the mysterious F.A.T.E. Center to become a Shadow: the fearless and unstoppable guardian of a future leader. Everything she held dear—her family, her home, her former life—is gone forever.

Ren survives four years of training, torture, and misery, in large part thanks to Junie, a fellow F.A.T.E. abductee who started out as lost and confused as she did. She wouldn’t admit it was possible to find love in a prison beyond imagining, but what she feels for Junie may just be the closest thing to it.

At eighteen they part ways when Ren receives her assignment: find and protect college science student Gareth Young, or die trying. Life following a college nerd is uneventful, until an attack on Gareth forces Ren to track down the only person she can trust. When she and Junie discover that the F.A.T.E. itself might be behind the attacks, even certain knowledge of the future may not be enough to save their kidnappers from the killing machines they created.

Book Review:

You know how most fourteen-year-olds stress about high school? Ren doesn’t have to worry about that for long, because she’s abducted by F.A.T.E., a secret organization that protects the world’s future important people. Instead of worrying about boys, popularity, grades, etc., Ren’s worried about making it through training alive. Most kids taken by F.A.T.E. don’t make it, which is no shock, considering the classes include weapons training with live rounds, beating the stuffing out of each other, and a nightly injection that kills all the nerves in your body.

I BECOME SHADOW starts off slowly and with some backpedaling, because Ren fills the reader in on her normal life before being taken. If you’re confused at the start, keep going and things will eventually make sense. Ren has a unique voice, one I think readers will either like or dislike. She’s sarcastic, mouthy, no-nonsense, and cocky, but sometimes she’s also “woe is me.” Most of the time I liked her narration, but once in a while it did feel like the author was trying too hard.

After Ren starts training and then once she gets her assignment, the book is full of action. I thought the author did a good job writing the action scenes; sometimes I skim them because they’re boring or hard to picture. That wasn’t the case here.

I BECOME SHADOW was almost a really good book for me. There are some great ideas, including F.A.T.E. and its mission. When Ren graduates training, she’s linked to the person she’ll spend the rest of her life protecting. The process makes it almost painful for her to be away from him, and if he’s in danger? Forget about it. She’s supposed to stay in the shadows, but I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying she breaks the rules.

Then we get into the parts of the book that didn’t work out so well for me. Ren starts to have feelings for Gareth, the kid she protects, but are they real or a byproduct of the link? At the same time, she’s pining for Junie, a guy she went through training with. I believed in Ren and Junie’s friendship, but not their romantic feelings for each other. I really wish the author would have kept it as a friendship rather than try to add romance. Because apparently all YA books need romance. Not.

The end of I BECOME SHADOW also felt rushed. A lot of the book is spent on training time, and then some with Ren on the job protecting Gareth. Then the big climax, and boom, the book’s over. When I finished I BECOME SHADOW, I had quite a few questions about F.A.T.E. and Shadows and other things. I’m guessing there will be a sequel or two to flesh things out? I don’t know for sure.

Overall, I BECOME SHADOW is strong in the action and sarcastic heroine departments, but lacking in the romance and storytelling.

Socialize with the author:

Joe Shine:
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: After the End (After the End #1) by Amy Plum

Book Review: After the End (After the End #1) by Amy PlumAfter the End by Amy Plum
Series: After the End #1
Published by HarperTeen on May 6, 2014
Genres: Paranormal, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
3 Stars
She’s searching for answers to her past. They’re hunting her to save their future.

World War III has left the world ravaged by nuclear radiation. A lucky few escaped to the Alaskan wilderness. They've survived for the last thirty years by living off the land, being one with nature, and hiding from whoever else might still be out there.

At least, this is what Juneau has been told her entire life.

When Juneau returns from a hunting trip to discover that everyone in her clan has vanished, she sets off to find them. Leaving the boundaries of their land for the very first time, she learns something horrifying: There never was a war. Cities were never destroyed. The world is intact. Everything was a lie.

Now Juneau is adrift in a modern-day world she never knew existed. But while she's trying to find a way to rescue her friends and family, someone else is looking for her. Someone who knows the extraordinary truth about the secrets of her past.

Book Review:

At first, AFTER THE END was a great book for me. At the start, Juneau lives in Alaska, presumably one of the few people left alive after the third world war. She and her clan live close to the land, and believe in the Yara, a current that connects all beings. Juneau is being groomed to be the clan’s next Sage, the one who will read the Yara for news of bad weather, good hunting, and brigands.

But on a routine hunting trip, Juneau sees planes. Planes mean danger, so she rushes home … only to find her entire clan gone. They’ve been taken. Juneau rushes off to rescue them, and rushes right into the modern world. Everything she’s been told, everything she believes, is a lie. There was no WWIII. The world didn’t end.

All of this? Pretty cool. The beginning of the book took me a couple of tries, because I didn’t totally understand the Yara concept, but after that, I was hooked. It was fun to see Juneau try to make sense of the modern world. As odd as it is for her, she also has to deal with the armed guys who are after her, so there’s a lot to figure out at once.

AFTER THE END alternates chapters between Juneau and Miles. On the surface, Miles is a stereotypical rich American teenager. But in an effort to prove himself to his dad, he takes off to Seattle to try and find the girl his dad is looking for — Juneau.

When Juneau and Mike meet up, that’s where AFTER THE END started to lose its shine for me. Basically, they take a long road trip. There’s a lot of self-doubt, learning about the modern world, driving, a cool raven named Poe, lots of driving, crushing on each other, more driving, and then some romance. The last three quarters of the book I had to push myself to keep reading. There were a few exciting parts, but mostly it was a long road trip. Or that’s my impression, anyway. And then after all the road tripping, the book ends on a cliffhanger. I wasn’t pleased.

The beginning of AFTER THE END was different a good, a new twist on the popular post-apocalypse setting. If the whole book had been like that, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. But after Juneau and Mike meet up, it felt way more contemporary, with more focus on romance.

Socialize with the author:

Amy Plum:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Thorn Jack (Night and Nothing #1) by Katherine Harbour

Book Review: Thorn Jack (Night and Nothing #1) by Katherine HarbourThorn Jack by Katherine Harbour
Series: Night and Nothing #1
Published by Harper Voyager on June 24, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, New Adult, Paranormal, Retelling, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
They call us things with teeth.

These words from Lily Rose Sullivan the night of her death haunts her seventeen-year-old sister, Finn, who has moved with her widowed father to his hometown of Fair Hollow, New York. After befriending a boy named Christie Hart and his best friend, Sylvie Whitethorn, Finn is invited to a lakeside party where she encounters the alluring Jack Fata, a member of the town's mysterious Fata family. Despite Jack's air of danger and his clever words, Finn learns they have things in common.

One day, while unpacking, Finn finds her sister's journal, scrawled with descriptions of creatures that bear a sinister resemblance to Jack's family. Finn dismisses these stories as fiction, but Jack's family has a secret—the Fatas are the children of nothing and night, nomadic beings who have been preying on humanity for centuries—and Jack fears that his friendship with Finn has drawn the attention of the most dangerous members of his family—Reiko Fata and vicious Caliban, otherwise known as the white snake and the crooked dog.

Plagued with nightmares about her sister, Finn attempts to discover what happened to Lily Rose and begins to suspect that the Fatas are somehow tied to Lily Rose's untimely death. Drawn to Jack, determined to solve the mystery of her sister's suicide, Finn must navigate a dangerous world where nothing is as it seems.

Book Review:

Before I start my review of THORN JACK, I should say I wasn’t super familiar with the tale it’s based on, Tam Lin. THORN JACK is a modern retelling, but I don’t think you need to know Tam Lin in order to enjoy this book.

THORN JACK is a lush, detailed, atmospheric dive into the supernatural. It’s a book I want to reread so I can enjoy all the little details and descriptions the author wove into the story. I was sad when I finished THORN JACK, because I knew I’d miss the creepy, dark atmosphere and the dangerous faeries. I am really looking forward to the next two Night and Nothing books so I can spend more time in this world.

When the book starts, Finn is almost … bland. It’s like she’s sleepwalking through life until she meets the mysterious Jack. I admit, I did think of TWILIGHT, but I didn’t get that vibe for long. Finn’s detachedness makes sense, because she’s mourning her older sister. Lily Rose killed herself, but Finn doesn’t know why. Only as she settles into her new town, finds new friends, and learns more about Jack, does Finn start to “wake up.” She also starts to wonder about Lily Rose, and what really happened.

But she’s not sure what’s real and what’s not, and neither is the reader. There are concerts in the woods and parties in abandoned hotels attended by boys with antlers, ghosts, and mythical creatures. There are a lot of characters in THORN JACK, maybe too many, but I thought they added to the lush feeling of the book. Reiko Fata was one of my favorite characters, but then, I tend to like evil, dark women, and she’s that and more. I enjoyed all the bits of Reiko’s backstory, and honestly, I could have read a book just about her. I also liked Finn’s friends, Christie and Sylvie. They bond very quickly, which I found a bit unrealistic, but I liked how they were there for each other, willing to help Finn even when she was doing something dangerous or stupid.

Reading THORN JACK was mostly an experience for me. Looking back, there are some things I question and criticize, but overall, I really enjoyed the book while I was reading it. I kept wanting to skip ahead to see what would happen next, and I found myself turning the pages way too quickly. This would be a great book to read around Hallowe’en, both because Hallowe’en plays an important role in the story and because of the general feeling of the season.

Formatting wise, I wish the glossary of “Fata Terms” had been at the beginning of the book, because I didn’t even know there was a glossary. The words (look like Gaelic?) aren’t used that often, but it would have been helpful to know what they meant.

Socialize with the author:

Katherine Harbour:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: 84 Ribbons by Paddy Eger

Book Review: 84 Ribbons by Paddy Eger84 Ribbons by Paddy Eger
Published by Tendril Press on March 15, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 346
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
4 Stars
Seventeen year old Marta Selbryth realizes her dream of becoming a professional dancer when the Intermountain Ballet Company in Billings, Montana invites her to join their 1957 season. As Marta's new life unfolds, she must learn to face not only the successes of dancing in the corps de ballet, but the challenges and setbacks that might crush the dream she's had for so long.

After a couple of mishaps, Marta settles into life in a boarding house located near the ballet company. Her landlady, Mrs. B., is friendly, reduces her rent when Marta's offers to bake for the boarder and later allows her to use the basement as a practice studio. The two male boarders are supportive; Carol, a fellow boarder, ignores her.

Marta spends her free time practicing when she's not spending time with her new friends Lynne and Bartley,her fellow corps dancers. Their time together becomes an important lifeline through their first year.

Madame Cosper, the artistic director, is a demanding woman. Marta begins their association poorly when she makes a disastrous choice. Expecting expulsion, Marta receives a second chance in the form of dancing the unpopular character roles during the fall and winter performances.Marta determines to dance every role with confidence in hopes of proving to Madame that she's up for every challenge.

Steve, a young college man and a reporter, spots Marta when he's assigned to write an article about ballet for the local paper. He's attracted to her and begins his pursuit.Over the months ahead, he becomes her tour guide of the area and attempts to convince Marta to be his girl. But her steadfast focus is ballet and some of her adventures with him lead to problems withMadame Cosper.

Shortly after Christmas, everything changes for Marta, Bartley andSteve. Significant events permanently influence their lives. Each must deal with exhilaration and heartbreak as well as frustration and changes that test their ability to cope.

Book Review:

In 84 RIBBONS, Marta’s dream of becoming a professional ballerina comes true. But realizing her dream comes with a number of challenges, from living on her own to struggling with weight and injuries. The book, set in the late 1950s, follows Marta’s journey, and manages to be both nostalgic and relatable.

I generally like books set in the ballet world, so 84 RIBBONS was a good book for me. But it’s more than just a ballet book. Yes, Marta’s dream is to dance professionally and she does, but this book is also a coming of age story. Issues that were ignored at the time, such as depression and eating disorders, are worked into the book. Marta deals with a lot in her first year of independence, and I think a lot of readers will find something to relate to even if they have no interest in ballet.

If you do have an interest in ballet, then I think you’d really enjoy 84 RIBBONS. It’s a realistic look into the struggle of making it dancing professionally, including the pain, blood, sweat, and tears required, as well as the devotion to perfection. Marta doesn’t have an easy ride at the Intermountain Ballet Company, but she’s determined to prove herself and succeed.

At first I didn’t realize the book was set in the 1950s, but as I read more, I liked the time period. A few of Marta’s problems come from not having the type of communication we do today, and it was a nice throwback to remember how people used to have to do things. Life’s a lot different when you don’t have a smartphone to find out information or get you out of an emergency.

The 1950s time period also allowed for a slow-burn romance between Marta and Steve, a journalism major. Steve tried to kiss Marta their first time out, and she pushed him away because it wasn’t a date in her mind, and because she wasn’t ready for that. I liked how Marta stood up for herself with Steve, because let me tell you, that boy pushes a bit, and she doesn’t give in when she doesn’t want to. Their relationship is far from perfect, but I found it way more believable than a lot of the relationships in YA fiction.

I’m not going to spoil the ending, but boy did it leave me wanting more of Marta’s story.

Socialize with the author:

Paddy Eger:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

Book Review: Dear Killer by Katherine EwellDear Killer by Katherine Ewell
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on April 1, 2014
Genres: Thriller, Young Adult
Pages: 359
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
Rule One—Nothing is right, nothing is wrong.
Rule Two—Be careful.
Rule Three—Fight using your legs whenever possible, because they’re the strongest part of your body. Your arms are the weakest.
Rule Four—Hit to kill. The first blow should be the last, if at all possible.
Rule Five—The letters are the law.

Kit takes her role as London’s notorious “Perfect Killer” seriously. The letters and cash that come to her via a secret mailbox are not a game; choosing who to kill is not an impulse decision. Every letter she receives begins with “Dear Killer,” and every time Kit murders, she leaves a letter with the dead body. Her moral nihilism and thus her murders are a way of life—the only way of life she has ever known.

But when a letter appears in the mailbox that will have the power to topple Kit’s convictions as perfectly as she commits her murders, she must make a decision: follow the only rules she has ever known, or challenge Rule One, and go from there.

Katherine Ewell’s Dear Killer is a sinister psychological thriller that explores the thin line between good and evil, and the messiness of that inevitable moment when life contradicts everything you believe.

Book Review:

I don’t know where to start with DEAR KILLER. Catchy premise, but poor execution, which is something I’ve been saying about a lot of YA this year. I could have gotten behind this book if it had compelling characters, didn’t have enough plot holes to sink the Titanic, and wasn’t, well, boring. There were so many times I wanted to put this book down, because I got tired of Kit’s monologues on how great and smart and powerful she was when she was anything but.

Kit’s a seventeen-year-old high school student who kills in her spare time, fulfilling the wishes of cowards who want someone to die but can’t do it themselves. When I learned how Kit got these requests — letters left in the bathroom of a cafe — I knew it was going to be downhill from there. Kit’s moniker is “The Perfect Killer.” She’s known as such because she never leaves behind any evidence and gives the police nothing to go on but the letters. The mailbox is a legend, but the police don’t know about it? No one’s talked after fifty plus murders? Does not compute. And then when “The Perfect Killer” said black carpet wouldn’t help the police, because they wouldn’t see bloodstains … uhm, I think everyone in the world has heard of Luminol. Thank you, CSI and Forensic Files.

Kit’s mother was more interesting for me than Kit, since she’s the one who groomed Kit to kill. Kit’s mum was a murderer too, but apparently the police investigating her were more competent, and might have caught her if she didn’t stop. So she trained her little girl to murder indiscriminately so she could live through Kit. DEAR KILLER tries to tackle moral nihilism, but honestly, I don’t really get it, unless being a moral nihilist means you get your rocks off killing people. I don’t think the author was talented enough to get into philosophy.

There’s lots of bad I’m not mentioning. Lots and lots of it. I plodded through until the end, hoping something would be redeeming, but no. The ending just left me super confused, and regretful I spent time finishing DEAR KILLER.

Socialize with the author:

Katherine Ewell:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Graduation Day (The Testing #3) by Joelle Charbonneau

Book Review: Graduation Day (The Testing #3) by Joelle CharbonneauGraduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau
Series: The Testing #3
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on June 17, 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
In book three of the Testing series, the United Commonwealth wants to eliminate the rebel alliance fighting to destroy The Testing for good. Cia is ready to lead the charge, but will her lethal classmates follow her into battle?

She wants to put an end to the Testing
In a scarred and brutal future, The United Commonwealth teeters on the brink of all-out civil war. The rebel resistance plots against a government that rules with cruelty and cunning. Gifted student and Testing survivor, Cia Vale, vows to fight.

But she can't do it alone.
This is the chance to lead that Cia has trained for - but who will follow? Plunging through layers of danger and deception, Cia must risk the lives of those she loves--and gamble on the loyalty of her lethal classmates.

Who can Cia trust?
The stakes are higher than ever-lives of promise cut short or fulfilled; a future ruled by fear or hope--in the electrifying conclusion to Joelle Charbonneau's epic Testing trilogy. Ready or not…it's Graduation Day.

The Final Test is the Deadliest!

Book Review:

When I finished THE TESTING, the first book in Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing series, it was a book I thought about for days. I wanted to read it again, to relive every second of Cia’s Testing. I did, and enjoyed it just as much the second time. When I reviewed THE TESTING, I called it a “thinky version of THE HUNGER GAMES.” It was an almost perfect book for me.

At the time, I couldn’t see how the author would end the trilogy. I couldn’t wait to read GRADUATION DAY and find out what would happen to Cia and the United Commonwealth. But when I finally read the book, the magic just wasn’t there. GRADUATION DAY is an admirable conclusion, but for me, the author didn’t deliver on the big, exciting conclusion she promised with the setup in THE TESTING and INDEPENDENT STUDY.

In the beginning, there was a big twist that I really liked, but then Cia started spending an awful lot of time in her head. Now, I like that Cia tries to think things through, and doesn’t act on impulse unless she has no choice. But this time, Cia’s inner monologues lost me, and I often had to reread paragraphs to figure out where her thoughts were going. I was very close to bored at times.

The second half of GRADUATION DAY picked up with lots of action that was reminiscent of the first two books. I enjoyed that half more than the first, but the ending left me somewhat disappointed. So much setup for that ending, and then BAM, the book was over. There’s an insane amount of double crossing and wondering who to trust or believe, and at the end, I was a bit confused about what went down because it was so fast. I wish the author had spent more time explaining the after effects of the rebellion.

All in all, GRADUATION DAY wasn’t a totally disappointing conclusion, but it wasn’t amazing, either.

Socialize with the author:

Joelle Charbonneau:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee

Book Review: Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. LeeGates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee
Series: Gates of Thread and Stone #1
Published by Skyscape on August 5, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 335
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
In the Labyrinth, we had a saying: keep silent, keep still, keep safe.

In a city of walls and secrets, where only one man is supposed to possess magic, seventeen-year-old Kai struggles to keep hidden her own secret—she can manipulate the threads of time. When Kai was eight, she was found by Reev on the riverbank, and her “brother” has taken care of her ever since. Kai doesn’t know where her ability comes from—or where she came from. All that matters is that she and Reev stay together, and maybe one day move out of the freight container they call home, away from the metal walls of the Labyrinth. Kai’s only friend is Avan, the shopkeeper’s son with the scandalous reputation that both frightens and intrigues her.

Then Reev disappears. When keeping silent and safe means losing him forever, Kai vows to do whatever it takes to find him. She will leave the only home she’s ever known and risk getting caught up in a revolution centuries in the making. But to save Reev, Kai must unravel the threads of her past and face shocking truths about her brother, her friendship with Avan, and her unique power.

Book Review:

There are two things I really liked about GATES OF THREAD AND STONE: the city of Ninurta and the strong relationship between Kai and Reev.

Ninurta has a dark, gritty, post-apocalyptic feel. It’s populated by humans who have survived a devastating war between magic users and the military. Most people struggle to survive, including Kai and Reev, who live in a freight container stacked in a labyrinth-like maze. They barely make enough credits to buy food, whereas wealthy people, who live in the walled off White Court, have money to blow on fancy clothing, fresh food, and even magically-powered transportation devices. Somewhat standard stuff, but I got a really good sense of the city, and the hardiness one needed to survive in the Labyrinth.

Kai and Reev are siblings by choice. He took her in when she was a child; Kai has no memories of her life before Reev found her. They support each other, and are working their way out of the Labyrinth and into a better area. When Reev goes missing — just another missing person in a string of unsolved disappearances — Kai will stop at nothing to save her big brother. If necessary, she’ll even use the ability Reev has told her never to use: her ability to manipulate the threads of time. I really liked Kai and Reev, because it’s not often you see such a sibling relationship, and one where they aren’t blood relatives. I like the theme of chosen family versus biological family in books, and that comes out to play in GATES OF THREAD AND STONE.

So, GATES OF THREAD AND STONE has a few things going for it. The beginning is a bit slow but good, since it develops the city of Ninurta, and Kai and Reev. But after Reev disappears, the book goes from “oh, this is pretty cool” to just “hmm” for me.

Kai teams up with Avan, her only real friend other than Reev, and they set off into the devastation outside Ninurta to rescue Reev. They have somewhat of a romance, and I did appreciate that Kai would keep reminding herself she should focus on saving her brother rather than flirting with Avan. I could see why Kai liked Avan, but I’m not entirely sure why Avan liked Kai. The romance — I could have taken or left it, especially with the ending.

Oh, the middle and ending. That’s where my ambivalence for GATES OF THREAD AND STONE comes in. The middle is somewhat a waste of time. Rather than learn how to better use her time manipulation ability, Kai’s told not to use it. Instead … she learns to kick and punch. Bah. The ending of the book felt like a rush, with the author dropping revelation after revelation. There were a lot of them in the last few chapters, and I needed to reread the rush of information so I could piece everything together.

Overall, GATES OF THREAD AND STONE was a mixed book for me. I liked some parts and didn’t like others, but I’m pretty sure I would continue this series. I don’t want to spoil everything, but I did like the mythology of the Immortals (read and find out!), and I’m curious to see what will happen next.

Socialize with the author:

Lori M. Lee:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: The Garden of Darkness by Gillian Murray Kendall

Book Review: The Garden of Darkness by Gillian Murray KendallThe Garden of Darkness by Gillian Murray Kendall
Published by Ravenstone on June 24, 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
Their families dead from the pandemic SitkaAZ13, known as Pest, 15-year-old cheerleader Clare and 13-year-old chess club member Jem, an unlikely pair, are thrown together and realize that, if either of them wishes to reach adulthood, they must find a cure.A shadowy adult broadcasting on the radio to all orphaned children promises just that — to cure children once they grow into Pest, then to feed them and to care for them.

Or does this adult have something else in mind?

Against a hostile landscape of rotting cities and of a countryside infected by corpses and roamed by voracious diseased survivors, Jem and Clare make their bid for life and, with their group of fellow child-travelers growing, embark on a journey to find the grownup they believe holds the cure. Their only weapon is Clare’s dog, Bear.

But Clare and Jem, as well as their followers, are hampered by the knowledge that everything in this new child-led world had become suspect—the love of diseased adults, alliances, trust, hope. As Clare and Jem learn to stitch wounds, skin deer and survive in the ashes of the old world perhaps it is no surprise that they begin to find that friendship is as redemptive as anything they seek—that friendship has its own kind of healing power. And, at the end of their journey, in the face of the ultimate betrayal, they discover that out of friendship can come love.

Book Review:

Sometimes when I finish a book, I feel … gutted. In a good way. I’m sad that I finished the book. I’m sad that I won’t get to spend any more time with the characters, watching them explore their world and grow in the process. I’m sad that my adventure in reading the book is over. I find it hard to start another book, because I’m still thinking about the book I just finished.

THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS made me feel that way. This book got to me. That’s hard for a post-apocalyptic/dystopian book to do, because I’ve read a ton in the genres, almost to the point where they’re all the same. To a degree, THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS is like a lot of what’s out there: all adults are killed by a mysterious disease leaving the world full of kids. Some kids band together, some go it alone, some live, some die. There’s usually someone smart who takes advantage of the chaos to create their own castle and rule like a king. And so on.

All of that, and darker, is in this book. But what’s different about THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS is how it’s written and the characters. Instead of employing the usual first-person point of view that’s common, the author tells the story in third-person. This sort of keeps you from the full emotional impact of the known world ending, but then the little things really pop up and sucker punch you. Like when Clare realizes there probably won’t be any new books written for a very, very long time. The author also sometimes gives hints as to when something really bad is going to happen, which got me. For example, saying that if Clare knew what was going to happen next, she would have enjoyed X moment of happiness. This tactic had me trying to flip ahead so I could find out right away what would happen, which is hard to do when you’re reading an e-book.

The characters and the relationships they form are another great part of this book. I’m always critical of romantic relationships (and they usually don’t work for me), so it’s super refreshing to see friendship be so important. I think one of the themes of THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS is the family you choose. Clare nearly loses herself after her parents die from Pest, but when she meets Jem, Mirri, and Sarai, she has a new reason to live. And all of the characters were so distinct, so alive. Not just the main four, but all of them, from the gang of city kids to Ramah and Bird Boy. I could have read a lot more about every one of them.

For the first third or so of the book, I wanted THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS to move faster. It’s somewhat slow at the beginning, setting up Pest, then following Clare’s depression after her parents’ death. But as I got further in, I started to enjoy the slow pace. The book does pick up after Clare meets those who will become her family. The action builds from there, to a showdown with a creepy villain. I rather liked that part, though it’s hard to say why without spoiling everything. Let’s just say the author doesn’t take the usual route, and I enjoyed that.

THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS breathes fresh light into the post-apocalyptic/dystopian genres, and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a new twist on the same old. Oh, I forgot to mention one more good thing — this book is a standalone!

About the author:

Gillian Murray Kendall is a American author and a Professor of English literature at Smith College. A specialist in Shakespeare and English Renaissance drama, and a graduate of Stanford University’s Creative Writing Program, she teaches a course on the post-apocalyptic novel as well as on topics in Renaissance literature. Kendall is the author of articles, short stories and a book of essays.
Website
Twitter

– leeanna