Thursday, January 29, 2015

Half Bad Paperback Release Celebration + Giveaway

Celebrate the paperback release of Half Bad.
Get ready for the much anticipated sequel Half Wild. 
And enter to win a Winter Witches Brew prize pack!


He has a powerful Gift. It’s how he uses it that will show if he’s good or bad.

In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and sixteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his seventeenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, Half Bad is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.

Watch the Half Bad trailer

Read my discussion review of Half-Bad, HERE

ABOUT HALF WILD (in stores March 24)
In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, seventeen-year-old Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world’s most powerful and violent witch. Nathan is hunted from all sides: nowhere is safe and no one can be trusted. Now, Nathan has come into his own unique magical Gift, and he’s on the run–but the Hunters are close behind, and they will stop at nothing until they have captured Nathan and destroyed his father.

The Half Bad trilogy has been translated into 47 languages. TIME Magazine calls it “highly entertaining and dangerously addictive.” Kate Atkinson says it’s ”brilliant and utterly compelling.” London’s Daily Telegraph has named author Sally Green “the new J.K. Rowling.” Discover the story that readers all over the world are raving about.

Sally Green lives in north-west England. She has had various jobs and even a profession, but in 2010 she discovered a love of writing and now just can’t stop. She used to keep chickens, makes decent jam, doesn't mind ironing, loves to walk in Wales even when it's raining, and will probably never jog again. She really ought to drink less coffee. Half Bad is her first novel.

Visit the Half Bad website
Find Sally Green on Twitter and Wattpad
Share using hashtag #HalfBad



Brew a winter concoction to settle in and read Half Bad 
before the release of Half Wild!

One (1) winner receives:
a branded tumbler and hot chocolate,
plus a copy of Half Bad.

Prizing & samples courtesy of Penguin
Giveaway open to US & Canada addresses only

Monday, January 26, 2015

This is Shyness by Leanne Hall

This is Shyness
by Leanne Hall
Read: January 19 - 20, 2015
March 17, 2015 by Text 
Source: Edelweiss (TY Text!)
Category: YA, Aussie, just one night, 

Series: This is Shyness #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

A captivating novel told from the points of view of two unforgettable characters. In the suburb of Shyness, the sun doesn't rise. Wolfboy meets a stranger called Wildgirl, who dares him to be her guide through the endless night. There are things that can only be said in the dark.This is Shyness was shortlisted for a number of major Australian literary awards and named a Children's Book Council of Australia Notable Book.


This is Shyness is a book that is very hard to categorize, and I don't want to loose the magic of the journey by explaining it too much. But you should know this book contains a whole lot of strangeness. It also takes place in one night. 

I love the way this book begins like a typical contemporary with one of our narrators having a bad day at school and going out with work friends to forget about it. She ends up in a pub called The Diabetic and sees a hot guy across the room. He notices her back. Then he howls at her and tells her his name is Wolfboy - she says he can call her Wildgirl. It's here you realize this isn't going to be a typical story at all. Wolfboy and Wildgirl follow a weird and wonderful path through a town where it is always night. But amidst all the absurdity, readers begin to see that these are flawed characters with real-life problems after all. 

"It's time to wind this up before someone comes a long and sees us. Two people dressed in black can fly under the radar if they're careful. Five people, including three flamboyantly dressed pirates - that's a different matter."

Another favorite things about this story are Wolfboy and Wildgirl's voices. They are unique, but also filled with longings and insecurities. I highlighted so many passages that were poignant or that amused me. In many ways this is a journey of self discovery for both of them. As they traverse the dark streets of Shyness where regular rules don't apply, they gain perspective on their own lives. This book doesn't solve their problems, but it changes their points of view a little bit, which is often even more important. As both Wolfboy and Wildgirl experience something that is different from their insulated lives - finding opportunities to fear and wish and be brave - they begin to see that maybe there's more out there for them than they thought. 

"There's one thing I can't accuse him of, and that's being all alpha and macho. He was listening when I said we had to be a team. And right now this team member needs to go up to the roof to clear her mind."

This story is also a romance, and I love the growing bond between Wolfboy and Wilgirl. They have an instant attraction, which I totally think is real, by the way. But the slower connection of trust and honesty that they build over the course of the night, is what is lovely to watch. 

This book wasn't long enough (thankfully there's a sequel!). I wanted to spend more time in Shyness, and find out why it's covered in darkness and more about the nefarious activities of certain parties. But I also love the way this book ends in the morning without answering every question or solving every problem. It makes the night stand out even more vividly. 

Love Triangle Factor: NONE

Cliffhanger Scale: Low - the sequel Queen of the Night is currently published in Australia. 

 I've already read the sequel Queen of the Night, which is just as spectacular. Don't miss this Aussie duet! 

*All quotes taken from the advanced e-version of the book I received from Text Publishing via Edelweiss, Copyright Leanne Hall. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dual Review: The Eighth Guardian and Blackout by Meredith McCardle

The Eighth Guardian
by Meredith McCardle
Read: January 8 - 12, 2015
May 6, 2014 by Amazon Children's
Source: ARC from publisher
Category: YA, Time travel, government intrigue, American history, Boston

Series: Annum Guard #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&NThe Book Depository

 Amanda Obermann. Code name Iris.

It’s Testing Day. The day that comes without warning, the day when all juniors and seniors at The Peel Academy undergo a series of intense physical and psychological tests to see if they’re ready to graduate and become government operatives. Amanda and her boyfriend Abe are top students, and they’ve just endured thirty-six hours of testing. But they’re juniors and don’t expect to graduate. That’ll happen next year, when they plan to join the CIA—together.

But when the graduates are announced, the results are shocking. Amanda has been chosen—the first junior in decades. And she receives the opportunity of a lifetime: to join a secret government organization called the Annum Guard and travel through time to change the course of history. But in order to become the Eighth Guardian in this exclusive group, Amanda must say good-bye to everything—her name, her family, and even Abe—forever.

Who is really behind the Annum Guard? And can she trust them with her life? 


Amanda is a junior at a private high school that trains students to enter the CIA and other specialized government offices. Each year the juniors and seniors compete in intense physical and psychological tests on an unannounced Testing Day, after which the seniors graduate. Although juniors never leave early, Amanda has a strange feeling that the man with a green tie who's been watching her all day, may have different plans for her. She's right, when unexpectedly, her name is called to graduate. All of a sudden Amanda - now code named Iris - is part of the Annum Guard, a secret government organization that time travels to "enhance" history. Leaving her boyfriend and family behind were hard enough, but Iris is treated like an outsider in the organization, and she quickly learns that she can't trust everyone - maybe not anyone. 

What I love - 
The Eighth Guardian was so much fun - this book kept me on the edge of my seat. I loved the time travel and intrigue and all the different time periods and historical events. I was excited that so much of this book takes place in Boston, including a fantastic section that involves the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum Heist. The time travel set-up with wormholes, time losses and physical dangers of moving though time was also complex, though not too confusing to understand. This book makes much of the difference between altering the past and enhancing it - aka, making minor changes. And it's interesting to see how that plays out in the story, though I'd like to see even more dramatic consequences of changing even minor details. 

For the most part, I enjoyed Iris's narrative. I cannot imagine facing the huge upheavals that she does, or entering an organization filled with people who seem more suspicious and secretive than they are welcoming of her. While I think she could be impulsive and judgmental at times, I liked her determination to find answers and keep going even when situations got dire. She also does (eventually) build relationships with people in this book, and I enjoyed seeing her find friendship and support. I'm looking forward to even more of that in the future. 

What I wish - 
There was some mean girl jealousy and drama that I think was somewhat overdone. I also feel sort of indifferent about the romance. Amanda and Abe are already dating when the book begins, which is a unique approach. Though it actually didn't bother me at first, and I was able to connect into their relationship pretty well. However Abe is gone for a large part of the story, and we're mostly told about their relationship by Amanda. Without him on screen, I began to lose touch with them as a couple. Then I was disappointed in some of his actions near the end. Still, the author seems to make a point to say that this series won't have a love triangle, and I hope that I'll get more into their relationship in the next book when (hopefully) we get a chance to actually see them together. 

As the story progresses, Iris/Amanda uncovers several unsettling secrets about the Annum Guard, and the tension in the story shifts to the mystery surrounding those. I'm already eager to dive into book two and find out more pieces of the puzzle!

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Low/Medium - this storyline wraps but there are still a lot of loose ends and clearly at least one more book to go. 

**Read on for my review of book 2**
I attempted to make my thoughts spoiler free for the series, and safe for even new readers. I do not give away any specific plot elements in the following review, though I do go into more details on the romance. 


by Meredith McCardle
Read: January 13 -14, 2015
January 13, 2015 by Skyscape
Source: ARC from NetGalley
Category: YA, Time travel, government intrigue, American history, Boston

Series: Annum Guard #2
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | The Book Depository

Seventeen-year-old Amanda Obermann (code name: Iris) has more on her mind than usual. As a member of a covert government organization called the Annum Guard, which travels through time to keep history on track, Iris has been getting some particularly stressful assignments. Plus, Jane Bonner, the Guard’s iron-fisted new leader, seems determined to make life as hard as possible. Thankfully, Iris has Abe (code name: Blue), her boyfriend and fellow Guardian, who listens to her vent—and helps her cope with her mentally ill mother’s increasingly erratic behavior.

When Guardians start to disappear on their assignments, Iris makes a terrifying discovery: a “blackout” squad is targeting anyone who gets in the way of a corrupt force that’s selling out both the Annum Guard’s missions and Guardian lives. Together, Iris and Blue must go undercover to untangle the Guard’s elaborate web of secrets and lies. But when Iris discovers that the terrible truth may involve her own father, a former Guardian undone by his own greed, she must decide how much she’s willing to risk to rescue her friends…and how dangerous the consequences will be for all of humanity.

A thrilling time-traveling adventure that spans from Abraham Lincoln’s assassination to the Cuban Missile Crisis and back to the present day, this pulse-pounding sequel to The Eighth Guardian reveals that playing with time can turn into a deadly game.


Time Travel
The sequel to The Eighth Guardian is fast paced and kept me quickly turning pages from start to finish. I wanted to figure out what was going on with the government and the Annum Guard, and find out the identity of XP as much as Iris did. While the first book focused more on real historical events, adding in the internal Guard intrigue as the book progressed, this book was mostly focused on the latter with historical events as backdrops. It was still fun to travel to different places and times, though. I loved seeing how social customs, women's roles and security has changed so much. 

Iris continues to be stubborn and not good at listening to others, or following orders. A few times I disagreed (strongly) with her choices. I'm glad there are people who call her out on that, even if she rarely listens. This series isn't as focused on character growth as it is action and deception, though I hope Iris will find more growth by the conclusion of the series, and I think she's forced to confront her choices by the end of this installment. Despite that, Iris and I mostly got along throughout this book. I would never do as well in the high pressure situations she encounters, and she barely has time to think about her personal life before she's rushing off into another high stress situation. 

My biggest issue with this story was the romance, which I'm going to talk about at more length, because it's always an important part of a book for me. If romance doesn't skew as highly for you, then this might not weight as much as it did for me. Especially, if you are invested in the other aspects of this story. Iris and Abe were dating when the first book began, which made sense for the way the story was set up. However, for most of both books, she and Abe have either been separated or not communicating well. That coupled with never seeing their initial connection when their relationship began, has eroded my enjoyment or understanding of their relationship. 

In this book, Iris and Abe are at least together more. But despite that, their relationship stalls into an awkward holding patter where they keep coming to conflict then backing up and glossing over issues between them. I would think they were headed towards a breakup, but then in the next chapter Iris would strengthen her resolve to be with Abe and declare everything was okay. But I needed to see them working together and talking about their issues to believe in their relationship. Thankfully, it is not central to the plot, but Iris is thinking about it frequently. Honestly, they just didn't seem to be a healthy couple anymore. I'd almost like to see them back up and rebuild if they are going to stay together. I admire their loyalty to each other and for their sakes (and for the sake of the readers who have also invested in them), I want them to figure it out, but they have work and communicating to do! 

This book ends on a cliffhanger and I liked the direction it story takes a lot. It definitely has me excited to read the third book. At the end, we finally see consequences for different people's actions and the way they've been playing with time. I enjoyed seeing the outcome of some of the questions I've had since the beginning. Especially the idea that any past change can have future consequences. I think the third book will be particularly interesting to explore this.

Current Events
Although this series highlights some big events in past US history, there has been no mention of recent ones, such as 9/11. I'm surprised no one has mentioned what would happen if something like that was altered, or even if the Guard had considered that possibility in the past. I mean, at least one of those flights actually left from Boston! Even if it was just a conversation, I think more complexity and relevance could be added to this story by asking some questions about more current events. Still, I like that Iris has begun to think through whether time travel and altering history are too dangerous as a whole to even mess with. 

Final Thoughts
Despite my mixed feelings about the romance, I've still enjoyed this series and I'm very much looking forward to the final installment after what happens at the end of book two.

Love Triangle Factor: None-ish - If you are highly allergic to any hints of relationship conflicts, ask me for more details on this. But all the way through it's really only been Amanda and Abe, and I foresee the same for the finale. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium/High - no immediate danger, but some huge things to come!

Monday, January 19, 2015

All Fall Down by Ally Carter

All Fall Down 
by Ally Carter
Read: January 15 - 17, 2015
Published:  January 20, 2015 by Scholastic Press
Source: ARC from publisher. (TY, Scholastic!)
Category: YA thriller, foreign embassy

Series: Embassy Row #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | The Book Depository

Grace can best be described as a daredevil, an Army brat, and a rebel. She is also the only granddaughter of perhaps the most powerful ambassador in the world and Grace has spent every summer of her childhood running across the roofs of Embassy Row.

Now, at age sixteen, she's come back to stay - in order to solve the mystery of her mother's death. In the process, she uncovers an international conspiracy of unsettling proportions, and must choose her friends and watch her foes carefully if she and the world are to be saved.


Everyone will tell you that Grace's mother died three years ago in a tragic accident. Except Grace is certain her mom's death was not an accident at all, but murder. Grace know's she's not crazy, because she was there. She watched it happen. But no one believes her. With her soldier father deployed in the Middle East and her brother at West Point, Grace is back living in Embassy Row with her Grandfather, the most important US Ambassador to Europe. But Embassy Row is also where her mother grew up, and Grace is surrounded by her mother's memory, and her own growing determination to find her mother's killer.  

YA Thriller
In the letter I received with the ARC of All Fall Down, author Ally Carter calls her latest a "YA thriller set in a foreign embassy." Well that grabbed me immediately, and as expected, this is an exciting beginning to what I'm already certain is going to be a favorite series. While the first half of the story was slower paced, containing world building and set-up about Grace and her history, Embassy Row and it's inhabitants, the second half exploded into the rapid-fire thriller I was expecting, especially in the final quarter. I definitely did not see those last chapters coming! One of the many things I love about All Fall Down is how excited I am for what is to come in the future. I can't believe I'm going to have to wait so long for more.

Embassy Row
This book is set the American Embassy in a nonexistent country in European, though all the foreign Embassies surrounding the American Embassy are real - as are their relationships with each other. Some interactions are definitely more strained than others, and one wrong move could very well cause an international crisis. I loved getting to know Embassy Row and the other countries and inhabitants along the street. I usually struggle with books that take place in fake countries, but I can imagine that there's a bit more freedom for Carter setting her story in fictional Adria instead of a real nation. Thankfully, this book does have a small-European-country-located-along-the-Mediterranean feel, including a history of kings and conquest. 

I just want to give Grace a hug, only she wouldn't like that very much, especially if it was accompanied by pity. My heart broke for her. She has faced immense personal tragedy and upheaval in the past three years. Not to mention believing something that everyone else refuses to consider. Grace is fierce and fragile. Incredibly impulsive and vulnerable. She doesn't trust easily, but she is desperate for someone to trust her. There are many sides to this girl, and I felt them over the course of this story. But even when I wanted to yell at her to slow down and think, I was always rooting for her. Grace goes through an incredible evolution in this book, and I'm very excited to see how she transforms and develops as the series continues 

Grace is in desperate need of a support system, and relationships are always one of my favorite parts of Carter's stories. I love seeing the eclectic mix of friends Carter's characters amass. Grace doesn't go looking for friends, but they find her anyway, and in true Carter fashion, they all have their own special talents and involve themselves in quite the intrigue when they get together.  This is the beginning of what will hopefully turn out to be a close group, which is exactly what Grace needs. 

There is the barest hint of a romance in this book - one blink and it's gone. But I'm intrigued by the direction it's taking and I hope it sticks.  I am a fan of Carter's slow burn style, and the fact that the love doesn't take over the rest of the plot. There are two guys in the book, though one is firmly in the friend camp as of now. At this point, I'm not sure I could completely predict where the relationships are heading.  But, Grace has a lot more to focus on that isn't guys, and Carter isn't known for relationship angst or drama - or love triangles. Instead of nervous, I'm excited to see how this develops. 

Grace feels powerless and undermined throughout most of this book, and yet as the granddaughter of an ambassador, she is a representative of her country and expected to act in a certain way. (Of course she doesn't usually pay attention to what she's suppose to be doing.) What Grace notices very quickly is how men are mostly the ones with visible power in her grandfather's world. But, Grace also begins to notice the strength of women around her, even though it's often expressed less visibly. Ms. Chancellor is one of the most interesting women in this regard. It's clear that she has a lot more influence than what it appears on the surface. Grace's friend Megan is another who is more than she appears. I'm really excited to see how these themes progress in the series, and watching Grace gain confidence and learn to see her own power.  

All Fall Down ends after a mass of revelation, and now I'm itching for the next book. I can't wait to be inside Grace's head again. I'm eager for relationships continue to build, more information to unravel and the danger to increase. Don't miss this one. 

Love Triangle Factor: None - very little romance in this book. Only a hint of the direction. Carter does great slow burn, though. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium. This is definitely built as a series and I am DYING for more. Lots of revelations near the end of this book, but doesn't end in the middle of danger. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Early Review: I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

I'll Meet You There
by Heather Demetrios
Read: October 8 - 10, 2014
Published:  February 3, 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Source: Borrowed from Andi @ Andi's ABCS (THANK YOU!!)
Category: Contemporary YA, wounded veterans, between HS and college
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | The Book Depository

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

I'll Meet You There is the story of two teens whose lives are imploding. Josh Mitchell is back in the states after losing his leg in Afghanistan. The Marines were his way to escape the inevitability of a life stuck in his depressing town. He's angry and lost, and doesn't know who he is or where he's going. We hear from Josh in short but powerful stream of consciousness chapters that are interspersed within Skylar's narrative. Sky is desperate to escape the same middle-of-nowhere town to San Francisco and college in the fall. It finally appears to be happening. But as August looms closer and her reckless mother's life falls apart - what else is new? - Sky is afraid she'll never get there. 

HEART: One of my favorite things about I'll Meet You There isn't anything tangible or quantifiable. It's the fact that it's so clear when you're reading - and backed up by the author's note and the moving letter that came with the ARC - that Heather Demetrios breathed a piece of her heart into her book. This is a story she needed to tell, and her words came out of that and produced something that has resonated strongly with so many readers.  Even though it's not even really a 'thing' you can measure or explain how to replicate, I think it's absolutely palpable in this book and in the emotions of the characters. This is the wonder of words and the magic of storytelling at their most inspiring - and heartbreaking. For this reason alone, you don't want to miss meeting Josh and Sky. 

LOVE: The romance in this book is stunning. It is slow and aching and painful, but also beautiful. It felt real. Sky and Josh don't at all seem like a good match - with Josh's past and Sky's future - but I think that's one reason why I loved them. Because finding each other was so unexpected for both of them. Sky and Josh also have raw and honest conversations, and actually talk and even joke about Josh's lost leg. There's nothing at all funny about it - but it is different and new, and I love that Demetrios allows Sky to ask the questions and say those awkward things we're all thinking anyway.  

FRIENDSHIP: The story around Sky and Josh's romance is equally filled with complex relationships. Sky has two best friends - Chris and Dylan. One whom, like Sky, is desperate to escape town, while the other is a young mother and happy to stay. These three are all headed in very different directions and struggle to come to terms with that, but they all continue to support each other. One of my favorite moments is when Dylan confronts Sky for the way she's been judging the people around her, and even I felt chastised for how I'd seen the girls who stay behind. I was also surprised by how Sky's relationship with her boss at the Paradise Hotel blossoms. Marge becomes a source of stability and wisdom that Sky really needs in her life. Sky's relationship with her irresponsible mother also changes throughout this book. Though she was not at all my favorite character, I appreciated the  maturity with which their relationship was handled at the end. 

HURT: This book is filled with characters that make bad decisions and self destruct in incredible ways. I wanted to scream at many of them at one time or the other. Josh and Sky both mess up big time, but the thing is, I could always understand them too. Their pain and loneliness and fear of being stuck and desperation came to life on these pages. I am usually not a fan of drama, but I became so tied to these characters that nothing in this book felt like it was added for angst sake. I felt all their emotions along with them, and desperately wanted them to figure it out and find their way forward. 

HOPE: I ended this book with a big sigh of happiness, but I also appreciate the fact that Demetrios doesn't sugarcoat the future for her characters. All relationships take work, but when you carry as much baggage as they do, it sometimes take a little more than usual. Thankfully, both Sky and Josh have the support of others to help them. For me, one of the most hopeful elements of this story is the fact that they both realize how much they have by the end. I'm thankful that they have others to remind them of that. I wish nothing but the best for them in the future. 

This book is beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful. These characters came to life for me in vivid color, and I felt so much for them. They are passionate and flawed and alive, and I ached for them through the course of this story. Skylar, Josh, Dylan, Chris and Marge, it was hard to let you go. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone

Monday, January 12, 2015

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

I Was Here
by Gayle Forman
Read: January 3 - 7, 2015
Published: January 27, 2015 by Viking Juvenile
Source: Lent by Jen @ YA Romantics 
Category: Contemporary YA, suicide, grief 
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.
When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.
I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss. 

I am a fan of Gayle Forman and have enjoyed all of her previous books and novellas. I've connected well to her heroines in the past, especially Allyson from Just One Day. I've happily swooned at her romances, though my favorite is the slow reconnection of Where She Went. Forman is also very good at linking past and present in her stories, so we grow to love characters we never meet in person. Unfortunately, none of that happened for me with this book. 

I Was Here was nothing that I anticipated and that didn't end up being a good thing. As the story wore on I struggled to connect to the heroine Cody, and I never understood Meg, her best friend whose suicide drives Cody's journey. See that bold section of the official description above: "Cody and Meg were inseparable. Two peas in a pod." I was told about that a lot, but I never felt it, which pulled me out of the story as it wore on. Also, even though this book is short, it was slow in places. There are large sections where Cody doesn't do much but clean houses and go online at the library in an endless loop. Still she manages - to her own admission - to descend down a dark rabbit hole. Eventually she does something that is so crazy and beyond all rational sense that she lost me completely.

While I can very much appreciate Cody's desperation to find answers to her best friend's shocking suicide, and I admire her persistence, I could not get behind the direction she took her focus. I never thought it would bring answers, and even though I can see that it was a way for Cody to feel closer to Meg, I never felt close to Meg or drawn in this direction. Unfortunately, as a result, a large chunk of the book felt like a dangerous tangent. There are some strong scenes near the end of revelation and growth for Cody, but they came way too late for me. The last chapter was touching, however. 

Although a minor element in the story, I didn't care for the romance, which surprised me, because I generally love that part of Forman's books. The author does seem to favor a kind of guy, and I have trouble with the "player who changes when he finds the right girl" love interest in general. Sadly, Ben mostly remained an overused type instead of a real person to me. Plus as I struggled with my connection with Cody, I needed more from both of them to get why he was so drawn to her. Especially with how she treats him in the second half of the book. I will echo other reviewers in saying I Was Here could have done without the love element, but the story became so dark and isolating that I was desperate for some balance or levity. 

I'm definitely still anticipate what Gayle Forman writes next, but I'm sad to say that I Was Here didn't work for me. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone

Friday, January 9, 2015

Ravencliffe by Carol Goodman + Giveaway!

by Carol Goodman
Read: December 10 - 12, 2014
Published:  December 2, 2014 by Viking Juvenile
Source: Hardcopy from publisher (THANK YOU, PENGUIN!)
Category: Historical Fantasy, Fae, 1910s
Series: Blythewood #2
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | The Book Depository 

Avaline Hall is no ordinary girl. 

She’s a student at Blythewood Academy, an elite boarding school that trains young women to defend human society from the shadowy forces that live among us.  After the devastating events of her first year at Blythewood, Ava is eager to reunite with her friends—and with Raven, the compelling but elusive winged boy who makes her pulse race. She soon discovers, though, that the sinister Judicus van Drood hasn’t finished wreaking havoc on Blythewood—and wants to use Ava and her classmates to attack a much bigger target.

Ava’s the only one with any hope of stopping van Drood. But to scuttle his plans, she must reveal her deepest secret to everyone at Blythewood. What’s she willing to sacrifice to do what’s right—her school?  Her love?  Or her life?


Note: Ravencliffe is the second book in a series. I've tried very hard to make this review as spoiler free as possible for the series - at least anything major. I've hidden anything that I considered a major spoiler for the first installment, but please visit my review of Blythewood, if you are new to these books.  

Series set-up
In Blythewood Avaline Hall goes from poor factory girl working at the Triangle Waste Company (you can image how that ends) to meeting her wealthy grandmother and attending the elite Blythewood boarding school. Along the way Ava learns that fae and other magical creatures exist, and that she and the other girls at her school are charged with protecting the world against them. While there definitely are dark forces out there, especially those led by evil Judicious van Drood, Ava discovers that nothing is as clear as she's been told, even the school's history. When Ava realizes her own unique nature, everything she knew about herself and how she views the world around her changes. 

In the sequel Ravencliffe, Ava is much more confident in herself than she was in the first book. She has close friends and is excelling at Blythewood. However, Ava is still questioning what type of future she wants for herself, or whether she agrees with everything the school is doing. But Ava loves her place there and her friends, and she is afraid of what everyone will think when they discover her true nature. As the shadowy forces led, by van Drood, increase their evil activity once again, Ava must open up in order to bring everyone together to fight him. 

What I love -
Ravencliffe features all the same elements I loved about Blythewood, especially the historical fiction blended with fantasy. I couldn't wait to see what real moments from the past were hidden within the story. While I think the history woven into the first book was a little more striking than the sequel, mostly because of what happened during that time period, I had a lot of fun looking up places mentioned in this installment. For instance, Ava and friends visit Coney Island and go on the Steeplechase Ride, which sounded crazy - and dangerous - to me when it was described. But it was real! No way would it meet regulation today, however. 

Part of this story takes place in New York City, and part at Blythewood Academy in upstate New York. I enjoyed exploring more of the the city and country in 1912-13 America, and being back at school with Ava and her friends, Helen and Daisy. Ava also meets several new friends in this book, not all of them human. However, one of my favorite parts of Ava going back to school, and the whole book, was getting the chance to learn more about the Darklings. Ava spends a lot of time with Raven (yum!), but she also visits their home, and learns more about her connection to them. 

I really like the parts of the story where Ava explores the Darkling culture and mythology. Their 'job' or purpose is eerie and fascinating (highlight for spoiler), they offer comfort and bear witness to dying souls, and carry them to the afterlife.  Ava finds out about it in some intense ways, including one dream sequence. Ava also meets other Darkling besides Raven, one of whom greatly affects Ava. But of course, most of all I loved the growing relationship between Ava and Raven. It's super swoooony and there are some very delicious Darkling customs that are part of their courtship. They interact in a new way that is so fun to watch -(highlight for spoiler) Raven teaches Ava to fly. It was also easy to believe the seriousness of their conversations about their future in light of the time period. 

This series continues to explore the theme of dark vs. light, and in this installment, the frightening ways a weak mind can be overtaken. Van Drood is a dark and dangerous villain, and he has some genuinely frightening plans in the works. I enjoyed seeing groups that don't usually work together have to coordinate to succeed against him, and Ava realize that she might not have to choose one thing or the other. 

What I wish - I wish two aspects of this book had been different: 
First, I was disappointed with Ava at one point when I felt like she gave up on something too easily. However, that section also involves the major plot direction of the latter part of the story, and it seemed like the author wanted to stall for time for a while so the story could align it with an event that happened in history. Though that may be, it was hard for me to believe Ava wouldn't have done more than she did at the time. (Sorry that's all so vague!) 

Second, the growing relationship between Ava and Raven was lovely to watch and it was far less drama filled than I imagined from the descriptive copy. They are very certain about their feelings throughout the entire book. This is why I was so confused by Ava's sudden conflicted emotions about Nathan, which she mentions in one of the last scenes. Although it's clear Nathan cares for her as more than a friend, Ava's feelings for him have always seemed plutonic, and she has never been tuned into him like she is to Raven. It didn't make any sense to me and really worried me! I'm ardently hoping that it doesn't mean anything for the future. 

Final thoughts
Ravencliff begins in the summer of 1912 and takes place over about a year. Everyone knows the big event looming on the horizon in two short years! I'm excited, but also very nervous about the sequel Hawthorn. Besides my ever present fear of love triangles, I have enjoyed this series immensely. The history + fantasy is a winning combo; I've loved seeing Ava become her own person, and the romance is sweet and swoony. 

Love Triangle Factor: I'm going to be optimistic and say none. But I will admit to being a little worried about where book 3 will go. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Low - definite story to come, but ends in a good place. 



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