Review: Front Lines by Michael Grant

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 2.43.32 PM

Front Lines (Soldier Girl, #1)

by Michael Grant

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Front Lines is an alternate history of World War II, exploring what could have happened if women were allowed to fight on the front lines of battle.  This is a multiple perspective book that details the lives of 3 girls who have enlisted for a variety of reasons.  One is a black medic, who must overcome sexism as well as racism in order to serve her country.  Second is a Jewish girl from New York, who works in army intelligence. And the third perspective, is from a girl who is forced to re-examine who she believes she is in order to accept her new talents to further the USA’s goals in Europe.  All three of these girls have very different experiences, and provide the reader with a glimpse into previously unexplored possibilities while still accurately describing the true horrors of war.

Review:  I received this ARC from EpicReads! in exchange for an honest review.  I have mentioned this book previously on my blog and was very excited to finally read it.  Within the first couple of pages, I fell a little bit in love with this story.  It opens with an unknown, almost omniscient, narrator who introduces the characters to the reader.  It gave me chills and reminded me a lot of the narrator used in The Book Thief.  However, I was a little disappointed to discover that this narration occurs for only about 10 pages of the entire novel.

I also would have loved to hear more from the perspective of the soldier working in intelligence throughout part I of the novel, when they are receiving their training.  This was such a unique perspective and I feel like it could have used more fleshing out and attention.

Although the beginning of the novel dragged a bit in some places, I was really impressed with Grant’s writing during the conflict scenes, and started flying through pages once Part II arrived.  Now that the girls have officially transitioned into combat life, I could easily see myself enjoying the next installment of this series.  I found this to be a great start to a very intriguing series.

Advertisements

Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 7.24.53 PM

Made You Up

by Francesca Zappia

Rating: 2.5-3/5 stars

After being run out of her previous school, Alex is determined not to let anyone realize she has a secret at her new school.  Alex has schizophrenia and in order to keep track of who is actually in front of her, she constantly takes pictures to review.  However, she is not sure if her precautions will be enough once she meets Miles, a boy who reminds her of one of her childhood delusions.  Or at least she thought he wasn’t real, but now she can’t be sure.  All Alex wants is to graduate high school, go to college, and beat back her disorder long enough to accomplish these goals, but trying to navigate the uncertainty of high school is hard enough, factor in having to discover who is real or not makes it seem impossible.

Review: Zappia does a great job of writing to make the reader really feel Alex’s confusion and frustration.  I could not imagine having to second guess what I am seeing all the time, and it is easy to see why Alex is paranoid about many things.  However, I did have some issues with the plot.  For the first half of the book, things were really slow and it didn’t seem like much was happening.  I wasn’t really fired up to pick this book up each time I went to read it.

Once the plot did start to move, Alex becomes involved in something much bigger than she anticipated.  This plot twist and mystery that Alex became involved in was a huge leap for me, and pretty unbelievable.  It had to do with the school principal being kind of crazy and having an inappropriate relationship with a student.  I know part of that was to make the reader doubt whether the events were actually happening of if it was all in Alex’s mind.  But it was just really out there, and I find it hard to believe that no one was suspicious of the school principal in the years leading up to Alex’s attendance.

For me this book was really enlightening and informative, but I wasn’t super entertained.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 12.33.31 PM

Saint Anything

by Sarah Dessen

Rating: 4/5 stars

     Sydney has always lived in her brother, Peyton’s shadow.  When they were younger it was because of his charming personality, but as they grew up it had more to do with the trouble he was constantly in.  After finally getting help and staying clean of crime, drugs, and alcohol for a year, it looks like Peyton is finally back on track and Sydney’s life can get back to normal.  That is until Peyton paralyzes a boy while drunk driving.

     After Peyton is sentenced to prison, Sydney’s parents are less focused on her than ever and she begins branching out.  Seeking to escape her brother’s reputation, Sydney transfers schools and spontaneously starts spending her free time at a pizza shop owned by the Chatham family.  Here she finds total acceptance despite the family going through their own trials, including a mom that is battling Multiple Sclerosis.  She also meets Mac, a quiet, loyal, and protective boy who truly sees Sydney despite all the chaos in her life.

Review:  This book hit all the right chords for me.  Despite being about a very complex and heavy topic, Dessen finds a way to insert really heartwarming scenes throughout the novel that make me appreciate all the characters.  I loved that this book spent so much time on the Chatham family dynamic.  I mentioned this in my post about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universebut it is a major pet peeve of mine when YA novels neglect to talk about the teenagers home life and parental interactions.  This is not a problem with Saint Anything.  The reader gets a super clear picture of the Chathams and Sydney’s family to make a pretty stark comparison.

Dessen also gets major points for the complexity of Peyton’s situation.  It would have been easy to paint him as a bad kid who was finally stopped when he hit a pedestrian while drunk driving.  But the fact that he was trying to get his life back on track, was applying for trade schools, and leaving his past behind, makes the reader empathize with his guilt and sadness so much more. Overall, this is a really well written YA contemporary that I would recommend to anyone 🙂

A Step Towards Falling by Cammie McGovern

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 2.43.05 PM

“Friendships are complicated. Friends have power. Friends can break your heart.”

A Step Toward Falling

by Cammie McGovern

Rating: 5/5 Stars

     A Step Toward Falling is a contemporary dual perspective novel that chronicles the lives of two high school girls who have both been affected by a bullying incident.

     Emily is a high school student who witnesses Belinda, a student with developmental disabilities being assaulted and walks away without acting.  Now she and Lucas, another bystander who failed to act, must complete community service at a center that serves people with disabilities.  As time passes Emily begins to feel like she is making a difference in the class, but still feels guilty about the night of the attack.  When Belinda returns to school Emily makes a plan that she hopes will show Belinda how sorry she is and also give Belinda some positive attention that is long overdue.  As new information about the night of the attack comes to light however, Emily begins to second guess how to best help Belinda, and wonders if she is going to end up hurting her more in the end.

     Belinda has not returned to school since she was attacked.  She has fallen into a routine of watching Pride and Prejudice repeatedly hoping to rediscover the comfort she used to find in watching her favorite movie.  She used to believe that there were people like Mr. Darcy in the world but now she isn’t sure.  While her grandma and mom are very understanding and don’t mind that she is taking time off from school, Belinda knows she has to go back.  As Belinda tries to return to her school routine, she begins to understand that things have changed.  She needs to learn to adjust to new roles in her classroom and also finds that she may have some new friends to help her with all of these changes.

Review: This is McGovern’s second novel that I have fallen in love with.  She has a wonderful way of making people with disabilities her protagonists without making the conflict of the novel center around their disability.  Did Belinda’s disability play into how she recovered or reacted to her attack? Of course, but it wasn’t the only motive driving her actions or determining the next plot point.

     I loved the complexity of the feelings and people in this story.  This is seen best through the inaction of Emily and Lucas, despite neither of them being “bad kids”.  They froze, and despite their parents and peers telling them that it isn’t their fault or there is nothing they could have done, it’s not true.  Despite their mistakes at the beginning of the novel however, Emily and Lucas show great maturity in accepting their punishment and doing everything they can to improve the lives of the people they are meant to be serving.

    I cannot recommend this book enough! Whether to learn more about people with developmental disabilities, or just to read a YA book with great themes, character growth, and a heartwarming message.

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

IMG_1197

Falling Kingdoms

By Morgan Rhodes

Rating: 4/5 stars

Falling Kingdoms is a multiple point of view fantasy that follows the events and interactions between three kingdoms in Mytica.  This story is told primarily from the perspective of three characters. Cleo is the second born princess of the wealthy and bountiful kingdom Auranos, who spends a great deal of the novel coming of age and trying to understand her role in a murder that occurs in the beginning of the novel.  She also spends a great deal of her story making it her mission to try and find someone to save her ill sister, who is heir to the throne.

Jonas, is a wine-seller’s son from Paelsia.  He is from an impoverished kingdom and after tragedy befalls his family, he seeks revenge by working to support an uprising to overthrow their southern neighbors.  Paelsia has been living in squalor since a century old agreement with southern Auranos has gone bad, leaving Paelsia in an economic free fall, and agricultural hardship.

Prince Magnus of Limeros is the last character that the reader follows within this novel.  Son of a blood thirsty king, 17 year old Magnus has worked to create an air of indifference to survive his father’s cruelty and hide his dissension with his decisions.  Discord within Mytica, forces Magnus into the focus of his father’s attention, and he must confront the disharmony between his conscience and what his father is doing.  This is all occurring while he is also trying to guard a secret that could destroy his closest relationships and fill him with shame.

While all this is occurring, God-like figures called Watchers, take on the form of hawks and observe all that unfolds.  They are hoping to discover the powerful sorceress whom was prophesied to be born and could help them regain the powerful magic that has been taken from them.  All these characters collide as uncontrollable events much larger than them begin to unfold, causing loyalties to change and secrets to be revealed.  Cleo, Jonas, and Magnus are all put through this violent rite of passage that uncovers their true nature and how they react under pressure.

Review:  This was a really well-written fantasy.  I was concerned when first starting it because their is a large cast of primary and secondary characters and was worried that I would get bogged down in keeping everyone straight and not be able to pay much attention to the plot.  However, Rhodes does a phenomenal job of giving each character a very unique set of characteristics that painted a clear picture of them in my mind.  Falling Kingdoms had really great character development in this novel alone and it makes me very excited to see how these characters will be changed even more in future books.  A great example of this was Prince Magnus.  In the beginning of the novel, he was a favorite character of mine.  He had a really heart breaking childhood and although he worked hard to appear indifferent about his father and his discontent, it was clear that he was affected.  But because of very believable events and the more negative aspects of Magnus’ character he becomes less appealing as the novel moves forward.  He is an example of the complexity of people and the effect nature can have on them. Rhodes captures this in all of the characters really well.  I am excited to continue this series, and find out the future for Mytica.

Magonia – Maria Dahvana Headley

IMG_1194

Title: Magonia

Author: Maria Dahvana Headley

Rating: 3/5 stars

Aza Ray Boyle has suffered from an extremely rare lung disease her entire life.  Previously unseen, Aza Ray Syndrome makes it extremely painful and difficult for Aza to breathe at all times.  Doctors have little faith that Aza will live much longer and every year that she manages to hang on is seen as a miracle.  Now approaching her 16th birthday, Aza still continues to battle the effects of this condition, and it manifests itself in anything from seizures and lightheadedness to hallucinations.  The novel kicks off with Aza experiencing a hallucination in her English class, when she sees a ship breaking through the clouds outside her class window, and someone from that ship calling out to her.

Aza soon discovers that she not hallucinating and her lifetime of breathing complications are explained by something much more fantastical than a rare breathing condition.  She soon learns that she is originally from a different world where the makeup of the atmosphere is much different.  As a result, Aza has spent her life on Earth slowly drowning.  Now faced with a possible new existence, Aza must determine who has her best interests in mind and what would be the best direction for her life.

Review:  This book was really difficult for me to get into.  I’ve had it for a few months and kept starting it and getting sidetracked within the first 50 pages.  Aza’s character in the beginning of the novel is characterized as extremely cynical and full of angst.  As the reader, I took on this blasé attitude about the story which caused me to be indifferent about the characters and events.  When Aza experiences a very real health scare within the first few chapters of the novel, and begins to get very emotional and upset in front of her mother about her possible death I found it jarring and inconsistent with her previous attitude towards her mortality.  If this display had been utilized when I was more comfortable with the cynical character, I think it could have been really powerful to see her feel such deep emotion and display an attitude that is so different from Aza’s norm.  But in this case it left me more confused, and I didn’t have any emotional attachment to it at all.

I think Headley’s skill in this novel was her description of the ship and the people of Magonia.  That is when I took a real interest in the novel and wanted to hear more about how the characters looked and acted.  Overall, this book was okay and creative, but I wish I was able to connect more with the characters causing me to have more of an interest in how the plot was going to play out.

IMG_1177

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

IMG_1141

The Game of Love and Death

Martha Brockenbrough

Rating: 5/5 stars

In The Game of Love and Death, humans are pawns in a centuries long competition to prove who has more power.  In this novel, Love and Death are mystical figures who repeatedly choose human players to manipulate in order to try and achieve their desired outcome.  Past players have included the likes of Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, and Helen of Troy and Paris.  For the latest round, it is the early 20th century and Love, despite never having won a round of the game, has chosen a young man named Henry and Death has picked a young musician named Flora.  By marking them at their birth these players are connected for the rest of their lives.  Death and Love are allowed to change their surroundings, by having Flora and Henry’s loved ones pass away, for example, but neither can directly interfere with the players’ personal safety.

In 1937, Love and Death find that Flora and Henry have both matured and that their game can now commence.  The stakes: In order for Love to win, the two players must have the courage to continually choose each other despite all the odds.  If they do not, Death wins the right to take the life of her player.  There are several barriers that make a relationship between Henry and Flora difficult and unlikely during this time in history.  The largest obstacle being the fact that Flora is black and Henry is white.  Death uses this and several other factors to constantly try to push doubt and hesitation to the front of Flora’s mind.  Love on the other hand uses the other strong relationships in Henry’s life to encourage him to have the hope, courage, and patience, to try to convince Flora to take the risk on their love.

Review: I really enjoyed the concept of this story and Brockenbrough does a great job of giving both Love and Death very human characteristics.  Throughout this competition it is very clear that while this game is meant to be a diversion from their eternal duties, both Love and Death, are not happy with their current situations.  Despite being immortal, they each have their moments when they ache for the lives and relationships the players around them possess.

 Being pawns of such opposing ideas, it was interesting reading about the opposite reactions that Henry and Flora had to tragedy.  While the death of Henry’s parents, seemed to make him ache for a relationship where he could once again feel that close of a connection with someone, Flora turned into herself and tried to form bonds with as few people as possible.  One of these tactics serves to protect the soul from further damage, but only one could lead to the opportunity for renewed happiness.  Although a secondary character, one of my favorite parts of this novel, was getting to know Henry’s cousin Ethan, and his own struggles that he was trying to work through.

The Game of Love and Death is beautifully written, and tells a heart warming story that is really original and creative.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

By: Stephanie Oakes

Rating: 3/5 Stars

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly opens to a young woman named Minnow, standing over the body of a boy who has been beaten. Author, Stephanie Oakes, does not reveal to the reader what occurred, but within minutes the police have arrived. Before the chapter is over, Minnow has been convicted of assault and sent to a juvenile detention center for other girls. The reader is also left wondering about Minnow’s past and how she came to be missing both of her hands in a crude amputation and patch up job.

IMG_1112

The rest of the novel takes place within the detention center, and revolves around Minnow coming to terms with her new life and trying to acclimate to life outside of the cult she has lived within for over 10 years. Oakes keeps the reader in suspense of what occurred in Minnow’s previous life by only revealing the facts through flashbacks, when Minnow can no longer keep the memories at bay, or through the interactions with an FBI agent who comes to speak with Minnow on several occasions. He is trying to uncover what happened at “the Community” Minnow used to live in. When police arrived in the beginning of the novel, the commune was burning to the ground and the “Prophet” or cult’s leader was the only person dead at the scene.

Review:

This book was intriguing and suspenseful. While the mystery of trying to uncover Minnow’s past kept me reading, I also appreciated reading about Minnow dealing with her violent past and learning to cope in a society that she is almost entirely unfamiliar. This is further compounded because she is also learning to work with a severe handicap in that new world. Oakes acknowledges the complexity of Minnow’s situation by including that while Minnow wants to be free, she is conflicted. Not only is there a comfort in returning to a new form of prison after being essentially a captive within the cult. The juvenile detention center almost provides the training wheels Minnow needs in order to be able to function in her new surroundings. This book reveals the character development Minnow goes through in the short time she spends at the center, as her goals and dreams from the beginning of the novel definitely begin to adjust and change as the bubble she has lived in her entire life pops under the weight of all of the new knowledge she gains.

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Curse is a book that has received a lot of attention in the last few months, and I bought it to see what made it stand out so much from other YA fantasy novels.  I was sucked into this world pretty quickly.  So much so that I read the entire book in a single day.

IMG_1057
Starting shot 🙂

This novel primarily surrounds Kestrel, a young women who is faced with the decision of joining the military or getting married within the next few years.  While trying to wade through which choice would be best, she makes the snap decision to buy a slave at an auction she attends, admiring the defiance and strength he shows after refusing to follow the auctioneer’s demands.  As the slave, given the name Smith, acclimates to life with Kestrel, the two befriend each other.  This becomes a source of tension for Kestrel in her society when people begin assuming they are more than friends.

This friendship further complicates their lives, because Smith is hiding information about his intentions and past from Kestrel which causes major rifts in the latter part of the novel.

IMG_1062
Picture from after I finished reading only 6 six hours later 🙂

Review:  There were several aspects of The Winner’s Curse that I thought were really well done and appreciated.  The main difference I loved from early on, was the lack of insta-love between the two protagonists.  I really liked that when Kestrel first brings Smith home, she almost forgets he is there for an entire week.  She had other responsibilities or interests in her life and that didn’t change just because of Smith.  In fact for a good portion of the first part of the book Smith and Kestrel seem to really hate each other.  The complexities of their characters were also revealed in the struggle they each faced in choosing between their growing feelings for each other and their loyalty to their people.  Rutkoski did a very effective job of showing the emotional turmoil these two face as they try to decide was is best for the people around them but also for themselves, and I think the fact that there are times when the characters feel they made the wrong choice, really highlights how closely balanced these separate loyalties are for Kestrel and Smith.

The world building, history, and myths/beliefs of the characters in The Winner’s Curse, was also really impressive and believable.  I think the belief system especially was highlighted and most effective through the character Enai, Kestrel’s childhood nurse.  Overall, I thought this novel was very well written and am eager to read the sequel!

Dodger – Terry Pratchett

Image

 

     I really looked forward to reading this book after hearing about it earlier this year.  It’s a pretty cool idea, Pratchett uses famous characters from novels and literary history as the characters in his plot and have them interact with each other throughout the story.  Some of these include Dodger from Oliver Twist, Sweeney Todd, and Charles Dickens. When I first read a description of this story I was really excited and picked it up soon after it was published.  I read bits and pieces of this novel for over a month until it was finished, but unfortunately I was never invested in the story.  Dodger is the main character in this story and it follows him as he tries to discover who is responsible for attempting to murder a young woman, fortunately they are unsuccessful because dodger comes to her rescue.  Dodger is the kind of character who rationally considers every situation he is in and makes a calculated decision about how he should react that would best serve him.  I think this is part of the reason I didn’t enjoy the story as much as others, there was very little emotional interaction between characters.  The one exception being, exchanges that occur between Dodger and the girl he rescues.