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review 2018-06-14 20:53
Review: Undead Girl Gang
Undead Girl Gang - Lily Anderson

Review: Undead Girl Gang

 

I received a copy from Penguin's First To Read.

 

This. Book. Was. Awesome. 

 

I absolutely loved it, from start to finish. I loved it so much I bought a finished hard back. There are some books you know from the tone of the first page if you're going to love them and the main character, and for me, this was one of those books. 

 

I felt a connection with Milla right away. I loved her don't give a fuck snarky tone. She's clearly grieving, the book opens with her best friend Riley's funeral. She has quite an interesting perspective on the funeral itself, a bunch of people from their school wailing and crying who would never have given Riley the time of day. Riley died in mysterious circumstances. The third death to happen to students from their class recently. Two of the schools most popular mean girls June and Dayton were also found deceased recently in what looked like a suicide pact. 

 

Neither Riley nor Milla fit in with the other students, they were heavily into Wicca, spending all their time at the local new-age magic shop or an abandoned house they found where they practice their spells and hang out. Riley's family own the local funeral home and Riley found herself a outcast, she and Milla connected and became best friends and have been for years. Though she'll never admit it Milla has an epic crush on Riley's hot, popular older brother Xander.

 

He's actually talking to her after the funeral. Milla is struggling with school, mandated meetings with the school shrink, and certain people (namely her chem lab partner) being a dick about her weight. She has two annoying younger sisters who don't seem to get 'personal space' and is generally miserable.

 

It's well written and believable without being over the top with the goth Wicca scene. The characters are well fleshed out as well. Milla's voice, despite her attitude problems, is easy to connect with. Her family drama, her school problems, it's not surprising she's not coping as well as she's saying she is. It's a sort of read between the lines thing. 

 

So she decides she's going to perform a spell to bring Riley back from the dead, find out what happened so she can bring the person who killed Riley to justice. It's not a simple basic spell, there are things she needs to get, certain times it can be performed. Kinda complicated. The method she received the volume of spells in which the actual spell to cast came to her is a little spooky. 

 

And of course when she heads to the magic shop with the  book, the lady who runs the shop tells her its a very old book and a dangerous one. Naturally of course, she doesn't listen to a word of warning. Hardly surprising then, when the spell works it not only brings back Riley, but June and Dayton too.

 

No one knows how it happened and it's not so much fun anymore with the two mean girls back again. They're all still dead, and discover some less than pleasant things about being a sort of zombie as they go along. No one remembers what happened before they died. The book from then on focuses on figuring out what happened to June, Dayton and Riley.

 

Some secrets come out as the novel progresses. And it has moments where it's very entertaining and quite funny as well. Though it has it's fair share of deep emotions and a few surprising twists to boost. Hints at something that could finally start to progress between Milla and Xander when they start developing a friendship of their own. 

 

One thing I did like was there wasn't really much romance involved. Hints and teasers, but it was more about the friendship with Milla and Riley and dealing with June and Dayton than about hooking up with the hot boy. 

 

A few more twists by the end when things start going wrong. Though when the truth is finally revealed, it's one of those why didn't I see this coming thing? It was quite clever. A tad over dramatic, maybe. Also, a standalone. Everything wrapped up decently and there wasn't any well what happened about so and so and no unanswered questions. 

 

I loved this book through and through and would definitely read it over and over.

 

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review 2018-06-03 17:14
Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship by Michelle Kuo
Reading with Patrick - Michelle Kuo

A special thank you to Penguin Random House First to Read for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Michelle Kuo is a recent Harvard graduate that finds herself in a rural town in Arkansas as a Teach for America volunteer.  Wanting to make a difference in her students' lives, she is full of optimism but soon discovers how broken the system is.  Kuo tries a different tactic—she  uses quiet reading time and guided writing exercises as a way to instil a sense of self in her students.

Throughout her tenure, Kuo loses students for various reasons.  Some are as simple as truancy and others are harsh and stem from violence.  She also is inspired by some, and one of those students is Patrick who is fifteen and is still in grade eight.  Under Miss Kuo's attention, he flourishes.  However, Michelle is feeling incredible pressure from her Taiwanese immigrant parents to pursue other opportunities and ultimately leaves Arkansas after a couple of years to attend law school.

On the eve of her graduation, Michelle learns that Patrick has been incarcerated for murder.  Murder?  Patrick?  Kuo has incredible guilt and thinks that she is partly responsible because she prematurely left the school.  Determined to right the situation as best she can, Michelle returns to teaching Patrick from his jail cell while he awaits trial.  It is here that we get a sense of both of their characters.  Michelle doesn't waiver in her dedication, even when it appears as though Patrick has forgotten most of what she taught him.

In this moving and inspiring memoir of a teacher that didn't give up on her student, Patrick, Kuo shares the story of her mentorship of Patrick Browning and his incredible journey of self-discovery through literature and writing.  Kuo is also taken on her own journey as she is forced to navigate through several broken systems, racism, social standing, privilege, and relationships.

Friendship can come unexpectedly sometimes, and you never know your impact on someone else's life.  I highly recommend this wonderful story.  

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review 2018-04-11 12:57
Review: Royals
Royals - Rachel Hawkins

I received a copy from Penguin’s First To Read

 

This book was like a giant rom-com cliché. The alternate history for the Royal family was eye rolling and cringe worthy. That being said once you over look those things, it was actually a very entertaining read. Irritating as hell, but fun.

 

(Especially like me if you have a guilty pleasure for Royal gossip)

 

In this alternate world there is a Scottish Royal Family, and the heroine Daisy’s sister Ellie has fallen in love with Prince Alexander, heir to the throne. They are getting married. Daisy lives in Florida with her mom and her ex British rock star dad. She lives a pretty normal life. She has a part time job at a local convenience store and is looking forward to a planned trip to Key West with her BFF Isabel where they will go to a convention to meet their favourite fantasy author and get their books signed. All pretty normal.

 

But all this is thrown out of whack when Ellie announces she’s marrying the prince and the Royal family have invited the whole family to Scotland for a few weeks for the summer to get a taste of what’s coming.

 

Every other chapter is a page from a magazine or a gossip blog/tabloid.

 

Daisy is fuming but agrees on the basis that the Royal assistant Glynnis who has come with Ellie and Alex can arrange for a singing at a book shop near where they are staying and bring Isabel along later.

 

So off to Scotland they go given a Royal treatment – first class flights, fancy cars, the fanciest hotels. To add to the chaos, Alex’s younger brother, charming, Sebastian (who is Daisy’s age, 17) the most eligible teen in Scotland is there as well with his group of fancy friends. Sebastian is an ass, crude, full of himself and flirts with everything in a skirt. Daisy finds herself getting into a snit with his best friend Miles when a drunken Sebastian decides to head into her room.

 

The dialogue is sharp and witty and as soon as Miles and Daisy start snarking with each other it’s completely predictable as to what’s going to happen. Daisy has to go to several royal events and dress the part (something she’s not happy about) and of course things go eye rollingly wrong (including a rather amusing incident where she finds herself getting looked down on by some of the posh women and does a delightful job of holding her own and insulting them right back).

 

It’s cheesy as hell. However, at the time, I did find myself reading this with a grin on my face most of the time. Daisy is struggling to cope with major culture shock, even when her best friend finally arrives (Isabel’s huge crush on Sebastian not helping) Daisy finds herself unwittingly creating a scandal that catches the eye of the disapproving Queen. And Miles to the rescue.

 

Which leads to a fake dating plot.

 

As a lead character Daisy was immensely likeable, easy to understand where she’s coming from. Easy to follow her story as she moves between the very different world and gets to know the real people behind the tabloid gossip and learns maybe Miles isn’t the stuck up ass he pretends to be. They have some quite interesting conversations about their differences.

 

The end is absolutely gag worthy. But kind of works.

 

Not the most brilliant book I have ever read, but certainly an entertaining one.

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review 2018-03-19 11:33
Review: Nothing Left to Burn
Nothing Left To Burn - Heather Ezell

I received a copy from Penguin First to Read.

 

I went into this book not really knowing anything about it. It flagged my attention because I remembered if from my TBR list. I wasn’t expecting such an emotional gut-wrencher.

 

It starts with teenager Audrey wakened by firemen knocking on her door and some ungodly hour of the morning informing her of mandatory evacuation due to a raging wildfire. Audrey lives in Orange County, California. Her dad is out of town on a business trip and her mom and younger sister Maya have gone somewhere (I can’t remember where) for some really exclusive ballet audition for Maya. Audrey stayed home and went to a party the night before. It’s clear something happened there and she may be a tad hungover.

 

Naturally she’s completely freaked out and running around trying to figure out what to save, to get hold of her dad. She can’t bear the thought of freaking out her younger sister before her big audition. Also extremely worried over her boyfriend Brooks who is a volunteer firefighter.

 

What follows is an emotional roller coaster as Audrey comes to terms with the raging fire and how it’s effecting the people in her life. Also with flashback chapters on how she met Brooks and how their relationship developed.

 

It’s excellently written and the emotion pours out of the characters. Audrey comes across as a bit of a shy loner, with one best friend Grace. She doesn’t seem to get out much and feels a little left behind since Grace got a girlfriend, Quinn. Audrey works with Grace’s older brother Hayden on some AP projects for a class they’re in together. They’re friendly but you also get an impression something happened there as well that Audrey’s trying to avoid dealing with.

 

She meets Brooks at a party and they strike an immediate connection. He’s a loner as well, there’s gossip about him Audrey’s heard throughout the school grapevine but Brooks is nice and she doesn’t want to listen to rumours. Especially since they seem to be getting on so well. They start hanging out more and more and develop a deeper relationship going from friendship to something more romantic.

 

Audrey misses some red flags when Brooks’s behaviour starts changing. He’s got a complex past, his beloved brother died, he’s struggling to deal with it. Understandable. He can get her to talk, but doesn’t always seem to divulge much information about himself and gets annoyed and angry when asked about it. That should raise a few questions on its own. He doesn’t seem to like Audrey hanging out with her friends. He makes a scene about it when her friends show up at a birthday celebration for Audrey. He also seems kind of pushy about sex as well, especially since Audrey’s made it clear she wants to wait until she feels ready. Yet at the same time he can be very romantic as well.

 

The chapters switch between what is happening the day of the evacuation and what happened over the summer leading to that point.  As Audrey gets closer to Brooks she starts ignoring her own friends, and there’s big questions about what happened to Brooks’s deceased brother. Audrey gets some pretty shocking information. Yet she still can’t seem to think of much else.

 

There’s also a really great family dynamic as well, Audrey and her sister are really close and their relationship with their parents is decently described as well. The parents are involved without being overbearing and not pushed to the background.

 

There was a surprising twist in regards to the wildfire as well.

 

Beautifully written and really emotional as well, this was a quick read but a very good one. Definitely an author I would read again.

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review 2018-02-20 11:04
Review: Reign of the Fallen
Reign of the Fallen - Sarah Glenn Marsh
I received a copy from Penguin First to Read.

I finished this in December last year and I’m still struggling to put to words how to review it. I sort of liked it, I loved the diversity of the characters. This was one of my most anticipated January releases, but the actual book itself? Even after well over a month later I’m still undecided. 

I think my biggest issue with it was the whole the dead rule the world thing. In this novel you have a kingdom where Necromancers are the most powerful mages and when dead nobles die, it’s their job to go and retrieve their soul so the person can keep living and ruling as they have done. Maybe I’m getting too cynical but I’m struggling to grasp this concept. Mainly because from this reader’s point of view – it doesn’t teach anyone how to deal with the concept of death. Particularly the ruling class. Even their king is the living dead. I don’t get it. 

Best thing I loved about this book was BISEXUAL LEAD FEMALE CHARACTER!!! 

The novel starts with the lead female Odessa and her best friend/boyfriend Evander about to receive their commendation as official members of the Necromancer’s guild. As full Necromancer mages they can live in the palace and lead comfortable lives. Odessa sort of secretly wants to see the world, and you get the impression she thinks that Evander did too. Odessa has a friend (lady pirate) with a ship who can offer a passage out into the wider world. However, it’s forbidden to leaving their secluded comfortable little kingdom, even though the royals are mostly wise and seemingly well-liked and respected and everyone seems pretty comfortable. At least on the surface. There’s always going to be problems hidden in a kingdom like this which is never obvious to the people whom it should be. Which should raise questions as to why no one is ever allowed to leave. Why do the dead have to be brought back over and over? (There may have been an answer in the book I just can’t remember it).

The risen dead have certain rules to live by and there’s consequences, things can take a drastically bad turn and the risen dead can become murderous monsters known as Shades. On a seemingly routine job the kingdom princess Valoria accompanies Odessa and Evander and the reader gets their introduction into the land of the dead and the way things work.

Only a short time after the task is done there is a shock death. A loose Shade on the rampage. Odessa starts to question things about her relationship with Evander. The mystery in the dead lands is progressing, the Shade attacks are getting more frequent. 

Early on in the novel there was a really surprising twist I would never have guessed at.

The characters were great, I loved them all. A+ for diversity, a lesbian couple, a gay couple, and a bisexual lead female. The characters were well fleshed out, their emotions and actions believable. Though I did feel that Odessa could be a tad over dramatic. 

That being said, in the aftermath of an unexpected tragedy she falls apart. She breaks down. Completely understandable, but she also develops an addiction to a pain numbing tonic rather than dealing with the harsh reality and emotions. There was something very uncomfortable about this. I do understand and logical that it’s so much easier to give into an addiction rather than deal with the feelings when faced with something horrible.

I did find the pacing of the novel very slow, something would happen and then it would emotional turmoil and meandering and seemed like ages before anything else would happen. There didn’t feel like a whole lot of action going on. The second half of the novel picked up a bit, a new character is introduced who comes across as quite antagonising for Odessa and gives her more of a challenge, a new lead into the investigation into the increasing Shade attacks sets of a new direction which breathed more life into the novel. Also hinting at the possibility of a new romance angle as well. The character is mentioned in passing a few times earlier in the novel and comes in with her own agenda but finds herself becoming part of Odessa’s investigation. 

Meredy is a Beast Master, she can control animals as well as being a Necromancer. She’s smart, sassy and not afraid to call Odessa out on her bullshit. She doesn’t follow blindly, though she has some pretty misguided ideas of her own necromancy when she makes her appearance. She provides a good counter balance to Odessa.

When the force behind the Shade attacks is finally revealed there was a bit of eye rolling why didn’t I see this coming from a mile away? Kind of amusing in a way, should have been fairly obvious but actually it was quite clever that I never managed to figure out the twist to see it coming. 

While some of the novel I found slow and boring it did have its moments. I didn’t get some of the magical concepts. There were some of it I liked. It was certainly interesting and creative and not a fantasy type I’ve seen done a hundred different times. So plus points for uniqueness. I did buy a finished hardback, I may have to read this again at some point before the next one comes out. 
 
 

 

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