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review 2017-05-27 00:17
Review: Gem and Dixie by Sara Zarr
Gem & Dixie - Sara Zarr

Quick review for a quick read. Another emotional and engaging read from Sara Zarr. "Gem and Dixie" is a story of sisters as well as knowing when to let go and grow. I enjoyed the journey, though the story had more compelling points in certain turns than others. It got a little muddled in the middle trying to march itself towards the ending, but still pulled at my heartstrings for showcasing the relationship between the characters.

Gem is four years older than Dixie and has been tasked as the responsible figure in a complicated household. Gem and Dixie's father is often absent from their lives, and usually when he returns, it's never for good reasons. Their mother can barely keep food on the table and while she's present in their lives keeps her own distance from taking on responsibility due to a number of vices. Gem has always tried to help and protect her younger sister, but even as they've grown older, their relationship has become more distant, with Dixie wanting to hold on to memories they used to have while Gem is ready for something more, something better.

The two have a rather unique opportunity to get away when their father returns to their lives, leaving a questionable amount of money of undetermined source under the bed. Gem asks Dixie to get away for a short time - just to "let loose". But their journey from that point is a series of encounters that have the girls meeting mishaps and discovering each other in a way they hadn't had opportunities to do before. I think the first half of the novel had me in its compelling portrait of the girls' broken home, while the latter part had some moments of emotional connectivity, but the pacing and grip loosened a bit up until closer to the end when the girls have to face the reality of their situation and Gem has to make a decision for herself rather than for the inclusion of her and her sister. In the end, it's a solid read - probably not my personal favorite from the author, but well included among her potent stories in contemporary YA and dealing with difficult issues. Wonderful audio narration by Julia Whelan as well.

Overall score: 4/5 stars.

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review 2017-05-25 03:29
Review: Burned (Burned #1) by Ellen Hopkins
Burned - Ellen Hopkins

Quick review for a quick read that I picked up from my library's audio collection. Powerful and really wonderful character exploration, which is typical of Ellen Hopkins's books. Pattyn is a young woman living in a tightly knit religious community and abusive household. She strongly laments her inability to grow as a young woman - in relationships, in asserting herself among other things - as well as watching her mother being subjected to her father's fists. After a series of incidents in which she acts out, she's sent to live with her aunt and begins to know what it means to have a better life for herself, including being valued in a romantic relationship with her S.O. (Ethan). In the end, she's not prepared to return to the household that cast her out, yet she never really wanted to leave completely behind, and things only turn for the worst after that point. I'll admit it hit me like a punch to a gut and I couldn't shake the emotional upheaval it left within me long after turning the final page.

"Burned", like the other books of Hopkins I've read, went down so smoothly and quick for the overarching read - I really enjoyed the audio narration of the novel as well as the poetic form she uses to tell Pattyn's story. She captures Pattyn's thoughts, questions, fears, uncertainty, and emotion to the teeth, and I liked being able to follow her throughout. I thought her fears and concerns were front and center, making me feel her struggle, but I think there were opportunities of depth and debate (particularly around the religious community concerns, since Pattyn lives in a Mormon household) that were missed. I definitely look forward to reading the next novel in this series, though the cliffhanger ending makes me all the more anxious to get to it as soon as possible.

Overall score: 4/5 stars.

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review 2017-05-09 04:24
Review: Shadowshaper (Shadowshaper #1) by Daniel Jose Older
Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older

Initial reaction: One of my favorite reads this year so far. I loved this book so much. The MC had a strong voice and the overarching storyline was imaginative and exciting. I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel.

Full review:

I'll admit I saw this book on the shelf at my library and was completely taken by cover lust. If you also want a different experience than reading the physical book, the audio version is wonderfully read by Anika Noni Rose (I ended up purchasing this from Audible because I loved the book so much.)

I think one of the things that I can say off the bat about this book's collective experience was that it was so much fun to read and very imaginative. I haven't read any of Daniel Jose Older's work before this point, but my experience with "Shadowshaper" makes me want to read more. The story revolves around a young woman named Sierra who descends from a long line of "Shadowshapers": those who can magically manipulate the art they create. Sierra's ill grandfather suddenly snaps out of his near comatose state, begging Siera to finish a mural that she notices has come to life and is quickly fading away. She doesn't understand what it means at first, but a rich history and harrowing adventure unfolds as Sierra discovers not only her hidden abilities but a rich and dynamic family history that was kept hidden from her because of the rising conflicts between members of her family. I really enjoyed Sierra's strongly asserted voice and the dynamic characters that I came to know in this book. Even the romantic angles of the story were well-developed and in a dynamic I was rooting for throughout the story. It's the kind of tale that I wish more YA novels had the depth and development to tell. Plus, the multicultural cast, lore and history really sets this book apart from many of its peers.

I'm definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

Overall score: 4.5/5 stars.

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review 2017-03-16 03:54
Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
We Are Okay - Nina LaCour

Quick review for a quick read. Leave it to Nina LaCour to tug at my heartstrings every single time I pick up a book from her. For what it's worth, I did enjoy "We Are Okay" though it wasn't as strong for me as some of the author's other narratives (a.k.a "Hold Still"). It's the story of a young woman named Marin who escapes her life after a series of tragedies and has to come to terms with them as her best friend reunites with her over Winter Break while she's in college.

I wasn't surprised by Marin's actions given that I knew she was in a state of denial, grief, and anguish, but it was the reasons behind those emotions that kept me pushing through the novel to see them in full. I'll admit that at times the delivery of these story details is uneven and took me some time to push through, but I always respect and appreciate the genuine way LaCour's able to dig into the raw emotions of her characters. There's much that haunts Marin, and it takes an exploration of the past meeting the present to bring it together (trading between months of memories and present details). I appreciated the range of emotions and coming to terms that Marin shows through the narrative, and felt for her on the note of her relationships with her mother and grandfather, as well as her best friend Mabel and roommate Hannah. The narrative features a prominent character of color and a lesbian relationship with enough moments to feel for the characters even through the events that affect them. I enjoyed getting to know the range of characters in this book and thought it did a fine job of showcasing the dedication of people around Marin to let her know she wasn't lost or forgotten, though her journey after her experiences had her mentally wading through some dark places (some of which I'll admit resonated with me because I've been in that headspace as a result of loss - in more ways than one - before. I don't know if I'd even think to do what Marin did ultimately, but I could see the reasons behind her behavior.)

In the end, it was a solid reading experience for me, a story that I could definitely get behind though it did take some wading through slower, uneven moments in the narrative to get there.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

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review 2017-03-15 04:15
Review: Summerlost by Ally Condie
Summerlost - Ally Condie

Quick review for a quick read. I was first introduced to "Summerlost" through a snippet offered on NetGalley, but I later checked out a full version of the book from my local library. This definitely satisfied my longing for a quick read in the form of a fulfilling MG/teen summer story. It's Ally Condie's middle-grade debut about a girl named Cedar who's coping with her first summer after her father's and brother's tragic accident. She returns to the town of Iron Creek for the summer, meeting a boy named Leo and volunteering her time at a theater festival called Summerlost. It is also a chance for her to join Leo in a side job directing tours surrounding the 2oth anniversary of the death of a Hollywood actress whose life was cut short due to tragic circumstances as well.

This proved to be a very quick read in the audiobook form, and I found Cedar's voice to be cheerful and easy to follow. The story provided some nice turns of showcasing the strong bond between Leo and Cedar, as well as illuminating and valuable showcases of Cedar with her family, though in brief spells. The setting was probably the strongest part of this narrative. I did feel that some parts of the narrative left much to be desired for deeper emotional development and narrative styling, but I liked the theme and enjoyed the overarching story for what it offered.

Overall score: 3/5 stars.

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