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review 2018-08-31 18:55
Quirky, funny, and smart, ‘Unclaimed Baggage’ takes on some big issues in small town Alabama
Unclaimed Baggage - Jen Doll

It’s probably humanly impossible to not like a book with fluffy clouds and a little squirrel holding nuts on the cover. So far, I believe this to be 100% true.

 

‘Unclaimed Baggage’, while having nothing to do with now-endangered and very cute red squirrels, is just as adorable a book on the inside as it is on the outside, and if it’s that cover that draws you in (like it did me), so be it). It’s the goods inside though that will make you stay a while.

 

The title of the book is the name of the store that brings three new and unlikely friends together in small town Alabama. Doris has been working at Unclaimed Baggage for a while, and takes great pride in her work, unpacking suitcases that have lost their owners somewhere along the way on their journeys around the world, left at airports, unclaimed, unnamed. The contents of the bags are then sold in this unique store, which gets customers from all over the place, and even has an Instagram feed.
Nell is the newcomer, who has been made to move from the Chicago suburbs to this tiny Southern town, away from her boyfriend and BFFs, and at the start of the summer too. Forced to get a summer job by her rocket scientist mom, she fortunately meets Doris at the store.


And to round out the unlikely trio, we have Grant Collins, the hometown (but recently disgraced) football star, struggling with a drinking problem, having recently lost his girlfriend, as well as his way. His mom calls in a favor and gets him a job at the store, which is probably the best thing to ever happen.
Over the course of their summer (but barely a couple of my days) this trio is taken through a bonding experience like no other, and not only do they have infinitely a more exciting summer than I had, these unlikeliest of friends learn some big eye-opening things about the world.

 

Author Jen Doll is a smart writer, and beneath all the adorable quirkiness, she presents a whole host of issues that teens (and a lot of us, in fact), have dealt and might deal with: sexual assault, alcohol abuse (particularly how it’s accepted in certain groups in high school), grief and loss, racism, a particular brand of which is still especially pervasive in the South, as well as an expectation for everyone to subscribe to the same Christian dogma.
Doll also gives us these wonderful teen characters that challenge these issues in a way that I found, for a change, to be brave instead of obnoxious, to be thoughtful instead of preoccupied, and actually give us cause to be sympathetic to their faults (especially dear Grant).

 

One key element of this novel, underneath all that quirkiness which I just loved, is relationships, and since this is a contemporary YA novel, it’s worth noting that it isn’t filled with text conversations, and there are also positive family relationships in this book, with the parents actually feeling like real people. I’m finding this is becoming a rarity in my reading lately (is it really so bad to put that out there?). Additionally, the close relationship Doris had with her aunt Stella, who’s passed away, plays a big part in the book; the exploration of Doris’ grief and the influence she had on her, adds depth to this story and her character.

 

All of this though, is served up with heaps and heaps of Southern fried syrupy goodness and charm, or at least, a furry manatee, and suitcases with their own names. The ‘scenes’ at the store were so wonderful, I wanted more, with all these amazing artifacts and personal belongings from people all over the world ending up on their shelves with the teens wondering their backstories.


I also didn’t even mind the fact that Jen Doll uses the alternating ‘voices’ of Doris, Nell, and Grant, to tell the story, which is a writing device I was becoming tired of lately but in the case of ‘Unclaimed Baggage’, I found it worked well. The book is also divided up into the three months of the summer vacation, to give you a sense of time flow.

 

However ‘slow’ their (or anyone’s) summer went, I raced through this book. It is funny, quirky, thoughtful, and full of so much heart that I can’t help but love it to pieces.

 

*I gratefully received this ARC as part of Miss Print's ARC Adoption Program."). 
This squirrel is being released into the wild on September 18th, ‘18.

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/36949992-unclaimed-baggage
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review 2018-08-11 22:25
'Sadie' has an inventive approach and is an emotional read; you won't forget this character or book for a while
Sadie - Courtney Summers

This is a wildly inventive and brave thriller, one that weaves ‘Sadie’s’ story, in which a teenage girl tries to find the man who has killed her beloved sister Mattie, together with a ‘podcast’ called ‘The Girls’. The two writing devices make this a refreshing read, and now with the podcasts actually streaming (yes, in real life), Courtney Summers and Macmillan have made this book a living breathing thing.

 

The book feels so 'alive', that you almost forget that Sadie (who has had a tough life: she has a stutter, her sister has been murdered, her addict mother has left) is missing. Author Courtney Summers opens the book with: 'Girls go missing all the time', so we may think of our main character as just a number, but then we are challenged when we are forced to get to know this young girl and so we start to have emotions towards her as we read the book.

 

Sadie wants to find the man who killed her little sister Mattie, and through both Sadie's perspective as she goes from buying a car so she can leave the tiny town of Cold Creek, to the shocking and emotional end of the book, along with 'The Girls' podcast as recorded by West McCray, this is a great big hunt; it's a hunt to find this man, a hunt to find Sadie, a hunt for the truth. There are lots of characters along the way that West speaks to, who knew the girls, their mother, who have made assumptions, as he tries to find the truth and get to Sadie, and he uncovers a tragic home life, and uncovers what likely many runaways and abused children go through each and every day beyond these pages. Sadie becomes more than just a vigilante seeking retribution for her sister; she is a tragic character who represents that 'lost little girl', the scared abused teenager on-the-run.

*Needless to say, many push-button issues come up in this book: child abuse, pedophilia, addiction, so there may be some readers who need to stay away for those reasons.

 

I left this book with a big hole in my heart, knowing that the issues contained within are real, even if the story isn't, even if Sadie isn't a real girl who went looking for her sister with all that love in her heart. The final two pages had me crying and smiling at the same time, and even with a bit of an open end (be warned, if you don't like those - I happen to love them), 'Sadie' finishes perfectly. Kudos to Courtney (and Macmillan) for bringing Sadie to life.

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review 2018-06-29 16:05
‘The Cheerleaders’ is a new thriller from Kara Thomas, but in this small town, all the cheerleaders are gone...
The Cheerleaders - Kara Thomas

When I first heard about this book ‘The Cheerleaders’ from Liberty on Book Riot, my ears perked up at it being a new thriller from Kara Thomas (plus Liberty said it’s awesome). Then I saw the amazing bare-bones cover with the cheerleading skirt, and that absolutely convinced me. A thriller with cheerleaders? Bring it on!!

Cheerleaders have been an iconic feature in American culture since the sport of cheerleading became popular for teenage girls in high schools and colleges (rather than it previously being a male sport) in the 1950’s. There’s really no mistaking what a cheer uniform represents in terms of status when one is donned; the cheerleaders in high schools seem to occupy their own certain bewildering stratosphere in the hierarchy of school cliques, and it’s hard to describe the ‘cheerleading effect’ (although it’s done really well in the hilarious movie ‘Bring It On’). Cheerleaders have long made perfect fodder especially for movies (particularly of the horror variety), TV, and books, because of the stereotypes that befall girls who become them.

In this book,'The Cheerleaders' of Sunnybrook have either been killed, or they’ve had to become the not quite as high-flying dance squad, so there's not much cheerleading going on. After the deaths of five cheerleaders (two dead from hitting a tree in a car crash, two brutally murdered by the man who lived net door to them, and one by suicide, the squad is disbanded. Monica, whose sister Jen died by her own hand, is now on the dance team, and even though it's five years on, she doesn't have the answers she needs about her sister's death, especially after she comes across her sister's cell phone in her stepad's (the cop) desk. She also has a new friend at school who really pushes to find out what really happened, and to see if the deaths are connected.

Now there's a lot about this novel that I really loved: a seasoned writer like Kara Thomas means the reader gets to enjoy clear voice for our protagonist Monica, who is surrounded by friends and family, but still seems rather lonely, having lost her sister Jen some five years prior (and we have some chapters told from her perspective too), and she leads us through this thriller/mystery. Opening with what clearly is her having to deal with the aftermath of an abortion, thanks to an unplanned pregnancy, this is something pivotal to the plot, and something that may turn a few readers unnecessarily away (Thomas isn’t afraid of that though).
Quickly though, the reader is given the back story about how the cheerleaders died and why Monica becomes so adamant on finding the truth. But this is also where I find the major flaw: I really did want more ‘cheerleaders’, and more action than just at the end (the twist is still good, although a few times I’d got bogged down in too many details, and got lost in the information given). The book gave me an entirely sad feeling as a takeaway; after ‘solving the mystery’ I came away with such a profound sense of loss for these characters, which I didn’t expect. There’s some closure but it doesn’t balance how much I wanted a bit more of a bloody thriller, much like the blood splatter on the cheerleader skirt on the cover suggests, instead of a sad mystery.

This is a solid mystery from Kara Thomas, well-written and with an unexpected twist. Just very sad, and with a lot of amateur sleuthing (instead of cheerleading).

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review 2018-06-15 16:00
BLOG TOUR REVIEW: 'Dive Smack' by Demetra Brodsky
Dive Smack - Demetra Brodsky

I'm so excited for the release of this book, and I'm thrilled to be on the blog tour because of how amazing the book is. This was an easy 5-star read for me; as soon as I put the book down when I was finished, I was engulfed with strong (all good!) feelings for it; I’ll share more in my review! 

 

Thanks again to the amazing Fantastic Flying Book Club for having me on this blog tour; I’m especially grateful to have been on this one!

 

 

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR: DEMETRA BRODSKY (she's amazing, by the way)

 

 

 

Demetra Brodsky is an award-winning graphic designer & art director turned writer. She has a B.F.A from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and lives in Southern California with her family of four and two lovable rescue dogs. Dive Smack, her debut novel, is dedicated to Pumpkin, the monarch butterfly she once saved from the brink of death. Once you read the book, you’ll understand why. She is a first generation Greek-American and a member of International Thriller Writers. Dive Smack is a 2018 Junior Library Guild Selection.

 

CONNECT & BUY THE BOOK!

 

***You can find all her links to connect with her *HERE* and EVERY single link to PREORDER and BUY her book (via Amazon, B&N, Target, Powells, iBooks, EVERYWHERE, ie, you have NO excuse). There are some great preorder incentives (yes, I've already got my order in!).

 

There is also an audiobook sample, a book excerpt, and even a Dive Smack Spotify playlist!

 

You can find her on Twitter as demetrabrodsky!

 

 

SO...THE BOOK!

 

DIVE SMACK by Demetra Brodsky

Category: Young Adult, Contemporary
Release Date: June 19th, 2018; Tor Teen

 

SYNOPSIS:

Theo Mackey only remembers one thing for certain about the fire that destroyed his home: he lit the match.

Sure, it was an accident. But the blaze killed his mom and set his dad on a path to self-destruction. Everything else about that fateful night is full of gaping holes in Theo’s mind, for good reason. Maybe it’s better that way. As captain of the Ellis Hollow Diving Team, with straight A’s and solid friends, he’s only one semester away from securing a scholarship, and leaving his past behind.

But when a family history project gets assigned at school, new memories come rushing to the surface, memories that make him question what he really knows about his family, the night of the fire, and if he can trust anyone—including himself.

 

 

MY REVIEW: 

 

So it was quite easy to give this twisty and exciting psychological YA thriller a 5-star review. It has been harder to put into words every single thing as to why, because I was so taken by surprise by Demetra’s brilliant debut novel. It seems as though from the moment I laid eyes on the beautiful cover for ‘Dive Smack’ (the flames above a young man plunging into the water), I needed to read it. And then I was immediately lost inside this book from the opening two quotes, particularly this one from Carl Jung,


"Your vision will become clear when you look inside your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens."


What a way to start the book!


If you read the synopsis of the book above, you'll know by now that it’s about Theo Mackey, a high school springboard diver who has had both of his parents pass away tragically, and then he starts to question the memories he has of the fire that killed his mom, particularly as new ones surface as he researches a family project for school. Theo luckily has some great friends he can count on, but he lives with his alcoholic grandfather (GP), and he's starting to find his home life and new stressors are affecting his usually perfect diving, something he can’t afford to screw up, being the captain of Team Monarch. And the big school family project is what really starts to mess with Theo’s understanding of the fire, his family, and this makes him question what’s going on in his head. It seems he’s gradually losing his grip. That’s really what leads him to get more help from Dr. Maddox, a family friend and psychiatrist.

*Note: I’m leaving a LOT of story/plot out, so there are no spoilers.


Now that’s a very basic overview of what you are getting yourself into with this, but it goes from being a book about this likable guy on the diving team at a high school (and I now know so much more about springboard diving beyond my watching the Olympics every four years), to being a very clever, psychological thriller with details and twists I never expected. Demetra has employed some very clever writing devices that make this a standout: I love the way she begins each chapter with a diving term that correlates to the part of the story that it contains (note that Dive Smack is pretty painful), which is absolute genius. Her writing is also very fluid, and weaving interludes with the past and other ‘voices’ are done seamlessly. Also, since this is a thriller, the pacing builds up steadily to an eventual crescendo, within an ending where all the tense energy flows throughout the end chapters.

 

 

Theo is such a well-fleshed out character (as are Chip, Iris, Amy, and others), that you really get a feel for who this guy is; Demetra has created so many endearing things about about him, that you can’t help but root for him the whole way through: we know he has two moles on his face, his car is called Bumblebee after the Transformer, he likes classic rock, and of course, he's an orphan. And he likes to use puns.


But the real treat in this book is how it ropes you in (it gets better and better the deeper you dive in: pun intended), how it becomes way more than a book about a few high schoolers; it becomes about a sensitive young man uncovering his past and the deception that is swirling around him. Then the massive and very dark twist at the end takes the reader, and Theo, by surprise, making this precisely what earns this book its top marks. It left me tearful, it made me laugh, AND gasp. I can’t wait to see what comes from Demetra next, especially if it’s another thriller as riveting and original as this one.

 

*And just so you know - Dive Smack: When a diver under or over rotates or twists on a dive, hitting the water with enough force to cause pain or physical injury.

 

GIVEAWAY:

Hardcover copy of DIVE SMACK by Demetra Brodsky & Prize pack of necklace, bracelet, signed bookmark, & signed book plate! US only, ends 6/26.

 

Click *HERE* to enter the giveaway. Good luck!!

 

 

To continue following the tour, this will take you to the DIVE SMACK BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE.

 

That was a long one, I hope you read it all! If you go back to the first post on the tour you can read a great interview with Demetra (surprisingly she is NOT a diver, and I was so stoked to find out she also loves Teen Wolf).

 

I hope you add this to your TBR, and buy this book! Happy reading!

x Katherine

 

PS. #TeamMonarch 

 

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review 2018-06-15 04:15
'Jolie' (who has an underbite) is such a heartfelt and funny book; all the right high-school bookish tropes are there and they're PERFECT
Things Jolie Needs to Do Before She Bites It - Kerry Winfrey

I read this book just about at the perfect time; after reading seven dark thrillers, mysteries, and moody fantasies, I needed something to cleanse my literary palette and get me back to 'bookish square zero'.

 

This really was a delightful read, taking me to all the right places that I hoped a book like this would. It revolves around Jolie Peterson, who is sixteen, in high school, and has an underbite, which is medical termed as 'mandibular prognathism' (I didn't even know that, and my dog has the most severe underbite; he was my motivator for requesting an early copy of this book - yes, really). Jolie has spent her entire life NOT wanting the spotlight before of her teeth, but also preparing for surgery to 'fix her face' so that she can end the headaches, chew properly, and stop feeling like she's different from everyone else. She wrestles with the questions of what makes someone beautiful, just like a lot of young people do, whether they have a misaligned jaw or not, and it takes her a long time to realize that many people worry if they're good enough, smart enough, pretty enough.

 

While she prepares for this long-awaited surgery, so many things come up for Jolie, and it may seem like you're reading a book with all the high-school literary tropes crammed into it. But it's DONE SO WELL. She is dreading the surgery and creates a list of things she must do in case she dies under anesthesia, and these naturally include doing things like finally kissing a boy. But she also dares to try out for the school musical, and guess what, she is amazing when she auditions and she gets the lead. She also has the best of friends since kindergarten and one that happens to be a guy, Derek, and she's just now realizing he's hot. This always presents a massive problem.

 

You may think you have read this before but the author, Kerry Winfrey, writes ALL these scenarios and these characters with so much sincerity and originality, that they are not ones that I'd met before. The male high school boys are ones with honest concern for their female counterparts. The female high schoolers are smart, and Winfrey didn't see it necessary to play the 'mean girl' card, or have Jolie really bash herself into the ground to come to her final conclusions about self-esteem and beauty (although she does a lot of natural questioning and normal comparisons). Characters acknowledge their mistakes in ways that make sense, without being preachy, and I love the tone of the writing throughout the novel because of this. I also totally enjoyed the TV obsessions of the family, and the 'Terrible Movie Night' Jolie and Derek share.

 

This is a light and funny book, with some bigger issues like self-esteem, and dealing with grief and changing friendships within it, but it's ultimately about Jolie's chance to shine, to change, to grow. Her voice is charming and heartfelt, and the book left me in such a great place, feeling like I knew all these great people!

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/35795890-things-jolie-needs-to-do-before-she-bites-it
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