5/31/15

Mosquitoland

Author: David Arnold 
Pages: 352 
Publisher: Viking Books 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the "wastelands" of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland. 

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.



My Summary: Mim has lost a lot in the past few months. First, her mind. Second, her family. And now her home.

When Mim is forced to move to Mississippi with her father and stepmother, she decides she won't take it lying down. She acts up at school and doesn't bother controlling her anger, unable to adapt to a life that is so different from the one she left behind.

But when Mim finds out her mom is sick back in Cleveland and that her stepmom has been keeping her letters from Mim, she explodes. She grabs a few things and sets off, determined to get home to Cleveland to see her mom, consequences be damned. 

My Thoughts: This book has been on my TBR for months and when I came across it in the airport bookstore, I knew it was a sign. A few hours and multiple laugh out loud moments later, I found myself blinking at the world around me in that book-hangover way that only follows when you're completely submerged in a novel. I loved every second of Mim's journey.

I'm incredibly impressed by the author's way with words. Mim's narratives tugged at my heartstrings (even when they were a tad morbid) and read like the ramblings of someone who knew what it was like to take a slight detour from sanity. Mim was an unreliable narrator with a lot of secrets, but her observations and unique descriptions of the world around her all rang with truth. This novel seems to ask the question: when do quirks and personality traits go from being a normal part of life to the symptoms of a mental illness?

I loved the supporting characters (Walt! My heart!) and Mim's moments of clarity were very well-executed. It's so hard to review this novel in a way that makes sense, but believe me when I say you're gonna wanna read this one ASAP. 

Final Thoughts: I recommend this book to fans of contemporary YA as well as those looking for a great road-trippy summer read. 

Emmy & Oliver

Author: Robin Benway 
Pages: 352 
Publisher: Harper Teen 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life. 

She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach—go anywhere without her parents’ relentless worrying. But Emmy’s parents can’t seem to let her grow up—not since the day Oliver disappeared. 

Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart. 

He’d thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing and his thoughts swirling. 

Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy’s soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles—impossible to fit together?



My Summary: Emmy and Oliver had been neighbours and best friends since the day their mothers met in the delivery room. For seven great years they lived next door to one another, spending every waking moment together.

That all ends the day Oliver disappears with his father - an alcoholic in the midst of a custody battle with Oliver's mother. Nobody realizes that Oliver has been kidnapped until three days later, by which time he and his father are long gone.

Ten years later, Oliver is found and returns to his childhood home to live with his mother. Emmy is ecstatic about the return of her friend, but the Oliver that returned is nothing like the one who left. Despite all the changes, one thing remains: he trusts Emmy. 

As they get to know each other all over again, Emmy and Oliver must deal with everything that followed Oliver home, as well as attempt to repair the lives of those who had been left behind.  

My Thoughts: Reading this book was like fighting an addiction.

I knew I had a bunch of things to get done and a to-do list a mile long, but the minute I started reading, I couldn't put it down. Emmy and Oliver's story hooked me from the very beginning, and I would not be able to rest until they were safe and happy. Benway's writing was wonderful, and the story flowed beautifully. The dialogue between Emmy and her friends was incredibly well written, and Emmy's narrative itself was real and easy to relate to. 

Although this was marketed as a romance, I felt like the romance wasn't as big of an aspect of the novel as you'd expect. A lot of the focus of the novel is Emmy and Oliver trying to put their lives back together again. This novel also centers around familial relationships, and the way that they can be tested. 

The characters were so well-written. I love it when the secondary characters are so fleshed-out and real that you would read an entire book based on them alone. Emmy and Oliver themselves were easy to relate to, and the emotional punch the book packed is not for the faint of heart (I was sobbing at points and I'm in no way ashamed to admit that).

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to fans of YA contemporary lit as well as romance. Definitely one to check out if you're looking for a great new YA release!

Made You Up

Author: Francesca Zappia 
Pages: 448 
Publisher: Greenwillow Books 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn't she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.




My Summary: Alex has never had it easy.

Ever since the incident at the grocery store (involving some lobsters and a probably-imaginary friend) she's been medicated and under constant surveillance of her parents. Alex is schizophrenic, and for her, the lines between reality and what she's made up are almost always blurred. 

But she has it under control. Or at least she hopes she does. Her only goal is to make it through senior year relatively unscathed and make it to college, where she can decide for herself what she wants her reality to be. That is, until she meets her imaginary friend again - but this time, he's all grown up. As she gets pulled into his world, Alex discovers that there's more to life than just flying under the radar and that sometimes real life can be better than anything her brain makes up.

My Thoughts: Wow. Just wow. This one hit me hard. I was not expecting that emotional punch. I picked this up before heading off to the airport, having heard all the hype and wanting to check it out for myself. 

Zappia's writing was extremely impressive. Alex's voice was so genuine and unique, and even as she begins to spiral, you can see what course her thoughts are following. She's not doing things just for the sake of seeming insane - she's just doing what she thinks she has to do to keep herself and her family safe. I also loved the lobster tank thing, along with Miles himself (boyfriend goals, anyone?). 

I could not put this book down, and found myself finishing well before the plane landed. The best kinds of reads are the ones that can make hours fly by unnoticed, and you can be sure that Made You Up is one of those books. Alex was an incredibly unreliable narrator (even she knew it) but you really want to believe everything she sees is real - if only for her sake, The poor girl was struggling so hard to push back her delusions that you could feel her exhaustion in every narrative. 

Most importantly (for me) was the fact that this novel did not turn mental illness into something cute. Zappia's writing and Alex's struggles portrayed just how draining and difficult it is for someone living with mental illness to live day-to-day, and that the ability to do so without second-guessing what you see at every turn is never something that should be taken for granted. 

Final Thoughts: I definitely recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys contemporary YA and is looking for something unique and engaging. 

5/14/15

Oblivion

Author: Kelly Creagh 
Pages: 448
Publisher: Atheneum Books
Format: Hardcover (ARC)
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? —Edgar Allan Poe. 

The fine line between life and death blurred long ago for Isobel Lanley. After a deadly confrontation with Varen in the dreamworld, she’s terrified to return to that desolate and dangerous place. But when her nightmares resume, bleeding into reality, she is left with no choice. Varen’s darkness is catching up to her. To everything. 

Threatening to devour it all. Isobel fears for her world. For her sanity and Varen’s—especially after a fresh and devastating loss. To make matters worse, the ghostly demon Lilith wants Varen for her own, and she will do anything to keep him in her grasp—anything.



SO MANY FEELINGS. MY HEART CAN'T TAKE IT.

Oh my gosh, I was so worried that Oblivion wouldn't live up to my incredibly high expectations for the series, but it did and then some - it shattered them, then ground those pieces into dust. Kelly Creagh broke my heart so many times with this gem and I am so in love with this story and Edgar Allan Poe and just everything. This book was perfect and this series was amazing and I definitely recommend you check it out! 

The Book of Lost Things

Author: John Connolly 
Pages: 339 
Publisher: Atria Books 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own -- populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.





My Summary: David's life fell apart the day his mother died. When his father remarries only a few months later and moves them out to the country, David finds himself seeking the solace that his new bedroom library provides. Each book is a strange edition of a fairy tale, filled with new endings and illustrations that send David's imagination reeling. 

But soon the books reveal themselves to be more than a form of comfort - as they begin to whisper to David, he finds himself dodging a shady creature born of his nightmares. And when he is propelled into a fairy tale world by an explosion, David finds that the characters from his stories have come to life - even the shadow man - and they are not going to let him go without a fight. 

My Thoughts: I am so glad I finally picked this book up! After years of lusting after its beautiful cover and intriguing premise I finally caved and got myself a copy. 

I loved the rich descriptions and beautiful imagery conjured up by Connolly's writing. David's world is s populated by grief and anger that it seems almost grey in comparison to the fairy tale world. I was also very moved by the way the Connolly portrayed David's grief and anger and resentment for his father - it all felt so incredibly realistic and well-deserved that you couldn't help but feel a bit of it yourself. 

This book read like a fairy tale, but it definitely wasn't. The writing flows beautifully - almost like prose - and the plot is never predictable. I loved all the surprises along the way, and the variety of characters. The Crooked Man was an amazing villain and reminded me a bit of the "other-mother" from Coraline - I'd love to know more about him, despite already getting a few hints in the novel. 

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to fans of fairy tale retellings as well as anyone who enjoys a good adventure or coming of age novel. 

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Author: Becky Albertalli 
Pages: 303 
Publisher: Balzer + Bray 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised. 

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated.

Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.



My Summary: Simon is pretty sure he's an average kid. He gets decent grades, he has some great friends, and he spends a lot of time in drama club productions. Sure, he's gay, but what does that have to do with anything?

Nothing at all, until Simon accidentally leaves his email open on a school computer and someone reads his correspondence with his crush - someone who goes by the screen-name "Blue". Soon Simon finds himself being blackmailed and doing some ridiculous things - all in an attempt to protect Blue as well as himself from being outed to the entire school. 

My Thoughts: This book was so much fun. Simon was so relatable and his narration was hilarious. I loved the dynamic of his family as well as his friend group - it was all incredibly realistic. (Trust me on this one, I was one of those drama kids once).

Simon's struggle to keep Blue's identity safe (while at the same time trying to figure it out himself) was so endearing. I loved the whole secret-admirer element, and the way Becky Albertalli nailed the way it feels to swoon over someone you've only known as text on a screen. Simon himself was so awkward and funny and witty and spent so much time in his own head that large parts of this novel read like my old high school diary entries.  

I also really liked the way the family aspect wasn't overlooked in this novel. Especially with things like coming out, the support - or lack thereof - you receive from your family can make all the difference. It was good to see the author not only include Simon's family in his life but make it a large part of the story. 

Final Thoughts: Read this book. ASAP. Seriously. 

Beastkeeper

Author: Cat Hellisen 
Pages: 208 
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn't know that it’s magic her parents are running from. 

When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn't even know were still alive. 

Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.



My Summary: Sarah is used to strange. Her parents have a habit of moving whenever it gets cold out, and they don't do things the way other parents do. She grows up immersed in storybooks, hoping that one day she'll get to have an epic adventure like the characters in her books.

But when her mother walks out and her life begins to spiral out of control, all Sarah wishes for is for things to return to normal. As she watches her father becoming more beast-like by the day, Sarah can't help but wonder just what kind of secrets her parents have been keeping from her, and if her life has resembled those of her favourite characters all along.

Abandoned by her father at the door to a crumbling castle, Sarah isn't quite ready for what she discovers: her family is cursed, and she is next.

My Thoughts: This book enchanted me from start to finish. I loved every second of this retelling - especially the Gothic atmosphere and the wonderfully complex characters. Sarah herself was amazing, and the plights of the two witches showed just how badly we can corrupt love even with the best intentions.

Hellisen's writing style was perfect for this retelling and read almost like prose. It flowed perfectly and was simple yet powerful. She's found a fan in me, and I'm hoping for more incredible novels from this incredibly talented writer. Not only is this a fairy-tale retelling - it's also a coming-of-age novel and a story about the power of love.

And can we just take a moment to talk about that cover? It's beautiful! I love the way it looks on my shelf and the way it perfectly illustrates the feeling of the novel. 

Final Thoughts: This was a lovely read, and I can definitely see it belonging to multiple genres - children's, MG, and YA. The Gothic feel and fairy-tale feel will have you hooked in seconds.