ARC Review: A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefanoAuthor:  Lauren DeStefano
Genre: MG, fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
240 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Bloomsbury USA Childrens for letting me read this!

A Curious Tale of the In-Between is Lauren DeStefano’s first middle grade book, and I certainly hope it won’t be the last. This book is absolutely wonderful, enchanting, and full of life – despite the fact that Pram can see ghosts. I was drawn into Pram’s world from page one and read this one quickly over the course of two days (only because I had to work). It reads quickly and will keep you completely captivated the whole time.

Pram (short for Pragmatic – what a great name) is special – she can see ghosts. She was born dead and brought back to life so she hovers somewhere in that in-between place, which gives Pram her ability. She is anything but ordinary, which you can see as you read the book. She’s smart and curious but practical (hence the name). I want to follow her on more journeys – give me more Pram! Pram’s friends, Felix – a ghost – and Clarence – not a ghost, are just as wonderful. I wanted to reach into the book and hug Felix with everything I had. All of the friendships in this one were sweet and supportive.

Honestly, the best part of The Curious Tale of the In-Between is the fact that it’s…well, it’s dark. It’s not your average MG book. It has some really tough topics brought up (suicide, depression, death) and Pram and her friends are put into some harsh situations. But DeStefano realizes that kids can deal with these things and she doesn’t try to lighten it up or beat around the bush. It was refreshing to read, and I know a lot of kids reading this book will appreciate (and even need) that. The real world can be scary and sad, and DeStefano doesn’t shy away from those harsh realities.

The bottom line: Lauren DeStefano’s first MG book, A Curious Tale of the In-Between, is a dark, lyrical, enchanting novel full of ghosts, mediums, life, death, and pragmatic girls. A wonderful coming-of-age story. Bring on book 2!

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

ARC Review: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. SmithAuthor:  Jennifer E. Smith
Genre: young adult, contemporary, romance
Publisher: Poppy
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
256 pages, hardcover (246 ARC)

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE: I was provided with an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Hallie and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for sending me an advanced copy of this book. 

This book is SO cute, you guys. Jennifer E. Smith is my go to author for sweet, adorable stories that will leave me feeling all melty inside, and Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between is no exception.

Jen’s writing style is my favorite thing about her books; it’s easygoing, beautiful, and genuine. Jen’s a pro at breaking your heart in the best way. I really loved the focus in this one on how hellos and goodbyes don’t necessarily have to be literal hellos and goodbyes. Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between is different from Jen’s other books in that the couple has actually been together for a couple of years before the story even begins versus having a meet-cute at the beginning that leads to a (possible) relationship. I enjoyed seeing Jen switch gears a bit and write a relationship from a different angle.

It was a bit hard for me to relate to Clare, which is somewhat surprising in that I try to be as logical as I can when making decisions as well, but she came across as kind of selfish and a little dramatic. I wasn’t as emotionally involved with her as I was with Aiden, honestly. I really liked his character; he seemed sincere and just so earnest in his love for Clare, and it was adorable. I also liked Scotty, who is a bit of a secondary character, but quite enjoyable to read about.

I had a few issues with the book during the characters’ last night together, but the ending? Man, that was a wonderful ending. I don’t want to give anything away, but the ending is insightful, realistic, honest, and my favorite part of the entire book. I like what it means for the characters, and it just felt so genuine and true to life. (I will say that I wish there was a sequel – at least a novella or something!)

The bottom line: Although I had a few issues during the middle of the book, I loved this one, like I’ve loved all of Jen’s other books. I don’t think I’ll ever NOT love one of her books. Can’t wait for the next one.

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

ARC Review: Court of Fives by Kate Elliot

Court of Fives by Kate ElliotAuthor:  Kate Elliot
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 18, 2015
448 pages, hardcover (432 ARC)

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE: I was provided with an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for sending me Court of Fives!

I was sucked into Court of Fives from the first page. Jessamy is a Patron woman, the upper class of her society, which requires her to act a certain way at all times. But when she sneaks out of her house at night to train for the Fives, a multi-level, physical competition, she can be whoever she wants. And she is awesome. But Jess is soon torn away from her family by a conniving motherf…excuse me, by a devious lord, and everything she’s ever wanted will be given to her. But at what price?

What immediately drew me into Court of Fives is the world. It’s this Ancient Egyptian/Greek inspired society of patriarchs, lords, oracles, magic, and science, and I loved all of it. Elliot’s world is so well-developed and I could picture everything. The set up of the patriarchal society, while disturbing, rang true. And I loved seeing Jess trying to break away from that while still being very loyal to her family. On that note, I really appreciated the focus on family in Court of Fives. Even when Jess is taken from them and promised that her mother and sisters will “be taken care of”, she hunts for them and makes sure they are okay.

Elliot weaves together so many elements into this story and not once did I feel confused. Her writing is compelling and strong and I was completely taken with it. Her imagination is incredible. The whole Fives competition was super cool and kind of reminded me of American Ninja Warrior, because of how physically demanding it was and how in tune with their body the characters had to be.

All I’m going to say about Kalliarkos is “More, please!”

I think my main complaint is about the ending. I do like that it leaves it open for the sequels, but it felt a little…not necessarily rushed, just not done, if that makes sense? It was very sudden and almost in the middle of action. Though it did leave me ready for more. Plus, there were a few slow moments throughout.

The bottom line: I could go on a lot longer than this, but I’ll stop here. I know I haven’t gone much into the plot, but it’s hard to talk about it without giving anything away. Just know that everything is beautiful and I need the next one right now, please and thank you. To sum up: fierce female characters, villainy, magic, swoony boy, some slow moments, and a super imaginative world.

Rating: 7 – pretty good

I liked this one so much that I’m giving my ARC away to someone on Twitter. All you have to do is follow me (@StefaniSloma) and retweet this tweet: https://twitter.com/StefaniSloma/status/629054893416804352! Ends 8/17/15.

ARC Review: George by Alex Gino

George by Alex GinoAuthor:  Alex Gino

Genre: Middle Grade, contemporary, LGBTQIA

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Publication Date: August 25, 2015

240 pages, hardcover (195 ARC)

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

I read this entire thing in one day at work while attempting (not well) to hide my tears from all the emotions. This is SUCH AN IMPORTANT BOOK, you guys. George is a fourth-grader who has always identified more with the girls in the magazines she nicks than anyone else. All she wants to do is play Charlotte in the school’s production of Charlotte’s Web. As you can imagine, a lot of heartbreak, struggle, hope, tears, and more follow.

George’s story will have you rooting for her from page one. It’s hard not to love her and cheer her on as she finds her way to making her dream come true. Her story is genuine and honest and, while hard, joyful and beautiful. I love that this story is out there and I sincerely hope it finds its way into the hands of as many transgender youth (and youth, in general) as possible.

Gino’s writing is earnest and honest and undeniably easy to read. George is short but it packs an enormous amount of character into its 240 pages.

The bottom line: I am so happy that Scholastic is publishing George, and I really hope that it comes to be a resource for not only trans youth, but youth everywhere. You do not want to miss this one.

Rating: 9 – practically perfect

ARC Review: Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie TromlyAuthor:  Stephanie Tromly
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, mystery
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books
Publication Date: August 4, 2015
336 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Penguin Young Readers for letting me read this!

Trouble is a Friend of Mine is ridiculous. The characters, the plot, the mystery? All ridiculous. The funny thing is that some of that ridiculousness really worked for me – especially when it came to the characters. But that also means that some of it didn’t work. Let’s break it down into strengths and weaknesses.

STRENGTHS

– The book is hilarious. I had A LOT of laugh out loud moments at the dialogue or characters.
– It’s well-written, easy to read, and fast-paced, which made it super enjoyable for me.
– The characters. Yes, they’re over the top, particularly in the case of Digby, but they’re fun and silly and strange and quirky, and I dug that.
– I got really involved in the mystery. It was pretty obvious who the good guys and bad guys were, but I was still interested to see how it would all wrap up.
– Digby reads a lot like a Benedict-Cumberbatch-Sherlock, which I loved.

WEAKNESSES

– The plot is rather convoluted and the ending doesn’t really do the best job of wrapping it all up.
– The book is pretty over the top in certain parts and rather unbelievable. I had trouble suspending my disbelief in parts. A lot of it seemed a little too easy.
– Occasionally, the book felt like it was trying a bit too hard to be “quirky.”
– Digby is a stalker. He shows up in Zoe’s room in the middle of the night. He’s got A LOT of issues and everyone just kind of says, “Oh, that’s just Digby.” But some of it is seriously messed up. Overall, I liked his character and his over-the-topness, but it irked me some.

The bottom line: Overall, I had a lot of fun reading Trouble is a Friend of Mine. Yes, it’s ridiculous, and yes, it’s a little over the top. But it’s also HILAROUS and strange and silly and really fun to read.

Rating: 6.5

ARC Review: Paperweight by Meg Haston

Paperweight by Meg HastonAuthor:  Meg Haston
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, mental health
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: July 7, 2015
304 pages, hardcover (288 ARC)

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

Shout out to the wonderful Little Shop of Stories for letting me take this ARC! Check them out if you’re ever in Decatur, GA!

Paperweight is an extremely difficult book to review. It’s also an extremely difficult book to read. I’ve never had an eating disorder and it was hard for me to read this. I can’t even imagine how triggering this book could possibly be for someone who’s had (or has) an eating disorder. Paperweight makes you uncomfortable. It pulls you completely out of your comfort zone and doesn’t hold a damn thing back. It puts everything out there in the most raw and honest way possible. And it’s difficult to read it because of that. But it is so worth your time.

Haston has done a wonderful thing with this book. She’s created Stevie, a girl with Anorexia Nervosa, who believes that her disease makes up everything she is. Again, I’ve never had an eating disorder nor have I ever been in a treatment facility. But I feel like Stevie’s story is authentic. It feels real. Stevie doesn’t miraculously get 100% better. That’s not life. The way she changes is subtle, believable. Honestly, Stevie is unlikeable at times. She’s selfish and mean, but her voice felt right.

If I had to describe this book in four words, they would be: Honest. Real. Emotional. Painful. This book is brutal, you guys, and I think you have to be in a certain emotional state to read it. I’m still not sure how I made it through certain parts, but I made it through because Stevie did.

The bottom line: Paperweight is a hard one. It’s hard to read and hard to review. It’s brutal and honest and raw, and I definitely don’t think it’s for everyone. It could be potentially triggering if you’ve dealt with (or are dealing with) an eating disorder. Stevie’s voice is one to listen to though. She’s honest and real, and that’s what scares me the most.

Rating: I honestly don’t know how to rate this one. I’m going to go with an 8, but not for the freaking fantastic, but rather because it’s memorable.

ARC Review: Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day

Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-DayAuthor: Lori Rader-Day
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
Publication Date: July 7, 2015
298 pages, paperback

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE:  I was provided with an ARC of this book from the publisher and author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much, Lori and Seventh Street Books!!

Last year I read and LOVED Lori Rader-Day’s debut novel The Black Hour (which I reviewed over on WatchPlayRead), so when Lori said she would send me an ARC of Little Pretty Things, I was SO excited! Lori’s second novel was just as thrilling, suspenseful, and well-written as her first.

I was immediately drawn into Juliet’s world – her job as a cleaning lady in a dive hotel in a small town, her compulsive desire to take the “little pretty things” left behind by her customers, her friendship with Lu, the slightly older Mexican woman who cleans at the hotel too, and her decade-old, but not forgotten rivalry with her best friend from high school, Maddy. Juliet and Maddy haven’t spoken in ten years, but Juliet hasn’t forgotten always trailing behind Maddy during all their track races, so when Maddy comes into town, Juliet brushes her off. But then Maddy gets murdered, Juliet is a suspect, and a lot of secrets come to light.

I am a big fan of books with flawed, far from perfect characters. They feel more human and more believable to me. This is a big reason in why I loved Little Pretty Things so much; Juliet is pretty messed up, she struggles with her compulsions, with her relationships, with her future, and I found myself rooting for her the whole time. She was stronger and more independent than she thought, and I liked seeing her realize who she could be. All of the characters in the book had their own problems and were all well-rounded and three-dimensional. I especially enjoyed the friendship between Juliet and Lu.

Lori did a great job at subtly hinting at who the real murderer was. I will say that I figured out who the murderer was pretty early on (I read and watch a lot of crime fiction), but it did not hinder my enjoyment of the story in the least. In fact, I was on the edge of my seat, racing through the book to see everyone figure it out. Lori does suspense SO well with pacing that reminded me of Maddy’s and Juliet’s races, fast and powerful.

The bottom line: While the story revolves around murder, this is a story of self-discovery and it questions how much our past can affect and shape us. It’s full of flawed, interesting, human characters that will pull you into the story immediately. Little Pretty Things is the best kind of mystery, and it’s not one you want to miss.

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

P.S. There’s a giveaway for a copy of Little Pretty Things on Goodreads that runs until July 26, 2015!

Book Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (ARC)

The Library at Mount Char by Scott HawkinsAuthor:  Scott Hawkins
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: 6/16/15
388 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Crown for letting me read this!

I have no idea how to write this review. I have no idea what I read. I do know that I LOVED this book. I do know that I couldn’t put it down and I hated when I had to for work. I do know this book is completely nuts, insanely creative, seriously bizarre, and decidedly well-written. I know all of those things and yet I still have no idea what I read.

Do you ever request a book on Netgalley or buy one at the book store and think it sounds amazing but by the time you get to it, you’ve forgotten what it was about? That was me with The Library at Mount Char, so I went into it expecting nothing and I was completely blown away by it – not only because it’s super awesome but because it’s absolutely insane. Carolyn was a normal, American girl once, but when her parents (and the parents of the other children in her neighborhood) died, Father adopted them. They were each given a different catalog, a section of the Library (wait until you see the Library!!), to study – from languages (Carolyn’s catalog) to war to resurrection. They were not allowed to study outside of their own catalog. Now, Father is nowhere to be found. Will they be able to find him or will someone else gain control of the Library?

If that doesn’t sound absolutely fascinating to you, get out of my face. Haha. The world that Hawkins has created is intriguing, dark, horrible, and wonderful all at the same time. The Library at Mount Char is…disturbing yet full of humor, which is part of the reason I liked it. This is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. The “librarians” had it rough growing up with Father to put it mildly and there isn’t one of them that’s not a little off. They scared me and freaked me out and fascinated me. They murdered without reason, hurt others without emotion, destroyed without care. The last fourth of the novel was unputdownable for me. I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen.

The bottom line: The Library at Mount Char is dark, disturbing, strange, scary, and absolutely wonderful. It’s not for everyone. But it was definitely for me.

Rating: 9 – Practically perfect

ARC Review: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Devoted by Jennifer MathieuAuthor:  Jennifer Mathieu

Genre: Contemporary, Religion

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Publication Date: June 2, 2015

336 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

I’ve been trying to put into words WHY I loved this book so much for over a week now. It’s difficult to write a review for a book that you just loved so much, but I’m going to try.

Devoted, Jennifer Mathieu’s second book, is completely and utterly fascinating. It’s about Rachel, a girl who’s grown up in an uber-religious household (she’s a member of the Quiverfull movement). She’s homeschooled and as the oldest currently living in the house, she’s also expected to take care of all of her younger siblings. Her father is the authority figure and all decisions are made through him. But Rachel is curious and is beginning to question everything she’s been taught. She wants to learn, to read, but that’s not how her family operates.

I LOVED Rachel. I loved her curious mind and her need to question and learn and experience life herself before making decisions. Her journey from faithful, devoted daughter to who she becomes later on (I won’t spoil, just read it!) was beautiful and difficult and I just wanted to reach into the book and hug her and tell her it’d all be alright. I got frustrated with her a few times, but none of her thoughts or decisions felt wrong or unrealistic. She’s complicated and complex, but SO determined to be herself.

This is Jennifer Mathieu’s second book, and I could really see the growth from her first book, The Truth About Alice (which I also really liked). The writing in Devoted was brilliant. Mathieu handles the topic with such care and everything was delicately done. This book was…troubling, for obvious reasons, but it was so powerful. Devoted is quiet and sincere and earnest.

Honestly, my only issue with this book is that I wish we’d had a little more time with Rachel in her household before she started to question. But really, the more I think about this book, the more I love it.

The bottom line: I could go on and on for days about why I think Devoted is brilliant. It’s quiet, powerful, honest, and beautiful. I flagged at least 30 or 40 passages because they were so well-written or difficult to read or powerful. Rachel is such a great character, and you should all meet her. I wish there was a sequel.

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

P.S. Thank you so much to Jen for sending me an ARC of Devoted! 🙂

ARC Review: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller

I read this book is two days. It’s ridiculously fast-paced, well-written, thrilling, and pretty swoony.

The Devil You Know by Trish DollerAuthor:  Trish Doller
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, thriller
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: June 2, 2015
256 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE: I was provided with an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Bloomsbury USA Childrens for letting me read this!

Cadie is tired. Tired of her life, and tired of taking care of her depressed father and acting as mother to her four-year-old brother. She has dreams of adventure and travel, but she is constantly forced to put those aside to take care of her family. So when the opportunity presents itself to join two ridiculously attractive cousins on a road-trip down to the tip of Florida, she says yes. It’s impulsive and spontaneous and yeah, pretty stupid, but it never felt like something a teenage girl wouldn’t do.

I loved Cadie. She was strong, brave, smart, and independent. She took charge of her life and her body and it was AWESOME reading about a woman like that. Cadie takes ownership of herself and it was both refreshing and empowering. Those are the types of things teenage girls need to be reading about. Not once did Cadie’s independence feel cheap or out of character. Doller flawlessly weaves all of these things into Cadie’s character. And even when Cadie was making seriously STUPID decisions, I still liked her character.

The romance was…tangible. Both of the cousins are swoon-worthy, but the romance between Cadie and the main love interest was very convincing. Their chemistry was easy to see and their conversations and scenes together were really well-done. Really, really great chemistry here. The Devil You Know is a thriller though, which means there’s several twists and the creep factor is turned up to eleven. I won’t say I was all that shocked by the ending, mostly because it uses a few main thriller tropes, but it was still clever and smart.

The bottom line: The Devil You Know is a fast-paced, exciting thriller with tons of suuuuuperrrr great chemistry between Cadie and her main love interest. A tad predictable but so well-done and entertaining that I didn’t really mind. It’s got a girl and sex-positive message that I wish I could broadcast to girls everywhere. I definitely plan on reading more Trish Doller.

Rating: 7.5 – between pretty good and freaking fantastic