Book Review: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moscowitz and Kat Helgeson

Gena-FinnAuthor: Hannah Moscowitz, Kat Helgeson

Genre: Young adult, contemporary

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Publication Date: May 17, 2016

287 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

I’m just not sure what to make of this book. I have really mixed feelings. It was a quick read, so that was good.

I was so invested in this book. For the first half or so. Then there’s a major event, and I felt the transition from the first half to the second was really awkward and not well done in my opinion. I wanted to stay invested because I really liked these nerdy, adorable, smart characters in the beginning. The book went from being really cute to being REALLY serious and dark practically out of nowhere. I think the dark stuff was important too, but the transition was so hard and quick that it could’ve given you whiplash.

I also think that the book was marketed as something that it definitely wasn’t. In my opinion, they made it seem like it would be this epic, adorable LGBTQIAP+ book and while it does hint at that a little bit, the overall story is very heteronormative, especially in the end. SPOILER: The authors had a real opportunity here with how they set up these characters to work with their sexuality, but nothing happens with it. It ended up just being really confusing and weird.

You guys know how much I love books that are made of alternative storytelling methods, and this one has it all – blog posts, texts, emails, fan fiction, and there’s not a single page that has a normal page of text. I loved that format. I also loved the fandom stuff and the fact that they become friends online and then friends IRL.

The bottom line: A cute, fluffy read in the beginning all about fandom and online friends that turns into a dark, serious read very quickly. I liked it overall, but there were some disappointing factors.

Rating: 5 – take it or leave it

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

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ARC Review: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

The Nest by Kenneth OppelAuthor:  Kenneth Oppel
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Genre: MG, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Horror

Publication Date: October 6, 2015

256 pages, hardcover (247 ARC)

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

Shout out to my love Kimberly from Little Shop of Stories who knew I’d love The Nest and let me have her ARC. She wasn’t wrong.

It’s really hard to tell you what The Nest is about, because, well…it’s strange. Steve, whose family has been struggling to cope with his sickly new-born brother, finds his dreams suddenly invaded by angels who offer to “fix” his brother. But Steve realizes that his angel is actually a wasp queen. All he has to do is say yes to her and his problems will be fixed, but that’s such a difficult and powerful word.

The best words, to me, that describe The Nest are these: strange, haunting, lovely, sad, dry, unique, creepy, quick. The entire time you’re reading, you have this eerie feeling like something bad is about to happen, and it’s really well-done. You’re never really sure what’s real or not until the end. Plus, the queen is seriously frightening. She pulls you in and makes you want to like her even though you know she’s evil.

It’s a great book for its intended audience too. It touches on some real life issues that MG readers will face – anxiety, OCD, family dynamics, being brave even when it’s absolutely terrifying to do so. But I also appreciate the fact that I am 25 and I still enjoyed it and even related to several parts of it. I felt that Steve, an anxious kid who just wants to be normal, but what does normal even mean?

The bottom line: The Nest is unlike any other book I’ve read. It’s strange, but in the best way. It gets pretty creepy at times, and it’s a seriously fast read – I read it in just a couple of hours.

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

Book Review: The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

The Alex Crow by Andrew SmithAuthor:  Andrew Smith

Genre: young adult, sci-fi, contemporary

Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: March 10, 2015

336 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

The Alex Crow was my first Andrew Smith book, and I was pretty blown away. This book is nuts, you guys. It’s remarkably strange and different and weird, and I loved it. I’m not even really sure how to review it because of how weird it was, but I’ll try.

Andrew Smith expertly weaves together three seemingly separate story lines about a melting man who was told by Joseph Stalin to build a bomb and travel hundreds of miles to set it off, an exploratory ship from the 1880s (called The Alex Crow) on its way to the North Pole, and a Middle Eastern boy named Ariel (AH-riel, get it straight) who is the lone survivor of his village being murdered by a terrorist group and is now living in the US. It’s surprisingly hard to go into much detail about the plot of this book without giving anything away, but I was completely enthralled and shocked with how it all came together.

I loved the focus on friendship in this book. Ariel, his adoptive brother Max (aka he of the innumerable euphemisms for masturbation), and Cobie, the only other sane kid at the camp where the three of them are sent, bond over the uncontrollable situation they’ve been thrown into. They go through a lot of crazy stuff, and it brings them closer.

This is a layered, complicated story that actually goes a lot deeper than what meets the eye. It brings up a lot of hard issues like morality, race, gender, friendship, and kindness. It’s not always the easiest book to read nor is it like anything else you’ve ever read (or at least anything I’ve ever read). This book is messy and complicated and just so so good.

The bottom line: I honestly cannot wait to read another of Andrew Smith’s books. The Alex Crow was disturbing, weird, awkward, hilarious, and absolutely wonderful.

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

Blog Tour: Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid (& Giveaway)

NEVER ALWAYS SOMETIMES

Today is Never Always Sometimes’ book birthday, and I am super excited to be part of the blog tour for the book! I’ve got my review, along with a playlist and my dream cast for the book’s characters. PLUS, there’s a giveaway at the end of the post, so make sure to stick around for that!

Never Always Sometimes by Adi AlsaidAuthor:  Adi Alsaid

GenreYA, Contemporary

PublisherHarlequin Teen

Publication DateAugust 4, 2015

SYNOPSIS

Never date your best friend

Always be original

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never die your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

REVIEW

I’m a member of Adi’s street team, and I won an ARC of Never Always Sometimes in a street-team-only giveaway. You could say I was pretty excited when I found out I won. I couldn’t wait to dive into NAS.

Hands down my favorite part of this book is the wonderful banter and chemistry (friend chemistry or romantic chemistry – both were wonderful) between Dave and Julia. I laughed out loud SO MANY times. They got along so well and had so many silly inside jokes that I fell in love with them right away. My favorite part was how Julia kept calling Dave by any name except for his actual one (Dave Gutierrez turns to David Beth Kacinski or David Babycakes Howard or David Sporkful McGee – definitely the silliest). I laughed. Every. Single. Time.

There’s also a road trip, which you guys know I love. I can’t give too many details about the road trip without giving away a few spoilers, but I’ll just say there are beaches and music and wonderfulness all around. Most of the novel felt a lot like the road trip – easygoing, fun, quick, and enjoyable.

I also really appreciated the outcome of Never Always Sometimes. I think it’s going to be one of those you either love it or hate it endings, but I loved it. It’s realistic and felt honest and truthful to the characters.

The bottom line: Never Always Sometimes is a fun and fast novel overflowing with great banter, silly nicknames, an easygoing writing style, and a realistic and genuine ending. Despite a few issues I had with it, I thought it was a great read. Check it out if you love wit, road trips, honest endings, and/or easy to read books.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | iTunes | Kobo

PLAYLIST

The following is my playlist for Never Always Sometimes. It’s not in a super strict order, nor is it particularly mesh-y, but it’s a list of songs that came to mind while I was reading. Enjoy.

spotify:user:1150813080:playlist:6ISXMIkMRgNX3hbdmtjSVp

DREAM CAST

I’ve never created a dream cast before. Like most readers when reading, the characters look a certain way in my head. I’m really nervous about picking actors for these characters, because I’m not sure if they look the way Adi envisioned them, but these are the actors I was thinking of while reading. I’ve only cast the four main characters (there were several other characters I could’ve cast as well, but these were the ones I had clear pictures of while reading).

JULIA – Emma Roberts

Emma Roberts       Emma Roberts 3

DAVE – Tyler Posey

Tyler Posey      Tyler Posey 2

MARRONEY – Paul Giamatti, David Paymer

Paul Giamatti      David Paymer

GRETCHEN – Anna Sophia Robb

AnnaSophia Robb      AnnaSophia Robb

ABOUT ADI

Adi AlsaidAdi Alsaid was born and raised in Mexico City, then studied at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While in class, he mostly read fiction and continuously failed to fill out crossword puzzles, so it’s no surprise that after graduating, he did not go into business world but rather packed up his apartment into his car and escaped to the California coastline to become a writer. He’s now back in his hometown, where he writes, coaches high school and elementary basketball, and has perfected the art of making every dish he eats or cooks as spicy as possible. In addition to Mexico, he’s lived in Tel Aviv, Las Vegas, and Monterey, California. A tingly feeling in his feet tells him more places will eventually be added to the list. Let’s Get Lost is his YA debut.

Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook

GIVEAWAY

Click the image below for the chance to win (1) of (3) finished copies of NEVER ALWAYS SOMETIMES by Adi Alsaid (US Only)

Never Always Sometimes giveaway

FOLLOW THE REST OF THE TOUR BY CLICKING THE IMAGE BELOW

followthetour

Book Review: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Author:  David Arnold

Genre: Young adult, contemporary

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: March 3, 2015

352 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

Dear Mosquitoland,

Reasons are hard. Trying to put into words the reasons why I love you is hard, but I’ll try.

Reason #1: You are weird. Like, SO weird. But you’re that special kind of weird that I absolutely love. You’re unique and strange and beautiful and funny and emotional and just brilliantly weird in the best possible way.

Reason #2: David Arnold’s writing is incredible. Like, mind-blowingly incredible. I cannot believe you are his debut novel. How is that even possible? I cannot wait to see what comes from him next if YOU are his FIRST book. Parts of you felt like poetry. I was torn between racing through you and taking my time to savor David’s writing. I’ll definitely be rereading you in the future.

Reason #3: Mim. MIM! Oh my goodness. She is just an incredible character. David NAILED her voice. She’s this perfect blend of hard and vulnerable. Sassy, independent, scared, sad, smart. She is such a teenager. I can’t believe how well David wrote her. I love her so much that she’s made it onto my short list of favorite characters ever.

Reason #4: You are the definition of perfect story telling. Your characters’ voices are spot on, your writing is beautiful, but that’s not the best part. You are just a good story. Entertaining, engrossing, fascinating, exciting. I just want to list all the best adjectives to describe you.

Reason #5: This is what my book looked like when I finished. Green flags are from RachelMarie at Nerd Herd Reads; pink are from me. This is what a book looks like when you LOVED it wholeheartedly.

Mosquitoland - read

The bottom line: Reasons are hard. Mississippi is hard. But you? You’re beautiful and quirky and plain ol’ strange, and I love you.

Signing off,
Stefani Sloma
Reluctant Mosquitoland Resident and Mosquitoland Lover

Rating: 9 – practically perfect

Book Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not by Adam SilveraAuthor:  Adam Silvera

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Publisher: Soho Teen

Publication Date: June 2, 2015

293 pages, hardcover

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

More Happy Than Not was one of my most-anticipated reads for the year, and I was not disappointed at all. It’s hard to review this one simply because it is one of those books you must read to experience. The synopsis doesn’t give much away, except this: The Leteo Institute has developed a procedure to alter and remove certain memories, and when Aaron (whose friends aren’t that great, whose mother is overworked and hardly ever there, whose brother is distant, and whose father committed suicide) meets Thomas and can think of no one but him, he decides to turn to Leteo to “straighten himself out” because being gay isn’t welcome where he lives. That’s not even half of the book though, but I honestly can’t tell you anything else without spoiling it or giving something away.

I can talk about Adam’s writing though, which is honest, heart-wrenching, sad, hopeful, and wonderful. Aaron’s voice is so well-done. Chapters can move from gut-wrenchingly sad to laugh-out-loud funny within a page, and it never once felt disjointed or stilted. I will say it was hard to connect with Aaron at first, mostly because he’s not really sure who he is, but I definitely wanted to keep reading. It’s practically impossible to not want to reach into the book and hug him, to want to be his best friend, to tell him to keep going, keep trying, keep living. He’s a brilliant character.

Remember how I said you can’t really talk about this book without giving anything away? Well, it’s true, because there are many twists and turns and surprises throughout this whole book. I never once knew what was going to happen next and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see. My heart was broken and put back together and broken again. I cried and laughed and cried some more. This book is a rollercoaster in the best sense of the word.

More Happy Than Not is a book of self-discovery and acceptance. It’s about being okay with who you are and not caring what anyone else thinks of it. It’s also about heartbreak and pain and hope. A few quotes I especially liked:

“Sometimes you just have to push ahead to find what you’re looking for.” (Page 136)

“Sometimes pain is so unmanageable that the idea of spending another day with it seems impossible. Other times pain acts as a compass to help you get through the messier tunnels of growing up…” (Page 270)

The bottom line: There’s no way to summarize this book or how wonderful it is without simply saying, “Go read it.”

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

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

Book Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes (ARC)

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie OakesAuthor:  Stephanie Oakes

Genre: Young adult,

Publisher: Dial Books

Publication Date: June 9, 2015

400 pages, hardcover (395 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!

Cults, “Prophets”, jail, hands being chopped off…basically, ALL the craziness you could possibly want in a book. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a fascinating and seriously disturbing look into the kind of cult that would follow a man into the woods because he claims to speak to God.

Minnow Bly was a member of the Kevinian cult, a follower of the Prophet (whose real name is Kevin). When she rebels against everything she’s been taught, he takes her hands. But now the Prophet is dead and their camp is destroyed, and even though Minnow knows something, she’s in juvenile detention for the crime.

My favorite part of the book was the theme of self-discovery. Minnow must figure out who she is and what she believes while in juvie – does she believe in what the Prophet told her? Does she even believe in God anymore? Who is Minnow Bly? We learn about her past through flashbacks and her present in juvenile detention, which means Minnow was really well-developed. She was passionate and curious and I loved seeing her grow.

Stephanie Oakes’ writing is gorgeous. I was completely engrossed in the story because of her writing. If this is her debut, I can’t wait to see more. It isn’t one of those super action-packed books where something is happening every single page, but it didn’t need to be. It’s more of a character study on Minnow, a cult/mindset study on the Kevinians. I don’t know if I can say I truly loved this book. It’s…disturbing and horrifying in a way that not many books are but man, if it isn’t fascinating.

The bottom line: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is thought-provoking, intriguing, beautiful, sad, hopeful, and so many other adjectives. Well worth the read.

Rating: 8 – Freaking fantastic

Book review: Valiant by Sarah McGuire (ARC)

Valiant by Sarah McGuireAuthor:  Sarah McGuire
Genre: Middle grade, fantasy, fairy tale retelling
Publisher: Egmont USA
Publication Date: April 28, 2015 (I thought it was June 9! That’s what Netgalley said. Oops)
384 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 Egmont USA for letting me read this!

Saville hates the bolts of fabric that her father loves more than her. After Saville’s father moves her to Reggen, he becomes ill, and she must find a way to survive, even if her plan involves wearing boy’s clothes and using those hated bolts of fabric to gain a commission from the king. Life gets even crazier when giants, which are supposed to only be stories, come for Reggen. Saville tricks them into leaving, and as court gossip does, tales of her triumph quickly turn into stories of giant slaying. But will the tailor be able to save the whole kingdom especially when she never meant to be a champion?

This one had a slow start for me. I don’t think we had enough time to really connect with any of the characters before things started happening – events during which we were supposed to care for them. I actually wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to finish it, but suddenly, somewhere in the story (almost halfway, I’d say), I got hooked. I don’t know whether it was the giants, the insane, power-hungry Duke, Saville’s daring bravery, or the love interest. But whatever it was, I raced through the rest of the book in no time. However, while I enjoyed reading Valiant, I felt like a lot of it was filler. There was a decent amount of time waiting for something to happen or with Saville’s inner thoughts that felt unnecessary.

On the other hand, I loved the creativity and the story here. It’s a retelling of The Valiant Little Tailor, but Valiant was also really imaginative and a tale of its own. Saville is a great character: brave, smart, and independent. Occasionally, I felt that she changed her mind too quickly; a few times, time that she spent deciding/learning/growing (like the first few months creating clothes for the king) was skimmed over, which made it hard to connect to her and the story.

The bottom line: Valiant is the simple story of a girl who becomes a champion. It’s creative and (after the beginning) pretty entertaining. It was fun to read but not without its problems. I’d recommend it to those who love fairy tale retellings, particularly those fairy tales that are usually ignored.

Rating: 6 – good, but not great

ARC Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Made You Up by Francesca ZappiaAuthor:  Francesca Zappia

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Mental Illness

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Publication Date: May 19, 2015

448 pages, Hardcover (326 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!

Alex just wants to free the lobsters. When Alex was seven, she freed the lobsters at the supermarket with the help of a boy with blue eyes, who disappeared almost as quickly as he appeared. Her mother never mentioned him, and it was soon after that Alex found out she has paranoid schizophrenia. But when Alex is 17, she meets the boy again at school and he is definitely real. Right?

This book was brilliant, you guys. It’s the perfect kind of unreliable narrator – Alex has hallucinations and delusions and she never quite knows if what she is seeing is real, so how are we meant to? Alex takes pictures of her life to prove to herself later that what she saw was real and if it doesn’t disappear from the photo, it really was there. Alex is the heart of this story and she is fascinating. She deals with what life’s given her as best as she can, and she’s tough and sarcastic because of it. I think she felt even more real because she isn’t always likable. There were times I wanted to shake her and that made her so realistic. I have always been fascinated with the brain and mental illness, and I was totally absorbed in learning about Alex’s paranoid schizophrenia.

And then there’s Miles, the boy with the blue eyes. He’s got his own issues; he sells himself out to complete sometimes stupid and sometimes dangerous tasks for people at their high school. He’s a bit arrogant and a bit of a jerk sometimes, but he’s also vulnerable and it’s easy to fall a bit in love with him, but I appreciated the fact that the romance doesn’t take a front seat to Alex and her struggle with mental illness. Plus, he’s not exactly your typical love interest.

All of the characters in Made You Up felt fully fleshed, not just Alex and Miles – the principle who has a weird obsession with the school’s scoreboard, mean girl Celia whose mother seems to be forcing her to be that way, Miles’ friends and Alex’s little sister and parents. Zappia does an amazing job with her characters and none of them felt pointless or two-dimensional.

I won’t give it away, but OH MY GOODNESS, the twist! I was NOT expecting that. Zappia is definitely really good with misdirection, which is why her unreliable narrator is so freaking well-done. One thing that kind of bothered me was the end, which felt a little rushed, but it didn’t really change my feelings toward this book.

The bottom line: Made You Up is an addictive, compelling story that is both wonderfully written and absolutely fascinating. I could give you a whole bunch of other adjectives to describe how much I liked this book, or I could just say this: READ THIS NOW.

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic