ARC Review: The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

The Dead House by Dawn KurtagichAuthor:  Dawn Kurtagich
Genre: young adult, horror
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
432 pages, hardcover (401 ARC)

Check out the full synopsis on Goodreads.

NOTE: I was provided with an ARC of this book through The NOVL’s newsletter in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for letting me read this!

The four best words I can think of to describe Dawn Kurtagich’s The Dead House are: Deliciously creepy and strange. More than two decades ago, Elmbridge High School burned down; several students were killed and one student, Carly Johnson, disappeared. 25 years later a diary belonging to Kaitlyn Johnson (supposedly Carly’s twin) is found in the ruins, but Carly didn’t have a twin. FREAKY, right? Is the incident at the school a result of dissociative personality disorder or something more…sinister?

If you’ve read the description of The Dead House, I bet you could figure out my favorite part of this book. It’s “made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes.” YESSSS! We all know how much I love books made up of alternate storytelling techniques, and this one has something I’ve never seen in a book before – film footage transcripts. How cool is that? One of Carly’s friends was doing a project for a class and had to film her everyday life, but as something strange starts to happen with Carly, she keeps filming – the transcripts each come with a still from the footage, and some of them were pretty creepy. In fact, I had to call it quits for the night one time because I saw one of the stills on the next page and was freaked out. The format made you feel like an observer or someone reading the case file of the Johnson Incident, and this made it somewhat difficult to connect with the characters. At first. After a while, I was super invested in what was going to happen to them. My main issue with the characters was with the boys, who fell flat for me. Most of them (even those that were integral to the plot) were uninteresting and somewhat formulaic.

It’s hard to talk about the book’s plot without giving too much away, as I think figuring out the mystery as you read is one of the best parts. So I’ll just say it wasn’t where I thought it was going, though I should have seen it coming. I was really into the story and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. This book explores all kinds of interesting and peculiar topics: psychology and mental illness, possession, witchcraft, violence (lots of violence).

The bottom line: If this is Dawn Kurtagich’s first novel, I CANNOT wait to see what she comes up with next. This book is innovative, haunting, and so very creepy. I had a few issues with some of the characters, but as I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what happened next, it obviously wasn’t a deterrent. I LOVED the format – the inclusion of so many different storytelling techniques. It was really well-done and so very cool.

Rating: 8 – freaking fantastic

Interview with Jennifer E. Smith (& Giveaway!)

Recently, my new blogger friend Brittany from Brittany’s Book Rambles and I buddy read Jennifer E. Smith’s new book, Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between (my review) and loved it. I was fortunate enough to interview Jen at last year’s Decatur Book Festival, and now I am fortunate enough to bring you a follow up interview about her latest book. Brittany also has a fun interview from Jen over on her blog! AND I’ve got a little fortune FOR YOU. I won the April #NOVLBox curated by Jen, which contained copies of all three of her main books (The Statistical Probability of Love at First SightThe Geography of You and Me, and This Is What Happy Looks Like), all three of which I already owned (I LOVE Jen). So I’m going to share the love! Stick around to the bottom of the post and click over to Rafflecopter to enter to win all three paperback copies!


Last year at the Decatur Book Festival, we talked about how Hello, Goodbye is more of a goodbye versus your other books which are one big hello. Can you talk about the differences in writing that – how this relationship was already in full swing versus at the very beginning, etc.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. SmithYes, it was a lot of fun to write a book that was set up a bit differently than my last few.  With STAT, HAPPY, GEOGRAPHY, the characters are just meeting each other, and the book is really about the first steps of their relationships, the getting to know each other part.  But this one is about a couple that’s been together for two years, and they’re getting ready to part ways.  So it’s a deeper relationship right off the bat, which means more emotion, more baggage, more intensity.  And no matter how the night ends, they’re both leaving for college in the morning, which means they’re going to have to say goodbye.  The question is just whether it’s goodbye for now or goodbye forever.

Can you talk briefly about the journey you’ve been on from last year (when there wasn’t even a title to the new book) to almost publication date?

I think at this time last year I had finished the book itself, though we were probably still editing it. But that year between getting to the end of the book and waiting for it to come out is always an odd one.  On the one hand, the heavy lifting is over, and you’re just working out the details.  On the other, you’re excited for people to start reading the book, so it feels like a very long time to wait until it’s officially out in the world.

We had a tough time with the title on this one.  It’s the first time in a while that I really couldn’t think of anything, and it took a very long time and a whole lot of brainstorming to get to HELLO, GOODBYE, AND EVERYTHING IN BEWEEN. I absolutely love it, but it’s a little weird for me too, since this is the first time I didn’t come up with one of my titles myself.  My editor and her assistant thought of this one, and I’m very, very grateful to them.

As for the cover, that was a fun process. The picture on this one is actually a real engagement photo, which I think makes it feel that much more realistic. I always feel really lucky to have the covers that I do, since I really love the style, but I think this one is particularly great.

For those who haven’t read the new book, can you give us a little insight into Clare and Aiden’s relationship and why they’re making the decision to either split up or try for long distance?

Well, they’ve been together for a couple years, but they’re about to head off to colleges at opposite ends of the country – Clare to New Hampshire and Aidan to California – and while neither of them really wants to break up, the idea of staying together in the face of all that distance seems daunting.  Clare is more pragmatic; she thinks it makes sense to end things now on their own terms, rather than slowly drifting apart, which she thinks is inevitable.  But Aidan is an optimist, and he believes they can survive it, even when so many others don’t.  At the start of their last night, they still haven’t managed to agree on what to do. So they basically have twelve hours left to decide…

Distance (and travel) are always a big influence in your books. Splitting characters apart allows for a lot of developments for the characters and their relationships. What is it about distance that appeals to you in regards to your writing?

Honestly, I think a big part of it is that I don’t like to write bad guys. I prefer to let time and fate and circumstance be the obstacles in my stories.  But I’m also fascinated by those same themes – time and distance, chance and serendipity – and so they’re a lot of fun for me to explore, and I tend to keep returning to them in different ways.

What draws you to the contemporary/romance genre?

Mostly, I think it’s just what I tend to gravitate toward as a reader, so it was only natural that I’d end up writing it too. That said, I don’t really think of my books as romances. I realize they have couples on the cover – and hearts! – but the family elements to the stories are really important to me too, so I think of them more as just realistic fiction.

Has your writing style/preferences evolved as you’ve continued to write books?

I hope so! I’d like to think I’m always growing and evolving as a writer.  But the crazy part of this process is that every single time I sit down to start something new, it feels like I’m learning to do it all over again for the very first time, which can be thrilling in its own way, but also really challenging.  If there are any shortcuts to this whole writing thing, I certainly haven’t figured them out yet!

And like I asked last year, what book(s) are you reading right now?

I just finished A LITTLE LIFE, which absolutely wrecked me, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It might be one of the most impressive novels I’ve ever read.  It’s a really tough read, but so, so beautiful. I loved it.

I also just read BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME, which is so important, and I think everyone should read it at some point.

I’ve read a few great YA books this summer too: P.S. I STILL LOVE YOU by Jenny Han, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL by Jesse Andrews, and SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli, among others.

And I’m in the middle of READY PLAYER ONE right now, which I’m enjoying so far!

One more fun one: if you could have been the original author on any book, which would it be and why?

HARRY POTTER, of course!

Thanks, Jen!

Make sure you head over to Brittany’s blog to see the other part of the interview!


Author Photo_Jennifer E Smith

Jennifer E. Smith is the author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, The Storm Makers, You Are Here, and The Comeback Season. She earned her master’s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and currently works as an editor in New York City. Her writing has been translated into 28 languages.

Website | Twitter | Tumblr | Facebook Goodreads



Terms & Conditions:

  • This contest is open to US residents only.
  • The giveaway will run until September 24, 2015 at midnight CST.
  • You must be 18 years or older, or have parents’ permission to enter.
  • I will check all of the entries for the chosen winner. If any of them have been given and you haven’t actually done them, you will be disqualified.
  • If the winner does not respond to my e-mail within 48 hours, I will choose another winner.
  • I am not responsible for any items lost in the mail, and I cannot replace anything that is lost. I’m sorry.

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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:! Ends 8/17/15.

Waiting on Wednesday: I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share a book that we are eagerly anticipating!

I Crawl Through It by A.S. KingPublisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Authors: A.S. King

Release date: September 22, 2015

Synopsis from Goodreads: A boldly surreal novel from one of the best YA writers working today.
Four talented teenagers are traumatized-coping with grief, surviving date rape, facing the anxiety of standardized tests and the neglect of self-absorbed adults–and they’ll do anything to escape the pressure. They’ll even build an invisible helicopter, to fly far away to a place where everyone will understand them… until they learn the only way to escape reality is to face it head-on.

Why I’m excited: Are you kidding? This sounds freaking incredible. I always get excited for magical realism, but this sounds like it’s going to take it even farther. I’m really looking forward to meeting these four teenagers and going on this journey with them. Surreal and brilliant – the two words that come to mind when I read that synopsis.

ARC Review: We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

We Should Hang Out SometimeAuthor: Josh Sundquist

Genre: Memoir, humor

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: December 23, 2014

336 pages, hardcover

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

I’m not going to lie, before I requested this book on Netgalley, all I knew about Josh Sundquist was that he was that YouTuber with one leg who dressed up as a Gingerbread man with one leg bitten off a few years ago. I’d never watched any of his videos or anything. Not that I was against him, I just never had.

Well, I have now. I’m subscribed to him on YouTube and follow him on Tumblr. It’s not because of the book. Well, it is, but probably not why you’d think. I’m going to give you a short rundown of what the book is about and what I thought about it overall, but the real reason I liked the book so much was because of the way I was able to connect with Josh. So here we go:

When Josh was 24, he realized he’d never had a girlfriend. Unless you count the one he sort of had in 8th grade that lasted 23 hours – but Josh doesn’t because he thinks you shouldn’t count a relationship unless it’s lasted a full day. So he decides to try and figure out why. Was it the way he looked? The way he acted? Josh’s book is broken into several cases, with a background section, hypothesis, and investigation for each, in which he details his encounters and friendships with girls and why they didn’t work out. The book is funny and interesting albeit heartbreaking and really, really honest in parts. Overall, I enjoyed the book (though I thought parts of it were melodramatic and the end was too abrupt and I wish we’d gotten a little more future since we got so much past). The diagrams and charts included were hilarious and had me laughing out loud several times.

But the part I really connected with was when Josh was talking about his disability. Alright, I know I have two legs, but I was surprised by how many similarities there were between how people reacted to him and how people react to me. In case you weren’t aware, I have no hair. I have alopecia, which basically means my body makes my hair fall out. Society has deemed that people who look different or strange are not quite normal and, therefore, it is okay to say really horrible things to them. Josh put into words exactly how I feel and how people react. It was so strange but wonderful to connect with someone you’ve never met and probably never will meet in such an emotional way. How insecure being different makes you, how hard it is (sometimes) for people to see past the thing that makes you different, how weird and awkward people can be about it. I felt connected to Josh even though the things that set us apart are wildly different. A few examples of passages I related to (NOTE: these were taken from an e-ARC and are subject to change in the final copy):

So now it’s really obvious—like right now everyone on the sidewalk where I’m standing can see that I have one leg. But at least there’s no question about what sort of disability I have. I’m not trying to disguise it with a fake leg or something. It’s like, what you see is what you get.

Again, I know I don’t have a disability, but this is exactly how I feel about wearing wigs or hats. This is what I look like, if you don’t like it, I don’t care. This is me. Another:

I’m not sure what it is about having one leg that makes people want to comment on it. But for some reason my disability gives many individuals permission in their own minds to say whatever they want despite our being total strangers. And often what they say ends up being quite awkward. Especially the questions they ask.

I mean, preach Josh. Oh my goodness. That quote is my life. People ask and say the strangest things and it is super awkward. I don’t mind people asking questions for the most part. What bothers me is the assumptions. Assuming I have cancer. It’s basically like saying, “Hey. You look sick. Are you dying?”

The bottom line: Overall, I liked this book. I had a few issues with it (it felt a little exaggerated in parts), but because I connected with it in such a profound way, I ended up really enjoying it. Also, I don’t think you have to have a disability or no hair or whatever to like this book. It’s funny, honest, and has some hilarious diagrams that should be seen.

Teaser Tuesday: We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

Teaser Tuesday is a meme hosted by Should Be Reading. It’s super easy: open your current read to a random page and share two sentences from that page – but make sure you don’t spoil the book!

We Should Hang Out SometimeMy current read is We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story by Josh Sundquist. I’m reading this one as an e-ARC, so I can’t exactly open it to a random page. Instead, I’m going to give you a passage that I highlighted because I thought it was pretty funny. This quote is found 17% of the way through the e-ARC.

“And you’ll probably be invited to join a gang,” he added.

“In your first week,” said Mom.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll be sure to wait until offers come in from all the gangs before I make my final decision.”

This book is full of witty anecdotes like this and I’ve found myself smiling or laughing several times. The book is pretty funny and honest, so I’m enjoying it so far, for the most part. I plan on reviewing it Friday, so check back then for my full thoughts! Make sure you add We Should Hang Out Sometime to your Goodreads TBR. It comes out on December 23!

If you participate in Teaser Tuesday, link me up! Or if you don’t, tease me with your current read in the comments!