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!

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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!

ABOUT JEN

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

THE GIVEAWAY

(THANK YOU TO THE NOVL FOR SENDING ME THESE BOOKS IN THE NOVL BOX!)

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.

Giveaway Enter

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.