Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson

Title: The Sandcastle Empire
Author: Kayla Olson
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen  
Source: ALA Midwinter  
Format: ARC
Age Group: Teens
Genre: Dystopian 

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed. Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores. Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves—but the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected. This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.

I do not know how long it has been since I have read a dystopian novel. I could easily go through my Goodreads account, but I am going to say months to make it easy for both of us. Holy snapchat, did I miss this. The exhilaration, the nail biting scenes and of course the longing for a good ending are the things that readers pray for and this book delivered. 

From the first page we are immersed in a world that has been taken over  by a group known as the Wolfpack. Friends, families, and communities have been utterly changed by this group and the only chance of surviving is to escape. But where will you go? How will you make it? Is there even a resistance? For Eden she is about to find out. 

Eden has lost everything, so when a chance to finally escape she grabs at it. I think this is what I liked most about her. She is this strong, fearless young teenage girl that is not afraid to fight for not only herself but those she cares about. Yes, there are times she does get scared but instinct cuts in and she becomes a leader. It does help that she has other girls to look to for guidance and support. 

The storyline was great. There was scene with these beetles that reminded me of a scene from "The Mummy," and I had a little flashback to the first time I watched that movie and the dreams that followed, but I was intrigued to keep reading. I am interested to see if there is a sequel, no info yet that I know of, and continue this adventure of the resistance to the end. 

Kayla Olson has written a novel to remind of the love for the dystopian genre. This novel is set to take the world by storm. Are you ready to join the pack or will you be brave and resist? 

I give this book 5 souls!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Title: We Are Okay
Author: Nina LaCour
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers  
Source: ALA Midwinter   
Format: ARC
Age Group: Teens
Genre: GLBTQ Contemporary 

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

I wonder if it is easier to just run and not face the truth. To hide behind a new life and forget everything and everyone from your past. But what will you do when your past pays you a visit. For Marin, is this possible? Can she confront her new life and go back to find the girl she gave up? 

This is a novel that can be read in a matter of hours but if read properly can make it feel like days have past. LaCour gives us these beautiful and intricately written scenes that play with our emotions like a violin. And the great thing about them is how the simplicity of them make it a potential reality for some. 

Marin is the perfect character that authors must strive to write. There was this complexity yet ease of a person that by end bared her hidden vulnerability and made her feel real. There were some flaws that I did question but who doesn't have flaws. We are all human, aren't we? 

I think LaCour's take on the relationship between Marin and Mabel is something we have all faced. There is this awkwardness of seeing someone for the first time in a while, to those emotional moments of realizing how important it is to keep close those you love and those who love you. This relationship made the book, and it is what gave me hope. 

I am glad I waited to read this book but most importantly I am glad to have read it when it I did. Whenever I am going through tough times, I lean towards my books in hopes of finding an escape and/or even answers. LaCour was that light that I needed and she can be yours as well. So if you are looking for a book to know you are okay, don't pass this up. 

I give this book 4 souls!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: Antisocial by Jillian Blake

Title: Antisocial
Author: Jillian Blake
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press 
Source: Publisher
Format: ARC
Age Group: Teens

Senior spring at Alexandria Prep was supposed to be for sleeping through class and partying with friends. But for Anna Soler, it’s going to be a lonely road. She’s just been dumped by her gorgeous basketball star boyfriend—with no explanation. Anna’s closest friends, the real ones she abandoned while dating him, are ignoring her. The endearing boy she’s always had a complicated friendship with is almost too sympathetic. But suddenly Anna isn’t the only one whose life has been upended. Someone is determined to knock the kings and queens of the school off their thrones: one by one, their phones get hacked and their personal messages and photos are leaked. At first it’s funny—people love watching the dirty private lives of those they envy become all too public. Then the hacks escalate. Dark secrets are exposed, and lives are shattered. Chaos erupts at school. As Anna tries to save those she cares about most and to protect her own secrets, she begins to understand the reality of our always-connected lives: 

I have to admit, seeing all the popular kids secrets get exposed would be kind of a good way. Although, I can't fully remember if I was popular...nah. However, where is the line to saying enough is enough? Is there one? Because sometimes there are secrets that are best kept secret. 

Blake writes a mash up of Pretty Little Liars and Mean Girls to bring us a novel where our secrets can be our biggest downfall. Wonderfully written, this novel speaks on the topics that teens today face in their high school lives. However, there was something missing that allowed the book to grasp the seriousness and instead made it a little more comical. 

Anna was interesting for me. I wasn't fully sure if I liked her or not but I wanted to. I loved how, even though some secrets were meant to come out, she didn't stop trying to make sure the lives of those around her weren't fully damaged. This showed a different side to her that I think we can all hope for in a girl on the popular side. 

Overall, Blake writes a novel that brings a sense of importance to readers in this technology centered world. She incorporates a diverse cast of characters with their own backgrounds and stories but most importantly their own secrets. Is one truly ever antisocial? All it takes is one secret to break free. 

I give this book 3 souls! 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitune

Title: Samuri Rising; The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitune
Author: Pamela S. Turner
Illustrator: Gareth Hinds
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Charlesbridge  
Source: Bought   
Format: Hardcover
Age Group: Teens
Genre: Nonfiction-History

Minamoto Yoshitsune should not have been a samurai. But his story is legend in this real-life saga. This epic warrior tale reads like a novel, but this is the true story of the greatest samurai in Japanese history. When Yoshitsune was just a baby, his father went to war with a rival samurai family—and lost. His father was killed, his mother captured, and his surviving half-brother banished. Yoshitsune was sent away to live in a monastery. Skinny, small, and unskilled in the warrior arts, he nevertheless escaped and learned the ways of the samurai. When the time came for the Minamoto clan to rise up against their enemies, Yoshitsune answered the call. His daring feats and impossible bravery earned him immortality.

I picked up this book at the American Library Association Conference and didn't realize at first that this was going to be a required read. After learning this, my interest level did pick up a bit more. I was excited to dive into a book and learn about the story of a Samurai legend in the making. 

Did I particulary like this book? Not really. However, that does not mean you should not check it out. Turner does a fantastic job of weaving together the story of a boy's broken family and his uprising with cultural facts of the samurai's history. 

This story does a marvelous job in showcasing the war, politics, family life views in Japan during the 12th century. I do believe that writing a non-fiction book readable and appealing to teens can be a daunting task as the author wants to make sure they keep as close to the events as accurately as they can. The one thing that hurt the novel for me was I felt that this felt more of a bullet point timeline versus a story that followed a timeline. 

Overall, Turner does a marvelous job in telling the story of samurai warrior who has gone down in history till the end. With a history lesson morphed into a literary masterpiece, this a book not worth skipping. 

I give this book 4 souls!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: Thirteen Chairs by Dave Shelton

Title: Thirteen Chairs 
Author: Dave Shelton
Publication Date: July 28th, 2015
Publisher: David Fickling Press    
Source: Bought
Format: E-book
Age Group: Teens
Genre: Horror Short Stories 

In an abandoned house, the ghosts gather. They argue, they laugh, and they tell their stories. Some tell their own stories, some tell stories they have heard elsewhere. Some of them are true, some are not. But each tale draws you closer. One by one, the storytellers depart, until suddenly it's just you and the narrator, alone in the dark...

I am not a fan of horror movies, even if I am with people. If I were to ever watch a horror movie I need to be in the comfort of my own home with my blanket, my pillow, and my stuffed sloth. But even then this is me...

But when it comes to reading a horror novel, I am so down for that. That whole saying, 'the book is better than the movie,' I have to agree. With books for the most part there are no images that give you a sense of what is going on visually so everything your imagining comes from yourself. Which in a way can be much more scarier. However that doesn't stop me. Shelton gives the reader thirteen different stories all with a different character, a different style of writing, and the scare factor increased the further along you got. But I all I wanted was more. 

I think what kept me hooked on the book was the mystery as to why was Jack there. This feeling seemed to grow more and more as one more person finished their story, getting closer and closer before Jack would tell his story. Every story was between ten and twenty pages and the stories ranged from a person buying a murder house but not being able to find evidence that a murder happened to a struggling writer entering a house and not being able to stop writing...ever. I don't know if this bad or not but I think I laughed at some points but then something happened and I was holding my stuffed sloth. 

This was a very fast but enjoyable read. I cannot stress enough that if you are looking for horror stories that will keep you up late into the night, Thirteen Chairs is for you. Shelton does a fantastic job in hooking me in and giving me goosebumps nonstop with every story. 

I give this book 4 souls! 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: Yvain: The Knight of the Lion

Title: Yvain: The Knight of the Lion 
Author: M.T. Anderson  
Illustrator: Andrea Offermann
Publication Date: March 14th, 2017
Publisher: Candlewick Press   
Source: Bought
Format: Paperback
Age Group: Teens
Genre: Historical Fantasy 

Eager for glory and heedless of others, Sir Yvain sets out from King Arthur’s court and defeats a local lord in battle, unknowingly intertwining his future with the lives of two compelling women: Lady Laudine, the beautiful widow of the fallen lord, and her sly maid Lunette. In a stunning visual interpretation of a 12th century epic poem by Chr├ętien de Troyes, readers are — at first glance — transported into a classic Arthurian romance complete with errant knights, plundering giants, and fire-breathing dragons. A closer look, however, reveals a world rich with unspoken emotion. Striking, evocative art by Andrea Offermann sheds light upon the inner lives of medieval women and the consequences Yvain’s oblivious actions have upon Laudine and Lunette. Renowned author M. T. Anderson embraces a new form with a sophisticated graphic novel that challenges Yvain’s role as hero, delves into the honesty and anguish of love, and asks just how fundamentally the true self can really change.

I have to admit that this graphic novel turned out to be totally different from what I was expecting. I have just begun to  immerse myself into the world of graphic novels and so I am not well versed. I do have to admit that I have not read anything by M. T. Anderson, but I was excited to see what readers were hyping on about. 

I think one of the first things that really struck me when reading this novel was the artwork. The style is not one I have seen much of in graphic novels, which can be a good thing. Although at first I wasn't sure how I felt about it but as I went deeper and deeper in the story I began to appreciate the style a lot more. When looking at graphic novels, there is so much more we must look at besides just the scenes in each frame and the dialogue. Every frame was placed on a page for a reason and the artistic style fed to the readers emotions. Did Offerman give the storyline with her style. 

Why yes, yes she did. This is just one example of how through her specific styles she is really able to capture pain and sorrow and provide enough imagery for the reader to feel just that. 

I think one upset with the novel was that I had a hard time with the characters. Maybe this is a time period thing, but I found it hard that Sir Gawain would be fighting for the crueler of the two sisters. Maybe it is that whole 'we are attracted to the bad [girl]' but I found myself wanting to slap him. And I think a lot of times I wanted a little bit more of a complex character that could be more appealing to teens but I do not know if the goal was to also appeal to a younger audience as well. Is this the character development of graphic novels? I hope not. However, if this is a time period thing, than people just weren't that smart. 

Overall, this was an enjoyable read. Will I be running to read another M.T. Anderson, I haven't decided. I am always open for suggestions. I am glad that this was a graphic novel more so than a typical novel. The images won me over and allowed me to visually and emotionally connect with the characters. If you are looking for a graphic novel with a simplistic story but out of this world imagery, don't pass this up. 

I give this book 4 souls! 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys 
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Philomel Books   
Source: ALA Midwinter   
Format: Paperback
Age Group: Teens
Genre: Historical Fiction 

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war. As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom. Yet not all promises can be kept. Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

If there is one thing that one must know about me when it came to school, I HATED history. Yes I do know that is a strong word to use but it is so true. I just never found it interesting, I was a B-average students and I was never motivated to learn more. However, if Ruta Sepetys was my teacher there is no doubt that history could have been one of my favorite subjects. 

I first discovered Ruta's brilliant writing in her debut novel Between Shades of Gray. From that moment, I was hooked and eager to read more. Salt to the Sea is set at the end of World War 2. We are introduced to four strangers all with a different past and all with one goal, board the Gustloff. 

Ruta's chapters style reminded me instantly of James Pattersons' and I instantly fell in love. I am always having the issue of wanting to finish a chapter before stopping but it never fails that the chapters are never-ending. But what really added to this love was the multiple perspectives. I felt myself wanting to go back to the one character after every chapter. And overall it gave the reader just enough of a taste of what was going on through the characters head to want to know more. 

Florian and Emilia had to be my favorite characters. Florian is brave, clever, and so strong. But I think what really held me to him was that under everything there was this vulnerability that started to show more and more with every chapter. With Emilia, I think the heart-break that came with her got to me and I know that there were moments where I had to pause and think about not just her character but what people like her experienced during this time period. 

Overall, Ruta did a brilliant job in taking a dark piece of history that isn't really talked much about in classrooms and wrote a masterpiece. Her other works may be historical but this one steals the cake and although told through a fiction lens, it is one that must be read. Sepetys is an author that should be on everyone's list of must-read authors. She delivers without disappointment. 

I give this book 5 souls!