Review: The You I’ve Never Known

30312837.jpg* I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The You I’ve Never Known

Author: Ellen Hopkins

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Publication Date: January 24, 2017

ISBN: 9781481442909

Synopsis on Goodreads:
For as long as she can remember, it’s been just Ariel and Dad. Ariel’s mom disappeared when she was a baby. Dad says home is wherever the two of them are, but Ariel is now seventeen and after years of new apartments, new schools, and new faces, all she wants is to put down some roots. Complicating things are Monica and Gabe, both of whom have stirred a different kind of desire. Maya’s a teenager who’s run from an abusive mother right into the arms of an older man she thinks she can trust. But now she’s isolated with a baby on the way, and life’s getting more complicated than Maya ever could have imagined. Ariel and Maya’s lives collide unexpectedly when Ariel’s mother shows up out of the blue with wild accusations: Ariel wasn’t abandoned. Her father kidnapped her fourteen years ago. What is Ariel supposed to believe?  How can she choose between the mother she’s been taught to mistrust and the father who has taken care of her all these years?

I’d never read an Ellen Hopkins book until I picked up The You I’ve Never Known. I didn’t mind this story, but I can’t say that I loved it. I thought it was entertaining, dealt with some tough issues, and was quite readable. What I did like were her explorations of sexuality, family, friendship, and abuse. I thought these topics were real, raw, and relevant. It’s always nice to see YA books dealing with real life tough topics, making them more accessible to young readers.

I also thought it was different that the book is written mostly in verse, in a good way. I was skeptical and a bit nervous at first. I’m really not a poetry lover and I thought that’s what I’d gotten myself into with this one. But in fact, it was SO easy to read and I actually lost myself if the stanzas as I went a long, much the way I do in a good novel. Don’t be daunted by the form. It’s very easy to adjust to.

My main criticism is that I found it to be way too long and that it drags at times. The characters do start to grate a bit on you after a while and the story would be a lot stronger had it wrapped up earlier. I also saw the twist in this book coming from a mile away. No spoilies, but it’s not that hard to spot. I do love a good surprise ending in a book, but sadly, I could see right through this story. Still worth the read, but it’s not the best book I’ve ever read.


Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks

30849412* I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. *

Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks

Author: Emily Barr

Publisher: Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House

Publication Date: May 2017

ISBN: 9780399547010

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life. With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Flora struggles with anterograde amnesia. Her short term memory lasts, at best, a few hours. She is medicated and only a few people are trusted with her care. She goes to school and hangs out with her best friend, Paige, but beyond that, her life is spent at home in the care of her parents. Every time her memory resets, Flora must remember who she is, where she is, and what’s going on–which she does though a series of hand written notes and writing on her arms. This story is about Flora claiming independence, although nearly everyone is against her. Through a series of events, Flora is left alone in the world. With the encouragement of the boy she believes to be her love, and the support of her brother through email exchange, Flora carves out a life for herself in a world that tells her she is incapable. Despite her own fear and perpetual confusion, she takes control of her own life and develops a system to help her remember.

I thought this story was incredibly unique. The protagonist is feisty and strong, yet maintains a child-like innocence and sense of trust. The last age she remembers being is 10 years old, although now, 7 years later, she faces a discrepancy between how she feels mentally and how her body is maturing physically. Flora is incredibly resourceful and manages to rise above her struggles. She’s adventurous and brave, even though sometimes she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her or around her. She’s incredibly likeable to both the reader and to the other characters throughout the book. She makes friends in the town her love her for her friendliness, her openness, her spunk, and her endearing nature.

This story has many layers of tension throughout. First, is the struggle of Flora with her own inability to form long term memories. Her own body is a challenge to her and she must face her own self each and every day. Second, is the conflict between friends: Flora and Paige. Paige is a girl who carries much responsibility as the designated caretaker of Flora in social situations, but Paige is not immune to the struggles of teenagehood and jealousy which creates a rift in their friendship. Third, the battle between Flora and her mother, which Flora is not aware of. Her mother is so full of both love and fear that all she can do is keep a tight grasp on her daughter. With so much tragedy in their lives, her mother’s greatest fear is loosing her child. All of this conflict creates a very complex and layered story. Barr writes so eloquently and masterfully. There are so many things I didn’t expect or see coming in this novel and that made it impossible to put down.

Overall, this was a fantastic read. It’s complexity and endearing characters make it an extremely appealing read. It’s one I know I’ll read again, without a doubt. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one made in to a movie in the next few years! 🙂

Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

28575699.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Title: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

Author: Eric Lindstrom

Publisher: Poppy

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

ISBN: 9780316260060

Synopsis from Goodreads:
For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium. As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

What I really loved about this book is that it opens the door to conversation about mental illness. So many people, teens and adults alike, struggle with mental illness every day, but it is not something people find easy to talk about. Although in recent years, people have begun to open up and talk more and more about mental illness, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding it. This story follows Mel as she tries to cope with her mental illness. She is working to find out what works best for her and she’s trying to understand herself and her mood in any way she can. Much of the book contained her journal entries which I felt really brought this book to life. It turned Mel into a real girl that readers, teen readers especially, would find accessible and relate-able. I think this story is a real eye opener and will be a great conversation starter for readers of all ages.

This story is very honest and doesn’t try to hide or gloss over Mel’s struggle. It portrays her difficulty in her real life, keeping her bipolar disorder secret and trying to appear as a “normal” teen, while trying to deal with her struggle in her home life. The novel addresses themes such as coming-of-age, friendship, romance, family, and so much more. I thought the story progressed well and the timeline seemed to unfold at a reasonable rate, making it even more believable. As someone who has dealt with anxiety, I really connected with Mel. I understood where she was coming from and how she gets to where she is at the end (no spoilies. You’ll have to read it for yourself :D).

I found that all of the characters in this book are really unique and each has a great sense of individuality. What I mean is, sometimes characters all seem to sound the same, but each one of Lindstrom’s are convincing as their own person. They have interesting traits and I feel like most characters experience growth throughout the novel, learning from their mistakes and adapting as the plot unfolds, and not always in good ways (making them even more realistic).

Definitely recommend! I’m a fan of Eric Lindstrom after reading both of his books, and I hope you’ll enjoy his writing as much as I did.

Review: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

31423196*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for and honest review.*

Title: Defy the Stars

Author: Claudia Gray

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 9780316394031

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Noemi Vidal is seventeen years old and sworn to protect her planet, Genesis. She’s willing to risk anything—including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she’s a rebel.
Abandoned in space for years, utterly alone, Abel has advanced programming that’s begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he’s an abomination. Noemi and Abel are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but they’re not without sacrifice. The stakes are even higher than either of them first realized, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’d been taught was true.

I am a huge fan of Gray’s previous series, so I was thrilled to hear about her brand new series, starting with Defy the Stars. This is a coming-of-age story of changing the world, or in this case, the universe. Noemi Vidal’s purpose in life is to protect her planet, Genesis, from the attacks of their enemy, Earth.  During a mission, she goes to help a dying friend and encounters Abel, a mech who is superior to all others. He seems so human, it’s hard to forget that he is AI. Their chance encounter leads to a galaxy wide adventure to put a stop to the interplanetary war that neither of them chose to be apart of. Both characters end up on a track that the could have never even dreamed of as they risk everything to save all of humanity.

I love a good accessible sci-fi and this book landed squarely in that genre. I love the tech, the AI, the intergalactic travel, and so much more. As a whole, this book is about the advancement of technology and what it’s done to the human race. Yes, there is that hint of romance, but it doesn’t detract from the story, and in many ways–both in this fictional world and our own reality–the romance raises ethical issues that I suspect will be a focal point in later books in the series. I am excited to see how this romance plays out in further books. I don’t want to spoil too much here, but I think this book will raise a lot of questions and discussions for readers surrounding artificial intelligence and how it can infringe upon and call into question our own humanness.

This book was very complex despite it’s fast pace and introduces many topics such as technological advancement, romance, friendship, loss, grief, respect for the dead, rebellion, war, political extremism, and so on. Claudia Gray is a masterful world builder, as we saw in her previous series, and she constructs and incredibly vast reality in this new book. She does so amid action packed fighting sequences and exploration of new worlds. I hope, dear readers, that you’ll find this book as interesting as I did. If nothing else, it is a fast-paced and thrilling story of an adventure to new and unknown territories in search of a way to save humankind, and that’s enough to draw me in! 🙂

Review: The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

30753698*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Impossible Fortress

Author: Jason Rekulak

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

ISBN: 9781501144417

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it. The heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan—they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.

The Impossible Fortress was a bit of a silly but also a really heartfelt book that showcases the youthful divide between loyalty to friends and devotion to one’s first love. I quite enjoyed this book in all it’s silliness: adolescent boys and their obsession with a Playboy magazine, a mega heist that could very easily go wrong, and the connection of two young people over a love for coding video games in the ’80s. For anyone who loves vintage video games, this book will find a soft spot in your heart.

I thought that this book did a great job of portraying the dopiness of innocent teen romance. The boys are more than a little lost when it comes to the realities of the female sex to a comical effect. The boys’ shenanigans are balanced by the down-to-earth, no-nonsense Mary who is incredibly skilled at coding games. Billy manages to crack through her rough outer shell to get to know the fun and interesting person that she really is. I would have loved to see even more of her throughout the book, although I’m quite satisfied with how her story line played out.

The one word I see a lot surrounding this book is “nostalgia.” I’m a big sucker for any nostalgic books that reference early video games or 1980s/90s pop culture. I think that’s why I enjoyed this book so much. It seems like across the board, anyone with similar interests read and enjoyed this book. If this sounds like you, then I’d say give this one a shot. It’s not a life-changing novel by any means, but it’s fun, entertaining, lighthearted, and heartfelt.

Review: Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse

26138370.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Seven Days of You

Author: Cecilia Vinesse

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 9780316391115

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days…until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything. Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?

I definitely struggled a bit with this book. I really wanted to like it because it sounds like a story that’s right up my alley. But alas, I couldn’t get on board. First of all, the main character’s name is Sophia, but her friends insist on calling her “Sofa” which I found a bit juvenile and intolerable. I found the friendships in this book to be quite surface level and difficult to connect with. There are love triangles and secret romances that make this book more like a soap opera than a YA fiction. And yes, while these are both tropes of YA fiction, I felt as though they were far too dramatic to be taken seriously. I mean, as a bit of light fluff, this book was great. It was easy to read, quick, and had some very sweet moments in it. I did really like the unique plot, but the YA genre as a whole is such prolific genre at this point, that this kind of plot elements seem to be over done.

This book is set in Tokyo, but I didn’t really feel like there was much of a point to that. I was super excited about this setting because I’ve always had a big interest in Japan and I thought that this setting made the book really unique. It’s nice with all the YA out there to see a setting that’s a bit different. It’s such a vibrant culture and a beautiful place, and I feel like the author could have incorporated that in a really rich way. But it easily could have been set anywhere modern and urban. I didn’t find any defining features where this book NEEDED to be set in Japan. I think that perhaps the author just likes Toyko and thought it’d make a cool setting for her story.

Lastly, I cannot get past this cover. Nothing on it hints to the plot or the setting in anyway. The cover could have been really unique to highlight a story that’s different and has a very cool setting. But design dropped the ball and put a very boring, same-old same-old couple poorly Photoshopped onto a generic bustling city street. Nothing about this cover makes me want to pick this book up.

Overall, this book was a disappointment for me. Some elements are in place to make this a great story, but it fell short on so many levels. I can’t say I’d recommend it.



Review: The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

30687200Title: The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

Author: Michael Finkel

Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 9781101875681

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In 1986, a shy and intelligent twenty-year-old named Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the forest. He would not have a conversation with another human being until nearly three decades later, when he was arrested for stealing food. Living in a tent even through brutal winters, he had survived by his wits and courage, developing ingenious ways to store edibles and water, and to avoid freezing to death. He broke into nearby cottages for food, clothing, reading material, and other provisions, taking only what he needed but terrifying a community never able to solve the mysterious burglaries. Based on extensive interviews with Knight himself, this is a vividly detailed account of his secluded life–why did he leave? what did he learn?–as well as the challenges he has faced since returning to the world. It is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community, and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.

This is the fascinating story of Christopher Knight, a man who one day walked away from everything in his life without so much as a goodbye and disappeared into the woods for over a quarter century. The story is told from the perspective of journalist Michael Finkel who finds a kinship with Knight based on his own enjoyment of isolation in nature. The book unfolds over time, as Knight is arrested, jailed and released. Tales of his experiences are told through Finkel based on conversations between the two men. Finkel writes of his own interactions with Knight and of his own experiences visiting the hermits settlement out in the woods.

It’s an incredibly interesting story. Knight lives only a few minutes from a grouping of cabins, stealing only the essential items from them as he needs. He survives summers and winters, strategically stocking his camp to be prepared for anything. He speaks only one word out loud in his entire time in the forest–a “hi” to a passing hiker.

I think readers might feel a bit of disconnect with Knight’s story, as one sometimes experiences when reading a biography. There is much hesitation on Knight’s part to sharing his story, so we cannot know if what he has told with the author is entirely true–although the author cannot find any reason as to why Knight would lie. But we can only hear his story as it is interpreted and rewritten. Finkel does quote Knight often, and he does his research by speaking to many of those involved, to law enforcement, and to psychologists. He builds as full a picture of Knight as he can, his past and his current experiences, but there is still that sense of distance from the subject of intrigue. Overall though, it’s still a really cool story and is very informative. It goes into great detail about the last true hermit’s life and his methods of survival. Definitely one to check out if you’re feeling curious. 🙂