Review: The List by Siobhan Vivian

The List
An intense look at the rules of high school attraction - and the price that's paid for them.

It happens every year. A list is posted, and one girl from each grade is chosen as the prettiest, and another is chosen as the ugliest. Nobody knows who makes the list. It almost doesn't matter. The damage is done the minute it goes up.

This is the story of eight girls, freshman to senior, "pretty" and "ugly." And it's also the story of how we see ourselves, and how other people see us, and the tangled connection of the two.

I did enjoy this take on self-worth and body image. For what it is, The List does a good job. This isn't a book making waves, its not about getting over self issues. This book is more about warping how people see themselves.

It does get a little bit confusing with all of the POVs and I did keep having to remind myself who was who because I kept getting the names mixed up. I enjoyed some people's story (Bridget, Candace and Jennifer) more than others (Sarah and Margo) but they all had their own individual points to make and I love how Vivian manages to make each character genuine and different from each other. 

The story itself is well written. I felt that compulsive urge to keep reading and I really enjoyed every page of it, though I do have to say that when I finished the book i didn't feel a sense of contentment. I didn't feel like anyone's issues were resolved (see my first paragraph above - this isn't about getting over issues). I felt that this didn't quite work for me - we have anorexic characters in this book and characters that fall out and characters that dislike themselves. Of course, in life not everything is tied up with a pretty little bow, but I did feel like the book sort of trailed off. it didn't end conclusively.

Overall, The List is okay at what it does. It's well written with different dynamic characters. I did feel like something was missing throughout it though, and the ending was very 'meh'.

Overall Rating: C-

Book released March 2014 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Book received from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Firstlife by Gena Showalte

Firstlife (Everlife, #1)
Tenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live—after she dies.

There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms who will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t home to the boy she’s falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision…

I know that a lot of people are raving about Firstlife so I feel like my low opinion may actually come as a shock to many, but in my opinion Firstlife was 150 pages too long and comes in as one of the most dragging, slow books that I have read in such a long time. Which is super sad because this was actually my WoW pick a few months ago.

From the first page, I think I knew that this book wasn't going to work for me. The world is confusing, but Showalter tries to fix this by throwing a full on infodump at the reader - this just left me with even more of a headache than the confusing setting had already given me. On top of that, I just couldn't like Ten, which is a problem with a main character... she was shallow and selfish and indecisive without so much of an inkling of an idea why she was this way. She just was. As much as that annoyed me, what really annoyed me was the whole chosen one aspect where Ten is in demand and special. I have no idea why. This is the girl who can't choose a boy, or a world. 

I bet she would be a nightmare to actually spend time with.

The boys, Killian and Archer, are kind of like the devil and the angel on Ten's shoulder. I disliked both of them, mainly because through Ten's eyes the only thing she thinks is how hot they are.

I've been a fan of Showalter's other books, and at times he standard great writing comes through. For me though, Firstlife was a failure at executing a pretty good idea. This book was difficult to finish and actually threw me back into a reading slump.


Overall Rating: E

Book released 23rd February by harlequin teen
Book received from the publisher (via Edelweiss) in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Ruined by Amy Tintera

Ruined (Ruined, #1)
A revenge that will consume her. A love that will ruin her.

Emelina Flores has nothing. Her home in Ruina has been ravaged by war. She lacks the powers of her fellow Ruined. Worst of all, she witnessed her parents’ brutal murders and watched helplessly as her sister, Olivia, was kidnapped.

But because Em has nothing, she has nothing to lose. Driven by a blind desire for revenge, Em sets off on a dangerous journey to the enemy kingdom of Lera. Somewhere within Lera’s borders, Em hopes to find Olivia. But in order to find her, Em must infiltrate the royal family.

In a brilliant, elaborate plan of deception and murder, Em marries Prince Casimir, next in line to take Lera’s throne. If anyone in Lera discovers Em is not Casimir’s true betrothed, Em will be executed on the spot. But it’s the only way to salvage Em’s kingdom and what is left of her family.

Em is determined to succeed, but the closer she gets to the prince, the more she questions her mission. Em’s rage-filled heart begins to soften. But with her life—and her family—on the line, love could be Em’s deadliest mistake
.

I'm not sure where to start with Ruined... is it the brilliant world building? The fantastic characters or the slow burn romance? I don't really know how to start this review, because this book had so many brilliant things about it that I feel like I have so much to squeeze into this review, and I generally like to keep my reviews pretty concise.

I loved Reboot by Amy Tintera (review here) and Ruined didn't exactly live up to that level of enjoyment, but it was still a bleeding brilliant book. I loved how our protagonist is kicking ass from the first page. I immediately knew that I was going to adore Em, and I absolutely did. She was a girl on a mission and at the beginning she wasn't going to let anyone get in her way, which made for some awesome scenes of character development and internal conflict when she begins to get to know the handsome prince (Cas) that she aims to kill in revenge for the slaying of her people and the kidnapping of her sister. Em and Cas has a slow burning romance that really worked for me and that also made me happy. I did find that in scenes later in the book Cas became more of a loyal puppy than someone with his land's best interests at heart, he lacked personality and conviction but thankfully Em has enough for the both of them.

What really stood out to me was the fact that Em is a squib. She comes from the royal line of Ruina, a country who's inhabitants wield strong magic, but Em herself has no grasp of this magic. Her strength comes from inside and she doesn't let her lack of power hold her back. She was a character that I genuinely rooted for, despite a few silly mistakes.

Yes, this book does have mistakes. I felt that at times the humour was a bit too much and ruined the darker vibe of the book. Not every YA character has to be witty all the time, especially when an author is trying to make us feel serious about something. As well as that, I felt that the first half of the book was a lot stronger than the second half. I liked Em infiltrating the castle, but came to dislike the whole running through the woods part in the second half. That being said, the whole book was gripping.

Overall, Ruined was a strong book with an amazing heroine and a gripping story. I loved everything about the romance and the characters in this book.

Overall Rating: B

Book released 3rd May 2016 by HarperTeen
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

The Dead House
Part-psychological thriller, part-urban legend, this is an unsettling narrative made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes. Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High burned down. Three people were killed and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. Now a diary has been found in the ruins of the school. The diary belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s identical twin sister. But Carly didn’t have a twin . . .

Re-opened police records, psychiatric reports, transcripts of video footage and fragments of diary reveal a web of deceit and intrigue, violence and murder, raising a whole lot more questions than it answers.

Who was Kaitlyn and why did she only appear at night? Did she really exist or was she a figment of a disturbed mind? What were the illicit rituals taking place at the school? And just what did happen at Elmbridge in the events leading up to ‘the Johnson Incident’?

I was pretty confused throughout this book, and not in a good way. I really like books that try to use original writing devices but for me this one just didn't work at all. It seemed disjointed, not in the way intended, and it dragged on for too long before things started happening.

The characters never seemed to really work for me, none of the girl characters: Carly, Kaitlyn, Naida really worked for me and the male characters were flat and boring and utterly forgettable. For a long book like this which really needed the development of the characters it fell really flat and that was one of the main problems that I had.

Really, I just didn't connect with this book. It was probably a good idea, but it felt contrived and complicated and flat and didn;t have any sort of dynamic that kept me interested.

Overall Rating: E

Book released 6th August by Orion Children's Books
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: Afterlight by Rebecca Lim


Afterlight
Since her parents died in a freak motorbike accident, Sophie Teague’s life has fallen apart.

But she’s just enrolled at a new high school, hoping for a fresh start.

That’s until Eve, a beautiful ghost in black, starts making terrifying nightly appearances, wanting Sophie to be her hands, eyes and go-to girl.

There are loose ends that Eve needs Sophie to tie up. But dealing with the dead might just involve the greatest sacrifice of all.

Dark, thrilling and unrelentingly eerie, Afterlight will take you deep into the heart of a dangerous love story, revealing the otherworldly—and deadly—pull of past wrongs that only the living can put right.Of 
Me and Rebecca Lim are frenemies. I was not a fan of The Astrologer's Daughter but I really did enjoy the Mercy series. Afterlight comes somewhere in the middle for me. For one thing, this book kept my attention in a big way. I read it in one sitting and it was really addictive - I loved the paranormal mystery side of things with Sophie saving Eve and trying to figure out what was going on with her suddenly seeing dead people. That was really interesting to me and it kept me reading. This was also a pretty short read which was good because I couldn't really see myself enjoying it if it was much longer.

There was a romance story between Sophie and Jordan but it was absolutely insta-love. I could barely see any chemistry at all and I found that t all made very little sense at all - they had spoken like twice and then all of suddenly he is in love with her and they are insperable. I didn't like that side of things. I also found that I didn't really connect with either of them much - Sophie is very insecure and her reactions to things made me not like her a whole lot. Honestly, she was always talking about her looks and being self-depricating. I didn't like it much.

There were also a few questions with regards to Soph suddenly seeing dead people that I found weren't answered. This meant that I didn't feel like the book had been wrapped up all that well. 

Lim's writing is still amazing, I loved reading this book - it was actually a really well written books despite quite a few development flaws.

Overall Rating: C

Book released June 2015 by Text Publishing
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: This Is My Brain on Boys by Sarah Strohmeyer

This Is My Brain on Boys
Addie Emerson doesn’t believe in love. Not for herself anyway. With one year left of high school, she’s more interested in snagging a full scholarship to Harvard than a full-time boyfriend.

That doesn’t mean she’s oblivious to the ways of the heart. Or, rather, the head. Because after months of research, Addie has discovered how to make anyone fall in love. All you need is the secret formula.

But will her discovery be enough to win the coveted Athenian Award and all its perks? (See above, full scholarship to Harvard.) Or will she be undone by Dexter, her backstabbing lab partner, who is determined to deep-six her experiments at their exclusive private school?

Those are the least of her problems now that she’s survived a death-defying flight with a mysterious, dark-haired boy, who has delicious chocolate-brown eyes and a few secrets of his own.

With an experiment to mastermind, an infatuated exchange student on her hands, and at least one great white shark (more on that later), can Addie’s prefrontal cortex outwit her heart? Or will she have to give in to her amygdala and find out, once and for all, if this thing called love is more than just her brain on drugs?

From the very first sentence in this book I knew it was going to be super cute, super fun read, and I was right.

I loved Addie in this book, she was such a fun character to read about. She was like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory meets Temperance Brennan from Bones. I love both of those characters, so reading about their teenage equivalent was super fun. Yes, Addie was super frustrating at times, but she was still fun and cute in a clueless, highly logical way. I also loved Dex, the love interest. i loved the way he bounced off Addie's literalness and took it in his stride. For the same reason, I also loved her best friend Tess and Tess's boyfriend. I loved how protective they were over Addie despite not quite understanding her most of the time.

As well as that I really enjoyed the background stories, I loved Dex and Kara's story going on in the background, and the way everything escalated between Addie and Dex and the little (predictable) twist at the end.

That being said, I felt that the way everything developed was very unbelievable and zany - I liked it but it still doesn't take away from the fact that Addie pretty much used people. It was a little frustrating and took away from the whole thing.

Overall, This Is My Brain on Boys was a super-cute and fune time-killer, but I didn't feel that it really was that memorable or meaningful. Still, a cute book if you like zany reads like this,

Overall Rating: C

Book released 10th May by Balzer+Bray
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude

The May Queen Murders

Stay on the roads. Don’t enter the woods. Never go out at night.

Those are the rules in Rowan’s Glen, a remote farming community in the Missouri Ozarks where Ivy Templeton’s family has lived for centuries. It’s an old-fashioned way of life, full of superstition and traditions, and sixteen-year-old Ivy loves it. The other kids at school may think the Glen kids are weird, but Ivy doesn’t care—she has her cousin Heather as her best friend. The two girls share everything with each other—or so Ivy thinks. When Heather goes missing after a May Day celebration, Ivy discovers that both her best friend and her beloved hometown are as full of secrets as the woods that surround them.

This was one of my most highly anticipated book of this year and despite the fact that maybe it didn't live up to my rather high expectations I still really enjoyed it.

I loved the setting that Jude wrote, this eerie, creepy southern village where the inhabitants live a traditional life away from the other townspeople. It was original and culty and really made the whole thing work for me. The characters and their relationship dynamics worked so well too - I loved that small village hillfolk feel in people's interactions.

The set up of the story was brilliant too. I love the history and this elusive 'boogeyman' type character that the kids grow up fearing, and the mystery behind the deaths and the kidnappings was so brilliant as well.

I do, however, feel that the ending really let this book down. I feel that in her need to make the story twisty and turny, Jude lost sight of her original plan and everything became a bit comical, with motives and culprits everywhere. It seemed really silly, and took away from the more seriousness of the rest of the book.

Overall, I enjoyed the most of The May Queen Murders, but the ending really took away from the rest of the book - to be fair, the ending is a pretty key part of a story,

Overall Rating: C+

Book released 3rd May by HMH Books for Young Readers
Book received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Review: Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes

Queen of Hearts
As Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah’s days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts — and the love of her life.

When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she’s ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It’s up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.

I wasn't aware that this was being re-published, I thought it was the first in a brand new series and it isn't. I'm actually surprised that this book is being picked up by a publisher as big as Harper because it wasn't actually all that great. The writing in Queen of Hearts  was at times very stilted and formal and this really made it difficult to be absorbed into the book. The story and the dialogue lacked depth and anything to make this book stand out and Dinah, the possibly slightly crazy and disliked daughter of the King of Hearts, was a very unexciting character. There was nothing about her or Wardley that really gave me any kind of feeling.

The thing is that there was not much plot in this story and things didn't pick up until the very end when Dinah's father makes a bad move and makes Dinah a wanted girl. Until then, it ad been DInah chasing after clues about a secret that frankly I still have no idea what it was - maybe it was the reason Dinah's father hated her, because I still don't know why that was.

Things seemed to work conveniently in the favor of Dinah and Wardley and I hate it when that happens. They should have been caught at the Black Towers but they got in and out with no harm. Dinah shouldn't have got out of the castle at the end, but conveniently the Hornhoov let her ride it. 

Overall, Queen of Hearts has a great concept and I was so excited to read it, but I was very much let down by the execution.

Overall Rating: D

Book released 3rd May 2016 by HarperCollins
Book received from the publisher/author in exchange for an honest review

Review: Down With the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn

Down With the Shine

There's a reason they say "be careful what you wish for." Just ask the girl who wished to be thinner and ended up smaller than Thumbelina, or the boy who asked for "balls of steel" and got them-literally. And never wish for your party to go on forever. Not unless you want your guests to be struck down by debilitating pain if they try to leave.

These are things Lennie only learns when it's too late-after she brings some of her uncles' moonshine to a party and toasts to dozens of wishes, including a big wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was abducted and murdered six months ago.

Lennie didn't mean to cause so much chaos. She always thought her uncles' moonshine toast was just a tradition. And when they talked about carrying on their "important family legacy," she thought they meant good old-fashioned bootlegging.

As it turns out, they meant granting wishes. And Lennie has just granted more in one night than her uncles would grant in a year.

Now she has to find a way to undo the damage. But once granted, a wish can't be unmade...

This book threw me - I mean really threw me, It starts out with Lennie telling us about the murder-robbing crime spree, then cut to her finding out that her best friend Dru is dead. Forgive me for thinking that this was going to be a pretty bleak story - especially after I read Quinn's Another Little Piece a couple of years back and that was a very dark book,

Aha, but Quinn managed to completely throw me for a loop when she cuts to the present day where she is gearing up to go to a party. She isn't really invited, but she has her uncles' (her.guardians) illegally brewed moonshine with her. Because a party ain't a part without potato alcohol of course. She managed to get into the party and hands out freebies of the moonshine, asking everyone taking a shot to make a wish first - it's her family tradition - then she wakes up in the morning to find out that everyone's wishes came true.

Including the guy who turns everything he touches into cheetos, or the girl who wished the party would never end, or Lennie, who wishes her dead best friend back to life. She can't just wish their wishes away though, because everyone only gets one wish.

It's an absolutely ridiculous premise and is so unexpectedly funny and lighthearted that I just didn't know how to take it. The mayhem in the never ending party was hilarious and Lennie's uncles were great fodder for laughs. Of course, as funny as it all is, it all takes a turn for the worst. People die (in hilarious ways, but also they die) and people go crazy and mayhem turns into pandemonium and Lennie has to find a way to end it all, even if it means facing down her crime boss father.

As soon as Leonard Cash (Lennie's father) comes into the story, it gets quite dark and thrilling. Once again, curveballs are thrown and I was addicted.

I don't usually give an introduction into the plot in my reviews but but it felt necessary with Down With the Shine. It has such a bizarre tone to it that I felt like I needed some background to it.

I can't really say this book had the most absorbing characters or the world's most original romance, but what it did have was an amazing author, a funny plot and some unexpected depth. This book was 300+ pages long yet I devoured it in two hours, and I will honestly say it's one of the best books I have read recently.

It's just so.... different!

Overall Rating: A+

Book released 26th April by HarperTeen
Book received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review