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Review – New World: Rising by Jennifer Wilson

 

New World: Rising

By Jennifer Wilson

SummaryWorlds collide in debut author Jennifer Wilson’s graphic dystopian series where Divergent meets Mad Max. 

Since witnessing her parents’ murders at the age of eleven, Phoenix’s only purpose in life has been to uphold her mother’s dying words – to be strong and survive. But surviving outside of The Walls – outside of The Sanctuary – is more like a drawn-out death sentence. A cruel and ruthless city, Tartarus is run by the Tribes whose motto is simple, “Join or die.” 
Refusing to join and determined to live, Phoenix fights to survive in this savage world. But who can she trust, when no one can be trusted? Not even herself…
The first of a trilogy, New World Rising is an epic tale of survival, instinct, trauma, and the extraordinary power of human connection.

“Savage and raw, Jennifer Wilson pulls no punches in this blood tingling dystopian.” Kimberly Derting, award-winning author of The Pledge Trilogy 

Source: I received a paperback in an Owlcrate box.

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Review:

New World: Rising was surprisingly awesome. I never really expect much from YA dystopian novels anymore and this wasn’t the starring book in the Owlcrate box, so of course I kind of viewed it as “extra” and didn’t have a lot of expectations for it, assuming it would be a mildly enjoyable book at best. 

Man, was I wrong. 

New World: Rising was really good in a way that I just don’t really see anymore in YA dystopian fiction. It was fresh. It kind of combined the aspects of post apocalypse with dystopia. Tartarus was the post apocalypse setting, the broken city taken over by tribes. A wall separated Tartarus from The Sanctuary. While we didn’t get to see the Sanctuary, it can be assumed that it’s the oppressive but perfect on the outside broken utopian society. I love that the story had both aspects of dystopian fiction. 

Phoenix was a loner who wasn’t part of any of the city’s tribes. She kept to herself, traded when she needed to, and kept access points all over the city. She survived. The comparison in the synopsis that it’s Divergent meets Mad Max is actually pretty spot on, but at the same time, I was pleasantly surprised that the book stood on its own without having to be compared to other dystopian YA novels. I loved Phoenix as a character. She was fierce, but I could tell she had a softer side. It showed when she saved a small girl without even realizing what she was doing.

The world building was superb. It was dark, gritty, and terrifying. I was caught up in the atmosphere and mystery, as well as the characters. 

If you are like me and love the dystopian genre, but it’s been nothing but disappointment recently, I highly recommend New World Rising. It’s the breath of fresh air we’ve all been waiting for.

Star 4

 

Review – The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson

SummaryWhen all hope is gone, how do you survive? 

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.

Source: I received an Owlcrate exclusive hardcover in an Owlcrate box.

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Review:

The Sandcastle Empire was a strange book. I was confused for the majority of the story, but it was so interesting that I couldn’t help but turn the pages to see what would happen next. Because I was so intrigued and constantly surprised by the direct of the story, I enjoyed the book quite a bit.

The book definitely has a LOST feel to it, along with dystopian elements. Something happened to Eden’s world and it was under very strict rule, but her main goal was to find the Sanctuary her father wrote about in his survival guide. During a moment of chaos and confusion, Eden found herself traveling with three other girls headed off of the coast with only one way to go: towards Sanctuary.

There was so much going on with the plot. The island was really strange and it became clear that they weren’t on any ordinary piece of land. Also, the group dynamics were weird because none of them could really trust each other. And then one of them went missing and the girls attempted to find her and stumbled onto all sorts of messed up things. What WAS this place?! What was happening?

And then, suddenly, there was another group of people who showed up with characters some of the girls recognized, but not quite. Who were they? What were THEY doing here? 

I loved all of the craziness.

I have to admit, things did get a little over the top with the amount of strange twists and turns and shifting alliances, but I was so hooked. The end probably had more plot holes and rushed schemes than I would’ve liked, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. From the beginning, I knew I wasn’t reading a story that was realistic or had a tie to any world I’d recognize, so it was pure fantasy and chaos that never really needed to make sense to me. I suppose I understand if you are a stickler for realistic fiction how this book would be maddening, but I thought it was kind of fun and insane. 

I would definitely recommend The Sandcastle Empire to anyone who enjoyed Lost, enjoys being on the edge of their seat, and doesn’t have super high expectations for YA dystopian novels. This isn’t the next big hit, but it was definitely enjoyable and I had so much fun flying through the pages with a confused look on my face. No one can accuse the book of being predictable!

 Star 4

 

 

 

 

Review – Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters

by Francesca Zappia

SummaryEighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of Monstrous Sea, a wildly popular webcomic, but when a new boy at school tempts her to live a life offline, everything she’s worked for begins to crumble.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, smart, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then Wallace Warland transfers to her school, and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. With pages from Eliza’s webcomic, as well as screenshots from Eliza’s online forums, this uniquely formatted book will appeal to fans of Noelle Stevenson’s Nimonaand Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

Source: I received a hardcover in an Owlcrate

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Review:

Before I state my opinion, I’ll say that this book was a huge Owlcrate fan favorite. A lot of subscribers enjoyed this book and I completely and totally understand why. It’s a great book, short, sweet, and probably very easy for many introverted people to relate to. So my low-ish rating is more of personal opinion and not necessarily an indicator that this is a bad book.

I think this book is easy for a lot of readers and introverts to relate to and that ability to relate is what makes it so enjoyable. For me, I am kind of different because, while I do enjoy escape into books, I am not the kind of introvert who doesn’t enjoy real life, even when I don’t fit in. I feel like becoming comfortable in my own skin is important to me, even as tempting as escaping into myself tends to be, and it’s always kind of made it difficult for me to relate to the types of introverts who prefer to escape. This book is for those people. For me, it just wasn’t a book I identified with, though the author did create characters I wanted to root for even if I couldn’t relate.

On another note, I also dislike and do not participate in fan-fiction, so there’s another thing that other people probably loved and could relate to that I just couldn’t. I will likely never pick up Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (though I love her other books!) just because I know it’s not my cup of tea. I didn’t realize that this book would be about a fandom in that sense. Eliza created her world, but I didn’t expect the online fandom presence or the existence of a fan-fiction writer. And this definitely hindered my enjoyment of the book, though it didn’t really bother me until the end. I rooted for Eliza and Wallace for the majority of the book, but his behavior regarding his fan-fiction really bothered me and that’s partly because I think it was a crappy attitude about it but also because of how I feel about fan-fiction in general, published fan-fiction, and the rights of fan-fiction authors. (I’m sorry, but no author or artist or any person should ever be made to feel like they exist to give other people inspiration even if they do frequently inspire others. You are not an inspiration factory and if someone can’t get their life together it’s not your fault no matter what. This message WAS in the book, but the end of the book kind of rushed through some of that and I don’t think that was as clear as it could’ve been.)

And lastly, while I didn’t relate to Eliza, I felt like I understood her throughout much of the book. I was completely loving the book for at least 70% of it because the author did a great job of making me empathize with and love Eliza and “get” her situation. But once her identity was revealed and she had a panic attack, she generally stopped participating in life on and offline, and I just didn’t feel like the rest of the book handled the healing process very well. It glossed over a lot of it and I wanted the book to have more of a focus on overcoming and dealing with anxiety instead of just kind of skirting around it. While her family didn’t necessarily understand her focus on her comic and they finally understood it once they realized how big it was, the fact that it was so successful did not and should not mean that Eliza’s behavior was okay. There’s a middle ground there that just wasn’t obviously pointed out. I feel like the message, without meaning to, kind of sounded like “it’s okay to let anxiety control your life if you just do something successful.” The book did start to go in a more positive direction towards the end, but it just wasn’t as detailed or in depth as the whole rest of the book, so it just fell short for me and made the actual message it was trying to give a little less clear.

If you love comics, graphic novels, the creation of art, fan-fiction, and/or characters who are more comfortable online than in person and find that easy to relate to, this book is absolutely awesome and I definitely recommend it. But it’s not without flaws.

Star 3

Review – The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

 

The Upside of Unrequited

By Becky Albertalli

SummarySeventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. 

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. 

Right?

Source: I received a hardcover in April’s Owlcrate.

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Review:

The Upside of Unrequited was about Molly, a girl who crushed hard and often. She had some self esteem issues that seemed mainly due to weight and had never actually had a successful relationship, start of a relationship, or anything. Her sister Cassie met Mina and became and instant puddle of goo about her for the first time Molly could remember. And for some reason, they kept trying to hook Molly up with Mina’s friend Will to finally end the stream of Molly’s unrequited crushes. And Molly began a job at a store where she met a nerdy guy named Reid who made her comfortable for the first time in a long time. She wasn’t tongue tied around him, so they became fast friends. 

The book had such a great premise. A socially awkward girl with self esteem issues finally comes into her own somehow and gets the guy? I love books like that and I thought I would also enjoy getting a nice group of supportive friends and a great family in a YA book. In a lot of ways, it was perfectly quirky, upbeat, and romantic. 

I loved how diverse the entire cast of characters were. Different body types, different personality types, different sexual preferences, ethnicities, religions, etc. all made an appearance in the book and it was kind of awesome to see everything fall into a story that way. I absolutely love getting characters with different backgrounds and body types and ethnicities, etc to make appearances in fiction, be main characters, and have it be so nonchalant like it’s not the main focus of the book or a big deal or anything. They just are what they are and it’s not weird or forced. The author was able to just drop a thing about a person like it’s the color of their hair and it’s so natural and I admire that. It was one of my favorite things about this book…… But the characters were little more than their own diverse aspect and that’s where I started to get a little aggravated. I felt like no one really had much more depth to them, which makes them seem a lot like “token” characters with an existence only to show off how diverse you can be as an author and that is NOT cool. The beginning introduction to Molly and her world was amazing, but I never got much more character building for most of the characters and it started to feel like there was some thing artificial about what originally seemed like such a natural type of thing.. I got this amazing group of diverse friends and family and yet none of them have real personalities? I can’t really tell you much about WHO the characters really are deep down and that’s my issue with the book. However, I’m not completely sure that it was done with the intent to just check off diverse aspects. I think perhaps the book was just not long enough and the author was trying to stay on point with Molly and not delve too deep in the side characters, which is what I hope was the case.

I also kind of had an issue with Molly’s acceptance of her self and her worth being tied so closely to her relationship and ability to finally get the guy, but I expected a love story and I think it was done in a way that worked well despite the flaws. Still, it would be nice for a girl to learn to love herself without it being tied to how much a guy likes her. Also I can’t stand when a character who has self esteem issues gets to be judgmental about image and no one bats an eyelash. It was completely not okay for her to immediately dismiss Reid in her head because he was super into Tolkien and not afraid to proclaim it by wearing a Tolkien shirt and dorky white sneakers. 

I didn’t hate the book, though, because it was a fun and quick read and I liked seeing the relationship unfold and all of the drama between Molly and her sister. I loved Reid SO MUCH as a character. It should’ve been Molly who was fierce and unafraid to be herself, but it was Reid. He was aware of his “uncool” hobbies, but he did not let it bother him. He wasn’t afraid to be himself and I loved that. I think that was why I was ultimately not so bothered by Molly finding her worth through her relationship with him because I knew he came from such a good place in his heart. He genuinely liked her for who she really was and his confidence could only be a positive influence on her. 

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book and got through it quickly. It isn’t a book I would’ve bought on purpose, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. I liked it. I recommend it, but would probably just recommend borrowing from the library or something. 

Star 3

Review – Daughter of the Pirate King (DotPK #1) by Tricia Levenseller

 

Daughter of the Pirate King (Daughter of the Pirate King #1)

By Tricia Levenseller

SummaryThere will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King. 

Source: I received a hardcover in the March 2017 Owlcrate box.

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Review:

I’ve been kind of in this weird slump lately where I just can’t seem to get into a book. Nothing is hooking me right away. I even reread the Shatter Me series to help get me out of it. Although I enjoyed the last few books I’ve read, I’m not really as into them as I should be. I was in the mood for a snarky and enjoyable heroine who doesn’t let her circumstances get the best of her. Although I finished The Winner’s Trilogy recently and Kestrel kind of fit the description, her actions led to the biggest miscommunication issue and she was always at war with herself which was not what I needed. Someone in the Owlcrate group recommended I begin March’s Owlcrate book and I’m so glad I did!

Alosa was exactly what I needed. I was hooked from the very first page. I loved her confidence and the way she carried herself. She was great at figuring out exactly who she needed to be in any given situation to carry out her plan, but not nearly as harsh as characters like Celaena in Throne of Glass. She was likable and strangely sweet, even though we all know she had this crazy plan up her sleeve. Alosa was “kidnapped” in a big ruse, held captive aboard a ship she had plans to search. Her main goal was to find a map. She did everything she was supposed to, but she was knocked a bit off balance by the ship’s first mate, Riden. But it’s not a romance. Mostly they just had this back and forth banter that they both enjoyed, but they weren’t singing sweet nothings in each other’s ears for the whole novel, which was perfect. 

I absolutely loved Daughter of the Pirate King. It was fun, it had me on the edge of my seat, and it was just pirate-themed enough to be enjoyable, but it wasn’t over the top. I loved Alosa’s character, her push and pull kind of relationship with Riden, and I loved seeing her work through situations to try to come out on top. I didn’t really know what would happen, but I loved the way the story progressed. 

I definitely recommend the book, especially if you’re in the same mood as I was, looking for a heroine you can root for who isn’t overly emotional, but not unlikable. It was the perfect book for me and I feel like it pulled me back into enjoying a book from page one. 

Star 4

Review – P.S. I Like You by Kasie West

P.S. I Like You

By Kasie West

SummarySigned, sealed, delivered…

While spacing out in chemistry class, Lily scribbles some of her favorite song lyrics onto her desk. The next day, she finds that someone has continued the lyrics on the desk and added a message to her. Intrigue!

Soon, Lily and her anonymous pen pal are exchanging full-on letters—sharing secrets, recommending bands, and opening up to each other. Lily realizes she’s kind of falling for this letter writer. Only, who is he? As Lily attempts to unravel the mystery and juggle school, friends, crushes, and her crazy family, she discovers that matters of the heart can’t always be spelled out…

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Source: I borrowed a Kindle copy from the library

Review:

I skipped the August 2016 Owlcrate box and missed out on this book, so I decided to borrow it from the library. I’m a huge fan of Kasie West novels and I couldn’t wait to dig in!

P.S. I Like You was such a cute contemporary story. It featured a quirky guitar player and songwriter and her awkwardness. Her best friend kept trying to set her up with people and double date. She couldn’t seem to talk to her crush at all. Her family life was a whir of chaos. And she had weird taste in music that no one in her immediate circle seemed to identify with.

In chemistry class, she somehow bonded with a stranger over desk graffiti and started passing letters. She knew the person had chemistry before her and sat at the same desk, but she didn’t know anything else. She thought it was a girl and it was revealed later that her mysterious pen pal was a guy. They had the same taste in music and Lily started to think maybe she was falling for the stranger. But who was he? Was he the guy her best friend kept setting her up with on double dates? Was he Lucas, the hunky boy she kept her eye on and had a massive crush on? Or someone else? 

I loved not knowing and I loved watching the whole thing unfold. 

I figured out who the letter writer was long before Lily and I was right, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment at all, in fact, I think it might have been more entertaining because I wanted to know if I was right and what Lily would do when the truth came out. 

Kasie West writes adorable contemporary novels I can’t help but love. Most of my go-to contemporary authors are deep and dark and make me cry, but Kasie’s like a breath of fresh air and I know I’m going to sink into a well written and cute romance instead of something designed to torture my soul. I highly recommend the book and if you haven’t read her other books, just grab them all. I have yet to be disappointed!

Star 4

Review – RoseBlood by A.G. Howard

 

RoseBlood

By A.G. Howard

SummaryIn this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera. 

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.

Source: I received a hardcover in the January 2017 Owlcrate.

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Review:

RoseBlood was the chosen book for the January Classic themed Owlcrate box and I was really excited to read it. I almost picked it up at the bookstore before realizing it might be the book in the Owlcrate box, so it was definitely a book I wanted and would’ve bought myself. The cover was gorgeous and when I opened it up, the ink was a dark red, which was stunning! It wasn’t difficult on the eyes, either. The book promised so much beauty and was based on The Phantom of the Opera.

Unfortunately, RoseBlood wasn’t as good as I expected. It had a lot of potential and drew inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera and other dark classics. Each chapter heading had a quote, with most of them from a pieces of literature that also dealt in dark themes. I was eager to escape into a rich fantasy world in a dark setting. 

Instead.. I was completely disappointed.

My first issue was that the main character, Rune Germain, was such a YA main character stereotype. (Don’t even get me started on the name Rune…) She was “cursed” with the ability to mimic opera. She could, without any practice, stand up and sing the most complicated of operas in the their original language and render a crowd speechless. However, her gift came with a price and it drained her almost completely and made her sick. She couldn’t stop the song from wanting to burst out of her, so it wasn’t an ability she could avoid. Anytime an opera caught her attention, she’d vibrate with the need to sing it. I probably should’ve just put the book down at the beginning that that was revealed. I mean, really? A poor girl with a woe-is-me attitude who is gifted with the ability to just flawlessly belt out tunes that others train years to do? Why would anyone even make a character do such a thing? I don’t even feel bad. The sickness she felt is probably still not nearly equal to the amount of blood, sweat, and tears a truly talented opera singer puts into one piece. And then she was going to go to a private school for gifted musicians and of course, didn’t want to be there and didn’t want to fit in, so of course she would gain the attention of the catty competitive girl, and bat her eyes at everyone about how it’s not her fault she’s stealing the limelight, she doesn’t even actually WANT it. That’s not a conflict I can be on board with. It’s overdone and it steals from the rest of the book that has to deal with fantasy and the paranormal.

My second issue was the narration. The book was mostly in first person narration from Rune’s point of view. I didn’t care much for her character, but I thought her narration was good and believable. But then the book shifted unexpectedly to third person POV to the mysterious gardener Rune glimpsed in the garden in the beginning. Suddenly, we were privy to his actions as he went on to reveal who he was and who he was working with. I think that immediately made me sigh out loud in frustration. I HATE when books do that. It’s so cheesy. If you cannot build a story from first person narration and make it still make sense and still reveal whatever it is you need to reveal, than don’t do first person at all. Do third person and then everyone is okay with the camera coming off of the main character and showing something she doesn’t know. But ripping me away from first person POV to show me something someone else is doing because it builds the story is lazy and I absolutely hate it. I think the entire book was written in a way that was overly descriptive, so I know the author wasn’t lazy, but her storytelling techniques were not up to par. It ruined all of the mystery and intrigue of the character!

My third issue with the story was the plot. (This is perhaps a spoiler, but let me explain why I don’t think it is.) From the very beginning, Rune’s mom takes issue with Rune being overly susceptible to superstition and nonsense and her mom doesn’t really understand or believe Rune’s talent is more of a curse or even a gift. Rune’s father was superstitious. The mom just jabbered on about it, so the whole concept was hammered on just about every page from the beginning when they were driving to the school for about the first third of the book until Rune’s mom finally left. So, Rune’s ability having a supernatural element was no surprise. And of course, it’s the key to everything. I mean, it wasn’t even unexpected. 

And of course, because the book is full of YA tropes, Rune noticed a mysterious boy who just happened to be a part of everything and together they would create a plan and fall in love and.. are you rolling your eyes yet?

What frustrates me the most is that the book had so much potential. The pieces were all there. In fact, if Rune’s gift/curse was done in a better way that didn’t spit in the face of people who hone and practice their real talents and the POV didn’t switch, it wouldn’t have been half bad. If the author didn’t rely on familiar YA tropes to draw her story together, it could’ve been really stunning. There were bits of great writing peppered throughout the book, so I know the author can write well. I suppose I just wish the story was well written as a whole. The book was not creepy or thought provoking or mysterious because it was over-told and written in a way that told instead of showed. There was no mystery, the plot was literally just written out in front of me plainly. 

I don’t recommend RoseBlood unless you’re new to YA paranormal stories that begin in some sort of private/boarding school and therefore aren’t going to notice the familiar tropes as much.. or if you just absolutely love The Phantom of the Opera enough to ignore the tropes and you just want something that isn’t the same book but contains the elements of the story you love. If none of those apply to you, it’s best skipped. I don’t regret having it, though. It’s a beautiful book that I do like looking at, so it’ll be a great Bookstagram prop. 

 

Star 2