the bookish life

my geeky love for books and bookish things

Tag: young adult (page 1 of 4)

Book Review – Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Zentner's The Serpent King absolutely destroyed me. It was fantastic and I completely ugly cried while reading it. That was actually a nice surprise, because the title and summary were kind of underwhelming. I avoided it for months before cracking it open, and I'm so glad I finally did. Seriously – go read it.

And guess what – Zentner has written a second novel! Be prepared for some more heart stomping in Goodbye Days.

Goodbye Days

One day Carver Briggs had it all—three best friends, a supportive family, and a reputation as a talented writer at his high school, Nashville Academy for the Arts. The next day he lost it all when he sent a simple text to his friend Mars, right before Mars, Eli, and Blake were killed in a car crash.

Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident, and he’s not the only one. Eli’s twin sister is trying to freeze him out of school with her death-ray stare. And Mars’s father, a powerful judge, is pressuring the district attorney to open a criminal investigation into Carver’s actions.

Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her to share their memories and say a proper goodbye to his friend.

Soon the other families are asking for a Goodbye Day with Carver, but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these Goodbye Days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison? – Goodreads

This book is absolutely beautiful – definitely equal to Zentner's first book. I've been trying to pin down exactly what it is that makes his books so damn good. His world building is fantastic and the plots are solid – but that isn't what makes his books great. It's his characters.

Zentner has a talent for creating characters that are deeply flawed and incredibly realistic. I felt Carver's grief for his friends, and his fear for the future. I understood the rage of Mars' father and felt so much sadness for Blake's grandmother. These characters leap off the page and breathe.

I suppose it goes without saying that this book is incredibly emotional. I didn't ugly cry this time, but I felt so drained by the end. I don't regret reading it though. A book or author this good is rare, and I encourage everyone to pick up Zentner's books. Just grab tissues too.

5/5

Book Review – Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

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


Book mail! I was really excited about this one – I love reading about time travel.

Cold Summer

Kale Jackson has spent years trying to control his time-traveling ability but hasn’t had much luck. One day he lives in 1945, fighting in the war as a sharpshooter and helplessly watching soldiers—friends—die. Then the next day, he’s back in the present, where WWII has bled into his modern life in the form of PTSD, straining his relationship with his father and the few friends he has left. Every day it becomes harder to hide his battle wounds, both physical and mental, from the past.

When the ex-girl-next-door, Harper, moves back to town, thoughts of what could be if only he had a normal life begin to haunt him. Harper reminds him of the person he was before the PTSD, which helps anchor him to the present. With practice, maybe Kale could remain in the present permanently and never step foot on a battlefield again. Maybe he can have the normal life he craves. – Goodreads

This story reminded me a lot of The Time Traveller’s Wife, but with teens (obviously) and a slightly happier ending. It was an engrossing read, and I sped through it in a single sitting. The narrative immediately jumped into the story with very little background, which added an element of mystery to it that I liked. Cole’s world building was excellent, and I particularly enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the WWII scenes.

Kale is a well constructed character with a lot of depth – his PTSD felt pretty grounded in reality, even if the cause was rather fantastic. But the other characters were inconsistent – idealized and a bit flat, really. It’s difficult to be emotionally invested in characters of this type, and it caused some distance between me and the story. It pulled me out of the narrative quite a bit. Kale’s WWII experiences are really what made this story a good read. I just wish it had been a great read.

3/5

Book Review – The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember

When I picked this book up, I thought The Seafarer’s Kiss was a reimagining of The Little Mermaid. But instead, it’s more like the story of Ursula – which is an awesome twist!

seafarers kiss

Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.

Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies. – Goodreads

This short little book is a quick read, with an interesting story that makes it quite the page turner. Ember has created a detailed world that really sucks you in. I loved the references to the Norse gods and that the story focused on an LGBTQA relationship. It felt fresh and unique. Unfortunately, the character development was a bit light, and I struggled to connect with Ersel and her troubles. When Ersel found herself cursed with tentacles, I was more interested in it as a plot twist, rather than how it affected her emotional state. But maybe that’s just me! Even with this shortcoming, I did enjoy The Seafarer’s Kiss and I would recommend it. This is not Ember’s first LGBTQA title, and I’m definitely interested in reading more.

3.5/5

Book Review – Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters arrived in the May Owlcrate – complete with an exclusive cover! I went into this book totally blind, which I think is always a good thing.

Eliza and her monsters

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she 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. – Goodreads

This book is near perfect. The characters have nuance and depth, and the world Zappia has created is realistic and detailed. The artwork included is beautiful as well. But more than anything else, this book covers mental health amazingly well.

Social anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts – Zappia has covered it all with a level of realism and compassion that I haven’t really seen in YA fiction before. I could see myself in Eliza, and I felt for her on so many levels. I’ll admit, I teared up a bit at times too. I truly believe that this story could help so many teens that are struggling right now – teachers should add this to their classrooms and parents should take a look too. I know I’ll be recommending this book – a lot.

4.5/5

Book Review – Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything popped up on my radar when I saw this trailer. It’s being turned into a movie – and it looked really good. So of course, I had to read the book!

Everything Everything

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster. – Goodreads

The first half of Everything, Everything was great – strong characterization, a cute love story and the positive portrayal of a young woman with a disability living her life in a positive way. I really enjoyed it and would call this book a good solid debut for Yoon. But then… things go sideways.

Because Maddy isn’t sick. This isn’t a book about a young girl living with a disability, it’s about a girl being abused by her mother (due to mental health issues no less). Maddy has been lied to, and is actually healthy enough to go out into the world. Yay! Life is worth living now! /sarcasm

I’m betting that Yoon did this hoping it would be an interesting plot twist, but really it just marginalizes a very real illness and the people who have been diagnosed with it. I really wish Yoon had steered it another way, because the first half really was an enjoyable read.

As for the movie? I’m really not sure if I want to see it anymore.

2/5

Book Review – RoseBlood by A.G. Howard

RoseBlood came in the January Owlcrate, with the theme Classic Remix. It’s marketed as a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, but I would call it more of a sequel.

RoseBlood

In 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. – Goodreads

I saw the stage show of The Phantom of the Opera when I was young, before I really understood what it was. So I was looking forward to getting reacquainted with it through this book. And I will admit that RoseBlood has sparked an interest in the original book, but unfortunately, that’s the only good thing to come out of this.

Although Howard’s world is very descriptive, with a gorgeous setting, the story itself could use a lot of help. Simply put, Rune is a Mary Sue surrounded by flat, stereotypical characters: a bitchy female enemy, an inquisitive best friend and a stalker/broody soulmate. I was able to tolerate this kind of storytelling a decade ago (i.e., Twilight), but I’ve since lost all patience for it. Pacing was also off, with unexpected forward jumps in the story, and Rune giving a quick recap of what happened in between. It was jarring, and took me right out of the narrative at times.

I finished the book feeling like it was mildly entertaining, but not memorable.

2/5

Book Review – Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval has been getting a lot of attention and love on Instagram right now. Some are comparing it to The Night Circus. While I don’t think Caraval is quite up to that caliber, it is still really good. Spoilers ahead!

Caraval

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner. – Goodreads

Garber has created a beautifully detailed world that is both dark and magical. It has these layers that are slowly peeled away as Scarlett delves further and further into the mystery of Caraval. And it really is a huge mystery, which left me guessing and questioning right until the very end.

Characterization was a bit weak, but still pretty good. Scarlett is really the only character that is fully explored, while the Caraval players, her sister and father are a bit more 2 dimensional. And quite a few characters were able to cheat death – they literally came back to life at the end of the game. I feel like that lessened the emotional impact and really was my only issue with the book. But it’s a testament to Garber’s story telling skills that it really didn’t bother me that much overall.

Fair warning – this book has a heck of a cliffhanger, and is the start of a series. But it’s an extremely good story to kick it off. In this case, the hype is definitely warranted.

4/5

Book Review – M in the Abstract by Douglas Davey

I picked up this book at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival last summer. Douglas Davey was there for the Young Adult portion, and he read some excerpts of M in the Abstract. I couldn’t resist getting a copy for myself.

M in the Abstract

M is for Mary whose real name is Mariposa. She is a troubled girl who is haunted by mysterious dark shadows. She knows little about her father, and her mother can’t accept her for who she is. Mary’s attempts to dare to make connections with other people are doomed to fail as long as the shadows loom within her – until she figures out how she can gain control of them and use their power. – Goodreads

M’s coping mechanism for her mental illness consumes her life. The Goodreads summary makes it sound like there is a supernatural element, but in reality the shadows are all in her head. They’re a bit terrifying to read about, and I can’t imagine experiencing my depression in that way. But I can completely relate to some her teen awkwardness and loneliness.

During his talk at the festival, Davey expressed concern about attempting to capture a female voice. I don’t think his concern is warranted; the dialogue is crisp and M’s internal thoughts feel genuine. His character development is also really solid. The unnamed city M lives in is actually Davey’s hometown of Guelph, which I loved reading about – I went to university there and it brought back memories.

It was really nice to read some YA that is more set in reality than the current popular books in the genre. And I would recommend this to anyone looking for some thoughtful, YA Canadiana.

4/5

February Owlcrate – Run Away With The Circus

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an Owlcrate unboxing here – although they have made an appearance on my Instagram account. But this one is special, because it’ll be the last box I get for awhile. I love Owlcrate – as a company and a product – but my wallet needs a break. At least for now. Who knows, I may order future boxes if the theme really catches my eye.

Anyway, onwards with the bookish goodies! This month’s box is circus themed, which is awesome in so many ways. The circus has so much potential for themed goodies. While not my favourite, I do think this box is up there as one of Owlcrate’s best.

Circus Owlcrate

This month’s box included a gorgeous tote bag, designed by Evie Bookish. A black version was also available, but I’m really happy with the red. And it’s Night Circus themed, which is one of my favourite books.

Next up, a mini candle by Frostbeard Studio, called Le Cirque de Rêves – also Night Circus themed. The scent is a blend of caramel popcorn, roasted chestnuts and bonfire. It smells amazing, and now I’m dying for a full sized version!

Geek Fire Labs created a lip balm that smells like mini doughnuts – and it really does smell like fried pastries. I think I’ll use this sparingly, as the scent is a bit too sweet for me. The label is very cute though!

The playing card notebook was created by Attic Journals, out of recycled casino cards. I love the upcycling, and it’s really small and cute – I’ll probably toss this one into my purse for notes on the go.

The cute, circusy page flags are by Girl of All Work. I’m not the type to flag my books as I read them, but I could definitely put these to good use at work!

And then there’s the book. Guys, THIS BOOK! I have had Caraval on my Indigo wishlist for months, and as soon as Owlcrate announced the theme I knew it was coming. I’m beyond thrilled. Just check out the synopsis, it’s awesome.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever. – Goodreads

I am itching to start reading this, and the reviews I’ve seen so far have all been positive. If any of you have read it, let me know what you think!

The Owlcrate theme for March is Sailors, Ships & Seas, which sounds like a lot of fun. It’ll include an item from Boy Girl Party, who makes really cute animal themed products. I’ll admit, I’m sad I’m not getting this box! As always, if you would like to sign up for Owlcrate, feel free to click here and use my referral.

 

Book Review – Gilded Cage by Vic James

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


I actually read this book a month ago, but it left me feeling conflicted. I decided that I needed time to let it process in my brain before coming back to it to write a review. But a month later, I still feel the same way – Gilded Cage is overstuffed and underwhelming.

Gilded Cage

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution. – Goodreads

The premise is pretty interesting, and James’ world building is impressive. But this book feels bloated, full of conflict and confrontation that goes nowhere fast. Events happen that feel like they should matter to the overall story arc, only to have them fizzle out too soon. There is a build up to a grand final showdown, only to have everything fall apart, leaving the characters back where they started. What was the point? Well, based on all the loose ends, it’s clear that this book is being used to kick off a series. The only problem is that so little actually happens in the plot, it feels like the excess padding is just a means to draw out this story into multiple books. It’s unnecessary and frustrating for the reader. And it has definitely turned me off exploring further books in the series down the road.

Gilded Cage is now available for purchase.

2.5/5

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