Friday, July 19, 2019

YA Mini-Reviews

Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard (2019)

Thank you to Suzanne at The Bookish Libra for the recommendation!

Eden is stunned to find out her best friend Bonnie has run away with her boyfriend, who turns out to be their school's music teacher.

I was drawn to the ripped-from-the-headlines premise of the book, and Barnard did a great job of making the story feel very grounded and real.  Having the story be from the POV of the friend of the runaway added all these extra layers.  Bonnie's actions cause Eden to really question their friendship - she wonders how close they were if Bonnie never told her about the relationship.

Eden says many times throughout the book that her and Bonnie had such a good friendship because they had very different personalities and balanced each other out; Bonnie's steadiness helped Eden.  However, the same could also be said for Eden's boyfriend, Connor - he was such a sweetheart, and I loved their relationship.  I also enjoyed the secondary storyline about Eden's adoption and her getting to know her adoptive sister, Valerie, better.  Overall, it was nice to see all this support around Eden as she grappled with Bonnie's betrayal.  I did want to shake her at times, though; I know she felt loyal to Bonnie and didn't want to break her promise to not reveal her whereabouts, but couldn't she see that her friend could be in serious trouble?  4 stars

Hope and Other Punch Lines by Julie Buxbaum (2019)

Abbi has spent her entire life being known as the subject of an iconic photo taken on the morning of September 11th.  Now, she just wants one summer of anonymity, but a fellow camp counselor wants her help to get some answers about that day.

Is it bad that I liked the secondary characters more than the main characters?  I sympathized with Abbi about the spotlight that has been on her, and I get that she just wanted to be a normal kid for a little while, but she was keeping a BIG secret, and I was not okay with it.  I wanted her to get the help she needed before things got worse.  And Noah - I didn't like the way he blackmailed Abbi into helping him, even though he tried to make up for it later.  I wanted him to be honest with her from the start.  Their eventual romance was a bit predictable, but they were still pretty awkwardly cute together.

Now, onto the secondary characters - Jack, Noah's best friend, was just awesome.  Funny and blunt, he's what I wished Noah was.  And Abbi's parents were pretty cool, too.  I loved how even though they were divorced, they still got along so well, and Abbi had a great relationship with them both.  Abbi's grandmother also plays an important role in her life and even though she was suffering from dementia, she still managed to have a big impact on the story.

September 11th was a day I'll never forget, and sometimes it doesn't sit well with me when it appears in books - I don't really know why.  However, I thought Buxbaum did an excellent job here of incorporating that day.  She created a unique angle, with Abbi's photo, and brought in some personal stories through other characters.  I also thought the story was informative and sensitive when it came to 9/11-related illnesses.

3.5 stars

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: A Dress For The Wicked

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

A Dress for the Wicked
Autumn Krause
Expected publication date: August 6, 2019
Nothing much happens in the sleepy town of Shy in Avon-upon-Kynt. And for eighteen years, Emmaline Watkins has feared that her future held just that: nothing.

But when the head of the most admired fashion house in the country opens her prestigious design competition to girls from outside the stylish capital city, Emmy’s dreams seem closer than they ever have before.

As the first “country girl” to compete, Emmy knows she’ll encounter extra hurdles on her way to the top. But as she navigates the twisted world of high fashion she starts to wonder: will she be able to tailor herself to fit into this dark, corrupted race? And at what cost? - from Goodreads
So apparently this book is what happens when Project Runway is set in a historical fiction book - sounds awesome!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Auto-Buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is auto-buy authors.  There are actually very few authors that I will buy (and usually pre-order) every single book they release - in fact, there are just two:


There are also two series that I've been invested in for a long time and when (if?) the next book is released, I will buy those, too, to complete my collections:


I have a few other favorite authors that I follow closely; I may not buy every book they release, but they are definitely auto-reads for me:



Are any of these authors auto-reads or auto-buys for you, too?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Review: The Last

The Last
Hanna Jameson
Published April 9, 2019

Thanks to Jennifer - Tar Heel Reader for the recommendation!

For fans of high-concept thrillers such as Annihilation and The Girl with All the Gifts, this breathtaking dystopian psychological thriller follows an American academic stranded at a Swiss hotel as the world descends into nuclear war—along with twenty other survivors—who becomes obsessed with identifying a murderer in their midst after the body of a young girl is discovered in one of the hotel’s water tanks.

Jon thought he had all the time in the world to respond to his wife’s text message: I miss you so much. I feel bad about how we left it. Love you. But as he’s waiting in the lobby of the L’Hotel Sixieme in Switzerland after an academic conference, still mulling over how to respond to his wife, he receives a string of horrifying push notifications. Washington, DC has been hit with a nuclear bomb, then New York, then London, and finally Berlin. That’s all he knows before news outlets and social media goes black—and before the clouds on the horizon turn orange.

Now, two months later, there are twenty survivors holed up at the hotel, a place already tainted by its strange history of suicides and murders. Those who can’t bear to stay commit suicide or wander off into the woods. Jon and the others try to maintain some semblance of civilization. But when the water pressure disappears, and Jon and a crew of survivors investigate the hotel’s water tanks, they are shocked to discover the body of a young girl.

As supplies dwindle and tensions rise, Jon becomes obsessed with investigating the death of the little girl as a way to cling to his own humanity. Yet the real question remains: can he afford to lose his mind in this hotel, or should he take his chances in the outside world? - from Goodreads
Part post-apocalyptic survival story, part murder mystery, The Last was an incredible read!  Jon is a historian attending a conference at a hotel in Switzerland when suddenly nuclear bombs start dropping all over the world.  With little access to the outside world, he and a couple dozen others decide to stay put at the hotel, but their plans for survival are thrown when they discover a body in the hotel's water tank.

The book starts off as Jon's diary, and you can feel his despair and tension.  Then, his training kicks in and he switches to a narrative, with a somewhat more objective tone.  I liked that he wanted to leave this record of what happened and who they were.  The premise felt completely believable, and there were some interesting discussions between the characters as to how the nuclear war came about and whose fault it was.

The mix of a post-apocalyptic story and a murder mystery was an intriguing combination, although the story was less of a thriller than I expected.  The author did a good job incorporating survival tactics, as the guests try to ration and collect food for the winter and also make scouting trips for supplies.  As part of his narrative and also his attempt to solve the murder, Jon spends portions of the book interviewing the guests and hotel employees.  At times those parts felt a bit slow.  I also wondered how reliable of a narrator Jon was, as he dabbles in drugs and alcohol and grapples with feelings of how they were all somehow fated to be at this hotel at what could be the end of the world.  He is also worrying about the family he left behind in San Francisco.

I wasn't super-crazy about the end of the story.  I understood how it fit in with the rest of the book as far as narrative, but it seemed to be kind of a reach and the tone felt a bit off.  Overall, though, I enjoyed this unique approach to an end-of-the-world story.

4 stars

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Ever Alice

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Ever Alice
H.J. Ramsay
Expected publication date: August 1, 2019
Alice’s stories of Wonderland did more than raise a few eyebrows—it landed her in an asylum. Now at 15 years of age, she’s willing to do anything to leave, which includes agreeing to an experimental procedure. When Alice decides at the last minute not to go through with it, she escapes with the White Rabbit to Wonderland and trades one mad house for another: the court of the Queen of Hearts. Only this time, she is under orders to take out the Queen. When love, scandal, and intrigue begin to muddle her mission, Alice finds herself on the wrong side of the chopping block. - from Goodreads
A retelling of/sequel to Alice in Wonderland?  Yes, please!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Down The TBR Hole #3

Down the TBR Hole is a feature created by Lost in a Story.  I've seen it on a few other blogs and thought I would try it out myself!  It seems like a really good way to cull your TBR of those books you're no longer interested in.  So how does it work?

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 (or even more!) if youre feeling adventurous) books. Of course, if you do this weekly, you start where you left off the last time.
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

Here are the books I'm looking at this time:

 The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

This is on my TBR for the Retellings Reading Challenge, so I'm definitely keeping this one!
 Mirage by Somaya Daud

Even though I saw good reviews for this one when it first came out, I haven't been in the mood for YA fantasy in awhile and this doesn't sound special enough for me to hold onto until that happens.  Pass!
 The Lantern's Ember by Colleen Houck

Yes, I know I just said above that I'm not into YA fantasy right now, but this sounds really fun and perfect for fall, so maybe I will give it a try then!  Keeping for now!
 Snow in Love by Melissa de la Crus, Nic Stone, Aimee Friedman, and Kasie West

I added this last fall and thought I would read it over the winter months, but I couldn't get a copy from my library and now I'm just not really interested anymore.  Plus, I'm not a huge fan of short story collections!  Pass!

 Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Even though this didn't get great reviews when it came out, it's Liane Moriarty, and I've generally enjoyed her books in the past.  Keeping this one!

So, two out of five this time wasn't bad!  Have you read any of these?

Friday, July 5, 2019

Review: The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters
Balli Kaur Jaswal
Published April 30, 2019
The British-born Punjabi Shergill sisters—Rajni, Jezmeen, and Shirina—were never close and barely got along growing up, and now as adults, have grown even further apart. Rajni, a school principal is a stickler for order. Jezmeen, a thirty-year-old struggling actress, fears her big break may never come. Shirina, the peacemaking "good" sister married into wealth and enjoys a picture-perfect life.

On her deathbed, their mother voices one last wish: that her daughters will make a pilgrimage together to the Golden Temple in Amritsar to carry out her final rites. After a trip to India with her mother long ago, Rajni vowed never to return. But she’s always been a dutiful daughter, and cannot, even now, refuse her mother’s request. Jezmeen has just been publicly fired from her television job, so the trip to India is a welcome break to help her pick up the pieces of her broken career. Shirina’s in-laws are pushing her to make a pivotal decision about her married life; time away will help her decide whether to meekly obey, or to bravely stand up for herself for the first time.

Arriving in India, these sisters will make unexpected discoveries about themselves, their mother, and their lives—and learn the real story behind the trip Rajni took with their Mother long ago—a momentous journey that resulted in Mum never being able to return to India again. - from Goodreads
To honor their late mother's last wish, sisters Rajni, Jezmeen, and Shirina Shirgill find themselves on a spiritual journey in India.  Along the way, they learn more about each other and themselves.

I loved meeting the Shergill sisters; they were each so unique and had their own voice.  Rajni is the oldest by quite a few years; she's the most motherly one, super-organized and kind of strict.  Jezmeen is the middle sister, a struggling actress.  Shirina is the youngest; she recently married and moved to Australia.  Each sister is going through their own personal crisis as they start their journey in India; Rajni's and Jezmeen's issues are spelled out early on, but we are kind of kept in the dark about Shirina's for awhile.  None of them really want to talk about it with their sisters; they just want to finish the tasks on their mother's list and leave.

The author did a wonderful job of creating three distinct characters and also creating such realistic sibling relationships.  Many siblings seem to have this uncanny ability to get along one minute and hate each other the next, and the Shergill sisters are no different.  It was interesting to learn, in bits and pieces, how events from their childhood really shaped their lives and led them to this point.

The cultural aspects of the book were so interesting; India is not a setting I often see in the books I read, so the tour of northern India I took during this story was fascinating.  The food, the spiritual centers, how women are expected to behave - I feel like I learned so much.  Shirina's marriage also added insight into traditional versus modern Indian tendencies.

Although Jezmeen added moments of lightness and the ending saw movement towards hope, for the most part this book felt very heavy, almost verging on depressing.  Between the sisters fighting, their personal issues, and learning about their difficult childhood, there weren't very many moments of happiness.  However, that surprisingly didn't detract too much from my enjoyment of the story.

4 stars