Uprooted

by Naomi Novik
Reviewed by SA

Put down everything and grab this book. Basically, that’s what I’m going to be saying in this review, so if you’re in a rush, just take that advice first. put down everything and pick up this book.

I have been hearing amazing things about this novel over the course of the past few months, and my curiosity was peaked. Well, once it was in my hands, it stuck fast like glue, and I could not put it down. As a matter of fact, I was reading it on the plane, and wished the flight would last longer so I could finish it!

Alright. That’s me rambling. Let’s get down to business. (To defeat the huns).

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“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

This novel reads like an old fairy tale. The kinds where magic and life intertwine completely, the kinds where every word grips you and holds you tight. There even seems to be magic in every word you read. The prose itself is just so beautiful. The novel feels like a folktale told in Russia, or Poland, even without those countries ever being mentioned once.

The story centers around Agnieszka, a young woman from a valley town, chosen by a wizard to live in his tower for ten whole years. Slowly she discovers that she was chosen for her knack for magic, and begins to learn how to wield it, her talents growing as she becomes more confident in herself.

The amazing thing is that the summary only gives you a small peek into the novel: there is just so much more going on. The Dragon tried to protect the people of the valley, and the entire country as well, from the dangerous, mysterious Wood. It contaminated people, driving them mad. It makes food poisonous and animals rabid. Sometimes Walkers will slip out from between the trees and steal people away. It’s dangerous, and it’s growing.

There is just so much going on in this complex novel that I could never summarize it all here. As I said – you just have to read it. But I’ll let you know about the reasons I loved and devoured this book. First, you have Agnieszka, and her character growth through the tale. Then, you have her relationship with Kasia (honestly, I ship them so bad), and their deep friendship and love for each other. Top it off with the mystery of the wood; the amazing world building; the use of magic. And voila: a perfect novel.

And the resolution is incredible. Every question you ever ask is answered, and the reader cannot help but be completely taken away by the explanations. You might wonder, for example, why The Dragon takes women every ten years; or maybe why the wood was corrupted in the first place. Yes, yes you will know, and you will love what you find.

If you have not get read uprooted, read it now. I won’t say any more.

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FIRST LOOK: An interview with R.R Virdi, Author of Grave Measures and The Grave Report

What? Another self published Saturday? Can life get any better? Well, it just might. This is the first official interview we’ve ever had on Readcommendations, and we’re so proud to have R.R. Virdi as our guest. He’s even willing to share with us the first page of Grave Measures! 

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reading R.R. Virdi’s debut novel, Grave Beginnings (check out our review of it here) and was blown away by the fast paced and fun atmosphere of such a complex novel and brilliant universe. The concept alone was enough to make my mind race: a soul without a body, solving supernatural crimes by taking over the recently dead? Sign me up right now! And now, the eagerly awaited sequel is just about to be released. In Grave Measures, the stakes are even higher, and nothing is as it seems…

Summary

Grave MeasuresWhat do shadows darting across the walls, cryptic writing, black fog, and a little girl who can see ghosts have in common? Paranormal investigator and soul without a body, Vincent Graves, has forty-four hours to find out. To make matters worse, his years of body-hopping and monster-hunting are catching up with him. He’s losing his mind. An old contact has shut him out. To top it all off, something’s skulking through an asylum, killing patients. Three guesses who might be next, and the first two don’t count. The writing on the wall is not so clear. But one thing is: if he doesn’t figure this out he’s a dead man—well, deader—and a strange young girl might follow. Vincent’s got his back against a wall, and that wall’s crumbling.

Some days it’s not worth it to wake up in someone else’s body.

I have to say that the sequel is even better than the first: Graves might have a bit more time this round, but there is so much more going on than meets the eye. There might even be other worldly things involved… as well as other worlds, too. It’s got suspense that’ll get your heart racing, and twists that will make you jump out of your seat (I know I did, and no, I’m not exaggerating).

Graves also must face the consequences of the first novel, Grave Beginnings. A certain character is back – I won’t spoil who it is, but fans of the first novel will be in for a pleasant treat – and they’re not too happy about what they were put through. We also get to see a softer side of Graves, as well as get a few more hints about his past.

One things’s for sure: there’s so much happening in this novel, that I’m afraid to spoil a single part of it. Suffice to say it’s even more epic than the first, and for fans of the Grave Report, a must read. And if you haven’t read any of the Grave Report yet? Then you can find Grave Beginnings on amazon, right here!

We sat down and had a quick chat with R.R. Virdi, who told us a bit about the past, present, and future of his books.

Q: So let’s start at the very beginning. Where did you come up with the idea for the Grave Report?

A: I’ve always been a paranormal and urban fantasy buff with a huge love for mythology and anthropology. I didn’t know how to include all of that in a series until I came up with the idea of a character not limited to being in a certain place or body at any time. That meant I had a lot more options for stories, places, creatures and more. It sated my desire to tackle as many mythologies as I could. Enter the body hopping soul as my way to do it all!

Q: How did you come to the decision to self publish?
A: I had actually queried before in my life, not this novel, but older works. I had grown scared and reluctant to continue that process over and over. I figured under self-publishing, no matter what, my novel would be out there forever. It would give me the time and ability to grow, improve and nurture my series. That decision is doing wonders for me. Since then I have gotten a few trad publishing offers that I might look into for the future. For the moment, The Grave Report is continuing as an indie series.

Q: Your sequel is coming out in just a week. What do you have in store for us in Grave Measures?
A: Grave Measures debuts April 15th 2016. It’s going to follow up in the months after Grave Beginnings. Vincent’s choices and actions have had consequences, we’re going to see the fallout of those. And of course many new characters—good and bad.

Q: There’s a lot of questions we have about Graves that’s we’re dying to know the answers to… any idea how long this series will go? Do you have it all planned out in your head, or are you writing it as it comes?

A: I know where the series is going and it’s slated for around 20 novels with short stories and hopefully a few standalone novels in there as well separate from the main works. I have the important parts planned in my head, but the fun bits, the how I get there, is all written as I do it. I love it that way. I love the freedom, the creative surprises and evolution a story undertakes as it builds momentum.

Q: Now there are whispers of a new series you’re going to be breaking soon… something very different from the Grave Report series.

A: There are 😉
Q: You’re a very active member of the Nanowrimo community. How much of an impact does that have on your writing?

A: A great impact on getting my writing done. I’m part of a wonderful community that encourages me and I don’t want to let them down. They keep me writing.

Q: Your blog is probably one of the most motivational blogs for aspiring writers there is on the internet. If you had to pick just one piece of advice you could give to every writer out there, what would it be?
A: Keep writing! That will take care of everything else on its own. Improving your skill, building your works/bibliography, building your career and having you seen. Keep writing. It will make you believe in yourself and your ability to write. Keep writing. If you can write a novel, you can do the rest of the stuff in the business! It’s the same. Lots of hard work, but at the end of the day, just getting it done!

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the first page of Grave Measures, appearing for the first time right here, right now!

There’s no good way of waking up in a dead body.

For starters, you feel like six pounds of crap in a three-pound bag. You have no idea where you are, you’re nauseated, and everything is disoriented. It’s like a bad hangover—with a dead man thrown in.

I blinked several times. Haziness and columns of white greeted me, peppered with the odd spot dancing across my eyes. The warmth spreading across the back of my neck prompted me to turn. “Ackh,” I sputtered as rays of sunshine shone onto my face, forcing me to squint.

I wriggled my body in an attempt to loosen it up and discovered another reason why it sucks to wake up in a dead body. My arms were bound.

And not in the fun and kinky way.

They were stretched across my chest in an awkward self-hug. Now I’m all for healthy self-esteem and loving yourself—straitjackets—not so much. I struggled with the restrictive coat, thrashing like I had been tasered. Nothing came of it. The durable canvas held together. Of course it would. I mean, that’s what it’s made for right?

My efforts succeeded in, first, exhausting me and, secondly, producing a trickle of moisture on my upper lip. A moment later, the stream of liquid trickled into my mouth. I tasted salt and copper. I let my gaze drift over my coat-covered chest. The muscles in my neck strained as I stretched and brushed my nose against the coarse canvas. Crimson blotched with darker hues of garnet smeared across the fabric.

Dead man’s blood.

A huge thanks to R.R. Virdi for allowing us to feature him on this blog, and to allow us to read his novels. Grave Measures might be out next week, on April 15th, but it is available up for preorder. Read it and get blown away!

Devotion

by Katika Schneider
Reviewed by SA

It’s self published Saturday again! Yes, twice in a row! This book just came out yesterday and I highly recommend you rush to amazon to pick it up stat. I haven’t reviewed any fantasy in a while, so let me tell you, I am hard to please when it comes to that genre. But I was blown away by Devotion, the debut novel of Katika Schneider, and I thought I absolutely has to tell you about it.

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Demons were nothing but legends…

Or so the young General Nessix Teradhel had always believed. Abandoned by her god and caught in a political trap with her late father’s old comrade, Nessix had barely kept herself together even before these startling reports appeared.

But now Mathias Sagewind, the fabled White Paladin, has arrived on her quiet island nation of Elidae with confirmation of such terrors. Wielding the name of the Mother Goddess and divine strength not seen in years, he is Elidae’s best chance at victory. In the wake of a holy war, Nessix must learn to trust Mathias as he attempts to guide her from a troubled past and protect her from a tragic future.

So, you take Nessix, this badass young woman whose duty is to lead her nation. She’s a general at a young age, but usually her land, Elidae, is a peaceful one, so she’ll have time to ease into it, right? Nope, demons are back, and suddenly this young lady has to lead her people to war. Not to mention the fact that her god has kind of ‘left the building’ (or pretty much the entire world) and she’s got no one to rely on in this new holy war.

Luckily Mathias, the white paladin, has come to her aid. With incredible knowledge and skills (some magical), his help is essential to their survival. He’s fought the demons before, and he knows their weaknesses: his only issue is getting Nes to actually trust him.

Throw in some womanizing neighboring royals (Veed, I’m looking at you!) and Nes’s entourage of war advisors, and you’ve got everything you need for a complex war and some brilliant bickering. Honestly it’s the dialogue I loved the most in this novel: the chemistry between Nes and Mathias on the rocky path to building a bond of trust was both a gripping part of the plot and the source of most of so much snark.

Nes’s character growth (and personal growth) is incredibly well written, and you see her blossom as a warrior and as a leader over the course of her many battles. She really is an amazing character, and goes on the list of ‘ladies in fiction I’d like to hang out with’. If you’re looking for a book with a badass young lady, you’re going to want to read devotion: the decisions she has to make are sometimes heartbreaking.

So if you’re looking for a novel with medieval battles, a war between good and evil, badass young ladies and complex relationships, you’re going to want to read devotion. It’s fun, it’s clever, and it’s epic fantasy. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Check it out on amazon – here

Dissolution

by Lee S. Hawke
Reviewed by SA

Ah, Self Published Saturday! The day we here at Readcommendations celebrate amazing self published books that deserve a place on your bookshelf. And I have read a lot of self pubbed books this month, let me tell you! Yet none of them stood out to me as much as Dissolution, a brilliant (YA) science fiction novel which will have your mind in knots for days.

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What would you sell yourself for?

Madeline knows. She’s spent the last eighteen years impatiently waiting for her Auctioning so she can sell herself to MERCE Solutions Limited for a hundred thousand credits. But when the Auctioneer fails to call her and two suits show up at her doorstep, Madeline discovers there are far worse bargains to be made.

So when your loved ones are in danger, there’s a bounty on your head and your entire city might turn out to be a lie… what would you sell yourself for?

The future Madeline lives in isn’t a bright one. Toxic rivers, arid deserts: the world beyond the wall is beyond hope of saving. But her city, Unilox, seems to be a beacon of life and hope, minus the freedom. You see, the city is run entirely by corporations, and being a citizen means being a part of one of them. Not just as an employee… but as a purchased product what belongs to them. At 18, gaining citizenship means being auctioned off, and having your contract purchased by any one of these corporations. Your life belongs to them, and they decide your value.

But it’s a system that works. Everyone gets along swimmingly in this future: there are incredibly high tech body augmentations available to everyone, which allow you to have bionic eyes, or to have  tastes fed to your brain which make the nutrient mush you eat taste like anything you want. People are healthy, and happy. The problem is that they all wear collars.

Madeline belongs to ANRON, the medical corporation. They run tests on everything, and her own parents have payed the cost with their own health, being experimental themselves. Madeline wants to be purchased by MERCE, the tech industry, but when she isn’t even called up at the auction, her hopes of reaching her dreams are shattered. When she learns that ANRON never intended to give up her license, and they would rather have her on a metal slab to slice her open, she must make a daring escape to fight for her freedom in a world where only a handful are truly free.

Hawke creates an amazing world for us to fall into. The world of people as products and human auctions almost feels real, and somehow completely believable. From the first page we’re pulled into Unilox, and we’re rooting for Madeline as she nervously prepares to be sold at auction. Yup, we’re excited for her.

At first glance, you might think this looks like the ‘usual’ YA, but I’m here to tell you that it’s much much more. For one, you don’t have a silly love triangle getting in the way of the plot. Madeline’s relationship with Jake is something that both drives her and motivates her, and it’s healthy and heartbreaking. Honestly it was refreshing to read! Even though it broke me in the end…

The plot is also intensely gripping. Madeline’s only goal is to survive, and this leads her to discover the true workings of her city, and realize that it’s not right. We can’t help but cheer for her when she realizes what we’ve known from the start: that people are not products, and that companies may have the same rights as a human being, but they are only as strong as the people who make them up. But this makes the read even more enjoyable: a clear goal, a world bent on catching her, Madeline’s plight is something we can latch on to.

As a matter of fact, I would only call this YA because of the age of the protagonist (18). It is so much better than those ‘trendy’ books out there! The plot is rich and exciting. The protagonist is relatable and you want to root for her.  And the ending absolutely destroyed me, making me feel like I’ve been ripped apart. It is such a brilliant way to shut the book. And now I’m stuck here, with feels.

Trust me on this:  you won’t read another book like Dissolution. Pick it up on amazon STAT!

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01DEGTLGK
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/dissolution/id1096943300?mt=11

A Gathering of Shadows

by V.E. Schwab
Reviewed by SA

For those of you who have been with us since the beginning (we love you!) you may know that I’m slightly obsessed with the Darker Shade of Magic world. I even found ADSoM to be my favorite book of 2015. It was brilliant! So naturally, when the sequel came out, I pounced on it. And it did not disappoint: it filled me with the magic I sorely missed.

A Gathering of Shadows FinalSummary

Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.

In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagant international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—meaning that another London must fall.

The plot is so, well, cheerful, this time around (until the end that absolutely destroys you, you have been warned.) Everything revolves around the Essen Tasch, or Element games. Lila has returned to London for the event, and many of our friends have gone undercover just so they can participate. But something dark is lurking back in White London, where a certain left-for-dead Antari has returned and is bringing his world back to life, at a price.

That’s probably what makes this book so much fun: the looming threat is known only by the reader, so the other characters have their own struggles to deal with while we do all the worrying for them. And the Games themselves are incredibly fun, as if the Olympics had pro-bending as their main event (speaking of which, anybody else try to imagine if Korra had entered? Now there’s a crossover I want to see.)

What’s fantastic is that the author also expands on the world she’s created. We learn more about Red London, and the other countries that surround it, about the political situation, about life on the sea, and we learn more about Magic. This is worldbuilding at its best.

But the best part is those amazing characters we came to love in ADSoM: Lila is more than she seems, and is badass per usual. I can’t wait to see where her story leads. Kell’s life has changed since the events of the last book, and he’s learning to fight. Rhy’s now linked to Kell, and his lifestyle must adapt. And who is this Alucard, whom Kell seems to hate and Lila begrudgingly admire?

Some may argue that this book is slower than the first, as there is much less going on. It’s all building up to the games, and then the ultimate conclusion (which, even if I saw coming, made me anxious as heck). Which seems like little for 500 pages. But I blew through this, and it felt like only 40 minutes had gone by. For me, there was never a dull moment, and I was excited from start to finish.

So basically – if you likes ADSoM, you are going to love A Gathering of Shadows. And if you haven’t read A Darker Shade of Magic, what are you waiting for?

 

You Were Here

by Cori McCarthy
Reviewed by SA

I picked up this book because of was fascinated by the blurb: but also captivated by the cover. But the idea of urban exploration in the wake of tragedy sounded incredibly gripping, and like a fun read: I was surprised by how much this book actually was.

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On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favorite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of dysfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.

As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.

When a boy dies in a stupid accident after taking a dare, the lives of those around him are shifted. His sister. His friends. The people who saw him snap his neck and the people who didn’t. Everyone is affected. Jaycee, his sister, is grieving hard. As she reaches the age where her brother died, she decides to take on his dares herself, trying to bring him back. But what she gets is something different entirely.

It’s interesting to see a book around grief take place so long after the death, and even more interesting to see how the novel evolves to be more than just that. It’s a novel about friendship, about hard truths, and moving on from the past rather than clinging to it.

That being said, I didn’t really like the characters. At least, not all of them. Jaycee seemed a little extreme in how she took her brother’s death. It’s probably understandable, but it was borderline creepy: with her wanting to take on those dares, it was as if she had no regard for her own life. Which kinda contradicts the whole “I managed to survive past graduation” thing.

And I wasn’t particularly fond of Natalie, either. While she had the one of the best opportunities for growth and a deeper storyline than the others (SPOILER ALERT – She SAW the accident but kept it secret all these years) it wasn’t fully realized. I didn’t feel like she grew: instead I felt like she turned into a walking cliche, just trying to get her friend to make out with a guy.

It was a huge surprise to me when I realized I liked Zach most: his character growth is impressive, and I don’t want to give anything away. But I felt like HE started off as the cliche and then turned into a three dimensional character. By the end of the novel, I felt as if he was the most grown up out of all of them. Plus, my favorite quote of the book comes from him.

Which is not to say I didn’t like Mik or Bishop: Bishop, the heartbroken artist, and Mik, the selective mute college student, were both interesting characters as well. I didn’t really get the whole relationship between Jaycee and Mik, as she fell for him before he really uttered a word to her, but it was still believable.

When I finished this book, I realized what I liked the most about it was HOW it was told, and not the story itself. The perspectives are incredibly unique: yes, you have first person, and third person as well, but you also have artwork (Bishop) and graphic novel (Mik) perspectives, which I found incredibly cool. I mean, an entire person’s perspective seen through their artwork? It’s a fantastic idea, and I’m so glad it worked here. It’s what brought my rating up to four stars.

I also loved the fact that all the places they went for Urban exploration are REAL places, and you can look them up online… or go yourself if you’re in the area. Honestly, I’d really love to. They’re fascinating places and sound awesome when described in the novel.

I feel like there’s a lot more to say about this book, but I’ll keep it at that. It’s a very fun read and will certainly be a great hit.

The Secret King: Lethao

by Dawn Chapman
Reviewed by SA

It’s another self published Saturday! This week I’ve had the pleasure to read an amazing science fiction novel that needs to be in your hands immediately. It’s fast, gripping, complex, and reads like a season (yes, an entire season) of Battlestar Galactica. So if you want some brilliant science fiction, this is the book for you: now let me tell you why.

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Kendro, King of the Aonise, can do nothing to prevent their sun from collapsing, consuming their home planet Letháo in a single fiery blast. Running out of time and options, he evacuates the entire population, setting off into the unknown galaxy in four crowded ships. Under constant danger from their ancient enemy, the Zefron, treasonous dissent seeps into his inner circle. Threatened inside and out, Kendro struggles with who to trust, until a mysterious vision finally brings hope to the distraught King. A new home awaits the Aonise, if Kendro can only unite them long enough to survive the journey.

Their world is dying, and the Aonise must evacuate their planet, heading to the stars in massive ships in hope of finding a new world. But their journey is not without its threats: they are hunted by the Zefron, an ancient enemy who seem hell-bent on trying to destroy them, as well as whispers of treason from within. Kendro. the king of the Aonise and their hope for the future, must protect himself while trying to save his people, not to mention his wife and unborn son. The risks are great, and the journey ahead is not an easy one…

The first thing that hit me about this novel was just how gripping it was. Much like in “The Martian” (Andy Weir), the second the Aonise think they are safe, as soon as one problem has been solved, they are thrown head first into another life or death situation. There is never a dull moment or a lull in the plot. They must work together to save their species, or none will survive. Because of this constant action, the book is incredibly difficult to put down and is addicting as heck.

There are multiple characters to follow, which makes the book read a lot like a show. This brings you to different parts of the ship, and introduces you to many aspects of their culture and customs. They’re humanoid, but in many ways they differ completely from us humans, showing the quality of the author’s world building. For example, every Aonise is born with a birthmark, which differs from person to person and across the houses. Their life forces, if you will, contain actual power: Croex. It runs through their veins and has tremendous potential. It lights their birthmark with raw emotion, meaning their feelings are always on display. This, and the croex itself, binds the people together, the king connected to every single one of his people, feeling their pain and anguish as his own. It’s incredibly how the author has managed to make this aspect of their lives seem so natural to the reader when we have nothing like it here on earth.

It’s a space saga of epic proportions. Not only is there the military aspect, but the life of these characters is studied, we share in their loss and their loves and their joys. We are following in their darkest times and their greatest hopes. It gives us surprising emotion, for a science fiction novel. You can’t help but cheer for Kendro, whose faith in his people is remarkable, even when he knows there are those who wish him dead. Some of the storylines are a little more difficult, darker, like Octav’s for example: he has difficult decisions, with his home life falling apart and his own emotions in turmoil. Life on the run, trying to keep your people safe, is not easy.

All in all, as a Sci Fi fan, I got my fill with this fantastic beginning of an awesome saga. With brilliant world building, tough characters, and great writing, I’m hooked and I can’t wait for more. Hopefully we’ll get the sequel soon!

Seven Ways We Lie

by Riley Redgate
Reviewed by SA

I was very excited to read this book, having heard nothing but good things about it so far. I was blown away by it: first of all, by how well the author juggled seven different perspectives, but also by the sense of realism and character depth Not only are there seven points of view, but the voices are unique and relatable. This takes immense skill and I found myself loving the read.

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The juniors at Paloma High School all have their secrets, whether it’s the thespian who hides her trust issues onstage, the closeted pansexual who only cares about his drug-dealing profits, or the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal. But it’s Juniper Kipling who has the furthest to fall. No one would argue that Juniper—obedient daughter, salutatorian, natural beauty, and loyal friend—is anything but perfect. Everyone knows she’s a saint, not a sinner; but when love is involved, who is Juniper to resist temptation? When she begins to crave more and more of the one person she can’t have, her charmed life starts to unravel.

Then rumors of a student–teacher affair hit the fan. After Juniper accidentally exposes her secret at a party, her fate falls into the hands of the other six sinners, bringing them into one another’s orbits. All seven are guilty of something. Together, they could save one another from their temptations—or be ruined by them.

I feel like the blurb doesn’t really capture the story. Let’s just say this: Seven different, flawed people, are brought together by one secret and the knowledge of a scandal that could ruin lives. But their lives aren’t so perfect either. How does that sound?

When it comes to YA, a lot of times the author who writes it makes assumptions about how high school life has changed since they were teenagers, which takes away a lot of realism. Not so in this case. Here, the students really feel like my peers.

When you look at the cover, you can see the seven deadly sins, but I’m having trouble putting a face to each one. It’s more subtle than that: just like how a person isn’t just made up of one trait, each character had so much more to them than their one problem. The depth makes it all the more real.

Each of the characters struggles with lies and secrets, with family issues and/or friend problems, as they move through Junior year of high school. They are all connected some way or another, by blood or through crushes, and there is a certain depth added to the narrative when we see each person through another’s eyes. Personally, I really liked that, especially when we see Claire’s world view, and her incessant judgement. Juniper’s parts are always in verse, which adds so much to her character.

The plot deals with a lot of issues: illicit relationships, divorce, pansexuality, asexuality, sex, drugs… the list goes on. This means it kind of gets, well, messy. Each could fill their own novel (and have) but dealing with them all at once is a real juggling game. I feel like a bit of depth was zapped from each issue (though I think Olivia’s ‘rant’ at one point really covers a whole lot) since there was only so much time for each of them.

It’s just so compelling to follow these people, even if they can really be unlikable at times (Claire, come on! Grow up!). There are a few one liners that really hit me, and I’m sure they’re going to be quoted in quite a lot of reviews. Surprisingly, I wasn’t bored with any one character, as I tend to get with multiple POV books. Though admittedly, I did have my favorites (Olivia FTW) and some of them I wanted to shout at, I wasn’t ever bored by their story. It was just that good.

The thing about this book was that it was just such an enjoyable read. I could not put it down, and devoured it in a two hour sitting. I got really caught up in these people’s lives, and thoroughly enjoyed the resolution. In other words – OHMYGOSH THIS BOOK WAS SO GOOD, READ IT ASAP.

Seconds

by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Reviewed by SA

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a graphic novel on here, so I thought I’d try something a little different. I bought Seconds during a stress-induced shopping splurge as I crammed for my finals, and I am so excited to have this awesome book on my shelf. It’s gorgeous, the story is great, and I’m sure to read it again and again.

Summary18630542

Katie’s got it pretty good. She’s a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant, and she has big plans to open an even better one. Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie’s life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all—but they don’t come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over:

1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew

And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. She’s also got a dresser drawer full of magical mushrooms—and an irresistible urge to make her life not just good, but perfect. Too bad it’s against the rules. But Katie doesn’t care about the rules—and she’s about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions.

I’m a huge fan of the Scott Pilgrim novels – I’m dying to get myself that lovely boxed set, but my wallet sobs at the thought – so when I saw the author had written a new novel, I hopped on it. Admittedly, I’m late to the party – it came out way back in 2014 – but I only just saw it in a french book store, so come on, I’m just happy to read it.

Just like with Scott pilgrim, there’s something special about this graphic novel. First of all, the artwork is both fun, and fantastic: the style is really unique. It goes from being down to earth to really whimsical, to really dark. It’s something I’d like to be able to do with art. I’ll even say this whole book is a work of art in its own right.

It’s good fantasy: the story starts with something seemingly lighthearted – you get to fix your life by redos, who doesn’t want that? – before they go out of control, and the story tips into the really, really dark. And I mean scary.

But I’m a sucker for a good alternate timeline story. The more Katie’s redos extend back in time, the more changes sink into the present – until everything starts to unravel. It’s clever, and done in a way I’ve never seen before in a story like this. From small to very major changes, everything is different.

The story follows this kind of tale-like quality I haven’t seen in ages. A kind of moralizing, growth driven story with magic. Katie turns out to be really selfish, and her selfishness starts to derail the universe. There’s a good lesson for all of us at the end of the story, and it’s not delivered in any kind of preachy way. In a way, it’s a bit of a modern fairy tale.

I fully recommend this to people who want a warm welcome to graphic novels (this book will get you hooked), who want standalone stories and relatable fantasy. I think fans of Neil Gaiman will like this story in particular; and people who liked the Scott Pilgrim vs the World movie will definitely have a lot to love. If you’re all of the above, then this book needs to be in your hands right now.

 

Dig Too Deep

by Amy Allgeyer
Reviewed by SA

I didn’t know what to expect from this book when I picked it up, but i was quickly thrown into a world of corruption and lies that was impossible to put down. I was thrilled to find a fantastic YA with compelling characters and an engrossing plot. Just how much corruption can a community take?

Summary23502052

With her mother facing prison time for a violent political protest, seventeen-year-old Liberty Briscoe has no choice but to leave her Washington, DC, apartment and take a bus to Ebbottsville, Kentucky, to live with her granny. There she can finish high school and put some distance between herself and her mother– her ‘former’ mother, as she calls her. But Ebbottsville isn’t the same as Liberty remembers, and it’s not just because the top of Tanner’s Peak has been blown away to mine for coal. Half the county is out of work, an awful lot of people in town seem to be sick, and the tap water is bright orange–the same water that officials claim is safe to drink. When Granny’s lingering cold turns out to be something much worse, Liberty is convinced the mine is to blame, and starts an investigation that quickly plunges her into a world of secrets, lies, threats, and danger. Liberty isn’t deterred by any of it, but as all her searches turn into dead ends, she comes to a difficult decision: turn to violence like her former mother or give up her quest for good.

Liberty returns to rural Kentucky to live with her grandmother, pushing thoughts of her absent mother out of her mind. But it’s not too long until she realizes that something is amiss with the town of her childhood: her grandmother is sick, though she won’t admit it, and half of the mountain is just missing, replaced by trucks and drills and a large pool of weird looking water. That same water which seems to be running through the pipes in her home: is is possible that the water has something to do with her grandmother’s illness?

Our protagonist is smart, and she’s determined: her grandmother’s life is on the line, for goodness sake! Interestingly enough, it’s Granny who quickly became my favorite character: plucky and vivacious, she won’t let anything get her down. She’s a force of nature: albeit a small, frail one. I loved granny so much, with her wit, with her determination, she reminded me so much of some of my own relatives.

The characters had depth and a real personality. Admittedly, I didn’t like Cole from the start, but I quickly came around to Dobber, a young man you wouldn’t expect to be so smart and compelling. It was interesting how Liberty’s first impressions were both spot on and completely off, though I won’t spoil any of that for you.

While some events a found a little unrealistic, I was deeply engrossed with the main plot. It reminded me at times of a teenage Erin Brockovich, though admittedly Liberty has much less power and credibility. That’s why I wasn’t so taken in by the ending: It didn’t seem all that plausible to me, even if it was a great fit.  In any case, i enjoyed the book from start to finish.

If you want a book with spunk, and a determined teenager trying to fight for justice in a place where her voice is ignored, then this is just the book for you. It will be published onApril 1st 2016 by Albert Whitman.