I’ve got four reviews for you today: a YA contemporary, a MG contemporary fantasy, a YA fantasy and a memoir. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
The Truth About Leaving by Natalie Blitt
Published by Amberjack Publishing on March 5, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing, Themes of death)
Lucy Green thought she had her senior year in the bag. Cute boyfriend? Check. College plan? Check.
But when her boyfriend dumps her the week before school starts and she literally stumbles into Dov, the new Israeli transfer student, on her first day of school, Lucy’s carefully mapped-out future crumbles.
Determined to have a good senior year, and too busy trying to hold her family together while her mom is across the country working, Lucy ignores the attraction she feels to Dov. But soon, Lucy and Dov’s connection is undeniable. Lucy begins to realize that sometimes, you have to open yourself up to chance. Even if the wrong person at the wrong time is a boy whose bravery you admire and who helps you find your way back to yourself.
Lucy has spent her whole life living for other people: when her mom moves for work, she sacrifices her own time and energy to help take care of her little brothers; when it’s time to think about college, she doesn’t consider anywhere but where her parents want her to go; when her boyfriend wants more of her time, she quits dance, her one true outlet. She doesn’t know who she wants to be because she’s never given herself a chance to think about it—she just fills whatever roles are “assigned” to her in life. This book is about Lucy finding herself in a sea of other people’s expectations.
When Lucy meets Dov, her perceptions of the world start to change. This is a boy who knows what he wants, and he will fight for it. His strength of purpose starts to make her realize that she has choices, and that only she can determine her true calling. She also discovers that her “calling” might not be so easy to pinpoint, and she might need to give herself time to get there.
I loved the romance between Lucy and Dov. It was quick to spark but slow to develop, which I appreciated. They came from such different perspectives, so they helped each other see the world in a different way. I also appreciated that the characters discussed sex in a healthy way. I’ll confess that occasionally Lucy felt a little bit whiny to me, but she is a teenager after all—show me a teenager that doesn’t get this way from time to time and I’ll … well, you can’t, so I won’t bother coming up with what I’d do. I also thought Lucy became a tad bit hypocritical at a couple of critical points in her relationship with Dov, but these were blips on the radar of a book that I otherwise truly enjoyed. I love books that challenge me to look at the world through the eyes of someone completely different from me—and Dov’s perspective as an Israeli citizen definitely fit the bill. I recommend the book for that reason alone.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Series: Cassidy Blake #1
Published by Scholastic Audio on August 28, 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary Fantasy
Narrator: Reba Buhr
Length: 5 hours and 2 minutes
My content rating: MG (Some MG-level violence, Ghosts)
From number-one New York Times bestselling author Victoria Schwab comes a sweeping, spooky, evocative adventure, perfect for fans of Stranger Things and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
Ever since Cass almost drowned (okay, she did drown, but she doesn't like to think about it), she can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead...and enter the world of spirits. Her best friend is even a ghost.
So things are already pretty strange. But they're about to get much stranger...
This book was super cute, which I actually wasn’t expecting from Schwab. I think I was expecting a much darker middle-grade read, but this book did a fantastic job of balancing the creepiness of ghost stories with a lighter tone, which I think will make it really appealing to readers in this age group. I also loved that Schwab managed to nail a younger voice without sacrificing higher level vocabulary—this isn’t a book that’s “dumbed down” for middle graders. I adored the friendship between Cass and Jacob, the ghost boy who pulled her back from death (and led to her being able to experience the world behind the veil). The story has a decent amount of set-up at the beginning, but it really picks up after Cass learns something crucial about herself and her ability (maybe halfway through—I was listening to the audiobook and didn’t make specific note of the time).
Speaking of the audiobook, this book was wonderfully narrated by Reba Buhr, who captured Cass’s youth and energy perfectly! I definitely recommend this book for middle grade readers.
The Forever Song by Julie Kagawa
Series: Blood of Eden #3
Also in this series: The Eternity Cure
Published by Harlequin Books S.A. on November 17, 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Narrator: Thérèse Plummer
Length: 12 hours and 22 minutes
My content rating: YA (Characters have sex, Violence)
Vengeance will be hers.
Allison Sekemoto once struggled with the question: human or monster? With the death of her love, Zeke, she has her answer.
Allie will embrace her cold vampire side to hunt down and end Sarren, the psychopathic vampire who murdered Zeke. But the trail is bloody and long, and Sarren has left many surprises for Allie and her companions - her creator Kanin, and her blood brother, Jackal. The trail is leading straight to the one place they must protect at any cost - the last vampire-free zone on Earth, Eden. And Sarren has one final, brutal shock in store for Allie.
In a ruined world where no life is sacred and former allies can turn on you in one heartbeat, Allie will face her darkest days. And if she succeeds, her triumph will be short-lived in the face of surviving forever alone.
THE FINAL HUNT IS ON.
***NOTE: This review is for the third book in a series and it WILL contain spoilers for the first two books (but no spoilers for this actual book).***
I finally finished this series!!! I adored the first two books (I considered it one of my favorite series of ever), but then … never read the final book in the trilogy. Sigh. So, I decided to do a reread via audiobook (they’re only available via Audible). First off, let me say that Thérèse Plummer is a fabulous narrator—she especially nails the emotional parts of the story and she kept me emotionally engaged with these characters the whole way through (and she does a great job with the voices—I always knew who was speaking because she made them all so distinct). So, I enjoyed listening to all three of these books.
Now, I will say that the final book of the trilogy is my least favorite—which is always a fear of mine with series and one of the reasons that I think I avoid finales. I felt like too much time was spent traveling at the beginning of the book, and it felt a little bit like filler to me. I did like that Allie truly struggled with her darker nature at first. The whole book actually had a darker feel than the rest of the series. (There’s also suddenly a whole lot of swearing in this one, which is fine—and it really fits with Jackal’s character, who does most of the swearing—but it threw me a little bit because I didn’t notice him swearing at all in the first two books and suddenly he was spouting the f-bomb left and right. It felt a little bit like someone told Kagawa her books weren’t “gritty” enough so she suddenly added in a bunch of swears to make up for it—but maybe she just wanted to give readers a warning, since the characters also have sex in this one, and it includes bloodsucking—definitely a bit darker than earlier books.)
Anyway, when Allie met up with Zeke, things went in a pretty predictable direction for a while. The story really picked up when they got to Eden. From then on out it was fabulous, with lots of action and sacrifice and Jackal (because, let’s face it, Jackal’s snarky I’m-an-evil-vampire-but-somehow-you-still-totally-love-me attitude is the absolute best!). The ending was incredibly satisfying, so overall I was very glad I finally picked up this final book, even if it did take a little bit of time to ramp up.
Educated by Tara Westover
Published by Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group on February 20, 2018
Genres: Adult, Memoir
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Length: 12 hours and 10 minutes
My content rating: Adult (Written for an adult audience, but there's no sexual content; Some violence, including domestic abuse)
Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag". In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard.
Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent.
Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it.
I’d been seeing this book everywhere (since I don’t live under a rock), and the whole wide world was raving about it, so I figured it was worth listening to, even if non-fiction isn’t usually my thing. This is the perfect type of non-fiction for me because it practically reads like fiction. Heck, Westover’s life growing up often seems completely unbelievable and more than a little crazy. Remember that post I wrote on how life can be stranger than fiction? This is the perfect example—if you tried to write a fiction book with these “characters,” they would seem WAY over-the-top and unbelievable. But, yeah, they’re real people. Westover’s life was fraught with drama and pain (lots of actual, literal pain—you’d never imagine how one family could have so many accidents!), and it’s hard to imagine actually living in her circumstances. And yet, she also has fond memories of her family and her life, even as backwards as it all was. She had a very hard time breaking away from a very unhealthy situation because her family’s beliefs were so deeply ingrained in her. You can still feel that pull in her writing, even after she’s separated herself from the family and realized that her upbringing was toxic in many ways. This story will make you angry and break your heart and give you hope for the resilience of the human spirit. I highly recommend that you read it for yourself.