Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill

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Short stories about the creepy and the unusual...count me in! If it's eerie and weird it's usually right up my alley, so I couldn't wait to dive into this collection of short stories. Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill features a collection of 5 magical tales that aim to set the reader on a journey of weirdness and wonder.

This book ended up being very middle of the road for me, with a mixed bag of stories that I either really liked or didn't enjoy at all. It was a quick read and I breezed through it in a couple of hours. While some stories I really enjoyed (I'm looking at you "Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch' and "Dreadful Young Ladies"), others left something to be desired ("The Insect and the Astronomer" and "Open the Door and the Light Pours Through"). The novella at the end, "The Unlicensed Magician," has won the World Fantasy Award, and I can see why...it was well thought out, contained just enough to tell a full story, and was completely fascinating! I also have to note that the cover is absolutely stunning.

This was my first experience with Kelly Barnhill's works, and I've heard that The Girl Who Drank the Moon is quite good, so I may pick that up and give it a try even though it's a middle grade novel. I thought there was a lot of potential in this collection of stories, but something was missing overall that just might be there in a novel-length work.

Since there were 5 stories and I enjoyed 3 of them, this rating may very well be the easiest one I've ever done!

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Thank you to Algonquin Books for sending me a copy of this short story collection to review! Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories releases on February 20, so if this sounds up your alley make sure to pick up a copy!

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

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Well, it was bound to happen. I've had a pretty good reading month so far so I knew it was about time for a dud. Unfortunately it was this book. Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan had promise, but it just didn't deliver. Long Black Veil follows a group of friends who experienced a tragic event years ago and are now living with the consequences. After a night accidentally ends with the group trapped in Eastern State Penitentiary and one of them missing, the group drifts apart, only brought back together when the body is found years later.

Instead of being a mystery/thriller, this really was a story of a trans woman with the crime as almost an afterthought. Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem at all with trans characters and diverse representation, and I really love seeing more of them as main characters literature today. What I do have a problem with is a book masquerading as something that it's not, ultimately tricking the reader into picking it up only to be let down the further in they get. I was really looking forward to a good thriller, and because I was mislead, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth as I progressed through this book. If you go into it knowing that the main idea isn't surrounding the murder, but rather focuses on self-discovery and how to reconcile who you once were against who you are now, you might enjoy this story a lot more. Knowing what I do now, I can say that this was a great own voices novel, just not at all a good thriller.

The scenes that took place in Eastern State were excellent, and for the first almost half of the book I couldn't get enough. But that's where my enjoyment ended and boredom began. The ending was chaotic and hard to wrap my head around, but honestly by that point I didn't even care what happened. I did enjoy some of the character development, especially that of Rachel and Quentin/Judith, but I also thought some of the side stories were unnecessary. Another thing that really rubbed me the wrong way were the scenes regarding animal euthanasia. Maybe that's just me and my huge bleeding heart, but when I read things like that I'm immediately turned off.

I had high hopes for this book, but disappointingly it wasn't at all what I thought it was going to be.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars (as a mystery/thriller, which is what it was advertised as)

Thanks to Blogging for Books for sending me a copy of Long Black Veil in exchange for an honest review!

The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith

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Dystopian futuristic society. Coming of age teen angst. A love triangle. Human/robot hybrids. Dragons unrelentingly setting virtually everything on fire. Check, check, check, check, and check. The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith has all of this and more. I'll be honest and say that I had no clue what this book was about at first, but I was fascinated by the cover. The neon graffiti-ed look drew me in, but as soon as I read the synopsis I was hooked. 

The scene is Empire Island, a once booming metropolis now nearly abandoned as dragons have burned it to the ground. These two dragons appeared randomly in the sky and have not left for years, looming above the city 24/7 and taking no prisoners as they burn and reburn what little remains of Empire Island. Enter Duncan Ripple, a rich, privileged teen set on disregarding orders and living his life, as he crashes his hovercraft on a neighboring desert island. Here is where Abracadabra, or Abby, nurses him back to health until they are both rescued. Upon returning home, they are met by Swanny, Duncan's betrothed, as their parents force a union that neither of them seems to want. Chaos ensues, the three teens escape, and they are left to their own devices on a journey of self-discovery and survival in a smoldering city.

I really enjoyed this book. It is so unique, fun, and engaging, and almost impossible to categorize. The characters were all very well developed, and the plot was exciting and different. While the three characters were intertwined, they each had their own distinctive arc that developed them individually. Although it didn't bother me much, I will say that some of the language used might annoy a more traditional reader. Men are "pros" and women are "fems", and traditional names of objects are abandoned in favor of modernized versions such as the "Toob" for television, a "HowDouse" for a firetruck, and "LookyGlass" for what seems to be a cell phone. 

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith releases TODAY so be sure to pick up a copy!

Thank you so much to Crown Publishing for sending me a finished copy of this beauty!

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

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WOAH. This book was a rush. I flew through it and I can tell this is one that will stick with me for a while. Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan is set in London and follows a cast of characters, Sophie, James, Kate, Holly, and Alison. After owning up to an affair, prominent government worker James gets accused of rape and must face trial for his supposed actions. Told in both present day and flashbacks, the reader soon realizes that there are more ties that bind this group together than originally thought, and that everyone is not always who they seem to be. 

This novel deals very heavily with sexual assault and rape. As this is a prominent topic in our society today, I think this book is both timely and necessary. Revealing how deeply a rape can impact an individual, how celebrity and prominence can play a role in prosecution, and how easily someone's guilt can be questioned, it speaks to the deep set issues that for many years our society has ignored that are finally coming to light. 

While this was a tough topic to swallow, I loved everything about this book. I loved the characters, especially Kate. The plot was fast moving and interesting, and even though there were flashbacks it was very easy to piece together. The ending was so satisfying as well, even if it isn't what you initially expect it will be, and there are a few plot twists along the way that keep you engaged. Each character's section was the perfect length, enough to let you know what was happening and what they were thinking but not too long to get bored of them before moving on, and I really enjoyed Vaughan's detailed yet simple writing style.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan releases TOMORROW so be sure to pick up a copy!

A huge thanks to Atria and Goodreads for allowing me early access to an ecopy of this fantastic read.

Just Friends by Dyan Sheldon

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I love a good, cute contemporary, which is why Just Friends by Dyan Sheldon caught my attention. Sheldon is the author of Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, which turned into the widely-popular Lindsay Lohan movie, and since I really enjoyed that book I couldn't wait to give this one a try. Just Friends follows Josh Shine, an underdog known for things like attempting to blow up the science lab, as he falls for new girl Jena Capistrano. 

Unfortunately, Jena immediately joins the popular crowd, those that don't give Josh and his friends a second glance. But when Josh ends up in a tree in Jena's front yard, a friendship blossoms that gives Josh hope for something more. Every time he builds up the courage to tell Jena how he feels, something happens to dissuade him, and eventually he thinks he missed his shot when Jena falls head over heels for another guy.

While this was a cute read, I definitely had a few issues with it, but these may be things that I'm only identifying because I'm an adult and this book is geared more towards a younger audience. First, I don't think it teaches the right lessons to those embarking on a first romance. Josh consistently blows off his friends at the drop of a hat when Jena comes calling, which while may be understandable with young infatuation is not the way to develop a healthy relationship. She was using him as a backup, or a stand in, and playing with his emotions in the process. In addition, Jena keeps going back to a boyfriend who is controlling and has anger issues. Even if she didn't fall for Josh, I think it would have been better to see an empowered female character who realized she was being mistreated and left the situation rather than one who just kept running back time after time.

If you're into contemporary reads, looking for something short and fun, and don't overanalyze things as much as I do, then this would be a great read for you! 

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

A big thanks to Candlewick Press for sending me a copy for review! While this was originally released a few years ago, it is being re-released in hardback on February 13th!

The Thousandth Floor Series by Katharine McGee

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If you like Gossip Girl and futuristic societies, boy do I have the series for you! I recently read both books currently available in The Thousandth Floor series by Katharine McGee (The Thousandth Floor and The Dazzling Heights), and loved every minute of them! The story follows a set of teenagers from different backgrounds living in The Tower, which is basically New York City built upward into one building. With one thousand floors, The Tower boasts schools, homes, hotels, restaurants, shopping, and even a "Central Park." Technology is insanely developed, as people now wear contacts that allow them to communicate with one another, and use hovercraft to get from place to place. Movies are now called holos, hair and makeup can be done at the push of a button, and in-home computers can do anything from picking out your outfit to procuring a glass of water for you before bed. 

Main characters include Leda, a formerly poor but now wealthy girl struggling with drugs; Eris, the Serena Van Der Woodson of the group who recently discovered a terrible family secret that turns her life upside down; Rylin, a less-affluent girl who takes a job cleaning the home of one of the hottest boys on the upper levels; Watt, a technology obsessed boy who takes hacking jobs to provide for his family; and Avery, who is as wealthy as they come and lives in the thousandth floor penthouse pining over the one boy she is never allowed to love.

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I loved that both books immediately started off with a death, then flashed back to the story leading up to it. The whole time you were left to wonder who the person was that ends up dead, only finding out at the very end. Each chapter is told focusing on one character or another, allowing the reader further insight into him or her, and showing us how the different social classes interact with and rely on one another. While sometimes this method of storytelling can be confusing, there were no gaps and each character's chapter flowed seamlessly from one to the next. The class relations were realistic, and I loved envisioning the technological playground that these teens called home. McGee paints a very realistic picture of how technology has advanced, and even though so many of these things are still far from reach, it was easy to imagine how they all fit into daily life in 2118.

A third book, The Towering Sky, is coming out this August, and right now this is set to be the last book in the series, but I have my fingers crossed for more! I could definitely see this being adapted into a TV series as well.

The Thousandth Floor Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

The Dazzling Heights Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson

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I'm sure most of you have heard of Slender Man, or the Slender Man Stabbing. Slender Man is a fictional internet character, and a number of people over the years have attempted murders in his name. Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson is a fictional thriller loosely based on the Slender Man Stabbings, in which two young girls tried to stab their friend to death in under the premise of pleasing a fictional character.

This story follows Alice, the victim of the attack, now an adult trying to move on with her life. Alice has panic attacks and is very untrusting, but she has changed her last name, moved to the US from London where the attack occurred, bought a coffee shop and embraced fitness, and is doing well enough for herself. That is, until characters from her past start to show up in her new life. First an old drug dealer comes to collect, bringing back memories of an unpleasant period of her life she'd like to forget. Then she receives an eerie present, an unfinished book featuring Mister Tender comics, some of which feature her in images that only someone who had private access to her life would see. Seeing that her father actually created this character, one would think he sent her the book, but he has been dead for three years and intentionally abandoned the comic after Alice's attack. 

Now, Alice must deal with the reality that she has a stalker, someone obsessed with her and her history, who has been watching her for all these years with a morbid fascination. With the help of her tenant Richard and her brother Thomas, Alice fights to discover who has been watching her, hoping to finally be able to put her past behind her once and for all.

This book was really good! It was a quick read, and easy to follow, with a fast moving plot and a good cast of characters. It was also not predictable AT ALL. The whole time I was trying to guess who was behind everything, and I didn't have a clue. My biggest problem with this book, and hence knocking off a star, is that it was unrealistic. Multiple murders happen in this book that are seemingly forgotten or ignored by the police, when in reality there would be an extensive search for the killer and many traces of evidence left behind.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks to Sourcebooks for early access to a digital copy of this book! Mister Tender's Girl hits shelves on February 13th, so be sure to pick up a copy!

Shatter Me Series by Tahereh Mafi

Pick a dandelion and close your eyes
make a wish
blow it into the wind.

Watch it
-From  Juliette's Journal

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Let me start out this review by saying I hate myself for waiting so long to read this series. I've seen it so many times and heard numerous people rave about it, but I just never made an effort to read it. Well I finally ordered it from Amazon and gave it a try, and I DEVOURED these books. I honestly think I read the whole series in a total of less than 24 hours. It was just that fantastic. While many of my reviews don't contain spoilers, this one will have some pseudo-spoilers because it's simply impossible to talk about characters, etc. from the second two books without revealing some of the earlier plot.

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The Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi (so far) consists of Shatter Me, Unravel Me, Ignite Me, and Unite Me (a collection of two novellas: Destroy me and Fracture Me). This dystopian series follows Juliette, a teenage girl who has a lethal touch. It starts off with Juliette in an asylum, but she is soon taken hostage by the controlling government: The Reestablishment. Her captor Warner hopes to use her as a weapon against resisting rebels, but Juliette wants no part in being anything intentionally hurtful. Luckily Juliette escapes with Adam, a soldier who she knew from school long ago. They find refuge in an underground bunker and discover that there are others with abilities similar to Juliette's: invisibility, powers of healing, psychokinesis, and more. Adam and Juliette fall in love throughout this ordeal, and hope to finally have put the Reestablishment behind them. Unfortunately Warner still wants Juliette, and he sets out to find her. The remainder of the story details what happens when Warner finds her, resulting in rebellion, love, and self-discovery.
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I have so many things to say about this series! First, it got better as it went on. The first book was good, the second was great, and the third one was incredible. Many series just taper off as they go but this one was a surprising exception. I absolutely loved the character development (and the novellas are almost necessary to get some of that...so don't skip them!). Obviously my favorite character was Warner. He was such a deep character and had so much hiding behind his rough exterior. Juliette really annoyed me for the first half of the story, but she grew up and put her big girl panties on and then I really liked her strength and determination. And Adam, well Adam was kind of an ass. He gave me bad vibes from the beginning and I loved saying I told you so when his true colors came out later in the story. Kenji provided outstanding comic relief and was a great sidekick for Juliette, as you could tell he really cared about and supported her but wasn't afraid to be hard on her when he needed to be.

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There was some problematic instalove at the beginning of this story but it was very well explained as the books went on. I'm really glad that the characters were able to recognize that the relationship was unhealthy and more for convenience/out of default than anything else. The writing style was so unique. There was a lot of stream of consciousness from Juliette, and there are lots of thoughts crossed through to show how Juliette was afraid of thinking certain things. While this proved to be a bit of a challenge at first, I easily adjusted to how the story was written and it wasn't a hindrance at all.

The ending of Ignite Me definitely left it open for a sequel, so I'm really happy that Tahereh Mafi decided to write more onto this story. Restore Me comes out March 6th of this year, and you better believe I already preordered it!

Shatter Me Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Unravel Me Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Ignite Me Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Unite Me Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Overall Series Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

January TBR (and 2018 Reading Goal!)

Happy New Year everyone! I can't believe it's 2018! In addition to being New Year's Day, yesterday was also my 28th birthday! I wanted to jump right in this year with my January TBR. For the new year, I really want to put a little more focus on backlist books (since I have so many!) than I have been, so you're going to see a lot more of those popping up in reviews and TBRs this year. In 2017 I wanted to read 52 books, one for each week, but I definitely surpassed that. I don't want to overestimate my potential for the year so I'm going to bump up my goal just slightly. This year I'd like to read 60 books, putting me at 5 per month. I also want to make sure that at least 25 of those are backlist books.

Without further ado, here are the books I'm hoping to get to in the first month of 2018:
  • The Dazzling Heights by Katharine McGee
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  • Dreamology by Lucy Keating
  • Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco
  • Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
  • Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson
This list is mostly backlist reads that I should be able to get through quickly. As always my TBR can change at a moment's notice, but hopefully I'll be better sticking to them this year than I was last year!