May 30, 2018

The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan by Gia Cribbs

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
I've lamented my problem with YA thrillers many times on this blog...they're always too predictable. This one, however, completely surpassed my expectations and turned out to be one of the best books I've read so far this year. The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan by Gia Cribbs has everything you want in a YA thriller...it's realistic, the characters are relatable, the plot isn't too simple OR too confusing, and the twists and turns around every corner completely take you by surprise.

This story follows high school senior Sloane Sullivan. A member of the witness protection program, or WITSEC, Sloane is constantly having to change her identity and move all over the country accompanied by her assigned US Marshal, Mark. After witnessing a violent crime, Sloane had no choice but to enter WITSEC, but now as she approaches her eighteenth birthday, she is excited to finally get out and begin a life that truly belongs to her. But when Sloane lands at her final high school and an old friend from her past is now a student there, she has to fight even harder than ever to ensure her identity, and her chance at WITSEC freedom, aren't compromised.

I cannot sing this book's praises enough! Every time I thought I had something figured out, I was wrong and completely blown away by the actual reveal. Interspersed throughout are flashbacks to the event that landed Sloane in WITSEC in the first place, culminating in the final realization she thought she had forgotten all these years. The characters were all fantastic. I loved Sloane and really admire her for all that she had to go through as a child and a teen. Jason was an outstanding character, and I loved Mark as her protector. I love that Sloane picked her names from characters in books or movies (because this is totally something I would do). 

This story has mobsters and mystery, and some amazingly dirty and hilarious Harry Potter pick up lines! What's not to love?

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Gia Cribbs who reached out asking if I wanted to review her book and providing an advanced copy! This is Gia's first novel, so be sure to check it out! The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan is out NOW, so go grab your copy to be completely immersed in this fantastic thriller!

May 29, 2018

To the Moon and Back by Karen Kingsbury

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
I've mentioned on this blog before that hard hitting contemporaries really get to me. And man, does this book fall into that category. To the Moon and Back by Karen Kingsbury is about Brady and Jenna, who had parents killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. Having met only once at the memorial site for the attack, the two went their separate ways, but Brady has been desperate to find Jenna once again. Years later, enter Ashley Baxter Blake, who meets Brady at the memorial site and believes she can help him locate Jenna.

Turns out this is actually part of a series of sorts, all following members of the Baxter family. While it is not necessary to have read these others in order to understand this book, I did want to mention that.

It was easy to relate to the characters in this story, having been the same age during the Oklahoma City bombing. I don't see a lot of books with characters my age so I really enjoyed that aspect. The story is told from three different points of view, but never once got confusing. I appreciated the strong message of working through a tragedy and finding the silver lining and themes of survival. It was sweetly romantic and magical, tugging at your heartstrings all the way.

While this definitely crossed off the hard hitting check box for me, it was more religious than I would have liked. Nothing against Christian fiction by any means, but it's not really my cup of tea, and this book came off as preachy on more than one occasion. I didn't know it had religious intonations going into it, but if you are a fan of Christian fiction be sure to check this one out!

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Howard Books/Simon and Schuster for sending me an early copy of this read! To the Moon and Back by Karen Kingsbury is out today, March 29th, so be sure to pick up a copy!

May 25, 2018

Amy Cole Has Lost Her Mind by Elizabeth McGivern


Synopsis



Amy Cole is a stay-at-home mum and a woman on the edge. After a very public breakdown and failed suicide attempt, Amy finds herself trying to make it through her everyday life as a high-functioning zombie.

Elle De Bruyn is a force of nature ready to shake Amy back to life whether she likes it or not.

After a fortuitous meeting, the two embark on a journey together which will change them both and help them find out exactly what they’re capable of when rock bottom is just the beginning.

My Review

I've been in need of a good laugh, and this book really did deliver! Despite needing trigger warnings for miscarriages, suicide and depression, this book had me rolling with laughter. Amy is such an authentic character, always second guessing herself and making a fool of herself around strangers, but in a real way rather than an "oh I'm clumsy and socially awkward but that adds to my adorkable charm" way. Throughout the story, she and Elle come up with half-cocked schemes to try to turn Amy's life around, always resulting in hilarity. Though their intentions are always the best, their methods are not always conventional, ending in results such as Amy dripping hot wax all over her husband or getting her face sat on by someone in a sauna.

While I'm not a mom, I feel like moms could easily relate to the chaos caused by Amy's two boys, Arthur and Adam, and to the cult of "perfect moms" dead set on telling others how they should parent their children.

Even though this dealt with some difficult subjects, I felt that it was done in an appropriate manner. While the book as a whole is humorous and entertaining, these tough subjects were not made light of in any way.

This book also included an excerpt from the next in the series, Amy Cole is Zen as F*ck, so that means more Amy and Elle...hooray! Can't wait to dive in to more of this uproarious chaos!

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

About the Author

Picture credited to Jess Lowe
Elizabeth McGivern is a former journalist turned hostage-in-her-own-home surrounded by three men and a horrible dog named Dougal.

In an effort to keep her sanity she decided to write a parenting blog after the birth of her first son so she can pinpoint the exact moment she failed as a mother.

In an unexpected turn of events, the blog helped her to find a voice and connect with parents in similar situations; namely those who were struggling with mental health issues and parenting. It was because of this encouragement – and wanting to avoid her children as much as possible – her debut novel, Amy Cole Has Lost Her Mind, was born.

Elizabeth lives in Northern Ireland although wishes she could relocate to Iceland on a daily basis. To witness her regular failings as a parent you can find her on www.mayhemandbeyond.com.

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Thanks so much to Rachel's Random Resources and Pernickety Publishing for access to this hilarious read! Amy Cole Has Lost Her Mind by Elizabeth McGivern is out today, March 25th, so be sure to pick up your copy via Amazon or Amazon UK!

May 22, 2018

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler


“Taste, Chef said, is all about balance. The sour, the salty, the sweet, the bitter. Now your tongue is coded. A certain connoisseurship of taste, a mark of how you deal with the world, is the ability to relish the bitter, to crave it even, the way you do the sweet.” 

Stephanie DanlerSweetbitter



Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
With all the hype surrounding the show Sweetbitter on STARZ, I knew I had to pick up the book and see what it was all about before even trying an episode. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler is a coming-of-age story about Tess, a 22-year-old girl who moves to New York City on a whim and finds herself wrapped up in the restaurant world. 

After a haphazard interview, Tess is invited to train at one of the city's best restaurants, and here she learns about the inner workings of the restaurant business and the secrets of its employees. She becomes enamored with her coworker Jake, and develops a reverent but fearful attitude toward another coworker, Simone. But Simone and Jake have an odd relationship, and Tess can't figure it out. Day by day she gets in deeper with the drugs and alcohol that come with the job. Despite being warned about Jake, Tess takes her chances and learns more about herself in the process than she ever thought possible.

I absolutely adored this story. It's very atmospheric and character driven, and not much happens outside of Tess getting to know her coworkers and learning more about her job. I identified so much with Tess...naive and willing to learn, but stronger and smarter than everyone thinks she is. I thought Simone was a fantastic character, and her cynicism just dripped off the pages. I was not a huge fan of Jake but he was definitely a necessary aspect of this story. Danler's writing flows and dances across the page, taking you with it and smothering you in Tess's new world.

The reviews on Goodreads are pretty harsh for this read, but if something draws me in by the synopsis I usually give it a shot no matter what the reviews say. In this case, I'm definitely glad I did. This book is best for those who love character-driven, coming-of-age stories, so if you're looking for an action-packed read this is probably not for you. I read this book lazily, as I liked being wrapped up inside the walls of the restaurant with it's workers. True to it's subject matter, reading this book was like enjoying a good glass of wine...wanting to drink it all but forcing yourself to savor it and consume it slowly because you want to fully appreciate it and don't want it to end.

I've only watched one episode of the Sweetbitter show so far, but I'm enjoying it, and will definitely have to do a comparison review once it's done. 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

May 17, 2018

The Accidental Bad Girl by Maxine Kaplan

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Books with fun and bright covers always catch my attention, so obviously as soon as I saw this book I was drawn to it! The Accidental Bad Girl by Maxine Kaplan follows teenage Kendall who, after getting caught with her best friend's ex and ruining her reputation, is dead set on finishing high school and not having to face her classmates anymore. Part of this plan includes YATS, a semester-long science program that will get her away from school and give her the experience of a lifetime. But when Kendall accidentally falls into the wrong crowd and YATS is on the line, she has to decide who she really is: a good girl or a bad girl? I will put a trigger warning on this book for drug use and rape.

I enjoyed this fun read! I really liked Kendall's character, and seeing her struggle through some tough moral dilemmas was pretty relatable. Plus she was a total badass! I loved the stance this book took on feminism, slut shaming, and rape culture, as these are some pretty relevant topics today. I thought Simone was a fantastic minor character and loved seeing her bond with and support Kendall. The villains in this book were great, not unrealistically evil for their age, and played into the storyline well.

There was a small mystery to solve in this book as well, and I was definitely thrown by the reveal! This is big for me, since I can usually figure out the answer in mystery/thriller reads pretty early on.

One thing I did notice was that this was listed as ages 14 and up on the ARC, but I definitely think there are some themes in this book that are too mature for that age. 16-17 and up would be more appropriate in my mind, as this book did get pretty dark at times. There was also a little of the oblivious parent trope here, but it definitely got better as the book progressed.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Amulet Books for an arc of this fun read! The Accidental Bad Girl by Maxine Kaplan is out now, so be sure to pick up a copy! 

May 15, 2018

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
This was definitely a unique and interesting read. Told in 100 chapters with 100 words each, What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee is a breath of fresh air in a sea of similarity. Small and mighty, this story, although short, packs a powerful punch. I do want to place a trigger warning on this book for rape and suicide before I jump into the review.

This story follows Will, a teenage boy who loves to walk. After his father's suicide, he started walking and hasn't stopped since. He walks to work through problems, to think about things, and to observe. He walks to his job at Dollar Only, and he walks to deliver presents to friends and neighbors. Will is very observant, and this story reveals his thoughts about things ranging from his boss to his family to the little boy down the street that waits for butterflies. When his childhood friend Playa is raped, Will walks to work though his feelings, deciding to deliver presents to her every day to cheer her up, and he walks to think though his father's suicide. Throughout the story, Will is also set on replicating his father's perfect cornbread recipe, but learns at the end that it was never really about the cornbread at all.

I really like the way this story was told, because although it was a short and fast read, the message of positive thinking was powerful and important. Will is such a kind character, always thinking of others. Considering everything Will has been through, I admire his positivity and his desire to cheer up those around him. I love the way that Will references music and song lyrics (especially Bowie!), and how he holds fast and true to the sayings his father left him with, no matter how cliché they may be.

Reading this, I felt an overwhelming desire to be more positive, to look on the bright side, and to appreciate everything around me. Will could have easily sunken into himself, but he instead focused on observing the beauty and people around him and appreciating them any way he knew how.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing for sending me a finished copy of this read! What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee releases TODAY, May 15th, so be sure to pick up a copy!

May 7, 2018

Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
The amount of wilderness-related books I've read over the last few months is astounding, but they've all been fantastic! Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon did not disappoint. I was lucky enough to meet her at NoVa TEEN Book Festival, and she was so sweet in person! 

This story follows Priscilla "Rilla" Skidmore, a rebel teen sent off to live in Yosimite National Park with her park ranger sister Thea to try to straighten her life out. Once there, she bonds with a group of climbers who help her assimilate into Yosimite life. Rilla falls in love with climbing and makes it her personal mission to climb a famous route in Yosimite called The Nose, to prove to both herself and everyone else that she is more than just a nobody from West Virginia.

I adored Rilla as a character and related to her on so many levels, the biggest of which was her uncertainty. She really wanted to be a climber, but she was scared and lacked confidence in herself, even after she had proven that she could do it. She kept comparing herself to seasoned climbers even though she was doing a fantastic job for a "gumby." Seeing her come into her own through climbing left me feeling proud of her even though she had some moral tumbles along the way. I loved the side characters as well, like Walker, Petra, and Caroline, and thought they all brought something unique to the story.

Not a lot actually happened in this book, but for me that was fine. It was more a telling of Rilla's personal journey than a rough and tumble adventure tale, and the few intense scenes ended quickly and without any real trouble. I liked that there was a climbing glossary in the back, in case any terms weren't explained well enough in the story (which for the most part, they were). I do think there were some loose ends that didn't get wrapped up, and I was left with a few unanswered questions. Overall this was an enjoyable, inspiring read that made me want to get outside more and test my own physical and emotional boundaries.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Amulet Books for an advanced copy of this inspiring read! Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon releases tomorrow, May 8th, so be sure to pick up a copy!