Friday, May 22, 2015

The Last Good Day of the Year ~ Jessica Warman (earc) review [@bloomsburykids @jkwarman]

The Last Good Day of the Year
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
May 19, 2015
288 pages
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A new powerful thriller from the globally-embraced author of Between.

Ten years ago, in the early hours of New Year’s Day, seven-year-old Samantha and her next door neighbor, Remy, watched as a man broke into Sam’s home and took her younger sister, Turtle, from her sleeping bag. Remy and Sam, too afraid to intervene at the time, later identified the man as Sam’s sister Gretchen’s much older ex-boyfriend, Steven, who was sent to prison for Turtle’s murder.

Now, Sam’s shattered family is returning to her childhood home in an effort to heal. As long-buried memories begin to surface, Sam wonders if she and Remy accurately registered everything they saw. The more they re-examine the events of that fateful night, the more questions they discover about what really happened to Turtle.

Master storyteller Jessica Warman keeps readers guessing in this arresting page-turner.
As a character-centric story, I really enjoyed The Last Good Day of the Year; as a mystery-thriller, I'm still undecided.

The story alternates between New Year's Day 1986 (and some parts both before and after) and present day 1996 (and some before). Samantha and her best friend and neighbor were only seven years old when their lives changed forever. The two, along with Samantha's younger sister Turtle were spending New Year's Eve night sleeping in her basement, while the adults partied upstairs.

Sam's biggest worry was staying up past midnight, until the man appeared in her yard. Sam and Remy watched, terrified, as Turtle was kidnapped. They identified Sam's older sister Gretchen's ex-boyfriend, a man now in jail for Turtle's murder.

Now ten years later, her family is returning to that home they left behind. A home full of so many memories and possible secrets.

I knew from the summary that there were questions about what happened to Turtle, whether it all happened as they think, as they remember. The back and forth, between time periods, the past and present, does a great job letting readers know seven-year-old Sam and teenage Sam, of meeting all of the different characters, seeing who they were and what they've become.

I loved that we started with Turtle's kidnapping in 1986, but also worked up to it, in a way, in 1996. I love really great thrillers and for me there wasn't quite enough question surrounding the mystery in The Last Good Day of the Year. There was too much that was either obvious or very easy to guess. There was also just a bit more left unknown once the story was over, too many things more unresolved than I would like.

That said, though, it is a very nicely done story. The characters, their relationships prior to Turtle's abduction and presumed murder and how things (and the characters) have changed in the past decade were great. The Last Good Day of the Year is a good story full of twists, turns, heartache and pain.

Other Book(s) You Might Also Enjoy: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Scarlett Undercover ~ Jennifer Latham (arc) review [@jenandapen @lbkids]

Scarlett Undercover
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
May 19, 2015
320 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depo/or Amazon

A voice-driven mystery perfect for fans of Veronica Mars.

Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic, kick-butt, Muslim American heroine, ready to take on crime in her hometown of Las Almas. When a new case finds the private eye caught up in a centuries-old battle of evil genies and ancient curses, Scarlett discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks -- and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father's murder.

Jennifer Latham delivers a compelling story and a character to remember in this one-of-a-kind debut novel.

A lot of books are pitched as, 'perfect for fans of Veronica Mars.' Scarlett Undercover may be the first one I have read where I really agree.

Scarlett is the smart and sarcastic character she's described as. She's also really a private-eye. She has an offices, she has cases and a (very good) reason why she's investigating.

I loved that she had a fairly innocuous introduction to the case that would become the focus of the novel. At first, it's not even a case Scarlett is sure she should take. It seems like it's hardly anything for her to do . . . but she takes it. Our introduction to the case and to Scarlett's client tell us quite a lot about Scarlett, who she is and how she operates.

It's a great introduction and I liked things even more the deeper Scarlett got into the case. They sort of mythological, otherworldly aspects to it (see genies and curses) was unexpected but it actually all fit in really well. I enjoyed that the unfolding of the case was gradual with clues, discoveries and difficulties that all made for a great mystery.

Another thing I liked about Scarlett Undercover was that Scarlett is Muslim. That fact alone is good because yay diverse books, but how it was done was what I really liked. It wasn't just a declaration, 'Scarlett is a Muslim American,' and that was the end of it. Her faith was a part of who she was and impacted things with her character and the story. It wasn't something done just to say the book has a diverse character. Scarlett is Muslim and it was truly made a part of her character and the novel as a whole.

Jennifer Latham's debut is a great read with a quicky, funny, smart main character and a nicely done mystery. There secondary characters were all memorable and well written, too,. I am looking forward to the author's next title.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hold Me Like a Breath ~ Tiffany Schmidt (earc) review [@bloomsburykids @tiffanyschmidt]

Hold Me Like a Breath (Once Upon a Crime Family #1)
May 19, 2015
400 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depo/or Amazon

Penelope Landlow has grown up with the knowledge that almost anything can be bought or sold—including body parts. She’s the daughter of one of the three crime families that control the black market for organ transplants.

Penelope’s surrounded by all the suffocating privilege and protection her family can provide, but they can't protect her from the autoimmune disorder that causes her to bruise so easily.

And in her family's line of work no one can be safe forever.

All Penelope has ever wanted is freedom and independence. But when she’s caught in the crossfire as rival families scramble for prominence, she learns that her wishes come with casualties, that betrayal hurts worse than bruises, that love is a risk worth taking . . . and maybe she’s not as fragile as everyone thinks.
I really enjoyed Tiffany Schmidt's Send Me a Sign, so I was excited when I realized Hold Me Like a Breath was by the same author. In Send Me a Sign, Mia's cancer battle was well written and I thought Penelope's disorder was also well done. There is a knowledge of what Penelope has underlying everything - knowledge by the author, by the characters and then by the reader, as well - that not only gives yous a fuller understanding of what she is dealing with, but feels real, too.

Penelope bruises (extremely, absurdly) easily and precautions have to be taken to keep her safe. From work on their home (or, estate) to limiting her activities and routine blood tests, the ITP impacts how Pen lives her life.

A life that is as the daughter of a crime family.

I think I was expecting Hold Me Like a Breath to be more about Penelope's family, about the crime family and the rivalry of the different families. I loved the beginning of the book, the setting, Penelope, Cater, and Garrett, the relationship between them and how they were with each other one on one.

When the story changed course - and tone - partway through, I did keep hoping it would get back to how things were in the beginning. There were some changes in Penelope's thinking and feelings that seemed too sudden, too baseless.

Towards the end, why so much had changed became apparent. I did get more into the story, again, then and could also understand why everything that had happened needed to. I still don't know that I actually like what happened or that I wouldn't have preferred what I was expecting, but I understand it.

Penelope remains pretty immature throughout the novel. It's easy to see how being as sheltered (and spoiled) as she was could lead to that. I liked her quite a bit more towards the very end and like where the book left her.

I did not know until I finished it that Hold Me Like a Breath was a retelling of the Princess and the Pea story. The story I expected going in would have been different had I known, but I definitely still would have read it. It's a good story with interesting developments and a nice character at the center of things. I think I just liked the beginning (the premise, the setting, the characters, their relationships) too much to also love when things changed.

I am looking forward to Book 2, Break Me Like a Promise due in 2016 and I hope it will get me to love the new(er) characters as much as I did this books early ones.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Made You Up ~ Francesca Zappia review [@ChessieZappia @GreenwillowBook @EpicReads @HarperTeen]

Made You Up
Greenwillow Books
May 19, 2015
448 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depo/or Amazon

Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion. This is a compelling and provoking literary debut that will appeal to fans of Wes Anderson, Silver Linings Playbook, and Liar.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn't she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up.
Some books have good characters. Some books have a good premise. Some books have good writing. Then there are those few, special books that are about something fantastic, with brilliant characters and amazing writing; Made You Up is one of those.

There is just so much good about Made You Up that I don't know if I can find the words - even the design of the book (illustrations, etc) is great.

Alex knows that she cannot always tell the difference between what's reality and what's a hallucination. Determined to get through her senior year, to handle life and to go on to college, she's come up with ways of coping. They're not foolproof but she thinks it will work.

Until she meets the boy she's pretty sure she imagined . . .

I absolutely loved Alex. She is endearing, she's smart, she's funny and not afraid to stand up for herself. Sure, she might be insane but she knows it. I liked how her schizophrenia and her paranoia were handled. There were the things that, as a reader, you were sure were delusions and there were things Alex, using logic, were sure were delusions. But then there were the things that were not so certain - for the character or as a reader.

The mix of Alex's character, her schizophrenia, life at high school, her friends, their own troubles and some pretty wacky events or possibilities came together for a really fantastic book.

There are some surprises in Made You Up that I really did not see coming and some of them were big. Alex, her character, how she sees (sometimes literally) the world and what happens to her and her friends will give you a lot to think about.

Made You Up is definitely one of my favorite books of the year, probably favorites of all time. I loved Alex, I loved Miles, I loved Charlie, I loved weird East Shoal High School and I really, really loved Francesca Zappia's writing.

If I could give this six out of five stars, I would.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Other Books You Might Also Enjoy: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre and Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

received from publisher, for honest review
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