“Carnivalesque” by Neil Jordan

34432289“Carnivalesque” is a fantasy book about a boy named Andy who enters Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors at a travelling circus. He becomes trapped in the mirrors and an identical-looking stranger exits the hall and goes home with his parents. Thus begins the tale of Andy/Dany.

This book is a little difficult to rate. It started off reading like an old classic or fairy tale. Think Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland. “The boy did this and then he went to wherever and the boy was sad. But the boy’s mother held his hand and entered the carnival where the air smelled of caramel and candy.” bla bla bla. We literally do not find out “the boy’s name” until about page 75. Then the writing style completely changes to a more contemporary feel for most of the book and then the last 75 pages or so is back to the classic/fairy tale feel again.

The middle part of the book has some interesting action. In the middle of the action, there is a ton of written word. Most of it is history, and some of it seems slow, and some of it seems a little irrelevant or maybe just out of order. I enjoyed hearing a new perspective on carney mythology and most of all, this legend of ‘Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors,’ which is really how the whole Andy/Dany duology originates to begin with. Some parts of the book are fun and fantastical, while others are freakish and almost scary. I like the polar opposites and think that every fantasy needs some of that. It gave the book depth, whereas the wordiness robbed it right back.

So for these reasons, I had to go with a middle of the road rating for this book. Loved the cover and the concept, but several things fell short. I like a good carnival book but this does not come close to the top for me.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Listening to: “Half Jack” by The Dresden Dolls

“You Were Here” by Gian Sardar

32940733I have unfortunate news. I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. It was good, but not mindblowing. Here are my thoughts:

Let me start by stating that the Goodreads description of this book claims that “Readers of Kate Atkinson will delight in this suspenseful debut novel about a woman haunted by nightmares and her grandmother’s role in a doomed love triangle almost seventy years before.” I’m a fan of Kate Atkinson and in my opinion, this is why she doesn’t write suspenseful novels. Pick one genre or another and commit. There was just SO MUCH DESCRIPTIVE WRITING going on that I often found myself confused or bored or indifferent. Especially in the first half of the book. BUT THEN…..

Everything picked up in the second half and everything was magnificent. I was ready to call it quits and apologize to NetGalley and the publisher and then all of a sudden WHOA! Now we’re getting started here! The characters were fascinating. There were twists and turns I did NOT see coming. And the writing remains strong all the way until the end. So ultimately, if you have the patience to wade through at least 120-150 pages of reading before a plot really thickens, then this book will really satisfy you and you will not regret picking this up. However, if you are someone who needs a beginning to end page-turner (i.e. Dan Brown or the likes?)…..move on.

Listening to: “Witness” by Katy Perry

“Quinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault” by Candace Robinson

c_-w5rluiaaya_eVery late last night, I finished a creepy upper YA book entitled Quinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault. The book begins in a small town in Texas with two best friends and cousins, Perrie and Maisie. All is not serene in the town, however, because for the past several weeks, people have been going missing. One day on their way home from school, Perrie, Maisie, and their mutual friend (and Perrie’s crush) August, notice a strange sight: a huge, creepy, dark mansion/museum that was never there before but that claims to be hiring. Maisie takes interest and the day after going in for her first day of work work, goes missing. Perrie and August go looking for her and the rest is a horrific history.

I think I would rate this at a really, really high 3.75 stars that I’ll round up to 4 because I LOVE the cover and there are just so many retellings–both classic and fairy tale–that its just so cool. Plus the characters were pretty decent so overall, I dug the book. Plus, its set up for a sequel so…I need to read on!

The biggest thing that ruined the book for me was the ending. ((Spoilers ahead so readers BE WARNED!!!)) Specifically how Perrie ‘gave herself’ to August and then he wasn’t who he thought she was. In my opinion, that is especially awful considering that this is a YA book. Maybe in an adult book it would be a little more acceptable but I would hike up the rating a bit.

Overall, this book is definitely in the horror genre. The cover looks beautiful but it is bloody and there is some gore and graphic descriptions. I like that type of thing though, but just a heads up.

Also, as I alluded to before, the book does end on a big of a cliffhanger. In my opinion, the book is really half of a book. The Kindle edition is only 168 pages and the paperback is 242. For a YA book, that’s pretty short. The author could have just kept writing and finished it out I think. Maybe there is much more to the story and it would have tipped the scales as a door stopper to put 2+2 together? But right now its pretty darn short. Even as it is, I felt there could have been a few more details in the book. It felt pretty thin.

Things I really did like though: I keep raving about the cover art so that’s huge. I love the retellings. We’ve got everything from Sleepy Hollow to Rapunzel so there is literally something for everyone. I think there are five or six total in the book? Plus references to a few more but they travel through five or six worlds so that’s pretty cool. The characters are interesting and no one drove me crazy so that was good.

Listening to: “Sweet Satan” by Beck

*SNEAK PEEK* : “The Dire King” – Jackaby Book 4!

31438747August 22nd. My calendar is marked for this release!! I have already enjoyed the Jackaby series so far, but this preview blew me away. Honestly, I anticipate this fourth (and sadly, final) book in the series to be the best one yet. In just the first five chapters of The Dire King, we are seeing more returning (and new) characters, more of London and fantastic other-world building, AND more supernatural creatures and descriptions than we’ve gotten in any of the other books!! Plus the setup is electric.

I am so ready, ready, ready for this one! If ever I was praying for an early copy of a book, its this one! Everything William Ritter has written about characters leads up to what happens in this book and it will be apocalyptic. I have my popcorn, my tea, and my comfy pillow fluffed, I am ready to read this baby! Bring it on!!!

Soundtrack: Be still my beating heart!!

“The Book of Summer” by Michelle Gable

33323269Happy Publication Day! All aspects of this book called to me immediately and made me want to read it–the title, the cover (look at that pretty cover!), and the description. Now that I have finished it, I can say that I have no regrets, for it was a book that was so charming and perfect for a warm day’s read. I just want to sit on a porch swing, or lay by the beach, or sip a fruity cocktail….*sigh* Sounds good, doesn’t it?? Summer, I’m ready! Take me away!

The Book of Summer tells two stories: one of the modern-day Bess and Cissy Codman who, in their packing to move out of the once grand Cliff House on Nantucket Island due to erosion, find “The Book of Summer” where all the guests have written about their stays; the other of the family of (grandma) Ruby Packard during WWII, who reveals a shocking family secret.

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Source. Pictured is an actual house on Baxter Road, where the fictional Cliff House is located.

There are many characters in the book, both in the past in the present, who are so unique and relatable. Evan (present-day) and Topper (past), in particular are sweethearts. Hattie is an absolute riot who gave a very unique perspective on women’s roles in that era, I felt. And I really enjoyed hearing and learning more about homosexuality in wartime. I don’t know of many books that address that topic so it was interesting to read a bit about that. There is nothing graphic, so don’t let this scare you away. Also, I appreciate that the author did actual research on the Sconset Beach area and the erosion problems affecting the bluff. Hats off, Ms. Gable! If you want to check out the website she cites to “learn more about the erosion, and what folks are doing to combat it” (I did!), here’s that link: Siasconset Beach Preservation.

Soundtrack: “Beautiful Day” by U2

“The Light We Lost” by Jill Santopolo

32956365Whatever you are doing right now, STOP. Go get this book (once it is officially released on May 9th) and read it. Seriously. Oh, and buy a box of tissues as well, because you are going to need them because….ALL. THE. FEELS.

Lucy and Gabe are two binary stars rotating around each other in a love that is out of this world; the kind of love that poems and sonnets are written about, and artists find inspiration in and musicians compose from. The book is all from Lucy’s point of view as if she is talking directly TO Gabe….but why? Very unique for an entire novel to be written from this perspective and it definitely takes a little getting used to.

Eventually, Gabe wanders away, following his passion for photography to the Middle East, leaving Lucy shattered. She finds new love that isn’t quite the same, but she settles down nevertheless and starts a family, still occasionally keeping in touch with Gabe. Without ruining the full story, we follow Lucy’s journey for thirteen years and through it all, the author does an amazing job of keeping the characters and the story real and so beautiful.

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Hundreds mourn Associated Press video journalist killed in Gaza. (credit)

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who reads fiction, who likes a good cry, who appreciates contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, or romance. Jill Santopolo’s writing absolutely shines so bright in this book and even brings honor to those in the field of photojournalism. That is not a piece of cake artistic line of work. Beautiful book!

Soundtrack: “The Fault in our Stars” by Troye Sivan

“Zenn Diagram” by Wendy Brant

What a cute, new YA romance with a little magical twist! Let me also say that I almost image-3535didn’t read this because I am NOT a math person at ALL, but don’t let that discourage you from reading this book! Its still great!! What you do need to know, however, is what a fractal looks like. I have assisted you with this in the image on the right.

Eva is a senior in high school living with her aunt and uncle (whom she calls Mom and Dad, because she was orphaned as an infant) and the 4 E’s (her quad cousin/siblings). Gearing up to go to college, Eva is completing her applications and searching for scholarships and logging tutoring hours to put on her list of extracurriculars. But Eva is also special–one touch of a person or object and she can see its “fractal,” telling her the person’s emotions in one giant rush.

34199574I really liked that this book had great characters–a fun best girlfriend, Charlotte, who we see stray to the world of popularity and then come back to the math savvy Eva. Zenn, who is a new kid in school, is full of secrets and surprises, who actually is a hard worker and who is an all-around great character. Both Eva’s and Zenn’s family (what we saw and found out about of them) were well-built. And Eva herself was an interesting and unique character!

To me, there is always something sweet about couples in books who end up “psychically” doing the same thing for each other without knowing it. I also have an appreciation for authors who respect characters’ youth and don’t rush kids into commitments, so thank you, Ms. Brant, for letting the kids go their separate ways but still have a cute ending at the same time, as much as can be.

Soundtrack: “Fireflies” by Owl City

Camino Beach by Amanda Callendrier

34204786Sarah, Kristin, and Jack are a week away from their twentieth high school reunion and the reunion just won’t be complete without their long lost friend Roxanne. Roxanne hasn’t been seen nor heard from since the final weeks of their senior year of high school and the gang has no idea where she is. They set off on an adventure in a classic El Camino named Elvira in the hopes of finding answers…and forgiveness. The story flip-flops between the “now” and the “then” so we hear and see why Roxanne left and how sometimes friendships can get complicated, but ultimately work out in beautiful ways.

1969-Chevrolet-El-Camino-SS-12Here’s one thing that I really enjoyed about this book: the nostalgia. I loved the description of Sarah and Kristen buying and road tripping in the El Camino. “I had forgotten what cars were like in the 70’s and 80’s, wide stretches of bench-like seats that felt like couches….Didn’t even use seat belts, and you could slide back and forth on the leather whenever you made a hard turn.” Yeah!!! It was just so fun to me! Plus, just look at this beauty! Its a frickin’ Hotwheels in real life!! I’m not a car girl, but its so cool! And every time I see one (and its rare that I see one), I think that I want to put a little jacuzzi back there, so this book isn’t far off from my fantasy, in putting a “beach” in the back! I love it!

On the not-my-favorite-part-side, the MC Sarah could be SO dense and self-absorbed and just about every other character in the book brought it up to her face. She was fine in the beginning–great even!–and then two-thirds of the way through she went off her rocker and everything was her fault and in her world and her drama and her blindness and her, her, her! Blah!!
Another plus: this was definitely a warm and fuzzy, feel good, easy to read book. If you need a good summer read, pick this up. Plus, I was very impressed that this was a debut for Amanda Callendrier, so hats off, and congratulations!
Book Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Listening to: “No Diggity” by Blackstreet, Dr. Dre, Queen Pen

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

What an incredibly fun book!! I, myself, was in a fine arts program in high school and went on to major in music in college and I went into this book a little skeptical that this would be another author trying to write a mediocre music book. NO WAY! Riley Redgate knows her shit! Thank the music gods!

32933947So not only were all of the music references accurate, I really thought that so much of the teenage identity struggle was real too. Whether Jordan was struggling with her voice (“[her] singing voice is difficult to reconcile with musical theater. Firstly, there’s a timbre to it…It also affects your physicality. Your eyes close; you shift and sway…Those tics are a challenge to eliminate.”), her gender (“The longer I thought about the possibility that I might not be a girl, the more I became sure that I was one…The struggle to fit into some narrow window of femininity didn’t exclude me from the club.”), her sexuality (“All I understood about sexuality was its uncertainty, discovering your way through yourself day by day…”), or her emotions (you get the point…I can quote this book all day), she is a really fun character in a unique situation.

Speaking of Jordan/Julian’s unique situation, I thought Noteworthy was extra noteworthy (see what I did there?!) because it touched on almost all aspects of LGBTQIA. Not so much the L, but we have Nihal and Connor’s relationship, Jordan admitting Bi-curious tendencies, plus the obvious cross-dressing/acting male for months which Isaac asks if Julian is trans. I thought it was an eye-opening lesson how one seemingly small ploy (dressing up for one audition) can ultimately snowball into a life-altering course.

So while I rave about all of this, why did I only give 4 stars and not 5? Well, I have to say the book was quite predictable. Fun, yes. But I knew from early on who Jordan would end up with, what would happen with the family, how the competition would go, etc. Also, while I enjoyed reading the book and it was fun, it wasn’t life-changing and that is my big qualifier for that 5th star. However, I will definitely be recommending this to my music students. It was a great read and perfect for my high schoolers.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Soundtrack: The Official Noteworthy Soundtrack (from the author BY the author…more total coolness!!!)

The Hereafter by Jessica Bucher

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This book is a hard one to rate. It pulls the heart strings and yet leaves a subtly bitter taste at the same time. Please note that this review may contain some spoilers.

On the plus side, this book really gets you thinking: if I was dead what would I do with my infinite days? Where would I go? Could I bear to look in on my loved ones? Could I stand to watch my death? I absolutely love books that make me question things like this. Our main characters, Nin and Dylan, are alone in “The Hereafter” together and at first they are content with their own routines and spaces. Eventually they meet and begin to recover memories from their lives and discover that their lives–and deaths–actually have something in common. I also loved the phoenix that Dylan carves for Nin and how she really lives up to that in the end. By saving him, it is Nin who sparks a near rebirth for both of them. And of course we have a happily ever after for everyone in the end.

On the down side of the story, the book deals with some tough topics and to me, I didn’t always like how they were dealt with. For example, Nin’s abusive relationship with her boyfriend who is involved in (what is hinted at as) drug and trafficking rings. There are some books out there that deal with topics like this (other tough topics in this book include parental depression, drug use, abuse, and suicide; poor self-image) that resolve in very solid and positive ways and I find myself recommending them to my teenage students or even sometimes my colleagues or peers. I found these aspects to be mostly necessary plot points, but not relatable.

Soundtrack: “Bird of the Summer” ~ A Fine Frenzy