THE CEMETERY BOYS by Heather Brewer

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 6.15.56 PMWhen Stephen’s dad says they’re moving, Stephen knows it’s pointless to argue. They’re broke from paying Mom’s hospital bills, and now the only option left is to live with Stephen’s grandmother in Spencer, a backward small town that’s like something out of The Twilight Zone. Population: 814.

Stephen’s summer starts looking up when he meets punk girl Cara and her charismatic twin brother, Devon. With Cara, he feels safe and understood—and yeah, okay, she’s totally hot. In Devon and his group, he sees a chance at making real friends. Only, as the summer presses on, and harmless nights hanging out in the cemetery take a darker turn, Stephen starts to suspect that Devon is less a friend than a leader. And he might be leading them to a very sinister end…”

The Cemetery Boys is different from what I usually read, but when I read the synopsis (and saw the pretty cover), I couldn’t resist picking it up.

The story is dark and mysterious, and these effects are emphasized well in the initial setup of the book. It has all the perfect ingredients for a spooky story: a small, quiet town where everybody knows everybody and nobody ever leaves, a mysterious tale from the town’s past that everyone seems to believe, and a few mentally unstable parents with chilling messages. Each time a character is introduced, you can almost feel the mysterious tension surrounding them through Brewer’s words. Each resident of Spencer seems to have their own unique story of the town and its history, which creates a puzzle-like effect in which things seem to fall into place. The experience is entirely immersing and leaves you feeling like you’re in the room with the characters, trying to solve the mystery.

What I loved about this story is that, as I said, it had all the right ingredients for a dark and creepy story, but it also manages to pull them all together in a way that makes sense and keeps the reader interested. Not only do the characters seem to come alive on the page, but the setting descriptions really make you feel what it’s like to live in Spencer. In their small town, kids hang out at the “playground,” which is really the local cemetery, which makes for a few interesting scenes.

When Stephen meets his first friends, a girl named Cara (who may be more than a friend) and her dark, brooding twin brother, they don’t hesitate to share their own creepy Spencer story of a friend who drowned in a refrigerator. Their story sets up the background of the town and the history of the bad things that happen there, even before Stephen discovers the real threat of Spencer—a threat that might put him in more danger than he knows.

The story is full of suspense and betrayal at every turn of the page, and by the end you’ll want to reread the story just to see what clues you missed the first time around. It was surprising and exciting, and a reading experience that was very different for me, since I’m not one to read a lot of creepy mystery stories. I’m definitely glad I picked this one up, because I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. This is a very quick read at less than 300 pages, so if you are looking for something short and suspenseful, I would recommend The Cemetery Boys.

4.5 Stars

(PS I’m also planning to read The Blood Between Us by the same author, so if you have read it let me know what you thought!)

I’d love to hear what you thought of the book, or what you think I should read next!

Also, be sure to add me on goodreads if you want to see what I’m currently reading!

Happy reading!

Bailey

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Jared Reck

A Short History of the Girl Next Door

“Fifteen-year-old Matt Wainwright is in turmoil. He can’t tell his lifelong best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her; his promising basketball skills are being overshadowed by his attitude on the court, and the only place he feels normal is in English class, where he can express his inner thoughts in quirky poems and essays. Matt is desperately hoping that Tabby will reciprocate his feelings; but then Tabby starts dating Liam Branson, senior basketball star and all-around great guy. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough; but, as Matt soon discovers, he’s close to losing everything that matters most to him.

I went into A Short History of the Girl Next Door having almost no idea what it was about, but high expectations based on the buzz around this book. I just assumed, naturally, that it was about a girl next door and subsequently, a love story. It is, in fact, both of those things, but it’s not your everyday run-of-the-mill teenage romance where, despite all obstacles, the main characters figure things out in the end and kiss passionately before proceeding to their happy ending.

Those things only happen in Matt’s head. One of the things I loved most about this story was that it was full of clichés, but they appeared mostly in Matt’s thoughts, and sarcastically at that. Matt resents the “overdramatic movie director in his head” who controls his thoughts and fills his mind with hopelessly theatrical scenes.

Matt is in love with his best friend, and in typical movie fashion, Tabby is oblivious to those feelings and opts to date a popular senior guy instead, and Matt is crushed. That storyline itself didn’t bother me—though it is a little overused in contemporary fiction—but I found it difficult to empathize with Matt’s love for Tabby, as her character is the most underdeveloped in the whole story. I felt like the only thing the reader really knows about her is that she has red hair and likes Nerds, and two boys love her. Her and Matt’s backstory was enough to make the story cute, but it sometimes felt like a story about a boy who is in love with a cardboard cutout of a girl rather than an actual, three-dimensional human.

When I started this book and realized it was about basketball, my hope that I would like it faded away almost instantly. I don’t mind basketball itself or occasional mentions of sports in books, but I tend to stay away from stories where sports are the main focus of the plot. It tends to breed characters that have no depth beyond the stereotypical dedicated athlete, but I was pleased to find that this wasn’t the case with Matt. Even though basketball is one of the most important things to him, and he is especially good at it for only a freshman in high school, the development of his character is more centered around his humor and his relationships than simply one of his hobbies.

The story is full of shocking twists and turns that you don’t see coming, but I can’t say more than that without ruining the story. I’m happy I had no inkling of the direction the story would turn in as I read because it made the rollercoaster ride that is this book that much more enjoyable.

Overall, this story isn’t what I expected it to be. Where I thought I’d find another love story like every other in the world of young adult fiction, I found a story that embraces clichés while giving them a new twist. The humor and sarcasm dripping on every page kept my interest, and this was one of those stories that remind me why I love to read. Jared Reck did a great job crafting this story, and I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick read full of humor and emotion.

4 Stars

I’d love to hear what you thought of the book, or what you think I should read next!

Happy reading!

Bailey

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

FIRECRACKER by David Iserson

IMG_6846“Astrid Krieger lives in a rocket ship prototype in the backyard of her parents’ estate. Her recent expulsion from the elite Bristol Academy has won her a unique punishment: She’ll have to attend public school for the very first time…”

Firecracker was definitely an impulse buy, I’m-at-Half-Price-Books-and-the-cover-is-pretty-so-I-have-to-buy-it type of thing, so I honestly wasn’t expecting much from this story. I was interested by the idea of a comedy about a girl who lives in a rocket ship (a rocket ship which is, unfortunately, rather absent from the story), and I thought it would be something different to try out.

I went into Firecracker with low expectations, and they weren’t surpassed by much. The story was funny, and there were even a few parts that made me laugh, but the overall plot was scattered and seemed to be thrown together at the last minute. This would usually be something that would put me off completely to a book, but I’m going a little easier on this one because it was more of a light-hearted, funny read than something you’re supposed to really get something out of.

Even though this book wasn’t very powerful or life-changing in any way, that’s not to say it didn’t carry a few lessons within it. However, the lessons that are obvious in the text are pretty much as cliché as it gets. For example, spoiled rich girl who believes she is above everyone else thinks, “But maybe I was not the only person in the world who was more complicated than everyone assumes.” (And then, just after, goes back to acting exactly the same as before).

One thing about this story that I thought really stood out was Astrid’s confidence. Sure, she definitely errs more on the side of arrogance, but I still think it’s unique to have a main character who is self-assured and can recognize her good qualities rather than one whose main conflict is not believing she’s beautiful. Astrid may have a stuck-up attitude, but I think readers can learn from her independence and the way that she only has herself, but she has found a way to be happy about that.

Also, this story is unique because Astrid is not looking for love. There are a few boys that care about her, and sometimes she even reciprocates those feelings, but she is not dependent on anyone else for even a minute in the story. She doesn’t need love to be happy, and that is an important quality and one that is not often portrayed in young adult books.

Overall, the story was very enjoyable (though I was hoping for more about the rocket ship…) and I would recommend it as a lighthearted story if you ever need a laugh. It is a very quick read—I finished it in just a few hours without difficulty—and the entertainment value of the story outweighs the parts where it lacks in any real substance. David Iserson did a nice job in creating a funny story for readers to enjoy, and I’m glad I picked this one up.

3 Stars

I’d love to hear what you thought of the book, or what you think I should read next!

Happy reading!

Bailey

 

CARRY ON by Rainbow Rowell

img_6809.jpgI try not to pick favorite books; to me, that seems a lot like picking a favorite child. But contrary to the previous statement, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell is my new favorite book.

Carry On is only the second Rainbow Rowell novel I’ve read, the first being Eleanor and Park. I enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t very memorable for me, so I never went on to read any of her others until now.

That being said, I haven’t read Fangirl yet, but I will definitely seek it out after reading this book. The story of Carry On is based on a story mentioned in Fangirl, and while it would have been relevant  background information to have when going into this book, I’m glad I’m reading them in the order that I am. It was interesting for me to go into Carry On knowing nothing about it, and therefore having nothing to bias my enjoyment of the story.

Rowell’s writing goes back and forth a lot between character perspectives, which is usually something that bothers me (and reminds me a little too much of actual fanfiction), but I felt it worked well for the book. I loved the way the perspective changed between Simon and Baz, allowing a look into both of their feelings. (I especially loved Baz, he might be my favorite character of all time.)

The story bears a lot of similarities to Harry Potter as far as the basic idea goes: an orphan boy who doesn’t know he is magic is thrown into a world where he is their “Chosen One,” and attends a boarding school where he takes magical classes. While this may seem like the same storyline, I was surprised and delighted to find that once you get past the basic setup the similarities end and Carry On takes on its own unique identity.

The characters in this story are unique and easy to fall in love with (did I mention that I love Baz?). Simon and Baz start off as roommates who are constantly dreaming of ways to kill each other, but the way their relationship evolves and their true feelings are revealed is unlike any other story I’ve ever read. The emotions were real and beautiful, and I’m probably going to read this book about ten more time just for Simon and Baz.

The only criticism I have of this book is that their should have been more. More pages, more chapters, more books. There is nothing I want more than a sequel to this book (Rainbow Rowell if you are reading this, please). I’ve read a few things that make a second book sound like a possibility, but I haven’t been able to find anything confirmed, so all there’s left to do is hope.

Overall, Carry On was one of the sweetest, funniest, and most heartwarming books I’ve ever read, and I would highly recommend this book to absolutely anyone. Don’t ask questions, just read it.

5 Stars

I’d love to hear what you thought of the book, or what you think I should read next!

Happy reading!

Bailey

 

PASSENGER/WAYFARER by Alexandra Bracken

51NEHrJQBCL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_“In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.”

The Passenger duology follows the format of a lot of adventure novels: Etta discovers she is part of a world she has never heard of, which her mother spent her life trying to keep her away from. But after she is kidnapped and sent through a portal to another time, she discovers that she may be more important to this other world than she knows.

In the meantime, she meets Nicholas, a boy born far from her time who earned his freedom from slavery and now spends his days on the sea under the supervision of his captain, who knows of time travel but is not a traveler himself. Nicholas takes interest in Etta as a job, but he quickly starts to care for her much more than that.

Etta and Nicholas’s relationship is one of the most compelling of any novel I’ve ever read. The connection between them can be felt at full force through Bracken’s words, and the development of their relationship feels natural and unrushed, despite the short time period in which they get to know each other.

Passenger and Wayfarer are definitely high up on my list of recommended books, as well as anything written by Alexandra Bracken. The Darkest Minds series is perfectly crafted, and the relationship between Liam and Ruby leaves you on the edge of your seat just as much as Nick and Etta. Bracken’s talent for writing is obvious: her words are elegant and they always seem to fit, which is one thing that makes the Passenger duology stand out.

Personally, I didn’t feel that this duology passed up The Darkest Minds in terms of plot, and I was a little disappointed. They are great books in their own regard, but sometimes the story felt as if it was dragging a little bit, which I never felt when reading TDM.

Bracken’s other stories aside, Passenger and Wayfarer have very intricate storylines, with several different timelines and settings woven in, and the difficult plot was pulled off very nicely. There were the usual plot holes of course, which are almost unavoidable when time travel is on the table, but I didn’t feel as though that took away from the story in any way.

Bracken’s characters almost seem to come off of the page: they are very human and multidimensional, which can be a difficult thing to pull off for many writers. I think character development was a strong point in these books that made them stand out among other YA stories.

I’m not going to lie, these books definitely made me cry, which is just another reason I know they were good. I really felt connected to the characters throughout the story, and I enjoyed it even when I wished the pace would pick up a bit.

The elegance of the word choice mixed with the lessons the story has to offer were a great match. I especially love the quote: “But we are, all of us, also wayfarers on a greater journey, this one without end, each of us searching for the answers to the unspoken questions of our hearts. Take comfort, as I have, in knowing that, while we must travel it alone, this journey rewards goodness, and will prove that the things that are denied to us in life will never create a cage for our souls.

Overall, Passenger and Wayfarer were well-crafted novels, and they definitely have a space in my heart among my favorites.

5 stars

 

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie ThomasStarr Carter is caught between two worlds: Garden Heights, where she grew up, and Williamson, the prestigious private school where her parents send her to protect her from her own community.

Starr learns from a young age to stay quiet around the police, but nothing her dad taught her could prepare her for the night her old friend Khalil becomes a victim of their hate. On their way home from a party they are pulled over, and despite the fact that they were both unarmed and innocent, the officer shoots and kills Khalil while Starr watches from the passenger seat.

The Hate U Give is a beautifully crafted and compelling story that puts the reader in the shoes of this 16-year-old girl as she deals with the aftermath of her friend’s murder. I felt that the conversational tone of the novel helped to form a connection between the reader and the character, and the injustices she endures leave you feeling just as helpless as anyone would in that situation.

The story shines a new light on the already trending issue of racial discrimination in today’s age. We hear stories on the news constantly of police shootings and #blacklivesmatter, but it’s rare for someone outside of the action to really understand the feelings that come along with it.

Starr was the only witness to the events besides the police officers present, and she is caught in the unsavory situation of my-word-against-yours, which clearly puts her at a disadvantage in the trial process. Even after it is discovered that Khalil in fact possessed no weapons when he was shot, the media uses the fact that he allegedly sold drugs to justify his murder.

Starr is overwhelmed with processing with her friend’s death, and in the meantime she is forced to assume a whole different identity at school. She attends a private school called Williamson, surrounded by kids that come from money and live in high-scale neighborhoods that Garden Heights can’t compare with. She feels out of place at school despite her group of friends, and feels the need to censor herself around them to avoid being perceived as “ghetto.”

I found the opinions of her classmates to be very powerful to the meaning of the story, because they only farther outline the helplessness Starr is feeling. She puts up with a few racist comments here and there from her friend Haley, but things start to change when the conversation turns to Khalil and Starr begins to learn how to stand up for herself.

Throughout the course of the novel, Starr makes a transformation from a girl who is taught to keep her mouth shut to a girl who leads a revolution. Overall, The Hate U Give is an empowering and inspiring reading experience, and I believe it is important for people of every background to read this book and understand Thomas’s message in her writing.

5 stars

 

 

TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green

IMG_6717A few days ago, John Green released his fifth solo novel: Turtles All the Way Down, starring Aza Holmes, an awkward girl with a dead father and crippling anxiety.

Based on Green’s reputation from his previous four novels, I had my expectations set high for his newest publication, and it fell a bit short.

Turtles All the Way Down begins when Aza Holmes, known affectionately as “Holmesy” by her best friend and partner in crime, Daisy, hears news of a $100,000 reward being offered to anyone with information about the whereabouts of billionaire Russell Pickett. She and Pickett’s son, Davis, knew each other briefly from a camp for children who lost a parent, and upon being reunited they hit it off almost immediately.

Of course, in typical John Green fashion, their romance has more than a few obstacles, the most prominent of which being Aza’s own mind. She struggles with anxiety, giving her uncontrollable “thought spirals” and inescapable fear of contracting a disease known as C. diff.

By experiencing this story through Aza’s head, Green allows the reader a rare glimpse of the thought process of a teenager struggling with anxiety and other mental illness, and highlights the inescapability of these invasive thoughts. Aza’s anxiety gets in the way of her friendships, her relationship, and even her ability to do most mundane tasks.

Once Holmesy is reunited with Davis, the story’s focus strays from the mystery of finding his father, and becomes more of a minor subplot compared to the events of their romance and Aza’s thoughts. I expected there would be more regarding the enigma of his father’s disappearance, but where the story lacks an abundance of crime-solving excitement, it makes up for in heartwarming romance and valuable life lessons.

The title Turtles All the Way Down refers to the idea that the Earth is flat and resting on the back of a giant turtle, who is standing on the back of a giant turtle, and so on: it’s turtles all the way down. The reference brings up questions of the existence of God, which is never directly mentioned in the book, but contemplation of the meaning of life is hardly new of John Green’s writing. His intended message with this title is left up to the interpretation of the reader, but it certainly bears some relation to mental illness and the “thought spirals” that Aza experiences.

Turtles All the Way Down is a short, easy read with a good bit of power. The characters are interesting but not very relatable, and are basically the same as those in every other John Green novel. Overall, the story has its ups and downs, but I do believe it has earned its spot alongside John Green’s other novels.

5 stars