Review: All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

allrightsreservedAll Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

My Rating: 1/5 TARDISes

Series: Word$ #1

Date Published: August 29th, 2017

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Pages: 400 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: In a world where every word and gesture is copyrighted, patented or trademarked, one girl elects to remain silent

Speth Jime is anxious to deliver her Last Day speech and celebrate her transition into adulthood. The moment she turns fifteen, Speth must pay for every word she speaks, for every nod, for every scream and even every gesture of affection. She’s been raised to know the consequences of falling into debt, and can’t begin to imagine the pain of having her eyes shocked for speaking words that she’s unable to afford.

But when Speth’s friend Beecher commits suicide rather than work off his family’s crippling debt, she can’t express her shock and dismay without breaking her Last Day contract and sending her family into Collection. Rather than read her speech—rather than say anything at all—she closes her mouth and vows never to speak again, sparking a movement that threatens to destroy her, her family and the entire city around them.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

I had been so eager to read this book ever since I first heard about it, so I am really sad to say that I did not enjoy it. The concept for the plot is very interesting and there were many aspects of this novel that were quite creative. However, the negatives severely outweighed the positives in this case. There was so much potential here for a riveting and powerful story about freedom of speech, and the subject itself is very topical in our world today. But what could have been both exciting and enlightening was ruined by too many tropes and an extremely unlikeable main character.

This novel takes place in a dystopian future, reminiscent of settings like Orwell’s 1984 and The Hunger Games trilogy. This society brings new meaning to the term free speech. Every single word and gesture is copyrighted or trademarked and there are few things a person can do that do not cost them money. In this story, we follow a young girl named Speth who is about to reach the age at which this system of payment for communication applies to her. When she witnesses the tragic death of her friend right before her “Last Day” speech, she is overcome with sadness at the unfair and restrictive situation they have all been forced into. So instead of reading her speech, she vows to never speak again, inadvertently starting a dangerous but crucial revolution.

I really did not like this book. Though there were some unique parts, much of it felt like a copy of other dystopian young adult novels, relying on far too many overused tropes. My number one problem was the main character, Speth. She is by far one of the most infuriating characters I have ever come across and as this is written in first person, there is no escaping her. Her actions throughout the story are consistently enraging, causing tons of unnecessary pain to everyone around her. She could have been a strong heroine, standing up for what she believes in and fighting for free speech. However, almost everything she does is highly irresponsible, not well thought-out, and is more damaging to society rather than helpful.

Though she does end up inspiring people within her society to fight for their rights, Speth herself does not even seem to actually know what she is fighting for exactly. As the plot intends, her initial refusal to speak inadvertently starts a bit of a revolution. This choice comes from the deep grief she feels in the moment, and that is completely understandable. But as the story progresses, she comes across as increasingly immature and she does not grow at all.

Standing up for what you believe in can be an extremely daunting task and requires a huge amount of courage and strength. But Speth is stubborn in the wrong way and she constantly fails to see how much she is hurting innocent people who are close to her. This calls into question the plausibility of so many people following and looking up to her.

Most of the other characters in the novel are far more likable than Speth and I thought Katsoulis did a very good job creating them. They are definitely multi-dimensional and it is interesting to learn their backstories and get a picture of how they live in this bleak societal state. Since Speth does not speak to anyone during the narrative, it is hard to get a handle on her relationships with the other characters, but for the most part, the characterization of the side characters is a decently strong aspect of the book.

Another aspect of the novel that I quite liked was the creativity of the different corporations that run every part of society. Katsoulis comes up with some very clever and sometimes hilarious ideas for these companies and the advertisements they put forth. There is this sort of dark comedy feel here due to the mixture of humor with a frighteningly realistic dystopian world. I particularly liked the concept of the placers, and I actually wish there had been even more of a focus on them.

I think the main problem here does not stem only from Speth’s recklessness and lack of consideration for other people and their wishes but also from the way the story is approached. It is clear that Katsoulis wanted this to be an action-filled narrative that shocks the reader with its many twists and turns. However, he just goes way too far. Rather than add to the strength of the underlying message of the story, these twists only become a massive detriment to Speth’s character. These events also serve to make the story less and less believable as they transpire. There was one situation in about the final quarter of the narrative that was the final straw for me and there was no redeeming itself after that.

I think the basic concept here is pretty solid and I definitely do see what Katsoulis is going for. Unfortunately, the execution was rough and, in my opinion, did not produce the desired effect. The positive message of championing freedom of speech is mostly lost due to the lack of a strong main character. Katsoulis also throws in too many events that take place purely for shock value and feel somewhat pointless within the actual narrative as a whole. I do intend to read the next book in the series to see if any of the issues I found in this one are fixed.

1.0 TARDIS

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Review: The Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren

thevirtueofsinThe Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: June 25th, 2019

Publisher: Philomel Books

Pages: 432 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Miriam lives in New Jerusalem, a haven in the desert far away from the sins and depravity of the outside world. Within the gates of New Jerusalem, and under the eye of its founder and leader, Daniel, Miriam knows she is safe. Cared for. Even if she’s forced, as a girl, to quiet her tongue when she has thoughts she wants to share, Miriam knows that New Jerusalem is a far better life than any alternative. So when God calls for a Matrimony, she’s thrilled; she knows that Caleb, the boy she loves, will choose her to be his wife and they can finally start their life together.

But when the ceremony goes wrong and Miriam winds up with someone else, she can no longer keep quiet. For the first time, Miriam begins to question not only the rules that Daniel has set in place, but also what it is she believes in, and where she truly belongs.

Alongside unexpected allies, Miriam fights to learn–and challenge–the truth behind the only way of life she’s ever known, even if it means straying from the path of Righteousness.

A compelling debut novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

There are so many aspects of this story that appealed to both the book nerd and psychology nerd in me and I was completely absorbed from the start. This is the story of two teenagers who have spent their entire lives in a cult and how they deal with their newfound clarity about their situation as they are thrown into adulthood in the community. It is a novel that portrays the importance of not always taking what people in power say at face value, fighting for equality, and learning to accept others—and oneself—for who they are.

I absolutely love anything to do with psychology—I am actually currently a forensic psychology major—and the psychology of cults is particularly interesting to study. Seeing the mindsets of both the members and the leaders is both fascinating and chilling. This novel primarily demonstrates how the beliefs and laws a leader comes up with are drilled into members. We see how this warps a person’s thoughts and view of the world and how incredibly challenging it is to break free of these beliefs. Schuren’s depictions of these elements of a cult are very accurate, enraging, and heartbreaking.

The primary subject dealt with in this novel is the unequal and extremely poor treatment of women within the cult. We see how the men silence them and do not allow them to make their own decisions. There are also other elements of the unfair treatment of minorities in the plot. The importance of standing up for these types of injustices, whether you are part of that minority or not, and of treating others with respect are shown through this story.

I was surprised at how many twists there were in this novel that I did not see coming. And I liked every single one. Schuren takes the narrative in a number of unexpected directions. There are so many secrets spilled and revelations that propelled me through every chapter. This is a true page-turner.

One of the only issues I feel the story has is that it does become a bit repetitive. I somewhat conflicted about this because it does make sense in context to some extent. The process of changing ones’ mindset and beliefs about something or someone—particularly in such a severe situation—takes a lot of time. Miriam actually does come around and see the lies of the cult’s leader fairly quickly in terms of the number of days over which the story takes place. However, I did feel that facts potentially did not need to be repeated to the reader after the first few times hearing them. Overall, this is just a very minor problem I came across.

Miriam is an incredibly strong female lead right from the very beginning of the novel. She does not want to put up with the suppression and ill-treatment of women that the men of the cult have turned into an accepted way of life. She gradually finds her voice and stands up for not just herself and the other women, but for everyone who is under the control of the Prophet. Headstrong and intelligent, Miriam makes a wonderful protagonist.

This story is not just told from Miriam’s perspective but also from Caleb’s, the boy she’s sure she is meant to marry. Alternating between these characters and seeing every situation through two different sets of eyes made this an even more intriguing plot. Schuren writes these narrators well, making their voices distinct from the other, which can be a challenge when working with more than one point of view.

Both main characters and side characters alike are multi-dimensional in this story. They are clearly carefully crafted and they evolve and respond realistically to their environment and the events of the novel. They don’t feel flat—they are the driving force of the plot. I felt that I got to know many of the characters well, no matter what size part they play in the grand scheme of things. Just like the worldbuilding, the characters are equally as vivid, detailed, and fully fleshed out. Aaron’s storyline is probably my favorite out of all of them.

My only issue with the characters is that a couple characters are rather unclear or inconsistent, mainly early on. I felt they became clearer pretty quickly, but I had a little trouble connecting with them at first. For instance, in Aaron’s case, I would think I was getting a handle on his personality and then he would do something that seemed out of character, causing me to become confused. There were times when I did not quite understand the motives for a character’s actions and those events were not always cleared up. Again, this is just a very minor issue I had.

Tying in with what I said about the characters being multi-dimensional, Schuren does a good job of clearly indicating how they develop over the course of the story. They learn and grow and evolve. The events that take place and the upheaval they experience consistently affect each character, their actions, and their views of life and the world around them.

Schuren’s writing style is definitely one of the strongest aspects of this novel. I found it very easy to get into and it had a very captivating quality to it. It was not just the story but the way she told it and worded it that held me in the narrative. The writing and the message it sends are both beautiful.

I found Schuren’s worldbuilding to be absolutely fantastic. She creates this extremely detailed and frighteningly realistic picture of what living in a cult is like. She forms both the physical world and the psychological world of these characters through her words. It feels like you are there in the desert—in the supposed safety of the community. You experience the raw emotions and the sinister atmosphere. She really brings this story to life.

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it absolutely did not disappoint. It was so easy to become engrossed in this novel and I found it extremely hard to put down. I read through it so fast, just intending to read a couple chapters and realizing a while later I read over one-hundred or more pages. Schuren brings so many interesting elements together to create a story that will quickly draw in readers and open their eyes to topics that are very important and timely. I highly recommend picking this up and giving it a read.

4.0 TARDISes

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Reviews: What If? by Anna Russell and And We Call It Love by Amanda Vink

whatifWhat If? by Anna Russell

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: December 1st, 2018

Publisher: West 44 Books

Pages: 200 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Josh Baker isn’t sure why his brain tells him to do things that other people don’t need to do: checking his locker again and again, counting cracks in ceilings, and always needing to finish a song, for starters. He is a talented drummer, a math genius, and he knows everything about rock and roll. Yet, he knows his problems have the power to hurt his family and make him fail at school. When Josh is diagnosed with OCD, it’s a blessing and a curse. Can he overcome his thoughts, or will they break him?

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I’ve read a number of these hi-lo fiction novels recently and this one was definitely my favorite of the bunch. This is what is considered “hi-lo” fiction—short books that are designed to encourage young, reluctant readers to read more. This one seems like it is aimed for an early middle school to early high school audience, so basically mid-middle grade and early young adult.

In this novel, we follow a teenage boy named Josh who is struggling to understand the way his brain is functioning. Something just does not feel right to him—his mind is driving him to do things he knows others don’t tend to do such as to repeatedly check door locks and counting cracks in ceilings. Deep down, he knows he does not need to do any of this, however, he feels that he must or harm will come to his loved ones. When he is diagnosed with OCD, Josh finally knows what is wrong, but overcoming it is a daunting obstacle looming ahead.

I feel a very personal connection to these types of stories as I have struggled with OCD for many years. In fact, I was around the same age as Josh—early high school—when I was officially diagnosed. This personal connection can be either good or bad. It can make me quite picky about the way it is portrayed. I think that Anna Russell ended up doing quite a good job with this. Josh’s struggles felt very realistic and accurate to what experiencing OCD is like and I believe it will be quite an informative story for readers.

It is difficult for me to put myself in the position of someone who is reluctant to read, but I felt it was important for me to check these types of novels out. I, of course, want to promote reading to everyone any chance I get. While I do wish there had been a little more to this book—not much, just that is was a bit longer and went into more detail about OCD—I do think this is a good addition to hi-lo fiction. This is definitely a story I can see readers really getting into, and I think it will not only encourage them to explore literature more but that it will also teach them some important information about mental health.

3.5 TARDISes

andwecallitloveAnd We Call It Love by Amanda Vink

My Rating: 2/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: January 15th, 2019

Publisher: West 44 Books

Pages: 200 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Clare and Zari are best friends. They write music together, go everywhere together, and they know everything about the other. At least they did before Zari started dating Dion. The more Zari falls for Dion, the less she has time for anything else. At first, Clare chalks it up to a new and exciting relationship, and she tries to be happy for her friend despite her loneliness. When Zari starts to show up to school with half-hidden bruises, Clare knows there’s something darker about this relationship that has to be stopped.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This ended up being an okay read. In this short novella, we follow two teenage best friends who begin to drift apart when one of them enters into a new relationship. Soon it becomes clear to Clare that something is wrong, as Zari is acting less and less like her usual self. She realizes that there may be some abuse taking place in her friend’s relationship. Clare knows she has to help her friend remove herself from this horrible situation. I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t hate it either. This narrative deals with very serious issues that can take a while to fully understand, so while this was decent, a longer format suits this topic much better.

And this brings us to an opinion that is going to sound a bit silly given the type of story this is supposed to be. This is what is considered “hi-lo” fiction—short books that are designed to encourage young, reluctant readers to read more. This one seems like it is aimed for a late middle school to early high school audience, so basically early young adult. This story definitely fits into the short format better than some other books of this type that I have checked out. However, I still ended up feeling that it needed just a little bit more to it. It is harder to connect with the characters given the small amount of information we get on them.

That being said, I do think this is one of the more decent examples of hi-lo fiction that I have come across. It is quite hard for me to put myself in the shoes of a potential reader of this novel as I want to read every book in sight. With this one, though, I did get into it a bit more. While these are topics that are hard to fully portray in this limited format, I think the author did an okay job. Domestic abuse and speaking up about it is such an important and timely topic, and I love the fact that Vink is contributing this work to an audience that needs to learn this information.

2.0 TARDISes

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Reviews: Fifteen and Change by Max Howard and Second in Command by Sandi Van

fifteenandchangeFifteen and Change by Max Howard

My Rating: 2/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: October 1st, 2018

Publisher: West 44 Books

Pages: 200 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Zeke would love to be invisible. His mother is struggling to make ends meet and stuck with a no-good boyfriend. Zeke knows he and his mom will be stuck forever if he doesn’t find some money fast. When Zeke starts working at a local pizza place, he meets labor activists who want to give him a voice–and the living wage he deserves for his work. Zeke has to decide between living the quiet life he’s carved for himself and raising his voice for justice.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This is what is considered “hi-lo” fiction—short books that are designed to encourage young, reluctant readers to read more. This one seems like it is aimed for a late middle school to early high school audience, so basically late middle grade and early young adult. In this novel, we follow a teenage boy named Zeke who is struggling quite badly in life. He lives with his mother, who is trapped in an abusive relationship, and they are all barely making ends meet.

So Zeke wants to make some money so he and his mother can escape this situation and he finds a job at a local pizza place. While there, he meets a group of labor activists who are fighting their unfair pay and offer Zeke a chance to stand up and have a voice. Because of this, he is left with the decision of whether to remain in his quiet life, focusing on work and an escape or to stand up for an important cause.

Of all the hi-lo fiction I have read recently, this was not one of my favorites. The idea for the plot is great and definitely deals with some extremely important and timely topics. I think it is something that would teach readers quite a lot about the unfairness in the workforce and how it is good to raise one’s voice for a just cause. However, I have to say I didn’t really get into this story. The writing made it feel jumbled and all over the place. It felt sort of disjointed and I never felt a sense of completion at the end. The characters also fell a bit flat. There is not enough time in a story this short to build these characters and fully develop the storyline given the deep topics it deals with. Overall, it wasn’t my thing, but I do think some reluctant readers may really enjoy it.

2.0 TARDISes

secondincommandSecond in Command by Sandi Van

My Rating: 3/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: February 1st, 2019

Publisher: West 44 Books

Pages: 200 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Leo dreams of becoming an Eagle Scout and, someday, a police officer. He makes sure to always do the right thing and be responsible. With his mom deployed and his dad constantly working, Leo is often left in charge of his two younger siblings. Then Leo’s brother, Jack, gets caught up in a dangerous plot that rocks the community. Can Leo keep his promise to stand by his brother no matter what, or will he stand on the side of justice?

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This is what is considered “hi-lo” fiction—short books that are designed to encourage young, reluctant readers to read more. This one seems like it is aimed for an early middle school to early high school audience, so basically mid-middle grade and early young adult. This novel focuses on how a family is affected when one member is deployed for the army—in this case, it is the main character’s mother. After his mother has left, Leo has to take charge of many household duties, including taking care of his two younger siblings. On top of this, Leo discovers that his brother, Jack, has become tangled up in a dangerous situation while running with the wrong crowd. Leo needs to find a way to hold his family together in the absence of their mother.

I quite enjoyed this story and found it really easy to get into. Van did a very good job building her characters and creating the atmosphere and tone of the narrative in such a short amount of time. I know I sound silly saying this about books in the hi-lo format, but I wish there was more to this story. I want to hear more about these characters’ lives—about how these major changes affect them—and learn more about what it is like to have a parent in the army. Van manages to pack a ton of emotion and heart into this book, which I was impressed by. I really do think this is a book that would entice reluctant readers as well as introduce them to a topic they might not be fully aware of.

3.0 TARDISes

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Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

scarletScarlet by Marissa Meyer

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Lunar Chronicles #2

Date Published: February 5th, 2013

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Pages: 454 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. 

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

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This is a spoiler-free review, but does contain some spoilers for the previous novel, Cinder.

It has taken me an absurdly long time but I have finally continued on with this series. And I am glad I did because it was so wonderful to be back in this world with these characters. I enjoyed Scarlet just as much, if not more than Cinder. This was another incredibly fun and exciting ride with an eclectic and loveable cast of characters. Even though these novels are starting to feel a bit young for me, I still absolutely adore this world and these tales. A fast-paced, heart-pounding ride from beginning to end, Scarlet is a wonderful installment in an already fantastic series.

Scarlet is the second novel in The Lunar Chronicles, a series of four novels, each loosely based on a classic fairytale. In this novel, we pick up exactly where the previous one left off. Cinder is making her escape from prison with a rather unexpected companion, Carswell Thorne. Meanwhile, Scarlet Benoit’s story begins. Her grandmother has suddenly gone missing and she is desperate to find her. However, no one in law enforcement seems to want to help her, so she decides to take matters into her own hands.

When Scarlet meets a street fighter named Wolf, she finds out that he might be the key to finding her grandmother. So, reluctantly—at least at first—she teams up with him to solve the mystery. Along the way, their path crosses with that of Cinder and Thorne—fugitives on the run—which leads to even more mysteries and surprising revelations. This ragtag group of heroes must stay one step ahead of the evil Queen Levana, figure out how to save Prince Kai, and not get caught in the meantime.

I have always been a massive fan of reading all sorts of retellings, particularly fairytale retellings; I have found myself tending to gravitate toward them a lot, especially in recent years. A reimagining of a classic tale is tricky to perfect, and while you do not want an exact copy of the original, you also do not want a retelling straying too far or going wild with strange twists and concepts that detract from the main message. But Marissa Meyer is a genius at this.

This fairy tale retelling is a lot more loosely based on the Little Red Riding Hood tale as opposed to Cinder, which I felt followed the tale of Cinderella a little more closely. While I absolutely adored Cinder and love retellings that stick pretty close to the original, Scarlet ends up being even more exciting and unpredictable. Just like with Cinder, however, I definitely feel that this novel lands perfectly in that area of unique yet still faithful to the original fairytale.

I’ve said before, I do find that it can be difficult to reinterpret a story in a unique yet solid way, and it definitely tends to be either a major hit or a huge miss. The plot that Meyer created for this novel, however, was spot on once again. She skillfully weaves sci-fi elements into this already established and well-known narrative. She builds characters that remind us of those in the old tales but who are distinctive and fit perfectly into her world and the reimagining. Meyer creates a novel that not only pays homage to a timeless tale but also ends up being a very singular story in itself, and it is distinctively her own.

We have some excellent additions to the cast of characters in this series on top of the amazing ones already involved. I really love Scarlet. She is another strong female lead who can hold her own. And her personality is so dynamic. She can be sassy and sarcastic but also tender and caring. She comes across as being a truly beautiful person. I am looking forward to seeing more of her, in particular, her relationships with Cinder and Wolf.

I also understand now why everyone always raves about Thorne—he is the greatest. I am so excited to see more of him in the next few novels, but he is already one of my new favorite characters of all time. And then there’s Wolf. My Wolf (…wait, did I say that out loud?). I am not someone who finds book boyfriends too often, but I think we’ll have to make an exception for Wolf. And I do really love seeing him and Scarlet together. They have a lot of chemistry from the very start—the way they play off each other is done so well. And I’ll admit it, I’m definitely shipping them.

Cinder is still as incredible as ever. She is such a strong heroine—intelligent, brave, unwilling to give up even after all the upheaval she is experiencing. She is facing seemingly impossible odds, but she pushes forward. And at the same time, she is not perfect. We get to see her flaws, her insecurities and anxieties. This adds a great amount of depth to both her story and the entire plot as a whole. She is a beautifully well-rounded character and it is interesting to see how she evolves over the course of these novels.

Once again, I really enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s writing. She has a talent for transforming these tales into something so unique, enchanting, and full of intriguing technology and magic. Her words flow beautifully and make her stories so easy to get sucked into. She has again created some great visuals with her incredibly vivid descriptions and well-developed settings. She further brings the world to life around the reader by making almost palpable emotions and an atmosphere to match. This draws the reader in and allows them to put themselves in every situation the characters are dealing with.

I think I’ve probably made this abundantly clear after all this gushing but I seriously loved this book and this series remains one of my all-time favorites. I loved immersing myself in this world again and getting to explore it even further. I particularly enjoy learning about all the fascinating and unique technology that it is filled with, and we get plenty of that in this novel. The plot is very fast-paced and exciting and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I never wanted to put it down. I cannot wait to move on to the next book, which I have a feeling I will be doing very soon.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker

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zenobiajulyZenobia July by Lisa Bunker

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: May 21st, 2019

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers

Pages: 320 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she’s coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she’s able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was.

When someone anonymously posts hateful memes on her school’s website, Zenobia knows she’s the one with the abilities to solve the mystery, all while wrestling with the challenges of a new school, a new family, and coming to grips with presenting her true gender for the first time. Timely and touching, Zenobia July is, at its heart, a story about finding home.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This was an incredibly enjoyable read. There are so many intriguing aspects of this novel that captivated me right from the start. At its core, this is a story of love, compassion, and finding ones’ place in the world. It is a story that shows the amazing strength a person can have when standing up for what they believe in and doing what is right. All of these themes are made all the more interesting with the element of mystery that is thrown in here. Zenobia July is an all-around uplifting and poignant novel.

In this novel, we follow a young transgender girl named Zenobia July. Zenobia has just moved from Arizona to Maine to live with her aunts. This, coupled with the many recent discoveries she has made about her true self and who she is meant to be, means that she is beginning a new and very unfamiliar life. She is finally starting to open up and discover a supportive group of friends while also getting the chance to live openly as a girl. When offensive and intolerant memes from an anonymous poster begin to appear on her school’s website, Zenobia gets to put her hacking and coding talents to good use in order to solve this mystery and stop the poster.

The characters were a very strong part of this story. Bunker does a great job of fully building each one and presenting them in a realistic and three-dimensional way. She clearly shows how each person and their relationships with each other grow and evolve throughout the course of the narrative. Every character has a unique voice and personality, and seeing how they all blend into each others’ lives is a lot of fun.

Zenobia is an absolutely beautiful person and an extremely strong protagonist. She learns many important lessons about life and, in turn, teaches these same things to the reader. This cast of characters is very diverse, which intensifies the deep and meaningful messages that can be found in this novel. Zenobia and her friends and family are so loveable and a joy to read about.

One of the only issues I ran into while reading this was with the writing itself. I found it to be a bit choppy and, in the beginning, this made it slightly difficult to follow. It took me a while to become fully immersed in the story. However, I think this was mainly a case of me not completely clicking with the author’s writing style. It is very obvious that Bunker is a talented author, and she creates a vivid and engrossing narrative. As I mentioned already, the characters are beautifully and uniquely crafted. She addresses many important and timely topics and does so in a clear and widely accessible way. Every element is woven together seamlessly.

It is always so wonderful to see more LGBTQ+ novels coming into the world, especially in middle-grade literature. This is a story that many people could learn a lot from, especially a younger audience. It makes important and complex topics understandable to any age and spreads a very positive message. It is one of those books that definitely has the potential to have a profound impact on a reader’s life and broaden their view of society and the world itself.

The true meaning of family—that is does not only apply to blood relatives—and the support and love they can give are such powerful things to learn about and we are given a great example of both within these pages. Zenobia’s story displays the importance of being true to yourself no matter what and encourages readers to remember to listen to their heart. Figuring out who you are is a challenging experience—presenting that person to everyone else in your life even more so.  However, remaining strong and sure of yourself will get you over the many hurdles life puts in your path. This novel is a shining example of that very message and is a fantastic addition to the literary world.

4.0 TARDISes

Author Bio:

14153366Lisa Bunker lives in Exeter, New Hampshire. Before taking up writing full time, she had a thirty-year career in public and community radio. In November of 2018, she was elected to represent her town in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. She is married and has two grown children. Her geekeries include chess, piano, gender, storycraft, and language.

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Review: Second Lives by P.D. Cacek

secondlivesSecond Lives by P.D. Cacek

My Rating: 2.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: April 11th, 2019

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

Pages: 256 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: When four patients unexpectedly wake after being declared dead, their families are ecstatic and the word “miracle” begins to be whispered throughout the hospital. But the jubilation is short lived when the patients don’t respond to their names and insist they are different people. It is suggested all four are suffering from fugue states until one of the doctors recognizes a name and verifies that he not only knew the girl but was there when she died in 1992. It soon becomes obvious that the bodies of the four patients are now inhabited by the souls of people long dead.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I had very mixed feelings about Second Lives. I also feel like it is going to be a little on the tricky side to explain as there is a lot of jumping around between various storylines. It is not particularly challenging to follow when reading it by any means. But having such a variety of perspectives has made it hard for me to pin down all of my thoughts about the novel as a whole. This was incredibly different from what I had expected going in. It is a very character driven novel and focuses less on the sort of sci-fi aspects—the explanations for why these unbelievably strange events are occurring. And though I do like when the development of the characters takes the lead, it felt like there was a lot missing from the plot.

In this novel, we follow eight different people’s stories, which technically pares down to four after the first part of the book. To set up the story, we get a brief view of every main character’s background and how they get into the situations they end up in. Four of these characters have died at some point in the past and the other four, in the present, have fallen into comas or are in some way very near death. However, something extraordinary happens when each of these patients suddenly wakes up after they have been declared dead. But what seems like a miracle soon becomes a nightmare for their loved ones when it is determined that the souls of others who have passed away many years before have taken up residence in these four peoples’ bodies.

Of course, this is a very fictional story, so it does seem a bit silly to comment too much on the plausibility of what occurs. To some extent though, having some amount of believability is crucial in order to allow readers to connect with and become immersed in the narrative. For me personally, there is a huge absence of this here. It is not the idea of other’s souls inhabiting the bodies of the recently deceased—that is a completely common and very interesting theme in science fiction. My issue is with both the lack of focus on how these events occur, as well as the way the characters’ loved ones handle their unique situations.

The portrayal of the main characters is, for the most part, the strongest aspect of this novel. Nora was, by far, my favorite of the bunch. I connected with her immediately and her storyline felt the most realistic. Her actions throughout the narrative—particularly the difficult decisions she has to make—were the most understandable. She is the most fleshed out of all the characters and Cacek puts a lot of detail and time into forming her and her life. The main themes dealt with in Nora’s part are actually ones that I tend to avoid due to personal experiences that make it too painful to read about. However, this is one of the very few exceptions I have come across in my life and, though it was still incredibly emotional, I really did like how things were handled.

On the opposite side of this, the other three perspectives are less detailed and go in directions that are pretty unbelievable. I never felt like I could picture these people as clearly—it is hard to get a handle on their personalities and relationships with others. Because of this, I could not connect with any of them particularly well. The choices they make in the end are odd and, honestly, a few are a bit uncomfortable. One huge plus though is that Cacek does a wonderful job of making each person very distinct. Having so many separate perspectives can oftentimes lead to a lack of definition between the various voices and behaviors of the individual characters. She avoids this pitfall very well.

As far as the actual text itself, Cacek’s writing is very good. She is clearly a talented and imaginative writer. I think the biggest issue is that she just took on way too many topics in too short a novel. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to fully address and expand on the most important areas. A lot of problems might have been solved if she had stretched the narrative out a little more. Also, the science fiction aspect of it could have transformed into something clearer and very captivating instead of feeling like a loose end. Despite the issues I had with it though, this was still an interesting read overall, and I would recommend giving it a try.

2.5 TARDISes

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