Review: If You Find This by Matthew Baker

If You Find This If You Find This
by Matthew Baker

ISBN-13: 9-780316-240086
Publication: March 2015 from Little, Brown BYR
Source: netgalley
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Nicholas is a math and music genius with no friends and a huge problem: His father has lost his job, and they’ll have to sell their house, which holds the only memory Nicholas has of his younger brother. Just in time, Nicholas’s senile grandfather arrives, filled with tales of priceless treasure he has hidden somewhere in town – but where?

With the help of misfit classmates, two grandfathers, a ghosthouse, hidden messages, séances, and an uncanny mind for numbers, Nicholas stages a nursing home breakout, tangles with high schoolers in smugglers’ tunnels, and gets swept up in a duel with the biggest bullies in the neighborhood. Will it be enough to find the treasure and save his house?

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If You Find This by Matthew Baker is an intriguing book about a young boy who doesn’t quite fit in and his just-out-of-prison grandfather. Throw in two very unlikely friends, family heirlooms and a dreaded ‘For Sale’ sign (and some old smuggler tunnels) and you have the making of a different sort of adventure book.

Nicholas is the best part of If You Find This. His voice is fantastic. Nicholas is a junior high school student, and a genius. As such, he doesn’t really mesh with the rest of the school crowd. Terrified he’s going to lose his house (most likely, with the For Sale sign present) and the last connection to his brother, Nicholas gets some hope in the form of his grandfather – who’s just been released from prison and is more than a little senile. Wanting to find any means necessary to keep his family from moving, Nicholas latches on to his grandfather’s story about buried family heirlooms. And so starts a story filled with senior home breakouts, a haunted house, and the help of the school thief and school bully.

Right at the beginning of the book, I felt for Nicholas. If he leaves his house, he leaves that connection to his brother. If he believes his grandfather, everything could be fixed. If he doesn’t, he might be throwing away the chance to save his house. Does he believe or doesn’t he? I definitely think his choice is awesome, if nto a little unbelievable at times. Like stealign a boat to sail out to an island of tunnels where high schoolers hang out? Alright. Keeping two missing grandfathers in a haunted house and NO ONE manages to find them? Sure. A boy that gets away with stealing all manner of things, mostly high-top sneakers and reselling them (at school!) and nothing’s done about it? Ok. It’s a book, I’ll suspend disbelief for a good story. And Nicholas is worth the story. He’s brave and kind and a little reckless.

3 heart

As a music lover, I also enjoyed the musical knowledge put into If You Find This. Unlike Nicholas, I didn’t play violin, but it was nice to see band class represented in a middle grade story. However, the musical terms did at times distract me from the story. As Nicholas narrates, he included musical notations like forte, piano, etc. to denote how people are speaking, things are sounding, etc. I eventually started skipping over them and reading the sentences as if these words weren’t there – mostly because, at least in the e-ARC version, they were not formated very well. Unfortunately, I have no copies in a local book store that I could go check to see how it’s formated in the finished published version – I guess I’ll just have to order it to read to my class this year! This book is definitely one that I could see reading out loud to my students. They’d love the mysteryof the missing heirlooms.

e-ARC provided through Netgalley from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

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Review: Half Lives by Sara Grant

Half Lives Half Lives
by Sara Grant

ISBN-13: 9-780316-194938
Publication: July 2013 from Little, Brown BYR
Source: Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Seventeen-year-old Icie’s parents have given her $10,000 in cash, a map of a top-secret bunker, and instructions to get there by any means necessary. They have news of an imminent viral attack and know that the bunker is Icie’s only hope for survival. Along with three other teens, she lives locked away for months, not knowing what’s happening in the outside world or who has survived. But one day, Icie discovers a shocking secret deep in the bunker. Are they safe there after all?

Generations in the future, a mysterious cult worships the very mountain where Icie’s secret bunker was built. They never leave the mountain, they’re ruled by a teenager…and they have surprising ties to Icie.

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Where to start with Half Lives by Sara Grant. I can honestly tell you I had very little idea what to expect from this book, but I was hopeful, and it surpassed any expectation I could, or did, have. I was stunned and crying by the end of the book, and amazed at how Sara Grant managed to blend together two completely separate yet intricately linked story lines.

Icie narrates a good half of the book, telling her story of how she is given cash and supplies and told by her parents to find a mountain outside Las Vegas where an abandoned toxic waste bunker that was never used will hopefully keep her safe from an imminent viral attack. On the way, she encounters a cheerleader, Marissa; a twelve-year-old wanna be rockstar, Tate; and mysterious Chaske. Together in the bunker, with no idea how the outside world is faring from the attack, Icie and the others try to survive. Icie is so much stronger than she thinks. She goes through crazy heartache and horror while trying to keep herself and the others alive, and wait for her Mum and Dad to come find her as they said they would. And while she may be terrified and has no clue what she’s doing, she keeps it together and survives as best she can.

The other half of the book is narrated generations in the future, primarily by Beckett, the teenage leader of a society that lives on the mountain that Icie fled to, but also by a few other characters who help flesh out the action and Beckett’s story. Surviving on the mountain, Beckett’s people fear the terrorists of the outside world, the broken city they call Vega just on the horizon both helping them survive and a source of worry. Beckett is the direct link to their god, the Great I AM, who once walked the mountain and gave the society their Just Sayings, their Facebooks and the hope of one day that Mumanda will come to save them all. The chapters are interspersed with each other and I was always so excited to see something that Icie and the others did become the direct influence of the language and culture of Beckett’s society. By the end of the book I was a mess of tears at all the pain Icie, Beckett, Marissa, Tate and everyone went through, but also because of revelations that Beckett has that nearly broke my heart, and the hope Icie still held. I am just in awe of how the two story lines blended together, and how much I came to care about these characters.

5 heart

Half Lives by Sara Grant is a book about one girl’s journey to save herself in the face of impending disaster, and how choices she makes affect the lives of hundreds throughout the coming generations. It’s about finding strength in yourself to continue on, about making the hard decisions but also the right decisions, about confronting your fears and believing in your faith (whatever it may be). It’s about love, and sacrifice, about realizing what matters in the long run and discovering yourself through hardship. Half Lives is also about the threats we face every day through fear, weapons, secrets and lies. It’s about change and growth and the human need to survive and live. All tinged with an innate humour of how culture and language can change and reflect a caricature of words, phrases and things that what we have today in our society. Guys, I want nothing more than to dive right back in to Half Lives and live it again. I love this book like crazy, and I hope you do too.

ARC provided from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

Boy Nobody Boy Nobody
by Allen Zadoff

ISBN-13: 9-780316-199681
Publication: June 2013 from Little, Brown & Co.
Source: Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 3.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinkgs much about. He shows up in a new high school, in a new town, under a new name, makes a few friends, and doesn’t stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend’s family to die – of “natural causes.”Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, moving on to the next target.

But when he’s assigned to the mayor of New York City, things change. The daughter seems so much like him; the mayor reminds him of his father. And when memories and questions surface, his handlers at The Program are watching. Because somewhere, deep inside Boy Nobody, is somebody: the kid he once was; the teen who wants normal things, like a real home and parents; a young man who wants out. And who just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program’s mission.

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Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff turned out to be something I was not expecting – in a pretty good way. A teen assassin, “Ben” through most of the book, is sent on yet another mission by his handlers at The Program, but this one is different. With a timeline of only five days to get close enough to the mayor of NYC in order to kill him, he has to act fast. But the daughter, Sam, complicates his mission. As well as some unexpected followers, most certainly enemies but who and why? I was unsure through most of the book how I felt about it, but the ending saved my opinion. It went in a direction I was not anticipating at all from the synopsis. It was awesome.

So the book takes place over a very short time period – five or so days – in which Ben, our Boy Nobody, goes through a mini-crisis over his role in The Program and what happened to his life and his parents, and whether he wants to continue or go back to a normal life away from all things killing. Meeting Sam kind of starts pushing him in that direction, enough that he hesitates to complete his mission to kill her father. Ben is very cold and driven, since he’s been conditioned that way, but you get to see glimpses of the boy he must have been before The Program. Lets say that his morals start to shine through a little bit. While he manages to keep mostly on track for his mission (mostly), he does start to go beyond The Program’s back a little bit, firstly and mostly by enlisting the aid of a teen hacker. Ben’s starting to plan a way out, methinks. The action was swift and intense, and I loved the descriptions of NYC, especially places I knew. But even if you’ve never been, it is very descriptive and easy to paint a picture of places and events.

3.5 heart

Most of Boy Nobody is spent with Ben figuring out how to complete his mission, finding out who the people following him are, and quick flashbacks to a past that start to tell us why he may be having second thoughts about his “career choice” (as well as a visit from an…old friend). The book is like a quick snapshot into his life, and while there is a very fast romance start-up (two days?) it went in no direction I ever thought it would. The ending kind of comes out of left field (kind of) and is very awesome in the sense that it fits the feel and tone of the book and I am so glad it happened (but sad). I think anything different would have been disappointing, honestly. Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff is a fairly quick, entertaining book that I think will definitely appeal to mystery and thriller readers, and anyone wanting to step into that genre. I’m interested for the sequel!

ARC received from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: The Originals by Cat Patrick

The Originals The Originals
by Cat Patrick

ISBN-13: 9-780316-219433
Publication: May 2013 from Little, Brown BYR
Source: Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 3 ♥ /5 ♥ – I liked it!
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Seventeen-year-olds Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best grew up as identical triplets…until they discovered a shocking family secret. They’re actually closer than sisters. They’re clones. Hiding from those that could expose them, the Best family appears to consist of a single mother with one daughter named Elizabeth. Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey take turns going to school and attending social engagements, and a group mind-set has always been a de facto part of life.

Then Lizzie meets Sean Kelly, a guy who seems to see into her very soul. As their relationship develops, Lizzie realizes that she’s not a carbon copy of her sisters; she’s an individual with unique dreams and desires. Digging deeper into her background, Lizzie begins to dismantle the delicate balance of an unusual family that only science could have created.

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Elizabeth Best has a fairly normal life – school, cheerleading, night classes at the local college. Except Elizabeth Best is really Lizzie, Betsey and Ella. Three girls, sharing one life. They divide their day into thirds and pretend to be one single girl…not triplets. Not clones. The Originals by Cat Patrick showcases a unique take on the self-discovery genre. Our narrator, Lizzie, isn’t just going through a self-discovery but learning to separate herself from her sisters (clones) and becoming an independent whole. Not just a third.

I really enjoyed the characterization in The Originals. Even with Lizzie being our main focus, there is a strong sense of who Betsey and Ella are as individuals and you manage to feel like you really get to know the characters. Except Sean – Lizzie’s insta-crush, we don’t really know much about him outside of Lizzie likes him, he’s a nice guy, fairly smart and seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He certainly manages to help Lizzie, Betsey and Ella out in a couple sticky situations. The build up in the plot centers around Lizzie (with Betsey helping her along the way, and then Ella comes around in the end) trying to find out just what her mother is hiding from them and working towards regaining separate lives. It’s a slow build, until we finally get to the high point – and then it’s an intense moment of “what just happened?” followed by a quick resolution that takes little time at all and is very conveniently solved. There is a good explanation for what happened, but it was a bit of let down, really.

3 heart

I see The Originals as a contemporary with sci-fi elements, and it works in the end to create an interesting story. Despite my misgivings about how the climax and ending resolved itself, I did quite enjoy reading The Originals by Cat Patrick. Like I mentioned above, it is very much a coming-of-age story with some twists that give it a unique edge. I was hooked from the beginning to Lizzie, Betsey and Ella’s story and was pleased with the eventual outcome of the plot if not completely with the way it arrived there. Worth a read!

ARC provided by Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Darkest Minds The Darkest Minds
by Alexandra Bracken

ISBN-13: 9-781423-157373
Publication: December 2012 from Hyperion
Source: Book Expo America
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it!
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something frightening enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the only safe haven left for kids like her — East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.

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I absolutely loved Alexandra Bracken’s debut novel Brightly Woven and have been eagerly waiting another book from her since reading it. When I found out that her second book would be coming out and in the dystopian/apocalyptic genre, I couldn’t have been more excited! And The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken certainly lived up to my expectations and I devoured it. The main character Ruby has been in a rehabilitation camp for six years, sent there when she was ten years old and exhibited symptoms of Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration disease (IAAN) – and didn’t die. This disease has killed most of the children in the United States, and those that have survived show signs of mental powers, whether telekinesis, heightened intelligence, control over fire or electricity, or the ability to enter the mind of another and assert the wielders will or erase memories. But now Ruby has broken out of Thurmond and is trying to survive in a country that fears her.

Although there’s a prologue that introduces us to the reality of Ruby’s situation in the rehabilitation camp Thurmond, chapter one begins with an intense first line – “Grace Somerfield was the first to die.” (pg. 3, ARC). It really draws you into this interesting and terrifying concept of a United States that is losing its children, and terrified of the survivors. I really enjoyed the different factions that have risen up in the wake of IAAN and the back story is woven into the narrative really well. There are so many aspects of this story that I like, including the characters. Ruby is so complex. She’s a survivor, and strong. She hides in the beginning, but by the end has gained enough to lose that she makes the decision to actively fight against what’s happened to her and the other kids. Ruby’s kind of lost but determined to stay free of Thurmond and the other camps. Liam is steady, strong, capable and so protective. But he can rush into things sometimes. Chubs is the humour. He always has to find the worst possible scenario, but it keeps them cautious. He’s optimistic deep down and while he seems distrustful he has a huge heart.

The romance in The Darkest Minds is quiet and believable, as are the friendships and the trust that builds between the characters. No insta-love, thank goodness. The budding romance between Ruby and Liam is slow and sweet but not without its hardships. As I was reading, I couldn’t help wondering if IAAN is world-wide, and why adults were so quick to turn on their children – especially with the majority of them dieing. You’d think even with the extra powers gained (and the Greens are just really smart! How dangerous can that be?) parents would do anything to protect their kids (and yes, I know it was the government taking most of the kids away from their homes, but there are parents in government). So many people are not what they seem and it’s hard for Ruby and the others to know who to trust and what they should be searching for besides the mysterious Slip Kid – the person who is rumoured can get kids home, or at least messages to their families.

4.5 heart

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page. There are some wonderful action moments, and the whole scene in the Wal-Mart was creepy, intense and haunting. There’s also this ridiculously crazy ending that rips your heart out and the desire for a sequel. Sooner rather than later, please! Alexandra Bracken’s writing is emotional and descriptive, enough to have you mood-swinging like crazy while trying to keep up with Ruby and her insane journey.

ARC received at Book Expo America through an author signing and the publisher. Thank you!

Review: Altered by Jennifer Rush

Altered Altered
by Jennifer Rush

ISBN-13: 9-780316-197083
Publication: January 2013 from Little, Brown BYR
Source: Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 4 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Everything about Anna’s life is a secret. Her father works for the Branch at the helm of its latest project: monitoring and administering treatments to the four genetically altered boys in the lab below their farmhouse. There’s Nick, Cas, Trev . . . and Sam, who’s stolen Anna’s heart. When the Branch decides it’s time to take the boys, Sam stages an escape, killing the agents sent to retrieve them.

Anna is torn between following Sam or staying behind in the safety of her everyday life. But her father pushes her to flee, making Sam promise to keep her away from the Branch, at all costs. There’s just one problem. Sam and the boys don’t remember anything before living in the lab—not even their true identities.

Now on the run, Anna soon discovers that she and Sam are connected in more ways than either of them expected. And if they’re both going to survive, they must piece together the clues of their past before the Branch catches up to them and steals it all away.

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I don’t think I could be anymore intrigued than when I started reading Altered by Jennifer Rush and immediately encountered four boys in cells in the basement of main character Anna’s farmhouse. What a way to make you want to read the book!

The story starts right off into the mystery and action. Anna works down in the basement of her farmhouse with her father…the lab. In the lab are four boys locked in cells. Anna and her father are constantly testing the boys who have been genetically altered and are victims of amnesia. But for what purpose does the Branch – those who altered them – want the boys? The reader is quickly swept up into the action when two head honchos from the Branch come to visit and our boys – Sam, Nick, Cas and Trev – manage to pull a Houdini and escape. Taking Anna with them and killing not a few people in the process. And then we’re in for one wild ride through a couple States, following clues inked and scarred into the boys skin and hidden in different locations, trying to figure out why they were altered, why they have no memories and what they are wanted for.

I really enjoyed going on this chase with Anna and the boys. Anna is incredibly capable, kind hearted, very practical, scientific, can kick butt and is more involved than she could have ever guessed. Even the boys, though they don’t get as much page time as Anna (well, Sam gets quite a bit of time) are nicely fleshed out. Sam is the leader of their group. Tough, smart, kind but not without his major issues. You know he’s the important one in all of this, and somehow tied to Anna. Nick is a bit of a dick when it comes to interacting with Anna, but he’s loyal to the group and a good fighter. Very smart and capable. Trev and Cas a the ones we see the least of, but still get to know their personalities. Cas is the funny one, always cracking jokes and thinking of his stomach. Trev is quiet, and Anna’s closest friend of the four.

4 heart

There is a lot of the unknown in Altered. It is very much a mystery book and all the little pieces wrap together to form a picture of what the Branch wants with the boys and Anna, who they were before the amnesia and living in Anna’s basement, and what the mysterious Alpha Program is. There is a veritable truck load of action and suspense present in the storyline, and a crazy rescue scene at the end that was right out of an action movie.

Altered by Jennifer Rush is a unique debut with a fun premise. Though some parts were a bit rushed with all the action, there is a great mystery to solve and some very interesting clues and reveals. I enjoyed the characterization and storyline, and would love to read a sequel sooner rather than later!

e-ARC provided by Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab

The Archived The Archived
by Victoria Schwab

ISBN-13: 9-781423-157311
Publication: January 2013 from Disney-Hyperion
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous – it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now that her little brother is gone too, Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

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The Archived by Victoria Schwab was everything I was expecting, and more. I love the idea of a library of the dead, where all your memories and emotions and stuff that makes you you lives on in receptacle that looks like you.

However, sometimes these copies wake up and escape the Archive. They find themselves in the Narrows, an odd corridor like place that exists between the Archive and the waking world. Mac is what’s called a Keeper. Keepers police the Narrows and return escaped Histories (the walking embodiment of all you were in life) back to the Archive before they get through to the real world. Mac’s job was fairly quiet and normal until moving into the Coronado apartment complex. Suddenly Histories are waking quicker than ever and chaos is descending in the Archive. Thankfully Mac gets some help!

Mac is such a well-written character. She’s strong, sad, a little lonely, so very capable and incredibly fierce. I empathize with her so well in the area of losing her brother. I think if I knew my little brother was in a place I could still see him, I would never leave. I think it’s a testament to Mac’s strength that she can mostly resist the temptation. Wes, the help that appears just when Mac needs it most, is completely awesome. He’s laid back, kind, unique, helpful, playful and best of all he just wants to help Mac and be with her. No hidden agenda, no bad boy shenanigans – just a nice guy who can share in an area of Mac’s life that she cannot tell anyone about. And hey, two Keepers must be better than one! Even though she doesn’t get a lot of screen time, Mac’s best friend Lindsey is wonderful as well. I really liked reading about a friendship that lasts past one of the two moving away.

The mystery as to why so many Histories are suddenly waking up is handled very well, with Mac acting the part of detective and trying to figure it all out. There are people you know are involved but not sure how (Owen!), and at points you suspect everyone. No one is innocent until Mac proves them so. The action is faced paced, there’s a scene that nearly broke my heart, and the final reveal on everything is just wow. So good. Mac has a few moments of being stupid, but you can’t really blame her, what with everything that has been going on since she moved into the Coronado. She overcomes those moments quickly and more than makes up for them. Another aspect of the novel that I really enjoyed were the flashbacks to when Mac was learning about the Archive and becoming a Keeper. They slipped seamlessly into the narrative and helped flesh out the backstory AND the present goings-on.

5 heart

The Archived by Victoria Schwab is one of those books that catches your interest, pulls you in and then just doesn’t let you go. I was completely invested in these characters and this world – I was along for the ride and more than happy to see it through to the end. Victoria Schwab’s writing has a way of really capturing atmosphere and emotions to the point that this book is your new best friend for those all too brief moments you live within its pages.

ARC provided by Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!