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: Survive the Night by Danielle Vega

Survive the Night Survive the Night
by Danielle Vega

ISBN-13: 9-781595-147240
Publication: July 7, 2015 from Razorbill
Source: publisher
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

We’re all gonna die down here…

Julie lies dead and disemboweled in a dank, black subway tunnel, red-eyed rats nibbling at her fingers. Her friends think she’s just off with some guy – no one could hear her getting torn apart over the sound of pulsing music.

In a tunnel nearby, Casey regrets coming to Survive the Night, the all-night underground rave in the New York City subway. Her best friend Shana talked her into it, even though Casey just got out of rehab. Alone and lost in the dark, creepy tunnels, Casey doesn’t think Survive the Night could get any worse…

…until she comes across Julie’s body, and the party turns deadly.

Desperate for help, Casey and her friends find themselves running through the putrid subway system, searching for a way out. But every manhole is sealed shut, and every noise echoes eerily in the dark, reminding them they’re not alone.

They’re being hunted.

Trapped underground with someone – or something – out to get them, Casey can’t help but listen to her friend’s terrified refrain: “We’re all gonna die down here…”

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Survive the Night by Danielle Vega is not my usual type of read, but I enjoyed it and finished it in one evening. Thankfully I was relaxing in bright, warm sunshine or else I think I might have gotten a little scared because I’m a chicken when it comes to anything horror related.

So Casey. Our main character. Talk about an unreliable narrator! Casey has just gotten out of rehab for drug addiction. She’s attending a sleepover at a, shall we say, former friends house when our other main characters show up – Shana, Julie and Aya. Right away the adult in me wanted to shake Casey and tell her to go back to Madison’s house, talk about soccer, boys and school and leave Shana way, way behind! Julie and Aya are tamer versions of Shana. High and drunk, yes, but they don’t seem as death-defying reckless as the girl you know is the reason Casey was in rehab. So anyway, the girls head to NYC, hook up with Casey’s ex Sam and his bandmate Woody and head out to find an underground rave called Survive the Night. Let the surviving begin!

I highly enjoyed the atmosphere of this book. Danielle Vega does a wonderful job of portraying dark, dank, tense, and scary. The longer Casey is at survive the night, the more suspensful and unsure it gets. At the beginning, when Julie disappears, you aren’t sure what to think. You discover that Casey is high, and it could all be a hallucination. It still could be! Yes, things go bad, fast. But is it really the something Casey believes it was? Aya’s repetition of “We’re all going to die” lends a chilling fear to the desperate race through the underground tunnels. My only disbeliefs for this book? Besides the something, of course, but monsters are cool – is that their way out was blocked so quickly considering all the ravers are escorted out of the tunnels while Casey and friends watch and are not that far away, that none of them yelled through the grate to have themselves be found, and that their cellphones had no reception but lasted as long as they did as flashlights. I know by 4 in the morning without any charging my phone would have been looooooong dead. Also, the romance. Or what there was of it. Last thing I would think of when running for my life is if my ex-bf wanted to get back with me.

3 heart

That said, the characterization, backstory, foreshadowing and uncertain ending all keep Survive the Night being a strong, nail-biting rush of a novel. Casey and Shana are the ultimate unhealthy relationship. From the beginning you want Casey to smarten up and as more and more of their past is revealed you can only shake your head and pray that any children you have in the future avoid getting tangled up with someone like Shana. And Casey knows it’s unhealthy, but drugs and that rush of adventure can change you. I will definitely be checking out Danielle Vega’s other book The Merciless and recommend Survive the Night to anyone looking for a little creepy in their life.

ARC received from Penguin Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

Unbreakable Unbreakable
by Kami Garcia

ISBN-13: 9-780316-210171
Publication: October 2013 from Little, Brown BYR
Source: BEA author signing
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

I never believed in ghosts. Until one tried to kill me.

When Kennedy Waters finds her mother dead, her world begins to unravel. She doesn’t know that paranormal forces in a much darker world are the ones pulling the strings. Not until identical twins Jared and Lukas Lockhart break into Kennedy’s room and destroy a dangerous spirit send to kill her. The brothers reveal that her mother was part of an ancient secret society responsible for protecting the world from a vengeful demon – a society whose five members were all murdered on the same night.

Now Kennedy has to take her mother’s place in the Legion if she wants to uncover the truth and stay alive. Along with new Legion members Priest and Alara, the teens race to find the only weapon that might be able to destroy the demon – battling the deadly spirits he controls every step of the way.

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Unbreakable by Kami Garcia is a creepy, intense ride full of demons, ghosts, kidnappings and fear. There were some amazing moments in this book that had me worried our characters might not make it.

Kennedy’s decent into the supernatural begins after her mother has been killed in their home. Thinking it was natural causes, Kennedy soon learns the difference when twin brothers Jared and Lukas break into her home one night and save her from having her breath stolen by her ghost-possessed cat. She goes on the run with them and two other teens, Priest and Alara, after being told about the Legion and how she is a part of it and must help save the world from the demon Andras. Kennedy is pretty tough. She doesn’t think she belongs and that the brothers are wrong about her being part of the Legion, and she accidentally makes some blunders but she steps up to help when needed and doesn’t back down.

I enjoyed the backstory of Andras and how the Legion came to be formed, and the scenes with the ghosts (all of them, from the creepy well to the terrifying prison) are wonderfully suspenseful and heart-stopping. Unbreakable is one of those books where things may not be what they seem, and characters have to trust their instincts and hope they’re not screwing things up. There is a bit of a romantic sub-plot going on with Kennedy and the brothers, but it doesn’t distract from the action or overall plot of Kennedy and the others trying to find a weapon that will put away Andras for good. The ending tied up book one and set up book two very nicely.

3 heart

Honestly, I think I would have enjoyed Unbreakable a bit more if so many aspects of the brothers, ghosts and how they’re killed, the demons and the hunting didn’t remind me of Supernatural (I know these things are not unique to Supernatural, but I draw comparisons). If you’ve never seen Supernatural, than Unbreakable by Kami Garcia will be an incredibly refreshing look at the paranormal genre – it does deliver some awesome action and interesting characters. However, if you have seen Supernatural, you will probably make the same comparisons I did. But you’ll also understand me when I say that Jared? He has Dean levels of guilt over something he did in the past and is keeping secret from Kennedy. I enjoyed Unbreakable and will definitely be on the lookout for the sequel, since the final scenes threw a wrench in everything we had known up until then and I’m curious to see it all play out.

ARC received at Book Expo America through an author signing at Little, Brown. Thank you!

Review: Membrane by Carol Moreira

Membrane Membrane
by Carol Moreira

ISBN-13: 9-781927-746042
Publication: July 2013 from Fierce Ink Press
Source: publisher
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

You can’t outrun the membrane…

For Tanya turning sixteen sucks. Her former friend Rachel is bullying her, the love of her life doesn’t know she exists and her self-esteem isn’t exactly sky-high. Things go from bad to worse when she gets slimed at a bus stop and finds herself in an alternate universe and faced with another version of herself.

Her alternate universe double is cool and confident, if a bit bossy. P — short for Princess because in Tanya’s eyes she is one — is part of an organization called Resist. Trained in tactical defense, Resist is preparing for an invasion by the Others. But are the Others really mobilizing to take over P’s universe or has there been some kind of galactic miscommunication?

On the other side of the membrane, who can Tanya trust to make it back to her universe alive?

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Membrane by Carol Moreira is a whirlwind of a sci-fi ride through alternate universes and (not-so) alien invasions. Tanya is a fairly normal high school student until she finds herself sucked through the Membrane into an alternate universe where she meets her alternate self. Crazyness ensues!

It’s always fun to read books that take place where you live, since you get to recognize street names, places and events. So like Tanya, when she finds herself through the Membrane into a parallel Nova Scotia, I too was struck by the differences. Tanya has had a rough time of high school and the alternate universe experience doesn’t help her any. Tanya is kind, sensitive, a little anxious and depressed, but has a good head on her shoulders and ultimately really cares for others. She’s a quick thinker and helps get herself, her double (called P for Princess, and boy is she) and others out of sticky situations. P on the other hand, is quite opposite of Tanya. She’s very sure of herself to the point of arrogance at times, and while she can be cruel she is kind at heart.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of the alternate universes (Tanya visits two) and the Membrane that separates them. Tanya finds herself wrapped up in quite the mystery where an invasion may not be an invasion, and another may be going on behind the scenes. There is a wonderful “bad guy” who you can tell has secrets and agendas galore. While Tanya and P come from very close universes, the Others that are invading P’s world are quite different. I could have done without the numerous references to how beautiful they are, but other than that they were fascinating and the source of much of the worry and fear felt by P and Tanya.

3 heart

I’m a huge sci-fi fan, and quite enjoyed Membrane by Carol Moreira. While I found a few parts of the narrative a little jumpy and confusing at times (I’m still not exactly sure who the Fabricists are) the major plot points, resolutions and set up for a sequel (maybe? It’s certainly left open for one!) were all wrapped together rather well by the end of the book. Tanya had some good growth throughout the story, as did P through her interactions with Tanya and some world-shattering truths. Membrane is engaging and unique, and I would be happy to recommend it to young adult sci-fi readers (and not-so young adult ones).

e-copy provided by Fierce Ink Press 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: Earth-Sim by Jade Kerrion [blog tour]

Earth Sim Earth-Sim
by Jade Kerrion

ASIN: B00BA2FPQ6
Publication: February 2013
Source: author
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it

Jem Moran has a reputation to prove and a secret to protect. The prestigious world simulation program seems the answer to both her problems, but only if she can succeed in spite of her partner, Kir Davos, and the uncooperative human beings who populate her planet. From the Great Extinction to the Renaissance, from world wars to intergalactic treaties, Jem’s conflict with Kir will shape Earth’s history, and their opposing management styles will either save or doom our planet. Either way, you finally have someone to blame for the shape our world is in.

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Earth-Sim by Jade Kerrion is a short book with grand ideas. This review is most likely going to be all over the place, because my feelings for the book are all over the place! We’ll start by saying I generally quite enjoyed the majority of Earth-Sim – the concept is fantastic and the writing engaging. But I almost felt like I was reading an excerpt from a much larger book!

The story starts fairly abruptly, with Jem settling in to her first day of SIM-709 – a university graduate class in which she is one of only two undergraduates. The other, Kir, becomes her partner for the simulation. The class, as we learn, is to use skills in all fields to create and maintain a functioning planet and society. Only this simulation deals with real people and planets (which is very cool and has great potential). I can’t help but wonder, though, if Jem is not only from another galaxy and planet (she is) but also a completely separate universe? Are they creating and maintaining planets just in different galaxies (which means the planets and the people could eventually interact with their own galaxy, planets and people) or is this a universe within a universe type deal? A minor-detail annoyance, but for a reader like myself, one I can’t help but latch on to.

The characterization and interactions are slow and quiet, but it works. Jem’s history is revealed in small pieces throughout the story and she has a completely separate plot line surrounding her – not just the one of her and Kir playing God to their sim-planet. I found her boyfriend Rio to be mostly off-stage in his interactions with Jem and you don’t get much sense of their relationship. Jem’s and Kir’s relationship is nice. It starts off as almost-enemies and evolves into steady friendship and a wish on the reader’s part for more than that (especially since Rio is almost non-existent in the narrative). Kav, Kir’s little brother, is adorable and his interactions with Jem very sweet. Unfortunately, the secondary plot that surrounds Jem isn’t really noticed until halfway through the story and is then both wrapped up and left wide open very quickly. It didn’t feel like there was even a semi-solid conclusion at all – I can only hope there is a sequel planned to deal with said plot.

The actual interactions of Jem and Kir with their sim-planet (Earth, of course) are so good. I really enjoyed reading about the history of the planet from before the dinosaurs to modern day. There are events happen that replicate moments from the Bible, and the religious aspect of the idea of God (or Gods, as Jem and Kir seem to be) influencing the planet in a very direct sort of way is nicely offset by the scientific aspect of evolution and direct manipulation of the planet from an outside source. There are a few pop culture references that jarred me out of the story that I didn’t really expect to see amongst the historical facts, but other than those, the narration of Earth’s influenced history (and how a bit of it ties into Jem’s mysterious history and plot) is very fun and engaging.

3 heart

On the whole, Earth-Sim by Jade Kerrion is a very imaginative and attention grabbing story. A quicker read, I was interested enough to read it in one sitting. Though a bit indifferent to the characters at the beginning, I was more attached by the conclusion of the story. There are some very clever moments wrapped around Earth’s basic history and an intriguing look at religious aspects of that history (and what certain events in the Bible happened because of). So while I did basically like the book, I just wish there had been more! I feel like there was so much more information and potential story that could have been presented to help flesh out what is there.

Review: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff [blog tour]

Paper Valentine Paper Valentine
by Brenna Yovanoff

ISBN-13:9-781595-145994
Publication: January 2013 from Razorbill
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Hannah’s best friend Lillian dies six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can it when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders linked only by a paper valentine? Hannah can hardly begin to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able to move on with her life – and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

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Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff is an interesting ghost story that revolves mainly around character development. Hannah’s best friend Lillian died six months before the beginning of the story and Hannah is being haunted by her ghost. Throw in a few murders and the ghosts of those girls also haunting Hannah, and she is having one crazy summer.

Honestly, for the first hundred pages or so I wasn’t quite sure where this story was going. The beginning of the book mainly revolves around character development and plot setting. We meet Hannah, a high school girl who is understandably a little withdrawn after her best friend Lillian died from anorexia and whose ghost is haunting her. Right away there is news of a murder, but as it is the first and stuff like that happens, Hannah things nothing more of it, really and it becomes almost just a part of the story’s background information. All the pieces for the later section of the book are put into place, though. We discover that Hannah works at her cousin’s photo developing shop where she develops police photos from time to time, we meet Finny – the unlikely love interest, but not really since he’s the bad boy with a heart of gold underneath it all – and we begin to see more of who Hannah is and who Lillian was.

When the second girl is found murdered, is when the story really picks up. Lillian urges Hannah to look into the killings and when Hannah starts seeing and hearing the ghosts of the dead girls, she dives right in to the mystery. Hannah’s been a bit lost, but she’s slowly bouncing back and helping these girls find closure by getting their murdered caught it a big step in that. Finny helps, too. Of course, everyone can be a suspect and I was definitely surprised at who the murderer turns out to be and the reveal process. I think Brenna Yovanoff did a great job in that.

3 heart

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff is an intense murder mystery/ghost story – the seance scene gave me chills. If you love in depth looks at character development, than Paper Valentine would be a great book – Hannah’s character has so many facets and aspects to explore. And while the beginning of the book was a little slow for my tastes, the writing is beautiful and once the murder mystery part of the story began in earnest I was much more hooked. Definitely a book I enjoyed reading!

Hardcover copy provided by Razorbill Canada in exchange for my honest review and tour participation. Thank you!