Review: The Final Four by Paul Volponi

the final four by paul volponi

Four players with one thing in common: the will to win

Malcolm wants to get to the NBA ASAP. Roko wants to be the pride of his native Croatia. Crispin wants the girl of his dreams. M.J. just wants a chance.

March Madness is in full swing, and there are only four teams left in the NCAA basketball championship. The heavily favored Michigan Spartans and the underdog Troy Trojans meet in the first game in the semifinals, and it’s there that the fates of Malcolm, Roko, Crispin, and M.J. intertwine. As the last moments tick down on the game clock, you’ll learn how each player went from being a kid who loved to shoot hoops to a powerful force in one of the most important games of the year. Which team will leave the Superdome victorious? In the end it will come down to which players have the most skill, the most drive, and the most heart.

Description taken from Goodreads.

THE FINAL FOUR was a lot of fun, in a way that I didn’t expect. I picked up this book because I loved CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander and SWAGGER by Paul Dertler and wanted another story along those lines. THE FINAL FOUR wasn’t like those books, but it was still great.

It all comes down to the final four, and this story is told in four different point of views from four very different characters. I can’t say I enjoyed every single part of this story, but it told these stories very well. I thought that each individual character was shown in a way that displayed their differences and how they got to the point that they were at. The story is broken up to the point where it’s almost hard to keep up with sometimes, but I still found myself enjoying it a lot. There are very few bad influences to this story even though it talks about college players, and it’s really about four kids trying to leave their past behind and shoot (intended) for a better future.

At times, this story is heartbreaking, and at times it’s heartwarming. There’s some decent trash talk in it and the elements of a fast-paced ball game are in it as well. I can’t say I’m entirely happy with how things ended, but the characters each grew a lot (especially Malcolm) as they really find out what they’re fighting for.

I think that kids who grew up on basketball books will really enjoy this story, and help them to come into the world of YA books. It’s fast paced enough to keep a reader occupied, and not hard to understand even for someone who’s not an avid basketball fan. Not my favorite story, but still very entertaining and a fun read that I would recommend. 3.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 256


ARC Review: Gone Too Far by Natalie D. Richards

gone too far by natalie d. richards

Keeping secrets ruined her life. But the truth might just kill her.

Piper Woods can’t wait for the purgatory of senior year to end. She skirts the fringes of high school like a pro until the morning she finds a notebook with mutilated photographs and a list of student sins. She’s sure the book is too gruesome to be true, until pretty, popular Stella dies after a sex-tape goes viral. Everyone’s sure it’s suicide, but Piper remembers Stella’s name from the book and begins to suspect something much worse.

Drowning in secrets she doesn’t want to keep, Piper’s fears are confirmed when she receives an anonymous text message daring her to make things right. All she needs to do is choose a name, the name of someone who deserves to be punished…

Description taken from Goodreads. I received an advance copy of this book, to be released January 6th, 2015, in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.

Shall we say… Death Note?

Okay, no.. just, no. But GONE TOO FAR can stand on it’s own.

Probably my favorite thing about GONE TOO FAR is the characters in it. When I first opened this book up, I expected it to be at least as good as Six Months Later, but it wasn’t.

It was so much better.

The mystery was the very first thing that I noticed I was enjoying much more than SIX MONTHS LATER (not that SML was bad, it just wasn’t my favorite book. I actually really enjoyed it). The mystery goes by at a fairly fast pace. It isn’t too hard to figure out, but it kept me occupied the entire course of the story. I enjoyed watching every aspect of the book play out, especially when I saw where everything was going.

The fact of the matter is that in the beginning, Piper just wasn’t very likable to me. Sure, there were plenty of strong points about her. She was never so unlikable that I thought about not reading the book the whole way through because of her, just irritating in many ways, especially when faced with the ups and downs as well as consequences of what she brings about in the aftermath of Stella’s death. In fact, Piper is likable in a lot of ways. She’s smart, she knows what her weaknesses/strengths are, she’s realistic and she’s relatable.

But she’s also reckless at times, and dives straight into the idea of revenge without looking at the mysterious texter seriously sideways even once, what her actions could mean for other people. I also didn’t love how she handled the realization that the so-called vigilante had “gone too far”, to bring in the namesake of this book.

Things got way better after Piper realized that she had to do something about the situation at hand, to reverse things and make them better instead of worse. After that point, she came to genuinely think about the assumptions she’d made to get her to that point and help her out of it. Then an awesome character change came into place. The development that happens here, because of the events that have happened and the people around her, Richards highlights her characters at their very best and very worst in a way that shows how nuanced and real GONE TOO FAR is.

I think my greatest disappointment with GONE TOO FAR was that at the end, it struck me that this book could’ve been more. There were a few scenes that were spent on petty drama that I especially wanted to stick out more, to reach farther, to dig deeper into the mystery and the mess Piper got herself into, or get into the emotional weight of certain scenes more.

Overall, I really enjoyed GONE TOO FAR. The observations by Piper are vivid, well-drawn and allowed me into her world. Richards shows the relationships, growing, broken and the way they are in the beginning/end extremely well. They’re not just kind or mean, they’re everything in between. GONE TOO FAR has a complicated villain, a great mystery, an endearing heroine and writing that completely transported me into the middle of it all. I would recommend this book for people who liked DEAR KILLER by Katherine Ewell but wanted more. For people who have read GONE TOO FAR already and wanted more from it, I would recommend LIARS, INC. by Paula Stokes. 3.5 stars.

pg count for the paperback: 304

ARC Review: The Unhappening of Genesis Lee by Shallee McArthur

the unhappening of genesis lee by shallee mcarthur

Seventeen-year-old Genesis Lee has never forgotten anything. As one of the Mementi—a small group of genetically-enhanced humans—Gena remembers everything with the help of her Link bracelets, which preserve memories perfectly. But Links can be stolen, and six people have already lost their lives to a memory thief, including Gena’s best friend.

Anyone could be next. Which is why Gena is less than pleased to meet a strange but charming boy named Kalan who claims that they’ve not only met, but that Gena knows who the thief is.

The problem is, Gena doesn’t remember Kalan, she doesn’t remember seeing the thief, and she doesn’t know why she’s forgetting things— or how much else she might forget. As growing tensions between Mementi and ordinary humans drive the city of Havendale into chaos, Gena and Kalan team up to search for the thief. And as Gena loses more memories, they realize they have to solve the mystery fast.

Because Gena’s life is unhappening around her.

Description taken from Goodreads. I received an advance copy of this book via the publisher from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own. This book will be released on November 18th, 2014.

There were so many things I liked and disliked about this story. Overall, it was very entertaining and I really enjoyed reading this story. There were so many different aspects to it, and much of it was written in a very realistic light. I thought that McArthur portrayed the emotions of the people in this story very well and the way that memory loss could affect people. I also thought that the science behind which McArthur based this book off of as well as how the world got to the point it did in THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE was believable and solid.

However, there were a few things I had issues with, the first being with the main character–Genesis. I like the Asian influence here, but it’s not really present or major in any way other than a little bit in the beginning. Genesis is smart and likable at times, but she’s also extremely naive, shortsighted and has a temper at the worst of times. I had a difficult time liking her and disliking her, because her flaws made her more realistic but she did make some very unfortunate decisions.

As for the writing and plot line, the romance was a little rushed. The two main characters, Kallan and Genesis, meet quickly and have a mutual attraction to each other pretty quickly, but it doesn’t get acted upon for most of the story. It’s nice to see what they have build it, but sometimes it feels like the romance plot line is left alone for a little bit, then come back to, and on and on. Not bad in a major way, but annoying all the same. The plot line is a little slow, especially during the investigation parts, but it does pick up after it becomes slow.

When it comes to writing, one thing I really appreciated was the lingo. This is no BLOOD RED ROAD or SALVAGE. The made-up lingo is extremely easy to pick up on meanings, and it’s used efficiently. The writing is very readable and not hard to understand, and the mystery elements especially pick up really well over the course of the book. I was really unsure about some of the religious elements to this book (Kallan’s dad is a preacher) and I didn’t think it put the best light on religion and Christianity in general.

I think that the characters, villains and heroes were fairly well written here. I thought the motivations were a little extreme or stretched, but I could understand them. The mystery was stretched out a loud which I felt was unnecessary, but it was still fun to see Kallan and the others follow the clues to the end. I didn’t think that any of the characters really grew over the course of the book, but I also appreciated the way that the two rival groups here were able to come over some of their prejudice for each other.

Overall, this book was entertaining and something that I would recommend. It was a lot of fun in the sci-fi and premise parts to it, and I really enjoyed following the mystery. I would’ve liked more action and adventure themes to it, but overall a very worthwhile debut. I’m looking forward to what else McArthur comes out with. 3.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 352

Firecracker by David Iserson

Being Astrid Krieger is absolutely all it’s cracked up to be.

She lives in a rocket ship in the backyard of her parents’ estate.

She was kicked out of the elite Bristol Academy and she’s intent on her own special kind of revenge to whomever betrayed her.

She only loves her grandfather, an incredibly rich politician who makes his money building nuclear warheads.

It’s all good until…

“We think you should go to the public school,” Dad said.
This was just a horrible, mean thing to say. Just hearing the words “public school” out loud made my mouth taste like urine (which, not coincidentally, is exactly how the public school smells).

Will Astrid finally meet her match in the form of public school? Will she find out who betrayed her and got her expelled from Bristol? Is Noah, the sweet and awkward boy she just met, hiding something?

Description taken from Goodreads.

So the first thing you can probably deter from the blurb is that Astrid is a brat. She’s a genuine witch who doesn’t change much throughout the course of the story–which I did feel badly about because I wanted to see her grow more (isn’t that the whole point of stories like these?)–but she’s hilarious, which is the upside to it all and also something I can’t overlook.

There is so much to this story that made me laugh. It’s actually quite frustrating, because I wanted to hate Astrid so much. She’s irritating, mean, selfish and lives the whole book with the mentality that she’s better than everyone else.

new girl gifs cool face sarcasm

And of course she’s rich too.

I'm so rich funny gif

See, the thing is, I figure public and private high school can go one of two ways for anyone, and this mentality applies to most things. It can either suck, or suck less. Things like the scale of how much less suck there is doesn’t really matter. It’s really a matter of perspective. I wasn’t quite sure how things would go for Astrid, because how much high school sucks for her didn’t appear to be a popularity thing or an academic thing or a musical/elective thing. If anything, the humiliation of having to go to public school was the worst. That, and being surrounded by people she can’t control. Oh, the horror.

welcome to the real world gif

If you’re easily offended, this book is not for you. Let me reiterate that, because this book is worth it if you’re going after a good laugh, a fun story and imperfect but real characters.

this book is not for you

All in all, this was an amusing, hilarious story that had decent characters and a decent storyline. I would’ve liked to see a lot more emotion and growth in the characters and an evolution throughout the story, but I did like where Astrid and friends ended up and while I felt like I should’ve hated Astrid, I didn’t. A solid 3.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 336

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

Description taken from Goodreads. 

Another review from the YA Valentines authors! This time, it’s Anne Blankman, author of the historical fiction PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG. You might’ve read my interview with her during my 14 Debuts event. Let’s start out with the main fault to this book though so that the rest of this review will make sense.

This book is a huge info-dump. I think the hardest part about reading historical fiction is the balance between history and fiction, and that’s one thing that’s not done well here. If you’re a history nerd, you will love this book because of the sheer amount of information on every single page. This book revolves around the fact that’s historical, and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s also not a good thing. I will give PRISONER credit for one thing though, the world-building and research is excellently done.

Other than that, there were two main faults attributed with this one ^, and it had to do with the mystery being too drawn out and the plot starting to get repetitive right around the middle.

Now to the good stuff. Besides the whole information overload, I loved how entertaining this was. Gretchen felt real to me and the struggles she went through, the fears she faced and the triumphs she felt were all awesome experiences. I really appreciated her relationship with her father and mother, her brother and especially her “Uncle” Dolf. If you want to read about more relationships like Gretchen’s with the fictional Adolf Hitler, you should read GATED by Amy Christine Parker.

GATED is about a girl named Lyla who lives in a religious cult under a psychotic leader named Pioneer. Pioneer claims her family and the others who live in their community are the chosen, destined to be led by Pioneer who is directed by a higher power (or so he says) into a save haven that will protect them from the end of the world. In both this book and PRISONER, the authors do amazing jobs of showing just how deep these their heroines are, and how much they truly believe in the person who is guiding them the wrong way. This was fascinating for me to see again and I really loved that about the writing of this book. You can read more of my thoughts on Gated in my review.

So many of the characters in PRISONER I truly cared about, or loved to hate. The romance was good. I liked seeing Gretchen’s motivations and just how human she was. The writing was also great. There are many quotable passages and the pacing only got faster and faster, which was a good thing for me.

Overall, I did like this book. I would say 3.5 stars. The heavy scenes were not so incredibly heavy that I couldn’t plow through them, and the quality writing and world building made up for some of the overdose in knowledge. I do hope to see more historical fiction from Anne Blankman, and I would love to see how she grows as a writer from here on out. I will definitely be following up with her books.

pg count for the hardback: 401

Series: Prisoner of Night and Fog

The Paper Sword by Robert Priest: Great Fantasy, Storytelling and Plot — For Fans of the King Arthur Legends and Greek Myths

On the spell-crossed Phaer Isle, teenage Xemion dreams of being a great swordsman. When he finds a blade-shaped stick, he fashions it to look like a real sword. Knowing that the laws of their cruel Pathan conquerors would require a death sentence for possession of such an object, his friend Saheli demands he destroy it. He agrees, but insists on performing just one sword ceremony. When his mastery of the weapon, a skill long forgotten, is witnessed by a mysterious man named Vallaine, the two friends are invited to join a planned rebellion. At first they refuse, but when a sadistic official discovers their transgressions, they are forced to embark on a dangerous journey to the ruins of the ancient city of Ulde, where rebel forces are gathering.

Armed with only their wits and the painted sword, they face Thralls, Triplicants, dragons, rage-wraiths, and a host of other spell-crossed beings. As they approach the Great Kone, source of all spell-craft, Saheli’s fear of magic and Xemion’s attraction to it bind them in a crossed spell of their own â?? one that threatens to separate the two forever.

One thing about this book particularly stuck out to me from the very beginning. The fantasy.

From the world-building to the descriptions to the creatures within this magical world, I absolutely loved every second of learning about it. It definitely heads the more traditional fantasy route, so fans of Greek mythology stories will love this book and all that comes along after it. The storytelling is great as well, really adding onto and building up on the adventure parts to THE PAPER SWORD.

Which leads me to, well, the paper sword.

The paper sword confused me in the beginning. In the first few pages of THE PAPER SWORD, a lot is portrayed both in the sword and in Xemion. While taking care of the sword, Xemion shows off a lot of different sides to himself. His fearless nature, naivety, childishness, patience and care are all shown in the simple acts to finding the sword, getting the sword, making the sword and wanting to keep the sword. In all of that as well,  Priest displayed Saheli and her relationship to Xemion before and after the sword. I felt like these few beginning parts were extremely crucial to the story and in all the roles it played, it did really well. It set the tone for the rest of THE PAPER SWORD, and the rest of it continued the same way. That is, with careful and meaningful narration.

As a fantasy read, I really enjoyed this book and the events that Xemion went through. While the storytelling is that of the Greek myths, Xemion himself seems to me like a King Arthur character and I truly enjoyed his journey of growing up and learning to use the sword. The pacing in THE PAPER SWORD speeds up or slows down accordingly as well. Though some scenes were hard to follow or I felt could’ve been tightened more, overall, 3.5 stars.

pg count for the paperback: 224

Series: Spell Crossed

Whisper by Chris Struyk-Bonn: A Quiet, Slow Read That Will Creep Up On You and Surprise You

Sixteen-year-old Whisper, who has a cleft palate, lives in an encampment with three other young rejects and their caregiver, Nathanael. They are outcasts from a society (in the not-too-distant future) that kills or abandons anyone with a physical or mental disability. Whisper’s mother visits once a year. When she dies, she leaves Whisper a violin, which Nathanael teaches her to play. Whisper’s father comes to claim her, and she becomes his house slave, her disfigurement hidden by a black veil. But when she proves rebellious, she is taken to the city to live with other rejects at a house called Purgatory Palace, where she has to make difficult decisions for herself and for her vulnerable friends.

“I would be strong. I would be more than this place wanted me to be.”

The thing that I most admired about WHISPER was Whisper herself. She’s incredibly different from all other YA heroines I’ve ever come across. As I got through WHISPER I saw that as a good and a bad thing. Even though she’s looked as a monstrosity, she never bows down and her quiet determination is something that was new to me. There was nothing especially loud or boisterous about her, and her desire to deal with the situations she was thrown into was amazing.

I had a few reservations about this book. Not everyone will like it. It’s slow to start and slow to end, the pacing going along at a crawl almost. There’s something that made me keep on going though, and it was well worth it. I love the end of the story, everything coming together at once. I was disappointed with the back story to the world and how it came to be the way that it was. I mean–there are things that say here and there that there was an epidemic where kids were born with birth defects–but kids are born with birth defects now. There are people such as that described in WHISPER now, and there are organizations and people everywhere working to help those people. What happened to the organizations and all the people that care? That didn’t make sense to me, and that was my biggest hold out on WHISPER.

Overall though, I really enjoyed this debut. I think it brought a lot of unique concepts and things to think about to mind, and there were so many heartwarming moments where Whisper triumphed over the injustices done to her. The “bad guys” to this story were well portrayed and pulled off. I love the relationships she makes and the people she meets, the plot connecting each person to each other and showing that there are good people even in the midst of evil. Even though this story had it’s dry patches, I loved reading WHISPER. 3.5 stars.

An ARC copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

pg count for the hardback: 230