Caleb and Kit [by Beth Vrabel]

Do you really think trees can be friends?”
“I do.” 

There’s something incredibly powerful about Caleb and Kit, the story of a twelve-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis who meets a young girl in the woods and spends his summer becoming her friend. I think one of the most amazing and beautifully accomplished pieces of this novel is the voice of the main character. The entire story truly does feel as if it’s being told to you by Caleb and you feel quite present in his life for every moment.

I loved Caleb and Kit. All the children in the story were beautifully written, giving readers a sincere look into the lives of not only a child living through a permanent illness but also showing how other kids respond to them. Caleb is a wonderful character beautifully developed throughout the course of the novel. He feels real and never once did I find myself questioning him in his actions or struggles. I adored Kit not only in the ways we met her but also in her diligent and determined response to her own difficulties in life.

The book had a very Bridge to Terabithia feel to it at times, and there were certainly moments when one genuinely did feel as though they were reading an incredibly similar book–but the characters themselves are incredibly different in ways that make it so two children meeting by a river in the forest is really the only true comparison.

Admittedly I struggled a bit in my reading of the father, for at times it did seem to me as though certain responses and how rude he was to his son were unrealistic, but it is a minor complaint amongst a plethora of praise.

I was thoroughly impressed with Vrabel’s work, a novel that comes from a place close to the heart for her as she mentions in the acknowledgements. Mixing innocence with maturity, it is emotional and raw…and it is real.

*Wonderful story.
*Adorable cover.
*Reminded me at times of Bridge to Terabithia.
*A+
*Emotional.
*Would recommend.
*5/5

I was provided this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Hoot [by Carl Hiaasen]

It’s always interesting to read a book after having already seen the movie. No matter what, you always find yourself wondering which one was done best. When it comes to Hoot, I find that I’m honestly in a place where I don’t quite know which one impressed me most. It was several years after I first saw the movie (which I adored) before I actually got my hands on a copy of this book.

In a way, I’ve gotten rather good at determining why something might have been cut out of the movie adaptation–whether I agree with it or not–and there were many things I noticed in this book that had not made it into the movie that just made sense. This is rare for me, especially when I notice things I desperately wanted to see in the film that just didn’t make the cut.

All in all, it was a pretty good book. I truly don’t have many complaints. As I grew closer and closer to the end, I found myself feeling as though I just wasn’t getting there fast enough. At this point in time, I am unsure whether that’s because I decided to watch the movie and read the book together and that led me to compare the fast pace of the movie to the slowness the book expressed due to the extra scenes which did not make it into the film or if it is simply because the book dragged a bit.

I will say, however, that I was sorely disappointed with Mullet Fingers’ true name. Here I agree wholeheartedly with the decision the filmmakers made in leaving him with just his nickname. The name he was given was incredibly disappointing and I personally don’t think it fit him well at all. It took something away from the book that I found myself missing quite a bit. I rather enjoyed the filmmaker’s decision never to really give him a real name and it felt incredibly anticlimactic to learn it in the book.

*Worth reading.
*4/5

Aurelia [by Anne Osterlund]

As far as I’m concerned, this book could have been brilliant. After my initial introduction to Anne Osterlund’s brilliant writing abilities with the publication of her novel, Academy 7, I was rather eager to read her other, earlier novels. Unfortunately, I found that Aurelia fell incredibly short of the impressive quality I found in Osterlund’s other book.

The main characters Aurelia and Robert came off as incredibly awkward. Their romance was somewhat difficult to get on board with, perhaps led on by the slight degree of cliche and the dryness I found particularly in Robert’s character.

There was great potential to be found in the storyline, and in fact the only thing that saved this rating from a one or two star for me was the identity of the person attempting to assassinate Aurelia. It was incredibly unique and one I did not see coming in the slightest. I was grateful for the plot twist there and enjoyed it immensely, especially considering the way the novel ended.

However, here is additionally where the novel again fell short. Considering certain evidence, it baffles me how the King himself (not to mention his advisors) was unable to see the connection. I grew weary of certain aspects behind then investigation and Aurelia annoyed me at times. Ultimately, I found that I did not love the book enough to even consider taking a look at either of the sequels.

With such oblivious characters, unfortunate instances of forced and unbelievable personalities, as well as a decided lack of interaction between rather important characters, I find myself extremely disappointed. The novel focused more on Robert regarding his paltry investigation and his feelings for Aurelia than the actual plot and added to his splotchy personality it is ultimately what killed my interest in the end.

I will admit, I did go into reading this with high expectations garnered by my love of Osterlund’s Academy 7, but I still feel cheated of what could have been a very good novel and simply wasn’t.

*It was okay.
*High expectations, low enjoyment.
*3/5

Tell Me Three Things [by Julie Buxbaum]

Ugh. So many good things. So many bad things. **Spoiler Alert**

The most important thing I have to say currently is that when an author, in an attempt to make a character appealing ultimately makes the first impression of him jerk-ish and gross/dirty unless they very explicitly find a way to combat those aspects of our first introduction to him, he is not a viable love interest.

I’m sorry, but the wearing the same shirt every day implies a lack of hygiene. And while I understand that it was supposed to hold this super important meaning and make us feel for him, we learned this meaning far too late in the book for it to remove the question of whether or not he ever washed his clothes. Trust me, a small comment where the MC wonders if he has someone to wash his shirt for him so he can wear the same item of clothing every damn day of the year isn’t enough to wash the UGH and EW out of my mind.

I feel as though our first impression of Ethan destroyed the entire book for me. Buxbaum had great writing at times, though admittedly wasn’t perfect by any means, and some pretty wonderful quotes and moments of characterization. In fact, I really loved her characters for the most part. But the paltry ending she gave us and Ethan’s terrible introduction creates something so subpar that I cannot help being extremely disappointed with this novel.

To give the author credit where credit is due, Tell Me Three Things is rather impressive for a debut. Then again, I’ve seen debut novels that are much, much better.

*So much potential.
*Disastrous ending.
*Horrible love interest.
*Promising author–I hope to see better in the future.
*3/5

Windrunner’s Daughter [by Bryony Pearce]

Bryony Pearce’s Windrunner’s Daughter was amazing.

That is, it was amazing right up until the final two chapters. You know that feeling you get when you finally, after months of reading mediocre novels with just okay plots and less than ideal characters, find a book that feeds your thirst for a story that makes you feel something? That’s what Windrunner’s Daughter did for me.

I was engrossed, utterly enmeshed into the tale of a young girl called Wren who breaks the sacred laws set down by her people that forbid women from being a Runner–the messengers and traders of the various colonies living on Mars after the earth has died–in order to save her mother who is dying of a plague. From the strength of Wren’s character, to the fascinating personality of the bully turned friend who follows her in her journey, I simply could not get enough.

The world Pearce builds in her novel is as much enticing as it is developed. I really felt a connection to the characters, as if I could feel myself understanding what it would be like to live in such a place. I loved the villains found not only in dangerous creatures, but also in illness and people driven by fear. Up until the final two chapters, my only disappointment was that I felt I did not know the brothers well enough to have a strong emotional connection to them and had it been the only complaint, I would have easily rated Windrunner’s Daughter as a must read.

Unfortunately, for me, the ending fell flat. Not only did it feel rushed, but it felt out of character. The father figure we do not meet until the end was developed in absence and truly did make a wonderfully grand entrance into the plot, the father-daughter moment that followed felt forced. The character of Raw–whom I found myself adoring more and more as I progressed–fell apart in the final pages. Admittedly, I should have seen this coming as there were various instances earlier on that alluded to inconsistencies in his personality and it all came down to an extremely misplaced confidence that simply didn’t make sense for him to have.

All in all, I loved this book. But it needs a rewritten ending with some minor changes to character interactions that felt incredibly out of character. I wouldn’t necessarily call for a different ending, but rather one that was less rushed and changed the dialogue; (**Potential Spoiler**) Raw should have been the one who felt self-conscious and doubtful, not Wren.

*Loved it.
*Needs a rewritten ending.
*Ending felt like a first draft.
*Wonderful world.
*Incredible characters.
*Wish I’d gotten to know the brothers more.
*Would recommend. 
*Futuristic, sci-fi (sort of – if you’re looking specifically for sci-fi focused on technology this probably isn’t your thing). 
*Readers of Distopian novels would probably enjoy this.
*4/5

I was provided this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Me, Myself, and Lies for Young Women (What to Say When You Talk to Yourself) [by Jennifer Rothschild]

I’m going to admit to a fault of mine here. The second the word “God” comes up in a book and it is not meant in irony or fiction, I get immediately turned off to whatever I’m reading. I’m a bit bitter about religion. It bothers me and I feel like there’s an incredible level of stupid that comes with believing in a higher power. Now, don’t get me wrong–I grew up in a Christian household, I respect a person’s need to believe in something bigger than them so they can make peace with the horrible things that go on in this world and whatever afterlife brings. That, however, does not change my mind about religion nor does it detract from how idiotic I believe it is.

Now, this is on me. I fully recognize this as a brick wall fault of my own. And while I was genuinely excited to read this book as it certainly shouts that it’s sending powerful messages to young women from the title alone, the second I read the word God I had to put the book down because it genuinely distressed me that a book which is meant to empower and help young women has, on the first page, started what I consider a disturbing attempt at influence. “Your soul is also what connects you to God.” I cringe.

If it weren’t for the fact that I was provided this book as an ARC and I prefer to give complete and informed reviews, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to finish it.

And the problem with that is this book genuinely has good intentions, a good message for young women everywhere. But every inclusion of God and “God’s gifts” and being “God’s creation” was exclusionary. Instead of writing a book that could genuinely provide an important and wonderful message to young girl’s everywhere, the author chooses to isolate every single young woman who does not believe in God. Is it really too much to ask that we leave God out of it?

And then, not only does the author give us far too much God in her book, but she even shames people for not “talking to God” in the morning and checking Instagram instead. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? What a young girl feels good about doing with her free time in the morning is not something that is up for others to judge. In fact, that sort of very judgmental thinking is part of the reason young women–and really, everyone alive today–face so many struggles with appreciating themselves.

Additionally, I absolutely cannot and will not look at the idea of “pleasing God” as someone’s goal ever being something anyone should do. This bit of advice honestly made me nauseous and in my opinion is just about one of the worst things anyone could ever tell an impressionable mind.

As for the writing, it’s alright. One of my first thoughts as I read this  book was holy exclamation points; she uses an awful lot of them. She asks a lot of questions of the reader, and then goes on to make assumptions that may or may not be true. She also assumes that making these changes to improve one’s self concept will be easy, which I struggled with. Getting out of negative thinking is a process, a hard one. And it takes years. Being peppy and sunshiney doesn’t always solve a person’s issues. And sometimes it just irritates them.

It was a good idea, a good attempt even–but it falls under the problematic category of self-esteem building which has been scientifically proven to be problematic. The author of this is, unfortunately, rather uneducated on the subject she’s writing about, pulling solely from her own experiences which is not enough when it comes to something like this. Ultimately what self-esteem building does to people is influence their narcissistic side. It doesn’t always, of course, but often times it doesn’t actually improve things for a person. I particularly found it problematic when she suggested one replace the label of dumb with intelligent.

Labels as a whole are disastrous and in my childhood I often fell prey to this idea of being intelligent so that when I failed at something it was the most disastrous moment of my entire life. I spiraled into a deep depression in my Junior year of High School and never fully recovered from it. Currently, I study Psychology and in my studies I’ve learned quite a lot about self-esteem building and labels. What one comes to realize after extensive experience in this particular subject is that changing the label that we call ourselves doesn’t give us the ability to improve our lives. What we need for that is praise to one’s effort, not simply putting the expectation of success all the time on their shoulders just by using a positive label.

“Once you’ve attached a negative label to yourself, it’s pretty hard to shake off.” I’m going to agree with the author here; this is true. But what she fails to realize is that once a person attaches any label to themselves it’s hard to shake off. And while considering yourself intelligent can seem like a positive label, what she fails to realize is that when, inevitably, a person is human and does something that they or others or both may consider unintelligent it creates an existential crisis for that person. It can make them question who they are and cause quite a bit of damage.

Overall, I just couldn’t get on board with this book. I believe it had good intentions, but it was chalk full of problematic ideas and somewhat ridiculous comparisons that really added nothing to the message it was trying to send. I give the author credit for trying and the good she wanted to do with this book…but I would not recommend it for anyone to read.

*Problematic at points.
*Good intentions.
*I struggled to read this.
*Only for those who believe in God.
*Exclusionary.
*1.5/5

The Idea of You [by Amanda Prowse]

At first glance, Amanda  Prowse’s The Idea of You appears to be a tale of overcoming struggle. In a way, Prowse keeps this theme strong throughout the course of her novel. Faced with an emotionally devastating hardship on numerous occasions, Lucy Carpenter learns to deal with the misfortunes in her life, developing in herself immense tenacity throughout the course of the book. Prowse’s novel is one of overcoming struggle, finding strength, and seeing the good in life that outshines the bad.

Struggles such as the one that Lucy Carpenter faces in the beginning of the novel often leave one emotionally distraught, and I found myself intrigued (albeit terrified) by the situation and how the characters handled it. While the book began slowly, I was genuinely feeling for the characters by the time things picked up. And then Lucy’s stepdaughter comes to visit.

From this point forward Prowse’s writing took a downturn for me. I began to hate both the main character and her husband (Jonah), while harboring only neutral feelings for the stepdaughter Camille. The novel took a rather predictable turn at the height of Lucy’s dismay, leaving me feeling rather underwhelmed.

I’ve said it before, and it pains me each time I have to repeat it; if your character is not well liked, your story is going to fail unless by some miracle the plot and prose are utterly exceptional.

Not only was Jonah incredibly unrealistic–I grew more and more weary of him with each page I turned–but his personality might have been saved had his dialogue been better written. I couldn’t quite get on board with the degree to which he seemed fake to me and every time he opened his mouth it just got worse.

Lucy, the main character, was likable at first but very quickly grew annoyingly irritating. She was constantly whining about something, always appearing naggy or jealous, and just would not stop with the ‘woe-is-me’ attitude. Now, considering the nature of the novel this was acceptable when it came to her biggest struggle, but incredibly frustrating to read over and over again with each different issue that cropped up.

On a separate note, I simply could not stand the repeated phrases of ‘my little girl,’ ‘I want our baby,’ and ‘my Lucy.’ After the first six times the phrases were used I began to cringe with each new repeat.

As for the twist to the story, I will admit that I did not see it coming and while I do admire that about this book, the direction in which Prowse took the plot was not one I cared for. What began as a book about the difficulties of miscarriage became something else entirely and in the end this is what ruined everything for me.

Overall the book was decent, but it just didn’t do it for me. While I respect and appreciate the idea and the emotion the book at times was able to portray, I am sure someone else somewhere has done a better job. My suggestion, honestly, to anyone interested in reading this book is to simply read the first half and stop at the predictable moment involving Camille. Aside from some minor complaints, the first half of the book is interesting and moving. Everything else the reader can fill in for themselves.

*Annoying MC.
*Unrealistic characters/dialogue.
*Plot twist caught me by surprise, but took away from the novel.
*Potential to be liked by others. 
*Won’t read again.
*2/5

I was provided this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Gathering Frost [by Kaitlyn Davis]

The fascinating story of two worlds coming together, Gathering Frost introduces a world full of characters under the curse of a Queen that results in the complete and total loss of their emotions and the rebels from our world who continue to fight for the restoration of the freedom and emotions of those under the Queen’s curse. 

I really wanted to like this book. The synopsis left me intrigued and I was genuinely excited to read it. Unfortunately, the execution of the novel itself was not as good as I had hoped for. The beginning of Davis’ book left me desperate for more, and the plot itself was new and exciting. Where Davis falls short, however, is with her characters and the various plot holes that exist in the story she tries to tell. 

This is the sort of book that starts off really well, and slowly just falls apart until it ends. I found it incredibly cheesy, particularly in the very last two chapters. I was horribly unimpressed with the ending and the rather unfortunate choice of cliffhanger leading to the sequel. 

The main character I liked. She was well developed and interesting. However, at times the author alludes to emotions in her supposedly emotionless character, even going so far as to introduce these themes far too quickly. For a character who has had all her emotions taken away, Jade seems to have far too many of them and incredibly early on. Had the author’s intent been to imply that the emotionless characters never truly lost all their emotions, but rather had them repressed I feel as though I would have seen this as less of an issue. And halfway through the book she became irritating.

The character of Maddy and her role in the novel annoyed me as well, considering the way in which she was introduced in relation to her personality in particular. It seems rather idiotic and unlikely to me that the person to escort the brilliant fighter who is now prisoner to the baths would be a young, somewhat timid girl with absolutely no fighting experience. In this, I will say I was extremely unimpressed with Davis’ choice. 

Interestingly enough, the cursed Queen was a character I found fascinating as well. That is, she was an enigma I was curious about until paltry aspects of her personality were revealed in the last couple of chapters. Additionally, the Prince was unrealistic and annoying throughout the vast majority of the book. I was genuinely at a point where I believed I could not have disliked him more, and then Davis inserted her cliffhanger intending to connect this fairytale retelling to another. 

I think Davis had potential with this book. And I will not go so far as to say it is terrible, as I do believe this is the sort of book may will (and have) enjoyed. It just wasn’t for me. 

*Plot holes.
*Points of unrealism.
*Annoying love interest.
*Various mistakes in the novel overall were hard to look past.
*Great idea.
*Would not read again.
*2/5

Top Ten Reads of 2016

Out of the 92 books that found their way into my hands last year, there were a number of books that managed to find a special place in my heart. Here are my top ten reads for the year 2016:

1. Winter by Marissa Meyer    
The amazing finale of the Lunar Chronicles, Meyer’s series of fairytale retellings beginning with Cinderella and ending with Snow White, Winter tells a thoroughly engaging story that will keep readers on their feet through all four books. The depth with which I love Meyer’s characters and storytelling is immeasurable and of anything I would suggest this book series to every single person I’ve ever met.

2. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski    
A beautifully written, captivating love story filled with politics and an intriguing degree of trials to face. This is legitimately one of the best love stories I have read in my entire life, the characters are so amazingly and fascinatingly developed, and the plot itself will leave readers thoroughly impressed. I have nothing but praise for Rutkoski’s impressive narrative works.

3. The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski
The second novel in Rutkoski’s Winner’s trilogy, just as striking and impressive as the first. It leaves readers on the edge of their seats, desperate to find out more. One remains in love with the characters and feels for their plights. Heartbreaking and beautiful, the utter realism and amazing depth in the plot will forever keep this novel at the top of my favorites list.

4. The Winner’s Kiss
The final novel in Rutkoski’s Winner’s triology brings readers both more heartbreak and happiness. Ultimately, I could never have asked for a better ending. The Winner’s Kiss deserves every ounce of praise it receives.

5. Heartless by Marissa Meyer
I have an incredible soft spot for Marissa Meyer’s ever impressive writing. She is brilliant at world building, character development, and plots. I was weary of reading another Alice in Wonderland related book, as I’ve never really been a fan of those, but this went above and beyond my expectations and impressions. Once again I find myself in awe of Meyer and her skills.

6. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
The story of the year, Me Before You broke many hearts long before it even hit theaters. A tale about love and accepting the importance of allowing people what they feel they need rather than forcing them into existences they have determined for themselves is more harmful, Me Before You touches on the harsh subjects of life and death and how much control a person in pain should be allowed over their decisions. I’ve loved Me Before You from the beginning and I have a deep respect for Moyes and her show of deep respect for people’s choices.

7. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
I originally thought this was a Zombie story. Going into it, I expected to be unimpressed. Instead, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the whole book. The characters and the ways in which they connected were incredibly impressive. The story itself was wonderfully told and amazing. I eagerly devoured this book.

8. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
This was an odd story to get into at first. I didn’t know how to feel about it and there were admittedly times where the writing seemed somewhat supurfluious. Those aspects aside, however, Bracken’s novel was one with a brilliant story. I loved her characters, loved her plot, and found a number of quotes I couldn’t help underlining. A further review on this will come as I am re-reading it now with the arrival of its long awaited sequel.

9. You by Caroline Kepnes
Intriguing and dark, Kepnes provides a thoroughly fascinating account of a deeply disturbed man who’d developed an incredibly strong infatuation with a girl he barely knew. This novel truly does give an interesting account of the thoughts of a stalker and my reading of Kepnes very well developed character, I found myself both disgusted and enthralled through the whole thing. It’s definitely a book worth reading.

10. My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares
This book was nothing short of amazing…right up until the end. I loved so much about this book and the story. The characters threw me off a bit at first, but once it got going and the past portions mixed with the present portions a bit more I instantly fell in love. I finished this book in one day, and were it not for the fact that there was and never will be a sequel, I would have put this much higher on my list of loved books. You know those endings that feel like cliffhangers and you just need the rest of the story? This was like that. Only there’s nothing more to the story. And for that, I think, I will always be a little bitter.

http://cauldronsandcupcakes.com/2017/01/07/join-my-2017-book-reading-challenge/

Just something I happened upon earlier today and I think it’s a great idea. I always enjoy encouraging others to read and it warms my heart when I see other people do it.

In honor of this challenge (and reading challenges in general) at the end of the year I will purchase a book under $15 from Barnes and Noble for one person so long as they’re willing to give me their address.