Review and G!veaway: On Dublin Street by Samantha Young

Publication Date: August 31st, 2012
Self-published
Format: Kindle Edition
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
Four years ago, Jocelyn Butler left her tragic past behind in the States and started over in Edinburgh. Burying the grief, ignoring her demons, and forging ahead without any real attachments has worked well for her so far but when Joss moves into a fantastic apartment on Dublin Street, her carefully guarded world is shaken to its core by her new roommate’s sexy older brother.

Braden Carmichael is a man who always gets what he wants. And what he wants is Jocelyn in his bed. Knowing how skittish Joss is concerning any kind of relationship, Braden proposes a sexual arrangement that should satisfy the intense attraction between them without it developing into anything ‘more’. An intrigued Jocelyn agrees, completely unprepared for the Scotsman and his single-minded determination to strip the stubborn young woman bare… to the very soul.

I started this book at about nine pm last night and finished it at about two am. I’m running on less than three hours of sleep. But I’m not whining or anything. It’s been awhile since a book has kept me reading until the wee hours of the morning. I’d like to bitch the author out but damn. My boy, B was well worth the eyebags and the zombie-like trance I’m in. 

The Gist: Orphan Joss moved to Scotland to get away from the memories of losing her family and the subsequent destruction she inflicted on herself. And while she thought Scotland was far enough, there was no escaping the panic attacks. When she crosses path with the Carmichaels, she wasn’t prepared for the impact they would have in her life. She grew to love Ellie, the sister of the most obnoxious, infuriating, hot, funny, serial dater she’d ever known. Braden Carmichael challenged her, intrigued her and made her realize all the things she wanted and needed. But she wasn’t ready to give back. When he proposed a sex-only relationship without the hassles of entanglement, Joss didn’t even bat an eyelash and signed on. As the three-month long agreement drew to an end, she realized, she actually wouldn’t mind giving a relationship with Braedan a go. After all, dating him was no hardship and she seems to have the most fun when they’re at each other’s throat…among other things. But when a crisis struck the Carmichaels, Joss found herself facing the reality of why she avoided falling in love and loving another human being. She wasn’t ready to add another person to the list of people she’d loved and lost. So she did the next logical thing. 

This book was heartbreaking, steamy and addicting. It’s one of those that will have you re-reading passages not because they were insightful (though they were smartly written) but because you want to go back and reminisce how you felt while you were reading at that time. Passages like their first meeting, their first kiss, their countless arguments and subsequent make-out make-up sessions, and the first time they had sex (which just about incinerated my Kindle). This is what I would call the TOTAL ROMANCE – the be all and end all of this genre. I’m not kidding and I would not take that brand lightly. I’ve read a lot of romance books but man…this one. This book. It was breathtaking, heartwrenching, and it brought on ugly, fat tears. The kind you don’t want to shed at one in the morning while the entire house snores away in z land. Trust me, I did. I felt stupid and happy and grateful for knowing these characters. I fell in love and they broke my heart but they put it back together again by realizing the errs of their ways. I know I sound like a sap. You don’t have to tell me. You would have to fight hard not to be overwhelmed and in my case, it was futile. I couldn’t not feel anything even if you slather me with novocaine. 

Verdict: This is my intro to Samantha’s writing. She’s published several that I’ve yet to check out. But it only takes one book for me to get addicted to an author’s work. I’ve read so many fantastic reviews of On Dublin Street and to be honest, I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon. I’m so glad I resisted. She’s created such perfectly flawed characters that made for a perfect book. She moved me to tears. She made me laugh. She made me ache for the palpable love between Joss and Braedan and Ellie and Adam. 

Book reviews are meant to sell books but this is one of those instances where you should let the book do the selling. Forget being a technical reader; focus on the story for once and quit looking for all the negative things everybody missed. Try to remember the last time a book has got you so caught-up, taken, and overwrought with a feeling of spontaneous joy and pain. So what if you ended up liking a popular book? So what if Braden was downright pushy? Read this book and find out how for every hero that acted like a jerk lies a clueless man who didn’t know how to handle the uncertainties of loving a person. Read this book and find out how scared and selfish a girl could be when faced with what she thinks is inevitable heartbreak. And finally, read this book because not reading it is denying yourself of something so good and that’s just…cruel. 

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The Infects by Sean Beaudoin [Review and G!veaway]

Publication Date: September 25th, 2012
Candlewick Press
Format: ARC, 369 pages
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
A feast for the brain, this gory and genuinely hilarious take on zombie culture simultaneously skewers, pays tribute to, and elevates the horror genre.
Seventeen-year-old Nero is stuck in the wilderness with a bunch of other juvenile delinquents on an “Inward Trek.” As if that weren’t bad enough, his counselors have turned into flesh-eating maniacs overnight and are now chowing down on his fellow miscreants. As in any classic monster flick worth its salted popcorn, plentiful carnage sends survivors rabbiting into the woods while the mindless horde of “infects” shambles, moans, and drools behind. Of course, these kids have seen zombie movies. They generate “Zombie Rules” almost as quickly as cheeky remarks, but attitude alone can’t keep the biters back. Serving up a cast of irreverent, slightly twisted characters, an unexpected villain, and an ending you won’t see coming, here is a savvy tale that that’s a delight to read — whether you’re a rabid zombie fan or freshly bitten — and an incisive commentary on the evil that lurks within each of us.


So, check it.


This book is far from perfect. There are ambiguities in the story itself that the author chose to leave unexplored for whatever reason he deemed necessary. Even so, I gave this book five stars and I am going to attempt my very best to tell you why. The ratings for this book on Goodreads puzzles me; but for once, I see a role reversal of some sort. Usually, I’d be scratching my head because of a book’s history of high rating in which I disagree. This time, however, I’m on the flip side of the coin. 

The Gist: Troubled teens serving 3-6 months in a reform camp. Genetically enhanced, chemically induced chicken. Zombie apocalypse. Think – Lord of the Flies with zombies killing kids and no (human) kids killing kids. Think – Zombieland but funnier. Think – This is Not a Test without the angst of a suicidal teenager. Makes sense?

The Review: Well, shit. I think I’ve touched my last KFC original recipe fried chicken. Scrap that. I think I’ve touched my last piece of chicken EVER. Sean combined humor and gore in a way that you’d realize you’re not supposed to be laughing at the sad circumstances in which people – both young and old – were dying in the most bloodied, spectacular way. But hey, I’ve never been one for normal reactions anyway.

There is a subtle brilliance in Nick’s wry, more often, sarcastic voice. It was full of mockery and potshots against the society as a whole. If I were an intelligent reviewer or a much deeper reader, I’m sure I can connect the bee hive mentality of the zombies to those of the teens roaming the caf, quad and hallways of their education establishment. But because I’m not, I think I’m gonna go with what I know here and just give you some highlights (in bullet form, no less) why this book DID NOT SUCK.

  •  Nick/Nero. Socially awkward, quiet but bad-ass.  An unassuming hero who only ever wanted what other sixteen year-old boy would: to finally man-up and speak to a girl he’s been jonesing with for a while. To not have to work the night shift at a chicken slaughter house so they won’t get evicted…or to not have to worry about his little sister who prefers the company of a hand-held game and to have her speak normally. Lastly, for The Dude to finally act like The Dad.
  • There is something unequivocally disturbing intelligent about Nick’s outlook on things. I could literally fill this review up with musings and observations that are most often funny, quirky and true. 
  • The build-up to the gore-fest was genius. You’ll more than likely get bored with the first fifty pages of the book because you’d think nothing is happening. But I digress; all the events that lead up to the contagion and its source is like background noise as you read through Nick’s banal, boring, and cumbersome life. Chances are, you’d probably ignore the signs if you’re not paying attention.
  •   Violence, blood, gore, brain matter, exposed intestines, creative ways of killing zombies, seemingly hormonal zombies (see Swann) and even more hormonal boys (humans).
  • The Rock. Yes, the wrestler…”If you smell-el-el-el-elllll what The Rock is cooking…” appearing as the inner voice of reason and kick-assery in Nero’s head. Just imagine how freaking awesome this book would be in FILM. And seriously? As I read through The Rock’s parts, I was imagining the flare of his nose and the waggles of his brows while he more or less called on every single one of Nero’s bullshit.
  •   The opening went like this:
The neighborhood was trashed, funeral pyres in the distance burning against a raw pink sky. Half the street was in rubble, from Thompkins all the way to Main. The high school was gone.

Sounds like a nice set-up for a post-apocalyptic party, eh? Well, it is and it isn’t.

Verdict: Reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead, the Infects is fun as it is gory, funny as it is thought provoking. If you’re a fan of zombies in literature, this offers just enough change (humor) in the long line of books with similar subject matter. It was like watching a dark comedy with zombies in the co-starring role.


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Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie [G!veaway Alert]

Publication Date: September 11, 2012
Candlewick Press
Format: ARC, 341 pages
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
After his older brother dies in Iraq, Matt makes a discovery that rocks his beliefs about strength, bravery, and honor in this page-turning debut.
Ever since his brother, T.J., was killed in Iraq, Matt feels like he’s been sleepwalking through life — failing classes, getting into fights, and avoiding his dad’s lectures about following in his brother’s footsteps. T.J.’s gone, but Matt can’t shake the feeling that if only he could get his hands on his brother’s stuff from Iraq, he’d be able to make sense of his death. But as Matt searches for answers about T.J.’s death, he faces a shocking revelation about T.J.’s life that suggests he may not have known T.J. as well as he thought. What he learns challenges him to stand up to his father, honor his brother’s memory, and take charge of his own life. With compassion, humor, and a compelling narrative voice, E. M. Kokie explores grief, social mores, and self-discovery in a provocative first novel.

The Gist: Matt is a mess; between dealing with the grief of losing his brother, TJ to the on-going difficulty of living with his father, some days, Matt can no longer tell which way is up. Added to that emotional upheaval and turmoil is a burgeoning relationship with his best friend that Matt could no longer ignore. Seven months after burying what was left of his brother, he’s overwhelmed by anger and loneliness seemingly beyond relief.

When his brother’s footlockers showed up, it felt like he was losing his brother all over again. Opening the locks was like opening up a side of him that he never knew. The discovery that he didn’t really know him was like salt to his already festering wounds. Betrayed and angry, Matt set out on a journey that began with love letters exchanged between his brother and a person Matt never knew. What he discovered would be a catalyst to the changes he needed to do in order to honour the memory of a fallen soldier and to help the family he left behind.

The Review:

Damn.

This review will fail to convey how I felt after reading this book. I was destroyed; and much like Matt, I felt like I was grieving for the loss of a life cut short. But in my case, I’m grieving for the ending of this book. It was hard to put this down after it was over. I felt like I missed a whole lifetime – missed knowing a person because I read too fast.

TJ had so much to live for – so much to look forward to. Bound by the honour and obligation of serving his country, he chose to fulfill that responsibility rather than face the future with his loved ones. I mean, who could blame him? At the end of it all, he followed his heart. Unfortunately, that led him to being blown to bits. The ugly realities of war.

EM Kokie’s writing captured the heartbreak of grief, made even more powerful by Matt’s voice. His anger and sadness leapt off the pages and the betrayal that he felt with the things he found out about his brother. It was just…heartache all around. And even if the ending left a lot to be hopeful for, I wasn’t satisfied. I needed to read TJ’s story, need to feel what he felt when he realized he was in love. I needed to see the desperation every time he had to leave that person. A soldier’s life is not easy, it’s lonely and ripe with peril.

Ultimately though, Curtis is the one who cut me to pieces. I don’t think I could ever recover from his heartache. He’s one of those characters who’d lodge right into your heart like a splinter; buried deep that all you’d feel is the constant ache. I think this is the first time that I’ve been so affected by a secondary character. But I can’t help it. He’s the one I can’t forget from this book. I don’t know why I felt so much for Curtis. In a way, he’s like a close relative who’s suffering deeply and you want to help him but you don’t know how. But he’s very good at hiding his emotions – he looks strong from the outside but you’re almost sure he’s a mess inside. I want to wish him well, want him to feel happy again but it seems impossible somehow.

VERDICT: EM Kokie’s debut novel was a mine of explosive, emotional, heart wrenching drama. This book will stay with me for a long time and it’s not only because it dealt with the difficulty of grief, it’s mostly because her characters are unforgettable. She gave a voice to a boy who had to fight for every single breath, every single will to go on living when he felt the severity of wanting to give up. This author is unreal, considering she’s a newbie. I’ve never had a book affect me so deeply and in a level of empathy even I, could never understand.

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While It Lasts by Abbi Glines {G!veaway Alert}

Publication Date: July 31st, 2012
Self-Published
Format: Kindle Edition
RATING 5 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
Maybe driving home after a few (or more) shots of tequila had been a bad idea, but hell, he did it all the time. The cops had to have been freaking bored to have pulled him over. He wasn’t even swerving! That’s Cage York’s story and he’s sticking to it.

Unfortunately, his baseball coach isn’t buying it. Cage has a free ride to the local junior college for baseball — or he did, until he’d gotten a DUI. Now, Cage has to decide: does he drop out and give up his dream of getting noticed by a college in the SEC, and possibly making it into the Major Leagues — or does he give in to his coach’s demands and spend his summer baling hay?

Eva Brooks planned out her life step by step when she was eight years old. Not once over the years had she lost sight of her goals. Josh Beasley, her next door neighbor, had been the center of those goals. He’d been her first boyfriend at seven, her first kiss at ten, her first date at fifteen, and her first tragedy at eighteen. The moment she’d received the phone call from Josh’s mother saying he’d been killed along with four other soldiers just north of Baghdad, Eva’s carefully planned life imploded in the worst way possible.

Cage isn’t real happy with his closet-sized bedroom in the back of a foul smelling barn, or his daily interactions with cows, but he knows that if he doesn’t make his coach happy then he can kiss his scholarship goodbye. Only a sick and twisted man would decide his punishment was to be working on a farm all summer. No hot babes in bikinis waiting to meet a Southern boy to make her vacation complete. Just him and the damned cows.

Oh — and an uptight, snarky brunette with the biggest blue eyes he’s every seen. But she doesn’t count, because as hard as he’s tried to charm her out of her panties – he’s pretty sure she’d rather see him hung from the rafters than let him get a taste of her pretty little lips.

Aw hell. I’ve got a golf ball-sized lump stuck in my throat. Sea Breeze series didn’t really get a favorable reception from me but hot-diggity-damn! This hits the spot.
The Gist: The third book to the Sea Breeze series features the story of Cage York – bad boy extraordinaire, skirt chaser to the hilt. His punishment for a DUI conviction was a stint at a farm in the company of a surly farmer, cows and a witch of a farmer’s daughter. Color him surprised when his natural-born charms wouldn’t work on a girl like Eva Brooks. But Cage has never known to back off from a challenge, and every interaction with the farmer’s daughter was that and then some. As if a gun-toting farmer and the threat of losing his baseball scholarship would ever stop Cage. There’s more to Eva Brooks than she let on and he’s just the guy to break down the walls, peel off all the defences and anything else she’s cloaked under.
Eva’s been going through the motions since she lost her best friend, only love and fiancé for eighteen months. When Cage York walked into the farm – all swagger and attitude, Eva had already pegged the bad boy as trouble. But that still didn’t prevent her from discretely ogling him in all his shirtless glory. She soon realized, however, that resistance is futile; because Cage York, trouble as he is, can be quite a decent person when he wants to be. But is Cage the right person to handle her barely healed heart?
The Review: I’ve read Breathe and liked it okay. I’ve read Because of Low and thought it was so-so. I wasn’t sure if I was going to give this series another go. So glad I did. Cage York may be your stereotypical playboy, but Abbi did a fabulous job of making me like the dude. Sure he’s got ho-hum notches on his bed posts but he didn’t annoy me with all the cockiness characteristic of a man with his history or his I’m all that and then some inner monologues. Actually, there were barely any. Abbi didn’t actually have to do much to get me to like Cage. Cage prancing around shirtless just did the trick. What do you know? It turns out that I could be a shallow reader when I want to be! Not that there’s no depth to this man. In fact, I liked his justifications as to why he felt like Eva could do better. You strip away his seemingly arrogant persona and you’ll see a lot more to this guy. I liked why he hung on to Low as tight as he could – though his reason may be a reflection of a complex he developed while growing up.
This book wasn’t cluttered – it was sorely focused on the story and didn’t veer away from the plot line. There wasn’t any surprise twists, no made-up conflicts in attempt to create drama. It was clean and straightforward. And heck, as if you needed any more drama anyway – this book had just enough funnies and tears and holy hotness, burn-off-the-pages smexy times [fans self].
I liked the strong and shy Eva Brooks. She was all timid courage and brave front but there wasn’t any shortage of spunk. It is unfortunate that I can’t say anything else about Eva. I blame my selective memory which is clearly, stuck on Cage.
VERDICT: While It Lasts is infinitely the best out of the three books in this series, in my opinion. It left me breathless and clutching my chest for the emotional and personal realizations that both Cage and Eva went through. With all its hot and steamy bravado, this book is STILL all about the sweet romance. Abbi Glines wrote Eva’s character with every girl who’d ever lost a love in mind. Beautiful, sweet, heart-wrenching…and ladies, trust me when I say, you’d want to keep Cage York for yourself as a guilty pleasure. Daymmm.


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Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams [G!veaway Alert]

Publication Date: May 1st, 2012
Simon & Schuster
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
After her brother’s death, a teen struggles to rediscover love and find redemption in this gripping novel.

Growing up in Africa and Latin America as the children of missionaries, London and Zach were as close as could be. And then Zach dies, and the family is gutted. London’s father is distant. Her mother won’t speak. The days are filled with what-ifs and whispers: Did Zach take his own life? Was it London’s fault?

Alone and adrift, London finds herself torn between her brother’s best friend and the handsome new boy in town as she struggles to find herself—and ultimately redemption—in this authentic and affecting novel from award-winning novelist Carol Lynch Williams.

Written in free-form verse, Waiting told the story of a family’s crippling, destructive grief that for a time or two, didn’t seem like there was an end. Ms. Williams’ words and the method in which she told the story made it infinitely more painful. The palpable grief and loneliness that the characters felt seeped through the pages, contaminating the reader and consequently taking them to an emotional journey wracked with agonizing pain.

London was one of those characters who felt too much; too much grief, too much sorrow, too much love and at the same time anaesthecized to feel anything otherwise. As a result, her ache becomes your ache. You’ve got to be a stone-hearted statue not to feel for her. For once, I didn’t feel like I wanted to choke a character for making bad decisions in her life. For once, I supported her when she thought she could hide the two boys in her life without the other knowing. I wanted her to feel like she wasn’t immune to other feelings other than grief. The oblivion those boys could offer, though innocent, is deserved. The girl needed a bit of happy in her otherwise bleak, miserable, depressing, hopeless existence.

I don’t know how a person so seemingly strong could be defeated by something as a break-up that he thought the answer was suicide.

I don’t know how parents can turn off their parental instincts.

I don’t know how to emphatize with people so distraught that their world comes to a screeching halt altogether.

I don’t know how to get over the death of someone who was your entire universe that you forget there are other people orbiting around you – propelling you to go on.

This book, however, will make you feel like you’re London – carrying the guilt and the suffocating weight of her loss but fighting to dig herself out of the hole. I, however, couldn’t find it in me to feel for her mother who blamed London for Zach’s death. Listen, I get it. Suicide, depression – they’re messy, heart breaking, and no matter how much you want to say you understand, you can’t. You DON’T. Unless you’ve been there. But I know something about parenting. You don’t stop being a parent just because one of your children is gone. You don’t stop talking to her just because you’re so overcome with guilt yourself but can’t, won’t own up to it. Her father would rather work himself raw than face the reality of what was happening in his own home. That’s just cowardly. I also know something about suicide. But I will not sit here and pretend to understand a person’s state of mind at the time when he perceived life had become unliveable.

VERDICT: Waiting wasn’t a cake-walk read. No. It was difficult and messy. It’s like watching a loved one self-destruct right before your eyes and helping them pick up the pieces of the aftermath. I cried – sloppy tears in the middle of the night. It took me a little less than two hours to finish this book…and about two days to stop thinking about it.

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My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick [G!veaway Alert]

Publication Date: June 14th, 2012
Dial for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover, 394 pages
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
A gorgeous debut about family, friendship, first romance, and how to be true to one person you love without betraying another

“One thing my mother never knew, and would disapprove of most of all, was that I watched the Garretts. All the time.”

The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase’s family makes Samantha one of their own. Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

A dreamy summer read, full of characters who stay with you long after the story is over.

This book made me smile like a doofus; even at times when I wasn’t supposed to . It was just one of those super romantic book that will take you down the memory lane and remember the awkwardness of first meeting, the anticipation of getting to know one another and the sweet, sweet feeling of falling in love (look at me all sappy and sickly sweet!). And in the backdrop is a story about a chaotic but happy family – ideal to some, but suicidal to others. I absolutely loved this book. It has the most mature teenagers, minus all the usual drama and angst of the pubescent life. Totally involved parents (Jase’s), adorable, intelligent little kids and the most heartfelt, feel-good, sweet and sappy story of love and family.

Samantha has only ever known the Garretts from afar most of her life. She’s made it her daily entertainment to watch them from her perch. Their chaotic, messy but very loving family dynamics was very different from hers; orderly, neat, quiet. Then one night, as she sat on her terrace, Jase Garrett unexpectedly joined her. Sam’s life has never been the same since. Instantly, she was pulled into the vortex that is the Garretts; eight children – all with larger than life personalities eager to bring her into the fold. Soon after that, a relationship between her and Jase developed. She was happy, content, FULL. Until it was all taken away in a blink of an eye. She’s left to make a choice, one that could either destroy her relationship with her own family or make the boy she loves, hate her.

Choices. They suck when you have to be the one to make them. Poor Sam. They say you can’t possibly know what the right thing to do until it’s staring at you in the face and I was glad that the author didn’t conveniently make her do the right thing right away. It took courage to do she had to do but in th end, the difficult decision was all hers to make. I couldn’t imagine what I would’ve done had I been in Sam’s feet especially at her age. But this girl was so put together. She was one of the most likable, well-conceptualized, well-rounded character I’ve ever read. She didn’t do drama but she was far from unemotional or an unreachable character. She’s got a good head on her shoulders – steady and stable. Even when the Garrett’s life was falling apart and she knew the reason why and even when her own life was falling apart she was remarkably staid.

Jase Garrett is a freaking saint; he was good, ideal and was detrimental to the health of any woman within a ten-mile radius. If there was such a thing as a perfect book boyfriend, the boy is it.

VERDICT: Read this book – if not for the amazing story within its pages but for the chance to meet some worth-knowing characters. This is how contemporary fiction should be done.

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This is Not A Test by Courtney Summers [G!veaway Alert]

Publication Date: June 19th, 2012
St. Martin’s Griffin
Format: Paperback, 326 pages
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self.
To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live.
But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside.
When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

There are not a lot of authors who I consider a sure thing; even fewer books that I knew I’d love soon after reading its synopsis. This is Not A Test is a book that I’ve pined over for months now, so you can just imagine how high my expectations were.  It always amazes me when a book meets that standard and then some. From the creepiest, prettiest cover I’ve ever laid eyes on, to the tactile allure of the summary, Ms. Summers delivered a novel heaped with terror and suspense. This book decimated every other zombie book I’ve ever read so far, which is surprising because this book wasn’t a gore-fest by any stretch. Courtney Summers veered away from the zombie novel norm by highlighting her characters’ emotions as they struggle and deal with their own demons, new and old, all while the world was on the cusp of zombie apocalypse. In a way, it was like The Forest of Hands and Teeth series by Carrie Ryan – books that focused on the human element sparsely peppered with the carnage of living in a world overrun by zombies.

From the get go, Courtney will overcome you with fear – and no, I’m not talking about your fear of the undead. I’m talking about something a bit closer to the disturbing reality of abuse. Sloane Price had planned to escape the violence of living with her father. The only way she thought she could go was to kill herself. So goes Sloan’s soliloquies about the ways she wanted to go. Swallowing pills would’ve been the easiest way but her sister took that choice away when she abandoned her to their abusive father. A contagion struck; turning the entire population into rabid, flesh eating monsters and Sloan, feeling abandoned and alone, succumbed to the reality that the only way out is to give up the illusions of surviving.

Six kids – stranded in a school surrounded by zombies. That is the simple plot line this book was about. But come on, Summers is known for creating some pretty angst-filled characters, so you know it won’t be as simple as a story about six kids battling the undead with baseball bats and crowbars. You know she’ll twist your guts and it won’t be because the character ended up swathed in zombie matter and you’re feeling like you want to spill your own guts – literally. You know she’ll squeeze your heart and it’s not because you just witnessed a thirteen year-old boy bashed the head of his undead English teacher. The lady knows how to write broken characters and Sloane Price was quite possibly one of the messiest. It’s not enough that Sloane’s character is abused, bruised and battered. Summers had to go and throw in some zombies just for fun. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Either way, be prepared for a heart-ripping read.

The book focused on how these six kids would behave and their state of minds as they dealt with the helplessness of their situations. It was easy to get lost in the emotions and psyches of the characters that I sometimes forget the book was also about zombies. Therein lies my dilemma; because sometimes, it was easy to ignore the fact that outside, the world succumbed to people who were once alive but now dead – reanimated, if I may. This zombie book was pretty tame by Jonathan Maberry standards. But the emotions and terrors were intensified somehow. The characters (especially Sloane) were very adept in making you feel their horror – whether imagined or not. You’ll see the shadow that they see, you’ll feel every single trickle of dread, every pump of blood and at the same time, you’ll agonized about all the could’ve beens and what will not be. Even if the majority of the book didn’t focus on the gore, the last ten pages more than made up for it. It was intense.

VERDICT: This book rocked in the most un-zombie way possible. Courtney Summers took the rudimentary zombie apocalypse story elements and added just the right perfectly flawed characters to take her readers on a higher (but different) level of zombie awesome. Emotional, gripping, and superb. Words that best described what I’d just read. What I want to know is, Ms. Summers, tell us what happens next. 

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Whisper by Chrissie Keighery

Publication Date: August 2011
Hardie Grant Egmont
Format: Paperback, 256 pages
RATING: 5 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
I’m always trying to figure out what’s really going on. Always having to fill in the gaps, but never getting all the details. It’s like trying to do a jigsaw when I don’t even know what the picture is, and I’m missing one of the vital middle pieces.
How do you know if your friends are talking about you behind your back or if a boy likes you? They could act innocent, but you’d know from the rumours. You’d hear the whispers. But what if you couldn’t hear those whispers anymore? What if everything you took for granted was gone? Being a teenager is hard enough.
But being a deaf teenager?

“It doesn’t matter if she’s deaf,” he says. “My aunty Demi can listen with her eyes, and whisper with her hands.”

Damn Australian writers and their heart-wrenching contemporary fiction. It never fails. It’s an automatic instant love syndrome but in this case, I’m the one falling in love and not the characters in the book. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just…I have a difficult time reviewing them because I sound like a broken record with each review (see AUSSOME shelf on Goodreads).  And this book was no exception.

Whisper is about a teen girl adjusting to being deaf. She hasn’t always been deaf; but a recent bout of meningitis plunged her to a silent world. Our words are most often misconstrued for no apparent reason than we’re sometimes unable to find the right things to say. Friendships can be ruined and family relationships can be strained just because we can’t get our points across. Being deaf affects a person’s speech capabilities, hence the more chances that you can be misunderstood. This is pretty much the dictates of Demi’s life. Her family’s pretty supportive for the most part but she found it hard to acclimate to her mother’s new suffocating worries.

This book was beautiful and thoughful in a simple way that it talked about the mundane things of life. But mundane could be relative to a person who’s lost her hearing. Things like:  Giving up her iPod because it’s become useless to someone like her; or the beauty of swimming under water because everybody else is deaf to some degree under there. It made me think about how I would cope. How painful it would be to never hear my kids’ laughters again or how I’d probably miss my husband’s jet-engine snores while he sleeps. It’s an unimaginable loss that’s hard to endure.

Within Demi’s story is a lesson about AUDISM. It’s discrimination against the deaf. It’s the horrible reality that I’m made aware of but not forcefully fed by the author. It also showed how it’s always possible, albeit a bit difficult at first to form relationships with those who can hear. For me, I found an incredible sweetness in the way Demi would always have to look at Ethan’s face and read his lips so she could get a grasp at what he was saying. There’s this bubble around them when they’re communicating; the need to be closer than most to understand each other better.

VERDICT: There’s a lot we could all learn from Demi; acceptance of our frailties, courage to face the world with the abilities we’re given and to constantly fight for what’s right and what we believe in. This book was poignant, funny and real with strong characters who’d burry a hole in your heart. This is such a lovely book with some pretty valuable lessons we – deaf and hears, alike – could use.

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Fear by Michael Grant (Gone #5)

Publication Date: April 3rd, 2012
Katherine Tegen Books
Format: Hardcover, 509 pages
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
It’s been one year since all the adults disappeared. Gone.
Despite the hunger and the lies, even despite the plague, the kids of Perdido Beach are determined to survive. Creeping into the tenuous new world they’ve built, though, is perhaps the worst incarnation yet of the enemy known as the Darkness: fear.
Within the FAYZ, life breaks down while the Darkness takes over, literally—turning the dome-world of the FAYZ entirely black. In darkness, the worst fears of all emerge, and the cruelest of intentions are carried out. But even in their darkest moments, the inhabitants of the FAYZ maintain a will to survive and a desire to take care of the others in their ravaged band that endures, no matter what the cost.
Fear, Michael Grant’s fifth book in the bestselling dystopian Gone series, will thrill readers . . . even as it terrifies them.

Book number five of the Gone series was pretty much everything that I’d expected from Mr. Grant: Heart-stopping suspense in a relentless pursuit to make a basket case out of his readers. Well, you’ve done well, Mr. Grant. Bravo.

The kids of FAYZ have gone into two separate camps; and at the helms of these camps are brothers, Sam and Caine. For the moment, the siblings have come to some sort of temporary peace. But deep into the mine, the gaiaphage is anything but. It is terrified; it wants to get out to be reborn. Little Pete was his hope but his death ended that plan. The darkness, however, has a plan B.
As the slow build of terror comes to a simmer, the entire dome is slowly being swallowed by utter darkness. Darkness means no food; no food means hunger; hunger means chaos. But they have bigger problems to face first: Drake – the evil whip-hand is looking for blood. Commanded by the gaiaphage, Drake would do everything it asks especially if it meant he’d be able exact his revenge on the one he hated more than he hated Sam and his crew: Diana.  He also realized that this time, no one will stop him from killing those he abhors.  There’s no rest for the weary of Perdido Beach and Michael Grant sure made this prevalent with every agony and suffering – both mental and physical – that he’d put his characters through. 
Brand new terror and unspeakable pain – Fear was a different torment somehow; it was a slow progression of trepidation, and delight in pain in the most perverse way. Michael Grant rooted right through the minds of these kids and put them through some torture of a different kind. There were perspectives that gave me a more in-depth look into the state of mind of these kids. They were scared, of course, but the author dug deeper into their psyches. Also, some of the secondary characters have been given more play (which I loved!) and it almost felt like I was meeting them for the first time.
The ending was hopeful but sad and it ripped me. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that some of the kids of Perdido Beach are not feeling so hot about the dome lifting.
VERDICT: Michael Grant is a god; I either love him or fear him for his rich but disturbing imagination. The subsequent books to this series were my annual torment and delight. I looked forward and dreaded reading them just because my heart goes through calisthenics of a different kind when I do. Fear is by far, my favorite of the series because gosh darnnit, I can see the LIGHT at the end of the tunnel – or in this case, the mine. I am so ready for these kids to have a happy ending even though I know Michael Grant is probably going to make them work extra hard for it. 

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Review and G!veaway: City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

Publication Date: May 8th, 2012
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Format: Hardcover, 536 pages
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
The demon Lilith has been destroyed and Jace has been freed from her captivity. But when the Shadowhunters arrive to rescue him, they find only blood and broken glass. Not only is the boy Clary loves missing–but so is the boy she hates, Sebastian, the son of her father Valentine: a son determined to succeed where their father failed, and bring the Shadowhunters to their knees.
No magic the Clave can summon can locate either boy, but Jace cannot stay away—not from Clary. When they meet again Clary discovers the horror Lilith’s dying magic has wrought—Jace is no longer the boy she loved. He and Sebastian are now bound to each other, and Jace has become what he most feared: a true servant of Valentine’s evil. The Clave is determined to destroy Sebastian, but there is no way to harm one boy without destroying the other. Will the Shadowhunters hesitate to kill one of their own?
Only a small band of Clary and Jace’s friends and family believe that Jace can still be saved — and that the fate of the Shadowhunters’ future may hinge on that salvation. They must defy the Clave and strike out on their own. Alec, Magnus, Simon and Isabelle must work together to save Jace: bargaining with the sinister Faerie Queen, contemplating deals with demons, and turning at last to the Iron Sisters, the reclusive and merciless weapons makers for the Shadowhunters, who tell them that no weapon on this earth can sever the bond between Sebastian and Jace. Their only chance of cutting Jace free is to challenge Heaven and Hell — a risk that could claim any, or all, of their lives.
And they must do it without Clary. For Clary has gone into the heart of darkness, to play a dangerous game utterly alone. The price of losing the game is not just her own life, but Jace’s soul. She’s willing to do anything for Jace, but can she even still trust him? Or is he truly lost? What price is too high to pay, even for love?
Darkness threatens to claim the Shadowhunters in the harrowing fifth book of the Mortal Instruments series.

WARNING: Mild cussing.
Book number five follows a story of a different possession. While Lilith has been disposed of for the moment, the evil Sebastian is controlling my man, Jace. In a customary Cassie Clare fashion, the road from point A to point B was a roller coaster ride and a study on how to twist her readers’ guts and emotions. But I coasted along. Loved every minute of it. Hated some parts of it. And all the while thinking to myself, gah! What the heck is the deal with the author’s fascination with incest? Seriously.
Anyway.
This is perhaps the best book of the series, in my opinion. I love that there were a lot of Jace and Clary action even though Jace wasn’t really himself. I love that all the romantic connections with the characters went somewhere. Simon and Isabelle are moving in the right direction. Here, I’m finally able to see Jordan and Maia together. Damn. These two sizzled. And if I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ll say it over and over again.
Magnus and Alec.
Alec and Magnus. That is all.
Even if Alec was a bit frustrating in this book with how he treated Magnus, the boy needed to get over all his insecurities to see how great they really were. But Jesus Murphy Jones, did you ever annoy me, Alec! Geebus. The whole entire time, you were like a freaking girl in the relationship. Your brooding, insecure bullshit was enough to induce a bitch fit of epic proportions. I mean, seriously. Magnus has been alive for 748940598564908 years and you’re freaking out because he’s had relationships before you? Bitch please. What the hell did you expect? Was he supposed to have remained celibate while he waits for you? Are you high? And if it wasn’t the fact that Magnus is like the Wilt Chamberlain of warlocks, it was his immortality that’s bugging you? Lord. I could go on and on.
So yeah. Cassandra Clare kicked the icky factor up a notch. Sebastian went twenty past crazy in this book, yo. But hey, to each to their own. He jones-ed for his sister in a bad way [excuse me, while I swallow a whole bottle of mouthwash. Yuck.]
VERDICT: I don’t care what all you haters say, this series is freaking awesome. Yes, my review may indicate otherwise but I’d rather read a book where it got me so hopping mad than a book that made me feel nothing at all. And I just found out that the installment does not come out till 2014. I’m hurting something awful. =/

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