Review: The Fine Art of Pretending

The Fine Art of Pretending by Rachel HarrisTitle: The Fine Art of Pretending
Author: Rachel Harris
Series: The Fine Art of Pretending #1

About: According to the guys at Fairfield Academy, there are two types of girls: the kind you hook up with and the kind you’re friends with. Seventeen-year-old Alyssa Reed is the second type. And she hates it. With just one year left to change her rank, she devises a plan to become the first type by homecoming, and she sets her sights on the perfect date — Justin Carter, Fairfield Academy’s biggest hottie and most notorious player.

With 57 days until the dance, Aly launches Operation Sex Appeal and sheds her tomboy image. The only thing left is for Justin actually to notice her. Enter best friend Brandon Taylor, the school’s second biggest hottie, and now Aly’s pretend boyfriend. With his help, elevating from “funny friend” to “tempting vixen” is only a matter of time.

But when everything goes according to plan, the inevitable “break up” leaves their friendship in shambles, and Aly and Brandon with feelings they can’t explain. And the fake couple discovers pretending can sometimes cost you the one thing you never expected to want.

My Thoughts: Cute, fun, and sweet. That was my first response upon finishing. My other thought? Brandon is so book boyfriend material. He might, just might, be the top contender this year.

So, I’ll be honest. The premise of this book, especially as I was reading, bothers me. It speaks to the innocence of teen girls, that they’d name a makeover project Operation Sex Appeal and want to be on the Casuals (as opposed to Commitments) list. As an adult well past her teen years, when Brandon told her about the lists and which one she was on … he tried to tell her it was a good thing to be a Commitment. And he’s so right. It implies some respect, and that the girls on that list are more than a conquest. But what she sees is that no one will date her because she’s not an easy target. What I see is that the Casuals are the love-‘em-and-leave-‘em type. A conquest to be discarded once the objective has been obtained: you know, sex. Why any girl, teenager or not, would want that status is beyond me. Because of my issue with the whole idea of what this book is based on, I really didn’t want to like it. But ..

Despite my misgivings about the whole premise, the book was a great read. As I mentioned above, it’s cute, fun, and sweet. Despite his fear of commitment (which is explained), Brandon is a swoon-worthy guy. Despite his reputation, it’s clear to see there’s a sweet guy with a good heart.

Yes, the story was pretty par for the course for this type of tale: Boy and girl pretend to date. In doing so they discover their true feelings for each other. Both are afraid of ruining the friendship (or afraid of commitment in general), and try to get things back to the way they were — only to discover how futile that is. Everyone around them can see that they’re nuts for each other, and they’re the only ones who can’t see it. On down to the smile-on-your-face, warm-fuzzy ending. But, it was fun. The characters are great. Aly, despite her obvious immaturity and naiveté, is a sweet girl with a good heart. And perfect with Brandon. ;)

If you enjoyed Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, as well as other similar stories, then this is a must-read. I will definitely be reading subsequent books in the series.

4.5 Stars]Source: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: The Fine Art of Pretending is scheduled for release around September 30, 2014. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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Review: The Vault of Dreamers

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'BrienTitle: The Vault of Dreamers
Author: Caragh M. O’Brien
Series: Untitled #1

About: The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success: Every moment of the students’ lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students’ schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first-year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What’s worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.

My Thoughts: This book held so much promise. And it got off to a great start. Awesome middle. But very unsatisfying end.

I thought this book sounded like a great premise, and it is. Most of the time, it’s excellent. It’s fast-paced, engaging, and something I fully expected to give 5 stars while reading most of it. Rosie is a pretty good character, although I always found myself shocked when we’re reminded just how young she is (15). She definitely seems older, but then some of her dumb choices can be explained away as her just plain being so young. Naive. Inexperienced. Pick your word that encompasses youthful stupidity.

The last 50-100 pages is when I felt the book fell apart. It went from intriguing and gripping to whacked out and farfetched. From mildly creepy to way too far out there for my tastes. Unfortunately. I know this is the start to a series, but there were way too many rather large questions left WIDE open for me to close the book feeling anything other than disappointment, frustration, and annoyance. And maybe some confusion, too. Too much is revealed too quickly in a huge, poorly explained crash course of WTF! that I just simply was stunned upon completion.

Linus. What is up with him? I can’t figure it out. Is he genuine? Is he a pawn (yes) — more importantly, is he a willing pawn, a scheming pawn? I can’t decide whether to love him or hate him. And his fate is left unknown — completely unknown — by the end of the book. Not cool. So not cool.

Will I read the next book? Probably, if only to get some big questions answered and to hope to make sense out of the story. Although, I don’t know that I’d seek out the rest of this series. If it presented itself to me (offered for review, I stumble upon it at the library, something like that), I’d pick it up (but, no, I wouldn’t buy it). Either way, I don’t think I’ll be reading this one again. Unless the next book surprises me … that might do the trick.

3.5 StarsSource: Sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Read It: The Vault of Dreamers is scheduled for release around September 16, 2014. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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DNF: Ghost House

Ghost House by Alexandra AdornettoTitle: Ghost House
Author: Alexandra Adornetto
Series: The Ghost House Saga #1

About: After the loss of her mother, Chloe Kennedy starts seeing the ghosts that haunted her as a young girl again. Spending time at her grandmother’s country estate in the south of England is her chance to get away from her grief and the spirits that haunt her. Until she meets a mysterious stranger…

Alexander Reade is 157 years dead, with secrets darker than the lake surrounding Grange Hall and a lifelike presence that draws Chloe more strongly than any ghost before. But the bond between them awakens the vengeful spirit of Alexander’s past love, Isobel. And she will stop at nothing to destroy anyone who threatens to take him from her.

To stop Isobel, Chloe must push her developing abilities to their most dangerous limits, even if it means losing Alex forever… and giving the hungry dead a chance to claim her for their own.

My Thoughts: If you know me as a reviewer — or simply as a reader — then you know that I do NOT like to give up on books. I do not easily come by books that I cannot find a reason to finish. It is very rare that I decide it’s too painful to finish, or too boring, or just not worth my time. Don’t believe me? Search above in my search box for DNF. Go ahead, I’ll wait …

The last DNF (or, for those who aren’t quite sure about what I mean, did-not-finish book) I encountered was almost two full years ago! October 2, 2012. Knowing that, please realize that it grieves me to have to give a book such a dismal rating. And it’s so very, very hard for me to write a fitting review — or at least, fitting reaction that adequately explains the why behind the DNF and zero stars. I work in publishing and I am a creative person; I understand how hard an author works on their book. And I understand how painful negative feedback can be. So, I am truly sorry for what I’m about to write. Please know that I don’t want to make someone feel bad, but I feel that my integrity as a reviewer, as someone others can look to for honest, reliable reviews (even if they likely won’t always agree with my opinions) is on the line here. It is my policy to share the good, the bad, and the ugly — regardless of anyone’s feelings. If you’re closely tied to this book in any way, I encourage you to just move on. You won’t like what you see here.

So, my thoughts: I made it to page 120. Out of 314 in the ARC I tried to read. Each page was painful. I had to FORCE myself to read even a little bit. I went on a five-hour drive with my family this weekend to visit relatives, and hoped to read it in the car. When I can’t even get into a book during such a trip, I know it’s a lost cause. And it’s a shame, because I really wanted to like this. It sounded pretty good.

So, what didn’t I like? Everything. Everything? Yes. Everything. I cannot think of one single positive thing to say about this book. I’m gonna list what I don’t like — just remember, this is based on 120 pages of the book. It’s possible I missed something good, but hopefully you’ll soon understand why I didn’t care to find out for sure.

  • Chloe comes across as an idiot teenager who’s trying to come across smarter than she is. She uses words that I don’t think any teenager ever (in modern days, at least) has ever uttered — unless they’re trying to seem smarter than they are.
  • It was looking like we were headed toward a teen/ghost love story. NO THANK YOU! I could take it if it’s a teen and lover who knew each other before one of them died. But this is a ghost who died over a century and a half before Chloe shows up. This is something I simply cannot swallow. Especially if Chloe is as smart as she wants people to think she is.
  • The writing is abysmal. Oh, yes, that bad. This book is over-written. I’m not shown this story, I’m told it. And the writing just isn’t fluid. There are “big words” thrown into the narrative in seemingly random spots. And the use of these words just doesn’t fit the rest of the story’s writing. The words stand out, as if the author is trying to look more cerebral, or academic, or something. (So perhaps Chloe’s problem isn’t a character problem, but rather an author problem.)

Simply put, I could not get past the crappy writing to get into the story. And that is RARE. Usually, if the writing is subpar, I can overlook it when there’s a great plot. The plot here? Nah. I’ve got better things to do with my time. (And, no, I will not, under ANY circumstances, touch another book in this series. I might even shun this author, that’s how bad the writing was.)

0 Stars**Please note that all DNF books are given 0 stars by default.**

Source: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: I don’t generally recommend purchase of books I don’t like, especially not DNF books. So, I strongly urge you to check this out of the library before making the decision to purchase!

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Review: Dissonance

Dissonance by Erica O'RourkeTitle: Dissonance
Author: Erica O’Rourke
Series: Dissonance #1

About: Delancy Sullivan has always known there’s more to reality than what people see. Every time someone makes a choice, a new, parallel world branches off from the existing one. Eating breakfast or skipping it, turning left instead of right, sneaking out instead of staying in bed ~ all of these choices create an alternate universe in which an echo self takes the road not travelled and makes the opposite decision. As a Walker, someone who can navigate between these worlds, Del’s job is to keep all of the dimensions in harmony.

Normally, Del can hear the dissonant frequency that each world emits as clear as a bell. But when a training session in an off-key world goes horribly wrong, she is forbidden from Walking by the Council. But Del’s not big on following the rules and she secretly starts to investigate these other worlds. Something strange is connecting them and it’s not just her random encounters with echo versions of the guy she likes, Simon Lane.

But Del’s decisions have unimaginable consequences and, as she begins to fall for the Echo Simons in each world, she draws closer to a truth that the Council of Walkers is trying to hide ~ a secret that threatens the fate of the entire multiverse.

My Thoughts: Funny how I keep ending up reading books about similar concepts one right after the other. Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini is the last book I read, and there’s a very similar concept in that book. Parallel universes, endless branches. And only some people can navigate between the universes. From there, however, the differences (mostly) end.

Del is trouble, but with a good heart (mostly). Honestly, I think her sister, Addie, is worse. Awful, horrible, nasty big sister. I would NEVER let my oldest treat her siblings the way Addie treats Del. I don’t get what the problem is, but perhaps we’ll learn more along those lines further into the series. I hope, because right now, I wanna see Addie get taken down. She’s vindictive, cruel, and a selfish you-know-what. I kept wondering what her problem is.

Despite the similarities to Trial by Fire that I mentioned above, this is a very unique book (at least based on what I’ve read) with a really cool premise. Yes, parallel universes have been touched on before, but I think this is a fresh take on how all of it works. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Bonus: There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns. And huge surprises — including surprising, unexpected betrayals — plus some heartbreaking events all thrown in. Fantastic!

Simon. Love him. Book boyfriend for sure. He’s sweet, kind, and someone I’d totally let my girls date (when they’re his age). Love this guy!

So, I don’t wanna say anymore, because I don’t wanna ruin anything for anyone. If you’re in for a good book that’s a wild ride, this just might be for you.

5 StarsSource: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: You can order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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Review: Blackbird

Blackbird by Anna CareyTitle: Blackbird
Author: Anna Carey
Series: Blackbird Duology #1

About: A girl wakes up on the train tracks, a subway car barreling down on her. With only minutes to react, she hunches down and the train speeds over her. She doesn’t remember her name, where she is, or how she got there. She has a tattoo on the inside of her right wrist of a blackbird inside a box, letters and numbers printed just below: FNV02198. There is only one thing she knows for sure: people are trying to kill her. 

On the run for her life, she tries to untangle who she is and what happened to the girl she used to be. Nothing and no one are what they appear to be. But the truth is more disturbing than she ever imagined. 

My Thoughts: I almost didn’t even try to get into this book. The first several chapters — probably the entire first half or so — was a struggle. You see, this book is written in second-person. I remember learning about various narrative styles in school as a kid, and there was much said about first- and third-person narratives. All I remember being told about second-person: It’s hardly ever used, so you don’t really need to know much about it. But, it’s as if someone is telling you what YOU did. Almost as if you are the main character.

Let me just say, there’s a reason why second-person is not a popular choice. It’s not for everyone. And this book showed me that I’m one of those people who just don’t find second person something I enjoy reading. So, I’m thinking it doesn’t have wide appeal. And if I’m honest with myself, well, I’m guessing it’s a difficult way to write, too. Especially an entire novel.

So, back to Blackbird by Anna Carey. Thanks to the second-person narrative, I found this very, VERY hard to get into. I almost called it quits, it was so hard. (And you know I’m not one who easily gives up on books.) But I pushed through, I’m glad I did. Mostly. Here’s why I say “mostly”:

  • There are small bits throughout the book that are told in third-person. Those were my favorite parts. Like breaths of fresh air. I liked those parts. A lot. And they are very well-written. (Really, the whole book is — if you can get past the whole second-person thing, which I obviously cannot.)
  • Once the second-person narration stopped being a distraction, I found myself drawn into the story. The action is intense, fast-paced, and full of suspense. Soon, perspective doesn’t matter too much, because you just gotta know what’s going on.
  • Lots of twists and turns. Very interesting.

So, will I read this again? Absolutely not. Second-person is enough to keep me away. (Me no likey!) Will I read the sequel? You bet! By the end, the action finally got good enough that I was almost able to forget about the whole second-person problem. Almost. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to make me love the book. But it was enough to make me like the story a lot — and want to see how this all plays out.

3 StarsSource: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: Blackbird is scheduled for release around September 16, 2014. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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Review: Chasing Before

Chasing Before by Lenore AppelhansTitle: Chasing Before
Author: Lenore Appelhans
Series: The Memory Chronicles #2

About: “I’m a ticking time bomb. And one day soon everything is going to explode.”

Felicia and Neil have arrived in Level 3 and are supposed to prepare for their divine vocations.

But during Felicia and Neil’s training period, a series of explosions rips through Level 3. Tension is high, and casualties are mounting. A rift forms between the pair, one that grows wider when Felicia receives memories from the Morati. The memories cast doubt on the people she loves the most, but Felicia can’t stop her curiosity. She has to know the truth about her life – even if it means putting at risk everything she’s worked for in her death.

My Thoughts: One word entered my mind upon completion: fantastic. I really liked Lenore Appelhans’ Level 2 (which has since been renamed The Memory of After), so when the opportunity to read the sequel presented itself, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to see what was coming next. And this book did not let me down. It’s one of the rare times the second book in the series exceeds my expectations — by far.

Felicia is great. While occasionally I got frustrated with her — her reliance on Neil could get annoying at times (can anyone say codependent?) — I found her spunk, her spirit, and her heart were admirable. While she’s overly tough on herself (who isn’t their own harshest critic?), I felt that kept her real. One thing I love is that, despite being dead, Felicia learns a lot and really grows through the course of this novel.

Neil was a complete jerk for most of the book. I found myself wanting to see her ditch him and get with Julian. Neil was a complete and utter asshole and treated Felicia quite badly. I can’t remember if he was book boyfriend material first time around. He definitely isn’t in this book. Keep him far, far away from me, please. I get that he’s not perfect and struggling with his own personal demons (figuratively, of course), but that doesn’t in any way excuse his behavior. Ugh!

The plot is full of twists and turns. A few were easy for me to figure out — I’m talking about you, Neil! — but there were some good, big, shock-my-socks-off surprises throughout. That was quite nice, I must say.

If you enjoyed Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans — or The Memory of After — then I highly recommend that you read Chasing Before. It has some interesting twists and turns. And it was a book I found myself wanting to read, read, read on through!

Favorite Quotes: There are lots of great nuggets in this book. Here are a couple of my favorites (from the ARC, so they could be different in the final published version).

I’ve learned the hard way that reality is messier than fiction, and no matter how much you want to, you can’t sneak a look at the last page to see if everything turns out okay. ~ page 347 (ARC)

I know what letting go means. It means not allowing anyone else to define you, and that includes past versions of yourself. It’s … about accepting that you’re a person who’s going to make mistakes sometimes, and that’s okay. Mistakes don’t define you. It’s what you learn from them that does. ~ page 359 (ARC) 

5 StarsSource: Sent in exchange for an honest review.

Read It: Chasing Before is scheduled for release around August 26, 2014. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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Review: The Queen of Zombie Hearts

The Queen of Zombie Hearts by Gena ShowalterTitle: The Queen of Zombie Hearts
Author: Gena Showalter
Series: The White Rabbit Chronicles #3

About: I have a plan. 

We’ll either destroy them for good, or they’ll destroy us. 

Either way, only one of us is walking away. 

In the conclusion to The White Rabbit Chronicles, Alice “Ali” Bell thinks the worst is behind her. She’s ready to take the next step with boyfriend Cole Holland, the leader of the zombie slayers…until Anima Industries, the agency controlling the zombies, launches a sneak attack, killing four of her friends. It’s then she realizes that humans can be more dangerous than monsters…and the worst has only begun. 

As the surviving slayers prepare for war, Ali discovers she, too, can control the zombies…and she isn’t the girl she thought she was. She’s connected to the woman responsible for killing—and turning—Cole’s mother. How can their relationship endure? As secrets come to light, and more slayers are taken or killed, Ali will fight harder than ever to bring down Anima—even sacrificing her own life for those she loves.

My Thoughts: Awesome! Perfect ending to an absolutely fabulous series! No, it wasn’t flawless, but it was so darn good I found myself able to completely overlook the not-so-perfect moments. It’s heartbreaking, amazing, and just fabulous. This is one series I plan to own — in hardcover!

The flaws:

  • Not-so-surprising twists. One very big one. I could see it coming a mile away. But it works. And figuring it out didn’t ruin the book for me — there are plenty of other twists and surprising occurrences.
  • Cole was an asshat again. Not the entire book, like in Through the Zombie Glass, but enough that I seriously considered knocking him out of contention for book boyfriend. Almost happened.
  • One or two story inconsistencies. (Example: She sits, in the floor, but a page later her knees weaken and she slides to the floor. Given the circumstances, she could’ve stood but we never see that happen.)
  • A few other, pretty minor, things.

But, no, that wasn’t enough to kill the book for me. I loved it. Read it in less than 24 hours — with life interruptions (caring for kids, sleeping, spending the morning away from the book, etc.). I could have easily read this in one sitting, lasting only a few hours — tops. Still loved Ali — most of the time. The action is non-stop. It’s riveting, exciting, heartbreaking, and the perfect way to end one of the best YA series I’ve had the pleasure of reading!

5 StarsSource: Received through Around the World Tours for review.

Read It: The Queen of Zombie Hearts is scheduled for release around September 30, 2014. You can pre-order your own copy via Amazon or Book Depository(These are affiliate links, and purchase through either link will result in my receiving a small commission at no cost to you. Your support is appreciated!)

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