Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events. When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts. – Goodreads

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1930’s New York is a lively setting for four orphans living in a Museum of Oddities to work together to solve a mystery.  Philippa, Sam, Thomas, and Max each possess unique qualities –  minding reading, super strength, elasticity, and deadly knife throwing.  Their lives are not glamorous though, their abilities are not fail-safe and they still go through the struggles associated with early teenage years – anxiety, shyness, and self-doubt.  Dumfrey’s Museum survives financially by attracting visitors to view the strange collection of worldly wonders as well as a freak show of sorts featuring the orphans and the array of odd inhabitants of the house.  Their fortunes begin to rise when an Amazonian shrunken head is procured for the museum however shortly thereafter the head is stolen and the museum is in danger of permanent foreclosure.

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Sculpted by KreatureKid

I read a lot of YA (surprise, surprise) but I haven’t read too many middle-grade novels, including Lauren Oliver’s (Liesl and Po, The Spindlers).  Unfortunately, I couldn’t connect with the young protagonists or get behind their search for the thief of the shrunken head.  About a third of the way through the book, the plot seemed on repeat – do some digging, someone’s dead!, do some digging, someone’s dead! – literally everyone kept kicking the bucket.  The mystery (and murders) were solved in the end while leaving a larger mystery arc to be continued in the second book Curiosity House: The Screaming Statue, due out in 2016.  The Shrunken Head was likable enough, the story was a bit slow in the middle and the mystery reveal was a little predictable.  That said, I will probably read The Screaming Statue, picking it up from my local library.

In other Lauren Oliver news, the author shared that Before I Fall (one of my favorite novels from Oliver) is being made into a movie staring Zoey Deutch (Beautiful Creatures, Vampire Academy), see here.  There had been previous talks about developing the novel into a movie and then even a TV show with Emma Roberts.  Third time’s the charm?

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head will be released September 29th, 2015.  A big shout-out to Harper Collins for sending me a copy for review ❤

Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

I can’t describe to you my triumph of nabbing the ARC of Black Widow: Forever Red off the Little Shop of Stories’ ARC shelf before anyone else in my bookclub could get to it!  Bwahaha!  Black Widow is beloved by my bookclub and pretty much all superhero-loving, women-kind.

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Nastasha Romanov stands out as the lone female in the testosterone heavy group of the Avengers.  But being the only woman is tough because we hold her to a higher standard, she’s the only one we have to look up to.  We want her to be all the things – she can’t be perfect but she can’t be too flawed, she has to be relatable but still awe-inspiring, and so on and so forth.  It’s a tall order for sure.

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It’s no surprise after the Avengers movies that women (and men too) were clamoring for more Black Widow (hello Marvel where is our stand alone Black Widow movie??).  Coming out this October is a new Black Widow YA novel from Margaret Stohl (co-author of the Beautiful Creatures series and author of the Icons series) – here’s the Forever Red synopsis from Goodreads:

Natasha Romanoff is one of the world’s most lethal assassins. Trained from a young age in the arts of death and deception, Natasha was given the title of Black Widow by Ivan Somodorov, her brutal teacher at the Red Room, Moscow’s infamous academy for operatives.

Ava Orlova is just trying to fit in as an average Brooklyn teenager, but her life has been anything but average.The daughter of a missing Russian quantum physicist, Ava was once subjected to a series of ruthless military experiments-until she was rescued by Black Widow and placed under S.H.I.E.L.D. protection. Ava has always longed to reconnect with her mysterious savior, but Black Widow isn’t really the big sister type.

Until now.

When children all over Eastern Europe begin to go missing, and rumors of smuggled Red Room tech light up the dark net, Natasha suspects her old teacher has returned-and that Ava Orlova might be the only one who can stop him. To defeat the madman who threatens their future, Natasha and Ava must unravel their pasts. Only then will they discover the truth about the dark-eyed boy with an hourglass tattoo who haunts Ava’s dreams. . . .

For starters, look at this badass cover – it’s amazing!

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Forever Red reads like a movie script, it’s fast-paced and action-packed and with some familiar faces (namely Phil Coulson and Tony Stark) it’s impossible not to read the dialogue using the actors’ voices (not that that is a bad thing!).  This book is written like a movie in your mind.  The story is told from 3 different POVs – Natasha’s, Ava’s and Alex Manor’s (a seemingly normal American teenage except that Ava has been dreaming about him for months even though she has never met him).  There is at least one chapter that was titled as an Ava chapter and halfway thru it turned into a Nastasha chapter, I’m hoping that gets cleared up #eek.

Overall, I liked the story/adventure/mission/whatever you want to call it, the novel is also full of witty dialogue and entertaining cultural references though I would have liked some more feels.  There is backstory (primarily referring to Natasha) but I want more – there can never be enough origin story.  I think maybe because it read like an action movie, it lacked some depth, the story was bam bam bam scene scene scene.  The downside – the climax was over in an instant (insert sex joke), it happened so fast that I didn’t really have time to process that the final showdown was happening.  Had it been a bit more drawn out, I would have had more feels because I was definitely supposed to.  The story wrapped, no cliffhangers but there are unanswered questions so I wouldn’t be surprised if this became a series.  All said and done, I really enjoyed Forever Red and can’t wait to let my bookclub fight over and then we can all dissect it!

Moral of the story is WHERE IS THE GODDAMN BLACK WIDOW MOVIE???

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Slasher Girls and Monster Boys – Stories selected by April Genevieve Tucholke

I have decided I love short story compilations though in truth it is a very recent love affair.  Last year Stephanie Perkins (author of the Anna and the French Kiss trilogy) edited the lovely ‘My True Love Gave To Me’, a collection of heart warming holiday themed short stories from YA authors.  Next year she will be releasing Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories #squee.

The collection I want to talk about today though is one of a very different variety.  Slasher Girls and Monster Boys features 14 stories selected by April Genevieve Tucholke (author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea) guaranteed to make your skin crawl.  Like MTLGTM, this collection features some of my favorite authors – Kendare Blake, Marie Lu, and Cat Winters but also introduced to some new authors that I can’t wait to read more of – Carrie Ryan, McCormick Templeman, and Jay Kristoff.

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The collection as a whole is very strong, there were very few stories that didn’t send shivers down my spine and considering there are 14 authors that’s pretty impressive.  Each of the stories is inspired by classic horror films, spooky campfire tales, and even Disney movies. I want to share my top 3 favorites (I had a hard time narrowing it down to 3 favorites, a testament to how great this collection is) but I’m only going to give a short blurb because I don’t want to give anything away!!

  1. Stitches by A.G. Howard – This went in a direction I did not expect – AT ALL – as teenage girl must play Dr. Frankenstein to save her family.
  2. In the Forest Dark and Deep by Carrie Ryan – A twisted tale inspired by Alice in Wonderland with one helluva creepy rabbit.
  3. Sleepless by Jay Kristoff – It begins with fervent teenage instant messaging but in the end, neither Justin nor Cassie is who they pretend to be online.

If you read Goosebumps, Fear Street, and Scary and Stories to Tell in the Dark as kid, pick up Slash Girls and Monster Boys!  Tell me your favorite horror novels, YA or adult!!

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I received an ARC of Slasher Girls and Monster Boys from Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA – its book birthday is in one week, Tuesday August 18th!!

Last by not least, I absolutely adore the dedication page:

For everyone who read Stephen King when they were way too young – A.G.T.

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Extraordinary Means is not your typical coming-of-age, boarding school love story.

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At seventeen, overachieving Lane finds himself at Latham House, a sanatorium for teens suffering from an incurable strain of tuberculosis. Part hospital and part boarding school, Latham is a place of endless rules and confusing rituals, where it’s easier to fail breakfast than it is to flunk French.

There, Lane encounters a girl he knew years ago. Instead of the shy loner he remembers, Sadie has transformed. At Latham, she is sarcastic, fearless, and utterly compelling. Her friends, a group of eccentric troublemakers, fascinate Lane, who has never stepped out of bounds his whole life. And as he gradually becomes one of them, Sadie shows him their secrets: how to steal internet, how to sneak into town, and how to disable the med sensors they must wear at all times.

But there are consequences to having secrets, particularly at Latham House. And as Lane and Sadie begin to fall in love and their group begins to fall sicker, their insular world threatens to come crashing down. Told in alternating points of view, Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about doomed friendships, first love, and the rare miracle of second chances. – Goodreads

Like I said, not your typical boarding school romance.

Lane is a newly diagnosed Total Drug Resistant-Tuberculosis patient trying to understand how his rigidly planned future, previously made up of AP exams and early admission to Stanford, crumbled into automatic A’s, mandatory rest periods, and unlimited sick days.  Miserable at Latham, Lane yearns to be a part of a quirky group of students who seem unaffected by their quarantined surroundings (a la The Secret History by Donna Tartt or The Likeness by Tana French).

Sadie is one of Latham House’s longest staying residents.  Neither improving, nor declining, Sadie is in a sort of stasis watching the other patients come and go – patients who overcome the (fictional) TDR-TB and go home to their regularly schedule lives and those patients who do not . . .  Despite their potentially bleak future, Sadie and her friends rebel in the only way they can – arguing with the lunch lady, refusing pajama parties in favor of black-tie affairs, and sneaking out into woods to secure contraband for their fellow students/patients.

Schneider has created a fragile, yet beautiful story of a group of friends staring into the void of an uncertain future with nothing to cling to but each other.  (Speaking of uncertain futures, I can’t wait to read We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach #Squee).  Schneider executes the dual point of views like a pro. Setting wise, Latham House feels real – the school, the woods, the nearby town, it all feels like a place that could exist.  At the end of the novel, Schneider even includes a brief history of tuberculosis and sanatoriums which I found completely fascinating.  It’s easy to fall in love with Lane, Sadie, Nick, Charlie and Marnia – you’re rooting for them so completely but you know in the end, it can’t last forever.

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Also – so many Harry Potter references *flails*

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Extraordinary Means hits shelves May 26th, 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books.  Thank you Little Shop of Stories for the opportunity to read and review this lovely novel!

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it’s too late.

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Lauren Oliver’s new novel explores the relationship between sisters who are torn apart by a horrific car accident. The story alternates not only between Nick and Dara but between Before and After the accident which unfortunately makes the story a little fragmented. While the timeline is a little difficult to keep straight, Oliver has created unique voices for each of the girls with subtle overlaps adding to the narrative of their close relationship growing up together thick as thieves. The third musketeer to round out the trio is Parker, the girls’ life long neighbor and best friend. As we learn about Nick and Dara (and Parker) and their evolving relationship before the accident and their estranged relationship post-accident, the disappearance of a young girl named Madeline Snow looms in the background.

I liked Vanishing Girls – I didn’t love it and I’m not sure I can exactly pinpoint why. I liked that the story was interspersed with newspaper articles, emails and Dara’s diary entries. I felt like the story was a little slow, based on the back cover I expected Dara to disappear much earlier in the novel and Madeline’s connection to become clearer sooner. I wasn’t a fan of the love triangle (I rarely am) especially between siblings.

Overall, Vanishing Girls is interesting read. I read it mostly in two sittings torn between wanting to know what would happen next in present time and what happened in the past leading up to the accident. I have a feeling Vanishing Girls will be marketed as the next We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Lockhart is the cover quote after all). I think this sort of comparison does the newer novel a disservice → Liars ends with a serious twist and now the publisher/reviewer/whomever is creating a semi-spoiler by making the comparison. I went into Vanishing Girls, just like We Were Liars, knowing nothing about the novel beyond the back cover. I think it makes for a much more enjoyable reading experience, a slower build to the climax as I wasn’t looking around every corner to solve the mystery.

Now by even saying this I feel like I have become part of the problem I am describing and take ownership of that (boo/hiss/rude on me). Here’s a link to the newest podcast from BookRiot ‘Do Spoilers Matter‘ that I just finished which discusses the idea of spoilers in further detail. That said, I hope you enjoy Vanishing Girls and the mystery behind the intertwined lives of Nick and Dara.

I received an ARC of Vanishing Girls from the Not-So-YA book club in Decatur, GA. Vanishing Girls is on sale March 15th, 2015.

Killer Unicorns, Need I Say More?

I have decided that I need to start a Ridiculous Premise Book Club. Right now I have a total of two books which fit this category perfectly – Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith and Rampant by Diana Peterfreund. I read Grasshopper Jungle last September after meeting Andrew Smith at the 2014 Decatur Book Festival. Quick synopsis: a 16 year old boy is torn between being in love with his girlfriend and his best friend (also a boy) while giant grasshoppers are on the verge of taking over the planet. Clearly Grasshopper Jungle perfectly fits into my Ridiculous Premise Book Club. However, long story short, for a super-hyped book (problem #1), I was very underwhelmed (Grasshopper Jungle Review).

Fast forward a couple months to the December Not-So-YA book club. For Christmas we decided on a white elephant book exchange and after much swapping and stealing of books, I ended up with Rampant (Killer Unicorns #1).

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Let me share with you the synopsis (from Goodreads):

Astrid had always scoffed at her eccentric mother’s stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks her boyfriend—thereby ruining any chance of him taking her to the prom—Astrid finds herself headed to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter at the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries.

However, at the cloisters all is not what it seems. Outside, the unicorns wait to attack. And within, Astrid faces other, unexpected threats: from the crumbling, bone-covered walls that vibrate with a terrible power to the hidden agendas of her fellow hunters to—perhaps most dangerously of all—her growing attraction to a handsome art student … an attraction that could jeopardize everything

I’m sorry what???

Illustration by Commanderofthedead on DeviantArt

Illustration by Commanderofthedead on DeviantArt

No really what???

Commanderofthedead on DeviantArt

Illustration by Commanderofthedead on DeviantArt

Following the book exchange, Rampant was about as far down the list on my TBR as you could get. I told my co-workers about it over lunch one Friday then I found out the following Monday that one of them borrowed it from the library over the weekend and started reading it! Well if he was reading it, I wanted to read it so we could talk about the insanity together. I read the book in about a week and no one was more surprised than me that I actually really enjoyed this book. I liked a book about murderous unicorns and the teenage virgins with the powers to slay them! It was like a bizarro Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7 with the Slayerettes.

Rampant was fast paced with a colorful cast of characters and certainly a unique take on one of the most well known mythical creatures. There were some issues with the book, namely that the girls not only had to have the right unicorn hunting lineage but also had to be virgins. I had a hard time accepting the lack of freedom these young women had over their own bodies and lives. However, that’s a heavy topic I’m not going to get into further at this time. Also, I didn’t realize how ingrained the idea of pure, kind unicorns was in my psyche. It was difficult to accept them as violent creatures and even root for their destruction. I’m not even sure I ever condoned violence against them but with five different species of unicorns, it was kind of easy to pretend they were a different mythical creature all together. For instant, I referred to the largest species of unicorn as a mammoth with a horn or a horned Snuffleupagus.

I’m not going to lie, I want to read Ascendant (Killers Unicorns #2) so clearly Peterfreund is doing something right with her ridiculous premise.

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What suggestions do you have for the Ridiculous Premise Book Club?

Book Review: Jackaby by William Ritter

‘Doctor Who meets Sherlock’ – that is how William Ritter’s debut novel Jackaby is marketed. With a gorgeous cover and legions of fans of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and the BBC’s Doctor Who, how could this novel not be a hit? Personally, I would call it a combination between Sherlock and Supernatural. The unexplainable phenomenon element is more fantastical than timey whimey. However, our main detective Mr. Jackaby does possess the arrogant intelligence of Sherlock Holmes and the Doctor (Doctor dependent) – keep reading though!

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At the beginning of the novel we meet Abigail Rook, only 19 and already disillusioned about her place in the world as a want-to-be adventurer in the late 1800s. Not willing to settle for the life of a common housewife, she leaves her home and family in England to seek out adventures in the new world. Abigail meets Mr. Jackaby (no idea his age) while inquiring about his assistantship posting and is thrown into his fast paced world of solving impossible crimes.

Science and magic, beauty and bedlam, things that ought to be at odds – they just don’t follow the same rules when Jackaby’s involved.

In the beginning I was turned off because while I am an avid fan of Sherlock, Doctor Who and Supernatural, I have little patience for asshole holier than thou because I’m smarter than thou bullshit – which does occasionally leave me irritated at the aforementioned shows. However after about a third of the way into the novel, we see some actual feelings from Jackaby as he describes the origins of a banshee and we get more information about his ability to see past the mundane. The supernatural element sets this novel apart from the above shows which I’m sure was Ritter’s intention. Jackaby’s alternating aloofness and superiority complex comes from the fact that while he may in fact be smarter, he is also incredibly alone. This isolation makes Jackaby endearing in the same way the Doctor is as the last Time Lord.

For a man who professes to be entirely rational and scientific, he can’t seem to steer clear of the impossible and magical.

The Case of the Silent Scream was intriguing but I am much more interested in the dynamics of Abigail and Jackaby’s friendship, not to mention the relationships with Jenny, Douglas (quack), and Charlie. I do hope Ritter has more adventures planned for this dynamic duo (and wtf Chapter 13??).

Ok – I just actually read my book jacket and Jackaby is totally the first in a series – yay!