Buzz Kill

Buzz KillBuzz Kill by Beth Fantaskey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, YA
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers.

This is a part of my Alphabetical Book Goal.

I received this book (several years ago) from the publisher. This has not affected my review.

Putting the dead in deadline
To Bee or not to Bee? When the widely disliked Honeywell Stingers football coach is found murdered, 17-year-old Millie is determined to investigate. She is chasing a lead for the school newspaper – and looking to clear her father, the assistant coach, and prime suspect.

Millie’s partner is gorgeous, smart-and keeping secrets
Millie joins forces with her mysterious classmate Chase who seems to want to help her even while covering up secrets of his own.

She’s starting to get a reputation…without any of the benefits.
Drama-and bodies-pile up around Millie and she chases clues, snuggles Baxter the so-ugly-he’s-adorable bassett hound, and storms out of the world’s most awkward school dance/memorial mash-up. At least she gets to eat a lot of pie.

I love mysteries. Like Millie (the main character) I grew up reading and idolizing Nancy Drew. Yes, you read that correctly, this book is unashamedly about a Nancy Drew Fangirl and it’s beautiful. Her motto is “WWND” (what would Nancy do?). Unlike some books that are written “for fans of ____” this one is written about (and by) a fan. It kind of made me think of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

The murder its self is very well written and thought out, and for a YA book I came across a surprisingly few number of errors in terms of how the police handled everything. (Unfortunately a lot of authors don’t know much about real crime scenes and seem to get a lot of their info from shows like CSI and Bones which are very incorrect). I could definitely believe in the circumstances as they were presented.

There is a lot of suspense. A lot. I loved it. You never really know what’s going to happen next and it’s almost impossible to “be a step ahead” or figure out the murder before Mille does, which is always a benefit in a mystery novel.

Overall

If you love Nancy Drew then you should definitely check out this book!! I think any lover of mysteries could read this and enjoy it. There is some romance, but’s its not too bad and never seems to distract from the story itself. It’s a great book for teenagers, though, and a higher reading level than most of the Nancy Drew books (but if you want to try it I’d never discourage you from reading outside of your usual level).

 

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A Tale of Two Castles

A Tale of Two Castles (A Tale of Two Castles, #1)A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Young Adult
Publisher: Harper Teen
Series: Book One of A Tale of Two Castles

This review contains no spoilers.

This was published as a part of my Alphabetical Books Goal.

Disclaimer: I am very biased toward anything that Gail Carson Levine writes. She is my absolute favorite author and her books are some of what inspired my love of reading.

Mysteries abound, especially in Two Castles.

A handsome cat trainer, black-and-white cats, thieves on four legs and two, suspicious townsfolk, a greedy king, a giddy princess, a shape-shifting ogre, a brilliant dragon. Which is the villainous whited sepulcher?

Elodie journeys to the town of Two Castles to become a mansioner—an actress—but luck is against her. She is saved from starvation by the dragon Meenore, who sends her on a dangerous mission inside the ogre’s castle. There, disguised as a kitchen maid at an ogre’s feast, she finds herself cast in the role of a lifetime and pitted against a foe intent on murder.

I unashamedly love anything by Gail Carson Levine. This book is no exception. There are parts of it which are absolutely hilarious (like all of her books) and then parts which are much more serious (there is a murderer on the loose).

The Imagery: I think one of GCL’s strong points as a writer is being able to pull her readers into the world she’s created. I can very vividly remember Elodie’s world and particularly a scene where she acts the part of someone who wants an apple. I know it sounds absurd, but it has really stuck with me as one of the best written and most immersive scenes in the book.

I’m not always a fan of mysteries in fantasy – I love mysteries and I love fantasy but I don’t always love when they’re put together – but in this book it’s really well done. Of course, there are some parts that I thought were a bit predictable, but that’s just because I’m so familiar with her style. Some things still caught me off guard though, and there are enough twists to keep it interesting for any reader.

I have to boast a little because my copy is signed.

Overall

This book is for any lover of fantasy or mystery. Mrs. Levine’s work isn’t just for kids, I think even teens and young adults can get into it too.

The Testing

The Testing (The Testing, #1)The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Sci-fi, Dystopia, YA
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Series: Book One of The Testing Trilogy

This review does not contain spoilers.

This was published as a part of my Alphabetical Books Goal.

I was sent this by the publisher two years ago, but this does not impact my review. It is my honest opinion.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one and the same?

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one.

 
But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

I liked this more than I thought I would. When I first picked it up I was sure that I would hate it – after all, it basically sounds like the plot of the Hunger Games, and even back when I read it I was already sick of the Dystopian Genre. However, I forced myself to go into it with an open mind and was pleasantly surprised: I didn’t manage to guess all the plot twists! (After I’ve read a few books in a genre I tend to be able to guess a lot of the plot. It’s a struggle for those of us who read too much.)

Cia Vale, the main character, was very-well written. She had just as many strengths as she did flaws, which is always a nice change from the Perfect Female Characters that are becoming more and more common.

The main reason I gave it three stars, is because I really didn’t get into it as much as I do to some of what I read. I’m not a huge fan of dystopia itself, and it was too similar to other Dystopian novels like Divergent or The Hunger Games in terms of the “train a kid to fight to the death” or “only the strongest can survive in the bleak future.” But if you love dystopia more than me, or don’t feel its as over done as I do, you might find yourself liking it more.

Overall

Until very recently I had forgotten about this book, but when I was going through my shelf for things to read for my Alphabet Goal I saw this and remembered it. I re-read parts of it while writing the review and now I want to go out and read more books in the series.

I think fans of Dystopia will get the most enjoyment out of this book (obviously), but any lover of action/adventure will too.

The Queen of the Tearling

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1)The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Harper
Series: The Queen of the Tearling
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Dystopian
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers.

An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

This is a very interesting book because it’s a combination of dystopian and classic fantasy. The settlers in Tear and the surrounding countries are descended from a group of people who sailed away from the world we know America and England, to a ‘new world’ that would be founded on socialism and atheism and lack all modern technologies (except medicine). Obviously all of these plans failed: there’s a serfdom, a slave trade, a “Church” with the same power as the Catholic Church had over Medieval Europe, and the boat carrying all the doctors and medical equipment sunk before they arrived.

My biggest gripe with this series is a simple question: what land mass is this supposed to be happening on? The settlers (three centuries before the book takes place) supposedly sailed to the Tear region from America and Europe, but it never tells us which landmass they went to. There’s no island large enough for this to be happening on, and everywhere else is inhabited (which it apparently wasn’t when they arrived). Hopefully that will be explained later in the series.

I loved the world, the characters, and everything about this. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while (and I’ve been reading some good stuff recently!).

Characters

Kelsea: The main character (and title character) is Kelsea Raleigh. She quickly establishes herself as an idealist, who is only starting to realize the consequences of her actions. Kelsea is also a huge book lover, which actually ends up a pretty large part of her character. She was a bit vain, and spent quite a bit of time complaining about her looks for someone who was obsessed with “not being vain” like a certain other character (no spoilers!).

Mace: The head of The Queens Guard, Mace is an old pro who always seems to be five or six steps ahead of everyone else in terms of planning and plotting. Unlike Kelsea, Mace is

Fetch: The leader of a band of outlaws – rather like Robin Hood in their notoriety – who ends up saving Kelsea’s life (by deciding not to murder her) and plays a very important part in her decisions.

The Regent: Kelsea’s Uncle and regent is completely unlikeable from the moment he is introduced (because he is trying to kill her in whatever way possible).

The Queen of Mort: Otherwise known as the Red Queen, but I’d hate for you to confuse this with the book of the same name by Victoria Aveyard. She’s called by these titles because no one knows what her real name is. She’s pretty awesome in a very evil way, in her scenes you can expect witchcraft, intrigue, and good, old fashioned evil.

Triggers

The new ‘thing’ in YA seems to be a brutal realism, like I complained about in The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal (read my review), there was a lot of talk of sex and rape. However, it was no where near as graphic and detailed (or common) in this book. I still feel as though I should warn you before telling you to go read it. There is mention of sex and rape, however, nothing too graphic. The worst is during the scenes in The Mort Queen’s POV.

Overall

Overall, I’d reccomend this book for fans of the Girl of Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson. It had a spark to it that was similar to parts of that series, the same style of adventure tinged with politics. Like that series the main character was likable up until her looks were brought into play. Yes Kelsea, I get it, you’re ‘plain’ and yes, Elisa (of Girl of Fire and Thorns), I get it, you’re fat. Shut up and move on with the story.

The reason this didn’t rank five stars was pretty simple: the “what landmass are we on” question and “Kelsea stop whining about your looks.” Other than that it was really great, and neither of those are too pressing so you should be able to ignore it completely!!

Victoria Rebels

Victoria RebelsVictoria Rebels by Carolyn Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Series: Young Royals
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers.

Queen Victoria’s personal journals inform this captivating first-person account of one of history’s most prominent female leaders.

Queen Victoria most certainly left a legacy—under her rule as the longest reigning female monarch in history, the British Empire was greatly expanded and significant industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military changes occurred within the United Kingdom. To be a young woman in a time when few other females held positions of power was to lead in a remarkable age—and because Queen Victoria kept personal journals, this historical novel from award-winning author Carolyn Meyer shares authentic emotional insight along with accurate information, weaving a true story of intrigue and romance. 

Victoria Rebels is by the same author of Cleopatra Confesses, which I’ve reviewed previously. It follows in the footsteps of Meyer’s other works by giving a detailed analysis of some of history’s most infamous historical women. This one follows Queen Victoria, the second-longest reining monarch of England (only recently surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II) and is one of the most detailed accounts of her I’ve ever read. It adds in famous events during her life that defined her (some of which my AP Euro teacher hadn’t heard of!) such as Sir John Conroy and his “Kensington System” which defined her younger years.

One of the things that this book is best at, is giving depth to young Victoria and developing her relationships with other people, including her husband and first cousin Prince Albert and her often estranged mother. King William IV, Victoria’s Uncle, was so un-fond of her mother that when he announced Victoria as his heir he famously remarked that he hoped he would live long enough that she wouldn’t need a regency. These relationships are well written and historically accurate, Carolyn Meyer researched everything and even used Victoria’s personal diaries (which she wrote her entire life) as a source.

In the book Victoria struggles through problems that she faced in real life; coming to terms with her position in court and the kind of power she did hold (she once prevented the Tories from gaining power in Parliament just by refusing to change the women in her Royal Household), and the scandal with Lady Flora Hastings that almost completely destroyed her reign.

I loved this book and I think anyone who enjoyed historical fiction or who just wants a better look at one of the most infamous queens of all time will too. I don’t think you should let it limit you because of its YA listing, I think people of all ages could enjoy it and successfully read it. The writing itself is not terribly difficult, but it is long, so bear that in mind.

We Hear the Dead

We Hear the DeadWe Hear the Dead by Dianne K. Salerni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Series: Standalone
Genre: Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Young Adult
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers.

It started out as a harmless prank. But soon enough, spiritualism was the fastest growing movement of the nineteenth century, and Maggie Fox was trapped in a life of deceit.

Maggie:
I began the deception when I was too young to know right from wrong. No one suspected us of any trick, because we were such young children. We were led on by my sister purposely and by my mother unintentionally. Only with the passing of time did I come to understand the consequences of my actions. As Doctor wrote to me: “Weary, weary is the life by cold deceit oppressed.”
 

Kate:My sister has used the word “deception.” I object to her use of that word, for I do not believe that I have ever intentionally deceived anyone. Maggie has a different understanding of all the events that have happened since that night in Hydesville forty years ago. To her the spirits were always a game. For my sister Leah, they were a means to an end. For my mother, a miracle. And for me, they were my life’s calling. I have no regrets.

 

We Hear the Dead is the story of Fox Sisters – Leah, Maggie, and Kate – the three girls credited with starting Spiritualism (the thought that you can communicate with the dead). Although history remembers that they were exposed as frauds – they cracked their fingers and toes and tied lead balls to their skirts to make ghostly ‘answers’ – the youngest sister, Kate, always maintained that they were indeed real, even after her sister confessed they were frauds. Spiritualism has become less popular over the years, but it is still something that many people believe in.

What makes We Hear the Dead such an interesting account of the sisters is that it is presented so that it doesn’t matter what you believe. Maggie (the middle sister and the one to eventually confess to their lies) serves as the narrator which leaves it up to the reader to decide if Kate really did fake it or not (of the three, Kate was most convinced of their truth). It was also very well researched and it showed. It fit almost perfectly into how I imagine the time period to be and there was nothing that was blazingly unrealistic.

I had a lot of fun while I was reading this book and I came away with a much deeper understanding of Spiritualism and how it affects the history of America. Lots of influential people, including presidents, sought out spiritualists for both communicating with lost loved ones and asking advice.

I certainly could get into the characters, from the ones I loved to the ones I hated, and there was just the right amount of them to keep the story flowing without getting lost. The book also follows the love story of Maggie Fox and Elisha Kane, once the most beloved Arctic explorer in the country. Although it was not a well-known story, even at the time when they were both in the spotlight for very different reasons, personal letters have been discovered that prove its existence. I won’t spoil any more about how the love story turns out (I will say there is no love triangle!), but I will confess that it was very sweet and a love story that I actually enjoyed.

Overall I think all fans of historical fiction will like this book, as well as anyone who likes a good (but not too scary!) ghost story. It is definitely a solid YA book, and while the reading level isn’t too high, I took my time while working through it because it almost felt a little dense (which was a good thing, because it covers a very long span of time!).

First Light

First Light (Forever After Series, #1)First Light by Michele Paige Holmes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Fairytale Retelling, YA
Publisher: Mirror Press

This review contains no spoilers.

I was given this book in exchange for an honest review through the website Ebooks For Review. This has not affected my review in anyway, and I was not paid to write my review.

Seventeen-year-old Adrielle doesn’t believe in magic; she merely possesses it, though no one has ever mentioned that her unusual gifts—exceptional speed, a flair for fire, and an intimate knowledge of flora—aren’t things she was born with. When Adrielle starts a fire that burns down the family home, she must deal with both her grief and her siblings’ hurtful rejection.

While journeying to far away Tallinyne, in search of her older, estranged sister—the only relative who might take her in—Adrielle is separated from her escort when the carriage is beset by thieves. Alone, she is thrust into a dangerous and unfamiliar world where she encounters fairies and gypsies, a wild boar, a drunk cook, and an evil queen whose curse is sweeping death across the land. Adrielle also finds love, falling hard for a kind, funny, handsome—and completely unavailable prince.

From the glowing pearls tucked beneath her mattress and keeping her awake at night, to Queen Nadamaris’s curse that seems to thwart Adrielle’s every effort, Adrielle struggles to navigate a world of magic she never imagined, where people she knows and loves are not always what they appear to be. With the glowing pearls—and her fondest desire—within her grasp, she is forced to make a choice no girl should ever have to—satisfying her own heart or saving the kingdom.

I think I lost count of the sheer number of fairytales and folk stories that were referenced or directly involved in this story. However, they were all well-woven into the plot and none of them screamed at being out of placed or distracted from what was going on. They all worked together to create the landscape in which the story took place.

Additionally it was a very solid book, I while I didn’t give it five stars – because I felt as though there was something missing (I’m just not sure wha) – I can very easily say that it deserved everyone of its four stars. The story was well told and each of the characters fit perfectly inside it. But there was just a little spark that a five star book requires was missing.

The basis of the story is very tragic, a girl who is blamed for the accidental deaths of both her parents, and so she is shunned by the people she grew up with, which leads her to leave her home in search of a new start. Along the way she meets a delightful and varied cast of characters, who are all well-written and unique in their own right. There is a love story, naturally, and I won’t spoil it, but I will say that is it a very sweet love story.

My biggest complaint, and perhaps the reason I could not give it more stars, is the predictability of the story. It is a fairytale after all, and follows a lot of the ‘traditional’ paths that such stories take. There were many plot twists that I figured out well before the main character (or other characters), and seemingly before the author wanted me to.

Overall I’d reccomend this to anyone who likes fairytales or romance books. I think perhaps it would be best with younger readers – middle grade – because it is very clean, with only one minor reference to ‘wedding nights’ and I just wasn’t sure that it seemed to be intended for older readers. But don’t let that discourage you. I’m at the higher end of the ‘teen’ age range and I liked it!