Monday, May 9, 2016

Abbreviations #24: April Minis

Another month has flown by and you know what that means - more mini-reviews of some of last month's reads! I always like sharing my thoughts on whatever I've read (and I try to keep it current), so here are some brief reviews on the novels that I managed to read before I left to travel last month. Here's to hoping you find something new to check out!

Three Day Summer book cover
Three Day Summer by Sarvenaz Tash
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 19, 2015
Source: Hardcover gifted by Cassie (Thanks!)

I was gifted Three Day Summer last year, but I never got around to reading it. I finally buckled down and read it during one particularly dreary weekend between winter and spring. And it was just the perfect time to indulge in this book! It transported me to an entirely new (to me) setting: upstate New York during the three days of Woodstock. The novel follows two teens during the three days of this monumental moment in history: Cora, a resident of Bethel who is volunteering at the medical tent as part of her plan to become a doctor, and Michael, a boy who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his future and is determined to enjoy the music of the festival. Their paths cross very early on, and that begins a life-changing, crazy three days. It was so fun to get an idea of what Woodstock must have been like, and the author really made the experience immersive for the reader. But I also really just enjoyed reading about Cora and Michael, and how their stories converge and unfold. Tash does a really good job with her narration, and it was an incredibly diverting read.

Wanderlost book cover
Wanderlost by Jen Malone
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: May 31, 2015
Source: ARC downloaded from Edelweiss (Thanks!)

Just to get this out of the way, readers will have to suspend their disbelief about a few things in Wanderlost. The novel follows Aubree Sadler, who is forced to take over her sister Elizabeth’s summer job leading a tour group of senior citizens on a bus tour through Europe. The premise sounds like it is right out of a film, and the shenanigans and close calls that ensue are definitely worthy of a visual medium – and really fun to read about. I can’t personally attest to the accuracy of the author’s depiction of the various European locales and their history but I can tell you that this is a really entertaining story. Aubree is a great main character, a typical teen girl whose world opens up during her summer of travel and who learns more about herself and her capabilities. She is joined by some really amusing secondary characters, as well as a very cute boy who totally steals the scene whenever he appears. It was a real treat to get to join Aubree on her trip, and I just found it all – the travels, the romance, the shenanigans – so compelling to read about. While there may be things that made me shake my head, I can’t deny that this was a good book. If you’re in the market for a new light contemporary read with humorous circumstances and a cute romance, definitely check this one out!

The Forbidden Wish book cover
The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: February 23, 2016
Source: Purchased with a gift card from Barnes & Noble

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with the Disney version of Aladdin (I even dressed up as Jasmine one Halloween. I wish I had a photo on hand to share!). There was something compelling about the boy thief who dreamed of more, the charming genie of the lamp who dishes out humor along with three wishes, and the princess who desires more than being trapped in a palace all day. Because it was inspired by Aladdin, I was immediately drawn to The Forbidden Wish; a quote from one of my favorite authors on its beautiful cover sealed the deal, and I snapped up this novel on a trip to Barnes and Noble. The novel is about Zahra, a jinni summoned back to the human world when a boy thief named Aladdin discovers her lamp. As she prepares to grant his three wishes, she is given an offer by the King of the Jinn: free his son from captivity in the city and she will be granted her freedom. But Zahra soon finds herself torn between her desire to be free and her feelings for Aladdin. Honestly, I am so happy that I got this book! It blew me away. Granted, it took a couple of chapters before I fully settled into the writing style. Granted, there are a few chapters in the middle where it feels like the action has been suspended. But in spite of these two things (which are the reason I couldn’t give it a full five star rating), I was incredibly impressed with how Khoury put her own unique twist on the story I remembered from childhood. Her characters were such intelligent takes on familiar faces (and I’m particularly fond of the princess, if I were to pick a favorite), the plot included familiar elements and there was just the right touch of cultural details. It was a lovely reading experience all in all, and I was completely invested in discovering the outcome of Zahra’s story. If fairytale-inspired stories are your thing, I certainly would recommend picking up a copy of this book. 

The Way Back to You book cover
The Way Back to You by Michelle Andreani & Mindi Scott
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Source: ARC downloaded from Edelweiss (Thanks!)

Ashlyn Montiel died six months ago in a bike crash. Her death changed the lives of her family, and her friends, particularly her boyfriend Kyle and her best friend Cloudy. When Cloudy learns the identities of the recipients of Ashlyn’s organs, she and Kyle wind up going on a road trip to see them in the hopes of finding some peace and healing along the way. What I particularly enjoyed about The Way Back to You is how grief is portrayed as unique to the individual. Kyle and Cloudy are reeling from losing a girl they both loved deeply, who was such a big part of both their lives. But they have different approaches to their sorrow – Cloudy is putting on a brave face and attempting to pretend her life is okay, while Kyle appears to be experiencing an emotional breakdown. It’s really great that readers are shown that there is not only one way to grieve, and I feel like the emotional journey both Kyle and Cloudy go through is done well. (And it made me emotional, particularly in Cloudy’s case.) While this is the main focus of the novel, Scott and Andreani also added color to this story with the fun secondary characters, a scenic road trip and just the right amount of humor and swoon to make this particular reader happy. All in all, it’s a really good story (though it does have a bit of an oddly paced start), and I would definitely recommend it to other readers.

Traitor Angels book cover
Traitor Angels by Anne Blankman
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Source: ARC received from publisher (Thanks!)

I really enjoyed Blankman’s previous duology, Prisoner of Night and Fog and Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke. Her writing is so readable, and her ability to take historical figures and facts and weave them into a fictional narrative is undeniable. And that is very much true of her latest release, Traitor Angels, the story of Elizabeth Milton, daughter of political activist and poet John Milton. When her father is taken prisoner by the king, she is determined to use all the things he has had her educated in (languages, history, literature and self-defense) to save him, teaming up with unexpected allies along the way. Elizabeth discovers that there is a secret hidden within the words of her father’s latest work Paradise Lost, and is forced to choose whether to save her father’s life or unleash this powerful secret and change society forever. Initially, I worried that being unfamiliar with Paradise Lost would affect how I felt about this story. But Blankman weaves in the story chronicled in the poem into her narrative in a way that is accessible to those of us reading the novel. And not only does she integrate the poem, there’s history in there as well. And she invites readers to tag along with Elizabeth and her companions as they try to put together all the clues and uncover the secret, which was pretty darn fun. My only two critical comments, really, is that the characters were slightly underdeveloped to me (particularly in terms of their motivations) and I found parts of the plot to be fairly easy to predict. But all in all, it was yet another compelling historical YA novel from Blankman! I still very much look forward to what she has in store for us next.

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