Genre: Young Adult

ARC Mini Review: Challenger Deep (2015) by Neil Shusterman

ARC Mini Review: Challenger Deep (2015) by Neil ShustermanChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Published by HarperCollins on April 21st 2015
Genres: Boys & Men, Contemporary, Depression & Mental Illness, Social Issues, Special Needs, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Goodreads
three-stars

A captivating novel about mental illness that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman. Caden Bosch is on a ship that's headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench. Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior. Caden Bosch is designated the ship's artist in residence to document the journey with images. Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head. Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny. Caden Bosch is torn. Challenger Deep is a deeply powerful and personal novel from one of today's most admired writers for teens. Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak, calls Challenger Deep "a brilliant journey across the dark sea of the mind; frightening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary."

**Thank you, Heather Doss, for this ARC! This in no way affected my honest review of the book.

Illuminations:

Challenger Deep is unlike any book I’ve read before about mental illness. Granted, I haven’t read many young adult novels about this topic, but of the books I’ve read in the recent past, this one stands out as being unique. If I had to describe this book in one word while I was reading it, it would probably be “weird.” The style is totally different than what I normally read. At times I was confused, and it took me a long time to read a book that really wasn’t that long. For some reason, I just had a hard time picking the book back up and finishing it.

Challenger Deep is a place—it’s the lowest point on Earth, at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. In one “reality” of the book, the MC (Caden) is on a ship, traveling to that point—Challenger Deep. The story revolves around Caden making that journey—and it’s the symbolic nature of that journey that is important to the overall plot.

I think you need to pay attention when you read this book, as it switches between the MC’s real world and the world of the ship. In this way, it has a touch of magical realism, but sometimes I had to go back and see what “world” I was in. At the beginning I was definitely confused, but when considering that the book is meant to give us a deeper perspective into the life of a character who is struggling with mental illness, well, it seems that a little confusion is understandable.

The chapters are short and titled and this choice I think reflects something about the thought patterns of the MC. At least that’s one way to interpret the narrative structure.

Who Should Read This Book:

Shusterman’s new book from Harper Collins is an important story—it illuminates a very real issue in the lives of teens—that of mental illness. The creative way the author does this (along with his son’s art) makes the content and themes even more meaningful. The glimpses of the MC on the ship give the reader a special perspective on what it’s like to live with mental illness.

Librarians and teachers especially should be aware of this title as they can recommend it to readers looking for fiction about the topic.

The Final Illumination:

I think I’m in the minority here because quite a few readers seemed to really enjoy this book—or at least, it worked for them. I’m disappointed that this one just didn’t work for me, though I love Shusterman’s work and think he’s a fabulous writer. I do appreciate the way the author represented mental illness, but it took me so long to finish the book and get into it.  I had high expectations for this book, but as it turned out, it’s not a favorite.

three-stars
What Katie Read

ARC Mini Review: A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Maas

ARC Mini Review: A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. MaasA Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing USA on May 5th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Adult, Fantasy, Love & Romance, New Adult, Young Adult
Pages: 432
Goodreads
four-stars

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin-one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world. As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin-and his world-forever. Perfect for fans of Kristen Cashore and George R. R. Martin, this first book in a sexy and action-packed new series is impossible to put down!

Well, here it is, folks! My thoughts on A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas! Many thanks to What Sarah Read for loaning me her ARC of this fantastic and unique new title from Sarah J. Maas!

This is going to be a mini review [I’ve been swamped lately and have less time to write longer reviews] but I think you’ll enjoy it all the same.

Everyone has been raving about this book—it’s the first in a series, and I also really enjoyed it. I thought this was a strong and appealing start to Maas’s new series, A Court of Thorns and Roses.

I’m really looking forward to what Book 2 has in store. The only downside is that we have to wait awhile for that sequel.

In the meantime, though, we can re-read the Throne of Glass series and await the 4th installment, Queen of Shadows, out this fall!

But first, more about A Court of Thorns and Roses…(ACOTAR)

What I Loved:

The World of the Fae: There are two worlds in this book—the one nineteen year old Feyre lives in at the beginning of the story—and the magical land to which she moves after killing a wolf in the woods who is actually not a wolf. The killing of this wolf starts a chain of events that change Feyre’s life in profound ways. Tamlin, an immortal faery, introduces Feyre to this magical world completely unlike her own. Though Feyre struggles at first being alone in a strange place with beings she doesn’t care for, as time goes on, she becomes curious and begins to develop relationships with the “fae.”

I thought this magical land of faery was utterly stunning and fascinating. The author has expertly drawn a complex and interesting world that draws the fantasy readership. This is definitely an aspect of the book that I was thinking about long after I turned the last page.

“ ‘There is a better world, Nesta. There is a better world out there, waiting for you to find it. And if I ever get the chance, if things are ever better, safer…I will find you again.’ It was all I could offer her.” (272 in Print ARC)

The Unique Twists & Turns: I never know what to expect with Sarah J. Maas’s books, and this one was no exception in terms of its plot. She infuses her narrative with creative twists so that the reader is swept up in a unique journey that take the characters unexpected places. For example, I didn’t expect Feyre to make the location changes she does—I’m not going to give away anything—but this aspect of the book kept me intrigued and turning the pages. Feyre’s encounter with the Fae world brings a whole slew of complications and conflict (and romance!) to her life, and I think the secondary characters are just as interesting as the primary ones.

A Court of Thorns and Roses‘ Fairy Tale Influences: I’m usually interested in young adult novels influenced by fairy tales and that’s because I love fairy tales. There is definitely the Beauty and the Beast thread going on in ACOTAR, but this isn’t the only fairy tale. Sarah J. Maas actually researched in Scotland for this book, so there are other fairy tales that influenced her work (obviously Scottish!). I’m a big fan of this kind of research for a fantasy, so absolutely love this dimension of the story.

The Final Illumination:

I did not expect that ending! I thought the way Maas tied everything together in the story’s resolution was impressive and satisfying. Seriously, there were a few moments when it was a bit tense and I wondered—how are things going to work out?!?! That tension was a good thing, because it strengthened an already strong narrative, and you really rooted for the central characters. There are definitely some extremely evil characters in the series, and I do wonder what’s in store for Feyre and Tamlin in future books.

You can see I’ve categorized A Court of Thorns and Roses in Adult as well as New Adult–you’ll know what I mean when you read those scenes between Feyre and Tamlin. Note the term “fiery passion” in the Goodreads synopsis. Yes, you will know what I mean.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to Book 2—I’m just sorry we have to wait so long for it!

What will you be doing to survive the wait until ACOTAR 2?!?

What did you like about the book? Was there anything you didn’t like?

four-stars
What Katie Read

ARC Review: The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver

ARC Review: The Secrets We Keep by Trisha LeaverThe Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver
Published by Macmillan on April 28th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Death & Dying, Family, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Siblings, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Goodreads
four-stars

Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy's shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she's chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy's world.When--after a heated argument--Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy's death and everyone's grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy's life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options--confess her deception or live her sister's life.

**I received this e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the book.

What I Loved:

The Plot: I was intrigued by this concept of a twin switching places with her sister the moment I read the blurb on Goodreads for The Secrets We Keep. This was a book that I knew I would get sucked into. And I did—you know I’m a fan of fantasy and science fiction, but I love a good realistic novel that reflects complex and well-developed characters facing issues that seem almost impossible to overcome. In many ways, the problems that Ella faced in this story were huge.

For how long can you live a life that isn’t yours?

The Relationship Between Ella & Josh: You’re going to love Josh! You can imagine he’s crushed when “Ella” dies, and I won’t give anything away, but you can imagine how difficult it would be for Ella to act like she doesn’t miss her friend. Since she “becomes” Maddy, she is forced to act differently around Josh, and this has its consequences.

The Pacing: The pacing of this story was spot on for me. I probably could have finished this book in a day, but wanted to stretch it out a bit, so read it over a week in January. Loved it!

jessica_fletcher

The Mystery: After assuming Maddy’s identity (and her boyfriend as well) Ella soon discovers that Maddy may have been harboring some secrets. Ella is determined to get to the bottom of what Maddy was hiding—very quickly you realize that Maddy’s boyfriend is determined to keep these secrets undercover. This aspect of the story kept me reading, and I was combing the pages closely, trying to figure out what Maddy had been involved in before she died…

Illuminations of Spirituality in The Secrets We Keep:

Of course, you know I would have to bring up potential spiritual aspects in the book, and I found several that could definitely lead into more extensive discussions.

The intense bond between sisters. Sometimes sisters can finish each other’s sentences or know what the other is thinking. Since Maddy dies, there obviously isn’t the opportunity for the two to have any interaction, but the fact that Ella is willing to sacrifice her own identity in order to allow Maddy to “live” points to something in her that is still deeply connected to her twin.

This leads me to another dimension—Ella denies herself in order to embody Maddy for those around her. Though in some cases, “denying oneself” from a spiritual perspective might be a positive thing, it’s not always good. And this is definitely one instance where Ella’s choice to do so was detrimental to her and other people (even though she thought she was atoning for what she had done). Ella is just as important and valued as Maddy and has every right to live her life as herself.

Seeking forgiveness. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is forgive ourselves. There can be a spiritual component to this because we often have to go beyond ourselves in order to do this. This is a challenge for Ella, and as I read the book, I remember thinking, “Come on, girl, you’ve got to forgive yourself! You and everyone around you will be happier once you’ve done this.” Of course, it’s not always easy. But I enjoyed reading about Ella’s journey in light of this.

Who Should Read This Book:

I couldn’t help but think of both Before I Fall and Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver after I read this. Yes, these books are quite different than Leaver’s, but they all treat tensions among friends and VG and TSWK both illuminate the strength of bonds between sisters. There have been a handful of YA titles that deal with the strong bond between sisters, and I don’t think I’ll get tired of them anytime soon. Even though one sister dies at the beginning of the book, the narrative illuminates a realistic relationship with all the ups and downs that a sisterly connection endures.

The Final Illumination:

One journey we all have to go on for ourselves is the journey of finding our identity—figuring out who we are. I was intrigued by the way this novel engaged with that idea, and no matter what your age, the issue of identity is a relevant one. Of course, this time of finding identity is especially significant for young adults, and the way that Ella comes to terms with her identity is beautifully drawn in The Secrets We Keep.

I’m definitely looking forward to more YA Contemporary from Trisha Leaver, but seeing as she writes other genres besides Contemporary, I’ll be certain to look out for any titles she writes in the future.

Also, I’m lucky enough to be in a writing critique group with Trisha, so you can bet I’ll be reading her future work!

celebrate

You can visit Trisha’s website here.

You can tell I loved this book! What about you? Have you read The Secrets We Keep? Or are you planning to?

four-stars
What Katie Read
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