August 18, 2018

Review: The Shadow Cipher

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The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
Grade: B
Summary: It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment house—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long-held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: If you grew up reading The 39 Clues or The Mysterious Benedict Society, this book is for you. (Or if you have a middle schooler who loves those books, give them this one!)
With a narrative voice somewhere between middle grade and young adult but with a plot that will probably interest middle grade readers more, The Shadow Cipher is inventive, mysterious, and fun. It plays with New York history and present in such a fun way, and I love how author Laura Ruby left some things the same, tweaked others a little, and invented all new things.
The book is narrated by the three main characters - Tess, Theo, and Jaime. Their narrative voices aren't very distinct, and the story is told in third-person so I constantly had to check to see who was actually narrating a chapter. They each have bits of personalities that start to shine through, but The Shadow Cipher is more plot-focused. I do think the twins' Aunt Esther will play a big part in future books, and I'm excited to see how. The antagonists were a bit typical of middle grade fiction, but I think the cipher itself will keep readers guessing. It's not one that readers can necessarily piece together for themselves first, which adds fun since no one knows what will happen.

Content warnings: Mild danger.

The Verdict: The adventure is only beginning.


Will I be adding this book to my library?: Already have.

August 15, 2018

Review: We Regret to Inform You

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We Regret to Inform You by Ariel Kaplan
Grade: B+
Release date: August 21, 2018
An e-galley was provided by Random House via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: Mischa Abramavicius is a walking, talking, top-scoring, perfectly well-rounded college application in human form. So when she's rejected not only by the Ivies, but her loathsome safety school, she is shocked and devastated. All the sacrifices her mother made to send her to prep school, the late nights cramming for tests, the blatantly resume-padding extracurriculars (read: Students for Sober Driving) ... all that for nothing.

As Mischa grapples with the prospect of an increasingly uncertain future, she questions how this could have happened in the first place. Is it possible that her transcript was hacked? With the help of her best friend and sometimes crush, Nate, and a group of eccentric techies known as "The Ophelia Syndicate," Mischa launches an investigation that will shake the quiet community of Blanchard Prep to its stately brick foundations.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: We Regret to Inform You has been kind of slipping under the radar. Not a lot of bloggers have talked about it, and it's not getting a lot of hype, like some other August titles. And I'm surprised. It was nice to go into the story, not knowing what to expect, but also it was terrifying. Yet, there was nothing to be scared of.
WRtIY has a good voice. Mischa is a strong narrator who kept me interested from the get-go. She's mature but still teenager-y. (For example, she doesn't tell her mom about her grades being hacked for a very long time.) Also, can I just say I shipped her and Nate from the get-go? There were never any serious communication issues between them, and yeah, they have a fight at one point, but both apologize the next day and move past it. The Ophelia Syndicate is a well-rounded group of girls, although some of their background details still felt too surface to me. (Also, I really wish their group's name had been talked about in more than one scene.) Meredith Dorsay was a layered character, which I appreciated. She felt gray in good ways; there was no excuse for how she treated Mischa, but she also helped do the right thing at the end (although mostly for selfish reasons).
The plot moved along at a good speed. There were several points where I was sad to have to put the book down and go to work or sleep. The beginning takes a couple chapters, but then it really gets going.

Content warnings: Making out. It's suggested at one point that a teacher has relationships with two different students.

The Verdict: I'm happy to inform you that this book was a hit.


Will I be adding this book to my library?: Possibly.

August 13, 2018

Emma's Definitive Ranking of Kasie West's Books

Since Kasie West's tenth book published recently and she's one of my favorite authors, I thought it was time I formally ranked her books. This is, of course, all personal opinion, but I'd love to hear how your ranking might differ, if you're a Kasie West fan, too!

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10. By Your Side (HarperCollins, Jan. 31, 2017)
The chemistry between the main character and her love interest was weakest in this book, and the "locked in the library" plot was underused.

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9. Love, Life, and the List (HarperCollins, Dec. 26, 2017)
To be honest, I don't remember that much about this one, which says how little I cared about it. The romance wasn't my fave, and I did start to worry I wasn't as big of a Kasie West fan anymore just because the plotline didn't interest me as much.

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8. Lucky in Love (Scholastic, July 25, 2017)
This one suffered from lack of common sense. The protagonist, Maddie, made some stupid choices, and her parents didn't help matters. What redeems Lucky in Love is Maddie's job at the zoo and Seth. He's such an adorable love interest.

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7. The Fill-In Boyfriend (HarperCollins, May 5, 2015)
The friend group and family dynamics aren't my favorite in this one.

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6. Split Second (HarperCollins, Feb. 11, 2014)
I still liked this one pretty well, but I prefer Pivot Point, and I like some of Kasie's other books better.

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5. The Distance Between Us (HarperCollins, July 2, 2013)
So fun story: this was my first Kasie book, and I didn't actually like it? But I read Pivot Point and really enjoyed that, so I gave TDBU another try and realized I did actually like it. The whole plot with Caymen's mom's past was kind of rough, though.

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4. Listen to Your Heart (Scholastic, May 29, 2018)
I was rooting for Kate and Diego the whole time.

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3. Pivot Point (HarperCollins, Feb. 12, 2013)
One of my favorite super power, alternate timeline stories. Trevor is ridiculously swoonworthy, too.

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2. On the Fence (HarperCollins, July 1, 2014)
Still has that annoying, weirdly dramatic element that makes some of Kasie's books soap opera-ish, but I love Charlie and Braden's fence chats and their friendship that blossoms into something more.

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1. P.S. I Like You (Scholastic, July 26, 2016)
It's a You've Got Mail retelling. How could I not love it?? Cade and Lily are ridiculously swoonworthy by the end, and I love how there isn't unnecessary drama over miscommunication between them.


One thing I do want to add is that I've noticed lately how formal the dialogue sounds at times in Kasie's books. The teenage characters won't use contractions or they'll say "yes" at times when they would clearly say "yeah." Thankfully, that tendency seems to have lessened a bit in Listen to Your Heart, but it's one of the reasons I dislike By Your Side so much.

Have you read all of Kasie West's books? She's definitely one of the cornerstones of YA romance, in my opinion. I'm excited to see what else she writes!

August 12, 2018

Rewind & Review #115


~I had a movie night with friends from Asbury, since the rain cancelled Bryant Park's Movie Monday.
~I visited the only French bookstore in NYC, and it was lovely although the YA section was a bit small.
~I finally walked part of the High Line and visited Chelsea Market again after that! The Market was much quieter than last time, and I loved it.
~I started packing for my move to Brooklyn (which will be complete today). Then I spent the last couple of days moving over there, which has been quite the hassle. I really hate moving, y'all. Especially in a big city.
~I met up with several friends for lunch or dinner, and it was lovely to catch up and also just spend time with other people.

Books I Received for Review
Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (from Candlewick via NetGalley)
Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss by Kasie West (from HarperCollins via Edelweiss)
Love à la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm (from Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley)
In Paris With You by Clémentine Beauvais (from Wednesday Books via NetGalley)

Books I Won/Traded for/was Gifted
One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake
Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West (gifted by a friend at HarperCollins)

Books I Bought
Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
Dubliners by James Joyce

Books I Read
All the Answers by Kate Messner
Hamilton and Peggy! by L.M. Elliott (3 stars)
Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies by Laura Stampler (reread)
The Comfort Food Diaries by Emily Nunn (3 stars)
We Regret to Inform You by Ariel Kaplan
All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (reread)
The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman (reread)
The Darkdeep by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs (2.5 stars)
Imprison the Sky by A.C. Gaughen (3 stars)
Royal Babylon by Karl Shaw (2 stars)
Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn (4.5 stars)
The Chaos of Now by Erin Jade Lange (2 stars)
Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch (3 stars)
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour (reread)
The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell (2 stars)
Stars So Sweet by Tara Dairman (reread)


Blog Posts You Might've Missed in the Last Few Weeks
   (from 7/23-7/28)
   (from 7/29-8/4)

August 10, 2018

Random Friday: Movies I've Seen More Than Once in Theaters


Want to participate in Random Fridays? Just do the following:
  • Include the above image in your post and link back to my blog.
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I enjoy going to the movie theater, but I usually only see a film once, then wait til it's out on DVD and I can pay once to watch it multiple times. But there have been a few movies I've actually seen more than once in theaters, for various reasons.

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1. Night at the Museum 2
I don't remember the exact details, but I'm pretty sure my parents and I saw it around opening weekend and then, a few weeks later, my mom and I were looking for something to do, so we went and saw it again. (Which we could do cause the theater we went to at the time charged only $4 for tickets; I miss those days.)

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2. Monsters University
I remember I went opening weekend with a friend because our other plans got rained out. Then, towards the end of the summer, my friends and I were out to lunch and we wanted something to do after and that was the only movie we could agree on.

A big white round inflatable health robot assistant.
3. Big Hero 6
It was the first movie I saw in theaters with friends from Asbury, and then over Thanksgiving, my family was in town and my little cousins hadn't seen it yet, so I went with them and my uncle.

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4. Wonder Woman
I saw it opening weekend and then right before going back to school. Best way to bookend my summer.

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5. Thor: Ragnarok
Mary-Courtney and I needed something to do while she was visiting me over Christmas break, and even though we'd both already seen it...we went again. 

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6. Black Panther
Three times, my friends. Once on opening weekend, once with my mom over spring break, and once with Elise after break. Cause why not?


So what movies have you seen multiple times in theaters?



August 9, 2018

Review: All the Answers

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All the Answers by Kate Messner
Grade: A
I now work at Bloomsbury, who published this book, but that in no way has affected my opinion.
Summary: What if your pencil had all the answers? Would you ace every test? Would you know what your teachers were thinking? When Ava Anderson finds a scratched up pencil she doodles like she would with any other pencil. But when she writes a question in the margin of her math quiz, she hears a clear answer in a voice no one else seems to hear.

With the help of her friend Sophie, Ava figures out that the pencil will answer factual questions only – those with definite right or wrong answers – but won’t predict the future. Ava and Sophie discover all kinds of uses for the pencil, and Ava's confidence grows with each answer. But it's getting shorter with every sharpening, and when the pencil reveals a scary truth about Ava's family, she realizes that sometimes the bravest people are the ones who live without all the answers...

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Sometimes I have enough free time at work to read things we've already published. I've really enjoyed two of Kate Messner's most recent titles, so I've been taking a look at her backlist. From the get-go, All the Answers appealed to me. It operates under a similar magical contemporary premise as The Seventh Wish, but with a special pencil instead of a wish-granting fish. 
It was fascinating to see how Ava learned how to use the pencil, and I loved all the relationship dynamics between her and her parents, her grandmother, and her best friend, Sophie. All the main adults in the book are great. They aren't perfect, but they also aren't villains, which was lovely. I did want a little more between Ava and her siblings, Marcus and Emma, though.
One of the biggest themes of All the Answers is anxiety. I appreciated that Ava could overcome some of her fears to an extent - especially when beating them would prevent one of her worse fears - but that it wasn't just about powering through. Sometimes you have to find your own solutions instead of doing what other people tell you, and in the end, Ava starts to see a counselor, which was a wonderful message to see in a middle grade novel.
The characters in All the Answers ask a lot of tough questions, and Kate Messner handles them wonderfully for the age level this book is meant for. She doesn't shy away from things like death, cancer, and divorce, but at the same time, the story isn't dark either.

The Verdict: Wonderfully cute and smart.


Will I be adding this book to my library?: Yes!

August 7, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Worlds I'd Like to See Collide


This post was sort of hard to do. I basically imagined what book worlds I'd like to see crossovers between, and I ended up choosing a bunch of contemporary novels, so I guess that means it would be more like characters meeting. But here's what I thought of!

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1. The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes and Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter

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2. The Fixer duology by Jennifer Lynn Barnes and Embassy Row by Ally Carter
(What I'm saying is that I need all the JLB-AC mash-ups.)

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After all, they're already real life BFFs. Wouldn't it be so fun to see Lara Jean and Peter in the world of Stanwich, Connecticut?

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5. The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Imagine what the Dregs could do if they had Nix and her traveling abilities.

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6. The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh and The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

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All the cute, fluffy fun.

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8. Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett and From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon
For the movie lovers.

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9. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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10. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
For all the curious, clever mystery-loving middle schoolers out there.


What books do you want to see cross over which each other?

August 5, 2018

Star-Touched Stories Blog Tour: Q&A with Roshani Chokshi



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Three lush and adventurous stories in the Star-Touched world.

Death and Night

He was Lord of Death, cursed never to love. She was Night incarnate, destined to stay alone. After a chance meeting, they wonder if, perhaps, they could be meant for more. But danger crouches in their paths, and the choices they make will set them on a journey that will span lifetimes.

Poison and Gold

Now that her wish for a choice has come true, Aasha struggles to control her powers. But when an opportunity to help Queen Gauri and King Vikram's new reign presents itself, she is thrown into the path of the fearsome yet enchanting Spy Mistress. To help her friends, Aasha will have to battle her insecurities and perhaps, along the way, find love.

Rose and Sword

There is a tale whispered in the dark of the Empire of Bharat-Jain. A tale of a bride who loses her bridegroom on the eve of her wedding. But is it a tale or a truth?
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Roshani Chokshi is the New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched series and Aru Shah and The End of Time, book one in the Pandava series.
She grew up in Georgia, where she acquired a Southern accent but does not use it unless under duress. She has a luck dragon that looks suspiciously like a Great Pyrenees dog. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, Shimmer, and Book Smugglers. She is the 2016 finalist for the Andre Norton Award, and a 2016 Locus finalist for Best First Novel. Her short story, The Star Maiden, was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.


Q&A with Roshani

Out of all the characters in your novels, which one did you have the most fun writing about and who do you relate to the most personally? What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
In the world of the Star–Touched Queen, I think the one who I related to the most was also the one that I had the most fun writing: Kamala! There's just something about the demon horse that resonated a lot with me. I think it's because she does everything that I would do in a fantasy story, which is frantically derail the plot and whine to her friends about how hungry she is all the time.

What inspired you to create this fictional world? Were there any Romo mythologies that particularly inspired you? 
I was really inspired by the childhood stories that my grandmother told me. To me, they were so rich with details and texture that it really shocked me how these worlds and mythologies were never explored in mainstream literature. I was particularly inspired by Greek and Hindu mythology.

Why did you feel it was important to add Star-Touched Stories to this world you've created?  What do you want readers to gain from the stories? Do you think there are any more stories to tell from the Star-Touched world, and if so, who you most like to write about next? 
For me, this collection of stories is my farewell to the world that I created. It was extremely cathartic to write these three stories. I want readers to gain a sense of closure. I want readers to feel as much as I did when I with the stories. Who can say whether or not there are more stories left to tell in this world? ;)

Will you miss writing this world and characters? 
Absolutely! They lived in my head for so long that I feel strangely weightless to be without them. 

What was your favorite scene to write from Star-Touched Stories, and what was your favorite scene to write from the whole series? 
Honestly, my favorite scene that I wrote was the last scene the last story. I think you'll see why. As for my favorite scene that I wrote from the whole series, I think it would have to be the moment when Maya first enters the Night Bazaar.

Is there a scene or character from one of your stories that you've had to cut which you really wish you could share with readers? 
There once was a speaking monkey character… But I had to let go of him. Maybe he'll reappear some other time.

How is writing short stories different than writing a full-length book? How different is it to write YA and MG? How has your writing evolved?
Writing short stories is really different from writing a full-length book because you're ultimately writing to a punchline in a shorter amount of space. There is less space to explore so the language must be very deliberate. I think my writing has evolved to become a lot more character focused than I once was. I still love gorgeous, decadent prose, but I believe that the best kind of language is that which is emotionally filtered through the feelings of a character.

What is the best advice you would give to inspiring writers? 
Read often. I realize that sounds trite, but so many people retread the same path with stories out of comfort or nostalgia. I totally understand this and I'm one of those people who loves to reread my favorite books but I never found a sense of my own writing voice or writing style without reading a wide variety of works.

What sort of music do you listen to when you write? 
I mostly listen to music to get me in the mood for writing rather than listening to music to get me through a scene. I think the only times I listen to music when I'm writing is if I'm in a third or fourth round of revisions. Otherwise I get distracted.

If any of your books were given an adaptation, would you rather it be a movie, TV show, web series, or stage musical? 
For The Gilded Wolves, I would rather see that as a miniseries. For both books in the Star-Touched universe, I'd rather see those as movies.


Favorite myth and how has it inspired your writing? What was your inspiration for these stories? 
I think my favorite myth is Hades and Persephone. I love the atmosphere, the goth undercurrent, the power dynamic. I love the movement of princess to Queen.

What fantasy novels have inspired you? 
Lately, I’m so inspired by Uprooted by Naomi Novik and S.K. Chakraborty’s City of Brass!


Pie or cake, and what kind?
 Pie. Shoo-fly pie. Or buttermilk pie. YUM.


Thanks to Roshani and Wednesday Books! Star-Touched Stories releases Tuesday (August 7th), so you can preorder it now or get your copy in stores then!

August 4, 2018

So You Like... #72

As y'all probably know, I mostly listen to Taylor Swift. There are few other artists I stick to as closely; I tend to just like a few songs from others (apart from Ed Sheeran). But I'm a big Niall Horan fan, so I started considering what books reminded me of his debut solo album, and well...


SO YOU LIKE...

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(as always, book covers link to Goodreads)


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What other books would you recommend for fans of Flicker? Who's your favorite member of One Direction? Are there any topics you'd like me to use for So You Like...?