Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien

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Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien is an edgy new YA with an intriguing science fiction premise.

Vault of DreamersFrom the author of the Birthmarked trilogy comes a fast-paced, psychologically thrilling novel about what happens when your dreams are not your own.

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students’ lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students’ schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What’s worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.

The idea behind Vault of Dreamers is truly extraordinary — but the execution is less than exceptional. The book’s fast-paced start bogged down in the later chapters, as potential plot twists and subplots became dead-ends. And ultimately, the ending was far from satisfying — and in many ways, felt as if the author had written herself into a corner and had to scramble for a conclusion to the story.

If Vault of Dreamers is the first in a series, there is certainly potential for things to improve — but the ending of this book was not just disappointing, but felt like a cheat. When I read a book, I want to feel rewarded — and that never happened with Vault of Dreamers.

The real disappointment is that the book had such potential. The concept alone is massively intriguing — and O’Brien’s characters are entirely likeable. I would have happily spent more time with Rosie and her friends — had the circumstances of their story been different.

Vault of Dreamers is in stores September 16th.

Book Review: Jackaby by William Ritter

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I was sold on Jackaby by William Ritter by the publisher’s description alone: “Doctor Who meets Sherlock” — but when the book held-up to this comparison and far-exceeded my expectations? Well, you can call me a fan – a BIG fan.

jackaby“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion–and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.

With a macabre crime investigation, witty banter, unexpected humor, and distinctly likeable characters, Jackaby won me over from the first page to the very last.

The publisher’s Doctor Who/Sherlock description is apt — with Jackaby’s Sherlock-like crime-solving skills and quirky Doctor-esque mannerisms, with Abigail serving as a sort of Watson/Doctor’s companion role with aplomb. And yet, as referential as Jackaby is to these comparisons — the book remains wholly unique. Jackaby, as a character, is fully realized — as is his plucky companion and our assertive narrator, Abigail, a thoroughly modern woman trapped in the 19th century.

I was enchanted by every moment in Jackaby, and when I wasn’t reading it, longed to return to its pages. And much as I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next — I wanted to prolong the reading experience as much as possible, so as to savor Ritter’s world and his characters all the more.

Jackaby is in stores September 16th.

Book Review: The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill

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A charming new middle grade adventure from author Kelly Barnhill awaits readers within the pages of her latest book, The Witch’s Boy.

witch's boyWhen Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging, bewitched river, only Ned survives. Villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived. Sure enough, Ned grows up weak and slow, and stays as much as possible within the safe boundaries of his family’s cottage and yard. But when a Bandit King comes to steal the magic that Ned’s mother, a witch, is meant to protect, it’s Ned who safeguards the magic and summons the strength to protect his family and community.

In the meantime, in another kingdom across the forest that borders Ned’s village lives Áine, the resourceful and pragmatic daughter of the Bandit King. She is haunted by her mother’s last words to her: “The wrong boy will save your life and you will save his.” But when Áine and Ned’s paths cross, can they trust each other long enough to make their way through the treacherous woods and stop the war about to boil over?

With a deft hand, acclaimed author Kelly Barnhill takes classic fairy tale elements–speaking stones, a friendly wolf, and a spoiled young king–and weaves them into a richly detailed narrative that explores good and evil, love and hate, magic, and the power of friendship.

A powerful story about family and friendship, love and magic, The Witch’s Boy is as delightful for adult readers as it will be for younger audiences. Barnhill weaves an enchanting story in a fantastical realm that readers will love discovering, with plenty of adventure and intrigue mixed in for good measure.

The writing itself is smart, beautiful, and lyrical — drawing in the reader with each careful turn of phrase. And that’s good, because the story itself starts out slow — so as Barnhill’s writing hooks you, it takes a while for the pace to catch up. But once it does, the characters and the magic of the story will really keep you hooked, as each new chapter unfolds.

Get bewitched by The Witch’s Boy, when it hits stores on September 16th.

Book Review: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

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Tragedy and triumph collide in Jandy Nelson’s exhilarating new novel, I’ll Give You the Sun — a captivating and magical read. This was a book that captured me from the very beginning, and refused to let me go until I’d followed twins Noah and Jude through the rest of their incredible journey.

i'll give you the sunA brilliant, luminous story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell

Jude and her brother, Noah, are incredibly close twins. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude surfs and cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and divisive ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as an unpredictable new mentor. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant, fully alive, sometimes very funny novel from the critically acclaimed author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

I have not felt so captivated by a novel in a long time. I’ll Give You the Sun is a book that took hold someplace deep inside of me while reading — and refused to let go, even after I’d finished the last page. It has stuck with me, and I continue to marvel over the beauty of Nelson’s writing and the enchantment of her characters and their stories.

It’s hard to put into words just how magical it was, the experience of reading I’ll Give You the Sun. It’s a story about love and family and truth; about art and expression. About finding out who you are, both as an individual and as part of a family, and as part of the world.

I’ll Give You the Sun is the kind of book that sweeps you away, and leaves you changed for the better having read it from start to finish. Look for it in stores on September 16th.

Book Review: Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

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Whaling and magic collide in this intoxicating tale of love, destiny, and family — taking place during the downturn of the whaling industry in the late 19th century. Transporting readers to a cloudy seaside village, located on an island off the coast of New England, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper is as enchanting as the spells cast by the witch of Prince Island.

Kulper_Salt&Storm_HCA sweeping historical romance about a witch who foresees her own murder–and the one boy who can help change her future.

Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island’s whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she’s to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.

Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane — a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.

Kulper sets the stage for her saga with a vivid setting: it’s so easy to imagine yourself on Prince Island, with her descriptions of the sea, the rocky paths, the docks, the salty air, the seagulls soaring overhead, the cloudy weather. And once transported to this other place — and this other time — Kulper wraps you up in her intoxicating story and bewitching romance.

I ached to know what would happen next to Avery and Tane, and that made it near impossible to put down Salt & Storm – even after I’d finished reading the last page, and wanted more, more, more. (Good thing there is a prequel on the way!)

Salt & Storm is a story about finding love in unexpected ways; about destiny and truth and family — and all the misguided, murky things we’ll do to protect the ones we care about most.

Salt & Storm is in stores September 23rd.

Book Review: Winterkill by Kate A. Boorman

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A striking and unique story about an isolated village, its strict rules, and one girl daring enough to defy them — Winterkill by Kate A. Boorman is a seductive read filled with tension and possibility.

winterkillEmmeline knows she’s not supposed to explore the woods outside her settlement. The enemy that wiped out half her people lurks there, attacking at night and keeping them isolated in an unfamiliar land with merciless winters. Living with the shame of her grandmother’s insubordination, Emmeline has learned to keep her head down and her quick tongue silent.

When the settlement leader asks for her hand in marriage, it’s an opportunity for Emmeline to wash the family slate clean—even if she has eyes for another. But before she’s forced into an impossible decision, her dreams urge her into the woods, where she uncovers a path she can’t help but follow. The trail leads to a secret that someone in the village will kill to protect. Her grandmother followed the same path and paid the price. If Emmeline isn’t careful, she will be next.

Others have compared Winterkill to the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village — and rightly so. The two have many similarities, although Boorman’s novel is by no means a copycat story. The similarities are in the setting and mood — but Winterkill has its own unique and shocking plot twists, and plenty of tension to keep the reader on the edge of the seat with every page turn.

Though perhaps a word of caution: this book, so filled with tension and the potential for scares, which takes place in an isolated community in the wilderness … may not be the best choice for midnight reading material by flashlight at a campsite. Just saying. From personal experience.

But it IS a worthy reading experience. I loved the creepy, gothic mood of the story and the question of what was really going on in this bizarre community. And it’s so unlike anything else in YA right now — it doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre.

Winterkill is in stores September 9th.

Book Review: Girl Defective by Simmone Howell

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Record store romance. A neighborhood mystery. Finding your place in the world. Girl Defective by Simmone Howell is a captivating and unique spin on the coming-of-age saga.

girl defectiveIn the tradition of High Fidelity and Empire Records, this is the literary soundtrack to Skylark Martin’s strange, mysterious, and extraordinary summer.

This is the story of a wild girl and a ghost girl; a boy who knew nothing and a boy who thought he knew everything.

It’s a story about Skylark Martin, who lives with her father and brother in a vintage record shop and is trying to find her place in the world. It’s about ten-year-old Super Agent Gully and his case of a lifetime. And about beautiful, reckless, sharp-as-knives Nancy. It’s about tragi-hot Luke, and just-plain-tragic Mia Casey. It’s about the dark underbelly of a curious neighborhood. It’s about summer, and weirdness, and mystery, and music.

And it’s about life and death and grief and romance. All the good stuff.

Girl Defective is a cunning blend of the coming of age story, teen romance, and mystery thriller. As Skylark seeks to find out how one teen met her tragic end, she finds herself falling unexpectedly in love with with the dead girl’s brother. All the while, she’s also coming to terms with her mother’s abandonment, her older best friend’s reckless behavior, her father’s stubborn refusal to modernize, and her little brother’s endearing though socially-stunted behavior.

It’s an unexpected blend of genres and topics, but it works. It totally, absolutely works. Girl Defective is a captivating, charming, and unexpected twist on themes and genres so often explored independently. Mushed altogether in this one book, Howell has blended them seamlessly into one quirky little story that so works.

The book is funny and sweet; sad and thought-provoking; and just plain cool. So unique and different, Girl Defective has a little something for everyone. Look for it in stores September 2nd.

Book Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

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Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas, the third book in the Throne of Glass series, is a slowly unfolding story of transformation and transition, as Celaena and her friends find themselves each individually facing the question: who do they want to be?

heir of fireLost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy.

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

With their worlds in upheaval, Celaena, Chaol, Dorian, and a new character (no spoilers) find themselves on shaky ground. What forces are they truly facing? Whose side do they want to be on when the inevitable war breaks out? And what kind of person do they want to be? Will they fight for what they know, in their hearts, is right? Or do they take the path of least resistance?

Heir of Fire is perhaps the slowest book in the Throne of Glass series so-far, but that in no way takes away from the enjoyment readers will find within its pages. That’s because the slowness isn’t because nothing happens — but because it is such a reflective chapter in Celaena’s story — for both her, and her friends (despite their distance from each other).

In Heir of Fire, we truly see these characters face an internal struggle and make difficult choices — ultimately building to a dramatic climax that just proves, once again, that Maas knows how to really hook her audience and keep them on their toes. (And keep them longing for more — which is a good thing, as there are an anticipated three more books to come in this series).

Heir of Fire is a transformative book for the Throne of Glass series, as well, in many ways. No longer is this just a series dubbed “Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games” … no, truly, Heir of Fire sets this series apart as a masterful fantasy epic that needs no comparison.

Heir of Fire is in stores September 2nd.

Book Review: Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects

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My how duct tape craft projects have changed since I was a teenager. When I was in high school, duct tape came in only one color — silver. And the idea of using it for nontraditional craft projects was still fairly new and had not yet captivated mainstream media. I knew a few friends who made duct tape wallets, but that was about it. I took it upon myself to go a bit further: constructing various tote bags and purses. Then a necktie for my dad. Then a ballgown skirt, because I could.

sticky fingersMy work surface was the floor of my bedroom, old hardwoods in desperate need of refinishing, so my mom didn’t care that I was laying strips and strips of duct tape across the floorboards.

Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects by Sophie Maletsky shows just how far duct tape projects have come in a little over ten years.

These days, duct tape can be found not only at your local hardware store — but in your craft store, too, and now in an abundant array of colors and even patterns. (There is such a thing as Spider-Man Duct Tape. Who knew?)

Sticky Fingers starts with a section covering the basics of duct tape crafting — how to make sheets of duct tape “fabric,” appropriate work surfaces (better options than my old hardwood floors), and how to incorporate other materials (even other kinds of tape) into your projects.

The projects then go on to start with the basics — like the now-classic duct tape wallet — and takes readers beyond into far more complicated, creative, and colorful creations. The projects include pretty embellishments, like tassels, bows, and flowers. More advanced creations include a tablet case, a messenger bag, and even some really cool-looking jewelry.

Sticky Fingers is in many ways a nostalgia trip for me (and a reminder of how old I am!) — but is also a refreshing zing of inspiration. Where can I get all those colorful rolls of duct tape again?

Oh, yes. The craft store down the street …

Sticky Fingers is in stores now. Pick up your copy today & get inspired!

GoneReading.com: The Perfect Place to Shop for Book Lovers

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Most reviews here at Novel Novice are for books — but let’s face it. Even the most diehard reader needs to surface from the pages of a book sometime. And when we do return to the real world, we want to cling to our love of books and share it with the world.

That’s where GoneReading.com comes in — the perfect online place to shop for book lovers everywhere.

book plattersWhat’s that? You’re in need of a snack? Why not dish up a tasty treat on one of these adorable book-shaped plates. Made of bright-white porcelain, these plates and platters are sturdy and solid. Not only perfect for dishing up snacks for your book club meeting, the smaller pieces are also great as valet trays or a place to hold assorted nick-knacks, like paperclips, loose change, etc.

Mark-Twain-Travel-Tin-Candle-300x300Maybe you long for the smell of the library when you’re cooped up at home reading? GoneReading.com has a fabulous collection of literary-inspired candles and scents. Don’t worry, the candles don’t actually smell like unwashed old men … I received a sample of the Mark Twain candle, and it’s divine. (My husband loved it, too!) A blend of tobacco flower and vanilla, it’s a unique but lovely scent and not at all overpowering. I’m eager to try out more of this collection, too … I think Oscar Wilde is next on my wish list!

My-Bibliofile-300x300GoneReading also has a great assortment of book journals, for you to keep track of your reading habits offline. (I know, what a concept, right?) As much as I love blogging and social media, there is something so lovely about hand-writing lists and notes and details about things you love — especially when it’s on nice paper in a pretty, bound journal. GoneReading’s assortment includes “My Bibliofile,” which is a wonderful diary-type book for folks who want to keep track of their thoughts on the books they read offline. It features many pages for writing reviews (complete with the option of filling out how many stars), interspersed with fun interactive pages where you can answer questions about things like your favorite authors, favorite quotes, and travel destinations inspired by books you’ve read. As an avid gone reading review itemsbook blogger, I can’t see myself using this particular journal much, since it would be like rewriting all my blog posts by hand! But for non-bloggers, it’s a great template for keeping track of what you read and your thoughts on each book. (The “Books to Check Out” journal would probably be a better choice for me, since I’m always making lists of books I want to buy/borrow/request/read.)

Besides these three items (which I received for review), GoneReading.com offers plenty more for book lovers to drool over. I’ve already added a ton of items to my “wish list” board on Pinterest (where my husband looks first when he’s shopping for my birthday, Christmas, or other gift-giving occasion). There are cute t-shirts, an assortment of adorable bookmarks and bookplates, unique bookshelves, book-ish home decor, and more.

So if you love reading and love telling the world about your love of reading — check out GoneReading.com and start making your OWN wish list.