Category Archives: Book Review

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.

Book Review: Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

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Adventure, freedom, and the enormity of growing up are at the heart of Katherine Rundell’s beautifully charged new novel, Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms.

cartwheeling in thunderstormsEven a life on the untamed plains of Africa can’t prepare Wilhelmina for the wilds of an English boarding school in this lovely and lyrical novel from the author of Rooftoppers, which Booklist called “a glorious adventure.”

Wilhelmina Silver’s world is golden. Living half-wild on an African farm with her horse, her monkey, and her best friend, every day is beautiful. But when her home is sold and Will is sent away to boarding school in England, the world becomes impossibly difficult. Lions and hyenas are nothing compared to packs of vicious schoolgirls. Where can a girl run to in London? And will she have the courage to survive?

From the author of the “witty, inventively poetic” Rooftoppers comes an utterly beautiful story that’s sure to be treasured.

I was immediately captivated by Will’s life on the African farm — the freedom and feeling of joy she finds in each little corner of her world. I could feel, smell, taste her world — the dust, the food, the animals, the savannah. Will’s Africa came to life for me within the pages of Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms – so much so, that like Will, I felt cooped up and trapped by the stark contrast she faced in her English school.

With echoes of A Little Princess, Rundell uses Will’s experience being forced from her home in Africa to a constrictive school in London to illustrate the harshness of growing up. The fear that we will lose ourselves in trying to become who society wants us to be.

But ultimately, the message of Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is liberating and reassuring. Yes, we have to make sacrifices in life. Yes, growing up is hard and sometimes painful. But it does not mean letting go of the past; of who you are. It is about a shift in how you approach the world; in facing the change you can’t escape while remaining true to yourself.

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms is in stores August 26th.

Book Review: Breaking Butterflies by M. Anjelais

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A challenging story about mental illness and misguided love, Breaking Butterflies by M. Angelais is a captivating, if unsettling story about two teens who should never have been forced together.

breaking butterfliesThe closest he will ever come to happiness is when he’s hurting her. Will she let him? A beautiful and twisted story of first love and innocence lost–written when the author was just eighteen.

Sphinxie and Cadence. Promised to each other in childhood. Drawn together again as teens. Sphinxie is sweet, compassionate, and plain. Cadence is brilliant, charismatic. Damaged. And diseased. When they were kids, he scarred her with a knife. Now, as his illness progresses, he becomes increasingly demanding. She wants to be loyal–but fears for her life. Only the ultimate sacrifice will give this love an ending.

Angelais has tackled a tricky subject, with Cadence’s sociopathy at the heart of the story’s conflict. And the dangerous thread of his personality is a current that carries the story along, and keeps the reader on edge — wondering if, when he’ll snap. (And he does snap.)

But despite this captivating pull — the story is difficult to read. It is disturbing — not so much because of Cadence’s sociopathy (after all, his violent and emotionless tendencies are explained by his mental illness) — but because of Sphinx’s continued loyalty to him. She admits she is afraid of him; admits she knows he is mentally unwell (as well as physically ill, as he is suffering from leukemia) — and admits that she is afraid of him. Even afraid that being with him could kill her.

And yet. She continues to remain by his side; by her own choice and her own actions, she stays with him — knowingly putting herself in danger. And it is this conscious choice that makes Breaking Butterflies such a difficult read. Because the real question isn’t what’s wrong with Cadence? (We know. He’s a sociopath.) But what’s wrong with Sphinx? Because by her own account, she is just a normal, boring girl … but one who willingly puts herself at the whims of a violent boy, who has already caused her physical harm and clearly states his intentions to do so again.

It’s this choice that makes the story hard to read; because any normal person would stay away from Cadence. It doesn’t matter that he is dying; Cadence is also mentally unwell and that makes him dangerous. Sphinx’s perpetual insistence that she stay by his side is unacceptable for such a supposedly normal character. As the narrator, she is endlessly frustrating, as she continues to explore Cadence’s mental illness — and excuse his dangerous behavior.

Cadence is a disturbing character. But in many ways, I found Sphinx to be more disturbing because of her readiness to give herself over to Cadence’s dangerous, violent, even deadly whims.

Breaking Butterflies is in stores August 26th.

Book Review: Isla & the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

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I wasn’t originally planning to write a review for Isla & the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, simply because it’s just the third book in an excellent series, and I’m not sure how much people want to read a review that basically says “OMG, it’s soooo goooooood” in slightly more eloquent wording. (But seriously, it’s wonderful. Like all of Perkins’ books, it is just wonderful and so charming and utterly enchanting.)

isla and the happily ever afterBut I’ve had an interesting journey reading this series, and that’s what gave me pause to write about Isla. You see, here is how this road began:

When I read Anna & the French Kiss, I was single & feeling good about life. I figured someday I’d meet someone, but I was good on my own, and I was certain whenever I met someone it would not be at ALL like anything in the books I read all the time. Most certainly not as romantic as Anna & the French Kiss, though that never detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

When I read Lola & the Boy Next Door, I had just started dating the man who would become my husband. Actually, I bought the book on our second date when we ended up at our local Barnes & Noble. (The store where he eventually proposed.) I remember being dreamily excited that I was on a DATE in a BOOKSTORE, and he (apparently, he later told me) was a tad bit overwhelmed by the stack of books I purchased that night, Lola among them. I remember reading Lola and sharing those tingly new romance feelings with her, since that was the same stage I was in.

Fast-forward to now. Isla & the Happily Ever After comes into my life just as I’ve had my own little version of “happily ever after” … that is, it’s been just over six months since our wedding. And I was nervous, now that I’ve found forever love, would I still feel the same tingly anticipation reading Isla that I felt with Anna and Lola.

Oh, yes.

In fact, not only did I feel all the same tingly anticipation and excitement as Isla did, but reading the book — with my husband snoring loudly in the bed next to me — made me fall in love with him all over again. It reminded me of our early dates and those first few months of courtship. It reminded me of how we fell in love. It reminded me about when he proposed and when we started planning our wedding. And it reminded me of what love can feel like, in its many different forms.

Isla & the Happily Ever After is in stores August 14th. (But check your local bookstores now, because I found mine out almost a week early!)

Book Review: A Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen

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A Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen is the rare book that covers so many topics within its pages, without becoming jumbled or overburdened. It is a lovingly-written tale about family and love and loss and finding meaning in what really matters most.

blind spot for boysShana has always had a blind spot for boys. Can she trust the one who’s right in front of her?

Sixteen-year-old Shana Wilde is officially on a Boy Moratorium. After a devastating breakup, she decides it’s time to end the plague of Mr. Wrong, Wrong, and More Wrong.

Enter Quattro, the undeniably cute lacrosse player who slams into Shana one morning in Seattle. Sparks don’t just fly; they ignite. And so does Shana’s interest. Right as she’s about to rethink her ban on boys, she receives crushing news: Her dad is going blind. Quattro is quickly forgotten, and Shana and her parents vow to make the most of the time her father has left to see. So they travel to Machu Picchu, and as they begin their trek, they run into none other than Quattro himself. But even as the trip unites them, Quattro pulls away mysteriously… Love and loss, humor and heartbreak collide in this new novel from acclaimed author Justina Chen.

Chen lovingly captures the emotions of her characters — not just her narrator Shana (who suffers from that titular blind spot), but also for the charming Quattro and her adventure-seeking parents (and their traveling companions, too). Each of them is going through their own tragedy, and their struggle to come to terms and move past is captured brilliantly in their trek to Machu Picchu.

A Blind Spot for Boys is a book about love gone wrong and love gone right. It’s a book about photography and travel and the world’s wonders. It’s about finding your place, in the world and in your family. It’s about friendship and heartache and family. It is so many things, and Chen masterfully covers these many topics within just over 300 pages – never making the reader feel bogged down by so much. It is, to say the least, impressive that she has managed to cover so much in so few pages, without ever losing her way.

A Blind Spot for Boys is in stores August 12th.

Book Review: The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder

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Small town. Country life. Friday night lights. Love. Loss. Family. The future. All these elements come together in Lisa Schroeder’s stunning new YA novel, The Bridge from Me to You.

bridge from me to you, the - largeLauren has a secret. Colby has a problem. But when they find each other, everything falls into place.

Lauren is the new girl in town with a dark secret. Colby is the football hero with a dream of something more. In alternating chapters, they come together, fall apart, and build something stronger than either of them thought possible–something to truly believe in.

Schroeder beautifully captures the coming-of-age journey in The Bridge from Me to You, as both Lauren and Colby search for their place in the world and within their own families. Each character is in that precipitous stage between adolescence and adulthood, and Schroeder masterfully captures that precarious balance teens must walk as they figure out not just who they are, but who they want to be.

The romance in The Bridge from Me to You is sweet and charming – but it’s not really the focus of the story. And I think that’s what makes this book so special. It’s not about how these two characters come together, so much as it is how these two characters come into their own individual selves. After all, you can’t really be with someone until you can be your own self — and that is the underlying message of this book that really resonated with me.

Schroeder’s use of verse and prose is lovely, and the transition seamless. After all, even Schroeder’s prose has a poetic quality to it — and pairing verse with Lauren’s narrative, and prose with Colby’s, is a delicate and lovely technique for the alternating perspectives. It was easy to slide between the two narrative styles, and helped make the transition between narrators seamless.

The Bridge from Me to You is a beautiful journey, as these two characters fight through their own demons — and seeing them come out on the other side leaves readers with a triumphant feeling, warm and giddy and happy inside.

The Bridge from Me to You is in stores now.

Book Review: Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

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A road trip, five interconnected stories, and John Green-esque characters are what make up Adi Alsaid‘s debut novel, Let’s Get Lost.

let's get lostFive strangers. Countless adventures. One epic way to get lost.

Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named LEILA. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most.

There’s HUDSON, a small-town mechanic who is willing to throw away his dreams for true love. And BREE, a runaway who seizes every Tuesday—and a few stolen goods along the way. ELLIOT believes in happy endings…until his own life goes off-script. And SONIA worries that when she lost her boyfriend, she also lost the ability to love.

Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila’s own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth— sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you’re looking for is to get lost along the way.

Alsaid’s writing is breezy and approachable, and his characters engaging and charming. Each story individually is a fun, short adventure — but the thread that carries them together may, perhaps, be the book’s weakest link.

Though Leila is the one character who carries us through the entire journey, she remains for most of the book an outsider, mostly an observer. Sure, she gets involved in each new character’s life briefly – but only in a peripheral way. She’s sort of there, in many ways, just as an excuse for the reader to be there. When her story finally comes into play, it feels very anticlimactic. There’s no intensity – it just is.

And really, it’s only the first character – Hudson – who at all remains connected to the story throughout the rest of the novel, and even then he is mostly sidelined until the end. The rest of the individuals Leila encounters come and go; they have their story, and then we move on.

Ultimately, I enjoyed reading the individual stories – they were fun little adventures, albeit a bit simple – but I didn’t feel like the book, as a whole, came together. The glue meant to hold these stories together never really took hold, and the interconnectedness of the story felt very forced.

Let’s Get Lost is in stores July 29th.