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BOOK REVIEW: Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1) by Leigh Bardugo

BOOK REVIEW: Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1) by Leigh BardugoNinth House (Alex Stern #1)
by Leigh Bardugo
Purchase on: AmazoniBooks
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Synopsis:

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

If you were going to hell together, murder seemed like a good place to start.

When I say this book took my breath away, I truly mean it. It was thrilling and shocking and eerie and just a total surprise. As dark as the book was, I truly loved it and cannot wait for the next installment.

I had read Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows series, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t absolutely love it. But I know how talented Leigh is, so when I saw she was writing an adult fantasy book based on secret societies and ghosts in New Haven, I was SO in. Talk about checking off a lot of boxes for me.

The book follows two main characters: Galaxy “Alex” Stern and Daniel “Darlington” Arlington. Both are students at Yale, but come from very different backgrounds. I don’t really want to spoil a lot of it, but Alex grew up in a not so great family and had some troubled teenage years that led to the death of some people, as well as the reason for her admittance to Yale and Lethe. Darlington, meanwhile, while not having a perfect childhood, did have some family and a more privileged upbringing. The two have far more in common than they think they do.

Alex gave a sharp shake of her head. “I mean tell me what I’m in for here…with you.”
That was the hard question to answer. Nothing. Everything. Lethe was meant to be a gift, but could it be to her? There was too much to tell.


Darlington is tasked with teaching Alex the ways of Lethe and its role to the other secret societies of Yale. However, something very dark and powerful is at play and it ultimately causes some dire consequences for both Darlington and Alex. On top of what they are dealing with in the present, there is a lot of trauma from their pasts, especial Alex’s, that comes into play.

Daniel Arlington prided himself on being prepared for anything, but if he’d had to choose a way to describe Alex Stern, it would have been “an unwelcome surprise.”

This book certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be very vivid in its descriptions at times, and there’s a ton of talk of death, dying and murder. There’s also a decent amount of mentions of drug and alcohol use, self-harm, unhealthy relationships and the big one, a very descriptive account of a sexual assault of a minor. It’s not overly long (I believe just a few pages) and could be easily skipped (it takes place in a bathroom on a school trip if that helps). It plays a large part into this character’s story, but I understand for some readers this kind of material is an absolute no-go. This has been discussed by a lot of other reviewers in the lead up to this book, but just want to make it very clear of the content in this book.

I’m in danger, she wanted to say. Someone hurt me and I don’t think they’re finished. Help me. But what good had that ever done?

I loved the mystery in this book. It was very layered and multi-faceted and loved how it blended the magical and real worlds. I didn’t guess the ending and am cautiously optimistic a *certain important character* will be making a return. I truly did not see that character exit coming or the circumstances surrounding it. It honestly broke my heart a little bit and hope there is a positive resolution to it.

I let you die. To save myself, I let you die.
That is the danger in keeping company with survivors.


Overall this was truly a five-star read for me. I certainly understand this book will not be for everyone: it’s very dark and has a lot of heavy topics and themes. However, I just loved the setting, the world-building and the characters. I can’t wait for what’s next and hope Bardugo continues to bounce back and forth between young adult and adult novels.

BLOG TOUR + REVIEW + GIVEAWAY: Every Other Weekend by Abigail Johnson

BLOG TOUR + REVIEW + GIVEAWAY: Every Other Weekend by Abigail Johnson

BLOG TOUR + REVIEW + GIVEAWAY: Every Other Weekend by Abigail JohnsonEvery Other Weekend by Abigail Johnson
Purchase on: AmazoniBooks
Book Depository
Add to: Goodreads

Synopsis:

What if your safe place…is a person?

Adam Moynihan’s life used to be awesome. Straight As, close friends and a home life so perfect that it could have been a TV show straight out of the 50s. Then his oldest brother died. Now his fun-loving mom cries constantly, he and his remaining brother can’t talk without fighting, and the father he always admired proved himself a coward by moving out when they needed him most.

Jolene Timber’s life is nothing like the movies she loves—not the happy ones anyway. As an aspiring director, she should know, because she’s been reimagining her life as a film ever since she was a kid. With her divorced parents at each other’s throats and using her as a pawn, no amount of mental reediting will give her the love she’s starving for.

Forced to spend every other weekend in the same apartment building, the boy who thinks forgiveness makes him weak and the girl who thinks love is for fools begin an unlikely friendship. The weekends he dreaded and she endured soon become the best part of their lives. But when one’s life begins to mend while the other’s spirals out of control, they realize that falling in love while surrounded by its demise means nothing is ever guaranteed.

Review:

Every Other Weekend, my second Abigail Johnson novel I’ve read, was almost unputdownable for me. Not because it was a thrilling page turner, but because I was so invested in these characters I needed to find out what was going to happen next. I even had to put it down a few times so I wouldn’t cry on an airplane – and if you know me, unless it involves animals, I’m probably not going to cry. So there, you win A.J. Stupid dry airplane air.

EOW follows two perspectives: Adam Moynihan and Jolene Timber. Adam’s life has recently been turned upside down: His parents are recently separated, in no small part due to the death of their eldest son. Adam was super close to his oldest brother and he was the calming force between Adam and Jeremey, Adam’s other brother. Adam is struggling to adapt to his new life and blames his father for the marriage falling apart. But as part of this new life, he and Jeremy are forced to come to his father’s apartment every other weekend.

It’s here he meets Jolene, who has been coming to her dad’s apartment every other weekend for years. However, she never actually sees her dad while she’s there. He’s always giving excuses and making his girlfriend, Shelly, parent Jolene in his absence. As horrible of a relationship as she has with Shelly and her father, Jolene’s relationship with her mother is extremely poor too. Her mother wants Jolene to spy on her father, because she believes his hiding money from her. She is physically and emotionally abusive to Jolene and has a substance abuse issue as well.

So both Jolene and Adam are in pretty low places when they meet, but that doesn’t stop them from instantly connecting. Adam is drawn to Jolene’s enigmatic and confident demeanor. She’s an aspiring filmmaker and quickly ropes Adam in to help her with her movies. Soon, they actually look forward to their awkward weekends at the apartment, where they ignore their families and find comfort in not feeling alone.

As with Even If I Fall, I adored almost all of the characters in this book and really appreciated how real and grounded the various storylines were. There were obviously themes of families (both good and bad), the trauma of loss and change, friendships, breakups and makeups, sibling rivalry and complicated relationships with parents. There is also the trauma of a sexual assault and dealing in the aftermath. It’s a lot of heavy things, but there’s still a lot of joy and light to be found. I loved Adam and Jolene’s complicated relationship, as well as Adam’s love of his family. Even when he is furious at his father, deep down it’s clear it’s coming from a place of love and loss. Jolene was an amazing character in her own right, and I loved how much she believe in herself, even when no around really believe in her or her talent. And as I mentioned before, there were definitely times when I got a little misty-eyed, as there’s a lot of mention of loss in here that just really hit me for some reason.

Overall, I really loved this book. It might be a tiny bit behind Even If I Fall, but certainly not by much. Johnson continues to write complicated, but down to earth, stories about teenagers dealing with a multitude of issues. Her stories have so many layers, but it never feels like it’s too much. It all blends seamlessly and her characters are so enjoyable and easy to love.

Every Other Weekend is available January 7, 2020.

Content Warnings: Sexual assault, death of a family member, verbal and physical abuse, substance abuse, talk of death/dying, controlling/abusive relationship

 

Favorite Quotes:

“Look, are you going to be around a lot?”
“Every other weekend.”
He hung his head. “Me too.”
I didn’t bother with a fake smile. “Yippee.”

*

If I wasn’t half in love with her before I read it, I was after. Except there was no half anything with Jolene.

*

It was a love story. Not romantic exactly, but the kind of love that maybe lasts beyond passion and heartache. It was a story of friendship, with all its possible laid out in front of it. That’s what Adam and I had.

*

My inside warned me that if I let him any closer I wouldn’t survive, but I knew with a burst of heat that chased away every last bit of cold from my body that I’d never truly live if I tried to keep him away.

*

“And I know you’re gonna break my heart at some point, I might even break yours.” I pressed her hand more firmly against my chest. “But it’s yours to break and mend and hopefully not break again, because, like you’ve said many times, I have fragile boy emotions.”

Giveaway:

Want to win a copy of Every Other Weekend? Enter through Rafflecopter! (US only residents only.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

About Abigail Johnson:

Abigail was born in Pennsylvania. When she was twelve, her family traded in snow storms for year round summers, and moved to Arizona. Abigail chronicled the entire cross-country road trip (in a purple spiral bound notebook that she still has) and has been writing ever since. She became a tetraplegic after breaking her neck in a car accident when she was seventeen, but hasn’t let that stop her from bodysurfing in Mexico, writing and directing a high school production of Cinderella, and becoming a published author.

Keep up with Abigail: Goodreads | Website | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | YouTube| Facebook

BLOG TOUR + REVIEW: Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison

BLOG TOUR + REVIEW: Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison

BLOG TOUR + REVIEW: Good Girls Lie by J.T. EllisonGood Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison
Purchase on: AmazoniBooks
Book Depository
Add to: Goodreads

Synopsis:

Goode girls don’t lie…

Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

There are truths, and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened, which is where you and I will meet. My truth is your lie, and my lie is your truth, and there is a vast expanse between them.

Good Girls Lie was my first J.T. Ellison novel, despite seeing her name and books so many places, including several others of hers patiently waiting on my TBR list. I believe I’ve said this before with other books, but I am an absolute sucker for novels about boarding schools/secluded locations. I don’t know what it is, but such a contained setting lends itself to creepy and mysterious and I just love it so much.

So an adult thriller focused on privileged teenage girls at an elite boarding school? Of course I was SO in.

I tell myself such pretty lies.

Good Girls Lie is told from varying perspectives, but mostly that of Ash Carlisle, a new student at the Goode School with a mysterious past. We slowly learn about the tragic circumstances that lead to Ash moving from across the pond, though life is sadly not any easier for Ash as she attempts to navigate her new school. Many of her new classmates are suspicious and unkind toward her and Ash quickly feels very isolated. However, one upperclassman alternately reaches out to help Ash and also makes her life a living hell: Becca Curtis.

Everyone in my life has been using me one way or another. What is one more? At least this one has power.

Ash and Becca’s frenemies-plus-benefits relationship has a lot of strong ripple effects, as Becca is a popular senior and Ash is a lowly sophomore and makes her the envy (and target) from her fellow sophomores. Ash is desperately trying to stay under the radar, but Becca’s attention makes that nearly impossible. With this extra attention, the other students begin to learn about Ash’s past. But Ash is hardly the only one keeping secrets.  

Eventually all this tension bubbles to the surface and people start dying under mysterious circumstances. Despite the dean’s best attempts to keep things quiet, eventually this is impossible, and we truly start to discover the depths of the secrets crawling within the walls of the Goode School.

Overall, I really enjoyed this twisty book. Ellison’s writing is very descriptive and quite beautiful. Because of this, I felt this took me longer to read than most thrillers and slows down the pace of the book. As I said earlier, the book jumps around to a few different perspectives, with some flashbacks, so it’s important to identify the narrator as quickly as possible in each chapter to really grasp the time and setting.

I was satisfied with the ending. We knew the who/what/when/where/how and had a very fulfilling conclusion to all the conflict. About halfway through I started to guess at a few of the “twists,” but I certainly never guessed to the full reveal or the ending. If you are like me and have been thinking about trying a J.T. Ellison book, I fully recommend diving into this one!

I’ve killed them all. It is my fault. If I had only been brave, if I had only said no. They would still be alive.

About J.T. Ellison:

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 20 novels, and the EMMY-award winning co-host of A WORD ON WORDS, Nashville’s premier literary show. With millions of books in print, her work has won critical acclaim, prestigious awards, and has been published in 26 countries. Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens. Photo credit: Krista Lee Photography

Keep up with J.T.: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | BookBub

BOOK REVIEW: Resurrection Girls by Ava Morgyn

BOOK REVIEW: Resurrection Girls by Ava MorgynResurrection Girls Purchase on: AmazoniBooks
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Add to: Goodreads

Synopsis:

Olivia Foster hasn’t felt alive since her little brother drowned in the backyard pool three years ago. Then Kara Hallas moves in across the street with her mother and grandmother, and Olivia is immediately drawn to these three generations of women. Kara is particularly intoxicating, so much so that Olivia not only comes to accept Kara's morbid habit of writing to men on death row, she helps her do it. They sign their letters as the Resurrection Girls.

But as Kara’s friendship pulls Olivia out of the dark fog she’s been living in, Olivia realizes that a different kind of darkness taints the otherwise lively Hallas women—an impulse that is strange, magical, and possibly deadly.

Thank you to Netgalley the publisher and the author for an ARC in exchange for a honest review.

I was death’s sister.
She was a murderer’s daughter.


Resurrection Girls was a really interesting book and not really like anything I’ve read before. The blurb doesn’t really do it justice – it seemed like it was going to be a dark book with a bit of a paranormal or thriller aspect. But that’s not the case. The subjects discussed in the book are certainly dark and heavy, but there’s really no mystery or paranormal to be had.

Olivia Foster is drowning in guilt after the death of her younger brother three years ago. Her parents are barely functioning, and Olivia is drifting through life. That is until a new family moves in across the street. Kara Hallas is the spark that Olivia needed to break out of her solitary life.

If Kara were punctuation, she’d be an exclamation, never a period. I…I would be an ellipsis, a thought waiting to happen, to complete itself, but never fully arriving. Prescott would be a hyphen because there was more to him than what the eye.

As Olivia and Kara begin to spend time together, they begin to write letters to men on death row and sign it as the Resurrection Girls. Their neighbor (and Olivia’s long time crush) Prescott gets roped in to their group and soon the trio begins to spend a lot of time together. There’s a charged dynamic between the three of them and it constantly feels like they are balancing on the end of a board together, always close to ruining the balance and crashing apart.

And while there’s no paranormal occurrences, there’s a kind of magical realism surrounding the Hallas women.

If you’re looking for a book that will thrill you or feature things that go bump in the night, this isn’t it. There’s a lot of focus on grief and what it takes to heal from horrible tragedies. Overall, once I understood better what this was, I really enjoyed it. Olive, Kara and Prescott were great main characters, especially Olivia. I truly felt for her and her family situation and was rooting for her the whole time.

Somewhere between the scented lip gloss, deadly pen pals, and crazy grandmother lay the real Kara Hallas. A girl who was haunted by far more than I had ever been. And I had just met her.

Content Warnings: Discussion of death, death of a child, drug use/overdose, drug addiction, depression and sex.

BOOK REVIEW: The Upside of Falling by Alex Light

BOOK REVIEW: The Upside of Falling by Alex LightThe Upside of Falling Purchase on: AmazoniBooks
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Add to: Goodreads

Synopsis:

It’s been years since seventeen-year-old Becca Hart believed in true love. But when her former best friend teases her for not having a boyfriend, Becca impulsively pretends she’s been secretly seeing someone.

Brett Wells has it all. Being captain of the football team and one of the most popular guys in school, he should have no problem finding someone to date, but he’s always been more focused on his future than who to bring to prom. When he overhears Becca’s lie, Brett decides to step in and be her mystery guy. It’s the perfect solution: he gets people off his back for not dating and she can keep up the ruse.

Acting like the perfect couple isn’t easy though, especially when you barely know the other person. But with Becca still picking up the pieces from when her world was blown apart years ago and Brett just barely holding his together now, they begin to realize they have more in common than they ever could have imagined. When the line between real and pretend begins to blur, they are forced to answer the question: is this fake romance the realest thing in either of their lives?

I mean, there’s a reason all books end right after the couple gets together. No one wants to keep reading long enough to see the happily ever after turn into an unhappily ever after. Right?

Thank you so much to Edelweiss, Harper TEEN and Alex Light for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Upside of Falling is an adorable book that plays with the fake relationship trope, which is easily one of my favorite tropes. So when I saw that there was a new book coming out with this front and center, I knew I had to have my hands on it. And once I had it, I read it in less than 24 hours haha. I couldn’t put it down.

TUoF centers on Becca Hart and Brett Wells. Becca loves to read romance books, but has never experienced true love in real life. She lives with her mother and helps with her local bakery. Becca doesn’t have too many close friends, especially since her former best friend found herself in the popular crowd and left Becca behind.

Brett Wells, meanwhile, seems to have everything going for him. He’s popular and captain of the football team. He’s smart and kind and his parents dote on him. However, he’s just focused on getting out of high school and securing a college scholarship to make his parents proud. He’s too busy to focus on normal high school things, like girlfriends, and has no problem with that.

That is, until one day when he hears Becca telling a lie about having a boyfriend, he decides to jump in and be that boyfriend. Becca is shocked but goes with it as well and the two come to an easy arrangement. Becca gets to have a popular boyfriend, while Brett gets his parents off his back about having a girlfriend without all the drama and commitment. What could go wrong?

“First you run away when I kiss you. Now you want to break up with me when we haven’t even been dating for a day. Way to break a guy’s heart, Hart.” He poked my leg. “See what I did there?”

I’ve never read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (sorry!) but I have seen the movie twice and there’s definitely some similarities in terms of them coming up with ground rules, assimilating between their worlds and the fact that both of them, not surprisingly, might begin to feel real feelings.

There’s a lot of wonderful themes in this book past teenagers falling in love for the first time, such as complicated friendships, how complicated relationships with parents can be and the feeling of rejection from those you care about.

If I had to provide any kind of constructive feedback, it mostly boils down to two things: It doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the genre and I wanted more from it. Don’t get me wrong, I adored this book, but I didn’t find anything, outside of maybe the complicated family dynamics, to be new and awe inspiring. I wish the trope had been twisted more, but I imagine that was not the author’s intent. And when I say more, I feel at 288 pages, it was a little light. I would have loved to see this be a little longer, so the relationship between Becca and Brett could have been more complex. It hit all the right notes, but I felt like it was skimming toward the top. I feel we could have gotten a little more in depth with these two and given the book a little more weight.

But overall, I adored this book. If you are looking for a fairly fluffy and happy YA romance, especially with the fake dating relationship trope, you won’t be disappointed. I certainly wasn’t.

The Upside of Falling is available February 18, 2020.

“I’m confused,” I said, “because one day we were strangers and then, bam, we were pretending to be in love. All these lines between what was real and what was fake started to blur and I can’t tell the two apart anymore.”

“Just because we were pretending doesn’t mean it wasn’t real.”

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