All the Answers by Kate Messner

All the Answers

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..

All the Answers by Kate Messner
Published January 27, 2015 by Bloomsbury
Format: Netgalley* e-book; 256 pages
Childrens/Fantasy/Magical Realism
Also By This Author: Capture the Flag, Over and Under the Snow, Marty McGuire
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts

Before I get to my review, I have a little story for you all. Around three and a half years ago when I became a book blogger I joined a site called Netgalley. If you’re a book reviewer, you are probably familiar with this site, but if you’re not, it’s where book bloggers can request ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of prepublished books, and publishers will accept or deny these requests. Netgalley only releases e-books or e-galleys of ARCs, not hard copies. For anyone who has used Netgalley, you will be able to relate to me: it is SO TEMPTING to request ALL THE BOOKS. That’s basically what happened to me when I first joined. Since I was brand new, I assumed I would maybe get approved for a book or two. So I requested 20+ books during my first week on the site. I was only denied 6. Fast forward three years and I still have 6 books from 2014 to review (and I want to review them all, so here I am, ticking away at those stragglers).

On a whim last week I decided to finally read All the Answers. It’s been a while since I’ve read any Middle Grade books (the last one being Serafina and the Black Cloak, which I was really disappointed in), but this one just sounded interesting. It’s a light fantasy book, and that’s not really a good description for it because it’s more in the realm of magical realism, a genre I actually really enjoy. The few things I’ve written personally have been in the magical realism genre.

All the Answers was refreshing. I always enjoy reading novels with themes of mental health, and reading about Ava’s journey as she struggles with anxiety reminded me of my own early teenage years. Ava is a worrier; she worries about math tests, she worries about falling down in front of classmates, but most of all she worries about her family. Sometimes she worries so much that she has an anxiety attack, and she is seeing a counselor to help her overcome these attacks. I should say that while this book focuses on Ava’s battle with fear and anxiety, it’s done so in a realistically encouraging way.

As a protagonist, Ava was so easy to like and relate to. She has a good heart and a strong mind, and she would make an excellent role model for any preteen struggling with worrying and anxiety. Middle School is a tough time for every teenager, and I’m glad that there are positive novels like All the Answers for them to turn to.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own!

 

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Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising.jpg

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies…even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce Brown
Published January 28, 2014 by Del Rey
Format: Hardcover; 382 pages
Science Fiction/Fantasy/Dystopian
Also By This Author: Golden Son, Morning Star, Iron Gold
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts

There is SO MUCH packed into this novel that I am not even going to attempt to write out all of my thoughts. Instead, I am going to play a little game (since this book revolves around a game of sorts) called Top 3 Takeaways (I just made that up but I like it so I’ll probably use it for future reviews).

Top 3 Takeaways from Red Rising

  1. Nothing is black or white, everything is grey, and all’s fair (but not necessarily forgivable) in love & war: That’s a mouthful, so let me break it down. Red Rising is about war and revolution. It’s messy. It’s tragic. It’s violent (trigger warning: there are scenes involving rape, murder, torture, and enslavement). But both sides are shown and analyzed and the protagonists and antagonists all have realistically complex motives, making this novel full of grey lines. Sometimes Darrow does some unforgivable things. Sometimes you want his enemies to survive. In no way is this an easy novel to read. As Joey from Friends would say, it’s a “put it in the freezer” kind of book.
  2. Character building is better than world building: It took me a while to get into Red  Rising because the first several chapters are mostly world building, which can be rather boring and overbearing at times. I had to push through until Darrow made some frenemies, and then the novel started to get interesting. Those characters are what really grew and challenged Darrow, and the chapters when he is collaborating and conversing with the Golds are far more enjoyable than the first third of the novel when readers are learning about Mars and the Society and the mine where Darrow is from. If you’ve already read this novel, I will let you know that Chapter 36 is my favorite because of the brilliant way in which Darrow is stretched and empowered as a leader and a revolutionary.
  3. A book can be good or enjoyable without being original: The best way to succinctly describe Red Rising is by calling it a cross between three other dystopian science fiction novels: The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, and Ender’s Game. During a few moments in this book I honestly felt I was reading about The Capitol of Panem, and The Institute that Darrow “studies” at is just a high school, co-ed version of Lord of the Flies with much more violence and savagery. Darrow is also very similar to Ender Wiggin, an outsider prodigy who doesn’t play by the rules. I found both characters to be slightly untrustworthy at times, unlike Katniss Everdeen who is steadfast, moral, and a character I could trust with my life.

Overall, this book produced good and bad reactions out of me, but I think its praise is deserved, even if the dystopian Society is reminiscent of other novels. Red Rising will still keep you up until all hours of the morning with cliffhanging chapters and unpredictable characters.

You May Also Enjoy

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (for the dystopian society)
Lord of the Flies by William Golding (for the psychology behind war & survival)
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (for the sci-fi and war games)

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

How to Stop Time.jpg

A love story across the ages – and for the ages – about a man lost in time, the woman who could save him, and the lifetimes it can take to learn how to live.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history–performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.

So Tom moves back to London, his old home, to become a high school history teacher–the perfect job for someone who has witnessed the city’s history first hand. Better yet, a captivating French teacher at his school seems fascinated by him. But the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society’s watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can’t have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig
Published February 6, 2018 by Viking
Format: Netgalley* e-book; 336 pages
Science Fiction/Historical Fiction
Also By This Author: The Humans, Reasons to Stay Alive
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to live forever?

For Tom Hazard, having a life expectancy of 1,000 years is practically living forever, especially when he outlives everyone he knows and cares for by centuries. But not only does he live considerably longer than everyone around him, he ages one year for every fifteen years that pass. He can’t stay in one place for more than a decade without attracting unwanted attention. He can’t be seen out in public with his wife without people mistaking him for her son. His life is a lonely curse.

It is also a fascinating life, and I was even more interested in the flashbacks of Tom’s “youth” than the mid-life crisis he was having at the start of the novel. In his nearly 500 years on the earth, Tom has worked for Shakespeare, shared a drink with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and sailed to previously undiscovered lands.

There is also heartbreak, anguish, and despair in Tom’s life. Actually, most of his life is a melancholy tale. I can be rather melancholy myself, so I really felt for Tom and his struggles. But if you’re looking for a happy time travel read (do those even exist?), don’t expect that in How to Stop Time. Although there is an optimistic theme overall, there is also the plague, witch hunts, and murder. Plus there is a mysterious society of people like Tom, pressuring him to avoid making any attachments that may endanger the secrecy of his condition.

My only issue with this novel was the antagonist’s story line. I felt it was wrapped up at the end a bit too easily and unrealistically, which left me feeling slightly disappointed considering how suspenseful the rest of the novel had been up until that point. But overall, I was captivated by this novel’s premise and the conflict of its main character.

“That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days–some years–some decades–are empty. There is nothing to them. It’s just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing.”

You May Also Enjoy:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Timeline by Michael Crichton
Timebound by Rysa Walker

“To talk about memories is to live them a little.”

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own!

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle

Valancy lives a drab life with her overbearing mother and prying aunt. Then a shocking diagnosis from Dr. Trent prompts her to make a fresh start. For the first time, she does and says exactly what she feels. As she expands her limited horizons, Valancy undergoes a transformation, discovering a new world of love and happiness. One of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s only novels intended for an adult audience, The Blue Castle is filled with humour and romance.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
Published 1926 by McClelland and Stewart
Format: e-book rental from Hoopla*; 218 pages
Classics/Romance/Adventure
Also By This Author: Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Kilmeny of the Orchard
Goodreads | Amazon 
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Thoughts

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today I am blogging about a new favorite love story of mine by one of my favorite authors.

The Blue Castle was the first book I read in 2018, and as soon as I finished, I knew I had found my favorite read of the year. I know I will probably read 40+ more books this year, but I don’t think any of them will resonate with me more than The Blue Castle. It’s a hidden gem of a novel and I only wish I had read it sooner!

The characters in this novel are so bold and entertaining. The heroine, Valancy Sterling, is as lovable and admirable as Anne Elliot, Jane Eyre, and Jo March, and the supporting characters will honestly make you laugh until you cry. There was a smile plastered on my face for most of the novel (with the exception of a few moving scenes–I mean, this is L.M. Montgomery we’re discussing!).

The Blue Castle is one of those books you bring with you everywhere, just in case you’re able to sneak in a page or chapter while you’re out, and once you finish the book, you’re ready to start it all over again. I felt so happy and thrilled when I finished it, and I couldn’t stop recommending it to friends.

You May Also Enjoy…

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollope
(I haven’t read this one yet, but I loved the miniseries!)

Final Musings

I tried listening to The Blue Castle on audiobook, but it just wasn’t good. This is one of those books you need to read in print.

One of my favorite things about reading The Blue Castle is that I didn’t know anything about it beforehand, and even the blurb on the cover gives nothing away, so I was in full suspense and surprised by so many of the plot points. That’s why I’ll keep this review short and sweet, but if you have read it and would like to gush about it with me, leave a comment below :)

*Hoopla is one of my favorite bookish services! It’s a free online digital library that offers 6 e-book, audiobook, album, or film rentals a month, and there are NO waitlists! If they have it, you can check it out. They partner with public libraries, so see if your library offers membership :)

Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery

Kilmeny

When twenty-four-year-old Eric Marshall arrives on Prince Edward Island to become a substitute schoolmaster, he has a bright future in his wealthy family’s business. Eric has taken the two-month teaching post only as a favor to a friend — but fate throws in his path a beautiful, mysterious girl named Kilmeny Gordon. With jet black hair and sea blue eyes, Kilmeny immediately captures Eric’s heart. But Kilmeny cannot speak, and Eric is concerned for and bewitched by this shy, sensitive mute girl. For the first time in his life Eric must work hard for something he wants badly. And there is nothing he wants more than for Kilmeny to retum his love.

Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery
Published 1910 by L.C. Page & Company
Format: Hardcover, 134 pages; Audiobook, 4 hours
Classics/Romance
Also By This Author: Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the IslandEmily of New Moon series, The Blue Castle
Goodreads | Amazon

My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts

I am a strong believer in judging a book by its cover, especially when the cover is gorgeous like Kilmeny of the Orchard. I have been scouring every local bookstore and thrift store in town trying to find any copies of the Bantam editions of L.M. Montgomery’s novels because the covers are beautiful enough to frame. (Side note: if anyone finds Bantam editions of Kilmeny or The Blue Castle that are in good condition, please let me know! I’ve never been a book collector before, but it’s almost become a hobby of mine to own all of Bantam editions of L.M. Montgomery’s novels)

The story of Kilmeny isn’t the most endearing of Montgomery’s novels, but the writing is captivating. The first orchard scene, when Eric happens upon Kilmeny as she’s playing her violin, is probably my favorite scene in the novel. Montgomery’s descriptions are so poetic and vibrant that I feel as if I’m walking through the orchard myself.

It was an elusive, haunting melody, strangely suited to the time and place; it had in it the sigh of the wind in the woods, the eerie whispering of the grasses at dewfall, the white thoughts of the June lilies, the rejoicing of the apple blossoms; all the soul of all the old laughter and song and tears and gladness and sobs the orchard had ever known in the lost years; and besides all this, there was in it a pitiful, plaintive cry as of some imprisoned thing calling for freedom and utterance.

I admire L.M. Montgomery’s ability to be wistful and hopeful at the same time. Whenever I read any of her books I always simultaneously feel nostalgic and desirous of enjoying every beautiful little moment.

Read This Book If…

…you need a happy novel that will touch you deep in your heart.
…you’re ready for it to be Spring!
…you love Romantic characters and poetic language.

Final Musings

I’ve read three L.M. Montgomery novels since the New Year, and I’m currently on my fourth (Chronicles of Avonlea). I would love to buddy read some more of her novels this year, or participate in any L.M. Montgomery blogging events, so please drop me a line in the comments if you know of any or if you’d like to buddy read with me!

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Renegades.jpg

Secret Identities. Extraordinary Powers. She wants vengeance. He wants justice.

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies — humans with extraordinary abilities — who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone… except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice — and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both

Renegades by Marissa Meyer
Published November 7, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends
Format: Netgalley* e-book; 556 pages
Young Adult/Fantasy
Also By This Author: The Lunar Chronicles Series (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter, Stars Above), Heartless
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts

When a book makes me cry during the prologue, I know I’m in for a fantastic read! I tend to rate books based on the emotional impact they have on me, and I have given books an extra star rating before just because they’ve managed to make me cry. The prologue to Renegades connected me instantly with the antihero, Nova, and I can honestly say she is one of the most interesting characters I’ve encountered in a book before. She is fierce, intelligent, and confident, and even though she’s intimidating to her enemies, I would love to be friends with her in real life.

Nova is an Anarchist, a group of exiled rebels who have been living in abandoned subway tunnels ever since the Renegades defeated them ten years before the novel takes place. The Renegades are Gatlon City’s beloved superheroes, leaders, politicians…basically they do everything and are loved by everyone, except the Anarchists. Nova hates The Renegades, and would like nothing more than to shatter their perfect image that the city idolizes. Adrian is a Renegade legacy, and he is good (honestly, he’s such a pure character, like a perfectly compassionate All-American brainiac with glasses–too many adjectives?). It’s no surprise that Nova feels conflicted about her mission the more time she spends with Adrian.

When I finished Renegades, I had SO MANY QUESTIONS. It’s one of those books that stays on your mind for a few days afterwards while you unpack and analyze everything. This book ends on a major cliffhanger that seriously had me questioning one character’s entire point of view (not really a spoiler, but I felt like one character was revealed to be an unreliable narrator, which of course had me as a reader feeling betrayed!). The sequel (and conclusion) to Renegades had already been announced before I started reading this book, so a cliffhanger wasn’t a huge surprise for me, but the actual cliffhanger was shocking and I did not see it coming. I’m definitely excited to read the finale later this year!

Read This Book If…

…you are a fan of The Hunger Gamesor other dystopian novels that feature a fierce female main character (seriously, Nova is awesome).
…you love superhero movies!
…you enjoy reading books from the POV of a villain or antihero.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own!

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

The Austen Escape

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues—particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.

But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.

Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings arise, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay
Published November 7, 2017 by Thomas Nelson
Format: Netgalley e-book; 320 pages
Fiction/Romance
Also By This Author: Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy & JaneThe Brontë Plot
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website
My Rating: ♥♥♥

Thoughts:

When I first heard about this novel I knew I had to read it. Jane Austen is my favorite author, and there are so many times I wish I could just escape into one of her novels. I’ve told my husband several times that it would be so fun to dress up in 19th century clothing and go to a Regency era ball (it will happen one day!). This is essentially what happens to Mary in The Austen Escape, although she is not as thrilled with the idea since she has barely even read any Austen novels (*gasp*). Her best friend, Isabel, however (and if you’ve ever read Northanger Abbey, red flags should be going up now), is an Austen scholar, and persuades Mary to come on the the Austen vacation with her.

The Austen Escape combines characters and plot lines from each of Jane Austen’s novels, which makes reading it a fun scavenger hunt for any Austenite. However, if you’re not as well versed in Austen as Mary’s frenemy Isabel is, there is a handy character guide included at the beginning of the novel.

Overall, I enjoyed The Austen Escape, but not as much as I had anticipated. I wanted to like this novel more, but I felt that the characters were a bit flat, which made it hard for them to feel real. Although they each possessed believable motives and desires, they didn’t react to one another in realistic ways, which took away from the tension and suspense that would have made the novel more enjoyable. To make up for this, the author added drama between Mary and her love interest, which did feel a little forced and unnecessary; however, it was a sweet romance.

The Austen Escape is for readers looking for a lighthearted, clean romance, especially one that revolves around the world of Jane Austen.

You May Also Enjoy:

Austenland by Shannon Hale
Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
Amelia Elkins Elkins by A.M.Blair
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen