Anastasia’s Secret by Susanne Dunlap

The entire time I was reading this book, I found myself wishing I didn’t know how it ends. Dunlap wrote a book that had me dreading each turn of the page, and yet I couldn’t stop reading.

Everyone knows the story of Anastasia and her family. It’s been done many times, and yet this book was different. It took the events and history everyone knows, and added a personal element to it. Dunlap added the thrill of first love and secrecy. It brought the story to life in a whole new way.

The characters have new life as well. It’s easy to understand each person and how their actions helped shape the perception the public had of them and the eventual uprising. I loved how Sasha brought the real world to Anastasia and made her think about her life compared to those of everyone else. She goes from being very naive and thinking her life is just like that of the people, only slightly more privileged, to realizing just how wrong she was yet wishing for that life she thought she had. Anastasia really grows through the entire book and I really liked that.

The only thing I didn’t really enjoy was the amount of summary that existed in the novel. I understand why it’s there, because it’s hard to condense 4, almost 5, years into one book, but I wish some of it had been broken up by more interaction with her family and dialogue. Even though there was a lot of summary, I was incredibly grateful Dunlap didn’t use too much artistic freedom and rearrange all the events that unfolded just to make it fit. She stuck to the real history, for the most part, and the few things she did change or add didn’t impact the novel in any way.

This was a great book about one of, what I consider to be, the most interesting times in European history. It really shows how just a few actions can set off a snowball that ends tragically. I especially enjoyed the ending, even though it is one of the saddest conclusions I’ve read, simply because you know what happens next, even without being told. For anyone that loves history, this is a fantastic book to read.

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The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

I am a huge fan of Greek mythology. There are so many different stories and so much drama and betrayal and love and war that it’s easy for me to get lost for hours, if not days, searching and reading as much as I can about the Greek religion.

That’s why, as much as I enjoyed this book, I couldn’t give it more stars. If I looked at this book without using Greek mythology as its base, it was an amazing book and I would have loved it completely. However, it is based on a Greek myth, and while I understand the need for artistic license on some things, there are parts of the Greek history I really wish had been followed. Mostly, I felt something was lost when that drama and sex and general craziness was left out and replaced with an almost democratic, nearly Catholic view on some things.

The last thing that bothered me a little bit about the book were the challenges themselves. I was waiting for something that would have me on the edge of my seat, frantically reading and hoping Kate would be able to make it through the test. Instead, I barely realized the tests were happening.

Looking past that, Kate was a great person and I really liked reading her. She was strong, and yet weak enough to make her connectable. Henry was wonderful, but I wish there had been more of their romance depicted. Hopefully that will be shown more in the next novels.

While I felt let down by certain aspects of the novel, I’m so happy I picked this book up to read and I’m anxious to continue reading Kate and Henry’s story later this year.

Crave by Melissa Darnell

I bought Crave after Amazon suggestions told me this would be a good book for me. Amazon has yet to steer me wrong, so I took a chance and bought it.

I was a little worried Amazon got it wrong after the first couple pages. It starts out a little awkward and slightly forced. The reveal of Savannah’s identity and the focus on dancing were just a little off to me, and while I understand their need for the rest of the story, I would have liked a little bit more polish to that part of the book.

However, the second half completely made up for the first. As soon as Darnell started in on the romance aspect of the book, I was in love. Darnell used the forbidden love idea that has been so prevalent in young adult books lately, but she made it unique and interesting. She was able to really bring out the emotions she was writing about and use them to make the novel even better.

One other little thing I had a problem with was the constant referring to Tristan’s “player” past. I never really felt like this was a necessary problem and only put in because it’s a young adult novel and that somehow equates to someone needing to play a player role. Tristan never displayed that “love ’em and leave ’em” mentality and I could have done without that being in issue in the novel.

Overall, this was a great book and really drew me in. I can’t wait to read the next installment.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Haunting. There is no other word I can think of to describe this book.

Williams writes this world so well, that I had goosebumps throughout most of the novel. She wrote Kyra’s story so well and with such beautiful prose, it was able to take this book to a much more interesting place than I thought it would go. Kyra’s love for her father, her mothers, her sisters and brothers is so apparent, it hurt me to read about the world they lived in.

I applaud Williams for writing this story the way she did. Even though the world Kyra lived in was horrible, I never questioned her desire to stay with her family. It was clear that she detested her world, but even through that, she loved her family and it was incredibly touching to see how much her need to leave hurt her when it came to her family.

I also loved the dynamic Williams created between The Chosen One’s culture are Kyra’s family. Even though her father has 3 wives and many kids, I couldn’t help but admire the love they had for one another. Kyra’s father was a much better character than I thought he would be at the beginning of the book. Comparing that to the rest of the compound, where children are killed for being “defective,” where young girls are forced into marriage with much older men, and where near torture is used as a simple form of discipline. The two words almost seem to oppose each other in ways, and yet they are so intertwined you can’t forget it.

Finding an emotion tie to this book was easy and getting sucked in will happen. But this book isn’t for everyone. It’s a very tough story to read and it will make you angry, sad and everything in between. But it will also show you the power of human spirit and what it can overcome. If you can look past the religious context and embrace the story as a show of human strength, you will be moved by this book, just like I was.

Breathless by Jessica Warman

I’m conflicted about this book. It was well written and covered a tough subject very well. But I still feel let down by it. There wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with it, it just wasn’t right.

The characters are well written and you can see the growth in most of them throughout the novel. They are realistic and I can see myself coming across people just like them in real life. I didn’t really fall in love with Drew, but that’s more due to personal reasons than the writing of him. He was a great character to have in the sea of crazy teenage behavior.

I think my main problems with this book are that it covers such a long time period and there is never really a major conflict and resolution in the novel. I always think a book should start as close to the end as possible, which is why I can typically forgive the “love at first sight” plots of young adult novels. However, this book covers 3 years of Katie’s life, and during those years, yes, things happen, but there isn’t one main event. I kept waiting for something to happen that would have me on the edge of my seat and nothing ever did. I wasn’t blown away by the plot and it felt a little ho-hum for my tastes.

Overall, this was a good book, but it just left something to be desired. It felt more like a story instead of a novel, in that things happened, but at the same time, nothing really happened. There was so much potential, and I feel like it just didn’t quite reach the level it could have.

Slipping Reality by Emily Beaver

Alright. This review is going to be a bit difficult to write.

The emotion of this book is astounding and it was easy to connect to and feel. Beaver wrote honestly and didn’t try to cover anything up. She laid it all bare and it was raw. The ending was tough to read, even though it was easy to see coming (and I mean that in a good way.)

I have a bit of a personal tie with this kind of story; however, my perspective is closer to that of Matthew’s. It was enlightening to get a glimpse into what the minds of my family and friends might be feeling at times. But at the same time, I understood Beaver’s desire (written mostly in the Author’s Note) to have an escape from reality. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to just get away from the real world and have a place to go that’s protected from the difficulty of everyday life.

There were a couple things that kept me from fully loving this book, though. As well-written as most of it was, there were times when I could tell a 14 year old wrote this. It was still done very well, but it just didn’t seem up to par with the rest of the book. The constant naming of different TV shows and movies pulled me out a bit as well. I find it easier to go with the flow of a book if TV and movie are kept generic and non-specific. That might just be me, though. The last thing that pulled me out of the book was just one little fact that she had incorrectly stated. It probably wouldn’t bother me as much had it been about any other part of the body, but because it was about the lungs, and I know lungs extremely well (better than I’d like to), it was a little distracting.

Overall, this was a good book. It’s a good book for teens to read to read and it really gets the emotion of the death of a loved one across well. It’s a tough topic to cover, and I really admire Beaver for handling it with such grace.

The Sausage Maker’s Daughters by A.G.S. Johnson

I’ve got a confession. I tend to judge books by their covers and titles more than I should. And when I first saw this book and its title, I wasn’t really interested. And then I read the description and I was a little interested, but my initial judgment of its cover still clouded my vision a bit.

However, the more I read, the more I loved. Kip is a wonderful character that grows throughout the entire novel and starts out a strong character, and ends an even stronger one. My favorite part about this growth is that is it done by showing Kip’s faults and weaknesses, rather than how she excels in her life. She’s exposed and put out there and by being able to see her own faults, she becomes the strong person she needs to be.

Along that same vein, even though I loathed some of the characters (namely big sister Sybel); they were some of the best written characters I’ve seen. That’s probably why I felt such strong reactions towards them. Even Sybel, while still horrible for what she did to Kip growing up, was still a person. She had strengths and faults and even though it was hard for me to find a sliver of something other than disdain for her, it’s a testament to how well Johnson wrote these people.

I’m not usually a fan of books that involve courtrooms, simply because I can find it difficult to follow and understand. Johnson was able to wrote a courtroom that seemed incredibly realistic, and yet easy to understand. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy read, though. I was focused on this book and nothing else. I didn’t want to miss out on anything by skimming.

This is such an interesting and engaging book and people need to read it. It might not look it from the cover, but it will suck you in and won’t let you go until long after you’ve finished.