Book Tour: Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Thursday, September 18, 2014

As you are all aware, i swim for oceans always has been and always will be a young adult book blog. However, I was recently approached by Paper Lantern Lit to share veteran YA author, Lauren Oliver's, new adult novel, Rooms. I'm all about expanding my reading horizons, and I've been a fan of Ms. Oliver's work for some time, so it wasn't a stretch for me to read this one. And, my friends, if you read all genres, you certainly won't be disappointed! 

Buy Rooms. Find Rooms on Goodreads. Follow Lauren on Twitter. Visit Lauren's Website

Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.

But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.

The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.
The beauty of Ms. Oliver's novels is that she has an intricate ability to weave together the living and the dead into a mesmerizing tale that transcends your average ghost story. In a typical ghost story, we have the worlds of the living and the dead painted very clearly in black and white. Rooms, however, presents readers with a unique sort of story that intertwines the two into a bleak, twisted and alluring palette of grey areas. Not necessarily the fastest-paced, it's a bit of a slow-burning book that worms its way into your soul, slowly building tension and suspense along the way.

In terms of characterization, Rooms soars. Caroline is drowning her sorrows in copious amounts of alcohol and Minna does the same, filling the void with a temporary relief. Trenton is probably the largest of the characters with a multitude of layers slowly unfurling as the story progresses. He can see beyond the living, too, which makes him perhaps the most interesting, as well as the most broken. Through him, we see this richly bleak world come alive, spiral out of control and slowly but surely be forced into the light.

It must be said that even with our ghosts, Alice and Sandra, we're not reading your typical horror-filled ghost story. Rather, it's largely atmospheric and introspective, analyzing the depth of human emotions and that void that one feels when they are trapped in a place from which they can't find their way out. In this way, Rooms steps out of the familiar young adult feel that Ms. Oliver's novels have always had. By delving deeper into the backstories of each of our characters and how their lives intersect, the novel plays out beautifully, if a bit tediously.

In the end though, I can truly appreciate Ms. Oliver's take on adult fiction, and I have to say that it was extremely well done. Evocative and powerful, this 11-part story houses many rooms and many different and imaginative bits that all come together for a powerful end. While not wrapped up as neatly as some might hope, I appreciate the somewhat open end, and I look forward to her next take on adult fiction. I give it a very strong 4 out of 5, and I highly recommend it to fans of Ms. Oliver's, as well as those who enjoy adult mysteries and ghost stories

The Good Sister by Jamie Kain Review

Monday, September 15, 2014

Title: The Good Sister
Author: Jamie Kain (Twitter)
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: October 7, 2014
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher

The Kinsey sisters live in an unconventional world. Their parents are former flower-children who still don’t believe in rules. Their small, Northern California town is filled with free spirits and damaged souls seeking refuge from the real world. Without the anchor of authority, the three girls are adrift and have only each other to rely on.

Rachel is wild. Asha is lost. Sarah, the good sister, is the glue that holds them together. But the forces of a mysterious fate have taken Sarah’s life in a sudden and puzzling accident, sending her already fractured family into a tailspin of grief and confusion. Asha has questions. Rachel has secrets. And Sarah, waking up in the afterlife, must piece together how she got there.
What I love about a good contemporary novel is that it can often transcend the genre and really speak to fans of all genres. It's a tricky feat balancing those abilities and still managing to present a cohesive storyline though, so I'm always a bit wary when a novel surfaces and suggests that it might do just that. The Good Sister by Jamie Kain is a novel that took me by surprise in a few ways - not the least of which is the fact that it looked like an adult novel to me before I read the premise. I was also surprised to see a novel written in the vein of Jodi Picoult for the younger lot. Offering readers a true taste of contemporary - full of life, love, drama and family - it's the type of book that will linger with you.

Multiple points of view are often quite tricky for me, in large part because they offer a bunch of little tastes but never seem to fulfill me entirely. The Good Sister ups the ante, giving us three distinct points of view - one for each of the sisters. Naturally, I was concerned that this would make the story less cohesive and more jumbled. I was surprised, however, to find that it actually knit the seams of the story together very nicely, giving us a glimpse into the minds of Rachel, Asha and Sarah. We seem to work through the story in a less-than-chronological order at times, and we're able to see their cohesive family unit splinter and fragment apart, all the while understanding the ties that bind and those that separate them in the end. It's powerful, emotional and tragic in the most beautiful of ways. 

I think what kept me riveted throughout the novel though was just how dysfunctional the family was. At times, I wanted to shake their mother out of her flower-child demeanor to see just how broken her living daughters were. I wanted their absent father to understand how his cold veneer hardened their broken hearts and helped shatter their family unit. The Good Sister made me uncomfortable…plain and simple. It's like watching a train wreck before your eyes and feeling like you're simply a casual bystander. The reason it managed to captivate me though is the fact that these three girls - all so vastly different - longed for one thing. They wanted peace, and that peace is hard to come by.

There is a mystery element to The Good Sister that's sort of over-arching throughout the plot, and it's woven nicely through the drama and through each sister's perspective. I worried it might distract me, but it actually served to enhance the story in the end and, despite the fact that these Rachel and Asha broke my heart with their broken selves, I was invested from start to finish. The only flaw to the story that I found is that, while it has a conclusive ending, I think it could have been enhanced upon, and I still wanted more. In the end though, I give it a definitive 4 out of 5, and I highly recommend it to all fans of YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

Learning Not to Drown by Anna Shinoda Review

Friday, September 12, 2014

Title: Learning Not to Drown
Author: Anna Shinoda (Twitter)
Publisher: Atheneum BYR
Publish Date: April 1, 2014
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher

Family secrets cut to the bone in this mesmerizing debut novel about a teen whose drug-addicted brother is the prodigal son one time too many. There is a pecking order to every family. Seventeen-year old Clare is the overprotected baby; Peter is the typical, rebellious middle child; and Luke is the oldest, the can’t-do-wrong favorite. To their mother, they are a normal, happy family.

To Clare, they are a family on the verge of disaster. Clare: the ambitious striver; Peter: the angry ticking time bomb; and Luke: a drug-addicted convicted felon who has been in and out of jail for as long as Clare can remember—and who has always been bailed out by their parents.

Clare loves Luke, but life as his sister hasn’t been easy. And when he comes home (again), she wants to believe this time will be different (again). Yet when the truths behind his arrests begin to surface, everything Clare knows is shaken to its core. And then Luke is arrested. Again. Except this time is different, because Clare’s mom does the unthinkable on Luke’s behalf, and Clare has to decide whether turning her back on family is a selfish act…or the only way to keep from drowning along with them.
I'm amazed that this one flew so under the radar for so long for me because pretty much all readers of my blog can attest to the fact that I love gritty contemporary fiction. And, Learning Not to Drown, is pretty much that in a nutshell. Raw, evocative, emotional and real, it's the type of novel that sears deep into your soul, imprinting itself there long after you've finished it. By no means an easy read, it's the type of book that will cut you to the bone, but if you let it, it will also allow you to heal in ways you never thought possible. Anna Shinoda has created a nearly mesmerizing tale of family, friendships and navigating the harsh realities of life with this one - and it's amazing.

Learning Not to Drown got off to a bit of a rocky start for me. In books like these, it's often easy to find that one character you can empathize with, while everyone else seems to fall by the wayside, and this was no exception. I really struggled with Clare's parents at first. There was such a tenuous, frazzled reality to their existence, and it frustrated me to see that they weren't being what I believe the ideal parents to be - especially with all they were going through. As the book progressed though, we began to peel back those layers and understand why they were the way they were, and it made it easier to stomach their behavior - if not altogether accept it.

One thing that really stood out for me about Learning Not to Drown though was Skeleton. Throughout the novel, we're fully comprehending the fact that there are many, many skeletons in the Tovin's closets, but there is a near-visceral representation of these skeletons in Skeleton. It brings these shadows to light, and the beauty in the character of Skeleton is that he is so very, very real. Every aspect of his being is tangible - even if he is an intangible entity - and it serves to heighten the understanding and empathy that readers will have for Clare and her circumstance. And, for all intents and purposes, Clare is every bit the heroine. She, like Skeleton, goes through an immense journey from the shadows to the light, and it's a powerful one that you'll be pleasantly surprised reading.

Learning Not to Drown shifts back and forth between the past and present tense, which is a device that doesn't usually work for me. I find it to create a bit of a haphazard maze in most cases, and that frustrates me. In this case though, Ms. Shinoda carefully sets the stage through each flashback, offering us greater insight into how and why Clare and her family got to the place they are in today. It never felt jumpy or offbeat, instead offering us a glimmer of greater understand - however painful that might have been.

Overall, I can't believe I held off reading this one for so long. It's exactly the type of contemporary novel that I like to read because it truly investigates the depth of the human condition, familial relationships and survival. And, what's more, I don't think it's the type of book that is solely for one age group. It will work for the younger lot, but adults will also get a greater appreciation and understanding from the multitude of layers that Ms. Shinoda has created. I give it a 5 out of 5, and I highly recommend it to all fans of contemporary fiction - both YA and adult.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

Waiting on Wednesday: I'll Meet You There

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I remember when I read Something Real by Heather Demetrios, and I didn't really expect anything from it at all. The cover didn't speak to me, I thought it wouldn't be very deep, and yet it captivated me from the start,  and it catapulted its way to being one of my all-time favourite contemporary stories in the YA genre. So, I'm on the lookout for stories like that these days, and where better to look than at a new title from Ms. Demetrios herself?

Title: I'll Meet You There
Author: Heather Demetrios (Twitter)
Publisher: Henry Holt BYR
Publish Date: February 3, 2015
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 400

If seventeen-year-old Skyler Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage-months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings them together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.
I'm all about gritty novels that capture reality - and hey, if they pepper in a little romance, that can't hurt either, right? The beauty of Ms. Demetrios's writing is that she can make the most mundane of circumstances come to life, and she makes her characters just sing with reality, heart and honesty. That's why I'm completely and utterly sold on I'll Meet You There. Is the cover necessarily something to write home about? No, but I have a feeling that it suits the novel, and that the book will definitely be something to keep on my favourite shelf. What do you think, and what are you waiting on this week?

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature from Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated Science Fiction Novels

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

More than a few times now, I've professed my love for the science fiction genre on this blog. While I might have been slacking at posting lately, friends, I haven't slacked on reading, and I swear there are so many talented sci-fi writers out there that are basically unheard of. And, especially, in a world of YA fiction, it's easy to get lost in the crowd. Here are ten YA sci-fis books that are highly underrated…and should probably be read as soon as possible!

Impostor by Susanne Winnacker. Fair Coin by E.C. Myers. One by Leigh Ann Kopans.

Scan by Walter Jury & Sarah Fine. False Memory by Dan Krokos. Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris.

Insignia by S.J. Kincaid. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. The Well's End by Seth Fishman. Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle.

All of these books surprised me in the best possible way, and yet all of them have lacked the hype I've seen some of my least favourite series receive. It's my true hope that, someday, all readers will give these gems a chance because they have a very, very special place in my heart. What sci-fi books have you read that you think are significantly underrated?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

The Bodies We Wear by Jeyn Roberts Review

Monday, September 8, 2014

Title: The Bodies We Wear
Author: Jeyn Roberts (Twitter)
Publisher: Knopf BYR
Publish Date: September 23, 2014
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher

People say when you take Heam, your body momentarily dies and you catch a glimpse of heaven. Faye was only eleven when dealers forced Heam on her and her best friend, Christian. But Faye didn’t glimpse heaven—she saw hell. And Christian died.

Now Faye spends her days hiding her secret from the kids at school, and her nights training to take revenge on the men who destroyed her life and murdered her best friend. But life never goes the way we think it will. When a mysterious young man named Chael appears, Faye's plan suddenly gets a lot more complicated. Chael seems to know everything about her, including her past. But too many secrets start tearing her world apart: trouble at school, with the police, and with the people she thought might be her friends. Even Gazer, her guardian, fears she's become too obsessed with vengeance. Love and death. Will Faye overcome her desires, or will her quest for revenge consume her?
There's nothing like a good old-fashioned story that involves revenge, love and death. Right? These three elements hold so much power that they're enough to ignite a plot from mere ashes and really get readers involved in a story. And, The Bodies We Wear, promises readers all that and more. With a subplot of revenge, a protagonist hell-bent on righting the wrongs done to her and her friend in the past and a sinister drug that seems harmless but creates havoc, it's the picture-perfect setup for a science-fiction novel. Author, Jeyn Roberts, reels us into a world that's dark and evocative, but eerie in its secrecy, luring us into the fold and leaving us wondering how we'll ever escape.

The Bodies We Wear, essentially, lays out the framework for a pretty powerful sci-fi novel that should, based on the synopsis, be action-packed and gripping. I found, however, that it felt a bit flat once I got into the story. Yes, that picture-perfect framework is there, and it's a pretty incredible setup for a plot, but in terms of execution, I felt that it lacked a little bit of the oomph that I'd really hoped for. From the beginning, we're shown a protagonist who has had pretty much every bad thing that could happen to her actually happen, and I really wanted to see Faye take the bull by the horns and seek out the revenge. And yes, essentially, she did. But the voice that we're given for Faye felt a bit hollow, and instead of feeling fervor and passion in her story, I just felt a bit humdrum about it all. I guess, in the end, it felt like I was being shown her story, rather than experiencing it through her eyes. 

In a novel like The Bodies We Wear, I also expect certain plot devices to be used to "throw us off the trail" so to speak. It's those elements that keep me turning page after page, hoping to uncover the true nature of the sinister secret within Faye's world. Unfortunately though, these little revelations felt predictable and inauthentic, which made the plot feel more disingenuous than powerful. And, then we have Chael, who is supposed to be this beacon of honesty in the story - the one that reveals those darker elements that we can't wait to find out. But Chael turns out to be someone that I didn't really expect him to be and, unfortunately, in a way that I felt somewhat threw off the sincerity of the novel. 

Overall, I loved the concept of Heam, the consequences of such a drug and the underlying religious implications of the drug, but it seemed as though the drug and the story played second fiddle to a dry and cloying narrative. Had I felt more invested in Faye's voice, The Bodies We Wear might have worked for me, but in the end, I felt more let down than anything else. I give it a 2.5 out of 5, and I recommend it to to those who enjoy YA, especially those who like lighter science fiction stories.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien Review

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Title: The Vault of Dreamers
Author: Caragh M. O'Brien (Twitter)
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publish Date: September 16, 2014
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher

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.
I'm all about a good science fiction novel. There's something about an author being able to spin new and foreign worlds into a concept that's believable and almost tangible that makes the genre utterly appealing. So, naturally, The Vault of Dreamers was right up my alley. Offering a pretty original concept - one that really appealed to me, at that - I was thrilled to pick this one up, namely because it's by Caragh M. O'Brien, author of the popular Birthmarked series. Tense, original and gripping, it's the type of book that will captivate you to the very end, all the while making you question your sanity, as well.

I have to admit that I'm a little bit torn on my overall opinion of The Vault of Dreamers in the end though. It must be said that the plot really is incredibly original. The concept of dream seeding and mining is a unique one, but I almost felt as though the novel had too many elements going at once, so a bit of the focus was lost along the way. By adding in the element of a reality show, I felt a twinge of The Hunger Games, but it also didn't really feel like a fully-fleshed out concept. I had a lot of questions as the sci-fi elements developed as to how specific scenes didn't appear on the reality show, how viewers simply bought the Forge School vision and why, exactly, this school was the only place to send future students. Furthermore, we're presented with what seems like a bit of a destitute future world outside of the school, but it's hardly explored, so the novel feels very closed off and isolated.

Rosie, our main character, however, is what managed to keep me sold on The Vault of Dreamers throughout. She was feisty, hot-headed and stubborn, but she also had a fierce sense of devotion to her family at home and a rock-solid sense of self that really resonated. While there were elements of progression throughout the novel that threw me a little bit - talking to voices, etc. - Rosie, herself, never wavered, and I could really appreciate the fact that we had a strong, resilient protagonist. There is an element of romance to this novel that threw me a bit though because I'm not sure I ever really got to know our love interest, Linus. We get to see a fast-paced romance in a disordered plot with a female MC that heavily overshadows our love interest, and it just fell a bit flat.

In the end, I feel incredibly torn on how to actually rate The Vault of Dreamers. In terms of setting up a new series with a great cliffhanger, it did a great job reeling me in at the end, but it also left a lot open to assumptions and interpretations, as well. There's something to be said for a lack of info-dumping, but this was one of those novels that I feel needed a bit more of a streamlined focus to succeed. And, unfortunately, it didn't have that. In the end, I give it a 3 out of 5, and I hope to see more of it from future books. I recommend it to fans of YA, especially those who enjoy science-fiction and dystopian novels.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.


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