ARC REVIEW: Goodbye Days – by Jeff Zentner

Title: Goodbye Days
Author: Jeff Zentner

Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
First published: March 7th 2017
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK Children’s / Andersen
Finished reading: March 14th 2017
Pages: 416

“For the most part, you don’t hold the people you love in your heart because they rescued you from drowning or pulled you from a burning house. Mostly you hold them in your heart because they save you, in a million quiet and perfect ways, from being alone.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK Children’s/ Andersen in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Birthday review! 😀 Because reading Goodbye Days this week was basically an early birthday present in the first place.

I absolutely loved reading Jeff Zentner‘s other novel The Serpent King earlier this year and I added Goodbye Days to my list of most anticipated releases as soon as I finished it. You can imagine my reaction when my Netgalley request was actually approved… I didn’t want to set my expectations too high after such a fantastic debut, and I kept telling myself it would be hard for Goodbye Days to outshine it. But I guess I shouldn’t have worried, because I think I have just found my new favorite Zentner novel. Basically, this story took my feelings, put them on the middle of the road and ran them over repeatedly with a bulldozer. It doesn’t happen often that a book actually manages to make me cry, but Goodbye Days managed to break my heart more than once. Brilliant prose, excellent characters and those feels!! I literally flew through the pages of this story and the characters were easy to love. And this isn’t just another YA contemporary story either; it also touches a very important topic. Thank you Goodbye Days for raising awareness to the dangers of using your phone while driving; is more dangerous than drunk driving and causes so many unnecessary accidents… Hopefully an eyeopener as well as a brilliant read! Recommended to any contempory/realistic fiction fan who doesn’t mind sad stories.

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Carver Briggs never thought something so simple as a text message could end the lives of his three best friends Mars, Eli and Blake. He didn’t think about possible consequences when he sent the text as they were driving to meet him, and while Mars was trying to answer the three friends ended up in a fatal car crash. Carver cannot stop blaming himself for the accident and it seems like he isn’t the only one… The authorities are looking into the accident to try and determine if they can press charges against him. Blake’s grandmother doesn’t blame him, and asks Carver to help remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. That leads to the idea to have memorial days for his other friends as well, but not everyone is willing to forgive… Can the goodbye days really help?

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Goodbye Days is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I don’t think I can find something negative about it, other than that it basically broke my heart and left me nursing a book hangover. The writing style is brilliant and will have you flying through the pages as you ride the emotional rollercoaster. The characters will win over your heart and the plot is both wonderful, sad and has an important lesson. If you like the genre, Goodbye Days is a must-read!


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ARC REVIEW: Who We Were Before – by Leah Mercer

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Title: Who We Were Before
Author: Leah Mercer

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Drama
First published: October 1st 2016
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Finished reading: October 9th 2016
Pages: 256
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“I spend a lot of time inside my head. I like it there, blanketed from the world.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I requested a copy of Who We Were Before on whim from Netgalley some time ago. I’m normally not really into drama, but the blurb sounded interesting enough and I decided to give it a go anyway. It seems like yet again my intuition didn’t fail me, because this novel by Leah Mercer turned out to be an easy and fast-paced contemporary read. The ‘present/Paris’ chapters weren’t as strong as the ones set in the past, and I’m not quite sure they were all that believable either. I mean, it sounds pretty farfetched that someone like the main character Zoe can just wander around in a strange country all day without any money, and on top of that isn’t able to find her husband. That said, I enjoyed reading the chapters set in the past and it was interesting to learn more about how the two main characters first met and how it all started to go wrong… Poor little kid. The character development of both characters is very well done and they seem realistic (except for the chapters set in Paris like I mentioned before). In short, Who We Were Before is without doubt a fast-paced and interesting read for any contemporary romance/drama fan.

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It’s been two years, but both Zoe and Edward are still haunted by that terrible tragedy. Edward knows they should find a way to take healing steps together, but Zoe always seems to shut him out and he is tired. Zoe knows that it wasn’t really her fault, but she still blames herself for not being able to stop the car that killed their little son. And she cannot forget Edward’s bitter words at the time of the accident either… A weekend in Paris might be their last hope for reconciliation, but mischance sees them separated before they have even left the train station Gare du Nord. Edward and Zoe now must try and find their way back to each other and the way back to the people they were before, but is that even possible?

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If you are looking for a fast-paced and entertaining contemporary read, I can definitely recommend Who We Were Before. It has a healthy dose of drama and the character development is both well done and realistic. The story is easy to read despite the drama and the chapters set in the past are excellent. I had some minor issues with the credibility of the Paris chapters, but all in all it’s still a great read.

ARC REVIEW: We Awaken – by Calista Lynne

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Title: We Awaken
Author: Calista Lynne
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
Publish Date: July 14th 2016 
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Finished reading: June 27th 2016
Pages: 180
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“You know your sexuality isn’t set in stone. There are more things than just gay or straight. ”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Harmony Ink Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I was immediately intrigued when I first saw the cover and read the blurb, so when I was able to get a review copy at Netgalley I decided to read We Awaken straight away. This novel by Calista Lynne has the promise of a realistic fiction story with a paranormal touch and main characters exploring their asexuality. Especially the last part caught my attention, since asexuality isn’t something that has been written about often in YA novels as far as I am aware. And I think this interesting topic is probably the strongest feature of We Awaken, because I found the other elements kind of lacking. The story had a fast pace, the prose was easy to read and I liked the descriptions of the dream world in the beginning. I also liked the general idea behind the plot, but I wish there would have been more focus on the after effects of the accident and the dream world itself and less on the romantic scenes. Because if I have to be honest, the romantic elements are what most bothered me about this story. First of all, the relationship between Victoria and Ashlinn felt too much like insta-love; their relationship evolved so quickly that it just wasn’t credible anymore, especially for a confused teenage girl who hasn’t had any previous experience with love. The romantic babbling between the two definitely made me enjoy this story a lot less, and the scenes mostly felt awkward, forced and unnatural. The exploration of asexuality is actually quite well done, but I felt it was kind of buried under the other romantic scenes/dialogues. I probably would have liked the story a lot better if there would have been a better balance between the actual plot and romance scenes, because both Victoria’s life and the idea of two ‘creatures’ creating dreams and nightmares sound truly intriguing.

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After her father died in a car accident last year and the same accident left her brother in a coma, Victoria Dinham feels like she doesn’t have much left to look forward to. The only thing that keeps her going is her dream of being accepted into the Manhattan Dance Conservatory… But then, just before the audition in New York, an otherworldly girl named Ashlinn visits Victoria in her dream with a message from her comatose brother, claiming the two are friends. Ashlinn has the task of creating pleasant dreams for humans, while her counterpart creates nightmares… And soon Victoria finds herself looking forward more and more to her dreams with Ashlinn. In Victoria’s mind the two are starting to become close, and she is finally able to understand herself and her sexuality better with the help of the asexual Ashlinn. And then, when Victoria needs Ashlinn’s help outside the realm of dreams, she suddenly appears in front of Victoria in human form… But aren’t dreams too good to supposed to last forever?

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There is no doubt that the general idea behind the plot of We Awaken is very interesting, and I really liked the fact that it incorporates a topic that you don’t come across often in YA fiction novels: asexuality. Like I said before, that is probably the strongest feature of We Awaken, because unfortunately the story itself didn’t live up to my expectations. There was so much focus on the romance scenes that the balance with the main plot was lost, and the romance itself felt mostly unnatural, not really credible and awkward. The pace is fast though and romance fans might still really enjoy this read.

BOOK REVIEW: Love Letters Of The Dead – by Ava Dellaira

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Title: Love Letters To The Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
First published: April 1st 2014
Finished reading: May 10th 2016
Pages: 336
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“There are a lot of human experiences that challenge the limits of our language,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons that we have poetry.”

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I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about this book ever since it first came out, so it’s easy to say I was a bit hesitant to read it myself. To be honest I wasn’t sure whether to read this book at all… But since I already had an e-copy and it came up as one of my TBR jar picks, I decided to just give it a go and see how things turn out. Love Letters To The Dead didn’t end up being a particularly bad read, but I wasn’t blown away by it either. While the whole ‘chapters in the form of letters’ idea seems rather original, it does look quite similar to The Perks of Being A Wallflower. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as always with a comparison there is a winner and a loser and things aren’t looking good for this Love Letters To The Dead. What I did enjoy is that the main character Laurel writes her letters to famous deceased people that are related to whatever happens in the story: Kurt Cobain, E.E. Cummings, Janis Joplin, Amelia Earhart, Amy Winehouse… Those elements (especially the music and poetry references) were a nice touch to an otherwise quite repetitive story. Because that is what the rest of the plot basically is: a repetition of the same letter idea where Laurel is trying to figure out how to deal with the death of her sister. Laurel blames herself for her death, although she takes a long time revealing why that is. This was actually quite annoying, both because it made the story drag and the actual plot twist was not that great either. (Why did she never tell anyone before?!) In short, while I liked some things of the story, there were other elements that made me enjoy this story a lot less than I would have hoped.

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Laurel has been struggling to deal with the death of her sister May, and even decided to go to a different high school to avoid the stares full of pity. Laurel blames herself for May’s death, but isn’t ready to tell the truth about what happened yet as much as she doesn’t really know how to grieve for May either. An English assignment marks the beginning of a journey where she starts writing letters to famous dead people about both her feelings and what happens to her during her days. Slowly Laurel starts to accept the past and how life can go on without May… Starting high school, new friendships, learning to live with the new family situation, falling in love; life does go on even after such a terrible experience. But how do you really mourn for someone you haven’t forgiven yet? Can Laurel finally make peace with what happened?

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I was almost afraid to read Love Letters To The Dead after hearing so many mixed opinions. And while I didn’t think it was a particularly bad read, I wasn’t blown away by it either… Some elements like the music and poetry references were really interesting, but others (repetitive plot, ‘big secret’ plot twist) made me enjoy this story a lot less than I thought I would. Would I recommend this novel by Ava Dellaira? With all those mixed reviews out there, I guess I would leave that up to your own decision.

BOOK REVIEW: Random – by Tom Leveen

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Title: Random
Author: Tom Leveen
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
First published: August 12th 2014
Finished reading: March 30th 2016
Pages: 224
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“’Because that’s what being dead means,’ Andy says. ‘It’s the zenit of ‘never’. Never again, never this, never that. You don’t come back from never. You can’t enjoy never. You just sit there, not existing, not listening to your favorite songs or eating you favorite foods. Never.’”

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I’ve read a few good books about teen suicide and (cyber)bullying in the past (including Tease, Thirteen Reasons Why and Nothing Everything Nothing), so when I first read the blurb of this novel I was immediately interested. Unfortunately cyberbullying is becoming a more urgent problem every day with the internet-focused society we are living in today. Tom Leveen did an excellent job in showing us how something seemingly ‘innocent’ as a few harsh Facebook comments can make someone vulnerable make the decision to end it all. The main character Tori is the perfect example of someone who didn’t see the consequences of her comments, and still thinks she didn’t do anything wrong. The random call and the way she is forced to think about suicide and how she might have played a role in the death of the very person that used to be her friend make this read into something truly intriguing. Random has a fast pace, is easy to read and has just enough plot twists to keep you surprised until the end. The characters might not be completely likeable, but they do feel real and show us what can happen if cyberbullying isn’t taken seriously. Recommended!

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Tori hasn’t been herself lately ever since one of her former friends decided to end his life. Kevin and Tori used to be closer, but when Tori became friends with a bunch of popular people she started to act differently. Her new friends don’t exactly treat Kevin the right way and slowly Tori starts to join them… And when her new friends start leaving harsh comments about everything Kevin writes on her Facebook page, she doesn’t defend him. Feeling desperate to stay popular, she even writes a few nasty comments of her own. Now Tori’s Facebook page is evidence in an upcoming trail with national coverage that wants to convict her group for cyberbullying and being the direct cause of Kevin’s suicide… Tori doesn’t believe she is guilty, but is forced to rethink what happened to him when she receives a random phone call. What seems to be a wrong number turns to be a guy her age that asks her for only one thing: a reason not to kill himself. Tori first thinks he is a fraud, but can she really take the risk and have another possible suicide on her conscience?

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Random is a well written and fast-paced read about a subject that is becoming more and more important as the influence of the internet grows. Cyberbullying is probably more common than the ‘old-fashioned’ bullying known ten years ago, and it is important that the consequences are revealed to the bigger public. Tom Leveen did an excellent job by doing just that in his novel and make us think about how something simple as a few Facebook comments can have a huge impact on someone. I would definitely recommend reading this book if you are interested in the subject.

BOOK REVIEW: Extraordinary Means – by Robyn Schneider

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Title: Extraordinary Means
Author: Robyn Schneider
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
First published: May 26th 2015
Finished reading: February 12th 2016
Pages: 336
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“Being temporary doesn’t make something matter any less, because the point isn’t for how long, the point is that it happened.”

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I’ve had Extraordinary Means on my radar ever since it came out last year, but somehow I never actually picked it up… Until my TBR jar decided it was time to finally read this novel by Robyn Schneider. What sounds like just another sad story about sick teenagers (this time suffering from an incurable strain of tuberculosis), is actually so much more. First of all, the Extraordinary Means is very well written and I really liked the main characters and their development. They live at the Latham house which is part hospital and part boarding school; no contact with the outside world is allowed since the disease is so contagious. This all sounds really depressing, but Robyn Schneider is able to give her story an unique touch through Sadie and her friends. They decide to ‘fight’ the system and the four form a close group of eccentric troublemakers who want to have the feeling they are still alive. I really liked Lane as a character as well, and the together the five characters really make this book into something special. Sad moments are mixed with both dark and funny ones and the story has just the right dose of romance. If you like contemporary fiction and don’t mind having to keep your box of tissues on standby, I would definitely recommend reading Extraordinary Means.

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At seventeen Lane has his whole life already planned out and has been working towards his admission to Stanford for years. All of this comes to an abrupt halt when he is diagnosed with an incurable strain of tuberculosis… And he is sent to Latham House so the disease doesn’t infect those around him. Latham House is a sanatorium for teens with TB and Lane has a hard time fitting in. He doesn’t want to throw away the future he has been working so hard for, but slowly he is starting to realize that this time he will have to put his health and body first… But it’s hard to relax if you don’t have friends to share your time with. He did recognize a girl he knew from summer camp a few years ago, Sadie, but she doesn’t seem to even want to talk to him. She has transformed from the shy loner he remembers to a very intriguing teenager, and both Sadie and her friends really fascinate Lane. Will Lane make any friends and accept the fact that he is sick? And will they win the fight against tuberculosis?

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What I liked of Extraordinary Means is that it is not just about a bunch of sick teenagers fighting against a disease (in this case an incurable strain of tuberculosis, which in itself is quite original). It’s also a story about friendship, second chances, first love and finding out what is really important in life. The novel is very well written and I really liked the main characters. The fast pace had me literally flying through the pages and the alternating chapters between Lane and Sadie made it hard to stop reading. Robyn Schneider was able to create a story that is both sad, dark, funny and cute at the same time; if you are looking for a good contemporary read, you should consider reading Extraordinary Means.

BOOK REVIEW: The Sky Is Everywhere – by Jandy Nelson

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Title: The Sky Is Everywhere
Author: Jandy Nelson
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: March 9th 2010
Finished reading: December 29th 2015
Pages: 277
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“When he plays
All the flowers swap colors
And years and decades and centuries
Of rain pour back into the sky.”

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I have been wanting to read this novel ever since I finished I’ll Give You The Sun last April. Jandy Nelson has a way of writing her books that simply blows your mind: beautiful, creative, emotional, sad, funny… Her prose is a mix of all that and more. The Sky Is Everywhere is just as beautifully written as her other book. It is a terribly sad and emotional story where the main characters try to deal with Bailey’s dead; the musical elements and descriptions make this book into something truly exceptional. Why didn’t I give The Sky Is Everywhere the full five stars? I had one problem with this otherwise brilliant novel: the love triangle. I think I have become allergic to love triangles after reading too many YA novels and the Lennie-Toby-Joe triangle more than bothered me. Sure, grief can make you do unspeakable things, but still… I think I could have lived without that element. That said, if you like YA contemporary romance stories and don’t mind having to use a full box of tissues, make sure you read The Sky Is Everywhere!

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After her older sister Bailey dies suddently, seventeen-year-old Lennie doesn’t know what to do with herself. She is used to be on the background, a bookwork and clarinet player, but now has nobody left to hide behind… She lives with her grandmother and uncle ever since her mother left her daughters behind to wander the world; all three of them now stunned by their grief. Bailey’s boyfriend Toby keeps visiting the family as he tries to live with his loss… And Lennie and Toby both feel they are the only ones that really understand each other’s grief. Lennie tries to continue with her life and still goes to band practice, where she meets the new boy and musical talent Joe. They slowly get to know each other, but Lennie is confused about her feelings… Her grief blinding her from making proper decisions.

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The beautiful prose, musical elements and many descriptions and bits of Lennie’s writing truly make The Sky Is Everywhere into something special. I personally didn’t appreciate the love triangle, but the rest of this story is outstanding. It’s a really sad story that will probably bring tears to your eyes at some point, but this Jandy Nelson novel is without doubt worth reading if you like the genre. Recommended!