ARC REVIEW: Making Faces – by Amy Harmon

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Title: Making Faces
Author: Amy Harmon

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: October 12th 2013
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Finished reading: January 28th 2017
Pages: 405
Rating 5qqq

“I don’t think we get answers to every question. We don’t get all the whys. But I think when we look back to the end of our lives, if we do the best we can, and we will see that the things we begged God to take from us, the things we cursed him for, the things that made us turn our backs on him, are the things that were the biggest blessings, the biggest opportunities for growth.”

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

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It’s been over two weeks since I finished reading Making Faces and I still find it difficult to put my thoughts properly on paper. It doesn’t happen all that often, but Amy Harmon was able to give me another book hang over with this little masterpiece. I’m ashamed to admit I have only recently discovered her work, but I’ve already become addicted to her lovely prose and diverse plots. Making Faces is no exception. I had already heard great things about this book and I basically broke down the request button as soon as I saw it was available at Netgalley. All the raving reviews were absolutely right: this story is simply brilliant. I fell in love with both the characters, writing style and plot and this story will definitely stay with me for quite some time. Sure, some of it might be a little cheesy if you think about it critically. But if you have characters like Fern, Bailey and Ambrose, it is really easy to put those thoughts aside. I loved the war veteran elements as well; it’s such an important topic and definitely deserves more attention, especially as they are often misunderstood by society. As you might have guessed already, I simply adored Making Faces and I can definitely recommend it to any contemporary fan. I promise you that you will fall in love with the characters and their story! This new edition published by Spencer Hill Press later this month has some nifty bonus content as well.

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Ambrose Young’s looks and talent have made him really popular during his high school years. He isn’t just tall, muscular and good at sports, he also seems to have walked right off the cover of one of those romance novels. Fern Taylor should know, because she has been reading them since she was thirteen. Fern has had a crush on him for years, but she isn’t exactly the ‘prettiest’ girl in town and she doesn’t think Ambrose would ever look at her that way. But life isn’t just about physical attraction and works in funny ways. After the 9/11 attacks, Ambrose and his four friends decide to join the cause and were sent off to war. Only one comes back… And the whole town struggles to deal with the loss; each in their own way.

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I kind of feel I’m not doing the story justice with this summary, but I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot… This line in the blurb describes the general idea behind Making Faces beautifully though: “a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast where we discover that there is little beauty and a little beast in all of us“. It’s contemporary romance with a healthy dose of realistic fiction, a cup of tears and mixed with lovely characters and a very important topic. I basically loved everything about it and this story has confirmed Amy Harmon is one of my new favorite authors.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Coldest Girl In Coldtown – by Holly Black

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Title: The Coldest Girl In Coldtown
Author: Holly Black

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Horror
First published: September 3rd 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: October 15th 2016 
Pages: 419
Rating 4qqq

“Even from the beginning, that was the problem. People liked pretty things. People even liked pretty things that wanted to kill and eat them.”

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I’m ashamed to admit I’ve had this book collecting dust on my shelves for ages, and it was actually on last year’s Halloween TBR as well. Oops?! I’m glad I finally gave in though, because The Coldest Girl In Coldtown turned out to be a perfect Halloween read. I was actually pleasantly surprised to find out that I enjoyed this story that much, because I normally detest vampire stories. Kudos to Holly Black for showing me there are also decent vampire stories out there! Because it doesn’t happen often that I give a so-called ‘bloodsucker’ story such a high rating. Why is The Coldest Girl In Coldtown an exception? First of all, the vampires are actually dangerous like they should be. Their world is still a bit too glamorous to my taste, but I like the background story behind it all. The Coldest Girl In Coldtown is also fast-paced, well written, has a lot of action, not too many romance scenes and the right dose of creepy. In short, a very entertaining Halloween read that has convinced me I will definitely need to read more of Holly Black‘s work in the future.

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Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. There are monsters in the world and they can infect humans with the Cold. If either infected humans or monsters are found, they are quarantined inside those cities, living in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. And once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave… One morning after a party, Tana wakes up surrounded by the corpses of her friends and classmates including her ex-boyfriend. She wasn’t infected somehow, but he is, now tied up in a bedroom together with a mysterious boy with a terrible secret. Tana shouldn’t help the two and just save herself, but she cannot just leave them there. She now enters a race against the clock to save the three of them by facing danger straight on…

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I honestly wasn’t too sure about this book, but The Coldest Girl In Coldtown turned out to be one of the few vampire stories I actually enjoyed reading. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that there is almost no romance involved and the vampires are actually dangerous. I liked the worldbuilding and the story is without doubt well written with a lot of action scenes. It also has just the right dose of creepy and it is definitely entertaining to read. Recommended!

BOOK REVIEW: The Private School Murders – by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

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Title: The Private School Murders
(Confessions #2)
Author: James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Genre: YA, Mystery, Fiction
First published: October 7rd 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown And Company
Finished reading: August 31st 2016
Pages: 422
Rating 3qqq

“There is truth in dreams, but especially in nightmares.”

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I enjoyed reading the first book of this series back in January, so I decided it was about time to pick up the sequel The Private School Murders hoping it was going to be just as good. And while it’s without doubt a super fast-paced book with a prose that is very easy to read, I felt like it suffered a bit from the weaker sequel syndrome. It seemed like there were too many different storylines squeezed into just one book, with the consequence that each storyline was only described quite superficially and some of them lacked credibility. Also, Tandoori is quite arrogant and it’s difficult to like her. She was the same in the first book, but somehow she felt more annoying in The Private School Murders. The ‘cases’ she is trying to solve are still quite intriguing though; I just wish that at least the whole James/romance sub plot would have been left out… But then again I’m not really a sucker for romance in the first place. Overall I can’t deny it’s still a pretty decent sequel though.

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WARNING: Possible spoilers! Please don’t read this summary if you haven’t read the first book of this series yet. I’ll keep the summary super short but it’s impossible to keep it completely spoiler-free…

After solving the case of her wealthy parents’ mysterious deaths, Tandy Angel doesn’t seem to be done with playing detective. Her brother Matthew stands on trial for murder and young girls are found murdered all around New York’s Upper West side. Tandy is determined to use her skills to get to the bottom of both cases, although another case is still distracting her as well. The biggest mystery of all may be what actually happened to James Rampling, the son of a family enemy who Tandy fell in love and ran away with. She cannot seem to remember much about the whole affair, but she is desperate to find out more…

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While this sequel was by no means as strong as the first book, it is still a pretty decent and superfast read. Not all of the storylines are all that credible, but most of the ‘cases’ are intriguing and the story reads like a train. The main character Tandoori (Tandy) is a quite annoying know-it-all, but she does seem to deliver in the end. If you are looking for an easy and entertaining mystery read, this series might just be the one for you.

BOOK REVIEW: Vicious – by V.E. Schwab

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Title: Vicious
Author: V.E. Schwab
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Paranormal
First published: September 24th 2013
Publisher: Tor Books
Finished reading: August 22nd 2016
Pages: 340
Rating 4qqq

“When no one understands, that’s usually a good sign that you’re wrong.”

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Ever since I read both Shade Of Magic books earlier this year I’ve been an instant V.E. Schwab fan. I have debating which of her books to read next, and most people seem to think it would be best to pick up one of her earlier books Vicious first. And who am I to doubt that? I already knew I was probably going to like this book since I loved her writing style in the past, and I was right. While the Shades Of Magic books are still my absolute favorite, I thoroughly enjoyed Vicious. It wasn’t perfect and I would have liked to see some things differently, but in general the story more than made up for it. This book has a superfast pace and the prose is brilliant, just as I already expected. Vicious also has superpowers and a revenge plot… What’s not to like? I do admit it could have done without the romance, religious angle and some of the melodrama, but overall I can definitely recommend this book. Fingers crossed she will end up publishing a sequel some time soon! Vicious doesn’t end up with a cliffhanger and was originally ment as a stand-alone, but I wouldn’t say no to more superpowers, awesome prose and another great plot.

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Victor and Eli started out as college roommates: two brilliant, arrogant and lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. During their senior year they want to research a similar theme for their thesis, and they decide to work together. What they are working on? Adrenaline, near-death experiences and the possibility that those can give you extraordinary abilities under the right conditions. But when their thesis strays from the academic path and turns into an experiment, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison and is determined to stop his old friend: Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person on the planet. Both sides have terrible powers and have set course for revenge, but who will survive?

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Like I said before, Vicious is without doubt an excellent read even though I had minor problems with a few things like the romance, melodrama and religious angle. There is no doubt that the prose is brilliant and I loved the revenge plot and superpower angle. It just works perfectly together and any science fiction fan would probably love this book. More than recommended!

BOOK REVIEW: The Summer I Became A Nerd – by Leah Rae Miller

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Title: The Summer I Became A Nerd
(Nerd #1)
Author: Leah Rae Miller
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 7th 2013
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Finished reading: August 3rd 2016
Pages: 352

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“Be true to yourself and others will be true to you, too.”

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I picked this book up on a whim because of the summery title, mostly because I needed something to distract me from the cold weather down here. And while it’s certainly a great summer read, I’m having mixed thoughts about The Summer I Became A Nerd. It’s without doubt a fast-paced and mostly entertaining contemporary romance story and I LOVED the geeky/comic references. Those nerdy elements are without doubt the best part of this book! The story reads easily and both Logan and Dan are adorkable (in the best possible way.) And there is where it also went wrong: it really bothered me that the main character Maddie is so ashamed of the fact that she likes comics and other geeky things. Especially since she has been hiding it for so long and creating an alternative personality in order to be popular… Add a bunch of other cheesy high school cliches and a love triangle and it was close to ruining the story for me. Luckily the final part did manage to satisfy my inner nerd and that probably saved the rating from plummeting even lower. If you don’t mind cheesy high school cliches and a love triangle, you will probably end up loving this contemporary romance story though.

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Seventeen-year-old Maddie looks like just another typical blond cheerleader and she has worked hard to create that image; picking only popular friends, liking only the right things and even dating the quarterback. But Maddie has a secret: she is a huge fan of comics and doesn’t really care about pep rallies or her best friend’s favorite singer. She is desperate to keep her secret nerd identity hidden, and doesn’t even enter the only comic store in town because she is afraid someone will see her. But when de delivery of issue #400 of her favorite comic is delayed, she can’t resist and enters the local comic shop anyway. And working at the counter is Logan, a geeky guy from school she secretly likes but can’t date because it would ruin her reputation. But Logan recognizes her and Maddie will soon have to choose between letting her inner nerd out or ignore her love for comics and lose Logan forever…

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I love books with geeky elements, and those parts (especially the role playing!) were probably my favorite in The Summer I Became A Nerd. Logan is adorable as well and I really wanted to smack Maddie various times throughout the story for being that ignorant. I mean, why is it so necessary to be popular if you can’t even be yourself? That and the cheesy high school cliches/ love triangle lowered my rating considerably. I do have to say the story itself is fast-paced, entertaining and I LOVED the role-playing descriptions and comic references. Therefore I would still recommend it to fans of the genre.

BOOK REVIEW: Out Of The Easy – by Ruta Sepetys

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Title: Out Of The Easy
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Mystery
First published: February 12th 2013
Publisher: Philomel Books
Finished reading: July 7th 2016
Pages: 346
Rating 4,5qqq

“Sometimes we set off down a road thinkin’ we’re goin’ one place and we end up another. But that’s okay. The important thing is to start.”

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I have been wanting to read another Ruta Sepetys novel ever since I finished Between Shades Of Gray last year. Since I don’t have a copy of her newest novel yet Out Of The Easy was an easy choice, especially since this title has been recommended to me various times in the past. I’m glad I finally took the time to read this story, because I really enjoyed reading it! In a way it’s difficult to compare the two books because the setting in Out Of The Easy is completely different, but I think I have found my new favorite Ruta Sepetys novel. The 1950s setting in the French Quarter of New Orleans is really well done and I truly felt like I was transported back to that era while I was reading this novel. Both the prose and character development are also excellent and it was really easy to connect to the main character Josie Moraine. I liked how determined she is to change her life even though she’s had a rough start, and also enjoyed the fact that the book shop was quite an important part of the story. The plot itself is also interesting and I definitely didn’t see some of the plot twists coming. If you like a well written, fast-paced and interesting historical fiction read, make sure to try Out Of The Easy!

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Josie Moraine has had a rough childhood growing up as the daughter of a brothel prostitute in the French Quarter of New Orleans. She doesn’t want to end up like her mother and is determined to make more out of her life… But things aren’t easy. She has been living in the book shop she works for quite a few years now, and is currently working on a plan to make it out of New Orleans and start a new life in college somewhere. But her plans get a whole lot more complicated when a mysterious death in the Quarter might be linked back to her or her mother… She isn’t close to her mother in the first place, and Josie is even more worried now her mother’s old ‘boyfriend’ is back in town looking for trouble. Josie is now caught between her dreams of attending an elite college and a clandestine underworld… Will she be able to escape New Orleans?

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Historical fiction is a genre I enjoy reading in general, and Out Of The Easy is definitely one of my favorites of the year. The setting, prose and character development are excellent and I really felt like I was right there in the 1950s along with the characters. All in all it was a very entertaining read that combines character development with action and a novel that is definitely worth reading if you like the genre!

BOOK REVIEW: As Red As Blood – by Salla Simukka

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Title: As Red As Blood
(Lumukki Andersson #1)
Author: Salla Simukka
Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
First published: February 20th 2013
Publisher: Skyscape
Finished reading: July 4th 2016
Pages: 274
(Originally written in Finnish: “Punainen Kuin Veri”)
Rating 2,5qqq

“Do not seek power for revenge. Seek power in order to avoid situations that would make you want revenge.”

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After talking to a good friend of mine the other day (she’s Finnish), I remembered I had this book by the Finnish author Salla Simukka on my TBR shelves. I decided to pick up my copy of As Red As Blood on a whim even though I had heard mixed things about it, and the beginning definitely had me hooked. A few fairy tale references, the main character Lumikki named after Snow White, lots of action and suspense… The start of As Red As Blood had all the signs I was going to enjoy it. BUT: as things slowly got out of hand, I started to doubt the credibility of Lumikki and the plot in general. This novel is not a fantasy story, but the plot sure sounds fantastical at times. Lumikki is able to do and understand things only a ‘superspy’ could without no real explanation how she got those skills.. And why would she agree to help those three in the first place if they are not even friends? She also had too many ‘close calls’ for the story to be credible… I mean, she is just a teenage girl with a complicated past after all. I think this all would have bothered me less if there would have been more fantasy elements and it might just be that something was lost in translation, but I personally didn’t enjoy As Red As Blood as much as I hoped even though it was a fast read.

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When Lumikki Andersson walks into her school’s dark room and finds a stash of wet, blood-stained money drying, she knows she found trouble. The thousands of Euros splattered with someone’s blood left to dry can only mean one thing: someone with access to the schoolgrounds either is a murderer or mixed up with the wrong crowd… But when she goes back after the first period to decide what to do with the money, it’s gone. She doesn’t want to get involved, focusing just on studying and graduating and ignoring the rest, but the blood-stained money changes everything. She follows one of the students to a bar, and when one of the trio recognizes Lumikki she soon finds herself right in the middle of a chain of chaotic events. Events that turn out to be even more deadly and dangerous after there are signs dirty cops and a drug kingpin are involved…

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One of the things I liked of As Red As Blood is the setting: my friend used to live in Tampere as well and the descriptions made it feel like I was walking the streets myself. The pace of the story is fast and there is a lot of action involved, but unfortunately I can’t say the plot and character were really credible. I will still try to read the sequel at some point though!