Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella- ARC Review

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Cadence Archer arrives on Harvard’s campus desperate to understand why her brother, Eric, a genius who developed paranoid schizophrenia took his own life there the year before. Losing Eric has left a black hole in Cady’s life, and while her decision to follow in her brother’s footsteps threatens to break her family apart, she is haunted by questions of what she might have missed. And there’s only one place to find answers.
 
As Cady struggles under the enormous pressure at Harvard, she investigates her brother’s final year, armed only with a blue notebook of Eric’s cryptic scribblings. She knew he had been struggling with paranoia, delusions, and illusory enemies—but what tipped him over the edge? With her suspicions mounting, Cady herself begins to hear voices, seemingly belonging to three ghosts who walked the university’s hallowed halls—or huddled in its slave quarters. Among them is a person whose name has been buried for centuries, and another whose name mankind will never forget.
 
Does she share Eric’s illness, or is she tapping into something else? Cady doesn’t know how or why these ghosts are contacting her, but as she is drawn deeper into their worlds, she believes they’re moving her closer to the truth about Eric, even as keeping them secret isolates her further. Will listening to these voices lead her to the one voice she craves—her brother’s—or will she follow them down a path to her own destruction? (taken from Amazon)

                          Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on May fifth.

Hmm…where to begin with this book? I rarely give trigger warnings, instead describing books as harsh if they discuss heavier subjects, but in this case I think I need to add a trigger warning. Suicide is an ongoing theme throughout this book. It’s mentioned in the blurb, so it’s not hidden or anything, but if that’s something you don’t want to read about, you might want to skip this review.

I actually almost gave up on this book multiple times. Parts of it hit too close to home and brought up feelings from my own mental illness diagnosis (bipolar 1, diagnosed during high school. Fun times). I prefer not to think about that time in my life, so this book was difficult for me.

So, why did I finish it? Because Francesca Serritella is an extremely talented author. If she wasn’t, I would have had no problem reading this book. Instead, she made the characters easy to connect to. I felt for Eric as his illness was spoken about. I was heartbroken on his behalf when people felt “embarrassed” by him. I can’t say I understand fully how schizophrenia works, other than that it has some symptoms that overlap with bipolar, but I can absolutely relate to the feelings of loneliness a mental illness diagnosis can carry with it.

This book is about Cady (Eric’s sister) and her decision to follow in her deceased brother’s footsteps to discover what led to his death by suicide. She learns that things are much more complicated than she originally thought. He was a paranoid schizophrenic (as well as a brilliant young man with tons of potential: a diagnosis is not an identity), and as he came close to the end of his life, he began to think he was being followed and was in danger. As Cady learns more of who her brother was, she begins to wonder: was he right?

At the same time, Cady begins hearing voices that no one else hears. She starts to question whether she might have the same mental illness as her brother. Needless to say, this scares her. What made me sad about this is that she was so afraid to mention her concerns to anyone. Again, the stigma against mental illness rears its ugly head.

This book was very well-written, but I would never be able to reread it. And, honestly, I felt that the ending diminished the rest of the book a bit. It felt out of place and took me me out of the story. However, the author wrote a compelling story, even though it was most definitely a harsher one.

If you struggle with suicidal ideation, I strongly suggest you skip this book. It is a good one, but ultimately it wasn’t for me.

The Royal Gift: 2019 Two Giftens Edition by Drae Box- ARC Review


                  Five days to save him.

Five days to find a thief, rescue her village’s one line of defence – a magic dagger – and return home. Could Aldora do it? She didn’t know the first thing about tracking a thief, and barely knew any of the kingdom’s geography.

Accompanied by a talking Prince of the Cats and a law enforcing soldier that’s a trouble magnet, Aldora’s future is forever changed. (taken from Amazon)

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

This was an interesting experience for me. I did not care for it myself, but I think that the author will improve and the next endeavor might be really good. The ideas were creative, but the execution needed a little work.

First of all, the reader is dropped right into the middle of the story without any setup or explanation. I was actually confused enough to wonder if I’d missed a previous book that explained everything. While it does clear up as time goes on, it was a very disconcerting start.

I did appreciate the uniqueness of the book. The Prince of Cats was a fun character, although, like the others, he needed more development. It felt as though I was reading a first or second draft and not the finished book.

That being said, the premise is interesting, but the end product needs tweaking. I didn’t hate the book, but it wasn’t for me.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Reverie by Ryan La Sala- ARC Review

Reverie
All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember anything since an accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different―reality itself seems different.

So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can tell him what’s truly going on, he doesn’t know what to believe or who he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere―the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery―Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident, and only he can stop their world from unraveling. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for honest opinion. This is available in stores now.

What drew me to the book was the comparison to Inception, a mind-bending movie that I really liked, though the gorgeous cover definitely helped. I’m a big fan of twisty plots, so I had high hopes.

This book just didn’t do it for me. It felt too big, and at times I worried that the plot had gotten away from the author. I’m not sure that makes much sense, but it’s the impression I had. It’s difficult to become immersed in a book when you are unsure if the author can deliver on what he set out to do. It was actually mildly stressful.

The characters didn’t really stand out all that much to me. One of them actually shot rainbows, and I couldn’t stop thinking of Aoyama from My Hero Academia: he has a laser that shoots from his naval and for some reason that image kept popping into my mind as I read this. Poesy, the drag queen sorceress was my favorite by far. The other characters just didn’t interest me.

The concept was interesting, but felt a bit shaky on delivery. The descriptions were fantastic, however, and I consider the prose itself the strong point of this book. La Sala definitely knows how to turn a phrase.

I think this is one of those books that many people will love;  it just didn’t butter my biscuit.

Stephen Hawking: My First Stephen Hawking (Little People BIG Dreams) by Maria Isable Sanchez Vegara- ARC Review


Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on February fourth, 2020.

My toddler loves historical figures. His favorites are the U.S. Presidents (any of them: he has yet to decide his party), but he is interested in other figures as well. Not too long ago, I told him I had a secret to tell him. I whispered “I love you” and he whispered back, “Ibn Batutta.” I jumped at the chance to read this book about an important person with him.

I’ll start with the illustrations. They were adorable. They were simple, but brightly colored. My little guy liked pointing at them and saying “That’s Stephen Hawking” multiple times. They definitely held his interest.

The story itself was cute. It talked about Stephen Hawking in a way that would be easily grasped by youngsters. At times it seemed a little too simple: but it could just be because my toddler wants a wealth of information in his nonfiction books. He sometimes goes a little beyond the “normal” amount of information requested by that age group.

It was very difficult to find good nonfiction books when my oldest was a toddler, and I love that authors are changing that. Overall, my toddler liked it, and so did I. I’d buy this for any curious kid in the 2-5 year old range.

Cadaver Swords by Emmett Swan- ARC Review

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Chimber was a master grave digger and knew his business. But when the Queen of the nation of Dalmeer called out the Gravedigger’s Guild to bury thousands of citizens that had perished from a mysterious poison-laced cloud, he was not prepared for what he found. Before his very eyes, bodies thought dead began to rise up, walk, and huddle together in dark groups. Soon, an unstoppable cadaver army was laying waste to the land.

With the good people of Dalmeer under siege and the army in disarray, Chimber wants to do his part to defend his home town. But as a gravedigger, he isn’t usually needed until after the killing is done. As he watches a battle unfold from the cover of a nearby hill, an unflappable female warrior gets felled from her horse by a mob of cadavers. Risking life and limb, he slides down to the battlefield and manages to save her life.

Chimber and the warrior establish a bond and agree to journey into the Northern Wastes to find the one being that may be able to save the nation—the mysterious Medium of the Blue Mountain. But she is surrounded by a strange tribe of female ice pixies that have little interest in helping those from the southern lands.

If Chimber can convince the Medium of the Blue Mountain to join their cause and return to Dalmeer’s capital city in time, they just may save the people of the land from the bite of cadaver swords. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Epic in scale, this was a slow read for me.  It took me a very long time to get all the way through. However, once I did, I ended up really enjoying it.

With this book, what stood out to me was the world-building. It was so incredibly creative! The setup of the geography was pretty cool. There were several islands within relatively close proximity, which made the timing more believable. I am a big fan of fantasy books that feature a journey of some sort because it allows for so many different kinds of encounters, so that was a win for me.

Climber’s buddy Jern was probably my favorite character. The relationship between the two was fun to read. I know I’ve mentioned in other posts that I don’t always like the main character, but I did enjoy Climber. It was good to read a main character that wasn’t a giant ball of angst.

The author was very judicious with his fight scenes. They were well-written, but they weren’t the crux of the story. I liked that he understood the fine balance between action and story. Many authors rely too much on one or the other.

I recommend this one to fantasy readers who don’t mind some slow set-up.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Fortuna by Kristyn Merbeth- ARC Review

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Fortuna launches a new space opera trilogy that will hook you from the first crash landing.
Scorpia Kaiser has always stood in Corvus’s shadow until the day her older brother abandons their family to participate in a profitless war. However, becoming the heir to her mother’s smuggling operation is not an easy transition for the always rebellious, usually reckless, and occasionally drunk pilot of the Fortuna, an aging cargo ship and the only home Scorpia has ever known.

But when a deal turns deadly and Corvus returns from the war, Scorpia’s plans to take over the family business are interrupted, and the Kaiser siblings are forced to make a choice: take responsibility for their family’s involvement in a devastating massacre or lay low and hope it blows over.
Too bad Scorpia was never any good at staying out of a fight. (taken from Amazon)

               Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Oh dear. I wanted to like this book, I really did. I’m a big fan of smuggling in stories in general, and especially in space (blame the incredible show Firefly). Unfortunately, this book was a giant resounding “meh” from me.

I can’t pinpoint anything really wrong with the book, it just didn’t keep my attention. The characters weren’t all that engaging, and Scorpia annoyed me. She was immature to the point of obnoxiousness. Corvus was okay, but not all that fantastic a character either.

If I don’t enjoy the characters in a book, the writing itself needs to be incredible to keep me invested. The writing was fine, but nothing to write home about. This is my first book by this author and, honestly, I can’t say I’m going to go out of my way to read any others she’s written.

I’ll say that this is just a case of the book not fitting the reader. It happens. I hope other readers find it more interesting than I did. I gave up 60% in.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau- ARC Review

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The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

The invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on January 16th, 2020.

I was first drawn to this book because of the cover. It spoke of danger and thrills. I can say with certainty that this book delivered.

Peggy Batternberg is part of a wealthy, snobbish family. They throw their money around and thinks it exempts them from the same treatment as the working class. Unfortunately, in many cases they are correct. Peggy herself hates the way her family acts. When the book opens, she’s working in a bookstore. Not for the money, which she doesn’t need, but for a sense of freedom. She’s pulled away to spend the summer on Coney Island with her family, and her sister’s fiance, who is an absolute jerk.

While in Coney Island, Peggy falls for an artist, but when women are found murdered, he’s the main suspect. Peggy has to prove he’s innocent- provided he actually is. Her efforts show the disparity between how the wealthy and working class are treated. The more Peggy pries, the more dangerous things become.

Peggy herself annoyed the living snot out of me at first. She looked down on her family’s privilege, but was perfectly okay with enjoying them herself. Her hypocrisy really bugged me. However, as the story went on, she began to change and mature. I liked her much more by the end of the book.

The story itself was really good. I liked the wealth of detail the author provided, and the pictures she painted with her words. I was able to picture every part of Coney Island, and it made the book incredibly enjoyable.

While I could see the ending from a mile away, it didn’t dull my enjoyment of the book in the slightest. This is one of the better mysteries I’ve read this year, and I’ll happily read more of Nancy Bilyeau’s books.

 

Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki Vansickle, illustrated by Sydney Hanson- ARC Review

Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki VanSickle

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on January 21, 2020.

When I was young, my local library hosted a “teddy bear’s picnic.” Each child brought their own stuffed animal, and read books about bears while eating animal crackers. It was very cute. So, filled with nostalgia, I was happy to read an updated take on The Teddy Bear’s Picnic to my toddler.

In this book, Ollie the bear is invited to a teddy bear’s picnic. There are games and sweets, and stuffed animals are given awards for their service to their humans. Ollie thinks that he’s not a good stuffed friend, but is given an award for his kindness and compassion with his human. The lesson in this story is that even small acts of kindness matter.

It’s a very cute story-line, and the illustrations are adorable. Unfortunately- possibly because this was an ebook copy- the illustrations and words were out of order. It was more difficult to follow than my little guy expected because we’d see pictures for things that didn’t happen for another couple of pages. I’m assuming that was just an upload error and that the final version will be in the proper order. If so, then this would pair up nicely with a teddy bear picnic for your youngster.

I am Scary by Elise Gravel- ARC Review

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In this sweet little book, a monster tries to scare a young child. But the child insists the monster is not scary but actually quite huggable. (taken from Amazon)

                                  Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. It will be available on March 17, 202

This book is so adorable! I requested it because I had a feeling my toddler would enjoy it. I read it aloud and he loved it.

The illustrations are charming in their simplicity. Told with very little dialogue, this book is about a monster who tries- and fails- to scare a child. He roars, growls, and shows off his horns and teeth. To the monster’s discomfiture, the child thinks he’s cute. What’s a monster to do?

What I liked best about this book was the ability to prompt my toddler to talk about the pictures and make conclusions based on what was happening. Because there isn’t much dialogue, my “little” made the monster sounds, talked about how cute the monster was, and had a lovely time. The book would probably be even more riveting to a slightly younger child, but my toddler still really liked it.

This would make a great baby shower gift. I recommend it for all little book lovers- in-training.

The Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency and the Case of the Missing Ghost by D.L. Dugger- ARC Review

The Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency: And the case of the missing ghost by [Dugger, D.L.]
When a ghost disappears from a local house he was haunting, his sister in the OtherWorld spirit realm hires the Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency to find him. Eager to locate the missing ghost, the youthful sleuths, Abby, Toby and Billy, and their grumpy Medium Arthur Monsento jump right into the investigation. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on November 11th.

What first drew me to this book was the old-school kids’ detective agency idea. I loved that sort of story when I was young, and this seemed a fresh take on an old favorite. There was a Scooby-Doo vibe, except that the ghosties happen to be actual ghosts.

This is the third installment in the Fantastic Phantasmic Detective Agency series, but it was easy to understand what was happening, thanks to explanations given throughout the book. The explanations didn’t necessarily fit into the storyline nicely; rather, they just sort of popped up. However, it was good to have them. I don’t think they are long enough to bore repeat readers, which is also a plus.

The premise of this particular mystery is the search for a missing ghost. He’s no longer haunting the house he normally appears at, and his recently deceased sister is concerned about him. I laughed pretty hard at that idea.

The detective agency consists of three kids (Abby, Billy, and Toby), and a cranky old medium. They follow clues of an unusual kind to attempt to find the missing ghost. I don’t want to give too many details away, since half the fun of a mystery is following the twists and turns.

This book is a lot of fun. It’s a new take on the usual trope and I quite enjoyed it. If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining read, this is a good one to check out. I’ll know I’ll be going back and reading the first two in this series.