Ketchup Clouds

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small lemon 0.5small3.5 out of 5 lemons

This story had a lot of promise. For me, it was a bit disappointing, like expecting exploding, sky-high fireworks and only getting hand-held Sparklers. Still bright, fun, and mild amusement, but not a showstopper with the gawking, clapping, and ohs-and-ahs.

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret that no one else knows, except for Stuart Harris, a death-row criminal in Texas, who has read her post. Zoe confesses her story of romance, betrayal, and murder to the man in America through written letters. Putting her story on paper allows Zoe to acknowledge and accept the haunting choices she has made that have changed everything she knows.

I might have been expecting more, since this book has been nominated and won many literary awards, such as:

  • Edgar Award for Best Young Adult (2014)
  • Carnegie Medal in Literature Nominee (2014)
  • Leeds Book Award (2014)
  • Gouden Lijst for vertaald boek (2015)
  • Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (2013)

I listened to the audiobook version of this story, and I was impressed by the voice of Zoe. The voice actress truly captures the personality of the character, tone of the story, and conveys the events with spot-on inflection. I have no reservations in recommending the audiobook, as this book translates well into that format.

As for the story itself, I also expected more from the story, based on the premise that Zoe would be writing to a death-row inmate. I wanted interaction between the two characters. Instead, this story reads like a diary of a young girl who is conflicted with having a relationship with two brothers. I understand she relates to Stuart because of his criminal record, and revealing this to the audience allows readers to reflect on the seriousness of her crimes (until you realize that it’s not as bad as you think).

Aside from that disappointment, I loved the unique characters and most of the dialogue. Max is deeper than you think, Aaron is charming and creative, Zoe is childlike and endearing. I also enjoyed that we see more of Zoe’s family, more than the romance itself. Giving Zoe a struggling, realistic family made this book, and that is where the true conflict for this story lies. Zoe’s parents, the looming idea of divorce, family death, sibling bonds, and parenting are some of the factors that added dimension and appeal to the story. Sometimes being together is hard – life is hard – but somewhere, there is a silver lining to that ketchup cloud.

If you like this book, you may like: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

Other than that, I wanted to quickly plug AudioFile, presenting Sync, a program that gives away two complete audiobook downloads — a current Young Adult title paired thematically with a Classic or Required Summer Reading title — each week to listeners ages 13+ while SYNC is in session each summer.

Check out this site and which audiobooks you can download each week for free: http://www.audiobooksync.com/

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small lemon_4small lemon 0.5small out of 5 lemons

An angel fell in love with a devil.
Tragedy, war, and – O! Godstars – what a match they were.

Note: All books are reviewed in this blog post, so this is NOT spoiler-free.

Book 1: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

One of the reasons I fell in love from the beginning: the writing style. Taylor is beautifully enchanting as she wordsmiths. The author strings along syllables and letters with fervor that capture the power and emotion of a scene.

Sample quote: “Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”

As for the content of the scenes, the plot was slow-moving, predictable at times, but this was highly off-set by the unique type of characters and world-building, as I’ve never read a story about chimera. I slowly warmed to the relationship (not a fan of insta!love), so I’m curious to see how Karou and Akiva’s story turns out. Karou’s character was mysterious and interesting, and her backstory as Madrigal was surprising, captivating in its splendor of unknown worlds and romance, but horrifying in its resolution. A reader truly gets swept into the new fantasy setting and host of characters, like little Ziri and cruel Thiago. It’s because of the shocking ending that I moved onto the next book, and I felt like a lamb to the slaughter…

Book 2: Days of Blood and Starlight

Can we talk about depressing?

The author, Laini Taylor, did everything possible – every evil thing possible – to make Karou suffer in this story. Following the first book in the series (which was a mix of fun, disaster, action, and mystery), this book is a complete downer. Read with a box of tissues and don’t be afraid to stop and scream into a pillow. This was a frustrating and terribly sad read for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved this book! The next installment picks up where the first book left off (that terribly awesome cliffhanger). Your questions are answered. The author slowly brings the readers back into the world of humans, chimera, and angels. The intense battle continues as Karou is supporting the chimera and finding out where she belongs in this war. Akiva exists on the other side of the war and is tormented by the thought of lost love and lingering hope. While I wanted more interaction between the two, I was interested in seeing the kinship between Ziri and Karou unfold. This is one of the highlights, if you’re interested in character development.

Taylor is a brilliant story-teller with her poetic prose, beautiful imagery, and pained plot. I’m very excited to read the next installment, as I yearn for a conclusion that can ease Karou’s torment. At least she is given some hope. I’m holding on.

Sample quote: “Daughter of my heart,’ was the message Brimstone sent just for Karou. She wanted to cry again right here in the court, thinking of it. ‘Twice-daughter, my joy. Your dream is my dream, and your name is true. You are all of our hope.”

Book 3: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Taylor gave me a satisfying and electric conclusion to this amazing trilogy. While I wanted more Karou and Akiva together (as sexual tension was killing me as I read this), the plot came together in a brilliant way. Pieces of the mystery, resolution to character problems, and a beautiful set-up for another series created a satisfying ending for me. And of course, the ending was perfect. After the disasters from book two, I needed my heartache to be soothed and heartbreak to be repaired.

Sample quote: “It was a new idea for him, that happiness wasn’t a mystical place to be reached or won—some bright terrain beyond the boundary of misery, a paradise waiting for them to find it—but something to carry doggedly with you through everything, as humble and ordinary as your gear and supplies. Food, weapons, happiness.” 

While I think the book was brilliant, I did find some of the fantasy confusing. Terminology was thrown at me left-and-right-and-up-and-down – terms that were not evident in the first two books, and it took away from my experience a bit. New characters were added, which I liked, but I found it strange that they just suddenly appeared during the conclusion of the trilogy. Honestly, this book concludes the story of the first two books and sets-up for new adventures – adventures I would like to continue reading.

This story had it all for me – lovely narrative, compelling characters, intense romance and action, thrilling fantasy, touches of comedy, and a satisfying ending.

Recommended for older teens who enjoy fantasy, angels, chimera, dramatic plot, and love enchantment.

Amazing fanart on deviantart.com:

Noggin

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small lemon_4small lemon 0.5out of 5 lemons

Outstanding, witty, and sarcastic story – one to lose your head over!

Summary: Travis Coates should have died. Instead, he signed up for a chance to live again, by removing his head from his body, freezing his consciousness, and transplanting himself (via head) to another. He missed five years of his life, and wakes up as if it was only a quick nap. Things have changed, but he hasn’t. He’ll do what he must to earn back his friends, girlfriend, and previously normal life in his new body.

Travis makes this book! Whaley captures the character’s voice brilliantly, and it was a compelling choice to make Travis the first-person narrator, who can tell his own story. He’s charming, hilarious, and heart-breaking all at the same time, flawed in his decision-making and perfectly adolescent. (Though, let’s hope that not all teenage boys stalk and harass their ex-girlfriends. There is such a thing as limits.) This book is an easy read, due to how relatable this character is. I always wanted to know what happened next, and Travis never failed me.

Okay, he may have disappointed me a bit, but never failed me. Travis is human, he makes mistakes, he experiences denial, and eventually he learns the devastation of having to move on (#sorrynotsorry for the spoiler alert, kinda). He’s powerful and intense. There is a raw energy about this book, and you’d have to be inhuman not to connect. Strong character growth, funny dialogue, and an excellent supporting cast. The only issue I have is the slightly open ending. I wanted a bit more resolution, but it’s fine. I got what I wanted.

Recommended for older teenage boys. Someone once described this book to me as a “dude” book, and that is probably the best way to describe the book overall.

If you liked this book, you might try Fat Boy Vs the Cheerleaders.