Spellbinding by Maya Gold

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10:37 PM

Title: Spellbinding
Author: Maya Gold
Publish Date: April 1, 2013
Publisher: Scholastic Point
Pages: 272
Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Rating: ★★★★

There's more than one way to be powerful . . .

It is during a routine school project that Abby Silva--sixteen and nearly friendless--makes a startling discovery: She is descended from women who were accused of witchcraft back in 1600s Salem. And when Abby visits nearby Salem, strange, inexplicable events start to unfold. Objects move when she wills them to. Candles burst into sudden flame. And an ancient spellbook somehow winds up in her possession.

Trying to harness her newfound power, Abby concocts a love potion to win over her longtime crush--and exact revenge upon his cruel, bullying girlfriend. But old magic is not to be trifled with. Soon, Abby is thrust headlong into a world of hexes, secrets, and danger. And then there's Rem Anders, the beautiful, mysterious Salem boy who seems to know more about Abby than he first lets on.

A reckoning is coming, and Abby will have to make sense of her history--and her heart--before she can face the powerful truth.

I love the cover of this novel, it's very beautiful. I miss when a book doesn't have that sort of awe-inspiring cover that gives insight to the novel. Most of the time, I hear people say, "Don't judge a book by its cover," but let's just get this out of the way... If the cover is as awesome as the book, doesn't it negate that entire sentence? That's what I thought.

Spellbinding by Maya Gold tells the story of Abby who stumbles upon something that no one seems to want her to know: her own family history. A school project inspires her to look beyond what everyone seems to say about her family's past and actually look into it herself. What she finds just might change her life and could change everything around her, especially the town of Salem. When she discovers where her family comes from and the fact that one of her ancestors was deemed a witch by the people of Salem, she finds out that blood isn't the only thing she inherited from that incident. She has magic running through her veins -- magic that could not only destroy Salem but who she is. Not to mention the fact that she is a teenager. She faces the temptation to use magic to not only solve all of her problems but to create them for other people. Will she learn to use her magic for good? Is she destined to really cause the demise of a town whose dark history the natives embrace but regret? What will happen when she has to decide between the person she once was and the person she might be? Will embracing the magic be the worse choice or the best?

Abby is the main character of the story with her entrancing family history that she has no idea about. Ever since her birthday, all she seems to dream about is the past. She doesn't know who she is, where she is, or even when she is. I wasn't certain whether I would like or dislike her as a character in the beginning but she definitely grew on me throughout the story. It seems like her magical powers exploit her weaknesses and bring out the qualities that wouldn't have been as noticeable otherwise. She starts out as a girl who prefers to remain in the background, has a crush on the king of the high school, and is a smart girl who makes good choices. Once everything begins though, her selfishness surfaces and her darkness becomes inextricably mingled with the light. I think by the end of the book, she faces more growth and change than any of character I've really faced in a book. Her motives and emotions are a roller coaster ride but I didn't mind it.

Rem is the love interest. He is so complicated and sends so many mixed signals throughout the course of the book. When he is first introduced, I definitely wasn't sure about him other than the fact that he made Abby come alive. You know, you hear that stories about when someone meets their true love and how it feels like everything sort of clicks, the world becomes sharper, and life essentially becomes different when this one person isn't a part of it. I think that it kind of fits the relationship between Rem and Abby. Even with all of his mixed signals, which trust me when I say it was frustrating, I couldn't help but love him. I think of all of the guy characters introduced in the story, there was no one that could fit as well with Abby as he could. It broke my heart when he pushed her away and I more than once wanted to seriously maim or injure the poor boy for his choices. Yeah, completely justified sure.... But did he have to make me question his motives? 

The myths and lore behind the plot are something that I know a lot about. I went to Salem a couple of years ago with my family before I started college and I actually found the town to be very beautiful. You know, you hear all of these stories about this spooky town with its dark history which is what I was prepared for and all those ideas were completely wrong. I mean the dark past is there with all of the horrors that the books and stories illustrate. The idea of witches and Salem has always been an interesting and intriguing topic and the way that the author exploited such a popular topic was awesome. What if the magic came after the witch trials? Maybe the people really did torture and kill the innocent but it led to something much darker. Magic.

The writing was well done and captured my attention from the first paragraph. I think the author knew how to hook me from the get go and keep me hanging on until the end. At least the writing portrayed that. It was well done. The plot is unique because although it touches on something very popular -- witches -- it discusses it in a way that wasn't done before. I personally liked the way the Salem Witch Trials play such a huge part in the story without having too much to do with the magic. Instead of being completely about the magic the witches in Salem originally had, it shows that maybe magic really appeared after the fact. The plot twists were interesting interesting and the development of the characters, both big and small, continued throughout the process of the story. I watched the worse characters become the best and some of the best succumb to the worst. 

Let me bemoan the ending of this novel for a moment because it was the only thing that was worth bemoaning about. I have this intense need to have the ending be different and once you read it, you'll understand. It's a beautiful story, entwining both the old and the new. But the ending almost left off on an anti-climatic note. I wanted this story to continue because it would've made a beautiful series that I wouldn't have hesitated to keep reading. Then again, I guess I could say, never say never? Who knows. Maybe if I grovel long enough and point out that the ending just couldn't satisfy and that there is no way that the ending will ever be good enough, someone somewhere might listen. A girl can dream. 

I could really cover a whole lot more because I loved so much about this story but I don't have the time to type everything out. Honestly though. Despite the ending that I have determined to be anti-climatic, I really did enjoy this book. It brought to life an intriguing part of American history and the author had no issue bringing to life the beautiful town of Salem. Honestly, I think that everyone will love it because of how wonderful the story truly is. Read it!

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The Night Swimmers by Betsy Byars

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11:55 AM

Title: The Night Swimmers
Author: Betsy Byars
Publish Date: February 12, 2013
Publisher: Open Road Young Readers
Pages: 138
Buy the Book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon
Rating: ★★★

Retta, Johnny, and Roy have no parental rules to follow, so they’ve made up their own

After their mother passes away, Retta, Johnny, and Roy don’t have much parenting in their lives. Their dad is a country singer who keeps them well fed but isn’t around much. Older sister Retta takes control, leading her brothers on all sorts of unwise adventures and promising that one day they’ll have money, safety, and a nice home. When their dad is away performing at night, they slip into a neighbor’s pool to swim and pretend to have a glamorous life beneath the light of the moon. But freedom doesn’t mean happiness, especially when a new crisis emerges. National Book Award winner The Night Swimmers is a moving story of siblings who can count on nobody but one another.

The Night Swimmers by Betsy Byars tells the story of three children who have essentially lost both their parents the night their mother died. These children struggle to experience life and friendship because they have no one at home to support them or push them to do better than they are. One night Retta takes the boys to swim in a neighbor's pool. It is something they've never experienced before and it seems like this might be the one taste of a happy life -- a free life -- they'll ever get. But this freedom they've discovered by their father's lack of parental oversight just might be the demise of their very family.

Retta is who I consider to be the voice of reason in this story. Ever since her mother passed away, she had to step into the role of mother and she struggles with the desire to be a normal kid too. It's hard for her to watch other people live their lives, make friends, have good memories, and act like they don't have a care in the world. Rarely does she appear selfish in the story, mostly because she devotes so much of her time and effort to her brothers that I think she forgets about herself along the way. She faces the greatest challenges and the greatest losses as she fights to be her own person and controlling her brothers like only a parent can. 

Johnny and Roy are typically boys, growing up in a world where they want to have adventure but on their own terms. They both struggle with the idea of Retta being the boss of them and that she basically has become the mother of the two of them. I think along the way the boys lose sight of all the things she has given up for them which makes them come off as selfish but it's hard not to acknowledge that children are like that. It seems like during the story, the two of them lose their innocence towards the outside world. They realize that not everything is good out there. They learn that there are consequences for their choices and these consequences just might not be the ones they want.

I always figured that when I found that one person I wanted to spend my life with, it would be even harder when the situation arose that I would lose them. It's something that I think a lot of people struggle with once a loved one passes away. How do they move on? What's the point in living when the one person who made it all better is no longer there? The children's father, Shorty, deals a lot with these sort of issues over the course of the book. I don't believe that he is selfish because he ignores his children and wants to live in the glory days of his music career. No, I think that he is just struggling to grasp at the few things he can control and the ruin left behind when his wife died. I think that if his wife were alive and the story was different, Shorty would've been a great father but things happened. He lost sight of his family and himself.

Overall it was a decent read. I had some troubles sticking with the characters at times but it is an interesting and very real idea that makes up the plot. 

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Notes from Ghost Town by Kate Ellison

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11:38 PM

Title: Notes from Ghost Town
Author: Kate Ellison
Publish Date: February 12, 2013
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Pages: 336
Buy the Book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon
Rating: ★★★★★

They say first love never dies...

From critically acclaimed author Kate Ellison comes a heartbreaking mystery of mental illness, unspoken love, and murder. When sixteen-year-old artist Olivia Tithe is visited by the ghost of her first love, Lucas Stern, it’s only through scattered images and notes left behind that she can unravel the mystery of his death.

There’s a catch: Olivia has gone colorblind, and there’s a good chance she’s losing her mind completely—just like her mother did. How else to explain seeing (and falling in love all over again with) someone who isn’t really there?

With the murder trial looming just nine days away, Olivia must follow her heart to the truth, no matter how painful. It’s the only way she can save herself.

If I'm being honest, I wasn't entirely sure whether or not I would like this book. A lot of it was because of the mood I was in. When I read a book with a plot like this one, I typically have to feel like I am actually up for it. Books like this set me on edge, not in a bad way but more of a I can't stop reading until it's over sort of way. Sometimes I'm just not ready for that kind of commitment to a book but I am so glad I made the choice to read it even if I didn't feel like it. It definitely captured my attention and made me stick with it until the end, even if some of the parts of the story were hard to read.

Notes from Ghost Town by Kate Ellison tells the story of Olivia Tithe as she struggles with the death of her best friend and the incarceration of her mother who supposedly killed him. If only that was the only issue faced by the main character of this novel. She must battle inner demons as she fights between the belief that perhaps she is going insane, just like her mother, and the idea that she still has a grip on reality. Her colorblindness seems to be one of the many symptoms of a psychotic break, at least that's what the people who know seem to think. To make matters worse, she keeps seeing her dead best friend, Stern, who is pleading with her to make everything right. Maybe she is really crazy and then again, maybe she isn't. Will there ever be any relief for a girl who seems to be facing so much trauma? What will she do as the stakes get higher than ever to prove whether her mother is innocent or guilty? Is she really crazy? Does she have any chance at being happy now that her world has fallen apart? 

All these awesome questions, of course, get answered by the end of the book which means... you should go read it. Before you think that this is it to my review, it's not. I'm just getting started.

The idea of death and murder seems to be becoming a very popular topic in young adult fiction. That doesn't particularly bother me because I grew up watching Forensic Files and loving the television show Bones. Death fascinates me which is why I like reading books where authors bring out their own opinions on death and the afterlife. It's a topic that is fraught with opinions and ideas, each unique to the person who believes them. The plot in and of itself is unique for me. I haven't honestly dealt with this sort of book outside of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and Hysteria, which cover two separate pieces of death as well. I really loved the plot though even if it touched on similar topics that have been covered in other books. It was well constructed and well written. The plot twists often illuminated the true designs of each character, leaving me guessing about motives or questioning my original opinions of the characters. 

Olivia, the main character, is definitely a complex character. She doesn't want to be crazy but she doesn't want to be normal. She can't remember what it really felt like to be happy since the death of Stern and her mom being shipped off to prison. Everyone keeps telling her that once her mother is sentenced things will get better. As if a burden has been lifted or some sort of thing like that. But Olivia doesn't agree. Her mom shouldn't be in prison, her best friend shouldn't be dead, and she shouldn't have lost the ability to see color. In a matter of months, she had lost not only her support system but also her ability to do the one thing she loved: paint. It's hard to do a painting when you can no longer see the colors. All of these traumas caused her not only emotional issues but also trust and relationship issues. She expresses her strength and her ability to move beyond the issues she faces when she begins to show trust. Unlike typical young adult heroines, Olivia shows her strength through her loyalty to those she cares about, her love for the people she can trust, her stubbornness when it comes to things she doesn't agree with, and her faith in the true motives of the people she cares about most.

Stern can be defined, in my mind, as not only the best friend but also the lost love. It was awesome in a bittersweet sort of way that the best friend played more of a love interest for the main character than anyone else. Trust me when I say this, if it would've been possible for Olivia and Stern to be together, I would've jumped on that bandwagon the minute it was made available. Maybe in an alternate reality where he didn't die and she actually had the guts to say what she felt. Typically, a best friend that is a boy becomes a sort of side note, a lost puppy if you will, that remains close to the main character who is oblivious to his affections and he tries to help the girl win the guy she actually wants. It's some sort of horrible cycle of "I just want you to be happy," mentality and trust me when I say this, I do not approve. Even once Olivia sees him again, she still struggles to come to grips with her feelings towards her dead best friend. 

If I could pick a team, I would be Team Stern... except for the fact that he's dead and having a relationship with a dead person is kind of creepy. It's like zombie books where a zombie and a human hook up. That is just not natural. Let me amend my previous statement: I am Team Stern, if he is alive. Which he isn't... which is frustrating.

Austin deserves some love too because he is a great love interest for Olivia. Even if I am all for Stern... Anyway, Austin knew her a long time prior to any sort of psychotic break or best friend being murdered. Olivia used to be friends with him before his family's money (and her family's lack thereof) separated them once he began going to private schools instead of public ones. Because of this status he gained from the money he is able to throw around, he, of course, inherited the spoiled rich kid persona and became the epitome of a guy that I would probably punch in the face. You know, when he is acting like he's better than me. It's understandable when Olivia has a hard time trusting him or even rebuilding the friendship that laid in ruins after years of being ignored. Despite the attraction between the two of them, let's be honest because it is there and Austin is gorgeous, it kind of appeared like he was the rebound for her. Which is funny because Olivia never dated Stern. I so wanted to give into his devilishly good looks and charming words which were quite disarming throughout the book but I found it hard not to question his motives.

Raina is what I consider to be the typical best friend for most teenage girls, especially when that best friend is another girl. It's rare to have completely genuine best friends during the angst of high school, trust me. Essentially, Raina is a good person although she isn't the greatest friend. She remains the one person that Olivia trusts and yet, she seems to be more concerned with her status as the most popular, the most funny, the most loved, or the most sympathetic. I kind of like to call this type of person pathetic. But a lot of people clamor for these titles all throughout their teen years, struggling to find themselves and know their place in this world. I think a lot of them don't even realize the harm they are causing to those who they think are in their way. She hates feeling like her status is being challenged by others and Olivia has a hard time noticing what Raina does to her and once she does, the damage just might be beyond repair. 

During the beginning of the book, I was actually worried about the role that Olivia's mom would play. I mean, it's not every day that I get to read a book about a mom who is open about her psychological issues because most people are in denial. I like that about her mom, though, the fact that she is so open about the idea that she is crazy and that she most likely will be medicated for the rest of her life. It seems like the only real person who hasn't come to grips with that information is Olivia. There is a lot of difficult emotions playing out in the relationship between mother and daughter in this book. Betrayal, hurt, untrustworthiness, love, hate, hope, fear, indifference, and most of all faith. I mentioned faith earlier when I talked about Olivia and I think I should clarify that it isn't the Christian, come to Jesus sort of faith. But rather a faith in a person that pushes away all doubt and leaves behind a certainty that can only be found through faith when there is no evidence to back you up. I feel a lot of sympathy for both the mother and the daughter in this story. A situation like that would not be easily overcome. The originally elusive character that was Olivia's mom truly captured my attention and my emotions from the moment I got to read about her.

Okay, go read this book. I think I've done some awesome urging to go check it out and some great reasons why it is worth your time. So, do it!

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Death by Chocolate by Johanna K. Pitcairn

0
10:20 PM

Title: Death by Chocolate
Author: Johanna K. Pitcairn
Publish Date: February 5, 2013
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Pages: 108
Buy the Book: Amazon
Rating: ★★★★

At seventeen years old, Julie deals with more problems than most teenagers her age. After getting into an argument with her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, she runs away from school. Quickly homeless and broke, her escape to Las Vegas leads her to an old Gypsy woman she meets outside of a supermarket when begging for food.

Julie’s hungry and heartbroken. She wants to find shelter from the rain and forget a life she has been despising for years. When the Gypsy offers to read her future in exchange for a meal, the challenge sounds like a dare. The tarot cards reveal a great destiny, and a perilous journey. What else can go wrong that hasn’t already happened? Julie finds the whole act entertaining until the Gypsy gives her a red heart shaped box containing twelve chocolates, and orders her to eat one.

Julie wakes up in an unwelcoming world filled with danger. A boy named Evan introduces himself as her guide, but will he really help her when she needs him the most? Demons of a long forgotten past haunt her dreams and seek revenge for something she doesn’t remember. Too many questions receive too little answers.

Reality and fantasy have melted to become one never ending nightmare where failure equals death. Will Julie accept the truth to survive?

I kind of want a sequel? Like... bad. It became one of those stories that left so much unanswered that all I can do is hope for another book to satisfy my curiosity.

Death by Chocolate by Johanna K. Pitcairn, in my mind, is about a girl who is trying to deal with the intense anger issues that she has and the influence it has had on other people's lives. Julie is all about the avoidance of sensitive topics, hardening herself toward real feelings like love, hope, and regret. Her guilt is barely realized by the end of the story and you are left to question what Julie will do with the new found answers she has. Will she change her life? Will she learn to think before she acts? Will she ask for forgiveness from those she has hurt? There are so many questions I have and I think only a sequel will answer them.

Julie is a spitfire, stubborn, and somewhat mean girl. My best friend and this character are cut from the same cloth, I swear. Both of them are stubborn as mules when it comes to someone giving them orders. In her mind, if there are questions unanswered or needs unmet, it is easier to dig in your heels than be patient. The spitfire attitude is always fun to read about especially when Julie gets defensive. After years of conditioning herself, you'd think she might be tired of the facade but the truth is that she embraces it. It's easier to hold up a shield than face the firing squad and ask for forgiveness. The meanness is a defense mechanism that a lot of people have after being hurt by someone or something. It takes years to master the perfect amount of indifference and anger to keep people at arms length. It takes even longer to lower it. This is why I want to see a sequel. It seems like Julie has so much potential for growth. Why leave it alone?

Evan is a quirky character. He brings in a lot of humor and sometimes, he brings in a lot of common sense. It is clear that perhaps he is the voice of reason for Julie that she has never had before. The objectivity of another person can often be immensely helpful. I loved getting to see another person's perspective on all of the issues that Julie carries silently.

Overall, I am extremely curious as to what would happen after the last page. And if you can tell, I am nudging towards the possibility of a sequel. There are so many questions I have! I just need them answered. Anyways, it's a good read. Check it out!

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