Wednesday, March 27, 2013

ARC Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

Publisher:  St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: March 26th, 2013

There are some things you can’t leave behind…A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen-year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Lately I've been in a weird pattern when it comes to books; It seems that almost every book I've picked up recently has been really slow to start.  I can't tell you how many books I have on my nightstand that are set aside 1/3 of the way in because I wasn't feeling the pull that I like to feel. (Actually, I can... That number is eight.)  Although the slow starters that I have been able to finish have ended up being very good, I think I will always prefer the early hook.  I am attentionally challenged, and if there isn't something to grab me early on, I lose patience.  I'm sure I miss out on a great number of amazing books because of this, but I also think that gives me an advantage when reviewing books that target the teen audience, because teens are very instant-gratification oriented.  But we can save all that for another post.  My point here is that I think If You Find Me has gotten me out of that slow-to-start funk.  I was drawn into this book from the very first chapter, and it did not let me go until the final page.  In fact, If You Find Me still hasn't let me go.  It is a story that is as happy as it is heartbreaking, and I found myself experiencing a broader range of emotions in 256 pages than I ever thought possible.  Fear, joy, anger, excitement, heartbreak, love, loss, happiness, grief, inspiration, disgust, optimism, melancholy.  And that list doesn't even come close to covering them all...

The story begins with Carey and Nessa fending for themselves, living in a camper, deep in the Obed Wild & Scenic River National Park, waiting for their meth-addicted mother to return from a trip to the  nearest town to get supplies.  Carey is full of worry because it has been over a month since she left, and they are running low on food.  It's not their mother who comes to their rescue, though.  It's a social worker and Carey's father, the man their mother kidnapped Carey from, ten years prior.  Carey has only vague memories of life before the woods, and Nessa knows nothing else.  The girls are taken from the only life they know, harsh as it had was, to a modern world, overnight.  They go to live with their father, his wife, and her daughter, and although these changes are all for the better, Carey is as fragile as she's ever been.  She has deep, painful secrets, physical and emotional scars, and a great deal of internal conflict.  She knows the changes she and her sister are going through are best, especially for six year-old Nessa, but she doesn't know how to trust that it isn't all a dream- a rug ready to be pulled out from under them.  Her story is an intense emotional rollercoaster, as debut author Emily Murdoch deftly alternates her present situation with her memories of life in the woods- the good ones and the horrifying- in a voice that made Carey seem so real and vulnerable;  This book read more like a memoir than it did fiction.  If You Find Me touched me deeply, as I felt every one of Carey's emotions to my core.

This was very much Carey's story, but she wasn't the only phenomenally drawn character.  Nessa was amazing as well.  She was a picture of the resiliency of small children, and it brought me a tremendous amount of joy to see her grow as a result of the love that surrounded her, after having such a harrowing start to her life.  It was wonderful to see that growth through Carey's eyes, because in reality, Carey was the the mother that Joelle, their biological mother, never was.  I adored Melissa, their stepmother, who went well above and beyond, and as a side note, I thought it was great to see a stepmother portrayed in a positive light.  Carey's father was a character that took me some time to warm to.  I had a great amount of admiration for him because of the fact that he never treated Nessa any differently than he did Carey, despite the fact that she wasn't his, but otherwise, I was unsure of him because I was viewing him through Carey's eyes, and she only had the lies her mother had told her of him to go on.  Initially he was rather closed off, but as he opened himself up, it became clear that he was the way he was was because of the uncertainty he endured for so many years.  As a parent, I can't even imagine being in his shoes.  What I liked best about his portrayal was that much of what we learned about him came from the snipes and jabs that seemingly self-absorbed stepdaughter Delaney threw out from time to time.  And speaking of Delaney...  She was such an important character, and although she was so unlikeable much of the time, I thought Emily Murdoch did a flawless job making sure that the reader understood why she was the way she was. In the end, I was almost as sympathetic toward her as I was toward Carey and Nessa, because although her life was a cake-walk compared to theirs, she had to endure her own feelings of inadequacy in the shadow of the kidnapped (and then found) daughter, and that could not have been easy.  Finally, there was Ryan.  I don't want to spoil, so I won't say much about him, but his character was great, and a perfect addition to Carey's story.

If You Find Me is hands-down, one of the best books of this nature that I have ever read.  It is a heartbreaking story that ends with a message of hope.  Although I would love to know more about what Carey's future holds, I feel like I got proper closure to this chapter of her life.  One thing I know for sure is that I will be on the lookout for more of Emily Murdoch's writing, because she has talent I have a good feeling will endure.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This is a tough one.  First I want to say that I think there is great crossover appeal to the adult market, as I know many adults (non-YA readers) who would like this book.  There are somewhat graphic descriptions of the sexual abuse, prostitution, and sexual assault of children.  Carey endured horrible things, much of the time with the knowledge that if she didn't do them, Nessa would have to.  That said, I think that this book has a very positive message of hope and the possibility of overcoming any obstacle.  If I had to make a blanket statement, based on content, I would say this book is for ages 15 and older (grades 10 and up), but I would also encourage the evaluation of each reader as an individual, because I feel like many younger students would have the maturity to handle the graphic parts of the story.  I am able to say this; This book is not appropriate for anyone younger than 8th or 9th grade.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

ARC Review: Spellcaster by Claudia Gray

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date; March 5th, 2013

When Nadia’s family moves to Captive’s Sound, she instantly realizes there’s more to it than meets the eye. Descended from witches, Nadia senses a dark and powerful magic at work in her new town. Mateo has lived in Captive’s Sound his entire life, trying to dodge the local legend that his family is cursed - and that curse will cause him to believe he’s seeing the future … until it drives him mad. When the strange dreams Mateo has been having of rescuing a beautiful girl—Nadia—from a car accident come true, he knows he’s doomed. 

Despite the forces pulling them apart, Nadia and Mateo must work together to break the chains of his family’s terrible curse, and to prevent a disaster that threatens the lives of everyone around them. Shimmering with magic and mystery, New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray’s new novel is sure to draw fans of the Hex Hall and Caster Chronicles series, and fans of the hit CW TV show The Secret Circle.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I will start this review by saying that although I had Spellcaster on my TBR, I wasn't eagerly awaiting it  like a lot of bloggers I know.  That's not to say I wasn't excited when it came in a random, unexpected package from HarperTeen one day.  You see, although I'm not quite a fangirl of Claudia Gray's (yet), I am slightly familiar with her work, having read her werewolves-on-the-Titanic stand-alone, Fateful, which was very good.  I've never read her wildly popular Evernight series, but I have to say that after reading Spellcaster and Fateful, I'm inclined to pick it up (if I ever get caught up on my review reading).  That statement alone should tell you that I enjoyed Spellcaster; It did have a few problems for me, but overall, I thought it was a great read.  So, without further ado...

I guess I will start with the things I didn't like, which are few.  First off, I feel like HarperTeen let me down with that cover.  I mean, it's okay and it's pretty, but I expect a lot more from them.  The first thing I think of when I think of HarperTeen as a publishing house is that they consistently have the best, most eye-catching covers.  I have more HarperTeen titles on my shelves for the covers alone, than any other publisher, and I've DEFINITELY read a huge number of their titles that I might not have otherwise read, because of the covers.  (Yes.  My name is Karis, and I am a cover whore.)  The next thing on my list of "things that bothered me" was that I felt like the first third of the book was a bit on the predictable side.  There were several things I saw coming a mile away.  That said, after the first wildly unpredictable revelation, they really just kept coming, right up until the end.  And that leads me to my final gripe, which is the ending.  It's a doozie of a cliffhanger, and while I usually enjoy a well-done cliffhanger, I felt like this one was just cruel.  I was left with so many unanswered questions, and really, no answers to speak of.  So there are my "things I needed to bitch about".  Now for the good stuff...

I really enjoyed Claudia's writing style.  She writes in a kind of poetic way.  I usually don't write down quotes, but I found myself doing just that while reading Spellcaster.  My favorite?  "Something else looked through the crow's stolen eyes and recorded it all.  The crow flew on, unknowing, enslaved, and blind."  That line made my skin crawl, and was definitely the one that hooked me. Also, Claudia doesn't dumb things down.  She uses big words and in doing so, makes me feel like she believes her readers to be intelligent.  That makes me happy.  So much YA is written with content for teens and up, but at a 4th grade reading level.  I love it when an author gives her readers some credit.  They DO read books for FUN, for Heaven's sake.  They must be smarter than average, right?  I also loved the way this story flowed.  For the most part, it moved at a pretty even pace that kept me turning pages well into the night. There were a few slow points, but in hindsight, they were necessary.  The buildup really made the big moments stand out.

The characters and the story itself were the highlights of this book for me.  The story was equally character driven and plot driven, so I'll start with the characters.  I really liked Nadia and Mateo, and I loved Verlaine and Elizabeth.  Nadia was interesting because she was so insecure, but so strong-willed at the same time.  It was like she was in constant conflict with herself.  As for Mateo, I found him a bit whiny at first.  "Oh, the curse.  Oh, I'm doomed to go crazy."  Blah, blah.  But it was like, once he found out that the curse was actually a real thing, he manned up, and then I liked him.  Verlaine was headstrong and she made things happen, and I love characters like her.  That girl had a tough life, but she never let her circumstances undermine her.  Elizabeth was just...  Well, read the book, and you'll see.  The story?  Well, it is a witch story, which is my favorite kind of Paranormal. That said, it was very unique (I don't think it is anything like Hex Hall or The Caster Chronicles, both of which I adored, by the way.).  I was really intrigued by the idea of the Steadfast, and I thought it was brilliant that the ingredients for each spell were a series of personal memories.  Witches could only gain strength as they lived life; That was cool.  I also thought the rules of being a witch were interesting, and I am curious to see how they come into play in the next two books.  I'm also quite intrigued with the mystery surrounding Nadia's mother, who is also a witch, and who unexpectedly left her family in the middle of Nadia's training.  There was a lot of foreshadowing going on in reference to her, but no answers at the end.  I predict she will play a huge role in the continuation of this story.

Overall, I thought this was a solid beginning to a trilogy that I am really going to enjoy right up to the end.  I have a lot of unanswered questions right now, and although I find that somewhat bothersome, given my impatient nature, it guarantees that I will read book number two, Steadfast (March, 2014).

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book was pretty clean.  There was some teen drinking, but other than that, it was pretty mild.  There was very innocent romance, no sex (although it was alluded to at one point), and no language.  I would say this book is fine for grades 6 and up (ages 11+). 

Friday, March 8, 2013

ARC Review: Me, Him, Them, and It by Caela Carter

Publisher:  BloomsburyUSA
Publication Date:  February 26th, 2013

ME is Evelyn Jones, 16, a valedictorian hopeful who's been playing bad girl to piss off THEM, her cold, distant parents. HIM is Todd, Evelyn's secret un-boyfriend, who she thought she was just using for sex - until she accidentally fell in love with him. But before Evelyn gets a chance to tell Todd how she feels, something much more important comes up. IT. IT is a fetus. Evelyn is pregnant - and when Todd turns his back on her, Evelyn has no idea who to turn to. Can a cheating father, a stiff, cold mother, a pissed-off BFF, and a (thankfully!) loving aunt with adopted girls of her own help Evelyn make the heart-wrenching decisions that follow?
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

If I'm going to read and like YA Contemporary, I'm inclined more toward the issue-based type than the romantic type.  There are a lot of "issues" facing teens today, and I like it when they can read about them, and (hopefully) avoid making some of the same mistakes that the characters in the books make.  I'm a sucker for teachable moments, and books like this are full of them.  That being said, I went into Me, Him, Them, and It looking for a dramatic story about teen pregnancy, but I wanted it to have a subtle message too.  Did I get it?  Yes and no.  It wasn't a super dramatic story because the protagonist, Evelyn, was not a dramatic person.  She acted out a lot, hoping to get some kind of rise out of her self-absorbed, disconnected parents, but she was more passive-aggressive about it than she was dramatic...  This story actually takes place more inside of Evelyn's head than out, and it was extremely compelling, even without the drama.  As for the lesson?  Well, it was subtle, and not at all preachy to any side of the debate on whether Evelyn should keep the baby, put it up for adoption, or abort.  The decision was entirely hers, and it took the entire 320 page book for her to work it out.  I liked that.  It made sense that it wasn't an easy decision for her, and the emotional rollercoaster ride she was on was written in a very real, very sincere way.  I think everyone has their own opinion when it comes to the pro-choice/pro-life debate, and I thought Caela Carter did a really good job keeping her personal opinion out of the story.  What I mean when I say this is that I would not be able to guess her stance from reading this book, and I know I would have a difficult time doing that.

Evelyn is a smart, pretty, upper middle class girl who wants to make her parents pay for the ways that she feels they have wronged her.  How does she do this?  She parties, quits track, and starts acting slutty (although Todd is the only one she actually sleeps with).  When Todd ends up getting her pregnant, she really doesn't know where to turn or what to do.  She talks to a counselor at Planned Parenthood, and is given her options, but Evelyn doesn't want to deal with any of it.  She doesn't want to tell her best friend, her parents, or Todd.  She goes through a range of emotions; Denial, anger, indifference, sadness, guilt.  She is unsure what to do or where to turn, and there is only one thing she knows for certain... She just wants it all to be over so that she can go back to living her life the way she was, graduate valedictorian of her class, and go to college.  At the same time, she knows that no matter what her choice, she will be forever changed, and THAT is her biggest struggle.  Aside from the internal struggles about what to do with "It", I also liked how Evelyn observed the changes she was going through physically.  As a parent who wanted her children, I found it interesting to read the account of a girl who had this foreign, unwanted "thing" growing inside her.

Honestly, this book was better than I expected it to be, and I think that has a lot to do with how Caela Carter presented the situation.  I have to wonder if she related on a personal level, because the way the situation was written was so heartbreakingly real.  I think this book would be a great class discussion book for high school students because boys and girls alike would get something from it.  Todd and Evelyn were both changed forever by the situation they found themselves in, and would have been no matter what Evelyn's choice was.  For me, the only part that didn't work was the ending.  It was just a little too clean and easy.  I suppose things could have worked out the way they did, but in the real world, I find it doubtful.  Even so, I think Me, Him, Them, and It was a great read, and one that I would recommend to anyone.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  Obviously, there is some mature content in this book, but I think the benefits of reading it far outweigh any content concerns.  It think this is a great book for students grades 7 and up to read (ages 12+); Even better if they can discuss what they've read with an adult.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

ARC Review: Poison by Bridget Zinn

Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
Publication Date:  March 12th, 2013

Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart . . . misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she’s certainly no damsel-in-distress—she’s the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

What a breath of fresh air this book was!  Seriously.  When it came in the mail, I looked at the cover, and immediately (mis)judged it as something that was going to be really silly and juvenile, and I am happy to admit (as long as no one tells my husband) that I was totally wrong.  Poison is a really well-written YA Fantasy that will likely have a very broad readership.  It's got great characters, a well paced plot, an innocent romance, lots of unexpected twists, and a whole lot more.  Also, it is squeaky clean, so it's perfect for those advanced elementary school age readers who want to venture into some more challenging books, without losing their innocence.  Poison is one of those all-ages reads that would be great as a read-aloud to kids, but also engaging and smart enough for the most jaded YA readers, myself included.  

So you get it... I have much love for this book, and although I briefly mentioned my reasons above, her is where I will elaborate.  I thought this book was a lot of fun.  The themes weren't heavy, and I didn't go to bed hashing the events I just read out in my head.  The story was fast-paced and full of action and adventure, with a lot of funny events along the way.  The story went back and forth between adventure and fun, with little twists here and there to keep the reader on her toes, but not so many that it became confusing.  It was fresh and original.  There was no real love triangles or insta-love, which is almost unheard of in YA.  I would like to give you an overview, but there is too much potential for spoilers, so I will leave it at this... You will want to keep turning the pages because you are intrigued by the story and at the same time, having fun.

The characters were also great, and there were many, but I'm only going to talk about a few.  Kyra is a pretty kick-ass heroine; Lethal with her poisons, a well trained fighter, and super smart, but she is also kind of awkward and insecure, and I loved that.  Over time on the run, she had become a very solitary person, so when Fred comes along, she doesn't quite know what to do with him.  And speaking of Fred... Such a cutie.  I could not, for the life of me, figure out why she was always trying to get rid of him, because I thought he was just great.  He made me laugh, and he got her out of more than one bind.  My favorite was Rosie the pig though.  I wish I could reach into the book and grab her to keep as my own pet.  She provided just what this book needed to keep it light, and fun.  I mean, come on, what is there not to like about a tiny, magical pig?

The last thing I must mention is the world in which this story took place.  I thought the author did a great job drawing the reader in by really bringing the setting to life with her words.  Her descriptions were great, and she really captured not only the physical environment, but the emotional climate.   The main characters covered a lot of ground in their travels and adventures in this book, and I always thought the world-building was solid.  In the Fantasy genre, worlds are often either way overdone, or not built up enough.  This book had a whole lot of "just right" going on.

The only thing that sucks about this book is that it will be the only one.  Sadly, the author, Bridget Zinn, passed away shortly after writing Poison.  It is such a tragedy that her life was cut short, before she got to share more of her amazing talent.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  Like I mentioned before, this book is squeaky clean.  No cursing, sex, or other inappropriate content.  This book is 100% suitable for all ages.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

WWW (35) and Waiting On Wednesday (March 7th, 2013): Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

W. W. W. Wednesday is hosted by Should Be Reading a great blog that I subscribe to. Here's how it works... Each Wednesday I will answer the following questions:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you'll read next?

So, this is the first WWW/WoW I've done since going back to work for the first time in 11 years because I am FINALLY learning to manage my time!  I've not had as much time for reading, and even less for blogging, but I think I'm beginning to catch up...

What are you currently reading?

Fuse by Julianna Baggott~ I totally loved Pure, the first book in this trilogy (read my full review HERE), but I'm having a difficult time getting into this one.  I'm kind of on a hiatus from it right now, so I can read something else...

Spellcaster by Claudia Gray~  I just started this one, and am already really liking it.  I love stories about witches, and this one is quite different from the standard fare.  Look for a review early next week.

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, Book #1) by Chris Colfer~  So, who knew Kurt from Glee could write?  I'm reading this one to my eight year old daughter, and really loving it!

What did you recently finish reading?

Notes From Ghost Town by Kate Ellison~  LOVED this one!  I wasn't all that impressed with Kate Ellison's debut, The Butterfly Clues, but I thought her second go was amazing!  Read my full review HERE.

Breaking Point by Kristen Simmons~ I really enjoyed this one too.  I finally read Article 5 in preparation of reading this, and thought it was great.  Breaking Point was a fantastic second installment.  Read my review HERE.

What do you think you'll read next?

Mind Games by Kiersten White~  I'm kind of behind on my review reading, and this is one of the books that I am dying to read.  It looks fabulous, and I've heard wonderful things about it from other bloggers.

Dear Life, You Suck by Scott Blagden~ Another one I'm looking forward to.  Scott's a funny, funny guy, and I am super excited to read and review his debut!

"Waiting On" Wednesday is another fun blog event. Hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, this event gives us a chance to talk about the books we anxiously await the release of. Since there is ALWAYS a looooooong list of books I'm waiting on (I actually keep a spreadsheet), I figured this is one that I MUST do.

I haven't done one of these in ages, but I really wanted to profess my love and excitement for this upcoming book.  I had the honor of introducing this wonderful author at the Decatur Book Festival this past summer, and she was just great (very gracious about my fangirling).  I loved her first two books, Anna Dressed In Blood (read my review HERE) and Girl of Nightmares (read my review HERE), so it only stands to reason that I would be looking forward to her next book...

Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

Old Gods never die…

Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health.

Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra—an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god.

These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods—in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning.

Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out.

Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath.

The Goddess War is about to begin.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Publisher:  TorTeen
Publication Date:  September 10th, 2013
My Expected Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

What are YOU Waiting On?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

ARC Review: Notes From Ghost Town by Kate Ellison

Publisher:  EgmontUSA
Publication Date:  February 12th, 2013

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.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Okay, I'm not going to lie and say that I loved Kate Ellison's debut, The Butterfly Clues, because I didn't.  Honestly, I'm not sure I even finished it; Goodreads says that I didn't...  I'm certain I started it, and found myself underwhelmed, but that was over a year ago, AND I know it got starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal, plus it has an almost 4-star average rating on Goodreads, so I know other people liked it, so I may go back and give it another go.  Why?  Because Kate's second novel, Notes From Ghost Town, was UH-MAY-ZING!  I really, really loved it. A lot.  I just did a giveaway of both books, and the winner of that giveaway is one lucky girl!

So...  Why did I love this book so much?  Well, for starters, it was a ghost story.  I really like ghost stories, and I like romantic ghost stories in particular.  This one was better than most, though.  You see, this one felt more real to me because even though the ghost boy and the living girl loved each other, there was no continuing the romance from the other side because, are you ready for this?  HE.  IS.  DEAD.  And you can't carry on a relationship with someone who is dead.  As much as I loved book series' like Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake and Hereafter by Tara Hudson, this one felt more real than fantasy...  I also liked that there was the whole schizo, psychotic break thing to add to the drama.  Is Olivia really seeing Stern, or is she just as batshit crazy as Mom?  I mean, she did also go colorblind when she kissed him right before he was murdered...  Because I had to work all of this out, I felt compelled to keep reading this book, and it did not disappoint...

Another reason this book was so awesome had to do with the characters, of which there were many.  That said, I'm only going to mention a few.  I already mentioned Olivia, the protagonist, a very real picture of a teen girl who is dealing with WAY too much for a girl her age- batshit crazy mom, trying to hide the fact that she might be right there with her, the fact that her mom is going on trial for the murder of her BFF/love-of-her-life, the upcoming nuptials of her dad to someone he met in "My Significant Other is Crazy Support Group", and more.  The poor girl.  No wonder she's such a mess...   There is also Raina, the third in her and Stern's BFF trio, and her only real remaining friend.  Raina is a mixed bag of good friend and self absorbed, but much of that has to do with how well Olivia is hiding her possible-crazy.  Stern is complicated, mostly because he is a ghost who can't remember details, but who knows he loves Olivia, and also that her mom didn't kill him, but not how to clear her.  There's Wynn, the stepmom's little girl, who Olivia adores, and who, more than once, helps Olivia hold it together just by existing.  Finally, there's Austin Morse.  He is the son of Olivia's dad's boss, way over-privileged, super-hot, and suddenly, inexplicably into Olivia.  I loved how well drawn the characters were, but also, how their details were fed to us over the course of the book; Woven into the plot seamlessly.

Finally, I loved the story and the manner in which it was told.  Kate Ellison knows how to write a Murder-Mystery!  This book would make an excellent movie, because it was thrilling, and the pacing was phenomenal.  I loved that the romantic element was there, but not the entire plot.  There were familial issues, mental health issues, social issues, and legal issues as well.  Everything was rolled up into this story that could have gone so wrong, had just one little thing been off.  Fortunately, that was not the case at all.  I don't often cry during books, but I must say that the final pages of this book slayed me (and before you rush to back of the book to read them, understand that it was because of the content of the ENTIRE book leading up to them).  I actually cried when I read them.  I loved the way this book ended, and I am always happy when an author writes a stand-alone that is THIS good.

Overall, I have to say that Notes From Ghost Town has been one of my favorites this year, which is something I never expected considering my experience (or maybe, non-experience) with The Butterfly Clues.  Because of this, I think I will go back and give that book another go!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Grade Level Recommendation:  There's some teen drinking, and Olivia makes some poor choices that are more implied in this book, than outright stated, but I would still say this is a book for upper middle school aged students and over.  Grades 7 and up (ages 12+).