Book Report: Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez

Well, hello! Welcome back for another Book Report! In the past, we’ve done lots of gushing as we’ve oohed and ahhed over books like ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER, but today’s discussion involves a few differing opinions on our overall opinion of KISS KILL VANISH by Jessica Martinez. Did we love it? Did we agree? How would we rate it? Read our joint review below to see what we thought! Please remember that we try to be as spoiler free as possible, but tread lightly.

Book Cover for Kiss KIll Vanish by Jessica Martinez

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez (website | twitter)
See Also Virtuosity and The Vow by Jessica Martinez
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 432
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: runaway teenager, family secrets, young adult thriller
Format Read: We both received copies for review from the publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary (from Goodreads): Valentina Cruz no longer exists.

One moment, she was wrapped in Emilio’s arms, melting into his kiss. The next, she was witnessing the unthinkable: a murder in cold blood, ordered by her father and carried out by her boyfriend. When Emilio pulled the trigger, Valentina disappeared. She made a split-second decision to shed her identity and flee her life of privilege, leaving the glittering parties and sultry nightlife of Miami far behind.

She doesn’t know how to explain to herself what she saw. All she knows now is that nothing she believed about her family, her heart, or Emilio’s love, was real.

She can change her name and deny her past, but Valentina can’t run from the truth. The lines between right and wrong, and trust and betrayal, will be blurred beyond recognition as she untangles the deceptions of the two men she once loved and races to find her own truth.

Just in case you need a visual reminder of who we are:

– – – –

Magan Magan
Estelle Estelle

♥ ♥ ♥


Magan So today we’re talking about KISS KILL VANISH by Jessica Martinez. We’ve both read books of hers in the past we’ve really enjoyed (Virtuosity and The Vow), but I think it’s safe to say that we have slightly differing opinions on this one. In two sentences, tell me what you thought!
Estelle Kicking off with a toughie, huh? I think Kiss Kill Vanish was sexy, addicting, and heartbreaking. I also thought Martinez did such amazing things with story structure and dialogue; I was in awe. (I kind of cheated.)
Magan You sneak! Ok, so let’s maybe start off with the story structure because I felt SO intrigued in the beginning, that Valentina ran away from her family (not saying why!). I really admired her decision. But I lost a lot of faith in her as the book went on and I liked her less and less.
Estelle You should expand on that because I didn’t feel that way. (And I’ll explain why in the best way I can!)
Magan I thought it took a lot of strength to leave the comfortable life that she had. She was a girl who had absolutely everything, and she basically cast it all aside because she couldn’t support the truths that were revealed to her. I checked out a bit when she returned to settle things because her decisions felt very immature and she seemed to get in the way much more than she helped the situation. Her young age and naivety really became apparent to me. I think if maybe there was a bit more backstory in the beginning of the book, it would have made more sense to me why she needed to return and have closure. But her decision seemed more vengeful, especially the more she learned once she was there.
Estelle For me, the book started off very slowly and I had the opposite reaction. I thought her leaving seemed so unbelievable for a teenager. This book definitely was one where I had to suspend my disbelief or I wouldn’t have been able to get invested. I think she was a scared little girl who had nowhere to turn, and knew nothing about her history. As the story goes on, even the little she does know, gets turned on its head. I can’t pretend to know what I would do in that position.
Magan I do agree that the actual book starts off slowly.
Estelle Her character really played with my head because sometimes I pictured her so much older than she was, and other times, so much younger.
Magan I think that’s really interesting. I feel like it takes a lot of strength to walk away from something. I really enjoyed seeing her try to scrape by, especially when it was doing a job she hated. I really, really wanted to see her make solid friendships and stand on her own two feet. I think that’s really what might have been the biggest letdown for me. Where I expected the story to go isn’t what happened. Let me rephrase that — in a situation like hers, it takes strength and courage. I think it can be seen as cowardly if a person continually ditches everything they do and doesn’t ever commit to see something through, but in Valentina’s specific situation, I feel she demonstrated maturity.
Her sisters, for example, were atrocious.
Estelle I just had a thought. Maybe I’m reading into it too much but Miami vs. Canada, rich vs. poor, even the two brothers she comes across… the whole book feels like a contest between these halves. Good vs. evil. Truth vs. lie.
Magan Oh, for sure. There are SO many contrasts throughout the story.
Estelle When Valentina was in Canada, she tried to be plain Jane. But she really had no FINAL plan like what was she going to do… pose for portraits forever? Sure, her endgame was getting to Spain but in reality? It felt like she was at a total standstill. Like you, I did want her to make solid relationships but I felt like the possibility of that was so small because she would continue to be on the run.
Magan Yes! I think that’s where a bit of implausibility came into play. Ultimately, I feel like this is a Catch-22. Her returning home was the ONLY thing that really allowed her to break free. But it also was my least favorite part of the book because she made some poor decisions. (I think you feel otherwise here.)
Estelle Does a character making poor decisions affect the likability of the book for you? I’m curious about this.
Magan No, I actually just didn’t think a lot of things made sense here. I hated the main character in TEASE, but ultimately really enjoyed that book.
Estelle Do we put too much of ourselves in the characters we are reading? (I’m not even sure I would have run away.) Can we explain what didn’t make sense without telling secrets?
Magan I think a lot of things felt contrived for me. I don’t feel like I can say specifically because I don’t want to ruin the book, but things blew up and escalated so much and there were a few surprises that I didn’t anticipate, but one in particular about a character I didn’t really find believable.
Estelle I hope that paragraph piques the interest of every one of our readers because I read it and I’m like TELL ME I WANT TO KNOW WHAT WHAT. I’ve read a few other thrillers this year, and those experiences really shaped how I felt about this one. While I enjoyed them and I’m not sad I read them, I think Martinez really succeeded in places they didn’t.
Magan That makes a lot of sense to me. You have recent reads to compare it to. There were great surprises too. I really loved that there were times I just did NOT know what to think about a character. IS HE GOOD? Do I trust him?
Estelle YES EXACTLY. She kept surprising me, she made me fall in love with Miami when I should have hated it, and she made me suspicious of every single character we came in contact with. I don’t think many authors can make you laugh in the middle of some crazy tale like this one either. That’s why I keep bringing up the dialogue. It felt so pitch perfect and natural. That’s hard to do.
Magan I think the suspicion of the characters was a definite positive for me. Especially when it came to the brothers, I was curious, but also felt a little skeezy when I read about her posing for Lucien’s paintings (and they were so innocent).
Estelle Oh agree. It was so so creepy.
Magan I think this will for sure be a read that people will discuss. A lot of it will come down to how black and white you are when it comes to right and wrong. Do you agree?
Estelle Ah! I don’t know how to answer that. I do? I mean, it almost a little controversial. More than anything I appreciate a book that challenges me to think about why a character is doing something and sometimes why a character doesn’t think things through before they move forth with a decision.
Magan I feel like by asking you that question I had this little self-realization. I think I do tend to categorize things into neat little bubbles. I don’t like grey areas. And for me, the family situation was absolutely wrong. There is no question that I had very strong feelings about it. I think that might be why I didn’t understand her interferences. How could she do what she did when she too felt things were so wrong? That’s when things got messy for me. Am I making sense at all?
Estelle I’m reading those questions out loud to myself. Maybe she just went a little nuts? That’s all I got. I think it makes sense. I didn’t get it either. But maybe that goes back to what we were saying before about her being two different things. She acts adult but also childlike and she was sort of throwing a tantrum and taking control.
Magan I think that’s a really great way of putting it. Honestly. So many contradictions.
Estelle It’s uncomfortable for any reader, which is why (and I say this sadly) I know it won’t be for everyone. This is how I feel about Terra McVoy’s IN DEEP as well. (Two recs in one!)
Magan Woot woot! (Still need to read that one.) That’s the thing — even with my reservations about her decisions, I’m not disappointed I read it.
Estelle You’ve read a few other books by Jessica. Don’t you agree it’s so hard to compare them because they are totally different animals?
Magan Yes! I think I’ve just read this one and Virtuosity (haven’t read The Vow yet). In my experience, the common thread is that she likes to clash family members against one another. That’s where the drama stems from in both of those.
Estelle Also the contrasts in decision making and behavior, too. I was just rereading my review of The Vow and I said “is it immaturity or idealism” that makes these characters decide certain things.
Magan Mmmm. Very nice, E.
Estelle There are truly SO many ways to view a story, and I can’t say enough about being given that opportunity. So many times we are spoon-fed beliefs and reasons behind actions in books. Even though you and I didn’t feel the same about the book, I’m so exhilarated by our conversation and even more blown away. This is what reading and discussing these books are all about.
Magan I agree! I’ve really been looking forward to talking about this one, knowing we felt so differently. In the past, we’ve had very similar feelings on many of the books we’ve reviewed together. I love that I can see and understand how you felt, even if I didn’t relate in the same way.
Estelle Exactly! Any final thoughts on Kiss Kill Vanish? Buy, Borrow, Worth It or Skip for you?
Magan Oh, geez. I think it falls between Borrow and Worth It for me. It would make a great book club book — so many different responses to it, I’m sure!
Estelle One thing I wanted to point out was the diversity of the characters in the book. Martinez always seems to get swept under the rug when it comes to this even when she does it well! So yet again, loved the subtly there. As for my rating, definitely a buy it. First of all, the cover is beautiful and second, I have to read this one again because it seems like a book where you discovering something new each time you read it. (Sidenote: there’s a part with feet that grossed me out and almost made me cry. Had to mention it.)
Magan Oh, geez. Yep, that part wasn’t fun at all. I do think depending on what you’re going through at the time you read this, you might have differing opinions.
Estelle Totally. And if you think this might not be your cup of tea, I highly recommend The Vow (which just came out in paperback!).


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Have you read Kiss Kill Vanish? What did you think? 

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joint book review of Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Book Report: Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Hello, friends! It’s been a long, long while (over a year!) since we’ve done a joint review (aka: book report around here) together. How this works is we each read the same book and have a nice, long chat about it. We really try not to be spoilery, and if we think something might be, we’ll let ya know. This time we’re discussing Trish Doller’s new release Where the Stars Still Shine.

joint book review of Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish DollerWhere the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: kidnapping, Greek family, reunification with family
Format read: ARCs from the publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Callie and her mother have been on the run for over ten years. After her mother’s arrest, Callie is reunited with her large Greek family and biological father, from whom her mom kidnapped Callie. She’s torn between making a new life with him and being loyal to her mother.

We’re changing up the formatting a little bit for this review. You can keep track of who said what by our little photographs. Just in case you’re not familiar with what we look like, here ya go:

Magan Blasig Magan

Estelle Hallick Estelle

Magan Blasig Where the Stars Still Shine is Trish Doller’s second book. We both loved Something Like Normal. After finishing WtSSS, how do you feel about Doller’s writing?

Estelle Hallick Something Like Normal was fantastic and I think my only disappointment was the length. I wanted more! So as far as that goes, I think Trish really nailed it in her new book. It felt developed in a different way and gave us a longer amount of time to spend with these characters.

Magan Blasig I completely agree. I really felt time passing in this book and connected so deeply to the situation. From the very first chapters, I felt invested. We have Callie, a girl who was kidnapped from her father by her mother as a result of their divorce. She and her mother have lived in countless cities and assumed as many identities. The situation made me feel such a tightness in my chest. I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe sometimes, especially as we learned more and more about Callie’s life growing up.

Estelle HallickSame here. I really felt for her. She had such love for her mom, even though she was pretty much absent and all of these terrible things were happening. When you read about a situation like that, you can’t help but think JUST HOW LONG CAN THIS GO ON? It made me think a lot about labels, and having affection for people because they are in this authoritative position. Like of course I love her because she’s my mom but she is not a stand up person. Does that make sense?

Magan BlasigYES! It really hurt because Callie knew right from wrong, but every time her mother re-entered her life, all logic went out the window. It made me realize how blind we can be. It’s no secret (per the book’s summary) that Callie is reunited with her biological father after her mother is arrested. I really, really felt for her dad. I admired his character so very much.

Estelle HallickME TOO. Wasn’t he the best guy? He could have so easily made Callie’s mom out to be this enemy but he didn’t.


Magan BlasigYou’re so right! He never bashed her or said negative things. Even though their marriage ended, it was clear that he would have tried to make it work. I think dads are so often absent in YA books, and I applaud Doller for how involved she made Greg. And really, her entire extended family. How much did you love her BFF/cousin, Kat?

Estelle HallickLike you, I loved loved all the supporting characters. Loved seeing a Greek family. I don’t remember seeing that in any other YA book. But Kat was awesome. So many times girls are feuding in books or being bitches and Kat was so open and warm and wonderful. It was interesting to watch Callie’s reactions to that.

Magan BlasigYES! I could visualize Kat and Callie’s family so well. One of my college friends got married last year and they had a big Greek wedding. I felt like Doller really nailed everything about this aspect. And I couldn’t agree more about Kat. She just inserted herself into Callie’s life — Callie had never had a friend, much less a best friend. I admired how they worked through the tense situations that came up, especially pertaining to Alex.

Estelle HallickYes. Alex. Did you not fear for the worst?


Magan BlasigIt really took some time for me to trust him. Their relationship was SO HOT from the very beginning and I just knew bad things were looming.

Estelle HallickWasn’t it?? Hearing about Callie’s relationship with sex was like… not what I was expecting.


Magan BlasigTotally. Doller was, to me, very bold with how she handled sex in WtSSS. She was very careful about how she described passionate scenes, not taking things too far, but at the same time, I felt like she pushed the limits, too. Does that even make sense? HAHA!

Estelle HallickTotally. I loved it.


Magan BlasigSo Callie has some… ghosts in her closet. She has some pretty serious issues to deal with. I personally struggled a lot with these revelations. I wanted to punch things, skip the scenes, and protect her all at the same time. Do you have reactions like this to these kinds of things in books?

Estelle HallickOf course, I felt terrible for her and I wanted her to be able to move forward from this. But sometimes I feel like these books are the most effective. (Like Live Through This.) Trish didn’t let this become “an issue” book because, just like in real life, when something nightmarish like this is occurring real life keeps rolling on.

Magan BlasigI’m really glad you brought up Live Through This. This book and WtSSS are the two books that stand out, in my mind, as being really effective at discussing the mental and emotional turmoil people suffer through. I found both of these to be a little difficult for me to read, but equally addicting. And I agree with you about WtSSS not becoming an issue book. I was pleased to see Callie learning to trust people and letting herself open up about certain things when the timing was right. Ideally, I hope this is what someone would do in real life.

Estelle HallickMe too! I really do. So what was your favorite scene and what do you think could have been improved?


Magan BlasigOh my goodness. TOUGH QUESTIONS. As much as I would love to say that my favorite was the scene where Alex and Callie go snorkeling, I think I have to say when Greg takes Callie to see a house that’s under construction. I felt that was a major breakthrough for them. (Actually, both scenes really were.) And I don’t really have anything that I feel super needs to be improved, but I think in the future, I would like to see Doller explore a family that has their shit together. In Something Like Normal, there were some pretty messed up dynamics, and there definitely were here as well. I would love to see her create a family that’s well-balanced and see where she goes from there. What would the major drama be there? I’m sure she could come up with something excellent. Now, right back atcha. What do you think?

Estelle HallickOh, I love everything you just said. The snorkeling scene was amazing and made me want to snorkel again. The exhilaration Callie feels? Amazing and so true to life. I also did love any scene with Callie and her Dad, like the one you mentioned. BUT I also loved how much books meant to Callie. I do think so many readers are going to love how connected she felt to them, and how much they meant to her.

Magan BlasigOh, gosh, yes! THE BOOKSTORE!


Estelle HallickWasn’t that the best? I wanted to go there!


Magan BlasigYES! Me too! Soooo, what about improvement?


Estelle HallickI think there could have been a little more at the end? Another scene with the family? The pacing was great and the story felt whole but I could have used a few more scenes to get it going. Also I would love to see a companion novel about Kat.

Magan BlasigOH! That’s an awesome idea! I really did love Kat. She was such a standout character. I cannot say that enough. And yes, I can see how the ending felt a little unsatisfactory. I have to admit that I was a little bit shocked by how things ended, but I wasn’t unhappy.

Estelle HallickMe neither. So maybe it’s just a selfish desire to want more, as we do with really good books.


Magan BlasigAbsolutely. Well put! Any final thoughts about Where the Stars Still Shine?


Estelle HallickI think this is one of the most solid reads of the year for me. Trish does a great job of balancing a lot of different plotlines and personalities and her writing is just top notch. It’s definitely on the serious side but I think that makes the joyous, sweeter moments pop more.

Magan BlasigI completely, completely agree with you. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it and planning out the next time I could! I really, really want everyone to read this book. And I’m such a fan of Doller’s. You described it best: solid.

Estelle HallickAny final notes? Should we say something more about Alex?


Magan BlasigI’m not sure. I kind of liked the mystery surrounding him.


Estelle Hallick Me too. Haha!


Magan BlasigI will say that I think readers should set aside plenty of time to read this all at once. I hated that I had to read it over a few days.

Estelle HallickI agree. I rarely read books all in one sitting but it was nice to have airplane time to dive into this story. (Esp. when I was so sad to leave you!)

Magan BlasigAww, sad day!

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book cover for the mockingbirds by daisy whitney

Book Report: The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Happy April, you guys! Can you believe it’s April!? Did any of you get pranked for April Fool’s yesterday?

Today we are diving into another BOOK REPORT, a feature that we share every month. We both read the same book, chat about it, and post it here. With minor spoilers, we introduce The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney.

book cover for the mockingbirds by daisy whitneyThe Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney [website | twitter]
Release Date: November 2, 2010
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 332
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format: Library books for M & E.
How we found out about it: We saw a lot of buzz surrounding the sequel, The Rivals, which just came out on 2/6/2012

Summary: Alex attends a prestigious boarding school that churns out highly educated, future world leaders. Unfortunately, they don’t have a system in place for when bad things happen, like Alex being date raped, because they feel their students wouldn’t do such things. Alex doesn’t feel like she can go to the police because she was underage drinking. She enlists the help of the student run group, The Mockingbirds, to help solve her case and punish Carter.

Magan: Hey, E! So for this month’s Book Report, we chose a book that’s a few years old, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney. (She has a sequel The Rivals that piqued our interest that was released in February 2012.) I’m so excited to talk about this book with you!

Estelle: Me too! Not only is it one of the older (ha) books we’ve discussed but a book with the most serious subject matter.

M: Yep! It’s a book about a girl named Alex who is date raped. She calls on the Mockingbirds to protect her and bring about justice because she’s too scared to go to the police. What did you think of the Mockingbirds (the team, not the book overall…yet)?

E: I think it’s hard to talk about the Mockingbirds as a group without getting into the overall environment of this boarding school. I liked how Alex called it a “Candy Land of a school”. The institution believed that because they were churning out future world leaders and successful human beings… nothing bad ever went on there. No bullying, no drama, nothing. It’s just so crazy to me. So the fact that Alex’s oldest sister took it upon herself to create this group to help students who find themselves in horrendous situations with literally NO support from the school was just appalling and amazing to me at the same time.

M: I guess I was a little taken aback by Alex’s fear of going to the police and seeking adult help. It was explained very well why she chose not to, but it was definitely sickening that the school leaders would have turned their heads at the situation. I think this is also a really common occurence for people who are date raped – they feel so terrible that something so bad could happen to them and they’re caught up in not being sure what to do because all they want is to forget.

E: In Alex’s situation, though, she had been drinking a lot. She was underage. And she couldn’t remember anything, which was terrifying.

M: Oh, yeah – that was a big part of her story as well. I was so thankful she had her sister and her best friend, T.S., to really encourage her to take action. They let her know that even though she was drinking, Carter had no right to do what he did. I loved that Whitney really explained that no answer does not equal or imply a yes.

E: She definitely kept bringing that up in one way or another and I absolutely loved that. Her message wasn’t after school special like or annoying… it was just so true. And I think Alex was the perfect character to sort of bring light to a message like that. Especially using her strong connection with music to show how this one night sort of overflows into her passions, her daily life, and possible future.

M: The music aspect was a really awesome parallel. Probably one of my favorite subplots. It really showed me what life can be like for someone who has gone through this – how it infiltrates your everything.

E: I also think Whitney did a great job with this constant teetering Alex experienced with her emotions. Deciding to talk to the Mockingbirds, running into Carter, certain experiences bringing back memories from that night… she was sometimes feeling confident in her decision to talk to the Mockingbirds and sometimes shying away from her life. It was a very realistic account of someone in this situation, and it also really helped me connect with her. Even if I wasn’t sure what she was going to be feeling from one day to the next.

M: YES! And throughout the time she’s enlisting the help of the Mockingbirds, she realizes a friend, Martin, is involved with them. How did you feel about this boy and the role he played?

E: My God, I loved him. When he first showed up in the book, I wrote his name in my notes. I just felt like he would play some kind of important role in the book. And he was sort of like this geeky and supportive friend that she never paid much attention too. I liked how his character slowly became more complex as the book came on. I’m a huge Martin supporter. (Even if he was a science geek.)

M: Science geek aspiring to be a future doctor. 🙂 I’d go for that. All joking aside, I really liked the look into what it’s like to try to start a new relationship and how conflicting those emotions can be when you’ve been so emotionally damaged and physically taken advantage of. I had no clue.

E: I feel like no stone went uncovered when it came dissecting this particular situation. How it affected her physically, mentally, emotionally, her relationships with her friends, her sisters, the other kids in school, and then of course, Martin. Whitney never made the book feel preachy or over dramatic, and I think there’s definitely a fine line when it comes to a subject matter like this. With kids who are pretty young.

M: I think that’s mostly in part to Daisy experiencing this when she was in college. When I read that in the author’s notes at the end, I realized why I connected with the story so much – there was so much truth. In the beginning of the book, things were a little slow-going for me (because she was struggling with remembering and making a decision about what to do), but once the Mockingbirds (and Martin!) were introduced, I was hooked.

E: I agree. This is definitely a situation where the author’s own experience brought a stark and frightening authenticity to the book. I wasn’t expecting to feel so attached to these characters and this story for some reason. I’m not sure why. Maybe just because the plot is so different than most of the other books I read. But I literally felt like I was transported into another world pretty much from the moment I opened to the first page. Especially once the story moves along and the Mockingbirds take over, wow. I wished I had another 45 minutes in my train ride or I could successful read while walking because I didn’t want to press pause on this book.

M: The Mockingbirds kicked ass. I was impressed by how well this part of the story was developed. This is where Whitney’s imagination came into play and she did a really great job of building this team of students. I liked the pacing and how they took their time investigating to set up their next move. Nothing felt rushed or irrational to me.

E: I wrote “intricate machine” in my notes. I was also amazed by this world and organization she created. I admit. I had my doubts. Why would students listen to a student run organization? Maybe I’m jaded. But they seriously had their ways.

M: So there’s a scene where the trial is finally happening. I don’t want to say more than that, but this was probably one of my very favorite parts of the story. I loved how things unraveled, and even that Whitney didn’t set the trial up to be easy. There were complexities because, afterall, Alex was drinking. What stands out most to you as being a favorite part of the story?

E: I feel like everything I want to say is spoilerish. How about this — there are at least three discoveries that occur throughout the book that I loved and were very helpful to Alex coming to terms with what happened to her. That’s really unspecific, I know. But I think once you pick up this book, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

M: So the question is, will you read The Rivals – the sequel to The Mockingbirds?

E: I immediately requested it from my library once I finished The Mockingbirds. So the answer is a big fast yes. I’m interested to see how Alex’s world continues.

M: So am I! I hope my library has it since it just came out. If not, I’m adding it to their wishlist of books to buy!

E: We can only hope that everyone who stumbles upon this Book Report is interested to pick up The Mockingbirds if they haven’t already. It’s definitely worth moving up your TBR list! (And if you’ve read it already, we’d love to hear your reactions in the comments as well!)

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bright pink book cover, the probability of miracles, wendy wunder, joing book review

Book Report: The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder

bright pink book cover, the probability of miracles, wendy wunder, joing book review

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder [website | twitter]
Release Date: December 8, 2011
Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 357
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardback from the library for E; Hardback owned by M.
How we found out about it: Well, it seems like everyone and their grandma had read this book so it’s about time we did too!

Summary: Cam doesn’t believe in miracles or happily ever afters. How could she? After years of treatment for cancer, there’s nothing more to do except join her mom and sister on a road trip to Promise, Maine — a place where the most unbelievable things can happen. Or so they say. Will the intriguing existence of Asher finally get her out of her room? Or will it be the pressure to fulfill the flamingo/bucket list she made with her best friend a few years back?

Magan: Hello, lovely Estelle! Ready to discuss The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder?

Estelle: Very, very ready!

M: So… overall, how did you feel about this book? Love it? Hate it?

E: I definitely didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to. How about “liked very much”?

M: I feel the same way. I had a VERY hard time getting into the book and loving the Cam. Did you feel immediately connected to the story, if at all?

E: I think I felt connected to the story in some way because of the Disney references. It feels dumb to even say that because she was basically insulting everything Disney is all about (and I feel the complete opposite) but her quips about the company made me laugh and it felt like Disney was a big part of her family foundation. I’m not sure how we were supposed to connect with Cam because she was so sarcastic and sort of accepting of her short life sentence. I know I wouldn’t have acted the same way. (Long answer. haha)

M: I think that’s why I didn’t connect with her. She didn’t seem to have any hope. Maybe if I were going through a similar situation (or had a family member with terminal cancer) I would feel differently, but she just acted like she was a lost cause. I guess I’d like to think I’m more of a fighter than that. Aside from the Disney connection, when did you feel the story really picked up?

E: The story felt like it split into three parts for me. The first would be up until they got to Maine. The second when she started doing those deeds for her sister and mother. And the third when her relationship with Asher began to flourish. The story really started to move for me around the second part. I just wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen. What about for you?

M: I 100% agree with your breakdown of the book. I found the first 100ish page to be really slow. Once they got to Maine I was more interested, but she holed herself up in the widow’s walk and spent a lot of time alone. I was so intrigued by Asher that I really just wanted to learn more about his story. When that happened, I felt 10x more invested in the book. Maybe I just really like good love stories… Ha!

E: I totally agree with you. I almost feel like we got jipped because I didn’t think I got to know Asher as well as I thought I would, even from the flap of the book. It was pretty deceiving.

M: Yes! I definitely thought there would be more development between Asher and Cam. I liked that he was always around, but their relationship went from acquaintances to “I love yous” pretty quickly. Maybe that was partly due to Cam having cancer, but I would have found it more believable if we’d had more of them. I mean, there are parts like “Ass Whisperer” that really made me laugh out loud. I wanted more of that.

E: Yes! I loved Asher’s sense of humor and wish the structure of the book was a little bit different. It never felt cliche or super dramatic or unnatural… just a little jarring? Don’t get me wrong. I liked Cam’s personality. It was way different than I was expecting and there were many moments I loved and then just didn’t. (Her encounter at that party? I had to go back and read that a few times because I didn’t even realized what happened.) I never felt like I had a clear grasp on who she was and what her intentions were and what she was feeling.

M: OH, yeah! When her mom (Alicia) and Perry went off on her about how selfish she was I didn’t feel like I clearly understood or related to their feelings. I liked how it affected and changed Cam for the better, but it felt like I was watching everything unfold but wasn’t emotionally involved. Do you think that could have something to do with it being written in third person? It took me a LONG time to adapt to that and definitely wish it had been written from Cam’s POV.

E: That’s a really good point. We are somewhat detached as readers because of that choice. I’m not sure if I can imagine the book in first person though. Is that weird? I don’t even know if that would help. She seemed to keep people at a distance until she didn’t anymore and maybe that’s just something we had to accept?

M: Maybe so. I suppose she did that because she was sick. It’s just so sad and lonely to me. She didn’t have many friends and she kept people at arm’s length. I think I’d just want to die surrounded by the people I love. I wouldn’t want to leave them with memories of me being so secluded and alone. (Trying to avoid spilling too much about how the story progressed with Cam.)

E: It’s really hard to talk about this book without spilling all of its secrets.

M: Yup. So, my favorite things were a) getting to know Asher, b) the flamingos, c) learning about Maine, and… d) actually the VERY end of the book. The last few pages had me in tears. What did you love about it?

E: I also did love Asher. I loved Cam’s sister Perry and the big speech she has at one point. The grandma was another awesome character. And I couldn’t get enough of the Disney references as I said earlier. I was glad they popped up throughout the entire book. That was actually one of the highlights. There were some super amazing details throughout the whole thing.

M: OH MY GOSH, NANA! Yes, she was awesome. I loved her windbreakers. Haha.

E: Can we talk about the ending for a teenie tiny bit?

M: Of course! *READERS: There may be spoilers beyond this point!* What’s on your mind?

E: It all happened really fast, and what necessary happened, I thought might not. If that makes sense.

M: It was another one of those situations where there was a swift and abrupt change that I wasn’t expecting. I felt like we were driving along at full speed and then Wunder put on the breaks. There was no warning (or at least very minimal warnings).

E: When you say it like that, it makes it seem like it was intentional but it came off a bit melodramatic to me. (Ugh. I’m heartless!)

M: Hmm. Maybe I’m not communicating how I feel very well because I completely agree with you. I am not a reader that cannot fill in the gaps for herself, but I just felt like there was information lacking because the turn of events was so sudden.

E: Yes. You are so right. I felt like that happened quite a few times. Too many almost. Unresolved stuff? Like things with Lily?

M: OH, gosh, YES! I don’t know. I feel like because of those times, I lost a lot of love I might have otherwise had for the book. (Not to say I didn’t like it, but I felt very conflicted when choosing my Goodreads rating on this book.)

E: I had the same problem. I really liked the personalities, I liked the writing style too, and the ideas that were there were very good and intriguing. It just didn’t reach the point I wanted it to. I’ve also been a crying manic with books lately, and I was surprised I didn’t feel more emotional until the very last couple of pages.

M: I kept expecting my heart to break or … to feel ALL THE THINGS throughout, but I just didn’t. One more question. How did you feel about the Flamingo lists? I, personally, wish they would have been eliminated from the book or wish she had found them after some of the check marks had been completed. I felt like these things seemed a bit contrived at times.

E: I didn’t love them very much either. It seemed like something they made up as kids, and maybe if they had been sort of rewritten together. That would have introduced another bond they had and more feelings? I’m not sure. I think that the events that happened, the ones related to the list would have happened no matter what, and maybe using the lists as a reference would have worked better. More of a “haha, we were SO clever” kind of thing instead of a guide.

M: Again, I definitely agree with you. There was a part at the end with Asher where I thought, “If this place existed, why wouldn’t they have visited it anyway? Why did they need the list to bring them there?” So any final thoughts? Skip it, borrow it, or own it?

E: Definitely borrow it. Sometimes I think we are so spoiled because we read so many books all the time, and some of them are winners and some aren’t. I definitely could see many people enjoying this book and really getting into it.

M: It’s a borrow kind of book for me as well. I think I’m also suffering from having read a lot of books about a family member dying this year (I am aware that it sounds like I have a death complex or something). I have been blown away by a few of them and this one just didn’t hit me in the same way.

E: It’s kind of interesting to think about what factors contribute to you latching onto a book so much. What’s going on in your life, what you read right before it, the time of year…

M: Brilliant point! I love that. I would really like to hear from other people who’ve read this book. Maybe some will disagree with us. (If you’ve read this, tell us how you felt about it in the comments below!)

E: Yes! Fight with us!!! Or actually. Maybe not. 🙂

In case you’re interested, here are a few more reviews of The Probability of Miracles, both from people who agree and disagree with us:

  • Ginger at GReads! gave it five stars. | Review
  • Khy at the Frenetic Reader says she thinks there was a “complete lack of emotional connection.” | Review
  • Anna at Anna Reads thinks everyone will love it. | Review
  • Kristi at the Story Siren called it incredible. | Review

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book cover with goldfish, book cover with fish, book cover for dying to know you

Book Report: Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers

Happy February, friends! Today we are diving into another BOOK REPORT, a feature that we share every month. We both read the same book, chat about it, and post it here. With minor spoilers, we introduce Aidan Chambers’ upcoming release, Dying to Know You.

book cover with goldfish, book cover with fish, book cover for dying to know youDying to Know You by Aidan Chambers

Future Release Date: April 1, 2012
Publisher: Amulet Books
Pages: 275
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format: Paperback from ALA for Magan, E-Galley received via NetGalley for Estelle
How we found out about it: From the publishers, via NetGalley and ALA Mid-Winter

Summary: When’s Karl girlfriend gives him a list of questions she wants his written and heartfelt answers to, he decides to enlist the help of her favorite author, a 70-year old man who has recently lost his wife and drive to write.


Quick! In three words, describe this book.

Estelle: Straight forward. (Is that cheating?) Measured. Artsy.

Magan: Dense. Slow. Seasoned.

What are your thoughts on the narrator?

Estelle: I liked him. He was a writer, and clearly had a lot of knowledge being that he had lived 70 years — a lot more compared the other characters in the book. He was never pompous, was always thoughtful, and I think he was a better man than he would ever admit. As a narrator in a young adult book though, I wonder how my perception of the book would have changed if Karl, the 18-year old, was the one telling the story instead. Sometimes with the author telling the story, the sense of discovery wasn’t there for me.

Magan: I enjoyed that he was a man in his seventies, but at times felt disconnected from him because I haven’t gone through similar life experiences (yet). I suppose, ultimately, a takeaway is that no matter what age we are, we can still connect with another much-different-in-age person. Karl and the narrator learned things from one another, though I especially loved that the narrator spoke a lot of truth and wisdom. And, even for an older man, he was very open about a lot of topics (i.e. sex, relationships).

Did you like the style of this story?

Estelle: I’m wondering if I am reading into the story too much. Because it was just so straight forward at times (reference to question #1), there weren’t too many surprises. The level of excitement was at one level, along with all the other more serious events that occurred. It was all on the same plane. It’s harder for me to feel invested in the lives of characters when the story is just told to me, and not shown to me. I felt like I was an outsider during most of the book. That being said each detail felt very deliberate and it was also very clear. Nothing was confusing.

Magan: Judging by the first few pages, I thought I would like it quite a lot. It seemed fast paced and filled with tons of dialogue (which I love), but there were many down times in the story where very little was happening. I think the pacing and timing were very true to life, but I didn’t love learning about Karl (the character I felt most invested in) from the narrator’s point of view. I thought the love letters to Karl’s girlfriend were going to play a much larger part of the story, but in reality, they didn’t. Bigger issues were confronted and the story was much heavier than I anticipated.

 What were the strengths and weaknesses of this book?

Estelle: The weakness was the connection I did not feel with the characters. The strength was the relationship that formed between the author and Karl.

Magan: Strength: the development of the friendship between two unlikely men. Weakness: that I never felt hooked or invested in the story, despite the really big things that were happening.

What did this book say about art?

Estelle: I think this book had a lot to say about expression. In the beginning, Karl’s girlfriend wants him to write out long, involved answers to these questions she has made up to get to know him better and understand his love for her. He has trouble with this, and seeks out the help of the author, a person who is good at expressing himself in words. As the story goes on, Karl discovers what he is good at and what strength and effort it takes to actually do what you are good at. Even when people are trying to destroy that for you, and even when you lose confidence in yourself. (The author was also sort of in the same boat. He lost his inspiration and his drive to write.) Art means different things to different people, and you just never know when you are going to feel that spark. I think it’s also difficult to get to this place in life where you don’t care that others may not “get it”.

Magan: I feel like Chambers’ is saying that there is a way for each of us to express ourselves. For the narrator, it was with words. He was an author. For Karl, it became physical art. Karl found it difficult to talk about things he wasn’t passionate about. His insecurities took over. When he found his art, the words began to flow easily. I think this was an incredibly beautiful part of the story – finding what we’re passionate about, what makes us tick, and ultimately what makes us unique.

There was a lot of wisdom in Dying to Know You. Any particular quote-ables that stood out to you?

Estelle: “I think there is no better way to get to know someone than reading what they write.” and “For one thing, the dickheads never manage to smash everything. And for another thing, if you, and the people like you, the true artists, keep on making, the philistines can’t smash up everything. There may be fewer of you. Of us. But we win in the end.”

Magan: There were a lot of moments that stood out to me because they were full of life lessons. One of my favorites was, “I’m not a games player. To my mind, there are enough chances to fail in life without inventing more.”

Any final thoughts?

Estelle: I think this book had many intriguing ideas. It brought up many ailments (dyslexia, depression) that haven’t been represented in any of the other books I’ve been reading, and I appreciated that. It wasn’t a book that was full of action… most of the time it felt like it was a long explanation of two very different beings and how their lives affected one another. I tend to enjoy books where I am more invested in the characters and I felt it missed it mark there. I was interested but not enamored with them. Most of the time that’s make it or break it for me. Still, I hung on and finished the book and more than anything took away some greater understanding of expression and unlikely relationships.

Magan: I wanted to love everything about this book, but in the end it wasn’t that kind of book for me. I’m still conflicted over this being classified as a young adult novel. While the content wasn’t explicitly mature, I’m not sure how 12-18 year olds will connect with the story being that the narrator is in his seventies. I don’t feel like we saw enough of Karl’s point of view to understand all his actions and decisions. Like Estelle, I did enjoy seeing how these two characters connected. They needed one another – both needed someone to alleviate the loss they felt over losing people very dear to them. I felt like a subtle point was made that we aren’t meant to live a lonely life; we need people to help us make it through.

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