None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: April 7th 2015

3  OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Kristin Lattimer is popular, pretty, athletic and newly voted homecoming queen. After a botched attempt at sex leads her to the gynaecologist she finds out she’s intersex. Kristin is full of questions. Does this make her a man? How will this affect her future? And most importantly what will everyone think? When her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school Kristin is tossed into turmoil struggling to deal with her identity while navigating a hostile environment.

None of the Above was definitely an interesting read. Learning about AIS and seeing how Kristin deals with her diagnosis kept me turning pages. Diversity is important and this book casts a main character that I’ve never personally seen before in young adult literature. This book has an important message, and the facts are interesting, but this isn’t a great book outside of that.

The characters are mostly flat. Kristin is naive and sort of dull. Faith is too good to be true. Vee is a bitch who’s only sort of nice to her friends. Sam is the classic jock. Darren is a loveable nerd. It’s hard seeing these characters interact when so few of their relationships are believable. How did Kristin not know her long-term boyfriend was a homophobe? Why is she so quick to forgive Vee when she’s said such cruel things?

The plot is pretty obvious, nothing surprising happens. The ending could use some work. It feels very abrupt. SPOILERS: There’s very little build-up. Terrible things happen and then boom, book over. Kristin deals with something terrible, is saved by a white knight, falls in love and is cured of her anxiety and depression. She’s ready to face the world again because the right boy wants her.

In short, this book covers important topics. It’s full of interesting facts, but it’s not a good story. A good read to learn some basics about AIS but not a book with rich characters or plot.

For Fans of: Holding Up the Universe

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT+
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: March 14th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“You’ve never been in anyone’s shadow. You are your own light source.”

Charlie is a famous vlogger turned movie star, and she has a VIP pass to SupaCon the best fan convention ever. It’s set up to be the best experience of her life until she finds out that her former co-star is attending. Jamie and Taylor, Charlie’s best friends, are tagging along. Taylor is going to meet her favourite author and have fun despite anxiety making her fear the worst. She’s going to have a great time with her best friend Charlie, and Jamie who she wishes was a bit more than a friend.

For diversity, this book gets two thumbs up. A fat protagonist with severe anxiety and autism. The second protagonist is a POC bisexual woman who’s bisexuality is actually explicitly stated in the book. The love interests are both POC. Wilde has researched and written relatable characters while being sensitive to how minorities are being represented. Queens of Geek looks at biphobia, racism and the nasty sides of fandom head on while still being fun and funny.

The con scenes were fantastic. It really captures how it feels to be a fan surrounded by so much excitement and fandom. Unfortunately, some of the more fanciful scenes (mainly the zombie maze) were drawn out and felt like cheap gimmicks to force characters together. The sheer scale of the zombie maze didn’t feel terribly real, several full-size sets with hundreds of actors for a single attraction is extravagant for even the largest cons.

The romances themselves were a little cheesy and it’s unbelievable how fantastic everything works out for everyone. The setting and the diversity were what brought me to this book and kept me with it. The plot is just fine. I was never really thrilled by any plot activity and the ending was fluffy and cheesy and not something I’m likely to remember.

I like happy endings, and I love a good fluffy romance, but this was a bit much. It’s cut and dry fluff. It never really feels like there’s any real issue, and it makes the plot sort of dull. I wish there would have been more focus on the convention than on the cheesy romances. Or at least more issues within the romances to keep the story fresh. There’s never any real stress that the couples won’t be happy and together so aside from cute points there’s no interest in reading them for me.

Not everything should go right for the protagonists. Not every wrong thing should be a fakeout. Sometimes something bad should happen and not be immediately fixed with just a slightly different path. Denying your character cake from a table and giving it to them at the very next table isn’t a compelling obstacle. Bad things can happen and different good things can happen. A character getting everything they ever wanted is sweet but not an interesting story.

Queens of Geek is definitely a unique and interesting story, but it could have been more if things had been a little less sickeningly sweet.

For Fans Of: Geektastic

The Lives of Desperate Girls by MacKenzie Common

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Publication Date: September 19th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In a tiny community in Northern Ontario Chloe Shaughnessy goes missing. Not long after a native girl, Helen, is murdered. Chloe was Jenny’s best friend, and Jenny might know something about the night Chloe went missing. The cops are desperate to find out. They’ve put Helen on the back burner to focus on Chloe’s disappearance, an act that disturbs Jenny. She decides to investigate the murder herself while keeping her lips sealed about what she knows.

The Lives of Desperate Girls touches on the very real issue of police ignoring missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada. It also covers other serious topics, but this is its main focus. Almost no one cares that Helen is missing. She’s just a native girl. Chloe was special. Despite being Chloe’s best friend Jenny wants to help Helen too.

As a protagonist, Jenny is good, kind, brave and slightly bland. She’s almost too good and caring to believe while also doing terrible things. She does stupid, reckless things and never sees a consequence and they’re cast as the right thing to do. She does very wrong things but because she did them they were honourable. Everything she does is cast in a noble light even when it’s a shitty thing to do. Tom is much more interesting but the book would have been better off without the romance.

The romance in the book was thrilling and at least almost realistic. Tom and Jenny feel strange together, and they just sort of happen with no real rhyme or reason. The ending had the potential to feel real and good but that was tossed aside. Jenny and Tom meet in a dire situation in the heat of the moment and even then their relationship seems a little ridiculous. Nevermind how rare it is for high schoolers to appreciate those a grade beneath them, Jenny and Tom have never spoken before suddenly being in love.

Despite those two complaints I really did love the story. I was caught up in the mystery of what happened to Chloe and Helen. Wanting to know what secret Jenny knew. Were the two girls connected in some way? Common explores racism, rape culture, slut shaming and the indifference that surrounds them. It’s definitely nice to see these depicted in a Canadian setting when so many like to forget that there are issues in every country.

It was a bit slow-paced for a mystery, and the ending didn’t really satisfy me but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

For Fans Of: Vanishing Girls

The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith

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Genres: Childrens
Publisher: Razorbill Canada
Publication Date: September 5th 2017

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

It’s 1986, Bun is fourteen and has lived almost her entire life in a house filled with junk. When her hoarder mother tells her to “Go on, get out,” she does. With no money and nowhere to go Bun is taken in by a ragtag group of twenty-somethings. Maybe she can finally learn how to be a real person.

As a Canadian blogger I cherish any book set in Canada, and I have plenty of trouble finding ones I enjoy. The Agony of Bun O’Keefe is brilliant. Smith has a unique style, Bun is quirky, interesting and real. The character cast has depth and, despite several not having real names, are incredibly easy to connect with.Smith has an uncanny ability to write the world through an underdeveloped child’s eyes.

Although it’s a short read, and I would have loved to read it much longer, the plot is fascinating. Bun deals with love, loss, numbness all while finding herself. Her coping methods of spouting off interesting facts and quoting a specific documentary about drunks in Montreal are weird but also charming.

Smith deals with heavy subject matter like abuse, AIDs, and prostitution in a clear and clean way. It never delves into anything that would be too inappropriate for younger children. Smith explains the topics but never glamorizes them. Perhaps most importantly the author briefly touches on the epidemic of missing native women in Canada. The ultimate message is about real family and choosing your family. It’s sad and heartwarming all at once.

This is a book that will fascinate teens, and still hold interest for adult readers. Smith has written her young adults like young adults and her children like children, something that many authors don’t quite manage. I wanted more of Bun, Big Eyes, Chris and Cher, and Busker Boy. The relationships between the characters felt real. I miss them already.

The Agony of Bun O’Keefe is a fresh and fascinating story, and I highly recommend it.

For Fans Of: Eleanor & Park

A Chosen War by Carly Eldridge

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: REUTS Publications
Publication Date: April 25th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Maia is struggling, her father is terminally ill and she can’t go to the university she wants. When she realizes she has a weird effect on plants and explodes electronics her problems become a lot bigger. Maia is a replacement for an elemental guardian – but the current guardian won’t go quietly.

This is a vast world, and Eldridge has clearly put a lot of thought into building it. Elemental guardians, mates, the core – there’s a lot to build. Most of it is pretty well covered, but there are still things left a little unexplained. Certain things just happen with very little explanation of how/what it means and the story just plows on. Other times the world-building just comes in a sudden dump that doesn’t have much to do with the plot, usually just the characters talking and explaining. We are told instead of shown how things work all at once and even then I still feel the info was a bit confusing.

The plot was pretty standard. A chosen one, a big bad villain, all the well-meaning friends. It didn’t move as quickly as I would like largely because Eldridge often seems to get distracted from her story with descriptions. Of course, readers want to know what characters look like and what sort of environment they’re in. However, not every outfit for the protagonist needs to be described in detail.

The characters themselves were interesting, even if they lacked much depth. Their mates are their world essentially so we don’t have to see any romance build because it has always been there. Maia herself is bland. She’s good, kind and slightly snarky. Prime chosen one fodder. She almost never struggles with tasks and is the most powerful of all the characters.

The intro felt really intriguing, but after that, it sort of spiralled into a run of the mill fantasy story that I didn’t really feel was special. There was too much information being thrown at readers without much happening. While the plot is a little intriguing it doesn’t move fast enough and the characters are slightly charming but not complex.

The most interesting character was introduced as the novel ended, clearly positioning it for a sequel, but I don’t think this series is quite for me.

For Fans Of: Snow like Ashes

Shattered Sky by Erin Hunter

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Genres: Childrens, Xenofiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: April 11th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“All the cats. All the clans.”

Darktail’s terrifying reign continues and it seems like the clans are helpless. Alderheart is positive that SkyClan is the answer, but how can they help another clan when things look so bad? ShadowClan is torn apart and Violetpaw is still trapped with the rogues, will StarClan tell them how to recover?

Like most books in the series, Shattered Sky is fast-paced, action-packed and full of adventure. Also like most books in the series, there are a few too many characters to handle and s most of them get very little characterization. Fans of the series will adore it, but new readers might find it impossible to ignore the thousands of little flaws longtime readers are accustomed to.

I was really pleased with Darktail actually having motivation. It’s a refreshing change from the previous arc where the villain was bad just because he was evil. Onestar also gets a nice taste of redemption after a few arcs of being the absolute worst. And for once I didn’t actually guess the plot twist!

The battles were exciting, some of the deaths were actually tragic and overall the Hunters did a good job in keeping the ball rolling. Unlike The Apprentice’s Quest this book didn’t feel long and drawn out even though there were travel scenes. Although the background characters, and even the protagonists, are beginning to bleed together a bit personality-wise I really enjoyed the read.

The ending is actually surprising, and leave me wondering where the rest of the arc will go. It feels like the series might actually take a bit of a fresh direction, which is great. The plot has felt a bit stagnant (aside from the prequel arc) for a while and it would be nice to see something new.

I think the rest of this arc has potential, I just hope they don’t flub it.

For Fans Of: Survivors

Those Apart by Padraig O’C

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT+
Publisher: DasWyrd Press
Publication Date: November 16th 2016

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Shaman command the elements, and three have been chosen. A princess wearing the mask of a prince, a lazy dreamer and a brave shark killer are forced to take on new power and begin a new age. The torn wings must be repaired.

This is a book I struggled to finish. It was like work to read, I would find other things to do just to avoid reading it.

The characters feel largely like people the story is happening to. I could not give you a single personality trait outside their genders or sexualities to describe even the protagonists, nevermind the minor characters. The author also uses “wolfspeak” lightly and phrases like “her average-heighted figure shrugged” to try and get appearance across. It’s strange.

That said the book does have excellent diversity. One protagonist is non-gender conforming and another is transgendered. There are several gay or bisexual characters littered throughout. It’s clear the author is conscious of different orientations and wants to include people. This is good. Unfortunately, I’ve sung this song a thousand times and I’ll sing it a thousand more. Lack of diversity can make a good book bad, but diversity doesn’t make a bad book good.

As far as a published book goes there are far too many mistakes. Several are typesetting errors, ignoring some just genuinely odd typesetting choices (who uses tildes like that?). The author misgenders their transgendered character as he but that might be intentional. More obviously they misgender their non-binary character as she and they several times. Sometimes they use eir where ey should have gone. There’s also more than a few typos. This is a fully completed book, the errors should not be this numerous.

The plot is very minimal. People chase and people flee. The world building is very vague and I’m still confused about quite how everything works. If your book needs a Q&A about how certain elements of your world function at the end then you haven’t written it right.

There were some very nice illustrations in the book, and the verses from their scripture were rather interesting. That wasn’t enough to make it a good read. If all you want is diverse genders and sexualities look no further, but in all other aspects this book could have done much better.

For Fans Of: The Untold Tale

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 7th, 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

Mars, Eli and Blake die in a tragic accident involving texting and driver. To their living best friend Carver it doesn’t feel like an accident. Carver is the one who texted them. He struggles with grief while dealing with the rage others feel. He tries to let go by having “goodbye days” where each of his friends has a chance to be remembered.

Zentner has portrayed friendship with excellence. Each boy feels full and well realised, and their relationship to each other feels tangible. The grief shared by Carver and their families will be shared by readers as well. Carver himself is a little cold and sort of dull. There are thousands of aspiring writer boys in young adult fiction (write what you know etc.) and he’s just not as special as any of his friends or their relatives.

Unfortunately, there are some very unnecessary romantic undertones through the whole story. Jesmyn is a well-written character but from the second she meets Carver it’s obvious that romance is the end game. It’s not an interesting addition to the plot and at times overshadows the grief and friendship plotlines. Not every book needs to have a romance and someone close to you dying isn’t a great starting point for a relationship.

The flashbacks and the goodbye days were the highlights of the book with the plot of Carver being held criminally responsible coming in close second. Zentner divulges bits and pieces of each dead boy’s personality in a way that keeps you page turning to find out the next secret. It does feel like Blake was given more time with Eli and Mars having significantly less development, but you still want to know more.

The ending wasn’t particularly strong. I hated all the focus on Adair for her to be tossed aside. The ending should have focused more on Carver moving on (ex. applying to school, laying flowers on graves etc.) and not on a romantic scene between him and Jesmyn.

This was an enjoyable read, I wanted to know what was next. However, I couldn’t get over the romance forced into a story that had absolutely nothing to gain from it. It feels like a story that belongs in another book and adds exceptionally little to Carver’s plight dealing with grief and guilt aside from guilt boners for the girlfriend of a dead friend. It serves only to make Carver less sympathetic and fill pages.

The friendship is amazing, Zentner has a clear grasp of what makes friends and family special. Of how hard it is to know someone. I wish he had focused more on that.

For Fans Of: Playlist for the Dead

Welcome Home by Eric Smith

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Genres: Anthology, Young Adult, Short Stories
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: September 5th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A collection of stories from contemporary to science-fiction all connected by adoptions. Families created through love, the pain of giving up a child, and the struggle of trying to find the right family are all covered.

Like most anthologies there were good stories and bad ones. Several had strong enough plots and characters to be full books. Some were barely holding on for the few pages they got. That said the anthology was strong together. Adoption isn’t a subject I see covered in a lot of young adult novels and with the wealth of different stories here it really is a shame.

While many of the stories focus explicitly on adoption and the bonds it creates, some stories follow other plotlines just centering on adopted characters. An adopted girl who has super powers etc. It’s incredibly diverse including POC characters and LGBT+ characters all while keeping the focus on adoption.

There are treasures in this book, but there are just as many stories that I feel were sort of flops. It’s definitely a worthy pick up for someone who wants to see adopted characters in fiction. I only wish some of these stories would see full length adaptations featuring the adopted characters. All in all, it’s a decent read but the stories are too mixed for it to be amazing.

Here are the stories that really stood out for me: Webbed by Julie Esbaugh, These Broken Stars by C.J. Redwine, Tunneling Through by Shannon Parker, A Lesson in Biology by Sammy Nickalls.

For Fans Of: Spirit Level

Columbine by Dave Cullen

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Genres: True Crime, Non-fiction
Publisher: Twelve
Publication Date: March 3rd 2010

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“The final portrait is often furthest from the truth.”

Considered the definitive book on the tragedy that shocked America. The script other tragedies hoped to follow. Cullen paints a vivid portrait of the events of April 20th, 1999 and the months after. How the even was handled by the law and the press. How the victims grieved and recovered. Most importantly Cullen tries to destroy the various myths and really look at the biggest question: Why?

The most important thing Cullen does is try to set the record straight. Even nearly twenty years after the tragedy many people still believe the myths of the Trenchcoat Mafia or Goth Culture. People paint the killers as tragic victims, or mastermind killers. Neither of which are entirely true. They also tend to lump them together when the killers were vastly different people with incredibly different potential motives.Unfortunately Cullen ties his bows a little too neat on the killers.

The focus on the victims was also a breath of fresh air. Hearing about their lives, their grief, or their recovery is an incredibly important part of the narrative. The focus is all too often entirely on the killers because people are morbidly fascinated, but Cullen depicts the entire story as accurately as he can while casting a wide net.

So why not give such an important book a perfect score? Aside from the simplistic view of Harris and Klebold I do have a few other nitpicks here and there. There are two huge ones: pictures and the structure. Cullen does explain why he doesn’t want to include pictures throughout the book, but I didn’t feel the reasoning was strong enough. A true crime book is always improved by the inclusion of images. It would have been far easier than describing the appearances of all the people involved. Cullen’s descriptions are, while accurate, a little romanticized. Most of them read like a description of a charming male lead instead of a killer or a 14 year old victim.

The structure is understandable, the story was never difficult to follow – but it could have been done better. It jumps all over the timeline from before the incident to victim recovery never entirely finishing a thread before jumping around again. This might be more personal but I would have preferred a story structured around time than general concepts jumping from story to story.

Cullen’s book is considered the most in depth look at Columbine, and I think that this is true when focusing on the victims. However, though he dispels some myths his painting of the killers is simplistic. He doesn’t present the journal entries or testimonies that disagree with his conclusion. He presents the school as angelic, with Harris and Klebold as the only ssues, which cannot be true.

The is an excellent portrait of the victims and the legal side of things, but with the wealth of knowledge available about the shooters his conclusions are disappointing. There is obvious misinformation that he uses to support his conclusions that differs from some journal entries and eyewitness testimony.

However, as far as everything outside the portrait of the killers Cullen has been remarkably in depth. He exposes the law and showcases as many victim’s stories as he can. In those aspects it is excellent.

For Fans Of: A Mother’s Reckoning