Rebel Bully Geek Pariah by Erin Jade Lange

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: February 16th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“All of us, or none of us.”

There is no reason these four teens should ever be together. Andi, York, Boston and Sam belong together like dogs and vacuum cleaners – but when an accidental crime forces to band together they become closer than any friends they had before. They have to sort this whole mess out, and while they do they discover that none of them are exactly what they seem.

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah is a fast-paced thrill ride from start to finish. The opening barely stalls a second before leaping into the exciting action-packed plotline. This is a book that is incredibly easy to tear through in one sitting. The timeline is a little less than twenty-four hours so all the events happen incredibly fast and nothing ever feels dragged out.

Despite the short timeline the characters get some fairly decent fleshing out with the exception of Boston. York, Andi and Sam all get complex backstories with at least one terrible tragedy each (which is a little ridiculous but makes for riveting reading). As the plot twists and turns, and as circumstances change we still manage to learn about and connect with this ragtag group of teens.

Sam’s relationship with her four-years-sober druggie mother is an interesting touch. The exploration of their relationship through Sam’s memories and the flash-forewards of Sam telling her the story are fascinating. The sort of love-hate relationship is what drives the heart of Sam’s character and her willingness to do almost anything for a certain fiddle.

Unfortunately, the ending was a bit of a disappointment. It feels rushed, and it lacks the weight that the rest of the novel had and seemed to be building up to. It feels like a story suddenly cut off when there could have been more. The character arcs in the last few pages are messy and don’t make a lot of sense.

The book is a little over-dramatic, and the smidgeon of romance included was VERY unnecessary but this book is above all thrilling. There’s not a single slow moment. If it’s not a car chase then it’s diving into a character’s painful past.The characters make incredibly questionable decisions but the book never stops being fun.

For Fans Of: This is Where it Ends

Secrets of a Reluctant Princess by Caset Griffin

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Publication Date: March 7th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Adrianna Bottom was always the butt of everyone’s jokes in Seattle. With her geeky personality and a dad who runs a bathroom business she never stood a chance. L.A. is a chance to reinvent herself, as well as star in a reality TV show. As Adrianna focuses on being popular she realizes she might be losing her only chance at a boy she actually likes. Worse, she might be losing herself.

Live action role-playing is an interesting twist in the young adult romance category. Books involving this hobby are pretty rare – and so it’s interesting to see it represented. However, Secrets of a Reluctant Princess isn’t breaking any other new ground. The romance at first interaction is dull. The trail of stupid misunderstandings is tired. There’s nothing worse than watching characters whine about something that could be solved with a simple conversation. Worst of all, the popular kids vs. “geeks” is outdated.

The idea that people who like geeky things are outcasts is tired. Hollywood is sustained by superheroes now, no one will tease you because you like Wonder Woman. Being a “geek” is not longer taboo. Jocks and prissy popular girls are hilarious stereotypes that rarely exist. Four-fifths of the popular crowd have no personality other than dumb or mean and even the main girl is just “friendly”. Popular kids have interests too.

There was also perhaps too much time spent defining the LARPing sessions rather than focusing on the relationship between Adrianna, her friends, her parents and her crush. The reality show was a good plot on its own. LARPing was a good plot on its own. Together they feel like too much, like the book didn’t know what it wanted to be.

The ending is also particularly unsatisfying. Sexual harassment is excused as a “mistake” (a repeated aggressively) mistake by a dumb teen. Parents using their child for fame and exposure who get upset when their child poorly affects their business were “well-meaning”. A shady reality show producer (who shows a seventeen-year old’s underwear on television) is mildly punished and let go.

For all it’s faults, it’s still a fun read if you don’t take it too seriously. There are several major occurrences of second-hand embarrassment, and you’ll be frustrated by dozens of misunderstandings but it’s cute. The main guy is handsome and kind, maybe a little too perfect but lovable. Adrianna isn’t the brightest bulb but she’s sort of relatable.

If you like mildly geeky things and romance this book will definitely satisfy, if not impress you.

For Fans Of: The Only Thing Worse than Me is You

 

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette

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Genres: Non-fiction, Economics
Publisher: Portfolio
Publication Date: March 3rd 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“You can make a lot of money with a good cat.” -Ty Warner”

Beanie Babies took the world by storm briefly in the late 90s. Everyone over a certain age remembers stories about people making enough money to buy cars and houses by selling rare stuffed toys. Bissonnette chronicles the rise and fall of the craze, examines the life of the man behind it and interviews the consumers who were swooped up in it.

The book is both fascinating and sad. The Beanie Baby craze is still a bit of a mystery today but there’s no question that Ty produced quality and affordable toys – and still does. The story of the founder’s life in unfortunately rather tragic. Bissonnette covers two of his relationships – both which ended poorly. His neglected childhood, bad relations with everyone around him and his insane passion for his product. Ty Warner is successful, even after the bubble popped, but if this book is to be believed he is far from happy.

The books flow is…a little strange. It tries to maintain chronological sense but jumps around a little too much. The beginning is slow and the book could do with a little more focus on the Beanie Baby side of things as opposed to Ty Warner’s personal life. It is fascinating but it seems to take up a bit too much of the novel. The photos were also all in the back of the book rather than placed where relevant and there were too few for such a visual toy. There is also a lot of overlap and repetition.

Despite this, it is an easy read for economic beginners and extremely informative. Bissonnette explains every term and idea he brings up very well. Someone with no prior knowledge of plush or economics will have no trouble understanding and following the story.

The book could have done with some bits being cut and a more sensible organization – but all and all it’s an excellent coverage of the few strange years where Beanie Babies were a phenomenon.

For Fans Of:  Mouse Tales

After Me by Joyce Scarbrough

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Buzz Books USA
Publication Date: August 4th 2014

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

When Jada dies she’s shocked to find out that the afterlife isn’t a myth. Even more surprised to find out that she’s in debt and has to return to earth to hunt down her killer as payment. While she’s looking for the scum that killed her Jada also has a chance to discover friendship and true love, something she’d have never dreamed about before her untimely death.

The plot for this book sounds thrilling, but less than 30% of the book actually focuses on hunting down perverts. Most of it is just your standard young adult romance. There’s some punishment but mostly our hero just lucks out and happens upon them rather than actually focusing on her task.

The biggest bone I have to pick is with the character of Jada/Gwen. She’s insufferable. She’s better than prissy girly girls, better than nerds and just all around “special” and “different”. This isn’t helped by the fact that she’s given super powers by heaven some of which are just entirely useless to her mission. Speedreading, excellent knowledge of chemistry – she doesn’t need these for any real reason in the plot they just make her look cool. If there is one trope I LOATHE it’s the “not like other girls” girl who’s just a snarky jerk to everyone outside her special friend group. Oh and let’s not forget she’s super-duper attractive.

That being said her friend group and foster family are lovely, too lovely. Everyone is perfect, and innocent and kid. Lew is an absolute dreamboat. Handsome, strong, smart and wealthy? He doesn’t have any real flaws. Nor do any of the other people Gwen likes. The villain is comical. His whole life revolves around rape and weird kinks and he thinks of literally nothing but murder and rape. It’s far too black and white. Not to mention the other rapists who are all practically oozing evil so profusely that anyone who didn’t look at them once and know they were sex offenders would have to be an idiot.

Rapists are bad. Readers know that, but it doesn’t give you an excuse to not at least try and write a complex character and society around them. Predators are seen as clearly evil, not people girls might trust before something happens which is more often the case. The way the book sets up rapists and the society around them feels like a bad after-school special rather than real life.

As well, and for now I am in the minority, the ending was a joke. The book built up to the ending just to exclaim “JUST KIDDING” and end on an entirely disappointing note. It wasn’t a strong writing choice. It took a book which at the very least could have been a powerful bittersweet ending and turned it into something that’s boring at best.

The premise could have been great, and some of the characters and story lines are salvageable (looking at you Lew and Matt) but overall it feels like a cheap coat of paint over a standard romance with cardboard cutout villains.

For Fans Of: The Lovely Bones

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Del Ray
Publication Date: May 19th 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Magic was singing in me, through me; I felt the murmur of his power singing back that same song.”

Every ten years The Dragon takes a girl from the valley. Everyone knows that he will take Kasia. Agnieszka doesn’t want to lose her best friend, she prepares for years knowing that the loss will happen. The people have to give up a girl so that The Dragon will protect them from the evil wood. But when The Dragon comes it turns out he doesn’t want Kasia after all…

It’s very rare that standalone fantasies exist, and perhaps there is a reason for that. It’s very limiting to build a world and characters in such a short span of time but that is something the book succeeds at. The fault here is the plot, the characters and perhaps the writing style itself.

Novik manages to craft a complex world, with a magic system and politics in a little over four-hundred pages. Something it takes many writers several books to do. There’s a wide variety of characters but they all sort of feel the same. People in the villages are all interchangeable. Agnieszka’s main trait is being impressively powerful and dirty. The Dragon is a jerk. Kasia is wooden and one-note. Characters all have a single motivation and build their bland personalities around that.

There are some faults of course. I went in expecting to wholly love every inch of this book, so maybe I set myself up for disappointment. I didn’t like the romance. It felt out of place, underdeveloped and unnecessary. Not every book needs a romantic thread and this one certainly didn’t. The age gap is weird, their relationship is weird – it just feels like the book would have been better off without it.

The plot does feel a little dragged out but, for the most part, it’s fast paced and interesting. There’s very little focus on the political side of Novik’s world which I feel was a misstep but the main points still get across. The ending was…strange and left some questions unanswered but it was satisfying in a way. It was never properly foreshadowed so it felt pulled from thin air. It also robbed the Wood of being a unique villain to a pretty standard fairy tale one.

It is difficult for me to put my finger on exactly where this book went wrong, why exactly it isn’t the five-star dreamboat I’d hoped it would be. It felt sort of bland. The main character is stronger than anyone ever in history and learns special secrets and it just feels unfair. Deaths are common in this book, but not a single character we care for dies. It’s a safe, standard fantasy in the end. Novik built a wonderful world – but it’s not that different from many others.

I wanted to love this book, but it felt tedious to read and aside from the “shocking” ending it was all standard fair.

For Fans Of: The Bone Witch

If I Stay by Gayle Foreman

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Genres: Young Adults, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 6th 2010

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I realize now that dying is easy. Living is hard.”

Mia is a cellist from a family of rock and roll lovers. Even her boyfriend is in a rock band, but despite their difference in musical preference Mia couldn’t love the people around her more. When she experiences a fatal car crash that robs her of her immediate family Mia has to make a choice. She has to decide if she wants to stay after so much has been lost.

The opening scene is one of the best-written accidents I have every read and while it was graphic it was also profoundly tragic despite the reader not having gotten to know the characters yet.

The contrast of present day while Mia decides to live or not and flashbacks of her life is interesting. It allows the reader to get to know the characters throughout the book while also immediately dealing with the tragedy. This lets the book stay fast paced with a sense of urgency while still developing Mia’s relationship with her family and her boyfriend.

I did feel the romance aspect was a little weak. Mia and Adam don’t really feel terribly in love to me and I hate that after about a year of dating he’s more moving to her than her family or her best friend. The story would have been much more powerful if she’d been moved by a family member or one of her mother’s friends who helped raise her. Romantic love is important but it shouldn’t be the defining thing in your life when it’s only been around for such a short time. There was some effort to make Mia seem like she considered everything but the ending could have been done a lot better.

The characters were also all a little too perfect. I can’t think of a single flaw any of them had. The thing about If I Stay is that it’s short. It ends before you can get tired of the perfect characters who feel a little less than real. It ends before the romance gets too ridiculous. It focuses on less than twenty-four hours of time and the memories Mia has of her life and then it ends.

It didn’t make me cry, but books rarely do. If I Stay knew what it was and didn’t overstay its welcome. It ended right where it should have and told a story with an interesting concept in between.

For Fans Of: Before I Fall

Lumberjanes Vol. 3 by Noelle Stevenson

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Genres: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, LGBT+
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Publication Date: April 5th 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Fighting monsters is the easy part. Back home is where the really scary stuff is.”

It’s free day at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types. Mal and Molly try to go on a peaceful picnic which turns into a terrifying adventure. Meanwhile, April, Jo and Ripley try to earn some of the more mundane badges that the camp has to offer.

Unlike volume 2, volume three actually seems to fit together. It keeps the same scrapbook style but focuses heavily on one plotline (aside from the first comic which seems to be filler). We get a full story about Mal and Molly in an alternate dimension intercut with the other girls’ hijinks back at camp. It’s a much more satisfying collection with a clear plot arc. Plot is often an issue for volumes as they’re just a collection of comics but this one flows quite nicely.

Unfortunately the art has continued to go downhill. Keep in mind art is very subjective so many may enjoy the new style but I personally found it offputting. While it is much cleaner than some of the previous issues the girls all have pretty similar faces and bodies now and it just wasn’t an attractive style for me. It’s enough to make me consider not picking up the next volume.

Ripley is another downhill slope. She’s gotten incredibly tiresome. Many cartoons and kids media have the wacky fifth wheel character who’s random and loves eating – it’s a whole archetype. it’s never been an interesting or good archetype though. There is good character development and plot going on around Ripley and she just feels like an annoying joke character added for some “wacky” humour.

On the bright side Mal and Molly really have some great relationship development here. We’ve seen plenty of chaste kisses (though not one on the lips yet) and it’s so CUTE. It’s wonderful to see a lesbian relationship being portrayed in media for children with the same innocence that heterosexual relationships are portrayed with. The highlight of this whole volume.

Overall Lumberjanes is still an excellent read for children. It’s wholesome, informative, has great role models, good humour and fun adventures. But it’s losing my interest as an adult reader – and although it obviously was not intended for me the best entertainment can be enjoyed by all ages. It’s definitely something I would get for any young girl but I might hesitate when recommending to older friends.

For Fans Of: Gravity Falls

 

The Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler

Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: April 4th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Cyndy Etler isn’t a model child, but she’s certainly not a druggie or a slut or anyone who should have ended up at Straight Inc. To the outside world Straight Inc. appeared as a drug rehabilitation centre for teens, but inside it was frighteningly more cult-like. In her cutting and honest memoir Etler shows us inside Straight Inc. and how it affected those unlucky enough to be inside.

Etler shares her story with shocking honesty and all the dirty details. What we end up with is a book that is difficult to read when you remember that it’s all true. It is difficult to believe that anyone lived the way that these teens were forced to during their time at Straight Inc.

As always, it is difficult to review a memoir of someone’s life as the plot and characters are all drawn from reality. Nevertheless, The Dead Inside proves to be a chilling and eye-opening tale of a child from a damaged family being forced into the worst circumstances and brainwashed. The slow descent into believing that Straight Inc. is a positive experience is captured expertly by Etler. It’s heartwrenching to watch her fighting spirit die and to see her slowly start to believe that she is the one who has done something wrong.

I do feel that the story was cut a little short. The sequel will cover Etler’s reintegration into society but it might have been nice to hear a bit more about that in this novel as we already know that Etler’s story ends with her thriving above and beyond any expectations. I also believe that this memoir would have benefit from a little more of Etler’s adult voice interjecting. It is fascinating and important to hear teenage Etler’s voice but the memoir seems to lack a lot of the women that Etler is now and I would have liked very much to hear more of her opinion.

The Dead Inside is not the most exciting or well-rounded novel to deal with this topic because it’s a true tale. But it is precisely because this is a real story that it is one of the most important. Anyone looking to work with teens, particularly troubled teens, should read this book. Etler’s insight into the psyche of a teen who wants to be good is absolutely invaluable.

For Fans Of: Tricks

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

Genres: Screenplay, Fantasy
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: November 18th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“See, they’re currently in alien terrain, surrounded by millions of the most vicious creatures on the planet. Humans.”

Newt Scamander doesn’t intend to stay in New York for long but when a series of events leads to his case being opened and the magical creatures inside escaping an adventure ensues. Newt must avoid being captured by MACUSA (the American ministry) while trying to rescue his creatures from the dangerous New York City streets in 1926.

Why bother reading a screenplay when you can see the movie? An often asked question, but I submit that the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay is absolutely worth reading.

While the movie is definitely more exciting, I felt a deeper connection with the characters through the screenplay. The occasional thought or emotional direction included makes the characters feel real. There is also the benefit of being able to reimagine characters whose actors you didn’t particularly like while keeping those you adored.

Furthermore, the book’s design is stunning. The art from the cover is present inside the book as well. Whimsical drawings of magical beasts and delicate designs cover to cover. It isn’t often you see a book this beautiful put together when the images serve no purpose to the story but it is absolutely stunning. Even if reading the screenplay is superfluous to you this book is a necessary to own beauty.

It’s funny, fresh and a sort of grown-up version of the magic we all feel from the Harry Potter series if very much present. Of course this isn’t the story’s best form, it was always intended for the big screen. There are a few discrepancies about magic and the way it’s used that don’t seem to line up with the original canon but overall it’s a whimsical story with a charming and lovable new protagonist for the audience to root for.

At least for Potter fans this book is a must-have to complete your collection. Others might be better off seeing it in theatres and deciding just how much they love the story before deciding to invest in the screenplay.

For Fans Of: Iron Cast

 

Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Mystery
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: June 1st 2017

3  OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Trapped inside her house with agoraphobia, Tessa Hart doesn’t have much to do all day other than tweet. When she starts the #EricThornObsessed hashtag she has no idea how it will change her life. Eric Thorn is at the top of the charts, but he’s grown hateful and even fearful of his fans after a fellow popstar’s murder. When he’s commanded to follow one of them he does – from a secret second account @EricThornSucks. As Eric and Tessa continue to interact they start to form a relationship but when Eric arranges them to meet IRL he has no idea what’s about to happen.

Following the trends of many other social media books Follow Me Back is told through tweets, DMs and from two points of view. We get to know about both Eric and Tessa and watch the romance grow from both sides. Unfortunately, this works well for Eric but leaves Tessa feeling sort of hollow. Her anxiety is her only real personality trait and too many secrets are kept from the reader for too long for anyone to be attached to her. It also makes the ending rather confusing, there’s a difference between an unreliable narrator and just suddenly becoming out of character.

The book on a whole is very standard feeling. The romance is fluffy and has ups and downs but never anything spectacular. One antagonist is left with their story relatively unfinished while the other seems shoved in and dealt with too quickly. The ending really tips the book into a new territory. Spoiling the twist would be a terrible crime but the last few pages really change the game and leave the doors open for a sequel.

The reason this book is stuck at three stars is because it didn’t know what it wanted to be. It focused intermittently on both romance and the mystery/thriller elements and suffered for it. The romance feels cookie cutter while the mystery/thriller portion feels rushed and not well foreshadowed or incorporated into the other sections of the book. There are a few extra chapters on wattpad that apparently help but they are not in the book so my review will not consider them.

It’s an easy read that’s sure to suck you in, but in the end it’s nothing special. The whole story told from just Eric’s point of view might have been better as it would let Tessa keep her secrets and let us further connect with the better-written character. The ending was a shock, but because of Tessa’s writing and the neglect of foreshadowing it feels cheap rather than satisfying.

I enjoyed Follow Me Back and I read it quickly, but it’s definitely more of one-night stand than a soulmate.

For Fans of: Gena/Finn