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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Publisher: Blue Moon Publishers
Publication Date: June 13th 2017

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

After being caught shoplifting Sam Stonesong moved from Philadelphia to Lancaster. She’s struggling to stay part of the popular crowd and hoping to find a boyfriend. When she meets a mysterious guy in a pizza parlor things start looking up. As Sam works to build a relationship her issues with her mom and her popular friends start to get worse, and Zach is definitely keeping secrets.

Zach is Amish. Which is painfully obvious from the first time he’s introduced because of the title. Amish Guys Don’t Call makes it clear there’s going to be an Amish guy somewhere in this book. If, for half a novel, the protagonist is going to struggle to work something out, then the reader shouldn’t know. It makes the protagonist look dumb and makes the story feel slow because HE’S AMISH OF COURSE HE IS.

The plot is all over the place with several subplots that are never really properly resolved. There are scenes that feel oddly out of place and sort of pointless (Hell House wasn’t really necessary for Zach to reveal he was religious, the Sunday work thing got that across). The book ramps up VERY slowly, climaxes…and then peters out without proper conclusions to any of the plots aside from the weird romance.

Every character is keeping secrets and aside from Zach they’re all pretty awful people. Their secrets are used to explain their actions but it’s still hard to sympathize with awful parents, catty teens and worst of all Sam. Sam is awkward. A phrase which here means has the emotional intelligence of a rock.

She makes “jokes” that are far and beyond cruel and is surprised when they fall flat. She’s the irritating character archtype who’s smart, unique and different (ugh people who enjoy twilight are dumb etc, people who party are lesser.). Her love interest immediately knows she’s “special”. It’s a character that’s been done to death and it’s not interesting.

Zach is the gem of this book. Despite his secret being not so much a secret he’s mildly interesting, a good human being and very likeable. His relationship with Sam is a bit boring, there’s no real reason for them to be attracted to each other at first and the chemistry is weak at best.

The teens also feel very fake. There is some knowledge of slang present but it reads more like “cool-mom trying to slang” than real teens. The “cyber-bullying” was an absolute joke where the worst insults were maybe at a 2nd grade level of savage.

It was a book that tried to do too much. Deal with divorce, drug addition, leaving an oppressive community, dealing with shoplifting addiction, dealing with bullying, dealing with first love, dealing with religion etc. As a consequence it didn’t do anything particularly well. The characters are two-dimensional and the plot is a bit of a mess. It wasn’t a terrible read and had some funny/relatable moments but it definitely doesn’t elicit high praise from me.

For Fans Of: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 4th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“You are wanted.”

Libby Strout was America’s Fattest Teen. Jack Masselin suffers from a rare neurological disorder that keeps him from recognizing faces. When their worlds collide it’s not in a good way. They both end up in counselling, where they start to see each other a little differently.

This is not All the Bright Places. It will not shake your world and shatter your heart. What Holding Up the Universe IS is a delightfully fluffy read with both a fantastically fat protagonist and a protagonist from an interracial family who has a disability.

Libby is strong, and readers will immediately want to root for her. She’s full of life, positivity and pop culture references. All geeks know there are few things as exciting as a fictional character sharing your fandom. Jack’s condition is interesting but as a character he’s not incredibly likeable – and let’s face it because this comparison was inevitable – he’s no Finch.

Niven’s writing style is strong and just as easy to read as her previous young adult novel. Something about her work just flows and the two separate POVs have very distinct voices. That said there are a lot of cliches (enter Bitchy Popular Girl, Kind Religious Girl, etc.) and there’s also a touch of love curing something that love shouldn’t reasonably cure.

This is a romance, plain and simple. Libby’s weight issues and Jack’s cognitive disorder are side stories. In fack Jack’s prosopagnosia is almost his only character trait aside from being a jerk, but maybe I still liked him a little. The characters here were a little too dependent on their one defining feature (which I may have been blind to in All the Bright Places) but Niven’s writing makes in enjoyable.

This isn’t a groundbreaking book, but it’s fun and fast. This is a book full of good feelings and happiness. It’s not incredibly deep despite its social commentary, but it’s an enjoyable read and sometimes that’s all we really want.

For Fans Of: Dumplin

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: Tor
Publication Date: January 5th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“If you wanted to, Safiya, you could bend and shape the world.”

Safiya and Iseult always stick together, but when a heist goes all wrong they end up with a Bloodwitch on their trail. To make matters worse Safiya is a pawn in her Uncle’s plans while Iseult has to deal with being a failure at her witchery. Safiya being a Truthwitch means that everyone is out to get her. The girls struggle to stick together as the tides of war try to tear them apart.

Dennard has created an incredibly complex world for her story, but it’s perhaps a little too confusing. A listing off all the different witch specializations is never provided and readers are just tossed into a complicated political situation in a world with confusing rules. Over-explaining is a huge issue in fantasy, but under-explaining can be just as deadly to a novel. The world exists, but the world-building is lackluster. Dennard tosses around names like readers should already know them and it’s hard to get involved in a novel when you’re struggling to understand what anything means.

The core of the story is a strong friendship between Iseult and Safiya, and I wish we had seen more of it. The book keeps a constant moving pace (despite not much happening) and their development suffers for it. I know more about Iseult’s relationship with her mother and tribe than about her and Safiya.

The romance was entirely unnecessary and took up pages that could have been used to better explain the world or better develop the characters. A book with a plot so bland (here it is: protagonists run away for 500 pages) didn’t need romance taking up extra space and certainly not one as strange and forced as the one between Safi and Merik.

There’s a lot of action in this book, intense fight scenes and big battles but nothing really happens. A lot of the battles are essentially pointless and serve no purpose to the plot or characters. There are countless of these scenes and while they may be exciting to some it felt like a waste of page for me.

There is so much potential in Dennard’s world that it hurts. There are so many variations of witches (most of which we know nothing about) and a rich background and culture that is never explored. There should have been a heavier focus on world building instead of fights and flights of fancy. We didn’t need Merik’s doe-eyes. We didn’t need a battle with seafoxes.

Such a beautiful world, but we’re too busy in the boring bits to REALLY explore it.

For Fans Of: And I Darken

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books (UK)
Publication Date: February 25th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“But people we love come and go, Caddy. That doesn’t mean we loved them any less at the time.”

Caddy has always been the nice girl. The problem with nice is that it’s dull. Caddy is ready to have a significant life event, or a boyfriend or at least to lose her virginity. When Suzanne moves into town, beautiful and mysterious, Caddy doesn’t really like her. Has her relationship between Caddy’s best friend Rosie and Suzanne grows, Caddy becomes jealous. Over time their dynamic shifts and it’s clear that Caddy isn’t going to get quite the year she wanted.

The author’s note calls this book “a love story without romance”, and I truly think those are the best words for it. It’s so rare to see a story purely about friendship without some sort of romantic subplot shoving it’s way in.It’s refreshing to see a book focused entirely on the ups and downs between three girls in a story where the boys are just problems to overcome and barely matter.

This is a story about how trauma lingers. That even after escaping abuse a person is changed. That things aren’t just going to be better now that they aren’t suffering like before. People carry their battles with them, and it’s not as easy to fix as walking away. Beautiful Broken Things explores the lasting effects of trauma not only on the victim but on all those around them. On people who want to help but maybe aren’t doing the best things. On people who are trying so hard and can’t handle the responsibility.

Trauma isn’t simple or beautiful and despite the title Beautiful Broken Things makes this clear. Trauma is messy and painful for everyone. It doesn’t end in a clean bow where the victim rides off into the sunset surrounded by friends. There’s therapy, and lasting issues and relapses.

The story is beautiful and important and bittersweet. Unfortunately I didn’t love any of the characters. In fact I sort of hated most of the adults and disliked Caddy and Rosie quite a bit. The issues with some of the adults are never dealt with, leaving them to be neglectful or just poor parents without ever looking deeper and Caddy is a brat. She means well but there’s nothing sympathetic about a rich girl with a good family who’s sad because nothing “exciting’ (read: terrible) has happened to her.

That said reading about her relationship with Suzanne and Rosie is fascinating. Seeing how mental illness can truthfully affect relationships without the usualy romanticism present in young adult literature is a treasure. It acknowledges that mental illness CAN be difficult to deal with. Despite how Caddy romanticizes them it’s clear by the end of the novel that things like this can break relationships and damage people – but with proper help things can be repaired.

A beautiful novel about female friendship, mental illness, difficult decisions and the journey towards healing after trauma.

For Fans Of: Asking For It

Jonesy Volume 1 by Sam Humphries

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Genres: Graphic Novel, Childrens
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Publication Date: September 28th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Jonesy is a typical teen with a weird power: she can make people fall in love with anything. Except herself. Jonesy is forced to work towards her secret crush the old-fashioned way while creating all sort of mayhem and mischief with her super special powers.

For those who loved Lumberjanes there is a very similar style of humour present in Jonesy. However the emotional bonds, character development and overall plot is much weaker. Jonesy is light fluff with very little real plot. It’s very light fare and doesn’t have much going on below the surface. Which can be good for people who just want something funny if Jonesy is your sort of humour.

One of the things that really brings the score down is the protagonist. Jonesy is a selfish jerk and not one that is easily loved. Jonesy uses her powers to caue problems for other people and only occasionally shows a glimpse of humanity to avoid hurting her friends. Characters can be bad and selfish whiile still being likeable but at best Jonesy is annoying. She’s very “not-like-other-girls” in her rejection of everything everyone else likes and just generally irritating.

There is a lot of diversity, from different ethnicities to sexualities without overtly making those characters seem different. A crush on a girl is talked about as though it’s no different from a crush on a boy and that is important – but it doesn’t make the plot or characters more interesting.

There are people who will enjoy this book, but it’s not something I’ll be picking up in the future.

For Fans Of: Lumberjanes

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: May 3rd 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“No one was my master— but I might be master of everything, if I wished. If I dared.”

Amarantha is dead and Feyre survived. But she is broken beyond repair. Tamlin keeps her cooped up and her life is nothing but planning her wedding. She should be happy, but there’s nothing but emptiness inside. Her bargain with Rhysand still stands and she could be snatched away at any moment. There is something darker brewing, something worse. Feyre will have to decide her fate, and prepare for a war.

There are parts of this book which are almost unbearably slow. Focusing on Feyre just doing everyday things and thinking thoughts that could have been left implied without several paragraphs of description – but the exciting parts of the book are like wildfire.

We get to see more of the Faerie realm, and more of the fae who inhabit it. There’s a strong and interesting cast of characters and several layers of devious planning. While the characters are all a little edgy backstory wise their personalities are mostly very fun to read.

The plot of this book focused heavily on Feyre finding herself again but there’s a healthy dose of danger and action. Feyre has brand new powers and we get to learn about the powers faes other than Tamlin posses. There’s also a spot on depiction of abuse as something that might seem like it had loving intentions but still being horrible.

I can’t exactly put my finger on why I liked this book so much (probably Rhysand), because I can see a lot that should be undesirable about it. Maas’s characters feel so familiar to her Throne of Glass characters, and though the world is new there are so many parallels that it would be easy to imagine them as one in the same. The writing can make things slow and the pairing all the straight couples up because no one is single is a little tiring – but I loved it. I enjoyed every second of reading it.

With a little more focus on action or character and a little less focus on long descriptions and meandering thoughts this book could have been five stars. I can easily see why it would be rated lower but love is blind and all that.

For Fans Of: Six of Crows

We’ll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean

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Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 6th 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Grief is a powerful thing, and sometimes, if it’s ignored, we can become lost in it.”

Currently in a mental hospital, Alice is still devastated by her boyfriends murder. He died in a fire that injured her as well, a fire set by her twin sister Celia. As Alice works towards recovery she meets Chase – another patient with dark secrets. He promises to help her.

Told in the present with flashbacks through Alice’s journals We’ll Never Be Apartis a fast-paced and compelling thriller. One mystery after another as the reader is forced to unravel Alice’s past through her writings and learn that things aren’t always as they seem.

Chase and Alice are both lovable characters, but a little flatter than I would like. Chase is loving, supportive and willing to do anything for Alice because love at first sight. Alice is much more interesting and seeing the world through her eyes, always second-guessing, wondering when her sister will come for her, wondering about what she and Jason could have been or who Jason actually was is fascinating.

It’s hard to say a lot without spoiling the book’s twist (though I saw it coming miles away) but it was definitely an exciting read that didn’t overstay it’s welcome. The twist should have had some better and more concrete foreshadowing, but that might have made the mystery painfully obvious.

It’s a fun read but leaves too much unexplored. I think for the book to truly be enjoyed the twist needs to shock you but it’s been used in far too many young adult novels for me not to guess it. Knowing he twist really kept me from fully appreciating all the build-up the book was doing – but if you can’t figure it out you’re almost guaranteed to love it!

I didn’t dislike this book, in fact, I found myself unable to put it down but I wish it had been a little more original or not relied so heavily on the “shocking” reveal.

For Fans Of: Unnatural Deeds

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books
Publication Date: September 27th 2016

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Suffering is like anything else. Live with it long enough, you learn to like the taste.”

After completing the most complex heist in history Kaz and his gang are double crossed. With his spider kidnapped and out thirty million kruge he has to find a way to change the game. New enemies keep appearing and the stakes are higher than ever. Will a bunch of criminals be able to weather the storm?

Bardugo has created a fantastic cast of characters with dubious morals that leads to a far more exciting story than good guy wins again. Using the groundwork set up in her original trilogy the world is already well-developed and complex, but Ketterdam is a creature all it’s own. It’s nice to see a small peace of world come so vibrantly to life.

Crooked Kingdom is slightly more of slow boil than it’s predecessor, one long con working up to a grand finale but all the action is still there. Each scheme is more interesting than the last and it is immensely satisfying to watch things unfold in terror before figuring out Kaz has everything in control.

Despite the objective brilliance of her world and plot, Bardugo’s characters outshine everything. The glimpses into their past are both intriguing and incredibly important for understanding why they are who they are. The dialogue is funny, deep and natural. Kaz is a monster, but one that readers will root for with all their hearts despite his awful deeds. Bardugo’s cast is diverse, interesting and all equally well-developed with their own point of view chapters.

I think, most of all, Bardugo’s portrayal of damaged but flourishing people is what really makes this book a masterpiece. A cripple with awful PTSD. A multiple rape survivor. Two addicts struggling to stay clean. A person raised in hate learning to be better than before. A boy who can’t read struggling with self-image. Their various issues are made clear – but they are not their sickness. Bardugo has made them strong, funny, and real. They are not caricatures to be pitied.

Funny, heartbreaking, exciting and well written. Bardugo has hit the nail on the head again and I cannot remember the last time I devoured a story that tasted so sweet.

For Fans Of: The Name of the Wind

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Genres: Poetry
Publisher: Createspace
Publication Date: November 4th 2014

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“The thing about writing is I can’t tell if it’s healing or destroying.”

Kaur’s poetry is immensely personal and powerful – but I just didn’t connect with it the way I’d hoped to. A modern poetry collection that focuses on abuse, love, loss and feminism it’s easy to see why milk and honey rose to popularity so quickly, but it’s simply not for everyone.

Ultimately I cannot truly judge something that is so personal to Kaur. Her emotions and past are laid bare on these pages but I see so little of myself here that I could not feel anything for most of the poems. I do love poetry and I have fell deeply in love with books of a similar style – just not this one.

I also felt a few of the themes were a bit repetitive. There were several poems about women having body hair, and though I am a strong supporter of hairy legs I don’t know if I am three plus poems emotional about it.

Kaur’s drawings are unique and interesting, some of the poems did connect with me but ultimately I didn’t really care for the collection. It felt like there was too little story and too much self-praise. The poems themselves aren’t particularly exceptional and there were several that were just large text blocks that hurt to read.

All in all many of the poems read like very pretty quotes to reblog or pin or place on a wall but don’t quite turn into nice poems.

I desperately searched for love in these pages, and came out empty handed and broken hearted.

For Fans Of: the princess saves herself in this one

Big Mushy Happy Lump by Sarah Andersen

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Genres: Comics, Humour
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Publication Date: March 7th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

A collection of Andersen’s popular short comics as well as some illustrated personal essays that showcase an awkward twenty-something with anxiety navigating life, relationships and sweaters.

As with the previous collection most millennials will find themselves in Andersen’s work. The art style is simple and effectively conveys humour, and a realistic portrayal of the character. The leg hair is a nice and very relatable touch.

Unlike Adulthood is a Myth, Big Mushy Happy Lump does have three longer pieces that combine comics and text to tell a story. One is humorous about the author’s habit of stealing sweaters while another is, while still funny, slightly more serious covering depression, anxiety and self-loathing.

Andersen draws comics that showcase little situations, everyday things where many people probably feel very isolated. People often think that they’re the only person who feels a certain way and I believe that Andersen has created a good dozen comics that will make people realize they are not alone.

Silly and fun, but will leave plenty of readers feeling immensely understood and connected.

For Fans Of: Hyperbole and a Half