Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: May 24th 2011

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Because ‘You’re perfect just the way you are,’ is what your guidance counsellor says. And she’s an alcoholic.”

A plane full of beauty pageant contestants crash lands on a deserted island. The girls must find a way to survive while keeping up their pageant training for when they are rescued. After all, there can only be one Miss Teen Dream!

The beginning of this novel is a fascinating satire, full of misogynistic tropes, fake brands, fake ads, and fun fact sheets about the girls. The Corporation informs the reader about the world the novel is set in, about what a good girl is like and what products they have to use to stay desirable. It’s a set-up for a very interesting story that parodies our world – but it loses itself along the way.

There was a cheesy action movie subplot that was more than the book needed. At some point, the book stops being about girls finding themselves, humour and feminism and turns into a very bad action movie. The book becomes TOO ridiculous in its attempts to be silly satire it just becomes over-the-top and more boring because of it. Evil lairs, ridiculous dictators and a ship full of hot boys all clash together in a huge mess.

The ending is a huge mess of an action scene, several convenient coincidences and just unsatisfying. The book tells the girl’s futures…which don’t seem much changed after a harrowing experience for the most part and bam happy ending even though the world isn’t changed for the better.

That’s not to say I disliked the book entirely. The premise is strong, and it does feature some good representation.Bray did make her main cast a little too large for her to handle, and the main ones were a fairly stereotypical (gun-loving Texan, dumb blondes etc.) but the thought was there. The fault is that this book just has no idea what it is or where it was going. It has elements of several potentially successful stories and tries to shove them all down the reader’s throat at once.

The highlights of this book are the “commercial breaks” and footnotes that build the world these girls live in. Period Pets, Lady Stache Off and other fun brands pepper the pages with good humour and great satire. I only wish these elements had been better explored instead devolving into a cheesy spy novel.

For Fans Of: Only Ever Yours

Who Killed Christopher Goodman by Allan Wolf

Genres: Young Adult
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: March 14th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that Christopher Goodman is kind. Who would ever want to hurt him? The events leading up to his murder leave everyone in town feeling at least a little guilty. Told through vignettes and different points of view the story explores the lives Christopher was involved in and the moment when he was ripped out of them.

This book is not so much about a crime or the murder, but about the events leading up to it. About how everyone deals with guilt and grief and imagines if things had only gone slightly differently. However, even in that aspect, it uses too many of its pages on the build-up and not enough on the effect.

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? is too short to really accomplish what it sets out to. The six different points of view are too many for so few pages and none of the characters receive proper development. It’s hard to get attached to so many characters in so few pages, and with a book like this one attachment to the characters is paramount.

The characters are reduced to a few tropes. Pretty girl who is shy. Farm girl who is bold. Classic coming of age boy character who is awkward. Weird kid. Redneck. Troublemaker. The attempts to give them depth are there but they ultimately feel forced and we’re left with cast of characters that we’re not really invested in.

I don’t feel there is a sense of mystery leading up to Christopher’s death – it’s clear from the opening who killed him. The focus is more on how they all feel as though they killed Christopher in a million small ways. How maybe if they had said this or done that he would be alive.

Inspired by a true crime the story is still mostly fictitious, it had a strong concept and the theme could be powerful but with too many characters for its page count, it falls a little flat.

For Fans of: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

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

 

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

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

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

Half Bad by Sally Green

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: March 27th 2014

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“But the more store you set in visions the more they have a habit of coming true.”

Nathan lives his life in a cage. As the son of a white and black witch, he is considered an abomination. He needs to find his father if he is to receive his gift and survive his seventeenth birthday. With white witches hunting him and no one to trust, Nathan has to search for help in darker places.

Half Bad takes witches and magic from whimsical into an edgy and gritty setting. There is very little magic used in the first book so it feels less like a fantasy and more like an allegory for race relations that just switched skin to witches. Although with more magic and whimsy it could still be a stunning allegory while actually being as thrilling as it should have been.

The downfall is the characters. They all seem sort of flat and stagnant. Either nice or not nice. Nathan’s sister is terrible to him past the point of regular sibling rivalry and that thread is barely explored. A lot of witches are evil just because they love being cruel and seem to have very few motivations. Nathan himself is a bland character who has little dialogue and trouble deciding if he’s a violent killer or a boy trying to do his best. Though the latter might be explained by his dual heritage.

The romance feels largely useless. It serves the plot very little and Annalise doesn’t have a character other than hot and interested in the protagonist. The romance could have been introduced more effectively later in the trilogy but as it is the romance feels totally out of place in the plotline.

The plot alternates between a fast and slow pace. There are exciting parts and parts that felt incredibly tedious. The o[pening chapter used second person while not actually referring to the reader which was unpleasant. The whole novel is building up to Nathan’s  “Giving” which ends up being sort of a flop. For all the build-up it got it wasn’t even a remotely exciting event.

Half Bad wasn’t an entirely unenjoyable story but it feels too much like the filler before the adventure. If I read a book about witches, I want magic full stop and Half Bad simply did not deliver.

For Fans Of: White Cat

The Forgotten Tale by J.M. Frey

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Genres: Fantasy, LGBT+
Publisher: REUTS Publications, LLC.
Publication Date: December 6th 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Forsyth and Pip have created a lovely life for themselves in Victoria with their daughter Alis. Forsyth’s biggest problem is trying to keep his writer, Elgar Reed, from interacting with his family. That is until well-known stories start vanishing and a portal opens up and swallows his family back to the written world of Hain. What is causing stories to vanish and who dragged the Piper family back to Hain? Most importantly – how will Forsyth get his family home?

The Forgotten Tale is quite a bit more exciting than The Untold Tale but it’s still average overall. There’s an exciting new main cast character and the reintroduction of my two personal favourite minor characters from the previous book. There’s less sex and more adventure this time around and it managed to bring its score up an entire point.

The most exciting part of the story is unquestionably the portion that takes place in the “writer’s world” and outside of the fantasy one. Unfortunately the entire book is cut with another point of view – Solinde’s. Solinde is a deal-maker spirit and for the most part her chapters are extremely confusing. The first few chapters are not explained and aside from the connections with the missing stories it’s generally barely comprehensible. One or two of Solide’s chapters were critically important to the story, but they were mostly filler.

Despite being an improvement on the first novel it still feels like Frey is missing her mark. Once again there are glimmers of a wonderful contemporary writer who could focus stories on fandom – but it’s bogged down by a poor fantasy adventure. To her credit, Frey has Pip acknowledge the terrible plot and world building several times….but acknowledging that the story is terrible doesn’t stop it from being terrible.

That being said The Forgotten Tale does provide an interesting look at all the problematic tropes of the fantasy genre, even if it is still entirely beholden to them. The feminism is more integrated into the story and feels more natural than the previous book which seems to throw-up buzzwords in large paragraphs. This covering of problematic tropes could have been just as well covered in a better written contemporary novel.

Perhaps the worst problem is just how things worked themselves out. The book again acknowledges that everything works out for Kintyre, which is all well and good but it doesn’t make for an interesting story. Perhaps most frustrating is Pip and Forsyth not knowing how to get home when they could have used the same method from the first book. The pieces are all still there, but instead they wait for someone else to save them.

Despite trying to be transgressive The Forgotten Tale just feels like a standard outdated fantasy story. Frey clearly has incredible knowledge of tropes and fandom but her fantasy world isn’t strong enough even if it constantly points out what is wrong with itself.

For Fans Of: Fangirl

The Crown by Keira Cass

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Dystopia
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: May 3rd 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Maybe it’s not the first kisses that are supposed to be special. Maybe it’s the last ones.”

Eadlyn is under a lot of stress. With her mother barely escaping death, her father stressed out and her selection nearing it’s end she barely has any time to think. To make matters worse there are plenty of people who don’t think she belongs on the throne at all. Eadlyn has to choose a husband, accept her role as ruler and endear herself to her people before they decide someone else might be better suited to take her place.

The Crown has carved a good place for itself in the series. Although the two books focusing on the daughter of the previous protagonist seem like a cash grab they out do the original trilogy in some ways. The selection takes more of a centre stage without the rebel plots to steal the show and the romance is far more tolerable.

While Eadlyn’s final choice is well foreshadowed there is always an element of mystery. It seems like she might choose any of the boys, but she is never overly attached until she falls deeply for one. This line of romance creates a much more tolerable story than America’s whiny love triangle.

However, on the same note,the convenience of the end is disappointing. Eadlyn doesn’t really have to make any tough choices or hurt anyone. Her relationship just sort of falls into place and the other boys leave happily to make way for her. It seems a bit unrealistic and much too toned down from the stress and anger of the first novel of the two that focus on her.

The ending feels unsatisfying and rushed – which I feel I find myself saying far too often about books these days. The note it ends on is a very uncertain future with too much revealed too fast. The characters changed personalities and objectives too fast. The whole book was too fast including the romance and the ending. It wasn’t unenjoyable just unremarkable.

The Crown is, on its own, a fine story but along with The Heir it is an unwelcome addition to a trilogy that ended itself well and didn’t need to be continued past it’s prime.

For Fans Of: Only Ever Yours