Grrls on the Side by Carrie Pack

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Publisher: Duet Books
Publication Date: June 8th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

1994. Punk is in. Fat isn’t. At least that’s how it seems to Tabitha. Her ex-best friend bullies her, she hasn’t ever found a real group and her only friend is a guy she hangs out with behind 7-11. When Tabitha is given a flyer for a Riot Grrl meet up, she finally finds a group. Then she begins to discover a lot more about herself.

The absolute highlight of this book is the zine pictures. Each zine has a cute style and interesting articles written by the characters. It helps develop the characters views and personalities in a fun way while giving the book a definite style. Zines are very 90s, and it really creates an atmosphere.

The plot itself is a rather standard coming of age affair. Tabitha is working on discovering herself, she has some family issues. She struggles with romance. She struggles with her self-image. It does have a nice punk spin and I really love the vibes that Pack has created. Strong, sexy punk girls galore. There are so few male characters I can count them on one hand including minor players. Sometimes it’s nice to have a no boys allowed book.

Good representation in a book that’s fun to read is something I’ll always support. Of course, a book about Riot Grrrls is going to have some fabulous feminism but it also talks about race and how women of colour experience different struggles. It showcases those struggles. Tabitha is fat. Several characters are stated as bisexual. Just good all around.

There were a few plotlines I was a little disappointed with though. At one point in the book, Heather begins acting a little friendlier towards Tabitha…and we never see her again. If the friendship was not going to be redeemed then that scene was pointless so why include it at all? Marty’s plotline is also never completely tied up. She’s a bitch, and while Tabitha tells her to behave better we never see her mend bonds with her friends.

While it definitely suffers from a few hanging plot threads, Grrrls on the Side is a fun, diverse and spunky read.

For Fans Of: Holding Up the Universe

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The Young Elites by Marie Lu

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 7th 2014

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“It is pointless to believe what you see, if you only see what you believe.”

A deadly illness swept the land, and Adelina survived. Those who survived are marked, strange hair colours, darkened patches of skin…and some come out with supernatural powers. After discovered she’s more than normal Adelina flees her abusive home and finds herself in the company of the Daggers, a group of young elites hoping to overthrow the crown. Will Adelina’s new found powers be able to turn the tides?

I am so sick of chosen one stories, so thank goodness this is the furthest thing from one. Adelina is a marvelous protagonist. She’s been abused – and she isn’t better for it. Her abuse didn’t teach her to be humble and kind. Adelina is an incredibly fractured person full of darkness and that’s what drives her powers. Powers that come from fear and hate are obviously quite dangerous and Adelina struggles with this throughout the novel.

Teren’s point of view as the ‘villain’ of the novel was also helpful. No one in this book sees themselves as the bad guy and that’s important. Teren is killing because he thinks it’s the only way to help.

The world building is well done, but not quite complete. The powers of the Elites are intensely interesting but we only see a handful. There are several other lands mentioned but we only get a very brief glance at one of them. However, the characters are rich and Lu’s writing style is beautifully descriptive, but it still feels like something is missing here.

Enzo and the elites are clearly complex characters but I don’t feel like we get to see enough of them. What ultimately keeps this book from a perfect rating is that we spend a little too much time inside Adelina’s head. Sometimes that can work out great for a book but with Adelina, it gets repetitive pretty quickly. I don’t want to relive only slightly different memories of Violetta and her father over and over again when exciting things could be happening in the present!

I was surprised by the ending of this book. Several characters took turns that shocked me, but they didn’t feel fake or gimmicky. Adelina is not a hero, but she’s not quite a villain either. She’s trying to do good with an immense amount of bad inside of her. As far as I’m concerned she could go either way and I’m very excited to see where Lu will take this story.

For Fans Of: Six of Crows

The Wicked History of the World by Terry Deary

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Genres: Childrens, Non-Fiction
Publisher: Hippo Scholastic
Publication Date: October 17th 2003

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“So you can learn to say ‘Never again’.”

From cavemen to WWII history has always been horrible. The cruellest people and events are examined with charming illustrations and a few fun activities.

This book is disgusting – in a good way! Kids will love the gross-out humour and hilarious illustrations. History is a subject which can, too often, end up being a dry affair, but not so with The Wicked History of the World.

There are real facts and quotes in this book, all presented in easy to remember snippets. The book uses activities, comics, jokes and illustrations to liven up the subject matter and entertain young readers! While it might be a bit too gruesome for readers too young and a bit too silly for more serious readers (although come on who doesn’t like fun sometimes) there is clearly an age-group this will be a homerun with.

The book presents history from around the world and seems to do it’s best not to do it’s best to avoid bias. The atrocities committed by Christians are examined in just as much detail as the ones committed by Romance and so forth. It also has a touching moral at the end despite all the gore and puns.

This book is funny, charming and weird. Kids who don’t usually enjoy reading might very well get lost in a book like this. The gross content is definitely not for everyone, but it’s a fun way to learn facts and spend an evening.

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

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

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

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

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

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