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

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

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

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