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

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What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 22nd 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Given enough time, everything changes.”

Kate Weston isn’t the most popular girl in school, but her life is still pretty great. A spot on the soccer team, close friends and a certain childhood friend she’s falling for. Everything changes when the picture of Stacey turns up online. Seeing her former friend passed out and slung over a guys shoulder make Kate uncomfortable but when rape accusations start surfaces her whole world starts to shift.

What We Saw tells an all too familiar story. A book that calls to mind Steubenville and the numerous other high school athletes involved in sexual abuse stories. It’s a particularly poignant read when it seems like a new case is appearing in the papers every week.

The choices to tell the story from a classmates perspective, instead of the victim’s is a powerful one. Kate isn’t directly involved, but she knows the people who are. Her whole town is up in arms about the case because of how it affects their pride and joy – the basketball team. I wish that I could say the story was told over-dramatically or that this would never really happen but it’s painfully real. Everything described could happen and often it already has.

The thing I particularly love about this book is that while it does not excuse the perpetrators, it does examine the culture that led them to decide to commit their crime. Various objectifying song lyrics are quoted, the victim is shamed for what she wore, boys will be boys, and even negative connotations in certain films and musicals are brought up. These are all dealt with. Most strikingly is the way it showcases all the boys as beloved athletes and because they’re talented and good for the town the girl must be lying.

Putting the brilliant message aside all the characters are well-rounded and believable. They all have several interests and different beliefs. The romance is organic and feels exactly as a high-school love story should. There is a particularly well-written sex scene that is absolutely honest and doesn’t use any of the usual romance novel cliches.

I did find the start a little slow, and Hartzer’s writing style wasn’t quite my cup of tea. There were times when Kate’s long monologues had me zoning out but I believe that this book is important. The message and story in this book are powerful because it lets you see this story on the inside. A story that happens again and again in the media. Yes, there are bits that are cheesy or ridiculously preachy – but this is a story that people need to read.

What We Saw is a haunting portrayal of how a rape rocks a small town and how quickly people can turn on a victim when justice might inconvenience them.

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For Fans Of: The Truth About Alice

The Heir by Keira Cass

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Dystopia
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: May 5th 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I’m smart and beautiful and strong. I don’t need to be rescued.”

Princess Eadlyn is preparing to take her father’s place as ruler of Illea, but when uprisings start to make the news King Maxon thinks a distraction might be in order. Eadlyn never dreamed she’d have to have a selection of her own, in fact, she’s never really dreamed of romance at all. As heir to the throne, she will have to get married someday and, though she protests, as the competition wears on some of the boys start looking like they have real potential.

In the previous three books in the series the winner was obvious. As the main character America was destined to win Maxon’s heart. Now that our protagonist is doing the choosing it’s refreshing that she has several favourites and that there isn’t a clear winner in sight just yet. This alone is enough to keep me reading but I have admitted before that The Selection series is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me.

Eadlyn is off-putting. It seems like she will eventually develop as a character to be a good person but presently she’s unlikeable. She’s a “strong” female character who rejects love and keeps her distance from everyone. She’s also a bit of a brat. It would have been nicer if a princess like Camille was the center of attention and the drama came from the selection itself rather than the princess making dumb decisions and struggling with her personality.

The Selection spawned a wildly successful trilogy so it makes sense for Cass to continue with it, but I will admit that The Heir feels a bit desperate. The story has an end, but suddenly there are more books focusing on the less than likeable Eadlyn and more forced conflict in the country. The Heir wouldn’t feel so bad if it focused entirely on the selection and took a lighter tone from the previous books but now it feels like drama just for the sake of drama. I don’t believe the country’s reason for protesting anymore. I also don’t really believe that Maxon would have forced his daughter into a selection after all the fuss from the previous three books.

The pace is slower than the previous three books and Eadlyn’s point of view does leave something to be desired. As well we get a very limited view of the selected, even the boys she allows to stay on by the end of the book.

Despite this it’s fun. Keira Cass may not have written a fantastic book, but she is telling a fantastic story. I don’t like Eadlyn but I want to know who she chooses. I will read the next book.

This isn’t a book I would recommend, and one that I know a lot of people won’t enjoy, but we all have guilty pleasures and this series is one of mine. If you’re a fan of The Bachlorette or shows like 90 Day Fiancé then this series might be a fun read for you.

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For Fans of: Fairest by Marissa Meyer

The One by Keira Cass

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Dystopia
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: May 6th 2014

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Break my heart. Break it a thousand times if you like. It was only ever yours to break anyway.”

With only four girls the end of the competition draws near. When America was selected she never dreamed that she’d want to win the selection, much less Maxon’s heart. Now that she’s in love she has to play the game more seriously, but being a good princess is difficult when she wants to right every injustice she sees. Will she be able to hold on to Maxon if she causes more problems?

Just like The Selection and The Elite, The One is impossible not to enjoy despite several things that could have been done better.

America still really doesn’t grow as a character. She doesn’t learn anything and all her problems solve themselves. It’s hard to root for America when every decision she makes is so obviously stupid. Worse is that a few characters shift in personality to make them sympathetic, which is maybe a little better than the big baddies just being evil out of malice.

The ending is what really crushed the series down to average. It was rushed. Not quite on the level of some other awful endings (I’m looking at you, Mockingjay) but it’s definitely not satisfactory. The tension between Maxon and America and the threat of Maxon’s father are all solved by a sudden disaster. America has never been particularly good to Maxon but that’s okay because love means you should let yourself be walked all over.

The caste system and the rebels are left in a sort of vague probably fine state. In less than thirty pages the big baddies the book was building up to are mostly dealt with. It’s never entirely clarified, but it’s okay because we get a happy ending. A lot of the space in the middle that was used to drag the story out should have been dedicated to the ending.

The biggest issue that holds this novel back is that most of the problems between America, Aspen and Maxon could be solved in one conversation. If America would shut up and listen to Aspen, or stop fabricating things in her head about Maxon then there would be no plot. If the three of them sat down and had a two-page discussion then the book would be over. It’s ridiculous how long miscommunication is the main plot issue because why can’t people who are in love just talk to each other for once.

America is an unlikable protagonist. The love triangle was unnecessary. The plot with the rebels was beyond rushed, just as the ending itself was. But I enjoyed it. There was action, pain, and romance. Perhaps this book is a bit of a guilty pleasure but if nothing else Cass has told and exciting story (though it might have fit in a single book without the added fluff).

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Hunger Games

The Elite by Keira Cass

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Dystopia
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: April 23rd 2013

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“It turns out I’m absolutely terrible at staying away from you. It’s a very serious problem.”

The competition is more vicious than ever with only six girls left. America knows that she can easily win Maxon’s heart, but she’s not so certain that she can handle the role of princess. The fact that Aspen, her childhood sweetheart, is working at the palace only complicates things further. America has to make a decision and she’s running out of time.

The Elite is a fast-paced roller coaster of emotions. Once you get started it’s impossible to stop reading. There are so many huge events in this book but there is one that actually shocks me and really stood out. It was heartwrenching. The Selection created a world and characters, The Elite gives their actions consequences and adds weight to the series.

Of course, most books aren’t perfect. I find myself still at odds with the love triangle in this series. It feels like an immense waste of time. The plot was thrilling enough without Aspen. The Selection, the rebels, America deciding if she can handle the responsibility – brilliant. America stringing both Aspen and Maxon along for the entire book? Not so brilliant. One chapter she’s swooning over Maxon certain she’ll be his, the next she’s in love with Aspen again because he’s all she can trust. It’s frustrating.

The love triangle also makes America far less likeable as a character. While it’s reasonable for her to be enraged about her caste or about lower castes being ill-treated it isn’t the same about whining because two boys love her nearly unconditionally. The number of times America does vastly hurtful and unacceptable things and is almost immediately forgiven is ridiculous. Aspen should have been left at the beginning of the first book. America would have been more sympathetic and the plot would have been much stronger.

Cass has created a wonderfully interesting world, several fantastic characters and the Bachelorette meets Hunger Games style plot is a stroke of genius. Unfortunately, America’s indecision – while it doesn’t destroy the book – keeps it from being as strong as it might have been. Love triangles can be done well, this one just isn’t. No one changes who they love on a daily basis, it makes America seem shallow and lacking the intelligence she’s meant to have.

I immensely enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t quite as strong as the first. Hopefully in the next book America makes up her mind and gets back to being a character readers can root for.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Hunger Games

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy, Dystopian
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: April 24th 2012

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“True love is usually the most inconvenient kind.”

Thirty-five girls are given the chance to woo Prince Maxon and be the future queen. America Singer is nowhere near as excited as the other thirty-four. She never wanted to be selected. America knows who she’s in love with and it certainly isn’t some stuffy prince. As the selection continues, however, America begins to discover that Maxon isn’t at all what she thought. But is there even time for romance to develop when the rebel attacks on the palace are becoming more frequent and effective?

The Selection was an absolute joy to read. Cass builds a unique and complex world simply. She manages to slowly insert new details without making anything convoluted or ridiculous. Often worldbuilding is too heavily concentrated in the beginning of the book, or worse, too sparse for the world to make sense. Cass has neither of these problems. Illéa is interesting and rich without weighing the book down. The caste system is particularly interesting to learn about.

Prince Maxon and America are interesting characters. They do veer to the goody-two-shoes side a little heavily, but it’s perfect for a lighthearted read. They’re also fairly simple, and at times America is frustrating. Unfortunately, most of the other characters have very few traits. Celeste is a classic faux-sweet mean girl. Marlee is friendly (although there might be something deeper hinted at), Tiny is ladylike and that’s just the girls who are more in the main cast. Several of the girls don’t get any characterization at all. Thirty-five was an ambitious number and readers barely ever hear about a majority of the girls. It’s a blessing that they’ve been cut down so that Cass will have a chance to further develop the final few. The worst character, by far, is Aspen.

Of course, there had to be a love-triangle. The love-triangle could have easily been dropped from this book. It was good to see America dealing with heartbreak and conflicting feelings after the initial break-up but having it continue and resurface just makes her hard to sympathize with. Aspen himself is a classic broody boy. He loves America, and she loves him. This is not enough. Aspen sabotages himself by being entirely ridiculous and then changes his mind. The book would have been far better off if America had let him go and if he had stayed gone.

The issues are mostly nitpicking. The Selection is one of those books you’ll breeze through, not realizing how many pages you’ve devoured. It’s more of a marshmallow than a fondue. It’s light, fluffy and easily enjoyable, but not a book you should look to for any real drama or weight.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Only Ever Yours

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Genres:  Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: October 6th 2015

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.”

Not everyone can be the chosen one. Mike and his friends certainly aren’t, but that doesn’t mean that they can entirely avoid being inconvenienced. All they want to do is get through the rest of the year, attend a normal prom and graduate without the high school blowing up.

The concept for this book is to die for. What if you’re just normal and you have to put up with all of the Chosen One’s crossfire? How did the other students in Hogwarts feel about Harry ending every year with some sort of huge victory? The Chosen One mythos is so well ingrained in pop culture that anyone can think up several dozen stories. However, we almost never get to see what it’s like to live in these world’s as someone not even close to the chosen one. What is it like to see all this happening and not be involved in the slightest?

The book is written so that there is a paragraph opening each chapter about what the Chosen One, Satchel, is up to before continuing the story of our protagonists. This was a fantastic decision as when the two stories slightly cross we know what Satchel is doing to cause this weird or frightening event for our protagonists. It’s great to see an extremely stereotypical, trope filled Chosen One story being told while we follow the rather normal story of some high schoolers about to graduate.

The book also focuses on the mental illnesses of siblings Mikey and Mel. It’s done very carefully, the illnesses clearly well-researched and some of the advice given to Mikey feels like it could touch many struggling readers. It’s nice to see mental illness integrated into a book that isn’t specifically about mental illness and still see it treated seriously.

The cast is diverse,  and the story touches on many serious issues with grace but it just felt like it could have been more. It wasn’t bad really it just felt flat. The romances felt sort of empty, the characters all verged on being boring or annoying. The characters, who should have been easy to relate with because of how “normal” they were, didn’t feel real. This whole book felt let it was written on the surface of a lake too scared to ever dip a toe in deeper. I was underwhelmed and disappointed.

It kills me to end on this note because the idea was so strong, but this story was definitely just as boring and flat as you’d expect one about background characters to be.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: February 10th 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“All the best things are like that, though, Lex, the most beautiful things. Part of the beauty comes from the fact that they’re short-lived.”

Everyone is always staring. To them Lex has become nothing but the girl whose brother killed himself. She feels distant from her friends, and mostly numb aside from sudden onsets of gaping pain, a hole her brother used to fill. Worse she can’t even cry and she keeps thinking about how she might have had a chance to change her brother’s fate.

Absolutely touching. There are a lot of books about dealing with grief but rarely is it written so realistically. You can feel Lex’s pain, she’s easily to relate with and beautifully written. I have never read a better depiction of the grief that comes with losing a loved one. The numbness, the nightmares, the guilt and none of it is glossed over to make it prettier.

I wasn’t really fond of the whole spirit/ghost/medium portion of the novel, but I don’t think it really interfered with the novel’s grasp on reality. It was well dealt with and kept from being too fantastical (ex. Playlist of the Dead) but the ending was a little cheesier for it.

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READ THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN OF: THIRTEEN REASONS WHY

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: January 27th, 2015
Synopsis: A teenage boy tries to understand his best friend’s suicide by listening to the playlist of songs he left behind in this smart, voice-driven debut novel. (Source: Goodreads)

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

“People are going to say a lot of things. And some of it will be helpful, and some of it will be annoying, and lots of it will get on your nerves. But they’re saying it because they found it helpful when they lost someone. They mean well.”

I really wanted to like this book, and I didn’t totally hate reading it but I cannot say it was good.

It is exciting, the plot leaves you guessing but it feels very standard. I did enjoy reading it a bit, so I feel bad that my rating fell so low but it wasn’t a book I would recommend. It was interesting in concept, but fell flat on delivery.

The idea of using a playlist was unique but in the end none of the songs mean enough that they needed to be included at all, the entire book wouldn’t change if Hayden had left a series of pictures or books or games or anything else. The songs are just briefly mentioned and then brushed away.

The book also has a skewed view of romance as the only reason to live basically. The few girl characters that exist only exist in their relation to males and are written as nearly one-dimensional tropes. It’s also riddled with mentions that girls are not geeks and don’t enjoy those sorts of things. If they do it’s fake or they’re some sort of rare pixies. That being said the male characters are all wonderfully fleshed out and feel very realistic.

There is no satisfying conclusion, huge events are explained away with “I wasn’t getting enough sleep,”. Characters who deserve to have justice brought to them end up being loved and romanticized because when you’re hurt doing anything is okay and completely forgivable.

A novel which had a great chance to be a poignant view of suicide ended up being a messed up romantic mystery that had one of the least satisfying conclusions I have ever seen.

Despite all this, it at least presents an interesting playlist which it refuses to actually use adequately;

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBMvGlbEimYIjhJKbP7sNFsNmNrjuCRBR

So enjoy that.

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READ THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN OF: THIRTEEN REASONS WHY