None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: April 7th 2015

3  OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Kristin Lattimer is popular, pretty, athletic and newly voted homecoming queen. After a botched attempt at sex leads her to the gynaecologist she finds out she’s intersex. Kristin is full of questions. Does this make her a man? How will this affect her future? And most importantly what will everyone think? When her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school Kristin is tossed into turmoil struggling to deal with her identity while navigating a hostile environment.

None of the Above was definitely an interesting read. Learning about AIS and seeing how Kristin deals with her diagnosis kept me turning pages. Diversity is important and this book casts a main character that I’ve never personally seen before in young adult literature. This book has an important message, and the facts are interesting, but this isn’t a great book outside of that.

The characters are mostly flat. Kristin is naive and sort of dull. Faith is too good to be true. Vee is a bitch who’s only sort of nice to her friends. Sam is the classic jock. Darren is a loveable nerd. It’s hard seeing these characters interact when so few of their relationships are believable. How did Kristin not know her long-term boyfriend was a homophobe? Why is she so quick to forgive Vee when she’s said such cruel things?

The plot is pretty obvious, nothing surprising happens. The ending could use some work. It feels very abrupt. SPOILERS: There’s very little build-up. Terrible things happen and then boom, book over. Kristin deals with something terrible, is saved by a white knight, falls in love and is cured of her anxiety and depression. She’s ready to face the world again because the right boy wants her.

In short, this book covers important topics. It’s full of interesting facts, but it’s not a good story. A good read to learn some basics about AIS but not a book with rich characters or plot.

For Fans of: Holding Up the Universe

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

A Chosen War by Carly Eldridge

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: REUTS Publications
Publication Date: April 25th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Maia is struggling, her father is terminally ill and she can’t go to the university she wants. When she realizes she has a weird effect on plants and explodes electronics her problems become a lot bigger. Maia is a replacement for an elemental guardian – but the current guardian won’t go quietly.

This is a vast world, and Eldridge has clearly put a lot of thought into building it. Elemental guardians, mates, the core – there’s a lot to build. Most of it is pretty well covered, but there are still things left a little unexplained. Certain things just happen with very little explanation of how/what it means and the story just plows on. Other times the world-building just comes in a sudden dump that doesn’t have much to do with the plot, usually just the characters talking and explaining. We are told instead of shown how things work all at once and even then I still feel the info was a bit confusing.

The plot was pretty standard. A chosen one, a big bad villain, all the well-meaning friends. It didn’t move as quickly as I would like largely because Eldridge often seems to get distracted from her story with descriptions. Of course, readers want to know what characters look like and what sort of environment they’re in. However, not every outfit for the protagonist needs to be described in detail.

The characters themselves were interesting, even if they lacked much depth. Their mates are their world essentially so we don’t have to see any romance build because it has always been there. Maia herself is bland. She’s good, kind and slightly snarky. Prime chosen one fodder. She almost never struggles with tasks and is the most powerful of all the characters.

The intro felt really intriguing, but after that, it sort of spiralled into a run of the mill fantasy story that I didn’t really feel was special. There was too much information being thrown at readers without much happening. While the plot is a little intriguing it doesn’t move fast enough and the characters are slightly charming but not complex.

The most interesting character was introduced as the novel ended, clearly positioning it for a sequel, but I don’t think this series is quite for me.

For Fans Of: Snow like Ashes

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

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

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“You are wanted.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Fans Of: Dumplin

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

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

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Fans Of: And I Darken

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

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy
Publisher: by Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: November 8th 2016

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“One to be a murderer. One to be a Martyr. One to be a Monarch. One to go Mad”

Catherine Pinkerton dreams of becoming a baker, but as a noblewoman in the kingdom of Hearts much more is expected of her. In fact, it seems like the King wants to ask for her hand in marriage! Catherine has no desire to be royalty, even less when she starts falling for the handsome court joker. Cath is determined to follow her dreams and find happiness, no matter what society or her parents want.

Some of the best stories are the ones where we already know the ending. I knew Meyer had set out to write an origin story for the Queen of Hearts and yet I was still so twisted up in the book that I began to believe in impossible endings just as much as every character did.

Unlike some retellings or in this case a pretelling, Heartless perfectly captures the whimsical world Caroll originally wrote. There is such care put into developing all the characters who would chronologically later be involved in Alice’s story from the mock turtle to the duchess. Meyer also manages to incorporate another famous rhyme fitting it in nearly seamlessly.

The world and characters are so masterfully crafted that it is easy to forget the inevitable end. Although there were a few loose strings, none of them were enough to really affect the pleasant reading experience. It’s also true that the romance is a little fast and the plot a little meandering at points. No book is truly perfect but I have fallen in love faster than the main characters.

Meyer’s choice to make a standalone bittersweet tragedy is wonderful. This could have definitely been a successful series should she have chosen to pursue it – but it’s more poignant when it comes to the end we are all waiting for. Meyer is unmatched when it comes to retelling fairytales, and though she chose to stay closer to the original source material with this particular book it was still incredibly successful.

A perfect prequel to a well-loved classic. This is not a book that will win every reader’s heart, but it’s quite possible you’ll be absolutely mad for it.

For Fans Of: The Looking Glass Wars