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

Secrets of a Reluctant Princess by Caset Griffin

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Publication Date: March 7th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Adrianna Bottom was always the butt of everyone’s jokes in Seattle. With her geeky personality and a dad who runs a bathroom business she never stood a chance. L.A. is a chance to reinvent herself, as well as star in a reality TV show. As Adrianna focuses on being popular she realizes she might be losing her only chance at a boy she actually likes. Worse, she might be losing herself.

Live action role-playing is an interesting twist in the young adult romance category. Books involving this hobby are pretty rare – and so it’s interesting to see it represented. However, Secrets of a Reluctant Princess isn’t breaking any other new ground. The romance at first interaction is dull. The trail of stupid misunderstandings is tired. There’s nothing worse than watching characters whine about something that could be solved with a simple conversation. Worst of all, the popular kids vs. “geeks” is outdated.

The idea that people who like geeky things are outcasts is tired. Hollywood is sustained by superheroes now, no one will tease you because you like Wonder Woman. Being a “geek” is not longer taboo. Jocks and prissy popular girls are hilarious stereotypes that rarely exist. Four-fifths of the popular crowd have no personality other than dumb or mean and even the main girl is just “friendly”. Popular kids have interests too.

There was also perhaps too much time spent defining the LARPing sessions rather than focusing on the relationship between Adrianna, her friends, her parents and her crush. The reality show was a good plot on its own. LARPing was a good plot on its own. Together they feel like too much, like the book didn’t know what it wanted to be.

The ending is also particularly unsatisfying. Sexual harassment is excused as a “mistake” (a repeated aggressively) mistake by a dumb teen. Parents using their child for fame and exposure who get upset when their child poorly affects their business were “well-meaning”. A shady reality show producer (who shows a seventeen-year old’s underwear on television) is mildly punished and let go.

For all it’s faults, it’s still a fun read if you don’t take it too seriously. There are several major occurrences of second-hand embarrassment, and you’ll be frustrated by dozens of misunderstandings but it’s cute. The main guy is handsome and kind, maybe a little too perfect but lovable. Adrianna isn’t the brightest bulb but she’s sort of relatable.

If you like mildly geeky things and romance this book will definitely satisfy, if not impress you.

For Fans Of: The Only Thing Worse than Me is You

 

After Me by Joyce Scarbrough

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Buzz Books USA
Publication Date: August 4th 2014

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

When Jada dies she’s shocked to find out that the afterlife isn’t a myth. Even more surprised to find out that she’s in debt and has to return to earth to hunt down her killer as payment. While she’s looking for the scum that killed her Jada also has a chance to discover friendship and true love, something she’d have never dreamed about before her untimely death.

The plot for this book sounds thrilling, but less than 30% of the book actually focuses on hunting down perverts. Most of it is just your standard young adult romance. There’s some punishment but mostly our hero just lucks out and happens upon them rather than actually focusing on her task.

The biggest bone I have to pick is with the character of Jada/Gwen. She’s insufferable. She’s better than prissy girly girls, better than nerds and just all around “special” and “different”. This isn’t helped by the fact that she’s given super powers by heaven some of which are just entirely useless to her mission. Speedreading, excellent knowledge of chemistry – she doesn’t need these for any real reason in the plot they just make her look cool. If there is one trope I LOATHE it’s the “not like other girls” girl who’s just a snarky jerk to everyone outside her special friend group. Oh and let’s not forget she’s super-duper attractive.

That being said her friend group and foster family are lovely, too lovely. Everyone is perfect, and innocent and kid. Lew is an absolute dreamboat. Handsome, strong, smart and wealthy? He doesn’t have any real flaws. Nor do any of the other people Gwen likes. The villain is comical. His whole life revolves around rape and weird kinks and he thinks of literally nothing but murder and rape. It’s far too black and white. Not to mention the other rapists who are all practically oozing evil so profusely that anyone who didn’t look at them once and know they were sex offenders would have to be an idiot.

Rapists are bad. Readers know that, but it doesn’t give you an excuse to not at least try and write a complex character and society around them. Predators are seen as clearly evil, not people girls might trust before something happens which is more often the case. The way the book sets up rapists and the society around them feels like a bad after-school special rather than real life.

As well, and for now I am in the minority, the ending was a joke. The book built up to the ending just to exclaim “JUST KIDDING” and end on an entirely disappointing note. It wasn’t a strong writing choice. It took a book which at the very least could have been a powerful bittersweet ending and turned it into something that’s boring at best.

The premise could have been great, and some of the characters and story lines are salvageable (looking at you Lew and Matt) but overall it feels like a cheap coat of paint over a standard romance with cardboard cutout villains.

For Fans Of: The Lovely Bones

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

Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Mystery
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: June 1st 2017

3  OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Trapped inside her house with agoraphobia, Tessa Hart doesn’t have much to do all day other than tweet. When she starts the #EricThornObsessed hashtag she has no idea how it will change her life. Eric Thorn is at the top of the charts, but he’s grown hateful and even fearful of his fans after a fellow popstar’s murder. When he’s commanded to follow one of them he does – from a secret second account @EricThornSucks. As Eric and Tessa continue to interact they start to form a relationship but when Eric arranges them to meet IRL he has no idea what’s about to happen.

Following the trends of many other social media books Follow Me Back is told through tweets, DMs and from two points of view. We get to know about both Eric and Tessa and watch the romance grow from both sides. Unfortunately, this works well for Eric but leaves Tessa feeling sort of hollow. Her anxiety is her only real personality trait and too many secrets are kept from the reader for too long for anyone to be attached to her. It also makes the ending rather confusing, there’s a difference between an unreliable narrator and just suddenly becoming out of character.

The book on a whole is very standard feeling. The romance is fluffy and has ups and downs but never anything spectacular. One antagonist is left with their story relatively unfinished while the other seems shoved in and dealt with too quickly. The ending really tips the book into a new territory. Spoiling the twist would be a terrible crime but the last few pages really change the game and leave the doors open for a sequel.

The reason this book is stuck at three stars is because it didn’t know what it wanted to be. It focused intermittently on both romance and the mystery/thriller elements and suffered for it. The romance feels cookie cutter while the mystery/thriller portion feels rushed and not well foreshadowed or incorporated into the other sections of the book. There are a few extra chapters on wattpad that apparently help but they are not in the book so my review will not consider them.

It’s an easy read that’s sure to suck you in, but in the end it’s nothing special. The whole story told from just Eric’s point of view might have been better as it would let Tessa keep her secrets and let us further connect with the better-written character. The ending was a shock, but because of Tessa’s writing and the neglect of foreshadowing it feels cheap rather than satisfying.

I enjoyed Follow Me Back and I read it quickly, but it’s definitely more of one-night stand than a soulmate.

For Fans of: Gena/Finn

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Publication Date: January 12th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Steffi has selective mutism, but this will be the year she proves herself. Determined to speak in school helped along by her new medication. When she meets Rhys, a new deaf student, she discovers an opportunity to use a different language. As Steffi’s new romance grows she has to deal with a family who is a little too protective and a best friend who’s romance is not going quite as planned.

As far as representation goes, I think that A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a beautiful picture of both a socially anxious and deaf character. This is not a book that ends in a magical cure, and in fact in the deaf character’s case erases the want for a cure at all. It does explore the difference between the hearing world and the deaf world and the communities that come with them and how deafness or mutism can become part of who you are. Barnard has clearly researched well and presents the characters as realistically as possible.

The actual romance aspect is gaggingly sweet. It’s important to note that romance is not written as a cure for Steffi’s condition, although Rhys does support her. This is an issue in many books dealing with mental illness. That said, the relationship is well written and adorable. The sex is VERY real but a little male focused, young adult novels tend to see female orgasms as a nice bonus and not something that should happen in any good sexual encounter.

All in all Barnard has produced a beautiful second novel that is relatable and an absolute joy to read. Her writing style keeps readers interested and her portrayal of BSL (British Sign Language) is enchanting. Barnard writes teens who are silly, lovable and realistic. She includes families and friends giving both of them large parts to play instead of shrinking the world down to the two lovebirds.

Of course, the relationship has issues. Both Steffi and Rhys have boundaries they have to deal with, family and friend issues, but even at the worst moments the book keeps a light and fun tone. This is a pure joy romance and certainly not a tear-jerker. Everyone needs an upbeat book now and again.

A little over the top and cheesy, but full marks for representation and feel good romance.

For Fans Of: Lola and the Boy Next Door

My True Love Gave to Me by Stephanie Perkins

Genres: Young Adult, Anthology, Romance
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: October 14th 2014

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“He says presents aren’t important, but I think they are – not because of how much they cost, but for the opportunity they provide to say I understand you.”

A collection of holiday-themed love stories by skilled and well-loved young adult authors.

A joy to read during the holiday season. My True Love Gave to Me is a collection of good and great love stories by some of my favourite young adult authors. It’s hard to pick a stand out, but the contributions by Holly Black, Stephanie Perkins, Jenny Han and Kiersten White brought me the most holiday cheer. That is a third of the book but it simply cannot be narrowed down.

Kelly Link’s story The Lady and the Fox was the weak spot for me. It left too many unanswered questions and didn’t feel as much like the holidays as the other stories did. It was also a little disappointing to see very little sexual diversity – but it’s impossible not to enjoy a book filled with so much happiness. Sometimes you need a good fluffy read, especially around the holidays.

There is potential in so many of the stories for continuation, for more chapters – but part of their charm is that they’re short. No story overstays its welcome. As far as anthologies go it was a lot stronger as a collective than most tend to be.It had a guiding theme and even the weak stories were not a trial to read. My only complaint is that I had to let go of some of the characters too soon when so much more could have been done.

A book full of love and holiday cheer – perfect for December.

BUY THE BOOK

For Fans of: Anna and the French Kiss

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication Date: September 6th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“It is not such a hard thing, is it – to die for your friends.”

Aelin is ready to claim her throne. With her band of loyal friends she works to gain allies while fighting enemies on every side. As Aelin discovers the depth of her magic and the strength of her love, she also discovers something else – she doesn’t have much time.

Aelin is the main character, but I’ve always seen her as the weakest point of view in the books. Empire of Storms gives quite a few other characters their own voice and it is so much better for it. The world feels vast and Aelin’s quest feels huge because of all the other places we’re seeing. Lysandra and Manon definitely hold the book up for me.

The biggest issue with me for this novel was coupling off. I loathe when novels have to give every prominent character a romantic partner. It’s not realistic that the eight most important characters all find love within their own tiny group. A group of eight people who (mostly) started out hating each other becoming a group of four couples is ridiculous. Maas tries her best to write the relationships realistically (for three our of four) but it just feels wrong.

The story starts a little slow – but once it picks up the action is non-stop. There is some absolutely stunning character development and some big reveals that will leave lovers on the series breathless. The ending is absolutely beautiful and perfectly sets up for the final book in the series – and also gives Aelin a little more interest as a character which she was desperately lacking.

There are some pretty terrible sex scenes, weak romance and sometimes the characters seem off – but it is an epic story. Manon’s chapters had me on the edge of my seat and the ending left me thrilled.

Throne of Glass has never been my favourite fantasy series, in fact, it’s not even my favourite Sarah J. Maas series, but Empire of Storms is a cut above the rest and I think that this series could actually end on a high note.

For Fans Of: Cinder

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: MIRA Ink
Publication Date: October 22nd 2015

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“You can only actually help someone who wants to be helped.”

Toni and Gretchen have always been perfect for each other, at least until they ended up going to university in different cities. Gretchen begins to try to find herself outside of the relationship while Toni struggles with gender identity whilst being part of a group of queer friends. They’re both turning out so different, will their love be able to last?

While there we several things that bugged me about this book, I can remember a few very clearly. First of all, genderqueer is represented in this book as a state between deciding what you are. Toni knows they don’t fit in any box but it’s largely suggested that they’re just preparing to transition.That genderqueer was just the in-between phase. Toni also uses only gender-neutral pronouns for a large part of the book – for everyone. Even after people tell Toni their gender, Toni refuses to respect it. They only start uses he/she because it’s easier and not because people deserve to be called he/she is that’s what they want to be called.

Anyone traditionally feminine is presented as a non-feminist because they like nice clothes and make-up. “Neither of them has the right to talk about feminism until they stop posting pictures of themselves in bikinis.” Feminists and/or gay people are never well-dressed or care about their appearance. Lesbians do not participate in girly fashion things.

Tying into that last bit – none of the characters are really believable. They are, at best, a stereotypical representation of whatever trope the author wants to fill. Toni is perhaps the least likeable of all, and while it is addressed that they put people in boxes to make hating them easier, they never really stops. Gretchen lets Toni push her around and hurt her but still waits for her to come back like a lovesick puppy. Everyone is either a jerk or a sweet airhead.

There’s just not much that this book had going for it. It didn’t need Gretchen’s point-of-view taking away from the interesting plotline. There were far too many scenes just meant to info dump queer terminology that Talley should have integrated naturally into the story. Gretchen does have some character growth but Toni barely changes. This book is four-hundred pages of angst. There are some exciting scenes – but it’s not good representation or a strong read.

The representation should have been the focus of this book, but genderqueer is represented so poorly that it’s all downhill from there.

For Fans Of: When Everything Feels Like The Movies

 

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