Grrls on the Side by Carrie Pack

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

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Fans Of: Holding Up the Universe

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The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude

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Genres: Young Adult, Thriller, Mystery, Horror, Romance
Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 3rd 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“In nature, ivy and heather never grew together. They couldn’t because ivy liked shade, whereas heather required sun. They did better apart because, side by side, one withered.”

In a small town called The Glen, people have their own ways of doing things. They’re simple folk. They grow their own food, care for their animals and look out for their neighbours. And they never go in the woods. Everyone knows that Birch Markle has been hiding in the woods ever since he killed that girl – and he might just kill again.

The characters of this book were sort of a mix. Milo and Emmie Entwhistle are complex and fascinating characters. I’m in love with them and their relationships with other characters. Rook, Briar, Ivy’s parents, Violet and Dahlia are similarly interesting. On the flip side, I didn’t really find Ivy or Heather particularly good characters. They both fit a rigid archetype and sort of stick to it. They are perfect opposites, Heather is a sun and Ivy is cloudy. Unfortunately this doesn’t make them really interesting.

This book is creepy, and atmospheric. Jude has done a fantastic job at really detailing the little community that Ivy lives in. It’s absolutely vivid. The romance, while not the main focus of the book, is surprisingly well done. The sex scenes were written with care while not being explicit, something YA rarely accomplishes.

The superstitions Ivy has, the relationship between the townsfolk and the outsiders, and the mystery all pile on to make the meat of this book deliciously juicy. It was definitely not a fast-paced mystery, but it kept me guessing. Milo’s plotline was definitely the one I enjoyed the most and I feel he was a bit underused for such an interesting character.

The ending of this book is a bit of a mess to be quite honest. That’s not to say that it isn’t exciting and full of emotion, it’s just that so much is suddenly thrown at you. So many secrets revealed all while the characters are fighting for their lives. It’s quite a lot to take in during the last fifty pages and it left me reeling.

There were certainly a few unexpected twists which is always nice, but I think the ending being so convoluted dampened my enjoyment of the book a little. It had such good build up that a single twist ending would have worked brilliantly and satisfied readers. The multiple twist ending just feels like it’s trying too hard to shock you and some of the reveals had little to no foreshadowing which is always a disappointment.

This book is a slow burn and a true southern gothic, but the ending didn’t need to be quite as dramatic as it was.

 For Fans Of: We’ll Never Be Apart

Optimists Die First by Susin Neilsen

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication Date: February 21st 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Petula is sixteen and terrified of life. Freak accidents happen every day so she must always remain vigilant. She doesn’t cross without looking both ways, walk near construction sites, or eat ground beef. When Jacob joins her art therapy group, Petula begins to open up, but she isn’t the only one with secrets.

This book is quirky, cute and fun. From cat-lovers, crafters, record collectors, film geeks and bookworms this book has something for everyone. There’s plenty of good representation from gay to amputees. It’s a very diverse read that has laughs and cries throughout.

The romance is the issue. It’s fluffy and slow and a nice portrayal of sex, but it’s a little love as the cure-all drug. Love doesn’t make mental illness better. Throughout this book, several therapist type things are bashed and the real cure is a cute boy. No.

The other slight issue is FULL OF SPOILERS. LOOK AWAY TO AVOID SPOILERS. The love interest does something very bad. He deserves to feel guilty. He deserves to not enjoy life ever again. However, this book compares it to a tragic accident. That he’s been punished enough and people should still be friends with him. No. There are things that you don’t deserve forgiveness for and this is one of them. I was very unhappy with how this was dealt with and made to seem like he was even sort of a victim.

I want to love this book. Susin Neilsen has written things I love. She’s Canadian. I love cats and books. There are so many good things going on. I cannot, however, give this book the five stars I was hoping to when I began reading.

The story is good. There are so many cute moments with family, friends and lovers. There are cats. I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a fun time and quite a quick read. However, the issues with the romance and how certain things were dealt with left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

For Fans of: All the Bright Things

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