Grrls on the Side by Carrie Pack

tumblr_inline_oqsdu5xem31sr6nal_1280.jpg

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

Advertisements

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

HateUGive_10-10Snap.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Publication Date: February 28th 2017

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”

Starr lives in the impoverished neighbourhood of Garden Heights but goes to a fancy prep school. She walks the line to avoid seeming “ghetto” or sassy with her white friends while keeping her school and home life separate. When Starr witnesses her friend Khalil’s death at the hands of a police officer she has to make a choice. Will she speak out and risk ruining the image she’s cultivated? Or will she let injustice go unchallenged?

You need to read this book.

Upfront, there are a few moments that seem a tiny bit out of place and preachy but the story and every message taught are incredibly important. Impressively poignant and extremely relevant for current society. Starr’s story is exciting, tragic and impossible to put down.

For many readers, this story will be all too familiar. We have seen the news. We have see the court proceedings, we have seen them over and over again. For white readers, this book is an incredibly valuable insight into the emotions and lives behind the news and perhaps the closest we can hope to get to trying to understand.

There are a few jokes at the expense of white people, which seems to bother several reviewers. I personally thought they were just sort of silly harmless stereotypes (like white people loving their dogs too much) and I can’t really see how anyone was offended. Do I think you should read this book at the risk of being uncomfortable? Yes, but ultimately that is your call and I’m all for full disclosure.

Messages and importance aside, Thomas is a brilliant writer. All of her characters feel like reflections of the real world. She knows how to make people feel like people, even if they do a few bad things. The emotions this book evokes are incredible. I still shudder when I think of the scene Starr witnessed and how well it was written.

There are plenty of books that have important messages, but when you find one that’s exciting and well written it’s like winning the lottery. The Hate U Give is an important book before anything else, but it’s a great read too.

I try to avoid tired old review clichés but The Hate U Give is a must read.

For Fans Of: What We Saw

The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude

MAY_QUEEN_MURDERS_HJ.jpg

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

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

young-elites.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 7th 2014

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“It is pointless to believe what you see, if you only see what you believe.”

A deadly illness swept the land, and Adelina survived. Those who survived are marked, strange hair colours, darkened patches of skin…and some come out with supernatural powers. After discovered she’s more than normal Adelina flees her abusive home and finds herself in the company of the Daggers, a group of young elites hoping to overthrow the crown. Will Adelina’s new found powers be able to turn the tides?

I am so sick of chosen one stories, so thank goodness this is the furthest thing from one. Adelina is a marvelous protagonist. She’s been abused – and she isn’t better for it. Her abuse didn’t teach her to be humble and kind. Adelina is an incredibly fractured person full of darkness and that’s what drives her powers. Powers that come from fear and hate are obviously quite dangerous and Adelina struggles with this throughout the novel.

Teren’s point of view as the ‘villain’ of the novel was also helpful. No one in this book sees themselves as the bad guy and that’s important. Teren is killing because he thinks it’s the only way to help.

The world building is well done, but not quite complete. The powers of the Elites are intensely interesting but we only see a handful. There are several other lands mentioned but we only get a very brief glance at one of them. However, the characters are rich and Lu’s writing style is beautifully descriptive, but it still feels like something is missing here.

Enzo and the elites are clearly complex characters but I don’t feel like we get to see enough of them. What ultimately keeps this book from a perfect rating is that we spend a little too much time inside Adelina’s head. Sometimes that can work out great for a book but with Adelina, it gets repetitive pretty quickly. I don’t want to relive only slightly different memories of Violetta and her father over and over again when exciting things could be happening in the present!

I was surprised by the ending of this book. Several characters took turns that shocked me, but they didn’t feel fake or gimmicky. Adelina is not a hero, but she’s not quite a villain either. She’s trying to do good with an immense amount of bad inside of her. As far as I’m concerned she could go either way and I’m very excited to see where Lu will take this story.

For Fans Of: Six of Crows

Breathe by Dax Varley

41dCJEc3ezL._SY445_QL70_

Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: Garden Gate Press
Publication Date: August 31st 2016

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Hayden McKaley is pretty and popular – and she’s been kidnapped. Who is her captor, and what does he mean when he says that Hayden killed his son?

This is thinly veiled torture porn. The characters are a pretty, nice girl and a very evil man. Also, there’s a son who may or may not exist and a doctor who’s personality doesn’t exist. It’s extremely short and other than torture almost nothing happens.

I want to categorize this book as a mystery, because who Hayden’s killer is is a huge part of the novel. The problem is that the book introduces us to no one but her kidnapper. The clues Hayden sees to his identity mean nothing to the reader. A mystery isn’t fun if there’s literally no way for readers to unravel it. It’s not satisfying to have to wait for the end to find out that some character you’ve never heard of is the criminal.

Let’s talk about alternate endings. They can be interesting, but your book should not be 30% alternate endings. It feels like the author got bored of the plot and didn’t quite know how to tie it off. Certain “clues” only lead to certain endings. Alternate endings are not a good choice for novels where the suspense and mystery are the drives. I want to know who did it. I don’t want three different options.

In a weird way, I sort of enjoyed the book. It was easy to breeze through in about an hour. I was sort of invested to find out what happened to the guy’s son. If the book had spent more time on a blend of the first and second ending it could have been interesting. If Hayden or her kidnapper had a personality outside of tiny boxes it could have been fantastic. They didn’t, and it wasn’t.

This novel is too short to develop anything interesting and it’s even shorter with the alternate endings taking up so many pages.

For Fans of: Follow Me Back

Optimists Die First by Susin Neilsen

North-American-Optimists-Cover.jpg

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

NoneoftheAbove_Cover.jpg

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

9781250111395.jpg

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

9780143198710.jpg

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

thumbnail_ACW-front-Final.jpg

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