Cyberbullying in a strange, future New York | The Takedown by Corrie Wang [ARC]

The TakedownKyle is a queen bee. She and her three best friends are the most popular girls in school. On top of that, she’s also on track to be school valedictorian and is working to get into all of her top choices for college. But all of that comes crashing down when a video is leaked of her having sex with her English teacher. Except…it’s not her. As the video goes viral, Kyle watches everything she’s built come crashing down. Nobody believes that it’s not her in the video, so it’s up to Kyle to prove that somebody’s out to get her.

This book first came to my attention because one of my favorite authors (Ryan Graudin) has been raving about it. Unfortunately, I found it to be pretty disappointing. First off, the setting is this really strange, future New York but it’s not really apparent that we’re in the future until a few chapters in. Was it necessary for the book to be set in the future? I don’t really think so. It just made it confusing because I had to learn about a completely new set of technology, social media, etc. And the way they talk was also really strange. It’s like…they would swear, but without the vowels? It was just super weird–I don’t actually think the English language is going to evolve like that.

Kyle, the main character, is not likable. I didn’t feel sympathy towards her or bad for her in any way. She just wasn’t likable and she didn’t really experience any growth. So if that was the goal, then the author definitely accomplished that. But if it wasn’t, then I think she needs to rethink how sheĀ writes her characters in the future. Kyle was just really entitled and selfish the whole book. She’s so focused on “me me me me me me” that she doesn’t notice anything that the people around her are doing. Her life is crashing down and she feels like everyone around her needs to be worrying about that as much, if not MORE, than she is.

The secondary characters were just okay. I didn’t really like any of them more than I liked Kyle. I also didn’t like that her brother was also named Kyle. The author gave a reason for that and I understand why it was “necessary” for the plot, but…just no. Figure out another way to accomplish that plot point because having a brother and a sister both named Kyle is just too weird and confusing.

The plot was also just okay. I’ve read a lot of books that are supposed to be a type of mystery, but there’s no way for the reader to solve it on their own. I’d like to read a book where the reader can take an active role in solving the mystery along with the characters. As it is, most books that involve a mystery just expect readers to sit back and enjoy the ride. This book was no different. Sure, there were clues. But in the end, there was really no way for the reader to decide who the “bad guy” was with any certainty. We just don’t get all of the facts until the very end. We’re left trailing the main character instead of working alongside them.

Overall, I was disappointed by this book. There were too many elements that just weren’t working for me. That being said, this book does have a rating of 4.03 on Goodreads, so take my review with a grain of salt I guess. I didn’t like it very much, but you might still enjoy it.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Heavy. Nothing very explicit, but this book is all about a sex tape so it’s talked about a lot.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A book about grief and growing up too early | Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer [ARC]

Letters to the LostThe accident happened months ago, but to Juliet, it feels like it was just yesterday. Her mom took an earlier flight home as a surprise because Juliet begged her to. Now she’s dead. Hit and run. So Juliet writes her letters. Of course, she knows that her mom will never read them, but it feels good sometimes to put those emotions down on paper. When Declan finds one of Juliet’s letters at the cemetery where he’s doing community service, he can’t help but respond. They become pen pals of sorts and under the cover of anonymity they can admit things that they never had the courage to admit before.

I did not expect this book. It was deep and meaningful and was a really intense look at grief from all kinds of different angles. All of the characters in this book are flawed and the author doesn’t shy away from the ugly parts of their lives or personalities. Juliet and Declan are both kind of angry people, but I didn’t find that I minded like I have with characters from other books. Mostly I just felt sad for both characters. They’ve both had these huge events in their lives that completely change how they interact with the rest of the world. I wouldn’t say that either of them are particularly likable, but I still felt for them and I think that’s a sign of really well developed characters.

The cast of secondary characters was also amazing. I loved both Rev and Rowan, but especially Rev and I’m very excited that he’ll be getting his own bookĀ coming out next year. They were a great support system for the two main characters and honestly just seem like really good people. At the same time, they had their own flaws that we don’t really have time to get into in this book–but they’re there. I also just want to give a shoutout to the fact that Rev is an unashamed Christian and isn’t portrayed as a complete freak. Then there are the adult characters. Frank, Juliet’s dad, Declan’s mom and step-dad, Rev’s parents, Mrs. Hillard, and Mr. Gerardi. A lot of times YA books portray adults as the enemies or like they just don’t understand or completely absent. There is a little bit of that in this book, but there are also a lot of times when adults are present and they are every bit as flawed as our teenage protagonists. Despite those flaws a lot of the adult characters are also super enabling. I especially loved the interactions that Declan had with Frank and Mrs. Hillard. It’s not always an us vs them thing when it comes to teens and adults–sometimes adults are on your side! So I give a big thank you to the author for illustrating that. I also loved Juliet’s gradual appreciation for her father.

There is a bit of a plot that runs as a constant thread throughout the book, but it’s definitely not the focus–we’re much more focused on the development of our main characters. I think my overall takeaway from this book is that we really shouldn’t judge other people before getting to know them. I think this is most apparent in the judgments that Rowan and Brandon make about Declan and Rev. Rowan and Brandon are nice, good people, but they don’t take the time to try to get to know either Declan or Rev. They only listen to the things they’ve heard about Declan and Rev is guilty by association and because he dresses strangely. How many of us are exactly like Rowan and Brandon? Let’s get to know and love the Declans and Revs of the world.

Overall, I thought this book was really great. While there were someĀ overusedĀ elements (the “evil stepparent” for one), I also thought that the author included several refreshing elements. I think this book will, deservedly, stand apart from other books in the YA category.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate. Some brief descriptions of child abuse.
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate. Mostly due to one scene at the end of the book–not graphic.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The book to read if you ever wanted to learn more about autism | Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik [ARC]

Things I Should Have KnownChloe doesn’t have what anybody would call an “ideal situation”. Sure she’s pretty popular at school, but her dad died a few years ago and her mom married a total tool. On top of that, she has an autistic older sister to worry about. Her friends are supportive, but don’t really get it–not that she expects them to. When Chloe tries to set her sister up on a couple of dates, Chloe begins to see one of her classmates in a completely different light. She starts to think that maybe there is someone who can understand her after all.

This book was truly great. The author has a child who is autistic and I felt that that really shows in the book. It feels real and authentic and I learned a lot more about how to interact with people who are on the autism spectrum. This is the kind of diversity in characters that I can appreciate. The author has first-hand experience with autism and can portray it in a way that somebody without that first-hand knowledge never could in my opinion.

Chloe and David are both just really great characters. The love that they have for their siblings is obvious throughout the book. They’re definitely flawed, but I can’t help but feel that they’re still better people than I am. They have normal lives, but at the same time, their worlds kind of revolve around their siblings. Chloe and David make me want to be a better person when I’m around those with disabilities for sure. Their relationship with each other felt real and progressed at a natural pace. I thought they really balanced each other out. As far as secondary characters go, I felt that both sets of parents could have been developed a little more. More depth was shown at the end of the book, but it almost felt like too little, too late. James and Sarah were both really flat characters as well and didn’t contribute much of importance to the story.

One criticism that I have is with Chloe’s relationship with her step-dad. It just seemed so obvious to me. For once I would like to read a book where the main character looses a parent that they had a good relationship with, but then they also love their step-parent as well. Does that ever happen in real life? Does it even exist? Or am I just wishing for a unicorn here? It just feels like a really cheap way to add drama.

Ethan and Ivy were also great characters. I felt like they really showed how differently autism can manifest itself. Not all people with autism act the same way or have the same triggers. Also, I thought the author did a great job of showing that even their loved ones get fed up with them sometimes. People who have autism don’t necessarily need to be babied–they just need to be treated like normal people. The LGBT aspect of it was interesting as well. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I think the author brings up an important topic here.

Overall, I thought this book was fantastic. I’ve really liked LaZebnik’s books in the past and while this one was different, it didn’t disappoint. I definitely look forward to reading anything else that she comes out with.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A timely book about racism | Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham [ARC]

Dreamland BurningRowan Chase has a dead body on her family’s property.Ā A brief investigation shows that the body was likely dumped there sometime in the 1920’s (almost 100 years ago) and Rowan is determined to figure out the story behind it. William Tillman is just another white teenage boy growing up in Tulsa during the Prohibition. After getting a black man killed for touching a white girl’s hand, Will starts to rethink how he feels about black people. On a Summer night in 1921 all of his new-found convictions are put to the test. While these two characters live in different times, their stories are unquestionably intertwined.

I have some mixed feelings about this book. As a minority myself, I have given a lot of thought about the representation of minorities and race in books (especially YA). I, personally, have a hard time sometimes whenĀ white authors write about these subjects as they don’t have the same personal experiences that a non-white person has had (regardless of how much research they’ve put into their book). Instead, I feel that we need more diverse authors to write about the experiences of diverse characters (you can read my whole post here). As far as I can tell from some Googling and website/blog reading, Ms. Latham is white (and I apologize profusely if this is not the case, but I haven’t been able to find anything that would indicate otherwise) so I’m not sure how authentically she can tell the story despite the large amount of research she put into the book. There was one part in particular that had me scratching my head a little. Geneva, the forensic anthropologist, tells Rowan (who is half-black, half-white) that she can tell that the body is most likely black due to facial structure. Rowan then has this internal debate about whether or not she’s offended at these “racist remarks”. Mmmm…maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find that offensive at all. It actually makes sense to me that different races would have different bone structure. My eyes are shaped differently than white people, so why wouldn’t my eye sockets be shaped differently as well? Other than a couple of other things like that, I felt that the author did a good job dealing with such a heavy topic.

So let’s actually get into the book. I thought Latham did a great job creating our two main characters.They were both likable and I think that’s impressive especially for Will as he has some racist tendencies due to the environment that he grew up in. You kind of want to hate him because of what happens in the beginning of the book, but then you just start to feel really sorry for him. He becomes really conflicted and his internal battle seemed pretty genuine to me. Rowan was a firecracker and a fun character as well. Her best friend was interesting but I do question why Latham chose to make him asexual as it didn’t really feel like it had an effect on who he was as a character–it felt more to me like diversity for diversity’s sake (which, again, I’m not a fan of).

I liked that the book had a bit of mystery to it. The book alternates between Rowan and Will so the reader ends up with quite a bit more information than Rowan as she’s trying to figure out whose body is in her backyard. It was fun and interesting for me to see Rowan making incorrect assumptions. Based on the information she has her deductions are quite logical, but we know that she doesn’t have the whole story. The reader is given clues from both the past and the present so I was able to figure out who the body was maybe around the 70% mark–but I think the author meant for us to figure it out at that point. The way the two story lines came together was also interesting and (for the most part) felt natural.

I can’t speak for black people, but as a minority I do appreciate that Latham has chosen to tackle this big topic of race and racism in America. While I think the book would have felt more meaningful if it had been written by a black author, it is apparent that Latham had done an extensive amount of research while she was writing. She doesn’t shy away from painting things as ugly as they were–she’s not pulling any punches here. This book has frank depictions of racism and the kind of cruelty that humans will inflict upon each other. Latham also illustrates the small types of racism that are still around today. Overall, I thought this book was well-done and I would recommend it for mid to older teens.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate. Specifically the n-word is used several times (along with other language), but I did not feel that the author used it excessively in the context of the book.
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild. One brief, non-descriptive scene of attempted rape.

Note: I received this book free from The NOVL in exchange for an honest review.

No Mourners. No Funerals. | Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

The Dregs are just another gang in Ketterdam, but the one thing they have that others don’t is Kaz Brekker. He’s young, but he’s good at what he does. When he’s approached to pull off the most impossible heist, all he can see is the pile of money waiting for him at the end of it. He quickly pulls a talented crew together–the only ones with a glimmer of a chance at success. Can they pull it off? Or will this job prove to be too much–even for Kaz “Dirty Hands” Brekker?

Six of CrowsI LOVE a good heist. Book, movie–whatever. So with that in mind, I thought that I was going to like this book. Turns out that I REALLY liked this book. The characters were all just so complicated and had an enormous amount of depth. I thought that Bardugo did a great job of switching between narrators and between past and present. That way the reader can get into every character’s head and kind of understand what their motivations are. At the same time, even though we’re jumping between characters, we’re not privy to everything that’s going on. There were a couple of twists that had me going, “WHAAAAATT????”.

This book and the plot were giving me serious Mistborn vibes (which isn’t a bad thing) but the thing that I thought Mistborn did better was the timeline. In Mistborn, they take a whole year (if I’m remembering correctly) to pull of their “thing” whereas Kaz and his team take approximately a week before they’re off. I just felt like that seemed less realistic. Another point of “realism” that always bothers me is when we’re supposed to be in a completely different world, but then the characters use our swear words. I don’t know why that bothers me so much. I mean…as far as I’m concerned, the characters are speaking English, so doesn’t it make sense for them to use English swear words? But for some reason it just yanks me out of the story every time.

AnotherĀ thing that kind of took away from the book for me…I keep harping on this same topic of not having diverse characters for the sake of diversity. I thought Inej being a POC was great and I felt like that characteristic played into who she was as a character and how she had developed throughout her life. That being said, there were a couple of other characters that had a diverse trait that seemed more forced. While I’m not opposed to having LGBT characters in the books that I read, I didn’t feel like it added to who the characters were or had any consequence in their development as people. More, it felt like Bardugo just wanted to neatly pair off the six main characters and this was the easiest way to do that. Sorry, not a fan. Maybe more will be revealed in the second book about how this trait played into character development. We’ll see.

Overall, I thought this book was really fun and I loved seeing another part of the Grisha-verse. After finishing I wished that I could immediately get my hands on the second book (unfortunately, I had to wait until Christmas). It’s on my list now and I’m REALLY hoping to get to it this month! But I also don’t want to read it because I want the story to last forever–it’s quite the dilemma.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate

BLOG TOUR: Everyday Magic by Emily Albright [GIVEAWAY]

Everyday Magic Everyday Magic
by Emily Albright
Release Date: December 2nd 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

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Note: This book is technically the second in a series, but can be read as a standalone. The first book in the series is The Heir and the Spare.

SYNOPSIS:Ā For once, Maggie McKendrick just wants to control her own life. Her overbearing Hollywood director father has it all planned out for her: UCLA, law school, then working as an entertainment lawyer, preferably for him. But Maggie has other, more creative-spirit friendly, plans. Namely, Thrippletons School of Fashion and Design in England, and then onto becoming a designer, preferably a wildly successful one. The big snag in her plan? Getting it past her dad.

A movie shoot takes the family to the Scottish Highlands for the summer, and closer to Maggieā€™s dream school. While there, she runs into the charming Preston Browne. Maggie is intrigued and decides to bend her no guys ruleā€”instituted after her ex used her to get close to her dad. Forced to keep secrets from Preston in order to protect the future plans sheā€™s made, Maggie finds herself falling for the tall Brit. And for once in her life she knows that heā€™s interested in her, not her Hollywood connections. When Maggie’s father blackmails her into dating his lead actor, she isnā€™t left with a choice. The biggest problem isnā€™t having to date hunky, mega-hottie, Ben Chambers. No, itā€™s praying she doesnā€™t lose Preston in the process.

Excelling at her dream school, Maggieā€™s personal life is a tangled mess. She needs to decide if living a lie is worth losing Preston or chance going against her father and facing his wrath. When the tabloids expose the truth of her fake relationship with Ben, Maggie’s world is thrown into a tailspin. Ultimately, Maggie must find the courage to take risks and forge ahead on her own path.

REVIEW: While I liked the first book in this series fine, I definitely liked this one better. I really liked Preston from the first book, so I was excited to learn a little more about him in this one. Maggie as a main character was fun and interesting. I really liked that she had such a clear vision for herself and she had the passion and drive to make it happen. I also really liked her relationships with her mom and brother. Her dad on the other hand…maybe I’m a bit naive, but I just don’t even want to believe that there are people out there who are that evil. But, you know, definitely a very hateable character. That’s all I’ll say about him.

Like the first book, nothing was really groundbreaking as far as the plot went, but it was still enjoyable nevertheless. While I enjoyed some of the added subplots, there were a couple of times that I felt like the author was trying to cram in too many different ideas into one book. Instead of taking the time to really develop different plotlines, everything was kind of crammed together and happening at the same time. It just made the book feel kind of busy, but again, I still enjoyed it.

Overall, I thought the book was a great follow-up to The Heir and the Spare. I did enjoy seeing some of the original characters and catching up with them. I have a feeling that there will be a third book in the series but I’m not sure who it’s going to feature…Maggie’s brother? Suze? Someone else entirely? I’ll definitely be on the lookout though.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate


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Emily AlbrightABOUT THE AUTHOR:Ā 
Emily Albright’s debut novel, THE HEIR AND THE SPARE, was released on January 18, 2016 from Merit Press.

She’s a writer, a major bookworm, a lover of romantic movies, a wife, a mother, an owner of one adorable (yet slightly insane) cockapoo, and uses way too many :).

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Note: I received this book free from the author/blog tourĀ in exchange for an honest review.

A real life (but fictional) Will & Kate story | The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright

The Heir and the SpareEvie’s just trying to follow in her mother’s footsteps and that means going to Oxford. While Evie loves her father, she misses her mother terribly and hopes that attending her mother’s alma mater will help her to feel closer to her. She doesn’t count on meeting history loving Edmund or his pack of friends. She certainly doesn’t count on falling for this tall, British dreamboat. When Evie learns something about her mother’s past, she starts to question who she really is and who the woman was that raised her. Sometimes it’s the people you love the most who hold the biggest secrets.

I really liked the idea of this book. I mean, what young girl doesn’t fantasize about falling in love with a prince? The overall premise is cute and not especially groundbreaking. The plot itself was fine even if it was pretty predictable. I mean the tagline on the cover basically says it all, “She’s secretly royal. He’s secretly loyal.” Corny, but accurate. So yeah, overall enjoyable, but not particularly memorable. This book is basically a cross between 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Princess Diaries.

There was a little too much drama in my opinion. Evie and Edmund had this “will they or won’t they” thing going pretty much the whole time even though the reader knows how it’s going to end. I felt like the reasons behind their repeated breakups were inconsequential. Like, I didn’t feel like they should Ā have had as much weight as they did. I was a little annoyed by all of the back and forth.

The characters were okay as well. Edmund and Evie were both fairly likable, but their friends were pretty forgettable/interchangeable. Few of them stood out as their own person. They were kind of presented as this group and then stayed lumped together as a group the rest of the book. I would have liked a little more depth for the secondary characters. Then don’t even get me started on the “mean girls”. I mean…I’m not part of English High Society, but did those girls seem unrealistically mean to anyone else? I’m more a fan of the subtle enemy. I don’t want a character to say, “Back off, he’s mine”. Instead I’d like them to show me, if that makes sense. They were basically just mean for no reason.

Overall, this book was just okay. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. In my opinion, the second book in the series (look out for my review of Everyday Magic tomorrow) was stronger. Technically this is the first book in a series of two, possibly more, books. However, both can be read as stand-alones though they do involve the same characters. So if you don’t want spoilers on this book, don’t read the second one first.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild