Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills [Review]

Famous in a Small TownSophie’s marching band has been invited to march at the Rose Parade. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they’re going to be able to raise enough money to actually get there. That’s when Sophie comes up with a genius idea–if she can get hometown celebrity Megan Pleasant to come to a local festival, they might just be able to raise enough funds to make the trip. Sophie enlists her friends and newcomer August in this mission to get Megan Pleasant to come home at last.

TL;DR – Characters feel like characters rather than real people and the main character’s kind of taken for granted, but still a really enjoyable read.

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I absolutely tear through these books. Emma Mills is really good at writing characters that are enjoyable to read. Even though her characters are a little¬†too witty almost all of the time, I still find myself enjoying the banter. You kind of just have to accept that these are obviously characters–not real people. One thing I liked about this book is that Sophie already has an established group of friends. I’ve noticed a trend in YA Contemporary where the main character is kind of this misfit and/or a really introverted girl who gets absorbed into this quirky friend group and is handed a love interest. I thought Sophie’s group of friends was interesting and I felt that their shared history gave the group depth.

On the other hand, there were a lot of times when I felt like Sophie was being completely taken advantage of and the rest of the group was acting really selfishly. Sophie cares so much for other people–ESPECIALLY HER FRIENDS–and I felt like she was repeatedly getting trampled on (figuratively speaking). I mean, how hard is it for her friends to care about the Megan Pleasant thing for TWO SECONDS just because it’s important to Sophie?!? TWO SECONDS. I just wish they’d been more supportive of Sophie.

The plot takes some interesting turns, but I don’t want to spoil anything. I’ll just say that one of the twists had me bawling and the other seemed…a little bit of a stretch. How everything played out just seemed a bit questionable and maybe a tad too convenient?

Overall, I liked this book as much as Mills’ other ones and will definitely continue to pick up her stuff. I had some minor issues with it, but nothing that really prevented me from enjoying it.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Heavy

Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate

 

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Holly Black Mini-Reviews

Let’s be honest, this is probably only part 1 of a series of Holly Black reviews (I’m on a binge) but I need to get these reviews out. I read the Tithe books years ago in junior high (I think I was just a¬†tad too young to be reading them, but here we are) and haven’t really picked up any Holly Black since. I remember really liking that series and I just hadn’t gotten around to picking up anything else by her even though I kept adding her books to my TBR. This month I finally took the plunge and I am HAPPY to be back.

mini-reviews

The Cruel Prince

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this book. I remembered Black’s version of Faerie, but I didn’t know anything about this series specifically. I’ll be honest–I don’t LOVE Jude as a protag. I guess she’s supposed to be an anti-hero? Perhaps I’ve just been extremely spoiled in my anti-heroes, but I didn’t find her as likable as some others that I’ve read. She was just a little much for me. I really wanted her to slow down and think a little bit more and for her to be less chippy. One thing I loved about this book were Black’s previous character cameos. THIS is how you do a character cameo *cough*LeighBardugo*cough*. It felt natural and not at all name drop-y. To be honest, I wasn’t totally sure that the cameos were happening–I had to go look up Black’s other characters. In the end, I did quite enjoy this book and was happy to find that I could immediately check out the next one. 4/5

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 The Wicked King

Just a quick spoiler warning for this one: this mini-review may spoil some of the events from the first book–just a warning.

Jude continued to be a confusing character for me. I don’t totally understand her constant lust for power. I felt like maybe I needed more backstory from her featuring the times when she felt most powerless. How did she get to this point? I also don’t love the relationship between Jude and Taryn. They’re twins that went through this really traumatic thing together and I wish they were closer. I really wanted them to be on the same team. I guess the argument could be made that Locke essentially turned them against each other? But I think if they’re relationship had been stronger, it would have been able to withstand that. Mostly, I just found myself a little confused throughout this book over characters and even sometimes over plot. I felt like I would have benefited from one or two other POVs. As it was, I didn’t feel like I completely understood everything that was happening. Without spoiling¬†this book, I 0% understand why the person who betrayed Jude did. They gave minimal reasoning, but it still doesn’t make sense to me. Lastly, Valerian cursed Jude when she killed him towards the end of the last book and that literally hasn’t come up once. Just wondering if that’s ever going to come into play… Regardless, I will clearly be reading the last book and anticipation is HIGH.¬†4/5

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 The Darkest Part of the Forest

This book mostly takes place in the human world which was both good and bad. I find the faerie world that Black has created to be extremely fascinating so I love getting to explore it. With that being said, I also thought it was really interesting how this mortal town has accepted the Folk and have learned to live around them. I really liked Hazel as a character right away. I thought she was tough and I felt like I could understand her as a person and why she made certain choices. In contrast, I felt like Severin got almost no development as a character and the romantic relationship that involves him also had zero development–it just kind of happened. Literally, Severin declared, “I love this person!” and we’re all just supposed to go along with it. Ummm…okay, I guess? One part of this that I especially liked was the relationship between Ben and Hazel. I liked that they were a monster-fighting team. They were friends and siblings and their relationship felt super pure. I’d love to see these characters (but especially Hazel, Ben, and Jack) in future/other books.¬†4/5

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In which I read three books for one book club | Liane Moriarty Mini-Reviews

Nine Perfect Strangers

This was the first book that I read by Liane Moriarty and was originally supposed to be THE book for book club. However, the hosts decided they didn’t LOVE this one, so they opened up the discussion to any of her books. I thought this one was really interesting as it made me consider the assumptions that I hold about other people. All of the characters make huge assumptions about everyone else at the retreat and it just makes you think about how you interact with others. The ending was pretty weird and as I was reading I was just kind of like, “….what….?” For that reason, I’m glad that I read this one first. If I’d read one of her other books before this one, I think I would have been disappointed. 3.5/5

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Big Little Lies

As soon as I started Big Little Lies, I could tell a night and day difference between this and Nine Perfect Strangers. It immediately sucked me into the story and I was so invested. In this book, I really came to appreciate the way Moriarty writes. It’s super casual, fun, and easy to read. Some writers have a way of writing that allows you to read their books super fast–that was how I felt about Moriarty’s writing. Especially in this book, I literally felt like I COULD NOT READ FAST ENOUGH. The story is interesting and the little interview snippets keep you anticipating what’s to come. I had a prediction for the “mystery” but was wrong. So wrong. 4/5

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Truly Madly Guilty

I didn’t like this one quite as much as the first two. I had a hard time getting into the story (perhaps that’s because I’d read two of her other books shortly before this one). I did think the characters were pretty interesting, but I didn’t find myself sympathizing with them like I did with the Big Little Lies characters. However, I thought the atmosphere in this one was the best. The rain creates this really heavy and uneasy atmosphere–you can’t get comfortable. Something I noticed especially in this one is that Moriarty is really good at toying with her readers. She knows what assumptions we’re going to make with the plot and she teases us relentlessly. The ending just about killed me, but with that being said it felt like this book was about 100 pages too long. 3/5

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Wait…is this Grisha fan-fiction? | King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of ScarsIt’s been a few years since the Darkling was defeated and Nikolai’s still trying to figure out how to keep Ravka afloat. This task is made much harder by the fact that Nikolai seems to turn into a monster most nights. A literal monster. He’s desperate for a solution and when a Darkling-loving monk turns up with a possible answer, Nikolai has no choice but to listen to what he has to say.

TL;DR – So much of this reads as Grisha fan-fiction. There were definitely parts that I liked, but a lot that I didn’t as well.

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It took me so long to finally read this book. I think I was just a little scared maybe. I really loved Nikolai from the original trilogy and I didn’t know how this was going to go. Starting off, I felt like I needed some kind of recap for the Grisha trilogy. I literally could not remember a single thing about Zoya. This book leans heavily on the assumption that everyone who picks it up has read Bardugo’s previous series’ which isn’t necessarily going to be the case. So yeah, I think it would have been wise to include at least a recap for the trilogy for those who don’t remember what happened in the original series or for those who never read it in the first place.

The narration mostly rotates between Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina but Nina is over in Fjerda so she’s got a different storyline than the other two. Honestly, I didn’t¬†love Nina in the Six of Crows duology and this book possibly makes me like her even less. Her storyline was not compelling to me at all and I don’t see how it ties in with Nikolai’s main storyline. Honestly, it kind of felt forced as a way for Bardugo to bring her two series’ together (and every time Nina made some name-drop-y reference to the Ketterdam crew, I cringed). And then there’s the whole Nina/Hanne relationship that’s obviously coming and that started approximately five seconds after Nina buried Matthias’ body. I’m sorry, is this fan-fiction? Did someone write some f/f Nina fan-fiction and it accidentally got published as part of this book? I’m not trying to knock fan-fiction at all, I’m just trying to convey that this aspect had an inauthentic feel to me.

My other issue with Nina is that she’s selfless in this really selfish way. She doesn’t trust that people will help her if she gives them all of the information or tells them her whole plan. Nina puts people in tough situations and sometimes even in danger because she has her own agenda regardless of the consequences. She’s just not a team player and was a really frustrating character for me to read.

Nikolai, on the other hand, continues to be his most charming and lovable self. I appreciated getting to see some of his and Zoya’s respective backgrounds. I thought his storyline was a lot more interesting. His quest to find a cure was really interesting but I would have also liked a little more of “the bachelor” stuff to be thrown in–we didn’t actually get much of that. I really liked Isaak as a character and wished he’d been a narrator from the beginning. He deserved more than what he got and that’s all I’ll say about that.

And the ending…I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who DOESN’T have a strong opinion on the ending. Without being too spoiler-y, I’ll just say that once again, this reads like fan-fiction. That was a fan-fiction ending and I hate it.

Overall, I liked most of this book. I didn’t like Nina’s storyline or the ending, but everything else was great! I like the way that Bardugo seems to be expanding on the powers of the Grisha and I like the interesting political climate. I just think she’s spending too much time on things that aren’t relevant or wholly original instead of developing these interesting facets of her story.

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

Adult summer reads | Mini-Reviews

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but ever since I started my job at the library last year I’ve been reading more adult books (rather than YA). Even though I had to leave my library job at the end of May, I’ve still been reading adult books! Here are a few that I’ve read since then (and I’m only just now noticing that all of these covers are red).

Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch

Going into this book, I knew it was about alternate timelines but nothing else about it. As the book starts, I felt like not much was happening and I was just waiting for Jason to figure out that he was in an alternate reality. With that being said, I did feel like the narrative picked up significantly when he and Amanda started traveling to different timelines. I liked the few chapters we got from Daniela’s perspective. It made me wonder what I would do if I started noticing small changes like that in my own husband. Without giving too much away, I thought the big discovery that happened 3/4 of the way through was mind blowing but also made perfect sense and really turned up the stress levels. One thing that didn’t make a ton of sense to me was the box itself. I didn’t really understand how it just…WAS in every reality. I feel like it should only exist in the realities in which it’s been built and you should only be able to travel between those realities? Like bus stops. I don’t know–maybe I’m just not understanding the science. Overall, I thought this book was pretty good and interesting, but it wasn’t AMAZING. 3.5/5

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VengefulVengeful by V.E. Schwab

After the first book, my expectations for this one were HIGH. It didn’t quite live up to those expectations, but I still liked it. I thought the beginning was a lot slower and the time periods were harder for me to keep track of–I think there were maybe too many different Sydney time periods. As the story finally started to unfold, I wasn’t sure how all of the characters were going to fit together, but when I did start to see it, it was glorious. I thought Schwab did a great job of creating a new antagonist while also making room for Eli to continue being Eli. I wasn’t super invested in the mini-plotline of Sydney resurrecting Serena. I know they were sisters but…I just don’t see how Sydney could possibly think that would be a good idea–especially with her resurrection powers being less predictable on EOs. So yeah, in the end I didn’t think it was as good as the first book, but I liked it and I enjoyed how all the pieces fit together. Seems like there’s potential for a third book? I’d read it. 4.5/5

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Magic for LiarsMagic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

I like that Ivy isn’t stupid. That feels kind of weird to say, but sometimes main characters can be a little clueless? I like that we get to see her explanations for how and why she’s manipulating/evaluating people. She’s observant–other characters can’t easily pull one over on her. I liked this world that’s been created. It’s Harry Potter-esque (what magical world isn’t at this point?) but from a non-magical perspective. I thought Ivy’s musings while watching the teenagers doing flippant magic was really compelling. If I were in Ivy’s place I would also be frustrated at seeing kids do stupid magic. You could do so much more and you’re using your magic to change the color of your locker? Or something dumb like that. One issue I did have was that Ivy really didn’t want Rahul to know she wasn’t magical, but I feel like she said 1,001 dumb, non-thinking things to him that would have tipped him off. But overall, I thought this was a really great mystery (and one that I was actually able to solve myself before the end!) and I could maybe see this becoming a series? Like Ivy could go investigate other magical cases. We’ll see. 4/5

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Twins, mountains that are castles, and evil princes | Crown of Coral & Pearl by Mara Rutherford [ARC]

Crown of Coral and PearlOnce a generation, the Varenians send their most beautiful girl to Ilara to marry the prince. It is a great honor and twins¬†Nor and Zadie have been groomed their whole lives to become a princess. However, because of a childhood accident involving some blood coral, Nor’s cheek is scarred and she knows she could never be chosen. Nobody is surprised when Zadie is selected, but she’s in love with a boy from home and begs Nor to help her get out of it. In the end, Nor takes Zadie’s place, but she is unprepared for what she will find on the mainland and what she will need to do to save her home.

TL;DR – Nor says many unwise things and makes many unwise decisions, but is still a likable character. Some things don’t make a¬†ton of sense, but can be ignored.

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This book was a little different than I thought it would be but at the same time is also exactly what I thought it would be. Does that make sense? Plotwise, there were many things that the reader knows is going to happen (because of course) but the author takes her sweet time getting there. For example, it took FOREVER for Nor to come to the conclusion that she needs to take Zadie’s place. I understand in the context of the story that it wasn’t that simple, but we probably could have saved at least 50 pages. It’s when Nor gets to Ilara that things take some interesting turns that I didn’t really anticipate.

I thought the relationship between Nor and Zadie was a really interesting one. The author herself is a twin (as I found out in the Acknowledgements section) and that gives authenticity to the sister relationship. Never having been a twin myself, I felt like I understood better what it would be like to go through life with someone always at your side. I appreciated that there was no jealousy between the girls. They were legitimately the best of friends and sisters.

There were some minor plot points that didn’t quite make sense to me. Some of them were explained (kind of), but some weren’t. There were times when Nor’s plans didn’t make sense and I can’t tell if that was purposeful to show her naivety or…what. I also felt like she didn’t act or speak with the appropriate amount of caution, especially when Talin was involved. Ceren is this seriously dangerous dude and she’s just randomly mouthing off to him or snubbing him in favor of Talin whenever possible. HE COULD END YOU, NOR.

As far as the other characters, I felt like the author was maybe trying to create some moral grey-ness with Ceren? But then she also wanted to make sure we knew he was a BAD GUY. It just made his character seem inconsistent and I didn’t feel like that worked with the story. Also, his and Talin’s relationship made approximately 5% of sense to me.

Overall, I actually liked this book quite a bit and will definitely be reading the second. Though, I’m not really sure where the plot can go from here? I have some suspicions, but if my suspicions are correct, I don’t like it. I guess we’ll see!

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

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

Probably the darkest 12 Dancing Princesses retelling you’ll ever read | House of Salt & Sorrows by Erin A. Craig [ARC]

House of Salt and SorrowsAnnaleigh just wants her sisters to stop dying. There used to be twelve of them but now that Ava, Octavia, Elizabeth, and Eulalie are all dead, there are only eight of them left. As she struggles to mourn the latest death, Eulalie’s, Annaleigh must also find a way to comfort her younger sisters when the town starts theorizing about a family curse. Frustrated that all of the young men are too afraid of “the curse” to court them, the sisters realize they must try to find young men that have never heard of them or their dead sisters. They think they might have found a way, but what will it cost them?

TL;DR – The story of the 12 Dancing Princesses darker than you’ve ever heard it. Part mystery and part fairytale retelling, it comes together better than expected even if a little confusing at times.

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Sometimes I request books on NetGalley and then when it’s finally time to read and review, I’ve forgotten what the book was supposed to be about. I went into this book pretty blind–I didn’t realize at first that it was a retelling until they were buying their “fairy shoes”. With that being said, I love a good retelling and I’ve actually read quite a few retellings of the 12 Dancing Princesses. This one was different. A lot of the ones I’ve read stick to the “secret door in their room that leads to another place” outline. I’ve even read one or two where the princesses are forced to dance against their will. Craig’s take on the story felt a lot more insidious. I think part of it was Camille’s desperation and refusal to let go of this outlet she’d found and part of it was the spooky stuff that was going on with Verity.

Annaleigh was a likable character from the beginning. Her sisters varied in likability depending on what was going on, but they were all enjoyable. The only thing I wished was that we got to see the softer, kinder side of Camille. Annaleigh states that they grew up as best friends, but we never really see that side to their relationship. Camille is mostly just bratty and grumpy the whole book. Craig did a good job of making a lot of the secondary characters feel kind of grey. I wasn’t sure who was supposed to be good and who was supposed to be bad until almost the very end. It seemed like maybe we were getting set up for a love triangle, but the author managed to turn that on its head as well. I wasn’t super into Cassius as the love interest. I mean, he seemed perfect, but (as is often the case) we’re not really given any concrete reasons as to why he likes Annaleigh. He seems like this perfect guy (too perfect) so what exactly does he want with or flawed main character? Authors! We need an explanation for this!

The plot was twisty and suspenseful. I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen next or what the conclusion was going to be until it was upon us. Without giving anything away, I will say that I’m a little disappointed by some character resolutions…I’ll just leave it at that. I thought the religious system could have used a little more explanation. Maybe the author could have started each chapter with a myth or legend about the gods that these people believed in. It’s just that almost nothing is said about their gods in the first 2/3 of the book, and then all of the sudden they start playing this huge role.

Overall, I would recommend this book for people who are looking for darker fairytale retellings. While it has a happy(ish) ending, I wouldn’t say that it’s feel good at all. It was definitely darker and creepier than I had anticipated–I was surprised by the touch of horror! I would definitely say this could be a good book to read in late September or in October to get ready for Halloween.

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

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