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.

Purchase: Hardcover | Paperback (preorder) | eBook

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

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Not my fave, but Asian rep so… | Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Descendant of the CranePrincess Hesina knows her father was murdered, now she just needs to convince everyone else of that fact. She embarks on a journey to not only prove that he was murdered, but to also find his murderer. As she does, she will learn things about her country, her family, her friends, and herself. Hesina’s world is turned completely upside down as she grapples with these revelations and she’ll need to decide what kind of ruler she wants to be.

TL;DR – There were things that I liked about this book, but I don’t feel super invested in the story or the characters. Asian rep was cool though.

Purchase: Hardcover | eBook

This book started off really slow for me and that proved to be just the beginning of my issues with the plot. Several “shocking” plot points ended up being pretty obvious to me and others came out of left field and made little to no sense. The Sooth premise was interesting, but again, was mildly confusing. I didn’t really understand how their powers worked. I thought I understood the thing with their blood, but then halfway through the book I got confused. The author does try to explain certain things but it still doesn’t really make sense? And then the ending is just so…convoluted. I’m sure more things will be explained in the next book, but I don’t know that I’ll get to it.

The characters were fine. I didn’t love Hesina, but I did appreciate some small things about her. I liked that the author addressed periods as a thing that happens to women. I also liked that Hesina was a competent ruler. Even though she acquired the throne unexpectedly, she’d been adequately prepared for the role and knew how to do things like administrative paperwork, taxes, etc. I didn’t love Hesina’s relationship with her brother, Sanjing. I thought it was pretty obvious that he was just looking out for her and she pushed back at him to the extreme. It also doesn’t totally make sense to me how a 16-year-old boy could be trusted to lead the entire military? But, okay. Akira was fine but I wish his character had been explored more. He kind of just popped in at convenient times. Caiyan was pretty bland for most of the book and then all of the sudden got really interesting at the end. With that being said, since he wasn’t interesting for 99% of the book, I don’t feel any motivation to continue with his character arc in the next book.

Overall, I appreciated the Asian rep–always a great thing–but I didn’t LOVE this book. I thought the story was just kind of confusing and the characters weren’t great. There were some subtle things that I did appreciate, but I’m not really invested and probably won’t continue the series.

Overall Rating: 3.5
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

Well…at least I can say I’ve read it | Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane EyreJane Eyre is an orphan raised by her uncle’s wife. Despite her uncle’s dying wish to have Jane raised as one of his own children, his wife treats Jane as nothing more than a nuisance. Jane is glad to be sent away to school where she makes new friends and eventually grows into a learned young lady. After some time, she feels that it is her duty to move on and advertises her skills as a governess. Her employer, Mr. Rochester, is unlike any man she’s ever known. As she finally starts to find happiness in her life, Jane will have to find the strength to stick to her principles and learn what it means to be an independent woman.

TL;DR – A deliciously Gothic setting surrounds two characters who I really don’t care about.

I became interested in reading this book because it’s one of those stories that I think a lot of people generally know (he kept his crazy wife in the attic!) but I knew nothing else about it. Then I read My Plain Jane and really enjoyed it, but there were a few plot points that I was just like, “Wait…does this REALLY happen in Jane Eyre?” So I had to read the source material to find out.

Unfortunately, I did not like this book. I feel bad about it because both my mom and sister told me this was one of their favorite books but I just…didn’t feel the same (why is this book a favorite? WHYYYYY????). Firstly, I didn’t care for Mr. Rochester. He didn’t really seem like that great of a guy to me. I found almost all of his conversations with Jane to be abrasive and confusing–it was like a very aggressive ping pong match that he was playing with himself. Despite that, he also had these moments of ultimate patheticness and I just wanted to grab him by the collar and say, “BE AN ADULT”. He was both overly aggressive and overly whiny and it just wasn’t a good combo.

Reading Goodreads reviews when I had finished, I realized that a lot of people really like Jane’s progression, I guess? While I do see some growth, I never particularly cared for her character either. There’s just something about her–even as a little girl–that rubs me the wrong way. I think similar to Rochester, there were some times that I just wanted to say, “PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER”. I don’t really see the strength in her that a lot of other readers see. I don’t understand how she managed to fall in love with Mr. Rochester while he was basically baiting her with the whole Miss Ingram situation. It almost felt to me like her feelings for Mr. Rochester were at least partially born from a sort of self-loathing? And because of that, I never liked them together. The parts where I most liked Jane is when she had moved on and had become a teacher. But then she goes on back to Mr. Rochester for no reason and with no notice (rude). I just don’t see their relationship as being romantic in any way. I’m sorry, I don’t.

Secondary characters were fine. I liked Adele though I wish we’d gotten some kind of translation for her (alas, I do not speak French). I liked Jane’s cousins too, but I feel like St. John kind of gets the shaft. He helps Jane immensely but then he doesn’t get a happy ending? I mean, I think he ended up doing what he wanted, but I’m not convinced he was happy. He was a good guy and I think he deserved more than that.

In the end, I’m glad that I can say I’ve read Jane Eyre now, but I’m not in any hurry to give it another go. I read it over the course of two months so perhaps if I read it quicker it would read better? With that being said, I don’t feel it would make me like the characters any more.

Overall Rating: 2
Language: None
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

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.

Preorder: Hardcover | eBook

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.

Unpopular opinions | With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on HighEmoni has only really loved two things: her daughter and cooking. When her high school announces a new culinary arts course, it seems tailor-made for Emoni. Unfortunately, the chef who’s teaching the course seems a little more interested in how precisely Emoni can stick to the recipe than he is in actually making food that tastes good. Not only is her culinary class going poorly, but as a senior Emoni is feeling pressure from all sides to decide what she wants to do after high school. Balancing education with her passion for food and her responsibilities as a teen mom may prove to be more than Emoni can handle right now.

TL;DR – I know everyone loves this book, but for me it was just okay. I questioned many of the MC’s decisions and that made things less enjoyable for me.

Purchase: Hardcover | eBook

I was so excited for this book–anticipation was at an all-time high. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t done it for me. I know, I know, everyone else LOVES this book *shrugs*. Let’s start with the things I liked. Emoni’s passion for cooking is amazing. I loved all of the scenes where she’s cooking. She’s an extremely likable character and I enjoyed her relationships with her grandmother, Emma, and her friend Angelica. I also thought Chef Ayden was a gem–one of the few characters who displays some common sense in this book imo. As a new-ish mom, I especially appreciated Emoni’s interactions with her daughter. I could feel the love she has for Emma on a really deep level.

Things I didn’t like so much…basically any decision that Emoni made. First, she has this weird combination of extreme short-sightedness (NEEDING to go on the Spain trip and going out after school without telling her grandmother) and being really concerned with Emma’s future. Like…you have a kid, but you thought you could just go get ice cream after school without telling anyone? Come on. Also, how does she expect to hold a job at a restaurant if she can’t make herself follow a recipe in class when she has been EXPLICITLY TOLD TO DO SO. Again, come on. It is literally ridiculous. Contradictions abound.

I also didn’t love the way she was with her grandma in relation to watching Emma. She talks like she’s trying to be considerate, but all of her actions are super inconsiderate (see ice cream after school above). I thought Emoni’s relationship with Malachi was pretty flat as well. Malachi’s initial attraction to Emoni was 100% based off of her looks–that just rubbed me the wrong way. And then Emoni is talking about how she doesn’t want to be in a relationship right now and she needs to let Malachi know in no uncertain terms that this thing isn’t happening. But then she goes out for ice cream with him! I’m realizing now that I just had A LOT of issues with the ice cream date scene. Just…again, a lot of contradictions. Maybe this is just the reality of being a teenager? I really wanted Emoni to be more firm as far as Malachi was concerned and also to have like…two ounces of common sense. One for her, one for her daughter. Alas, her willpower to stay out of a relationship with Malachi proved to be tissue paper thin.

I feel like I might take some heat over this last issue, but I’ll try to explain myself the best way I can. This book has an unmistakable urban feel to the writing and dialogue and that’s just not something that I feel super comfortable reading. When trying to explain this to my husband, I compared it to reading classic books. The language of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, etc. is just different from what I’m used to reading and speaking. That makes it harder for me to read those books. I can’t slip into them as easily and get lost in the story. That’s how books that are more urban feel for me as well. The language and feel don’t come as naturally for me and so reading a book like this doesn’t feel smooth. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but I felt the same way about The Hate U Give as well. Does that make sense? Obviously, I realize that for a lot of people this does feel more natural. And for others, they’re looking for books like this to mix things up with what they usually read–they want something different and perhaps more difficult. At this point in my reading life, I’m looking for books that I can easily get lost in and this didn’t check that box for me.

In this case, the fact that the book was harder for me to get into plus my issues with Emoni made the entire reading experience less enjoyable than I thought it would be. I was so excited for this book but ultimately feel some disappointment.

Overall Rating: 3.5
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate

This book was a ticking time bomb | Happy Messy Scary Love by Leah Konen [ARC]

Happy Messy Scary LoveOlivia loves horror movies and wants to be a horror screenwriter one day. Unfortunately, she sabotaged herself when she was applying for a prestigious NYU screenwriting summer program so now she’s left with nothing to do over the summer except hang out at her family’s cabin. At least she has her Reddit pen pal to keep her company. She thinks that’s the plan until her mom surprises her with a summer job at a ziplining company knowing full well that Olivia is TERRIFIED of heights. Not only that, but now her Reddit pen pal wants to swap photos. And the summer is only beginning.

TL;DR – So many lies that were easily avoidable and are just not going to end well for anyone involved.

I’m just going to start by saying that I felt like I was too old for this book. There were so many times when I was face palming at Olivia’s poor choices. Now, part of the problem is that this is a book so you KNOW certain things are going to happen. Ordinarily, I might not have had much of a problem with Olivia sending a picture of her friend Katie to Elm, but since this is a book you know that she and Elm WILL meet in real life and that Katie WILL also show up at some point. The same applies to other decisions made throughout the book.

The characters were just okay for me. I didn’t find Olivia to be a super sympathetic main character (perhaps because of all of her poor choices) and Jake wasn’t really a compelling love interest. Their relationship would have been a lot more fun if Jake knew that Olivia was Carrie from the beginning, but then of course we wouldn’t have had a story. Olivia’s parents/aunt were kind of non-characters? I mean, they were there and every once in a while would play a role, but honestly they could’ve been any nondescript adult character. Same with the other employees at the ziplining company–they could’ve all just been “generic summer camp employees”. Katie at times was a really great and supportive friend for Olivia, but then at other times she was TERRIBLE. I wasn’t convinced by their friendship–they both seemed pretty selfish and I don’t actually see how their friendship works.

The plot wasn’t wholly original, like I said, there were many things that you KNEW were going to happen. So while this book was still a ticking time bomb (waiting for all of Olivia’s lies to catch up with her) the book still lacked suspense. You KNOW that Jake is going to find out everything and waiting for the “when” isn’t super suspenseful. One thing I didn’t like is that there was no acknowledgement of how Jake might feel being torn between two girls (Carrie and Olivia). Even though the reader knows they’re the same person, he doesn’t, so I feel like that should have played into it more. Like, he should have had more conflict hanging out with Olivia or he should have been pulling away from Carrie or something like that. Also, it’s ridiculous that Olivia based many of her screenplay characters on her coworkers and then sent it to Jake expecting him not to recognize anyone? Like, come on.

Overall, this book was just pretty meh for me. It took me a lot longer to get through it than it should have. I liked the setting and the overall premise was fine, but don’t be expecting any surprises, because there are none.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: None

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

This book made me feel 100% Latina | Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno [ARC]

Don't Date Rosa SantosThe Santos women are cursed by the sea. Any man that they fall in love with will be claimed by the ocean. Rosa has grown up her entire life with this knowledge and has never really grappled with it until now. She’s about to pick which college she wants to go to when she meets Alex. He’s tall, has a beard, ocean tattoos, and…a boat. Rosa knows it’s a bad idea to fall for him, but how can she resist especially when she finds out that he bakes too?

TL;DR – This book will make you wish you had an abuela. The Cuban culture is so authentic throughout that it makes my heart hurt.

eBook | Hardcover

My ethnicity is a mixed bag. I’m a quarter white, half Chinese, and a quarter Hispanic. The grandparent I grew up closest to is my mom’s mother who was born and raised in Panama. Rosa’s abuela, Mimi, reminded me so much of my own grandmother. I could see her doing and saying so many of the things that Mimi did. There are more similarities as well that I’ll address later on. Seriously though, this book made me feel so much more Hispanic than I actually am. During and after reading I found myself gesturing at things to my husband with my lip/chin. I never do that!

First, I just want to say that I absolutely adored this book. It was so close to being a five star read for me! I thought Rosa was a really enjoyable character right off the bat and I loved her dynamic with all of the other characters. She was so interesting and really felt alive for me. I also loved the dynamic and tensions between Rosa, Mimi, and Liliana (Rosa’s mom). All three women were incredibly strong in different ways. I enjoyed that the author was able to portray that differing strength in women. Women can be strong, even if they’re not all strong in the same way.

Secondary characters were amazing! They all felt like they had depth to them and I felt they contributed to the story in an important way. I especially enjoyed Rosa’s best friend and the viejos. Please, I would follow their Instagram in a heartbeat!

The atmosphere of the book also felt so real. The weather was almost another character and I loved how that played into the slight magical/mystical thread throughout the book. It was all very fun. The weather also contributed to the raw emotions that came out at times. There are a few scenes throughout this book where the emotion is just so heavy. Despite that, this isn’t a heavy book and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a Summer read.

***Slight Spoiler Ahead***

This book hit me especially hard because my grandmother just passed away last month in a way that was similar to Mimi. It was kind of sudden and like Liliana, my mom was the one there performing CPR on her own mother until the paramedics arrived. There were some other similarities as well that I won’t go into. It just felt eerily similar to me. When Rosa was dealing with Mimi’s death, I felt it so hard. I saw myself in Rosa and parts of my mom in Liliana. The emotions felt so real and it’s obvious that the author has lost someone close to her. I still forget some days that my grandma isn’t around anymore. I hope, like Rosa, that I can one day make that pilgrimage back to my grandmother’s homeland. The sacrifices that she made to come to America amaze me every day and I would literally not be here without her. I love you, Llaya.

***Spoiler End***

Anyway…I highly, highly recommend this book. I appreciate the call for diversity in YA, but a lot of times I think it’s done poorly or in a way that’s inauthentic. That is NOT the case with this book. If you want to read diversity in YA, then this is the kind of thing you should be reading.

Overall Rating: 4.5
Language: Mild
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

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