Perfect Series Ending to a Great Series | Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger

Manners & MutinyIn the final book of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School¬†series, Sophronia, Dimity, and Agatha gear up for one final adventure before officially finishing. There will be impossible romances, invading Picklemen, and the most wonderful dinner party that, unfortunately, may or may not end in an explosion.

I love this series so much. I’m a fan of Carriger’s in general, but of the three series’ set in this universe, this one is by far my favorite. Sophronia is just such a likable main character! She’s smart and manipulative, but also kind and loyal. She develops wonderfully as a character over the four books and grows up to be someone who I desperately want to be friends with. Carriger has also done a good job developing secondary characters like Dimity, Pillover, and Agatha. My problem with some of Carriger’s other characters is that they seem a little…exaggerated. Luckily, Sophronia just seems like a really normal girl given the circumstances.

This book probably had more action than the first three (or it at least felt like it) and that’s not a bad thing. I really liked getting into Sophronia’s head and seeing all of the skills that she’d been learning at school come into play. It’s kind of hard to explain without spoiling anything,¬†but it was really enjoyable to watch Sophronia strategize. The plot included a couple of twists involving certain characters that I did NOT see coming and they were pleasant surprises. In the end, there wasn’t much else that I was looking for from the plot. There were a few things that were left unresolved, but I feel almost certain that those things will (or have been) addressed in the other series’. I thought this series wrapped up really nicely and (of course) there were a few cameos of characters from Carriger’s other series¬†The Parasol Protectorate.

Overall, this was a very fun book and series altogether. While some of Carriger’s other series’ stray into more “adult” territory, this series is firmly YA and I would recommend it to any pre-teen/teenage girl (or boy for that matter–plenty of action). Sophronia may go down as one of my favorite protagonists of all time.

Overall Rating: 5 (rounded up from 4.5)
Language: None
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

A book that proves fans of YouTubers are the worst | At First Blush by Beth Ellyn Summer [ARC]

25613996Lacey (known on YouTube as LaceyBlushes) is passionate about two things: makeup and her subscribers. When she lands a coveted summer internship at a top fashion magazine, she welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with fellow YouTubers and expand her audience. There’s also the added bonus of working closely with the subject of the magazine’s August cover story–ex-boy band member Tyler Lance. Unfortunately, working at the magazine isn’t all that she expected and Lacey will have to decide who she really is: Lacey or LaceyBlushes?

I was not expecting much from this book but it totally blew me away! I am a full-blown convert to the YA Celeb Romance genre and this book totally delivered on that front. I liked the main characters quite a bit right from the start. Lacey seems like a really sweet girl and I love how she’s always thinking about her fans and subscribers. Tyler is a good character as well though we don’t really get to know him on as deep a level as we get to know Lacey since the book is in her POV. Their relationship was mostly good, but I didn’t feel that it was developed from Tyler’s side at all. He likes her almost right away but it’s never really explained why. Lacey’s a sweet girl and all, but how did she grab his attention? What drew him to her? He can have literally any girl he wants, so why did he choose Lacey? That’s not a knock on her, I just felt like I needed that additional information to fully believe their relationship.

The secondary characters were fine but were definitely secondary. Lacey’s fellow YouTubers helped to flesh out the story and made her time at the magazine more interesting. I really liked the make-up girl that Lacey ended up working with sometimes…I feel like her name was maybe Reagan? But I don’t remember. Sorry. Anyway, she was cool. Most of the secondary characters including the ones listed plus Lacey’s parents, Cynth, and Tyler’s bandmates all seemed pretty one-note, but that wasn’t too big of a deal since Tyler and Lacey really were the main focus of the book.

Plotwise, I saw some things coming and the main story line wasn’t anything mind-blowingly original. I thought that it was awesome how supportive Lacey’s parents were with her YouTubing, but the part of the plot that involved them at the end was a little much. It just didn’t feel all the way thought out or incorporated with the rest of the story. Then there was all the drama with Cynth too–I didn’t really like that. I didn’t feel that Cynth and Lacey’s relationship was that well developed in the first place, so then the drama just felt like too much when it happened.

Overall, I thought this book was really cute and fun! It made me a lot more interested in watching makeup tutorials on YouTube. On another note, I also had the realization that viewers, followers, subscribers, etc. are the worst. When Lacey starts doing things that her subscribers don’t like, they turn on her SO FAST. Even though this is just a story, that kind of thing definitely happens in real life all the time. I mean, just because a YouTuber chooses to put some of their life on the internet for our viewing pleasure does not give us the right to try to dictate how they choose to actually live. Do people realize that? Anyway…rant over. I just felt really sick about some of the people on the internet these days after reading this book. With that being said, this book is awesome and I definitely recommend it if you need something cute and light to read.

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

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.

The Jane Austen/X-Men Crossover Continues | These Ruthless Deeds by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas [ARC]

These Ruthless DeedsEvelyn is still trying to cope with the loss of her sister and the discovery of her healing powers. The last thing she needs is for the Society of Aberrations to barge into her life once again. When they give her the opportunity to help people with her power, however, Evelyn knows that’s what Rose would have wanted her to do. But even though she’s joined the society, Evelyn still doesn’t trust them. There are some things that don’t quite add up. Like, who exactly is the head of the Society? And why are some people with powers being locked up for no good reason?

I really liked the first book in this series (see my review for it here) but in this book I had a really hard time remembering characters from the previous book. I think that may be a sign of having a few too many characters and those characters not being very important. The main characters themselves are fine and pretty well-developed. At the very least, they seem like they probably have depth even if that depth is not explored to the fullest (*ahem* Mr. Kent *ahem*). In the last book I was pretty torn between our main character’s two love interests, but in this book I found myself firmly rooting for one in particular. I won’t name names or spoil whether or not Evelyn ends up with him though. As I said in my previous review, I hate love triangles, but this one was okay. Not GREAT, but okay.

The plot fit together really nicely. I remember from the last book I enjoyed that Evelyn had to stop her investigation every once in a while to participate in society. For some reason that just seemed humorous and realistic to me. In this book, there are still some obligations that Evelyn has to meet, but for the most part the book is focused on the other part of her life. This just means that the book is a little more action-packed and mostly occurs at night. Evelyn as a character was pretty much the same as she was in the first book, but I did feel that she made some really annoying decisions at times. Mostly what I wanted from her was just some transparency. It felt like that was really lacking between characters and that always frustrates me to no end.

The last part of the plot was…interesting. It was unpredicted, I’ll say that. I felt that the first book had this really powerful conclusion that I didn’t necessarily agree with, but appreciated nonetheless. But then this book comes in and basically reverses that really powerful conclusion but then it also has its own huge ending. All of that serves to almost cheapen the ending for me. I feel like the third book is going to come along and be like, “JK we’ve actually found out a way for none of that to have happened.” In the end, I guess we’ll just have to see what the next book has in store.

Overall, I really did like this book. I appreciate that the authors aren’t afraid to make big moves. I like the main cast of characters that we have and as I get to know secondary characters, I start to appreciate them more as well. I would definitely recommend this book for people who are fans of both Jane Austen and X-Men.

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

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

If you’ve ever wanted a goose as a sidekick, read this book | Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge [ARC]

Fly by NightMosca Mye was just looking for a way out when she burned down her uncle’s mill. Now she finds herself on the road with Eponymous Clent, a wordsmith with questionable motives, and Saracen, a goose that bites first and asks questions later. Mosca can’t be too picky about her companions, however, since she has her own secrets (like the fact that she can read). Unfortunately, that’s not something to be proud of as print without a Stationer’s seal is¬†thought to be very dangerous. Soon Mosca, Clent, and Saracen find themselves in the middle of a guild-war between the Stationers and the Locksmiths. There may be some radicals involved who may or may not have a secret printing press and there’s a pretty good chance that someone’s trying to overthrow the Duke. One thing is for sure though, none of it was Mosca’s fault.

According to Goodreads, this book was first published in 2005, so I’m not really sure why it was on Netgalley with a more recent release date, but oh well. While I enjoyed this book quite a bit, it took me so long to read which made it a little less enjoyable. I think it was just written in such a way that made it hard to read quickly. The writing was great, but it didn’t necessarily leave me eager to turn the page to see what happens next. Hardinge is an interesting author. I’ve read The Lie Tree¬†by her, but wasn’t very impressed. While it’s obvious that a lot of thought goes into her books, I find that I’m mostly left feeling vaguely confused by things.

But getting into the book, the characters were great. I really liked Mosca as a protagonist. The reader roots for her even when she’s making bad decisions. Even though she’s kind of a prickly character, she’s immensely likable as well. Saracen was probably my favorite animal sidekick of all time. He’s completely selfish, but everything he does kind of ends up helping anyway. He was just a really funny character in my opinion. The rest of the characters were equally interesting and well-developed. The one thing that I absolutely loved about this book is that it’s not clear until almost the very end who is “good” and who is “bad”. At multiple points throughout the story anybody could be the bad guy.

The world that Hardinge has created is interesting, but not terribly well-developed. We spend most of the book in Mandelion, but I had not idea if it was the capital of this country or just a random city. It was not clear whether this city had any importance to the rest of the country and that (for some reason) made things a little confusing for me. The author has also created a really complicated political system and religion that doesn’t get 100% explained. As both of these things play a large role in the overall plot, I was left confused multiple times trying to reread to see if I had missed an important detail.

Overall, I thought this book was enjoyable and I would recommend it for Middle Grade readers and up. Perhaps I just didn’t have enough time to invest to understand the world and different structures within it but I do feel like younger me would have enjoyed it quite a bit. There is a sequel,¬†Fly Trap,¬†but I probably won’t be reading it just because this first one was so difficult to get through.

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.

Just another place I’ll never be able to visit | Caraval by Stephanie Garber

CaravalScarlett has dreamt about attending Caraval ever since her grandmother told her magical stories from the last time Caraval was in town. But now that Scarlett’s arranged marriage is looming, she’s given up on that dream and only wants to make it to her wedding day so that she can get herself and her younger sister, Donatella, away from their abusive father. Unexpectedly, a letter arrives from Caraval’s orchestrater, Legend himself, inviting Scarlett, Tella, and Scarlett’s fianc√© to attend this year’s Caraval performance. Scarlett has already put Caraval behind her, but Tella won’t take no for an answer. They soon find themselves on Legend’s private island with a sailor, Julian, who neither knows much about as they finally enter the world of Caraval. It’s only a game, but what happens when everything starts to feel too real?

My new dream in life is to attend Caraval. I would literally trade 1,000 Hogwarts acceptance letters to attend one week of Caraval. This place sounds amazing. There’s a scavenger type hunt and lots of intrigue and yummy sounding foods. You pay for things with secrets, desires, and truths and you’re only allowed out at night. Talk about atmospheric! I thought the author did a pretty good job describing the scene, but if we’re going to compare it to The Night Circus¬†(which everybody has been) then more definitely could have been done to create the atmosphere and build the world. All of the places that Scarlett goes are pretty well described, but they don’t always make sense in the grand scheme of things. Because of that, it makes elements of the plot feel a little too coincidental throughout the book. While I could visualize specific shops, I had a hard time imagining what Caraval must look like as a whole (even with the map in the front cover).

The plot itself was pretty good. There’s a clear goal, but the journey would get a little fuzzy at times. The clues didn’t always make the most sense to me. I know they were supposed to be kind of obscure, but it didn’t feel clear enough how things were supposed to connect with each other. Again, this made elements of the plot feel super coincidental instead of calculated as I think they were intended to be. Without getting into any spoilers, I felt that the ending was a bit of a let down with how the rest of the plot had been built up. There were too many convenient things that happened which, I felt, cheapened the rest of the story. It was just kind of like, “Oh, this plot point is explained by this thing that was happening but nobody knew about, but trust me it was happening. Boom, plot point solved.” I would have appreciated some loose ends or at least less closure.

The characters were just okay for me. I thought some of the secondary characters were pretty great like Jovan and Aiko, but the main characters themselves weren’t much more developed than the secondary characters. Everybody seemed to be pretty one note with one motivation and one motivation only. Scarlett just wanted to get her sister and go home–she didn’t want to let herself enjoy Caraval at all and for someone who’d been looking forward to it, I didn’t find it genuine that Scarlett didn’t loosen up at all. Tella was just kind of selfish the whole time. There was a small glimpse of her love for Scarlett at the beginning of the book, but those strong feelings never really surfaced in the rest of the book. Julian was just kind of a weird character. I didn’t feel very connected to him and I didn’t feel that the relationship between him and Scarlett was super believable or well-developed. All of a sudden, it was just happening. Honestly, I was rooting for Dante, but Scarlett probably doesn’t deserve him. Legend was kind of a strange character as well. He spends so much time off-screen, so to speak, that I’m not really sure how I feel about him.

Overall, this review kind of makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book, but I really did. There were so many things to love about it but I think my expectations were a tad too high. I love scavenger hunts and so I was a little disappointed with how that all worked out and atmospherically, this book can’t really compete with The Night Circus. With that being said, I would definitely recommend this book. You’ll find yourself lost in the world of Caraval and imagining which shops you’d visit first and which foods you’d taste. You’ll ponder whether you would be a player or a watcher (I’d probably play, but I wouldn’t be super competitive about it). I’ll be interested to see how the next book¬†plays out (yeah, I didn’t know this was going to be a duology either).

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy. Quite a few scenes with the sisters and their physically abusive father.
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate

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

Dreamland BurningRowan Chase has a dead body on her family’s property.¬†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 when¬†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.