This book was pure magic | Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the DreamerLazlo Strange has always been obsessed with the city of Weep. Abandoned as a child and raised by monks, Lazlo is ecstatic to receive an apprenticeship at the library where he is able to continue his research on the mysterious city. When a band of warriors from Weep arrives, Lazlo knows that this is his only chance to lay his eyes on the city he’s heard so much about. The leader of the group from Weep is named Godslayer and he claims that they have a problem and require outside help, but he won’t divulge any information beyond that. What kind of problem could cause the great warriors of Weep to leave their city? Lazlo isn’t sure, but he knows that he must go with them.

First of all, I had no idea this was going to be a series (duology?) but I don’t necessarily mind. I just wanted to say that first thing so anyone who only likes stand-alones can go into this review with their eyes open. Right away, it’s obvious how GOOD a writer Laini Taylor is. I love reading books by other YA authors because I’m not really looking for super high quality writing (don’t get me wrong, they’re good for sure, but it’s nothing AMAZING) but I feel like Laini Taylor is on another level. I’m not usually one who really notices the quality of the writing (unless it’s really bad) but reading this book…I couldn’t NOT sit up and notice. Honestly, it makes me want to reread her first series to see if I just missed that the first time or if she’s really stepped it up with this book. Everything about this book is interesting and beautiful but the writing is SO BEAUTIFUL. The way that Taylor describes things…it could be the most ordinary thing, but she can pull the beauty from it. The writing just flows throughout the book in a really elegant way.

But enough gushing about the writing. I thought the plot moved a little slow at the beginning. I wasn’t super into it and I kept finding myself reading a few pages and putting it down. It probably didn’t help that I had literally no idea what to expect from the book. I just knew that it was getting great reviews from everyone and it was written by an author I had enjoyed in the past. I honestly don’t think I read the synopsis once. With all that being said, once the pace picks up a little bit, I was hooked.

I thought the characters were all amazing. They are all super complicated and have a certain depth to them. None of the characters have just one motivation–no cardboard cutouts here. The book is in third person and so it jumps around between characters letting the reader get a deeper glimpse than we would have if it had been written from a different perspective. I really enjoyed Lazlo as one of our two main characters because he is just so…GOOD. Like, seriously good in this really pure and innocent way. There’s just something about him that makes you want to take care of him, but at the same time you have complete trust that he could take care of you too and wouldn’t expect anything out of it. I also loved Sarai and how she develops throughout the book. Her and Lazlo’s relationship was intense but it still felt real and I thought it grew at a realistic pace. I can’t get into all the secondary characters here, but they all rock (except for the ones who suck).

I definitely saw the “twist” at the end coming, but I also think that maybe the reader is supposed to be able to guess? It will definitely make things a lot more interesting in the next book.

Okay, but really, here’s why I like this book. There’s so much push from readers, reviewers, and basically everybody in the book community for more diversity in YA. As a POC, I appreciate that. However, I feel that the push for more diversity has, in some cases, caused diversity to be included in ways that are harmful or disingenuous (see my last mini-review for Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howard for one). With all that being said, Taylor does diversity the right way, in my opinion. She’s created a society where there are two skin colors, brown/white or blue. The dynamic between the two “races” is definitely hostile and I think the next book is set up real nice to address some tough issues in the safe setting of a fictional world. She’s not trying to make overt statements but rather lets the content of the story speak for itself. Taylor also includes an LGBT couple in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Most of all, I appreciate that she doesn’t feel the need to incorporate every single type of diversity that exists into her story (when authors do that I feel like it seems SO FORCED). She includes what feels natural and leaves the rest for another book, perhaps.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. Content-wise it’s pretty clean though there are a couple of non-graphic scenes that may not be suitable for young readers (though it’s even possible those scenes might go over their heads). With that being said, while I feel like this book could definitely be read by younger teens, I don’t feel like they’d totally understand it–I know¬†I wouldn’t have when I was 14. So yeah, older teens would be my recommendation here. If you like beautiful things, you should read this book. And then go read Laini Taylor’s other series.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: None
Violence: Moderate (mentions of child abuse, rape, and infanticide, but no graphic depictions).
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Moderate

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What would YOU do with a million dollars? | Windfall by Jennifer E Smith

WindfallTeddy just turned 18, so as a joke Alice buys him a lottery ticket. The joke doesn’t last long, though, because the next morning they found out that Teddy has a winning lottery ticket worth $140 million. At first everything is great, but soon the money seems to be getting to Teddy’s head. Alice is also stuck watching helplessly as her peers slowly start to take advantage of him. Not only is Teddy one of her best friends, but she’s also been in love with him for years. Now, she’s not even sure if she recognizes him.

I always love Jennifer E Smith’s books, but this one was just pretty good for me instead of great. I obviously loved the setting (I LOVE CHICAGO), but I only felt lukewarm about the characters. Alice has this really sad backstory, but I don’t know that I felt super connected to her. The fact that her parents had both died was mentioned many times throughout the book, but it almost felt like that was an event that had happened to someone else. I don’t know if I really¬†felt it about Alice if that even makes sense. I liked Leo a lot as a supporting character and her aunt and uncle pretty much rocked, but I didn’t really like Teddy. Even from the beginning, I just didn’t really like him. I think he was supposed to come across as a guy who is endearingly childlike, but he just came across as super selfish and immature to me.

I thought the way that the effect of money was portrayed seemed really accurate. Given who Teddy was, I definitely believe how he was spending the money. I do wonder, though, doesn’t his mom have anything to do with it? I mean, I know he’s 18 and it’s his money, but she just sits back and lets him buy all this dumb stuff.

Overall, I was disappointed by this book. I expected a lot more from it but didn’t really have the connection to the characters that I wanted. I also didn’t like Alice and Teddy’s relationship–it seemed forced and completely not genuine.

Overall Rating: 3.5 (reluctantly rounding up to 4)
Language: None
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Mild

A promising premise ultimately falls short of expectations | Aversion by Kenechi Udogu

AversionGemma Green is an Averter. It’s her job to keep those assigned to her from doing things that will throw the rest of their lives off track. Unfortunately, her first aversion doesn’t go quite as planned. The boy she was assigned to avert, Russ Tanner, seems to remember her the next day at school and that’s definitely NOT supposed to happen. As Gemma tries to keep her distance from Russ, she’ll uncover secrets she didn’t even know were being kept from her and she’ll try to figure out just what it means to be a female Averter.

As you can tell from my title, I felt this book had a promising premise, but ultimately it didn’t quite do it for me. I liked the main character, Gemma, but I didn’t always understand why she made the decisions she did. More often than not, she convinced herself to make certain decisions that I thought were pretty obviously unwise. Perhaps this is just my age showing, but there were many times when she would consider following her dad’s instructions, but then she¬†would cave to Russ. At the time, this felt extremely unwarranted since, aside from Gemma’s intuition, the reader wasn’t given much cause to trust Russ. Russ himself was a likable guy, but we don’t really get to know who he is throughout the story. I believe Russ is a POC, though, so props for the diversity and I love that this book features an interracial romance.

The writing in this book was pretty good, but I felt the narration style made the story drag. The beginning of the book was extremely info-dumpy. There’s obviously a lot that the reader needs to learn about Averters and aversions, but the way it was presented was hard to digest. Gemma is our narrator and it feels like she addresses the reader directly to explain all of this background. I just felt like this section seemed a bit unnatural. Why is she addressing the reader? Are we part of the story? Is she actually speaking to another character through us? As the narration continues, we get a lot of Gemma’s inner monologue and that also kept the pace from picking up. There’s a fine balance between helping the reader to understand the character and her emotions while also keeping the plot moving. There were certain action sequences that I think could have been more exciting if Gemma wasn’t thinking so much. A lot of her thoughts were pretty repetitive as well which just contributed to the feeling of the story not moving forward.

Overall, I thought the premise was strong and unique, but the details could have used a little more work. I was kind of disturbed by the whole Averters having to mate with specifically chosen/groomed women… In the end, it’s clear to me that the ideas are there, I just think they need a little fine tuning. For those interested, this is the first book in a four book series (a trilogy and a prequel) all of which are published.

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Mild
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Mild. The mating thing is mentioned quite a few times, but nothing is ever explicit.

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

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 she¬†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.

What do they call a road trip in space? | Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray [ARC]

Defy the StarsNoemi is determined to save the planet Genesis even if it means sacrificing her own life to do so. But when she finds out there might be another way to save her home planet, she’s willing to travel all around the galaxy to make it happen. In this scenario, the only sacrifice would be a mech that she found aboard an abandoned ship. She’d almost feel bad about it, but mechs aren’t human and don’t have opinions or feelings¬†anyway, right?

I’m starting to think that sci-fi might not be my genre. I either find it really confusing or the explanations of the technology is too boring. I just have a hard time when there’s all this future technology that I don’t really understand. On top of that, this book has multiple WORLDS that I need to try to understand. It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that. I felt like I got a pretty good handle on Earth (obviously), Genesis, and Kismet, but then Stronghold and Cray are toss-ups. I have no idea which world is which. Overall, I wish that there had been a little more world(s) building. Gray had such a huge opportunity to create these awesome new planets, but in the end I feel like I didn’t really get a sense of “there-ness” for any of them. They might as well have been all one planet. Also, I wish the characters had actually gone to Kismet instead of just landing on its moon. That almost felt like a cop-out to me. Like the author didn’t really want to go into all the detail that Kismet would require so she just said, “Here, I’ll have them go to this more boring place instead.”

Noemi was okay as a character. I didn’t hate her, but I didn’t love her either. I don’t really feel like we got to know her that well. We get some of her background, but it’s more telling rather than showing. I didn’t¬†feel anything about her history. Like, I felt bad that she’d lost her whole family, but it didn’t feel like something tragic in her backstory even though it was. Does that even make sense? I did like the religious aspect of her character though, it gave her a little more depth. Abel was a little more interesting. There were times when you could almost forget that he’s a mech (basically a robot) but at the same time, you never really could. There were times throughout the book when his abilities were a little too convenient. Oh, the characters are in a bind? Luckily Abel can do this thing and get them out of it! I mean…everything that he did was plausible with who his character was, but still…too convenient. And I thought all the details about how he’s programmed to be really good at sex was weird and unnecessary to ANY aspect of the plot. Honestly, it just made me feel super uncomfortable every time he brought it up. Secondary characters were alright. They were really just there to help the main characters keep the plot moving.

The relationship between Abel and Noemi just seemed so obvious and contrived. Like…of COURSE they’re going to fall in love. Never mind that Abel is NOT HUMAN. Here’s the thing. I always have a really hard time when a human girl falls in love with an alien, a being who is technically hundreds of years older than her, or robots. Basically anything that isn’t really human. It just feels so weird to me! Like…we wouldn’t have a YA book where a human girl falls in love with a dog, right? So what makes these other non-human love interests okay? In my opinion, nothing. Nothing makes it okay. I’m still creeped out. WHY COULDN’T THEY HAVE JUST BEEN FRIENDS???

Overall, I thought this book was just okay. It was really slow for me to get into, but once I was about halfway through the pace really started to speed up and I finished the last half fairly quickly. It looks like this is going to be a series though and I just don’t see myself having the motivation to pick up the next book even though I wouldn’t necessarily mind finding out what happens next. But if you’re already into sci-fi, then I think you might like this book.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Moderate. No actual sexual encounters, but it is mentioned openly at times.

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

Deaf Graffiti Artist Hates Everyone | You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner [ARC]

You're Welcome, UniverseJulia was only trying to defend her best friend and if somebody also appreciated her awesome graf, then so be it. Unfortunately, that same best friend ratted her out to the school administration and Julia is expelled from her deaf school and forced to go to a normal public school. Now she’s trying to avoid her new interpreter, Casey, while lying low so her moms don’t find out that she’s trying to plan a graffiti masterpiece for the underpass. When someone starts tagging her work, Julia becomes obsessed with figuring out who this new graffiti artist thinks they are.

So many feelings about this book… First I’ll say that the writing was fast-paced and punchy which made the flow really fun to read. I also thought that the insight into deaf life was really interesting. I liked that the author didn’t feel the need to say “signed” every time somebody said something. Characters just had normal conversations, but since they were deaf I imagined them signing without the author having to tell me explicitly that that’s what they were doing. I also liked the illustrations included throughout the book and the emoticons that Julia used were a fun touch as well.

That’s about all the positive things I have to say about this book unfortunately. Julia reminded me a lot of Parker from Eric Lindstrom’s Not If I See You First. They were both just so angry as characters. I didn’t really understand where all of Julia’s anger came from. She was very quick to judge other characters and overall I thought she was very selfish with almost no development throughout the story. I mean, she calls her new best friend YP (short for Yoga Pants) throughout the whole book. We literally never learn her name.¬†A couple times Julia just refers to her as “Pants”. Is this for real? That’s so demeaning! And her friend is apparently just okay with this? No thanks.

Julia’s relationship with her old best friend, Sydney, is strange from the start. Julia apparently feels really protective of her. So much so that she graffitis the school. But then her friend rats her out and Julia goes from protective to hating her best friend’s guts. That just doesn’t feel like a genuine relationship at all and only seemed to serve as a way to kick off the story and get the plot going.

My last issue is about the distribution of diversity in this story. I’m all for diversity in YA, but we have this one character who has a disability, is a minority, and also has two moms. It just seems a bit much for one person? I’m not saying that one person can’t have this many diverse characteristics, and the author more or less incorporated each one into the character’s previous development, but it just seems like all of the diversity is concentrated around Julia. She’s surrounded by white characters (with the exception being one of her moms) and even though Sydney is technically also deaf, she has Cochlear Implants so she’s basically a “hearie” according to Julia. It just would have felt more real if the diversity was spread out a little bit more. Share the love!

Lastly, the plot was just kind of there. It was a little confusing and not the most compelling, but it was alright. I didn’t really understand why YP’s ex-boyfriend got so much screen time, but whatever. I would have liked to have had her issues explored a bit more. She had an eating disorder, but then overcame it. But now she’s getting bullied and she has this weird relationship with her ex. But Julia’s so focused on herself that we never get to see what’s going on with YP or figure out why her dad bakes so much. The last thing I have to say about the plot is that the conflict between Julia and YP towards the end felt forced.

Overall, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book. The main character is just too angry and I felt so bothered every time I saw the letters “YP” on the page. I think it’s great that the author is trying to write a book with a deaf main character, but I would recommend Song of Summer by Laura Lee Anderson over this one (my review here).

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Heavy
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Moderate. There’s one scene in particular (not too explicit) that came out of nowhere and literally had no impact on moving the plot forward.

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

The Prince & Me except not as good | There’s Something About Nik by Sara Hantz [ARC]

There's Something About NikPrince Niklas of Lutgenstadt just wants a chance at living a normal life. As second in line for the throne he doesn’t expect normal treatment all the time, but he just wants to try it for at least a year. His parents reluctantly allow him to enroll in a boarding school in New Hampshire for his junior year of high school where he meets Amber. Last year, Amber was fighting cancer and reeling from the discovery that her boyfriend was cheating on her while she was recovering from treatments in the hospital. This year, Amber plans to focus on applying for a prestigious photography internship by making this year completely boy-free. Then she meets Nik Gustafsson who is as arrogant as he is attractive.

I thought this book started out okay. As characters I wasn’t a big fan of Nik, but I did like Amber quite a bit. I think my deal with Nik is that he seemed unrealistically clueless. I mean, I’ve never been rich, but is it so completely crazy that you have to take your own suitcase to your new dorm room? Then Nik and Amber meet and we’re switching off between narrators and things just started to feel…inconsistent. That’s always a big issue for me–especially in books coming from this publisher. I mean, does no one read these books all the way through to look for that kind of thing before they get published? If not, I am available for hire.

First of the inconsistencies: during his sections, Nik is always hyper-aware and concerned about spilling his secret. But then during Amber’s sections he (seemingly nonchalantly) drops that he’s got servants at home and MULTIPLE DRIVERS to take him wherever he wants to go. Someone who is actively trying to keep their identity secret would not say stuff like that. A second inconsistency that really stood out to me was regarding Amber. She’s supposedly SUPER close to her family but we never once see her brother even though they go to the same boarding school. She tries to explain that away by saying that he’s only in ninth grade so they never see each other, but if her family is so close wouldn’t they eat together or hang out sometimes? And then all this stuff is happening to her and Amber never once even THINKS about calling her parents. Instead, she just turns to Lauren for all life advice. I’ve had roommates that are super close with their parents and let me tell you, they talk to their parents¬†every single day (sometimes multiple times a day) and they tell their parents everything that is happening to them. I understand that, as a reader, we don’t see every aspect of these characters’ lives, but it seems like calling her mom would be a very natural reaction for Amber to have after everything hits the fan.

But anyway, the book is moving along and like I said earlier, I’m not a huge fan of Nik but I like Amber pretty good. Then the big dramatic scene happens and things get really intense between them and Amber’s reaction was just…not good. She compares Nik hiding his true identity from her to her ex-boyfriend Wade cheating on her while she was fighting cancer. She literally says that what Nik did was worse than what Wade did. WHAT??? I mean, of course Nik didn’t tell her who he really was! I don’t feel like he was obligated to tell her even if they’d been dating for two whole weeks. Anyway, the book goes on to place all of the blame squarely on Nik’s shoulders and I just don’t agree with that. Even though I liked Amber better as a character, everything was pretty much her fault and she never owns up to it.

Overall, this book started out pretty good, but then crashed and burned at the end in my opinion. I tend to like the trope where a commoner meets and falls in love with a member of some royal family, but I just felt this one was poorly executed. If you’re looking for something similar, I would recommend reading The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright¬†instead (while still not GREAT, it was at least better than this one).

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

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