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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

Stand Back Ladies…Mimic’s About to Take Over | Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra [ARC]

Mad Miss MimicLeo has a stutter and a sharp mind that makes her undesirable to most suitors. But those who are willing to look past the speech impediment and the intelligence are, without fail, chased away by Mimic. Mimic is what Leo’s sister (not-so) affectionately nicknamed her ability to mimic other people’s voices to perfection. Leo has no control over when Mimic makes an appearance and can only pray that she doesn’t embarrass her too bad.

This book has been on my radar for about a year now when it was first released outside of the United States (I mean just look at that COVER). Unfortunately, I was disappointed in it. The book was described as “Jane Austen meets Arthur Conan Doyle” which is a bit misleading in my opinion. I absolutely love both authors and would not place this book in a category with either of them. I thought the premise was very promising and I had really high hopes. I don’t know if it would have been better if Leo had been able to control her mimicry or not, but I just felt that portion of the book was not as interesting as I thought it could have been. While it played a role in the plot, I feel that it didn’t play a large enough role or have as much of an impact as I might have imagined.

Leo herself was a fairly likable character if a little too concerned about finding herself a suitor. I think the author needed to make a stronger case for which kind of character Leo was. In some ways she was a strong female protagonist who was curious and impulsive. But then in other ways she was timid and almost self-effacing. Maybe that was the point? I just didn’t really get it and it made her a little confusing as a character. I also thought her relationship with Tom developed too quickly. Secondary characters had some depth, but were mostly pretty flat. I especially had a hard time with Leo’s sister. I didn’t feel like she was someone who I could sympathize with–mostly I just thought she was annoying.

The plot itself was fine. There was an adequate amount of suspense though I did find myself confused as to what was actually happening at times. It was kind of a mystery, but not in a way that the reader could have figured the case out on their own. And again, I feel like the plot really could have been elevated if Mimic had had a more key role.

Overall, I thought this book was just okay. I was expecting a lot from it but was ultimately disappointed. There are several other regency era mysteries that I would recommend before this one.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy (a large part of this book focuses on drugs and drug testing though not in an explicit way)
Sexual Content: Mild

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

Russian Fairy Tales Come to Life | The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden [ARC]

The Bear and the NightingaleVasya was born on a windy night to a dying mother who knew that Vasya was going to be someone special. As Vasya grows and becomes more and more wild, her father starts to worry that she needs a motherly influence. So he goes to Moscow and brings back a bride whose sanity may be a little questionable¬†as she claims to see demons where others see nothing. While learning how to live with her new step-mother, Vasya continues to develop into a striking young woman who may have inherited a little bit of her grandmother’s magic.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I thought the writing was beautiful and I was very interested to learn about Russian mythology and fairy tales as that is an area that I know literally nothing about. I’ve always been a fan of mythology and fairy tales in general, so it was just fun to hear some new stories. I thought the author did a great job of incorporating Russian culture and language into the overall story without ruining the flow. I did find myself wondering, however, whether this was supposed to be a complete alternate Russia/Russia-derivative (kind of like Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha-verse) or if it was simply a fantastical historical Russia. The author’s note at the end of the book cleared that question up, but it wasn’t really clear throughout the story and I found myself distracted in some parts.

I thought Vasya was a really compelling character. I loved how the author starts the book with Vasya’s birth and we get to follow her into her teenage years. It really allows the reader to watch the character develop and helps us to understand who she is and what her motivations are. I also thought Vasya stayed really true to who she was supposed to be as a character throughout. Sometimes I’ve found that characters do things that don’t really make sense with who they are supposed to be, but I thought Vasya was a great example of somebody who just made sense as a character. She was so complex and conflicted throughout the book. As a reader, I felt that I could really empathize with what she was going through. Vasya tries to be the good Russian girl that she’s supposed to be, but at the same time her heart is leading her in a completely separate direction. Just…a really good character. I also loved the cast of secondary characters that Arden gives¬†us. The familial relationships that exist between Vasya and her brothers and her younger step-sister felt so genuine.

The plot itself was a little slow-moving. It required a lot of setup, but I didn’t really find that I minded. The world that the author paints for us is so beautiful and filled with an ordinary (but at the same time not ordinary) magic. That being said, nothing much really happens until the last 25% of the book and then I felt that the ending was a bit abrupt.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes well-developed characters or who is interested in a historical picture of Russia. Just from a quick scan of Goodreads, it looks like this book is the author’s debut novel. I anticipate that we’ll be hearing a lot more from her in the future.

Overall: 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.

Just Another Magic Boarding School | Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross [ARC]

Miss Mabel's School for GirlsBianca¬†needs to get into Miss Mabel’s school and once she does, she also must win the yearly competition to study directly by Miss Mabel’s side. Usually only third years are allowed to compete, but a loophole allows Bianca and another underclassman to compete as well. A lot of Bianca’s classmates thinks she’s just competing to show off, but they don’t know that for Bianca this is a matter of life and death. Literally. Her grandmother was cursed when she was Bianca’s age and Bianca has inherited it. Winning the competition doesn’t guarantee Bianca’s survival, but losing would mean certain death.

I really thought this book was going to be a great cross between Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series and Kathleen Baldwin’s Stranje House series and I was really looking forward to it (love both those series’). Unfortunately this book read more like a (rough)¬†rough draft of Harry Potter with only girls. There were so many things that were reminiscent of Harry Potter. The forbidden woods, the dining hall, the competition…just too much and not done nearly as well as Harry Potter (obviously).

That being said, I thought that the characters were alright. There were a couple that I found particularly interesting, but the requisite “mean girl” was flat, boring, and not compelling. Bianca herself also rubbed me the wrong way a few times. The main character that I felt was more than just a piece of cardboard¬†was Miss Mabel. She was SO evil. Delightfully evil. I was kept wondering what foul thing she would do or have Bianca do next. At the same time, she had like…no purpose. ¬†Her motivations were not made clear at all so she’s basically just being evil for no reason the whole time. Towards the end of the book we get some sense of her motivations, but it doesn’t feel like they come from the person, more like they come from the situation…¬†Does that even make sense?

The plot itself was also pretty weak. I understand Bianca’s overall plotline, but the competition feels kind of pointless and all the pages about Bianca’s struggles studying really weighed the book down. One thing it did have going for it is that there was no romance. I mean, I love romance in books (especially YA books) but it’s just so rare to read a book without even a hint of romance.¬†Overall, I thought this book was just okay. I’m mostly just disappointed because I had such high hopes in the first place.

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

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