Food and drama and family, oh my | Love √° la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm [ARC]

Love a la ModeRosie and Henry are both on their way to Paris to live at the Ecole. It’s a culinary high school for teens around the world who love to cook. Rosie is from a small town in Ohio and isn’t sure if she really belongs at the Ecole since her passion is baking, not cooking. Henry is from Chicago and just wishes that his mom would get off his back and let him do what he loves–cook. Both Henry and Rosie will need to prove to themselves that they really belong in Paris and along the way, they may find something else as well–it is the city of love after all.

TL;DR – Loved the food aspect, but everything else (characters, drama) felt exaggerated and shallow.

I really, REALLY liked the premise of this book. I’m not an awesome cook or anything, but I can appreciate good food and I love watching Food Network. Honestly, this book read like it was written by somebody who also just enjoys watching Food Network and doesn’t know much about the culture of cooking, etc. The main characters were in awe of a chef who won Chopped four times…I just have a hard time believing that’s actually what Michelin star winning chefs actually care about. I also questioned teenagers being sent to Paris for high school? But I guess people send their kids to boarding schools all the time, so maybe it’s not that weird.

The characters were okay for me. They seemed relatively immature and there was a bit of an instalove component between Henry and Rosie. I thought the friend group had the potential to have a great dynamic, but in the end it fell kind of flat for me. I felt like each secondary character was a stereotype or caricature of their culture…they all just felt so exaggerated.

Plotwise, again, the book was just okay. The drama between Henry, Rosie, and Bodie felt SUPER fabricated. Henry and Rosie are pretty much with each other 24/7 and they can’t find two seconds to talk and clear the air? I also didn’t appreciate how angry Henry would get at Rosie doing things with Bodie. Henry and Rosie weren’t actually dating and Rosie doesn’t owe him ANYTHING. I mean, she does end up liking Henry, but even if she did like Bodie, Henry has NO RIGHT to be upset about that.

The last criticism I have is how the author treated Henry’s “tiger mom”. Henry is Korean and his mom is super involved with his academics–even going as far as to email his teachers in Paris. To me, it feels like an Asian tiger mom can really be portrayed in a bad light and I feel like Henry’s mom was mostly portrayed negatively in this book. I feel like the tiger mom thing was used as a plot device to inject more drama into the story. Henry’s mom felt like just another character exaggeration and I didn’t really appreciate that coming from a white author.

Overall, this book was just okay. I liked the descriptions of food (hard to go wrong there), but the book itself didn’t really have any weight or depth. I’d probably advise a pass on this one.

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

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

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Weekend trip turned nightmare | S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett [ARC]

S.T.A.G.S. STAGSGreer just started at her new boarding school, a posh place called St. Aidan the Great School. As a scholarship student, she doesn’t fit in among the elite upper class–the ones who look born to be wearing the black Tudor coats that is their school uniform. So when she gets invited to spend the long weekend with the “it” group on campus, the Medievals, she leaps at the chance. The invitation says they’re in for a fun weekend of “Huntin’, Shootin’, and Fishin'” and Greer can’t wait to prove to these popular upper classmen that she deserves to be friends with them (and maybe even more in the case of Henry de Warlencourt). What she doesn’t expect is to have the picturesque weekend marred by creepy servants and terrible “accidents”.

TL;DR – There was way too much clumsy foreshadowing. The plot wasn’t as exciting as it initially sounded. Characters were just…meh. Pass.

I had pretty high hopes for this book. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have a strangely specific passion for books about unique boarding schools. This book also sounded like it had some Hunger Games elements to it so I was all in. Unfortunately, I don’t think that the writing was up to par the entire time and the plot was a little weak.

The way the book is written, Greer is essentially narrating the events to the reader. She drops a lot of “hints” throughout the book as to what is actually happening. But instead of creating suspense, as maybe the author hoped, it destroys it and becomes more than a little annoying. There is a time and a place to use foreshadowing effectively, but it was just too heavy-handed in this book–not at all subtle and definitely overkill. Greer keeps referencing how the weekend ends and she makes it seem like a¬†really big deal. By the time we actually get to that point, I was a little let down. It almost didn’t seem like as big a deal as Greer had made it out to be throughout the book.

Like I said earlier, the plot was intriguing to me going in, but once I was actually in the book, it started to make less sense. I understand how the entire plot comes together in the end, but it still seems a little bit of a stretch–just not very believable. I’m not saying that every plot has to be super believable, but in this case, a believable plot would have made the book seem a lot more interesting. I don’t want to get too much into it because of spoilers, but I feel like this same plot could have been done in a much more intriguing and clever way.

The characters themselves were just okay. I don’t really feel like any of them were fully fleshed-out, not even Greer. That made it hard to really care for any of them. It didn’t really matter to me if they made it out alive or not. I think it would have been a lot more interesting if Greer hadn’t been the object of a certain character’s affections. The author made it seem like he might like someone else at the beginning and I think following through with that would have been a lot more unexpected and interesting. And wouldn’t have had a huge impact on the story line.

Overall, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book. There were so many parts of it that just dragged. I was really hoping this book would be so much better than it was.

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

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.

 

Already Sketchy Boarding School Game Turns Deadly | The Assassin Game by Kirsty McKay [ARC]

The Assassin GameCate would do just about anything to be made a member of the Assassin’s Guild at her boarding school. Every year the Assassin’s Guild plays a game called Killer. Throughout the year, one killer will “kill” other members of the Guild. Whoever can guess who the killer is before getting killed themselves wins. The staff knows about the game, but since it’s usually pretty harmless they let it continue as long as it doesn’t get too out-of-hand or disruptive. This year’s game begins just like any other and Cate is very excited to finally be included. Soon, however, the game starts to take a sinister turn and the Guild will need to figure out if someone’s taking their role as killer a little too seriously or if somebody else has decided to join without an invitation.

This book was originally published in the UK under the title Killer Game. I think I like The Assassin Game as a title better, so I’m glad they changed it. This book is very atmospheric. The boarding school is on an island near Wales and there’s a lot of storming and rain and they’re cut off from the public most of the time because the causeway connecting them to the mainland floods making it impossible to drive over. The weather and the isolation factor really help this book to seem kind of creepy right from the start. In addition to that, some of these characters seem off right away too. Like, the reader’s just not sure who to trust. Even though Cate trusts certain characters I just found myself going, “I don’t know about this person…”. Overall, this book had the same feeling to me of the Blue is for Nightmares series by Laurie Faria Stolarz but without any kind of supernatural element. I read the Blue is for Nightmares series a long time ago, but I just remember the overall feeling of dread that was so prevalent throughout the books–I felt that same feeling with this one as well.

Cate as a main character was just okay. She seemed really kind of needy and weak-willed. The overall sense I got from her is that she wanted to fit in really bad and was kind of willing to do whatever she needed to in order to get that approval from her classmates. At the same time, I never got the sense that she was actually as unpopular as she kept claiming to be. This book might have been more interesting or compelling from another character’s point of view which maybe, as an author, isn’t what you’d want people to think. The secondary characters were okay. I liked that there was a pretty wide variety in personalities, but none of the other characters really had much depth. I kept getting the other girls in the Guild confused with each other. Also there was this character Roger? Maybe he was introduced at the beginning, but then somewhere near the 2/3 mark of the book he’s mentioned again and I just thought, “I don’t remember him. I’ll have to pay more attention to remember who he is” but then he’s literally never mentioned again.¬†Vaughan as a character really kind of creeped me out for a large portion of the book. He just seemed…off and too eager. I felt like something was wrong with him maybe. Towards the end of the book Cate kind of snaps too and gets super weird and hysterical almost–that was less enjoyable to read.

Overall, I thought this book was actually pretty good. It wasn’t everything that I hoped it would be, but I also thought it could have been a lot worse. I liked that it made me feel unsettled and I honestly didn’t see the ending coming though I do wish the ending had been a little different. I feel like the reader really didn’t have enough information to predict how the book would end. I wish the author had given more hints throughout. Anyway, if you’re looking for a nice soft horror book, this could be for you. It’s kind of thriller-esque with just a hint of horror (nothing that would keep me awake at night). Especially if you like reading Laurie Faria Stolarz I’d recommend this one.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Mild (a couple of secondary characters smoke)
Sexual Content: Moderate

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