King’s Cage (Red Queen, #3) by Victoria Aveyard
Published February 7th 2017 by HarperTeen
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother’s web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare’s heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down.

Wheeere oh where has the plot gone? I’m pretty sure you could’ve rolled Glass Sword and King’s Cage into one book and wrapped up the series as a trilogy.

So here’s the thing: I can see why everyone likes this series so much. It’s formulaic and there’s not one part of the series that hasn’t been done before, but all parts of the series have been done before and worked, and now we have the Red Queen series. And it’s clearly working for a lot of people. It worked for me in the beginning, too – I really liked Red Queen. But then the series started to miss the mark.

King’s Cage is one giant filler scene; the writing’s trying too hard to load itself up with quotable one-liners and snarky exchanges; all the secondary characters are flat, dull, and forgettable; 500 pages isn’t quite enough to contain the annoyance that is Mare’s inflated ego.

The upside? While reading Glass Sword, I thought that this series would turn into a Nightshade kind of situation for me, when the only character I liked ended up dead at the end of the series (THE VERY END OF THE SERIES) but hey, King’s Cage got me starting to like another character, so the odds are looking a little better? Marginally? So half a star for that shaky assurance, one star for the scene where Cal and The Scarlett Guard rescued Mare (YEEEEEEEESSS), and another half star because fuck it, I’m still holding out for a Maven comeback, or for Cal to regain all that character I liked about him that he lost.

Being Friends with Boys by Terra Elan McVoy
Published May 1st 2012 by Simon Pulse
Source: Gifted
Rating: ★★★½☆

Charlotte and Oliver have been friends forever. She knows that he, Abe, and Trip consider her to be one of the guys, and she likes it that way. She likes being the friend who keeps them all together. Likes offering a girl’s perspective on their love lives. Likes being the behind-the-scenes wordsmith who writes all the lyrics for the boys’ band. Char has a house full of stepsisters and a past full of backstabbing (female) ex-best friends, so for her, being friends with boys is refreshingly drama-free…until it isn’t any more.

When a new boy enters the scene and makes Char feel like, well, a total girl…and two of her other friends have a falling out that may or may not be related to one of them deciding he possibly wants to be more than friends with Char…being friends with all these boys suddenly becomes a lot more complicated.

I thought this book was super cute! I have this signed paperback copy with a Sad Jackal sticker that I’ve just sort of been looking at and admiring for a few years a while, and I always kind of walk past my bookshelf and look at it for a bit and debate on reading it but for some reason I never get around to doing so? But today was the day!

Charlotte’s voice was really distinct and strong from the start, but not in a way that was overpowering or off-putting. It was a little fumbly, a little awkward and, I thought, a pretty good match to her stated age. I loved seeing her markedly different relationships with all the boys (though only some, like Fabian and Benji, were entertaining and likeable and will be remembered with fondness, while Oliver was A Big Dumb With Mystery Issues That Were Never Solved and Trip was A Sweet Guy Turned Into A Big Dumb), as well as with the girls from the second band – though I’m a little sad at how that ended up. The story was built up and fleshed out really nicely, and at a good pace, and I thought the lyrics were a really tasteful cherry on the top. My favorite was the Hansel and Gretel crumbs one; I love the idea!

There were only two things (one and a half?) cons that stood out to me. First,-

“But as my long friendship with Oliver – and even Abe – has proven, when you’re friends with a boy and then suddenly you have to talk about dating, it can get strange. Sure, boys want to tell you all about their hookups, until they remember – by some slip in the conversation – that you’re a girl, and then they get weird and uncomfortable. It’s important to stay expression-less when it happens, even though you also have to keep doling out girl-sided advice. Because that’s why they’re telling you. They want to know what it’s like from a girl’s side. But if you ever attempt doing the reverse – talking about your own hookups or crushes – and especially if you even slightly mention any kind of physical whatever, everything shuts down and gets awkward. It’s safer to be completely neutral on the matter. It’s safer if they don’t think you have a vagina at all.”

This little treasure showed up on page 29 and had me do a double take. It made me think of this tweet, and, well. Yikes. Charlotte, in this case it isn’t the “boy” part of “boy friend” that’s the problem – it’s the “friend” part. I think you need to ditch the friend and find a better one.

Also, the other con or half con? part was lines like this: “He is the absolute perfect kind of cute: meaning, cute in a secret way – the way only odd girls like me notice.” Or how she’d go out to eat with the boys and note in a slightly smug tone that “normal girls” picked at their food and were terrified of eating in front of guys, but hey hey hey Charlotte doesn’t caaaaare. It wasn’t enough to put me off – I still thought it was an enjoyable read overall – but there were enough lines for me to start raising my eyebrows at the peeps of her holier-than-thou attitude around girls with well-combed hair and skirts and – god forbid – an interest in dating boys.

But overall, Being Friends With Boys was a fun, cute read. It’s definitely more of a mood book – there are some finnicky parts that might not cater to all reading cravings – but I was in the mood for a light, easy read, and Being Friends With Boys delivered.

The Unnaturalists (The Unnaturalists #1) by Tiffany Trent
Published August 14th 2012 by Simon & Schuster
Source: Gifted
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

In an alternate London where magical creatures are preserved in a museum, two teens find themselves caught in a web of intrigue, deception, and danger.

Vespa Nyx wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life cataloging Unnatural creatures in her father’s museum, but as she gets older, the requirement to become a lady and find a husband is looming large. Syrus Reed’s Tinker family has always served and revered the Unnaturals from afar, but when his family is captured to be refinery slaves, he finds that his fate may be bound up with Vespa’s—and with the Unnaturals.

As the danger grows, Vespa and Syrus find themselves in a tightening web of deception and intrigue. At stake may be the fate of New London—and the world.

The Unnaturalists has been on my wishlist for ages. I love the idea of separate Londons and cataloging jobs at museums, and I’m a sucker for those old English stories about girls on the brink of being ladies and who face the growing pressure of finding a husband, though they themselves have other wants and other plans. Contrary to what the cover, eye-catching blurb, and synopsis says, however, this was none of these things – The Unnaturalists was a tangle of interesting ideas that hadn’t been fully developed into a story, melded together with excessive info-dumping, an unfeeling romance, and cheap plot twists, then topped with elements that left me more than a little uncomfortable.

The chapters alternate between Vespa’s first person POV and Syrus’s third person POV, but strangely, I didn’t mind. Rather, I was more thrown off by the characters themselves.

Vespa’s POV is certainly impactful – in a terrible way. Her priorities have gone… somewhere, she’s bratty, shallow, and petty from the start, and she shows absolutely no signs of improving. Syrus’s POV is detached and cold. I’m actually a little confused as to why he was chosen to front half of the chapters? Syrus doesn’t read as a main character so much as he does a random side-character who runs around hiding and scratching his head and doing the other characters’ biddings. His chapters read as choppy and forgettable, serving only as convenient windows to further describe the Tinkers – whose depictions, especially against the Londoners, left me feeling uncomfortable and uneasy. I flipped back through the book and I can’t quite describe what it is, there’s this above-looking-down feeling, and more, but I do have two things related to it that I can describe. First, and granted, my English isn’t terribly great and I haven’t been immersed in it for nearly even half as long as the author has, but I’ve always carried the thought that “tinker” carried a negative connotation – in the same vein as “gypsy”? Also, in the author’s note, she mentions that the Tinker’s sacred language was Chinese. She intends for it to be a return gift to the Duobo, whom she spent a summer with. However, as the author puts it –

“In my own small and perhaps strange way, I hope at least to preserve some of their beauty in the pages of this book. While my Tinkers speak Chinese as their sacred language, it’s only because I was never fortunate enough to learn the Baima language or alphabet.”

It’s a sweet idea in theory, but the execution… The author uses Mandarin, but only scarcely – Syrus calls his grandmother nainai, the heavenly dragon is called tianlong, and he also says “wo shi” at one point (page 172 in the paperback), which the author translates into “I will,” but really means something more like “I am,” which doesn’t make sense in context. And before I delve into a convoluted ramble, full discloser: for what it’s worth, I’m Taiwanese Japanese, and converse with the Taiwanese side of my family in Mandarin and Taiwanese. So now that’s out of the way. I think it’s super cool and pretty sweet of the author to want to give something back. I think it’s great that the author wanted to incorporate different languages into her story. And, hey, maybe I’m being nitpicky – I try not to read reviews before I finish my own, but a cursory glance around says no one else has raised this as an issue – and maybe I’m just being a bit more sensitive and overreacting because of the times we’re in. But, firstly, I feel like if you could provide a “sacred language” version of Heavenly Dragon (tianlong), could the same not also be done for other crucial words and phrases in The Unnaturals, such as the Heart and Elementals and Manticore? Honestly, I didn’t even fully realize the “Tinkers” had a sacred language, let alone that it was actually Mandarin until I read the author’s note. If you’re going to introduce another language, introduce another language! Sprinkle in some words here and there – let it leave its mark! If you’re going to do something, let it be known that you’re doing it! Especially if it’s their sacred language, and you’re trying to define a culture. I’ve lightly scanned the book a few times, and could only find the three instances I mentioned before. Maybe there’s more – I hope there’s more! But it’s pretty disappointing? To have underdeveloped this part to such a degree. It feels half-assed – thrown in as an afterthought, just for the sake of being able to include a note on it at the end of the book. And, please, if you’re going to use another language, especially one that you may not feel 100% comfortable with, please please check it with someone? The most spoken language in the world is Mandarin – I’m sure someone would be willing to help. I know I’d be.

And then, of course, her beaten-down Tinkers use Mandarin, but the Architects – “one of the most powerful, devious, and wanted sorts in all the Empire,” as per the author’s own words – use Latin. I.e. in page 41 of the paperback, where one of their spells reads “Et in Arcadia ego.” So. Um. There’s that. Yeah.

I’m going to cut myself off before I go on anymore because this review is turning into a mess but TL;DR: the fact that the author dedicated half of her author’s note to talking about using Mandarin in her novel, but only used it extremely sparingly and almost unnoticeably, and still ended up erring once when she did so didn’t make me feel too great, especially when coupled with the aforementioned other uneasy things I found about her Tinkers.

Bayne’s tolerable only because he provides a break from Vespa, and I honestly think the twist in their relationship could’ve been prevented had Vespa thought for longer than a second; the plot does show its face, and the setting is wildly fascinating, but the novel overall is greatly burdened by The Unnaturalist’s flaws; the ending felt vague and muddled, least of which because of the abrupt and late introduction of a rather big character.

I had more thoughts on The Unnaturalists, but after putting all the thoughts I already had into words here, I think I’m going to go read something else and clear my mind. Yep. That seems like a good idea.

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle
Published August 27th 2013 by Amulet Books
Source: Traded
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

For as long as she can remember, Wren Gray’s goal has been to please her parents. But as high school graduation nears, so does an uncomfortable realization: Pleasing her parents once overlapped with pleasing herself, but now… not so much. Wren needs to honor her own desires, but how can she if she doesn’t even know what they are?

Charlie Parker, on the other hand, is painfully aware of his heart’s desire. A gentle boy with a troubled past, Charlie has loved Wren since the day he first saw her. But a girl like Wren would never fall for a guy like Charlie—at least not the sort of guy Charlie believes himself to be.

And yet certain things are written in the stars. And in the summer after high school, Wren and Charlie’s souls will collide. But souls are complicated, as are the bodies that house them…

I really, really love the cover, and I think the title’s really pretty. I’ll give The Infinite Moment of Us that much.

The rest? It was boring. Flat. Unnecessarily, unintentionally uncomfortable. Not the worst book I’ve ever read, but kind of awful. Take your pick.

It might’ve started with Wren’s chapter about how perfect and amazing and put together her life is – she’s super smart and shiny and amaaaaazing and everyone looks up to her – but really all her accomplishments are due to the fact that parents’ favorite pastime is shoving their thoughts down her throat, and all she wants to do is to run off to Guatemala and make a difference in the world.

(why Guatemala? “Because [Wren] know Spanish. Because the people are supposedly really nice, and they need our help, and it’s warm, and the food’s good…” *facepalm* If I had said that to my parents, they’d have drop kicked me out of the house. It’s all good and well to want to take control of your own life; it’s all good and well to pursue something other than college after high-school, but you’ve got to have a plan. You can’t just impulsively up one day and decide you’re going to Guatemala because the food’s good!)

It might’ve also started when Wren accidentally flashed, then made eye contact with Charlie in the school parking lot, and then fell in love a chapter later, or when she and her best friend Tessa had their first conversation, at which point I already wanted to drop kick myself out the window in embarrassment and shame because does the author really think teenagers talk like that?

Or maybe it was when Wren’s parents talked about buying her a car, and she talked about how overbearing they were and dragged anyone who would listen to her pity party?

Or the blatant slandering and slut-shaming of Starrla, Charlie’s ex-girlfriend? I don’t know how to even begin dissecting that shitstorm, and I trust there are other bloggers who can do so far more articulately than I can. The only things the book ever says about her is that she’s “ghetto” and a slut. Um?

Or Charlie’s super uncomfortable and objectifying butts and boobs and legs monologues. Or his equally uncomfortable, super preachy and pretentious inner dialogues. Or the ones about how Wren is the best! His center of the world! 100/10 no one can ever compare! Sunlight shines out of her ass and she’s never wrong and everyone’s out to get her and he gonna follow her everywhere and save her from the world and Starrla who? (Cue Charlie’s inner dialogue about how Starrla’s a slut and his heaping scorn for her character and his past with her, never mind the fact that it takes two to tango, and that no matter where he is and how he stands now, it did seem like he needed her back then and she did help him out of a bad spot, so what the actual fuck @ Charlie.)

And I could really, really, really have done without all the “you make me feel like a man” and “you make me feel like a woman” crap. Really. Thanks.

Also, there’s a guy called P.G. Barbee who, aside from his name, is probably the best thing about this book because – wow – he’s a halfway decent character! I’mjustgonnashowmyselfoutnowokaybye.

But no matter where I start, I can’t quite convey exactly how awkward and cringy and uncomfortable this entire book was – from cover to cover.

In any case, you could say that the only reason I finished The Infinite Moment of Us was that heavy wind and debris on the train tracks stalled my train for an hour and a half, on top of the usual two hours it takes me to commute home, but even then, I can’t say that time wouldn’t have been better spent aimlessly refreshing Twitter and staring at my shoes.

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff
Published January 27th 2015 by HarperTeen
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Here’s what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, Sam’s best friend, Hayden, was dead. All he left Sam was a playlist of songs—and a note, saying that he took his own life. But what Sam doesn’t know is: Why?

To figure out what happened, Sam has to rely on the playlist and his own memory. But the more he listens, the more he realizes that his memory isn’t as reliable as he thought. Especially when someone claiming to be Hayden starts sending him cryptic messages, and a series of violent attacks begins on the bullies who made Hayden’s life hell.

Sam knows he has to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it’s only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him—including an eccentric, unpredictable girl who’s got secrets, too—that Sam will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story.

And maybe have a chance to change his own.

This book was a lot of things the synopsis neglected to include, and the synopsis was a lot of things the book neglected to include, and all in all, if you graphed out my feelings toward Playlist for the Dead, it would be a steep downward slope, with a small but noticeable kick upward during the last few pages.

THE GOOD

  • I love how minimalistic the cover is, and how it matches with the author’s other cover! (I am weak to covers please let me have this much)
  • From the title, the synopsis, and the first few chapters, Playlist for the Dead seemed like it would follow a plotline a la Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. Thank goodness it didn’t – I hated that book.
  • I really liked Sam’s sister Rachel and her boyfriend, Jimmy! For all the shit Sam said about her, they had a very typical sibling dynamic, and I like how warm and easygoing Jimmy was, and how he took everything in stride and was just… a supporting constant in the book. That was nice. Rachel has good taste /thumbs up/
  • also Rachel likes Hawaiian pizza
  • that’s basically all the brownie points in my book, okay
  • the message at the ending made a serious effort to redeem some of the faults earlier in the novel – not everyone was pretty, not everyone was smart, not everyone dealt with things the same way, and no one was perfect. But everyone tried, and they tried in their own way, and if you made an effort to talk to others, you might realize that your story isn’t the only story.
  • It doesn’t change the fact that the guy was an asshole, but. Props.

THE NOT

“”The playlist. Has it helped you understand?”
I thought about it for a minute. “Not yet,” I admitted. “But I’m starting to see that maybe it wasn’t all about me.””

  • Do you ever just pick up a book and realize that you’re probably never going to get along with the main character? In the first few chapters, Sam managed to acknowledge that her mom was working hard to provide for the family and get angry at her for doing so in the same breath, look down on the majority of the student body for not listening to his kind of music and playing games and sharing his interests, and make his best friend’s death mainly about himself. Sure he kind of eased up toward the end (kind of? Kind of.) but really, in a book as short as this, there’s no going back from that first third.
  • Playlist for the Dead wasn’t really about the playlist, and really once Astrid came along it really wasn’t about the dead either, so much as it was about getting with the hot junior girl.
  • Plot what plot?
  • The characters, Sam aside, were either bland and generic or, in Astrid’s case, practically perfect in every way.
  • AND YEAH speaking of. Why were all the girls just two-dimensional tropes? Astrid was a textbook maniac pixie dream girl, their relationship was an entirely unnecessary shot of insta-love, and she basically showed up just to fluff up Sam’s ego.
  • Girls are people with dreams and aspirations and futures too?
  • Why did no girl in this book exist outside of her relationship with some guy?
  • Which is probably why, in stories like this, you should be able to feel something, right? But all I felt was annoyance and a general disconnect.
  • The whole thing with Archmage_Ged would’ve been interesting had it been explored, hinted at, and fleshed out more, but the buildup was just weird and lackluster and the conclusion… /cues screaming in the background/ YOU CAN’T JUST DO THAT. YOU CAN’T JUST DROP SOMETHING LIKE THAT ON US AND END THE BOOK.
  • I still don’t really know why Hayden passed away.
  • I still don’t really get the whole point of that playlist.
  • And the conclusion is… what again? “I was angry” and “I was tired” are pretty lame ways to tie up those threads, especially considering what they did. I’m having a hard time believing there wasn’t more of a follow-up from the police.

Ending with a quote from Jess after her part in Sam’s series of much-needed talks toward the end of the book, because for all the other character’s talks about her being timid and shy, I think being able to sort through her emotions think like this in the face of things was pretty brave.

“…maybe we all need to accept that none of us are going to be a hundred percent right. I don’t think I’ll ever stop blaming myself for my part, but in some ways it’s easier to blame myself than anyone else, and maybe someday that will make it possible for me to let myself off the hook a little bit. Because if none of us is a hundred percent responsible, then it’s probably just as likely that none of us could have stopped this from happening, even if we’d known what it was we should have been trying to do. And we probably need to accept that, just like we need to accept that he’s not coming back.”

The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
Published July 18th 2017 by Razorbill
Source: ARC Traded
Rating: ★★½☆☆

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The palace is soon under siege, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

The cover is absolutely lovely – I love the pink-to-purple ombre! Inside, The Library of Fates tells the story of a girl shaken from her everyday life; the entrance of a tyrant; reincarnation and a race to rescue her family and her kingdom. The incorporation of Indian mythology is rich and immersive, and though the story isn’t anything new, the writing is quiet and beautiful and draws its own course. And as for the plot? The Library of Fates read as a gorgeous fairytale of sorts, an adventure at the very least, at the beginning. However, toward the latter half, things took a rather scattered and confusing turn, which I really probably would’ve been okay with had it not also come with Amrita’s love interest, one of the more abrupt instaloves I’ve come across this year (his appearance also made me super sad because you could feel genuine chemistry between Amrita and her childhood friend! I was rooting for them! But I digress), and too many awfully convenient plot points for the main character. It wasn’t an awful read by any means, but neither was it a particularly great one.

The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula Jones
Published February 27th 2014 by HarperCollins Children’s Books
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Aileen was supposed to grow up magical – just like the other women in her family. Unfortunately, she’s just found out that the magic seems to have skipped a generation… but that’s not her biggest problem right now.

In her world, there are four Islands of Chaldea. The largest and most magical island has been cut off from the other three for decades – and is slowly draining the magic from them.

But now a prophecy has come to light. Someone from Aileen’s island will gather a man from each of the three islands, bring down the magical barrier, and unite them with the fourth island again. And according to the king, that someone is Aileen’s Aunt – who insists on dragging Aileen along. AND the boy Aileen is sure she’ll marry (one day); the local boy with more brawn then brain. Someone seems to want to stop them too… someone with an interest in keeping the Islands apart. But still, with magic on their side, nothing can go wrong. Right?

It was okay… there were points here and there when the story was really fun to read, and I did like the cast of characters! But the plot also dragged in a lot of places and took a lot of meandering detours, and I ended up skimming through a good portion of the middle… Hm.

This did make me really nostalgic for Howl’s Moving Castle, though, and I didn’t know there were two more books in that series! This is probably not the thing to say when my reading pile’s literally toppling off my table, but I want… I want…

Before She Ignites (Fallen Isles Trilogy #1) by Jodi Meadows
Published September 12th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Purchased (Owlcrate!)
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Before

Mira Minkoba is the Hopebearer. Since the day she was born, she’s been told she’s special. Important. Perfect. She’s known across the Fallen Isles not just for her beauty, but for the Mira Treaty named after her, a peace agreement which united the seven islands against their enemies on the mainland.

But Mira has never felt as perfect as everyone says. She counts compulsively. She struggles with crippling anxiety. And she’s far too interested in dragons for a girl of her station.

After

Then Mira discovers an explosive secret that challenges everything she and the Treaty stand for. Betrayed by the very people she spent her life serving, Mira is sentenced to the Pit–the deadliest prison in the Fallen Isles. There, a cruel guard would do anything to discover the secret she would die to protect.

No longer beholden to those who betrayed her, Mira must learn to survive on her own and unearth the dark truths about the Fallen Isles–and herself–before her very world begins to collapse.

There’s not that much to say about Before She Ignites. It wasn’t an explosive read on either end of the spectrum. Really, it read like a prequel of sorts? A set-up for future books in the series. “Illegal dragon trafficking” sounded right up my alley (DRAGONS!!), but everything turned out to be pretty shallow, and the before/after time skips didn’t really help the story along, so much as it did provide filler scenes between already-filler scenes. I did like the dynamic between a lot of the prisoners, and it was so, so nice to see this kind of mental health rep in YA fantasy. But also… a good chunk of the story in Before She Ignites turned out to follow Mira wandering around the prison and telling herself her parents will come save her soon – where were the dragons??

Glass Sword (Red Queen #2) by Victoria Aveyard
Published February 9th 2016 by HarperTeen
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different.

Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control.

The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors.

But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.

Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they’ve always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.

Mare’s mantras of “I am special” and “I am the lightning girl” really grated on me (please get over yourself?), as did the quasi love-square (CAL AND KILORN DESERVE SO MUCH MORE) thing, and the second half was pretty much just a repeat of the first half in a different setting, but tHE ENDING. Thanks, Glass Sword, for reminding me of how weak I am to cliffhangers. Onto King’s Cage it is, then.

Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill
Published November 13th 2012 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

This spring break, Julia’s rules are about to get defenestrated (SAT word: to be thrown from a window) when she’s partnered with her personal nemesis, class-clown Jason, on a school trip to London. After one wild party, Julia starts receiving romantic texts . . . from an unknown number! Jason promises to help discover the identity of her mysterious new suitor if she agrees to break a few rules along the way. And thus begins a wild goose chase through London, leading Julia closer and closer to the biggest surprise of all: true love. Because sometimes the things you least expect are the most meant to be.

This is probably going to be the most incoherent mess of words you’ve read – just a heads up. So. Meant to Be.

Can we not? Can we stop with the people who think they’re better than others because they can quote classical novels and carry pocket Shakespeares? Can we stop slut shaming others because they hang out with boys or wear revealing clothes? Julia’s attitude towards everything was super shitty and judgemental. She basically spends the entire time sneering at all her classmates – for reading books about shopping, for gossiping, for inviting a guy to walk around with them, for reading on Kindles instead of a paperback (I know, what?), for manicuring their nails (really!)… the list goes on and on and on. Through Julia’s eyes, everyone on the trip, especially the girls, are super dumb – everyone except for her, of course, and this is also something she persists on reminding us with gems like this:

“These are your temporary cell phones—or ‘mobiles,’ as they say in England,” she says, tittering a little, as she moves up the aisle, distributing phones. My sticky note reads: +442026415644

I stare at the jumble of unfamiliar numbers, trying to commit them to memory. The standard country code is 44, so that’s easy. Twenty … That was dad’s jersey number in high school; he was captain of the football team. The numbers rearrange in my head, forming different patterns. Then I see it: 26 April, 1564. It’s Shakespeare’s birthday! That must be a sign.

There’s only one remaining number to memorize, and that’s easy enough: the last four is my GPA. Dad’s jersey number, Shakespeare’s birthday, my GPA. I mouth it silently to myself until it’s committed to memory.

Which is tolerable until you see her repeating it every other page with extra emphasis on the last number, then I’m ready to throw the book at the wall. I get it, most others are on this trip because this is the only thing saving their grades, and you’re here because you want to maintain a perfect four. Congratulations.

Please, get over yourself.

I didn’t get what Jason saw in Julia at all. Though, to be fair, I didn’t get what Julia saw in Jason either. He’s a childish jackass who spends the entire trip whipping up disastrous events and then runs off to let Julia deal with the consequences. Like getting her drunk and leaving her at a party surrounded by strangers. Or stripping her and fucking laughing, knowing how shitty it was.

So I didn’t get it. I really didn’t.

Nothing happened in the first two-thirds of the book, and the last book saw the cramming of the most predictable “plot twists” known to the genre. Honestly, Julia should’ve seen at least half of those coming, especially after all her bragging about how she was so smart and aware and decent and put together and sensible and mindful etcetera etcetera. There’s no redemption either, no real character improvement, just a happily ever after, because of course! That’s what they deserve after the shitstorm they went through!

Ugh.

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody
Published July 25th 2017 by Harlequin Teen
Source: ARC Traded
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

Ever since The Night Circus, in which I fell in love with the idea but not quite the execution, I’ve been looking for a good circus story. Daughter of the Burning City sounded like a promising candidate, but ultimately ended up like The Night Circus: I loved the premise, but not quite the execution.

Page one, then chapter one, and you’re introduced to a dazzling world – it’s a little out there, a little different, a little fantastical. I loved the idea of the illusions, the traveling circus city, a girl who had no eyes but could see, someone without a heart but had blood running through their veins… But at the same time, you’re plunged headfirst into these huge, block-of-text-paragraphs that infodump most every detail about the characters and the setting. This carries on for a good quarter of the story before the info dumping starts to ease up. I loved how unique and different all of Sorina’s illusions were – each of them sounded so vibrant and distinct from the other (nails instead of hair, an illusion I couldn’t help but picture as Groot, and a fire-baby, among others) – but there’s got to be a better way to introduce them, as well as the rest of the traveling circus to us, than by slamming it all into our faces by means of hefty, telling monologue.

The author has a dazzling imagination. It practically bleeds through in Daughter of the Burning City, the world she created was interesting and magical, and I’d definitely be up for reading her next novel. But I feel like this novel definitely could’ve benefitted from adhering more to the old “show not tell” saying.

And, whatever was up with Luca? There was all this awful stuff slung at him about his supposed sexuality, and, however the author had intended to portray Luca in the story, it came off as really was quite muddled. What the author explicitly said about Luca and what she actually wrote in for Luca seemed to contradict each other a lot of the time. I was pretty confused, and I’m really not quite sure how to feel about it all?

Aside from the confusion with the author’s intentions regarding Luca’s sexuality, though, he was my favorite character for the majority of the story. I loved how casual and multi-dimensional and solid he came off as. He was quirky and jaded in all the ways Sorina wasn’t, blase about the strangest things, and seemingly innocent about the simplest. And with quotes like-

“We both know that I’m no hero and you’re no damsel. Sorry, princess, this isn’t that sort of story.”

he’s definitely favorite character material^^.

And the mystery! I didn’t see that coming, but I should’ve. Daughter of the Burning City reads like a fantastical, slightly eerie murder mystery, which wasn’t quite what I was expecting when I started reading it, but I definitely didn’t dislike what I discovered it to be.

I just have to add though that the development at the end killed any support I had for the romance in this story, though. Call me old-fashioned, call me a prude, call me close-minded, but nope – I can’t get behind this. I just. Can’t. I don’t see how both sides could actually freely give consent in a relationship like that?

The main character, Sorina, was decent – she didn’t really stand out particularly in any way, but I liked her enough. I did really like and appreciate what the author did with addressing issues of self-esteem and diversity and the feeling of otherness through Sorina, though, as well as through some of the other supporting characters.

The highlight of Daughter of the Burning City was definitely the side-characters and the setting. Though it didn’t quite do the trick for me, I can definitely see what all the buzz and talk about Daughter of the Burning City was for.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Published May 30th 2017 by Simon Pulse
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

When Dimple Met Rishi was really, really cute. It was a little dramatic, awkward, bumbly, and just. Adorable. Gah.

What do I even say – I love how unapologetically Dimple and Rishi the two leads were. Dimple was Dimple; Rishi was Rishi; they had their own culture, their own views, their own ambitions, their own lives, and it shone through every sentence on every page.

I can’t really say anything as to the accuracy of the representation of Indian culture – though I really love how it was written in: steeped into the pages, but naturally so – but as an American with a foreign family background myself, there were a lot of things that both Dimple and Rishi felt that just really hit home for me. I could spend thousands of words and still not accurately convey that sense of comfort, almost relief, at seeing so many of the sentiments I thought about, struggled with, and even cried over printed out onto an actual physical book I held in my hands. I was going to quote a conversation that Rishi and Dimple had about embracing their heritage, but it was too long – basically, they were talking about how to keep both sides of being Indian American, and Dimple recalls how some people in India had kind of outcasted her and called her a foreigner, and Rishi recalls how he sometimes feels like he culturally belongs somewhere, but doesn’t belong socially, and they of bond on the uncertainty of it all. And I just. My heart squeezed. I related so much; this is the kind of book we need, you know? I can only imagine how much more important and meaningful it would read to someone who was actually Indian American. There’s also this part of the conversation I summarized in which Rishi mentions going through this whole phase in middle school where he called himself “Rick” and it was this small thing mentioned in passing but fuck, it hit home so hard.

And.

Well.

Wow.

I really admire Dimple’s resolve and ambition; I really admire Rishi’s ability to be Rishi, certainly, as awkward and adorkable as he sometimes is. I love the dynamic between the two (as well as Ashish later on – you can bet I’ll definitely keep an eye out for his book). And I love how the story flowed – from fiery and strong to awkward and cringey to cutesy, and then back around again. There were so many different thoughts and views and lives etched out across the pages, and it made the story feel all the more real.

I couldn’t really rate When Dimple Met Rishi five stars, though. As much as I loved so many aspects of, as well as much of the story, I thought that it did take a tumble toward the end: there were a couple very obvious, incredibly unrealistic moves to gather up all the loose ends, and Dimple and Rishi’s characters lost some their sparks.

But it’s definitely a four-star read. I didn’t think I’d enjoy this nearly as much as I did, but so much of this was so well-crafted, so much of this resonated with me way too much, and I just. Yes.

Markswoman (Asiana #1) by Rati Mehrotra
Expected publication: January 23rd 2018 by Harper Voyager
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, a highly trained sisterhood of elite warriors armed with telepathic blades. Guided by a strict code of conduct, Kyra and the other Orders are sworn to protect the people of Asiana. But to be a Markswoman, an acolyte must repudiate her former life completely. Kyra has pledged to do so, yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her dead family.

When Kyra’s beloved mentor dies in mysterious circumstances, and Tamsyn, the powerful, dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. Using one of the strange Transport Hubs that are remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past, she finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a young, disillusioned Marksman whom she soon befriends.

Kyra is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof. And if she fails to find it, fails in her quest to keep her beloved Order from following Tamsyn down a dark path, it could spell the beginning of the end for Kyra–and for Asiana.

But what she doesn’t realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is razor thin . . . thin as the blade of a knife.

I AM HERE FOR SISTERHOODS OF BADASS WOMEN. My reading interests fall pretty neatly into two categories: books full of badass characters (the characters I want to become) and trashy romance novels (for the trashy person that I am.) I was so certain Markswoman would fall into the former category, but it ended up falling into neither. My emotions while reading went something like: bewildered -> confused -> quite frankly lost??? -> bored -> a little more than slightly angry -> confused -> oh what the book ended?

Let’s START AT THE VERY BEGINNING. The map was charming; the intro fairly interesting. I liked the “while we hold a katari in our hands and the Kanun in our hearts, a word from us can still raise armies and crumble mountains” line. But then we get to the opening chapters in Kyra and Rustan’s POV, and, well. It’s not a bad thing necessarily – no part of Markswoman was inherently terrible, except for maybe that bit toward the end that I’ll get to later – and this is going to sound really bad at the beginning but please bear with me I’ll explain.

I wasn’t really feeling how the good majority of the “good” characters in the story seemed so uncertain about executing. I mean normal people SHOULD be uncertain about executing people. But when it’s your job, please be certain before you do the deed? Personally, I consider it pretty crucial for executioners to be certain about their actions. And if they ever feel like they did something wrong, they should right it as well as they could. You can never bring someone back from the dead, but acknowledging a wrongful death, figuring out what was behind it… I think those are pretty good places to start. And the uncertain waffling didn’t stop at killings – it extended to practically all other aspects of the character’s life. But Markswoman and Marksmen are chosen, and I find it hard to believe that so many wafflers were chosen? Kyra I can see; Kyra makes sense – her first kill left her uncertain, and her character’s brave and strong and fairly tenacious in her other actions. But Rustan? Rustan. He waffles a lot – on everything – and avoids responsibility just as often and wow his character was frustrating. A lot of the elders of Kali were the same, as well as many of Kyra’s friends, and it didn’t match with the narrative. Markswoman and Marksmen are chosen on spirit, y’know, all that good inner stuff, and while that sounds nice and all, you can’t see a lot of it! Tamsyn and Shirin Mam had balls of fucking steel if you’ll forgive my wording, but most of the other characters? They left a lot to be desired.

I did really like how the author used palindromic prime numbers as passwords for the doors. Call me a nerd but little things like that make me happy. The whole thing about how Kyra and Shirin Mam would pass on was also kind of eerie and unsettling but interesting at the same time – especially Kyra and her dreams. I’d love to see that developed in the upcoming books.

The pacing, on the other hand, was shaky. The beginning ambles a little. When her mentor dies, Kyra isn’t “forced on the run” so much as she just hightails it out of there and at that point, Tamsyn hadn’t seemed like a terribly bad character, and so Kyra’s actions do come off as rash and bewildering. The plot starts ambling again after the death, only to collide headfirst into the tragedy that was Markswoman’s Romantic Subplot. In which Kyra doesn’t “befriend” Rustan so much as she does piss him off, get beat up by him, and then plummet headfirst into what can be best described as a tragically ill-timed romance. In that order. Then the plot slows again, only to speed up in the last few pages. If the author’s goal was to give us all whiplash? She succeeded. Markswoman was like one of those “the history of the universe in a year” kind of videos when nothing happens in the first 365 days and then suddenly you hit the last few hours and BOOM apes become people invent writing make Pyramids start the Renaissance go to space.

MOVING ON. THE ROMANCE. Quite honestly I thought Markswoman would’ve been better without the romance. But if there had to be, of all the possible ways it could’ve gone – Kyra x a cute badass girl from the Order of Kali or Kyra x a cute badass girl from a neighboring order or Kyra x a cute badass guy from the order of Khur who actuALLY TREATS HER WELL – how did we end up here?

Without giving anything away, right before the descent into ~romance~ some other asshole assaults Kyra via her mind and after saving her the first thing her “male romantic lead” does is pull some aggressive tsundere romantic bullshit on her and WHY? There was no chemistry and then suddenly we’re told they have all the chemistry and the guy is this close to being unable to keep it in his pants anymore. I’m paraphrasing of course but that was very much the sentiment and I was very much put off.

And then it gets even worse because I actually kind of admired Kyra’s spirit and tenacity before, even though it wasn’t as delved into as it could’ve been (the thing with her dead family’s only brought up here and there, and in her goals against Tamsyn, she seems fierce at times but oddly emotionless and forced at others). BUT BUT BUT so she’s in for the fight of her life. Her work over the past few months have been building up to this moment. SHE MIGHT DIE. SHE’S THE YOUNGEST MARKSWOMAN, PART OF A HIGHLY TRAINED SISTERHOOD OF ELITE WARRIORS, IS ARMED WITH A TELEPATHIC BLADE, IS ABLE TO WALK THROUGH DOORS NO ONE ELSE CAN, AND HAS THE STEELY MIND TO SHUT OUT THE LURING CREEPY SUGGESTIONS OF AN EVIL SENTIENT GUN (which was a super cool idea I’d definitely be down for reading more about) ANd then some guy who can’t read the atmosphere or spare consideration for her mental state comes along and all she can think of is

“Why had he kissed her? Why had it hurt so much when he stepped away from her and left the room?”

@Kyra maybe not now? YOUR LIFE IS ON THE LINE DAMMIT.

All in all, Markswoman wasn’t a terrible read. The writing was nice, I liked a lot of the ideas that went into this novel, and Kyra was, at most times, pretty cool to follow along. But with the pacing, the shaky characterization, the romance… it had potential, but ended up slipping to the lower end of “okay.”