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Zodiac (Zodiac, #1) by Romina Russell
Published December 9th 2014 by Razorbill
Source: Traded
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

At the dawn of time, there were 13 Houses in the Zodiac Galaxy. Now only 12 remain….

Rhoma Grace is a 16-year-old student from House Cancer with an unusual way of reading the stars. While her classmates use measurements to make accurate astrological predictions, Rho can’t solve for ‘x’ to save her life—so instead, she looks up at the night sky and makes up stories.

When a violent blast strikes the moons of Cancer, sending its ocean planet off-kilter and killing thousands of citizens—including its beloved Guardian—Rho is more surprised than anyone when she is named the House’s new leader. But, a true Cancerian who loves her home fiercely and will protect her people no matter what, Rho accepts.

Then, when more Houses fall victim to freak weather catastrophes, Rho starts seeing a pattern in the stars. She suspects Ophiuchus—the exiled 13th Guardian of Zodiac legend—has returned to exact his revenge across the Galaxy. Now Rho—along with Hysan Dax, a young envoy from House Libra, and Mathias, her guide and a member of her Royal Guard—must travel through the Zodiac to warn the other Guardians.

But who will believe anything this young novice says? Whom can Rho trust in a universe defined by differences? And how can she convince twelve worlds to unite as one Zodiac?

So I’ll admit – I was lured in by the whole “thirteenth zodiac thing” because of Fruits Basket. I can’t help it, really. Anytime I see the phrase “thirteenth zodiac” for the rest of my life, I’m probably going to flash back to Fruits Basket. And cry a little. But Zodiac turned out to be nothing like Fruits Basket. It was more… think Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series! But with Divergent houses, and it’s set in space. Except for Zodiac doesn’t read nearly as cool as it sounds.

First of all, nothing really happens at the beginning? The first few parts are kind of boring and makes you tempted to skim, except for there is crucial worldbuilding stuff lurking around, so you can’t really. Then we hit the second half and honestly the politics and psy stuff would be kind of cool. And I loved the Gemini twins. But when we hit the second half, we’re also plunged into this love triangle which can be explained, as Mathias so kindly puts it: “He’s forbidden, and I’m too old.” So. It’s lovely.

HA. Paragraph break and you thought I’d leave the love triangle stuff as is but I’M NOT DONE. So there’s Hysan and Methias, and, well, I thought Hysan was pretty cool – he’s the sunny, cocky, confident type, and made the book more bearable and interesting. I experienced the burning urge to eject Mathias off the ship, but then after the love triangle started and heated up I started feeling really bad for him instead because wow does Rho leads them on. She sleeps with one of them and then gets jealous of him hanging out with other girls – which call me crazy but gives off the impression that she’s got a serious thing for him? – but then in the next instance, she’s actively encouraging the other guy with implied love confessions? ??? ??????? Is this messy love triangle really necessary? Can Rho not just. Be a young guardian and save the world. Does that not make for a good enough book?

Also I was really confused because at the beginning of Zodiac, there’s a part where Rho and Mathias interact for the first time in the book at least, and it reads as if they’re meeting for the first time ever, or at least are distant strangers, but later on Rho talks about how he’s been important to her for ages and I am Confused.

ALSO they keep emphasizing how cancer was nurturing and all about family but whereee are those qualities in Rho because I don’t see it? The family stuff’s hammered in here and there when the story remembers that Rho’s mother and father and brother exist, but the nurturing part… Well. It leaves room for discussion, to say the least. Most of the other characters were also pretty dry and forgettable in the same way, until all their personalities started melting into one large, undefined mass of Secondary Character.

Actually, in that same vein, the whole book was pretty filler-y and dry. The politics and intergalactic expeditions would’ve been super super cool had it actually gotten adequate attention and page time; the thing thirteenth zodiac guy of myth was really cool – him showing up as a different person/thing to every single house was a really smart move. Why does he fall apart when he actually shows up in the book? I don’t know if it was meant to highlight how special and capable and amazing Rho is, but in implementation, it doesn’t make Rho seem any more capable. It just makes both of them seem woefully incapable.

But most of Zodiac is overshadowed by the love triangle. As well as the writing, constantly reminding us that Rho’s special and talented and wonderful.

Zodiac had so much potential but in the end, everything I would’ve enjoyed about it took a backseat to everything that didn’t work for me.

Scorched (Scorched #1) by Mari Mancusi
Published September 3rd 2013 by Sourcebooks Fire
Source: Traded
Rating: ★★½☆☆

Trinity
Don’t leave me here… It starts with a whisper. At first Trinity thinks she’s going crazy. It wouldn’t be a big surprise—her grandpa firmly believes there’s a genuine dragon egg in their dusty little West Texas town. But this voice is real, and it’s begging for her protection. Even if no one else can hear it…

Connor
He’s come from a future scorched by dragonfire. His mission: Find the girl. Destroy the egg. Save the world.

Caleb
He’s everything his twin brother Connor hates: cocky, undisciplined, and obsessed with saving dragons.

Trinity has no idea which brother to believe. All she has to go by is the voice in her head—a dragon that won’t be tamed.

Scorched – I keep misspelling it as Schorched ughh – was interesting? Interesting! I picked this one up because, well, DRAGONS. DRAGONS. And yeah there were dragons! (The book under the dustjacket is absolutely GORGEOUS I’d highly recommend you take a peek) And the dragons were kind of cute? The one we see the most is a baby dragon and she’s super precious. And the writing was decent.

But. Um. I’m really not a fan of the whole love-triangle-with-brothers thing. But that thing was a huge part of the whole “beautiful special snowflake needs to decide who to trust and ends up leading on two hot brothers who time travel back to get her because she’s the one that’ll destroy the world or save it” thing this book keeps emphasizing. Which could’ve been okay, had Scorched not then decided to focused way too much on the “beautiful special snowflake” and “leading on two hot brothers” aspects and not enough of the whole “destroy or save the world part.”

Which, you’d normally think would take precedence? Maybe?

The Dracken had potential, and I liked the idea (I also really liked where the name came from! Most books see groups with super meaningful names, but they also forget that these groups were supposedly formed by teenagers? So a super important world-influencing group named after video games was both really funny but also fit), but the setup was pretty lackluster. Most of the time the book focused less on the Dracken and more on Trinity and Connor and Caleb mooning after each other with the Dracken in the peripheral, so the Dracken ended up coming off as a half-assed cult group, and the rest of the plot read rather messily. Needless to say, I ended up skim reading a lot toward the end.

Scorched wasn’t an awful read, but at the same time, I’m kind of glad I traded for this instead of buying it.

Antigoddess (Goddess War #1) by Kendare Blake
Published September 10th 2013 by Tor Teen
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Old Gods never die…

Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health.

Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra—an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god.

These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods—in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning.

Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out.

Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath.

The Goddess War is about to begin.

I stick pretty closely to Goodreads’s rating system: 1 star is “did not like it,” 2 stars means “it was ok,” 3 stars for a “liked it” read, and so on. And, Antigoddess? It was okay.

I’m fascinated by mythology. Was obsessed with it at one point, actually. Long before I fell into YA, I pretty much exclusively read mythology books – Greek, Roman, Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian, Babylonian, you name it. I think I might’ve checked out every book on myths in my school library twice, and while I’m no longer anywhere as obsessed with mythology as I had been in the past, I always get excited to see them in YA. And, so, Antigoddess.

The premise was super interesting: a war between dying gods. And the beginning of the book? I was really drawn in by how it opened, chapter zero, with Athena choking on feathers and Hermes slowly wasting away to a haunting, tragic end, more of a whisper than a bang, an end nowhere near benefitting of a god or goddess. It’s really tragically beautiful, in a way.

And then… things took a turn and went… somewhere. It wasn’t terrible – nothing in Antigoddess read as terrible. The whole thing was just very okay. Very bland. The book started out tragically beautiful and haunting, then nosedived into “meh” territory and was never able to crawl its way back out.

The story alternates between Cassandra and her boyfriend Aiden, and Athena and Hermes; the story alternates between two teenagers scamming high school freshman in cafeterias and attending parties, and two dying gods stumbling across the country, bickering and scowling amongst themselves to find Cassandra and Aiden. It sounds more interesting than it really is, and the synopsis sounds much more action-filled than the entire book delivered. Most of it was the parties and the running and scowling. A lot of what I thought would be more crucial points – how the gods and goddesses got to where they were now, what happened to, y’know, everyone else, how the whole “waking up with your past memories” thing actually works, as well as the “swapping out your old body with a new” that was only briefly mentioned in passing with Odysseus – were very vague, details passed over in favor of drawing out… something. Something? The characters’ shuffling and waffling and grumbling?

The pacing was slow, the climax almost unpleasantly jarring and anti-climactic, and the entire book almost reads as the preface to something bigger and bolder. The thing is, though, with the way Antigoddess ends, it could pass as a stand-alone. And with the way it read, I’m happy to take it as such.

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.