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.”

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
Published April 5th 2016
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★½☆

Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

If it were me and I got a random email like that, especially from someone calling themselves Somebody/Nobody? It would’ve gone straight in the trash. Which is also probably why Jessie’s the main character of this novel, and I’m sitting here writing about it.

Overall, Tell Me Three Things was really cute and engaging! The falling in love through the written word thing gets me every single time – it’s probably my most searched fanfic tag and I love the idea to death – and it was no different here. Theo was my favorite character overall, and I really enjoyed seeing how his relationship with Jessie developed over the novel. The treatment of Jessie’s stepmother, in the latter half of the book had me pleasantly surprised, and I liked how, even though you can kind of guess who the mystery SN is, there are moments here and there that brings about doubt and uncertainty. I thought Ethan was kind of creepy and weird though. Sorry? There was all this stuff he did and said that I know was supposed to come off as sensitive, cute, considerate, or all of the above, but it all just rubbed me the wrong way. He was pretty main, though, and so, primarily because of him, every time I started really getting into Tell Me Three Things, and every time I thought the story was starting to get really really good, it would faceplant into something ridiculous and/or cringey and a little part of me just died.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
Published June 6th 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Love lives between the lines.

Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.

Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction, and the escape. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore. She can’t see her future.

Henry’s future isn’t looking too promising, either. His girlfriend dumped him. The bookstore is slipping away. And his family is breaking apart.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.

“But I love you, and before you say it words do matter. They’re not pointless. If they were pointless then they couldn’t start revolutions and they wouldn’t change history and they wouldn’t be the things that you think about every night before you go to sleep. If they were just words we wouldn’t listen to songs, we wouldn’t beg to be read to when we’re kids. If they were just words, then they’d have no meaning and stories wouldn’t have been around since before humans could write. We wouldn’t have learned to write. If they were just words then people wouldn’t fall in love because of them, feel bad because of them, ache because of them, stop aching because of them, have sex, quite a lot of the time, because of them.”

Cath Crowley writes beautiful books. I’ve read two and a half now – snippets of A Little Wanting Song, Graffiti Moon in its entirety, and now Words in Deep Blue. They’ve all been quiet, lyrical sorts of reads, and it’s really highlighted in Words in Deep Blue with the Letters Library, which was a really cool touch. It was probably my favorite part of the story, actually: I loved reading all the letters, tucked between chapters of the story just as they would’ve been in the actual Letters Library, and Cath Crowley’s writing really shines through the most here because every single letter’s so delicate and lovely, especially George’s exchanges with “Pytheas.”

But while I really like the letters, I felt this huge disconnect with the rest of the story. Mainly because I couldn’t bring myself to care much for Rachel, and Henry was an asshole, and I couldn’t figure out what Rachel saw in him? Which was a downer. The rest of this book read as a gorgeous love letter of sorts to books and the written word, and then Rachel and Henry’s parts basically tracked mud all over that letter.

Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas
Published March 11th 2014 by Harper Teen
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

Despite what her name might suggest, Heart has zero interest in complicated romance. So when her brilliant plan to go to prom with a group of friends is disrupted by two surprise invites, Heart knows there’s only one drama-free solution: flip a coin.

Heads: The jock. He might spend all night staring at his ex or throw up in the limo, but how bad can her brother’s best friend really be?

Tails: The theater geek…with a secret. What could be better than a guy who shares all Heart’s interests–even if he wants to share all his feelings?

Heart’s simple coin flip has somehow given her the chance to live out both dates. But where her prom night ends up might be the most surprising thing of all…

I thought this was really cute! It was the perfect read for my mood – fluffy, a little silly, and plenty adorable. The two routes writing style hardly ever works for me but Ask Again Later is one of the few exceptions. I can’t say I thought it was the best way to go as it still threw me off a little especially in the first half, but the author made it work, and I thought the ending was super sweet and satisfying.

Spellbinding by Maya Gold
Published April 1st 2013 by Scholastic Point
Source: Library
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

There’s more than one way to be powerful . . .

It is during a routine school project that Abby Silva–sixteen and nearly friendless–makes a startling discovery: She is descended from women who were accused of witchcraft back in 1600s Salem. And when Abby visits nearby Salem, strange, inexplicable events start to unfold. Objects move when she wills them to. Candles burst into sudden flame. And an ancient spellbook somehow winds up in her possession.

Trying to harness her newfound power, Abby concocts a love potion to win over her longtime crush–and exact revenge upon his cruel, bullying girlfriend. But old magic is not to be trifled with. Soon, Abby is thrust headlong into a world of hexes, secrets, and danger. And then there’s Rem Anders, the beautiful, mysterious Salem boy who seems to know more about Abby than he first lets on.

A reckoning is coming, and Abby will have to make sense of her history–and her heart–before she can face the powerful truth.

A quick read, almost painfully ridiculous for the most part, with ridiculously obvious “twists.” I’m not exactly the best at spotting plot twists, so when I can make a fair shot at mapping out the story – “unpredictable” twists and all – from almost the get-go, that should be a huge warning sign. And forget pulling cliches out of a hat – it felt as if the author just sat down and emptied it all out onto the story.

This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) by Victoria Schwab
Published Published July 5th 2016 by Greenwillow Books
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

So I have this thing with Victoria Schwab’s books. I think. Hear me out: I used to think her books were pretty hit-or-miss with me, but I’ve read The Near Witch and The Ash-Born Boy, The Archive, Vicious, A Darker Shade of Magic, and now This Savage Song as well. With The Near Witch being the outlier, I’ve pretty much fallen in love with all Victoria Schwab’s adult novels, but there’s something about her young adult novels that I can’t follow. Can’t connect with. Which is kind of weird, because I’m still firmly in that young adult category, but. Anyhow.

The opening of This Savage Song was gripping. I was sucked in right away – between the school and the flames (and, let’s be real, the one-too-many sentiments Kate and I shared about Catholic schools, even though we both attended but for brief periods of time) – Victoria Schwab really knows how to start a book.

The individual elements were incredibly interesting: Kate’s the daughter of a crime boss, August is a monster playing human who lures in his prey with music, there are borders and political intrigue with monsters, as well as a violin with History, and an eerie little song that goes like so-

“Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all.
Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.
Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all!”

But together, and something doesn’t quite click. There are monsters! But the monsters don’t seem quite like monsters, and read more like the ones in those bedtime stories my mom would read my little brother years ago – with just enough creepy and just enough monster to say it satisfies his request for a “monster story,” but not enough to make him feel it in his bones. There is politics with monsters! But honestly, it’s all kind of glossed over, and I could never really get a proper feel for the city, as intriguing as it sounded in the synopsis. Kate is the kick-ass daughter of a crime boss! And we’re told this again and again until every page bleeds two-dimensional kick-ass girl trope and Kate starts coming off as less fierce and desperate, and more and more as a privileged, insensitive asshole with daddy issues. Then every other chapter, we’re granted a relief from Kate and subjected instead to August’s gloom of teenage angst. I didn’t hate him; I didn’t love him; honestly, I didn’t have any particular feelings about him? He was there, and he was a character, and something happened to him, and that’s basically my overall feelings about This Savage Song.

I wanted so badly to like this as much as everyone else did. And there were little moments here and there – the beginning, Kate’s first(?) kill, August’s flashback, and the violin – that made me think that things were starting to look up. Though, ultimately, they didn’t. Not really.

The author made This Savage Song sound so, so good:

“It’s the story of Kate Harker, the only daughter of a crime boss, and August Flynn, the son of a man trying to hold his city together. She’s a human who wants to be a monster, and he’s a monster who wishes he were human.”

And Victoria Schwab – she’s got this way with words, you know? Everything flows so nicely and wraps up in such an orderly way, and there are so many quotable lines in every chapter. She’d have to majorly screw up somewhere to get me to stop reading because there’s just something about the way she writes that tugs me right to the end of the book each time, even if I need to take several breaks along the way to get there.

I-

“I mean, most people want to escape. Get out of their heads. Out of their lives. Stories are the easiest way to do that.”

mean-

“It was a cruel trick of the universe, thought August, that he only felt human after doing something monstrous.”

just-

“She cracked a smile. “So what’s your poison”
He sighed dramatically, and let the truth tumble off his tongue. “Life.”
“Ah,” she said ruefully. “That’ll kill you.”

read-

“But the teacher had been right about one thing: violence breeds.
Someone pulls a trigger, sets off a bomb, drives a bus full of tourists off a bridge, and what’s left in the wake isn’t just shell casings, wreckage, bodies. There’s something else. Something bad. An aftermath. A recoil. A reaction to all that anger and pain and death.”

this.

“It was a cruel trick of the universe, thought August, that he only felt human after doing something monstrous.”

But, ultimately, aside from the premise, the wonderful writing, and the small snippets of scenes here and there, This Savage Song didn’t deliver on a lot of aspects, and just didn’t do it for me.

(I’ll admit I was 100% sucked in by that preview of Our Dark Duet at the end, though sos I’m so weak so I just might end up giving this duology another shot anyhow? Maybe?)

Snow Like Ashes (Snow Like Ashes #1) by Sara Raasch
Published October 14th 2014 by Balzer + Bray
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

The minimalistic design under the dustjacket is gorgeous and I straight up spent a good hour just admiring the book’s design instead of reading it whoops But then I started reading Snow Like Ashes! And GUYS. The story’s just as interesting as the cover and I really like both of them!

White strands stream around me, some matted with sewer muck, but most tossing in the wind. A living snow-storm, a vibrant white reminder that they haven’t enslaved every Winterian. Some of us are still alive. Some of us are still free.

And some of us are half a locket closer to taking back our kingdom.

Meira’s hands-down one of the best main characters in the books I’ve read this year. I love how strong and relatable and determined she comes across, with a tinge of sarcasm and wry – because we all need some kind of humor to keep us aloft when the world is falling apart, right? She’s not perfect, but I love the massive amounts of self-reflection and subsequent character development she goes through. She comes across as sweet and struggling and genuine. She’s not perfect, but she tries – she really does, and that’s what makes her all the more likable and relatable. Meira’s the kind of person who’ll throw a tantrum, then get back to her feet and do.

I’ve been so selfish, haven’t I? Selfish and narrow-minded and wrong, because I wanted to matter to Winter, but in my own way. Within my own set parameters that would also fit who I wanted to be. I choke on a laugh, hating that it’s taken me this long…

And I really liked Sir also! I loved how he was a kind of but not really father figure to the story, and I loved how he was this important adult figure that actually had a hand in helping the plot along! Oftentimes in YA the world’s falling apart, and we’re supposed to believe that everything’s put back together by a band of teenagers, which (though granted, some teenagers are hella smart) isn’t the most believable. I loved how, in Snow Like Ashes, it was a group effort. Sir was doing his best to keep it together and bring things back together; Mather was doing his best to shoulder this huge responsibility he thought he had; Meira was doing her best to come into herself and do what she could to help her kingdom. The relationships were complex and distinct, and all the main characters were easily differentiable because they came across as genuine, genuinely thinking they were doing the right thing, genuinely thinking that if they struggled onward, things would look up.

The romance – though, really, does every YA series need a love triangle? is there some ironclad rule? why is this a thing? – was surprisingly okay. I really could’ve done without all that metaphorical dick measuring between Theron and Mather, but it wasn’t all-consuming, and it didn’t detract much from the story. It was a little annoying in places, but I could deal. I rather liked the two, actually? (Also, reading books with YA love triangles has shown me how easily swayed I am and I don’t know what to do with this information.) I liked how balanced Theron was, how consistently respectfully he treated Meira throughout the book. And if I didn’t like him enough before, that scene where he blew up on his father and basically opened his father’s eyes to the truth? Won me over. Completely. BUT THEN ON THE FLIP SIDE Mather was also nice – I felt kind of bad for him throughout the story, actually, because he had all this responsibility, and he did make some questionable decisions but he was genuinely trying to do the right thing and he did try to make it up afterward. They were both just nice boys with kind hearts and good intentions in a shitty situation. That’s definitely something I could get on board with.

Someday we will be more than words in the dark.

The set-up was also fairly easy to follow once you got the hang of it, though it did take some time. Another thing I really enjoyed about Snow Like Ashes was how it switched things up! Most of the time, if it’s the elements, Fire is the bad guy, and if we’re talking seasons, Winter’s the antagonist. I liked how Snow Like Ashes switched things up a little, with Winter being the protagonist, and Spring the antagonist. It was really refreshing to read!

I do have a few complaints, though. First, Snow Like Ashes dragged in the middle. This book’s pretty hefty for the plot it covers – it could definitely be cut at least a hundred pages. Also, the “big reveal” toward the end is pretty blatantly obvious from chapter two. The little flashback-like scenes here and there just give too much away in one go! It would be a lot more impactful and shocking if the information was rationed instead of all laid out like that from the get-go. And, lastly, the scene at the beginning with Meira and the locket – she got out of that sticky situation way too easily. Meira practically got in and out of a heavily guarded area with minimal chasing and minimal notice, which is highly unbelievable, especially considering the terrifying might she’s supposedly dealing with.

All in all though, Snow Like Ashes really surprised me. With a kick-ass, relatable protagonist, a cast of characters that were likeable and genuine, solid writing, and an original set-up, it’s easily one of my favorite reads this year.