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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.

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.

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.

Between the Blade and the Heart (Valkyrie #1) by Amanda Hocking
Publication date January 2nd 2018 by Wednesday Books
Source: ARC from Publisher
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Valkyries have one great responsibility: to return immortals to the afterlife by slaying them. As a Valkyrie, Malin has always known that the balance of the world rests on her ability to carry out orders. But when Malin discovers that her mother spared the life of an immortal who was destined to die, her world is thrown into chaos.

Malin not only wrestles with the knowledge that her mother might not be who she thought—she’s also thrust into the path of a gorgeous blue eyed guy named Asher who needs her help slaying the rogue immortal who destroyed his family. The balance of the world is at stake. And, as Asher competes with Malin’s ex for her love and loyalty, so is her heart.

Aside from tidbits about Loki, Odin, Thor, and Freya, I know very little about Norse mythology. But I always thought the idea and what little I knew of Valkyries was really cool! So when I got the opportunity to read Between the Blade and the Heart, I was incredibly excited. It’s Game of Thrones meets Blade Runner (according to the blurb)! A “commanding new YA fantasy!” I was picturing, I dunno, Wonder Woman x an army or something? Or something.

Well. Between the Blade and the Heart was definitely an “or something.”

Good things first? Quinn! She’s steadfast and supportive and brave. She’s so incredibly loyal too – like she’ll sell an old family heirloom to help her friend in dire straights, or hang around waiting an entire night just to make sure a friend gets out safely because she heard something and was worried, and I just? Ugh. I also love how direct she is – she knows what she wants, and she doesn’t beat around the bush.

AN EXTRA PARAGRAPH FOR QUINN because she basically single-handedly saved this story from my dnf-pile.

And, um. Sloane’s character arc was nice?

I kid, guys. That’s all I’ve got. Thank goodness for Quinn.

RIGHT SO. MOVING ON. I’m a huge fan of chapter zeros and prologues, but the three-page intro at the beginning? Highly unnecessary. It might feel different in a movie, or a trailer! A trailer – I’m picturing a panoramic shot of the Valkyries going about their daily duties while Malin parts of those three pages in the background and yeah, that’s a pretty cool intro, but book-wise? Not really. It’s a pretty jarring infodump of unnecessary information. What readers need to know from it will be rehashed later on in the story when the information’s important, and the unnecessary bits are never touched on again, so. The whole thing’s effectively useless and a pretty jarring way to start the story.

Then the actual story came, and most everyone was super inconsistent, especially Malin and her mom. I get if unusual circumstances throw them off, or if they’ve been hiding things, but usually, your core character would stay the same. After a while, all the characters in Between the Blade and the Heart all blurred together because their personalities kept flip-flopping between one type and another. Most of them were never really consistently anything, leading most of them to read as the same inconsistent character.

Okay, that’s unfair – Malin was consistently a dick. I’ll give her that much. She kept whining about how people were smothering her (when she basically did whatever she wanted whenever she wanted, other people’s opinions, common sense, and common courtesy be damned) and how she never got to really be, then had this mini-crisis over supposedly not getting love and affection when? Quinn? Asher? Her mother? What Marlow had for Malin did seem like a kind of love. Maybe not the warm, affectionate kind we typically see, but she did look out for and want good for Malin, and it did seem like she felt genuine affection for Malin. Granted, the characters were incredibly inconsistent, but that was the sort of feeling I got from Marlow most of the time. On the other hand, Malin was the one consistently pushing people away, judging them for the smallest things, and refusing their affection (i.e. after the funeral when Quinn tries to extend a hand to Malin and basically gets flipped off and raged at for being too restricting).

And, augh, I seem to be all-around incapable of writing short reviews. But. In any case. Moving on.

The writing pretty much relied on telling, the plot was non-existent for most of the story, and the dialogue scenes were incredibly stilted. See (all quotes taken from the ARC – may be inconsistent with the finalized, finished editions):

“How are you ladies doing this lovely morning?” Atlas asked, with a broad grin to match his broad shoulders.
“Just finished the job,” I replied.
“I assume that it all went well for you,” Atlas continued grinning.
“Is Samael in?” Marlow asked, cutting Atlas’s chatter.

“Thanks,” I muttered, slamming my book closed, and got to my feet. “I’m looking for help, and you kick me when I’m down. Nice.”
I started walking away, but Sloan sighed and called after me. “Sorry. I didn’t realize you were actually having a genuine existential crisis.”
I stopped to look back at her. “Well, I am.”
“All the Valkyries I’ve ever known have been dumb jocks,” Sloan explained, as if that would somehow make me feel better. “I’m working on trying to get over my own prejudices, and it’s unfair of me to stereotype you like that.”

(OH SHOOT I JUST REALIZED – someone I’d initially thought of as one character was actually two? Take that as you will about the state of the characters…)

And YES I’M WRAPPING UP SOON I PROMISE. Just one last thing: the entire buildup, a good 200+ pages of the story was ended in – I kid you not – one page, and the author attempts to offset that by building up that anticlimactic result, as well as the remaining few pages, into hype for the next book in the series. And it sounds pretty like a pretty disappointing climax point but honestly? At that point, it was pretty much like deflating an already deflated balloon for me – I just wanted the book to be over.

(I’m really, really amazed, though. This is my first Amanda Hocking book, but apparently it’s her twenty-second published novel? Even if each novel was just 120,000 words, that’s 2,640,000 written and published words! Which is like 455 of these reviews. Or 290 of that one medical anthropology essay I’ve been putting off and should really get to finishing. Or if you wrote a word a second for every minute of every hour of every day, it would take you roughly a month to write enough words to fill those novels, even with that extremely low word estimate per book. Holy crap.)

(AND ANOTHER COOL FACT YOU PROBABLY NEVER NEEDED TO KNOW: it’s incredibly cool and also kind of shocking to hear that Amanda Hocking is publishing her 22nd book because I was already book blogging when she published her first! (Count the years – or don’t. Thinking it over, it’s kind of scary. In the blogoverse, I’m practically ancient^^;;;))

As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti
Expected publication: January 2nd 2018 by Sourcebooks Fire
Source: ARC from Publisher
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

What if you could ask for anything- and get it?

In the sandy Mojave Desert, Madison is a small town on the road between nothing and nowhere. But Eldon wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, because in Madison, everyone gets one wish—and that wish always comes true.

Some people wish for money, some people wish for love, but Eldon has seen how wishes have broken the people around him. And with the lives of his family and friends in chaos, he’s left with more questions than answers. Can he make their lives better? How can he be happy if the people around him aren’t? And what hope is there for any of them if happiness isn’t an achievable dream? Doubts build, leading Eldon to a more outlandish and scary thought: maybe you can’t wish for happiness…maybe, just maybe, you have to make it for yourself.

How do I put this? I really like the concept of the new cover for As You Wish – it’s really eye-catching and well thought out, and definitely something I’d put up on the wall. I wouldn’t, however, buy a copy of the book itself for my bookshelf.

Reason number one: Eldon was a prick. A giant bag of dicks, if you will. He was also the main character, so you can see where that might present a bit of a problem. As You Wish opens with Eldon working his shift at the gas station, preening about how good-looking and charming he is while inwardly mocking the customers, and it’s only downhill from there. Throughout the novel, he beats people up when things don’t go his way, blames everyone else for his missteps, and inflates his insufferable ego. In all honesty, I’m surprised he has friends – he treats everyone around him terribly, and they just? Keep coming back? (Though granted, that entire town isn’t exactly the most pleasant bunch either.) I get that his sister’s in a coma, it sucks that he was dumped (though not for the reasons Eldon keeps assuming, which was also pretty shitty of him) and hey it kinda sucks that he’s not in shape on the football field anymore BUT HI HELLO IT DOESN’T CHANGE THE FACT THAT
1) Eldon’s an insufferable jerk.
2) Eldon needs to get over himself and grow up.
3) tRAGIC BACKSTORY DOESN’T EXCUSE AWFUL BEHAVIOR.

Oh, and get this: when he bumps into a drunk classmate, his first thought is that he cAN GET INTO HER PANTS BECAUSE SHE’S DRUNK. Then a short while later, he kisses a girl who didn’t want to be kissed and feels indignant, then writes it off as being drunk. The victim-blaming is strong in this one and I wish I couldn’t believe I’d actually read those scenes with my own two eyeballs. If anyone figures it out, do tell me when things were supposed to start to change because every sentence vaguely tied to him read as another nail in the proverbial coffin that housed Eldon’s problematic self.

And on that note, this is a pretty long story and nothing happens for the first 90%? This book would’ve been a lot better if 90% of it hadn’t been Eldon angsting over his wish and spewing his misogyny onto all the girls in his life – he didn’t even spare his mom – while vehemently insisting otherwise. And when things do start happening… none of it makes any sense? Random characters appear out of nowhere and random bridges that Eldon burned magically repair themselves and suddenly everything’s falling neatly into place except in a bizarrely disconnected way? I like plot-driven novels. I tend to like character-driven novels slightly more, so slow-moving plots to me are fine if the character’s changing but this book? It was neither plot-driven nor character-driven. Or anything-driven, really. It barely moved, which is a pretty incredible feat for 430+ pages.

And, for all that talk about how people shouldn’t attempt to play God, the attempted resolution was one very big attempt at playing God. It was also another shitty move by Eldon so. Congratulations, Eldon – you managed to make it through your “redemption” arc and get worse instead of better.

One more: okay so I was actually liking all the historical tidbits about other people who had made their wishes UNTIL we got to the part about someone who wished their gayness away and became romantically and sexually attracted to nobody, except the entire thing was written in an insultingly ace/aro-phobic way at which point WELP please leave.

Final verdict? I thought it was a cool idea and the author obviously had a lot to say, but the execution sorely missed the mark. I also do apologize if I got any of the chronological orders wrong in my review but I really didn’t want to go back and pick through the book. Once was more than enough.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Published January 6th 2015 by Knopf
Source: Gifted
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This really isn’t much of a review, partially because there isn’t really much to say: it follows the formula to a T, but fails to do much beyond that.

The writing was nice – the source of all my stars, actually, but I hate the degree of emotional manipulation. It’s like this book was one large checklist for a Sad Book. The characters weren’t really characters, just labels stuffed into bodies for the purpose of some poignant novel a la John Green. I hated Violet’s passiveness, and really, what’s up with their families? Where were they?

Live Through This by Mindi Scott
Published October 2nd 2012 by Simon Pulse
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

From the outside, Coley Sterling’s life seems pretty normal . . . whatever that means. It’s not perfect—her best friend is seriously mad at her and her dance team captains keep giving her a hard time—but Coley’s adorable, sweet crush Reece helps distract her. Plus, she has a great family to fall back on—with a mom and stepdad who would stop at nothing to keep her siblings and her happy.

But Coley has a lot of secrets. She won’t admit—not even to herself—that her almost-perfect life is her own carefully-crafted façade. That for years she’s been burying the shame and guilt over a relationship that crossed the line. Now that Coley has the chance at her first real boyfriend, a decade’s worth of lies are on the verge of unraveling.

I picked this up looking for something gripping, emotional, and different from my usual reads, but I think the only thing I felt afterwards was disconnected and a little confused. The core story is a powerful one, and it touches on an important subject, but I feel like on a whole, the story could’ve been executed better. The plot, for one, isn’t all there, and there’s a lot of subplots and tidbits that are picked up and then promptly forgotten about at various points in the story. On a whole, I feel like a lot of things that should’ve been more explored weren’t, whereas many things that didn’t really lend a hand to the story – or, maybe, could’ve, if I’d been more clear on what was going on and why – took up too many pages. And as far as Coley, she seemed far to distant for a main character, making it hard to empathize with her, and coupled with such a rushed story… I know I’m supposed to have lots of feelings, but right now I’m firmly in the ??? camp.

The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Published August 18th 2015 by Dial Books
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To find the liquor cabinet blindfolded, need a liver transplant, and drive his car into a house

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To . . . well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters.

For Tim, it wouldn’t be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the “smart” choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard.

I’m really on the fence with this one. One one hand, I liked it: it was heavier than I thought it would be, and at times it feels a little forcefully emotionally manipulative, but I loved Huntley Fitzpatrick’s writing and the voice that she gives the characters. Tim especially could be really… charming? (for some reason, I feel like some doting grandmother when I say that) at times, and I loved the large family sort of atmosphere. I have a huge extended family, but my immediate family’s rather small, so my everyday life’s really quiet, and it was really interesting to see the differences. However – and, speaking of forcefully emotionally manipulative – I didn’t like the “twist” that the author employed. I mean, I know these things do happen, and it did accomplish its goal of pushing Tim to grow up, and a large part of it really is just personal preference, but honestly, it also felt awkward and stilted, as if it was thrown in for the sake of more complications and more angst. Which I’ll pass on, thanks.

So while I did enjoy some parts of The Boy Most Likely To and will definitely be picking up some of Huntley Fitzpatrick’s other novels, a good chunk of this novel just really wasn’t for me. I’m thinking I probably should’ve gone with My Life Next Door instead?

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
Published October 6th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Traded
Rating: ★★★½☆

Grace Mae knows madness.

She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

I didn’t think I’d enjoy this book half as much as I ended up doing, which came as a really nice surprise. I was a little hesitant to pick this up at first seeing as I’d read and wasn’t a fan of another one of the author’s books, but A Madness So Discreet ended up working a lot better for me than Not a Drop to Drink. I loved the atmosphere, all the little subtleties, the characters and Grace’s relationships with them, and the satisfaction that the ending brought. On the other hand, though, I wasn’t too sold on the murder case Grace and the doctor tried to solve. It all felt a little too vague and a little too shallow, which did get me thinking that maybe the author took on a few more plot points than a single book of this length could handle. But all in all, I really enjoyed A Madness So Discreet.

A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger
Published June 5th 2012 by Poppy
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Whitley Johnson’s dream summer with her divorcé dad has turned into a nightmare. She’s just met his new fiancée and her kids. The fiancée’s son? Whitley’s one-night stand from graduation night. Just freakin’ great.

Worse, she totally doesn’t fit in with her dad’s perfect new country-club family. So Whitley acts out. She parties. Hard. So hard she doesn’t even notice the good things right under her nose: a sweet little future stepsister who is just about the only person she’s ever liked, a best friend (even though Whitley swears she doesn’t “do” friends), and a smoking-hot guy who isn’t her stepbrother…at least, not yet. It will take all three of them to help Whitley get through her anger and begin to put the pieces of her family together.

I loved The DUFF and Shut Out, and I wanted to love this one too, but… wow. Ugh. Okay. Honestly, I feel like the main character just rubbed me in all the wrong ways. Whitley’s super pissy and obnoxious all the time, and blames everything she does on her parents and their problems and, okay, they’re far from great, but? Really? Bad backstory doesn’t excuse bad behavior. Her life’s been crummy, but the way she acted was detestable – the great majority of the characters around her too were pretty detestable. There’s slut-shaming and cyber-bullying, neither of which are ever really fully addressed (why). I skimmed a little to get to the end, mainly because I was hoping for it to do some drastic 180, but I’m pretty sure it went past the point of no return fairly early in, so all I was left feeling was increasingly angry.

All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry
Published September 26th 2013 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Source: Traded
Rating: ★★★½☆

Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family.

Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who’s owned her heart as long as she can remember—even if he doesn’t know it—her childhood friend, Lucas.

But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever.

All the Truth That’s in Me is one of those books that are a little hard to rate. I really enjoyed the writing – personally, I really love the fluid timelines, the fragmented, sectioned chapters, and the sort of narrative that leaves many gaps, so that at the middle of the book, there are more questions than answers, and then even at the end, there are still some pieces that are left up to the imagination of the reader to fill in. The author made the transitions between past and present, and between one scene and another work wonderfully, so that even though a lot of the sections were rather quick and rather short, nowhere did the flow feel jarring. However, I do feel like the author took a few cop-outs here and there, and under-handled a few pieces of the story, which left the ending rather unsatisfying, and me slightly unsettled – and not the haunting, chilling unsettled this kind of story often brings, but the sort of feeling you get when the story’s skipped a few turns on its way to the goal – as if there was something crucial missing.

Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss #3) by Stephanie Perkins
Published August 14th 2014 by Dutton
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.

This might partially be due to the fact that I’ve binge-read far too many contemporaries recently, but Isla and the Happily Ever After just didn’t carry that same spark Anna and the French Kiss did. I loved the cameos. I loved some of the banter (it’s a Stephanie Perkins novel, after all). But it wasn’t terribly impressive; it was missing something. For one, it was super cheesy – talk about overdone. But then it also didn’t feel authentic. Their story’s supposed to be one that’s started before the novel. They’ve got history and tension and all that good stuff, but it just didn’t feel convincing – just too hot and heavy too quickly and way too insta-love-y. I don’t know. The whole Kurt situation was also really weird, and the ending? Everything’s falling apart and broken and drowning in tears but then suddenly flip the page and everything’s sunshine and daisies again? I know it’s fiction, but would it be too much to ask for something a liiitle more realistic?