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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Published March 14th 2006 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ★★★☆☆

A story about, among other things: A girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

I feel kind of heartless writing this review. I guess that’s the thing about books dealing with topics like these; I wanted so badly to say I bawled my eyes out after reading The Book Thief, or that it broke my heart into tiny, tiny pieces, or point to the mountain of tissues by my side but instead I’m sitting here a good chunk of time later, with no clue how to start.

Let’s just start with: yes, this was sad. It’s almost a given, seeing the topic. But it didn’t strike any chords, didn’t trigger the waterworks, and didn’t make me want to read and re-read over and over again to savor the story. Yes, Zusak is a brilliant writer. He really knows how to craft sentences, everything is incredibly well-written, and his prose is probably the thing that convinced me to keep reading. But I felt very disconnected from the characters, the setting, the story.

One of the first things you’ll hear about when people talk about The Book Thief is how it’s narrated by Death. Which seems interesting until you actually read the story, and then you realize that Death’s narrative is akin to placing me in front of a classroom filled with strangers, and giving me an hour to talk about a topic I’ve never researched: I’m going to ramble and stutter and repeat myself over and over again, and you’re hardly going to be interested in, much less pay attention to, a good chunk of it. It was interesting at first. Every chapter or so Death would come in with these little interjections and offer us a little glimpse into the future or the past, or a random little musing that wouldn’t quite seem so significant, but would make you curious enough to mull over. But it got old quickly. The thing about giving your readers little tidbits to mull over on the side is that it takes away from the actual story. The Book Theif was simultaneously trying to tug at your heartstrings with Liesel’s story and bait you with tidbits and musings from Death, but didn’t juggle the two carefully enough, resulting in an incredibly disjointed story, and a disconnected reader.

I loved the idea. The Book Thief is about the people on the “other side.” I’ve read so many Holocaust novels from Jewish perspectives. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry was perhaps the first historical fiction novel in this time period that featured a different narrator. The Book Thief was the second, and I went in expecting something bigger, something deeper, but it pretty much just touts a everyone-in-the-army-is-evil mantra. Is it too much to say that I was hoping for something more? Needless to say, The Book Thief stayed small, safe, and disappointing. I feel like there were bigger things, bigger problems that The Book Thief only skimmed over. I mean, I know Liesel’s still a child, and people probably made an effort to shield her from what they could, but Nazi Germany’s reach was global. They were a Big Deal, but the The Book Thief pretty much disregarded that.

Next time I go into a book with this big and this wrong of an expectation, yell at me?

I liked it enough to finish it; The Book Thief was a decent novel. I really liked the “power of words” theme, and the characters, while not the most memorable cast I’ve ever “met,” were solidly written. I liked the idea of a book thief (and, after misspelling it again and again in this review, I’ve learned that, unlike most of the words in the English language (?), it’s spelled with “ie” and not “ei”) and her scenes running around town.

I was, however, a little disappointed to find that, while she was called the “Book Thief,” she only stole two or three books. With a title like that, I was thinking of thefts climbing into the double digits.

So, all in all, it was okay. I’ll probably look up excerpts and quotes from time to time, because Markus Zusak’s writing is lovely in that quiet kind of way. And while The Book Thief made a decent one-time read, it wasn’t outstanding by any stretch, an apt bookstore-read, though I am glad I read it.

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?

Foreplay (The Ivy Chronicles #1) by Sophie Jordan
Published November 5th 2013 by William Morrow
Source: Traded
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Before she goes after the life she’s always wanted, she’s about to find the one she needs.

Pepper has been hopelessly in love with her best friend’s brother, Hunter, for like ever. He’s the key to everything she’s always craved: security, stability, family. But she needs Hunter to notice her as more than just a friend. Even though she’s kissed exactly one guy, she has just the plan to go from novice to rock star in the bedroom—take a few pointers from someone who knows what he’s doing.

Her college roommates have the perfect teacher in mind. But bartender Reece is nothing like the player Pepper expects. Yes, he’s beyond gorgeous, but he’s also dangerous, deep—with a troubled past. Soon what started as lessons in attraction are turning both their worlds around, and showing just what can happen when you go past foreplay and get to what’s real…

Admittedly, I don’t read much NA. Also admittedly, I haven’t exactly had the best of experiences with the NA novels I have read, and so I didn’t go into Foreplay with the highest of expectations. I also didn’t at all enjoy Sophie Jordan’s YA Firelight series, so, okay, my expectations were pretty much down the drain. But I’d heard nice things about Foreplay, and so eventually sat down to give it a try, and hey – I actually quite liked this one.

Yeah, the story’s predictable as fuck. It’s really nothing new: Naive Girl, egged on by some best friends, attempts to catch the eye of a Bad Boy to teach her about sex. Naive Girl with a Backstory has a long-time crush on Golden Boy, but finds herself maybe perhaps falling for the resident Bad Boy with a Deep and Troubled Past. But somehow it worked.

I liked how Pepper’s backstory, elephant in the room aside, didn’t cause her to run away so much as step forward. Because of what had happened, she was even more determined to fashion her perfect happily ever after with her own two hands, which was something I really admired. And after meeting Hunter, you really understand why Pepper would go after someone like that, even when we all know she’s going to end up with Reece. You aren’t just told the plot, but it actually all comes together and makes sense. And Reece! I mean he was pretty dreamy and swoon-worthy but aaaaalso I liked how he wasn’t just there to whisper sexy things in Pepper’s ear. He’s clearly got a lot of his own stuff going on and it showed. And while he cared for Pepper a lot, he also cared for himself…ish. But he wasn’t just going to become Hunter’s replacement like that, and I really liked that part.

I did cringe a lot at the ending, though. I thought the beginning and the middle was predictable, but the ending really takes the cake.

Foreplay doesn’t really do much to stand out, but it’s amusing and entertaining and heartwarming in a way. It’s a balanced romantic and sexy, as well as a little clumsy, a little drama-heavy, and more than a little cliche, but somehow, it worked.

The Last Best Kiss
by Claire LaZebnik
Published April 22nd 2014 by HarperTeen
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Anna Eliot is tired of worrying about what other people think. After all, that was how she lost the only guy she ever really liked, Finn Westbrook.

Now, three years after she broke his heart, the one who got away is back in her life.

All Anna wants is a chance to relive their last kiss again (and again and again). But Finn obviously hasn’t forgotten how she treated him, and he’s made it clear he has no interest in having anything to do with her.

Anna keeps trying to persuade herself that she doesn’t care about Finn either, but even though they’ve both changed since they first met, deep down she knows he’s the guy for her. Now if only she can get him to believe that, too….

The Last Best Kiss isn’t my first book by Claire LaZebnik – I read Epic Fail quite a while back and loved it at the time. It was a cute, fluffy, pick-me-up sort of read: nothing too serious, but a good way to pass the time nevertheless. Looking back, The Last Best Kiss does do some things better than Epic Fail, but I’m also a very different sort of reader now, so here we are.

The Last Best Kiss isn’t anything outrageous or new. It’s a story of “the one that got away,” and a girl hoping for a second chance, a second shot at something that could’ve been. Anna and her friends are a tad too superficial and a bit too much the generic high-school friend group for my liking, but her realization that she screwed up is an all-too-common feeling, and her looking to right her wrongs isn’t a foreign concept – while maybe not be about a guy, the basic sentiment is a pretty universal one, and it makes the story and Anna herself easy to follow and root for. Having never read Jane Austen’s Persuasion, I can’t say much about how well this works as a retelling, but as far as plot, The Last Best Kiss does a pretty solid job of depicting the usual YA romance high school. The story’s accompanied by an equally generic cast of characters, given enough depth and emotion to lull them to life across the pages, but hardly enough to break them from their cookie-cutter stereotypes. I do have to just point out, though, that I’d never get along with Anna’s dad. Ever.

Claire LaZebnik’s books give me the same feeling Sarah Dessen’s does. They aren’t terribly exciting, and once you’ve read one you can pretty much predict and map out the rest, but they’re the kind of feel-good reads you find yourself craving every once in a while. You know what to expect, you know how it’s going to end, and when it comes, everything’s neatly tied up and handed to you with a bow, and you leave with a fluffy, quiet sort of satisfaction.

So, really, there isn’t a lot to say. The Last Best Kiss is very normal and predictable, but it works for the story. It’s fluffy and sweet, with a splash of the author’s “signature wit and expertly authentic teen voice” as the synopsis proudly declares (it isn’t wrong, but just not as prominent as you’d expect). I quite recommend it as a library read, a one-time sort of thing for an hour or so of enjoyment, and a little breath between heavier reads.

The Young Elites (The Young Elites #1) by Marie Lu
Published October 7th 2014 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

The Young Elites is dark and vivid and though it lost a little steam as the book went on (only to return at full blast in the end because holy crap, guys. Marie Lu doesn’t play around), I really enjoyed it. It’s wonderfully complicated, with complex characters and hidden agendas; fantasy and magic and political intrigue.

Contrary to what I thought, this wasn’t a book about a villain – not really. Nor was it a book about a hero. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed at first. I’d been expecting Adelina to be a villain or a twisted hero. Hear me out, but I feel like she’s none of those things. Not that it’s a bad thing – after the initial disappointment, though I never quite grew to love her, I found her really interesting to read about. Adelina’s been mistreated all her life by a father who makes Cinderella’s stepmother seem saintlike. She’s lived a shitty life especially after the fever. She’s been tossed around by so many people that of course she snaps. And she does do some bad things. She kills people – I won’t deny it. And she snaps a couple times throughout the story in bouts of badassery. But the reason why I don’t really find her to be villainous or particularly strong is because she’s always trying to take the easy way out and the way she reacts doesn’t measure up with the things that’s said about her and the things that she’s supposed to be. She seems rather soft, and actually seems to care a great deal about what others think of her and often tries to mold herself into their standards, which doesn’t make for a bad character, as I did mention she was interesting to read about, but I was really prepared for a strong, dark, bitter, character, which she wasn’t. So that threw me off a little.

I loved the rest of the cast of characters, though, each complicated, with questionable motives. I think the only character I was iffy about was Adelina’s sister, whom I felt was thrown in entirely for convenience and plot, as the book seemed to forget about her altogether at times, and the big reveal regarding her seemed all too convincing and a little too unbelievable. Other than that, I loved the varieties and the differences among the characters. The whole book really gave off a dark, no-one-is-ever-quite-who-they-say-they-are feel, from Enzo, the prince who’s looking to claim his throne, to Tenzen, equal parts pitiful and awful, and gentle, beautiful Rafaelle.

As usual, my favorite thing about this was the writing. If I dog-eared pages with my favorite quotes, I think I would’ve dog-eared every other page. Instead, I tried memorizing something like 200 different page numbers, which didn’t quite work out, but my point is, yes, the writing was that good. It’s deep and it feels real, – which sounds both really exciting and utterly terrifying at the same time – twisting and layered, with light romance. I thought I would’ve been more bothered with the multiple perspectives, but I wasn’t. My only complaint is, like I said , the book began with a bang. Then it snowballs, adding more and more and more to the plot, but then somewhere along the way, something goes a little awry and the story begins to feel a little repetitive, like there’s something not quite working anymore, and we’re watching Adelina doing something she’s done multiple times already, and we’re just sitting around waiting for the ball to drop and something new to happen.

More than anything, though, The Young Elites feels more like an introduction, the backstory to the real plot, especially with that ending and epilogue, which is probably one of the best ones I’ve read, even if it did make me want to curl up into a ball and sob my way to 2015. I’m particularly curious about what Adelina’s going to do next, and how her powers will develop, especially after Tenzen and Rafaelle’s conversation on the matter.

The Young Elites wasn’t awful by any stretch. It had me flipping pages and gripping book covers. It had me doing the whole thing where you slow down when you realize you’re reaching the end because you aren’t quite ready to close the book yet (anyone?). It was a bit of a letdown in some parts, but I really liked the world and the characters, so I’ll definitely be sticking around to see what happens next.