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The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes
Published February 17th 2015 by HarperTeen
Source: Won
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Ever since the night of the incident with Luke Willis, the preacher’s son, sophomore Hallelujah Calhoun has been silent. When the rumors swirled around school, she was silent. When her parents grounded her, she was silent. When her friends abandoned her… silent.

Now, six months later, on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains, Hallie still can’t find a voice to answer the taunting. Shame and embarrassment haunt her, while Luke keeps coming up with new ways to humiliate her. Not even meeting Rachel, an outgoing newcomer who isn’t aware of her past, can pull Hallie out of her shell. Being on the defensive for so long has left her raw, and she doesn’t know who to trust.

On a group hike, the incessant bullying pushes Hallie to her limit. When Hallie, Rachel, and Hallie’s former friend Jonah get separated from the rest of the group, the situation quickly turns dire. Stranded in the wilderness, the three have no choice but to band together.

With past betrayals and harrowing obstacles in their way, Hallie fears they’ll never reach safety. Could speaking up about the night that changed everything close the distance between being lost and found? Or has she traveled too far to come back?

I usually don’t read religious books. It’s just a personal thing, really. And it feels kind of stupid to say this know, seeing as the synopsis does mention Luke’s the pastor’s son, and Hallie’s name being Hallelujah should’ve told me something, but I didn’t know religion would play such a huge part? That aside, I did find myself enjoying the other parts of the novel. The writing was quiet and beautiful, and I loved the character development Hallie went through: she’s so, so brave, and the book’s rather quick and short, but even so, the characters are well fleshed out. Hallie’s hard to like at first, but as the story goes on I found myself sympathetic towards and rooting for her just the same. Rachael is precious, and I’m so glad someone like her met someone like Hallie. Jonah… he was a bit of a tricky character? I didn’t really have any particular opinion toward him, but I really appreciate the author’s choices regarding some aspects of his and Hallie’s relationship, especially Hallie’s hesitation about the relationship between them while they were lost in the wilderness.

All in all, The Distance Between Lost and Found was a poignant, beautiful read. The parts I wasn’t sold on was more of an its-not-you-its-me thing, and I’d definitely jump at the chance to read more of the author’s books.

How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat
Published August 15th 2017 by HarperTeen
Source: Won
Rating: ★★★★☆

Vicky Decker has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight, quietly navigating the halls of her high school undetected except by her best (and only) friend, Jenna. But when Jenna moves away, Vicky’s isolation becomes unbearable.

So she decides to invent a social life by Photoshopping herself into other people’s pictures, posting them on Instagram under the screen name Vicurious. Instantly, she begins to get followers, so she adds herself to more photos from all over the world with all types of people. And as Vicurious’s online followers multiply, Vicky realizes she can make a whole life for herself without ever leaving her bedroom. But the more followers she finds online, the clearer it becomes that there are a lot of people out there who feel like her— #alone and #ignored in real life.

To help them, and herself, Vicky must find the courage to face her fear of being “seen,” because only then can she stop living vicariously and truly bring the magic of Vicurious to life.

I was initially kind of hesitant because from the synopsis it sounded like Vicky had photoshopped herself into other people’s pictures, and then people followed her on Instagram thinking that she’d actually gone to all those places. Which isn’t what happened at all – she photoshopped herself into other people’s photos, and its clear that she didn’t actually go, but that’s kind of the point: she photoshops herself into places she wishes she’s at but isn’t, and people follow her because they share the same sentiments. Everyone feels lonely and out of place and the account brings them all together, and there’s so many ways it could go wrong and the story hints and teases at some, but ultimately the account makes a wonderful, emotional impact. How to Disappear does make things rather simplistic, especially where the account is concerned, but it really gets you thinking.

The tone was a bit young for my personal preference, but this book punched me right in the feels and it was uncomfortable but in a good way? It was uncomfortable in the way it should be given me as a person and I’m shit at reviewing books I liked so hi hello please know that How to Disappear messed me up and I think you should read it.

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.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo
Published May 30th 2017 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.

This book made me feel all smiley and fuzzy and want to watch all my favorite kdramas (The Moon Embracing The Sun!!! Also 10/10 would recommend Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo and Doctors and Strong Woman Do Bong Soon and ahhhh if you’re ever looking for recs just let me know!). BUT parts also made me want to bash my head against the wall.

I’ll ditch my usual review pattern and start with the good: I Believe in a Thing Called Love was a cute, fun read! It’s clumsy and quirky overall, and the highlight for me was definitely her relationship with her Dad. It was so natural and strong and just… really nice. Reading their scenes and their banter never failed to put a smile on my face. Loving father rep in YA, as far as I’ve seen, has been pretty dismal – I was really happy to read of a relationship like theirs.

And, okay, I spent the great majority of the book cringing and hiding my face in my hands (a portion of which was probably fully intended by the author, and the other portion just because I’m, well, me) and – no Desi why stop please don’t stop noooo. But in that good way, you know? That way by which you’re super invested in the story, regardless, in spite of, or maybe even because of all the cringing and excessive heaping of second-hand embarrassment. And then you reach the end and in spite of the raging fireball of disaster, everything works out! And you feel super relieved. It’s kind of like kdrama catharsis. I Believe in a Thing Called Love had that.

But. I Believe in a Thing Called Love had one glaring But: who plans a car accident? Who fakes drowning in a pool? In what world is that even remotely okay (and she planned TWO accidents)? I can get being desperate for a boyfriend and doing crazy things (I mean, I can’t really, but it happens?). But staging an accident? One that has real and serious consequences? That’s an entirely different issue. Which is entirely fucked up. I couldn’t get behind at all – not the way it started, not the way it played out, and not the way it ended and was resolved.

All in all though? I Believe in a Thing Called Love was up my alley – Asian rep and healthy familial relationships for the win! If you’re a fan of that over-the-top style asian kdrama – think The Heirs level – then this’ll definitely be the book for you.

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.

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.

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.