Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Black Bird Of The Gallows by Meg Kassel |a rich fantasy unfortunately marred by a trope-y romance

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3 stars

A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.

Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human.

What’s more, she knows something most don’t. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.

The natural response to the premise of Black Bird Of The Gallows would be to roll your eyes and mutter a half-hearted ‘pass’ because you’re too tired of the same paranormal romance plots being reused over and over again. However, looking at the praise this book was garnering so far ignited some hope in me, and while I didn’t hold candlelight vigils praying for this book not to be a Twilight repeat (looking back, I probably should have done that), I did let my expectations get high enough to be excited for this book. Well, fellow readers, I have been conned into a state of cOnFLict (the mix of upper case and lower case letters shows the stress this book has put on me). Once again.

I am conflicted over my feelings for BBOTG, but it’s easy to admit that discerning what I liked and what I did not like was a less painful process with this book. I loved the dark and moody atmosphere of Cadence, Pennsylvania (the setting of this book) and yes, small and somewhat mysterious towns are one of my fantasy weaknesses, and Kassel executed the vibe of them perfectly in this book. The world-building was also very original, I’m not used to harbingers of death the way I am used to vampires, werewolves, or fallen angels, but the mythology and history behind the harbingers and the beekeepers was completely new but well-done. I almost wish there was a sequel (fantasy standalones are quite rare) because the storytelling feels unfinished considering the amount of potential the world-building contains.

But, alas, I would only read that sequel if it was telling the story of a different set of characters. Angie Dovage is actually a very formidable heroine, she’s got a rough history and a complicated character due to it, and she’s also smart and admirably independent. Her best friends, Deno and Lacey, are a tad unnecessary until the very end, when they become considerably more significant and useful. Reece Fernandez is a goddamn bore to me, his chiseled jaw and sculpted abs aren’t as emphasized in this PNR, but regardless of the heavy descriptions and dialogue about his tortured soul, I really couldn’t attach an interesting personality to it.

It was my mistake not reciting a couple of mantras before preparing myself for the romance to hit, because man, was it painful. Practically instalove, and I was really holding out hope for something different because I heard such great things about this book. It’s clear Reece and Angie had an inherent attraction to one another but from the beginning, but the way they acted upon it and how quickly they got together felt wholly unnatural and forced. Their relationship has such a vague foundation, and while there are details later clarifying that foundation, it wasn’t enough to make their current romance believable. It’s upsetting, because the whole book is based on their relationship, and I just can’t put my faith in it.

This is just me, but I’m sure I would have been more content with BBOTG if there was a sequel to be released. With the introduction of certain characters, the intricacy of the world-building, and the amount of questions raised, there’s just too much unfinished work left to end it after one book. What about Rafette’s backstory? Hank’s backstory? What about Angie’s mom? All these questions are answered so quickly and swiftly like??  I think fantasy standalones just make me uncomfortable. They’re so unheard of.

In certain aspects, Black Bird Of The Gallows exceeds many standard PNR novels. The main character is actually competent and the world-building is existent. However, in other aspects, it simply sinks into the elements that make PNR so recognizable yet annoying, such as the ever present high school tropes and the unbelievable romance. I would recommend this to anyone who naturally loved the PNR genre, but don’t expect to find anything particularly special in the romance department.

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Books, Original Post, YA Fiction

November 2017 wrap-up

This wrap up is a tad late, but I’m still enthusiastic about the fact that I read 9 books last month! How did that happen?! Either I’ve been slacking off on the constant piles of homework I have to finish or my time management skills have been improving. Let’s hope it’s the latter.

Books I’ve read:

Crown Of Midnight (Throne Of Glass #2) by Sarah J. Maas – improved writing +  furthered world building + badass Celaena (finally!!!) = solid 4 stars

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green – great mental illness rep, but unfortunately written side characters + a formulaic plot = unsurprising 2.5 stars

City Of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments #2) by Cassandra Clare – the NOSTALGIA + kickass characters + kickass demon fighting + kickass world building = delighted 4 stars

Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr – interesting themes, flat character writing + overall bland composition = disappointed 2.5 stars

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman – unique mental illness exploration + thought-provoking, but too abstract and unfocused for me = inevitable 2.25 stars

Alex And Eliza (Aliza & Eliza #1) by Melissa de la Cruz – 18th century goodness + witty banter + too-cute-for-its-own-good romance = pleasantly surprised 3.75 stars

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith – mostly predictable characters + unresolved plot points + forced romance = unhappy 2.5 stars

Just One Day by Gayle Forman – self discovery journey + relatable themes + sophisticated writing = emotionally affected 3.75 stars

Black Bird Of The Gallows by Meg Kassel – strong heroine + dark and atmospheric vibe, but a frustrating instalove-y romance = a very CONFLICTED 3 stars that is prone to change

November posts:

Anticipated releases: November 2017

Frostblood by Elly Blake (review)

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green (review)

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith (review)

November mini-reviews

Anticipated releases: December 2017

The only other eventful thing (and relevant) that happened in November other than reading, was finishing season 2 of Daredevil. It’s kind of sad when you think about it, but I’m about to start Jessica Jones now and I’m hyped. Plus, speaking of Marvel, did y’all peep that Infinity War trailer???

Thanks for viewing this, peeps. Leave me a comment below with your thoughts 🙂

 

 

Books, New Releases, Original Post, YA Fiction

Anticipated releases: December 2017

Guys, can you believe it’s December already???

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It’s been a crazy and stressful year (in nearly every aspect) and I honestly can’t wait for these December contemporaries to close the year out in their lighthearted fashion. Yes, my anticipated releases this month are all indeed contemporary novels (surprise surprise!).

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Three Sides Of A Heart: Stories About Love Triangles – Coming December 19th

You may think you know the love triangle, but you’ve never seen love triangles like these.
These top YA authors tackle the much-debated trope of the love triangle, and the result is sixteen fresh, diverse, and romantic stories you don’t want to miss.
This collection, edited by Natalie C. Parker, contains stories written by Renee Ahdieh, Rae Carson, Brandy Colbert, Katie Cotugno, Lamar Giles, Tessa Gratton, Bethany Hagan, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, EK Johnston, Julie Murphy, Garth Nix, Natalie C. Parker, Veronica Roth, Sabaa Tahir, and Brenna Yovanoff.
A teen girl who offers kissing lessons. Zombies in the Civil War South. The girl next door, the boy who loves her, and the girl who loves them both. Vampires at a boarding school. Three teens fighting monsters in an abandoned video rental store. Literally the last three people on the planet.
What do all these stories have in common?
The love triangle.

Never have I been so happy about love triangles! This sounds like a highly ambitious anthology and if there’s anyone who can turn the love triangle trope upside down, it’s definitely these authors. HYPEEEEImage result for page breaker
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Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West – Coming December 26th

Everyone knows Abby Turner is in love with her best friend, Cooper Wells. Including Cooper Wells. But despite what people tell her, it doesn’t affect their friendship. And she’s practically over it, anyway. What she really can’t get over is when her boss at the local museum tells her that her paintings lack heart. 
Art is Abby’s passion and she hopes her future as well. She is determined to change his mind and earn her way into the upcoming exhibit at the gallery. So along with her family’s help, she compiles “The Heart List,” a series of soulstretching experiences that are sure to make her a deeper person and better artist in six weeks or less. When Cooper decides to complete the list along with her, she realizes this list is expanding her heart in more ways than one. Maybe she needs to start another project.
Love, Life, and the List is about a girl who, in an effort to bring more emotional depth to her art, compiles a list of soul-stretching experiences to complete with her best friend—a boy she also happens to be in love with. 
This is the first in a set of three standalone books with crossover characters.

God, I really need to catch up on Kasie West. It’s amazing how this woman puts out several books in a year when I take months to get a task done. Definitely looking forward to this one!

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33413929The Love Letters Of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle – Coming December 26th

When Lily Michaels-Ryan ditches her ADHD meds and lands in detention with Abelard, who has Asperger’s, she’s intrigued—Abelard seems thirty seconds behind, while she feels thirty seconds ahead. It doesn’t hurt that he’s brilliant and beautiful.

When Abelard posts a quote from The Letters of Abelard and Heloise online, their mutual affinity for ancient love letters connects them. The two fall for each other. Hard. But is it enough to bridge their differences in person?

This hilarious, heartbreaking story of human connection between two neurodivergent teens creates characters that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

This sounds like such a sweet and diverse read. I’m glad mental illness is being represented more and more in YA literature and I hope this book doesn’t disappoint!

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Thanks for viewing guys! What are your upcoming December releases? Let me know in the comments 😀

 

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

November mini-reviews

Hey peeps! I’ve decided to ‘mini-review’ a couple of shorter books I’ve read this month. This is probably a good idea because I don’t want to talk on endlessly about books that I don’t have much to say about.

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Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr (2.5 stars)

Gem & Dixie explores the story of two sisters living in a dysfunctional and financially disadvantaged household with their unstable mother. After their dad comes back into their life, the sisters unexpectedly embark on a journey across Seattle that sheds light on their family and their complicated relationship. I found this book to be simply average in all aspects. While it did have its moments, the writing and story felt flat most of the time and it was a chore to drag myself through it because I was disinterested most of the time. Gem and Dixie themselves aren’t incredibly fascinating individually, but I did appreciate how their relationship was written. However, it wasn’t enough to make me enjoy this book fully.

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18075234Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (2.25 stars)

Challenger Deep follows the story of Caden Bosch, a boy suffering from mental illness and how it affects his delusions and what he experiences in the real world. The story is told from two narratives, one being real life and the other being a delusion of Caden, in which he is a part of a ship and crew that are traveling to the deepest part of the Earth, Challenger Deep. I feel sort of guilty for disliking this book, because Neal Shusterman (one of my favorite authors ever) is writing about a very serious and relevant topic. While I commend that aspect, the execution of it was simply not my thing. I normally don’t enjoy books told so abstractly which is why it was difficult to engage myself into the dual narratives. But, Shusterman’s ability to create something so different and though-provoking is always amazing.

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32860355Alex & Eliza by Melissa De La Cruz (3.75 stars)

Alex and Eliza follows the love story of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler in the midst of the American Revolution. It seems that many have been attracted to this book because of Hamilton, the play but I’ve actually never seen it or listened to the songs (a grave sin, I know). I picked it up on a whim because I wanted a cute romance and I actually ended up liking the romance and many more elements. While the writing was a bit difficult to get into, I loved the atmosphere it evoked. The commentary and humor concerning the war and the social issues of the time was also entertaining. And of course, Alex and Eliza themselves were just lovable and their love story was swoon-worthy. I don’t use that word often but I can’t find a more accurate description than that.

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17623975Just One Day by Gayle Forman (3.75 stars)

Just One Day follows the story of Allyson Healy, as she meets Dutch actor Willem on a post-graduaction European tour before traveling with him to Paris on an impromptu trip. One day of freedom, risk, and getting lost on purpose with Willem changes Allyson’s life, and when she wakes up the next day to find him suddenly gone, she is shattered. The second half of the novel follows Allyson as she goes to college, creates new memories, and tries to find herself while searching for Willem. This book came as a pleasant surprise, and I loved how while it was marketed as a romance, it was actually about Allyson desperately trying to tap into the girl she was on that one day in Paris. It’s about her journey to self-discovery and I thought her character, and the rest of the characters and their relationships with one another, was very well-written.

Thanks for reading, guys! Leave a comment below with your thoughts 🙂

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

This Is What Happy Looks Like, by Jennifer E. Smith (review)

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2 1/2 stars

If fate sent you an email, would you answer?

When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O’Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie’s Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media’s spotlight at all costs?

This Is What Happy Looks Like is my fourth Jennifer E. Smith novel and my last attempt to salvage my rocky relationship with her style. I’ve never strongly disliked Smith’s books but most of them have been deemed as ‘meh’ novels, which is much worse to me because I hate being in a limbo, not liking but not hating it either. I looked to This Is What Happy Looks Like to change that, but all it did was add to it. While I definitely liked the writing better this time around, the characters, pacing, and overall plot still fell glaringly flat.

Smith’s writing was always a sore point for me, while I did like her way with words, they didn’t keep me engaged and actually bored me to an extent. But, I was definitely more entertained by the writing in this novel, It felt much more defined and stable, contrary to the directionless and vague prose of The Geography Of You And Me and Hello, Goodbye, And Everything In Between. However, the writing couldn’t save the utter mind-numbing boredom the story gave me. Smith’s novels all have very different concepts but there’s always something missing that ties them together, and I just felt like I wasn’t reading anything new. While I appreciate the fact that the movie-star story line wasn’t campy and cliche, the pacing and plot were so stale and far too quick.

Also, unresolved plot points?? Ellie and her best friend Quinn end up in an ‘argument’ over freaking nothing at the beginning of the book and they don’t talk for most of the book until Quinn suddenly shows up again towards the end? What about Quinn and Devon? Where did that come from? What about Ellie and her dad? Graham and his parents? What about the emails? We were shown 5 of the emails and then … no more. These are important questions, people! There are so many subplots involved but they all either build to nothing or are completely ignored. I feel so unsatisfied by this, because these plot points seemed added in just for the hell of it but they aren’t correctly paced or told about at all.

The characters, save for Graham, couldn’t seem to characterize themselves as anything else than cardboard cutouts. Ellie has everything set up for a typical contemporary female lead: a single parent, some secret concerning her family, a relationship with a best friend that somehow loses its way throughout the story (usually due to ‘trust issues’ or some shit like that). While I liked her enough toward the beginning, I slowly started to lose interest as the story progressed because her characterization didn’t progress along with it. Again, nothing new. Graham, on the other hand, surprised me immensely and is actually my favorite part of the book. He felt human and totally real from page 1, and I love how Smith didn’t try to overemphasize his ‘regular’ side and ‘perfect celebrity’ side.

The romance was another element of the book that completely took me by surprise, and not in a good way. Ellie and Graham’s in-person meet took place early in the book, which ruled out any possibility for the tension building up to a possible relationship. There weren’t nearly enough emails showed to display their previous connection, and when they made the jump to form an in-person romantic relationship, it just felt too fast and unnatural. Plus, when they were together, Graham and Ellie had no chemistry! I didn’t find their romance to be believable at all, Hadley and Oliver from The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight were more believable together, which is saying something because I wasn’t the biggest fan of those two either.

I wish I liked this concept’s execution just as much as the concept itself, and while this pretty much marks the end of my complex relationship with Smith’s writing, I still have some hope remaining. Would recommend if you’re looking for a quick read and are a fan of Smith’s previous novels.

Books

More Than This, by Patrick Ness

4.5 Stars

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.

Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.

How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?

As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

From multi-award-winning Patrick Ness comes one of the most provocative and moving novels of our time.

Patrick Ness is such a popular name nowadays: his Chaos Walking trilogy is lauded by many, and his A Monster Calls made me, and apparently everyone else cry. Therefore, I picked up More Than This rather on a whim, not realizing what it was about at all (because the copy at the library irritatingly didn’t have an inside cover. Why do back covers have to only contain quotes about the book I don’t care about?). As I read it, though, “pleasantly surprised” became a bit of a misnomer, because this book was engrossing, captivating, deep, and had me questioning my existence on every page.

I will say right off the bat that the writing is phenomenal. The prologue to this book is quite literally one of the best beginnings to a book I have ever read, and I had to put down the other book I was reading so I could finish this one in two sittings. The third person perspective also contributed to the mystery and suspenseful atmosphere of the novel, and I’m starting to wonder if I’m beginning to prefer it to first person narration.

The first third of this book is literally just our main character alone trying to figure out what’s happening to him, and although the plot is slow, it’s punctuated by meaning and character depth, and I was not the least bit bored even when nothing was happening.

I loved Seth’s flawed, struggling character. The circumstances surrounding his death are slowly revealed, and his development was beautifully unrushed. The side characters of Tomasz and Regine were also extremely layered and distinct, and I enjoyed every bit of their page time.

There’s not a ton I can say about this book since it’s one of those books where you’re much better off reading it with very little information, as I did. It’s not like there’s some big reveal at the end, it’s just that it’s easier to get sucked into the book without the impediments of prior expectations. When pointing out flaws, I will say that I wasn’t a huge fan of the explanation for Seth’s situation we were (kind of) given, since the entire thing then felt too easy and slightly undermined the themes of existentialism and knowledge that are interwoven into this book. However, Ness does well to overturn explanations often, so the characters can never figure something out completely before their perceptions are shaken again.

This is the first book in a while that I found completely fresh, beautiful, and without romance. More Then This was an amazing ride the entire time and I find myself now clamoring after Ness’s other works.

-Liz

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Turtles All The Way Down, by John Green |mental illness exploration + classic John Green

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2 1/2 stars

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. 

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.

I don’t need to debrief you guys on my complicated history with John Green. I claim to either love or hate his books, but they’re all found on my ‘meh’ shelf, precisely because I understand the struggles behind his characters but don’t quite agree with how they are expressed. Turtles All The Way Down is no exception to this, while I commend Green for exploring mental illness, perhaps spending more time on further characterizing Aza as something other than her illness would have helped. Perhaps it would have stalled the book’s eventual descent into the regular philosophical, pretentious, unrealistic shit Green just seems to love.

Turtles All The Way Down mainly focuses on Aza’s OCD and anxiety issues clearly, and one can tell right off the bat that much research definitely went into crafting a realistic portrayal. Aza’s compulsions and constant thoughts were written pretty accurately, and I especially loved the inclusion of that little voice of doubt constantly creeping into Aza’s life. I also thought Daisy, her mother, and Davis seemed to handle her anxiety realistically, even if it wasn’t handled well. However, I felt as though Aza’s entire character was marked by her OCD and anxiety, making her a total caricature of her illness. Her narration consisted of nothing other than her ‘spiraling of thoughts’ and I honestly do not know anything about her personality apart from her anxiety and OCD.

Unfortunately, I found the other characters in the book to be replicas of every other teenager John Green has created in his novels. Daisy and David were likable at first but later just became annoying. While I did appreciate the small pockets of complexity the side characters showed, it wasn’t enough to make them memorable. They demonstrated the same amount of superficial complexity that all of Green’s characters show, precisely due to the same unbelievable, pretentious, overly philosophical thoughts and discussions they have. I like abstract concepts and the stuff they talk about in this book, but literally NOBODY extends that shit to the point where you’re talking about the universe, just randomly and bluntly. If someone started talking all this shit about the universe and astronomy out of nowhere, as a way to start a conversation, my ass would get the hell away. It’s just too artificial to me.

Regardless of all these character complaints, the book in general was just boring. Again, while I appreciate the tackling of an important subject here, Green’s habit of simply re-hashing his plots and characters kind of defeats the purpose of bringing a new, fresh idea to the table in a new book. I wasn’t surprised to see the completely random and pointless subplot of Davis’s missing billionaire father, which doesn’t contribute anything to the message of the story. I suppose it was a means to inject some life into the book, but you can’t revive something that wasn’t there in the first place. *shrugs*

After gathering my thoughts fully, it does perplex me how I haven’t rated Turtles All The Way Down a much lower rating. The truth is, the book had its special moments where I thought it actually had something going for it, but its eventual descent into John Green land where uber-intelligent teenagers randomly discuss oblivion and astronomy and introspection like it’s high school gossip, just ruined things for me. I can’t roll with it, and unless Green tries something new, I won’t be able to rate any of his books higher than three stars.