Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Beautiful Broken Girls, by Kim Savage

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1.5 stars

Mira and Francesca Cillo—beautiful, overprotected, odd—seemed untouchable. But Ben touched seven parts of Mira: her palm, hair, chest, cheek, lips, throat, and heart. After the sisters drown themselves in the quarry lake, a post-mortem letter from Mira sends Ben on a quest to find notes in the seven places where they touched. Note by note, Ben discovers the mystical secret at the heart of Mira and Francesca’s world, and that some things are better left untouched.

*An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

It felt a little strange giving Beautiful Broken Girls a lonely star (and a half, to make me feel a little less guilty) it’s something so rare for me, I think I’ve only given 2 other books 1 star. Ever. Unfortunately, for this one I’ll have to be honest and say it was a complete waste of time and I have no idea how I finished it. Let me tell y’all something, I came into this book excited as hell, ready for one thrilling adventure. I expected dark and disturbing, what I got was unnaturally tame and boring.

Beautiful Broken Girls is primarily about the mysterious Cillo sisters, Mira and Francesca, who have drowned in a quarry pool cliff. The story is told in the perspective of Ben, the Cillos’ neighbor, who had an on-again-off-again secret love affair with Mira, and is now left to investigate the sisters’ story through notes left by Mira in the places where Ben touched Mira. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? That’s what I believed too, before I came to the realization that I was being CONNED.

The writing is lyrical and even beautiful at times, but for the most part, it was convoluted and unnecessarily detailed. It was a major hurdle for me throughout because there was hardly any dialogue, most of it was description bordering on purple prose. Bland, tasteless commentary on random things and characters in the story lead to nothing actually happening. Most of the book consists of Ben riding around on a bike, punching his friends, and creepily lusting after a dead girl, things that do not exemplify the girls’ presence, or the mystery and twisted nature of their death and legacy. There are many thriller/mysteries that exempt themselves from humor or a lightheartedness that I usually enjoy, but these books are excellent in their writing, character depth, and story. The Walls Around Us and All The Rage are also darker books with a very serious tones, but they are never boring. The emotional, raw, and uncensored story-telling is what makes them so engrossing. Beautiful Broken Girls has a lot of interesting concepts, while diving in we are introduced to Catholic undertones and a Virgin Suicides-type mystery, but because of the detached, confusing writing, we never get to see the success of these ideas.

Continue reading “Beautiful Broken Girls, by Kim Savage”

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

When We Collided, by Emery Lord

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3.5 stars

We are seventeen and shattered and still dancing. We have messy, throbbing hearts, and we are stronger than anyone could ever know…
Jonah never thought a girl like Vivi would come along.
Vivi didn’t know Jonah would light up her world.
Neither of them expected a summer like this…a summer that would rewrite their futures.
In an unflinching story about new love, old wounds, and forces beyond our control, two teens find that when you collide with the right person at just the right time, it will change you forever.

The range of emotions I felt while reading When We Collided is essentially endless. I was happy. I was sad. I was angry. I was emotional. I was confused. Which is precisely why it leaves me so damn conflicted. When We Collided explores an influx of various problems, from mental illness to the loss of a loved one — while combining it with a romance. Most of the aspects were done magnificently well in my opinion, but some prominent ones didn’t click with me as well as they should have, hence the docking of a 0.5 star. While I think this book is very important and realistic, especially nowadays, I’m still incredibly mixed on it.

When We Collided follows teenagers Vivi and Jonah as they navigate through their unusual lives in the small beach town of Verona Cove. Vivi is a vivacious, energetic girl who has just moved to the town and is looking for a way to delve into her passions and repress the painful memories of her past. It is later revealed that she has bipolar disorder, and it’s pretty evident throughout the book. Jonah is dealing with emotional baggage of his own, as he and his older siblings work 24/7 to raise their younger siblings and manage their family after their father’s death, which left their mother emotionally unstable and unresponsive. As their lives converge, they both learn an immense amount about each other, themselves, and they lives they are leading.

The prominent theme explored in this book is clearly, mental illness. I haven’t read too many books about bipolar disorder specifically, the only account I’ve been exposed to was in The Museum Of Intangible Things, and I have to say they are very mildly similar. Lord definitely seems to know what she’s doing judging by her author’s note and the amount of openness and honesty she covers on the topic of mental illness. It seems as though many authors who choose to include mental illness in their books seem to ignore it and cover it subtly by the romance and its relationship angst. When We Collided is different, as it freely discusses Vivi’s condition whilst providing the reader the opportunity to understand and sympathize with her. It’s explained in a respectful, inoffensive manner and gives us the full experience of being in her head and experiencing her fluctuating emotions. By this statement, I mean the writing and how it manages to exemplify Vivi’s thought process through its impulsive switches from joyful to emotional to furious. I especially loved this aspect because it truly showed Vivi’s character instead of just describing it. Overall, the inclusion of a well-researched portrayal of mental illness carried a powerful message and is arguably the strongest point of the novel.

The characters were equally enjoyable, even there are a few things to remark on. Jonah is officially one of my favorite male characters ever, he’s so funny, lovable, hardworking, and flawed all at once. For most of the story, Jonah is tired and vulnerable due to the constant work he faces everyday — after his father’s death, he and his older siblings make sacrifices every day to keep their family afloat, and this responsibility is theirs due to their mother hiding in her bedroom, so consumed by her grief. Jonah has a constant struggle between his responsibility to his family and his want to just be a regular teenager again. It’s actually pretty heartbreaking, because Jonah is bestowed with an unwanted, unnatural task whilst grieving for his father, coping with working in his father’s restaurant, and continuing to pursue his passions in minor ways, even if his big dreams are put on hold. It’s not hard to fall for him, his personality is so attractive and sweet, and what’s even better is that he’s not perfect. He’s flawed and relatable and realistic.

Vivi, it took me a bit to warm up to her. The writing correlates with her personality, sometimes she’s all happy and inspired and erratic, while other times she’s so angry the LETTERS ARE CAPITALIZED LIKE THIS. It was difficult to warm up to her usual sugary sweet, flowery narration, but she grew on me throughout the book. While I liked her light humor and smiley nature, I loved her vulnerable moments specifically, when she’s broken down and really evokes your sympathy. Even if the narration sounds a tad forced towards the beginning, Vivi’s character is genuine and out in the open, more so than the other mentally ill characters I’ve read about, who tend to be a caricature of their condition. Continue reading “When We Collided, by Emery Lord”

Books

Unwind, by Neal Shusterman

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5 Stars 

Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state, is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

I know, I know. It’s my turn to be the terrible blogger who’s leaving my co-blogger to manage a blog by herself. To that I say, I am so sorry, and I especially apologize to Haven. You’re an awesome friend, and I’ll definitely post more!

Anyway, onto Unwind. This is actually a reread of mine, my first reading of it being in 8th grade. I have to say, though. I absolutely did not truly understand the complex messages and politics in this book when I was 13, and although I liked the story then, I did not appreciate this story for what it was. Now, years later, I believe I can say that I am better educated and completely blown away by how wonderful Shusterman is.

I had the honor of meeting Neal Shusterman himself about two weeks ago, and when I asked him to explain his inspiration behind this book, he said something interesting. Although I don’t remember his exact words, he said that his inspiration came from an interview where people were asked if they would still support their political candidate if he/she switched sides on just one issue but was the same otherwise. Most said yes, unless asked about abortion, in which they refused to continue to support their candidate. So then, these people wouldn’t mind if their candidate changed sides on any other issue, except abortion, making it essentially the only issue that mattered.

Shusterman said that he wrote Unwind as a dystopia where society had worked out the worst possible solution to the Pro Life/Pro Choice issue, and it had stuck because the two sides could not agree on anything else. Thus, Unwind was born: a world where abortion is outlawed, but when a child is between the ages of 13 and 18, a parent can choose to retroactively “abort” a child, where the child’s organs are completely harvested and used in organ transplants.

Creepy, right? Even on a reread, the premise stills strikes me as disturbing, but honestly, that’s what makes this book so good. In our world, we know unwinding would never become a thing, but we also know that there are many controversial issues where two parties refuse to compromise, and therefore the only solution that works is one that hurts both sides, and negatively impacts those caught in the middle.

The world is fascinating, and really makes you rethink modern politics. Considering this book is one of the pioneers of the teen dystopian genre, I struggle to see why more books aren’t like this, where they make you think, instead of following a cookie-cutter Hunger Games-esque premise like all books seem to do these days.

Therefore, pick up this book if you want a slightly chilling, thought-provoking novel that gives you an alternate reality that’s all too realistic.

~Liz

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken

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2 – 2.25 stars

Passage, n.
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them—whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home… forever.

I feel terrible for giving Passenger a 2-star rating, because I normally adore time-travel concepts and all the science and intrigue that comes in the package. While I appreciate the amount of research put into this book, I’m afraid that its writing style and overall pacing tarnished any chances of me giving it higher than 3-stars. It’s definitely meant for a certain reader, and unfortunately, that reader isn’t me.

Passenger starts off with Nicholas’ perspective in a quick scene which is exemplified later on, but the main story truly begins with Etta, a teenage violin virtuoso that has approximately 20 min. until she gets on stage and performs. We are introduced to Rose, Etta’s seemingly distant mother who has an unknown and important past relevant to time-travel, and Alice, Etta’s elderly, intelligent violin teacher who also plays a key role. After a few confusing events prior to the show, as Etta takes the stage, she finds herself whisked away (with some side effects) to a ship in 1776 by Sophia Ironwood, a bold young traveler. From there, she finds herself acquainted with Nicholas, a young African-American sailor, and they travel to meet with Cyrus Ironwood, the leading man of the powerful Ironwood family who has kept tabs on the timeline for centuries. Cyrus reveals to Etta the extensive history behind her mother and the important object she stole, the astrolabe. Etta and Nicholas are assigned to bring it back, but they have their own agendas as they travel together. Dangerous antics and budding romance ensue.

While the concept was certainly interesting, the writing style immediately turned me off. I like sophisticated writing, but the style presented here was detached, draggy, and lacking in character. I was consistently met with Etta and Nicholas’ endless internal monologues, documenting every detail they had noticed about an era, a person, or a physical characteristic. You won’t believe the amount of pages that Nicholas’ internal monologue on Etta took up, the repeated rhetorical questions, the musings, the oh-so-immense angst! It was laughably long and pretentious. Again, I do like formal writing from time to time, but it needs to have personality and enough character to not bore me. I’m not sure if this is Bracken’s usual writing style (I haven’t read The Darkest Minds), but she definitely could have at least told the story in a first-person perspective, at least! The pacing was also extremely slow, no doubt due to the explanation of every little detail. Details, details, details! If you love big-ass paragraphs of details, this is your next favorite book. For me, it was torturous.

Continue reading “Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken”

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The White Rose, by Amy Ewing

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4 stars

Violet is on the run. After the Duchess of the Lake catches Violet with Ash, the hired companion at the Palace of the Lake, Violet has no choice but to escape the Jewel or face certain death. So along with Ash and her best friend, Raven, Violet runs away from her unbearable life of servitude.
But no one said leaving the Jewel would be easy. As they make their way through the circles of the Lone City, Regimentals track their every move, and the trio barely manages to make it out unscathed and into the safe haven they were promised—a mysterious house in the Farm.
But there’s a rebellion brewing, and Violet has found herself in the middle of it. Alongside a new ally, Violet discovers her Auguries are much more powerful than she ever imagined. But is she strong enough to rise up against the Jewel and everything she has ever known?
The White Rose is a raw, captivating sequel to The Jewel that fans won’t be able to put down until the final shocking moments.

The Lone City series seems to be a clear addiction to me; I’m already zipping through this series faster than a few other ones, solely due to my sheer curiosity and thirst for the entertainment. While many fans of the series (and non-fans) seemed to have criticized the sequel, but I thought it was pretty worthy of some praise. Besides being an easy and addicting read, it made steps toward improving its world-building, character development, and plot elements, thankfully.

The White Rose starts off right where it left off — Garnet’s voice is heard through arcana, and he comes to take Violet, Ash, and Raven to a safe place which Lucien has chosen for them. From there on out, it’s a slow but wild adventure to find a safe haven as they continue to discover secrets about the Jewel, the remaining surrogates, and even Raven and Ash’s troublesome past. It’s a bit on the slow side, but interesting regardless because we experience a number of intriguing, haunting, and straight-up disturbing realities on the way. The Black Key, a secret society of rebels (every dystopian novel has to have one, of course) creeps up on us, as they bump into our characters, guiding them to the assigned safe area. It was a bit slower and not as action-packed as I imagined, I would have appreciated less conversation (and melodrama, to an extent) and more action, but it was readable nonetheless.

The second was considerably more enjoyable, in my opinion. Violet and her crew finally reach an abandoned cottage (nicknamed The White Rose) and meet up with Lucien. As they relax and catch up on the current state of their world, Violet learns how to properly extinguish and control her powers through a woman named Sil, an ex-surrogate and member of The Black Key. Ewing perfectly uses this opportunity to explore the origins of the Auguries and the hidden yet unlimited power that surrogates hold. While the fantasy element is not something I had approved of in The Jewel, now that it is expanded, I have come to appreciate it more. A history of the beginning of The Lone City, as well as the plethora of secrets hidden from surrogates and common people alike, are finally revealed and elaborated on. While the usage of the elements and origin of magic is still a bit vague and lazy, it’s a lot more world-building than what was presented in The Selection or Wither.

The characters are improving, I can definitely see it. Ash’s backstory is delved into in this one and while he’s still completely bland and useless, he’s developing somewhat of a personality shaped by his uncomfortable past and yearning to be useful. He’s definitely earned some sympathy from me, but it’s going to take much more for me to like him (or even develop somewhat of an opinion on him). Raven’s story is also explored, and it’s just as twisted and daunting as I had imagined it would be. Even while she’s weak and helpless for majority of the book, she emits a certain charm that I hope to see again when she’s strong and ready to be what she used to be. Garnet is the least expanded on but still my favorite character of the bunch, he’s so full of life and personality (unfortunately, these are qualities missing from the rest of the characters) and makes an easy impression despite the short amount of time he is present in this book. I’ll be honest, these characters aren’t as deep or three-dimensional as one would expect, but they’re alright for the type of concept and writing style presented in what I’ve read so far.

I was dissatisfied with the progression (or lack thereof) of Violet’s character though, she was extremely distant and unresponsive for at least half of the book. There was barely any input from her voice until she finally reached The White Rose and started training with Sil. Even from there, Violet’s thoughts never really showcased her personality or character development, her voice was typical of a YA dystopian heroine. Character-wise, it’s only the supporting cast that’s probably going to keep me afloat if our leading lady doesn’t change in the final installment.

Overall, The White Rose was a substantial sequel and will be enjoyed by readers searching for less romance and more world-building and intrigue. Ewing must really like cliffhangers, and it’s probably guaranteed that I will have The Black Key in my hands by next week.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Someone Else’s Summer, by Rachel Bateman

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3 stars

*An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Anna’s always idolized her older sister, Storm. So when Storm dies in a tragic car accident on the night of her high school graduation, Anna is completely lost and her family is torn apart. That is, until she finds Storm’s summer bucket list and decides to honor her sister by having the best summer ever—which includes taking an epic road trip to the coast from her sleepy Iowa town. Setting out to do everything on Storm’s list along with her sisters best friend Cameron—the boy next door—who knew that Storm’s dream summer would eventually lead to Anna’s own self-discovery?

I hate “3 stars”. It’s like my go-to rating when I’m conflicted on any book, and for most I actually can’t pin a proper rating on them, hence the influx of 3 stars, 3.25, 3.5, whatever. But, guys, I’m not conflicted this time (that sounded really dramatic, haha). Someone Else’s Summer has a lot of elements that I love; a road trip, self-discovery, and development of a romance whilst this whole fiasco. I think there are only a few books that have survived on that front and adding a loss of a loved one just makes it harder to execute. Interestingly, while Someone Else’s Summer succeeds in the fluffy and light genre, it falls extremely flat in the character department.

The themes presented in this book were present and easy to float through. I loved the trio of Anna, Storm, and Cameron and their adventures together, as well as Anna’s idolization and love for her sister. Throughout the story Anna discovers things she never knew about Storm, as well as her own identity. After years of following Storm around and relying on her, Anna has a hard time figuring out what she truly wants in life. I thought that aspect was pretty similar to a lot of real sister-sister relationships, and Anna’s reluctant attitude to cope with her pain was relatable. I also thought the emotional presence of Storm was well-done, and the focus on “moving on” was not distracted by Storm’s memory at all times. The road trip itself deviates from the main theme of the story, which was why it was difficult to get through that narrative. Also, for the second half of the book, there was hardly any trip, it was just Cameron and Anna making out (spoiler alert! haha, not really). The bucket list contains items like, “kiss in the rain”, “go skinny dipping”, “talk all day with a British accent”, which are a tad trope-y, but fit well with the context of the story, I suppose. My biggest complaint with this plot would be that it was very typical and didn’t deviate much from the usual road trip story. While there is a twist at the end, the overall goal of the novel is more focused on the romance rather than Anna and Cameron’s road to healing.

I’m surprised I actually liked Anna and Cameron together but it’s the truth. Yes, at times I felt like they were too tumblr-y and cheesy, but they were cute for the most part, and I love their complications and struggles to somehow honor Storm yet be in love with each other. I couldn’t go that deep into them as couple due to my lack of interest in them individually and their lack of personality (and dialogue, all they did was kiss), but they aren’t unlikable and certainly not the worst part of this book.

The characters are the worst part of this book. Anna is a bit better than the rest (she had to be), her emotions were realistic and relevant, but her personality is so typical and almost superficial sounding. In fact, that was my main issue with this whole cast, they have no depth. They’re practically card-board cutouts, Cameron is the boring nice guy, Piper is the peppy best friend who gets upset easily (really easily), Jovani is the awkward ex-boyfriend, and Aunt Morgan is the cool aunt that constantly covers for you. Maybe I’m just depressed but even the random side characters were uncharacteristically happy and friendly to Anna and Cameron. These two are making friends with everyone they meet and I’m like, strangers were never this nice to me????

Overall, Someone Else’s Summer was a pretty light and easy read, and I would recommend if you’re looking for a cute romance only. If depth and emotion is what you seek, I would recommend Please Ignore Vera Dietz or How To Save A Life instead, they both deal with a loss and display a much more realistic path to healing and self-discovery, with beautifully written characters as well.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco

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3.5 stars

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeco!

*An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

My feelings for The Bone Witch fluctuated frequently throughout this book, and if you would have told me I’ve rated it higher than 2 stars back when I was at 15%, I would have laughed in your face. Seriously, I had considered abandoning this book at about 10%, but decided it was too early and reluctantly pushed on. Surprisingly, the book picked up around 45%, and while it wasn’t completely smooth sailing from there, it was far more exciting than the beginning chapters. My rating of 3.5 stars doesn’t entirely encompass my feelings for this book, it was filled with moments I loved and others I didn’t understand, but I’m so happy I didn’t abandon The Bone Witch like I thought I would.

The Bone Witch follows young Tea, a girl from small village who initially discovers she is an asha (someone who can wield magic/draw runes) after accidentally resurrecting her brother  at his funeral. Turns out she isn’t a typical asha, who can wield the elements, but a “bone witch”, a type of dark asha that specifically works with death and the dead. They are also the only people that can kill the mysterious and dangerous Daeva creatures, which are a consistent threat to the world. After this incident, Tea becomes a student of Lady Mykaela, a powerful and well-known bone witch, and they both (along with Tea’s resurrected brother, Fox) travel to arrive at the Valerian “asha-ka” , a school and home in which asha learn their duties and skills, and eventually make their debut as an official asha, that can entertain and fight. The Valerian household is the specific house in which Lady Mykaela herself was raised.

The world-building…. is absolutely magnificent. It’s the motivation to learn about this world that inspired me to continue on, a feeling I haven’t experienced in long time. I’ve got so used to all these “fantasy-lite” books trying to develop their own world and failing, I’ve completely forgotten how rich and beautiful a full-blown world can be. Chupeco planned everything out in this book perfectly, and it never became confusing or overwhelming, and I am confused quite easily. From the descriptions of the asha’s hua (very important asha clothing) to the busy Valerian household, everything felt so unique and cultured and dynamic. The politics between each of the 9 kingdoms is brilliantly fleshed out, as well as the politics within the separate asha-kas. The kingdoms, food, and character values seem to take inspiration from the Middle-East, and the political and social order is structurally developed. A concept I find especially interesting, is “heartglass”, a necklace worn by everyone in the kingdoms to show their emotions through different colors. Social norms are also very dynamic, an example being the prejudice against bone witches due to fear and ignorance.

Continue reading “The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco”