Books

Renegades, by Marissa Meyer (Review)

3 Stars

Fun and enjoyable amidst the recent superhero trend, but moves too slowly to contain any substance.

Secret Identities. Extraordinary Powers. She wants vengeance. He wants justice.

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies — humans with extraordinary abilities — who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone… except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice — and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.

In recent months, it seems, I have become a giant superhero nerd. I’ve probably watched the trailer for Infinity War about 50 times, and literally wrote a short story about superheroes a month or so ago (don’t worry- my fiction writing is still atrocious enough that it’ll never see the light of day.) So of course, despite the rather daunting length of this large book, I picked it up because I love superheroes, and the Cinder series has always held a special place in my heart.

So imagine my excitement when Meyer immediately introduces us to a large and varied cast of incredibly diverse and fascinating characters. Huge diversity points were awarded right off the bat for Italian-Filipino Nora, bespectacled, dark-skinned Adrian, Adrian’s two super famous dads, and a side character with a disability. There also weren’t any real limits to the types of powers the characters could have, and although Adrian’s power (bringing anything he draws into the real world) made me wonder why there was any conflict in the book (he can give himself literally ANY POWER), I was initially excited to see how powers would bring our characters to life. Also, references to classic superhero tropes may have pushed some readers away, but just made me smile.

This jubilation that existed in the beginning began to become stale after a while. The characters soon grew old, the tropes overused, and I got through the whole book wondering where the villain, plot, or climax was. The entire book was just a long introduction where nothing of substance happened to develop the characters, plot, or world. Instead, we’re left with a cliffhanger and a feeling of betrayal that Meyer would put us through so many pages of anticipation for a big reveal only to leave us with empty promises of deliverance for the next book.

Lackluster plot aside, the characters also lost their shine quickly enough. Adrian and Nora were by far some of the least interesting characters the novel had to offer, simply because their characters were so filled with overused backstories and behavior patterns that they fell flat. Nora is a standard Continue reading “Renegades, by Marissa Meyer (Review)”

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Books

Geekerella, by Ashley Poston (Review)

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic science-fiction series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck and her dad’s old costume, Elle’s determined to win – unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons – before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he has ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake – until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part-romance, part-love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

Welcome back to school, work, and college, everyone! My first week back from break was last week, and I am a bit tired, but ready to begin reading for the new year! I recently fell into a bit of a slump and only read Andy Weir’s The Martian before this one, which I will say is a drastic shift from what I’m about to talk about now: Geekerella.

Geekerella is a pretty by-the-books Cinderella retelling, and while it was enjoyable, cute, and somewhat relatable, it doesn’t necessarily need to exist in the tidal wave of Cinderella retellings in the book world. Ultimately, though, it was a fun bit of fluff where the characters were cute and appealed to something we all have: our inner fangirl.

Danielle, or Elle, is a standard YA Cinderella with her dead father, evil stepmother and stepsisters who think that making her do all the household work isn’t a form of abuse. However, don’t roll your eyes yet, folks. Elle is a fangirl, and a big one. This is the aspect of Elle that was inevitably irresistible. Her character is quite a pushover, yes, but her strong feelings for Starfield and the acceptance she craves from the fandom via the Internet is something Continue reading “Geekerella, by Ashley Poston (Review)”

Books

Anticipated Releases: January 2018

Happy New Year! Can you believe 2017 is over already? It seems to have gone by so fast (probably because we’re all still talking about 2016) but 2018 is going to be great, I know it. It happens to be the year Haven and I graduate from high school (woot!) so we are super psyched and simultaneously terrified. Anyway, here are some books to get your read on this January!

1. Unearthed, by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner – Coming January 9th, 2018

When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying’s advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study… as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don’t loot everything first. Mia and Jules’ different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race’s secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race…

It’s another Kaufman and Spooner pair up! Cheesy as it was (and I know there were other flaws but whatever), I loved the Starbound series, with its sweet romances and fun characters in sci-fi universes. Therefore I could not be more psyched to read Unearthed.

2. Batman: Nightwalker, by Marie Lu – Coming January 2nd – 2018

Before he was Batman, he was Bruce Wayne. A reckless boy willing to break the rules for a girl who may be his worst enemy.

The Nightwalkers are terrorizing Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne is next on their list.

One by one, the city’s elites are being executed as their mansions’ security systems turn against them, trapping them like prey. Meanwhile, Bruce is turning eighteen and about to inherit his family’s fortune, not to mention the keys to Wayne Enterprises and all the tech gadgetry his heart could ever desire. But after a run-in with the police, he’s forced to do community service at Arkham Asylum, the infamous prison that holds the city’s most brutal criminals.

Madeleine Wallace is a brilliant killer . . . and Bruce’s only hope.

In Arkham, Bruce meets Madeleine, a brilliant girl with ties to the Nightwalkers. What is she hiding? And why will she speak only to Bruce? Madeleine is the mystery Bruce must unravel. But is he getting her to divulge her secrets, or is he feeding her the information she needs to bring Gotham City to its knees? Bruce will walk the dark line between trust and betrayal as the Nightwalkers circle closer.

Ironically enough, I watched The Lego Batman Movie yesterday, so that’s the version of Batman currently in my mind. Still, Lu is a great author, and Batman is a classic icon, so I’m sure DC fans will be happy. (I love Batman plenty, but will always be a Marvel fan. Apologies! 😉 )

3. Love, Hate, and Other Filters, by Samira Ahmed – Coming January 16th, 2018

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape–perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

Yes! More realistic fiction novels tackling controversial real-world issues about race and religion! I’m always a fan of Indian representation (although it’s not always carried out well) and Muslim protagonists are rare but welcome, so who knows? Maybe this book can be the The Hate You Give of 2018.

4. Say You’ll Remember Me, by Katie McGarry – Coming January 30th, 2018

When Drix was convicted of a crime–one he didn’t commit–he thought his life was over. But opportunity came with the new Second Chance Program, the governor’s newest pet project to get delinquents off the streets, rehabilitated and back into society. Drix knows this is his chance to get his life back on track, even if it means being paraded in front of reporters for a while.

Elle knows she lives a life of privilege. As the governor’s daughter, she can open doors with her name alone. But the expectations and pressure to be someone she isn’t may be too much to handle. She wants to follow her own path, whatever that means.

When Drix and Elle meet, their connection is immediate, but so are their problems. Drix is not the type of boy Elle’s parents have in mind for her, and Elle is not the kind of girl who can understand Drix’s messy life.

But sometimes love can breach all barriers.

Fighting against a society that can’t imagine them together, Drix and Elle must push themselves–Drix to confront the truth of the robbery, and Elle to assert her independence–and each other to finally get what they deserve.

Okay, I’ll admit, the blurb wasn’t 100% enticing to me, because as soon as I saw “experimental program,” I was getting these The Program vibes I did not want to get near. However, this is a Katie McGarry book. I have read a great many of these books and she excels at writing awesome contemporary relationships with super angsty teenagers. Reviews are good, so I’m keeping my hopes up!

It was hard to narrow it down, but that’s it! Happy reading!

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? Comment below!

~Liz

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

Violet Grenade, by Victoria Scott

Two stars. And I’m stretching it, believe me.

Her name is Domino Ray.

But the voice inside her head has a different name.

When the mysterious Ms. Karina finds Domino in an alleyway, she offers her a position at her girls’ home in secluded West Texas. With no alternatives and an agenda of her own, Domino accepts. It isn’t long before she is fighting her way up the ranks to gain the woman’s approval…and falling for Cain, the mysterious boy living in the basement.

But the home has horrible secrets. So do the girls living there. So does Cain.

Escaping is harder than Domino expects, though, because Ms. Karina doesn’t like to lose inventory. But then, she doesn’t know about the danger living inside Domino’s mind.

She doesn’t know about Wilson.

I rarely go for impulse reading these days – I’m more of a “look up every review on Goodreads” kind of person when it comes to deciding what I want to read. However, I decided to temporarily abandon this principle with Violet Grenade because I thought it sounded cool and belonged to a genre I don’t normally read – suspense.

Red flags went up from the start, as soon as I saw how angsty this book was going to become. Domino, the main character, is your standard heavy-backstory-laden tragic character – one with mysterious scars on her arms, “blood on her hands,” secrets, and homelessness. She’s squatting in a house with Dizzy, an equally homeless Iranian kid. When a run-in with the police gets Dizzy arrested, Domino decided to take a mysterious woman’s offer to take a “job” at her “House for Burgeoning Entertainers” so she can pay off his bail. Sounds super sketchy, right? But if you’re hoping for more depth from Dizzy, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed – he’s essentially an intriguing character who’s unfortunately a throwaway since he’s simply used to move the plot along.

(Maybe I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones lately, but a house for entertainers sounds very much like a brothel to me. Maybe because this is a YA novel, the “entertainment” was weirdly super PG-rated, which just seemed bizarre to me, but whatever. I’m getting off on a tangent. 😉 )

One of my major annoyances with this book was the presence of numerous bitchy mean girls. The girls at this house are technically competing against each other for earnings, but that doesn’t mean that every single one of them had to be nasty little pieces of scum. With the exception of her friend Poppet, every other girl at this house hated Domino just for existing, and went out of their way to make her life miserable. (Some even snuck under her bed before she went to sleep to give her minor cuts. I mean, what?)

Problem number two was that the love interest, Cain, was about as interesting as a brick. The romance was forced and degraded Domino from the supposedly strong girl she was supposed to be. Even his backstory was so cliche I had to put the book down when I found out.

Problem number three (yeah, this list is going on longer than I expected) was the predictability of nearly everything. You know something is amiss with the madam just from the blurb. You know both Domino and Cain had classic angsty backstories. As you read on, the specifics also become really straightforward to figure out, and there was really nothing that surprised me.

My final, biggest issue with this book was the portrayal of mental illness. Domino has an alternate personality, named Wilson, that wants to wreak havoc and was born as a result of past trauma. Wilson in of itself was a pretty interesting character, but it is always abundantly clear that he’s a manifestation of Domino’s mental illness. I can’t claim to be an expert mental illness, but I thought that using Wilson simply as a plot device and companion for Domino oversimplified the complex issue at root (and the fact that she has a mental illness isn’t explicitly acknowledged once). Domino’s ultimate healing and overcoming of Wilson’s destructive power (What? It’s not a spoiler if it’s really freaking obvious that it’s going to happen) happened too easily, with little outside help, and was mostly caused by the power of love. I know that I shouldn’t ask for a realistic portrayal of mental illness from a suspense novel that’s not even about mental illness, but I couldn’t stand this level of simplicity the entire issue was afforded.

As many issues as there were, I did manage to finish this book in a short period of time, which means that something went right, since I have nothing against DNF-ing books I dislike. I can’t point out one specific thing that I liked, per se, but there was a certain entertainment value that encouraged me to keep reading in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. I guess that counts for something?

After writing this review, I’m wondering if this book deserves one start instead of two. I don’t recommend this book to anyone except readers who haven’t had much experience with YA to whom the cliches won’t seem as cliche. Maybe I’ve just seen too many of these tropes in my life, but Violet Grenade was not for me.

-Liz

Books

Alex, Approximately, by Jen Bennett

2.5 Stars

The one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

Classic movie fan Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online as Alex. Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new archnemesis. But life is a whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever it is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

This is a book I really wanted to like. And I really mean it when I say that. The blurb sounded cute, the ratings were good, but most of all, Haven thought it was an example of fluff done right. And while I see why people like this book so much, I also think that I’ve read too many almost identical contemporaries to truly enjoy this formulaic type of book anymore. Sorry, Haven. 😦

Alex, Approximately is a retelling of You’ve Got Mail, and the premise is actually very cute. I appreciated that Bennett understood that the fact that Alex being Porter was too obvious to turn into a plot twist, and thus we were told of this in the blurb itself. The book itself started out predictable, but still cute. Bailey is likable, her friend Grace enjoyable, and Porter was the current-asshole-with-a-dark-secret-but-wait-you’re-gonna-love-him kind of guy. After the start, however, I felt there was a pretty significant drop in enjoyability; my irritation was probably increased by the fact that I was on a feminist literature streak, and contemporaries are not known for being amazing in this department.

I don’t want to make this entire review about the bad, since I did enjoy this to a certain extent, but I can’t help it. My first problem with it is how long it took Bailey to figure out the Alex-Porter connection. I don’t generally do well with dramatic devices that involve the audience knowing something the characters don’t, and I quickly lost patience with Bailey. The moment we’re waiting for really only happens in the last 10 pages of the book after huge amounts of stalling, and while I understood why it was written that way, Bailey came off as pretty dense to me.

My second problem is the “villain.” Fluff contemporaries generally have bad guys who are zero-dimensional (typically in a “mean girl” form) and this book was no exception. Because it’s a facet of the genre, I don’t mind this type of villain, but I thought the character of Davy was grossly abused in the writing. He’s portrayed as Porter’s old friend who’s now an all-around idiot and asshole, but he has a chronic injury, is addicted to narcotics as a result, and his parents don’t care about him enough to address it. That sounds like a character who’s desperately in need of reconciliation and help, but he’s just the “bad” guy in this book and is dismissed as such. I think this book would have been stronger if there was less victim blaming, or even if Davy just stayed zero-dimensional without all these cries for help.

My final problem is the incredible amount of guys doing things for girls because females are incapable creatures. Maybe I’ve been on a feminism streak lately (as I mentioned earlier), but I was waiting for Bailey to finally stick up for herself, and was relatively disappointed. Bailey is initially a “serial avoider” (a pushover), and the growth potential was enormous. Although she does come out of her shell and make out with Porter, this book is still filled with: Porter punching people to “defend her honor”, Bailey nursing his wounds and swooning, Bailey obsessing over Porter when he’s mad at her and begging him to stop being mad (even though she knows she did nothing wrong), and much more. Porter’s sister could potentially have been a strong female addition to this book, but we didn’t really get enough of her. I will admit, however, that Grace is a wonderful character and fun to read about.

Despite this in depth analysis of flaws, I did truly enjoy this book – it’s a fluff novel that succeeds in doing its job. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for fluff when I read this. Perhaps I was in the mood of something deeper, and this overly harsh review is evidence of that. Regardless, if you’re looking for a fun rainy day read, this review shouldn’t stop you from picking it up.

(Click here to read Haven’s review, which is more positive and does more justice to the genre)
-Aliza

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

I’ll Meet You There, by Heather Demetrios

3.5 Stars

If Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing separating Skylar from art school is three months of summer…until Skylar’s mother loses her job, and Skylar realizes her dreams may be slipping out of reach.

Josh had a different escape route: the Marines. But after losing his leg in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be.

What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and, soon, something deeper.

Compelling and ultimately hopeful, this is a powerful examination of love, loss, and resilience.

Today was my first day of school, so I’m glad to blow off some steam with a riveting discussion about books! Particularly I’ll Meet You There, of which I own a copy courtesy of my local library’s summer reading program. I went into this book with very little expectations, but came out of it pleased.

This book is about Skylar, a teenager aching to get out of her small trailer-park town. It’s also about Josh, a teenager back from a stint in the Marines, minus one leg. From the start, these characters were intriguing – they’re colorful and three-dimensional and stay that way throughout the entire book. They had wonderful separate storylines, and Skylar’s opinions and strong personality particularly attracted me (Josh was a douchebag to begin with, but Skylar quickly corrects his more offensive speech patterns.) I loved both these characters individually… but couldn’t really enjoy the forced romantic plot.

I thought the setting of Creek View was beautifully written, and Skylar and Josh fit wonderfully into it – I could feel the effect Creek View had on both of their goals and personalities. I could easily have bought a coming-of-age novel about their individual struggles and their friendship, but thought the romance escalated too quickly and Skylar’s thoughts quickly devolved into typical YA romantic girl mush when she was around him. I did like that they didn’t get together too quickly, but I think the characters were most true to themselves when not thinking about how kissable the other person was.

The side characters, especially Skylar’s friends, were super enjoyable and fun. I would have loved a lot more of Skylar’s interactions and camaraderie with these guys. I also loved how non-stereotypical they were about most everything, and enjoyed the awareness of teenage pregnancy, racism and homophobia.

Although most of the conflict was romantic in nature, other conflicts such as the family/financial struggles of teens living in underprivileged circumstances and PTSD were well written. Although I will forever wonder how teens in YA novels have such complete reign over and access to alcohol and drugs, even these topics were handled with care and an understanding of the gravitas of drug-related decisions.

Overall, this book is a sweet contemporary novel that has well-written characters and settings, but ultimately fails to be extremely memorable due to the forced, cliche romance. It’s a read I definitely still recommend, though!

~Aliza