Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Year We Fell Apart, by Emily Martin | a frustrating contemporary on rebuilding relationships

22449806Few things come as naturally to Harper as epic mistakes. In the past year she was kicked off the swim team, earned a reputation as Carson High’s easiest hook-up, and officially became the black sheep of her family. But her worst mistake was destroying her relationship with her best friend, Declan.

Now, after two semesters of silence, Declan is home from boarding school for the summer. Everything about him is different—he’s taller, stronger…more handsome. Harper has changed, too, especially in the wake of her mom’s cancer diagnosis.

While Declan wants nothing to do with Harper, he’s still Declan, her Declan, and the only person she wants to talk to about what’s really going on. But he’s also the one person she’s lost the right to seek comfort from.

As their mutual friends and shared histories draw them together again, Harper and Declan must decide which parts of their past are still salvageable, and which parts they’ll have to let go of once and for all.

The Year We Fell Apart contains a combination of elements I usually love in contemporaries, a heartfelt romance and an amount of frustration/angst to challenge the couple together and individually. Unfortunately, while The Year We Fell Apart was engaging enough, the classic combo didn’t work out so well this time around. This book tried to accomplish a number of things, from rekindling a friendship, dealing with problems rattling a family, redeeming oneself, but it all ended up quite directionless ultimately.

The writing was extremely simplistic besides a few moments and I often felt as there were ‘holes’ in the story. The ‘introduction’ of the characters, the relationships, and Harper’s history with Declan was very, very vague and continued to be the same throughout the entire story. It was as if the reader was already supposed to know every thing that took place, and there was very little detail on the things that mattered. There was so much angst with unclear context; Harper and Declan’s past relationship is slowly revealed over time but nothing is ever stated definitely and the order of events is still confusing. This is why the drama and angst feels so forced, there is hardly any context to balance the amount of commentary on Harper’s pain and frustration. I’m sure the cancer subplot was added as another reason for Harper’s constant angsting, but it was entirely useless since it failed to add any message to the story.

Harper herself is indeed a flawed heroine, but is incredibly hard to warm up to and understand fully. I can sympathize with her to an extent, but she keeps repeating the same mistakes and expects comfort from those around her without recognizing her issues. She’s extremely selfish and hardly grows throughout the story, regardless of her comments toward the end of the novel. I suppose her actions would have made more sense if the book delved deeper into her psyche and psychological state, but it decided to focus more on her deal with Declan. In fact, most of Harper’s narration is filled with constant, repetitive comments on Declan’s attitude, his appearance, and whoever he’s hanging out with. It’s annoying and unrealistic, and also amazing how there is so much commentary on Declan yet so little on his history with Harper, through that could just be attributed to bad storytelling.

The most underdeveloped portion of The Year We Fell Apart would be whatever the fuck happened with Harper and Declan, if that isn’t clear already. Like I said before, their relationship is so damn unexplained, and their random up-and-downs get even worse as the story goes on. Harper starts talking all this shit on why she split from Declan and how she was afraid of losing people, and it was all so contrived and nonsensical. If anything, these two just skirted around their feelings and thoughts for each other and decided to finally confront it in the last 10 pages. Those 10 pages where the best part of the book but there is still no depth in their relationship.

I feel as though this book would have been so much better if there was a focus, a central point. Harper’s identity and struggle to make amends, her damaged relationship with Declan, and her mother’s cancer are all interesting plot points but they serve no purpose because they aren’t utilized correctly. If the story focused more on how Harper dealt with her mother’s illness and how family values and dynamics changed due to it, it definitely would have been more well-rounded. If the story also delved deeper into Harper’s psychological state and her issues with fixing herself, that aspect would have gone well with the rest of the themes too. The book definitely took on more than it could handle.

The Year We Fell Apart is a standard angsty romance that is entertaining enough, but there are many better contemporaries out there that explore the same themes deeper yet keep a good balance among all of them.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Lola And The Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins | an adorable and charismatic contemporary romance

22247695Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion… she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit – the more sparkly, more wild – the better. And life is pretty close to perfect for Lola, especially with her hot rocker boyfriend.

That is, until the Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket return to the neighbourhood and unearth a past of hurt that Lola thought was long buried. So when talented inventor Cricket steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally face up to a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door. Could the boy from Lola’s past be the love of her future?

Fall in love with the international bestseller from queen of young adult fiction, Stephanie Perkins.

I’m half embarrassed to say I actually liked this book, but I believe there was no way I couldn’t have fallen for this book eventually, at least a little bit. Even with its flaws and occasional cheesiness, Lola And The Boy Next Door is undeniably charming.

Plot + writing: The book got off to a somewhat slow start, but quickly fell into a pattern that I could recognize and follow. The writing was delightfully sweet but not saccharine, and there is just a very light, happy vibe to it even when something stressful is taking place (and trust me, there are a lot of stressful moments). Perkins also has a great talent for combining the most relatable feelings when it comes to crushes and liking someone with the fun maintained throughout the book. All the confusion, heartache, and butterflies are so subtly and perfectly conveyed, creating a great balance between deeper subjects concerning love and the mindless entertainment that Perkins does so well. I will admit that elements of this book can come across as somewhat unimaginable, from Lola’s outlandish apparel to the overall outlandishness of some events that take place. However, Lola’s feelings and struggles with being herself and finding love are so realistically told and the romance is so positively swoon-worthy, that these elements don’t do much to hinder the overall message of the story.

Characters: The characters are actually quite likable, despite the occasional eccentric behavior they display in the commonly eccentric situations presented. Lola is a witty, quirky, realistic teenage girl who I’m sure any teenager could relate to. It is easy to presume her personality as being childish or immature (her ornate wardrobe could play a part), but despite all the wacky situations she stumbles into, Lola remains a likable character who is positively and negatively affected by her hormones just like the rest of us. Cricket is a fairly fleshed-out and realistic character as well, and I definitely liked him more than St. Clair in Anna And The French Kiss. Speaking of Anna And The French Kiss, both Anna and St. Clair make cameos in this book, which was absolutely great. I think they stuck around for a good amount of time without taking the spotlight away from Lola’s story, and even shared details of their future after leaving Paris.

One thing I have to comment on is the amount of side characters in the book, which is significantly lower than Anna And The French Kiss. While I do like this, I wish the main secondary characters were more fleshed-out and three-dimensional, similar to the leads. Rashmi and Josh from Anna were pretty layered side characters, and Lindsay (Lola’s best friend) and Calliope (Cricket’s twin sister) don’t really match up to their amount of depth. Max is a bit confusing, because while he was a flawed person and boyfriend, I thought the sudden change in character toward the end and the lack of resolve in his relationship with Lola … well, lacked resolve. I do feel as though his character and many of the secondary characters could use some work. Lola’s dads are great though.

Romance: The romance obviously takes center stage in this story, and it is just as adorable and fuzzy yet angsty as one might imagine it to be. Cricket and Lola are a charming pair and aren’t short of any chemistry. While there is a substantial dosage of cheese, it’s not too much to make you cringe (well, not always at least). The angst factor is similar to any real-life situation dealing with young love (young being the key word), and I loved the angst because I could totally feel where Lola was coming from. Coming to terms with your feelings for someone, experiencing heartbreak, and discovering your self-worth are all such relatable feelings and Perkins depicted it all so realistically. Cricket and Lola’s relationship is full of ups and downs, but the ride is so worth reading about.

While I enjoyed Anna And The French Kiss, Lola And The Boy Next Door was definitely and surprisingly more engaging to me, and I’m so looking forward to the next installment and whatever Perkins decides to write next. Would definitely recommend to anyone looking for a fuzzy romance with the right amount of depth to match it.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (reread + re-review) | an utter disappointment this time around

17756559Winning what you want may cost you everything you love.

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction.

Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

I read The Winner’s Curse for the first time approximately 2 years ago (interestingly, in April too 0.0), and I rated it 4 stars. I also put it in my ‘awesomeness’ shelf on Goodreads, yet never happened to fully review it. Why, I decided not to review it, will always be mysterious to me, perhaps I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought it did and was going along with the extensive hype it had during the time. I’ll never know, but after this re-read (originally in preparation for the sequel I had pretty much ignored), my opinions have changed drastically. I don’t know what my original opinions were, but I’ve noticed so many aspects that are lacking, faulty, or underdeveloped in this book and I can only attribute it to my changed tastes and possible iffiness on the book initially.

The underdeveloped world-building and flat atmosphere: The Winner’s Curse is extremely lacking in world-building. Glaringly lacking. The only elements that display a semblance of a setting, are the facts that we already know from the summary: the Herrani have been enslaved under the Valorians for a good amount of time and Valorians are masterful warriors. Valorian culture itself is hardly touched upon in the book, and there are only about 2-3 paragraphs in the entire that explain how they conquered the Herrani in minor detail. The Herrani were supposed to be a cultured and highly advanced country, however none of that richness is touched upon at all. I have no sense of the Herrani traditions, religion, and social norms, or the Valorians’ culture besides their obvious military power. Arin and other Herrani mention things like, ‘the god of lies’ or ‘the god of madness’ but who are these gods?? Why are they mentioned? What significance do they carry to the Valorians and Herrani themselves? Kestrel goes to many parties and functions throughout the course of this book, yet I have no idea how society works and what the atmosphere of the aristocrats is. There isn’t even an atmosphere at all, actually. While the writing is quite nice and even beautiful at times, it is severely lacking in detail when it comes to description. Most of the time I do not know what anything looks like, such as the governor’s palace or the market place that are briefly mentioned yet not described at all. I don’t know what the aesthetic is, and by this I’m not talking about tumblr or some shit. I’m saying that I do not know what to picture as the story goes on, because there is no sense of setting at all.

What is even worse, is the fact that I cannot muster any feelings for the Valorians or Herrani slaves because I know absolutely nothing about them. We are only told that the Herrani are treated terribly, but there are hardly any examples of this treatment. There are only vague references to murder and mistreatment, but we never get to hear any stories or see any of this. In fact, this book’s concept of slavery is not even fully executed. The book shies away from everything that makes enslavement a brutal, terrible thing and covers it up with Kestrel and Arin’s vague and unexplored thoughts about whatever. So how am I supposed to sympathize with the Herrani? How do I make myself root for them or want for them to succeed and acquire the justice they supposedly deserve? Telling is most certainly not showing, and this book is almost all telling. The Valorians are just as flat, and I’m honestly confused if I am supposed to hate them or like them, or feel anything for them really. They are all talk and no show, the Valorians are only deemed ‘cruel’ do to their capture of the Herrani, yet I cannot believe in that cruelty because are hardly any places in the book in which a Valorian even interacts with a slave. I have no idea what the dynamic between a Valorian and Herrani is, and it is embarrassingly clear that the slavery concept was partially created for the sake of star-crossed lovers and an angsty romance.

Dear god, I am ripping this book apart.

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The equally boring characters (except for Kestrel, thank god): There are a majority of characters in this book that are nameless, which is unfortunate since they could have added to the emotional aspect of this book, but the characters that do have names are so useless and drab, they might as well have been nameless. Arin doesn’t have much of a personality, he is monotone and emotionless throughout, and while that might just be his ‘character’, I was really waiting for him to blow up and show some emotion. It doesn’t have to be explosive, I just need to know he’s alive every now and then, because this man has barely any presence. Kestrel’s social circle, Jess, Ronan, Benix, and Irex are equally pointless and somewhat one-dimensional characters that are only meant to up Kestrel’s angst and give her more to think about other than Arin. Kestrel herself is a great character, I love her shrewd, cunning nature and how she is constantly plotting something. She’s smart, but is not met with surprise and unnecessary praise whenever she shows it off. My only problem with her rests in her thoughts for Arin, leading us into the dreaded romance section.

A confusing, and dare I say it, baseless love story: I honestly have no idea where the hell the romance between Arin and Kestrel came from. In the very beginning of the story, Kestrel buys Arin for practically no reason (she lowkey states this) just to move the plot along, and they barely interact throughout, because um, he’s a slave! Most of their ‘interactions’ are both of them staring at each other across the room at parties Kestrel attends, and these instances end up in one of them choosing to leave. The only time where they actually spend some time together is when they play Bite And Sting (a card game) together. I don’t understand what made Arin fall in love with Kestrel and what Kestrel saw in Arin. Kestrel never even sympathizes or tries to understand Arin’s struggle with slavery, and whatever motivates her to worry about or think about him is clearly not expanded on in the least. Arin is equally vague and superficial with his feelings for Kestrel. He doesn’t show any signs of attraction toward Kestrel and is pretty indifferent to her outings throughout the book. They are both separate in terms of interest and class but suddenly, a romance! Attraction! Angst! How did this happen? Someone enlighten me, I’m serious.

Putting aside my disdain and disappointment in everything listed above, I can recognize some positive aspects of the book. The writing is beautiful, and while it isn’t so special to absolutely blow you away, many of the ideas communicated are not forceful and said well-enough to make me feel something or another. I appreciated the effort to explore military tactics and overall strategic and political nature of the last few chapters. One thing this book does do right, is that it actually talks of more serious elements existing in fantasy worlds, politics and military and war. Unsurprisingly, this side of the book is only brought out in the last few chapters, and also unsurprisingly, I didn’t care enough by that time to read these strategies fully. But, they are well-thought out and some discussion I enjoyed.

This review is absolutely brutal and a complete 180 from what I thought it would be, but I’m glad I finally got my feelings down. I am still going to read the second book regardless of my indifference for this one, in hopes of it being better. Pray for me.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Anna and The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins | a fluffy romance that contemporary fans will devour

17453983

Can Anna find love in the City of Light?
Anna is happy in Atlanta. She has a loyal best friend and a crush on her coworker at the movie theater, who is just starting to return her affection. So she’s less than thrilled when her father decides to send her to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year.
But despite not speaking a word of French, Anna meets some cool new people, including the handsome Étienne St. Clair, who quickly becomes her best friend. Unfortunately, he’s taken —and Anna might be, too. Will a year of romantic near misses end with the French kiss she’s waiting for?

We essentially had a free period in my last class a few days ago, so I decided to get lit and read Anna And The French Kiss. I had already read nearly a quarter of it throughout the day, and guess what happened? I finished it about 10 minutes after I got home from school. BOOM. I read a whole book in a single day. That might sound commonplace to some readers, but is a big deal for me, who has to take certain breaks whilst reading because I just can’t focus that long on one thing. And that serves as proof that Anna And The French Kiss is immensely engrossing and difficult to put down. I may have my problems with it here and there, but it definitely brightened up my (very boring) day with its never-ending fluffiness.

A beautiful setting and just the right amount of depth: This book is set in Paris, which is unusual for a YA novel, but I enjoyed it. There were many descriptions of the local settings and museums and art that Anna explored, and it definitely made me want to explore France and travel abroad in general. The descriptions were a little simplistic, somewhat typical for a chick-lit novel, and I do wish Perkins took it a little further, but I enjoyed reading about the day-to-day life in France, Anna’s new life. The overall atmosphere of the book might seem to be a bit sunny and happy most of the time, but there are themes such as belonging and learning to navigate life on your own, which are relatable for teenagers. Not to mention there was much commentary on relationships, intimacy, and unrequited love as well. Etienne has a girlfriend, Rashmi and Josh (Anna’s new buddies) have their issues, and Mer (Anna’s first ‘friend’ in Paris) is in love with Etienne. Lots of relationship drama which may get annoying at a point, but I liked how subtly realistic it was when it came to being alone, falling in love, and how it can change you. Again, I do wish it was explored a bit deeper, however for a chick-lit book, these themes were expanded enough to entertain the reader and provide insight.

The frustrating yet likable main characters: The characters were a problematic point to an extent, it’s hard to like them and hard to hate them, simultaneously. Anna tends be a bit irritating throughout, mostly due to her actions and words and even thoughts. She comes off as a little dumb towards the beginning, pretty much representing the stereotype of an ignorant American. Her rambling when it came to conversing with Etienne (not all the time though, thank god) was cringey and got me feeling second-hand embarrassment. Fortunately, she changes as the plot moves on, and while she keeps that giggly persona of hers, there is also her struggle with love and all the relationship angst. She notably changes in her overall nature during the period in which she is angry and disappointed in Etienne and how he continues to stay with his girlfriend, Elise, when Anna and him have clearly shown feelings for each other. She turns into a restless, confused, bitchy person and lashes out at several people in her head, atypical for her. This aspect might be annoying most of the time, but I thought it was pretty realistic actually. I mean, when I’m frustrated and confused for a prolonged period of time, I tend to be more on edge than usual. I really don’t see all the hype around Etienne though, which caused problems for me considering everyone was constantly kissing his British/French/American ass. He’s cute and funny at times, but I just can’t seem to love him fully.

Even more conflicting side characters: There are a multitude of side characters that mostly land on the extreme ends of the spectrum. Rashmi and Josh, two of Anna’s new friends in Paris, I liked. Rashmi didn’t give a shit but also had a softer side and Josh was really funny and relatable. Both of them also had their relationship issues, which was well tied into to the initial theme of loneliness and intimacy. Mer, who Anna meets almost immediately after moving to Paris, I wasn’t a big fan of on the other hand. Not her fault, her character was just way too centered around her infatuation with Etienne and I would have liked to see more of a presence from her. Another character, Amanda, was also largely centered around her obsession with Etienne (dude gets way too much hype) and defined the term ‘bitchy’ perfectly. She was wholly one-dimensional and was made to look impure next to Anna, considering Anna slut-shames her continually throughout the book. Elise, Etienne’s girlfriend, was also slut-shamed and wasted as a character. I actually would have liked to know more about her, but her story was obviously not meant to be expanded on.

That confusing yet cute romance: Regardless of my indifference to Etienne and slight irritation of Anna throughout, there was a part of me that wanted them to be together. And how could you not? They aren’t lacking in chemistry and while their conversations aren’t as witty as I wanted them to be, they are cute together. Unfortunately, there are many elements  inhibiting them from properly starting a romantic relationship. Etienne has a girlfriend, Anna has a boy that she likes back in Atlanta, but they both are attracted to each other. They both have their issues with needing people and being alone that cause rifts in their friendship itself. I honestly don’t understand Etienne’s deal with Elise still (his ‘fear of lonliness’ wasn’t properly explored) and his whole relationship with Anna was borderline cheating. But, as much as I hated this aspect, the relationship angst definitely captured me. It made their ‘fairytale’ like relationship so much more realistic and likable even.

Overall, Anna And The French Kiss was a flighty romance that surprisingly and subtly incorporated real-life teenage drama in its story. Not everyone’s going to like it, but I’d suggest it to anyone who loves contemporaries in general.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Heartless, by Marissa Meyer

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4.25 stars

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Heartless is one of the most imaginative, well-written, and likable books I have read in awhile. And twisty, very twisty. I’ve been in a bit of a ‘disliking streak’ throughout March, as I’ve rated nearly every book 2 stars or 3 stars. I feel as though none of the books I’m reading lately are truly wowing me, but this one definitely did up until THAT SHITSTORM OF AN ENDING. More on that later, y’all. I’m still kind of rage-y.

Heartless is essentially a re-telling of Alice In Wonderland, which follows Catherine Pinkerton, the daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove, who lives in the kingdom of Hearts. Cath is constantly courted by the King of Hearts, and prodded by her parents to fulfill their dreams by marrying him, but Cath is far more interested in finding her own destiny and finally opening up the bakery she has always wanted, along with her friend and servant, Mary. After meeting Jest, the new court joker, at the royal ball, she feels a strong attraction toward him and they both become closer and closer in secret. But, Cath’s destiny is already much more planned out than she had ever imagined as she gets wrapped up in wave of intrigue, magic, and mystery.

The perfectly atmospheric writing: Meyer’s storytelling is as effortless, fun, and beautiful as ever. It’s incredible how every single moment of this novel is perfectly and intricately described, from the event, emotion, and expression. This aspect doesn’t even make the book boring or overwrought with details because of the way Meyer combines more serious writing with true entertainment. She gets the balance between darkness and light, imaginative and realistic, so right. I honestly came into this book thinking it was mainly a forbidden romance that equal parts speaks of 19th century societal issues, and while it is and does just that, there are tons of darker, more mysterious elements to up the plot and action. None of these aspects out-do each other, managing to not only create a perfect story, but a perfect retelling. There are many original characters of Alice In Wonderland incorporated into the story, including Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and even a reference to Alice herself falling down the hole. While the story doesn’t surround Alice, the same whimsical and imaginative vibe is present in Heartless. 

The most likable yet flawed cast ever: Meyer’s characters never disappoint, so I’m not surprised that the characters are my favorite part of the novel. Every single person in this book, even the minor characters, are so well-described and defined. From the snobby Margaret Mearle to the childish King of Hearts, none of the characters feel wasted or lacking in identity. Everyone has a realistic presence and contain so much life. The main characters are so likable and honest despite their flaws. I loved Cath’s ambition and passion, as well as her subtle haughty, petty attitude. Her struggles toward following her dreams and defying society’s roles were so realistic and relatable, especially concerning the time period she lives in. She tends to be a bit too spotlighted throughout the story, but remains likable due to the masterful character writing. Jest is one of the most charming male leads ever, you can’t help but fall for him, and Hatta’s complexity and overall nature is also well-done.

That adorable romance: Heart eyes, y’all, heart eyes for this couple. They just fit together so perfectly, and you can sense it right off the page when they first meet. Their actual romantic relationship develops later in the book, but their subtle flirtations, witty banter, and overall charm is so abundant that I partially wanted them to stay in that “I think I’m falling in love with you” stage. There were moments, of course, that dealt with their angst and their discussion concerning the fact that they couldn’t be together, that were frustrating in the best way possible. What is also frustrating, in not a good way though, is the end result of their relationship, which I cannot expand on because spoilers. But nonetheless, FAVES.

*sighs* when everything turned to shit:

Marissa Meyer,

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Those last few chapters were such a 180 from the original atmosphere, and while Cath’s character development is to be acknowledged (in a good way or bad way, I honestly don’t know how to feel) during those taxing last pages, but there was absolutely no resolve to it. I can’t spoil things for you guys, but I’ll just say that I was nice in docking only 0.75 of a star. That ending destroyed everything for me, but I was reminded of how much I enjoyed the rest of the book so I held back. I’m still hella angry though.

Overall, Heartless was a thoroughly enjoyable story, and I can definitely see myself re-reading this in the future. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an entertaining yet mysterious retelling, Marissa Meyer style.

-Haven

Books, Original Post, YA Fiction

Some of my favorite YA contemporary/romance standalones

Hello, fellow bookworms! Today I wanted to share with y’all some of my favorite contemporary/romance novels that seem to be quite underrated or not as talked about in the book community. I’ve been reading a lot more contemporary novels starting from 2016, because my school workload and activities didn’t allow me the energy needed for a complex fantasy or dystopian novel, and I enjoyed the brain candy that was thrown to me. It gave me a rest from all the craziness and provided me with something to enjoy and dive into without completely taking my attention off work. I’ve definitely grown more attached to contemporary novels and gained more appreciation for them, as I usually read fantasy and science-fiction exclusively during my late middle school to early high school years. So, I just felt the need to express that through this post and I hope that it inspires you to pick up more contemporaries!

1. Tonight The Streets Are Ours, by Leila Sales

23310761Recklessly loyal.

That’s how seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley has always thought of herself. Caring for her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose in her life and makes her feel like she matters. But lately she’s grown resentful of everyone—including her needy best friend and her absent mom—taking her loyalty for granted.

Then Arden stumbles upon a website called Tonight the Streets Are Ours, the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter, who gives voice to feelings that Arden has never known how to express. He seems to get her in a way that no one else does, and he hasn’t even met her.

Until Arden sets out on a road trip to find him.

During one crazy night out in New York City filled with parties, dancing, and music—the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does—Arden discovers that Peter isn’t exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn’t exactly who she thought she was, either.

While Tonight The Streets Are Ours isn’t Sales’ most well-received novel (that honor would go to This Song Will Save Your Life which I personally thought was over-hyped), it definitely deserves to be due to its mature themes and realistic narration. I loved the setting and aesthetic of the novel firstly, and Arden’s narration is funny and relatable, reflecting her personality easily. This is a very character-based book, but other themes such as family, friendship, and believing and trusting oneself come into play seamlessly.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to jump into the nightlife of New York and go on a wild ride of falling for someone, heartbreak, and discovering who you are.

2. The Distance Between Us, by Kasie West

15283043Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers studies the rich like her own personal science experiment, and after years of observation she’s pretty sure they’re only good for one thing—spending money on useless stuff, like the porcelain dolls in her mother’s shop.

So when Xander Spence walks into the store to pick up a doll for his grandmother, it only takes one glance for Caymen to figure out he’s oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and that he’s one of the first people who actually gets her, she’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. Because if there’s one thing she’s learned from her mother’s warnings, it’s that the rich have a short attention span. But Xander keeps coming around, despite her best efforts to scare him off. And much to her dismay, she’s beginning to enjoy his company.

She knows her mom can’t find out—she wouldn’t approve. She’d much rather Caymen hang out with the local rocker who hasn’t been raised by money. But just when Xander’s attention and loyalty are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn’t a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she’d ever realized. And that Xander’s not the only one she should’ve been worried about.

Get ready to grin until your cheeks hurt, because man, is this book a cheese-fest. The Distance Between Us is a perfect combination of extremely adorable and actual life lessons. Caymen is hilarious, relatable, and undeniably witty throughout the book, and her worries of the future she holds is conveyed realistically. In fact, the whole book is so true and subtle in its delivery of meaning, while many of the events that take place are unusual in our daily lives, Caymen and Xander’s personalities and feelings are relatable especially to young adults. The romance is just the right amount of sweet, and I swear, this book will make you so happy.

3. Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S King

6665671Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.
 
So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?
 
Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz actually deviates from the short and straightforward form of its summary and delves into a ton of deeper subjects that are actually very prevalent social issues in our society today. I feel like I name-drop this book often, and it’s for good reason. The prose of this book is so raw and truthful, and the messages it holds about suffering, guilt, and loss are expressed effortlessly. The characters only enhance this aspect to create a tragic yet beautiful story.

4. How To Save A Life, by Sara Zarr

10757806Jill MacSweeney just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends—everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she’s somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.

Mandy Kalinowski understands what it’s like to grow up unwanted—to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she’s sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It’s harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?

As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy—or as difficult—as it seems.

This book centers on one of the most melodramatic and overdone topics in entertainment today — and absolutely nails it. How To Save A Life brims with emotional honesty, relatability, and poise as the prose is delivered in quiet yet heartbreaking way. I name-drop this one a lot too, and that is because there aren’t many books that can parallel the sincerity of this one.

5. The List, by Siobhan Vivian

10866233An intense look at the rules of high school attraction – and the price that’s paid for them.

It happens every year. A list is posted, and one girl from each grade is chosen as the prettiest, and another is chosen as the ugliest. Nobody knows who makes the list. It almost doesn’t matter. The damage is done the minute it goes up.

This is the story of eight girls, freshman to senior, “pretty” and “ugly.” And it’s also the story of how we see ourselves, and how other people see us, and the tangled connection of the two.

The premise of this book tends to scare away readers, probably because it sounds as a dramatic, chick-lit novel riddled with cliches. Spoiler alert: It’s deeper than that. Vivian turns the typical high school cliched characters into actual human beings and breathes life into them. It’s effortlessly written with running social themes concerning teenage interactions, and doesn’t sound too preachy or dramatic while doing it either.

Thank you all for reading! Hopefully this post inspires you to explore more contemporary/romance stories, because they definitely need the attention.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead

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3.5 stars

ONLY A TRUE BEST FRIEND CAN PROTECT YOU FROM YOUR IMMORTAL ENEMIES…

Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth’s magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest vampires—the ones who never die. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa’s best friend, makes her a dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making Lissa one of them.

After two years of freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a school for vampire royalty and their guardians-to-be, hidden in the deep forests of Montana. But inside the iron gates, life is even more fraught with danger…and the Strigoi are always close by.

Rose and Lissa must navigate their dangerous world, confront the temptations of forbidden love, and never once let their guard down, lest the evil undead make Lissa one of them forever…

I’ve been meaning to read Vampire Academy from a long time solely to get my bitchy vampire drama fix. And I got it, finally, with a few extra concepts in the package. Most of these extras were surprises, obviously, from the atypical Rose, to the relationship between Moroi and Dhampirs, to the subplot going on underneath all the drama. I do have problems with what Mead tried to include here, but Vampire Academy excels easily in the department of guilty pleasure reads.

The story starts off immediately with Rose and Lissa trying to escape from mysterious people trying to capture them, and it is instantly revealed that these people are from the St. Vincent’s Academy, the high school that Rose and Lissa used to go to and have successfully escaped from — until now. After heading back reluctantly to the academy, Rose and Lissa sink back into their old friendships and habits, some easily and some with difficulty. However, danger and mystery is lurking around, and the two are at the forefront of it.

 First of all, I have to say that this book contained a lot more action and adventure type ideas than I thought it would be. I watched the movie trailer for the Vampire Academy movie adaptation about a year ago (I was kicking myself for not reading the book already at the time of its release, but I heard it was shitty so I’m not bothered), and I assumed the book would be Mean Girls with vampires in it. More or less, I wasn’t wrong, but there was a lot more plotting and mystery that I had expected and it surprised me. The Moroi, Lissa in particular, is constantly under threat of the Strigoi, who are basically past Moroi vampires who have either willingly or unwillingly been turned into psycho, rabid monsters, the Strigoi.

The drama infused in the book was particularly the reason I picked this one up, and it didn’t disappoint in that department. There was trash talk, rumors, cheating, lying, all this unfiltered shit going on that gave me life. I also loved how we were introduced to all the social rules present in the academy, which shaped the book significantly. There are also many norms in the vampire world that stem the prejudices, discrimination, and general social behavior toward certain types of vampires and actions, and I was impressed with the fact that Mead was able to create a simple but fleshed-out social environment easily. Unfortunately, the original mystery subplot overtaking the major issue in the book was disappointing in its reveal and execution itself. It’s thin and underdeveloped, and I didn’t feel as unsettled or shocked as I wanted it to be.

Rose is an unusual character, and I’m surprised that not many other heroines have come quite close to her badass character after Vampire Academy‘s publication in 2007. She’s got no filter, is confident, and owns herself and her sexuality completely. She’ll bother people, I’ll tell you that. She bothered me at first because I disliked the fact that she had to rude to everyone, calling people around her boring and tame, as well as trying too hard to be a savage. Talking like a normal person and having a regular conversation with someone is probably stale to her wild ass, but putting that aside she actually is a savage and pretty good one at that. Rose can be a bitch and she knows it. This doesn’t stop her from speaking her mind, defending herself and Lissa from those who criticize her, and shielding the ones she loves from danger. She’s fiercely protective of Lissa and is constantly looking out for her well-being, and I enjoyed this needed female friendship. Lissa herself is actually pretty dry, but I liked their relationship together.

There is a ‘romance’ of sorts, but I honestly don’t get it considering Rose’s love interest is a man several years older than her. Rose and Dmitri might be attracted to one another, but what they have going on right now is simply infatuation. I also don’t know if they can go any further than their general lust toward each other because Dmitri is a very typical, brooding YA guy and their feelings toward each other don’t have much of a basis besides the fact they are both hot. However, they really didn’t progress anymore than the infatuation already present, so I’m glad Mead decided to save the actual relationship for another book. It would have been unrealistic if they had already gone to ‘relationship status’ in the first book, and I hoping that Dmitri and Rose’s ‘romance’ will expand in the next book.

Overall, Vampire Academy makes for an easy, dramatic, and fun read. I’m definitely looking forward to whenever I decide to pick up the next book and hopefully the vampire politics and romantic relationships are just as emphasized as the drama by then.

-Haven